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Updated: May 11th, 2011 10:37pm
Mackey: Injuries or not, feeble Twins offense on historically bad pace

Mackey: Injuries or not, feeble Twins offense on historically bad pace

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by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- A sellout crowd at Target Field saw something rare on Wednesday afternoon.

An offensive outburst by the Minnesota Twins.

Well, sort of an outburst. Seven runs, which is actually the third-highest output for the Twins offense in 35 games this season.

It felt almost like watching a professional wrestler, locked in a sleeper hold (think late-1980's Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant here), being put through the limp-arm test by a referee. If the arm drops three times, the match is over.

The Twins Hulked-up just in time to keep the match going, but ran headlong into a powerful clothesline when Jhonny Peralta jacked a two-run bomb off the facing of the left-field upper deck against closer Matt Capps.

1-2-3.

But, win or lose, it's probably a good thing the Twins offense showed a pulse, because heading into Wednesday it was clinging to life support. Aside from Jason Kubel (.355/.414/.532, 20 RBIs), Denard Span (.288/.357/.353) and Danny Valencia (18 RBIs), everybody else is missing in action.

Twins second baseman came in hitting .178/.215/.248, and shortstops .186/.256/.283.

The catchers, including Joe Mauer, came in hitting .139/.191/.172, which is almost as bad as the .135/.161/.170 batting line put up by National League pitchers so far.

And as a unit, the Twins offense -- with a .228/.292/.319 batting line that makes Carlos Gomez look like Roberto Clemente -- was averaging a league-low 3.12 runs per game with a team OPS+ of 72.

OPS+ measures OPS relative to league average to any given season. Anything over 100 is above average for that particular season, and anything under 100 is below average. OPS+ is a better way to compare offenses across eras -- dead-ball vs. steroid, modern vs. old, etc. Hitting 40 home runs or scoring 4.5 runs per game in 1998, for instance, wasn't nearly as big of a deal as hitting 40 or scoring 4.5 in 1968. OPS+ helps compare across eras.

Remember how embarrassingly bad the Seattle Mariners offense was in 2010? That collection posted a .236/.298/.339 batting line, 101 home runs, 3.17 runs per game and a team OPS+ of 79. And they almost cost Felix Hernandez a Cy Young Award.

Traditional stats, eye tests, sabermetric stats and grandmas listening to Dave Sims on their porch radios all came to the same verdict -- that the 2010 Seattle Mariners effectively trotted out one of the worst offenses in baseball history. In fact, the last team to score fewer runs per game was the 1981 Blue Jays.

Prior to Wednesday's offensive twitch, however, the Twins' rolled up newspapers were on pace to be wetter than Seattle's last year.

We're talking about an historically bad pace through six weeks.

Posting a team OPS+ of 72 over the course of a full season is almost impossible. It's only happened twice since 1920. Here's a list of (most) of those bottom-feeding offenses:

1920 A's: 69 OPS+, 3.58 runs per game
1932 Red Sox: 72 OPS+, 3.68 runs per game
1924 Braves: 73 OPS+, 3.38 runs per game
1963 Colt 45's: 73 OPS+, 2.86 runs per game
1965 Mets: 73 OPS+, 3.02 runs per game
1952 Pirates: 73 OPS+, 3.32 runs per game
1927 Robins: 73 OPS+, 3.51 runs per game
1981 Blue Jays: 74 OPS+, 3.1 runs per game
1943 A's: 74 OPS+, 3.21 runs per game
2003 Tigers: 75 OPS+, 2.89 runs per game
1969 Padres: 75 OPS+, 2.89 runs per game
1951 Reds: 75 OPS+, 3.61 runs per game
1943 Braves 77 OPS+, 3.04 runs per game
1940 Phillies: 77 OPS+, 3.23 runs per game
1955 Orioles: 77 OPS+, 3.46 runs per game
2004 Diamondbacks: 77 OPS+, 3.8 runs per game
2010 Mariners: 79 OPS+, 3.17 runs per game

It's obviously way too early to compare a six-week sample size of this Twins offense with the full-season futility of the aforementioned lightweights. But a large part of the problem for the Twins is the barrage of illness and injuries that has sidelined Joe Mauer, Jim Thome, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Delmon Young and even Justin Morneau for a combined 93 games.

The temporary solution has been to lean on six position-player call-ups from Triple-A Rochester -- Luke Hughes, Rene Tosoni, Ben Revere, Trevor Plouffe, Steve Holm and Rene Rivera.

But those six have combined to hit .196/.261/.284 with seven extra-base hits, 11 walks and 35 strikeouts in 161 trips.

"This is the major leagues, and the lineup you write out there is a bunch of major league baseball players, and that's what you have, and that's what it is," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "And I expect them to go out there and give a good effort. And sure, we're going to have some at bats, probably, from some kids who are not going to be as good as probably some of the veterans would. But bottom line is this is the big leagues and they're in the big leagues, and we have to continue to battle and continue to work and try to make them better. That's all we can do."

At this time last year, the Twins were 21-12, leading the American League central by 2.5 games over the Tigers, averaging 5.03 runs per game and sitting atop a +45 run differential.

Fast forward 365 days and the Twins have already been outscored by a cartoonish 74 runs and sit 11 games behind the Indians.

Not to mention, the pitching staff has allowed double-digit runs seven times, and more than half of the team's 23 losses have come in blowout fashion (four runs or more). Seven of those losses have been total embarrassments (six runs or more).

When asked about the urgency of his team's current situation, Gardenhire said, "That's a hard word to really describe a lot of the issues we have.

"Urgency, it probably plays into the coaching staffs' minds, and some of our veterans that have been there and done it, maybe a little more than some of the other people, let's put it that way. They might understand a little bit more about a major league season."

In an ideal world, the Twins would like Wednesday's offensive spike -- despite the loss -- to provide a spark of some sort.

Just like Liriano's no-hitter was supposed to provide a spark.

Just like Friday's nine-run shellacking of Tim Wakefield and company was supposed to provide a spark.

Just like a closed-door meeting in Kansas City nearly two weeks ago was supposed to provide a spark.

But is progress on the horizon at all?

"I mean, it's hard to say," Michael Cuddyer said. "We haven't been playing any better, to be frank. We haven't. We're still making mistakes. We're trying, that's one thing I will say. We're working our butts off.

"We're trying everything we can to figure this thing out and right this ship. I guess that's all you can do is continue to work and work and work, and hopefully eliminate mistakes. And it's all of us. It starts with me."

But hey, that's OK. It's still early.

Or something like that.

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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