Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I Come Not to Bury the Twins, But to Praise Them

Friends, Minnesotans, Whatevers--

I'm sure a lot of ink will be spilled about how this play-in game that the Twins lost 1-0 to the Chicago White Sox typified the problems with the team throughout the year. And it did typify a lot of them--squandering a great start from a young pitcher, who made one mistake his defense couldn't fix all game, giving up a homerun to stupid fat old jerk nice person Jim Thome. There may even be some who question the decision to send Cuddyer on the shallow fly to center that tested Ken Griffey's old arm, and found that arm to be up to the task.

But I'm not going to autopsy this game a whole lot; we've seen this game before, and it has been post-mortemified to death.

I just want to remind all the Twins fans out there that this team had no business being where they were tonight--tied for first place in the AL Central. Neither were the White Sox, but most national inkers were much less surprised by them--they are a team defined by the "One More Year" mantra--Thome, Griffey, Jermaine Dye, Paul Konerko, AJ Pierszinski--you are talking about cagey veterans who are very much on the downslope, which means that Chicago was built for now or never. (I imagine that when they tangle with the Rays, it will be never. Rays in 4!)

But this Twins team was not meant to challenge now because they are too young to challenge. The starting rotation started off without Liriano, the closest person they had to an ace on the team, and when he did first come up, he didn't stick around for long. Scotty Baker, after Livan Hernandez (who didn't finish with the team, after all), was the oldest pitcher in the rotation all year long, and he's all of 26. Nick Blackburn (0) (who pitched a gem tonight), Kevin Slowey (11) , and Glen Perkins (0) had between them less than 12 MLB starts prior to this year.

None of them hit 15 wins this year, but they all got close--Slowey (12), Perkins (12), Baker (11), Blackburn (11). Liriano came in (again) late and looked good at first, but sagged off in his last two starts, but we all know what he is capable of becoming if he can start locating his fastball. Baker was probably the closest thing to an ace this rotation had this year for good chunks of the year, and there's a good chance he's going to be lapped by a couple of his younger compatriots next year. Add to that rotation their most regular battery-mate, a young man in Joe Mauer, who was challenging for the batting title late into the season this year, yet again. He's all of 25 years old.

The rest of the hitting isn't much older. Cuddyer was going to be the relatively elder statesman of this line-up, at age 29, after cheap redemption free agents/trades inevitably washed out. This year's edition of washouts include Craig Monroe, Adam Everett, and Mike Lamb. They all had moments, but couldn't consistently perform well enough to hold off 23 year or 24 year olds. Really, neither could Cuddyer. His return to the line-up wasn't at the expense of the man who replaced him in right field, young, incredibly fast and talented Denard Span. Span, Gomez, and Delmon Young might make up one of the youngest regular Outfielding corps ever to take the field for the majority of the season in the modern era. Not a one has yet seen their 25th Birthday.

Add to that mix the surprising maturity of Alexi Casilla, the rather quiet but solid utility work of Brendan Harris, the resurgence of Nick Punto, and the MVP quality play of Justin Morneau (and forget transplanting his stats onto a NY team--put this whole team in Baltimore, Morneau is your MVP), you've got a very dangerous team for 2009, which it was always built to be in the first place.

So again, I come to praise the Twins, not to bury them. This was never meant to be their year. The fact that it was almost was--that's just gravy dammit. Even stupid fat fuck Tom Powers agrees with me, though his column is pretty much the work of someone using half their ass.

(still-a little power at third base might be nice)

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