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Zulgad: Putrid starting pitching results in Twins’ weekend of misery

If Derek Falvey and Thad Levine someday have the Twins where they want them, maybe they’ll be able to share a chuckle about their first season in Minnesota and the starting pitchers they were forced to parade to the mound for that four-game series against Cleveland in June 2017.

Falvey, the Twins’ chief baseball officer, and Levine, the teams’ general manager, have plans for this franchise to become a consistent contender and not one that is considered a surprise/fluke by almost everyone when it is in first place.

That is the spot the Twins occupied on Friday as they opened a weekend series against the Indians in Minneapolis. The Twins held a two-game lead on Cleveland in the AL Central, but coming off a 103-loss season and with a starting rotation and bullpen filled with question marks, many wondered when reality would slap manager Paul Molitor’s team in the face.

We have the answer.

The Twins followed an 8-1 loss on Friday night, with 9-3 and 6-2 setbacks in a split doubleheader on Saturday. The weekend of misery against Falvey’s former employer came to an end with a 5-2 loss on Sunday afternoon.

Cleveland left town with a 36-31 record and two games up on a Twins team that is now only a game above .500 at 34-33. The Twins are 1.5 games ahead of third-place Kansas City, 2.5 games ahead of fourth-place Detroit and 3.5 up on the last-place White Sox, who will be in town for a three-game series starting on Tuesday.

The Twins struggled at the plate against the Indians – going 21-for-124 (.169) in the four games – but if you want to assess blame for the weekend of woes you only have to look at the starters Molitor was forced to use against Cleveland.

Lefthander Nik Turley, a 27-year-old journeyman who was making his second big-league appearance, set the tone on Friday by giving up eight runs, nine hits, four walks and striking out three in 4.2 innings. Adam Wilk followed on Saturday by surrendering six runs, eight hits with three walks and two strikeouts in 3.1 innings in the Twins’ loss in Game 1 of the split doubleheader.

The final combined pitching line of Turley, Wilk, Adalberto Mejia and Kyle Gibson looked like this: 18.2 innings, 30 hits, 19 runs, 19 earned runs, 13 walks, 12 strikeouts and six home runs. That figures to a 9.16 earned-run average.

This might someday cause Falvey and Levine to look back on what they were dealing with and appreciate what they have even more. Right now it’s just sad.

Turley and Wilk had as much business starting games against Cleveland as T.J. Clemmings did starting at left tackle last season for the Vikings. When Gibson, who gave up three runs on eight hits in six innings on Sunday, is easily the best starter you have going in a series that features the first- and second-place teams in a division, you know something is very wrong.

Injuries and ineptitude in developing pitching have put the Twins in a place where they ended up with no good options this weekend. Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios, who will start Tuesday and Wednesday against the White Sox, were unavailable and without them Minnesota had no chance.

The brutal performances by the starters against Cleveland was a reminder of the putrid efforts by the relievers in Houston’s three-game sweep last month at Target Field. In nine innings, the bullpen surrendered 26 earned runs, 29 hits, 10 walks and six home runs.

While the Twins remain an impressive 20-9 on the road this season, they are an AL-worst 14-24 at Target Field this season. Cleveland is 7-0 in downtown Minneapolis and has outscored the Twins’ 48-15 in those victories.

The Indians’ Jose Ramirez, Edwin Encarnacion and Lonnie Chisenhall did much of the damage over the past three days, going a combined 20-for-45 with 14 runs, 18 runs batted in seven doubles and seven home runs.

That trio forever will have fond memories of Turley, Wilk, Mejia and Gibson.

As for Falvey and Levine, they are hoping that 2017 will be the last time they have to deal with starting a pitching foursome as inept as this one proved to be.


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