KANSAS CITY, Mo. – There isn’t much normal about this baseball season, but the Twins stumbled into one familiar facet this weekend: Nobody can play .833 ball indefinitely.
The Twins, who opened the season by winning 10 of their first 12 games and dreaming of a promising postseason, left Kauffman Stadium on Sunday humbled and frustrated by a Royals bullpen that they never saw coming. Kansas City relievers were near perfect for a third day in a row, pitching four shutout innings to complete a three-game sweep with a 4-2 victory and send the Twins to Milwaukee in a daze of frustration that their manager worked to dispel.
“We’re still in a pretty good spot. We’ve played some good baseball already this year. I feel pretty good about everything going forward, and not overreacting most of the time is the right thing to do,” manager Rocco Baldelli said after the Twins lost their fourth consecutive game. “We know we didn’t come out here and play well this series, but I don’t think that means we’re not going to show up in Milwaukee [on Monday] ready to go.”
Only once before have the Twins arrived in Kansas City in first place and left without a victory: Oct. 2-4, 1987, when the AL West champion Twins were finishing out the regular season three weeks before they celebrated their first World Series championship.
The Twins see the Royals seven more times in the next 14 days, and they had better hope they solve an out-of-nowhere bullpen during that stretch. Royals relievers hobbled along as the next-to-worst relief corps in the American League a year ago, but they pitched 13⅓ innings over three days against a first-place Twins team that won 14 of 19 meetings between the teams a year ago. The Kansas City bullpen gave up only two runs in the three games, a 1.35 ERA that left the Twins pounding the ground, their helmets and the dugout stairs in annoyance.
The Twins were held to only two runs for the second time this weekend, and on Sunday they managed only one extra-base hit, a run-scoring double by Max Kepler that amounted to all the offense they could muster.
“The offense is a little flat. A few guys maybe not seeing the ball as well as they normally would,” Baldelli said. “We’re probably missing some fastballs that we would normally be on. [We’re] just not having the quality of contact that we are accustomed to and that we would expect. Why that is, couldn’t give you an exact answer.”
Jose Berrios didn’t have an exact answer for the Royals lineup, either. The Twins righthander scuffled through 5⅓ innings, putting multiple runners on base in four of the six innings he started. Some balls were hit hard — a Maikel Franco sixth-inning home run was crushed so hard, left fielder Eddie Rosario didn’t take a step as it sailed overhead — but he was unlucky, too.
The Royals’ two first-inning runs scored on an opposite-field ground ball by Hunter Dozier — making his season debut after recovering from COVID-19 — that got through a drawn-in Twins infield. And in the third inning, after the Twins had tied the score 2-2, Kansas City took the lead when Whit Merrifield drew a four-pitch walk to open the inning, then moved to third when Jorge Soler — fooled by a curveball — cued the ball off the end of his bat. The slow roller fooled first baseman Miguel Sano and reached the outfield for a hit, and Merrifield scored moments later on a Salvador Perez sacrifice fly.
Berrios shouted an expletive into his glove as he walked off the field at inning’s end, a rare bit of pique for the placid Puerto Rican.
“That walk — I threw four balls in a row, and he scored, so when I got out of the inning, I was mad,” Berrios said. “But I just tried to turn the page and go out there and keep doing it for my team.”
That’s the idea, but all of a sudden, the team hasn’t been doing it like they were. They had only one losing streak of four games last year, coincidentally on the exact same dates as this year.
“We aren’t playing well, obviously. Baseball’s a tough sport,” Berrios said with a shrug. “The other team wants to go out there and beat us, too. So we’ll just keep doing our thing.”