CLEVELAND -- The opportunities to gain ground in the division race seem to keep coming for the Twins. But those chances -- like the one Minnesota had Monday night -- keep passing without the club finding itself any closer to the Chicago White Sox. On a night when the White Sox suffered yet another loss -- this one at the hands of the Yankees -- the Twins were unable to take advantage. Instead, a 3-1 loss to the Indians in the series opener at Progressive Field kept the Twins 1 1/2 games back of Chicago in the American League Central hunt.
And after watching his offense scuffle for the second straight game against a pitcher it was unfamiliar with, manager Ron Gardenhire admitted that his team is feeling the effects of being unable to pull closer to Chicago. "We're very frustrated right now," Gardenhire said. "We know where we're at and what we're trying to do. You get these pitching performances against you and it frustrates you." Offensively, it's been a battle for the Twins over their last two contests. After scoring 12 runs in each of their two victories in a doubleheader against Baltimore on Saturday, the Twins have scored a total of just four runs in two consecutive losses. Orioles starter Radhames Liz held the team scoreless for eight innings Sunday. And on Monday night in the first time they've faced Indians rookie left-hander Scott Lewis, the Twins struggled to get anything going at the plate once again. In only his second career Major League start, Lewis (2-0) did not give up a run over six innings. It extended Lewis' scoreless-innings streak to 14, which according to the Elias Sports Bureau is the longest scoreless streak to start a career by an Indians pitcher dating back to at least 1969. Lewis, who does not possess overpowering stuff, kept the Twins off balance by consistently hitting his spots. He held the Twins to just three hits while striking out five. "Their young man kind of dominated us out there," Gardenhire said. "He moved the ball in and out and located. His changeup was awesome, and he had some nice breaking balls." That's not to say that the Twins didn't have some scoring opportunities off the 24-year-old. Twice, the Twins got runners to second base with no outs. Nick Punto led off the third with a double to right field and Delmon Young singled to start the fifth before advancing to second on a wild pitch in the next at-bat. Both times the Twins couldn't advance the runner. But it was what happened after Punto's at-bat that seemed to truly irritate Gardenhire. Carlos Gomez came to the plate with no outs in the third and Punto on second base. The hitter who leads the Majors with 27 bunt hits this season did not try to bunt to move Punto over to third. Instead, on the first pitch from Lewis, he fake bunted and then swung. It led to a fly out to right field, which left Punto still standing on second base. "We talked about this way too much lately," Gardenhire said of his team neglecting to move runners over. "Him [fake bunting and then swinging] is just trying way too hard and trying to do too much. It's not staying within yourself and getting him over. ... When we play good baseball, we do the little things." Gomez isn't the only batter that has been pressing in the club's two straight losses. For the second straight contest, the Twins Nos. 1-4 hitters -- Denard Span, Alexi Casilla, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau -- tallied just one hit. They went 1-for-14 on Monday night after going 1-for-16 in Sunday's 7-3 loss to the Orioles. In both contests, it was Mauer who rapped the hit. On Monday night, Mauer's hit was a solo home run in the ninth inning off closer Jensen Lewis that gave the Twins their only run of the game. Mauer said that in his last at-bat, he finally relaxed and shortened up his swing. That was after feeling like he had been trying to do too much with pitches early in the contest, something he feels that other hitters in the Twins lineup have also been doing recently. "We get in these situations and start pressing," Mauer said. "We've been trying to do too much lately, when we normally try not to and relax. I think guys are trying too hard to score runs and get on base when you just have to let it happen." With the Twins offense struggling yet again, more pressure was placed upon starter Kevin Slowey. He gave up only three runs over his six innings, which came via two two-out home runs. Slowey (12-10) gave up a solo home run to Kelly Shoppach in the fourth inning, and Shin-Soo Choo hit a two-run homer in the fifth. It was that home run by Choo in the fifth with the Twins trailing, 1-0, that upset Slowey. The right-hander had the Indians right fielder down, 3-2, in the count with a runner on second and first base open. But instead of trying to throw a ball down in the dirt, Slowey threw a fastball that was supposed to be outside and ended up over the plate. "If you are down one, one swing can tie it up. But if you are down three, you know it's going to take a pretty big inning," Slowey said. "So that's disappointing." Monday was yet another frustrating night for a team that knows its chances to pull ahead of Chicago are slowly dwindling with only 12 games remaining in the regular season, three of which they'll play head-to-head with the White Sox. But Slowey said that the team is still upbeat about its chances. And despite suffering two consecutive tough losses, the mood in the Twins clubhouse remains upbeat, with the veterans reminding the many youngsters that pennant races are often a grind. "We come into the clubhouse, and Eddie [Guardado] makes sure to tell everybody, 'Look, this isn't going to be easy. No one said it's going to be easy. And that's how it goes.'" Slowey said. "We know it's going to be a battle down to the end. The White Sox know we're right behind them, and we know that we've got our work cut out for us. I don't think anyone is shying away from that. We've got two weeks to make a difference in our season."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.