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 – Athletics @ Twins #2, 12:10 pm

So Span is still sore which gives Revere a little more playing time.  He sure is awfully excited to get that opportunity and I’m glad he’s enjoying himself.  Span is on meds for the shoulder (a rotator cuff bruise according to reports) and is feeling better.  Kubel is also feeling better but still getting another day. Mauer gets a little more time off from the plate so Butera gets another start.

This actually looks like a pretty classic Gardy afternoon game lineup – you’d never know this was nearing the end of the regular season but with that realization, you might know that the numbers are in the Twins favor.

Oakland @ Minnesota
Crisp, CF   Revere, CF
Barton, D, 1B   Hudson, O, 2B
Ellis, M, 2B   Mauer, DH
Cust, DH   Cuddyer, 1B
Powell, C   Young, D, LF
Davis, R, RF   Valencia, 3B
Iwamura, 3B   Hardy, SS
Carter, LF   Repko, RF
Pennington, SS   Butera, C
  Braden, P     Slowey, P

 

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

 

Another win!!  The magic number is down to 6 and all three teams - Twins, Yankees and Rays – are within a .5 game of each other for the best record in all of MLB baseball.  Wow.  This is a lot of fun people.  For all of us who were Twins fans when winning was not nearly as frequent an occurance, this is a real treat.

We have a few honorable mentions for individual plays in today’s game:  JJ Hardy had a SPECTACULAR leaping catch for liner that really was well over his head – perfect timing and full-extension allowed him to snowcone a catch that otherwise was a guaranteed hit.  Butera had a beautiful shot to the LF corner that gave him a double to set up a scoring opportunity.  And Ben Revere managed to get his first MLB RBI!  You can tell he’s having a great time up here.  I hope it continues.

And then there were some truly beautiful performances that went throughout the game.  Kevin Slowey is BAAA-AAACK!!  Wow was it fun to watch him pitch today!  He finally has easy and confident delivery working again.  He just had an EXCELLENT day on the mound against a team that seems to know how to hit pretty well minus poor Chris Carter.  For that, the Chat awarded him a steaming mug of hot chocolate and I’ll throw in a piece of cake too.  I hope he continues this!!! 

Another of the games standout performances was Jason Repko out in RF.  Over and over again, he made spectacular catches and .. well.. have I mentioned his ARM recently?!?!  wow, can that guy throw the ball.  Our starting OF’s should be really glad that his BA is kind of low.  He’s got major league fielding ability that’s for sure.  For that, he gets a massage (to keep that arm nice and limber) and a refreshing beverage of his choice.  Keep it up man and I hope we keep you around!

But the STAR performance of the day was DANNY VALENCIA!  He hit a timely 3 run HR to break the tie game.  And we never gave up the lead after that – we never even scored another run after that so he truly was the person most responsible for giving Kevin Slowey another win.  Viva Valencia!

GameChat – Tigers @ Twins #2, 7:10

The Twins win last night was a great way to start this series but I think Twins fans should get used to odd lineups thrown together by whoever is healthy and the regular appearance of our September call-ups as starters.  Today we have Morales and Plouffe up from Rochester with more call-ups coming in a second wave sometime soon.  Today’s lineup has yet another injured back causing a late scratch.  Thome is down with more back trouble and Morales has been substituted in as our DH tonight.

I’m not going to go into GREAT detail about all the injuries in our lineup but I greatly encourage you to check out several pieces done by Phil Mackey that cover the difficulties Ron Gardenhire is going to have to manage around – including Justin’s current status:  Pushed to the limit in battle of attrition, Justin told to stay home, and Call-ups coming in two waves.

But tonight’s lineup quite obviously reflects that Punto is out, Kubel is out (for a couple days at least), Hudson is out (having the foot re-examined) and now Thome is out (again for a couple days).  At least I think Repko is a qualified and productive backup in the OF.  With very little on the bench as far as options go, let’s hope that he, Casilla, Morales and Valencia can hold down the fort – and that Liriano pitches a real gem!

Detroit @ Minnesota
Jackson, A, CF   Span, CF
Rhymes, 2B   Casilla, A, 2B
Wells, C, LF   Mauer, C
Cabrera, M, 1B   Cuddyer, 1B
Peralta, J, DH   Young, D, LF
Inge, 3B   Valencia, 3B
Santiago, SS   Morales, J, DH
Boesch, RF   Repko, RF
Laird, C   Hardy, SS
Scherzer, P   Liriano, P

 

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 R H
Detroit 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 7
Minnesota 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 2 6

 

There appears to be some sort of organized conspiracy to keep any of us from being able to get to bed early.

In terms of summarizing the first 7 innings of this game, I think just about the only thing we need to mention is the name Francisco Liriano. 5 hits over 7 shutout innings. 1 BB against 7 Ks. It wasn’t always as pretty as that statistics line makes it look, as he had to work out of a few jams, but that’s what the best pitchers do.

The Twins needed that sort of effort again tonight, since we apparently still have not purged the assbats from the batrack. For his outstanding performance, FranKKKKKKKie was awarded a deep fried snickers on a stick by the GameChat crowd.

For the second night in a row, Danny Valencia gets the GameChat gang’s support for Boyfriend of the Day honors… but this time Danny doesn’t have to share the BOD award with anyone. James called it in the Chat and Valencia delivered the game winning single in the bottom of the 10th inning, scoring Michael Cuddyer for the 2-1 win (nice stolen base to set that drama up, by the way, Mr. Cuddyer!). With the win, the Twins are 31-14 overall since All-Star break, the best in baseball.  Now they are 8-3 in extra-innings and this was our 5th walk-off win.  Nice job boys!  – JC

Boyfriend of the Month for August: Dead Heat at the Wire

The folks who have gathered in our GameChats handed out 22 Boyfriend of the Day (BOD) awards in August (a few more than the actual number of Twins wins because we had some co-BOD games mixed in there). Heading in to the final game of the month, there were no fewer than eight players tied for the lead in the Boyfriend of the Month battle. That’s a far cry from the month of July when Delmon Young had his monster month and walked away with BOM honors.

But before we get to this month’s BOM award, let’s take a glance at where the race for Knuckleballs’ Boyfriend of the Year stands heading in to September. This race is all but over, folks. It will take someone getting awfully hot down the stretch to overtake DY’s lead in the BOY race, given that he holds a 12 to 7 lead over Francisco Liriano on the year. Frankie’s grip on “runner up” honors is much more tenuous, however. Fellow rotation members, Kevin Slowey and Carl Pavano have racked up 6 BODs each, while the group of Joe Mauer, Jason Kubel, and Danny Valencia all are still within reach of Liriano with 5 BODs a piece.

Turning back to Boyfriend of the Month… as it turns out, it was very appropriate that Valencia and Michael Cuddyer wrapped up the month of August with co-BOD performances against the Tigers on Tuesday night. Heading in to that final game, those two guys joined Mauer, Liriano, Slowey, Jim Thome, Scott Baker and Brian Duensing with two BOD awards during the month, making August by far the month with the largest number of players earning multiple awards.

But with their efforts on Tuesday, Michael and Danny did just enough to separate themselves from the pack and earn co-Boyfriend of the Month awards for August! – JC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

P.S. A huge thank you to Joe Christensen at the Star Tribune for sending out via text message (and his blog) a link to this column by Sports Illustrated’s Steve Rushin. It’s a terrific read for anyone who saw games at the Met, the Dome and Target Field (and a pretty darn good read even for those who didn’t). If you only have time to read one more article online today, make it that one. – JC

GameChat: Tigers @ Twins, 7:10 pm

While the entire baseball universe has their attention focused on “the Jake” in Cleveland tonight to await the appearance of the White Sox’ latest savior, Manny Ramirez, the Twins just need to focus on taking care of business against the Tigers. The media can focus all they want on whether ManRam will cut his dreds to conform the the “appearance” standards of the Bitch Sox top Bitch, Jerry Reinsdorf… the Twins should just go about the business of winning the Division.

That said, I do find it somewhat amusing that the Sox are paying Manny over $122,000 per game and he’s spending the first one on the bench.

So tonight, DY gets a partial day “off” as he DH’s and Repko gets a turn in left field. Let’s hope Brian Duensing keeps up the splendid work he’s been doing lately! Go Twins! – JC

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TIGERS @ TWINS
Jackson, A, CF   Span, CF
Rhymes, 2B   Hudson, O, 2B
Raburn, LF   Mauer, C
Cabrera, M, 1B   Kubel, RF
Peralta, J, SS   Cuddyer, 1B
Inge, 3B   Young, D, DH
Damon, DH   Valencia, 3B
Wells, C, RF   Repko, LF
Avila, C   Hardy, SS
Galarraga, P   Duensing, P

 

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

 

The guys certainly have developed a bit of a flair for the dramatic!

Have to give Brian Duensing a LOT of credit for overcoming some pretty poor defensive play behind him the first couple of innings that resulted in 3 unearned Tiger runs. After that, he shut the kitties down. A giant DQ Blizzard of the flavor of his choice is Brian’s reward.

Meanwhile, after sleepwalking through the first five innings, the offense finally woke up and swung the bats. Danny Valencia went 3/4 with a big RBI and two doubles. Michael Cuddyer came through with some big 2-out ribbies. And for finally figuring out how to exorcise the assbats, Danny and Michael have been voted our co-Boyfriends of the Day!

GameChat – Twins @ Mariners, 9:10

So… it’s amazing what can happen in a day when you aren’t expecting something.  And I think what happened today should just go to prove that the non-waiver trade deadline really doesn’t mean doodly for the Twins front office.  Just in case your laptop/phone/twitter is not surgically attached to your fingers like it is for some of us, here’s the news today:  Twins acquired left-handed closer, Brian Fuentes, from the Angels for a player to be named later or cash.  Wow.  According to Gardy, he’ll be mainly doing the lefty setup duties for Capps (and providing a nice backup in case it’s necessary). 

This is really an impressive move by the Twins in my book.  Not sure who I’m going to recognize any relievers coming out of our pen in a couple days!  But I think this is clear that Perkins is not expected to be a long-term Left-handed option in the bullpen.  But that’s just my opinion.

In other news (not quite as interesting), the Twins announced that they’ll be putting a statue of Calvin Griffith on the plaza with the other player statues.  Apparently the big news of that situation is that Rod Carew is ok with the statue being near his.  Good?  I guess I appreciate the sensitivity of the situation and how they handled it – WAY more of a soft touch than I am even capable up.  However, I just can’t get away from the part of it that makes me feel like the Twins can put whatever statue they want whereever they want.  And I LIKE Rod Carew!!!  I’m pretty sure that his permission wasn’t really necessary.  Like I said, it just goes to prove that the Twins are nicer people than I am.  Big surprise.

As far as tonight’s game.. oy, another west coast game.  They are never good for my sleep schedule because once I start staying up late? I have a hard time going to bed early for awhile.  Let’s hope that Baker is up to form tonight – both the for the sake of the Twins AND my fantasy teams!

Minnesota @ Seattle
Span, CF   Suzuki, I, RF
Hudson, O, 2B   Figgins, 2B
Mauer, DH   Branyan, DH
Cuddyer, 1B   Lopez, J, 3B
Young, D, LF   Kotchman, 1B
Valencia, 3B   Gutierrez, F, CF
Repko, RF   Moore, A, C
Casilla, A, SS   Tuiasosopo, M, LF
Butera, C   Wilson, Jo, SS
  Baker, S, P     Vargas, J, P

 

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 1 1 0 0 0 3 1 0 0 6 12 1
Seattle 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 1 3 8 2

 

There was some hilarious comments made about the game tonight and I wish I could actually remember more than a couple of them.  My favorite was from Dick Bremer regarding the radar gun hitting 96 mph for Scott Baker: “Mariners are borrowing the radar gun from the Wisconsin Highway Patrol..”

And on the postgame radio interview, Danny Valencia even had TC laughing when asked how he chooses who to throw the ball to at the end of an inning: “First I look for a Twins fan, if I can’t find that, I look for a female…”  Well, Danny, at least you are honest.

There were a couple other things that had me rolling tonight but given the lateness of the hour, my brain is sleeping and I don’t remember what they were.  BUT, it was a fun game.  We got to see our new lefty, Flores, go out there and throw the ball a bit – and he fits right in our bullpen facial hair wise.  I think they were testing him out a bit tonight and he had some bad-luck grounders but I think we’ll see him used primarily as a situational lefty.  Especially since Fuentes is supposed to arrive tomorrow.  The official roster move was made post game and was exactly what most of us suspected and Glen Perkins was sent back down to AAA to get innings there.  Scott Baker had a decent outting which I greatly appreciate – it wasn’t his best by the end of it and he’s still throwing too many pitches for my liking but it definitely got the job done tonight.  And Matty Guerrier just MADE my DAY!!  Coming into a bases loaded situation left for him by Flores, he nailed it down and got us out of the inning with a minimum of drama.  For that he gets a Cheesecake on a stick in honor of the State Fair.

And the offense actually showed up!!!  Go figure but Joe Mauer is hitting .399 since the all star break.  Wow.  He was 3/5 again tonight with 2 RBI.  He’s definitely quietly moving his way back up the leaderboard.  Go Joe!  For such a fabulous outting tonight, you are warded an entire bucket of Sweet Martha’s cookies and all the milk you can drink.

Hard to believe that someone could beat that but I think the GameChat voted purely on entertainment value tonight giving our BOD to Danny Valencia - and NOT for his post game comments.  The entertainment started early with a very fun catch in the Twins dugout which he held on to the ball but nearly required BOTH Twins catchers to keep him from a headlong dive over the rail.  Then he hit a HAWT triple  – because all triples are hot.  And he ended up tying Mauer for RBI tonight.  So for all that flash and dash, Danny Valencia is today’s BOD.

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

GameChat – White Sox @ Twins, 7:10

WOOOHOOOOO!!!  Can’t believe there were people stalking the airports to see if they could see the White Sox arriving in town..  what?  someone else came in?  Who cares?!  The Twins are playing the WS in Target Field!!!!  Sorry if I’m a little focused on baseball right now – haven’t gotten into the football mode, much less care about prima donna players.

ANYWAY…  given my baseball addiction, the off-day was spent doing what? with BASEBALL PLAYERS!  :D  I went over to Park Tavern yesterday afternoon to see Baseball Unplugged (and chat with) Nick Punto, Drew Butera and Danny Valencia.  I didn’t take TOOOO many pics, mostly because it’s a bar and it’s dark but it was a fantastic night with some guys who were obviously having a good time and enjoy their fans!

Special thanks to Nick Punto for making sure that Betsy, I, and the young boy sitting near us all got to ask a question since the guy who does the hosting was on the other side of the bar…  You are a true gentleman, Nick and it was great to spend a little time with you!  AND it means I have an answer to the question that has plagued me for awhile from the horse’s mouth! 

My question was “who is our backup 1B guy if something happens to Cuddyer before Morneau is back in the lineup?!” *knock on wood*  Danny spoke up and said that, if necessary, it is supposed to be his job and they have had him practicing over there just in case.  Drew said that he’d be backing up Danny just in case but that since soooo many people would have to be injured for him to be responsible, he doesn’t like to think about it.  I don’t blame him.

But let’s focus on tonight – Nicky is eligible to start tonight but he’s not out there.  That’s not terribly surprising given how hot Valencia has been but at least it answers the question many fans had been asking.  We have a good lineup out there to face the Sox and I think they are coming off a great series against the A’s which has lifted morale.  I’m not going to honor comments about starting bench brawls during this series because I think that kind of deliberate nastiness is below the Sox.  If it turns out that it’s not, I’ll be incredibly disappointed.  Win TWINS!

Chi White Sox @ Minnesota
Pierre, LF   Span, CF
Vizquel, 3B   Hudson, O, 2B
Rios, CF   Mauer, C
Konerko, 1B   Cuddyer, 1B
Quentin, RF   Kubel, RF
Kotsay, DH   Young, D, LF
Pierzynski, C   Thome, DH
Ramirez, A, SS   Valencia, 3B
Beckham, 2B   Hardy, SS
  Danks, P     Baker, S, P

 

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 R H
Chi White Sox 0 3 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 1 6 14
Minnesota 4 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 2 7 16

 

The temptation for this game is to completely ignore the majority of the game – just pretend the first 9 innings didn’t happen because the 10th inning was just THAT AMAZING!!!!  THAT was exciting baseball.  *shiver*

But before we get to the 10th, there really was some decent ball we should talk about.  Baker did not have his best stuff tonight so even though he got a 4 run lead to work with early in the game, he ended up giving most of it up and leaving the game in the 5th.  But offense wasn’t REALLY a problem tonight.  Every time we lost the lead, we came back out and hit some more… and so did the White Sox.  yeesh.  Our bullpen did ok but not great tonight.  Felt like we had to use everybody and we nearly did.  Perk covered well though tonight to fill in for Baker and that’s what we have him up here for.  After that, it was a lot of same ol’ same ol’ – and then Capps blew the save.  It’s going to happen but it’s hard to be boost the confidence of your new team’s fans when that happens a couple times in the short time after you’ve arrived.

However, the highlights include two EXTREMELY awesome catches from people I consider unlikely to do the webgem thing – Delmon Young and Jason Kubel.  WOW.  Seriously, they’ll be played on ESPN.  I’ve heard that Kubel’s catch is #1 on the list for today.  For that excellence, both boys are awarded a pan of warm brownies to share – the gooey, dark, awesome kind.

And that was just the defense – the OFFENSE had their night going too!  Young and Hudson both had homeruns, Kubel had a great triple and Valencia had an unfortunate ground rule double – unfortunate because it would have scored Delmon if it hadn’t left the field.  They all were swinging the lumber pretty well and they all get a great big ice cream sundae for it.  Thanks boys.

And it was hardly an issue but you know there had to be some sort of drama after the comments that came out of the coaching staff of the WS today.  So when a pitch appeared to head hunt JJ Hardy and just BARELY missed him, blood pressures definitely went up.  As an almost immediate response, Delmon came in from 3B and decided to take an unusual approach to homeplate since he didn’t have a chance at being safe if AJ didn’t drop the ball – he totally went for the two-handed bar brawl shove instead of the normal home plate tackle.  It didn’t make AJ drop the ball and he was still out but I think the message was clear enough.  Granted, all that is purely my opinion.

And then we have the 10th inning.  Neither Capps nor Rauch who came in to mop up his mess really had the stuff that we needed tonight – which resulted in the White Sox taking the lead in the top of the 10th.  Ouch.  But we got to the bottom of the 10th with it being a 1 run game…  Delmon did his job and got himself on base.  Then, in a perfectly scripted ‘Casey at the Bat’ scenario, Jim Thome walked up to the plate.  I’m sure that every White Sox fan knew what was going to happen.  Every Twins fan knew what was going to happen.  It has happened so many times before – he just wore the other uniform before.  And then homerun #581 went DEEP into the Target Field plaza.  Turns out it was the first walk-off HIT in the new park.  Took awhile to get it.  But ESPN reported that for Thome, it was yet another cool milestone:  Thome is tied for the most walk off home runs of all time, with 12. He’s tied with Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson, Jimmie Foxx, and Stan Musial.  For that, Jim Thome, you are the Boyfriend of the Day!

and just for the fun of it – you should click on Kbro’s pic of the postgame interview PIE!!

GameChat – A’s @ Twins, 7:10 pm

It’s really good to have our boys back home and I hope that the weather cooperates while they are here!  I think everyone in MN would be glad for a short break from torrential rain.  So Morneau is improving but Gardy announced today that they aren’t talking time tables with him anymore – they want to make sure that he’s ready and so far he still hasn’t had any symptom-free days – at least he’s not feeling bad until he gets home now.  If you want a full recap of life for him right now, Phil Mackey did a great write-up today.

Unfortunately, news about Mijares is not as good.  He’s got more than a sprained knee – it’s a torn meniscus and requires surgery and he’ll be out 4-6 weeks.  Ouch.

TC Bear announced today on twitter that he & Bert Blyleven planted trees over at the Luce Line trail today for all the bats Twins pitchers have broken so far – he said the broken bat total right now is at 131.  At 100 trees per bat, that’s a lot of new canopy!  Here’s a pic!  Bert is supposed to talk about it in the FSN pregame if you are able to watch the program.

Coming off the series win in Chicago, I’m sure that the team morale is high.  Let’s hope that Pavano does a very Pavano job and that our offense keeps up the good work.

Oakland @ Minnesota
Crisp, CF   Span, CF
Barton, D, 1B   Hudson, O, 2B
Suzuki, K, C   Mauer, DH
Cust, DH   Cuddyer, 1B
Kouzmanoff, 3B   Kubel, RF
Ellis, M, 2B   Young, D, LF
Davis, R, RF   Valencia, 3B
Carter, LF   Casilla, A, SS
Pennington, SS   Butera, C
  Gonzalez, G, P     Pavano, P

 

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Oakland 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 3 14 2
Minnesota 2 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 x 4 5 2

 

That was a CRAZY game – some INCREDIBLE defense and amazing plays and then some absolutely head-banging plays.  But it all worked out to give Carl Pavano win #15 which puts him in a tie for first place in the American League!  In the postgame interview, he FINALLY expressed what it is about Drew Butera that he connects so well with – they are both Italian.  But he did mention that he’s a bit angry with Drew for shaving the mustache off.  AND he really enjoyed the walk-on music that Target Field played for him tonight – the theme to Mario Bros!  And even TC “grew” his mustache in honor of the big guy’s start tonight.  Carl’s not sure what it is about his mustache that has elicited such support from the fans but I think I speak for all of us when I say, if you keep winning, we’ll keep loving the ‘Stache! (at least metaphorically)

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The most incredible play of the night was a GORGEOUSLY executed suicide squeeze bunt between Drew Butera and Danny Valencia.  Wow.  Butera’s bunt was perfect and I swear that Danny was 2/3 of the way to homeplate with his leadoff before Butera even made contact.  VERY well done boys.  For that play alone, they both have a special bakery prize – their very own “BUNT” Cake!! Hope they really enjoy it!

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SECOND, there were inumberable plays tonight where our boys sacrificed the body to make the play – Lexi, Spanky and Hudson all really laid it out there – literally.  But none came up with blood on the uniform, met with the trainer and stayed in the game the way Michael Cuddyer did.  For that grit and determination, Knuckleballs awards him the very rarely offered GOLDEN BANDAID!  Thanks for all you do, Cuddy!

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Additionally, the bullpen came out AGAIN and in some high pressure situations, kept the Twins in the lead and allowed us to walk off the field with the win.  Since there was still a bit of roughness that I am worried is attributed to dehydration after the keg they got last night, they will have to live with rootbeer floats tonight instead of the other kind.  And Jesse Crain – for coming in with the bases loaded and nailing it down anyway, you get yours in a tall, frosty mug straight out of the freezer with an extra scoop!  We really enjoy it when you come in and do stuff like that!

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Of course, all this leads up to who did we vote to get the BOD!?!  For that we go back to the beginning.  In addition to that absolutely gorgeous squeeze, Valencia went 2/4, with a double, a run, and 2 RBI.  For that, he has earned today’s BOD!  Viva La Valencia!

GameChat – Twins @ Royals #2, 7:10

Honestly, I’m still giggling after last night.  Not at the expense of the Royals, mind you, but it was such a relief to have moments of joy that couldn’t be questioned or threatened to be taken away.  I really feel bad for Royals fans though – I will never forget those days in the Twins dynasty.

One of our fun side discussions in chat is who owes who a beer for a particular play – and as in last night, Sizzler – so I was amused to find out that our boys actually have similar discussions in the lockerroom after games!  This story from the StarTribune is really a fun read so you should check out Nineteen reasons to smile just for the entertainment value.

Looking forward to seeing Pavano out there tonight and I sure hope it’s not as hot in KC as it is here in MN because they have dealt with that kind of tropical baseball enough recently.  The B squad really shined last night so lets see what the A squad has to offer!

Minnesota @ Kansas City
Span, CF   Podsednik, LF
Repko, RF   Kendall, C
Mauer, DH   Butler, 1B
Young, D, LF   Guillen, J, DH
Cuddyer, 1B   Ankiel, CF
Valencia, 3B   Betemit, 3B
Hardy, SS   Gordon, A, RF
Punto, 2B   Betancourt, Y, SS
Butera, C   Getz, 2B
  Pavano, P     Chen, B, P

 

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 2 0 2 0 0 2 1 4 0 11 19 0
Kansas City 0 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 2 10 0

 

They ALMOST matched the hit total from last night again tonight.  It’s really great to see the lineup from top to bottom all having fun and hitting.  Mauer had another great night, Hardy hit his first HR since April, Repko was great with the glove again, and in general, they make Royals fans feel bad for their team.  But I think the real stand out is Danny Valencia who is doing his best to make sure they think twice about sending him back down to AAA.  For that reason, the chat voted him today’s BOD!  Viva la Valencia! (stolen from @bennyc50)