As I sit here writing this blog post, the Minnesota Twins currently reside in the cellar of the AL Central division. The last time they finished a season that low in the standings was 2000, when I was starting high school and didn’t yet even have cable to watch them on MSC (Midwest Sports Channel, the precursor to FSN).
Some “classic” names on that ’00 roster included Ron Coomer, Jay Canizaro, Matt Lawton, Butch Huskey, Midre Cummings, Sean Bergman, and Mark Redman.
Suffice it to say, it is strange to be in the position of looking up at the KC Royals after being on the “other side” for so long. A bit humbling, I suppose.
I remember a few months ago, with the Twins in fourth place, my goal was to see the team move up slot by slot in the standings. Well, the opposite has transpired and now the goal becomes climbing out of the basement back to respectability.
With the Twins cruising through a competitively useless September, there is one “big picture” thing I worry about more than any other: the possibility of manager Ron Gardenhire’s posterior region warming a bit in terms of job security.
Now, I have never been an unconditional Gardy supporter. I’ve questioned his playoff managing many a time, as well as his proficient use of weak “getaway day” lineups. However, I strongly feel that he still remains the right manager for this ballclub.
Gardy has always preached “fundamentals” and this year has clearly shown how important those little things are. Going forward, this team may need a lot of guidance for the youngsters, and I think Gardy does that as well (if not better) than any manager in baseball.
Put it this way: With a few healthy “studs” and more time to train the young guys, I am confident that our skipper can turn this ship back around in the right direction in a hurry.
I just hope he’ll be given the opportunity and nothing crazy comes down from the front office.
Strange Item 1: In early July, I attended two Twins games at Chicago’s Cell, with both teams still battling to get into the division race. The Twins owned the Sox at that time. Fast-forward two months, and both teams are now essentially playing out the string. The Sox now own us, as well.
Strange Item 2: Empty seats at Target Field. Yes, it’s the first “school night” of the year and a makeup game at that, but those green seats sure look strange amid two seasons of near-perpetual sellouts. Unfortunately, much more green may be showing once the Vikings kick into full gear.
Preview (58-83, 5th, 0.5 GB KCR): Jake Peavy (6-7, 5.21) vs. Liam Hendriks (Major League Debut)
For two decades, Thome was the bane of existence to our pitching staffs. In less than two years, however, he endeared himself to the state of Minnesota like almost no other ballplayer in team history…
He’s a class act, a true gentleman, and I wish him the best in Cleveland and beyond.
Just try not to clobber around our starters too much in September, will ya Jim?!
Preview (55-77, 4th, 11 GB CWS): Brad Penny (9-9, 4.82) vs. Brian Duensing (8-13, 5.12)
We sports fans are a fickle lot most of the time. For the last few years, Twins fans were ALWAYS badgering GM’s (either Ryan or Smith) to sign more players to help us win. Since the pitching seemed solid, a lock of hitters was always our “dire” need.
Well, we brought in guys like Delmon Young, Orlando Hudson, JJ Hardy, and Jim Thome to help the offense. Plus, we signed out “Mantle & Marris”…
Well, those offensive players (for a variety of reasons) never really paid off, and “M&M” have been too hurt to meet the return on investment.
Thus, part of the reason for this season spiralling into disaster has been an inability to patch holes like we have done in the past. The bullpen guys got too pricey, the starters all regressed or never hit their potential, and all the hitters got hurt. ALL…OF…THEM.
So, we are now realizing (as we did in the 1990s) that we still can’t quite spend with the big boys on the coasts…even with a new stadium. The time to pay the piper has come, and that time is now.
-Twins get swept by lowly Orioles at home.
-Liriano goes on the DL (Scott Diamond will take his place).
-Kubel is claimed off waivers (though no deal yet) by the White Sox.
-Same story as above for Jim Thome & the Indians.
Preview (55-75, 4th, 9.0 GB CWS): Rick Porcello (11-8, 5.17) vs. Scott Diamond (0-1, 4.26)
In 2010, Duensing was a starter, long reliever, and setup man on another division-winning team. In fact, he was my personal choice for ’10 team MVP.
This year, however, has been a disaster for Duensing. He pitched okay towards the beginning of the season, but the last few months have been a train wreck. He’s walking guys left and right, only pitching a few innings per start, and (rather inexplicably) has been very poor at throwing to any base on a batted ball. I don’t think he’s been hurt, so that’s a small consolation, but the effectiveness has vanished as quickly as it developed.
I’ve seen a lot of batters in the throes of “sophomore slumps”, but pitchers usually struggle early on and then only get better (potentially). Duesing, so far in is career, has been the polar opposite.
Just another question mark on a team that, just a year ago, were beginning to run away with the division.
A vexing question, indeed.
On one hand, you just want to throw your hands up in the air. He looks completely lost in the field, doesn’t seem to communicate well with his teammates, and is also befuddled with a bat in his hand. There has also been little to in improvement from Day One to today. In the day-to-day sense, he sure seems to be hurting our chances to win.
In the long run, though, how quickly do we throw away our investment in the Japanese shortstop? Could he possibly be as bad as he is playing right now?
I think a lot will ride on the 2012 SS options. If Trevor Plouffe can improve his defense, I think he will have as good a shot as any to compete with Nishi.
Amazing to think, through all we’ve seen this year, that Tsuyoshi was a batting champion just a scant year ago in Japan.
With the Twins all but mathematically eliminated from 2011 playoff contention, the team is now taking some long looks at guys who may play key roles in the future.
Danny Valencia may be playing for his starting job, Nishioka will likely get the rest of the year to get his game straight, and youngsters like Rene Tosoni & Trevor Plouffe may be given opportunities to prove themselves.
Last night, a bright glimpse of the future occurred via some spectacular center-field D from Ben Revere:
Preview (54-68, 4th, 7.5 GB CWS): CC Sabathia (16-7, 2.93) vs. Brian Duensing (8-11, 4.53)
Last night, against the Tigers, Jim Thome clubbed two opposite-field shots for homers #599 and #600.
.277 BA, 600 HR, 1,662 RBI, 1,710 BB, 2,453 SO, .403 OBP, .558 SLG, .961 OPS.
In his early years with Cleveland…
After three powerful years in the NL with the Phillies…
Better than anything, though, is that Jim Thome (much like Harmon Killebrew before him) is as humble as he is strong. He respects the game, plays hard, enjoys his teammates, and just has fun hitting the ball hard. A true hero playing through an era of cheats.
Preview (53-68, 4th, 7.5 GB CWS): Carl Pavano (6-9, 4.55) vs. Brad Penny (8-9, 4.99).
After a team-wide collapse during the final months of 2007, the Twins were a ballclub in desperate need of hitters. The thought was, at least at the time, that the Twins had a solid stable of starters and a deep bullpen, so Matt Garza (and Jason Bartlett) were deemed expendable and sent to Tampa Bay for Delmon Young (and Brendan Harris). Unfortunately, Young never quite fit in with the Twins organization and is now a Tiger.
In 2008, with the promise of power based on a solid TB rookie campaign, Delmon hit .290 with little power. In 2009, he hit about .290 with…little power. In 2010, he hit about .300 with 21 homers and 110+ RBI. So far this season, he’s missed much time on the DL and never really found his stroke.
Basically, there are two Delmon Young’s:
The first Delmon can put a team on his shoulders from the middle of the order. When he’s locked in, he’s almost Vlad Guerrero-like with his free-swinging ways. He (more than probably any other Twin) took the “sage” advice of Tony Oliva in this now-infamous TV spot…
The other Delmon, however…
…was an out machine when swinging at those early pitches, completely unable to draw walks or move runners along. In the field, he was a complete klutz. Though sometimes he’ll dive and catch a ball, it is usually because he misplayed it so thoroughly to begin with. He just doesn’t have any natural coordination in the field.
Sadly, that “second” Delmon Young was much more apparent as a Twin than the first. Looking back, I can’t blame the Twins for giving Young a try. At the time, we though we were getting two above average hitters for a pitcher (in Garza) that needed a change of scenery and a hitter (in Bartlett) who didn’t blossom until his Tampa stay.
However, it just didn’t work out.