Despite a 12-5 blowout loss to the A's on Friday, one that looked a little better thanks to their four-run ninth inning, the Twins still found themselves sitting 5 1/2 games back of the Tigers at the end of the night.
But at a time when the Twins need to make significant strides, the club is standing still rather than taking advantage of its opportunity to make up ground in the American League Central race.
Detroit suffered its fourth straight loss by falling to the Blue Jays on Friday night. Yet, over that losing streak for the Tigers, the Twins have only picked up one game in the standings because of their own inconsistency.
After failing to get enough offense in two losses to the Blue Jays this week, it was a poor pitching performance by the Twins against the A's on Friday night that proved costly. They allowed a season-high five home runs in the contest to the A's, who entered the night with 118 homers -- the fewest of any AL team.
"Right now they aren't playing too good and we've played some games that we should have won," Denard Span said of the Tigers. "At the same time, no harm has been done. But it would be good if we had won [Thursday] in Toronto and then came out and took care of business against a team we're supposed to beat. Then we'd be 3 1/2 games out right now instead of 5 1/2 games out."
Twins starter Nick Blackburn got things off to a poor start on Friday, giving up six runs in three innings, including three home runs.
While Blackburn had scuffled out of the All-Star break -- posting an 0-5 record and 8.22 ERA in his first eight outings in the second half -- he looked better the last two times out. He delivered quality starts against the White Sox and Indians and acknowledged that things were starting to feel right again.
Yet on this night, Blackburn couldn't seem to get anything going his way.
After Span had given Minnesota a 1-0 lead off A's rookie starter Clayton Mortensen by belting his second career leadoff homer, it was erased almost instantly.
On the first pitch Blackburn threw in the second inning, the A's tied the game at 1 thanks to Jack Cust's homer -- a 442-foot shot that hit off one of the scoreboards in right-center field. It was the start of an offensive onslaught by Oakland in the game.
Blackburn (9-11) then gave up a pair of homers in the third to Cliff Pennington and Mark Ellis, part of a five-run inning for Oakland. Pennington led off the inning with his homer. With two outs, Kurt Suzuki hit an RBI double and Cust walked before Ellis delivered a three-run shot that pretty much signaled the end for Blackburn.
"I just wasn't hitting any spots tonight," Blackburn said. "I couldn't control my offspeed pitches. I couldn't throw my fastball where I wanted to. No location, just a bad night."
Things didn't get better for Minnesota when it turned to the bullpen in the fourth inning. After Bobby Keppel put two runners on base in the fifth, Daric Barton hit a three-run shot off Ron Mahay. Suzuki then added a two-run shot off Armando Gabino in the sixth to make it a 12-1 lead for Oakland.
"We knew they were swinging good coming in but we sure didn't make any pitches," Gardenhire said. "They proved that they are swinging good when you make bad pitches."
It was the first time the Twins had allowed five homers in a game since Sept. 18 of last season at Tampa Bay. But Oakland's home run total might have been even higher if the baggie in right field was a few feet shorter. The A's pelted three doubles off it in the contest -- Suzuki in the third inning, Eric Patterson in the fourth and Ryan Sweeney in the sixth -- making it a tough night for the outfielders who were constantly chasing ones hit over their heads.
"They tore the heck out of Stanley baggie out there," Gardenhire said.
Friday's lone highlight might have been Francisco Liriano's season debut in a relief role. Having not pitched in the bullpen since May 2006, Liriano entered in the seventh and pitched two scoreless innings. He gave up a leadoff double but then retired six of seven batters with four strikeouts.
And on a night when the Twins could possibly have worn out their bullpen in a blowout loss, they felt at least they were able to get through the contest with enough arms intact for Saturday's afternoon contest in the series.
"Not a good night, not a fun night," Gardenhire said. "Just one of those you hope you get through it and don't kill your whole pitching staff."