MINNEAPOLIS Sunday's 8-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs was one of just a few speed bumps on what had otherwise been a pretty impressive ride for the Minnesota Twins.
After taking the first two games this weekend from the visiting Cubs, Minnesota pulled to within 10 games under .500, a mark it hadn't been at since April 30 when the Twins were 6-16. It's been a slow, steady climb from the American League Central cellar since then, and that climb is still far from over.
But including this weekend's series against Chicago, Minnesota has done what it's needed to do in order to inch toward the .500 mark, and that's take advantage of struggling opponents. Prior to Sunday, the Twins had won nine of their last 11 games, dating back to a three-game sweep against Oakland at the end of May. Their only two hiccups during that stretch were a 7-1 loss to Derek Lowe and the Indians and a 1-0 loss to Bruce Chen and the Royals.
After sweeping the Athletics, the Twins took two of three on the road from both Cleveland and Kansas City before coming home to face the Cubs. Now, after winning four series in a row, Minnesota's clubhouse has more confidence than it did after being swept at home by Detroit on May 27, which dropped the Twins to 15-32.
"Obviously, today was a tough one, but you've got to realize that we won the series and keep moving forward," said Twins catcher Joe Mauer, who was 0-for-4 against Cubs starter Ryan Dempster, including three strikeouts. "Guys going into the off day (Monday), try to remind them of that and come back and try to win another series."
Added manager Ron Gardenhire: "A good series. You win two out of three, we have to take it."
The Cubs visited Target Field for the first time in the park's three-year history, and they brought with them a 19-38 record, one of the worst in baseball (along with the Twins). Something had to give when these two teams with sub-.500 records met.
After winning the first two by finals of 8-7 and 11-3, the Twins missed their chance to earn their second three-game sweep of the season. Starter Francisco Liriano gave up four runs in 5-23 innings and wasn't backed with any run support as his offense couldn't solve Dempster. Minnesota didn't score until the ninth inning when it already trailed 8-0.
Following the loss, though, there was music playing in the Twins' clubhouse, something usually reserved for a victory. It was a more calming reggae mix, however, as opposed to the usual hip-hop that accompanies Minnesota's wins. After many of the Twins' losses earlier in the year, the locker room would be filled with silence, save for a few muffled conversations. Perhaps it was a sign that the mood of the clubhouse is slowly being lifted as the team gains more confidence in itself.
"We're definitely confident. We think we're swinging the bats pretty well, pitching well," said third baseman Trevor Plouffe. "We're confident. We have two more series in this home stand and we're looking to keep on this (series) winning streak."
After Monday's day off, Minnesota will welcome the Philadelphia Phillies, who have sputtered in June and have now lost eight of their last nine games heading into Tuesday. Perhaps the Twins can catch yet another reeling team at just the right time.
"They're a pretty good team coming in. We feel confident though," Plouffe said. "It doesn't matter really to us who's on the other side. We're just going to go out and play our game."
Considering how poorly the Twins started the 2012 season, it's somewhat amazing to consider they're 8-12 games behind the first-place White Sox. They're also not far from leapfrogging the Royals to move out of last place in the division.
In order to keep gaining any traction, Minnesota's focus is now winning series. It begins again Tuesday with the Phillies.
"It's not going to be an easy series. They're going to come here, and then follow it up with Milwaukee, another really good baseball team that I know they're going through some scuffles too, but they can swing the bat," Gardenhire said. "Not an easy couple of series coming up, but you've got to be ready for them. Hopefully we'll keep on our roll and play good baseball."
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