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As Twins decline, Tigers are class of AL Central

August 29, 2011

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— These myths were borne of fact but grew up to become big, healthy cliches.

The Twins were the little entity that could, the team that played, as the saying goes, “the right way,” while the Detroit Tigers became the bad boys of the American League Central.

While the Twins’ superstar was a nice boy from St. Paul who hustled to first base and did milk commercials with Mom, the Tigers’ star became known for getting drunk, even during pennant races.

The Twins’ general managers worked their way up through the organization, thought of khakis as dress pants and remained loyal to their lieutenants. The Tigers’ gilded GM hopscotched around, working for owners with deep pockets, winning the least-celebrated World Series championship in baseball history with the Marlins in ’97, and making few friends along the way.

The Twins’ manager apprenticed for 14 years in the Twins’ organization before taking the helm. The Tigers’ manager, belying his blue-collar image, chased jobs and dollars all over the country.

Forced to patch their rosters together with athletic tape, the Twins frequently outperformed the Tigers, who spent big money on big names yet faded almost every summer.

The Twins personified gumption and stability; the Tigers symbolized unearned arrogance.

Until this season, those stereotypes seemed to have the shelf life of Spam. Now they’ve expired.

The “Twins Way” now means missing cutoff men and botching double plays, while the Tigers are deft up the middle, from catcher to center field.

Joe Mauer, the Twins’ star, has angered members of the organization from clubhouse to front office by displaying a reluctance to play with pain or catch regularly in the first year of an eight-year, $184 million contract.

While he plays a less demanding position, the Tigers’ sometimes troublesome star, Miguel Cabrera, is on pace to play in 157 games or more for the eighth consecutive season.

The Twins’ recent general managers, Terry Ryan and Bill Smith, top an organization that has faltered on the field, in the training room and throughout the minor leagues. The Tigers’ GM, Dave Dombrowski, heads an organization that is running away with the division while spending less than the Twins did this year, and while displaying better young talent.

Ron Gardenhire, the Twins’ manager, could finish in last place for the first time in his career, and has never made it to a World Series. Jim Leyland has won a World Series and taken the Tigers to another.

The Twins are spending about $115 million on a hot mess of a roster that lacks an ace, a healthy star, depth or a healthy and reliable closer. The Tigers are spending about $106 million on a roster that features a possible Cy Young winner (Justin Verlander), two long-shot MVP candidates (Cabrera and durable catcher Alex Avila) and a closer who has yet to blow a save this season (the always entertaining Jose Valverde.)

Considering that the Twins still employ two former MVPs, the biggest difference between the rosters is major league-ready young talent, and top-end pitching. Verlander is the ace the Twins wanted Francisco Liriano to be.

Minnesota’s former strengths, such as fundamentals and player development, have become weaknesses, while the Tigers have emerged as talented and smart enough to make the celebrated Twins-White Sox rivalry an annual competition for a consolation prize.

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