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The 2011 Twins committed 119 errors, ranking them 28th among 30 teams in Major League Baseball. There was plenty of evidence to support the notion that the "Twins Way" had slipped mightily that season, but that one number does jump off the page as an easy target.
In the offseason, new/old GM Terry Ryan scooped up Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit, neither of whom are known for defensive prowess, to solidify the lineup. But he also nabbed Jamey Carroll to shore up the most embarrassing part of the 2011 defensive woes: the infield. He probably overpaid a little -- Carroll is making $3.75 million this season -- but the Twins were absolutely desperate for a Carroll-type player, a veteran who would make all the plays and stop the circus music.
Minnesota improved to 21st in defense last year with 107 errors. This year, Minnesota has committed the fourth-fewest errors in all of baseball (49).
With the understanding that errors are hardly the perfect measure of defense ... and that Carroll did not single-handedly turn around the defense in this category ... we must say this: mission accomplished.
Carroll was traded to the Royals on Sunday, and if his primary charge was to restore some pride to the fielding portion of the game, he has done exactly that. Perhaps he leaves here at the perfect time, now that his playing time has dwindled and others like Pedro Florimon and Brian Dozier have locked things down fielding-wise.
But nice work, Jamey Carroll. You will be missed.
The next 10 days or so could feel like something of a sad countdown as many Twins fans resign themselves to the idea that first baseman Justin Morneau could very well be traded.
Morneau was drafted in 1999 and made his MLB debut in 2003. He is a Twin through and through. But he is also in the final year of a deal that, through no fault of his own, he is no longer fulfilling with production.
Many people call Morneau their favorite Twins player. And, indeed, these past few years have often been hard to watch -- while also serving as reminders of just how good he was early in his career.
From 2006 to 2009, the first of which was his MVP season, Morneau averaged 30 homers and 118 RBI per season. He was often an iron man, including playing all 163 games in 2008.
Lest you think it was all a product of the more hitter-friendly Metrodome, Morneau was on pace for a career season in 2010, the first at Target Field. He had a 1.055 OPS in exactly 81 games before the concussion in Toronto that started it all.
While he's been comparatively better in 2012 and 2013 than he was in 2011, Morneau is still not close to being the player he was. But if he is on his way out, it's important to remember just how good that was. He turned 29 in the middle of that 2010 season when he got hurt. He has 211 career home runs, but just 30 in the 2 1/2 seasons from 2011-2013. It's not crazy to think he would have close to 300 in his career if not for the injury. It's not crazy to think he would have won another MVP award in 2010 if the had stayed hot for the AL Central-winning Twins.
It's not even too far-fetched to wonder if he might have had another MVP season in him beyond that, since he was in his prime years. If he would have won three MVPs, it's not weird to speculate about the Hall of Fame.
Instead, we're speculating on a sad goodbye ... but not without remembering the good times, too.
Note: We're taking the last of some summer time off next week and will be back at full strength on July 29.
We attended a townball game on Friday in Jordan, which some of you are probably sick of hearing about if you follow Twitter as well. It was a veritable who's who of local bloggers and media types (OK, there were maybe like four of us who fit that description), but a good time was had by all. They sold a 12 pack of Coors Light at the concession stand for $20. How can you go wrong?
In any event, the upshot was a bunch of people who knew way too much about recent bad Twins baseball, which somehow led to a search on multiple smartphones ... which led to a box score from a 1-0 Twins victory over the White Sox from June 16, 2011.
Mind you, this was barely two years ago. But we found no fewer than FIVE amazing things in this simple box score.
1. First and foremost, it was the only game in Twins history in which Tsuyoshi Nishioka batted third. Think about that with what you know now about how the whole Nishi experiment went down. One of the worst hitters, albeit briefly, in their history once occupied the No. 3 spot in the order. And it was in his home debut, no less, a couple months after breaking his leg early on in a road game.
2. Look closely at that starting lineup: 1. Ben Revere (CF); 2. Alexi Casilla (2B); 3. Nishioka (SS); 4. Michael Cuddyer (RF); 5. Delmon Young (DH); 6. Luke Hughes (1B); 7. Danny Valencia (3B): 8. Rene Rivera (C); 9. Jason Repko (LF). Not only is this probably one of the weakest lineups in team history, not a single one of these nine players is still with the organization.
3. Starting pitcher Nick Blackburn threw eight shutout innings, and Matt Capps struck out two in a scoreless ninth for the save. This was part of a 10-start stretch in May and June in which Blackburn was 5-1 with a 2.35 ERA. Don't forget about this as Blackburn continues to try to come back this season, and the Twins try to figure out if they can squeeze anything out of the $5 million-plus they are paying him.
4. The game was played in 2 hours, 9 minutes, thanks to very few hits (Cuddyer's home run accounted for the only run) plus the swift work of Blackburn and the always fast Mark Buehrle. The fastest Twins game this season, by comparison, clocked in at 2:26.
5. We remember 2011 as being the beginning of the down years for the Twins, but that win on June 16 was actually part of an eight-game winning streak and a 15-2 overall stretch. It helped the Twins remain respectable for much of the year -- they were just six games out of first in the AL Central at 50-56 in late July before going 13-43 the rest of the way.
There was a sentiment at the beginning of this season that, while the Twins hadn't necessarily made bold moves with their starting pitching staff, it couldn't be worse than last year. With Mike Pelfrey, Vance Worley and Kevin Correia joining the mix and other holdovers showing at least back-half-of-the-rotation promise, there was reason for hope.
And, well, 85 games into the season (entering Monday night's game against Tampa Bay), things are just as bad.
The Twins have an MLB-low 32 quality starts (6+ IP, 3 or fewer ER allowed). That means they are getting quality starts 37.6 percent of the time. Last year, the Twins had an abysmal 62 quality starts ... meaning they had quality starts 38.3 percent of the time.
One more statistical glimpse: Starters' combined ERA in 2012: 5.40 ... and 5.32 in 2013.
New year. Some new guys. Same result.
Twins fans have pined for Kyle Gibson the way a thirsty cavalcade wandering through the desert longs for water. As the Twins' pitching went from good to bad to ugly over the past couple of years, Gibson's return from Tommy John surgery in 2011 -- and his inevitable MLB debut -- became urgent in the minds of fans. Add in the fact that he's a highly touted prospect throws in the mid-90s as opposed to the Twins' more recent brand of pitch-to-contact youngsters, and it was a genuine whirlwind of excitement and anticipation whipped up for Gibson.
And now? Well, now the real fun begins. Gibson is on his way to the big club and is slated to start Saturday against Kansas City at Target Field. He is about to cross that mythical line -- think of it like the magic cornfield in "Field of Dreams" -- where he goes from do-little-wrong prospect to instantly judged major leaguer.
His minor league numbers at Rochester this year were good -- 7-5, 3.01 ERA, including good outings lately -- and it makes a ton of sense for the Twins to get a look at him before they impose an innings limit because of his surgery comeback. Let's say he has 50 innings left in his season. Let's say that means he has roughly 8-9 starts up here.
The inclination will be to make all sorts of wild projections based on those handful of starts. Right now he's like a rookie backup QB who has never thrown a pass. All people know is that he's never thrown an interception, and they love him for all his promise. The transition onto the field of play is a beautiful, difficult, dangerous thing and Gibson will never be judged the same again after he throws his first Twins pitch.
But let's try to let this process play out. Watch the body of work and the progress instead of making snap decisions on Gibson (and we're not just saying that because people say he's our Twins twin).