By Dan Cook, WCCO Radio
Another baseball season is in the books, and once again, there was disappointment in Twins Territory.
Another 66-96 record was certainly not what fans, or the club for that matter, were hoping for.
But baseball, like life, is as much about the journey as it is the destination. So how did the 2013 Twins arrive at this point?
Let’s rewind and take a look, shall we?
April always begins with hope. For the Twins, there wasn’t really hope for a championship, but hope for improvement certainly existed.
General Manager Terry Ryan had attempted to address the woeful starting pitching for the future through a pair of trades (Span & Revere for Myer & May) and for the present via trade (Vance Worley came over in the Revere trade) and free agency (Kevin Correia & Mike Pelfrey).
Justin Morneau finally seemed to be healthy and Joe Mauer was finally coming off a season that hadn’t been side-tracked by injury.
A few new – or relatively new – faces adorned the starting line-up as well. After the trades of Span & Revere, Aaron Hicks was given the keys to center field coming off a torrid stretch in spring training. Pedro Florimon was going to have a shot at shortstop for the long term. Even Eduardo Escobar, who was acquired in the Liriano trade, would be given a chance on the 25-man roster.
Coming off a 66-win season, was 70 or 75 wins too much to ask? Maybe the club would have a shot at .500? In April, all of those notions were squarely in-play. Unfortunately, the weather decided not to participate in that sense of optimism.
Opening Day brought sunny skies but unseasonably cold temperatures, as the high reached only a brisk 36 degrees that afternoon – a trend that would persist until mid-May.
Opening Day also brought the Detroit Tigers and Justin Verlander to town. Though he wasn’t his usual dominant self, Verlander was good enough to earn a 4-2 win over the Twins that day, and Worley appeared to at least be serviceable.
The Twins came back to win the next two games in that series, and managed to spend the next five days tied for first place in the Central division.
Hope remained alive.
Kevin Correia got off to an impressive start, amassing a 3-1 record with a 2.23 ERA. He also was working deep into games, averaging 7+ innings per start over his five starts in the month, which helped keep the bullpen from getting too gassed early in the campaign.
The Twins finished the month at 11-12, and in 3rd place in the Central. Not great, but certainly an improvement over 2012’s 6-16 April start.
The month of May began with an encouraging 7-5 start, but turned sour quickly in the middle of the month.
The early season struggles by new CF Aaron Hicks weren’t abating. Even those who pointed out his slow starts each time, he advanced a level in the minors couldn’t ignore his slash-line of .164/.240/.315 over the first 60 days.
Joe Mauer was one of the few bright spots amongst the Twins’ struggles, hitting .371/.455/.571 over the month of May and almost single-handedly carrying the Twins offense.
May also saw the end of the Vance Worely experiment. After a fairly brutal 3.2 innings in Atlanta, Worely was given a ticket to Triple-A Rochester from whence he never returned.
A 10-game losing streak beginning on May 14 quieted much of the optimism that April had engendered. A late-month, 4-game sweep of the Brewers helped mitigate things a bit, but the Twins still finished May at 24-29 and in fourth place in the Central.
Minnesota bounced back slightly in the month of June, posting their only .500 month of the season.
Rough stretches on the road in Kansas City, Washington, Detroit, Cleveland and Miami kept it from being a truly successful month. But series wins against Seattle, Philadelphia and a sweep of the White Sox kept it from being a disaster as well.
Brian Duensing posted back-to-back wins on June 11 and 12, highlighting the improved efforts of the Twins bullpen. On a lot of fronts, 2012 was a lost year, including with the relief staff. But in 2013, that trend with the bullpen was mostly reversed, at least.
June also saw the MLB debut of prospect Kyle Gibson. And on that day, at least, he was a success as he pitched the Twins to a 6-2 win over the Royals.
The Twins finished the month at 36-43, still firmly lodged in 4th place in the division.
July is “moving month” in Major League Baseball. Teams have until the end of the month to determine whether they’re buyers or sellers on the trade market. Will they mortgage the future in an attempt to grab that brass ring in the present? Or will they move some current big league pieces to try and build towards future success?
For the Twins, there was never much doubt as to which side of that equation they’d end up on. The only question would be who’d be the guy/guys to go?
Justin Morneau and Glen Perkins were the two most frequently-mentioned names to be bandied around. It was clear the Twins were interested in getting out of some portion of Morneau’s salary. It was equally clear that other teams were interested in bolstering their bullpens with a reliever of Perkins’ caliber.
At the end of the month, both players remained Twins. Management confirmed that they viewed Perkins as part of the long-term solution. Morneau? He’d turn out to be a different story.
The only player the Twins managed to move before the July 31 deadline? Drew Butera.
Whether it was the roster uncertainty, young players hitting “the wall” or a combination of other factors, Minnesota had a rough go at 9-17 in July and finished the month at 45-60, mired in 4th place in the Central.
“The Dog Days of August” is a well-known cliché.
Record-wise, it wasn’t the worst month of the season for the Twins, but it could hardly be called a positive stretch either.
The dreadful starting pitching could no longer be ignored and moves started to be made.
First, after giving up 4+ runs in three of his previous four starts, starter Scott Diamond was optioned to Triple-A Rochester on August 2. He wouldn’t return to the big league club until rosters expanded in September.
Perhaps more disappointing was the demotion of Kyle Gibson on August 20. Even though observers knew he wasn’t going to be the savior of the staff, he was at least expected to be a serviceable member of the rotation.
By late August, it was clear he wasn’t going to reach even that level, at least not in 2013. In 10 starts, he pitched only 51 innings while compiling a 6.53 ERA and a 1.45 K/BB ratio – none of which are good enough to succeed at the big league level.
One of the few highlights for the month came on August 9 when Brian Duensing achieved a rare feat by earning two wins in a single day.
He pitched in both ends of a double-header against the White Sox that day, and by a quirk of statistical fate, managed to be the pitcher of record in both Twins wins – a feat which was last achieved in 2007 by Luis Vizcaino for the Yankees.
For the Twins, you have to go back to the Washington Senators days to find a pitcher that pulled that off – one Walter Johnson in 1923.
The punctuation mark on a downer of a month came on August 31 as the Twins announced they’d traded Justin Morneau to the Pittsburgh Pirates. In a move which perhaps highlighted the state of the franchise in 2013, Morneau – a former MVP – was only able to bring a utility outfielder (Alex Presley) and a “player to be named later” (widely assumed to be a minor league pitcher) in return.
The Twins finished the penultimate month of the season at 59-76, a full 20 games behind division-leading Detroit and still in 4th place in the Central.
In September, rosters expand and some teams push for post-season berths, while others provide younger players with major league auditions for the following year.
While the Twins record suggested that they were in the latter category, there weren’t many players close enough to the majors to be ready for one of those auditions.
Chris Parmelee, Cole De Vries, Scott Diamond, Eduardo Escobar, Michael Tonkin, Eric Fryer and Shairon Martis turned out to be Minnesota’s September additions – none of whom figure to be a significant part of any Minnesota baseball renaissance.
The one name teased throughout the season that would’ve sparked interest was number 3B, Miguel Sano, who tore up High-A ball in Fort Meyers before earning a promotion to Double-A New Britain where he cooled to a .236/.344/.571 slash-line with 19 home runs in 233 at-bats.
It’s promising for a young hitter moving up to his first taste of serious competition, but not enough to convince Twins brass that he was ready for a taste of the majors.
To add insult to injury (or would this be “injury to insult”), Joe Mauer went on the disabled list on September 3 with a concussion, the result of one too many foul-tips to the mask.
While the Twins and Mauer both declared his intention to return before the 2013 season ended, it was just a matter of time before it was announced that not enough progress was being made for him to come back, and he was shut down for the remainder of the year.
With Sunday’s loss, the Twins finished September with by far their worst monthly record at 8-20, making them 66-96 for the second straight season, and saved from being the worst team in the league only by the addition of Houston to the AL, and a dreadful season on the south side of Chicago.
So what happened in 2013?
Put simply, Josh Willingham, Ryan Doumit and Scott Diamond all took steps back, while the only regular to really take any kind of step forward was Brian Dozier, and the cruel reality is he hit .244 for the year.
Of the youngsters asked to help out, Aaron Hicks wasn’t able to hit big league pitching and Kyle Gibson wasn’t able to get big league hitters out.
Free agent additions Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey were what they were: mediocre additions to a staff desperately in need of front-line talent.
Put that all together and you get a 66-96 ball club.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do here. A lot of work,” said GM Terry Ryan. “We’ve got a lot of question marks here. We’ve got to bring in a lot of people. We’re going to have to change some things up, there’s no doubt.”
Will a managerial change be part of that? More information on that is likely to come Monday at a Twins press conference.
For their part, the players are solidly behind Ron Gardenhire.
“Gardy’s a great manager,” Joe Mauer said. “He’s managed some great teams here. He’s a great leader and I hope to see him back here.”
Glen Perkins was even more forceful in his comments.
“There’s no better guy to run this team,” Perkins said. “It’s not his fault. He’s doing the best he can with what he’s given, and Terry [Ryan] is working hard to try and give him more.”
Whatever the changes, turning things around in 2014 won’t be easy, but it can be done.
All the Twins had to do to find evidence of that was look across the diamond on Sunday as Cleveland – owner of a 68-win season last year – celebrated clinching a Wild Card berth.