The Minnesota Twins had a wee bit of momentum going into the All-Star Break, scoring loads of runs and beating up on one of baseball’s best in the Texas Rangers. Somewhat predictably, the break squashed the momentum the Twins had going. Or, it could be that a baseball team 25 to 30 games under .500 will just struggle no matter what.
Still, the Twins were one of the top teams in baseball in runs scored for the month of July. That’s pretty impressive for a last-place team, really. The run support and runs-per-game went up. They even went into Boston for four games and earned a split in that series. David Ortiz got to the plate with the bases loaded and *didn’t* hit a grand slam. #blessed
As it goes so often in sports, things don’t always have a rhyme or reason. After the Boston series, the Twins returned home to play the NL-worst Atlanta Braves for two games in a nostalgic rematch of the 1991 World Series 25 years ago.
The Twins and Braves have kept pace all year, usually within a couple games of each other for the worst-team-in-baseball title. Well, the Braves promptly came in and took both games. Ervin Santana pitched a stellar game – a complete game – and surrendered just two runs. Unfortunately, his teammates with the bats only managed five hits, no runs and went 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position.
Something had to be done
With a team that has held one of the worst records in baseball all season, there are bound to be changes. The reminder can't be said enough in times like these that sports, although entertaining and fun, is a business.
The first, and actually pretty shocking, move was the firing of Twins general manager Terry Ryan. It was announced the Monday after the All-Star Break and just after the Twins Hall of Fame weekend at Target Field.
Here’s what I shared on my social media sites when it happened, along with an article about the firing:
This came as a shock to the Minnesota Twins community today. It’s an unfortunate situation. The Twins, based on the W-L record, are the worst team in the American League and have been among the worst in baseball all season. When that happens, some kind of change will most certainly follow. Sports is a business, after all.
I’m sure there are fans who are celebrating that the Twins made this move. The ol’ “Fire Terry Ryan!” crowd. That’s also unfortunate. My purpose here isn’t to analyze and judge all the baseball decisions he made.
Some of you might know that Terry spent 10 to 15 minutes with the media before Twins games. Just an informal gathering over the dinner table in the media dining room about a half hour before game time. I thought that was normal, but when I asked a colleague last year, he told me this was a pretty cool and rare thing to see from a general manager.
Earlier this season, Sid Hartman came over to the group, playfully grabbed Terry by the shoulders and with a smile said something like: You’re still doing this, huh?
Terry, in a serious tone, responded with: “Gotta be accountable.”
I often scoff at public figures who refuse media interviews after something doesn’t go their way. If you talk when the going is good, you should talk when the going gets tough, right? Then there was Terry, with a ball club that made one of its worst starts in franchise history. There was no obligation for him to hold these Q and As with the media, but he was there anyway. Win or lose, and there have been a lot of losses this year.
My time around Terry is a very small sample size compared to some of the people within the Twins organization and the local media core, of course. But when you hear or read about the kind words regarding Terry Ryan’s character, I hope this is an example shining a light on it. The job aside, Terry Ryan is respectful and accountable.
Then the next shake-up move came a couple days ago.
Trading the All-Star
Promptly after the Twins, the worst team in the American League, beat the Orioles, the best team in the American League, news of a trade came in. I saw it first via LaVelle E. Neal's Twitter: Eduardo Nunez had been traded to the San Francisco Giants.
In return, the Twins acquired left-handed pitcher Adalberto Mejia, a 23-year-old who stands at 6-3 and is listed at 220 pounds. He's rated as the 91st best prospect according to Baseball America's Midseason Top 100 prospect list. He's played double-A and triple-A ball this season, holding a combined record of 7-3 with a 2.81 ERA, 101 strikeouts and 27 walks in 18 starts.
Of course, Nunez, 29, was the lone All-Star for the Twins this season. He's a utility guy in the infield but earned his playing time as a regular shortstop. In a season where so many things have been below expectations, Nunez has provided the bright spot, with his bright smile and helmet-losing antics. His average was consistently over the .300 mark this season, though it just recently dipped to .296. He has 12 homers, 47 RBI and stole 27 bases - two in what ended up being his final game with the Twins.
Early indications from some of my sports colleagues via the Twitter machine point to this being a good move for the Twins.
Thanks for the smiles, and all the helmet-losing memories, @EduardoNunez15! #MNTwins pic.twitter.com/3DrrpveriN— Minnesota Twins (@Twins) July 29, 2016
It's a baseball move
Mejia was sent to the Twins Triple-A club in Rochester for now; rumblings are that the organization hopes he'll be a contender for the starting rotation next season. That's something the Twins will need.
I'm sure I wasn't alone in thinking this Nunez deal might be a possibility. It makes sense for a struggling team to make a major move. It was still a little disappointing (mostly for selfish reasons, because Nunez provided the best reaction GIFs for me to use on social media).
Now, unlike many Twins fans displaying their displeasure on social media, I fully understand this was a good baseball move that needed to be made. I think you can understand that and still be disappointed as a Twins fan that it came to this in a season that held so much promise in spring training. There's a line there.
The MLB trade deadline is Monday. We'll see what other moves, if any, the Twins make before the exchanging madness is over. In the meantime, fans will try to relish things like a 7th walk-off win for the Twins, coming in 12 innings Friday over the White Sox.