MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Twins opened a six-game homestand this week against two teams buried in the standings as they try to keep their hold on the second wild-card spot in the American League.
Twins manager Paul Molitor has cautioned his team about taking any team lightly and said they need to continue to execute the way they have during a big surge in August and September.
Minnesota followed through with a 16-0 victory against San Diego on Tuesday and a 10-inning victory Wednesday thanks to Eddie Rosario’s two-run walk-off home run in the 10th inning.
Playing a four-game series against Toronto, whose sluggers usually enjoy their trips to Target Field, presents the next challenge.
“We’re trying to get these guys not falling into the trap of, ‘You’re supposed to win these games,'” Molitor said after Rosario’s winning homer. “We’ve been through various clubs that you say, ‘You’ve got to win. You should win.’ It just doesn’t work that way.
“You’ve got to go out there and you’ve got to pitch and you’ve got to catch it and you’ve got to hit it and you’ve got to execute and you’ve got to move runners and you’ve got to be smart. (Wednesday), we had to fight with everything we had to try to find a way to win.”
The Twins and Blue Jays open their series Thursday with Minnesota sending right-hander Jose Berrios (12-7, 3.94 ERA) to the mound against left-hander Brett Anderson (3-3, 5.90).
The Twins challenged two years ago before fading late, a fact not lost on Toronto manager John Gibbons. But Gibbons has watched how Minnesota has bounced back again this year with a surprising offense that leads the majors in home runs since Aug. 8 and is second in the majors in scoring since the All-Star break.
“Two years ago (the Twins) hung in there until the end, and then last year it kind of blew up on them,” Gibbons told MLB.com. “I tip my hat to them over there, what they’re doing. Molitor has done a great job. They have some pop in that lineup and it’s a different-looking team. They have some athletes, they all run pretty good, for the most part. I’ve been impressed.”
Anderson has impressed a bit as well in recent starts for the Blue Jays. The veteran left-hander has allowed six runs in his three starts, spanning 17 2/3 innings. Anderson has succeeded by not walking batters and working quickly.
He hasn’t walked a batter in his three starts with the Blue Jays and has not allowed more than three runs in any start.
“I felt strong. It was the same amount of ups and downs, but it was like 30 more pitches this outing, and I felt just as strong at the end as I did last outing,” Anderson told MLB.com after his last outing. “I feel like my body is building up and I’m able to go out there for lengthier periods of time going forward, and it was good to get my first Blue Jays win.”
Anderson is 3-3 with a 3.80 ERA in eight games (six starts) against Minnesota in his career.
Berrios is coming off a seven-inning, two-run no-decision in his last outing against Kansas City. Berrios has never faced Toronto, which still has Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista to lead the offense.
Donaldson has hit .298 with five homers and 13 RBIs in 15 career games at Minnesota’s Target Field. Bautista has 14 homers and 23 RBIs in 21 games at the park.
But the Twins, after pulling out their fourth walk-off win of the season Wednesday, look to keep their momentum going.
“You’re starting to get that feel, the less games you have to play, that it starts to mount,” Molitor said of handling the pressure. “And you’ve just got to respond. You try to encourage the guys to have fun. You try to string together good at-bats where you can. Every once in a while, somebody’s going to steal a moment.”
Reliever Matt Belisle, who picked up the win in relief Wednesday, said the players believe in themselves.
“We’ve thought we’ve had something special since the All-Star break, so our mindset really has not changed,” Belisle said. “Nobody’s really concerned about the standings. We’re just concerned about each nine-inning game that’s in front of us and — I know it sounds clichÃ© — but the guys are doing such a good job
of embracing that, and that’s what’s special about this club.
“Sure, we’re having fun and we expect good things, but we’ve had a mindset for this type of game a long time ago.”
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