Over the course of 40 games (80% of which the Twins won), we gradually became convinced that they were Supermen. It took one highly anticipated and attended weekend series to remind us that our Men of Steel have their kryptonite.
The series against the Tigers was praised as two talented teams playing at a high level in closely contested games, which the Twins just happened to lose. That’s partly true, but it’s also worth noting that the two losses came against the bottom of Detroit’s rotation, and that their All-Star catcher was sitting in the dugout for the entire series. Looking closer at the games, they also showcased some of the flaws and concerns this team has as it tries to reach the 96 wins that will likely be necessary for a wild card spot.
- The biggest concern has to be Brad Radke and his shoulder. At the beginning of June, the Twins made some roster moves on the left side of their infield that coincided with their return to competence. But that’s also when Brad Radke went from being the second worst starting pitcher in baseball to one of the top five.
This weekend’s performance suggests that benefits of the cortisone shot he received over the All-Star break are fairly short-lived. Cortisone shots aren’t something that an athlete takes several times per month. At most, player take them a few times per season – anything more than that can be harmful. If Radke regresses because of a chronically sore shoulder, the Twins suddenly have three question marks in their rotation, something that few contending teams can afford during a playoff push.
- An equally large concern is the recent performance of Joe Mauer. Hint #1 was the three strikeouts in one game last week. Hint #2 was the two-day rest the Twins felt he needed to have. And Hint #3 was the half dozen times he grounded out to the right side of infield this weekend. The hints suggest that Mauer is fighting some kind of nagging injury, maybe in his back or his hamstrings.
That isn’t too surprising considering the position Mauer plays, and we’ve certainly been warned about it happening. That doesn’t mean the Twins can afford any stretch where Mauer becomes anything less than superhuman. The Twins need that high average to bridge the gap between the string of table setters in front of him and the table clearers behind him. If his performance over the last two months is burdened by some ongoing soreness, the Twins offense will be considerably less dangerous.
- The Metrodome is apparently a little crabby about its impending mortality and has enlisted the help of left field to eat our players. Just look at what has happened to anyone who has dared to play there. First there was Shannon Stewart’s plantar fasciitis. Then there were Jason Kubel’s knees. On Saturday Rondell White was moved to designated hitter (DH) because of soreness in his legs, and was pulled from the game on Sunday. That means Josh Rabe started there on Saturday night, and Jason Tyner will likely play there when Torii Hunter returns for this series.
That’s bad news, but there’s worse news about the six names in the previous paragraph. For each one of them, there is a serious question about their health or inexperience or performance. The Twins are going to need three of them (in left field, in center field and at DH) to perform at a high level for the last two months of the season to keep the offense fueled.
- The mixing and matching that’s been happening in the fourth and fifth starter slots still isn’t producing anything close to consistent quality. They’ve burned through Kyle Lohse, Scott Baker, Carlos Silva and Boof Bonser. JD Durbin is now hurt for the year, so the newest supposed savior, Matt Garza, is drawing Twins fans attention with his recent promotion to Rochester. That attention is more a result of Francisco Liriano’s success than Garza’s performance, which we know very little about. What we do know is that Garza started the year in A ball, and his professional career is just one year old.
- With all the pleasant surprises the Twins have had from new players, the award for Most Unforeseen belongs to Nick Punto. His hitting streak ended on Saturday night, but he’s still hitting .311 for the season. “Sparky” has been stellar defensively and the best table setter the Twins have. The strides he’s made this season have been enormous, and they’ve happened exactly when the Twins needed them most.
Maybe too enormous? Or at least too enormous to count on for the next two months? Consider that Punto’s career batting average coming into the season (over 600+ plate appearances) was just .238. His batting average over eight minor league seasons was just .265. It isn’t completely unheard of for a player to step up to a new level of performance at Punto’s age, and everyone (including this Twins fan) wants to believe that’s what happened. But this seems a little too good to be true.
Add those up, and suddenly the Twins have serious questions about most of their starting rotation, their best pure hitter, their best table-setter, and three other positions. All of which were raised over one disappointing weekend. Over the last two months, we’ll get some answers, whether we like them or not.