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A long-time reader of this site e-mailed me last week and thought that a series on what went wrong for the Twins in 2011 would be appropriate, and I completely agree. The Twins came into the season having won six American League Central division titles in the previous nine years. The team returned what was believed to be a pretty formidable lineup to compete for another opportunity in the playoffs. And the team had six starting pitchers who had shown some level of big league success. The team now had a payroll over $110 million, but most of that was used on raises, particularly the $10 million raise to their All Star catcher.
But pretty much right from the start, it all went bad. At one point, the team fell to 17-37, and then Jason Kubel and Jim Thome had to go on the Disabled List. But in June, the Twins were excellent and played well enough in July so that on the day of the July Trade Deadline, the team could have been just four games out of the division lead. They decided to ‘go for it.’ But at that point, all went bad. The team has been horrible in August and is now 22 games below .500. In fact, when Monday night’s game in Chicago started, only three teams in all of Major League Baseball had a lower winning percentage than the Twins.
Over the next few days, I’ll be working on a series trying to consider many of the reasons that things went so bad. (There are many!) There were some roster decisions that clearly have not worked out as hoped. There is the bullpen. There is the bad starting pitching. There are all the young guys playing. There have been questionable decisions by the manager and management. Some players have not met their expectations. Everyone and every aspect of the organization deserve part of the blame.
Today, I am going to start with what, in my mind, has been the most prevalent reason for such a bad season. Some will call it an excuse, and it is. It would be naïve to say that injuries are solely the reason for the Twins horrific 2011 season. It would also be unfair to say that the injuries did not play a MAJOR role in the way things went in 2011.
Here is the Twins Opening Day Lineup: Denard Span, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Delmon Young, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Danny Valencia, Alexi Casilla.
Here is a look at the number of days that the players in the Opening Day Lineup have been on the Disabled List: Denard Span (65), Tsuyoshi Nishioka (69), Joe Mauer (63), Justin Morneau (57), Delmon Young (31), Michael Cuddyer (0), Jason Kubel (51), Danny Valencia (0), Alexi Casilla (29).
Others who have spent time on the DL include: Kevin Slowey (83), Jim Thome (43), Jason Repko (33), Scott Baker (26), Joe Nathan (26), Glen Perkins (24), Jose Mijares (15), Francisco Liriano (10), Nick Blackburn (7).
All told, through today, the Twins have lost over 630 days due to players being on the Disabled List. That doesn’t count Michael Cuddyer missing nine games a couple of weeks ago due to a sore neck. It doesn’t include Joe Mauer missing the last five games with his neck issue. Delmon Young was in the lineup one night after missing a week of games, decided he couldn’t play, and was put on the DL after the game. Francisco Liriano has been on the Disabled List just ten days, but that is two DL stints because of retroactivity of the DL. The same thing happened to Scott Baker around the All-Star break.
Ironically, you may recall that the Twins left spring training as one of two teams without anyone on the Disabled List. The other was the Cubs. Here is a quick look at the players who went on the Disabled List each month:
- April – Tsuyoshi Nishioka (4/7), Kevin Slowey (4/9), Joe Mauer (4/14), Delmon Young (4/27)
- May – Jim Thome (5/3), Jason Repko (5/4), Jose Mijares (5/15), Glen Perkins (5/22), Kevin Slowey (5/26), Joe Nathan (5/28), Francisco Liriano (5/30)
- June – Jim Thome (6/2), Jason Kubel (6/2), Denard Span (6/10), Justin Morneau (6/15), Denard Span (6/23), Delmon Young (6/26)
- July – Scott Baker (7/17), Alexi Casilla (7/29)
- August – Scott Baker (8/9), Jason Repko (8/12), Denard Span (8/18), Nick Blackburn (8/22), Francisco Liriano (8/26)
It’s been a frustrating year for Mauer because he was never healthy or strong. Justin Morneau had returned from the concussion symptoms only to go on the DL and need surgery on his neck that was causing him to lose feeling in his hand. Span ended up with a concussion from sliding feet-first into home plate, and has not been able to come back from it. Jason Kubel hurt his foot. Remember at the time of Kubel’s injury, he was the “easy choice” as the Twins All-Star representative. Once he was out, then Span picked it up and he was the clear-cut choice for the Twins representative. Scott Baker was pitching incredibly well leading into the All-Star game and finally starting to be that bulldog that so many Twins fans wanted him to be, and he has been hurt since. These guys that missed so much time are core players that obviously meant a lot to the Twins postseason chances.
Obviously when a player returns from the DL, you never know what you’re going to get. Some come back alright. Most take a few games to get it back. The Twins have lost all-stars and key contributors for anywhere from a quarter to a half of the Twins games. That is not insignificant. It can’t be overlooked.
Last year, Danny Valencia was able to come up and be the one rookie player contributing to the regular lineup for most of the second half. This year, he has been one of three or four “veteran” players to be in the lineup along with backups and minor leaguers pushed before they were ready, out of necessity. To varying degrees, some of experienced some success. But when injuries force a situation where there are so many backups, and players with less than two years of experience in the big leagues have to play a lot, it can’t be good. Again, that’s not an excuse for poor play, but to expect backups and guys who should be playing in AAA to compete against lineups of veterans and be successful over the long-term may not be realistic.
It has been a long, frustrating year for the Twins and their fans. It’s also, certainly, been a long year for the Twins players and coaches. Frankly, I think that the area that the Twins need to have the most serious discussions about is the training staff. They should develop an appropriate offseason workout plan for players, and set expectations. Francisco Liriano was ridiculed by the Twins coaching staff for coming to spring training out of shape, having not done his shoulder exercises. Recently, it has become noted that Joe Mauer needs to do something differently in his offseason. Justin Morneau’s offseason workout has generally been called too strenuous. There are so many instances of injury. There have been so many instances where a player is said to be out for a day or two and winds up out for eight to ten days, or even put on the DL then. What needs to be done? I don’t know. I’m not a physical therapist or a trainer or a doctor or anything that should even be pretending to know what I’m talking about or what the answers are. All I know is that there are a lot of questions that the organization needs to address this offseason.
As I said above, injuries have been a huge reason for the Twins horrible season. They are not the only reason. However, it would be naive to gloss over them as if they weren’t there. In my mind, it was the number one issue for the 2011 season.
- Over at SethSpeaks.net, I’ll continue to look at more of the reasons for the Twins terrible 2011, such as Roster Construction, and many more.
- Miguel Sano hit his 19th and 20th home runs last night for Elizabethton in their 6-5 win over Princeton. Appy League MVP Eddie Rosario hit his 21st homer. Both have been incredible in the last month as they have led the E-Twins back to the playoffs.
- Although the New Britain Rock Cats lost 10-5 last night to Richmond, Reading also lost. The Rock Cats remain ½ game ahead of the Phillies Double-A affiliate for the final wild card spot in the Eastern League playoffs.
- Finally, a huge congratulations to former NDSU baseball player Neil Wagner who was called up yesterday to pitch in the bullpen of the Oakland A’s.
- Also, congratulations to former Twins prospect, Shoreview native and all-around good guy Mark Hamburger who yesterday was promoted to the Texas Rangers. Remember, he signed with the Twins after a tryout camp at the Metrodome. Then, nearly three years ago to the date, he was dealt to Texas for Eddie Guardado. The hard thrower has been starting this year but could spend time in the Rangers bullpen the rest of this season.
- For much more on the Twins minor league system, be sure to listen to last night’s Twins Minor League Weekly podcast.