KANSAS CITY, MO. – Scouts are circling the Twins like sharks sensing blood in the water, firing reports back to their bosses who may or may not use them to initiate or continue trade talks.
One way to fend them off is come out of the gate strongly after the All-Star break, but the Twins, for the first seven innings, at least, played like a team that just had four days off.
They bungled scoring opportunities in the middle innings. Righthander Kyle Gibson was punished for a few mistakes. While their late-inning rally was noble, it was fueled by walks and groundouts with runners on third base when someone needed to wreck a pitch thrown by a shaky Royals reliever.
“Too little, too late,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said.
And so went their latest one-run loss, 6-5 to the Royals on Friday. After winning nine 11 games before the break — and vowing to encourage the front office to not be sellers before the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline — the Twins gave them more ammunition to do just that, as they fell to seven games under .500. They are 5-17 in one-run games.
Cue the theme to “Jaws.”
“You can’t lose sight of one game — obviously every game as you get closer to end, there’s more urgency,’’ said Gibson. “But I think a couple pitches, here or there, and we’re up two to end the game. But unfortunately, it didn’t go our way.”
Down 6-1 in the eighth, Mitch Garver blasted a RBI triple. Then in the ninth, Royals righthander Wily Peralta loaded the bases with no outs and was prepped for the slaughter. One run scored on fielder’s choice, a second scored on a groundout by Brian Dozier.
Brandon Maurer replaced Peralta, but Robbie Grossman reached on an infield single and Garver walked to force in the third run of the inning. But Max Kepler flied out to end the game.
The game was lost in the middle innings, when the Twins loaded the bases against lefthander Danny Duffy in the fourth but got only a sacrifice fly by Kepler. Joe Mauer reached second on Whit Merrifield’s throwing error, but Duffy retired the next three batters. The Twins were 3-for-13 with runners in scoring position.
“It’s opportunities to take advantage of and sometimes we missed them,” Molitor said. “In one-run games you can point to a lot of things that create the final outcome.”
Among the witnesses were scouts for the Phillies, Braves and Red Sox, teams looking for upgrades. Both starting pitchers — Gibson and Duffy — could be appealing. And each team has at least one tempting player on its roster — Dozier for the Twins and Mike Moustakas for the Royals — who could boost a lineup down the stretch.
Duffy helped his stock the most, holding the Twins to one run on five hits over seven innings. Lucas Duda was the Royals’ offensive spark, hitting a two-run bloop double just inside the left field foul line in the first, leading off the fourth with a single then scoring on Hunter Dozier’s double, then blasting a home run to right in the sixth that gave the Royals a 4-1 lead.
Salvador Perez’s two-run double in the seventh made it 6-1, which was just enough.
“It was nice to see us make a run there,” Molitor said. “You try to keep pushing until the game is over. But it just puts a lot of pressure on your team to try to find a way to come back when you’re down by [five].”