Last night I was able to take in a Minnesota Twins’ game live for the first time this season and I came away with one thought in mind: Ron Gardenhire is sure making it tough for me to defend him with the managerial moves he is continually making. Last week I came out with an article that, in essence, supported Gardenhire and stated that firing him would change nothing. To access this article, simply click here. Based on that article, I believed that Gardenhire hadn’t lost his ability to manage and that the Twins should give their manager some slack as the team endures a rebuilding process; but as the game unfolded last night, a situation in the eighth inning has made me question my initial premise.
With the game tied at two last night, up stepped Trevor Plouffe with nobody out and runners on first and second base. Plouffe was hitting second in the batting order last night—which in itself was a huge mistake—and was put into a great position to drive some runs in, which was the reason that Gardenhire reportedly placed him there to begin with. With the Twins only needing one run to break the tie and Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau waiting in the wings, Plouffe was in an obvious bunting situation. Brian Dozier had failed to successfully bunt over Pedro Florimon the at-bat before, but was bailed out by a Nick Swisher error which allowed Dozier to reach first safely setting up the Plouffe at-bat.
It is no secret that Plouffe is not a good bunter; but during his at-bat, which lasted all of two pitches, Plouffe didn’t even attempt to bunt once. This obviously is Gardenhire’s call and fault for not sending in the sign to have Plouffe bunt and it should have cost the Twins the game last night if not for Mauer’s clutch RBI single. Such a managerial mishap has been a hallmark for Gardenhire this season and it is for that reason that it is becoming increasingly difficult for me to support him and defend his credibility as a manager; but as I got to thinking more about the situation, I came to an additional conclusion that goes even deeper than the Gardenhire mishap: Gardenhire doesn’t have enough players on the team who can bunt.
The players on the roster who can be considered competent bunters would be Jamey Carroll, Pedro Florimon, Clete Thomas, Aaron Hicks and Dozier. Thomas and Hicks have proven that they are most effective as bottom-of-the-order hitters, Dozier currently bats leadoff and Carroll is not an everyday player. With that being said, having Plouffe bat second in the order still makes little sense because it seems as if Dozier would be a better fit as a number two hitter. It’s possible that Carroll could be an effective number two hitter, but that would likely come at the expense of Plouffe—or one of the other “competent bunters”—sitting.
Ultimately, Plouffe belongs in the middle of the order and the Twins need to have more players who are more fundamentally sound and can play station-to-station baseball. Part of that is Gardenhire’s fault for not placing the players he has in the right spots in the order to be successful, but part of the blame also falls on Twins’ management for not giving Gardenhire enough flexibility to place players in different spots in the order to play effective station-to-station baseball. The Twins used to be very effective under Gardenhire at playing solid fundamental, station-to-station baseball during the years of the “Piranhas”, but the team also had significantly more talent during that time as well; nevertheless, there is plenty of blame to go around.
There are no excuses for Gardenhire not at least attempting to bunt with Plouffe out of the two spot and there are no excuses for his inability to successfully manage the game to get runners in scoring position, but let’s not forget that there still is a talent deficiency on this roster which does handicap Gardenhire’s ability to manage slightly. However, at the end of the day, it starts and ends with Gardenhire and if he plans on keeping his job and getting the most out of the team he has been given, he needs to get back to the basics of managing.
99 percent of the fans knew the Twins’ should have bunted in the eighth inning last night; the fact that Gardenhire didn’t seem to know, worries me.