Inside Look: Minnesota Twins
This site can’t afford to do “Ten Questions” this week, so following are nine for Joshua Taylor of the popular Twins blog, Taylor’s Twins Talk.
1. What happened to the Twins pitching? Before the season started, the Twins looked to have MLB’s deepest staff, with Joe Nathan anchoring a tough bullpen and three potential MLB starters beginning the year in AAA.
The Twins have been known for their pitching for some time now, what with one of baseball’s best in Johan Santana anchoring the staff. Last year, things started to go a bit haywire in the rotation, however, as Carlos Silva and Kyle Lohse both struggled at the start of the season, and with phenom Francisco Liriano getting hurt. Coming into 2007, the Twins knew there would be some serious questions with the rotation, as Liriano is out for ’07 while recovering from elbow reconstruction surgery and veteran Brad Radke retiring. The team opened the season with Santana, Carlos Silva, Boof Bonser, and veteran journeymen Ramon Ortiz and Sidney Ponson in the rotation — with Twins fans crying foul about the decision to give valuable spots on the roster to Ortiz and Ponson with a number of top prospects relegated to AAA Rochester. Ponson was gone after 6 weeks, and Ortiz was out of the rotation shortly thereafter. The Twins have turned those spots over to Scott Baker (who’s pitched himself onto a bit of a short leash, I’m afraid) and Kevin Slowey — a young guy touted as the next Brad Radke, with solid control and a very high ceiling. While the rotation is no longer the Twins biggest strength, things aren’t going that badly — Johan Santana may be only 6-6, but for the most part he’s pitched very well. Carlos Silva is having a respectable year, and Boof Bonser (while inconsistent) has also shown that he has a bright future. If the Twins can get solid performances out of their young starters, they’ll be fine. Glen Perkins and Matt Garza, two more young guns, are waiting in the wings to take over if anyone in the rotation falters.
As for the bullpen, it’s been solid despite numerous injuries. Joe Nathan has an ERA in the mid-2.00’s, even after blowing a save yesterday against the Brewers (he has just two blown saves this year), and is still one of the leagues premier closers. Pat Neshek, a rookie in 2006, has exploded onto the scene with a brilliant year, and is one of the Twins top go-to guys out of the ‘pen. Matt Guerrier, who was once an afterthought in the bullpen, has also turned into a solid innings-eater this season, and is now also regularly called on to get out of sticky situations. Juan Rincon is nominally the team’s set-up man, but with the emergence of Neshek and Guerrier he has found himself being used more often earlier in games. He’s having a reasonably ok season. Dennys Reyes, the lefty specialist, had a brilliant 2006 season for the Twins, but has struggled with an injury in 2007 and hasn’t been that good, as his 6.00+ ERA demonstrates. The last member of the bullpen, for now, is the exiled Ramon Ortiz — who will only be used if the Mets clobber one of the starters. The Twins did lose Jesse Crain, a 6th-7th inning type, to a significant injury, and he’s out for the year. That hurts the bullpen’s depth quite a bit. All in all, the bullpen remains a strength for the Twins, although perhaps not as much as it was over the past two years.
2. Though his on-field performance may not have been up to par, do the Twins miss Brad Radke? For example, would his veteran presence leadership have had a positive effect on the young arms?
The Twins certainly miss Brad Radke, because he always gave them a chance to win when he pitched. His stats certainly weren’t particularly gaudy, but he was money in big games. I also tend to think that it’s always a good idea to have veterans around young players, since there’s always something to learn. Radke’s presence in the rotation also would have likely meant that the Twins wouldn’t have felt compelled to experiment with Sidney Ponson at the start of the season — and that plainly would have made the Twins a better team. Unfortunately, Radke’s pitching arm was mincemeat, and it was time for him to retire. He’s certainly missed both in the clubhouse and in the stands.
3. It looked like Carlos Silva was about to have a breakout year in 2006 — obviously the opposite occurred. What’s the deal with his Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde performances?
Carlos Silva relies on his sinker, and when his mechanics are off it doesn’t sink. When he gets hammered, that’s usually the reason why. Silva has also always had a high batting average against, and he relies on the defense behind him more than just about any pitcher on the team. My feeling is that his troubles in 2006 were a combination of bad mechanics, mental stuff, and a little bit of bad luck thrown in for good measure. He’s had some great starts for the Twins in 2007, including the team’s only two complete games (against the Angels and Braves — 2 of his last 3 starts), but he’s also thrown up some clunkers. He is, at least, much better than in 2006, and I attribute that to hard work on his mechanics and on his confidence, and also to the efforts of Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson.
4. Is there a way for the Mets to pitch effectively against the monster known as Justin Morneau?
Justin Morneau is like a lot of lefty power hitters — you can bust him inside with a fastball and he’ll probably swing through it, but you better not miss over the plate, becaue the ball will be gone. He has very quick hands, and a lot of confidence — which is what can make a well-placed fastball inside so effective against him. He also goes through stretches where he chases anything that’s up in the zone, and while he has power to all fields, he also goes through stretches where he tries to pull everything, making breaking pitches away effective against him as well. When he’s on his game, though, he’s a very tough out no matter what your strategy.
5. Will Torii Hunter retire a Twin? If not, will the Twins deal him before he walks?
If I were running the Twins, Torii Hunter might not end up retiring as a Twin, but he’d certainly stick around for another 3-4 years. The Twins don’t have a major-league ready replacement for Hunter — the closest thing is a fleet-of-foot slap hitter named Denard Span who’s reminiscent of the Twins infamous “piranhas,” Nick Punto, Luis Castillo, Jason Tyner, and Jason Bartlett. Span is having a very poor season in AAA, however, and even if he were ready, he certainly wouldn’t replace Hunter’s power and run production. If the Twins let him go, they’re going to have a very, very difficult timing replacing him. Nevertheless, that’s probably what will end up happening, simply because Hunter will be able to command a tidy sum on the open market, and the Twins won’t be able to compete with that unless he agrees to a discount (which he very well might do). I’m of the opinion that if you can’t re-sign a valuable piece like Hunter, you have no choice but to trade him. Last year’s disastrous handling of Alfonso Soriano by the Washington Nationals set that team back significantly, in my mind, because the GM didn’t recognize that he was clearly going to lose Soriano at the end of the year. If the Twins aren’t making any progress on an extension with Torii by the deadline, then, I reluctantly have to conclude that trading him is the best option.
6. How will the lack of a DH affect the Twins lineup? Will Joe Mauer catch all three games?
The ironic thing about lacking a DH is that it probably won’t affect the Twins much at all. Production out of the DH spot has been miserable for the Twins for most of the year, with backup catcher Mike Redmond being by far the most dangerous hitter the Twins have put in that spot all year. While it’s possible that the lack of a DH will cost the Twins one game from Joe Mauer, if I had to guess I would say that the team will actually have him catch every day if he feels alright, because they have an off day on Thursday to let him rest. If not, Mike Redmond has been a solid replacement, so while the Twins will certainly miss Mauer in the lineup, it won’t be the end of the world.
7. Who will hit a homerun first: Jason Tyner or Luis Castillo?
Luis Castillo will hit a homerun before Jason Tyner — in fact, he might just hit 20 of them before Tyner goes yard. Tyner’s homerless streak is reaching epic proportions, while Castillo has actually hit Major League homeruns before. Tyner has been working on pulling the ball with some oooomph, though, so Mets pitchers better watch out — he even hit one off of the wall earlier this year.
8. At one point, Jason Kubel looked to be every bit the hitter that Morneau (or at least Cuddyer) has become. Do the Twins still have faith in the 25-year-old slugger?
The Twins still profess to have faith in Jason Kubel, and there are signs that he might be ready to break through. Kubel didn’t hit his first HR until May 15, but in limited action (32 AB’s) in June, he has 3 of them (albeit with a paltry .219 BA). A massive knee problem kept him out in 2005, and 2006 marked a rough return. So far, 2007 has been equally tough on Kubel, but he still has the potential to turn into a solid power-hitter, and hopefully he can turn around his season. One of the things going for Kubel is that there isn’t really anyone in the system ready to step in and kick him out of a roster spot, so he’s going to continue to get the chance to prove himself.
9. Bottom of the ninth, tie game, man on third, two outs. Who do you want up at the plate for the Twins?
This is a tough question for me. The best pure hitter on the Twins is easily Joe Mauer, but the guy who seems to play the hero every couple of weeks is Justin Morneau. He just did it again yesterday by going deep to lead off the bottom of the 9th and give the Twins a 10-9 win over the Brewers. Simply because he has so much experience with walk-offs and other clutch performances, my answer is Justin Morneau.
Thanks again to Josh for his insights — be sure to read all about the Twins at Taylor’s Twins Talk.