The Sad Fall of the Minnesota Twins

After getting swept by the Baltimore Orioles and Texas Rangers, the Minnesota Twins are well on their way to another last place finish in the American League Central.

Carl Pavano, a pitcher who is best known for stealing 40 million dollars from the Yankees, is the team’s 36 year-old number one starting pitcher. He has a career 107-103 record and a 4.35 ERA. Francisco Liriano, the once promising pitching sensation, has an 11.92 ERA after three starts and has looked absolutely lost on the mound. The Twins starters have had two quality starts (defined as allowing three or fewer earned runs in six or more innings) in eleven games, good for 29th in the league.

Regrettably, the Twins offense isn’t much better. They’ve scored 38 runs thus far, the fifth worst total in baseball. 2006 AL MVP Justin Morneau is hitting .231. If it weren’t for the efforts of Denard Span (currently hitting .357) and free agent acquisition Josh Willingham (the AL leader in slugging percentage and home runs), the team would be struggling even more than it already is.

Even with their efforts, the team is 3-8, tied for the worst record in baseball.

How did this happen? The Twins won the division six times in the previous decade, an incredible run of success – especially for a small budget team. In 2010, the Twins played their first season in $522 million Target Field with the largest team payroll in the history of the franchise. The team had locked up superstar catcher Joe Mauer with an eight-year, 184 million dollar extension, and it looked like they might finally win a World Series. However, the Twinkies faltered against the New York Yankees in the first round of the playoffs. Even the most loyal fans grew frustrated by their beloved team’s inability to break through and win a World Series. After the heartbreak in 2010, the Twins imploded last season, managing only 63 wins – the worst mark in the AL.

It’s easy to point to injuries as the reason for the Twins’ fall. Mauer and Morneau, the team’s best two players, have both missed significant time over the past two years. Morneau’s concussion history has forced him to play DH this season for all but one game. Mauer, a three-time gold glove winner behind the plate, has already made three starts at first and one at DH this season. Fans have been calling for him to permanently move to first base because of his surgically repaired left knee, since the position is far less physically demanding than catcher. It also makes no sense to have such a gifted hitter like Mauer sit out 20-30 games a year to rest, as he does when catching regularly. Both players have yet to regain their pre-injury form, and it’s questionable whether or not they ever will. In ESPN’s most recent baseball power rankings, Nick Nelson wrote that the offense will only go as far as those two players will take them. If that’s truly the case, then it’s not looking good for the Twins’ offense this year. There’s no way that Span and Willingham can continue to perform at such prolific paces and the rest of the offense is pretty underwhelming.

However, it’s the lack of pitching that is ultimately responsible for the Twins’ recent struggles. In a division that has teams like the Kansas City Royals and the Cleveland Indians, the Twins have the worst rotation. Pavano, the supposed ace of the pitching staff, might not even crack the starting rotation of teams like the San Francisco Giants and Philadelphia Phillies. With the departure of former All-Star closer Joe Nathan during the offseason to the Texas Rangers, the critical position is now fully Matt Capps’. The overweight Capps is average at best, and there might not be that many games for him to save in the first place.

The good news? The Twins have seven picks in the top 100 in this year’s draft, including the second overall pick. They’ll likely pick either Stanford pitcher Mark Appel or high school outfielder Byron Buxton, both of whom have enormous potential. Although it’s unlikely that any of the players the team drafts will make the major league roster by next year, a good draft could set the foundation for another Twins dynasty.