August is when things fall apart.
It has been a tough month for the Twins. Sure, things started quite auspiciously, with a stunning series victory in Boston and then another, less stunning, series win over the Indians. But then the Rays and Tigers managed to exploit the team’s many weaknesses, and thanks to last night’s weak offensive showing, the Mariners have joined the list of clubs to beat the Twins in the calendar’s eighth month.
Last July 29th, Minnesota smacked the Athletics around for a 9-5 victory. After that game, the Twins stood at 50-56, a mere six games under .500, and also just six games behind division-leader Detroit. While a playoff berth still seemed like a far-fetched possibility, the Twins at least looked like a team that could finish near .500 and save a little dignity. But the August version of the Twins was about as dignified as a naked man digging through a dumpster. They won just seven of their 28 games that month then followed it up with a six win September, and suddenly they found themselves with the worst record in the American League and the second worst in the Majors.
The good news is that the 2012 Twins have already won six contests in August, which puts them within one victory of matching last year’s August total with nearly two weeks left in the month. The bad news is that they’ve already fumbled three attempts to gain that seventh victory, including last night’s loss to a weak Seattle team. The worse news is that the schedule gets worse after the Twins leave Seattle, because the next seven games are on the road against AL West contenders Oakland and Texas. If the Twins are outclassed by the Mariners, they might be downright embarrassed by teams that are actually good.
This team is at a crossroads, and though neither of the paths ahead is especially scenic, one road is far more treacherous than the other. On one hand, if the Twins manage to fight out a few victories and finish August with a near .500 record, they could have some momentum going into September, which is filled with games against weak AL Central foes. They could conceivably finish the season with somewhere around 75 to 80 wins, which would provide some positive energy for the offseason and maybe even make Minnesota a more attractive destination for the free agent pitchers they desperately need. On the other hand, if they continue to play badly this month, they will again find themselves among the worst teams in the Majors, and September will be highlighted by another fight to avoid 100 losses. If that happens, its difficult to imagine the Twins would try to build a contending roster for 2013.
Clearly, the first path would be the ideal one.
The problem is, the Twins’ pitching might not be up to the task. The team usually has a fighting chance to win when Scott Diamond pitches, and despite all logic they are 6-1 when Samuel Deduno starts. But the rest of the rotation has become quite adept at digging massive holes early in the game. Most teams don’t win when their starting pitchers give up three or four runs in the first two innings. If Nick Blackburn, Brian Duensing, and Cole De Vries keep having weak starts, the team might need to bring in yet another fresh arm from Rochester. Liam Hendriks and Esmerling Vasquez have had some promising starts at AAA. Though neither one has had much success in the Majors, it’s doubtful that they could do any worse than the group that’s here now.
If the Twins don’t manage to turn things around this series, they should definitely make a change. Their future as a team depends on what they do this month.