As the Minnesota Twins play their last series of the 2012 season, take solace in the fact that things are never as bad as they seem. Even though the Twins are currently battling to avoid finishing last in the American League, they are nowhere near the worst team in baseball. That honor goes to the Houston Astros once again.
A look at the Minnesota Twins' recent history also shows that a quick turnaround is possible.
The last time the Twins finished consecutive seasons in last place was 1999 and 2000. Over these two seasons, they lost an average of 95 games. Within two years, in 2002, they won the AL Central with 94 wins.
Here's a look at nine takeaways from this season that provides some hope that the Twins can duplicate this feat.
The Twins are shedding some of the deadwood
Just before the trading deadline in July, the Twins traded Francisco Liriano to the Chicago White Sox. An exceptional rookie season in 2006 ended with a 12-3 record with a 2.16 ERA and the need for Tommy John surgery. Since returning in 2008, he has never able to replicate that success. His next best season was 2010 when he finished 14-10 with a 3.62 ERA. Before being traded this year, Liriano was 3-10 with a 5.31 ERA.
In August, the Twins finally had enough of Nick Blackburn and optioned him outright to their Triple-A affiliate, removing him form their 40-man roster. With a career 43-55 record over six seasons, Blackburn never finished with a winning record. Yet the team kept giving him a regular turn in the starting rotation. This was his worst season with a 4-9 record and a 7.39 ERA.
Last week the Twins granted Tsuyoshi Nishioka's request for a release from his contract. In two seasons, he played in only 71 games—with only three this year. He will head back to Japan with a .215 batting average and 14 errors in the field for a .957 fielding percentage.
Trevor Plouffe has emerged as the Twins' third baseman
After failing to claim the shortstop position in 2011, Plouffe took over at third base when the Twins sent down Danny Valencia in early May. At the time Valencia, who had led the Twins in RBIs in 2011, was hitting only .190.
For most of the summer Plouffe found himself in a home-run derby with Josh Willingham as they took turns leading the Twins. An injured thumb in late July kept him out of the lineup for almost a month. Despite that he is second on the team with 24 home runs.
Glen Perkins has developed into a potential closer
Like another former left-handed pitcher, Perkins started his career as a starter but found success at the end of the bullpen. For Eddie Guardado, it was only one season as a starter before moving to the bullpen. He would eventually end up as the Twins' closer and led the AL with 45 saves in 2002—the same year the Twins won their first AL Central Division title.
As a starter in 2008, Perkins finished with a 12-4 record in 26 starts. He made 17 starts in 2009 and a single start in 2010. Over the last two seasons he has found success out of the bullpen appearing in over 65 games each season with a 2.47 ERA and a total of 18 saves. This season he has 16 saves in 20 opportunities heading into the final series against the Blue Jays.
Jared Burton has become a force at the end of the bullpen
After appearing in only 10 games and pitching a total of eight innings over the last two seasons for the Cincinnati Reds, Burton pitched in a career-high 63 games this year with his lowest ERA in five seasons at 2.18 that led the Twins. After Matt Capps injured his shoulder, he took turns with Perkins as the closer and earned five saves.
Perkins and Burton have become a pretty formidable left-right tandem at the end of the bullpen.
Ben Revere is a rising star for the Twins
In his third season with the Twins, Revere continues to get better. His batting average, currently at .286, has climbed every season. He's also the first Twin to steal 30 or more bases in consecutive seasons since Chuck Knoblauch last did it four straight seasons from 1994 to 1997. He also plays spectacular defense, earning a GIBBY in 2011 for the catch of the year. This season, in 120 games, he has not committed an error.
Justin Morneau is back
In 2010 Morneau was in the midst of the best season in his career when everything fell apart on July 7. Leading the team with 18 home runs and 56 RBIs, he suffered a concussion against the Blue Jays, which ended his season.
In 2011 he was only able to play in 69 games hitting only four home runs. This year he has played in 134 games. He hit 19 home runs and drove in 77 RBIs.
Ryan Doumit and Josh Willingham are significant additions to the roster
When general manager Terry Ryan failed to sign Michael Cuddyer or Jason Kubel, it looked like things were going in the wrong direction, fast. Then he made a couple of signings that at the time seemed to be pretty modest. While both Doumit and Willingham are hitting right at their career batting averages, both have provided power to the Twins' lineup.
Both Doumit and Willingham had career highs in home runs and RBIs for the Twins—Doumit with 18 home runs and 75 RBIs and Willingham with 35 home runs and 110 RBIs.
Joe Mauer is an iron man
In 2011 Mauer played in only 82 games, the fewest games in his career since his rookie season. This year he has matched his career high playing in 146 games, splitting time at catcher with Doumit and playing 30 games at first base.
After hitting only .287, low for Mauer standards, he challenged for his fourth batting title with a .320 batting average.
Scott Diamond is the ace the Twins have been looking for
A former Rule-5 draft pick from the Braves in 2011, Diamond struggled last season finishing with a 1-5 record in seven starts with a 5.08 ERA. Fortunately, the Twins were able to work out a deal to keep Diamond, and this year he emerged as the leading starter on the Twins' rotation that had nine pitchers make at least 11 starts. He led all starters with 26 starts, 168 innings pitched, 12 wins and 3.54 ERA.