Return of the King

Francisco Liriano is back and not a moment too soon! He looked great on Sunday, not his dominating stuff but certainly far above where he was at in April. While it’s unfortunate the Twins had to designate a veteran like Livan Hernandez for assignment to make this scenario work, no one can deny the Twins are an improved club with Francisco on the hill.

Perhaps this is the trade deadline move the Twins needed to make a little run with about 50 games remaining on the schedule. They are entering a streak of under-.500 teams over the next week. They do see the Angels for six games this months but that’s countered by nine games with the Mariners.

My prediction: Liriano continues to shine for the rest of the season (I know I’m going out on a limb) but he ends up with a record above five hundred and leads the Twins into the playoffs as the Central Division Champions against the East Champion Rays. Right it down, take it to your bookie.

Repeating History

This year, more than any other, I believed the Twins would pull the trigger and fill one of their needs via a trade. This year, more than any other, the Twins have holes that need filling. This year, like all others, the Twins took no action at the trade deadline.

In the past I have been supportive of taking a conservative approach at the trading deadline. This year is different. The Twins are currently platooning three of their infield positions, their outfield is more than crowded, and their pitching prospects are in a log jam to make it to the big league club.

This was the year for the Twins to make a move and bring in a right-handed, solid defender for either second or third base and they balked at their opportunities because of their reluctance to trade young arms.

The small-market Twins are not buyers in free agency so bringing in high level talent almost has to happen via a trade. The talent was out there for the taking this year. The Twins needed to take action. I’m afraid they’ll pay for it this October when they’re watching the World Series from home.

East Coast Woes

Another trip out east, another three game sweep.

The Twins are going to have to learn to beat the likes of the Yankees and Red Sox if they have any hope of making it out of the American League because the road to the World Series will almost definitely go through one of those teams, or possibly both.

A sweep by the Red Sox, while not fun, is at least somewhat understandable. They have a formidable lineup and solid pitching. The Yankees, however, are a much different story. The Twins looked overmatched  and were simply outplayed. Losing that badly to this year’s Yankees team, when the Twins are playing this well, is just unacceptable.

No Love for Gardy

I have to bring this up because it seems no one ever talks about it. Ron Gardenhire is one of the best managers in baseball. What he’s doing this year is a testament to his ability to handle a ballclub. When you look at what the Twins lost in the offseason and the age of the current roster there is no reason the Twins should be in the hunt for a division title. Yet here they are on July 22nd, half a game out of first place in the central and only two games behind Boston for the Wildcard.

If you take a look over Gardy’s six-year tenure with the Twins you’ll find he has 534 wins, an average of 89 per season, and four division championships in six years. During that stretch the Twins have the seventh best winning percentage of any team in baseball trailing only the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, Braves, Cardinals, and A’s. He took a team who was #1 on the list to be contracted and led them to a division title in 2002 where they lost in the ALCS to the eventual World Series Champion, Anaheim. In 2006, after a dismal start to the season, the he led the Twins to a 72-37 (.660) record from June 1 on to take the division from the resurgent Tigers.

He’s done all of this without blockbuster deals bringing MLB impact talent to the Twins. The Twins have stuck to their gameplan of improving from within and getting maximum potential returns in their trades. Gardy takes the pieces he’s given and finds a way to win.

Yet he never seems to be in the discussions for Manager of the Year. He should have won in 2002 when as a rookie manager he led a team with a lower payroll than A-Rod alone to 94 wins and a trip to the ALCS but it went to Mike Scioscia. 2003 brought another division title but the award went to a deserving Tony Pena of the Royals. By 2004, 90+ wins was run of the mill for the Twins and Gardy missed out on the award yet again. 2006 was the reemergence of the Tigers and Jimmy Leyland won. This year, possibly the greatest coaching effort of Gardy’s career (rest of the regular season pending) he has no chance with Joe Maddon and the Rays newfound ability to win.

I’ve started to hear people talk about what Ron Gardenhire is doing with the Twins. Jim Leyland has always been vocal about his respect for Gardy and I heard a recent interview with Ken Rosenthal of Foxsports.com where he mentioned the job Gardy is doing this year. By and large though, small market Minnesota and it’s masterful manager get overlooked by the media and the public.

It’s time to give respect where respect is due. Ron Gardenhire has put in his time at the major league level and he’s earned the right to be called the best manager in baseball.

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