The Twins came armed with their two best starting pitchers, the return of a former MVP, and the confidence that each of their three consecutive losses could be yeah-but explained away as mere bad breaks. Heck, after COVID infiltrated their clubhouse, just the fact they were playing at all seemed like a good omen.
Instead, they walked away Wednesday with two more humbling defeats, a rare losing record in Rocco Baldelli's three-year tenure as manager — and even more conviction that their five-game skid is a fluke, more slump than symptom.
"It's baseball," said Jose Berrios, who followed Kenta Maeda's 3-2 loss to the Red Sox in Game 1 of a doubleheader of seven-inning games by absorbing a 7-1 defeat in Game 2 at Target Field. "Obviously we want to win. But I know we're going to come tomorrow and the next day with the ability to make a good thing happen. We'll turn the page tonight."
OK, maybe so. But the doubleheader sweep gave the Red Sox nine consecutive victories, and Wednesday they gave themselves far more chances to push runs across than the home team. Yes, Boston went only 6-for-25 with runners in scoring position in the two games and left 16 runners on base, but the Twins have reason to be jealous after their atrocious 1-for-16 performance. If not for Jorge Polanco's two-run single in Game 1, the Twins would have had zero RBI hits during 14 chilly innings.
"We obviously haven't delivered and haven't brought many runs home," Baldelli conceded. "It's probably a combination of not having quite the at-bats we want, but when we have — and a few times we have hit the ball hard with some people on base — that really hasn't played out well for us, either."
The manager quickly hustled back into his preferred optimism. "It will. The caliber of hitters that we have is just too good for that not to play out in our favor," Baldelli said.
The Red Sox might not be so convinced, having seen the Twins collect exactly five hits in all three games of this series thus far, manage one extra-base hit (and zero home runs) per game, and go a combined 1-for-24 with runners in scoring position.
Even the return of Josh Donaldson for Game 2, after being idled nearly two weeks by a strained right hamstring, didn't help. Donaldson singled off Eduardo Rodriguez and scored the Twins' only run in the first inning, but otherwise went hitless.
Donaldson offered a diagnosis for the sudden silence. "Sometimes when you're getting a little frustrated and you're not getting the results you want, and you continue to focus on that, you begin to press a little bit and kind of take too much ownership, versus trying to treat it as a normal at-bat," he said. "And if you hit something hard at somebody, that's part of the game. We've done that several times."
It's victimized a pitching staff that has been mostly good, but vulnerable to one bad inning. Maeda's throwing error triggered a three-run frame in Game 1, and a sudden loss of command by Berrios and Tyler Duffey turned into a six-run Boston outburst in Game 2.
The latter meltdown was particularly disheartening for the Twins, since Berrios had been dominating through the first four innings, facing only one more than the minimum and turning a liner back to the mound into an impressive double play.
But in the fifth inning, nursing a 1-0 lead, Berrios suddenly came undone. Rafael Devers led off with a double, and Christian Vazquez took a 3-2 changeup to draw a walk. After Marwin Gonzalez struck out, Bobby Dalbec loaded the bases with perfectly placed infield hit. Berrios responded by walking in a run for the first time in two years, missing high with four consecutive fastballs.
"The command just wasn't what it was earlier in the game, that's what it comes down to," Baldelli said of the messy inning. "A lot of things just kind of added up before we took him out."
Duffey relieved and after striking out Kiké Hernandez, he gave up a two-run single to Alex Verdugo, who had five hits on the day, and threw a wild pitch to score another run. Duffey loaded the bases with two more walks, and Caleb Thielbar surrendered a two-run single to Devers to make it a six-run inning.
Maeda's fate was similar in Game 1 — he pitched into the fifth inning, and mostly pitched well. But when he fielded a third-inning sacrifice bunt by Kevin Plawecki, whirled and fired the ball over Luis Arraez's head and down the left-field line, he turned a mild jam into a three-run inning — and another loss.