MINNEAPOLIS — The Detroit Tigers collapsed in the fifth inning.
Their defective defense ruined any chance of a competitive clash between the American League Central foes.
The Tigers made three errors in the fifth frame, wasting what could’ve been a strong five innings from left-handed starter Tarik Skubal, and finished with four errors in Thursday’s 7-1 loss to the Minnesota Twins at Target Field.
Although the offense continues to lack timely hits, the defense made the difference in Detroit’s three-game series finale against the Twins. The Tigers (6-12) have lost five games in a row, while Minnesota’s win streak increased to seven games.
“We’re going to play the 140-plus games we have left, so I don’t want to rush to too many judgements,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “It is what it is. We’ve earned the situation that we’re in, the hole that we’re in. We’ve got to play better. … If we don’t play clean in any weather, we’re not going to win. That’s the bottom line.”
WEDNESDAY’S LOSS: Tigers, Pineda pounded early by Twins in 5-0 loss
Harold Castro — starting at third base in place of the slumping Jeimer Candelario — tallied two throwing errors. Starting catcher Tucker Barnhart had one throwing error, too.
Willi Castro, who made one fielding error, entered Thursday’s game with two innings for the Tigers in left field this season. He started for Austin Meadows, who spent the game in right field with Robbie Grossman serving as the designated hitter.
“It’s a bad trip here,” Hinch said. “We didn’t play good enough to win. … We completely fell apart defensively in the fifth inning. When you do that and you give extra chances when things are going bad, it keeps going bad.”
The Tigers’ fifth-inning catastrophe, resulting in four runs for the Twins, began with Trevor Larnach’s leadoff single. Gilberto Celestino and Jorge Polanco loaded the bases with back-to-back sacrifice bunts.
Harold Castro committed his second error on Celestino’s bunt, while Barnhart made his lone error on Polanco’s bunt. Both throws to first baseman Spencer Torkelson hit the backs of the runners.
“Whenever you shoot yourself in the foot like that, myself included, it’s tough,” Barnhart said. “We just got to play cleaner, play better all the way around. … Good bunt that I misjudged. It kept rolling, and then I had to rush the throw, which is unacceptable.”
Carlos Correa cleared the loaded bases, putting his squad ahead 5-1, with a three-run double past Willi Castro. The ball landed at the base of the left-field wall. Willi Castro made his fielding error on the play, as Correa advanced to third base.
A one-out RBI single from Gio Urshela completed the Twins’ four-run fifth.
Skubal allowed six runs (three earned runs) on six hits and two walks with four strikeouts across five innings.
The Tigers’ abysmal defense in the second and fifth forced the 25-year-old to throw 32 and 24 pitches, respectively, in those innings. He needed just 10 pitches in the first, 13 in the third and sixth in the fourth.
“Just onto the next pitch,” Skubal said. “I’m making the next pitch, it doesn’t really matter. Obviously, you want those plays to be made, but you have no say in them, so it is what it is.”
Hill comes through
The Tigers stranded the bases loaded in the second inning, as Harold Castro opened the frame with a single. Willi Castro and Derek Hill worked consecutive two-out walks.
But Meadows flied out to right field.
Two innings later, the Tigers scored their first run since Tuesday’s eighth inning.
“We did see better things offensively,” Hinch said. “That’s a good sign. Some better balls put in play, some better at-bats, a couple of key walks. We didn’t have the big hit.”
Jonathan Schoop drilled a sixth-pitch fastball from Twins right-handed starter Bailey Ober. The ball deflected off shortstop Carlos Correa’s glove and into left field. A two-out balk advanced Schoop to third base, and Derek Hill — in his third game this season — delivered an RBI single.
After Hill’s single, the Twins removed Ober with right groin tightness. He allowed one run on six hits and two walks with three strikeouts in 3⅔ innings, tossing 73 pitches. Righty reliever Cody Stashak replaced him and, despite a Meadows single, recorded the final out in the fourth.
The Tigers finished with one run on 11 hits and three walks with five strikeouts. All 11 hits were singles. They went 2-for-7 with runners in scoring position, but stranded 12 runners on the bases.
That included leaving the bases loaded in the ninth after a pair of singles sandwiched around a walk. But Javier Báez flied out to end the cold afternoon for the Tigers.
“We’re definitely going to hit,” Barnhart said. “That’s the last thing that I’m really worried about right now. I expect us to hit. It’s just one of those things where we got to keep stringing them together.”
An early struggle
The Twins scored their first two runs off Skubal in the second inning.
Urshela singled and Kyle Garlick walked to reach safely, but Skubal answered with back-to-back strikeouts of Max Kepler and Ryan Jeffers. On Urshela’s single, the Tigers committed their first of four errors: a throwing error from Harold Castro that allowed Urshela to advance to second base.
“He deserved a little bit better,” Hinch said. “Unfortunately, he was the victim of the bad inning where we just couldn’t play catch and field the ball for him. I thought he was fine for what we needed.”
Skubal worked ahead 0-2 in the count against Larnach and Celestino. Both at-bats resulted in RBI singles. Celestino’s single dribbled down the third-base line.
For his 85 pitches (56 strikes), Skubal tossed 26 sliders (31%), 25 sinkers (29%), 19 four-seam fastballs (22%), 11 curveballs (13%) and four changeups (5%). He accumulated nine swings and misses — at least two each with his slider, sinker, fastball and curveball — and 12 called strikes.
Skubal struck out Polanco on four pitches in the first inning, then retired his next three strikeout victims — Kepler (third), Jeffers (third) and Jeffers (fourth) — on nine pitches.
“I don’t think I had a lot of quality pitches,” Skubal said. “I don’t think I threw a lot of quality strikes, especially in the fifth. The pitch (sinker to Correa) that damage gets done on wasn’t executed. I had a little trouble getting to my glove side.”
After Skubal, the Tigers rolled out three relievers to cover the final three innings: right-hander Jacob Barnes in the sixth and righty Wily Peralta in the seventh and Joe Jimenez in the eighth.
In the sixth, Barnes allowed a double to Celestino, walk to Polanco and, finally, an RBI single to Correa.
His knock put the Twins up 7-1.