Life Without Beltre or Atkins: Can The Twins Still Contend?

Dan WadeSenior Analyst IJuly 19, 2008

Rumors about who will patch the Twins' black hole at third base have been swirling since well before the all-star break. As it turns out, those rumors appear to have been premature. According to LENIII, the asking price for both the Rockies' Garrett Atkins and the Mariners' Adrian Beltre is too high for the Twins' taste.

I understand what Neal is saying, both of these guys are fairly integral to their respective team's success, but I also think the Twins should be playing this season fairly aggressively; not at the expense of next season and beyond, but with Detroit and Cleveland in down years, the division is ripe for the taking.

Assuming Neal is right, there are just two more names from Will Carroll's list left: Hank Blalock (who is on view at the Dome over the weekend) and Casey Blake (who the Twins know very well from divisional games, as well as his time in the Twins' farm system).

Neither of them excites me very much, for reasons I posted about earlier.

So, assuming the Twins pass the deadline unchanged, as is their wont, the big question is: Can this team compete with Detroit and Chicago as is?

The rotation is pitching as well as any in baseball right now, and will only get better when Fransisco Liriano makes his inevitable return from his exile in AAA.

The bullpen, much maligned, has looked pretty good over their last few outings. Brian Bass needs to go, but Bobby Korecky or Rickey Barrett could easily replace him.

Craig Breslow has been lights out in his 13 innings so far, and could be used more frequently. The Twins could improve here, but there are arms in the minors that could do the job.

There is also an off chance that stellar set-up man Pat Neshek could return from injury in September, in time to help solidify the 'pen for the stretch run.

The weight of the question, then, falls squarely on the shoulders of the lineup, specifically third base.

The Twins will have a hard time staying in the race if they cannot stay healthy. Nick Punto is set to go back on the DL for the third time this year, Adam Everett and Matt Tolbert are set to come off the DL in August, but will take time to get back up to speed.

That leaves Mike Lamb and Brian Buscher.

Lamb is the last in a long line of failed veteran acquisitions, so, really, that leaves Buscher.

Brian Buscher is one of the least impressiveve players I've ever seen play, but he is, nevertheless, incredibly effectiveve. He's hitting .322 since his call up and .407 with runners in scoring position. 

His defense isn't as good as Nick Punto's, but he isn't a liability at the hot corner like Lamb was.

it would have been nice to upgrade the position, but it isn't necessary.

Brian Buscher is good enough to help the Twins win the division and advance in the playoff, as long as the rest of the lineup continues to contribute.