And suddenly, amid the heat wave, our thoughts drift toward autumn, as the hot prospect who played quarterback at Florida State (Christian Ponder) pre-empts the hot prospect who chose not to play quarterback at Florida State (Joe Mauer) as the most pivotal and intriguing athlete in town.

The end of the NFL's lockout of its players coincided with the end of the competitive portion of the local baseball schedule. The Twins' nauseating losses on Sunday against Detroit and at Texas on Monday night left them seven games behind Detroit in the American League Central.

With 60 games to play and a difficult schedule in place, the Twins were 47-55. They are not only unlikely to win the division, they are unlikely to reach .500 again. They trail three teams, all of which have established themselves as more likely winners to this point.

On Tuesday morning, the website listed the Twins' mathematical probability of making the playoffs at 1.1 percent.

The popular sentiment that the Twins, after surging to within five games of the lead, should trade away their best players to avoid another playoff embarrassment should be classified as cowardly as well as irrational.

The Twins should trade away their best players not because their fans are afraid of the postseason, but because their front office can have little hope that this team can make the postseason.

In two days, the Twins devolved from hopeful to woeful.

It might seem foolish to base any judgement of a baseball team on one or two games, but even in a long season there are tipping points, moments that prove causal or indicative.

Let's allow Rick Aguilera to teach us two lessons about this trading deadline.

Lesson No. 1: One game can change the course of a season, if not a franchise.

In 1992, the Twins, the reigning World Series champions and the most-admired franchise in baseball, appeared prepared to defend their title. Then Aguilera allowed a winning three-run homer to a bench player named Eric Fox at the Metrodome on July 29.

The much-admired Twins went 30-34 to end the season and faded from contention. They would not contend for another division title until 2001, and would not win another until 2002.

The 2011 Twins, buttressed by a new stadium and aggressive ownership, shouldn't be in for such a long drought. To ensure their future competitiveness, they should now start making deals with 2012 in mind.

When you peruse the Twins roster with 2011 in mind, a player such as Michael Cuddyer seems vital. When you peruse the Twins roster with 2012 in mind, a player like Cuddyer becomes more valuable as a moveable asset than a clubhouse fixture.

Cuddyer has professed his love for the Twins and the Twin Cities. He is one of the most admirable athletes I've encountered. Now is the time to test his loyalty, by trading him.

This is where Aguilera teaches us another lesson.

Aguilera, like Cuddyer, was a proud Twin and admirable professional. The Twins traded Aguilera during the 1995 season to the Boston Red Sox, then signed him as a free agent a few months later.

If Cuddyer values his tenure as a Twin, and if the Twins are willing to pay an aging outfielder who plays one of the few positions of depth in the their organization, he could sign a reasonable contract to return this winter, and his trade value will have bolstered the franchise with which he renewed his vows.

And if the Twins and Cuddyer can't reach a deal in free agency this winter, then the bond between player and franchise will have proved to be overrated all along.

The Twins have more outfielders than they need, and not enough effective relievers, middle infielders or dominating starters. They should look to trade Cuddyer, Kevin Slowey, Matt Capps and either Jason Kubel or Delmon Young, to save money to aid the 2012 payroll and acquire young talent and relief help.

Cuddyer gave us reason to love him anew late Monday. Near the end of a 20-6 loss, he pitched a scoreless inning, the first Twins position player to pitch in a game in 21 years.

He's a great guy to have around, but a losing team leaves little room for sentiment.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2:40 p.m. on 1500ESPN. His Twitter name is Souhanstrib. •