As the 2013 season grinds to a close, and our beloved Twins find themselves in a position where they will probably be able to legitimately claim improvement over 2012, but not so much improvement that the team can be said to be actually improved. With 28 games to play, the Twins would need to collapse in a nearly epic fashion to match last season's 96-loss campaign, but are unlikely to play well enough to keep from losing 90 or more for the third consecutive season.
Wiser baseball minds than mine can deal with the whys and wherefores of the Twins woes. There's one point, though, that will likely be made over and over again (and in fact, is already starting to be made -- check out Nick Nelson's recent article over at Twins Daily): that the Twins starters deserve the brunt of the blame for the franchise's current problems.
While that may well be true, at least to a point, here are a few other tidbits that lead me to believe that the problem goes deeper than just finding a few 'stud arms'.
- the Twins bullpen hasn't really been that good
The Twin's bullpen has saved 68% of their opportunities this season (which is almost exactly league average), and has stranded only 34% of their inherited baserunners (which is tied for worst in the league). Contrast the Royals, who have the same number of blown saves in seven more opportunities, and have stranded a league-average 30% of their baserunners.
- the Twins offense has been atrocious
The club has scored 545 runs thus far, which doesn't look too bad in ranking (they're 11th out of 15 teams), until you realize that they're only 4 runs ahead of the second-worst team in the AL, Seattle. If the White Sox outscore the Twins by a run per game the rest of the way, our club could finish dead last in the AL in scoring. Contrast the Royals, whose offense hasn't been great, but is still 16 runs ahead of the Twins.
Why compare the Twins to the Royals? Because Kansas City, statistically, has had the best starting rotation in the AL. As a team, the Royals have allowed the fewest runs in the AL while playing in a park that's on balance neutral or slightly hitter-friendly. They have two of the top 10 pitchers in the league in raw Quality Starts and Quality Start Percentage and as a staff they have more QS and a higher percentage than any other team save the Red Sox. It's been under the radar, but the Royals have, at least this season, put together an outstanding rotation that is still pretty much in its prime -- only Jeremy Guthrie and Bruce Chen will be older than 32 next year (and Chen has only started 10 games, hardly making him the ace of the staff).
The point is that the Royals, with a better offense and a better bullpen than our Twins, are just 5 games over .500 and are unlikely to get into post-season play without a major hot streak, which would be more indicative of luck than talent anyway.
Even with the best rotation in the league, the Twins almost certainly wouldn't have finished 2013 any higher than .500. There are a lot more problems than just the rotation to deal with here, and if someone tries to convince you that all the Twins need are a couple of big-time free agent starters to be competitive, you'd be smart to dismiss that analysis as wishful thinking.