Thursday, July 22, 2004

That's the Way (Uh-Huh Uh-Huh) I Like It

Now that's more like it.

The Twins collected a season-high 17 hits in their impressive 12-2 victory over the D-Rays, a victory that seemed oddly out of place in a post-April world. Are these the same guys that had only scored five runs once in the past week and a half? The improbable return of Henry "Babe" Blanco? Lew Ford hitting homers? Stranding just seven base runners? Just what exactly is going on here?

On a more serious note, the Twins sorely needed a game like yesterday's. The mini-sweep of the Tigers was nice, but the Twins' offense still did not look very impressive. Although there have been numerous other offensive "breakout" games this year (a 16-4 victory over the Rays on June 1st springs to mind), perhaps this is the one that finally counts. I'm still very skeptical, but you never know.

Wednesday's laugher aside, it is time to move on to the REAL issue: Doug Mientkiewicz is eligible to come off the 15-DL today (Thursday). Mientkiewicz took batting practice on Wednesday, One thing is known for sure--Justin Morneau is not the one that will be sent down to clear space for Dougie. He went 3-5 today and has looked like one of the team's best hitters since his recall. Since the Twins have 11 pitchers, that means a position player has to go. The only real candidates are Rob Bowen (just called up from AA), Jose Offerman, and Michael Cuddyer. But, as Patrick Reusse (is it just me or has he gotten a lot better lately?) writes in his column today, the Twins would like to keep both Cuddyer and Offerman. And I don't think that Terry Ryan would call up Rob Bowen just to demote him a couple days. However, I think that demoting Bowen is the right move in this situation if indeed the Twins are set on activating Mientkiewicz. The Twins will be able to get by with Blanco and LeCroy catching, which is what they did during Mauer's previous two-month absence. Bowen is nothing more than injury insurance, which is a luxury that the Twins cannot afford right now. If TR doesn't want to demote Bowen, then he is going to have a very tough decision to make.

Logjam on multiple fronts
For the sake of argument, let's assume Morneau, Cuddyer, and Offerman stay with the team when Mientkiewicz is activated. I also heard Gardenhire quoted as saying that Shannon Stewart is recovered enough to begin playing the outfield, a development that further complicates matters. In my mind it should be irrefutably obvious that Ford is a much better outfielder than Stewart, even when SS is completely healthy, but I'm sure Gardy will defy logic and insert the weak-armed Stewart into left the first chance he gets. That leaves the Twins with four outfielders deserving of extensive playing time. Ford could DH, but then where will Morneau play? Who sits if/when Mientkiewicz begins throwing away his four at-bats on a nightly basis? I personally think Mientkiewicz should serve as nothing but a late-inning replacement for Morneau until he starts to hit again, but that probably won't happen.

No matter what Gardy decides to do (sit Dougie, DH Morneau, or DH Lew) Matthew LeCroy is the one who stands to lose the most. With just two catchers (hypothetically, of course) Matty's role would be as a platoon player. He has looked terrible at the plate of late, and his days as a starter on this team are over. As much as I liked his power potential, he simply hasn't produced enough in the DH slot and should probably accept his new role as pinch hitter/backup catcher.

Then there is always the possibility that a trade could help free up the logjam. If the Twins could find a taker for Dougie Baseball and/or Jacque Jones, both problems would be solved. But Terry Ryan has said again and again that the Twins will not make a trade just for the sake of making a trade.

Anyway you slice it, Gardenhire has some serious decisions to make in the near future. Which veteran player will be relegated to the bench or to a platoon role? Can he live with just Henry Blanco and Matthew LeCroy as his only catchers? Whatever choices he does make, this quote makes me think that Gardy finally realizes that "his guys" aren't always the best ones for the job:

"I can't worry about anyone's feelings. At this time of year, all I can worry about is doing what I think will give us the best chance to win ball games."

Whether that means putting his nine best players in the lineup each day remains to be seen.

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