Twins pile on to White Sox's woes
Key stretch versus division foes continues with same old domination by Minnesota
CHICAGO -- If there is any tension in the Minnesota Twins clubhouse Thursday as they head into a four-game series at U.S. Cellular Field eight games behind Cleveland for fourth place in the AL Central, you wouldn't know it as manager Ron Gardenhire summons his trainer for the latest injury report.
"Since we have so many people on the DL, we decided to let the trainers do it," Gardy says with a playful smirk. "It's just a lot easier that way. If I call it a sprain, they call it a supernatural twist and then somebody gets mad."
Of all the ways White Sox skipper Ozzie Guillen has chosen to describe the dreaded Twins over the years -- downgrading them last month from piranhas to sardines -- he has yet to venture into the paranormal. But perhaps that would be easier to digest for Sox fans who had to stomach Minnesota's latest punishment.
The Twins' 6-2 victory Thursday night was their eighth straight over the Sox and 27th win in the teams' past 33 meetings.
The Twins had three more regulars in the starting lineup than they did while drilling the Sox in a two-game rain-shortened series last month, with Jim Thome, Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Joe Mauer back in action.
Mauer, who had three hits and drove in two runs in just his 28th game of the season, looked no more other-worldly than usual, playing first base for the first time in his major league career and robbing Omar Vizquel of a first-inning hit while doubling Juan Pierre off first.
"That was like a punch in the stomach," Guillen said of Mauer, who also calmly made his third out of the inning on an Adam Dunn grounder.
The White Sox, meanwhile, trotted out their best pitcher, Philip Humber, who was promptly touched for a season-high six runs on a season-high 11 hits through 3 2/3 innings. And that was that. The fourth loss in the past five games for the Sox and, worse, their third loss in the first four of a 19-game stretch against division opponents.
And all after the evening began on a high note with the news that Paul Konerko had made the final spot on the American League All-Star team after a furious "Final Vote" campaign by the Sox. But then, if they have done nothing else this season, the Sox have mastered the art of ups and downs, even in comparison with their ever-annoying division rivals.
After an even more hideous start than the Sox's, an April that Minnesota right fielder Michael Cuddyer called "a 25-game slump from pretty much everybody; we were just all bad at the same time," the Twins played some of the best baseball in the league in June, seemingly gaining strength without Mauer and Justin Morneau.
"We've had a lot of guys on the DL, and we've had some young guys that have come up and done a fine job. Credit them," Thome said. "They're getting valuable experience, they're getting a chance to perform at the major league level, and hopefully we're getting some guys back healthy. By mixing the two together, hopefully we can say in the second half that we've got a pretty good ball club."
Thome went 0-for-3 with a walk, and though he hesitated to comment specifically about Dunn's struggles this season, it's hard not to imagine what the former Sox DH might say if he wasn't the consummate gentleman.
Something along the lines of, "Wait, I thought they didn't want high-strikeout guys on the team."
Instead, Thome, who is just five home runs shy of 600, was empathetic.
"As a guy that swings and misses and has struck out a ton, it's hard. It's hard," Thome said. "You understand there's both sides of the game. ... The game is like a roller coaster. But it can all change like that. That's one thing [former Cleveland coach] Charlie Manuel always used to tell me. One swing, one good week, everything can change."
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The Sox are still waiting. Guillen batted Konerko in the third hole with Dunn in the clean-up spot, and the DH went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.
"There's only one reason," Guillen said in explaining the lineup change. "I'm tired of seeing Paul Konerko leading off in the second inning. Tired."
Still, you couldn't blame Guillen for this one. He started Mark Teahen in place of Carlos Quentin, who was 0-for-17 against Twins starter Carl Pavano, and Teahen knocked in the only runs of the night for the Sox with a two-run homer in the fifth.
Otherwise, the Sox scattered six hits and left five runners stranded. And the Twins? They have now won 22 of 32 since June 1, when they had the worst record in baseball by four games and trailed Cleveland by 16 1/2 games.
"They execute everything they have to execute," Guillen said. "They get on base, steal, move the guy over, score. They know how to play the game. They play the game right. Every time they have the opportunity to do what they're supposed to do, they do it. It's the reason they are who they are."
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.