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Reeling Minnesota

Starting pitching just the start of Twins' problems

Posted: Monday July 14, 2003 9:23 PM
Updated: Monday July 14, 2003 9:23 PM

  Eddie Guardado Eddie Guardado has had only two save opportunities since June 14. Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images

By Dan George,

Is any team in more trouble than the Minnesota Twins?

Given that the defending American League Central champs enter the All-Star break riding an eight-game losing streak and trailing the first-place Kansas City Royals by 7 games, you may safely consider that a rhetorical question.

After winning 94 games in 2003 and upsetting the Oakland A's in the first round of the playoffs, the Twins entered this season as heavy favorites to repeat. And when Ron Gardenhire's team came back from a sluggish start to build a five-game leader over the upstart Royals on June 13, all seemed right in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

But since then ... well, it's been enough to make Garrison Keillor mutter, "Uffda!" The Twins have dropped 22 of 28 games and now find themselves in third place, a full five games under .500 and No. 19 in the Power Rankings.

So what's the problem? Uh, make that problems. The starting pitching, a strength last season, has been wretched -- during a recent 25-game stretch Minnesota starters went 4-14 with a 7.60 ERA. Kyle Lohse has had six consecutive starts in which he's given up at least one run per inning.

Combine that with a mediocre offense -- anybody seen shortstop Cristian Guzman and second baseman Luis Rivas lately? -- and you start to see what we're talking about. Injuries have hurt -- the current losing streak coincides with Jacque Jones' stint on the DL with a groin injury -- but the Twins frankly need a run-producing bat in the middle of the lineup.

They may need an attitude adjustment, too. After a 4-1 loss to the Texas Rangers last week, starter Kenny Rogers said, "We've been going through this the whole year. After a while you have to sit back and ask what kind of team you really have. We have to play with a little more life and enthusiasm. There's too much talent in here for us to play like this."

GM Terry Ryan is looking for help. Florida Marlins second baseman Luis Castillo is one possibility. Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Shannon Stewart is another. So is New York Mets outfielder Jeromy Burnitz.

"We're going to fix it. We're going to get it right," said Gardenhire, who went off on the team after a loss to the Cleveland Indians last week. "I've already talked to Terry, and we're going to figure it out."

The good news is that Twins have time. They still have nine games left with Kansas City. The bad news? So far, they're just 3-7 against the Royals.'s Power Rankings
Rank  LW    Team 
1 2 Atlanta Braves
Not only do the Braves own baseball's best record (61-32) at the All-Star break, but Skip Caray and Pete Van Wieren are back on TBS' national broadcasts. Just don't ask Skip to explain the infield fly rule.
2 1 Seattle Mariners
How about Jamie Moyer making the All-Star Game at the age of 40? Not bad for a guy whose biggest claim to fame used to be that he was Digger Phelps' son-in-law.
3 3 San Francisco Giants
Somebody asked Barry Bonds why he wasn't going to be in Monday night's Home Run Derby. "Because I'm a grown man and I don't have to do it," he said. Yep, Will Rogers never met Barry Bonds.
4 4 New York Yankees
Joe Torre is no fan of the All-Star Game changes. "What I resent," he said, "is the implication that we weren't trying to win all these years." Thanks for caring, Joe. And next time could you get more than half of the Yankees to fill out their All-Star ballots?
5 5 Boston Red Sox
Pedro Martinez is 6-2 and his 2.36 ERA is second in the AL. Just imagine if the Boston bullpen hadn't blown leads in five of his starts. Well, at least it's been a group effort.
6 7 Oakland Athletics
So Roger Clemens gets the sentimental All-Star berth because Barry Zito is unable to pitch Tuesday night. Except nobody tells Zito. So when was it, exactly, that baseball PR become an oxymoron?
7 6 Philadelphia Phillies
In an effort to find a woman he met on the New York subway in May, Randy Wolf took the same train to Shea Stadium last week. No luck, though. "The talent level was down," he said.
8 8 Kansas City Royals
One reason to root for these guys is that they've taken to calling rookie closer Mike MacDougal "Mack the Ninth." Hey, it beats the heck out of Hugh "Losing Pitcher" Mulcahy.
9 9 Arizona Diamondbacks
Then there's Mark Grace, the anti-Bonds. The struggling veteran was talking to reporters after getting a pinch-hit single last week when his cell phone rang. "Just a minute," he said. "I think it could be the president, calling to congratulate me."
10 16 Anaheim Angels
All-Star reliever Brendan Donnelly was named on 128 player ballots -- even though he was a replacement player in 1995. Somewhere, Don Fehr is spinning in his grave. Oh, wait, that's just wishful thinking.
11 15 Houston Astros
Forget Jeff Bagwell and Lance Berkman and Jeff Kent. Astros mascot Junction Jack won his second straight title during the Mascot Home Run Derby at Chicago's McCormick Place. Of course, it's a bandbox.
12 10 Montreal Expos
Now baseball says it may be September before there's a decision on where the wandering Expos will play next year. Any longer, and Moses will come back to manage.
13 11 Los Angeles Dodgers
Multimillionaire apartment developer Alan Casden says if he buys the Dodgers, he'll knock down Dodger Stadium, build a new downtown ballpark and put apartments in Chavez Ravine. Season ticket holders get the first month free.
14 18 Colorado Rockies
The Diamondbacks outscored them 38-14 in four games at Bank One Ballpark. "I don't think they respect our staff," said Clint Hurdle. His first hint was when the D'backs didn't buy them dinner first.
15 12 Toronto Blue Jays
Used to be an honor to pitch in the All-Star Game. Now? Teams overwork aces like Roy Halladay during the season, then whine about him throwing an inning in the Midsummer Classic. But at least this time it counts.
16 13 St. Louis Cardinals
What's wrong with Matt Morris? His velocity is down, his breaking pitches are broken and in his last eight starts, he has two victories and a 9.09 ERA. Things are so bad he has to think about Rick Ankiel just to cheer himself up.
17 19 Florida Marlins
Jack McKeon was asked Sunday why he was starting Dontrelle Willis instead Josh Beckett, fresh off a rehab assignment. "We got a guy 8-1," said McKeon. "This is not a tryout camp."
18 17 Chicago Cubs
They're 8-15 since being eight games over .500 (39-31) on June 18. Good thing Dusty Baker was born to take the heat.
19 14 Minnesota Twins
They signed first baseman Kevin Young to a minor league contract. Yes, the same Kevin Young who was released by the Pirates after batting.202 with two homers and seven RBIs in 52 games this season. Guess Rob Deer didn't return their calls.
20 20 Chicago White Sox
First, Frank Thomas shamelessly lobbies for an All-Star berth, admitting he voted for himself. Then he says Rocco Baldelli doesn't deserve a spot because he's a rookie. And now he all but accuses baseball of rigging the voting so Albert Pujols beats out Sammy Sosa. Two words, Frank: Shut up.
21 21 Cincinnati Reds
Bob Boone says he's not worried that some fans want him fired. "They'll have to get in line," he said. "Hey, if we keep losing, I'll do it to myself. I'm just going to keep doing my job, and I won't let it get to me or affect me." Well, except for having his wife start his car in the mornings.
22 24 Pittsburgh Pirates
Baseball missed a bet when Randall Simon was suspended for three games and fined $2,000 for smacking the Brewers' sausage mascot with his bat. Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke Jr. suggested Simon should have to "play first base wearing the sausage outfit."
23 22 Baltimore Orioles
Look for them to make at least a couple of deals before the July 31 trade deadline. And nobody's untouchable. "This is a team that has finished fourth the last few years," said Director of Baseball Administration Ed Kenney. "It's not like we're breaking up the '27 Yankees."
24 25 Cleveland Indians
The Indians have had three bobble head promotions this year -- Ellis Burks, Omar Vizquel, and a combined bobble head of C.C. Sabathia and Josh Bard. Burks and Vizquel are out with injuries. Bard has been demoted to Buffalo. And Sabathia is worried.
25 23 New York Mets
They've introduced the Mike Piazza Russian tea doll. The wooden doll has Piazza's likeness painted on it. Russian tea dolls open to reveal a successively smaller version. Thus another baseball tradition is born.
26 27 Texas Rangers
They've already had seven different center fielders this season. Yet, amazingly, none of them has made an error in 93 games. We don't know where we find this stuff, either.
27 26 Milwaukee Brewers
"It sickened me to see it. ... This is an insane act by a person whose conduct is unjustified," said Brewers vice president Rick Schlesinger. Yeah, we thought he was talking about last year's All-Star Game tie, too. Our bad.
28 28 San Diego Padres
They're 4-29 against the Cardinals dating back to 1999. So Albert Pujols shouldn't have been surprised when the Padres plunked him Sunday, one day after he admired a long walkoff home run. "Look, nice going. Just get around the bases. It irritated a lot of us," said Gary Bennett, our new favorite catcher.
29 29 Tampa Bay Devil Rays
When he was summoned to Lou Piniella's office, closer Lance Carter half-expected to be sent to the minors. "I'm like, 'Oh, boy, this can't be good,'" said Carter, who has struggled recently. "Then he told me [about the All-Star Game] and my initial reaction was, 'You sure?'"
30 30 Detroit Tigers
We don't know much about recently promoted pitcher Matt Roney, but we do know he shops at the Big & Tall Head Store. His size 8 cap is the largest major league chapeau New ERA makes.