CHICAGO – Paul Molitor didn’t really expect a championship team to drop out of the sky. But he thought his actual team would catch whatever does.
Instead, the Twins let three catchable balls drop to the ground Sunday, perfectly illustrating on the field what’s happening to them in the standings. After Sunday’s 6-2 loss to the White Sox, Molitor brings home to Target Field a 1-5 team that resembles nothing like the well-prepared, do-the-little-things-right squad he had envisioned.
The Twins pitching staff has given up the most runs in the American League. Their offense has scored the fewest runs in the majors. And Sunday’s display of defense cast a lingering sheen of ineptitude over an already unfortunate start to the season.
“You try to prepare your team. You don’t envision going home 1-5 to start, but it’s that reality thing — it is what it is,” Molitor said after his first week on the job. “I can’t say it’s affected me greatly. Or any more just because it’s been a rough week for us.”
Molitor might be suffering through the Twins’ worst start since 2006 — when a 1-5 start was part of a poor two opening months before they rebounded to win a division title — but he swears he hasn’t veered off course because of all the bad baseball. Though watching Eduardo Nunez let an easy fly ball glance off his glove, or Eduardo Escobar having a pop fly plop out of his glove, or Kurt Suzuki bobbling a popup onto the ground, well, it has to be testing his poise.
“I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing — try to affirm people and be positive,” Molitor said. “And figure out ways to put the best players out there to give us a chance to win.”
Those chances were always slim Sunday, considering Chris Sale was on the mound. The lanky White Sox lefthander has only lost once to the Twins in nine career starts, and he looked like his usual Cy Young Award-contending self in his 2015 debut. Sale, who missed much of the spring because of a fractured foot, struck out eight batters in six innings, and only an RBI double by Danny Santana spoiled his smooth day.
Phil Hughes, meanwhile, lost his second game in the season’s first week; last year, his second loss came on June 6. It’s not easy being the ace, and matching up with the likes of David Price and Chris Sale to start the year.
“There’s some responsibility with that. You’ve got to throw out some zeros and give the guys a chance,” Hughes said, and it never happened Sunday. Hughes gave up five consecutive hits in the first inning, capped by Alexei Ramirez’s RBI double, and was fortunate to be down only 2-0. Adam LaRoche crushed a third-inning first-pitch fastball into the Twins bullpen to make it 3-1, but Hughes retired 12 of the last 14 hitters he faced to keep the game close.
Still, he said, “When you go down early, it makes everybody’s job a lot harder.”
Everything has been hard for the Twins in the first week of the season, including staying positive in the face of so many setbacks. Scoring only one run in three games in Detroit, blowing a 4-0 lead on Saturday, the Bad News Bears play on Sunday — they might not be championship caliber, but the Twins insist they are not as bad as they look right now, either.
“That was a bad week. It happens sometime, but having it this way, to start the season, it looks really bad,” said Torii Hunter, who drove in his first run of 2015 on a fielder’s choice Sunday, making it 3-2 in the eighth inning, before Chicago responded with three runs in the bottom of the inning off Blaine Boyer. “We’ve just got to turn the page. We’re going home to some normalcy. Hopefully we can get a routine going.”
That’s Hughes’ hope, too, that Target Field is the elixir that cures, or at least improves, all that has ailed the Twins. Of course, they haven’t won a home opener since 2011, so there are no guarantees there, either.
“It’s not good. It’s not the road trip we wanted to have,” Hughes said. “But it’s still early, and thankfully we’re going home. We know the atmosphere will be good there, so hopefully we get into a little groove and start clicking.”