After 48 games resulting in a 16-32 record, with the worst run differential in the majors, and sitting at the bottom or near the bottom of both leagues in nearly every measurable offensive and defensive statistic, our Minnesota Twins have finally got a scapegoat upon whose shoulders sit all their troubles.
Pitcher Kevin Slowey.
Now, you may ask, "Gee, how does anyone lay the blame on a pitcher who's seen all of 14.2 innings this season?"[jump]
Well, leave it to the Star-Tribune's Jim Souhan to dig deep and find the evil that lurks in the Twins' clubhouse. From today's Strib:
To become the worst team in baseball, you've got to fail in a lot of areas. The Twins have done so, entering Tuesday's game with the worst ERA and fewest runs scored in all of baseball. If Twins baseball were a restaurant, it would not only give you salmonella, it would overcharge you, too.
No one winter decision or in-season move could fix all that is wrong with this team. One move, though, could have helped the Twins' woeful bullpen: trading Slowey this winter.
Kevin Slowey, for those of you not in the know, has been a fairly reliable, though injury-prone, starting pitcher. In fact, he was probably the best starting pitcher the Twins had in spring training, posting a 1.69 ERA. But since then he's been battling a variety of ailments, not to mention being stuck in middle relief.
That middle relief is part of the larger problem. Slowey doesn't want to be a middle reliever. His whole career he's been a starter.
Slowey, whom Souhan sez engages in "clubhouse lawyering", was scheduled this morning to be examined for a hernia. But the gist of Souhan's article is that Slowey has a poisonous attitude that's hurting his club, an attitude that Nick Nelson of Nick's Twins Blog suggests is shared by the Twins broadcasters.
"I've never encountered a player so disliked by so many at so many different levels in the Twins organization," Souhan writes. That's pretty intense stuff.
The Twins lost to the Mariners today 3-0, leaving seven men on base, including a moment in the fifth frame where catcher Drew Butera, standing on third with one out, failed to head home on a fly ball to right. Yes, Ichiro has a strong arm, but Butera stopped short. The Twins have been shut out five times, and have scored three or fewer runs a whopping twenty-five times (thirty if you include those shutouts.) They needed that run.
Somehow, we can all blame Kevin Slowey for that.
Now, Souhan does admit that there's myriad reasons for the Twins struggles. He doesn't lay all the blame on the man from Conroe, Texas. But his article clearly wants us to view Slowey as the bad guy. Everything else is simply bad luck or the result of the vicissitudes of baseball. Slowey's just downright bad, disliked by one of the most respectful organizations in professional sports.
Specifically, Souhan notes that the Twins have an awful bullpen, and he suggests that Slowey could have been traded in the off-season for a decent middle reliever. Of course, he doesn't say who that middle reliever might have been, but surely that deal was in the works.
He lays that problem on the backs of the Twins. But then he tells his loyal readership that Slowey is selfish for not accepting his role as a middle reliever, when after all, Eddie Guardado, Matt Guerrier, Brian Duensing, and Matt Capps (that's his list) have all stepped up and "made themselves invaluable" by doing whatever they're told.
Of course, those guys all worked in both roles through the minors and in the bigs. Slowey's always been a starter. And, as Nick Nelson points out, the Twins and Slowey haven't always been the best of pals.
Last season, Slowey won 13 games with a 4.48 ERA which included a game against Oakland in which he threw seven innings of no-hit ball before being taken out by Gardenhire... a good move, as Slowey had thrown 106 pitches, and was still somewhat recovering from wrist surgery.
The Twins didn't include Slowey in the postseason roster, no doubt due to his 5.19 ERA and opponents .312 batting average. Slowey and the Twins were rather cool to each other after that.
Lately, there's been a lot of grousing that since MRIs have shown no injury, clearly Slowey's a headcase, or a clubhouse lawyer (whatever that means), and his whiny self ought to get out of Dodge.
Turns out the guy genuinely has an abdominal muscle strain and is heading to the DL. And maybe now they'll trade the guy, probably a good outcome for both parties.
As Nick Nelson stated:
Is Slowey putting himself before the team? Yes, but then again, it's a really bad team and an organization that hasn't exactly shown much fondness toward him.
So now Slowey's a jerk. That's how it works in a season when a team is expected to contend and fails miserably. Writers who need to pump out articles three to four times a week must have something to catch your wandering eye. Souhan's got a job to do, and bad guys are usually more interesting to write about than good guys who are simply struggling.
Kevin Slowey, who in my mind is doing nothing more than trying to keep himself valuable (and how Souhan and others would've screamed if Slowey was a miserable reliever), is simply a victim of that process. When asked for comments from a knot of reporters after the game today (myself included), the man politely begged our leave. Considering his treatment at the hands of one of the city's most prominent scribes, I don't blame him for that.
One wonders: if the Star-Tribune, whose fortunes haven't exactly been on the rise, had asked Souhan to set aside his beloved sportswriting gig and, say, cover the suburban news beat (a move that would significantly lower a writer's value), might he also have begun some "lawyering" to keep his old assignment?
Should Slowey end up back on the mound, starting games for the Twins, or doing the same in another uniform, I wish him the best of luck.