When the Twins took the final three games of their series against the White Sox at Target Field over the weekend, it marked the first time they'd won three consecutive games since the end of May. This team has played well enough to remain safely above .500, sure, but they haven't been remotely consistent. Good wins that would seemingly build momentum are almost inevitably followed by depressing lulls in performance. That has happened again this week, as the Twins have followed up their thrilling ninth-inning, walk-off, series-clinching victory against Bobby Jenks and the White Sox by dropping two straight at home against the last-place Indians.
Last night's game featured another disheartening performance from Kevin Slowey, who seemingly ran out of gas at around 75 pitches, failing to complete the sixth inning for a 12th time in 19 starts. Fans who were already calling for Nick Blackburn's removal from the rotation (which now seems to be in the books) are now setting their sights on Slowey, and not without good reason.
We all look for scapegoats when trying to determine the roots of this team's continued inability to get going. We blame the manager for not acting quickly enough to replace players who are hurting the team. We blame the general manager for not calling up reinforcements soon enough, and for not more hastily seeking to pull the trigger on a trade that would bolster the front end of the rotation. We blame the team's slow plodding outfielders, as if their sub par range is costing the team dozens of runs. We blame plain old bad luck. (I myself am probably a little too guilty of that one; one cannot deny that there's more to all this losing than most of the team's players concurrently being snakebit.)
In the end, there's only one rightful party upon which to burden this thoroughly uninspiring performance: the players themselves. Be it because of injury or some other deterrent, too many members of this team are not playing up to their level of ability.
Scott Baker is a better pitcher than he has shown this year. Ditto for Slowey. Ditto for Blackburn. There's talk of trading for starters like Jake Westbrook, Jeremy Guthrie and Kevin Millwood; these are not better players than Baker and Slowey, and the Twins would be better served hoping those two can figure things out -- while hoping Brian Duensing conjures some of his late-'09 magic in the fifth spot -- than pumping resources into a doubtful upgrade.
Joe Mauer is a great hitter and a reigning MVP, not an over-matched kid who tries to lay down a bunt with one out and the go-ahead run in scoring position (and a hitter who's hopeless against left-handers due up next with a southpaw on the hill). What on earth was that?
Jason Kubel proved last year that he can be one of the league's most punishing righty mashers, but last night -- as he has done far too often this year -- he failed to seize an advantageous opportunity against a pitcher who is prone to getting clobbered by left-handed hitters.
Denard Span seems to be perhaps the most mystifying of all. He lets seemingly catchable balls drop in the outfield. He runs himself into outs on the base paths. He goes through prolonged cold spells and disappears offensively for games at a time. He has hit .198 on the road.
Span was in past seasons a young player with uncommon discipline. His keen eye at the plate was seemingly matched by his acumen around the field. He was sharp. This year, he hasn't looked sharp, and that's a trait he shares with far too many players on the roster.
People can rev up the "Fire Gardy" bandwagon and berate Bill Smith in the event that he doesn't make a loud move at the deadline, but ultimately the responsibility for this team's woes falls upon the players themselves. They're just not playing very well, and if you don't play well you don't win games and you don't make the playoffs.
On paper, I fully believe this Twins roster is good enough to win the American League Central by a fairly wide margin.
It's just really unfortunate that so many players aren't bringing their A-game.