After two days of chomping on some heavy-duty political discourse, I thought it was time to bring in the big guns and really get serious.
So without further ado, we shall discuss: your Minnesota Twins.
The local boys of summer are deep in the second straight year of a horrible funk. There are glimmers of hope once in a while, but nothing consistent enough to really believe that this is the basis for a great team. So what can be done, as the calendar prepares to tick over to August?
The team finds themselves 12 games back in what is chronically the worst division in baseball. Detroit and the White Sox are battling for the lead in the division, and after watching the White Sox play their typical game over the last couple of nights, I’m convinced having them in the lead isn’t saying much. Except that they can hit homers almost on demand and we can’t.
Our starting pitching is, frankly, mostly horrible. Carl Pavano, a good, but not great pitcher who is nothing if not consistent and eats up innings, was our best pitcher, until he came down with an arm problem and hasn’t pitched since June 1st. His problem has continued, and they’re still waiting to see how his arm is recovering before deciding what to do with him.
Francisco Liriano, a pitcher whose name instantly turns my father apoplectic, and supposedly our second-best pitcher, was awful to start the season, was shifted to the bullpen, then brought back to the starting rotation with a new frame of mind. He has pitched much better lately, though his last start looked like he’d fallen back into the same old pattern.
The lone highlight is that of Scott Diamond, a 25-year-old rookie who in his first full season is 8-4 with a 3.16 ERA. So either he’s really got some good stuff, or teams haven’t scouted him well enough yet.
Over the course of about 100 games now, the team has used 9 different starters, and those names turn into a virtual who’s who of names you’ve never heard of, and may not be likely to ever heard from again, either. Our relief corps is okay, though I think people give them more credit than they deserve. But then again, they have all been severely overused, and they’re hit with a key injury, too.
I don’t know, though, that the team can trade any of their starting pitchers, at least not with the hope of getting anything useful out of the trade. But I’ve said this for the last couple of seasons: this team needs a top free-agent pitcher to compete. Get that one guy who can guarantee you 15-20 wins, and is a real big name star, and things might fall into place. Because the unfortunate reality is that somehow, our once strong minor league system is completely devoid of decent pitching.
On the offensive side, we’ve got a lot of the tools: Mauer is back to form after a horrible season last year. Morneau has looked much better this year, so hopefully the concussion problems are past him. Josh Willingham should have been in the All-Star Game, and is so much fun to watch at bat. Jamey Carrol and Ryan Doumit are two of the best surprises so far, especially for being extremely underrated free-agent signings.
But the other guys: Trevor Plouffe, Brian Dozier, Alexi Casilla, and even Denard Span and Ben Revere aren’t quite “there” yet. Dozier and Casilla shouldn’t be playing every day, and I’m not even sure they’re good situational hitters. I think back to the ’87 and ’91 teams and while top to bottom, the teams weren’t great, they had people who were outstanding in certain situations: Randy Bush, who never hit for much of an average, was a solid outfielder who always managed to punch in a run when it was needed. Greg Gagne was a great shortstop who delivered his .250 batting average but could use his speed to cause problems on the basepaths. The guys on this year’s club are OK, but never seem to come through in the clutch, and all too often this year, they’ve made some stupid baserunning mistakes.
I will say this, though, and lots of people will laugh at me…But this team started going downhill when they decided not to re-sign Nick Punto. And they were really hurt when they traded away Delmon Young, and stung even more when Michael Cuddyer signed with the Rockies. Joe Nathan was a blow, but he’s probably a year or two from the end of his career. But Punto, even with a .225-.250 average was a solid infielder, hustled on every single play, and made an impact in every game he was in. And we could have had him back for a song…
So what do you do if you’re running this club? There are just over two months left in the season, and I’m afraid there’s little hope of catching the top of the division. But you can’t give up, either. So you need to do some real dealing. Try to put together a deal for a pitcher–not a top tier, because that would cost too much in trade right now, so aim for a #2 starter–but offer Denard Span and a couple of prospects.
The immediate future of the club doesn’t lie in the farm clubs, because they’re decimated right now. And you could sit back and try to build it up and wait another 10 years for that to produce, but you’ve got a good core up here right now that just needs the finishing pieces to make the team great. Get those pieces here now, while Mauer, Morneau, and Willingham are still in their prime.
It’s sad for me to say it, but this season’s over, and it isn’t going to get any prettier. So let’s move on, shall we?