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.
Those of us who have coached kids' sports on a more-than-recreational level -- you know, where some of the parents think their kid is going to be the next Blake Hoffarber or Royce White, if only the coaches knew what they were doing -- have gone into situations like the Twins faced over the weekend in Oakland. Your big man can't play because he's grounded, your point guard has mono, the kid who can shoot has a sprained ankle and properly cautious parents.
So you call your remaining players together and assure them that we're going to make it through the weekend: Some of you are going to have to step up and do things we don't normally expect and, hey, nobody has to worry about playing time. The only question will be whether you'll be too tired to go to school on Monday. (As a basketball coach, my strengths were scouting and pre-game chats.)
That's pretty much the situation the Twins faced this weekend in Oakland. The lineup had melted down with Morneau's tummy problems, Hudson and Hardy's bad wrists and Cuddyer away from the team because his father-in-law died. Nothing you can do about those things, except do the best you can and expect some to rise to the challenge and others to reject it.
Enter Delmon Young.
Delmon drove in seven of the 13 runs the Twins scored in Oakland, a weekend filled for him with big-and-clutch hits that came in situations when we came to feel fortunate when Young came to the plate instead of one of the others. Young was key in the Friday and Saturday victories and almost helped the Twins escape Nick Blackburn's second straight pitching-against-a weak-hitting team meltdown on Sunday when his home run brought the Twins from 5-2 to 5-4. (He also hit a home run in the one game the Twins won in Seattle.)
In those nine games, Young batted .324 with 12 RBI. For the season, he is second to Morneau on the team in RBI with 34, which means he has more than Mauer, Kubel and Cuddyer -- in fewer at-bats.
Wait, there's more.
The last time Young was allowed to start every day for this long was at the end of last season. Much has been made -- and rightfully so -- of the work that Michael Cuddyer did filling in for Morneau at first base.
When Gardy started putting Young in the starting lineup every day -- beginning last September 13 when Cuddyer moved to first base and Morneau was through -- Delmon responded with a 21-game stretch in which he batted .353 with a .380 on-base percentage and a .957 OPS. (Cuddyer was .325/.398/1.073 in that time.)
Much has been made of the spark Cuddyer provided -- maybe because he hit 8 home runs in those games as well (Delmon had 4) -- but you can make a mighty fine argument that Young's 2009 spark was as important as Cuddyer's, and certainly much, much less acknowledged.
With those numbers as a backdrop, maybe we shouldn't be so surprised at what Delmon's done for his team recently.
In a post about Kubel last week, I suggested that Young ranked fourth on a list that included Cuddyer, Kubel and Jim Thome when it came to those who needed to be in the lineup. (I also suggested that some of Kubel's playing time should come at Cuddyer's expense, and not always at Young's, which had been the case until Cuddyer's leave.)
You think maybe I was wrong?
Young stepped up this weekend when his team badly needed him to do so. Despite the paper-thin lineup and the inconsistent pitching, the Twins returned from the West Coast with the same-sized lead they had upon departure. It reminded me of kids who stepped up (Yeah, that includes the 23 points you scored in sixth grade against Blake, Jake) when I wondered how my team was going to get through its tough weekends.
Three other quick thoughts:
*We were watching Friday's game at Pickle Park (The GB Leighton bar ... Ms. Baseball-219 went to high school with Marcy Playground bass player Dylan Keefe) and almost fell off the bar stool when Scott Baker came out for the eighth after barely getting through the seventh. After his televised post-game snark on Joe C's question on Wednesday, it made me wonder exactly what area code Gardy was managing in. Hope he thanked Delmon for the RBI single in the 11th.
*After going 5-0 in May, Blackburn has gone into one of the slides that has marked his career -- 10 runs and 20 hits in 6 1/3 innings against struggling teams. Nick Nelson offered up an interesting analysis on the TwinsCentric blog.
*I'm not sure which is sadder -- Brendan Harris' .162 average or the whining, eye-rolling, bat-slamming persona that he's displayed in response. Sunday, it showed when he took a called third strike in his final at-bat, a slow curve that broke over the middle of the plate. Sometimes, a picture is worth 1,000 words -- and a Photoshopped one can be worth 100,000. This comes from Ben Collin's That's Twins Baseball, and pretty much says everything that needs to be said
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