Tuesday, June 23, 2009

More Changes Please

Twins 5, Astros 2
Astros 6, Twins 5
Astros 4, Twins 1

I think most Twins fans expected a 6-game home stand against 2 mediocre NL teams to turn out better than 3-3. I certainly did. What went wrong? Partly, it was a bit of a bad draw in terms of facing both Roy Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez, two of the better starters in the NL. It was likely that one of them would totally shut the Twins down, which Rodriguez did on Sunday. That made the Saturday game very important, but the Twins couldn't get it done despite hitting 4 HR and putting up 5 R in support of Scott Baker. That was mostly because the bullpen, specifically Sean Henn and Luis Ayala, once again failed to put up zeros.

Gardy might have been better off leaving Baker in there, even at 102 pitches. Baker had already retired Darin Erstad twice, and Erstad is a shadow of his former self. That was probably a better matchup than Henn against any rightie on the Houston bench. I know Baker has had some good games go bad awfully quickly in the late innings this year, but he's the ace, and Henn is just journeyman AAA filler. For as long as Gardy has left Blackburn out there recently, you'd think he could do the same with Baker.

On Sunday, the game was lost in the first inning as the Astros put up 3 R on a bunt single, SB, a groundball single, a 2B Kubel lost in the ceiling, an RBI groundout (that would have been an inning-ending DP had Kubel caught the previous batted ball) and a shoe-top grounder over third for an RBI 2B. Nice pitching by Perkins in avoiding hard-hit balls, but sketchy defense turned it into a big inning.

These two losses highlight the Twins' main problem since the rotation has righted itself: lack of depth. The Twins have a championship core this season with Denard Span (.380 OBP), Joe Mauer (1.202 OPS), Justin Morneau (.968 OPS), Jason Kubel (.925 OPS), Michael Cuddyer (.874 OPS), Joe Crede and Brendan Harris (.753 OPS, 3 E between them) leading the lineup and the gelling young rotation handing the ball to one of the game's best closers and a solid setup combination of Matt Guerrier (2.84 ERA) and Jose Mijares (2.57 ERA), plus the surprisingly solid RA Dickey (2.56 ERA) in long-relief. But those guys can't play every day - Span hit the DL, Mauer needs his rest, Gardy can't overwork Guerrier like he did last year, Crede is brittle, and even Morneau finally needed a day off. And when Span's ABs have to go to Carlos Gomez or Delmon Young, when Mauer is replaced by Mike Redmond, when Matt Tolbert and Brian Buscher get starts in the IF, the Twins don't score as many runs. When Morneau or Crede don't have their superior gloves on the field, outs turn into hits. And when the lesser bullpen arms have to take the mound, leads slip away and close games turn into blowouts.

In order to address this, the Twins designated Ayala for assignment and promoted Bobby Keppel from AAA Rochester. Though Ayala hasn't been as good as some of the other bullpen members, he's recovered from a poor start to the season, and was pitching at a level I think we could expect of him based on his recent track record. His ERA stands at 4.18. Did they expect something much different? I didn't. It's Sean Henn who's overmatched, taking 3 losses in just 13 appearances while amassing a 7.36 ERA and allowing lefties to hit .350/.435/.800 against him in 11 IP. I hate to belabor the point, but since this move was made, Craig Breslow has pitched 12.1 IP, with a 2.92 ERA and has held lefties to .217/.345/.283 for the season. If dumping Ayala turns out like that, we're in for it.

Though Rob Delaney, Steve Tolleson and Danny Valencia have recently been brought up to Rochester, there is still precious little there that we can look forward to as an upgrade over players presently on the roster. Therefore, the Twins best hope for succeeding in a very weak division this season is to improve the team by making trades. There are 2 areas of surplus for the Twins: young OF and young SP. Kevin Mulvey and Anthony Swarzak won't both be able to find rotation spots next year - trade one. What is David Winfree going to do in the corner OF that isn't already being done by Young? Is Ben Revere going to be able to bring anything to the table that Denard Span isn't already doing? Isn't Tolleson essentially the same player as Harris?

Yes, Bill Smith, try to shake things up, but in a way that actually makes the team better, OK? Look over the system, find redundancies, be realistic about who fits into the future of this team, and then bring the team the missing pieces it needs to take charge of this division.

PS: I don't want to forget to mention Delmon Young's 1st HR since April! How about that trot? 2+ months between dingers, and yet he sauntered around the bases like it was no big deal. Amazing.

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