The Twins promised slow, steady improvement this season, and as they reached the halfway point of their 2014 season on Monday night, it’s hard to say they haven’t delivered. Especially if you focus on the “slow” part of that pledge.
They received so-so pitching, sloppy defense and the maddeningly persistent left-on-base addiction that they just can’t quit, all of which added up to a 6-1 loss to Kansas City at Target Field. The setback meant the Twins stride into the season’s second half on Tuesday at 37-44, or one game better than their 36-45 record of a year ago, which was a one-game improvement on their 35-46 quicksand in both 2012 and ’11.
That 2025 pennant race is going to be a hot one, isn’t it?
Actually, any emotion would be an improvement at the moment, because the Twins are suffering through an attack of the blands — a series of games that are frustratingly blah, or blahly frustrating. In each of the past seven games, the Twins have allowed their opponent to take a lead in the first or second inning, forcing them to play catch-up all day. But any chance they have of actually catching up is scuttled by a total lack of clutch hitting.
“Chances all over the place tonight,” manager Ron Gardenhire shrugged. “We had chances — again.”
True enough — the Twins put at least two runners on base in each of the final five innings Monday, against Kansas City starter Danny Duffy and four relievers. But only once did anyone deliver a run-scoring hit, that being Eduardo Nunez with an RBI single in the fifth.
They went 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position, continuing a Twins tradition. They are 11-for-57 in the past seven games in clutch situations, a .193 average that feels even worse. Take the sixth inning Monday — Duffy, tiring under the strain of throwing 97 mph fastballs, gave up a leadoff single to Kurt Suzuki and a walk to Joe Mauer. Then he battled with Josh Willingham, who fouled off three 3-2 pitches and seemed destined to walk and load the bases. Instead, one of his foul balls somehow didn’t hook into the stands and was caught.
“That ball did stay in; it looked like one of those balls that was going to slide out into the stands, but it didn’t,” Gardenhire said. “It just stayed there, their guy got there, and you’ve got to move on from there.”
OK, so Kendrys Morales did — and crushed a grounder to Mike Moustakas at third, a ball hit so hard that Moustakas bobbled it, ruining any chance for a double play. But he recovered to throw Morales out, and Trevor Plouffe flew out against reliever Aaron Crow to end the threat.
“I just know we’re not getting enough big hits right now,” Gardenhire said, “… [so there’s a] lot of pressure on our pitchers, too, to be really good.”
Yohan Pino wasn’t, though he wasn’t as bad as his last start. He gave up four runs on seven hits against the AL Central’s lowest-scoring team, lasting 5⅔ innings mostly because he held the top three hitters in the Royals lineup to a 1-for-14 night. But he also surrendered doubles to Alcides Escobar (which drove in two runs in the second) and Alex Gordon (who scored in the fourth), and a solo home run to Salvador Perez in the sixth.
“Pino was OK. He labored through the first three or four innings,” Gardenhire said. “Then he had a couple of decent innings there.”
Decent, but not good enough. Lately, that’s sort of a Twins tradition, too.