What happened to the Twins?

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What happened to the Twins?

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.

Jose Abreu ready for 2017 after season full of 'different challenges'

Jose Abreu ready for 2017 after season full of 'different challenges'

GLENDALE, Ariz. — A torrid two months at the plate helped Jose Abreu end what he found to be an extremely trying 2016 season with numbers close to his career norms.

But even though he finished with an .820 OPS and 100 RBIs for a third straight season, Abreu admits that 2016 was a season unlike any other he'd faced.

While he didn't disclose any theories for the cause of his lengthy struggles, the White Sox first baseman said Sunday he's pleased to have finished on a positive note and thinks that rebounding from those difficulties will only make him stronger. Abreu — who hit .293/.353/.468 with 25 home runs and 100 RBIs in 695 plate appearances — is also a fan of new White Sox manager Rick Renteria and is equally impressed with the prospects the club acquired this winter.

"Yes, those were different challenges, especially in my mind," Abreu said through an interpreter. "I never in my life experienced some of the kind of struggles like I did last year. But that put me in a better position as a player, as a person too. I'm in a better position now for this season because I learned from the experience."

In spite of his struggles, Abreu was still a league average player through the first four months of the season. But the 2014 All-Star hardly resembled the player who produced a 153 OPS-plus over his first two seasons. His timing was off and Abreu — hitting .269/.325/.413 with 11 homers and 56 RBIs through July 30 — wasn't driving the ball as he typically had in his first two seasons, when he smacked 66 homers.

Abreu was lost at the plate and nobody could figure out why.

But after the arrival of his son, Dariel, who visited him for the first time since he moved to the United States, Abreu took off. He hit .338/.402/.568 the rest of the season with 14 homers and 44 RBIs in 249 trips to the plate.

"Right after last season ended, I had my meeting at my house with my family, just to explain to them how the season was because they know about baseball," Abreu said. "But sometimes they can't register how the process is in a season as long as the major league season is. We talked about it. I explained to them all of the challenges, the problems I had during that season. Once we ended with that meeting, last season was in the past. We moved on and we were trying just to figure out things and how can I do better for this season."

Now in his fourth season in the majors, Abreu has a firm grasp on how the White Sox operate and likes some of the team's modifications. He likes how Renteria thoroughly communicates what he has in mind for the club. Abreu also enjoys being seen as one of the team's leaders and wouldn't mind being a mentor to prized prospect Yoan Moncada.

Now he hopes to carry over his strong finish to the start of the 2017 campaign.

"I'm working on it," Abreu said. "That's one of my goals. Everybody knows that at the beginning of last season, I wasn't performing good. It was kind of a surprise for me, too. But I'm in good shape right now and I believe I will be able to succeed."

White Sox rookie Charlie Tilson out at least 10 days with foot injury

White Sox rookie Charlie Tilson out at least 10 days with foot injury

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The leading candidate to be the team’s starting center fielder, Charlie Tilson has been temporarily shut down after suffering a stress reaction in his right foot.

The White Sox rookie said Sunday that he noticed the injury gradually building up before he decided to stop his workout on Friday and headed for the training room. An MRI performed Saturday on Tilson -- who is rehabbing from a torn left hamstring that ended his 2016 season early -- revealed the reaction, which isn’t severe as a stress fracture. Given Tilson previously had a stress fracture in his right foot, the White Sox said he'll be sidelined from impact work for 10 days, at which point he’d be re-evaluated.

“It started very minimal, and I tried to work through it a little bit, and by the time I addressed Herm, thankfully I caught it before it was anything that would keep me out for too long,” Tilson said. “It’s a minor thing, and it will give my other leg a chance to get stronger in the meantime, and hopefully we’ll turn this negative into a positive.”

Tilson wouldn’t be surprised if his injury is related to overcompensating for his left leg, which he has worked tirelessly to rehab since he suffered the injury on Aug. 2 and then had season-ending surgery. Manager Rick Renteria described it as an “irritation” in the area where Tilson suffered a stress fracture in 2013. In the interim, the White Sox will test some of their other options in camp, including veteran Peter Bourjos and minor leaguers Adam Engel and Jacob May, among others.

“But we don’t foresee it to be a long-term issue,” Renteria said. “By being able to shut him down now, it’ll be something he’ll be able to recover from. We’ll just readjust his timetable.”

Minor as Tilson and the White Sox say it is, the outfielder admitted he’s down about having to deal with it after the progress he’d made in his rehab.

The White Sox acquired the New Trier High School product from the St. Louis Cardinals last July in exchange for left-hander Zach Duke. Tilson was immediately called up as the White Sox intended to try him out in center field the rest of the season. But he suffered a season-ending injury in his major league debut while tracking down a fly ball and had surgery several days later.

Tilson made enough progress to be a full participant in a hitter’s camp at Camelback Ranch last month. Earlier this week, White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said Tilson was a top candidate to take over as the club’s starting center fielder if he was healthy.

“I guess you could say I’m disappointed,” Tilson said. “But it’s a very minor setback and it’s part of the process. I had a major repair, and these things come up and hopefully we can minimize them as much as we can and hopefully this is the last one. But I’m just going to deal with it and do whatever I can to move forward.”