The White Sox clung to a slim lead in the AL Central after their game on July 18, 2010. But it was clear to anyone watching Minnesota was the better team, and it was only a matter of time before they blew past the White Sox en route to their sixth AL Central title in nine years.
Through eight games against the Twins in 2011, the White Sox were 1-7 and had been no-hit by Francisco Liriano. By July, when the Twins took three of four from the Sox at U.S. Cellular Field, it was established that Minnesota was a bad team. Yet the Sox still couldn't beat them.
But in the final 10 games against Minnesota last season, something finally clicked for the White Sox. Zach Stewart nearly threw a perfect game on Sept. 5 in Minneapolis. A month earlier, they swept away the Twins in a three-game series at Target Field. Overall, the Sox won eight of those 10 games against Minnesota in the season's final two months.
The Sox didn't eradicate some curse against Minneosota. Instead, it would appear that the Twins' poor pitching and questionable front-office decisions finally caught up with them against a team that, simply, was better.
Minnesota went 63-99 in 2011, the second-worst record in the majors and their worst season since a 22-year-old A.J. Pierzynski and a 23-year-old David Ortiz had cups of coffee in 1999. Through about one-fourth of the 2012 season, Minnesota is 14-27. This time, it's the worst record in baseball.
Pitching has been Minnesota's greatest ailment. As a staff, Twins pitchers have an MLB-worst 5.43 ERA, and there may not be relief in sight. A 4.86 staff FIP -- a good predictor of future pitching success -- is similarly the worst in baseball.
Minnesota's bullpen doesn't deserve to be lumped in with its starters, though. The Twins' relief corps hasn't been bad, sporting a middle-of-the-pack 3.61 ERA heading into Tuesday.
It's been the starting rotation that has dragged the Twins into the depths of baseball's standings. Through 41 outings, Twins starters have a 6.67 ERA -- that's nearly three runs higher than the ERA of White Sox starters. Nick Blackburn, Liam Hendriks, Francisco Liriano and Jason Marquis have combined for an ERA near nine in 24 starts, although none of those guys may wind up starting a game for the Twins any time soon.
P.J. Walters and Scott Diamond will start against the White Sox, and they've provided some relief in five combined starts. But neither are going to strike many batters out, and neither represent a long-term solution. For years, the Twins had enough pitching depth to fill in if someone needed to be replaced in their rotation. They don't have that anymore.
Making matters worse, the Twins' front office has made some questionable moves in recent years. They traded JJ Hardy for hardly a fair return and overpaid for Matt Capps in the form of catcher Wilson Ramos (who would've allowed them more flexibility with Joe Mauer than, say, Drew Butera).
Marquis has bombed, as has Tsuyoshi Nishioka. Their defense has taken a hit -- remember how those old Ron Gardenhire teams played such immaculate defense? That's not the case anymore.
For years, Minnesota's pitching and defense went hand-in-hand. They had some dominant arms -- Johan Santana, Liriano for a few seasons -- but they were aided by fantastic defense. As those dominant arms left or struggled, they were able to get by with the Nick Blackburns of the world by still having great defense.
Without that high level of glovework, Minnesota's pitchers have struggled. It's no accident the Twins has ranked last in the American League in hits and strikeouts per nine innings in the last two seasons.
And, of course, injuries have bludgeoned the Twins in the last few years. Mauer, Scott Baker, Justin Morneau and a host of others haven't been healthy in the last few years, and the lack of those players -- either on the field or producing at a high level -- has been the icing on the foul-tasting cake of the Twins' struggles.
The Twins come to Chicago winners of four of their last five games, including a two-game sweep of Detroit at Comerica Park and a series win over the Brewers in Milwaukee.
But the one loss in there, which came Sunday, saw the Twins fall to Milwaukee by a score of 16-4. It was a painful reminder of where Minnesota stands.
In dead last.