To put it simply, regression to the mean happened. The Twins are not a first-place caliber baseball team. They currently boast the third-worst run differential in the American League (-44), which is far more commensurate with their actual capabilities as a team than their 34-33 record through 67 games. The Indians, meanwhile, have a +50 run differential (third-best in the league), an actual bullpen made up of real-life major-league-caliber pitchers and a lineup that should be even better than the group that led them to the American League pennant last season, after the addition of Edwin Encarnacion and the return of Michael Brantley.
I want the Twins to achieve success as much as anyone, but this turn of events is a small relief. The longer the Twins stayed in contention, the more the team’s new front office team would have been pressured to make a panic move to address the team’s glaring weaknesses in the starting rotation and bullpen. You only get so many chances to make a legitimate run at a championship (unless you’re the Red Sox, Cubs, Yankees, or, Dodgers and have owners who are willing to throw nearly limitless resources at the free agent market), and the Twins are rapidly approaching the point where they would have needed to decide whether they are buyers or sellers before the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31.
This week should give the Twins further clarity, as they travel to Cleveland for another huge series starting Friday. Who knows? The Twins have been a solid road team all season, and maybe they can get hot this week and reclaim first place. I’m certainly not betting on it, however.
In the far more likely scenario that the Twins lose even more ground to Cleveland this weekend, the team’s front office can focus on doing what needs to be done to continue to build a sustainable contender at the trade deadline. Just think about this – last year at this time, the Twins were rumored to be in trade talks with the Dodgers, but the word on the street was that they didn’t want to give up Brian Dozier for prospect Cody Bellinger (he of 21 homers in his first 51 MLB games) and they needed another prospect like Jose DeLeon to be in the deal as well. That was last year’s front office, however, and I have a feeling that Derek Falvey and Thad Levine are going to be more realistic and willing to make deals like that. If the Twins could pull off something like that purported Bellinger deal using a veteran trade chip like Dozier or Ervin Santana at this year’s deadline, they would be primed for legitimate playoff runs in the future when guys like Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Max Kepler and Jose Berrios all enter their respective primes.
In four games against Cleveland last weekend, the Twins were outscored by 20 runs. Unless the Indians sustain some major injuries or Adalberto Mejia magically transforms into Sandy Koufax, the Twins are not going to finish this season in first place. Last weekend, while not very enjoyable for fans of the Twins, was a needed reality check for this organization. The Twins need to continue to focus on building for the future (with an emphasis on acquiring quality pitchers) rather than compromising themselves in the long-run in a haphazard attempt to win this season. I know that’s a bitter pill to swallow for Twins fans, but it’s the truth. In the words of Axl Rose, “all we need is just a little patience.”
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Last Friday, the upstart Twins were one of the best feel-good stories in baseball. They had spent the majority of the 2017 season in first place of the American League Central Division and were headed into the weekend with a two-game lead over the Cleveland Indians. It is now Tuesday morning, the Twins trail the Indians by 2.5 games, and it feels like the Twins playoffs bandwagon just drove off a cliff. What happened?
By Andy Thayer
Indians give Twins a reality check
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