MINNEAPOLIS — The Twins are having a remarkable season by a lot of measures. In the minds of the team’s fanbase, those measures will be reduced to future trivia questions if Minnesota doesn’t complete the task of punching a ticket to the postseason. Many would even feel disappointed with a mere Wild Card berth, considering the Twins once led the division by 11.5 games over Cleveland.
Now that lead is gone.
The teams own an identical 70-46 record. They took drastically different paths to get there.
The Twins on June 2 stood 40-18, clearly one of the best teams in baseball and producers of prodigious bombas to boot. The lead vanished despite the Twins playing better-than-.500 ball over that time; it’s a shout out to the impressive tear that the Indians are on right now.
To have a 29-30 record on June and then sprint back into the picture with a 41-16 (.719) steak is remarkable.
When the fearsome slugger had to leave the game Thursday after a swing-and-a-miss on a fastball, some braced for the worst news.
Instead, Cruz reported to work Friday feeling much better — despite a ruptured tendon near his left wrist — and optimistic about a short stint on the Injured List. Cruz will go to New York to get another opinion on his wrist. But the sense from within the Twins offices on Friday was that a bullet had been dodged.
The Twins are now tied with the Indians, and the latter club is much hotter of late. The two teams still face each other 8 more times this season. And while the Twins have lost their past 4 games in a row, manager Rocco Baldelli didn’t sound too panicked postgame.
“It’s an odd little run. We’re playing against some good teams,” Baldelli said. “Probably not playing our best but we’re talking about four games. You don’t want to make any assumptions or judgments based on four games. Do we want to play better? Of course we want to play better. But, I have no doubt we’re going to play better. We’re going to turn this little spurt around. Our pitchers are going to throw the ball better and we’re going to be fine.
“Truthfully, when you’re talking about really small sample sizes of just a few games, it’s easy to get emotional and talk about it because we’re here and play the games and we’re giving it our all and it’s not going our way. But it’s not going to go your way sometimes. I think we have the players and the approach and the preparation, the way we do prepare for these games, it’s going to stay consistent. We’re going to go out and be ready tomorrow and go get ’em,” he said.
One significant point from which the Twins can draw optimism: They can still win the division, considering the number of games that look easier than the ones they’re playing this weekend. Still to come on Minnesota’s schedule are 26 games combined against the Royals, White Sox and Tigers. That includes the final 13 games of the season for the Twins, all against clubs on pace to lose at least 90 games (Chicago) or 100+ (Royals and Tigers).
Winning the next two against the Indians to retake the division would also help to ease the indigestion of the fan base.
One way to look at projecting the Twins’ record is to take their current win rate and multiply it by their likely number of regular-season games, 162. In that case, you might conclude that the Twins are on pace to win 98 games as of August 10 (or 97.75 if MLB would allow it).
But what if you wanted to lower your sights because of how the Twins have played lately? Yes, they were terrific to start the season. But did you know that they’re just 30-28 since that June 2 date when they reached 40 wins? That’s a .517 winning percentage, and if you use that as your basis for projecting the rest of the season’s games, they’re more like a 94-win team.
Even that result is great and would likely result in a postseason berth. It’s just that it’s not the pace of 100+ wins that they had been on for a long time. And in the shadow of what the Indians have done in the past two months, it might feel comparatively disappointing.
Twins starters have had a rough go of things lately.
José Berríos gave up 9 runs. Kyle Gibson walked 6 batters. Jake Odorizzi has had his scuffles after a sterling start to the season. Very much ditto for Martín Pérez. Michael Pineda landed on the 10-day IL and will miss at least one start. Devin Smeltzer has filled in admirably, although he also gave up 6 earned runs Friday when ground balls found seams and his curveball didn’t often find the strike zone.
All that recent development had me wondering if the Twins will try something unconventional. Openers? Piggy-back starts? Quicker hooks the second or third time through an order?
Baldelli told us that the Twins have had creative conversations like that all season, and dating back to spring training.
“Just because we haven’t gotten overly creative with our pitching to this point — especially our starters — doesn’t mean we haven’t discussed it many times over from spring training until now. So we’ll probably just continue to do that as we’ve done all year long,” he said.
“I would anticipate all of our starters to just carry on, continue what they’re doing. I think there’s a lot of ways to look at it where you could say we’ve had a lot of productivity from our starters and I don’t see any reason why that would change now,” Baldelli said.
The Twins hit home run Nos. 225 (Jason Castro) and 226 (Eddie Rosario), eclipsing the previous high-water mark for home runs in a single season.