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Zulgad: Twins can’t escape reality of awful first half, even with sweep of woeful Tigers

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Minnesota Twins
Jul 11, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Twins players celebrate second baseman Jorge Polanco (11) three run home run to win the game during the tenth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Jorge Polanco’s teammates awaited his arrival at home plate late Sunday afternoon at Target Field following the second baseman’s three-run, walk-off home run that lifted the Twins to a wild 12-9 victory over the Detroit Tigers. Polanco’s homer gave the Twins a four-game sweep of Detroit entering the All-Star break and was cause for celebration as Polanco tossed his helmet aside before jumping on the plate and getting showered with bubble gum (wrapped, thankfully) and water.

This should have been a significant moment for a team that has won back-to-back AL Central titles and was expected to be near the top of the division again this season. “That was a real character game,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “You learn a little bit about yourself, you deal with a lot.”

This might have been true for Sunday’s game — or even the four games against the Tigers. Unfortunately for the Twins, the reality of their situation as they start their four off days will hit them harder than Polanco’s drive to left field off veteran reliever Derek Holland. Minnesota sits at 39-50 and is in a virtual tie with the Tigers (40-51) for third place in the AL Central. Both teams sit 15 games behind the White Sox and seven games behind second-place Cleveland.

The Kansas City Royals (36-53) have taken sole possession of last place in the division thanks to a four-game losing streak, sitting 18 games behind the White Sox. The AL Central is the only division that has one team with a positive run differential — Chicago at plus-117 — and everyone else in the red. Cleveland is at minus-16, Detroit is at minus-79, the Twins at minus-57 and Kansas City at minus-99.

The first half of the Twins’ season has been one of the most disappointing in club history, given the expectations that existed. It might be No. 1 on the list.

I know what some of you are thinking. Why can’t I allow you to enjoy a sweep of the Tigers? Why can’t this be seen as a springboard to a big second half for the Twins? The response is simple: Because I’m incapable of trying to sell you on hope where there is none. I know you’re too smart to buy into any sugarcoating one might try to put on this team. And beating the Tigers? C’mon.

Detroit isn’t good and its bullpen (5.23 ERA, 28th in MLB entering Sunday) is embarrassingly bad.

The Twins tweeted out that the team had scored 28 of its 30 runs in the series from the sixth inning on. On Saturday, the Tigers held a 4-0 lead heading into the sixth but six relievers gave up nine runs after that in a 9-4 loss. On Sunday, the Tigers scored four runs in the top of the fifth before starter Wily Peralta gave one back in the bottom of the inning on a Max Kepler home run.

Detroit’s bullpen then took over and surrendered 11 runs, managing to negate the grand slam that Tigers catcher Jake Rogers hit off Taylor Rogers in the top of the ninth that gave his team a brief 9-8 lead. Holland got Kepler to ground out for the first out of the ninth but Ben Rortvedt’s homer tied the score. Rortvedt entered the game slashing .123/.186/.185.

“I think we’ve seen what we’re capable of doing,” said reliever Tyler Duffey, who got the win by pitching a scoreless 10th on Sunday.

Duffey is right, at least when it comes to what the Twins can do against the Tigers.

The Twins are now 7-2 against the Tigers this season and will have the fortune of playing four games in three days in Detroit coming out of the All-Star break. Considering Detroit had won six of eight games entering its series in Minneapolis, you might expect a bit of a bounce back, but it’s not impossible to think the Twins could continue to get  closer to .500 by next weekend.

There is one problem with this enthusiasm. The Twins will then have to face the White Sox four times in Chicago and then return home for four against the .500 Angels and slugger/pitcher extraordinaire Shohei Ohtani. It’s at that point the optimism is likely to wane.

There is good news. Detroit will then return to Target Field for three games. This season, the Tigers are the one team who can help the Twins forget their many troubles.