On June 18, I mused about Ron Gardenhire's arrogant response to reporters asking him about some of the team's potential concerns ("Minnesota Twins! We're in first place guys!"). I contended that many of those questions were valid, given that despite the team's place atop the AL Central standings, they'd just finished up a rather soft portion of their schedule with rather pedestrian results and were coming upon a far more difficult stretch in which those aforementioned concerns could come to the forefront.
In the 10 days since I wrote that post, the Twins have gone 3-6 while allowing the Tigers to close within a half-game of first place, with the surging White Sox just a game behind them.
The Twins' offense has disappeared on certain days as the team continues to receive less production than expected from key players like Denard Span, Joe Mauer and Michael Cuddyer. J.J. Hardy's return still is not in sight. Orlando Hudson is back but has hit just .147/.216/.176 with 11 strikeouts and only three walks in 37 plate appearances since returning from the disabled list (entering play yesterday), suggesting that his wrist is continuing to cause problems.
More alarming than the offense's slump, however, is the complete deterioration of the rotation outside of Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano. While those two continue to perform well, the team's other three starters have combined to produce a 5.24 ERA while allowing 321 hits and 42 home runs over 259 1/3 innings. Scott Baker has failed to get on track after getting his season off to a characteristically slow start, Kevin Slowey looks like a lesser pitcher in the wake of major offseason wrist surgery, and Nick Blackburn's inability to miss bats -- or even induce weak contact with regularity -- has turned him into one of the league's worst starters.
The lineup's current lull is likely to turn around at some point and shouldn't be an ongoing concern but the struggles of 60 percent of the starting rotation show no signs of going away. To his credit, Ron Gardenhire has sought to address the team's run-scoring issues by using Cuddyer at third base, and soon he will need to start taking measures to stem the rotation's bleeding. That might start with adding Brian Duensing to the rotation and it might ultimately lead to a heated trade deadline pursuit of Cliff Lee.
The Twins are amidst an ugly slump. That's nothing to panic about -- it happens to nearly every team over the course of a season -- but the problems facing this club are real and shouldn't be downplayed just because the Twins are maintaining a slim lead in the standings.
Make no mistake: if they continue to play the way they are now during their upcoming homestand against the Rays and Tigers, Gardy's Twins won't be in first place when the All-Star break comes around.