The following appears in the Dugout Splinters insert of GameDay for the Tuesday - Thursday series versus the Washington Nationals.
Batten Down the Hatches
This is it. We're entering that stretch of the season where the teams in the middle of the pack either make a run, fall away or, even worse, tread water. That's what the Twins did in '07, and all it did was confuse the heck out of everyone. Looking at the team as it is now, there are more than a few holes that need patching to keep the vessel afloat.
There are a couple of obvious positions that are pretty well afloat, and of course they're the predictable ones: catcher, first base, second base, closer. At any one time you could probably pick a pair of starting pitchers that are doing well, maybe even throw in a trio of relievers. Feeling generous? Jason Kubel's 10 homers and .758 OPS aren't horrible, so we'll count the designated hitter position as satisfactory, although he's done the best offensively while playing in left field.
What's Not Working...
Pretty much everything else. There's been a revolving door at third base and shortstop, which has netted the Twins some pretty mediocre defense, three home runs and a .239/.285/.327 line. While Brian Buscher and Matt Macri have succeeded in limited time this year, it's far too early into that experiment to deem it a successful platoon. The corner outfield positions haven't provided the power, or run production in general, that we were hoping for. Both Delmon Young and Michael Cuddyer have stepped up their contributions, but it's a long season, and they both have a long way to go. In center field, Carlos Gomez is playing good defense, but has only stolen two bases since May 11th, while getting caught five times in between. Then there's the pitching staff, which seems to leak runs at a much higher rate than Twins fans are used to. That includes the bullpen, which is going into its first home series without Juan Rincon.
Unfortunately, with the way this team is set up, there isn't a lot that can be done. There isn't any position player help to bring up, and Francisco Liriano won't resurface until after the All-Star break...unless Livan Hernandez gets traded or someone gets hurt. And those are two scenarios in their own rights. But with only one trade chip (whose stock isn't very high at the moment), it's what-you-see-is-what-you-get with the Twins. And if we're going to judge the next month and a half by what we've seen so far this season, we might be in for some stormy weather. Red sky in the morning...
Course and Heading?
If you're into the clues that will tell you where the team will be heading in the coming weeks, there are a couple of things you can be on the lookout for. First, note which major league pitcher is on the same schedule as Liriano. Liriano will be a starter when he does return, and he'll have to replace somebody. Second, make a note of how often Craig Monroe gets playing time. Denard Span is doing very well in Rochester, and if Monroe continues to struggle at the plate something might happen. Ron Gardenhire has expressed his desire to get Span onto his bench. Finally, take careful note of which relief pitchers are being put into high-leverage situations. Gardenhire manages his bullpen very well when there's a hierarchy, even if it's predictable, so look for him to establish roles. Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain and Dennys Reyes have decent numbers, but the results of his choices will also determine the back-end of the bullpen...and that's where the questions lie.
All-Stars: Who Should Go?
With the game less than a month away, it's a good time to start discussing potential representatives for the All-Star game. At its best, balloting for the mid-summer classic is a popularity contest. At it's worst, it can be seen as an exhibition in ignorance. While Joe Mauer trailed Boston backstop Jason Varitek by less than 41,000 votes on Monday, it was Ivan Rodriguez who came in third place for catchers. He of the .262/.304/.366 line is somehow beating out great seasons from Dioner Navarro (.327/.363/.446), Gerald Laird (.293/.351/.425) and A.J. Pierzynski (.301/.344/.437). Does it make sense? I'm not sure, but I'd love for you to tell me the last time All-Star voting got it right, because I'm clueless.
It's also fair to argue that you'd rather see names you recognize on the roster, which makes complete sense. Why vote for someone you've never heard of? But then we're getting into a completely different realm of questions having to deal with why exactly we vote for who we vote for. If you're voting for I-Rod over Navarro, it can only be because you recognize his name, and so you're voting him in based on the merits of his distinguished career. But is that how we vote? Are we voting for guys with great careers? Or are we voting for guys having great seasons?
So when you're sitting in your seats this month and someone comes by and hands out a fist full of ballots, ask them what we're supposed to be voting on. Ask your neighbor. Start a debate. It's baseball, and that's part of the fun!
ON THE HILL
Tuesday: Livan Hernandez (6-4, 5.84 ERA)
- ¨ 2008: 89.1 IP, 136 H, 28 K, 15 BB, 13 HR
- ¨ 2007: 11-11, 4.93 ERA, 204.1 IP, 247 H, 34 HR
- ¨ Fastball, changeup, curveball, slider
- ¨ Hernandez hasn't gone longer than six innings OR allowed fewer than five runs since May 17th.
- ¨ Don't let the ERA splits fool you (4.67 home, 7.00 away); the only real difference in the Dome is that he gets more ground ball outs. He's still being hit just as hard, and opponents are still reaching base just as often.
- ¨ That's the thing with Livan-it's not just how often he gets hit, but HOW he gets hit.
- ¨ The Twins need him to have a good start if they want to get back any trade value.
Wednesday: Kevin Slowey (3-6, 4.70 ERA)
- ¨ 2008: 51.2 IP, 52 H, 35 K, 7 BB, 9 HR
- ¨ 2007: 4-1, 4.73 ERA, 66.2 IP, 82 H, 47 K, 11 BB, 16 HR
- ¨ Fastball, changeup, curveball, slider
- ¨ After a brief bump in the road on June 8th, Slowey got back on track in his last start, going eight innings and allowing just a pair of runs.
- ¨ Slowey was actually "stronger" as his last outing went along-his first fastball was clocked at 89, his final one clocked at 93.
Thursday: Glen Perkins (2-2, 4.57 ERA)
- ¨ 2008: 45.1 IP, 59 H, 27 K, 12 BB, 8 HR
- ¨ 2007: 0-0, 3.14 ERA, 28.2 IP, 23 H, 20 K, 12 BB
- ¨ Fastball, changeup, curve/slurve
- ¨ Perkins notched his first quality starts in four chances his last time out, lasting six innings in Milwaukee.
- ¨ He doesn't get many ground balls, and hitters square up well on his stuff, but if he can keep the ball in the park and the defense keeps the miscues to a minimum, he'll mitigate the damage.
- ¨ While he doesn't throw the breaking ball(s) as often as his fastball/changeup combo, they're vitally important to his success. He'll need to throw them for strikes.