The Twins lost another game to their most pernicious opponent on Sunday, and it wasn’t the Indians.
Sure, Mike Clevinger pitched Cleveland to a 5-2 victory at Target Field, taking two out of three in the series and narrowing the Twins’ AL Central lead to 5½ games once more. But the sprains and spasms and strains and bruises continue to mount, leaving the Twins’ powerful lineup reduced to hobbled volunteers and spare parts.
The Twins’ overarching question is slowly shifting from “Will they make the playoffs?” to “Will they have enough healthy players?”
“It’s [difficult] any time you lose one of your core guys that plays regularly,” manager Rocco Baldelli said after outfielder Max Kepler suffered a recurrence of the “knot” in his upper chest that keeps him from extending his arms when he swings. He left the game in the second inning, after popping up weakly in the first. “You’re never looking forward to the lineup without those guys, but we’ll find a way.”
Maybe they will, but the ranks are awfully depleted. Sunday, they used three outfielders who had combined for a total of zero major league hits this year: starter LaMonte Wade Jr., and fill-ins Ian Miller and Ryan LaMarre, who until Sunday wasn’t even in the Twins organization. Meanwhile, Nelson Cruz was out because of a sore wrist, Miguel Sano because of a sore back, and Marwin Gonzalez because of a sore oblique, and the absences certainly contributed to the lackluster loss.
Kepler’s spot came up in the seventh inning, with bases loaded, one out and Cleveland leading 5-2. Without the Twins’ leading home run hitter to challenge reliever Nick Wittgren, it fell to pinch hitter C.J. Cron, coming off the bench cold. Cron struck out, Mitch Garver did too, and the threat fizzled.
Two innings later, Indians closer Brad Hand hit Wade with a two-out pitch and walked Jonathan Schoop, bringing that spot up again as the tying run. With no Sano, Cruz or Gonzalez, Baldelli allowed LaMarre, acquired less than 24 hours earlier from the Atlanta Braves, to make his 2019 big-league debut as the tying run. LaMarre worked the count to 3-2, but Hand spotted a fastball on the inside corner, LaMarre took it, and umpire Jansen Visconti declared the game over.
“Ryan was the only righthanded hitter we had available,” Baldelli said of putting that much responsibility on a player he met six hours earlier. “Sano was not going to be available. He’s had some back soreness, something that has bothered him. He was not going to get out there under any circumstances.”
Still, though the Twins have lost six of their past eight games to Cleveland, this weekend’s two-out-of-three doesn’t feel like the crisis that last month’s three-out-of-four ignited among fans. That series left the teams in a nose-to-nose tie, with the Indians riding the momentum of a post-All-Star surge. Now?
“This team, we believe in these guys, we believe in every player here. There’s no need to panic. Nobody thinks so,” said Ehire Adrianza, who doubled on Sunday. “We are the ones who are in first place. We know that those guys won’t give up — we’ve got to keep fighting for these last 20 games — but we should be good. Five and a half [games], to me it’s a pretty good lead.”
The Indians built a 3-0 lead for Clevinger right away on Sunday, getting two second-inning runs off Twins’ opener Randy Dobnak on a Franmil Reyes single, and adding a solo home run by Carlos Santana an inning later. It was Santana’s 29th career homer against the Twins, more than any active player except Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera.
Clevinger made it hold up, allowing two runs on only four hits over 6 1/3 innings. “He’s really tough,” Baldelli said of the Indians’ righthander, who beat the Twins for the second time this year. “He misses about as many bats as anybody in baseball.”
Garver contributed a solo home run in the fourth inning, but Francisco Lindor answered with a solo shot an inning later.
The teams go their separate ways for the next few days — the Twins stay home to host Washington, while the Indians head to Anaheim — before meeting for the final three times next weekend in Cleveland.
“It’s pretty much the fans and the media who go crazy about [losing to the Indians]. In here, we are kind of the same as ever,” Adrianza said. “We know we still have work to do, but we’re confident.”