Ho hum, another 2-4 week as the Twins struggle to close out another baseball season like they give a damn. Let's check in with some of my favorite topics over the last few months to see how things are shaking out:
Danny Santana, what is he?
Since I last wrote about him on August 25, Santana has hit a perfectly respectable .281/.313/.391. His walk rate remains atrocious, and he has struck out 18 times in 17 games, but he continues to show that he's a solid major league hitter who can be counted on to contribute to the next successful Twins club. Unfortunately, he has only made three starts in thirteen games this September at shortstop, despite being talked about as the club's future at the position. Eduardo Nunez and Doug Bernier have also been given starts at the spot. At this point, I'd assume that Eduardo Escobar will open next year at shortstop and Santana in centerfield. The Twins aren't giving any indication otherwise.
Is this Aaron Hicks's last shot?
I think it was, and Hicks acted like it in retooling his approach at the plate to conform a little more closely to the "Twins way," if that still exists. While he was criticized for being too patient in the past, Hicks has only walked twice in 29 plate appearances since his recall, and while he is seeing 3.76 pitches per plate appearance, his approach with two strikes has changed drastically (as much as one can tell from 29 plate appearances), in that he has only taken one called third strike. To provide some context, in his first go around with the Twins this year, he struck out looking in 15.4 percent of his plate appearances. It's possible that this is a random blip, or that he's taken a more aggressive approach to protect the plate with his back against the wall. Either way, it hasn't affected his overall strikeout rate much and he has not played for the last three games. He's hitting .259/.310/.296 for the month and has probably been overtaken by Jordan Schafer for the fourth outfield spot next spring.
Is it time to rest Kurt Suzuki?
Indeed, Suzuki has only started behind the plate eight times this month, with Josmil Pinto getting the majority of the other starts. He is hitting .246/.312/.348 in the second half, so giving him as much rest as possible and hoping his first half wasn't an illusion is a good idea. Pinto has four doubles and two walks in his first 22 plate appearances since his call up.
Should the Twins call up May and Meyer?
The question of Alex Meyer was solved for the Twins, as shoulder problems prompted them to shut the potential ace down for the year without making an appearance. May has been up and may have finally found his footing over the last three starts. His first start was historically awful, as he allowed the second most walks of all time among pitchers who lasted three innings or less. In September, he has struck out 19 batters in 16 innings against just five walks and has a 4.50 ERA. He's been very unlucky in terms of the number of hits he's allowed, but with the Twins' defense behind him that can be forgiven. He looks to have an inside track on a rotation spot next spring, and it will be well deserved.
Can Kennys Vargas hit enough to have a job?
He absolutely can, but I remain unconvinced he will. I get that everyone loves Vargas right now. What's not to love? He's provided a lot of power and great quotes. He also has walked just four times in 182 plate appearances. That puts him in a virtual tie with Stefen Romero for the lowest walk rate in the game among players with at least 100 plate appearances, and he has struck out in more than a quarter of those PAs. There have been 11 players with more than 200 plate appearances, fewer than 10 walks, and more than 50 strikeouts in baseball history who posted an OPS+ over 100. One of those is Dave Parker. That feels like as great an outcome as it is unlikely.
Who is Joe Mauer?
Since coming off of the DL in August, Mauer has hit .277/.396/.411. It's not the Mauer we are used to seeing, but in a depressed offensive environment, it's entirely acceptable. That .806 OPS would rank fifth in the American league among players who played at least 50 games at 1B, just behind Carlos Santana. Santana's been worth about three wins, and that's pretty damn good. Now, if Joe can just stay healthy...
Is Ricky Nolasco all better?
One absolute disaster aside, Nolasco has been pretty solid for the last month for the Twins. His velocity is back up and is coming off of a great start against the Indians. A lot of people wrote off Nolasco's contract as a fiasco. As long as his arm is healthy (and/or he speaks up when it isn't), that won't be the case over the long run.
Is Ron Gardenhire equipped to lead in 2015?
I don't know. I go back and forth on this a lot. He refuses to platoon players like Arcia, and may have fallen too in love with Jordan Schafer (though Schafer's undeniably hot right now, and fun to watch). The culture of hiding injuries hasn't changed as the year has progressed, but players have come back relatively strong from them, especially compared to previous years. The pitching staff has been awful, but aside from sticking with Mike Pelfrey and giving 11 starts to Yohan Pino, I can't really argue with his decisions there. I doubt another manager could have done better. I would like him to write Santana in at shortstop for at least half of the remaining games and give Pinto and Hicks more opportunities to hit, but I don't think his failure to do so has any bearing on how he would handle 2015 and beyond. His obsession with losing the DH and needing thirteen pitchers potentially cripples this club and leaves them shorthanded regularly and always will, and for that I suppose he's not my choice to lead this team. But I don't think there's a convincing case he should be fired aside from the fact that the club will have lost 90 games for four seasons in a row. Terry Ryan doesn't seem to see that as Gardy's fault, so I'm convinced he's going to come back with the entire coaching staff. So I guess the question doesn't really matter all that much, equipped or not, he's all ours.