Mid-May is too early to give up on a baseball team built to win now, especially one with as many injuries, and using as many rookies as the Twins are through 35 games.
Even after getting swept by the first-place White Sox in Chicago this week, the Twins have 127 games to make up 10 in the American League Central standings, which is hardly impossible. We’ve seen better from the Twins in recent memory.
In 2009, the Twins were seven games out on Sept. 6, then went 18-8 to catch the Tigers and force a Game 163 at the Metrodome that remains the Twins’ best victory in recent memory. So, no, it’s not time to cut bait. Any team that does so on May 14, from management on down, isn’t worth watching, much less caring about.
That doesn’t mean reality isn’t setting in for the Twins.
With Thursday’s 4-2 loss to the White Sox in Chicago, the Twins have lost seven of their past eight games and 11 games under .500. Asked Thursday whether the Twins are in danger of digging a hole too deep to climb out of, manager Rocco Baldelli said, “I’ve been thinking that for a while now, to be honest.”
The Twins hadn’t been 11 games under .500 since they were 71-82 on Sept. 21, 2018, and never under Baldelli, whose first two teams won Central Division titles. Yes, there is plenty of time to rally, but at some point, sooner than later, time is a luxury a losing team doesn’t have.
It’s one thing to be 10 or so games under .500, and another entirely to be 20 games under, something the Twins learned in 2011. Coming off consecutive Central Division titles, they fell 20 games under the even mark on June 1 and wound up losing 96 games. June 1 is a little more than two weeks away.
The Twins need to start turning around starting Friday, when they begin a three-game series at Target Field against the team that tore their hearts out on April 21.
The A’s rallied to beat the Twins, 13-12, in extra innings that day, and it stung. Minnesota took a 12-10 lead in the 10th on a two-run homer from Byron Buxton, only to watch the A’s rally with the help of three walks and two infield errors. As nadirs go, it would have sufficed, but Minnesota has lost 12 of 17 since.
Getting swept by the White Sox is a special kind of pain because it put into stark relief how far apart the Twins and White Sox have grown in a short time.
It’s easy to blame the bullpen, because it’s been offensive, 1-12 with a 5.13 earned-run average through Wednesday. After Thursday’s loss, the bullpen has allowed 68.7 percent of its inherited runners to score (!). But it’s a team effort. After that extra-inning loss in Oakland, Baldelli said, in his inimitable way, that his team was “finding ways to not win games.” And in his inimitable way, he was correct.
Nothing has changed.
Michael Pineda, the Twins’ most consistent starter this season, gave the team a chance on Thursday, and Max Kepler cut the deficit to 3-2 with a one-out home run off hard-throwing reliever Jose Ruiz in the eighth. But the Twins left 12 men on base, twice leaving them loaded in a one-run game.
The Twins started Thursday hitting .209 in the seventh inning and later, and hitting .207 with runners in scoring position and two out. It’s a far cry from 2019, when the Twins hit a combined .270 and a major league-record 306 home runs while winning 102 games. They were so desperate for a clutch hit late Thursday that designated hitter Nelson Cruz was spotted in the dugout wearing a Gatorade cooler on his head when the Twins had the tying and go-ahead runs on base.
Afterward, Baldelli was asked what was going on there. “You know what?” he said. “He’s trying to get something going, that’s what’s going on.”
Cruz, one of the Twins’ few consistent hitters this season, gets it. Time is running out, even if it is mid-May.
The Twins will play this weekend without its best hitter and outfielder, Byron Buxton, out with serious hip strain, and promising rookie Alex Kirilloff, who is trying to rehab a sprained wrist. Veteran shortstop Andrelton Simmons missed Thursday’s game with an ankle injury, and Kepler is hitting .200.
So, yeah, don’t mock the cooler on the head. Anything to get this team going before it’s too late.
“Whatever we need to do to get something rolling and get a few runs home when we need it, I’ll take it,” Baldelli said.