The Minnesota Twins might be 16 games under .500 and in last place in the American League Central, but that hasn’t stopped Rocco Baldelli’s squad from playing some of its best baseball against first-place teams.
The Twins won consecutive series earlier this month against AL West leader Houston, AL Central leader Chicago and AL East leader Tampa Bay.
A 2-0 victory over Milwaukee on Friday leaves the Twins aiming at winning their fourth straight series against a division leader when they again face the NL Central-leading Brewers on Saturday night in Minneapolis.
The Twins improved to 8-3 against division leaders this month as 35-year-old left-hander Andrew Albers, who was making his first major league start since Sept. 30, 2017, blanked the Brewers on three singles over 5 1/3 innings.
Minnesota’s much-maligned bullpen then came in to seal the win, allowing just two hits over the final 3 2/3 innings.
“What he gave us was just phenomenal,” Baldelli said of Albers. “For the whole staff, just a great night.”
Albers, who pitched in Japan from 2018-20 and spent most of this season pitching for Minnesota’s Triple-A team in nearby Saint Paul, walked one and struck out two.
“He executed very well,” Baldelli said. “I think he had great feel for all his pitches tonight. He moved his fastball in and out. The velocity, it shows you can pitch with a fastball in the 86 to 89 (mph range). He can spin the ball pretty well, too.”
Josh Donaldson provided all the offense the Twins needed with a two-run homer in the first inning off Milwaukee starter Eric Lauer. It was the fourth home run in six games for Donaldson and also his 20th of the season, the seventh time in his career that he hit the 20-homer mark.
It was the eighth time this season that Milwaukee, which has won five consecutive series and 10 of 12 series since the All-Star break, was shut out in a game.
“I don’t think Albers surprised us with anything,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “He got through the lineup once relatively easily and we really only had one rally against him, and unfortunately it ended up with a hard-hit ball right at somebody. But we didn’t put enough pressure on him throughout the night.”
Milwaukee saw its lead in the NL Central reduced to 7 1/2 games over second-place Cincinnati, which shut out the Miami Marlins 6-0.
The Brewers will turn to right-hander Adrian Houser (7-5, 3.44 ERA) to try to avoid their first three-game losing streak since July 9-11, when they lost three in a row to the Reds heading into the All-Star break.
Milwaukee is 14-6 in games started by Houser this season. He is 0-2 with a 4.91 ERA in three career appearances and two starts against the Twins. Houser took the loss in an 8-2 setback against Minnesota on April 4 in Milwaukee when he allowed two runs and four hits over five innings.
Rookie left-hander Charlie Barnes (0-3, 6.56 ERA) will start for the Twins. It will be just his fifth career start and first against Milwaukee.
Barnes, the Twins’ fourth-round draft pick out of Clemson in 2017, gave up seven runs on eight hits and five walks in five innings in his last start, a 10-2 road loss to the New York Yankees on Aug. 20.
–Field Level Media