© 2007 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

10/01/07 10:00 AM ET

Twins lose focus on fundamentals

Minnesota puts together first losing season since 2000

MINNEAPOLIS -- Ask anyone around baseball what the most fundamentally sound team has been over the last decade, and many would say the Twins.

Those fundamentals were a key part of the club's ability to pull off division titles in four of five seasons between 2002 and 2006.

So what happens when the fundamentals suddenly don't come so easy?

For the 2007 Twins, the answer is a third-place finish in the American League Central and the club's first losing season since 2000. And according to manager Ron Gardenhire, plenty of frustration along the way.

"Our coaching staff, we take a lot of pride in the little things, and it's disappointing when we aren't getting those things done," Gardenhire said. "We talk about it all the time and then to see it not working on the field, you have to go back to the old playbook and try to redraw things up. We have to see what we can do better next spring to prepare ourselves and make sure that we don't see that stuff again."

Moving runners over, executing sacrifice bunts, and driving runs in with fewer than two outs are among the things that the Twins struggled to do in '07. And all of those things added up to missed opportunities.

"In the end, when you lose a game by one or two runs, you can look back at earlier innings and see where you had a chance to get one in and you couldn't do it," Gardenhire said. "That's why you lose games. And that's what we haven't done well at all this year."

Part of the reason the Twins struggled to get the little things done was injuries, which plagued the club all season and made it difficult to put a consistent lineup on the field, especially when it came to the middle of the order.

Joe Mauer missed more than 40 games due to lingering leg injuries and was never really able to be fully healthy. Justin Morneau was sidelined for a stretch with a bruised lung, and Michael Cuddyer also missed time with a bruised back and a sprained thumb. The Twins also were without their expected starting left fielder, Rondell White, who was injured just three games into the season.

"Sometimes the difference between great seasons and a season where you struggle is the health of your team," backup catcher Mike Redmond said. "It seems like we were battling from the start with guys' injuries, and we never had the lineup out there that we assumed was going to play all year."

It was that type of inconsistency that made it difficult for the Twins to put together any sort of stretch run in '07. Their longest winning streak of the year was five games -- a far cry from the club's previous season, when the Twins won 20 of 22 games.

"We had signs of life, but any time it seemed like we got something going, it turned around quick and the slump lasted longer than the good times," closer Joe Nathan said.

Offensively, there are a lot of holes that the club will have to address this offseason. Third base and DH remain two spots for which the Twins have yet to find a permanent solution. Left field has been largely unsettled and second base remains a question mark, as well.

But the problem for the Twins is that their question marks aren't about to disappear at the start of the offseason. Instead, they just seem to multiply.

Torii Hunter is set to be a free agent at the season's end, and it's unclear whether the Twins will be able to offer a deal long enough to keep the center fielder in Minnesota. Indications are that Hunter is seeking a five- or six-year deal, and Hunter turned down the initial offer from the Twins for three years, $45 million.

"You take Torii out of our center field, I guarantee that's as big a hole as you can make on our baseball team right now," Gardenhire said. "He's been around here a long time and we've taken him for granted for a long time. We obviously all want him here. It's going to be interesting to see how everything breaks down."

Right-hander Carlos Silva is also a free agent, which could create another opening in what is already a very young pitching staff.

7/28, MIN 3, CLE 2 --Tyner's first homer
Jason Tyner hits his first career homer to end the longest homerless streak in the Majors.
Highlights: 400K
8/19, MIN 1, TEX 0 --Santana fans 17
Johan Santana set a new club record by striking out 17 Rangers in a pitching duel.
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8/28, CLE 6, MIN 5 --Punto's barehanded gem
Nick Punto didn't need a glove to make a remarkable play behind second base.
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8/28, CLE 6, MIN 5 --Hunter's daredevil act
Torii Hunter gets up close and personal with the wall while making a stunning catch.
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9/17, MIN 5, TEX 4 --Bartlett's game-winning popup
Jason Bartlett reaches base on an error and wins it for the Twins at the Metrodome.
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The bigger issues for the Twins might be the ones that aren't directly related to next season. Ace Johan Santana has just one more year on his contract. He's made it clear that the team will have a better chance at re-signing him the sooner it acts. And there has been talk around the league that perhaps the best move for the Twins might be to trade Santana this offseason if the club can't secure an extension.

The team also has yet to lock up long-term deals with Morneau and Cuddyer, both arbitration-eligible players. Nathan also has an option for the 2008 season, but his future is just as uncertain.

All of these contractual issues will have to be addressed with a newly restructured front office. General manager Terry Ryan stepped down at the end of the '07 season after 13 years at the helm. Now, the task will be left up to new GM Bill Smith to finagle all the financial decisions.

"We certainly have some big issues," Smith said. "Torii Hunter is a big issue, Carlos Silva is a big issue and we have got some holes to fill. We'll spend the next couple of weeks getting people together and starting to evaluate what we have coming up through the system and what's available. Then we'll have some important decisions to make."

The Twins players head into this offseason with a lot of uncertainty as to how the club might look in 2008. Off-the-field decisions aren't something the players can control, but knowing how they were unable to do the little things this season adds a little extra motivation to make sure that next year is a better one.

"There are a lot of things to work on this offseason for a lot of guys," Redmond said. "I think, in a way, it will be good. Guys will remain hungry and know that they have to improve. Hopefully, we'll all come in hungry and be ready to go for '08."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.