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Missed opportunities spoil Twins' home opener in 4-2 loss to Guardians

At times, the Twins' Target Field opener on Thursday felt as much like a debate over strategy as a big-league ballgame, with the Twins' bombs-away style pitted against the Guardians' serve-and-volley ways.

Score one for the singles hitters.

The Twins hit a home run, a triple and a double, and though they loaded the bases twice as well, their rallies fizzled under the weight of 15 strikeouts. The Guardians, meanwhile, managed only one extra-base hit, a futile double in a scoreless inning, recorded five softly-hit singles against Pablo López, and three times had runners thrown out at the plate.

Final score: Guardians 4, Twins 2. What a cruel way to spoil a party.

"When you're going against an offense like the Cleveland Guardians, you definitely are aware that there's not going to be a lot of swing-and-miss stuff going on," López said after whiffing only two hitters, his fewest ever as a Twin. "It could go like the first three innings went — early contact, balls [hit] right at people, quick outs — or it could go like the fourth inning, when they're putting the ball in play, making stuff happen."

Four of the six hits López gave up came in that three-run fourth, though none was particularly hard hit. But Steven Kwan, Andrés Giménez and José Ramirez lobbed consecutive singles over the infield, setting off a quiet-but-deadly rally.

"You're going to run into those guys who know what they're doing with the bat," López said. "Their bat-to-ball skills are off the charts."

The Twins led the AL in home runs last season and set a major league record for strikeouts. The Guardians finished last in both categories. But Cleveland also won the season series against the Twins 7-6 despite being outscored by 15 runs.

"When you take a look at who they are, that's what they do to every team," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "That's how they score runs. That's how they make the other team's life tough. That's fine. We know what they do. They don't punch out. they put the ball in play. They make us make plays. … It's a nice challenge for any team, and one we're up for."

But not when they go 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position — one week in, the Twins' .148 average with runners in scoring position is among the worst in the majors — and not when they rack up 15 strikeouts in nine innings, most by an AL team thus far.

"We obviously didn't get the job done when we had good opportunities. With runners in scoring position, the punchouts do hurt you," Baldelli said. "At least giving yourself a shot, putting the ball in play, that's probably the better scenario for us. We just have to do a better job, have better at-bats, flat out."

BOXSCORE: Cleveland 4, Twins 2

Cleveland righthander Tanner Bibee was responsible for halting one Twins rally after another with clutch strikeouts. Alex Kirilloff's one-out, first-inning triple didn't produce a run, not once Bibee struck out Byron Buxton and induced Max Kepler into tapping the ball back to the mound.

A single, hit batter and an error loaded the bases with two outs in the second inning, but Edouard Julien ended the threat by taking a third strike, one of three times he did that in the game.

And two singles plus a passed ball in the fourth inning handed the Twins a chance to counter the Guardians' early lead, but Christian Vázquez flew out to the center-field wall to douse that threat.

"Overall, we were close a couple of times. We'd just like to do a little more, a little bit better with runners in scoring position," Kirilloff said. "I think we're close, as an offense. Just got to keep plugging away."

Bibee's only costly mistake came in the fifth inning, when Julien lofted a fly ball to left field, an opposite-field fly that carried into the first row of seats.

"Eddie's a great hitter," Kirilloff said. "It's nice to see him connect with one and take a trip around the bases."

The Twins managed another run in the seventh against Guardians relievers Tim Herrin and Hunter Gaddis, but again the inning felt like a missed opportunity. A walk to Willi Castro and a single by Vázquez opened the inning, and after a Julien strikeout, Kirilloff was hit by Herrin's final pitch of the day, loading the bases.

The Twins, 0-for-6 this season with the bases loaded, did score a run when Gaddis sailed a pitch past catcher Bo Naylor, allowing Castro to race home. But Buxton struck out and Kepler popped up.