GameChat – Royals @ Twins #4, 1:10 pm

It doesn’t seem all that long ago that four-game series were pretty commonplace. Not so any more. But thanks to yesterday’s make-up game, we’ve got the finale of four-game series today against the Royals. Thanks to yesterday’s doubleheader sweep, the worst our guys can do is come away with a series split and a win today claims the series 3-1.

In case anyone missed it, the Orioles acquired Jim Thome from the Phillies yesterday. Big Jim will be wearing #25 for the O’s. Yes… as hard as it is to believe, the Orioles have not retired that number in honor of Rafael Palmeiro. Thome will return to Target Field with his new team in just two weeks!

The All-Star Game rosters were announced today. Representing the Twins will be Joe Mauer. That’s not really a surprise and he deserves to be selected. He probably deserves to start ahead of Mike Napoli, but with the Twins pulling up the rear in the AL Central standings, you don’t expect to get much love around the country. All of that said, I’d have liked to see Josh Willingham get his first All-Star selection. The Twins poor record has kept Willingham from getting the recognition he deserves. He’s clearly one of the best Free Agent pick ups in the league (especially if you consider performance vs. pay).

If you’re in to the whole ESPYs thing (or even if you aren’t), Ben Revere needs your vote!

On to the game…

The Twins have declared today “Armed Forces Appreciation Day” with a special ceremony scheduled to honor “Gold Star” families. With Independence Day this week, it’s a good time to honor families of those who have given the “last full measure of devotion” for our country’s freedom. They deserve our thanks this week and every week.

Francisco Liriano is on the mound for the Twins. Let’s see the good Frankie today!

ROYALS

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TWINS
Gordon, LF Span, CF
Escobar, A, SS Carroll, 2B
Butler, DH Mauer, DH
Francoeur, RF Willingham, LF
Betancourt, Y, 3B Morneau, 1B
Hosmer, 1B Plouffe, 3B
Pena, B, C Mastroianni, RF
Bourgeois, CF Butera, C
Falu, 2B Dozier, SS
  _Chen, P   _Liriano, P


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I can’t stop laughing.. LOL That was just a ridiculous game of baseball that ended with us on top so at least I’m not crying. Today was all about the HR. Whether we credit burning the assbats, or the warm weather or the sacrifice of live chickens to Jobu, I don’t really care. It’s about time that the hometown 9 figured out how to hit Bruce Chen!!

The real entertainment seemed to be the battle of the team Homerun lead between Trevor Plouffe and Josh Willingham. Both guys have been on fire for the month of June and wanted to get July started off on the right pace. They started today tied but Trevor took the early lead in the 2nd inning. But Josh couldn’t let him get away so he answered back in the 6th with a homerun of his own to tie the race. Trevor was having none of that and took back his position as the HR leader with his SECOND HR of the day in the 6th. It was an embarrassment of runs and riches to watch them go off that way.

For that, we grant them both ice cold adult beverages of their choice (unless they need to re-hydrate) just to show our appreciation.

And then out of the blue…

Drew Butera?!? Totally unexpected 3 run HR in the 8th to build that run cushion up. AND it turns out that 4 HRs in a single game is actually a Twins record. Then it turns out that those runs weren’t so extraneous after all. Perkins made life a little interesting in the top of the 9th and all of a sudden we were VERY grateful that we had those “extra” runs from Drew. As much for the runs as for the surprise of the source, Drew gets the room vote for BOD!

Drew Butera sporting the Minneapolis Millers uniform (Photo: Minnesota Twins)

Will Past Be Prologue?

I’m kinda confused.

I am getting the overwhelming sense that far too many so-called Twins “fans” are actually rooting against the team right now. Why? Because they’re apparently afraid that if the Twins continue to win games at their recent rate, they’ll pull themselves up out of the AL Central Division cellar and perhaps even within shouting distance of whatever sorry excuse for a Division Leader happens to be sitting atop the Division as July nears. These “fans” think that might cause General Manager Terry Ryan to exercise undue restraint when other GMs come calling to inquire about the availability of current Twins players on the trade market.

Yes, that’s right… a significant segment of the fanbase doesn’t want to see the Twins win TOO much because they think the Twins can get significantly better in 2013 or 2014 by trading veterans for prospects this summer and they don’t give a damn how bad the resulting product on the field is for the rest of 2012.

My goodness, how things have changed in Twinsville.

Luis Castillo

I could have sworn we all (both fans and Twins players, themselves) spent most of the early to middle part of the past decade complaining that the front office was always looking toward “next year” when it came to making mid-season deals. Does anyone else remember the reaction from fans and the clubhouse when Luis Castillo was dealt to the Mets in 2007 with the Twins only a handful of games out of the Division lead? The players and many fans believed Torii and Johan and the others still had another run in them, but Terry Ryan dealt the team’s leadoff hitter anyway. Many people felt Hunter and Santana eventually left via Free Agency after that season in part because they didn’t believe the Twins would ever play for “now.”

With the limited revenue that the Twins’ Metrodome lease allowed, Terry Ryan always had to have one eye on the bottom line as he crafted his roster from one season to the next, but the promise of a new ballpark and the additional revenue streams that would come with it changed that perception. Finally, the Twins would be able to afford to pay for enough talent to make a run whenever they were on the edge of contention at mid-season.

So here we are, mid-way through the third season in that new ballpark and fans want Terry Ryan to hold a fire sale?

There are two reasons for teams to trade away veteran ballplayers at midseason. One is because someone who needs instant help this year is willing to give up prospects that the selling team believes will play key roles when they’re finally able to turn things around and contend themselves. The other is to shed payroll, which is often necessary because a bad team is not generating attendance and other revenue streams as had been hoped when the roster was built in the spring.

I hope we can all agree that the latter simply is not an acceptable reason for the Twins to trade anyone. There’s no shortage of cash in the Twins checking account right now. They did their payroll slashing before the season even started and that economizing, rather than paying to bring on better starting pitching, is the main reason this team isn’t living up to hopes this season.

That leaves the only reason for “selling” being to bring in high upside prospects that can play critical roles later. But how realistic is that, really?

I’m afraid some of these people clamoring for the Twins to sell off parts are significantly overestimating what Ryan can get for those parts. Remember the return he got for what was still a very productive leadoff hitter and second baseman in 2007? Castillo was batting .304 with 9 stolen bases, 54 runs and a .356 on-base percentage when he was traded to the Mets… for Dustin Martin and Drew Butera. How do you think people are going to feel if THAT’S the kind of return the Twins get for Denard Span? I, for one, will be pissed!

The Twins’ primary need, in their efforts to rebuild a competitive team, is starting pitching. Their hitting is fine. Their defense could be better, but it’s improved over last year. Their bullpen has been surprisingly solid. They need good starting pitching.

Does anyone really believe there are contending teams out there with such a surplus of good starting pitchers that they’re going to be willing to trade one of them for a Denard Span, a Ryan Doumit, or even a Justin Morneau? I don’t believe it for a heartbeat.

I also believe people are underestimating how competitive this team could be over the next year and a half. The biggest need is for better starting pitching and, unfortunately, that’s something that’s just not easy to come by. It’s certainly unlikely to be something acquired in a mid-season trade with a team looking to improve their ability to contend this season.

That being the case, I simply do not believe that you tear down other areas of your roster when you’re unlikely to improve the area most in need of help… not when there’s no economic reason to do so.

If there’s a GM out there willing to part with a high-ceiling starting pitcher that’s likely to contribute to the Twins at the Major League level in 2013 or at least by 2014, fine… see what it takes to get that player. But I don’t think it’s likely. More likely, potential trade partners will be offering up more of the Dustin Martin/Drew Butera level of prospect or simply offering to take on contracts without giving up any kind of prospects at all.

If that’s the best Terry Ryan can do, I’d rather just keep watching the guys wearing Twins uniforms right now for the rest of the season and see what they can do if a couple of these young pitchers keep getting hitters out the way they have been lately.

I know many fans disagree. But for those who are prevailing on the Twins to trade their veterans over the coming weeks , I have just a small bit of advice. Be careful what you wish for. Based on Terry Ryan’s history, you may just get it.

– JC

“Purpose” Pitches

Baseball is a great game. Almost every game has some sort of unique situation arise, allowing fans to try to get in to the minds of the players and managers. Is the starting pitcher beginning to lose his stuff or can he go another inning? Is the centerfielder cheating a bit by playing shallow to keep a runner from advancing or to cut off a short line drive and will the hitter be able to get something past him in to the gap?

Yes, almost every game provides opportunities to wonder what’s going on in the minds of those on the field and in the dugouts. Even 16-4 games where the outcome was never in doubt past the second inning.

I didn’t see that mess of a game the Twins lost to the Brewers on Sunday, but from what I’ve read, there was at least one such, “what were they thinking?” moment. It came in the top of the 9th inning when Brewer relief pitcher Tim Dillard threw one pitch low and inside at Jamey Carroll and, having failed to hit him, threw his next pitch behind the Twins infielder. Dillard was immediately ejected by umpire Hunter Wendelstead. Carroll indicated that he asked Brewer catcher Jonathan Lucroy what it was all about and Lucroy told him the purpose pitch was in retaliation for Jeff Gray plunking Nyjer Morgan.

Let me just say that I admit I’m pretty much “old school” on the subject of Purpose Pitches. In this case, that means I believe there is a time and place for purpose pitches. Yes, while I know others disagree, I believe there are times and places when a pitcher should… maybe even MUST… intentionally throw a ball with the intent of hitting the batter… or at least knocking him down.

I started hitting batters intentionally when I was 13 years old. The “recreational” league I played in had time limits. You couldn’t start a new inning after the game had gone 90 minutes or something along those lines. This meant that there were times when the home team was at bat with a lead and, with the time limit approaching, some hitters got pretty deliberate about getting in to the batters box. When I was pitching in such a situation, that batter got one fastball in the ribs and next hitter got a stare that dared him to screw around. I seldom had to throw a second purpose pitch.

Of course, the more common “purpose” behind throwing at a hitter, especially in professional ball, is in retaliation for something deemed unsportsmanlike or for your own hitters getting hit intentionally. Of course, a guy like Bob Gibson didn’t need a “purpose”. A bad cup of coffee with breakfast might have been enough for Gibby to knock three opposing hitters on their butts.

But here’s where pitchers today lose me.

If the guy you’re throwing at has to ask the catcher what the purpose of that “purpose pitch” was, you have to question the decision. In the situation Sunday, frankly, I can understand the Brewers getting a bit irritated with the situation. Twins pitchers hit not one… not two… but THREE Brewers hitters in that game. Did any of those HBPs occur because the Twins thought the Brewers were “piling on”? I have no idea, but that’s one “purpose” I’ve never seen as being a legitimate reason to throw at a hitter. If you don’t want the opposition to keep scoring runs, you should do something about getting more outs and giving up fewer hits.

Anyway, as I said, I didn’t see the game. I don’t know what the circumstances were behind the Twins hitting three Brewers batters. But I do know that the last of those three occurred in the bottom of the seventh inning. That means the Brewers had plenty of opportunities in the top of the eighth inning to send the message to the Twins that they didn’t appreciate what had been going on.

But they didn’t do that.

They waited until Carroll came up to lead off the ninth inning… knowing full well there would be no “bottom of the ninth” where a Brewers hitter might risk getting “purposed” himself.

That’s chickenshit. I hope the Twins will have memories long enough to make that point to the Brewers when Milwaukee visits Target Field next month, but I doubt it. That’s simply not the “Twins Way” (gag).

Since this got me reminiscing about my days as a 13 year old pitcher, there was another event on Sunday that brought back a memory of those days.

My dad used to catch me in the back yard as he was schooling me on the finer points of the art and science of pitching. As 13 year olds and their fathers tend to do at times, there were occasions when the schooling led to… shall we say… differences. Yes, I would, at times, get angry with my father during those sessions.

When I got angry, I would wind up and try to throw every pitch right through him. Of course, I never succeeded in doing anything except motivating him to remind me that he could throw a ball much, much harder than I could. Invariably, I ended up with a very bruised glove hand to go along with my bruised ego.

Drew Butera

All of which is my long way of pondering this question.

Now that we know catcher Drew Butera is capable of throwing a baseball accurately at a speed in excess of 94 mph, how tempting must it be for him, at times, to rifle a ball back to one of the Twins pitchers, as a way of saying, “is that weak-assed 87 mph crap all you got?”

– JC

GameChat – Twins @ Mariners #2, 8:10pm

One Day without Ron Gardenhire, one win.  Do with that what you will.

Per La Velle E. Neal, Justin Morneau, who is still struggling with wrist, soreness has finally landed on the Disabled List.  When Morneau left the game last Monday against the Angels it seemed like a trip to the DL was inevitable. Now, after playing almost an entire week with 13 pitchers and almost no bench players, the Twins finally make the call.  The Twins probably still get no-hit last Wednesday even if someone was called up, but you never know.

Even Without Gardenhire, Scott Ullger continues the Twins tradition of putting a new player into the lineup, giving Erik Komatsu the start in right field.  Hard to blame Ullger for taking a look at Komatsu as it pushes Ryan Doumit back behind the plate and relegates Drew Butera to the bench.

Here are the lineups:

 Minnesota Twins

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Seattle Mariners
 Span, CF  Ackley, 2B
 Carroll, SS  Ryan, SS
 Mauer, DH  Suzuki, I, RF
 Willingham, LF  Montero, C
 Doumit, C  Seager, 3B
 Parmelee, 1B  Jaso, DH
 Valencia, 3B  Smoak, 1B
 Komatsu, RF  Carp, LF
 Casilla, A, 2B  Saunders, M, CF
  _Marquis, P   _Hernandez, F, P

 

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Jason Marquis pitched six innings giving up just 2 earned runs, scattering 6 walks and recording only one strike out.  In the 7th Anthony Swarzak, Matt Maloney, and Jeff Gray combined to give up 5 earned runs and the game was suddenly out of hand.

Regardless of what the pitching staff did, the real story of the night was Felix Hernandez.  He pitched 8 strong innings, struck out 9 Twins and gave up just a single Twins hit. The Twins were held scoreless again tonight and were just one Denard Span single away from being no-hit a 2nd time in a week.

Big changes to the Twins lineup are in the pipeline as Brian Dozier and Scott Diamond should be with the Twins on Monday.  Morneau will officially be moved to the DL and Liam Hendriks will most likely be option to Rochester to make room.

Twins have a chance to win the series tomorrow afternoon at 3pm, but it will take more than just one hit.

-ERolfPleiss

GameChat – Twins @ Mariners #1, 9:10pm

And we’re back.

Two days ago the Minnesota Twins were no-hit by Jered Weaver and the Los Angeles Angels.  Yesterday, presumably, the Twins licked their wounds and prepared for a three game set in Seattle.

Part of that preparation involved designating Major League Strike-Out King Clete Thomas for assignment to make room for Erik Komatsu, claimed off waivers from the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals.  Komatsu is a typical lead-off type hitter, reaches base at a solid clip but has never really hit for power.  The move is yet another piece of evidence that the Twins think Ben Revere needs more “seasoning” in the Minor Leagues and an opportunity to play everyday.  Sean Burroughs, who was designated for assignment this past Tuesday to make room for Drew Butera, has cleared waivers and will join the AAA Rochester Red Wings.

Don’t forget: Ron Gardenhire is taking the weekend off and Scott Ullger is serving as the acting manager.

Here are the lineups:

 Minnesota Twins

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Seattle Mariners
 Span, CF  Ackley, 2B
 Carroll, SS  Liddi, 3B
 Mauer, DH  Suzuki, I, RF
 Willingham, LF  Montero, C
 Doumit, RF  Seager, DH
 Valencia, 3B  Smoak, 1B
 Parmelee, 1B  Carp, LF
 Casilla, A, 2B  Saunders, M, CF
 Butera, C  Ryan, SS
  _Pavano, P   _Vargas, P

 

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Carl Pavano pitched 6 effective innings giving up just two runs before turning the game over to the bullpen.  In the top of the 7th the Twins took advantage of a Mariners error and a Joe Mauer infield single to score 3 runs.  The bullpen pitched 3 scoreless innings, striking out 5 batters and the Twins hang on to win.

Photo Credit: CapitalBabs

Boyfriend of the Day:

Brian Duensing gets some baked goods for holding the lead in the bottom of the 7th but the real hero of the day is Jamey Carroll.  Not only did he break the Twins’ hitless streak in the top of the first inning, he finished the day 2-4, with a walk, a stolen base, and an RBI.

 

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

A Spring Training Tale of Two Sites

I really like having the Red Sox being just down the road a bit from where the Twins train. Sunday, I was able to spend the morning watching the Twins’ minor leaguers play intrasquad games (low A vs. high A on one field, AAA vs. AA on another field and “rookie” teams on yet a third field) and then drive 15 minutes east to watch the Twins take on the Red Sox at the Saux brand new JetBlue Park in the afternoon.

BJ Hermsen

It was great getting to watch fellow Iowan B.J Hermsen take the mound to start for the high A club against the lineup likely to be fielded by the Beloit Snappers, including uber-prospects Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario. Hermsen struck out both Rosario and Sano in the first inning, but Sano did get a measure of revenge with a double off of Hermsen later on, leading to a run.

Beloit manager Nelson Prada chats with Eddie Rosario, Miguel Sano and Daniel Ortiz

Max Kepler hitting, Drew Butera catching

 

I also spent some time watching the older minor leaguers, where prospect Max Kepler and his AA team mates were taking on a AAA team filled with a number of players, such as Drew Butera, Mike Holliman and Casey Fien who were still in the Major League clubhouse up until just a few days ago.

I really didn’t pay attention to the scores and I didn’t stick around to see the games to their completion, but it was a lot of fun not only watching both games, but watching far more important observers, like General Manager Terry Ryan, who was also turning his attention back and forth between the fields.

The game with the Red Sox wasn’t so interesting, but it was good to see Chris Parmelee celebrate the news that he’s made the Big League roster to start the season by giving the Twins a brief 1-0 lead over the Sox with a towering home run to right field. Carl Pavano cruised through five innings of work before he started getting knocked around a bit in the sixth. Alex Burnett didn’t fare nearly as well in relief.

I thought I’d share a few pictures of the game, as well as a few I took of the new ballpark itself. In case you weren’t aware, JetBlue Park was built with the same dimensions as Fenway Park, right down to a “green monster” in left field.

JetBlue Park from behind home plate

Infield prospects James Beresford and Estarlin De Los Santos got their opportunities to play in front of the big crowd and the Big League coaches

Newcomer Sean Burroughs manned 1B for the Twins

The "Green Monster" at JetBlue Park

The view from atop JetBlue's green monster

JetBlue Park from the outside

 

St. Patty’s Day is Separation Day

St. Patrck’s Day means different things to different people. But if you’re a baseball player trying to make a Big League ballclub, you should have a pretty good idea of where you stand with your manager and General Manager by the time you lift your first green beer of the evening on March 17.

At this point, there are just over two weeks left of Spring Training, so if you have any hope of heading north with the Big Club, you had better have made some sort of positive impression by now. You simply can’t look like Leprechaun feces on the field for the first half of March and expect to be wearing a Major League uniform on Opening Day.

The Twins had 67 players in their Big League camp to begin with and will take only 25 with them to Baltimore to begin the regular season. In reality, there were only a handful of spots open on the Twins roster to begin with and not much has changed with regard to those players that were “locks.” Of course, Joel Zumaya’s injury immediately made one more bullpen spot available and now there’s some question whether Scott Baker’s tender elbow could cause him to start the season on the Disabled List, which would open up another pitching spot. Otherwise, the Twins were really only looking to determine who their bench position players would be and fill out the back end of their bullpen.

So let’s look at who the leaders are as the guys take that long bus ride across the state of Florida for a St. Patty’s Day contest with Ozzie’s new-look Miami Marlins this afternoon. (Our friend and fellow blogger, Thrylos, has been maintaining “scorecards” that track game-by-game performance of those contending for bench positions and bullpen spots over at The Tenth Inning Stretch. It’s a handy tool that you should glance at regularly.)

All statistics are through Friday, March 16.

Third Catcher:

It’s been almost a foregone conclusion that the Twins would carry a third catcher, in addition to Joe Mauer and Ryan Doumit, They’re still carrying six other catchers, but Danny Lehmann, Chris Herrmann and Daniel Rolfing will be heading back to minor league camp as the number of pitchers is thinned out.

The assumption has been that non-roster invite J.R. Towles would challenge Drew Butera, but Rene Rivera has perhaps been the most consistent performer of the group. Towles made a good first impression early in the month, but has been mediocre, at best, since then. Don’t rule out Butera, however. After a slow start, he’s had a couple of good games recently. I think Drew remains the odds-on favorite to keep his spot on the Twins bench. Here’s a fun small sample size Spring Training fact, however: Going in to today’s game, all three of these potential back-up back-up catchers are hitting at least .300 in official Spring Training games.

Other bench players:

The Twins really only have open spots for a utility infielder or two, if we assume that Ben Revere and Trevor Plouffe have secure spots as the third and fourth outfielders. There was no shortage of infield candidates, but to be brutally honest, there haven’t been three guys who have thus far demonstrated that they deserve to get a MLB paycheck.

The best of the bunch, so far, is Chris Parmelee (.368/.478/,684). His performance this spring would seem to indicate that his impressive September call-up was not a fluke. The problem is, it’s unlikely that the Twins really want him to spend 2012 sitting on the Twins bench. He needs to play baseball every day and, unless Justin Morneau is unable to answer the bell in April, Parmelee is going to be the Rochester first baseman.

Non-roster invite Mike Hollimon has looked good (.400/.455/.700), but he has to keep it up if he’s going to force the front office to give him someone else’s spot on the 40-man roster. On the other hand, unlike with Parmelee, the Twins wouldn’t think twice about letting him collect splinters on the Big League club’s bench if he can fill in around the infield and be effective in a pinch-hitting role.

Luke Hughes (.273/.333/.500) is definitely still in the hunt for a bench spot, as well. He’s out of options, which helps his cause. He also started out physically behind other contenders, as he nursed his shoulder back to health. Since returning to regular playing time at bat and in the field, his performance has picked up considerably and he finished this week strong.

Of the rest of the candidates for bench spots, nobody as been absolutely terrible, but nobody has been consistently good, either. Outfielder Joe Benson (.250/.304/.400) has been impressive at times, especially defensively, but he’s got the same issue Parmelee does… the Twins won’t keep him just to sit on the bench. Brian Dozier (.250/.294/.375) is probably in the same boat.

Handicapping the race with two weeks left, I’d say the early favorites remain the most likely players to open the year in Twins uniforms. Luke Hughes has a spot unless he kicks it away. Tsuyoshi Nishioka (.261/.292/..348) probably does, too, not so much because he’s looked good, but because almost nobody else has looked a heck of a lot better. Keep an eye on Hollimon, though, because if he finishes strong, he could force the Twins to make a very difficult decision regarding Nishioka.

The rest… Aaron Bates, Sean Burroughs, Ray Chang, Brian Dinkelman and Pedro Florimon… have had a moment or two they can be proud of, but I look for each of them to be sent down or released over the next 7-10 days.

Pitchers:

Things are much more interesting… and surprisingly optimistic… on the pitching front. For all the fretting about how the Twins would manage to cobble together a bullpen capable of backing up one of the most mediocre rotations in baseball last season, we’ve seen a number of candidates make strong cases that they deserve a shot.

Let’s start with Liam Hendriks (7 IP, 0.00 ERA, 1.000 WHIP). He started out pitching just an inning in his outings, but threw three hitless innings at the Red Sox when he got a chance to start. He was never likely to fill a bullpen role for the Twins to start the season, but if Baker has to postpone his season debut a while, Hendriks has looked good enough to step in to his spot. Whether he’s a Twin on Opening Day or not, I look for Hendriks to play a significant role for the Twins over the course of the season.

Alex Burnett, Carlos Gutierrez, Jeff Manship and Kyle Waldrop needed to perform well this spring. Those are guys who have been brought up in the organization and who the Twins expected to be developed enough at this point to be contributing at the Major League level. A big reason there are so many pitchers in camp that have been signed from other organizations within the past year or two is that those four pitchers have not yet proved they can do the job.

Burnett (2.2 IP, 16.87 ERA) has struggled, but the other three guys have been pitching well. They are getting some competition from Matt Maloney, Jared Burton, Casey Fien and P.J. Walters, all of whom have been pretty impressive, as well.

Others have had a good day here and there, as well, but I think the field has been narrowed to Gutierrez (5 IP, 1.80 ERA, 1.200 WHIP ), Manship (4.1 IP, 2.08 ERA, 0.462 WHIP), Waldrop (4 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.750 WHIP), Maloney (5.1 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.750 WHIP), Burton (5 IP, 1.80 ERA, 1.000 WHIP), Fien (3.1 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.300 WHIP) and Walters (5 IP, 0.00 ERA, 1.000 WHIP).

Keep in mind that Gutierrez, Manship and Waldrop are all already on the Twins’ 40-man roster, while the four “outsiders” are not which means the Twins would need to find room for any of them they decide to keep. [EDIT: Matt Maloney is also already on the 40-man roster... my bad.] This race is still too close to call, but I’m excited that there are so many guys who are meeting and even exceeding expectations as we head in to the final couple of weeks of Spring Training.

I’ll be heading down to Ft. Myers for the final week of Spring Training and I’m looking forward to seeing how this all shakes out.

– JC

Is Winning No Longer the “Twins Way”?

I thought initially that it had to be a misquote… or at least a quote taken out of context. But Jim Mandelaro of the Rochester Democrat-Chronicle has not, in my experience, been prone to playing fast and loose with that kind of thing.

I WAS VERY DISAPPOINTED to read former Red Wings shortstop Trevor Plouffe’s comment about playing in the minors: “There’s a bit of wanting to win, but it’s kind of a game where you want to perform so you can get to the big leagues.”

Trevor Plouffe

I almost feel bad even attributing the quote, because Trevor Plouffe has perhaps been the subject of more criticism than any one member of the sorry excuse for a baseball team the Twins trotted out on to Target Field should get. Plouffe made his share of rookie mistakes (and, arguably, the share of two or three other guys), but he was far from the only player prone to screwing up this summer.

Mandelaro didn’t mention in his blog post where he had picked up on Plouffe’s quote, so I decided to Google it… just to see if there was some context I was missing out on. It turns out, the quote came from a September 23 column by the Star-Tribune’s LaVelle E. Neal III and there actually was an additional sentence added by Plouffe, but I’m not sure it makes his comment any easier to swallow. “Once you are here, it is all about winning. I could care less if I go 0-for-3 or 0-for-4 if we are winning. That’s my honest answer.”

It’s nice that, once Plouffe got to Minnesota, he discovered that winning is more important than his individual stats, but am I the only person who thinks maybe that kind of approach should be ingrained in to the minds and habits of players BEFORE they put on their first Big League uniform?

Then again, I suspect that it comes as no surprise to Red Wings fans to find out the players there have barely cared about winning the past few years. The Red Wings have lost more than 90 games in each of the past two seasons. Is it any wonder that many Rochester baseball fans are clamoring for their organization to dump their affiliation with the Twins? Next summer, the Yankees’ AAA team will be playing a lot of their “home” games at Rochester’s Frontier Field while their own stadium gets a face-lift. It’s going to be pretty embarrassing for the Twins when Rochester fans turn out in greater numbers to cheer on the future Yankees than they do the Red Wings.

Look, we all understand that the primary function of the minor league system is to develop talent to feed the parent ballclub. But isn’t part of developing players supposed to be instilling something deeper than just a “bit of wanting to win”?

I really am not intending to come down hard on Plouffe. When has he ever played for a winning team on his way up in the Twins organization? He’s been part of both of those 90+ loss Red Wings teams the past two years, as well as the 70-74 version in 2009. He did get some time with the Wings in 2008, as well, when they went 74-70, but he spent half of that season at AA New Britain where the Rock Cats went 64-77. He also spent all of 2007 with the Cats when they went 69-72.

That makes this the fifth straight season Plouffe has played for losing teams. The 80-60 season he spent with the Ft. Myers Miracle in 2006 must seem like a lifetime ago. By the way, if you go back and look at the rosters of the futile teams Plouffe played on coming up through the organization, I think you’re going to see guys like Luke Hughes, Danny Valencia, Drew Butera, Rene Tosoni and Brian Dinkelman on a lot of those teams, as well.

Talk about playing the “Twins Way” has become almost a joke. I’m not sure what it even is supposed to mean any more. It used to mean playing the game the right way. It used to mean players that knew how to move runners, run the bases with a bit of intelligence and avoid making mental and physical errors in the field. In other words, it used to mean recognizing that the purpose behind playing the game was to win, through whatever means necessary.

So have the players changed? Have Twins affiliates stopped winning because the players only care about their stats? Or do the players only care about their stats because that’s all the organization looks at when they pass out promotions to their minor leaguers?

I’m not smart enough to know the answer to that. But I’ve been around enough sports teams in my life to know that both winning and losing become habits and after spending years only wanting to win “a bit”, it’s got to be pretty damn tough to flip a switch and suddenly know what it takes to win at the highest level of competition.

From here, it looks to me like the Twins have been all about teaching “pitch to contact” and hitting to all fields… but virtually nothing about teaching how to win.

It also feels to me like there’s a sense of entitlement among this crop of young Twins. They’ve put up stat lines in the minor leagues to earn promotions, so now they just assume it’s their turn to be handed a roster spot with the Twins.

I’d like to say it doesn’t work that way, but maybe with the people running the Twins front office these days, that’s exactly how it does work. If that’s the case, Twins fans better get used to last place finishes and celebrating .500 seasons as a major accomplishment, because that’s pretty much what the Twins have given their minor league affiliates lately.

– JC

 

What Am I Missing Here?

I try very hard to avoid overreacting to decisions that the people running the Twins make. Ron Gardenhire, Bill Smith and the others running the club have tough jobs. I appreciate that, so I tend to give them the benefit of the doubt on most issues, even when I don’t agree with specific decisions. That said, I’m beyond confused about a number of things right now. Maybe some of you smart people can tell me what I’m missing.

Joe Nathan pitches a few successful innings in Florida and proclaims himself ready to rejoin the bullpen, but Gardy says “no… you need to go to Rochester first and prove you can get someone over the age of 19 out.”

Joe Mauer gets a few hits off of 19 yr olds in Florida, but he’s activated straight away, without having to prove he can hit AAA pitching. He promptly proves to be less productive at the plate than Drew Butera or Rene Rivera… a feat that most of us didn’t think was possible.

Not only does Gardy keep putting Mauer in the line up, but he keeps putting him in the 3-spot in the order… exactly the spot where his impotence can do the most damage to his team.

Yeah, Joe, I'm scratching my head, too.

Friday night, after another oh-fer, Gardy tells reporters that he’s considering using Mauer at 1B or even 3B. Why? Well, the announcement earlier in the day that Justin Morneau will miss at least six weeks for surgery on his neck (a topic I will revisit shortly) is a valid reason for looking for another 1B option. But that’s not Gardy’s reason… instead he’s intent on finding ways to keep Mauer’s bat in the line up (apparently even if it means he replaces the current third baseman, who has actually finally started hitting the ball with some success)!

So… if I understand this correctly… for the past few years, when Mauer was consistently hitting well over .300, Gardy steadfastly refused to even listen to anyone who dared to suggest that perhaps it might be a good idea for Joe to learn a position he could play part time in order to keep him healthy and in the line up more often. But now… when Mauer isn’t even coming close to making good contact… NOW we want to find creative ways to keep his bat in the line up???? Wouldn’t it make a little sense to worry about that some other time… like maybe if/when Joe remembers how to hit a baseball?

The Twins have 3 catchers, none of which can hit his way out of a wet paper bag right now, and the manager is trying to come up with creative ways to get TWO of them in the batting order? I don’t get it.

Butera and Rivera were actually occasionally coming up with some clutch hits during the team’s recent winning streak. They also were doing a good job behind the plate. I get that Mauer might need some time to get his timing back at the plate, but why the hell wasn’t he told the same thing Joe Nathan was… “show us you can compete with AAA players before we activate you”? If nothing else, after the way the Twins have had to leave Rochester with yet another crappy team, I’m sure they would have appreciated a couple of nice attendance nights at Frontier Field with Mauer on hand.

As for Morneau, I don’t have much more to add to what everyone else has been writing and tweeting. It dumbfounds me that someone let his neck issue go three months without appropriate treatment. I’d like to go back a couple of years and count the number of times one of the Twins players had an injury or illness, set out on an initial course of treatment with disappointing results, then got a second opinion which resulted in a different course of treatment, which essentially caused the recovery process to start over and thus delay the player’s return to the field. I don’t know how many times it has happened, but it sure seems to happen a lot.

So often, in fact, that one has to wonder… if these guys have to get second opinions so consistently in order to finally get the appropriate course of treatment, what kind of witch doctors are the Twins employing to hand out the worthless FIRST opinions? It’s bad enough when your $23 million a year catcher can’t hit .200, but when the doctors you employ can’t seem to “hit” on their diagnoses any better, that’s something that someone should be able to fix, isn’t it?

Is Rachel Phelps running the Twins these days?

The frustrating thing is that so many of these questionable decisions are being made just as the team was fighting its way in to contention. It really makes one wonder whether Rachel Phelps has somehow taken control of the ballclub and is doing everything in her power to make sure this team DOESN’T win more games.

Implausible? Yeah, probably.

But if the Twins find themselves without hot water for their whirlpools and being forced to take WWII vintage turbo prop planes or even buses on road trips… remember I told ya so.

– JC