KANSAS CITY, MO. – Playing .500 on the road normally isn’t a bad thing, but the 2019 Twins have raised standards considerably. So splitting four games with the woebegone Royals seems like an underachievement.
Kansas City righthander Homer Bailey sent them back the Twin Cities on Sunday by holding them to one run over 5 ⅓ innings during a 6-1 victory at Kauffman Stadium. The Twins might have been licking their chops when Bailey left in the sixth inning, for they had scored 19 runs over 24 ⅔ innings against the Royals bullpen this season.
But the relievers, too, stifled the Twins for the remainder of the game, the key moment coming with the bases loaded in the seventh when reliever Kevin McCarthy got Eddie Rosario to tap into a force play to end the Twins’ last serious threat of the day. Rosario accounted for the Twins’ run in the fourth, with his 20th home run of the season.
Only 5-5 over their past 10 games, the Twins have let their lead in the AL Central slip to eight games over Cleveland, the first time since May 24 the Indians have been that close. It’s still a comfortable lead, so the short-term question is: When will the Twins start looking like themselves again? Particularly on offense, where they have averaged only 3.8 runs over their past 10 games after averaging 6.0 runs a game before this swoon.
“I don’t see this as something that is completely unexpected over the course of a long season,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “I think it’s completely acceptable and we will keep figuring things out, trying to make adjustments and hopefully regain some of that form.”
Once on a two-home-runs-a-game pace, the Twins have hit 15 over the past 10 games. Their on-base-plus-slugging percentage is .724 during that time, down from .858 before then.
Some of it could be injuries. Jonathan Schoop sat out Sunday because of a sore right foot, Mitch Garver is mending a sore left heel/ankle and three players — Byron Buxton, Marwin Gonzalez and Ehire Adrianza — remain on the injured list. Good teams win despite such setbacks, but it probably would help if, on Tuesday, Buxton (bruised right wrist) is ready to be activated and Garver can catch when Rays lefthander Blake Snell starts against the Twins.
“Definitely when it’s big pieces like that,” said designated hitter Nelson Cruz, who was 1-for-12 in the series. “Definitely we feel it right now. But the guys that got called up, they’re doing a good job, too. Hopefully we get Buxton back the next series and get a more balanced lineup.”
The pitching staff hasn’t had its best moments, either. On Sunday, Michael Pineda entered with a 3.67 ERA over his five previous outings but ran into trouble in the third when Kansas City started with micro ball before going macro on the Twins righthander.
Billy Hamilton scored from third on a bunt single by Nicky Lopez. Alex Gordon hit a slider over the plate to right for an RBI double. Then Pineda hung an 0-1 slider to Hunter Dozier that was pulverized into the seats in left for a three-run homer.
“I hanged one pitch, my slider, so I gave up a big homer,” Pineda said. “That cost [us the] game, the slider up.”
The Twins offense had been able to outscore pitching mistakes like that, but not recently. The club headed home for a scheduled off day Monday, looking to rest, get some familiar faces in the lineup and be themselves again.
“Days off are always good,” Cruz said. “They give you a fresh start. We all need it.”