Fourth of July weekend is beginning a little early in the Geek House. Not because I'm taking an extra day off - I'm not. But fortunately, just about everyone else is. So let's dedicate today's comments column to everyone who stretches their long weekend, and in so doing, pushes the rest of us into a holiday state of mind. Let's get to the comments....
A Few Questions I Have This Week
Since comments are a little light this week, let's start by answering the questions I asked on Sunday night, keeping in mind that we're only halfway though the week.
Q: Is Detroit a contender?
A: Nominally. Could they win the division? Yeah. But let's give it the "scary" test. Would you ever find yourself saying "You know what scares me? The Tigers. They're scary."
Well, if they were real tigers, the answer would be "yes". Tigers, rare as they are, are one of the few natural enemies of man. They won't hesitate to hunt us in their natural habitat and they enhance their power and viciousness by being incredibly sneaky. They almost always are able to attack from behind. In fact, people walking through a tiger's territory sometimes wear masks on the back of their heads to try and fool them.
And for this Tigers team I would have said "yes" during this offseason. Ditto through April, even though they looked dreadful. Even last week during their 17-4 run I might have replied affirmatively. But after watching the bulk of this series and three other ones I'm comfortable saying that the only way they're dangerous is when they attack from behind. And while they're not pussycats, I don't feel the need to walk around with a mask on the back of my head either. Unless maybe it's of Joe Nathan. That should keep them at bay.
Q: Can Denard Span help the club this year?
A: Yep, or at least he can if he stays on the team. Dick Bremer made a good point last night about how different the Twins offseason might have been if Span would have shown this year's development last year. Would there have been as much ruckus about Hunter leaving? Would they have courted the same teams during Johan trades if they didn't need a center fielder? Would the Twins have ended up with the Mets' Fernando Martinez instead of Carlos Gomez?
By the way, the 19-year-old Martinez is playing pretty well in AA right now. It's worth noting that he was injured again this year and missed more than a month with a hamstring strain.
Q: Speaking of ever, will Ron Gardenhire ever let Span bat leadoff?
A: Still don't know. Span looks like he would be an infinitely better fit there than Gomez, but so has Casilla for over a month.
And if we really want to talk about switching around the lineup, I know it's not traditional, but what if we sprinkled these guys around in the lineup a little? It seems counter-intuitive to have any of them batting in the middle of the order, but it sure would be nice to see one of these speed bugs show up each inning or so. And, to be honest, I'd rather have both Casilla's and Span's disciplined bats in the middle of the lineup over Delmon Young's right now. At the very least, maybe move one of them to the seventh spot?
As far as I know, I've never seen a simulation which tried something like that. Let's take it a step further. What if we divided a lineup into three types of players - lead-offs, general hitters, and power, and assigned each group three of your players. And then what if you just alternated them with a leadoff batter being followed by a hitter who was followed by a slugger. If the Twins did something like that, I'd probably divide them something like this:
Lead off - Gomez, Casilla, Span
Hitters - Mauer, Harris, Buscher
Power - Morneau, Kubel, Cuddyer
And then the lineup would look like this: Casilla, Mauer, Morneau, Span, Buscher, Kubel, Gomez, Harris, Cuddyer.
Gawd, that looks ... awful. What am I writing? Did someone slip something into my ice water? Let's forget this conversation ever took place, OK?
Q: Will Glen Perkins be in this rotation after the all-star break?
This brings us to our first comment of the week....
And two of [Perkins] last three [starts] have been [quality starts].
They really need to make room for a guy [Liriano] who has given up 5 runs in each of his last two games at AAA while never getting out of the 6th inning. Perkins has had two starts that bad all year - and they were both almost a month ago. Perkins job is, or should be, at least as safe as Nick Blackburn's.
I guess we can both throw numbers around, but Perkin's ERA in June, even after that nice start this week, is 4.67. That said, he's now had three quality starts in his last four, and this last start was impressive. He might be the best at working inside of all of the starters, especially when he establishes it early. His control is still inconsistent, and that's what worries me. But he seems to be overcoming that after a rough stretch.
Your point about Blackburn is a good one. Blackburn's starts lately have been better than Perkins', but he also had a rough spot and had his turn in the rotation skipped once for "elbow soreness". I think of him as more established because he's been in the rotation longer, and that's usually a valid consideration with this coaching staff. They both still have plenty to prove, but they've both surprised me, and in a good way. I recognize that they're very good.
Which sucks for Liriano. Yes, he's given up some runs lately, but he's also improved his control and is back to striking out a guy per inning. Maybe more importantly to the cynics, calling him up now (or at least soon) is late enough in the season that he won't end the season with enough service time to be a Super 2 arbitration-eligible player. That could save the Twins a couple of million dollars per year over the next four years. What to do with him is a nice problem to have.
Gardy was ejected in the 3rd inning - Scott Ulger made all the pitching changes (and non-changes).
I need to ask - does anyone really understand why Gardy gets thrown out in these situations? He's not protecting a player. He's not arguing a close call. It seems like he's just throwing a fit about a rule he doesn't like, which would be fine, but I'm not even all that sure about what he doesn't like about the rule.
In this case, it sounds like he was mad that his guy got thrown at twice while their guy was thrown at once. But no real harm was done in any of the three episodes. You can argue that the umpire allowed the teams to state their positions and then, when it looked like one team was going to carry it a little further, he issued the warnings. He probably should have done it after the first close pitch to Mauer, and Gardy has every right, and maybe the responsibility, to point out that out to the umpire. But why get tossed over it? No harm was done. What further point is made by throwing a petulant fit?
And if his issue is the whole "warning" rule, one could argue that it's made to protect teams exactly like the Twins. This team, especially under Gardy's leadership, has absolutely shied away from any kind of beanball retaliation, even when it is clear their hitters are being thrown at. This year that seems to be a little bit different, with a little more feistiness, and it makes me wonder if the previous passive behavior was a result of Radke and/or Santana's leadership.
Again, I think Gardy is a much better manager than he is generally given credit. And in the big picture, this is small potatoes. But this has been an ongoing issue during the Gardenhire regime, and his reaction seems to be wholly ineffective at best, and puzzling, embarrassing and self-destructive at worst. Which brings us to our last comment....
It's a great question: does the manager stop managing after being ejected? I've always assumed the answer is no.
In the Twins case, I believe the answer is "yes". And furthermore, I believe Gardy's puzzling, embarrassing and self-destructive fit might well have cost the Twins that first game of the series.
I suspect that Gardy really does leave these kind of on-field decisions to one of his coaches because I keep seeing that delegation philosophy within the organization. You can sense that GM Bill Smith (and Terry Ryan before him) is sometimes legitimately frustrated with some of Gardy's playing time choices, but he will not interfere because he also understands the benefits of having some boundaries, like not having a manager look over his own shoulder. You get the same feeling when the team talks about the draft. You get that feeling when they talk about their minor league coaches. You even get that feeling with Gardenhire and his players. And I'd be shocked if it didn't extend to Gardy's staff. The idea of establishing limits in power to allow direct reports to do their job and face the consequences seems to be fundamental to this organization.
And that raises the question about whether Ullger was doing what he thought he was supposed to do, or what he wanted to do. Or, as I said on Monday night:
"But was Ullger sticking with Guerrier because he thought Guerrier was the designated eighth inning guy? If Gardy would have been making the moves, would it have been done differently, because he's more comfortable second-guessing himself than Ullger is second-guessing his boss?"
I have a high opinion of Gardenhire's feel for the bullpen, and tend to think it would have been played a bit differently, and turned out differently, if he was the one pulling the strings. That's part of why I wrote what I did on Monday night. It's rare that you see him miss an opportunity that gives his bullpen a clear advantage.
OK, that does it for this week. This weekend the Twins get a chance to bury the Indians and then bury the shovel. We'll talk to you on Monday and see if they take advantage of it.