MINNEAPOLIS — After taking three of four games in Boston earlier this month, the Minnesota Twins returned home on a high for their ensuing nine-game home stand at Target Field.
A week and a half later, all that momentum is gone.
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Minnesota fell 5-1 to the visiting Red Sox on Sunday as Boston completed a three-game sweep. The Twins have now lost five straight games and finished the home stand just 2-7 to fall four games below .500 for the first time all year.
“We’ve had our opportunities here at home — and a lot of them — to drive in runs, and we didn’t get it done,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “You can’t come home and lose like we have here. We owe it to our fans to play a little better baseball at home.”
The Twins’ two wins during this nine-game home stand came against Baltimore last weekend and a 10-3 win against the White Sox on Monday. Minnesota fell 3-2 in Friday’s series opener against Boston and went on to lose 12-5 on Saturday before Sunday’s 5-1 finale. It was just the second time the Twins have been swept this season — the other came in early April in Kansas City — but this sweep came at a bad time.
Before the Twins came back to Target Field, they went 5-5 on the road against Detroit, Cleveland and Boston to improve to 16-15 on the year. Minnesota, which has been hovering around the .500 mark all season, dipped to a season-low 18-22 and now has a tough nine-game road trip to face two first-place teams in Atlanta and Detroit before finishing with a brief two-game stint in Milwaukee.
“We want to win,” said third baseman Trevor Plouffe. “That was a tough home stand for us. We’re going into tomorrow preparing to win that game and we’ll take it from there. Right now it’s just about winning series. We’ll go try to take two out of three in Atlanta, if not more, and go from there.”
Sunday’s series finale was marred by a three-hour rain delay midway through the seventh inning. When the Twins and Red Sox resumed play, Minnesota was trailing 3-1 — and there were only a few hundred fans in the stands to witness the game’s finale. Boston added two runs in the ninth on a two-run homer by Dustin Pedroia that bounced off the heel of Josh Willingham’s glove and over the fence in left field. That cemented Minnesota’s fifth loss in a row and its third straight to Boston.
Just like they did Saturday, the Twins had chances Sunday to tack on a few runs against the Red Sox but failed to capitalize. Joe Mauer stepped to the plate with the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth and two outs but struck out for the third time in the game to end the inning. It also snapped Mauer’s hitting streak at 15 games after he finished 0-for-4.
Minnesota left 13 runners on base in Saturday’s 12-5 loss. While the Twins didn’t have as many base runners Sunday, the same problem still existed. Minnesota was a combined 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and left six men on base in the 5-1 loss.
Starting pitching was a weakness throughout the home stand, especially the last few games. Sunday’s starter, left-hander Pedro Hernandez, lasted just 4 1/3 innings and needed 107 pitches to do so. He allowed three runs on nine hits, including a home run by Will Middlebrooks in the second inning. One day earlier, lefty Scott Diamond was also out of the game after 4 1/3 innings as he was hit around for six runs in the loss. Minnesota’s bullpen certainly had its work cut out for it this home stand, which is less than ideal as the Twins now embark on a nine-game road trip.
Winning on the road is never easy, which is why it’s important for teams to take care of business at home. Over the last nine games, Minnesota didn’t do that at Target Field. Instead, it was the Orioles, White Sox and Red Sox winning more games than the Twins.
“We didn’t do much,” Gardenhire said after Sunday’s loss. “We had the one big chance there at the end of the ball game and couldn’t get one in. We’ve got to start picking up these runs and start pitching better.”