Thursday, May 12, 2011

When It Rains, It Pours

I got my first chance to check out the Budweiser Roof Deck at Target Field on Tuesday night. It was a fun experience. My view of the game was obstructed (all of left field and most of center were blocked from where I sat) but the casual, patio-like atmosphere was well worth it. It was like hanging out at a barbeque, only you could look walk over to one side, peer over the ledge and see a beautiful baseball stadium sprawling beneath.

My enthusiasm was quickly killed by a ball game that was, in many ways, emblematic of how this Twins season has gone. I sighed as Justin Morneau rolled over a 3-1 pitch and grounded out meekly to the right side with a runner in scoring position. I groaned as Francisco Liriano moved ahead of a hitter 0-2, only to end up walking him. Same old, same old.

By the time the rain forced a stoppage in play midway through the game, the Twins were down 4-0 and Liriano had been pulled due to illness, cutting short yet another disappointing outing. As if it wasn't enough for fans to be subjected to such lackluster play, those who weren't able to find cover were soon pelted by a barrage of hail. The large chunks of ice littered the outfield, and when the rain stopped fans had to wait while the grounds crew raked up every little piece.

Those who stuck out the hour-long delay watched the game further deteriorate, as the Tigers continued to beat up on Twins pitching in a 10-2 laugher. It was the tenth time this year the hometown nine have been defeated by five runs or more.

From rain to hail.

From loss to blowout.

From bad to worse.

That's been the story for these 2011 Twins. With another loss to Detroit in yesterday's series finale, they fell to 11.5 games out in the AL Central, with a putrid 12-23 record that puts them on pace for 56 wins. They've been the worst hitting team in the league and the worst pitching team in the league. They've struggled with routine defensive plays and basic base running fundamentals. They've managed to hit into more double plays than all but five MLB teams despite ranking dead last in on-base percentage. I was more skeptical than most about the club's chances of winning the division this year, but I never could have envisioned such a horrific scenario as the one that has unfolded.

We're not halfway through May, and yet already Twins fans must come to terms with the reality that -- in all likelihood -- the season is lost. 

For even when the offense gets healthier and the pitching staff rounds into shape (perhaps with some assistance from Kyle Gibson), this club will still be burdened by a terrible bullpen, a desolate middle infield and a major dilemma at the catcher position.

In grasping for hope, we can turn our thoughts to that 2006 team, which was 12 games out as late as July 15 before charging back to take the division with 96 wins, but that roster featured the AL MVP, the AL Cy Young winner, a sensational rookie Liriano, a healthy Joe Mauer and a lights-out bullpen headed by Joe Nathan at his peak. It was, quite obviously, a much better ball club.

This year's Twins roster was a flawed one to begin with, and not built to sustain this kind of disastrous prolonged slump to open the season. Even with improved health, I can't realistically envision them playing .600 ball from here on out, which would be required to reach even 88 wins. I say that without panic, without malice and without cynicism. Just with complete and utter dejection.

These are hard times for Twins fans.


Anonymous said...

Your pessimism about the twins was based on the middle infield not performing and the pitchers not named liriano failing.

The real problem is that Mauer, Justin, Liriano, Cuddyer, and Young are not performing anywhere near the level they need to.

Adam Krueger said...

I don't think that's a fair characterization of Nick's argument, I think he's saying that even if Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer and Co. turn their seasons around offensively, the middle-infield ineptitude and lack of competency in the bullpen will ultimately doom the Twins in 2011.

Curt said...

Total and utter collapse. Redundancy acknowledged. OK, not exactly total. Kubel and maybe Span and Baker are exceptions. Worst team in Twins' history? The '82 team lost a lot of games but it was exciting to watch. Their enthusiasm and potential were obvious. Not so with the 2011 squad. If everything comes together and Mauer, Young, Morneau, Thome, Cuddyer start playing the way they can, then they might eke out .500 the rest of the way. I can't see it happening though. 100 losses are looming.

Panda said...

This season is making me a sad panda.

Anonymous said...

Thome coming back, and being injured, reminds me of Favre coming back for the Vikes. And Mauer will probably miss the rest of the season. Morneau might never be his old self again. Cuddyer will be gone after this year. Blackburn, Slower, and Baker are overhyped, and they would be lucky to start as a 4th or 5th on any other team. This team performs better when they're NOT projected to win anything, right?

Ed Bast said...

I'm not 100% giving up yet, hard as it is to say so. But, for how bad things have been, it wasn't hard to see it coming. I said it all offseason: they were due for a step back. This illustrates why when you have a real shot at a World Series you take it - the 2010 Twins did not. I said in the offseason we would look back on that season as the best shot in a generation we'd have at a WS, except that we left ourselves a piece or maybe two short. Part of the problem with always playing for next year is you never know what next year will bring. Case in point, your 2011 MN Twins.

I've been ridiculed during my time here for my criticisms of Liriano, Cuddy, the front office, et. al. I've said since the day I first came here the Twins pitching isn't good enough. I hated the Capps trade and I hated the Twins' offseason.

What this club needs is an organizational overhaul after this season. Bill Smith absolutely needs to go, and they need to replace him with someone outside the organization who won't be tempted to hand Cuddy, Nathan, Capps, et. al. ridiculous contracts on the basis of their personalities. We need to draft power pitchers and middle infielders. We need to set expectations at the minor league level. We need a manager who does not coddle his players to the point where his "leaders" - aka Mauer - run the show and decide when they'll play and where, and whether or not they'll work in the offseason. We need a training staff who will give the team damn flu shots and manage injuries in the offseason so they aren't a debacle in the actual season.

I've said the Twins window for serious postseason success was 2010-2012. It looks as though that window was a lot smaller than I thought. Time to regroup, rebuild, and have another go in a couple years. But please, we can't keep running things the way they're currently being run. The system is broke. The Pohlads need to fix it. This offseason will be their chance to prove another of my crackpot theories wrong and show that they really do care about the product on the field instead of simply the bottom line.

Ed Bast said...

"What Cappy did today, I take my hat off."

-Rick Anderson

"Cappy" gave up a 2-run homer and blew a save in the 8th. After his team came back to tie the game, "Cappy" gave up 2 more runs to blow the game. 4 runs in 1.2 innings, a blown save, a loss, and a high five from his pitching coach.

I repeat: the culture of this organization needs to change.

Anonymous said...

Last I checked the culture of this organization was: Winning. So not sure that needs to change. Should Rick Anderson say: Capps sucks, I can't believe he gave up that jack. I wish we had Ramos right now...
Not sure why Capps is getting hate. Great trade for the Twins. He has a bad game yesterday but threw good pitches. The Tigers are hot. Capps has pitched 17 innings this year. He has given up 14 hits and 0 walks while thowing 9ks. A .082 Whip. The 3 Jacks are the mistakes. Without Capps the bullpen would be horrible instead of below average.

P.S. It's the HITTING! Not Starting Pitching, Bullpen, Middle Infield or Catcher.


Ed Bast said...

"Last I checked the culture of this organization was: Winning."

No. The culture is still, We're the poor little Twins, we shouldn't be expected to do much, but gosh darn it we'll do it our way. Fine when you're a small market team. Ineffective when you're a big-market one.

"Should Rick Anderson say: Capps sucks..."

No. Why praise him though?

"Great trade for the Twins."

Your credibility is shot.

"It's the HITTING! Not Starting Pitching, Bullpen, Middle Infield or Catcher."

We are last in the league in pitching. And our pitchers have been healthy, unlike the hitters. It's almost inevitable our hitters will turn things around, particularly when healthy. Zero reason to believe things will get better with the pitchers.

cy1time said...

After Monday's 2-1 Boston loss, while talking about pinch-running for Kubel in the 8th, Gardenhire said something like, "No question we're running for Kubel there." There were two outs in the 8th. Was it so hard to imagine that the game could go extras and we might need our only productive bat later in the game? Casilla don't steal the base and Morneua makes an out to end the inning. Sure enough, in the 10th, with two on, Casilla comes up to the plate in the three hole and the results were what we've come to expect from Casilla.

"No question" that we want to pinch-RUN for one of our few capable hitters? I'm a Gardenhire supporter, but there HAS to be a question about lifting Kubel in that spot. Either that or Gardy has developed some kind of aversion to scoring runs.

Mike said...

I've been getting blasted by other posters on ESPN for months for saying that I was highly unimpressed with the Twins offseason and expected them to miss the playoffs. Any reasonable fan should have known that the bullpen was going to be bad coming in to the season.

Any reasonable fan also should have known that Casilla was not a viable solution as an everyday player, Nishioka was a complete unknown for how he would perform at the MLB level, and that there was no decent backup at any infield position. People ripped on Punto all the time, but at least he knew how to advance a runner, which is something these middle infielders can't do, despite not really hitting any better, and certainly not playing any better defense.

I don't know how any one thought it would be a good idea to decimate the catcher depth, when Mauer has so many known injury problems. Throw in that Valencia would be hard-pressed to repeat his fantastic rookie season due to natural regression, Morneau isn't fully back, and Thome is eventually going to play like his age/injury history says he should, and we are where we are. Although this is far worse than I was expecting.

Perhaps the most egregious misgiving of the offseason was essentially guaranteeing the Twins would be worse defensively, particularly in the infield, while keeping the same mediocre, pitch-to-contact pitchers. I have no problem with pitchers who pitch to contact, but you have to have a solid defense behind you if you're going to do that.

Nick has a good point in saying that for practical matters, this season is done- the Twins just aren't making the playoffs. Things will eventually improve in all aspects, but Thome is still old and hurt, the middle infield is awful, the bullpen is awful, the starting rotation can justifiably strive to be average, but asking for more is a stretch. This team isn't built to rip off long winning streaks, even if completely healthy. They'll be lucky to get to 90 wins.

Matt said...

They'll be lucky to get to 90 wins.
I'd be on board for that, but it's not the losses, per se. It's the WAY they've lost. Blowouts. Bad pitching, worse hitting, double A defense, overmatched minor leaguers (why aren't writers ripping the farm system more?) and guys hanging their heads.

The way they've played, they'll be lucky to win 70 games.

Ben said...

but that roster featured the AL MVP, the AL Cy Young winner, a sensational rookie Liriano, a healthy Joe Mauer and a lights-out bullpen headed by Joe Nathan at his peak

That team also featured appearances from:
Nick Punto
Lew Ford
Rondell White
Jason Tyner
Tony Batista
Juan Castro
Luis Rodriguez
Phil Nevin
Josh Rabe
Terry Tiffee
Ruben Sierra
Alexi Casilla
Chris Heintz

I'll hold out hope a little longer that the 2011 Twins can do something. Remember that in 2006 the Twins went on an amazing run and still didn't pick up much ground because the rest of the division was keeping pace. Let's see how the rest of the Central cooperates this summer.

Conor said...

This blog sounds like its coming from a fair weather twins fan and one that doesn't realize it's only may. Liriano has proven he can be one of the best pitchers in the league. I agree the offense this year has been a major question, however, with Mauer, Young, Nishioka, and Thome suffering to injury, it's hard to make things happen offensively with guys like Ben Revere. On top of that Morneau still has yet to prove he has fully recovered from his injury, but production will come as the season progresses. When these players are one-hundred percent, the team will catch fire and join Jason Kubal who is putting together a career year.

Mike said...

@Conor- actually, it's a pretty realistic assessment of the Twins season. If being realistic makes you fair weather, then I guess I'm fair weather as well.

He noted the injury concerns. He's also been very open about how bad the bullpen is and how bad the middle infield is. Even blindly loyal Twins fans should be able to see that as truth.

For the Twins to catch fire, you're asking for a lot of people to come back from injury and play better than they were prior to being injured, you're asking the starting pitchers (and bullpen) to spontaneously be better than they are, and you're asking for the AAA caliber players that fill out the rest of the roster and will continue to get playing time out of necessity to improve with no real justification for thinking that will happen.

I think it's acknowledged that the Twins could certainly go on a nice run, but with the current roster (even without injuries), playing .600 ball for the last 2/3 of the season is tough. And doing that, at the time Nick's blog was written, would only net the team 88 wins on the season- rarely enough for postseason play.

And P.S.- .600 ball is a pretty high hurdle, if you didn't know. Last year, MLB had zero teams finish with a .600 record, although Philly was as close as you can get (.599).