Michael Cuddyer homered, Justin Morneau and Carlos Gomez each had two hits with an RBI, Scott Baker tossed eight innings of one-run ball, and Joe Nathan closed out a road victory over the Rangers on July 18 as the Twins moved to a season-high three games above .500 at 47-44. Since then, they’ve gone 9-17, despite averaging nearly 5.5 runs per game, as the pitching staff has imploded to the tune of 6.5 runs per game while allowing double-digit runs eight times.
During those 26 games, Joe Mauer hit nearly .400 with an OPS over 1.000, Morneau and Jason Kubel both provided a .900 OPS with plenty of power, Denard Span got on base at a .380 clip, and Orlando Cabrera hit safely in all but two games since coming over from the A’s. Yet here we are in mid-August and the Twins are in the midst of an awful funk that has seen every starter except Baker get rocked on a nightly basis and the bullpen cough up nearly a run per inning when Nathan or Matt Guerrier aren’t in.
Detroit and Chicago are mediocre enough that the Twins aren’t completely out of the playoff picture yet, but at 56-61 and six games back in the AL Central, it’s tough to imagine this team making a serious run down the stretch. Sure, their remaining schedule is favorable, but the Twins just lost four of six home games to the fourth-place Indians and fifth-place Royals and now travel to Texas for a four-game set against the Wild Card-leading Rangers.
In other words, by this time next week, the Twins’ remaining schedule may not even matter. Even now, if the Tigers go just 22-23 down the stretch the Twins would have to go 28-17 just to tie them at 84 wins. And they also have the White Sox to contend with. Memories from 2006 of the Twins making a 10-game deficit vanish in 50 games make it tough for fans to give up on this team, but it’s worth noting that the Twins were 68-49 through 117 games that year, compared with 56-61 this season.
By the middle of August, that team had clearly shown that it was capable of playing very good baseball and, in fact, despite the double-digit deficit, they were on a 94-win pace at this stage of the season. Right now the Twins are on pace for 78 wins and even that looks awfully optimistic given their performance of late. Can the Twins at least make things interesting this year? Sure. Both the Tigers and White Sox are plenty flawed and six games down with 45 left to play is very difficult but hardly impossible.
But regardless of the mediocre competition, favorable schedule and memories of 2006, if anyone who has watched this team over the past month can still conjure up visions of meaningful late-September games to close out the Metrodome … well, let’s just say that I’m jealous of that optimism. And wouldn’t mind a little bit of what they’ve been smoking. I’d gladly be wrong, but right now this season looks like nothing more than a whole bunch of missed opportunities and wasted individual performances.