It was this time a year ago when the Twins were just finishing up a West Coast road trip. It was ugly. They dropped 2 of 3 to the Angels, 3 of 4 to the A’s and then lost two at Seattle. They were 2-7 and preparing to limp home when, on a Wednesday afternoon, they defeated the Mariners so that — at the very least — they could fly home after the game with a small measure of cheer. That win gave the Twins a 26-33 record and put them 11 1/2 games out of first place in the AL Central. They’d scored only four runs in the four games at Oakland and there were all kinds of questions — about the rotation, the offense, the inability of some players to perform up to their abilities. That was still back when the MVP2be was batting seventh in the order.
In the last week, the Twins dropped 2 of 3 at Oakland and then lost two at Anaheim. They were 1-4 and preparing to limp home when, on a Wednesday afternoon, they defeated the Angels so that — because this is 2007 — they could fly home after the game knowing that, as much as this season has been frustrating, they’re in better position than in ’06.
They could also fly home laughing outrageously over the way Nick Punto couldn’t lay down a friggin’ bunt in the fifth inning with two runners on and the Twins trailing 4-2 — and then smoked a three-run homer over the right field wall as teammates slapped their heads in amazement. And Jason Bartlett, not wanting to be outdone, decided that Wednesday was a good time to hit his first homer of the season. And Kevin Slowey, who is learning that a flat slider is a fat slider in the majors, got through five innings and then yielded to a bullpen posse that held the Angels hitless thereafter. And Cleveland lost to Kansas City, putting the Twins 6 1/2 out of the lead with 104 games to play.
Now keep in mind that in ’06 the Twins went on to win 20 of their next 22 games. Juan Castro was sent to the Reds for a pack of smokes and Tony Batista was asked to please turn in his No. 77 after Gardy took Terry Ryan to a karaoke bar in Fridley and crooned, “I need a third baseman who won’t drive me crazy…I need a third baseman who won’t drive me mad.” (Y’all didn’t know that, huh?)
We can assume that Gardy and Terry will be doing something similarly social in the next few days, maybe in the bar tonight after Johan Santana’s charity bowling tournament. Or if there’s a poetry slam in Nordeast, Gardy will grab the mike, turn to Ryan and angrily ask: You make me fill out a lineup/Tyner’s name in DH place/You expect me to hand it in/While keeping anger off my face.
Under any circumstances, odds of the Twins winning all but two of their next 22 would be remote. All the more so right now because this year’s interleague schedule includes Atlanta and the Mets, the top two teams in the NL East, instead of the creme-filled NL Central (plus the Dodgers) as it did in 2006. (The other AL Central teams play stepped-up NL schedules too, of course.)
But this is the time when the Twins need to make a move that leaves the .500 neighborhood in the rear-view mirror. Getting Mauer back will help, and I’m guessing that — with Gardy saying he wants to keep three catchers — that Luis Rodriguez is the most expendable player upon Mauer’s return. Bagging Lew Ford or Jason Tyner would leave the Twins with only four outfielders, and someone else will have to go if/when Rondell returns — and one of them needs to be on the roster as a center-field backup for Torii.
If the DH thing can be solved, I’m thinking Gardy might try to get by with 11 pitchers. As the season goes on, after all, they’ll swallow le$$ money when they decide that Ramon Ortiz is just as much of a liability in the bullpen as he was in the rotation. (Can someone comb the rosters and look for offensive talent that’s languishing on the bench someplace so I can start attaching names to this plea?)
****Late afternoon update…Mauer activated Friday, Jason-the-lefty goes back to Rochester. The 11-pitcher era begins now and Rodriguez is safe for now.****
If you read the comments here, and those in other Twins blogs, there’s a school of thought that argues the season is lost and it’s time to blow things up and look to the future. They are some significant challenges in the seasons to come, but I’m willing to argue that a new stadium requires Twins’ ownership to meet those challenges by fattening the team payroll in return for feeding at the public taxation trough. (More on that another time.)
Right now, the house needs an addition in order to compete in the neighborhood in which it’s located. It doesn’t need to be torn down.