If you enjoy a positive take and the hometown spin on our local teams this is fair warning. You should stop reading right now. Go any further and you are going to get the unvarnished truth about the 2021 Twins. OK, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way and only the hardy are left, let’s get to it.
These Twins can’t be fixed simply by repairing a struggling bullpen. It isn’t that manager Rocco Baldelli needs to start making better in-game decisions, and stop pulling his starting pitcher an inning too early. It isn’t that the bats need to become more consistent, or the team needs to start getting some luck, or whatever else you want to try to pinpoint as the primary problem.
All of those things are issues for this ballclub, but the reality is this: These Twins aren’t any good. Baldelli’s Bummers proved that again on Thursday, losing 4-3 to the Texas Rangers in 10 innings at Target Field. The Rangers arrived in Minneapolis in sole possession of last place in the American League West, lost the first game of the series, and then won the next three to pull within a game of .500. The Twins? They fell to 11-19 and lost their best player, Byron Buxton, to a hip strain on Thursday.
The Twins also fell to 0-7 in extra innings this season. Some call that bad luck. Those are the same folks who will point to the fact the Twins have played 30 games and scream, “it’s too small of sample size.” Nonsense, if that’s your fallback, then you haven’t watched enough games or you should have stopped reading this column after the second sentence.
Baldelli led the Twins to back-to-back AL Central titles in his first two seasons, and we all assumed the window for success was thrown wide open. The disappointment of going 0-5 in the playoffs, dropping the team’s postseason losing streak to an incredible 18 games, was met with the feeling that Minnesota would make another playoff run this summer and maybe this would be the season things changed.
They’ve changed all right but not how anyone anticipated.
The Twins were 5-2 following a 10-2 victory over Seattle in their home opener on April 8. Since then they have lost six of seven series and 17 of 23 games. The only thing the Twins have going for them is the putrid Detroit Tigers (9-23) are in their division and that’s going to make finishing last in the AL Central nearly impossible. There is no pleasure in writing this. Some of us picked the Twins to win 96 games this season (that’s me), and there is little worse in sports than being stuck with a bad baseball team.
But bad is what we’ve got and the sooner we accept it the better. Right fielder Max Kepler, a key member of the now defunct Bomba Squad, hit his first homer of the season on Wednesday and is slashing .200/.278/.343. Second baseman Jorge Polanco is at .206/.272/.304; catcher Mitch Garver is at .205/.247/.493; and Miguel Sano is at .113/.299/.226.
Kepler and Polanco were signed to five-year contract extensions before the 2019 season that looked like bargains, and Sano received a three-year, $30 million extension in January 2020. Sano was coming off a season in which he hit a career-high 34 home runs. He has two so far this season and his three strikeouts on Thursday brought his total to 24 in 53 at-bats. With each day, it’s looking as if 2019 was the outlier season for these three.
We haven’t even gotten into the fact that utility players such as Jake Cave, Kyle Garlick and Willians Astudillo are seeing regular playing time. With rookie Alex Kirilloff now sidelined by a wrist injury and Buxton likely to miss time, that doesn’t figure to change.
Many want to blame Baldelli for the Twins’ problems, but that’s failing to properly spread the blame. Derek Falvey, the Twins’ president of baseball operations, clearly missed on his attempt to redo the bullpen this offseason. Veteran righthander Alex Colome was expected to close games, but has been so bad (6.17 ERA in 11 games) that he’s no longer being used in important situations. Tyler Duffey’s emergence as a top reliever made him an example of how much the Twins could turn around guys, but Duffey’s velocity has dropped and he took the loss on Thursday.
Kenta Maeda finished second in AL Cy Young voting as he emerged as the Twins’ top starter last season in his first year with Minnesota, but he now is carrying a 5.02 ERA after six starts. We could go on but what’s the point?
A word of warning: At some point this summer, a Hopeless Homer is going to point to the fact that the 2019 Washington Nationals were 19-31 on May 23, giving them the second-worst record in the National League, and rebounded to go 74-38 and win the World Series. What they won’t tell you is the last team before the Nationals to start a season that poorly and go on to win a World Series was the 1914 Boston Braves.
As has been pointed out by my colleagues Patrick Reusse and Phil Mackey, this is feeling more and more like 2011. Those Twins were coming off an AL Central title in 2010 and had high hopes that maybe they could finally beat the Yankees in the playoffs. Instead, the Twins were 20 games under .500 and 16.5 games out in the AL Central by June 1. The Twins rallied to get their record to 46-51 and were five games out on July 20 but soon thereafter collapsed and finished 63-99.
That started a stretch of four consecutive losing seasons and five in six years. One can only hope these Twins aren’t headed off the same cliff as the 2011 group and that Falvey and Baldelli can turn around things far sooner. But it’s become clear that no one should be holding their breath expecting these Twins to provide that turnaround this summer.