Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Fluffy’s Hope

You know how your vapid dog will become clinically depressed when you’re not home, and then reaches a state of otherwordly Nirvana as you walk in the door, primarily because she’s convinced herself that you were gone forever? The Twins season has been a lot like that, with Twins Territory playing the part of Fluffy.

For months we talked about how dismal the starting pitching was going to be, and the mistake the Twins were making by not trusting rotation slots to tomorrow’s rising stars. We reached a fever pitch as spring training concluded, and Carlos Silva was chosen over Matt Garza. The kvetching has continued all season, now as a nearly constant refrain of ‘Ditch Sidney Ponson’. We’re united and fervent in our holy crusade.

And we’ve been wrong almost every step of the way. Silva has been fantastic, and seemingly getting better. Garza can’t throw strikes in Rochester, and if the organization had to choose today, he would probably be fourth in line to be called up. We had very few concerns about Ponson at the end of the spring, and he’s been brutal. Meanwhile young stud Boof Bonser has matched Ponson bone-headed play for bone-headed play, and been twice as likely to work himself into trouble (though three times as likely to work himself out). And yet nobody mentions this.

But, of course, the biggest goof is that the pitching has been the team’s biggest strength. We continue to harp about Ponson despite the fact that the biggest problem has been the offense. Which brings us back to Fluffy the wonder dog.

The offense has struggled mightily over the last couple of weeks, but the calls for an offensive overhaul are making the same mistake that we made when the team broke spring training with three questionable veterans. And the same mistake that Fluffy is making when we’re not home. Namely, assuming that the way things are now are the way things are always going to be.

We haven’t seen the Twins real lineup since the week. The Twins have had four everyday position players miss at least a week of time, and three of them were being counted on to contribute power. The last two are out with muscle injuries, and all of them should be healthy (knock, knock) before the season is two months old.

The most significant loss has been that of Rondell White. White’s first impression last year was nausea-inducing, but guess which player was the best right-handed hitter in terms of batting average and OPS (On-base Plus Slugging percentage) after the All-Star Break last year? That’s right. Only Justin Morneau outperformed White. Replacing his bat with some combination of Mike Redmond and Jason Tyner isn’t just a decline - it’s a punchline.

It isn’t just injuries that might change the performance of this team. Players, and especially young players, can drastically improve their production. The daily newspaper speculates that the Twins should target a player like 25-year-old Cubs outfielder Matt Murton, who would likely replace (drum roll) 25-year-old outfielder Jason Kubel. Kubel has been twice the prospect Murton ever was, and debuted in the majors a year earlier than Murton. The supremely insecure hitter that Twins fans are watching now might be very different by the end of July.

Even the position that the Twins should be most concerned about is likely to improve. Nick Punto thrived for most of last year because Punto was a .300 hitter for most of last year. This year, he isn’t (.229 BA, 622 OPS). That’s one of the reasons that Jeff Cirillo was added to the roster, because he can at least platoon with Punto against left-handed pitchers. Instead, he’s also been hurt almost all season, and the Twins haven’t faced a southpaw starter since he’s returned.

All of which is not trying to say that the Twins shouldn’t be looking to get better. But Twins fans, and especially newspaper columnists who pride themselves on knowing something about this game, may want to take a step back from the ledge. Or at least recognize that things likely won’t be like this forever.

1 comment:

twayn said...

Well said, John. But there was no shortage of people worried about our lack of position depth coming out of spring training. We're suffering the consequences of that now as we've been hit hard by injuries. When it's just one guy out at a time, not a huge concern. But when you have three or four backups getting regular playing time all at once, it shows. This team will be playing much better by June, I think, but in this division will that leave us enough time to make up the ground we're losing now?