Twins settle for split against Blue Jays
Lack of run support ends Baker's seven-game win streak
TORONTO -- For the Twins, it's been virtually the same story all season.While the club was scoring runs in bunches earlier this year, its pitching was faltering. Over the past two weeks, the pitching has come around, but the bats have disappeared. And right now, the inability of Minnesota to get both sides of the game going at the same time is proving very costly. Coming off a big win over Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay on Wednesday night, the Twins hoped to use some of their momentum to pick up a series victory over Toronto and put pressure on first-place Detroit in the American League Central race. Instead, it was another day where the Twins' offense couldn't produce in a 3-2 loss to the Blue Jays on Thursday afternoon to split the four-game set at the Rogers Centre. "We've been pretty inconsistent all year," first baseman Justin Morneau said. "The frustrating thing is we play some good games and beat some tough pitchers, but then we come out and don't do what we should. ... It's a game that we needed to win and we didn't do it. That's why we are a .500 team." Minnesota (70-70) managed just two runs off rookie starter Brett Cecil in his final outing of the season for Toronto. The club went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and has averaged just 3.2 runs during its past 10 games. Making the offensive woes more glaring is that they've come at a time when the Twins are fighting to keep their postseason hopes alive. Minnesota, which began the day 5 1/2 games back, had opportunities this week to gain significant ground on Detroit. The Tigers lost again to the Royals on Thursday to complete a three-game sweep in Kansas City.
Yet the Twins, who have seven head-to-head matches left against the Tigers this season, couldn't take advantage and pick up another game in what looked to be an ideal matchup for them on Thursday with their most consistent starter of late, Scott Baker, on the mound.Baker entered the contest undefeated in his past 11 starts, having gone 7-0 over that stretch. He delivered yet another solid outing for his club, allowing three runs on five hits over 6 2/3 innings, but lost for the first time since July 7. The Blue Jays scored first in what was an early exchange of runs between the two clubs. Joe Inglett drew a leadoff walk from Baker to start the game and scored on Adam Lind's one-out RBI double to right field. Denard Span then tied the game at 1 in the third with his leadoff homer. The solo shot, which bounced off the right-field foul pole, was Span's seventh homer of the season. But Toronto went right back on top in the fourth, when Jose Bautista hit his fifth homer of the season to make it 2-1. The Twins knotted the game once again in the fifth thanks to Nick Punto's leadoff double that was followed by Orlando Cabrera's RBI single. Once again, it was a short-lived tie, as the Blue Jays regained the lead in the bottom of the fifth. John McDonald doubled to lead off the inning, advanced to third on a ground ball and scored on Lind's sac fly. Despite earning the loss, Baker delivered his fourth straight quality start for Minnesota and his seventh in his past nine outings. "You give up three runs, you should have an opportunity to win," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Unfortunately for us, our offense never could get anything going." After the loss, the Twins couldn't help but look back at the missed opportunities they had against Cecil, who, while effective, wasn't exactly overpowering hitters. "We got some pitches to hit and had chances with guys in scoring position, and he made pitches when he needed to," Morneau said. "I don't know if he focused better or we needed to focus better, but we had plenty of opportunities. We just didn't do it." Once the Toronto lefty exited the contest after the sixth, Minnesota couldn't tally even a single hit off the five relievers the Blue Jays used for the final three innings. Jeremy Accardo, Jesse Carlson and Shawn Camp each got one out in the seventh for Toronto, Scott Downs pitched a perfect eighth, and Jason Frasor finished off the contest with his eighth save of the season. "They can do some things to you -- bring in some left-right combos and make the ball move all over the place," Gardenhire said of the Jays' relief corps. "It makes it tough when you get deeper into the game with these guys." At a time when every loss hinders their chances of getting back into the thick of the pennant chase, the Twins seem to be getting more and more frustrated by their inability to take advantage of situations like the one they had on Thursday. The Twins now head back to Minnesota for a nine-game homestand that will conclude with three contests against the Tigers. For them, the hope is that they'll still be close enough to Detroit in the race for those games to mean something. "I think at this time we're just trying to hang on and try to gain some ground until we play Detroit," Baker said. "We go back home and obviously we play very well there. We'll just have to see where we are after these next couple series. We don't have a lot of room to lose any more games, that's for sure."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.