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The Inner Game of Baseball: How the Twins Can Escape the Slump


It’s no secret that the 2021 Twins are loaded with talent. It’s also no secret that the team is in a bit of a rut. Baseball is as mentally tough as it is physically, and that just may be the cause of the ‘flat soda-esque’ performance on the field.Rocco Baldelli sat in the Twins ‘Zoom Room’ on a beautiful, yet dreary night in Cleveland following his team’s fourth consecutive loss and ninth in ten games. Baldelli acknowledged the struggle and pain that the team has faced since plummeting to 7-15 after a 5-2 start.

 

Yet what stood out most was a particular quote:

 

“We haven’t played particularly well, it’s no secret. But I can’t be upset with the effort we’re getting from our guys or anything like that. And that’s the only thing that we can control right now. We can’t control our results, we can’t control any of that. We can control what we put into it, and we’ve done that.”

 

Rocco is spot on with his analysis. The only things that one can control in sport are effort, focus, and attitude. The Twins could go out and play their absolute best and still lose a baseball game because the opposing team, frankly, played better. Sports Psychology 101.

 

And while playing excellent baseball correlates with strong effort, a positive attitude, and premium focus, the latter doesn’t always correlate with winning — hence the 2021 Minnesota Twins thus far.

 

Insert pressure.

 

This isn’t a piece on lack of bullpen outs, dry at-bats, or underperforming starting pitchers. It’s about one of the biggest symptoms that may be a cause of the lackluster product on the field.

 

High Hopes

While it’s no secret that the White Sox carried the clout of national media coverage in the Central this past offseason, the Twins knew that there was/is potential for the '21 ball club to be damn good. The Twins did and still do have every expectation to compete for an AL Central title and a deep run in the postseason.

 

That’s a wonderful thing. Yet with it comes pressure, and lots of it. Twins fans know the team is supposed to be good, other teams know it as well, and yes, the Twins roster knows they have the talent to produce one of the best teams in franchise history. And when the team underperforms the way that it has the noises from critics only become amplified.

 

Pressure is a privilege. And while it shows that teams have high expectations, pressure can cause athletes to play tight, make mistakes they typically wouldn’t, and lose focus. A combination of any of those three leads to a lack of consistency, something that has plagued the '21 Twins so far. There have indeed been moments of success sprinkled amongst the cloud of darkness that has covered the Twins season, but they’ve been few and far between.

 

The Solution

Despite criticism from some fans, Baldelli is taking the right approach towards getting his team out of this slump. He’s right in the fact that the team can truly only focus on what they can control. Dwelling on past losses, poor performance, and outside noise does absolutely nothing to solve the problem.

 

Absolutely, I think that Rocco can make some moves in the bullpen that will not only benefit the team as a whole, but the confidence of individual players. Alex Colomé has proven he can be successful but clearly is struggling with his confidence. Putting him in true low-leverage situations will give him a chance to prove to himself that his cutter can be effective at a high level, just without the additional pressure of a close game.

 

At the end of the day, it isn’t going to be major roster moves or acquisitions that will bring the Twins out of this rut. Playing loose, not worrying about results, and manufacturing some consistency will.

 

I’m not a sports psychologist. Call me crazy if you want. But whether it’s high school tennis or Major League Baseball, the ability to play calm and free under pressure is what makes athletes great. So instead of criticizing coaching moves, blasting players for performance, or whining about where the club ‘should’ be, focus on small increments of improvement.

 

Believe me, the Twins know the frustration that people are feeling. It’s ten times worse for them than it is for you. We can’t change the past, and complaining about it won’t do much. The 2019 Nationals pulled themselves out of an early-season slump, why not the 2021 Minnesota Twins?

 

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The only things that one can control in sport are effort, focus, and attitude.

 

This leaves out one crucially important thing: tactics. It makes sense that Baldelli would omit that because it's on him. Making the right tactical decision at the right time has been a serious problem for the club this year.

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Such a small difference between winning and losing close games.  No player can be laser-focused for every minute of every game over a long season.  The damn thing with this beautiful game is that those moments of inattention will often find you.  Example: La Tortuga rounds second widely and can't score on a double with one out.  We fail to pick him up.  That run likely changes the game.  Somehow teams playing well have fewer of these lapses than teams playing poorly.   I believe that this ebbs and flows over the course of a season so there's hope.

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There’s a lot that can be controlled.

 

Baldelli has been downright awful this year. We’ve seen multiple games where his managerial decisions have directly lead to losses.

 

The FO could’ve signed some competent relievers.

 

Can anyone control Maeda being awful, the hitters slumping, or the injuries? No. But, there are plenty of other things that could’ve been done differently that would lead to this team having a few more wins right now.

 

The FO and management have one job: Find good players and get them to perform. They’re not doing that. The injury issues are well documented, that should not be a surprise. It was clear that the bullpen was going to be a disaster, shouldn’t be a surprise. Regression from Maeda shouldn’t be a surprise. Polanco, Cave, Garver being awful shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s their job to identify these issues and prevent them from derailing the season. That’s what they get paid to do. The bottom line is, as much as this will offend some, they are failing at their job.

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"Alex Colomé has proven he can be successful..."

 

I'm assuming this is looking at 2020 and prior.  He's had a few clean games this year, but in the position he's in a 1:3 clean to putrid ratio is not something any team at any level and accept.

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I was looking at the standings and realized that even when our offense has been bad (9th in the AL in run scored), we are 10th in the AL in runs allowed. The starting pitching has been OK for the most part (Maeda is the exception, I guess), so it is mostly on the bullpen. Colome could use a trip to the IL with something. Then look for arms inside and outside, 

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A few points.

1) I really like Rocco Baldelli

2) I think Rocco Baldelli is a really good manager.  NOT perfect and not without mistakes, but really good.

3) I think Rocco Baldelli's even-keeled approach is perfect for a 162-game grind of a season like baseball.

4) I was REALLY glad to hear that Rocco Baldelli called for a players meeting the other night.  It was likely overdue.

5) However, I really wish that, once in a while, when warranted, Rocco Baldelli had a little more of a Dave Roberts type of enthusiasm and would celebrate a little more with his players.

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A few points.

1) I really like Rocco Baldelli

2) I think Rocco Baldelli is a really good manager.  NOT perfect and not without mistakes, but really good.

3) I think Rocco Baldelli's even-keeled approach is perfect for a 162-game grind of a season like baseball.

4) I was REALLY glad to hear that Rocco Baldelli called for a players meeting the other night.  It was likely overdue.

5) However, I really wish that, once in a while, when warranted, Rocco Baldelli had a little more of a Dave Roberts type of enthusiasm and would celebrate a little more with his players.

You can't have everything. Part of what makes him a great manager may make him less so if he was more 'fiery'. I agree with all points, just wanted to mention this. It's the same thing with players " I love his game, just wish he was faster or more selective or more aggressive at the plate. Etc.

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There is always a winner each day...and a loser. Amazed at how many teams are at .500 or below compared to winning records. Yet no one yet (it is still April) is totally running away with this thing called a baseball season.

 

Baseball is such a team sport, and it relies on hitting, pitching (giving up less runs than runs scored against), and fielding (not giving those extra outs). 

 

If it was so easy, one team would win every year...and the joy is that we see more and more teams staying competitive outside of just spending the most money.

 

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Nice thought piece.  But I have seen some contented losing teams.  I cannot comment on Baldelli - I question a number of moves he made so far, but is anyone better - I do not know.  My favorite all time Twins manager was Billy Martin.  The teamreally played for him, but he was so volatile that he could not last more than two years in one town.  

The attitude needs to come from the players.  With Cruz and Donaldson we have the veterans and with Buxton showing the way we have a true star.  But the player who exudes the enthusiasm is Astudillo.  I know he gets criticized but his hustle even makes the other team smile.  I can understand why Rocco plays him so often.

Berrios has a good tough attitude - who else in SP?  But then SP has not been the problem.

 

Who is in the BP that can motivate?  I have no idea. 

 

So let's just keep playing and hopefully playing hard. 

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