This is a make-or-break home stand for the Twins. The players have said it. Management has said it. Logically, everyone knows it. Though the odds were stacked against Minnesota at the All-Star break, they came out of it with a 44-50 record, 6.5 games back in the Wild Card race. A big home stand — say, 8-2 — would have squared their record at .500 and gave at least the glimmer of meaningful games in August.
But their starting pitching, as it has done every year starting in 2011, failed them. First it was the regulars (Kyle Gibson, Phil Hughes and Kevin Correia) blowing up in a three-game sweep against the Rays.
And now it sure looks as though, through a combination of injuries and their own ineffectiveness, five of the final seven games of the home stand will be started by Yohan Pino (twice, assuming he pitches the finale Sunday after throwing Tuesday), Anthony Swarzak (filling in today for Kyle Gibson), Kris Johnson (Monday) and Logan Darnell (Saturday).
Pino is 30 years old. Johnson will turn 30 in October. Swarzak will be 29 in September and has a 5.79 ERA in 28 career starts for the Twins.
Pino and Johnson were very good at Class AAA Rochester this year, but we really have to wonder if there is much of a realistic chance that either of them is in the long-term plans with the major league club. Swarzak has been a decent long reliever, but we’ve seen what he can do as a starter and it isn’t pretty. Darnell is 25 and was also pitching decently at Rochester, so we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and see what he can do.
But those other guys … we certainly wish them well, but they’re not exactly the types to breed confidence for the present or the future.
This home stand, given the desperate circumstances, could have been the perfect time to give Alex Meyer, Trevor May, or both of them, a chance on the hill. Meyer is the flamethrowing 24-year-old with 107 Ks in 95.1 innings at Rochester. His last four starts: 24 IP, 5 ER, 24 strikeouts. May had a calf strain that kept him out for a few weeks, but he returned to Rochester and pitched three innings Saturday. Maybe this coming weekend wouldn’t be the perfect time for a debut, but theoretically he could still work 5 innings. He’ll be 25 in September, too, so the clock is ticking.
Instead, it sounds like we’ll be seeing more of the same. The Twins are 1-1 so far in the games started by the fill-in quartet and 1-4 overall on this home stand. It will be up to Swarzak, Darnell and Pino to try to keep a make-or-break home stand that’s already broken from turning into a complete downward spiral.
And it will be up to Twins fans to decide just how far their patience can stretch.