Patrick Reusse: This has all the earmarks of a lengthy Twins dive

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 22, 2011 - 8:22 AM

There are no quick fixes, no easy answers for a team that might lose 100 games for the second time in its history.


Brian Dinkelman is one of the many minor leaguers pressed into action with the Twins this year.

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

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The signs are everywhere. This is not an isolated dive in the midst of a long run of success for the Twins. The run is over and the Twins have entered a cycle where they will be hanging out with the American League also-rans for several years.

All that is required is to look back at the 1990s to see comparisons that are as vivid and grotesque as a Robert Rodriguez movie.

The Twins won a second World Series in five seasons in 1991. They won 90 games again in 1992 as a second-place finisher in the AL West to Oakland.

The centerpieces during this stretch of much glory were center fielder Kirby Puckett and first baseman Kent Hrbek. Also, there were always two or more excellent starters to lead the rotation.

That was such an important part of the formula that, when Jack Morris left after his one grand season in 1991, the Twins traded for Pittsburgh lefthander John Smiley and he went 16-9 in 1992.

The Twins let Smiley, Chili Davis and, most important, shortstop Greg Gagne leave after that season. They foolishly spent the money that could have been used on Gagne to bring in Dave Winfield as a DH.

There was no replacement for Smiley, shortstop became a vacuum, and Hrbek started to fight injuries.

The '93 Twins went 71-91. It was advertised as a blip in a run of success. Hrbek would get healthy, Scott Erickson would find that wicked sinker/slider again, and the Twins would be competitive in the new AL Central that would debut in 1994.

The Twins were 53-60 when the players strike ended the season on Aug. 11. Hrbek bowed to the injuries and retired at 34.

David McCarty was supposed to have been the leader of a new nucleus, followed by Marty Cordova, Scott Stahoviak, Rich Becker and eventually Todd Walker.

The 1995 Twins went 56-88 and finished 44 games behind Cleveland in a 144-game schedule. New General Manager Terry Ryan traded Erickson, Kevin Tapani and Rick Aguilera that summer.

The Twins decided to give it another try at respectability in 1996: They re-signed Aguilera (as a starter) and brought in veterans Paul Molitor, Dave Hollins and Roberto Kelly to help the lineup.

Molitor and Chuck Knoblauch were fabulous, Cordova drove in 111 runs and the Twins finished 78-84. They did it without Puckett, who was discovered at the end of spring training to have glaucoma and never played again.

Brad Radke was the lone reliable starter for a rotation that kept getting worse, year by year. The result of all of this was the years of hopelessness -- 1997 through 2000, when the poorest record was 63-97 (1999) and the best was 70-92 (1998).

The '99 Twins had the good luck of not making up two rainouts. The 2011 Twins will not be as fortunate. They are going to lose 100 games -- the second Twins team in 51 seasons to manage that. They were 60-102 in 1982, when Big Herbie and so many other promising players were rookies.

There is a mass of rookies again, without the promise. The force-fed big leaguers of 2011 have more in common with the failed talent of the mid-'90s than the lads of '82, or the Koskie-Guzman-Mientkiewicz-Pierzynski-Hunter-Jones-Milton-Mays-Guardado nucleus that changed the Twins' outlook in 2001.

They are long gone now. And you look at the wave that came next and brought more playoff appearances -- Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Joe Nathan -- and you can't help but think, "This is 1993, redux."

You wait for the big first baseman to come back to what he was but finally realize there have been too many injuries, too many roadblocks, and you must start to assume that Morneau, like Hrbek before him, will be done prematurely as a star.

You can't figure out Mauer to save your life, so you wait to find out what's the real problem, and understand the aberration always will be the power burst of 2009, not the injuries and slap-hitting that has been seen since.

You expect that Cuddyer, Kubel and Nathan are leaving, as did Gagne, Davis and Smiley. And you know the replacements on the horizon might as well be named McCarty, Stahoviak and Dave Stevens.

Hunker down, Twins fans. This losing is going to be around for a while.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500ESPN.


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