Saturday, September 15, 2007

AL Central Wrap: Twins

Autumn encroaches and soon to lay us bare

Baseball, more than any sport, mirrors classic literature in its dramatic arc, possessing a beginning, middle and end, its season a coalescence of individual seasons that play out independent one from the next yet all connected as in some Rube Goldberg contraption that spits out a final winner after six uninterrupted months of games. For observers, there are uniquely distinct feelings that accompany the beginnings of seasons -- joy and hope and a sense of something long awaited arriving at last -- and the middle -- a blithe sort of contentment that eases by like the days -- and the end -- fatigue, and a desire to continue despite the fatigue, and perhaps sadness descending, to be fended off. And then, just like that, it's over.

The 2007 season, alas, has nearly arrived at this terminus, and at this juncture we can feel the Royals losing their pull and sway over your attention as surely as we feel the morning chill. But before we go, we thought a send-off would be appropriate in the form of AL Central Wraps, each written by a voice heretofore alluded to but never heard on this blog, at least not in these extended formats. It's our attempt to go out, if not quite with a bang, with something more than a whimper.

Today's guest blogger: Kinsella, who first made his appearance on IDWT talking about the White Sox, then made a snooty spelling correction, and has occasionally returned to drop allusions to more of the White Sox. This gives us reason to be suspicious of his claim to being a Cubs fan. It's as if he secretly loves the White Sox but wears Cubs gear just to look cool, like many North Siders who still call the downtown Macy's the "local Marshall Field's" and go to Cubs games just to be seen in their North Face jackets or Armani suits drinking their super cool Old Styles with their hot girlfriends.

K, as we call him, currently lives in Minneapolis and is a proud contributor to the national unemployment rate. He'll write about the Twins. The Royals went 9-9 against Minnesota this year, splitting the season series with them for the first time since 2003.

Without further ado:

Moving forward, Twins hope to resemble more Twins, less White Sox

By Kinsella

In 2005, the Chicago White Sox ended an 88-year drought by winning their first World Series since 1917. Adding power-hitting DH Jim Thome to an already dangerous lineup put the Sox as odds-on favorites to continue their run of dominance. Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" was destined to keep blasting throughout smoky bars and street corners on Chicago's South Side, as Ozzie Guillen was going to lead the boys back to the playoffs and again bring glory to the second team in the Second City. It turns out, though, that second place was too tough for the Good Guys in Black. 2006 proved to follow a different storyline, and the Sox were shut out of the postseason.

The reason behind the Sox's fall in 2006 was that the Minnesota Twins once again asserted their dominance in the AL Central. A 96-66 record gave the Twins a division title by one game over the Tigers and a return trip to the playoffs. Unfortunately, the Oakland A's upended the Twins in the first round, while the Wild Card Tigers went on to the World Series to be defeated by the St. Louis Cardinals. Despite the first round loss, the Twins and their fans had much to look forward to heading into '07. Lefty Johan Santana was the reigning AL Cy Young winner, 1B Justin Morneau the reigning AL MVP and Joe Nathan was one of the best closers in baseball. Joe Mauer was just coming into his own as a bona fide All-Star behind the plate and GM Terry Ryan, the 2006 Executive of the Year, continued to make a contending team out of one of the smallest payrolls in the league. Things were good for the Twins, but as the White Sox can attest, things can change quickly in baseball. As of September 14, 2007, the Twins are 72-74, thirteen games out of first place.

What happened to cause such a drastic dropoff? Last year, the "Piranhas" were young and snappy, small-balling their way to the top of the AL Central. This year they've been notably more flounder-like. Here are some of their top offenders:

  • Starting Pitching
    • Johan Santana – In 2006, Cy-tana was 19-6 with a 2.77 ERA and 5.21 K/BB ratio. So far this year, he is 15-11 with a 3.09 ERA and a 4.63 K/BB. Critics have pointed out that Santana has given up the most home runs in the bigs this year, 30, but last year only served up 24. Though not up to last year's Cy Young season, Johan has been carrying the load for the Twinkies this year just as well as he has in the past. The Twins HAVE to re-sign #57, says fan Andy Gunderson, because he's the "Best. Pitcher. In. Baseball." Santana is not the problem. The big dropoff occurs here…

    • Brad Radke and Francisco Liriano vs. Ramon Ortiz and Sidney Ponson – Radke (12-9, 4.32 in 2006) retired in December 2006 after a long, excellent career with the Twins; Liriano (12-3, 2.16) was the hottest rookie pitcher since Mark Prior until he was sidelined last fall with elbow problems (like Prior…); together, those two provided the Twins excellent backup for Santana. Unfortunately, with both of them unavailable in '07, Terry Ryan signed two retreads off the double-scrap heap, Ramon Ortiz and Sidney Ponson. It's safe to say that this experiment did not work out, as Ponson was 2-5 with a 6.93 ERA before getting released in May while Ortiz went 4-4 with a 5.14 ERA before being traded to Colorado for a bag of balls.

    • The rest of the rotation: Young guys Matt Garza and Scott Baker have a lot of potential, but they're great only for the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation right now. Royals fans may remember Baker's incredible eight PERFECT INNINGS on September 1st, and Garza has shown flashes of greatness the past year and a half. Carlos Silva is a bum and will be a .500 starter for his career if he's lucky. I don't care if the Twins re-sign him or not, and neither should Twins fans. [Ed's note: Kinsella was actually at the game in which Garza nearly perfect-gamed the Royals, and afterwards sent IDWT a correspondence. You can read it here.]

  • Hitting
    • Joe Mauer – Easy, Twins fans, don't get your undies in a bundle. But brace yourselves, because I'm going to bash Cretin-Derham's own golden boy, the high school legend, the greatest Minnesota athlete since Dave Winfield. Joe Mauer has had a bad year, and the Twins have struggled because of it. You can still wear your #7 jerseys and fake sideburns, but check out these numbers:
      • 2006 – 140 Games, .347 avg, .936 OPS, 84 RBI's, 13 HR
      • 2007 – 99 Games, .294 avg, .807 OPS, 54 RBI's, 5 HR

Bottom line, Mauer's been hurt and his productivity has fallen off. Take away his inside-the-parker when Gary Matthews couldn't read a ball off the baggy and Mauer has four home runs this year. FOUR HOME RUNS? That's like Nick Punto power… Mauer needs to stay healthy and produce like a big-money catcher for the Twins to be successful. How much longer does he actually remain a catcher?

    • Justin Morneau – Morneau has gone from "MVP" to "Oh-neau" in one quick year. His power is still comparable to last year, but his average has fallen from .321 in 2006 to .281 this year. Good news though, this slump in an arbitration year will allow tightwad Pohlad to re-sign Oh-neau at a much more affordable price.

    • Counting on Cuddyer backfired… Cuddyer had a career year in 2006, with 24 homers, 109 RBIs and a .934 OPS. This year he's at 13/73 with a .777 OPS. The Twins need better production from a corner outfielder who's playing this much.

    • Nick Punto – Seriously, does this guy have pictures of Gardenhire and Terry Ryan in compromising positions? .198 this year is pathetic. This guy is turning into the new Neifi Perez, but is a worse fielder. Get him off the field! Punto is the type of player that gets coaches fired.

Damn, that's a lot of negative. I'm normally a positive guy, but following the Cubs my whole life has turned me into a sports skeptic. There are some positives for the Twins going forward, and these things should give Twins fans hope.

· Morneau is still hitting for power. – If Morneau can continue to average 30-35 homers a year to go along with his .300 average, he provides a solid big bat in the middle of the lineup.

· Torii has been toriid at the plate this year – .291, 28 HR, 101 RBIs from a centerfielder? If the Twins re-sign him, they have to hope his numbers this year were not the result of a contract-year push.

· Jason Kubel – This young outfielder came back from a nasty knee injury to post a solid season. It's criminal that Rondell White has been taking at-bats away from this guy. I like him.

· New Stadium – The Pohlad family will always be a bunch of tightwads. That's not going to change. The Twins will get more revenue from their new stadium and ideally will have more money to spend on players in a few years. Outdoor baseball returning to Minnesota should be a boost for the team and their spending habits. The Twins will never be confused for the Yankess/Cubs/Mets/Red Sox in terms of spending, but they should continue to be competitive.


As of Thursday, September 13, Twins GM Terry Ryan has resigned his position, effective end of the 2007 season. Assistant GM Bill Smith takes over. The TC media has been praising Ryan for all he's done, but I have to question the timing of this move. The 52-year old Ryan steps out of the spotlight right before some of the most important personnel decisions in Twins history. Fan favorite Torii Hunter is a free agent, Cy-tana is up for renewal after 2008, Morneau is also due big bucks. With the prospect of being the name behind the dismantling of the Twins at the worst possible time, I can't really blame Terry Ryan for wanting to "spend more time with my family."

Thanks to Twins fans Gundy, Nolley, Mike and AL Central observer Dees for their ideas, etc. Tao, the Royals got a long way to go. But using their youth and fundamentals (the Twins model for success), the future is bright. Not as bright as the Twins' though.

-- Kinsella, Sept. 14, 2007
Minneapolis, MN

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