Since facing the Twins a few months ago, the A's have become one of the surprise teams in baseball.
By TYLER MASONFS North
MINNEAPOLIS — The last time the
Minnesota Twins faced the
Oakland Athletics, Minnesota emerged with a three-game sweep of the A's at Target Field. But Oakland is a much-improved team since that late-May series, as the Twins found out the hard way this weekend.
Minnesota dropped Sunday's series finale by a 9-4 final score as Oakland completed a three-game sweep of the Twins. It marked the first time the A's had swept the Twins since 2002, and their first series sweep in Minnesota since April of 2000.
It was also the first time Minnesota had been swept since losing all three games against Detroit back on May 25-27. In fact, it was following that sweep at the hands of the Tigers that Minnesota took care of Oakland in three straight games. The Twins won a pair of one-run games -- including one on a walk-off homer by former Athletic Josh Willingham -- before winning the finale by a 4-0 final.
This weekend's games weren't nearly as close. After dropping Friday's contest 6-3 despite a career-high 15 strikeouts from left-hander Francisco Liriano, Minnesota was then shelled 9-3 against Tommy Milone at the A's. Sunday's game was a similar story -- the Twins' starting pitcher, Brian Duensing, was knocked around early and Minnesota had no answer offensively.
With Sunday's win, the Athletics have now won nine of their last 10 games to improve to 46-43 on the season. While they're still 7-1/2 games behind first-place Texas, the A's proved this weekend that they can win without the star power of some of the league's elite teams.
That included the likes of Cuban rookie Yoenis Cespedes, who was on the disabled list the last time the A's rolled through Minneapolis. The 26-year-old Cespedes mashed against the Twins this weekend, going 8-for-14 with a double, two homers, six RBI and five runs in the series.
One of Cespedes' home runs in the series went to the opposite field as he went deep to right-center, one of the deepest parts of Target Field. On Sunday, he took Duensing deep to straightaway center for a 416-foot solo shot.
"Very strong, shooting the ball all over the field, opposite field," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of Cespedes. "(He's) a big strong kid and hits your mistakes very hard."
Chris Carter has also come a long way since breaking into the league in late 2010, as the Twins found out this weekend. After going 0-for-8 in three games against Minnesota in September of 2010, Carter was 0-for-32 to start his big league career. He was recently recalled from Triple-A Sacramento late last month and has already hit five homers in just nine games, including one Sunday -- his second in as many days.
Carter followed up Cespedes' solo shot with a solo homer of his own, 430 feet to right-center off Duensing. He finished the series with a hit in each game and four total RBI.
"Shorter swing. Very strong young man. Quicker to the fastball and not chasing as many pitches," Gardenhire said of the difference in Carter from the last time the Twins faced him. "It's a learning experience. The more at-bats you get, he'll probably get better and better because he's so strong. He tested our distance on our field, let's put it that way."
Added Twins shortstop Brian Dozier: "One through nine, they absolutely murdered the ball this weekend. Hats off to those guys."
For the series, Oakland hit nine home runs in three games and scored 24 runs, while Minnesota managed 10 total runs. The Twins also found out that the A's pitching staff, while again not filled with star-caliber names, is pretty solid. Oakland's pitchers rank fourth in baseball with a combined 3.38 ERA, ninth in quality starts with 52 and fourth in opponent batting average (.241).
Since facing these same Twins a few months ago, the A's have become one of the surprise teams in baseball. With MLB's new format of two wild card teams, Oakland is currently just a half game back of a wild card spot, along with Detroit and Tampa Bay. They now head back to the Bay to take on the first-place Rangers.
The Twins, meanwhile, are happy to see the scorching A's leave town.
"We got 'em hot, I guess," Duensing said of the Athletics. "Now we've got Baltimore in here for the next four and we have to figure out a way to turn things around in a hurry."