Astros sweep Twins in battle of AL division leaders
AL West-leading Houston handed Central-leading Minnesota its first sweep this season
MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Twins have done well to stay atop the American League Central with a large handful of rookies in the lineup and some of their best veterans on the injured list. But a meeting with the AL West-leading Astros showed them that against the big leagues’ best, they’re going to have to be better.
Starting six players with less than a full year of major league experience under their belts on Thursday — and some well under that — the Twins struggled in a 5-0 loss to Houston to cap a rough day.
Yordan Alvarez was 3 for 5 with two homers and three RBIs, and the Astros chased rookie starter Josh Winder after just 3⅓ innings as Houston completed a three-game sweep in front of 16,918 on Thursday at Target Field.
It was the first time this season the Twins have been swept and lost three straight, although they remained atop the Central by 1½ games over second-place Chicago before the White Sox’s night game against the New York Yankees.
“The team looks, certainly, different than it did early on, (but) we always have to find ways to win,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “It doesn’t matter if we’re playing one of the best teams in baseball, as we were this week. I think we can look all around at the games that we just played and can say we need to pitch better and we need to swing the bats a little bit better.”
With veteran shortstop Carlos Correa (thumb), first baseman Miguel Sano (knee) and outfielder Kyle Garlick (calf) on the injured list, as well as starting pitchers Chris Paddack (elbow) and Dylan Bundy (COVID), the Twins sent Winder out to the mound for his fourth major league start and started first baseman Jose Miranda and shortstop Royce Lewis for their 10th and sixth big-league games respectively.
In Thursday’s first game, a resumption of the Wednesday night game suspended by storms, outfielder Mark Contreras and de facto starter Yennier Cano were making their major league debuts. The Twins lost that one 11-3.
The Twins’ young players did some good things at times — Gilberto Celestino was 2 for 4 with a great catch in center, outfielder Nick Gordon went 2 for 2, pitched a scoreless inning and made a highlight-reel catch in center, for instance — but were unable to string any runs together.
“We saw some things, but they’re just too spread out,” Baldelli said. “They’re there, we just have to pile them on top of each other.”
Astros starter Luis Garcia (3-1) gave up five hits and two walks in five innings but worked out of trouble with a career-high nine strikeouts. Minnesota struck out 12 times through the first six innings and finished the game 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position.
Six of their seven hits were singles, and they left nine runners on base. Since a May 4 loss at Baltimore, the Twins are 8 for 47 (.170) with runners in scoring position and are 3-5 in those eight games.
On the other end, an Astros team that has played in the past five AL Championship Series and two World Series — including a win in 2017 — showed what a good, veteran lineup can do against a talented young pitcher.
Winder (2-1), who started the day with a 1.62 earned-run average and just four walks in 22⅓ innings, struggled to get the Astros to offer at his borderline pitches. He gave up four runs, three earned, on six hits — including Alvarez’s two-run homer to dead center in the third inning — and three walks.
“I mean, it’s a really good lineup,” Winder said. “They control the zone really, really well. … We’ve just got to do a better job of being really good in the zone and making really quality pitches — and that’s never a bad thing to work on. So, it’s kind of a good reset for us. Kind of refocus and be better next time out.”
Against Cano and Cody Stashak in the first game, Kyle Tucker hit a solo home run and a run-scoring double — one of the Astros’ four in the inning — in the sixth inning alone.
One of Winder’s base runners scored when Thielbar, fielding a slow roller, backhanded his throw well over the head of first baseman Luis Arraez to allow Jason Castro to score.
“It was a tough day today, in a lot of different ways,” Baldelli said. “We just couldn’t get over the hump to actually get tight enough in these games to give ourselves a chance.”
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