Baseball Means Saying Good-bye

I admit that Saturday night I was ready to forcibly and forever remove the Twins logo from the chest of almost every member of the Twins’ starting lineup. I’ve regained my perspective since then. Well, most of it.

We’ve begun to see writers/bloggers discuss various topics related to the issue of the makeup of the Twins’ 2011 roster. Some look at payroll figures and possible free agents. There’s also some good material about Twins minor leaguers who may be ready to step up on to the big stage next year.

My first reaction to reading this stuff was that it’s a bit early for all that. My team just “died” and I’m not sure I’m quite ready to look at who I’m going to be rooting for next season. But it was the first week of November last year when Bill Smith sent Carlos Gomez to Milwaukee for JJ Hardy. No doubt, the Twins’ GM is already working on piecing together the 2011 Twins, so I suppose a devoted blogger should start doing the same thing.

This is going to be a long process, however. I’m simply not prepared to ask and answer every roster question yet, so let’s do this in stages, shall we?

We’ll start with what is, perhaps for some of us, the most painful question to ask… who are we willing to say good-bye to?

To many of us, the players that make up our favorite team become pseudo-family members. This is especially true for the sort of players that traditionally make up the Twins roster. They’re good guys and they each have their own devoted following among fans. But every year, we have to say good-bye to some of them. Last year, in addition to Go-Go, we said farewell to Mike “Naked Batting Practice” Redmond, Joe Crede and Orlando Cabrera. Crede and Cabrera weren’t really with the team long enough to build much of a following, but Redmond and Gomez, despite being reserves, each had their own loyal fan base.

This year could see more dramatic changes. In fact, the number of players who are virtual locks to be on the team next year, whether because of performance or contract status, are very few. I would put Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer, Span, Valencia, Liriano and Nathan (assuming all are healthy) in this category. That’s it.

So let’s look at the rest.

A year ago, the Twins had five players eligible to file for free agency. In addition to Cabrera, Crede and Redmond, pitchers Ron Mahay and Carl Pavano also filed. While they followed different paths, both pitchers eventually found their way back to the Twins roster in 2010.

Will Thome hit #600 as a Twin?

This off-season, not only is the number of players eligible for free agency higher, but we’re talking about some guys who made major contributions this season. Pavano and Mahay are eligible again and they are joined by Orlando Hudson, Jim Thome, Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Jon Rauch and Randy Flores. While I think we can all agree that re-signing Flores and Mahay won’t be high priorities for Bill Smith, that still leaves half a dozen significant contributors that can walk out the door and sign with the highest bidder. The truth is, some of them will not be in Twins uniforms next year. In fact, it’s possible that none of them will be.

Other players, while technically still under Twins control, still present some tough decisions for Bill Smith in terms of deciding whether to exercise team options or offer arbitration.  Is Hardy worth $7 million to keep or do you let him become a free agent, too? Jason Kubel would make $5.25 million in 2011, the final year of his current contract… but the Twins can buy out that year for just $350,000, making him a free agent, as well.

Will Nick Punto and Orlando Hudson be back?

What about Nick Punto? The Twins have been paying him “starter” money and have an option for 2011 to do the same (at $5 million). They’ll certainly pay him the $500,000 buy out instead. Does he re-sign with the Twins for less money or will his agent find him a deal with a team offering more money, more playing time, and less blogger abuse than he’ll get with the Twins?

If you offer Delmon Young and Matt Capps arbitration, they’re going to get something between $5-6 million (Young) and up to $9 million (Capps) for 2011. If you don’t offer them arbitration, their agents will find someone more than willing to pay those amounts, or more. Don’t think you need both Capps AND Brian Fuentes with Joe Nathan coming back? OK… but keeping Fuentes from free agency means picking up the team’s $9 million option for him, too.

And we haven’t even discussed possible trades yet. In addition to the possibility that the Twins could trade any of the players mentioned above who are still under team control, you have to wonder if any of the five starting pitchers not named Pavano would be trade bait in the off-season. I don’t think any of them are untouchable except Liriano.

Finally, there are a handful of guys that may just be gone next year because, even though the Twins technically still control them, their performance levels make them candidates to either be traded or simply beaten out for jobs in Spring Training. I’m looking at you, Brendan Harris, Matt Tolbert, Alexi Casilla, Drew Butera, Jason Repko, Jose Mijares and Pat Neshek.

By my count, that’s 25 players who may be playing elsewhere in 2011. A small number are almost certainly gone. A couple are almost certainly staying. Most are somewhere in between. Off the top of my head, I’d break it down like this:

Almost certainly gone: Mahay, Flores, Rauch, Fuentes

Probably gone: Guerrier, Crain, Hudson, Pavano

Virtually a toss-up: Punto, Thome, Repko, Butera, Neshek, Harris, Tolbert

Probably staying: Kubel, Hardy, Capps, Baker, Blackburn, Duensing, Slowey, Casilla

Almost certainly staying: Young, Mijares

We’ll share our own thoughts about what Bill Smith should or shouldn’t do with regard to roster changes in future posts, but for now, please use the comment section to let us know your opinions.

Who are you willing to say good-bye to? Who do you think the Twins MUST bring back? – JC

PROGRAMMING NOTE: We’ve had some inquiries about whether we’ll be hosting GameChats for any of the remaining postseason games and we’re more than willing to do that if anyone is interested in hanging out at the Knuckleballs Virtual Sports Bar. We’re hoping to open up a GameChat window during tonight’s Rays/Rangers ALDS Game 5 so check back later if you’ve got nothing better to do with your life than watch baseball with us! :)

Charlie Brown and Lucy

I imagine a lot of Twins fans are doing what I’m doing today… trying to figure out exactly how I feel about what we watched this week. I haven’t found the words. “Disappointed” and “frustrated” aren’t strong enough. “Angry” is really too strong… it’s just a game after all and we’ll get to start over again in a few months. The right words simply escape me.

I can’t help but feel like this was all almost preordained. In fact, one of the goofball TBS talking heads last night used the analogy of the Yankees being Lucy to the Twins’ Charlie Brown. It was in reference to a situation where the Twins managed to get a runner on base and then immediately had him removed by an easy double play.

But there’s a difference between Charlie Brown and the Twins in that situation. Charlie Brown, deep in his heart, believed he would successfully kick that football every time Lucy held it for him. I’m not sure the Twins even expected to do anything other than see their runner erased by a double play. All series long, I kept looking for evidence that this incarnation of the Twins believed they would be successful. Some of them talked about how this year could be different, but while some of them perhaps felt they could win, the Yankees clearly believed they WOULD win. Anyone who’s ever competed in team sports knows the difference.

The Yankees were so certain that they would defeat the Twins in this series that they intentionally threw the American East Championship to the Rays, preferring giving up home field advantage in the ALDS to the Twins over having to face Cliff Lee and the Rangers in the first round. If I had been a member of the Twins, I would have taken that as an enormous insult. The heartbreaking thing, to me, is that our Twins seemed to agree. I don’t blame the Yankees. Blaming them is like blaming the lion for killing the zebra. You don’t blame someone for doing what comes naturally… what they’ve always done.

So I don’t believe the Yankees are Lucy to the Twins’ Charlie Brown. Lucy yanks the football away from Charlie Brown, sending him flying through the air and landing on his ass, time after time because she manages to convince Charlie that she won’t do exactly that this time. The Yankees make no such effort to convince the Twins the results will ever be any different than they’ve always been. In fact, they openly flaunted it, to the extent that they overtly chose to play the Twins in the ALDS.

No… Lucy in this little farce is played by the Twins and I’m Charlie Brown. Year after year, I go down to Spring Training and let myself get excited about the upcoming season. They spend 162 regular season games convincing me that this year’s Twins are more than just a legitimate AL Central Division contender. Like Lucy, they find ways to make me believe that this will be the year that I’ll get to see the team I’ve rooted for since 1961 get past the first round of the playoffs, even if that means beating the Yankees.

And yet, year after year, by the end of the first week of October, here I sit… wondering why the hell I bothered to believe this year would be different when even the team itself so clearly never really believed they would get past the Evil Empire.

As I sat down to write this and tried to capture the words that described how I feel today, I really struggled… was it disappointment, frustration, resignation, anger, betrayal? None of them really fit. Then it dawned on me.

The words I’m looking for are, “Oh, good grief!” – JC

GameChat – Twins @ Yankees, 7:30, ALDS #3

There is no way around the fact that this is a “make it or break it” game. The boys have to come up with better offense and better pitching if they want to keep playing fall baseball. I like Brian Duensing’s composure in big pressure situation and that is what he has on hand in NY. And here’s wishing them a lot of good luck in addition to skill – they are going to need it.

Minnesota @ NY Yankees
Span, CF   Jeter, SS
Hudson, O, 2B   Swisher, RF
Mauer, C   Teixeira, 1B
Kubel, RF   Rodriguez, A, 3B
Young, D, LF   Cano, 2B
Thome, DH   Thames, DH
Cuddyer, 1B   Posada, C
Valencia, 3B   Granderson, CF
Hardy, SS   Gardner, LF
  Duensing, P     Hughes, P, P

 

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

 

Dang, I’m Good (that’s “Good” with two “o”s, not just one)

As we begin to wind down what has been a really exciting season of Twins baseball (regardless of how the post-season plays out), one of the fun exercises to go through is to think back to March and April and try to recall what our expectations were for the season. The problem is, someone of such advanced age as myself occasionally has trouble remembering where he parked his car the night before, much less recalling what was going through his mind over six months ago.

Fortunately, it turns out that someone in the Twins blogdom community organized a “Predection Day” back before the season started. The idea was to have all the Twins blogs post their predictions for the season, in a number of given categories, on the same day. Well, we were a little bit late with our predictions (hey, we were kinda new to this blog thing back in April… it’s a miracle we ever got anything posted at all), but back on April 5, we posted the official Knuckleballs 2010 Opening Day Predictions.

Looking back, it turns out that I’m good! How good? Well, not diety good, but pretty good. The categories covered both predictions related specifically to the Twins and to MLB in general. Let’s take a look back:

Twins-Specific Predictions (comments in parens)
- Twins MVP
: Joe Mauer (I’m on record somewhere as feeling Delmon Young was actually a better choice for MVP than Joe, but the consensus around the rest of Twins blogdom seems to be in Mauer’s corner… so I was right, right?)
- Twins Top Pitcher: Kevin Slowey (He was probably the Twins top pitcher for a day or two during the season but I admit this wasn’t a real solid pick, in retrospect.)
- Twins Best Rookie: Danny Valencia (Not a bad pick considering the guy was in Rochester when the prediction was made!)
- Twins Most Improved Player: Nick Punto (You can stop laughing now, it’s not THAT funny. I think this was a typo… I’m pretty sure I meant to type “Delmon Young”.)
- Bold Predictions (think of several if you’d like): Jim Thome plays a major role this year, to the tune of 25 home runs and Pat Neshek leads the Twins in saves. (Yeah, I know the Neshek “bold prediction” didn’t pan out but check out that “Thome plays a major role” prediction… 25 home runs! Talk about nailing a prediction!)
- A.L. Central Prediction (Standings): Minnesota, Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City, Cleveland (I got the last two teams inverted… but when one finishes 25 games behind 1st place and the other 27 games behind, does it really matter?)
- Three Keys to Success for the Twins: I suppose “win lots of games” is a bit broad, huh? OK, let’s say 1) identify a consistent closer; 2) keep the big guns healthy; and 3) consistency of the rotation. (I’d say the Twins did alright on the “consistent closer” thing. They found two of them, in fact. I suppose I have to accept defeat on the “keep the big guns healthy” idea since Doc missed the last half of the season, but six pitchers got all except three of the Twins starts this year… that’s a pretty consistent rotation, even if it wasn’t always consistently good.)

Moving on to the broader categories…

- A.L. MVP: When someone shows me a better, and more valuable, player than Joe Mauer, I’ll consider someone else. Until then, he’s the guy. (Joe turned in another very good season, but without the power demonstrated last year… so I’ll admit someone else – my pick would be Josh Hamilton – will earn the AL MVP award.)
- N.L. MVP: Likewise, I can’t see anyone approaching Albert Pujols for this award. (Who would have predicted Joey Friggin Votto?)
- A.L. Cy Young: Cliff Lee, Seattle… if he gets off his lazy butt and gets on the mound sometime soon. (Lee had a good year… but Felix Hernandez should get this award and Lee really isn’t even in the top 5.)
- N.L. Cy Young: Roy Halladay, Philadelphia (Nailed it. Halladay is pretty good at pitching.)
- A.L. Rookie of the Year: Brian Matusz, Baltimore (Feliz, the Rangers closer,  is going to win this award, but I’m not embarassed by this pick. Matusz had a very good rookie year and I personally have issues with a closer getting this award anyway.)
- N.L. Rookie of the Year: Jason Heyward, Atlanta (Not the runaway winner I expected, but he should still get the award.)
- A.L. Breakout Player of the Year: Let’s go with our own Denard Span, shall we? (I have no idea who might win this award… but I think it’s a safe bet it won’t be Denard.)
- N.L. Breakout Player of the Year: I’ve got no friggin clue here (The year is over and I still don’t know who this was in the NL. I should watch more NL games, I suppose.)
- A.L. Comeback Player of the Year: Pat Neshek would be a nice story in this category, wouldn’t he? (Neshek would have been a good story… but instead the award went to another Twins pitcher, Francisco Liriano. Maybe I just got them confused… they look a lot alike, yanno.)
- N.L. Comeback Player of the Year: Yeah… no idea. (It went to Tim Hudson of the Braves.)
- A.L. Playoff Predictions: Twins over Red Sox, Yankees over Mariners
- N.L. Playoff Predictions: Braves over Rockies, Cards over Phillies
- World Series Prediction: Twins over Cardinals in a throwback to 1987!

(Only getting half the playoff teams right isn’t much to brag about, is it? But in my defense, the Red Sox and Rockies weren’t bad and the Cardinals didn’t fold until late in the year. But then there’s that Mariners pick. Ouch… what the heck was I thinking?)

I haven’t gone back to see how other bloggers did with their picks, now that we have the benefit of hindsight. There are certainly a lot of men and women in the Twins blogging community who are smarter than I am so I’m sure several got a few more predictions right than I did… but I didn’t totally suck, and for me that’s GOOD! – JC

GameChat – Yankees @ Twins, 5:00pm, ALDS #2

OK, let’s see what they got today.  I expect another game of serious competitive baseball!

NY Yankees @ Minnesota
Jeter, SS   Span, CF
Granderson, CF   Hudson, O, 2B
Teixeira, 1B   Mauer, C
Rodriguez, A, 3B   Young, D, LF
Cano, 2B   Thome, DH
Swisher, RF   Cuddyer, 1B
Posada, C   Kubel, RF
Berkman, DH   Valencia, 3B
Gardner, LF   Hardy, SS
Pettitte, P   Pavano, P

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
NY Yankees 0 0 0 1 1 0 2 0 1 5 12 0
Minnesota 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 2 6 0

 

It’s frustrating for all of us. I’m not sure what’s more frustrating… the impotent bats or the way everyone and everything associated with MLB seems to conspire to assure the f’ing Yankees advance as far as possible in the post-season. I mean… I get it… the money guys only pay big bucks if New York is involved. But seriously, does that mean you have to assign the biggest dickheads in the MLB umpiring corps to assure that they not only have twice as much money to spend on payroll but also get every break possible from dicks like Hunter Wendelstedt?

But even if Bud Selig and his buddies are conspiring to do everything possible to assure the Yankees progress to the World Series, that’s no excuse for most of the Twins hitters to bend over and take it. I’m absolutely disgusted by the demeanor and attitude of this ballclub right now. It’s not everyone. Pavano gave a noble effort. The relief pitchers did their jobs. But where the hell is the heart of this batting order? They have no heart, apparently. Maybe it’s time to consider getting rid of some of these guys this off season and worrying less about who’s a “good guy” and more about who’s willing and able to show some guts and stand up to the damn Yankees.

I guess for now we just sit back and try to enjoy what’s left of this season… and hope that someone on this team will “grow a pair” in New York. – JC

No Time For “Morning After” Regrets

I’ve had a few long nights in my life that didn’t go the way I hoped they would… sometimes due to my own mistakes in judgment, sometimes due to the mistakes of others, and sometimes just because shit happens. But when morning comes, you get up, get dressed and move on to deal with the new day and try to make it better than the one you left behind. I’ve found that regrets are generally a waste of my time and I hope the Twins players realize that today.

So instead of a pointless rehashing of all the woulda/coulda/shoulda crap that I’m sure you can read about in 40 other places this morning, I’m just going to throw out a few idle thoughts.

  • First, all of you who are surprised the Twins lost game 1, raise your hand… we want to see just how many liars are in the crowd. I picked the Twins to win this series in 5 games and that assumed a loss to Captain Cheeseburger. If anything, I’m encouraged a bit because CC certainly didn’t look Cy Young-like last night. He’s more beatable than I expected. I stand by my “Twins in 5″ prediction this morning.
  • For those of you who like numbers and know instinctively that winning game 1 of a five-game series is pretty important, congratulations… you’re right. In all of MLB’s five-game series, the winner of game 1 has gone on to win the series 72.9% of the time. But guess what, the winner of game 2 has done even better… 79.2% of the time. In fact, teams that have won game 2 after losing game 1 have won the series 22 out of 37 times. In other words, I stand by my “Twins in 5″ prediction this morning. (Thanks to Joe Posnanski for the numbers.)
  • Orlando Cabrera (remember him?) should know better. It’s not that he was wrong about the plate umpire giving a pretty generous strike zone to Roy Halladay during his no-hitter against Cabrera’s Reds yesterday… I agree. But Orlando has been around long enough to know that nothing productive is going to come out of going public with the complaint.
  • If you think it may be tough for the Twins to “get over” last night’s loss, imagine being the Reds. Thanks to MLB’s insane post-season scheduling, they don’t play today, so the Reds have two days to sit around and think about (not to mention answer questions about) being only the second team in MLB history to be no-hit in the post-season.
  • I didn’t see the Rangers/Rays game (some of us have to work occasionally, yanno). But those of you who did… can you explain to me again why the Twins are better off not having been successful in outbidding the Rangers for Cliff Lee? There was no shortage of people anxious to point out that he didn’t ride in to Texas and immediately start winning every game he pitched. Big deal. THIS is the time of the season that the Rangers got Lee for. A rotation of Lee, Liriano and Pavano would look pretty good about now, to me. (Just because “I” don’t believe in having regrets personally doesn’t mean I’m above pointing out why OTHERS should!)
  • Randy Moss is a HUGE pick up for the Vikings. It’s kind of nice to be a fan of at least one team with an owner who’s willing to spend money foolishly to win immediately.
  • Jesse Crain deservedly is getting some criticism for coughing up the home run to Teixeira last night. That said, when I saw Joe Mauer flash 3 fingers (presumably for a change up), I immediately thought “oh shit, no”. Now… maybe it was the right pitch, thrown in the wrong place by Crain, but while I don’t think Joe should bother “regretting” calling for a change up to Tex in that situation, I think it’s OK to learn from your mistakes.
  • I’m a proponent of using more instant replay. I think it’s absolutely beyond rediculous that MLB doesn’t use it for more than just determining whether a ball was a home run or not. I also believe Bud Selig is a damn dinosauer and will never allow that to happen while he’s commissioner… unless… a blown call costs the Yankees an opportunity to advance in the playoffs, thus costing TBS and FOX millions of dollars worth of ratings-driven advertising revenue. For that reason alone, I will celebrate EVERY blown call that goes against the Yankees in the post-season. If the call also benefits the Twins, so much the better. Arguing that using replay would slow the pace of the games is laughable. Adding an additional 45 seconds of advertising time between every inning slows the pace of the game a helluva lot more, but that doesn’t stop Bud and his cronies from doing THAT in the post-season. Calls reviewed immediately by an umpire in the press box, without the idiotic need to “challenge” calls, would make sure most of the blown calls are reversed in far less time than it took the 6 “men in black” to discuss the catch/no-catch situation last night.

Finally, I don’t dare speak for everyone who was in our GameChat last night (I think we topped out at about 16 people), but even with the results of the game, that was about the most fun I’ve had in one of our GameChats all season. It was an exciting game shared with fun people and I want to thank everyone who showed up to share it with us. I hope we’ll have a good group again tonight and we’ll get to celebrate a Twins win!

Remember… it’s an earlier start tonight so find a comfortable chair and fire up your laptop to join us by 5:00 pm! – JC

*** and if you are heading to TF tonight get there as early as you can to help ESPN show support for Carl Pavano!  Heading to the Twins game tonight? Want to support Pavano, but don’t have any facial hair? We’ve got your upper lip covered!!! …giving away 3,000 free Pavano stick-on mustaches from our broadcast booth near Gate 29! Spread the word!***

GameChat – Yankees @ Twins, 7:30, ALDS Game #1: Lou Brown Said It Best

Yes, I’m aware that the Yankees are the defending World Champions.

Yes, I’m aware that the Twins have had a little trouble beating the Yankees, whether in the playoffs, regular season or (I suspect) Spring Training since Ron Gardenhire took over for Tom Kelly in 2002.

Yes, I know the Yankees have Cy Young “lock” (according to Bryant Gumble anyway) CC Sabathia ready to face the Twins in Game 1 of the series.

Yes, I’m aware that the Yankees have more likely future Hall of Famers in their clubhouse than the Twins have had in their entire 50 year history.

And I don’t see how any of us could help but be aware that the national media considers this series to be nothing more than a minor inconvenience to be overcome on the way to the Yankees/Rays AL Championship Series they’ve all been salivating over for weeks.

But to quote (or at least paraphrase) perhaps the best fictional baseball manager ever, Lou Brown of Major League fame, “I’d just like to point out that every newspaper in the country has picked us to [lose to the Yankees]. The press seems to think that we’d save everyone the time and trouble if we just went out and shot ourselves. Me, I’m for wasting sportswriters’ time. So I figured we ought to hang around for a while and see if we can give ‘em all a nice big shitburger to eat!”

As much as the media and a significant and vocal part of their fan base would like us to believe, these Yankees are not the same Yankees who dispatched the Twins on the way to winning the 2009 World Series. The Yankees 2009 post-season rotation of Sabathia, Burnett and Pettitte consisted of three guys who could easily have been aces on the staff of most contending teams last year. Sabathia will again be a formidable presence for the Twins to overcome, but the likely starters for games 2, 3 and, if necessary, 5 are performing nowhere near “ace” levels lately.

The Yankee offense can score runs, as always. But if they’re going to waltz over the Twins in games at Target Field, they’re likely going to have to do so using speed and defense because I just don’t see either team being likely to overpower the other in the cool evening air at a ballpark that has been reluctant to give up home runs to the gaps or center field in even the warmest days of summer. But make no mistake about it, the Yankees DO have the speed and outfield defense to potentially do serious damage.

Likewise, these are not your 2009 Minnesota Twins, either.

As the discussion about the likely playoff roster has heated up over the past couple of weeks, there has been a lot said and written about how thin the Twins’ bench will be. That’s fair, to a degree. But if you think having a bench consisting of utility infielders like Nick Punto and Matt Tolbert is problematic, just keep in mind that those two players were in the Twins STARTING infield the last time the Twins lined up for Game 1 against the Yankees… and the Twins’ DH in that game was Brendan Harris. You may have heard that the Twins have a different DH lined up for this year.

There’s no question that, defensively and offensively, the current infield of Valencia, Hardy, Hudson and Cuddyer is a significant improvement over Tolbert, Cabrera, Punto and Cuddyer from 2009.

Of course, many fans are talking about how this year’s outfield defense of Young, Span and Kubel doesn’t measure up to last year. But guess what… that’s exactly the defensive outfield that started Game 1 and Game 3 for the Twins last year. Carlos Gomez essentially played a similar role to what Jason Repko plays this year… late inning defensive replacement.

For those of you who think predicting the Twins will win this series is bordering on crazy, here’s something to consider… the Yankees have entered post-season as the Wild Card team three times. How many times have they survived to move on to the ALCS? Exactly… zero.

Yes, home field advantage in a 5-game series IS a big deal.  It’s even more so in the newly dubbed Ballpark of the Year!

Fasten your seatbelts, folks, I think we’re going to enjoy this ride! – JC

NY Yankees @ Minnesota
Jeter, SS   Span, CF
Swisher, RF   Hudson, O, 2B
Teixeira, 1B   Mauer, C
Rodriguez, A, 3B   Young, D, LF
Cano, 2B   Thome, DH
Thames, DH   Cuddyer, 1B
Posada, C   Kubel, RF
Granderson, CF   Valencia, 3B
Gardner, LF   Hardy, SS
  Sabathia, P     Liriano, P

 

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

 

Just going to let this one sit quietly for a bit – no one really wants to start this way.  But here’s my perception of the game overall:  this was NOT our historical ‘give the game to the Yankees because we’re ‘quaking in our boots’.  This was a well-battled game of baseball that didn’t go our way in the end.  Last year we started really making the Yankees have to play baseball to beat us and then giving it away at the end.  This was the best they had to offer in their pitching rotation so now?  yeah, I’m oddly optimistic!!  Let’s bring it back out there tomorrow and see what they got!

Yankee Fan vs. Jim Crikket, ALDS Offense

In this final installment of the YF vs JC discussion of the Yankee/Twin ALDS series, they take an in-depth look at the two teams’ respective offensive lineups.

Let’s start with a look at the likely starting line ups for the Yankees and Twins.

 

YANKEES @ TWINS
Jeter, SS   Span, CF
Swisher, RF   Hudson, O, 2B
Teixeira, 1B   Mauer, C
Rodriguez, A, 3B   Young, D, LF
Cano, 2B   Thome, DH
Posada, C   Cuddyer, 1B
Thames / Berkman   Kubel, RF
Granderson,   Valencia, 3B
Gardner   Hardy, SS

 

Yankee Fan: There is a nice symmetry with this lineup comparison.  The scary parts are the 3-7 hitters, with the 8-9s being setups for the top of the order.  Some speed mixed with some station-to-station guys, and of course, some power through the order.

Looking at the top third of the order, for the Yankees, ideally, Jeter gets on, Swisher walks, and Tex/A-Rod clear the bases.  Problem is, Swisher has fallen in love with the long ball and savvy ground ball pitchers are his weakness.  On the other hand, I firmly believe that Jeter’s batting troubles are behind him and that non-strikeout pitchers who depend on contact are good for him.  Confident that he wont strike out, I think he’ll be comfortable spraying singles to all fields.  The most troubling component here is Tex and his tendency to wilt under pressure.  Until I see otherwise, I think he’s a buzzkill in the top third of the lineup.

For the Twins, Mauer is the key here.  I don’t foresee him leaving men in scoring position.  The man is clutch, has intangibles, and don’t forget the sideburns!  Jeter doesn’t have sideburns… If you haven’t figured it out by now, I worry about Mauer in any situation.  You have two guys who can get on base at a decent clip in Span and Hudson, and Span can go first to third in an instant.  Indeed, the threat of power from the 3-7 hitters will keep Yankee pitchers honest, and Span could have his way on the base paths.  I see that top third scoring 2+ runs per game.  So before we get to the meat of the order, I give the advantage to Minnesota.

 

Derek Jeter shows his form at Target Field in May

Jim Crikket: You’ve seen the Yankees more than I have, certainly, but I’m not so sure Jeter’s hitting problems are behind him. He’s an extreme ground ball hitter and the Twins infield doesn’t let a lot of those get through. Swisher is the guy who concerns me here. I want to see Teixeira coming up with the bases empty as often as possible.

Mauer certainly has earned the respect you give him, but if Span and Hudson aren’t getting on base at a healthy clip, the damage Mauer inflicts will be suppressed considerably. Neither of those guys at the top of the order were getting on base nearly frequently enough the last month of the season. Until I see evidence that they’re going to do better, I give a slight advantage to the Yankees.

The middle of the order is where things get interesting for both teams. There’s a healthy debate among Twins fans as to whether Mauer or Young was the team’s MVP during the regular season. I don’t think there’s a wrong answer to that question but for my money, I’d go with Delmon. He can be streaky, but he has come through in the clutch time and time again. Jim Thome isn’t going to win any footraces, but he’s still as dangerous as any hitter in this series. His effectiveness is, however, likely to be more limited against the Yankees’ left handed starting pitchers. Cuddyer is not having one of his better offensive seasons, but he’s got as much power potential as the others. It would be helpful, however, if we could get a rule adopted outlawing the throwing of breaking balls to Michael. Even without the rule adjustment, I like him in the 6-spot over Posada.

On the Yankee side, as long as Gardy never… ever… lets Matt Guerrier face Alex Rodriguez again, I’ll be more concerned about Robinson Cano than Rodriguez. Rodriguez had a good post-season last year and it’s funny how now all of a sudden all those choke jobs he pulled in prior Octobers apparently never happened. As for Posada, in my opinion he no longer belongs in the middle third of a contending team’s batting order. I give the middle third to the Twins.

Yankee Fan: A-Rod and Cano are monsters right now.  If I was looking at pairs of hitters instead of trios, those two would be (by far) the best combo (only because Morneau is out).  The only issue here is Posada.  Yes, Posada will crush a mistake here and there, and sometimes even in an important spot.  That Minny is throwing some contact pitchers out there benefits Jorgie.  Alas, old grey Jorgie ain’t what he used to be, and again the Yanks have an anchor to sink this middle third of the lineup.  Because of Tex and Jorge, the offense will start then sputter.

Jim Thome

In addition to Mauer, another Twin who scares me is Thome.  Anchoring the second third of the lineup, he acts as a second cleanup hitter of sorts.  With Mauer keeping innings going, I see Thome driving him in.  Young and Cuddyer are perfect Yankee Stadium hitters — that ballpark lends itself to some decent home runs.  The end result here is that every player scares you, and Thome might scare you the most.  He’s a savvy veteran who knows how to keep an inning alive. Advantage: NYY (A-Rod and Cano are that good).

Looking at the bottom third of the Yankee order, Thames/Berkman have their strengths.  Thames is a power threat and handles himself at the plate decently.  Berkman, like Thome, knows how to get a job done when necessary, like driving in a run from third with less than 2 outs, or hitting to the right side when the runner needs to advance from second to third.  The lineup brightens for the Yanks at the bottom — Granderson has a mix of decent hitting, power and speed.  Gardner gets on base and can run, setting up Jeter for more “intangible” and “clutch” postseason moments.  Sure, it’s a joke when McCarver (can we agree that he sucks?) raves about Jeter, but you have to admit, he’s been pretty clutch for the Yanks in the past.

Similarly to the Yankee analysis — Kubel can pound the ball, and Valencia and Hardy can set up the potent top of the order.  Granted, Danny and JJ (which I think was the name of my second favorite ’80s sitcom after Dukes of Hazzard) aren’t as big of a threat to steal bases, but they are better than your average 8-9 hitters. I give the advantage to the Yankees.

Jim Crikket: For someone who’s been looking at things in such a balanced manner, I think you finally let your Yankee bias shine through, YF. There frankly isn’t a single Yankee in the bottom third of their order that I would take over his counterpart on the Twins side. Kubel has certainly earned his drop in the order to #7, but I’d still take him over whichever DH the Yankees trot out there. Granderson hasn’t hit lefthanded pitcing since before he left the Tigers (and isn’t hitting righties particularly well either this season), and Gardner, after getting off to a decent start to his year, has not really hit well since the All Star break.

Danny Valencia

Danny Valencia is probably the best hitter of the six guys in the bottom of these orders and JJ Hardy has put up an OPS of nearly .800 over the last month of the season. A case could be made that Valencia and Hardy have been producing better than Span and Hudson.

So, YF… after all of this analysis, how do you see this series going? Another 3-game sweep for the Evil Empire?

Yankee Fan: With hitting being the deciding factor, I do think the Yankees will prevail once again.  I think the Twins can outhit the Yankees, just not over a 5 game series.  If the Yankees want to win, they need game 1, and hope to outslug the Twins in games 2-4.  Sorry, I know I am a guest to this blog, but I think the Yankees have too many good hitters against contact pitchers. Prediction: Yankees in 4.

Jim Crikket: This is not the same roll-over-and-find-a-way-to-lose Twins team the Yankees have casually discarded in years past. They have deeper pitching, a more balanced offensive line up and a defense that is at least comparable to the Yankees… and they get to begin and end (if necessary) this series in Target Field. I honestly believe the Yankees tanked on purpose to get the Wild Card and this match up with the Twins, rather than face Cliff Lee and the Rangers in a short series… and they’re going to regret having done so.  Prediction: the Twins in 5 games… and if Gardy’s boys can beat Captain Cheeseburger in Game 1, get out the brooms!

Yankee Fan vs. Jim Crikket, ALDS Defense

In last night’s post, Yankee Fan vs Jim Crikket discussed how the Yankees and Twins pitching staffs matched up. Today, they debate the what can be expected of each team’s defense in the upcoming Yankee/Twin ALDS.

Jim Crikket: Let’s start out with the outfields. A lot of Twins fans have complained about this year’s outfield not measuring up defensively to last season’s. But guess what… Young, Span and Kubel WERE last season’s outfield in Games 1 and 3 of the ALDS… and while some think Delmon has put back on a few of the pounds he shed last offseason, I still think he’s improved out there in left field. There’s no doubt that there’s a lot of room for bloopers to drop in between these guys, but at least the guys at the corners have arms that could keep Yankee runners from taking the extra base. Nick Swisher is no greyhound in right field for the Yankees either, but Granderson and Gardner cover plenty of ground between them. Purely defensively, the Yankee outfield has the edge.

Yankee Fan: This is turning out to be quite a boring exchange, as we keep agreeing on things.  I’ll admit to relative ignorance regarding the Twins’ outfield defense.  Then again, speed isn’t something Kubel or Young is especially known for, but Span sure can make up a lot of ground between them.  In contrast, the outfield of Gardner, Granderson and Swisher does cover a lot of ground.  The right field experience (sorry Swish) is not ideal from a defensive standpoint, but I admit it’s a lot of fun to watch (through clenched fists of course).  I think if I stick with my prediction that the ball will be in play a lot in the deciding games, I have to give an advantage to the Yankees here — the Twins’ outfield will allow a couple of extra doubles in the gap or singles that dunk in.

 

 

Hudson is just one of the Twins infield upgrades

Jim Crikket: If the Yankees have to win by scratching out a couple of extra bloopers, they probably won’t even want to advance, just on principle!

It pains me to admit it, but the Yankees may very well have four future Hall of Famers in their infield (does that count as my “nice” thing to say about Jeter?), though I think you’d have to say Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira will need to produce at current levels a few more years to make that a reality. Rodriguez still covers some ground at third base but until Jeter is moved out of the SS position, I’ll always consider that infield to be suspect defensively. The Twins infield has been significantly upgraded over last year’s playoff version defensively (Valencia, Hardy and Hudson over the trio of Tolbert, Cabrera and Punto around the horn in Game 1 of the 2009 ALDS) and while Cuddyer’s not going to make his infielders look as good as Teixeira will his, I like the Twins’ unit better than the Yankees overall.

 

ARod, Cano and Jeter

Yankee Fan: Hey now, as a long time Yankee Fan, if the Yankees win without any “help” from the umpires I will be happy.  Finally, something we can disagree on!  I think Teixeira fields his position amazingly, and A-Rod is no slouch at third.  While Cano has generally played gold glove-caliber defense this season, his mind and focus tends to wander.  That shouldn’t be a problem in the playoffs, but that remains to be seen.  As for Jeter, I will be the first to admit his fielding has tailed off a little this year.  More than once I found myself saying “wow, he usually gets to that one” or “wait, the runner beat the throw?”  Then again, I think that the recently trendy criticism of Jeter’s defense has been mostly unwarranted.  Having watched him just about every day for the past dozen plus years, I can say the kid fielded far better than the critics would have us believe.  Overall, I think the Yankee infield is more than competent, as is the Twins’ infield.  I don’t think the difference defensively is worth discussing, even assuming lots of ground balls by the pitchers in the series.  But if I had to decide, I’d take the Yankee infield… four future hall of famers is nothing to scoff at!

I suppose the only thing left to discuss is the defensive catcher position – do we even have to discuss this?  Mauer is a game-changer.  He can hit, run, and throw out baserunners (not to mention handle a pitching staff).  The Yankee catchers can hit some, and Posada can handle most pitchers (I’m looking at you Burnett) but generally can’t run or throw out baserunners.  Herein lies a deceptive advantage for the Twins.  Depending on the way the games play out, the Mauer factor can carry much more weight than, say, “Span v. Granderson.”  In case you couldn’t tell, I think this is where the Twins win the series… if they win it.

Jim Crikket: Yeah, Joe Mauer didn’t win the batting title this year. He finished what? Third? Whatever. Jorge Posada is no slouch, even at his advanced age, but the clear advantage here goes to the Twins.  There has been a lot of discussion about the Twins starting pitching not looking real sharp for the past couple of weeks, but a lot of those games were being caught by back up catchers. It will be interesting to see if having Mauer back behind the plate has an effect on Liriano, Duensing and Blackburn in particular.

Next: Who’s bringing the lumber?

Yankee Fan vs. Jim Crikket, ALDS Pitching

With close to 70 different Twins-related blogs floating about in the cyber-cloud and almost all of them posting an analysis of the upcoming Twins/Yankees ALDS, it’s not easy to set your blog apart from the others. But here at Knuckleballs, we’re fortunate to have a legitimate fan of the Yankees (who conveniently goes by the nick “Yankee Fan”) as a regular reader. We asked Yankee Fan if he would be willing to go head-to-head with Jim Crikket in a little pre-ALDS analysis. To our surprise, he agreed!

Here, in Part 1 of Yankee Fan vs Jim Crikket, they discuss the comparative strengths and weaknesses of the Yankees and Twins pitching. Later, they’ll give their takes on their respective teams’ gloves and hitters and provide their personal predictions concerning the utlimate outcome of this ALDS series.

 

JimCrikket: I would imagine that we’ll start off with something we can quickly come to an agreement on… that CC Sabathia is clearly the number 1 rotation arm in this series. Since he’s likely to pitch two of the four games (if the series goes that far), he’s arguably both the first AND second best pitcher in the series. But forgive me if I haven’t been impressed with what I’ve seen of Andy Pettitte since his return or Phil Hughes since… I dunno… June? It’s hard to predict which versions of the Jekyll/Hyde Twins starters will show up on any given day, but I think their depth is better than the Yankees. When he’s “on”, Liriano is as good as anyone in the league and Pavano has been very reliable, but I think Brian Duensing and Nick Blackburn could play key roles in determining who wins this series. Overall, I give a slight advantage to the Yankees  just because Captain Cheeseburger can be THAT good.

Francisco Liriano

 Yankee Fan: CC is absolutely a great pitcher but calling him the top two pitchers in the series borders hyperbole (unless that’s a veiled reference to his weight, in which case I concede).  There’s an argument to be made that Liriano is the better pitcher (2.61 ERA, 10 K/9 vs. CC’s 3.21 ERA, 7.46 K/9 against playoff teams) and that the Yankee bats are responsible for the difference between Sabathia’s 21-7 record and Liriano’s 14-10.  At the very best, I would call it a wash on Game 1.  There will be no surprises as either pitcher can “bring it.”

As for Games 2 and 3, can someone please show me where the average Yankee fan (and Daily News’) confidence comes from?  Pettitte has been worse than Burnett since coming off the DL (seriously, 6.76 ERA!) and Hughes’ 1.63 WHIP over his last 3 starts doesn’t strike fear in my son’s little league team right now.  Then again, Pavano and Duensing haven’t been lighting it up either, so I think that Games 2-5 (if necessary) will be determined by the hitters instead of the pitchers.  Without boring you and your readers with the statistics, it would appear that beyond CC and Liriano the series will be decided by non-strikeout pitchers — that means a lot of batted balls in play.  I know that traditionally playoff games are dictated by pitching and defense, but here the hitters will determine the outcome (and the series).  Then again, don’t discount the Pavano factor — if I’ve learned one thing over the past 5 years it’s that if Carl can screw the Yanks, he will.

Jim Crikket: Wow, I’m shocked… it sounds like you’re going to make all my points for me! You want to do my job and tell me how great the Twins’ bullpen is too?

Yankee Fan: Well you started off praising CC so I guess I felt the need to reciprocate – in retrospect I may have overcompensated.  Now you have to say something nice about Derek Jeter.  As for bullpen comparison, it is my humble opinion that the Twins’ bullpen is the best in baseball.  Don’t get me wrong, I like the Yankee bullpen very much — I still think Joba can get key outs, Wood has been excellent, and despite the chatter, Mariano is still Mariano.  My biggest issue with the Yankee bullpen is that they may need 4-5 innings of relief pitching for every non-CC outing to even get to Mo.  Over a 5 game series that bullpen is bound to turn out like the Yankees’ signing of Pavano — overspent and underwhelmed.  The good news?  I think that Minny might need 4-5 innings of relief pitching as well (especially with Pavano and Duensing pitching to contact).  The bad news is I think they can handle it.  Agree?

Mariano Rivera at Target Field in May

Jim Crikket: I certainly do (but I’m going to have to give some thought about saying something nice about Jeter).

I realize it borders on heresy to suggest that Mariano Rivera is remotely human, but it sure looks like age may finally be catching up to him. I also haven’t been impressed with the rest of the Yankees bullpen, though I readily admit that I’m surprised at just how effective Kerry Wood has been. Matt Capps has been reliable and just for good measure, the Twins have two more 20-save arms in their bullpen in the persons of Brian Fuentes and Jon Rauch (assuming he’s healthy). Remarkably, none of those three is even the Twins best reliever. That would have to be Jesse Crain. Nobody wants to have to go in to the ninth inning down and try to beat Rivera, but I think the Twins overall depth gives them the advantage at this position. It sounds like we agree on that anyway.

Next: Who’s going to flash the best leather?