Wednesday, September 2, 2009
The Stretch Keys
It was either going to be Rich Harden or Jeff Manship starting for the Twins last night. After no deal was made on Monday to bring in the Cubs veteran righty, it was Manship making his first big league start. Although I’m certain he was nervous, he pitched a very solid game. He went five innings and gave up just one run on four hits. He walked two and struck out two. I would call that a very respectable debut, especially considering it came in September in the heat of a pennant race. Jesse Crain appears to be back (I said Appears!). He threw two perfect innings in relief. Thanks to two Michael Cuddyer home runs, the Twins held a 3-1 lead.Then the 8th inning guys came in and it didn’t go so well. Jose Mijares came in and walked the lone batter he faced. Matt Guerrier came in and gave up a game-tying home run to Gordon Beckham. But, the Twins did go get Jon Rauch to be their new vulture. He pitched a scoreless top of the 9th. With two outs in the bottom of the 9th inning, recently promoted Jose Morales was called upon to pinch hit. He came through with a game-winning single that scored Nick Punto and gave the Twins their win.
All year long, I, and many others, have said that the AL Central division could be won by the team that puts together the best winning streak. The Twins are on a role right now having won 12 of their last 15 games. The question is, with 30 games to go, can they keep it up? Are they peaking at just the right time… or is it too little too late?
The Twins have again given their fans a team that will play some very exciting games in September and October. It should be a very fun time to watch how this last month of the season unfolds. Here are my keys to the Twins success:
1.) Starting Pitching – But that is always the case. Scott Baker has been very good in the second half. Carl Pavano has done what was expected of him when the team acquired him at the July trade deadline. Nick Blackburn had a tremendous first half and then was, well, pretty bad to start the second half. But if he can pitch like he did against the White Sox on Monday night, that will be huge for the Twins. And then there are the two rookies. Right now, the Twins are going with Brian Duensing and Jeff Manship in their starting rotation. Think about that for just a moment. Neither of them started the season in the Twins AAA starting rotation. Manship was in AA, and Duensing was pitching in the Twins bullpen. We (OK, I) question why he was even put back into the Red Wings rotation when he was demoted. I thought he should be put into the bullpen down there because that was the role he would serve for the Twins. Well, long term, it still may be. But in September, he will hold one of five starting spots for the Twins during the pennant race!
2.) The Bullpen – Again, no surprise here, but it does have to be mentioned. The additions of Jon Rauch and Ron Mahay provides a more veteran bullpen. Jesse Crain has been much better of late and may be the key to it. But right now, I feel pretty good about a bullpen of Joe Nathan, Matt Guerrier, Jose Mijares, Jon Rauch, Ron Mahay and Jesse Crain.
3.) Justin Morneau – his September swoons the last couple of years have been well documented. This year, his August was quite sub-par. Hopefully he has found a way to stay strong and focused through the final month. Another thing I have observed, and is my opinion, is that he just needs to relax and stop trying to do too much, like hitting six run homers, or hitting 600 foot shots!
4.) Joe Mauer – Again, no surprise here, and when it comes to staying cool, there is no one better than Mr. Mauer. But he needs to not read newspapers, the internet, or even blogs. He will likely read about missed opportunities, or times when he maybe should have gone outside the strike zone and hit rather than draw a walk. The key for Mauer is just to do what he does. That should be enough for an AL MVP award, and it should be enough for any Twins fan!
5.) Gomez/Casilla/Cabrera – I think we can all agree that none of these three can be counted on for offense. We also know that Cabrera can’t really be counted on for good defense. That is where Gomez comes in. He is likely to play a lot in September strictly due to his defensive prowess. Casilla has seemingly overtaken Nick Punto in the lineup, which is a great thing, and just needs to maintain that role. I also just think that at least one of these guys needs to have a big month. The good teams always get crucial performances from unexpected heroes down the stretch. Who will that be for the Twins?
6.) The Bench – Last night’s game-winning single notwithstanding, the Twins don’t have much of a bench. Jose Morales is the only actual hitter on the bench. Mike Redmond at this point should be only an emergency catcher. Nick Punto should only be a late inning defensive replacement at 3B or SS. Matt Tolbert should pinch run when he is there. Brian Buscher should be a good cheerleader. The extra outfielder on any given day will also be an important option off of the bench. Delmon Young has also been hitting well, so hopefully that can remain through the final month. Maybe this shouldn’t be The Bench. Maybe it should be The Starting 9’s health! If they need to go to the bench, that would not be good.
What are the other keys to the final month, in your opinion? Please feel free to leave your comments on the Twins, or anything. (I posted my thoughts on the loss of Kevin Mulvey later yesterday in an update, so be sure to scroll down to see that.)