The Twins are unanimous: The 10-game homestand that started Friday night is pivotal. Momentous. Critical to their season, and perhaps their future.
The Rays don't care about any of that. They're too busy winning.
The Twins resumed their season Friday night with conviction, determination -- but with another loss, their sixth in their past eight home games, 6-2 to Tampa Bay. Kyle Gibson recorded 16 outs on ground balls, but let nine hits slip in between them, two of them decisive, putting the Twins seven games below .500 as the calendar clicked one day closer to the looming trade deadline.
"I would say this is an important time," said General Manager Terry Ryan, who will determine whether any of the Twins' modestly valuable assets are dealt away in the next two weeks. "It's not going to make our season, but it's certainly going to affect the trade deadline."
That's the fear in the Twins clubhouse, too, where the players believe they have enough talent, albeit underachieving, to climb into the wild-card race, and don't want the roster piecemealed away by deadline deals. "They're trying to keep this thing together. That's a normal conversation after the All-Star break," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "They don't want to lose their teammates, and they know it goes down to how they play on the field. It's great to want to go out and keep everybody here -- they're all good buddies -- but we've got to win baseball games."
Trouble is, so do the Rays, and they have a 9-4 record in July to prove they're serious. So when Gibson loaded the bases in the third inning without allowing a hard-hit ball -- a soft liner, an infield grounder that could have been a double play but bounced off the pitcher's glove, and a walk -- Evan Longoria didn't miss his opportunity. He slugged a 2-0 fastball off the wall in right field, driving all three runners home.
Two innings later, a similar scenario. Kevin Kiermaier dribbled a ball in front of the plate, and Kurt Suzuki's throw was too late (replays established when Tampa Bay challenged the out call). The 15-foot hit turned into a run when Ben Zobrist reached out for a 3-1 fastball and dropped it into the front row of the right-field overhand, his seventh home run of the year, and a handy cushion for Rays starter Alex Cobb.
Cobb only made one similar mistake, trying to sneak a 2-1 changeup past Trevor Plouffe in the third inning. It landed in the left-field seats, a two-run shot that gave the Twins life, if only briefly. After that, it was back to the offensive doldrums that keep afflicting the Twins this season; they were 0 for 4 with runners in scoring position, and left the bases loaded in the sixth.
Not a great start to 10 days that could determine who is still here in August.
"I'm glad to hear they're saying (they want to stay together), that's good," Ryan said. "They like what we've got, they like some of the talent, they think we're headed in the right direction."
But wasting a relatively strong start by Gibson isn't the way to show it. The right-hander struck out only one batter -- he's got just eight total in his last five starts -- but mostly kept the Rays' offense from hitting the ball hard. "When his sinker is working, he's been very effective," Gardenhire said.
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