After sputtering through a 1-4 Southern California road trip, the Minnesota Twins opened a seven-game homestand with a 4-2 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Monday night.
The latest contest began a make-or-break stretch that sees the Twins play 13 of 16 games at Target Field in Minneapolis.The Twins head into the second game of their three-game series with the Royals on Tuesday still trailing the first-place Cleveland Guardians by two games in the American League Central, tied with the Chicago White Sox for second. But for one night anyway, Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli and company could exhale a little.
"It was beautiful," Baldelli said with a smile when asked about opening the homestand on a positive note. "It's exactly what we wanted to see."
Minnesota got another strong starting effort by rookie right-hander Joe Ryan, who improved to 9-5 while allowing two runs on six hits over 5 1/3 innings. And the bullpen, which has had more than its share of blunders lately, held Kansas City to just two hits and no runs over the final 3 2/3 innings with both Caleb Thielbar and closer Jorge Lopez pitching out of tight jams.
But perhaps the biggest plus for the Twins was that right fielder Max Kepler ended a 0-for-29 drought with three hits and also ended the team's 0-for-19 skid with runners in scoring position with a second-inning RBI single.
It marked the fifth three-hit game of the season for Kepler but his first since July 8.
"He's been as important of a cog in the machine here since I've been here as anyone," Baldelli said. "He always plays a good right field. He does his job out there for you every day. But getting him rolling at the plate ... was great."
Baldelli made it clear that the Twins will need more offensive performances like that from Kepler down the stretch if they hope to catch Cleveland and make the playoffs.
"We're going to be looking for really meaningful contributions from him here on out," Baldelli said. "He's a very important player for us."
Right-hander Sonny Gray (6-3, 3.33 ERA) will take the mound on Tuesday for the Twins, facing Royals right-hander Zack Greinke (4-7, 4.29).
Gray is 5-2 with a 2.08 ERA in eight career starts against the Royals, while Greinke is 5-11 with a 4.72 ERA in 27 career appearances and 23 starts against Minnesota. Greinke has particularly struggled at Target Field, where he is just 1-5 with a 5.67 ERA in eight career starts.
This is the second time this season that Gray and Grienke have gone head-to-head. Minnesota won the first meeting 7-3 on May 29 in Minneapolis with Gray allowing one run on two hits over six-plus innings to pick up the victory. Greinke was tagged for five runs on six hits, including homers by Gio Urshela, Nick Gordon and Trevor Larnach, over four innings.
The rebuilding Royals started seven rookies in Monday's series opener, which featured a two-run, first-inning home run by designated hitter Vinnie Pasquantino. It was the eighth home run in 153 career at-bats and fifth in seven games for Pasquantino, who on Monday was named the American League's Player of the Week.
"Every loss is tough," Pasquantino said postgame, according to the Kansas City Star. "(Minnesota) did a really nice job of putting together at-bats and making it really tough. Now, we look to tomorrow to try to do the same things right back to them. That's about it. They outplayed us tonight, and they won the game. We're going to try to do the same to them tomorrow."
--Field Level Media