Less than 24 hours after a gut-wrenching 23-20 loss to a beatable Peyton Manning Broncos team in Denver, coach Mike Zimmer was asked to assess his gut instincts on his football team as it takes a 2-2 record into its bye week.
There was a long pause and then …
“Well, I like this football team,” Zimmer said during his Monday press conference a short while ago. “I think they work real hard. We have to get better. There’s no question. I think the teams that we played, three out of the four were playoff teams last year. The last team we played was 23-2 or something at home over the last two years. But I’m not happy with where we’re at, no.
“I think we have a chance to be a good football team. And if we ever do put it all together, we could be a really good football team. But that’s a lot of ifs and injuries and all kinds of things. But there’s a lot of football left to be played.”
The Vikings are 2-0 and home and 0-2 on the road, including a 20-3 season-opening loss to the 49ers that is becoming more embarrassing with each thumping that the now-1-3 49ers have absorbed since that convincing win over the Vikings.
With his road record as a head coach standing at 2-8 (as opposed to 7-3 at home), Zimmer was asked what needs to happen to get over the hump on the road.
“We have to execute better,” he said. “Sometimes with this team, it seems like when we get in big games everyone wants to make a play instead of, ‘Hey, look here, this is my job. I’m going to do my job.’ So that’s just something I’m going to have to continue to figure out.
“But it’s not like they spit the bit. They want to do good. They want to impress. They want to be with all the elite teams in the league. I think every time we get in these situations and we’re able to teach and we’re able to coach and we’re able to fight back like we did in that ballgame [Sunday], I think these are all great learning experiences with a young football team. And at some point in time, we’re going to get over the hump.”
Let’s start Monday with an impossible question because impossible questions make for good debates. It’s a question that’s been rattling around in my head for a while, so indulge me:
What are some things that Twins manager Paul Molitor did this season in his first year on the job that Ron Gardenhire probably would not have done?
Now, I say probably because this is the impossible part: nobody knows how Ron Gardenhire would have managed the 2015 Twins. We do know that Molitor won 13 more games than Gardenhire did in any of the previous four seasons, but we also know the 2014 Twins were at least looking far less hopeless than their three predecessors and that Molitor had more talent to work with this season than Gardy did from 2011-14.
So this is based on speculation and tendencies. Here are my conclusions of five things Molitor did this year that Gardenhire probably wouldn’t have done. (Thanks for the help from Twitter, too, which was hilarious even when not being helpful).
*Handling of Glen Perkins: Perkins was lights-out before the All-Star break (1.21 ER), but post-break he struggled with injury, command and (it seemed) confidence as a result of those first two (and it added up to a bloated 7.32 ERA). He only had four saves after the break, and none after Sept. 1. Molitor started using Kevin Jepsen to save games when Perkins was injured, and he kept him in that role even when Perkins was healthy. It’s hard for me to imagine Gardenhire doing the same thing; Jepsen proved effective in that role through the end of the year.
*Handling of Trevor May: May was a decent starter for the first half of the season before the Twins, primarily out of need, moved him to the bullpen in early July. Long-term, May likely projects as a starting pitcher (or at least will get that chance). But he thrived as a reliever, adding velocity to his fastball and posting a 2.87 ERA out of the bullpen as opposed to 4.43 as a starter. Maybe that was more of a Neil Allen move, or at least a move made in tandem. But I can’t imagine Gardy and/or Rick Anderson taking a young starter who had at least shown signs of being effective and moving him into the bullpen at that juncture of the season..
*Defensive shifts: Molitor is a big proponent of defensive shifts, which have been proven over time to save teams from giving up hits (at least until batters learn how to more consistently counter-attack them). The Twins used them subtly and obviously this year, to their advantage — and far more than they did a year ago.
*Pinch hitting for Buxton: Molitor pinch hit for prospect Byron Buxton on multiple occasions, most notably in late August when he used Chris Herrmann in that role. The merits of the move are certainly questionable; it’s tough for me to imagine Gardy doing it, for better or worse, based on the notion of not damaging Buxton’s confidence.
*Lineup creativity: Molitor used 124 different starting lineups this season. That might sound like a lot, but Gardenhire actually used more (132) last season. So it’s not so much quantity as the way Molitor went about structuring his lineup. With most key members of the lineup staying reasonably healthy this year, he was not afraid to shift guys around in the order to try to take advantage of matchups. It’s hard to quantify, but it felt like he was less averse than Gardenhire was at doing this. (And I certainly can’t imagine Gardenhire hitting a pitcher 8th in an NL park, as Molitor did several times).
Anything I’m missing? Your thoughts, please, in the comments.