Twins a bit nauseous after season of wild streaks hits new low: 'This is next-level stuff'

WASHINGTON — It would have been a lot easier — for their heart rates, for their sleep patterns, for their general morale — had the Minnesota Twins behaved like any other ballclub hovering around the .500 mark.

Win a few, lose a few. Maybe a mild hot streak, perhaps an untimely sweep by their opponents. Rinse, eat, bags, bus, baseball, as most know it.

Instead, they opted for a ride on the major league Tilt-A-Whirl.

Lose four, then five in a row to lowlight a stretch in which they lost 13 games in 18 tries? Season’s over before May.

Pull out of that nosedive by winning 12 in a row and 17 of 20 to suddenly pull within a half-game of first place? Print the playoff tickets!

Hit the road with that newfound confidence, only to lose seven in a row, including a sweep by their division rivals that included two blown late-inning leads? It’s all over, all over again.

Well, that’s kind of how it felt Monday night, when the Twins externalized those feelings in a players’ only meeting that followed an artless 12-3 loss to the Washington Nationals.

The setback dropped them to a perfectly ordinary 24-23 record. It’s the journey to that destination that’s been extraordinary.

“We’ve flipped the season completely around multiple times already,” manager Rocco Baldelli said after the defending AL Central champions were held to three or fewer runs for the sixth time in seven games. “I’ve seen a lot of streaky baseball. We all have. This is next-level stuff. We’re taking this to the next level. Sometimes, that’s a good thing.

“Right now, that’s not a good thing. But when we’re winning all those games in a row, as the pitcher is working through the game, we’re watching the game, we’re paying attention, we see it, and we adjust quickly to what the guy out there is doing.

“But you can’t take three, four five innings to adjust to what the starting pitcher is doing to you. That’s just not quality professional baseball.”

Minnesota Twins manager Rocco Baldelli looks on during his team's 12-3 loss against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on Monday.
Minnesota Twins manager Rocco Baldelli looks on during his team's 12-3 loss against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on Monday.

Baldelli’s distate Monday night came in the breezy evening his hitters afforded capable but hardly overwhelming Nationals starter Mitchell Parker. The lefty set the tone with a nine-pitch first inning and was scarcely touched until Carlos Correa’s sixth-inning home run after the Twins were already in a 7-1 hole.

Parker threw his curveball and splitter 58% of the time. The Twins continued taking large hacks more suited to something harder. And Baldelli stewed.

“The guy just stood out there and threw off-speed pitches for like four straight innings,” says Baldelli. “And we didn’t do anything about it. We continued to kind of wave at him and look for fastballs, which today they weren’t coming.

“In this stretch of games where we’ve been struggling, that’s been a common theme. We’re going up there and swinging big. And swinging it big is not getting it done right now. We’re swinging like they’re throwing all fastballs. And they don’t throw us very many fastballs.

“We have to do something different, is what we gotta do.”

One might intuit that Baldelli tossed a clubhouse chair or shared words either excoriating or encouraging his team afterward.

But Baldelli did that just two days ago. Bouncing a few things off the fellas is a tactic better suited for the dog days of summer, when focus can wane and hope shrivels.

Yet here we are, when the night breezes are still cool, and Baldelli is a bit tired of making that postgame shuffle down the hall and into the clubhouse.

“I’ve talked to this team two, three times already and it’s not even June yet. Normally, you can go through a whole year and maybe talk to the team once or twice after a game,” he says. “You can’t do that on a daily basis and it starts to get drowned out. It’s not going to be meaningful if you keep going in there. I talked to them two days ago. That’s their clubhouse, with their teammates in there. And they figure things out together, and that’s the best way to figure things out as a team.

“They spent a little time after the game amongst themselves gathering up and saying a few things. I don’t know what was said. I have no idea. I think it was the right thing to do at the right time and hopefully we get something out of it.

“There’s specific things we gotta do. We’re just not doing them. We know what we have to do and we keep going up there struggling to do it. They know that. I think that’s why they wanted to say it.”

It’s been a rough few days, for certain. The Twins came into town with the residue of a walk-off loss at first-place Cleveland still sticking, worsened by the fact closer Jhoan Duran questioned the pitch selection determined during a mound visit that preceded a game-ending, three-run homer.

On Monday, they had ace Pablo Lopez to stem the tide, but the Nationals attacked him as effectively as the Twins folded against Parker, pecking him for eight hits, including two homers, and seven runs in five innings.

Add it all up, and the Twins clubhouse remained closed for an extended period postgame as players aired out what ailed them.

“Just like anything, externalizing gives you that sense of relief. When you say things out loud, when you hear things being said out loud, it kind of puts things in perspective,” says Lopez, whose ERA rose from 3.93 to 4.72. “I think we said things we were thinking but weren’t saying out loud. You want to avoid having those (meetings). In a baseball season, sometimes you’re bound to have one.

“Hopefully it helps us turn the page, flip the script.”

Given their desultory state, it’s easy to forget that this was the team literally laughing through May, introducing a home run sausage to celebrate longballs and seemingly putting their grim April behind them.

Yet the truer tests of a team come when the guffaws give way to a silent, losing clubhouse.

“It’s always helpful to talk and always helpful to be there for each other,” says Correa, now in his third year with Minnesota. “Especially through a tough time. It’s easy to be a fun guy to be around when things are going good and when everything you’re hitting is falling and you’re winning games.

“But when the tough times come, that’s when you know who people are and it’s important to talk.”

Whether it’s simply empty accountability or a pivot point will be determined soon enough. Not that the Twins need any more momentum swings.

Lopez noted the cruel sequencing that three runs would have been more than enough for him to win on most nights — five of his nine previous starts, in fact. All the Twins want is a little stability.

But they signed up for this ride. The climbs and dips are only beginning, even if it feels like they were due to disembark long ago.

“It’s wild, because we go from a 12-game winning streak, at the high, and the way it’s been, we’re at the low. In a long season, you want to win without spending too much time on the low,” he says. “We have to be careful to not lose our confidence. That’s hard to do because winning gives you confidence. When you lose, that confidence starts dropping down and down.

“You can’t change who you are. You can’t change what you believe in.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Minnesota Twins experiencing season of wild momentum swings