Friday, July 20, 2007

Self-Destruction

The Twins were able to put themselves in good position with a four-game sweep of the A's coming out of the All-Star break. Now they have managed to completely take themselves out of that good position with a heart-breaking sweep at home against the division-leading Tigers. The Twins had not been swept at the Metrodome in a three-game series in more than three years, and they picked the absolute worst time imaginable to break that streak. The truly sad thing is that all three games seemed so very winnable. The Twins got three Quality Starts in the series, but wasted them all by scoring a total of five runs over three games. The sweep was clinched for the Tigers yesterday afternoon when the Twins scored just three runs over 10 innings (including zero runs over 3 1/3 innings against Detroit's formerly horrible bullpen) before Joe Nathan finally gave up the deciding run in the extra frame. The Twins now find themselves nine games out of first place in the AL Central and seven games out of the Wild Card lead. In order to make the playoffs, the Twins would have to either make up nine games in just over two months against an excellent Detroit ballclub, or surpass three star-studded teams (Indians, Mariners and Yankees) in the Wild Card race.

Yesterday's atrocity of a loss was marked by missed opportunities, bad base-running and poor defense. What do you expect when two of your outfield starters are Jason Tyner and Garrett Jones, and your No. 5 hitter is a backup catcher with a .680 OPS? The Twins' lack of depth is laughable, and it has been exposed time and time again this season. This has not been not difficult to see for even the most casual of fans, but as Jim Souhan writes, Terry Ryan elected to sit back and watch the Twins' season slip away as the offense continually sputtered and failed to support great pitching performances. Over their last nine games, the Twins have gotten eight Quality Starts from their rotation, allowing an average of 3.1 runs per game during that span. Their record over those nine games was 4-5. How did that happen, exactly? There's a pretty easy answer.

In those last nine games, the 7-9 hitters in the Twins' lineup have gone a combined 19-for-87 (.213) with eight runs scored and five RBI. That's absolutely abysmal production from one-third of the lineup. The problems with the bottom part of this lineup have been very clear for some time, and even low-scale moves like calling up a Brian Buscher to play third or bringing in a Ty Wigginton to DH would have almost undoubtedly given a boost to this ridiculously punchless portion of the batting order. Instead Ryan sat still and watched the team continue to feed at-bats to guys like Tyner, Jones and Nick Punto. For this, considerable blame must be placed on the shoulders of the general manager.

What makes this situation truly frustrating is the fact that the Twins are so close to being a great team. They have so many pieces in place: a slugging first baseman who is on pace to put up numbers very similar to the ones that captured him an MVP last year, a catcher who is getting on base at a .400 clip, a center fielder who has been one of the league's best and is playing his ass off in the final year of his contract, a stellar rotation with young pitchers who are stepping up right when the team needs them, and a bullpen that continues to be one of the league's most reliable despite several injuries and performance issues. Despite all this, the Twins cannot distance themselves from the .500 mark because the bottom half of their lineup is a black hole that produces outs at an alarming rate.

The Twins went into a home series against the team they are chasing hardest carrying all the momentum in the world. They got spectacular pitching against the league's best offense, and still managed to lose by one run in each of the three games they played. That's utterly devastating. For all intents and purposes, the Twins have pushed themselves out of contention with this depressing sweep. This ship is quickly sinking, and if you want to know why, look no further than the bottom-heavy lineup that is pulling the team asunder, and the general manager who has sat idly by and watched it happen.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

I wrote this following Wednesday's loss, but it is fitting based on the theme of today's post: the GM who wouldn't deal.

Some seasons have the 'death knell' game. Yesterday's was the Twins '07 knockout punch. I always hold GMs accountable for team's failures. GMs assemble the team, decide who to sign and who not to sign (within an allotted budget); make trades or fail to make trades. I don't necessarily give GMs credit, either - they are paid to assemble winning teams. You don't get accolades just for doing your job. But I do tip my hat to GMs on occasion, like when MacPhail signed Jack Morris and Chili Davis right after Gaetti bolted. Those were good moves; MacPhail knew he needed to retool and bring in some proven players: Davis' bat to replace Gaetti, and Morris to replace Viola.

I hold managers accountable for motivating their players, and for protecting the arms of young pitchers. But the manager works for the GM, so if skipper is not doing his part, it is ultimately the GM's problem. Players are certainly accountable for their own performance, but if a player sucks and his manager is forced to play him anyway, that falls back on the GM. It is not Nick Punto's fault that he is the worst 3B in baseball. We can't blame Punto for hanging on to his Major League dream, but we can call out the GM who would entertain that young man's delusions. Ditto LF and DH.

I rarely make statements about 1 game out of 162. But yesterday's said it all: the Twins turn 10 hits, 2 walks, and 2 HBP into 2 runs on a day when Santana throws 118 pitches.

Where were Shea Hillenband, or Dimitri Young, or Ty Wigginton, all players who could be had for a dime? Where were the new hitters the GM should have acquired 2 months ago?

A trade now is too late - this was a critical series. The Twins have scored 2 runs in 2 games. They could be 4 games out with a ton of steam and momentum; they are now a deflated lot about to get swept.

Bill Lindeke said...

I feel like the front office has had a chip on its shoulder at least since the contraction fiasco, and probably as a 'small market' club before that. The Twins have struck this holier-than-thou attitude for some time, as if they're the only club in the Majors that 'does the little things' and sees value in players that noone else does. Just look at the veteran players that Ryan has signed in the last three years, and you've got a list that would probably wouldn't make the rosters of most teams. I bet Ryan is proud of that.

Souhan quotes Cuddyer today as saying that they need fewer moral victories and more actual 'concrete' victories. That's exactly right... Baseball isn't always about 'doing the right thing,'. Sometimes its actually about winning.

beth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

In the wake of recent success, largely attributable to the fact that in 2002-04 the AL Central was an absolute joke, we have all bought into the myth of Terry Ryan as genius. Before the Twins resurrection in the early part of the decade, he was universally derided as having come up short on a variety of trades and the Twins did not have a legitimate breakthrough prospect for a considerable period of time in the late 1990s. Ryan is a good GM. He is by no means the best GM in baseball, nor even in the top 5. What has irritated me in recent years is that every time he is asked a question or prodded for some sort of action, he gives the "Tom Kellyesque" glare which speaks volumes of "you idiots know nothing about baseball and I wrote the book on winning with a small budget." That annoys me. We are not all baseball idiots. He has hoarded prospects, refused to see the obvious in more than one season collapse (and was taken off the hook last year by Liriano and Radke's inspiring performance plus career years from all those 'piranhas') and has grown more arrogant with age. It is not an appetizing formula, but as we should all know by now, Ryan's only real critic of import is one Carl Pohlad, and Pohlad only cares about the bottom line.

We all know the vagaries of being hamstrung by Pohlad penny-pinching. All three Strib columnists, even Grandpa Sid, have hinted at the same rant which is going to be a familiar refrain in the coming months, "we built you a stadium from which you will realize 250 MM in profit plus annual revenue increases of 40 MM per year, where the hell is the investment in the ballclub?" Yes, the stadium does not open until 2010. So what? The idea would seem to be to build toward the opening of the ballpark with a team capable of winning the World Series, not because it would maximize profit in the short run(which actually it would not, as the team figures to sell out in the new park for a couple of years anyway), but because Twins popularity is at an all-time high in a Vikings dominated culture. A study in some baseball stats journal indicated that last season the only two teams who actually made more money (in theory) by spending more than they would have by pocketing the revenue sharing dough were the A's and the Twins. Yet they do nothing.

In some ways the Twins are now set up to be victims of their own popularity. They cannot regress without losing all the good will they have built up over the last few seasons. Yet to improve, they need to spend more money. Now. It will be interesting to see what happens. My guess is that we will see the breakup of this nucleus and the disaster scenario envisioned by Souhan and others is about to ensue. I hope Pohlad chokes on the money.

Nick N. said...

Great comments so far today. As unhappy as I am with his performance right now, I don't know if I'd go so far as to say that Ryan is not among the top 5 GMs in the league -- he's made some fantastic trades that have helped get this team where it is today. Still, this has been a rough year for him, from the ill-advised signings of Sidney Ponson and Ramon Ortiz to watching the team sink while sitting on his hands in July.

Nick N. said...

Another note: Joe Christensen is reporting that the Twins have promoted outfielder Darnell McDonald from Triple-A. This leads me to believe that Michael Cuddyer, who injured his right thumb on Wednesday, is heading for the disabled list.

McDonald, who the Twins acquired from the Nationals for Levale Speigner about a month ago, had batted .282/.341/.474 with two home runs and six stolen bases in 22 games with the Rochester Red Wings.

McDonald is an upgrade over Tyner and perhaps over Ford, but if he's replacing Cuddyer, this offense could be in even more trouble.

Nick M. said...

Its confirmed now. Michael Cuddyer is heading to the disabled list with a ligament injury in his thumb. This only adds to the already prominent offensive issues for the Twins. If Ryan makes a few trades immediately, maybe the Twins have a chance before hell freezes over. Otherwise, they might as well punt.

(I'm not a fair weather fan though. I'll still gladly watch Johan pitch, see the young guys do some good stuff, and watch our MVP slug away. Why not?)

Mark Z said...

I would say that there is a clear top 3 in GM's between Ryan, Beane, and Schuerholz of the Braves. Dave Dombrowski and Mark Shapiro have inserted themselves into the top tier very quickly as well.

Cashman and Epstein have a chance to join that group depending on how stocked the farm systems of the Yankees and Red Sox become.

Concerning the 2007 Twins,

Even with a Dunn or Tex, I just don't see them playing a game better than the Yanks and 7 games better than the Indians the rest of the way.

Ibgik said...

I agree with the first comment. A co-worker of mine and i were paying attention to the game yesterday, and around the 7th, we both said "this game might end up being the season..."

I would like to know why there's been so much talk of us acquiring a pitcher? With all the wasted quality starts, it would seem as if pitching is the least of our concern at the moment.

Ryan said...

What's with the constant Carl Pohlad bashing? Does anyone who talks shit about him actually know anything about him or what he's done for the Twin Cities? I've met Carl on several occasions and the abuse he takes from pissed off sports fans and the media is rediculous!

This guy held on the team through a decade of losses (no profit - none) and gave us two championships. Have you been to a game at the metrodome during this "everyone loves the Twins" era? The place is still empty and we have some of the lowest ticket prices in baseball. Where is Carl making all the money - dome dogs?

He's spent a ton of money lobbying for this new stadium because he loves baseball and this city. He dosen't need the cash (he's basically on his death bed and has been in very poor health for several years) and neither do his sons (they are each head of one of Carl's successful businesses and more than set for several lifetimes).

Carl does more charity work and contributes more to this state than any other Minnesotan and he's been doing it for years.

I realize we are all disappointed that we don't shell out cash like the Yankees but chill out on Carl and do some research before you banish one of the most important Minnesotans in history to hell for an average 07 season.

Anonymous said...

Just to respond to the last post re: research and Carl Pohlad. If you truly believe that the Pohlad family doesn't make significant money on this baseball club even when they can show on their books that they don't make an "operating" profit, I'm sorry to say, you are an idiot. MLB has NEVER opened its books to public scrutiny, because if it did the players association, as crazed as it has been over the years, would come out looking like the sane group in this particular conflict. Revenue sharing ALONE virtually guarantees a profit, even before one ticket is sold in the Metrodome. You think there's a reason MLB lets the Yankees and RedSox spend what they spend in an open market? Might be that they finance most of MLB by themselves through the subsidies they provide, direct and indirect. But I digress...

Look, since Pohlad bought the Twins, the value of the club has increased from about 30 MM to 250MM plus. Yearly return if positive only increases that figure, plus we don't see the effect on Pohlad's other businesses--depreciation, losses set against money he makes in other areas of the empire, etc. With the new stadium, the franchise value will increase to 650 MM or more, plus his annual take will probably increase 40-50 MM per season. Pohlad apologists all say "he spends his operating profit on the team." That's probably mostly true. We could be in Pittsburgh or some other NL bottom feeding city where they truly do rip off the public and the league to an obscene level. Bottom line: For a short period of time, say a three year window, payroll could be increased 25 - 30 MM per season and the Pohlad family would not lose a dime, guaranteed.

You miss the ultimate point. I'm not ripping on Carl Pohlad as a human being. I'm saying he could make MORE money if he spent a little more to WIN and cement this generation of fans and displace the Vikings as the number one sports attraction in this town. It's a bad business move to penny pinch at this moment in time. (I can hear this idiot's refrain, "oh, now you think you know more about making money than Carl Pohlad", so shove that one someplace, ok?) There are short windows in the sporting world to win championships and even spending money is no guarantee of victory. But when you live in a league with the Yankees, RedSox, Angels, White Sox, Mariners and even the Tigers approaching 100 MM payrolls, and you have Santana, Morneau, Hunter, Mauer, Nathan, et al, TAKE A FREAKING SHOT at it.

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