September 22, 2005

Offense!

Someone asked me the other day whether I wanted to see Chicago or Cleveland win the American League Central. "Not the White Sox," I said. I have no emotional investment in the Indians and the thought of any team other than the Twins winning the division makes me extremely unhappy. But if it's not going to be the Twins, I'm just hoping it won't be the White Sox.

I can't explain why, exactly. I mean, they've become the Twins' chief rival over the past few years, sure, but before that the Indians were the bullies of the division. Yet somehow I view Cleveland as an upstart team with a bright future, quality players, and good management. And I view the White Sox as ... well, the White Sox.

Plus, considering the Twins have been looking up at them in the standings all season long I would take great pleasure in watching Chicago blow a humongous lead down the stretch. No, they haven't "collapsed" like so many in the mainstream media are quick to proclaim. Rather, they've come back down to earth while the Indians caught fire.

Still, it'll feel an awful lot like a collapse to White Sox fans if they're sitting home with the Twins in October. And if I'm going to be miserable recapping the season that was during the winter, they might as well be too. The Twins can do their part to help the Indians tonight, as Johan Santana takes the mound against Brandon McCarthy and the White Sox.

* * * * *

Baseball sure is a funny game. The Twins have been struggling to score runs with their regulars in the lineup all year, but with several players hurting and several more simply on the bench, they trotted out the following lineup against Oakland yesterday afternoon:
LF   Jason Tyner
SS Jason Bartlett
DH Matthew LeCroy
1B Justin Morneau
RF Michael Cuddyer
3B Terry Tiffee
C Chris Heintz
CF Nick Punto
2B Luis Rivas

That's a lineup only a mother could love, with guys playing out of position, slap-hitters galore, and Triple-A filler all over the place. So what happened? Well, I watched in amazement as they somehow managed to score 10 runs against the A's.

It was the Twins' first game with double-digit runs since August 5, when they beat Boston 12-0, and just the third time in 65 second-half games that the lineup has produced more than nine runs. I'd have liked to see them save a few for tonight's game, of course, since Santana could use the support and beating Chicago makes me a lot happier than beating Oakland.

At this point though, I guess we'll take what we can get. The win improved the Twins to 77-74 on the year, which means they have to go 5-6 for the remainder of the year to finish the season with a winning record. With four games left against the Royals that should be doable, but the fact that it's far from a sure thing on September 22 is pretty depressing.

* * * * *

We're likely to see a lot of sad-looking lineups from here on out, as Shannon Stewart has joined Torii Hunter on the sidelines for the rest of the season. Stewart injured his shoulder making a leaping catch against the White Sox back in August, and the pain has apparently become too much to handle. Here's what he told LaVelle E. Neal in the Minneapolis Star Tribune:
I can't really drive the ball. I'm changing my swing. I'm trying to drive the ball and I can't. This has been a tough year.

I've been hard on Stewart this year, in part because I think he has largely been "untouchable" when it comes to criticism in the mainstream media. While just about every hitter on the entire team has been ripped by someone with a newspaper byline, Stewart's performance has almost secretly been as disappointing as anyone's.

Right on cue, Neal points out that Stewart is "batting .203 since the injury." That's true, of course, but he was hitting .283/.333/.396 when he got hurt. Stewart will finish the year at .274/.323/.388, so it's pretty silly to write off his struggles on an injury that occurred in late August. Still, something tells me that'll be the way his sub par season is spun by most people.

UPDATE: Neal, showing why he has earned the title of Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com, has a very nice article (with plenty of good quotes) in today's Star Tribune on the Twins' plan to rebuild the lineup this offseason. Here's a little excerpt:

"We've seen this year that this is not going to work," Gardenhire said. "We have to make changes. We have to have hitters. We have to have some new people come in. There's people here who are going to work, sure, but we have to have help."

The potential for an aggressive offseason is exciting, since last year's winter additions essentially consisted of signing Juan Castro and Mike Redmond. Here's hoping Terry Ryan can find a way to make it work while holding onto Francisco Liriano and Scott Baker.

Today at The Hardball Times:
- Ten Things I Didn't Know Last Week (by Dave Studeman)
- Business of Baseball Report (Brian Borawski)

Today's Picks (105-95, +$785):
Chicago (Maddux) -105 over Milwaukee (Helling)


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