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Defense keeping Twins in games despite falling out of 1st

MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Twins are wobbling from a four-game sweep over the weekend by Cleveland that pushed them out of first place, their thin pitching staff exposed by another doubleheader and the surging defending American League champions.

The Twins wouldn’t have been in the position to play such a pivotal midseason series toward the AL Central race, though, without the vast improvement they’ve made this year on defense.

For the numerous pitching problems that remain in need of resolution, there was no more critical step in the reconstruction of this franchise than the reestablishment of an everyday lineup that can not only survive defensively but thrive. After all, if you can’t catch the ball, good pitchers quickly can go to waste.

“It’s a lot of pride. We take it very seriously to go out there and help our pitcher out any way we can,” center fielder Byron Buxton said. “Any play that can possibly be close, we’ll be diving for. Even if we miss, we know we’ve got backup to cover us.”

With the super-speedy Buxton anchoring the young, agile outfield, the Twins have been able to station Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler with excellent range and ability in the corners. They’ve even coined a motto for their fielding responsibility, “Nothing falls but raindrops.” Though chief baseball officer Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine took over a team that lost 103 games last season, they were confident they were inheriting the potential for much better defense than what the Twins had shown. They could see as much with their previous clubs, Cleveland and Texas.

“Each of those guys could play center field. When you have three center fielders manning your outfield, that’s a good place to start,” Falvey said.