What to Watch For: The Final 10 Games

Last week I thought that it was important for the Twins to win games. Either they’re not listening, not trying, or not good enough to win, but any way you slice it, the Twins are in the middle of a 9 game losing streak. This current 9 game losing streak has put the Twins 4 games behind the Baltimore Orioles for the worst record in the AL. With 10 games left to play, the Twins are still 7 games behind (ahead?) of the Houston Astros for the worst record in baseball. So there is a chance that the Twins could still claim the number 1 pick in the 2012 Amateur Player Draft, but Houston would need to lose just 3 of their next 10 games to wrap up that pick, which they should be doing later this week, maybe as early as Wednesday (as I write, they’re currently losing to the Reds, 2-0, despite what may be J.A. Happ’s best performance of 2011).

But I still think the Twins should be winning. Sure, it was fun to watch Mariano Rivera earn his 602nd career save and lead all of the world in career saves, but that isn’t really something that you’d want attached to the team you root for.

But hey, the 2011 Twins just earned themselves a place in the annals of Baseball Trivia. Not quite as good as a win.

So if the Twins are not going to win, and they’re not going to be able to lose enough games to earn a better draft selection, what is left for these 2011 Twins? Sure, young kids are going to have an opportunity to play Major League Baseball, often against the same young kids they were battling in AAA, just in a bigger stadium. The Twins have taken nearly every regular (and I use that term loosely here in 2011) and shut them down for the year or they’ve hurt themselves, or they’re just watching baseball from great seats in the dugout.

Seriously, Joe Mauer has Pneumonia. Justin Morneau is having two surgeries which are supposed to be minor, and he’s still experiencing concussion symptoms. Denard Span is shut down because he too is experiencing concussion like symptoms. Tsuyoshi Nishioka is shut down for the year, mostly due to general ineffectiveness, and Jason Kubel is dealing with an ailing foot, which kept him out of play against the Yankees on Monday. Danny Valencia still manages to get into games as a DH, but he continues to feud with manager Ron Gardenhire and his place as the third basemen on the 2012 roster seems suspect, at best. Alexi Casilla either had his leg amputated, or he’s still nursing a hamstring injury, I’m not even sure which, he’s only played one game since July 27th, and he managed to reinjure himself. Michael Cuddyer seems like the only guy left on the bench with any real major league service time, and he’s struggled lately, hitting just .150 in his last 16 games. The Twins played 15 players in their game against the Yankees on Monday, just 4 of them were on the Opening Day roster (Valencia, Cuddyer, Drew Butera and Jose Mijares).

So really, what is there to watch for in the final 10 games? The final 10 games will be about pitching and defense. Who has it, who needs it, and who can’t get it.

Pitching:

The Twins have 16 pitchers on the active roster and 8 of them have started games for the Twins in 2011. Expect to see lots of these guys pitch games down the stretch, especially Kevin Slowey, Anthony Swarzak and Scott Diamond as they audition for a spot in the 2012 rotation or a spot out of the bullpen as a long reliever. You will see two of those guys on the 25 man roster to start 2012, the odd man out will likely be traded this winter.

Defense:

Defensively Rene Rivera is just taking turns behind the plate because Joe Mauer is out. He’s 27 and has no chance of usurping Butera’s spot as the backup catcher next season. He should just enjoy the ride. Luke Hughes, Chris Parmelee, Trevor Plouffe, Joe Benson, Brian Dinkelman and Rene Tosoni are all getting playing time right now, but Luke Hughes and Trevor Plouffe are probably the only real candidates to make the 25 man roster out of Spring Training. Plouffe continues to hit poorly at the Major League level, and his defense has been anything but consistent. He seems like he’s still pressing too hard instead of letting the game come to him. Matt Tolbert has basically given away his spot on the 2012 roster, so Plouffe needs to impress in the final 10 days to get his manager off his back and could be the front runner heading down to Fort Myers. Luke Hughes is another guy who has a shot to be a part of the big league team next season, especially if Valencia continues to struggle defensively. Hughes has shown spots of power with the Twins this year, but he needs to raise his .230 batting average if he wants to sneak past Valencia at the hot corner. Hughes is walking plenty, and his on base percentage is up near .300, so a couple of points on his average could really up his value to the Twins.

The Twins 2011 is all but gone, but for these final 10 games watch the pitching and the defense and see what it tells you about the future.

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Tags: Alexi Casilla Anthony Swarzak Brian Dinkelman Chris Parmelee Danny Valencia Denard Span Drew Butera Jason Kubel Joe Benson Joe Mauer Jose Mijares Justin Morneau Kevin Slowey Luke Hughes Matt Tolbert Michael Cuddyer Minnesota Twins Rene Rivera Rene Tosoni Scott Diamond Trevor Plouffe Tsuyoshi Nishioka

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