Halfway Through the Season, the Minnesota Twins Have Been a Really Weird Team

The Twins have been curiously inconsistent through the first half of the season. (Photo credit: Cumulus Media)

We can still piece together a decent year, regardless of what kind of half we had.

— Twins GM Terry Ryan on the 4th of July, the halfway point of the season

The math is simple with the Minnesota Twins: They had 27 wins at the halfway point of the year, meaning that they had won one-third of their games and were on pace for a 54-win season. “There’s a lot of things that disappoint and bother me a lot,” said Minnesota Twins general manager Terry Ryan. “I would say that win-loss ledger is a little bothersome.”

More than a little bothersome, it’s safe to say. Ryan declared that his goal for this year’s team, coming off an 83-win season the previous year, was to win the AL Central. He said he didn’t want to end up in a Pittsburgh Pirates situation where they are able to win 100 games a season, only to get edged out by the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs and are forced to play in a one-game, do-or-die wild card game.

Despite an 0-9 start, Ryan insisted in mid-April that winning the Central was still his goal. “We’re still in the business of winning the division,” he said, “Now, we aren’t off to a very good start, and that’s disappointing. But that doesn’t change our overall vision here of wanting to get into the postseason. We got 154 games left.”

make no mistake, this team is bad. But it’s also confusing, and, in a word, weird

But he changed his tune a month later, once it became more clear that this team was headed for its fifth losing season in six years. “I’m looking for wins. Progress is wins,” he said. “There isn’t anything here that is gonna be a moral victory. You gotta win baseball games.”

So make no mistake, this team is bad. But it’s also confusing, and, in a word, weird. Minnesota has won its last three series, including two against the Texas Rangers, who own the best record in the American League. They won the final game of the series 15-5, entering the All-Star Break with a 32-56 record.

Joe Mauer started the year strong, looking like his old self again, but now owns a .269/.372/.380 line, on par with his last two seasons. Kurt Suzuki and Brian Dozier treaded water around the Mendoza line for most of the season, then suddenly made an All-Star bid right before the break. Byung-ho Park raked and then had to be sent down. Robbie Grossman was on fire after being picked up off waivers, and owns a .279/.416/.877 line. Phil Hughes pitched well early, then fell apart and lost the rest of the season to injury.

Eduardo Nunez has been the team’s best player, and will be the team’s lone representative in San Diego this season.

Nunez is the Twins lone All-Star this season. (Photo credit: Cumulus Media)
Nunez is the Twins lone All-Star this season. (Photo credit: Cumulus Media)

Weird. Baffling. Frustrating. However you want to describe it, this Twins team is really something else. “We’re the worst team in the game. That pains me to say,” Ryan said recently. “I don’t believe we are the worst, but we are record-wise, so we have to be realistic. That’s where we’re at. That’s very disappointing.”

In all fairness, this team really shouldn’t be this bad. If Mauer had returned to 2013 form, Suzuki and Dozier gotten off to a better starts and Hughes stayed healthy, this team would have been in the middle of the pack in the Central with the Detroit Tigers, Chicago White Sox and Kansas City Royals — three .500 teams.

In order to challenge the Cleveland Indians, who lead the division with a 52-36 record, however, the Twins would have had to get a lot out of their top prospects, many of whom have faltered. Jose Berrios came up, flashed some stuff, but ultimately was overmatched in his first big league stint. Byron Buxton continues to have trouble hitting major league pitching. J.T. Chargois got shelled in a brief relief outing. Alex Meyer still can’t stick with the big-league team. Eddie Rosario has been inconsistent. Miguel Sano has had a sophomore slump, at least by his standards. And so on.

Basically, there have been too many projects on the team

The cardinal sin with this club is that they relied too heavily on young players, and now they have a lot of projects that are caught in baseball purgatory — they are too good for Triple-A, but unproductive in the majors. Buxton and Rosario have nothing left to prove in the minors. Meyer and Chargois don’t either. Berrios and John Ryan Murphy are getting there. Kepler has been the only young breakout star this season.

“A lot of it’s confidence,” said Ryan. “Most of the guys that are struggling up here, it’s not their skill level, they all got skills. We’ve sent Buxton down, and he got his confidence back, and we brought him back. And Rosario, about the same. Park, I would think that he’s gonna gain some confidence back; he was struggling.

“But there aren’t many breaks in a major league game; there aren’t any easy marks. At least down below, you might get a chance here to put some pretty successful at-bats or games together, and all of a sudden things change. And most of it’s mental.”

Basically, there have been too many projects on the team. It’s been overwhelming for hitting coaches Tom Brunansky and Rudy Hernandez, as well as pitching coach Neil Allen and his interim Eric Rasmussen. “As a hitting coach, I do have that experience, and I know the difficulty of it when you’re dealing with 10-13 guys — all different, all require different methods of finding ways to draw out their potential,” said manager Paul Molitor. “It’s a challenging thing, but I watch him, I watch him work, and I know he’s very mindful about trying to find ways to do those types of things.” The same could be said about the pitching coaches.

Dozier got off to a tough start this season, but bounced back in the second half. (Photo credit: Cumulus Media)
Dozier got off to a tough start this season, but bounced back in the second half. (Photo credit: Cumulus Media)

It’s too early to slap any of these players, except maybe Tommy Milone, with the “Quad-A” label because they are young and adjusting to the majors. But if they are unable to perform in the bigs, it means bad things for the Twins — either the player will have to be traded, like Oswaldo Arcia or Aaron Hicks, and try to perform with a change of scenery, or they will never pan out despite being highly-touted as a prospect — and Minnesota needs to be in the business of making stars.

So if you’re looking for an explanation as to why this team has been so bad, in such a curious way, it’s that they’re trotting out a team full of young players that are too good for the minors but still having issues in the majors, or veterans who are either banged up or passing their prime years.

It’s how a team can go from division-championship aspirations to cellar-dweller status so quickly. Asked what he’s looking forward to in the second half, Ryan was curt. “We can’t do anything unless we win games, and win series. That’s all I’m looking toward. I’m not too worried about who we might pass,” he said.

“But we gotta do something; we gotta do something. This isn’t any good.”

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