The Twins woke up Tuesday in second place in the AL Central, something that hadn't been true since mid-April. It turned out to be a brief stay, for now, after some drama finally went their way Tuesday and they reclaimed a half-game lead.
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 ½-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 entering Tuesday Minnesota was 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. Under normal circumstances that would have allowed the Twins to still hold at least a modest lead in the division. In that same time, though, Cleveland went a very abnormal 43-17.
That said, the Twins have had five crushing defeats in the past 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 score 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 Carlos Santana. Cleveland won 4-3. The Twins still won the series, but a victory there makes the lead 8 ½ instead of 6 ½.
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, featured a Rogers blown save and a game-ending diving catch in center field by Aaron Hicks with the bases loaded.
Aug. 1 at Miami: The meltdown vs. the Marlins, when 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 walkoff against Oakland and a huge win Tuesday in Milwaukee. That victory made them 16-14 since the break, and they are 16-10 overall in one-run games.
If you are a glass-is-half-full person, you might say that despite 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 the Twins' 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.
Or this Twins season could rival the Vikings of 2003 and 2016 for the dubious honor of dream season turned into a nightmare.