The Twins haven't won a series since July, and considering they've taken on the post-strip-mining Indians twice and the hapless Royals once in that time, that's saying something. Specifically, what it's saying is that this season is over. Finished. Done-zo. Fin.
Most of you agree with me, judging by last night's poll. Unless the pitching staff makes a miraculous bootleg turn and veers over to "respectable", playoffs are not in Minnesota's future. And yet, 45 games are left to play, and honestly that 2010 season is coming up quicker than you might expect.
With that in mind, here's the five things that I think the Twins can still accomplish in 2009:
1. Start priming the Danny Valencia pump.
Few seem to doubt that Valencia is Minnesota's third baseman of the future, and with Joe Crede unlikely to be back next year, Valencia's going to have to start learning the major-league trade at some point. I can't think of a reason that some time in the majors would damage his development, unless he's super-fragile mentally, and if that's the case then he's probably not the answer in 2010 anyway. The remainder of the season would give Valencia some time to try his luck in the majors. (And - not to be too cynical here, but Crede's only at 338 plate appearances, and he's got plenty of bonuses coming up based on PAs. Valencia could save some money.)
Something has to give, here. Remember, Young is younger than Denard Span and only three months older than Gomez, so we're not talking about any wily veterans here, no matter what the service time says. Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel are both signed through 2010 with club options for 2011; Span, Gomez, and Young are all under team control through 2012 or 2013. We know Kubel will be the regular DH for the foreseeable future, Span seems to have locked down a lineup spot, and as for Cuddyer, the Twins aren't about to dump a team leader that has a 123 OPS+. We all know about the strengths and weaknesses of the two players - and neither is being well-served by playing only half the time. Something's gotta give here, and the team might as well figure that out over the rest of this season.
3. Let the starting rotation work out some issues.
Every starter is going out there and pressing - Francisco Liriano overthrows, Nick Blackburn stops driving with his lower body, Anthony Swarzak juts out his jaw and tries to throw the ball 135 miles an hour and actually through a hitter's bat. No doubt every pitcher in the rotation feels a target on his back, when what each one really needs is to get out there and work through his problems. Even if it turns into spring training on the mound, the young pitchers need to know that they should be out there working on their pitches, working on getting themselves to where they should be, rather than focusing exclusively on winning. (Put another way: I'm not sure we should see Carl Pavano every fifth day, either.)
4. Keep a few miles off the odometers in the bullpen.
There's really no reason for Matt Guerrier to pitch every other day, is what I'm saying. It'd be nice to get some chances for guys who the Twins hope to be late-inning guys soon - your Jose Mijareses and your Anthony Slamas, for example - rather than just reflexively going to Guerrier in the eighth inning.
He's hitting .377 again. He could win the batting title again. (If he went berserk, yes, he could conceivably chase .400, too.) Moreover, he has 22 home runs and should be a legitimate part of any discussion about AL MVP, even if the Twins finish 70-92. No matter how bad the Twins are, Mauer will always be a joy to watch.
(And there's that small matter of contracts and free agency and such, too. But I hardly need to explain that.)