Last Sunday, the Twins were tied 7-7 with the Royals in the top of the eighth inning on a beautiful afternoon, creating one of the most optimistic moments of the past three seasons.
Win that game, and the Twins would have taken a series from the Royals and moved into third place in the American League Central, within five games of the division lead. Kyle Gibson had made his major league debut the day before, winning easily, and the worst Yankees team since the early ’90s was about to get swept in Baltimore before flying to Minnesota for a four-game series.
They lost 9-8. Five days later, the Twins fled the country much like Edward Snowden, in a desperate search of elusive asylum.
In five days at Target Field, the Twins were exposed as a team with no strengths and no hope of remaining competitive this season. At the beginning of those five days, they could have claimed their bullpen, or general good health, or the arrival of Gibson as positives. By Thursday, their bullpen had been twisted into origami; their best slugger, Josh Willingham, had undergone knee surgery, and Gibson had gotten smacked around by a Yankees lineup missing Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira.
By the time Oswaldo Arcia grounded out to end a 9-5 beating on Thursday afternoon, the Twins had destroyed their chances of feigning competitiveness this season, while reaffirming their aversion to the Yankees’ logo.
Worse, they reached the low point of a third consecutive unsightly season after calling up the only player at Class AAA capable of altering the perception or direction of their franchise. Gibson was supposed to be their last talisman capable of warding off a summer of meaningless baseball, but he started the game throwing pitches right down the middle. The result was a maddeningly routine loss in front of one of the quietest sellout crowds in Twins history.
“A disappointing homestand, after a good start to it with the Royals,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Losing that last day to the Royals and then letting [the Yankees] come in here and take it to us …
“We didn’t do much right.”
Their proximity to the top of the division on Sunday afternoon should be far more shocking than their collapse. The Twins rank last in the majors in starting pitching ERA and next-to-last in the American League in team ERA. They rank 10th in the American League in runs scored and next-to-last in home runs.
While they rank fifth in the league in fielding percentage, they lack range and have made far too many mental mistakes in the field.
The rotation is a mess. The bullpen has become one. The lineup lacks power and speed. They have zero players producing a career year. The 2013 Twins are a team without strengths.
“It’s tough,” catcher Joe Mauer said. “We knew [with] New York coming in it was going to be a tough series. We battled, but to lose four in a row at home is definitely a hard pill to swallow.”
The kids — Aaron Hicks, Brian Dozier, Chris Parmelee, Vance Worley, Pedro Florimon — have not performed like big-leaguers. Justin Morneau, despite two home runs Thursday and 50 RBI this season, has not recaptured the dominance of his prime. Veteran pitcher Mike Pelfrey returns from the disabled list with a 6.11 ERA.
Even the Twins who are performing at an All-Star level, Mauer and closer Glen Perkins, require help to be effective. Perkins needs a lead to earn a save; Mauer needs the hitters behind him to take advantage of his on-base percentage.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Twins honored the pending retirement of legendary Yankees closer Mariano Rivera by giving him a rocking chair made of broken bats, calling it the “Chair of Broken Dreams.”
The Twins offered to ship it to Rivera. He liked the chair so much he insisted on bringing it with him on the Yankees charter, the latest example of the Twins’ ability to make the Yankees comfortable.
Jim Souhan can be heard weekdays at noon and Sundays from 10 to noon on 1500 ESPN. His Twitter name is @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org