GameChat – Twins @ Tigers, 6:05

I hope everyone – including our boys of summer – enjoyed their off-day and return to baseball happy and well-rested.  I know one of our boys enjoyed it probably more than any of the rest.  Congrats to Justin Morneau and wife Krista on the birth of baby girl Evelyn Audra Sheryl Morneau, born at 4:33 a.m. Thursday, 7lbs, 2oz, 20 inches.  He thought he was feeling woozy and had headaches before?!?!  LOL  Just kidding!  Everyone who knows me knows that I’m a complete baby addict so I am ecstatic for the Morneaus and think their choice of names was LOVELY.

Secondly, for however long it lasts, the Twins are currently holding the best win record in baseball.  Last night, the Rays WHALLOPED (I like that word) CC Sabbathia and the Yankees in a big way.  Yes, we’re all still together in a little huddle and we’ll have to stay on target to keep the top spot but getting here at all just proves that it’s possible for the Twins to accomplish this.  Keep up the good work!

The bad news is that Mauer is out for the series this weekend. His knee is still having issues, he did have a cortizone shot but Gardy is being firm with saying he will rest the knee and stay off of it as long as is necessary to get it performance ready. Gardy clearly has the post-season in mind and will not sacrifice Mauer’s stability now that a position is secured.

Minnesota @ Detroit
Span, CF   Jackson, A, CF
Hudson, O, 2B   Sizemore, 2B
Kubel, DH   Raburn, LF
Cuddyer, 1B   Cabrera, M, 1B
Young, D, LF   Peralta, J, SS
Valencia, 3B   Wells, C, RF
Morales, J, C   Boesch, DH
Revere, RF   Inge, 3B
Casilla, A, SS   Laird, C
Liriano, P   Verlander, P

 

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 4 0
Detroit 0 0 0 2 0 4 4 0 x 10 13 2

 

Well that game was… interesting. If you have a really broad definition of the term.

I have to be honest. I started watching the game at a Buffalo Wild Wings and had a few beers before the game was 3 innings old. When I got home, it sure looked like we had ourselves a good old fashioned pitchers duel between Frankie and Justin Verlander.

Then there was a Tiger HR.

Then the trainer was running out to check on Frankie… which is really NOT what you want to see a few days before he’s scheduled to start Game 1 of the playoffs.

So, if I have this correct, it turns out Liriano and Alexi Casilla got ahold of some bad food somewhere in Detroit and both had to leave the game with… err… um… intestinal issues.

Outside of just connecting flights at the Detroit airport, I’ve only been to that city twice and only once have I gone out to eat. I went out with a group to a restaurant in Greektown. I had lamb for the fist time. It was excellent. At least I think it was, but I admit I had quite a bit of ouzo that night, too. Anyway, I think Frankie and Lexi might want to give Greek food a shot the rest of the weekend because the folks in Detroit’s Greektown area do Greek food really, really well. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess those guys went out in search of some kind of Latin American food. I can’t imagine that Detroit is a good place for that kind of thing.

After Liriano left, it seemed like every time the broadcast came back from commercial, the Twins were down another run or two. There was a questionable call or two at first base. There was a very questionable call down the 3B line that Gardy came out to discuss (rather uneventfully, I thought). It seemed that since he was already out on the field, he decided he might as well do something productive and change pitchers and give FSN a chance to sell something. But when that commercial break ended, there was Gardy back out on the field yelling pretty loud at the umpires again. Exit Gardy.

By the time the Tigers were done hitting off of a parade of Twins pitchers that probably (hopefully) won’t be on the playoff roster, they had tallied 10 runs. Our guys pushed one across in the top of the 9th inning to avoid the shutout. By the time all of that happened, however, I was watching Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure on one of the more obscure HBO channels. That’s how bad this game was.

Fortunately, the Yankees gave up 10 to the Red Sox tonight, too. The ECBS tried to give the game back to the Evil Empire, but held on to win 10-8. The Rays, however, won their game. I think I’m going to give up trying to figure out who’s leading whom in that whole “best record in the AL” thing for a week or so.

I apologize for this poor effort at a game summary… but then I’m not sure it’s any worse than the effort the Twins put out on the field in Detroit tonight, so I’m not going to lose much sleep over it.

Let’s hope for better on Saturday night! – JC

How Did We Get Here? (Part 2)

Earlier, in Part 1 of this essay, we took a trip down Memory Lane back in to last offseason and through spring training and discussed some of the decisions made by Bill Smith and Ron Gardenhire as they constructed the roster that the Twins would start the 2010 season with. Now let’s take a look at how those decisions worked out.

In essence, the Twins started the 2010 season with six starting pitchers that they felt pretty good about, a bullpen that was missing its anchor in Joe Nathan, but was otherwise solid, an improved starting line up and a bench with some speed and one very dangerous bat.

When Orlando Hudson, JJ Hardy and Nick Punto (3/4 of the Opening Day infield) collectively made seven trips to the Disabled List, Alexi Casilla was there to fill in because the Twins decided not to risk losing him to waivers in order to keep Matt Tolbert or Danny Valencia to begin the season. The decision to start the year with Valencia and Tolbert in Rochester and Casilla with the Twins has resulted in all three of them being available to make significant contributions when the starting infielders went down.

Danny Valencia

By the way, it’s just plain mean to say that Nick Punto’s biggest contribution to the Twins success was getting injured and thereby allowing Danny Valencia to take over full time at 3B. Mean… and not altogether accurate. The truth is that Valencia’s ticket back to Rochester had pretty much been bought and paid for when Justin Morneau bumped his head against Blue Jays’ 2B John McDonald’s knee. It was Morneau’s absence and the resulting move of Michael Cuddyer to 1B that kept Valencia in Minnesota.

Of course, it was also Morneau’s injury that made Smith’s signing of Jim Thome all the more important.

Keep in mind, this is the same Jim Thome that mlb.com columnist Hal Brody had written the following about during mid-March:

So, Thome, in the twilight of a career that should land him in the Hall of Fame, will be used mostly as a late-inning pinch-hitter. This is Spring Training, when most everyone oozes with optimism, but the dark side is if Thome’s skills diminish during 2010 he might not finish the year with the Twins.

Or it could be a swan song, his final season.

Jim Thome

In the second half of the season, Thome has hit for a .310 average, with a .450 on-base percentage and a .722 slugging percentage. That’s a 1.172 OPS in 44 games (38 of which he has started as the DH). “Swan song” indeed.

So yes, decisions to sign Hudson and Thome and to keep Casilla to start the season have proved to be huge.

But let’s look at the pitching.

Yes, the Twins have been without the services of Joe Nathan. But they have three pitchers who have racked up over 20 saves each this season (though obviously not all for the Twins). Jon Rauch did well filling in at the back end of the bullpen during the first half of the season. When he started to show some signs of faltering, the Twins traded for Matt Capps. Sure, maybe they overpaid for him, but he’s gotten the job done. Then just for good measure (and to have a shut down arm against lefty hitters), Smith went and got Angels closer Brian Fuentes.

Jesse Crain

So the Twins replaced Nathan with three closers… and yet none of them has been their best relief pitcher this year. That would have to be Jesse Crain (the same Jesse Crain who was rumored to be a non-tender candidate in December), who recovered from a shaky start to the season to become virtually unhittable for the past few months. He’s the guy who has come in to get the critical outs against the opposing team’s toughest hitters before the ninth inning rolls around.

Finally, how huge does that decision NOT to convert Francisco Liriano to a closer look right now? The Twins started the season with six starting pitchers they felt they could rely upon. The two who were battling for the final roster spot, Liriano and Brian Duensing, will pitch games 1 and 3 of the ALDS in October, but the other four haven’t been shabby either.

Those six pitchers, Liriano and Duensing along with Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey and Carl Pavano, have  started all but three games for the Twins this season and nobody outside of that group has started more than one game. All six have been credited with at least 10 wins this season. (By comparison, in 2009, the Twins used 11 starting pitchers, 8 of them started at least 9 games, and only three of them notched 10 or more wins.)

So, how did the Twins get here…with a Division Championship already under their belts with another week and a half of games to play?

I don’t want to minimize the contributions of the other starting pitchers or of guys like Joe Mauer, Delmon Young, Denard Span and Jason Kubel who have all obviously played significant roles in the Twins’ success and the ironman versatility of Michael Cuddyer shouldn’t be underappreciated.

But in my mind, the decisions to retain Pavano and Crain, add Thome and Hudson, keep Liriano in a starting pitcher role and give Casilla the final roster spot out of Spring Training made the difference between the 2010 Twins once again being borderline contenders and being a team capable of blowing away the AL Central competition.

It’s been a fantastic ride so far… let’s hope the best is yet to come! – JC

How Did We Get Here? (Part 1)

No, I’m not contemplating the origins of the universe and I’m certainly not about to begin a debate over Creationism, Darwinism, or any other “ism” that much deeper thinkers than myself have put forth to explain mankind’s existence.

I just thought now might be a good time to take a look at just how our Twins went about becoming the first team in Major League Baseball to clinch their Division’s championship banner. It feels like this season has just flown by.

It seems like just yesterday that I was earning a March sunburn as I followed the Twins around Florida for a week during Spring Training. At the same time, it also feels like ages since we’ve been able to enjoy the sight of Justin Morneau in the batters box. Still, here we are… 152 games in to a 162-game schedule and the Twins are the AL Central Champions!

When your team has put together a second half like the Twins have, it’s easy to overlook just how difficult winning the AL Central really was. So today, before we get back in to discussions about playoff rotations and whether the Twins should carry 3 utility infielders or 3 catchers on their ALDS roster, let’s pause to glance back at what the Twins have accomplished this season… and how they did it.

In the first part of this post, let’s look at what went on before the 2010 season even got started.

Bill Smith

Let’s start by giving credit to General Manager Bill Smith. While other GMs made the big offseason splashes, Smith quietly laid the groundwork for this season. Shortly after the end of the 2009 season, Smith struck a deal with Milwaukee for shortstop JJ Hardy, in return for Carlos Gomez. The trade was widely viewed as two teams exchanging spare parts, each hoping the player they were getting might bounce back from an off year and fill a need for their new team.

There was speculation that the Twins might not offer arbitration to Carl Pavano, allowing him to become a free agent without the Twins receiving any draft picks as compensation. But Smith offered arbitration to Pavano and the offer was accepted. Still, Smith and the Twins were being loudly criticized by the end of the Winter Meetings in December when none of the Twins’ perceived needs had been addressed.

There was also speculation that the Twins might not have enough money to keep their bullpen depth together. Jesse Crain was considered a possible non-tender candidate. But Smith offered arbitration to all eight of the Twins arbitration-eligible players and signed all of them to deals… including Crain (whew!).

Orlando Hudson

As January came to a close, the Twins finally created a little buzz when it was revealed that the they had interest in Jim Thome, primarily as a late inning pinch hitter and occasional DH. On February 4, the Twins signed Thome to a one-year $1.5 million base contract that would, at best, be considered adequate for a part-time role player. The buzz got a bit louder the next day when the Twins announced they had signed 2B Orlando Hudson to a one-year deal.

With most of the roster set, Smith and the Twins headed to Spring Training with really only one more major issue to spend some time working out… a little matter about a contract extension for their catcher. But only the most pessimistic of Twins fans and media doubted that eventually a deal would get done… and it did.

Joe Nathan

The Twins entered March widely considered the favorites to win the AL Central again in 2010. That consensus lasted just long enough for Joe Nathan to take the mound in his first Spring Training game. On March 6, Nathan was pulled from the game “for precautionary reasons” due to “tightness and achiness” in his right elbow. After giving the injury a couple of weeks to magically repair itself, the Twins announced Nathan would miss the 2010 season and undergo Tommy John surgery. Immediately, the national media experts declared the Twins dead meat without their All Star closer and declared that the White Sox and Tigers would battle for the AL Central crown.

While Smith sniffed around the Padres camp for a possible trade for their closer Heath Bell, Gardy declared that the Twins would have a, “closer by committee… I think… no wait… I mean Jon Rauch will be our closer… for a while.” (I’m paraphrasing, of course.)

There were a few final roster spots and pitching roles up for grabs as the Twins prepared to break camp and a couple of them would turn out to be critical to the team’s ultimate success.

Alexi Casilla

The last position-player spot was given to Alexi Casilla, over Matt Tolbert, largely because Casilla was out of minor league options and Tolbert wasn’t. Danny Valencia was given a long look in Ft. Myers but in the end it was felt he needed more time in AAA to work on his defense.

Francisco Liriano

As difficult as it may be to imagine now, Francisco Liriano ended Spring Training in a battle for the fifth spot in the Twins rotation. A fair number of people felt he couldn’t be relied upon to pitch deep in to games, but might make a good closer. Brian Duensing ultimately lost out to Liriano for that final rotation spot but made the team as the long relief arm in the bullpen.

I don’t know who made those final roster decisions… Ron Gardenhire, Bill Smith or some combination of the two… but those decisions would prove crucial to the Twins’ ultimate success. We’ll take a look at just how that happened in Part 2. – JC

GameChat – Indians @ Twins #3, 12:10

A) I don’t think I want to know what that clubhouse carpet smells like today.

B) I wonder how many of the boys showed up today with aching heads – in addition to whatever else was a bit sore.

C) I really feel bad for poor Nick Blackburn because the guys in the field behind him??  definitely a day game roster and I’m sure they were all partying just as hard as the regular starters (if not harder given that they are on average younger) and it’s a LOT of BRIGHT sun out there today.

STILL, given all that?  what a beautiful day for baseball in MN and the Team and fans alike have a lot to celebrate today.  I hope Kris is taking pics and notes and such and can give us a personal account tomorrow.. *hope*

Cleveland @ Minnesota
Brantley, CF   Span, CF
Sutton, SS   Casilla, A, SS
Choo, RF   Kubel, DH
Hafner, DH   Valencia, 3B
Duncan, S, LF   Morales, J, 1B
Nix, J, 3B   Tolbert, 2B
LaPorta, 1B   Revere, LF
Valbuena, 2B   Repko, RF
Gimenez, C   Butera, C
  Carrasco, C, P     Blackburn, P

 

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Cleveland 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 6 0
Minnesota 0 0 0 0 0 3 2 0 x 5 10 0

 

This was a game played on pure adrenaline.  Yes, it was all the young guys who probably bounce back faster than the more regular guys but still, they all seemed almost hyper-active today – which caused both great plays and some bonehead ones.  But they were obviously having fun and brought the bats and finally got around to giving Blackburn’s STELLAR outting some run support.  

Blackburn earned his 10th win of the season plus had some great fielding plays to top off fantastic pitching.  For holding his ground and having a great start even though everyone was probably holding their heads after partying last night, I’ve gone all out and granted him a baked alaska!  Enjoy!

And Jose Morales finally got a start at 1B!!!  And he did a REALLY good job!  I’m sure he was very nervous but he held his ground, kept his head on his shoulders AND brought his bat to work today!  He drove in 3 runs and finally is settled as Cuddyer’s back up at 1B just in case.  And yay for Cuddy getting a day off.  For such a great effort, Morales gets a Dairy Queen ice cream cake! 

Plus, just because the “B” lineup did such a good job of not letting this be a giveaway game because the day and situation, they get an all-you-can eat ice cream sundae buffet.  Enjoy boys!

But today’s BOD, by vote of the chat, was Alexi Casilla.  He led the team with energy level for sure and provided a LOT of instigation to keep the boys all moving.  He went 3/4 with 2 Runs and a super hot Triple!  good job kid!

MN Twins – 2010 Central Division Champions!

There really aren’t any words I think I can add to what everyone else is saying – cheering – screaming – sharing. Watching the team sit in their clubhouse watching the White Sox/Oakland game while all of us fans couldn’t help but watch the White Sox/Oakland game… it reminds me so much of 2006 and the celebration on the field. These moments seem to bring fans and teammates all together in such beautiful ways.

Obviously this is just step one.  We haven’t even finished the regular season yet and I know that they are going to keep driving to have the best record in baseball and homefield advantage.  And after that?  It’s the POSTSEASON!!!  October baseball in MINNESOTA!!!

For those who have better words than I to describe tonight, you should check out a couple different links:  Twins Wrap Up and Videos and the StarTribune Photo Gallery for the game tonight. 

And I would do whatever you can to try to catch the noon game tomorrow (today) because I’m sure that there will be more celebratory activity for the fans – if the boys have anything left in them!  *laugh*

I don’t usually do this but it was such a great pic, I had to borrow it from the Strib photo guys – full credit to them!

Casilla & Span celebrating the win!

GameChat – Indians @ Twins, #2, 7:10

First some good news:  if you haven’t already heard, Joe Mauer’s MRI today came back with good news.  It’s just some inflammation, they’ll likely give him a cortizone shot and he should be back in 4-5 days.  Justin Morneau still doesn’t have any specific prognosis other than extremely imminent fatherhood.  Obviously, that also effects his possible playing time.  But I wish him the best with that and health and safety for mom and baby!!  I can’t wait for news.

The somewhat less than good news:  because of the shortened schedule between the end of the game tonight and tomorrow’s noon game, even if the Twins DO clinch tonight, they will not be allowing fans to stay and track the White Sox game as they need to get the field ready for tomorrow.

The bad news:  Hardy is a late scratch from the lineup tonight due to a migraine.  Punto gets his spot at short.

Cleveland @ Minnesota
Brantley, CF   Span, CF
Sutton, SS   Hudson, O, 2B
Choo, RF   Kubel, RF
Hafner, DH   Cuddyer, 1B
Brown, J, 1B   Thome, DH
Marte, A, 3B   Young, D, LF
Crowe, LF   Valencia, 3B
Valbuena, 2B   Punto, SS
Marson, C   Butera, C
Carmona, F, P   Baker, S, P

 

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Cleveland 1 0 0 0 1 2 0 0 0 4 10 0
Minnesota 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 4 x 6 12 1

 

Tonight is definitely a night of landmarks.  This season’s 3 millionth fan walked through the gates to see a game at Target Field – this the most people to come see Twins baseball in a season since sometime in the 80’s, I think, and we still have a lot more to go.

800 Wins with the MN Twins

And our most sincere Congratulations to Ron Gardenhire for his 800th win as Manager of the MN Twins!  There are many who give him a lot of criticism but I gotta say that he’s been someone I have respected more in this game than any other manager I can think of.  This isn’t an easy job and he knows how to make his boys shine.  Sadly, that particular talent has kept him as the bridesmaid never the bride in the MOY honors but .. maybe this year!  Thanks for all you do Gardy!

And of course the biggest landmark that we’re all waiting for is whether or not this win is able to clinch the division title for the 6th time in 9 years.  Apparently the boys are still in the clubhouse watching the White Sox just like we’re all doing here at home.  They had all planned to go home tonight because it’s a short night before tomorrow’s noon game but I think the turn around rally of tonight’s game just has the whole team pumped up and they want to wait it out.  I hope they are having a great time in that clubhouse and really enjoying the game of baseball and the experiences of this season so far.

Tonight really did work up the energy tonight because it started pretty roughly.  Baker didn’t have a GREAT outting to speak of.  He’s obviously still working some things out.  It wasn’t horrible but he’s not ready to be a post game starter quite yet.  But once that turn around started, it seemed like EVERYONE was contributing.  So just in case the boys are planning to be doing any imbibing tonight, as a special one night occurance, we here at Knuckleballs are providing a giant sub sandwich for the whole team – all you can eat so the boys can keep themselves well-snacked while watching the Sox in California.

However, the special BOD award for tonights game chat does go to Jim Thome for his leadership tonight, including 2 hits, a HR, 2 RBI and a walk.  It was brilliantly done and I was MOST impressed by that lovely single to left field beating the fielding shift!  Great job, Big Jim!

GameChat – Indians @ Twins, 7:10

For a day that seriously started out like CRAP here in the Twin Cities, it’s sure awfully nice now.  The sun came out, the sky is clear and the temp has finally climbed up to about 70 for the start of the game.  That’s WAY better than I thought it was going to be.  It’s still a bit breezy and the boys really don’t want to think about pushing the game to extra innings since there are thunderstorms on their way in right about when the game SHOULD end.

The sun seems to be shining on our injury situation too.  Mauer’s knee situation really isn’t serious and he should be back soon.  Kubel is feeling MUCH better and Gardy says he’s champing at the bit to get back out there but they are giving one more day to be sure.  It will definitely be a relief to have a couple of our biggest bats back soon.

Cleveland @ Minnesota
Brantley, CF   Span, CF
Cabrera, A, SS   Hudson, O, 2B
Choo, RF   Cuddyer, 1B
Duncan, S, LF   Thome, DH
Nix, J, DH   Young, D, LF
LaPorta, 1B   Valencia, 3B
Marte, A, 3B   Hardy, SS
Sutton, 2B   Morales, J, C
Marson, C   Repko, RF
  Gomez, J, P     Duensing, P

 

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Cleveland 0 1 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 3 8 0
Minnesota 1 0 0 2 1 4 1 0 x 9 13 0

 

Today was the Two-out Hit Parade!  If my count is right, all 9 of the Twins runs were scored with 2 outs.  But maybe they were trying to add a little tension/spice into a game that otherwise seemed to be flowing pretty well.  Of course, given my difficulties in staying awake – completely un-game related – maybe it’s just my imagination how easy it seemed to be.

But there was some beautiful baseball tonight and the magic number currently sits at 3 for however much longer.  It could be down even further depending on what happens out in Oakland tonight with the White Sox.  And still, the Twins are right at the top of baseball with the Yankees and Rays – all within a game of each other – again for now.  The boys are pretty excited and they should be because for them, it appears the sky is the limit.  Span and Young both had good nights at the plate and Duensing really held steady as the starter out there again when we really needed a comeback feel – so they all get cookies and all the milk they can drink.

Then there was Hardy – quietly getting on base time after time.  It’s so much fun to see the confidence he has in himself when he approaches the plate now that he’s healthy.  He’s a completely different player than he was 2 months ago and still flashing the glove – NIFTY double play with a no-look backwards shovel pass from Alexi Casilla to Hardy on 2B.  This isn’t possible without an extreme amount of trust in these players that they know he’s going to be there to do his job no matter what.

And with the opposite – loud and in charge – Danny Valencia kicked off the scoring drive tonight by hitting yet another DEEP homerun into the OF upper deck.  It’s really great to see him be successfull as a rookie.    So both he and Hardy can help themselves to as many Krispy Kremes as they want.

But tonight’s BOD vote goes to the man who is still just making it happen day after day.  Michael Cuddyer went 2/4 with 3 Runs and 2 RBI.  Yes, I know I keep calling for him to get a day off but it’s not because I think he’s failing in any way or looking tired.. it’s just because, wow, he’s really doing it right day in and day out. 

Can We Get Excited Yet?

According to that fancy computer over at Baseball Prospectus that spits out the odds concerning each team’s playoff chances every morning, the Twins now have a 99.99645% chance of winning the AL Central. That’s pretty good, right? So why do I feel like I’m not allowed to get excited yet?

I realize there is a certain group of Twins fans who consistently feel the need to look for the negative side to everything, so there’s something here for them, too. According to the BP computer, the Twins have no chance… zero, zip, nada… of winning getting the AL Wild Card spot. Ah well, I can live with that.

The next two weeks will be filled with discussions about the probable pitching rotation, the make up of the bullpen and the bench options for position players. We’ll be looking for every morsel of information we can get about Jason Kubel’s wrist, Denard Span’s shoulder, Joe Mauer’s knee and, of course, Justin Morneau’s noggin. In all, there’s plenty of stuff out there for us to fret over.

But considering that Twinsdom has spent the last two weeks of most seasons lately fretting over whether there would even BE a postseason that any of us cared about, having that minor little detail wrapped up this early with 99.99645% certainty is kinda cool for a change.

I am just a little bit amused by how quickly some “fans” have pretty much already dismissed the Twins chances of winning anything once the postseason arrives, however. Do they REALLY believe everything John Kruk says? Yes, I realize Kruk isn’t the only media “talking head” that’s ready to make this week’s Rays/Yankees series a preview of the ALCS, but the fact that his history of being right about anything is about as good as the White Sox’ remaining playoff chances (less than 6 out of 100,000, if you’re counting) should make people wonder whether they really want to agree with him.

I already posted my views on what the Twins need to focus on down the stretch so I won’t repeat all of that here. I’ll say it appears Gardy is in agreement with my suggestion to use a 6-man rotation, with Scott Baker healthy. He has adjusted the order of his rotation to set things up for Francisco Liriano to start Game 1 of the playoffs, followed by Carl Pavano and Brian Duensing in Games 2 and 3. I still think Pavano is the better idea for Game 1, but I can see that separating your two lefties has some benefits and Liriano, if he’s “on”, would provide the best chance of matching up with either the Yankees’ or Rays’ top pitcher. Someone please just slip the man a valium before the game.

If you are one of those people who really think this year’s Twins are pre-destined to roadkill status in the playoffs, I ask you to simply compare the Twins current roster to some of the names who not only have been on the Twins rosters for their last two playoff series, but started playoff games for the Twins!

In the six playoff game losses (3 to the A’s in 2006 and 3 to the Yankees last year), here are the names of Gardy’s DHs: Phil Nevin, Jason Tyner (2 games), Brendan Harris, Jose Morales (2 games). Imean… can we all at least agree that, all other things being equal, a team with Jim Thome DHing has a better shot to advance in the playoffs than one with these guys:

Phil Nevin, here's his face even.

Jason Tyner

Brendan Harris

Jose Morales

.

.

..

.

 

.

But let’s not stop at the DH position.

In 2006, Luis Castillo led off for the Twins and Nick Punto hit 2nd. The 7-8-9 hitters were Rondell White, Nevin/Tyner, and Jason Bartlett. Last year, Span and Cabrera hit 1 and 2, but the 7-8-9 spots were taken with various combinations of Harris, Morales, Matt Tolbert and Punto. Brian Buscher replaced Tolbert on the roster (though he did not play) after the 2nd game due to an injury to Tolbert.

As for pitching, Bobby Keppel had a spot on the postseason roster last year. In 2006, Gardy followed up Johan’s Game 1 start with Boof Bonser in Game 2 and a version of Brad Radke in Game 3 who had a shoulder held together by duct tape.

Yes, as unpleasant as it may, there are worse things than having to tell good players that they won’t be on the ALDS active roster. But let’s take a quick look at the decisions Gardy is going to have to make by the end of the regular season.

In the absence of injury, I think 22 of the 25 ALDS roster spots are pretty much locked up.

Starting pitchers: Liriano, Pavano, Duensing

Bullpen: Capps, Rauch, Fuentes, Crain, Guerrier, Mijares

Catchers: Mauer, Butera

Infielders: Cuddyer, Hudson, Hardy, Valencia, Casilla, Punto

Outfielders: Young, Span, Kubel, Repko

DH: Thome

Those final three spots will be filled based on pitching performances the next two weeks and the health of Justin Morneau.

The fourth starting pitcher spot is Nick Blackburn’s to lose. If he continues pitching well, it belongs to him.

That leaves Kevin Slowey and Scott Baker auditioning for the “long relief” spot in the bullpen (or to replace Blackburn in the rotation if he falters before the playoffs). One of these three pitchers will not be on the ALDS roster… but could still be added to replace an injured pitcher or if/when the Twins move on to the ALCS.

That also leaves just one more position player to be added from among the following choices: Justin Morneau, Matt Tolbert and Jose Morales.

I suspect Matt Tolbert is the odd man out. With Casilla and Punto available for pinch running and backup duty in the infield, Tolbert is redundent. If Justin can play, he’ll be on the roster. If he can’t, I suspect Jose Morales will be added, not only because he gives Gardy more flexibility and a safety net at the catching position, but because he also fills that ‘emergency’ role at 1B behind Cuddyer, which would be necessary if Morneau is not available.

In the end, if everyone can get healthy, it’s really hard not to like the Twins chances to perform much better in the playoffs this season than they have in their most recent appearances, unless, of course, you’re a member of the national media or… or so it seems… the local media  as well.

I won’t pretend to speak for everyone else, but yes… I’m EXCITED! – JC

GameChat – Athletics @ Twins #3, 1:10 pm, WFTC29 & am1500

Today’s lineup is going to play with your head a little bit – if you can pull yourself away from the Vikings game anyway.  Apparently Gardy is in a juggling mood.  I get this mental image of him with with a big erasor and his pencil redoing a whole big roster list – mostly because he just doesn’t seem like the whiteboard type to me.

According to LaVelle, they are also swapping spots in the pitching rotation.  It’s been rumored for a couple days that now that Baker is feeling better, they were going to give him a start – that will happen on Tuesday.  After that, the rotation will look like this: Francisco Liriano, Carl Pavano, Brian Duensing, Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey.  From here out, it appears we have six starters and until someone has another issue, I’m totally ok with that. Liriano apparently didn’t get a lot of sleep last night because he has some sort of rash but he’s still going out there. Good man.

Other items of note:  Punto is BACK! I know some don’t care but I’m happy to see him – Valencia’s bat has not made me decide that I don’t like Nicky anymore.  And keep an eye on the dugout because apparently Lexi has died his hair – preparing I guess for an off-season move to blond.  Boy do I hope he has to wait a LONG time for that.

And still Cuddyer is out there… really, someone has to get some innings at 1B besides him.. right?  someday??

Oakland @ Minnesota
Davis, R, CF   Revere, CF
Barton, D, 1B   Hardy, SS
Ellis, M, 2B   Mauer, C
Suzuki, K, C   Cuddyer, 1B
Carson, RF   Young, D, LF
Donaldson, DH   Thome, DH
Iwamura, 3B   Valencia, 3B
Carter, LF   Repko, RF
Tolleson, SS   Punto, 2B
  Cramer, P     Liriano, P

 

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Oakland 3 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 1 6 9 0
Minnesota 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 2 6 2

 

Ok, so I only got a couple innings of actual watching so I’m not really going to be much help with this postgame wrap up.  So I’m going to rely on the MLB Play by Play to give you the game info.  Click that link and it will give an inning by inning account of the game.  As far as highlights, the only thing that really makes me nervous is Mauer leaving the game.  The report isn’t TOO serious – a jammed knee that leaves him day-to-day.  But the way I see it is we’re ALL day-to-day.  I just don’t know how we lose yet another productive bat out of our lineup and succeed with more long-term seasonal goals.

I kind of wish tomorrow was an off-day but I’m sure the boys will just keep plugging.

GameChat – Athletics @ Twins #2, 12:10 pm

So Span is still sore which gives Revere a little more playing time.  He sure is awfully excited to get that opportunity and I’m glad he’s enjoying himself.  Span is on meds for the shoulder (a rotator cuff bruise according to reports) and is feeling better.  Kubel is also feeling better but still getting another day. Mauer gets a little more time off from the plate so Butera gets another start.

This actually looks like a pretty classic Gardy afternoon game lineup – you’d never know this was nearing the end of the regular season but with that realization, you might know that the numbers are in the Twins favor.

Oakland @ Minnesota
Crisp, CF   Revere, CF
Barton, D, 1B   Hudson, O, 2B
Ellis, M, 2B   Mauer, DH
Cust, DH   Cuddyer, 1B
Powell, C   Young, D, LF
Davis, R, RF   Valencia, 3B
Iwamura, 3B   Hardy, SS
Carter, LF   Repko, RF
Pennington, SS   Butera, C
  Braden, P     Slowey, P

 

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Oakland 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 2 5 1
Minnesota 0 0 0 0 1 3 0 0 x 4 8 1

 

Another win!!  The magic number is down to 6 and all three teams – Twins, Yankees and Rays – are within a .5 game of each other for the best record in all of MLB baseball.  Wow.  This is a lot of fun people.  For all of us who were Twins fans when winning was not nearly as frequent an occurance, this is a real treat.

We have a few honorable mentions for individual plays in today’s game:  JJ Hardy had a SPECTACULAR leaping catch for liner that really was well over his head – perfect timing and full-extension allowed him to snowcone a catch that otherwise was a guaranteed hit.  Butera had a beautiful shot to the LF corner that gave him a double to set up a scoring opportunity.  And Ben Revere managed to get his first MLB RBI!  You can tell he’s having a great time up here.  I hope it continues.

And then there were some truly beautiful performances that went throughout the game.  Kevin Slowey is BAAA-AAACK!!  Wow was it fun to watch him pitch today!  He finally has easy and confident delivery working again.  He just had an EXCELLENT day on the mound against a team that seems to know how to hit pretty well minus poor Chris Carter.  For that, the Chat awarded him a steaming mug of hot chocolate and I’ll throw in a piece of cake too.  I hope he continues this!!! 

Another of the games standout performances was Jason Repko out in RF.  Over and over again, he made spectacular catches and .. well.. have I mentioned his ARM recently?!?!  wow, can that guy throw the ball.  Our starting OF’s should be really glad that his BA is kind of low.  He’s got major league fielding ability that’s for sure.  For that, he gets a massage (to keep that arm nice and limber) and a refreshing beverage of his choice.  Keep it up man and I hope we keep you around!

But the STAR performance of the day was DANNY VALENCIA!  He hit a timely 3 run HR to break the tie game.  And we never gave up the lead after that – we never even scored another run after that so he truly was the person most responsible for giving Kevin Slowey another win.  Viva Valencia!