The Minnesota Twins hosted the Cleveland Indians for four games this past weekend, a battle between the current top two teams in the American League Central Division.
After losing 103 games last year, it was a rare opportunity for the Twins to create some separation for themselves in the division early in the season. So of course when that chance presents itself, the reality for the Twins is the worst possible scenario takes place.
The Twins got swept, losing all four games and grasp of the division lead. Not only did they get swept, they weren’t competitive over the four-game set. The Indians looked like the team that won the American League pennant last season and are poised to contend for it again this year. They out-scored the Twins 28-8, and the Twins never posed a serious threat over the four games.
It serves as a good reminder that it’s not easy to flip the switch in one offseason to go from the worst team in baseball to contending for a division title. The Twins now have 21 games left before the All-Star break and will have decisions to make before the non-waiver trade deadline.
Here’s why the series sweep was predictable, but also why Twins fans shouldn’t give up on the season.
Pitching, Pitching and Pitching
Call it bad luck in the rotation, call it unproven pitchers not stepping up when given their opportunity. Call it whatever you want, but the Twins’ pitching was largely awful over the four-game series. The Indians took full advantage, getting leads early in every game and not giving the Twins much of a chance. They won 8-1 Friday night, dominated Saturday’s doubleheader and faced little resistance in completing the sweep on Sunday.
That’s what happens when you start Nik Turley, Adam Wilk, Adalberto Mejia and Kyle Gibson over four games. Turley has had two major league starts and has an earned run average over 12. Wilk struggled early in Saturday’s first game of the doubleheader, couldn’t get through four innings and has an ERA of 7.84. Mejia has been at least decent, until allowing nine runs on nine hits against Seattle last week. He couldn’t get through the fifth inning Saturday night, allowing two home runs and three walks. He only allowed the two runs, but Tyler Duffey gave up three runs in relief. Gibson might have been good enough to win Sunday, allowing three runs on eight hits in six innings. But he’s been terribly inconsistent this year and even got demoted to Class AAA Rochester.
The Twins pitching didn’t give themselves much of a chance against Cleveland. But they were largely out of options with Phil Hughes and Hector Santiago out injured, and arms were limited with having played 10 straight games. The hope was that somebody out of those four would emerge, but it didn’t happen.
Offense Suddenly Goes Quiet
It was less than a week ago that the Twins were in franchise record territory after collecting 28 hits in a 20-7 victory over the Mariners. Over the course of four days against the Indians, the Twins managed eight runs. There wasn’t a lack of chances, but the Twins couldn’t take advantage the few times they did have runners on base.
The baseball season is long, and there will be slumps for every time a hitter is on fire. What matters is coming through in clutch situations, driving in runs when runners are on base. The tough thing with baseball is that when a hitter seems to be struggling, especially a Twins hitter, it seems to take forever to get out of the slump. Twins fans are tired of being patient after losing so much the past few years.
Twins Are 14-24 At Home
One of the most bizarre statistics of the year so far is that the Twins are in contention in the AL Central despite being largely out-played at home. They have 34 wins on the season, and just 14 at home. They’re 14-24 at Target Field, meaning they’re 20-9 on the road. That’s 11 games above .500 away from Minneapolis.
There are a lot of theories as to why, but it’s largely daily match-ups. The Twins have been facing lighter competition away from Target Field, and yeah, there might be some truth to that they’re pressing and trying to do too much in front of their own fans after so much frustration the last few seasons. But the ideal scenario is win as many home games as you can, and go close to .500 on the road. Win your division, and you’re getting a home playoff series.
Twins Making Several Small Mistakes
It’s the little mistakes in baseball that don’t get into a scorebook that can be the most infuriating. They can affect the outcome of a game, and indicate a lack of attention to detail. Eddie Rosario catches a fly ball and tries to throw out a tagging runner, or throws to the wrong base and allows other runners to advance. A pitcher not acknowledging a runner’s existence at second base, so they take third without a throw. Even hitters being behind in a count, knowing they’re going to see an off-speed pitch that’s either well of the plate or in the dirt, yet they swing anyway. The Twins have a knack for having bad at-bats in key situations, and it’s infuriating.
When you’re not playing well and you’re pressing, they tend to happen more frequently.
All this said, the Twins are still above .500 at 34-33. It’s the middle of June, and they’re contending for a playoff spot if not the division title. They could have the starting third baseman for the All-Star Game in Miguel Sano, and Ervin Santana should be a lock as a pitcher. So which way will this season go? Nobody knows, but it would be nice to have more faith in the starting rotation after Santana and Jose Berrios. It will be interesting for the Twins to see what they do before the trade deadline, mostly for the message ownership sends to the team compared to what moves are or aren’t made.