CLEVELAND — In a way, Paul Molitor said, it was a little surprising that Corey Kluber didn’t finish off his seemingly inevitable no-hitter on Sunday. “It probably would have been par for the course,” the Twins’ manager shrugged.
That pretty succinctly sums up how the worst road trip of the season went for Molitor and his slump-ridden team. Kluber lost the no-hitter in the seventh, coughed up his shutout in the ninth, but mostly added the perfect punctuation to a lousy week for the Twins with an 8-1 rout at Progressive Field.
Joe Mauer, after barely avoiding a strikeout on a foul tip into the dirt, lined a solid single to left field with two out in the seventh, at least averting the embarrassment of the franchise’s sixth no-hitter. But “we didn’t get no-hit” is a pretty lame rallying cry for a team that was thinking playoffs for three straight months.
Oh yeah, about those playoffs: They’re rapidly disappearing over the horizon. The Twins left Minnesota seven days ago in possession of the final wild-card spot in the AL, and optimism about teaching their young players about pennant-race baseball. They limp home 4 1/2 games out of a postseason berth, with three teams between it and them, and some concern about what those young players are learning.
Heck, they even left their winning record in a dugout somewhere. At 55-56, the Twins are below break-even for the first time since they were 11-12 on May 1, and now face the Rangers, who entered Sunday having won eight of their last 10.
Fortunately, that series doesn’t start until Tuesday.
“This off day will be nice to kind of recharge our batteries and hit the reset button,” said Phil Hughes. “I probably won’t think about baseball at all tomorrow.”
Well, there’s plenty to forget. See, as bad as the offense has been — and it’s been atrocious; Sunday’s loss was the fourth time in 10 days the Twins have been held to three hits or fewer — run-scoring isn’t even the biggest problem. No, it doesn’t matter if you score one run or seven if the pitching staff can’t put a few zeroes on the scoreboard.
Hughes, his manager said before the game, was a timely turn for the Twins, “the right guy, given the circumstances” because he could be counted on to turn in a six- or seven-inning performance. Instead, he became the fifth consecutive Minnesota starter to fail to manage five innings, a streak reminiscent of the 95-loss days. Hughes lasted only three innings, his shortest outing of the season, and he allowed seven runs, his worst outing as a Twin.
His velocity was down and his location was off, leading to a consensus concern: Is he healthy? He is, Hughes said, but he can’t explain his slump — a 9.88 ERA and more extra-base hits than singles in his last three outings — either.
“Everybody has a little something nagging at them this part of the year, but nothing that’s going to keep me off the field,” he said. “The way the first couple games of this series went, I felt, if nothing else, I needed to at least eat some innings for the bullpen guys — and I wasn’t able to do even that. Just a disappointing day all the way around.”
Hughes gave up nine hits, four of them doubles plus a two-run homer by rookie outfielder Abraham Almonte, and appeared shell-shocked as he trudged to the dugout after a four-run third inning. That just makes him like his teammates, however, because this week of torture in Toronto and Cleveland has decimated the pitching staff, particularly the starters. In seven games, six of them losses, Twins starters lasted just 27 1/3 innings, or fewer than four per game, while allowing an average of two hits per inning, 54 in all, and eight of them home runs.
The grim total: 42 runs by the starters, a cumulative ERA of 13.83.
“It hasn’t been an easy go, but it’s the nature of game, to have ups and downs. Sometimes the only way to get better,” Molitor said, “is by going through it.”