Monday, August 30, 2004

Decisions Afoot

Call it the calm before the storm. Just don’t expect this storm to have much thunder and lightening. Yesterday the Twins had an off day while much of the speculation centered on the formation of the playoff roster and the August 31 waiver trade deadline. Decisions for both must be made today, with the team having a little leeway with its roster because 3 players are on the disabled list. The team has already called up top prospect Jason Kubel and has left open the option of keeping flamethrower Jesse Crain for the October roster. The question remains of whether the team will add any help from outside the organization before the deadline.

The chances of that happening are very slim. The Star Tribune reports, “the two holes the Twins would most like to fill – lefthanded bullpen help and a catcher – are particularly hard positions to fill now.” There just doesn’t seem to be a whole lot out there that will even slightly upgrade the roster. Many players who can help simply did not get through waivers, while the ones that did either aren’t very good or way overpaid. Colorado catcher Charles Johnson is an example of both. It would not be worth messing with the chemistry by making a deal to say they did and would be highly uncharacteristic of Terry Ryan to do so.

As I have stated before, my belief is the Twin’s biggest hole is in their rotation. The reality is it is too late in the season to fix this flaw unless someone within the organization steps up and according to the Star Tribune, “doesn’t appear to be a main objective.” At this point Terry Ryan cannot be blamed for not liking what he sees out there. However, if this team falters in the playoffs after a serious of poor outings from pitchers not named Brad and Johan, the organization does deserve criticism for not going the extra step earlier in the season in an attempt to get to the next level.

Interestingly enough, the team does have the third best starter ERA in the league at 4.26. There seems to be a hope coming from the organization that someone will step up and take the third spot in the final month of the season with each pitcher bringing a special attribute to the competion. There has been hardly any mention of what will happen when the team needs a 4th starter, almost a certainty should the team go deep into the playoffs. The Twins cannot expect Brad Radke and Johan Santana to handle the workload of a 3-man playoff rotation and expect success. Neither has ever had to do anything similar before in their careers. It is also ironic that much of the blame Oakland received for losing to the Twins 2 years ago came from using a 3 man rotation and now the Twins seem destined to do the same whether they receive the extra day in the division series or not.

Kubel Time
The promotion of Jason Kubel has a lot of people excited. I even saw one fan that believed the Twins had a deal in the works to move Jacque Jones and make room for Kubel now. That is probably not the plan. He is going to play when the team thinks he will help. That means the occasional start and mostly as a weapon off the bench. I don’t see him cracking the starting lineup before the playoffs but he certainly provides for better late inning match-ups. Who would you rather have coming to the plate in the middle of the 8th inning of a tie game with runners on base, Luis Rivas or Jason Kubel?
Next year I don’t expect Jacque Jones to return. Matt LeCroy will still be around to give the team an option of starting Kubel in the minors. The rest is all up to Kubel. Either he starts in the big leagues or he’ll play in the minors. He probably will not sit on the bench. He’ll get some competition for the job from LeCroy and Mike Restovich but the obvious top choice for the organization is for Kubel to step into that role. There are many people out there who expect him to do just that.

Glancing Back, Peering Ahead

“The reason that you have the big lead is so that you’re still in first when something like this happens.”

-Joe Torre after the Red Sox cut the Yankees’ lead in the AL East to 5 ½ games

When I heard Torre say this on TV the other day, I was struck by the simple yet often overlooked truth of the statement. I think it applies very well to the Twins’ current situation. Sure, they lost 2 of 3 to the Angels this weekend and finished the road trip with a 3-4 record, but when you have a 7 or 8 game lead, such things are mere trivialities. It also helps that the Indians and ChiSox did their part by splitting a four game series over the weekend.

In all actuality, there is absolutely no shame in winning one game against the Angels and then coming close in another (damn you, Adam Kennedy). Even the Yankees weren’t able to do as much last week when they were swept by the Halos. Brad Radke experienced a little hiccup on Friday, but Santana further solidified his already-solid case for the AL Cy Young award on Saturday. Even Carlos Silva got into the act yesterday, pitching five pretty decent innings while allowing one run. If the Twins can catch a break with their playoff schedule and get that extra day off during the Division Series (as they did last year), Gardy might just have found his third starter. Neither Lohse nor Mulholland nor Silva has pitched well enough overall to actually deserve to start in the postseason, but if the Twins can squeeze five innings from Silva in a Game 3 and then piece the rest together with the bullpen, it might just be crazy enough to work.

Mauer Matters
If you looked carefully at the Twins’ dugout this past road trip, you probably saw a familiar (and welcome) face: Joe Mauer. Mauer has joined the team and is taking batting practice as his injured knee heals. Terry Ryan talked a little about Mauer on the WCCO “Inside Twins Baseball” show yesterday, and I was slightly encouraged by what he had to say. He said that Joe has looked very good swinging the bat and is experiencing minimal soreness in his knee. I also gleaned that from TR that it is unlikely Mauer will catch much (if at all) this year. It does sound like he might be ready to hit before the end of the year, however. How can does this affect the Twins’ postseason roster plans? Since Mauer is on the DL, he can be “added” to the postseason roster until almost right before the playoffs begin, so there is no rush with activating him before Tuesday’s deadline. The real question is, do the Twins have room on their postseason roster for another left-handed pinch hitter, even one as good as Joe Mauer? They already have one in Jose Offerman, and the only two starters who Gardenhire would actually consider pinch-hitting for are Blanco and Rivas. If Mauer can’t even enter the game as even a one or two inning defensive replacement for Blanco, then his usefulness as a pinch hitter diminishes greatly. The Twins would then have to use a roster spot on Rob Bowen as well. This is however something to consider as Mauer continues to improve and October looms near…

Jason Kubel Called Up
Another thing Terry Ryan discussed during yesterday’s radio program was that the Twins were going to make some moves before the August 31 roster deadline. The first of these moves was made last night, as the team called up #1 prospect Jason Kubel. This was expected, as the Kubel needed to be with the team on the deadline in order to be eligible for the postseason roster. If you remember, the Twins did the same thing in 2002 with Cuddyer and he hit pretty well in the ALDS that year. Also, if you’d like a little more information on Kubel, be sure to check out this post from Aaron Gleeman the other day. Jesse Crain was “sent down” to make room for Kubel, but he isn’t going anywhere. All this means is that he’ll be unavailable for Tuesday’s game before he is “recalled” when rosters expand on Wednesday, September 1. The team will probably make a least one or two more roster moves either tomorrow or Tuesday, so stay tuned.

10,000 Strong
By the time you read this, Twins Chatter will have been visited by over 10,000 people in the 144 days we have been online. I believe we’ve found our “niche” as one of the better lesser-known Twins blogs, right behind the big boys over at Twins Geek, Aaron’s Baseball Blog, Batgirl, and also Seth Speaks. Even spread out over 5 months, 10,000 is a pretty big number, and on behalf of Twins Chatter I want to thank everyone who’s comes by to check us out. You’re still here, so we must be doing something right :)! We plan on remaining your source for Twins talk all the way through the playoffs and even during the off-season.

The Twins have an off-day tomorrow, so plan on seeing more postseason roster speculation in this space. We should have more information about what the Twins plan on doing by then, and no doubt John (or I) will feel the need to put in our two cents worth. Until then, take care everyone.

Adam Kennedy, that accursed Rally Monkey lives in thee