June 27, 2011

Five steps back and melted M&Ms

So much for momentum, huh?

Digging out of the massive early season hole seemed possible and then some when the Twins chased Giants starter Madison Bumgarner from Tuesday's game with an eight-run first inning. They'd won eight in a row as part of a 15-2 stretch that improved the Twins from an MLB-worst 17-37 to 32-39, miraculously bringing .500 into reach just two weeks after the season looked all but lost and putting them 6.5 games out of first place in a division there for the taking.

Not only have they lost all five games since then, the Twins have scored a grand total of nine runs in 53 innings since that eight-run opening inning Tuesday, plummeting past the Royals to reclaim the league's worst record. Anything short of ending the first half on a 13-game winning streak would make clawing back to .500 at the All-Star break mathematically impossible and the Twins are now nine games behind the division-leading Tigers with just 86 games to play.

Momentum left as suddenly as it arrived, but the injury bug unfortunately stuck around. Just as they were finally getting healthy with Joe Mauer, Jim Thome, Glen Perkins, Joe Nathan, and Tsuyoshi Nishioka returning from the disabled list Justin Morneau unexpectedly will undergo neck surgery that may end his season, Delmon Young was carted off the field and placed on the DL with an ankle injury, and Jason Kubel's return timetable has been delayed again.

Because they play 21 of the next 25 games at home and the rest of the division is so mediocre even this buzz-killing setback doesn't totally wipe away their great run, but ultimately we're a week from the season's midway point and the Twins have the AL's worst record while being further out of first place than all but the Orioles. Detroit sits atop the division despite being on pace for just 87 wins, but in order for the Twins to win 87 games they'd have to finish 55-31.

Possible? Sure, but before and after the 15-2 stretch they've gone 17-42.

They'll be playing at least half of those remaining games without Morneau, who was on the DL for his wrist rather than his neck, but has complained of neck pain since spring training and got cortisone shots in an unsuccessful effort to play through the injury. Morneau also missed the final 20 games of 2009 due to a back injury and the final 78 games of 2010 with a concussion, meaning by the time he returns he'll likely have missed at least 165 of the past 300 games.

It turns out Mauer was the durable one and an interesting side effect of Morneau's third major injury in three years is that it gives the Twins a convenient excuse to use Mauer somewhere other than catcher. Every indication is that both Mauer and the Twins have no plans to move him permanently--and rightfully so, as he deserves one more chance to get healthy and stay healthy before a career-altering change--but an occasional start at first base makes sense.

As ugly as the first 76 games of this season have been, the Twins' outlook in the second half and beyond won't be a whole lot prettier unless they can get Mauer and Morneau healthy and productive again. They're making a combined $37 million this year, with the same salaries due in 2012 and 2013, and right now long-term, bigger-picture question marks attached to both former MVPs threaten to overshadow the Twins' current struggles in a franchise-defining way.

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  1. so…..are we back in seller mode?

    Comment by phil — June 27, 2011 @ 8:18 am

  2. I love how the pic of Delmon has a Waste Management ad on the scoreboard behind him…seems fitting

    Comment by chris — June 27, 2011 @ 8:36 am

  3. They should have been in sell mode all along after this start. There is not one player on this roster I would not be willing to sell on, especially Mauer. Too much money for a guy that clearly is not a leader, and clearly is not willing to play anywhere and do anything to help this team win.

    Slowey was ripped to shreds for not agreeing to move to the bullpen and ruin his future earning potential. Mauer has continued to refuse to move positions to help this team, despite making $23MM per year. As much as I’ve ripped Cuddeyer for being over-rated, he clearly is a team player, a guy willing to do whatever it takes to win. My admiration for Cuddeyer is at an all time high right now, and will remain so even if/when his hitting declines again.

    Comment by mike wants WINS — June 27, 2011 @ 8:39 am

  4. mike – Slowey did move to the bullpen willingly after spring training. it didn’t work out. All parties agreed he is just not a bullpen guy, he was ripped to shreds after speaking his mind, so to speak. At least he gave it a shot.

    Comment by 1987Twins — June 27, 2011 @ 9:03 am

  5. Johnny Bench is probably the best catcher ever by most measures. He started playing other positions in his early 20’s as a way to keep his bat in the lineup when he didn’t catch (day game after a night game?) and no dh in the nl. He played 195 gms at 3b, 145 at 1b and 111 in the outfield. Imo, if Bench could do it Joe can/should do it, on the other hand Bench wasn’t a spoiled baby!

    Comment by Mike — June 27, 2011 @ 10:06 am

  6. It was fun during the winning streak, but we should acknowledge now that this is not a winning team. They will not play .500 ball the rest of the season. You simply can’t contend with a squad that has only one quality established position player (Cuddyer) and a bullpen that is at best inconsistent. Far more likely we’ll see more of these painful, sloppy losing streaks.

    At this point, you trade Cuddyer. You’ll get good value for him, and then there’s no logjam in the outfield or at first base. Trade him to the Phillies or some team that has a chance to contend, and he might just put them over the top.

    Yeah, this is seller time, but you try to keep the starting staff intact. It’s time to shop guys like Cuddy and Kubel, Morneau when he’s recovered, and Delmon. I’d keep Span and the kids. Keep Casilla, at least for now.

    No particular reason to hang onto marginal players like Butera, Rivera and Repko when there are guys in AAA and AA that are promising. Nothing against Slowey, but he should go to another team for a fresh start. Time to unload Mijares, who I simply don’t trust anymore.

    The Twins continue to be an interesting team, but for now, they are not a winning one. This is the time to make a bunch of changes to clear the way for new combinations of players. Cellar time is seller time.

    Comment by jimbo92107 — June 27, 2011 @ 10:29 am

  7. Mijares and Young are getting chubby again. Doesn’t look good when you can’t perform.

    Get out there Winthorp and sell! Sell! Sell!

    Comment by morgan — June 27, 2011 @ 10:38 am

  8. Unfortunately, I think Young is a lost cause. He makes a ton of money for what he does. I can’t see anyone trading for him.

    Cuddy should be dealt, along with some marginal prospect, to get a good prospect. Add Slowey to the deal.

    Pavano should be dealt. This year is a lost cause, is he worth having around next year, if you can get a real prospect for him (though I doubt you can, so maybe you keep him)?

    Kubel – I probably keep him if the price is right. They have no other DH option next year – their minor league system is woefully barren (and I mostly blame the scouts from pre-Smith’s time, and Smith for his awful trades).

    Comment by mike wants WINS — June 27, 2011 @ 10:50 am

  9. My random thoughts:

    1) On Friday night, did anyone really believe that Mijares was going to get out of the 7th? Seriously, what were the odds of him failing there? I would put it at about 98 percent. During the winning run, Gardy was letting his starters pitch longer and letting them clean up their own messes. Baker wasn’t pitching great, but he was getting by (2 runs in 6 innings coming into the 7th) and came out with 97 pitches. Screw the lefty-lefty matchup. Mijares sucks in tight spots and that loss was Gardy’s fault for over-managing.

    2) I looked at the lineup before Sunday’s came and thought, crap this is a Butera game. And then I realized that right now, Butera (OPS .471) is literally no worse than Mauer (OPS .474).

    3) I realize its not fair to write of Nishioka yet because he was hurt and is still adjusting to American baseball, but he looks terrible both at the plate and in the field. At some point, though, if he doesn’t improve, what do the Twins do? Can they even send him to AAA? He’s got a three year deal – do they just eat the rest of the contract? Nishioka was a $14 million investment ($5M rights fee, $9M salary)and that money sure could have been spent better elsewhere. Thanks Bill Smith.

    4) On the topic of bad infield decisions, J.J. Hardy now has 10 home runs and is hitting .304/.369/.538. That makes him better than anyone on the Twins by a wide margin.

    5) The last six games were road games against good teams and were going to be tough, especially for our AAA lineup. That being said, a team that is serious about competing needs to better than 1-5.

    6) I have seen various places where Ben Revere is being written in a a future starting outfielder. That concerns me because, while his defense is good, he is an awful, awful hitter. .272/.300/304 is terrible for a starting outfielder. Maybe those numbers get better with experience, but the minor league record doesn’t really suggest that. At best, I see Revere as the replacement for Jason Repko as the 4th outfielder.

    7) I concur with Mike Wants Wins about Cuddy. I have never had much appreciation for Cuddy’s willingness to play wherever, but when you compare that to Mauer’s attitude, you really have to respect Cuddy. I expect its because Cuddy wasn’t a golden boy like Mauer and had to fight for any playing time at all early in his career. Whatever the reason, his attidute is a lot more helpful than Mauer’s is.

    Comment by Pedro Munoz — June 27, 2011 @ 10:51 am

  10. Giants need a guy like Cuddy and a young pitching prospect like Wheeler would work for me. If Gardy needs Cuddy you resign him this winter but for 6-7m a yr not 10.5m.

    Comment by Mike — June 27, 2011 @ 11:25 am

  11. Hardy has been out a lot, but yea. The Nishioka money towards Hardy with our AAA backups spelling him during his frequent injuries looks pretty good right now. Mauer not coming back on fire, Morneau and the unready Nathan should put a fork in it. Do they really want to luckily limp into the playoffs with no chance to win a series? I don’t think people will go for that forever. But maybe. Some people on this blog still don’t want to believe it. Sell.

    Comment by brian — June 27, 2011 @ 11:30 am

  12. Hardy “wasn’t liked” in the clubhouse, or something. Haven’t we read that on line? He is surely missed, I’m still baffled they traded him for two bad middle relievers and salary relief. I have ZERO confidence in Bill Smith.

    Comment by mike wants WINS — June 27, 2011 @ 11:53 am

  13. Winning streak was fun, but the Twins need to be in sell mode.

    Glad to see Mauer playing somewhere else than catcher. What good are his offensive numbers (which are nonexistent) if half the pitching staff doesnt like to throw to him. Given his reputation as an excellent catcher, it sure is curious that most of our starting pitchers don’t like him behind the plate. Plus Mauer has done nothing to alleviate the concern of his durability behind the plate.

    Comment by mrgerbik03 — June 27, 2011 @ 1:37 pm

  14. Aaron, I would love to hear your take on Souhan’s article in the Star Tribune today about Mauer. Cuddyer really is getting it done right now while everyone knows Mauer is struggling but one of the reason’s I enjoy reading your blog is because you understand that baseball season’s are marathons and a good couple of months doesn’t predict long term future success. If you read the article and have a few minutes I would love to hear your reply.

    Comment by Brandon — June 27, 2011 @ 2:42 pm

  15. mike wants WINS: That was Hudson that wasn’t liked in the clubhouse, not Hardy. But yeah Hardy would be really nice right now.

    Comment by Nick — June 27, 2011 @ 2:58 pm

  16. Anyone else notice that our starting pitching went to crap again once Mauer came back? Pretty sure the coaches noticed, which is why they’re moving him out from behind the plate to try 1st/3rd base.

    Comment by Nick — June 27, 2011 @ 3:00 pm

  17. Twins pitchers have a 4.08 ERA with Joe Mauer catching this season, compared to a 4.30 ERA when he’s not catching.

    Comment by aarongleeman — June 27, 2011 @ 3:02 pm

  18. I think Hardy had a bad rap too, although it seems that tag is put on anyone whose departure is second guessed based on-field performance.

    I looked at the Rochester stats, and Plouffe is the best hitter down there. I realize he did not play well in the field and got in Gardy’s doghouse, but its not like anyone else is lighting it up and the guy does have power and takes walks. Can Plouffe play first? We need to hit some jacks, because you aren’t going to string together too many hits when half the lineup is under .200.

    Comment by Pedro Munoz — June 27, 2011 @ 3:07 pm

  19. aaron, do you believe in catcher ERA, or is that in response to the post above?

    Comment by mike wants WINS — June 27, 2011 @ 3:27 pm

  20. The 15-2 got me excited for this team but now that Twins are working on their 6th loss in a row tonight and looking pretty feeble again I agree it is time to sell. A lot of players that are still hurt can’t be traded until they prove they are healthy but Pavano, Cuddy, and Capps should be gone ASAP. Slowey, Young and possibly Kubel would be next after they are healthy. Morneau probably won’t be 100% until 2012 so keep him for now.

    Comment by scot — June 27, 2011 @ 8:39 pm

  21. “…as he deserves one more chance to get healthy and stay healthy before a career-altering change.”

    HA! Good one. “Get healthy and stay healthy.” Hilarious.

    Comment by savant — June 27, 2011 @ 10:51 pm

  22. These comments denigrating Mauer and praising Cuddyer are infuriating.

    I have nothing else to say, there are no words.

    Comment by Brian — June 28, 2011 @ 12:11 am

  23. I’m wondering about Nishioka as well. Are the japanese pitchers that poor speed and “stuff” wise? All the video showed Yoshi with a nice swing with good ability to keep his hands back and make good contact. I mean, he’s won a couple of batting titles over there, right? I don’t care if he hits nothing but singles as a 2B if he plays good defense, carrys a good average, and can be a bit of a threat on the basepaths. It seems like he goes up to the plate to see as many pitches as he can without swinging, then goes all hatchet chop or softball ‘dink’ shot to try and make contact/get on base. He just seems WAY overmatched at the plate, or are the Twins “twinsifying” him to try and dink and ‘use his speed’?????

    Comment by JB (the original) — June 28, 2011 @ 8:55 am

  24. I think if you took all the guys who have been in Gardy’s doghouse over the past few years you could make a pretty good team out of them.

    Comment by Ben — June 28, 2011 @ 9:06 am

  25. Ben, you’d probably also field a very smart, college-educated team….

    Comment by mike wants WINS — June 28, 2011 @ 9:19 am

  26. Brian, Mauer is getting paid $23 million, is hitting .206/.247/.250, missed a couple of months with a mystery injury, and is reluctant to switch positions, and you find criticism of him infuriating?

    I think we all realize that Cuddyer is generally overrated, but in this instance when you look at Mauer, you can appreciate Cuddyer’s willingness to play anywhere. Cuddyer is also the best hitter on the team right now.

    Comment by Pedro Munoz — June 28, 2011 @ 9:59 am

  27. Pedro,

    Small sample size much?

    I don’t appreciate Cuddyer’s ability to play everywhere, because he sucks at every position. He is having a nice bounceback year offensively right now, but he is still an overpaid, mediocre RF.

    Mauer is Mauer, Twins fans are always quick to turn on him when he is struggling and I’ve never understood it.

    Its not Mauer’s fault that the roster was constructed so poorly and the Twins can’t win without him.

    Comment by Brian — June 28, 2011 @ 3:56 pm

  28. Actually, it is largely his fault, as he takes up $23 m of the payroll, and contributes nada.

    Comment by al mayer — June 28, 2011 @ 4:14 pm

  29. Brian is right, Cuddyer is an atrocious defenseman (if defensive sabremetrics are any indication) and Mauer will bounce back and likely end up around .300 assuming he is healthy.

    Let’s focus on what this team should look like next year, especially if Gardenhire should be around for it. I think he’s made enough on his barrel-o-fun advertisements to buy an entire lake full of bass and spend the rest of his life trying to eat them.

    Comment by BM Berry — June 28, 2011 @ 6:19 pm

  30. Gardy: “Cuddy, we know you’re not the best at it, and I know you haven’t had a day off in months, but we need you to play 2nd/1st/3rd/RH today because we’ve got some manning issues.”

    Cuddy: “OK, skip.”

    Gardy: “Mauer, we need to you man up and play a day game after a night game today.”

    Mauer: “Uh, don’t know ’bout that skip. I’m a little beat up.”

    Gardy: “Um, could ya maybe handle 1st base today then?”

    Mauer: “Not today, skip.”

    Brian: “That Cuddy, what a douchenozzle. But I heart Mauer!”

    Comment by Confused — June 28, 2011 @ 7:06 pm

  31. Al mayer,

    Like I said, overreact to small sample size much? Mauer has provided incredible value to the Twins over his career, and is likely to do so for the foreseeable future. The best complaint the fanbase seems to have is that he wants occasional off days after attempting to come back from knee/other injuries?

    But everyone loves Cuddyer for being willing to play anywhere, even though it is in his best self-interest as a mediocre RF to do so and possibly extend his career. Denny Hocking was willing to play everywhere too, do you see why?

    Yeah, Mauer is being paid $23 million/year, but I thought that the whole idea behind moving to Target Field was that the Twins were going to become a big-market, big budget team? Its not Mauer’s fault the Twins let Hardy go to cut costs, and didn’t address the holes in the middle infield. Its not Mauer’s fault that Bill Smith is paying Capps $7 mill, Cuddy $10.5, Pavano $8, Nishioka I don’t even know but anything more than one dollar was a waste.

    Comment by Brian — June 28, 2011 @ 7:22 pm

  32. The point I was making (and some others were making) is summed up nicely in the imagingary conversations in Confused’s comment. Cuddy is a poor fielder in a lot of positions and is atrociously overpaid. But unlike Mauer, Cuddy will play wherever the manager wants him too. His attitude is “what does the team need from me?” It is that attitude, especially contrasted with Mauer’s unwillingness to switch positions for the good of the team, that has earned Cuddy some respect from me.

    When you are getting paid $23 million per year, the fans have a right to turn on you when you play like crap. When you demand to be paid (and are paid) like one of the hightest paid players in baseball, your play had better back it up.

    Comment by Pedro Munoz — June 28, 2011 @ 10:28 pm

  33. The fact is that none of you know for certain that Mauer is unwilling to try out positions other than catcher. It’s all conjecture, bordering on imagination.

    Comment by ML — June 28, 2011 @ 11:16 pm

  34. Mauer is the most valuable to the team as a catcher. The Twins have stated publicly numerous times that they want him at catcher. He has stated publicly numerous times that he prefers this as well. All the hate directed at Mauer for “refusing” to switch positions “for the team” is not taking this into account.

    Comment by Sinking Liner — June 29, 2011 @ 6:52 am

  35. Ah, see, it isn’t HATE to think that Mauer might not be as good a teammate as Cuddy. I have never used the word HATE on Mauer. I think he’s an awesome baseball player (if over rated defensively this last year or so), one of the best in the game. But that doesn’t necessarily make him a great team mate. I have also said, repeatedly, that Cuddy is over-rated, and over paid. That doesn’t make him a bad team mate.

    I don’t get this thing that anytime you disagree with someone, or make a criticism of someone, that you “hate” them. This feeling that you can’t disagree with someone w/o hating them is why we don’t have a state budget.

    Comment by mike wants WINS — June 29, 2011 @ 7:31 am

  36. Mauer is most valuable as a catcher, agreed. But if playing catcher keeps him off the field (which it has not the last couple of years), then playing catcher is a bad idea. Biggio was more valuable as a catcher too, but he moved. I’m not saying it is time for Mauer to move permanently, I’m saying he could play 1B occassionally this year (assuming he can pick up the position). I’d still like to see it 100 games at catcher, 40 at DH and 20 at 1B going forward.

    Comment by mike wants WINS — June 29, 2011 @ 7:34 am

  37. mwW– I was commenting on the general tone of the Mauer comments, including:
    “There is not one player on this roster I would not be willing to sell on, especially Mauer. Too much money for a guy that clearly is not a leader, and clearly is not willing to play anywhere and do anything to help this team win.”

    It’s more a questioning of Mauer’s character than “hate”.

    That aside, I agree with you about it not being realistic for Mauer to be a full time catcher going forward.

    Comment by Sinking Liner — June 29, 2011 @ 7:56 am

  38. Brian, 1/2 a season is not such a small sample size. It baffles me that the man, who has known nothing but success athletically thruout his life would be so inept at 28. I hope he will start ripping soon, but I have my doubts.

    Comment by al — June 29, 2011 @ 8:10 am

  39. Sinking, I regret typing those words, as if I knew they were true. That was a mistake on my part, though I’d certainly trade any player for the right package, even Mauer. And, yes, I did question his character. That was overstated as “fact”, when I should not have done that. My bad.

    Comment by mike wants WINS — June 29, 2011 @ 8:31 am

  40. Al,
    He has 72 at bats in 20 games played this year. That is a small sample size. Perhaps you’d be better suited to commenting on stories at espn.com.

    Mauer has been terrible this season, but lets be rational adults here. He tried to “suck it up and play” early in the season, and he was ineffective and looked hurt. Now he looks some combination of rusty and hurt. Hopefully it’s just rust and he’ll be back to being Mauer soon. And yes, it’s time he learns a new position(s). He’ll provide more value if he can stay on the field and stay healthy going forward.

    Comment by JS — June 29, 2011 @ 11:04 am

  41. Mauer should have left as a free agent…fans in Boston would have been much more appreciative of glass joe’s mystery injuries and ops.

    Comment by chewy — June 29, 2011 @ 1:15 pm

  42. As we near the halfway point in the season, I wonder if this team has set some sort of half-season record for “most games lost to injury” by would-be starters. It seems like we have had at least 4 of the 9 regulars out for virtually every game so far this season. If that’s not close to a record, I don’t know what is.

    Comment by Scott — June 29, 2011 @ 1:29 pm

  43. I really hope Revere can make it at the plate, cause I can’t remember the last guy we had who was actually a legitimate base stealing-threat, a potential 40steal guy.

    Comment by Fasterandfuriouser — June 29, 2011 @ 4:37 pm

  44. Just when we thought they were going to make a run….

    Comment by Jon L. — June 29, 2011 @ 8:06 pm

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