TWINS INSIDER LaVelle E. Neal III

– It took all of Ervin Santana, on the mound and at the plate on Wednesday, for the Twins to avoid another loss on their West Coast trip — a trip that has redefined their season.

Santana set a career high with his fifth complete game and tied an interleague record for most RBI by a pitcher in a season as the Twins beat San Diego 5-2 at Petco Park. They headed for the airport in an upbeat mood, looking forward to returning home, believing they had left all their problems behind them after going 2-6 in games against the Dodgers, Athletics and Padres.

"I don't think anyone has wanted to get out of California more than we do right now," catcher/pitcher Chris Gimenez said.

Alas, they are not leaving their problems along the Interstate 5 corridor. They are 51-54 because they have bungled things and encouraged the front office to sell rental starter Jaime Garcia on Sunday — only six days after buying him. Their play enabled Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey and General Manager Thad Levine to send closer Brandon Kintzler — their most effective reliever in a thin bullpen — to Washington on Monday.

Second baseman Brian Dozier vented his frustration publicly about the Twins subtracting and not adding talent. The reality is that the Twins' play dictated those moves.

The offensive droughts. Taylor Rogers being the only steady set-up man, before his recent rough patch. The desperation move to sign Bartolo Colon. All signs of a team with depth issues. They admirably outplayed their negative run differential for nearly four months. Now their short rotation, short bullpen and sputtering offense have pushed them to six games behind Cleveland in the AL Central and four games back — behind five teams — for the second wild-card spot.

And this recently completed road trip should be looked upon as the beginning of the end.

Levine said on Saturday that "the unfortunate reality is that the landscape for us has changed meaningfully." That left no doubt that trading assets to help push for what most likely would be a berth in a one-game playoff was no longer worth it.

The Twins could have convinced the front office to go the other way. They had a chance to win two of the three games against the Dodgers, but that series will be remembered for a kerfuffle over Paul Molitor's double switch, Zack Granite's throw to an unmanned base and Rogers throwing a third consecutive curveball over the plate to Cody Bellinger.

The Twins should have — not could have — swept the A's in Oakland. But they were demoralized by Rajai Davis' walk-off homer off Rogers on Saturday then Yonder Alonzo's walk-off blast off Tyler Duffey on Sunday.

Of course, there was a hangover on Tuesday, as they were shut out by Jhoulys Chacin and friends.

The Twins blew two 5-0 leads and one 4-1 lead during the trip. They were outscored 17-3 after the fifth inning on the trip. The bullpen posted a 6.64 ERA and was 1-for-5 in save opportunities.

Molitor spoke after Wednesday's game about how, regardless of what happens the rest of the season, there has been improvement. True, they are nine wins away from passing last season's victory total.

Twins players held a meeting before Tuesday's game about not giving up on the season. Santana, Gimenez and Dozier have said in recent days that teams have rallied from larger deficits.

"We have to believe in our stuff and believe what we are doing," Santana said, "And don't pay attention to what other teams are doing."

But the Twins have gone into the fifth month of the season without more than a four-game winning streak. Outperforming trends at this point — without a closer — looks to be too daunting of a task.

The Twins are better this season, but in the end their gift to fans was to hold their attention until the Vikings opened training camp.

La Velle E. Neal III covers baseball for the Star Tribune. E-mail: lneal@startribune.com.