CHICAGO – The Twins’ season is such a four-car pileup after 30 games, it’s a wonder they don’t have whiplash.
Wait. They do.
Or at least Kurt Suzuki does, the latest victim of the Twins’ misadventure of a season that now is eroding their health and not just their record. One Twin returned from the disabled list Saturday but one more went on it, two other players got hurt during the game, the bullpen blew up again, the offense sputtered to a stop, and Chris Sale and the White Sox bullied their way to a 7-2 victory at U.S. Cellular Field.
“We’re not going to go down the road of trying to make excuses,” manager Paul Molitor said, “but tonight was another tough night physically for us.”
Not so great on the record, either. The Twins dropped to 2-14 on the road, 8-22 overall, and lost for the eighth time in their past nine games, falling 12 ½ games behind Chicago.
Suzuki will get Sunday off, Molitor said, after he suffered what trainers told him was mild whiplash — more precisely, tightness in his trapezius muscles in the back of his neck and shoulders — when he was hit by a foul tip off Brett Lawrie’s bat.
“I said my neck, my traps were tight. They said, ‘You got pretty good whiplash on that hit,’ ” said Suzuki, who passed a concussion test after being removed. “I’ve taken some hits before, but this is probably one of the more direct ones. The mask didn’t fall off. Usually the mask falls off and that’s a good sign, because it deflects it. The ones that go straight on are the ones that give you a little bit of trouble.”
Byung Ho Park suffered a bruised knee in the first inning when he was hit by a pitch from Sale, forcing Joe Mauer to give up his night off. An ongoing hamstring strain sidelined Brian Dozier for a second consecutive night. Along with the loss of Eduardo Escobar on Friday to a strained groin, the Twins have a couple of pitchers on the disabled list, too, meaning their spotless health during training camp has turned into an intensive-care unit five weeks into the season.
And their physical health is robust, compared to their competitive health. The Twins have at least three fewer wins than any other AL team, and just one more than Atlanta of the National League.
This one Molitor could see coming, though it didn’t seem like it at first. With Sale on the mound for Chicago — the same Cy Young contender whom the Twins inexplicably battered with regularity in 2015, tagging him with four losses.
But Sale came out oddly discombobulated once again, as if trying to shake off this Twins virus he contracted last year. He gave up a two-out single to Miguel Sano in the first inning, then a ground-rule double to Trevor Plouffe. He hit Park in the knee, then walked Oswaldo Arcia to force in a run. Clearly perturbed with his control, Sale then hit Jorge Polanco with a pitch, too, making the score 2-0.
“We took advantage of some wildness there, but he settled in,” Molitor said. “He started using his off-speed [pitches] very effectively and put up zeros. He’s a horse.”
Sale faced 20 more batters during his 120-pitch night, and retired 19 of them, striking out nine. Sale improved to 7-0 — the major leagues’ first seven-game winner — and seemed to put his Twins troubles in the past.
Ervin Santana was unsteady in his return from back spasms, allowing seven hits, including a long home run on an 0-2 pitch to Todd Frazier. He issued three walks and surrendered three runs while retiring just 10 batters.