TORONTO – A .500 record one week into August once would have seemed like a badge of honor for the Twins, a solid step forward toward a brighter future. Right?
“Right now, it doesn’t feel good at all,” manager Paul Molitor said Thursday after his team was walloped for a fourth straight night by the Blue Jays, this one a 9-3 drubbing that returned the Twins to break-even for the first time since May 2. “It’s how you get there, and we’re going the wrong way. Coming out of spring training, if you said you’re .500 in August, you might have had some optimism there. [But] I’m not feeling real good about it myself, and I don’t think the players are.”
Definitely not, though it was difficult to tell whether they were more unnerved by the unfortunate milestone of mediocrity — 54-54 with exactly two-thirds of the season gone — or the way they were manhandled for four dispiriting nights in Canada. Thursday’s game just showcased once more how much more plausible Toronto’s postseason chances are than the Twins’. Toronto showed off excellent pitching, some can-you-believe-that defense and a lineup that relentlessly beat down Minnesota pitching, enough to carry the Jays to their first four-game sweep of the Twins in franchise history.
“Not too many teams [are] going to beat that team over there. They’ve got a great squad,” Torii Hunter said after the Twins were outscored 26-12 over four days, and outhomered 8-4. “The way they hit the ball, it’s unbelievable. [When] they hit the ball, it sounds like car crashes. That team can do a lot of damage.”
Minnesota retreated to Cleveland after the game, and they left their most prized possession, that wild-card berth they treasured for three months, behind at Customs, unlikely to be reclaimed. The Twins now trail Toronto by three games in the wild-card standings, and they have fallen behind the Orioles and Rangers as well.
Kyle Gibson was the victim on Thursday, and he couldn’t hold the Blue Jays in check for long. Edwin Encarnacion supplied an RBI double in the first inning, crushed a two-run home run in the third, and doubled in another run in the sixth, after Gibson had been routed. The top four hitters in the Jays’ lineup combined for eight hits, six runs and six RBI on the night, but here’s the funny part: Their biggest rally, the one that put the Twins away, was triggered by a bunt that traveled maybe 40 feet.
Ben Revere, one night after snapping an 0-for-13 skid, laid it down, and Trevor Plouffe charged in to grab it. But Revere’s speed forced Plouffe to throw while on the run, and the ball sailed into right field, allowing Revere to scurry to third. After an out, Gibson walked Josh Donaldson, then fell behind Jose Bautista. He was forced to throw a strike, and Bautista crushed it to left for a double. An intentional walk loaded the bases, but Dioner Navarro drove home two with a single, and Justin Smoak doubled in anothser run.
“It was a battle from the beginning for Kyle,” Molitor said. “I don’t know what percentage of his pitches were in the dirt, but it was a lot of them. And when he’d get behind a couple of times, he’d come in there and make some mistakes.”
Gibson lasted just 4⅔ innings, surrendering a career-high eight runs in that span, his third rough start in four outings since the All-Star break. Gibson, the Twins’ most consistent starter in April and May, has given up 21 runs in his past 21⅔ innings, an 8.72 ERA.
Meanwhile, Mark Buehrle was the beneficiary of all the Jays’ offense, and became the first pitcher in history to beat the Twins 30 times in his career. The veteran lefthander pitched seven innings, allowing five hits, though two of them were home runs — a two-run blast by Trevor Plouffe and a solo shot by Aaron Hicks. But he had four effortless 1-2-3 innings, too.
“Some people watch Buehrle pitch and they think he’s in the backyard, playing whiffle ball,” Molitor said. “He doesn’t look like he’s working hard. He can spin it enough, choke it off a little bit, work the corner. We put our experience up there and we got some pretty feeble swings right out of the chute, even though his top speed is 84.”
Enough to hand the Twins their fifth straight loss and 10th in their past 12 games.
“They’re playing well, they’re playing confidently,” Molitor said. “They kind of took it to us for four days.”