MINNEAPOLIS--The Minnesota 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 -- and another loss, their sixth in the past eight home games, 6-2 to Tampa Bay. With the All-Star festivities finally over, Target Field returned to normal, and so did the Twins offense, going 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position. They are batting .234 in those situations, next-to-last in the American League.
With so little help, Kyle Gibson needed to be almost perfect, and he wasn't. The righthander recorded 16 outs on ground balls, but let nine hits slip in between them, two of them decisive, and the Twins fell seven games below .500.
"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 dozen days. "It's not going to make our season, but it's certainly going to affect the trade deadline."
That's the fear in the clubhouse, too. Players believe they have enough talent, albeit underachieving, to climb into the playoff race. "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. ... But we've got to win baseball games."
Trouble is, so do the Rays, and they are 9-4 in July. Gibson loaded the bases in the third inning without allowing a hard-hit ball -- a soft liner, an infield grounder that could have been an inning-ending double play but bounced off the pitcher's glove, and a walk. Evan Longoria then didn't miss his opportunity. He slugged a 2-0 fastball just beyond Oswaldo Arcia's awkward leap in right field, driving all three runners home.
"The tapper back to the mound is a double play if (Gibson) doesn't tip it, but instincts tell you to try to catch the ball," Gardenhire said. "That ball was probably going right to (Brian Dozier) for a double play."
One minor fielding mistake, followed by one bad pitch -- perhaps the difference between winning and losing.
Two innings later, a similar scenario. Kevin Kiermaier dribbled a ball in front of the plate, and Kurt Suzuki's throw was late (which 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 Gibson fastball and dropped it into the front row of the right-field overhang.
"Really, I just got beat by three or four pitches tonight," said Gibson (8-8). "You can't leave pitches over the middle."
Tampa Bay's Alex Cobb (5-6) 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.
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."
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