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June 13, 2011

On the Beat

Twin Killing?

by John Perrotto

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Ron Gardenhire has gotten plenty of recognition for his managerial skills. After finishing as the runner-up five times, he finally broke through and won the American League Manager of the Year award last season. However, Gardenhire doesn't get nearly enough credit for being one of the funniest men in the game. He has a wry sense of humor, and his one-liners benefit from perfect comedic timing.

When Gardenhire was asked by a reporter last week—before the Twins' 60th game—how many lineups he had used this season, the 10-year manager did not miss a beat.

"I'd say 64," Gardenhire deadpanned, causing the group of media members gathered in his office to chuckle.

The answer was 56, but as Gardenhire said, "It's more than that. You're not counting the times that I had to change my original lineup. There's been plenty of times when (the trainers) have come through that door, given me bad news, and caused me to start making the lineup all over again. I'd say it's happened at least 10 times this season where (Twins senior manager of baseball communications Dustin Morse) will take a picture of the lineup to put on Twitter, and I'll have to tell him to come back and take another one. I'd love to get into Excel every day and hit print with the same lineup card and be a pushbutton manager, but it isn't working that way."

Twelve of the 25 players who were on the Opening Day roster have landed on the disabled list at some point this season, and 14 players have been called up from Triple-A Rochester.

Injuries undoubtedly have played a role in the Twins getting off to a 26-39 start and sitting in last place in the American League Central, nine games behind the division-leading Indians. The Twins are in jeopardy of just their second losing season in the last 11 years, the other coming in 2007. They have won the division six times in the last nine seasons.

"It's been hard," Gardenhire said. "We've been doing a lot of mixing and matching. We got busted up right out of spring training and we've been searching all year for the right combinations of players on a daily basis that gives us our best chance to win."

The Twins currently have nine players on the DL, most notably catcher Joe Mauer, who has been out since April 12 with what has been termed bilateral leg weakness. Mauer underwent knee surgery in December and was slower to heal than expected, and he played in just nine games before going on the DL. The Twins are hoping that when he returns, he’ll resemble the player who has a .313 lifetime True Average and averaged 6.9 WARP over the past three seasons.

Other key players who are out include second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who was signed as a free agent over the winter after winning the batting title in Japan's Pacific League last season; center fielder Denard Span, designated hitter/outfielder Jason Kubel, DH Jim Thome, and left-hander Glen Perkins, who had settled in as the primary set-up reliever.

Not surprisingly, the Twins are struggling in all facets of the game. They are 12th in the AL and 25th in the majors, respectively, in runs scored (3.75 a game), 13th and 27th in runs allowed (4.83), and 10th and 18th in Defensive Efficiency (.711). Right fielder Michael Cuddyer, at .274, is the only regular currently on the active roster with a TAv above .250, and no active starter or key reliever has a better Fair Run Average that left-hander Brian Duensing's 4.22.

The Twins are also a surprising eighth in the AL and 17th in the majors in walks per nine innings, at 3.3. Minnesota issued the fewest walks in the major leagues from 2008-10.

"Defensive mistakes are always frustrating," Gardenhire said. "We take pride in playing good defense and throwing strikes. Our game plan has always been to throw the ball over the plate and give our guys a chance to catch the ball. It's been a pretty successful formula, but the injuries have played a part in what's happened."

Gardenhire was adamant after the Twins' first season at Target Field in 2010 that they needed to add more speed to the lineup to take advantage of their new home's spacious dimensions, even though they were 53-28 there. Nishioka was supposed to be part of the solution, but he has been out since breaking a leg in the sixth game of the season. However, because of the many injuries to his power hitters, Gardenhire has had to rely more on small ball, which he has found enjoyable.

"We've been running around the bases, slapping the ball, executing bunts and hits and runs, all those things," Gardenhire said. "I think it's given the entire team more energy because we're starting to play better in all areas. We're catching the balls again that we're supposed to be catching, which has always been one of the trademarks of our team. We're not walking guys. When we do things, we play better baseball and we win games. It's right in front of our players. They recognize that it you do the fundamental things that you'll give yourself a chance to win."

The Twins are indeed showing signs of life, as they have won nine of their last 11 games, shaving 7 1/2 off their deficit in the AL Central, which grew to 16 1/2 on June 1 when they were swept in the finale of a three-game series against the Tigers. However, that doesn't mean the Twins are starting to make plans for another post-season appearance yet.

"In all honesty, we're just trying to not look at the numbers," Gardenhire said. "You start mixing and matching all those numbers, it gives you anxiety. We're trying to win each day, take the game at hand, then we'll look at where we're at once we get to the All-Star break. We put ourselves so deep into a hole that it's ridiculous. We can't expect to dig out of it in one day or one week."

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Rumors and Rumblings:

Adam Loewen, who pitched in 35 games for the Orioles from 2006-08, has put himself in position to return to the major leagues—as an outfielder/first baseman with the Blue Jays. The 27-year-old is writing his own Rick Ankiel story, as he is hitting .318/.380/.586 with 11 home runs in 245 plate appearances for Triple-A Las Vegas in the Pacific Coast League… A large part of the reason why long-time organizational man John Mallee was fired as the Marlins' hitting coach is because management felt Eduardo Perez would work better with slumping shortstop Hanley Ramirez… Athletics general manager Billy Beane said the reason he fired Bob Geren as manager was because the media had made his tenuous job status a distraction, but the move was universally hailed in the clubhouse, where there was a clear disconnect between the skipper and his players… The Giants are not actively seeking catching help, since they believe Eli Whiteside's strong defense outweighs whatever his below-average offense subtracts… Happy 25th birthday, Jonathan Lucroy.

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Scouts' views:

Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner: "Everyone saw the kind of stuff and poise he had in the World Series last year when he mowed down the Rangers in Game 4. I've been more impressed this year, even though the kid is 2-8. He hasn't gotten any run support all year, but he just keeps churning out one quality start after another. That's a mature approach for a young kid."

Rays designated hitter Johnny Damon: "I thought he was at the end of the line last year with Detroit, but he's really been an asset for Tampa Bay. He doesn't have as much power as he used to, but he still gets on base and sprays some balls into the gap. He's helped that club."

White Sox designated hitter Adam Dunn: "I thought he was the ideal guy for the White Sox and might hit 50 home runs in their bandbox of a park. I guess I thought wrong. He can go through stretches where he looks terrible, but I've never seen him this consistently bad. Left-handers are eating him alive, and he's not exactly killing righties, either.

Blue Jays third baseman Edwin Encarnacion: "I've officially given up on this guy. I know he has talent, and he's shown it at times, but he just never gets any better. He still swings at everything, is a butcher in the field, and seems like he is completely disinterested."

Rangers right-hander Alexi Ogando: "Conventional baseball wisdom says he shouldn't be having this much success as a starter. Basically, he just pumps one fastball after another, then will mix in the occasional slider. His fastball has so much movement, though, that guys still can't hit it, even when he's gone through the lineup a couple of times."

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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