Suddenly, the Twins are on a roll. After last night’s 4-2 victory over the hapless Royals, Minnesota has won seven of its last nine games and three consecutive series. What’s more, the upcoming schedule is easy enough to imagine the Twins taking off on a big winning streak this month. It might be the worst thing that could possibly happen to them.
Sound crazy? It isn’t. A midseason hot streak has hurt the Twins in the past. The very recent past.
On June 1, 2011, the Twins fell to 17-37, a laughable 16.5 games back in the AL Central. A tough early schedule helped expose the Twins as one of the worst teams in the Majors. But then a near miracle happened. The schedule eased up and the Twins doubled down to cruise their way through June and early July. Despite a roster held together by duct tape and prayers, the team overachieved long enough to pull within six games of the division leading Tigers on July 30, the day before the trading deadline. With first place not out of sight, General Manager Bill Smith decided not to trade Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, or Joe Nathan, despite the fact that all would be free agents after the season. It turned out to be a bad move. The Twins were quickly exposed as frauds, and they sank back to the bottom of the AL standings. They made two deals after the deadline, trading away Jim Thome and Delmon Young for two marginal prospects and a little cash.
On May 27, 2012, the Twins fell to 15-32, worst in the Major Leagues and 11 games out of the division lead. Like the 2011 team, the Twins had a vicious schedule in April and May. But as with 2011, June brings a slate of easy games against creampuff teams. Before the end of this month, Minnesota plays Pittsburgh, the Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee, and Kansas City. It probably is not enough to get the Twins near .500, but if the rest of the teams in the AL Central do not pick up the pace, it’s possible the Twins could go on just a big enough winning streak to give them a little hope in the division race to prevent them from dealing away veterans.
Any such hope would be a mirage, because the Twins are not a playoff team in 2012. Baseball Prospectus gives the Twins a 0.0% chance of a postseason berth. And if they fail to make some trades this summer, the loss could be even greater than it was last year, because the Twins have better trading chips in 2012. Cuddyer would not have netted any top-tier prospects in return because he was only months from free agency. But Josh Willingham is hitting better than Cuddyer, has a cheaper contract, and is signed through 2014. He could be in great demand. Matt Capps was in the middle of a terrible season last year, but this year he’s perfect as a closer, and other teams could be taking note. Justin Morneau, Ryan Doumit, and Carl Pavano might also make good trade bait.
This is clearly a team that needs to focus on rebuilding. The starting rotation is laughable, and the minor leagues are bankrupt of pitching talent. Aside from Joe Mauer, there are no players on the Major League roster young and talented enough to build a lineup around. The 2012 draft may have netted some talented players, but those players are all at least 4-5 years from contributing. The only way the Twins will acquire talented players who are nearly ready for MLB is by trading veterans.
To be clear, I am not blaming the Twins for not making trades last season. It’s easy to criticize in hindsight, but at the time it was possible to imagine the Twins’ early losses were a mirage. The fanbase would have been upset to see them wave a white flag with only a six game deficit. Holding steady was not a bad decision, it was just an unfortunate circumstance.
If that unfortunate circumstance repeated itself this year, it might set the Twins’ rebuilding efforts back several years.