Without question, the weekend's four-game set with the Rays at Target Field (of which the Twins lost three) was the most disheartening of the season. We saw late leads slip away in soul-crushing fashion. We saw a typically reliable bullpen cough up nine earned runs and 19 hits over 12 1/3 innings. We saw a magnificent outing from Francisco Liriano go to absolute waste.
In the grand scheme of things, this series doesn't tell us much. The Twins are still just a a half-game out of first place in the division, the offense looks fine with J.J. Hardy back and hitting eighth/ninth, and they got three strong starting performances over the four-game set. The bullpen had a rough weekend, but they've been excellent for most of the season and there's no reason to think this hiccup will become a prevalent issue.
Nevertheless, there is a perception that the Twins aren't a legitimate contender capable of hanging with the well-built AL East clubs. They're doing nothing to dispel that notion. The Twins have a .500 record or worse against every club from the East this year (including the lowly Orioles) and this weekend they were thwarted in their own stadium by a Rays team that simply seemed to want it more.
Whether an actual energy lull or just another symptom of a lingering team-wide slump, this most recent series has once again shown the Twins incapable of grinding out big victories against quality clubs. There's no doubt that this roster is talented enough to make the playoffs and succeed once there, but too many players are underperforming right now and the team is failing to execute in too many big spots.
I imagine the Twins players are anxiously awaiting the All-Star break, which will afford them an opportunity to briefly recharge and start fresh, in an effort to break out of a stretch that has seen them fail to play consistently good ball for well over a month now. (They haven't won more than two consecutive games since the end of May.)
Unfortunately, the Twins will have to go through Toronto and Detroit before the break arrives. At this rate, they'll be lucky to make it in one piece.
TwinsCentric will be hosting another gathering at Park Tavern tomorrow night, where folks can get together over great specials and watch the Twins face off against the Jays. There will be all sorts of cool stuff going on at the event; Tim Laudner will be there from 5-6 to chat and sign autographs, and ESPN1500 will be hosting their pre-game show there. We'll also be releasing the latest TwinsCentric publication, which I'm pretty excited about.