Twins back on track as A's arrive

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Twins ended their previous homestand with six losses in seven games and appeared to be slipping like they had done during their tough 2016 season.

But one road trip and two games at home has Minnesota looking again like it has put the consistent losing in the past.

The Twins have won six of their past seven games as they prepare to host the Oakland A's on Thursday afternoon for the finale of the three-game series.

"It's been a good response," Minnesota manager Paul Molitor said. "I don't want to minimize that. You just try to keep your temperament in proper perspective of where we're at and the work that we have in front of us. But when you get on a little bit of a run, even though it's only been a week long, you try to enjoy those because it's a fight every day.

"I think the guys are feeling good about the games. Some guys are starting to swing the bats. We're getting a little more contribution throughout the lineup and pitching continues to give us a chance. That's a good combination."

The opposite has been true for Oakland, which suffered its eighth loss in nine games with Wednesday's 7-4 final. The A's loaded the bases in the ninth inning against Twins closer Brandon Kintzler in a non-save situation.

They plated one run on a single by Matt Joyce but left the bases loaded when Trevor Plouffe hit into a game-ending double play.

"If we could have finished off that inning, that would have done wonders for us," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "We're in a position with nobody out and everybody's feeling good about the at-bats that inning. The next thing you know, we're out of the inning.

"That would have been Step 1, but just the fact that we continued to fight and hopefully the momentum of that inning and the at-bats that we took in the last inning will carry over to tomorrow."

Oakland will send right-hander Jharel Cotton (2-3, 5.00 ERA) to the mound on Thursday as Minnesota counters with right-hander Kyle Gibson (0-3, 8.06).

In two daytime starters, Cotton is 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA while holding opponents to a .182 batting average. He is 0-3 with an 8.36 ERA and .371 opponent's batting average at night. Cotton has walked 11 batters in 20 2/3 innings, the same trouble that caused Kendall Graveman to take Wednesday's loss after he walked four batters in 3 1/3 innings.

After allowing 56 runs in the previous nine games, the A's need a strong start from Cotton.

"You kind of want to stop the bleeding at some point, and to go out and have an outing like that is tough," Graveman said of his outing. "Somebody's got to step up. Cotton's coming in tomorrow. Throw a lot of strikes and have a good outing, and hopefully get us on a roll, get us on the right track."

Gibson has struggled this season, but he's coming off one of his best outings of the season. He took a no-decision on April 28 when he went 5 1/3 innings at Kansas City, with three runs allowed on five hits and three walks.

Meanwhile, Minnesota's offense has enjoyed production on the homestand, with seven homers in the two games against Oakland. Kennys Vargas, in particular, has added another power source in the middle of the order, along with Miguel Sano. Vargas drove in five runs on Wednesday, including his second homer in six games this season.

"We know he's another threat in the lineup that doesn't have real big bat presence in the middle other than Miggy right now," Molitor said. "He's a good option to look at each and every day."

The Twins have tried to get Vargas to be more aggressive and it showed when he hit the first pitch from Graveman for a homer.

"I just try to control my emotions at home plate," Vargas said. "I try to take good at-bats and believe in my approach. Like, whatever pitch I like, I just put a good swing on top of the ball. That's what I've been working (on)."
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