Considering all that’s at stake, on a night offering a quasi-postseason vibe, the Twins needed a gem from their starting pitcher. The kind of performance that sends a message to an opponent that has closed on them like a Lamborghini in the standings.

Instead, Kyle Gibson treated everyone to a visual root canal.

Gibson dug a deep hole that his teammates nearly escaped from in a heart-fluttering finish, but now is not the time for moral victories. Not with the AL Central Division lead reduced to one game.

One defeat isn’t doomsday but a 7-5 loss to Cleveland on Thursday in the opener of the most important series at Target Field in a long time did nothing to assuage angst over the disappearance of a division cushion that once stood at 11½ games.

VideoVideo (01:39): Kyle Gibson was knocked out in the fifth inning on Thursday in loss to Cleveland

Gibson’s poor outing reinforced in excruciating imagery ongoing concerns regarding the Twins’ starting rotation. The righthander labored in a moment filled with anticipation and excitement.

Too much nibbling resulted in a career-high six walks and five earned runs in 4⅓ innings. Gibson threw more balls than strikes (43 to 42) and also gave up a run on an errant pickoff attempt.

The whole thing was a mess. Gibson apparently was under the weather but didn’t make excuses after the game.

That’s now three consecutive clunkers by the starters. This is precisely why many of us begged and pleaded for the Falvine front office to trade for a trusted starter along with seeking bullpen upgrades before the deadline. They accomplished half of that, so now they have to hope the rotation can recapture some of the magic of April, May and June.

Assuming the Twins make the postseason, other than Jose Berrios, which starter do you trust at present?

No one?

Game 2 of any series will be dicey.

Jake Odorizzi has been inconsistent since his All-Star first half. Gibson remains hot and cold. Michael Pineda is on the injured list. Martin Perez is in danger of losing his spot in the rotation.

The Twins lineup can bash with anyone, but they likely will need to win with Plan B on occasion. What happens when they’re not hitting rockets over the fence?

Inconsistent pitching — whether from their starters or bullpen — puts too much pressure on the offense to score eight, nine runs every game. Their power hitting has been historic, but playoff pitching won’t be pushovers.

Gibson’s fourth inning temporarily sucked the energy out of Target Field. He walked three batters and gave up two hits in allowing three runs to fall behind 4-0.

Fans booed loudly after Gibson walked back-to-back hitters in the fifth inning before manager Rocco Baldelli mercifully gave him the hook.

Ineffective starting pitching becomes doubly concerning because the Indians rank third in the majors in ERA. Their rotation could be bolstered before the playoffs if Corey Kluber returns from a broken forearm. The two-time Cy Young Award winner started his rehab assignment this week after suffering his injury May 1. And now their lineup looks formidable after adding some pop at the trade deadline.

Cleveland won Round 1 in this new fight for the division. The teams have nine more meetings, six at Target Field. This is how the matter will be settled, head-to-head and not by comparing remaining schedules. No need to scoreboard watch.

New Twins reliever Sergio Romo, owner of three World Series rings, described it as “playoff baseball in August.”

“Those guys are hungry and they’re hot and they’re coming to get us,” Romo said. “We’re hungry, we’re hot and we’re trying to keep our post. As a fan of a baseball, how can you not be excited about this series?”

The ending provided some drama. The Twins scored three times in the eighth inning and then loaded the bases in the ninth against Cleveland All-Star closer Brad Hand.

Eddie Rosario came to the plate. Chants of “Ed-die, Ed-die” echoed. Rosario’s flair for the dramatic didn’t happen this time. A flyout to left field ended the game, and the Central Division lead grew smaller, only one game separating the teams.

The margin for error is officially gone.