May 6, 2007

From Bad to Worse

Things were going so smoothly when the Twins left Seattle after sweeping the Mariners in mid-April. At 10-5 with a trip to Kansas City to play the last-place Royals up next on the incredibly easy first-month schedule, they were seemingly set up for an excellent start and the offense was averaging 4.7 runs per game. Unfortunately, that's not quite how things worked out. Beginning with dropping two out of three games to the Royals, the Twins have gone 6-10 since April 19.

The offense averaged just 4.0 runs per game over that span, with even that modest production being somewhat misleading thanks to some big games. The Twins scored seven runs in back-to-back games against the Royals, crossed the plate 11 times in a win over the Tigers on April 28, and then scored nine runs against the Devil Rays last Tuesday. If you take those four games out of the equation, the Twins averaged a pathetic 2.6 runs over a dozen games.

Overall during that 16-game, post-Seattle stretch, the Twins failed to score more than three runs in a game 10 times. Of those 10 games, they scored exactly three runs six times, scored two runs Saturday against Boston, scored one run twice, and were shut out Friday against the Red Sox. The pitcher who held them to three runs yesterday afternoon was Curt Schilling, but the list of other starters who've taken the mound against the Twins over the past two-plus weeks isn't exactly filled with similar names:

RIGHTIES               LEFTIES
Zack Greinke (x2) Odalis Perez (x2)
Fausto Carmona Jorge de la Rosa
Justin Verlander Jeremy Sowers
Edwin Jackson Nate Robertson
Jae Seo Mike Maroth
James Shields
Tim Wakefield
Julian Tavarez

There are certainly some good pitchers on that list, but for the most part it's a collection of starters that a good team with a strong offense should do a ton of damage against over a 16-game span. Instead, the Twins made back-of-the-rotation filler and young starters struggling to establish themselves as more than that look unhittable far too often. And as ugly as the offense was during that stretch, it might be about to get even worse.

After hitting .353 while starting 27 of the first 29 games, Joe Mauer is headed to the disabled list with a strained left quadriceps muscle. With Mauer giving the Twins a scare near the end of spring training thanks to a leg injury that some feared was a fracture, I questioned the wisdom of sticking him behind the plate for each of the first 11 games. Giving the backup catcher a start during the first two weeks seemed like a good idea and giving Mauer some time off before mid-April seemed like a no-brainer.

Scrutinizing the issue here prior to Mauer's injury helps me avoid the dreaded second-guesser label and I've certainly never been shy about criticizing Ron Gardenhire in the past, but the potential for blame in this case is likely pretty minimal. Gardenhire and the Twins could have done a much better job of managing Mauer's early season workload, and their failure to do so may have led to his injury, but there's certainly no guarantee that a couple days off would have kept him from the DL.

Of course, the bigger issue is that losing Mauer rips the best hitter from a lineup that was struggling to put runs on the board anyway and has gone 183 straight plate appearances without a home run. The lineup has suffered a lot of injuries in just five weeks and no team is prepared to lose a player like Mauer, but the Twins' combination of injury-prone hitters and sub par depth was a major issue coming into the season.

The other major issue coming out of spring training was the rotation. Carlos Silva and Ramon Ortiz have been far better than expected, but after losing to the Red Sox yesterday Sidney Ponson is 2-4 with a 6.42 ERA through six outings. I cut Ponson some slack early, suggesting that his actual performance didn't quite match his ugly ERA, but at this point it's time to end the experiment. He's not throwing strikes, he's not fooling anyone, and he's given up an astounding 66 baserunners in 33.2 innings.

As bad as the results have been thus far, I still contend that the Ponson we've seen through six starts is capable of posting an ERA around 5.00 if given a chance to remain in the rotation. However, that's obviously not something that's worth waiting around for. Plus, with Glen Perkins already in the bullpen and Matt Garza, Kevin Slowey, and Scott Baker all pitching extremely well in the rotation at Triple-A, the Twins have all kinds of over-qualified options to replace him.

The minors lack the same kind of reinforcements for the lineup and Terry Ryan is unlikely to deal for a big-time bat, so with Mauer leaving an already struggling offense for at least two weeks and the team's 16-15 record putting them 3.5 games behind the Indians and Tigers in the division, the Twins need to improve wherever they can. Replacing Ponson won't do anything to put more runs on the board, but it's a lot easier to win by scoring three runs when the other team isn't up 4-0 by the fifth inning.

Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

No Comments

No comments yet.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.