Through the first 32 games of the season I don’t believe I am alone in feeling underwhelmed and disappointed. Coming off a 94 win season without Joe Nathan and half a season of Justin Morneau, expectations were running high for this squad now that they were to be back and ready to contribute. We have come up short… well short.
1. Nathan and Morneau are back but neither is playing close to their pre-injury level.
I can’t say that I’m surprised about either. Nathan has come back in a years time from Tommy John’s and that’s about as fast as you can do it. It makes sense for him to be a little rusty. Building up your arm strength and getting back your velocity is a process. He wasn’t going to have it right from the get go but I have faith that by the all star break he will be back to form and in the closer’s role again.
Morneau’s problem isn’t a matter of lingering injury but rust. This slump is a matter of timing and not letting the game come to him. Morneau needs to be a little more selective in his at bats. With his timing off and slow start to the season, Morneau has been trying to do too much and rather than waiting for a pitch to drive he has been swinging at anything close. He will come around.
I expect both of Nathan and Morneau to bounce back at some point in the coming months.
2. Mauer’s “leg weakness” and his replacement
Fans have been quick to jump on Mauer for his absence this season. I can’t say that I blame them but not because I question his toughness. I am more frustrated that the Twins rushed him back and that our shiny new huge contract player isn’t actually playing. We sure do miss him, that’s for sure. I know that he wasn’t setting the world on fire to start the season and that people praise the defensive prowess of Butera, but the drop-off between the two is painfully obvious.
The drop-off for the offense is terrible. Not only is Mauer a prolific hitter for the position but Butera might be the worst, not just of catchers. Actually, of ALL players with a minimum 50 plate appearances this season Butera ranks dead last in Batting Average, On Base Percentage, and Slugging. I don’t care how good a game you call or if you have a cannon of an arm behind the plate, there is no way that we can thrive with that kind of bat. For all the flack that Punto got over the years for his terrific glove but no bat, Butera is worse in both areas and Punto never was trying to fill the shoes of a former league MVP.
The sad and unfortunate thing is that we don’t really have any other option. You can question previous dealings with Ramos and Morales, but that is in the past. It doesn’t help us now to deal in “what-if’s”. Right now, we just need to try and bridge the gap until Mauer gets healthy and back on the field. Time to try and get our money’s worth, and I hope it happens sooner rather than later.
3. Middle infield troubles
Yoshi and Casilla vs. Hudson and Hardy. Enough said? I know Yoshi got hurt early, and I actually believe he will turn out to be pretty solid, but defensively we have taken a significant hit. Offensively we have lost the stability that Hudson brought to the top of our lineup. I’m still in “wait and see” mode but I don’t like what I’ve seen from Casilla and we still haven’t gotten a good feel for Yoshi yet.
While I am interested to see how Ploufe does this time around in the bigs, trying to fill in at SS, I want to temper excitement. He has a little bit of pop but doesn’t have a history of hitting for average, stealing bases, or great plate discipline. He isn’t a long term solution.
But enough about the negatives. There are too many of them and I don’t want to write about how bad and dysfunctional a team we are 24/7.
1. Baker and Duensing
Baker has been pitching like the pitcher he used to be, the one we considered to be our “ace” for a few years. While I don’t think he will ever be a legit ace, he can be an effective two in the rotation and his performance so far couldn’t be more needed with the way Pavano and Liriano have been pitching. Duensing is continuing his campaign from last year with a solid start to the season. If Pavano and Liriano can pull it together we will once again have a solid 4-5 man rotation that should help mask the fact that our bullpen is a shell of its former self.
2. Kubel, Valencia and Span
They alone are the only Twins playing well this season as far as I am concerned. Kubel has been on fire from the get go. He has always been a good hitter and I don’t foresee him keeping this up the whole season, but I still think he can get close to a return to his 2009 season where he went .300/28/103.
Valencia’s batting average has suffered a little bit to begin, but I’m sure it will bounce back. I see him ending around .280 with decent pop, clutch hitting and a solid glove at third. From last season till now I am more sure than ever that Valencia can be a solid contributor for this team for years to come.
Span is back and hitting again. If only now someone would hit him in. Sure he hasn’t been driving the ball too much at this point but he has been great at the top of the lineup for us. When this team starts to turn it around I think we will see him running a little more as well. I see this year being a bounce back after last year’s dud.
I will make it a point to report back weekly going forward, recapping that week’s stretch of games as well as specific player/team developments.
~Wish this was my day job