Why It's Hard To Get On Board With the First-Place Twins

Photo Credit: Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Twins are in a great position. They currently lead the American League Central, and they’re going to be buyers at the trade deadline. The Twins have a pair of superstars at the top of the lineup and a young core emerging around them. They will play meaningful games in September — but something just feels off.

The Twins lost a series to the mediocre Texas Rangers, and it raises questions moving forward. Why does a team that owns the third-best record in the American League so hard to get behind? And why do Twins fans feel like the inevitable is coming?

Because this club has created a serious case of déja vù.

The Twins are a good team, but they are lacking the human element. It’s the type of thing that turns a middling team into a championship contender. It’s what Nelson Cruz brought to create the Bomba Squad. Or what Eddie Rosario and a slew of other players brought to the Atlanta Braves last season.

There needs to be some element of IDGAF, and the Twins simply don’t have it.

Think about Rocco Baldelli. On the surface, you want him to succeed. He had his career cut short by physical ailments but has found a way to stay in the game. Two years ago, he was the American League Manager of the Year, but now he looks like someone taking orders from a higher power.

The Byron Buxton situation is a glaring example. Buxton got off to a blazing start before hurting his knee in Boston. The Twins are a much better team when Buxton is in the lineup, but they have needed to manage his workload as he deals with swelling in his knee.

When the issues first began, Baldelli was almost defiant in his defense of Buxton. He wasn’t going to play unless he was ready to play and there was no working around it. Even Carlos Correa came in with a drive-by, questioning outsiders’ knowledge of the game of baseball.

But while fans may know about the game of baseball, they didn’t know what was going on with Buxton. Finally, it came out during a recent series with the Cleveland Guardians. Buxton’s knee had gotten so bad that it requires occasional drainage before games. The procedure takes him out for days at a time before he can return to the lineup.

It changed public perception of Buxton, who was now a warrior gutting through a bad injury. But it also shed a negative light on the front office, which can seem robotic at times. That light seeps into the construction of a pitching staff. Like many front offices, the Twins use numbers that would make Bill James proud. Unfortunately, they’re using Bill James theories with a Bill Smith-level of execution.

The Twins went into this season trotting back several key members of a bullpen that ranked 20th in ERA last season. The one guy they didn’t bring back was Taylor Rogers.

The Rogers trade makes sense at its core. Relievers have a higher variant than most positions, so replacing them should be easier. It’s why when you get a starter with three years of team control (Chris Paddack) and a reliever you believe is comparable (Emilio Pagán), you make the deal. But like most trades, things went haywire.

Paddack was off to a strong start but succumbed to a troublesome elbow. Pagán was a quality reliever with the San Diego Padres, but he had control issues and was prone to allowing home runs. Put it together and the Twins are a walking disaster in the bullpen, even with Jhoan Duran‘s emergence.

But it’s not just how the front office constructed the team. It’s the manager’s refusal to adapt. When Tyler Duffey was struggling, Baldelli continued to throw him out in high-leverage situations. When Pagán endured the same struggles, Baldelli was determined to get him back on track.

It’s created a problem that has crippled the Twins bullpen. Minnesota blew a pair of three-run leads during last weekend’s series with the Rangers. Even if the front office makes moves, we can’t trust them to make the right ones.

This is a front office that went out and traded for Sam Dyson at the 2019 trade deadline. They traded another reliever, Brusdar Graterol, for two good months of Kenta Maeda. Even in the 2020 offseason, signing Alex Colomé ended their year before it started.

That doesn’t include the slew of other bad moves, including releasing Akil Baddoo, trading LaMonte Wade Jr., and non-tendering Rosario — who went on to become the NLCS MVP. It also doesn’t include an 18-game postseason losing streak, the longest in the history of professional North American sports.

Maybe that’s why the Twins currently rank 20th in average attendance. Or social media lights up with angry fans every time there’s a blown lead. Still, that doesn’t mean there isn’t hope.

If the Twins make the right moves at the deadline, they can be a legitimate contender. For every failed experiment, there has been a breakthrough with Alex Kirilloff, Jose Miranda, or Joe Ryan. There’s a reason to be optimistic. But it won’t happen if the Twins don’t get out of their own way.

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