Mackey: Logic says the Twins are done, but history makes us wonder
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CLEVELAND -- If there is such a thing as a baseball afterlife, the Minnesota Twins may have caught a glimpse late last week.
On Wednesday night, after a loss in Detroit dropped the Twins' record to 17-37, CoolStandings.com -- a popular baseball projection website -- actually listed the team's playoff chances at "<0.1%."
And that may have been a generous pulse reading.
But a funny thing happened after the Twins traveled from Detroit to Kansas City. With a lineup and bullpen comprised mostly of players who would ordinarily be playing for Triple-A Rochester, the Twins went into Kauffman Stadium and completed a four-game sweep of the Royals.
Meanwhile, the Cleveland Indians -- who will host the Twins for three games beginning Monday -- were slapped upside the head with brooms by the Texas Rangers.
The four-game swing cut Cleveland's AL Central lead over Minnesota from 16.5 games to 12.5 and bumped the Twins' chances of making the playoff to 0.3%.
Call it timely usage of a defibrillator.
Any other team in baseball -- and perhaps in all sports -- would have warranted an obituary weeks ago, carved in stone and laminated five times over. But manager Ron Gardenhire's Twins have shown an ability to rise from the dead over the past few years that would make Jason Voorhees blush.
In 2003 the Twins lost 12 of 13 from June 30 to July 13, falling from first place to third place and 7.5 games behind the Royals. At the All-Star break, the Twins had only an 8% chance of playing in October. But three days after bottoming out, the Twins traded for outfielder Shannon Stewart, who hit .322/.384/.470 down the stretch to finish fourth in MVP voting while leading the furious charge to a division title.
In 2006 the Twins slipped as many as 12.5 games back on May 27, as many as eight games under .500 on June 7, and were as many as 10 games back one week into August. The Twins' playoff chances that season sunk as low as 1.7%. After cutting the anchors loose -- Juan Castro, Ruben Sierra and Tony Batista -- the Twins went on an historic run, at one point winning 19 out of 20 games. Justin Morneau won the American League MVP Award, Joe Mauer won a batting title, Johan Santana won the Cy Young Award, Torii Hunter hit 31 bombs and Michael Cuddyer slugged over .500. Oh, and a pre-surgery Francisco Liriano may have been the best pitcher in baseball before succumbing to an elbow injury.
In 2009 the Twins fell as far as seven games back on September 6 (6.3% chance at the postseason) and three games back with four to play (4% chance), yet still forced a Game 163 against the Detroit Tigers. And won it. The additions of Orlando Cabrera, Jon Rauch and Carl Pavano down the stretch helped jolt the Twins to a 17-4 finish.
But this is 2011. The hole is deeper and the cast is almost certainly weaker. Winning even 87 games would require a 66-38 run to finish the season.
And even though it looks as if the Twins will soon welcome Joe Mauer and Tsuyoshi Nishioka back to the lineup, along with Jason Kubel and Jim Thome, the team still has several glaring flaws beyond simply staring at a 12.5-game deficit.
A bullpen with the worst ERA in baseball (5.25), a starting pitching staff that has allowed the seventh-most home runs per nine innings (1.04), and an offense with several key underachieving regulars -- namely Morneau (.236/.292/.352), Delmon Young (.215/.248/.257), Danny Valencia (.219/.282/.335) and Cuddyer (.260/.323/.392).
On the bright side, after leaving Cleveland the Twins do return home to play 30 of their next 40 games at Target Field.
So was this weekend's sudden mini-resurgence a precursor to another improbable rise from the ashes?
Or was it just the Royals being the Royals?
I'm leaning toward the latter.
But let's talk again on Wednesday.