As I sit at home and watch the White Sox face the Rays and nearly get eliminated the other night, I can’t help but think, “This could be the Twins. We could be giving the Rays a tougher fight than the Sox are”. It would have been so fun to watch two small-market, rarely talked about (until this year) teams face each other. But Chicago beat them in the one game playoff and as much as it hurts me to say this, they deserved to be there. The Twins had our chances after they swept Chicago. Just two wins over Kansas City would have sealed the deal, but KC was on a streak winning 12 of their last 14 games.
So, now that I am hunkered down for the winter watching the playoffs, which by the way are not exciting at all this year, I can reflect on the Twins 2008 campaign. There were some good accomplishments during the season and then there were some things we need to focus on heading into next year. I will discuss some of the good things and bad things that came out of this season.
There were many accomplishments this season, but I felt that the play of the prospects from Rochester that made the team out of Spring Training and then the surprising pitching from our young rotation were worthy of mentioning.
The play of the youngsters this year was very nice to see. Going into this season, there were questions on who would fill Torii Hunter’s shoes. Well as us, the fans, saw during Spring Training, Carlos Gomez and Denard Span were fighting for the starting center field job. Frankly, I would have been fine with Denard Span winning the spot over Gomez, but I guess Gardenhire felt Gomez should be at the MLB level. Gomez actually was second in RBI in the month of September, trailing only Justin Morneau. Gomez also made some game saving diving or running catches late in the season that kept the Twins in the race. This is the great thing about the Twins, they always have some prospect waiting for their turn to be called up to the big leagues and then surprise everyone.
If you didn’t have enough fun watching the young guys play, then maybe watching the young starting pitchers was the thing for you. The Twins rotation was one of their brightest moments this year. Forget about Livan Hernandez. The fans all knew starting 5-0 was a fluke. You knew he was going to get knocked around once teams saw him more than once. Then once Liriano was ready to comeback, not before a little controversy, they had to get rid of Livan. Gardenhire couldn’t afford to put Liriano in the bullpen. Once they fianlly got rid of Livan, the Twins had one of the youngest rotations in all of baseball. No one gave the Twins a chance this year with the rotation they had. They all said, “This team won’t go far with Santana gone”. If you were to even ask me before the season started, I would have agreed with that statement. But this rotation proved everyone wrong. They were so great to watch on that mound and will be for many more years to come. I have to give a congrats to Rick Anderson, the Twins pitching coach, for getting these guys ready and put the confidence that he did into these players.
Now, we move onto the disappointments from the 2008 season. Although there were some disappointments from each game, there were two big ones that lasted throughout the season. They were the bullpen not being able to hold leads during critical games and then the lack of power on t his team.
The struggles in the bullpen started well before that awful, 2 week road-trip to the West coast. It all started when Pat Neshek went down with an arm problem. The exact cause of his injury was a tear in the UCL (Ulner collateral ligament). With him going down early on in the season, this placed even more pressure on Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain. And it was apparent that neither of them was going to be able to handle much more than what they typically do in a season. Guerrier started the season off pretty well, but then he started to collapse a little bit towards the end of the season. Then Jesse Crain, who I have never been a big fan of, seemed to be the guy who would come in with a 2-3 run lead in the 8th and managed to give up the lead or leave with the tie. Then as the bullpen overall, the huge 2 week road trip was one that they would like to all forget.
Please don’t even mention the re-surfacing of Eddie Guardado. I thought it was cool they brought him back, but wasn’t sure if it was the right move to do. Then they have him pitch in Oakland, where he has always seemed to struggle. However, the good news is that Pat is expected to be ready for Spring Training next spring.
The one problem that the Twins seem to face every season is the lack of power on this team. The Twins finished ranked 29th in the league in total homeruns with 111. That is only 17 better than the last place San Francisco Giants. You can’t expect to go after if you only manage 111 homeruns all year. Don’t get me wrong. I love the small ball play of the Twins, but if we want to get far in future playoff series, Bill Smith need to get some more power on this team. Yes, the Twins were one of the top hitting teams average wise and with runners in scoring position, but they can’t compete with Boston, Los Angeles, New York year in and year out, if they don’t have any heavy hitters. I’m not expecting them to go out and sign a 30+ HR, 120+ RBI guy, but at least a 20+ HR guy would help boost this team.
The Twins have some things they need to work on and some things to continue to appreciate before the 2009 season approaches. I think the Twins need to take a long and hard look this off-season to add a few bats to the lineup and maybe a bullpen arm.