Startribune.com digital sports editor Howard Sinker used to cover the Twins and now shares season tickets with friends in Section 219 of Target Field. He blogs about baseball from the perspective of a long-time fan who loves the game, doesn’t always believe the hype and likes hearing what others think. Howard sometimes talks about sports with Cathy Wurzer on MPR's Morning Edition.
When a season blows up, as another Twins season is doing, one of the consolations should be the final few weeks of the season when some of the new guys get a chance to make names for themselves, and maybe improve their chances to have an impact in the following seasons. It can be fun to watch.
The current group of Twins isn’t even affording their fans much of that opportunity, mostly stumbling through a 10-game home stand in which they managed to get outscored by 37 runs. If you watched for any length of them, you were likely to see players throwing to the wrong base, giving half-hearted renditions of the little things (like backing up their teammates in the field) and continuing a season of cluelessness at the plate.
The other night, following a particularly substantial mental lapse in the infield, Kevin Correia threw his arms in the air like a substitute teacher wondering what he has to do to keep control of his youngsters.
There’s simply nothing to see here.
The glimmers, like Josmil Pinto’s game-changing home run Sunday afternoon, have simply been overwhelmed by all that’s been done wrong. Dick ‘n’ Bert have been unnaturally owly when I’ve caught them; Dan Gladden is a good radio guide for explaining the difference between what’s happening on the field and what should be happening.
The Twins aren’t even living up to the silly cliché of trying to be a spoiler for the teams they’re playing that do have a shot at the postseason. Gardy made that point, especially about the lack of hunger on display during Saturday night's shutout loss to Tampa Bay.
“This is an opportunity for these guys,” he said on his ESPN1500 radio show Sunday morning.
This post isn’t about suggestions for what to do. If five of us put forth our top five ideas, then we’d get tangled up in debating which ones should be at the top of the list. That’s not the point. If you want to know what I think, read this post.
Jim Pohlad acknowledged his embarrassment to a local columnist last week, and a Star Tribune letter writer – the thoughtful minor-league blogger Andrew Walter -- wondered the other day: “I’m curious to find out for how many years the organization can field a pathetic product using the mantra, ‘Target Field offers one of the best fan experiences in all of professional sports.’ “
I don’t know the answer to that. But I do know this: Two of my friends who operate the Section 219 ticket cartel sent around emails last week. They’re done. One wrote: “I have always said that watching baseball is ‘an exquisite waste of time,’ but if none of the play is exquisite -- and the Twins even drag down their opponents -- then it is just a waste of time.”
(Update from the original post: One of the group's leaders hasn't pulled the plug and is trying to find new members, so if you're interested, maybe we can work something out.)
I'm keeping my tickets, but I wonder whether I'll be in the majority. I suspect that one more year of this mess would cause me to get rid of 'em.
The thing about a bad baseball team is that you take a week away this time of year and don’t miss much. I watched the Twins stumble through their half-speed loss to the Mets last week and then pretty much took a vacation break.
Kyle Gibson 1.0 ended, Joe Mauer got concussed by a foul tip from Ron Davis’ kid and the team somehow won two out of three from Detroit. Let’s assume the latter was a result of Detroit’s disinterest, Justin Verlander’s struggles and the good fortune to miss Max Scherzer. The Twins reverted to all that ails them over the weekend in Cleveland.
This feels like a good time to offer thoughts on an assortment of topics. So here goes with 10 of 'em:
The Mauer concussion and position discussion. The “how much should he catch debate” has restarted with vigor. To me, it’s simple. If catching 100 games per season is going to hamper Mauer more and more as his career continues, then it’s time to turn him into a 6-foot-5 first baseman who does some catching on the side and is one of the best (count of fingers of one hand) hitters in the game. There’s an opposing opinion saying Mauer wouldn’t provide the same value at first base as he does catching. I say he’s already provided a ton-and-a-half of value behind the plate. Plus, value to whom? Are you more concerned that the owners get some kind of perceived “value” or that a healthy Mauer is in better position to be an offensive force, maybe for another decade, while evolving into a solid first baseman? I’ll take the assumption of added offense and better health, which should mean a better chance to win.
Morneau's future. Speaking of first base, the chatter about Justin Morneau’s future continues. Bless Morneau for all he contributed during a prime that is now three seasons past. Now? Let’s never have anyone else wear No. 33 for the Twins and wish him luck on his future endeavors, especially when there’s a logical heir to the first-base job. Money spent to keep him with the Twins is better spent elsewhere. If he goes somewhere else and does well, toques off to him.
Josh Willingham. There’s a touch of revisionist history at work about how the Twins should have traded him after the best season of his career – and a two-year run in which he had 64 home runs and an .851 OPS. As the Twins plot 2014, it makes sense to turn Willingham into a full-time DH who can play the outfield only if needed – and rarely. Let’s a presumed outfield of Oswaldo Arcia, Aaron Hicks and someone else play the field. Willingham has never had two subpar seasons in a row, but if 2014 feels like the start of a permanent decline, the Twins can part ways with him.
Starting pitching. In the post-Johan Santana era, the Twins went to the postseason twice (and Game 163 another year) with a rotation of No. 2 and 3 starters. Since then, Twins starters have been a collection of fours, fives and guys who shouldn’t be in the majors. One of Terry Ryan’s challenges is to sift through this year’s group of free agents, see who may be available in trade and simply do better than the Twins have been doing these last few years. Prevailing wisdom is that teams need to overpay for starting pitching, but (again) that’s not an issue for a fan to worry about. (Even less so when Jim Pohlad told Phil Mackey on Saturday in an ESPN 1500 interview that Ryan can increase the payroll significantly.) Find an ace, find a couple of starters more solid than Mike Pelfrey and Kevin Correia and let the others battle for the back end of the rotation.
Bring back Johan? I’d try it … but not at the expense of anything else. In other words, an interesting sideshow when there are more important things to do. (I'm assuming the Mets aren't going to pick up his option for next year.)
Adding the “right” veterans. When the Twins tried to explain their 2011 flop as a “perfect storm” of problems instead of recognizing the cliff jump that had taken place, the Twins brought in Willingham, Ryan Doumit and Jamey Carroll. All were useful; none, however, came from winning-team backgrounds. I made that point back then, contrasting them to the worst-to-first additions the Twins made between 1990 and ’91 (Jack Morris, Chili Davis, Mike Pagliarulo). In 2014, if Morneau doesn’t return, the core of Twins with winning backgrounds will be Mauer and … uh… pretty much nobody. I like numbers as much as most of you, but team building is a multidimensional task. Veteran players with skills – in the clubhouse and on the field – need to be part of the build.
Bring back A.J. Pierzynski? Let him catch 100-110 games and help whip the pitching staff into shape. It's called "adding the 'right' veterans."
The middle infield. If you’d asked me in April if I thought a middle infield of Brian Dozier at second base and Pedro Florimon at shortstop was a major league combination, I would have dismissed the query as rhetorical. Now, I’m pretty much sold. Ever since pulling his average above .200 at the end of May, Dozier has been a .265/.343/.488 offensive performer and a fine defensive second baseman. (Morneau’s numbers in that time are .241/.309/.439, by the way.) Florimon does what shortstops should do – field. Using Ultimate Zone Rating to judge, Florimon is second among American League shortstops. He makes plays that other shortstops don’t. His presence also allows the Twins not to worry as much about defense at third base, which could be an issue when Miguel Sano is ready for promotion. (Trevor Plouffe is second from the bottom is UZR among AL third basemen, ahead only of Miguel Cabrera, who brings a different set of superhuman skills to the ballpark.)
Gardy’s future. In Los Angeles, apparently there will be an off-season showdown in which only the general manager or manager Mike Scioscia will be survive. Here, ownership is committed to Ryan as GM. But even if Ryan truly leads the discussion about Gardy’s future, it’s naïve to think there won’t be input from the Pohlads. I’m not getting heavily invested in this discussion because it runs a distant third to acquiring better major league talent and continuing to develop the top players in the minors. For me, it’s a “whatever” debate. If that disappoints the Gardy-bashers, so be it.
Sano’s future, Hicks' future and the future of the future. I still need to be convinced that anyone in the minor-league system will be ready to make an impact on the Twins in 2014. Miguel Sano, perhaps. But selling Sano without paying attention the organization’s other issues is a bit like having a really hot car – and leaving it outside during the Minnesota winter because you don’t have a garage. Aaron Hicks should get another shot at owning center field next year, but am I the only one who looks back on the young Torii Hunter’s struggles and wonders if it will take beyond 2014 for him to contribute at the level we’re expecting? I’m looking forward to the time when the minor-league system starts producing more than end-of-bench talents, but I’m not seeing that being the case in any kind of quantity until 2015.
That’s a list of 10 and I don’t expect anyone to agree with me on all of them. But these are my chattering points to get through the final few dozen games.
But maybe the third time will be a charm, or at least a call to action for the Twins, from ownership to the players who wouldn't be here if the team resembled a competitive club.
"Our fans don't deserve to watch this crap."
Spot on, Gardy. And I'm not intending to use this space to assess who deserves what share of the blame. We've already gone that route. It simply bites to be a Twins fan right now, especially for those who have made the commitment to pay major league prices to watch what has transpired this year. (Guess what my answer was when I was asked, on the Twins' season-ticket holder survey, if I'd be willing to pay more for my season tickets in 2014.)
No amount of happy talk or diversionary tactics, whether they be advertising yuck-yucks or the 2014 All-Star Game, can take away from the fact that the Twins are a bad team that is running in place -- if not backward. This week's unveiling of the All-Star logo, with guys in suits on the beautiful field in a staged event, had a little bit of a North Korean TV feel to it. (Start at the 4 minute mark, if I made you look.)
The hope of reinforcements from the minors will mean nothing if the Twins don't make intelligent decisions about the veterans who should be brought in to augment Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario and the others. Jim's column makes the point about the Twins lack of veteran leadership. If that's not addressed, there's no sense in addressing anything else.
That will cost money -- or maybe even one of the promising minor-leaguers. (Not Buxton, not Buxton, not Buxton, OK?) The Royals, the team we used to laugh at, traded the future star Wil Myers to Tampa Bay for starting pitcher James Shields (and another starting pitcher) and took advantage of a salary dump to get Ervin Santana from the Angels.
Now, the talented young Royals have starting pitching that isn't a joke to go their young players who continue to get better, or whose shortcomings are less of a liability.
When Twins blog commenters are reduced to debating when Delbinson Romero might be a better third base option than Trevor Plouffe and radio chatter spews about how Justin Morneau should be offered another contract "because there's no one else in the system," then fans might as well give up -- and you all might as well join me and buy Lynx season tickets to get through the summer. Or watch the Saints or Minnesota United or the horses at Canterbury.
I'm not going to Target Field this weekend. Astros vs. Twins? I have, ummmm, standards. Call them minimum daily baseball requirements.
Or, as Gardy said: "Our fans don't deserve to watch this crap."
I put this statistic on Twitter Tuesday (@afansview, if you want to follow), so bear with me if you're bored with it. Here, at least, I can share in complete sentences:
In the 92 games that Ron Gardenhire has managed for the Twins against the Yankees, he has won 23 of them. That record, 23-69, includes the postseason and gives him a .250 winning percentage in those games.
In 1962, their first team as an expansion franchise, the New York Mets went 40-120 and are generally regarded as the worst team in baseball history. The '62 Mets had two 20-game losers in the starting rotation, a 19-game loser and a reliever with four saves and 17 losses. The offense wasn't much better.
The '62 Mets had the same winning percentage as Gardy's Twins against the Yankees since he took over for Tom Kelly, who managed a 74-86 record (.463) against the Yankees during his years, according to a helpful tweet I received late Tuesday night.
Kelly, whose retired-number status comes from winning two World Series as opposed to year-after-year greatness, had a .478 winning percentage in his 16 seasons as Twins manager (1986-2001); Gardenhire has a .520 winning percentage since taking over for TK.
I can't tell you what that means with any degree of certainly worthy of blogging about. Anyway, it will be more interesting to hear what you all think of those numbers.
I do know this: The Twins have lost to the Yankees under a full array of circumstances, ranging from early season games (when fans were hopeful that things would be different) to meaningless late season games (when fans were hopeful that things would be different) to postseason games (when fans were hopeful that things would be different).
They almost never are.
In a story that appeared on CBSsports.com last year, former Twins Michael Cuddyer and Torii Hunter pretty much acknowledged that their team was psyched out against the Yankees in postseason play. "It was never about talent in those series. We played with them all of those games," Cuddyer. (One caution about the CBSsports.com story: Hunter's description of the game situation he talks about isn't accurate.)
There are 14 postseason Twins-Yankees game in Gardy's time. The Twins won two.
This Yankees domination during Gardenhire's tenure is in its 12th season and has been with teams of assorted abilities. As a rule, they have been more talented than most of Tom Kelly's teams that fared better -- if not well -- against the Yankees. This isn't a deal that can be explained away with a valid reference to small sample size.
The last two nights have been noteworthy because the Yankees have been fielding a lineup that would barely pass muster as the road team at a spring training game. The position players are the extraordinary Robinson Cano, fun-to-watch Brett Gardner, aging Ichiro and a half-dozen other guys who you thought were retired or never have heard of.
No Jeter, no Teixeira, no A-Rod, no Granderson, no Youkilis? No problem.
The Yankees have won these first two games just by showing up, pretty much.
That's all the more notable because in their previous 18 games before getting to Target Field, the Yankees had lost 13 of them. So with decent efforts, the Twins could be prolonging the buyer vs. seller nonsense they'd been attempting to pass off.
So maybe we're lucky that way.
The Yankees know they can beat the Twins with Laynce Nix at shortstop, David Adams at third and Zoilo Almonte in the outfield -- and would be pretty sure of beating them with the 10,000th, 20,000th and 30,000th paying fans at Target Field filling in at those positions.
Oh, wait. The Twins didn't draw 30,000 fans for the first two games against the Yankees on beautiful summer nights during a holiday week? Never mind.
The Twins season is quite interesting so far. Not quite fascinating enough to make me watch at the expense of a Stanley Cup playoff game, but I suspect that conflict will pass in a week or so.
If 2013 becomes the season of solutions for the Twins while they can avoid a tumble into the lower depths of the American League, then we can call it a victory and move ahead.
The good news about the problem-solving that's in progress is that it hasn't come at the expense of winning games. The promotion of Oswaldo Arcia, for example, has made the Twins a better team than if he was raising hopes by smashing the ball in Rochester. I'll take the .220 batting average with the assumption that it will get better over time and that he will let me see that much less on Josh Willingham in left field. (I pay to see the Hammer hit.)
Plus, the Arcia promotion and the struggles of Trevor Plouffe at third base have solved the problem of Gardy having some offensive pop in the dugout. Depending on the lineup of the day, Ryan Doumit or Plouffe or one of the regulars getting a day off is going to be available when the Twins need a bat off the bench. Think back to the pinch-hitting options of recent years, and that's an upgrade.
The limited exposure of Pedro Florimon, Eduardo Escobar and Jamey Carroll makes all of them more effective. Combined, they are so far batting .306 in 108 at-bats with nine walks. By comparison, the collection of spare-part infielders last season hit .199 in 346 at-bats, including the 0-for-12 in the frightful week that marked the end of the Nishioka era.
I bring up Nishioka -- one last time, I hope -- not to be abusive as much as to point out that the personnel choices made for this season are that much more solid than those of previous years, in which Nishioka, Luke Hughes, Matt Tolbert and others were playing the role of major leaguers. I am hard pressed to imagine Gardy creating one of those "Sunday lineups" of recent seasons that made Twins fans wonder why they are paying major league ticket prices.
Nishioka is hitting .298 in Japan, by the way.
The middle of the Twins infield, with Brian Dozier at second and the Florimon/Escobar tandem at shortstop, is better defensively than anything (except for the Orlando Hudson/J.J. Hardy-when-healthy tandem in 2010) since the Luis Castillo/Jason Bartlett combination from the mid-2000s.
In a few weeks, the Twins will reach the one-quarter mark of the season, which will be a time for Gardy and the front office to better evaluate those who are helping and those who are damaging the cause. Right now, Vance Worley and Mike Pelfrey are the two names generating the most negative buzz.
While a half-dozen starts doesn't make for a 100 percent fair test, that the Twins have Kyle Gibson getting back on track at Rochester, Cole De Vries trying to heal from arm problems and WBC-stud Samuel Deduno waiting to get healthy means there are alternative who would be hard pressed to do worse if the veterans don't improve. Also keep in mind that Worley was essentially the added player for the Ben Revere deal, which wouldn't have been made without the prospect Trevor May's inclusion.
Speaking of Revere, he finished his first month in Philadelphia with a .245 on-base percentage and has been dropped from the top to the bottom of the Phillies batting order. Manager Charlie Manuel told a Philadelphia reporter the other day: "He's had a hard time getting going. We just have to keep staying with him and see if we can’t get him playing better."
I am still unwilling to totally uncouple Ramon Ortiz and Kevin Correia when I watch Correia and his early-season prowess. It's impossble to argue with little more than a runner per inning and a 2.23 ERA through five starts. The best analysis of Correia's success so far comes from the blogger Aaron Gleeman. Rather than excerpt a portion of it here, it's best that you read the whole thing when you have a chance. A few more solid starts, though, and I promise to put much greater distance between the names Correia and Ortiz.
As a fan, I am willing to watch Hicks and Arcia grow into major leaguers because the alternatives at this point would be a concession to mediocrity. I am OK watching Parmelee grow into a regular right fielder and I am happy to see Carroll in a situation where he is likely to get half the at-bats that he did in 2012, which makes him that much more valuable. Gardy's patchwork calls for the left side of the infioeld will be among his on-going challenges and what happens with the starting rotation is another.
The Twins have played .500 baseball so far without getting much from Justin Morneau and with Joe Mauer having two cold spells surrounding one hot streak. In the American League, they are ninth in on-base percentage, last in slugging percentage and -- despite the troubles in the starting rotation -- sixth in team ERA while being last in strikeouts. Some of the first-month's success may have a smoke-and-mirrors quality to it, but a good chunk of it comes from being a better team than many of us imagined on the chilly April day when the first pitch was thrown.
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