Ervin Santana made his first start for the Twins on July 5, 2015, and wound up with a no-decision in a 3-2 loss in Kansas City. The loss left the Twins at 43-39, 4 ½ games behind the Royals and tied for the second wild-card with Baltimore.
Two years later, Santana was making a final start before the All-Star Game, where he will join Miguel Sano as the Twins’ reps. Big Erv pitched his fourth complete game -- and it became a 2-1 loss to the Angels. That left the Twins at 43-41, in third place and 1 1/2 games behind Cleveland.
From here, the Twins’ presence in the AL mix has seemed more a charade than it was in the middle of 2015, although it’s tough to say exactly why it has felt that way.
The easy answer is that when a team has been extra bad as often as have these Twins, it’s hard to escape the idea that this is a bad team.
The Twins have been beaten 17-6 — twice. They have been beaten by nine runs or more in eight games. Chris Gimenez has pitched in six games — doubling the Twins’ season record for a position player held by outfielder John Moses in 1990.
The most recent position player to pitch with similar frequency was outfielder Bob Bowman. He pitched in five games for the 1959 Phillies, a team that finished last in the National League at 64-90.
Those Phillies had such promise that, in 1960, they lost 9-4 on Opening Day and manager Eddie Sawyer quit, famously saying: “I’m 49 years old, and I want to live to be 50.”
Gene Mauch was hired away from the Minneapolis Millers and took over for the third game. The Phillies were 61-93 in 1960, and then had a major league record losing streak of 23 games in 1961.
That’s what you’re supposed to be dealing with when you have a position player getting regular work on the mound.
Throw in the fact the Twins were an all-time worst 59-103 last season, and it’s a surprise that manager Paul Molitor didn’t watch what he had on the mound this spring, without Trevor May and Glen Perkins, and announce his resignation, saying:
“I’m a 60 years old, and I want to live to be 61.”
The manager has plowed forward through odd roster decisions by the front office, and there is now this alarming sight:
All those nights of being slaughtered aside, the Twins appear to have a better team on the field than when they hung into the wild-card race until the final weekend in 2015.
Nobody has spent three months more convinced than me that when the air came out of this balloon it was going to be the baseball equivalent of the Hindenburg’s sad fate.
Now, I’m perplexed. If the 2006 Twins were pesky Piranhas, the 2017 Twins so far have been tougher to kill than cockroaches. You can’t go spouting that, so I’m going to put a word in Ozzie Guillen’s mouth and suggest that if he was competing against these players he would bill them as the Cucarachos.
Here’s a comparison:
C: Kurt Suzuki (2015) vs. Jason Castro. Tossup.
1B: Joe Mauer. He’s better in the field and hitting more balls hard this season.
2B: Brian Dozier. Same player. Very good.
SS: Eduardo Escobar (2015) vs. Jorge Polanco. The best part of this is Polanco is going to hit, and both Escobar and better-than-anticipated Ehire Adrianza are available to provide relief.
3B: Trevor Plouffe (2015) vs. Miguel Sano. That was Plouffe’s best season, but he wasn’t the Sano of 2017.
LF: Eddie Rosario. Still streaky, still swinging at everything, yet a better player today.
CF: Aaron Hicks (2015) vs. Byron Buxton. Hicks wasn’t much with the bat then; Buxton isn’t much now, but he catches everything.
RF: Torii Hunter (2015) vs. Max Kepler. Sorry, Torii. I have to go with the kid.
DH: Sano (2015) vs. Robbie Grossman. Sano arrived on July 2 in 2015 and was voted the team MVP.
SP: Tyler Duffey gave the Twins a big boost with 10 late starts, but Santana, Jose Berrios, Adalberto Mejia and a rebounding Kyle Gibson make this a stronger group.
RP: Once Perkins went backward in August 2015, it was Kevin Jepsen vs. the world. Believe it or not, Brandon Kintzler, Taylor Rogers and Duffey is a better back of the bullpen than down the stretch two years ago.
Hey, I’m still not convinced, but I’ll offer up the Cucarachos as a nickname.
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. email@example.com