Column: For comparison’s sake: 2006 vs. 1991 Twins

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 27, 2006

Jon Laging, Talking Sports

As the Twins appear to be in the wild card race until the end of season, comparisons to past teams need to be made. How good is this year’s team, really?

A baseball fan suggested a while ago that a column comparing the &8216;91 Twins to the &8216;87 team might be interesting. He leans toward the &8216;87 team and I toward the &8216;91 team. It might be a good article for the cold days of winter when the Timberwolves are again going down the tube. But first, a comparison between my favorite, the &8216;91 team, our last World Series winners, to the present team might provide a clue as to 2006’s future.

First of all, it should be noted that &8216;91 had a very good team. They won 95 games and finished eight games ahead of second place Chicago White Sox, winning perhaps the most exciting World Series ever played. While there was not a superstar, there were a lot of very good ballplayers! Let’s compare the two teams, position by position.

At catcher, the current team has a big edge with Joe Mauer opposite Brian Harper. Harper had a lot of pluses, hit over .300 and was a better defensive catcher than given credit for, but the comparison goes to future batting champ Joe Mauer, both offensively and defensively.

First basemen, Kent Hrbek vs. Justin Morneau. Morneau is up against one of the Twins’ icons in Hrbek. One way of comparing them is to limit the comparison to the years of &8216;91 and 2006. If that is done, Morneau is going to overshadow Hrbek. For example, Hrbek hit 20 home runs, Morneau may double that and drive in many more RBIs. For our purposes, although Hrbek was the better defensive player, we’ll have to give the nod to Morneau. Well, so far two players, two for the today’s team.

At second base we have Rookie of the Year Chuck Knoblach vs. Luis Castillo. Castillo has played well for the Twins at times, but has been inconsistent. The nod goes to Knoblach; remember just &8216;91 and &8216;06.

Mike Pagliarulo and Scott Lius for the &8216;91’s. It’s forgotten they played a good third base and got some clutch hits in post-season play. On the other hand, Nick Punto helped turn this year’s season around. I believe the jury is still out on this decision, although Punto has a strong chance of being picked if he continues his strong play of the past month.

Shortstop Greg Gagne vs. Jason Bartlett. Gagne was a good fielding shortstop and a decent hitter. The question boils down to who would you pick to play shortstop on your team? My answer is Gagne.

Left field for the 2006’s is unsettled. Dan Gladden played left field for the &8216;91 team very well and although only hitting .247 was a team sparkplug. I think you would have to go with the established player. Gladden.

In centerfield we have Hall-of-Famer Kirby Puckett vs. All-Star Torii Hunter. While Hunter has a number of assets, Puckett fielded as well in centerfield and was a much better hitter. No question, but it’s Puckett.

Right fielder Shane Mack had a good year in 91 hitting .310 and while Michael Cuddyer shows promise of being a good hitter, Mack was. Edge to Mack.

Designated hitter Chili Davis was one of the bulwarks of the 91 team, hitting .277, with 29 home runs with 93 RBIs. Davis vs. the DH of the day for the 2006 team. It’s Davis.

In comparing the players for each team, the &8216;91 come out way ahead with six out of the nine position players and one tie. The 2006 team has to have a strong edge in pitching to overcome that kind of lead. And remember the &8216;91 team had Jack Morris, Scott Erickson, Kevin Tapani, and Rick Aquilera on their staff. We’ll see how the 2006’s do next column.