Gardenhire doesn’t play with paper

June 30, 2008

by Stephen Wiblemo

I am a self-described Twins optimist.

I always have the highest hopes for my favorite Minnesota team, and I have unquestionable faith in any decisions made by manager Ron Gardenhire.

At the beginning of every season I tell myself, “this could be the year.”

Still, even though I hear myself say those words, deep in my heart, which pumps red and blue blood, I know the chances are slim.

Last January, during the Twins annual Winter Caravan, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Gardenhire and picking his brain about the upcoming 2008 season.

During my five-minute interview, I asked him several questions regarding things such as the young pitching staff that would be taking over the rotation, Johan Santana’s impending trade, and the recent acquisition of a young but untamed talent named Delmon Young.

The biggest question I had for Gardenhire, though, was how he felt his team’s chances were playing in, what was considered at the time, one of the toughest divisions in baseball.

His answer was more realistic than what I would have said: “I think we have a good chance of competing in our division. I know, on paper, it seems like Detroit and Cleveland are going to run away with it, but that is why we don’t play with paper.”

Well, as of Thursday, following a 9-3 win against the Padres, the Twins were on an 8-game winning streak, were six games over .500, and were just a half game behind the first-place White Sox.

Let me repeat that last part — the first-place White Sox.

What happened to this once mighty division?

Detroit, after a serious slump in the beginning of the season, are five games out of first and Cleveland have completely combusted, beating out lowly Kansas City for the cellar spot.

I guess Gardenhire was right, statistics and prospects that look good on paper still have to perform on the field. And, although the Twinkies didn’t look like a powerhouse, their recent surge could be taken as proof that pre-season analysts may have been wrong.

Since my interview with Gardenhire in January, time has answered my question even more satisfactorily than the Twins manager could have.

The young pitching staff, which has hit a few snags during the season, is starting to show the talent Gardenhire saw in them all along.

As of Friday, starters were 7-0 and had a 1.90 ERA over the last eight games.

The Santana trade, as painful as it was, brought us one of the most exciting players in baseball and a new fan favorite. Carlos Gomez has made Twins fans almost forget about the multiple Gold Glover that used to patrol center field.

And then, of course, young Mr. Young. Although he isn’t showing the power most people hoped he would, he still sports a .275 batting average, which isn’t too shabby.

His shaky play in the field and lack of home runs has left some fans disenchanted, but I’m not ready to give up on this youthful talent yet.

So, now, almost halfway through the season, the Twins are sitting in a position even Gardenhire wouldn’t have expected.

The key there, though, is that there is a little more than half of the season left, and as Gardenhire constantly likes to remind people, the race for a division title is a marathon, not a sprint.

Still, with the Twins running as hot as they are, and with the division in shambles, or at least not what people expected it to be, there is no reason why dedicated Twins fans shouldn’t have the playoffs in the back of their minds.

Maybe it’s just me, but I like to stay optimistic.