This weekend's series in Cleveland has widely been viewed as the Twins' last chance to make a push for contention in the 2007 season. Torii Hunter has been quoted as saying that the Twins needed a sweep, not a series victory. General manager Terry Ryan called this weekend's set "a huge series." La Velle E. Neal has dubbed the series the Twins' "final stand."
So how did the Twins respond in the series opener in Cleveland last night? By playing one of their ugliest games of the season. The Twins struggled in every aspect of the game. The pitching was terrible (Boof Bonser, Ramon Ortiz and Juan Rincon combined up give up 10 runs on 16 hits over the first eight innings of the game, which included four walks, two home runs and two wild pitches). The offense was terrible (the Twins hit into three double plays and didn't score a run until the seventh inning, by which point they were already down 10-0). The defense was terrible (two errors, plus plenty more sloppiness). The final result was a 10-4 loss that leaves the Twins with a .500 record and trailing the Indians by nine games in the Wild Card standings.
The Twins have lost five straight games and have been outscored 43-11 during that stretch. They have been desperate for victories, but have been getting thoroughly dominated, especially over the last three games.
The one mildly exciting aspect of last night's game for Twins' fans was the debut of Brian Buscher at third base. In Thursday's entry on this blog, I said the following: "If Buscher replaces Punto as the regular third baseman and Rondell White can stay healthy in the No. 7 spot in the order, I suspect that the "Bottom of the Barrel" stats on our sidebar will start to gradually creep up." Sure enough, White started in the No. 7 spot last night and Buscher batted eighth, and the two combined to go 3-for-6. Unfortunately, Punto still found his way into the lineup as the starting shortstop, and he went 0-for-4 with a strikeout while stranding three runners on base. In 81 games before the All-Star break, Punto drew 41 walks and stole 13 bases. In 14 games since the break, he has drawn two walks and stolen zero bases, all while hitting for a low average with almost no power. And yet Ron Gardenhire cannot bring himself to take Punto out of the starting lineup.
Buscher did look shaky defensively, but I'm guessing that first-game jitters had something to do with that. He looked good at the plate, collecting a couple solidly hit singles and driving the ball to the outfield in each of his four at-bats.
The Twins are now 0-6 against the Indians this year, but it seems almost certain that they'll pick up their first victory today, with Johan Santana facing off against Jake Westbrook, who is 1-6 with a 6.20 ERA and 1.67 WHIP this year. Of course, with the way the Twins are playing right now, there are no guarantees.