After losing 90+ games four seasons in a row, the Minnesota Twins are desperate for a winner – or at least some semblance of one.
While Minnesota is expected to struggle again this season, Brandon Tierney doesn’t believe the AL Central is as strong as some people think. So, who knows? Maybe the Twins can hang around for a few months and keep it interesting.
“Well, this time of year, optimism is great in every city in America,” former MLB pitcher and Twins TV analyst Jack Morris said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “Everybody thinks their team’s got a chance, and Minnesota’s no different. We’re sick and tired of the 90+ loss seasons. Our good friend, Ron Gardenhire, got fired over it. I’m not sure that was justified. But sometimes the manager and coaching staff has to take the bullet when teams don’t perform.”
Gardenhire, 57, coached the Twins from 1991 to 2001 and was manager from 2002 to 2014. He’s been replaced by Paul Molitor, a Saint Paul native who played the last three seasons of his career in Minnesota.
“Very excited and enthusiastic and looking forward to the challenge,” Morris said. “And yet, his challenge is large because he’s got to motivate a bunch of guys that haven’t won.”
If the Twins are to contend for anything this year, they need Joe Mauer to produce. It really is that simple. Mauer, 31, hit .277 with four home runs and 55 RBIs in 120 games last season. He’s missed 40+ games in three of the last four seasons.
“He is a base-hit kind of guy,” Morris said. “He’s a Molitor. He’s those kind of guys that can put the bat on the ball and get a base hit to left field. He hasn’t shown a lot of power – although he has power. And yet, I think his biggest issue is staying healthy. Joe’s had a track record of spending some time on the DL almost every year of his career. In order for him to put up great numbers and help the team the way everybody expects him to, he’s got to stay on the field almost every game and produce in a way that this organization has treated him to be – a superstar.”
Phil Hughes, meanwhile, will be asked to anchor the rotation one year after going 16-10 with a 3.52 ERA. He also finished with the best strikeout-to-walk ratio in MLB history, tallying 186 strikeouts to just 16 walks.
“Phil, I think, was a victim of New York City,” Morris said. “He was probably in the doghouse of their manager towards the end. Joe Girardi, I saw him use Phil for a couple innings. Whenever he got in trouble, there was a guy up in the bullpen. I think players – pitchers, in particular – start looking over their shoulder and expect the worst. And when he left New York and came to Minnesota, he was able to clear his mind and get back to the basics of what made him such a young prospect when he was with the Yankees. And he went out and had a great year for the Twins. He threw strikes, he threw the ball over the plate, he got his cutter working, he kept the ball up in the zone. But the bottom line is, he was never behind anybody. He just pounded the strike zone, and that’s a winning attitude if you can do it.”
Switching gears a bit, Morris was asked for his thoughts on Pete Rose. Specifically, should new commissioner Rob Manfred lift the lifetime ban on Rose? The disgraced great turns 74 on April 14.
“I’ll just say two things,” Morris said. “Pete Rose was a hitting machine. He’s the all-time hit king. You just have to ask him. He’ll tell you.”
That was a subtle dig at Rose, if you’re curious.
“With that being said, I think we live in a forgiving country,” Morris continued. “If you ask for forgiveness with sincerity, I think we live in a world that will do that. I’m still waiting for Pete to do that with sincerity. I’m not the guy to make that decision, thank God, because it’s a tough decision. But there’s no question Pete will be in the Hall of Fame. I just don’t know if (it’ll happen) while he’s still alive.”