Minnesota Twins Ups and Downs: Falling Deeper

Jun 3, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins center fielder Byron Buxton (25) jumps up and attempts to catch a home run ball hit by Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria (not pictured) in the first inning at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 3, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins center fielder Byron Buxton (25) jumps up and attempts to catch a home run ball hit by Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria (not pictured) in the first inning at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports /

Minnesota Twins Looked to Rebound, Instead Fell Further Into the Abyss

Shortly after April turned into May, the Minnesota Twins saw themselves in the middle of an 8-game losing streak. During that time, in a Minneapolis Star-Tribune interview with Chip Scoggins, owner Jim Pohlad coined the phrase for this Twins season, “It’s just a total system failure.”

“Total system failure” was uttered when Minnesota’s record stood at 8-20, and now the Twins have played another 28 games since then. Their record in the second 28? 8-20. They truly have looked better in these past 4 weeks, but close, competitive losses still count as losses.

What’s strange is that this team looks so good at times against quality pitching. Their 3-1 record against former Cy Young winners, and the 8 runs put up against Jordan Zimmermann, stand out as easily the best games the Twins have played all year.

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But then comes a week like last week. Fresh off a sweep of the Seattle Mariners on the road, against quality pitching (including beating Felix Hernandez for the 1st time in 5 years), the Twins lay an egg against the likes of Sean Manaea and Kendall Graveman to end the week 1-6. A week that looked so promising seven days ago.

They seem to write a different story every day. On Monday, a quality start by Ervin Santana gets wasted by the lack of clutch hitting and over-eager swings. Then the Twins bookend the week Sunday with home runs and runners all over the bases all afternoon long, putting themselves into position to gain a series split with Tampa.

This time, Tyler Duffey could not keep Tampa off the board, or balls in the park, after any time the Twins scored. A 4-1 lead turned into a 5-5 game in the 9th inning. And Kevin Jepsen again proved not to be the same pitcher from 2015.

UP: Eduardo Nunez and Robbie Grossman. Two players not on anyone’s radar prior to the season, heck Robbie Grossman wasn’t even on the Twins’ roster until they signed him to a minor league contract May 17th and promoted him days later.

Without the breakout season by their once super-sub and free agent pickup, who knows how bad the Twins would look? Nunez has taken over as a more-than-competent leadoff man, his .335 average is 4th in the American League, his 12 steals are tied for second. He’s also the odds-on favorite to be the Twins’ All-Star Game representative.

Grossman has only played 16 games for Minnesota, and already ranks 7th on the team for extra base hits and 5th in walks. His slash (.327 AVG / .453 OBP  / 1.069 OPS) has been a godsend for manager Paul Molitor in his quest to assemble a major league outfield. Unless Grossman goes into an extended slump, he seems to have solidified himself as the left fielder for the rest of 2016.

DOWN: Brian Dozier. After sitting for two games to break down his mechanics to better hit to right field, Dozier has failed to do so in the games since, even though opposing teams shift 3 infielders to the left side every at-bat.

He’s become a mistake-hitter, that is, the only hits he’s getting is when a pitch is accidentally left in the middle or inner half of the plate. Otherwise, Dozier sees only pitches on the outer half, or off the plate altogether, and by trying to pull those, he just weakly grounds out or pops up.

He did get a few mistakes thrown to him over the past week, getting a homer and 6 RBI, but his .222 average last week was not representative of a number 2 or 3 hitter in any lineup. Would like to see Molitor try a top of the order lineup comprised of Nunez-Mauer-Grossman for an extended time to see what that would produce. At this point, if Dozier is in the lineup at all, it would be better to have him nearer the bottom.

UP: Power. While the wins did not follow, the Twins have been hitting for power, especially home runs, over the past 10 days. While still not in the upper half of the league in extra base hits, the Twins’ 91 doubles, 8 triples, and 57 home runs nearly mirror the league averages of 95-10-63.

DOWN: Power by the opposition. Twins made the A’s Danny Valencia and the Rays’ duo of Evan Longoria and Logan Morrison the top 3 candidates for AL Player of the Week. Valencia went 6-10 against his old team with 3 doubles and a home run. Morrison went 7-17 with 4 HR & 7 RBI, but Longoria outdid them all with his 7-16, 5 HR, 8 RBI series. Twins’ pitchers failure to locate their pitches in key situations had the middle of the A’s and Rays lineups killing them all week.

UP: Taylor Rogers. The rookie earned his first career win in the Twins’ sole win all week against Tampa. He made three appearances, allowing only a walk (with four strikeouts) in his three innings of work.

DOWN/UP: Kevin Jepsen. Four saves in consecutive appearances versus the Mariners and Rays. That’s the good. His 2-5 record, and 6.26 ERA are the bad. Even when he’s saving games, he’s making leads shrink. His trouble stems from his inability to throw anything but a fastball for a strike, allowing opposing hitters to sit “dead red” in every at-bat.

Molitor has said that Fernando Abad (0.92 ERA) might get a look at closing, but prefers him as a “lefty on lefty” option instead late in games. While Abad’s average splits of .080/.295 against lefties/righties looks drastic, Jepsen is .353/.328, far worse than either of Abad’s averages against. If not Abad, then either Trevor May or perhaps minor leaguer J.T. Chargois?

Either way, the Twins’ future is now. Any hope for this year has been lost. What Molitor must do is get his players to look towards achieving a winning month, maybe two, over the next four months. What the front office must do is ensure that the younger players get as much of a look as possible, gaining experience this year, so the growing pains aren’t stretched over 2, 3 more seasons.

Seeing what San Diego paid ($29 million) to have James Shields pitch for the White Sox and not the Padres through 2018, might make Jim Pohlad shudder to think what he might have to do with Ricky Nolasco, and maybe even Phil Hughes.

But getting anything back in terms of prospects would be a plus if he could unload those two huge contracts. Perhaps bundling one of those with Oswaldo Arcia or Trevor Plouffe to make it more enticing could get another team to pull the trigger on a trade.

NOTES: The Twins will have the number 15 pick in this weekend’s amateur draft. Most every mock draft has the Twins drafting a pitcher. The only intrigue is whether it will be a college or high school pitcher.