Fading Twins have to avoid July swoon
When the Minnesota Twins reached the midway point of their 2014 season they found themselves with just two more victories than they had at the same point in 2013 — and a substantial nine games out of first place in the AL Central.
It is true that the Twins are showing more fire this season but they have gone into a tailspin since taking four from the White Sox in late June. The went out west to play the Angels and the Rangers and came back with a 1-5 record. Then they lost a three-game series to the Royals and lost a four-game series to the Yankees. From a 36-38 record on June 22 they have dropped to a 39-48 record on July 7. The last thing the Twins need right now is another July swoon like they had last year when they went 9-17. July was the beginning of the end for Minnesota in 2013.
With a flock of new players on the payroll this year the Twins were hoping their fans would forget three terrible seasons of baseball this year and return to the ballpark in big numbers. That is not happening. In 2011, the first year after they won the AL Central, they still managed to draw a whopping 3,168,107 to Target Field ranking them fourth in major league attendance. They drew an average of 30,588 last year in their 81 home dates. After 43 home dates this year they were averaging 27,759 and ranked 17th in total attendance — exactly where they finished last year.
They brought in pitchers like Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes and threw millions at them hoping to get rid of a real sore spot — starting pitching. Nolasco has been the $12 million mistake so far. Minnesota's opening day starter is 5-7, just about where a lot of us thought he would be. Hughes has pitched fairly well for a free agent and he is on track to have one of his better seasons. He was 8-4 at the close of June. The Twins have also gotten some good, if not consistent, pitching from Josh Gibson, who was 7-7 after the Yankees series. Mike Pelfry, Kevin Correia and Sam Deduno — the other three guys the Twins looked on as starters when camp broke back in March have been very disappointing. Pelfry has been out since May, Correia has struggled in practically every start and Deduno has only recently regained his starting job. They have a combined record of 6-18. You do not have to lead the league in earned run average to qualify for the playoffs but 28th is not going to cut it either.
Joe Mauer has been showing his age. Mauer is 31 and he has been playing major league ball for 11 seasons. Mauer hit .324 last year so a lot of us expected him to carry a good average again this season. Instead, he has had his struggles at the plate and was hitting just .271 when he went on the disabled list last week. For this he is pulling down $23 million a year.
The Twins have plenty of underachieving players this year when it comes right down to it. As a group this bunch was hitting 20th in the league after their Fourth of July weekend series with the Yankees. series with the Yankees began. They were 25th in slugging percentage and their on base percentage had dropped to .320. The fact that they have scored 364 runs is the one bright spot in their offensive production.
The major league trading deadline is coming up quick and between now and then more than 20 teams will be making hard decisions regarding how they will play the rest of the 2014 season. The Twins are among them. They have already signed Kendrys Morales to be their new designated hitter so that could be a clue that they will be making some other moves.Trading 35-year-old outfielder Josh Willingham would be a start. Willingham cranks a round-tripper from time to time but he is not producing the kind of numbers that he did when the Twins picked him up in 2012.
No matter what happens to the Twins the rest of the way, Jim Pohlad and Terry Ryan better brace themselves for a bigger payroll in 2015. They have to bring in younger players with better skills.