By any stretch of the imagination, this must be considered a successful season for the Minnesota Twins as they build back to respectability.After splitting a four-game home series against Texas this weekend, they are 53-56 with 53 games left to play. Last year at this point, they were 44-65 on
By any stretch of the imagination, this must be considered a successful season for the Minnesota Twins as they build back to respectability.
After splitting a four-game home series against Texas this weekend, they are 53-56 with 53 games left to play. Last year at this point, they were 44-65 on their way to a 103-loss season and last place in the American League Central.
"Where we are today is significantly better than we were last year for a lot of reasons," manager Paul Molitor said last week after his club defeated the Padres at Petco Park. "There's been maturity. There's been progression. There's been a little bit more fight as a whole.
"We're not where we want to be right now, but it beats where we were at this time last year."
The Twins are very much in the hunt only six games behind the Indians in the Central, and 3 1/2 games out in the race for the AL's second Wild Card.
The AL is so bunched up right now, 11 teams are within eight games of the top Wild Card spot. Only the White Sox seem out of contention with eight weeks to go in the regular season.
One real hot streak would mean the difference for the Twins in where they finish this season and the future of their manager, whose three-year contract expires at the end of the season.
Plus, they still have nine home games remaining to do some damage against their top division rivals -- the Indians, Royals and Tigers. They also play those teams a total of 14 times on the road where Minnesota has a superior record.
Oddly enough, the Twins are five games over .500 on the road at this juncture and eight games under at Target Field.
It's no wonder that Molitor is reluctant to define his team's progress until the season has played itself out.
"We still have roughly a third to go. I don't want to put a stamp on it until we finish it," Molitor said. "There are no excuses. We just have to finish as strongly as we can. I think we have some young guys who are still learning what it's like to play through September instead of through August and we'll see how they hold up."
It's been a long playoff drought for Minnesota, which hasn't made the postseason since 2010, hasn't won a postseason game since '04 and a series since '02. It last won the World Series in '91.
In all that time, the Twins have only had two managers: Ron Gardenhire, now the D-backs' bench coach, and Molitor, the Hall of Fame player who took over in 2015 and has slowly tried to change the ethos of the club.
In Molitor's first year, the new approach had some success as Minnesota played 83-79 ball, finishing 12 games out. Molitor was third in the AL Manager of the Year Award voting won that year by Texas' Jeff Banister, at the time another rookie manager.
Last season, the Twins reverted to 35 1/2 games behind the eventual AL champion Indians.
The season led to a changing of the guard in baseball operations, with Thad Levine hired this past November as senior vice president and general manager and Derek Falvey as chief baseball officer, mimicking the duel-headed approach many teams have taken in this more abstract and analytical baseball era.
Levine and Falvey came from the Rangers and Indians, respectively.
Molitor had a year to go on his managerial contract and was retained.
About remaining in the job beyond this season, Molitor has been typically non-committal, choosing instead to center on the here and now. He doesn't view his status as lame duck as he nears the end of his tenure.
"I never even think about that until someone asks me," Molitor told the Star-Tribune recently. "I'm open-minded about being here past this year, for sure. But I don't worry about whether that's going to happen or not."
What Molitor offers is a tempered even-keel demeanor as the Twins transition from the Joe Mauer-James Dozier years to a younger squad bolstered by Byron Buxton, 23, Miguel Sano and Jorge Polanco, both 24.
Molitor collected 3,319 hits in 21 big league seasons before becoming only the second Hall of Famer in recent years to try his hand at managing. The other was Ryne Sandberg, who lasted barely two calendar years with the Phillies before resigning midway through the 2015 season when upper management changed.
Molitor, 60, played his last three years with Minnesota and is a favorite of the Pohlad family, which has owned the club since 1984.
That the Twins were minor sellers at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline didn't sit well with Molitor or his players. But he knows there's still plenty of time left for the team to determine its own fate. The season has already been a good one no matter how it turns out.
"We've got to protect against the feel-sorry-for-yourself, self-pity kind of deal," Molitor said. "It just doesn't play here. I think these guys realize we still have some fight left in us. It's a little bit different with some personnel changes, but we've just got to keep playing and try to win, get back to .500 and then push from there."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter.