ARLINGTON, Texas – The Twins surprised baseball three weeks ago when they slipped by the Rangers, Mariners and other teams and signed designated hitter Kendrys Morales. They weren’t that far out of the wild-card picture, so General Manager Terry Ryan made the “Why not us?” speech that delightfully surprised the fan base.
Three weeks from now, that message might be different.
The Twins are limping home after a 1-5 road trip to Los Angeles and Texas that put them six games under .500. They managed to salvage the final game of the Texas series on Sunday with a 3-2 victory over the Rangers that ended a 10-game road losing streak. Righthander Kyle Gibson stepped up on Sunday, pitching eight strong innings thanks to a sinker that moved as well as it has all season. The offense performed to its recent standards, that’s all.
In six games during this road trip, the Twins batted .206, hit .216 with runners in scoring position and averaged 3.2 runs a game. Fans on Twitter during Sunday’s game clamored for Jorge Polanco, the 20-year-old shortstop called up for the weekend, to be retained. That’s because his two hits drove in three runs.
“The biggest thing is we’re not putting two and two together,” Twins second baseman Brian Dozier said. “We feel like when we have a good pitching performance, we’re sitting back thinking, ‘That’s good enough, just win by one,’ instead of taking that approach to just try to beat somebody as much as we can. We get down early and we say, ‘We have to hit our way back in,’ and we start hitting, We have to put two and two together.”
If the offense continues to underperform — can the absence of injured leadoff hitter Danny Santana really affect the team this much? — Ryan might be looking to go the other way as trade talks heat up in a few weeks before the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline.
Ryan said before Sunday’s game that he will make his buy-or-sell decision sometime after the All-Star Game, which is quickly approaching.
“Somewhere around there, you start thinking about it,” Ryan said. “We’re not going in the right direction right now, you know that.”
Gibson’s outing halted a bad run by the rotation. But Twins manager Ron Gardenhire is focused on squeezing more runs out of the offense.
Entering Sunday, Morales was batting .172 over his previous 15 games. He had the game-winning hit Sunday, an RBI double in the ninth. Kurt Suzuki is in an 0-for-17 skid. Dozier went 0-for-4 on Sunday and finished the road trip 4-for-24 with three walks.
So Gardenhire batted Chris Parmelee third on Sunday and gave Polanco his first start at short. Both had hits. Parmelee started in center, which is not his best position. But Gardenhire said to be prepared to see more of Parmelee out there if he keeps hitting. The hot bats will stay in the lineup.
“We’ll be tinkering with different parts, but it is what it is,” Gardenhire said. “We just have to keep ad-libbing, especially with the lineup from 1-9 with Santana [bone bruise near left knee] out. It does make a big different because we had him in the leadoff spot and we’re kind of trying to figure out where we need to go there.”
Remember when Joe Mauer was taking heat for not hitting? He has a 10-game hitting streak now, during which he’s batting .375 with 10 RBI — production, too! — but now no one else is.
July should be an interesting month, not just because we’re celebrating baseball during All-Star week here. Ryan appears ready to add if the Twins can stay in the picture. If not, then he could start to clear the deck to look at prospects during the second half of the season.
The Twins have about three weeks to show Ryan which way he should go.
“It’s a decision that comes up to the front office,” Ryan said. “I know where we are right now is not a good spot.”
La Velle E. Neal III firstname.lastname@example.org