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Message sent: Rocco Baldelli addresses Twins in postgame meeting after losing streak reaches six

Rich Hill
Minnesota Twins pitcher Rich Hill rubs his head as he is pulled in the fourth inning after giving up a two-run single to Chicago White Sox’s Adam Engel in a baseball game, Monday, Aug. 31 2020, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

MINNEAPOLIS — What does it take to get Twins manager Rocco Baldelli upset, or, more accurately, mildly annoyed? The answer came Monday night at Target Field and included the following ingredients.

Start with Luis Arraez messing up what should have been an easy double play in the fourth inning and only getting one out. Add Max Kepler dropping a routine fly ball in right-center field with the score tied at 5 in the ninth inning. Mix in a continued series of lethargic-looking at-bats that turn a 4-0 lead after three innings into an 8-5 loss to the rival White Sox and what you have is not only a six-game losing streak but you also have the Twins’ mild-mannered skipper closing the clubhouse for a postgame team meeting.

Baldelli had good reason to be displeased with a team that started 10-2, but is now 20-16 and holds only a half-game lead on eighth-seeded Toronto in the American League and a two-game lead on ninth-seeded Detroit. Remember when it appeared impossible for the Twins to miss the eight-team AL playoff field? That is no longer the case and the Twins now sit 2.5 games behind the first-place White Sox and 1.5 games behind second-place Cleveland.

Baldelli declined to reveal what was said late Monday night inside the Twins’ clubhouse but made it clear that he did the talking. “Today, it was just me and, again, we don’t do this very often,” Baldelli said after Kepler’s drop of Edwin Encarnacion’s fly ball led to the White Sox scoring three unearned runs off Taylor Rogers. “You win a bunch of games in a row, you don’t come in and generally address the group. You lose a few games in a row, you generally do not come in and address the group. It’s just something that you do when you feel it’s the right time.”

The question is will it make a difference? Derek Falvey, the Twins’ president of baseball operations, did not make any moves by the MLB trade deadline at 3 p.m. Monday in part because he thinks the return of injured players such as Josh Donaldson, Byron Buxton, Mitch Garver and Jake Odorizzi will help fix what ails his team. But the Twins also thought returning to Target Field following a 3-6 road trip would provide a boost and that didn’t happen.

The White Sox did their best to give the Twins the victory, committing three errors in the second inning as Minnesota took a 3-0 lead on starter Lucas Giolito, who had thrown a no-hitter against Pittsburgh his last time out. Miguel Sano’s home run in the third inning gave the Twins a 4-0 lead and it appeared Minnesota’s losing streak would end at five.

The White Sox would go on to leave 10 runners on base and go 4-for-20 with runners in scoring position and, yet, they found a way to win. Luis Robert’s 449-foot home run to center field off Trevor May tied the score at 5 in the seventh and, after Kepler dropped what should have been the second out of the ninth, James McCann singled and Robert doubled to left to make it 6-5. Nomar Mazara added a two-run single to right off Rogers to account for the final two runs by Chicago.

The Twins’ bats, meanwhile, pulled their usual disappearing act late in the game as Minnesota had no runs and no hits in the final three innings and finished with five hits. The Twins have had five or fewer hits in their past four games. That is one off tying the longest stretch in franchise history, according to the Twitter account run by the team’s radio network.

“The first half of the game facing one of the better pitchers in baseball, I thought we did a hell of a job with our at-bats,” Baldelli said. “I thought we hit some balls good. We were opportunistic but we also swung the bats pretty well, too. We got Giolito out of the game and that’s a good thing. That’s what we’re aiming for and then it seemingly unraveled at a certain point. We need to be able to stop that. We need to be able to, when things don’t go our way, find a way to tack on another run or two. To stop them from scoring. It’s not like we can point to one specific thing. It’s several different things that do seem a little out of sync. But it’s our responsibility to figure that out.”

This is the Twins’ longest losing streak since Baldelli became manager in 2019 and it comes in a season that is only 60 games long. That puts Baldelli in a situation in which he doesn’t want to seem panicked but also realizes that a sense of urgency is needed.

“We haven’t been playing winning baseball,” he said. “We haven’t been taking it to the opposition and making things happen. We’ve been playing close games, and when you play close games and you don’t play especially well, you’re going to find ways for things like what happened tonight to happen. … I do think that there’s a direction for our team to go and we have all of the ability that we need, we have all of the players that we need. We talked about not making excuses in spring training. …

“We have to play better and our guys know that. And in addition to that, the general feel and guys being able to come to the field in that good, relaxed state has to be part of it. When you start focusing on a lot of other things and having a lot of thoughts going through your head, you tend to not do the things, the subtle things, and maybe even the subconscious things, that lead to performance and playing well. As far as what we talked about again in our meeting, I’ll keep most of that between us. But I think it was an appropriate time and I think the guys actually probably wanted to hear it and we hope it helps and I think it will help.”

The Twins will try to end their skid on Tuesday with righthander Michael Pineda making his first start of the season as he returns from the 60-game suspension he was handed by MLB last season after testing positive for a banned diuretic. It remains to be seen how many pitches the Twins will allow Pineda to throw — he has been working out at the team’s alternate training site in St. Paul, but because there is no minor league season he could not make a rehab start — but the Twins used their five top-end relievers on Monday after starter Rich Hill departed with only one out in the fourth inning. Tyler Duffey threw 1.2 innings, Tyler Clippard got two outs, May pitched 1.1 innings and Sergio Romo and Rogers worked one inning apiece.

That should have been the recipe for a victory. Instead, it resulted in a team meeting.

“There’s, of course, some level of frustration,” Baldelli said when asked about the clubhouse. “Guys are competitive and the guys want to go out there and they know what they are capable of and we haven’t shown what we’re capable of lately. There’s certainly some frustration and rightfully so. But, as I said, there is a direction for this team to go. We played exceptionally well early in the year, we kind of showed ourselves what we’re capable of as a group. (We) haven’t been playing well lately, but it can happen very quickly, where guys can turn that around. Right now, there’s some music blaring in the clubhouse. I think guys are ready to turn the page on what’s going on. We know we’ve got to show up tomorrow and be ready to go, and I think guys are looking forward to getting here and getting out there and playing.”