It’s the time of year when baseball has become stratified. Players have been traded from losers to winners. Teams have gone into sell mode and rent mode, dumping contracts and bringing in late-season help as they see fit.
Outcomes seem to be falling into place, and on a larger scale, maybe they are. But in Boston this weekend, the Twins made a point. They may have a losing record. They may have an insurmountable climb to the impossible playoffs. But don’t expect them to accept a loss — at least not at Fenway.
In their three final games in Boston this weekend, the Twins mounted large-scale comebacks, but on Sunday, their three ninth-inning runs weren’t enough. A 6-1 deficit proved too large to make up, and Minnesota failed to complete its second weekend-series sweep in a row.
In the 14 games before Sunday’s 6-4 loss to the Red Sox, Minnesota averaged 5.5 runs per game — 3.0 per game in wins and 7.1 in losses. Despite solid pitching from their young starters, the Twins have often fared only as well as their offense. That was the case yet again on Sunday, despite Josh Willingham’s and Ryan Doumit’s ninth-inning home runs.
On Sunday, those home runs were too little, too late, but at least they kept the Twins from logging their worst-hitting outing since a July 4 loss to Justin Verlander and the Tigers. The Twins’ offense — and its recent relative success — has been powered by the kind of hitting the team expected from itself at the beginning of the season, much of which has been powered by some unlikely stars.
When the offense is producing like it has been of late, it’s easy to ignore the details. It’s easy to forget that Ben Revere has a career-high 19-game hitting streak, that Josh Willingham has become the team’s biggest power threat. It’s easy to forget that though both players were held in high regard, neither was expected to play as large a role as he has in Minnesota’s offense this season. Now, though, on Aug. 5, they lead the team in average (Revere, .323) and home runs (Willingham, 28).
Revere’s hitting streak is especially impressive when viewed in light of the team’s record over it. Since he began the streak on July 16, the Twins have an 11-9 record, and in games in which Revere has played, they’re 11-8. His average has improved from .319 to .323, proof that the hitting prowess Revere has shown since he was called up from Triple-A Rochester is no fluke.
The Twins can complain all they want about not getting what they expected from the players they expected it from, but really, the pleasant surprises are so much more fun to watch. They don’t overshadow the team’s 47-61 record, but they distract from it. They don’t change the fact that only one member of the team’s initial five-man starting rotation is still in it. They don’t erase Joe Mauer’s struggles to hit in clutch situations or Justin Morneau’s inconsistency versus left-handed pitching. Players like Revere, Willingham and the surprising young starters Cole De Vries, Scott Diamond and Samuel Deduno are all still something close to novelties. But a hit from one of them or a dominant night on the mound means just as much as it would from a bigger name.
After the past two nights in Boston, it almost wasn’t surprising that the Twins mounted their comeback in the ninth inning. It was shocking that it fell short, not that it occurred. But that’s baseball, and as the Twins have learned this season, you don’t always get what you expect.