MINNEAPOLIS — When Minnesota’s front office decided to trade two pitchers at the trade deadline, the Twins appeared out of the race for the playoffs and regressing to an overall record more fitting their minus-75 run differential.
Minnesota’s offense has once again boosted its playoff hopes and evened out the run-differential outlook.
Eduardo Escobar had three hits and six RBIs, including two homers, and Joe Mauer added four hits as the Twins hammered out 14 hits in a 17-0 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Saturday night.
Brian Dozier added a three-run homer and Byron Buxton had three hits in his return to the lineup for Minnesota, which maintained its 1 1/2-game lead over the Los Angeles Angels for the second wild card spot in the American League.
“Our at-bats started getting better and better each and every game, and the veteran guys, they just try to tell us to take one thing a day to try to help us out a little bit better,” Buxton said. “That’s kind of what we’ve done, and we’ve stuck to having those quality at-bats and picking each other up.”
Kyle Gibson (9-10) won his third straight start with six scoreless innings. He gave up five hits and struck out five while continuing the turnaround to his season, which has included two trips to Triple-A.
“It’s good to have it at this time and not the other way around, because you never want to feel like you’re the guy keeping the team from the playoffs and the guy letting the team down in September,” Gibson said.
But the Twins’ offense has been the key during its resurgence since the trade deadline. Minnesota has outscored opponents 200-124 in its last 31 games. In the process, the Twins’ season run differential went from minus-75 to plus-1.
The first five hitters in Minnesota’s lineup went 13-for-23 with three homers against Kansas City, which has lost seven of its past nine games.
“It can be a little bit contagious,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “By more guys contributing, it takes a little bit of a pressure off any one guy to be the guy. ... 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 them do it together.”
Onelki Garcia (0-1) surrendered four runs, four hits and a walk while getting only one out in his first career major league start.
The Royals were shut out for the 15th time this season.
“I feel like we didn’t pitch well tonight,” Kansas City manager Ned Yost said when asked if he felt Saturday was an accumulation of injuries to his depth. He later added: “It makes it tough when you fall behind. I mean, what was the score? Ten to nothing before we even got an out in the second inning, so yeah, it makes it tough.”
After having their winning streak snapped by Kansas City on Friday, the Twins came out strong against Garcia.
Mauer had an RBI double, Buxton hit an RBI triple and Jorge Polanco followed with a run-scoring double as the first four batters all reached base.
Mitch Garver singled in another run for his first career RBI, chasing Garcia in the process.
Garcia said through an interpreter. “Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to get the job done. But he’s grateful for the opportunity.”
Andres Machado relieved Garcia to make his major league debut, but the former minor league starter’s stay was short as well. Machado got only two outs and gave up six runs, four hits and three walks.
Minnesota batted around and put up six runs in the second with Mauer, Buxton and Polanco each hitting RBI singles before Escobar knocked a two-run triple.
Dozier’s three-run homer in the fourth added to the onslaught. It was Dozier’s 27th homer of the season, one behind Miguel Sano for the team lead.
Gibson added to the Royals’ misery by not giving them any chance to come back. The right-hander struck out three of the first four batters he faced and retired nine of the first 10.
“As much as those crooked numbers are good early in the game, I think the zeros that follow are just as important,” Molitor said. “A lot of them were pretty quick, and we got back off the field and got a chance to hit again.”
NOTES: Minnesota CF Byron Buxton returned to the lineup after missing two games with a hand contusion. ... Kansas City RHP Kelvin Herrera had an MRI exam that showed a mild strain in his lower right forearm, according to MLB.com. Herrera, who has 26 saves in 29 chances, will be out for a few days. Manager Ned Yost told MLB.com that he will determine his closer based on matchups. ... Twins OF Robbie Grossman (fractured left thumb) has been cleared to start a rehab assignment at Triple-A Rochester after taking part in pregame batting practice. Grossman hasn’t thrown yet and still has issues when hitting right-handed. But Grossman can swing left-handed and the team will get him some rehab at-bats to prepare. ... Minnesota C Jason Castro is showing improvement from his concussion and could be ready to return next week. Castro still has to pass final testing protocol, but he has participated in full workouts and batting practice.