Friday, July 8, 2011

Twins' Notes and Thoughts...

By Matt Tschida

Mauer at First Base
Joe Mauer made his first start at first base yesterday, and it went really well. He converted every chance, plus he made a great pick on a low throw from Danny Valencia. At the plate, he reminded us how valuable he is to the lineup, going 3-5 with 2 RBI. Mauer has made it clear that he's still a catcher, but is open to playing first base occasionally.

Instead of Mauer catching five games a week, DHing once, and resting once, I'd like to see him catch four-five days a week, play first base once, and DH once. This would allow him about an extra game a week, while still keeping his knees, back and legs fresh. So, what will happen once Morneau returns from the DL? Well, Mauer's weekly first base start gives Morneau a chance to DH or rest. This plan could potentially keep the Twins' two most important hitters in the lineup more regularly than the last two seasons.

Cuddyer on Fire
Michael Cuddyer is flat out on fire, returning to his 2009 form with a .325 BA, 10 HRs and 36 RBI since May 1. Like I've mentioned in previous posts, if the Twins are indeed sellers (which is looking less and less likely), they'd need to get a
top prospect for Cuddyer. Otherwise, they're best off keeping him and picking up the compensation picks in the offseason. With the way the Indians and Tigers have been treading water lately, I think it would be a mistake to trade Cuddyer unless the Twins fall something like 12+ games back before the trade deadline.

If the Twins can make up four games (from 8.0 to 4.0) by July 31,
then they should be in good shape. I realize that's a lot to ask for in 21 games, but they did cut the lead down to 8.0 games after being 16.5 back on June 1. They will likely get Morneau back, and hopefully 100% healthy for the first time in a year, so they'll need Cuddyer to balance the lineup versus left-handed pitching. Cuddyer is crushing lefties (.383 BA), and the only other Twins' regular hitting above .300 versus lefties is Danny Valencia (.341).

Bullpen Situation
Matt Capps has really been up and down all season, and hopefully he hit his low point after blowing a 7-4 lead against Milwaukee. He had an average April (3.55 ERA), a bad May (0-2 with a 6.35 ERA), and a great June (1-0, 6 saves, 0.90 ERA). The Twins need Capps to be strong over the next couple of months to have a chance, filling the void of a reliable right handed reliever. They are hoping Joe Nathan continues his return to form, but until he gets consistent work, that's still an unknown.

Glen Perkins has grabbed his opportunity by the horns. Before the season, I felt like Perkins had a chance to slide into Brian Duensing's vacated bullpen role. Perkins has done that and more, and he's currently their hottest, most trustworthy reliever.

Alex Burnett had been getting a lot of run lately, and he'd only given up hits in two of his previous 12 outings prior to Wednesday’s disaster. Going forward, his role is undefined and unpromising.

Joe Nathan is, as he's been all season, the wildcard of this bullpen. He's
been great since coming off the DL, striking out five and allowing just one run on two hits in 5.0 innings. If he can return to form, the pen has potential to be solid (not great) with Capps/Nathan being used at the end of games from the right side, and Perkins and (to a lesser extent) Mijares from the left.

As the rest of the bullpen goes, there really isn’t much to talk about. Anthony Swarzak is best suited for long relief/spot starting. Jose Mijares is fine when he throws strikes, bad when he doesn’t, and he's falling behind far too many hitters this year. Phil Dumatrait is about ready to be (or at least
should be) sent packing to make room for Chuck James. James has been solid at AAA, and did well in his brief stint earlier this season with the Twins. For those wondering, Dumatrait likely would have been sent down instead of James, but James had options to go to AAA that Dumatrait didn’t have.
Another name to keep tabs on at AAA is former 1st round pick Carlos Gutierrez (2-2, 3.88 ERA, 38 K, 25 BB, in 48.2 IP). If he can string together a couple weeks of solid performances, he could be brought up. Gardy has publicly said he likes the kid, but management is conserving him in the minors to keep his MLB service time in check.

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