When things go wrong in life or sports, it’s often useful to have a milestone or designated point for a “new beginning” to offer a chance at starting over.
Birthdays and New Year’s offer a chance for introspection in life. In sports, short of waiting for next year, the halfway point in a season can be that moment.
What went wrong? What can get better? Those sentiments are rooted in idealism, and sometimes they work.
Reality, though, often tells a different story – particularly in baseball, which is designed as a grind. It’s a battle of focus, particularly in the traditionally hot months of July and August.
The calendar turned to July on a blast furnace type of day in Chicago for the Twins. An 11-10 loss to the Cubs also ensured that when the Twins reached the midpoint of their season Monday in Milwaukee, they would do so on a pace to lose at least 90 games for the sixth time in eight seasons.
Teams that know they’re out of the playoff picture already at the midpoint – and only the most optimistic Twins player would think otherwise at this point – tend to drift downward as the calendar drags along lazily with game after game.
That was the path of the 2011-2014 Twins, teams that closely resemble this year’s team at least in terms of first-half trajectory.
The Twins theoretically have better players this season than they had on those 2011-14 squads, and they probably should have more hope based on last year’s strong finish and the prospect of getting back some pretty good players in the second half.
But those previous teams all had between 35 and 37 wins at the midpoint of the season before having even more disappointing second halves. In total, they were 21 games worse in the second halves than the first halves, and all were at least four games worse. All finished with at least 90 losses.
(The 2016 Twins, the most recent full-season failure, started 27-54 and almost couldn’t help but improve a little. They went 32-49 in the second half, which is still nearly a 100-loss pace).
This year’s team seems particularly vulnerable because of the preseason expectations and because of the way it is structured. They have a ton of veterans on the last year of their contracts, meaning they have the potential to be traded as rentals at the nonwaiver deadline at the end of the month. Those who stay could be interested more in individual gains than team goals as they try to earn big offseason paydays.
The inevitable infusion of young players that would follow a massive sell-off – and which will arrive regardless when rosters expand in September – can offer fans a glimmer of hope for the future, but it seldom results in more wins in the short-term.
The Twins can still rewrite their 2018 story and use it as some sort of springboard to 2019. But if history is a guide, they are likely lurching toward another lost season.