The Twins completed the longest homestand of the season, 11 games, on Sunday, and went 6-5 against Cleveland (3-1), the White Sox (2-2) and the Angels (1-2). This put them at 28-34 and, for non-mathematicians, that leaves Paul Molitor’s club with 100 games to rescue a season that largely has been excitement-free.
Considering the magnitude of this 10 ½-week failure, I’ve been surprised at the modest amount of angst directed at the Twins from the local sporting public. Indifference seems to be far more in vogue that vitriol.
Part of that can be traced to baseball’s ongoing decline with the population in general. For sure, the craft beer-and-food truck crowd finds baseball to be the Sad Old Game, and those consumers are lost forever (or the next World Series in Minnesota, which might be the same thing).
They are not alone. I hear “baseball is boring’’ much more than I hear “the Twins are lousy’’ when out amongst ‘em.
I’ve found this to be quite a contrast to the recent Timberwolves season, where large numbers of fans – meaning, those with a general interest in Minnesota sports – would inform me of their complaints over our NBA team.
It was neck-and-neck as to whether they were more unhappy with coach Tom Thibodeau or the young, faded star, Andrew Wiggins, but they were unhappy to be sure.
The Timberwolves improved by 16 wins, to 47-35, and reached the playoffs for the first time since 2004, and the reaction received in public postings and a fair share of Twin Cities media outlets bordered on the hostile.
Charles Barkley and Chris Webber were also over-the-top in their bashing of Thibodeau and the Wolves. Chuck declared them to be the “dumbest team in basketball,’’ although I think he offered that label to other units as the NBA playoffs worked their way to the inevitable Warriors’ championship.
The Twins aren’t getting much of that, maybe because the NBA is the “in’’ league with social media wizards and national sports commentators, and baseball is out.
Bottom line: I feel as though the 2018 Twins are being shortchanged in criticism.
First off, if you want to rip Wiggins for failing to come close to a satisfactory level of performance … well, the Twins have a pair of Wiggins’: Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton.
There was an indication of pending greatness for Sano after his arrival on July 2, 2015 as a rookie. Three seasons later, Sano is mired in futility that threatens to make him the biggest bust in Minnesota’s nearly six decades as an official major league sports market.
We’re talking about biggest in expectations, and not any other area, so keep those jokes to yourselves.
Any such list would not be a competition of high draft choices that flopped for the Twins, Vikings, Timberwolves, etc. This would be players that received a phenomenal buildup, showed ability, and drifted into mediocrity while still young.
Christian Laettner comes to mind; decent numbers, no positive impact on the franchise. Charlie Coyle is threatening to be a different sort of a flop; a hockey player people thought would become extra-good, not great, and is now perceived as on the trade market while in his mid-20s.
It’s a short list – all-time flops – that were greeted with the anticipation of Sano. Miguel isn’t official yet, and he doesn’t have to wind up there, but he’s on the watch list … along with Buxton and Wiggins.
There’s one large difference with Wiggins: He plays. The Timberwolves have played 333 games in his four seasons and he has played 332.
Sano has missed a bunch. So has Buxton, now on the disabled list with his .156 batting average.
Sano has a natural hitting ability that he is not close to tapping because of his wild, overamped swing. If he ever chooses to start staying on a breaking ball and bashing it to right-field gap, there is still hope.
Buxton has a tougher task of being on time with his multi-part swing, and with the game being taken over by the increased velocity from pitchers in general -- a future of solid hitting numbers seems increasingly iffy.
David Schoenfield had a piece on ESPN.com last week under the headline, “10 hyped players who are running out of time to become stars.’’
Sano and Buxton were second and third on that list.
For five years, they were going to be the combination – power and speed – to put the excitement back in the Sad Old Game for baseball absentees. Instead, they have become a major reason to continue ignoring the Twins completely.
For audience building, that’s worse than the non-stop complaints aimed at Thibs and Wiggy.