CHICAGO – This tour of the bottom of the American League standings isn’t exactly going as the Twins envisioned.
Embarking on a road trip to last-place Chicago and last-place Toronto on the momentum of a four-game winning streak, the Twins hoped to take advantage of their downtrodden brethren to solidify their postseason chances. Instead, after a sloppy, frustrating 5-1 loss to the White Sox on Thursday, the Twins head to Canada having lost three of their five games in Guaranteed Rate Park.
“It’s the big leagues,” shrugged Jose Berrios, who pitched a Twins loss for the fourth time in six starts despite giving up, by his reckoning, only one hard-hit ball. “That team might not have a good record, but they’re big leaguers.”
Uh-oh. So are the Blue Jays, and the Twins haven’t won in Toronto since 2014.
“It’s disappointing to have a chance to win the series” and then not pull it off, said Twins manager Paul Molitor, visibly annoyed by his team’s overaggressive approach to White Sox starter Derek Holland, whom they had pummeled for 20 runs in 14 innings already this season. “I just think that hopefully there’s a little lesson learned here: You’ve got to have that intensity from the first inning. We have to come out ready to play from the get-go.”
He clearly didn’t think they did, particularly galling after he declared before the game that, despite having lost Miguel Sano, Robbie Grossman and Jason Castro to injuries in the past week, “These guys are rallying themselves.” But one night after being held to three hits, the Twins eked out only five more off Holland and three Chicago relievers, never more than one per inning, and they went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position. Even Jorge Polanco, who had homered in each of the first four games here, couldn’t deliver this time.
The lone breakthrough came courtesy of Byron Buxton, who led off the sixth inning — an inning Holland hadn’t seen in five of his previous seven starts — with a 408-foot blast over the Chicago bullpen, his 10th home run of the season. But no other Twins hitter reached third base, a surprising turnaround for an offense that hit eight home runs in the series’ first three games.
The Twins maintained a half-game lead in the race for the second American League Wild Card spot, which they hold only because both Kansas City and Los Angeles lost on Thursday. Seattle won to move within a half-game, and Texas is one-game behind Minnesota. The full standings are here.
Offense “can be fleeting,” Molitor said. “You try to ride those crests when you can, but sometimes they can disappear kind of quickly.”
Berrios had nine strikeouts and gave up only four hits. But combined with a couple of critical errors, one of them his own, and three walks, Chicago turned that meager output into five runs and a second victory in a row.
Berrios surrendered a homer to Yolmer Sanchez in the second inning, leaving a fastball meant to go inside over the plate instead. But “that was the only hit they got that was a good hit,” he said.
The fourth inning is where Berrios got into real trouble, though it wasn’t entirely of his own doing. A leadoff walk to rookie Yoan Moncada was followed by a stolen base, and he scored when Mitch Garver, normally a catcher but pressed into service at first base, allowed Nicky Delmonico’s grounder to bounce off his glove and roll away.
Singles by Kevan Smith and Sanchez loaded the bases, and Tim Anderson, who delivered a perfectly placed ground ball to win Wednesday’s game, did it again: He hit a grounder that third baseman Ehire Adrianza had to dive for, preventing him from starting a double play. Delmonico scored on the force play.
And Berrios made matters worse when he saw Smith straying off third base. The 23-year-old tried to pick him off, but his throw sailed into foul territory up the left-field line, allowing Smith to score.
“I just held on to the ball too long and too tight,” Berrios said, “and ended up throwing it into the ground.”
Into the ground. Sort of a metaphor for a letdown of a series.