Following a sad series against the Boston Red Sox at home this last weekend and the news that Joe Mauer is on the 15-day DL, some provocative questions need to be asked. No, I am not trying to ascertain deep philosophical answers. Instead, I'm looking for the answer to a much more simple question: Is there any hope for the Twins with Mauer on the DL?
Mauer is going to missed big-time with the upcoming series against White Sox, Tigers, Indians, Brewers, and most likely the Rangers, if not the late May series against the Blue Jays. The Rangers and Blue Jays are losing teams right now, but either one could easily give the Twins trouble. After all, these Twins couldn't hit Jae Seo, Julian Tavarez, or Odalis Perez recently.
Even if the Rangers offense continues to struggle (.241 average right now), they are still hitting with plenty of power. And this is all ignoring the three series that Mauer's absence will hurt the worst: Tigers, Brewers, and Indians. The White Sox are only a .500 team right now, but both the Indians and Brewers are leading their divisions, while the Tigers obviously have been pretty good themselves.
What will it take to win? Other than what my associate suggested yesterday, which is the resurgence of Justin Morneau, is to hope that Micheal Cuddyer has a big month, to hope that Torii Hunter doesn't slow down significantly, and to make some serious moves. After all, the Twins have a lineup going out there that has gone homerless in 183 consecutive plate appearances. What kind of moves? As we have discussed before, Terry Ryan is more than a little cautious when it comes to trades, so it's hard to expect him to trade Scott Baker or a different pitching prospect for the offensive upgrade the Twins desperately need, even if they've been treating Baker recently like a C-grade prospect. At this point, with Baker's stock high and the Twins seemingly unwilling to give him another shot, it would make sense to deal him for a bat.
Obviously, a plan like that would be great for the Twins, but it's probably not going to happen, at least not soon. However, there is a "trade" that Ryan could easily make to improve their chances this month: Sidney Ponson for Baker or Kevin Slowey. The Twins don't really have many teams move to make, since they have no catching prospects ready to replace Mauer and, although Dennys Reyes hasn't been very good this year, Mike Venafro or Ricky Barrett likely wouldn't be better.
However, Baker or Slowey, or even Matt Garza, would certainly be better than Ponson has been thus far. This offseason, when the Twins signed Ponson, my sentiment was that they were screwing around and wasting time they didn't have. The experiment would go on for a while, he wouldn't do so well, and the Twins would lose some games they couldn't afford to lose. That's basically what has happened.
Sure, you could say that Ponson has been good recently (and the Twins certainly have, as Gardy remarked after the game that Ponson "did his job" and that he made "one mistake really ended up costing him," referring to his throwing error), as he's only given up four earned runs in his last 12 innings for a 2.92 ERA. However, even with a low ERA in those innings, Ponson still posted a 1.54 WHIP and .277 OBA, allowing 19 baserunners. Frankly, a 10/6 strikeout-to-walk ratio doesn't bode well and neither does a 22/15 strikeout-to-walk ratio overall.
I have to agree with Aaron Gleeman, who wrote in his post yesterday that the Ponson experiment needed to be ended, as Ponson isn't "fooling anyone" and has allowed 66 baserunners in 33 2/3 innings. That amounts to a 1.87 WHIP, good for worst in the AL and second worst in the bigs next to Anibal Sanchez's 2.07 WHIP. If those numbers don't stand out, then take a lot at the .338/.413/.563 line he's allowed to hitters. When you allow a .563 slugging percentage to opposing hitters, you are doing something wrong.
If the Twins want a chance, they'll have to make this move first. If they did make a move for a hitter, it would be best to try and get a DH with a short contract. We've mentioned Cliff Floyd as an option, but someone like Morgan Ensberg or even Jay Gibbons would help this anemic offense. (They also could have easily gotten Jack Cust if Oakland didn't snatch him up first.) Or, the Twins could make Seth Stohs happy and trade for Chris Coste, who is blocked in the Phillies' minor-league system and would solve the backup catcher dilemma while also providing a part-time DH who might potentially homer once in a while.
Those sound like desperation moves and they are. If the Twins want to stay competitive this month without the great Joe Mauer, desperation is going to have to become a theme for this team.