MINNEAPOLIS — From top to bottom of the order and oldest to youngest in the lineup, the Minnesota Twins have sure been hitting like a team on track for the playoffs.
Joe Mauer went 4 for 4 with two RBIs and Eduardo Escobar hit two home runs while driving in six runs, as the Twins erupted for a 17-0 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Saturday night to keep their lead for the second AL wild card spot at 1 1/2 games.
Brian Dozier added a three-run homer and Byron Buxton went 3 for 5 with three runs, making starter Kyle Gibson (9-10) as comfortable as possible over six scoreless innings to help the Twins improve to 21-10 since Aug. 2.
“Whether it’s everybody feeding off one another or just feeding off yourself if you’re seeing the ball really well, I don’t really know, but the lineup’s flowing really well right now,” said Dozier, whose 55 home runs since the All-Star game in 2016 are the third most in the majors behind Khris Davis (59) and Giancarlo Stanton (57).
The Royals fell to 11-20 since July 31 and dropped to 4 1/2 games behind the Twins. They’ve been shut out 15 times this season, five in the last nine games.
“Ten to nothing before we even got an out in the second inning,” manager Ned Yost said, “so yeah, it makes it tough.”
Onelki Garcia (0-1), who went four years between appearances in the majors until joining the Royals last weekend, had a forgettable first start at age 28. He gave up a walk to Dozier, a double off the wall to Mauer, a standup triple to Buxton and a double to Jorge Polanco before recording his first and only out. Mitch Garver’s first major league RBI ended Garcia’s night in the four-run first inning. The Twins tacked on six more runs in the second.
“We’re in a tough spot right now,” Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “We’re obviously pretty late in the season where we can’t afford to give up any games. They just jumped on us early today, and there’s really no turning back after that first inning.”
Dozier, Mauer, Buxton, Polanco and Escobar, the first five batters, combined for 13 hits in 21 at-bats with 13 runs and 15 RBIs. The Twins are averaging almost 6 runs per game since Aug. 2, with a plus-76 scoring margin over those 31 games.
“I can’t really say that I saw this kind of trend coming, but we all know the growth of young players and when they’re going to spurt, you just look forward to it when a bunch of `em do it together,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said.
Especially when the guy with the gray hair is at the heart of the surge.
Mauer, who’s batting .448 in 87 at-bats over 22 games since Aug. 10, moved above the .300 mark for the first time since May 11, 2016. The three-time AL batting champion has not finished above .300 since he hit .324 in 2013, when his season was cut short by a concussion.
“I guess that’s a nice little thing for me personally,” Mauer said, “but we’re doing a lot of other good things that we should be talking about.”
Molitor and Yost began emptying their benches by mid-game to rest regulars, and Molitor offered Mauer the opportunity to stay in the game for a fifth hit. He pondered the possibility then declined so he could play first base again on Sunday afternoon.
“Joe’s been playing fantastic baseball,” Molitor said. “It’s really fun to watch him be a leader out there.”
Mauer tied old friend Justin Morneau for fifth place on the team’s all-time list with 860 RBIs. He has a hit in 11 straight games.
AND ANOTHER ONE
Niko Goodrum replaced the second baseman Dozier in the sixth inning, becoming the 13th player to make his major league debut for the Twins this season. Goodrum, the team’s second-round draft pick in 2010, also became the 51st player used by the Twins in 2017.
Royals: RHP Kelvin Herrera, who was pulled from his appearance as the closer on Friday with forearm tightness, was diagnosed with a mild strain and will be held out for at least a few days.
Twins: C Jason Castro, who has missed the last nine games because of a concussion, likely won’t need a rehab stint. He could be back in the lineup next week.
Royals: RHP Ian Kennedy (4-10, 5.47 ERA) pitches on Sunday. He’s coming off a season-worst start, a 12-0 loss to Tampa Bay with 2 2/3 innings finished.
Twins: RHP Ervin Santana (14-7, 3.27 ERA) takes the mound in the series finale. The Twins won five of his six turns in August, when he went 3-0 with a 2.95 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 39 2/3 innings.