June 28, 2010

Twins slump away lead as Tigers come to town

Early this season it looked like the Twins might run away and hide from the rest of the division, but after yesterday's loss to the Mets they're now just a half-game in front of the Tigers and 1.5 games ahead of the White Sox. They finished May on a five-game winning streak that gave them a season-high 4.5-game lead, with the Tigers looking like their only real competition and the White Sox on the verge of trading away veterans, but since then the Twins are just 10-14.

Nearly all teams go through sub-.500 stretches like that, but the Twins' division lead vanished in a hurry because their rough patch coincided with the White Sox shockingly winning 15 of 17 games after beginning the season 24-33 as reports swirled about their manager and general manager feuding. Toss in the Tigers staying steady this month with a 14-10 mark and ... well, no one in the AL Central is going to be doing any running away or hiding for a while.

When a bad stretch like the one the Twins are on now follows a good season-opening stretch like they put together in April and May there's a tendency to assume things are falling apart and the team is doomed. Certainly the Twins' recent poor play is discouraging and takes some of the air out of their World Series aspirations, but it's important to put things in the context of a six-month, 162-game season.

Had the timing of the good and bad stretches been flipped, with the Twins starting 10-14 and then playing well for two months, the perception of their current situation would be different. It's similar to how a player who follows a big April with a mediocre May through September will spend most of the season with nice-looking numbers, but a player who follows a terrible April with a strong May through September will spend much of the season with bad-looking stats.

They may both end up hitting the same .300 with 25 homers and an .850 OPS, but one guy will probably make the All-Star team while people spend months talking about how the other guy is slumping. At the end of the day a hit in April or May counts the same as a hit in September, and along those same lines while it certainly would have been nice for the Twins to go through the entire season without a lengthy rough patch that was never particularly likely.

No matter how they got here, it's late June and the Twins are atop the AL Central and on pace for 89 wins. In their first eight years under Ron Gardenhire the Twins' average win total was ... 88.6. Shaking off the loss of Joe Nathan to start 31-20 raised expectations to the point that the current 10-14 stretch has people scrambling for answers and lobbing criticism everywhere, but if offered on Opening Day a half-game lead and 89-win pace would've sounded just fine.

Longtime readers of this blog may not think of me as a voice of optimism and I'm obviously not against criticism when it's warranted (and sometimes when it's not), but far too often fans and media members seem to forget that baseball is a six-month marathon of ups and downs. This isn't football or even basketball, and treating each winning streak or losing streak like it is will just lead to overreactions and hyperbolic analysis.

Without question the Twins' recent play is worrisome and exposes some flaws that likely need to be addressed, but whether it comes in April or June or September winning baseball teams are going to experience stretches like this and baseball fans should probably know better than to react as if they're doomed. Right now the Twins look like a good but not great team capable of winning a poor division, which was true on Opening Day and for most the past decade.

And now the Tigers are in town for a three-game series at Target Field.

32 Comments »

  1. It’s nice to know that Aaron and I both agree that Jim Souhan is a talentless clown. I don’t know he still has his radio and Strib job.

    Comment by Jacks — June 27, 2010 @ 11:45 pm

  2. Good points as usual…consider this.
    Team struggles early in the season then goes on an interleague winning streak and find themselves near top of division. Sounds like Twins teams of years past only this year it’s the White Sox. Using the long season analogy why has media and fans written of the White Sox because of their poor start?

    Comment by bennyc50 — June 27, 2010 @ 11:53 pm

  3. agreed that no matter what anyone does, this team is destined to win 85-95 games. That being said, it doesn’t excuse some poor managerial decisions. There will be plenty of times when Gardy does everything right: the right lineup, the right DH, resting the right guys at the right time and the Twins may still lose. The reverse is true also on occasions. The Twins may win in spite of Gardy. I am not critical of players who slump. They all do. Managers should not slump. Example yesterday. 5th inning, guy on 2nd and 3rd. 1 out. Baker already looking bad. No doubt he should have pinch hit for Baker. Many more obvious manager mistakes over the course of this season so far. The game last week where the pitcher couldn’t find the zone and we had the bases loaded, 0 or 1 out(s) and Valencia (I think) swung on like a 3-1 count or something like that. Lots of little managerial decisions and/or the players don’t know rules/situations. Those things are controllable and should be handled at the MLB level. Players are going to make split second decisons tha many times are wrong. Such as diving for a line drive that ends up being a triple. Managers have all the time in the world to think about their decsions.

    Comment by Large Canine — June 28, 2010 @ 6:58 am

  4. Good points, however, with 2 prior seasons going to a game 163, every game has explicit importance. Now obviously games will be lost but is anyone else getting tired of the Sunday lineups? It seems they are content with taking a loss. Troubling

    Comment by richman — June 28, 2010 @ 7:52 am

  5. Overreactions and hyperbolic analysis? Let me just toss out a four quick points and tell me if you aren’t concerned:
    1) Cuddyer (he of the 10.5 salary in 2011). Still no acknowledgement of his dismal play by the manager. I find that very interesting. He has driven in just ten runs since May 8th and has played every day during that time. In the last week he went 3 for 30 without a single extra base hit and only 1 RBI. Gardy keeps trotting him out there, much in the same way he did Punto a few years ago. When is he going to take a day on the bench?
    2) Mauer’s offensive production. Last year’s numbers appear to be an anomaly. He was going to make tons of coin, but let’s face it….he got a lot of contract BECAUSE of that power surge last season. Will he ever hit 20 HRs again? Right now he is being played perfectly by the other teams. His propensity for DPs is alarming. And I love Joe as a player, it’s just that he more than likely isn’t going to give you much more than a high batting average and on base percentage offensively. Looks like he’s on his way to single digit HRs and 70 something RBI. That just isn’t good enough. Sorry.
    3) Starting pitching. Should it not concern a serious Twins fan at this point? They gave Baker and Blackburn a vote of confidence with multi-year deals and they respond by pitching like basket cases. There doesn’t appear to be anything down on the farm worthy of a 2010 call up. I guess we just cross our fingers and hope Slowey, Baker and Blackburn work things out.
    4) Gardenhire. Our manager has become a cadaver. He doesn’t motivate players and he is stubborn to the point of gluttony.

    Comment by ewen21 — June 28, 2010 @ 10:01 am

  6. ewen21…with the glass half empty.

    I’ll agree Cuddyer appears to be a problem nobody in the FO or Manager care to address.

    Comment by pk — June 28, 2010 @ 10:30 am

  7. Obviously, it’s bad for our mental and physical health to have our moods swing up and down with any sport’s team. But, if we didn’t care that much, these guys would be making 1/10th the money….

    As for the Twins, I think there is reasonable criticism available. Three utility players on the roster. Fear of losing Casilla to waivers. Signing Harris to a two year deal. Signing Blackburn to a multi year deal. Signing Crain to be your 6th best reliever for more than the minimum. Refusing to give Cuddeyer time off (he of the approximately zero WAR) or move him down in the order.

    There are things to like, like the acquisition of a legit 2B, Young’s season so far, Morneau, Pavano, Liriano, and the bullpen being excellent.

    There are questions who’s answers we don’t like so far this year (was 2009 an aberration for Hardy, can Mauer continue to hit for power, will Baker and Slowey step and lead), all of which could turn around, but don’t seem likely from our current viewing position of June results.

    All in all, they currently look a lot like the 87 win team many of us felt they were at the beginning of the season. Frankly, that’s disappointing. They spent money to upgrade SS and 2B and PH. They spent money on starting pitching. They are getting a career year from Young. And, they are still an 86-89 win team, so far.

    Comment by mike wants wins — June 28, 2010 @ 10:41 am

  8. The frustration I have is not that the team is losing a lot of games when it is slumping. Its all the games we gave away when the team was playing well. You can ride out the slumps if you take advantage and build a cushion when things are working.

    Comment by Dan — June 28, 2010 @ 10:54 am

  9. I don’t usually side with Souhan, but what in his article was untrue?

    Comment by Arnold 4331 — June 28, 2010 @ 11:52 am

  10. Look, you can use statistics and trends to say pretty much anything you want about a manager. For years, the argument in FAVOR of Gardy was that he was handed washed up retreads like Tony Batista and Mike Lamb by management, and the team would get BETTER by June/July once Gardy replaced them with his “Pirhanas”.

    Now, people are upset with Gardy (and rightfully so) because he is using “his guys”. Of course, injury had something to do with that (Hardy and Hudson missing time) and the Punto/Harris situation was one whole that was left unaddressed by the front office. I don’t think Gardy WANTED to give time to Brendan Harris and his .150 average, I think the hope was just that Harris would eventually rebound and become the .260/12HR hitter that he’s been in the past.

    Also, the standards are just higher for this team, thanks to the new ballpark and the fact that they made the playoffs last year and ADDED talent in the offseason. I think the fans are properly distressed about this because the window of peak performance for the core guys like Morneau and Mauer may not be nearly as long as people think it will.

    Comment by Jeff H. — June 28, 2010 @ 1:21 pm

  11. Lets face it, ever since Bill Smith arrived on the scene, he made some gutsy moves that for the most part has worked out thus far IMO. You obviously cant make everthing better in just one offseason, and i think given 2 more offseasons/trade deadlines, were gonna like what we see.

    another point to bring up, is the Gardy-Bill Smith relationship a big issue here? (much like the Ozzie-Williams? rift was reported)

    Comment by Scott — June 28, 2010 @ 1:35 pm

  12. I sure hope Gardy moves Cuddyer back to right field. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he’s not hitting while he’s playing 3B.

    Comment by Dave T — June 28, 2010 @ 1:43 pm

  13. I also think the article was fair. And I also think some of the most typical ‘overractions’ happen when people react to what is written in the papers, particularly if it is construed as being ‘negative’. Some folks get more upset reading the ‘Strib or by what ESPN, FOX or some media-type is says than they do about what happens on the field.

    Comment by ewen21 — June 28, 2010 @ 1:49 pm

  14. It is a marathon…not a sprint. ;)

    Comment by Adam S. — June 28, 2010 @ 2:44 pm

  15. Oh, and get Cliff Lee. :P

    Comment by Adam S. — June 28, 2010 @ 2:45 pm

  16. Cuddyer wasn’t hitting before he was moved to third base. It can’t be a coincidence that he’s suddenly willing to move back there. Let’s hope a return home and some warm weather will get the bats moving again. As far as Cliff Lee it can’t happen soon enough– let’s home we’re willing to put the pieces together to make it happen.

    Comment by Abe — June 28, 2010 @ 3:03 pm

  17. I live in fear of the notion that Nick Punto’s $5M option will be picked up for 2011. You know Gardy’s lobbying for it already.

    Comment by Jason W — June 28, 2010 @ 3:59 pm

  18. Despite the slump, I’m basically confident that guys like Mauer, Slowey and Span will even out their performances over the course of the season. On the other hand, I think that by now most of us have come to realize that the Blackburn extension was probably a bad idea.

    Comment by Andy — June 28, 2010 @ 4:14 pm

  19. More Punto hate? .260 and solid D from the 8/9 hitter? We should be applauding him.

    Comment by Adam S. — June 28, 2010 @ 4:32 pm

  20. We all expected a team worthy of the new field and the additional money invested. We are not getting it from the pitchers mound or from the batters box yet. If I were the Pohlad family, Billy-Boy, Gardy, and the rest of the Twins management crew would have some explaining to do. It’s hard to believe that’s not happening right now.

    Comment by John P. — June 28, 2010 @ 4:57 pm

  21. I have been a proponent of getting a new hitting coach for years. It is the approach at the plate as a whole that upsets me the most. Any team with a good scouting report and a pitcher that does what they tell him to do can blank this team. we;ve got the talent but the wrong approach. I have always preferred the free swinging days when TK was coach and ?? was the hiiting coach. Crowley? It just escaped me. The team always was at the top of the AL for average and we won two WS’s. Remember the games we win late in the year. None are from big hitting and scoring. The offense is always challenged and that makes the pitchers carry the load. How many 1-0 games do we have to go through.

    Comment by kirk — June 28, 2010 @ 5:51 pm

  22. Adam, Punto cant cover any ground at short anymore. Watch the games and you will see. I, however, believe that Smith is not picking up that option. Gardys say in the personel on the team is going to diminish greatly, mark my word.

    Comment by Scott — June 28, 2010 @ 7:45 pm

  23. Adam-

    Its not that Punto is playing terrible. I haven’t hated seeing him in the lineup, even with his tendency to pop out constantly. What is troublesome is his $4 million contract. $5 million next year would be outrageous.

    Comment by Matt in SoDak — June 28, 2010 @ 9:00 pm

  24. another bad loss….2nd placed twins now….ouch…

    Comment by Chris — June 28, 2010 @ 11:55 pm

  25. @Dave T

    Moving Cuddy to 3rd was the best move Gardy has ever made. I won’t give him too much credit though…his hand was forced by the inspired play of DY recently, and not having the DH spot for 9 straight games in NL parks.

    Now……lets see if he leaves Cuddy there once Hardy comes back, I doubt he will be able to bench the last remaining member of the Gardy Clone Army (little nicky punto), but it sure would be awesome to trot out this lineup everyday:

    Span
    Hudson
    Mauer
    Morneau
    Young
    Kubel
    Thome
    Cuddyer
    Hardy

    Call up Morales and Swarzak, send down Buterrible and Crainwreck, trade Blackburn and Ramos for Cliff Lee and that is a World Series winning team.

    One can dream…

    Comment by Brian — June 29, 2010 @ 2:34 am

  26. EDIT- I meant the other Anthony- SLAMA.

    Geez, the guy is so invisible that even when someone tries to mention him they can not.

    Comment by Brian — June 29, 2010 @ 2:59 am

  27. Whats so bad with giving valencia some extended time at 3B? I know it will never happen unless cuddy, punto, cassila, AND tolbert are all hurt at the same time. but hey, just food for thought.

    Comment by Scott — June 29, 2010 @ 9:02 am

  28. @Scott

    I agree that it is unfair to say Valencia can’t hit in the majors just based on a 50 game sample, AND we have a large enough sample to definitively say that Punto, Casilla and Tolbert CAN NOT hit at the major league level.

    However, Valencia’s minor league stats don’t impress me. He had a little bit of pop at the lower levels, but generally he was either repeating a level and/or was old for his league.

    At AAA he has sucked- absolutely no power, and not very many walks. He has hit .290 at Rochester, but it is a very empty .290- looks like another member of the Gardy Clone Army to me.

    Comment by Brian — June 29, 2010 @ 12:33 pm

  29. The hitters approach at the plate is just to predictable. They almost never sans DY swing at the best pitch in each at bat leaving them flailing at third strikes or going after pitches meant to cause an out. See Joe Mauer hitting to the second baseman. OBviously on good days they go with pitches and jump on the first pitch but those days are to infrequent. I prefer the free swinging style that lets the pitcher know the batter will go after the first pitch. Gardy wants his players to emulate the Yanks too much. Isn’t there a good hitting intructor in the minors I had read about?

    Comment by kirk — June 29, 2010 @ 5:08 pm

  30. @Brian

    I agree with all of your points, as I live just outside of Rochester and go to many of their games. To be honest, he actually looked better up at the majors, especially towards the end before Gardy benched up.

    As for his sample size: 16 games, .304BA (14-46), .435 at home. I would’ve liked to have seen at least a couple of weeks more of starts. But, as we all know, its Gardys way of getting punto in the lineup, sigh

    Comment by Scott — June 29, 2010 @ 8:48 pm

  31. Punto had a big june i think….very very solid..not outstanding but very very solid.

    Comment by chris — June 29, 2010 @ 9:28 pm

  32. @kirk

    I love DY, but he has the worst approach of any batter on the Twins, the guy swings at more pitches than Vlad.

    @ Scott, I too would like Valencia at 3b over any of the other Gardy Clones- Tolbert, Casilla, Punto etc. At least he has hit well at one point in his professional career. My first choice though would be to keep Cuddy at 3b. Should be interesting with Thome and DY forcing their way into the everyday lineup.

    Comment by Brian — June 29, 2010 @ 11:30 pm

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