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Then and Now

Here was the lineup for the Minnesota Twins when they opened this wacky 2008 campaign:

1B: Morneau
2B: Harris
3B: Lamb
SS: Everett
LF: Young
CF: Gomez
RF: Cuddyer
C: Mauer
DH: Kubel/Monroe

As they approach their 163rd game of the season, here’s their current lineup:

1B: Morneau
2B: Casilla
3B: Buscher/Harris
SS: Punto
LF: Young
CF: Gomez
RF: Span
C: Mauer
DH: Kubel

Monroe and Lamb are gone. Everett lost his job when he was hurt and was very nearly released, but for a shortage of infielders at an inopportune time. Cuddyer had one injury after another in a miserable year for him.

So disgusted with Casilla after last year’s indifferent season, the Twins sent him out early in spring training. Punto, after a dreadful offensive season in 2007, was looking at a year being a spare part, used everywhere in the infield (and perhaps outfield) in a reserve role. Harris didn’t make a smooth transition from SS in Tampa Bay to 2B with the Twins, and was relegated to platooning with Buscher, who was a late cut in spring training. Span lost the CF battle to Gomez in spring training and thus was sent to Rochester.

While Gardenhire and Co. should receive great credit for the superb job in reupholstering the squad on the fly, one must look askance at the job the front office did in assembling the 2008 season. The moves that they made going into the season were all mostly flops or washouts.

The big trade of Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett for Delmon Young and Brendan Harris? Not so good. Garza was a key member of the AL East Champ Rays (that’s a phrase that sure sounds odd), and Bartlett drew rave reviews. Meanwhile, Young turned out to be a singles hitter and a butcher in LF, and Harris failed at 2B. It’s far too soon to give up on either Young or Harris, but, with one season (nearly) in the books, it certainly looks one-sided.

The free agent signings that the Twins made in the off-season didn’t pan out, either. The left-side of the infield, in 3B Mike Lamb and SS Adam Everett, didn’t work out, at all. Lamb failed to provide any of the offense that they sought at 3B, and was just as suspect defensively. Everett, who wasn’t expected to contribute much offensively, failed to do even that before being shelved on several occasions with shoulder injuries. Craig Monroe, about whom I was optimistic, provided some early HRs (especially when the pitch hit his bat), but was done in by declining bat speed and corresponding lack of production.

Gardenhire is demonstrating that while some of his in-game decisions might leave you scratching your head, he is an outstanding manager over the course of a season. He certainly wants a team that is fundamentally sound, and prefers good defense over everything else. He has also done an excellent job in getting key contributions from Span and Casilla, and should get good marks for his use of the electrifying if sometimes maddening Gomez. Moving him from leadoff to 9th was a wise move. More important, however, was not losing interest in Gomez when Go-Go went through his lengthy slump. Gardenhire stayed with him (with an occasional benching) and Gomez responded with a solid September and brilliant play in the key series against the ChiSox.

This season is evocative of 2006, where the Twins tried to operate with Juan Castro at SS and Tony Batista at 3B. The ballclub struggled mightily, and was driving Gardenhire crazy with the defense on the left side. Finally, they scrapped that arrangement, jettisoning both Castro and Batista in favor of Bartlett at SS and Punto at 3B. The result was a scintillating 2nd half, allowing the Twins to catch and pass the Detroit Tigers on the last day of the season.

We’ll find out in less than 24 hours whether or not this year’s in-season makeover was good enough to get the Twins into the postseason.

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