Wheels come off late, Tigers pitching falls apart in 9-4 loss to Twins
Minneapolis — The Tigers rolled into Minnesota riding a string of five straight successful series and on a 31-23 run since May 8. Now, they are facing the possibility of heading into the All-Star break on a four-game losing streak.
Momentum is a fickle thing in baseball.
"I want to win every day," manager AJ Hinch said after the Tigers fell apart late Saturday and lost for the third straight day to the Minnesota Twins, 9-4. "If I preach winning today, I'm not going to carry this into tomorrow. You guys can cover the emotional rollercoaster. I'm not going to ride it."
Blowing a 4-0 lead in this one was enough of a roller-coaster ride for one day.
"The back end of this game was a mess," Hinch said. "We didn't do a lot right."
Trying to mix-and-match relievers against a powerful offensive lineup is difficult enough over the final nine outs in a game. To attempt it for 27 outs, well, good luck. But this is where they are with injuries and innings limits hampering the starting rotations.
Bullpen games, scheduled or unscheduled, have become commonplace.
"It takes a lot of guys having good days to get through them unscathed," Hinch said. "We were close."
Maybe one out away from pulling it off.
The Tigers used three relievers (Kyle Funkhouser, Daniel Norris and Erasmo Ramirez) to get the first 18 outs and carried a 4-2 lead into the seventh.
Back-to-back home runs by Niko Goodrum and Zack Short in the second inning got them off and running.
Three more outs in the seventh and they could have put the game in the hands of their most reliable late-inning relievers — Gregory Soto and Jose Cisnero.
But those critical outs didn’t come. At least not in time.
Joe Jimenez gave up a couple of singles and then put a 94-mph fastball into Jorge Polanco’s wheelhouse. The ball sailed into the seats in right field to put the Twins up 5-4.
Soto was warm in the bullpen and ready to face left-handed hitting Trevor Larnach had Jimenez gotten through Polanco.
"The home run changed the course of the inning," Hinch said. "We wanted Polanco (a switch-hitter) to hit from the left side. With Larnach, I'm giving him a lefty. I expect that's the way I would've gone. But the three-run homer changed that."
Hinch, though, didn't view that inning as the backbreaker. It's what happened in the eighth that sealed the Tigers' fate. The Tigers squandered a glorious opportunity to tie the score in the top of the eighth and the Twins cashed in on theirs in the bottom half.
Jonathan Schoop led off with a ringing double into the corner in left. Ringing. The ball left his bat with the highest exit velocity off a Tigers bat in the Statcast era — 117.1 mph.
Robbie Grossman pushed him to third with a ground out to the right side of the infield. That's when Twins reliever Alex Colome went to work.
He struck out Eric Haase, freezing him with a fastball, and he got Jeimer Candelario to chase a breaking ball in the dirt.
"Contact is your friend," Hinch said. "And our guys know that. Haase got surprised by a fastball in and Candy swung and missed out of the zone. Those big at-bats make a difference."
As the Twins proved in the bottom of the eighth against Cisnero.
Miguel Sano and Andrelton Simmons worked walks around a pinch-hit single by Josh Donaldson, loading the bases with one out. Luis Arraez, who already had two singles in the game, poked a two-strike, two-run single into left field.
It got worse.
With runners on second and third and one out, Hinch summoned his last lefty available in the bullpen, Ian Krol, to face lefty Larnach. Krol's first pitch went to the backstop and then the carom was kicked into the Twins dugout by catcher Haase.
Both runs scored on one wild pitch.
"I don't think it was sloppy, sloppy is different for me than making an error," Hinch said. "Sloppy is a little negative, like guys being unprepared and not ready. This was a weird play. He was trying to hurry and he kicked it into the dugout.
"From the walks, from them making contact in critical at-bats and us not making contact in critical at-bats, there's a lot for you to put in your coverage."
The Tigers have lost nine of the last 12 against the Twins. They have also lost 11 of their last 12 at Target Field.