Up and down the lineup, the Twins spent Sunday laying mines for unsuspecting Kansas City pitchers at Target Field. They must still be there, though, because the explosive Twins offense rarely detonated any of them.
The Twins loaded the bases four times, pounded the Royals for 15 hits and had a sellout crowd announced at 38,886 constantly ready to erupt over the inevitable winning hit. They are still waiting, as the Twins went 4-for-18 with runners in scoring position, stranded a season-high 15 runners and suffered a glitchy 8-6 loss to Kansas City.
The loss ended the Twins’ three-game winning streak and reduced their AL Central lead to a still-considerable 10 games over Cleveland. No, it’s not exactly a crisis for the team with the best record in baseball — more like an intriguing mystery. How can a team outhit its opponent 15-9, out-homer it 2-0, and tag four different pitchers with runs, yet take home nothing but a loss for their trouble?
“I don’t find it frustrating. We’re frustrated that we lost the game, but I don’t think we’re frustrated with the way we swung the bats, or the type of at-bats we had,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “The actual at-bats were good. We just ultimately didn’t get the results.”
At times during this homestand, the Twins have seemed to toy with their opponents, letting the last-place Mariners and Royals take a lead while they bide their time, waiting to turn an overmatched bullpen into roadkill. The fans who filled Target Field this weekend — the most for a three-game series since the Cubs were here in 2015 — clearly expected an encore Sunday, especially when Kansas City turned four less-than-sharply-hit grounders into singles, and ultimately three runs, in the second inning.
They were the only baserunners off Martin Perez in the first six innings, allowing the Twins to focus on getting on base, which they did repeatedly. Miguel Sano and Nelson Cruz went deep, extending the Twins’ streak to 14 consecutive games with a home run, and 20 in a row at home. But both were solo shots.
Meanwhile, though the Twins offense sits atop MLB in most important statistical categories, there is an odd blind spot in there: Hitting with the bases loaded. They rank 13th in the AL in turning three baserunners into runs, a problem that probably cost them a sweep Sunday. They loaded the bases three times in the first seven innings, and went 0-for-4 in those situations, stranding all nine runners.
“It’s obviously not the way we drew it up, but we continued to get guys on base, which is the first battle. We weren’t able to bring enough of them in,” Baldelli said. “That happens.”
Kansas City scored three unearned runs off Mike Morin in the eighth to take an 8-3 lead, but the Twins then promptly loaded the bases again in the bottom of the inning against Brad Boxberger. Nelson Cruz finally delivered a two-run double that hinted the calvary had finally arrived. But Wily Peralta came in and shut the door: Eddie Rosario popped up, slamming his bat to the ground. Miguel Sano looked at a an 0-2 slider that curled over the plate for strike three. And Marwin Gonzalez flew out, short-circuiting the Twins’ best chance.
In all, the Twins, who are batting an MLB-best .275, are a mere .200 (10-for-50) with the bases loaded, better only than the Tigers and Royals.
“The results are what they are, but they come from swinging at good pitches, barreling up balls,” Baldelli said. “We did some of those things today. It just didn’t play out there way we hoped it would.”