July 14, 2011

18 days, 19 games, and 1 thin line

I'm still not sure what to make of the Twins, exactly. Since their MLB-worst 17-37 start they've gone 24-11, yet sit in fourth place seven games below .500, a half-dozen games behind both the Tigers and Indians, and are nowhere near full strength with Justin Morneau possibly done for the season, Jason Kubel, Denard Span, and Kevin Slowey also on the disabled list, Scott Baker dinged up, and Joe Mauer yet to look like his usual self offensively or defensively.

In many divisions the Twins would be all but dead, but the Tigers, Indians, and White Sox are each flawed teams that don't look capable of winning more than 85-88 games. With even two or three of those aforementioned key players back healthy and productive it wouldn't surprise me one bit if the Twins had the AL Central's best record for the final 45 percent of the season, but is the massive hole they dug in April and May too big to climb out of in just 73 games?

For the Twins to reach 85 wins they'd have to finish 44-29, which is a 98-win pace. To reach 88 wins they'd have to finish 47-26, which is a 104-win pace. While certainly within the realm of possibility for a team that has played at a 111-win pace for the past six weeks and looked like a 90-something win team coming into the season, the Twins are plenty flawed themselves and even playing 100-win ball for the final two-plus months would leave them needing some help.

None of Detroit, Cleveland, or Chicago is particularly fearsome, but trailing two different teams by a half-dozen games with 73 to play is already a huge enough challenge that the Tigers or Indians getting hot, even for a couple weeks, would be extremely difficult to overcome in such a limited time frame. Not only do the Twins need to play 100-win ball, they can't afford to have the Tigers or Indians play like even a run-of-the-mill playoff team during that same time.

Such is life when you're the worst team in baseball for two months and now the Twins play 19 games during the first 18 days of the second half, with a July 18 doubleheader and their next scheduled off day on August 1. And as if a roster that's been wrecked by injuries both big and small all year and simply can't afford to slump playing 19 times in 18 days isn't drama enough, the trade deadline looming on the final day of that brutal stretch adds another wrinkle.

I'm still not sure what to make of the Twins right now, but by July 31 everyone should have a far clearer picture of where they stand one way or another. And that's a good thing. Clawing further into contention by then would leave the Twins with an opportunity to add a key piece or two for the stretch run, but failing to make up any ground during those 18 crucial days could convince them to cash in some impending free agents for help in 2012 and beyond.

Eighteen days to make or break a season and help shape the Twins' future. They need to play consistently well and avoid slip-ups in series against the Royals, Indians, Tigers, Rangers, and A's, all without rest for the weary, and the front office also needs to realistically and smartly evaluate where they stand leading right up to the July 31 deadline. Normally the line between buyer and seller isn't so thin, but then again nothing about this season has been normal.

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  • Jason

    Any chance Gibson gets called up to help out in this stretch?

  • mrgerbik03

    I want to see this team win, but sure feels like they would be better served by clearly being out of the picture and trading off some of their chips.

  • Dirleton

    The Twins play two seperate games on 7/18 – a doubleheader is something else.

  • frightwig

    One other reason I’m skeptical about the Twins pulling off the comeback: if you had your pick of Twins, Tigers, or Indians regulars at each position to keep for the rest of the season, how many Twins would you really want on your team?

    At Catcher… Mauer, if he’s able to play at his standard, but nobody’s sure of that. All-Star Avila is a safer bet, and Carlos Santana has the 3rd most WAR at C, so far, too.

    At 1B… Miguel Cabrera, for sure. Then, Cuddyer over LaPorta, if Cuddyer is the Twins regular 1B. But if Morneau comes back, I’m not confident that he’ll produce anything at all.

    At 2B… Casilla, I guess, but only because he looks like the least worst option.

    At SS… Asdrubal Cabrera or Jhonny Pertalta over Nishioka, by a mile.

    At 3B… maybe a wash between Hannahan/Chisenhall and Valencia, since Inge is having a lousy year. Hannahan has been the best of the bunch this season. Valencia has the potential to play better, but Chisenhall is a highly regarded prospect who might also get hot.

    At LF… Boesch is having a very good year for Detroit. I’d take Brantley over Young, too.

    At CF… a healthy Span is probably better than Grady Sizemore, at this point.

    At RF… Kubel or Cuddyer, if Magglio is going to be bothered by injuries all year and Choo can’t come off the DL and play like he did last year. If past seasons mean anything, I think you’d want Choo or Magglio. Put a question mark by Kubel, Magglio, and Choo, and hope that the Twins don’t have to depend on Repko or Revere too much from here on out.

    At DH… Hafner and Martinez are both having a big year, while Jim Thome is showing his age.

    Anyway, before you even compare pitching staffs, it just doesn’t seem to me that the Twins lineup down the stretch is likely to outpace the lineups currently at the top of the division. Even if Mauer & Morneau come back at full strength, how much more valuable than Avila & Cabrera could they be? Would a healthy Thome be any better than Martinez or Hafner? Does the Twins’ probable advantage in CF make up for the Tigers’ and Tribe’s huge advantage at SS?

    And then, to date, both Detroit and Cleveland have had better pitching than the Twins, too. How much are we looking for that to turn around?

  • MC

    I know I’m excited about watching it unfold.

  • mike wants wins

    It is this unpredictablity of sports that make them interesting to me. I just hope they don’t trade a good prospect for a RP again. Just such an awful strategy. I’d rather see James and Slama get chances in the bullpen first.

  • Nick

    Looking back a year, the Twins went 48-26 after the All Star Break. A 105 win pace. I remember thinking that team also needed to fill in some holes.

    That is exactly what they did, filling in some key bullpen arms. I think the Twins do the same, getting some cheap (prospect wise) bullpen arms and upgrade their lineup internally (players off the DL and guys like Plouffe getting more action).

  • minnesconsin

    @frightwig –

    Measuring the Twins “probable” advantage at one position -vs- another team’s “huge” advantage at another position, is a waste of time in anything other than fantasy baseball.

    Regardless — you chose Twins straight-up or conditionally in 5 of the 9 positions – C, 2B, 3B, CF, RF. you seem to be proving the opposite of your intended point here?

  • BR

    The Twins will need to decide if they’re in or not before the Oakland series if they intend to make deals before the trade-waiver deadline. And really, the odds are good that we’ll know by the end of the Detroit series whether they’re contenders or not. 12 divisional games. Go 10-2 and they’re over .500 and likely in 3rd, breathing down Cleveland and/or Detroit’s necks. Flop with a 4-8 record or worse and they’re toast.

    As AG points out, it’s particularly tough when you’re trailing 3 teams. Any one of them gets hot and they can run away from you.

  • Pedro Munoz

    I don’t get worked up about pace arguments, because for limited parts of seasons, it isn’t hard to play at a ridiculous pace. Every season for every team has its ups and downs – times when teams will be awful and times when teams will be exceptional. We are 6 1/2 games behind at the break, with 42 of the last 71 at home. Cleveland isn’t for real and the Tigers are full of holes and have a history of late season chokes. If I had to bet on the division winner, I would pick the Twins. Pick up a reliever or two, and its clear sailing toward another first round beating by the Yankees.

    Why is James in the minors now? Was there a problem with the four scoreless appearances he made for the Twins? Did Burnett get Punto’s naked pictures of Gardy?

  • morts

    It will be an exciting stretch and I hope the Twins are in the thick of the race 10 days from now. It would be nice if the Twins made their contender status clear by going, 9-3 or better, or 3-9 or worse. If they go 7-5, they’ll still be in it, but barely.

    IF they become sellers, the Twins will have interesting decisions to make about pending free agents. Cuddyer and Capps are solidly in the type A free agent range. Would potential buyers be willing to pay enough in prospects that the Twins would forgo 2 draft picks a piece for Cuddyer and Capps? Would dumping around $10 million in salary for the rest of the year entice the Twins to take lesser prospect packages and give up the compensation draft picks?

    Kubel is in the type B range and therefore would have less value if the Twins held on to him for the year and lost him to free agency (1 compensation pick). Also his lower salary would make him easier to trade.

    Nathan will not bring any compensation if lost to free agency, but how much cash would the Twins have to include in a trade in order to get a decent prospect back?

  • BR

    To addres morts questions…

    Given their respective performances to date, I’d say yes, the Twins would get two solid prospects back for Cuddyer, but probably not for Capps. On the other hand, I’m not sure the Twins would want to offer Capps arbitration.

    If Kubel can come back healthy, his price and performance combo would bring back a solid (B level) prospect.

    Re: paying cash w/Nathan… too much. A couple mil for this year probably and the $2 mil buy-out for next. And Nathan’s not throwing well enough for most contenders to see him as a top set-up option, let a lone a closer, so they wouldn’t give up anything really good even if Nathan were free.

  • mike wants wins

    No way the Twinsoffer Capps arbitration, is there? If he accepts, they are stuck with him at huge dollars, and no picks in return….I just don’t see that being an influence on their decision (I hope).

    Cuddy is not going anywhere, they’ll be re-signing him, imo.

    I’d rather they package a mediocre prospect with Nathan or Kuble, to get a better prospect in return, than to just trade them straight up.

    that said, I expect them to win 8 games in this next stretch, and to consider themselves squarely in the “not do anything much” zone, because they won’t feel totally in it, or totally out of it.

  • BR

    Mike:
    The Twins have to offer arb to a player to be eligible for compensation if the player rejects and signs elsewhere. So the question of whether they can get 2 quality prospects for Capps is only really relevant if they think that’s the least they can get for him. (In other words, they’d be intending to offer him arb and expecting him to reject it.) I agree with you – I don’t think the Twins will offer him arb, b/c he might accept it, and his salary would liklely be big ($9M range).

    So… If they decide to deal Capps, beause they’re out of it, they won’t be thinking that they need two good prospects back. They’d be happy to get the salary relief for this year and one decent (less than Wilson Ramos, unfortunately!) prospect in return.

  • AG

    Interestingly the Twins’ low point was at the end of the first 54 games; first third of the season; (17-37). If they continue at the pace they’ve been winning since June 1 (24-11 .6857) they will win 13 of the next 19, achieving (barring rainouts) a record of 37-17 over the second third of the season (exactly) leaving them at 54-54 with 54 games to play.
    Pretty exciting way to play .500 baseball…..

  • BR

    And given the team’s injuries, I think most people would gladly take 54-54 w/54 to go…

  • frightwig

    @minnesconsin

    If Span gives the Twins an advantage of 1-1.5 WAR over Sizemore or Jackson (and that’s assuming Span is healthy and plays as he did before, while Sizemore continues to be bothered by injuries and Jackson does not progress), but Peralta and A. Cabrera each give their teams an advantage of ~3 WAR over Nishioka (a fair assumption, based on what we’ve seen), I think that matters.

    Not all of my preferences are equal. If Casilla is a little better than the other crummy 2B currently starting for the Tigers or Indians, that probably doesn’t make up for the difference between Cabrera and Cuddyer (or, gulp, Luke Hughes), or Martinez/Hafner and a suddenly old Thome, or Boesch and Young. Under ideal circumstances, I might take Twins players at 5 positions, but that doesn’t necessarily = WIN TWINS.

  • Son of Shane Mack

    The Twins play two seperate games on 7/18 – a doubleheader is something else.

    A Doubleheader is two games on the same day. July 18th meets that definition.

    The “classic” doubleheader is a late afternoon and evening game with only 20-30 minutes between. They’re not as common nowadays in the majors.

    However, a Day-Night doubleheader as this is likely to be, is still a doubleheader.

  • Pedro Munoz

    I always thought a doubleheader meant you got two games for the price of one. If the Twins charge separate admission for the two games, is it still a doubleheader?

  • Son of Shane Mack

    I always thought a doubleheader meant you got two games for the price of one. If the Twins charge separate admission for the two games, is it still a doubleheader?

    Sure it is.

    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/doubleheader

    True, in the “old days” – there wasn’t time between the doubleheaders – especially in the pre-lights days and they had to get in both before darkness. Also, you would get a two-fer as far two games for one admission. But, that’s not the actual definition of the doubleheader.

    It’s been decades since you got two games for the price of one in the majors.

  • Large Canine

    Now you get one game for the price of five

  • Dirleton

    “On the same program” = for one admission. Other definitions specify “Before the same crowd” which is the same thing as one admission. Anything else is just marketing BS.