A lot of stuff has happened over the past few days.
Kernels are Playoff bound
First, the Cedar Rapids Kernels clinched a Midwest League playoff spot.
Whether they did this Saturday or Sunday is a bit hazy, but what’s certain is that the Kernels will be playing baseball beyond the scheduled end of the regular season on Labor Day. This makes the Kernels a perfect 2 for 2 qualifying for playoff work since affiliating with the Minnesota Twins.
Going strictly by “magic number,” the Kernels qualified for the playoffs on Sunday, when Peoria fell to Clinton. However, as Jim Ecker at MetroSportsReport.com pointed out, tie-breaking criteria favored the Kernels over Peoria, so in fact Cedar Rapids apears to have wrapped up their postseason spot late Saturday night.
Most likely, the Kernels will open the playoffs with a best of three series against Burlington. They would host Burlington on September 3 and then travel to Burlington for games 2 and 3 (if necessary) on September 4 and 5, respectively.
Unfortunately, I was not in attendance when the Kernels clinched, regardless of whether you consider that to have occurred Saturday or Sunday.
“Touch ’em All”
Instead, I joined 100 or so Twins fans taking part in the second “Touch ’em All Pub Crawl” sponsored by Twins Daily/Gleeman & the Geek.
The “Crawl” involved stopping at several establishments along the Twin Cities’ light rail line and ending with attendance at the Twins game Saturday night. It officially started at the Barrio Tequila Bar in St. Paul at noon, but since I was staying out in the southern ‘burbs and wanted to eat breakfast downtown at Hell’s Kitchen before getting started, I’d already spent at least 90 minutes on the rail before ever getting to the start of the official event over in St. Paul.
It was a great time, offering opportunities to renew friendships from prior TwinsDaily events and to meet even more fellow Twins fans for the first time. I’m always surprised how many people at these things have read the stuff I contributed to Knuckleballs and to TwinsDaily.
It was a great time with great people, all of whom just happen to be fans of a pretty poor baseball team. Despite that, the only real negative comment I heard was from Star Tribune Twins beat writer, Phil Miller, who thought the Kernels camo jersey I was wearing was ugly.
Hey, you can’t please everyone, right? And I enjoyed talking to Miller, once we moved away from fashion-related topics.
It really was a good time and I appreciate the TwinsDaily guys and Aaron Gleeman going to the effort to put it together. I always enjoy the events they organize.
Finally, some of you that have been reading Knuckleballs for a while may recall one (or more) of my rants concerning MLB’s TV blackout rules. Those rules result in Iowa residents being unable to watch games involving six diferent teams, the Twins, Brewers, Cubs, White Sox, Cardinals and Royals, online via MLB.tv.
Late last week, the Star Tribune posted a story quoting MLB’s head of online business, Bob Bowman, as saying that baseball is nearing a solution that will allow people to watch their hometown teams online, if they are also subscribers to cable and/or satellite services.
That’s great for people in Minneapolis that want to watch the Twins on their mobile devices.
I’m guessing it’s still not good news for Iowans.
As crazy as it sounds, what seems most likely to happen is that MLB will broker a deal to allow people who already have access to Twins games via their local cable company to also have access online. Meanwhile, those of us in areas where FSN is not even an option via cable will continue to be blacked out.
I do understand the theory. We are supposed to individually get so up in arms over this that we all march on our local Mediacom office and demand that they pay FSN whatever they want for fees to get the regional sports channel added to our Eastern Iowa cable options.
That hasn’t happened yet, it’s not happening now and it won’t happen… ever.
However, given that MLB and the teams let the regional sports networks set whatever they want as the “home market” geographic footprint (because, after all, those rights fees are pretty much the major thing propping up MLB teams’ revenues), it’s pretty clear that any relief from the bizarre and antiquated blackout rules for places like Iowa, Las Vegas and North Carolina, which several teams claim as part of their “home market,” isn’t likely happening either.
Instead, what I expect is that we’ll see MLB, under their new Commissioner, Rob Manfred, address the online issue for fans who could already watch their favorite teams on TV. Then, they’ll claim they’ve “solved” this problem and ignore the fact that they’ve solved nothing for the fans in areas like Iowa.
Maybe I’m wrong and there will indeed be a solution for the rest of us. But, given the selection of a Commissioner who got the gig basically by promising to be “Bud Light,” I’m not expecting anything remotely close to real solutions to any of MLB’s biggest challenges.
I’d be really happy to be proven wrong, of course.
Finally, a few pictures from Saturday’s “Touch ’em All Pub Crawl.”
This week on the podcast we are joined by the great Rob Neyer (@robneyer, http://robneyer.com/,http://www.foxsports.com/mlb/just-a-bit-outside) a real baseball writing celebrity. Also on this episode is Eric’s potty mouth. You’ve been warned.
You can follow Cody on Twitter (@NoDakTwinsFan) or read his writing at NoDakTwinsFan, and you can find Eric on Twitter (@ERolfPleiss) and read his writing at Knuckleballs, and you can find Jay Corn on twitter @Jay__Corn! If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes.
If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes. Ratings and reviews make us feel better about ourselves, which balances out how bad the Twins make us feel.
There’s much about the game of baseball that never changes. Three strikes and you’re out. Bases are 90 feet apart.
Then again, some aspects of the game are constantly adjusting to the times. Witness the amount of defensive shifting going on in Major League Baseball this season.
You could say that one thing that never changes is that pitchers try to throw fastballs by opposing hitters.
But the arsenal of pitches the pitchers use beyond the fastball seems to differ from one era to another.
Pitchers in the first part of the 20th century could – and did – legally throw a spitball.
Even after the spitter was outlawed, pitchers continued to do whatever they could get away with to gain an advantage over the batter. Roughing up the ball became popular.
Now umpires toss baseballs out of the game the moment there’s the slightest scuff noticed on the surface of the sphere.
Even legal pitches have come in to, and fallen out of, favor among professional pitchers.
Recently, writer Pat Jordan posted an article at SportsOnEarth.com entitled, The Decline of the Curve. Jordan talked to a number of big league pitching coaches about why fewer pitchers are throwing a curveball than was the case in previous eras.
Some of the coaches he talked to indicated that their organizations dissuade pitchers from throwing the traditional curve and others indicated that they don’t teach the pitch to their pitchers.
Since I’ve observed a number of Cedar Rapids Kernels pitchers throwing curveballs, I was curious about whether the Twins organization and, in particular, Kernels pitching coach Ivan Arteaga, have any established policy aimed at dissuading use of the curve or any other pitch.
Over the past weekend, Arteaga graciously agreed to talk to me about the subject.
I started out by asking whether the Twins have any kind of established policy concerning the subject of Jordan’s article, the curveball.
“We actually encourage it,” Arteaga said. “We believe in having a complete mix. I believe, this is my opinion, mix creates value.
“For example, I’ve got (Ricky) Nolasco this week here. He’s got five different pitches. Throws a slider, he throws a curve, he throws a split, he throws a straight change up, he’s got a two-seemer. And he throws low-90s.
“We were having a conversation and one thing we agreed on was that pitchers in the big leagues actually have to reinvent themselves time and time again.
“So that being said, the curve is a pitch that is high-to-low, 12-to-6, you name it. It’ll give you depth. It’ll make your fastball better. It’ll save your arm a little bit.
“So we encourage it. If you have the curve, great. If you don’t, we’ll try to teach you one. Hopefully, you can get it.”
Some of the coaches that talked to Jordan blamed the shrinking strike zone for the demise of the curveball. Sandy Koufax and Nolan Ryan could throw fastballs at the letters and get them called strikes, which set up their devastating curveballs.
Umpires today won’t call that high pitch a strike and Arteaga agrees that the strike zone getting smaller has had an effect on the choices pitchers have made when it comes to their arsenal.
“Over time, pitchers started to throw the change up more, moving back and forth,” Arteaga observed. “I remember in the 80s and 90s, the split finger fastball was the pitch to learn and then came the slider. That’s the pitch these days being taught.
“Those pitches are basically strike zone down, strike zone right or strike zone left. The curve actually starts up away from the strike zone and it gets in to the strike zone at the end with some depth.
“So if you have that pitch, the hitters are so used to looking for pitches in the strike zone, that once they see the ball go up, they give up on it. And then once they give up on it, it’s hard for them to actually make an adjustment and hit it. So they give up on it and you get some weak swings.
Arteaga has a theory, beyond those that the coaches Jordan interviewed expressed, concerning why you see fewer pitchers throwing a curveball today.
“This goes beyond professional baseball. Because in college, you get big programs, the same way you get big programs in Venezuela, Dominican and Puerto Rico, and so forth and so on. What creates value? The fastball.
“Thirty-five or forty years ago you had to mix, you learned how to pitch. These days, you get kids that are 17-18 years old, they’re just fastball throwers. If they throw something else, it will be a change up and it will be a slider, because it’s easier to throw. But at the same time, it creates more stress on the shoulder and in the elbow.”
Jordan, in his article, claimed that the curveball actually is easier on the pitcher’s arm than other pitches, which goes against some conventional wisdom in the game. Arteaga agrees, however.
“It’s less stressful. It’s not as stressful as the slider.” Arteaga explained. “What happens with the slider is, there’s some kids who believe the slider should be lateral – should be either right or left – it’s more sidewise than it is up and down. And for them to create that, they have to actually drag their arms a little bit.
“So when they drag their arm a little, they get a lower angle. Once you want to make that ball spin, the elbow suffers a lot. So you get tight. Once you get tight, those muscles start to pull against those tendons. That’s when you get all the injuries.”
There has been talk among the fan base about the Twins limiting the number of sliders and similar pitches that some of their youngest pitching prospects throw in a game. The coach’s next comment perhaps sheds some light on that philosophy.
“If you ask an 18-19 year old to pitch at a level like this,” Arteaga observed, “where he understands he has to come up with something more than the fastball, then he’ll throw the slider more than he should. He might not be ready to throw it, because he needs to mix.“
Arteaga doesn’t necessarily see the curveball as the hardest pitch for his young pitchers to master.
“The change up to me is like the last pitch to come in an arsenal,” Arteaga said.
“There’s not many guys that have the feel for the change up and the repeatability for the change up. And so it’s easier to throw fastball-slider-fastball-cutter than become a fastball-slider-change up guy. So the change up is like the last pitch to come in to the arsenal.
“It’s hard to repeat, because there’s a couple of things that come in to play,” he explained. “One is the grip. You have to find the perfect grip. And number two, you have to find a repeatable delivery, the same as the fastball. So you can get that extension out in front and the pronation to actually make the ball fade a little bit or go down as much as you can.
“So you need to repeat it a lot. Almost as much as your fastball. You need to repeat it so you can get that same feeling, every time, of extension, pronation and arm speed.
“Because if you ask any guy what they fear the most, it is to leave a fastball or change up or breaking ball up in the zone. They say, ‘I don’t want to do that,’ so what do they do? They develop a sinker, they develop a slider; anything they can do to make it go down.“
Arteaga was asked about that split-fingered fastball that he acknowledged was all the rage 20 or so years ago. Does he, or do the Twins, teach splitter?
“No, we don’t,” he answered quickly. “If you have one out of college or whatever and you can throw it, yeah, we’ll let you throw it. Why not? But we don’t encourage that.
“We believe the less stress you put on the arm, the better it is. If you see the games on TV, in the big leagues, you don’t get that many guys throw the split finger fastballs any more. Maybe a few, but not what it used to be.
“And it really has to be a good one for you to throw it in the big leagues, because they can see the seams. If it looks like a fastball, yes, you’ve got an advantage. Make it look like a fastball, in and out of the strike zone, you’re OK.”
As Arteaga alluded to earlier, Nolasco spent the better part of a week in Cedar Rapids, getting a pair of rehabilitation starts in with the Kernels. The interview came before Nolasco’s final Kernels appearance Sunday, but the coach liked what he saw of Nolasco leading up to that point.
“He threw everything he’s got in the first outing so I expect the same in this one too. He got in to a jam a little bit there, and struck out a couple of guys. He looked like a big leaguer. Throwing his pitches down, making it go right, left, down.
“Like Joe (Mauer) was saying, he’ll make it tough on hitters, when he’s right, he’ll make it tough because everything goes different directions and it’s the same motion.
“Just seeing him throw in the bullpen, he’s got command, he’s got control. And he’s healthy, so hopefully he’ll be OK.“
And did Arteaga’s young Kernels pitchers watch the way Nolasco went about his business?
“Oh yeah. That’s the way it should be. They’re paying attention.“
Tuesday night was a big deal at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids.
Twins Joe Mauer and Ricky Nolasco were in the Kernels’ line up together and at least twice the usual Tuesday night crowd squeezed in to the ballpark to watch them.
I don’t know that from witnessing it first hand, but only from accounts from media and family members that used my season tickets that night.
Seems I had foolishly committed to making a business trip to St. Louis Sunday through Wednesday this week.
So I missed the filled ballpark and, from what I understand, filled pressbox on Tuesday when Nolasco pitched and Mauer DHed for the Kernels, who beat the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers 9-0 that night.
I did make it home from St. Louis Wednesday in time to see Mauer’s rehab debut in the field at first base. I didn’t expect to see another huge crowd, but I certainly didn’t expect to see what was essentially a pretty normal 2,000+ crowd, either. Yet, that’s exactly what I saw.
I’m not sure what that says about baseball fans in Eastern Iowa.
Maybe it says we aren’t as awe-struck by the presence of big leaguers as some people think we should be.
Maybe it just reemphasizes that the Twins organization still has a lot of work to do in the area if they want to truly make a dent in the Cubs’ stranglehold around here and make this area a part of “Twins Territory.”
Maybe it reflects the reality that Joe Mauer, himself, does not have the star power that he did when he was winning batting titles and MVP awards, not to mention being the cover-boy of MLB video games for two straight years.
Still, while a lot of the Twins fans in Minnesota who have been booing Mauer at Target Field this season might scoff, he’s an almost certain future Hall-of-Famer and he was in uniform playing for the Kernels Wednesday night. If you’re a baseball fan, why the heck would you NOT show up to watch?
You can’t say nobody tried to get you out there.
The Kernels began marketing the Mauer arrival even before they could officially announce it was happening. When it was still an “unofficial” thing, the Kernels announced via every media outlet they could get access to that they would have special extended ticket office hours Saturday and Sunday.
And people did take advantage. They got tickets for Tuesday and they got tickets for this weekend’s games, but there was little demand for Wednesday’s contest.
It’s great that there will be big crowds Friday and Saturday, but honestly, there were going to be big crowds Friday and Saturday, anyway. Already-planned promotions and tie-ins with a major local employer or two this weekend guaranteed the Kernels would have a couple of pretty full houses those two nights, with or without a big league headliner.
That’s good, perhaps, because there’s no assurance that Mauer will play both nights. He’s scheduled for an off day on Thursday and he indicated after Wednesday’s game that he still has a few things on his, “checklist,” that he wants to accomplish before returning to the Twins, so I think we can safely assume he’ll be on the field Friday night. If I were a betting man, I’d put money on him also being with the Kernels on Saturday night.
I would also be betting he’s en route to Houston to rejoin the Twins before the Kernels take the field on Sunday.
Anyway, I just don’t understand the mediocre crowd Wednesday night.
At least the fans who did show up didn’t boo Mauer when he walked to the plate. They didn’t rise to their feet with an ovation, either, but the polite applause is better treatment than he gets from his home town fans at Target Field these days. I don’t understand that treatment, either.
Anyway, on Wednesday night, Mauer continued to kick off the rust a bit. He went 0-3 before calling it a night. He grounded in to a force out in the first inning and was stranded at second base. He barreled up on one in his second at-bat and drove the ball to the warning track in left-center field. In his third trip to the plate, he watched two strikes go by and then went down swinging.
Defensively, I don’t recall a ball being hit to him at all. He did get one ball thrown to him on a DP attempt that went in the dirt and he didn’t come up with it.
He obviously is not lighting up the Class A pitching he’s seeing, but that’s why you rehab in the minors. Keep in mind, it’s not like he’s been taking BP throughout his time on the Disabled List. His injured oblique muscle meant he was pretty much on the shelf until taking a few cuts in the few days before coming to Cedar Rapids. Anyone who thinks it’s easy to sit out a month and then step in and immediately hit any level of professional pitching has never tried to do it.
If he’s not making consistent solid contact by the time the weekend is over, then I’ll be a bit concerned.
The Kernels and Twins PR guy Andrew Heydt have done a good job of getting media access to Mauer without totally disrupting the clubhouse and other aspects of the game day routine for the Kernels. As was the case Tuesday, Mauer met with the media after exiting the ballgame in an auxillary locker room near the Kernels’ clubhouse.
Here’s some video I shot of that exchange. I think you can tell he’s not pleased with his results on the field, but he’s also glad to just be back on the field again. His response to a question I posed also gives a little insight in to those items on his “checklist” that he still wants to try to do before rejoining the Twins.
The Kernels got pretty well drubbed in the game. Chih-Wei Hu had his first rough start as a Kernel, giving up six runs in the fourth inning.
Nick Burdi pitched the ninth inning for Cedar Rapids. He maxed at 99 mph on the scoreboard gun, which is known as a “slow gun.” We use a +2 guideline in Cedar Rapids, adding 2 mph to what shows on the board, which means Burdi likely hit about 101 on that pitch. Otherwise he was in the mid-upper 90s with the fastball and around 90 with the slider.
Finally, here are a few photos of the evening.
We’re celebrating my grandson’s first birthday on Friday by having a “Party at he Park,” and I’m looking forward to seeing Mauer donning one of these, “Jimmy Buffet Night” jerseys on Saturday night.
Mauer may well be on his way to Houston to rejoin the Twins by Sunday, but I’ll be at the ballpark that afternoon to watch Ricky Nolasco stretch himself out to 75 pitches in his second rehab start with the Kernels. – JC
After a week off, we’re back and making podcast magic! This week we discuss the roster moves that happened surrounding the trade deadline, and talk about how the Twins are going to put a roster together when Joe Mauer returns. We muse ont he future of Ron Gardenhire and who is going to manage the Twins in the future. We talk about some of the young taelnt coming through the organization and how everything could fit together. Plus we do the regular – beer, baseball, and the news.
90 minutes to make your ears bleed.
I hope you enjoy this special episode.You can follow Cody on Twitter (@NoDakTwinsFan) or read his writing at NoDakTwinsFan, you can find Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) you can find Eric on Twitter (@ERolfPleiss) and read his writing at Knuckleballs, and you can find Mr. Jay Corn on Twitter (@Jay__Corn)!
So.. the new guy will make his Twins debut tonight – on this 24th birthday. Happy Birthday Kenny!
|Minnesota||@||Chi White Sox|
|Santana, D, CF||Eaton, CF|
|Dozier, 2B||Beckham, G, 2B|
|Plouffe, 3B||Abreu, 1B|
|Willingham, LF||Konerko, DH|
|Suzuki, K, C||Ramirez, Al, SS|
|Vargas, 1B||Gillaspie, 3B|
|Colabello, DH||Flowers, C|
|Parmelee, RF||De Aza, LF|
|Escobar, E, SS||Sierra, RF|
|Darnell, P||Sale, P|
|Chi White Sox||0||2||1||1||1||1||0||4||x||10||17||0|
the first half of this game was so much better than the end…
Anyone else out there hope that Hughes can really bring it tonight? I do!
|Santana, D, CF||Aoki, RF|
|Fuld, LF||Infante, 2B|
|Dozier, 2B||Hosmer, 1B|
|Willingham, DH||Perez, S, C|
|Plouffe, 3B||Gordon, A, LF|
|Suzuki, K, C||Butler, B, DH|
|Colabello, 1B||Moustakas, 3B|
|Parmelee, RF||Cain, L, CF|
|Nunez, SS||Escobar, A, SS|
|Hughes, P, P||Duffy, P|
it’s unfortunate but I think I, along with the rest of Twins Territory, is pretty used to this…
The boys are missing some beautiful weather in Minnesota but let’s hope Kansas City has it’s own joy of summer. Let’s also hope that Gibson has something he can do against a likely better team..
|Santana, D, CF||Aoki, RF|
|Fuld, RF||Infante, 2B|
|Dozier, 2B||Hosmer, 1B|
|Willingham, LF||Perez, S, C|
|Parmelee, 1B||Gordon, A, LF|
|Plouffe, 3B||Butler, B, DH|
|Suzuki, K, C||Moustakas, 3B|
|Nunez, DH||Cain, L, CF|
|Escobar, E, SS||Escobar, A, SS|
|Gibson, P||Shields, P|
A bit late getting this up, but just got home a bit ago from our quick little trip up to the Twin Cities to see Chris Sale humiliate the Twins last night. It was a great trip as long as you didn’t have any expectations of seeing the Twins play anything resembling Major League baseball.
Here’s today’s lineups as the Twins try to avoid a sweep.
|Chi White Sox||@||Minnesota|
|Eaton, CF||Santana, D, CF|
|Ramirez, Al, SS||Fuld, LF|
|Abreu, 1B||Dozier, 2B|
|Dunn, A, DH||Plouffe, 3B|
|Viciedo, RF||Arcia, O, RF|
|Gillaspie, 3B||Willingham, DH|
|De Aza, LF||Parmelee, 1B|
|Beckham, G, 2B||Fryer, C|
|Nieto, C||Escobar, E, SS|
|Carroll, P||Pino, P|
|Chi White Sox||0||0||0||0||0||2||0||1||0||3||8||0|
Hey at least our guys didn’t get the broom from the visiting White Sox.
Let’s give the BOD to Sam Fuld.