For a moment in today's game, it looked like Francisco Liriano might be effectively wild. That didn't last too terribly long. And when the Twins had chances early to score, they blew it. I think that right now it's more than fair to say that the Twins are a good team, and a competitive team, they're just not good or competitive enough.
Liriano did a good job of working ahead of hitters, but was ultimately unable to put them away. His mechanics were all over the board, he was over-throwing, and even when he was throwing strikes he was missing his spots. In the first inning he fought out of a two-on, two-out situation by getting Victor Martinez to ground out sharply to Danny Valencia. But that was about as good as it would get.
In the second inning we got a taste of exactly what kind of day this would be like for Liriano. In the first he's allowed an infield single and a walk before getting out of it run-free, but in the second he'd walk Ryan Raburn, allow him to go to second on a wild pitch, then record his second strikeout of the inning, and then another infield single put runners on the corners with two away.
So Liriano threw another wild pitch, and it gave the Tigers a 1-0 lead. Austin Jackson would walk before Liriano got the final out of the inning, but by that point Cisco had already thrown 47 pitches.
In the third it was more of the same. Magglio Ordonez led off with a four-pitch walk. Liriano would get ahead of Miguel Cabrera before running the count full, and he eventually struck Cabrera out on a slider in the dirt, but as a result Joe Mauer wasn't in a good position to get off a good throw and Ordonez took second. Liriano went ahead of Martinez 0-2 but couldn't put him away, and it led to yet another infield single.
With runners on the corners and still just one out, Liriano had been working ahead of hitters but couldn't keep himself straight. At this point he was still just one hard ground ball away of getting out of the inning with the score just 1-0, and if that had come to pass it's possible that Liriano's day would have been different. But it wasn't to be. Jhonny Peralta singled on a broken bat single into the outfield, the Tigers first outfield hit of the day, giving Detroit a 2-0 lead. Ryan Raburn singled to load the bases, Wilson Betemit picked up the first well-struck single of the day for the Tigers, and at 3-0 that was the end of Liriano's afternoon. He wasn't happy.
Anthony Swarzak stepped in and did alright. He induced what should have been an inning-ending double play, but it was misplayed by Alexi Casilla. It allowed the score to expand to 4-0, but from there Swarzak stopped the bleeding, and would finish his day by going three-and-a-third while allowing just one run.
The Twins picked up a pair in the fourth, thanks to a leadoff walk from Michael Cuddyer and a one-out double from Valencia. Jim Thome (who doubled today, too, and that was precious) plated the first run on a groundout, and Delmon Young doubled for run number two.
But this was a rough day all around. Mauer had a couple of well-struck balls into deep left for outs. Jason Kubel was 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts, but Tsuyoshi Nishioka was even worse. Abysmal is probably the best word for it, as he went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts. He was 2-for-12 in the series with seven strikeouts, and I don't think it's possible for one guy to look much worse than he did today. No doubt he needs a day or two off. There are going to be growing pains for a guy in his situation, and this series is about as bad as it's looked for him this year.
With the loss the Twins fail to take advantage of the Cleveland loss and fall to seven games out of first place. They're also six games out of second and two-and-a-half behind the White Sox (who won today).
Far be it from me to say it's too late for the Twins. They've done it in a worse situation, and in recent memory. But that doesn't make it likely, and if I'm the front office I'm seriously considering selling instead of wondering how I could smartly improve the bullpen.
But that is what's great about baseball. Tomorrow is another day, and you never know what will happen over the next few weeks. Let's hope for something entirely improbable, like a ten-game winning streak.
Swarzak, James, Burnett, Capps
Nishioka, Kubel, Liriano