It’s probably hard enough to be the Minnesota Twins under normal circumstances. Because no one outside of the Twin Cities wants to see you in the playoffs ever again. Some have even drafted measures to get you banned from the postseason forever. That’s what happens when you can’t manage to win a single playoff game in six attempts over 17 years.
It can also happen when you share a division with one of the most anticipated and highly-watched teams in baseball, the Chicago White Sox, who also happen to be your biggest rival. Everyone thinks the Sox are moving on to big things, which is accentuated by everyone’s fatigue of the Twins turning into pod people whenever the calendar hits October. There’s hope that the Sox will at least do something in the playoffs.
Still, that’s hardly enough excuse to be this Joy Division-level dreary so far, as the Twins have been the past couple weeks. They’ve lost 12 of 14, have the second-worst record in the American League at 7-14, and they already find themselves seven games behind the Central-leading Royals (what?) and six behind the favorite White Sox.
Last night was something of a definitive crash, as the Twins managed only five hits off Cleveland, saw Tyler Duffy blow an eighth-inning lead to a Jose Ramirez homer, and then go up in flames in extras where closer Alex Colome needed only three pitches before barfing up a gopher ball to Jordan Luplow for a 5-3 loss.
Colome certainly has been an issue for the Twins, as his ERA is 6.75, and according to Statcast he’s been lucky to get that as his expected ERA is over 9.00. By whatever measure you’re looking for, Colome has been getting blistered. His line-drive rate against is 34%. The average exit velocity off of him is 94 MPH. Colome hasn’t really ever been a high-K reliever, but success in that fashion required soft-contact. Lots of contact that’s loud enough to require earplugs is a bad way to fly.
But Colome isn’t alone in the Twins’ pen. Cody Stashak has an ERA of 11.00. Hansel Robles has one over 5.00. But what’s really been afflicting the Twins pen is luck, or more to the point, sequencing.
The whole pen has a left-on-base percentage of just 58.5%. That’s absurdly low, and almost always normalizes to somewhere around 75%. RIght now, all the hits the Twins are giving up happen to be when guys are on base. All runners are streaming toward home like they put a fresh keg at home plate. Robles has a LOB% of 25%! That can’t continue. The Twins also have the second-worst homer-to-fly-ball ratio in the AL at 17.9%, which should come down just because. “Should” being the operative word, and worrying one for Twins fans.
The rotation has been better than the results it’s gotten thanks to the kid-with-matches-and-a-lack-of-awareness pen. But it’s also dependent on 33-year-old Kenta Maeda (who’s been gasoline so far) and 38-year-old J.A. Happ. The rotation is also bottom-five in innings pitched in the AL, giving more opportunity for the pen and their constant raincloud companion to get goofy.
The offense, which has been the team’s strength the past few years, has been patchy and hurt. Only two projected regulars have played the full allotment of games, and two of them are Jorge Polanco and Jake Cave, who are going to the plate with toy lightsabers instead of bats. Nelson Cruz, Luis Arraez, and Byron Buxton have carried most of the load, but Buxton has missed time along with Josh Donaldson, Max Kepler, Mitch Garver. Kepler and Andrelton Simmons had to miss time on the COVID-list, and Kepler is still there.
The schedule hasn’t helped. The Twins had to miss two games thanks to COVID protocols, which can throw any team out of rhythm. They’ve also seen the A’s just as soon as they went nuclear, and the surprising Mariners and Red Sox, But losing two of three to the Pirates?
It won’t remain this bad for the Twins. The pen simply can’t keep leaking runs like this, and eventually Kepler, Garver, and Donaldson will either return to the lineup or return to form or both. At least that has to be the hope.
The real shame is that the Twins have gotten the best stretch of baseball that Buxton has been able to produce, and they’ve wasted it. And the fear with Buxton is that a long-term injury is always lurking around the corner.
But hey, if it doesn’t turn around, at least they won’t waste our time in the Division Series again.