The Minnesota Twins have struggled mightily following the All-Star break.
The Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Angels both took turns humiliating the Twins last week, leading to the four-game losing streak that has pushed the squad to the fringe of playoff contention in the American League Central.
During the four-game skid, the Twins were outscored 39-14.
Glen Perkins, Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano and Nick Blackburn—the starting pitchers of those four games—combined to pitch a total of just 15 innings, while allowing an abysmal 22 earned runs.
Perkins faired the worst, allowing eight earned runs in just one inning of work against Oakland’s middling offense.
The team’s de facto ace on the season, Blackburn—who struggled terribly earlier in the week during a 14-13 fiasco in Oakland—lasted just three and two-thirds of an inning against the Angels while allowing six earned runs.
The bullpen—blatantly suffering as a result of being overworked—didn’t fair any better, allowing 17 runs in 18 1/3 innings pitched.
No member of the pitching staff went unfazed, as even closer Joe Nathan, normally untouchable, suffered a blown save against the Angels on Thursday.
In contrast, the heart of the Twins offense—Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel—all did their part by pounding home runs and driving in runs at a pace that could almost (note: ALMOST) make one forget the ineptitude of the Twins middle infielders on the week.
With just 63 games remaining on the season, the Twins will no doubt find this week’s three-game series against the division rival Chicago White Sox one of the most important match-ups of the entire season.
The Twins enter play on Monday four games out of first place in the AL Central and two games behind the aforementioned White Sox for second place in the standings.
The Major League Baseball trade deadline is this Friday and the Twins are what many would call a “bubble team” at the moment. They could be considered contenders, or they could be pretenders operating under the age old adage of “wait ‘til next year.”
The three-game set against the White Sox figures to determine the club’s fate.
If the Twins can win the series and climb back into the AL Central race, they should be buyers at the deadline and look to improve by adding at least one arm to the bullpen, a middle infielder, and perhaps even another starter to solidify the rotation.
Of the 63 games remaining, 19 of them are against the Detroit Tigers and White Sox—the two teams standing between the Twins and the top of the AL Central.
That gives the Twins plenty of chances to gain ground down the stretch, but if the team cannot gain significant ground during this week’s match-up, it may be in the club’s best interest to protect their prospects and prepare for 2010.