The Minnesota Twins are in the middle of their 146th game with 16 more games remaining and the playoffs tantalizingly within reach. Unfortunately, Kevin Jepsen just blew a save last night and the offense couldn’t come through in three extra innings. That loss pushed us to 1.5 games behind the Houston Astros for the last Wild Card spot.
Tonight we started the game like we meant to fight right back into the race with a 5-run first. Then Tommy Milone imploded in the second inning and Achter came into to serve up a gland salami to reigning MVP Mike Trout and we found ourselves down 6-5. We have 8 frames to take the lead back, but nonetheless we feel like a team that stumbled into a Wild Race like a baseball playing Mr. Magoo, a team with no business winning and not ready for the big stage.
Part of that stems from a feeling, for which there is ample statistical support, that we have been over-performing and winning more by luck than skill. Both our hitting and pitching rank in the bottom half of the league in most categories yet we find ourselves 75-70 and still very much alive in the playoff hunt.
Burying Our Super Shortstop
One way we squandered our assets was not playing Eduardo Escobar more earlier in the season and not playing him higher in the order now that we are starting him at short. Escobar’s numbers are very similar to those of Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe, but, while they get prime spots in the order, Escobar routinely bats ninth. Escobar has a .331 OBP and a .844 OPS since the All-star break.
Brian Dozier has been scuffling which is helps explains why the offense has had some hiccups. Dozier went from being the undisputed team MVP of midsummer to a late season slump. At the All-Star Break, Brian Dozier had an impressive .841 OPS. After the break, he’s managed just .645. And that slump has intensified of late. In September, Dozier has hit just .164 with a .512 OPS. That is Torii Hunter territory.
Torii On A Tear
Meanwhile Torii Hunter is hitting like Brian Dozier in September (after spending two pathetic months bumbling through a Sahara desert of a hitting drought.) He’s hitting .364 with two home runs and 10 RBI’s this month. I’d still argue Hunter should have been benched during his pathetic July and August, but now at least the Twins are being rewarded for their patience.
Sano Is Still A Boss
Oh and while Miguel Sano might not be hitting with a 1.000 OPS right now, he’s still leading the team with a .882 OPS for the month of September.
Our Apollo 13 Pitching Staff
This spring, the Twins launched their module out into the deep space of a grueling 162 season pieced together with a bunch of faulty components but somehow jury-rigged Kyle Gibson, Mike Pelfrey, Tommy Milone, Phil Hughes, Trevor May/Ervin Santana, and Tyler Duffey into a workable rotation. They picked up Kevin Jepsen and Neal Cotts to steady the bullpen. Which is good because our strongest performers of the first half, Glen Perkins, Blaine Boyer and Ryan Pressly have fallen apart or gotten injured.
Pitching staff inconsistency is a drag on our playoff hopes.
Kyle Gibson has ended up leading our mediocre starting staff, and only he and recent addition Tyler Duffey have an ERA below 4.00. Tommy Milone was coming on strong and had lowered his ERA to 3.54 after a strong outing versus the Royals on September 7th. But after getting roughed up both in his last start and tonight his ERA has ballooned to 4.08.
Ervin Santana has been pretty steady lately after a very shaky August (the bullpen cost him a win last night.) Phil Hughes was bad in his first start of the DL and it’s hard to expect much better given his poor performance even before back pain sidelined him. Mike Pelfrey got his last start skipped (hallelujah) but is still somehow in the picture despite five straight low quality starts previous to that.
Perhaps we can ride out our Apollo 13 pitching staff to a postseason bid. Ultimately though they are still limping along with a bunch of patched together ill-fitting components that could break down at any time. And that’s what makes this Twins season exciting but also seemingly destined to burn up upon re-entry.