We Twins fans have had it too good for too long. Going all the way back to about 1984, our boys have fielded a competitive team. They won the World Series in 1987 and 1991, and have won the Central Division championship most years of the past decade. Even when they weren’t winning championships, they were still fielding an exciting, competitive team. Other teams spent years and years languishing in the cellar; we used to laugh at them, except it got so sad for some of them, like the Royals and the Tigers, once proud champions who couldn’t seem to get up off the dugout floor any more. (Of course, the Tigers are looking very good again, while the Royals started out well but faded quickly. They’re still the doormats of the division, a sad place for them when we remember what a great franchise they were back in the 70s and 80s. I’m sure they’ll be back…someday!)
This past weekend the Twins played the mighty … er, third place…Chicago White Sox in a three game series in our home ballpark, Target Field in Minneapolis. The Twins and the Chisox have had a great rivalry for many years, which has been amplified since the league was split into three divisions with an unbalanced schedule, so the two teams have to play each other 18-20 times per season.
Of course we were all hoping for a sweep of the Sox by the Twins this weekend, a chance for the Twins to get back in the race. After all, look at who they have on the team. This is a team feared and respected by all of Major League Baseball. Joe Mauer is the first catcher in history to win the league batting championship. He’s also won the MVP award, as has Justin Morneau. We have All-Star Michael Cuddyer; a great rookie third-baseman Danny Valencia; a left-fielder named Delmon Young who supposedly has all the tools to have a Hall of Fame career, and a young shortstop from Japan who won the Japanese Pacific League batting championship last year, Tsuyoshi Nishioka. Our big designated hitter, Jim Thome, is right on the verge of hitting his 600th career home run any day now. And we haven’t said anything about the pitching staff yet. This is a team that is known for playing the game “the Twins Way” — that is, the “right” way.
But this year has mostly been the wrong way. A dismal start that had everybody wondering what is going on, was followed by a brighter time leading up to the All Star break, which was followed then by another time when things just didn’t go right, and has deteriorated into what we had this weekend. And I haven’t even mentioned the injuries. The Twins have been plagued by injuries this year, serious injuries to their greatest star players that have resulted in lots of time lost on the disabled list. As one columnist has said, you hesitate to talk about the Twins becoming healthy, because about that time somebody else gets hurt. I hate to keep talking about their injury situation, because it can start sounding like an excuse, but it is what it is.
At any rate, the White Sox came into town and immediately threw Mark Buehrle at the Twins. Well, you never go into a game against Buehrle expecting to win, though the Twins have done quite well against him in recent years. But the guy is still a high-class pitcher, worthy of great respect, and he showed everyone why on Friday. Then Saturday the Sox put their new guy, Zach Stewart, and he got his first major league win pitching against the Twins ace, Carl Pavano. Sunday was the Twins last hope for a win against the Sox, but they were unable to figure out the Sox’ Jake Peavy, and the brooms came out and the White Sox swept the Twins in a three game series in the Twins home ballpark for the first time in several years.
Nails in the coffin? There’s still 48 games left to be played in the Twins’ season. But the Twins are now 12 games under 500. In order for the Twins to finish at 500, to say nothing about winning the division championship, the Twins would have to win 33 of those 48 games against teams like the Red Sox, the Yankees, the Tigers, the Indians, the White Sox, and the Angels.
The Twins at one point in the season had dropped to 20 games below 500, and it was pointed out that no team has ever been 20 games below 500 and gone on to finish the game at or above 500. Now it was becoming clear that the championship was a fading dream this season, but it seemed that the goal of being that first team to finish at or above 500 was reasonable, especially the way the team played in June and early July. But the way they’re fading now, well, reality has set in. It ain’t a-gonna happen, folks.
Nails in the coffin.