Monday was the start of the sweet spot of the Twins schedule, with 13 consecutive games — and 26 of their final 38 — against the White Sox, Royals and Tigers, the non-contenders of the American League Central.
But it doesn't matter how sweet the schedule is when the play on the field is sour.
Kyle Gibson put the Twins in a hole in the third inning. Eddie Rosario and Jake Cave made poor throws from the outfield. And the Twins failed to produce a timely hit late in the game.
Meanwhile, the White Sox got a three-run homer from Jose Abreu and executed an 0-2 squeeze play. So the Twins' sprint to the finish began with a stumble in a 6-4 loss in the first of a three-game series at Target Field. Their lead over Cleveland in the division was cut to two games.
In one bright spot, Jorge Polanco did hit his 18th home run.
"If we win and we beat the teams we're supposed to beat, we feel pretty good about our chances," Gibson said.
"We're two games up and we're in control of whatever happens. We've got to come out and play well and give ourselves a chance by playing solid games. We feel pretty confident how it's going to shake out."
The Twins grabbed a 2-0 lead in the first inning — the ninth consecutive game in which they have scored first — but played catch-up in the late innings. They threatened in the ninth, with Rosario delivering an RBI single that put two on for Miguel Sano. The big man got a 2-1 fastball down the middle from closer Alex Colome but missed it, then struck out on a cut fastball down and away to end the game.
The Twins were 3-for-9 with runners in scoring position — not too shabby — and left 10 runners on base. It just seemed as if they left more runs on the field.
"We had a lot of good at-bats, put ourselves in a good position to score enough runs, just didn't get the hits with people in scoring position," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said.
"I didn't see anything wrong with the at-bats we took tonight. I thought the at-bats were just what we were looking for. Sometimes you put them on and don't bring them in when you need to. It's tough, it's frustrating. But I thought the quality of the at-bats were good."
Gibson needed just nine pitches to get through the first inning and used 10 in the second. But the third wasn't as easy.
Ryan Goins' two-out RBI single scored Matt Skole and got Chicago within 2-1. The Twins had a shot to make the play at the plate interesting, but Rosario's throw was well wide.
That brought Abreu to the plate. With Jon Jay, his .274 batting average and no home runs on deck, Gibson was positioned to work Abreu carefully. But that didn't happen. Gibson's first pitch was barreled into the second deck for a three-run homer and a 4-2 Chicago lead.
The White Sox made it 5-2 in the seventh when Tim Anderson hustled for a double as Cave's throw was off the bag. Anderson moved to third and then scored when Yolmer Sanchez bunted on a 0-2 pitch as Anderson chugged home to score on a perfect suicide squeeze. Polanco homered in the seventh before the White Sox added a run in the eighth.
"Truthfully, I think it's the only one I've seen in pro ball with two strikes in a situation like that," Baldelli said. "I've never seen it and I doubt that our players on the field have seen it."