The Minnesota Twins are carrying a sub-.500 record into June. They were 36-24 in last year’s 60-game season and won the division. Now, after going 7-6 in a stretch and against the Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals and picking up only one game each of their recent series against the New York Yankees and Houston Astros, they are buried in last place. Given the large-scale disappointment that has occurred this season, it is worth examining what went wrong.
The autopsy is in. Here are some of the main reasons why they are where they are right now.
Total Bullpen Failure
Given what happened on opening day, it almost seems poetic that the very thing that dashed hopes of a win in Minnesota’s first game has come back to plague them this entire season. There was a lot of faith in the offseason that Hansel Robles and Alexander Colomé would secure the back end of the bullpen. And while they have pitched better recently, both of them cost the Twins games early in the season and have not lived up to expectations.
Colomé had an 0.81 ERA and didn’t give up a home run last season for the Chicago White Sox. Initially, his one-year, $5.5 million deal with a team option for next season looked like a steal. Now it looks terrible, given Colomé’s 5.32 ERA in 22 appearances. While people may be most frustrated with Colomé right now, he’s not the only reliever who is struggling.
Cody Stashak had a combined 3.15 ERA in limited work over the last two seasons but has had an awful year so far. Stashak has seen his ERA jump to 6.89 while struggling with his control, walking 10 batters in 15 innings.
Currently, Willians Astudillo’s 3.00 ERA is the second-best in the bullpen. That stat alone should tell you all you need to know about how they have performed this season.
Poor Changes in the Rotation
Looking at last season, the starting rotation was key to Minnesota’s success early on. Out of the five pitchers who started the most games, Randy Dobnak had the highest ERA with 4.05. Kenta Maeda (2.70 ERA) headlined the rotation and finished second place in the Cy Young voting. Rich Hill proved to be effective in his return from elbow surgery, posting a 3.03 ERA in eight starts while limiting opposing hitters to soft contact.
This offseason, the Twins replaced Hill and Jake Odorizzi with free agents J.A. Happ and Matt Shoemaker, who have not delivered so far. While it is always risky to bring back a 41-year-old who has had two Tommy John surgeries, Hill has posted a 3.05 ERA in 12 starts with the Tampa Bay Rays, which would be the lowest in Minnesota’s rotation.
The Houston Astros signed Odorizzi to a two-year deal with a player option and he owns a 7.16 ERA, so declining to bring him back was the right call. But replacing him and Hill with Shoemaker (7.28 ERA) and Happ (5.61 ERA) has cost the Twins.
Key Players Underperforming
We can try to heap all the blame on the offseason replacements, but Minnesota’s nucleus remains the same, and many key members haven’t been playing up to their usual standards.
After an incredible season where he finished second in Cy Young voting, Maeda finds himself with the highest ERA of his career. With the rest of the pitching rotation also struggling, it has become even harder for the Twins to cobble together a few wins with their supposed ace pitching through a serious groin injury.
Miguel Sanó’s struggles have been highlighted as well, dating back to last season. He led the MLB in strikeouts while posting a slugging percentage of .478, down .048 from when he hit .247/.346/.576 with 34 homers in 2019.
This year has somehow gone even worse. Sanó is hitting .180/.277/.429 in a season where the Twins needed him to step up, especially given the injuries to their lineup.
Back in 2018, the Twins missed an entire series with the White Sox due to an April blizzard. Towards the end of the season, Dick Bremer hypothesized that the snow out early in the season messed up the rhythm that the team was establishing and forced them to make up games in quick succession, not allowing them to rest.
It might be easy to write this theory off, but it is interesting to note that before the delay, the Twins were 7-4. Afterward, they went 2-11 for the rest of April, dropping series to the Cleveland Indians, Rays, New York Yankees, and Cincinnati Reds. As a result, they were six games under .500 heading into May.
Similarly, this year in mid-April, the Twins had to postpone three games vs. the Los Angeles Angels. Before this break, they were 6-8, but they were 1-4 in their last five games coming off of another postponed game due to the protests surrounding the Daunte Wright shooting. After the postponements due to COVID, the Twins went 3-8 for the remainder of April, struggling to find any sort of footing.
The Twins have been unable to recapture their form after the COVID pause and never seemed to recover. After the 60-game campaign last year, the start of this season may have been even more important for teams to build a routine.
While it is easy for us to blame the struggles of this season on injuries, I think that a combination of these four issues has led to the Twins’ struggles and put them in a hole they can’t get out of this season.