The Twins lost to the Royals 8-1 on Wednesday, as they continue their descent into the abyss of the AL Central, now just 1.5 games ahead of the lowly White Sox. The Twins’ bullpen imploded for the second night in a row, and this served to obscure what was another solid outing from the upstart Andrew Albers.
Albers’ line over his first 5 major league starts is 2-2, with a solid 2.92 ERA. He is no flame thrower obviously, as his 13 strikeouts in 37 innings would indicate. However, he has been a bright spot in what has been a truly depressing run of games for the Twins of late.
A lot like Scott Diamond last season, Albers is a guy that is easy to root for. He works hard, has a big smile, and to top it off, he is Canadian. Basically, the guy looks just like Justin Morneau‘s little brother. So naturally, everybody is hoping that he could fill the lovable Canadian quota should Morneau not return next year.
Of course, the fan base of the Twins have seen this song and dance before, and after watching Diamond struggle this year, no one is trying to name Albers as the savior with comparisons to Cliff Lee. The optimistic comparison has been to Kansas City’s Bruce Chen, who even with all his cunning and guile is still a perennial back of the rotation guy.
Which brings us right back to the quandary the Twins are now in, how many of these guys do we have? Between the carousel of Scott Diamond, Cole De Vries, Liam Hendriks, Pedro Hernandez, P.J. Walters , and Vance Worley (our opening day starter), it has been an abysmal year for the Twins pitching staff. We rate 25th in ERA, 28th in WHIP, and dead last in quality starts and opponents batting average. Sam Deduno has been a welcome surprise, but overall, the starting staff this year has been a mess. It is easy to pile on, but with the way things are right now, even if Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton morphed into Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, Power Rangers style, our starting pitching would still severely hurt the Twins.
This is to say nothing of the fact that the Twins’ offense of late has gone from not coming through with RISP, to all but disappearing at the plate. For all the “Why doesn’t Mauer hit more homers,” homers out there, it is amazing what an extended run without him in the lineup looks like. Over this past 4 game losing streak the Twins have been mowed down at the plate, scoring only 5 runs, notching 16 hits, and striking out 41 times. In fact, on Wednesday the Twins broke the team record for strikeouts in a season with 1,122 on the year, and yes, we have yet to flip the calendar to September.
All of this comes on the same day that we learned Josh Willingham has been claimed on waivers (tenatively by the Baltimore Orioles), and the Twins have until midday Friday to work out some kind of a deal. If no suitable trade is found, the Twins can always take Willingham back, as he still has one year left on his deal.
If the Twins can get some value from the trade this deal would seem prudent. Although, after watching the team of late, fans should feel some trepidation about jettisoning one of the few (when healthy) productive major league hitters on the roster, especially with the big question mark hovering over the current first baseman.
Trading Willingham while he still has some value would seem to make sense due to the number of younger replacements the Twins have knocking on the door to play a corner outfield position, Oswaldo Arcia, Chris Parmelee, etc.
While proponents of ditching Morneau, will typically point to the cheaper veteran options that the Twins could find to produce similar, if not better offensive production at the first base position. However, it would be very easy to see a potential Willingham deal, and not reaching a reduced contract with Morneau next season, as a simple salary dump. So, one is left to ask, with the Twins salary hovering around 75 million dollars (lower than every team in the Central save for the Indians), what are we saving the money for?
Target Field has been a boon for the Pohlad family, but in every year since it opened in 2010, we have seen the payroll of the Twins get smaller. Perhaps this is just a brief reduction before the talent in the highly touted farm system arrives in several years, but one can’t help but feel that this is a return to business as usual for the current management. Unfortunately for the Twins, the only difference is, the other teams in the division have gotten significantly better over the last several years, and the days of beating up on the Central while trotting out Baker, Blackburn, Slowey, and company, are over.
Potential Reasons the Twins Struggled at the Plate Wednesday
1. They only took 25 minutes of batting practice due to the heat. What has happened to the “Twins Way?”
2. It is possible that in an attempt to make Andrew Albers feel more at home, Twins fans above the center field hitter’s eye were holding up large posters of pine trees. Of course, everyone knows that the White Birch is the provincial tree of Saskatchewan (where Albers is from), and that center field must be clear of all plant related obstructions, or the Twins simply cannot hit.
Salvador Perez finished the day 4-5 with 2 home runs, but in nearly every ballpark except Target Field he would have had 3. In the first inning he hit a ball into the stratosphere the opposite way, which bounced high off the wall in right-center for a double. He hit his first home run in his next at bat, and when he came up again in the 6th, Albers tried to go inside and buzzed him a bit high, to which Perez (in a bit of an overreaction) took offense. Albers apologetically indicated that it was not intentional, he was warned, and the at-bat concluded in a line drive that nearly took Albers’ head with it into center field.
Walking off the mound, while waiting for his heart rate to slow down, Albers smiled.
It is tough not to root for this guy, but that is said about a team that has displayed so little personality in recent years, that it turned Kevin Slowey into a villain. Here is hoping tomorrow will be better.