GameChat – Twins @ Tigers #2, 6:05pm

Obligatory statement about the weather: it’s not as hot here as they said it was going to be – by that I mean it didn’t make it to 100 – just more of the same we’ve had for the last week.

That being said, it’s a lot cooler in Detroit! That’s because it’s RAINING. There is a thunderstorm in progress in Detroit according to weather.com although I haven’t seen anything in the pregame stuff about the weather yet but the thunderstorms aren’t supposed to quit until 7 pm central or so. That’s definitely early enough to get the game in but I haven’t seen any sign that they are talking about delaying the game so maybe things are already easing. *shrug* maybe one of our local Twins weather people will speak up and advise us at some point soon..

[EDIT] according to Ben Collin (TTBB) ‏@bennyc50
Personally I think #MNTwins and #Tigers will have a 1 hr delay at least considering the storms still heading in from the north.

As for the game itself, things look pretty normal lineup-wise. It could be painful to be facing this Detroit lineup if Blackburn is having a bad day. I’m really hoping he has a good day.

Minnesota

@

Detroit
Span, CF Jackson, A, CF
Revere, RF Berry, LF
Mauer, C Cabrera, Mi, 3B
Willingham, LF Fielder, 1B
Morneau, 1B Young, D, DH
Plouffe, 3B Avila, C
Doumit, DH Raburn, 2B
Dozier, SS Boesch, RF
Casilla, A, 2B Santiago, SS
  Blackburn, P   Below, P

 

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

Remember how everyone brought up the fact that the Twins didn’t hit anything but singles on Monday night? Well, they made up for it tonight. Their 10 hits tonight included two doubles and three home runs. Of course, we need to express our gratitude to Tigers shortstop Ramon Santiago for sucking on defense, but then pretty much the whole world (at least those not named Leyland) knew the Tigers would suck on defense this season from the moment they showed up to Spring Training.

Anyway, our guys get another win and that’s always a good thing. Nick Blackburn struggled, giving up six earned runs in four innings of work, but once again the Twins bullpen was outstanding. That’s become almost routine lately.

Speaking of things being almost routine, both Josh Willingham and Trevor Plouffe hit home runs again! But on the not-so-routine side of the ledger, so did Joe Mauer!

The Boyfriend of the Day voting was close and while I think it’s great when there are so many worthy options, I was personally dismayed that I cast the lone vote for Mauer, who went 3-5 with a 2B and a HR, scoring 3 runs. Then again, Willingham also had a 2B and a HR and nobody voted for him! Trevor Plouffe had some support after not only launching a HR, but also flashing some impressive leather (there’s something we don’t have near enough opportunities to say, right?).

But Jeff Gray pitched two shutout innings, while Kyle Waldrop, Tyler Robertson and Glen Perkins each added one shutout inning of their own. Not only that, but thanks to Plouffe’s outstanding snag of a line drive that turned in to a double play and Mauer’s perfect throw to nail Brennan Boesch trying to steal, the four relievers all actually faced the minimum number of batters possible in their collective five innings of work. Their efforts allowed the Twins hitters to pull out a win AND earned them a collective “group” BOD award! – JC

Jeff Gray (Photo: Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Kyle Waldrop (Photo: Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Tyler Robertson

Glen Perkins

 

Twins Head to the Windy City

I spent the past weekend visiting friends in Chicago.  The drive to and from Chicago gave me an opportunity to indulge in one of my favorite guilty pleasures: Chicago Sports Talk Radio.  Neither the Cubs or the White Sox are performing well in 2012, an the hot heads calling into their favorite local radio station had plenty of extra fodder as the White Sox were on the north side for the first three game set of the Crosstown Classic.  One caller after the next called in to complain, what Alfonso Soriano is doing wrong, how Robin Ventura is mismanaging Chris Sale, and on and on,  about one wrong after another heaped down upon the ever faithful fans of Chicago baseball.  That lasted for two hours before the game, and after a brief interruption for a baseball game and a hat tip to Kerry Wood, the fans were back at it for another hour, blasting the Cubs in a loss, and the White Sox even in a win.  I suppose it could have went on longer, but the show had to end eventually.  If you know anything about sports talk radio in Chicago, you know that the next show picked up right where the last one left off, fans battling for a spot on the air to let listeners know what they would do if they were running the team.

The Twins are off today, but are already in Chicago, enjoying a day away from baseball before a three game series begins Tuesday night.  The Twins are scheduled to pitch P.J. Walters, Scott Diamond, and whoever is called up to replace Jason Marquis (assuming his shoulder inflammation is now behind him).  Never mind that when the Twins head back home to face Detroit on Thursdy that they’ll have to figure out how to deal with Jason Marquis‘ lack of performance (UPDATE: Designated for Assignment) and a hole in the rotation left from Nick Blackburn‘s current DL stint. Leave the starting pitching alone, it has been terrible, and without Diamond and Walters, it has been even worse than that.  Let’s look instead at the bullpen.  Below are 8 Chicago-Style thoughts on the current Minnesota Twins bullpen staff:

  1. Alex Burnett – At age 24 Alex Burnett still has plenty of upside, and thought his first 18 appearances of 2012 seems to be finally finding his stride, posting a 2.66 ERA, and a WHIP of just 1.3, both career marks.  But the reality is that while Burnett has cut down his walk rate to a career low, his strike out rate is almost HALF of what it was in 2010 (7.0 SO/9) at 3.8, and more than two strike outs per nine innings down from what it was even a year ago at 5.9.  Fangraphs FIP is a decent predictor of the pitcher Burnett actually is at 4.36, which is slightly lower than his career average.  Burnett is due for a regression, and despite his early success the Twins have remained hesitant to put him into high leverage situations (should the Twins actually have any).
  2. Jared Burton – Jared Burton seems like a guy who should be successful.  His BB/9 rate is 1.1 and his SO/9 rate is 9.2, his WHIP is a minuscule .702, and yet he’s sporting a 4.60 ERA, thanks in large part to 3 HRs in just 15.2 IP.  Burton is due for some regression to his career numbers as well, and he might even be a better pitcher than he is now, but if he continues to serve up the long ball he will not have a roster spot for long.
  3. Matt Capps – On Saturday I was listening to the Milwaukee Brewers radio broadcast and they announced that Capps had yet to blow a save.  I didn’t believe them at the time, but after the game was over, and Capps had picked up another save, I had the chance to look up his stats, and sure enough, despite having an 0-2 W/L record, Capps is a perfect 9/9 in save opportunities.  It turns out Capps has not really been that bad, sure giving up 1 run in the top of the 9th in tie games to the Red Sox and the Indians stick out in the minds of fans, but since starting the season with a couple poor performances, Capps has been pretty solid for the Twins, cutting his ERA down from 6.00 to 3.38 while quietly racking up saves in 9 of the Twins’ 14 victories.  But here’s the rub, Capps biggest strength in 2012 has been his ability to limit walks, giving up just 1 free pass so far this season.  That number is sure to go up, and when it does, Capps will be the same heart-attack inducing 9th inning guy that my brother so astutely refers to as “Cardiac Capps”.  Not exactly ideal for a closer, but the Twins do not have a ton of options.
  4. Brian Duensing – Duensing, along with Capps and Burnett is one of the few Twins relievers enjoying a successful start to the 2012 campaign.  Duesnsing owns an 0-2 record as a reliever this season, but he’s given up just 4 runs in 21 IP.  Duensing could be next in line for an opportunity in the starting rotation, depending on the team’s plans for Marquis and Swarzak, but Duensing has been most successful out of the bullpen over the course of his career, and the Twins need more than their share of bullpen arms capable of pitching 2+ innings to help bail out the starting rotation.  Duensing is really excelling at limiting base hits, giving up just 5.6 hits per 9 innings, the lowest rate of his career.  Fangraphs’ FIP back’s up Duensing’s performance at 2.59, so he should remain effective going forward, it will just be up to the Twins and Ron Gardenhire to figure out how to get one of their best relievers into games when it matters.
  5. Jeff Gray – Jeff Grey has 3 victories in 2012, two of them coming from just 3 pitches, and he has yet to be charged with a loss, but he certainly has not been a solid performer for the Twins.  His 4.50 ERA is the highest of the Twins’ most use relievers (Capps, Perkins, Gray, Duensing, Burnett) and his WHIP, Hits/9, and BB/9 are all the worst on the team among ANY relief pitcher.  Gray has 18 appearances already in 2012, and Gardenhire continues to send him out to the mound almost every other day!  Part of that has been the failure of the starting pitching staff which routinely forces the bullpen into extended action, but to give Gray the 3rd most appearances on the team is just plain ridiculous!  Jeff Gray should not have a spot on this team for much longer.
  6. Francisco Liriano in just 3.2 innings as a reliever Liriano has yet to give up a run, but he has as many strike outs as walks (4), and has been used just three times since being demoted, about every 3rd day.  He’s going to have to pitch a lot better, and limit his walks if he is going to become a valuable member of the Twins’ bullpen, and he’ll have to learn to adjust to hitters and his own nerves is he is going to end up back in the starting rotation.  At this point the Twins need to find a way to boost his value and flip him for anything they can get before the trade deadline.  Liriano is a lost cause in Minnesota and the sooner he realizes that and starts showing value to other teams, the better.
  7. Glen Perkins – Perkins signed a contact extension in Spring Training that makes him a Twin through at least the 2015 season, with a 4.5 million dollar team option for 2016.  While Perkins has continued to strike more than one hitter out per inning, his walk rate is crept up to its highest level since 2007, and his ERA is almost 2 runs higher than it was a year ago when Perkins was the most dominant reliever on the team.  This year Duensing, Capps, and Burnett all have lower ERAs than Perkins.  Despite his elevated ERA, Perkins should regress towards his career numbers, and with a FIP almost a full point lower than his current ERA Perkins can be the dominant reliever the Twins saw in the first half of 2011.
  8. Anthony Swarzak – Swarzak has started 3 games and made 9 relief appearances already this season.  His ERA currently sits at 4.73, and could be much worse if it wasn’t for an uncharacteristically low BABIP of just .253 (almost 40 points below his career average, and 30 points below the MLB average for 2012).  Swarzak does a great job handling mop-up duty when the Twins starters are blown out of a game, and that’s a fine roll for him as long as they don’t start trying to plug him in for more than the occasional spot start, because Swarzak has shown, in 2009 and 2011 (and most of his Minor League career), that he just is not cut out to be much more than the mop up guy he is now.

And those are the guys the Twins have AFTER the starting staff has made a mess of the game.

-ERolfPleiss

Two Weeks In: Who Is This Team?

I swear if there’s one thing I’ve grown more tired of than people using small sample sizes to “prove” how good or bad a player is, at this still-early point in the season, it’s people who do so while even admitting that they’re using small sample sizes. Let’s be brutally honest here, statheads, stats over a single two week period, even if it’s the first two weeks of the season, are almost completely worthless.

That’s one reason that, despite the disadvantage I have of living in blacked out Iowa, I’ve made considerable efforts to hang out in the local Cedar Rapids sports bars as often as possible this month. This allows me to actually watch the Twins, rather than just look at the box scores, to judge who’s doing well and who isn’t. Naturally, it also gives me the opportunity to purchase overpriced beer and fried food, but that’s just a sacrifice I’m willing to make for my team and our readers.

One thing about having a blog like this is that you eventually feel compelled to write something, even if almost everything you have to say has most likely been expressed elsewhere. With that said, here’s what I think about what I’ve seen of the 2012 Minnesota Twins:

I don’t know what to think.

Are they the team that might just as well have been using toothpicks for bats in their opening series sweep at the hands of the mighty Baltimore Orioles? (That’s the American League East Division LEADING Baltimore Orioles to you, Mack!) Or are they the team that took two of three games from Albert Pujols’ Angels? Or the one that got swept by Joe Nathan’s new buddies from Texas? Or the guys that have taken two out of the first three games from the Evil Empire in Yankee Stadium, no less?

It’s probably just stating the obvious, but since that’s one of the things I do best, here’s a rundown of a few things we probably have found out about this season’s edition of the Twins:

Spring Training numbers mean zip, zilch, nada, not a friggin’ thing.

  • Remember all those good vibrations we were getting in March from Francisco Liriano? Three starts in to the season and he’s the same head case he was last year. Maybe he’ll turn things around yet, but man has he looked bad after being pretty much unhittable in Ft. Myers.

    Luke Hughes, we hardly knew ye

  • For the second season in a row, Luke Hughes put up very impressive numbers in Spring Training. The same Luke Hughes who’s now been Designated for Assignment because the team needed his roster spot for Jason Marquis on Wednesday and Hughes is out of options. I suppose he COULD pass through waivers, but expectations are that some team will claim him and he’ll get a chance to join another organization’s Big League roster. Best of luck to Luke (unless he ends up with the F’ing Yankees or White Sox, of course).
  • There was a lot of hand-wringing in Spring Training over Justin Morneau with many people pretty much writing off his career. He’s attacking the ball at the plate with an intensity we haven’t seen since before his head came in to contact with a Blue Jay knee at second base almost two years ago. Three home runs in the two games he’s played at Yankee Stadium so far this week isn’t too shabby.

Josh Willingham can hit baseballs really, really well. Yes, defensively, balls hit in his direction can turn in to an adventure, but this is a fan base that’s been watching Delmon Young in LF for a couple of years… we can deal with Willingham. Especially if he keeps hitting the ball consistently. You can’t get much more consistent than starting the season with a 12 game hitting streak.

Reports of the demise of Joe Mauer and Denard Span were a tad premature. Both are still really good at baseball. Mauer still hits in to too many 4-6-3 double plays, but as is the case with Morneau, we’re seeing a version of Mauer we haven’t seen on the field in far too long. Span looks poised to reclaim his spot atop the rankings of AL lead-off center fielders.

Jamey Carroll is pretty much exactly what we thought he was… a solid shortstop that will field the balls hit near him and make good throws to first base. If the position hadn’t been such a disaster last year, that might not be big news, but I enjoy not having to hold my breath every time a ground ball gets hit that direction.

Alexi Casilla is really bad… or really good… face it, none of us have figured that out for sure ever since the Twins got him in return for JC Romero. We still don’t know, but I like the Lexi that’s been playing in Yankee Stadium this week.

The bullpen hasn’t sucked. Again, faint praise, perhaps. But given the angst most of us felt about the situation and the fact that a couple of guys that were counted on to fortify the pen have either been injured or pushed to the rotation, things could be much worse out there. I’m a bit nervous about Glen Perkins, though.

So with all of this stuff going well, why the hell have the Twins lost twice as many games as they’ve won?

The answer, of course, is a familiar one. This team has a rotation that simply is not very good and the pitchers are being backed up by a defense that’s not much better. I don’t need two weeks worth of statistics to tell me that’s a dangerous combination.

Liam Hendriks and Anthony Swarzak have looked marginally promising. Carl Pavano looks to be what we all know he is… a marginal, but gutsy, innings-eater. Maybe Jason Marquis will be something similar. Nick Blackburn hasn’t been awful, but his ceiling isn’t terribly high, not to mention this “mystery shoulder tightness” thing he came down with this week.

The bottom line is that we still really don’t know what to expect from this team after two weeks. The rest of April will continue to be a challenge, due to the brutal scheduling this month and the iffy pitching situation, but there’s nothing like a couple of wins against the F’ing Yankees at their place to raise spirits a bit. Win another game to claim the series tonight and I may not be able to contain my giddiness!

– JC

159-3 is not so Bad

The Twins were swept out of Baltimore in their first series of the year, three games to zero.  Over those three games the Twins managed just 5 runs, and 15 hits to go along with two errors and 16 strike outs.  As bad as those numbers are, it could have been worse, as the Twins scored late in all three games, with all 5 runs coming in the 8th inning or later.  Eerily similar to 2011, the Twins have found themselves down early, offensively challenged and relying on an inexperienced bullpen.

All of that means that the Twins are going to fight an uphill battle to come out of 2012 with a winning record, but it is only three games.  In2006, the 5th best team in Minnesota’s franchise history, the Twins won 96 games.  That teams started the year just 1-5, and had losing streaks of 3 or more games 8 times.  On May 1 that teams was 9-16 and was just routed 8-2 (giving up 19 hits) by a Mariners team that would go on to lose 86 games.  That team would go on to lose to the Cleveland Indians by a score of 11-0 TWICE and another 18-1 loss at the hands of the Detroit Tigers.  Every team is going to have a couple of bad days.

I am certainly not trying to say that the current version of the Minnesota Twins is going to be 30 games over .500, but I think we can hold on to the doomsday conversations for a couple more weeks, after all, those 3 games represent less than 2% of the 2012 schedule, and three losses are only three losses.

For those fans (and players) that may not remember what it looks like, this is Target Field

There are still a couple of positives to take away from this poor start, and the Twins can build on the things they’re doing well in the home opener later today.

  1.  Justin Morneau continues to hit the ball hard.  He’s hitting .400 with 2 doubles and a walk, and a couple of hard line drives that were hit right at defenders for outs.  Focusing on hitting the ball is working for Morneau, if he continues to hit the ball like this, it will not matter what Parmelee is doing with the bat (assuming he starts hitting better than the .125 he’s showing now).
  2. Brian Duensing has made two appearances out of the bullpen, has yet to give up a run and has recorded 2 strike outs.  With the exception of newcomes Matt Maloney and Jared Burton, the Twins bullpen has yet to give up any runs.  Alex Burnett, Glen Perkins, Brian Duensing,  and Jeff Gray have combined to go 5.1 innings with a 0.00 ERA along with 4 strike outs and just 2 hits.  Granted, Maloney and Burton have been bad, but the bullpen is not as bad as it seems, there are plenty of guys going out there and succeeding.
  3. Josh Willingham has a home run, a double, and an outfield assist, throwing out Nick Markakis at home plate in the season opener.  Willingham has not looked great in left field (two errors on Saturday), and he will have to turn that around going forward, but if the rest of the Twins lineup warms up a little bit, this team is going to have an offensive to help mitigate some of the problems with the starting rotation.
  4. Jamey Carroll appears to be a real shortstop.  He is not going to win any Gold Gloves, and he might not be as fresh after 40 games at short, but for the time being Carroll is making all the plays and getting to all the balls in his area.  Outside of J.J. Hardy‘s injury plagued 2010 season the Twins have struggled to find consistent play from their shortstops for the better part of the last decade.  Carroll might just be keeping the spot warm for Brian Dozier, but as long as he’s here, he’s doing everything that’s been asked of him (except hit, despite being a high On Base Percentage guy he has yet to tally a base hit in three games, and has just one walk).

Five runs in three games will not be the norm for this bunch of ball players, unfortunately five runs in three games to start the season takes off a lot of the opening weekend optimism held by fans.  But hang in there, 159-3 is still within reach.

-ERolfPleiss

Things Ben Revere is Unlikely to Do

Photo credit: Jim Crikket

Yesterday, during the Twins’ Spring Training loss to the Red Sox at JetBlue Park, Ben Revere threw out a runner at the plate from left field.  Well, kind of.  Jacoby Ellsbury tripled and the ball bounced away from Valencia at third into shallow left field.  Ellsbury, thinking the ball had skipped into an area void of defenders, took off for home.  Revere, racing in from left, scooped up the ball and threw a rocket to home plate, catching Ellsbury by three or four steps.  If you’re scoring at home, that’s an outfield assist.

While Spring Training stats do not count, Revere throwing a runner out, from anywhere, is a note worthy occurrence, given his weak throwing arm and previous performance (3 assists in 2011, and none of those, as far as I can remember, involved throwing a runner out at home plate).

With that in mind, here is a list of things Ben Revere is unlikely to do in 2012:

1. Throw out a Runner at Home Plate. As mentioned above, Revere’s arm is weak (4/100 per Fangraphs), and if he is not playing every day, his chances of even being in the right situation are limited, at best.

2. Hit a home run.  While Revere has shown that he can occasionally hit a home run (or 2), he has never hit a home run in the Major Leagues, and has just 5 home runs in his entire Minor League Career (with a career high of 2 at Single-A Fort Myers).  While Revere might eventually hit a ball over the outfield fence, his speed could allow him to stretch a triple into an inside-the-park home run, thus ending his HR drought.  However, Revere only hit 5 triples in 2011, despite his speed, and might not have enough at bats to even match that total in 2012.

3. Have an on base percentage above .335.  While he will never hit for power, Revere’s Minor League numbers indicate that he has great on base skills, posting a career .385 OPB, though he has never played a full season at AAA.  Revere’s biggest asset is his speed, and as a 4th outfielder, he will have plenty of opportunities to showcase his defensive tools, but for the team to put that speed to use offensively Revere will need to get to first base.  If he is not playing regularly, Revere may struggle to find a rhythm, having never been used consistently as a reserve.  While Revere posted a .310 OBP in 2011, that number was helped significantly by a late season push that saw Revere hit .311/.342/.368 in September and October.  If Revere wants to be the Twins’ leadoff hitter and centerfielder of the future, he’ll need to come close to Denard Span‘s career OBP of .361.

4. Says something interesting on Twitter. While Ben Revere (@BenRevere9) has almost 3 times as many Twitter followers as  fellow Minnesota Twin, Glen Perkins (@Glen_Perkins), he rarely, if ever, says anything noteworthy.  The most exciting thing he’s tweeted in the past 30 days is this.  Really, Ben Revere?  Trading in the Statue of Liberty for Tim Tebow Tebowing?  Meanwhile, Glen Perkins has not only spent Spring Training on a quest to hold and photograph himself holding sharks, he also interacts with fans and other Twitter users on a regular basis.  Definitely worth a follow.

What else might Ben Revere not do in 2012?  Steal 40 bases?  Run a marathon? Eat 50 In and Out burgers?  Who knows!

-ERolfPleiss

Looking for Breakout Seasons

By this point, everyone knows the variables that will determine whether the Twins will have a successful 2012 season, right? Mauer, Morneau, Baker and Span have to stay healthy and the bullpen needs to be vastly improved over last year. We know all of that because every beat writer, columnist and blogger has pointed at those issues over and over again since October.

Sure, if the established veterans all return to the level of productivity we’ve come to expect from them, the Twins should avoid the kind of meltdown they suffered through last season. That said, if the team is going to actually contend in 2012, they’re going to need more. They will need breakout seasons from players that have not yet demonstrated that they belong among the American League’s elite names at their positions.

But where can the Twins expect to find those potential breakout seasons?

The typical arc of a professional baseball player’s career is actually more predictable than one might think. Their prime years are pretty much from ages 26 to 32. We all spent a lot of time discussing the back end of that range during the offseason, as we discussed the pros and cons of offering multi-year contracts to Michael Cuddyer, who is just past that “prime” range, and Joe Nathan, who is well past it.

But when you are looking for potential breakout years, it makes more sense to focus on the front end of the range. The Twins are notorious for bringing their minor league prospects along slowly through the organization and, for a club with a reputation for disregarding advanced statistical analysis, it appears that they may have a basis for this particular proclivity. Projecting that most players hit their strides at age 26, I doubt that it’s a coincidence that most Twins prospects aren’t often starting their Major League careers (and their arbitration clocks) until they’re at least 24 years old. The Twins apparently try to time a player’s Big League debut a year or two before they expect him to break out and become a fully productive Major League ballplayer, then get as much of their peak years as possible while they’re still affordable.

Glen Perkins

For example, Cuddyer was getting his first real full-time duty with the Twins at age 25 and had his first OPS above .800 (or first OPS+ season over 100, if you prefer that metric) in his age 27 season. Torii Hunter got a taste of the Big Leagues in the season during which he turned 24, but he really figured it out in 2001, the season he turned 26. More recently, Glen Perkins may have made his debut at age 24, but it wasn’t until last year, in his age 28 season, that he carved out a meaningful role for himself with the Twins.

Armed with this knowledge, who should we be looking at in 2012 as having the potential to have breakout seasons? Here’s a list of possible candidates:

Trevor Plouffe turns 26 years old in June. He’s shown some pop in his bat and, let’s be honest, if he had demonstrated passable defensive abilities, he’d be the Twins regular shortstop right now. If he can play a decent outfield, Plouffe could establish himself this season. But few players really get it all figured out in their first full year of regular time in the Show, so we should probably hold off on establishing those expectations of Trevor quite yet. Maybe next year.

The same would be true of pitchers Anthony Swarzak and Kyle Waldrop. Both will be 26 years old pretty much throughout the upcoming season, but given their relative lack of Major League experience, it’s probably not realistic to expect them to have Glen Perkins-like results already this season.

Luke Hughes

Infielder Luke Hughes is starting his age 27 season and he got a few swings in at the Big League level last year, so we can hope to see him step his game up a little bit. He’s not currently penciled in for a regular starting job, though, so you have to wonder if he’ll get the plate appearances necessary to make significant strides in 2012.

So if those candidates aren’t likely to break out, who will?

First, keep in mind that Denard Span just turned 28 years old a couple of weeks ago, so while he’s arguably already had his breakout season, he’s still on the front side of his peak years. He’s reached the point of being physically mature and has enough experience that he really should no longer be seeing much of anything offensively or defensively for the first time. That being the case, I’d like to see Span take a big step forward with his game this season, assuming he can stay healthy.

Another familiar name on my list of potential breakout seasons is Francisco Liriano. We’ve been waiting for him to have a true breakout season for what seems like forever. Despite having several seasons of Major League experience in the books, Liriano is still just now entering his age 28 season. That’s slightly past our “breakout season” ages, but it’s not too late to see it happen… yet. That said, this is arguably the last year that anyone can make the, “he’s still a young pitcher with potential,” statement, so it’s now or never (at least with the Twins organization) for Frankie.

If it seems like Alexi Casilla has been around forever, too, it’s because he has. He was rushed a bit after being acquired from the Angels for J.C. Romero and his service clock started while he was still just 23 years old. That means he’s just now entering his age 27 season (he turns 28 in July). Casilla has been inconsistent, to say the least. But this season, he’s starting off at what’s arguably his best defensive position, second base, and so far this spring he’s making good contact from his spot at the bottom of the Twins order. The game should finally be slowing down a bit for Lexi and if he can play decent defense while getting on base with regularity, he could play a significant positive role for the Twins in 2012.

Danny Valencia

Finally, the guy with perhaps the greatest potential for having a true breakout season is third baseman Danny Valencia, who will be 27 years old throughout the first five months of the season. Valencia’s had two full years now to adjust to Big League pitching and there’s no reason he shouldn’t take a major step forward in 2012. Everyone seems to project Valencia as hitting in the #7 spot in the Twins lineup and he very well may start the season there, but if he’s still hitting in the bottom third of the order in August, I’ll be disappointed.

So those are my “breakout season” picks… Liriano, Casilla and Valencia (with some additional improvement also from Span). Talk all you want about Mauer, Morneau, Baker and the bullpen, but in my mind, the Twins’ success, or lack thereof, this season is riding just as much on the ability of these players to make significant strides as any other factor. They are hitting their prime years and it’s time for them to show fans what they’re made of.

– JC

Of DVDs and a BOM

First things first. Apparently the Twins entered in to a conspiracy of sorts to prevent our DVD giveaway contest from proclaiming a winner. Almost two full weeks after announcing our contest to give away a set of Twins 1991 Championship Season DVDs to the person who could correctly predict the game in which Joe Nathan would break the team record for saves, he still hasn’t had an opportunity to accomplish that feat.

So, as we indicated in the original contest post, we’ll determine the winner on a random basis from among the 15 readers who entered our contest. Here is how we will go about declaring a winner:

Below is a list of those who entered the contest. Next to each name are two numbers I’ve assigned randomly from numbers 1-15 and 16-30. The winner will be the person assigned the number that is equal to the total runs scored by the Twins and White Sox in the first game of their upcoming series in Minnesota.

AW: 5, 20

Max: 9, 30

Shaun Streich: 15, 28

BobZ: 10, 24

MukMuk: 1, 17

bob miller: 3, 16

mark: 14, 27

lecroy24fan: 7, 23

Trish: 13, 29

Melissa: 12. 21

AW: 2, 19

E: 6, 22

UpperDeck: 4, 25

David: 11, 26

Rick: 8, 18

(If the Twins and Sox get in to a real slugfest and score over 30 runs combined, we’ll just add 30 to the numbers assigned to each entrant above and declare the winner on that basis. I refuse to let the Twins’ ineptitude draw this thing out any further!)

BOYFRIEND OF THE MONTH: JULY

Remember back last month when the Twins didn’t suck? I know… it’s not easy sometimes to remember back that far. But trust me, in July the Twins did win some ballgames and after each victory, our GameChat folks bestowed a Boyfriend of the Day award on the Twins player they felt was most deserving of recognition for their efforts in that particular game. As is our tradition, we then tally up those BOD awards each month and pronounce a lucky Boyfriend of the Month.

This one wasn’t really even close.

Danny Valencia, Brian Duensing, Joe Mauer and Michael Cuddyer each were honored with Boyfriend of the Day awards twice in July but for the first time this season, one player racked up four separate BODs from our GameChat contingent. Glen Perkins has been clutch when  he’s been called on in tight situations. We just wish we could see a few more of those opportunities going forward. But for his outstanding work in July, Glen Perkins is da BOM!

Glen Perkins

GameChat – Twins @ Rangers #2, 7:05pm

Wow.. I go to ValleyFair for ONE day and look what kind of stuff I miss!! Are you kidding me? Cuddyer finally gets his chance to pitch and I was standing in line for the Wild Thing..  it’s just not right (nor was that score). If, like me, you didn’t get to see Cuddyer pitch, here’s a link to the video – if I can figure out how to embed it, I’ll do it but right now, it’s not letting me: Cuddyer Pitching.

However, the blessing of missing the game last night was that I didn’t witness what was apparently a hell of bad pitching, WORSE fielding and a complete lack of offense.  When I called in for an update, I was informed that the Rangers line looked like a golf score each inning – par, par, birdy, birdy…  Whoever thought of that is a genius but what a horrible concept when it’s the opposing team.

I’m looking forward to seeing CJ Wilson – I really love watching him pitch – but I would REALLY like to see the Twins get to him tonight. We need some offense.

 

Minnesota

@

Texas
Revere, CF Kinsler, 2B
Casilla, A, 2B Andrus, SS
Cuddyer, 1B Hamilton, LF
Kubel, DH Young, M, DH
Valencia, 3B Cruz, N, RF
Young, D, LF Moreland, 1B
Plouffe, RF Torrealba, C
Nishioka, SS Davis, C, 3B
Butera, C Chavez, En, CF
  Pavano, P   Wilson, C, P
  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 0 3 0 0 3 1 0 0 2 9 13 1
Texas 0 2 0 5 1 0 0 0 0 8 13 2

Certainly an exciting game! Things didn’t look so great when Texas put a 5-spot up against Carl Pavano in the 4th inning to take a 7-3 lead. But the offense kept chipping away, with contributions from up and down the batting order, not to mention pinch hitters Jim Thome and Joe Mauer who both came through with pinch hit doubles late in the game. Joe Nathan got the save (which means you need to enter the DVD contest below in a hurry… before Joe gets his next save).

But our BOD tonight is Glen Perkins. Glen entered the game with two men on base and nobody out in the bottom of the 8th inning and sat three straight hitters down without giving up a run, keeping his team within one run. That’s clutch BOD material. – JC

Glen Perkins

GameChat – Tigers @ Twins #3, 3:10 FOX

So Jason Kubel came back Friday and Scott Baker returns today. It’s about time to end this “can’t beat the Tigers” BS, isn’t it, guys?

Everyone else can beat the kitties so there’s no reason to think the Twins shouldn’t be able to.

Brad Penny’s been pitching well lately for the Tigers even if he hasn’t been getting the Wins to show for it. It’s time for Twins hitters to step up. If  they embarrass themselves today like they did last night, it will be in front of a near-national audience on FOX.

TIGERS

@

TWINS
Dirks, CF Revere, CF
Boesch, LF Casilla, A, 2B
Ordonez, RF Mauer, C
Cabrera, Mi, 1B Cuddyer, 1B
Martinez, V, DH Kubel, DH
Peralta, Jh, SS Valencia, 3B
Guillen, 2B Young, D, LF
Avila, C Plouffe, RF
Kelly, 3B Nishioka, SS
  _Penny, P   _Baker, S, P
  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Detroit 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 8 1
Minnesota 1 1 0 2 0 0 0 0 x 4 7 0

That wasn’t exactly the offensive breakout game I’ve been hoping for, but we’re going to just enjoy the win, right?

Getting ahead on the scoreboard early was a nice change and Scott Baker looked pretty damn good to me in his first game back from the DL. He only went five innings but they were a really good five shutout innings.

Danny Valencia launched a solo shot and Delmon Young had a nice two-run double. Joe Nathan slammed the door shut and Phil Dumatrait threw a scoreless inning of relief, as well.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka was the only Twins hitter with more than one hit, collecting two singles (though neither figured directly in the scoring). But his biggest contribution was in the field. He ran down three flares in shallow left field, a couple of them very nice plays in critical situations. In addition, Glen Perkins not only pitched a scoreless inning of relief, but struck out Ordonez and Cabrera back-to-back to cap his work. For those performances, Nishi and Perk are our co-BODs today!

Tsuyoshi Nishioka

Glen Perkins

.

If The Price Is Right

If it’s the All-Star Break, then it must be time for fans to start talking about trades. We are, after all, just past the mid-point of the season and the non-waiver trade deadline is less than three weeks away.

At this point there are three kinds of teams… obvious buyers, obvious sellers and everyone else. The Twins are in that “everyone else” category because they haven’t established themselves as an obvious contender nor have they fallen so far back in the standings that they have virtually no chance of becoming contenders.

So, that means everyone is (or soon will be) posing the question, “Should the Twins Buy or Sell?” To me, the answer is… “Yes, if the price is right.”

What’s that you say, it wasn’t a “yes or no” question? Too bad.

Bill Smith

July trades generally are made between two parties, one a contender and one… well… not. The contender (or “buyer”) has a spot or two to fill to help push them to the top of the standings and/or prepare them to be a stronger playoff team. Their GM has to be willing to do one of two things… or both… (a) give up highly rated prospects or young (read: cheap) MLB-ready players; and/or (b) take on significant salary owed to an established (and often overcompensated) veteran player.

The other party to these trades (the “seller”) has some highly paid veteran players that are either having good seasons or have put up good numbers recently enough that a contending team might be willing to bet they could help put their team over the top this season and that team is looking to restock with young players that will help next season… and for several years to come. They also are likely looking to shed some salary because they recognize attendance is going to be dropping the rest of the season.

I think the Twins, thanks to the very weird season they’ve endured, find themselves in a unique position… they’ve pressed a lot of young players in to Major League action and many of them have performed well enough to demonstrate that they fit the “MLB-ready” criteria that “sellers” are wanting in return for established players. They also find themselves with an abundance of veteran outfielders and pitchers… many of whom will be free agents at the end of this season… that could be attractive to contending “buyers”. Finally, they’re already certain to exceed 3 million in paid attendance, so there’s no need at all to consider shedding salary to be a factor.

Denard Span

It amazes me how many suggestions I’ve read that the Twins trade a Denard Span or a Delmon Young for established relief pitching. That’s absurd on two levels. First, nobody who has top veteran relief pitching to trade is likely to look for expensive veterans in return. They’re going to want young players they can continue to pay the league minimum to for a while. Also, you simply don’t trade players of the quality of Span, Young, Cuddyer, etc., for relief pitching. Ever.  MAYBE you trade your Rene Tosonis and Trevor Plouffes… legitimate prospects (but not future superstars), guys you can (and likely will) find a way to live without in the future… for relief pitchers. The Twins SHOULD be “buyers”… they SHOULD get relief help… and they have enough decent young talent to use for that purpose. There are a lot of decent relievers (meaning better than what the Twins have been trotting out there for middle relief) on the market so it should be a buyer’s market. There’s no need to overpay.

At the same time, the Twins have demonstrated that they can compete without the likes of Delmon Young, Denard Span, and Jason Kubel in the line up. The question is… should they trade away a veteran or two and continue to try to compete without them? If the price is right, sure, why not?

Delmon Young

Of course, you do not just give any of these guys away. Even those who are going to be free agents are likely to be good for compensatory supplemental draft picks if they walk away at the end of the season. But because guys like Ben Revere, Luke Hughes, Anthony Swarzak, and Glen Perkins have demonstrated they can be relied upon to play a role with a contending team, the Twins CAN afford to deal SOME of their veterans and still remain in contention in the AL Central Division. If Twins GM Bill Smith can get real prospects in return for one of his outfielders or one of his pitchers, he should go ahead and do it. Would that mean running a risk in the event the Twins get hit with more injuries? Absolutely… but a GM’s job is to evaluate and take acceptable risks.

But what if the Twins do none of this? What if Smith takes a summer vacation and leaves his phone in the Twin Cities? Can the Twins compete if they do nothing at all?

Well, I still think getting some relief help is important, but otherwise… yeah… the Twins could stand pat and make a serious run the second half of the season… and in to the playoffs. How is that possible?

Justin Morneau

It’s possible because, even if Bill Smith takes that long summer vacation, he will be adding three quality veteran players by the July 30 deadline and another… a former MVP… by the August 30 waiver-deal deadline. Delmon Young has been reactivated and Denard Span sounds like he won’t be far behind. Jason Kubel should be returning not long afterward. Justin Morneau’s recovery seems on target for mid August. Name me a contending team that wouldn’t give a boatload to get four players like that over the next 5 weeks! And Smith doesn’t have to give up a thing.

And here’s the bonus, in my mind… many teams (including past Twins teams) expend so much emotion and energy trying to make the surge necessary to dig out of a deficit in the standings that their tank is empty in September and October. They’re worn out mentally and beat up physically. But most of the Twins top players shouldn’t be feeling worn down. Mauer, Morneau, Young, Kubel, Span… they’ll all be far fresher than most players at that point in the season.

The Twins also have enough starting pitching, with Swarzak, Kevin Slowey and Kyle Gibson (again, we’re assuming the GM makes no deals) ready to step in, that any member of the current rotation who gets as much as a hangnail could be DL’d for 14 days, allowed to get rested up, and come back strong.

This is not the time for Bill Smith to overspend. He doesn’t need… in fact can’t afford… another trade where he gives up a top prospect for a relief pitcher, like the Ramos-for-Capps deal a year ago. He can afford to wait for a trading partner who’s willing to overspend and, if necessary, settle for a moderate deal for middle relief help.

I hope he shows patience because God knows the blogging world is likely to urge otherwise.

– JC