New manager Paul Molitor had a rough first week last season as the Twins began 1-6 and quickly fell six games out of first place. But then the team had a drastic turnaround, going 20-7 in May to end the month with the best record in the American League and the second-best record in the majors, at 30-19.
Well, this year things started bad, and unlike last year they never really have gotten better. The Twins sit at 12-34, the worst record in the majors, and Molitor said it has been the toughest stretch of baseball in his long career in the game.
“As far as disappointing stretches, this is probably at the apex,” he said following Wednesday’s much-needed 7-5 victory over Kansas City to end a 2-5 homestand. “I’ve been a part of some losing teams as a player. When I coached in Seattle [in 2004] we lost 99 games, but expectations weren’t particularly high.
“I think the hardest part about this is that we thought that we had put together something that could possibly push forward but instead we’ve gone backwards, and we have to find our way out of it. I would say this is probably the toughest stretch I’ve been through as a player, coach or manager.”
Molitor doesn’t buy into the idea that this is a lost season, and said that young players can regress and the team can work through that.
“There’s a lot of hope, we’re basing a lot on young people that are developing,” Molitor said. “It has been a little bit of everything at times, hitting, poor decision-making, baserunners — starting pitching has been OK at times and not very good at others. The bullpen, you look at other bullpens and you see a lot of guys with experience and we have guys coming in there that are still relatively new to major league bullpen experience, so we’ve had to pay the price for that.”
While the Twins’ young players have struggled, perhaps the team’s bigger problem is that its veteran players also have taken large steps back. Joe Mauer hit .337 through his first 25 games this season but has hit .203 in the 20 games since. Brian Dozier has the fifth-worst batting average among all qualified players in baseball at .200. And maybe the most discouraging sign has been the recent pitching of Ervin Santana, Phil Hughes and Ricky Nolasco, a combined 3-13 with a 5.15 ERA.
Molitor said it will be those three that will have to get the team stabilized.
“To get us back on track I would have to say we have to look to veterans, pitchers Ervin and Phil and Ricky,” he said. “I think Kyle [Gibson] will help us when he gets back [from the disabled list], [Tyler] Duffey is certainly on the rise. But when you’re trying to salvage something, you look to the guys that have been through it before, and those are the three guys at the top of the rotation that can help us out.”
Miguel Sano delivered a big two-run homer Wednesday, giving the Twins the lead for good, but his 67 strikeouts are tied for the major league lead.
“I think it’s at a little bit higher pace than we would have anticipated, but I think most people would have predicted he was going to strike out 150 to who knows how many times,” Molitor said. “You just hope you get enough return with the offense when he does put it in play, like [Wednesday] when we saw the big home run.”
Minor league help?
While the Twins have bounced a lot of players up and down to the minors, Molitor was asked if Byron Buxton might come back up since he is destroying at Class AAA Rochester. The center fielder is hitting .340 with the Red Wings and .415 over his past 10 games. He has six home runs, 12 RBI, 23 runs, seven doubles and three triples in 25 games.
“We’re always talking, [General Manager] Terry [Ryan] and myself and the Triple-A staff about what’s right in terms of who needs to continue to be developed,” Molitor said. “We’re monitoring what [Buxton’s] doing, he’s improving for sure. I’m not sure what the timetable is going to be, but we always have that on the table as a possibility.”
Molitor added that outfielder Max Kepler had been a candidate to return as well, but he ended up on the disabled list at Rochester.
“[Infielder Jorge] Polanco has been up and down and [catcher John Ryan] Murphy is trying to get back on track so he has a chance to get back up here at some point, too,” Molitor said.
Molitor said the team simply needs to focus on what it can do right now, no matter how disappointing the season has been.
“I think we all had high hopes about being competitive and maybe going a little bit farther than we did last year, but we have to be real about where we’re at and we have to continue to be positive, look ahead, and continue to try to teach these guys how to play the game the right way,” he said.
Whitney a great one
Words can’t express what a great man the late Wheelock Whitney was, to try and improve on his paid obituary that appeared in Wednesday’s Star Tribune would be impossible.
Whitney died Friday at age 89. If you judge this man from 1 to 10, he was a 100. I loved him and he was a close, personal friend. He will be missed.
Turner likes receiver
Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner was asked how he liked first-round draft choice Laquon Treadwell, the wide receiver out of Mississippi.
“I like our group and I really like Laquon, he has come in here and is learning,” Turner said. “He’s a big, physical player that has got great feel for playing and is an excellent athlete.”
Turner also talked about the line’s improved depth.
“I think we’ve helped ourselves on the offensive line, and now it’s a matter of getting everyone on the same page, putting the new pieces in, getting the new guys in there. I think we’ll be a better offensive line and have better depth,” Turner said.
Turner said center John Sullivan, who missed all of last season because of injuries, looks good, is healthy and is simply glad to be back. “Sully is a pro and everyone knows we missed him last year and it’s great to have him back,” Turner said.
On Teddy Bridgewater, Turner said the third-year quarterback is making the kind of improvements they want. He added that he thinks Bridgewater is stronger, more decisive and really quick with the ball.
Turner added that the biggest improvements from Bridgewater could come from his teammates.
“We have to play better around him,” Turner said, “and then, when the opportunities to make big plays are there, he has to make the ones he can. He’s not going to make them all, but he has to be consistent throwing the ball up the field when we get those opportunities.”
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org