The Twins are now in second place in the AL Central, something that hasn’t been true since mid-April.
A variety of circumstances brought them soaring up and sliding back down, but these things can be simultaneously true: The Twins haven’t played that poorly overall since vaulting to a 40-18 start and an 11.5-game lead in the division … but they have also done themselves few favors since the All-Star break.
Calling this a collapse isn’t quite correct, given that Minnesota has gone 31-29 since that blistering start — an 84-win pace that, while hardly great is probably more in line with what we expected at the start of the year and under normal circumstances would have allowed the Twins to still hold at least a modest lead in the division.
In that same time, though, Cleveland has gone 43-17 — a ridiculous pace that includes wins in back-to-back games on Carlos Santana late-game home runs, the second against Boston on Monday night to claim a half-game lead in the AL Central.
That said, the Twins have had five crushing defeats in the last month that hastened their descent into second place. All of them shared a familiar theme: bullpen letdowns.
*July 14 at Cleveland: After rallying to tie the game at 3, the Twins gave the lead right back in the bottom of the seventh when Trevor May hung an 0-2 breaking ball to Santana. Cleveland won 4-3. The Twins still won the series, but a victory there makes the lead 8.5 instead of 6.5.
*July 20 vs. Oakland: Taylor Rogers was within one strike of preserving a 4-3 win, but a double and single with two outs in the ninth gave the A’s a 5-4 lead. In the bottom half, Mitch Garver grounded into a double play with the bases loaded to end it.
*July 23 vs. New York Yankees: The epic 14-12 loss, which had too many twists and turns to name, but which also featured a Rogers blown save and ended with a diving catch in center field by Aaron Hicks with the bases loaded.
*Aug. 1 at Miami — The meltdown vs. the Marlins, when the newly acquired Sam Dyson blew a 4-1 lead in the ninth — later winding up on the injured list after another bad outing — and the Twins lost 5-4.
*Sunday vs. Cleveland — The potential winning run was thrown out at the plate in the bottom of the ninth, stalling a Twins rally and leading to long Twitter rants about third base coach Tony Diaz and granular inspections of pinch runner Ehire Adrianza’s foot speed (note: He’s not really that much slower, if at all, than Jake Cave). The Twins lost in extra innings, another critical two-game swing and another meltdown from the oft-used Rogers.
The Twins had their share of dramatic wins during that time, too — a rally in Cleveland in the first game after the break, a walk-off against Oakland and another walk-off against Atlanta among them. They are 15-14 since the break and 16-10 overall in one-run games.
If you are a glass-is-half-full person, you might say that in spite of everything that has gone wrong for the Twins (including critical injuries to Byron Buxton, Nelson Cruz and Dyson) and right for Cleveland (winning seemingly every game, often with a preponderance of unsustainable clutch hits), Minnesota is in good shape. Their ace in the hole is the schedule: 25 of their final 38 against the Royals, Tigers and White Sox and six more with Cleveland to prove themselves, while the Indians have a tougher slate (including seven in a row soon in New York against the Yankees and suddenly surging Mets).
If you’re a glass-is-half-empty sort, there’s this: The Twins overachieved for the first two months. Their bullpen woes were masked during that time by a lot of blowout wins and low-leverage work, and their attempts to shore up that deficiency at the deadline met the bare minimum (Sergio Romo and Dyson) but immediately took a hit with Dyson’s injury.
This Cleveland rally *could* be the equivalent of an NBA team getting down big early, furiously coming back and then running out of gas when the better team re-establishes itself in the fourth quarter, particularly if Dyson and Cruz come back healthy soon.
Or this Twins season could rival the Vikings of 2003 and 2016 for the dubious honor of dream season turned into a nightmare. The odds still overwhelmingly favor the Twins to at least make the playoffs, but they also overwhelmingly favored the Twins to win the division just a couple months ago.