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Tonight, there will be no baseball. Game 6 of the World Series is rained out, postponed until tomorrow.
On this date 20 years ago, however, there was most certainly baseball. Agonizing baseball. Our view of history might differ from yours, of course, but as a young Braves fan at the time, Oct. 26, 1991, is not a happy memory. Revisionist history cannot retroactively make us a Twins fan at the time.
That said, it was Game 6 of a classic series. It was the 11th inning. The Braves turned to Charlie Leibrandt out of the bullpen -- presumably after Bobby Cox, in the deafening roar of the Metrodome, screamed to his bullpen coach "ANYONE BUT LEIBRANDT," only to succumb to another fatal phone error. Leibrandt was a crafty, soft-tossing lefty with pinpoint accuracy. History shows Kirby Puckett was only a .288 hitter lifetime vs. ol' Charlie with three homers in 66 at bats. Still, Twins fans had a good feeling. And Braves fans had a terrible feeling.
They were justified.
The scene today from Target Field, where we caught the final few innings and saw the Twins snap an 11-game losing streak. On the way into the game, we were offered two free tickets by someone who appeared to be homeless. We are not making that up. Not sure where the seats were, but there were plenty to spare in that outfield upper deck.
THE LAST TIME
... the Twins finished in last place in their division? 2000. They were 69-93 that year. As of now, they are only half a game ahead of Kansas City in the race to avoid the AL Central cellar.
... the Twins lost 100 games in a season? 1982, a squad that went 60-102 but at least featured promising youngsters like Gary Gaetti, Kent Hrbek and Tom Brunansky. These Twins are 56-79, which would mean they'd need to go 6-21 over their final 27 games to lose 100. If you don't think that's very likely, consider the Twins are 6-22 in their past 28 games.
... the Twins failed to score at least 650 runs in a season that had at least 150 games? 1972, when they scored a paltry 537. This year's club has 516 through 135 games, putting them on pace for 619.
... the Twins didn't have at least one player drive in 75 runs or more in a season? 1999, when the team leader was Marty Cordova with 70 followed by Ron Coomer with 65. Michael Cuddyer has 62 right now. Danny Valencia is at 61.
... the Twins allowed 800 runs in a season? 2000, when they gave up a whopping 880. They are on pace for about 798 as of now.
Sorry. Football starts soon.
Tsuyoshi Nishioka was supposed to bat second for the Twins this year. Then he broke his leg early. Joe Mauer slid into the No. 2 spot, which seemed like a fine option. Then he did something to his legs and we haven't seen him on the field since April 12. Five other players were given cracks at that spot in the lineup -- most notably, Alexi Casilla and Matt Tolbert. In 69 combined plate appearances in that spot, those two young men combined for seven hits and three walks.
Then along came Trevor Plouffe. While we're hardly here to say he's been fantastic, and we will also note we wince every time he throws the ball to first from shortstop, Plouffe has been downright Ruthian compared to the rest of the characters granted access to that sacred spot in the order.
After homering yesterday, Plouffe is 10-for-35 (.286) during 9 games the 2-hole, with a pair of homers, 8 RBI and 8 runs scored (his most recent game is not individually reflected in these stats, though it is oddly reflected in the team totals for No. 2 hitters).
All other No. 2 hitters in the order (including Mauer and Nishioka) are a combined 21-for-129 (.163) during 33 games in the 2-hole with 0 home runs, 8 RBI and 11 runs scored.
Plouffe's OPS, not surprisingly, is blowing the field out of the water, too. It's a small sample size, to be sure. And it's not like the Twins have been on fire when Plouffe plays (they are 3-6 in his nine starts). But when someone at least brings competency to a part of the Twins' world this season, it is cause for celebration.
Having watched virtually every Twins game so far in this wretched season, we can confidently say that on a list of what is wrong with the team right now, Danny Valencia does not crack the top 10. Sure, his numbers are down from last year's hot rookie season, when he was a pleasant surprise in a lineup full of quality hitters. The most glaring number is his OPS, which was .799 last year and .651 this year.
But until Jason Kubel's three-run blast yesterday, Valencia was leading the team with 18 RBI, and his three home runs -- however meager that total is -- were tied for the team lead. His fielding is at least adequate -- above average when it comes to fielding percentage (just two errors), below average when advanced metrics are brought into play. And his play in the seventh inning saved Francisco Liriano's no-hitter, which remains the brightest spot this season by far. Let's not forget, too, that in a year during which the Twins have had tons of players go on the disabled list for various boo-boos and the Twins have put out haphazard lineups full of spare parts and AAA players, Ron Gardenhire has written "Valencia" on the card for all 35 games at third base.
So what you have here is a durable player who is on pace to give you virtually exactly what should have been expected of him, particularly in his first full seasons in the major leagues: reasonable defense and some pop at the bottom of the lineup. Runs batted in are situational, but they have been hard to come by for this team. Valencia has delivered them.
As such, with so many players struggling in so many ways, we found it a little odd that Gardenhire -- who by the way looks completely miserable whenever he is shown on camera -- apparently chose a Valencia at-bat in Wednesday's game as his tipping point. From Joe C's insider:
Cuddyer was batting .103 (3-for-29) with runners in scoring position before he drilled an RBI double in the second inning. This came after a leadoff double by Morneau and a shallow flyout to center field by Danny Valencia.
That at-bat by Valencia was among the myriad things eating at manager Ron Gardenhire.
"Man on second, doesn't get him over, flips a weak fly ball," Gardenhire said. "That's not good enough. That's not how we play. And [he's like], 'I'm trying.'
"OK, you are trying. Get it done. That's how we have to do it. Get it done because I'm tired of 'trying.'"
Maybe there's more to it than that. Maybe it was just a case of wrong place, wrong time. And we hardly blame Gardenhire for venting his overall frustration. But from the outside looking in, we'll say this:
Some guys get a free pass. Some guys get a tip of the cap for heroically allowing a lead and then a tie game to turn into a loss. But the brash kid doing an adequate job holding down third base gets knocked down a peg for the millionth fundamental error the Twins have committed this year? Sorry, but we're not sure that's the right guy to pick on.
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