Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The Sternest Test Yet!

Over at CBS Sportsline, Scott Miller sends Ron Gardenhire a June valentine:
"Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire is turning over infielders the way the grill cooks flip flapjacks at the International House of Pancakes, the way the pizza chefs in Little Italy flip the dough before putting on the toppings...

What is happening right here in the clubhouse of the three-time division champion Twins quietly is one of the most impressive stories this summer and a testament to an organization that is a model for growing and developing players.

The Twins are facing their sternest test yet since Gardenhire replaced Tom Kelly in the skipper's seat in 2001. Thanks to a rich and fertile pitching staff, the experience of outfielders Torii Hunter, Jacques Jones and Shannon Stewart, the guiding hand of Gardenhire and his staff and some crack scouting work (as usual) from the front office, the Twins have been able to endure the infield shuffle and remain in playoff contention."

Yes, folks, it is the sternest test the Twins have faced since Gardy took over for TK: how to stay in playoff contention despite having no set replacements for... Cristian Guzman and Luis Rivas? The two regulars who contributed the least to the team's last three division titles? That's right. Sternest test.

Well, that's Scott Miller for you.

Since Rivas lost his starting job, and also later went on the Disabled List with a dubious injury on June 1, we have seen three other players make starts at 2nd base: Nick Punto, Luis Rodriguez, and Brent Abernathy. Meanwhile, is there anybody here who misses Rivas even a tiny bit? If Terry Ryan just quietly dropped him from the roster when Rivas is due to come off the DL, would you give it a second thought? Would you even notice?

Some numbers.... This season, all Twins 2nd basemen not named Luis Rivas have combined to hit .297/.346/.432, while Rivas has hit .203/.253/.203. And Abernathy appears to be the only one who has shown less range in the field than Rivas has done. So is it OK with everyone if Louiee just never comes back?

Over at Shortstop, Cristian Guzman last season hit .278/.309/.384, and .272/.303/.379 over the past three years. The rookie Jason Bartlett hit .242/.310/.374 in the 6 weeks he was with the club, while I thought his fielding range was a tremendous upgrade on what we'd been used to seeing at the position. Since Juan Castro effectively took over the job on May 14, he's hit .261/.278/.432 while also showing good range and possibly a steadier hand in the field.

All together, Twins shortstops this season have hit .254/.305/.382, essentially a match for the production we'd been used to getting from the position. Meanwhile, Guzy in Washington has gone on to be the worst SS bat in the majors to this point in the season (.190/.225/.246; and 12.1 Runs Below Replacement Level!) and is a favorite target of the boo-birds at RFK Stadium.

Whether it was some wizardly trick for Gardy to replace those two and remain on the winning track, I'll finally leave to you....


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