GameChat – Padres @ Twins #3, 1:10 (sorry it’s late!)

My deepest apologies folks – demands of Fathers Day have made the day a little harder to predict than I was able to plan for.. here you go!!

 

San Diego @ Minnesota
Denorfia, LF   Revere, CF
Bartlett, SS   Casilla, A, 2B
Headley, 3B   Mauer, DH
Ludwick, DH   Cuddyer, RF
Guzman, J, 1B   Young, D, LF
Maybin, CF   Hughes, L, 1B
Hudson, O, 2B   Nishioka, SS
Venable, RF   Rivera, R, C
Johnson, Ro, C   Tolbert, 3B
  Moseley, P     Liriano, P

 

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
San Diego 0 0 0 1 2 0 0 1 0 4 11 1
Minnesota 1 0 0 0 0 0 3 0 1 5 7 0

 

SWEEP!!!!  AND it even made the Twins hit SEVEN on the winning streak which I think is a record this season (I didn’t look it up to be sure but that’s my recollection.) It actually was a great game to watch but I’m not going to take too much time for a wrap up today – still doing family stuff.  Here’s a link to the Play by Play if you are curious. But the heroes of the game really were unexpected…  Alexi Casilla started it with a solo homerun in the first inning… but the big one was in the bottom of the 9th – Drew Butera hit the winning RBI.  For that, he gets today’s BOD! (and a face full of shaving cream from his teammates.. )

Drew Butera, BOD!

When Did Catchers Become Caddies?

As expected, the Twins activated Joe Mauer and Glen Perkins after Thursday afternoon’s 1-0 win over the White Sox. I read a lot of different articles (and may have even written one) with projections about who might be sent packing to Rochester when those two Twins made their inevitable returns. Truth is, the choices seemed pretty cut and dried, so I didn’t even pay much attention when the media started Tweeting out the news following the game.

There may have been some question about which relief pitcher would get his ticket punched to Rochester, but Chuck James was certainly no surprise.

I guess there was a little drama about which of the two current catchers, Drew Butera or Rene Rivera, would get the bad news, but it was obvious to everyone that one of them would be wearing Red Wing colors by the weekend.

Well… not everybody, apparently.

Seems Gardy and/or Bill Smith had other ideas. Both current catchers are still Twins, meaning the Twins start interleague play with three catchers on their roster. Which can only bring one possible reaction from me…

WTF?

Let me get this straight. Gardy has insisted that Mauer wouldn’t be activated until he could resume full catching duties, not just occasionally wandering behind home plate for a few innings. So, Mauer is back and he says he’s feeling strong.

Drew Butera, BOD!

But instead of keeping Brian Dinkelman… a guy who’s hit .286 with an OPS of .698 (granted, in limited use)… a guy who can play infield and outfield… the Twins are keeping TWO back up catchers?

And let’s make no mistake here… they aren’t keeping either of those guys around so he can DH. Rivera’s batting average is 100 points LOWER than Dinkelman’s. And he’s the BETTER hitter of the current catching tandem.

What’s the big deal? Well, if the Twins put their best line up out on the field in any given ballgame, those nine players would be: Mauer (C), Cuddyer (1B), Casilla (2B), Hughes (3B), Nishioka (SS), Young (OF), Revere (OF), Repko (OF), Valencia (DH).

Rene Rivera

That leaves a bench of Tosoni (.158), Tolbert (.193), and our two backup catchers, Rivera (.186) and Butera (.169).

It’s bad enough having those guys on the bench this weekend at home against the Padres, but on Tuesday, the Twins go on the road for six games AT National League ballparks, which means there will be no DH. I suppose that might be good news because Gardy would have, for example, Danny Valencia’s sweet .216 BA available off the bench. But it also means that pitchers occupy the ninth spot in the batting order. For those of you who don’t watch much NL baseball, that means more use of pinch hitters.

To put that in perspective, ladies and gentlemen, recent Twins Hall of Fame inductee, pitcher Jim Perry, pitched in the Big Leagues for 14 seasons before the DH rule was enacted by the AL. His career batting average was .199.

Yes, if things stay as they are, the Twins will take on the defending World Series Champion Giants and the Milwaukee Brewers with a stable of potential pinch hitters consisting of four guys who have lower batting averages than Jim Perry did in his career. Brian Dinkelman’s .286 is going to look pretty good at some point next week, I think.

So why would they keep Butera AND Rivera?

The answer is actually painfully obvious to anyone who’s been paying attention.

We’ve all known Butera has essentially been Carl Pavano’s “personal catcher” for a year or more now. And now, for the past month or more, Rivera has pretty much become the same for Francisco Liriano.

I think Gardy is keeping three catchers because he doesn’t want to upset his two prima donna starting pitchers.

If I were Danny Lehmann, down in Rochester right now, I’d be attaching myself to the hip of uber-prospect Kyle Gibson so I could ride his shirttails to Minnesota. Clearly, the trend with the Twins is toward allowing their starting pitchers to each have his own personal catcher. I just hope one of the pitchers decides he can tolerate pitching to Mauer.

I guess if there’s an upside to this philosophy, maybe it’s that we’ve finally found a way to convince Mauer to work on fielding another position. If he’s only going to catch one of the five starting pitchers, hopefully he’ll deign to allow himself to be utilized elsewhere when the other four catchers are caddying their assigned pitchers through their starts.

Still… I’m not wild about the trend.

- JC

Respect The Streak? Not This Time

For weeks, we’ve been moaning and groaning about the bad luck that’s befallen the Twins this season on the injury front. As the injuries mounted, so did the deficit the Twins faced in the standings.

For a while, we fans held out hope… if only they can keep things reasonably close until guys could get healthy. But they didn’t. In fact, not only did injured players not get healthy, but more players got hurt. Until it reached the point where only the most avid “prospect watchers” among us even recognized the names of some of the players wearing the Twins uniform.

And hope faded almost to black.

Almost.

And then a funny thing happened. These guys started to win.

Sure, they weren’t playing the Yankees and Red Sox (or even the Rays, Orioles or Blue Jays, for that matter) any more, but last I checked, all the games count the same in the standings, regardless of who the opponent is.

And they kept winning. They swept four from the Royals. They took 2 of 3 on the road from the AL Central leading Tribe. They took 3 of 4 from the AL West leading Rangers.

They aren’t making the errors (mental or physical) that they had been making. The pitchers aren’t giving up runs the way they had been. They finally managed to burn the assbats and started hitting the ball hard… and often. The new guys started hitting… then the few remaining regulars started hitting.

Yes, the Twins are on a winning streak… and you don’t have to be someone who’s watched Bull Durham 391 times to know that you don’t f… fool… with a winning streak. You respect the streak.

But Ron Gardenhire and the Twins are about challenge Crash Davis’ conventional wisdom. They really have no choice. But I’m betting it bothers Gardy at least as much as it does me… probably more.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka

Starting Thursday afternoon, the first of the Twins’ walking wounded returns to the line up. Tsuyoshi Nishioka has been out of action so long that this will be his first appearance in a game at Target Field. He’ll play shortstop, which means Alexi Casilla moves to second base. For all the talk about rookie Ben Revere and the pitching staff, it has quite possibly been Casilla whose performance, at bat and in the field, has been most responsible for the Twins’ recent success. Now he’s changing positions.

Joe Mauer

Friday, Joe Mauer is expected to take his rightful place behind the plate and in the heart of the batting order. He’s done neither for two months (and the season is only 2 and a half months old). It’s a no-brainer, of course. Mauer HAS to return to the line up if he’s healthy. Drew Butera and Rene Rivera are making more contact than they had been, but there’s a reason Mauer’s the starting catcher. Actually, there are about 23,000,000 reasons.

And that’s just the beginning. Over the course of the next week to 10 days, we can expect to see a lot of familiar faces return. Glen Perkins was arguably the most effective (only effective?) member of the bullpen when he went down. He’s due back by the weekend, but he’s rejoining a bullpen that’s been much better, perhaps because everyone there now has pretty well defined roles. Where will Perkins fit and will he be as effective as he had been?

Remember when Jason Kubel and Denard Span were the only hitters even coming close to performing at expected levels? They haven’t been in the lineup during this surge… but they will be returning before long. Who’s At-Bats will they be taking and… perhaps more importantly… who’s spots in the field will they be taking? There’s no question that the OF defense has improved since Ben Revere was recalled June 2.

Joe Nathan and Jim Thome are also on the road to recovery. They’ll be taking roster spots from a couple of guys who have contributed to the Twins’ recent success, too, but how certain are we that they will outperform the guys they’ll be replacing?

The last to return will possibly be the most recent to go on the DL, Justin Morneau. But has anyone else noticed that Luke Hughes and Michael Cuddyer are actually doing a better job defensively at 1B than Morneau had been?

Don’t get me wrong… I’m very happy to see these guys coming back. But I’m just old-school superstitious enough to be nervous about the timing, too.

If all of these guys come back and perform at the levels we expected from them when the season opened, the Twins may not only catch the rest of the Division, but absolutely destroy it. I just wish I was more confident of that.

One thing I’m pretty sure about, though, is that the Rochester Red Wings are on the verge of getting much, much, better.

- JC

Tough Decisions This Week

The Rochester Red Wings must cringe every time the phone rings in their office this season. Almost every player on their roster who’s shown any ability to play the game of baseball this season has been plucked from their clubhouse and given a ticket to Minneapolis (with Kyle Gibson being one obvious exception).

As difficult as it has been for Ron Gardenhire to keep 25 healthy bodies in the Twins clubhouse this season, his job may be getting even tougher this week. The Twins currently have eight players on the Disabled List. What could be worse than that? How about having eight players all ready to come OFF the Disabled List at one time?

Now, if the Twins were still playing like a bad American Legion team, the way they were throughout April and a good chunk of May, this would be no problem. You celebrate the return of all the “real” Twins and happily send Red Wings manager Tom Nieto back the players you’ve borrowed from him. But now, just as virtually every player on your DL is due back in uniform, you’ve got a team of young players who have been winning a lot of games.

Joe Nathan

Kevin Slowey is just starting to throw, so his return isn’t as imminent as the others, but Glen Perkins and Joe Nathan are going to be ready to return to the bullpen in the next week or two. The current bullpen is consistently shutting down opponents (finally)… so who loses their job when Perkins and Nathan return? How confident are you that those two guys will immediately be as effective as the pitchers they replace?

As tough as those choices may be, things only get tougher when you ponder the decisions coming up with regard to the position players. Jason Kubel, Jim Thome, Joe Mauer, Denard Span, and Tsuyoshi Nishioka are all scheduled to come off the DL at roughly the same time.

The decision concerning which catcher departs to make room for Mauer will be tough enough. Drew Butera has been with the team for most of the past two seasons, but Rene Rivera is reportedly out of options [UPDATE 6/15: Latest information is that Rivera is NOT out of options, which makes the rest of this paragraph moot. Butera and Rivera are therefore essentially on even footing], while Butera still has options remaining. That means the team would have to risk sending Rivera through waivers if they want to keep Butera. That said, the Twins will need to clear a 40-man roster spot for Mauer, so they may be willing to take that risk with Rivera. But you have to wonder if the Twins want to face the possibility of Steve Holm being the fallback option if Joe Mauer’s return is short-lived.

Luke Hughes and Matt Tolbert

As tough as that decision may be, it’s nothing compared to how Gardy and GM Bill Smith will go about finding room for the others. Seth Stohs detailed the performances of the current position players over the course of the past 10 games over at SethSpeaks.net and it would be tough for me to find one or two non-catchers that I’d be anxious to pull out of the current line up, never mind more.

I’d love to get Span, Kubel and Thome back. But do you really want to see Ben Revere benched or, even worse, sent back to Rochester? I don’t. During the offseason, I wrote that I wanted to see more speed in the Twins outfield and now that they have it, I don’t want to give it up.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka

The Twins made a three year commitment to Nishioka and it’s very possible that he’ll end up being worth every nickel of the money they’ve sunk in to bringing him over from Japan. But we haven’t seen enough of him to know that for sure. What we do know is that Alexi Casilla, Matt Tolbert and Luke Hughes have all been batting over .300 (with three doubles each) during the recent stretch of success. How comfortable are you with the prospect of plugging in the unproven Nishioka in place of one of those guys?

We’ve poked a bit of fun at the line ups that Gardy’s been turning in, with references to them being “Red Wings” line ups and comments about how they resemble line ups you’d expect to see at spring training road games. But they’re also line ups that have been WINNING and the Twins still have a lot of winning to do if they’re going to dig themselves out of the hole they’re in.

So who’s time with the Twins is drawing to a close?

Brian Dinkelman’s cup of coffee with the big club is probably about over. In fact, don’t be too surprised if he is passed through waivers to make room on the 40-man roster for Nishioka. Rene Tosoni is also a logical candidate to return to Rochester.

So, if we assume Slowey will be headed to Rochester to join their rotation and that Dinkelman, Tosoni and one of the catchers will be departing, that leaves us just three more players to drop to make room for those returning. Two will be pitchers… but which pitchers? Might the Twins be ready to insert Anthony Swarzak in to the rotation and, if so, would Brian Duensing be likely to head down to Rochester so he continues to get regular starts? Of the rest, you could make an argument that Jose Mijares is the most deserving of a free trip to Rochester.

And what about the remaining position player that we must bid farewell to? I don’t see Revere, Hughes, or Tolbert going anywhere. Is it time to give Danny Valencia a wake-up call? Or is it possible that Jason Repko’s run with the Twins might be nearing an end?

These will all be critical… and difficult… decisions. Two players are going to have to pass through waivers and could be claimed by other organizations, so the Twins must choose wisely. The current roster has been making an impressive run and in the process, they’ve closed the gap between themselves and the division leaders. Shaking up the roster at this point is a risk, even given the talent level that’s returning.

As early as a week from now, we may be seeing a line up that includes Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Jim Thome, Jason Kubel, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, and Denard Span. It will certainly look a lot more like the line up that we expected to see when the Twins broke camp in Ft. Myers. Whether that’s a good thing or not remains to be seen.

- JC

GameChat – Twins @ Orioles, 6:05 pm, FSN & am1500

At least this lineup is a little more familiar than yesterday’s mental stunner.  Morneau is out for the second day with the flu – I bet they are passing that around the clubhouse – and it’s one of the few teams that I wish he wasn’t quite such good friends with Mauer.  Speaking of whom, Joe saw the specialist in Baltimore and then immediately flew back home to MN. When questioned about whether or not there was going to be an updated diagnosis for Mauer, team officials responded that his dual diagnosis of bilateral leg weakness and viral infection would stand and weren’t going to get any amendments.  Whether the two are related or not is not really a big deal.

Anyway, let’s play ball!

Minnesota @ Baltimore
Span, CF   Roberts, B, 2B
Tolbert, 2B   Markakis, RF
Kubel, RF   Lee, D, 1B
Thome, DH   Guerrero, DH
Young, D, LF   Reynolds, M, 3B
Cuddyer, 1B   Jones, A, CF
Valencia, 3B   Fox, J, LF
Butera, C   Wieters, C
Casilla, A, SS   Andino, SS
  Liriano, P     Tillman, P

 

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

 

There was some good and some bad in this game but.. since it’s the first time we have been able to get a back to back win this season, I’m going to just say it was Good.  Liriano wasn’t as good as I have seen him be in the past but he hung in there long enough andgot the job done – that’s going to happen to all pitchers and I hope that he’s able to do that kind of thing more often.  His defense really did a great job behind him tonight for the most part – including a moment where Casilla was channeling the recently departed Nick Punto.  I guarantee someone says that to Lexi in the clubhouse after the game tonight.

Secondly, this strike zone tonight was ridiculous – it was ridiculous for both teams though honestly but still it just SUCKED.  The players were not appreciating that fact either which started to get pretty ugly at one point – and necessitated a little Showtime from the Manager. Gardy got ejected but following that, you got the unique visual of coaches literally trying to haul Thome off the homeplate ump – not an easy job & I can’t really remember seeing Big Jim get that mad before.

The new guy, Hoey, had a pretty solid (impressive even) outing in his Twins debut.  It’s fun to see a legitimate heater thrown like that even if you do pause with each wind-up and pray that it goes where he wants it. Fun Stuff!

The BEST thing about tonight contributed highly to the Chat’s vote for BOD.  Our spotlight hitter of the night was no other than … *drumroll* Sweet Drew Butera!  no, really! it was!  2 hits with a double and 3 RBI actually give him a better BA than Thome (and Tolbert & Casilla).  For keeping Francisco anchored for more than 5 innings, for getting the run-scoring off to a great start and for being a generally excellent backup for the ailing Mauer, Drew Butera is today’s BOD!

Drew Butera, BOD!

A “Minor” Change of Plans

When I set up my plans for this year’s trip to Ft. Myers, I knew the Twins would only have two home games during the six full days I would be here. That’s really not a big deal to me because I kind of enjoy seeing some of the other spring training sites around the state of Florida.

I planned to make the trip up to Lakeland today for my first look at the Tigers’ spring training home, not to mention seeing a bit of action from the only other member of the AL Central Division that trains in Florida. In fact, I was so certain I would be making the 2+ hour drive north that I did something I don’t normally do down here… I bought a ticket in advance.

That ticket is still waiting for me at the Will Call window, I suppose.

When the Twins announced yesterday that the batteries of Carl Pavano/Drew Butera and Matt Capps/Joe Mauer would be getting some work in during a pair of minor league games, I decided to skip the Tiger game and hang around the Lee County Complex today. I’m really glad I did.

Sure, I would have enjoyed seeing Luke Hughes hit home run number five this spring and it sounds like Dusty Hughes, Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Alexi Casilla provided some highlights. But I didn’t really need to see Brad Penny drill Casilla and Delmon Young with pitches and I certainly didn’t need to see Pat Neshek give up two home runs.

Instead, I got out to the Twins complex around 9:00 this morning and spent some time watching the minor leaguers working out before heading in to Hammond Stadium where some of the Twins who didn’t make the trip to Lakeland were taking batting practice.

The last grouping included Justin Morneau, Jim Thome, Joe Mauer and Michael Cuddyer (nattily attired in his WIN!/Don’t Be Denied! t-shirt) and sure enough, there next to the batting cage were none other than Tony Oliva and Harmon Killebrew. Oliva has been a fixture at the complex, but Killebrew just arrived Wednesday night.

Killebrew met with the media earlier in the morning and is expected to be on hand for three days. Usually, by the time I get down to Ft. Myers, Killebrew has been here and gone, but this year, his trip was delayed a bit due to his health issues. I hate that Harmon is going through the challenges related to fighting esophageal cancer, but for a child of the 60s like me, it was terrific just to get to see him on a ballfield again.

After the Twins’ BP finished up, I slipped back over to the minor league side of the facility again and struck up a nice conversation with a couple from the Quad Cities while we waited to find out which fields Pavano, Butera, Capps and Mauer would be playing at.

I’ve got to be honest… I’m not a huge Carl Pavano fan. Sure I want him to do well and since Bill Smith couldn’t/wouldn’t come up with a true top-of-the-rotation pitcher in the off-season, I was fine with bringing Pavano back as long as it wasn’t on a bank-breaking deal. But I’m going to let you in on a little secret… when media types write about what a great, fan-friendly group of guys the Twins players are, they aren’t referring to Carl Pavano. He may be a lovely human being among his friends and family and he may even love kittens, but… well… yeah I’d bet he hates kittens… almost as much as he seems to dislike baseball fans.

And in case you think this is just a JC thing… I’ll just mention that it’s an opinion I found to be shared rather widely among other fans I talked to today.

I even have to admit I found it just a little amusing when Pavano got knocked around a bit by a bunch of kids wearing Red Sox minor league uniforms. Some people just seem like they could use an occasional humility lesson. I suspect Pavano is one of those people (then again, some would say I am, too). I also could almost see him do a slow burn when one of those Red Sox punks laid down a bunt that died along the third base line for a hit.

Not to fear, however, the ‘Stache’s trusty sidekick, sweet Drew Butera, gunned down the little twerp when he tried to steal second base.

I was actually more interested in the game on an adjoining field where Matt Capps was pitching the first two innings and Joe Mauer was doing the catching.

Capps looked pretty good to me and I think the young hitters he was facing would probably agree. He didn’t give up any earned runs (a bit of miscommunication between his left and center fielders resulted in an unearned run) and it was good to see he can go more than one inning, when necessary.

Joe Mauer batted in both the first and second innings and while he was 0 for 2, he hit a couple of balls very, very hard. He hit a deep fly ball to CF and almost ended his day by hitting in to a triple play. He hit a shot at the third baseman who immediately doubled off a runner at second base. The second baseman didn’t make a throw to 1B to try to turn the triple play and probably wouldn’t have got that runner if he had made the throw… but it might have been close.

After Capps and Mauer finished up their two innings, I watched Pavano and Butera a bit more. Drew had a nice double to the gap and Pavano settled down after that nasty second inning. I watched Pavano throw five innings before heading out to a Sports Bar to watch some NCAA Tournament basketball. I don’t know if he threw another inning or not, but then again, I really didn’t care all that much.

If you’re wondering what it’s like to have Major League stars play in minor league spring training games, imagine having them show up at your local beer-league softball complex. It makes getting your picture album filled up pretty easy, that’s for sure. Here are just a few examples from the 150 or so I took today.

JIm Thome gets some BP, surrounded by Mauer, Morneau, Killebrew, and Cuddyer (Tony Oliva was behind the cage)

Michael Cuddyer's shirt says it all

From inside Hammond Stadium, looking out over the practice fields

Denard Span doing the autograph thing

Joe Mauer gets loose before his game on the minor league complex

The 'Stache delivers during his game on the minor league fields

Matt Capps was looking good against the RedSox kids

Of course, these were MINOR LEAGUE games, so we really should give a couple of those guys some love. A couple of the Twins top prospects were also playing in these games. Miguel Sano was a team mate of Joe Mauer for the day and Aaron Hicks provided some offense behind Carl Pavano.

Aaron Hicks

Miguel Sano

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s it for today. Friday night, I’ll be making the trip up the highway to Sarasota to watch Francisco Liriano face off with the Orioles (again). Rumor has it that Justin Morneau may make the trip and Joe Mauer may get a few more swings in during another minor league game in the afternoon.

I hope all of you in the great upper midwest are staying warm! Excuse me while I put something on this little sunburn before I head back to the Sports Bar for some more basketball.

- JC

Sunday Snippets

It’s Sunday afternoon, my Hawkeyes are getting drubbed by Purdue in mens’ hoops and even a Joe Posnanski in-game chat can’t get me enthused about watching the Chiefs and Ravens, so I thought this would be a good time to toss some things together and see if I could come up with enough material for a weekend post. (As if there’s any chance I won’t come up with about 1200 words without really trying!)

Unresolved Issues

The Twins really don’t have many things left to work out before Spring Training starts. This seems strange to say given that Bill Smith and his staff have made so few moves of any significance to this point. That said, there are a couple of issues yet to be addressed before camp opens up in Ft. Myers next month:

  1. The ‘Stache: If reports we’re reading are accurate, it’s just a matter of “when”, not “if”, Carl Pavano is officially signed to return to the Twins rotation in 2011. A while back, I noted that a lot of writers/bloggers who were not primarily focused on the Twins were predicting Pavano would be re-signed by the Twins, while almost all of the bloggers in Twinsville (myself included) considered it a foregone conclusion that he would NOT be returning. Guess now we see who knew what they were talking about. I’m still not able to figure out how bringing back the 2010 rotation improves your team, but maybe the thought is that Kyle Gibson will be ready to contribute by June and that’s their insurance policy in case someone is hurt or just not pitching well. He may free up one of the existing six starting pitchers to be dealt in a trade for more offense later, as well. I guess when it became clear that the Twins weren’t going to be able to trade for a legitimate top-of-the-rotation pitcher, it became a case of, “the only thing worse than re-signing Pavano would be not re-signing Pavano.” I just hope it works out.
  2. Bench bat: Assuming the Twins keep 12 pitchers to start the season, that leaves four roster spots for non-starting position players. Jason Repko, Drew Butera and Matt Tolbert are penciled in to three spots. It’s not hard to come up with players on the free agent market that would be upgrades over any/all of these three, but it would also be pointless. If anyone steals one of those spots, it will have to be an internal option that shows up in Spring Training and just wows the coaching staff. There isn’t a legitimate hitter among that group, however, so it makes it critical for the Twins to fill the fourth bench spot with a hitter who can… well… hit. Most of us expect that hitter to be Jim Thome and unless he’s really letting someone convince him he should demand over $5 million, that’s who the choice will likely be. I’m ok with that, I guess. As a fan, who wouldn’t welcome back a guy who performed the way he did last season? He’s a class act and I’d be proud to see him get HR #600 in a Twins uniform. Still… if you’re impartially looking at who the Twins really SHOULD fill that final roster spot with, you’d have to say it should be a right-handed hitter. Then again, you would have said the same thing last off-season and that didn’t stop the Twins from signing Thome then, either. If they do end up looking at right-handed options, I suspect Vlad Guerrero is too pricey, but guys like Troy Glaus and Marcus Thames may be reasonably priced alternatives. This topic probably warrants a full length post of its own and I may write one in a few days… or not.
  3. The bullpen: I wrote a whole post on this last week and nothing whatsoever has changed. Not much point in writing more now, other than to point out the obvious: there will be some interesting Spring Training battles for spots in the bullpen.

Hall of Fame Leftovers

As expected, the election of Bert Blyleven to the Hall of Fame was followed by a number of articles questioning his selection specifically and/or the selection process itself. A lot of them trotted out the, “how could his numbers get better over 14 years?” argument. I’m so tired of that line of BS. While men and women of good conscience can disagree over whether Bert and others like him had careers worthy of HoF induction, only idiots can fail to understand that it’s not a player’s numbers that can change over an extended period of time, but the perspectives of the voters and the context with which that player’s career is viewed that is worthy of re-examining. It’s why they require the five year waiting period and why they allow a player to stay on the ballot 15 years. Blyeleven’s election is proof that the system works the way it was intended. If Mike Schmidt and his buddies don’t think so, tough shit. His suggestion that a committee of current Hall members determine who gets in might be the funniest thing Schmidt’s ever said… though that isn’t saying much. He’s always been an idiot, in my humble opinion.

Which brings me to my inevitable Joe Posnanski plug. He reacted to suggestions that the HoF is not exclusive enough with this terrific post. (There’s also a post over there about his trip to see the Harry Potter World in Orlando’s Universal Studios theme park that’s a must-read if you’re a parent or were ever a kid yourself and ESPECIALLY if you’ve ever worked with kids!)

Spring (Training) Fever

Maybe it was when I put together the slideshow for this post last week or maybe it was the announcement that Twins’ single game tickets for games at Hammond Stadium in Ft. Myers were going on sale this past Saturday, but something motivated me to start looking seriously at potential dates for my annual trek to Spring Training in March. I figured out exactly the dates I wanted to go down there… March 13-20… and quickly discovered that airfares for those exact dates are outrageously expensive ($600-800 and up). Forget that.

Hammond Stadium, Ft. Myers

Maybe fares will come down before I actually get around to booking a flight, but I found a couple of alternatives that look pretty good. I can cut fares about in half by changing to 3/14-21 or by waiting and going down for about the final week of Spring Training, 3/20-28. Either option offers a nice blend of home and road games of drivable distances from Ft. Myers, as well as a day or two to hang out on the beach. It didn’t really help the below-zero wind chill factors feel any warmer here this weekend, but making some plans did remind me that winter won’t last forever. If you’re planning a trip to Spring Training, too, leave a comment or drop us an email (click Contact Us at the top of the page) and let us know when you’re planning on being down there.

Housekeeping items

This spring will also mark our first blogging anniversary here at Knucklballs. We hope you’ve enjoyed coming here even half as much as we’ve enjoyed this adventure. Personally, I wasn’t sure, at the onset, that this was something I’d really enjoy doing consistently, but it has turned out to be a lot of fun. That’s largely a result of the terrific reception we’ve gotten from our readers. Whether in comment sections of the posts, in our GameChats during the season, or through various opportunities to interact with other Twins bloggers, we’ve come to feel welcomed and accepted by an outstanding group of fellow Twins fans.

The upcoming anniversary also has us contemplating some changes here. We’re considering whether to remain with our current web hosting provider and may play with the format or “theme” of the blog a bit. I mention this for a couple of reasons. Since our traffic count is understandably lower in the off-season, now is a good time for us to play with things a bit. So if you come for a visit and what you find here looks a bit strange (or you don’t find anything at all… yikes!), don’t stop trying to visit us. We may just be in one of our “mad scientist” modes and one of our experiments got a bit out of control.

As always, if you’d like to share your thoughts in the comments section, feel free to do so… especially if there were particular features or regular topics that you want to make sure we continue or if you have ideas for things we could do to make your visits here more enjoyable.

OK, that’s all for now!

- JC

Baseball Means Saying Good-bye

I admit that Saturday night I was ready to forcibly and forever remove the Twins logo from the chest of almost every member of the Twins’ starting lineup. I’ve regained my perspective since then. Well, most of it.

We’ve begun to see writers/bloggers discuss various topics related to the issue of the makeup of the Twins’ 2011 roster. Some look at payroll figures and possible free agents. There’s also some good material about Twins minor leaguers who may be ready to step up on to the big stage next year.

My first reaction to reading this stuff was that it’s a bit early for all that. My team just “died” and I’m not sure I’m quite ready to look at who I’m going to be rooting for next season. But it was the first week of November last year when Bill Smith sent Carlos Gomez to Milwaukee for JJ Hardy. No doubt, the Twins’ GM is already working on piecing together the 2011 Twins, so I suppose a devoted blogger should start doing the same thing.

This is going to be a long process, however. I’m simply not prepared to ask and answer every roster question yet, so let’s do this in stages, shall we?

We’ll start with what is, perhaps for some of us, the most painful question to ask… who are we willing to say good-bye to?

To many of us, the players that make up our favorite team become pseudo-family members. This is especially true for the sort of players that traditionally make up the Twins roster. They’re good guys and they each have their own devoted following among fans. But every year, we have to say good-bye to some of them. Last year, in addition to Go-Go, we said farewell to Mike “Naked Batting Practice” Redmond, Joe Crede and Orlando Cabrera. Crede and Cabrera weren’t really with the team long enough to build much of a following, but Redmond and Gomez, despite being reserves, each had their own loyal fan base.

This year could see more dramatic changes. In fact, the number of players who are virtual locks to be on the team next year, whether because of performance or contract status, are very few. I would put Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer, Span, Valencia, Liriano and Nathan (assuming all are healthy) in this category. That’s it.

So let’s look at the rest.

A year ago, the Twins had five players eligible to file for free agency. In addition to Cabrera, Crede and Redmond, pitchers Ron Mahay and Carl Pavano also filed. While they followed different paths, both pitchers eventually found their way back to the Twins roster in 2010.

Will Thome hit #600 as a Twin?

This off-season, not only is the number of players eligible for free agency higher, but we’re talking about some guys who made major contributions this season. Pavano and Mahay are eligible again and they are joined by Orlando Hudson, Jim Thome, Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Jon Rauch and Randy Flores. While I think we can all agree that re-signing Flores and Mahay won’t be high priorities for Bill Smith, that still leaves half a dozen significant contributors that can walk out the door and sign with the highest bidder. The truth is, some of them will not be in Twins uniforms next year. In fact, it’s possible that none of them will be.

Other players, while technically still under Twins control, still present some tough decisions for Bill Smith in terms of deciding whether to exercise team options or offer arbitration.  Is Hardy worth $7 million to keep or do you let him become a free agent, too? Jason Kubel would make $5.25 million in 2011, the final year of his current contract… but the Twins can buy out that year for just $350,000, making him a free agent, as well.

Will Nick Punto and Orlando Hudson be back?

What about Nick Punto? The Twins have been paying him “starter” money and have an option for 2011 to do the same (at $5 million). They’ll certainly pay him the $500,000 buy out instead. Does he re-sign with the Twins for less money or will his agent find him a deal with a team offering more money, more playing time, and less blogger abuse than he’ll get with the Twins?

If you offer Delmon Young and Matt Capps arbitration, they’re going to get something between $5-6 million (Young) and up to $9 million (Capps) for 2011. If you don’t offer them arbitration, their agents will find someone more than willing to pay those amounts, or more. Don’t think you need both Capps AND Brian Fuentes with Joe Nathan coming back? OK… but keeping Fuentes from free agency means picking up the team’s $9 million option for him, too.

And we haven’t even discussed possible trades yet. In addition to the possibility that the Twins could trade any of the players mentioned above who are still under team control, you have to wonder if any of the five starting pitchers not named Pavano would be trade bait in the off-season. I don’t think any of them are untouchable except Liriano.

Finally, there are a handful of guys that may just be gone next year because, even though the Twins technically still control them, their performance levels make them candidates to either be traded or simply beaten out for jobs in Spring Training. I’m looking at you, Brendan Harris, Matt Tolbert, Alexi Casilla, Drew Butera, Jason Repko, Jose Mijares and Pat Neshek.

By my count, that’s 25 players who may be playing elsewhere in 2011. A small number are almost certainly gone. A couple are almost certainly staying. Most are somewhere in between. Off the top of my head, I’d break it down like this:

Almost certainly gone: Mahay, Flores, Rauch, Fuentes

Probably gone: Guerrier, Crain, Hudson, Pavano

Virtually a toss-up: Punto, Thome, Repko, Butera, Neshek, Harris, Tolbert

Probably staying: Kubel, Hardy, Capps, Baker, Blackburn, Duensing, Slowey, Casilla

Almost certainly staying: Young, Mijares

We’ll share our own thoughts about what Bill Smith should or shouldn’t do with regard to roster changes in future posts, but for now, please use the comment section to let us know your opinions.

Who are you willing to say good-bye to? Who do you think the Twins MUST bring back? – JC

PROGRAMMING NOTE: We’ve had some inquiries about whether we’ll be hosting GameChats for any of the remaining postseason games and we’re more than willing to do that if anyone is interested in hanging out at the Knuckleballs Virtual Sports Bar. We’re hoping to open up a GameChat window during tonight’s Rays/Rangers ALDS Game 5 so check back later if you’ve got nothing better to do with your life than watch baseball with us! :)

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!!

Twins History Lesson: July 26 – August 1

Yes, I know… I skipped the Twins History Lesson* post (again) last week. Did you miss it? You did? Really? Dang… now I feel bad. Tell you what, there wasn’t a LOT of cool stuff that happened during the week of July 19-25 but I’ll briefly mention a couple of items, just for you, then I’ll move on to all the noteworthy items (and a few not so noteworthy) for the upcoming week.

Bruno the speed demon?

If I say “pine tar incident”, chances are you’re mind goes to George Brett’s famous “out” on July 24, 1983, that was later reversed. But how many of you remember July 19, 1975, when the Yankees’ Thurman Munson had his first inning RBI single nullified when his bat was found to have pine tar more than the legally allowed 18 inches up the handle?  Nobody? OK, do you maybe remember Tom Brunansky’s inside-the-park Grand Slam Home Run seven years later, on July 19, 1982?

Let’s also catch up with a couple of pitching performances taking place on July 23 in 2005 and 2006. On 7/23/05, the Twins needed a starting pitcher to face off against Justin Verlander in the second game of a doubleheader with the Tigers so the call went to Rochester for an arm to pitch one game and head back to the Red Wings. Enter Scott Baker, who held the Kitties to 2 runs on 5 hits in 7 innings to earn his first W as a Twin… then headed straight back to Rochester. Gardy’s postgame quote: “I think you’re seeing what we hope to get out of this young man. It’s very exciting.”

Exactly a year later, another young starting pitcher, Francisco Liriano, combined with four Twins relievers (Pat Neshek, Dennys Reyes, Juan Rincon and Joe Nathan) to set a new Twins record for most strikeouts in a nine inning game, with 17 combined Ks, in a 3-1 win over the Indians. Liriano recorded an even 10 of those Ks in his 5 innings of work.

Lyman Bostock

July 24 is also worth catching up on. On that date in 1961, The Twins signed Tony Oliva and 15 years later, in 1976, Twins OF Lyman Bostock hit for the cycle during a 17-2 win over the WhiteSox.

That’s enough for last week… let’s move on to this week in Twins History:

Merritt: No pitch count?

On July 26, 1967, Twins pitcher Jim Merritt set a Twins record when he pitched 13 innings in a 3-2 win over the Yankees. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough for Merritt to earn the W as it took 18 innings for the Twins to earn that win. I’m guessing the Twins didn’t have Merritt on a pitch count limit.

There have been a couple of hitting performances of note on July 27. In 1978, Twins 3B Mike Cubbage hit for the cycle in a 6-3 win over the Blue Jays. He was the 5th Twin to accomplish the feat and the first after Bostock’s cycle two years and  three days earlier.

Five years later, on July 27, 1983, the Brewers Ben Ogilvie hit the longest HR in Metrodome history when he took a Brad Havens pitch 481 feet in to the upper deck in RF.

Dean Chance

Those in attendance at Fenway Park for the Twins/RedSox game on July 28, 1967, saw something very few people ever had an opportunity to see, but few of them probably really appreciated it. The Twins beat the Sox 9-2 as pitcher Dean Chance outdueled Boston ace Jim Lonborg (who was allowed to take leave from his National Guard duty to pitch the game). The rarity? That would be Chance’s bunt for a base hit in the Twins’ 7-run 4th inning. It was Chance’s first base hit following a stretch of 78 straight ABs without a hit (setting an AL record). Chance and Lonborg matched up twice more that season in eventful games. Nine days after this game, Chance retired all 15 hitters he faced in a rain shortened five inning “perfect game” win over Lonborg and the RedSox, making Lonborg 0-12 against the Twins in his career. Unfortunately, he broke that string on October 1, leading the Sox to the AL pennant over the Twins on the last day of the season.  Chance was the Twins’ losing pitcher.

I couldn’t find a darn thing of note that has ever occurred on July 29 in the history of the Twins. That probably won’t change this season as the team has the 29th off this year.

Not much going on for the Twins on July 30, either, for that matter, unless you consider the Twins trading Matt Lawton to the Mets for Rick Reed in 2001 or the trade of Luis Castillo to the same Mets for Drew Butera and Dustin Martin in 2007 to be big deals. Hmmmm… I do sense a pattern here. Should we look forward to Bill Smith completing another trade with the Mets on Friday?

We’ll make up for the lack of activity over July29-30 with a pretty long list of stuff for July 31, much of it trade related as it’s the last day for non-waiver trades:

1965: No trades of note on this date, but Tony Oliva’s heads up baserunning brought home a 2-1 win in 11 innings over the Orioles. (See if this sounds familiar, you fans of the movie Major League.) With one out in the 11th and Oliva on 2B and Harmon Killebrew having been intentionally walked to set up the double play, Joe Nossek hit a roller to Brooks Robinson at 3B. Robinson threw to second to force Killer but the relay to first was too late to complete the double play. That’s when O’s firstbaseman Boog Powell was surprised to realize Oliva never stopped at 3B but had rounded it and headed for home. Powell’s throw was late and Oliva slid home for the Twins win. His quote after the game, “… if I’m out at home, it’s a bad play. Today it was a good play because I made it.”

1972: No trade involved here either, but if you ever get a chance to talk to Bert Blyleven ask him about the day he gave up two inside-the-park HRs to the WhiteSox’ Dick Allen (then duck).

Now let’s get to some of those trades, shall we?

1987: The Twins picked up future HoF pitcher Steve Carleton from the Indians for a player to be named (who turned out to be pitcher Jeff Perry).

Frankie 'Sweet Music" Viola

Rick Aguilera

1989: The Twins became the first team in MLB history to trade a reigning Cy Young Award winner by trading Frank Viola to the Mets for Rick Aguilera, David West, Kevin Tapani, Jack Savage and Tim Drummond.

1995: Tapani was traded to the Dodgers along with Mark Guthrie in return for Jose Parra, Greg Hansell, Chris Latham and future FSN field reporter Ron Coomer.

2004: The Twins sent 1B Doug Mientkiewicz to the Cubs for pitcher Justin Jones.

2006: The Twins sent P Kyle Lohse (and his evil twin, Lyle) to the Reds for P Zach Ward.

2009: The Twins acquired SS Orlando Cabrera and cash from the A’s for minor leaguer Tyler Ladendorf.

Finally, let’s check in on what the first day of August has meant to the Twins:

1985: Pitcher Bert Blyleven returned to the Twins in a trade with Cleveland. The Twins sent outfielder Jim Weaver, pitchers Curt Wardle and Rich Yett, and shortstop Jay Bell to the Indians.

Bert Blyleven

1986: Exactly a year after returning to the Twins, Blyleven threw a 2 hitter against the A’s and struck out 15 hitters (then a club record). In the process, he became the 10th pitcher with 3,000 career Ks. In the same 10-1 win, Kirby Puckett became the first Twin to hit for the cycle in a game at the Metrodome.

1994: Oriole Cal Ripken played in his 2,000th consecutive game in a 1-0 win over the Twins at the ‘Dome.

2007: Perhaps a memory many of us would prefer not be reminded about as the Twins decided to go forward with their game against the Royals in order to keep from sending almost 25,000 fans on to already congested roads following the collapse of the I-35W bridge about an hour before game time. A moment of silence to remember the victims of the bridge collapse was held prior to the game.

With that, let’s all look forward to cheering on the Twins in their series this week at Kansas City and at home, next weekend, against the Mariners! – JC

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

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