TORONTO – After three months of enjoying if-the-season-ended-today hypotheticals, the Twins on Tuesday were glad it doesn’t.
Three months to the day after moving into one of the American League’s five playoff positions May 4, after 92 days of clinging to that postseason promise despite slumps and skids, the Twins finally relinquished their hold on a wild-card spot, handing it over to the surging Blue Jays with a dispiriting 3-1 loss in Rogers Centre.
“It’s been a rough trend for most of our guys as of late,” manager Paul Molitor said of his team, which has scored seven runs over its past five games. “We talked about keep fighting that fight, because I think we’ve still got a good streak in us, hopefully upcoming.”
They could use it soon. The Twins are now only two games above .500 at 54-52, and Molitor felt the need to address his team before Tuesday’s game to remind them that they are capable of turning this around.
“We had a little chat — just kind of taking a pulse,” Molitor said. “I just kind of threw some things out there, about how I thought things are going, and what we needed to remember — what we’re about, things like that. It went OK. I wasn’t trying to do a Knute Rockne or anything, I just wanted to make sure we understood what we have an opportunity to accomplish.”
He means the postseason, which made Tuesday’s developments a bit ironic. No, playoff berths don’t mean anything until the day the season ends, but for the Twins, it was a confidence-building abstraction, a shorthand confirmation that four consecutive seasons of awful baseball were behind them. Nobody took them seriously — even now, mlb.com’s own Postseason Probability Standings gives them only a 13 percent chance of appearing in the playoffs — but the wild-card standings offered an effective rebuttal.
Until now. “It’s a liquid thing — day to day, week to week,” Molitor said. “I think the strong survive. You’ve got to find a way to try to win games.”
Lately, they’re finding ways to lose them. Tuesday, Phil Hughes’ six-game winning streak came to an abrupt end in the most predictable way possible: via home runs. He gave up two for the ninth time this season, surrendered a third run on a pair of doubles, and got little support from his teammates at the plate.
“That’s a tough lineup. Their top four are as good as any in baseball. They’re a tough group to navigate,” Hughes said. “I made a mistake to [Troy] Tulowitzki and a mistake to [Josh] Donaldson, and before you know it, it’s 2-0.”
And that’s more runs than the Twins can manage lately. They were held to only two hits by Marco Estrada and three relievers, and eked out only one run, on a bases-loaded sacrifice fly by Torii Hunter. It’s the fourth time in five games they have managed a solitary run, and it’s no surprise all four games were losses.
Hughes (10-7), whose 27 home runs surrendered are the most in the majors, gave up his first home run only seven pitches into his outing, when Donaldson demolished a 2-2 cutter that hung high in the middle of the strike zone and blasted it into the second deck in left-center field. Two innings later, Tulowitzki jumped on a 2-1 fastball from Hughes, lining it into the Jays bullpen.
Both were solo shots, but even that doesn’t help when your team can’t score.
Estrada (9-6) retired the first nine batters he faced, lost his control briefly and allowed a fourth-inning run (but otherwise emerged unscathed from a bases-loaded jam), then finished up by retiring 10 hitters in a row, earning his first career victory over the Twins.
“He was effective, especially with his changeup,” Molitor said. “I know we didn’t have a lot of chances, because I didn’t put many signs on all night.”