So who are these Twins?
“They’re a team that plays the game the right way,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said last month by way of describing a franchise that was once his team’s fiercest challenger. “They pay attention to details. They care about fundamentals. You don’t see them beat themselves very often.”
No, but they get beat by better rosters often enough.
“They don’t quit. [Gardenhire’s] got them playing hard, even though they’re in a rough patch right now,” Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. “They make you earn it.”
Maybe so, but earning a few wins for themselves matters more. And that’s what is missing.
Gardenhire explains his current team almost like a school, with half the roster demonstrating how to play at the big-league level, and the other half watching and learning. The lesson he wishes would sink in more quickly is that setbacks are to be expected, and that one day’s failure doesn’t have to turn into the next day’s excuse.
“We all feel the effects of missing opportunities. But if we don’t get it done, then we go, ‘Oh, here we go again,’ ” the manager said. “You can’t let it affect you, but that’s not easy.”
Hitting coach Tom Brunansky has observed that phenomenon, but says the reverse is true, too. His biggest battle, he said, is teaching that critical, game-turning situations don’t require a different approach. “Our young hitters tend to be more aggressive in those situations. They’re excited, they want to do the job, and they’re just amped,” Brunansky said. “The result is, you swing at a pitch that you wouldn’t in other circumstances. But that just takes time, being in those situations more and more.”
For now, Gardenhire said, the Twins’ ideal identity is this: starting pitching that keeps games close, a ninth-inning near-certainty in closer Glen Perkins, and an offense “that relies on the big guys in the middle to hit some balls off the wall,” the manager said. “String some hits together on a regular basis. We need it up and down the lineup, and we’ve got guys who can do it.”
At the moment, that’s their secret identity.