WASHINGTON – The idea, you see, was to sink the Royals to the bottom of the standings on this weeklong road trip, then take advantage of the injury-depleted Nationals.
Seven days later, Kansas City has passed the Twins, and it’s the Twins who are getting hurt.
Jordan Zimmermann and two relievers shut down the Twins on three hits in the day game Sunday, and Washington rallied from a three-run deficit at night, handing the Twins an aggravating pair of losses, 7-0 and 5-4 at Nationals Park.
The Twins, who departed the Twin Cities a week ago riding a hot streak of six victories in seven games and eyeing second place in the AL Central, stumbled home in fourth, just a half-game ahead of the cellar-dwelling Chicago White Sox.
Sunday’s sweep was particularly painful — and the pain could linger. Righthanded reliever Ryan Pressly came down with triceps tightness in the first game, and center fielder Aaron Hicks strained his left hamstring while lunging for first base in the second. The Twins hope neither injury is serious, but they will know more after arriving home.
“My hamstring hurts, but it’s just a little strain,” Hicks said after leaving the game following a 12-minute rain delay. “I’ll get it re-evaluated tomorrow, so we’ll see how that goes.”
Not much went well Sunday, starting with the offense. The Twins were outhit 24-11 in the two games and went a combined 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position.
Sound familiar? It’s the story of this 2-4 road trip: The Twins were 7-for-59 for the week when a hit would have produced a run, and they left 63 runners on base. And the leadoff spot, supposed to be the engine of the offense, completed a perfect week: a combined 0-for-24 on the trip.
“We hit some balls right on the screws” in the second game, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said, “but they seemed to go right at them. So [it was a] very frustrating game for us. We felt like we hit the ball better than the runs on the board.”
Take the sixth inning, for instance. Eduardo Escobar led off with a triple, then stayed there as Pedro Florimon grounded out, Justin Morneau popped up and Jamey Carroll roped a sure hit that second baseman Anthony Rendon somehow stabbed out of the air 4 feet above him.
Or then there’s the seventh inning, when Chris Herrmann, who knocked in two runs with a second-inning double, led off with a single in game tied 4-4. Joe Mauer followed and, in an uncharacteristic reflex, pulled a laser of a line drive toward the right-field corner. It landed, however, in Adam LaRoche’s glove, a rally killed with one step.
“We hit some rockets,” Gardenhire shrugged, “and they’ve got people standing there.”
And the Twins had nobody standing down the right-field line where Denard Span laced a first-pitch triple to tie the score in the sixth inning, scalding his old team with the sort of big hit they were lacking. “He reached down and hooked it,” said Anthony Swarzak (1-2), “like I’ve seen him do so many times.”
The Twins had played sharp baseball in pulling out a 4-3, 11-inning victory on Saturday, but the sharpness was all gone Sunday, and starting pitchers Scott Diamond and Samuel Deduno were the best examples of that D.C. letdown. Each starter had pitched six shutout innings in his previous outing, and while neither was terrible here, neither was dominating, either, certainly not the way Washington’s first-game starter, Jordan Zimmermann was: seven innings, two hits, eight strikeouts, his league-leading ninth victory.
Diamond gave up a career-high seven runs, in fact, and didn’t survive the fifth inning for the third time in five starts. Deduno gave up three runs over five innings in the nightcap.
“Definitely a frustrating way to have the game turn out. I thought I was executing pretty well,” Diamond said. “I’m really frustrated with how it all played out.”
Particularly in the bottom of the fifth inning, when Washington loaded the bases with two outs. Diamond induced a hard ground ball to second base, but instead of ending the inning, the ball bounced off Brian Dozier for a run-scoring single, opening the door to a five-run frame.
“That’s an error. He just missed the ball. They gave it a hit, but this is the big leagues, boys,” Gardenhire said. “It’s two steps to his right. We got to catch the ball. Doz just missed it — it happens.”
Bad things just kept happening to the Twins all day.