ST. PETERSBURG — Only so much can be made from a single four-game series as the calendar flips from May to June, but given that the Twins came to Tropicana Field with baseball’s best record, it was certainly an opportunity to gauge how the Rays matched up.
In the final assessment, they didn’t match up too well.
Following their 9-7 loss in the series finale Sunday, the Rays found themselves losers of three straight against Minnesota. But they ran into a team that was leading baseball in nearly every offensive category at an inopportune time.
The Rays (35-22) were without two of their top hitters — Tommy Pham and Avisail Garcia — in the three games they lost. Another top hitter, Yandy Diaz, missed the first three games of the series before returning from the injured list for the finale.
The Rays haven’t had too many stretches like this so far this year. The three straight losses mark their second-longest losing streak of the season, coming after six straight wins, a streak that included a three-game sweep of the Blue Jays to open the seven-game homestand that ended Sunday.
“It’s June,” manager Kevin Cash said. “We went 4-3 on the homestand. It would’ve been nice to be better than that but … more times than not, we’re going to be satisfied with a winning homestand.”
Ultimately, however, the Rays must play better against good teams. The loss made them 9-10 against teams that entered Sunday night with winning records. They were 26-12 against the rest of the majors.
“I don’t think anybody’s happy about how the last couple days went,” Sunday starter Ryan Yarbrough said. “But at the same time, we realize the team we have here, and I don’t think anybody’s confidence has wavered at all. ... It’s just a matter of taking into account what we did well, what we think we can work on after the off day (Monday) and get back at it.”
A bullpen stretched to the seams forced Yarbrough, ideally used to follow an opener, to take his lumps on a day he didn’t have his best stuff. The Twins pounded him for seven runs in seven innings as he allowed 15 baserunners (10 hits, two walks, two hit batters and one batter who reached on an error).
More damage would have been done had the Rays not turned four double plays for Yarbrough. But that’s not to say the Rays should be credited for great defensive play.
It was ugly early.
The game began with a Christian Arroyo throwing error. Leftfielder Brandon Lowe overpursued a fly ball off the bat of Miguel Sano and allowed the ball to hop high off the turf and over his head for a run. And first baseman Ji-Man Choi’s throwing error on a pickoff play — he sailed a throw past second base and into the outfield — opened the gates for a four-run fifth inning that give Minnesota a 7-0 lead.
“That’s not really us,” Cash said. “We’re going to make some mistakes on defense, but when you play a team that’s rolling right now like Minnesota, every little thing you give them, it certainly feels like they take advantage.”
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The Twins (40-18) proved to be the more sound team. They executed a safety squeeze to start their fifth-inning scoring. Centerfielder Byron Buxton killed a potential Rays rally, making a catch on Diaz’s hard-hit drive to center while hitting the wall, then doubling up Austin Meadows off first base.
The Rays had no answer for former Tampa Bay right-hander Jake Odorizzi, who struck out nine and allowed just three hits over six scoreless innings. They tapped into the Twins bullpen in the seventh, scoring five runs to cut their deficit to two.
Jonathan Schoop then hit a two-run homer off the C-ring catwalk in leftfield in the eighth to extend the Twins’ lead, and Arroyo hit his second homer in as many games with a two-run shot in the bottom of the eighth to cut the Rays’ deficit to two again.
And though the Rays can take some comfort in that the reason they sat Pham and Garcia, and were careful with Diaz, is to ensure their durability for later in the season, the Twins were also without their top slugger, Nelson Cruz, who is on the injured list.
The Twins’ 12-hit attack marked their majors-best 30th game with double-digit hits. They have 10 or more hits in 14 of their past 17 games, averaging 7.8 runs over that stretch.
“There’s not a break in (their lineup)” Cash said. “I can tell you that. They’ve got a good balance one through nine. It seems like a lot of them are seeing the ball really well right now. ... They can challenge any pitching staff, good pitching, base pitching, whatever. They’re certainly seeing the ball pretty well.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.