Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Late Season Contention Issues

The Twins have won 5 of their last 6 games, and in the past two have gone up against the best-pitching team in the AL and put up 13 runs (granted, in 25 innings). Watching these games has given many Twins fans (including this one) a small jolt of excitement, and a feeling that maybe this team that is just five games out of the Wild Card spot could make a legitimate post-season run here in the last six weeks of the season. Johan Santana and Brad Radke have been pitching very well, Justin Morneau is starting to crush the ball again, Joe Mauer has been outstanding, and a lot of other things have been going well. However, there are a few factors that seriously limit the likeliness of a post-season run.

Lack of outfield depth.
Getting back to blaming Terry Ryan, the Twins' outfield is absolutely miserable right now. Shannon Stewart got hurt last night, and it apparently wasn't too serious but he might miss some time. If he doesn't play tonight, and neither does Jones, it means Nick Punto would likely have to start in the outfield, creating one of the lightest-hitting starting outfield trios (Punto/Ford/Ryan) any team in the league has probably started in a game this year. The fact that Mike Ryan is our primary backup and forced to start with Jones missing some time over the past several games is pathetic on its own... the kid is TERRIBLE. He looks more lost at the plate than any of the terrible hitters I have seen take hacks in a Twins uniform. And yet he continues to start because there are simply no other options. Ryan couldn't make a deal to add even some depth before the deadline, and now the Twins may pay dearly for that.

Joe Mays continues to start.
I have trouble believing that the T-Ryan and Gardy themselves even think the Twins have a shot at the playoffs, because they continue to start losing machine Joe Mays. The Twins pitching staff has been absolutely outstanding since the break, with the exception of Mays who has been worse than mediocre. It would be acceptable to have him going once every five days if it weren't for the fact that the Twins have two of the league's brightest pitching prospects - one proven in the Majors already - sitting in AAA. Even if they weren't in contention for the playoffs, there's no excuse for Mays continuing to start while continue to not get experience in the bigs.

The offense is still insufficient.
The Twins somehow won that weekend series in Oakland without scoring more than two runs in a game, a testament to some terrific pitching. That's not going to happen very often. It was nice to see the Twins burst out with some runs last night, but that was over 16 innings. The offense needs to gain more consistently and start scoring 4-5 runs on a regular basis if the winning is to continue. And why do the Twins have so much difficulty scoring? Really, it comes down to the final topic I will bring up, which is the main thing that separates the first-place White Sox from the third-place Twins...

The Twins CANNOT execute.
Even last night this fact was dreadfully clear. Whether it was Lew Ford's hideous bunt attempt pop-out or the team's inability to bring Joe Mauer home from third with one out, there are way too many players on this team who just can't do the little things. Every player on the Sox roster can make the plays they need to make, and that's why their record is what it is. Even our old friend AJ dropped a nice sacrifice bunt down the line last night to put the winning run in scoring position in one of the late innings. Executing doesn't mean bringing all the runners home with a big hit, it means doing the things that you should easily be able to do, and that any Major League player should be able to do regularly. While it is acceptable to screw up on execution every now and then, it is a rarity that the Twins' hitters are able to execute properly. That either comes down to bad baseball players or bad coaches.

I'm certainly not ruling out the Twins' post-season chances, although it is an extreme long-shot because they will have to overcome some pretty hot teams to get there, and they don't have any games left against Oakland or New York. That said, there's no way they're even going to come close if they can't turn around some of the above-listed issues.

If somehow they were able to sneak in though - with their pitching - who knows what could happen.