It was supposed to be the other way around.
Twins pitching was expected to be the shaky link on this squad. The Twins spent the offseason signing veteran groundball-inducing righthanders for the rotation and using the waiver wire and the Rule 5 draft to fill out the bullpen. It was justifiable to doubt this team’s chances just on their arms alone.
But that hasn’t been the problem. No starter is on the hot seat right now — that includes righthander Mike Pelfrey, who might be clearing some of the hurdles associated with recovering from Tommy John surgery. The bullpen is the most reliable part of this team.
Even without a bona fide leadoff hitter, the Twins offense was supposed to be productive. Not this hitless group.
We’ve debated the Twins pitching to contact. How about complaining about swinging to contact?
The Twins lost to Detroit 5-2 Sunday in a game in which they had no hits until Brian Dozier lead off the sixth inning with a home run. They had two hits and one run left in them after that in dropping two of three games to the Tigers.
Even with their six-run explosion Saturday, the Twins are averaging 2.6 runs over their past 12 games. Saturday’s victory over Detroit is the only game in that span where the Twins scored more than four runs.
“You look at the guys in the middle,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We count on them to drive them in, but you have to have people on base.”
Twins leadoff hitters entered Sunday batting .175, which is horrid. But No. 5 hitters — a major run-producing spot in the order — were batting .214 with a .329 slugging percentage.
“If you look at our batting average overall, up and down, it is not where we need to be,” Gardenhire said. “And not from lack of work. Guys are working really hard to get it done, but it has to show up on the field and you have to do it consistently out on the field. And that’s one thing we haven’t been able to do.”
Sunday, the Twins were turned into mincemeat for five innings by Tigers righthander Doug Fister (6-4), who has been a tough-luck loser. The Tigers had lost his previous four starts by scores of 3-2, 1-0, 3-0 and 3-2. His slump-buster came Sunday, as he cut up both sides of the plate and used his big, looping curveball to keep the Twins off balance.
Ryan Doumit drew a walk in the fourth for the Twins’ first baserunner of the day, then Dozier homered in the sixth. Clete Thomas drove in the other Twins run with a single in the eighth.
The Twins were held to three hits for the third time in four games.
“You have to hit good pitching,” Gardenhire said. “[Fister] was good, kept us off balance all day. But you have to find ways to get hits. You have to find a way to score runs.”
Detroit got a pair of two-run homers Sunday off P.J. Walters (2-2). Torii Hunter hit one in the first inning — the 300th of his career — and Austin Jackson added one in the fourth. Hunter worked Josh Roenicke through a 12-pitch at-bat in the eighth before stroking a ground-rule double that scored the final run of the game.
The Twins aren’t getting any of that now. No first-inning leads, no grind-it-out at-bats, no clutch hitting. They have fallen to six games under .500 with 10 of their next 12 games against American League Central teams. After that, they step up to the AL East for 13 games heading into the All-Star break.
Will the offense snap to it by then? Joe Mauer is going to hit. Justin Morneau is hitting, just not for power. Josh Willingham is dealing with sore knee but does have 10 home runs. The Twins need other hitters — namely Dozier, Trevor Plouffe and Chris Parmelee — to heat up.
“I think it’s about big hits, two-out hits,” Dozier said. “We have been leaving guys on base. We have been facing some good arms, but that’s day in and day out up here. Timely hitting is kind of a main focus right now.”