Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Where's the Beef?

The Twins lost their second consecutive game yesterday afternoon, 4-1 at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles, but mini-slumps like this don’t particularly concern me. The lead still stands at a very comfortable 7 ½ games over the White Sox (who may just have one last gasp left—stay tuned). The magic number is 19 games, which we all know can go down in a hurry. The only thing that I’m a teensy-tiny bit concerned about is the performance of the team’s lineup over the past few games. To paraphrase the legendary Clara Peller, just where is that beef anyway?

The answer to that question, in my opinion, is that the “beef” is currently injured and on the bench. Haven’t noticed a decline in production lately? Take a look at the number of runs the Twins scored the last couple weeks of August: 8, 4, 7, 6, 3, 8, 4, 7, 7, 8, 10, 7, and 8, for an average of about 6.7 runs per game. In September, the totals have been 4, 2, 2, 3, and 1 (2.4 runs/game). The latter games have one giant thing in common: no Corey Koskie. Before Koskie went down with that ankle injury on August 27, he was arguably the team’s hottest and most productive hitter. In his stead, the team has been playing Augie Ojeda and Terry Tiffee. While Tiffee has played extremely well (far better than anyone could have foreseen), he simply isn’t the run producer that Koskie is. An Ojeda hits about as well as Luis Rivas, just without the terrible at-bats and no power whatsoever.

One through five, the Twins are still extremely solid. Stewart has been the quintessential leadoff man since he came off the D.L., and even Jones has been decent in the #2 spot (.337 OBP). Hunter has taken control of the third spot, and I’m sure Gardy has no intention of moving him anytime soon. Morneau, despite the fact that Darrel May possibly discovered his Achilles’ heel the other day, is a force to be reckoned with in the cleanup slot. And Sweet Lew is still batting a robust .304 on September 7, even though many people expected him to fade long ago. There is nothing wrong with five-ninths of the Twins’ lineup. Without Koskie, however, numbers six through nine look a lot more suspect.

During yesterday’s 4-1 loss, the division-leading Twins sent out a lineup that featured a rookie with five games of ML experience (Tiffee), an “all-hit no-field” second basemen that is hitting under .250 (Cuddyer), a defensive specialist threatening to establish a new “Mendoza line” (Blanco), and a minor league journeyman utility infielder (Ojeda). Even with if you replace Ojeda with Guzman, that isn’t exactly a playoff-caliber bottom of the order. I’ll go so far as to say it’s downright embarrassing.

“Okay, Mr. Know-It-All,” you’re probably saying by now, “you’ve highlighted the problem. What exactly do you propose we do about it?” Unfortunately, there is really nothing we can do. Koskie is improving, albeit slowly, and should be ready to in a week or so (hopefully). Cuddyer has been given this one extended opportunity to prove that he really can become the next Jeff Kent, and while he’s shown that he can easily duplicate Kent’s less-than-stellar defense, he been channeling Rivas at the dish. Blanco is simply one of the worst hitters in the major leagues. The Twins knew this when they signed him in the off-season, but Henry, couldn’t you do something OTHER than pop out 2-3 times a game? Perhaps an occasional productive out? Sacrifice bunt? Something? Anything? Christian Guzman is a perfectly good #8 or #9 hitter, but he has no business batting sixth for a playoff-bound team.

The biggest missing piece of the puzzle is obviously Joe Mauer. Can you imagine a Twins lineup that featured Stewart, Jones, Hunter, Morneau, Ford, Koskie, Mauer, Cuddyer, and Guzman? *Sigh* What might have been, huh?

The good news is that despite the team’s lack of offense over the past six games, they still posted a 4-2 record. As the oft-repeated adage goes, it is pitching and defense that win games, and the Twins still have plenty of that. While Blanco might be one of the worst hitters in the league, he’s also one of the best defensive catchers in the league (at least according to Buck Showalter). And with the illustrious duo of Radke and Santana, the Twins are one team that no one wants to face come October.

Will the Twins lack of depth in their lineup be their eventual undoing? Possibly, but for now we’ll just have to rely on what little beef we have healthy. Hey, there’s hardly a shed of beef to be found on a McDonald’s hamburger, and they seem to done pretty well for themselves, haven’t they?