It's simple: Twins lack better players

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 5, 2011 - 7:25 AM

Injuries, the dismantling of the bullpen and overall poor play have kept the team near the cellar in the AL Central.

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Twins manager Ron Gardenhire

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Most everywhere I go, I get the same sports question: "What is wrong with the Twins?"

The answer is simple: The Twins don't have the personnel they had last year. To make things even worse, some key players who helped them win the American League Central title last season are injured.

Ron Gardenhire, the AL manager of the year last season, is every bit as good a manager, but this season he might have to be even better with the struggle he continues to go through of putting nine healthy players on the field.

Teams don't win pennants without a strong infield. The Twins' middle infielders from last season -- J.J. Hardy at shortstop and Orlando Hudson at second base -- were superstars compared to the infield of 2011.

The infield might have been a lot better if Tsuyoshi Nishioka, the Japanese star, had not suffered a broken leg in the sixth game of the year against the Yankees. The club's record is 9-14 since.

First baseman Justin Morneau, who didn't play after suffering a concussion July 7 last season and apparently is not 100 percent healthy yet, has a batting average of .207 and only one home run. At third base, Danny Valencia hit .311 in 85 games last year. After Wednesday's game, his batting average was .218.

Jason Kubel, playing in the last year of his contract, has been a real bright spot, hitting .350 and driving in the only run of the game with a solo home run in the no-hitter pitched by Francisco Liriano on Tuesday. Then Kubel drove in two of the three runs in the 3-2 victory over the White Sox on Wednesday.

Delmon Young is on the disabled list but was hitting only .228 before he got hurt. Michael Cuddyer, who had three different surgeries since last season, might be having one of his worst seasons at the plate with a .230 average.

The Twins' best players have been having such trouble that Joe Mauer, who was off to such a bad start before going on the DL, is currently the team's third-best hitter with a .235 average.

The catching has been a disaster with Mauer now having missed 20 games. Drew Butera is hitting .111 and Steve Holm, who was sent back to Class AAA Rochester on Wednesday, hitting .118.

The starting pitching has been up and down with Carl Pavano having a 5.84 ERA, Nick Blackburn at 4.41 after Wednesday's solid performance and Liriano at 6.61 despite his no-hit, no-run performance Tuesday. Brian Duensing at 2.91 and Scott Baker at 3.60 have been the only reliable starters. Kevin Slowey has been on the disabled list.

Then you have the bullpen. There was no way the Twins were going to replace Jesse Crain, Jon Rauch, Brian Fuentes and Matt Guerrier. And they haven't. Furthermore, Joe Nathan is still struggling to come back from his Tommy John surgery.

The 'Rochester Twins'

The current roster includes Trevor Plouffe, Rene Tosoni, Ben Revere, Dusty Hughes, Alex Burnett and Jim Hoey, who weren't on the Opening Day roster. Most of them weren't doing well at Rochester (10-14 this season) but had to be called up, despite their average performances, to replace injured players.

A year ago at this time, the Twins had a healthy Mauer, Morneau, Young and Cuddyer. And most important, they had a good bullpen, which they don't have now. The current bullpen has an unimpressive 4.88 ERA.

So if somebody asks you what is wrong with the Twins, tell them the manager doesn't have the stellar personnel he could put on the field last year who could compete with most everybody. Tell them the reason is that the team is hitting .230 and the pitching staff has a 4.73 ERA.

Jottings

Gophers basketball coach Tubby Smith admits he might be too lenient about keeping the door open for players to return after they consider entering the NBA draft. Take the case of junior center Ralph Sampson III, who has applied for the draft but can withdraw. Smith has more than one outstanding player who wants to transfer to the Gophers, and most coaches would tell Sampson to make up his mind now so Smith can get the transfer and not lose him to another school. But that's not Smith's way. So Smith will wait until next week to find out what Sampson is going to do.

There is good news about the recovery of Gophers freshman Maurice Walker, who was sidelined last year because of knee problems early in the season. Walker, who was ranked as the ninth-best center in the class of 2010 by ESPN, is making progress and will be ready for next year. He likely will have four years of eligibility remaining.

The old weights were removed and work started this week on a new Gophers football weight room that will cost $400,000. On June 1, work will start on installing new turf on the entire Gophers practice field.

Former Gophers football coach Glen Mason and new coach Jerry Kill have become good friends and have met twice in ashort time.

Timberwolves President Chris Wright reports that despite the Wolves' poor record this season, overall attendance was up 18 percent, with 1,700 more fans per game this year over last year. What worked for the Wolves was different admission prices for every team, depending on how popular an attraction they were.

This should give you an idea how far behind the Gophers football program is compared to Iowa and Wisconsin. The Badgers had five players drafted, including two in the first round, and Iowa had six, including one in the first round, while the Gophers had no one drafted. Among the Hawkeyes drafted was Caledonia's Karl Klug, an outstanding defensive lineman. One surprise was that John Clay, the great Wisconsin running back, declared a year early for the draft but wasn't selected.

Former Timberwolves shooting guard Corey Brewer played a key role in the Mavericks' 96-94 Game 1 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday. Brewer -- who was sent by the Wolves as part of a three-team trade to the New York Knicks for Anthony Randolph, then released and signed by Dallas -- played only eight minutes but scored five points in a little over two minutes of the third quarter as the Mavericks closed a 16-point deficit. Brewer also had one rebound, one assist and one steal in the game, and his plus-minus was plus-11, the highest of any player for either team.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com

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