Taylor's Twins Talk

Focusing on the Twins, with a few ramblings on other things that catch my attention

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Five Things to Watch in September

The Twins playoff hopes are pretty much dead, but that doesn't mean fans should tune out -- a lot can happen in September that sets up the coming year, for instance. With that in mind, here are the five things I'm most looking forward to watching as the season winds down:

1.) The Starting Pitching Throwdown

Carlos Silva is a free agent at the end of the year and will probably be gone. Johan Santana may be on the trading block. The free agent starters available on the market this winter will be too similar to Ramon Ortiz for fans to have any hope of help coming from those quarters. All of this means that next year's starting rotation will almost certainly be even younger and less experienced than this year's crew, overall -- and this September should set up the fight.

Of course, we've already seen extended tryouts for Boof Bonser, Scott Baker, and Matt Garza -- to varying levels of success, I might add. But is there any doubt that Kevin Slowey will get a few starts in September to show of his talents? Or that Glen Perkins will pitch a bit assuming he's healthy? The Twins may even find a way to get someone like Nick Blackburn in a position to pitch in a game or two (Blackburn is eligible in the Rule 5 Draft and also by my count would be eligible to become a minor league free agent after this season, so at some point fairly soon he should be added to the 40-man roster).

While a player's performance in September is less meaningful than his performance in the spring, the coaching staff will nonetheless come to some conclusions about what they think these guys can do. My early guess? Santana sticks around for next year and the rotation looks like this: Santana, Garza, Liriano (in May), Slowey, Perkins. That, of course, would exclude Bonser and Baker -- but a couple of guys are going to be the odd men out no matter who makes the rotation.

2.) Can the Twins finish second?

A playoff berth is exceedingly unlikely at this point, but could the Twins move past the Tigers to finish second? The Tigers are 11-17 in August, while the Twins are 12-15. If the Tigers kept up their mediocre play and the Twins improved modestly, they could make up the 4.5 game difference to finish in second place. That wouldn't get them anything tangible, but it would at least be something to hang onto heading into what could be a tumultuous off-season. The Twins have nothing to worry about from the teams below them in the standings (and how unbelievable has the White Sox meltdown been? I mean, seriously, this team needs to be blown up, stat!), so concentrating on advancing a place in the standings should be the focus. After all, in order to win the division (which is still mathematically possible at least), they'll have to catch the Tigers first, so it isn't a distraction of any kind. I'd consider a second place finish at this point a victory.

3.) Saying Goodbye -- Conditionally

Who's to say what this off-season will bring? Torii Hunter is a free agent and may be on his way out of town. Johan Santana may be on the trading block. If this is to be the end of either or both of their Twin careers, I want to see them end with sensational finishes -- but no matter how they play I'll savor their performances and do my best to lock them into my memory, just in case. There's going to be a lot of time after the season ends to talk about the merits of bringing Hunter back or of trading Johan -- but no matter how come out on either of those issues, there's no question that they are two of the most significant members of the current roster. If they're going to be gone, I want to be prepared.

4.) Infield Battles

We won't see everyone who will be competing for an infield spot in 2008 during September -- there isn't room for all of them on the roster -- but you'll see plenty. For starters, Alexi Casilla will continue to get an extended look as the club's second baseman -- a position that he might be competing with Nick Punto for. Brian Buscher and Tommy Watkins may resume their battle at third (one I fully expect Buscher to win). And then there's the backup middle infielder competition, which will likely involve Punto, the exiled Luis Rodriguez, Watkins, Chris Basak, Alejandro Machado if he gets healthy (unlikely), and maybe one of Matt Macri or Matt Tolbert. Several of these players will make the roster in 2008 -- the question is which ones.

5.) Major League Debuts

It's been a banner year for Twins MLB debuts this year -- I'm probably missing someone, but by my count, the Twins have seen Julio DePaula, Jason Miller, Kevin Slowey, Brian Buscher, Garrett Jones, and Tommy Watkins make their debut in 2007. Could more names be added to that list in September? The Twins 40-man roster currently sits at 39, so any number of minor leaguers could be added and called up (Tolbert, Macri, Blackburn, Duensing, Morales) to make their debut. And then there are the guys already on the 40-man who could get the call -- especially the heir-apparent in center field if Torii Hunter leaves, one Denard Span. Players like Ricky Barrett, Jose Mijares, and Oswaldo Sosa are also on the roster, but are quite a bit less likely to be called up in September for a debut. No matter who it is, however, it's a good bet that one or two more players will get the chance to play in the bigs for the first time in September, and I love watching a big league debut.



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