It was a tweet by Aaron Gleeman, of all people, that alerted me. After the Twins walk-off loss to Toronto on Monday, their record was 29-33. Still not too shabby, I thought -- close to .500, pick up a break here and there, and if the rest of the division stays lackluster, anything might happen, right?
After 62 games, the 2013 Twins had a record of...29-33. Thanks, Aaron.
Twins' record is 29-33. Their record at the same point last season was 29-33.— Aaron Gleeman (@AaronGleeman) June 10, 2014
So what happened? There were more than enough post-mortems back in 2013 that the collapse should be well-known, but just in case you managed to drink the memory away during the off-season, here's a quick recap:
The first big stumble was during a long stretch of games prior to the All-Star Break.
In 2013, the Twins took Monday, June 24 off after wrapping up a nice win over Cleveland the day before. They headed to Miami to wrap up a short two-game interleague series, then headed back home for home series against the Royals and Yankees, and finally headed back out on the road for a three-city swing against Toronto, Tampa, and the Yankees again. 20 consecutive days of baseball -- not horribly grueling, but a grind to be sure.
If not for the now annual tradition of beating up R.A. Dickey in Toronto, the Twins would have dropped 13 straight during that run; as it was, they dropped 6 straight (the last home game vs KC, the entire 4-game series with the Yankees, and the first game in Toronto), then 6 more after beating Dickey.
Looking at the scores of the games prior to the break, you'd expect a general collapse, but the real culprits were the offense -- a number of Twins' youngsters had hit well in June (Dozier = .257/902, Arcia = .328/894), but they, like most of the rest of the Twins offense, fell off the map in July (Dozier = .240/715, Arcia = .159/377 in only 46 PAs). As a team, the Twins lost 35 points of batting average and over 100 points of OPS from June to July, and it would have been tough for the team to stay on pace even had the pitching staff held the course.
The pitchers wouldn't spit the bit until September, when their ERA ballooned from 4.20 in July and 4.14 in August to 5.90. The offense, still anemic, bottomed out as well, so that the September scoreboard featured soul-crushing losses like 11-2 (Sept 7, vs Toronto), 18-3 (Sept 11, vs Oakland), 12-1 (Sept 16, at the White Sox), and, the final straw, back-to-back games in Oakland that ended 11-0 and 9-1 (Sept 20-21).
Was 2013 just a fluke? Are there reasons to expect this year will turn out differently? Well, consider that the Twins will take a rest on Monday, June 23, then embark on a 20-game stretch with two road trips sandwiched between home series with the Royals and Yankees. Coincidence? Sure, but not a happy one. Willingham (.304/999) and Santana (.370/913) are hitting well for the moment, but how long will that last and who will step up when they come down? Kendrys Morales is off to a nice start in his first few games, but so was Sam Fuld, who improved his 2014 OPS by over 150 points in his first 3 games as a Twin, but is now hitting barely above what he was doing for the A's when the A's waived him. We weren't acquiring the 2011 Sam Fuld, no matter how much we were hoping to, and it's pretty unlikely that we acquired the 2009 Kendrys Morales, either.
Andrew Bryz-Gornia makes a good point in his recent essay about pro-active versus re-active thinking, and there's something to the idea that these sorts of collapses are part-and parcel of what happens when you ride the 'hot hand' without really knowing who is likely to be the next 'hot hand'.
It's possible that the Twins will prove me wrong and stay competitive to the All-Star break and beyond in 2014; I wouldn't mind it all that much if they did. After all, it would make a nice change from the past few seasons. But the main difference between 2013 and 2014, to this point, is perception. We'll see if it translates to reality.