TOM POWERS: Some clubhouse 'sandpaper' an obvious Twins need
NEW YORK -- As the Twins clean out their lockers following yet another playoff drubbing, the big question still hangs heavy in the air. How do they fix this problem?...
NEW YORK -- As the Twins clean out their lockers following yet another playoff drubbing, the big question still hangs heavy in the air. How do they fix this problem?
Here's the answer: First, they need to add a staff ace. That's the tangible part of the equation. Equally important is that they also have to add a dose of "sandpaper" to the clubhouse. Sandpaper means attitude and swagger. It means a guy who hates losing more than he likes winning. It's someone who not only hugs and consoles his teammates but also kicks them in the ass when necessary.
Back in the days when the Twins used to excel in the postseason -- in other words, many years ago -- there was a built-in system of accountability in the clubhouse. When a player had a rough day, he wasn't pampered. In fact, he received no sympathy whatsoever. Instead, his teammates gave him the business. Not necessarily in a cruel way, but enough to let him know that they were paying attention.
Dan Gladden was sandpaper. A.J. Pierzynski was sandpaper. Torii Hunter was sandpaper. Kirby Puckett was as rah-rah as the next guy but when somebody acted up, he was right in that guy's face. Worried about your personal stats? Puckett would pick you up and shove you in a locker, which is exactly what he once did to Chuck Knoblauch. There's more to being a leader than hollering, "Come on, guys. Don't give up."
Gary Gaetti was miserable when he lost and once called the whole team a bunch of chokers. Jack Morris,
Kent Hrbek, even utility man Al Newman filled the room with attitude. "Too bad you screwed up, kid. Don't do it again." On the field, they'd run over the opposition without thinking twice. None of this Orlando Hudson stuff about helping up an enemy runner and then dusting him off, especially after the guy has just hit a double against the Twins. I hate that.
I'm not saying the Twins aren't giving maximum effort or that they don't care enough. I just think they lack ferocity. That's not a problem over the course of a 162-game season. They have proven their worth over the long haul. But the playoffs are hand-to-hand combat. And that's where the Twins fall short. That's when they could use a guy who refuses to lose -- a guy who might stick his ribs in front of a 93-mph fastball and then barrel into the next base, spikes flying.
Francisco Liriano is wonderfully talented. He is a power pitcher, which is the most valuable commodity in baseball. But his makeup is soft. Here's a guy who has never pitched a complete game in his professional career. Not one. Not even by accident. Not in the major leagues and not in the minor leagues. When facing adversity on the mound, say, runners in scoring position and less than two outs, he often can't push through, especially in the middle innings. He wilts. And his body language says: "Why me, Lord?" That's not an ace.
Carl Pavano has that old-school mentality but he wore down. Even with all the extra rest he got toward the end he was not the lockdown starter the Twins needed in Game 2. And chances are he's not coming back, anyway. Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn? The Twins have a lot of money tied up in pitchers who are "good enough." But having been babied in terms of pitch counts their entire careers, they break down during the strain of August and September.
It just seems obvious. Add an ace, add attitude and stir. I think that would result in a turnaround of postseason fortunes. The ace will be expensive, but the Twins have a bunch of players who will be gone either next season or the season after. Quite a few contracts are expiring. So it's doable.
Meanwhile, I'm sure they are going to take a long look at minor league phenom Kyle Gibson next spring. Gibson could give the rotation a boost. But, of course, they have treated him very gingerly to this point and, come August of a season in the big leagues, he'll have arm issues. That's what young Twins pitchers do: They have arm issues in August because they wear down. It's the result of limited pitch counts early in their careers. They don't throw enough to strengthen their arm.
The Twins aren't hopeless. A few days after that final out, the sun still came up in the morning. But enough is enough. Bolster the staff and add some sandpaper. No more wasting precious playoff chances. The Twins need to manufacture a cockiness, an attitude that makes playoff opponents cringe. Currently, it's the other way around.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.