Home runs used to be the Twins' handiest weapon, the blunt instrument they used to hammer their opponents.
Now they're the enemy.
Matt Shoemaker allowed only five hits over six innings, but three of them carried beyond the Target Field walls, and the Twins lost their fifth straight game on Friday, 6-1 to the Oakland A's. Minnesota pitchers have allowed 55 home runs in 2021, more than any other team in baseball.
"It's kind of a fun place to hit homers. You can hit them in upper decks. You can hit them out on the street in right field," said Oakland manager Bob Melvin, who watched his team blast four out of Target Field on the night and move within one of Toronto for the American League lead. "It's like a really good Wiffle ball field, where there's a good visual for homers."
Josh Donaldson connected on a 381-foot shot into the left field stands, too, extending the Twins' streak of games with at least one homer to nine straight, their longest such streak since 2019 — the season Minnesota set an MLB record with 307 home runs.
But how meaningless is that streak these days? The Twins are 1-8 since it started.
Long balls seem pretty toothless when the Twins get so little offense — or so few baserunners — to go with them. The Twins have hit only 12 total home runs during the streak, 10 of them with nobody on base. Their opponents, meanwhile, have 16 homers during those nine games, driving in 23 runs with them, and Shoemaker can attest to the damage that having a runner on can do.
Ramon Laureano turned on a low-and-inside sinker from Shoemaker in the third inning and lined it 407 feet, a solo shot that gave Oakland an early lead. The next two A's homers — by Sean Murphy in the fifth inning and Stephen Piscotty in the sixth — came just moments after Shoemaker issued a walk to the previous hitter, each time turning one bad pitch into another two-run hurdle the Twins would be faced with.
"That's very frustrating and annoying. I never want to walk guys, unless it's strategic, and it's really unfortunate when you walk guys and they score," Shoemaker said after watching his ERA rise to 6.62. Of Murphy's homer, following a walk to Seth Brown, "I was so locked in and thinking, 'Double-play ball. Get two outs on one pitch.' I just executed a bad pitch and he hit it out."
It was hardly all Shoemaker's fault.
"The way Shoe threw the ball, the line at the end of the game is certainly not a great representation of what he did," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "He battled very well. He was pretty efficient. He made some mistakes, gave up some homers. And that's really kind of the story of how it played out."
Especially considering the Twins' lack of offense these days. One day after going 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position in Chicago, Minnesota was frustrated again, going 1-for-6 in those RBI situations, twice sabotaging innings after putting the first two hitters on.
"We've had too many [games like this] to consider them one-off games," Baldelli said. "No one wants to have to talk about the same story over and over again, and that's what's frustrating about it."
How bad did things get? Willians Astudillo looked at a called third strike from A's starter Frankie Montas in the second inning, the first time in 361 major league plate appearances that an umpire — in this case, crew chief Jim Reynolds — called him out without a swing. Astudillo complained, and with good reason: MLB's StatCast system showed that the pitch was outside the strike zone.