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A Conversation: Shoulder Angel vs. Shoulder Devil

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You've all seen the cliche cartoon sequence when the protagonist, faced with a choice between good and evil, is visited by the Shoulder Angel and the Shoulder Devil.  On one side is the conscience, usually clad in white, offering the side of truth and justice - the superego.  On the other side - nothing but id, bedecked in crimson, a proponent of evil, carelessness, and wildness.

Twins fans, too, are stuck with a similar dichotomy: on one side, the optimistic viewpoint; on the other, the pessimists.  With Minnesota now sitting at 18-20, and staring another 25-33 start in the face, there are opinions on both sides of every debate.  Below, I confront the issues, along with my trusty Angel on my right shoulder, and my careless devil on my left.

JM: Well, guys, the TBT - that's Twins Brain Trust - has done it again; we've started the season with a veteran ballclub, and we're in the crapper.  It's just like last year, except with fewer Tony Batista jokes.

ANGEL: That Tony Batista was a good example for the kids, what with the back pocket hanging out and all.

DEVIL: Yeah - he's proof positive that you can, in fact, fool some of the people some of the time, as long as those people are Terry Ryan and Ron Gardenhire.  The youth of America really needed that lesson.

ANGEL: Now, that's just stupid - Ryan and Gardenhire are almost unanimously known as one of the top GMs and one of the top managers, respectively, in baseball today.

DEVIL: As voted on by people in baseball - say, Joe Morgan, or Ozzie Guillen, or whoever it was that just traded for Byung-Hyun Kim.

JM: Somebody traded for Kim?

DEVIL: The Marlins did - and they're planning to start him.  I guess that 10.50 ERA he put together in Colorado really convinced them that he deserved to get the ball every fifth day.

JM (looking rightward): Don't you have anything good to say here?

ANGEL: No.  Although I think somebody should check to make sure that the guys behind the movie Major League aren't filming the Marlins as a documentary for the special features on the next edition of the DVD.

JM: What about Nick Punto?  What's the deal with him this year?

ANGEL: Yes, he's been poor this year - hitting .218, slugging .290, we all know the numbers.  But he's walking more - his on-base percentage is .312, which isn't great - but as Joe Christensen pointed out on StarTribune.com today, it's actually better than every other third baseman in the division except for Casey Blake.  And made only his first error of the season tonight, after 33 games at third.  That has to count for something.

DEVIL: That's idiotic - you can't give Punto credit for the fact that everybody else stinks too.  We need to face facts here; Punto's OPS is .602, and he's only broken the .700 barrier once in his career (last season).  There wasn't a regular third baseman in the major leagues last year that had a sub-.700 OPS.  Heck, there were only nine regulars in the entire league with a sub-.700 OPS last season.  Punto's an offensive liability at a position that demands production, and the only reason he's still in the lineup is that he's short and slides into first base, which makes him look like he's hustling.

JM: How about the starting staff?  Sidney Ponson is already gone -

ANGEL: Good riddance.

JM: Aren't you supposed to be nice?

ANGEL: Nice stops somewhere short of a .335 opponents' batting average.

JM: Right.  Here's the question: while we're at it, should we just ditch Silva and Ortiz and get it over with early?

DEVIL: Without question.  We saw tonight what's going to happen with these two guys long-term: their best isn't that great, and when they blow up, it's going to be spectacularly ugly.  Ortiz faced 11 guys and eight of them got on base, six of them scoring.  The Twins might as well have forfeited and stayed at the hotel.  Better that guys like Matt Garza, Kevin Slowey, and Scott Baker start learning at the major-league level, rather than just dominating the Eastern League.

ANGEL: Who are you, Dusty Baker?  The Twins have a proven track record with bringing guys along slowly - see Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano, for two.  And Silva and Ortiz, while neither are Cy Young winners, give the Twins the best chance to win now.  If either of them melts down, Ponson-style, then we can talk, but for now the Twins are better off giving Carlos and Ramon the ball on the third and fourth days and letting them throw.

JM: Speaking of those young arms - given the Twins' problems at the plate this year, is it time to trade a few of those pitchers for a decent hitter?

ANGEL: Let's not panic here.  Pitching is the one thing that nobody has enough of in the majors, which might make the Twins unique.  Here's the thing: all of those prospects will probably be needed at one time or another with the big club.  Ortiz and Silva won't last forever - and neither will some of the bullpen, for that matter.  Better to have backup options in the pitching department than totally mortgage the future in the hopes of picking up a second-rate designated hitter.

DEVIL: Are you kidding?  The Twins have used Jason Tyner at designated hitter four times this year.  That's outrageous!  If the AL had known that Tyner would be a designated hitter in the major leagues, they probably would have decided, "Ah, the heck with it - we might as well just let the pitcher bat anyway."   Right now, Minnesota is staring at below-average hitters in left, at third, and at designated hitter, with no real bench strength to speak of.  This team can't get by with having a third of its lineup be near-automatic outs that have no power.  They need a bat now, and keeping the 2009 starting staff intact isn't a good enough reason to mortgage their chances this season.

JM: So, let's wrap it up - what are the Twins' chances this year?

ANGEL: Well, look how last season turned out.  There are 124 games still to play, and it's plenty of time for the Twins to get it in gear.  Santana, Boof, and the fifth spot in the rotation haven't been as good as they will be over a long season, and once the offense gets healthy, they'll be fine too.  This team won 96 games last year and hasn't changed a heck of a lot - there's no reason that an 18-20 start should prevent them from duplicating last year.

DEVIL: Last season was last season.  Get with the present - the Twins are weak on the starting staff and have holes in their batting order, and there's no guarantee that they can stay healthy this year.  And don't forget that three of baseball's best teams are in the Central Division along with Minnesota.  There's no room for error, and the Twins just aren't good enough to compete with the guys they have in place.

JM: Giving up already?

DEVIL: Yep.

ANGEL: Never.

We know you've got an argument raging in your soul, too.  What's going back and forth in your mind? Ready to trade Johan Santana?  Ready to fire Gardy?  The comments would be a good place to talk about it - even if, like me, you have to talk to yourself...