ANAHEIM, CALIF. - For a team that fancies itself a contender, the Twins sure spend a lot of games looking like complete pretenders.
They haven't won a series since July 17, when they finished taking three of four from the Royals. That streak could have ended Thursday night, but the Twins were facing the Angels, a team legitimizing itself weekly as a real contender.
Dan Haren was masterful for eight innings, and Francisco Liriano ... not so much, as the Twins fell 7-1 at Angel Stadium.
Haren (12-6) held the Twins to one hit before the eighth, when Jim Thome connected for his 598th career home run. The Twins added three more hits that inning, but the rally fizzled after Danny Valencia got thrown out at home on what seemed a sure RBI single by Tsuyoshi Nishioka.
The Angels have won 12 of their past 14 series to stay within one game of the AL West-leading Rangers. The Twins finished 4-6 on their road trip to Texas, Oakland and Los Angeles and are eight games behind the Tigers in the AL Central.
The Twins were expected to land in the Twin Cities at about 5 a.m. They open a three-game series at home Friday against a White Sox team riding a six-game losing streak.
The Twins are 7-1 against the Chicago this year, and they will have to hope that success continues, especially since the next four opponents are the Red Sox, Indians, Tigers and Yankees.
To go on another run like their 15-2 stretch in June, the Twins need a big turnaround from their starting pitchers, who went 2-6 with a 8.70 ERA on the road trip.
Liriano (7-9) remains maddeningly inconsistent. Once again, he crumbled at the first hints of adversity.
When Michael Cuddyer (playing at second) and Joe Mauer (at first) failed to turn a double play in the second inning, the Angels turned it into two runs, getting RBI hits from No. 8 batter Peter Bourjos and No. 9 batter Jeff Mathis.
Liriano opened the fourth by walking Alberto Callaspo and Torii Hunter. Vernon Wells beat out a potential double play ball, and with two outs, Mark Trumbo smashed a slider for his 21st homer of the season.
"I made a big mistake right there," Liriano said. "I was trying to bounce it in the dirt, and it stayed up. I've got to make a better pitch in that situation."
Said manager Ron Gardenhire: "I don't know how to rate Frankie's performance because we missed so many plays defensively. Five runs after two double plays should have been turned."
Bourjos signified the Angels' aggressive play with two baserunning gems: He scored from second base on Mathis' infield single in the second and went from first to third on a swinging bunt by Mathis in the fourth.
"Tapper in front of the mound, and he goes first to third," said Gardenhire, still astonished. "... I don't think he went to second, I think he went across the mound. That's how quick he got there."
Valencia showed barely a fraction of that speed in the eighth, when Bourjos cut him down from center field on Nishioka's grounder up the middle.
Hunger, determination and grit. Right now, the Angels seem to have all of it, and the Twins most certainly do not.