Episode 65: Tom Kelly’s Zubaz versus Nelson Prada

Episode 65 is out for your listening enjoyment. Happy New Year from all of the gang at Talk to Contact. We debated titling the podcast after Twins Coach Nelson Prada who wore #65 a few years ago, but anytime Tom Kelly‘s zubaz come up on conversation you are required to title said conversation after those wonderful pants.  You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here.

tom-kelleyAfter a holiday hiatus the Talk to Contact podcast returns will all of the usual contributors. Up for discussion this week is Chris Colabello declining a trip to Korea, the make-up of the Twins opening day outfield, former Twins making comebacks and a rousing of debate of whether or not Kurt Suzuki will play a meaningful role for the Twins in 2014.

 We go down on the pond and take a look at the Twins 2013 4th round draft pick, Stephen Gonsalves (LHP), discuss whether a shandy should even be considered a beer and talk about moves from around the rest of the MLB, including possible landing spots for Masahiro Tanaka and the potential for the Houston Astros to contend in the AL West this coming season. All of that and more on this week’s podcast.

 Enjoy the podcast.

 

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

If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes. Ratings and reviews have magical iTunes powers, that will help Liam Hendriks make the major league club in Baltimore and hopefully pitch against Danny Valencia and the Royals, beaning him in the middle of the back.

GameChat – Twins @ Red Sox #4, 12:10pm

note: My apologies – the game actually begins at 12:30!

Holy Crap.. We are facing game #4 against the Red Sox and actually are able to use the word “sweep” as a hypothetical! (Won’t use it in any other way because well, I don’t want to be a jinx)

However, as far as I can tell, the Twins have already made me one of the happier fans on the planet just with the last three games. They’ve already won this series and in far more stellar a fashion than I could ever have asked for. The whole freaking team could stay home in the hotel for all I care and I would still be happy with this competition. That being said, I really hope they come to the park today so that we get to see baseball. And if we’re lucky, it will be GREAT baseball. Good luck Blackburn!

Minnesota

@

oston
Revere, CF Ellsbury, CF
Mastroianni, RF Crawford, LF
Mauer, C Pedroia, 2B
Willingham, LF Gonzalez, Ad, 1B
Morneau, 1B Ross, C, DH
Doumit, DH Saltalamacchia, C
Dozier, SS Middlebrooks, 3B
Casilla, A, 2B Kalish, RF
Carroll, 3B Aviles, SS
  Blackburn, P   Morales, F, P

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

R

H

E

Minnesota

0

0

0

0

1

0

0

0

3

4

6

0

Boston

0

0

2

0

2

0

1

1

x

6

14

0

Well that game was definitely less dramatic especially since the final rally didn’t quite make the mark. Blackburn only went 5 innings and it would have been better if he had been able to go deep but he also only had 4 of the runs tagged to him so.. today, as has been a familiar problem, there was just too big a deficit between our pitching and our offense. We all know how that goes.

HOWEVER, that does not mean that nothing happened to talk about!!

It was announced during the game that the Twins traded Danny Valencia to the Red Sox for a minor league outfielder. Boston actually claimed Danny of waivers two days ago and it just took awhile for them to work out the deal. The player the Twins got back is a 21 yo GCL player named Jeremias Pineda. Thrylos from Tenth Inning Stretch conveniently provided a mini-scouting report for us in the GameChat. By the way,  if you aren’t joining us for gamechats, you really should. Turns out that we were discussing the outline of this trade before it actually happened – just as much a surprise to us that we were right! LOL

In related news, to fill the infield vacancy left by Danny’s departure, the Twins have finally recalled, much to everyone’s shock except Thrylos, Tsuyoshi Nishioka. Yes, that Nishi, the one with the one. Go figure.  He’ll join the team in Cleveland. This promises to be an interesting series.

GameChat – White Sox @ Twins, 7:10pm

So this is the second start in a row, if I recall correctly, for DeVries against the White Sox. I have to wonder if that plays with a guys head just a little bit. Or if the fact that we’ll be facing Liriano tomorrow..

All together, the guys are all probably feeling pretty good about the sweep of the Indians while there are probably some just as much a bit at a loss about Liriano. And whatever else might still happen..

One game at a time, one day at a time. Let’s see if we can get the guys a victory against the WS at home in TF. That would be good..

Chi White Sox

@

Minnesota
De Aza, CF Span, CF
Youkilis, 3B Revere, RF
Dunn, A, DH Mauer, C
Konerko, 1B Willingham, DH
Rios, RF Morneau, 1B
Pierzynski, C Doumit, LF
Viciedo, LF Valencia, 3B
Ramirez, Al, SS Dozier, SS
Beckham, 2B Carroll, 2B
  Quintana, P   De Vries, P
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Chi White Sox 4 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 6 10 3
Minnesota 4 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 7 12 1

You can’t get a sweep if you don’t win the first game of the series (and you can’t get swept if you DO win the first game of the series) so it’s always good to pick up a W in game 1.

Things didn’t get off to a very good start with Cole DeVries spotting the Sox a 4-0 lead in the top of the first inning, but the offense came right back and evened the game in the bottom of the inning. From that point, Cole did just fine through the rest of his five innings. After that, the bullpen took over. Jared Burton gave up the tying run in the 8th, but otherwise, the pen did just fine.

It’s tempting to give AJ Pierzynski BOD honors for throwing Brian Dozier’s bunt down the RF line to set up the winning run in the 9th, but then we’d have to discount AJ’s 3-run HR in the 1st.

That said, we’ll go with co-BODs again tonight. Denard Span had two web-gem worthy plays in the field to go with a pair of hits. He’ll share the award with Danny Valencia who also had a pair of hits and a pair of RBI that tied the game in the first inning. His other hit was a first-pitch line drive to lead off the 9th inning and set the table for the walk-off victory. – JC

Denard Span

Danny Valencia

Just Winging It: The 2012 Minnesota Twins Starting Rotation

There can be no doubts that a 63-99 team has plenty of areas for improvement.  In 2011 the Twins were 28th in team OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage), ahead of only the Seattle Mariners and the San Diego Padres.  Sure, they were playing half of their games in the pitcher friendly Target Field, but even when adjusting for park factors, the Twins posted an OPS+ of just 84 (100 is average), 29th in the MLB, this time behind the Padres.  Clearly there were issues with the Twins’ bats a year ago.  Part of that was attributable to injuries to Joe Mauer (replaced by Drew Butera and Rene Rivera) and Denard Span (replaced by Joe Benson, Rene Tosoni, and Jason Repko).  Another part of the hitting problem was related to dreadful offensive production from the middle infield, as Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Luke Hughes, Danny Valencia, and Matt Tolbert, and the the old Trevor Plouffe all posted below leave average offensive numbers.

As bad as the Twins’ bats were in 2011, it did not really matter what their pitchers were doing.  And maybe that is what the front office was thinking heading into Spring Training.  If the Twins could just upgrade their offense, even with a mediocre pitching staff, they were likely to see a big improvement.  Unfortunately, the Twins did not have a mediocre pitching staff in 2011, their 4.58 team ERA was 29th, and were one of just two teams (along with the Baltimore Orioles) to allow more than 800 runs.  So to go along with their 29th place OPS+, the Twins also had the 29th worst pitching staff, and yet somehow they still only lost 99 games.

After a winter of free agent signings and departures the Twins arrived in Spring Training as optimistic as any team in baseball.  After all, they were only a year removed from a 94-win AL Central Championship team, and they were truly healthy for the first time in more than a year.  Their franchise catcher, Joe Mauer, had finally recovered from whatever it was that was ailing him in 2011 and caused him to miss almost half a season, and Justin Morneau was finally overcoming his concussion symptoms that cost him the better parts of 2010 and 2011.  Ryan Doumit and Josh Willingham were on board to replace Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer, and the Twins signed veteran on-base sepcialist Jamey Carroll to compensate for the failures of Nishioka.  Alexi Casilla was coming off one of the best offensive seasons of his underwhelming career and looked poised to finally become the everyday player the Twins had been hoping he would be since 2007.  Despite all their failures in 2011, the Twins looked like their bats were ready to hit in 2012.*

*And to some extent, they are.  The Twins’ 2012 OPS+ is 6th in the American League, and they are scoring runs at an almost league average rate (4.30/4.47).  

The Twins, however, did little to improve a pitching staff that was one of the worst in 2011.    They inexplicably resigned 9th inning reliever Matt Capps to a $4.75 million dollar deal to step in for the departed Joe Nathan.  They also sent starting pitcher Brian Duensing back to the bullpen where he had previously been successful and replaced him in the rotation with free agent acquisition Jason Marquis, hoping that he would rebound from a broken leg that cost him the end of the 2011 season, and become the renaissance man that Carl Pavano had been for the Twins since he arrived in 2009.  But with just five real candidates for starting pitching Minnesota was walking a pretty thin line.  The Twins also brought in just about every free agent relief pitcher they could find hoping that a couple of them would pitch well enough in Spring Training to head north with the big league team.  They even went against their traditionally risk-averse strategy and signed Joel Zumaya to a minor league deal hoping to add a power arm to their bullpen without paying the power arm price.  And with that, the Twins were seemingly ready to start the season.

Just five starting pitchers and not a lot of MLB ready pitchers in AAA ready to step in if things went poorly.  Among the starting pitchers not in that group of five, only Liam Hendriks and Scott Diamond seemed like realistic replacements to join the Twins if things did not go well in Minnesota.

As you are well aware, things have not gone well for the Twins’ starting pitchers in 2012.  Even before leaving Spring Training the Twins were forced to move Liam Hendriks into starting rotation as Jason Marquis was pulled away from the team to be with his daughter while she was recovering from a serious bicycle accident.  To make matters worse, Scott Baker did not leave Ft. Myers with the Twins either, dealing with supposedly minor arm issues which ended up as a worst-case scenario as Baker would eventually require Tommy John surgery to repair the UCL in his pitching arm.  That meant that Anthony Swarzak would start the season in the starting rotation, leaving with Twins without their regular long-reliever until Marquis would be back with the team.  Before long the Liam Hendriks experiment was over and he was back in AAA looking garner some additional seasoning.  Now the Twins had to start getting creative.  They had already burned through the only two replacement options they’d planned for and with the Twins already well below .500, it was unlikely that they would be playing any meaningful baseball in October.  Since that time the Twins have used five additional starting pitchers, none of whom the Twins were counting on in April.  P.J. Walters was first, then Scott Diamond, Cole De Vries, Brian Duensing, and finally Sam Deduno.

The Twins still have 63 games remaining in 201. With Francisco Liriano now pitching for the Chicago White Sox the Twins will have to find another arm to step in.  While the next pitcher they call upon to start will likely not be a fresh face, they will still be tip-toeing around a problem unlikely to be resolved without the infusion of some fresh arms this winter.

Twins fans should have known that when Minnesota signed Jason Marquis and hoped for the best that the team was just winging it in 2012.

-ERolfPleiss

Fun Twins Things


(photo: Foxsportsnorth.com)

10-24: The Twins record through their first 34 games, roughly 20% of their season.  Going in to 2012 I thought the Twins would be slightly better than a .500 ballclub, optimistically projecting them to win 83 games.  Yet here they are, 14 games under .500 with little reason to expect the Twins will be much better in the 128 games left on the schedule.  With that in mind, here is a list (of arbitrary length and order) of fun Twins Things from 2012.

  1. Josh Willingham – Willingham is leading the Twins in just about every offensive category you can think of, batting average, RBIs, on-base percentage, home runs, etc.  He’s come to Minnesota and established himself as a fan favorite.  Plus he looks like he’d be right at home chopping down trees in the forest with another Twins newcomer, Ryan Doumit.  Offense and tree chopping, two of my favorite things.
  2. Scott Diamond – Not exactly a success story in 2011, in his two starts since being called up in 2012 he has been perfect.  He’s pitched 14 innings without giving up a run and now has as many Wins in just two starts as any other Twins pitcher.  Also, Dick and Bert think that he looks like Cliff Lee, so take that for what it’s worth.
  3. Jamey Carroll – Before Sunday’s game FSN showed clips of some Twins players wishing their mothers (and sometimes their wives, too) a happy Mother’s Day.  During his segment Jamey Carroll referred to his mom as “the Bomb dot com.”  That was one of the best moments of 2012.  He’s also playing pretty great defense and was even rocking some variant of the Fu Manchu for a couple weeks.  Great stuff.
  4. The Joel Zumaya Saga – It is unfortunate that Zumaya couldn’t stay healthy and wound up heading back to the operating table before Spring Training was even in full swing because Zumaya had an opportunity to be the flame throwing reliever the Twins desperately need in their bullpen.  While the signing ultimately did not work out, there was plenty of fan excitement over the winter, speculating on the health and possible impact of a guy like Zumaya playing for the Twins.  Plus I liked saying, “Zoom-zoom”.
  5. Trevor Plouffe‘s hair – Love it or hate it, Plouffe’s curly locks have provided more humorous commentary in the Knuckleballs GameChat’s than just about any other Twins topic in 2012, follicle related or otherwise.
  6. Brian Dozier – For a while there when Dozier was hitting .400+ in AAA and it seemed like just about everyday some Twins blogger would be pining for the Twins to bring Dozier up to replace Carroll or Casilla.  Carroll and Casilla, in the meantime, managed to play pretty solid defense, but ultimately their lack of success in the batter’s box (and pretty much ever other Twins hitter as well) forced the Twins’ hand and they called up Dozier to be the everyday shortstop and he has not disappointed.  He’s been fun to watch defensively, getting to balls deep in the hole and showing off some pretty decent arm strength.  And he hit a home run yesterday!  Dozier is having fun playing baseball, and he’s even more fun to watch.
  7. Ryan Doumit’s defense – Just kidding.
  8. Lots of Roster Movement – 33 players have made appearances for the Twins this season.  Of those 33 players, 13 made the Twins debut (Jamey Carroll, Josh Willingham, Ryan Doumit, Jeff Gray, Jared Burton, Clete Thomas, Sean Burroughs, Matt Maloney, Erik Komatsu, Brian Dozier, Jason Marquis, Darin Mastroianni and P.J. Walters).  Lots of new faces, lots of action on the waiver wire and plenty of evidence that Terry Ryan and crew realize the on-field product stinks and are looking at ways to make it better (Like when they sent Danny Valencia down to Triple-A, that was my favorite).

So it is not all bad.  There are some fun things to watch and follow every day.  If I missed any, feel free to fill me in.  

Baseball is still fun, even if 10-24 is not.

-ERolfPleiss

Late Night Roster Changes

This is what happens when you’re sick and you sleep during the game and then wake up to take more drugs so you can go back to sleep. You decide to check Twitter and… wow…

Danny Valencia

Danny Valencia has been struggling badly at the plate, with his batting average falling below the Mendoza line, and now he’s been optioned to Rochester.

Matt Maloney, along with his 9.00 ERA has been designated for assignment.

[Edit] Also in the ‘making a change’ category is Francisco Liriano who has been moved to the bullpen. As far as changes go, it was either this or the minors so I hope this works for him.

On their way up to the Twins from Rochester are outfielder Darin Mastroianni and pitcher P. J. Walters.

Mastoianni started the season in New Britain before moving up to Rochester after 9 games. In 20 games with the Red Wings, Mastroianni accumulated a .346/.393/.423 slash line with 2 doubles, 2 triples and 10 stolen bases.

Walters has a 3-1 record after six starts for Rochester, with a 2.70 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP. He has struck out 25 hitters and walked only 6. Walters’ arrival means Francisco Liriano will be moving to the Twins bullpen, as the team announced Walters will be starting Saturday’s game with the Blue Jays.

With an infielder going to Rochester and being replaced on the roster by an outfielder, it does make one wonder what roles other existing roster members are going to be playing. Dan Gladden mentioned during the Wednesday night game broadcast that Alexi Casilla was taking ground balls at 3B, so we might assume he’ll be manning the hot corner, though Ron Gardenhire told reporters that Casilla, Plouffe and Carroll would all split time at 3B.

I hope Valencia finds his stroke in Rochester and can make his way back up before the season is over and I certainly hope Liriano finds whatever it is that he’s been missing.

- JC

Here Come the Landed Gentry

“Thank God that stretch of scheduling is over. Things are bound to turn around now that our guys get to play some ball against a team that can’t seem to get out of its own way.”

Here in Iowa, I seem to be hearing something akin to that comment in stereo… both from Twins fans to my north and Royals fans to the south.

Slugerrr

The Royals just recently managed to halt a 12-game losing streak and while the Twins didn’t let things get that consistently out of hand, it wasn’t for lack of trying on their part. They’ve played poorly enough that it COULD have happened. As a matter of fact, while the Twins were letting the Red Sox sweep them out of their own ballpark, the Royals have put together a small (extremely small) winning streak… having won their most recent pair of games over Cleveland.

But the Twins have home field advantage this weekend, right? Well… they’ll play the games at Target Field, but that may not be an advantage. The Royals have a 5-4 road record this season. That’s right, all five of their wins have come on the road. They’re 0-10 in front of their hometown fan(s).

Like the Twins, the Landed Gentry are having a few health issues with their rotation. Tonight’s starting pitcher, left-hander Everett Teaford, has been the team’s long reliever, but he’s standing in for fellow lefty Danny Duffy, who’s dealing with “minor elbow tightness.” Duffy should be damn glad he’s with the Royals and not the Twins. If the Twins’ crack medical staff came up with that as a preliminary diagnosis, it would probably turn out to be a malady that would eventually require amputation.

Pitching hasn’t really been the big problem for the Royals, however. In fact, most of their staff have stat lines that Gardy and pitching coach Rick Anderson can only drool over. No, so far, the Royals’ biggest problem has been that they’ve got a roster of position players who have a reputation for being, “promising, good young hitters,” but many of them have thus far only demonstrated that they are indeed young.

Alex Gordon, Mitch Maier and Eric Hosmer all wish they could start hitting the ball as well as Alexi Casilla does. Think about that.

Other Stuff

I’ve been traveling for work most of this week, so I’ve been a little out of touch, but there are a couple of other items I want to touch on this morning.

The Tigers have released Brandon Inge after handing his 3B position to Miguel Cabrera and the experiment of converting Inge to a second baseman made Cabrera look good as a third baseman, by comparison. Of course, Inge hasn’t helped his cause by hitting almost nothing.

The Twins are reportedly having discussions about whether they should look in to bringing him aboard. The Tigers are on the hook for everything above that portion of his salary equal to the pro-rated MLB minimum salary, so financially it wouldn’t be a hit. The theory seems to be that it would also send a message to Danny Valencia.

But what would that message be? “Wake up tomorrow in Rochester, Danny, because your position here isn’t guaranteed. We can find guys who can’t hit and can’t field pretty much anywhere and, unlike you, some of them have lots of tatoos.”? Look, I’ve never been the biggest Valencia fan, so I’m not averse to finding a replacement. I’d just kind of prefer that it be someone… hmmm, what’s the word I’m looking for here?… GOOD?

The Twins do need to do something and do it soon. I’m not generally one to call for action just for the sake of appearing to take action, but sometimes the local fan base does need to be assured that the front office has noticed that things suck on the field. And based on the number of empty seats in Target Field already this season, the Twins may fast be approaching that point. By the end of last season, fans demonstrated that they won’t pay a bunch of money to go to Target Field to watch bad baseball. They already seem to be making the same statement even before the end of the first month of the season this year.

Over at Twins Daily, in case you’ve missed it, they’ve begun an “Adopt a Prospect” program where members are encouraged to “adopt” one Twins minor league prospect and regularly post updates on that player’s activities and performance. It’s really a very cool way to recognize the hard work these young players put in, most of the time for very… very… little pay. They all have a Big League dream, but that road is long and hard and not terribly rewarding except for the lucky few who reach the top.

If you haven’t already adopted a prospect, there’s still time and a lot of hard working players still available. But even if that’s not something you feel inclined to do, you should still stop by the thread and read up on the 60+ players that have been adopted already.

Because I know you’re curious… I’ve adopted infielder James Beresford, currently with the AA New Britain Rock Cats. James is another player out of the Twins’ Australian pipeline.

Finally, if these troubling times make you yearn for memories from a better time in Twins history, it’s not yet too late to enter our “100,000th Visitor Contest,” with a chance to win a very nice framed Kirby Puckett memento. Just give us your guess as to when you think visitor number 100,000 to our site will be stopping by.

That’s enough for this morning… let’s hope the Twins get the ship righted a bit over the weekend and that May is much better for our guys than April has been.

- JC

Twins On The Hot Seat

As the Twins near the end of the first month of the season, things aren’t going very well. True, few fans really expected that things WOULD be going well, given the combination of last season’s record and the brutal April schedule that MLB saddled them with. Nonetheless, we can’t really be blamed for being disappointed with some of the performances we’re seeing on the field, thus far.

Given the way their most recent season or two have gone, we all had legitimate questions about what we could expect out of Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and even Denard Span. We theorized that, if those three guys could somehow prove to be healthy, this team would have plenty of offense and that alone could allow them to threaten to play .500 ball. Guess what? All three players have been healthy and productive… but the team has still managed to lose twice as many of their first 15 games as they’ve won.

So, who’s to blame? More specifically, who’s roster spots… and perhaps even who’s future in Major League Baseball… are on the line already in this young season? Honestly, the list of underachievers on this Twins team so far is so long that it will be a challenge to list all the players with their heads on the chopping block in one post. But let’s try. We can certainly cover the names at the top of the list.

Alexi Casilla

Alexi Casilla – I’ve always loved Lexi. I admit to that bias, going all the way back to his time here in Cedar Rapids with the Kernels. He’s traditionally a slow starter, so it’s hardly a surprise to see him hitting below .250. But he’s not getting on base at a much higher rate and his fielding has been frustratingly inconsistent. With Brian Dozier hitting over .300 and sporting an .841 OPS through Saturday, you have to wonder how long Lexi’s leash is, at this point.

Of course, Dozier can only play one position and Casilla isn’t the only Twins infielder performing at a disappointing level. Which brings us to…

Danny Valencia - Unlike Casilla, I’ve never had a warm and fuzzy feeling toward Valencia. There’s something about his personality that just rubs me the wrong way. Then again, I don’t need to “like” a player to appreciate their talents if they’re contributing a little something to my favorite team’s success. So if Danny would… say… hit the friggin baseball once in a while, I’d overlook the whole personality thing. But he hasn’t done that. Not this year and, really, not last year. So exactly why should we assume he’s entitled to a regular position in the Twins line up?

Brian Dozier

Dozier could take his spot just as easily as Casilla’s. Either Casilla or Jamey Carroll would likely be an upgrade at 3B over Valencia defensively, making room for Dozier in the middle infield somewhere.

In fact, if the Twins really wanted to send a message (or if they could find another team foolish enough to take one or both of Casilla and Valencia off their hands), there’s another infielder in Rochester more than holding his own. Mike Hollimon was somewhat impressive during a short stint with the Big League club in Spring Training and he’s carried that production in to the season. He’s only hitting .256, but he’s getting on base and hitting with a little pop. In other words, he’s doing the things Valencia is supposed to be doing… and isn’t.

But let’s be honest, there’s one guy who’s Big League future is in even graver danger of coming to an end. We’re speaking, of course, about…

Francisco Liriano - Remember when he was known as “The Franchise”? If he’s been saving his money, maybe he’ll be able to buy a Popeye’s Chicken franchise, but his days as a starting pitcher for the Minnesota Twins are running short.

Francisco Liriano

We all know that Spring Training numbers are not necessarily predictive of regular season performance (if they were, Luke Hughes would be in his second year as a starting infielder for the Twins instead of awaiting word of his fate after being Designated for Assignment last week), but how in the world does a pitcher go from giving up just four runs on 10 hits in 18 Spring Training innings to the level of suckage we’re seeing out of Frankie now? An 11.91 ERA? 22 hits and 9 walks in 11.1 innings? Really?

Liriano’s facing the Tampa Bay Rays today… a Rays team that isn’t shy about swinging at pretty much anything that’s thrown near the plate. If he can’t put something together resembling a decent start against these guys, it might be time to think about moving on. Maybe Frankie can be effective out of the bullpen. Pitching one inning at a time gives a pitcher less to think about and, in his case, that has to be a good thing, right?

But who would replace him in the Twins rotation? It’s not like the organization is brimming with high level pitching prospects. Scott Diamond, however, is sporting a nifty little 3-0 record in Rochester, with a 1.47 ERA. If you don’t like Wins and ERA as measuring sticks (and, really, who does?), that’s fine. He’s also struck out 14 hitters and walked only 5 in his 18.1 innings of work and fashioned a nice 1.200 WHIP. He’s given up only one home run.

With Dozier and Diamond looking very good in Rochester, the Twins have some options… and while it’s only the end of April, we’ve seen enough of Casilla, Valencia and Liriano over the past several seasons to pretty much know that they are who they are… and who they are is not terribly good.

- JC

Yankee Doodle Dandy

After some early season snafus relating to the Twins’ previous post-season failures against the Yankees, the Twins have an opportunity to put some of those demons to bed, starting tonight, as the open a 4-game series in New York tonight at 6:05pm central.

Image from M.T.'s Blog, http://matt7.mlblogs.com/

While some former Twins (Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer, etc.) may have indicated that they Twins were mentally beat against the Yankees before their previous post-season collapses, there is a wealth of historical precedence that helped create those mental barriers.  In the past 10 years the Twins are 18-51 against the Yankees, and that does not include the three times the Yankees eliminated the Twins from post-season play.  Add those in and the Twins are an even more embarrassing 20-63 against the Bronx Bombers. A W-L% of  about .241.  To put that in perspective, over a 162 game season, playing ONLY the Yankees, the Twins would win 39 games.

In those 83 games against the Yankees, 42 were in New York, and the Twins won only 7 times, which does not bode well for the Twins as they roll in to Yankee Stadium this evening.

But here is why I think the Twins have a chance to split* this four game series, which would be a resounding victory, historically:

*Let’s just assume that C.C. Sabathia is his regular self, and Francisco Liriano is the disappointing fallen star that we’ve come to know, so the Twins are not going to win tomorrow night.  And while only two Twins have faced Hiroki Kuroda (Ryan Doumit and Josh Willingham), both have been unsuccessful and the Yankees have blasted Jason Marquis to the tun of .361/.395/.778 for an OPS of almost 1200! In the other two games, the Twins will face Freddy Garcia, and Phil Hughes.  Both are beatable and if the Twins can pitch well enough to keep the Yankees to 5 runs per game, they will have a chance to steal a couple of wins from the Yanks.

Hitting:

In addition to hitting 4 home runs and 6 doubles against Garcia in 71 plate appearances, Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer have combined to walk 10 times compared to just 5 strikeouts.  Of the 114 total plate appearances by current Twins, only Danny Valencia (1/4) has an OBP against Garcia that’s lower than .285.  The Twins have not fared quite as well against Phil Hughes, but still post an OBP of .317, albeit in a sample size limited to just 38 at bats.  Either way, the Twins have an opportunity to get out front of the Yankees early and to allow their starters to work deeper into games, limiting the opportunities for the bullpen to let another close game slip away.

Pitching/Defense:

In addition to hitting well against the Yankees, Carl Pavano (tonight’s starter) and Anthony Swarzak (projected to take Nick Blackburn‘s start on Thursday) have managed to keep the Yankees in check.  Pavano has limited current Yankees to a triple slash of just .229/.252/.359 with just 9/30 hits against him going for extra bases.  Swarzak has faced current Yankees hitters just 39 times, but he has yet to give up a home run to any of the current Yankees, which has been one of their biggest weapons against the Minnesota Twins.  Decent starting pitching will be complemented with a defense that is likely to be near league average with Justin Morneau slotted into first base and either Trevor Plouffe or Clete Thomas taking an outfield spot away from Ryan Doumit.

Winning two games against the Yankees and splitting the series will not get this team any closer to contending for the AL Central, but it will help plant the seed in the minds of this current group of Twins that they can beat the Yankees, something the Twins haven’t really done for a decade.

It starts tonight!

- ERolfPleiss

Twins Predictions

Real live baseball (in America) begins tonight, before ramping up on Thursday, leading to the Twins’ opener on Friday in Baltimore.  With opening ceremonies in mind, here are the Knuckleballs Twins Predictions for 2012:

Pitcher of the Year: Scott Baker (minor early season DL stint not-withstanding) Baker was the best of a bad Twins pitching staff in 2011, despite missing chunks of the season on the Disabled List.  I couldn’t tell you why I think he’s going to be healthy and productive this year (which already seems like a bad idea), but I think he will be great.  Jim Crikket thinks that Francisco Liriano will be the best pitcher of the year.   His spring numbers were very positive, he limited his walks and earned plenty of strike outs.  Unfortunately, if you look back just a little farther to his Winter numbers, they’re terrible.  Let’s hope the recent results tell more of a story for 2012.

Hitter of the Year: Justin Morneau  ”Morneau is swinging like I haven’s seen him swing in a couple of years. Vicious cuts.” – Jim Crikket  Again, these are only Spring Training at bats, but ever since Morneau flipped the switch and hit two home runs in a game a couple weeks ago he’s been a man on fire.  Moving into the DH position and focusing solely on hitting seems to be working for Morneau.  Success in 2012 will help distance Morneau from his 2010 concussion and he could be playing first base everyday by the All-Star Break.

Defender of the Year: I wanted to select Alexi Casilla as the defender of the year, hoping against hope that he will remain focused, healthy, and attentive at second base and play more than 100 games for the first time in his career.  Jim wanted to go with Denard Span, because for the Twins to succeed in 2012 Span is going to need to cover huge amounts of ground in the left field and right field gaps (gaps which are now wide open with the move to put Josh Willingham and some combination of Trevor Plouffe and Ryan Doumit in the corners).

Rookie of the Year: Chris Parmelee/Liam Hendriks If Parmelee continues to hit like he did last September and this Spring he’ll be a top choice for the Twins’ best rookie.  The other candidate, who made the 25 man roster and will open the season in the starting rotation is Liam Hendriks.  Hendriks was probably slated to come up after 5-10 AAA starts, but because Scott Baker and Jason Marquis are not ready to start the season Hendriks gets a chance to showcase his skills earlier than anticipated.  If he keeps his spot in the rotation when both Baker and Marquis are back you’ll know he’s pitching well and on track to steal a Rookie of the Year award from Parmelee.

Most Valuable Player: Justin Morneau The engine that makes the Twins go is Joe Mauer, but Mauer is even better with a healthy Justin Morneau hitting behind him, forcing pitchers to attack Mauer allowing him to hit doubles all over spacious Target Field and driving in runs for the Twins.  If Morneau comes back and is indeed the hitter of the year, selecting him as the MVP will be as much about what he does as an individual, as what he does in the lineup to help those around him.

Comeback Player of the Year: Francisco Liriano Obviously Justin Morneau is a candidate here if he hits well and helps the team succeed, but after a horrendous 2011, if Liriano returns to his 2010 form he’s one of the best players in baseball.  If Morneau and Liriano are both All-Stars, this team will be lucky to two potential comeback players on their squad.

Expected Record: The Marcel projections peg the Twins for just a 70-92 record, relying heavily on the Twins’ 2011 results as a predictor of 2012 success (and a heavy dose of regression to the mean).  Even if Joe Mauer’s Cindarella Spring Training Clock strikes midnight and he turns in another injury plagued 2012, simply trading Drew Butera for Ryan Doumit means turning a -1.2 WAR into a 1.2 WAR, 2.4 additional wins, and that’s not even factoring in upgraded seasons the Twins are likely to receive from Denard Span, Alexi Casilla, Jamey Carroll (vs. Tsuyoshi Nishioka), Danny Valencia, and at least half of the Twins’ pitching staff.  Assuming then that the 70-92 record is the worst that the Twins could do in 2012, what is a reasonable expectation for the Home 9?  My best guess, 82-80, Jim Crikket is more optimistic, suggesting even 86-76 for the Twins.  Either way, the Twins are going to be competitive, entertaining and might even be relevant in September.  Will any of this come to pass?   I don’t know, but we’ve got 162 games to find out.  Bring on the baseball!

-ERolfPleiss