By Joe Christensen
At 41-37, the Twins are three games from the season midpoint. This morning, I filled out a midseason questionnaire that Tracy Ringolsby, of the Rocky Mountain News, organizes for writers around the country. It’s good to take a big-picture look at things once in a while, so this was an important exercise. See my thoughts below, but if you have any suggestions, especially in the “Best Game” categories, it might help jog my memory.
What went right? Torii Hunter, in his free agent walk year, is having arguably his best season. As of this writing (June 30), he is leading all center fielders in OPS, at .914. … Justin Morneau, the reigning AL MVP, has 20 homers and 60 RBI. … Johan Santana, reigning Cy Young, is 9-6 with a 2.76 ERA. … Carlos Silva has had a turnaround season, going 6-8 with a 4.15 ERA. … After two years in mop up relief duty, Matt Guerrier has become an invaluable reliever, posting a 1.85 ERA. With Jesse Crain (torn rotator) lost for the season, and Juan Rincon (4.08 ERA) struggling, Guerrier and Pat Neshek (1.18 ERA) have been the late-inning set-up men for closer Joe Nathan.
What went wrong? As expected, Sidney Ponson and Ramon Ortiz flopped as veteran stopgaps in the rotation. Ponson was released and Ortiz has been buried in the bullpen. Matt Garza, their No. 1 pitching prospect, spent the season’s first three months at Class AAA Rochester. With Francisco Liriano (Tommy John) out for the season, the Twins miss the 1-2 (Santana/Liriano) lightning they had for 2 ½ months last season. … But for all the talk about starting pitching, the team’s real problems have come on offense. LF Rondell White has missed all but three games with a torn right calf muscle, and the Twins spent many games with six of nine spots in the batting order combining for 0 home runs. 3B Nick Punto has been abysmal (batting .212). SS Jason Bartlett (.259) only recently started hitting well. LF Jason Kubel (.247) also has struggled. … The Twins entered Friday ranked 29th in the majors in 3B OPS (.638), 30th in LF OPS (.630), and 27th in DH OPS (.656), and 27th in 2B OPS (.657). They led the AL Central with 514 singles, but had just 202 extra-base hits (ranked fourth in AL Central), compared to 298 for Detroit. … Reigning batting champ Joe Mauer missed 29 games with a strained quad muscle.
What’s ahead? CF Torii Hunter, 2B Luis Castillo, RHP Carlos Silva and LF Rondell White are their pending free agents. LHP Johan Santana and closer Joe Nathan are up after 2008.
Is the team a seller/buyer and who is it selling/buying (at least an area it wants help)? The Twins are currently buyers, but it’s interesting to note that since Wayne Krivsky left to become Reds GM, Terry Ryan has made three major league trades – two with Krivsky (Juan Castro and Kyle Lohse for minor leaguers). They haven’t made an impact in-season trade acquisition since they acquired Shannon Stewart from Toronto in 2003. … This year, they need a 3B or a DH. Tampa Bay’s Ty Wigginton has been mentioned internally, as has Milwaukee’s Kevin Mench. … If the Twins were to go into a horrendous tailspin, they could begin selling off parts. Pending free agents Hunter, Castillo and Silva would be the logical targets.
Best Quote: “I think we’re strong enough mentally and physically to get through these things, but right now it doesn’t feel very good,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said May 16, after the team fell to 18-21. “We have to be a better baseball team, starting with me.”
Best Game nominees: June 14, a 3-2 victory over Atlanta at the Metrodome. Twins trailed 2-0 entering the ninth inning but rallied for three runs off Braves closer Bob Wickman, with Mike Redmond delivering the game-winning hit.
Worst Game nominees: June 9, a 3-1 loss to Washington at the Metrodome. Levale Speigner, a pitcher the Twins lost in the Rule V draft, and a horrible pitcher at that, got the win, and Johan Santana took the loss. “I’m feeling good. I’m doing my job. It’s just not working out,” Santana said. “It takes more than one guy. … I always say it’s a team game.”
Best Single-Game Performances (Individual): Johan Santana tossed his fourth career shutout and added his first career double on June 19 at Shea Stadium in a 9-0 victory over the Mets. TV analyst Bert Blyleven had told Santana he’d let him shave his head if he pitched a shutout. So the next day, Santana took the clippers to Blyleven’s noggin.
Worst Single-Game Performances/Gaffe (Individual): Ramon Ortiz started the team’s 15-7 loss at Cleveland on May 15. His line: 1 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 1 BB, 0 K.