MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Twins won the final game of the 2011 season, a 1-0 victory at Target Field over the Kansas City Royals. Both teams were out of the playoff race so the game held little, if any, meaning.
But there was one significant thing about the Twins’ victory in Game 162: it helped Minnesota avoid a 100-loss season. Had the Twins lost that game, they would have become just the second team in franchise history to lose 100 games.
As the 2012 Twins approach September, they’re facing a similar fight to the finish.
“No one wants to lose 100 games,” Twins left-hander Brian Duensing said. “It’s unfortunate how the season is. Obviously, everyone has high hopes of doing well and making the postseason and stuff. We got off to a really rough start this year. We all know that. We’re trying to battle. We’re doing everything we can. It just isn’t working out.”
After Tuesday’s 5-2 loss to Seattle, Minnesota was 25 games under .500 at 52-77 with 33 games remaining. To avoid 100 losses, the Twins will have to go 11-22 the rest of the way.
The bulk of Minnesota’s remaining games will come against American League Central foes, including six games each against first-place Chicago and second-place Detroit. Minnesota will also play host to the AL East-leading New York Yankees for three games in late September.
“This year, in September we’re going to face a lot of tough teams that are going to try to fight for a playoff spot,” Twins outfielder Ben Revere said. “They’re going to give us their best game no matter what. … We’re just trying to find ways to win.”
Playing the role of spoiler might be one way for Minnesota to look at the month of September. The White Sox and Tigers will likely battle for the AL Central all the way to the end of the regular season. With a handful of games against each team, the Twins could play a part in how the division race shapes up down the stretch.
That spoiler role is certainly not what any team wants in September, though.
“You want to go out there and win every game,” Duensing said. “Being spoiler is going to be fun, but I’d rather be in the situation where people are trying to spoil our season than we’re trying to spoil somebody else’s. We’re going to do what we can, play the game hard. That’s all we can do.”
Last year’s 99-loss Twins team was plagued by injuries, including to several of its star players. Catcher Joe Mauer played in just 82 games due to bilateral leg weakness at the beginning of the season and pneumonia at the end of the year. First baseman Justin Morneau missed time due to numerous ailments and surgeries, playing in only 69 games in 2011. Outfielder Denard Span was sidelined with a concussion, and since departed outfielder Jason Kubel missed extended time with a foot injury.
For the most part, Minnesota has stayed healthy in 2012, save for several pitchers. Yet while the core of the Twins’ lineup has been intact for much of the year, the offense has not been producing of late. Before its current 3-16 stretch, Minnesota was putting up double-digit run totals against the likes of Cleveland and Baltimore while also sweeping the Boston Red Sox in an early August road series.
Since then, though, the Twins’ bats have gone cold. After pulling to within 12 games of .500 on Aug. 7, Minnesota has gone into a downward spiral, thanks in part to its dormant offense.
“It’s frustrating. Obviously, it’s not what we want to do and where we want to be, especially this time of year when we feel like we’re starting to play better,” infielder Jamey Carroll said. “You can go into the last month of the season and continue to build, but it feels like we’ve taken a step backward.”
Again Tuesday, the Twins were stymied for just two runs against Seattle, one night after being shut out by Mariners ace Felix Hernandez. With Tuesday’s loss, Minnesota continued to inch closer to 100 losses while leaving manager Ron Gardenhire scratching his head.
“You might see one or two guys go into a little bit of a funk, but right now we’re inconsistent pretty much all the way up and down the lineup,” Gardenhire said. “… We’re trying to figure out what’s going on. It’s not from a lack of work. They work their tails off. They do all the things they’ve been doing. But right now nothing’s clicking. We’ve got to search and find a way.”
If Minnesota can’t find a way to right the ship in the final month, it could join the 1982 club that went 60-102 as the only other team in Twins history to lose 100 games. The Twins insist they’re not thinking about 100 losses, although they’re headed that direction.
Last year’s team cam close but managed to avoid the dubious feat with a win on the last day of the year. This year’s team has its work cut out for it in September.
“I think it’s a different feel this year in the clubhouse,” Mauer said. “Guys are battling it out. It’s a tough time of the year, but we come to the park to play hard every day, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do.”