Many of the Twins' runs last night came across on either wild pitches or defensive miscues by the Rays, but a run is a run and in the end the Twins managed to rack up eight on 12 hits. Is it a coincidence that the offensive explosion came on the same night where Alexi Casilla was finally moved out of the the No. 2 spot in the order? Probably, for the most part, but that doesn't mean that sliding Casilla down was the wrong idea.
Casilla went 0-for-4 from the No. 9 spot to lower his hitting line for the season to .174/.230/.217. I didn't have high hopes for Casilla this season (see my third prediction on this page), and drew some criticism for projecting him to post a meager .270/.320/.345 line earlier this spring, but it's now looking like even that might have been too optimistic. I'm sure he'll eventually raise his numbers from where they're at now, but there's little reason to believe at this point that Casilla is going to hit enough to be a viable regular.
On his blog Over the Baggy, Parker Hageman pointed out yesterday that Casilla has the lowest OPS of any qualifying American League hitter, and the third lowest of any player in baseball. Hageman also notes that Casilla's rate of chasing pitches out of the zone and hitting the ball on the ground are both tops among qualifying major-league second baseman, and a staggering 42.9 percent of Casilla's fly balls have failed to leave the infield (also an MLB-leading figure). He's been simply atrocious at the plate up to this point, and there is little reason to believe he's going to rebound in any meaningful way. With the exception of a two-and-a-half-month hot streak last year that is looking more and more like a fluke, Casilla has been anywhere between below-average and terrible offensively everywhere he's been over the past two seasons. He doesn't appear to have a sustainable strategy for success at the plate, and there's no earthly reason he should be hitting near the top of the lineup at this juncture.
Unfortunately, Ron Gardenhire doesn't seem to see things the same way. According to Joe Christensen...
Manager Ron Gardenhire said he’s leaning toward putting Mauer right back in the No. 3 spot, when he returns. The hope is that Alexi Casilla will rediscover his form from last year in the No. 2 spot.Having an offensive sinkhole like Casilla breaking up the team's top four hitters is a bad strategy and a potential rally-killer, yet this is another example of Gardenhire being far too slow to make lineup changes that are clearly necessary. Last year, it took the manager until late July to move Carlos Gomez out of the leadoff spot in spite of the fact that the center fielder's on-base percentage was below .300 for most of the first half of the season; now Gardy appears content to keep writing Casilla into the lineup spot that receives the second-most opportunities to hit because evidently he thinks Joe Mauer will provide better protection than Justin Morneau. Or because he thinks that the player who came up and streaked through June and July last year is the real Alexi Casilla, contrary to all the evidence we've seen suggesting otherwise over the past two years. Either way, the thought process is flawed and the decision is wrong.
If Casilla is going to be in the lineup, he should be hitting toward the bottom. But the smarter choice at this point is to start feeding more and more starts to Brendan Harris, be it at second base or at shortstop with Nick Punto sliding over the second. Harris went 3-for-5 while replacing Casilla in the two-hole last night to raise his hitting line for the season to .350/.372/.475 -- yes, that slugging percentage is higher than Casilla's OPS.
Harris got off to a slow start last year, hitting .262/.315/.372 up until the All Star break, but that's excusable seeing as how he was adjusting to playing with a new club. In the second half, Harris posted a solid .272/.353/.434 line, and he proceeded to have an excellent spring training this year before getting his regular season off to a torrid start. Harris' bat is looking legitimate and with the horrendous production the Twins have been receiving from their other right-handed bats, he needs to be getting into the lineup on a more frequent basis. Harris represents a fairly significant defensive downgrade at any infield position, but that's a necessary sacrifice at this point and his harm in the field can be reduced by strategically using Casilla and others as late-game defensive replacements.
The Twins have been playing better ball as of late, but they need to get their lineup into a sustainable mode of production. Mauer's return will certainly help toward that end, but getting Casilla out of the No. 2 spot and feeding Harris more at-bats are other important steps. It seems as though the Twins would be in significantly better shape right now if they'd taken advantage of a tremendous bargain opportunity this offseason by signing Orlando Hudson, but hey, what do I know.
By the by, if you get a chance please make sure to tune into the MN GameNight podcast tonight at 10 p.m., which Seth Stohs will be hosting alongside Glen Perkins.