ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota Twins finished the unofficial first half of their season on a high note Sunday, rallying twice to beat the Detroit Tigers, 12-9, in 10 innings at Target Field.
They bring a four-game winning streak into the all-star break and, after spending a lot of the season last in the American League Central, are tied with the Tigers for third place.
“You don’t normally or all the time get to go into the all star break on such a high note,” manager Rocco Baldelli said.
Still, big picture, it’s been a lousy season for the Twins. Although they enter the break playing winning baseball since late May, it isn’t by much (25-22) and it has probably come too late for a pennant run.
- Twins rally late, again and again, to complete four-game sweep of Tigers
- With game on the line, Twins hope to look to Colomé
With the July 31 trade deadline looming, the Twins are much closer to a reset than a rally.
Expected to contend for a third consecutive AL Central crown, the Twins enter their three-day hiatus 13 games under .500 and 15 games behind first-place Chicago — and 2-10 head-to-head against the White Sox — and 11 1/2 out of a wild-card spot.
“It’s been quite the first half, challenging in many ways,” Baldelli said before Sunday’s game.
Still, the Twins have won six of their past eight games and swept Detroit the hard way, rallying from late deficits in each of the four games. On Sunday, they rallied from a 4-0 deficit in the fifth and a 9-8 deficit in the ninth before Jorge Polanco won it with a three-run home run.
Confidence, at least, is high.
“We’re kind of doing everything right and picking each other up, and that’s what good baseball teams do, and that’s honestly what we’re capable of,” said veteran reliever Tyler Duffey, a big part of two division titles who earned the win Sunday with a scoreless 10th inning. “It’s just been a hell of a first half, to say the least.”
Injuries, subpar performances
The Twins have been hurt by injuries, especially to center fielder Byron Buxton, but their biggest challenge has been pitching — specifically from players signed as free agents before this season.
Matt Shoemaker ($2 million) and J.A. Happ ($8 million), signed to one-year deals to round out a solid rotation with Jose Berrios, Kenta Maeda and Michael Pineda, have been disappointments. Happ is 5-4 with a 5.90 earned-run average, and Shoemaker was designated for assignment after going 3-8 with an 8.06 ERA.
Reliever Alex Colomé, signed for one year at $6.25 million as a right-handed closing option, blew three of his first five save opportunities and has given up 36 hits and 13 walks in 31.2 innings. The bullpen in general has been one of baseball’s worst, ranking among the bottom six in losses (21), ERA (4.82) and hits (314).
“Our pitching needed to be better for us to win more games in the first half. I think that’s just a pretty straightforward statement to make and anyone who has watched our team knows it’s the truth,” Baldelii said. “We can be better. We have avenues we can go down, and work to do.”
What those avenues might be is unclear. The Twins are closer to selling assets than acquiring them, and top pitching prospect Jhoan Duran has been shut down because of an elbow strain. Randy Dobnak, signed to a five-year extension this spring, is on the injured list with a finger injury, a 1-6 record and a 7.83 ERA in 13 major league appearances.
The Twins enter the break with nine players on the injured list, including Buxton, who was one of the best players in baseball early — hitting .369 with 10 homers and 19 RBIs — but has been limited to 24 games by a hip strain and, currently, broken hand.
Devin Smeltzer, a left-hander who could have helped in the rotation, has been on the IL since mid-May with elbow inflammation.
None of this explains all of the Twins’ issues.
Miguel Sano, a former all-star and top prospect, has 15 homers and 35 RBIs but is hitting .196 with 94 strikeouts in 68 games. Andrelton Simmons, who signed a one-year, $10.5 million deal to play short, is hitting .230 and hasn’t been special on defense.
Designated hitter Nelson Cruz, the team’s lone all-star, is hitting .304 with a team-leading 18 homers and 46 RBIs but playing on a one-year, $13 million deal is likely to be dealt for prospects at the July 31 trade deadline.
Veteran third baseman Josh Donaldson, the AL MVP with Toronto in 2015, has been underwhelming considering the four-year, $92 million contract he signed in 2020. At 35 and bothered by leg issues, he’s probably untradeable.
It’s a long way from Baldelli’s first two seasons, when the Twins won the Central virtually tape to tape — although they were a combined 0-5 in their postseason games.
“The year’s not going the way we want it, but so far we are playing better lately,” said right-hander Jose Berrios (7-3), the Twins’ best starter. He was in line for his eighth victory on Sunday before closer Taylor Rogers gave up four runs in the ninth.
“The most important thing I’ve been seeing is our group keeps coming every day and works hard and tries to do their best and has fun,” Berrios added. “We don’t have fun when we lose, but that’s part of the game.
“The things we can do culturally — come to the ballpark, do our work, play hard and give our whole effort — I’ve been seeing that from every teammate.”