Monday, August 10, 2009

It's Not Our Year

For the second time this season, the Twins come staggering home from a losing road trip despite having outscored their opponents (38-29). That leaves them three games under .500, even though their run differential (+9) suggests a team that should be three games over .500 and right on Detroit's butt. That the team with the best scoring differential doesn't always have the best record is one of the things that makes sports so compelling. It's not enough to be good - you have to be good and execute when you need it.

The Twins aren't executing when they need it. Some of that's luck: Mike Redmond's soft liner with 2 RISP on Thursday afternoon would have scored both runners had the Indians been playing the IF in. The slow grounder to 2nd he hit in his next AB would have driven in a run from 3rd had the IF been back. Thursday could have been a happy day if Eric Wedge had made different decisions. But mostly, the Twins have only themselves to blame. Any kind of hit or productive out in any number of situations would have won the rubber game in Cleveland. Any kind of decent starts from Anthony Swarzak and Scott Baker in Detroit would have led to a Twins' sweep. But the Twins aren't getting what they need. Not this year.

Yes, I'm starting to feel fatalistic about the season, and I wouldn't be surprised if the players are, too. That's why it's so important for Bill Smith to keep infusing fresh blood into the team, so that they can have some reason to believe that things are different now, tomorrow will be better. Each of the Twins' recent additions, though not necessarily impact players on paper, have given the team the strongest production anyone could hope for so far. Since joining the team on August 1st, Orlando Cabrera is hitting .361/.378/.611. That's fit right into an offense that's averaging 6.0 R/game in August, and that's including a couple of RISP clunkers in Cleveland. Carl Pavano stepped into the rotation and delivered 7 shutout innings, meaning that the Twins have allowed 53 R in the 7 games this month he didn't start.

Pavano, Nick Blackburn, Brian Duensing and Jesse Crain are the only pitchers to have avoided disaster so far in August, although most of them had their troubles in July. With an offense that's rolling, the Twins just need league average pitching to stay in the race. The players already on the roster must be able to improve upon their recent performances. But Bill Smith should keep his eyes glued to the waiver wire in hopes of picking up other players, especially pitchers, who might be able to give the Twins some stability in the 'pen or the rotation. And he should also be willing to take some chances on some of the guys at Rochester, perhaps even before rosters expand.

The only decent starter they haven't tried yet is Jeff Manship, who's currently sporting a 3.22 ERA in 50.1 IP. He's only allowed 3 HR in 126 IP between New Britain and Rochester, so at least he knows how to keep it in the yard. The IF has plenty to offer, as Steven Tolleson (.301/.372/.435) would likely be an upgrade at 2B over Casilla/Punto, Jose Morales (.321/.417/.409) could definitely outperform Mike Redmond, and Danny Valencia (.292/.315/.474) might already be a better hitter than Brendan Harris or Joe Crede (though in his case I would definitely wait until September to bring him up).

But the minor leaguers could really change the complexion of the bullpen. Rob Delaney, after a brutal introduction to AAA, has a 1.42 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 8.5 K/9 since the beginning of July. Juan Morillo has an ugly 6.0 BB/9, but has 12 K/9, a .210 BAA, and has allowed only 1 HR in 51 IP at Rochester. And there's Anthony Slama, who has an unseemly 4.5 BB/9, but has 12.9 K/9, a .201 BAA and has allowed 5 HR in 65.1 IP. Maybe he'd get lit up if he skipped a level, but maybe he'd give the Twins a stretch run like they got out of Jose Mijares last year. Either way, I don't think the Twins have a lot to lose. As the team is now, even with the additions they've made so far, I can't help wondering at the beginning of every game what they're going to do to blow it this time.

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