Team Profile – Minnesota Twins
The Minnesota Twins have fallen on hard times in the past two seasons. After spending 2007-2010 at or near the top of the A.L. Central, the team suddenly found itself at the bottom, with even the Royals competing better. With a little confidence in the last week, though, the Twins find themselves with a little win streak, and hope to keep it alive long enough to mount a comeback in the division. What can a team with more than 20 losses this early in the season do to compete into the late summer months and into September?
To give an idea of how poorly Minnesota has been doing so far this season, the team has already gone through eight different starting pitchers. No one in that rotation has been able to find any sort of consistency, a fact that is only exacerbated by the fact that former starters like Francisco Liriano have been relegated to the bullpen. Minnesota has always had a rotation that’s pitched well against the A.L. Central, regardless of how they did against other teams. They also pitched well at the Metrodome, but ever since the move to Target Field two years ago, the team has never been the same. Maybe it has to do with playing outside for 82 home games. Maybe air pressure, wind direction, and updrafts created by the open space affect how the pitchers are able to go about their business.
The fact of the matter is, when 21 of your 26 losses are attributed to the starters, there’s a problem. Someone needs to pick things up, before the season gets too out of hand. It may simply be a case that young blood in the rotation is exactly what the Twins need. The best starters so far are Scott Diamond and P.J. Walters, two pitchers who have had very little MLB experience thus far. They’ve been good, but unless the veterans like Carl Pavano and Nick Blackburn start picking things up, the Twins are never going to recover enough to compete.
Justin Morneau is finally healthy, which is a huge boost for the team. But Joe Mauer isn’t quite his old self still, and Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddeyer left for greener pastures. The Twins’ offense has taken a big hit in the last couple seasons, and it’s shown. Without the same pop that it once had, they’re struggling to win games. Which isn’t good for the Minnesota front office. After throwing an amazing amount of money at Joe Mauer a few seasons ago to remain in the twin cities, the Twins are pretty strapped for cash. Which would explain why they didn’t go out and make any worthwhile free agent signings the last couple years. (And no, Ryan Doumit and Josh Willingham are not worthwhile signings. They’ll get the job done, and that’s about it.) If there was any thought of dumping Mauer’s contract, you’d be hard-pressed to find any teams that would take it. With at least five years left, Mauer has lost most of what made him worth the contract in the first place. He doesn’t catch nearly as often as he used to. He’s been injured regularly since signing the big extension. And he doesn’t have the power that made him such a threat in the Metrodome. The Twins are likely stuck with it until the end, and then hopefully they’ll be able to compete again (the idea being that they’ll build a team around the veterans over the next couple years, and then be able to fill in the holes once the money becomes available again).
Where the rotation has failed, the bullpen has at least given the team a fighting chance in games. The top six relievers in the Minnesota pen have ERAs under four, including Matt Capps, who’s 8/8 in save opportunities this season. Capps isn’t Joe Nathan just yet, but if he continues to pitch that well when his team actually gives him a save situation, then he’ll have a long and lucrative career in Minnesota.
There’s not much else to say about the bullpen, other than they need the rotation and offense to keep them in games. The relievers are doing exactly what any good bullpen should do, and they’re getting nothing for their efforts.
Keys to Success
At this point, the Twins really need the rotation to pick it up. At 13-26 for the first month and a half, hope for a winning season is quickly dwindling. The only hope the Twins have now is for the rotation to pitch Cy Young Award-Quality baseball the rest of the way, and for every other team in the American League to have monumental collapses. Otherwise, this season is almost over for the Twins. At very best, they could play spoiler late in the season, should whoever is at the top of the A.L. Central be clinging to a small lead. Given how close the division has been thus far, it could happen. But it still seems unlikely that such will be the case as the season progresses. All the Twins can do now is starting paying attention to what roster holes they’ll need to fill in the offseason, and hope that someone decent and cheap becomes available, or pull off some sort of deal at the trade deadline in July.
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