The Twins started their series against Kansas City today as if Monday really was an off day. The bats were flat, and it wasn’t so much KC starter Luke Hochevar’s prowess as the Twins’ early retirement plan.
To wrap your mind around this game, consider that the Twins had one hit through six innings against a pitcher who spent the first third of the game vaguely hunting the strike zone.
For the Twins, Nick Blackburn pitched respectably until the sixth. He had an unearned run score in the second on a throwing error from Michael Cuddyer, but kept the Royals from pecking any harder until the sixth. Then two solo homers, from low-power threats Alberto Callaspo and Miguel Olivo, put the Royals up 3-0.
What Blackburn did do was dole out hits. He allowed 10 and walked one, while the Twins committed two errors, so the bases were busy. Blackburn didn’t look especially wobbly up there, but pitching to contact is a risky business and the Royals took advantage. Olivo, for example, had a beautiful night, an ended up a double short of the cycle. His triple in the seventh, off RA Dickey, scored Callaspo and for the Royals’ fourth run.
Blackburn’s high water mark occurred in the fifth. Tony Pena Jr, who really is barely beyond hitting off a T, led off with a single. Bear in mind, what Blackburn does is allow controlled contact, but hitters like Pena shouldn’t be succeeding under this game plan. David DeJesus follows with a companion single, scooting Pena on to the third. Willie Bloomquist offers up a sac fly to get both runners in scoring position.
This is turning into a full-fledged pitching jam. Blackburn has allowed the weakest part of the lineup to climb all over the bases, and now he faces Billy Butler. Butler is still developing, but he has power and potential. But Blackburn defeats him: he flies out to center, and the presence of two outs brings us down from red alert to orange.
Mike Jacobs, his jaw slung wide with a tobacco chew the size of a jam jar, steps up. He chews and spits his way into a walk. With first base open and raw power from the left side, this evolves into a sensible plan, but now Blackburn has a tidy ring of Royals around him and Mark Teahen at the plate.
This is the fire in which pitchers are annealed. This is the test pitchers must pass. And Blackburn does. He remains in control of his full pitching arsenal and gets Teahen to strike out swinging. Blackburn may have lost this game, but he won the fifth inning, when the winning was tough.
After a rickety first and second inning, Hochevar truly settled down for the Royals. His seven scoreless innings included six at-bats with runners in scoring position. When John Bale took on the eighth inning in relief, the Twins finally punched their way onto the scoreboard. With Denard Span on third and two out, Justin Morneau lifted a long ball to right to cut the Royals’ lead to 4-2.
But this wasn’t a glorious scoring outburst. The inning had already had its moment of deflation, for it began with consecutive singles from Span and Brendan Harris. Joe Mauer had his most un-Mauerlike at-bat of the year, swinging at the first pitch to ground into a double play. Morneau’s homer felt more like scraping up crumbs than a three-course meal.
The loss puts the Twins back at .500. This will be the seventh time this year they’ve failed to pull themselves above the median. We’re just about at the halfway point, and the Twins persist in balancing every win with a loss.
I’ve assembled some little statistics, and though they aren’t entirely dispiriting, they don’t lead to resounding cheers. The April W-L record was 11-11, May’s was 14-16, and June will be finished off tomorrow at either 15-12 or 14-13. The Twins will either be one game over or one under .500 with 49% of the season complete.
We’ve had two 3-game winning streaks and one real corker of a 4-game spree, but otherwise we stack the wins right next to the losses. There is little sense of momentum.
Still, what inspired my tabulations was the hope that I would find some hope in the results of interleague play, now complete. The Twins are a sparkling .666 (12-6) against the National League. They quite laid waste to the Brewers, going 5-1, and won every series except the battle with the Astros.
And they won on the road. After starting the season with a massive home/road skew, they are completing their travels in this KC series by taking two of three against both Milwaukee and St Louis.
The most melancholy little interleague stat is that Twins pitchers are precisely 0 for 19—not even a bunt single in the 9 games played in NL parks. On the plus side, no pitchers were injured in the making of this film.
By tally of games played, we’re three away from the midpoint of the season, but the crucial division battle is only one-third complete. If the Twins would care to get hot, July is the time to do it. We’ll have six games against the White Sox and three against mighty Detroit, plus a 10-game visit to the AL West. Hotness, please. And anything to make me forget tonight’s sluggish sortie.