When the Twins routed Kansas City on Saturday night, the goal wasn't simply to win the game.
No, it was obviously to erase that minus-16 run differential.
"Yeah, actually, now we have a positive run differential ... we make the playoffs," starting pitcher Kyle Gibson joked after the Twins' 17-0 victory, the largest shutout in team history. "It's something that we don't talk a whole lot about, honestly, because we take out five of the 130 games, we're probably 40 runs above. So we're not too worried about that."
With those 17 runs in front of an announced crowd of 33,413 at Target Field, the Twins are now plus-1 on the season -- scoring 669 runs, giving up 668. That differential was as low as minus-75 on Aug. 3. Since then, they have outscored teams 194-118 in winning 20 of 29 games, averaging 6.7 runs per game.
They then came out Saturday and scored 10 runs in the first two innings. It started with a Brian Dozier leadoff walk followed by an RBI double from Joe Mauer. Byron Buxton followed with an RBI triple. Jorge Polanco came through with an RBI double. And, well, it essentially went on from there.
"Joe pretty much gave everybody a ball tonight because it was a team effort across the board, up and down the lineup," manager Paul Molitor said. "Even as the lead began to mount, guys kept taking good at-bats. We were able to put up a big number. Keep Gibby undefeated with 17 runs. So that was good."
Mauer extended his hitting streak to a season-high 11 games. With another run-scoring single in the second inning, he tied Justin Morneau with 860 RBI, fifth-most in Twins history. By the time he left in the seventh inning, Mauer was 4-for-4 with two RBI and two runs. His batting average climbed to .303, the first time the three-time AL batting champion has been above .300 this late in a season since 2013.
Molitor said he and Mauer spoke about keeping the first baseman in the game so he could reach the five-hit mark. Mauer's eventual response, according to Molitor, was, "I appreciate it, but you know, I've done it."
Said Mauer: "First, I said, 'Yeah, let's do it,' and then I was out there thinking about it. We had talked earlier before the game about maybe having a DH day tomorrow, and the more I thought about it, I came in and said, 'Hey, if I was 3-for-4, what would you do?" And he said, 'Well, I'd take you out.' And I said, 'Well, I don't want it to be about me. ... Take me out, I get to play first tomorrow, right?' And he said, 'Yeah.' So that's kind of the trade-off."
Buxton, back in the lineup after a two-game absence because of a bruised bone in his left hand, finished with three hits, three runs and two RBI. Mitch Garver recorded his first career RBI to cap the four-run first, and Polanco had run-scoring hits in each of the first two innings.
It wasn't until after the Twins led 10-0 that they started hitting the ball over the fence against the beleaguered Royals pitching staff. Brian Dozier hit a three-run homer in the fourth inning, his 27th home run on the season. Not to be outdone, Eduardo Escobar hit a solo homer in the fifth and a three-run shot in the seventh for his second career two-homer game. Escobar also had a two-run triple in the second.
Gibson (9-10), twice demoted to the minor leagues this year, was coming off back-to-back solid starts for the first time in recent memory, and now he can add a third. He cruised through six innings, leaving after 81 pitches with the game well in hand.
"Early on this season, I don't know if I was just a little bit off or what it was, but this is the kind of pitching I would like to have all year," Gibson said. "So I guess 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."