The Minnesota Twins started the 2016 season with nine straight losses, a harbinger for what was to come in Paul Molitor’s second season as a manager. Minnesota finished 59-103 following a surprising 83-win season the year before.
Molitor survived that season, oversaw an 85-win season in 2017, and then saw the Twins drop 11 of 12 from April 20 to May 1 last year. While there was a contingency of the fanbase that wanted to see the Hall of Famer from St. Paul return this year — the season was kind of salvaged at 78-84 considering all that happened — Rocco Baldelli was supposed to be a more analytically inclined, progressive thinker who was better able to connect with his players.
To be fair, Molitor wasn’t a stuffy former superstar some people assumed he would be. He was open-minded when it came to shifts and lineup construction, and encouraged Torii Hunter’s dance parties that filled the locker room — and occasionally the manager’s office — with smoke and the sound of pulsing music after wins. His inability to curb losing streaks was probably more related to roster construction than his ability to connect with the players, but it was hard not to see lost seasons coming with early losing streaks in 2016 and 2018.
Baldelli’s Twins have avoided slumps so far this year. Minnesota has not lost three games in a row this season, and only once did they follow up a bad loss with another one. But they lost to the Astros 10-4 in Houston and lost 7-1 the next day, so an 11-0 loss to Houston in Target Field the day before an ESPN game could have been a setup for disaster.
The Twins won 6-2 the next day, however, quelling the concern that their hot start could be derailed by one of the AL’s best teams and a national audience. Had Minnesota’s 11-0 loss bled into Wednesday’s game, a lot of the good feelings surrounding the team would have been soured — and in the recent past it didn’t take much to ignite a calamity.
“We just prepare for today and generally [don’t] think about the series and not generally think about what happened when we played them in Houston,” said Baldelli. “I think if we can just focus on the task at hand, we’ll be OK. But our guys have been playing well, and I think everyone can feel it.”
Baldelli has tried to avoid emphasizing bad losses by creating a postgame environment similar to win. Typically after a victory, the players play music over the loudspeakers and turn the televisions in the room on to MLB Network, ESPN or a major game that is being broadcast. In the past, the TVs and music were off, and the players were either scattered or could be found sitting silently by their locker.
“I’ve talked to Rod (McCormick, the equipment manager) about it already, and actually, after our first loss of the year, one thing we wanted to make sure we did after a couple of minutes was to make sure the TVs go on and that we do have some music playing,” said Baldelli. “Maybe we’re not blasting it like after a win, but there’s no reason to sit in your locker with your head buried.”
This might seem ill-advised at first blush, but no manager wants his team to get too high after a win or too low or loss. With the exception of incredibly important games, players generally seem as excited about a standalone win as they do about one that comes during a streak. But in the past, the locker room got increasingly quiet and gloomy as the losses compounded.
“Yeah, you’re going to respect the guy next to you that might not have had a good night, but I don’t think there’s any need for silence out there,” said Baldelli. “I haven’t been out there, and I didn’t walk around out there and I couldn’t tell you if the TVs were on or off, but we’ve talked about and had them on in the past after losses. And honestly, it was a really quality game for a lot of different guys out there, especially after a tough night the night before, and it was really nice to see.”
Hunter’s dance parties magnified the good feeling of winning during the 83-win season, but the team lacked an approach to dampen the sour mood after losses and the malaise of multiple losses in a row greatly affected the Twins in the 59-loss campaign the next year. Baldelli’s early attempt to find a cure appears to be working.
Twins take three of four from Astros
Not only did the Twins bounce back from the 11-0 beating on Tuesday, but they took the series with an 8-2 win on Thursday. It was a balanced effort, with Jorge Polanco, Marwin Gonzalez, Jonathan Schoop and Jason Castro all providing two hits, with Castro’s home run putting the first Twins run on in the third inning.
“I feel good, I’m not trying to do too much,” said Castro. “I’m trying to put good swings on it. I’ve done some other things to try to be more consistent with posture at the plate, it’s been feeling good.”
It was a six-run fourth inning where the Twins batted around that chased Houston started Brad Peacock and put the game away for good. None of the runs scored were off of home runs.
“There’s been some home runs hit this year already. We know that and we’ve talked about it a lot,” said Baldelli. “But I think with that we haven’t seen some of the other things that our guys are capable of. The at-bats were quality, and I think they kind of added up, and they really came out in that inning and obviously were able to put a few runs on the board.”
With the win, the Twins move to 19-10, three games ahead in the AL Central. Not only are they beating up on bottom-feeders like the Baltimore Orioles, but Minnesota has shown it is capable of hanging with AL powers like Houston.
“It means a lot,” said Schoop when asked about beating the Astros. “If you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best. So for a couple of years they’ve been the best, but we believe we’re the best, so the same way they think about how they’ve got to beat us.
“We’re a really good team, we’re the best. We believe we’re the best team in the league, so we’re going to go out there and have fun and compete.”
Now they head off to the Bronx, to take on a depleted New York Yankees team in a place where they’ve had trouble in the past. A series win there would go a long way to proving that this team can remain in the mix in the American League.
Morin gets an opportunity with Mejia on the IL
The Twins announced this morning that Mike Morin was being called up and Adalberto Mejia has been placed on the 10-day injured list with an injured calf strain. Mejia, who arrived in Minnesota via the Eduardo Nunez trade with the San Francisco Giants in 2016, owns an 8.74 ERA in 11.1 innings of relief pitching this year.
Morin, 28, has a career 4.66 ERA (84 ERA+) in five years of major league experience. He spent the first three years with Los Angeles Angels, was traded mid-season to his hometown Kansas City Royals two years ago and had a 6.75 ERA in four innings with the Seattle Mariners last year.
“He threw the ball really well this spring,” said Baldelli. “It’s funny. He can pitch with his fastball, and he feels good about his ability to do that, maybe even more so than like we would’ve even have talked to him about, pitching with his fastball. He really likes to do it, and it’s something that I think he’s good at.”
In addition to his fastball, Baldelli says he has a good changeup that helps him with his at-bats against lefties. He said he could be used in both a long relief role and in high-leverage situations.
“He’s a veteran guy who’s been around and understands that getting outs is the most important thing,” said Baldelli, “and he has different ways of doing that.”
“When you’re not on the roster, and you don’t have any options it’s a little different. You kind of become accustomed to being on the Triple-A shuttle, which I kinda was in Anaheim,” said Morin, who arrived during the second inning of Thursday’s game.
“Last year was kind of an eye-opening experience, just the level in which I need to perform in order to be here.”
With a team in need of bullpen depth, he’s now presented with an opportunity to prove he can stay.