Tag:Nick Punto
Posted on: October 23, 2011 3:37 am
Edited on: October 23, 2011 4:22 pm
 

World Series Game 4: Clutch outing needed


By Matt Snyder


Rangers at Cardinals, 7:05 p.m. CT, Rangers Ballpark, Arlington, Texas. Cardinals lead series 2-1.

ARLINGTON, Texas -- OK, so Game 3 gave us a bad call and an Albert Pujols barrage. That was it, right?

No, not exactly. For one thing, the Cardinals bullpen had to throw six innings while the Rangers was forced to work 5 1/3. With no off-days until after Game 5, a short start in Game 4 by either team would mean the bullpen is shot for Game 5. So it's up to Derek Holland of the Rangers and Edwin Jackson of the Cardinals to find a way to get deep into the game. Coincidentally, both have battled with command, control and inconsistency. They also both have the ability to completely lock down the opposition. Witness Holland's four shutouts this season or Jackson's 2010 no-hitter.

"Every now and then he has command problems, but when he's not having command problems, he's a quality pitcher," Rangers manager Ron Washington said about Jackson. "Our hands will be full tomorrow. I think a lot just has to do with us trying to make sure that we keep him in the strike zone. If we go to chasing his slider and chasing his fastball up in the zone, it could be a long night."

Holland, meanwhile, is looking for more than just saving the bullpen. He's looking to atone for last season's debacle in the World Series.

World Series, Game 3
"You know what happened. We can bring it up and everything. I went out there, threw 13 pitches, two for strikes," he said. "I feel like I've got a lot to prove after what happened last year, but it's obviously not going to take me out of my game or what I have to do for this next start."

So, yeah, the emphasis is on the fickle starters, at first. But if they can't get deep into the game, relievers like Alexi Ogando, Scott Feldman, Lance Lynn and Fernando Salas will be forced into early action again. And, if that happens, the complexion of Game 5 changes.

PITCHING MATCHUP

Holland vs. Cardinals:
Holland has never faced the Cardinals. He is, not surprisingly, far tougher on left-handers than right-handers. Unfortunately for the Rangers, that really doesn't help much. It does turn Berkman to his inferior side, but he's not a terrible right-handed hitter. The only left-hander that started Game 3 was Jon Jay. He was held hitless, but the rest of the team put up 16 runs.

Jackson vs. Rangers: He's 2-3 with a 4.02 ERA and 1.38 WHIP in seven career starts against the Rangers. Control has been a serious issue, with 22 walks in 47 innings. Of the current Rangers' starters, Jackson has trouble with many of them. Ian Kinsler is hitting .333 with two homers, six RBI and a 1.122 OPS in 20 plate appearances. Adrian Beltre is hitting .429 off Jackson (14 at-bats); Nelson Cruz .417 (12 at-bats). In all, current members of the Rangers own a collective .328/.392/.517 triple slash line off of Jackson.

LINEUPS

Cardinals Rangers
No. Name Pos No. Name Pos
1 Rafael Furcal SS 1 Ian Kinsler 2B
2 Allen Craig RF 2 Elvis Andrus SS
3 Albert Pujols 1B 3 Josh Hamilton CF
4 Matt Holliday LF 4 Michael Young DH
5 Lance Berkman DH 5 Adrian Beltre 3B
6 David Freese 3B 6 Nelson Cruz RF
7 Yadier Molina C 7 David Murphy LF
8 Jon Jay CF 8 Mike Napoli C
9 Nick Punto 2B 9 Mitch Moreland 1B
SP Edwin Jackson RHP SP Derek Holland LHP


NOTES

• Holland's home ERA this regular season? 4.69. His road ERA? 3.39.

• Even though Ryan Theriot had an RBI single in Game 3, Tony La Russa puts Nick Punto back at second base. The likely reason? Punto is 3-for-5 with a home run in his career against Holland.

• Both pitchers have a penchant for piling up the pitch count, even when they get hitters out. There's always a chance either one -- or both -- is able to save the bullpen. It's just not very likely. Expect to see lots of scoring and bullpen innings again.

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Posted on: October 19, 2011 2:50 pm
Edited on: October 19, 2011 2:51 pm
 

World Series relievers vs. hitters



By C. Trent Rosecrans

Both the Cardinals and Rangers advanced to the World Series with a huge hand from their bullpens, so both bullpens are expected to be used often during the series.

St. Louis manager Tony La Russa likes to use match ups to his favor, relying on stats to decide when to use a reliever and which one to use. Octavio Dotel's mastery of Ryan Braun was part of the Cardinals' NLCS victory -- Dotel had struck out Braun six times in eight at-bats coming into the series and the two faced each other three times in the NLCS, with Braun striking out all three times. While the Brewers and Cardinals faced each other 18 times during the regular season, the Cardinals and Rangers have only played three times in the teams' histories, back in 2004.

While some free agents have moved, there are still many pitchers and hitters who haven't seen each other, giving this a true old-school World Series feel.

Here's a look at both team's primary relievers against the most important batters:

Cardinals relievers vs. Rangers hitters
Rangers Mitchell Boggs Octavio Dotel Lance Lynn Jason Motte Arthur Rhodes* Marc Rzepczynski* Fernando Salas
Elvis Andrus N/A 0-4 N/A N/A N/A 1-3 N/A
Adrian Beltre N/A 5-22, 2B, HR, 8 K N/A N/A 0-1, K N/A N/A
Nelson Cruz N/A 1-2, HR N/A N/A N/A 2-5, 2B N/A
Josh Hamilton* N/A N/A N/A N/A 0-2, 2 BB, K 0-3, 2 K N/A
Ian Kinsler N/A 0-5 N/A N/A 1-2, BB, K 4-6, 2 HR N/A
Mitch Moreland* N/A 1-1, HR N/A N/A N/A 0-1 N/A
David Murphy* N/A 0-1, K N/A N/A 0-0, 2 BB 0-4 N/A
Mike Napoli 1-1, 2B 0-3, 2 K N/A 0-2, 2K N/A 1-5 N/A
Yorvit Torrealba 0-2 1-1, 2B N/A 0-1, K N/A 1-1 N/A
Michael Young N/A 3-12, 2B, 4 K N/A N/A 0-9, 3 K 1-4, 2 BB N/A

Rangers relievers vs. Cardinals hitters
Cardinals Mike Adams Scott Feldman Neftali Feliz Mike Gonzalez* Mark Lowe Alexi Ogando Darren Oliver
Lance Berkman^ 1-3, 3B 3-9, 2B, 3 K 1-4, BB, 2 K 2-6, BB N/A N/A 4-6, BB
Allen Craig N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
David Freese 0-2, 2 K N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Rafael Furcal^ 1-6 1-2, 2B N/A 0-6, 2 K N/A N/A 2-9, 2B, K
Matt Holliday 1-5, HR 2-5, 2BB N/A 0-4, BB, 2 K 1-2, BB, K N/A 1-4, HR
Jon Jay* 1-2, 2B N/A F4 1-1 N/A N/A N/A
Albert Pujols 1-8, 2B, BB, 3 K N/A N/A 1-7, 3 BB, 2 K N/A N/A 2-6, 2 K
Nick Punto^ 0-0, BB 1-5, 2B, 2 BB, 2 K 0-1 0-1, K 0-2, BB N/A 0-8, 2K
Skip Schumaker* 1-3 N/A N/A 0-2, K N/A N/A N/A
Ryan Theriot 0-4, 2 K N/A 0-1 1-4, 2B, BB N/A 0-1 N/A
* left-handed
^ switch hitter

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Posted on: October 14, 2011 11:15 pm
Edited on: October 14, 2011 11:29 pm
 

Brewers hand Game 5 to Cardinals

Zack Greinke

By C. Trent Rosecrans

ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals' 7-1 victory in Game 5 has put St. Louis one game from the World Series, as they lead the series 3-2 after Friday's win.

Hero: Jaime Garcia really got the job done with his bat, as three of the Cardinals' first four runs came off the bat of Garcia. Two runs scored in the second on his grounder that went through the legs of Jerry Hairston Jr. and then he knocked in a run in the fourth on a ground out. Oh, and he pitched too... allowing only one run and striking out five (but did give up seven hits) in 4 2/3 innings. 

Goat: Hairston was the toast of Milwaukee for about 23 hours after his brilliant slide in Game 4 and then his diving stop of a liner by Nick Punto in the second inning on Friday that temporarily saved two more runs. But with the next pitch, Garcia hit a grounder that went right between Hairston's legs, allowing two runs to score with two outs. He wasn't alone in the Brewers error-parade, but his was the first one and the most costly.

Turning point: It's hard to overstate how crucial Hairston's error was -- even though it seems like it's getting beat to death here. With the pitcher up, all the Brewers need is a routine play and it's still 1-0 after two. Instead, it's 3-0 and the seeds of doubt have been sown. 

It was over when … Octavio Dotel came in to face Ryan Braun with two on and two outs in the fifth inning and the Cardinals leading 4-1. Braun came into the game just 2 for 9 with seven strikeouts against Dotel. He left the game 2 for 10 with eight strikeouts against Dotel.

Next: The series returns to Milwaukee with the Brewers' season in the hands of Shaun Marcum. Expect a run of Pepto in Wisconsin. Edwin Jackson can send the Cardinals to the World Series with a victory.

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Posted on: October 14, 2011 3:19 am
Edited on: October 14, 2011 4:31 pm
 

NLCS Game 5: Cardinals' backs against the wall



By C. Trent Rosecrans

Brewers at Cardinals, 8:05 p.m. ET, Busch Stadium, St. Louis. Series tied, 2-2.

ST. LOUIS -- With Thursday's Brewers victory, this much we know for sure, the NLCS will be headed back to Milwaukee. That simple fact makes Game 5 bigger game for the Cardinals, who would certainly like to go to Milwaukee up a game instead of on the verge of elimination.

"We want to be 3-2 going into Miller Park and not having to win two games over there. It's a big game, we've got Jaime (Garcia) on the mound. We're going to come ready to play," St. Louis infielder Nick Punto said. "It's one of those teams that we play pretty good with our backs against the wall and our backs are against the wall again -- we'll see what happens."

Milwaukee, it has been beat into the ground by now, had baseball's best home record. The Cardinals, though, were 4-5 at Miller Park this season, not a winning record, but pretty good against a team that only lost 24 home games all season. And St. Louis also split with the Milwaukee in the series' first two games.

"We've been in this situation. It's the best out of three," Albert Pujols said. "We want to win (Friday) and then we go to Milwaukee. But one thing we can look at is that we're pretty much the on in the team in the National League that played pretty well in Milwaukee. We need to flip the page, hopefully take the lead (Friday) and go to Milwaukee and win."

WHO HAS THE EDGE?

 

This is a tough one -- I usually just go on the pitching matchup, and even that is problematic. In the end, although Garcia has been very good at home this year and Zack Greinke has struggled in the playoffs and on the road, Greinke's the better pitcher. Garcia can be very good, and he's one of the best young pitchers in the game. Greinke, though, can be the best in baseball at times. The 2009 Cy Young Award winner has struggled in the playoffs thus far, but the potential to shut down a team -- even one as explosive as St. Louis -- is there. 

Brewers' Zack Greinke: Greinke wanted out of Kansas City so he could pitch in the playoffs. The Brewers wanted him not only to help them get to the playoffs, but also to have a no-doubt No. 1 starter if they got to the playoffs. But it hasn't worked out that way. The Brewers have won both of his playoff starts, but Greinke's hardly been impressive in his two starts.

In his first playoff start, Greinke allowed eight hits and four runs in five innings, but did strike out seven Diamondbacks in Game 2 of the NLDS. He was back for Game 1 of the NLCS, allowing six earned runs on eight hits in six innings, but getting massive backing from his offense to earn the victory over Garcia.

"In all honesty, it's just another game… kind of," Greinke said Thursday when asked about his playoff experience. "I thought it might be a lot different, but it's really just a normal game, and you just get as ready as you can and do what you can. The first two games, I've given ups one runs, but I've been really happy with how I've pitched. So (Friday), I'm just going to do what I can do, and if I throw good, I'll be happy."

Cardinals' Jaime Garcia: Like Greinke, Garcia's been much better at his own ballpark, going 9-4 with a  2.55 ERA at Busch Stadium and a 4-3 record with a 4.61 ERA. In Game 1, he gave up six runs on six hits in just four innings before giving way to the Cardinals' bullpen. But that was at Miller Park.

"Obviously I like pitching here, but I don't really feel any different on the road," Garcia said. "I just feel like a lot of this throughout the year, a lot of the times where I've pitched on the road, it's just one of those things don't go your way, but I've had some good games on the road and then some not very good at home. So I can't really answer your question, because to me, it's all the same. Obviously, I like pitching at home -- you have the fans, you can sleep in your own bed. But other than that, to me it's the same. I just try to see it as any other game and then prepare yourself for that specific game."

His career home/road splits also show that Garcia's much better at home. He's 16-9 with a 2.37 in 35 appearances at home and 11-7 with a  4.28 ERA in 35 road appearances.

"If you want Jaime to pitch, this is where you want him to take the ball," Pujols said.

LINEUPS

Brewers Cardinals
No. Name Pos No. Name Pos
1 Corey Hart RF 1 Rafael Furcal SS
2 Jerry Hairston Jr. 3B 2 Jon Jay CF
3 Ryan Braun LF 3 Albert Pujols 1B
4 Prince Fielder 1B 4 Lance Berkman RF
5 Rickie Weeks 2B 5 Matt Holliday LF
6 Yuniesky Bentancourt SS 6 David Freese 3B
7 Carlos Gomez CF 7 Yadier Molina C
8 Jonathan Lucroy C 8 Nick Punto 2B
9 Zack Greinke RHP 9 Jaime Garcia LHP

NOTES

  • Since the seven-game LCS format was introduced in 1985, only 14 of the 52 series have been tied at two after four games. Of the previous 13 LCS tied at two, six have gone seven games and the other seven have gone six games.
  • David Freese's eight-game postseason hitting streak is the longest for a Cardinal since Scott Rolen hit in 10 straight games in 2006. Freese was 2 for 4 in Game 4.
  • The Brewers' last road victory in the playoffs was on Oct. 12, 1982, at old Busch Stadium in Game 1 of the 1982 World Series.
  • Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun has reached base safely in the first inning in each of the team's last eight postseason games, becoming the first player to do so in eight straight games. Gary Sheffield reached safely in seven straight in 1997 for the Marlins.
  • Francisco Rodriguez has no allowed an earned run in eight career LCS relief appearances. He allowed two unearned runs in Game 5 of the 2005 ALCS for the Angels against Chicago.
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Posted on: October 10, 2011 11:42 pm
Edited on: October 10, 2011 11:48 pm
 

Pujols powers Cardinals in Game 2 to even NLCS

Albert Pujols

By C. Trent Rosecrans
 

MILWAUKEE -- Albert Pujols changed the complexion of the NLCS with a mighty swing of the bat and a performance for the ages, as St. Louis clobbered the Brewers 12-3 in Game 2 to even the series at one game each.

Hero: Coming into Monday's Game 2, Pujols hadn't homered in a postseason game since 2006, spanning 46 at-bats. He had also notched just five RBI in his previous 23 postseason games. Those numbers can be thrown out the window after Pujols' monster 4 for 5 game with a homer, three doubles and five RBI. He also scored three times and was just generally Pujolsian. The Milwaukee fans let out a huge cheer when he grounded out in the eighth, even though their team was already behind 11-2.

Goat: The Brewers had a chance to get back in the game in the fifth inning with bases loaded and one out, trailing 7-2. Rickie Weeks, who had homered in his previous at-bat, faced Cardinals reliever Lance Lynn. On the first pitch Weeks hit a tailor-made double play ball to Rafael Furcal. Weeks, though, was busting his tail down the line and beat the throw from second baseman Nick Punto -- except first base umpire Sam Holbrook called him out, ending the inning and Milwaukee's best chance at making the final four innings interesting.

Turning point: When Pujols turned on Marcum's first-inning fastball in the first, he admired his shot a little bit, flipped his bat and let the Brewers know they were in for trouble.

It was over when … Pujols hit the ball over Nyjer Morgan's head for his third-inning double, scoring two and giving the Cardinals a 4-0 lead.

Next: The series shifts to St. Louis for Game 3, Wednesday night at 8:05 p.m ET with the top starters for each team taking the mound -- the Cardinals' Chris Carpenter and the Brewers' Yovani Gallardo.

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Posted on: September 27, 2011 1:50 am
 

3 Up, 3 Down: Big Game James



By Matt Snyder


James Shields, Rays. One of the biggest surprises in all of baseball this season went out and got the job done when his team needed him most. Yes, the Rays got some big offensive and defensive (hello, Desmond Jennings) plays, but Shields nearly completed another game and gave his boys the chance to win it. They trailed 2-0 early, but then Shields put the brakes on the Yankees' offense the rest of the way while his teammates did their jobs as well. Shields' final line: 8 2/3 innings, six hits, two earned runs and the win. The Rays are now tied for the AL wild card with two games to go.

Melky Cabrera, Royals. Raise your hand if you thought he'd collect 200 hits this season. Now quit lying and put that hand down. In a 7-3 Kansas City win, the Melk Man picked up his 200th and 201st hits of the season. His previous career high was 149. This was a guy picked up off the scrap heap.

Vladimir Guerrero, Orioles. The O's won (we'll get to that below), but Guerrero's single to lead off the bottom of the sixth was special from an individual standpoint. It was his 2,587th career hit, which moved him past Julio Franco as the all-time leader in hits by a Dominican-born player (Biz of Baseball via Twitter). Congrats to Vlad.



Red Sox. Even forgetting the dramatic collapse this month, the Red Sox played a pretty brutal game Monday night. All-Star starting pitcher Josh Beckett was given a 2-1 lead early, but ended up allowing seven hits, four walks and six earned runs in six innings. Jacoby Ellsbury lost control of what would've been a tough -- but makeable -- catch in center, allowing Robert Andino a three-run, inside-the-park homer. The Boston offense left 12 runners on base. And for some reason, manager Terry Francona used the incredibly valuable Alfredo Aceves for an inning when trailing 6-2. With Erik Bedard going Tuesday night, it's entirely possible Francona needs Aceves for multiple innings, so it's a questionable move to be sure. They lost 6-3 and are now tied in the AL wild-card race. All in all, it was an awful night for the Red Sox.

Nick Punto, Cardinals. My high school and college coaches hammered the point home for years to me, and I'll never forget it -- and probably because it keeps happening in the majors: A baserunner should only slide into first base to avoid a collision. That's it. There is no other reason. And then I think about all the times I've heard people -- Cubs color commentator Bob Brenly immediately comes to mind -- make the very salient point that if it was faster to slide, Olympic sprinters would slide through the finish line. It just boggles my mind how many guys are paid to play this game and still make the mistake. Punto made it Monday night in the eighth inning and it may have cost his team the playoffs. He hit a grounder that Astros first baseman Carlos Lee booted. Lee recovered in time to feed the pitcher the baseball in a bang-bang play. Punto dove head-first and was out by about a split-second to end the eighth. Had he run through the bag, he would have been safe and the Cardinals -- who had a runner on third -- would have scored. They ended up losing 5-4 in extra innings and still trail by one game in the NL wild-card race. With two games to play.

Ubaldo Jimenez, Indians. Is this what the Indians dealt two premium pitching prospects for? Jimenez was shelled again Monday night, allowing nine hits and six runs in five innings in a 14-0 loss. He now has a 5.10 ERA since coming over in that July trade. Oh, and the Tigers acquired the less-heralded Doug Fister before the July 31st deadline. He's 7-0 with a 0.61 ERA in his last eight starts after stifling the Indians for eight innings Monday. 

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Posted on: July 26, 2011 1:41 am
 

Astros latest team to fall victim to U2

U2By C. Trent Rosecrans

Count the Houston Astros among the growing number of teams none too thrilled with U2.

Following Monday's loss to the Cardinals, several Astros complained about the new grass surface at Busch Stadium. U2 held a concert at Busch Stadium on July 17 and the team stripped the outfield of grass and re-sodded it afterwards. With the high temperatures, it was difficult for the grass to take root in time for Monday's game, the first post-Bono game held at Busch Stadium, Derrek Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote.

The Edge and company helped the home team in the second inning, when Astros right fielder Hunter Pence slipped on the new sod, allowing St. Louis' Nick Punto to cruise to a triple and drive in a run. St. Louis added another with a one-out fielder's choice by starter Kyle McClellan.

"We knew there was a new sod and ground balls were going to be tougher," Pence told Zachary Levine of the Houston Chronicle. "We really didn't expect all the slipping to go down."

Center fielder Michael Bourn said he had trouble all game.

"If you try to plant good, you'll end up falling," Bourn told Levine.

He added, "You could tell it's very new out there. The cracks are still in the ground, which means the grass had just been planted. We just had to try to get used to it. It's real hard to keep your ground out there. It's real hard to keep your feet underneath you."

Manager Brad Mills said the team was "not thrilled" with the state of the field.

"You want the sure footing and so forth, but it wasn't there and it cost us a little bit," Mills said.

U2 has already given the Mariners an unfair advantage in its series with the Marlins, with three of Florida's "home games" being played at Safeco Field in Seattle. The Mariners won two of the three games.

A U2 concert at Angel Stadium in Anaheim forced the Angels to go on a 12-game road trip that covered more than 8,000 miles. The Angels went 8-4 on the trip and showed no ill-effects on their next homstand, winning 11 of 13 upon their return.

Oakland didn't have quite as long of a road trip as their AL West brethren, going on just a 10-game trip because of U2's concert in Oakland. However, they didn't handle it as well as the Angels, going 1-9 on the 10-game trip to facilitate the band, that like the A's peaked in the late 80s and early 90s.

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Posted on: April 18, 2011 4:46 pm
Edited on: April 18, 2011 4:57 pm
 

Hobbled Twins lack depth due to 'Twins way'

By Evan Brunell

TolbertThe last-place Minnesota Twins, sporting a 5-10 record that is tied with several other teams for least amount of victories thus far, are scrambling to find answers.

Of course, a major answer is currently on the disabled list, as star Joe Mauer has been felled by a debilitating viral infection. The Twins have also had to deal with a closer crisis, as Joe Nathan has already been demoted from the job after struggling in his return from Tommy John surgery. The team also has to withstand the loss of starting second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka is out over a month after breaking his leg. And then of course, Justin Morneau is still working his way back from a concussion that knocked out the last several months of 2010. Morneau is receiving his second straight day off Monday after playing in a doubleheader Saturday, so it's clear he isn't quite right yet.

That's a whole lot of bad luck for the Twinkies.

"We understand the importance of every game," GM Bill Smith said to the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune. "You can lose a division in April just as easily as you can lose it in September. You can win it in April just as easily as you can win it in September. We've got to right the ship, and we're going to get our guys back on track."

The problem with this is that the Twins have a thoroughly unexciting squad, even when Mauer and Nishioka return. The cost of trying to acquire "Twins" players is that the club is often left with punchless players who get by on grittiness and defense. (Or in case of the outfield, no defense and a solid offensive game but with glaring deficiencies.) Nick Punto personified this aspect for years as he hit .248/.323/.324 in 2,707 plate appearances over seven years. That works out to 387 PA a year, which is a ton of at-bats to get, and he had two years with more than 500.

Punto's moved on to St. Louis, but his legacy lives on as the lineup Sunday indicates. Matt Tolbert led off the game, with Alexi Casilla following. Skip the power spots and you have Danny Valencia as the starting third baseman, and although he was out of the lineup, Denard Span is the team's starting center fielder.

And the career batting lines of those named?

Tolbert (pictured) is 29 years old with a career line of .246/.304/.349 in just 474 plate appearances. Casilla, 26, has a career .246/.302/.323 line in 1,108 plate appearances, while Valencia is 26 as well and has an impressive .294/.346/.426 mark in 381 plate appearances. However, Valencia had a hot 2010 in a 322-PA stint and his minor-league totals from his time in Triple-A are markedly less impressive. Out of the names mentioned thus far, Valencia has the most capability of sticking in the lineup, but the lack of power in his bat limits his value. Lastly, Span is 27 and is rather promising and a more than viable leadoff hitter as his .290/.367/.394 career line in 1,854 PA boasts.

And those players are actually valued by the team.

Granted, Tolbert probably exits the lineup once Nishioka returns and his ceiling is a bit higher, but that's still an awful lot to compromise on offense -- and the fact Tolbert led off the game tells you everything you need to know about both the team's struggles and the fact that Tolbert was their best option with Span out of the lineup.

While the club has Jim Thome as a power bat, he is merely a part-time player as the Twins try to milk all they can out of Delmon Young who has yet to justify his hype. Minnesota also has Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer for the middle of the order, but Cuddyer is slipping and Kubel is trying to shake off a poor 2010.

No one's saying these Twins can't contend. After all, they're coming off back-to-back division titles. That said, the Twins have made several curious moves the past few years, ranging from acquiring Matt Capps despite his exorbitant salary and demoting Kevin Slowey from the rotation to the bullpen to start Nick Blackburn, a worse pitcher who somehow lucked into a lucrative contract extension. Speaking of the Capps acquisition, it forced the Twins to go cheap on the rest of the relief squad given the dollars tied up in Capps and Nathan. Going cheap on middle relief is actually not a bad thing at all, but the pitchers Minnesota chose are hardly exciting, and the bullpen is now an Achilles' heel given Nathan's poor performance.

Although the Twins still have a good ballclub and will contend for the division before it's all said and done, this is a team thin on depth and power. For Minnesota to contend, the saving grace will have to come from the rotation which has an impressive blend of starters. In addition, Slowey could always return to the rotation and top prospect Kyle Gibson should make his debut by season's end.

Unfortunately, the rotation may not be enough to overcome the White Sox or Tigers in 2011.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com