Why the Twins fell out of first place and could finish below .500 in MLB’s weakest division

Although they remain mathematically alive, for all intents and purposes the Minnesota Twins were eliminated from postseason contention this past weekend. The Twins blew a four-game losing streak against Cleveland in five games in a four-day series with the AL Central-leading Guardians and have lost four of five. Minnesota has lost eight times in nine tries against Cleveland this month and was just swept by the fourth-ranked Royals.

“I’m not ready to talk about the season like it’s behind us,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli told MLB.com after Monday’s loss, which put his team seven games behind the Guardians with 15 games to go. “I don’t think that’s appropriate. We’ve still got guys at this club who are ready to work and who are ready to play and we’ve still got games to play.”

The season started well enough for the Twins, who inked prized free agent Carlos Correa to a team-friendly short-term deal thanks to some shrewd shenanigans (ie dumping Josh Donaldson’s contract on the Yankees). They were 4 1/2 games ahead on July 13th and tied for first place as recently as September 9th. Then the bottom gave up.

The 2022 Twins’ raw score says they might not finish .500 in MLB’s weakest division, and when they were given the opportunity to reclaim first place and knock off the Guardians themselves over the last two weeks, they faded. Even Correa lacks championship-caliber determination, and that doesn’t even get into the postseason losing streak.

A more forgiving assessment of the 2022 Twins acknowledges that they’ve dealt with a lot of injuries (the Twins have placed an AL-leading 31 players on the injured list) and their hitters have indeed underperformed in important situations. “Connector” is a characteristic that measures players against themselves. It compares their performance in a highly leveraged situation with their performance in all other situations and:

30. the little ones: minus-8.85
29. twins: minus-5.06
28. angels: minus-4.98

Simply put, Twins hitters have failed to meet the moment time and time again this season. Injuries have played a part in this because the smaller hitters have been taking those high-leverage performances, but we can’t be surprised when guys like Byron Buxton, Max Kepler and Alex Kirilloff get hurt. They’ve visited the injured list often enough in recent years.

Aside from injuries and a lack of timely hitting, the bigger problem is pitching, and it’s been a problem for several seasons. The Twins hired Derek Falvey to lead their front office in October 2016, and in his six seasons as their chief baseball officer, they finished with a staff below league average four times. Check out their league rankings for dudes:

2017

18th

the 24th

2018

22nd

122nd

2019

the 8th

4th

2020 (60 game season)

4th

the 3rd

2021

25th

25th

2022

20th

the 23rd

In Falvey’s six years, the Twins have had an above-average pitching staff for one 162-game season and one 60-game season, and that’s about it. It takes a while to turn things around, and these 2017-18 clubs reflect more of what Falvey’s predecessors left behind than Falvey himself, but the 2021-22 teams are all his and not good enough.

Falvey did the best job trading for starters (Sonny Gray, Kenta Maeda, Joe Ryan, etc.) instead of signing them as free agents (Dylan Bundy, JA Happ, Matt Shoemaker, etc.), though that even trades were hit or miss. Chris Paddack and Tyler Mahle were acquired at different times this season, and they totaled 38 2/3 innings before getting hurt.

The Twins won’t have enough pitching to qualify for the ERA title this year, and while that’s not automatically a bad thing (the Rays haven’t had a pitcher qualify for the ERA title since 2019), know it’s intentional. Minnesota rarely lets its starting pitchers go through the lineup a third time, which is understandable, seeing how most pitchers perform worse the third time in a row. Some Twins rookie numbers:

  • 20.1 strikeouts per start (second fewest behind Rays at 19.0)
  • 4.8 innings per start (third fewest behind Pirates 4.7 and Rays 4.6)
  • 41 starts with no more than 18 batters faced (second most to Rays with 47)

Again, the Rays show you can pull your starter early and still have success. All those short starts are putting a lot of strain on the bullpen, though, and Tampa seems to have an endless supply of effective relievers that are shuttled up and down between Triple-A and MLB as needed. Gemini doesn’t have that. These short starts reveal the bull’s weak underbelly.

It’s too late to save 2022, but it’s not too late to improve for 2023 and something has to give. Either the Twins need to let their starters work deeper into the game (which would require bringing in better starters), or they need to improve their bullpen and overall pitching depth. There are other issues that need to be addressed, like keeping players on the field, but below-average passing has been a constant during the Falvey era. This needs to change.

The good news for the Twins is that the AL Central is baseball’s weakest division and they don’t have to too a lot to get back into the postseason mix next year. Still, missing the postseason this year and possibly finishing below .500 in such a weak division raises concerns this deep into the Falvey era. Gemini continues to face the same problems every year, and these problems have sunk their 2022.

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