Sure, the Twins have been in a horrible slump, even though they did shut out the Toronto Blue Jays 4-0 on Wednesday behind an impressive debut from top pitching prospect Fernando Romero.
But if you want to be positive in any way, you have to understand the Twins have been playing without their No. 1 starter in Ervin Santana (finger surgery), their No. 1 defender in center fielder Byron Buxton (migraines, broken toe), their best power hitter in third baseman Miguel Sano (strained hamstring) and starting shortstop Jorge Polanco (80-game suspension for steroid use). They were bound to struggle some.
Manager Paul Molitor has been critical of the team, and after they blew a 4-3 lead Tuesday and lost 7-4 in 10 innings of ugly baseball, he said: “We’re kind of getting what we deserve in some ways. We’re not finding ways to play clean baseball. And it’s been biting us big time.”
But after Wednesday’s victory, Molitor acknowledged how tough it has been missing so many key components from last season’s playoff team.
“It does make a difference,” he said. “You have to find a way. That’s where your depth plays an important role in how well your team can maneuver through adversity. We just played Toronto and they don’t have [shortstop Troy] Tulowitzki or [third baseman Josh] Donaldson and they’re finding a way to win their share of games. No one is going to feel sorry for you. We’d love to have people healthy and contributing but some days, you just have to go with what you’ve got.”
While Sano missed most of the final weeks of last season because of a stress reaction in his left shin, Santana, Buxton and Polanco all played key roles in the team’s surge into the playoffs.
This year’s Twins have had pitching and defensive problems, and Buxton is perhaps the most important player on the team because of his defense.
“I think you love it when he’s swinging the bat well, but the defensive component of what he can bring to a team is game-changing,” Molitor said. “Obviously being the best defensive player in the league last year, when he’s out of there, it makes a difference on how we can play the game.”
A big challenge for Molitor and his coaching staff, as the team has gone 3-12 in the past 15 games, has been keeping up morale in the clubhouse.
“I think it has been tough,” he said. “You can feel the weight of a couple of weeks of subpar baseball. I think leadership, the veterans have to find a way, as well as myself and my staff, to try to find a way to make sure that every day we’re ready to play.”
What has been most troubling for Molitor is the lack of quality baseball. The Twins have 17 errors this season through 26 games, compared to eight errors in that time span last season.
“I think that is part of it,” he said. “The mental side of the game, when you start putting too much pressure on yourself, you’re not going to play relaxed and you’re going to make more mistakes than ever. It’s [time to get] back to playing better fundamental baseball. It’s hard to watch at times when we’re not executing the way that I know we’re capable of. But I still feel we have a lot of good baseball left in us.”
Molitor was pleased with the way the pitching staff rebounded Wednesday and had praise for closer Fernando Rodney, who threw a perfect ninth inning but has allowed 13 hits and five earned runs in only 9⅔ innings to produce a 1-2 record and a 4.66 ERA.
“I think he has thrown better than the results,” Molitor said. “He has had a couple of saves that have slipped away, some of it a little bit of misfortune. But he’s a guy that I think is going to continue to get better as the summer unfolds.”
Does Molitor think Wednesday’s victory can get the team going after a really rough stretch?
“I can only hope so,” he said. “We’re going down to Chicago, division rival, and hopefully we can play well.”
• An article on NFL.com this week said the third-best value pick in the recent draft was the Vikings’ selection of University of Central Florida cornerback Mike Hughes at No. 30 overall because of the great depth he can add to an already solid defensive backfield and his ability to return punts and kicks.
• When Las Vegas oddsmakers released their first batch of over/under win totals for the upcoming season, they had the Vikings pegged at 10½ wins, tied with the Packers, Eagles, Steelers and Patriots for the most in the NFL. The Vikings will play all of those teams except the Steelers next season. … BetDSI Sportsbook recently opened their odds for NFL divisional winners and had the Vikings behind the Packers as the favorite for the NFC North.
• Twins infielder Eduardo Escobar extended his hitting streak to nine games Wednesday, going 2-for-4 with a double. He is batting .389 during the streak and leads the major leagues with 13 doubles.
• For the second year in a row, Hill-Murray graduate Jake Guentzel is leading the NHL in postseason goals. Guentzel has eight goals, tied for the postseason lead, after leading the NHL playoffs with 13 last year. He also has an NHL-high 19 points in nine games. It’s amazing to think Guentzel lasted into the third round of the 2013 NHL draft at No. 77 overall. The Wild didn’t have a first-round pick that year but did take defenseman Gustav Olofsson 46th overall in the second round.
• Former Gophers forward and Breck star Blake Wheeler had the best season of his career for Winnipeg with a career-high 91 points and 68 assists and he has continued his fine play in the postseason. After scoring four points in the Jets’ five-game series victory over the Wild, Wheeler has two goals and four assists in three games against Nashville. Winnipeg leads that series 2-1.
• St. Thomas football coach Glenn Caruso will led the Tommies on a tour of Ireland and Italy later this month and play against an Italian college team. … The Tommies football team had 19 Hampshire Scholars — an academic honor for selected graduating seniors who maintained a 3.2 GPA or better — which is a Division III record.
• D.J. Snelten, 25, became the 35th former Gophers baseball player to reach the major leagues when he made his debut for the Giants last Saturday. In three appearances, Snelten has allowed one run.
• The Gophers baseball team (29-12, 11-3 Big Ten), which is in second place in the conference behind Michigan, will play an important home series against Indiana this weekend. The Gophers, ranked No. 23 in the Collegiate Baseball poll, have a 3.37 team ERA. Two true freshman have paced the pitching staff — Patrick Fredrickson (6-0, 1.61 ERA) and Max Meyer (11 saves, 2.19 ERA) — and sophomore reliever Brett Schulze is 8-0 with a 2.27 ERA.