At long last (too long for many of us), Kyle Gibson gets to make his Twins debut on the mound this afternoon against the Kansas City Royals.
For more on Gibson (and other stuff), you should scroll down and give a listen to the Talk to Contact podcast fellow Knuckleballer Eric posted this morning.
I don’t think anyone believes he’s going to be a 20-game winner for the Twins anytime soon (or ever, perhaps), but he has been mowing down AAA hitters consistently for most of the season and, meanwhile, the Twins rotation has had some issues, to say the least.
It should be interesting to see how Gibson fares today. In fact, for only like the third time all season, I am interested enough in a Twins game to actually go find a sports bar to watch at least part of one of their games before I head to the Kernels ballpark. – JC
The Twins, according to legend, are afraid of the Yankees. And you know what, after some quick post-season exits at the hands of the Yankees, that is a pretty easy narrative to build. Add in the fact that the Twins have struggled to beat the Yankees in the regular season, despite the Twins having fairly successful regular season teams for most of the 2000’s, and you begin to see how that narrative continues to grow.
In the 11 years between 2000 and 2010 the Twins compiled a .537 winning percentage, going 957-826. During that same span the Twins went 25-57 against the New York Yankees, a .325 winning percentage. Take out the 77 games against the Yankees and the Twins are 163 games above .500 instead of just 131. That is a significant bump. During that same time period the Twins played the Yankees four times in the post-season, managing to win just two games, while losing 12, swept in 2009 and 2010. That brings the Twins’ 11-year record against the Yankees to 27-69 (.281). That is bad, almost as bad as the 2003 Detroit Tigers (43-119), the worst team of the last 50 years.
During that same 11-year span the Yankees were 1060-718, only had a losing record against one American League team (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, 45-54), and won two World Series titles (and losing in the World Series two other times). So clearly the Yankees were a better team than the Twins over that same time period, but the Yankees’ .596 winning percentage is not so much larger than the Twins’ .537 that you would expect the Twins fail so miserably against the Yankees during the span.
Assuming each team’s regular season winning percentages represented their true talent over those 11 years, the Yankees should have beaten the Twins only about 53% of the time, not the nearly 72% clip they had over that same span. So what gives? Why did the Yankees perform so well against the Minnesota Twins, especially in the post season?
For me, it comes down to roster construction, and specifically the postseason pitching rotations, where teams often turn to only their top three or four pitchers.
The Twins, with a lack of depth in their starting rotation chose to go back to their ace on four days of rest, facing elimination in Game 4. The Yankees, alternatively, felt strong enough to run out David Wells (4.14 ERA, 4.3K/9, essentially a league average pitcher in 2003 despite his 15-7 W/L record) knowing that should they be pushed to a decisive Game 5 they could turn to Mike Mussina, their ace, against Brad Radke (4.49 ERA and a pitch to contact friendly contact rate of 82.2%).
So while you would certainly expect the Twins to score more than 3 runs over their final 3 games in this series, outside of Santana the Twins certainly did not have a rotation that could even dream about keeping up with New York (and remember that the Kyle Lohse of 2003 (4.61 ERA) is a far cry from the pitcher he has been over the past three seasons).
Kevin Correia had another productive start, giving up just 2 runs in 6 innings of work, but it was wasted. Mauer and Arcia each had a pair of hits, but that’s pretty much where the good stuff ended. The bullpen uncharacteristically failed tonight.
It may surprise some Twins and Kernels fans to learn that, even with the promotion of fan-favorite Byron Buxton on Sunday, the Kernels still have an outfielder in their line up that was ranked among the Top 10 prospects of the parent Minnesota Twins coming in to the season.
The reason for the surprise is that few fans have seen that prospect on the ball field yet this year.
Max Kepler was promoted to Cedar Rapids last week and arrived just in time to join the team for their trip to Appleton, Wisconsin to face the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. He had five hits in the four-game series and three of those hits were doubles.
I ranked Kepler #9 on my list of top Twins prospects back on December 31, which was directly in between the #8 ranking he was given by mlb.com and the #10 ranking by Baseball America before the season started. He was expected to open the 2013 season as a member of the Kernels’ outfield, but an elbow injury suffered during spring training resulted in Kepler being held back in extended spring training.
Kepler is a native of Berlin, Germany, and was given an $800,000 signing bonus by the Twins in 2009, the same off-season that the Twins signed Miguel Sano. That was the highest bonus ever given to a European player by a Major League organization. Kepler was just 16 years old at the time of his signing and moved to the United States shortly after signing with the Twins. He finished high school at the Fort Myers high school that adjoins the Twins’ spring training facility.
He has played for the Twins’ short season rookie league teams the past three years and was expected to begin his first full season of minor league ball with the Kernels in April.
I was covering the Kernels and Timber Rattlers series for Metro Sports Report over the weekend and I had an opportunity to interview Twins General Manager Terry Ryan before the Kernels game on Sunday. He shared some of his thoughts on Kepler.
“Yeah, he’s had a bad elbow and it’s been frustrating for all of us because we can’t figure out what the problem is. Now he’s playing and he’s playing the outfield. He can play left, center and right. He can play first. He’s got a lot of life in his bat. We’ll wait for him to get up to par here, because he’s way behind everybody. But I think you’re going to like what you see in Kepler as the summer progresses.”
You can read my entire interview with the Twins GM by clicking here.
Kernels Manager Jake Mauer concurred with his boss. Mauer told me over the weekend, “Kepler’s going to help us. He’s going to be a pretty good hitter.”
But just who is this young German outfielder?
I had the opportunity to sit down with Kepler before Sunday’s game in Wisconsin to ask some questions that may give fans some insight in to that question.
Jim Crikket: You were expected to open this season with the Kernels. Can you tell us what happened and what you’ve been doing the past couple of months?
Max Kepler: I’ve been rehabbing. I’ve been set back three times and it was due to an elbow strain that happened during spring training. I made a throw to home and it just didn’t feel good in my elbow and I was taken out of the game right then and there.
I got an MRI and got the results and it was said to be an elbow strain. We worked on it, but I’ve been set back a couple of times and that’s why I’ve been out for so long, which is unfortunate. But now I’m back!
JC: It had to be tough staying back in Florida while the guys you were training with and playing with in during spring training in March were going north to Cedar Rapids.
Kepler: You know, it happens.
Yeah, this is the same team we had back in E’town (Elizabethton, the Twins rookie league team that won the Appalachian League championship last season), so I missed leaving with them, but I’m glad to be back with them now.
JC: I have to ask, you were growing up as a kid in Germany – why baseball? It’s not exactly the German national sport, right?
Kepler: That’s true. I went to an international school and my mom’s from Texas, so she kind of got me in to baseball.
I was doing like four to five sports at the time and it came down to soccer and baseball and I had to make a decision between either one. I just chose to go with baseball. I wanted to go to the States, go abroad.
Soccer’s real big in Germany so I would have spent the rest of my life in Germany if I’d stuck to soccer. So, yeah, I went with baseball.
JC: You said you played four or five sports, what were the others that you were playing when you were younger?
Kepler: I played soccer, baseball, I had a scholarship in tennis, I swam, played basketball and some minor little sports on the side.
JC: For a lot of the international guys, the down side to playing minor league baseball is that the family doesn’t get to watch them play a whole lot. Does your family find a way to follow you or get to see you play at all?
Kepler: Yeah, you know the time zone is a lot different there so they’re up until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning just getting to see the first half of the game. But they love doing it and they’ll be down pretty soon, a couple weeks.
JC: I saw you in your first spring training with the Twins three years ago and I saw this skinny looking guy on one of the back fields. That’s not you anymore and the difference showed up a bit in your power numbers last year.
Kepler: Yep. I gained some weight (laughing). It happens.
I put on some weight and learned to pull the ball better in those couple of years and it paid off!
JC: Do you have a particular hitting philosophy? Do you see yourself as a power hitter or are you just concerned about driving the ball and if it goes over the fence, fine?
Kepler: I used to strictly see myself as a contact hitter. I came to the Twins as a contact hitter, just going (opposite field) all the time.
Now, basically, it’s just a start to a new season, first couple games, just see the ball right now and hit it. But when I’m in a groove, I like it to go far, the ball to go deep.
JC: Off the field, in your down time, what sort of things do you like to do when you’re not playing baseball?
Kepler: I like staying active. Last year, in E’town, we used to go out on lakes, go fishing. E’town didn’t have much to offer, but we found stuff to do.
JC: What about during the offseason?
Kepler: I love working out. Just getting back with friends and family. Spending a good time with family.
JC: Do you go back to Germany in the offseason?
Kepler: Yes, that’s very valuable to me. I only get like a month because they (the Twins) usually send you somewhere to play winter ball. I spend most of that time with family.
Kepler will make his home debut at 12:05 Tuesday afternoon when the Kernels open their first home series of the second half of the season against the Burlington Bees.
Ok, in my defense, this week my schedule has been RIDICULOUS (I hear Dairy Queen commercials in my head when I type this) so I have missed a LOT of baseball and baseball news. And sadly, today isn’t done with that schedule yet so I still don’t get any baseball.
BUT WHEN AND WHY DID PEDRO HERNANDEZ GET BACK UP HERE???
I’m so lost… I would still hate to see us on the OTHER side of a sweep in the division so can we please hope that he pitches great today?? oh, and boys, hit the ball a lot.
Ok, what the heck is up with these super slow games in Cleveland??
And just a heads up on the info I didn’t have during pregame: Pedro was up because Pelfrey hurt his back yesterday in warm-ups and is on the DL retro-active to his last start. Thank you to Pedro and his wife for the extraordinary effort in driving 357 miles overnight to be here as the emergency starter today.
I am glad that we got a win though. I was only able to briefly check in on the game at various points and never thought it was very encouraging but it looks like everyone kept firing away and worked hard. I like that they leave on a win and have the day off tomorrow. While there was a lot of contribution from everyone but from the numbers, today belongs to Mr. Joe Mauer.