Things have been ugly lately for the Twins, and they certainly didn't seem to be getting better in last night's 8-1 thrashing by the Mets at Shea Stadium. New York starter John Maine dominated the Twins lineup, allowing just one run on four hits over 7 1/3 innings, while the Twins' pitching staff got beat around for eight runs on 15 hits. The only real bright points in the game for the Twins were a few nice defensive plays, but even those were overshadowed by some very poor ones. Overall, it was an atrocious effort for the Twins, highlighted by some discouraging individual performances. Let's take a look at some of those now.
* For a second consecutive day, Juan Rincon was awful. After letting the Brewers back into what should have been a blowout Twins victory on Sunday by allowing three earned runs in one innings, Rincon gave up three more earned runs (and a fourth unearned run) to the Mets yesterday to essentially put the game out of reach for the Twins. Rincon started the eighth inning by giving up a home run to the Mets' No. 8 hitter Ricky Ledee. He then allowed a single to Jose Reyes (who stole second). After Paul Lo Duco reached on Jason Bartlett's 13th error of the season, Rincon surrendered back-to-back doubles. He then intentionally walked Carlos Delgado and left the game with the bases loaded and just one out. Fortunately, Pat Neshek was able to limit the damage and escaped the inning with just one more run scoring.
Rincon's stock has dropped dramatically over the past year or so. There was a time when he was one of the league's most dominant setup men, teaming up with closer Joe Nathan to provide a devastating 1-2 punch in the eighth and ninth innings. Between 2004 and 2005, Rincon posted a 2.55 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. Over 159 innings between those two seasons, Rincon allowed just 115 hits while striking out 190. Last year, he posted a 2.91 ERA, but there was some clear regression in his peripherals and his numbers during the last two months of the season were ugly. Those struggles have carried over into this season. After his hideous performances in the last two games, Rincon sits with a 4.50 ERA and .303 BAA. He is now, at best, the fourth-best reliever in the Twins' bullpen, and his abilities to miss bats and avoid home runs have seemingly disappeared. Rincon had been looked at as a valuable trading piece for the Twins considering their deep bullpen, so it is very disappointing to see him fall off the charts he way he has.
* Joe Mauer, who went 0-for-3 with a walk in last night's game, has collected just seven hits in 37 at-bats (.189) since returning from the disabled list and sliding into the No. 2 spot in the lineup. During that span, he has seen his batting average drop from .353 to .309. He's struck out four times while drawing just three walks, and is now slugging just .432 despite his solid batting average. As a team, the Twins are struggling to collect extra-base hits, and Mauer is a guy who needs to step up in that department.
* Mauer's partner at the top of the order has also been slumping lately. Luis Castillo went 0-for-4 in last night's game, dropping his average to .313. Since collecting three hits in the Twins' series opener against the Braves, Castillo has gone just 3-for-25 (.120) in his last six games. As a guy who doesn't walk much and almost never gets an extra-base hit, Castillo needs to rely on a high batting average to maintain his value as a lead-off hitter. While a .313 average might seem pretty good at first glimpse, it hides a relatively unimpressive .356 on-base percentage and a downright horrible .343 slugging percentage. In short, if Castillo isn't batting .335, he's not a particularly strong player anymore.
* Carlos Silva's up-and-down season continued with a disappointing outing last night. After pitching perhaps the best game of his career in a complete game shutout of the Braves last Wednesday, Silva came out and gave up four runs over six innings last night in New York. From a results standpoint, that's not all that bad, because the Mets have a very strong lineup, but suffice to say that he was fortunate that only four runs scored. In his six innings, Silva allowed 10 hits and two walks for a total of 12 base-runners.
* Nick Punto went 0-for-4 in the game and is now hitting .225/.317/.293. I've been sticking up for Punto all season and continually arguing that, despite his terrible batting average and complete lack of power, he was a serviceable player at the bottom of the lineup as long as he continued to draw walks and steal bases in bunches. Well, in his last 10 games, Punto has drawn just one walk and stolen just one base while striking out five times and batting .226.
At this point, the majority of the players in the Twins lineup are slumping and the pitching staff has really not been too overwhelming outside of Pat Neshek. The Twins play 16 of their next 20 games on the road, with many of those coming against some pretty good teams. Unless some of these players can get their acts together, the Twins could very easily find themselves out of legitimate contention by the time this stretch of games is done.