Episode 102: Adios Ron Gardenhire! Hello Paul Molitor?

You had to know it was coming, we spend about 30 minutes talking about Ron Gardenhire’s firing and who we want to replace him, and also who we think will replace him.

Todd Tichenor, Ron Gardenhire
You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here, and if you want to add the show to your non-iTunes podcast player, this is the RSS Feed.

We talk about Terry Ryan’s future, too. Not to be just nagging on the Twins for another 90+ loss season, we spend some time chatting about the best Twins hitter, pitcher, and fielder of 2014 before talking beer, baseball, and the news.

Go Twins!

Enjoy the show.

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GameChat: WS Game 1, Tigers @ Giants 7:00 pm

We took the first couple of rounds of the MLB Postseason off from GameChats, but decided we’d open up the chat window in case anyone is interested in hanging out during the World Series.

MLB prefers that teams not make any major announcements during the World Series, but I guess roster moves by teams that were eliminated from the Postseason pretty much by the end of April are OK because the Twins made such an announcement today. They outrighted Esmerling Vasquez, P.J. Walters, Kyle Waldrop, Jeff Manship, Luis Perdomo and Matt Carson, removing them from their 40-man roster. In addition, Carlos Gutierrez (a 2008 first-round draft pick) was claimed on waivers by the Cubs.

In addition, the Twins announced they had elected not to exercise their $6 million option for Matt Capps’ services in 2013, instead paying him a $250,000 buy-out. Not exactly shocking news, but I also wouldn’t be shocked if the Twins at least talk to Capps’ agent about an invitation to Spring Training at a far lower price tag. Speaking of underperforming pitchers, Nick Blackburn reportedly will be getting his throwing elbow examined and could be looking at arthroscopic surgery on the elbow for the second time in three years.

Finally, former Twins catcher Mike “Naked Batting Practice” Redmond is being mentioned as a possible candidate to replace Ozzie Guillen as manager of the Miami Marlins. The Marlins have reportedly requested permission from the Blue Jays to discuss their opening with Redmond, who’s been managing the past couple of years at the Class A level (Lansing in 2011 and Dunedin in 2012) for Toronto. I’m not sure Redmond is qualified to manage at the Big League level yet, but perhaps the most important qualification the Marlins are looking for in a new manager is, “not anything like Ozzie Guillen,” and if that’s the case, NBP certainly qualifies. Redmond was a member of the 2003 Marlins World Series Champions.

Now on with Game 1 of the World Series… I wonder if Justin Verlander is excited to have Delmon Young playing left field behind him tonight.

TIGERS

@

GIANTS
Jackson, A, CF Pagan, CF
Infante, 2B Scutaro, 2B
Cabrera, Mi, 3B Sandoval, P, 3B
Fielder, 1B Posey, C
Young, D, LF Pence, RF
Peralta, Jh, SS Belt, 1B
Garcia, A, RF Blanco, LF
Avila, C Crawford, SS
_ Verlander, P _ Zito, P
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Detroit 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 2 3 8 0
San Francisco 1 0 3 1 1 0 2 0 x 8 11 0

Well that didn’t exactly go the way most people thought it would. Justin Verlander was human. Barry Zito was very effective. Tim Lincecum was perfect in relief. And Pablo Sandoval was unfrigginbelievable. 3 home runs in his first three plate appearances, 2 of them off of Verlander.

The Tigers suddenly are facing a pretty important Game 2 on the road.

News To Start Off The Post Season

Sad News:

with Gehrig John Neshek, born 10/2/12, died 10/3/12

The first thing I’d like to share came out late in the night – asking for all your thoughts and prayers to be extended toward Pat Neshek & his wife, Stephanee, and their families. Their newborn son died in his sleep in his mother’s arms suddenly and with no obvious cause of death. Little Gehrig hadn’t even finished his first full day – not that that would have made it any better. Both Pat & Stephanee have expressed their grief, confusion and pain to those on Twitter. I simply can’t imagine their feelings right now. I hope that they are able to find some closure and peace in whatever form it comes as they learn more in the next few days and months. I’m simply heart-broken for them. So many of their fans and baseball colleagues have reached out to them already. I hope they are able to gain strength from those who surround them.

 Happy News:

In better and more baseball-related news, an event happened today that has not occurred since 1967. We have a triple crown winner: leading in all three categories of Batting average, RBI, and Home Runs is Miguel Cabrera. It’s an immense accomplishment and something to be honored no matter who he plays for. Congratulations Miguel! If someone had to beat Mauer for the batting title, it’s almost worth it that you were able to do it with admirable flair!

 

BIG TWINS NEWS!

Additionally, in current Twins news, it was announced this morning that some turnover in the Twins coaching staff has already begun. Rick Stelmaszek has been let go. I have to admit that I doubt ANYONE expected them to start with the longest tenured coach in Twins history. I seriously doubt it will be the last change to take place before next spring but it really wasn’t a change that was high on my list – so they must have their own list. We’ll see what happens next!

[UPDATE] Steve Liddle has also been let go and Joe Vavra has been reassigned so the coaching shakeup has only just begun. According to LaVelle E Neal III at the Strib:

Pitching coach Rick Anderson was scheduled to meet with Ryan around noon. Bench coach Scott Ullger was to meet with Ryan at 1 p.m. and Jerry White was expected to meet with Ryan at 2 p.m.

Class AAA Rochester manager Gene Glynn and Rochester hitting coach Tom Brunansky could be in line for promotions. So could Rochester pitching coach Bobby Cuellar.

I will continue to add updates to this post as we get more information so stay tuned!

[UPDATE 2] news on a couple more members of the staff from a couple different sources: Rick Anderson will be staying AS pitching coach. Jerry White however is an additional casualty of the turnover. Head Trainer Rick McWane is also gone. According to Rhett Bolinger, Scott Ullger will oversee outfield instruction while Joe Vavra will oversee infield instruction.

It was also noted by several beat writers that Gardenhire has one year left on his contract – it may be a situation where he’s been informed or will be that it will not be renewed unless there are dramatic changes in results. I believe the same is true for every person who is still under contract with the Twins.

This is the final list of departing staff from the Twins as presented by LEN III and Phil Mackey. No word yet on who will be taking on most of the open spots for sure but as you will read, there is a lot of speculation that the AAA staff will be moving up.

ALSO: Target Field is getting another facelift – this time in the RF bleachers.

New Wild Card Format – Is It Working?

It was with much fanfare that Major League Baseball announced a new, slightly expanded, postseason format as a part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. It was reportedly solely due to the will of Commissioner Bud Selig that a way was found to implement the new format for the current season, rather than waiting one more year, when the leagues would be balanced and the spacing of postseason games could more easily be adapted to the format.

Image: MLB.com

So what was the big deal? Is it really that important to the fans? I suppose that depends on the fan base you talk to. Most Twins fans probably don’t give a damn, since nothing short of a high school basketball tournament format where everybody automatically gets to play at least one game would help the Twins make the postseason this season.

But what effect is the new format having elsewhere in baseball? The argument that supporters of the new format (including myself) made was that adding one more Wild Card spot in each league and making the two WC teams play a single win-or-die play-in game would keep more teams in contention later and therefore keep more fans in more cities engaged during September, when MLB tends to start hemorrhaging fans who turn their attention to football if the local MLB team has fallen out of contention. The single play-in game would also motivate teams to win their own division, rather than just settle for the Wild Card and coast through the final couple weeks of the season once that much was assured.

I thought this might be a good time to take a look at whether those arguments are holding up as we enter the final three weeks of the regular season.

Frankly, in the American League, I’m not sure the new format is having much, if any, effect. That’s primarily due to the AL having three highly contested division races, which certainly doesn’t happen every year. The top five non-division-leaders are also relatively closely packed together, so whether they were clawing for one WC or two, the fans in all five cities would probably be remaining engaged. Even Detroit, which would sit six games back in the WC standings and trailing four teams in the old format, remains in the thick of things since they’re only two games out of the Central Division lead anyway.

In other words, whether under the new format or the old, the same eight AL teams are in contention and nobody would have the kind of lock on a playoff spot that would have allowed them to coast toward the finish in the old format.

But in the National League, things are more than a bit different.

All three current division leaders have healthy gaps between themselves and their nearest competitor. Washington and San Francisco have 5.5 game leads and Cincinnati has an 8.5 game lead. On top of that, Atlanta has a similar 5.5 game lead over the next non-division-leader, St. Louis. In other words, under last year’s format, we’d be coming pretty close to declaring the NL playoff bracket to be set.

The Dodgers would not only trail the Giants by 5.5 in their division, but they’d be seven games out of the Wild Card race. The Pirates would be 8 games back and no other team would be within 10 games of a WC spot.

If the Braves could maintain that kind of lead over the others, they’d have limited incentive to try to close the gap on the Nationals, knowing they’d enter the playoffs on equal footing with the three division winners.

But these teams are not playing under the old format.

In the new format, the Cardinals, rather than having their postseason hopes being on life support, are currently claiming the second WC spot in the NL. Not only that, but the Dodgers are just 1.5 games behind St. Louis and the perennial also-ran Pirates are just a game behind the Dodgers (and just 2.5 out of the final WC spot).

Even the Brewers, Phillies and D’Backs, who would all be around a dozen games out of the WC race in the old format, are still hanging on to hopes with deficits half that size this year.

But that’s not all.

If the Braves want to avoid having to endure a single play-in game, they need to pull out all the stops and try to catch up to Washington… and the Nationals can’t just sit back and figure it really doesn’t matter if the Braves catch them or not. It matters! And while the Reds may be coming close to having their division title locked up, the Giants can’t afford to take their foot off the gas pedal and risk letting the Dodgers steal the NL West from them, either.

If you look at the NL schedule of games on any given day, you would have to try very hard to find a single game with any kind of playoff ramifications under the old format. This year, there are probably at least 4-5 games every night that have potential postseason impact.

I know there are plenty of people who still don’t see it as “fair” to play a 162 game schedule and have that come down to a single play-in game to qualify for the postseason. Most of those people seem to be managers and players on potential Wild Card teams.

To them, I can only say, if you don’t like it, win more of those 162 games. Win your division and earn the advantage of knowing you’ll have a playoff series, rather than a single game. Earn the right to perhaps set your rotation for the postseason. And if you can’t earn it, if you just aren’t good enough through 162 games to win your division, then maybe… possibly… you might still be allowed a “second chance” play-in game. That’s what a Wild Card spot should be… a second chance for teams that haven’t won anything.

I’m sure the compacted postseason schedule will be kind of messed up this season, but for my money, the new Wild Card format is working just the way I hoped it would. As much as I hate to admit it, this time Bud Selig got something right.

– JC

Snappers Playoff Win – Photos

If Wednesday night’s Beloit Snappers/Clinton LumberKings game does indeed mark the final time I see a baseball game in person this year, it was a heckuva game to end the season on!

I don’t want to bury the lead, so let’s start by saying the Snappers came out on top in game one of their 3-game playoff series with Clinton, by a score of 8-6. But the score doesn’t begin to tell the story.

Clinton scored twice in the bottom of the first inning, but Beloit got one back in the top of the 2nd. Clinton 2B Dillon Hazlett got that run back for Clinton in the bottom of the 2nd with a solo HR. It wouldn’t be his only dinger.

Beloit scored again in the top of the 3rd to make the score 3-2 Clinton, but the LumberKings tallied another run in the 4th to go back up by 2 runs again. The Snappers closed to within 1 with an Eddie Rosario RBI double. However, when Miguel Sano flied to CF, Rosario tried to advance to third base, but was called out for having left 2nd too soon. Again the LumberKings immediately got that run back in the bottom of the 5th to reclaim a 2-run margin, 5-3.

Rosario struck again with runners on 2nd and 3rd in the 7th with a single to LF. Clinton left fielder Guillermo Pimentel bobbled the ball, allowing the tying run to score, but Rosario was thrown out at 2B by the cut-off man. Still, the game stood tied at 5 runs each.

Kennys Vargas started out the 8th with a double to the LCF wall. JD Williams pinch ran for Vargas and eventually scored on Stephen Wickens RBI single up the middle through a drawn in infield. But in the bottom of the 8th, Hazlett struck again with his second solo HR of the night and the game was tied yet again, 6-6.

In the 9th, the Snappers parlayed an AJ Petterson lead-off single, a Nate Roberts sacrifice bunt, a Clinton error, a couple of wild pitches and an infield grounder in to two more runs. Mason Melotakis gave up a lead-off double in the bottom of the ninth and nearly threw a comeback grounder over the head of Miguel Sano, who had shifted over to play 1B after Vargas’ departure. But Melotakis settled down to get the final out on a fly ball to RF to secure the 8-6 win.

They head home now for game 2 Thursday night and, if necessary, game 3 on Friday.

I was a little disappointed in the size of the crowd at Clinton, but I can’t say enough about how friendly everyone I talked to was. I started the game sitting with a family from Beloit, including a young lady who, it turns out, is one of the Snappers’ batgirls at their home games. Later in the game, I moved out to a picnic area down the left field line and the Clinton fans down there pretty much adopted me for two innings, despite my Twins gear clearly making my allegiances clear.

Clinton’s ballpark is another one of the older stadiums in the Midwest League, but Clinton has at least made obvious attempts to upgrade their facilities. I REALLY enjoyed the old school organ music between and during innings. I didn’t realize how much I missed that kind of thing until I heard it in Clinton!

Let’s wrap with a few pictures and wish the Snappers the best of luck the rest of the playoffs!

– JC

Outside Ashford University Field in Clinton

Pitching coach Gary Lucas looks on as starting pitcher Jason Wheeler warms up with catcher Matt Koch

Teams are introduced before the playoff game starts

Manager Nelson Prada and runner Kennys Vargas at 3B

Runner Drew Leachman, who had 3 hits on the night, held on by Clinton SS Bryan Brito

Jason Wheeler pitching with Miguel Sano at 3B

Kennys Vargas at 1B and AJ Petterson at 2B

View from the left field picnic area of Ashford University Field in Clinton

 

Expanded Playoffs Adopted… and I Like It!

Right up front, I LIKE the expanded playoffs adopted officially by MLB today.  I went on record supporting this concept a couple of years ago and I stand by that support.

Beginning this fall, there will be TWO Wild Card spots in both the AL and NL, instead of one in each. In a perfect world, I’d have no Wild Cards at all, but that realistically is never going to happen. This is the next best thing.

I know that scheduling issues meant that, for 2012 only, the LDS will have a goofy format where the first two games are played in the lower seeded team’s stadium and the following three in the higher seeded team’s place. That’s not ideal, but they’ll go back to a 2-2-1 format next season, so whatever.

Image: MLB.com

The primary reason I like this concept is that it returns emphasis where I believe it belongs… on winning your Division title.

Players and managers (and thus most fans) have become conditioned, since 1995, to establishing their team’s season-long goal as being to “make the playoffs.” This is the way it is in the NFL, NHL and NBA, and while MLB has had fewer playoff spots than other major sports leagues, that same mentality has established itself in baseball since the Wild Card was implemented starting with the 1995 season.

Since that time, it has no longer mattered if you win your Division or not, as long as you managed to win enough games to beat out all of the other Division “runners up.” Several times over this period, teams that have locked up the Wild Card spot have stopped bothering to even compete for their Division championship, preferring instead to rest players and set their rotation for the playoffs. In at least one case, a team very clearly tried NOT to win their Division, in an effort to get the first round match-up they felt most comfortable with. That cannot be allowed to happen.

It won’t happen again.

There are only two real objections raised to the new plan.

One is that it results in the likely outcome that a strong second place team in one Division is placed at too great a disadvantage to Division winning teams of lesser talent and abilities. We’ll call this “the Yankee objection” and it goes something like this:

“The Yankees are always the best team in the American League, even when they let another AL East team win the Division and this format will mean that when the Yankees do allow someone else to win the AL East, they won’t get in to the playoffs on equal footing with the AL Central and AL West Division champions who are never ever as good as the Yankees. Therefore, the Yankees will gain their rightful place in the World Series less often than they deserve.”

To this I say, “If you’re so much better than everyone else, win your f’ing Division or shut up.”

The other objection, raised by a lot of players and managers, is that it just isn’t fair to make a team go through a 162 game season and then have their playoff hopes hinge on a single game. Everyone is conditioned to believe that you’re supposed to get a series of some sort in the postseason to establish your right to move on or go home.

And I agree… for Division champions.

But we’re not talking about Division champions here. We’re talking about two teams that didn’t win a damn thing over the course of that 162 game season. By all rights, they shouldn’t get to play ANY more baseball. They finished no better than 2nd place in their Divisions.

But we need an even number of teams in the “real” playoffs for each League, so one of those losers has to be let in to the postseason party. That’s fine, I guess, but this business of letting that also-ran team enter the playoffs on equal footing with the teams that DID win their Division needed to end.

So, once again, my answer to the whiners who think their 2nd place finish should entitle them to getting to play more than a single play-in game is pretty similar to my response to the first objection… “If you don’t want your playoff hopes determined by a single Wild Card game, win more games.”

In the end, Major League Baseball is saying that they want Division Championships to matter more than they have since 1995 and this change absolutely guarantees that teams will go flat out to win their Division, rather than settle for a Wild Card spot.

There are other benefits of this change, of course, but they are not so much real reasons to make the change as they are pleasant byproducts.

More teams will be in contention for one of those Wild Card spots late in the season. This is important, not only to fans in the markets directly affected by their team continuing to have a shot, but across the entire fan base, because it will mean more fans continuing to pay attention to more games at a time of year when baseball loses a number of eyeballs to football games. The playoffs and even World Series have become less watched in part because, by the time the playoffs roll around, fans in most markets have lost interest in baseball and have been watching football for over a month.

I also really like knowing there will always be two “win or go home” games every season. The down side of having playoff “series” is that there are years when not a single postseason game has the drama of both teams needing a win to avoid elimination, because there are years when no playoff series goes the full five or seven games. That will never happen again.

The handful of “game 163” contests in recent years have been instant classics. Now there will be at least two of those games every season (though not many of them are likely to have the drama of the Rockies, White Sox and Twins wins this decade). And it won’t come at the cost of other potential game 163s because there will still be potential tie-breaker games.

I understand that there are plenty of people who don’t like this change. That’s fine. As always, I acknowledge that everyone is entitled to their opinion… even if it’s wrong. :)

– JC

 

GameChat – GAME 7 2011 World Series!! 7:05pm

So there is just no way that tonight can match the intensity of last night so don’t expect it. BUT it’s fun to see how each team will respond since Carpenter is coming in on short rest, Harrison is obviously overmatched, Napoli is coming banged up, and Holliday has been benched… I think this has been a fantastic series and can’t wait to see what happens!

Texas

@

St. Louis
Kinsler, 2B   Theriot, 2B
Andrus, SS   Craig, LF
Hamilton, CF   Pujols, 1B
Young, M, 1B   Berkman, RF
Beltre, A, 3B   Freese, 3B
Cruz, N, RF   Molina, Y, C
Napoli, C   Furcal, SS
Murphy, Dv, LF   Schumaker, CF
Harrison, P   Carpenter, P

 

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

R

H

E

Texas

2

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

2

6

0

St. Louis

2

0

1

0

2

0

1

0

x

6

7

1

 

Well this game just proved that the ’91 world series was still better despite both having a thrilling game 6. There is just no way to have the same kind of intensity in Game 7 (unless you have a 10 inning complete game shutout).

But there had to be a winner and now we have one. The St. Louis Cardinals have won it all and are the 2011 Champions!

GameChat – 2011 World Series, #6, 7:00pm

 

Texas

@

St. Louis
Kinsler, 2B   Furcal, SS
Andrus, SS   Schumaker, CF
Hamilton, LF   Pujols, 1B
Young, M, 1B   Berkman, RF
Beltre, A, 3B   Holliday, LF
Cruz, N, RF   Freese, 3B
Napoli, C   Molina, Y, C
Gentry, CF   Punto, 2B
Lewis, C, P   Garcia, J, P

 

 

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

R

H

E

Texas

1

1

0

1

1

0

3

0

0

2

0

9

15

2

St. Louis

2

0

0

1

0

1

0

1

2

2

1

10

13

3

 

ok, if you didn’t see this game then there is absolutely no way I can accurately convey what happened… wow… right up there with the best world series games ever played..  Congrats to Freese for pretty much single-handedly keeping the Cardinals in this game and the hitting a walk off homerun? yeah… There are just no words. If you have 4 1/2 hours of free time, it’s totally worth watching a replay.

The only downer was the poor fielding and numerous errors… but the sheer determination made up for it.

I don’t know what else they could find to pull out in Game 7 to even come close to this.

GameChat – 2011 World Series Game 5, 7:05pm

With the Series all tied up at two games each, we go back to the Game 1 pitching match-up with Chris Carpenter of the Cardinals facing off with Texas’ CJ Wilson.

I know it’s a 7-game series, but it sure seems to me that the winner of this game becomes the heavy favorite to take home the hardware when it’s all over with. Josh Hamilton looked to me like he was getting better cuts at the ball Sunday night and if that’s indicative of him feeling healthier, I like the Rangers’ chances. Then again, I predicted the Rangers to win the Series in 7 games, so I could just be reaching for some kind of basis to ultimately prove me right.

It should be a good game, despite all efforts of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver to ruin it with their horsecrap announcing.

CARDINALS

@

RANGERS
Furcal, SS Kinsler, 2B
Craig, RF Andrus, SS
Pujols 1B Hamilton, CF
Holliday, LF Young, M, DH
Berkman, DH Beltre, A, 3B
Freese, 3B Cruz, N, RF
Molina, Y, C Murphy, Dv, LF
Schumaker, CF Napoli, C
Punto, 2B Moreland, 1B
  _Carpenter, P   _Wilson, C, P
  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
St. Louis 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 7 1
Texas 0 0 1 0 0 1 0 2 x 4 9 2

And now we go back to St. Louis with the Cardinals needing to win both games there in order to dig themselves out of the hole they dug. I’m not sure who’s more to blame for the loss in game 5, the players who collectively went 1 for 12 with runners in scoring position or their manager who seems intent on proving how smart he is… and failing miserably.