The mid-50s temperatures suggested football weather, and so did the late-September-sized crowd in Target Field. The Twins may be intent upon proving their front office wrong, may be determined to create a hot streak that carries them back into playoff contention. But on Thursday, they reminded everyone that winter is on its way.
The Twins’ offense, in fact, appears to be in hibernation already.
Texas righthander A.J. Griffin and three relievers limited the Twins to just three hits, the second time in three days they’ve sputtered to that season low, and Minnesota fell seven games behind Cleveland in the AL Central race with a 4-1 loss to the Rangers, their eighth defeat in the past 10 games.
“We’ve been having a little bit of a lull offensively,” understated Twins manager Paul Molitor, whose team hasn’t scored a run after the sixth inning in its past eight games. “We didn’t hit many balls hard tonight.”
Another sure sign of September? Using extra players who weren’t in the team’s plans when the season started. August may be only three days old, but the Twins debuted veteran righthander Dillon Gee on Thursday, bringing their roster of pitchers used in 2017 to 30 — a franchise record. True, the old mark of 29 stood for only 10 months, having been set late last season, but it’s an accurate representation of the constant scramble the Twins have undertaken this season to locate major league pitchers.
Gee, though, was effective in his Twins debut, pitching three scoreless innings before surrendering back-to-back singles to open the eighth inning. The pitcher he relieved, though, couldn’t really say the same. Adalberto Mejia, who had allowed two or fewer runs in six of his past eight starts, was inconsistent this time, and right from the start. He gave up a walk and two singles to fall behind 1-0 before he retired a single hitter, but he bounced back by whiffing the next five hitters in a row.
“The first inning, I couldn’t get a grip on the ball,” said Mejia, whose last victory was exactly one month ago. “I think the weather was too cold for me. My hand was too numb.”
He warmed up and settled down for a while, but the Rangers batted around in the fourth inning, scoring three runs after two were out. A double by Mike Napoli and a walk to Carlos Gomez after getting ahead of the former Twins outfielder 0-2 got the lefthander in trouble, and Joey Gallo made things worse. Mejia got ahead 0-2 again with a pair of slow sliders, but when he kept feeding the same pitch to the Rangers’ second-year slugger, Gallo finally made him pay.
“I don’t think [the pitch] was horrible, it’s the repetitiveness of the pitch — giving a guy a chance to see the spin and knowing where it has to start to be hittable,” Molitor said. “[Gallo] chased a couple early, then didn’t bite on the 0-2 one, and eventually [Mejia] got one out there where he could get extended and still pull it a fair amount of distance.”
Yeah, about 435 feet, more or less, landing in the upper deck in right-center, his 29th blast of the season.
For the trouble the Twins’ pitching caused, though, the real culprit lately remains the Twins’ offense, which has been powerless since Monday’s trade of closer Brandon Kintzler signaled the front office’s skepticism about their chances of a late charge to the postseason. Minnesota has 13 hits and six runs in the three games since then.
Only a walk to Robbie Grossman to lead off the third inning cost Griffin; Byron Buxton slapped a double into the left-field corner, and Grossman sprinted home from first base.