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Holy Garza!

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Twins beat Mariners, crawl back to within one game of .500.

Offense abounded once again on Wednesday night, touching Seattle starting pitcher Horatio Ramirez for six runs in five innings.  Redmond, Cuddyer and Morneau connected for early RBI and Jason Bartlett hit his fourth longball of the season en route to eleven Twins runs, the win and another good performance from Matt Garza until the bottom of the eighth.

Matt Garza and Francisco Liriano, born one month apart and who will both be 24 for 2008, will be points of optimism in the upcoming offseason.  Each of the power arms found success after a less than stellar first bout with the majors:  Liriano struggled with control and the longball in '05 before lighting up '06, and Garza started locating his sharp breaking ball in '07 to compliment his great heat.

First 7 Starts, Sophomore Season
Name       IP   ERA   WHIP   K/9  BB/9  HR/9

Liriano  43.2   1.66  0.90  8.72  3.12  0.42
Garza    42.0   2.14  1.26  7.71  3.21  0.21

Liriano allowed just two home runs in this span and Garza one, which is pretty amazing.  Most of us expected F-Bomb to be good...but not as good as he was.  Most of us expected Garza to be better than he was last year, but again...not as good as he's been.  Beyond the traditional statistics however, they've not been quite as similar.

Extended Statistics
Name         GB%  BABIP  K/PA   DERA  LOB%

Liriano '06  57%   .283  30.4%  2.36  83.2%
Garza '07    45%   .320  23.0%  2.31  83.3%

Garza's BABIP is significantly higher than Liriano's, while his defense-independent ERA is virtually identical.  Either Garza has been unlucky in allowing baserunners but is getting some pretty strong help from an above average defense, or Liriano's higher ground-ball percentage meant he was keeping a lot more batted balls in the infield that were turned into outs.

What ultimately tells the story of the differing performances is that each pitcher stranded a scarily similar percentage of baserunners.  Garza has had at least a little luck on his side up to this point in the season.

Preview:  Off-Season Checklist

This is what I was going to do tonight until I decided to run a comparison of the two arms above.  What follows is something I'll edit as the season works into September, and eventually I'll use it as a grading tool for what should prove to be a very exciting, eventful and telling winter.

1(A).  Extend Johan Santana

Priority number one.  By now most of you have probably read Jayson Stark's excellent Santana-situation run-down, and while it doesn't share much that's new with us here in Minnesota it does let us know that everyone else knows exactly what the stakes are.  If the Twins, Carl Pohlad and Terry Ryan expect Santana to be with the Twins beyond 2008, a deal will need to be consumated in the next four to five months.

1(B).  The Torii Hunter Quagmire

This encompasses everything, because this decision could have very large effects on Minnesota's payroll, fan draw and ultimately team success over the next five years.  So the situation must be addressed fully and, no matter which route is taken, the Twins will be graded not on which path they travel but how they travel it.  Re-sign, sign-and-trade, sign-and-keep, walk, who will play center field, who will make up the offensive contribution?  It's a very deep and cavernous chasm.

As important as the Santana situation is, the decision on our long-time center fielder could be called The Hunter Effect in a couple of years.  Giggidy-giggidy.

2.  Free Agent Acquisitions

Understandably, Terry Ryan has spent sparingly in the free agent market.  Unfortunately not enough of the gambles have paid off, and as a result the Twins were unable to add help to a solid core.  Signings of failed (and in some cases unwise) experiments like Ramon Ortiz, Rondell White, Sidney Ponson, Ruben Sierra and Tony Batista dwarf the moderate contributions of free agents like Mike Redmond, Dennys Reyes, Jason Tyner, Jose Offerman or Jeff Cirillo.  The Twins need to spend less time worrying about how younger players will fill roles and concentrate on which positions need upgrading the most.  Choosing reclaimation starting pitcher projects over starting position players and position player depth seems like a wasteful decision now, but was a highly dubious decision even when it was initially made.

Terry Ryan and Carl Pohlad want to run the Minnesota Twins like a business-which is exactly what they should do, because the Twins are a business.  Businesses are designed to make money.  Unfortunately there's a track record developing of the organization taking risks where the best you could hope for was "Oh...well that's not too bad", instead of taking risks where there's actually an upside.  Rondell White was a failed experiment, but at least it was a smart one.  The best upside to signings like Ortiz and Ponson was that they didn't cost more.

3.  Major League Depth

This is something the Twins have been lacking for some time.  While depth seems to be mounting in pitching at most levels and hitting at the lower levels, the 25-man roster has an astonishing lack of offensive talent for a franchise that sees itself as a contender.  While some of this depth can be addressed through the aforementioned free agent market, it can also be addressed via trade.

There are a number of places to look for answers in regards to external acquisitions.  Search for blocked prospects, redundancy or productive veterans with expiring contracts...or a combination of all three.  We know who our obvious chips are, but there's plenty of room to be creative.

4.  Sign Cuddyer and Morneau to multi-year contracts

Yes, Cuddyer's summer hasn't been as productive as last year and yes, last season's MVP plays at a position where his numbers don't stand out too far from a number of other players at his position, but there just aren't many good reasons to not sign these two.  There will be a lot of turnover in position players over the next two or three years, and solidifying the middle parts of the batting order would make a loud statement about the direction of the franchise.

5.  Left Field, Designated Hitter, Third Base

Something, ANYTHING needs to be done.  What is done and how it's done will determine how this off-season grade is given.

Conclusions

It's been a long time between wins, and it was refreshing seeing the offense bust out some hits again last night.  Let's hope it's not another drought between Tuesday night and the next time our offense can mount five runs or more.  Anyway, tonight I go to bed happy.  Alexi Casilla has looked promising, Jason Bartlett is turning his season around, Torii Hunter had a great game and Matt Garza has been pitching outstandingly.  I'm almost excited to see what happens Wednesday night...

Almost?  Pfft.  I am so ready for tonight.