Wednesday, July 21, 2010


When the Twins took the final three games of their series against the White Sox at Target Field over the weekend, it marked the first time they'd won three consecutive games since the end of May. This team has played well enough to remain safely above .500, sure, but they haven't been remotely consistent. Good wins that would seemingly build momentum are almost inevitably followed by depressing lulls in performance. That has happened again this week, as the Twins have followed up their thrilling ninth-inning, walk-off, series-clinching victory against Bobby Jenks and the White Sox by dropping two straight at home against the last-place Indians.

Last night's game featured another disheartening performance from Kevin Slowey, who seemingly ran out of gas at around 75 pitches, failing to complete the sixth inning for a 12th time in 19 starts. Fans who were already calling for Nick Blackburn's removal from the rotation (which now seems to be in the books) are now setting their sights on Slowey, and not without good reason.

We all look for scapegoats when trying to determine the roots of this team's continued inability to get going. We blame the manager for not acting quickly enough to replace players who are hurting the team. We blame the general manager for not calling up reinforcements soon enough, and for not more hastily seeking to pull the trigger on a trade that would bolster the front end of the rotation. We blame the team's slow plodding outfielders, as if their sub par range is costing the team dozens of runs. We blame plain old bad luck. (I myself am probably a little too guilty of that one; one cannot deny that there's more to all this losing than most of the team's players concurrently being snakebit.)

In the end, there's only one rightful party upon which to burden this thoroughly uninspiring performance: the players themselves. Be it because of injury or some other deterrent, too many members of this team are not playing up to their level of ability.

Scott Baker is a better pitcher than he has shown this year. Ditto for Slowey. Ditto for Blackburn. There's talk of trading for starters like Jake Westbrook, Jeremy Guthrie and Kevin Millwood; these are not better players than Baker and Slowey, and the Twins would be better served hoping those two can figure things out -- while hoping Brian Duensing conjures some of his late-'09 magic in the fifth spot -- than pumping resources into a doubtful upgrade.

Joe Mauer is a great hitter and a reigning MVP, not an over-matched kid who tries to lay down a bunt with one out and the go-ahead run in scoring position (and a hitter who's hopeless against left-handers due up next with a southpaw on the hill). What on earth was that?

Jason Kubel proved last year that he can be one of the league's most punishing righty mashers, but last night -- as he has done far too often this year -- he failed to seize an advantageous opportunity against a pitcher who is prone to getting clobbered by left-handed hitters.

Denard Span seems to be perhaps the most mystifying of all. He lets seemingly catchable balls drop in the outfield. He runs himself into outs on the base paths. He goes through prolonged cold spells and disappears offensively for games at a time. He has hit .198 on the road.

Span was in past seasons a young player with uncommon discipline. His keen eye at the plate was seemingly matched by his acumen around the field. He was sharp. This year, he hasn't looked sharp, and that's a trait he shares with far too many players on the roster.

People can rev up the "Fire Gardy" bandwagon and berate Bill Smith in the event that he doesn't make a loud move at the deadline, but ultimately the responsibility for this team's woes falls upon the players themselves. They're just not playing very well, and if you don't play well you don't win games and you don't make the playoffs.

On paper, I fully believe this Twins roster is good enough to win the American League Central by a fairly wide margin.

It's just really unfortunate that so many players aren't bringing their A-game.


Anonymous said...

I think you were unfairly critical of sloweys performance last night. I was personally very encouraged. He was sharp, struck out a lot of guys and kept the ball in the ball park. Its possible he ran out of gas but if he can pitches like he did last night the twins dont have anyone capable of better pitching available to replace him.

The thing that frustrates me with this team is how inefficient they are. They seem to leave a ton of guys on base. Lots of double plays, lots of strikeouts with guys on third and 1 out.

The twins have been on the right side of the career year coin recently. Getting way more than they expected or at least exceptionally hot stretches from marginal players like nick punto, matt tolbert, alexi casilla, brian duensing, boof bonser, ect. The twins have also gotten big years from better players like mauer, morneau, kubel, cuddyer, span, ect. The twins have been lucky to piece together several competitive years with pretty low overall talent. Last years team had orlando cabrera, nick punto, matt tolbert in the field for game 1 of the playoffs, brian duensing making the start and jose morales DHing. That team wasnt very good. Those teams with the piranhas; featuring lew ford, nick punto, jason tyner, mike redmond, had so many terrible players. They were very lucky to be as good as they were. Ironically, this current twins squad has way more talent than any twins teams of the past 6 years but they arent getting any way above expected production from anyone but delmon and liriano, and their better players are almost all performing below expectations.

Ed Bast said...

Just like we hoped the Twins' Sunday comeback against the Sox would be the turning point for the club, Mauer's bunt may come to signify the point at which it really starts to fall apart for our boys.

I wasn't watching the TV broadcast, but I assume Dick/Bert/Roy absolutely lambasted Joe for that bunt, considering their outrage at Trevor Crowe's bunt the night before?

The Volleyball Donkey said...


Surely you have watched enough coverage of the Twins in the local mass media to know that The Baby Jesus is beyond reproach in those situations no matter how ridiculous they appear to be on the surface.

Also, Punto did bunt with 2 outs and no one on in an inning last night - the same play that Bert/Dick/Roy likened to someone burning down an orphanage last night - and the outrage and vitriol were no where to be found.

Anonymous said...

A lot of this does fall on Gardy though. Did you listen to his comments after the game? When asked about Mauer's bunt he said that they need to talk to Joe about that and Gardy never tells a hitter what to do. Well he damn sure better be telling him to never do that again.

It's Gardy's team, yet he has no control over it.

Ed Bast said...


Thanks for the update. Hmm, shocking. I was almost expecting them to praise Baby Jesus for bunting since Target Field is too hard to hit homers in.


Considering Mauer laid down that equally f-ing ridiculous bunt in Game 163 2 years ago, it's pretty clear Gardy isn't getting the point across. Far be it from him, though, to tell one of his players what to do! Granted he is the manager, and he gets paid to do precisely that, but you know, the Twins run things a little differently I guess.

Matt said...

To the Mauer debators:
True, Gardy shouldn't let him bunt in situations like that. But also consider, the reighning MVP, two time batting champ... why the hell does he even THINK about bunting unless specifically told to do so? A guy with his swing should never WANT to bunt.
Good point, Nick, about Span. He was a very smart player in years past, making good decisions in the field, at the plate, and on the base paths. My main "baseball guy" I talk Twins with and I agree, he just seems to be sleeping this year. He needs to snap out of it, one way or another.

Ed Bast said...

Oh, I hear you Matt, it blows my mind that Mauer would want to take the bat out of his own hands in that situation. And Gardy shouldn't have to tell him that.

I'm a little concerned, though, about Gardy's quote that he "doesn't tell his hitters what to do." Given the bizarre bunting by Mauer and Span the last 2 games, I think the manager might actually have to do some managing here, because his players are either drastically overthinking things or not intelligent enough to make their own decisions at the plate (don't think it's the latter, but in either case the manager has got to step in).

thanatoschristou said...

Couldn't agree more Nick but........ when players are not playing good managers send the signal that they won't play when they don't perform. Mauer should have been dropped in the batting order long ago. Span should not be leading off at all until he decides to play. So yes, the players get credit but the manager makes the line up. Please don't join the ranks that let Gardy off the hook for bad bull pen decisions (Mijares was terrible the night before so you bring him in again?)

Anonymous said...

smith did a great job in the offseason. i can't fault him for anything. the blame is all on the players and the coaches. gardy won't accept blame for any of his stupid managerial decisions. delmon should be batting higher, although i see he is batting 3rd finally today. but then butera is playing today and pavano pitches tomorrow, so he will be playing again tomorrow? kubel is batting 4th today and thome is lower in the lineup, even though thome has a career OPS that is about triple what Kubel's is against westbrook. all the manager can do is put his team in the best position to win and gardy never does that. it would be one thing if he was making a lot of good decisions and the players just weren't performing. but they aren't performing and he is doing some really stupid things.

Andrew said...

Span is sleeping this year 'cause there isn't Gomez here to lose his job to.

Anonymous said...

Teams often play a third baseman extremely deep against Mauer. What he does against this is a hard bunt down the line. If it stays fair it is an automatic hit and we have a runner on third with less than two outs. If it goes foul then it is just a strike early in the count where Mauer usually takes anyways.

This is a strategically sound manuever by Mauer which has been effective through his career in getting cheap hits and keeping 3rd baseman in to help him get other hits as well.

The problem was just execution. He topped it and it didn't travel. This is an unusual outcome for him.

Seriously if he attempts that bunt 100 times I bet he only makes the out 5 times and ends up with a strike maybe 60 times and a hit 35 times. Yes I just made up numbers but it illustrates my point.

With all that said, there was speed on second with a mediocre pitcher on the mound and Mauer should work the count and look for something to drive, or just walk if it comes to that. I'm not trying to defend him but just saying that the bunt is a nice weapon for him and I want to see him continue to use it in many situations where the defense gives it to him.

Hell if Kubel hits a two run single we even look at the failed bunt as setting up the extra run that we actually ended up needing to win in regulation.

Bottom line it wasn't that bad of a play. Not nearly as bad as Span bunting with two outs and runners on second and third the night before. That was megaretarded.

Brady James said...

When Mauer bunted, he was thinking "I'm 19 for 29 in bunt attempts. I'm a pretty good bunter. Peralta is deep down there, and I can't seem to beat this shift teams have put on me this year. Let's try this."

Anonymous said...

i had more of a problem with mauer's first at bat, with runners on 1st and 3rd. he took a pitch right down the middle and then swung at a worse pitch and hit a double play ball. luckily the 1st baseman didn't field it cleanly. i get that he likes to work the pitcher, but a big old meatball like that needs to be crushed, especially with RISP. the way he is swinging the bat he probably would have fouled it off, but those are the pitches he needs to be ready to drive. he is hitting from behind in the count far too often lately and as we all know, it is harder to hit from behind. he'll turn it around, but those are the type of at bats where an aggressive approach might help him break out. he is very good when he puts the first pitch in play and that pitch was screaming to be tagged.

Josh said...

There's a fair point to made about holding players accountable, but overall I think there's very little being done to put accountability on the manager, particularly on this manager.

He's got serious blind spots and flaws as a manager, and at a certain point he needs to be called out for not maximizing the utility of his roster and his often poor decision-making. (and absurd statements)

Point: Gardy's preference for marginal MLB players with some defensive skills over players who can actually hit. Punto will never get benched for a long stretch, no matter how useless he is at the plate because he's one of Gardy's guys. The manager has stated he thinks Drew Butera should get more playing time, despite him being essentially useless at the plate. (No, the "double" last night doesn't justify it.) The list goes on.

Point: The manager's preference for veterans over rookies/young players, regardless of performance. This season Danny Valencia has gotten called out for "not hitting in the clutch" at a time when Cuddyer in particular, and many other vets (Mauer, Morneau, Kubel, etc) had been on an epic GIDP run...and then got buried on the bench, despite hitting well. This isn't new: Kubel got this treatment for years.

Point: Gardy's unwillingness to make smart choices or changes with his batting order. Delmon Young has been tearing the cover off the ball. Yet he has remained stuck in the 7-hole for most of the summer, despite slumps by Cuddyer and other hitters. When O-Dog was out, gardy just dumped an auto-out into the 2-hole, rather than move OB% machine Joe Mauer up one slot (despite Mauer showing high success in that spot). When Delmon hit 3rd ysterday, I was stunned. Then I saw that Scot Ullger was managing.

Point: Bullpen misuse. Gardy only trusts a few guys in his pen at a time and refuses to move out of rigidly defined roles. this leads to overworked players, who then fall apart. It also leads to Gardy bringing in guys who have bad matchups, as he goes with his gut and preferrred player over a good matchup. (No, I haven't forgotten the A-Rod debacle)

Call out Mauer for an idiotic bunt. get on Baker, Slowey, & Blackburn for continued inability to get quality starts. get on guys for the mental mistakes in the field and on the basepaths (Span is a prime culprit here). But don't exempt the manager who never adjusts his strategy, never seems to makes a smart in-game adjustment, and makes choices based on his biases over performance.

Anonymous said...

One thing that bugs me about the fan/blogger perspective is that everyone seems to always want Gardy to make all these changes and moves. Last year we wanted Delmon off the team. Now everyone freaks that he isn't hitting cleanup.

But seriously people need to calm down sometimes. Very few managers in this league revamp their roster every quarter season to play a hot bat. According to fan logic our batting order would be like Hardy/Delmon/Valencia/Thome because those might be our best 4 bats at the present moment on present streaks with Justin hurt and Mauer in a slump.

Truth is that managing a baseball team is different than a math problem or a video game. Moves have unforseen consequences. Players would not want to play for the Twins if one little bad stretch lost them their spot in the order, or the lineup. You have to earn your spot through an extended period of sustained play and you don't lose it from a half or quarter season of poor play.

With all that said Delmon and Slama are exceptions. Delmon is crazy on fire and needs to be in the heart of the lineup. Slama has mediocre velocity and poor control but that delivery obviously messes with guys and his time has come.

Gardy has to be given credit. He's already proven that he's a very good manager. The Twins way is a management top to bottom thing and it has allowed us to beat superior teams to win divisions. Now we have superior talent and the problems have nothing to do with management and everything to do with plain old players underperforming.

Shuffling the team around isn't guaranteed to make guys play better. Usually the result is the opposite.

Ed Bast said...

Anon, which of Gardy's playoff failures in particular has demonstrated he's a "very good manager"?

Which "superior teams" have we defeated to win the division?

So what you're saying is, don't change anything because players will be offended, except move up Delmon and offend the player whose spot he's taking, because Delmon is actually playing well, and it's okay to offend players if it helps the team, but it won't help the team if you shuffle the lineup any more than that?

I don't understand at all.

Matt said...

Ed, et all...
The thing about Gardy is, fans may call for his ouster, fine. He'll get snatched up quickly by someone, somewhere. While I agree about lots of his decisions being bad ones or that he lacks creativity at times, I'm still going with the players not performing bit. Remember, he's a manager, not a coach. The coaches have to help Delmon and Span take better angles in the outfield (Jerry White) and Joe Vavra has to help Mauer overcome the slump. Rick Anderson, who many believe is one of the best out there, especially with younger guys, hasn't been called out once that I've read here for poor starting performances.
Point being, I don't think replacing Gardy with a manager on the scrap heap (Trembley, Hillman, soon to be Wakamatsu, etc.) is really going to help, because we all know the Twins won't pry a top manager away from someone else with $$ showing, and who's to say Scott Ulger would do a better job? I can see how shuffling the lineup or sending pitchers down will help this team, and Gardy could take some critisism for that, but it has to be balanced with knee jerking, too.
Bottom line, if players start playing more to their potential, the division belongs to the Twins. If not, it's going to be a quiet October at Target Field.

Ed Bast said...


For the record I've believed for years the Twins would never win a Series under Gardy, but up until then it hasn't been an issue because we haven't assembled a team with a legitimate shot. So my criticisms aren't exactly knee-jerk.

Gardy seems to me to be a perfectly fine manager on a small-market team with only modest expectations. He thrives on the no-respect, little-engine-that-could mentality, because that's the kind of player he was in his day. Players can buy into that pretty easily.

What he is clearly struggling to do, though, is get the same response (in terms of effort, passion, performance) on a team with a decent payroll, some high-salaried stars, and pretty high expectations.

Don't get me wrong, if the players start playing better, we're in a lot better shape. It's not all Gardy's fault. But when things aren't going so well, that's when a manager can really have an impact. Instead we watch game after game of uninspired ball, defensive/baserunning lapses, lack of leadership, lack of clutch hitting, inconsistent play, supposed leaders bunting instead of attempting to drive in runs.

It all starts with the manager, doesn't it?

Anonymous said...

I agree with ed. What are gardy's jobs as the manager? feel free to add to my list if I have missed anything important:

1. Fill out the lineup card - he sucks at this. He ignores stats, matchups and any other logic.

2. He has the final say in pitching changes - obviously this is very difficult, but he makes some very stupid decisions.

3. Motivate the team - they are playing like they don't give a #$@*.

4. Postgame interviews - Does anyone like listening to him make excuses for everything, blaming young guys for mistakes while giving veterans a free pass for making the same mistakes?

What else?

Matt said...

Sorry Ed, I meant to imply that Gardy should avoid knee jerk reactions, not you. Or, strike a balance between knee jerk and letting players settle into roles would be ideal
Good point, though, about the "little engine that could" mentality. He'll manage the club next year, which should be essentially the same (unless they let Hudson walk) and thus, carry the same expectations. Will he get more out of them? I guess we won't know until then, but from what I've read here, the fan base doesn't seem to think he can get it done.
Still, finding a suitable alternative will be tough.

jpeschken said...

@Anonymous said " Last year we wanted Delmon off the team. Now everyone freaks that he isn't hitting cleanup."

Last year, Delmon was playing like a guy with tons of potetial that showed few signs of ever realizing it. Wanting a chage of scenery for him was not an unreasonable point of view. It might have even been good for him.
This year, Delmon is hitting well. He is still pretty weak as an outfielder, but he is a big contributor, so with the evidence we have this year, moving him up in the order is also a reasonable proposition. In '86 the Twins stank. In '87 they won the World Series. Things change from year to year. There is no conflict.