ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. – Oswaldo Arcia swung as hard as he could at a 97-miles-per-hour fastball from Jake McGee on Thursday, angrily whirled toward the Twins dugout and whacked the bat over his knee. But the wooden neck stubbornly refused to snap in two.
These days, the Twins aren’t even doing frustration right.
“I don’t know what we need to do, but this is how the last two weeks have gone,” closer-without-portfolio Glen Perkins said in a whisper-silent Twins clubhouse. “Whether it’s a big pitch or a key hit, whatever we need, we don’t get it. Whatever [opponents] need, they do.”
And whatever signs of life the Twins showed in their final game in Florida, where they went 0-6 this year, were quickly suffocated by the quagmire of another losing streak. They fell 4-3 to the surging Rays. It was the Twins’ fifth consecutive loss, ninth in a row to Tampa Bay and 11th in 12 games overall. And while the pitching and defense were good enough to win, the whirlpool of failure they find themselves caught in revealed itself most starkly at the plate.
A day after tying the franchise record for strikeouts with 19, the Twins whiffed 13 more times, albeit mostly to newly minted All-Star Matt Moore, and the young players in the heart of the lineup flailed the hardest — a symptom, it appeared with each teeth-clenched cut, of their mounting rage.
“Three of them had eight [strikeouts], right in the middle of the lineup,” manager Ron Gardenhire said of Trevor Plouffe (three), Chris Parmelee (two) and Arcia (three, and seven in his past eight at-bats), the 4-5-6 hitters Thursday. “We struck out too many times. Two days in a row where we had a lot of punchouts. You have to tip your cap to the pitching staff over there … but you’ve still got to put the ball in play more than we did the last couple of days.”
Gardenhire hoped he had arrested the freefall last weekend in Toronto, when he told players to stop marinating in their frustration. But the stress level is back to post-Yankees levels once more because no pep talk, no manager can completely alter an important truth about losing: It’s just not any fun.
“The only thing fun in this game is winning, and obviously we’re not doing a whole lot of that right now,” said Mike Pelfrey, who found little joy in a strong start ruined by a pair of Tampa Bay home runs. “It stinks.”
If that odor seems familiar, well, the Twins (37-52) are now on pace to lose 95 games, essentially equaling the 96-loss reek of a year ago and approaching the 99-loss stain of 2011. And that might be what hurts the most, Perkins said, because he doesn’t believe this team is a sibling to those.
“We’re so much more competitive than we were. Even in these games right now, we’re not getting killed. We used to get killed a lot,” Perkins said. “This year, we’ve had a lot of close losses that are so winnable with one more hit or one more pitch. We’re seeing a lot of opposing closers this year, put it that way.”
Close games aren’t the Twins’ friends, however; they have lost their past six one-run games, part of the reason Perkins is the best-rested elite closer in the majors.
Twins fans aren’t necessarily the team’s best buddies these days, either. Gardenhire has said all year that his contract status (expiring) and public-opinion status (expired) have made him acutely aware that umpires aren’t the only ones pondering his ejection.
“It’s not easy. Not easy,” the 13th-year manager said slowly of the current drought. “But I have a lot of confidence in these guys out there. They’re playing hard, and as long as we play hard, we’ll go about our business and let the chips fall where they fall.”
Phil Miller • firstname.lastname@example.org