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The All-Star Break is now past. Throughout the first half of the season, through the struggles of April and May, we continued to talk about how good the Twins have traditionally been in the second half of the season. We talk about how the season is a marathon and not a sprint. We would say things like, “As long as the Twins don’t get too far back while Player X, Y, Z, L, M, N, O, and P were out with injury, we’ll take our chances. We talked about how if the Twins could cut the lead in the AL Central to eight or nine games by the All Star break, they were right back in contention. Well, as the second half starts tonight, the Twins are 6.5 games back of the division leaders in Cleveland.
Are the Twins buyers or sellers? Simply, we do not know that answer yet. The Twins entered the Break after winning three out of four games at Chicago. The come out of the break with a twelve game home stand which included four games each against Kansas City, Cleveland and Detroit. There is a good chance we will be able to answer that buyer/seller question after those games.
Joe Mauer has now been back for a few weeks and shown signs. Tsuyoshi Nishioka has been much improved at shortstop and at the plate in the last two weeks. Jim Thome is back. In some great news, Denard Span has been cleared and will soon get into some rehab games in Rochester. Delmon Young has been activated after spending a week rehabbing with the Red Wings. When will Jason Kubel be back, and can he produce as he did during the first two months of the season? When will Justin Morneau be back and the fact that he can feel his fingers help him to make more solid contact when he is back?
The ‘stars’ are coming back. Before the season, we always talk about what players can help the team to another division title. Which player will step up? Who will surprise? But at the end of the day, to win, you need to get production from the guys you are supposed to count on. That is Morneau, Mauer, Cuddyer, Thome, Kubel, Span and Young. How those guys do in the 2nd half will have the biggest role in how the Twins do.
Of course, it’s fair to say that pitching is really important. And if that’s where it starts, then we have to talk about Scott Baker. All indications are that he just needed to skip a start and a break, so hopefully he has no lingering effects with this elbow injury. Each of the other four starters had a hiccup. Pavano and Liriano struggled early. Duensing struggle some in four June starts. Blackburn enters the Break with three straight bad starts. Anthony Swarzak has been nice in spot starts. These guys are key. As much as we want to see Kyle Gibson up with the Twins, if the team doesn’t need to drop any of their pitchers from the rotation, that would be a positive.
The question marks with this team are in the bullpen. It was discussed in the offseason. Losing four decent relievers in one offseason is hard to account for. Glen Perkins has stepped up remarkably. Joe Nathan definitely looks better since his return from the DL recently. Matt Capps had his three-game hiccup, but he’ll be a solid guy in the bullpen. After that… question mark after question mark. And that’s not good. That said, consider what bullpen arms are available. Are any of them worth a Top 10 Twins prospect? In fact, with the player traded impact considered, how many of them are better than a healthy Anthony Slama, a relaxed Jim Hoey and the soft-tossing Chuck James.
As a guy who follows the minor leagues, it has been fun to see the emergence of Ben Revere. Sure, he hasn’t hit much, but he has had a very strong impact on the Twins anyway since he returned. Likewise, Rene Tosoni, who was sent down following Sunday’s game, struggled immensely his first time up. No surprise there, he had 19 games at AAA this year after missing more than half of last year at AA due to shoulder surgery. However, in his second trial with the Twins, he got more playing time and you could see the improvement. We saw the power potential, but we also saw his ability to take a lot of pitches, to use the whole field and to play solid defense. The improvement was great. Luke Hughes improved with playing time. Nishioka has improved with playing time. Trevor Plouffe dominated AAA pitching after his most recent demotion. Can he come back now and make the necessary adjustments to make himself a viable super-utility player?
But there are a lot of good questions for the Twins in the second half. How does Plouffe get into the lineup? What happens in the outfield now that Young is back? What about when Span comes back? What about when Kubel comes back? What about when Morneau comes back? At the end of the day, these are good questions. Getting back proven talent is always a good thing. And, frankly, don’t we prefer a bench including Butera, Young, Thome, and Plouffe or Hughes much better than a bench with Butera, Rivera, Repko and Tolbert?
Regardless, I’m excited for the start of the second half. As much as the first two months were discouraging, the Twins are now back in it, and I will take my chances with this roster any day of the week. Here we go!!
Minor League Notes:
Andrew Albers was promoted from Ft. Myers to New Britain. Estarlin de Los Santos ended his rehab assignment and went to Ft. Myers. Brad Stillings was activated from the DL and Matt Tone was put on the DL. In Beloit, Tyler Grimes and Nate Roberts were put on the 7-Day DL. Sam Spangler was promoted from E-Town to the Snappers.
Chuck James represented the Rochester Red Wings in the AAA All Star game. He faced four batters and walked two and struck out two.
In the AA All Star game, three New Britain Rock Cats played. After his Futures Game appearance, Liam Hendriks pitched a scoreless inning in this game. Brett Jacobson pitched 1.1 scoreless innings. Yangervis Solarte went 0-2 with a walk.
Ft. Myers beat Daytona 4-3. Dan Rohlfing went 4-4 with a triple. Estarlin de Los Santos went 3-5 with a double in his first game with the Miracle. Steve Liddle was 2-3 with a walk. James Beresford went 2-4. Pat Dean started and gave up three runs on six hits and two walks in 7.1 innings. Bruce Pugh recorded his 10th save by getting the final five outs.
Beloit beat South Bend 5-1. BJ Hermsen improved to 9-6 with seven strong innings. He gave up one unearned run on three hits and two walks. Michael Tonkin struck out four in the final two innings. Daniel Santana went 2-3 with his 11th double and 20th steal. Adam Bryant went 2-4 with a walk. Michael Gonzales went 1-2 with two walks and his 13th home run.
Elizabethton beat Pulaski 6-3. Eddie Rosario went 2-4 with his sixth home run. Kennys Vargas was 2-3 with a walk and his fourth double. Tyler Koelling, Nick Lockwood and Matej Hejma each had two hits. Pedro Guerra started and gave up three runs on six hits. In 4.2 innings, he walked one and struck out five. Steve Evans threw 2.1 scoreless innings. Nick Alloway gave up two hits and got an out on a strikeout. Matt Summers went the final 1.2 innings. He struck out two and gave up just one hit.
The GCL Twins lost 4-3 to the GCL Orioles in 10 innings.. Hyun-yi Chen struck out three in three one-hit innings. 17-year-old Gerardo Ramirez gave up one run on two hits and a walk in two innings. Kyle Wahl struck out five in two scoreless innings. Matt Tomshaw gave up two runs on three hits in two innings. Marcus Limon took the loss as he gave up the winning run with one out in the 10th.
- I’ll be on the Paul Allen Show on KFAN this morning at 10:20 to talk about our favorite baseball team! Be sure to tune in to am 1130 in the cities, its affiliates or at www.KFAN.com.
- I will be traveling to Beloit this weekend to watch the Snappers games on Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. Check out www.SnappersBaseball.com and if you’re going to be going to Beloit (5 1/2 hours from the Twin Cities!) this weekend, call them and mention SethSpeaks.net and Seth will be donating $5 to the charity of the Snappers’ choice. The Snappers will have fireworks on both Friday and Saturday nights, and they will have Canvas Pictures as giveaways on Sunday. Be sure to consider the all-you-can-eat special as well.
- Do you remember the story of the Perham (MN) high school basketball team. One of their best players, Zach Gabbard, collapsed on the court with a heart attack. Several surgeries later, Gabbard is much-improved. The Yellowjackets story was incredible, led by National high school coach of the year (named by Max Preps) Dave Cresap led the team to the Class AA State championship. Assistant coach Brent Hanson, who himself has twice collapsed while playing/coaching basketball, put together a documentary/movie of the 2011 Perham Yellowjackets called For Three. Check out the trailer here. The movie will premiere at the Comet Theatre in Perham with two showings on Thursday night and one more on Sunday. You can also order a DVD now through the website www.ForThreeMovie.com.
Please feel free to leave your comments on anything discussed today or any other Twins topics.