As frustrating as the Minnesota Twins season has been so far, the loss Friday night to the Kansas City Royals was particularly disconcerting. It appeared that a lack of discipline, and questionable management in the late innings led to the team’s downfall. The Twins held a 3-1 advantage going into the late innings, but were unable to hold the lead. This team is banged up throughout the order, and the combination of some bad weather — and even worse starting pitching — has led to a roster that resembles a triple-A squad. After surrendering 21 runs the day before while losing both ends of a double-header, the Twins only had four pitchers available for duty for the opening game of the weekend series in Kansas City. One of those four pitchers was Friday’s losing pitcher Alex Burnett, who was ushered in from triple-A Friday morning as an emergency arm.
The lack of depth and experience contributed greatly to the Twins’ struggles in April, and Friday’s game was no different. A key moment came in the sixth, after two runs had already scored and the threat continued with runners on first and third with one out. The Royals foiled the Twins’ plan to squeeze home Danny Valencia by pitching out on the first pitch to Drew Butera; Valencia broke too early and was easily tagged out after a brief rundown. Butera made no attempt to make contact with the ball. After the play, Twins’ radio broadcaster Dan Gladden suggested that prior to the play, the Twins had called time out in order to go through the signs multiple times, because newcomer Rene Tosoni, at first base, could not pick up the sign the first time through.
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In the eighth inning, the Twins allowed the tying and go-ahead runs to score after a series of bizarre plays. After a one-out double by Wilson Betemit, Kila Ka’aihue hit a sharp one-hopper right at Betemit at second base. Betemit appeared to block shortstop Alexi Casilla’s view of the ball, and the ball scurried off his glove into shallow center and was ruled an infield hit, putting runners at first and third. Speedster and pinch-runner extraordinaire Jarrod Dyson replaced Ka’aihue at first in an obvious base stealing situation. Burnett never attempted to pick off Dyson or even hold him on, and on the very first pitch, Dyson broke for second. Butera’s throw was wide of the bag and filtered through into center, allowing the run to score and Dyson to advance to third. Dyson would score two batters later on a sacrifice fly to short left field that was caught by Casilla, whose momentum was carrying him away from the plate and ultimately allowed Dyson to score the go-ahead run without a play. Joakim Soria came on and dispatched the Twins in order in the ninth on three weak ground balls.
No doubt the Twins lack of depth also played a role in the blown eighth-inning lead and their inability to break the game open earlier in the contest. Jim Thome may have been called upon to pinch hit for Butera in the sixth, or for Casilla, Hughes or Butera later in the game facing a one-run deficit, but he was sidelined with an oblique injury. Usual late-inning men Glen Perkins, Jim Hoey and Joe Nathan were all declared unavailable due to their work the previous day during the doubleheader vs the Rays. Nathan had reportedly indicated that he could go, which leaves this writer wondering why he or Matt Capps was not summoned to pitch the seventh or eighth innings, rather than sending out the inexperienced Burnett, who would ultimately lose the game. It was the classic case where a so-called “closer” is left on the bench in a key situation while a game slips away in the seventh or eightth inning, effectively removing the chance to come in for the save. In this situation, a one-run, eighth inning lead, given the choice between two experienced closers and a young pitcher fresh up from triple-A, the choice should have been easy.
The squandered opportunities in the fourth (first and third, one out), sixth (Valencia caught stealing home) and seventh (first and second, one out) really represent more of the same for the struggling Twins, who are last in the league in stats, like slugging and runs scored. The lack of depth will sort itself out in time. More concerning are the fundamental mistakes, and management’s failure to execute situational moves to manufacture insurance runs and to preserve precious leads. Granted, the injury situation on this team has been a legitimate handicap, but mistakes are causing the Twins to lose winnable games at an alarming rate.