Twins in the 2000s: The 2013 Season
Image courtesy of Brock BeauchampWe're running a 20-part series in which we look back at each Minnesota Twins season of the 2000s. A rotation of different writers will highlight key moments, unearth forgotten details, and share nostalgic tales from the past two decades leading up to the present. This installment covers the 2013 season.
Team Record: 66-96
Finish: 4th Place in AL Central
All-Stars: Joe Mauer ( C ), Glen Perkins (RP)
Playoffs: Yeah, right.
The Twins lost more than 95 games for the third straight season in 2013, so it’s easy to lump those years together as all the same.
They are not.
The Twins finished 2011 and 2012 battered by losses yet stubbornly optimistic about their future, certain that injuries were the culprit and convinced that mere tweaks were necessary to restore them to the top of the AL Central.
But 2013 was the season in which everything fell apart: The Twins’ attempts to fill in holes around their core with bargain-bin free agents and untested rookies. Their faith in a handful of surprisingly productive contributors from the previous season. And most of all, the foundation of their decade-long run of success: The M&M Boys.
Over the span of 12 days in August, the Twins lost both of their former AL MVPs, and with them, any lingering illusions of ever resurrecting the team that won six division championships in nine years.
Joe Mauer’s season, and ultimately his career as a catcher, was ended by a foul tip to his mask on August 19th. Without Mauer, the Twins’ longshot hopes of joining Cleveland and Detroit in the AL Central race evaporated, and on August 31st, the Twins conceded. Justin Morneau woke up that morning in the team hotel in Arlington, Texas, but by lunchtime, he had caught a plane for Pittsburgh, where he joined the Pirates for the final month of their successful pursuit of their first playoff berth in two decades.
The long-rumored trade of their unmistakable clubhouse leader demoralized the Twins, and they staggered through the final month, losing 21 of their final 26 games, and 10 of the last 11.
That finish seemed to doom Ron Gardenhire, too, but general manager Terry Ryan surprised — and in many cases, disappointed — the team’s fanbase by signing the veteran manager, who had fallen two wins short of his 1,000th victory with the Twins, to a two-year contract one day after the season ended. Together, Ryan said, they would rebuild the Twins into a winner.
But the wreckage of the 2013 season was considerable. Recognizing the team’s glaring need for starting pitching, Ryan had traded outfielders Denard Span and Ben Revere for a trio of young and promising pitchers, gambling that their top prospect, Aaron Hicks, would soon be ready to step into the lineup.
The trades, at least in 2013, were disastrous. The team had been built around Mauer and Morneau driving in the speedy outfielders, who helped the Twins lead the AL in stolen bases in 2012 with 135. Stripped of Revere and Span, the Twins’ offense collapsed; they stole just 52 bases and scored only 614 runs, their fewest in a non-strike year since 1968.
Hicks was a flop right from Opening Day. He needed 12 at-bats to record his first hit, went 2-for-48 in his first two weeks, and lifted his batting average above .200 for only three days all season, before being demoted back to Triple-A in August.
The pitchers the Twins received in the trades? Alex Meyer and Trevor May spent 2013 in Double-A, and Vance Worley, somehow granted the Opening Day start in a decision that would foreshadow the season to come, was demoted to Rochester before May was out, having posted a 7.21 ERA in 10 starts, never to return to the Twins.
To fill out their rotation, Ryan signed a pair of inexpensive free-agent righthanders, Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey, paying just $10 million over two years for Correia and $5 million for one season of Pelfrey, who was returning from Tommy John surgery. The Twins’ low-budget investment returned low-budget results: Correia was a serviceable innings-eater, turning in a 4.18 ERA that made him the staff ace, while Pelfrey was even worse: 5.19 in 29 starts.
Making matters worse, three of the most pleasant surprises of 2012, Josh Willingham, Scott Diamond and Jared Burton, couldn’t repeat their success.
Willingham fought pain in his left knee all season, limped through 111 games, batted .208 and managed just 14 home runs, 21 fewer than the year before. Diamond, a Rule 5 find who had saved a beleaguered pitching staff the previous season by putting up a 3.54 ERA in 27 starts, lost his command and his confidence a year later. His strikeouts plummeted, his walks shot up, and the Twins finally banished him to Rochester in August, despite having no ready replacements.
And Burton, who earned a two-year, $5.2 million contract after being shockingly consistent as a setup man in 2012? In addition to blowing five leads, he entered 14 tie games in 2013 and took the loss in six of them.
Team MVP: Joe Mauer ( C )
Other Contenders: Glen Perkins (RP), Justin Morneau (1B), Brian Dozier (2B), Samuel Deduno (SP)
Perkins’ emergence was probably the Twins’ most hopeful development of 2013, after the former starter’s successful audition as a closer in the final five weeks of 2012. Utilizing a fastball that climbed above 95 MPH and a slider that dove at a right-handed batter’s back foot, the left-hander went nearly two months from late May to late July without allowing a run, converted 36 of 40 saves, and began a three-year run of representing the Twins on the AL All-Star team.
Dozier, too, began showing the power that would eventually place him among the Twins’ top 10 home-run hitters of all time, setting a new record for Twins' second baseman with 18 homers in his first full season in the majors.
But Mauer, who turned 30 three weeks into the season, was unquestionably the Twins’ best hitter and best defender, even during a season that ended six weeks prematurely. His .880 OPS ranked eighth in the AL, his 5.5 bWAR was just off the top 10 and, had he not suffered the season-ending concussion, would have likely turned into his second season above 6.0 (his 7.8 bWAR in 2009 helped him win the MVP award). Mauer's .324 batting average earned him the fifth Silver Slugger award of his career and in July, made him the AL’s starting catcher in the All-Star Game, his sixth and final appearance in the game.
3 Most Pivotal Games
March 7th: Split-squad team Beat Philadelphia Phillies @ Clearwater, 10-6
How can a meaningless spring training game be pivotal? When the rookie center fielder, who has never played a game above Class AA, goes 4-for-5 with a stolen base, hits three wind-blown home runs, one of them off All-Star left-hander Cliff Lee, and convinces his team to take a chance on him. Hicks’ big game, one day after he also homered against St. Louis and three weeks before he would finish the spring with a .370 average, changed Ryan’s mind about bringing Hicks along slowly. It turned out to be a big mistake. The former No. 1 pick was overwhelmed in the majors, batting .192 in 81 games, and never became the “switch-hitting Torii Hunter” that the Twins had envisioned. (Not in Minnesota, anyway.)
April 1st: Lost vs. Detroit Tigers, 4-2
It took about 10 minutes for the Twins’ cross-your-fingers optimism about 2013 to be deflated on Opening Day. By then, newly acquired “ace” Worley had faced four batters, allowed three loud hits, two runs and a wild pitch, and handed Detroit starter Justin Verlander, in the midst of a streak of nine straight victories over the Twins, a lead he would never come close to relinquishing. The game also set a frustrating tone that would last all season: Minnesota went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position, the first of a whopping 70 games in which they would collect zero (34 times) or one (36 times) hit in clutch situations. The Twins finished the season with a miserable .225 average with runners on second or third, lowest in franchise history.
Aug. 19th: Lost vs. New York Mets, 6-1
The stands weren’t even half full for a Monday afternoon makeup of a game that had been snowed out during an awful stretch of weather in April, which is a shame. Had Twins fans known that Mauer’s Hall of Fame-worthy catching career was ending that day, Target Field would rightly have been packed. In the fourth inning, a foul tip ricocheted from Ike Davis’ bat to Mauer’s mask, but the six-time All-Star took a few moments to collect himself, finished the game and even collected his 35th double, second-most in the American League. A day later, Mauer was beset by concussion symptoms — sensitivity to light and noise, dizziness when outside, and piercing headaches — that still persisted six weeks later. His age-30 season was over six weeks early, and he moved to first base the following spring.
Making, then Becoming, History
Morneau admitted it. Trade rumors made it hard to focus. The Twins’ slugger and 2006 AL MVP went 4-for-30 during the final week of July, when the Cardinals and Rangers were mentioned as potential landing spots before the trade deadline, and the Twins lost five of seven. And as the Aug. 31 waiver deadline approached, whispers that he was headed for Texas or Pittsburgh began to circulate again as Morneau battled a 1-for-23 drought amplified by the Twins’ five straight losses.
So when eventual AL strikeout leader and Cy Young runner-up Yu Darvish took the mound on August 30th in Arlington, the Twins appeared even more helpless than usual. Darvish made hitters look foolish, facing the minimum 18 batters through six innings, and retiring 12 of them by strikeout.
But as a no-hitter began to appear inevitable, the Twins struck in an unlikely way. Dozier, who had already saved a pair of runs with two diving stops of ground balls, led off the seventh with a walk, and Chris Herrmann, plodding along in a 1-for-20 slump of his own but with his parents in the stands for the first time in his big-league career, jumped on a 2-0 fastball and lined it into the right-field seats.
Up next: Morneau, with the game suddenly tied, 2-2. On a 2-1 count, Darvish hung a curve ball and Morneau hit a majestic blast into the upper deck. The homer was the 221st of Morneau’s career, giving the Canadian one more than Tony Oliva and moving him into third place in franchise history behind only Harmon Killebrew and Kent Hrbek.
The Twins shut out the Rangers the rest of the way to earn their most improbable win of the season, and the next morning, Morneau’s big moment became even more poignant: It was his final hit as a Twin. The trade rumors were finally true, and he was gone to Pittsburgh.
While Twins fans were salivating over the thought of Miguel Sano (35 homers at Class A and AA) and Byron Buxton (a .334 average with 55 steals at two levels of Class A) arriving in Minneapolis, nine new Twins reached the majors in 2013. There were some heartwarming stories (Chris Colabello and his seven-year journey through independent ball), blazing starts (catcher Josmil Pinto and his 13-for-23 first week), and local kids to root for (Northfield’s Caleb Thielbar and his 1.76 ERA in the bullpen).
Kyle Gibson embarked on the longest Twins career of the bunch, debuting with a six-inning, two-run victory over the Royals in June, and Oswaldo Arcia, who hit 34 home runs in his first two seasons, seemed the best bet as a long-term offensive contributor. Ryan Pressly and Michael Tonkin each claimed bullpen spots that they would retain for half a decade.
But no rookie had a more memorable, if implausible, debut than Andrew Albers. Like Scott Diamond, Albers was a Canadian left-hander who got a shot in the Twins’ rotation when they had few other options. And like Diamond, Albers surpassed all expectations — for awhile.
On August 6th, facing a Royals team that had gone 12-1 over the previous two weeks, Albers pitched 8 1/3 shutout innings in his big-league debut, getting 15 ground-ball outs, four popups and two strikeouts, all with a fastball that never reached 90 mph and a cutter that had a modest but late break.
Six days later, Albers outdid that performance by pitching the Twins’ lone shutout of the season, limiting the Indians to two singles and retiring 27 of the 29 hitters he faced in his Target Field debut. His 17 1/3 scoreless innings to open his career remains the Twins’ franchise record.
Suddenly, Albers mania struck Minneapolis — and Saskatchewan, which hadn’t had a Major Leaguer since Terry Puhl retired 22 years earlier. Canadians crowded Target Field a week later, when Albers faced the White Sox, but the magic didn’t last. Chicago broke the streak with a first-inning run, handed Albers an 8-5 loss, and the left-hander never won another game with the Twins, finishing the season with a 2-5 record and 4.05 ERA.
Twins Hall of Fame Inductees
Eddie Guardado, who has pitched in more Twins games than any pitcher in history and whose 45 saves in 2002 are the second-most in a single season, was an easy choice for the Twins’ top honor, and he was joined by Tom Mee, the Twins’ public relations director for three decades. They were inducted on June 15th, the last such ceremony the Twins would hold in Target Field for three years.
One Detail You Probably Forgot
There were 633 instances around the majors of a pitcher striking out eight or more hitters in a game in 2013, 19 of them by the MLB leader Darvish. In all, 161 different pitchers achieved the eight-K feat; the Tigers’ staff managed it 44 times, or about twice a week.
The Twins? It happened exactly once, two days before the season ended — and by a relief pitcher. Liam Hendriks, cuffed around for five runs in 4 2/3 innings in relief of Pedro Hernández in a dreary 12-6 loss to the Indians, still managed to whiff Yan Gomes in the ninth for his eighth strikeout of the game, setting a new, if embarrassing, Twins season high.
Clete Thomas was an eager backup outfielder, but he epitomized the Twins’ misery with runners on base. Thomas came to the plate with runners in scoring position 67 times and managed just seven hits and three walks, a .109 average. His streak of 144 consecutive at-bats without driving in a run shattered Zoilo Versalles’ franchise record of 108.
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