In the comments section yesterday, a reader implied that Ron Gardenhire doesn't even bother trying to win on Thursdays. I'm sure that's not true, but alas, after their 8-7 loss in 10 innings to complete a split with the Rangers yesterday afternoon, the Twins are 0-6 on Thursdays this season. This is an indication that the team seems to be packing it in on the final games of series. In part this may have something to do with the players being tired or worn out on these afternoon finales, but Gardenhire's puzzling getaway day lineups probably aren't helping matters.
In some respects, it's understandable that Gardenhire isn't able to put a maximized lineup on the field on Thursday afternoons. For instance, he generally likes to give Joe Mauer a break when the team plays a day game after a night game. That takes perhaps the best hitter out of the lineup, but it's perfectly a perfectly understandable and defensible rationale.
What's not defensible is yesterday's decision to have Michael Cuddyer, Delmon Young and Craig Monroe all in the starting lineup while Jason Kubel sat on the bench. Cuddyer's awful performance thus far was rewarded with a promotion to the No. 3 spot in the lineup, while Young and Monroe batted fifth and sixth. Young's bat has heated up lately, so his presence in the middle of the lineup made some sense, but Cuddyer was hitting .217/.268/.313 on the season and Monroe had collected one hit in his past 18 plate appearances. Meanwhile, Kubel has been taking significantly better at-bats as of late, and that has been reflected in his numbers (1200 OPS, 4 BB/2 K in his past eight games). On top of all that, left-handed hitters had a 200-point advantage over right-handed hitters against the Rangers' starter, Vicente Padilla. For a manager who claims to base his lineup decisions on who matches up well and who's swinging the hot bat, Gardenhire's decision to keep leave Kubel out of the starting lineup yesterday seems counterintuitive. Without a doubt, Kubel should have been starting over one of those three players.
Cuddyer actually had a good game, going 2-for-4 with two singles and a pair of walks. Meanwhile, Young and Monroe combined to go 0-for-9 with four strikeouts. It was a particularly bad game for Young, who hit into a pair of rally-killing double plays on the way to stranding seven runners in an 0-for-5 effort. Livan Hernandez didn't pitch particularly well and there were some misplays in the field, but if you want to find an individual culprit in yesterday's loss, look no further than Young. He absolutely killed this offense. It's the type of performance that would normally get a young hitter benched for a game to straighten things out, but for whatever reason Young has earned the honor of being automatically written in as the left fielder each day, so we know that's not going to happen.
Lineup construction should only get more confusing for Gardenhire after yesterday's news that Adam Everett is headed back to the disabled list. This isn't necessarily bad news, since Everett has been essentially worthless so far this season. If he was playing the type of exceptional defense that gained him a reputation in Houston, he'd be a fairly valuable player on this team despite his awful hitting, because the rest of the infield has been very shaky defensively. Unfortunately, his shoulder problems have prevented him from being anything more than a mediocre defensive shortstop at best, so his value has been negated and he's basically been Juan Castro. I'd like to see Everett come back strong, but whatever is bothering his shoulder does not seem to be going away, so I'm at the point where I've pretty much given up on him being of any use to this team.
Replacing him on the roster will be Matt Macri, who I initially predicted to make the team out of spring training. This selection is interesting for a few reasons. For one thing, there's little chance that Macri will give the team any help defensively; he had committed a team-high eight errors over 29 games in Rochester. Ron Gardenhire is clearly fed up with this team's infield defense, evident in the fact that Brendan Harris has been moved away from second base due to his inability to consistently turn the double play from that position (Harris did turn three double plays from the shortstop position yesterday, so maybe Gardy is on to something). I wonder how Gardenhire will respond if Macri comes up and keeps committing the kind of mistakes that have haunted him in Rochester. As it stands, the inexperienced and clumsy Alexi Casilla would seem to be the best defensive infielder on the roster. It feels odd to say it, but this team really needs to get Nick Punto back.
The other reason Macri's promotion is interesting is because his numbers this year are significantly inferior to Brian Buscher, who has an 896 OPS with six homers and 20 RBI in 35 games for the Red Wings. There's probably not a whole lot of difference between the two defensively (although Macri is more of a natural second baseman, which may have played a role), so my guess is that Macri got the call because he's a right-handed bat who can spell Mike Lamb at third base against southpaws.
Infield defense has been extremely problematic for the Twins this year, and replacing Everett with Macri doesn't help them much in that respect. There could be many more ugly Thursdays to come.