A Sobering Reaction to the Minnesota Twins' Fiasco in Oakland

Dan WadeSenior Analyst IJuly 22, 2009

ARLINGTON, TX - JULY 17:  First baseman Justin Morneau #33 of the Minnesota Twins on July 17, 2009 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

The Twins entered Oakland feeling pretty good about themselves. They had won their fifth straight road series, a tough one in Texas, and had missed their chance at a sweep by the slimmest of margins.

Game One saw the Twins blow a 10-run lead and then have their game-tying run stolen by a blown call at home plate in the top of the ninth.

Fears over a huge letdown were assuaged in Game Two, when the Twins fought back from a small deficit to win in extra innings.

The rubber match was as much a battle as Little Big Horn, and the Twins played the role of Gen. Custer admirably. Justin Morneau launched his third home run of the series to open the scoring, but even that was flawed.

Morneau's shot should have been a two-run blast, but the pitch before his bomb saw Denard Span get caught stealing—a mental mistake that could have been costly but proved largely irrelevant.

Rehashing the ins-and-outs of an obliteration like the one on Wednesday isn't useful. The pitching was an abomination, the bats went silent, and the Twins head to Anaheim with their tails firmly between their legs.

To call this series frustrating would be an understatement. Losing is always unpleasant, blowing big leads is even more so, and getting blown out is worse than the others combined.

So, what can the Twins take away from this series?



Justin Morneau can rake.

Pure and simple. In case you bought into the "Justin Morneau isn't a top five AL first baseman" junk during the All-Star game, this series ought to serve as a reminder that he is, in fact, a bona fide star.

The Twins' outfielders are starting to come around, across the board.

Of the Twins' five outfielders (Span, Carlos Gomez, Delmon Young, Michael Cuddyer, and Jason Kubel), three have posted an OPS above .900 this month, while another is at .898. Kubel and Cuddyer will be locks going forward. The rub will come getting Young and Gomez enough ABs to show if this success is repeatable, especially when neither is on the manager's good side.

Joe Nathan and Matt Guerrier are as good as ever

Nathan comes as no surprise; he's probably the most consistent Twins player, even more so than Joe Mauer. Guerrier was badly overworked last season, and there were legitimate concerns about his ability to bounce back from a second half that was among the worst in baseball last season. 

Over a combined 16 innings, the setup/closer combo has given up no runs and has a combined WHIP of 0.56, which comes as a huge relief for a team that came into the season lacking a true eighth inning option.


Action Steps

(Pointing out negatives is pretty much preaching to the choir at this point. If you care enough to read this blog, you know that the middle infield and the bullpen are the big holes in this system; hence: Action Steps)

The Twins need bullpen help

As good as Nathan and Guerrier have been, the rest of the bunch have been uninspiring. Jose Mijares has been good but could be so much more than a LOOGY. Bobby Keppel finally gave up a run and then began making up for lost time by giving up a couple more. Kevin Mulvey came up, got shelled, and retreated.

Jesse Crain was called up to stop the bleeding, but he's less a gauze pad and more an overdose of Coumadin.

The Twins haven't always gotten a ton of offense, but they've generally gotten enough. Their pitching is what did them in in this series, and while Glen Perkins and Nick Blackburn weren't good, the pen is a more pressing need.

Joe Mauer needs to move permanently into the No. 2 spot in the order

Manager Ron Gardenhire has made it clear that he doesn't like having Mauer hitting out of the second spot, but the recent struggles from anyone else he's put in there forced his hand. Mauer was 3-for-9 in the series, which might be poor enough for Gardy to move him back down to the third spot.

The book Baseball Between the Numbers outlined the idea that to maximize any given lineup's potential, the highest OBP hitters on the team should get the most at-bats, but that slugging could cover the gaps STARTING with the third spot in the order.

In a pure numbers sense, Mauer should be leading off in order to give him more at-bats, but few if any teams actually use this strategy, so having him at No. 2 seems like a good compromise.

There are too many holes on this team, as it stands, to be a serious playoff contender

Depending on who you ask, the Twins need to add either a middle infielder, one or more bullpen arms, or a starting pitcher. I'm of the opinion that help in the 'pen is the order of the day, but a new starter would push one of the Twins' current starters to the bully, which kills two birds with one stone.

The Twins aren't under-talented; there's more than enough on the team to make them a division champ. It's that they aren't playing at the level they need to be. Delmon Young is the poster child for this epidemic, but he's far from its only victim.

There are a lot of projects on this team as it stands, guys who seem to be just on the cusp of excellence. Young, Gomez, Alexi Casilla, Kevin Slowey, Francisco Liriano, and Mijares are just some of the players who, if they started performing like they are capable of performing, could boost the Twins into contention.

However, we're now past the halfway point of the season, and while there have been glimmers of hope, much of the season has been filled with frustration.

There's a chance this team can get hot, get a contribution from someone unexpected (or perhaps expected but so far unreceived), and make a playoff run in a weak division. However, if the playoffs are the goal, adding a player or two makes the road much smoother and straighter.

Keeping all of this in perspective, the Twins are still just two-and-a-half games out of first in the division. They're seven games behind last year's pace but are doing much better on their long road trip than they did last year, when they went 5-9 over the 14 games.

They don't yet seem like they've hit their stride, as evidenced by their last three games, which were mediocre at best. But unless help comes, there may not be the late-season surge that Twins fans have become accustomed to.