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Programming Notes – First, I will be on Sports on Demand today at 3:00 on MyFox9.com. Check it out live if you are able. Also, the SethSpeask.net Weekly Minnesota Twins podcast will be tonight (Monday) at 9:00 central time. Tune in, and I’ll let you know about guests when I verify them.
After winning two out of three games in Philadelphia last weekend, the Twins proceeded to get swept by the Milwaukee Brewers before losing two out of three to the New York Mets. Tonight the Twins begin a three-game series at Target Field against the Detroit Tigers in what has become an important June series. The Twins are now 41-34. We’re not quite to the half-way point in the season, but close enough to need a State of the Twins blog… right? Here are you go:
Ladies and Gentlemen, I humbly bring you the State of the Minnesota Twins (in the opinion of Seth Stohs, on June 28, 2010). Of course, these opinions and thoughts are subject to change as early as Wednesday after the Twins finalize their three game series against the Detroit Tigers.
Again, the Twins have a 41-34 record. They hold a ½ game lead over the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central. The White Sox recent tear has them just 1 ½ behind the Twins as well. The Twins went 15-8 in the month of April. In May, they went 16-12. However, in June, the team is currently 10-14.
The sky is not falling down. This is a good team. I still think that this is the best team in the division, but I think we (as fans) were all hoping for more. This year’s team was supposed to be different. This team was supposed to dominate. They were suppose to get strong pitching to go with a very strong lineup. But like teams in previous years, they have experienced an extended stretch of poor play. More important, there is a lethargy among both the Twins players (seemingly) and many Twins fans. Many wanted the Twins to clinch a division title by Labor Day to help set the postseason roster and rotation. The reality is that all of the good teams go through these stretches each year. The Twins initial struggles came when JJ Hardy and Orlando Hudson each had to miss extended time with injury. Any time a team is without a starter or two, it is affected. There have been times that the Twins have had four starters out of the lineup. Are injuries an excuse? Yes, they are. But what the injuries did was show that the Twins depth was not real good. Their weaknesses have been exposed.
Of course, as mentioned already, this is a new Minnesota Twins team. The front office spent a lot of money to bring in talent in 2010. They added Hardy, Hudson and Jim Thome via free agency. They paid Joe Mauer a ton of money. They have sold over 3 million tickets. This team has revenues. The Twins went from bottom hadful of teams in revenue to being easily in the Top 10 in MLB. They have resources and that change has Twins fans excited about the upcoming trade deadline. Suddenly in 2010, it’s OK for Twins fans to consider a real possibility that the Twins could go after elite available players such as Cliff Lee or Dan Haren.
Will it happen? We shall see.
Let’s take a quick look at the players and determine their current state:
Pitching and defense win championships, right? The Twins defense has been very good, most of the time. The pitching has been very inconsistent.
To start with the positive, you have to look at two names. Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano should both make the All-Star team. Although the two pitchers are very different, they have both come up huge for the Twins. Scott Baker has been incredible again in Mon.bly disappointing. He is now 6-7 with a 4.97 ERA. Kevin Slowey is 7-5, but has a 4.76 ERA. Nick Blackburn was horrible in April, excellent in May and has been a mess. He is 6-5 but has an ERA of 6.10 on the season. Many ask what I would do. I would like someone to get upset at Baker to see if he responds to anything. Seriously, his calm demeanor can be a good thing at times, but other times, it would be great just to see him show emotion, or anything. Slowey needs to develop a second pitch and, like Baker, stop giving up so many 0-2 hits. Finally, Blackburn is signed for four more years, a deal that was somewhat scrutinized when it was signed. Blackburn’s inability to miss any bats appears to finally be creating the expected results. He’s being lit up. The Twins have him for a long time, and since he is absolutely untradeable, they need to do what is best for him. I would give him one or two more starts, and if things don’t get better, I would flip-flop Blackburn and Brian Duensing in the rotation. Blackburn has options remaining, so he could also be optioned to Rochester if it gets to that point (which hopefully it won’t). Jeff Manship is an option because he has pitched so much better with the Twins than he has in Rochester. Anthony Swarzak and Glen Perkins have done a very good job of making themselves non-options for promotion should the Twins need them. Overall, it’s not that I expect perfection from the bottom three in the rotation, but I would expect improvements and adjustments, and eventually some consistency. They get to watch Carl Pavano pitch, which I would think would help. It’s inexplicable that the three have not improved. In fact, all three have gone 3 step back in 2010.
The bullpen has been pretty solid so far this year. Jon Rauch has been better than expected. Matt Guerrier has solidified him as the Top reliever in baseball (and nearly assured his Type A status). Jose Mijares’s season started out really bad, but he has actually been very good of late, returning to the form he showed last year. Brian Duensing has been incredible as another lefty in the bullpen. And Alex Burnett has been much better, much faster than we thought. Jesse Crain and Ron Mahay have been the weaker links. Unlike starting pitching, the Twins have plenty of depth in the bullpen. Pat Neshek’s first two months of the season have been quite interesting, but he is pitching in Rochester and could be an option for the Twins bullpen in the not-too-distant future. Clay Condrey is pitching some rehab games and we have to assume that the Twins will want to use him a little since they are going to pay him. Rob Delaney is on the 40 man roster, but he isn’t pitching well in AAA. Two guys that are not on the 40 man roster are both pitching well. Anthony Slama is again dominating AAA hitters and recording saves. But Kyle Waldrop is the guy that should be up with the Twins. His groundball tendencies have been remarkable.
There have been positives and negatives in the Twins lineup this season. They have been terrific with runners in scoring position, but they have been horrific with the bases loaded. They have scored a lot of runs, but they have left a ton on base. And, their ability to hit into double plays is impeccable.
Justin Morneau has been the clear choice as the top hitter for the Twins this entire season. He’s hitting for average, getting on base, hitting home runs and driving in runs. Also, his 1B defense continues to impress.
The team’s second best hitter so far this year has been Delmon Young. Sure, he still swings at a ton of first pitches, but clearly his commitment in the offseason is paying off tremendously. He got off to a slow start, but he had laid the groundwork through effort and hustle. His range in the outfield has greatly increased and allowed him to show off his strong arm. He has come through in clutch situations more than any other Twins hitter. He is still so young, and it’s fun to see that potential just start to be met.
Joe Mauer is still the best hitting catcher in baseball, and I don’t think it is particularly close. Has he been a disappointment in 2010? Sounds strange to say, but I absolutely think that he has. It’s not just the lack of home runs. I agree with him that he should not adjust the type of hitter that he is to a ball park. That said, he needs to make some adjustments so that he doesn’t ground out to second base so weakly so often. Believe me, I’m not one who will expect him to hit .350 or higher every year. That’s not fair. We didn’t know how much Target Field would affect his power numbers since the ball doesn’t travel from gap to gap, which is where Mauer hits the ball. Defensively, however, is where I think Mauer has been quite disappointing. Lots of balls getting by him. And, if we ever want to credit catchers for pitchers’ success, don’t we have to give them some of the blame too? (Note that I haven’t mentioned the 8 year, $184 million contract. We all knew that was a bad deal for the Twins as it relates to baseball. Mauer got that money for other reasons, including being from Minnesota, opening Target Field, public perception, etc.).
Denard Span is hitting .275, so it’s hard to say that he’s not hitting well. His on-base percentage is below 35% which is well lower than it has been his first couple of years in the league. He has just been so inconsistent. His home/road splits are hardly believable.And, although he’s a solid defensive player, there have certainly been plays that he has misplayed. And on the bases, despite being successful on 15 of 16 steal attempts, I don’t think he is an accomplished base runner. He’ll be better in the second half, no question, and that’s exciting.
Michael Cuddyer hit into a ton of double plays early in the season. He continues to not learn how to lay off sliders down and away. He remains about as streaky a hitter as there is in baseball, and that is because I don’t know that there is another guess-hitter like Cuddyer. Defensively, I have definitely noticed that it takes him a while to react to fly balls. I really never thought it was a big deal previously, but this year it is noticeable. His versatility is nice, but sometimes it makes no sense. Based on what happened in NL games, it appears that we could see a lot of Cuddyer at 3B in the second half to allow Jason Kubel to play RF and Jim Thome to DH. But someone who gets such a poor jump (slow reaction) in the outfield does not make sense at 3B where it is all about reaction. Some want Delmon Young to hit 5th with Cuddyer dropping to 7th. I’m not too worried about the topic, to be honest. I don’t think it’s a huge deal.
Jason Kubel got off to a horrible start, but all of a sudden, you look and realize he’s up to .261/.351 with 11 doubles and 10 homers. He’s had a very solid season. Defensively, he’s not great in either corner OF position, but he more than holds his own and has a very strong arm. He has adjusted his swing and approach at Target Field, and that has helped him.
Orlando Hudson proved the value of a good #2 hitter with a strong on-base percentage. He isn’t the same defensive player that he was three or four years ago, but he makes the plays he gets to. But his ability to get on base was so important. The team struggled when he was out, and he clearly is not back to 100% Hopefully he can get back there too.
JJ Hardy was very good defensively and has a strong arm. Offensively, he struggles, and it appears that 2009 was not necessarily a fluke. He has been unable to get his wrist healthy and missed a ton of time.
Nick Punto has no arm, but his glove is absolutely tremendous. He has moved around the infield again this year because of injury. I’ll take a .260/337/.337 line from a #9 hitter any day.
Brendan Harris inexplicably got a two year contract from the Twins front office (which I liked at the time) and did absolutely nothing. Not good defensively, but a rocket arm at 3B. The offense just never came around, and frankly, I have never seen a player take so many called strikes and complain about every one of them. He was recently outrighted to Rochester after clearing waivers.
As bad as the Rochester Red Wings and New Britain Rockcats have been this year, they have helped the Twins. Luke Hughes came up and homered in his first at bat and had a couple more hits in limited time. Wilson Ramos had seven hits in his first two games before struggling. Trevor Plouffe’s first big league experience was solid. Danny Valencia hit about .360 in his first ten games. Jeff Manship has been very good when he has pitched with the Twins. And even Matt Tolbert has had a moment or three. Drew Butera’s defense is clearly best on the big league roster and the two catchers in Rochester just are not performing at this point.
What does the lineup need? Well, I agree that you never want to over-react, but with the team’s current lethargy, a shake up may make sense. Nothing completely crazy, but something to show that they are serious about the team starting to perform. In my mind, the Cuddyer at 3B thing should end, but it won’t. Danny Valencia likely plays 3B against left-handed pitching, while Cuddyer plays 3B against right-handers with Jim Thome as DH. I was talking to “Kunza” on Sunday afternoon, and he came up with an interesting idea. What do you think about this lineup?
Mauer is now a slap hitter again who takes a ton of pitches. I think you could flip-flop Hudson and Span in this lineup. How would that be for a shock to the system?
Thoughts on Interleague – Whereas in previous seasons, the Twins dominated interleague play, they struggled this year and that is because they played a tough schedule. Then again, you can’t explain off winning two of three in Philly and then getting swept in Milwaukee. That said, I do think that the division races and the wild cards are affected by the interleague schedule. The Twins didn’t’ play the same inter-league schedule as the Tigers, much less the Rays or Yankees. I know, it’s old school, but I would prefer to go back to the old system of No Inter-league play and all teams playing each other the same amount of times.
Alright… I covered a bunch of topics and gave some thoughts. Now it’s your time. What are your thoughts? How will the Twins play this week against the Tigers and Rays? Who knows, they could win seven in a row and next week at this time, we’ll be talking again about how we need to stop overreacting during the tough times.
Leave your comments here.