The magic number is down to six for the Minnesota Twins to clinch their first American League Central title since 2010 heading into Friday night’s game with the Kansas City Royals at Target Field in Minneapolis.
Nelson Cruz also has a magic number: one. That’s how many home runs the Twins’ 39-year-old designated hitter needs to reach the 400-home run club and also to hit the 40-homer mark for the fourth time in his career.
Cruz hit home runs No. 38 and No. 39 and drove in five runs in Minnesota’s 8-5 victory over the Royals on Thursday night in the opener of a four-game series. He moved into a tie for 57th place on the all-time home run list with Al Kaline and Andres Galarraga with his 399th.
“They’re all numbers,” Cruz said. “We’re here for something bigger, to just win the games. Thank God we were able to do that tonight.”
Cruz hit a three-run, opposite-field blast to right to tie the contest in the third and then added a two-run homer in the seventh that provided the Twins with two valuable insurance runs.
Cruz now has 102 RBIs to go with his 39 home runs this season, stats that are even more remarkable because he has played in just 113 games — his fewest since 2013 — due to a ruptured ECU tendon in his left wrist that plagued him for much of the season.
“He’s overly impressive,” Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli said. “I heard he’s getting close to the 400-home run mark and all that. I think that will be really fun. I think everybody looks forward to every at-bat that he has.”
Left-hander Eric Skoglund (0-1, 8.36 ERA) will start Friday night for Kansas City (56-98) while right-hander Randy Dobnak (0-1, 2.12) will start for Minnesota (94-59).
Skoglund, who began the year on an 80-game suspension for testing positive for two performance-enhancing drugs, is 0-0 with a 5.40 ERA in two career appearances in relief against the Twins. He is taking the spot of Jakob Junis (9-14, 5.24) in the Royals rotation for the rest of the season.
“I don’t see any positives or benefits for Junis anymore,” Kansas City manager Ned Yost told MLB.com. “Where he’s at in the year, I think it is probably best for him to call it a year and focus on the things he needs to do to make himself better.”
Junis has passed the 170-inning mark (175 1/3) for the second straight season. He allowed a combined 10 earned runs on 13 hits in just 7 2/3 innings while losing his last two starts.
Skoglund will be making his third start of the season. He allowed six runs on nine hits and three walks over four innings in a 14-2 loss to Baltimore on Aug. 30 after allowing two runs on two hits and three walks in five innings in a 9-8 10-inning victory at Cleveland on Aug. 25.
Dobnak will be facing Kansas City for the first time and will be making his fourth career start and eighth appearance. He gave up one earned run on six hits over five innings in his last start, a 7-5 loss at Cleveland on Sunday afternoon.
–Field Level Media