This season was supposed to be better, and for a while, it was. Two weeks ago, the Twins were three games below .500, and optimism was growing.
But the Twins arrived at the halfway point of the season Wednesday, and optimism is a lot scarcer. A 3-9 record since leaving on their last road trip is part of the reason. The loss of cleanup hitter Josh Willingham is another, along with the fact that the expected improvement has not materialized.
Managing only 66 wins last year, and 63 the season before, was supposed to be an easy level of achievement to clear. But Minnesota is 36-45 — only one victory better than the 35-46 record it had at the midway point in both 2011 and 2012.
“We’re not where we want to be,” General Manager Terry Ryan said. “We’re not even at .500, and that isn’t going to get you anywhere.”
The Twins opened the day 7½ games behind Cleveland in the AL Central; they were nine back halfway through the past couple of seasons, and they were never relevant in the second half of either season.
Manager Ron Gardenhire wants to avoid another play-out-the-string summer, and he thought he had a team that could. “This last little stretch has been disappointing, because we felt like we were going along [well],” he said. “We’ve had chances, and we’ve thrown a couple of games away. You can’t afford to do that when you’re chasing .500 and trying to stay in it. But I feel better about this group.”
Statistics point out where the problem lies: While the Twins’ pitching staff, and the bullpen in particular, has made great strides in run prevention this year, the offense remains below average. The Twins scored 701 runs last season, which ranked in the bottom five of the American League. This season? They’ve scored 336 entering Wednesday’s game, on a pace to score 680. Only once since 1990 have they scored so few in a non-strike year.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do, but we’ve got a lot of time to do it,” catcher Joe Mauer said.
Arthroscopic surgery to repair the torn meniscus in Willingham’s left knee Wednesday morning was a success, Ryan said, and he challenged the team’s remaining outfielders to use his absence — expected to be four to six weeks — as a chance to earn more playing time.
“There is an opportunity for [Chris] Parmelee. It certainly frees up some space for [Oswaldo] Arcia,” Ryan said. Still, “he isn’t easily replaceable. Ultimately, he’s our No. 4 hitter, and we’re having trouble scoring as it is.”
Another outfielder, Wilkin Ramirez, was in the Twins clubhouse Wednesday after undergoing a series of tests with Twins doctors. Ramirez, who suffered a concussion in late May, had a relapse after diving for a ball during a rehab game in Fort Myers, Fla. The Twins gave him a few days to recover, since they didn’t want him to get on a plane right away, and now hope to begin the rehab process anew.
• Righthanded reliever Deolis Guerra, whose season was short-circuited by a blood clot that required surgery to remove a rib in March, is throwing again and should be able to pitch by the end of July, Ryan said.
• Kohl Stewart, the Twins’ first-round draft pick, will make his professional debut in a Gulf Coast League game Thursday in Fort Myers. “I’m not too concerned about anything other than him getting his feet wet in pro ball,” Ryan said of the 18-year-old righthander. “I guess the only thing I hope he does is throw the ball over the plate.”