Jim Souhan: Lousy and lethargic becoming the norm for Twins

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 26, 2010 - 12:27 AM

The Twins haven't been snakebit; they are just playing poorly, in all phases of the game.

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Twins infielder Nick Punto and manager (and former Mets infielder) Ron Gardenhire watched with little joy on their faces during the seventh inning Friday, as the Twins were on their way to their fourth loss in a row.

Photo: Paul J. Bereswill, Associated Press

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NEW YORK — It wasn't long ago that we thought the Twins needed to trade for Cliff Lee so they'd have an ace in the playoffs. The way they've played the past four days, our Narcoleptic Nine might need to acquire Lee, Roy Oswalt and a couple of dozen IV bags filled with Starbucks to avoid falling into third place this weekend.

When a good team slumps, it can be hard to tell whether it's because of a flat tire or a blown transmission, but at the moment the Twins are leaking so much oil Bud Selig is considering sending in underwater robots.

The Twins have lost four consecutive, following their 5-2 sleepwalk against the Mets at Citi Field on Friday night, and this isn't one of those "The Baseball Gods Are Against Us" losing streaks. This is lousy, lethargic baseball.

Over the past four games, the Twins have committed six errors; they had committed 21 in their first 69 games. Friday, they looked sloppy again, committing two errors in the fourth inning, and failing to execute a relay from the outfield that allowed the Mets' third run to score, when Denard Span's low throw short-hopped Nick Punto.

That misplay, which didn't count as an error, prompted Mets third base coach Chip Hale (the former Twin) to belatedly decide to send Ike Davis (former Twins closer Ron Davis' son) home after Davis had paused at third.

After the Twins were shut out and swept in Milwaukee on Thursday, Justin Morneau accused his teammates of playing with a lack of energy. He's right -- this team has played poorly in day games the past two years, a sign some of their players aren't mature enough to prepare themselves to play when they're required to get up before noon.

What's more troubling is that 40 percent of their rotation now looks unreliable. Nick Blackburn has imploded, and soon might be out of the rotation. Kevin Slowey, who started on Friday night, offered a typical effort, breezing through the lineup once before pitching batting practice, allowing the Mets to score five in the fourth, fifth and six innings.

For a supposed control pitcher, Slowey throws a lot of fastballs right down the middle. He has given up 17 earned runs his past three starts.

Slowey is 7-5 with a 4.79 ERA. Blackburn is 6-5 with a 6.10 ERA. Blackburn might need time at Class AAA Rochester, and could be replaced in the rotation by lefty Brian Duensing.

The Twins' woeful week has enabled the Chicago White Sox to surge back into the race. By late Friday night, only 1 1/2 games separated the first three teams in the AL Central, and it's hard not to admire the way the Sox have bounced back from an early season slump that led to General Manager Kenny Williams threatening his players.

This might sound strange to say about a guy who's hitting .217, but the Twins desperately miss shortstop J.J. Hardy. They're 24-11 when he's in their starting lineup and 16-22 when he isn't.

Hardy not only solidifies the infield, he deepens the lineup with his power potential.

The Twins also are suffering through a mild slump from their superstar, Joe Mauer. It's hard to criticize a catcher who's hitting .304, but Mauer's consistent swing has become a curse -- most of his hard-hit balls fly straight at the left fielder or a middle infielder, making him easy to defend.

Three months after signing a $184 million contract, Mauer, for the moment, looks more like a gifted gap hitter than a franchise player.

Of course, one danger of baseball analysis is that we tend to make our boldest proclamations when teams and players are at their best or worst. Michael Cuddyer, with a wry smile, noted that the Twins seem to suffer a midsummer slump every year, leading to a pep talk from manager Ron Gardenhire, who tried to cheer up the boys late Friday night.

"Usually, we have the team meeting in Milwaukee," Cuddyer said. "I think we're a day late."

This losing streak could be nothing more than a blown tire on the ribbon of highway that is a 162-game season, but right now it's hard to ignore that big puddle of oil.

Jim Souhan can be heard at 10-noon Sunday on AM-1500. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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