Sunday, July 31, 2011

Twins keeping quiet at dealine is a good thing

The trade deadline passes and the Twins do nothing. I actually don't mind at all. There were rumors last Friday that Denard Span might be trade bait.

All-Star Michael Cuddyer has been tearing it up this year at the plate and at various positions in the field. (How many of you flipped back over to the 20-6 debacle in Texas, just to see Cuddy throw some pitches?) He's still here too, for now. I don't want to lose him to free agency either.

A quiet trade deadline for the Twins was a good trade deadline, in my opinion. When everyone's healthy, the Twins have a lot of extra outfield help. But that's a better problem to have than trying to call up lots of AAA bodies.

Keep Span around awhile
Giving away Span with the hopes of Ben Revere stepping right in as his replacement might not have been the smartest idea either. So I'm glad Bill Smith didn't try it. While I like the spark Revere brings to the team, it's no secret that he needs to work on his fielding game, specifically throwing.

When I say it's no secret, that's really true. All of the Twins' opponents have caught on to Revere's weak arm, so opposing players will constantly run the bases when the ball is hit in his direction.

Staying put is a good thing
I'm glad the Twins didn't succeed in making a deal for a division run or a playoff run. Maybe they wanted to, but the bottom line being that they didn't is a good thing. Why? Because I still don't see this team winning the division, much less getting anywhere in the playoffs. (Although, history could tell us that last part.)

There's always waivers in August though, so we'll see what happens.

Broken record?
Inconsistencies are still abundant for this team. Nick Blackburn started the embarrassment that was the 20-6 game against the Rangers, and he wasn't entirely turned around in this next start either. Starting pitching hasn't been on the ball lately.

The Twins have historically been a second-half team. Well, July is over with, meaning there are two months of regular-season baseball to play. I haven't seen anything to indicate a surge yet. Not to mention that some of those comeback years, most notably in 2003 when the Twins acquired Shannon Stewart at the deadline, the Twins were propelled along by a key player.

Maybe I'm sounding like a broken record regarding the Twins not winning the division this year. Maybe I need to jump on a new point. Or maybe the Twins could go on a huge winning streak and give me something exciting to write about.

We'll see.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

An odd first-half for the Twins

It's been an interesting first half for the Minnesota Twins. They lost their first game, and series, in Toronto, and it's been an uphill battle ever since. Certainly one of the more head-scratching seasons for the Twins under Ron Gardenhire.

At the All-Star Break, they are 41-48 and 6.5 games behind the division-leading Detroit Tigers in the WALC (Weak American League Central) Division. Last year, the Twins were in third place at 46-42.

Anyone remember that before the season got underway, teams throughout baseball were already limping with injuries? Everyone except the Twins, ironically. They've been hit hard by the injury bug ever since.

In a 162-game season, it's no question that injuries play some kind of role in player and team performances. It's easy to point to this excuse as the reason for slumps, or for anything that doesn't go your way. But it's just part of the game and teams need to find a way to dig deep and step up to overcome the struggles.

So many injuries
I can't keep track of all the injury troubles the Twins have had this year. A much shorter list would be the players who haven't been knicked up (there have been some, right?). Tsuyoshi Nishioka got knocked out within the first few games, Justin Morneau had a season's-worth of boo-boos by June, Delmon Young mangled his ankle because he still cannot play his outfield position properly and Joe Mauer's leg weakness threw the entire sports community for a loop.

They've had so many minor leaguers up and down with the ball club that it's not always clear whether you'd be looking at the major league roster or the AAA one. It's been that kind of a season so far.

I must give kudos to the team's lone All-Star this year though: Michael Cuddyer. Though I love him in right field with his arm, he is a true gamer willing to play anywhere they need him.

All that being said about injuries, let me be clear that I am not blaming Minnesota's fourth-place position in the AL Central on injuries. Not at all. It's been unfortunate, but you can't pin the outcomes on key players missing from the lineup.

The bullpen has struggled a lot more than in recent years. Of course, a few of the arms from last season aren't with the club anymore. Joe Nathan returned from Tommy John surgery only to have trouble stepping back into the closer's role, not exactly shocking. Matt Capps has already blown a few saves, especially recently, so he's been tough to figure out.

Jose Mijares. Don't get me started. His main selling point to the Twins is that he's a lefthanded pitcher. That's really about it. He blamed Mauer in a loss at Miller Park because he only called fastballs. Ok, Mijares, but I don't think Mauer meant throw the first three fastballs nowhere near the strike zone, and then throw a cookie to Prince Fielder so he can hit an RBI double. Take some responsibility.

Alright, so I guess I did get started there.

Starting pitching hasn't been outstanding; it's been a typical up-and-down pace. Probably the biggest bright spot of the year has been Francisco Liriano's no-hitter in Chicago.

The big excitement here has been counting down until Jim Thome finally hammers out home run No. 600. Only five more to go. He's also had some injury issues, but I'm willing to give him a season pass - because he's 40 years old.

Cuddyer struggled a lot early on. His RBI count, which had been high the past few years, was almost non-existent for awhile. But he's really come around and been a clutch hitter lately. He's now carrying 13 home runs and 43 RBI.

I'm enjoying watching Danny Valencia and Ben Revere come around this season and contribute. Jason Kubel is a continued presence with his bat, although he's injured right now.

What's next?
The Twins have been known to be a second-half team throughout the past decade. But they also haven't dealt with the amount of struggles like this season. They're seven games below .500 and yet still only 6.5 games out of first, not an unreachable deficit.

They did make a good run in June, making up about a 10-game margin with a nice winning streak they put together. They've come back from unlikely places to win the division before, so I don't think you can ever completely rule them out, especially in the WALC.

I am still not pegging them to win the division though. We'll see how things go in July, see if the trade deadline brings about anything. Right now, it's just important for the Twins to get back above .500 and stay there, then concentrate on winning more games at home and winning more series.