Twins Notes: Hello Offense!

I know they’re not horrible this year, but there’s still nothing like playing the Devil Rays to cure whatever ills a team.

The Twins’ offense has been horrendous for going on about three months now, so last night’s 12-run, 17-hit outburst against Tampa Bay is a welcome sight. That said, I wouldn’t go celebrating the return of run-scoring in Minnesota just yet, as the Twins did a similar thing against the D-Rays way back on June 1, scoring 16 runs against them in a blowout win, and then went on to scuffle offensively for the next six weeks.

Still, 12 runs are 12 runs, and everyone got in on the action last night. Michael Cuddyer got his third straight start — which for him qualifies as an extended stretch of everyday playing time — and went 2-for-4 with a stolen base and two runs scored. I know people are down on Cuddyer, and certainly he’s been a disappointment, but it’s worth remembering that he has still yet to be given a legitimate chance to play every game for a month straight, which is what most young players are given at least once before a team gives up on them.

I don’t think playing on Tuesday while knowing that if you go 0-for-4 you sit for a week, but if you go 2-for-4 you get to play Wednesday is exactly a smart way to develop a young hitter. Yet, for the most part, that’s been Cuddyer’s story over the last 2-3 years.

So yes, his hitting has been similarly mediocre in each of his three extended stints in the big leagues …

YEAR      AVG      OBP      SLG      GPA
2002     .259     .311     .429     .247
2003     .245     .325     .431     .254
2004     .240     .308     .390     .236

… but you have to keep in mind that the entire sum of his playing time in the major leagues comes out to just 432 at-bats, spread over four seasons. Luis Rivas, a player who has been handed everyday playing time year after unproductive year, while doing nothing to deserve it, got 563 at-bats in his rookie season alone, way back in 2001.

In other words, I don’t think the talk of Cuddyer being a disappointment would be nearly as loud if those 432 at-bats had all come in one season. If Cuddyer had put up his career numbers thus far — .245/.312/.407 with 13 homers, 23 doubles and 41 walks — while playing two-thirds of a season, he’d just be another rookie struggling a little offensively. Plus, it is my belief that if he had been getting everyday playing time, instead of sporadic, performance-dependent playing time, the numbers would be better anyway.

The other guy whose playing time continues to interest me is Justin Morneau, who went 3-for-5 with the game-tying RBI last night. Morneau, who has been destroying Triple-A this year (.306/.377/.615 with 22 homers and 23 doubles in 72 games) and has been the subject of many of my rants about who should play and who shouldn’t, is now hitting .280/.333/.580 in 50 at-bats with the Twins this season. He has four homers, three doubles and nine RBIs in 13 games, and perhaps most impressive is the fact that the damage last night was done against a couple left-handed pitchers, against whom Morneau has previously struggled.

The kid is for real. Like Cuddyer, his development is going to depend on how the Twins treat him and when the Twins play him. Does he go back to Triple-A when Doug Mientkiewicz is back from the disabled list? Does Morneau play DH on an everyday basis when Mientkiewicz returns? Or does he get 2-4 starts per week, and spend the rest of the time sitting on the bench, wondering what a guy has to do to play in the big leagues? I suppose we’ll find out soon enough.

I’ve decided that, while keeping Morneau at Triple-A and/or not playing him every day in the big leagues is very bad, souring on him as a long-term option and trading him for some middle-of-the-rotation starting pitcher like Kris Benson is infinitely worse. Morneau should be the DH every single day until Doug Mientkiewicz is no longer the first baseman, at which point Morneau should be the first baseman every single day until he becomes too expensive for the Twins to keep. It’s just that simple, and Morneau is just that good.

Sure, he’s going to make mistakes. His defense is not great (although that won’t matter at DH), his plate discipline is a little sketchy and his approach to hitting is often imperfect, but the guy has enormous, light-tower power, he has one of the quickest bats I have ever seen, and he is far from one of those all-or-nothing sluggers — he’s a hitter.

Now, in the “Even the Sun Shines on a Dog’s Ass Some Days” department, Luis Rivas and Henry Blanco both hit home runs last night. Blanco’s was a solo shot that was the first run for the Twins, while Rivas’ was a three-run bomb that busted the game open.

Rivas still stinks, I think we’ve established that. He still stunk when he was going 20-for-25 or whatever ridiculous numbers he had that one great week that got everyone excited, so he certainly still stinks now. Those are all the words I’m going to devote to a guy with a .289 on-base percentage today. If you’re looking for some lengthier anti-Rivas thoughts, go to the archives of my blog and throw a rock, you’re sure to hit something.

Regarding Blanco … The news on Joe Mauer is very concerning to me. While the Twins say they aren’t overly concerned with this knee problem, and contend Mauer should be back by the start of August, I have been hearing enough things involving his long-term health and his long-term ability to be an everyday catcher to get me sufficiently worried.

I’m not a doctor, I don’t play one on TV, and the Twins are being understandably hush-hush about a lot of this stuff, so I guess only time will tell. If Mauer’s days of catching five days a week are already gone (basically before they ever started), that is just a huge, incredibly depressing blow to the Twins. I’m one of those pessimists who starts thinking of the worst-case scenarios first though, so let’s wait a while before we cancel the trip to Cooperstown in 2025.

If Mauer is out for an extended period of time (like a month, not his entire career), the Twins can certainly get by with Matthew LeCroy and Blanco. I am of the opinion that, if Mauer is healthy at some point, LeCroy should be their backup catcher. With Mauer being a left-handed hitter and excellent defensive player, LeCroy is a perfect compliment, being a right-handed hitter and sub par defender.

Against teams that run, Blanco is a better option, which is exactly what Ron Gardenhire did last night against Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli and the Devil Rays. Against everyone else, let LeCroy get his four at-bats and let the other team try to go bananas taking an extra base two or three times.

I’d make a few statements about the Twins’ long-term catching situation if Mauer is no longer considered an everyday backstop, but to be honest, the very thought of that is far too depressing for me to deal with right now. By the way, A.J. Pierzynski is hitting .302/.344/.442 after a rough start with the Giants, putting up numbers that are so close to his career stats with the Twins (.301/.341/.447) that it’s almost scary. He might be a major-league a**hole, but the boy can hit.

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