Sunday night's 9-7 loss against the White Sox really had a deflating quality to it, the kind that can put a hot team into a slump. They had their starting pitcher throw away a four-run lead. They put up seven runs in the first inning against a pitcher that has historically dominated them, only to have that effort erased by the fourth inning. They committed blunders in the field. They hit into a triple play. It was brutal and demoralizing, particularly for a team that had played so well over the past week.
After putting themselves in great position for a series win over the first-place Sox by winning the first two games of the four game set, the Twins wound up with a split after losing 7-3 yesterday and now find themselves in essentially the same position they were coming into the series; four games under .500 and 8.5 games out of first place. The starting pitching continues to struggle and the offense, while decent, could not come up with enough timely hits to keep up with Chicago.
This time it was Scott Baker's turn to struggle. Baker fell to 1-4 on the year as he failed to make it out of the fifth inning. He allowed five earned runs on 11 hits in just 4 and 2/3 innings, giving Scott Podsednik and Chris Widger their first home runs of the season along the way. Baker is a different pitcher from most on the Twins staff in that he likes to work up in the zone rather than trying to keep everything down. It can be effective if he's able to keep opposing hitters off-balance, but when he doesn't make good pitches and leaves them hanging, pretty much anyone is going to nail them out of the park -- even a backup catcher and a speedy outfielder with only 22 career homers.
The losses on Sunday and Monday put the Twins in a difficult situation. At 17-21, they now head into a three-game series on the road against the Tigers; their last trip to Detroit wasn't pretty. I think it's pretty clear that the Twins are a better team now than they were then, but I'm still not at all comfortable with the starting pitching outside of Mr. Santana. Kyle Lohse and Brad Radke simply have to pitch better in this series than they have against the Tigers previously. The rotation is struggling.
Fortunately, help is on the way. Yesterday we called for Carlos Silva to be removed from the rotation in favor of Francisco Liriano, and now it appears that the Twins have answered. I'm not expecting Santana-like dominance from Liriano immediately as a starter, but I certainly expect him to be better than Silva and he should get better and stronger with each start. The Twins will continue to have problems with their rotation no doubt, but this is certainly a step in the right direction.