Coming home: Evolution of the lineup

Posted on June 16th, 2008 – 6:56 AM
By Howard

Somehow the Twins managed to lose seven of the 10 games they played on their road trip and return home only 4 1/2 games out of first place — even though they were swept by the team ahead of them, the White Sox, to open their time away. Cleveland and Detroit have used recent days to squeeze the middle of the division together, and they now trail the Twins by 1 and 2 games respectively.

Meanwhile, you get the feeling that significant changes are being made and that the Twins of the final 92 games will be pretty different from the team that opened the season. Three-quarters of the infield — everyone except Morneau, obviously — seems on the way to be made over. (Not to be confused with the three-quarters of the infield that was made over between the end of ’07 and the start of ’08.) I know that Gardy says that Mike Lamb is “in the mix” at third base, but when the younger players have the chance to outperform him and be part of the team’s future, there’s little logical reason — sudden hot streak aside — for him to play instead of Buscher, Macri, Harris (if Everett returns to shortstop) and Tolbert (when he gets healthy). I’m not hearing anyone asking breathlessly when Everett is going to return, and I think the Twins (and quite possibly Everett) would be more than happy to keep him on the disabled list — with a wink and a nod — until he’s 200 percent healthy.

Whether Casilla is the long-tern answer at shortstop or second base, I don’t know and I’m not going to debate right now. Suffice to say that Harris, despite his limited range, seems more comfortable at shortstop. I’d be interested to see what he looks like at third because I think he’s a better hitter than he’s shown and I think he could be a valuable utility player/part-time starter down the road.

If I could make everyone healthy right now, the six infielders I’d choose are Morneau, Casilla, Harris, Buscher, Lamb and Punto.

Tolbert and Macri could stand to hone their skills more at Rochester. I know that everyone loves Tolbert, but the Twins aren’t going to release Lamb and he should offer a hint of power on the bench. I’d rather have Tolbert and Macri play every day in the minors. Punto would own the needed late-inning glove on the bench.

For the record, last year I was responding to the late-season excitement about Buscher by pointing out that he’s defense was suspect in the minors and he looked absolutely terrible during his major-league time at third. He made four errors in only 52 chances last season and didn’t get to other balls that seemed reachable.

The numbers this season are too minimal for any kind of comparison. But buzz during spring training was about how hard he’d been working on his defensive skills, something that I heard echoed during a trip to the Metrodome a couple weeks back. The talk reminded me of Corey Koskie, who went from being a defensive liability in his early days to a solid third baseman. Whether that talk is cheap — yes, I remember what “they” were saying about Liriano’s off-season workouts in the Dominican Republic — I don’t know. But I’d rather see him out there and find out than continue the Lamb thing for now.

One other thing I’m wondering about is the Delmon Young situation. Gardy didn’t start him in four of the 10 road-trip games. Gardy can talk all he wants about giving Kubel and Monroe more at-bats, but (without any inside knowledge whatsoever — remember this is a “fan blog”) it seems like a decision of some sort has been made about the best way to bring Delmon along. And automatically sticking him in the lineup has become a thing of the past.

My baseball watching was minimal over the weekend and the box scores say that Delmon got six hits in the Friday and Saturday games at Milwaukee. By the time I started watching Saturday, he was done hitting for the night, so this remains an unconfirmed rumor in my world. (I did see his unfortunate at-bat in the 12th inning Saturday, when he feebly grounded out on the first pitch after the previous two batters had walked.) Whatever the case, I’m interested to see how that one shakes out, all the more considering that Kubel has hit a homer run in every other game he’s played lately, has 23 percent of the Twins’ home-run total for the season and is second on the team in RBI.

Note that I haven’t said a word about the pitching. Suffice to say that inconsistency seems to be the hobgoblin of young, promising arms and Livan simply needs to get his numbers looking better than a beer league softballer’s. If I start turning over that issue right now, I’ll be late for work.

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