Guardians sweeping streak, 4-1 win takes Twins below .500 for first time since April

Swept in a crucial three-weekend series by AL Central-leading Cleveland, the Twins kept hope and each other alive after Sunday’s 4-1 loss at Target Field.

Aiming to reclaim the top spot when the series began on Friday, the Twins are now third in their division, 4½ games behind the Guardians and 2½ games behind the suddenly second-placed Chicago White Sox.

On Sunday, they lost right fielder Max Kepler to injury after two innings, and the game after putting runners into the corners with no outs in the seventh inning, but couldn’t dent the 2-1 lead of Cleveland.

Add it up and the Twins were outscored 15-0 – 7-0 Friday, 6-0 Saturday and 2-0 Sunday – in all three games before putting their own runs on the board, losing by just a combined six runs.

“It’s not the series we were about to go for here,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “As disappointing as it may seem, there are still games to be played here and there are still games against this team, there are still games against other teams in our division – a lot of them in fact. – coming.

“This thing isn’t over. It’s not over anytime soon.”

Before starting their remaining 23 games at home Tuesday against Kansas City, the Twins’ players, coaches and staff gathered for a previously scheduled team dinner Sunday night. They also have a necessary day off on Monday.

“It’s family,” Twins infielder Luis Arraez said. “We’re having dinner tonight. We’re going, having dinner, just enjoying it. I mean, I trust my teammates. We’re here to compete every day. If we lose a game, OK, it’s already over . There are a lot of games to come.”

While waiting for stars Byron Buxton and Jorge Polanco as well as Tyler Mahle, among others, to return from injuries, the Twins lost Kepler at least for Sunday’s game and possibly more after he fouled a ball of his shin in the first inning and left the game after the second inning with what Baldelli called a “baseball-sized knot” near his knee.

No matter who comes or goes — or who stays injured — Baldelli promised his team had “the pieces to make it happen,” even against a Cleveland team that won five of six after losing all five before that.

“We lost a few games this week because we didn’t perform, we didn’t play until [our] capabilities, not because I think we don’t have the parts,” Baldelli said. “We just have to rise up. All of us need to rise right now and go and play above where we were last week. It’s plain and simple.

“We have some pretty hard-hitting players coming back. You always want them sooner rather than later, but I think they will come back.”

At 69-70, the Twins are below .500 for the first time since going 7-8 on April 23. They have lost nine of their last 11 games.

“Now that you say it, it’s true,” Baldelli told reporters. “It’s not something I’m focusing on. I’m focusing on the game we have in two days and something like that won’t affect anything in our clubhouse.”

The Twins will face the Guardians five more times, all in a five-game series that kicks off in Cleveland on Friday and includes a Saturday doubleheader. They face the second-placed White Sox six more times, including a three-game series in Chicago to end the season.

“We still have a lot of season left,” said Twins starting pitcher Josh Winder, who allowed two runs in four innings — on solo homers from Andres Gimenez and Steven Kwan — in his first league start. Major since July 12. the approach that everyone takes. You are going to have lulls in the season. Of course you don’t want it right now, but with baseball there are so many ups and downs. Everyone keeps an optimistic outlook. Tomorrow will help.”

The Twins are 5-9 against Cleveland this season. Those nine losses were by 13 points combined. Six of them were by one run, two of them by two runs. Cleveland led 2-1 on Sunday before adding two runs to Jorge Lopez in the ninth inning.

“One thing we’re not going to do is dig a hole and sit here and bury ourselves and say it’s over,” Baldelli said. “The other teams also know that it’s not over. What we have to do is get up and show up on Tuesday. We have to go out there and start winning football games. We still have work to do. and there are games to be won.”