Being six games under .500 is frustrating. On one hand, the Minnesota Twins (30-36) are just two good series away from evening things out, but they are also one or two bad series away from being knocked into oblivion.
The most recent Detroit Tigers series, which the Twins dropped two of three (0-4, 6-3, 2-5), was a great opportunity to catch up with the mighty Motown sluggers, but instead the Twinkies found themselves in the thick of an AL Central race for second place after taking two of three from the Philadelphia Phillies earlier in the week.
“We won two of the first three and lost two of three to these guys who are leading our division,” said manager Ron Gardenhire on Sunday after the Game 3 loss. “That doesn’t help us.”
Going into the season, the scouting report on the Twins said that they could hit but struggled in the pitching department. While Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau continue to chug along and Trevor Plouffe knocked in a home run on his first day back from the disabled list in Game 2, Ryan Doumit and Josh Willingham continue to struggle.
Doumit hit 18 home runs with a .275/.320/.461 line last season, but he is batting .171 and only has one home run in his past 10 games. Willingham did not play in Game 3 after receiving a cortisone shot and has only two hits in his past five games. After recording a career-high 35 home runs last year, Willingham only has one in his past 10 games and is batting .211/.352/.411 this season.
“It’s just a matter of guys getting going,” said Gardenhire, not naming anyone specifically, but acknowledging that his team was held to three hits in three of its past four games.
“You look at the guys in the middle and we count them to drive them in, but you have to have people on base.”
The problem is that Minnesota does not have any reliable table-setters. Jamey Carroll has bat leadoff, but he is 39 and not an everyday player at this point. Brian Dozier is a great defensive second baseman with a bit of power, but he does not get on base consistently. Eduardo Escobar started the year hot but hit .095 in May.
Aaron Hicks is probably the future leadoff man, of course, but the 23-year-old skipped Triple-A and has yet to raise his average above the Mendoza Line. He is also on the 15-day disabled list.
Morneau needs to find his home run swing, Plouffe needs to hit consistently and Mauer has to stay healthy.
In short, this team needs to put it all together.
Scott Diamond and Sam Deduno Cruise
Scott Diamond had one brutal inning and ended up pinned with the loss on Friday, but he looked more and more like himself in what might have been a breakthrough game for him.
He had better command of his curveball and fastball, an indication of good things to come.
“The curveball has been a lot more effective for me lately,” said Diamond after the Game 1 loss, “got a lot of outs with it today and the fastball is getting back down into the zone and is having some movement.
“Those are the two pitches that I’ve established and have kind of made me successful in the past.”
Diamond walked Austin Jackson in the sixth inning, was able to get Torii Hunter, but Jackson moved to second and he was forced to walk Miguel Cabrera to get to Prince Fielder with two outs on the board. Fielder found a ball up in the zone and crushed it for a double, beginning a four-run sixth inning that eventually led to Diamond’s removal.
“It’s definitely coming around,” he said adding that he does fine as long as he keeps the game under control. When things speed up, like they did after walking Jackson, he gets in trouble.
“I just need to start preventing these big innings,” he continued, sounding exasperated. “It’s getting pretty frustrating, and it’s not letting me get later into the game.”
“He was pounding them inside,” said manager Ron Gardenhire, “he was pulling a lot of balls foul and that set up his changeup in the outer half of the plate, and he did a really nice job.”
Despite the loss, Diamond has some positives he can build of into the next outing.
While Diamond couldn’t make it out of the sixth inning, Deduno went seven innings and only walked one player.
“You saw him get a couple of counts where he throws two or three quick balls,” said Gardenhire, “but he would come back and pound the strike zone with it. That’s just about being able to throw the fastball over.”
Deduno has great command of his curveball and slider, but he struggles to command his fastball—which tails both left and right—and cannot use his changeup if he cannot throw his fastball for strikes.
“The command of my fastball was very important,” admitted Deduno, “and moving it around was very good.”
When Deduno is doing well, he is one of the greatest pitchers to watch in the game. His crazy fastball keeps players off balance, and his curveball will make their knees buckle.
“I love watching Deduno pitch,” said third baseman Trevor Plouffe, “especially when he’s around the zone like that. He’s a tough guy. If he can throw strikes like that, he’s one of the better ones in the league.”
Plouffe may have made a bang by hitting a home run on his first game back, but Saturday was all about the Sam Deduno Show.
P.J. Walters Takes a Step Back
While Diamond and Deduno looked sharp in the first two games of the series, Walters got hit around a bit in Game 3. After giving up only one earned run in 7.1 innings against Philadelphia, the Alabaman allowed four earned runs and only lasted 5.1 innings on Sunday.
“Bad,” he said in assessment of his performance. “Right out of the gate, a two-run homer (to former Twin Torii Hunter) in the first put us in a hole and it doesn’t get much better from there.”
Austin Jackson knocked an errant pitch into the second deck in the fourth inning, and Walters left the game in a 4-0 hole.
“I’m upset,” he said. “Location was bad all day. I got through a few innings without the runs, but if I can eliminate the two homers, then I’d get away with a lot more, but it didn’t work out that way.”
Of course, just when the pitching turns a corner, the team cannot generate runs.
“It’s been kind of streaky,” said Dozier, who hit a home run to break up Doug Fister’s no-no in the bottom of the sixth in Game 3. “It seems like one week goes by when we’re hitting the cover off the ball and then we’ll slump as a team.”
Gardenhire just wants his team to put them both together as soon as possible.
“That’s the fight we’re going through right now,” he said. “Our pitching is coming along pretty decent, giving us a chance, but we’ve got to get runs on the board. We’ve got to score for these guys.”
Things should get better. Plouffe has returned, Morneau is eventually going to hit a home run and even the guys at the bottom of the lineup—Dozier, Escobar and Pedro Florimon—have all had hot streaks earlier in the year.
Being six games under sucks, but a winning record is only two good series away.
All quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise indicated.
Tom Schreier covers Minnesota sports for Bleacher Report and is a contributor to Yahoo! Sports.