Eye of the Tiger

Oh my, oh my....oh my...

This was more painful than 1998.  I realize time has passed, and therefor my pain from the season has probably receeded and has now dulled to the point that it's nothing more than a shadow of it's former self...but still.  Today was one hell of a hideous display of talent, luck and sportsmanship.

Talent, because on this rainy Saturday in Minneapolis our talent playing in Detroit was outmatched in every fashion by the talent of the Tigers.  Luck, because the Tigers were hitting homers off shoestrings and hits fell in all the absurd places.  Sportsmanship, because there were plays where our guys gave up on the ball in play.  Maybe they gave up altogether at some point, I don't know.  Whatever happened this afternoon in Detroit, something terrible has happened.

An amazing thing about sports, and baseball specifically, is that everything is different on any given day.  Baseball's bottom feeders have days where they beat up teams comprised of perennial All Stars and future Hall of Fame players.  This could have been the case today, but I have more than a nagging sense that today was less the exception and more the rule.  Today, the Twins made the case that they aren't anything better than the fourth best team in the American League Central Division.  On most days I could happily make the argument that the Twins are contenders in spite of an ugly loss--I can't do that today.

At 9-14, the Twins have allowed 142 runs, good for worst in all of baseball.  Having scored 97 runs makes us good enough to be tied for 26th in all of baseball.  Changes need to be made.  You can argue, if you like, that it's too early.  Unfortunately there are players we're wasting time with that aren't making us any better.  There are younger, more talented players who may not guarantee us the immediate wins but DO give us the promise of additional wins in the future.

Rondell White

He was looking good, in spite of the fact that he couldn't buy a hit.  Bat had been making good contact on ball; ball had been making good contact with opposing fielders.  Over the last week, however, he looks like he has nothing left in the tank.  Whether it's frustration with his troubles at the dish, my misinterpretation, or if it is indeed a complete loss of talent, it doesn't matter any longer.  Roughly 1/8th of the way through 2006 the Twins are wasting better than $3,000,000 on a player who can't break a .150 OBP, or play enough defense to make up the difference.  When hitting Mike Redmond as your everyday DH would yield better results, it's time to cut bait.

How do the Twins deal with one of their "Big 3" free agents?  Cutting White means admitting they've wasted what is, for the Twins, a significant dollar figure.  Is this worse than staying committed to a player even if he's not performing, simply to not "throw the money away"?  There's always the option of keeping Rondell White on the bench.  It's a lot for the Twins to pay for a role player, but it's the middle ground between the two aforementioned options.

Tony Batista

If you didn't have the pleasure of watching Tony B. rumble over to the third base seats in an "effort" to get to a foul ball this afternoon, you've missed what has become the quintessential Batista moment.  As the ball came off the Tiger bat and arced toward the seats, the camera focuses on Batista who is seen lumbering toward the wall while trying to keep his head turned over his shoulder to follow the ball.  As he sensed the wall get near, he stutter stepped and reached out with his glove...about six inches away from his body.  The foul ball landed in the first row.  Easy catch for a player who is One, athletic in any sense of the word and Two, not grotesquely out of shape.

I'm being harsh but there's a reason.  There was no real effort in Batista as he waddled through foul territory.  There was no urgency to get to the ball.  It was reminiscent of Morneau's play on Wednesday where he didn't even try to get to the foul ball in Kansas City.  It's infuriating for me, but it's embarassing to not only the player but the Twins as an organization.  Your players represent your team, and if this is the effort the Twins are going to get from a guy like Tony Batista, the retribution by the organization should be swift.

As far as Batista goes, I don't know if there's any use keeping him on the team at all.  His contract isn't guaranteed.  If anyone thinks there's something left to gain by keeping Fatista in uniform, speak now or forever hold your peace.

Torii Hunter

Hunter gave up on a ball hit into no-man's land in right-center field.  Michael Cuddyer made a nice dive, albeit futile if an effort to make an out, simply because it stopped the ball from rolling to the wall.  Cuddyer's dive knocked the ball down.

Without the insight of being able to see the play develop from an outfield standpoint, it's impossible for me (or for anyone else watching the game on television) to say whether or not Hunter should have had the ball.  Whether he could have gotten there or not, his effort at the end of the play wasn't there.  He didn't run it out; he pulled up as the ball came in.  Perhaps he thought Cuddyer was closer than he was, or that it was Cuddyer's ball to begin with.  Unfortunately for Torii, the lack of total effort (which we take for granted from a player like Hunter in the field) was blatant, and this is what people noticed.

Hunter's plate discipline was again reason for pulling out your hair, but it's no different than most other games.  For the Twins no one can carry a team for a week or two weeks or a month like Torii Hunter...but this hasn't been the case for April.  Hunter has had an infuriatingly slow start, like the rest of the middle of the batting order, and his lack of strike zone judgement (or perhaps just strike zone acknowledgement) is keeping the Twins from scoring runs.

Watching the White Sox tonight put something in perspective for me.  Jermaine Dye has half the talent of Torii Hunter, yet Hunter will not have the career or prestige Dye has had as a hitter.  Dye takes pitches, controls the plate, and can control where he hits the ball, better than Torii.  These are the things that make Dye a better hitter.  If Jermaine Dye had the same approach at the plate at Hunter, he'd be a bench player at best.  But he doesn't, and he's a force to be reckoned with.

I love you Torii, I'm always going to, but he needs to realize what he needs to do to help the team, and just do it.  If that means he can't "hack" at the plate anymore, even if that means he "won't be the same player", it's what needs to be done.

Carlos Silva

I was worried prior to the season that 2005 was as good as it was going to get for Carlos.  There's no way he'll ever walk just 9 men in a season again while pitching nearly 200 innings.  His strikeout rates are too low for a guy who gives up as many hits as he does, ESPECIALLY when the sinker doesn't sink and he can't get the double plays that kept him out of so much trouble last season.

In 29.2 innings pitched he's allowed 35 runs, 34 of them earned.  He's retired 9 men on strikes.  He hasn't allowed less than 5 runs on any watch.  Between Silva and Radke, the Minnesota starting rotation is in shambles, and this leaves the Twins in big, BIG trouble.  Both of them are having issues with being hit.  What the Twins need to figure out is if it's in the mechanics, if they're telling their pitches, if they're just getting hit, or if there's something more dire in the books.  I sincerely hope it's one of the first two, because those are the easiest, quickest and least painful to fix.

Conclusions

I'm usually pretty reserved when it comes to passing judgement on a player, especially this early in the season and when I'm basically calling for some massive changes.  Today I'm calling for massive changes.

Tony Batista needs to be cut.  After a hot first couple weeks he's come crashing down, as he's 1-10 in the last three games and 4-22 in his last six played.  He hasn't walked once in the same timespan.  Combine this with shit defense (did you also see him drop a ball twice on the same play?) and I've had quite enough of the Batista experiment.  We knew when to stop wasting at-bats on Bret Boone, let's be sure to be as efficient with Tony B.

Rondell White needs to be regulated to bench duty if he's also not to be cut.  His presence in the order isn't felt in any way but through the agony of the fans and the Twins pitching staff.  Coming off the bench I could agree to, if only because Ruben Sierra swung himself into retirement this afternoon.

In the outfield there will be a number of changes.  Lew Ford will move from right field to left field in order to make room for Jason Kubel.  Kubel never should have been sent down, since it's impossible for a guy who's supposed to be your best hitting prospect to gain major league experience at AAA.  Shannon Stewart will move to DH, where his bat won't be lost but his diminishing range and glass arm will be.

In the infield, Cuddyer will move back to third base, where we can hope he can hold down the fort for one more season and we cross our fingers that Matt Moses is ready for 2007.  Luis Rodriguez and Nick Punto can spell Cuddyer at third.  Jason Bartlett would be brought up for good, where the rest of his learning will be done on the job.  What you do with Juan Castro doesn't matter, because his role is redundant and more expensive than his contemporaries on the roster.

All these moves will leave you with a lineup that looks something like this.

POS  PLAYER
2B   Luis Castillo
C    Joe Mauer
DH   Shannon Stewart
1B   Justin Morneau
CF   Torii Hunter
RF   Jason Kubel
LF   Lew Ford
3B   Michael Cuddyer
SS   Jason Bartlett

It's unfortunate that Morneau and Hunter still are in the middle of the order, but there's nobody else that can hit there, either.  Kubel needs to stay toward the middle of the order without the immediate pressure of being in the constant position to drive in runs.  Although, really, I'm not sure he could be worse than Morneau and Hunter right now.

After you've made these moves, the intra-organizational moves, then you can worry about what you can do outside the organization.  We'll talk about that tomorrow.  In the meantime, I'm sure there's plenty to vent about.  Have a good time.

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