Twins collapsing despite Mauer's amazing season

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By beating the Rangers on July 18 behind eight innings of one-run ball from Scott Baker the Twins moved to a season-high three games above .500 at 47-44. Since then they’ve gone 9-17 despite scoring nearly 5.5 runs per game, because the pitching staff has absolutely imploded to the tune of allowing 6.5 runs per game, including coughing up double-digit runs eight times.
During those 26 games Joe Mauer hit nearly .400 with an OPS well over 1.000, Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel both provided a .900 OPS with plenty of power, Denard Span got on base at a .380 clip, and Orlando Cabrera hit safely in all but two games since coming over from the A’s. Yet the Twins are in the midst of an awful funk that has seen every starter except Baker get rocked on a nightly basis and the bullpen cough up nearly a run per inning when Joe Nathan or Matt Guerrier aren’t in.
Detroit and Chicago are mediocre enough that the Twins aren’t completely out of the playoff picture, but at 56-61 and six games back in the AL Central it’s tough to imagine them making a serious run down the stretch. Sure, their remaining schedule is favorable, but the Twins just lost four of six home games to the fourth-place Indians and fifth-place Royals, and now travel to Texas for a four-game series against the Wild Card-leading Rangers.
In other words, by this time next week the Twins’ remaining schedule may not even matter. Even now, if the Tigers go just 22-23 down the stretch the Twins would have to go 28-17 just to tie them at 84 wins. And they also have the White Sox to contend with. Memories from 2006 of the Twins making a 10-game deficit vanish in 50 games make it tough for their fans to give up yet, but it’s worth noting that the Twins were 68-49 through 117 games that year, compared to 56-61 this season.
By the middle of August the 2006 team had clearly shown that it was capable of playing very good baseball and in fact were on a 94-win pace at this stage of the season. Right now the Twins are on pace for 78 wins and even that looks awfully optimistic given their performance of late. Can the Twins at least make things interesting this year? Sure. Both the Tigers and White Sox are plenty flawed and six games down with 45 left to play is very difficult but hardly impossible.
But regardless of the mediocre competition, favorable schedule, and memories of 2006 if anyone who’s watched the Twins over the past month can still conjure up visions of meaningful late-September games to close out the Metrodome … well, let’s just say that I’m jealous of their optimism. And wouldn’t mind a little bit of what they’ve been smoking. Right now their season looks like nothing more than a whole bunch of opportunities missed and great individual performances wasted.

Joe Maddon is on the hottest of hot seats

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Patrick Mooney and Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic have written a fantastically revealing article about the 2019 Chicago Cubs.

The story, on the surface anyway, might be confused for one of those pre-Opening Day team philosophy pieces in which a bunch of players and executives talk about how they need to “go about their business” a better way, focus on the little things and all of that common, cliche-driven material. And yes, there is a fair amount of that in there.

But the larger arc of it is more revealing than that. The whole thing reads like a warning shot from the front office toward the players and coaching staff, with Joe Maddon standing out as a particular subject of rebuke. Indeed, it’s hard to read the thing without believing that, absent a super fast start and a return to championship form, Maddon is gonna be fired this year.

The article has been shared on social media a lot since going live yesterday, and most of that sharing has focused on little things like the Cubs wanting players to eat less fast food this year and batting practice being mandatory a certain number of days a week. But it’s bigger than that. The article doesn’t contain any incendiary quotes or veiled threats, but it seems pretty clear that Maddon is taking blame for the team not being focused in the past.

Part of that comes from the structure of it. The idea here is that the 2018 season ended badly and that, in the offseason, the front office made a point to talk to the players. Theo Epstein talking to Jason Heyward in the batting cage after everyone else has gone home for the offseason. Epstein, Jed Hoyer and other front office officials visiting Jon Lester at his home in Georgia. Epstein and Hoyer going to Anthony Rizzo‘s wedding in Florida. There’s a lot of talk from all of them about hatching the new forward-looking philosophy but everything from Maddon comes from past quotes or quotes given in reaction to the new philosophy. It seems clear that the front office and the players are on the same page and that Maddon is kinda going along for the ride with it, even if he’s saying all the right things.

As far as the substance of the new 2019 philosophy goes, there is a lot of stuff couched in terms of “here’s a good thing we’re going to start doing this year” that come off like criticisms of Maddon for not doing them in the past.

For example, there is talk about how Maddon plans to talk to players and coach more which are hard to read, in context, as anything other than criticism of him being removed or aloof before. They plan to give players lineups several days in advance, characterized as a means of helping them plan, but there is reference to the sense that they were pressing to impress Maddon and not be written out of the lineup in the past. There’s stuff about how the players are “coddled” with clubhouse amenities and how Maddon’s office was too far away from them and how he talked to the press too much and to the players too little. Again, not explicitly stated as a current criticism but, rather, couched in terms of a “here are good things we’re going to do now.” It’s clear, though, that the unspoken idea is “. . . and we should’ve done it differently before.”

When put together with other things in the article — things like (a) Maddon not getting a contract extension and thus being a lame duck; (b) top executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer making a point to travel with the team more on road trips and show up more in the clubhouse at Wrigley; and (c) a Theo Epstein/Jon Lester-driven narrative that makes references to both the Chicken and Beer and Bobby Valentine-era Red Sox — it all puts one in mind of the late Terry Francona-era Boston Red Sox. To be sure, it’s reported and stated much more more artfully than that. This is not an anonymously-source hit piece driven by a Sox chairman or VP with an axe to grind or anything. It’s a good article. But it makes one think that a message is being sent to and/or about Joe Maddon, even if it’s being sent more subtly than the kind of message you might’ve seen sent in, say, the Boston Globe back in the day.

No matter what you think of it all, it strikes me that Maddon is on the hottest of seats right now and that, if and when he’s fired, this article will stand in hindsight as a pretty obvious harbinger of it.