As of this writing (Tuesday afternoon), the Minnesota Twins have lost nine games in a row. Their best and highest paid player has played nine games this season and is still on the disabled list. So is the Japanese star that the team brought in over the winter. So is a future Hall of Famer who is just nine home runs away from 600 and who, with each passing day, is less likely to hit that milestone as a member of this organization.
Meanwhile, their second best player is at least on the field but hasn't regained form after suffering a concussion in the middle of the 2010 season. The longest-tenured player on the team is a leader in the clubhouse but, in spite of being better than most of the active roster, hasn't been able to lead on the field in terms of middle-of-the-lineup production. An enigmatic youngster is fresh off the disabled list but can't remember what it's like to make contact with a baseball.
And the pitching staff? Oh...the pitching staff.
On the field the result has been a team that has been, if we're being brutally honest, one of the worst teams I've ever watched. The dark years of my Twins fandom, the mid to late 90s, were a bleak and dismal period, and those teams didn't have the talent that this one has.
The blame will always have to fall somewhere. Some of it you can chalk up to luck, or perhaps bad luck is more accurate. Some of it you can put on player performance. Some of it needs to be aimed towards the front office. And, inevitably, some people will think some of the blame should fall to the manager. But this isn't about blame.
This is about dealing with the situation. How you deal with defeat is just as, if not more, important than how you deal with victory.
When you win, things are easy. Problems go away because people feel good; things are working and it's easier for people to take whatever beef they might have and stow it. Because even today, big-ego athletes are more accomodating when the team is successful. And the problems that you do have seem irrelevant because, again, the team is winning. I give Joe Torre one hell of a lot of credit for managing the Yankees (and George Steinbrenner), but his job would have been a sight harder if he'd had to manage that All-Star team of egos on a team that was only winning 40% of their games.
When you lose, nothing is fun. And it's a long season. In the NFL, if you lose a game or two at least you have a few days to regroup, get your head together and get back onto the field with a relatively repaired psyche. But in baseball, when you lose nine games in a row, you're right back out there again the next day with that streak still heavy on your mind. Especially when you then look at the calendar and realize you still have more than 120 games left to play. And it affects you, it wears you down, and you're stuck with largely the same group of guys day after day after day after day. That's going to cause some discontent.
This is the situation facing Ron Gardenhire on a daily basis. 25 professional baseball players with varying levels of experience and talent, all of whom would perfer to win but none of whom like to lose and lose frequently in the pathetic fashion to which we've all become accustomed. It's getting old, and there are only so many ways you can re-focus that negative energy before it becomes self destructive to the team.
Gardy's challenge is to keep this team together. I say it's his toughest test because this is a situation he hasn't seen. In the same way we haven't seen the Twins be sellers at the trade deadline in a decade, it's also been a decade since we've seen the Twins be a bad team. Gardenhire hasn't been forced to deal with the inevitable issues that come with a club whose playoff aspirations are extinguished before the calendar turns to June, and how the team performs and the players interact over the remainder of the season should go a long way in your opinion of our manager.
One season, and one year, doesn't set anyone's future in stone. Yet we can certainly learn a lot about that person, or their managerial capabilities, by what we see. I've always been in the pro-Gardenhire camp in terms of the big picture, but this summer will give us a unique perspective on some of the managerial responsibilities we haven't seen to date, and one way or another both pro and anit-Gardy camps will have something new to talk about at the end of the season.