The Minnesota Twins still have the worst record in the American League, but at least they are playing much better lately, having won three straight series, two of them against division leaders in the Cleveland Indians and the Texas Rangers.
In their first 40 games, the Twins would only win 13, losing 27. Since then, they have won 13 and lost only 12. While they are still 13 games below .500, things are looking up.
The starters are pitching better and deeper into games. Last season, the starting rotation had a total of eight complete games—seven by Carl Pavano. So far this season, four different pitchers have gone the distance.
There is also some good news with Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Joe Mauer close to returning to the ball club. Add the return of the Twins best hitter in Jason Kubel along with Jim Thome, and the offense should get super charged.
The problem is that manager Ron Gardenhire will have some tough decisions to make.
Who will be the second baseman?
Alexi Casilla, who opened the season at shortstop, struggled early and lost his starting position. Of late he has been playing exceptional and has his average up to .263 following the Rangers series.
It looks like the plan is to play Nishioka at shortstop and move Casilla to second base. This looks to be the pertinent move, allowing Nishioka to see the runner coming on the double play.
Who will be the utility infielder?
Luke Hughes has done a very good job of moving around the infield having, played at every infield position in the infield with only two errors. After starting the season at Triple-A Rochester, he has started to produce with his second call up. He's hitting .270 with a .311 slugging percentage.
Although Gardenhire has favored Matt Tolbert as the utility infielder, Tolbert is only batting .200 with a .296 slugging percentage.
With the flexibility between Casilla and Nishioka at short and second, Hughes provides a little more flexibility by being able to back up first base.
Has Danny Valencia played himself out of a job?
The last two games of the Rangers series found Valencia on the bench and as the designated hitter. This might be the wake up call he needs to turn his season around.
Valencia is only hitting .218, but his 27 RBI are second on the team. Gardenhire may be tempted to use Hughes in a platoon situation in order to get Valencia focused.
Who will be the backup backstop?
With the return of Mauer to the lineup, Gardenhire will have to make a decision on who backs up the All-Star catcher. Both Drew Butera and Rene Rivera have done a great job defensively and managing the pitchers during the game.
With neither catcher batting over .200, it may not make a difference which one remains with the Twins at this point. Defensively, Rivera has played slightly better, having yet to commit an error in 20 games so far this season.
Should Justin Morneau move to DH?
Kubel, despite being on the 15-day disabled list, still leads the Twins with 30 RBI and a .310 batting average. Could his return push Justin Morneau to the bench with Michael Cuddyer, who leads the club with nine home runs, taking over at first base?
Right now, the Twins can use both Kubel's and Cuddyer's bats in the lineup. With the number of games Morneau has been rested this season, perhaps a move to DH will help keep him in the lineup everyday.
With the return of Denard Span is Ben Revere headed to Rochester?
Revere has done a great job filling in while Span has been on the seven-day disabled list. Raising his average to .272, he his hitting 100 points higher than Jason Repko. The problem may be his arm strength, as teams have been running on center fielder.
If Gardenhire feels that it's best for Revere to play daily than to occasionally come off the bench, then he will be sent back to Rochester.
Are Jim Thome's days numbered in Minnesota?
If Gardenhire decides to use Morneau as the primary designated hitter, this will make Thome, who is only seven home runs from 600, expendable. It's likely the Twins could move Thome by the trading deadline to a team looking to add some pinch-hitting power of the bench.
With the Chicago White Sox coming to town and 21 of the next 27 games at Target Field, the Twins are poised to turn their season around. By the time they play the White Sox in Chicago on July 7th, there's a good chance the Twins could actually be above the .500 mark on the season and out of the basement of the AL Central.
It's just that Gardenhire may have a few tough calls to make to get there, and hopefully this many roster changes won't affect the chemistry that has the Twins playing Twins baseball—finally.
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