Monday, July 31, 2006

Questions

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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.

3 comments:

JimCrikket said...

Seems like a lot of pessimism coming out of one series.

I wouldn't discount any of the points you make, they're all valid although I think it's a bit of a leap to conclude Mauer may be injured. I think, more likely, he's a bit tired but your point could be equally valid if he just succombs to tiring the way any catcher might down the stretch.

There's no doubt that a number have things have simply 'gone right' the last 8 weeks and it's unrealistic to think they all will go that well for the next 8. But they don't have to. A .610 winning pct will get those 96 wins over the last 59 games. Not easy, but not impossible.

A couple of things that have NOT gone well that could turn around and go better should be factored in as well. Hunter MIGHT be healthy. Guerrier should be back and with the bullpen that gives the Twins, those 3-4-5 starters really only need to survive 5 innings.

This team has been built the only way a small market team can be... now we just sit back and see if the stars are aligned to make it work out... and enjoy the effort of a bunch of kids that look like they ought to be playing in the CWS in Omaha, not competing for a Wild Card spot.

Jack Ungerleider said...

One thing you left out of the Punto analysis is the Carew Effect. Punto has credited some quality time with Sir Rodney this spring with giving him a new approach to hitting. Maybe some of the success is the reflection of a good teacher, a good student and the confidence that comes with increased at-bats.

Walter Hanson said...

I wouldn't be so pessimistic about Radke just by what you thought of the start on Saturday night against Detroit. I realize Kansas City is not the Tigers, but it was a great start.

But lets look at the Detroit start which raised alarm bells.

Radke got the first three hitters to hit ground ball singles that in the case of two fielders just missed. Radke than proceeded to get the next two hitters to hit into force outs which we just missed turning double plays.

Radke could've easily got out of the first with no runs or just one.

The second inning run was a gift when Tyner lost the ball. If Tyner catches it like he should there is no run.

The third inning run after giving up two hits he got a ground ball which we just missed turning into a double play. The run scored on a sacrifice fly so if we turn the double play there is no run.

And one thing to think Detroit is vastly supperior.

Detroit wins game one because Castilo can't get two seeing eye dog singles. There were no rallies without those two singles.

Game two they won because they were given a free run and the Twins defense just missed turning four double plays that helped them to score four runs they might not have. Ask Texas how easy it is to keep your opponents from scoring if you destroy their rallies by hitting into double plays.

yes Ivan R didn't play, but the Detroit manager moved a hitter up to the third spot that in both games probably hit us just as hard if not harder than Ivan Craig Monroe. Plus your post mentioned concerned about Mauer's health giving Ivan a few days off was a plus that the Detroit manager was willing to do.

So there is nothing to say wow we were outclassed. We had some bad luck in two games and good luck in one game which can explain why the series was won by Detroit. Who knows we're due for some good luck with Detroit and might sweep the series because of good luck we get in Detroit which we didn't in Minneapolis.