Maybe there’s solace to be had; then again, maybe not. The Minnesota Twins waited four hours in the rain to take on the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on Saturday at Target Field, only to fall 2-1 on the strength of solo homers by Ian Kinsler and Albert Pujols.

Jun 9, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Target Field grounds crew remove the tarp prior to the game against the Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Angels. Mandatory Credit: Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

It was a bit of an unconventional pitcher’s duel, as Tyler Skaggs and Kyle Gibson were both very good, and each bullpen flawlessly executed a pair of innings of relief as the game was played in a tight two hours, 53 minutes.

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But when it all came down to it, the Twins just weren’t able to push across the run when they needed it most. The Twins offense has been suspect in recent weeks, scoring four or fewer runs in five of the last six games, and even when it has been cashing in opportunities it’s been hard to sync up with a fairly solid pitching staff.

The loss dropped the Twins to 27-34, 5.5 games behind the Cleveland Indians, who lost to the Detroit Tigers on Saturday. It’s still too early to panic — heck, the 2006 division-winning team started 27-34 as well — but it’s starting to feel like the moral victories aren’t really adding up, either.

Here’s what we saw from our vantage point:

Gibson wasn’t perfect, but he showed his growth

Just as recently as last year, games like this would probably have gone sideways on Gibson, who battled through an especially difficult third inning — 35 pitches thrown — to still give the Twins seven solid innings.

“It felt good,” Gibson said of his evening of work. “Unfortunately the one pitch to Pujols kind of came back to bite me there. I was trying to go in on him, and we had talked in the dugout, me and Bobby about maybe it was time to go in on some of these guys.

“They were really spitting on some good sliders and good fastballs away. Unfortunately, I just made the wrong pitch at the wrong time and Albert did what Albert does, he did a really good job on that pitch. Unfortunately that one ended up being the difference maker, but I felt good and I’m thankful Moli let me go back out there for the seventh, when I really felt I still had enough in the tank to do it.”

It’s certainly not ideal that any pitcher would give up two home runs in any outing, but limiting that damage to two solo home runs is good enough to win most nights — just not this one.

Gibson threw a career-high 118 pitches, but looked strong even in the seventh as his fastball was touching nearly 95 mph even in that final frame. Still, for the starter who came in leading the Twins in swinging-strike rate, he induced just eight whiffs on 118 pitches — well below his season rate.

Jun 9, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Kyle Gibson (44) throws a pitch during the fourth inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

All of Gibson’s five strikeouts came in the first 3.1 innings of his start, as the final 11 outs he got came on a mixture of grounders (10 outs on nine balls in play) and fly balls (one pop fly). In fact, the pop fly was the second out of the fourth inning, and the final 10 outs of Gibson’s night came on the ground — which is pretty much his forte if he’s not getting strikeouts.

Gibson’s groundball rate for the game was 65 percent, and for the season it bumped up to 49.5 percent. That’s still not quite to his career rate of 51.6 percent, but still above the general average of about 45 percent league-wide.

Add to that 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings and 3.8 walks per nine and it’s a fairly good mix. Fewer walks would always be better, but again this is significant growth.

Over at Brooks Baseball, they had Gibson as high as 95.4 mph on his four-seam fastball, 95.2 on the two-seamer and had five of his eight swinging strikes coming on the slider (16.7 percent), which isn’t terribly surprising. The curve and each of the fastballs had a whiff apiece, and the changeup — which Gibson said he barely used — was held off the board.

It looked as though Skaggs was really mixing pitches well

It looked like Skaggs was really, really mixing it up with high fastballs and curveballs down. This is effective because it messes with the eye level of a hitter. A curve down will have a similar action to the fastball up until it breaks, and that dynamic was at play in a three-pitch strikeout against Eduardo Escobar in the sixth inning.

(Image credit: Brooks Baseball)

Skaggs started Escobar with a curve down at 72 mph, then went with the fastball down, then the fastball back up on 0-2. Escobar swung through it at 91 mph up, though conventional wisdom would seem to indicate that 91 at the top of the strike zone is a good pitch to hit.

But when set up properly, it can be particularly devious — as was the case here.

“Change was in the mix, too,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said when asked about Skaggs’ repertoire. “Good curveball. He didn’t give in. A lot of 3-2 off-speed pitches. We didn’t center up too many balls overall off him. He can change around a little for sure. He’ll throw you 88 mph to start the at-bat and finish you off with 93. He’s got a little bit in there but I thought the curveball was particularly effective.”

Skaggs also did a great job adding and subtracting from his fastball, peaking at 95.2 mph and averaging 92.2 but also dipping into the 80s to leave more in the tank.

He had 13 swinging strikes — six on the curve (21.4 percent), four on the four-seam fastball (6.8 percent), two on the two-seamer (25 percent) and one on his changeup (7.7 percent).

The curve is really his bread and butter, and Molitor wasn’t at all surprised that he used it to his advantage in the win.

The Angels offense made the most of minimal opportunities

Twins pitchers allowed just nine baserunners on the day — six hits, two walks and one hit batter — but the Halos managed to get runs when needed.

Jun 9, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Los Angeles Angels designated hitter Albert Pujols (5) hits a home run during the sixth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

That’s probably more a testament to how good the Twins pitching staff was on the day, but sometimes it also just comes down to luck. That’s where syncing up quality hitting and pitching — or the lack of doing so, rather — can really hurt.

“These losses are frustrating,” Molitor said. “You have a really nice series last weekend and you haven’t been able to back it up. The game again, it was a good game. Offensively when you’re struggling, it’s tough not taking advantage of these really good starts that we’ve been getting. A couple of solo home runs is all it took for the Angels to come out on the victorious side today. We just couldn’t get much going off Skaggs.”

The Twins, on the other hand, missed some opportunities

There weren’t a ton, so it wasn’t like the Twins were necessarily kicking themselves too much.

The one that probably hurt the most was the fifth inning, when Ehire Adrianza led off the inning with a double but was stranded at second after a tapper back to the pitcher, a fly ball to right and a swinging strikeout.

Miguel Sano hit a two-out double in the second and Adrianza followed with a walk, but Ryan LaMarre grounded to short to minimize that threat.

The only other real strong threat the Twins had came in the sixth, when they scored their only run….

The Twins had two unusual plays in this one

Kinsler was up in the fifth inning, and hit a grounder that Escobar was unable to field cleanly at third. However, his deflection ricocheted straight to Adrianza, who made a quick throw to first that Sano deftly picked out of the dirt.

“He’s made the plays for the most part,” Molitor said of Sano at first base. “Given our personnel and where we’re at he’s going to be mixed in there. It’s nice to have the versatility that I can move him across the diamond if I have to.”

Jun 9, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins shortstop Ehire Adrianza (16) fields a ground ball deflected off of third baseman Eduardo Escobar (not pictured) during the fifth inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

The other unusual play was when the Twins scored their run, as Eddie Rosario opened the sixth with a single to right field. After Escobar struck out, Rosario picked up third on a hustle play when Robbie Grossman snuck a grounder through the 5.5 hole.

Max Kepler came up with runners on the corners and one out, and grounded into a double play — but a strange one. Kepler’s grounder was fielded by Jose Miguel Fernandez at first base, and he tagged the base before throwing to second to complete the double play.

Grossman smartly got into a rundown, allowing Rosario to streak home with the team’s first run before being tagged out. Since it wasn’t a force play, the run counted, whereas a 3-6-3 double play would have nullified the run at the plate.

This was also an interesting thing I heard while listening to the telecast on my iPad:

The game swung potentially in a huge way on one call

With two on, two out and Pujols at the plate with a full count in the third, Gibson was entirely on the ropes. Matt Magill was warming in the bullpen as Gibson approached 40 pitches in the inning, and that bottom right dot is the called third strike that the tall righty got to end the inning.

(photo credit: Brooks Baseball)

Maybe it’s too close to take if you’re Pujols, but it’s a pitcher’s pitch and Gibson went from nearly hitting the showers before completing three innings to tossing a solid seven on the power of that one pitch.

Baseball is a wild game.

Max Kepler is still hitting lefties

Kepler’s only hit in the game was a single in the bottom of the fourth against Skaggs, but it was his 19th hit of the year against a left-handed pitcher, tying his total from all of last year.

  • 2018 – 19 for 63 (.302)
  • 2017 – 19 for 125 (.152)

Rosario continues to be a bad, bad man

Rosario scored the team’s only run, and had a terrific plate appearance before singling late. In the eighth inning against Angels reliever Justin Anderson, Rosario fouled off three two-strike pitches, took a ball and then singled into right field on the ninth pitch he saw in the at-bat.

Oh, and he also threw out Justin Upton trying to score a valuable insurance run in the top half of the eighth inning. It was one hell of a throw:

Pictured below is the collateral damage, and credit to Wilson for catching the ball and diving back to make the tag. Not many catchers make that play.

Wilson was far more modest about it. “It’s the big leagues,” he said. “It’s a tough play, but it’s one I have to make at this level.”

Jun 9, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Los Angeles Angels left fielder Justin Upton (8) is tagged out at home plate by Minnesota Twins catcher Bobby Wilson (46) during the eighth inning at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

Notes

  • The Twins are 2-4 against the Angels this season and 16-17 at Target Field.
  • Rosario is hitting a blistering .370 since May 1, according to the game notes.
  • The Angels have won six straight games and seven of their last eight.
  • Pujols tied Stan Musial for sixth on the all-time RBI list with his home run (1,951) and is six homers shy of tying Ken Griffey Jr. on the all-time home run list.

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