Barrage of injuries has Twins in a rut
From Mauer to Thome, Liriano to Nathan, stars on the shelf
MINNEAPOLIS -- With just one look at the Twins' active roster, it's easy to see why the club has struggled so much through the first two months of the season.
With Jason Kubel and Jim Thome becoming the latest to be placed on the disabled list on Thursday, the Twins currently have eight players out of action, including their best player, Joe Mauer; their best pitcher from last season, Francisco Liriano; their season-opening closer, Joe Nathan; and their biggest offseason signing, Tsuyoshi Nishioka.
And that list also includes Glen Perkins, who has been the Twins' best reliever this season, and Kevin Slowey, who has been a solid starter in the past but has struggled to stay healthy in a relief role.
In total, Minnesota has utilized the 15-day disabled list 13 times this year, with reliever Jose Mijares and outfielders Delmon Young and Jason Repko also seeing time on the DL, while Thome and Slowey have each hit the DL twice.
As a result, the Twins have used 20 position players and 19 pitchers, and only four players on their current 40-man roster have yet to see time in the Majors this season.
Combine that with sluggers Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer and Danny Valencia struggling to pick up the slack offensively -- along with a pitching staff possessing the worst ERA in the Majors -- and the Twins are faced with the perfect recipe for disaster.
"I feel like a lot of things have to not be going our way for that to happen, and obviously they aren't," said right-hander Scott Baker. "At this point, I don't know what else we can do but try to play good baseball. Obviously, it'll be climbing Mount Everest to get back where we need to be, so it's been pretty tough."
It's been a historically bad start for the Twins -- their 36 losses at the end of the May marked the second-highest total in franchise history through the first two months of the season -- and the club briefly fell to 20 games under .500 for the first time since 2000 with Wednesday's loss to the Tigers, which saw Minnesota get swept for a sixth time this year.
The slow start has the Twins' players scratching their heads, as Minnesota won the American League Central title each of the last two years and six of the previous nine, and was considered a favorite to repeat again this year. But the Twins currently find themselves 15 1/2 games behind the first-place Indians after beating the Royals on Thursday.
"It's something I haven't ever been a part of -- ever," Kubel said. "I don't really know how to deal with it. It seems like all the games are going along good for us, but then something happens, and it seems like it's something different every night. It's weird."
It all started innocently enough, however, as the Twins came out of Spring Training with the best record in Grapefruit League play and with none of their players on the disabled list.
But Nishioka was the first casualty on April 7, as he broke his left fibula when Nick Swisher slid hard into second base to break up a double play.
Slowey was next, suffering from right shoulder bursitis just two days later, before the big news dropped on April 14 that Mauer was hitting the DL with bilateral leg weakness.
It only got worse from there, as Young strained his left oblique later that month, while Thome and Repko were placed on the DL the same day in early May.
The Twins' bullpen was then hit hard in May with Perkins, Slowey, Mijares and Nathan all being placed on the DL, and only Mijares has returned to action so far. The bullpen, which was the one of the club's major strengths last year, has simply been unable to find a rhythm, posting the worst ERA in baseball.
But through it all, the players haven't merely blamed the injuries for their struggles; they know they have also failed to execute and the current roster of big leaguers hasn't been getting it done.
"It hurts that those guys are out, but the last couple of years, we missed Morneau or Mauer or somebody else," left-hander Brian Duensing said. "We can win without them. We want them in the lineup, no doubt, but we're good enough to win without them. We just have to keep plugging away. It's not going to get better by sitting back and having a pity party. We have to go out there and find a way to get it done."
The Twins, though, have reason to believe things will get better moving forward, even though they've dug themselves a deep hole in the AL Central.
The Twins' starting pitching has performed much better in recent weeks, and the offense has started to pick it up, too. But they've just had trouble in close games, losing eight games by one run in May and leading all of baseball with 15 losses in one-run contests.
But the Twins have also been receiving good news on the injury front, as Mauer saw action behind the plate on Thursday for the first time since hitting the DL, and Nishioka is also playing in rehab games and could rejoin the team in the next few weeks.
The hard reality is that it might just be too late to make a run, but it certainly wouldn't be a shock to the see the Twins play better baseball moving forward.
"The good part of it is that we're battling our tails off," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Our guys are really into the game and have been giving it everything they have. We have to continue to do that and find a way to get on top and win these ballgames.