The Twins come to Chicago to play a three-game set, and also to remind the White Sox that things could be a lot worse.
The two familiar AL Central rivals were favored to go toe-to-toe for the 2011 division crown, but both endured enormously disappointing campaigns.
Yet while the White Sox provided a frustrating trek through mediocrity that portended an uncertain future, the Twins were suddenly dragged into the depths of hell. They lost 99 games, and were launched into a period of rebuilding they were ill-prepared for.
2012 has not been a morning after, but instead a continuation of the nightmare for Minnesota (14-27), whereas the Sox (21-21) are still an unlikely bet for the playoffs, it wouldn’t take an absurd scenario for them to be in 1st place at the All-Star break.
Are these teams really deserving of such disparate fates?
Everything about the once-lauded Twins Way is under assault in light of their recent failures, but how much different are they from the Sox?
The philosophical failure of “pitch-to-contact” is regularly lampooned now that ace Francisco Liriano disintegrated under it, along with the effectiveness of starters Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey, and even Carl Pavano to a lesser extent, but the Sox have been skirting by with a below-average strikeout rate for years as well.
It’s a neater trick when you can turn scrap heap finds like Philip Humber into effective control artists than when you appear to draft and develop them intentionally like Minnesota, but the product is the same.
Neither team is very familiar with having a true #1 starter, or is planning to become familiar in the near future.
The once viable Twins offense is now below-average, as injury troubles exposed their lack of organizational depth after they committed lots of money long-term to Mauer and Morneau. But since the White Sox offense is Konerko, Dunn, De Aza, a strangely resurgent A.J. Pierzynski and various question marks, it’s safe to say any string of injuries that casts a spotlight on their minor league system would be equally if not more disastrous.
Just recently Brent Morel was hurt and the Sox immediately responded by signing Orlando Hudson, and that’s only after Morel proved incapable of playing through it for a few weeks.
Which gets to the heart of the difference between the two. The Sox would be equally destroyed by the circumstances the Twins have faced, but they haven’t had to.
It might just be luck–and perhaps a lack of speed–that Paul Konerko hasn’t slid into a knee at 2nd base, and Justin Morneau has, but the overall gulf between the two teams in terms of overall health is much larger than that.
The White Sox finished 2nd in baseball for the least time spent on the DL in 2011, while the Twins finished 18th in that regard. Minnesota also had the most overall DL trips, which contributed to a sense of constant turnover.
This season the Sox have sent Jesse Crain to the DL for a oblique strain, and just took Brent Morel off the active roster for back tightness. In turn, the Twins have lost Scott Baker–their best starting pitcher–for the season for Tommy John surgery, Justin Morneau sat out two weeks with a sore wrist, and they just shut down starter maligned Nick Blackburn and C/1B/DH Ryan Doumit. Joel Zumaya blew out his arm again in Spring Training, but that hardly deserves to be placed at their feet.
While Sox trainer Herm Schneider’s reputation remains pristine–even through curious instances like the Chris Sale saga–the Twins medical staff has been a lightning rod for criticism; be it from disgruntled ex-players, or a front office bewildered by their sudden horrible run of health. The criticism may be fair, or it may not be, but it certainly was inevitable in light of the franchise steep fall from perennial playoff contender to the dregs of the sport.
In their decline, the Twins have issued a stern warning on how tenuous the hold on viability is for teams with a thin cast of key contributors like the White Sox, but with Herm in charge, the Sox are more protected from their demise than they probably deserve to be.