Something very, very special is happening in America’s heartland. The great paragons of virtue, the practitioners of Gardyball, the Small Market Club That Could is on the cusp of victory. The Minnesota Twins stand poised on the edge of a most dubious mark – unless they win both their remaining games against the Kansas City Royals, they’ll become just the second team in baseball history to lose 100 games with a team payroll greater than one hundred million dollars.
The story of the Twins awful season isn’t unique. They dedicated more than $30 million of salary to two very good players and those players mustered fewer than 600 plate appearances between them. Losing Justin Morneau for the better part of two years and Joe Mauer for nearly the entire season is sure to have an impact on the bottom line.
Which isn’t to suggest making great sport of the poor, poor Twins suffering is offside. Not by a long shot. It is important, however, to differentiate between the loyal fans and hard-working players from the Cult of Gardenhire. Forever feted as the conquering hero who coaches up rag tag misfits year after year as the small market Twins slay the big-budget dragons.
Ignore, for a second, the easy path before the Twins. Getting fat against the Royals and Indians while the Tigers and White Sox spend even more money only to get in their own way is one thing. The Twins lot in life is made that much easier when they’re able to scribble the names of elite players like Mauer, Morneau, and Santana into the lineup every day. Not a lot of “coaching up” or “smallball” is required when you have a huge pool of talent around which to build.
The 2011 Twins feature one of baseball’s worst pitching staffs, ranking dead last in strikeout rate. That translates in a lot of balls in play for one of baseball’s worst defenses. The Twins convert balls-in-play into outs at a league-worst rate while racking up a less-than-stellar -27 Defensive Runs Saved.
Maybe the “pitch to contact” mantra wasn’t such a hot idea in the first place. The bullpen was baseball’s worst outside of Houston while the offense ranked worst in the American League in home runs.
At least the future is bright with hosts of top prospects ready to storm the big…whoops. Little mistake there. Turns out it’s the Twins divisional rivals in Kansas City who have a system bursting with talent. The Twins system isn’t bad but most of the talent is still far from the big league level.
So go out tonight and root for the Royals. Root for the Twins to die a glorious death and for them to take their pre-determined narratives with them. Standing in the shallow end as they do, the Twins are only healthy season from their two best players from competing for the division crown once again. Another division crown and the Twins can resume production on the Saint Gardenhire statue in front of historic Target Field.