The Twins were able to put themselves in good position with a four-game sweep of the A's coming out of the All-Star break. Now they have managed to completely take themselves out of that good position with a heart-breaking sweep at home against the division-leading Tigers. The Twins had not been swept at the Metrodome in a three-game series in more than three years, and they picked the absolute worst time imaginable to break that streak. The truly sad thing is that all three games seemed so very winnable. The Twins got three Quality Starts in the series, but wasted them all by scoring a total of five runs over three games. The sweep was clinched for the Tigers yesterday afternoon when the Twins scored just three runs over 10 innings (including zero runs over 3 1/3 innings against Detroit's formerly horrible bullpen) before Joe Nathan finally gave up the deciding run in the extra frame. The Twins now find themselves nine games out of first place in the AL Central and seven games out of the Wild Card lead. In order to make the playoffs, the Twins would have to either make up nine games in just over two months against an excellent Detroit ballclub, or surpass three star-studded teams (Indians, Mariners and Yankees) in the Wild Card race.
Yesterday's atrocity of a loss was marked by missed opportunities, bad base-running and poor defense. What do you expect when two of your outfield starters are Jason Tyner and Garrett Jones, and your No. 5 hitter is a backup catcher with a .680 OPS? The Twins' lack of depth is laughable, and it has been exposed time and time again this season. This has not been not difficult to see for even the most casual of fans, but as Jim Souhan writes, Terry Ryan elected to sit back and watch the Twins' season slip away as the offense continually sputtered and failed to support great pitching performances. Over their last nine games, the Twins have gotten eight Quality Starts from their rotation, allowing an average of 3.1 runs per game during that span. Their record over those nine games was 4-5. How did that happen, exactly? There's a pretty easy answer.
In those last nine games, the 7-9 hitters in the Twins' lineup have gone a combined 19-for-87 (.213) with eight runs scored and five RBI. That's absolutely abysmal production from one-third of the lineup. The problems with the bottom part of this lineup have been very clear for some time, and even low-scale moves like calling up a Brian Buscher to play third or bringing in a Ty Wigginton to DH would have almost undoubtedly given a boost to this ridiculously punchless portion of the batting order. Instead Ryan sat still and watched the team continue to feed at-bats to guys like Tyner, Jones and Nick Punto. For this, considerable blame must be placed on the shoulders of the general manager.
What makes this situation truly frustrating is the fact that the Twins are so close to being a great team. They have so many pieces in place: a slugging first baseman who is on pace to put up numbers very similar to the ones that captured him an MVP last year, a catcher who is getting on base at a .400 clip, a center fielder who has been one of the league's best and is playing his ass off in the final year of his contract, a stellar rotation with young pitchers who are stepping up right when the team needs them, and a bullpen that continues to be one of the league's most reliable despite several injuries and performance issues. Despite all this, the Twins cannot distance themselves from the .500 mark because the bottom half of their lineup is a black hole that produces outs at an alarming rate.
The Twins went into a home series against the team they are chasing hardest carrying all the momentum in the world. They got spectacular pitching against the league's best offense, and still managed to lose by one run in each of the three games they played. That's utterly devastating. For all intents and purposes, the Twins have pushed themselves out of contention with this depressing sweep. This ship is quickly sinking, and if you want to know why, look no further than the bottom-heavy lineup that is pulling the team asunder, and the general manager who has sat idly by and watched it happen.