They only trailed the Twins by 3 1/2 games in the American League Central entering the four-game set.
A series win would have brought them on the Twins' heels. Sweep Minnesota, and Detroit, those same inconsistent, underachieving Tigers who have puzzled the baseball world, would ride into the All-Star break with sole possession of second place.
Now, after Saturday's 6-5 loss before 41,301 fans at Comerica Park, Detroit's only hope for a positive entrance into the All-Star break is to avoid being swept.
"We're not doing enough," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "And [the Twins] are doing just enough to win. That pretty much sums it up."
Trailing 6-2 in Saturday's game, the Tigers scored three runs in the eighth to cut the Twins' lead to one. They put the tying run on with one out in the ninth, but All-Star closer Joe Nathan fanned the next two hitters to drop Detroit's record to one game under .500. The Tigers now trail Minnesota by 6 1/2 games in the AL Central.
The Twins, meanwhile, have won 22 of their past 32 games.
"They're the hottest team in baseball," said Tigers starter Nate Robertson, who allowed five runs in seven innings. "We're right there, too, but we're just not doing enough."
The last three Minnesota wins came against a Detroit team struggling to find clutch hits. All three losses in this series have come by one run.
"Got to give credit to Minnesota," Tigers center fielder Curtis Granderson said. "They've been able to hold on for the 27 outs. It's about coming up with big hits with runners on base, taking advantage of that -- especially with two outs. Those are big ones. If you start looking back at how many guys we've left on base, that stuff starts to add up through the course of a series."
A pesky bunch year after year, the Twins have thrived on their ability to get on base and find ways to score. In this game, utility infielder Brendan Harris did most of the damage.
A .216 hitter against lefties this season entering the game, Harris went 3-for-3 with a solo home run and four RBIs off the left-handed Robertson.
"It always seems like there is one guy that has a real strong game and makes a huge difference," Robertson said. "He was it today. When a team has that, that one guy coming through almost every game, it makes them real tough."
The Twins opened the scoring in the second. Justin Morneau, who is 7-for-12 with one game-winning home run in the series, led off with a sharp single up the middle. Delmon Young's one-out single was followed by Harris' two-out single -- sending Morneau to the plate ahead of Granderson's throw.
Another two-out single by Harris in the fourth, this time a blooper in front of Granderson, made it 2-0.
That lead didn't last long. With one on and one out, Matt Joyce drilled his eighth home run of the season into the right-field corner. It marked his third homer in the past four games.
During this series, Joyce has experienced some defensive miscues, but he has made up for it at the plate. He has eight hits in the past three games, including four doubles and three home runs.
In his past 12 games since being recalled from Triple-A Toledo, Joyce has hit .351 (13-for-37).
"I like him a lot," Leyland said. "He's a real good prospect."
Harris wasn't done. During the Twins' three-run seventh inning, he smashed a homer into the right-field seats to give Minnesota the lead. Joe Mauer belted a long homer beyond the bullpen in left-center to make it 5-2.
Another Harris RBI swelled the lead to four, but Granderson hit a two-run homer in the eighth to bring the Tigers within 2. Placido Polanco followed with an infield single, and reliever Jesse Crain walked Carlos Guillen to put the tying run on with no outs.
Reliever Dennys Reyes' wild pitch put runners on second and third. Pinch-hitter Ryan Raburn muscled a high-chopping RBI groundout to third, cutting the deficit to one.
But with Guillen on second, reliever Brian Bass got Marcus Thames to ground out and end the Tigers' final threat.
"We haven't got the offense on a consistent basis all year," Leyland said. "We made a little run there to make it exciting. We still had our shot, and you certainly appreciate that. But the truth of the matter is, we haven't done enough offensively all year."
Scott McNeish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.