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Monday, August 8, 2011

"When You're Down and (10 Games) Out"

I had to look it up to be sure, but it turns out that Paul Simon was in fact not singing about the 2011 Minnesota Twins when he penned the lyrics to "Bridge Over Troubled Water." Phrases such as "When you're weary, feeling small," and "When times get rough, and friends just can't be found," might make you think otherwise, but it turns out there's a light at the end of the tunnel for the subject of Paul Simon's song. I don't see our Twins as having anyone to "comfort [them]," "ease [their] mind," or otherwise act as their bridge over troubled water. No, this team is most certainly drowning a slow death in a shallow pond of their own making.

Anyone who was at all capable of contributing from the AAA level has already been called up and has received significant playing time, or, as in the case of Kyle Gibson, is injured. Almost every single offseason move (e.g. posting for Nishioka, getting rid of J.J. Hardy in a salary dump, not trading Liriano when his value was high, gutting the bullpen) is now cringe-worthy. Simply stated, it's been rough to be a fan this year.

Nonetheless, I was able to watch part of all three weekend games against the White Sox. This was one of those weekends I wish I could have been at Target Field. The weather looked fantastic, the organization did a great job of planning and executing the reunion weekend, including the Hrbek-Gant bobblehead giveaway, and it had the makings of being, if nothing else, a 3-day respite from a subpar season. It was neat, as one who was 10 years old when the Twins won it all in 1991, to see many of the favorites from that championship team back in Minnesota. It was utterly embarrassing, though, the way the current Twins team played during this reunion weekend. The lack of offense, the mental and physical errors, the weak at-bats, the poor pitching. All in all, the Twins' sorry play (against a team that they have owned in recent years) did much to negate the good cheer and feelings of nostalgia that were present at Target Field over the weekend. I can only imagine what the '91 crew thought (and probably said privately between themselves) about the current group wearing the same uniform.

What I realized, seeing some of my 1991 favorites on the same field as some of the core 2011 Twins, was that our current crop cannot hold a candle to the '91 champs, notwithstanding that the level of on-the-field talent is not all that different. It is indeed true that I look at the 1991 Twins with rose-colored glasses, first, because I was a kid, and second, because they won the World Series. But guess what? Some of the 1991 Twins' underachievers got the job done. We forget that Junior Ortiz was 1-for-8 in the playoffs that year because he did a good job catching Scott Erickson, and because the Twins won. I forget that my hero, Kent Hrbek, was 3-for-26 in the World Series that year, because the Twins won, and he played a great first base.

What I'm getting at is that there are always going to be Drew Buteras on the playoff roster that simply can't hit, or Jason Kubels -- players that are good in the regular season but completely ineffective in the postseason. But the '91 crew had players that came to the rescue when it counted: light-hitting Greg Gagne's Game 1 home run; Chili Davis and Scott Leius home runs in Game 2; Kirby Puckett, of course, with "the catch" and "the home run" in Game 6; and Gene Larkin with a pinch-hit single in Game 7 for the win. These are just a few examples that come to mind, but we all know that there were dozens of key plays in the 4 Twins victories that, combined, turned the tides in the Twins' favor. Our Twins teams of recent years have been very good, but they have completely lacked the ability -- seemingly out of nowhere -- to turn the tides of a game in the Twins' favor, and to capitalize on that turn in the late stages of games.

As we start to think about 2012, it's impossible to predict, of course, what free agents or trade candidates could provide that "spark." But I hope that the front office has begun to realize that the status quo does not produce world championship caliber teams. With significant funds coming off the books after this season, it will be a good opportunity to begin to reconstruct a team that still has the possibility of being very good next year, but that most certainly needs an attitude adjustment. We need the next Torii Hunter, Dan Gladden, Kirby Puckett-type personality on this team, because we most certainly do not have it now.

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