GameChat – Blue Jays @ Twins #3, 12:10 – DAY GAME!

My gut feeling is that I might be sitting here by myself for awhile:

a) it’s a day game and I don’t know how many people are thinking about the early start.

b) with the continuing disappointing endings, more and more people find something better to do with their weekend time – like laundry or bathing the cats…

Let’s hope the boys can give us something to really cheer about today – it would sure make what is already a beautifully bright and sunny day a little better!

Toronto @ Minnesota
McCoy, LF   Span, CF
Escobar, Y, SS   Hudson, O, 2B
Bautista, J, RF   Young, D, LF
Wells, V, CF   Thome, DH
Overbay, 1B   Valencia, 3B
Hill, A, 2B   Kubel, RF
Buck, J, DH   Morales, J, 1B
Encarnacion, 3B   Casilla, A, SS
Molina, J, C   Butera, C
  Marcum, P     Duensing, P

 

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Toronto 1 2 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 4 8 0
Minnesota 1 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 2 5 7 2

 

WALK OFF WINS RULE!!!!

Really, they are a lot of fun.  It kind of sucks to be down in the score but when you are only down by one and your bullpen pitches rock solid, they are a lot less frustrating and the final result is fantastic.  Duensing wasn’t GREAT today but he did a good job of getting himself out of some jams and did the job we expect of a big league pitcher.  Still would have liked to see him go a couple more innings.  It was good to Slowey come in and pitch well even if it was only for an inning.  So all together, the pitching for the day was uplifting instead of depressing!

The offense could have been a LITTLE better (my opinion) but it sure did start off well with a beautiful triple from Orlando Hudson.  That sucker was very nearly a HR.  There were a couple long bombs that the wind apparently kept in the park – Track Death strikes again.

But interestingly enough, the bat that was the story of the game belonged to Alexi Casilla.  When he’s on, he’s really on and he had a great day at the plate, including the walkoff RBI.  And his glove wasn’t bad today either – strong throw for an out at home looked really impressive.  I would like him to keep that up!  But the efforts of the day earned him a unanimous BOD in the gamechat.  Way to go Lexi!

 

 

 

Twins History Lesson: September 20 – October 3

After what can only be described as a truly ugly weekend series in Detroit, maybe what we need to get that taste out of our mouths is a Twins History Lesson “doubleheader”. Let’s look at highlights for both the past week and the upcoming week in Twins history*.

September 20 has seen a couple of interesting events:

1965: As the Twins wound the clock down toward their first World Series appearance, it’s hard to imagine just 537 fans showing up for a make-up game with the Kansas City A’s. “Catfish” Hunter beat “Mudcat” Grant 8-2 before the smallest home crowd in Twins history. I suppose the 52 degree drizzling weather kept people away. Almost enough to make you wonder if they should build a domed stadium in the Twin Cities or something.

2004: The Twins clinched the AL Central title as Carlos Silva picked up the win in an 8-2 victory over the White Sox.

Harmon Killebrew

September 21 has seen both highs and lows:

1963: Harmon Killebrew hit three home runs in the first game of a doubleheader at Fenway Park. To prove it wasn’t a fluke, he hit another one in the second game against the Red Sox. While it would seem that Fenway would be a great place for a guy like Killebrew (a right handed hitter known for his towering fly balls to LF) to hit, it was actually the only multi-home run game for Killer at the home of the Green Monster. It was also the only 3-home run game of Harmon’s career.

1997: There weren’t a lot of Twins highlights in the late 90s, but on this day Brad Radke gave us something to cheer about. He pitched all 10 innings of a 2-1 win over the Brewers at the Dome, striking out 9, walking nobody and giving up 6 hits (including a Jeff Cirillo solo HR). The Twins won on a Paul Molitor triple that drove in Brent Brede from first base. The Twins would finish with just 69 wins on the year… and Radke won 20 of those.

Looking at September 22:

Cesar Tovar

1968: Proving he could “do it all”, Cesar Tovar played one inning at each of the nine defensive positions in a win over Oakland. Tovar pitched the first inning and not only threw a scoreless inning, he struck out future Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson in the process. The game was the ONLY time a position player pitched for the Twins at a game in Metropolitan Stadium, the only time a position player has been the starting pitcher for the Twins, and the only time the Twins have ever won a game in which a position player has pitched. It was obviously a Calvin Griffith publicity stunt and I suppose you would say it worked. The game drew the second highest paid attendance among the final 10 home games of the season… 11, 340. Griffith was so moved by Tovar’s willingness to do his part to bring in the extra fans, that he gave Tovar a little bonus… a new color TV.

1969: The Twins clinched the AL Western Division title with a 4-3 win over the Royals, on the strength of Harmon Killebrew’s 47th home run of the year. Bob Miller was the winning pitcher. (See NOTE at September 28 entry)

1970: Exactly one year later, to the day, the Twins clinched their second AL Western Division title with a 5-3 win over the A’s.

September 23:

1978: California Angel (and former Twin) Lyman Bostock, Jr., was shot and killed in Gary, Indiana. He remains the only Major League Baseball player murdered during a baseball season while he was an active player.

2003: The Twins clinched the AL Central title as they defeated the Tribe 4-1 at the Metrodome, then watched the White Sox and Royals both lose their games.

Johan Santana became the first Venezuelan to record 20 wins in a season on September 24, 2004, with an 8-2 win over Cleveland. In the process, he established a new Twins record with his 13th consecutive win and also broke Bert Blyleven’s franchise single-season strikeout record.

September 25 has seen its share of eventful games:

1985: Bert Blyleven was the winning pitcher as the Twins beat the Rangers 5-1… win number 2,000 for the Twins

2000: One of those “things you don’t see every day in MLB.” The Twins beat the Indians in the nightcap of a split doubleheader. What’s odd about that? Well, it was the only game of the doubleheader that the Twins participated in. In the afternoon game, the Tribe lost to the White Sox 9-2. This sort of 3-team twinbill has occurred only twice in MLB history.

Carlos Gomez

2008: The White Sox had come to Minnesota with a 2 and a half game lead over the Twins in the AL Central, but that lead was down to a half game when the teams took the field for the final game of the series. The Sox built a 6-1 lead through the top of the 4th inning, then managed just 4 baserunners the rest of the game. The Twins scored 2 in the 4th on a Carlos Gomez triple and Denard Span double and added another in the 6th on another Gomez triple and a successful Span suicide squeeze bunt. The 8th inning saw two more Twins runs on a double by Brendan Harris, a single by Gomez and a triple by Span that tied the game at 6. The game stayed that way until the bottom of the 10th inning when Alexi Casilla singled home Nick Punto with the winning run, sending the Twins a half game ahead of the White Sox and forcing Chicago to play a make up game in Detroit the following day in an attempt to force a Game 163 with the Twins.

1965 Twins Celebrate

On September 26, 1965, the Twins clinched their first American League Pennant, with a 2-1 win over the Senators at DC Stadium. Jim Kaat got the complete-game win for Minnesota, striking out 10 and walking nobody. Kaat and battery-mate Earl Battey were among 7 Twins on that team that had played for the organization as Washington Senators in 1960, before the move to Minnesota. Surveying the crazy scene in the winners locker room after the game, Battey smiled and said, “You guys act like you have never done this before.” It had been over three decades since the franchise had won a pennant.

September 27 has witnessed a couple of games of note:

1981: In recording their last win at Met Stadium, the Twins beat the Rangers 5-2 with John Castino and Gary Ward each hitting a pair of home runs.

1987: The Twins set a team record for single game regular season attendance when 53,106 watch a day game with the Royals.

1998: Paul Molitor ended his Hall of Fame career by going 2 for 4 with a single in his final at-bat in the Twins 6-2 win over the Indians.

Of interest for events of September 28:

1969: The Twins clinched the AL Western Division championship with a 5-2 win over the Mariners in the opening game of a doubleheader in Seattle. (NOTE: As indicated in the entry for September 22, there appears to be some confusion as to exactly when the Twins clinched their title in 1969. Perhaps they clinched at least a tie on 9/22? In any event, rather than digging to find out which is accurate, I’m reporting both… I’m feeling particularly lazy today.)

1974: The Twins were on the losing end of Nolan Ryan’s third (of an eventual seven) career no-hitter as Ryan and the Angels topped Minnesota 4-0. Ryan struck out 15 Twins in the game.

1978: This is the date of “the Speech”, given by Twins owner Calvin Griffith at a Lions Club event in Waseca MN. You can read all about it here, if you haven’t before. It was… unbelievable. For me personally, the low point in Minnesota Twins history.

1987: A much higher point in franchise history was reached when the Twins clinched the AL Western Division title with a 5-3 win over the Rangers in Arlington.

Kirby Puckett

1995: Kirby Puckett’s jaw was broken by a Dennis Martinez pitch. It would be the last regular season appearance of Puckett’s career. He would go through spring training the following year, but be diagnosed with glaucoma before the regular season would begin.

On September 29, 1991, the Twins clinched the AL Western Division title despite their 2-1 loss to Toronto, when the White Sox also suffered a 2-1 loss to the Mariners.

There have been two historic Twins games held on September 30:

1981: 15,900 fans attended the final home game played at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington. Roy Smalley made the final out of the final game, a 5-2 loss to the Royals.

2008: We try not to hold it against him today, but on this date, Jim Thome broke our hearts with a home run off Nick Blackburn, accounting for the sole White Sox run in their 1-0 win over the Twins in the extra “Game 163″ necessitated when the Twins and Sox finished the season tied for the lead in the AL Central.

Let’s look at October 1:

2002: Despite falling behind 5-1 after the first two innings, the Twins came back to defeat Oakland 7-5 in Game 1 of the ALDS. Corey Koskie and Doug Mientkiewicz each homered in support of winning pitcher Brad Radke.

2006: It had never happened in MLB history before but it did on this date… a team that had not held sole possession of first place in their division/league for a single prior day the entire season, claimed their title on the last day of the season. The Twins won their game and then watched with fans as the Tigers blew a 6-0 lead over the Royals before losing 10-8 in 12 innings. 23 year old Joe Mauer became the first AL catcher to win a league batting title, hitting .347 to lead the Major Leagues.

A few oddities are mixed in with the events of October 2:

1974: In a game against the Twins, Texas manager Billy Martin became the first AL manager in the DH-era NOT to use a DH… allowing pitcher Fergie Jenkins to hit instead.

1988: With a crowd of 35,952, the Twins became the first team to pass the 3 million mark in paid attendance for a season. It was a Twins attendance mark that would stand unitl… well… a few days ago, when the Twins broke that record during a game at Target Field last week.

2004: Play was suspended at the Metrodome after 11 innings with the Twins and Indians tied at 5. Why? So crews would have sufficient time to convert the playing field for the scheduled Minnesota Gopher football game that night. Hmmm… maybe they should think about building a basball-only ballpark?

2009: Joe Nathan notched his 46th save, breaking Eddie Guardado’s prior team record of 45, which he recorded in 2002. Nathan would finish the season with 47 saves.

For those who may be tempted to take the Twins recent success for granted, let me end this History Lesson with a review of the final game of the 1999 season at Comisky Park on October 3, 1999. The White Sox scored in the bottom of the first inning and neither team tallied again until the top of the 7th when Doug Mientkiewicz singled and Torii Hunter drove him in with a double, both coming with two outs. At that point, with the score tied 1-1 in the middle of the 7th, the game was called due to rain, wind, cold and, I would imagine, indifference.

The Twins simply didn’t matter in 1999.

Win or lose this post season, the Twins matter now and they’ve mattered for the past 9 seasons. It’s good to be a Twins fan! – JC

*************************************

*We pull this information from a few different sources, including (but not necessarily limited to) Dave Wright’s excellent book, “162-0, The Greatest Wins!”, as well as some  internet sites like “Twins Trivia” and “National Pastime”.

How Did We Get Here? (Part 2)

Earlier, in Part 1 of this essay, we took a trip down Memory Lane back in to last offseason and through spring training and discussed some of the decisions made by Bill Smith and Ron Gardenhire as they constructed the roster that the Twins would start the 2010 season with. Now let’s take a look at how those decisions worked out.

In essence, the Twins started the 2010 season with six starting pitchers that they felt pretty good about, a bullpen that was missing its anchor in Joe Nathan, but was otherwise solid, an improved starting line up and a bench with some speed and one very dangerous bat.

When Orlando Hudson, JJ Hardy and Nick Punto (3/4 of the Opening Day infield) collectively made seven trips to the Disabled List, Alexi Casilla was there to fill in because the Twins decided not to risk losing him to waivers in order to keep Matt Tolbert or Danny Valencia to begin the season. The decision to start the year with Valencia and Tolbert in Rochester and Casilla with the Twins has resulted in all three of them being available to make significant contributions when the starting infielders went down.

Danny Valencia

By the way, it’s just plain mean to say that Nick Punto’s biggest contribution to the Twins success was getting injured and thereby allowing Danny Valencia to take over full time at 3B. Mean… and not altogether accurate. The truth is that Valencia’s ticket back to Rochester had pretty much been bought and paid for when Justin Morneau bumped his head against Blue Jays’ 2B John McDonald’s knee. It was Morneau’s absence and the resulting move of Michael Cuddyer to 1B that kept Valencia in Minnesota.

Of course, it was also Morneau’s injury that made Smith’s signing of Jim Thome all the more important.

Keep in mind, this is the same Jim Thome that mlb.com columnist Hal Brody had written the following about during mid-March:

So, Thome, in the twilight of a career that should land him in the Hall of Fame, will be used mostly as a late-inning pinch-hitter. This is Spring Training, when most everyone oozes with optimism, but the dark side is if Thome’s skills diminish during 2010 he might not finish the year with the Twins.

Or it could be a swan song, his final season.

Jim Thome

In the second half of the season, Thome has hit for a .310 average, with a .450 on-base percentage and a .722 slugging percentage. That’s a 1.172 OPS in 44 games (38 of which he has started as the DH). “Swan song” indeed.

So yes, decisions to sign Hudson and Thome and to keep Casilla to start the season have proved to be huge.

But let’s look at the pitching.

Yes, the Twins have been without the services of Joe Nathan. But they have three pitchers who have racked up over 20 saves each this season (though obviously not all for the Twins). Jon Rauch did well filling in at the back end of the bullpen during the first half of the season. When he started to show some signs of faltering, the Twins traded for Matt Capps. Sure, maybe they overpaid for him, but he’s gotten the job done. Then just for good measure (and to have a shut down arm against lefty hitters), Smith went and got Angels closer Brian Fuentes.

Jesse Crain

So the Twins replaced Nathan with three closers… and yet none of them has been their best relief pitcher this year. That would have to be Jesse Crain (the same Jesse Crain who was rumored to be a non-tender candidate in December), who recovered from a shaky start to the season to become virtually unhittable for the past few months. He’s the guy who has come in to get the critical outs against the opposing team’s toughest hitters before the ninth inning rolls around.

Finally, how huge does that decision NOT to convert Francisco Liriano to a closer look right now? The Twins started the season with six starting pitchers they felt they could rely upon. The two who were battling for the final roster spot, Liriano and Brian Duensing, will pitch games 1 and 3 of the ALDS in October, but the other four haven’t been shabby either.

Those six pitchers, Liriano and Duensing along with Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey and Carl Pavano, have  started all but three games for the Twins this season and nobody outside of that group has started more than one game. All six have been credited with at least 10 wins this season. (By comparison, in 2009, the Twins used 11 starting pitchers, 8 of them started at least 9 games, and only three of them notched 10 or more wins.)

So, how did the Twins get here…with a Division Championship already under their belts with another week and a half of games to play?

I don’t want to minimize the contributions of the other starting pitchers or of guys like Joe Mauer, Delmon Young, Denard Span and Jason Kubel who have all obviously played significant roles in the Twins’ success and the ironman versatility of Michael Cuddyer shouldn’t be underappreciated.

But in my mind, the decisions to retain Pavano and Crain, add Thome and Hudson, keep Liriano in a starting pitcher role and give Casilla the final roster spot out of Spring Training made the difference between the 2010 Twins once again being borderline contenders and being a team capable of blowing away the AL Central competition.

It’s been a fantastic ride so far… let’s hope the best is yet to come! – JC

How Did We Get Here? (Part 1)

No, I’m not contemplating the origins of the universe and I’m certainly not about to begin a debate over Creationism, Darwinism, or any other “ism” that much deeper thinkers than myself have put forth to explain mankind’s existence.

I just thought now might be a good time to take a look at just how our Twins went about becoming the first team in Major League Baseball to clinch their Division’s championship banner. It feels like this season has just flown by.

It seems like just yesterday that I was earning a March sunburn as I followed the Twins around Florida for a week during Spring Training. At the same time, it also feels like ages since we’ve been able to enjoy the sight of Justin Morneau in the batters box. Still, here we are… 152 games in to a 162-game schedule and the Twins are the AL Central Champions!

When your team has put together a second half like the Twins have, it’s easy to overlook just how difficult winning the AL Central really was. So today, before we get back in to discussions about playoff rotations and whether the Twins should carry 3 utility infielders or 3 catchers on their ALDS roster, let’s pause to glance back at what the Twins have accomplished this season… and how they did it.

In the first part of this post, let’s look at what went on before the 2010 season even got started.

Bill Smith

Let’s start by giving credit to General Manager Bill Smith. While other GMs made the big offseason splashes, Smith quietly laid the groundwork for this season. Shortly after the end of the 2009 season, Smith struck a deal with Milwaukee for shortstop JJ Hardy, in return for Carlos Gomez. The trade was widely viewed as two teams exchanging spare parts, each hoping the player they were getting might bounce back from an off year and fill a need for their new team.

There was speculation that the Twins might not offer arbitration to Carl Pavano, allowing him to become a free agent without the Twins receiving any draft picks as compensation. But Smith offered arbitration to Pavano and the offer was accepted. Still, Smith and the Twins were being loudly criticized by the end of the Winter Meetings in December when none of the Twins’ perceived needs had been addressed.

There was also speculation that the Twins might not have enough money to keep their bullpen depth together. Jesse Crain was considered a possible non-tender candidate. But Smith offered arbitration to all eight of the Twins arbitration-eligible players and signed all of them to deals… including Crain (whew!).

Orlando Hudson

As January came to a close, the Twins finally created a little buzz when it was revealed that the they had interest in Jim Thome, primarily as a late inning pinch hitter and occasional DH. On February 4, the Twins signed Thome to a one-year $1.5 million base contract that would, at best, be considered adequate for a part-time role player. The buzz got a bit louder the next day when the Twins announced they had signed 2B Orlando Hudson to a one-year deal.

With most of the roster set, Smith and the Twins headed to Spring Training with really only one more major issue to spend some time working out… a little matter about a contract extension for their catcher. But only the most pessimistic of Twins fans and media doubted that eventually a deal would get done… and it did.

Joe Nathan

The Twins entered March widely considered the favorites to win the AL Central again in 2010. That consensus lasted just long enough for Joe Nathan to take the mound in his first Spring Training game. On March 6, Nathan was pulled from the game “for precautionary reasons” due to “tightness and achiness” in his right elbow. After giving the injury a couple of weeks to magically repair itself, the Twins announced Nathan would miss the 2010 season and undergo Tommy John surgery. Immediately, the national media experts declared the Twins dead meat without their All Star closer and declared that the White Sox and Tigers would battle for the AL Central crown.

While Smith sniffed around the Padres camp for a possible trade for their closer Heath Bell, Gardy declared that the Twins would have a, “closer by committee… I think… no wait… I mean Jon Rauch will be our closer… for a while.” (I’m paraphrasing, of course.)

There were a few final roster spots and pitching roles up for grabs as the Twins prepared to break camp and a couple of them would turn out to be critical to the team’s ultimate success.

Alexi Casilla

The last position-player spot was given to Alexi Casilla, over Matt Tolbert, largely because Casilla was out of minor league options and Tolbert wasn’t. Danny Valencia was given a long look in Ft. Myers but in the end it was felt he needed more time in AAA to work on his defense.

Francisco Liriano

As difficult as it may be to imagine now, Francisco Liriano ended Spring Training in a battle for the fifth spot in the Twins rotation. A fair number of people felt he couldn’t be relied upon to pitch deep in to games, but might make a good closer. Brian Duensing ultimately lost out to Liriano for that final rotation spot but made the team as the long relief arm in the bullpen.

I don’t know who made those final roster decisions… Ron Gardenhire, Bill Smith or some combination of the two… but those decisions would prove crucial to the Twins’ ultimate success. We’ll take a look at just how that happened in Part 2. – JC

GameChat – Indians @ Twins #3, 12:10

A) I don’t think I want to know what that clubhouse carpet smells like today.

B) I wonder how many of the boys showed up today with aching heads – in addition to whatever else was a bit sore.

C) I really feel bad for poor Nick Blackburn because the guys in the field behind him??  definitely a day game roster and I’m sure they were all partying just as hard as the regular starters (if not harder given that they are on average younger) and it’s a LOT of BRIGHT sun out there today.

STILL, given all that?  what a beautiful day for baseball in MN and the Team and fans alike have a lot to celebrate today.  I hope Kris is taking pics and notes and such and can give us a personal account tomorrow.. *hope*

Cleveland @ Minnesota
Brantley, CF   Span, CF
Sutton, SS   Casilla, A, SS
Choo, RF   Kubel, DH
Hafner, DH   Valencia, 3B
Duncan, S, LF   Morales, J, 1B
Nix, J, 3B   Tolbert, 2B
LaPorta, 1B   Revere, LF
Valbuena, 2B   Repko, RF
Gimenez, C   Butera, C
  Carrasco, C, P     Blackburn, P

 

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

 

This was a game played on pure adrenaline.  Yes, it was all the young guys who probably bounce back faster than the more regular guys but still, they all seemed almost hyper-active today – which caused both great plays and some bonehead ones.  But they were obviously having fun and brought the bats and finally got around to giving Blackburn’s STELLAR outting some run support.  

Blackburn earned his 10th win of the season plus had some great fielding plays to top off fantastic pitching.  For holding his ground and having a great start even though everyone was probably holding their heads after partying last night, I’ve gone all out and granted him a baked alaska!  Enjoy!

And Jose Morales finally got a start at 1B!!!  And he did a REALLY good job!  I’m sure he was very nervous but he held his ground, kept his head on his shoulders AND brought his bat to work today!  He drove in 3 runs and finally is settled as Cuddyer’s back up at 1B just in case.  And yay for Cuddy getting a day off.  For such a great effort, Morales gets a Dairy Queen ice cream cake! 

Plus, just because the “B” lineup did such a good job of not letting this be a giveaway game because the day and situation, they get an all-you-can eat ice cream sundae buffet.  Enjoy boys!

But today’s BOD, by vote of the chat, was Alexi Casilla.  He led the team with energy level for sure and provided a LOT of instigation to keep the boys all moving.  He went 3/4 with 2 Runs and a super hot Triple!  good job kid!

Pitching and Defense (and Reincarnation)

Nick Blackburn

I read a few articles and posts on Tuesday about Nick Blackburn (“is he back?”, etc.). You can’t draw conclusions based on one start, but given how anemic the offense was and how the defense failed time after time to come up with a big play (or even a few routine plays) Monday night, there’s no doubt Blackburn deserved better results than he got. When you get 7 good innings out of him, you need to capitalize on that opportunity. The Twins failed to do so Monday night.

Then, apparently just to prove that failure wasn’t a fluke, the Twins turned around and wasted a nice complete game by iron man Carl Pavano on Tuesday night, too. True, the offense at least got on the board last night and yes, you can argue that an umpire call here or there might have erroneously gone against the Twins. Still, the fact remains that the Twins blew several scoring opportunities and, once again, allowed the Rangers to score runs they didn’t earn due to not making defensive plays that should have been made, particularly in the fourth inning. (In fairness, there were also a couple of pretty nice defensive plays made last night, as well.)

The Twins, as an organization, have clearly made a decision that they are willing to live with more limited defensive abilities in the corner outfield positions (Young, Kubel and Cuddyer will never impress anyone with their range or glovework in the OF). That’s fine, I suppose, but it means they really need a CF with exceptional range and ability. The organization may have expected Denard Span to provide that exceptional range and ability, but he simply has not done so on a consistent basis this season.

Having weak OF defense in the corners AND a mediocre CF will result in a lot of batted balls falling for hits that should be finding gloves. A good Major League CF makes the catch at the low wall Monday night and Denard simply misjudged where the ball was coming down. Would it have been a good play to make that catch? Yes. Is it reasonable for a Major League team to expect its CF to make that play? I believe so. I won’t even waste words on the ball that fell between Kubel and Span last night.

Of course, it wasn’t just outfield play that let Blackburn down Monday night.

Whether it was Hudson’s decision to play shallow RF against Hamilton or a failure by the coaching staff to position him correctly is a fair question to ask, but Hamilton had no business reaching first base on his “infield hit”. Likewise, sure the runner was going on the pitch and bearing down on JJ Hardy as he tried to turn the double play in the fifth inning and you’d like to think the guy you’ve got over at 1B will scoop up most throws that land 5 feet in front of him and bounce up, but it’s hard not to think that Hardy’s sore wrist affected that throw and ended up costing a run.

JJ Hardy is a very good shortstop and he may potentially be the best #9 hitter in baseball, but if his wrist is that sore, Alexi Casilla should be playing SS until Hardy is healthy. The difference between the two of them simply is not so great as to warrant having a Hardy who’s playing at less than 100% in the line up every day. (Oh, and by the way, if Hardy’s wrist is so bad that Gardy had to send Matt Tolbert up to hit trailing by one run with two out in the ninth inning last night, then Hardy should be DL’d to make room for someone who can provide a better bat than Tolbert off the bench.)

All of this, together, has me wondering a bit about how fair it is for so many people to be criticizing the Twins pitching to the degree that’s been going on this summer. I’m sure there are sabremetricians who would be happy to debate various player’s talents with me, but I’ve watched almost every game the Twins have played this season and based purely upon those observations, here’s what I’ve seen in this team’s defense:

Catcher: Several weeks of Joe Mauer with shoulder/toe/whatever problems that clearly affected his ability to throw out runners and even get down and block relatively routine pitches in the dirt.

1B: Nearly two months now of missing Justin Morneau. Cuddyer has filled in admirably, but he’s just passable defensively.

2B: This position may have been the best, most consistently manned, position as Hudson and Casilla have, together, played a pretty good 2B.

SS: Hardy gets to a lot of balls other shortstops don’t but he’s missed a ton of playing time and when he has tried to play with his wrist injury, his throws have been less than perfect. Combine that with having a backup at 1B and you get a few more baserunners than you should.

3B: Once we got past the early-season games that had Matt Tolbert, Brendan Harris and Michael Cuddyer at the corner, this has been a pretty well-fielded position. I’m not yet convinced Danny Valencia’s defense is as good as his metrics so far have said he is (I don’t think he charges bunts particularly well and while he has a very strong arm, he seems to have trouble getting the ball out of his glove and getting a throw off at times), but he’s certainly been better than advertised at this point and Nick Punto has fielded the position well, also.

LF: Delmon Young is lighter and he moves better than he did last year, but nobody is going to mistake him for a “good” outfielder.

CF: Denard Span has been average, at best.

RF: Whether it’s Cuddyer or Kubel, you aren’t getting good range in RF and while it was possible for a guy to cover up other deficiencies by figuring out how to play the baggie at the Dome, I’m not sure it’s even possible for anyone to do that at Target Field with all of the various types of building materials that make up the RF wall.

I guess my point is that all things considered, it’s probably not all that surprising that opponents are getting on base and scoring at a higher rate against the Twins this season than we’d like to see and I don’t think you can lay all of that at the feet of the pitching staff. The powers-that-be decided the Twins were going to build a stronger offense in 2010 and that came with a price on the defensive side. Unless you suddenly build a pitching staff full of power pitching strikeout artists, you shouldn’t expect your pitchers to put up numbers comparable to years when you focused on putting a strong defense behind them.

Justin Morneau

Of course, perhaps this is all just a very long-winded way of saying that while this patchwork defense is good enough to beat the Orioles, Royals and White Sox, if the Twins are serious about competing with the Rangers (and the Yankees and the Rays), they are going to need #33.

Finally, one more thought this morning…

My beliefs concerning the afterlife do not include putting any stock in reincarnation. As much fun as I might think it would be to perpetually come back around as one of any number of noble species, I just can’t buy in to the belief that we get to keep coming back to the world again and again. That said… on the off chance that I’m wrong about all this, I just want to submit a request that at some point I get to return to this earth as a pigeon. I’ve already got this 7 foot tall hunk of bronze in Milwaukee picked out to rest upon after meals.

Kirby Kestrel

On the other hand, coming back as a kestrel wouldn’t be such a bad deal either. At least you wouldn’t be concerned about rising season ticket prices. - JC

Of Snappers and Kernels and Other Minor (League) Stuff

I’m probably not going to be seeing much of the Twins games this weekend. It’s not because I’m frustrated by their lack of hitting (though I am), but rather because the Beloit Snappers (the Twins Low A affiliate) are in town starting tonight for a four-game series… their final visit to Cedar Rapids of the year.

This is the third trip this season that the Snappers have made to Cedar Rapids this season and I’ve managed to get out to watch over half of the games they’ve played here. The last couple of years, Beloit’s only made the trip down here one or two times, so I’m enjoying getting to see so many games featuring these future Twins.

I don’t know how many of you ever attend minor league games or even live in a community that has a local team. I can only speak for myself, but there really aren’t many more enjoyable ways to spend a summer evening (or afternoon, for that matter) and do so on a budget.

Perfect Game Field at Memorial Stadium, Cedar Rapids

I’ve attended minor league games in Florida (High A) and Arkansas (AA), in addition to Iowa and I don’t believe I’ve ever spent more than $10 for a ticket… and usually a bit less. The highest priced ticket at Memorial Stadium here in Cedar Rapids is $10. It will get you a front row seat by the dugout or pretty much anywhere in the first few rows behind home plate from dugout to dugout. $7 gets you and your blanket in to stretch out on the grassy Lawn Seating area next to the visitors bullpen area. My favorite food is a ribeye sandwich that is grilled in a tent right behind the Lawn Seating area. I think they hit me up for about $6 for that and it’s probably about the most expensive food item in the ballpark.

Of course if you really want to live well, you can rent one of the available sky suites for you and a few of your closest friends. That will run you $500 plus food. I know that sounds like a lot, but I’m checking out StubHub for tickets for the Twins/Angels series in a couple of weeks at Target Field and I’ll easily spend $500 for some pretty mediocre seats for my family. So I guess it’s all relative.

Angels #3 Prospect Mike Trout

As for the baseball itself, the Kernels are usually pretty competitive and that’s the case this season as well. Their CF the first half of the season was Mike Trout, the Angels #3 prospect (according to Baseball America’s preseason rankings) who performed well in the Futures All Star Game last month and is already doing very well with his High-A team since being promoted. He’ll be arriving in Anaheim Stadium perhaps as early as September 2011.

The Kernels best pitcher, Tyler Skaggs, is a talented lefty who was also one of the Angels top 10 prospects. I say “was” because he signed his first contract with the Angels one year ago today… and by tomorrow he’ll be announced as the “player to be named later” heading to the D’Backs organization to finalize the trade that sent Dan Haren to the Angels. Trust me, that deal wasn’t nearly as one-sided in favor of the Angels as the ‘talking heads’ have made it out to be.

Alexi Casilla rehabbed as a Beloit Snapper

But this is a Twins blog, so let me just mention a few of the Twins prospects I’ve been able to catch on their trips to Cedar Rapids in just the past couple of years. In fact, let me start with the guy in the picture at the right, Alexi Casilla. Lexi played two rehab assignment games for the Snappers here in Cedar Rapids in 2008 before rejoining the Twins. But that wasn’t the first time we saw Casilla here. He was a member of the Kernels for a few games at the end of the 2004 season and for the first half of the 2005 season, before being promoted to AA. (He was traded from the Angels to the Twins after the 2005 season for J.C. Romero.) You might say he was a local favorite.

Twins #6 and #41 Prospects, Angel Morales and Anderson Hidalgo

Over the past two seasons, when the Snappers have visited Cedar Rapids, I’ve had the pleasure watching pitchers Steven Blevins, Liam Hendriks (14), B.J. Hermsen (15), Brad Stillings, Tom Stuifbergen (22), Daniel Osterbrock and Billy Bullock (28) pitch against the Kernels. I’ve seen position prospects Danny Rams (33), James Beresford (40), Anderson Hidalgo (41), Steve Liddle (47), Micahel Gonzales, Angel Morales (6) and Aaron Hicks (2) get their swings in. (Those numbers in parens indicate the player’s ranking in Seth Stohs’ “Top 50 Twins Prospects” list this past June.)

Cards #1 Prospect Shelby Miller

Of course, I don’t just go to games when the Snappers come to town. For example, a week or so ago, I went out to catch a game with the Cardinals’ affiliate, the Quad Cities River Bandits. While Trout is no longer with the Kernels, I did get to watch the Cardinals’ #1 prospect (according to Baseball America) Shelby Miller pitch against the Kernels. His catcher that day was the Cards’ #10 prospect, Robert Stock.

The Kernels play in a nice stadium and the Angels consistently send enough of their top prospects to CR to assure that the team is at least competitive. In fact, they won the first half division title this year so they’re already assured of a spot in the Midwest League playoffs next month.

In a couple of weeks, I’ll probably spend close to $1,000 for tickets, parking, food, hotel rooms and gas to take my family up to Minneapolis for the Twins’ weekend series with the Angels at Target Field (not to mention some time at the Renaissance Festival). I’ll have a great time, I’m sure.  But tonight and tomorrow, I’ll watch future Twins face off with future Angels about 2 miles from where I live and even after ticket, parking (which is free), food and a couple of beers, I probably won’t spend over $20 either day.

How can you beat that? – JC

GameChat – Twins @ Rays #4, 11:10am

This is it.  This is the final game of the series.  After that marathon pitching battle last night, I would really like to come out and play well today.  Mauer tried throwing this morning and the shoulder is still sore so he’s not ready to catch yet.  Butera will be going for the 5th day in a row.  My hope is that Slowey will continue his good pitching and not shake off Butera either.  He has to let his pitcher run the call and not let himself get tied up in his own head.  Win TWINS!!!

Minnesota @ Tampa Bay
Repko, CF   Rodriguez, S, 2B
Casilla, A, 2B   Crawford, LF
Mauer, DH   Longoria, 3B
Young, D, LF   Aybar, W, DH
Kubel, RF   Joyce, RF
Cuddyer, 1B   Johnson, D, 1B
Valencia, 3B   Upton, B, CF
Hardy, SS   Brignac, R, SS
Butera, C   Shoppach, C
  Slowey, P     Davis, W, P

 

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 4 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 2 8 15 2
Tampa Bay 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 6 0 6 5 0

 

*dies laughing*  No, really, I’m still laughing.  What an utterly ridiculous series of events!  For those who couldn’t see the game because they are gainfully employed, this is going to be hard to convey and the boxscore simply does not do it justice.

To start with, Kevin Slowey was amazing.  He pitched a BEAUTIFUL game (very similar to Bakers but even faster).  He really had the Rays lineup off-balance in ways that were obviously frustrating them – poor Kelly Shoppach tried to break his bat over his knee after one particular strike out.  He got ALMOST all the way through the 8th inning before he started to struggle a bit – kind of wish he’d stayed out there because he couldn’t have done any WORSE than the relief pitching that came out.  Our bullpen was taxed and tired after the last three games so it was wonderful that Slowey did what he did. 

The Twins offense got to Davis early and hard getting 4 runs in the first inning and sending all 9 hitters to the plate.  In the following innings, Davis managed to refocus but we still tagged the Rays with another couple runs and kept the shutout going until the 8th inning.  That was assisted hugely by some GREAT defensive plays that contrasted greatly with the defensive miscues from yesterday.  But defense and pitching kept the Rays frustrated for a good portion of the game…  and then came the 8th inning. 

Slowey didn’t seem to be working as successfully with the strike zone and started letting men on base after he gave up a solo HR.  Jesse Crain was brought in and he couldn’t get an out to save his life and by the time he walked in an additional run to make the score 6-2, he was pulled and Mahay came in.  Um… yeah, ouch.  Mahay ended up giving up a grand slam to Bartlett who came in as a pinch hitter and tied the game.  All of Twins fandom felt their hearts crack as yet another stellar starting pitching outting ended in a no decision. (We really have to do better to support our starters wehn they do so well guys!)  Matt Capps came in and FINALLY got the last out.  That left one inning left to try to take the game back even if it was too late for Kev.

Twins hitters once again managed to make something happen to get on base even without Mauer who was walked intentionally twice.  The truly entertaining part was Kubel coming up with runners on the corners and 2 outs.  He REALLY wanted to hit that long HR and be the hero…  well, he hit it hard, that’s for sure – straight up.  The ball ended up bouncing off of the inner-most metal catwalk and bouncing back down into the infield in what was the luckiest play to go the Twins way in a long time.  The Rays infield simply had no way to play the ball as it ricocheted back down to almost the pitchers mound.  There was a lot of dropped jaws on the faces of players from both teams and much broadcaster reading of the rules so that fans knew what the heck counted as what.  But EVERYONE knew that was just a lucky bounce that went our way irregardless of what it bounced off of.  So Kubel ended up getting us that winning RBI off a hard hit single into the sky. For that, he and JJ Hardy and Jason Repko all get pastries for timely hitting.

However, the two highlights of today won’t really show up in the final stats.  The first was that no decision of Kev Slowey’s which was a beautifully pitched gem and the other was some consistently miraculous fielding from Alexi Casilla including the final out that didn’t even look humanly possible.  Especially since their accomplishments seem to lose impact in the final stats, the Chat voted them CO-BOD’s today.  Thanks you so much for your hard work and excellent comebacks from two players who have known what it is to struggle.

 

GameChat – Mariners @ Twins, 7:10

Wow…  SOOOOOOO much news since the last game.  It’s kind of silly how much stuff can happen over an off-day in the baseball season!

A)  The biggest news is, of course, that the Twins have acquired a new closer from the Washington Nationals, Matt Capps, and some cash in trade for Wilson Ramos and Joe Testa.  We’ve covered that in a previous post today and just about everyone else has too.

B)  Today, the Twins announced that Nick Punto is going on the DL afterall and they’ve brought up Trevor Plouffe.  Does anyone else think that we have kind of a revolving door with Rochester right now?  I think if Rochester actually had a better record this year, I would feel really bad for the instability – and then I wonder if the instability might contribute to their record.  Poor Rochester.  Blackburn has also been sent down to AAA to get more regular starts to work on his pitching.

C)  Justin Morneau has begun doing light baseball activities – and it still feeling symptoms within a couple hours.  He is recovering, he says, but it’s obviously a lot slower than he wants it to be.  But that slowness means that he’s most definitely not going to play against Seattle.  Any thoughts of the next roadtrip are most definitely premature.

D)  in former Twins news, Guzman has been traded to the Rangers – sounds like he was really sad to be leaving.

I have to run out the door so I can’t wait for MLB to post the linkable lineups tonight so you’ll have to deal with the newspaper ones.  Hopefully I’ll be back before too much of the game has gone! 

MARINERS (39-64)

1. Ichiro Suzuki, RF
2. Chone Figgins, 2B
3. Casey Kotchman, 1B
4. Russell Branyan, DH
5. Franklin Gutierrez, CF
6. Michael Saunders, LF
7. Josh Bard, C
8. Josh Wilson, 3B
9. Jack Wilson, SS

Starting pitcher: RH Doug Fister (3-6, 3.56 ERA)

TWINS (56-46)

1. Denard Span, CF
2. Alexi Casilla, 2B
3. Joe Mauer, C
4. Delmon Young, LF
5. Jason Kubel, RF
6. Michael Cuddyer, 1B
7. Jim Thome, DH
8. Danny Valencia, 3B
9. J.J. Hardy, SS

Starting pitcher: RH Scott Baker (8-9, 5.00 ERA)


  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Seattle 0 0 0 0 0 3 0 0 0 3 9 2
Minnesota 0 2 1 0 2 0 0 0 x 5 8 0

 

Welcome to Minnesota, Mr. Capps!!  Nothing like really showing up to work on your first day on the job!   It was fun to see the fan reaction and then to hear the newest Twin’s reaction to his welcome in the postgame.  He seems legitimately impressed with the park and the environment he’s now in.  I hope things continue to settle in for him but it was a great start.

But Capps getting the Save means the Twins got the WIN and that’s ALWAYS good news.  We pulled out the offense again, including Thome getting a 2 run HR.  Interestingly enough, there was another 2 run HR and from probably the last person on the roster that you would expect it from – Alexi Casilla!!  That was definitely an entertaining moment for tonight.  Good for you Lexi!  For that unexpected bomb, you were chosen BOD.  Pastries (or ice cream cake) go to Thome and Capps for rounding out the fun experience!

Twins Offday History Lesson: May 24-30

Getting ready for another series with the Evil Empire this week and starting it off with an off day. Once again, it’s a good day to take a glance back through Twins history*.

May 24 has seen monumental performances from a couple of all-time Twins legends:

1964: Oriole Milt Pappas gave up the longest home run in the history of Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium to Twins slugger Harmon Killebrew… a 471 foot shot to left-centerfield. Unfortunately, the Twins lost the game, 8-7.

Extra Innings? No problem for Kaat.

1972: Jim Kaat pitched 11 innings of the Twins’ 12-inning, 1-0 win over the Royals and pitcher Dick Drago. Drago went all 12 innings but gave up an RBI single to Rod Carew in the 12th. Wayne Granger got the save for Kaat. Amazingly, this was nothing really unusual for Kaat, who pitched more than nine innings 18 times in his career… winning 10 of those games.

May 25, 1977 saw one of the most impressive doubleheader performances in Twins’ history. In game one of the twi-night doubleheader in Boston, the Twins took advantage of a wind blowing out to CF and hit .500 for the game, as a team (24 for 48), in their 13-5 win. The game featured the last of Rod Carew’s five 5-hit games. In the nightcap, Lyman Bostock tied a MLB record for outfielders with 12 put outs (and his 17 put outs for the doubleheader was also a record), as the Twins swept the doubledip from the Red Sox with a 9-4 win. Also of note, twenty years later, on May 25, 1997, the Twins retired the #34 jersey of Kirby Puckett.

On May 26, 1997, the Twins and A’s fought a battle of attrition that the Twins eventually won 12-11 after a long line of relief pitchers in both bullpens failed to hold opposing hitters in check. It was not an insubstantial list of arms either, as Goose Gossage, Rick Honeycutt, Dennis Eckersley, and Rick Aguilera were all among the relievers who got knocked around. By the time the Twins had the W, the game had seen 5 lead changes, 30 hits and 15 walks off of 13 pitchers and the teams had left a combined 22 runners on base. Rookie George Tsamis eventually recorded the win for the Twins, his first (and only) career W. Tsamis finished his night in a local hospital with a stomach ailment.

On May 27, 1983, Twins relief pitcher Rick Lysander became the first Twins pitcher to lose both ends of a doubleheader as he was the pitcher of record in the Twins’ 7-4 and 2-1 losses to the Tigers in Detroit.

May 28 has seen a couple of unremarkable, yet unusual, events in Twins’ history… both in the last two years:

2008: Craig Monroe had one of his few highlights as a Twin in the 9th inning of a game in Kansas City. A Carlos Gomez single scored 2 runs to bring the Twins within an 8-5 score with two runners on base and Gardy elected to have Monroe hit for Alexi Casilla. Monroe took a Joel Peralta pitch over the left field wall to tie the game. Justin Morneau’s 10th inning HR won the game 9-8.

2009: A close call at the plate in the top of the 7th inning of a game vs. the Red Sox resulted in umpire Todd Tichenor ejecting Twins catcher Mike Redmond for the first time in his 12 years as a big leaguer. Ron Gardenhire earned his own ejection moments later. But Tichenor wasn’t finished. In the bottom of the 7th, Tichenor also ejected Boston catcher Jason Varitek, for arguing a ball/strike call, and followed it up by throwing out Boston manager Terry Francona. Despite Tichenor’s best efforts, the two teams keep enough players eligible to finish the game and the Sox win 3-1.

May 29 has seen a couple of impressive feats, exactly 20 years apart:

1962: The Twins wiped out Cleveland 14-3 on the strength of first inning grand slam home runs by both Harmon Killebrew and Bob Allison.

1982: Twins current backup catcher Drew Butera is reputed to be a fine defensive catcher and has shown off his arm already in 2010. Perhaps he comes by that prowess naturally. On May 29, 1982, Twins catcher (and Drew’s father) Sal Butera set a Twins record by throwing out four baserunners in a game. Yankees Ken Griffey Sr., Graig Nettles, Bobby Murcer and Willie Randolph were the victims.

The Metrodome saw a couple of “firsts” on May 30:

1986: In a game against the Red Sox, Roy Smalley became the first Twin to hit home runs from both sides of the plate in the same game.

1992: Tiger Rob Deer popped out on consecutive trips to the plate, both times to Twins SS Greg Gagne. What’s so unique about that? Nothing… except that both popups also landed in Gagne’s glove after first ricocheting off of the Metrodome ceiling.

That’s a wrap for this week’s History Lesson! Now let’s get ready for the inevitable humbling of the Evil Empire!- JC

*************************************

*We pull this information from a few different sources, including (but not necessarily limited to) Dave Wright’s excellent book, “162-0, The Greatest Wins!”, as well as some  internet sites like “Twins Trivia” and “National Pastime”.