Posted on: August 7, 2010 10:48 am

The Dog Days of August

The All-Star break has come and gone. Twins starters have righted the ship, sporting a record of 13-2 since the break. Instead of Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano carrying the load, pitchers Kevin Slowey, Scott Baker, and newcomer Brian Duensing have started to get involved. The Twins have gone from 4 games out to 1 1/2 as the White Sox just keep winning, too.

But the Tigers appear to be ready to call it quits. The loss of Magglio Ordonez seems to have shut this team down completely. The rookie Brennan Boesch slumped and the team went cold. Detroit never really had the starting pitching necessary to stay in the race. Justin Verlander ahs been the only semi-reliable starter. Armando Galarraga and Rick Porcello just are not ready for prime-time.

Chicago presents a problem for Minnesota. They have better pitching and a coach in Ozzie Guillen that has them firing on all cylinders. Juan Pierre has added speed, swiping 40 bases already this season. Throw in Alex Rios' resurrection, an All-Star type year from Paul Konerko, and then contributions from role players like Gordon Beckham, Alexei Ramirez, and others and you have a good team.

The Twins are in the middle of a 10 game road trip, with two more games in Cleveland and then three in Chicago. They are 2-3 so far, having split with the Rays and losing last night to the Indians in a wild 7-6 loss.  Meanwhile the White Sox are facing the Orioles in Baltimore before their return trip tp Chicago for the battle with Minnesota. Chicago lost 2-1 to the birds, thanks to an Adam Jones game winning hit in the 10th inning.

The series in Chicago will be important. Given how close the two teams are, and this being the beginnings of August. last year the Twins rallied from five games back late in the year. This year they have a much more powerful batting order, thanks to the emergence of Delmon Young. He seems to have found his 'mojo', moving up to 5th in the league in hitting, and closing in on the RBI leaders as well, despite hitting 7th in the order most of the year.

But the Twins have received help from everyone at times, maybe most notable is the play of AAA call-ups during an injury filled season. No less than the entire infield has been out at times, and guys like Alexi Casilla, Wilson Ramos, Jason Repko, Drew Butera, Trevor Plouffe, and Danny Valencia have been major role players at different times. Valencia seems to have won the 3rd base position with his defense and hitting, though Nick Punto has been out and might platoon in the near future. Butera, besides becoming Pavano's permanent catcher, has taken over for an ailing Mauer and delivered in all facets of the game.

A lot of season left. But this is August, where you cannot win the division, but you certainly can lose it. Just ask Detroit.

Category: MLB
Posted on: June 20, 2010 10:13 pm

Twins take back their manhood.

The Braves hurt us, squeezing out a series at Target Field. The Rockies were next, and while we won two games to one, Ubaldo Jimenez closed the door to the point of futility. The Detroit Tigers were laughing it up against the bottom feeders of MLB, and suddenly a 4 1/2 game lead was whittled to 1 1/2 heading to a series against the Phillies, whom had just taken a series from the Yankees in New York. The Tigers were to play the Diamondbacks for yet another home series. Like Mutual of Omaha, we went to Citizen's Park to tackle the alligator while Marlon (Detroit) investigated the humming bird.

After Friday night, and the debacle of a start by Nick Blackburn, the lead was down to a 1/2 game. The baseball was flying out of Philly, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard were warming up, and Kevin Slowey and Carl Pavano were to face Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay, respectively. Nothing looked good. After giving up eight runs in two innings, Slowey was gone, a 3-0 Twins lead was turned into an 8-3 deficit. The AL Central lead appeared to be slipping away for the first time in months.

And then, Minnesota decided it wanted to keep its' manhood. An incredible comeback on Saturday resutled in an extra-inning 13-10 win. Drew Butera hit a pinch homer, Manship was called up from AAA and delivered. Delmon Young was on fire. Jim Thome homered in front of his old friends, and Joe Mauer capped a five run 9th ining comeback with a rare 2010 homer. Jon Rauch got the win, after blowing a save in the 10th. The Tigers lost and suddenly the AL Central lead was safe for the weekend.

Well then, Sunday turned out even better. Halladay entered the game 8-1 lifetime vs. the Twins, but Minnesota banged out 11 hits and the win. Carl Pavano pitched a complete game, surrendering only a solo homerun to the light-hitting Valdez. What looked like a bleak run of games on the road has turned into a wake up call to arms, or a return to manhood.

And the Twins have earned their manhood back.

Posted on: August 26, 2009 1:28 pm

Never Say Never .. Again.

August 26th.

Bite my tongue. The Minnesota Twins have decided not to roll over. Sure the loss of Kevin Slowey and Francisco Liriano hurt, and with Nick Blackburn slumping, things looked bleak. But the 2009 Twins are all about offense, and this resurgence is credited to them. Carl Pavano has been a welcome addition, and certainly the pitching of Jose Mijares and Jesse Crain has been paramount. But Delmon Young's 2nd half improvement, contributions from the bottom of the order in Brendan Harris, Carlos Gomez, Nick Punto and Alexi Casilla, and steady offense from Denard Span, Orlando Cabrera, Michael Cuddyer and Joe Mauer have ignited a push that has us a mere 4 games out with many games remaining. If Jason Kubel and Justin Morneau provide anything like their first halfs, we will make an exciting run for the division title in 2009.

On the down side, Joe Crede appears to be the fragile player the White Sox let go. he can provide power, but we have had to turn to more Punto and Harris due to injuries. Our starting pitching is now relying on Brian Duensing and some rookie name Gabino? This will not do. Bobby Keppel has had to pitch a few long reliefs, and will be overworked by the season's end. Isn't there another Pavano type who can come aboard through waivers? Really anyone would be nice. If 2 starters were found who could pitch 5 innings and not give up 5 runs, we might be OK. Blackburn recently had a solid performance, and we are all hopeful he gets better. He was very good early this season. Scott Baker is pitching like the ace he is, but cannot do it alone.

So hope is anew, again. We are 63-63 and thinking the Tigers are catchable. With 36 games remaining, it would seem 23-13 would be the minimum effort need to surpass Detroit. That is nearly .700 baseball. Or maybe a complete collapse on the part of the Tigers. That is possible as well.

Go Twins.
Category: MLB
Posted on: July 16, 2009 1:07 pm

Minnesota Twins Mid-Season Report

Here it is, the end of the All-Star break and a return to the baseball season. The AL Central has had its' detractors, and presently the Detroit Tigers are leading both the White Sox and the Twins by a handful of games. Detroit will begin the 2nd half in New York, while Chicago begins with the Orioles at home. The Twins will travel to Texas for a warm series before facing the White Sox in a crucial series. Still, it is a little early to think any one set of games is vital in July.

These three teams have emerged as the contenders from the pack of five. The Cleveland Indians have tanked from the get-go, with a lack of good starting pitching, bullpen support, and any resemblance of consistent hitting. Having Grady Sizemore hurt and/or not playing well has impacted this club. The Royals started fast and then faded. It would not be outside the realm of possibilities to see them make a run in the late season, as they seem better equipped at this point than the Indians, and none of the three teams above has been projected to run away with the division.

Minnesota has begun to solidify a starting lineup...

Outfielder Denard Span has been cemented in the leadoff spot. He is hitting .292 at the break in just over 70 games. He is tied for the team lead with 50 runs. His .381 OBP is 4th on the team.

Infielder Brendan Harris has gotten hot, and has held the 2-spot for a week or two. The recent call up of Casilla suggests this spot is not permanent, though Harris has performed better than the others from this position in the batting order. He is batting .275 on the season, but his strikeout ratio (56 in 273 ABs) is a little high for Harris to be considered secure. Harris can play 2nd, shortstop, or third depending on who starts.

Catcher Joe Mauer is batting third, and has the highest batting average in MLB. At over .370, he has been phenomenal since his late start from injury. the only criticism from some Twins fans is that they feel Mauer should bat 2nd. Otherwise, he is the hometown hero.

First Baseman Justin Morneau holds the cleanup spot, and holds it well. He is batting .311, with 21 HRs and 70 RBI, on pace for somewhere around 40 HRs and 140 RBI. He has to be considered for league MVP. The only negative here is that the Twins have been suspect to lefty starters and relievers, as the beef of the lineup is all lefty.

Designated Hitter / Outfielder Jason Kubel has been batiting 5th, or 6th in the lineup. Again, three lefties are not always a good thing, but Kubel has outhit the competition for the 5 spot. He is tied with Morneau for 2nd best BA in the regular lineup at .311. He has added 14 HRs and 45 RBI despite sitting about every five games. His improved slugging means the Twins appear to have a shot at 5 hitters with 25-30 HRs.

Outfielder Michael Cuddyer has been batting here, though he is competing with fellow outfielders Carlos Gomez and Delmon Young for playing time. Cuddyer seems to have the edge over the other two, as he has over 100 ABs more than each. So far cuddy looks on-track for near 30-100, which would mean he has finally delivered on his promise of 2006. At .273 he is hitting near his career average of .269, though his defense has shown some troubles for the first time in a long while.

Third Baseman Joe Crede has been a nice addition to the need for power the Twins have had. He is hitting only .234, but no one seems to mind as he has brought a bigger bat to third than has been seen in a long time in Minnesota. His defense is good, and with 14 HRs and 40 RBI in only 68 games, the future looks bright .. if he can stay healthy.

Outfielder Carlos Gomez has recently begun to hit well, and has taken playing time away from Young. he is the best of outfielders defensively, and often is a replacement for Young late in games. Thisis demonstrated by his 77 game total with only 187 ABs. He is hitting a mere .235 with only 2 HRs. Delmon Young is getting better all the time, just beginning to show signs of being selective at the plate. Young is up to .266, but has only 3 HRs in a few more ABs than Gomez. The upside appears much larger for Young, but fans grow impatient with his lack of patience at the plate, and a history of poor defense.

Shortstop Nick Punto is probably the player most under the microscope. His .201 BA is the reason Alexi Casilla has been recalled, and his pension for sliding into first, injuries, and lack of any power have fans crying for his removal. But Casilla's .180 average suggest this issue is unresolved at this time. in 2006, Punto batted .290 in everyday play. He is a contact hitter, and can draw walks as his .319 OBP is higher than Crede, Young, Casilla, Harris, Gomez, and Redmond. But letting Jose Morales go back to AAA is a sign managment wants something better.

The reserves include Brian Buscher, along with the aforementioned Redmond, Young, and Casilla. Both Matt Tolbert and Morales have been recently sent down, the latter for an additional pitcher. The bench is not a strength for the Twins, as the best PHer in the group was probably Morales. With the outfield depth, the resting player may take on that role down the stretch ... OK, except for Gomez.

The pitching appears to be on the road to recovery, the starters looked semi-solid, while Joe Nathan continues to dominate the closer role. Middle relief, of course, is the 'elephant under the carpet'. Nick Blackburn has been outstanding, leading the staff in innings pitched, 2nd in wins, and tops in ERA among starters at 3.06. Kevin Slowey is temporarily on the DL, but his 10-3 record in 16 starts is impressive. His ERA is too high at 4.85, but the 5 to 1 ratio of strikeouts to walks has played a major part in his success. Scott Baker is quickly improving his statistics, after a rough start beginning with a DL stint. Baker is 7-7, with an ERA of 5.42. But his lifetime ERA is a full run better, and last year he was 11-4 with an ERA of 3.45. If he returns to this form (as expected) Minnesota becomes much more capable of winning the AL Central. Francisco Liriano is 4-9 with an ERA of 5.47 in 18 starts. He has averaged less than 6 innings a start and worries are that he will never return to his pre-injury form. Remember in 2006 he was 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA. But there has been a few positive sings his last handful fo starts. Glen Perkins is presently the 5th slot, with a 4-5 record, with an ERA of 4.71 in 13 starts. He too was injured during the 2009 campaign. Last year he was 12-4 with a 4.41, so better times should be ahead. Anthony Swarzak is filling in for Slowey, and may get a few starts to prove himself. He had an up and down start to his career in his first call up, highlighted by a solid game versus the Cubs. But at 2-3, with a 4.50 ERA he is probably headed back to AAA soon.

The bullpen is scary still. After Nathan, there is so many question marks. Bobby Keppel, Jose Mijares, and Matt Guerrier have been excellent to date, but only Guerrier has any experience that suggests the success will last. R.A. Dickey has come back to earth after carrying the pen for most of the first half of the season. He is extra valuable to the pen in that he can pitch more frequently with as little damage to his success. Brian Duensing has looked OK, but not enough to keep the Twins from just calling up another player form the Mets deal for Johann Santana in Kevin Mulvey. Minnesota fans are hopeful that he can contribute and take a little more sting out of the loss of Santana from the trade. Mulvey is a starter being expected to offer long relief.

Well, that is it. It should be a competitive second half run for the AL Central. I think we can do it .. it would be real nice to solidify the bullpen with the acquisition of a power arm like the ones on the Oakland Athletics roster. But of course, that would cost the future, something the Twins are reluctant to spend.
Category: MLB
Posted on: April 3, 2009 2:09 am

Meet the Twins, 2009

 As I sit and stare at the last melting of winter, here on April 2nd, I take pause to review the upcoming roster/season for the 2009 season. I hope to add a few more Twins fans along the way, and encourage you all to write your thoughts as well. Let's have a good pennant run.

Catcher: The Twins start the season with 25 year-old Joe Mauer on the DL. This is a bad thing. Mauer, a lifetime .317 hitter, has a bad back that makes it difficult to run. Last year Mauer played in 146 games, batted .328 with an OBP of .413. He added 85 RBI. But if you recall, in 2007 Mauer was only able to play in 109 games. In that year Mike Redmond contributed by playing in 82 games, with 272 ABs, and hit .284. The 37 year-old is in his 12th year at the majors. In 2008 he only played in 38 games. In fact, he has never played close to a full season in any year with the Twins or Marlins. However, he has batted .300 or better in 6 of those seasons of limited at-bats, and is a lifetime .292 hitter. Twenty-Six year old Jose Morales is the benefactor of the Mauer's absence, and looks to continue a statistical anomaly, a perfect 1.000 batting average. He went 3 for 3 with a double in the 2008 end of season. Morales batted over .300 in both of his last 2 seasons in the AAA minors, so he has a fighting chance.

First Base: 27 year-old Justin Morneau is in his 7th season with the Twins, and is the heart of the offense especially with Mauer out. In his last three seasons Morneau has averaged 29 HRs with 123 RBI.  He has a lifetime slugging percentage of .499. He hit 23 HRs and collected 129 RBI last year, but most importantly, played in all 163 games. And Morneau had a .300 batting average. Michael Cuddyer, Brian Buscher, or even Matt Tolbert could fill in for an emergency.

Second Base: 24 year-old Alexei Casilla will be in his 4th professional year in a Twins uniform. He accounted for 385 at-bats in 2008, hitting .281 with 7 steals. It was a learning year for Casilla, and he responded well. In his 5+ years in the minors he averaged 30+ stolen bases, and hopes to give more of that to the Twins in 09. He will need to improve on his lifetime .261 average and the .310 OBP. Brendan Harris will also play some second. The 28 year-old from Tampa Bay is in his 6th season, and his 6th team. A journeyman, played 130 games for the Twins, batting .265 in 434 ABs. Harris hit near .300 in the minor league, and hopes to improve his present lifetime average of .269.

Third Base: Recent acquisition 30 year-old Joe Crede takes over after 9 seasons in Chicago. Joe played in only 97 games in 2008, but hit with power as in 17 HRs with 55 RBI, something the Twins will need in 2009. Joe's achilles heel is injuries, his last "full" season was 2006, when he played in 150 games and hit 30 HRs, 94 RBI, and batted .283. He played in over 130 games for four straight years, so he has been durable in the past. The Twins look to keep both Brian Buscher and Matt Tolbert on the squad. The 27 year-old Buscher, a lefty, is in his 3rd season with the Twins. 2008 saw his biggest contribution, with 218 ABs, a .294 average, and 47 RBI. The 26 year-old switch-hitting Tolbert is in his 2nd season, and can play all infield positions if needed. He had only 113 at-bats last year, but hit .283. He averaged hitting .280 in his minor league career, so it was no real surprise to those in the know.

Shortstop: Switch-hitting Nick Punto is baaack. The Everett experiment a failure, the 31 year-old Punto will go back to regular duty in this his 9th season with the Twins and Phillies. In a reduced role in 08, Punto hit .284 and stole 15 bases in 99 games. In 2007, Nick was asked to play in 150 games and he hit .210. Lifetime Punto is a .252 hitter, so this season should be somewhere in between. In 611 games over his nine year career, Punto has stolen 10+ bases 4 times. He will steal more in a full time role. Brendan Harris could see significant time, as well as Tolbert.

Outfield: The outfield is uncertain, with four players all with reason to start in 2009. The top performer in 2009 was probably 25 year-old Denard Span. Playing mostly right field, Span hit .294 with 18 stolen bases in his 93 games after being called up. He also had a .387 OBP, making him valuable atop the Twins batting order. Span had over 100 steals in the minors, so speed is a given. This will be Span's 3rd year up with the Twins, and could be his biggest. Carlos Gomez is also 23 years old, and enters his 3rd season as well. But Carlos is struggling at the plate far more, and in 08 batted a mere .258 with an OBP a dismal .296. By year's end, he had plummeted to the bottom of the order. His minor league average was .274, so there is hope he will adjust. But his 142 strike-outs of last year could end up spelling his doom as a major leaguer, if he cannot adjust. Delmon Young enters his 4th professional season as a 23 year-old. Young played in 152 games last year, and fans go to see a glimpse of his potential as he batted .290 with 10 HRs and 14 SBs. Young averaged 20 HRs and 25 SBs each of his three years in the minors, so his upside is high. Young's defense is his liability, and his mistakes were very painful through the 2008 season. Gardenhire will not want to play him if he cannot improve quickly. He may end up as the DH often. The x-factor is Michael Cuddyer, who hit only .249 with 3 HRs in 71 games in 08. The 30 year-old in his 9th season entering this year, wants to return to 2006 form, when he hit 24 HRs with 109 RBI, and batted .284. But that was the only year Cuddyer hit 20 or more homers, and he could be the off man out if his bat does not improve. Or it could be Gomez, or Young. Jason Kubel we can say for sure will not get many starts.

Designated Hitter: 26 year-old Jason Kubel enters his 6th season as a pro, and last year he played in 141 games, batted .272, and had 20 HRs with 78 RBI. This was maybe a sign of even better things to come. Kubel had a .320 average in his minor league career. He presently has played in a total of 365 major league games, and this year looks to be his biggest yet. His left-handed power bat will balance Crede, Young, and Cuddyer. Any of the outfielders may also DH this year, along with potentially Mauer.

Starting Pitchers: Unfortunately, original game one starter Scott Baker has been sent to the DL with arm concerns. Baker has struggled in recent spring games and now will miss a few starts. The 27 year-old enters his 5th season with a career 28-24 record in 76 starts and a 4.23 ERA. In 2008 Baker was at his best, 11-4 with a 3.45 ERA. in over 170 innings baker walked only 42 men, a Twins theme in starting pitching. With Baker shelved number one duties fall on 25 year-old Francisco Liriano. Liriano has a season of recovering from the injury that cost him 2007. He managed 14 starts, a 6-4 record with a 3.91 ERA. Lifetime Liriano is 19-9 with a 3.14 and has 244 Ks in 220 innings. Now in his 4th season, Liriano will hope to pitch all season injury free, like 2005 when he logged over 220 innings, albeit mostly in the minors. The up and comer suddenly is Kevin Slowey, a 24 year-old in his 3rd season with the Twins. Slowey has looked great in spring training, and in 2008 was 12-11 with a 3.99 ERA. He had 160 innings in his 27 starts. He did go 10-5 with a 1.89 ERA in 2007 in AAA, so even better things could be hoped for in 2009. In 40 career starts, Slowey has issued only 35 walks. Glen Perkins was the surprise of the mound in 2008, going 12-4 with a late-inflated ERA of 4.41. In 26 starts Perkins pitched 151 innings. The 4th year pro, and ex-Gopher, converted to starter for 08 and the move paid dividends. If he can repeat his last year performance the Twins will be in good position to compete. Nick Blackburn is the biggest question mark of the five starters. In 2008 he was 11-11 with a 4.05 ERA, and a spectacular 39 BBs in over 193 innings. He was called up in 08 because he was 10-4 with a 2.36 ERA and a WHIP of 1.03 in AAA in 2007. Only in his thrid season, this 27 year-old does not have overpowering stuff, but like all Twins starters, has a knack for finding the plate. The 5th spot will probably be filled by R.A. Dickey, a 34 year-old from Seattle via Texas. Last year, his best since 03, he went 5-8 with a 5.21 ERA. The knuckleballer will be hard pressed to better those stats as everyone prays Baker gets better soon. Brian Duensing, a lefthanded 26 year-old rookie may get a start,  or possibly recent Rule 5 acquisition from the Yankees, Jason M. Jones. Jones, another 26 year-old, was 13-7 with a 3.33 ERA in AA last year, and pitched even better in 2 starts of AAA.

Relief pitchers; The best thing going for Twins pitching is not all the control starters, but the 34 year-old Joe Nathan entering his 10th pro season, and 6th as closer for the Twins. Last year Nathan had 39 saves and an ERA of 1.33. In his 5 seasons with Minnesota he has 199 saves and an ERA under 2.00 for the last three. He is that good. 27 year-old Jesse Crain is given the set-up role, after an 08 campaign where he pitched in 66 games with an ERA of 3.59. Crain had about 1.3 Ks per inning pitched in the minors, so there is hope for improvement. 26 year-old Phil Humber, who may end up a starter, will make the squad in long relief. His 5th season as a pro, Humber has only 20 innings of major league experience. The last two years in AAA, he was 21-17 with a 4.40 ERA in 275 innings. 28 year-old journeyman Craig A. Breslow will be back in the lefty reliever role. He appeared in 49 games last year and had a respectable ERA of 1.91. The Twins are Breslow's 4th team in this his 5th season. Luis Ayala joins the Twins in 2009 after a 3 year career with Montreal, Washington, and the New York Mets. The 31 year-old was 2-10 in 2008, with a 5.71 ERA. Not good. Lifetime he has accumulated 350 innings and has a 3.44 ERA. Maybe 08 was an off year? Finally, 30 year-old Matt Guerrier is back, hoping to not be so available in 2009. he has pitched in 149 games in the last two seasons, and now entering his 5th season with the Twins, is starting to show the wear associated with overuse. His 5.19 ERA last year was bad. He was 2.35 in 2007, and a lifetime 3.66 ERA. Guerrier will need to improve or be a casualty of minor league depth, much like recently DL'ed Boof Bonser has been.

This year will be a tribute to a bad stadium that brought good results. Goodbye Metrodome. Hello another AL Championship Series.  

Category: MLB
Tags: Minnesota, Twins
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