Thursday, August 07, 2008

Span the Man

With the Twins' frightening inability to hold a lead over the first two games of their series against the Mariners, yesterday's seventh inning seemed utterly predictable. The Twins had already let a four-run lead slim down to one, and the Mariners were threatening with Raul Ibanez on first and Adrian Beltre batting and representing the go-ahead run. Jesse Crain, who had just come on to face Beltre, worked ahead in the count 1-2 but then left a pitch up that was hammered the opposite way by Beltre. As the screaming liner sailed toward right field, there seemed little doubt that it was headed into the stands and that the Twins bullpen had relinquished yet another lead. But what wasn't predictable was the action of Denard Span.

Span saw the ball approaching, turned around and raced to the wall. Once he got there, he turned back around, found the ball and leaped up with perfect timing, grabbing the liner about a foot above the yellow line that runs across the top of the outfield wall. Span had robbed Beltre of a go-ahead two-run homer, and the Twins' narrow lead was safe. They'd add a few more runs in the eighth inning en route to a comfortable 7-3 victory, but Span's spectacular catch still looms as a series salvager.

Of course, Span was also the reason the Twins had a lead to protect in the first place thanks to his bases-loaded triple in the second inning. In total, he went 3-for-5 on the day with a stolen base and five RBI in what has to be considered the highlight of his major-league career thus far. While credit should be given to Brendan Harris, who doubled twice and scored twice, and to Nick Blackburn, who battled and turned in a Quality Start despite not having his stuff working very well, it seems quite clear that Span was the driving force in this victory. For the season, he's now hitting .315/.399/.469, and he's hardly slowed down the torrid pace he returned to the big leagues with. He's been a godsend in the leadoff spot, getting on base nearly 40 percent of the time in front of the team's best hitters, and his range in right field has been hugely beneficial -- never more so than yesterday.

It's easy to blow the importance of Monday and Tuesday's games out of proportion, especially because of the brutal fashion in which they were lost, but losing two of three in a road series is hardly devastating. Escaping from Seattle with a win was critical for the Twins, and the rookie Span deserves a whole heap of credit for making it happen.

18 comments:

Corey E. said...

And to think, we could've been seeing this all year...

Nick N. said...

Yeah, certainly he had earned it with his 700 career OPS in the minors entering this season.

Span turned a corner this year. Starting the year in the minors may have had something to do with it. I have no problems with the way he's been handled.

fro said...

So playing devils advocate here, what happens to cuddyer when we get him back? Nice to have another bat but no room.

Nick M. said...

Saying that Cuddyer has been less than stellar at the plate this year seems friendly to me. Granted, Delmon Young's lack of real power and patience doesn't make him that much more valuable, especially given his botched plays in the field, but he doesn't seem likely to get benched anytime soon. And, given how hard it seemed for Gardy to drop Gomez in the batting order, there is no way he is getting benched often either. And Gardy seems to have taken a real liking to Span.

Cuddyer is the odd man out and I think part of the reason Monroe was let go, other than being utterly replaceable, was that it open room for Cuddyer to come back as a fourth outfielder, at least for now. I'm not sure of any of that, but it seems like a sensible answer to how things will play out.

Anonymous said...

i'm sure cuddyer will get his spot back, even if he shouldn't. he's a gardy favorite.

i don't get to watch the twins unless they are playing on espn, which is usually only if they are playing NY or Boston. i follow them closely on the box scores and the blogs though. seems like span has been great and i have been hearing a lot about his defense. i have noticed that he has made 4 errors on the season. are these just rookie mistakes or tough plays that have been ruled as errors?

Tom Froemming said...

This shouldn't even be an issue. When Cuddy returns, Gomez should be sent down. The only reason he won't be is the team feels so invested in him since he's the only guy from the Johan trade to play for the big club. The fans won't call for him to be sent down because they like him just because he's fast. He has been one of the worst hittiers in the American League, and doesn't deserve at bats on a team that's trying to win a pennant.

There are just too many other better options on the team.

Nick N. said...

As much as I enjoy watching Gomez play, and I do feel he adds something to the team in spite of his poor hitting, there's really no two ways about it: he should be the odd man out upon Cuddyer's return. You need to put your best nine guys on the field in the middle of a playoff race.

Nick M. said...

I can't disagree that a Young/Span/Cuddyer outfielder would be the best the Twins could put on the field. I simply think that, for whatever reason, Gardy would vehemently oppose Gomez being the odd man out. Maybe its a good thing that the GM ultimately makes that decision, because hopefully Smith realizes such a move would be for the best.

Twin #1 said...

When you say Gomez is the odd man out, do you mean he should be on the bench or in AAA?

Corey E. said...

He earned it about as much as Gomez did with his career .738 minor league OPS.

toby said...

Tom's absolutely right. The thing is, it's Smith ego that takes the hit more than Gardy's if Gomez is sent down. If he'd been an internal guy he would've been optioned in late July and Pridie would've been brought up, period. He continues to play MLB because of the Santana trade.

I did notice that his BABIP on line drives this year is a terribly unlucky .500 (his other BABIPs are where they should be given his insane speed), and he "should" have an extra 11 or so hits (a few for extra bases) based on the contact he's made, which would make his numbers less appalling. Just being fair, even though I want him sent down, too.

Nick N. said...

When you say Gomez is the odd man out, do you mean he should be on the bench or in AAA?

Probably Triple-A, since he should be playing everyday. When rosters expand in September, he could come back up and be used in a situation-based four-man OF rotation over the final month.

He earned it about as much as Gomez did with his career .738 minor league OPS.

Gomez = Younger for each level, with major-league experience and superior defense in CF. Also, much higher upside. It made plenty of sense to give him the CF job, especially given that the team didn't really expect to compete at the beginning of the year.

Corey E. said...

If you say so big cat, I'll continue to disagree. I think I've always been able to understand a gray situation, but this one seemed awful black and white to me from the get-go. Gomez was unprepared, and there was no need to have his arbitration clock running for yet another year when an older, more polished, alternative was available. There is a valid argument that Gomez will need to learn how to hit MLB pitching at some point, but there is an even more valid argument that he should've learned to hit AAA (or even AA) pitching first.

I like Carlos Gomez, I really do. I even think his upside is a sort of Jose Reyes - Hanley Ramirez cross - which is to say insanely good. I'm not saying I expect him to reach such lofty heights, but he could. But this definitely strikes me as an exaggerated version of the Brandon Phillips incident where he was just brought up far too soon and floundered because of it before being prematurely traded.

This seems simple. Span is the better all-around defender, smarter on the base paths, and a far more polished hitter. He showed all of these attributes during spring training and its a shame that the team decided to 'play politics,' with Span and Gomez. Instead preferring to show fans that they had gotten something back for Johan Santana to playing the best available player, and by extension, doing what was best for those players. I believe (and this is an opinion) that this has hurt Gomez's development, and the teams overall chances of winning during a season where no one expected them to win.

This has, essentially, been my position from the outset of the season. I think a year OR TWO in the minors would be the best thing for Gomez. Span had to prove he could hit at AAA, Gomez should have to as well. If thats going to be the organizations policy, it ought to be consistent.

Nick N. said...

Span had to prove he could hit at AAA, Gomez should have to as well. If thats going to be the organizations policy, it ought to be consistent.

But Span hadn't proven he could hit in Triple-A prior to this season. He hit .267/.323/.355 there last year. That's sucky. During his own stint in Triple-A last year (granted, only 140 AB), Gomez hit .286/.363/.414, and that as a 21-year-old. So I'm not really seeing how you can assert that somehow Span had proven that he could hit in Triple-A and Gomez hadn't prior to this year.

Span flipped a switch and started tearing up Triple-A this year, and as a result he was called up. Now he plays regularly. Would he have had the same type of success this year had he been thrown into the majors right off the bat? Possibly, but who knows.

Tom Froemming said...

Corey's right about Gomez's development. This might sound like a cop out, but a lot of his issues are because the Mets rushed him up so fast. If the Twins would've had him in their system all along, where would he be right now? Double-A? Maybe just getting promoted to Triple-A?

Corey E. said...

Double A in all seriousness.

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