Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Well, the good news is that the Twins got through the toughest part of the Yankees' rotation. That's something, I guess. They even had the lead for one entire half-inning! I'm actually not all that upset about this loss. The final score suggests otherwise, but for the most part the Twins held their own against a tough pitching staff, pounding out ten hits against Sabathia and the bullpen. Brian Duensing was overmatched, but he also wasn't getting much help from the infield. There were a couple of missed double plays and a decent throw would have nailed Cano at the plate. It might not have changed in the outcome of the game, but there is a huge difference between a two-run deficit and a five-run deficit.
The infield defense was not very good. It had little to do with playing in Yankee Stadium or being tired or hung over or anything like that. The infield defense, with the exception of third base, hasn't been very good all season long. Despite finishing the season with only 76 errors (which probably has a lot to do with the rather generous Metrodome scoring), the Twins have among the worst defense in all of baseball and it nearly cost them the division (it's one of the reasons the Tigers* almost won it despite having a piss-poor offense). Only the Mets and Royals were worse. Yes, UZR has sample size issues and probably isn't the best measure of defense for a single season, but most of the current infielders have an unimpressive body of work. Orlando Cabrera (who used to be a solid defender but is clearly starting to show his age) and Brendan Harris have been particularly bad in one of the most critical positions on the field. Second base was a real problem until Nick Punto solidified the position. It's a topic I harp on a lot, but I don't think it can be said enough: an organization that preaches pitching to contact has to field the best defensive team possible. Finding a decent shortstop during the offseason should be a top priority.
*Detroit, as well as Seattle and Texas, all saw huge improvements in their starting pitching from 2008 to 2009 without making drastic changes in their starting rotations. All three made vast improvements in their defense, and it really made a difference. All three were near the bottom of the league in UZR last season, and all were in the top 6 this year. And all three improved their ERAs by nearly a run (Detroit and Texas also came pretty close to making the playoffs, while Seattle improved their record by 24 wins). See why I harp on defense so much?
This will be the end of the line for the Twins. They've had a good run, but the team is simply too banged up and overmatched to make it past the Yankees. They might steal a win or two, but this is pretty much it. Still, there is plenty of reason to feel optimistic about the team going forward. Justin Morneau will be back next year, as will Kevin Slowey, Pat Neshek, and Boof Bonser. Obviously, they could use another arm or two in the rotation, but the pitching staff looks pretty solid. The bullpen looks to be pretty well set. The middle infield is a mess, but there will be a number of good options available on the free agent market. They signed a top pitching prospect in Kyle Gibson, and one of the most sought-after Latin American prospects in Miguel Angel Sano. This team has a chance to be something pretty special in the next few years.