"Let us go forth a while, and get better air in our lungs. Let us leave our closed rooms...
The game of ball is glorious."

--Walt Whitman

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Short Takes and Rants

Short takes from Monday:

  • Jason Bartlett went 4-for-5 with two homers, three RBI and three runs scored for AAA Rochester. Remind me why he got sent down?
  • Before the game, the Twins congratulated Rafael Palmeiro on his 3000th hit. He received a standing ovation. Classy.
  • Did you know that Carlos Silva leads major league pitchers in double plays induced? It's true!
  • Speaking of Silva, he pitched 9 innings on 83 pitches.
  • The hitting still isn't there, but the fielding is coming back strong for the second half.
  • Rumors are swirling of a possible trade involving Twins lefty JC Romero and Boston third baseman Bill Mueller. Intriguing.

With Fans Like These...

...who needs the White Sox?

As the Twins slide steadily down the standings, I've noticed a disturbing trend at the Dome. Every game, there are more hecklers. And not the good kind--no, I'm talking about the ones who heckle the home team while wearing a home team jersey and/or home team cap. And these aren't even funny hecklers. They're just mean. And some of them even wait for the Dome to fall quiet so as to improve their chances of being heard by their chosen victim.

Last night Bret Boone's first, unproductive at-bat drew cries of "trade him back!". Five games into his Minnesota career, and he's being treated this way. Morneau's failed pinch-hitting appearance resulted in one lovely gentleman in our section attempting to start a "we want Mientkiewicz" chant. (Note to Dumbass--Mientkiewicz is hitting .224 this season.)

I've seen and heard Twins fans by the hundreds booing Twins players. Real fans don't do that. Got it? Booing poor slumping Justin is not going to make him hit. Booing free-swinging Torii is not going to help him focus. Booing Juan Rincón is not going to turn back time and make that homer an out.

This team is underperforming. No one's arguing that. And fans should feel justified to bitch, moan, gripe and complain all they want, but we don't push it on the players. For their ears, we cheer. They need to hear that. They've got their own problems--if they didn't, we wouldn't be complaining!

It's frustrating, I know. So terribly frustrating. But that's no excuse for turning on your team.

Does Anyone Remember What the Big Stick is For?

Speaking of underperforming, how 'bout that hitting? Our boys are a collective .198/.255/.531 since the break--that's last in the league in BA, OBP and OPS.

Le sigh. Le swoon. Le tantrum.

Let's check for trends.
April: .274/.342/.753
May: .260/.314/.705
June: .270/.322/.750
July: .257/.318/.693

Hmm. Consider June, if you will. There was that amazingly hot streak of about ten games, and then the rapid descent into utter suckitude. If you discount that hot streak as "just one of those things, albeit welcome" (and I do), what we're left with is a distinct downward trend from the beginning of the season.

For those of you tired of hearing me harp about hitting coaches, you might want to skip the next couple of paragraphs.

See, I seem to recall the Twins bringing in such names as Tom Kelly, Paul Molitor and Tony Oliva to work with the boys during spring training. In fact, I personally witnessed some of this hitting instruction. And sure enough, the season started with a newly-patient Jacque Jones hitting .353 and leading the team in walks through April, a Justin Morneau who, despite having his signature power limited by lingering weakness from offseason illness, stroked base hits to the tune of .439, and a Lew Ford who was driving in runs all over the place despite dissatisfaction with his new DH role. There was Matthew LeCroy, hitting over .300 in limited duty, and Joe Mauer doing what Joe Mauer does best--knocking the ball into the gaps.

Sure, a few guys started the season off in slumps, but that always happens. The team as a unit was hitting pretty darn well, except for that whole bases-loaded thing. And then...well. Then the long, agonizing slide from skill through competence and mediocrity all the way down to farce, which is where the curtain opens on our heroes today. And I do have to wonder how much of that descent was the result of having and then losing access to good hitting instruction.

How many promising young hitters have arrived with great fanfare from the minor leagues only to fall on their faces with the Twins? Think about Restovich, Cuddyer, Bartlett and Morneau. Think about David Ortiz's years here, and Jacque Jones' declining career average. Allow yourself, just for a moment, to imagine what Joe Mauer's perfect swing could metamorphose into in this atmosphere.

There's been a definite element of mismanagement, too. Sundappled Wood delved into that subject in loving detail yesterday. Why is Bartlett hitting .321 in AAA while his replacement slogs along at .235, and our only infielder hitting over .260 is utility rookie Luis Rodriguez? Why did we trade for a .240 hitter to replace a .250 hitter (not that I am in any way a proponent of re-installing Rivas at second)? Who the hell is our third baseman now, anyway?

Maybe the next roster move should be sending hitting coach Scotty Ullger down to Rochester and bringing up Rich Miller. And maybe someone needs to sit down with Gardy and remind him that sometimes his favorite players aren't the ones who are going to get us a win.

Trades are all well and good, but they're no substitute for getting the most out of the guys you've got. Do that, then fill any remaining holes. Change should have a purpose beyond change itself. The players who are this team's future are struggling--I'd much rather see that addressed than see any more moves made purely to salvage what may already be a lost season.

3 rejoinders:

SBG sounded off...

Very nice column.

She-Ra sounded off...

The mister and I were just last night discussing the decline of our hitters once they hit the bigs. It can't all be the transition from minor league to big league pitching. The "free-swinging spaz monkey" syndrome seems to occur far too frequently for that to be true.

I feel sorry for Boone, coming here to try to jump-start his bat.

frightwig sounded off...

I was thinking last night that Raffy really should have waited a day to get his 3,000th hit in the Metrodome, just like the kool kidz in the club.

Nice to see the home fans give him that reception, even when they didn't see him reach the milestone for themselves.