MINNEAPOLIS — When the Minnesota Twins left home for a West Coast trip, they believed they were in the thick of the playoff race and were nearing a trade for starting pitcher Jaime Garcia from the Atlanta Braves.
Minnesota returns to Target Field on Thursday following a 2-6 trip and, after acquiring Garcia, decided to ship him to the New York Yankees. The Twins also traded All-Star closer Brandon Kintzler to Washington, apparently waving the white flag on their postseason chances.
The Twins (51-54) left town 2 1/2 games behind Cleveland in the American League Central. They return home six games behind — and 3 1/2 out of a wild-card spot — after beating the San Diego Padres 5-2 on Wednesday.
The Texas Rangers also faced reality in trading ace Yu Darvish before this week’s trade deadline. Texas finished its own disappointing stretch at home with a 5-2 victory against Seattle on Wednesday, snapping a four-game losing streak.
The Rangers (51-56) went 3-6 on the homestand and sit 18 games behind Houston in the AL West and 4 1/2 out of a wild-card spot.
With nearly identical records and facing the same situation to close the season, Texas and Minnesota start a four-game series on Thursday.
“We all know this swing out here was tough in a lot of ways,” Minnesota manager Paul Molitor said. “And you look at guys with a track record and professionalism to step up when they can and (Ervin Santana) had a chance to do that today.”
Santana pitched his major-league-high fifth complete game this season and had two RBIs on Wednesday. Miguel Sano added his 25th homer and Joe Mauer, hitting leadoff for the third time this season, reached base three times.
“I’ve seen teams be 10 games out and then win it,” Santana told MLB.com after Wednesday’s game. “So why not us? We just have to keep our minds positive and anything can happen.”
Right-hander A.J. Griffin (4-2, 5.77 ERA) will make his return to the Rangers’ rotation Thursday after recovering from a left intercostal strain. Griffin will be activated from the disabled list to make his ninth start of the season after posting a 2.70 ERA in four rehab starts.
“I didn’t think it’d be this long. … I thought it took a little bit longer than I expected,” Griffin said. “With the way that everything was going, with the trade deadline and everything, we didn’t really know what we were doing yet, so I was just trying to hang tight and stay positive and just control the things that I could control. That’s just to go out there and prepare myself to help the team win when they give me the opportunity.”
Griffin won his first four decisions this season but allowed 17 runs over his final 9 2/3 innings before being placed on the disabled list. He’s 2-1 with a 5.00 ERA in three career starts against Minnesota and has won both his starts at Target Field, allowing four runs in 13 innings.
“We’ve got a great group of guys here,” Griffin said. “We’re a solid crew, so we’re going to go out there and take it to whoever we’re playing that night and do what we can. If we come together as a team like we can, I have a good feeling about the last couple of months.”
The Twins will start left-hander Adalberto Mejia (4-4, 4.07) in the series opener. Mejia, who has never faced Texas, allowed two runs in five innings at Oakland in his last outing. He hasn’t allowed more than two runs in any of his last three starts, surrendering five runs (four earned) in 14 2/3 innings, but hasn’t earned a win.
Mejia’s rookie season has included some tough spots and some glimpses of his potential. He owns a 2.68 ERA and is 3-2 in his last eight starts.
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