La Velle E. Neal III
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Help is on the way. Center fielder Byron Buxton, the AL player of the month in April, flew with the Twins to Seattle on Sunday night and is set to return to the lineup after five weeks on the injured list.

He's not alone, as sweet-swinging Luis Arraez has recovered from a shoulder injury and was on the same flight.

And Max Kepler, the Twins' starting right fielder, is not far away. He will play in a few rehabilitation games at Class AAA St. Paul and could join his teammates during the six-game road trip after recovering from a hamstring injury.

The Twins are about to get some swat and some sock back in their lineup.

Truthfully, though, does it really matter?

Harmon Killebrew and Kent Hrbek could magically appear in their primes and it wouldn't be enough. None of those guys can pitch. And the offense isn't potent enough to outhit the mess on the mound.

There was a window of opportunity for the Twins over the last month to rise up the AL Central standings and enter the playoff picture. They remain out of orbit.

It was going to take a collective effort to rebound. But after starting 14-27 — tied for the worst record in baseball at the time — the Twins went 12-12 over their next 24 games. They entered Monday night's game against the Mariners tied for fourth place in the division with five other teams in baseball carrying worse records. Some improvement, yes. But 13 of those 24 games were against Baltimore and Kansas City, teams they needed to beat up on. Instead, they won one series, lost two and split a four-gamer.

The power hitting has surged, but the Twins offense increased just .25 runs a game during the 24-game stretch. The pitching was worse. The staff posted a 5.25 ERA over those 24 games, pushing their season ERA to 4.99, second highest in the American League.

Kenta Maeda and Michael Pineda landed on the injured list during that time, and no one stepped up. Maeda returned Monday to face Seattle. Pineda is back but left Sunday's start with arm trouble and is not expected to make his next start. Randy Dobnak took over for Pineda on Sunday but was knocked around for six runs over two innings. He's hurting (finger injury), struggling and might not be a solid rotation replacement for Pineda later this week in Texas. And Matt Shoemaker has lost his spot in the rotation to rookie Bailey Ober.

We're not through June, but the Twins are running out of time. They entered Monday 11 games back in the wild-card race and needing to play .660 ball to reach 90 wins.

The men in uniform will continue to hold out hope for a personality change. But manager Rocco Baldelli sounded more realist than idealist on Sunday when asked if there is time to stop a sell-off by the July 31 trade deadline.

"We do have a lot of games left," Baldelli said. "Do we have a lot of games left to prove what we're going to be as the season goes on and the direction that we're going to take for the rest of the season? I don't know how many games left we have for that.

"We have a lot to prove, and we don't have the entire season to prove it."

Buxton, Arraez and, eventually, Kepler return to a team with no mojo. A team with one stopper on the mound in Jose Berrios followed by four question marks. A bullpen that springs a leak a few times a week. Buxton's 2.6 WAR still leads the Twins, which reflects the struggles in his absence.

Even with Buxton in the lineup in April, the Twins were 9-15. So he might not be enough salve for this wound. It's going to be more interesting to see how outfielders Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach, catcher Ryan Jeffers and infielder Nick Gordon continue their big-league baptisms.

For the last several weeks, it's been impossible to watch the Twins play and not think, "It's not working." Another realization is now setting in: It's not going to change.