June 3, 2009 – So approximately 1/3 of the baseball season is behind us and the Twins record is 26-27, good enough for second place in the weak Central Division behind the Detroit Tigers. So what does the rest of the year look like for the Twins as they play their final season at the Metrodome? Can we expect to see some playoff baseball at the Dome come October?
In spite of the fact that Mauer and Morneau are hitting the cover off the ball, the team hitting overall is just middle of the pack in the AL. The Twins rank 6th in both home runs and average, 7th in runs scored, and 8th in total bases. Span is doing what a lead off hitter should but his OBP could stand some improvement. Cuddyer has come on strong but now he has another hand injury. Kubel is hitting over .300 but I would have expected more than 5 home runs from him after 2 months of baseball. Crede is doing what the Twins pay him to do, good in the field and flashes some nice power but strikes out frequently, exactly what I thought we would get when he was signed, a nice addition. That takes us to the weak spots, 2B, SS, and one of the outfield positions.
What about the pitching? As you may have suspected, not so good. In the 14 team AL, the Twins are 11th in ERA, 12th in strikeouts, have given up the 3rd most hits in the league, and only the Yankees and the Orioles pitchers have given up more long balls. On the plus side, the pitching staff as the fewest walks and is 4th in the league in WHIP. The Twins rank 1st in the league in fielding and have only committed 19 errors in 53 games.
So what do I think has to happen for the Twins to contend for a playoff spot? First and foremost I think that Gardy needs to do a better job at managing what he has. The way I see it and I think history supports me is that no team will get into the playoffs with platoons in 3 different positions. I am not a Delmon Young fan but you have to play the cards you are dealt and as much as it pains me to say this, Gardy needs to make Young his full-time left fielder and put Span in center field day in and day out. Gomez’s role is to come in and play defense for Delmon when the Twins have a lead in the late innings. Casilla needs to play 2B every day, either he becomes the player he should be or the Twins will have learned that he is not a regular 2B and they can pursue one in the off season. That leaves the shortstop hole and I have said many times on this site that Nick Punto should not be considered a regular and would lose his job by Memorial Day. Well, he is on the DL and he hasn’t hit a lick. The best the Twins can do at this stage is put Harris at short and let him play or they can trade for a shortstop that can field and hit. The pitching I think will improve, Baker should come around and Liriano is what he is. He is no longer the “franchise” as he was portrayed before his injury. Liriano will be good some days and bad others but he is a serviceable pitcher. Slowey and Blackburn are pitching well. Swarzak is still unproven after only two big league starts but if he can hold his own, I would move Perkins to the bullpen when he returns from his latest injury. The bullpen is not fantastic but is workable assuming that Crain can regain his form. I do think that Gardy has to quit using Crain for more than one inning at a time though. There is no better closer than Nathan.
Bottom line? This team needs some stability and some clear role definition before it gets better and this is the manager’s job. Gardy, (a utility player himself) has to quit “falling in love” with utility players like Punto and Tolbert and play his best players full time. Since we don’t live in a perfect world that means that you have to give up something to get something. In the case of the Twins, they need to give up some fielding to get some more hitting from 3 spots in the line-up that have contributed next to nothing with their bats so far this season.
As for GM Smith, he should be looking to find the Twins a shortstop and if that means giving up some prospects, so be it. The Twins haven’t exactly stolen players in their most recent deals with the Mets and the Rays so maybe Mr. Smith can swing a better deal for the Twins this time. Make it so Mr. Smith!