After leading the American League Central for the majority of the season, the Minnesota Twins head into their Thursday night series finale against the host Houston Astros in the midst of a season-worst five-game losing streak and trailing the first-place Cleveland Guardians by four games.
Following a 5-3 loss to the Astros on Wednesday night, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli held a team meeting to try to ease the tension that has come with his team’s slide. His message: Relax and have fun and play “the freest baseball possible that we can.”
Baldelli told the media, “One thing I’m not going to do is bury our group of players for the way that they’ve gone about their business, the way that they’ve prepared, the way that they show up here and play. Playing hard and playing good are two different things, and our guys absolutely do things exactly the way I would like to see it done.
“All you can do is get yourselves ready to play, compete your ass off when you’re out there, and our guys do that. It hasn’t been easy right now, and we’re the only ones that can turn that around. … Are we playing well right now? No. Do I anticipate that changing? Absolutely.”
Right-hander Chris Archer (2-6, 4.02 ERA) will try to stop the skid for the Twins, who are 0-5 this season against Houston, getting outscored 30-8. Minnesota has just two runs in 29 innings against Astros starters.
Archer is 5-3 with a 2.67 ERA in nine career starts against the Astros, including 3-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five starts at Houston. However, he picked up the loss in his only previous start against the Astros this season on May 11 in Minneapolis, an 11-3 setback, allowing five runs (four earned) on five hits in three innings while striking out two and walking three.
Houston, which has won three in a row, will counter with right-hander Luis Garcia (10-8, 4.09 ERA). Garcia is 2-1 with a 1.76 ERA in three career starts against the Twins. He allowed five hits over five innings while striking out nine and walking two in a 5-0 win on May 12 in Minnesota.
Garcia, who has won his past two starts, has some big cleats to fill when it comes to starting pitching for the Astros.
AL Cy Young Award favorite Justin Verlander held the Twins hitless over six innings while striking out 10 in a 4-2 victory in the Tuesday series opener. Framber Valdez limited Minnesota to one run on two hits over seven innings while striking out eight and walking four on Wednesday in the Astros’ 5-3 win.
It was the 21st consecutive quality start for Valdez, breaking the team record set by Mike Scott during his 1986 National League Cy Young Award-winning campaign.
Valdez also tied Minnesota’s Johan Santana (2004) for the most consecutive quality starts by a left-hander in major league history. The major league record of 26 is shared by Bob Gibson (1967-68) and Jacob deGrom (2018-19).
“That was really fun to play behind tonight,” said Astros left fielder Trey Mancini, whose two-run homer in the sixth inning Wednesday proved to be the difference. “(Valdez) works fast … and he’s amazing. There’s no other way to say it. He’s having an awesome year.”