I checked the box score from work today, and saw that today's game was a quickie (2:09 or so), so I decided to listen to it when I got home from work. What a pleasure to listen to baseball in the backyard on a spring evening while playing fetch with the doggie!
Livan Hernandez had his second straight solid outing: 6 IP, 1 ER, 4 H, 1 BB, 5 K. However, like last time, he was facing a lineup of mostly bench players. The three regulars in the Rays lineup (Iwamura, Bartlett and Gomes) combined to go 3-8 with a walk, double, triple and RBI. I remain unconvinced that Livan will be effective on opening day. He did thrill the crowd with a dribbler up the first base line that he kicked into Morneau's glove for the out. Maybe soccer is his sport.
Carlos Gomez flailed at strike 3 in the first after 3 straight bunt attempts. With a runner on second in the 2nd, he flailed so wildly at the first pitch that he fell down. Rays pitcher James Shields apparently didn't appreciate the largeness of the swing, and hit Gomez with a pitch. In the top of the third, he misplayed Iwamura's drive to center, twisting back and forth until he fell down, and the ball sailed over his head for a triple. Dan Gladden: "That's what you're going to get with this kid." He doubled over 3rd base in the fourth, and easily scored on Joe Mauer's bloop single to left. In the top of the 5th, he came up lame while making a running catch in left-center. They say it's just a cramp and he's day-to-day. Gomez says he wants to play tomorrow. Gardy would be absolutely nuts to let him.
(This brings up another reason the Twins shouldn't have had him start the season in the Majors: if he gets hurt and goes on the DL, his service time clock will be ticking away. If he gets hurt in the minors, no worries. Can we get a do-over? Please?)
Hearing Bartlett go 3-4 with a SB got me thinking. It's no use fixating on what might have been, so I'll just mention this one time, then take Garth Elgar's advice (Live in the now, man!). The Twins had too many young players, too many guys who had bad years last year, to be comfortable sticking with the hand they had at the end of last season. But what if they'd signed most of the same free agents, but hadn't traded Garza or Santana, believing that 2 first-rounders plus one more season of the best pitcher in baseball drawing crowds (and a chance at the title) were worth the same as the Mets' package. As we've seen this spring play out, the likely Twins opening day roster would have been:
CF - Span
SS - Bartlett
C - Mauer
1B - Morneau
RF - Cuddyer
LF - Kubel
3B - Lamb
DH - Ruiz/Monroe
2B - Punto/Tolbert
C - Redman
Bench - Jon Knott
I would have taken a flyer on a free agent 2B like Marcus Giles - he plays great defense, he can't hit any worse than Punto, and when he's on, he's got decent pop. But it's the pitching staff that really makes me wistful:
1P - Santana
2P - Baker
3P - Garza
4P - Bonser
5P - Slowey
Bullpen - exactly the same as the actual 2008 bullpen.
Liriano starts the year in the minors, and when he's got his feel back, he can come up. At that time, the Twins could trade Bonser and maybe one other prospect for a proper second baseman. If anyone falters, bring up Blackburn. Should they still give Nathan the extension? Why not? They could use the money they spent on Livan to give him the raise for this year, and with Santana still likely off the books for 2009, they could afford him just as easily as they can in the real world.
I think that roster is better than what the Twins will actually take north. It took a little faith to feel good about the possibilities of that group, but not an unrealistic amount. You just have to believe that the guys are capable of performing closer to their 2006 level than 2007, and that the young pitchers are ready come into their own. With Santana anchoring the rotation, and Neshek and Nathan slamming the door in the 8th and 9th innings, I think the what-if Twins team would have been capable of 90 wins. In a tough division, that might be enough - the Tigers and Indians are not without their weaknesses.
I'm not going to obsess over it, but I suspect that if we were to compile the numbers of that group of players at the end of the season, we'd find a team that could have produced better results than the team Bill Smith assembled.
Oh, well - easy come, easy go.