In the last few weeks the Chicago White Sox have caught fire, the Detroit Tigers have continued their steady play to hang around the top of the AL Central, and one thing has become painfully clear for the team at the top of the division.
That team is the Minnesota Twins, and as we know them right now, they are not a World Series team.
This is discouraging on a number of levels for Twins fans, considering the expectations coming into the year. With an improved offense with the pickups of Orlando Hudson, J.J. Hardy, and Jim Thome, some Twins fans were already picking out their World Series opponent and how many games it would take for them to beat the National League’s representative.
Sadly for this writer and naysayers everywhere who did not come close to buying into the Twinkies hype, former Minnesota Vikings head coach Dennis Green’s words of wisdom once again come to mind for this situation.
The Minnesota Twins are who we thought they were.
Yes, the Twins offense looked explosive at the beginning of the year, and it has lived up to the billing, hanging around the top five in many offensive categories in the league at this point.
The reason for the naysaying was not the offense, but the same thing that has led us to be skeptical of the hometown team for years, the starting pitching.
Since the departure of Johan Santana, the Twins have struggled to find consistency in the starting rotation, and at the moment, it is destroying their potential as a team, one mediocre start at a time.
Their 4.39 ERA among starters ranks 20th in the majors, while opponents are hitting a whopping .280 against the Twins rotation, good for fourth worst in the majors.
But despite those uninspiring first six paragraphs and Nick Blackburn’s uninspiring 6.02 ERA, Twins fans should stop driving to the nearest bridge or get down from the chair and remove the rope from around their neck, for there may be help on the way.
That help would come in the form of the man who has to be considered the American League’s best pitcher this year, former AL Central great Cliff Lee.
Lee’s 0.92 WHIP is the lowest in baseball, with an ERA only .02 behind the AL wins leader, prospect-turned-real-deal David Price. Lee’s 78-5 K-BB, which puts his ratio at 15.6-1, is the best in baseball. Second to Lee? Tyson Ross, at 7.00-1.
Lee has quite simply been dominant, a stark contrast to the organization he plays for, the pathetic Seattle Mariners. For contenders around MLB, however, this situation could not have worked out better.
With Cliff Lee returning to peak American League form, he is sure to generate interest from teams with postseason hopes. Luckily for those teams, since the Mariners have completely fallen apart, rather than getting hung up on when they make the call about Lee, they’ll have to at least be listened to by the Mariners, who are sure to be sellers of their top veterans at the deadline.
This is where the Twins come in.
At this point, the need for a starting pitcher is massive, with three starters ERA’s above 4.5 (Baker, Slowey, Blackburn), and one other starter (Liriano) that is the farthest thing from consistent (.93 ERA in April, 5.15 in May, 3.82 in June).
Minnesota can really only say they have one starter worthy of going in a postseason series, that being Carl Pavano. To all of us naysayers, that sounds like the same old song the Twins have been playing the last 18 years and the same reason they’ve gotten out of the first round of the playoffs only once in those 18 seasons.
Cliff Lee represents a solution and let’s look at the situation from both points of view, the Twins as well as the Mariners.
The Twins get what they so desperately need with an ace to bolster an otherwise shaky rotation and a top three that would headline with Lee followed by Pavano and Liriano, very formidable in the postseason if you ask me.
The Mariners move Lee’s big contract (9 million and growing), and receive what sounds like a lucrative package of prospects and major league contributors.
The names that have been thrown around are a combination of Slowey or Baker plus the Twins #2 prospect, hard hitting catcher Wilson Ramos, and another A-AA type of young prospect.
That apparently is the minimum it would take, as Paul Allen of KFAN explained on his 9-noon radio show The Paul Allen Project, saying that in an exchange with Seattle Mariners TV man Dave Sims, Sims said the Twins won’t get Lee for a “BS package”, implying he’s heard the rumblings of the aforementioned deal and the Mariners may not think it’s enough.
Considering the window of time the Twins have to work with with the roster they have and their ability to compete at a world series level, it seems that giving up that package and even a little more would have to be a must for Minnesota.
Keep in mind, this is all early speculation but at this point it seems clear what the Twins need to do and all the evidence they need should be Lee’s second half with the Phillies last year on their way to a World Series appearance. He was a giant part of that run posting seven wins and a 3.39 ERA in the regular season after the trade from Cleveland, and some would argue he is what put them over the edge.
At this moment, the Twins must have someone to put them over the edge, because while they’ve played good baseball, they are only seven games over .500 and feeling heat from two teams that have better starting staffs than they do.
Getting Cliff Lee would change that and if you’re the Minnesota Twins, at some point you need to live for the moment. Regardless of the fact that it would be almost impossible to re-sign Lee after this year because of what he will get on the open market, Minnesota has all the other tools it requires to be serious contenders this year, with Lee being the final piece.
This acquisition can no longer be considered a want by fans or by the organization. With all we’ve seen over the first half of the year, for the Minnesota Twins Cliff Lee is a need.