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Updated: June 29th, 2010 12:15am
Mackey: Twins lose division lead with all-around sloppy performance

Mackey: Twins lose division lead with all-around sloppy performance

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by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- After a 7-5 loss to the Tigers on Monday night, the Twins have fallen out of first place for the first time since April 11.

The fall hasn't exactly been graceful. And the thud on Monday night was a combination of sloppy, awkward, and embarrassing.

Let me preface this by saying the Twins are still the favorites to win the American League Central in this scribe's mind. Sloppy play happens over the course of a season, and teams go through funks. OK, so a two-month stretch of .500 baseball isn't exactly comforting for fans teetering on insanity. But the Twins are still pretty good.

Let's start with the first inning, when Francisco Liriano plunked the lightning-fast Austin Jackson to start the game. Ramon Santiago then dropped down a bunt that pulled Liriano, Justin Morneau, and Orlando Hudson into the Bermuda Triangle in front of first base. Ryan Raburn followed with a single, and Miguel Cabrera and Brennan Boesch each roped doubles, putting the Tigers up 4-0 before a single out was recorded.

"Overthrowing it," manager Ron Gardenhire said about Liriano's clunker of a first inning. "He gets out there and he's probably too amped up. He'll tell you the same thing. He's overthrowing in the first inning, and the balls were up, and they were setting on some pitches, and we didn't make adjustments there either.

"You get a little too amped up in these big ballgames, and you're out of control, and they've got a four spot on you in a hurry."

The first-inning scuffle wasn't much of a shock -- 11 of Liriano's 36 earned runs allowed this season have come in the first inning, and other Twins starters have been guilty of the same crime lately.

The Twins' offense began to battle back against Jeremy Bonderman, who labored through 5 1/3 innings. They scored a run in the first inning and two in the fourth to cut Detroit's lead to 5-3, although inning-ending groundball double plays to end the first, third, and fourth innings left potential runs on the board.

Again, not much of a surprise, considering the Twins have now hit into a league-leading 88 groundball double plays, which puts them on pace to break Boston's record of 174, set in 1990.

Jim Thome mashed a one-out home run into the left field seats in the sixth to cut it to 5-4, and Delmon Young followed with a base hit to center.

The sloppiness picked up once again, however, when Nick Punto dumped a ball into right field in front of outfielder Boesch, who duped Young by faking like he was about to make the catch. Boesch picked up the ball and threw to second for the force out. Denard Span then flew out harmlessly to center, ending the once-promising inning.

In the top of the seventh, Jackson reached on yet another bunt single, and Santiago followed with a bunt of his own. Morneau fielded Santiago's bunt cleanly and fired to first base, but Hudson was unable to find the 'squeeze' button on his glove, and the ball bounced to the turf.

Matt Guerrier then came on to relieve Liriano, and Raburn hit a semi-hard groundball toward third that Cuddyer -- possibly stuck in quicksand, although he hasn't played third base in five years, so we'll give him a pass -- was unable to get a glove on. The ball trickled into left field for an RBI single, putting the Tigers up 6-4.

"Orlando on the one bunt just didn't get to the bag in time, then dropped it," Gardenhire said. "That's not fundamental baseball. Orlando is better than that.

"We have to do a better job in those bunt situations of getting outs. That's what it's all about, is getting outs. They want to bunt, you're supposed to get an out. We know that. We're pretty good at it normally. Tonight was just a bad night."

And the night actually got worse. After Jason Kubel singled home Hudson in the bottom of the seventh to cut the lead to 6-5, Guerrier gave up a solo home run to Gerald Laird in the top of the eighth.

Yes, the same Gerald Laird who came into Monday night hitting just .190/.264/.245 with one home run in 165 plate appearances. The same Gerald Laird who looked like he was about to stop for a breather while trotting past second base.

Sloppy fielding, awkward base running, and pitchers digging unnecessary holes early in games. This certainly isn't the Twins squad we remember from April and early May.

In fact, after the Twins swept a sloppy Tigers squad during a three-game series at Target Field from May 3-5, they sat 10 games over .500 with a 3.5-game lead in the American League Central.

Since then, the Twins are four games under .500, and they now trail the Tigers by 1/2 game. A role-reversal of sorts.

Baseball is full of ups and downs, hot streaks and cold streaks, sloppy play and flawless play. Expect more of the ups, hot streaks and flawlessness as the season progresses.

But for right now, the Twins are a frustrating bunch to watch.

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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