Friday, June 1, 2018

Darn close to must win

It's only the first of June. The Twins have more than 100 games to play. But these next two games against Cleveland feel darn close to must-win for Minnesota.

Cleveland now has a 6.5 game lead on the third-place Twins. Add a couple more to the margin, and it's hard to see how the Twins can stay in the race with the surging Tribe.

Cleveland's not the nearly perfect team it was last year; the bullpen is notably weaker, with Andrew Miller injured, Bryan Shaw gone and a number of guys who had big years in 2017 suddenly ineffective. But other than the starting rotation -- which itself has suddenly sprung a leak -- the Twins aren't nearly as good in any aspect as they were last year either.

The Twins were good enough last year, barely, to grab the last wild-card spot. This year, it appears, the best chance of making the playoffs is winning the AL Central. And two months into the season, that chance seems to be rapidly vanishing.


In Thursday's post I made an offhand comment about the imminent return of Ervin Santana. A few hours after I typed that, I learned what many others knew Wednesday, that Santana's rehab assignment had been aborted.

I have, from time to time, voiced caution about Santana's return. The role of the fingers in pitching is subtle but vital, and if the surgery on his right middle finger winds up imparing flexibility or feeling in the digit, that figures to be a significant problem. I should have been more skeptical Wednesday, especially considering the reports of diminished velocity in Santana's first two outings.

In other bad news, Joe Mauer's concussion symptoms apparently aren't getting any better. The chatter from the broadcasters late in the road trip was positive, but the standard broadcaser optimism was misplaced.

I think the Twins really miss the consistent quality of Mauer's at-bats and the example he sets. He plans his work and works his plan. We see so many flail-and-fail at-bats; we should appreciate Mauer's quiet professionalism more than we do.

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