MINNEAPOLIS — The Twins’ offense has been so explosive in 2019 that it has become easy to take for granted that no deficit will be too much to overcome. Especially against an inferior opponent.
So when the Twins got down by three early in an 8-6 loss to Kansas City on Sunday at Target Field, or when they trailed by two runs in the seventh inning, or five in the eighth, there remained a feeling the bats were going to get to a Royals bullpen that seemed intent on making things interesting.
When Nelson Cruz was called out by first base umpire Jordan Baker on an 0-2 check swing (more on that later) to end the game, the Twins had runners on first and second against Royals closer Ian Kennedy. This was a game of missed opportunities for the Twins. They left the bases loaded three times and stranded a season-high 15 runners to go with their 15 hits.
The Twins were 4-for-18 with runners in scoring position and stranded 10 or more for the 13th game this season. “Nothing really came easy today,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said.
The Twins loaded the bases in the first inning against Royals starter Jakob Junis with two outs but Marwin Gonzalez swung at the first pitch he saw and grounded to first.
In the fourth inning, Miguel Sano’s home run and Max Kepler’s run-scoring single pulled the Twins within 3-2. Cruz then came to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs after Jorge Polanco had been intentionally walked. Cruz struck out swinging on a 1-2 pitch.
Cruz hit a solo home run to right field in the seventh inning and the Twins again loaded the bases on three consecutive singles with one out. Royals reliever Jake Diekman got Jonathan Schoop to strike out swinging and pinch hitter Mitch Garver hit a fly ball to right.
That left the Twins a less-than-impressive 10-for-50 (.200) with the bases loaded this season, putting them ahead of only the bottom-feeding Tigers and Royals. That’s hard to believe considering the Twins are hitting a big-league best .275 this season.
“We’re frustrated that we lost the game. But I don’t think we’re frustrated with the way that we swung the bats or the types of at-bats that we had today,” Baldelli said.”You can look up and down the lineup and there were some guys that maybe didn’t end up on base very many times today, or had some opportunities with people on base, but the actual at-bats were good. We just ultimately didn’t get the results.”
Nonetheless, the Twins (47-23) still hold a 10-game lead over Cleveland in the AL Central, despite the Indians sweeping the Tigers this weekend. Minnesota also has homered in a season-high 14 games, two off the club mark.
Sano went 2-for-4 with the solo home run on Sunday, but he also was called out on strikes in the fifth and eighth innings. The second time came with the Twins down 8-5 with one out and two runners on base.
Sano said after being called out on a two-seam fastball from Royals reliever Jorge Lopez in the fifth that plate umpire Vic Carapazza apologized to the Twins third baseman the next inning.
“I’m supposed to have two walks,” Sano said. “(Carapazza) called a strike. I talked to him and said, ‘That pitch is away and low.’ He said, ‘I know I made a mistake.’ My last at-bat, it wasn’t a strike. It was a low pitch. It took my bat from home plate, because if I can find another pitch, something can happen. And I was swinging it really good tonight.”
Sano wasn’t the only one frustrated by the work of the umpiring crew over the weekend. Carapazza, Hunter Wendelstedt and crew chief Angel Hernandez all spent time struggling to identify balls and strikes against both teams. Wendelstedt ejected Royals right fielder Jorge Soler in the fifth inning on Friday after Soler objected to a strike call. Hernandez was his usual all-over-the-map self on Saturday. (The unlucky guy below is Royals third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert.)
Angel "strikes" again 🧐 pic.twitter.com/3UnWfYvYG1
— CJ Fogler (@cjzer0) June 16, 2019
It was Baker who said Cruz failed to check his swing in time in the ninth inning Sunday. Baldelli, a master at avoiding anything that hints at criticism, said it was “a close call” on Cruz.
“It’s a difficult call,” Baldelli said. “I think we saw some calls earlier in the game that you can probably point to and make a reference off of those to say whether or not we thought that one should have been called. The check swing calls are, honestly, some of the more difficult calls you’re going to see in the game. Obviously, we didn’t like the call, but I find them challenging. It was probably close but something we would prefer to go our way based on everything we saw. But it happens.”
Here’s a picture of Cruz attempting to hold up.
Nelson Cruz called out on a check swing to end the Twins game pic.twitter.com/BEC2nAlWx0
— Board Man Gets Paid (@cjzero) June 16, 2019
CLEAN IT UP
One thing that stood out for much of the season was how well the Twins seemed to be playing in the field. But that hasn’t been the case of late. Minnesota committed two errors on Sunday — one by Sano and the other by reliever Mike Morin — that led to four of Kansas City’s runs being unearned.
The Twins now have 10 errors in their last five games, including five in the past two games. This comes after the Twins made five errors in a 9-6 loss to Seattle on Wednesday, including three in the 10th inning (two by Sano on the same play).
There could have been a third error called on the Twins on Sunday. Left fielder Eddie Rosario failed to catch a liner that he should have had off the bat of the Royals’ Martin Maldonado in the seventh.
“It was not our sharpest effort,” Baldelli said. “If you look at each one of those players, they’re plays we want to make and we have to make going forward but they’re not the easiest of plays. I mean the ball was hit hard at Miguel (in the seventh), and I would say he probably barely had enough time to even react to the ball so it’s not really his fault.
“We’re going to make the PFP play (Morin failed to touch the bag after taking a flip from first baseman Ehire Adrianza in the eighth) and be able to find first base — we would hope we’re going to be able to make that play and I know we will and the balls in the outfield, they’re hit hard and they’re reactionary plays and you’ve just got to go make the plays. We’ve made those plays all year long. I think we’ll be fine making those plays going forward.”
THE PLACE TO BE
The Twins announced a crowd of 38,886 at Target Field on Sunday, marking their sixth sellout of the season and third in a row. The big crowds weren’t a surprise considering the Twins have the best record in baseball and the weekend featured festivities surrounding the retirement of Joe Mauer’s No. 7 on Saturday.
The three games drew a total of 117,051, the largest for a three-game series at Target Field since June 19-21, 2015. That series was between the Twins and Cubs and drew 117,156. The Twins have not had six sellouts in a season since the 2015 season.
The Twins are likely to stretch their streak to six consecutive sellouts Monday when they open a three-game series against the Boston Red Sox at Target Field.