At the time I was to begin writing this the Minnesota Twins were in first place in the AL Central and had a 6-0 lead on the Seattle Mariners. I promptly fell asleep on the couch and then dragged myself to bed. When I awoke this morning I found that the Twins had blown their lead and lost 11-6 and that put them 1 game back on the loss column from the Chicago White Sox. This post seemed to lose some flavor, but still the point remains a true one: Ron Gardenhire is completely unappreciated.
Gardenhire began his tenure behind the proverbial eight ball to being with. He was replacing Tom Kelly, a legend in the Twin Cities. Tom led the Twins to two World Series Titles in ’87 and ’93. Just looking at his baseball card you would say, “Now there look’s like a nice guy.” He was, and he was a great manager to boot. Then along came Ron: a somewhat rotund, goateed man that had been with the Twins since 1991, but was no TK. His managerial style was a contrast to Kelly’s also. He often gets in umpire’s faces, and if necessary, his players. When he took over the job in 2002 when there were rumors of the Twins being relocated or contracted. He led them to 94 wins and the division title despite having his leadership questioned during the season. He has followed with 3 more division titles since then and although the team has yet to reach the ALCS under him, he was been able to do more with less than any other team save the Marlins or the Billy Beane A’s of since the turn of the century. He has amassed a 534-437 record during his time in Minnesota under the marshmallow roof of the Metrodome, a building that is long overdue for a shot on the six o’clock news getting imploded. He may get a tip of the cap in Minnesota, but his name is rarely spoken of in the national limelight.
This year perhaps is the most impressive campaign Gardenhire has put forth. The Twins are in the thick of the division race and also the Wild Card. They are 39-21 at home and only 6 games under .500 on the road and in this year of baseball, that’s respectable. They have done their damage against their own division while having a pitiful 7-15 mark against the East and 7-10 versus the West. On offense they have many players with ok numbers, but none who blow your socks off save one. Justin Morneau, if the name sounds familiar its because he won the Home Run Derby, although everyone will remember Josh Hamilton’s unbelievable round. He also scored the winning run in the All-Star Game and has played in all 112 games this season. He leads the Twins with a .313 average, 18 homers, and 87 RBI. He is the heartbeat of the team simply put. The pitching has been not incredibly impressive. Livan Hernadez had the most wins of any starter at 10, but he was recently cut after his stuff began giving out and he was getting shelled. It also helped that Francisco Lariano returned with a healthy arm and looked impressive in his first start. The real strength of the Twins has been the bullpen, headlined by Joe Nathan. Nathan is 30 of 32 in save opportunities this year.
All this is being done after losing perhaps the best pitcher in the American league in Johan Santanna and the dynamic centerfielder Torrie Hunter in the off-season. Whatever will Gardenhire has instilled in these young players, it is working. Take any small market team that is winning with young talent, and the manager will play a big part in directing the talent and cultivating a winning attitude. Gardenhire ahs done that from day one, and it may lead to yet another post-season berth for the Twins.