ARLINGTON -- The calendar may still read August, but the Twins knew when they headed to Texas this week that they'd be facing a playoff-caliber test against the American League West-leading Rangers. And so far, the Rangers have been showing the Twins just how tough they can be, particularly in their own ballpark. Since the second half of the season got underway, Minnesota had managed to avoid any prolonged losing streaks. But on Wednesday night the Rangers handed the Twins their third consecutive loss, a 4-3 defeat at the Ballpark in Arlington. They've done so thanks to big hits from the middle of their order, another stellar outing from their starting pitcher and a hard-throwing bullpen that's starting to shut down opponents.
"We were swinging good coming into this series, and they've pretty much shut us down," said Jason Kubel of the Twins' offense, which has scored just six runs over the first three games of the series. "It's a good hitting park, too. We haven't gotten anything going against them. It's tough." It's the first time that the Twins have lost three straight games since July 7-10 when the club lost four in a row. While offense has been lacking for the Twins, the Rangers have been able to come up with the big hits and on Wednesday it was slugging combination of Josh Hamilton and Vladimir Guerrero who delivered them. Hamilton got the night started for the Rangers by belting his 30th home run of the season in the first inning. The 413-foot shot to deep center field gave Texas a 2-0 lead. Danny Valencia's RBI groundout in the second pulled the Twins within one, but Texas extended its lead back to two runs on a Guerrero RBI single in the third. Trailing 3-1 at the start of the fifth, the Twins scored two runs to make tie it up, and it looked like momentum might be turning Minnesota's way. Valencia led off with an infield single. J.J. Hardy's one-out single put runners on first and second for Denard Span, who battled through an eight-pitch at-bat before doubling to center field to score a run. Orlando Hudson walked to load the bases and Joe Mauer's RBI groundout tied the game. But after making Wilson work in the fifth and putting runners on first and third with one out in the sixth, the Twins could not capitalize on the scoring opportunity. Jason Repko hit into a fielder's choice for the second out and J.J. Hardy hit a liner to left, but Hamilton hauled it in to end the inning. "Unfortunately for us, we couldn't come up with another big hit tonight to get us over the hump," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "That's just the way it's gone here in Texas." So the game would remain tied until the sixth. Guerrero led off the inning by belting a 1-0 fastball from Duensing to left-center field for his 23rd home run of the season. It was the only remaining hit that the Rangers would need. "I don't know where to throw to him," Duensing said of Guerrero. "I guess I'm just going to start throwing it where you don't want to or eight feet out and hope he swings. He's a good hitter. You have to tip your cap to him. I thought in my head when I threw that 1-0 fastball that it was a little down and out. But I watched the video, and it was right down the middle." Duensing managed to hold the Rangers to four runs over six innings, but it was still not enough on a night when Wilson was dealing. He allowed three runs over six innings, and five of Texas' relievers were called upon to shut the door on the Twins. It marked Duensing's first regular-season loss as a starter since Sept. 29, 2009, in the second game of a doubleheader at Detroit. Prior to Wednesday's contest, Duensing had won nine of his past 10 decisions as a starter. "Their pitcher was tough," Michael Young said. "All their pitchers are, that's why they are a good team. But we're playing good baseball right now. It has been fun." The Twins had swept the Rangers in a three-game series at Target Field back on May 28-30, but that was before Texas' bullpen had come together like it has right now. Over these three games, the relievers have combined to throw eight scoreless innings and have left the Twins impressed -- particularly by all the flame-throwers they have on their staff. "Their bullpen is ridiculous," Kubel said. "Everybody throws 95 [mph], and then Darren Oliver is throwing good cutters and sliders all over the plate. They're just tough." The three straight losses for the Twins now have them sitting a half-game behind the Rangers in the standings, which could be important when it comes to establishing home-field advantage. Although the two teams are competing in separate divisions, they are battling each other for a better record to see who could possibly face the AL Wild Card winner since it's expected to come out of the AL East. Perhaps the one piece of positive news was that Minnesota didn't lose any ground in the AL Central race as it kept its 3 1/2-game advantage over the White Sox, who lost to the Orioles on Wednesday night. The Twins will try to see if they can end their losing streak in Thursday's finale against the Rangers. But they know the task won't be easy with the Rangers ace Cliff Lee on the mound. "I heard some of the offensive guys saying we're going to really have to battle [against Lee]," Duensing said. "But if we keep playing and stay positive, things will turn around. It's baseball. You lose a lot, win a lot, and go through streaks. Keep your head up and keep playing."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.