The Stretch Keys

2 Sep

also available at www.SethSpeaks.net -

It was either going to be Rich Harden or Jeff Manship starting for the Twins last night. After no deal was made on Monday to bring in the Cubs veteran righty, it was Manship making his first big league start. Although I’m certain he was nervous, he pitched a very solid game. He went five innings and gave up just one run on four hits. He walked two and struck out two. I would call that a very respectable debut, especially considering it came in September in the heat of a pennant race. Jesse Crain appears to be back (I said Appears!). He threw two perfect innings in relief. Thanks to two Michael Cuddyer home runs, the Twins held a 3-1 lead.Then the 8th inning guys came in and it didn’t go so well. Jose Mijares came in and walked the lone batter he faced. Matt Guerrier came in and gave up a game-tying home run to Gordon Beckham. But, the Twins did go get Jon Rauch to be their new vulture. He pitched a scoreless top of the 9th. With two outs in the bottom of the 9th inning, recently promoted Jose Morales was called upon to pinch hit. He came through with a game-winning single that scored Nick Punto and gave the Twins their win.

All year long, I, and many others, have said that the AL Central division could be won by the team that puts together the best winning streak. The Twins are on a role right now having won 12 of their last 15 games. The question is, with 30 games to go, can they keep it up? Are they peaking at just the right time… or is it too little too late?

The Twins have again given their fans a team that will play some very exciting games in September and October. It should be a very fun time to watch how this last month of the season unfolds. Here are my keys to the Twins success:

1.)    Starting Pitching – But that is always the case. Scott Baker has been very good in the second half. Carl Pavano has done what was expected of him when the team acquired him at the July trade deadline. Nick Blackburn had a tremendous first half and then was, well, pretty bad to start the second half. But if he can pitch like he did against the White Sox on Monday night, that will be huge for the Twins. And then there are the two rookies. Right now, the Twins are going with Brian Duensing and Jeff Manship in their starting rotation. Think about that for just a moment. Neither of them started the season in the Twins AAA starting rotation. Manship was in AA, and Duensing was pitching in the Twins bullpen. We (OK, I) question why he was even put back into the Red Wings rotation when he was demoted. I thought he should be put into the bullpen down there because that was the role he would serve for the Twins. Well, long term, it still may be. But in September, he will hold one of five starting spots for the Twins during the pennant race!

2.)    The Bullpen – Again, no surprise here, but it does have to be mentioned. The additions of Jon Rauch and Ron Mahay provides a more veteran bullpen. Jesse Crain has been much better of late and may be the key to it. But right now, I feel pretty good about a bullpen of Joe Nathan, Matt Guerrier, Jose Mijares, Jon Rauch, Ron Mahay and Jesse Crain.

3.)    Justin Morneau – his September swoons the last couple of years have been well documented. This year, his August was quite sub-par. Hopefully he has found a way to stay strong and focused through the final month. Another thing I have observed, and is my opinion, is that he just needs to relax and stop trying to do too much, like hitting six run homers, or hitting 600 foot shots!

4.)    Joe Mauer – Again, no surprise here, and when it comes to staying cool, there is no one better than Mr. Mauer. But he needs to not read newspapers, the internet, or even blogs. He will likely read about missed opportunities, or times when he maybe should have gone outside the strike zone and hit rather than draw a walk. The key for Mauer is just to do what he does. That should be enough for an AL MVP award, and it should be enough for any Twins fan!

5.)    Gomez/Casilla/Cabrera – I think we can all agree that none of these three can be counted on for offense. We also know that Cabrera can’t really be counted on for good defense. That is where Gomez comes in. He is likely to play a lot in September strictly due to his defensive prowess. Casilla has seemingly overtaken Nick Punto in the lineup, which is a great thing, and just needs to maintain that role. I also just think that at least one of these guys needs to have a big month. The good teams always get crucial performances from unexpected heroes down the stretch. Who will that be for the Twins?

6.)    The Bench – Last night’s game-winning single notwithstanding, the Twins don’t have much of a bench. Jose Morales is the only actual hitter on the bench. Mike Redmond at this point should be only an emergency catcher. Nick Punto should only be a late inning defensive replacement at 3B or SS. Matt Tolbert should pinch run when he is there. Brian Buscher should be a good cheerleader. The extra outfielder on any given day will also be an important option off of the bench. Delmon Young has also been hitting well, so hopefully that can remain through the final month. Maybe this shouldn’t be The Bench. Maybe it should be The Starting 9’s health! If they need to go to the bench, that would not be good.

What are the other keys to the final month, in your opinion? Please feel free to leave your comments on the Twins, or anything. (I posted my thoughts on the loss of Kevin Mulvey later yesterday in an update, so be sure to scroll down to see that.)

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14 Responses to “The Stretch Keys”

  1. Greg September 2, 2009 at 8:34 am #

    Seth,

    always good reading material. I think the Twins are in good position to be peaking.. History shows that each of the past years the team got hot in summer well, we are just two months late.

    I am certainly pleased to have seen the new additions. My hope that all return in 2010.

    Especially Cabrera,, Casilla and Gomez have responded.

    The only question I see for 2010 is another SP keep Pavano, and not sure if Valencia is ready so 3rd base, then a bench.
    Cabrera keeps Punto out of the lineup…

    Win Twins!!

    Bullpen is more than set with add of Rauch and Neshek, Boof returning from DL and the current roster.

  2. thrylos98 September 2, 2009 at 8:54 am #

    I think that the biggest key is that Gardy sees every game as game seven in the world series and does not make inane decisions like warming up Keppel in the bottom of the 9th last night and starting Redmond over Morales.

    But we all know Gardy and it seems like Buscher and Redmond and maybe Tolbert (and of course Punto) will get more PAs than Morales.

    I’d like to see some hitters off the bench as well and if the one person they use Mulvey’s 40-man spot, is not Danny Valencia, it better be Justin Huber. (or DFA Tolbert/Buscher and bring them both up). When Crede returns things will get better, but still…

  3. gobbledygookguy September 2, 2009 at 9:00 am #

    mulvey got on gardy’s bad side with one outing? how many other players has gardy run off? garza, bartlett, lohse, jc ……… seems if you get on gardy’s bad side it’s gone but if you are in his favs, red, punto …. you can have a life time job.

  4. Seth September 2, 2009 at 9:05 am #

    I believe Justin Huber is going to be going to the World Cup. That is my assumption, although the Twins could surprise us and call him up.

    Gobble – how about Julio DePaula, Mike Smith, Carmen Cali. (now I’m not saying they were great, or even good, but VERY short leash).

  5. Joe September 2, 2009 at 9:08 am #

    Great win last night. Everyone I guess is going to have to get over the fact that Trevor Plouffe or Danny Valencia are not going to be on the major league roster this year. Plouffe beacuse he is joining Team USA. That is a respectable reason, considering that there are 5 middle infielders on the current roster, (Cabrera, Casilla, Punto, Harris and Tolbert). You can make dozens of reasons why you want to see Danny Valencia. But my beef with him was since his promotion to Rochester he decided that is was ok to not take pitches. His walk rate differential from AA to AAA in enormous. 31 walks in his first 218 at bats in New Britian giving him an OBP of .373. Since his promotion to Rochester he has 8 walks in 243 at bats. His OBP is .316. Other then that he has been a better player but we all have learned thanks to Baseball Prospectus over the year that hits don’t just lead to runs, getting on base does. League average for OBP each year is right around .330. A guy who hits .290 which Valencia does, should be over .355. Basically all I am saying is I understand Gardenhire not wanting Valencia on the 40 man at this time. He may not even begin next season on the 25. Might be for the team and Valencia’s best interest to begin next year in Rochester, get on a hot streak and then get called up on May 1. The worst case scenario for him would be to begin the season in Target Field starting at 3B and after April is over he is hitting .200.

  6. Seth September 2, 2009 at 9:13 am #

    Joe – Yes, Plouffe also is on Team USA in the World Cup. As for Valencia, I read a quote today of Gardy saying the TK said “Morales was the most professional hitter available.” Morales does take good at bats. he is what he is, a single hitting, who has little pop and doesn’t take a lot of walks, but he takes good at bats. Valencia has not taken walks at AAA. That’s not to say that he won’t, or that he isn’t taking good at bats. We don’t know, unless we see him. But my main reason is because I think it would be nice to have some pop on the bench. In fact, if they want to wait with Valencia, that’s fine. I woudln’t mind seeing Winfree either, but he doesn’t walk much either.

    Anyway, I too would not be at all surprised if Valencia starts next season in Rochester. Not surprised at all. And I’m not saying that is a horrible thing.

  7. gobbledygookguy September 2, 2009 at 9:28 am #

    2 guys that could be had this winter that are right now cheap, jj hardy and garrett atkins. both having subpar seasons and could fill holes next yr. atkins plays 3b, 1b and could be rh dh. if valencia isn’t ready he could be a good stop gap for a year. even in a down yr his #’s aren’t much worse than crede has had.
    cabrera isn’t the long term answer and if they don’t pick up somebody like hardy you know the starting ss next year will be punto again.
    could be some bargains this winter.

  8. dave September 2, 2009 at 9:44 am #

    Let’s watch a real baseball mind at work. We’ve got Morales at the plate, a genuinely good hitter with lots of upsides, with runners at first and third and a 0-1 count. So what does Gardy do? He starts Harris, a gimme steal of second. If Morales doesn’t swing and get a hit, the Sox walk Morales (who “is now batting .380 as a big leaguer –27-for-71– including 4-for-10 as a pinch hitter,” according to JC) to load the bases to bring up Castilla hitting under .200. As for Morales’s future role, well, “He knows his role here,” according to Gordy. Regularly DHing? Taking Redmond’s spot? Naw, with Casilla, Punto, Gomez, and Young all struggling, Morales will pinch hit. What a genius.

  9. TT September 2, 2009 at 10:29 am #

    Gardy on Mulvey from the PioneerPress – “He wasn’t ready for this level even when we brought him up here,” Manager RonGardenhire said. “He was kind of still not sure of where his pitches were going consistently, but a good kid, hard worker, loved the way he went about his business. ”

    I think sometimes people forget that game results are not the only way managers evaluate players. I suspect Mulvey was an emergency call-up.

  10. mike wants wins September 2, 2009 at 10:37 am #

    Good revisionist history here. Just a couple of months ago, or less, Seth had Mulvey as his number 9 prospect in the whole system.

    Now, Gardy doesn’t like him after 1 start, and he’s gone. Given how he treated Garza and Bartlett, I’m guessing Mulvey turns out to be a legit SP…

  11. Dome Dog September 2, 2009 at 10:42 am #

    Dave – Morales was pinch hitting for Casilla, so in your scenario, if Harris stole 2nd base and they intentionally walked Morales that would have brought Span to the plate (who has had an okay season I think). Go ahead and rip Gardy if you want, but make sure to at least know the situation correctly before you rip him.

  12. joe September 2, 2009 at 10:45 am #

    Dave, Span was on deck not casilla.

  13. TT September 2, 2009 at 2:40 pm #

    “But my beef with him was since his promotion to Rochester he decided that is was ok to not take pitches. ”

    This is the problem with paying attention to places like Baseball Prospectus. Taking pitches leads to walks only when the pitcher fails to throw strikes, otherwise it leads to being behind in the count and making a lot of outs. It may be Valencia is finding that AAA pitchers aren’t afraid to throw strikes.

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  1. Did That Really Just Happen? « SethSpeaks.net - September 2, 2009

    [...] feel free to leave your comments on the Twins, or [...]

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