Summer of discontent

  • Article by: LA VELLE E. NEAL III , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 26, 2011 - 1:50 PM

A team that began the season with promise now finds itself wondering how bad things will get.

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The facial expressions. The body language. The words. Everything Twins players did following their 6-1 loss on Thursday to Baltimore showed the stress of a team in the middle of a free fall.

Outfielder Michael Cuddyer, his left wrist aching after being hit with a pitch the night before, found little solace in his quick return to the lineup.

"The frustration level is at an all-time high for me,'' he said. "With losing, and seeing guys get injured, it's tough.''

Just another day at the office.

The club used the disabled list for the 24th time after Thursday's loss, this time shelving the day's starter, Francisco Liriano, because of a left shoulder problem. Former MVP catcher Joe Mauer took himself out of the lineup because of a sore neck. And the front office completed a trade of veteran Jim Thome to Cleveland.

The Twins returned to rock bottom as the Orioles completed their first four-game sweep ever in the Twin Cities. Minnesota was 17-37 on June 1 before heating up and climbing within five games under .500 as recently at July 20. But the injuries never stopped, the starting pitching began to falter and dreams of rallying in the AL Central ended with a thud.

The latest loss returned the Twins to 20 games under .500, at 55-75. They have lost five in a row, seven of their past eight. They have scored one or no runs in five consecutive home games, the first time ever in club history.

"It's one of those things where you try to keep confidence going, even with the injuries that continue to keep hitting us and stuff like that,'' closer Joe Nathan said. "Trying to fight through it and trying to do what you can to try to win a game.''

Infielder Luke Hughes looked down at the ground, saying: "It's tough man. It's wearing us down a little bit.''

How much can the losing continue? When a team gets swept at home by a club with the second-worst record in baseball, anything is possible.

The Twins are 5-19 over their past 24 games, a .208 winning percentage. With 32 games left to play, they must go 8-24 (.333) to avoid losing 100 games. It's hard for a team to continue to play that badly, but September baseball, with minor league call-ups and veterans sitting out games, is right around the corner.

And how many more Twins players will be injured by then? It's been a running theme this year.

Liriano pitched two innings Thursday before leaving the game because of a posterior shoulder strain. He will have a MRI exam Friday.

As for Mauer, manager Ron Gardenhire was worried about not having nine healthy players Thursday with Mauer hurting. Drew Butera started at catcher, but Mauer was warned he would have to play if Butera had to leave the game.

"Joe has to be available," Gardenhire said. "I only have one other catcher. If something happens to Drew [Butera], I told Joe, 'You have to go in the game. We have no other choice.'

"He said he was going to have a hard time looking up for a pop fly. I said, 'I'll tell somebody else to go catch it.'"

But after the game, Mauer, who has appeared in 61 of 63 games since coming off of the disabled list on June 17, indicated to reporters that he would have been unable to play.

When the local hero was asked about a perception that he is "soft," he replied: "Who's saying that? I think you ask anybody in here, anybody in this organization, they'll tell you different.

"Ever since I came back I missed one game [before Thursday]. People know in here how tough I am. I come to the park ready to play. Today I just physically couldn't get out there."

Cuddyer, meanwhile, charged into Gardenhire's office and demanded to play despite taking a pitch off the wrist the night before. Gardenhire feared Cuddyer's wrist was broken when it happened, but the MRI was negative.

"I'm a believer that if you are here and can play, you go on out and play,'' Cuddyer said.

Healthy or not, able or not, willing or not, the Twins have been one of the most disappointing teams in baseball this season. Oh well, at least they would pick fourth in next summer's amateur draft if it was held today.

"It could turn into an extremely long September if guys start quitting,'' Nathan said. "So we can't do that. We've had too many teams help us out late in the season. So we have to go out and see if we can play spoiler for someone else.''

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

La Velle E. Neal III •

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