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John Shipley: Twins have been showing us who they are for a while now

They’ve lost 10 of 14 after Wednesday’s game but have been a losing team since June 1

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Houston Astros
Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Aaron Sanchez reacts after hitting Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve with a pitch during the fifth inning Aug. 23, 2022, at Minute Maid Park.
Troy Taormina / USA Today Sports
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Let’s get this out of the way first: The Twins play the Cleveland Guardians eight times from Sept. 9-18 and unless the bottom completely falls out before that, the local nine remains in the American League Central race.

They can still make the playoffs, and maybe even win a postseason game for the first time since 2004. None of that dissipates the legitimate suspicion that the Twins are not a team headed for its third division title in four seasons.

These are the facts and let them be stated for the record. But let’s not lose the forest for the trees here.

With 40 regular-season games remaining, the Twins are supposed to be playing their best baseball, putting it all together in time to sew up a division they led for all but one day between April 24 and Aug. 9. Instead, they have lost 10 of 14 headed into tonight’s series finale against the AL West-leading Houston Astros.

Manager Rocco Baldelli and his players contend they’re flummoxed by the skid. There’s too much talent in the clubhouse, they say, for the team to be playing so poorly — 9-16 since July 26.

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The Cleveland Guardians, meanwhile, have won 12 of 16 to take a season-high, four-game lead on the Twins and Chicago White Sox in the Central. The only thing they did at the trade deadline was send veteran catcher Sandy Leon to Minnesota. The Twins had what was widely considered a big trade deadline — netting starting pitcher Tyler Mahle from Cleveland, reliever Michael Fulmer from Detroit and Baltimore closer Jorge Lopez — yet are playing their worst baseball of the season.

Worse, they somehow look comfortable doing it.

After dropping a 5-3 decision to the Astros on Wednesday, Baldelli said the best thing he can do for his players is to try and take the pressure off them. “I do think we just need to play baseball and not be worrying about the stresses of the fact that we haven’t been playing well,” he told reporters.

That may be true but also ignores the fact that the Twins haven’t played all that well when the pressure was off. Since finishing May with a five-game lead in the Central, they’re 30-39.

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This is a team that has stopped hitting — they’re a combined .168 overall, and .128 with runners in scoring position over their past six games — and just put home-run leader Byron Buxton on the injured list with a hip strain. The starting rotation is averaging fewer than five innings a start, their 591⅓ innings second-to-last in the majors, and Mahle, who threw a complete game for Cincinnati in July, is on the IL with shoulder tightness.

Subsequently, the bullpen is throwing a lot of innings, 409⅓ through Wednesday, fourth most in baseball. That’s because when Twins starters have faced a lineup for the third time in a game, it hasn’t gone well. The numbers suggest this is the way to handle the pitching staff, but, you know, it’s not really working. Maybe the Twins would be further back in the standings had they been letting starters go deeper, but they’re below .500 since June 1, anyway.

It can’t sit well with the starters, who generally pride themselves on keeping their teams in games by pitching deep. Dylan Bundy is the only Twins pitcher to throw a full eight innings this season (once), and on Wednesday gave up two runs on three hits and a walk in five innings at Houston. Despite having thrown only 66 pitches, he was summarily pulled, and Fulmer — making his 10th appearance in 18 games since being acquired — gave up three runs in the sixth to make it 5-1.

The Twins were seven games back in the Central on Sept. 6, 2009, and wound up winning the division by going 10-3 down the stretch and beating Detroit in Game 163 at the Metrodome. So, you know, stuff happens.

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“I’ve seen things turn around on the spot for an entire group at the snap of your fingers,” Baldelli said Monday after his team dropped three of four to a losing Texas team. “And I think that’s to come.”

Maybe so, but it had better come fast. As the old adage tells us, when someone shows you who they are, believe them.

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This story was written by one of our partner news agencies. Forum Communications Company uses content from agencies such as Reuters, Kaiser Health News, Tribune News Service and others to provide a wider range of news to our readers. Learn more about the news services FCC uses here.

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