CHICAGO — Both things can be true for the Minnesota Twins: It’s still relatively early in the season. It doesn’t really matter that it’s still relatively early in the season.
After falling 4-2 to the White Sox on Thursday afternoon at Guaranteed Rate Field, the Twins are now through 35 games this season or roughly 21.6 percent. There is plenty of baseball to go, plenty of games left against their division foes.
But there’s also a fairly deep hole in front of them that they’ll need to dig themselves out of, one that got even deeper this week after being swept in a three-game series by the division-leading White Sox (22-13). The Twins (12-23) now trail the White Sox by 10 games in the division and are 11 games under .500.
“It almost doesn’t matter if it’s considered early or not so early,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said Wednesday afternoon before his team dropped the final two games of the series. “It doesn’t change anything that we need to take care of on our end. Is it relatively early in the season? Yes. But we do have things that we need to improve on. We need to be better today.”
They weren’t better on Thursday, and the path to digging themselves out of that hole won’t get any easier anytime soon. The Twins will welcome the Athletics, who swept them earlier in the season and lead the AL West, to town on Friday for three games before hosting the White Sox for three games at Target Field.
On Thursday, following an effort in which the bullpen gave up six runs in a Tuesday loss and a game in which J.A. Happ gave up nine runs in his start Wednesday, the Twins kept it close all day.
But it wound up being yet another game in a season of many like it where they couldn’t convert opportunities with runners in scoring position into runs, finishing the day 0 for 10 in such situations and leaving 12 men on base.
“We’ve seen this happen before. I mean, that’s why it becomes all the more frustrating,” Baldelli said. “…We’ve shown the ability to hit balls hard, we’ve shown the ability to go out there and get on base, and that makes it all the more difficult when we go out there with the guys in scoring position and haven’t been able to get it done.”
They had a prime opportunity in the fourth inning with the bases loaded when Kyle Garlick smoked a ball at 100 miles per hour off the bat, 390 feet out to center but a couple steps before the wall, center fielder Billy Hamilton made a leaping grab to squelch the scoring chance. The next inning, Mitch Garver took a pitch looking with the bases packed, prompting a show of emotion from White Sox starter Lance Lynn after he escaped the inning unscathed.
The Twins managed just five hits but did have chances all day, drawing five walks, reaching on multiple errors, including a catcher’s interference, and a wild pitch on a strikeout.
At one point, designated hitter Nelson Cruz put an orange Gatorade cooler on his head — hey, anything to mix it up and provide some energy — but inning after inning, the results were the same.
“It felt like when we needed to get some guys on base, we found some ways to do it, and the White Sox even gave us a few opportunities that we should be capitalizing on,” Baldelli said. “And when the guys were out there, we had different kinds of at-bats. We didn’t have the same kinds of at-bats as we did before that.”
They never led as the first pitch out of Michael Pineda’s right hand was taken 377 feet out to left by Tim Anderson. Pineda gave up a second home run to Jake Lamb, one that barely cleared the wall, in the fourth inning, and departed in the sixth after issuing two walks. One of those runners came around to score.
“It’s a little frustration for everyone,” Pineda said after the loss.
And there’s plenty of reasons why.
The Twins have now lost four straight games and seven of their past eight, an undesirable situation to be in at any point, but especially ahead of six days of play against two of the league’s best teams.
“We do have opportunities to atone and go out there and make up for whatever’s gone on the day before. You can turn it around the following day,” Baldelli said. “ …We haven’t done it yet and we know that and we have a lot to live up to and we have a lot to still accomplish this year. We haven’t proven yet how we’re going to do it but again, we believe in each other and we’re going to find a way.”