July 9, 2003

Below .500

My team, the Minnesota Twins, have been in a terrible tailspin lately.

On June 13th, Johan Santana made his third straight brilliant start of the season, pitching 7 innings of 2-hit ball, as the Twins beat the Diamondbacks 3-1. The win improved Minnesota's record to 38-27 and gave them a 5.0 game lead over the Kansas City Royals and a 8.5 game lead over the Chicago White Sox.

It was a good time to be a Twins fan. The offense was clicking, the pitching was good and the team looked headed for an easy AL Central championship for the second straight year.

Well, it is now July 10th and the Minnesota Twins have gone 6-18 since that win over the Diamondbacks. They lost the final 2 games of that series against Arizona, dropped 3/4 to the Royals and then 2/3 to the Brewers and White Sox. Then they finally won a series, taking 2/3 from the Brewers, before getting swept in a 3-game set against the White Sox and then losing 3/4 to the Indians. And, last night, they lost their second straight game to the Rangers.

In less than a month's time, they went from 5.0 games up on Kansas City and 8.5 games up on Chicago, to being 4.5 games behind the Royals and just 1.0 games ahead of the White Sox. And now, for the first time since May 1st, the Minnesota Twins have a winning percentage below .500.

It has been extraordinarily difficult to watch this slide as a Twins fan. They are losing games left and right, and the losses aren't even coming against the top teams in baseball. They haven't lost all of these games to the Mariners or the Red Sox or the Yankees or the A's or the Blue Jays. No, they lost 18 of 24 games against an Arizona team that was struggling big-time back then and then to the Royals, Brewers, White Sox, Indians and Rangers. It has been so painful that I been avoiding writing about the team as much as I can lately and I was actually planning to not write anything about the Twins' problems until they got them fixed, assuming such a time ever came.

But, yesterday, one of my favorite writers wrote a column about the Twins' problems. Rob Neyer of ESPN.com's column yesterday was titled, "Twins simply not using their talent correctly." Anytime a national writer devotes an entire column to the Twins, there is a pretty good chance I am going to talk about it, and anytime Rob Neyer does so, I am definitely going to talk about it, because of how much I respect Rob and enjoy his writing.

Rob's article was very good. That said, it wouldn't be fair to me or others (like the Twins Geek) who have written extensively about the Twins to say that anything Rob talked about has not been detailed many times before. Another "problem" with Rob's column is that it does not lend itself to in-depth writing because of the word-limit he has. Rob's column about the Twins was just under 1,000 words, which is pretty typical for his work at ESPN.com.

1,000 words is fine for a column and is, I think, pretty typical for newspaper writers and internet writers all over the place. But 1,000 words is nothing when you are trying to explain what is wrong with a baseball team. So, instead of going into great depth on the subject, Rob basically scratches the surface of the main problems that he sees.

Here are Rob's main points (as I saw them):

1) It is fair to wonder "what is wrong with the Twins" even though they are still a .500 team (or were, until last night), because they are currently way below last year's level of winning and are behind the Kansas City Royals, a team that stunk last year.

2) The Twins have a ton of good hitters (Rob names all the usual suspects: Kielty, Morneau, Mohr, LeCroy, Cuddyer, etc), but none of them play the middle-infield. This is a problem because, as Rob writes, "a smart baseball executive can turn excess talent into useful talent...that's not what Twins GM Terry Ryan has done, though." Basically, Rob thinks that the Twins have two major holes in their offense - shortstop and second base - and thus far have not been willing to trade some of their excess hitting talent for some useful middle-infield talent to fill those holes.

3) Until recently, the Twins have not used Johan Santana in a big enough role. Or, as Rob puts it, the "utter misuse of the most talented pitcher in the entire organization."

4) Even with all of their problems and all of their mis-management of assets, the Twins may still win the American League Central division. That said, Rob thinks that, with all the talent they have in the organization, "there's simply no good reason for all this uncertainty...the Twins shouldn't be trailing anybody in the American League Central."

As you can probably gather, I am in complete agreement with each and every one of the main points Rob made.

1) The AL Central division is the worst in baseball and neither the Royals nor the White Sox are a great team. That doesn't mean they won't win or can't win, just that they shouldn't.

2) I have been documenting the abundance of 1B/LF/RF/DH the Twins have for months now. I like to refer to it as a "massive logjam," whereas Rob prefers the term "excess talent." I have also been crying out for a trade for a second baseman for just as long. I haven't done so in regard to a new shortstop, mostly because I think the chances of that happening are even more remote than the second baseman acquisition.

3) Anyone who has visited this blog (or Baseball Primer) more than a few times in the last year or so knows my feelings on Johan Santana and the way the Twins have been using him. If you don't know what I am talking about, click here. I have talked about it too much already, so I won't go into it again, but suffice it to say I agree with Rob completely.

4) The only reason I am not in a complete panic over what is going on is that the Royals and White Sox are not teams that are going to runaway with the division. The Royals are still the Royals and the White Sox just lost 2 in a row to the Tigers and lost 2/3 to Tampa Bay before that. But, as Rob says, there is no reason for there to be any uncertainty for the Twins, they should be 10 games up and worrying about how to get their playoff rotation in order.

I really enjoyed Rob's column on the Twins because it basically summed up the various points I have been making in this space over the last year or so, as well as the main topics of discussion among most Twins fans this year. And, Rob did it in a very neat and concise way, which, as you all know, is not exactly my specialty. It is also nice to see these topics brought up on to a national audience, on a larger stage than this blog.

There is one thing in Rob's column that sort of upset me a little bit. Well, I shouldn't say "upset" me because I wasn't really upset actually, it just bruised my ego slightly. You see, in the part about Johan Santana, Rob writes the following:

"I'm referring, of course (as every Baseball Primate or Prospectusite knows), to southpaw Johan Santana, who is just now officially joining the Twins' starting rotation."

Rob's point being, of course, that anyone who frequents Baseball Primer and/or Baseball Prospectus knows all about Johan Santana and all about his struggle to get into the rotation.

The thing that bruised my little ego is that he didn't mention this blog along with Primer and Prospectus. Now, that may sound really weird and extraordinarily egotistical to you, and maybe it is. But, I am almost 100% sure Rob checks this site out at least occasionally and, with the frequency with which I write about Johan Santana and the Twins, I am just as certain he has seen at least a few of my many rants about those subjects. Additionally, my Johan and Twins' related rants are not limited to this blog, they are in fact often seen over at Baseball Primer, in my posts on "Clutch Hits" or my articles.

Normally I wouldn't talk about this sort of thing, because I know it makes me look like a jerk when I basically say, "Look at me! Notice me! Talk about me!" But, I am apparently not the only person who thinks maybe Rob could have thrown me a bone.

Jeremy Wahlman over at "Something's Always Wrong" wrote this yesterday:

"Rob Neyer explains what those of us who read Aaron's Baseball Blog already know: the Twins' problem is not a lack of talent, but rather misuse of that talent."

And, in a post in the "Clutch Hit" for Neyer's article over at Baseball Primer, Vinay Kumar commented:

"Yes, [Neyer] did mention [Baseball Primer]. But I thought, in that context, Aaron's blog deserved more of a nod than Prospectus. Of course, that's assuming that Neyer reads Aaron's blog. I don't know if he does, but I'm guessing he does. If not every day, at least enough to know that Aaron had been Johan's most vocal supporter."

I completely understand that Rob doesn't want to always have to be mentioning blogs that he reads when they have talked about subjects he is writing about. At the same time, if you are going to write about Johan Santana and also talk about visitors to certain websites knowing all about Johan's situation, I feel like Aaron's Baseball Blog should be recognized in some way, particularly since I am one of the reasons why Johan is discussed on Baseball Primer so much as well.

Where's the love, Rob? Help a young blogger out a little bit. After all, I'm just trying to be like you when I grow up! 🙂

Of course, I could be completely crazy to suggest all of this and maybe my ego has swelled to massive proportions now that I have an actual audience reading what I write everyday. I am, after all, only human (or pretty close). Or maybe it's just me being wildly optimistic for once, since, undoubtedly, a mention by Rob Neyer in one of his articles would be pretty huge for both the visitor totals of this website and my "credibility."

In the spirit of me wanting Rob to give me a plug, I am going to give a nice plug to one of the blogs I enjoy the most. Go head over the Ben Jacobs' "Universal Baseball Blog, Inc." Not only is it a really good blog with really good writing, Ben also has really looooong entries. Maybe not "Gleeman-length," but pretty damn close.

Today's picks:

Philadelphia (Padilla) -125 over New York (Trachsel)

Tampa Bay (Sosa) +260 over Oakland (Mulder)

Anaheim (Sele) -150 over Kansas City (George)

New York (Clemens) -175 over Cleveland (Davis)

Texas (Thomson) -100 over Minnesota (Reed)

Total to date: + $1,250

W/L record: 166-164 (1-4 yesterday for -315 and on my way to 1,000.)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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