The glue that has held the team in contention, the offense, just collapsed this past week. The results? A seven-game losing streak, and the effective end to any thoughts of making the playoffs this season. Usually I stick to the facts when explaining something, but I'll make an exception for this; the team is simply pressing. When an offense that was so good becomes so bad all at once, that's the only explanation that seems plausible to me. Granted, there could be some other explanations, namely Travis Hafner's sore elbow, but the offense hasn't really been totally dependent on him.
The recent lack of offense has exposed the starters even more. CC Sabathia hasn't been the same pitcher since he walked off the mound against Colorado, and Cliff Lee and Jake Westbrook are in uncharted territory as far as innings pitched. When Scott Elarton has been your most consistent pitcher over the last three weeks, there's some issues with your pitching staff.
In a way, I guess this is a good thing, in that it shows this team still has some big holes to fill. Adding Aaron Boone to the mix is a start, but the lineup still needs another big bat. If you assume that Josh Phelps, Ben Broussard, and even Casey Blake will be manning first base next year, the next biggest hole is right field, or whichever position Matt Lawton won't be playing, and that's assuming he's still hitting. Grady Sizemore/Coco Crisp should be adequate enough in center, and Jody Gerut can play on days when a left-hander isn't on the mound. But a right-handed outfielder would be a nice fit (maybe Ryan Ludwick?). Vizquel or Belliard is going to be gone (probably Vizquel), and one of Brandon Phillips or Jhonny Peralta will be starting in his place. I still haven't figured out what happens to Casey Blake if Boone's knee is healthy by Spring Training. He doesn't necessarily have a platoon split, although if he can play second base adequately enough, he could spot Belliard there once or twice a week. Still, I don't know how you can force him into a utility role when he's been a pretty steady player for the past two years.
As bad as the parent club has been playing, most of the minor-league affiliates are doing very well. Buffalo continues to steamroll the International League; they now have a league-best 77-53, 9.5 games ahead of SWB. Even with the losses of Russell Branyan and Grady Sizemore, the team continues to mash. Ryan Ludwick, still recovering from knee surgery, is starting to hit at will; he's now hitting .298/.377/.546 after a 12-27 week. Brandon Phillips and Jhonny Peralta are hitting .316/.375/.449 and .337/.392/.515 respectively.
Kinston is back in first place, lead by Brad Snyder (.373/.433/.644 since his promotion) and Pat Osborn (.350/.427/.548 in 263 ABs). Pat has even been playing shortstop since Ivan Ochoa's injury, so he's making a case to be added to the 40-man roster this winter. Oh yeah, Adam Miller hasn't skipped a beat since his promotion either; he's struck out 25 in 26.1 IP so far.
Baseball is (Somewhat) Cyclical
While watching the national broadcast of Saturday's game, Bert Blyleven said something to the effect that the Indians are rebuilding much in the same way the Twins did in the late 1990s. In a way he's correct; the Indians are letting a lot of young players play in the same way the Twins did with Hunter, Jones, Mientkiewicz, etc. But this current rebuilding project is taking place under a shorter time frame, and involved a mini-firesale in order to overhaul the farm system. The Twins mainly did their rebuilding the more traditional way; through the draft, and they are continuing to use their farm system to replace players lost through free agency or trades, or more like the Indians did it the last time they rebuilt. Here's the Twins' current 25-man roster, and how they acquired each player:
- Grant Balfour - signed as undrafted free agent
- Jesse Crain - drafted in 2002 - 2nd Round
- Kyle Lohse - 1999 trade - Chicago Cubs (Rick Aguilera)
- Terry Mulholland - free agent
- Joe Nathan - 2003 trade - San Francisco (AJ Pierzynski)
- Brad Radke - drafted in 1991 - 8th Round
- Juan Rincon - signed as undrafted free agent (1996)
- Joe Roa - free agent
- JC Romero - drafted in 1997
- Johan Santana - taken in Rule 5 draft (1999)
- Carlos Silva - 2003 trade - Philadelphia (Eric Milton)
- Henry Blanco - free agent
- Rob Bowen - drafted in 1999 - 2nd Round
- Matt LeCroy - drafted in 1997 - 1st Round
- Cristian Guzman - 1998 trade - Yankees (Chuck Knoblauch)
- Corey Koskie - drafted in 1994 - 26th Round
- Justin Morneau - drafted 1999 - 3rd Round
- Augie Ojeda - free agent
- Luis Rivas - signed as undrafted free agent (1995)
- Michael Cuddyer - drafted in 1998
- Lew Ford - 2000 trade - Boston (Hector Carrasco)
- Torii Hunter - 1993 draft - 1st Round
- Jacque Jones - 1996 draft - 2nd Round
- Shannon Stewart - 2003 traded - Toronto (Bobby Kielty)
- Jose Offerman - free agent
As you can see, the vast majority of Minnesota's core players came from within their system. Even when they were winning, they didn't like to trade any of their prospects (trading Kielty for Stewart is the closest thing recently resembling a prospect-for-veteren trade), even if they seemed to be blocked by others in the organization. In a way, they're the Oakland A's without a best-selling book telling the world how they did it. Granted, what the Athletics have done is a bit more impressive considering what division they play in, but Terry Ryan doesn't get nearly enough credit with building a winning team under a really small budget. He does it a lot differently than Billy Beane does it, but it works, doesn't it?