MIKE’S MUSINGS: Parachuting in with the Twins

I’ll be honest, my discipline in following Major League Baseball has slipped in recent years.

I used to live and breathe baseball. In my youth I played for over a decade and when away from the diamond I was most likely watching the Cubs or Twins on a lazy summer day.

Baseball’s still a love of mine, but I’ve fallen out of the day-to-day minutiae that can make a 162-game MLB season both fascinating and overwhelming.

It doesn’t help that most of my local coverage is simultaneous to a lot of college and pro sports, but I’m certainly not complaining about that.

So, when I headed east last week with a couple high school buddies to catch the Twins on their road trip, it was interesting to see the status of our Minnesota Twins.

The first brush I had with the Twin Cities’ finest was Sunday afternoon at Wrigley Field. The Cubs were fresh off of getting swept by the lowly Cincinnati Reds, yet they rebounded for two opening wins against Minnesota.

It was a maddening series already and the wackiest was still to come.

Not long after my buddies and I were in standstill traffic driving into Chicago rush hour traffic, the Twins wasted a three-hit, five-RBI day from Joe Mauer and a three-run lead in the second and fifth innings to lose 10-6.

Kenyon-Wanamingo baseball coach Kirby VanDeWalker told me he’d be in Wrigley to root on the Twins at Saturday afternoon’s tilt. At least he got to see a lot of runs.

It wasn’t hard to see that each team was at the end of their rotation.

Two more separate three-run leads for the Twins yet again weren’t enough to get it done. Five different arms combined to allow 20 Chicago hits in a 14-9 loss.

When I arrived to Wrigley on another scorcher of a Sunday afternoon, I thought the Twins might lay down and die.

The Cubs were throwing National League Cy Young contender Jon Lester while the Twins were throwing the underwhelming Lance Lynn.

For a while, I looked like Nostradamus with my prediction.

The Twins threw out a lineup befit of the Grapefruit League.

Without an off day coming Monday, manager Paul Molitor trotted out unproven players Willians Astudillo (measuring at 5-foot-9, 225 pounds), Mitch Garver and Jake Cave.

Ironically, these guys proved to be the least of the worries as they combined for eight hits and a sharp lineout by Lynn.

The Twins baited their loyal, traveling fans again with a solo home run by Cave to take a 1-0 lead in the second inning. Assuredly, it didn’t last.

An eight-run second inning by the Cubs was highlighted by a no-doubter of a home run to center by Lester. That seemed to take the wind out of the Twins’ sails.

Even a pair of two-run innings in the fifth and sixth seemed like drops in the bucket as Chicago still led 11-5 at the time. It just allowed more time to get in line for another beverage to get through the inevitable.

Then, the Twins rallied in what serves as a microcosm of the so-close-yet-so-far theme of this season. Sure, Minnesota has been under .500 almost all year, but in a sputtering division, they’ve been at least on the edge of contention in the Central all season.

Not so much anymore.

A year after the Twins got so many breaks to make a surprising playoff run, they just can’t seem to get over the hump.

An inspiring five-run inning as a pop up rain shower hit Wrigley gave the Twins life. Could Minnesota rain on Chicago’s parade and salvage a Windy City win? The hardy Twins fans who remained, including my friend Ryan in his goofy button-down shirt, were reeled back in.

They should have known better.

The Twins even had the tying run in scoring position in the top of the ninth, but the inspiring rally only contributed to what is now a 4-15 record in one-run games.

If that record is even just 9-10, the Twins are 6.5 games back as of Friday afternoon with almost half the season remaining to catch Cleveland.

Instead, the losses like Sunday’s and Monday’s keep popping up.

I was a kindred spirit with Minnesota on Monday. Tired, but ready to give a good effort anyway.

After an action-filled few days in Chi-Town catching Dave Matthews Band, Millennium Park and the Billy Goat Tavern, I’ll admit I was a little spent. Making it out to Miller Park did the trick to reinvigorate me.

It was a gorgeous night for baseball after days of heat. The retractable roof was left open as fans hurried in to pick up a free Brewers flag at the gate.

I’ve got to say, it made for a great napkin (sorry, Jacob).

Joe Mauer was back in the lineup for the Twins, Logan Morrison was graciously given the day off and all seemed right in the world again.

I switched from Cubs royal blue to Twins navy blue in hopes that my second favorite team (Minnesota) could help out my first favorite by beating the NL Central-leading Brewers.

Wishful thinking on my part.

I became emboldened when the Twins finally seemed to get something to go their way. A blown third strike call on Brian Dozier was ruled a foul tip that somehow went unchanged on replay.

Finally, a break!

Days after Addison Russell hit a devastating grand slam to lift the Cubs over the Twins on Friday, Robbie Grossman rocketed one 391 feet out of the park for a grand slam of his own. Twins were up 5-1 in the fifth.

Enough of that three-run lead nonsense; the Twins weren’t messing around this time.

Twins fans surrounded us on all sides and the cheese curds were outstanding. Life was good.

Then, the bullpen arrived.

Starter Kyle Gibson couldn’t make it into the sixth, leaving an exposed group of arms behind him to hold onto the lead.

That lead slowly dwindled as Minnesota’s bats simultaneously got quiet. My new favorite player, Astudillo, had a great couple games at the plate but a costly error at the hot corner helped Milwaukee claw back.

It was fine, though.

The Twins made it to the ninth inning to closer Fernando Rodney who has been fairly reliable this season.

Not Monday. He sputtered in the ninth and forced Molitor to throw 22-year-old Zack Littell in the 10th with the game tied.

Milwaukee notched just one hit off Litell who was undone by a hit batsman of MLB debutant, Nate Orf, and a four-pitch walk-off walk.

The Twins mercifully ended their six-game skid with a win over the last-place Orioles on Monday, but it’s done little to right the ship.

From the start, this season has felt tenuous. Last year’s surprising success wasn’t a guarantee of more to come.

Miguel Sano deteriorated from an all-star to a player unprepared physically to play who is now toiling in single A just a year later.

Jorge Polanco, a promising bat at shortstop, was shelved with an 82-game suspension for a failed drug test.

There have been some positives, like Eddie Rosario’s insane 23 doubles or 23-year-old Jose Berrios’ steady production on the mound.

Rosario seems like a lock to go to Washington, D.C., for the All-Star Game. Maybe Eduardo Escobar will join him.

There is a lot of youth on this team to lift Minnesota into the future, it just isn’t paying off this year. Even an untrained eye like mine can see it.

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