Column: How the piranhas key success for Twins

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 24, 2006

Jon Laging, Talking Sports

Ozzie Guillen, the Chicago White Sox manager, is a quote machine. In an interview with a Minneapolis Tribune sports writer, Guillen is quoted, &8220;they’re like little piranhas, chk, chk, chk, you wake up and you have no meat, just bones.&8221; He was referring to Luis Castillo, Jason Tyner, Jason Bartlett and Nick Punto and their ability to get on base by hook or crook and score runs.

The Twins during the past two months have been a remarkable team. They are playing their own brand of baseball. Perhaps unique in the over 100 years of Major League Baseball. They are playing Twins ball. Small ball with speed and power. They are truly an amazing team to watch.

They are winning with a starting pitching staff of their ace, Santana, handicapped Brad Radke, uncertain Carlos Silva and two rookies; Garza and Bonser. Yet they are continuing to compete in the best division in the American League, the best league in the majors.

They are doing it with the best bullpen in baseball. A few years ago, Joe Torre was able to shorten a game to seven innings. If the Yankees were ahead after seven innings, Torre would bring one of his excellent setup men for the eighth and turn the ninth over to closer Mariano Rivera. The game was usually won.

Gardenhire can do Torre one better. All his starter has to go is six average to good innings. From that point on, if the game is close, the Twins stand an excellent chance of winning with its bullpen. The team has an unique advantage and once Gardenhire is in a position to play his trump card, the Twins are hard to beat. Not only that, the longer the game goes on, the better are the Twins’ chances.

It seems given its stable of relievers this pitching advantage of the Twins should remain through the end of the season and the playoffs. One other bright note came from the Guillen interview. He felt that while the Twins were difficult to get out, the Yankees and Red Sox players had holes as batters and could be pitched to. So, if Francisco Liriano is able to come back before the playoffs, the Twins could be favored by knowledgeable baseball men to go all the way.

It appears that while the Twins pitching will remain solid, there is another large question mark. Can the piranhas continue their marvelous play? They have come to the forefront as Mauer and Morneau have started to cool down and their presence has become more important to the team’s offense. Can they keep the piranha attack going? Can Jason Bartlett, Nick Punto, Jason Tyner and Luis Castillo continue to hit .350, .320, .333 and .282 respectively? These batting averages were a total surprise with the exception of Castillo’s. The Twins have three players that are hitting way over their heads. They are exceeding their best minor league batting averages. Can the three piranhas continue their attack? It’s hard to believe that one of the three will continue their great hitting, much less all three. Let’s assume their batting averages fall by a combined 150 points. If they do, can the team continue its assault on the playoffs? It may well be that their fade will be balanced by other factors. There may be changes that come into play that will balance their fall to normal hitting. These uncertainties may determine the eventual finish of our team.

Let;s take a look next week as the future ups and downs of the piranhas and the eventual finish of the Twins.

(Jon Laging writes about regional sports issues from his home in Preston.)