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.
The Twins are 19-9 after sweeping the Tigers -- who came here with a five-game winning streak -- despite battling with an assortment of nuisance injuries and shaky starts by a couple of key regulars. Given that baseball teams rarely have all of their weapons firing at once, being 10 games over .500 with the assortment of issues they've needed to deal with speaks well of the organization from top (Billy Smith) to bottom (Alexi Casilla). It sets a tone that having a few things break badly -- slumps, injuries, whatever -- isn't an excuse for prolonged mediocrity.
After one month of games, the Twins have recovered admirably from their miserable start (Remember when they were 0-1?) and have given fans an incredibly fun month.
Twins fans can engage in a daily game of guess-the-lineup with Gardy, with both sides operating from a position of strength. Hmmmmm, is this a day to start Thome at DH or give Kubel a shot at breaking out of his slump? How should we fill in for the absent Mauer today? Punto or Harris at third? It's much different from the subsistence lineups that marked even some of the title-winning seasons, although we suffered a bit of a flashback last week when Mauer and Morneau were both out for a day and the team had a rare, undisciplined day against Dontrelle Willis.
Francisco Liriano is the people's MVP and Cy Young rolled into one, Morneau is reaching base almost as often as he's being retired, the pitchers have walked fewer batters than anyone in the American League, the outfield has held up just fine without a slick late-inning glove, Jon Rauch has been up to the closer job so far and only fools continue to criticize Michael Cuddyer.
The big controversy among the learned is what to do about an abundance of seemingly excellent catching, also known as the Wilson Ramos issue. As exciting as it's been to watch Ramos so far, I am reminded of the interview with minor-league director Jim Rantz, who explained last year that Ramos gets into trouble when pitchers start "spinning the ball" -- also known as throwing breaking pitches.
When you follow the progress of a minor-leaguer with excellent potential, the ability to handle off-speed pitches is usually one of the final things to fall into place. And it will be the thing that Ramos will be expected to work on in the weeks and months to come, whether it's with the Twins or back at Rochester. I don't have a hard core position on the issue.
I am reasonably convinced the Twins -- in Ramos -- have a right-handed hitter with power who will be in the lineup almost every day come 2011. I buy into the "catching 40-45 games and DHing almost all of the others scenario," with Mauer pretty much doing the reverse for the next eight years -- with the percentages evening out a bit more each year. Thome is likely here on the one-year plan; both Cuddyer and Kubel are signed through this year with options for 2011, and who knows what will eventually happen with Delmon Young. (And on the other end of the spectrum are the hyper-promising young outfielders Ben Revere and Aaron Hicks.)
The Twins are in a mode unfamiliar to both themselves and their fans: making decisions from a perceived position of strength.
You can certainly debate the choices that Gardy makes. Sitting Delmon after his four-hit game against Cleveland seemed puzzling until you factored in that Detroit has a lefty-rich bullpen and he was the best choice for that role in the series opener. And the Wednesday wrinkle was trying to give the struggling Kubel some confidence by batting him fourth against Rick Porcello, against whom he's had great success.
Same with bringing in Jesse Crain to relieve Kevin Slowey, and seeing if he understood the lesson that his mid-90s fastball looks Zumaya-like when he mixes in his breaking pitches -- which he didn't fathom when going fastball crazy on Saturday night in Cleveland. Those are harder moves to make when your team isn't winning. But the Twins are playing and managing loose most of the time and the results have made for pretty cool watching.
The new ballpark isn't bad, either. And it's even better because it's not a diversion to what's happening on the field.
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