Twins Skidding, But No Need to Panic

On the morning of June 1, the Twins awoke a happy team. They had just beaten Seattle in the first of a four-game series, extending their lead in the AL Central to 4.5 games, their largest of the year. Their record, 31-20, was tied for the second best in baseball. With three more games against the offensively hapless Mariners, it looked like the Twins might extend their lead even further. Alas, the situation didn’t play out as anyone had expected.

After their 6-0 loss to the Mets yesterday the Twins find themselves just a half game ahead of the Tigers, who head to Target Field for a three-game set this week. Things don’t get easier for the Twins after that, as they have to play four against Tampa Bay this weekend, and will eventually play Detroit three more times, this time away, leading into the All-Star Break. There exists a distinct chance that the Twins enter the break not only out of first place in the Central, but perhaps all the way down to third place. The White Sox, after all, have gone streaking.

The biggest change for the Twins in June comes from the offense. During the season’s first two months the Twins had scored 4.92 runs per game. In June that mark is down a full run to 3.92 per game. Part of this comes from players leveling out. Justin Morneau, for instance, wasn’t going to hit .377/.493/.680 on the season. In June he’s hit .282/.333/.471 — not terrible numbers but still not to the standard he set earlier in the season. That brings his season marks to .346/.445/.612, which, if he could finish there, would still be quite remarkable. Joe Mauer, too, has skidded a bit, hitting .273/.354/.398 in June after hitting .321/.396/.453 in the first two months. Also slumping in June: Denard Span (.240/.283/.340) and Michael Cuddyer (.216/.284/.284).

The injury to Orlando Hudson has also hurt the Twins. He hit the DL on May 31 with a left wrist sprain and missed 18 days. Matt Tolbert replaced him both in the field and in the batting order, and during that 18-day span he went 8 for 38 with four walks and two extra base hits. Since his return Hudson is just 7 for 38 with three walks and one extra base hit, so it appears that his wrist still isn’t at full strength. On the other end, J.J. Hardy‘s left wrist injury has turned out to be a net gain for the team. His replacement, Nick Punto, has hit .354/.425/.462 since the injury, and Punto’s replacement, Danny Valencia, has also filled in admirably. Then again, it’s not difficult to improve on Hardy’s .217/.265/.333 batting line.

In his State of the Twins post, Seth Stohs makes an observation about the injuries:

There have been times that the Twins have had four starters out of the lineup. Are injuries an excuse? Yes, they are. But what the injuries did was show that the Twins depth was not real good. Their weaknesses have been exposed.

It seems, however, that the only injury that has really cost them was the Hudson one. Mauer missed time, but the Twins played well enough in his absence. Punto missed half a month, but he was hitting horribly then. His replacement, Brendan Harris, actually hit better during Punto’s DL stint. And, again, that doesn’t really explain the Twins’ June performance. The drop of one run per game is really attributable to some routine slumps and Hudson’s injury and poor return. Aaron Gleeman, I think, nails it:

Had the timing of the good and bad stretches been flipped, with the Twins starting 10-14 and then playing well for two months, the perception of their current situation would be different. It’s similar to how a player who follows a big April with a mediocre May through September will spend most of the season with nice-looking numbers, but a player who follows a terrible April with a strong May through September will spend much of the season with bad-looking stats.

They may both end up hitting the same .300 with 25 homers and an .850 OPS, but one guy will probably make the All-Star team while people spend months talking about how the other guy is slumping. At the end of the day a hit in April or May counts the same as a hit in September, and along those same lines while it certainly would have been nice for the Twins to go through the entire season without a lengthy rough patch that was never particularly likely.

There is, of course, also the pitching to consider. In April and May the Twins allowed just 3.82 runs per game, but since the calendar flipped they’ve seen that rise to 4.46. Chalk that up to Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, as Nick Blackburn. Carl Pavano — 2.25 ERA, .187 BABIP, 84.5% strand rate — and Francisco Liriano — 1.50 FIP, 11.33 K/9, 0 HR — have held up their ends. The other three have been quite terrible this month, which, combined with a poor offensive showing, will surely lead to a team slump.

Does that mean that the Twins have to change anything between now and the deadline? We’ll surely learn more about that when the Twins come up in our What Should They Do series. As a quick preview, yeah, it appears as though they could use one more starter. Slowey, Blackburn, and Baker are all better than they’ve shown in June, but the rotation as a whole could use an upgrade on one of them later in the season. They could probably use a third baseman as well, unless Valencia keeps hitting. But what they need most is patience. This is still a good team, talent-wise still the best in the AL Central. They’ve hit a rough patch, and it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture during one of those. The Twins needn’t panic, though. They’re still in a good position, and will likely be in a better one once the offense turns back around.

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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.