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Written by Andrew Kneeland | 03 May 2011

It wasn't pretty, but Francisco Liriano hurled a no-hitter Tuesday night against the Chicago White Sox.

In a symbolic gesture that represented my apathy towards the MLB-worst Twins, I had muted the game and moved it over to my secondary monitor. I may have been half-heartedly watching, but I could recognize that Liriano didn't have his best stuff working. Being far too concerned with Liriano's half dozen walks, I didn't realize he was working on a no-hitter until the 9th inning, when I caught a glimpse of the scoreboard.

A little part of Ron Gardenhire may have died for every pitch Liriano threw beyond his 100th, but thanks to some lucky defensive positioning (and my incredible anti-jinxing power) Liriano retired 27 Chicago batters without allowing a hit.

The first no-hitter of 2011. The first nine-inning performance of Liriano's career. All this from a pitcher on the verge of losing his spot in the rotation?

Maybe all the Twins' problems can be solved with a little threatening? Liriano was on the verge of being moved to the bullpen in favor of Kevin Slowey, and tonight's no-no lowered his ERA from 9.13 to 6.61. He's still got some work to do, but if his offpseed pitches can become effective once again, he may yet return to his dominant self.

It couldn't come a minute too soon.

Minnesota is the worst team in baseball; literally, figurtively, and probably even gastronomically. The White Sox may be the second-worst team in baseball, but beating them always feels good. Especially when it comes at U.S. Cellular Field.

No, this game doesn't solve the Twins' problems. It doesn't remove them from baseball's cellar, or even give us any hope that they'll win more than 60 games. But, even so...

It sure feels nice, doesn't it?

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Written by Andrew Kneeland | 03 May 2011

BY MICHAEL L. WHITE

The Minnesota Twins are 9-18. .333 Winning Percentage. Bottom of the AL. Worse than the Astros.

Worst rotation in baseball. Worst offense in baseball. Ineffective bullpen. Forgettable defensive unit.

With all the signs pointing to failure, including the not-mentioned disabled list pile-ups, the time is now to show improvement. The division disparity is ten games, but five full months remain for redemption.

The questions remain: Is this roster capable of a climb? Does the farm have impact players capable of saving the season?

I have no real answer right now for the former. The latter, however, can be answered, “Yes and no.”

The Twins farm system has some depth, ranking in the upper half (#13) in Baseball America’s organizational rankings earlier this year. Young hitters Aaron Hicks and Miguel Saño bring a lot of promise for the future, but the impact potential the Twins need desperately right now is not there in the upper minors, ready for the picking.

We all know about Kyle Gibson, the Missouri arm who fell to the Twins in the 2009 thanks to injury concerns during the late portion of his junior year. He’s the best arm in the system and the number one prospect in BA’s team rankings.

Some see him (including BA) as a hurler with number one starter capability, but they note that staying healthy and creating more deception are important for his development. Bar none, he’s not ready. He induces groundouts well with his repertoire and Baseball Prospectus scouting guru Kevin Goldstein says he will always need to lean on his defense for help. As I noted earlier this week, the Twins defense is not an inspiring bunch, falling in the lower half of the AL. Gardenhire’s attempts to make Francisco Liriano lean on said defense has been a contributing factor to his horrific start to 2011.

As shown by recent callups, defensive help won’t be coming from the farm. Rene Tosoni has looked amateurish at times manning the outfield, and Matt Tolbert is no savant with the leather and laces (hard to call Tolbert a farmhand; he’s more of a shuttle-jockey between Rochester and Minneapolis). Ben Revere can certainly play CF well, but his lack of power leaves him useless in a corner with the exception of spot duty, and moving Span to a corner to accommodate Revere is not a gain unless you’re lined up against the Padres' inept offense for a few weeks.

The only hope for offensive help in the upper minors comes from OF Joe Benson, a 2nd-rounder from the 2006 draft. Benson has slowly moved up through the minors, developing the power scouts projected he had coming out of high school in Joliet, Illinios, slugging over .500 for the first time in 2010 in Hi-A Ft. Myers and continuing in his callup to AA New Britain. “He has center-field range to go with a right-arm,” says BA in their prospect appraisal. A rarity of defensive range, solid throwing arm, speed, and power, Benson is sure to be valuable to the Twins down the road.

A mammoth problem remains needing work: Strikeouts.

Despite an improvement all-around offensively in 2010, Benson struck out in over 26 percent of his 519 plate appearances, a glaring weakness to his game that would hamper his development should management bring him up in his age-23 season. Strikeouts were the cause of all-world prospect Cameron Maybin’s ills in Florida, and his lack of development in pitch recognition in the majors led to his ultimate dealing away to San Diego this offseason. If the Twins looked to him for help this year they’d be unlikely to see the type of production they expect and sorely need.

From a practical and business perspective, leaving guys like Benson, Gibson, Revere, etc. in the minors is about as big of a “No, duh!” moment as there can be in baseball. The prospects can’t help the big league club until the veterans are able to help themselves out by starting to look like even 70 percent of what we thought they were/are capable of producing. The defense won’t help Gibson like he needs it, Benson surely isn’t ready to take on big league arms yet, and Revere isn’t much help in the outfield when he can only assist in CF.

The Twins are best left leaving these guys in the minors to prove themselves repeatedly until no doubt is there how effective they’ll be and save burning up more time on their service clocks by letting them toil in the majors and add to Gardy’s headaches.

I’m not (necessarily) saying give up on the 2011 Minnesota Twins, but I am saying leave the current roster to save or strangle themselves. The sorry performances of April plague nearly the entire roster and it’s up to the guys getting paid to perform. Either way, by the end of 2011 the organization will know who is worthy of offers for 2012 and who needs to be non-tendered and sent packing.

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Written by Andrew Kneeland | 02 May 2011

BY MICHAEL L. WHITE

Whilst futility continues to rear its head to the tune of a sweep the not-ready-for-primetime Kansas City Royals, your Minnesota Twins now stand apart as THE WORST TEAM IN BASEBALL. No more hiding behind injuries, depth problems, and cold bats—this is your AL and MLB cellar-dweller.

One can try to ascertain the problems simply by looking at the Disabled List, which contains names like Mauer, Young, Nishioka, and Slowey, but you wouldn’t get the whole story—nor any sympathy from the 2010 Boston Red Sox. The problems are many and some, such as defense and pitching, compound on themselves repeatedly.

The 2011 pitching staff leads the AL in runs per game, ERA, have the third-most hits allowed, fourth-most HRs allowed, fifth-most walks given, and are dead last in strikeouts. The healthiest portion of our roster has been one of baseball’s biggest sore spots.

The rotation’s problems come from all sides. The rotation coming into 2011 was an overrated bunch, filled with the usual command-control hurlers. Bats wouldn’t be missed much, strikeouts fewer, and leaning on the defense. 2011 has proven the show all the inefficiencies of their talent full-bore, as the control is lacking to the tune of being below league-average in the AL in allowing walks and still having 15 fewer strikeouts than second-to-last Kansas City, which came into 2011 with the least talented rotation in baseball, but at least Kansas City isn’t paying nearly $21 million for its patchwork rotation.

Compounding the problems of the pitching staff has been the defense. Nishioka’s absence has put Gardenhire into a whirlwind of lineups culminating in the ultimate sign of desperation: Michael Cuddyer playing the middle infield.

Gardy’s been a hamper to his club in other damaging ways as well. Gardy told his top strikeout artist, Francisco Liriano, to be a better starter is to “pitch to contact,” regulating much of his effectiveness in getting outs to his defensive squad mates. Liriano’s responded to the “advice” to his worst stretch in years with a 9.13 ERA, 18 K, 18 BB, 1.90 WHIP in 23.2 IP.

That defense behind him, regarded for years as good? Well-below American League average in Defensive Efficiency and barely average in errors committed, and third-to-last in total putouts. The defense is below average at the minimum and to ask the pitching staff, especially its best piece to rely on the weak defense instead of his stuff, notably Liriano’s lights-out slider, is asinine. It is that type of stupidity that costs personnel their jobs. Gardy needs to be a force of change, the man at the helm to be imparting words and ideas that helps this team remove itself from ineptitude. Instead the alpha male leader of this team turned out to be Denard Span, challenging his teammates to do better.

The offense, above all, can do better. Recurring injuries to Mauer and Morneau are sapping their effectiveness, but the putrid offense is an issue all across the lineup. The Twins rank last or tied for last in the AL average, on-base, and slugging percentages, dead last in HR and extra-base hits, second-fewest walks forced, second-most times struck out, third-fewest hits, and last in runs. To be among or the worst in all these categories is a total team effort in futility. Only Kubel, Span, and Thome have on-base averages about .330 and only Kubel sports a slugging percentage above .390 (.511 SLG enhanced by his .351 AVG).

The sample sizes remain small for most—only four hitters (Span, Kubel, Cuddyer, and Valencia) have seen more than 90 plate appearances, so there’s hope as guys get healthier as the weather gets warmer, but the gap that separates the Twins from contention is monstrous. The team now sits dead last in the AL Central, 10 games behind division front-runners Cleveland (3rd in AL in OPS and 4th in Defensive Efficiency) and a country mile in the early running for AL Wild Card.

The organization as a whole must challenge itself to get hot and stay consistently good. Many on this team can recall the streaking 2006 Twins team that overtake Detroit on the final day of the season for the AL Central crown, and while the problems may be vast, their chances remain for this club to return to being a hamper on opponents, or “piranhas” as Ozzie bequeathed upon them not too many years ago.

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Written by Andrew Kneeland | 19 April 2011

Joe Mauer is the best catcher in baseball.

As far as bold statements go, this one isn't exactly earth-shattering. An argument could be made for Buster Posey, and Brian McCann is no slouch, but Mauer provides a great bat at a position where quality offense is hard to find.

In fact, a large portion of Mauer's value lies in the fact that he puts on the catching armor at least 135 times every summer. Ideally, Mauer would be able to catch for the rest of his career and the Twins could put his consistent bat – one of the best in the league – in their lineup every day.

But the 6-foot-5-inch, 235-lb former quarterback is simply too big to squat behind home plate for the next eight years, and will likely need to move to another spot. Judging from his inability to stay healthy for an entire summer, the transition needs to happen sooner rather than later.

Perhaps as soon as right now.

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Written by Andrew Kneeland | 17 April 2011

You can always count on your B-lineup to come through in the clutch. I particularily enjoyed the Holm-Repko-Tolbert scoring combination in the 5th.

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Written by Andrew Kneeland | 15 April 2011

I'm pleased to introduce a new guest to you today, one who will hopefully grace us with his smart ideas and sound writing skills many more times this year, and in the future. Michael L. White, a graduate of Gonzaga, has a B.A. in history and double-minored in English and economics. Currently living in Rapid City, Michael is one of the biggest Twins' fans you'll ever meet. Please give him a warm welcome, and be sure to enjoy his take on the Twins up-the-middle struggles this season.

BY MICHAEL L. WHITE

When new contributors introduce themselves, many try to validate themselves writing on said wondrous platform, blah blah blah. I find the ideal introduction regarding my feelings on this type of lead is best plucked from the fringe-average 90s comedy “Good Burger:”

​I'm a dude. He's a dude. She's a dude. We're all dudes, hey!

Your 2011 Minnesota Twins offensively—to be generous—are about as substantive as a Law & Order spinoff. The Twins in 2010, in switching from a somewhat generous offensive park to a pitcher-centric part, looked about as intimidated as a little leaguer taking cuts in Forbes Field. As Kneeland has previously pointed out, the 2011 club looks putrid, especially coming from the big money hitters.

While we can expect the Law of Sample Sizes to put things back in order, several positions required lots of love in the offseason. The 2011 Twins up the middle positions—C, 2B, SS, and CF—are bound to be crutches that spell doom in an open AL Central race.

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Written by Andrew Kneeland | 09 April 2011

Nick Blackburn turned in another impressive performance tonight, but the offense couldn't string any hits together.

 Even with a strong pitching performance to fall back on, a team can't expect a victory when the first six batters in your lineup combine to hit 2-21 in a game. Twins hitters reached base just five times in their game against the Oakland Athletics this evening, more than five times less than the team averaged last year.

Danny Valencia, Luke Hughes, and Alexi Casilla managed a hit apiece, and played about as well as you could expect. No, the problem is found in the top and middle of the lineup. Although expected to be among the league-leaders in offensive statistics, Minnesota has a team batting line of .210/.267/.297 and have scored the fourth-fewest runs in either league.

Offensive strugglesIt's still early, but yikes!

The "small sample-size" label still applies, though things better start clicking soon for the Twins. Each of the 162 games counts towards the final standings, and in the always-competitive AL Central, this early offensive slump could very well prove the difference between first and second.

Let's take a look at each of the top six hitters in tonight's lineup, and attempt to diagnose their problems.

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