Episode 79: Brian Dozier is Robinson Cano and Other Lies

Happy birthday to our very own Jay Corn!  As a birthday present to Jay, Paul skipped the show!  Without him Eric is free to heap all of the praise in the world on Brian Dozier, and he does. You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here.

Dozier at bat

Jay Corn revisits his prediction that Josmil Pinto will hit 25 home runs (which is not looking so bad right now), and we wonder what might happen to Pinto’s playing time when Josh Willingham and/or Oswaldo Arcia return from the DL and Chris Herrmann goes back to AAA.  The jabbering continues with Logan Darnell, one of three AAA Left Handers in the Rochester starting rotation.  Lots of beer talk this week, and Eric is a little over excited about his “bready beer” and then the gang goes Around the League.

Enjoy the show!

You can follow Cody on Twitter (@NoDakTwinsFan) or read his writing at NoDakTwinsFan, you can find Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) and read his writing at PuckettsPond.com, and you can find Mr. Jay Corn on Twitter (@Jay__Corn)!

If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes. Ratings and reviews are like syrup for our metaphorical banana walnut pancakes.

Who Are These Guys?

The people who pay attention to such things during professional baseball’s offseason were pretty much in agreement in their expectations for this team coming out of spring training in Fort Myers.

The starting pitching should be quite improved, perhaps the best it has been in a few years. The bullpen should once again be sound. But when the topic turned to the offense, one question was nearly universal, “Where will the runs come from?”

Now, roughly two weeks in to the 2014 season, there have been a couple of surprises. First, the supposed much improved rotation was a little slow getting out of the gate, but now we’re seeing results that look much closer to what we had hoped we would see from some of the starting pitchers.

But the offense is not what was expected. Instead of struggling to score runs consistently, we’re seeing an offense that sits at or near the top of several offensive statistics. Granted, the season is still young, but the rate at which the team is scoring runs is certainly encouraging.

All of which begs the question, “Who are these guys?”

Coincidental or not, that question could be answered in either of two ways and both would be accurate.

We could certainly be talking about the Minnesota Twins, who came through the past weekend’s series sweep of their American League Central Division rival Kansas City Royals averaging 5.6 runs per game, good for a third place tie in all of Major League Baseball. All three of their starting pitchers in the Royals series chalked up quality starts (at least six innings, giving up three runs or less).

But we could equally be describing the Twins’ Class A Midwest League affiliate, the Cedar Rapids Kernels.

The Kernels are expected to have one of the top rotations in minor league baseball this season, staffed with several of the organization’s top prospects, including the Twins’ first and second round draft picks a year ago, Kohl Stewart and Ryan Eades, among others.

The Kernels’ pitching certainly has been showing glimpses of their talent and arguably have done a better job of living up to their pre-season expectations than their counterparts with the parent Twins.

Hudson Boyd

Hudson Boyd

Through Tuesday’s games, relievers Brandon Bixler, Josue Montanez, Brandon Peterson and Hudson Boyd have each averaged at least a strikeout per inning pitched and have given up just four earned runs combined, between the four of them.

After struggling a little bit during the season’s chilly opening series at home, the rotation started to find their groove during last week’s eastern road trip, as well. Aaron Slegers has just a 1-0 record to show for his efforts, but he’s racked up 14 strikeouts in just 16 innings of work, while walking only a single batter.

Kernels pitching coach Ivan Arteaga indicated Monday night that he was pleased with the work his starting pitching corps did during their recent 5-1 road trip.

“This early in the season, you hope they give a good effort every night, which they did,” Arteaga said of his rotation arms. “They pretty much took us where we wanted them to take us.”

Arteaga added, “We have a pitch limit, everybody knows that. It’s a team effort. The relievers are giving us a chance every night, we can’t ask for more than that. The bullpen’s doing a great job.”

That swing out east last week also seemed to wake up some of the Kernels’ bats, a fact not lost on hitting coach Tommy Watkins who, while praising catcher Mitch Garver for an outstanding road trip, also saw progress from others.

“It was different guys every night,” said Watkins. “The hitters did a good job having quality at-bats. The main thing is they had a pretty decent approach and they stuck to it.”

That approach is showing up in the offensive statistics.

After Tuesday’s game, the Kernels were second in the MWL in runs scored (60) and at the top of the league in both slugging percentage (.442) and OPS (.777).

Cedar Rapids hitters have notched 11 home runs, tying them for the MWL lead with Lake County and Wisconsin. They also rank fourth in the league in doubles (23) and sit atop the MWL list in triples (8).

The power surge wasn’t something that Kernels manager Jake Mauer expected to see at this point.

“That (the home runs) has been a surprise,” Mauer said Monday night. “We know Garver and (Bryan) Haar have some pop, without a doubt, but I’d say the frequency that they’ve hit them, to this point, has been surprising. But they’ve also had some pretty good at-bats with runners in scoring position and we’ve been able to keep that carousel moving. We were a little concerned early that we’d only be able to score one run (at a time), but we’ve found a way to score multiple runs and that’s encouraging.”

Mitch Garver

Mitch Garver

Garver, the Twins’ 9th round draft pick a year ago, has accounted for nine of the team’s extra-base hits. He has three doubles, a triple and is leading the MWL in home runs with five. The combination has lifted his slugging percentage to a league leading .825 and his OPS to 1.254, good enough for second highest in the league.

Garver and Haar also lead the Kernels with 10 RBI each.

As Watkins pointed out, however, the offensive contributions haven’t been limited to just a couple of guys.

Outfielder Zach Larson’s six doubles have him tied for the MWL lead in that category and, while seeing action in just seven of the Kernels’ 12 games, through Tuesday, infielder Tanner Vavra has made the most of his opportunities to get to the plate and leads the club with a .360 batting average, just a single point above Haar’s .359.

After Monday’s come-from-behind win over South Bend, Mauer summarized his team’s efforts thus far. “The pitching has been really good, really good. The defense, for the most part, has been pretty good. We’ve gotten some big hits. We’re proud of the boys. They really don’t give up.”

Mauer credits the work the hitters have been doing with their hitting coach for their offensive progress early in the year.

“I think that’s what Tommy Watkins has been doing with these guys, just learning how to trust their hands and try see the ball a little bit. He’s got a pretty good plan that I think the boys are starting to buy in to. Overall, the quality of the at-bats has been much better,” Mauer said on Monday.

The season is young and less than 10% of the Kernels’ regular season games are behind them, but if early hitting trends can be maintained and their pitching turns out to be as improved as it was expected to be, this Cedar Rapids club could turn out to be quite competitive.

Of course, you could perhaps say something similar about the Minnesota Twins.

- JC

GameChat – Blue Jays @ Twins, 7:10pm

umm… yeah. It’s cold out there folks. It happens in this state in the Spring but none of us like it. At least Toronto is a “northern” team so they should be used to it right??

It will be interesting to see how the teams handle the game.. before the snow moves in for tomorrow. :(

Toronto

@

Minnesota
Cabrera, Me, LF Dozier, 2B
Kawasaki, 2B Mauer, 1B
Bautista, CF Plouffe, 3B
Lind, DH Colabello, RF
Encarnacion, 1B Kubel, LF
Navarro, D, C Pinto, DH
Sierra, RF Suzuki, K, C
Lawrie, 3B Hicks, CF
Goins, SS Florimon, SS
  Morrow, P   Hughes, P, P
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Toronto 0 0 0 0 0 5 0 0 4 9 14 1
Minnesota 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 3 7 1

I didn’t see or hear any of tonight’s Twins game, so I have no idea what happened beyond what I can see in the box score. But that’s enough to know it was ugly.

I do see Chris Colabello had three hits and Trevor Plouffe put up home run number 1 on the season, so I guess that’s something. Oh, and Phil Hughes had 7 strikeouts in his 5 innings of work and, from what some people seem to think, that’s a good thing. I personally think it’s not as good as it would have been without giving up the four runs, but what do I know? – JC

Eating Crow with the Minnesota Twins

crow eatAlmost a week ago, with the Twins in the middle of being swept by the Oakland Athletics, I wrote (over at BaseballTwins.com) that the Twins had no chance of being above .500 for the entire season, and then went so far as to loudly proclaim the same stance on the most recent Talk to Contact podcast.  After a weekend of hot baseball, from the offense and pitching staff, the Twins are now back to .500, at 6-6, and with an off day today to prep for a three game series at home with the Blue Jays, I find myself on the verge of eating crow.

How did this happen?

The Twins pitching turned in their three best performances of the year, the Twins’ bats woke up in a big way, and some timely defensive miscues allowed the Twins to steal a victory on Sunday.

On Friday night, Kyle Gibson put in another strong start, going 6.1 innings and giving up just one run.  Like his first start of the year, Gibson once again walked four batters, and recorded just three strike outs, so it wasn’t a perfect start, but he got the outs he needed and avoided any real damage (and the run he gave up in the first inning was directly related to Pedro Florimon booting a tailor-made double-play ball).

Not to be outdone, on Saturday afternoon, Ricky Nolasco pitched eight strong innings of one run ball, controlling the ball well, recording four strike outs and surrendering only a single walk.

While Nolasco and Gibson put up strong performances, the Twins hitters did their jobs too, scoring 17 runs in those first two games, with a balanced lineup that saw key hits from Dozier, Suzuki, Pinto, Mauer, Kubel, Colabello and Plouffe.  Everyone was hitting except Florimon and Mastroianni, who managed to be 0-8 (but did chip in two walks) while the rest of the team recorded a .346 on base percentage.

On Sunday, Kevin Correia worked seven scoreless innings, but let the first three batters of the inning reach base, and Brian Duensing came in with two one and one in already.  He couldn’t stop the bleeding and the Twins were down 3-2 going into the home half of the eighth.  IN the bottom of the inning the Twins loaded the bases and Chris Herrmann grounded to the pitcher Wade Davis who tried to start a home-to-first double play, but instead threw the ball away allowing two runs to score.

While the Twins might creep over .500 before this home stand ends, I still think that the Twins next four series after that, against the Royals, Rays, Tigers and Dodgers will put the Twins firmly below .500 without much chance of a return.

For now though, the Twins are interesting, and I look forward to eating crow.

GameChat – Royals @ Twins #3, 1:05

The Twins have a shot at an early season series sweep today against Kansas City.They’ve proven the last two games what their capable of if they get a bit of hitting AND some quality starting pitching in the same game.

Kyle Gibson and Ricky Nolasco both stepped up their games the past two games and today, it’s Kevin Correia’s turn to show what he’s capable of. The Royals send lefty Jason Vargas to the mound. Vargas is off to a hot start for KC, giving up just two earned runs in 15 innings over the course of his first two starts. Correia’s start has been somewhat less impressive.

FSN’s Tyler Mason pointed out that Twins sit at or near the top of three AL offensive stat categories two weeks in to the season. Brian Dozier is tied for the HR lead with four, Chris Colabello is tied for the RBI lead with 14 and Jason Kubel sits second in the AL in batting average with .405. Yeah, we all expected to see that, right?

Manager Ron Gardenhire is back with the club today.  How much you wanna bet that if the Twins trail early, we’ll see “send Gardy away again” tweets before the 7th inning stretch?

ROYALS

@

TWINS
Aoki, RF Dozier, 2B
Infante, 2B Mauer, 1B
Hosmer, 1B Plouffe, 3B
Butler, B, DH Colabello, RF
Gordon, A, LF Kubel, LF
Perez, S, C Pinto, DH
Moustakas, 3B Suzuki, K, C
Cain, L, CF Hicks, CF
Escobar, A, SS Florimon, SS
_Vargas, P   _Correia, P
A "Royal" blue sweep

A “Royal” blue sweep

It wasn’t the prettiest game, but what matters is that the Twins had more runs than the Royals when it was over. That means our guys are back up to .500 on the year AND it means a SWEEP of the Royals!

The Twins managed just five hits on the day and Joe Mauer was the only hitter with a pair of them. That might put him in contention for BOD honors, but we just can’t quite go there, given his strikeout in a clutch late-game situation.

Josmil Pinto’s two-run HR to open the scoring in the home half of the 7th certainly earns him consideration.

But, once again, if there’s one thing that stands out when you think about how the Twins managed to win all three games against the Landed Gentry of KC, it’s the starting pitching. Today it was Kevin Correia’s turn to step up his game. He was eventually tagged with all three Royals runs, but he put up seven innings of goose eggs before those runs came across in the 8th and let’s just say the Royals had a little help getting those runs across from a couple of Correia’s team mates.

We want to encourage this kind of work from our rotation and to that end, we are awarding our third straight BOD to the starting pitcher.

Kevin Correia (photo David Goldman/AP)

Kevin Correia (photo David Goldman/AP)

iouy

GameChat – Royals @ Twins #2, 1:10pm

Since today is so much cooler, I’m glad that it’s an afternoon game. AND I am glad we’re coming off a win. However, I always get nervous the game after a big hit parade…

Let’s see if a little public shaming will work on Ricky… Mr. Nolasco, you were chosen to be our #1 Starter so far. Has it escaped your notice that our #5 guy – basically an MLB rookie – is KICKING YOUR ASS in pitching ability so far this season? Let’s work on that shall we?

Kansas City

@

Minnesota
Aoki, RF Dozier, 2B
Infante, 2B Mauer, 1B
Hosmer, 1B Plouffe, 3B
Butler, B, DH Colabello, RF
Gordon, A, LF Kubel, LF
Perez, S, C Pinto, DH
Moustakas, 3B Suzuki, K, C
Cain, L, CF Hicks, CF
Escobar, A, SS Florimon, SS
  Shields, P   Nolasco, P
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Kansas City 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 6 2
Minnesota 1 6 0 0 0 0 0 0 x 7 6 0

That’s two straight W’s for our guys!

Not a ton of hitting by either team, but the Twins made the most of what they got and took advantage of one bad inning of pitching and defense by the Royals.

It was a game that saw some Mauer Pauer as Joe launched a home run in to the right-center field seats.

But, in the end, whether or not it was Babs’ public shaming, Ricky Nolasco showed the stuff Twins fans hoped he would bring to Target Field, going eight strong innings for the win… and good for the BOD award, as well.

Ricky Nolasco (AP Photo)

Ricky Nolasco (AP Photo)

GameChat – Royals @ Twins, 7:10pm

The Twins first evening game of the year… kind of nice that it’s still 60 degrees out there this evening!

Let’s see if we can’t do better against the Royals than we did against the A’s – who are legitimately really good this year. Anyone know if the Royals have better pitching than we do?

Kansas City

@

Minnesota
Aoki, RF Dozier, 2B
Infante, 2B Mauer, 1B
Hosmer, 1B Plouffe, 3B
Butler, B, DH Colabello, RF
Gordon, A, LF Kubel, LF
Perez, S, C Pinto, DH
Moustakas, 3B Suzuki, K, C
Cain, L, CF Hicks, CF
Escobar, A, SS Florimon, SS
  Chen, B, P   Gibson, P

 

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Kansas City 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 5 1
Minnesota 2 0 0 5 0 0 2 1 x 10 11 0

Ten runs! again. That’s three times already this year that the Twins have racked up double digit runs. They managed to do that a total of six times all of last season. Kind of fun seeing all those runs on the board, isn’t it?

Kurt Suzuki and Chris Colabello both had two hits and Trevor Plouffe had three. Josmil Pinto went yard and Jason Kubel had a triple (?!).

It would be one of those games where choosing a BOD from among all those bats would be a tough call. But Kyle Gibson shrugged off a dicey first inning and pitched in to the seventh for his second win and longest outing of his career. That’s the kind of thing we’d like to see more of out of this starting staff and it’s enough to earn tonight’s BOD!

Kyle Gibson (photo: MiLB.com)

Kyle Gibson (photo: MiLB.com)

(We really need to get us a picture of Gibson in his Twins uniform soon.)

- JC

GameChat – A’s @ Twins #3, 12:10pm

Another sunny day in the 50′s – great spring baseball weather. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could see some great spring baseball? I’d go for that.

Let’s see what Pelfrey can do for us.

Oh, in honor of a visit from Little Nicky Punto, I thought I would share this link from Deadspin showing a fantastic play from SS Andrelton Simmons.

Oakland

@

Minnesota
Fuld, CF Mastroianni, RF
Lowrie, SS Dozier, 2B
Donaldson, 3B Mauer, 1B
Moss, RF Colabello, DH
Cespedes, LF Kubel, LF
Callaspo, DH Plouffe, 3B
Norris, D, C Pinto, C
Barton, 1B Hicks, CF
Punto, 2B Escobar, E, SS
  Straily, P   Pelfrey, P

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

R

H

E

Oakland

0

1

2

2

0

1

0

0

0

6

13

0

Minnesota

1

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

3

0

Some people will say that the story of this series is that the A’s hitting just beats ours… That may be true but to be honest, we matched them HR for HR – they just got theirs with people on base and we didn’t, and many of their HR RBI were WALKS.

The REAL story of this series is that their starting pitching rocked and ours sucked. I would like to see that change (I’m sure that Gardy would also like that) but it’s pretty much been the ongoing Twins’ issue. You have to have good pitching to get wins.

Episode 78: The Phantom DL and Gardy’s 1000th Win

For the first time in a long time we have a full week of Twins baseball to talk about on the podcast. We talk about Ron Gardenhire‘s 1000th managerial win, a couple of disabled list moves that brought both Chris Herrmann and Darin Mastroianni back to the Twins, and pontificate on what early season attendance numbers mean for the club going forward. You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here.

Don't drink my beer!

Don’t drink my beer!

We’re running a promotional giveaway. Make sure to listen to the end for the details and your chance to win a 1991 World Series box set (#TwinsNickname).

We are joined by Jeremy Nygaard (@jeremynygaard) of Twins Daily’s Hang out and Talk Twins video/podcast (@TwinsHangouts) to discuss the roster moves, the Twins payroll in 2014 and what it means for the future of the franchise and if bringing in Stephen Drew is still a valid discussion point.
You’ll also hear the weekly standby’s hitter/pitcher of the week, and around the league. We had to put the Down on the Pond segment on hold this week, but next week we’ll be taking a closer look at Twins AAA pitcher, Logan Darnell.

Enjoy the show.

You can follow Cody on Twitter (@NoDakTwinsFan) or read his writing at NoDakTwinsFan, you can find Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) and read his writing at PuckettsPond.com, and you can find Mr. Jay Corn on Twitter (@Jay__Corn)!

If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes. Ratings and reviews are like t.p. for our bung holes.