Minnesota Twins Extraordinarily Mediocre

David Palmer

As we wrapped up the first month of the Major League season the Twins had to win their last two games to finish April at .500.  With an 11-11 record, they are the definition of average, mediocre, consistently inconsistent or whatever adjective you want to insert for a team that has more ups and downs than Lindsey Lohan.  I think it is safe to say that we have learned a few things from the month:

1. Francisco Liriano is not, and may never be, the same pitcher he was in 2006.  When he came back from his Tommy John Surgery last year, the Twins made it clear that they were going to baby him.  Part of this philosophy included changing his mechanics to put less torque on his throwing arm.  In turn, his once devastating slider has become much less effective.  His K/9 IP rate has gone from an exceptional 10.7 in 2006 to a pedestrian 6.4 this season.  That is only slightly better than Cincy’s Aaron Harang…yeah.  Hitters can now sit on his fastball, since his changeup never was that great to begin with.  He might have fewer arm problems than before, but at what price did the organization pay because they turned a future Cy Young winner into a middle of the rotation guy?

2. I have been saying this for a year and a half, but I guess why stop now.  NICK PUNTO SHOULD NOT BE AN EVERYDAY PLAYER!!  I hope the capital letters and multiple exclamation points express how I feel about this.  He has started in 19 of the 22 games so far, which is about 18 too many.  He is hitting a cool .228 with one extra base hit.  It would be one thing if he was our last option for a shortstop, but Brendan Harris is hitting .350 with double the slugging % as Little Nicky.  Yeah, we lose some defensive range, but I think it’s worth having the extra bat in the lineup. The fact that he thinks diving into first is faster than running through it really sums things up for Punto.  I don’t think Ussein Bolt dove through the finish line in the Olympics.  It’s science. 

3. The outfield platoon system that we have is clearly not working.  We have four outfielders for three spots: Denard Span, Carlos Gomez, Delmon Young and Michael Cuddyer.  Span is the only one who is in the lineup everyday, since he has turned himself into one of the best leadoff hitters in the AL.  After that, the other three are scuffling.  It is no surprise since none of them know whether or not they’ll be in the lineup from day-to-day.   I can’t ever remember a successful team that was platooning their entire outfield.  Michael Cuddyer is doing his best to prove that he had a total fluke season in 2006.  He is flailing wildly at everything thrown to him, and other than a couple nice catches in right field, he really hasn’t contributed anything thus far.  He needs to be traded, for a setup guy.  That way everybody has a defined role, which would lead to more confidence, more at-bats, and more production.

4. Alexi Casilla is already a legendary tobacco chewer.  Good God.  If you’ve watched any Twins games, you’ve noticed the egg of chew he has in his lower lip on a daily basis.  I think chew is disgusting, but I’m not saying I’ve never done it.  If I ever attempted to put that much in my mouth you’d have to peel me off the pool of vomit I made before passing out in it.  How can that guy hit a 90 mph fastball with that in his lip?

5. Our bullpen is shaky at best.  If anything keeps us out of playoff contention it will be the bullpen.  Before the recent call-up of Jose Mijares, we had the setup guy by committee going.  Not good times:  this committee has a combined ERA of 4.91.  That means over half the time they are giving up a run in the inning they pitch in.  For a team that doesn’t score a lot of runs, that is devastating.  Even Joe Nathan blew a save on Tuesday night.  Now that Mijares is back in the bigs, hopefully he can bring some consistency to the eighth inning role.  The problem is that Guerrier, Ayala, Crain and Breslow all feature pretty much the same repertoire of pitches, with not much difference in velocities.   Opposing teams feel pretty comfortable seeing any one of them.

I haven’t lost hope on the season, especially since we are only a game out of the loss column from KC, Detroit and Chicago.  Luckily we play in the AL Central Division. And on the bell curve of Major League talent, all the teams are located centrally.

Twins Preview: Starting Infield

By David Palmer

I’m going to give you the position-by-position breakdown of where the Twins are at this spring regarding their starting infield.  It includes some new faces, some old faces and some killer sideburns thanks to Joe Mauer.  This team should get the most consistent offensive and defensive consistency from this position group.

In case you missed it, I broke down the Twins starting rotation last week right here.

Without further ado, I give you Justin Morneau.  The 2008 Canadian Athlete of the Year.  Not the best baseball player, the best athlete.   That means he beat out 90% of the NHL (including Crosby), Steve Nash, Mike Weir, and, well, that’s about it.  Anytime you can beat out hockey players in Canada at anything is a good thing.  Anyway, Morneau is the team’s first baseman and premier player, and if anything happens to him, we’re basically screwed.  He had 129 RBI last season, but it seemed more like 1,109.  I swear he drove in two-thirds of our runs.  The great thing about Morneau is that he wants to even get better.  He has publicly taken more of a leadership role, and transformed himself into a Gold Glove caliber first baseman.  He is also the only Twin that I can reliably say will hit more than 20 home runs this year.  I feel comforted by the fact that he is our first baseman for the foreseeable future.

After a solid rookie year last season, Alexi Casilla will be holding down second base and likely the second spot in the batting order also.  I’m a little skeptical about what his production at the plate will be this year.  He was red hot after being called up in June, but slowly cooled off as the scouting reports caught up to him.  Now that opposing teams have nearly 400 at-bats to look at from last year, he is looking like a possible candidate for the dreaded sophomore slump.  The upside is that he has tremendous range in the field and is a switch hitter, but still has a tendency to boot easy plays (ala Christian Guzman).  Hopefully, he can make the necessary adjustments and remain an offensive contributor.

The second half of our double play combination is shortstop Nick Punto, or “Nicky” as Gardenhire affectionately calls him, or “Bitch” as I like to call him.  I really have no idea what we are going to get out of him this season.  He might have the widest range of possibilities of any Twin this year.  He could hit .210 and play below average defense with a few Web Gems mixed in, or he could hit .290, score 85 runs, and cause chaos on the bases, while playing a Gold Glove shortstop.  All I really know is that Gardy has a total man-crush on Punto and will give him every chance to succeed.  Rumor has it, in this economy, the Twins put a clause into his new contact that says he has to do his own dry-cleaning from getting so many jerseys dirty the last couple of years.  He likes diving.  I think he’s found a way to get grass stains from Astroturf.   In all seriousness, his best asset is working pitchers.  Really, that’s about all he does well.  He goes to the plate with the mindset of fouling off as many balls as possible.  Not getting a hit, just slowly wearing a pitcher down.  Basically, he’s the anti-Delmon Young.  Hopefully he can justify his new 2-year $8.5 million deal.

I want to thank the White Sox organization and Kenny Williams for not re-signing Joe Crede.  Thanks to them, he is now our third baseman.  His back issues have been much discussed recently, but in my mind, it is a great pick-up even if he never gets one at-bat.  He was a notorious Twin killer.  In 40 AB against us last year he had 16 hits, 5 doubles, 7 home runs and 17 RBI.  Read that statline again.  Yeah, that says seven dingers.  Take that away from the Sox and we’re the ones hoisting a Division Champion banner in the rafters this April.  It will be interesting to see if Crede can live up to expectations at the plate.  With the pressure of staying healthy, playing for a new team, being the “power guy” from the right side and adjusting to the turf, I see a slow start out of the gate for him.  With that said, I still think he gives our team a little extra swagger.  Just knowing we took him from the Sox adds to the growing confidence of this group of guys.

Joe Mauer is the guy on the team that every girl wants to sleep with and every guy wants to be like.  He’s the quiet, unassuming, good-looking, hometown hero.  He was a high school player of the year in both football (as a stud QB) and baseball his senior season.  He’s a pretty decent athlete.  Joe is coming off his second AL batting title in three years.  I don’t think he’ll ever be the twenty plus homerun hitter that scouts thought he could become, but I’m okay with that if he can keep a .420 on base %, and play Gold Glove defense. Back inflammation has bothered him ever since his (since removed) kidney obstruction.  Hopefully he should be ready by the opener, or shortly thereafter, because he is a crucial cog in the machine.

I like where we’re at with this current group of infielders, and all of them should get a lot of at-bats to prove they belong.   And if Mauer isn’t healthy we can at least look forward to more Mike Redmond face time and nothing more.