Yesterday's game was the type that is truly painful to watch. The Twins get another very strong outing from their starting pitcher, only to have the offense blow repeated opportunities to score against bad pitchers and then to have the game slip away at the hands of the bullpen in extra innings.
Francisco Liriano recovered from some early struggles to turn in some a very good outing, going eight innings and allowing just two runs. (If you're interested, you can read a lot more of my thoughts on Liriano's outing, as well as the dilemma over how to use him down the stretch, at my Daily Dose column at Rotoworld today.) But the Twins offense could not take advantage, going 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position and scoring just twice in five innings against starter Brandon Duckworth, who entered the game with a 6.50 ERA, 1.93 WHIP and 5-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 15 innings on the season.
Justin Morneau delivered a clutch two-out hit with a runner on third in the first inning to bring home the Twins' first run, but from that point forward, watching the offense struggle mightily at home against a bad team was a frustrating practice.
In the second, the Twins put runners on second and third with one out. Carlos Gomez drove in a run with a single to right field, tallying the Twins' second run of the game and setting up a possible rally with runners on the corners and just one out. Unfortunately, the rally quickly fizzled when Gomez was picked off at first and Denard Span struck out to strand Brian Buscher at third. In the sixth, Joe Mauer hit a leadoff single and Morneau followed with a single of his own, putting runners on first and second with nobody out, but a Jason Kubel struck out and Mike Redmond grounded into a double play to end the inning. The next inning, the Twins put a pair of runners on with two outs, but again failed to capitalize when Alexi Casilla (who has been making horrible contact much of time) fouled out to third base. In the eighth, Mauer reached second on a two-base error to lead off the inning, but the Twins' 4-5-6 hitters failed to bring him home.
And with the offense fledgling, the bullpen let another game slip away. After Joe Nathan tossed a 1-2-3 ninth, the rest of the relief corps could not contribute even one scoreless inning against this Royals offense. Matt Guerrier gave up two straight singles, and on came Dennys Reyes with the task of retiring lefty David DeJesus, which he failed to do as DeJesus delivered a go-ahead RBI single to right. That was plenty for Joakim Soria, who set the Twins' suddenly punchless hitters down in order in the bottom of the inning.
Let's have no illusions: this loss should be blamed almost completely on a hideous offensive performance against a pitcher they should have had a field day against. But the bullpen is what has me feeling the most despair. I just don't see how it's possible that the Twins can make the postseason, much less succeed there, when the non-Nathan sector of the bullpen is so incapable of finding even a modicum of effectiveness. We keep waiting for these guys to turn it around, but it's not happening. No one has been able to work into a sustained groove. Guerrier can't get people out. Opponents are OPS-ing over 900 against Reyes since mid-August. Jesse Crain has a 6.75 ERA over his past 14 appearances. Boof Bonser alternates between looking utterly dominant and giving up long home runs, and can hardly be counted on. Craig Breslow has been the bullpen's most effective non-Nathan reliever, but Ron Gardenhire for some reason seems extremely hesitant to go to him in high-leverage spots.
If the bullpen can't pull it together during the 10-game road trip that opens tonight in Baltimore, the Twins could be toast by the time they return to the Metrodome. That's a scary proposition.