The last time the Twins were looked at with serious optimism was in 2010, when they had won five American League Central titles in the previous eight seasons and still had one of the better lineups in the league.
Closer Joe Nathan had torn a ligament in his right elbow and missed the season because of Tommy John surgery. Jon Rauch was 21-for-25 in save situations as the trade deadline approached, and the team seemed to feel more urgency to obtain a relief pitcher than did the fans.
The situation has been the opposite in 2019, as the public angst over the bullpen was there before a dwindling division lead — from 11½ games on the morning of June 4 to just four games.
And now the Twitter barbarians are at the gates, not asking but demanding that the bullpen be addressed in dramatic fashion before it’s too late. In fact, say the most worked up, it might already be too late — with Wednesday’s 14-4 embarrassment getting the homestand off to an 0-2 start against the non-contending Mets, with streaking Oakland and the AL’s best team, the Yankees, to follow for seven more games.
Manager Rocco Baldelli started the season with great trust in Taylor Rogers — very logical, since he’s among the best lefty relievers in baseball. He also has gotten there with Ryne Harper, as the 30-year-old righthander with no previous big-league time has proved reliable with his assorted curveballs.
And Rocco was heading there with Trevor May, a pitcher always on the cusp and soon to turn 30, a hard-thrower who wasn’t having clean innings but was getting through.
Everyone likes May’s curveball, and that now includes hitters who have received hangers the past two times out — Carlos Santana with the decisive home run in the seventh for Cleveland on Sunday, and pinch-hitter Dominic Smith’s game-turning, three-run homer in the seventh on Wednesday.
Baldelli was asked about those curveballs and said:
“He’s thrown many good ones … It comes down to executing when he’s out there. When he has made a pitch that maybe he hasn’t wanted to make, the hitters have been ready and have put a couple of swings on it.’’
There’s also a theory that was espoused by Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett that hangers are gifts from the gods.
The public panic doubled with six more Mets’ runs in the eighth vs. Matt Magill, including a two-run blast from Home Run Debry champ Pete Alonso that made a sound that had to frighten children. Third deck in left, 474 feet estimated.
Back in 2010, the Twins were trailing the Chicago White Sox by 1½ games on July 29 when they traded top catching prospect Wilson Ramos to Washington for closer Matt Capps. He saved 16 of 18 chances and the Twins won the division by six games.
And nine years later, we’re still mad about dealing Capps for a catcher about to turn 23. Ramos had been with the Twins for a week that summer, went 7-for-9 in his first two games, and he was instantly popular.
“I played good [four hits] in Cleveland, and we came home, and the ballpark was full and the fans were great to me,’’ Ramos said. “I loved the ballpark, and could not wait to get back.’’
A couple of weeks later, Ramos was at Gwinnett with the Twins’ Rochester farm club and received news that he had been traded.
“I wondered why they would do that?’’ Ramos said. “But then you find out it is business, not personal.’’
Ramos was in the Mets’ clubhouse before Wednesday’s game. He played six seasons in Washington and was an All-Star in 2016. And he was named an All-Star again in 2018 for Tampa Bay.
Ramos has missed hunks of time because of injuries, and has also had full seasons. Now 31, he was in the trainer’s room Wednesday getting ready to catch a day game after a night game as the Mets’ workhorse catcher.
The Twins traded Ramos for a closer who went 16-for-18 on saves. Then, they were swept by the Yankees in an ALDS, Capps turned ineffective in 2011 and Joe Mauer started having significant injury problems, and Ramos was not an option.
Remember this lesson when you want to trade Alex Kirilloff for Kirby Yates.