I like Gardy, but…

Posted on November 18th, 2009 – 3:13 PM
By Howard

Ron Gardenhire coming in second in the AL Manager of the Year voting doesn’t work for me.

That would be a little bit like Bill Smith coming in second for Executive of the Year because the front office finally got its act together and made the needed moves that helped get the Twins in position to win the division, with a day of extra labor. The Twins went for too long with their pretenders and were both lucky and good when it came time to make the changes that let them live up to being the contenders they were supposed to be all along.

Yes, everything came together in the final weeks of the season and the Twins looked pretty sharp in that surge to overtake Detroit. But it was more a case of some players finally playing up to their ability in concert with those who were having their best years ever (Mauer, Cuddyer, Kubel) keeping up their star-caliber pace.

Remember, this was the third-best division in the American League. Put the 2009 Twins in the AL East and they’re  midway between Toronto and Baltimore Cleveland. Put ‘em in the AL West and they’re battling Seattle and Texas for runner-up honors behind California despite having better personnel.

Yes, Mike Scioscia deserved to win Manager of the Year. And it should have been unanimous.

The top three spots should have gone to AL West managers. Don Wakamatsu should have finished second for guiding Seattle from its pathetic 101-loss season of 2008 back above .500 while constantly turning wheels to put the right players in the right positions. Ron Washington of Texas should have finished third for an improved team that kept the heat on the Angels for so much of the season.

Gardy, at best, is No. 4. Maybe him, maybe Joe Girardi.

What does Gardy need to do to be a serious MOY contender? Win a game in New York? Limit Nick Punto to 250 at-bats? Play Delmon Young every day? Get rid of Delmon Young?

None of the above, really.

The saddest reality of Twins baseball in 2009 was that it continued its slide away from that horribly cliched mantra: Doing the little things right.

The Twins simply don’t. If I had a quarter for every time I’ve heard that line used about them — more globally than locally, which is fortunate — since last July 4, I’d be close to paying for a nice dinner out. How did the Twins bollocks up the postseason? On the bases in Games 2 and 3 were the most notable examples, and representative of so many other goofs during the regular season. Yes, the Yankees were so good and played so well that they put tremendous, error-inducing pressure on all of their postseason opponents.

But the Twins are still carrying a reputation for being better than that — and the challenge for Gardy is to get them back to deserving such accolades.

That has to happen because there’s anything but a guarantee that the excellent performances of this season will be replicated.  Mauer could be the MVP (and a Hall of Famer) with lesser numbers, Justin Morneau will be a question mark because of his health, and how confident can you really be that Kubel is a 100-plus RBI guy on an annual basis and Cuddyer will keep cracking out 30 or more home runs.

To compensate, the front office will need to find the proper replacement parts through trading and the free-agent pool. And, even more important, the Twins will have to get back to being what they used to be — a team that sweated the small stuff and won because of it.

Combine that attention to detail with the dramatic increase in power (111 home runs in 2008 to 172 in ’09) and a solid (not spectacular) pitching staff, and the Twins can churn out the results that should make Ron Gardenhire a legitimate Manager of the Year candidate. Better even than a second-place finish that wasn’t really deserved.

Gardy is a good manager, so it’s a very achievable goal.

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