Startribune.com digital sports editor Howard Sinker used to cover the Twins and now shares season tickets with friends in Section 219 of Target Field. He blogs about baseball from the perspective of a long-time fan who loves the game, doesn’t always believe the hype and likes hearing what others think. Howard sometimes talks about sports with Cathy Wurzer on MPR's Morning Edition.

Section 219: Is the Twins lost weekend a sign of the slide to come?

Posted by: Howard Sinker Updated: May 20, 2013 - 9:26 AM

The Twins-Red Sox series was as ugly a weekend of baseball as has been played so far this season by the home team. There were different failures in all three losses -- hitting, fielding and pitching -- and the results were pretty consistent with the ones anticipated by people who were expecting the worst from the Twins in 2013.

And the weekend ended with the Twins in their pretty much anticipated place at the bottom of the American League Central. About the only ways it could have been worse would have been if the inept Boston infielder Pedro Siriaco had been playing for the Twins or if Ham and Squints had suited up for the home team.

At least, if the latter had happened, Ham could have looked in Josh Willingham's direction and lightened the mood a bit (if everyone took it the right way) by yelling, "You're killing me, Hammer!" after one of his weekend foibles.

Willingham was the main face of the Twins' struggles over the weekend and through the homestand in which they won only two of nine games. In his last 11 games, including three at Fenway Park, Willinghams has four hits and 14 strikeouts in 40 at-bats, including the grand finale on Sunday when he struck out as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning after getting ahead in the count 3-and-0. (Gardy had tried to give Willingham the day off after an outburst of some sort during Saturday's loss but needed him after the three-hour rain delay.)

The encore -- a reverse curtain call, I guess -- was when Willingham channeled his inner Butch Huskey and poked Dustin Pedroia's fly ball over the wall with his glove in the ninth for a two-run homer that extended ther Boston lead from two runs to four.

Here it is, if you were doing other things by the time Sunday's game + rain delay + movie reached Hour Six.

I don't intend to focus the Twins problems on Willingham's struggles. He's slumping, and I assume it will pass. The entire offense shut down after the fifth inning on Friday and Oswaldo Arcia robbed Aaron Hicks of a chance to throw out the game-winning run in the 10th that night when he didn't get out of the way on a fly ball to left-center that was Hicks' to own. (If you didn't think Hicks had at least a chance to make the play, you haven't seen him throw enough.)

It was a rookie mistake on Arcia's part and one of the things we have to accept if we buy into the idea of major league training for Hicks and Arcia. I expect them to improve steadily, but it is foolish to think that improvement will come without bumps along the way -- the fly ball that Hicks mishandled on Sunday, for example.

This is what the Twins have signed on for with the bet that it will make them better major leaguers down the road. The bigger issue may be whether Gardy should relegate Willingham primarily to DH duties so Arcia can work through his defensive lapses in the same manner as Hicks.

More unexpected were the failures of the veteran players -- Willingham, Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer -- in clutch situations that could have altered the weekend outcomes. Even in the ugly seven-run loss on Saturday, which featured a terrible start by Scott Diamond, there were chances on offense that could have changed the game.

The oddest thing is that, with Mauer and Morneau, there's hardly a statistic that would predict their recent clutch failures. (The only thing that jumps out in reviewing their numbers is a valley for Mauer in "late and close" at-bats.) You figure it out, and when you have a chance, read Jim Souhan's column on Mauer's altered approach at the plate, which explains why his strikeouts have increased markedly this season while some of his other numbers are among baseball's best..

That the Twins have settled into last place should come as little shock. Forty games into the season, the biggest surprise may have been for how long they flirted with a .500 record. In retrospect, you can see how hard they had to work in order to be a game or so on either side of breaking even. There's a poll on the web site right now asking folks where they think the Twins will finish and, in the first hour of voting, 91 percent picked fourth or fifth.

The next seven games are against first-place Atlanta and division-favorite Detroit. So things could easily get worse. Whether you strap yourself in for the ride or walk away to follow something else, that's the reality we have right now.

 

 

 

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