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

While still mathematically alive, for all intents and purposes, the Minnesota Twins were eliminated from postseason contention this past weekend. The Twins carried a four-game deficit to Cleveland for five games into a four-day series with the AL Central-leading Guardians, losing four of five. Minnesota lost eight times in nine tries against Cleveland this month and just got swept by the fourth-place Royals.

“I’m not ready to talk about the season like it’s over,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli told MLB.com after Monday’s loss, which put his team on a seven-game losing streak of the Guardians with 15 to play. “I don’t think it’s appropriate. We still have guys in the clubhouse that are ready to work and that are ready to play, and we still have games to play.”

The season started well enough for the Twins, who landed prized free agent Carlos Correa on a short-term contract for a team thanks to some trade habits (namely leaving Josh Donaldson’s contract to the Yankees). They were 4 1/2 games ahead on July 13th and tied for first as recently as September 9th. Then the end gave way.

The 2022 Twins’ harsh assessment says they might not finish .500 in MLB’s weakest division, and when presented with a chance to reclaim first place and knock off the Guardians these past two weeks, they wilted . Even with Correa, there’s a lack of championship-caliber resolve, and that’s not even getting into the postseason losing streak.

A more lenient assessment of the 2022 Twins recognizes that they dealt with a slew of injuries (the Twins have put an AL-leading 31 players on the disabled list) and that their hitters underperformed in big situations . “Clutch” is a statistic that measures players against themselves. Compare your performance in high-leverage situations with your performance in all other situations and:

30 Puppies: minus -8.85
29. Twins: minus -5.06
28. Angels: minus-4.98

Simply put, Twins hitters have been unable to find the timing time and time again this season. Injuries played a big part in that because the lower hitters were taking those high-leverage plate appearances, but we wouldn’t be surprised if guys like Byron Buxton and Max Kepler and Alex Kirilloff got hurt. They’ve visited the injured list often enough over the past few years.

Beyond injuries and a lack of timely hitting, the biggest issue is pitching, and that has been an issue for several seasons. The Twins hired Derek Falvey to run their front office in October 2016, and in his six seasons as baseball manager, they have finished with a below-league-average pitching staff four times. Check out his league-wide pitching rankings:

2017

18th

24th

2018

22nd

122nd

2019

8th

4th

2020 (60 game season)

4th

3rd

2021

25th

25th

2022

20th

23

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 it. It takes time 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 squads are all him and not good enough.

Falvey has done his best work trading for starters (Sonny Gray, Kenta Maeda, Joe Ryan, etc.) rather than signing them as free agents (Dylan Bundy, JA Happ, Matt Shoemaker, etc.), though even the changes have been affected. or miss Chris Paddack and Tyler Mahle were acquired at different points this season and pitched a combined 38 2/3 innings before getting hurt.

The Twins won’t have a pitcher throw enough innings 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), they know which is intentional. Minnesota rarely lets their starting pitchers go through the lineup a third time, which is understandable seeing as how most pitchers perform worse the third time through the order. Some numbers on Twins starters:

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

Once again, the Rays show that you can throw your starter early and still be successful. All those short starts put a lot of strain on the bullpen, though, and Tampa seems to have an endless supply of effective relievers who move up and down between Triple-A and MLB as needed. The Twins don’t have that. These short starts expose the weak underbelly of the bullpen.

It’s too late to save 2022, but 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 pitching has been a constant during the Falvey era. This has to change.

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

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