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May 3, 2010

On the Beat

Monday Update

by John Perrotto

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Ron Gardenhire is admittedly not the most stat-savvy manager in the major leagues. Oh, he looks at certain statistics to have a feel for who is hot and who is not, and when he might be able to exploit some platoon advantages. So when it was mentioned to the veteran Twins skipper that about the only fatal flaw his team has shown from a statistical standpoint so far this season is that six of its nine losses have come in day games, Gardenhire couldn't resist poking a little fun.

"Maybe we'll ask the league to schedule us for only night games the rest of the season," Gardenhire said. "Or maybe we'll have our guys wear real dark sunglasses in the day, so they think they are playing at night."

Gardenhire later turned serious about the subject for a few minutes.

"It's not that I'm against statistics," Gardenhire said. "I just think sometimes that some people get so caught up in them that they almost forget that the players have to go out on the field and play the game. You've got to actually let the game unfold on the field. Your players have to execute. We just don't get caught up in numbers as much as many some other clubs. We just try to win every day. We try to make it as simple as we can because it's a tough enough game to play."

Gardenhire isn't slamming the sabermetric set and realizes that some of the more successful teams in the major leagues rely heavily on statistical analysis. However, Gardenhire also knows that teams can win without drilling so deeply into the numbers. After all, the Twins have won five of the last eight American League Central titles and are on top of the division this season with a 16-9 record.

The Twins have jumped out to the division lead despite suffering a major blow in spring training when closer Joe Nathan was found to have a torn ligament in his elbow that required season-ending Tommy John surgery. While various statistical studies have shown that a closer's impact is not as significant as some in baseball make it out to be, Nathan wasn't an ordinary closer. Coming into this season, he and the Yankees' Mariano Rivera had both converted 89.5 percent of their save opportunities, tied for the all-time lead among pitchers with at least 250 opportunities.

"He means so much to this team in so many ways," Gardenhire said. "Not only is Joe a great closer but he's a great personality in our clubhouse and a great leader. You don’t lose a guy like that and take it lightly. It was a big blow for us. Nobody is ever automatic, but you know that when Joe comes in the game that our chances of winning are pretty darn good. At the same time, though, you have to keep moving on and we have."

The Twins have been able to cover for the loss quite well, as Jon Rauch has stepped into the closer's role and converted seven of eight save opportunities. He is 11th in the major leagues with 0.912 WXRL.

Gardenhire waited three weeks after learning that Nathan would be lost for the season before picking Rauch as his closer and hinted at times that the Twins might use a committee approach to protect leads. That led to speculation that the Twins were trying to trade for a closer, namely the Padres' Heath Bell. Gardenhire, though, said the Twins knew all along that they had a solution in-house.

"We have a deep bullpen and we knew that we had a number of guys who could close," Gardenhire said. "It was a matter of trying to determine which one would be the best option. We gave it a lot of thought and decided on Rauch. He's got a good head on his shoulders and he doesn't let much of anything bother him. He's 6-foot-11, throws his fastball on a big downward plane, and he can snap off some pretty good curveballs. We thought he was the best fit."

It seems the Twins can lose anyone and not feel the effects. Catcher and reigning AL MVP Joe Mauer has a bruised left heel that might force him onto the disabled list. Yet Wilson Ramos was recalled from Triple-A Rochester prior to Sunday's game and went 4-for-5 in his major-league debut.

No wonder things are looking good for the Twins to inaugurate Target Field with another division title and they hope more. During their run of five division crowns in eight years, the Twins have advanced past the American League Division Series only once and have not gotten to a World Series.

"We've got a really good team, a special team because everybody in this clubhouse's first thought is to do what's best for the team," Rauch said. "Nobody cares about their individual stats here. I don't even want talk about how many saves I have. We put all that aside because we want to win and we know we have a team that can do special things this season."

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The Orioles have apparently not shut the door on Baltimore icon and Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. joining the organization in a meaningful capacity. There had been reports last month that owner Peter Angelos was reticent to hire Ripken for fear he would get too much credit if the Orioles, who have had 12 straight losing seasons, began to turn things around.

Ripken and Angelos both said that was not the case. And Ripken and the Orioles are definitely staying in contact. Ripken said on his Sirius/XM radio show that he recently had dinner with Angelos. Ripken and Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail watched last Wednesday's game against the Yankees at Orioles Park at Camden Yards from MacPhail's suite.

"I invited him out to a game, and he came," MacPhail told the Baltimore Sun. "That's it. That's all you're going to get from me."

Whatever role Ripken winds up taking with the Orioles—and those who know him say he'd prefer a front-office job over becoming the manager—will almost certainly wait until after his youngest son graduates from high school in 2012.

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The Rays lead the major leagues in runs scored with an average of 5.9 a game even though their 26 home runs rank just sixth in the AL through 25 games. The key to the Rays' offensive success, in manager Joe Maddon's mind, is their .323/.408/.546 line with runners in scoring positions.

"We've been highly efficient, and it's theoretically what you talk about all the time­— you have a bunch of guys playing offense," Maddon said. "They're not playing for themselves, they're playing for the team right now. When you get one through nine working as one, and not just individually, you can do things like that."

If the Rays continue to score at this pace, they will finish the season with 953 runs. That would easily break the club record of 803 set last year.

"We know we can't hit like that the whole season," left fielder Carl Crawford said, "but we don't want to be too far from it."

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MLB Rumors and Rumblings: Braves closer Billy Wagner is telling people he is almost certainly going to retire at the end of this season. … Look for Jose Contreras to get the first crack to be closer Brad Lidge's set-up man with the Phillies with Ryan Madson on the disabled list. … Brett Gardner will move from left field to center field for the Yankees with Curtis Granderson on the DL, and Marcus Thames and Randy Winn will both see time in left … Cubs general manager Jim Hendry acknowledges that Double-A shortstop Starlin Castro will be in the major leagues at some point this season, but those close to the situation believe he could make his debut by the end of this month, with Ryan Theriot moving from shortstop to second base.

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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