The 2011 MLB season is nearing its end, and for Cleveland fans, the wait ’til next year is about more than just the Tribe—it’ll be several months before we get to see any other teams playing the Indians again.
This packed weekend (four games in 48 hours) is the penultimate series of the season for the Indians and the final homestand. It’s also the last time we’ll see one of our most familiar foes: the Minnesota Twins.
It’s been an extremely disappointing season for the Twins (60-95, 29.5 GB). The favorites to reclaim the AL Central title before the season, the Twinkies now have the worst record in the American League. Minnesota’s slide is a big part of how the Indians have managed to stick near the top of the division all year.
As the Indians get ready to take one final crack at their familiar foes (they’re 8-6 against them so far this year), I talked again to our very own Joshua Casey to get an expert’s take on the Twins’ collapse, the team’s offseason plans, and Joe Mauer’s future. Here’s what he had to say:
LEWIE POLLIS: The Twins’ dramatic collapse seems to have surprised everyone, given that they were preseason favorites to win the AL Central. Did you have any expectation that this would happen? At what point in the season did you realize it was more than just a slow start?
JOSHUA CASEY: At the beginning of the season with Mauer’s injury and all I didn’t really expect the Twins to win the AL Central, but then again I did expect them to at least compete for a playoff spot considering their roster. I think about halfway through the season I just knew that with all the injuries to the roster, the body language the team was giving off during every game, you just knew the season was over. I don’t know if it was something in the clubhouse, between staff and management or just a lack of talent but something was causing this lackluster play. Expect to see a lot of changes this offseason for the Twins.
LEWIE POLLIS: Who are your picks for the Twins’ 2011 MVPs and why?
JOSHUA CASEY: You know, usually each team has someone who played lights out the entire year and it wasn’t good enough to warrant a league MVP vote, but they did play considerably well under the radar so to speak. But in my opinion I don’t think there was anyone that fit that profile for the Twins this season. Every time someone got going this year for the Twins they either got hurt or just hit a huge slump. Especially with the expectations the Twins had this year I just think that no one really deserves a team MVP vote, they all played pretty bad.
LEWIE POLLIS: What should we expect to happen in Minnesota this winter? Will the Twins make any big moves, and if so, will they be buyers or sellers?
JOSHUA CASEY: I think there is going to be a plethora of moves for the Twins this season ,but not the type that fans are going to like. I fully expect Ron Gardenhire gone after this season. I also expect there to be a huge overhaul on the roster with a number of established veterans either released or traded in hopes that this team will be built for the future Management and especially GM Bill Smith want to build this team up to be competitive down the road. Now although this might not be appealing to fans who want a team that can win a World Series right away, if they can just hold out for a few seasons, the Twins might be able to put together a powerhouse of a team that will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.
LEWIE POLLIS: At age 27 this should have been Joe Mauer’s peak, but instead it’s been arguably the worst season of his career. Are you concerned that he’s already in his decline? When do you think he’ll move away from catcher, and where would he be moved?
JOSHUA CASEY: I feel that this season Joe has been really hurt by his injuries. First he has to have surgery for a rather odd leg injury, then he comes back and tries to play but his injury is still naggin him so he has to be put back on the disabled list. Then right when it seems like Mauer is coming back from his injury he develops pneumonia and is ruled out for the season.
To say that Mauer has a had an unusual season is a major understatement. I don’t think that he’s really in decline but rather he rished himself back from injury when he should have just taken the entire season off to recover and be healthy for next season. Although I would like to see Mauer moved from catcher to first base so his body could go through a little less of the daily rigors of being a catcher, I do not believe this will happen. The Twins ownership and management alike are not happy with the idea of Mauer playing first base and are determined to keep Mauer at catcher.
LEWIE POLLIS: We’ve seen the Twins’ first three probable starters (Carl Pavano, Scott Diamond, Francisco Liriano) a combined eight times already this year, so we don’t need scouting reports on them. Instead, tell us about a couple young Twins players or prospects whose names Tribe fans should get to know.
JOSHUA CASEY: I think a few names who will be big for the Twins in years to come are the young pitchers that they now have on their roster. Guys like Scott Diamond, who as you mentioned is pitching for the Twins in this upcoming series. Another guy to look out for down the road is the Twins top prospect Kyle Gibson. Although Gibson did have Tommy John surgery he is still fully capable of making a return to the minors and working his way up to the majors, although it may take a few years.
Another pitcher to watch out for next season is RHP Alex Wimmers. His stuff is really underrated at the minor league level and he should be in the bullpen, at the very least, next season if not the starting rotation. The Twins best positional player that is stocked away in the minors is 3B Miguel Sano. Sano has some pretty raw stuff but he is enormously powerful, young and has potential through the roof.
LEWIE POLLIS: What’s your prediction for the series?
JOSHUA CASEY: Indians sweep.