Melancholy Musings on Another Awful Evening

class=img_thumbleft>This afternoon I took a stroll through

The 2006 Baseball Prospectus

. Those guys pretty much dismissed last year's Detroit Tigers, stating flatly that, in order to compete, the "pitchers need to become stars." We now know that they did just that. Last season, our very own Morneau and Mauer hit that big-time, too, joining Johan Santana in the spotlight. I get the feeling we're going to need more than a three-star constellation to make a go of it this year.

See, I like the Detroit Tigers. I'm from Michigan, been following them my whole life. Now I know that no one gives a flying handshake where I'm from or who I root for, but we're both here, we're both watching the Twins at least (and I do consider myself a fan of the local nine), and I'm looking for a tonic to the pain I've had to endure at the Metrodome. Already frustrated with the thought of coming to the ballpark to watch Ponson take on his arch-nemesis Kansas City Royals this evening--and, really, I call anyone that faces Ponson an arch nemesis, such is his success with teams that actually come to bat against him--I found myself turning to Prospectus for some insight. For although the Twins batters are doing little to make things easy for their vaunted pitching staff, tonight Ponson kept up appearances as the mediocrity many were making him out to be. No, four earned runs aren't horrible, but, as one frustrated fan shouted tonight, "C'mon, it's the Royals!"

From the top of the Royals order to the bottom, the batters were taking long pitch counts--in fact, both of the Royals' homers came after six pitches each (from Sweeney and Gload, who, admittedly, aren't slouches, and their number nine hitter took ten pitches before walking). A while back, a local scribe, I don't recall who (though he was undoubtedly making a good point) noted that Ponson's bad outing v. the Yankees was superior to Bonser's (though the Aruban Nightmare had more earned runs than Boof), and this was part of his evidence that we need to be patient and wait for things to settle down. After all, the reasoning went, everything was going wrong to start last year, between Santana (always a slow starter), Boof, Garza, Radke, and the offense, things were plain bad. Same thing this year, kind-of: Ponson and Ortiz and Silva aren't the problem, and the youths in Rochester aren't the solution.

The problem with this logic, as I see it, is that Boof is young, and young pitchers go through outings like these and (hopefully) learn from them. A bad outing for Boof is still a beginning, while Ponson's is, at best, the beginning of the end. Granted, Ponson might learn something, build on his rough outings. Old dogs can learn new tricks, I suppose. But I wouldn't stake even part of a season on that.

Thing is, puppies learn tricks better than old dogs and there are pups the Twins could be benefiting from right now, even in a loss. Matt Garza is the obvious pitcher to fill a role. Would he have had a better time of it than Ponson? Or Silva, or Ortiz? Who knows? But the Tigers didn't hesitate to let Jeremy Bonderman or Mike Maroth struggle mightily through that wretched 2003 season, and here we are, one year after Bonderman especially (and Verlander the rookie) hauled the Bengals to the World Series. They're tough cookies today, in part because someone in the Tigers organization had faith in them in the present that was 2003. And 2004, 2005 and finally, triumphantly (almost) 2006.

Personally, I'd rather have one season like the Tigers 2006 than four division titles that went nowhere. I bet they say that in Texas and Seattle, too.

Why I'm grousing like this I'm not entirely sure, because tonight's 4-3 loss was almost entirely due, yet again, to an offense that shut down when it was needed. I'll be brutally honest with you: much of this entry was written in between the seventh and eighth innings, when the Twins were but a run away from tying the game. So what? Had we won, somehow, would that have been cause for celebration? Sweet Mother of Fuck, these are the Kansas City Royals. We stranded guys, hit into double-plays, and the Royals hurler, with his almost nine-run ERA, looked as poised as... well, as all the pitchers who come through the Metrodome and watch the heart of the order go down quietly as kittens. The Twins are supposed to be one of the premiere clubs of both leagues, ready to take the next step. Squeaking out a win against these rubes from Missouri (and the worst team in the league) isn't worth any bragging rights, especially in such a close game. The Royals have a lousy pitching staff, mediocre hitters, and yet still beat us. Again.

Yes, it's early in the season, for sure. We've only hit the 21 game mark and still have a winning record, even if it is by one game. But here's another observation from the folks at Prospectus from 2006: "...if The Twins take credit for building a large base of homegrown talent... they deserve criticism for failing to leverage that talent to into a genuinely great club." This club is far from great, though I do think it's too early to determine exactly who in this league would qualify for that title. You might say the Twins had a pretty good season last year to gripe. But BP also noted, and I agree, that had the Twins brain-trust not given contracts to such powerhouses as Tony Batista and Rondell White, we might not have needed such an amazing comeback to win the division last year.

(I might add that the exhaustion of such a comeback might have kept them from advancing in the first round, as happened to the 1987 Tigers, who also staged a mighty comeback of epic proportions and were blown away in a playoff.)

But I digress. This is no longer the AL Central of 2002-2005, as we all know, and the Twins need more ingenuity than simply relying on Sidney Ponson to take up the last spot, and filling holes in their offense with garbage, last year's piranhas, or nothing at all. The Twins, this early in the season, have struggled against some of the worst teams in the league, looking confident only against the Orioles and Mariners. When we hit, we strand those runners by not hitting again. Their pitchers are not dominating us, we're allowing ourselves to be dominated.

I don't claim to know who we'd trade for, or what we'd trade for, what triggers to pull or who to call up from the minors or trade away (though I would claim that sending Ortiz and Silva to the pitching-hungry Yanks might be a start--trade while the trading's good, though it's early). Perhaps The Twins're stuck, that they won't be able to pull any triggers until we get that new stadium. By then we'll be spending money just to keep the guys we've got now.

Ugh. Outside of Baltimore, that first, and now distant series, the vaunted Minnesota Twins, with the MVP, Cy Young winner, and Batting Champ, have done nothing but make the very bad look very, very good. Games like these make an already long season seem like eternity.

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