Hope Still Floats for Twins
It wasn’t all that long ago that the Twins were wrapping up a truly awful opening month of the season. In April they were a putrid 9-17 which was good for an uninspired 0.346 winning percentage. There were plenty of reasons for their slow start, and whichever one you picked (thanks to the 16 of you who voted by the way) you were right. After all when a team smothers defectiveness across all phases of the game, there are always multiple causative factors involved.
One thing the Twins weren’t lacking was talent, so the fanbase – by and large – still held on to hope that the ship would right itself and the team would be in the mix for the division title once the calendar flipped to September. The mantra I was chanting after April was “things have to get better” and for a brief moment it looked like that was the case. Minnesota started May off with a no-hitter from Lirano and a 2-1 record in their first 3 games. Then they fell into a hole which was a bit of a surprise considering most of us felt they had already hit rock bottom.
Instead of turning things around, their 8-19 record during the month of May was actually worse than the month before. By following up April’s 0.346 winning percentage with a 0.296 mark in the season’s second month, the Minnesota Twins had successfully torpedoed 2011 season and the USS Hope.
The ship was hit, taking on water and listing badly. Most assumed that all was lost. They wrote the team off and started thinking about who could be dealt at the trade deadline.
It’s gone unnoticed by most of the baseball world, but in the smoke, wreckage and darkness, fortune has started to smile on the team. Minnesota is 13-3 so far in the month of June. That’s good for a 0.813 winning percentage if you’re keeping track. At 30-39 the Twins still have the worst record in the American League but they no longer carry the dubious distinction of the worst record in all of baseball. In fact, their 0.435 winning percentage is better than 4 NL teams (Cubs, Astros, Dodgers and Padres) and they are basically even with the Kansas City Royals.
The team is getting healthy, they’ve clearly started to stabilize and they look more and more like a team as opposed to a collection of talent. The regression to the mean has a generally negative connotation but in the case of the 2011 Minnesota Twins, it is actually a positive thing. They are playing better and they are winning more games and it’s not a fluke. They are supposed to be a good team. While we certainly can’t expect them to win 81% of their games going forward, we also shouldn’t expect them to return to winning just 30-35% of their games as they did the first 2 months of the season.
The team survived the torpedo and the unsettled seas. Despite a forgettable first 2 months of the season, Minnesota isn’t dead in the water. That fact has as much to do with their division rivals as it does with the Twins themselves.
The Cleveland Indians still lead the pack with a 38-31 record and have a 1.0 game lead over Detroit. While they haven’t faded as quickly as the Royals, their grip has been slipping for a while. As a result, they are starting to resemble the subpar team we all expected before the season began. It’s not a recent development as their hot start in April masked their May mediocrity.
April: 18-8 (0.692 WP)
May: 14-12 (0.538 WP)
June: 6-11 (0.353 WP)
As you can see, the Tribe is 20-23 since they end of April. The Twins are 21-22 during that same time frame. Improbable as it may seem, Minnesota has picked up a game in the standings in the last month and a half. In just 18 days this month, they’ve also picked up 7 games in the win column on Cleveland.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Cleveland’s hot start was every bit the mirage that the Minnesota’s cold start was. Now that things are starting to normalize on the field, the standings are starting to correct themselves as well.
The Indians are taking themselves out of the picture and Detroit and Chicago remain the teams to keep tabs on. They remain the primary competition for the division title, but neither team really has the look of a dominant force.
Detroit Tigers (38-33 overall)
April: 12-14, 0.462 (also 0-1 in March)
May: 16-11, 0.593
June: 10-7, 0.588
Chicago White Sox (34-38)
April: 10-18, 0.357
May: 16-13, 0.552
June: 8-7, 0.533
Kansas City Royals (31-40)
April: 14-12, 0.538 (also 0-1 in March)
May: 10-17, 0.370
June: 7-10, 0.412
While they aren’t ready to contend, the Kansas City Royals (31-40) may prove to be a dangerous team as the season progresses and will certainly play a role in who winds up winning the central. The rotation is still a mess (and that’s being kind) but the Royals have a ton of youth (Matt Treanor is the only position player over 35 on the roster right now) and talent already in the majors. They also have a lot of talent still knocking on the door. KC could upgrade the major league roster in several places if they choose to make room for guys like Cain (CF), Giavotella (2B) and Lough (4th OF) among others. Based on the composition of their rosters and the pieces in place, you don’t have to strain too hard to see a scenario where the Royals finish ahead of Cleveland by the end of the season.
So what does this all mean?
I know it sounds crazy to say about a team 9 games under 0.500 on June 19th, but I like Minnesota’s chances. Hope still floats and there is plenty of baseball yet to be played.
By they way, if you’re wondering where I’ve been for the last month, I’ve been working to get our network’s newest baseball site up and running. Head on over and check out Seedlings to Stars for articles on the minor leagues, prospects, and the MLB draft.