MINNEAPOLIS -- Over the past few seasons, the Twins' bullpen has been considered one of the club's biggest strengths. Lately, it's been their Achilles' heel. The club watched yet another late-inning lead vanish on Saturday afternoon, this time in the eighth inning, in a 6-4 loss to the Tigers at the Metrodome.
"We lost a ballgame we shouldn't have lost," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "If we just make pitches and get them down to the ground [we could've won], but we didn't do that again today. [It was a] very disappointing and tough loss." The Twins were leading, 4-2, in the eighth inning when starter Scott Baker exited the game with one out and a runner on first base. Left-hander Dennys Reyes replaced Baker and gave up a two-run homer to the first batter he faced, Curtis Granderson. The Tigers' center fielder belted a 1-1 pitch from Reyes deep to right field, knotting the game up at 4. Matt Guerrier was then called upon to keep the game tied, but after getting Placido Polanco down in the count at 0-2, Guerrier couldn't put the hitter away and gave up a single to the Tigers' second baseman. Guerrier followed it up by giving up a two-run homer to Magglio Ordonez, putting Detroit ahead, 6-4. "The three runs that inning that we gave up in the 'pen, you definitely don't want to do that," Guerrier said. "It's a game that we should be able to go in there and keep the lead and get a win out of that." Holding leads has been difficult for the bullpen lately. The club's relief corps suffered six of the nine losses that the Twins recorded on their recent 14-game road trip. Including Saturday's loss, the bullpen is now 0-7 with a 6.49 ERA since Aug. 23. It has allowed 40 hits over those 14 games, including six home runs, and has suffered four consecutive blown saves. As for what will fix the problems for the club's relievers, Gardenhire still seems to be searching for answers. "We've tried everything, and we're still trying everything," Gardenhire said. "I think we have been mixing up as much as you can mix up. It just has to get done. Guys just have to make those pitches and get through it. And they didn't make them today." This stretch of trouble for the bullpen has been made things especially frustrating due to the strong starts that the Twins have gotten from their young rotation. And on Saturday, Minnesota got another quality outing from Baker. When he exited after issuing a walk to Ramon Santiago with one out in the eighth inning, Baker had allowed just two runs on four hits over his 7 1/3 innings. He was charged with one more run when Santiago scored on Granderson's homer. And with Baker in control early, the Twins' offense had slowly nicked away at Tigers starter Justin Verlander. Minnesota scored four runs off the right-hander over his 5 2/3 innings. With the bases loaded and no outs in the first, Justin Morneau grounded into a double play that allowed one run to score. Jason Kubel's RBI double in the third inning added one more. In the sixth, the Twins added two more runs off Verlander by loading the bases with no outs for the second time in the ballgame. After Nick Punto popped out for the first out of the inning, Carlos Gomez doubled to deep left field to score two runs. But like they had done three times previously this season, the Twins blew the game in the eighth inning. They lost back-to-back contests to the Tigers at Comerica Park on April 14-15 in the eighth, and suffered another one on June 30 at the Metrodome with another late comeback by Detroit. "That's a lineup that can hit," Gardenhire said. "If you miss with your pitches and get them up, that lineup right there can score like that. You know it every time a guy walks up there." Baker, though, seemed as surprised as anyone to see the recent struggles of his 'pen continue, especially since it came at home, where the relievers have been so much better this season. "Obviously, we didn't see that coming," Baker said of the latest blown lead. "[The bullpen has] been so good for so long. It's the last thing you'd expect. "But we've seen them [hold games] numerous times, so we know they can do it. It's a matter of making some pitches." After being unable to produce any offense in the bottom of the eighth, the Twins did manage a comeback attempt in the ninth inning. Punto got it started by drawing a leadoff walk. Denard Span singled to center, and Alexi Casilla laid down a bunt single to load the bases with one out. But Joe Mauer struck out swinging and Morneau lined out to second base to end the game. With only 20 games remaining in the regular season, the Twins missed yet another opportunity to either pick up ground on the White Sox, or perhaps keep their deficit in the division race from increasing. Minnesota trails Chicago by two games in the American League Central, pending the White Sox games against the Angels on Saturday night. The importance of each game in the division race has seemed to make the struggles a little more difficult for the relievers to take. Although Guerrier said the Twins' relievers are not letting the recent troubles shake their confidence, he acknowledged that they can't let too many more of these games occur. "The only thing that makes it tough is, we're coming down to the end here and these are the games we need to pull out," Guerrier said. "The only thing you can do is come out the next day and make a change."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.