Pull the Plug? Not… Quite… Yet

A 10-24 record. Ouch.

That’s the worst record in baseball. All of the hopes that Twinsville had for this team to at least be competitive coming in to the season have pretty much been flushed down the drain. I don’t think you’ll find any writer or fan holding on to the, “we’ll be fine if we can just turn this thing around,” lifeline at this point. Everyone seems to want GM Terry Ryan to just blow this thing up and start rebuilding for 2014 and beyond, right?

Well… maybe not quite everyone. At least not quite yet.

I’m as frustrated as anyone, especially with some of the flat out ugly baseball being played by the Twins. I’ve seen and heard enough of the Target Field Circus, thank you very much. For that reason alone, I’m on board with many of the roster moves that the Twins have made recently.

But before we completely write off this season, I think we need to ask ourselves two questions.

First… has anything gone right?

The reason you ask that question is to attempt to identify what’s gone wrong. If you can’t identify anything that’s gone right, then fine… blow up the roster and start over. But I don’t think that’s really the case.

Going in to the season, there were a handful of things that I felt needed to fall in to place for the Twins to be anything remotely resembling a contending baseball team:

  1. Mauer, Morneau and Span needed to be healthy and productive;
  2. They needed Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit to adequately replace the bats lost in Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel;
  3. They needed improved defense, especially up the middle of the infield and in at least one corner outfield spot;
  4. They needed to hope they could find enough arms to piece together a bullpen that would be able to hold leads and keep games from getting out of hand late; and
  5. They needed improved starting pitching.

Obviously, the jury is still out on Justin Morneau, but I have to admit that if you had told me going in to the season that Mauer and Span would be putting up the numbers they’re putting up while playing almost every game, I’d have been happy to take those results. I’m also quite satisfied with Willingham and Doumit, at this point. The middle infield play has been far better than it was a year ago and while the outfield hasn’t been spectacular, I don’t hold my breath every time a ball is hit to one of the corner OF spots, so that’s a step up. The bullpen has actually been a pleasant surprise. (Be honest… how many people would have been willing to bet Matt Capps would not have blown a save yet at this point in the season?)

Frankly, while you can certainly improve other things here or there, it has been the rotation that has been almost exclusively responsible for where this team is sitting in the standings right now.

The second question we need to ask ourselves pertains to our expectations. How far behind the Division leaders did you think the Twins might possibly be by this point in the season?

When I looked at the goofy schedule that MLB put together for the Twins’ first six weeks, there was little doubt in my mind that they’d be at least 6-7 games out of first place at this point. True, I would have predicted that the Detoit Tigers would be at least six games over .500, while I don’t think anyone would have looked at the scheduled opponents for the Twins’ first 34 games and predicted a .500 record. Instead, the Tigers are right at .500 with a 17-17 record, while the Division-leading Cleveland Indians are just one game better at 18-16.

The Twins have faced AL East teams 17 times already. The Tribe: 7 games against the East. Detroit just nine games. At the same time, Cleveland has already accumulated an 8-7 record against other AL Central teams and Detroit is 7-4 within the Division. The White Sox, sitting in 3rd place in the Division at the moment, have already faced Divisional foes 18 times, putting up a 9-9 record. None of those intradivisional records include any games with the Twins, yet, as Minnesota’s played just two games within the Division, splitting a pair against the Royals.

So, what’s my point?

That’s a fair question.

My point is not to say that this is a Twins team destined to bring home a Championship. It’s not even to say that this team looks like it has the potential to be a very good team. But then, I didn’t believe this team would fall in to either of those categories when they broke camp in Fort Myers.

What I believed then was that, if things fell in to place and management was willing/able to make key adjustments when necessary, this team could be competitive within their Division (at least competitive enough to make them remain fun to watch)… provided that the Tigers didn’t run away and hide from everyone (which I really didn’t expect them to do).

So I guess my point is that I still believe that’s possible.

The Tigers have certainly done their part by underperforming against expectations and nobody else in the AL Central is very good.

If the Twins can get more performances out of their rotation like they’ve gotten out of Scott Diamond and PJ Walters, and fewer like they’ve gotten out of Francisco Liriano, the next couple of months could be very interesting to watch.

The Twins spend the next eight weeks playing games within their division and interleague games. Of their six interleague series opponents, only the Reds (17-16) have won more games than they’ve lost. Meanwhile, Cleveland will spend the last week of June and most of July facing AL East teams and interleague games include series against the NL Central leading Cardinals, as well as two other teams with winning records (two series with the Reds and one vs. the Marlins). The Tigers spend the end of May and first few days of June matched up with the Red Sox and Yankees and after interleague play (which also includes a series against the Cardinals) finish the month of June by spending a week visiting the Rangers and Rays. Their July is sprinkled liberally with other AL East teams, as well as the Angels. Meanwhile, the only series the Twins have with an AL East team between now and August is a mid-July series in Target Field against the Orioles.

If the Twins only win 10 of their next 34 games, then I’m on board with everyone else… put up the Yard Sale sign and sell off any asset you can get a fair return for.

But the more I look at the schedule… and what other teams in the AL Central Division have done… the less I feel like there’s any real rush to make drastic and irreversible decisions. The starting pitching needs to be better than it has been… pure and simple. But if that can be accomplished, I see no reason this Twins team shouldn’t still be able to live up to our limited expectations of them before the season started.

We could still have a little fun this summer.

– JC

5 thoughts on “Pull the Plug? Not… Quite… Yet

  1. Even with Willingham crushing, Span and Mauer getting on base at a good clip (although it would be nice to see Mauer’s slg above .400, at least), Morneau flashing some power while he was active, and Doumit coming around lately, the Twins offense is still dead last in the league in runs scored, 13th in OPS+. Do you see that improving much, or at all, the rest of this season?

    The Central might well be won by a team that bobs around .500 all season, but what evidence is there that the Twins are capable of being even that good?

    A lousy offense, even with most of its best players performing pretty well. Equally rotten pitching; and Diamond and Walters are unlikely to turn that around if they’re true to their track records. The team has the worst run differential, by far, in the majors. And for all the talk about the tough schedule to this point, the Twins’ Strength of Schedule rating at ESPN.com actually ranks 23rd in the majors, 11th in the AL.

    The Twins are probably the worst team in baseball, right now. They might show some spark in the next month, sure. But would that really convince you that this trainwreck is suddenly a genuinely good team? And if it’s not a genuinely good team, why should we want Terry Ryan to act as if it’s worthwhile to invest in the present season?

  2. The Twins’ “lousy offense” came in to being when Justin Morneau went on the DL. They were shut out three of the first four games he missed and have scored as many as four runs only three times since he’s been out. I don’t know if he’ll be healthy when he’s eligible to come off the DL… nobody does at this point. But having him in the line up rather than a Parmelee or a Plouffe would make some difference.

    The Indians, Tigers and WSox look to have much better starting pitching than the Twins… but is that because they’re guys are really “good” or because they’ve been facing one anothers’ offenses? Those three teams are 8, 9 and 10 in AL OPS (the Twins are 12th) right now. The top half of the AL OPS rankings includes all of the AL East foes the Twins have been facing.

    Your final question, frightwig, is a good one to ponder… what WOULD cause us to want Terry Ryan to act as if it’s worthwhile to invest in the present season?

    If by “invest,” we mean trade away real prospects for a half-season rental player, I’m not sure there’s anything short of a 30 game winning streak that would make me even consider such a thing. But looking for MLB-ready pitching instead of A-AA level arms in any trade is certainly something I’d consider if this team started winning a few games.

    Teams are most desperate for help once you get toward mid July and that’s when the prices for potentially helpful rental players tends to be high. I guess what I’m saying right now is that mid July is still 8 weeks away and there’s no rush to start selling off parts until we see what happens when this team gets to play a few of its Divisional rivals.

    I would hope that the organization’s plan is to put a better team on the field in 2013 than they have this year. That would mean retaining players you think can help the team improve and getting rid of those you don’t feel are likely to help in that effort. I just don’t think any of us knows for sure exactly which players fall in to which category yet after only playing 34 games, all but two of which were against teams outside their own Division.

  3. I think rebuilding is needed for more than a could it provide a little entertainment over the summer. Ya this team could have its good streaks and finish somewhere other than last place, but probably not even .500. The organization needs to be rebuilt we saw Bill Smith take the “but they could be good approach” at the trade deadline last year and what it netted us was losing Kubel, Cuddyer, and Nathan for no return and this resulting horrific year. They need to sell what they can and get some return move Pavano, Liriano, Capps, Span, Doumit, Burton, Marquis, Morneau for what you can to give what rookies are ready or near ready their taste of the big leagues and to bolster the next wave that has some promising faces in it. They could muddle around .500 for a few years with random cheapish veterans and a few rookies or they could go a year or 2 playing young guys and have a better chance of regaining the AL central.

  4. If the Twins somehow win 25 of their next 33 games, that would put them at 35-33 and probably in the thick of the division race. If that happens, I’ll be excited just like everyone else, and of course Terry Ryan then should at least ride the wave until the end of July and see where his team stands then. But suppose the team is 20-13 in the coming 33 games. Would that be encouraging enough?

    Mmm… well, in that case, the Twins will be standing at 30-38 heading into the Reds series on the June 22nd-24th weekend. I don’t know. A 20-13 stretch would be really nice, probably good enough for Ryan to hold off on any trades for a few weeks, at least, but I doubt I’d be feeling all that excited about the team’s chances at that point. Just to get to 85 wins from a 30-38 mark, the team would have to play .585 ball (95-win pace) over its last 94 games. Now, consider that even the most optimistic Twins fans believed in March that this might be a .530 team if the breaks went our way (and the team is currently on a 46-win pace)….

    I don’t want to see Ryan trade Willingham this summer, and of course he won’t or can’t trade Mauer and Morneau; but, barring a crazy-miracle turnaround in the next 6 weeks, I think everyone else should be up on the trade block, especially the pending free agents. Span is a tougher call, but if his contract helps bring back a good prospect in a deal, I’ll support Terry Ryan swapping out Span, too.

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