Cruz homers, but struggles vs. lefties go on

August 30th, 2020

Whatever happens at the upcoming Trade Deadline, it’s clear that the Twins are missing the right-handed bats of , and , who could really help with the club’s unexpected regression against left-handed pitching.

No team in baseball hit southpaws better than the Twins did last year, and no team hit more homers against lefties than the Bomba Squad. That’s changed in a big way this year, and at no point was that more apparent than Saturday, when the Twins mustered only four hits against Detroit left-hander Matthew Boyd during an 8-2 loss to open a straight doubleheader at Comerica Park.

That trend continued during a 4-2 loss in the second game, when rookie left-hander Tarik Skubal and two relievers again held the Twins to only two runs on four hits. Boyd and Skubal picked up their first wins of the season.

“A couple of chances that we had, and we weren't able to get anything really going,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said following the doubleheader. “You can’t rely on just a swing here and a swing there, like you said, to win a game and when you only have the seven innings to play with. ... We didn’t do enough today to win.”

It didn’t help that rookie right-hander snapped a streak of five consecutive winning efforts by allowing a career-worst 12 hits in 4 1/3 innings and was charged with six runs. He allowed more than two earned runs for the first time in his Major League career, spanning 16 appearances. Twins pitching allowed a season-high 16 hits, including 13 singles.

“Today, I kept attacking them,” Dobnak said. “Except for the guys I kept falling behind, but like I said before, being a ground-ball pitcher, they put the ball in play a lot. And more often than not today, they found holes. Ultimately, that’s just the game of baseball. Going forward, I’ve just got to erase that game from my mind and go out there and try to do the same thing next game.”

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Still, on paper, this should have been a needed opportunity for the offense to regain its footing against Boyd, who entered the game with an 8.48 ERA, tied for the MLB lead in earned runs allowed (27) and leading the American League Central with eight homers allowed in 28 2/3 innings.

Instead, the offense fell flat until finally tallying a pair of hits in the sixth inning, including a booming solo homer to straightaway center by Nelson Cruz, who moved back into a tie for the AL lead with 12 home runs. Otherwise, the Twins mustered only an unearned run in the third inning that came on a two-base error, a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly.

Skubal also entered the day with a 10.38 ERA and only two MLB appearances under his belt, but he held Minnesota to three hits across five frames, highlighted by another homer by Cruz, who tied Fernando Tatis Jr. for the Major League home run lead, with 13.

“I prefer to focus on what's going on now, but obviously, we did find ways to have success [against lefties last year],” Baldelli said. “We found ways to stack the lineup pretty good and see some different skillsets and guys that do different things with their at-bats against lefties. We've got to find ways to find the right mix and get guys on those left-handers.”

Minnesota’s lineup entered Saturday with a .686 OPS against left-handed pitching this season, 21st in MLB.

The Twins dropped to 4-7 in games against left-handed starters this season, with two of those wins coming against Kansas City rookie Kris Bubic. Outside of Bubic, the Twins have not beaten a left-hander within their division in 2020, including Saturday’s efforts by Boyd and Skubal, a gem by Dallas Keuchel of the White Sox and three starts by Royals southpaw Danny Duffy.

A depleted Minnesota lineup featured hitting cleanup and utility infielders and hitting fifth and seventh, respectively, in Game 1. That should be helped by the returns of Garver and Donaldson, who hit near the top of the lineup against left-handers, but neither slugger had gotten off to a strong start this season, either.

“Of course, we have a few guys that faced left-handers and do a pretty good job against left-handers not with us, but that's not a good excuse to not be able to go out there and put some runs on the board,” Baldelli said.

In any case, there won’t be much time to regroup before Monday, when the Twins open an important series against the White Sox at Target Field -- and Keuchel, again, awaits in the second game.