The Twins issued a challenge after the All-Star break — become a better-than-mediocre team.
Being swept in their first series back probably wasn’t the best way to respond.
The Tampa Bay Rays capped a three-game sweep with a 5-3 victory Sunday at Target Field, the 1,000th loss of manager Ron Gardenhire’s career.
The Twins entered the All-Star break following a 5-2 road trip at Seattle and Colorado, and came out of it with a 10-game homestand that began against a Rays team with a nearly identical record as theirs.
Gardenhire said he didn’t think the break was what disrupted his team, which fell to nine games below .500 at 44-53.
“We played 20 games in a row,” he said. “As well as we were playing, but we were also beat-up and gassed. It was a good time for [the break], and we just didn’t come out on this side swinging well.”
General Manager Terry Ryan was hesitant to say what appears clear, that his team is not a serious postseason contender.
“Until we get to .500, you’re not exactly where you want to be at this juncture in the season,” Ryan said before the game. “We’re not at .500, and frankly, we’re way below .500.”
A big reason for that: The Twins have left too many runners on base. They went 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position Sunday. They couldn’t score after putting the first two runners on in the fifth inning, and they also came up empty with the tying runs on base in the ninth.
“We’re desperately needing these guys to pick up some of those runs and get us back in the game,” Gardenhire said. “The chances that we did have were good chances to score runs, and we didn’t take advantage of them. And that’s frustrating.”
Gardenhire attributed the problem to his batters wasting pitches, especially against a Rays bullpen he knew wouldn’t give many opportunities after Chris Archer (6-5) was removed.
“Once you get a good pitch, you can’t foul them out,” Gardenhire said. “We fouled a lot of pitches off today.”
Center fielder Sam Fuld, who went 1-for-2 with a walk and has hit in 13 of 15 games this month, said it was disheartening to see the team’s momentum change course with the sweep.
“It’s tough,” Fuld said. “It was nice to end the first half on a good note like that, and you always hope that momentum carries over.”
For the third day in a row, the Twins starting pitcher faltered early. Kevin Correia had pitched six-plus innings in seven consecutive games going into the break, but he lasted only four on Sunday. He needed 91 pitches to get that far, giving up four runs on seven hits and three walks. Tampa Bay scored off him in each of the first three innings, with the big blow being James Loney’s two-run single in the first.
“He kept the damage to a minimum, but he labored through it,” Gardenhire said of Correia, who fell to 5-12 and became the majors’ first 12-game loser. “He really didn’t command too much today, and he had to fight through everything.”
Gardenhire said he wasn’t concerning himself too much with the looming July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, which could see the Twins deal veterans to playoff contenders. But Correia said the threat is all too real in the clubhouse.
“We need a miraculous run right now, so it’s got to start soon if it’s going to happen,” Correia said. “If not, if we lose bunch of games, we’re going to play our way right out of here and then whatever has to happen has to happen.
“We all have a lot of confidence in this clubhouse with each other, and we want to keep this group together.”