What happened to our Twins? They went from appearing unstoppable in the AL Central to third place in the matter of a couple of weeks. Here are a few possible reasons for the skid, some offered more seriously than others…
1. Manager Ron Gardenhire jinxed the team when he used “we’re in first place” as a defense of his managing to reporters.
2. Injuries have made this team only a shell of what it should be.
3. Our defense has gone from strength to liability.
4. Our pitching staff imploded.
I believe it is a domino effect of numbers 2, 3 and 4, although I’m not convinced the mentality underlying number 1 isn’t a part of the mix.
It all started with fluke injuries to both of our middle infielders. While we have decent defensive replacements for J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson, having them out of the lineup was disastrous. Combined with a couple of the Twins key middle of the order sluggers (Kubel, Cuddyer) not yet finding their swing that’s the point where the skid began.
In trying to find our stride offense was put on top of the priority list. Even with J.J. and Hudson back in the lineup emphasis has been on offense for the last few weeks. Kubel is in right field to give Thome more at-bats at DH, and Cuddyer has been playing for defensive specialist Nick Punto at third. This has caused our infield defense to be average even on our best nights, even though our middle infield is back in action and our outfield has become even more questionable than it already was.
The problem in sacrificing defense for offense is that it rarely works, especially when you have primarily contact type pitchers. Twins pitching imploded about the time J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson went down with injuries, and continues to struggle as we put sub-par defense on the field with Kubel in right and Michael Cuddyer at third. The inconsistency of our pitching staff, as well as the difference between their performance on the road versus at home indicates strongly that a lot of the problem is mental, and greater mental pressure is inevitable when you’re supposed to be pitching to contact with mediocre defense.
Three of our five pitchers are not, and never will be, strikeout pitchers, and at its core this team is built around the philosophy of winning by combining contact pitching with above average defense and a lineup that produces base runners. When they start needing to strike batters out to keep the hits from piling up it’s no wonder opposing teams have been scoring early in games and we’ve been playing from behind. This in turn puts pressure on the hitters, who end up trying to home run our way back into games , press too hard at the plate and hit nothing but fly balls and double play grounders.
It would appear at first glance that the pitching is to blame for the poor results we have been, but baseball is a game of balance and problems with one cog always affects the others. Without addressing this team in a holistic fashion the results will continue to be disappointing.