Notes: Twins finding ways to win
Pitching shuts down opposition; Nathan dominates Royals
KANSAS CITY -- The Twins averaged slightly more than 2.4 runs in their recently completed seven-game homestand. Sounds like a recipe for disaster and a tumble from the American League Central race, doesn't it?
Uh, not so fast.
Minnesota made the most of its 17 runs while carving out a 4-3 record over division foes Kansas City and Cleveland. In spite of the offensive woes, they only trail the division-leading Indians by 5 1/2 games.
The power outage actually started earlier on a road trip to Toronto and Cleveland, when the Twins managed only 16 runs in six games. The team has scored just 71 runs in the 24 games since the All-Star break, an average slightly under three runs per game. Those 71 runs are the fewest of any Major League team since the break, but the Twins have managed to salvage a 12-11 record in those games. The red-hot Yankees have scored 201 runs in their last 27 games.
Manager Ron Gardenhire explained the funk by saying his team just ran into some good pitching and a variety of pitchers. The contrast between Cleveland pitchers Fausto Carmona and Paul Byrd was stark.
"We did the same thing to them. They didn't swing the bats very good, either," Gardenhire said. "When you're going through good pitching and you're fighting it a little bit offensively, you're popping it up rather than driving it. Hopefully we'll come through and start putting some hits together."
Joe Mauer is the only player on the roster batting over .300. Justin Morneau has dropped to .286 and hasn't hit a home run since July 23. Morneau is also in the midst of a 1-for-22 slump in the last six games.
"I missed a lot of pitches I should have hit," he said.
Morneau said it is frustrating when the pitchers are throwing so well, and the hitters aren't giving them any help.
"If we could get the big hit early, that would take a lot of pressure off," Morneau said.
Torii Hunter started the season with a bang but has dropped to .286 after a 7-for-36 (.194) stretch in the last 10 games. Michael Cuddyer has also been in a bit of a funk with a 3-for-15 showing against the Indians, but he didn't seem overly concerned.
"Sometimes you run into those things. Sometimes it will be two or three games when you can't put things together, and people will want to make it bigger than it really is," Cuddyer said. "It's always magnified when the whole team is in a bit of a funk."
Monday night's 4-0 shutout at the hands of the Indians' Byrd had a familiar ring to it. Minnesota has been shut out a Major League-leading 10 times, including five times in July alone. The Twins led the league in that ignominious category a year ago when they were shut out 14 times. That tied the club record for a season.
Gardenhire said he didn't think hitters were experiencing any problems with patience.
"We've done the whole package. We've gone up there 0-2; we've gone up there 3-0. It's just we get a good pitch and hit it hard at someone or pop it up. Good pitching does those things to you," he said.
While those 17 runs in the seven-game homestand seems to be a particularly ugly statistic, the Twins did score 11 of those runs against Kansas City and took the series, 2-1. Minnesota leads the season series with the Royals, 4-3.
Shut down: While the offense has been struggling to score runs, the pitching has been nothing short of outstanding. The staff has complied a 2.30 ERA over the last nine games and put together a 6-3 record. During that stretch, the Twins have struck out 73 while walking a Major League-low 13. The starters have registered a 2.21 ERA while the bullpen has followed through with a 2.57. For the season, the Twins have an ERA of 4.08, third-best in the American League behind Boston at 3.74 and Oakland at 3.82.
No ordinary Joe: Joe Nathan has enjoyed particular success against Kansas City. He successfully converted 22 of 24 save opportunities. His 22 saves vs. the Royals are his most against one team. He also has a 2-0 record, an 0.83 ERA and has held them to a .116 batting average.
No brooms: The Twins have only swept four series this season and only two since April 19. One reason why -- they have trouble winning the first game of a series. Minnesota has lost the first game of a series 20 of 36 times this season, losing three of its last four and four of its last six series openers.
He knew this would happen: On Sunday, the Twins optioned outfielder Lew Ford to Triple-A to add a 12th pitcher to the staff. Gardenhire had a premonition about what would happen next -- a position player would get hurt. Sure enough, that's what happened. Infielder Brian Buscher is unavailable Tuesday because of an infected leg. The injury occurred five or six days ago, when he took a foul ball off his right shin. The doctors had originally thought it was just a deep bruise.
Rondell's back: Rondell White was in the lineup as the DH on Tuesday. Gardenhire wants to see how his leg does on the grass of Kauffman Stadium before putting him in the field. White has spent much of the season on the DL with a calf injury.
Farm report: Rochester's Dave Gassner earned International League Player of the Week honors for the period of July 30-Aug. 5. The 28-year old left-hander compiled a 1-0 record in two starts with a 0.64 ERA in 14 innings. He allowed only seven hits and struck out five while walking two.
Coming up: The Twins meet the Royals again Wednesday night at 7:10 CT when left-hander Johan Santana (11-9, 2.98) squares off against southpaw Odalis Perez (6-10, 5.79).
Max Utsler is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.