When establishing expectations for the 2013 season, Twins officials frequently used the word, “progress.” They hoped to compete, but at a minimum wanted to see signs from manager Ron Gardenhire had the club was moving forward after 195 losses over the two previous seasons.
With the regular season now down to 71 remaining games, the Twins need a rally to achieve their minimum goal.
The pre-All Star break portion of the season looked a lot like the last two years, as the Twins wobble into this weekend’s series against visiting Cleveland with a 38-53 record. Starting pitching, once again, is not reliable. The bullpen showed signs of stress in recent weeks. And the offense has lacked clutch hitting.
The Twins have discovered in the season’s first half just how challenging it is to teach and win at the same time.
There’s a core of veterans, led by Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. But Gardenhire writes out lineups each day that always include several inexperienced players. Shortstop Pedro Florimon, second baseman, Brian Dozier, and outfielders Aaron Hicks and Chris Parmelee (demoted last week) began the year without a full year in the majors. Righthander Kyle Gibson and outfielder Oswaldo Arcia (demoted last week) made their major league debuts this season.
“I think with how young we are, guys are learning and getting some experience,” said Mauer, who injected youth into his comment when asked about the team’s outlook for the rest of the season. “Guys are learning and, hopefully, in the second half we make a run here.”
The Twins roster added more inexperience last weekend when they sent Arcia, Parmelee and Eduardo Escobar to Class AAA Rochester and called up infielder Doug Bernier (two games of major league experience), catcher Chris Herrmann (14) and are expected to add outfielder/first baseman Chris Colabello (seven) in time for the Twins’ weekend series against Cleveland at Target Field.
Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said on Thursday that he has seen some positive signs during the first half. He’s encouraged about Glen Perkins’ rise as a closer, Samuel Deduno figuring out his control and the contributions relievers Ryan Pressley, Casey Fien and Caleb Thielbar have made.
“I know that’s hard to accept with the record that we’ve had,” Ryan said. “We had a few guys who did quite well. Brian Dozier has made progress. Pedro Florimon has made progress. I’m not going to say that’s satisfactory. I don’t want to make it sound like we are doing fine because we are not.”
Ryan, in response to a Star Tribune column last week calling for Gardenhire’s job, stated that he’s not interested in making an in-season move and prefers to give the second longest-tenured manager in baseball time to salvage the season.
Twins could get younger
So it’s up to Gardenhire to try to get the mix of veterans and unfinished products to get on a roll during the second half. It will be quite a task. In 2011 and 2012, the Twins played .346 ball after the All-Star break. If they do that again this year, they will finish 62-100.
Developing younger players isn’t the only problem. Their .248 batting average with runners in scoring system is a team-wide problem. And they need better outings from veteran starters Mike Pelfrey, Kevin Correia and Scott Diamond.
Few outside the club felt the Twins were going to compete this year and based their success on how Dozier, Florimon, Parmelee and Aaron Hicks moved forward. For the Twins to head into 2014 with some momentum — and make it easier to bring Gardenhire back — the inexperienced players on the team need to show enough improvement to provide hope for the next season.
It’s also likely that the Twins will be even younger after the July 31 deadline for trades without requiring waivers to deal players. The Twins are definitely in sell mode, and scouts have been checking out players in recent games.
Perkins could fetch a nice return in a deal, but indications are that the Twins want him to be part of the future. Morneau reportedly has drawn interest from the Rays, Pirates and Yankees. While he’s not hitting for a lot of power, he’s driving in runs and has playoff experience. Another report linked the Rockies to righthander Vance Worley, who is pitching at Class AAA Rochester. Correia, Pelfrey and Ryan Doumit could also draw interest. Josh Willingham’s recent knee surgery will make it tough to trade him, since he’s not expected to be back until sometime in August.
No matter. Expect the Twins to be active before the July 31 deadline. And that could lead to even more growing pains
If a veteran or two are dealt, a young player will likely replace them. And if the Twins deal veterans for prospects, that could lead to more growing pains, a fact that isn’t likely to keep the Twins from exploring their trading options.
“ ‘We’re not doing very good,” Ryan said. “We should be somewhat active here and see what’s going on. Whether or not it comes to something we have to see what possibilities are out there.’’