The Twins in a nutshell: average offense, average rotation, excellent defense and bullpen.
The offense is three-tiered, with the MVP-quality performances of Joe Mauer (.389/.465/.648) and Justin Morneau (.323/.399/.601, 21 homers, 69 RBIs) on top, the similarly alliterative Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer, Joe Crede, and, uhm, Denard Span at or above league average in the middle, and the punchless skill positions of shortstop, second base, and center field (currently occupied by Brendan Harris, Nick Punto, and Carlos Gomez, respectively) dragging things down from below.
The manner in which the Twins are punting offense at those three skill positions is a throwback to the days when teams couldn’t really expect to get much production from their middle infielders, which is to say, it’s outdated and inappropriate to competing in the DH league in 2009. The Twins are at least getting elite defense from Gomez in center and Punto at second base, but Harris is a complete dud on both sides of the ball, which underlines just how poorly Alexi Casilla (.180/.242/.225 and since demoted to the minors) and Matt Tolbert (.184/.275/.232 and benched) had to perform in order for Harris to make his way back into the lineup.
The presence of Harris in the lineup while Delmon Young rides pine behind Cuddyer, Kubel, Span, and Gomez underlines just how much the Matt Garza trade has blown up in the Twins’ faces. Young has now hit .285/.326/.392 in 204 games as a Twin and is well south of that overall mark this season. Meanwhile, Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett is headed to the All-Star Game on the strength of two and a half flukey months of hot hitting. Bartlett’s bat will come back to earth, but his glove will continue to outshine Harris’s. Meanwhile, Matt Garza helped the Rays reach the World Series last year as the ALCS MVP.
The Twins aren’t hurting for starting pitching. Their rotation of Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn, Francisco Liriano, and Glen Perkins is comprised entirely of home grown pitchers 27-years-old or younger and includes two lefties (Liriano and Perkins). They have so much home-grown pitching that even their injury replacements come from the farm, as is the case with 23-year-old Anthony Swarzak, who will start for the injured Slowey on Thursday. Still, Garza was likely the best of their bunch given Liriano’s disappointing post-Tommy John performance, and while they tried to deal from that strength to correct a weakness, all they managed to do was create an additional weakness at shortstop. Young is just 23, leaving open the possibility of significant improvement, but he’s heading in the wrong direction for the Twins to hope for a way to salvage that trade.
The Johan Santana trade isn’t looking much better, though that comes as less of a surprise given the lack of bargaining power the Twins had and their rejection of superior offers from the Yankees and Red Sox. Like Young, Gomez is just 23, but he’s never shown any ability to hit in the majors. Most agreed that the Mets rushed him in 2007 due to injury-created need and that the Twins needed to give him more development time in the minors, but Gomez hasn’t spent a day in the minors since joining the organization. He might be the best defensive center fielder in baseball, but that doesn’t make up for his .250/.293/.353 line in 225 games as a Twin.
As for the three minor league right-handers included in that deal, Phil Humber was designated for assignment earlier this year, Kevin Mulvey has been solid but ordinary as a 24-year-old righty in Triple-A this year (4.17 ERA) and is trapped behind the aforementioned home grown starters, and Deolis Guerra has yet to impress in his third full-season in the Florida State League (though he is just 20).
The Yankees swept the Twins in a memorable four-game series in the Bronx in mid-May. The first three wins were all walkoffs, two of them coming in extra-innings. The difference in the entire series was five runs. Since then, the Twins have dropped two of the losing pitchers, letting the A’s claim lefty Craig Breslow off waivers and demoting Jesse Crain to Triple-A. You can bet the Twins remember that series all too well and will come out with some extra fire for this week’s three-game set in the Homer Dome.
Things kick off tonight with a battle of aces. Scott Baker doesn’t lead the twins in any major pitching category, but his 1.41 WHIP and 4.11 K/9 add up to make the 27-year-old righty their best starter despite his 4.99 ERA and .500 record. Indeed, Baker fell one inning short of his sixth-straight quality start in his last outing, but still held the Royals to one run over five inefficient frames. Over those last six starts, Baker is 4-0 with a 3.20 ERA, a 0.97 WHIP, and a 4.38 K/BB. Much to my surprise, Baker hasn’t faced the Yankees since 2006, when he beat them twice.
CC Sabathia takes the hill for the Yankees. CC’s coming off a disappointing outing in which he couldn’t locate his pitches yet still struck out eight Mariners in 5 2/3 innings. Two starts prior to that, he was pulled in the second inning due to tightness in his bicep. Otherwise, he lasted a minimum of seven innings in each of his other nine starts since May 8, going 6-1 with a 2.75 ERA in those outings and only passing 113 pitches once (tellingly in the one loss).
Francisco Cervelli catches CC yet again tonight. Brett Gardner roams center. Hideki Matsui hits fifth behind Alex Rodriguez with Nick Swisher batting sixth and Robinson Cano dropping to seventh ahead of Gardner and Cervelli.
Finally, this series marks the Yankees last trip to the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome barring an only moderately unlikely postseason matchup. Good ridance, I say. I’m happy to have the place confined to my 1987 World Series box set, bringing us one step closer to the end of Astroturf and indoor stadiums in baseball.
2009 Record: 43-40 (.518)
2009 Pythagorean Record: 45-38 (.542)
Manager: Ron Gardenhire
General Manager: Bill Smith
Home Ballpark (multi-year Park Factors): Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome (93/93)
Who’s Replaced Whom:
- Anthony Swarzak (minors) replaces Kevin Slowey (DL)
- Bob Keppel (minors) replaces Jesse Crain
- Brian Duensing (minors) replaces Craig Breslow
- Delmon Young (family leave) replaces Luis Ayala
1B – Justin Morneau (L)
2B – Nick Punto (S)
SS – Brendan Harris (R)
3B – Joe Crede (R)
C – Joe Mauer (L)
RF – Michael Cuddyer (R)
CF – Carlos Gomez (R)
LF – Denard Span (L)
DH – Jason Kubel (L)
R – Delmon Young (OF)
R – Mike Redmond (C)
S – Matt Tolbert (IF)
L – Brian Buscher (3B)
S – Jose Morales (C)
L – Francisco Liriano
R – Nick Blackburn
R – Scott Baker
L – Glen Perkins
R – Anthony Swarzak
R – Joe Nathan
R – Matt Guerrier
R – R.A. Dickey
L – Jose Mijares
R – Bob Keppel
L – Brian Duensing
15-day DL: RHP – Kevin Slowey (strained wrist), RHP – Boof Bonser (labrum and rotator cuff surgery)
60-day DL: RHP – Pat Neshek (TJ)
L – Denard Span (LF)
R – Brendan Harris (SS)
L – Joe Mauer (C)
L – Justin Morneau (1B)
L – Jason Kubel (DH)
R – Michael Cuddyer (RF)
R – Joe Crede (3B)
R – Carlos Gomez (CF)
S – Nick Punto (2B)