I'm really getting frustrated with Ron Gardenhire and his moronic lineups. His obsession with starting Nick Punto on a daily basis has moved from annoying to completely ridiculous. Punto is hitting a historically bad .196/.285/.254, and yet somehow he is still finding his way into the starting lineup every night. He's a nice defender, that's great -- this team is not struggling to win because of their defense. It's because they can't score runs. It is Gardenhire's responsibility to put the best hitters in the lineup, and he is not doing it.
In Tuesday's game, Buscher went 3-for-4 with a home run, and yet he still could not find his way into the starting lineup the following night. Gardenhire instead opted to start Punto at third base, no doubt reasoning that he should keep lefties out of the lineup against Cleveland's southpaw starter C.C. Sabathia. There's just one problem with that:
THERE IS NO REASON TO BELIEVE BUSCHER CANNOT HIT LEFTIES.
It's something I've written about before, and it's something that is very obvious when you take five minutes to look up Buscher's minor-league splits, but it's something that Gardenhire seems absolutely clueless about. In Double-A this year, Buscher hit an excellent .357/.419/.554 against left-handers. In Triple-A, he hit a respectable .269/.367/.346 against them. At both levels, his K/BB rates were fairly consistent against lefties and righties. And yet, Buscher has been given a total of THREE at-bats against left-handed pitching since joining the Twins, because Gardenhire seems determined to shield him from every single left-handed arm that the Twins face. Punto can't hit lefties or righties, we know this by now. Why not give Buscher a chance and see if the kid can translate the success he had against southpaws in the minors this year to the majors?
Gardenhire's love for Punto yielded another hideous managerial decision in the ninth inning. The Twins entered the inning trailing 4-3, and Tyner delivered a leadoff single against the Indians' crappy closer, Joe Borowski. With Punto scheduled to bat next, there was close to no doubt in my mind that Buscher -- who had hit his first major-league home run against Borowski the previous night -- would be stepping in as a pinch-hitter. Instead, up walked Punto, who got the sign to lay down a sacrifice bunt and -- not surprisingly -- failed to execute. Punto popped a bunt straight up, and it was caught by the catcher Victor Martinez. Leaving Punto in the game was a bad idea, and doing so just so he could bunt was especially stupid. Not only has Punto proven generally incapable of laying down a decent bunt this season, it made no sense to waste an out in that situation solely to move a runner up with the Alexi Casilla (or a pinch-hitter from the Twins' weakened bench) on deck.
In general, I have been unimpressed with the job Gardenhire has done this year. This isn't the first time his lineup construction has made me scratch my head, and his in-game management hasn't been great. I wrote yesterday that this team just isn't good enough to make the playoffs, and the numerous players who underperformed are responsible for that first and foremost. Still, the team hasn't gotten much help from the manager or the front office.