He gets the same question every day, in formal interviews, casual conversations, and probably on an elevator or two: What can you do? How do you fix this?
“I don’t have any magical answers right now,” Twins manager Paul Molitor says. “When you hit a road that’s a little bit rough, you’ve got to find ways to dig a little deeper, work a little harder, stay positive.”
And maybe flip the calendar forward. Because August, history says, is when the Twins crumble.
The Twins return to Target Field for a six-game homestand with Texas and Cleveland on Tuesday with a 2-7 record this month. “It stinks. We didn’t play good, and got embarrassed the last two games,” second baseman Brian Dozier said. “I always try to take positives, but there really isn’t much this week, to be honest.”
“I don’t think we’re tired,” Joe Mauer said. “I just think we’re in a slump. You go through stretches like this every year.”
Yes, but that’s the point, at least with the Twins. Their rough start to August is bad, but not particularly unusual. In fact, the Twins have gone 42-82 during August during the past five seasons, a .339 winning percentage, worse than any other month, that gives life to the dreaded “dog days” pattern.
Baseball is a survival sport, in which every individual skill is swamped by the need to repeat it over and over. Being strong enough to hit a home run or athletic enough to throw the ball past hitters is great, but it’s just as important to be able to display those skills for six consecutive months. “I’m trying to teach these guys to sustain their [level of play] for 162 games,” Molitor said, “not 100.”
Well, they missed a few last week. The Twins were outscored 60-27 on a 1-6 road trip, their worst of the season, and the overriding theme has been how all-encompassing their problems are. The starting pitching has collapsed, with a combined ERA of 13.83 on the trip and 9.35 for the month.
The bullpen, its role shifting toward innings-eating and damage control rather than lead protection, is at 5.55 for August.
“It’s not fun when you’re managing, and you’re more worried about finding ways to get outs than you are trying to get back in the game,” Molitor said of his dailywho’s-available calculations with his bullpen. “Those aren’t good days.”
The defense hasn’t been awful, but the Twins haven’t made many outstanding, memorable plays, either.
And the offense? Well, Twins bats erupted for 20 hits in Toronto — for all four games. Ten of them came in one game. The Twins have been held to three hits or fewer four times in 10 days, and they’re hitting a combined .193 this month. Batting averages for the core hitters: Dozier, Mauer, Torii Hunter, Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario and Trevor Plouffe — are all below .200 in August.
They’re averaging 3.44 runs per game, down nearly a full run from July, and the numbers would be even more comical if not for a 10-run outbust Friday in Cleveland.
Put it all together? Forget winning, Molitor said, “we just want to find a way to get back to playing more competitive baseball. It hasn’t been very good in terms of closeness of games. It’s been pretty lopsided.”
He made it clear that the Twins aren’t counting on roster moves to save them, nor does he plan any major shakeups to the lineup or rotation, just a few tweaks.
The Twins have proven to be more resilient this year than in recent years, however, and several Twins believe that ability might kick in soon this time, too. Phil Hughes, for instance, said he isn’t concerned that the Twins, once 11 games above .500, are now 55-56. “I look at it as, we’re right around .500 — and we can build on that. It’s all about perspective,” he said. “Our personnel hasn’t changed, our mind-set hasn’t changed. It’s a matter of executing again.”
Added Dozier, “it’s been bad, but at the same time, there’s always another game Tuesday. And things can easily go the other way in a hurry.”