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Fact vs. Fiction: Ron Gardenhire in the sporting crosshairs

Posted by: Michael Rand under Twins fans Updated: September 7, 2010 - 2:39 PM

As the Twins have moved closer -- if not completely into -- a tie with the Vikings well atop the local sports landscape, it has become even more fashionable for the vocal casual fan to decry the work of another head man in charge. Yes, while Brad Childress has taken his lumps for years, Ron Gardenhire seems to be getting an increasing share of heat even as the Twins edge toward another possible playoff berth. In a two-part series, then, we aim to separate fact from fiction in these airing of grievances against both men.

First up: Gardenhire.

The strike against him not up for debate: The Twins are 6-18 all-time in playoff games under Gardenhire, including 2-16 in their past 18 games. That's five consecutive series lost, the past two by sweeps. You can say what you want about why they lost these games, but any way you slice it the Twins were good enough to be in the playoffs.

The perceived grievances: Mind you, these are the things we hear fans complain about the most when it comes to the Twins' skipper -- Gardenhire is too set in his ways, particularly when it comes to playing favorites (Nick Punto!) and keeping guys in the same spots in the batting order. ... He doesn't manage his bullpen very well. ... He's overmatched in big games. (For examples, please just see the comments section at Startribune.com after any Twins loss).

Perception vs. reality: Punto is the most-debated player with a career .647 OPS in the history of baseball. But he brings skills to the table, and the fact is the Twins haven't had a ton of viable options to take ABs from him until this season -- when Punto, via injuries and others taking his playing time, will have his fewest plate appearances in a season since 2004. ... The Twins have finished 12th or better in MLB in bullpen ERA every year of the Gardenhire era. That counts for something. However, so does the sinking feeling we get whenever Matt Guerrier is trusted in a big game late in the year after being over-used in the early months. ... The Twins' notable post-season breakdowns can't all be pinned on Gardenhire. Bad matchups haven't helped (they're 2-9 vs. the Yankees). But really: they should have produced more victories and more series wins (especially 2006, when they were swept by the A's).

Gardenhire's indisputable magic bullet: He's been manager since 2002, and he is well on his way to leading the Twins to their sixth division title during that span. Again, say what you want about the strength of the AL Central during that time, but there's no denying Gardenhire has coaxed plenty out of his players long-term.

Conclusion: Gardenhire has probably taken more flak this season simply because the Twins are more visible. While he's not perfect, he's an upper-tier manager whose strengths are on display over the long haul (regular season) and weaknesses get put on display in short series (the post-season). If the Twins make it to the playoffs this year, however, there will be intense pressure to at least reach the ALCS. If they lose in the ALDS or fall short in the regular season with this roster, the flames will appropriately leap higher.

Up next: Childress.

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