Bats thrill in late rally, but 'pen can't hang on

June 22nd, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS -- Even five-run deficits can start looking manageable again when this lineup gets this close to its full potential. The Twins left little question of that on Tuesday afternoon. The bullpen, on the other hand, couldn’t keep up its recent success.

After Minnesota dug a late five-run hole due to some sloppy defense and another shaky effort from Alex Colomé, the Twins’ bats immediately took advantage of a similarly wobbly Cincinnati bullpen with five hits and five runs in the bottom of the eighth. But all that, too, was immediately erased when Tyler Naquin clubbed a go-ahead three-run homer in the ninth off Hansel Robles that sank the Twins in a 10-7 loss at Target Field.

The result snapped a season-high five-game winning streak for Minnesota and secured a split of the two-game Interleague series ahead of an off-day and the upcoming four-game series at home against Cleveland.

“No matter what really came our way today, our guys kept playing,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “The at-bats were good. We kept putting runs on the board. We had a lot of good swings. I mean, looking at our lineup card and looking at all the guys, we had a lot of guys go out there and put good swings on the ball today.”

Though the Twins entered the day with a 3-25 record when trailing after seven innings and saw their deficit grow even further in the top of the eighth, they might as well have flipped a switch once stingy Reds left-hander Wade Miley finally exited the game after a seven-inning effort, giving way to a Cincinnati relief corps that ranked worst in baseball with a 5.58 ERA entering the game.

They looked every bit the part.

Minnesota greeted right-hander Art Warren with a Jorge Polanco walk and a 422-foot, two-run blast by Max Kepler that trimmed the deficit to three. Once right-hander Lucas Sims entered, Trevor Larnach launched a ball even farther, an estimated 434 feet to right field, clawing the Twins closer. Following Ryan Jeffers’ single, Miguel Sanó doubled off the top of the wall, missing a game-tying homer by inches, before Alex Kirilloff’s double to right-center drew the Twins even anyway.

Though the lineup is nearly back to full strength (or as full as it’ll be with Byron Buxton sidelined for the coming weeks), this isn’t necessarily the group the Twins thought they’d be trotting out every day at the start of the season, with both Larnach (.787 OPS) and Kirilloff (.750 OPS) having forced themselves into near-everyday action with smooth transitions to the big leagues.

They haven’t looked out of place in the big leagues yet, and they continued to look at ease as they both played significant roles in the Twins’ chain of hits in the eighth.

“They're learning on the go but doing it well, doing a good job with it,” Baldelli said. “And they're playing well at the Major League level. These are guys that, despite not being with us earlier in the year, I think, were motivated to be here and had every intention of being here and are showing that they can go out there and play good baseball in the big leagues.”

But Minnesota’s bullpen, which appeared to take promising strides in the three-game sweep of Texas, also flashed its season-long struggles. Pitching for the fourth time in five days, Robles allowed a one-out double to Nick Castellanos and hit Tyler Stephenson before Naquin put the Reds ahead. Coming off a series of tight games against the Rangers and Monday night’s five-hour marathon, the Twins’ bullpen was squeezed -- and that, too, showed.

“We have ridden our bullpen hard,” Baldelli said. “It’s something we pay a lot of attention to. ... Our guys took the ball today on days where several of those guys probably, on a different week, would have been down completely today. And we had to just hand them the ball and let them go to work. Some of their stuff was down because of it.”

Still, with the bullpen having allowed only four earned runs across 24 innings (1.50 ERA) during the Twins’ recent five-game winning streak and Bailey Ober turning in another mostly solid start, the pitching had slowly gathered some momentum ahead of Tuesday’s late innings.

If they can keep that up, this offense definitely has the punch to win some games -- and the Twins showed that in force in the eighth inning.