Expectations were high for the Twins as they set out for a third consecutive American League Central title under manager Rocco Baldelli. But their awful April has changed everything.
Remember when they were touted before the season for having quality veteran arms in the bullpen? That bullpen has been treated like a playpen by opponents, leading to one of the worst ERAs in baseball. And Baldelli's attempts to get closer Alex Colome on track have cost him games.
Remember when the Twins signed Andrelton Simmons to play short and moved Jorge Polanco to second to maximize run prevention on a team already with good glovemen? Defensive miscues have cost them at least two games, and their best defense hasn't been on the field because of injuries and COVID-19 absences.
Remember the optimism about the offense with a healthy Josh Donaldson and Byron Buxton? Donaldson has been on the injured list already, and Buxton has battled knee and hamstring soreness. Both are hitting — with Buxton off to a marvelous start — but you wish baseball allowed rubber uniforms.
Remember expecting one or two of the group of Max Kepler, Polanco, Miguel Sano and Mitch Garver to have bounceback seasons? Kepler was awful at the plate before testing positive for COVID-19; Polanco is fighting to hit above .200; Sano was fighting to stay over .100 before landing on the IL; and Garver, before hitting two homers on Wednesday, was repeating his poor 2020.
Remember when Kenta Maeda finished second in the AL Cy Young voting last season? He posted a 6.56 ERA in April.
There were some bad breaks in April. But the first step toward solving a problem is admitting that you have one. And the Twins have earned their record: 9-16.
The Twins lost 15 of their first 22 games. The last time that happened was 2016, and that team ended up 59-103. Since 2006, the Twins have had single-digit wins through 22 games five times. Four of those teams finished with a losing record.
The outlier was the 2006 team that began 9-13 and was 25-33 in early June before playing .682 ball the rest of the way and finishing with 96 wins.
Justin Morneau, the first baseman on that team and a current Bally Sports North analyst, said the key to emerging from the ruins of two bad months was not trying to eat up the deficit in a couple of weeks.
"The main thing that we focused on was that you have to get back to .500," Morneau said. "Until you get back to .500, it seems crazy to talk about winning the division. So you have to simplify the goals."
That mind-set clicked for the 2006 Twins. They reached 35-35 by June 21, exhaled, won 11 straight and never looked back.
It's possible that the 2021 Twins can pull off the same feat. But having to play better than .600 ball for the next five months means they have significantly narrowed their room for error.
Remember when I predicted that the 2021 Twins would win 93 games? I'm walking back on that one.
Wolves just want to win
We must prepare ourselves for the likelihood that the improving Timberwolves are not going to finish with one of the three worst records in the NBA. This will decrease their odds of landing a top-three pick in the NBA draft lottery, thereby increasing the odds of their having to relinquish that first-round pick — between four and 14 — to Golden State to finalize the Andrew Wiggins-D'Angelo Russell deal.
Yes, the Wolves could luck out in the lottery and still finish with a top-three pick. And yes, it would be fascinating to see them keep the pick and add another top talent in this summer's draft. But the Wolves don't seem to care about that now. They've decided to finish the season strong.
Draft delivers good fun
A 37-year-old "Jeopardy!" host failed to hijack the first night of the NFL draft. We had a Cowboys-Eagles (unholy alliance!) trade. The Bears dealing with the Giants to nab Justin Fields, their first high-quality QB prospect since never. And Rick Spielman, of course, getting antsy, dealing, causing Vikings Twitter to revolt and then still getting one of the top linemen available.
The event that needed no more spice was infused with ghost pepper, which made for high-quality viewing.
Winning Twins? Not yet
I'm not predicting a big Twins turnaround at this point. A stretch of 26 games in 27 days (including a makeup doubleheader at the Angels) will factor into their going 15-15 in May.
Winning Wild? You betcha
Six games remain for the Wild, and here's how I see that playing out. The Wild will spend all this week in St. Paul, with two games against Las Vegas, then two more against Anaheim. It will end the regular season next week in St. Louis, with a back-to-back. I see a split against Las Vegas, a sweep of Anaheim and a split with the physical Blues. Then: the high drama — and this year, the unknown structure — of the NHL playoffs.
The 3-2 Pitch: Three observations and two predictions every Sunday.
LaVelle.Neal@startribune.com. • Twitter: @LaVelleNeal