CLEVELAND – Their first-inning potency is impressive. It’s the other eight innings that are keeping the Twins down.
Thanks to their recent habit of scoring runs before their cleanup hitter gets to bat, a bit of sorcery they have pulled off in five straight games, the Twins held a lead in all six games of their Lake Erie road trip this week. That they come home only 3-3 on the trip after Sunday’s 4-1 loss to the Indians, having shaved only one game off their six-game AL Central deficit, could be considered a glaring missed opportunity.
Add it to the list.
The first of Eduardo Escobar’s three doubles scored Joe Mauer before the game was five minutes old, but the Twins frittered away 10 consecutive at-bats with runners in scoring position from that point on, missing their shot at sweeping the Indians despite outhitting them 10-7.
“We had chances. We couldn’t put a ball in play, multiple times, where just a ground ball or a fly ball was going to get us a [run] or two,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “I know it’s not easy, but we’ve got to try to improve on executing in those situations.”
Instead, they struck out eight times in the first six innings, and every one of those rally-killers came with a runner on base, six of them with fewer than two outs. Escobar had three doubles in the first five innings, but never reached third base.
“You’ve got the right guys up there, you think, in terms of being able to put the ball in play,” Molitor said, citing whiffs by Logan Morrison, Mitch Garver and Ehire Adrianza as particularly disheartening. “Situations where you really got to see the ball long, even if it’s not your best swing, it’s one you need to try to make contact with.”
By not putting the ball in play, the Twins repeated the formula that beat them twice in Detroit: Score in the first inning, but never in the following eight.
“Baseball, man,” Escobar said. “Some you do it, sometimes not. Sometimes you have to give credit to the other pitchers.”
Well, maybe. After beating Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco in the first two games of this series, the Twins got a second crack at Indians rookie Shane Bieber, and they punished him pretty well: 10 hits, four for extra bases, in just five innings — but only one run.
“We hit a lot of balls hard,” Molitor said. “But he made his best pitches when he was in the most trouble. That was to his credit.”
That’s something that is normally to Jake Odorizzi’s credit, too; the Twins righthander allows hitters to bat only .183 with runners in scoring position this season, among the 10 best among AL pitchers with at least 10 starts. But give an offense enough chances — and Odorizzi has given plenty lately — and eventually that dam will break.
Yan Gomes did the breaking this time. With the bases loaded in the third inning, Gomes got ahead 3-0, then bashed a 3-2 fastball to the base of the wall in center field, clearing the bases.
“If I had confidence in my slider, I might have thrown it in that situation, but fastball is really the only thing that was over the plate at the time,” Odorizzi said. “I didn’t execute it very well. If I had thrown it on the outer half, it might have been different. It was just more middle down than anything.”
Odorizzi has put a runner on base in 14 consecutive innings, inflating his pitch count and putting too much pressure on himself. It’s the reason he hasn’t recorded a victory since May 8.
“It’s a lot of work. You have to be very fine with pitches, and that goes into the effect of high pitch counts, foul balls, everything. It adds up,” said Odorizzi, who has started all three of the Twins’ losses to Cleveland this year. “There’s no sugarcoating it. It’s been tough these last four or five starts. Today, make a better pitch in the bases-loaded situation, and things are different.”