CHICAGO — As the Twins rookies boarded their plane to Chicago on Wednesday, they were in costumes picked out by starter Pablo López and shortstop Kyle Farmer. One day later, those rookies contributed in a big way on the field.
Edouard Julien and Royce Lewis both launched homers, and Matt Wallner brought in two more runs to help carry the Twins to a 10-2 win over the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on Thursday evening. The win pushes Minnesota one step closer to clinching the American League Central.
- Games remaining: at CWS (3), at CIN (3), vs. LAA (3), vs. OAK (3), at COL (3)
- Standings update: The Twins (77-70) hold an 8-game lead on the Guardians (69-78) for the AL Central title. Cleveland clinched the tiebreaker by winning the season series, 7-6. Minnesota is currently the third-best division winner, meaning it would host a best-of-three Wild Card Series vs. the final Wild Card entrant starting on Oct. 3.
- Magic number: 8 (for AL Central)
“I just think we’re playing good baseball right now for the most part,” Wallner said. “Just kind of trying to not do too much or focus on it too much but just keep building on how we’ve been playing this past three weeks … and keep it going.”
Julien started the scoring for Minnesota in the fourth inning when he connected with a fastball for a 381-foot homer. Then three batters later, Lewis one-upped him by blasting a 426-foot home run.
Both players have now homered in two of the past four games and continue to be big bats for the Twins at the top of the lineup.
“Our young players, they’ve started their Major League careers very well,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “They came in and produced from the very beginning. They came in and looked comfortable like they could just come in and resume the good play they were giving us in Triple-A.”
After his home run on Thursday, Julien is slashing .270/.382/.460 with 13 homers, 14 doubles, and 27 RBIs on the year. The 24-year-old second baseman has seen his average drop over the past 23 games, entering the day with a .191 average during that span.
But the Twins know the talent and how impactful his bat can be at the plate. The team will surely need quality at-bats from him in the postseason.
“To have a rookie leadoff hitter out there, it says how we feel about him,” Baldelli said.
Lewis is another young player who Minnesota needs to show up down the stretch. The slugging infielder has overcome multiple injuries over the past two seasons (an ACL tear and an oblique strain) and is still making an impact on the field at a high level.
His 13th homer in 53 games this year shows the type of hitter he is when healthy. The Twins are hopeful that all their young players, including Julien and Lewis, can end the regular season strong.
“There’s a physical aspect and a mental aspect to that,” Baldelli said. “It gets you to the end stronger. Sometimes, it’s hard to do when you’ve never played until October and beyond.
“But that’s the challenge ahead of these guys right now. We don’t know what they’re going to do. But I have faith in them.”
While Julien and Lewis blasted towering home runs on Thursday, Wallner also contributed with a nice 2-for-4 day with two RBIs and one run scored. The outfielder pulled a single to right field which pushed two runs across in the seventh.
That two-run single is a positive sign for Wallner, who was in the midst of a slump for weeks. The young outfielder was hitting just .169 (14-for-83) in 29 games from Aug. 7 to Sept. 10. However, with four hits in three games since then, Wallner is happy to see a couple of knocks fall his way.
“Yeah, it’s fun,” Wallner said of his rookie teammates. “They’re just doing so much. I’m just trying to play catch-up with them. It’s fun to have us three in the lineup and the veterans just show us the way.”
Julien, Lewis, and Wallner have all been a big part of where Minnesota is currently in the American League Central race. The Twins are surely hoping that continues with an eye toward postseason play.
“We wouldn’t have as many wins if those guys didn’t come up and really get the job done,” Baldelli said.