Monday, May 07, 2007

No End In Sight

After their 4-3 loss to the Red Sox yesterday, the Twins have lost five of their last seven games and now sit just one game above .500. The team has been plagued by injuries and extremely poor offensive production, and it's not looking like things will be getting any better in the near future. Tomorrow night the Twins open a three-game series against the White Sox before battling a couple more tough divisional foes in the Tigers and Indians. These teams can all score runs, and if the Twins can't turn it around and find a way to score more than two or three times in a game, they will have a hard time avoiding sweeps in these series. Unfortunately, there's no reason to believe an offensive uptick is in the offing.

In their three-game series against the Red Sox, the Twins scored just five runs over three games. With the way the pitching staff performed, holding Boston's outstanding offense to just seven runs in the series, this should have been at least a series victory for the Twins. They lost two of the three games because their bats fell completely silent in front of three sizable home crowds.

There is no end in sight to the Twins' offensive struggles. Yesterday the lineup didn't force Red Sox starter Curt Schilling to throw more than 13 pitches in an inning until the seventh, when they finally got to him for three runs. Sadly, that wouldn't be quite enough. Too many players are not producing. As much as I've stuck up for him and encouraged fans to be patient, Jason Kubel is not getting the job done. He went 0-for-3 with a couple strikeouts yesterday and is now hitting a paltry .244/.296/.311 on the season. The Twins need to be getting more production out of that corner outfield spot. Kubel has been getting regular at-bats for a few weeks now; it's time to start seeing some consistent production from him. Justin Morneau has been slumping badly, and the Twins are really missing his production from the middle of the lineup. He is hitting .250/.296/.292 in May so far. Most alarming is the apparent deterioration of his plate approach. After posting an even 13:13 strikeout-t0-walk ratio in April, Morneau has already struck out eight times in 24 May at-bats while drawing just two walks. He needs to get himself out this slump because the middle of the lineup will need him now more than ever.

Why is that? Because his counterpart in the M&M duo is apparently going to be on the shelf for a while. The Twins placed Joe Mauer and his .353 batting average on the disabled list yesterday due to a quadricep injury. Says La Velle E. Neal III of Mauer's injury: "There’s a lump in his leg, plus a little bleeding. There’s a chance that 15 days won’t be enough, although the Twins are crossing their fingers." That's not particularly encouraging. Mike Redmond will get most of the playing time at catcher over the next several weeks, which doesn't sound too bad since Redmond has generally hit well during his time with the Twins and he has come up with numerous clutch hits so far this season. Unfortunately, Redmond has been rather terrible overall this season, with a .246/.290/.292 hitting line. Replacing Mauer on the roster will be Chris Heintz, who is hitting .277/.296/.319 with a 10:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in Triple-A. Yay.

Torii Hunter picked up a pair of hits to extend his hitting streak to 21 games yesterday, but it stands to reason that he's going to come down to Earth soon. By that same token, guys like Morneau and Kubel will probably start to pick it up a bit, and Michael Cuddyer's projected return to the lineup on Tuesday after missing several games with a bruised back should give the lineup an additional boost. Nonetheless, the loss of Mauer is going to hurt. Unless this lineup can really pick up the pace, there will be a lot of pressure on the pitching staff to hold down some great lineups over the next couple weeks.


Also, make sure to check out Curt Schilling's blog for a detailed breakdown of how he dismantled the Twins' offense yesterday. Always an interesting read.