The Twins have reached the All Star Break, baseball’s traditional midpoint. I’d like to take this opportunity to keep up another tradition: the tradition of writers with too much time on their hands assigning grades to their favorite teams. Be sure to check out the First Half Awards as well.
The Twins have had a roller-coaster first half of the season, and much of it wasn’t pretty. As a result, their midterm report card has some bad marks. The starting rotation can give itself a pat on the back for a job (mostly) well done. But the bullpen had better rush home and get to the mailbox as fast as they can, because if their parents see this report card, they might be grounded for a long time.
It’s tough to give the Twins a passing grade here. Superstar Joe Mauer has just a .243 batting average, and he missed more than two months of the season with a very confusing injury. His backups, Drew Butera, Rene Rivera, and Steve Holm, combined to hit .176 with just two home runs in 221 at bats. But the backups were adequate calling games and fielding the position in Mauer’s absence, and there is some sign that Mauer is waking up at the plate. he has a .304 average so far in July.
HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT: Get Mauer healthy.
EXTRA CREDIT: Shop the trade market for a backup capable of hitting above the Mendoza Line.
Danny Valencia gets a gold star for attendance, but the rest of this unit needs to work on that. Justin Morneau and Tsuyoshi Nishioka have not been schooling opposing pitchers like they should, due to injuries that have robbed each of two months of playing time. Valencia has hit much better than his numbers indicate, and his fielding has been very good at third base. Alexi Casilla started off very slowly, but has his average up to .255 and seems to have calmed down in the field. The rest of the team’s infielders are like the not-so-bright kids who study very hard and do the best they can. Luke Hughes and Matt Tolbert will never be the team’s valedictorians, but they deserve an A for effort.
HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT: Keep playing Nishioka, because he is improving every day. The Nishioka-Casilla double play combo is starting to gel, and beautiful fielding plays may result.
EXTRA CREDIT: Find a way for some of Valencia’s line drives to start dropping, because he has been robbed of far too many hits this year.
This is where the Twins’ Honor Roll students play. Cuddyer has been as healthy and reliable as Valencia, and he’s gotten better results with his bat. Jason Kubel and Denard Span were arguably the team’s best hitters in the first half, but they both succumbed to injuries in June. Ben Revere has been a great addition to the outfield class, which means the Twins will have some tough decisions to make when Kubel and Cuddyer graduate to free agency at the end of the year.
HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT: Get Kubel, Span, and Young back ASAP
EXTRA CREDIT: Young could benefit from some extra tutoring. He needs to figure out what he was doing last summer and try to repeat that success.
Starting Rotation: B+
This unit has met or exceeded most expectations. Carl Pavano, Brian Duensing, and Nick Blackburn have all thrown quality starts more often than not, which is really about all that the Twins should require from them. Scott Baker has become a real teacher’s pet this year. His transcript looks great with a 3.01 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, and 104 strikeouts. Anthony Swarzak has also shown major improvement, pitching very well when one of the regular starters cannot go. The only disappointment in this unit is Francisco Liriano. Last year’s class prodigy has been pitching more like the class clown in 2011. All year long he has teased us with occasional brilliant outings (most notably his no-hitter in May), only to deliver the punch line by getting shelled a few days later.
HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT: Make sure Baker is 100% healthy and able to resume his first-half form.
EXTRA CREDIT: Not much chance of this happening, but if the Twins could deal for an ace like Clayton Kershaw, the rotation might instantly achieve A+ status.
If the starters are the teacher’s pets, the Twins’ relievers have been the bullies who beat up the teacher’s pets and steal their hard-earned lunch money. Or, to be more accurate, the relievers have been getting beaten up by opponents and stealing away the starters’ hard-earned victories. The bullpen has now lost 15 games where the Twins were tied or leading in the 7th inning or later, thanks to Saturday’s 4-3 loss. Glen Perkins deserves an A for the semester, and Swarzak gets a passing grade, but the rest of the ‘pen has failed miserably. Matt Capps earned a couple of detentions last week when he failed to complete three saves in a row. Alex Burnett should be expelled – or at least held back to Rochester for another year. Joe Nathan hasn’t been able to keep up with the other kids in the class, but that’s to be expected, given his injury history. Kevin Slowey has cut class for nearly the entire year. And Jose Mijares needs to spend some time hitting the books in Remedial Walk Avoidance 101.
HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT: Hit the trade market for at least two reliable setup men, and send Burnett and Phil Dumatait down to Rochester.
EXTRA CREDIT: Find some way to get Chuck James back on the big league roster.
When I average all the other grades, the Twins have a 1.73 GPA – good for a C-. But I am not going to give them an overall grade yet, becuase I don’t think a letter can really tell the Twins’ story. Injuries have been the dog that ate the Twins’ homework this year, and they’ve had a tough time getting past that. But there has been some amazing improvement over the last two months, enough to give us hope that they’ll graduate to the playoffs later this year.
So rest up these next three days, Twins. You have some studying to do after the All Star Break.