Injuries are an unavoidable and inevitable part of any season, and accordingly, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli and his club have never used attrition as an excuse in the four years I’ve covered this team. It does them no good to rue the injuries; that energy is much better directed toward making the best decisions they can with the roster that they have on any given day.
But still, the juxtaposition between the Guardians and Twins this last weekend was rather … jarring.
On Sunday, when Minnesota wrapped up arguably its most important series of the season to this point, Cleveland had three players on the IL. The Twins had 17, with Chris Archer as the latest to end up on the shelf with a right pectoral issue. And if it feels like things have been worse than usual on that front this season for the Twins, testing their depth to an extreme extent, you’re right.
Entering Tuesday, Minnesota's 31 placements this season on the IL matched the Cubs for second in MLB, behind only the Reds. The Twins' 1,963 cumulative days missed to injury ranked third, behind the Reds and Rays.
"I don't even think I even have to say how it feels right now,” Baldelli said. “I think we can just look and see what the facts say. The facts say that we've been hurt, but we're a .500 club, I guess, at the moment, I'm told. We're still in the middle of a playoff run. So we have the ability to still, at this point, I've said we kind of control things.”
That’s why the Twins have had to turn to Jake Cave, Kyle Garlick and Gilberto Celestino in the outfield almost every day -- especially now, with Max Kepler banged up, too -- and ended up in a situation late in Sunday’s game where they were picking between Caleb Hamilton, Billy Hamilton and Jermaine Palacios to pinch-hit in the biggest plate appearance of the game.
That stands in contrast to all the big names the Twins currently have on the IL, and as noted in a post I saw going around social media the other day, they can almost field an entire team (and a good one, too) with the players they’re currently missing.
C: Ryan Jeffers
1B: Miguel Sanó
2B: Jorge Polanco
SS: Royce Lewis
LF: Alex Kirilloff
CF: Byron Buxton
RF: Trevor Larnach
SP: Tyler Mahle, Kenta Maeda, Chris Paddack, Bailey Ober, Chris Archer
This doesn’t explain away everything, of course. Just look above, where I mentioned that the Rays have had more days missed to injury than the Twins this year -- and Tampa Bay currently holds a Wild Card berth and has pushed the Yankees for first place in the AL East far more than anybody could have expected. The Twins’ issues in the starting rotation, bullpen and in situational hitting at various points this season have contributed to this predicament a good deal, too, and there’s no getting around that.
But this certainly hasn’t helped.
“It’s a different team,” Archer said. “It’s a different team. But I’m really proud of how hard we’re playing and how some guys have really, really stepped up, because without those injuries, we don’t see what [Jose Miranda] is capable of. We don’t see what Nick Gordon is capable of. So it’s been great to not let that hold us back too much, hold us down too much, and some guys have really stepped up.”