MLB Betting: What Does Nathan's Injury Mean to Twins?
by Matt Severance - 3/10/2010
If you root for any small-market baseball team, you almost have to feel sorry for the Minnesota Twins already in 2010. The Twins are opening the new Target Field this season and were able to actually spend a few dollars this offseason (upping their payroll to $96 million) in acquiring J.J. Hardy from Milwaukee to play shortstop, signing free agent Orlando Cabrera to fill a hole at second base and Jim Thome to be a backup DH and power lefty hitter off the bench.
Everything looked good for the always-overachieving Twins to win the AL Central this season – they’ve been in one-game playoffs for the division the past two years, going 1-1 -- and actually put up a good showing in the playoffs. Shoot, an outdoor World Series in the Twin Cities (might that be cold?) was even a possibility.
All that optimism has pretty much disappeared with the likely season-ending injury to star closer Joe Nathan. It’s Nathan, not the Yankees’ Mariano Rivera, who has been the game’s best closer since coming to the Twins before the 2004 season. Nathan’s numbers in that stretch are astounding: 246 saves (No. 1 in MLB), batting average allowed (.182, also tops in baseball), save percentage (90.8, second in MLB) and ERA (1.87, second). Since his arrival, the Twins have led the majors with a bullpen ERA of 3.60. Last year Nathan had a team-record 47 saves, but the huge workload seemed to show in the ALDS against the Yankees when he was hit hard – including allowing a tying two-run homer in the ninth inning of Game 2 to Alex Rodriguez.
Nathan, who underwent some offseason cleanup elbow surgery, left Saturday’s spring game with right elbow tightness, and an MRI this week confirmed the worst: a "significant tear" to the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. While Nathan will take a few weeks to rest and rehab, it’s all but a foregone conclusion that Tommy John surgery is coming and that Nathan is done for 2010 and possibly part of 2011 as well. His career might be over because he is 35.
The Twins’ futures really haven’t changed yet, as they remain the +130 AL Central favorites on WagerWeb. But look for them to certainly move some once the season-ending surgery is official. I would now call Minnesota the No. 2 option behind the White Sox (currently +185 to win the division) but slightly ahead of the Tigers (+225) in the division. Nathan is as important to the Twins as Joe Mauer or Justin Morneau is.
It would appear that Jon Rauch would have the lead to replace Nathan, as Rauch converted 17-of-22 save opportunities and posted a 2.98 ERA for Washington in 2008. He was 5-1 with a 1.72 ERA in a non-closing role with the Twins last year after he was picked up near the trade deadline. Matt Guerrier, who was 5-1 with a 2.36 ERA and 0.97 WHIP as a set-up man last year also may get a look. Jesse Crain (7-4, 4.70 ERA in 2009) probably throws harder than any other current Twins reliever and had 42 saves in his minor-league days. And finally there’s Pat Neshek, who had 82 saves in the minors but is coming off his own Tommy John surgery.
But I also would caution you about totally bailing on the Twins now. Closers can come out of nowhere to be successful. Look at Andrew Bailey (A’s), David Aardsma (Mariners) and Heath Bell (Padres) last year. In addition, these Twins have the prospects and might have the money to add payroll and trade for a Bell, Kerry Wood from the Indians or Jason Frasor from the Blue Jays, among a few other candidates. Plus, Minnesota still has what should be the best lineup and defense of the three contenders in the AL Central.
Long story short: Don’t do anything right now when it comes to futures division odds. See how Rauch, or whomever, looks this spring. Maybe a miracle will happen and Nathan pitches. But at a minimum this will cost the Twins at least a handful of game this season, so you might want to re-evaluate those ‘over/under’ win totals (some sites have taken the Twins off the board for now).
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