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News flash: The Twins are not going to make the playoffs.
Nope, we double-checked our sources and it is true.
Still, these September games have meaning, and it goes beyond just finding out which prospects offer a glimmer of hope in a three-week audition and which might not be ready for prime time.
It has to do with avoiding the swoon, which we still believe is an important component in evaluating 2014 and Ron Gardenhire's future.
The 2011 and 2012 Twins were marked by terrible baseball at many times, but it got particularly bad in August and September (and October last year in a season that stretched to the third day of that month).
The 2011 Twins were a combined 13-41 in August and September.
The 2012 Twins were 22-37 from Aug. 1 until the end of the season.
Both of those stretches were worse than the Twins' overall season winning percentage, as bad as those 63- and 66-win seasons were.
We were waiting for it to happen again this season. But the 2013 Twins are, so far, 18-21 since Aug. 1 -- not great, but at .462 that's a winning percentage better than the Twins' overall .441 mark for the season.
How you finish a season can say plenty of things. It can be a blip on the radar. It can be an indication of talent level. But it can also very much be a mark of a team -- manager and players -- who have cashed it in and see the beaches and golf courses of the offseason beckoning.
The Twins and Gardenhire cannot afford that this year. They need to stay hungry. At 63-80, this is a lost season. But it doesn't have to be a lost September (5-4 so far). A competitive month against a lot of teams with plenty to play for would tell us a good amount about the state of the franchise.
The Twins released their 2014 schedule at noon Tuesday. We already knew they would play 81 home and 81 road games. We knew they would play 76 division games (19 against each opponent), 20 interleague games and the rest against other AL teams.
But we didn't know the order, size, shape and other such things. While the scramble to buy tickets and circle calendars is dulled after three losing seasons, it remains fun to think about the summer of 2014 as a possibly better time. So here we go:
*The Twins open the season March 31, one of those rare March openers. But, thankfully, they open on the road this year after opening at home in 2013 (you might remember the weather was not so grand). The bad news? The opener is at the White Sox, where it is also known to be chilly in late March.
*Home opener is April 7 against Oakland. In all, the Twins have 14 home dates in April -- one fewer than in 2013.
*The interleague home series: April 29-May 1 vs. Dodgers (circle that one, presumably, for Yasiel Puig); June 4-5 vs. Milwaukee; Aug. 5-6 vs. San Diego; Sept. 22-24 vs. Arizona.
*Interleague road series, in case you want to plan road trips to different ballparks: May 20-21 at San Diego; May 23-25 at San Francisco; June 2-3 at Milwaukee; July 11-13 at Colorado. That's a pretty nice set of options, including making a week of it in California.
*Home games by month: April (14), May (14), June (10), July (16, plus the All-Star game/festivities), August (12), September (15). It's not quite as bad as 2013, when 31 of 81 home games were in April and September, but 29 still isn't ideal. And that's a pretty nice July.
For a full 2014 schedule, click here. Your thoughts, please, in the comments.
It came via a rather casual tweet from Peter Gammons, suggesting the news is hardly surprising, but it is worth mentioning: Twins OF Josh Willingham, according to Gammons, is on trade waivers.
With Josh Willingham on waivers, AL teams see an interesting stretch run bat— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) August 27, 2013
Saturday is the waiver trade deadline in order for a player to be eligible for postseason play.
Much of the Twins talk has focused on Justin Morneau, but Willingham -- who has slumped through in injury-plagued season after a smashing Twins debut in 2012 -- is intriguing as well. He has one year and $7 million left on his contract after this season.
It is important to remember that trade waivers are not, of course, the same thing as the waivers a team uses to release a player. What this means, as La Velle reminded us a couple weeks ago (we'll just conveniently replace Morneau with Willingham):
• If no team has claims (Willingham), the Twins could trade him to any team they wish.
• If a team claims (Willingham), the Twins have 48 hours to discuss a trade with that team and strike a deal, much like the Rangers did when they landed outfielder Alex Rios from the White Sox.
• The Twins could just let (Willingham) go to the claiming team, which would have to assume his salary for the rest of his contract.
• And the Twins could just pull (Willingham) off waivers and not trade him at all.
We imagine this is true of the Twins, who escaped our consciousness as they fell further and further in the AL Central standings after a respectable 18-17 start, bottoming out (at least for now) at 37-53, 16 games under .500. They couldn't hit. They couldn't pitch. And there just wasn't much interesting about them.
And now, of course, we're being pulled back in, maybe not with the whole body but at least an arm and a leg. At 53-63, this season is still going nowhere as an entity unto itself (even though nine other teams in MLB, including some presumed contenders, have worse records now than the Twins), but there are enough subplots that intrigue us.
We will pause now to watch every Brian Dozier at bat because the way he has turned his season around is downright impressive. He has the second-highest slugging percentage on the team behind Joe Mauer, and he has been their best overall hitter over the past two-plus months.
We will watch to see how Justin Morneau's season finishes up. If he keeps launching the ball, he will at least give himself and the Twins some interesting decisions to make.
We will watch any game started by Sam Deduno (still out of sheer curiosity), Kyle Gibson (charting progress) and now Andrew Albers (trying to figure out exactly how he is getting batters out, which seems like a fluke with each awkward swing and weak grounder).
We will try to keep an eye on Ron Gardenhire's demeanor. The Twins are now on pace for 74 victories, about 10 more than they averaged the past two seasons. If they can reach or exceed that mark, will they have turned a corner and will Gardy have the privilege of trying to climb the AL Central ladder again?
We will watch Oswaldo Arcia swing hard to all fields. We will continue to be intrigued by the raw power of Chris Colabello.
And we will wait with anticipation to see who the September call-ups are, knowing that a Miguel Sano sighting would do wonders in helping to fill Target Field during a final month that includes 17 home games.
In case you lost touch with Tsuyoshi Nishioka after the failed experiment* with the Twins led to a mutual parting of ways, we are here to fill you in:
*Nishioka is hitting .275 with the Hanshin Tigers of the Japan Central League. That puts him 26th in batting average among players with at least 99 plate appearances (how BB Reference sorts things) and 14th among players with at least 300 PAs (our count).
*However, he hurt his knee when he fouled a pitch off of it in mid-July and was de-activated in late July, according to this report. Assuming we are reading this translated Japanese box score correctly, he is still out -- or at least didn't play on Sunday.
*He has been playing second base and has made just five errors this season.
This concludes our update.