MINNEAPOLIS — Three days ago, the vibe around the Twins’ clubhouse was one of stern cognizance, a renewed focus on concocting some sort of momentum out of the All-Star break.
Sunday afternoon, it was downright resignation.
Less profit. More fruitlessness. And the recognition that, for the fourth straight season, Minnesota’s in a position to sell, not buy, at the non-waiver trade deadline.
"We’re a long way from .500, frankly," general manager Terry Ryan said. "I’ve got a fair idea what we’re doing and where we’re at, who’s ahead of us. We’ve got a lot of clubs to jump."
And that was before Sunday afternoon’s loss that locked up a Rays sweep and shoved the Twins further into the American league Central Division cellar. Minnesota (44-53) is now 11 games back of division leader Detroit and hasn’t capitalized so far in a 10-game homestand immediately after hosting the Midsummer Classic.
It’s much more than the Twins’ sixth 2014 sweep that has Ryan thinking ship export rather than import with the trade deadline coming up July 31, though.
It’s a lineup whose swings keep balls inside the park. Heading into Sunday’s matinee loss, Minnesota’s 71 home runs tied for 25th in the majors, and its .373 slugging percentage ranks 26th.
The Twins hit just one extra-base hit in three losses to Tampa Bay (47-53). Two of them came off the bat of Trevor Plouffe.
They had a chance to win when team home run leader Brian Dozier stepped up to bat with runners at first and second and a 5-3 deficit, but he grounded into a fielder’s choice, and Rays reliever Kirby Yates coaxed a foul pop-up from Eduardo Nunez.
For the series, Minnesota was outhit 25-17.
"I think every series is key," Plouffe said. "Unfortunately, we’re not able to win this one. We want . . . to go into the next series (against Cleveland) and try to win that one."
Said Gardenhire, who took his 1,000th career loss Sunday: "We’re not driving the baseball. We’re fighting through it. We had some chances with guys up there who are supposed to be our RBI guys, and we didn’t get it done."
It’s also a starting rotation Ryan and the front office spent the offseason trying to improve. Former Yankee Phil Hughes has been solid (10-6 with a 4.06 ERA after Saturday’s loss), but fellow free-agent get and opening-day starter Ricky Nolasco hasn’t justified the franchise-record four-year, $49 million deal he signed in November.
His 5.90 ERA ranks dead last among 93 qualified MLB starters.
In turn, Minnesota’s rotation has a 4.29 ERA, fourth-worst in the majors.
"You have to do your job as a starting pitcher," Gardenhire said, "and that’s to keep guys in the game and try to stay away from big innings."
Kevin Correia didn’t do that Sunday, throwing 91 pitches in four innings and yielding four earned runs on seven hits. He became the third Twins starter in as many days to fall behind 3-0 early.
James Loney drove in two of them with an RBI single to right field in the first. Ben Zobrist added a run-scoring sac fly in the second, and Yunel Escobar’s third-inning double drove in another run.
When Correia loaded the bases via a Desmond Jennings double and back-to-back walks, the Target Field boo birds began circling above the 26,821 spectators in attendance.
"I’m not worried if fans are booing," said Correia, who fell to 5-12 with a 4.76 ERA. "Obviously, the first three guys get on, it’s not an ideal start to the game. They’re not going to be cheering."
There’s been plenty of blame to go around in a streak of 90-plus-defeat campaigns that’s in danger of stretching to four this summer. The most realistic chance of rectifying a once-promising season — the Twins were right around .500 until the end of May — lies in 10 straight home games, the next three of which feature divisional opponent Cleveland on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
But those odds took a swift blow the past three days.
"It’s not the way we would write it up," Ryan said. "This hasn’t been good."
Said Correia: "We need a miraculous run right now. It’s got to start soon, if it’s gonna happen. If not, if we lose a bunch of games, we’re gonna play our way right out of it and whatever has to happen has to happen."