Officially? No. It\’s only early May… er, mid-May, and the Twins are only 6.5 back of Detroit; and the Indians can\’t keep this up all year… right? (I\’ve already written off the Royals).
But in actuality the season is over. The Twins can point to injuries as the reason they are struggling, but there are 6 regulars who have not missed significant time. Only two of them have an OPS+ over 100. The pitching staff has been as bad as anyone could have possibly guessed. Joe Nathan is D-U-N done. The Twins pitching staff, who has led the league in fewest walks more often than not in the past decade, is now second to last. The Twins \”Wins Above Replacement\” value is 0.4. Meaning that a team of replacement players would have about the same record. Is there time for a turnaround? Sure. But every hope for the 2012 season would have to come to fruition, and fast.
Such as: Mauer stays healthy and hits with some power, Morneau plays like an MVP contender, Valencia follows up his rookie year with another solid year, Delmon continues to build, Casilla isn\’t awful, starting pitching all steps up a notch, and Nishioka (while not the second coming of Ichiro) is better than Cuddyer at second.
In closing… don\’t hold your breath.
How\’s this for a barometer: I need to open up a roster spot on my Fantasy team for a player coming off the DL. I\’m thinking about cutting Justin Morneau to do it. Cutting. Morneau\’s been the player wadE and I have considered to be the best Twins hitter in recent years, not Mauer. It\’s hard to say whether or not he just needs extra time to get his swing back after missing 2/3 of a calendar year with a concussion, but he\’s been really bad this season. And the rest of the team who\’s names aren\’t Span and Kubel have been as bad or worse. No one knows when Mauer\’s coming back (and his replacements have been terrible), there\’s no proven SS in the organization, no one knows how well Nishioka will play at 2B when he comes back, Thome looks like he might finally be done at 40… the only near-future bright spot is that Delmon Young will be back soon. The same Delmon Young who some suggested the Twins might want to sell high on after he had a good year last year.
And that\’s just the offense.
The pitching staff is perhaps less dire overall. Baker, Blackburn, and Duensing have all been pitching about where they should be expected to (aside from the staff-wide walk epidemic). The biggest problem is that Pavano and Liriano haven\’t pitched like the aces they were touted as. Liriano in particular has a strikeout rate that is half of what his career average is, which makes it an honest question to wonder if he\’s injured. Or worse, just done already. The bullpen hasn\’t been great, but is also exactly at league average when it comes to blown saves, so it probably only looks worse because the rest of the team has been so bad that we assume the \’pen is too.
Personally, I think last year was the exception year. Where everyone played above their heads and things broke right and we made the playoffs. I think this year is done, if for no other reason than it looks like the Indians and Royals won\’t be punching bags for the rest of the division. I think the Twins are looking at a minor rebuilding phase for the next few seasons. And if Morneau doesn\’t come back, it\’ll be a major rebuild instead.
Over? Did you say \”over?\” Nothing is over until we decide it is!!
Bluto\’s psychotic, but absolutely right– and so are Twins fans who believe that the 2011 season is still salvageable.
This season\’s 12-23 is the offspring of underperformance, injury, and poor strategy from the front office. I\’m (really, really) trying to convince myself that it\’s reasonable for the team to overcome those first two challenges to vie for the playoffs this year. We\’ll handle that last item when we have a less strict word count.
Briefly, as this is a gambit, let\’s tick through each position and predict whether things will improve, decline, or stay the same as the season progresses:
C – Frick, we couldn\’t get any worse here. Sal\’s kid and someone named Rene are making NL pitchers look like Barry Bonds. Joe will be back in mid-June and, fully rested, will perform like he did last year. Improve.
1B – Oh, I love the big, scruffy, soft-headed Canadian. He\’s clearly still trying to regain his confidence at the plate and in the field. He won\’t get back to MVP caliber (this year, at least), but he\’ll eventually start looking better than Luis Rivas up there. Improve.
2B – Nishi, Nishi, Nishi. We jump when big, ugly Yankees are lumbering towards us. I think Nishioka\’s output is still unpredictable, but second base cannot get any worse than it\’s been. Improve.
SS – Really? We thought the fourth time would be the charm with Casilla? How\’s that working out? Unless the front office does a trade to add salary to an already record-setting (for the Twins) salary, shortstop will be a mash-up of Plouffe, Tolbert, and Casilla. Which is terrible, but it also won\’t get worse. Stay the same.
3B – Danny Salvatore wasn\’t going to repeat his 2010 breakout. He apparently didn\’t get this news, because he looks like he\’s starting to press at third and in the batter\’s box. Critiques from his manager, as we heard yesterday, isn\’t going to help that. Not seeing good things in the future here. Decline.
LF – Delmonzie is about to get back from the DL. While I (again) don\’t think he\’ll repeat his 2010 season, he\’ll produce better than the bagged-out, dried-up slunken meat we\’ve been throwing out there so far. Improve.
CF – The Span abides. Stay the same.
RF – Our favorite clubhouse magician again sticks his tongue out at conventional wisdom and is having a terrible season during the last year of his contract. I honestly think the jig is up with Cuddy and he\’ll leave Minnesota with a whimper. Stay the same.
DH – Can Kubel keep it up? I think so. Stay the same.
SP – Okay, Pavano\’s been really, really bad. And so has F-Bomb, with the exception of that little no-hitter. Those guys will get better, and the rest of the rotation will continue to muddle through as the little pitch-to-contact-engine-that-could that they are. Overall, though: Improve
RP – Will Nathan get his mojo back? I think so. Despite all of the off-season hand wringing, the rest of the bullpen hasn\’t been that bad. (And, yes, I watched Matt Capps implode yesterday with my own eyes.) As soon as Nathan recovers, everybody moves back a spot as far as leverage, and that will only make things better. Improve.
Outside of the left side of the infield and our troubled Cuddy Buddy, I see improvement (or, from the two people who are actually performing okay, sustained output) for the rest of the team. Does that mean we finish ahead of Cleveland and Kansas City? Yes. Does that get us into the playoffs? Time will tell.