Opposite dugout: Twins’ playoff chances look remote

TwinsLogo.jpgManager: Paul Molitor (4th season)

Record: 35-48

Last 10 games: 2-8

Who to watch: LF Eddie Rosario (.308 with 18 HR, 52 RBIs), SS Eduardo Escobar (50 RBIs, 34 doubles), 2B Brian Dozier (34 RBIs), RF Max Kepler (29 RBIs) RHP Kyle Gibson (3.48 ERA), RHP Fernando Rodney (17 saves)

Season series vs. Orioles: 2-1

Pitching probables:

July 5: RHP Andrew Cashner (2-8) vs. RHP Aaron Slegers (0-0), 8:10 p.m., MASN2
July 6: RHP Dylan Bundy (6-7) vs. RHP Lance Lynn (5-7), 8:10 p.m., MASN2
July 7: RHP Kevin Gausman (4-6) vs. RHP Kyle Gibson (2-6), 2:10, MASN
July 8: RHP Alex Cobb (2-9) vs. RHP Jake Odorizzi (3-5), 2:10, MASN2

Inside the Twins:

On May 15, the Minnesota Twins were just a half-game out of first place in the American League Central. Now 13 games below .500, the team sits half a game in back of the Detroit Tigers, who trail the Cleveland Indians by double digits. They reside in the bottom third of the majors in runs scored and in team ERA. This series starts an 11-game homestand for the Twins, who are coming off a 1-8 road trip.

A fourth-round pick for the Twins in 2010, left fielder Eddie Rosario (.308/.350/.555) has emerged as the Twins’ chief weapon on offense, leading the team in home runs, RBIs and batting average. If switch-hitting shortstop Eduardo Escobar (.277/.335/.531) keeps up his current pace, the product of the White Sox system will make 2018 his best season in the bigs since he came to Minneapolis in 2012. Odd as it seems, skipper Paul Molitor has had 35-year-old first baseman and one-time catcher Joe Mauer leading off a lot since early May. Brian Dozier had handled that role exclusively for the past two years, but has had problems at the plate this season. Mauer won’t make anyone forget Rickey Henderson, but working from the left-handed batter’s box has helped him to lead the club with a .356 on-base percentage. Dozier, meanwhile, is still batting just .220, but is third on the team in RBIs. Right fielder Max Kepler is right behind Dozier in both RBIs and batting average.

With Ervin Santana missing the entire season so far with an injury to the middle finger on his pitching hand and Fernando Romero sent back to the farm after 10 starts, the Twins recalled right-hander Aaron Slegers from Triple-A Rochester to start the series opener against the Birds. He’s the latest in a string of pitchers with whom the Twins have attempted to patch their rotation. For the Red Wings this year, Slegers has logged 83 2/3 innings and recorded a 3.55 ERA and a 1.207 WHIP. In his sole appearance with the big club in 2018, he went 5 1/3 innings in relief in Kansas City, giving up two runs on six hits. Righty Lance Lynn, slated to start Friday, has not delivered the sort of results Twins fans were hoping for when the longtime Cardinal signed as a free agent 17 days before the start of the 2018 season. Opposing batters are hitting .271 against him, and he’s posted a 1.68 WHIP. Lynn’s season took an upturn through most of June, and he pitched to a 2.83 ERA for the month. But the Cubs scored seven runs on five hits and three walks as Lynn made it through just 1 2/3 innings on July 1. Saturday’s starter, right-hander Kyle Gibson, has been the Twins’ designated hard-luck starter this year, notching just two wins despite a 3.58 ERA. He’s taken losses in three of his last five starts, even while giving up an average of fewer than three runs in each. Former Tampa Bay Ray Jake Odorizzi starts Sunday’s finale. The righty has worked to a 5.53 ERA and accumulated four losses without a win over his last six starts. The good news for Odorizzi is that he gave up just one homer over that stretch (in his most recent appearance, July 3 against the Brewers), after surrendering 14 dingers through the end of May.

When the game is tight, expect to see some combination of righties Trevor Hildenberger (3.07 ERA), Ryan Pressly (3.76 ERA), Addison Reed (4.15 ERA), and lefty Zach Duke (2.90 ERA) in the seventh and eighth innings. Reed, Duke and Hildenberger each had a bad day at Wrigley Field on June 30, giving up four hits apiece as the Cubs came from behind for a 14-9 win. Reed gave up four runs in 2/3 of an inning. Hildenberger walked four and surrendered five runs, getting just one out as he took the loss. Duke came away relatively unscathed, giving up just one run in 1 1/3 innings, but got saddled with a blown save. Each has been rock solid since, however. At 41, closer Fernando Rodney (3.18 ERA) - now with his sixth club in the past five seasons - is still bringing a 95 mph sinker and a devastating changeup. He blew a save June 28 on the road against the White Sox.

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