GameChat – Royals @ Twins #3, 7:10pm. The End.

This is it. Game 162. The last game of the season.

For the Twins, anyway.

In case you haven’t been paying attention, the two Wild Card races are heading in to game 162 in a dead heat. The Rays and Red Sox could still have to play a game 163, as could the Cardinals and Braves. I have to say, as frustrating as it is being a Twins fan right now, being a Red Sox or Braves fan and having to face the prospect of watching your team totally collapse your way right out of the playoffs before they even start might be even tougher. Anyway, there are four games certainly worth keeping an eye on tonight.

Finally, in the “if Ted Williams were alive, he’d kick your ass” category, we have Jose Reyes. Reyes entered the day with the narrowest of leads over the Brewers’ Ryan Braun for the NL Batting Title. In his first PA today, Reyes laid down a bunt and beat it out… then promptly told his manager to remove him from the game in order to put his lead over Braun in the bank. Why? Because he’s a pending free agent and his agent thinks he can get more money on the open market with that batting title in his pocket. I’ve never liked Reyes much and never really had a good reason why. Now I do.

Tonight is not only the Twins’ last game of the season, but also John Gordon’s final game as the voice of the Twins on the radio. Gordo isn’t what he used to be (then again, who of us is?), but he’s been an icon of the organization for many Twins fans for a very long time. We wish him all the best.

This will also be the last game in a Twins uniform for a number of players… we just don’t know exactly which ones, yet. Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Joe Nathan and Matt Capps all could be free agents. Kubel, Nathan and Capps aren’t probably going to see action, but I hope fans find a way to express their appreciation for the years of service that Cuddyer, Kubel and Nathan, in particular, have given the organization.

Here’s tonight’s line up:

ROYALS

@

TWINS
Dyson, CF Revere, CF
Giavotella, 2B Plouffe, SS
Butler, DH Cuddyer, RF
Hosmer, 1B Parmelee, 1B
Perez, S, C Valencia, 3B
Moustakas, 3B Tosoni, DH
Cain, RF Dinkelman, 2B
Maier, LF Benson, LF
Escobar, A, SS Butera, C
  _Chen, P   _Pavano, P
  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Kansas City 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 0
Minnesota 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 10 0

One run on 10 hits? Seriously. Hey, let’s just celebrate the 0 errors!

Carl Pavano saved his best for last, throwing a complete game, 5-hit shutout at the Royals to wrap up the season.

Denard Span hit a pinch-hit double in the bottom of the ninth, setting up Trevor Plouffe’s game winning single.

All to make retiring broadcaster John Gordon’s final “call” a memorable one.

So why not 4 BODs? (after all, it’s not like we’ve had very many of them the last couple of months anyway).

Carl Pavano

Denard Span

Trevor Plouffe

John Gordon (Photo: MPR/Jeffrey Thompson)

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Reinforcements: Hendriks, Dinkelman, Waldrop

Media reports have Liam Hendriks joining the Twins in time to start Tuesday’s game and he’ll be joined on his trip to the “Show” by Brian Dinkelman and Kyle Waldrop.

Liam Hendriks

The interesting thing is that apparently none of the three players are currently on the Twins’ 40-man roster. There is one opening on that roster currently, so that means a couple of guys are going to have go.

There are a couple of players I certainly wouldn’t shed tears over if they were sent packing for good, but waiving players is only one way to clear room for the new arrivals. Players placed on the 60-day Disabled List are exempted from the 40-man roster.

Denard Span has returned to Minnesota from his home in Florida and is reportedly working out at Target Field. All the same, given the state of the Twins’ season (in the crapper), it might make sense to just shut Denard down for the season and tell him to focus on coming back ready to go in Spring Training 2012. That would open up one spot on the roster for one of the new arrivals.

As for the other… how about this for an idea. Given that Joe Mauer missed several weeks with “general soreness”, can’t we pretty much assume he’ll miss at least the remaining three weeks of the season with his current bout with “general congestion”, too? If so, let’s just throw him on the 60day DL, too and send him home to Ft. Myers. Maybe by Spring Training, he’ll be over his cold (and hopefully will have found his manhood, as well).

While we’re at it, why not just shut Justin Morneau down, too? Is there really any point in having him continue to try to fight his way back on to the field this month?

Brian Dinkelman

Seriously… there is simply no reason to have any of these guys on the field at this point. The next three weeks are about seeing the young players and letting guys like Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel try to finish out their seasons strong enough to make them Type A free agents so the Twins can get an extra draft pick if they decide to play elsewhere next year.

In any event, congratulations to Liam, Brian and Kyle… make the most of your opportunities, gentlemen!

- JC

Span Trade Needed… And Soon!

Gotcha.

You saw that headline and I hooked ya. Now it’s time to reel you in.

No, I certainly do not believe the Twins need to trade Denard Span for Drew Storen or any other package centered on a relief pitcher. They’re seriously talking about trading him for relief pitching? REALLY? I wish someone could give me an example of when another organization traded away a guy of Span’s talents and contract status for a damn relief pitcher. I don’t care if someone is calling to offer me Dennis Eckersly in his prime, unless Eck is going to be used at the top of the rotation, I hang up the phone.

In fact, the more I  look at this stuff, the more amazed I am that the Twins would even consider dealing Denard Span for anyone, really. They probably aren’t going to offer Delmon Young arbitration this offseason and both Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer are going to be free agents with no shortage of suitors.

Ben Revere, Aaron Hicks, Joe Benson, and/or others among the Twins’ reputably talented outfield prospects may indeed combine in some manner to give us a “golden era” outfield, but I don’t believe for a moment that such an era is set to begin in 2012.

Denard Span... Twins need to trade FOR him, not trade him away

So yes, Denard Span needs to be traded, but the trade that needs to happen is one the Twins can implement all by themselves. Span needs to be traded TO the Twins by the Rochester Red Wings… and it needs to happen really, really soon.

Hey, I admit I’m no doctor and I would never, ever, advocate doing anything that would put a player’s health at risk. That’s particularly true when we’re talking about something as important as the man’s brain. If Span’s concussion symptoms are hanging around similarly to what Justin Morneau’s did a year ago, then sit him out until they’re gone. No doubt about it.

But he’s not sitting down. He’s playing baseball almost every day… in Rochester. If he needs a few extra days off, that’s fine. But when he does play, it should be while wearing a Minnesota uniform!

Look, if Alexi Casilla hadn’t pulled a hammie, a few days more or less of Denard entertaining fans at Frontier Field instead of playing for the Twins might not be a huge deal. But Lexi DID pull that hammie and he’s out for what the Twins witchdoctors say will be 2-3 weeks, which means we’ll be lucky to see him in a Twins uniform by this time next year, given the track record of the Twins’ medical staff (and I use that term loosely).

Did you see that line up Ron Gardenhire fielded in the final game of the Rangers series last night? Rochester wouldn’t be able to win an International League game with a line up that has Matt Tolbert, Ben Revere and Tsuyoshi Nishioka batting back-to-back-to-back in the 9, 1 and 2 spots, respectively… though I think I’d be OK with sending them down to let them try!

That may be being a bit harsh, I know. Tolbert actually got a couple of hits in his return last night, so the Twins certainly didn’t lose that game because of his presence. But as much as we all enjoy Revere’s approach to the game and appreciate the boost he gave the Twins when it was needed most, his performance at the top of the order has been really bad lately.

And then there’s Nishioka.

I am trying, for the life of me, to figure out why he’s still holding down a regular spot in the Twins line up while they are still considering themselves playoff contenders. Manager Ron Gardenhire has, as we all know, been known to stick with “his guys” through thick and thin (and thinner and thinnest), but I don’t recall many guys getting the level of patience Nishi has. Nick Punto, in his worst times, performed better than what we’ve seen this season out of Nishioka.

The man is a ground ball machine. You would think that just the law of averages would mean a few more of those ground balls would find holes in the infield, but they don’t. They aren’t hit hard enough to get through any but the most minute gaps and he’s not the fleetest guy from home to first base, so he’s not beating many of those infield grounders out.

Maybe I’m not seeing what Gardy is, because of everyone on his bench, he’s the last guy I would have moved up to the 2-spot in the batting order when Lexi went on the DL. As a matter of fact, since I’m advocating a “trade” with Rochester for Denard’s services, let me strongly suggest that it be Nishioka who gets sent to the Red Wings in return.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka... good chance he just grounded out.

The quotes from Gardy about this guy are consistently about how they still believe he can be a good ballplayer and they don’t want to destroy his confidence. I get that. It’s admirable. But do they think he’s an idiot and doesn’t see for himself that he’s hitting for sh*t? What’s more demoralizing for a player’s confidence, getting benched or continuously being overmatched by even the most mediocre Major League pitchers?

I keep hearing the excuses… the pitchers throw harder here, the strike zone is different in the US than Japan, he got a “star” level of respect from Japanese umpires and he’s getting “rookie” respect (e.g. none at all) from MLB umpires, his injury set back his learning curve.  blah, blah, blah. I don’t care.

HE’S NOT HITTING THE BASEBALL!

I know the Twins have few other middle infield options. Matt Tolbert is barely replacement level, Trevor Plouffe would make the Jolly Green Giant leap to catch throws from SS, Luke Hughes doesn’t play short, and now Casilla is out of commission. At least Nishi is making the routine defensive plays at shortstop (and a few not-so-routine plays, as well), so I know there’s a case to be made that he’s the best of a bad bunch of options. But as long as we’ve still got a couple of days before the deadline, maybe Bill Smith can find someone with a spare AAA shortstop who occasionally will get the ball out of the infield. If not, I’d probably be fine with letting Tolbert or Plouffe get another shot, rather than continuing to watch Nishi flail away at the plate. It’s just too painful to watch and it has to be even more painful for him to experience.

The Twins are probably not going to get back in contention. I know that. And if they’re ready to throw in the towel, so be it. I can’t really argue against that, at this point. If that’s the case, then yes, let Nishioka keep trying to see, nevermind hit, American League pitching if we no longer care about winning games. Give Denard all the time he might need to get his game back together and be able to contribute 9 innings for 3, 4, 5 days in a row… whatever. Let’s get innings for Hughes, Plouffe and whomever else might warrant an extended look.

But, Bill and Gardy, don’t tell me you’re serious about getting back in to contention when you’ve still got Nishioka in your batting order, much less up near the top of it. It just makes you sound like idiots.

- JC

Let The Trade Rumors Begin: Denard Span

And so it begins.

This afternoon, the Twins hit the rumor wire as word spread that they were talking to the Washington Nationals about a trade involving centerfielder Denard Span.

Denard Span

At first, I thought this had to be some kind of joke. Certainly Bill Smith wouldn’t be looking at the results of the past two series and think, “We seem to have too much offense on this team right now, especially at the top of the order… there’s no way we have room for Denard Span when he’s ready to return.” Would he? Ken Rosenthal at FOX seems to think so.

Is it possible Smith has looked at Ben Revere’s hitting lately and figured he’s just what a contender needs leading off? Yes, the guy is great to have in the outfield, but he’s almost been the worst looking hitter in the Twins’ batting order lately.

Almost.

The worst, of course, has been shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka. I’m 55 years old and I’d be willing to bet I would at least look better swinging lefthanded than Nishi has and I’d have almost as many hits. NONE would be “almost as many” as Nishi’s had lately. In last night’s game wrap-up, I mentioned that if I were the GM, I’d be looking for a shortstop who might sniff at getting a hit occasionally. And therein lies the rub.

The Nationals need a centerfielder and they apparently feel they have an extra middle infielder. Word is, they’re shopping shortstop Ian Desmond and would shift their current second baseman to shortstop in order to make room for a rookie they think is ready to come up to the Big Leagues. (That rookie’s name is Stephen Lombardozzi, by the way… a name that should sound familiar to Twins fans. Yes, he’s the son of THAT Steve Lombardozzi). The Nats also have a couple of right handed relief pitchers that they may be willing to part with.

So… if you got Desmond and a productive reliever for Span, would you make the deal?

Not me.

First of all, if the Twins don’t score more than two runs a game, all the relief pitching in the world won’t help. They need more offense and the most likely way they can get it is to get Span back in the line up and let Revere take over 4th outfielder duties. Second, Desmond’s stats aren’t all that much better, if at all, than Nishioka’s and they certainly are nowhere near Span’s. Rosenthal mentions that Desmond’s .584 OPS is the lowest in the National League… but I guess it’s still better than Nishi’s .544 OPS, right?

I don’t blame the Nationals for wanting to make a deal with Bill Smith. They clearly are fondly recalling the deal they got in return for Matt Capps a year ago and if you’re in their front office, there’s no reason to think you shouldn’t be able to get a favorable return from Bill Smith and the Twins again.

That doesn’t mean Smith has to oblige them.

Ben Revere may be a legitimate full time MLB player some day. Joe Benson could, too. Rene Tosoni has similar potential. Aaron Hicks and Angel Morales? Sure… some day.

Some day, the Twins won’t need Denard Span in their line up. Today is not that day, unless Bill watched the half-assed efforts his guys put forth on the field against the Tigers over the last few games and has decided it’s time to hold a fire sale. In that case, Denard’s name won’t be the only one we see showing up in MLBTradeRumors this week.

- JC

If The Price Is Right

If it’s the All-Star Break, then it must be time for fans to start talking about trades. We are, after all, just past the mid-point of the season and the non-waiver trade deadline is less than three weeks away.

At this point there are three kinds of teams… obvious buyers, obvious sellers and everyone else. The Twins are in that “everyone else” category because they haven’t established themselves as an obvious contender nor have they fallen so far back in the standings that they have virtually no chance of becoming contenders.

So, that means everyone is (or soon will be) posing the question, “Should the Twins Buy or Sell?” To me, the answer is… “Yes, if the price is right.”

What’s that you say, it wasn’t a “yes or no” question? Too bad.

Bill Smith

July trades generally are made between two parties, one a contender and one… well… not. The contender (or “buyer”) has a spot or two to fill to help push them to the top of the standings and/or prepare them to be a stronger playoff team. Their GM has to be willing to do one of two things… or both… (a) give up highly rated prospects or young (read: cheap) MLB-ready players; and/or (b) take on significant salary owed to an established (and often overcompensated) veteran player.

The other party to these trades (the “seller”) has some highly paid veteran players that are either having good seasons or have put up good numbers recently enough that a contending team might be willing to bet they could help put their team over the top this season and that team is looking to restock with young players that will help next season… and for several years to come. They also are likely looking to shed some salary because they recognize attendance is going to be dropping the rest of the season.

I think the Twins, thanks to the very weird season they’ve endured, find themselves in a unique position… they’ve pressed a lot of young players in to Major League action and many of them have performed well enough to demonstrate that they fit the “MLB-ready” criteria that “sellers” are wanting in return for established players. They also find themselves with an abundance of veteran outfielders and pitchers… many of whom will be free agents at the end of this season… that could be attractive to contending “buyers”. Finally, they’re already certain to exceed 3 million in paid attendance, so there’s no need at all to consider shedding salary to be a factor.

Denard Span

It amazes me how many suggestions I’ve read that the Twins trade a Denard Span or a Delmon Young for established relief pitching. That’s absurd on two levels. First, nobody who has top veteran relief pitching to trade is likely to look for expensive veterans in return. They’re going to want young players they can continue to pay the league minimum to for a while. Also, you simply don’t trade players of the quality of Span, Young, Cuddyer, etc., for relief pitching. Ever.  MAYBE you trade your Rene Tosonis and Trevor Plouffes… legitimate prospects (but not future superstars), guys you can (and likely will) find a way to live without in the future… for relief pitchers. The Twins SHOULD be “buyers”… they SHOULD get relief help… and they have enough decent young talent to use for that purpose. There are a lot of decent relievers (meaning better than what the Twins have been trotting out there for middle relief) on the market so it should be a buyer’s market. There’s no need to overpay.

At the same time, the Twins have demonstrated that they can compete without the likes of Delmon Young, Denard Span, and Jason Kubel in the line up. The question is… should they trade away a veteran or two and continue to try to compete without them? If the price is right, sure, why not?

Delmon Young

Of course, you do not just give any of these guys away. Even those who are going to be free agents are likely to be good for compensatory supplemental draft picks if they walk away at the end of the season. But because guys like Ben Revere, Luke Hughes, Anthony Swarzak, and Glen Perkins have demonstrated they can be relied upon to play a role with a contending team, the Twins CAN afford to deal SOME of their veterans and still remain in contention in the AL Central Division. If Twins GM Bill Smith can get real prospects in return for one of his outfielders or one of his pitchers, he should go ahead and do it. Would that mean running a risk in the event the Twins get hit with more injuries? Absolutely… but a GM’s job is to evaluate and take acceptable risks.

But what if the Twins do none of this? What if Smith takes a summer vacation and leaves his phone in the Twin Cities? Can the Twins compete if they do nothing at all?

Well, I still think getting some relief help is important, but otherwise… yeah… the Twins could stand pat and make a serious run the second half of the season… and in to the playoffs. How is that possible?

Justin Morneau

It’s possible because, even if Bill Smith takes that long summer vacation, he will be adding three quality veteran players by the July 30 deadline and another… a former MVP… by the August 30 waiver-deal deadline. Delmon Young has been reactivated and Denard Span sounds like he won’t be far behind. Jason Kubel should be returning not long afterward. Justin Morneau’s recovery seems on target for mid August. Name me a contending team that wouldn’t give a boatload to get four players like that over the next 5 weeks! And Smith doesn’t have to give up a thing.

And here’s the bonus, in my mind… many teams (including past Twins teams) expend so much emotion and energy trying to make the surge necessary to dig out of a deficit in the standings that their tank is empty in September and October. They’re worn out mentally and beat up physically. But most of the Twins top players shouldn’t be feeling worn down. Mauer, Morneau, Young, Kubel, Span… they’ll all be far fresher than most players at that point in the season.

The Twins also have enough starting pitching, with Swarzak, Kevin Slowey and Kyle Gibson (again, we’re assuming the GM makes no deals) ready to step in, that any member of the current rotation who gets as much as a hangnail could be DL’d for 14 days, allowed to get rested up, and come back strong.

This is not the time for Bill Smith to overspend. He doesn’t need… in fact can’t afford… another trade where he gives up a top prospect for a relief pitcher, like the Ramos-for-Capps deal a year ago. He can afford to wait for a trading partner who’s willing to overspend and, if necessary, settle for a moderate deal for middle relief help.

I hope he shows patience because God knows the blogging world is likely to urge otherwise.

- JC

Respect The Streak? Not This Time

For weeks, we’ve been moaning and groaning about the bad luck that’s befallen the Twins this season on the injury front. As the injuries mounted, so did the deficit the Twins faced in the standings.

For a while, we fans held out hope… if only they can keep things reasonably close until guys could get healthy. But they didn’t. In fact, not only did injured players not get healthy, but more players got hurt. Until it reached the point where only the most avid “prospect watchers” among us even recognized the names of some of the players wearing the Twins uniform.

And hope faded almost to black.

Almost.

And then a funny thing happened. These guys started to win.

Sure, they weren’t playing the Yankees and Red Sox (or even the Rays, Orioles or Blue Jays, for that matter) any more, but last I checked, all the games count the same in the standings, regardless of who the opponent is.

And they kept winning. They swept four from the Royals. They took 2 of 3 on the road from the AL Central leading Tribe. They took 3 of 4 from the AL West leading Rangers.

They aren’t making the errors (mental or physical) that they had been making. The pitchers aren’t giving up runs the way they had been. They finally managed to burn the assbats and started hitting the ball hard… and often. The new guys started hitting… then the few remaining regulars started hitting.

Yes, the Twins are on a winning streak… and you don’t have to be someone who’s watched Bull Durham 391 times to know that you don’t f… fool… with a winning streak. You respect the streak.

But Ron Gardenhire and the Twins are about challenge Crash Davis’ conventional wisdom. They really have no choice. But I’m betting it bothers Gardy at least as much as it does me… probably more.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka

Starting Thursday afternoon, the first of the Twins’ walking wounded returns to the line up. Tsuyoshi Nishioka has been out of action so long that this will be his first appearance in a game at Target Field. He’ll play shortstop, which means Alexi Casilla moves to second base. For all the talk about rookie Ben Revere and the pitching staff, it has quite possibly been Casilla whose performance, at bat and in the field, has been most responsible for the Twins’ recent success. Now he’s changing positions.

Joe Mauer

Friday, Joe Mauer is expected to take his rightful place behind the plate and in the heart of the batting order. He’s done neither for two months (and the season is only 2 and a half months old). It’s a no-brainer, of course. Mauer HAS to return to the line up if he’s healthy. Drew Butera and Rene Rivera are making more contact than they had been, but there’s a reason Mauer’s the starting catcher. Actually, there are about 23,000,000 reasons.

And that’s just the beginning. Over the course of the next week to 10 days, we can expect to see a lot of familiar faces return. Glen Perkins was arguably the most effective (only effective?) member of the bullpen when he went down. He’s due back by the weekend, but he’s rejoining a bullpen that’s been much better, perhaps because everyone there now has pretty well defined roles. Where will Perkins fit and will he be as effective as he had been?

Remember when Jason Kubel and Denard Span were the only hitters even coming close to performing at expected levels? They haven’t been in the lineup during this surge… but they will be returning before long. Who’s At-Bats will they be taking and… perhaps more importantly… who’s spots in the field will they be taking? There’s no question that the OF defense has improved since Ben Revere was recalled June 2.

Joe Nathan and Jim Thome are also on the road to recovery. They’ll be taking roster spots from a couple of guys who have contributed to the Twins’ recent success, too, but how certain are we that they will outperform the guys they’ll be replacing?

The last to return will possibly be the most recent to go on the DL, Justin Morneau. But has anyone else noticed that Luke Hughes and Michael Cuddyer are actually doing a better job defensively at 1B than Morneau had been?

Don’t get me wrong… I’m very happy to see these guys coming back. But I’m just old-school superstitious enough to be nervous about the timing, too.

If all of these guys come back and perform at the levels we expected from them when the season opened, the Twins may not only catch the rest of the Division, but absolutely destroy it. I just wish I was more confident of that.

One thing I’m pretty sure about, though, is that the Rochester Red Wings are on the verge of getting much, much, better.

- JC

Tough Decisions This Week

The Rochester Red Wings must cringe every time the phone rings in their office this season. Almost every player on their roster who’s shown any ability to play the game of baseball this season has been plucked from their clubhouse and given a ticket to Minneapolis (with Kyle Gibson being one obvious exception).

As difficult as it has been for Ron Gardenhire to keep 25 healthy bodies in the Twins clubhouse this season, his job may be getting even tougher this week. The Twins currently have eight players on the Disabled List. What could be worse than that? How about having eight players all ready to come OFF the Disabled List at one time?

Now, if the Twins were still playing like a bad American Legion team, the way they were throughout April and a good chunk of May, this would be no problem. You celebrate the return of all the “real” Twins and happily send Red Wings manager Tom Nieto back the players you’ve borrowed from him. But now, just as virtually every player on your DL is due back in uniform, you’ve got a team of young players who have been winning a lot of games.

Joe Nathan

Kevin Slowey is just starting to throw, so his return isn’t as imminent as the others, but Glen Perkins and Joe Nathan are going to be ready to return to the bullpen in the next week or two. The current bullpen is consistently shutting down opponents (finally)… so who loses their job when Perkins and Nathan return? How confident are you that those two guys will immediately be as effective as the pitchers they replace?

As tough as those choices may be, things only get tougher when you ponder the decisions coming up with regard to the position players. Jason Kubel, Jim Thome, Joe Mauer, Denard Span, and Tsuyoshi Nishioka are all scheduled to come off the DL at roughly the same time.

The decision concerning which catcher departs to make room for Mauer will be tough enough. Drew Butera has been with the team for most of the past two seasons, but Rene Rivera is reportedly out of options [UPDATE 6/15: Latest information is that Rivera is NOT out of options, which makes the rest of this paragraph moot. Butera and Rivera are therefore essentially on even footing], while Butera still has options remaining. That means the team would have to risk sending Rivera through waivers if they want to keep Butera. That said, the Twins will need to clear a 40-man roster spot for Mauer, so they may be willing to take that risk with Rivera. But you have to wonder if the Twins want to face the possibility of Steve Holm being the fallback option if Joe Mauer’s return is short-lived.

Luke Hughes and Matt Tolbert

As tough as that decision may be, it’s nothing compared to how Gardy and GM Bill Smith will go about finding room for the others. Seth Stohs detailed the performances of the current position players over the course of the past 10 games over at SethSpeaks.net and it would be tough for me to find one or two non-catchers that I’d be anxious to pull out of the current line up, never mind more.

I’d love to get Span, Kubel and Thome back. But do you really want to see Ben Revere benched or, even worse, sent back to Rochester? I don’t. During the offseason, I wrote that I wanted to see more speed in the Twins outfield and now that they have it, I don’t want to give it up.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka

The Twins made a three year commitment to Nishioka and it’s very possible that he’ll end up being worth every nickel of the money they’ve sunk in to bringing him over from Japan. But we haven’t seen enough of him to know that for sure. What we do know is that Alexi Casilla, Matt Tolbert and Luke Hughes have all been batting over .300 (with three doubles each) during the recent stretch of success. How comfortable are you with the prospect of plugging in the unproven Nishioka in place of one of those guys?

We’ve poked a bit of fun at the line ups that Gardy’s been turning in, with references to them being “Red Wings” line ups and comments about how they resemble line ups you’d expect to see at spring training road games. But they’re also line ups that have been WINNING and the Twins still have a lot of winning to do if they’re going to dig themselves out of the hole they’re in.

So who’s time with the Twins is drawing to a close?

Brian Dinkelman’s cup of coffee with the big club is probably about over. In fact, don’t be too surprised if he is passed through waivers to make room on the 40-man roster for Nishioka. Rene Tosoni is also a logical candidate to return to Rochester.

So, if we assume Slowey will be headed to Rochester to join their rotation and that Dinkelman, Tosoni and one of the catchers will be departing, that leaves us just three more players to drop to make room for those returning. Two will be pitchers… but which pitchers? Might the Twins be ready to insert Anthony Swarzak in to the rotation and, if so, would Brian Duensing be likely to head down to Rochester so he continues to get regular starts? Of the rest, you could make an argument that Jose Mijares is the most deserving of a free trip to Rochester.

And what about the remaining position player that we must bid farewell to? I don’t see Revere, Hughes, or Tolbert going anywhere. Is it time to give Danny Valencia a wake-up call? Or is it possible that Jason Repko’s run with the Twins might be nearing an end?

These will all be critical… and difficult… decisions. Two players are going to have to pass through waivers and could be claimed by other organizations, so the Twins must choose wisely. The current roster has been making an impressive run and in the process, they’ve closed the gap between themselves and the division leaders. Shaking up the roster at this point is a risk, even given the talent level that’s returning.

As early as a week from now, we may be seeing a line up that includes Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Jim Thome, Jason Kubel, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, and Denard Span. It will certainly look a lot more like the line up that we expected to see when the Twins broke camp in Ft. Myers. Whether that’s a good thing or not remains to be seen.

- JC

Getting Reacquainted

 It’s been an odd season.

For a team in a league that limits active roster size to 25 players, the Twins have certainly manage to fit an awful lot of guys in to uniforms. 39 different players have taken the field for the Twins in 2011… 20 position players and 19 pitchers.

Of course, if you happen to be one of those fans that only pays attention to who’s playing when the Twins are taking the field at home in Target Field, you may not have noticed the constant roster adjustments that have resulted in Gardy putting something like 57 unique line ups on the field out of their 61 games. The reason you may not have noticed is that only 21 of those games have been at home.

From way down here in Eastern Iowa, I’ve personally attended almost 15% of the Twins’ home games. Quite the avid fan, aren’t I? Well, not really. I’ve actually only driven up to the Twin Cities for one series (the Angels)… and I didn’t even stay for every game of that series.

For those fans (and players) that may not remember what it looks like, this is Target Field

Well, get ready to get reacquainted with your team, folks, because all that is about to change.

The Twins will play 31 of their next 41 games at Target Field. They’ll have series in San Francisco and Milwaukee later this month and play a series in Chicago just before the All-Star Break, but otherwise, it’s time for some home cooking.

So, for those of you who have kind of lost touch with this team since the season started, here are a few things you should know:

  • You may have heard the Twins have a new second baseman. You may have heard that he’s from Japan. You may have heard wrong. Or not. Tsuyoshi Nishioka did start the season at 2B, but only lasted a week or so before breaking his leg, so when you go to the game, expect to see Matt Tolbert there. Or Luke Hughes. Or Michael Cuddyer. Or Alexi Casilla. Then again, Nishi is hopefully wrapping up his rehabilitation work in the minors soon, so you MAY see him out there. Or you may see him at shortstop instead. Or it may be Casilla there. Or Tolbert. Yeah… better just check the lineup on the big screen.
  • You may remember that the Twins have a home-grown All-Star MVP catcher. Well, yes they do. He’s currently DHing and catching a few innings here and there… for the Class A team his brother manages down in Ft. Myers. He, too, may be back on the field for the Twins some time during the next few weeks. But I wouldn’t bet on it. His legs are weak. Seriously… that’s the story… the $23 million/year hero is apparently taking the year off because his legs are weak.
  • You may have heard that Jim Thome is approaching a career milestone… 600 home runs! That’s true. He’s just approaching it very… very… slowly. He’s on the Disabled List at the moment (where he has lots and lots of company).
  • You may have heard that you can at least cheer for Jason Kubel and Denard Span because they have been among the few Twins actually hitting the ball well this season. Well… maybe. Kubel is keeping Thome and the others company on the Disabled List and Span has been missing games lately with what could be a recurrence of some vertigo issues he had a couple of years ago. Or maybe he just misses Thome and Jason (and the other Jason… Repko) and Joe (and the other Joe… Nathan) and the other guys on the DL and wants to hang out with them for a while.
  •  You may have heard that the Twins’ bullpen is full of guys you’ve never heard of. This is true. It’s just not necessarily the SAME group of guys you’ve never heard of that started the season out there. The good news is that THIS group of guys has actually been getting hitters out lately. Still… if you go to a game and the Twins have a lead of say 2 runs (or 3.., or 4… or 5) heading in to the last couple of innings, it might be premature to assume it’s safe to go line up at the light rail station.

Hopefully, during the course of the next 6-7 weeks, Twins fans will get to see more familiar jersey numbers at Target Field… either that or the team is going to have to consider putting names on the back of those old-school throwback uniforms they’re wearing at home (something they decided to do to honor Harmon Killebrew).

Even more importantly, I hope the performance on the field continues, as it has over the course of this past road trip, to resemble something fans have come to expect from the Twins in recent years. Their record is still the worst in baseball, but the pitching is more consistent (in a good way) and while the remaining sluggers still haven’t been slugging, the guys at the top and bottom of the order have been finding ways to score some runs. It has become fun to watch the Twins again… just in time for this long homestand.

I wrote a few weeks ago that I didn’t believe the Indians were for real. I’ve seen nothing to change my mind. The Tigers are the team that everyone in the AL Central need to focus on and the Twins are currently exactly 10 games behind Detroit. Six weeks from now, the Twins will be wrapping up this favorable stretch of their schedule by hosting the Tigers for a four-game series. If they aren’t within clawing distance of Detroit at that point, you might want to get a good… and last… look at some of your favorite players in their Twins uniforms, because many of them will likely be wearing someone else’s colors a week or so later.

- JC

THAT’S How Ya Do It!

After attending the debacle Friday night and then reading that Francisco Liriano had been scratched from his Saturday start in favor of Anthony Swarzak, who would be facing off with Jared Weaver, I can’t say I was optimistic about the possibility of witnessing a Twins win Saturday night.

Silly me.

OF COURSE this would be the circumstance under which the wins would put things together to pull out a W!

There was a great crowd on hand, reminding me a bit of the enthusiasm I felt during so many games last season. I think we all knew that the Twins were likely to have trouble scoring much off of Weaver, who’s had a pretty strong year, thus far. But Swarzak was every bit Weaver’s equal as the two pitchers matched one another almost pitch for pitch from one inning to the next.

Toward the 7th inning, Swarzak gave up a couple of pretty deep, well hit balls that found the gloves of Michael Cuddyer and Delmon Young. In fact, the defense tonight was very solid all night long. It hasn’t been often that we’ve been able to say that this year.

With one out in the 8th inning Peter Bourjos laced a line drive down the left field line for a double to ruin Swarzak’s no-hitter bid and the crowd immediately rose to give the young pitcher a huge standing ovation. As we sat down, the three 20-something women sitting to my left asked me why everyone had been cheering… they had no idea Swarzak had a no-hitter going. I’m not sure they even knew what a no-hitter was, to be honest. Ah well.

The guy to my right almost flipped out when Matt Capps entered the game to start the 9th inning on the mound for the Twins… but he stood and gave Capps an ovation with the rest of us after his hitless inning. Alex Burnett followed with a clean inning of relief, himself. (Where have THESE versions of those two pitchers been lately… and can we keep them a while?)

And then it was the bottom of the 10th. Lefty reliever Hisanori Takahashi took over for Weaver and struck Jason Kubel out looking before giving up a solid line drive single to Justin Morneau. Jason Repko ran for Morneau and righty Kevin Jepson took the mound for the Angels. Michael Cuddyer grounded a single past the SS in to left field and Delmon Young lined a single to center field. Unfortunately, Repko couldn’t get a jump on that single because there was a real chance it could have been snagged by the shortstop (I thought he was going to catch it from where I sat).

A lot of people around me were upset that Repko didn’t score, but to be honest, he HAD to make sure that ball got through. The LAST thing you want is to have him get doubled off 2B to end that inning. He still got to 3B and the bases were loaded with just one out and Danny Valencia at the plate.

The Angels used five infielders, all playing in on the grass, and just two outfielders, but it didn’t matter. Valencia lifted a fly ball to RF and right off the bat, everyone knew it was deep enough to score Repko from 3B. Torii Hunter jogged back a bit but he knew it didn’t matter whether he got to it or not and it landed well beyond Hunter. Game over.

The Twins celebrated on the field and you could just tell this was a win that made everyone feel good… players and fans alike.

I didn’t take as many pictures this trip as I usually do at games and many I did take are far from high quality, but I thought I would post a few anyway… hope you enjoy!

- JC

Pregame fraternization between Torii, Denard and Cuddy, as well as Justin and Russell Branyan

TC Bear fires tshirts in to the crowd

Anthony Swarzak was very, very good

Jared Weaver was also very, very good

Torii Hunter went hitless... but looked good doing it

An appreciative crowd gives Swarzak a standing ovation after he gives up the first Angels hit in the 8th inning

The Angels play a 5 man infield when the Twins loaded the bases in the 10th

Danny Valencia strokes a deep fly ball to right field...

... and the Twins celebrate a much-needed win!

Keep Hope Alive!

“You must not surrender. You may or may not get there, but just know that you’re qualified and you hold on and hold out. We must never surrender. [The Twins] will get better and better. Keep hope alive. Keep hope alive. Keep hope alive. On tomorrow night and beyond, keep hope alive.”

Jesse Jackson at 1988 DNC (AP Photo-Ron Edmonds)

This is what it has come to… I’m resorting to channeling my inner Jesse Jackson.

For those of you too young (or too politically/socially disinterested) to recall, The “Keep Hope Alive!” quote in the first paragraph was the closing line from Reverend Jackson’s speech to the 1988 Democratic National Convention in Atlanta and he was assuring us that “America” would get better, not specifically the Twins (but if the shoe fits, right?). I may not have agreed with Rev. Jackson’s politics a whole lot, but my goodness the man could work a crowd!

With all the gloom and doom in Twinsville these days, it occurs to me that maybe a little dose of Jackson-like oratory might just be what’s called for (setting aside, for the moment anyway, the inconvenient fact that at the time Rev. Jackson gave his 1988 speech, Michael Dukakis had about a 20 point lead on George H. W. Bush in the polls… so Jackson’s speech didn’t exactly motivate the Democratic faithful enough to drive Dukakis to the White House).

I’m not sure I’m the one to turn to for motivational oratory these days, however. I not only have not posted a lot of commentary here, lately, but I’ve all but completely stopped posting comments on other blogs and podcasts. It’s not that I’ve given up on the Twins. Quite the contrary. I believe that when the “real” Twins get healthy and join Denard Span and Jason Kubel in the line up, this team will bounce back.

What I have given up on are many so-called “Twins fans”. I understand the frustration because I feel it, too. I don’t particularly enjoy watching the Twins lose game after game any more than anyone else does.

But I simply can’t tolerate the volume of the insane (and often inane) opinions regarding the reasons for the Twins’ poor showing, thus far. I listen/read some of the stuff out there and I just want to yell, “It’s the injuries, stupid!” Seriously… does anyone with half a brain think that Bill Smith, Ron Gardenhire or any other member of the Twins management should have EXPECTED to have Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Joe Mauer, Delmon Young, Jim Thome, and Jason Repko all on the Disabled List at the same time?

You want to know why the Twins can’t win more ballgames? Go back and read this post from Jim Mandelaro, in which he posts the opening day lineup for the Rochester Red Wings. Let me know if you find these names familiar… Ben Revere, Trevor Plouffe, Luke Hughes, Rene Tosoni, Rene Rivera. That’s right, five members of the Red Wings’ opening day lineup are currently getting regular playing time for the Minnesota Twins (and their opening day starting pitcher, Anthony Swarzak, made a brief cameo appearance for the Twins, as well). The Twins’ bullpen also has been littered with guys who started the season in Rochester.

I think we all have every reason to be surprised that the Minnesota Twins find themselves with the worst record in baseball, 11 games behind the leaders in the AL Central, as we reach mid-May.  But that’s just it… it’s not so much that the Twins are in that position… but rather the Rochester Red Wings are 11 games out in the AL Central and that really shouldn’t surprise anyone.

I know, I know… this is all just “making excuses” for the Twins’ ineptitude. That’s fine, if that’s how you choose to feel. But if you’re one of the people who refuse to acknowledge the role that injuries have played in the Twins’ results, thus far, then there’s a pretty good chance you’re just one of the “fans” who carry so much hate in your heart for everyone in authority with the Twins organization, that you actually come across as being happy about the team’s current struggles, because it allows you to pump up the volume on your “fire/trade/release everyone” rants. If that’s the kind of fan you are, congratulations, I guess. Enjoy yourself… but don’t expect me to listen to your BS.

Denard Span, one of the more prolific Tweeters on the Twins, posted this on Wednesday night: “Before I talk about the heat winning… If ur a genuine twins fan plz be positive and have faith in us bc we haven’t lost faith in ourselve”

Count me in, Denard.

Nobody associated with the Twins likes the way things are going right now and it’s fair to point out when players fail to perform up to expectations. But if you want to be fair, when you point out that six Twins are hitting below the “Mendoza Line” (.200 BA), you probably should also point out that only one of the six was expected to fill a starting role this season, while the others have had to fill in for injured regulars. And in the further interest of fairness, you could mention that three of the six were supposed to be playing in Rochester this season. But, hey… what fun is being “fair” when you can be negative?

This really isn’t rocket science and Tiger manager Jim Leyland knows it. “It’s pretty simple,” Leyland was quoted by media. “When your horses are at the vet, that’s not good. When they’re on the track, that’s good. Their horses will be on the track here shortly.”

I believe that when Mauer, Nishioka, Young, and Thome get back in the line up, this team will score runs. They will win games. Will it be enough to overcome this awful start? I don’t know. Maybe… maybe not. But they’ll be fun to watch again and I’ll enjoy doing so.

In other words, until then… Keep hope alive!

- JC