A high-scoring weekend series abetted by poor Boston fielding notwithstanding, it is becoming increasingly apparent that any chance the Twins have of returning to contention this season rests entirely on a pitching staff that entered Sunday with the third-best ERA in the American League.
"That's just as fact of life around here," manager Ron Gardenhire said.
That's because a lineup that got no help at the trading deadline and that took a major hit with CF Torii Hunter's apparently season-ending ankle injury, hit bottom last week against Oakland and shows no signs of having enough life to contribute to a playoff push.
The Twins hit .164 in the four-gamer in which they lost three games, scoring only nine runs total and went 0-for-21 with runners in scoring position.
Even the Twins' 12-0 win against Boston on Friday included five unearned runs among the first seven and a five-run, garbage-time inning late -- with enough missed opportunities along the way and a 1-for-15 showing by the bottom four in the order to suggest as much sighs as highs.
"It's hard," said RHP Carlos Silva, who hasn't won a game since July 4 despite five straight quality starts since then (2.13 earned run average). "It's hard for us when we're pitching and you're up there on the mound and the score's tied all the time. You always try to make the perfect pitch, because you don't want to make a mistake, because even one mistake can cost you a ballgame. It's hard to do that."
What's certain is that a pitching staff that has led the league in ERA much of the season is good enough to put the Twins in low-scoring games against any opponent (much like the lineup).
What also seems certain: That's going to be the only thing that keeps the Twins from continuing their 5-12 slide (through Sunday) into oblivion -- if it can be stopped at all.
No matter how unfair. "Our pitchers know that," Gardenhire said. "They've risen to the occasion. They're going to keep going out there and doing their job and throwing the baseball."
NOTES, QUOTESReplace a four-time Gold Glove winner and the only all-star in the lineup?
"The only thing I told him was, 'You're going to be playing. You're going to be out there,'" Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "So go play."
Easier said than done for Twins OF Lew Ford, who was barely hitting .250 when CF Torii Hunter went down with a likely season-ending injury July 29 in Boston.
Since then, Ford has tried to maintain perspective and be himself. But, he said, "The first couple games I was out there, there were some balls I didn't get to, and there were some people saying maybe Torii would have had it," Ford said. "There's nothing I can do about that. I can only go out and play the best I can."
Friday might have been a coming-out party for Ford, if not a sedative for his week's worth of Hunter anxiety. He made three outstanding defensive plays -- including a Hunter-esque catch at the wall to rob Boston's Kevin Millar of a home run -- and had three hits with three runs scored during the Twins' 12-0 win over the World Series champs.
"Hopefully this will get some confidence behind him," RHP Brad Radke said, "and he can settle in and keep it going."The Twins' 12 runs Friday were a season high, and their 16 hits tied a season high. They matched their scoring output for the past five games combined and reached double-digits in scoring for just the sixth time this season.RHP Brad Radke (7-10), who has lost two complete games this season and twice been on the wrong end of Twins shutouts, got his best run support of the season Friday to snap a personal four-start winless streak. He allowed only four hits in seven shutout innings, including no hits from the first batter of the game until two outs in the sixth inning. It was his first victory since July 8.With exactly one-third of the season left -- far more time remaining than it took for the Twins to fall out of contention this year -- the Twins' chances of returning to the playoffs are pinned entirely on the pitching staff.
If the past three weeks haven't indicated that, the first series of August confirmed it.
The Twins' pitching staff had a 3.50 ERA in the four-gamer against Oakland last week -- with the starting pitchers all producing quality starts and a combined 2.57 ERA.
But, again, it wasn't good enough. The Twins hit just .164 in the series -- including 0 for 13 with runners in scoring position -- and lost three of four games. The only game they won in the series, Wednesday, required a late-inning comeback with the winning run scoring on a close play in the bottom of the ninth.
All of which simply means if the Twins are going to get back in the playoff race, it's all on the pitchers. All of it.
"That's a fact of life around here," manager Ron Gardenhire said.
No matter how unfair.
”It's hard," said RHP Carlos Silva, who hasn't won a game since July 4 despite five straight quality starts since then (2.13 earned run average). "It's hard for us when we're pitching and you're up there on the mound and the score's tied all the time. You always try to make the perfect pitch because you don't want to make a mistake, because even one mistake can cost you a ballgame. It's hard to do that."After switching to vintage red caps Wednesday and winning their only game in a week, the Twins were back to their usual blue caps Thursday -- and back to their usual, putrid offensive performance in a 5-2 loss to Oakland. The uniform of the day, including the cap, is the choice of the starting pitcher, in this case RHP Kyle Lohse, who said, "It's not the hats, man. ... I don't like those things."The Twins celebrated their walk-off victory Wednesday as if it were the seventh game of the World Series, but the main reason they won occurred earlier in the game -- twice.
Michael Cuddyer suddenly was hot.
As the week began, Cuddyer was on the outs after starting at third base for most of the season. He'd had only five home runs and 24 RBIs -- not the production you want out of a corner position.
But then he homered Tuesday and went deep twice Wednesday, including a go-ahead two-run shot off reliever Kiko Calero in the seventh inning. Cuddyer caught up with a hanging slider from Calero and made him pay.
With CF Torii Hunter out, possibly for the rest of the season, the Twins' lineup needs more than just Cuddyer's contributions to be productive. But it's a start if Minnesota is to have a chance at the wild card.
BY THE NUMBERS: 19 -- Games this season the Twins have won by scoring in their final at-bat (through Sunday), most in the American League.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "As Mr. (Carl) Pohlad (team owner) says, 'Baseball's a game of cycles,' And right now our cycle has two flat tires. But we're getting back on that cycle and we're running now. Who knows what's going to happen? There's a long ways to go." -- Twins manager Ron Gardenhire after the Twins won back-to-back games Friday and Saturday for the first time in more than two weeks.
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