It didn’t bother me when the Twins traded Brandon Kintzler and Jaime Garcia before the July 31 non-waiver deadline. For me, it came down to run differential. The Twins had a 50-53 record but had been outscored 469-541. Their status as “contenders” looked like a mirage.
I’m still not second-guessing those trades. They were the right moves at the time, period. But I’ve come around completely on this team’s playoff chances. It goes back to run differential, and the mediocrity of every team chasing them in the wild-card race. Consider:
* The Twins were on the wrong end of far too many blowout losses half-way through the season. They lost by five or more runs in 21 of their first 89 games, a whopping 24 percent, which usually speaks to the futility of a team’s pitching staff.
Since July 15, they are 12-4 in games decided by five-plus runs. That mark was 12-2 before the seven-run loss at Tampa Bay last week and Sunday’s eight-run defeat at KC.
* Since Aug. 3, the Twins are 23-14. Seven of those losses were by one run, meaning they were right there. Their run-differential in that stretch is 230-165.
* The Twins have cooled since their 17-0 pounding of KC on Sept. 2. Minnesota is 4-6 in September, but the Yankees (7-3), Rangers (6-4) and Royals (6-5) are the only AL wild-card contenders with winning records this month.
More thoughts on each AL wild-card contender:
* Yankees (+4 games up) – New York is 33-24 since the All-Star break and just 15-24 for the season in one-run games, a sign how close the team has been to a more imposing record. It continues to look like the wild-card game will be at Yankee Stadium on Oct. 3.
* Twins (0) – Paul Molitor’s squad is 29-26 since the break and 14-15 for the season in one-run games. With a favorable schedule, an improved offense and a surprisingly capable pitching staff, there’s enough here to hold on for three weeks. Why not? No team below should scare them.
* Angels (-1) – The Angels are 28-23 since the break, which is also when Mike Trout returned from thumb surgery. They have outscored opponents 258-232 (not overwhelmingly) in that stretch.
* Rangers (-2) – Texas has the same second-half record as the Twins, at 29-26. The Rangers are just 13-22 in one-run games, so they’ve been one swing away a lot. Don’t sleep on this team.
* Royals (-3) – It’s hard, though not impossible, to climb three teams in three weeks. The Royals aren’t done yet, but they are just 27-29 and have been outscored 314-267 since the break.
* Orioles (-3.5) – This teams looks a lot less imposing after five straight losses. They’ve scored just eight runs in the losing streak. They’ve been outscored 49-27 in September.
* Mariners (-3.5) – They are 28-26 since the break, despite being outscored in that stretch 252-233. Seattle has almost no margin for error.
* Rays (-4) – They are 24-31 since the break and fading.
CLOSING THOUGHT: The Twins had a day off after their 11-3 loss Sunday at KC. They’ve been resilient all season, so it shouldn’t be hard turning the page for tonight’s game against San Diego. The big question will be how well their young regulars – Rosario, Buxton, Kepler, Polanco – handle September pressure. Because this team is capable, no matter how much I doubted that in July.