Friday, May 11, 2007

Recap 5/11/2007 Twins 3, Motor City Kitties 7

Perhaps I'm alone, perhaps not, but my level of cynicism towards this teams offense seems to have plateaued. The first two weeks of this season were quite encouraging as the team was receiving good starting pitching and putting together enough runs to win ball games. But since then it's been a continuous downward spiral and the offense still hasn't seemed to have hit bottom yet. I started off as frustrated, progressed to angry, moved on to trying to think of solutions, came to the realization that there were no solutions, and have finally become apathetic.

Some nights it's infuriating, other nights its comical, but in the end the result is always the same. The Twins hitters invariably spend seven innings flailing away at mediocre to downright inferior starting pitchers, take very few balls, never extend their at bats by fouling off two strike pitches, and for the most part, hit exceptionally few balls hard. That is until the eighth and ninth innings when they usually seem to get many baserunners on and usually even plate one or two, but almost always come up one big hit short. Sure there have been exceptions, notably Torii Hunter, but beyond that this is a sad-sack group of hitters. What makes all of this sad is when you see mediocre career starting pitchers performing way beyond their talent levels as guys like Carlos Silva and Ramon Ortiz deliver quality start after quality start.

As far as solutions are concerned I've heard numerous people, fellow writers, who suggest that the team should trade some of their young starting pitchers for major league ready bats. I for one am neither optimistic that trades of that order either exist at this point in the season as precious few teams are reasonably out of contention yet, and rarely do teams move quality players around until that point, nor am I in any way in favor of a majority of trades that may be possible. For the most part the players teams would want to move are aging major leaguers who may still possess reasonable talent, but have reached a point where their diminishing talent levels means that they're more likely to be earning more than their performance warrants. As a team the Twins are philosopically against making such a move unless it is reasonably assured that it will put them over the top of their competition. That is certainly not the case this year as there are far more than one or two holes in this lineup.

To that end if trades are to be made I would prefer that they be to acquire minor league players who may be 2-3 years away from being major league ready. At the end of last season I came
conclusion that this team was more than likely one to two years from reaching a window where they could reasonably be expected to win championships for at least a year or two. My rationale was that with the maturation of numerous Twins pitching prospects and the ability to move talented yet aging veterans (Santana, Hunter, Nathan) for talented minor league bats, in conjunction with a solid core (Mauer, Cuddyer, Morneau) that wouldn't be eligible for free agency for 5 years, the Twins would be in their ideal situation. They'd have a team full of young, talented players, very few of who (if any) would be making 10 mil+. Granted the team could only keep this group together for a year or two, but it seems feasible that they'd have a legitimate window. My opinion hasn't changed and while I am disappointed by the team thus far, I think it may be best if we were to fall out of contention early and begin just the sort of building my mind and heart desire.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Recap 5/10/2007 Twins 0, White Sux 3

Another day, another dismal performance from the Twins offense. One night after getting no-hit by John Danks for four innings they were shut out by Jose Contreras in a five hit performance. Predictably the only hitter Twins hitter to figure out Contreras was Jason Kubel who couldn't make contact with a ball either of the last two games, striking out in pathetic fashion in three consecutive clutch plate appearances. Today he was 2-3 and had the Twins only extra base hit, a double to the gap in right-center. Its been that sort of year for the Twins. It's not a total lack of hitting, or getting guys in base, its purely been a problem of driving those runs in. This is a fact that I've spoken about at length all year long and I wont bore you by repeating it ad nauseum.

Rather today I'd like to speak about how pleased I am by the performance of Carlos Silva. Putting aside the fact that the White Sox came into this series with the worst batting average in baseball, Silva had yet another quality start, his fifth such performance this season. He also had a very good five inning performance in Chicago at the beginning of this season where he surrendered only one run. While he didn't strike anyone out tonight, he only surrendered six hits and one walk.

In the minds of many Silva should never have made the trip to Minnesota after spring training this year, and by all accounts he was a disaster with an ERA over 11. However in what appears to be a complete opposite of the Kyle Lohse experience this year, Silva has managed to turn a miserable spring into a fantastic early season. While his win loss of 2-3 doesn't sparkle, his 3.00 ERA and 1.38 WHIP through seven games is way beyond even the most ambitious hopes of Twins fans. However there are causes for concern as his peripheral numbers are almost all amongst the worst of his career. Silva has always had a high batting average against with a lifetime mark of .304 , including a .324 mark last season, but this year he's allowing a career high .333. Furthermore Silva, once an extreme ground ball pitcher has seen his ground ball to fly ball ratio decrease every year from what was a 2.75 to what is now just a 1.20. His walk rate is also up and he's allowing a career high .381 OBP. Realistically one would think he couldn't possibly continue to do as well as he is, and likely he wont. But at a time when the Twins are desperate for starting pitchers to keep them in games, he's doing so, and deserves every ounce of credit he receives.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Recap 5/9/2007 Twins 3, White Sux 6

Fresh off a dramatic come from behind 7-4 victory last night the Twins surely were riding an emotional high. Regretfully to say those emotions didn't translate into early hits as once again the team fell behind on a very average pitcher in John Danks. Danks came into tonights contest with a 0-4 record and a 5.02 ERA but held the hapless Twins hitless until the fifth when Michael Cuddyer singled through the middle. The Twins also had a walk by Justin Morneau early on but both baserunners were erased by double plays. It wouldn't be until the sixth that Danks finished an inning having faced more than the minimum number of batters for the game, as Mike Redmond singled and the next three Twins went down in order.

By that point the game already seemed over as Ramon Ortiz had his second rough start in row, allowing four runs in the first inning, and another in the fifth. On the night he would go six innings while allowing six hits, three walks, and the five runs, all earned. But as Ramon left, the bats started to show up. In the seventh the Twins got one run across as Jeff Cirillo drove in Nick Punto after he and Hunter walked. In the eighth the Twins kept the momentum plating two more on Torii Hunter's first hit of the game, a dribble to short that Juan Uribe threw past first baseman Paul Konerko allowing Nick Punto and Luis Castillo to score. The inning ended when Justin Morneau, fresh off his hero performance struck out on what looked like three balls with runner on first and third.

The ninth inning would bring more drama as the first two batters walked, however Jason Kubel who struck out twice last night did so again and once again looked terrible doing so. He really seems to be incapable of hitting, or laying off of a slider down and in. Its a gaping hole that he'll need to close, soon. Jason Bartlett then hit a sharp line drive to right but not out of the reach of Jermaine Dye and Luis struck out to end the game.

While the game wasn't without excitement it's disappointing to see the Twins bats remain inept. There really are no answers as there aren't any feasible trades that can made, and no minor leaguers to be brought up. If the Twins are going to score they're going to have to start doing it with the guys they have. They'll need Kubel to begin providing some pop, and I think moving Bartlett to the two hole would help as he's been a markedly better hitter so far this year than Nick Punto. But these are just small parts of a much larger problem. What the Twins really need are super-star performances from the middle of the lineup. When runners are on base, Hunter, Cuddyer, and Morneau, are going to need to start driving them in, something they haven't done with any consistency this year. The Twins as a team aren't having trouble getting people on base, they're hitting .276, 4th best in the league, but arent driving those runners in as they are hitting .255 with runners in scoring position, 18th in the league with only 22 extra base hits.

The problems with this team aren't complicated and wont be solved by bring up new pitchers, they aren't the problem, the team has one of the best ERA's in the game. The problem is this offense so many had expected to be the strength of this team.


- Torii Hunter had another clutch hit, and once again it was his only hit. The basket catch he made while running full speed into the wall with his back turned to the ball may have been the single best play I've ever seen. Not this year, not lately, ever. It was a clutch catch that saved runs, was acrobatic, and took insane courage, courage which his body paid the price for.


- Ramon Ortiz put his offensively challenged team into a big hole by giving up four early runs and was in trouble throughout much of the game.

- Justin Morneau. One day after being the hero he returned to being the goat with two strikeouts including one which really cost the team.

- Jason Kubel. Another costly strikeout in a clutch situation. I think the world of Kubel but at some point he needs to start earning the respect I so freely give him.

- Michael Cuddyer. His one hit was a meaningless single and every time he's had an opportunity to plate runners lately he's failed.

- Even though he hit a couple balls quite hard Bartlett was 0-4, and didn't come through when the team needed him.

The Streak: Torii Hunter

This is a little bit less than some of the previous posts here, it has been a ridiculously busy week. Hopefully, we'll be back to full length stuff next week. Thanks for reading!

Torii Hunter brought a 21-game hitting streak into last night's game against the White Sox. Javier Vasquez kept him hitless through his first three at-bats, but he extended the streak to 22 with his game-tying RBI single in the eighth off of David Aardsma. Hunter has always been known as a streaky hitter but this hitting streak is by far the longest of his career.

The streak started off on April 11 against the Yankees when Hunter went 2 for 4 with two doubles. Since then he has extended the streak nine times in his first at-bat of the game, while he has only waited until his last at-bat twice to get a hit. This streak includes Hunter getting hit in the mouth in Kansas City in his first at-bat of that game and having to leave. Since he did not have an official at-bat, the streak stayed alive. Thus, Hunter has the statistical oddity of having a 22-game hitting streak over 23 games.

Over the course of the streak, he has put up a line of .378/.406/.678 while the rest of the Twins have hit .274/.335/.370. Obviously Hunter has been responsible for a large portion of the Twins power over the last month. In fact, Hunter has almost a quarter of the extra base hits (17 for Hunter, 60 for everyone else) in less than 10% of the plate appearances. Hunter has hit five homeruns during his streak, the rest of the Twins have mustered only ten. Hunter's BABIP is an astronomical .426 in this stretch which is as impressive as it is unsustainable. (Derek Jeter had the highest in the majors last season at .391). Over his career Torii's BABIP has always hovered around the league average, and I would be surprised if it doesn't level off and return to that point as the season goes on.

During the streak Hunter is hitting .314 (11 of 35) with runners on base and slugging .600 with 4 doubles and 2 homeruns, which is pretty good under normal circumstances but actually represents a dropoff from his overall hitting over this period. This is probably why his Win Probability Added (WPA) during this streak isn't as large as you might think, in 22 games, he actually has a negative WPA (-3.7%). Still, he has certainly come up with some big hits, including the game-tying RBI last night and a grand slam off of Jeff Weaver in Seattle.

As I metioned in the introduction, Hunter has always been known as a streaky hitter. Since 2002, Hunter has 3 (now 4) hitting streaks of 10 games or more. Most notable of these are the two streaks in May of 2006 which were separated by a single 0 for 4 game. Comparing Hunter's current streak to these others, I feel comfortable saying that we haven't seen Hunter hitting the ball this well for this long in the last five years. Getting on base is another matter, the other streaks all seemed to correspond with a nearly 1:1 SO/BB ratio, but clearly Hunter has been his free-swinging self during this streak. This actually worries me a little bit, because if and when this streak ends, if Torii goes into one of his cold spins, he doesn't appear interested in working the count and being at least a reasonably patient hitter, which could bode for an especially difficult time ahead. Alternatively, he's just seeing the ball so well right now that he is best served by going up there hacking, and once he cools off a bit, some patience will result. Having seen Hunter's approach at the plate for several years, I hope it's the latter, but I fear it's the former.

4/11 to 5/8/072290341205173
5/3 to 5/13/0610391740275.436.500.692
5/15 to 5/27/0611401420177.350.438.475
9/7 to 9/20/0411401530286.375.468.600

Of course, the longer Hunter keeps this amazing pace going, the better for the Twins. In the four streaks outlined above the Twins record is 32-22 (.593). That is certainly a pace that Twins fans could live with given some of the struggles thus far this season. Enjoy it while it lasts, hopefully we'll see a couple more long hot streaks from Hunter this year. After all, it is a contract year.

[UPDATE:] - Gleeman makes the point today that he thinks hitting streaks are a bit overrated, and I think some of the points I made above bear that out. I'd rather see Hunter hit lights out with guys on base and have some hitless games than extend his hitting streak with a meaningless infield single (like he did in the Red Sox series). It was nice to see that both Gleeman and I took note of the SO/BB discrepancy in this current stretch.

I thought it would be interesting to look at Hunter during one of his patented "hot streaks". But it turns out that maybe he's not exactly carrying the team on his back (witness the high SO total and the negative WPA).

[FURTHER UPDATE: 5/11] - Jesse at Twinkie Town looks at the streak now that it's over and comes to a lot of the same conclusions as I did. Torii's new streak starts tonight!

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Recap 5/8/2007 Twins 7, Black Sox 4

Anyone who reads this site knows that I've been ragging on Morneau hard these past couple weeks but my goodness did he ever break out tonight. Big Time. I think its fair to say it... Edmonton, we have lift off... I couldn't be happier for Morneau, he really deserved to have a big, "In your face!" game with all the trash I've given him. Hopefully he can feed off this and really get his stick going, because of all the times the team needs him, now is that time.


Coming off a tough series loss that saw a continuation of the Twins offensive struggles and worse yet, the loss of pretty boy and #3 hitter Joe Mauer who headed to the disabled list with with a quadriceps injury, the Twins were in need of a serious pick me up. On a positive note today marks the expected return of Michael Cuddyer who is coming back from a back injury suffered on a comical tumbled during the Tampa Bay series as he rounded second base.

Taking the mound tonight for the Twins was Boof Bonser. Bonser has had a decent season with a 4.53 ERA and has showed increased strikeout ability but has struggled mightily in his last two starts, allowing eleven walks in as many innings. He also is now sporting a not-so-healthy 1.61 WHIP, and has allowed a Major League leading seven home runs. He came into tonight looking to improve on those numbers.

Through five innings the game was shaping up to be a pitchers duel, and may have stayed that way had it not been for a wild throw to third by Bonser. Leading off the sixth for the Black Sox Darin Erstad lined a double to right but the next hitter, Pablo Ozuna, attempting a sacrifice bunt hit it right back to Bonser. Bonser fielded the ball cleanly and turned to third for the easy play on Erstad but his throw was wild up the line allowing Erstad to score and Ozuna to move to second. It unraveled after that and by the time the dust settled the Sox had scored three runs to take a 4-1 lead. A lead which would hold until the eighth when the Twins bats finally got going.

In the eighth the Twins strung together three straight hits from Redmond, Punto, and Bartlett to cut the lead to 4-2. A groundout by Castillo to third scored Punto and after a strikeout by Kubel, Torii Hunter tied the game with a single, his first hit of the game. Cuddyer ended the inning with a groundout but the Twins were back in the game.

After that it was the bullpens time to shine. Matt Guerrier worked a solid eight, Nathan nailed down the ninth, and Rincon had the tenth. In the tenth, Castillo started off the innings by hammering a ball down the left field line, just by Joe Crede who was playing the line (thats amazing since Crede is a very good third baseman). Another strikeout by Kubel, a walk of Hunter, and a pop out by Cuddybear set up Justin Morneau, and tonight he walked walked off the field in style.


- Justin Morneau. God does it feel good to say that. MVP was 2-4 on the night and those two hits went about 800 feet. Two runs, four RBI's.

- Luis Castillo. He reached base tonight three times, with a walk, a single and a double. Once again all of his hits actually managed to leave the infield, amazing.

- Torii Hunter. I don't usually think 1-4 nights are that great, but when the one hit ties the game late in the game and extends a long hitting streak, thats a good night.

- Jason Bartlett. Another guy with a 1-4 but his big double in the eighth really got things going.

- Boof Bonser. I know a lot of people may disagree with me, but he really did a much better job tonight. He had a number of quick innings enabling him to go seven innings, and had it not been for his bad throw to third, its likely that he could have go deeper into the game with only 1 or 2 runs allowed. His command came back and he continued to get timely strikeouts.


- Jason Tyner/Jason Kubel. 0-5 with two strikeouts.

- Jeff Cirillo. After having a couple games worth of good looking at-bats, he looked terrible tonight swinging at pitches well off the plate and not really making solid contact on anything. He also very nearly screwed up a sacrifice bunt attempt, but was saved by David Aardsma's bobbling blunder.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Recap 5/6/2007 Twins 3, Blood Sox 4

I'd like to begin my recap of today's game by saying I was thrilled to hear Van Halen's "Right Now." For those of you who don't know it's the song that was played last year immediately before the Twins took the field and it's also one of my favorite songs. Until today I hadn't heard the team play it even once and hopefully it's back to stay. Now on to the real news...

The impostor occupying Justin Morneau's body cost the Twins yet another game this afternoon. Sidney Ponson had a decent outing his last time out perhaps saving his spot in the starting rotation and earning him his start tonight. He was pretty good early on though he did give up a couple runs through four innings he seemed to be doing well, keeping the ball down in the zone, and giving the team a chance which is all that you can ask of a fifth starter.

However things started to come undone in the fifth as a single by Alex Cora, followed by a walk of David Ortiz put runners on first and second with none out. The next ball in play was a sharp ground ball to third which Luis Rodriguez fielded and threw to second but despite having time, Luis Castillo didn't make a throw to first to try to get Kevin Youkilis. So in what should have been a two-out runner on third situation the ground-ball that J.D. Drew hit back to Sidney Ponson led to a rushed throw to second that was low. Its entirely possible that if the first play had been made the second wouldn't have been rushed and the Twins would have escaped without allowing a run. Regretfully to say the Red Sox strung a couple more hits together and left leading 4-0. That was the difference in the game as the Twins scored three runs total. But had they played better D they could've won this game 3-2.

Through six innings it certainly looked as though fellow blogger Curt Schilling was going to have every opportunity to pitch a complete game shutout as the Twins we're swinging away early and had only four hits, but in the seventh there was a Piranha attack. The Twins got the bats going (kind of) in the inning turning a walk and four singles into three runs, being held back from even more when Justin More-not predictably grounded out weakly. Earlier this season I mentioned that More-not was a better leadoff hitter (by average) than he was a run producer (with runnners in scoring position). He proved me right again by lining a single off the baggie to lead off the fourth but struck out looking twice with runners on base and had the rally ending ground out in the seventh.

For the game the Twins managed to get 10 hits, once again all singles and their lack of power is getting frightening as they are now without Cuddyer until at least Thursday and Mauer for at least two weeks. With Morneau incapable of getting clutch hits and Kubel without a homer run yet that leaves Torii Hunter as the lone legitimate power threat. Given his track record of streaky play and poor timing, I couldn't be less excited. I wouldn't be surprised if this team loses at least 5 of their next seven.

Justin Moreneau: As Leadoff Hitter: 12-33 (.364) W/RISP: 6-40 (.150) 10 RBI

Luis Castillo: As Leadoff Hitter: 10-35 (.286 0 runs scored? Wow!) W/RISP: 5-17 (.294) 3 RBI

If the Twins bench wasn't so thin, and the lineup so TERRIBLE I'd really recommend sitting him for a series to let him relax as he obviously needs to clear his head. Examining those numbers it's quite obvious to anyone who cares to notice that he's pushing too hard. The fact that he hits so much better with the bases empty has nothing to do with his swing and everything to do with his mind. It's not like he's scorching balls that are right at people, he's striking out, and poping out. If Gardy can get him relaxed at the plate again we'd be much better off. But right now he's just a waste of a hitter at the plate.


- Luis Castillo. He had two hits today and both of the left the infield. I don't have the numbers on this but I think thats a first this year for him. Literally.

- Mike Redmond got a couple more singles today, once again neither of the balls were pulled. This season he's pulled only 22% of the balls he's put in play which leads me to wonder how long it will be until teams start using an awkward defensive switch, playing him hard to go the other way.

- Torii Hunter had two more hits, also both single extending his hitting streak to 21 games. What a contract year so far.

- Sidney Ponson. His 5.1 inning start isn't that great but he pitched pretty well for a fifth starter, losing a likely quality start to a lot of bad fielding by Luis Rodriguez, and Luis Castillo. No errors were registered on the plays but they were definitely there.

- Glen Perkins. He gave the Twins two very good, very important innings keeping the game close and holding down Papi for at least one at-bat.


- As mentioned just before the defense of Luis Rodriguez and Luis Castillo we're the leading reasons in my mind that we lost this game. Without their botched double-play attempt allowing the first run of the fifth, they had another that allowed the second run.

- Justin Morneau. His inability to produce in clutch situations has gone from comical, to predictable, to scary, to something else...

TWIT: First and Foremost

Weekly Roundup

It would be very easy for me to fill up 1200 words by talking about the ins, outs, and what-have-yous of the Joe Mauer conundrum. Instead, I will try to be concise and get it out of the way as quickly as possible. First of all, a strained quad can happen in many different ways, but one of the ways near the top of the list is compensating for a sore knee. I will not put it past a catcher to wear out his leg muscles independently of another injury, although anyone who follows players will knee injuries knows that hamstring and quad injuries are more than slightly correlated with them. In that regard, I fear that we have not heard the last of the Mauer knee saga, and that it will continue for as long as he remains at the position. Since the Twins have such a pressing need at third base, I would not hesitate to start working him out at the hot corner sooner than later, but using him in a more creative way to get some defensive contribution from behind the plate. Naturally, finding a replacement catcher is not the easiest thing to do considering the positional scarcity; that is another area where they will be better off if they start considering options now instead of waiting for zero hour to arrive.

In terms of performance, the drop-off does not go straight from Mauer to Redmond since both of them were already in the lineup fairly frequently. If Mauer was getting 90% of a full implement of plate appearances before, Redmond probably gets half of those freed up at bats, going from a half-time player to a full-time one. The rest will be split fairly evenly between reserve outfielders and DH candidates, primarily Jasons Kubel and Tyner. The way these two have been hitting, that’s a dicey proposition, as their combined effort straddles replacement level. I keep hoping that regular playing time will get Kubel’s hitting approach back on track, so there is reason for optimism in his case. We knew that a big chunk of the offense would rest on his ability to hit .290 with doubles power- it’s just becoming crucial much sooner than anyone expected.

As for the week itself, the Twins suffered the ungracious fate of losing four out of six despite outscoring their opponents for the week. The big three game set with the Red Sox yielded a total of five runs scored despite missing six-game winner Josh Becket (who Curt Schilling predicted would get crazy good on his blog due to improved fastball location), and Daisuke Matsuzaka, who just seems like the sort of pitcher who would hold the Twins scoreless on two hits for seven innings. And by that “sort of pitcher,” I mean anyone who is struggling against the rest of the league. Dropping two out of three to Tampa is far more humiliating than losing a couple of squeakers to the hottest team in the league, and they did it in a particularly gut-wrenching way. With two outs in the ninth, the Wednesday game seemed thoroughly in hand. And featured the headline, “Twins Squander Chances” for the Thursday game, which pretty much sums it up.

Biggest Success

The obvious choice here, and perhaps the correct one, would be to go with Torii Hunter for the second straight week. As far as the offense went, he carried them. Hunter has continued to absolutely rake, this week going .417/.462/.750 with four extra base hits and six runs scored. He’s stealing bases, he’s not striking out, his defense has looked good, and he is hitting better than he has ever hit in his career. There is an obvious sample size warning here. Nonetheless, it looks like Torii has found a vintage bottle of Alfonso Soriano’s Magical Contract Year Elixir: take it, and price yourself out of your team’s pay-scale.

But I’m not going with Torii; it would be too easy. Instead I’m giving credit where I almost never do. Every time I watched the Twins this week, I was impressed by something that Ron Gardenhire did. In some cases, it was something fairly large, like making the gutsy call to yank Santana after five plus on Saturday, turning it over to a hot bullpen that got the team its only win of the series. In other cases, he did his usually adept push-button job of managing the bullpen. The only runs relievers gave up all week were in the extra innings D-Rays game (and Gardy can’t be faulted for Nathan losing his command two-thirds of the way through a save), and an insurance run in the ninth inning of Friday’s 2-0 loss. I was even satisfied with the way he handled the lineup, abandoning his usual style of subbing a player into a lineup spot as well as a position for Sunday’s matchup with Schilling. While it did not yield a win, moving Hunter up to third in the order and finally moving Redmond down shows that he’s at least paying attention to what happens in games. That might not seem worthy of the “biggest success” label, but considering some of his failings in the past, I’ll take what I can get.

Biggest Disappointment

Joe Mauer. It sure was stupid of him to go out and get himself injured like that.

No, really, the least valuable player of the week probably has to be Justin Morneau. The reigning MVP struck out in more than 1/3 of his at bats (8 of 23), managing a single extra base hit and failing to bring his OBP or SLG over the Batista-ian .300 mark. All of this in the offense’s darkest hour, when a single big hit could have made the difference in any one of their four losses for the week. In Wednesday’s loss, he left three on base in a one run loss. On Thursday, it was 5 LOB and a two run loss (that’s nuthin! Mauer had 9 LOB in the same game). Friday: 3 LOB, 2 run loss. Sunday: 4 LOB, 1 run loss. That means that a red-hot week from Morneau could easily have swung a 2-4 week to a 4-2 week. It is not fair to place the entire onus of a bad week on one player, but Morneau was especially bad.

On the Horizon

It doesn’t get any easier from here, as the Twins return to the Dome for a week that could get ugly, but could also help them turn their fortunes around against their two biggest divisional rivals. The struggling White Sox could provide some sort of respite, although old friend A.J. Pierzynski may have started to reverse their momentum by tying their game with the Angels on a two-run homer in the 8th, then securing the win with an RBI single in the 10th on Sunday. At 14-14 and a negative run differential, the White Sox have underachieved in games in which their starting pitcher does not throw a no-hitter, so here’s to hoping the week gets off to a good start against another team playing below its level. The Twins will need to be hot out of the gates, especially since Detroit rolls into Minneapolis for a weekend series. The Tigers have been on fire, winning seven in a row heading into their series with Seattle during the week. Altogether, I think the schedule is fairly favorable, since the Twins are in a lull right now and can get by with a 3-3 record (two against Chicago and one against Detroit seems reasonable) without inching toward disaster. Even a 2-4 record would not send anyone into catatonic shock with Mauer out and the offense already struggling. These low expectations lead to possibly surprising results, and winning four or five of the games is certainly not out of the question.

The Big Picture

I have mentioned third-order wins a few times already, and it is not a stat that looks kindly upon the 2007 Twins thus far. The fact that they are fully two wins ahead of their third order stats means that they are scoring and preventing runs than their individual performances suggest should be possible. Since several key players are not performing up to their standard level- Morneau, Bonser, Crain- it is reasonable that the performance will even out and they will keep their heads above water in terms of run differential.

Two other issues piqued my interest for the future of the Twins beyond the next seven days. Primarily, the Mauer situation, which I have already addressed extensively, could become a thorn in the team’s side, since the backup catching duties fall to Chris Heintz, a player who doesn’t even hit in AAA. Terry Ryan needs to get on the phone with the league of backup catchers to see if he can buy Wiki Gonzalez out of his insurance sales business, or see if baseball seems more appealing that installing seamless siding to John Flaherty. If Mauer returns in two weeks, it is not an issue, but if a third catcher is necessary, there are cheap alternatives to Heintz who can do something well.

Lastly, I’m not sure how much more we need to see out of Sidney Ponson. Short of showing up to a start inebriated (which probably hasn’t happened, although I can make no promises), he has already proven that he is still the pitcher that washed out of every other pitching starved organization over the last two seasons. To paraphrase the immortal Denny Green: He is what we thought he was! If you’re going to knight him, then knight him! He is what we thought he was! He has made no shocking transformation, and Rick Anderson has only so much mojo to go around. Let’s give him a coupon to the Old Country Buffet, call up one of the three starters in Rochester with an ERA under 2.50 (Slowey, Garza, Baker) or stretch out Perkins, then act confused when Ponson returns from said buffet in mid-July weighing 345 pounds. It’s for the good of the land; get it done.

Oh, and if you've got two hours on your hands and you're the type of skeptical ninny who doesn't think Noah could fit dinosaurs on a boat, check this out: