After 46 years of writing about sports, including many mentions of the Minnesota Twins, it’s well documented that I’m a fan of the Twins. Some would say I may have even overlooked some of their deficiencies during that time, although I have certainly been critical at times.
However, midnight for me this week came at 3 p.m. Monday as the team again failed on a good scoring chance against the New York Mets. I left the wonderful confines of Target Field after the sixth inning Monday, knowing full well the boys would not beat the lowly Metropolitans, a team with five starters I had never heard of.
That inning, and one the day before against the White Sox, were perfect examples of a team that absolutely can’t get a hit with runners in scoring position.
A week earlier to the day, the Twins had beaten a good Cleveland team to extend their record to 8-3 in the last 11 games and they were only 10 games under .500. Things were looking good.
Then they went in the tank again, going 1-6 for the rest of the home stand. I don’t agree with radio broadcaster Dan Gladden that the team looked listless Monday (good pitching makes you look that way) but the games the past week were hard to watch. I know – I was at five of them in eight days.
On Sunday Brian Dozier and Joe Mauer had each singled in the first inning, creating a good scoring chance. But Josh Willingham took a called third strike after a 400-foot blast that was foul, Justin Morneau grounded out and Ryan Doumit hit a routine fly to center.
If that inning doesn’t personify what the Twins have become, nothing does. It was the beginning of a 2-for-18 day with runners in scoring position in a 5-2 loss.
Dozier’s leadoff double was wasted in the third, a bases-loaded, one-out situation produced no runs in the fifth, and Wilson Ramirez’s leadoff double in the sixth was also wasted. (It was also a game in which Deduno, the Twins’ starter, hit 3 of the first 14 batters he faced.)
So there I was on Monday and it was a 4-0 lead for the Mets in the sixth when the Twins, on singles by Dozier and Mauer, had runners on first and second with no outs again.
Willingham flied to center, Dozier advancing to third. Morneau then grounded to first for an out and Mauer was tagged out at second on a double play before Dozier crossed the plate.
All Mauer had to do was stop on the basepaths – either on his own or by a coach helping him – and the Twins would have had a run.
That was enough for me – I started for home to beat the rush hour traffic.
The Twins were 0 for 10 Monday with runners in scoring position and 15 for 81 (.185) for the home stand. They are now at or near the bottom of all 30 Major League teams in that category.
All of those people – and there were quite a few, fans and media alike – who wanted Kyle Gibson to be part of the starting rotation now see why GM Terry Ryan hesitated. Gibson went back to the minors Monday.
Many also wanted Tom Brunansky to replace Joe Vavra as hitting coach. And you see what the hitters have done this year with runners on base. Brunansky’s fault? Maybe not but there sure hasn’t been improvement.
You’d like to see someone on the staff get the hitters to quit taking first-pitch fastballs. Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera, probably the best hitter in the game today, is hitting .494 this year on his swings at first pitches, with 7 homers in about 80 such swings. The Twins continually let those pitches go by.
Despite Gibson’s failure, people are clamoring for Miguel Sano to be called up in September. StarTribune columnist Pat Reusse, a very knowledgeable baseball writer, made that request twice last weekend while making fun of Trevor Plouffe, the current third baseman, even though Plouffe basically won the only game the Twins won against the White Sox last week.
Perhaps you saw Sano Monday night in a televised Class AA game. He hit two routine fly balls and struck out twice, taking good pitches and swinging at bad ones. He’s hitting .238 and striking out once every 3 at-bats.
To be fair, you can’t judge a player on one game. And everyone, Sports Illustrated included, seems to think he will be a star eventually. But he’s obviously not ready for the majors. Why have him come up in September and possibly fail miserably, thus eroding any confidence he may have gained this summer? He does have 31 homers and 92 RBIs in 111 games at two minor league levels.
The team also has hot prospect Byron Buxton at Cedar Rapids, Eddie Rosario at New Britain with Sano, and some other good prospects. One flying below the radar is Cedar Rapids right fielder Adam Walker with 26 homers and 104 RBIs.
It’s been a disappointing season, no doubt. Who can figure out why the team can’t get one bloop or one bleeder to drive in runs with men in scoring position? Why so many strikeouts? Why so many fastballs taken for strikes?
I’ll be a Twins fan for life, even without World Series titles or even division titles. I wouldn’t have gone 5 times in 8 days if I wasn’t. But this team needs some fixing and it needs it soon.
P.S. How can it be that Francisco Liriano, 3-10 with a 5.31 ERA last season at Minnesota, is 14-5 with a 2.53 ERA at Pittsburgh and is a bona fide Cy Young candidate despite not pitching until May 11?