by, 07-14-2014 at 12:31 AM (289 Views)
Last year, when the Twins reached the All-Star break, they were 14 games below .500 and 12 games back in the AL Central. In 2012, they had entered the break at 13 games below .500, and 11 games back in the division.
Against that backdrop, their present standing -- 44-50 and 10.5 games behind the first-place Tigers -- looks like another step in the right direction.
The Twins had firmly established their irrelevance by the end of July after crumbling around the break in each of the past two seasons, and a week ago it appeared that they were caught in the exact same downward spiral once again.
Yet, they rebounded to win five of their last six games, and a soft schedule following the All-Star Game could help the team set itself up much more favorably as it enters the latter portion of this season.
The Twins will open their unofficial second half with a 10-game homestand, in which they'll be facing teams that are all close to them in the W/L column. Two of those teams (Cleveland and Chicago) are just ahead of them in the Central, giving Minnesota a solid opportunity to escape last place.
A good run here isn't going to suddenly put the Twins in position to surge and capture the division, and it probably won't bring them especially close to a wild-card spot, but that was never the realistic mission.
The mission -- and likely the standard by which Ron Gardenhire, his staff and perhaps the front office will be chiefly evaluated -- is improvement.
Here at the break, they have an improved record compared to the past couple years, but that's meaningless. What matters is how they finish.
The complete shut-down in the final months has been a recurring theme over the past three seasons, and a heck of a frustrating one at that. Sure, the late-season losses have helped the Twins accumulate a lot of high draft picks, but ending each year on such a sour note, with few enduring positives to cling onto, takes a toll on the fan base.
The Twins are determined to avoid a repeat this year, and that's good to see. They've been more proactive with making moves, and they've been spending money (with varying results). To me, the increased efforts to hasten this stalled out rebuilding process are quite apparent.
While that's all good to see, hopefully the Twins won't let their resolve to stay afloat and finish better cloud their priorities as the trade deadline approaches.
There's really no question that this team needs to be a seller, but playing that role does not equate to waving a white flag.
If the Twins are to shake their post-break demons and finish respectably for a change, it needs to be on the shoulders of players who are either young or under contract long-term. Even if the team can stay hot and approach .500 over the next couple weeks, you'd hope the big picture will remain clear, and that guys like Kurt Suzuki, Josh Willingham and Kevin Correia will still be made available, albeit it for meager returns.
Much like the exhibition that took place at Target Field on Sunday, the rest of the Twins' season is about the future. That doesn't mean it isn't about winning, but they need to find success that is driven by players like Josmil Pinto, Oswaldo Arcia and Trevor May, not aging veterans with expiring contracts.