Twins’ momentum vanishes as they fall back into last place

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Digging out of their massive early season hole seemed possible and then some when the Twins chased Giants starter Madison Bumgarner from last Tuesday’s game with an eight-run first inning.

They’d won eight in a row as part of a 15-2 stretch that improved the Twins from an MLB-worst 17-37 to 32-39, miraculously bringing .500 into reach just two weeks after the season looked all but lost and putting them 6.5 games out of first place in a division there for the taking.

Not only have they lost all five games since then, the Twins have scored a grand total of nine runs in 53 innings since that eight-run opening inning Tuesday, plummeting past the Royals to reclaim the league’s worst record. Anything short of ending the first half on a 13-game winning streak would make clawing back to .500 at the All-Star break mathematically impossible and the Twins are now nine games behind the division-leading Tigers with just 86 games to play. So much for momentum, huh?

Momentum left as suddenly as it arrived, but the injury bug unfortunately stuck around. Just as they were finally getting healthy with Joe Mauer, Jim Thome, Glen Perkins, Joe Nathan, and Tsuyoshi Nishioka returning from the disabled list Justin Morneau unexpectedly will undergo neck surgery that may end his season, Delmon Young was carted off the field and placed on the DL with an ankle injury, and Jason Kubel’s return timetable has been delayed again.

Because they play 21 of the next 25 games at home and the rest of the division is so mediocre even this buzz-killing setback doesn’t totally wipe away their great run, but ultimately we’re a week from the season’s midway point and the Twins have the AL’s worst record while being further out of first place than all but the Orioles. Detroit sits atop the division despite being on pace for just 87 wins, but in order for the Twins to win 87 games they’d have to finish 55-31.

Possible? Sure, but before and after the 15-2 stretch they’ve gone 17-42.

Matt Carpenter hit a standup bunt double

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The wave of defensive shifts we’ve seen over the past few years has led to a lot of armchair hitting coaches demanding that players bunt to beat it. This is easier said than done, however.

The shift happens because certain hitters tend to pull the ball. Certain hitters tend to pull the ball because pulling the ball is what happens when one gets a strong, quick swing on a pitch one identifies early and which one endeavors to send as far away from home plate as possible. Which is to say that pulling is a skill that is good to have and which is strongly selected for among hitters.

In light of that, “why not just bunt to beat the shift” takes are kind of lazy. Bunting is hard! And it is not a thing guys who get shifted a lot are good at. Most of the time asking a player to do a thing he is not well-equipped to do is a bad idea. Indeed, a hitter voluntarily going away from his strength is something the defense would much prefer.

Most of the time anyway.

Last night Matt Carpenter made those armchair hitting coaches happy by laying down a bunt to beat the shift. And he laid it down so well that he ended up with a standup double:

One batter later Carpenter scored on a Starlin Castro error.

The shift giveth and the shift taketh away.