As promised, here's my conversation with twins15 about this weekend's suddenly important Tigers-Twins series. He and I exchanged five questions about our respective teams. You can read my answers over at Complete Sports
and/or Thank You Brian Sabean
. And now, let's get to know those Minnesota Twins.Me: What's been the biggest reason for the Twins becoming a factor in the AL Central/wildcard race?twins15
: It's hard to point to one specific thing and point that out as a factor. They've really been better in all aspects. But if I had to say the biggest reason, I think it's consistency in the starting pitching. Johan Santana has been great all year, and we all know what Liriano has done since joining the rotation. But Brad Radke was postively awful for the first 2 months of the year, and he's now 5-1 with an ERA in the mid 2s in his last 11 starts. Carlos Silva hasn't been overly impressive either, but he too has settled down since he was demoted to the pen earlier in the year (and then put back in the rotation). So I'd have to point to consistent from the starters as the biggest reason for all of this.Me: Did the Twins possibly cost themselves a playoff spot by waiting to put Francisco Liriano in the starting rotation, or is that oversimplifying what changes the Twins have made?
:Yes and no. By giving starts to Silva/Lohse at the start of the year and not Liriano, it seems pretty obvious that this cost the team at least a couple of wins. Although in defense of the team, it looks a lot worse in hindsight. Everyone knew Liriano had the talent to be special, but no one could have expected him to be a Cy Young contender right out of the gate. And of the starters, Carlos Silva was coming off back to back solid years, Kyle Lohse finished last year strong, and Scott Baker has a strong track record.
More to the point, I think the insertion of Liriano into the rotation coincided with a couple of other moves the Twins made which have also had a huge effect:
A) They traded Juan Castro and made Jason Bartlett the everyday SS. Bartlett's batting over .300, has an OBP over .400, and is playing good defense. Heck, he basically single-handedly won the game Tuesday, hitting a 3-run HR of Jose Contreras to make it 4-1, and then making a great defensive play the next inning. Bartlett has been worlds better than Castro offensively and defensively.
B) Getting rid of Tony Batista for Nick Punto. Ok, we could all see that Batista was a terrible move right away. He's a free-swinger without a lot of power, and he has cement in his shoes defensively. So getting him out was an upgrade almost no matter what, but Punto has been a revelation there. He's hitting the ball great (currently on an 18-game hitting streak), and playing great defense at the hot corner.
C) Getting Jason Kubel consistent ABs.
D) Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer hitting better behind Joe Mauer.
Really, adding a couple of younger guys to the lineup, combined with Liriano pitching like there's no tomorrow is what's sparked this. But yeah, I think it's a little bit of an oversimplification that just putting Liriano in the rotation caused the turnaround, but that sure didn't hurt.Me: What sort of move would you like to see Minnesota make at the trading deadline? What's their biggest need?twins15
: Personally, I'm not in favor of doing anything like trading a top prospect for a rental player like Alfonso Soriano or Carlos Lee, so I'm in favor of them standing pat if they have to part with a guy like Matt Garza. At the same time, their biggest need is a power-hitting corner OF, which pretty well fits Soriano/Lee's game. If you can trade a Grade B prospect + a reliever for a guy like Lee, I like that move because it provides more balance without mortgaging a big part of the future.
At the same time, the Twins have to look at this in the bigger picture, which they are generally excellent at doing. The core of this team is all young (Santana, Liriano, bullpen, Matt Garza, Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer, Kubel), so they have a team that can contend for a few years barring unforseen setbacks. Of all the contributors, Radke's the oldest and will be retiring after the year, but everyone else that plays a big role (with Hunter's status in the air) should be back. So I wouldn't like and can't forsee them trading a top prospect for a 2-month rental, even if that rental will help them make the playoffs this year.Me: Do you worry about Joe Mauer tiring out as the season wears on? And do you think he'll eventually be changing positions?
twins15: I'm not overly concerned at this point, because Gardy does seem to do a decent job of taking Mauer out of the defensive lineup and putting him at DH a lot of games. Mauer doesn't sit out a lot of games because he's such a good hitter, but he has played 13 games at DH this year, which is a good thing. So I'm not too concerned about him wearing down this year, because if he does tire a little the Twins have an excellent backup catcher in Mike Redmond, so they can afford to give Mauer days off/put him at DH.
Over the long run, that's kind of the million dollar question. He's a big guy at 6'4'' to be playing catcher full-time. But if I had to put money on it, I think Mauer will stay at catcher, but more and more he'll play DH as he gets later in his career to help with the wear and tear. But he's such a defensive asset that it's hard to move him away. One more knee injury, and he may be moved, but until that time I think he'll stay.
Me: How do you like the Twins' chances in the AL Central or wildcard race? Who do you see as their biggest competitor?
twins15: I get more optimistic by the day. I think at this point, with the way the Tigers are playing, the AL Central race may be getting out of hand quickly depending on how this series goes. But obviously the Twins are a 1/2 game out of the Wildcard now and playing better than any team in baseball, making them the trendy pick.
If I had to bet now on the Twins or the field, I'd probably still take the field at this point, just because the Twins have had troubles at the backend of the rotation, and because their biggest competitors generally have more cash to get deals done. I think the Sox are probably still the biggest competitors, because they were so good pitching last year, and Thome-Konerko-Dye is as good as any 3-4-5 combo in baseball. Of course, the Yanks won't be going anywhere with their lineup, but we'll have to see if they can consistently get good starting pitching.
Either way, it's going to be a fun couple of months as we make our way towards the playoffs!