The next few series aren't "must-sweeps," and in fact they're not really even "must-wins." But if the Twins go into Cleveland and Milwaukee and get utterly dominated, it's going to be time to step back and consider whether or not this is a team that can really compete for a postseason spot.I said that on Tuesday, when previewing the Twins' series with the Indians. Three days later, the Twins don't have a sweep, or a series victory. In fact, they were completely and utterly dominated in Cleveland. The Indians outscored the Twins 25-8 on their way to a comfortable three-game sweep at Jacobs Field, where the Tribe now holds an extremely impressive 14-3 record. Whatever offensive momentum was generated by their 16-run outburst on Sunday night quickly died off for the Twins, as they managed just one run in two games after scoring seven times in a blowout loss on Tuesday night. All the ineptitude culminated yesterday afternoon in a 2-0 loss.
In his previous start against the Twins this year, Fausto Carmona set a career high for innings pitched in a game, delivering 7 2/3 frames of two-run ball as he defeated Johan Santana 5-3 at the Metrodome. Yesterday, Carmona did himself one better, tossing a complete-game shutout. In nine innings, he allowed four hits and two walks while striking out four. The Twins had only one extra-base hit, a double by Justin Morneau, but they did manage to get six at-bats with a runner in scoring position. Obviously, they went hitless in those opportunities. Carmona induced 19 ground ball outs, as opposed to just four fly balls and four strike outs.
For his part, Santana was on his game. He plowed through the first six innings, allowing just two hits and allowing just one runner to move past first base while striking out nine. Santana started out the seventh inning by allowing back-to-back solo home runs by Victor Martinez and Ryan Garko, and sadly, that put the game out of reach for the Twins. Santana now holds a 3.26 ERA, a .228 opponent's batting average, and a 4-4 record.
I'm actually having a fairly difficult time comprehending how the Twins' offense can be this bad. The struggles are nothing new to fans who have followed the Twins for even the last few years; the 2005 squad had similar difficulty scoring runs. Yet, with that team the offensive impotence was somewhat understandable. Joe Mauer was in his first full season after the knee injury in '04, Justin Morneau was struggling in his sophomore campaign, Jason Bartlett was taking his first regular lumps at the majors, and the team lacked a true lead-off hitter with an aging Shannon Stewart posting a .274 AVG and .323 OBP out of that spot. The team lacked a second baseman and Jason Kubel was out for the year after shredding up his knee the previous autumn. This year, the Twins seemingly had the pieces in place to be at the very least a middle-of-the-pack offensive club. Morneau figured things out and surprisingly captured the MVP award in '06, Bartlett seemed to have found his major-league stroke, Mauer had become one of the best pure hitters in the league, Michael Cuddyer had a break-out year and stepped up as a legitimate cleanup hitter, and Luis Castillo has provided a true lead-off man.
Yet, the Twins have struggled to score more than a couple runs per game on a remotely consistent basis. They have amassed three or fewer runs in nine of their 14 games this month, and not surprisingly they have gone 1-8 in those games.
One of the central issues with the Twins' lineup this year has been the lack of production from Bartlett and Nick Punto. I think most people expected these two players to regress somewhat from the outstanding performances they had last year, but both have fallen off a cliff. Punto currently sports a .625 OPS (.725 last year), while Bartlett is at .637 (.760 last year). These two were major catalysts in the team's dramatic turnaround last season, but so far this year their performances haven't been significantly better than the April and May performances put forth by Tony Batista and Juan Castro last year. I think this offense has a chance to turn things around and start scoring some runs, but much of that will depend on the ability of Bartlett and Punto (as well as Jason Kubel) to start hitting like they're capable of, because the rest of this lineup -- with the exception of the black hole at DH -- has been more than satisfactory thus far.
With Mr. Mosvick vacationing in Virginia for the next few days, I will hopefully be taking over blogging duties for the weekend. I'm departing for Milwaukee this afternoon, where I'll be taking in Saturday night's Twins/Brewers contest at Miller Park (drop a line if you'll be there). Hopefully I'll have Internet access in my hotel; if not, I'll have a full recap when I come back on Sunday.
Also, make sure to check out the latest edition of Jeff Straub's Podcast for the Minnesota Twins Fan Network, in which I make one of my frequent appearances for a lengthy interview.