A winning streak! Twins baseball has been fun to watch these past few days. Why is it fun? The team is hitting well, the team (especially the bullpen) is pitching
well decent, and, as Ron Gardenhire prescribed weeks ago, “You need to shake hands, and we need to do that quite a bit.” And, at least this week, the Twins have been shaking hands after some victories. It feels good.
As I’ve watched these games, I see a few factors that have me excited and reminiscing on better days. During the early horrid play of the team to open 2012, I longed for a return by the team to its roots and former ways—specifically, back to the “Power and Piranha” days of 2006, when the team won 96 games and the AL Central crown. The team ran out a lineup that featured Luis Castillo leading off, Nick Punto second, Jason Tyner in the eight-hole, with Jason Bartlett rounding out the lineup. None of these four were ever considered elite hitters, let alone mashers. To prove a point, they combined for six home runs in the season. But as former White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said that year, they somehow get on base and then they score. Here’s his full quote:
“All those piranhas — blooper here, blooper here, beat out a ground ball, hit a home run, they’re up by four. They get up by four with that bullpen? See you at the national anthem tomorrow. When I sit down and look at the lineup, give me the New York Yankees. Give me those guys because they’ve got holes. You can pitch around them, you can pitch to them. These little guys? Castillo and all of them? People worry about the catcher, what’s his name, Mauer? Fine, yeah, a good hitter, but worry about the little [guys], they’re on base all the time.” (Source)
The power for the team in 2006 came from Justin Morneau (the team’s first hitter to allot 30 home runs in a year since 1987), Torii Hunter, and Michael Cuddyer. Mauer won the batting title and hit 13 homers. Looking at their 2006 stats, there was no significant contribution from a bench player.
Let’s mention their pitching and how it fared. This was Francisco Liriano’s breakout year, as he went 12-3 with an ERA of 2.16. Other rotation members were league-average at best, as Brad Radke (4.32 ERA), Carlos Silva (5.94), Boof Bonser (4.22), and Scott Baker (6.37) combined for over 57% of the teams starts. Oh, and there was Johan Santana, of course, who won the Cy Young. Their bullpen had a few great arms, and several league-average contributions as well.
Here’s what I’d like to see from the Twins as this current winning streak hopefully extends and the team tries to return to respectability this season. I’m not asking for a 96-win season. I’m not delusional. But I want effort—Piranha effort. A blooper here, a blooper there, beating out ground balls, then a dinger by Morneau. Clutch hitting with runners on and two outs. Quality starts, which demands at least a 4.50 ERA from the starters. A bullpen that can hold a lead until the national anthem the next day.
The power needs to continue to come from Morneau, Josh Willingham, and Ryan Doumit. Joe Mauer needs to be the best hitter for average in the AL. I’d love 13 homers, too, but I’ll stick with doubles and singles if he can hit .333 again. Jamey Carroll, Alexi Casilla, Brian Dozier, Ben Revere—we need them to play like piranhas, and that means they need to adopt the attitude of piranhas. They must annoy pitchers by fouling off five pitches and then bloop a single, go first to third on singles, and steal some bases. They need to hit pesky infield singles and maybe even drop a few bunts here and there to advanced runners.
If the team can take on at least a semblance of the 2006 “Power and Piranha” team, then I’ll be happy. And I’m quite sure other Twins fans and players will be happy as well, since this is a recipe for success that’s worked before.