Don't Give Up On These Twins Quite Yet
Image courtesy of Rick Osentoski, USA TodaySince I posted the aforementioned article on May 9th, Cleveland has gone 17-11, pushing its lead over Minnesota from 1.0 games to 6.0 games. The Indians have overcome some serious bullpen issues thanks to MVP contender Jose Ramirez powering the offense and runaway Cy Young front-runner Corey Kluber leading the rotation. On Monday, they called up Francisco Mejia, ranked by MLB.com as the 11th-best prospect in the game.
This doesn't look like a club that'll be easily run down. Minnesota certainly doesn't appear equipped to make up all that ground, not presently anyway. They're coming off another lackluster week that saw their fledgling momentum dissolve before deflated fans at Target Field.
Here on June 11th, Minnesota is 28-34 and reeling. But it's not quite time to give up on them yet.
At the beginning of May I tried to shed some optimism following a crummy first month, by pointing out that in 2006 the Twins had also finished April with a 9-15 record. Here we are, almost six weeks later, and the parallel still fits. On June 11th, 2006, the Twins were 28-34, same as today. They faced a much larger deficit in the standings, 11 games. As you'll recall, that team finished with 96 wins and a division title.
They didn't wait much longer, of course. The '06 Twins rattled off victories in 19 of their next 20 games, astoundingly making up only two games in the standings as first-place Detroit went on a coinciding tear. But in the second half, Minnesota gradually gained ground, finally surpassing the Tigers on the season's final day.
What I'm getting at here is that we're still not in hopeless territory. Even if you don't buy the literal comparison between this year's Twins and the 2006 version (I'm not sure I do), the point is that things can change quickly in this game. And while one might be inclined to lament, "It's getting late early," the night ain't over yet.
One thing you can say about these current Twins is that the pitching staff has been quite impressive. Starters are giving the team a chance to win every night and the bullpen has been mostly solid. Minnesota posted a 3.52 ERA in May and are at 3.50 in June. Combine that kind of performance with the Twins offense from last year's second half, when they averaged 5.6 runs per game, and you've got the recipe for a 20-win month.
Needless to say, the current lineup hasn't resembled that one at all, but it soon might – at least in terms of personnel. Joe Mauer is on a rehab assignment and could be back as soon as Thursday. Byron Buxton is traveling with the team and taking positive steps. Jorge Polanco is suddenly only a few weeks from returning. Brian Dozier is approaching that point in the summer where a light bulb usually flicks on.
Get all these guys clicking in the lineup together while Eddie Rosario and Eduardo Escobar keep clubbing away, and you can start to envision the Twins stringing together some lengthy winning streaks.
I'll admit that right now it's difficult not to feel weighed down by pessimism. Mauer's concussion symptoms can re-emerge at any time. Buxton has looked abysmal at the plate when not sidelined. And Miguel Sano... yeesh.
But as I said before, things can change quickly in this game. The '06 Twins are a good macro example and Polanco is a good micro example. Last July he had one of the worst months you'll ever see, slashing .078/.158/.115 while collecting only four hits in 17 games. Then, the calendar flipped and he was a suddenly a monster, putting up a .373/.413/.686 line in August.
A few similar offensive outbreaks from players we know are capable, along with some desperately needed good fortune on the health front, would make a big difference for this year's squad.
As we get deeper into the season, it grows harder to believe that these aren't the real Twins – this relentlessly disappointing bunch, constantly shrinking in big moments and fumbling away key opportunities.
But I'm still not totally convinced that's who they are. Granted, at some point it won't really matter. The hole will become too deep and the Twins will have no choice but to approach the trade deadline as sellers.
We're not there yet, though. Urgency grows as Minnesota heads out on a critical road trip that gets underway on Tuesday in Detroit.
The Tigers likely remember that magical Twins turnaround in 2006. Their manager definitely does.
- brvama, h2oface, IndianaTwin and 2 others like this