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The 2010 Minnesota Twins season has been as frustrating as any in recent Twins history. Never have expectations been as high as they are this year. The team entered a new stadium in Target Field. With the new stadium came increased revenues. With the increased revenues, the team went out and spent a ton of money to acquire the types of players that Twins fans wanted. During spring training, the team said all the right things. This team was different. They were no longer "just trying to win the division."
So naturally expectations among fans and bloggers were sky high. The team went 15-8 in April and 16-12 in May.
Since then, the team has gone just 18-24. Injuries have certainly played a part. Justin Morneau's injury is worrisome. Orlando Hudson and JJ Hardy each spent significant time on the Disabled List which certainly affected the lineup and the team's defense.
As Scott Baker walked off the field last night, having given up five runs (another would score later) on ten hits and three walks, I was almost surprised (pleasantly) that there were a bunch of well-deserved boos heard throughout the crowd. Twins fans have grown impatient, despite the fact that the Twins are essentially where they were a year ago (and several previous years). We were told that this year would be different. I think fans assumed, fair or not, that this talented roster would not lose as many games to teams they shouldn't, and they wouldn't have so many brain cramps on the field. This team is in contention, but we all thought (not so wisely) that the AL Central would be wrapped up by the July trade deadline.
So, who is to blame for the Twins struggles?
Some want to blame the Twins front office. To those, I would say that the front office stepped up in the offseason and increased the payroll to about $95 million. The team needed and wanted a middle infielder and a second-place hitter. They acquired JJ Hardy and Orlando Hudson, and when healthy those two provide very strong defense up the middle. When Jim Thome became available at $1.5 million, they jumped at the opportunity, and he has been more than they were hoping for.
Some want to blame the manager. I can't say that I 100% agree with every decision that the manager makes. Ozzie Guillen is getting credit for continuing to show patience in Gordon Beckham, who is on a tear. Ron Gardenhire has shown tremendous patience with his starting pitchers, guys who have had a lot of success in the past. He has been stuck with a short bench. Sure, you can rightly argue that Delmon Young should not be hitting 7th or 8th in the lineup. The Michael Cuddyer at 3B experience was a mess. Joe Mauer has returned to being a great #2 hitter option. I believe that continuity is a good thing and has contributed to the Twins success in the last decade. I believe that few changes should be made in the season's first two to three months. But now we are in late July, so it's time to believe in the numbers and do whatever is best for the team now.
There is the old cliche that you can't fire all 25 players, so the manager gets fired. Well, I don't think firing is necessary, but I do believe that the players deserve a very large percentage of the blame. When Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn or Kevin Slowey leave pitches right down the middle of the plate over and over again, my assumption is Gardenhire or pitching coach Rick Anderson didn't coach them or instruct them to throw it there. When any of the Twins hitters ground into double plays, is that what Joe Vavra and Gardy want them to do? I'm guessing not. When Joe Mauer backhands balls in the dirt for wild pitches, I'm assuming that's not how he is coached since Drew Butera does it more fundamentally sound. When Denard Span gets picked off of first base time and again, I'm assuming that Jerry White, who was a great base stealer in his brief playing days, is coaching him base running properly. I'm guessing that Rick Stelmaszek isn't telling the bullpen pitchers, as they leave the bullpen to enter the game, to go out there and allow inherited runners to score.
The Twins haven't done the little things right for a long time. But I know they practice things like bunting, base running and situational hitter a lot in spring training and throughout the season. Not to pick out just one situation, but last night, Jim Thome came to bat in the middle innings with runners on second and third base with just one out. My guess is that Joe Vavra did not have to tell him that a fly ball would be great, a sacrifice fly and an easy run for the Twins. When Thome hit the ball three feet and was thrown out at 1B without the run scoring, how can that be blamed on Gardenhire or Vavra?
Is the Twins coaching staff perfect? Is the front office perfect? Of course not, but guess what, neither are the others around baseball.
The Twins front office accumulated a roster full of talent, many of them veterans. Justin Morneau has been terrific again. Delmon Young has finally met many of his expectations. Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano have both pitched very well. Brian Duensing has been a very consistent contributor all year in the bullpen.
The Twins have the best roster of players that they have had in a long time, but this is clearly not the best team that Twins fans have seen to this point. Who knows what is going to happen the rest of the way. I believe that the front office is working the phones hard and looking to make another acquisition or two before the July and August trade deadlines, as they did last year. Gardenhire has led his teams right through game 162, and even 163 the last two years, and deserves credit for that. So, don't assume this team is done yet.
But if the Twins want to win in 2010, it's time for the players themselves to all look in the mirror a little bit and figure things out for themselves. It's that simple. But I'm sure it's not that easy.
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