Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Twins outlook: Cloudy.

If the Twins are to return to the postseason this year, they are going to need a similar post-All Star game run to 2006. After a scorching month of June last year, the Twins entered the All Star break at 47-39. Their 49-27 record after that won them the division.

This year, the Twins are a mediocre 45-43. I surmise they have to finish 48-26 just to get in the playoffs. While I don’t envision them catching the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central, I think 93 victories would put them in the 2007 postseason as the AL wild card team.

Now, can they get there?

Here’s how I believe it can be done:

-Trade for another hitter. Nick Punto CAN NOT be the everyday third baseman. While he is one of the better fielding infielders on this club, he is barely above the Mendoza line at the plate. In the American League, that’s a killer if you have a sure out in your lineup. A trade for Tampa Bay Devil Rays infielder Ty Wigginton could give this team a pretty good bat at the bottom of the order. With a .269 average, 13 homers and 42 RBIs at the break, it’s a significant upgrade over Punto’s lifeless bat. Plus you free up Punto to be the utility infielder, a role where he would be most valuable to this club. He could occasionally spell Luis Castillo at second base and Jason Bartlett at shortstop, both of whom wore down at the end of last year due to playing practically every day.

-The Twins need a pitcher to step up and be the #2 starter. We know Johan Santana will be Mr. Reliable as he normally is after the All Star break. From 2003-06 Santana is a ridiculous 40-4 in post-All Star break starts! Having won four in a row just prior to the break, Santana is already primed for yet another great second half. Last year, the Twins had a solid #2 guy in Francisco Liriano until he went on the shelf in early August. Then Brad Radke stepped in with several gutsy performances until his bum shoulder gave out in September. Thankfully, Boof Bonser was up to the task when Radke went down. Boof had several good starts down the stretch which helped the Twins ultimately pass the Tigers in the division race. This season, the Twins have gotten some solid starts from Scott Baker, Carlos Silva and Bonser. They have also been equally miserable at times (see the Chicago White Sox series, July 6-8). That leaves Matt Garza, who pitched six shutout innings last Friday at Chicago. Is it realistic to expect a 23-year old with only a handful of major league starts to step up to #2? Considering the alternatives, it may be our best hope.

The Twins have a ten game home stand starting tomorrow with a game against the Oakland Athletics. With four games against the A’s, three with the Tigers and three more with the LA Angels, we’ll know at the end of this stretch of games just how serious of a contender they will be.


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