At last, the Twins’ offense put up a big number -- but this time, the starting pitching faltered, and the club’s inability to synchronize the facets of its game continued.
At every step of the way, just when one element of the game seemed to be figuring things out for the Twins, something else would break. Such was the case on Wednesday night, when Minnesota tagged Dallas Keuchel for six runs, but saw J.A. Happ turn in the worst start of his career in a 13-8 loss to the White Sox that secured a series defeat to the American League Central leaders at Guaranteed Rate Field.
“We haven’t matched it up the way we want,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “We were able to go up there and we stayed at it all day offensively. You look right through the lineup and there were some guys that went out there and collected multiple hits, and some good swings.”
Minnesota’s offense did continue to fight after falling into a big hole, with a two-run third and four-run sixth. Nelson Cruz hit a solo blast to extend the Twins’ run to seven straight games with at least one homer, Jorge Polanco cracked a pair of singles for his fourth straight multi-hit game, Josh Donaldson notched three hits and three RBIs and Trevor Larnach collected his first big league hit.
Still, the Twins dropped to 12-22, their worst start through 34 games since the 2016 team lost 103 games. They have dropped six of their last seven and will leave Chicago no fewer than eight games out of the division lead in their first test against the White Sox.
“This team is built to win games, not to be in these situations,” Nelson Cruz said to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “But unfortunately, it is what it is. We all have to take responsibility of our jobs. ... Everyone has to do their part in every game and that's how we'll win games.”
Only four teams in MLB history have started 12-22 or worse and still made the playoffs in a full season: the 1914 Boston Braves, ‘74 Pirates, ‘89 Blue Jays and 2005 Astros. So, the Twins and their strong playoff ambitions aren’t in uncharted waters just yet -- but they’re getting close, and the schedule isn’t getting any easier.
Following Thursday’s series finale in Chicago, Minnesota will continue a tough stretch of 17 games in 16 days with contests against the A’s, White Sox, Angels and Cleveland.
“You win series, you look up at the end of the year, you're in a good spot,” Happ said. “We kind of need to do that to find ourselves a way back to .500, and then go from there and continue to move."
Even Baldelli acknowledged after Tuesday’s game that so many of the club’s tough losses this year have followed a similar pattern -- early offense that the team hasn’t been able to sustain, and a bullpen that hasn’t been able to hold in tight games. Wednesday was different, as Happ, the Twins’ most consistent starter in 2021, allowed a career-high nine runs in 3 1/3 innings and was pulled amid a five-run fourth inning.
In the different manner of dropping Wednesday’s game, the offense’s surge was encouraging and indicative of both the at-bats and fight that the Twins need to chip away at their deficit. They’re still ranked near the top of the league in hard-hit rate and average exit velocity -- and they’ve shown glimpses of that.
“We're going to need every facet of our game to carry us at different points for us to get where we need to be,” Baldelli said, “Our offense is going to be a big part of that. We're going to need it. We're going to need to have some weeks ahead where our offense is just pouring it on.”
Have they dug too big of a hole? They can’t control that. Their focus remains on getting themselves right, matching up their offense and pitching, and counting on the idea that they can be among those teams to beat the odds.
“It almost doesn't matter if it's considered early or not so early,” Baldelli said. “It doesn't change anything that we need to take care of on our end. Is it relatively early in the season? Yes. But we do have things that we need to improve on. We need to be better today.”
“You might be sick of hearing it -- we know what we're capable of,” Happ said.