Let It Be

Copyright: (whoever keeps me from getting sued)

~When I find myself in times of trouble…~

I’m channeling my inner Beatle today, I guess.

I tend to do that when I get stressed, especially over things that are totally out of my control. Like now, for instance.

Everyone is frustrated over the Twins’ lousy start to the 2011 season. Our instinct is to reach for answers… for things that could be done to fix the multitude of problems besetting the team. We lash out at the manager, the GM, the hitters, the pitchers… if only they would do their jobs better, the wins would come. As fans, we can’t DO anything, really… except lament the situation. Of course, different people lament in different ways.

If only there was something we could DO… any little thing… that might at least make us feel better, even if it provided little or no actual value to the team itself.

That is what I have done and I invite you to do so, as well.

Who among us didn’t have a mother who gave us some version of the, “Eat your liver… there are starving children in Africa who would love to have the kind of food we put on your plate,” speech?

Yes, folks, that’s how bad things have become. I’m not only channeling John Lennon, but my mother, as well.

But like the guy who lays down a bunt to break out of a slump, I’ll use whatever means is necessary to come up with a way to make me feel better about these times of trouble and today that means looking around to find someone who is worse off than we, as Twins fans, are.

And believe it or not, things COULD be worse.

Look out west… there’s a team out there that’s not only lost more games than they’ve won, but now they seem to have lost their owner, as well! The Dodger players only got their last paychecks because their owner got a personal loan from FOX and now it looks like they’re going to get Bud Selig’s “representative” running their team. That makes dropping a couple of games to the Orioles seem pretty inconsequential, by comparison.

The Mets and Mariners actually have worse records than the Twins do. But in their cases, their records pretty much reflect what fans’ expectations of those teams are. They aren’t even giving their fans some semblance of early season hope like the Royals are. As bad as things may seem in Twinsville, I wouldn’t change places with a Mets or Mariners fan at the moment.

And, better yet, as if just to make sure his buddy Ron Gardenhire doesn’t become overwrought with depression over the Twins early start, Ozzie Guillen has guided his southside boys to a seven game losing streak. Yes, for all the miserable results the Twins have had, they are still just one game behind the White Sox in the standings. And, unlike the Twins, the Sox haven’t called up half their AAA team just in order to field enough players to avoid a forfeit. Sure, they’d like to see Jake Peavy healthy again (has he ever been healthy since the Sox traded for him?), but that’s nothing compared to the guys who are MIA for the Twins. As Twins fans, we can look forward to the day when Nishioka’s leg heals, Nathan regains his arm strength, Slowey’s arm doesn’t hurt any more, Mauer’s legs regain some strength and Morneau & Young can stay off the toilet long enough to play a baseball game.

If you’re a BitchSox fan, what can you possibly look forward to besides another desperate (and ultimately futile) July trade by your GM?

One thing you notice if you follow teams during spring training like I have the last few years is that every team loses about ¾ of their road games. That’s because teams generally trot out a lineup consisting of 2-3 regulars (none of them “stars”) with the remainder consisting of guys destined to spend most, if not all, of the season at AAA or below.

Check the lineups Gardy is putting out there in Baltimore this week and you’ll see that’s pretty much what he’s stuck with having to do. He’s running spring training road line ups up against the Birds and hoping to win a game or two just by accident.

But at least he can look at the injury report (or in the bathroom) and see that better days are ahead… he will get better players back on the field at some point. Ozzie and all those poor BitchSox fans would love to be able to look ahead and see half a dozen better players returning to the lineup in the future.

And if that’s not enough to give you hope for a better tomorrow, then keep in mind that at least Bud Selig isn’t taking over your team.

So, for now… let’s just chill and let all those negative waves leave our bodies as we sing together…

~Let it be… let it be… let it be, yeah, let it be… whisper words of wisdom… let it beeeee~

– JC

Are The Twins The Team To Beat?

The Twins and their consensus AL Central Division challengers, the White Sox and Tigers, are all about 25-30% of the way through their Spring Training exhibition schedules, so maybe now is a good time to sneak a quick peek at how they’re measuring up. With the caveat being, as always, that you really shouldn’t read too much in to Spring Training performances, at least we aren’t having to do all of our evaluation “on paper”, as we did all off-season.

A lot of us were pretty harsh in our evaluations of the Twins’ moves (or lack thereof), especially during the first couple of months of the off-season. The Twins lost over half of their historically reliable bullpen and both of their starting middle infielders. With only one exception, the plan clearly became to replace those vacancies either from within or with spare parts picked up from other teams’ cast-offs. That strategy could very well work, at least in the bullpen, where there are a couple of guys with pretty good track records looking to regain past levels of effectiveness.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka (Photo: C Krupa/AP)

That one exception, Japanese batting champion Tsuyoshi Nishioka, comes with his own set of question marks, though the biggest is not necessarily one of his own making. Nishioka is relatively young for a guy making the transition from the NBL to Major League Baseball. He’s had a successful career in Japan, though he’s had some trouble staying healthy at times. The relative lack of experience, compared to other Japanese stars who’ve made the jump to the US, makes it impossible to know just how good he really is. On the other hand, it’s pretty tough to find comparable Japanese position players who have come over and become true stars at the MLB level. There’s Ichiro and… well… nobody else, really. The result is that American fans rightfully take a “show me” attitude toward Japanese imports.

Early returns are mixed on Nishioka. Scouting reports that his arm strength made him a better match for second base than shortstop have been somewhat backed up by his performance and after just a couple of games at each position, manager Ron Gardenhire announced that Nishioka would, indeed, play second base. Alexi Casilla, who broke in to the Angels organization as a shortstop, has the stronger arm and shortstop is his position to lose, at this point. But Nishioka seems to put bat on ball pretty well and that’s going to be critical if he hits in the #2 spot in the order.

Nishioka may be the lone “big addition” to the Twins roster over the winter, but the two biggest additions to the Twins’ 25-man roster entering the season stand to be names very familiar to Twins fans… Joe Nathan and Justin Morneau.  Some of us tend to forget that the Twins essentially won the AL Central last season with little contribution from two of their biggest stars. Nathan missed the entire 2010 season and Morneau missed the last half of the year. While Nathan appears to be back and ready to reclaim his closer role, Morneau has yet to be cleared to play in games. If the Twins have a healthy Morneau on the field most of the season (especially at the end, for a change) and if Nathan’s arm stays intact and he maybe gets a little help from Pat Neshek, who’s also hoping to return to past levels of effectiveness, there’s no reason the Twins shouldn’t be considered the favorite to defend their Division Championship.

The Competition

The Indians and Royals should be interesting to watch this season. Both have some very highly regarded young players, though it’s too early to know for sure how much time those prospects will see at the Major League level in 2011. In any event, it would surprise just about everyone if either of those teams was in contention for the AL Central title in September. But the White Sox and Tigers almost certainly will be.

A year ago, it seemed like everyone was handing the Division to the White Sox, on the strength of their starting rotation. The Sox’ brain trust (yeah, I know, referring to Kenny Williams and Ozzie Guillen as a brain trust is downright giggle-inducing) apparently felt their pitching was so good that they could and should dump Jim Thome from his DH spot and replace him with Mark Teahan… no, seriously, that’s what they thought! I don’t believe even the Sox fan base was surprised when they turned out to be wrong.

This year, the Whities have tweaked the pitching staff a bit, including signing away Jesse Crain from the Twins, but their biggest addition (both figuratively and literally) is 6’6” hitting machine, Adam Dunn. Dunn sees himself as a complete player, capable of playing defense as well as hitting, and hoped to stay in the National League, where he’s played his entire career. But he got only a token offer from the Nationals, while several AL teams made significantly higher offers, virtually all of which came with the catch that he’d primarily be a DH. Dunn may be reluctant to embrace that role, but make no mistake, he will excel at it. In his last six seasons, Dunn has hit 40, 40, 40, 40, 38 and 38 home runs. Hmmm… I wonder how many he’s likely to hit for the White Sox, especially in that Little League ballpark they have on the South Side.

The White Sox definitely should be better this year, but the Twins still have one thing going for them… that “brain trust” (giggle) can probably be counted on to screw things up somehow.

Speaking of screwing things up, I’m not sure whether Vegas let’s you bet on who will lead the Divisions at the mid-point of the season, but if they do, you can pretty safely put your money on the Detroit Tigers. Absolutely nobody will be shocked if the Tigers come out of the gate strong and lead the Twins and White Sox in to July. Likewise, absolutely nobody will be shocked if they go 10-20 in August and fade away in September.

How and why they do it is always a mystery. Maybe their pitching will fade, maybe a star player will need to detox. Every season we get to watch a new drama unfold in Detroit.

Again, make no mistake, the Tigers made some moves that look to improve themselves. Victor Martinez will make hitters around him better and Joaquin Benoit should improve their bullpen. I’m just not sure it will be enough to keep the Tigers in contention all year. Benoit can’t do it all himself and the rest of the Tigers bullpen isn’t terribly scary. Joel Zumaya throws serious heat, but the only thing he’s reliable at is getting hurt at some point. In fact, he’s already had the predictable “setback” in his recovery from elbow surgery. And let’s face it, Miguel Cabrera is a time bomb waiting to go off on that organization and, from all appearances, Tiger management’s plan to deal with his drinking problem consists of sticking their heads in the sand. Good luck with that.

So far this spring, the Tigers’ rotation is looking pretty good. Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer are all throwing strikes and getting outs. The guy to watch the rest of the spring, though, might be former Yankee Phil Coke. He’s looked pretty good over his first three starts and if he carries that performance in to the season, he could make an already strong rotation a very, very good rotation. On the offensive side, things aren’t so rosy yet. The three big bats in the middle of the Tiger order, Martinez, Cabrera and Ordonez, have accumulated OPS’s of .566, .334 and .286, respectively. Yes… those are the SUMS of their on-base percentages and slugging percentages. Ouch. Then again, small sample size. One of the games I’m planning on attending down in Florida in a couple of weeks is a Twins/Tigers matchup in Lakeland. I’m anxious to get a look at this year’s edition of the Tigers as we get deeper in to the exhibition season.

Over in Arizona, the White Sox are not having fun (at least not during the games). They’re 1-6, heading in to this week, and much of the blame for that lies with their vaunted rotation. While Peavy, Danks and Jackson got through their first starts without incident, Mark Buehrle and Gavin Floyd got beat around pretty good. Mr. Crain hasn’t looked too good yet, either, by the way. Dunn hasn’t gotten untracked either yet and, in fact, their only regular with a respectable showing with the bat so far is Juan Pierre, who’s OPS is north of .900. Alex Rios has the only HR for the White Sox in their first seven games.

To wrap things up on a positive note, I thought I would share this video from Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci, evaluating the Twins prospects for defending their Division Championship. – JC

P.S. I did a guest spot on Seth Stohs (Sethspeaks.net) Sunday night podcast and you can click here to listen to the half hour program, during which Seth and I touched on a number of Twins topics. I’m also scheduled to appear with John Bonnes (TwinsGeek) on Fanatic Jack’s podcast at 9:00 this Wednesday night. – JC

Morneau is “Old School”

In ancient days, when I was in school and Tony, Killer and Carew were patrolling the field at Met Stadium with Billy Martin chewing umpires up and spitting them out, players from opposing teams did not play buddy-buddy with one another. I don’t know if those were the “good old days” or not, but there’s something “old school” about players genuinely carrying the same disdain for rivals and rival players that we, as fans, carry for those bums.

So I loved reading the piece by Doug Padilla of ESPN Chicago with the following quotes from Jesse Crain and Mark Teahan (who was Justin Morneau’s workout partner in Arizona this offseason):

“He never congratulated me; he’s the one guy who didn’t,” Crain said. “Even [Michael] Cuddyer and [Denared] Span and all those guys, [Joe] Mauer, everybody did. But Morneau was the one guy who never did it.”

Told that Morneau still hadn’t congratulated his buddy Crain on landing a financially solid deal and winding up with a winning team at the same time, Teahen didn’t seem too surprised.

“You know that there’s that rivalry there, but with Morneau, he seems to take it hard even off the field,” Teahen said. “It was fun to see and it lights your fire to want to have the same passion back the other way.”

So when it was time to end the workout routine and head in their respective directions for the start of spring training, was Morneau able to wish Teahen well?

“He gave me a little fist pump and said, ‘All right, I’m going to act like I don’t know you until the end of the season,'” Teahen said. “I told him I was cool with that.”

LaVell E Neal III at the StarTribune went straight to the source for the information, posting this reaction from Morneau in LaVelle’s Twins Insider blog:

I got reaction from Morneau about a ESPN Chicago article in which Jesse Crain claimed Morneau was the only Twin not to congratulate him for signing a three-year deal. Morneau said he jokingly texted Crain.”The White Sox? Are you kidding me?”

But, at the end of our talk, he referred to comments from Alex Rios about Chicago being the favorite to win the division.

“They said they are the team to beat in the division, so whatever,” Morneau said.

So from accounts, Doc has a particular dislike for the White Sox. I knew there was a reason I liked that guy!

– JC

News From the ‘Bad Guys’

I’m a contrarian by nature, so naturally that means I would pick the date that the Twins begin official Spring Training workouts for position players to write about what’s going on with other teams.

It’s not that there isn’t anything to write about the Twins. There’s no shortage of daily media updates, so whether it’s Joe Mauer’s knee (or his shampoo commercial), or Justin Morneau’s long awaited return to the diamond, or Tsuyoshi Nishioka’s first appearance in Twins gear (or perhaps his ‘fight song’ is of greater interest to you), there are finally a number of Twins-related news items to read and ponder. I have already and if you haven’t yet, you should.

But not here.

Here, I’m going to offer some commentary about a few items coming out of the enemy camps this week. Specifically, from our primary divisional rival White Sox, our “made up inter-league rival” Brewers and everyone’s least favorite team, the F’ing Yankees.

White Sox

Our friends on the South Side appear to be the preseason consensus pick to win the AL Central Division. In addition to re-signing Paul Konerko to a big-money deal, they bulked up their lineup by giving slugger Adam Dunn a contract guaranteeing him $56 million over the next four years.

Kenny Williams (Photo: Ron Vesely/MLB Photos)

So, it was interesting to read Sox GM Kenny Williams’ comments about the state of baseball. He essentially made three points:

  1. Anyone who pays $30 million a year for a ballplayer is “insane”.
  2. The MLB financial model sucks and needs to be replaced by something that gives the fans of every team some kind of hope that their team will eventually at least compete for a championship AND if it takes the “game being shut down” to accomplish that reform, Kenny’s fine with that.
  3. The White Sox could lose money this year.

It’s not so much that I disagree with his points (in fact, I find it a bit disconcerting to be in so much agreement with anything Kenny Williams says… to the point where I have to consider whether I might be wrong in my views). I happen to agree that no player, not even Albert Pujols, is worth $30 million a year and particularly not for a contract term that would pay him that amount well beyond any period for which one could reasonably expect him to be among the top players in the game.

I also think the MLB financial model sucks. Of course, I have no idea if the White Sox are actually in danger of losing money, but I wouldn’t find that surprisng.

What’s odd is that this rant is coming from the GM of a major market team that will start the season with something approximating a $125 million payroll. What takes it from odd to amusing is that Williams is essentially complaining about having to overspend to the point of flirting with losing money in order to have a shot at overcoming the Minnesota Twins! How cool is that?

Maybe I missed it, but I don’t recall anyone with the White Sox complaining about MLB’s financial model when the Twins were spending about $50 million a year less than the Sox. But now that the Twins… who had been kicking their collective Bitchy Sox almost every season even when being outspent for talent… are able to afford to spend every bit as much as the Sox do, suddenly their GM doesn’t like how MLB is being run.

I have to admit, however, that this does bring up an issue I’ve been struggling with a bit. Now that the Twins are one of the “haves” in terms of revenue streams, how am I supposed to feel about the whole “revenue sharing” subject? More about this later when we get to the subject of the Evil Empire.

Brewers

Over at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, columnist Michael Hunt wrote a piece on the Brewers’ new “ace” starting pitcher Zack Greinke. I found the column interesting perhaps because I’m still playing “what if”, given that Greinke topped my offseason wish list for the Twins.

Zack Greinke (AP Photo)

In any event, while it’s not the first or the most in-depth article about Greinke’s social anxiety disorder, Hunt does what I think is a balanced job of shedding some light on the relative pros and cons of having Greinke topping the Brewers’ rotation. Whether you choose to believe it’s a justifiable by-product of his ability to deal with his disorder or that it’s just another overpaid pitcher who doesn’t want to have to deal with media and fans, Greinke’s approach is to avoid having to talk whenever he can, but when he does talk, he’s going to tell you exactly what he feels. It seems to be a coping mechanism for him and I’m fine with that, personally, and I hope he has a great season for the Brewers.

That said, I couldn’t help but wonder how his statements would be going over with Twins fans and other Twins players right now, had he been opening up Spring Training in Ft. Myers instead of Phoenix. Throwing him in to the mix along with Nishioka certainly would have given everyone more to chew on this year, that’s for certain.

(And, yes, typing the Milwaukee columnist’s name did cause me to have a “Porky’s” flashback.)

Yankees

The Steinbrenners are back in the news, again. Hank gave an interview which touched on a couple of subjects.

The comment that most of the NY media latched on to most fiercely was when Steinbrenner implied that the reason the Yankees didn’t repeat as WS champions last year was that some players got complacent following the 2009 championship. Specifically, he said, “Some of the players are too busy building mansions and doing other things, not concentrating on winning. I have no problem saying that.”

Apparently Derek Jeter was the only Yankee anyone could identify as having built a new “mansion” during the 2009-10 offseason, so naturally the media assumed this was aimed at Jeter. Steinbrenner denies that his comment was directed at The Great One. To his credit, Jeter responded appropriately. He laughed at his idiot owner.

Bud: "Tell Hank to shut up" (Photo: Cataffo/NY Daily News)

As entertaining as that little exchange was, the Steinbrenner comment that I found spinechilling was with regard to a much broader topic… the MLB financial model (see, I told you we’d get back to this subject). It seems that, like Kenny Williams and me, Hank Steinbrenner thinks the MLB financial model is broken. He sees the problem a bit differently than Kenny and I do, however. Here were his comments about the revenue sharing system that resulted in the Yankees shelling out about $130 million to other teams last year:

“We’ve got to do a little something about that and I know Bud (Selig) wants to correct it in some way,” Steinbrenner said. “There’s a way. Obviously we’re very much allied with the Red Sox, Mets, Dodgers and Cubs in that area. At some point if you don’t want to worry about teams in minor markets, don’t put teams in minor markets or don’t leave teams in minor markets. Socialism, communism – whatever you want to call it – is never the answer.”

I found this comment both refreshing and deeply disturbing.

Refreshing because just when I was growing concerned about agreeing with Kenny Williams about an issue, a Steinbrenner spoke up and argued the opposing side and, thus, reassured me that I’m still on the right side of this debate.

On the other hand, just a hint (regardless of whether there’s even a kernel of truth to it), that the future direction of Major League Baseball and specifically the issue of competitive/financial balance might actually be decided behind closed doors by Bud Selig and the Steinbrenners is just about the worst kind of nightmare possible for fans in virtually every other market.

While Selig apparently was not amused by the comment, he hasn’t exactly jumped at the opportunity to deny anything, either. I do admit, however, that I found it kinda funny that Bud didn’t call Hank and tell him to shut up. He called Hank’s brother, Hal, and told HIM to tell Hank to shut up! Hilarious.

OK, I think I’ve killed enough time not talking about the Twins today… let’s all go check in on Mauer’s knee lubricant, shall we?

– JC

M is for Monday (and Manny) and More

Next weekend, the Iowa Hawkeyes open up their 2010 season hosting the mighty Eastern Illinois University Panthers and, being a Hawkeye football season ticket holder, I’ll be in Iowa City Saturday for the game. Likewise, my Saturdays for the next few months will be at least partially focused on the Hawkeyes. (I realize that it’s difficult for those of you in Minnesota to understand that level of dedication to college football. That’s understandable. Perhaps if there’s ever a Big Ten football program in Minnesota, you’ll understand the feeling better.)

But this weekend was still all about baseball and there have been so many interesting things going on in and around Major League Baseball lately, that my mind has had trouble focusing on writing about just one or two items. It seems like every day, I see a couple of things in the news and think, “Oh, I need to write about that!” So that’s what I’m doing today… I’m just tossing out my views (and perhaps a few links) about several things. If you came here looking for in-depth research and thoughtful commentary, boy did you come to the wrong place today. Instead, you get my ramblings.

MLB and Money

There has been a whole lot written, both in the traditional media and the blogosphere about the financial statements for several MLB organizations that were released over at Deadspin this past week. Among the teams for which documents were released were the Pirates, Marlins, Rays, Mariners, Angels, and Rangers.

In a nutshell, what the disclosure demonstrates is that even teams that have had very low payrolls, like the Pirates and Marlins, have managed to show a profit (thanks to MLB’s revenue sharing program). What I don’t understand is the extreme reaction in some circles to this revelation. But isn’t that exactly what revenue sharing is intended to accomplish? Sure, ideally, it provides competitive balance, but I would argue that it largely has done just that (with the glaring exception of the financial advantage the Yankees are allowed to maintain).

Did the Marlins use revenue sharing dollars to pay down debt instead of increase payroll? Yes. Bad boys. But they also got their wrists slapped by MLB for it and they’re now coughing up money on payroll AND let’s not forget, the Marlins have been a lot more competitive than a lot of other teams with much higher payrolls. So whether they used the revenue sharing dollars to do it or not, they HAVE been competitive.

Did the Pirates make $10-15 million a year in profits while taking revenue sharing dollars and selling off their top players? Yes. But they’ve been investing heavily in the international market and developing their minor league organization. And let’s face it… does anyone REALLY think spending an additional $10-15 million on major league players would have made the Pirates any more competitive?

There are changes that need to be made to make MLB more competitively balanced and if these disclosures lead to that, terrific. But I suspect all it does is give a bunch of fans more reason to bitch and moan about the big bad rich owners not being willing to spend more money than they take in on their teams. One thing is clear from the little bit I glanced over the documents. Teams that had good attendance had more money for payroll. Owners seldom jack up payroll in the hope of generating more attendance. It just doesn’t work that way no matter how much some fans wish it did. You want the owner to spend more? Go to more games.

Memories

I don’t like the White Sox.

AP Photo

That said, even I’ve got to appreciate Frank Thomas. The Whities had a ceremony Sunday where they honored Thomas by including his face on their outfield “wall of fame” (or whatever they call it… I don’t pay attention to that kind of thing). In my opinion, Frank Thomas is singularly responsible for elevating that organization in to relevancy during the 1990s. You think the Twins had some bad years? Check out the White Sox history before Thomas showed up.

I don’t know the man. Maybe his actions and words toward the end of his time in Chicago warranted how he was treated (some would say mistreated) there at the end. I know he and GM Kenny Williams had some pretty harsh public disputes. I don’t care about any of that, actually. What I do know is that I absolutely hated seeing Frank Thomas come to the plate against the Twins. He deserves to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer and I’m glad the White Sox are finally showing him the love and respect he deserves.

Muscle (is it really a good thing?)

Stephen Strasburg’s 2010 season is finished. So is his 2011 season. He’s going to be spending the next 12-18 months recovering from Tommy John surgery.

A lot of Twins fans (myself included) have lamented the fact that the Twins don’t have an “ace”… a starting pitcher with arm strength to generate upper 90s velocity, with good control, who can “miss bats.” There are complaints that the Twins don’t even draft guys like that.

Ignoring for the time being that most guys who have that kind of “velo” AND control are not available by the time the Twins get to draft, I’m starting to wonder if it’s really such a bad thing that they don’t spend a lot of bonus money on those guys. Whether it’s a starting pitcher like Strasburg or relievers like Detroit’s Joel Zumaya (who can’t seem to stay healthy), it just seems like those hard throwers break down sooner or later (or both). Do you REALLY want to spend millions of dollars on guys who are almost certainly going to blow out their elbow before you see any value from them?

The human arm is not built to throw a baseball overhand that hard. And as this column points out, even though organizations are beginning to be ultra-conservative about their pitchers’ innings and pitch counts, the truth is that with all of the innings kids as young as 12 years old are throwing as they play year-round in multiple leagues, there’s a good chance the damage has been done long before draft day.

Moves (of the roster variety)

Loek Van Mil

UPDATE (September 1, 2010): The Twins announced that Loek Van Mil is the “Player to be Named Later” in the Brian Fuentes deal, meaning Loek now becomes the property of the Angels. Best of luck to Loek! – JC

The media keeps telling us that we’re down to the wire on roster moves. I suppose that’s true to a degree, in that a player coming in from another organization has to be on the new team’s roster by September 1 to be eligible to play for them in the playoffs. To make room for Brian Fuentes, the Twins had to designate minor league pitcher Loek Van Mil for assignment. Van Mil may or may not have a major league future ahead of him, but I hope the Twins manage to hang on to him if for no other reason than it would keep alive the possibility of seeing a pitcher even taller than Jon Rauch on the mound (Van Mil is 7′ 1″).

As this article over at the Pioneer Press indicates, the Twins are going to be using the Disabled List to maximize their flexibility in building their playoff roster. So don’t be surprised when Clay Condrey and Joe Nathan are on the Twins “official playoff roster” announced this week.

Manny

So Manny Ramirez is taking his show on the road to Chicago this week. That’s going to be fun to watch. I personally don’t think there’s anything Ramirez can do to enable the White Sox catch the Twins. If the Twins don’t win the Central Division, it will be because they totally fell flat on their collective faces (I think after last year, we can call that “pulling a Tiger”… though that could be confused with the sort of self-destructive behavior for which a certain pro golfer has recently become notorious), not because Manny came in and turned the Southsiders in to a real baseball team.

I enjoy watching Manny. I enjoy watching him hit when he wants to. I enjoy watching him be totally oblivious about anything going on around him. I enjoy the way others are so fixated on him. He’s a phenomenon that I simply am entertained to follow… as long as he’s not part of MY team. That said, I’ve noticed a lot of White Sox fans are willing to say, “If this is what it takes to help us win, I’ll welcome him.” Interestingly, however, I don’t think I’ve read or heard a single Sox fan suggest that the team should bid for his services beyond the rest of this season.

**********

I was going to include some thoughts about all of the Twins’ pending free agents after the season and how I think they may try to juggle roster spots with available payroll, but I’ve decided there is plenty of time for that later. For now, let’s just enjoy the final month of the regular season and hope for a successful postseason! – JC

What does it take for you to watch the White Sox?

So I found myself laughing at how many Twins fans were tweeting the scores of the White Sox/Royals games last night.  I actually felt bad for the players when I heard that the first game of a double-header didn’t start until 7 pm.  Why couldn’t someone figure out how to open up Kauffman a bit earlier in the day and start in the afternoon!?!?  And then when the first game went into extra innings, I just shook my head.  Ouch.  And then so did the second game?!?!  REALLY?  That makes for a long day and I don’t care which team you play for, you have my sympathy at that point.

I find it more than a little amusing that it was Yuniesky Betancourt who tied it up.  I like unlikely heros. 

But now I’m curious, how many of you Twins fans and others were checking out the action!?

Oh yeah, they all have to go at it again today at 1 pm! That’s going to be some quiet clubhouses this morning.

With Friends Like These, Who Needs Enema?

NOTE: Yes, this is another long JimCrikket rant but if you’ve been coming here halfway regularly this season, you should be used to it by now and I’m tired of apologizing for being long winded. – JC

Enema… that’s the plural form of the word “enemy”, right? (I may be off on the appropriate word, but I just don’t feel like looking it up and it still seems to fit since this post is about the Bitch Sox and Yankees.)

Almost nothing riles up the folks who populate Bitch Sox message boards and blogs quite like when Ozzie Guillen says something complimentary about the Twins to the media. (Yes, I peruse their sites occasionally. I suppose you could say that makes me a “troll”, but I never post any comments to stir up the locals, so I don’t really think of it as trolling. It’s more like feeding some sort of harmless, but deep-seated, voyeuristic fetish that conventional society may consider borderline perverted… and who among us doesn’t have one or two of those?)

To put it in terms Twins fans may be able to relate to, Bitch Sox fan responses to Ozzie’s man-love for Gardy and the Twins is comparable to comments you see on Twins boards and blogs when Gardy becomes effusive about how Nick Punto “gets after it”. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with expressing respect for how an opponent (or a player with limited natural ability) works hard to play the game “the right way”, it’s just that hearing it over and over and over (and over) again starts to wear on you, I guess. I’m sure this is especially true of  Bitch Sox fans who have had to endure watching their team lose something like 741 out of the last 742 games to the Twins (again, I could be off a bit on the number, I just don’t feel like looking that up either).

Has Ozzie overdone his man-love for the Twins a bit? Yeah, probably. It appears as though he was so impressed by the “piranyas” the Twins fielded a few years back that he convinced his GM, Kenny Williams, to clone that team and put them in Sox uniforms in 2010. Can’t you just imagine the conversation those two had in the offseason?

Williams: “Hey Ozzie, what do you think about bringing Jim Thome back as our DH?”

Ozzie: “No, no, no… he’ll never stay healthy and he can’t play defense. We need flexibility. Give me Mark Kotsay, Juan Pierre, Andruw Jones and Mark Teahan and I’ll have plenty of DH options.”

What’s the matter, Ozzie, weren’t Jason Tyner, Lew Ford, Rondell White or Jeff Cirillo available?

Anyway, as I was trolling… er… reading through the Bitch Sox fans’ post game comments Tuesday and Wednesday, it struck me just how similar they were to what I’ve read about Twins fans’ feelings toward the Yankees (or as I prefer to refer to them, the F’ing Yankees). The frustration level is off the charts in both cases.

But being a Bitch Sox fan having to endure this kind of one-sided relationship has to be even worse. Can you imagine how it would feel if the Twins not only were consistently getting slapped around by the Yankees, but were having it happen 18 times a season AND were having to spend October playing golf instead of playoff baseball because the Yankees consistently were winning the Division? You might as well be a Blue Jays fan.

There are signs lately, however, that perhaps the Ozzie/Twins love-fest may be wearing a bit thin, even with the Bitch Sox and their manager themselves. Ozzie’s been quoted as saying he, “hates the Twins”. He certainly was not appreciative of Carlos Quentin, being hit by a couple of pitches in a game with the Twins at The Cell (is that an appropriate nickname for that prison of a ballpark in Chicago, or what?) a couple weeks ago after Quentin hit a home run in the game. He was convinced that at least the last HBP by Glen Perkins was intentional. Frankly, I’m convinced of it, too. But how can you complain when you pretty much stand on top of the plate the way Quentin does?

Then there was the comment Sox bullpen coach Juan Nieves made prior to this series. (Who the heck interviews a bullpen coach, anyway? What’s next, interviewing the batboy? From what I can tell, the bullpen coach’s primary, perhaps only, responsibility is to answer the phone when the call comes in from the dugout to get a relief pitcher warmed up. And this guy is talking trash?). If you listen to it, (starts about at the 27 minute mark) it’s pretty clear that (a) he’s not a Twins fan, and (b) he wasn’t kidding about wanting one of his pitchers to intentionally drill Joe Mauer for the purpose of starting a fight. So when one of  Nieves’ relief pitchers zipped a heater past the bill of JJ Hardy’s helmet Tuesday, I think it’s safe to assume the Twins dugout took notice.

The next inning, when Delmon Young broke for home from 3B on a ground ball to second, I believe he had two things in mind: 1-score the run and 2-if I can knock AJ Pierzynski in to the next galaxy in the process, that’s cool, too. When it became clear the throw was going to get to AJ well before DY could get to the plate, it’s quite possible the two priorities swapped places in Young’s mind.

Bitch Sox fans were enraged. In fact, perhaps their biggest fan (or at least the loudest), “Hawk” Harrelson proclaimed from the broadcast booth that Young should find out what it feels like to have a Rawlings “in his earhole”. (That Hawk… classy as ever, isn’t he?)

Not that Bert Blyleven (or I, for that matter) would say anything too different if a Yankee like Mark Teixeira took similar aim at Joe Mauer, of course. That’s the nature of a bitter rivalry. The team (and its fans) that feels like it’s getting bullied and beaten around by another team becomes blind to anything but exacting revenge. It can cause a team and its fans to lose focus on what’s important… winning the game and competing for a championship.

I know that keeping things in perspective is easier said than done. I know that because when I consider what I think the Twins should do about this escalating level of tension between the teams, I’m torn myself. My head says, “Don’t be stupid, win the games and don’t risk losing anyone important to injury or suspension and, along with him, your grip on the Division.” But my instincts say, “Get the first two outs of the game and then drill Alex Rios in the ass! Get the first punch in, take the resulting inevitable umpire warning to both benches, and prevent the  Bitch Sox from being able to retaliate with impunity.” It’s a tough call.

Here’s another thing that I find very interesting: The near-universal and absolute hatred among Bitch Sox fans for all things and people Twins-related. I could not believe the number of “F*** Jim Thome” comments I read on their boards. Virtually to a person, they feel that the Twins have been, are, and always shall be, dirty players and cheap-shot artists. Reading their comments, you would think they’re talking about a team full of Ty Cobbs over here. I mean… seriously? This obviously runs 180 degrees counter to the widely held (though arguably inaccurate) perception among Twins fans that this roster is too soft… that there’s nobody with any sort of competitive edge… too “Minnesota nice”.

But here’s the thing… my sense is that most of us have always considered the  Bitch Sox to be a rival, certainly, but more of an annoyance than anything else. They had a nice season in 2005 and Thome beat us in game 163 a couple of years ago. But I’ve just never considered them a serious threat to the Twins continued success. The Indians (during eras when they ride their rollercoaster to the top) and the Tigers (more consistently a thorn in the Twins side) tend to concern me more than the Bitch Sox do. The A’s, Angels and F’ing Yankees? Absolutely, as they’ve presented the hurdles the Twins have been unable to clear in recent efforts to get to the World Series. But the Bitch Sox? Eh, not so much.

I realize that those of us who are former Batlings were pretty much obligated to join Batgirl in her hatred of the Bitch Sox “with a white hot fire.” But I always felt that the “hatred” was like something you felt toward an annoying little brother that you know you can just slap out of the way when you get bored with him.

But when I read garbage like what’s spewed in this lovely thread entitled “Drill Baby Drill” from one of the Bitch Sox message boards, I realize that Batgirl may have had it right. Throughout the thread, Bitch Sox fans not only whine about how badly abused their poor players have been by the Twins, but advocate that season and career ending injuries be inflicted upon Delmon Young and Joe Mauer.

So let me conclude with a couple of appropriate, and apparently timeless, Batgirl quotes from 2004:

“…you could fire every player on the Bitch Sox, plus their coaching staff and management and still have a character problem.”

“Put your playing where your bitching is, boys.”

I wish I had Batgirl’s way with words. – JC

Predicting The Future… Another Game 163?

Last year as the Twins came out of the All-Star break just barely above .500 and trailing both the Tigers and WhiteSox, I was reaching for something that would give me hope that our guys could still find a way to win the AL Central Division. My search led me to the Baseball Prospectus site where they plug some sort of algorithm in to their computers every morning to determine each team’s chances of winning their division and/or claiming the wild card.

Gardy and Ozzie. Will it be deja vu all over again? (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images North America)

Last year, I was heartened to discover those geniuses and their computers determined that the Tigers and Twins both had about a 40% chance of winning the Division and the White Sox about a 20% chance. Since the Tigers and Twins ended up tied after 162 games, I’d say they were pretty accurate! As I wrote at the time, in a guest post over at Howard Sinker’s “Section 220″ blog at the Strib website, the reason the computers liked the Twins and Tigers so much more than the BitchSox came down to the Sox having a much more difficult second half schedule.

So I painstakingly went through the remaining schedule of all three teams and predicted the total wins I felt each of them would end up with. Yes… I could have just used the numbers that the BP computers spit out, but what fun would that be? As it turned out, I overestimated the Tigers’ wins by 4 and the Sox’ wins by 3, but I came within 1 game of predicting the number of victories the Twins would finish the regular season with. I wrapped up the post with, “…I’m going to say it means the Twins are not out of the Division race yet. Of course, it would help if the Twins added a key piece of the puzzle or two soon.” As we all now know, I was right!

Which brings me to today.

The Twins are a game and a half behind the Sox after Tuesday night’s games, but the computer over at Baseball Prospectus, as you would expect, gives Sox a slightly greater chance than the Twins of winning the Division, though just the day before, the Twins held a small advantage despite trailing the Sox by a game at the time. (Since the BP odds are updated daily, the numbers you see when you click their link will reflect the current percentages on the day you go look.) As of this morning, the WhiteSox have a 52.7% chance of winning the Division, while the Twins sit just behind them with 44.9%. The couple of remaining percentage points reflect that the Tigers remain mathematically relevant… barely.

So, given my uncanny talent for predicting the future, as I demonstrated last year, I felt it was my responsibility to once again carefully analyze each of the three teams’ schedules and let everyone know how this is all going to turn out. I mean, won’t it be a lot less stressful watching the games the last two months if we already know how the race is going to finish? (What’s that, you ask? Aren’t I conveniently overlooking the fact that I didn’t exactly nail the correct number of wins any of the three teams finished with last year? Yes. And shut up.)

Let’s start with the easy part. The Tigers are toast and could start selling off parts any day now.

They’re currently at an even 53-53 and starting with Tuesday’s doubleheader with the WhiteSox, they have 17 straight games against the Sox, Angels, Rays, Sox (again) and Yankees. I figure they’ll be fortunate to stay within half a dozen games of .500 by the time that stretch finishes on August 19. Things do get a bit easier for them after that, but even from that point forward, they have 15 games remaining with the WhiteSox, Twins and Rangers. I’m being pretty generous, I think, to predict they’ll claw their way back up to a .500 finish at 81-81.

Sorting out the Twins and Sox isn’t nearly so easy. If anyone is expecting one of these teams to suddenly distance themselves from the other any time soon, I don’t think they’ve looked at the schedule. I have… and I think this one is going down to the wire.

Putting pencil to paper (yes, I’m old fashioned that way), I see the Twins still trailing the Sox as they hit Labor Day, but by just a half-game. After leapfrogging one another through September, both teams will carry identical 88-67 records in to the final week of the season. In addition, both will go 4-3 that last week to finish 92-70. The Twins’ best hope to avoid their third 163 game season in a row may be that the Red Sox, who will have most likely been eliminated much earlier, can summon the pride to put a torpedo in the side of the Sox’ pennant hopes during their 4 game series in Chicago at the end of September.

The good news is that this year’s Game 163 will likely be played at Target Field. The Twins currently own a 6-3 advantage in head-to-head games over the BitchSox, which means the Sox would have to win 7 of the remaining 9 games with the Twins to earn home field for Game 163. (Yes I realize that if the Sox win 6 of the remaining games with the Twins, the teams will have 9-9 records head-to-head. But in that event, the second tiebreaker is their respective records within the AL Central Division. The Twins are currently 27-15 in the Division and the Sox just 17-20. Let’s just say that if the Sox overcome that deficit, chances are there won’t be a need for a Game 163.)

So there you have it. Relax and just enjoy watching the rest of the games as we plow through the final two months of the regular season. We already know how it’s going to turn out so there’s no sense in getting all nervous until Chicago hits town and Scott Baker faces off with Freddy Garcia in Game 163 on Monday, October 4.

Of course, I could be wrong.

-JC

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P.S. On a totally unrelated, non-baseball, note, I just have to post a link to something Joe Posnanski posted earlier this week about the great decathlete, Rafer Johnson. I readily admit the bias that comes from being a Posnanski fan, but you should take the time to read Stories of an Extraordinary Life. It may be the best sports essay I’ve read all year. – JC

GameChat – White Sox @ Twins #2, 7:10 pm

A quick injury update – the official DL move for Justin has been made and it was actually Jeff Manship that was brought up to shore up the bullpen since Duensing is down with the flu.  We really are short on long innings guys.  Lots of folk really upset that Slama didn’t come up but guys, Slama can’t do more than two innings so it really has to be someone that can be of use if one of our starters can’t go more than 2 innings – cause that NEVER happens right now.  I don’t think Manship will be here very long – they’ll send him back down as soon as Duensing is back up and going so that they can bring Tolbert back in… granted, that’s just a guess on my part but it seems logical based on what has been said so far.  And, as a follow up to the link I gave you yesterday about Joe Nathan, he’s set to throw for the first time tomorrow.  Wish him luck everyone!

As I was gently reminded last night, if the Twins win the next three, we’re right back in this.  Thanks ‘Chu! [edit] Thanks JAMES!

Chi White Sox @ Minnesota
Pierre, LF   Span, CF
Ramirez, A, SS   Hudson, O, 2B
Rios, CF   Mauer, C
Konerko, 1B   Kubel, RF
Quentin, DH   Cuddyer, 1B
Pierzynski, C   Thome, DH
Jones, An, RF   Young, D, LF
Viciedo, 3B   Hardy, SS
Beckham, 2B   Punto, 3B
  Floyd, G, P     Liriano, P

 

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Chi White Sox 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 2 4 8 4
Minnesota 0 0 0 4 0 0 0 3 x 7 12 1

 

A WIN!!!  And not only that, it’s a win where we actually have enough people stepping up to the plate to actually DEBATE a BOD!  It was a legitimately fun game to watch – SO much better than last night.  And maybe nothing shows that better than the difference in our starting pitching.  Liriano just handled business in a fantastic way tonight.  Many have said that Carl Pavano has been showing the younger guys how to get it done and, as much skill and style as Liriano has of his own, he did an incredible Pavano imitation tonight.  The pitching bookends were completed with a surprise dominant closing appearance from Jesse Crain after John Rauch struggled with placement and walked three batters… ouch.  Watching Konerko make that final strikeout off Jesse was a thing of beauty.

And then we had a couple GREAT nights at the plate too.  The return of JJ Hardy came in a BIG way: 3/4 with 2 Runs, an RBI and a couple cannon throws across the infield for important outs.  Cuddy, Mauer and Hudson also had multiple hits and RBI’s.  It’s good be able to talk about the good things.

In the end, we give the BOD to Liriano with pastries to Hardy and Crain!

GameChat – White Sox @ Twins, 7:10, thus begins the 2nd half…

They’re BAAAA-aaaack!!!  I don’t know about you but I couldn’t be happierto have real baseball back.  Sadly, it’s really not how I wanted to start the post-break play.  It was announced this afternoon that Justin Morneau will be going on the DL.  He’s been improving slowly but was still woozy after working out today and he’s, wisely I think, not going to be ridiculous about pushing his return.  He doesn’t want to worry about running the bases or that any particular on-the-field activity while he’s playing.  I hope to see him back soon and feeling much improved.  Matt Tolbert will be taking his spot on the roster.  Brian Duensing is also not likely to show up tonight as he has the flu. 

All these injuries and such can start to weigh on the mind, especially when there isn’t enough information.  So here’s a little update on our MIA closer, Joe Nathan.  We miss you!

The good news is that the Twins are back home!  Here’s hoping our pitching can get settled back in and start nailing opposing batters down – especially the White Sox!!  Pitch well Kev!

Chi White Sox @ Minnesota
Pierre, LF   Span, CF
Vizquel, 3B   Hudson, O, 2B
Rios, CF   Mauer, C
Konerko, 1B   Cuddyer, 1B
Quentin, RF   Kubel, RF
Kotsay, DH   Young, D, LF
Pierzynski, C   Thome, DH
Ramirez, A, SS   Hardy, SS
Beckham, 2B   Punto, 3B
  Danks, P     Slowey, P

 

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Chi White Sox 2 2 0 1 3 0 0 0 0 8 14 0
Minnesota 0 6 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 7 15 0

 

GAAAAHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!

Well that was really a game that managed to hit a LOT of emotional hot-buttons.  Yeesh.  FINALLY, Joe Mauer seems to be getting his rhythmn back.  It was a great game for Joe tonight.  Except his starting pitcher couldn’t get his spots tonight.  Just a bad night for Kev.  Not sure what is going to happen there but tonight was frustrating for everyone.  Sadly, Alex Burnett didn’t quite have his stuff when he came out to relieve him either.  The lead went back and forth a bit because Danks also didn’t have his best stuff – for one inning – but then he settled in.

After falling behind again, the Twins had a chance for a big walk-off win and Mauer and Delmon really set the table for a dramatic situation!  Sadly, Thome watched a FILTHY cutter go by him for the final strikeout.  Ouch.  Let’s come back and get them hard tomorrow so as not to slip any further in the division hole.