Thursday, July 30, 2009

Deadline Thoughts

With just one day separating us from Major League Baseball's non-waiver trade deadline, the Twins sit two games above the .500 mark at 52-50. They rank sixth out of 14 American League teams in runs scored per game, and seventh in runs allowed per game. It's fair to say that this is a thoroughly mediocre team. A trade here at the deadline might help cover up one of the club's glaring weaknesses, but won't likely be enough to get the Twins over the hump and propel them to the playoffs. Right?

On July 16, 2003, the Twins sat five games below .500 at 44-49. They were riding an eight-game losing streak that had pushed them 7.5 games out of first place in the division. Hope was seemingly lost. But that was the day they traded Bobby Kielty for Shannon Stewart.

Stewart played well for the Twins during the second half of the season, hitting .322/.384/.470 while even earning a few MVP votes, but his production alone did not boost the Twins to a 44-23 record the rest of the way out and a division championship. Whether the team's overwhelmingly excellent play following the Stewart trade was coincidental or the result of a team being sparked by a new acquisition (or, most likely, a combination of those two things), the Stewart trade illustrated how a flawed and struggling team's fortunes can be reversed after a major midseason trade. And yet, for some reason -- despite the resounding success of that move -- the Twins have been silent around baseball's trading deadline in the five years since.

This year's Twins are under somewhat similar circumstances to that 2003 club. Their record is better and they're considerably closer to first place, but these Twins are flawed and their competition in the division is stronger than that of the 2003 squad. With that being the case, and with the current club's stars voicing their frustration with the front office's lack of action, it seems that a trade of some sort would be a logical option for Bill Smith and his front office colleagues.

The Twins have been connected to a number of different players, which normally breeds a great deal of excitement amongst the rumor-mongering fan base. Yet, this year's trade speculation has fallen somewhat flat, at least in my eyes. While the Twins have reportedly kicked the tires on a few legitimately good players -- like Freddy Sanchez, Michael Wuertz and Brandon League (with the last of those names making me especially giddy) -- the majority of names that have come up as potentially serious targets hardly command enthusiasm.

For instance, the Twins have repeatedly been connected to A's shortstop Orlando Cabrera. He's been a defensive liability this year and his .281/.319/.368 hitting line -- while an improvement over the paltry .243/.303/.342 line the Twins have gotten from shortstop this year -- still falls below the major-league average of .268/.324/.388 for that position. Cabrera also is not signed past this year. I fail to see how such a move makes any sense. More recently, it's been suggested that the Twins have been looking into David Eckstein. With a .264/.326/.332 line, Eckstein has been even worse than Cabrera or Brendan Harris offensively and much like them he's a liability in the field. On the plus side, he and Nick Punto could combine to form perhaps the scrappiest (and crappiest) middle-infield duo in baseball history. Another player that the Twins have reportedly voiced interest in is Mariners reliever Sean White. White has posted an incredibly lucky 3.06 ERA so far this year buoyed by a .232 batting average on balls in play. He has also struck out less then a batter per every two innings while posting a terrible 21-to-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Combined with his unimpressive minor-league track record, White's ugly peripherals make him a poor bet to perform any better than Sean Henn would over the remainder of the season.

If the Twins are actually looking at players like these as ones capable of changing their fortunes down the stretch, I have to seriously question the sanity of their scouts and decision-making personnel.

Given the facts that Kevin Slowey is out for the season, Glen Perkins has battled intermittent shoulder problems and now Francisco Liriano is plagued by a forearm problem, I have my doubts as to whether this team is good enough to keep up during the final two months even with a beneficial trade in the next two days. But, with the White Sox and Tigers failing to run away with this thing, and with the Twins' core players growing increasingly displeased by the front office, I'm thinking some sort of move is well warranted.

I'd love to promise up-to-the minute coverage leading up to tomorrow's deadline in this space, but I'm leaving this afternoon to spend a long weekend in Chicago with some friends, so my Internet access (and sobriety) may be limited. If anything happens that compels me to locate a computer and rattle off a reactionary post I'll be sure to do so, otherwise I'll have a full write-up on the Twins' activity (or lack thereof) on Monday.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Kubel's Vindication

Take a look at American League designated hitters listed by OPS and you'll find a familiar name atop the leaderboard. Jason Kubel's monster year has been overshadowed somewhat by the accomplishments of Joe Mauer -- who in three short months has already set a career high for homers while accumulating league-leading figures in on-base percentage and slugging percentage -- and Justin Morneau -- who leads all AL hitters in home runs and RBI and could even be a legitimate Triple Crown candidate if his average were just a tad higher. Yet, Kubel has developed into one of the league's premier sluggers and finally proven himself as the answer to this organization's long-standing woes at the DH position. It's been a long time coming.

Kubel has traveled a lengthy and difficult road to get to this point. He seemed poised to join Morneau and Mauer as a three-headed lefty-hitting monster several years ago before a devastating knee injury cost him his 2005 season and essentially cost him the following one as well as he battled residual injury effects and struggled to find himself at the plate. During that span, fans grew exasperated with Kubel's inconsistency. Ron Gardenhire became impatient and handed Kubel only sporadic playing time. Without a doubt, there were times when Kubel looked absolutely lost at the plate, and seemed nothing like a guy capable of developing into an elite hitter. But through it all, many people remained confident in Kubel and continued to bear in mind his spectacular minor-league track record and the unfortunate circumstances that had derailed his progression.

Last October, I drew a comparison between Kubel and the notorious "one that got away," David Ortiz. The point of the article was to dissuade notions that trading Kubel was a wise idea in light of the fact that he was a similarly talented hitter who had struggled with injury problems but had shown signs that a major breakout could be on tap. I noted in the article that I didn't expect Kubel to turn into the same type of hitter as did Ortiz -- a fearsome, elite power-hitting DH -- but he has in fact come closer than expected. Not only does Kubel lead all designated hitters in OPS, he also ranks sixth among all American League players in slugging percentage. He won't hit 40 home runs (not this year, anyway), but he's already tallied 40 extra-base hits in 310 at-bats and his immense power is undeniable.

Contemplating Kubel's success also reminded me of an article Dave Cameron wrote for FanGraphs back in January when Kubel signed his new contract with the Twins. Cameron essentially argued that "marginal" hitters of Kubel's caliber were not terribly difficult to find and that the Twins had overpaid substantially to lock up his services. While normally a big fan of Cameron's work, I took issue with the article at the time, pointing out some blatant fallacies in the presented argument, and at this point his take just looks flat-out ridiculous. Imagine what shape the Twins would be in if they had cut Kubel this winter and signed Eric Hinske in his stead. Yikes.

In Games 2 and 3 of their 2006 ALDS series against the A's, the Twins trotted out Jason Tyner as their designated hitter, which they'd done with some frequency during that season. Three years later, they boast a DH who leads the league in OPS at his position, is prime-aged and is locked up for the next two years. They have come a long way from those dark days of DH ineptitude, and they have patience to thank for it.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Slowey Done For Season

The Twins announced yesterday that Kevin Slowey will undergo surgery on his wrist and is likely done for the season. The news doesn't come as a big surprise. Slowey experienced uncharacteristic command problems in his last couple starts and was subsequently shut down indefinitely due to pain in his right wrist stemming from an injury he sustained late last season. Things like this don't bode well and generally lead to bad news. That is the case here.

It's really terrible news for the Twins. Slowey had been relatively inconsistent this year, giving up far too many hits and far too many homers, but he'd still displayed the ability to dominate at times and had been the team's second-best starter overall. His ability to rebound and pitch the way he did in, say, May -- when he went 4-1 with a 3.86 ERA -- was to be one of the biggest keys for the Twins in the second half in their quest to make a postseason run. Now they'll have to do it without him, and with Francisco Liriano and Scott Baker still struggling to get on track, that's an extremely tall task.

Anthony Swarzak has pitched fairly well in limited duty, but now he'll really be put to the test as a likely fixture in this rotation for the remainder of the season. His peripherals suggest his ERA won't stay under 4 for terribly long. Meanwhile, Nick Blackburn and Glen Perkins have seen their pitch-to-contact techniques backfire horribly in recent starts, Liriano has struggled hopelessly with his command, and Baker's ERA is still hovering around 5. It's too soon to write them off, but the Twins won't win without quality starting pitching and right now the outlook for this rotation isn't terribly optimistic.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A League of Their Own

With just five days until Major League Baseball's non-waiver trade deadline, rumors and speculation are sure to come to a fulcrum this week. Bill Smith has insisted that, while he's confident that the Twins are capable of winning the division as they're currently comprised, he's still "looking to see if we can make it better." A non-committal quote straight out of the Terry Ryan playbook.

If the Twins do elect to make a move, it's got to be one that augments the bullpen. While the infield has been a source of constant frustration and Joe Crede's shoulder problems raise further concern about the competency of that unit, the Twins do have the means to possibly address this unit internally. Steve Tolleson, Mark Grudzielanek, Luke Hughes and Danny Valencia are among the candidates to provide serviceable production in place of the team's current struggling infielders.

Yet, the team's bullpen problems have came into clear focus on the team's latest road trip. Last Monday, the relief corps aided in one of the biggest collapses in club history, coughing up seven runs in four innings as the Athletics erased a 10-run deficit. On Wednesday, they let the A's pile on after a dud outing from Glen Perkins, surrendering eight runs after the starter's early exit to turn a blowout into an outright embarrassment. A day later, the bullpen turned a two-run ninth-inning lead into a one-run tenth-inning loss.

The Twins bullpen has been thin all year, and the answer up to this point has been to call on former Triple-A starters like Brian Duensing and Kevin Mulvey to augment the unit. This is not a workable strategy. Jesse Crain had seemingly improved on some of the issues that were troubling him during his stint in Rochester, but quickly reminded us why he was sent down in the first place when he registered a quick loss in his first appearance back with the Twins on Thursday night. You can't win a division when your bullpen consists of four relievers who can only truly be counted on in low-leverage, mop-up type situations. But that's where the Twins are currently at.

If this team is to have any hope at all of bringing their bullpen back to respectability this season, Smith must add another solid arm before Friday's deadline. And the team that he should be engaging in talks with is the same team with which the Twins pulled off their last successful deadline deal six years ago: the Toronto Blue Jays.

The most attractive name in Toronto's bullpen is one that's been bandied about quite a bit in league-wide trade speculation, and that's Scott Downs. The left-hander is having an excellent season, with a 3.06 ERA and 33-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 32 1/3 innings. He has successfully filled in as the team's closer at times. Opponents are hitting just .207 against him. Yet, I don't see Downs as a realistic target for the Twins, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, his outstanding numbers have almost certainly inflated his value, and giving up a ton to acquire a relief pitcher in the middle of the season is almost never a wise choice. Secondly, I'm not sure Ron Gardenhire would know how to use him. While the Twins' manager has generally done a good job of running the bullpen (despite constant misguided complaints from the fanbase), he is very traditional about the way he uses his relievers. He likes to have a closer, a couple of hard-throwing eighth-inning relievers and a left-handed specialist, along with some usable middle-relief guys. I get the sense that his ideal bullpen set-up is the one the Twins had in 2006, with Joe Nathan holding down the backend, Jesse Crain and Juan Rincon (and later Pat Neshek) anchoring the eighth inning, and Dennys Reyes being used situationally to retire lefties. While Downs has been excellent and has been plenty effective against right-handed hitters, I do wonder whether Gardy would be comfortable with him as a straight-up eight-inning guy.

I tend to think the Jays reliever who the Twins should be targeting is Brandon League. If you look up League's stats, the first thing you'll probably notice is that he holds a rather unimpressive 4.70 ERA this season. That's a con. But let's run through some of his pros:

1) He's right-handed.
2) He's allowing less than a hit per inning and holds a very good 44-to-14 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 46 innings of work.
3) He has a 3.42 xFIP. Compare that to the rest of the Twins' setup options, such as Matt Guerrier (4.37), Jose Mijares (4.74) and Bobby Keppel (4.70).
4) He has a hard fastball that averages around 95 mph, and mixes in a quality slider and a changeup.
5) He's only 26, and is controllable for two more years.
6) He posted a 2.18 ERA last year, increasingly the likelihood that his high ERA this season is a fluke.

The Jays can afford to part with one of their relievers given their depth in this area, with Downs, League, Jason Frasor and Jeremy Accardo all standing as quality late-inning options. Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi may also be willing to part with League for less than the others given his high ERA and arbitration-eligible status. If the demands are reasonable, this is a player that Smith should be aggressively pursuing. He would represent an immediate and potentially drastic upgrade to the team's bullpen.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Growing Pains

Those who have followed this blog for a while are undoubtedly aware that I was pretty lukewarm on Joe Crede when the Twins signed him. Here's an excerpt from my preseason write-up on the third base position that basically summarized my position on the newly acquired third baseman.
If he's healthy, Crede should be expected to deliver reasonable power numbers and solid defense while hitting for a poor average and making a ton of outs. A player like that is not without value, but those who are expecting Crede to be a superstar who will single-handedly turn around the team's fortunes are bound to be disappointed. And that's if he's healthy.
Crede has lived up to those expectations almost exactly. When he has been on the field, he has played excellent defense and provided some much-needed pop, with 29 extra-base hits in 264 at-bats. He has also posted a paltry .239 average and .299 on-base percentage while missing time sporadically due to various injuries. His back hasn't proven to be a huge problem, but Crede has been far from an iron man. Now, it appears that a potentially serious shoulder injury could put the rest of his season in jeopardy.

Crede is scheduled to see specialist Lewis Yocum in Los Angeles today regarding his aching A/C joint. On Tuesday night, the third baseman reportedly felt extreme pain in his right shoulder -- which he initially injured in Texas over the weekend -- and also experienced numbness in his hand. These are bad signs.

Over the past couple years, Crede has had a tough time staying in the lineup consistently, which was one of the main reasons I was heavily opposed to handing him a sizable guaranteed contract this spring. Ultimately, Bill Smith was able to negotiate Crede's agent Scott Boras down to a one-year deal that included only $2.5 million in guarantees, with $4.5 million in additional salary to be earned through playing time incentives. The contract is now looking exceedingly wise.

Of course, money is not much of a concern for fans right now. The larger concern is that losing Crede for an extended period of time would leave another significant hole in the Twins' lineup. His combination of speed power and defense at third base will be impossible to replace with the players currently on the roster.

If Crede is out, the Twins could seek to replace him with a combination of Brendan Harris and Brian Buscher. That approach seems rather unappealing at this point though; Harris at third means Punto at shortstop, and Buscher's substandard defense will be hard to tolerate with the rest of the team struggling in the field.

It could be that the better bet would be to call up Danny Valencia, who is absolutely mashing the ball in Rochester right now. In 25 games since moving up to Triple-A, Valencia has hit .370/.379/.620 with 10 doubles, five homers and 22 RBI. Pushing him to the majors so aggressively would be uncharacteristic of the Twins, though, and questions linger about his plate discipline and defense. Valencia has clearly established himself as the top candidate to fill third base for the Twins over the next several years, but it's not clear that throwing him directly into the fray amidst a pennant race after playing just a handful of games in Triple-A is the right choice.

Fresh off an absolutely embarrassing series in Oakland, the Twins could find themselves in a very precarious position if Crede's injury turns out to be serious. This team already has enough gaping holes, and adding one more could very well end their chances of contending in this division. The pressure is mounting on the general manager and the front office to right the ship and keep this team from unraveling completely. Let's hope they're up to the challenge.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


I had already completed and posted yesterday's entry by the time Monday night's game came to its stunning and absurd conclusion, so nothing about that game was featured on this page yesterday. Yet, since that 14-13 loss is likely to go down as one of -- if not the -- most memorable of the season, and since last night's game was rather unremarkable, I figured I'd take the opportunity to vent a bit about the epic meltdown for today.

Clearly, there were numerous reasons the Twins managed to cough up their 10-run lead and lose a game they seemingly had wrapped up in the second inning, and they stretch well beyond the terrible call at home plate that led to the contest's final out. Nick Blackburn and the ragtag bunch of Triple-A relievers the Twins sent out to the mound all pitched terribly, which is particularly inexcusable considering the fact that they were facing a terrible offense in an extremely pitcher-friendly park. And while it's tough to blame the offense much in a game where they put 13 runs across, Twins hitters did fail to come through in some key late scoring opportunities.

But the weakness that stood out most to me in this abomination of a ballgame was the Twins defense. They sent out an incredibly weak fielding unit that did not feature arguably the team's three best defenders (Carlos Gomez, Joe Mauer and Joe Crede) and did feature a bunch of liabilities including Brendan Harris at third, Alexi Casilla at second, Delmon Young in left and Mike Redmond at catcher. They paid for it. The number of bloop hits, infield singles, missed catches and skipped throws to first base in this game was mind-blowing.

Justin Morneau had one of the finest offensive games of his career, but was a calamity on the field on Monday night. He missed an easy catch in foul territory and uncharacteristically failed to scoop up several short-hopped throws. Harris let more than one playable grounder skip past him at third. And Nick Punto had a hugely disappointing game at shortstop.

I know I just ranted about Punto last week so I hate to get on his case again, but I've grown increasingly disenchanted with his defensive ability at shortstop. I still think he's a heck of a defensive second baseman, but after having watched him man shortstop regularly over the past few weeks I've come to conclude that he simply doesn't have the arm to play the position. His range is good, particularly to his left, and he flashed that on a dazzling diving play he made behind second base in the game. But the number of popgun throws he made in that ballgame was maddening. His throws routinely bounced in front of Morneau at first, even on plays where Punto had time to set his feet. It was no isolated incident -- this is something I've picked up on several times this season. Say what you will about Harris' sub par range and poor defensive reputation, but the guy at least has the arm to make strong throws from the hole and to beat runners on weakly hit balls. I'm not seeing that from Punto, and as a result he has become a bit of a liability when playing at short.

There are a lot of factors that played into the Twins' collapse on Monday night, but many of those were fluke-ish in nature. Blackburn's method of cosntantly pitching to contact caught up with him in a big hurry. Bobby Keppel picked the wrong time to give up just his second home run in 70 innings this season. Jose Mijares, similarly, picked the wrong time to get solved by left-handed hitters for the first time this season. And the home plate umpire -- a Triple-A fill-in -- managed to put himself in the exact wrong position to view the final play at home plate. For the most part, these things just can't be helped; so goes the game of baseball.

But, the Ron Gardenhire set his team and his pitching staff up for trouble by sending out a roundly underwhelming defensive alignment. Prior to the season, I figured that one of the Twins' greatest strengths would be an improved defense led by the likes of Gomez, Crede, Mauer, Punto and Denard Span. But when all those guys are either not playing or being used at positions for which they are ill-suited, the Twins are in position for trouble. That's just what happened on Monday night.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Keeping Up

As we head into the final two months of the season, the Twins' top focus will be keeping pace with the Tigers and White Sox in what has predictably become a highly competitive AL Central division. There is, however, another competing entity that the Twins will have to keep in mind here as we prepare to turn our calendars to August: the Vikings.

Some sources claim that Brett Favre will be announcing his intent to play for the Vikings in the upcoming 2009 season by the end of this week. Others say he will wait until the July 30 deadline to make his announcement. The one thing that remains consistent among reports from nearly any source close to the situation, though, is that Favre will be playing quarterback for the Vikings this season. And there is zero doubt that his arrival in Minnesota will bring with it a flurry of media attention, both local and national. We've already seen the hoopla start to kick up over the past couple months as rumors have mounted and gained traction about the mutual desires of Favre and the Vikings to form a partnership this fall.

The Twins always find themselves in the position of competing with the Vikings for attention as NFL training camps kick off in early August. This year, that battle will be more challenging than ever for the Twins. Regardless of your feelings about Favre, there's no denying that he is a magnet for attention no matter where he goes, and there are plenty of aspects to his joining the Vikings right now that make the situation a perfect storm for rampant media and sports fan fixation.

If the Twins sit quietly through the trade deadline period and subsequently fade from the standings over the final two months of the season, they'll have a tough time maintaining any local attention while the Brett Favre Frenzy gets underway. Given that fading attention leads to lower TV ratings and lower ticket sales, the Twins have plenty of incentive to keep people interested. As such, there is added urgency for Bill Smith to craft a strategy that will keep the Twins at or near the top of the division down the stretch.

While not a bad signing, Mark Grudzielanek is probably not the answer. And to be honest, I'm not really sure what the answer is. The Twins are a fairly good team, but at their current rate they'll have a hard time separating themselves from the pack. I have a hard time getting excited about the possibility of trading for Freddy Sanchez. The idea of trading for Roy Halladay is wishful thinking. (Although, if the Jays are truly in full sell mode, the Twins had better be inquiring about relievers Scott Downs, Jason Frasor and Brandon League.) It could be that Smith's best course of action would be to sit out the deadline action and hope that Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano and Kevin Slowey can pull it together and carry the team in the final weeks of the season. Of course, remaining inactive on the trade market is a risk; if it doesn't work out, Smith risks alienating fans and even Twins players who have grown increasingly frustrated with a perceived lack of effort from this front office.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Going For Grudz

The Twins made a move aimed at addressing one of their biggest holes this weekend, inking Mark Grudzielanek to a minor-league contract with the apparent plan of plugging him in at second base if Alexi Casilla continues to struggle.

The move was interesting and unexpected, to say the least. With rumors floating around about various trade candidates who might interest the Twins, Bill Smith has elected to sign a 39-year-old free agent who hasn't played this season.

Grudzielanek hasn't, in fact, played in a game since August 1 of last year. He spent last season with the Royals and missed the final two months with an ankle injury, subsequently drawing little interest in free agency. This led many to believe he was done playing, so to see his name pop up as an acquisition for the Twins around the trade deadline is a huge surprise.

This isn't necessarily a bad move. Despite his age, Grudz has remained a productive hitter over the past several seasons. He hasn't posted a batting average lower than .294 since 2002. He bats from the right side. He's got decent power and has generally been good for 30 doubles and a few homers each year. Defensively, he's very solid and has graded out better than average basically every season that he's been in the league. If the Twins are getting the same Mark Grudzielanek from the past five years, they're getting a significant upgrade at second base.

Of course, whether they're actually getting that player remains to be seen and is far from a lock. At this point, there's really no way to know what kind of shape Grudzielanek is in after being away from the game for a full 12 months. And while he has maintained solid production over the past several years, a player in his mid to late 30s can drop off a cliff at any time (just ask Rondell White and Bret Boone).

With 1,772 games of major-league experience, it's possible that the 14-year veteran could jump right back in and acclimate himself quickly. The Twins will need him to do just that, because with only 70 games remaining and a two-game deficit in the standings, they don't have much time to be patient. This is a low-risk, medium-reward type of signing and many fans will no doubt be disappointed that this move very likely precludes any type of major trade being swung, but if the Twins have done their homework and are confident that he's in game shape, Grudz is definitely capable of shoring up the second base position over the final two months of the season.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Rebuilding From Within

It's no secret that the two clearest weaknesses on this club as we approach the trade deadline are second base and relief pitching. While the bullpen has looked decent as of late and hasn't posted staggeringly bad numbers, I don't think anyone feels comfortable with the current group being relied on to protect small leads down the stretch. Meanwhile, second base has been an undeniable disaster zone.

For the time being, it seems that Bill Smith and the Twins are content to try and address these problems internally. Farmhands Bobby Keppel and Brian Duensing were recently added to the big-league bullpen, and most recently Kevin Mulvey was called up to chip in as a reliever. Meanwhile, Alexi Casilla was called up just prior to the All-Star break to take his third stab at seizing the starting second base job. It's good to see the Twins showing a somewhat proactive approach when it comes to these problematic areas. Unfortunately, none of these players are likely to provide substantive upgrades.

I was actually fairly pleased when the Twins released Luis Ayala and called up Keppel to fill his spot, as I viewed Keppel as a ground-ball reliever who -- unlike Ayala -- had actually proven capable of inducing ground balls this year. So far, Keppel has lived up to that role, overcoming his mediocre stuff by consistently keeping the ball down in the zone and inducing an excellent GB rate of 64.9 percent, which has led to a 0.73 ERA in 12 1/3 innings of work. Keppel is almost certainly pitching over his head and by no means do I expect him to maintain this type of performance, but he's a definite upgrade over Ayala and I'm sure Rick Anderson and Ron Gardenhire are both very happy with the way he's been pitching.

Duensing, on the other hand, has struggled. He's allowed seven runs on 10 hits over 11 2/3 innings while tallying more walks (five) than strikeouts (four). He's not a bad pitcher, but he's not a difference-maker in the bullpen and is really best suited for mop-up duty at this point. The same is likely to be true for Mulvey, a 24-year-old right-hander who came over in the Johan Santana trade and will be making his major-league debut whenever he enters a game for the Twins. Mulvey, who ranked sixth on my preseason Top Ten Twins Prospects List (, has posted decent numbers in Triple-A, but he's been inconsistent and susceptible to rough outings. With a 3.93 ERA, 1.43 WHIP and 81-to-38 strikeout-to-walk ratio, Mulvey has been downright average in Rochester, which makes him unlikely to have a seriously positive impact with the Twins.

Casilla, who has hit .180/.242/.225 while playing shoddy defense over his first two stints with the Twins this season, has ignited some hope that he'll be able to recapture his spark from last year thanks to a very good 827 OPS in Triple-A (that includes a 919 OPS this month). The problem is that his strong numbers are propped up by a .340 batting average. If Casilla can overcome his tendencies to swing at balls out of the zone and send every ball he hits either straight down into the ground or straight up into the air, he might be able to post a .300 average which would lead to solid overall numbers. Unfortunately, Casilla treads a dangerous line with his inability to draw walks or hit for any power, so if he hits even .250 (which would represent a major improvement over his performance earlier this year), we're still looking at some substandard production.

It's unclear whether the Twins have called up all these players because they actually view them as potential solutions or with the intention of showcasing them for possible trades within the next few weeks. I'm pretty skeptical of the latter possibility -- even if these guys succeed over a period of two weeks I can't imagine that the Twins braintrust really believes it's going to meaningfully ramp up their value in the eyes of other GMs. Instead, my guess is that that the Twins want to see if they can get any kind of subsantive upgrades to the areas that have emerged as weaknesses without having to look outside the organization.

That's not a bad idea -- acquiring relievers or middle infielders within the next couple weeks is going to be costly -- but I just don't really see these guys as answers. If the Twins want to try and catch lightning in a bottle with an internal candidate, they'd be better off looking at Steven Tolleson, whose skills seem more transferrable to the big leagues than Casilla's at this stage. And if they want to give the bullpen a jolt without overspending on another team's reliever, they'll probably have to wait on someone like Jesse Crain, Juan Morillo, Rob Delaney or Anthony Slama. Converted mediocre Triple-A starters like Duensing and Mulvey simply aren't likely to upgrade the unit as needed.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


As we move past the All-Star break and embark upon the baseball season's unofficial second half, local discussion will increasingly center on what the Twins can do to make up their four-game deficit in the AL Central standings and mount a late charge that results in a division championship. This club has some glaring weaknesses which will almost certainly need to be addressed if they are to make a run over the final two-and-a-half months of the season. Whether it's through trades, promotion or lineup tweaking, those who aren't helping this team win need to be replaced by better producers. One particular player on the roster has stood out to me more and more as a chief example of this: Nick Punto.

This isn't an easy article for me to write, because in all honesty I don't mind Punto. In the past, I have defended him against staunch criticism from local fans and writers. I was one of the seemingly few people who thought the contract he received from the Twins this past offseason was a reasonable one. I understand the value that a player with his skillset can bring to the table. He's versatile, he's got a good glove, he takes a patient approach at the plate, he is a consummate teammate and he hustles his ass off at all times. He's the type of player I enjoy watching.

But there's simply no way around the fact that he's been terrible this year. He entered the All-Star break with a .201 average, and over the first 63 games of the season he has managed a whopping four extra-base hits (all doubles), leading to a .234 slugging percentage. During his disastrous 2007 campaign, Punto hit .210 with a .271 slugging percentage.

Now, Punto has kept his offensive game afloat to some degree with a respectable .319 on-base percentage, buoyed by an impressive walk total of 32. In the month of July, Punto has worked 10 walks in 33 plate appearances, which has enabled him to reach base at an excellent .394 clip in spite of a paltry .130 batting average. Now, I will say that it simply blows my mind that opposing pitchers have thrown the ball out of the strike zone often enough for Punto to walk in nearly one-third of his plate appearances this month in spite of the fact that he's shown almost zero ability to hit the baseballl; but, I just can't believe it's going to last. There's no doubt that Punto has shown a keen eye at the plate and an ability to lay off pitches out of the zone, but there's simply no reason for pitchers to throw him anything but strike until he shows he can actually hit them with any type of authority.

If Punto were an elite shortstop who brought the type of defensive value that Adam Everett did in his prime, the situation could be viewed a bit differently. But Punto is merely a good defensive player, as both fielding metrics and observation will attest.

The troubling thing about Punto is that no matter how poor his performance gets, he will seemingly always maintain a starting role on this club. He has started in each of the Twins past 12 games and has basically been written into the starting lineup whenever he's been healthy enough to play over the past couple months. The recent recall of Alexi Casilla from the minors would seemingly indicate that Punto -- who has been starting at second base regularly -- could be nudged to the bench, but there've been indications that he'll now take the lion's share of playing time at shortstop.

Never mind that Brendan Harris -- who has been far from spectacular offensively in his own right -- holds an OPS that is more than 150 points higher than Punto's. Never mind that in the final game before the All-Star break, Harris smacked three extra-base hits, which is of course one less than Punto has managed in 223 plate appearances this year. Never mind that Harris has held his own defensively at shortstop and actually rates very similarly to Punto there according to UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) this season, in an admittedly small sample size. In the eyes of Ron Gardenhire, it seems that Punto simply must be a regular player.

Gardenhire continually reminds us of his warped view of Punto. In a Sid Hartman column printed from Sunday's Star Tribune, Gardy rattled off a number of over-the-top quotes inflating Punto's value to a ballclub, intimating that he has been one of the team's most valuable players because of his defense and claiming that when "everybody else does their job in the lineup, Nick Punto is fantastic."

At some point, members of the Twins organization have to start wondering if this man is delusional. Under no circumstances is a .234 slugging percentage "fantastic." And even if that type of production were tolerable in a lineup where everyone else is hitting, the simple fact is that this lineup already contains a several black holes as is. Punto's contributions are not "fantastic" and they are not helping this team win -- far from it.

Yet, there doesn't seem to be much doubt that Punto will play out the rest of the year as a regular starter. I generally like Gardenhire as a manager for several reasons, but his tendency to run the team based on personal feelings and preferences is beyond maddening. It's downright unprofessional. The situation that is unfolding with Punto is tantamount to an unqualified employee in another line of work receiving undeserved promotions because he sucked up and worked his way into the good graces of his boss. I can't imagine that the majority of people in the Twins' front office or even players on the team have a hard time seeing that Punto is clearly better suited as a utility man at this point in time; at what point does an organizational desire to win games override Gardenhire's stubborn fixation?

The Twins need to get better production from the middle infield, specifically from second base, where they've gotten a miserable 519 OPS this year. I doubt that replacing Punto with Casilla at second is going to provide the type of meaningful jolt this team could use, and I'm nearly certain that inserting Casilla at second while sliding Punto to short to displace Harris -- who's been the team's only competent hitter at a middle-infield spot this year -- will not help the situation at all.

The Twins must look to the minors or to other major-league rosters in order to address this frustrating dilemma. And whoever they call upon to help must dislodge Punto from his starting spot. Even if that means that someone has to go forcefully remove the lineup pencil from Gardenhire's hands.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Presenting the 2009 Trade Deadline Primer!

I haven't been speculating much about possible deadline acquisitions on this blog. That's because I've been focusing all my attention in that regard on this project, which is available for sale as of today. A group of local bloggers that includes John Bonnes, Seth Stohs and Parker Hageman brainstormed the idea to put together a comprehensive guide to the deadline geared strictly toward Twins fans, and asked me to become a chief contributor. It struck me as a great idea, so I hopped right aboard.

This is very much an experimental effort, but I'm pretty happy with the way it turned out. There's a ton of information packed into this eBook, and the varying writing styles of the different contributors gives the overall product a distinct attitude and flare. The Primer will allow you not only to familiarize yourself with any possible courses of action the Twins might take within the next couple weeks, but also the rest of the 29 major-league teams, which are all covered extensively.

Buy Now

By throwing down $9.95 for the TwinsCentric Trade Deadline Primer, not only are you acquiring a top quality guide to one of the baseball season's most exciting periods, but you're also supporting local bloggers who keep working hard to churn out free analysis despite demanding schedules.

If you are a hound for trade rumors and rumblings and love following the action as the deadline heats up, I strongly recommend picking up a copy of this eBook. You won't be disappointed. Seth, John and Parker are great writers and their strong efforts have helped turn this into a product that I'm proud to be attached to.

Even if you choose not to buy a copy, I just wanted to send a big thank you to everyone who stops by and chimes in on the blog. You guys are the best.

With that, I'll end my shameless plug. Enjoy the All-Star break and we'll get back to business later this week.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Holes Without Plugs

The Yankees completed their domination of the Twins yesterday, notching a 6-4 victory to complete a seven-game season sweep of the hometown nine. Most of the games played between these two teams have been close, so I don't know if I'm willing to buy into the notion that the Twins were cowering with fear, but it did seem clear over the span of these seven games that the Yankees were the better team and that the Twins have some clear weaknesses that any good team can exploit.

Somewhat surprisingly, one of those weaknesses was not the bullpen, and has not been for some time. If you take away Brian Duensing's dud performance in long relief during the first game of the series, Twins relievers allowed only one run in 11 1/3 innings this weekend. In general, the unit has been performing better than expected. So that's good.

What's not good is the state of the starting rotation. Francisco Liriano became the latest to be victimized by the Yankees yesterday, as he surrendered six runs (only three earned) over 5 1/3 innings before being forced out at 105 pitches. The Twins' rotation has been wildly inconsistent this year, and for the most part these starters have looked overmatched against quality lineups. Out of the five starters, only Nick Blackburn has really met or exceeded expectations (one could make an argument for Glen Perkins, but he's been hurt quite a bit). The rotation was expected by many to be this team's biggest strength and the one factor that would set them apart from their divisional rivals this season; instead, it has been a massive disappointment.

While the starters have struggled, it's not an area the Twins are likely to seek outside help as the deadline nears. The Twins are going to have to ride these guys down the stretch and hope that Liriano, Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey can find some consistency and start stringing together quality starts. There's no star pitcher in the minors ready to step in and dominate, and looking for outside help would be costly and somewhat illogical.

One other glaring weakness that was on display this weekend can and should be addressed, though, and that's the No. 2 spot in this lineup. Brendan Harris went 1-for-8 in the spot on Friday and Saturday, and so yesterday Ron Gardenhire astonishingly elected to stick Matt Tolbert and his .183/.273/.230 hitting line in there. Tolbert unsurprisingly did not collect a hit in the spot.

Twins hitters in the two-hole not named Joe Mauer have hit .190/.235/.237 this season. That type of absolutely despicable production decreases the value of Denard Span's great on-base percentage and limits what the 3-5 hitters are able to do, and the fact that Gardenhire's answer to the issue is tossing Tolbert into the spot is incredibly frustrating. Something needs to be done.

Of course, moving Mauer back into the No. 2 spot would be a logical solution, but moving pieces around just creates more holes at the bottom of the lineup. Simply put, the Twins need to find a competent hitter to fill at least one of their middle infield positions. Whether that comes in the form of a prospect like Steve Tolleson or Luke Hughes, or in the form of an external acquisition, it needs to happen. This is becoming intolerable.

Now back at .500, the Twins will try to avoid limping into the All-Star break by putting something together this weekend against the White Sox.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Can't Win 'Em All

... Or any of them, apparently, if the Yankees are the opponent. The Twins fell to 0-6 on the season against the Bombers last night despite the best efforts of Joe Mauer, who went 3-for-5 with a homer, a double and two RBI. No one else in the Twins lineup could seem to come through with a big hit, and the Twins suffered another tough loss that set them back in the standings with the Tigers and White Sox both winning.

Anthony Swarzak, who was originally scheduled to pitch the series finale today, was pressed into early duty last night with Glen Perkins ill. Swarzak looked predictably overmatched against the Yankees, coughing up four runs on eight hits and a walk while failing to strike out a batter over 4 1/3 innings. Bobby Keppel relieved Swarzak and delivered yet another fine performance, tossing 3 2/3 scoreless innings to keep the game within reach for the Twins. Unfortunately, his best efforts went to waste as the Twins were unable to come back against the Yanks.

These last couple games have been tough to watch. Not just because the Twins have not at any point even held a lead, but because the Yankees hitters have repeatedly put together long at-bats and caused innings to drag on. One night after forcing Scott Baker to throw 86 pitches in 3+ innings, the Yanks forced Swarzak to throw 91 pitches in 4 1/3 frames in last night's contest. I'm not saying the Yankees hitters are committing some sort of atrocity, since obviously this strategy has proven quite effective over the past couple nights; but, from the perspective of a spectator cheering for the opposing team, it's awfully annoying.

The Twins will try to avoid a season sweep today with Francisco Liriano on the mound. Given that Liriano has struggled with high pitch counts on several occasions this year, I'm not particularly optimistic about his chances to last deep into the ballgame, but hopefully the boys can find a way to win.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Checking In On Joe Nathan

Joe Nathan was selected to the AL All-Star team this year for the fourth time in six seasons since coming over to the Minnesota Twins. While it has gone unnoticed by many, Nathan is actually having a dazzling season and he's been especially effective as of late.

In 35 appearances this year, Nathan has notched 22 saves while posting a 1.35 ERA and 43-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 33 1/3 innings. He has posted a ridiculous 0.75 WHIP, which would stand as the best figure of his career, and is holding opposing hitters to a .157 batting average.

In his past 19 appearances, Nathan has pitched 18 2/3 innings and allowed zero runs, seven hits and two walks. He's struck out 28 during that span, and gone a perfect 16-for-16 in save opportunities. That's really about as close to perfect as a relief pitcher can possibly be.

Particularly encouraging are Nathan's strikeout numbers this year. Take a look at this K-rate trends since his first year as Twins closer:

Year (Age): K/9 IP
2004 (29): 11.1
2005 (30): 12.1
2006 (31): 12.5
2007 (32): 9.7
2008 (33): 9.8
2009 (34): 11.6

The dip in strikeout rate over the past couple years seemed to indicate that Nathan was losing a bit of his stuff as he moved into his 30s. That's hardly abnormal and far from disastrous, but still a bit troubling as far as his future outlook is concerned. This year, Nathan has ramped his strikeout rate back up to an elite level and as a result hitters are struggling to reach base against him more than ever.

When the Twins handed Nathan a four-year contract extension prior to last season, many fans grumbled, reasoning that his annual average of $11.75 million was too much money to give a reliever likely to throw more than 70 innings per year. I was always very supportive of the move. Nathan's value as a stable rock at the back end of the Twins' fluctuating and sometimes maddeningly inconsistent bullpen is tough to quantify. But I'll try anyway...

In spite of its ineffectiveness at times this season, the Twins bullpen still ranks fourth in the AL with a 3.76 ERA. If you remove Nathan's contributions, Twins' relievers have combined for a 4.16 ERA -- that'd rank 10th in the league. With the exception of Matt Guerrier (who has also had a sneaky great season), no Twins reliever other than Nathan has a WHIP lower than 1.32.

Nathan currently stands 33 saves short of Rick Aguilera, the Twins' all-time leader in that category. He almost certainly won't get there this year, but barring injury, by the time he finishes his current contract he will almost undoubtedly be reputed as the greatest Twins closer of all time (if he's not already).

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Catching Up

Hey all. I'm just going to try and get caught up with some quick thoughts today. I've been insanely busy lately, for reasons I will explain soon.

* The All-Star rosters were announced this weekend, and the Twins' representatives came as no surprise. Joe Mauer, who was voted in overwhelmingly by the fans, will serve as the AL's starting catcher. Meanwhile, Justin Morneau was selected as a backup at first base and Joe Nathan as a member of the bullpen. These three players are all having All-Star caliber years and are basically the only players on the Twins roster who are (with the possible exception of Nick Blackburn), so I've got no grudges with the All-Star selecting process as far as Twins players are concerned.

* Speaking of Blackburn, he tossed his third complete game of the season on Sunday in the Twins' finale against Detroit, and is now sitting with a phenomenal 2.94 ERA (sixth in the AL) over 116 1/3 innings of work (fifth in the AL). With his low strikeout rates and non-elite ground ball rates, Blackburn seemed like a candidate to regress this season, but he continues to confound statisticians and is soundly outperforming his 4.92 xFIP.

I'm not a diehard Sabermetric guy and I'm certainly willing to accept that there are certain things about Blackburn's game that could consistently allow him to get better results than some normally accurate statistics would predict. He has demonstrated quite clearly that when he's on he can hit his spots at will and I think he has a fantastic ability to keep hitters off balance by changing speeds and keeping the ball away from the center of the plate. He won't continue to hold opposing batters to a .192/.257/.283 line with runners in scoring position and I don't think he'll maintain a sub-3 ERA from here on out, but obviously he's been a tremendously pleasant surprise this season and certainly don't think his success is a giant mirage.

* The Twins have been quite active in the international signing arena this year, and I couldn't be more pleased. Jorge Arangure, a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine who tracks international players and signings, reported via his Twitter account the Twins have signed switch-hitting Dominican shortstop Jorge Polanco with a sizable $700K bonus, and Ben Badler of Baseball America reported that the Twins have tabbed 16-year-old German outfielder Max Kepler, who has been touted as the best prospect to come out of Europe this year. One scout (quoted in the linked article) stated definitely that Kepler is "the toolsiest kid we've ever had in Europe." Sounds like a good find.

The Twins were also reportedly one of a handful of teams in on Miguel Angel Sano, a (purportedly) 16-year-old shortstop who is widely considered the top international prospect available this season and who is likely to sign for up to $4 million. It sounds now like they've fallen out of the race -- likely in no small part because of the two signings mentioned above -- but their pursuit of him in conjunction with those two relatively big-money signings is extremely encouraging. Given their disadvantage in the domestic free agent market, I've always felt the Twins should try to be a bit more aggressive in signing top foreign talent.

* How was Joe Mauer not the unanimous winner of the catcher spot in the All-Star balloting recently conducted among ESPN's "top baseball minds"? Did Keith Law get five votes?

Friday, July 03, 2009

Prospect Rundown: June

With another month in the books, it's time to check in on our Top Ten Prospects and see how they performed in the month of June and where they are at overall.

10. Steve Tolleson (AAA): .310/.375/.431, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 20 R, 3/5 SB
(Season Totals: .286/.362/.414, 4 HR, 20 RBI, 42 R, 9/13 SB)

When we checked in on Tolleson last month, he had just been promoted to Rochester after putting together some stellar May numbers in New Britain. His first month at the Triple-A level was another successful one, as Tolleson hit for a strong average while displaying solid discipline at the dish. With his solid on-base skills, decent speed and ability to play the middle infield, Tolleson is quickly emerging as a second base option for the big-league club.

9. Angel Morales (A): .140/.204/.220, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 5 R, 2/2 SB
(Season Totals: .210/.280/.376, 7 HR, 25 RBI, 30 R, 6/9 SB)

After a poor first month, Morales seemed to have gotten himself back on track in May, but the 19-year-old had a very tough month in June. He was limited to just 16 games and 50 at-bats by injury, and when he was in the lineup he was highly ineffective, managing just seven hits and four walks while whiffing 16 times.

8. Shooter Hunt (GCL): 8 IP, 0-1, 1.13 ERA, 5/6 K/BB, 1.37 WHIP
(Season Totals: 25.2 IP, 0-2, 7.71 ERA, 23/39 K/BB, 2.30 WHIP)

After spending much of the month in Extended Spring Training, Hunt moved to rookie-level Gulf Coast League late in June and made two starts there. The GCL is one level below where Hunt started (and dominated) after being drafted last year, so his presence there isn't exactly a great step. While he did allow only five hits and one earned run in his eight innings with the GCL Twins, Hunt's control continued to haunt him and he managed only five strikeouts. He seemingly has a long way to go at this point.

7. Anthony Slama (AA): 15.2 IP, 5 SV, 1.72 ERA, 18/6 K/BB, 1.02 WHIP
(Season Totals: 43.2 IP, 16 SV, 2.47 ERA, 60/22 K/BB, 1.26 WHIP)

While his bullpen colleague advanced to Triple-A, Slama remained in New Britain once again in June. Unsurprisingly, he dominated there, fanning more than a batter per inning while holding opposing hitters to a .189 batting average. Still, he remains trapped at the Double-A level despite being 25 years old and having proven his ability to get people out at this level. His control remains underwhelming, which might be the chief reason the Twins are holding him back, but it's about time we saw what Slama can do at the highest level of minor-league competition.

6. Kevin Mulvey (AAA): 32.1 IP, 1-1, 3.62 ERA, 27/11 K/BB, 1.58 WHIP
(Season Totals: 89.2 IP, 3-4, 3.91 ERA, 73/32 K/BB, 1.42 WHIP)

It was a pretty typical month for Mulvey, with good-but-not-great numbers across the board. He mixed in a pair of excellent outings (a complete game shutout and a seven-inning, one-run performance) with a pair of duds, and overall gave up more hits than you'd like to see.

5. Danny Valencia (AAA): .355/.375/.613, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 7 R, 0/1 SB
(Season Totals: .293/.373/.498, 9 HR, 34 RBI, 51 R, 0/3 SB)

I concluded my blurb on Valencia last month in this space by saying that he had "effectively proven his mastery of the Double-A level and should be in Rochester by the time I do this write-up next month." Sure enough, despite a bit of a slump earlier in the month, Valencia got his promotion about three weeks into June, and as you can see by the numbers above he has been making the best of it. He's been one of the best stories in the Twins' minor-league system this year.

4. Jose Mijares (MLB): 6.1 IP, 2.84 ERA, 4/5 K/BB, 1.89 WHIP
(Season Totals: 23 IP, 2.35 ERA, 18/12 K/BB, 1.43 WHIP)

While his ERA doesn't reflect it, June was not a good month for Mijares. He struggled once again with his control, and the fact that Mijares threw just half as many innings in June as he did in May seems to indicate that the command problems are causing Ron Gardenhire's faith in the left-hander to waiver. Mijares continues to be effective when he gets the ball in the zone, but his inability to do so consistently is becoming a big problem.

3. Ben Revere (A+): .264/.346/.330, 1 HR, 8 RBI, 14 R, 7/9 SB
(Season Totals: .319/.388/.381, 2 HR, 31 RBI, 45 R, 28/40 SB)

Revere had his worst month of the season in June. He managed just a .264 average, which led to a pretty empty hitting line considering his lack of power. Revere continued to show discipline with nine walks and eight strikeouts in the month, but this is the type of thing you have to fear with a guy whose value is based almost totally in his batting average.

2. Wilson Ramos (AA): .400/.415/.675, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 10 R, 0/0 SB
(Season Totals: .308/.326/.444, 3 HR, 18 RBI, 22 R, 0/0 SB)

Ramos got off to a terrific start in June. In 40 at-bats, he bashed two homers and five doubles while driving in eight runs. Then, he injured his finger on June 12 and missed the rest of the month. While rehabbing from the injury late in the month, he pulled a hamstring and is now likely to miss a few more weeks. Bummer. On the bright side, he's struck out only three times in his past 63 at-bats, which is pretty impressive considering he fanned 103 times at Ft. Myers last year.

1. Aaron Hicks (A): .222/.371/.259, 0 HR, 6 RBI, 4 R, 1/1 SB
(Season Totals: .222/.371/.259, 0 HR, 6 RBI, 4 R, 1/1 SB)

After spending the first two-and-a-half months of the season in Extended Spring Training and giving me nothing to write about in this space, Hicks was finally moved up to Beloit a couple weeks ago. His first nine games there haven't been spectacular, as evidenced by the weak batting average and lack of extra-base hits, but he has shown very good plate discipline. I'd love to see him turn it on in the month of July.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Game Notes

With their 5-1 victory over the Royals yesterday, the Twins sealed a fourth consecutive road series victory and moved two games above .500 for the first time all season. With the Tigers losing in Oakland by the same score, the Twins moved within three games of first place and will have a chance to vault into a first-place tie this weekend, when they face the Tigers at the Metrodome.

Glen Perkins picked up the victory in yesterday's game, though he was none too dominant. The left-hander allowed just one run over seven innings, but did surrender 10 hits while managing only one strikeout. It has been a very up-and-down year for Perkins; he was dominant over his first three starts, fairly wretched over his next five before going on the disabled list with a shoulder injury, and has pitched quite well since returning from the DL. This breaks down to some pretty interesting month-by-month splits:

April: 4 starts, 2.48 ERA, 0 HR allowed
May: 4 starts, 10.00 ERA, 6 HR allowed
June: 4 starts, 2.67 ERA, 1 HR allowed

Perkins' shoulder issues cropped up in May so it's pretty easy to excuse his performance during that month; during April and June his results have been fantastic. I don't think Perkins is as good as those April/June numbers suggest, and a fly ball pitcher who strikes out as few batters as he does is bound to hit rough patches even when healthy, but it's hard not to be encouraged but what we've seen from him. All in all, I think Perkins' current .500 record and 4.38 ERA are fairly indicative of the type of pitcher he is, but that's just dandy production from a dirt-cheap No. 5 starter.

Offensively, the Twins were hardly overwhelming but they got the job done. Joe Mauer broke out of his recent mini-slump by reaching base in all five of his plate appearances. Michael Cuddyer ripped his 12th homer and walked twice, and continues to look very much like the 2006 version of himself. The rest of the team was pretty quiet offensively, going just 4-for-31 with zero extra-base hits, which marks a continuation of a disturbing offensive trend for the Twins.

During the nine-game road trip they just completed, the Twins averaged only 4.1 runs per game. That the team still managed a very good 6-3 record during that span is certainly a testament to how well the pitching staff performed, but that type of run production isn't going to cut it going forward. Hopefully the return to the Metrodome this weekend will jolt some life into this offense.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Streak Busted

The Twins' winning streak in games I've attended has unfortunately come to a screeching halt, as the Twins lost both games I attended on my road trip. On Saturday, the Twins fell to the Cardinals at Busch Stadium and on Monday night they lost to the Royals. Neither game could aptly be described as remotely good from the perspective of a Twins fan, as the Twins rarely led and managed only two run-scoring hits in the 18 innings I watched. Nevertheless, both stadiums were beautiful (the renovations to Kauffman are downright awesome -- what a scoreboard!) and the trip was a lot of fun. I also can't feel too bad about the losses since the Twins have won every other game in the past two series and can claim a fourth straight road series victory with a win over the Royals tonight.

Alas, I'm exhausted from all the time I've spent on the road over the past few days so I need to call it an early night. I'll have something more substantive tomorrow.