If the Minnesota Twins were going to miss the playoffs, they probably didn’t figure they’d fall from contention in part due to the struggles of Joe Mauer(notes) and Justin Morneau(notes) in the middle of their lineup.
But that’s what appears to be happening going into the Twins’ four-game series against the host Toronto Blue Jays, which starts Monday with Minnesota trailing by seven games in the AL Central.
Strong starting pitching carried the Twins as they won 11 of 14 in a stretch that ended Sept. 1 and put pressure on first-place Detroit. But Minnesota has since dropped three of four, scoring a total of nine runs.
Minnesota (68-68) managed three hits in a 3-1 loss to Cleveland on Sunday to drop the series.
“Right now, it’s not working,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “For a while we said if our pitching ever catches up with our bats, we’ll be OK. Now we’re struggling with our bats, and our pitching is going along pretty decent. They need to go together.”
Morneau was 0 for 3—his fifth straight game without a hit—and the 2006 AL MVP is 4 for 48 with 13 strikeouts in his last 14 games. The Canadian has also struggled in his native country, going 8 for 45 in Toronto in his career, with the Twins losing their last seven games at Rogers Centre.
Mauer’s struggles have not been as profound, but he has cooled considerably after flirting with a run at .400 earlier this season. He is 18 for 66 with just three RBIs in his last 17 games.
The lineup will try to come alive in support of rookie Jeff Manship(notes), who will make his second career start. After five relief appearances, the right-hander pitched well Tuesday, allowing one run and four hits in five innings against the White Sox, although Manship (0-0, 3.75 ERA) didn’t get a decision in Minnesota’s 4-3 win.
“Manship was super for us,” Gardenhire said. “He controlled the game.”
Toronto will counter with Scott Richmond(notes), who has not been as good lately. Richmond (6-8, 4.53) has not won since June 24, going 0-4 with a 6.55 ERA in six starts since, straddling a stint on the disabled list due to a shoulder problem.
He struggled Wednesday at Texas, allowing six runs and seven hits in five-plus innings of a 6-4 loss. He pitched well, though, in his only previous start against the Twins, allowing two runs and four hits in 6 1-3 innings of a 12-2 win on April 15 at the Metrodome.
The Blue Jays (61-75) won three of four in that series and 12 of 13 overall against the Twins. Toronto has been stumbling down the stretch, but is coming off a 14-8 win over the Yankees on Sunday.
Toronto will be looking for its first back-to-back victories since a three-game run from Aug. 8-10.