It’s amazing how things can change overnight in Major League Baseball. Last Friday, the Twins returned from Baltimore after sweeping an Orioles team that had been playing exceptionally well at Camden Yards.
So the Twins were in first place by two games in the American League Central and seven games above .500, with Tampa Bay and Houston coming to Target Field for two three-game series.
And with starters Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios pitching well and the bullpen supplying steady support, there were high hopes the team would continue winning.
But the game can turn just like that. The Twins lost five of six and were dominated in a sweep by the Astros.
The bullpen collapsed, allowing 28 runs in three games to Houston (another 12 runs were given up by starters). Closer Brandon Kintzler, who had been impressive, started the downfall Sunday when he allowed two runs to Tampa Bay — only his second blown save of the season — in a game the Rays eventually won in 15 innings. In the three games in Baltimore, the bullpen only gave up one run in 6⅔ innings. But against Tampa Bay they had a 4.21 ERA in 17⅔ innings and then imploded with a 26.00 ERA in nine innings against the Astros.
The Twins allowed 56 runs in six home games. The bullpen contributed 36 of those runs (34 earned), and the defense made six errors to make it harder on their pitching staff.
But if you’re looking for positives, the Twins still stand at 26-23 and are in a virtual tie for first in the Central with the Indians, which is a vast improvement from last season when they were 15-34 and 12 games out of first place at this time.
I talked with Twins owner Jim Pohlad on Friday to gauge his excitement about his squad, who were surprising everybody. He talked about the youth of the team and how there were going to be ups and downs during the season.
“The record is clearly turned around,” Pohlad said. “It was a good team last year, I believed. We had a terrible record, but I don’t think the record reflected the quality of the team. This year the team is even better, people are a year older, and they’re maturing.”
That terrible start last season led to the ousting of longtime General Manager Terry Ryan, and Pohlad said sometimes it just takes a while for young players to develop.
“We had a lot of young players, and the young players tend to mature,” he said. “They’re getting into their sweet spot of production.
“And those are guys that Terry believed in, and so did [former GM] Bill Smith. They’re just now coming into their own.”
Pohlad had high praise for Santana, a leading candidate for the AL Cy Young Award with a MLB-leading 1.75 ERA.
“He’s been doing it all these years, and I think he could even get better,” Pohlad said.
Berrios had his worst start of the season against Houston on Tuesday, allowing four runs, four walks and five hits in five innings. Pohlad said those kind of games can happen with young starters.
“You don’t come out of the minor leagues and suddenly become Cy Young, we all know that,” he said. “[Berrios is] going to have good games, and he’s going to have bad games, but he’s clearly making tons of progress.”
Pohlad also praised Joe Mauer, who is hitting the ball well after a slow start. Mauer’s batting average has climbed to .286, and he is hitting .310 with three homers, 14 RBI and 21 runs scored in his past 34 games. During May, Mauer has been even better: hitting .346 (28-for-81) with six doubles, three home runs, 11 RBI, 13 walks and 15 runs scored.
“I think Joe is doing a great job,” he said. “Joe has always given it 100 percent, but sometimes the ball just doesn’t fall where he or anyone else wants it. But he’s having a great year.”
Pohlad also spoke about his new baseball front office and said that while there wasn’t a ton of offseason news, he said he thinks Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey and General Manager Thad Levine are making smart moves.
“It’s hard for the public because there were not a lot of additions during the offseason, but there’s a lot going on behind the scenes,” Pohlad said. “In the coaching staff, there were additions there and in their baseball operations department, there’s a lot going on in terms of systems, etc., that people can’t see but will bear fruit in the long term.”
Pohlad also said money will not be an issue when it comes to the upcoming draft and the Twins’ No. 1 overall pick.
“We know what all the slots and the maximum amount you can spend and that’s the amount we have already reserved in our financial statements for the draft,” he said. “Money is not an issue.”
Pohlad did say the team will have to keep working on improving attendance.
“We’re not happy,” he said about the early-season draw. “At one point we were almost at 3 million, so why would we be happy? We need to rebuild the brand and convince people it’s a competitive product that’s worth watching, as well as the experience at Target Field.”
And while the most recent homestand didn’t prove the point, there’s no doubt this Twins squad is in a much better position to be competitive all summer.
• One Twin quite familiar with the Astros’ talent is catcher Jason Castro, who spent six seasons with the team. “They’re pretty good,” he said. “They have a really solid lineup, pretty good starting pitching staff and some good guys in the pen. They’re a good team. They have some guys that can hit the ball a long way, they put together some good at-bats and unfortunately, they were clicking at the right time [against] us.”
• Twins right fielder Max Kepler went 2-for-5 Wednesday and recorded his 11th multi-hit game of the season, compared to 18 multi-hit games last season in 113 games. … Will the Twins will find more playing time for infielder Ehire Adrianza, who has played in 12 games, had a pinch-hit double Wednesday and is now hitting .318 this season?
• Some good news for Kevin Warren, the Vikings chief operating officer, and his family as his son, Powers, is graduating from IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., on Friday. Powers, who is 6-4 and 240 pounds, is committed to play football at Mississippi State next season.