The Twins absolutely crushed the Rangers on Monday night by a score of 15-2, and then went on to be outscored 19-2 in a couple of blowout losses on Tuesday night and yesterday afternoon. Much of this was thanks to poor outings from young starters Scott Baker and Boof Bonser, as well as complete ineptitude from the offense against a mediocre Texas pitching staff. Yesterday's was perhaps the most frustrating game of the season for the Twins' offense, as they collected 12 hits and drew five walks but managed to convert all those base-runners into just two runs as they hit into a mind-numbing five double plays (as well as a strike 'em out/throw 'em out in the third inning). The Twins have now lost two consecutive series at home, after having lost just one all season previously.
I am fully confident that the Twins have enough talent on their roster to make the post-season, but I don't think they will. Why? This team has been horribly mismanaged from top to bottom all season long, and still this trend shows no signs of stopping.
The Twins dug themselves into a seemingly inescapable early-season hole thanks in large part to bad decisions by the Twins' brain-trust. Starting Juan Castro and Tony Batista for two and a half months despite the clear presence of superior options cost the Twins greatly on both the offensive and defensive ends. Ron Gardenhire's hesitation to remove Kyle Lohse and Carlos Silva from the rotation and insert Francisco Liriano was another ugly mistake. Sending Jason Kubel down after a tough first week left the team with no real alternatives when Rondell White couldn't put things together.
In mid-June, after the organization finally caved in and turned things over to the youth, the Twins started rattling off wins at a staggering rate, and did the unthinkable by putting themselves back in the playoff picture. And now, with the season on the line, Gardenhire and Terry Ryan continue to make decisions that prevent the team from having the success it needs to have.
Is Matt Garza ready to pitch in the majors? I'm not sure. His strikeout rate has gone down since he arrived at Triple-A, which might suggest that the hitters are catching up with him; but at the same time, he's still only allowed 16 hits and seven runs in 27 innings in Rochester (good for a 2.33 ERA and .176 OBA). This kid is dominating in the highest level of the minor leagues. One thing that is almost certain is that Garza would have a better chance of helping the Twins win than Baker or Bonser, both of whom continue to prove that they are not ready to pitch in the majors at this point, and yet the team continues to throw those two out there in important games. Who knows how Garza's stuff will translate to the big leagues, but he would at least have an immediate advantage in that most clubs haven't been able to scout him much yet. The fact that Terry Ryan continues to mess with Bonser, Baker and Silva while leaving his best pitching prospect in the minors is tough to stomach. Now, with Bonser having predictably struggled again yesterday, the Twins sent him back down, but not to bring up Garza. No, instead they called up Mike Smith, a journeyman who the Twins brought in from the Phillies minor league system in the past off-season. Smith is having a decent year in Triple-A (3.52 ERA in 125.1 IP) but that is to be expected considering he's almost 30 and has logged nearly 500 innings at the Triple-A level in his career. Is he going to be the answer for the back end of the Twins rotation? I would venture to guess no.
Letting the 23-year-old Garza season in the minors for a while would be acceptable if the Twins were not in playoff contention, but when you're in a situation where you need to be winning ball-games, you've got to go to the guy who is most likely to give your team a chance to win, regardless of his age. If the Twins can't win games when Liriantanke is not on the mound, they are going to be in serious trouble for the rest of the season, particularly if Liriano's injury is more serious than the team is letting on.
Another issue that continues to hold the Twins back is Gardenhire's aggravating inflexibility with the batting lineup. When is he going to get Michael Cuddyer out of the cleanup spot? There is no reason that Justin Morneau should not be hitting in the four-spot for the Twins, if not every day than at least against right-handed pitchers. Cuddyer is hitting just .231 against righties this season, making it very easy for opposing teams to pitch around Joe Mauer without much risk. Meanwhile, Morneau is being robbed of opportunities because Cuddy so frequently strikes out in front of him. The excuse that Gardy continues to use for his current arrangement is that he doesn't want two lefties hitting back-to-back in the middle of the order, but that notion is completely discredited by the fact that both Mauer and Morneau are hitting southpaws extremely well this year.
It really seems to me like winning is a second priority to the Twins' management right now, which is a sad thing considering the team is within games of a wild-card spot. Hopefully the Twins can overcome the obstacles set by their own manager and GM and make a return to the post-season, but the odds are unfortunately stacked against them thanks to their own mistakes.