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In innings six through nine this year, the Twins have been outscored by 48 runs.
When the Twins have been tied in the last four innings of a game this year, they have gone on to lose more games than they've won.
Unquestionably, the greatest need for this Minnesota squad is bullpen relief. Ignoring the iconoclastic pitching of Glen Perkins, the four relief pitchers with the most innings pitched this year have a combined ERA of 5.29. Phil Dumatrait can't get anybody out, Jim Hoey has been worthless and Dusty Hughes allows over two base-runners per inning.
That's a problem.
These guys form the Minnesota bullpen, and are asked to protect leads or give the offense a chance to catch up. The starting pitching hasn't been atrocious this year -- the Twins' rotation is currently hanging just below the middle of the pack in OPS-against –- but the bullpen is awful. The second-worst unit in the league, opposing batters are averaging All-Star caliber performances against Minnesota's bunch of relief pitchers.
As we discussed yesterday, the Twins are too close (and the AL Central too flawed) to sit on their hands for these next two weeks. The team could get markedly better by adding a league-average reliever or two, and Bill Smith should jump at the opportunity.
The top few prospects in the system are untouchable, but the Twins could pry away a few bullpen arms by offering some mid-level minor-league talent.
Predicting the trade deadline maneuverings of any team is a daunting and often impossible task, especially when you're trying to guess the actions of the unpredictable Smith.
But if I were the GM of the Twins, here is my wish list:
Tyler Clippard, RH-RP, Washington Nationals
Washington's strike-throwing righty is young, but already has several years of effective work at the MLB level. The 26-year old is under team control through the 2015 season, and is one of baseball's best strikeout artists, averaging nearly 11 K's per nine innings since 2008. His walk tally is higher than most, but Clippard's sub-2.00 ERA shows that he gets the job done.
Imaging him in Minnesota's bullpen isn't at all difficult; convincing the Nationals to part ways with Clippard is the hard part.
Clippard is clearly on the trade block, but Washington wants a long-term solution in return. That may include either Denard Span or Ben Revere, but the Nationals would need to ship over another piece if they wanted either of our center fielders.
Trading away future value in order to make a run for the division title this year is exactly what the Twins shouldn't do, but a mutually-beneficial trade involving some young talent may not be out of the question. Denard Span should be an integral part of the team's future, but if he provides more value in a trade than he would in Target Field, Smith should at least explore some possibilities.
Perhaps the Twins could swing a deal involving both Clippard and shortstop Ian Desmond for Span's team-friendly contract?
Grant Balfour, RH-RP, Oakland Athletics
It seems Balfour has finally found his groove. The former Twin is working on his second outstanding season in a row, and the 33-year old could be an attractive bullpen solution for Minnesota. For a relief pitcher, Balfour has a hefty price tag, as he's owed nearly $8 million for this season and next. But if he continues to post sub-3.00 ERAs, he is worth the investment.
The Athletics no doubt appreciate Balfour's efforts in Oakland, but would be more than willing to move the righty if the right prospect were offered. Oakland wouldn't demand a high-caliber minor-leaguer as compensation in any trade for Balfour, they wouldn't even ask for an adequate major-leaguer. A mid-level prospect like Tom Stuifbergen or even Bruce Pugh may get the job done.
Randy Choate, LH-SP, Florida Marlins
A lefty-specialist, Choate has been nearly unhittable this season. His walk rate is higher than most would like, but he more than makes up for it with a gaudy 11.5 strikeouts per nine innings. Jose Mijares hasn't exactly been reliable for the Twins this season, and Minnesota would love to have an answer for Chicago's Adam Dunn and Cleveland's Travis Hafner.
I don't want to over-state the importance of the bullpen. In the grand scheme of things, relief pitchers are the most fungible and least valuable players in baseball. But their purpose – locking down leads and keeping scores close in the late innings – remains important.
And if the Twins can't stop teams from outscoring them in the late inning, they don't stand much of a chance competing in the AL Central.no comments
Should the Twins try to win their division, or build a team capable of winning the World Series?
This shouldn't come as a walloping shock to any of you, but the Twins aren't a good baseball team. They are allowing far more runs than they are scoring, they are receiving zero offensive production from what was supposed to be their greatest strength, and the team has one of the worst bullpens in the league.
Even so, the Twins are solidly in the “buyers” category this trade season.
Minnesota is currently on pace to win 76 games this year, several games below the .500 mark. But they remain just a handful of contests behind the division-leading Cleveland Indians, who have been suffering through a bout with injuries and appear to be on the verge of a collapse. The AL Central may be an awful division, filled with mediocre teams with serious flaws, but the Twins stand a very real chance of bringing home another division title.
But should the team go for it? If Minnesota reaches the postseason, another smack-down from an AL East team seems likely. Should the Twins trade away valuable prospects as they gun for the right to be slaughtered by the Red Sox or Yankees?
But it's a complicated question. Shedding payroll today to invest in tomorrow may result in a net gain of wins, but the sorry state of the AL Central needs to be factored into the equation. The Twins have a chance to qualify for the crapshoot that is the MLB playoffs.
They should certainly not pass up the opportunity, so long as they don't pay too high a price.
Following this afternoon's loss to the Indians, Minnesota is six (6) games out of first place in the AL Central. Steering clear of the injury bug should help the team claw back to within a couple games, and a minor trade or two will provide fans with compelling August and September games.
Minnesota doesn't need to target Jose Reyes or Ubaldo Jimenez in order to have a chance in the division. Trading for guys like Jason Frasor or Tom Gorzelanny won't require the team to mortgage their future.
Reyes would cost Kyle Gibson and Aaron Hicks, and give the team two months of excellent work at shortstop and a mid-first round draft pick. Frasor or Gorzelanny would cost David Bromberg and give the Twins much-needed bullpen stability. The former trade option could cripple the team's future; the latter could save its present.
The AL Central is filled with flawed teams. Whichever GM can plug the right holes before the trade deadline will win the division and earn the right to play baseball in October.
If the Twins feel they can fill the right holes at the right price, they should unquestionably gun for the division title. If adding a few wins to the current 25-man roster proves too costly, perhaps it's time to turn the page on the 2011 Twins.
Winning the division this year and building a championship team don't need to be mutually exclusive goals. But Bill Smith needs to act. It's time to get better or build for the future.
Sitting on your hands never helped anybody.
Nine players were in the Twins' batting order on Opening Day. Six of them are now injured.
The Twins are among the worst in the league in just about every offensive and defensive statistic. But it's not like they've been fielding a competitive team night in and night out...
The most frequently-used Twins' batting lineup this year includes a pitcher in the No. 9 hole. It has been used three times. Gardy has penned a total of 73 different batting orders in this year's 77 games.
Cuddyer and Casilla didn't factor into the Twins' long-term plans a few months ago. Now, they're two of the only things keeping the team from collapsing.
With 15 victories in their last 19 games, the Twins have been able to piece together some serious momentum this month.
The biggest reason for this winning stretch has been phenomenal pitching. While the lineup lacked the bats of Justin Morneau, Jim Thome, and Joe Mauer, the starting rotation and bullpen have combined for a league-best 2.08 ERA. The batting order may be producing at a mediocre level, but it seems the only thing holding the Twins's offense from disastrous levels are the bats of Michael Cuddyer and Alexi Casilla.
To say these two are unlikely heroes would be under-selling how little both Cuddyer and Casilla factored into the season's plans back in March.
At the beginning of the year, Cuddyer was viewed as an aging outfielder on his way out of the league; Casilla as a stalled prospect with little hope of sticking with the major-league club. Back in early April, fans were of the opinion that if the Twins had an opportunity to replace either Cuddyer or Casilla, they should take it.
Can two months really change someone's opinion about a player? Absolutely.
'Hot streaks' rarely impact the future performance of any given player, and there are any number of studies to support this. If someone pulls off an 8-10 streak, or even collects 20 hits in 25 consecutive at-bats, they're unlikely to hit significantly better than they were before.
You can look back on a season and distinguish hot and cold periods, but while in the midst of a streak it's impossible to predict the immediate future. It's like flipping a coin: tossing five 'heads' in a row doesn't make the the sixth toss more any more likely to be a 'tails,' or even another 'heads.'
But we're not talking about simple 10 or 25-at bat streaks. Cuddyer and Casilla have been knocking the cover off the ball for nearly two months. Since May 1, Casilla has hit .310/.369/.451 with 13 extra-base hits. During that same stretch, Cuddyer has hit .317/.380/.509 with 17 extra-base hits.
Over the last 30 days, both players have been among the 25 best batters in the league. This isn't any regular hot streak; this is a consistent pattern of performance, and certainly changes our valuations of these two players. Maybe Cuddyer still has some power left in his swing, and deserves some more playing time once Thome comes back. Maybe Casilla has finally found his swing, and could help the Twins form a very solid middle infield duo.
These shifts in perception hardly influence our decision on who should take the field for the next game. But two months of excellent play can't be chalked up to simply 'good luck.'
Thanks to two incredible months, you can't think of either Cuddyer or Casilla the way you thought of them two months ago.