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August 22, 2010 at 10:06 pm ET
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A B&C Interview with Nick’s Twins Blog author Nick Nelson

There are some solid Twins blogs out there, and one that I’ve been been fond of over the years has been Nick’s Twins Blog, run by Nick Nelson out of Minneapolis. So fond, in fact, I thought I’d toss him some questions with regard to Minnesota’s current club, and he did not disappoint.

Not that it’s a mystery, because the man’s blog is part of the SweetSpot Network affiliated with ESPN. His latest, a spot-on take of Ken Rosenthal’s misguided Delmon Young, MVP candidate article further demonstrates why the mothership brought him into the fold.

In an email Q&A response from last Friday,¬†Nelson touched on the Twins/White Sox rivalry, Minnesota’s success sans Johnny Canuck the past two years, the¬†fervor of Thome at-bat’s, whether Target Field will impact the Twins like Jacobs Field did Cleveland, and what it could be like if Ozzie Guillen ever skippered the piranhas.

To you, the loyal and learned B&C reader, we proudly present Nick Nelson:

Maybe it wasn’t just the Teflon Confines. The Twins are 10-5 overall against
the White Sox this season, 6-3 at Target Field, and are 22-11 against the South Siders over past two years. In such a bitter rivalry that seems so nip-and-tuck, what has set Minnesota apart from its arch-nemesis?

Fans have accused the Twins of letting up or cowering when facing the Yankees in recent years, but their success against the White Sox (which is more important, in regular season play) tends to get overlooked. The Sox were notoriously hopeless in the Metrodome and don’t seem to enjoy playing at the new park much either. It’s hard to explain the Twins’ dominance over
the Sox as of late, but I’m hardly complaining.

Where would the Twins be without Carl Pavano, and how much Cy consideration
will The ‘Stache garner?

Cy consideration? Probably not much, especially after his latest dud
performance against the White Sox. But Pavano’s ability to reliably eat
innings for the Twins has been invaluable, especially since their other
ace-caliber starter (Francisco Liriano) has struggled at times to last deep
into games.

Since July 20, Kevin Slowey has pitched into the sixth in each of his five
turns, and has completed at least seven in each of his past three starts,
which included seven no-hit frames against Oakland his last time out,
Francisco Liriano is third in the league in strikeouts and of course Pavano
has been fantastic, second in the league in wins and third for ERA, but if
the season ended today, how would Minnesota’s rotation match-up with New
York
, Tampa and Texas?

That Slowey had a tough time early in the season shouldn’t come as any huge
surprise; he underwent significant wrist surgery on his pitching hand last
year, so there was an adjustment period and his command was understandably
shaky early on. Recently, Slowey has settled in and started to look much
more like the 2008 version, though his hittable stuff still doesn’t match up
well against power-laden lineups like the ones you mentioned. The Twins
would have to feel pretty good about sending Liriano and Pavano out for the
first two games of a postseason series, but the other starters still have
much to prove in the remaining weeks of the season.

Jon Rauch began the season in strong fashion but wilted, which led to the
acquisition of Matt Capps, who has been up and down. What do you think are
the chances that Jesse Crain, who has only allowed three earned runs since
May 20, a span of 39 appearances, is closing by season’s end?

Very, very low. The Twins gave up a valuable asset at the deadline to bring
in a proven closer in Capps, so the job is his unless he completely
unravels. Crain has entrenched himself as the team’s top set-up man,
however.

It has been truly astonishing, almost incomprehensible, but talk a bit about the success Minnesota has had without Justin Morneau in the line-up each of the past two years.

In each case, Morneau’s absence has been negated by another player stepping up in a big way. Last year, it was Michael Cuddyer, who took over at first base and went on an insane September tear to help carry the team to a postseason berth. This year, Morneau went down much earlier (the first week of July) but it’s been Jim Thome. The veteran slugger has assumed a more regular role with Morneau out and has thrived, posting a .990 OPS with seven
homers and 16 RBI in 24 games since Morneau went down.

Danny Valencia seems to have finally solidified the hot corner, but due to
health issues, it’s been difficult to get a read on J.J. Hardy moving
forward, and it is likely that Orlando Hudson won’t be back next season. How
do you see the Twins infield situated next year?

Hardy’s wrist is a problem that seemingly won’t go away, but he’s been a
valuable asset while on the field. He will almost certainly be back next
year (in fact, the Twins would be wise to extend a multi-year offer during
the offseason with his value down) and Valencia has all but locked up third
base. I’d love to see Hudson back, but he may not be affordable so it’d be
no surprise to see Alexi Casilla get another shot there.

Is it just me, or has every Jim Thome at-bat from the seventh inning on,
good or bad, been an absolute delight to witness this season?

Watching Thome has been an absolute delight. Much like with Brett Favre, we
in Minnesota have had the opportunity to watch an aging first-ballot Hall of
Famer at his absolute best. Thome might have lost a bit of bat speed, but
he’s still a tremendous force at the plate.

So much for a “down” year, Joe Mauer is third in the league for batting, and
it is not out of the realm of possibility that he could catch Josh Hamilton
for his fourth batting title. Do you think fans that are unable to watch
Mauer play day after day can truly appreciate how special he is behind the
plate?

Mauer’s struggles over the middle months were no illusion. He was hurting.
Hip and shoulder issues took their toll on him, both offensively and
defensively. Ron Gardenhire deserves a lot of credit for taking advantage of
a soft spot in the schedule to rest Mauer up, and now he’s tearing up the
league.

After five years of the dependable Mike Redmond in the back-up role, what
are your impressions of Drew Butera as the number two receiver?

I was no fan of Butera initially due to his pitcher-like offensive ability. Over time, however, I’ve come to appreciate his strengths. He calls a good game, he has a strong arm and his genuine passion for the sport makes him a joy to watch. He’s a fine back-up catcher, as long as he isn’t overexposed.

Has Delmon Young just scratched the surface?

Young had a tremendous hot streak in the middle of the season where he was seeing the ball better than ever before in his Twins career, but lately he’s cooled off considerably. I don’t think his bat could be referred to as elite yet and his miserable defense will always suppress his overall value to some degree, but Young is definitely blossoming as a hitter.

Talk about Denard Span’s strange season — raking at home (.319) while struggling monumentally on the road (.216), and though there is a 125-point difference in his home on-base percentage as compared to the road, the
Twins’ lead-off man has only scored two more runs (35) at Target Field than
in away games.

It’s tough to figure out the home/away split, but in general Span is
starting to look more like the fourth outfielder type that his minor-league
career profiled him as. His defense in center field has been sub par, he’s
seemingly forgotten how to take a walk, he rarely hits the ball hard, and
he’s been an absolute disaster on the base paths. I don’t think any Twins
player has been more frustrating this year than Denard Span (except maybe
Scott Baker).

Target Field is beautiful, but plays big, and though Twins Baseball always
equates to playing the game the right way, it is clear that pitching,
defense and speed are going to be critical at the new digs. Do you feel the
Twins should consider trading a run-producer like Jason Kubel to acquire a
better all-around player? One who is a superior defender, has more speed but
perhaps a little less pop?

Parting with Kubel might make sense right now, with Thome crushing the ball,
but the team will need to maintain their offensive edge in future seasons
and Kubel is a great hitter. I would be much more inclined to deal Michael
Cuddyer, if there’s interest.

Thanks to the new park, Minnesota trails only the Yankees and Angels for
league attendance. Do you feel that this park will have the same affect that
Jacobs Field did with an up-and-coming Indians team in the mid 1990s — come
to see the park, stay to watch a championship team — which in turn could
provide the Twins with a little wiggle room with regard to payroll beyond
this season, where they’re paying out nearly $100 million in wages?

That’s obviously the hope. We’ll see if it pans out that way. I will say
that we have a very loyal and supportive fan base here so I don’t think
attendance numbers are going to drop off any time soon.

Fun and hypothetical here, but long-time Brooklyn manager Leo Durocher managed the New York baseball Giants to a pennant in 1951 and championship in ’54, so stranger things have happened. How much fun would it be if Ozzie Guillen one day managed the Twins? How do you think Ozzie’s act would fly here in Minnesota?

I can’t possibly envision Guillen managing the Twins at any point. He’s just way too over-the-top to fit in with this organization. And I have no problem with that. As entertaining as Guillen’s hijinks are, I don’t think he’s a particularly great manager.

Should the Twins claim their sixth AL Central title in nine years, do they have the club in place to win their first post-season series since 2002?

No reason they can’t. They have two elite frontline starters heading the rotation, an offense that is easily one of the best in the league, and a quality bullpen. This club would not be overmatched against any postseason opponent.

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