Two Steps Forward, Two Steps Back
It's rare to see a manager undermine his own team's chances of winning as much as Ron Gardenhire did while the Twins split a four-game series against the White Sox. There are a number of examples, some big and some small, but here are four that really stood out:
Down two runs with no outs and runners on first and second in the sixth inning Sunday, Luis Castillo hit into a triple play when he popped a bunt up. The triple play is secondary, because the bunt was a mistake before the outcome was known. With two runners on base and no outs in the sixth inning of a game you trail by multiple runs, asking a .330 hitter to bunt is bad baseball. Why are you giving up an out while playing for the tie in a game that has already seen 16 runs scored in the first five innings? To win the game you eventually need three more runs and what better spot to get them?
Down two runs with no outs and a runner on second base in the third inning Monday, Shannon Stewart popped a bunt up to the pitcher. You'd think that either Gardenhire would have learned from his mistake with Castillo or realized that giving up an out to move a runner who is already in scoring position when he isn't even the trying run is silly. Not only was the runner already going to score on a hit, Stewart is a .300 hitter who represented the tying run himself.
Down four runs with one out in the seventh inning Monday, Lew Ford stole second base. That he was safe is beyond the point, because he barely made it and moving up a base meant nothing in that situation. Either Ford went on his own, which should get him benched, or Gardenhire fails to grasp that getting from first base to second base when you need a grand slam to tie the game isn't worth the chance of losing both a runner and one of your eight remaining outs.
Down two runs with one out and a runner on second base in the ninth inning Sunday, Torii Hunter stole third base. Like Ford, Hunter's steal was a horrible decision regardless of the outcome. He was already in scoring position and his run meant nothing unless there was another one scored along with it. Not only did Hunter risk using one of the team's two remaining outs, he ran on a two-strike pitch that Michael Cuddyer took for strike three. The most important thing in that spot is Cuddyer reaching base, so if Hunter running distracted him from doing that at all it was an even bigger mistake.
There's a huge difference between "playing small ball" and simply making bad decisions that limit your offense's ability to score runs and hurt your team's chances of winning. Small ball is moving a runner over when you trail by a run in the late innings. Sabotaging your team's chances of winning is trying to steal meaningless bases while risking crucial outs and intentionally giving up outs in order to move runners over when you're trailing by multiple runs with good hitters at the plate in the early innings.
The Twins' problems over the past two seasons certainly go well beyond the manager, but that doesn't mean he hasn't hurt them significantly. From writing out lineups that are far from optimal, handing out playing time to the wrong guys, giving his best reliever the least work out of the bullpen, leaving starting pitchers in until they've been completely shelled, and engaging in head-scratching "strategy" during games, Gardenhire consistently makes poor decisions that hurt the team's ability to win games.
The moves often go against the most basic logic of baseball, and to top it all off any pretense of the Twins playing smart baseball or at least busting their tails at all times went out the window long ago. Gardenhire's team frequently looks sloppy and physically unable to hustle, and as their inability to get bunts down against Chicago showed, they aren't even fundamentally sound. As if that isn't enough, Gardenhire makes a fool of himself by throwing a hissy fit in front of an umpire every couple weeks.