Twins' stumbling start leaves them focused on the hope of 162 games

·3 min read

CHICAGO – This is no time to panic.

That's the recurring message from the Twins.

Sure, they Twins are 12-20 have the second-worst win percentage in the American League and third worst in Major League Baseball.

Yes, the team's bullpen has a 4.92 ERA and has a relief staff with a combined 1-11 record.

And of course their productivity late in games is also in the basement, as the Twins have only four runs and 11 hits with a .112 batting average in 109 plate appearances in the ninth and extra innings.

But the Twins themselves, at least, say they aren't worried even heading into what could end up being a pivotal divisional series at the American League Central-leading White Sox starting Tuesday. That's because there's one number the rises above all else: 162.

"Big picture, we just need more sample size. Just everything's kind of hitting at the same time. That's why you play 162 [games]," reliever Taylor Rogers said. "I think we're going to look up at the end of it, and it's all going to even out."

Rogers pointed to a specific memory from his career — a late July 2017 road trip to California where in four games, he gave up eight earned runs and five hits in just 2⅔ innings. The Twins went 2-6 on the trip, which they started with a winning record and ended below .500. The club made deadline trade deals that left things looking bleak. However, both the team and Rogers pulled it together to make the AL wild-card game.

That swing isn't quite equivalent to the team's current woes. This year's Twins are only about 20% of the way through the schedule. And while that does give the team more time to hypothetically correct, history has shown that's unlikely to happen.

This season is the fourth time since 2011 the Twins have lost at least 20 of their first 32 games. When they previously did so in 2011, 2012 and 2016, they finished last in the division.

The Twins don't find registering that to be particularly helpful, though.

"Focusing on the losing of ballgames or things that already happened is not going to get us where we need to be," manager Rocco Baldelli said. "What's going to get us where we need to be is individually getting our players where they need to be so they can get out there and do their jobs."

Some things are going well for the Twins, like fielding. The team shored up its defense by adding shortstop Andrelton Simmons this past offseason, and now is fifth in MLB at fielding percentage at .986. Byron Buxton is another, though the MVP contender recently went on the injured list, potentially for weeks, because of a right hip injury.

Rogers said he always tries to look game-by-game, or at the most, series-by-series. Winning series can put the Twins in a good place as the season progresses. He also tries not to lose composure from bunches of bad results, again knowing that one bad outing giving up multiple runs means a month of diligent work to bring his ERA back to an acceptable level.

"Sometimes you have one guy in his bad stretch, and it just gets overlooked because the rest of the bullpen is doing well," Rogers said. "Just a random time period where we don't have everybody doing so well right now."

Outfielder Kyle Garlick said the team hasn't come together for any clubhouse pep talks or serious meetings, mostly because early May feels too soon to trigger any alarm bells. Rogers expressed how he would really like to look into the future, as he trusts the Twins' record and statistics in October will match or exceed all the preseason expectation.

If only prognosticators could analyze that faith, as the Twins' playoff odds at the moment stand at just 10.6% per Baseball-Reference, a more the 70% drop since the beginning of the season. That's the steepest fall in MLB.

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