Yesterday my Minnesota Twins played their 108th game, which means the season is now exactly 2/3 over. And I say “my” Twins, but given their performance since the All-Star break, many of us fans are about to disown them. When I last wrote about them, I said, “Now everything depends on what happens after the All-Star break.”
They’d surprised us with a Mighty May, had a rough June Swoon, but seemed to wake up again in July and ended the first half strong. Unfortunately, their second half has been pretty awful all around. Their batting struggles continue, but now the pitching is going downhill, too.
After a giddy rush of “post-season is possible” we’re back to our original ask: “Please just don’t suck again this year.”
And if one takes a step back and sobers up from the intoxication of May, we have had a much better season than we have in four years, and while I doubt there’s any post to their season, even the last third shouldn’t be horribly painful.
Famous last words, though, right? I probably shouldn’t have said anything.
Baseball players either are, or act like they are, very superstitious. Players often will keep any behavior (including wearing increasingly filthy clothes) that seemed to give them a hot streak. Given that baseball is extremely subtle and that psychology plays a huge role, even at a placebo level, there may be something to the practice.
Another aspect of this is the “jinx” — many, including announcers — will not mention a no-hitter (let alone a perfect game) out loud. Instead, they’ll show shots of the scoreboard (showing no hits) or will use phrases like, “minimum number of batters” faced by a pitcher having a perfect game.
The “jinx” seems like a silly thing, and for many it’s just a fun part of the game, but I’ve noticed an odd thing. Seems like every time our Play by Play (PxP) announcer, Dick Bremer, makes a point of mentioning how our pitcher rarely walks anyone, and hasn’t walked anyone in a long time… the pitcher walks the current batter.
Yes, I do know about self-selection bias. Like I said, it’s just part of the fun.
So how have things gone for them? Let me start by comparing the first third with the second third:
[For the uninitiated, ERA and WHIP should be as low as possible — zero would be awesome although virtual unachievable. All other stats, higher is better. The W-L stats (wins-losses) should be big on “W”s and low on “L”s. Baseball, ultimately, is all about the “W”.]
The only stat that’s improved is SLG (slugging), and that’s likely due to Miguel Sano, a power-hitting rookie who joined the team on July 2.
A real standout is the ten game W-L difference. (What’s weird is the mirror image reversal!)
The other noticeable one is the R/G (runs per game), which went from nicely above MLB average of 4.14 to sadly below.
The second third of the season began back on June 6, so it spans the All-Star break. Here’s a similar chart showing the “first half” and “second half” (to date). I quote “half” because the All-Star break doesn’t quite divide the season exactly in half.
The decline in performance is a lot more obvious here! (The W-L delta is shown here as a percentage difference, because you can’t just compare 89 games to 19. For the first table, it would be -.185.)
There are other stats that are even more depressing. They had a run surplus in the first half of +23 after 89 games, but in the 19 games so far now have a run deficit of -39! And run differential does correlate fairly well with winning and losing teams.
Our last home series was against the Seattle Mariners, a team that’s been struggling and which we should have swept (considering how well the Twins had been doing at home). Instead, we went 2-2, slashed .176/.238/.346, averaged 3.50 runs per game, and posted a -3 run deficit. A batting average of .176 over four games (so it’s not like one pitcher beat us up) is seriously in the toilet.
Our pitching wasn’t awful in that series. Starters threw a 3.81 ERA, although our bullpen started to show decline with an ERA of 4.50.
The most recent series, four games at Toronto Blue Jays was awful. Painful. Can’t watch bad. Granted, the Jays are a really hot team who just traded for some very good players (like Troy Tulowitzki, formerly of the Colorado Rockies, and pitcher David Price, a former Twins nemesis from the Detroit Tigers).
The poor Twins went 0-4, slashed .160/.215/.312 (and we thought .176 sucked), averaged only 3.00 R/G, and posted a -14 run deficit. On top of that, our starters threw a 9.82 ERA (which is a “take them out behind the barn and shoot them” level of badness), although the bullpen managed a 3.95 ERA (above 4.00 is bad, above 5.00 is crap, above 6.00 is “get rid of this guy”).
There’s no good way to spin it. The Twins are 6-14 on their last twenty, 2-8 on their last ten, and 0-5 (!!) on their last five (with 2.60 R/G and a starter ERA of 6.84). This is a team in serious trouble.
At this point, broken and bloody, the Twins are back to the .500 mark for the first time since they got above it on May 2. If they lose more than they win, they’ll fall below. They’ve squandered their 11-game lead, lost possession of a wildcard slot, and are very close to falling out of second place in the AL-C.
Starting tonight we have three away games at Cleveland Indians. Then we host our sister team, the Texas Rangers for three followed by three with Cleveland again. The Rangers have struggled all season, but have shown improvement recently. They’ve won their last four and are 7-3 on their last ten. How we’ll do against them, even with home advantage is a crap shoot (likely emphasis on crap).
The Indians have struggled all season and are currently in last place in the division. Hopefully we can make up some ground against them, but I thought that of Seattle. It may turn out we’ll help the Indians improve their standings.
Many are beginning to feel the problem may be due to mismanagement by GM Terry Ryan, or even owner Jim Pohlad. Given the chance to make some trades for better players, nothing useful happened for the Twins. Ryan brought in a relief pitcher (who sucked) and a rookie starter (who sucked and has already been sent down to the minors).
Either Ryan is making some very poor choices, or he’s been hand-cuffed by an owner who doesn’t care about winning, just revenue.
So the trick is for us fans to hit’m where it hurts. Stop going to Target Field. If you do go, bring your own snacks. Stop buying Twins merchandise. So long as they think we don’t care — and will spend money anyway — they won’t care either!
Target Field attendance has declined every year since it opened in 2010 (because the team has sucked every year since then). This year the attendance was very close to last year, I’m sure because the team seemed to be doing better. It’ll be interesting to see how it tracks for the rest of the season as the fans realize it’s another losing year for the Twins.