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Twins Insider

La Velle E. Neal III and Phil Miller report on the Twins from wherever they make news

Task just gets more difficult on Twins' rocky road

    CHICAGO — The Twins have arrived in a city that’s abuzz about baseball.

    This weekend’s games here are a real test of each team’s strength, and will be watched closely by the entire sport. They could have ramifications beyond just this month, perhaps even impacting trade-deadline decisions late this season. And just from a fan’s standpoint, you have to admit, a showdown like this carries a lot of intrigue, doesn’t it? These games should be a lot of fun.

    But enough about the Cubs and Nationals, whose four-game set pitting the major league’s two best records gets underway tonight at Wrigley Field. The Twins are here for a three-game series that will be contested just a few miles away but feels light-years distant from those pennant-race considerations.

    The Twins are 2-12 on the road and arrive at U.S. Cellular Field just as the White Sox are rolling, having won nine of their last 12 (and with another game tonight against Boston). Yes, having dropped two of three to the last-place Astros, including a 16-4 nadir on Wednesday night, hooray, the Twins now take on the team with the AL’s best record.

    Chicago has done it with pitching — the White Sox have allowed an AL-leading 83 runs, or a full 40 percent fewer than the Twins league-most 140 — and Minnesota will experience the best its quasi-rival has to offer. Chicago’s starters have a cumulative 3.09 ERA, and that’s counting the four starts (and 7.25 ERA) of veteran lefty John Danks, who was released this week.

    Six AL starters own ERAs under 2.00, and the Twins will face half of them this weekend — Mat Latos (1.84) on Friday, Chris Sale (1.66) on Saturday night, and Jose Quintana (1.40) on Sunday. The Twins could do little with Latos and Quintana in Target Field last month, collecting two runs in 12 innings against them.

    Sale is a more intriguing matchup, however, given the Twins’ bizarre domination of the lefthander a year ago. Sale finished with a 3.41 ERA and was fourth in Cy Young balloting, and it’s possible that the Twins cost him that trophy. In five of his six starts vs. Minnesota, Sale got cuffed around; he allowed four runs or more just 10 times all season, and five of them were against the Twins. Three times they scored six or more runs, and all together, they scored more than one-third of all the runs Sale surrendered in 2015.

    Take away those five starts against the Twins, and Sale’s numbers become a 13-7 record and a 2.57 ERA. Say he dominated them the way he had in the past, and Sale might wrest the Cy Young Award from Dallas Keuchel, or at least make the Keuchel-David Price race a three-way competition.

    If the Twins can’t continue their mastery of Sale, it could be a long weekend for the run-challenged visitors. Then again, they beat Keuchel on Monday, right?

Postgame: Twins road woes continue as mistakes pile up

Thoughts after the Twins loss to Houston:

THIS IS NOT GOOD: The Twins were blasted by the Rockets, er, Astros 16-4 on Wednesday, easily their worst loss of the season and their biggest loss since Cleveland beat them 17-4 last Aug. 8. Phil Hughes lasted just two innings before Paul Molitor took him out - reasoning that throwing that many pitches (58) that early in a game could do long-term damage. It was Hughes' shortest outing since signing with the Twins.
Other nuggets:

The Twins are 2-12 on the road.
They have not won a series on the road.
Their starters' ERA rose from 4.60 to 4.90.
The last time they had back-to-back starts that lasted less than three innings was Sept. 21-22, 2013 when Pedro Hernandez and Cole De Vries did it, or couldn't do it.
It was their worst loss ever to the Astros. 

THE EJECTIONS: Was totally caught off guard by how things transpired. Apparently, Ryan Pressly's 3-2 pitch to Luis Valbuena should have been called strike three instead of ball four. Jason Castro followed with a two-run double. Home plate umpire Scott Berry was taking heat from Pressly so he tossed Pressly. Molitor then came out of the dugout to engage Berry and also was tossed. ``I went out and had a conversation,'' Molitor said, ``and followed Ryan up to the clubhouse.'' Molitor was ejected for the first time this season and fourth of his career. It was Pressly's first ejection.

WHO MADE THE RIGHT PICK?: While Byron Buxton is at Class AAA Rochester figuring out his talents, Carlos Correa, the player selected one spot ahead of him in the 2012 draft, went 3 for 5 with a home run on Wednesday. The Twins would have had a discussion, but there were officials ready to take Correa if Houston had taken Buxton that year.

WHAT NOW?: I'll try to get into this in Friday's paper, but everything has to be on the table at this point. Molitor shouldn't have to worry about hurting feelings now because they have have TWO stretches of bad baseball. They started the season 0-9 and now are in a 4-11 freefall. If he wants to shake up the lineup any way he wants, go for it. If he wants to try someone else in the No. 2 hole (with acknowledgement that Brian Dozier hit a three-run homer on Wednesday) he should go for it. Eduardo Nunez should shuffle around second, third and short until his bat cools off (although dropping the pop fly in the seventh wasn't his proudest moment). If they aren't happy with the bullpen mix right now, try J.T. Chargois, or Nick Burdi when he's ready. The Twins pretty much are at nothing-to-lose mode right now, a team that is making mistakes every night. THE TWINS ARE ONE-HALF GAME FROM HAVING THE WORST RECORD IN BASEBALL.