10 reasons Twins are 'only' 10.5 games back on Check The Standings Day (free post)

June 1 is unofficially Check the Standings Day in my book, and here's a quick glance at why the Twins are where they are.

This week in my 5 Thoughts column, we explored the start of the Twins playing better baseball, the trade deadline rumblings, Josh Donaldson’s month of May, and most importantly, we celebrated Check the Standings Day as the calendar flips to June.

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2. Happy Check the Standings Day!

As you’ll know, we don’t check the standings around here until June 1. Happy Check the Standings Day!

If someone just woke up to this picture, how would you explain it to them?

Some quick thoughts, to explain this season to my friends who ducked out but now want back in:

1- Yeah, so Byron Buxton became demonstrably one of the best players in baseball, was getting some M-V-P chants at Target Field as they start to slowly let fans back in. Then he strained his hip running to first base and had to miss some time, making way for a new Twins legend to emerge in center field, but that’s a whole nother story.

2- Alex Colomé was very hittable early on, and the Twins stuck with him for a long time in high-leverage spots.

3- The bullpen as a whole has allowed an absurd amount of inherited runners to score, turning dangerous situations turn into big innings with stunning regularity. (They’re still at 66% as of this writing; In 2019, the worst bullpen in the Majors by that measure was at 42% of inherited runners scoring. That team also won the World Series, for what it’s worth.)

4- COVID interrupted their season. Andrelton SimmonsMax Kepler, and Kyle Garlick all got the virus, and the season was briefly paused as the Twins had to sort through testing measures and contact tracing, isolation on the road trip in California and the whole deal.

5- Injuries have played a role, as we’ll cover later.

6- Kenta Maeda went from one of the best pitchers in the league to mediocre. Newcomer J.A. Happ took a no-hitter into the 8th inning (but everybody is doing that these days); although aside from that, he and fellow new guy Matt Shoemaker have definitely struggled to replace the production of a rotation staple from 2019, Jake Odorizzi.

7- Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach look like serious bats in their rookie seasons, although neither one has a very good batting average to show for all their loud contact. (Ignore the batting average – those two guys look like nice pieces on a first-division club, for sure.)

8- Mitch Garver and Miguel Sanó were dreadful at the plate early on – fastballs, offspeed, visually it didn’t really seem to matter – two of the key cogs from 2019 were suddenly bench-worthy. But then Sanó bust out with a few big hits and a torrid stretch, and Garver eventually got back to being the monster that we got used to seeing two summers ago, so now the Twins are just trying to sort out their backup catcher spot, with last year’s breakout, Ryan Jeffers, struggling his way to Triple-A St. Paul. [Oh yeah, depending on when you checked out, the St. Paul Saints are now the Triple-A affiliate of the Twins and you can still go watch their games at CHS Field; pretty cool development, actually.]

9- Josh Donaldson smacked a double in his first plate appearance of the year but hurt his hamstring on his run around first base and into second. The Twins went on to lose that game in such absurd fashion in 10 innings, that we should have known it was a bad omen for the next couple months.

10- “Rob Manfred Ball,” as some of us have taken to calling it, has not been kind to the Twins. Manfred is the figurehead for the latest changes to the game, allegedly related to COVID’s impact, wherein teams play all doubleheaders as 7-inning splits and all extra-inning games begin each extra-inning frame with a runner on second base and no outs. The Twins lost their first five 7-inning games and lost their first eight extra-inning games.

Yeah, really. We can quibble about the rules and argue about how the Twins bullpen might not be as strong as they thought it was on paper over the winter, but even allowing for those separate conversations, we’ve all pretty much agreed that it’s a super weird outcome. And they’re hoping to correct that more or less immediately before it’s too late.

Note: It’s also possible that we have the narrative end point that we’ve been looking for. Since busting that spell of of 7- and 10-inning losses by winning the second game of a doubleheader in Anaheim, the Twins are 8-3 and appear to have the car back on the rails. Fittingly, that 8-3 record also includes a walk-off loss in extra innings to division rival Cleveland. Of course it does.

In any case, the Twins have now won 2 extra-inning games in a row and that 7-inning winner against the Angels on a weird and short make-good road trip. Fuse lit or soft schedule? We should learn more soon.

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