Halfway Home and Hanging Onto Hope
by, 06-30-2014 at 10:57 AM (413 Views)
On Monday night at Target Field, the Twins will play their 81st game, officially marking the halfway point of this 2014 season.
As we reach this key milestone, the state of the club can best be summed up by a lineup decision that took place in game No. 80. In the final game of a six-game road trip, with the Twins trying to snap a five-game losing streak, Ron Gardenhire inserted Chris Parmelee as his center fielder and No. 3 hitter.
Now, I don't want to contribute to what could probably be described as a generally overblown reaction to this move. From my view, it was a defensible experiment by Gardenhire to try and coax some offense out of his lineup and pull his team out of the doldrums.
But man, it sure says a lot about where this team is at right now.
It's a statement about the condition of center field, a position that is so beleaguered by injuries and poor performance that the manager was willing to stick a slow-footed corner outfielder out there despite having one previous inning of MLB experience at the spot. Parmelee is probably least suited to play center out of anyone who's been there this year, and that's really saying something.
It's a statement about the condition of the third spot in the lineup, which has yielded a sub-700 OPS in the first half thanks in large part to the struggles of longtime staple Joe Mauer. The lineup as a whole had averaged less than three runs per game in the past four series, prompting the manager to think outside the box. This was Parmelee's first career start batting third.
And, on the bright side, it's a statement about Parmelee himself. Here's a 26-year-old former first-round pick who was designated for assignment at the end of spring training, only to go unclaimed by every other team and wind up in the minors. I was pleased that Parmelee was able to remain within the organization, and sure enough he rebounded with a strong showing in Triple-A, earning his way back to the big leagues where he's suddenly got one of the hottest bats on the club.
After dropping five of six on their latest tour through the AL West, the Twins find themselves six games below .500 and eight back from the first-place Tigers. While they're still at a point where they could push themselves back into the mix with a strong stretch heading into the All Star break, the Twins appear to be fading in much the same way they did a year ago.
On June 20th last season, the Twins were 33-36, just three games below .500 after sweeping the White Sox at home. Three weeks later, on July 14th, they were 39-53 heading into the break, with all the talk surrounding which parts could be sold off.
This year, on June 22nd, the Twins were 36-38, two games below .500 after -- yes -- sweeping the White Sox at home. And now they're on a slide that looks disturbingly similar to the one that pushed them directly out of contention a year ago.
Obviously Gardenhire and the Twins are very serious about not allowing that to happen again, as illustrated by the Kendrys Morales signing and borderline desperation moves we're seeing with the lineup, but circumstances continue to tie their hands.
The rotation reinforcements that appeared to be ready to make an impact are now a ways away, with Alex Meyer struggling and Trevor May on the disabled list. Oswaldo Arcia is a mired in a terrible ongoing slump. Danny Santana, who has been one of the team's biggest bright spots this year, is hurt with an unclear timeline to return.
So as much as Gardenhire might want to shake things up and look for any possible way to get this thing back on track and avoid yet another midseason melt down, at this point really all he can do is hope. Hope that the barrage of unfortunate injuries comes to an end. Hope that Mauer continues to heat up and become the lineup anchor that we know he can be. Hope that Trevor Plouffe can come back and provide a much needed jolt.
We've still got half a season left, but with the All Star Game (and, subsequently, the trade deadline) approaching, the Twins are going to need to figure out their identity. In that respect, it could be said that the next couple weeks will be the defining point in their season.