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After slugfest, Twins' bats sluggish in finale

@DKramer_
May 19, 2019

SEATTLE -- After a record-setting Saturday, the Twins couldn’t quite put a bow on their four-game series at T-Mobile Park in Seattle. They dropped their finale against the Mariners on Sunday, 7-4, after running into left-hander Yusei Kikuchi, who has now won three straight, and a few awakened Seattle bats,

SEATTLE -- After a record-setting Saturday, the Twins couldn’t quite put a bow on their four-game series at T-Mobile Park in Seattle. They dropped their finale against the Mariners on Sunday, 7-4, after running into left-hander Yusei Kikuchi, who has now won three straight, and a few awakened Seattle bats, which homered three times.

The loss snapped Minnesota’s five-game win streak, and with Cleveland’s 10-0 win over the Orioles, the Twins’ lead in the American League Central was trimmed to 4 1/2 games.

Box score

Minnesota nonetheless has won 10 of its last 14 and continued making its case this weekend as a legitimate AL contender.

“I think this was a good positive series for us as a whole,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “You could look up and down our lineup. You could look at a bunch of our arms and say that this is quality work that we put in, and we’ll move on and head to Anaheim.”

Sunday marked just the seventh time in 26 games that the Twins have lost when a starter has pitched at least six innings. The fifth inning once again proved to be an issue for Kyle Gibson, who has pitched into the fifth in each of his nine starts. He gave up three runs in the frame on Sunday to bring his fifth-inning season ERA to 9.72.

Gibson gave up back-to-back homers to Mitch Haniger and Daniel Vogelbach with two outs that allowed the Mariners to pull ahead for good. Haniger’s was via a first-pitch fastball that ran middle-middle, and Vogelbach’s came on a 2-1 two-seamer that Gibson felt was well-located middle-away.

“It’s important just to get ahead,” Gibson said. “You look at our team, when pitchers are consistently behind in the count, there are going to be favorable counts for the hitters. There were a couple of times when I was just a little bit more behind in the count today, but overall that’s kind of the key to trying to keep home run hitters at bay, is to control the count better.”

Offensively, Jorge Polanco went 4-for-5 and laid down a well-executed bunt in the fifth that, coupled with a throwing error by Kikuchi, allowed Luis Arraez to score. Jonathan Schoop then followed with an RBI groundout to give the Twins the lead, but the Mariners responded against Gibson in the bottom of the frame. Edwin Encarnacion added a three-run shot off Trevor May in the seventh that essentially put the game out of reach.

Beyond Polanco, only Arraez, Willians Astudillo and Ehire Adrianza had hits. Sunday marked just the 10th time this season that the Twins had five hits or fewer, and the first in two weeks. They dropped to 3-7 in those games.

That’s not necessarily a cause for concern. The Twins have emerged as one of the best-hitting teams, pacing the Majors or ranking near the top in most offensive categories.

The Twins are also just one day removed from a three-hour, 50-minute win in which they tied the MLB high mark with 18 runs scored and homered six times, marking the fifth time this season they’ve hit five or more in a single game -- an MLB record before June 1.

Minnesota has only lost back-to-back games three times this season, and they’ve never lost three in a row.

“We do a pretty good job of bouncing back, and we do a really good job of keeping one game separate from the next,” Gibson said. “That's a lot of good veterans that have been around for a while and have done it in different locations and around really good teams.”

Arraez making most of first MLB action
Arraez reached base in three of his four plate appearances, and would’ve reached in all had he not been called out for interference on an infield dribbler, by running in fair territory and not foul. That prevented Kikuchi from having a clean path to throw to first and Arraez was drilled in the back on the attempted throw to first.

Baldelli conferred with home-plate umpire Scott Barry in two separate innings about the call, but he and Arraez agreed that the right ruling had been made.

“Those are very, very tough plays in the way that the rule is written,” Baldelli said. “There's not a lot of leeway. And the way the rule is written, it almost doesn't feel right, but it is. … Luis was called out, but I don't think he does anything wrong. I mean, it's natural to just run straight and try to touch the bag, which is all he did. No one believes he was trying to interfere with anything going on, but the way the play kind of developed, I think the call was right.”

Arraez, who was called up on Friday when Nelson Cruz was placed in the injured list with a left wrist sprain, is now 2-for-4 in his first two games after going 1-for-2 on Saturday.

The 22-year-old Venezuelan showed why the Twins raved about his bat-to-ball skills and awareness of the strike zone. He even confidently shook his head on pitches that he believed were balls, en route to his two walks on Sunday.

“Every time I take a pitch that is a bad pitch that means I'm recognizing it's not a strike,” Arraez said. “It's just a mechanism for me that helps me.”

Daniel Kramer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Seattle. Follow him on Twitter at @DKramer_.