Last Man Standing… and Other Peoples’ Words

Just under a year ago in my post-mortem of the Twins’ 2010 season, I reviewed the list of players that we were likely going to be saying good-bye to over the offseason and offered my own humble predictions concerning which would be returning and which would not. I wasn’t far off, either. Then again, how tough was it to predict that Randy Flores wouldn’t be coming back to Minnesota?

As things turned out, by my count, the Twins parted ways with 11 Major League players between the time they were so rudely dispatched by the Yankees in the ALDS and Opening Day 2011. Most of those players managed to find some form of gainful employment with other teams. In addition to the aforementioned Flores, here’s a list of others that Twins fans bid farewell to last offseason:

Ron Mahay, Jon Rauch, Brian Fuentes, Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Pat Neshek, Orlando Hudson, Brendan Harris, and JJ Hardy.

Do you see the common thread running between all of these players?

Yes… they are all going to have the same view of the MLB post-season that their former Twins team mates are going to have… from the outside looking in. They may not have all ended up playing for last-place teams as bad as the one they left behind in Minnesota, but none of them hitched their wagon to a playoff team.

Nick Punto

But there is one name I left off that list. Yes, one player that the Twins could find no use for will be playing extra baseball this season.

Nick Punto is going to the playoffs.

Punto had a pretty typical Puntoesque season for the St. Louis Cardinals. By that, I mean he spent a  fair amount of time not playing baseball, appearing in only 63 games. But when he played, his numbers were more in line with the 2008 version we saw in Minnesota than what we had seen in his last two seasons. He hit .278, got on base at a .388 clip and had a respectable .421 slugging percentage. That’s good for an .809 OPS.

That’s nothing to scoff at, especially when you put it up next to many of the members of the chorus line of mediocrity that populated the Twins infield this season.

Anyway… like it or not, if you’re a Twins fan that likes to root in the playoffs for teams with guys you’ve come to know because of their recent service with the home town team, Nick Punto is carrying that banner.

Delmon Young

Of course, Nick isn’t entirely alone. The Twins did, after all, make a couple of in-season deals that sent players to contenders. Things didn’t work out the way we hoped they might for Jim Thome in Cleveland, but Delmon Young and his Tigers will be in New York on Friday night to do battle with the Evil Empire. I’m hoping he and his new team have better luck in that crusade than he did with the Twins a year ago.

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Finally, it feels like I’m not doing my job as a blogger if I don’t mention something about Wednesday night’s baseball games on the final night of the regular season. In fact, I really wanted to write something about how I sat watching four games on my laptop and a fifth on the television all evening long… how I cheered for my adopted Orioles and for the Rays (someone has to, because nobody seems to do that, even in the Tampa Bay area, right?). It was an amazing night of baseball, but words escaped me on Thursday.

It’s just as well, because as is almost always the case, the people who get paid to do this kind of thing captured everything much better than I could have anyway. So I’m going to just drop a couple of quotes on you from Joe Posnanski and Jim Mandelaro and urge you to go read their stuff.

Mandelaro is the Rochester beat writer for the Red Wings and an unabashed Red Sox fan. As you read his “Heartbroken” post, I’m sure the frustration will sound familiar. He’s hurt, he’s angry, he kicks ass and names names. It’s not all that different than the feelings so many of us expressed about the Twins for the past several months. He finished with these sentiments, with which I believe most Twins fans can relate:

My Red Sox heart is broken. I’m not embarrassed to be a Sox fan, but I am embarrased for this edition of the Sox. I hope they are, too. It will be a long winter. In the meantime, I will now pull for my second favorite team in baseball: The APYs. Never heard of them? Stands for Anyone Playing the Yankees.

When you’re finished with Mandelaro’s post, go check out Joe Posnanski’s. He pretty much always captures these events perfectly and this time is no exception. The entire “Baseball Night in America” post is worth reading, but since Joe’s posts are even longer than mine, I’ll just give you a little taste here:

Funny, if I was trying to explain baseball to someone who had never heard of it, I wouldn’t tell them about Wednesday night. No, it seems to me that it isn’t Wednesday night that makes baseball great. It’s all the years you spend waiting for Wednesday night that makes baseball great.

I couldn’t have said it better, myself.

So I won’t even try.

– JC

Off Day Reading and Writing

I know the players need a day off now and then (like the rest of us), but I get bored on off days.

So tonight you get a “JC is bored” post.

I’d like to be able to add something insightful to CapitalBabs’ post along the literary lines… maybe tell you all about the great books I’ve read lately. Or better yet, actually go somewhere and find The 10 Commandments of Baseball and read it for myself. But that would require effort.

However, I’ve honestly written more words for this blog than I’ve read in books over the past month or more. That’s probably not good. If it’s true that you learn more by listening than speaking (and I believe it certainly is), then you almost certainly also learn more by reading than writing. I would like to think people who read what I write either learn something or are at least somewhat entertained, but I can’t really even be sure of that.

I do read other blogs though. I particularly read those that are included in our blogrolls off to the right. Not many days go by that I don’t pretty much click down our entire list of Twins blogs to see what others are writing about. I also read the Jim Mandelaro and Joe Posnanski blogs pretty religiously. Their links, along with MLB Trade Rumors (which is mandatory reading at this time of the season, of course) are located in our “Other Sports Blogs” section over on the right.

Mandelaro recently had some interesting comments about the Twins, as a parent organization for the Red Wings. The Wings have had a very disappointing year, to say the least. Those of you who have never lived in a community where the local Minor League team is an important part of the area’s summer entertainment may not understand what the big deal is. After all, the primary purpose of an organization’s farm system is to prepare players for the Big Leagues and winning isn’t really a big deal. But trust me, it’s a very big deal to the community and to the people who rely on gate receipts and concessions at the local ballpark for a living. The Red Wings signed a two year extension with the Twins recently. That’s pretty much the shortest extension that local clubs sign with Major League teams. To me, it signals that Rochester is willing to give the Twins a pass on this year, but if they don’t do something about fielding a competitive team in Rochester next season, the Twins will be looking for a new AAA home in two years.

Posnanski has had a lot of interesting posts lately, but one of them in particular sort of caught my eye a few days ago. He brought the “I Write Like” site to his readers’ attention. The premise of the site is that you can paste a sample of your writing (or someone else’s for that matter) and they perform an analysis of the sample. Then they tell you which famous writer/author’s style the sample matches up with. Posnanski had some fun with it by plugging in a bunch of famous quotations, etc.

Naturally, I had to try it out.

Cory Doctorow

OK I need to be honest. I didn’t submit my own stuff first. I plugged in a post of Babs’ to see if she got someone cool. The result: Cory Doctorow. Again, being honest, I had no idea who that was but I looked it up. Cory’s Canadian (that’s cool… as Twins fans, we kinda dig Canadians). He’s also a blogger, journalist and science fiction writer… and a big proponent of liberalizing copyright laws. Now that’s very cool. Immediately, I wished I had submitted my own sample first so I might have turned out to be compared to a cool Canadian blogger/sci-fi writer.

But instead of submitting my own sample next, I decided I wanted another test. So I submitted one of KL’s posts. They matched her up with David Foster Wallace, another writer I had no knowledge of whatsoever. (I wasn’t learning

David Foster Wallace

much, but I was getting the idea that I need to read more!) Wallace, it turns out, wrote Infinite Jest in 1996, which ended up on TIME magazine’s “All Time 100 Greatest Novels” list (for the period 1923-3006) and the LA Times called him called him one of the most influential and innovative writers of the past 20 years. Very cool, right? His bio says he was a rare combination of sporting and academic prowess but was shy and uncomfortable around strangers. Wait a minute…. “was”? Uh oh. Yeah… seems he suffered from depression for 20 years and committed suicide about two years ago.

Despite Mr. Wallace’s unfortunate lost battle with his inner demons, both of their writing styles matched up with some pretty impressive writers. So, I decided it was safe for me to plug in one of my posts and find out which award winning writer (who I’d likely never heard of) my style compares favorably with.

Apparently, the longer the sample, the more accurate the analysis. As I’ve been the first to admit, I tend to write long posts sometimes (ok, most of the time), so I figured I should get a REALLY accurate analysis from submitting one of my Knuckleballs posts for analysis.

Guess what… I write like a GIRL!!!

BG's close personal friend

And it wasn’t even a cool girl author that I was familiar with… like that Anne Ursu chick. I could live with that! (Yes, Batgirl’s “Close Personal Friend” has a Wikipedia page… how cool is that? I want one!)

No… it’s a girl who writes Vampire-Romance books! Yes, my “comparable” author is Stephenie Meyer, of Twilight fame.

Stephenie Meyer

Then, of course, I realized that I could do a lot worse than sharing a writing style with a woman… especially a woman who’s sold a bajillion books around the world and made a gazillion dollars doing it. She’s on pretty much every “most influential” sort of list you can find that includes authors and is only 36 years old.

So, in retrospect, I think I got the coolest “I Write Like” match of the Knuckleballs group. In fact, since my writing is obviously so darn good, it really only leaves me with one question.

What the heck am I doing writing for FREE for you people? Where’s my assistant? Get my agent on the phone! – JC

Morneau: “didn’t like our energy”. Join the crowd, Doc.

Over at the Strib, Joe Christensen’s article on Thursday’s game quotes Justin Morneau as saying:

“That wasn’t the same Brewers team we played at our place [in May], and we weren’t the same either,” the Twins first baseman said. “I didn’t like our energy today. We got down early and didn’t show much of a fight. Obviously you give some credit to their pitcher, but at the same time, the energy in our dugout wasn’t very good.”

Following up on that theme, Howard Sinker posted some thoughts on his Strib blog, as well. Howard poses the question of whether the Twins miss a guy like Orlando Cabrera in the clubhouse.

Reading all this stuff about a lack of energy riles me up a bit, to be honest. I spent virtually the entire first 40 years of my life in baseball dugouts. From the time I started going to practices and games for the Albert Lea HS teams my dad coached to the time I started playing ball myself and on through the years I spent coaching CABA and traveling teams, I pretty much figured out what creates energy among a team and what depresses it.

Winning energizes and losing sucks the life out of dugout. It really IS that simple.

Yes, I know all about the rampant amphetamine use among ballplayers that has (supposedly) been curtailed since MLB started testing for the drug 4-ish years ago. I did, after all, read Jim Bouton’s “Ball Four”. (You haven’t read it? Seriously? And you call yourself a baseball fan!? Go read it. Now. The rest of this blog will still be here when you’re finished.)

There’s all sorts of speculation about how player performances (particularly older veterans) are not up to what they used to be because they aren’t as revved up, mentally and physically, as they were when the clubhouse coffee pots were marked “leaded” and “unleaded”… and it had nothing to do with caffeine. I can’t discount the possibility that some players really do have trouble performing at high levels, day in and day out, without a little chemical help.

Shall we take a collection to cure the Twins' "energy problem."

If that’s the Twins problem, then I say we all pitch in and send them a 4 month supply of the energy drink of their choice.

But I honestly believe the solution is more basic. Win more games. Lose fewer games.

Last Sunday the Twins were coming off an emotional extra-inning game against the Phillies on Saturday and were set to face Roy Halladay in an afternoon “getaway day” game. I didn’t see any sign of an energy shortage on Sunday. (I also didn’t see a “B-squad” lineup on the field for the Twins that day, either, by the way.)

After a couple of losses Tuesday and Wednesday, all it really took to KNOW that the Twins were going to phone it in on Thursday afternoon was a look at the lineup cards. Facing the Brewers’ ace, the Twins were Mauerless, had Cuddyer at 3B and Nick Blackburn on the mound. Seriously… how much energy would YOU have been pumped up with if you were in that dugout Thursday?

Here’s a little secret that those who haven’t played the game might not be aware of: Ballplayers can read scoreboards. They know when their starting pitcher has given up bunch of crooked numbers early in a ballgame. If you have to stage a comeback like last Saturday’s once in a while, players can and will rise to the occasion to do so. But when you have pitchers who are consistently digging early holes for themselves and their team mates, it WILL drain the team’s energy.

It would be great if the Twins, as a group, would come together and say, “hey, the Tigers and WhiteSox are playing well and gaining on us, we need to ramp it up and ‘battle our tails off’ every game and blah, blah, blah.” But I’m here to tell you, if the Twins starting pitching does not improve, they will continue to lack energy and continue losing games. Lots of games.

There are two things I think should be done as soon as possible.

1. Replace Nick Blackburn in the rotation with Brian Duensing. I know Blackie has had tough stretches in the past and has bounced back to be productive later. That’s great. I hope he can do it again. But until he gets his crap together, let him work on his issues out of the pen. Duensing has earned a shot at proving he can do it better.

2. Trade for Cliff  Lee. I know this topic is already getting old and people are tired of hearing about it. I know some people don’t think he’d be a good clubhouse guy. You know what makes a starting pitcher a good clubhouse guy? Giving him run support when he busts his butt to shut down the other team. In other words, winning doesn’t just boost energy, it also makes for a happy clubhouse. Funny how that works.

By the way, if this report is accurate, not only will a certain Omaha resident who frequents our blog not be a very happy camper, but it could also make it impossible for the Twins to execute both of the above improvements.

Actually, there is a 3rd thing that should be done immediately. Move Delmon Young up in the order. Gardy is just being pigheaded (again) and there’s no excuse for not having made this move already. It has nothing to do with energy (except that Young has it and Cuddyer doesn’t, lately), but it still needs to be done.

By the way, in case anyone was thinking that there might be an energy boost available in Rochester to help the Twins situation, go read the last couple of posts (June 23 and 24) on Jim Mandelaro’s blog concerning the Red Wings, who just wrapped up a 1-7 homestand. In the final sentence of yesterday’s entry, Jim tells readers that he’s taking a day off Friday (today) to cover the LPGA golf tournament being played (we presume) nearby. ” It’s a welcome respite from the deadly quiet atmosphere of the Red Wings’ clubhouse.” When your beat writer is looking forward to covering a women’s golf tournament instead of your game and hints that the golf tournament might not be as “deadly quiet” as your clubhouse, things are not going well.

Doesn’t sound like we should be expecting newly arrived outfielder Jason Repko to be providing an energy boost, does it? – JC

Friday Hot Dish

Way down south, where I’m living (in Iowa), it’s called a casserole. But as I recall from my younger years in Minnesota, up there it’s a hot dish. Either way, to me it’s still a bunch of stuff thrown together, cooked, and if you’re really good at it (or really lucky), it turns out tasty, satisfying and filling. So that’s the purpose of this post… throw a few things together and, since I’m not likely to be really good, I’ll hope to be lucky.

It didn’t take long for the Twins to completely disregard my suggested roster moves. In fact, not only did they NOT make the moves I recommended, even the one move that I said “we all know WILL happen this weekend” isn’t going to happen this weekend. JJ Hardy won’t be rejoining the Twins for their series against JJ’s former team, the Brewers, this weekend. I’m getting a bit more concerned about this slow-healing wrist. A couple of our readers added comments taking issue with my suggestion that it might be time for Brian Duensing to slide in to Kevin Slowey’s spot in the rotation. Whether my suggestions turn out to be as far off base as they’re already starting to look, only time will tell. Let’s see where things stand in 2-3 weeks.

By the way, given that Hardy isn’t ready yet, it makes perfect sense to have Trevor Plouffe join the team this weekend. Luke Hughes is on the DL and Matt Tolbert can’t return to the Bigs until 10 days after he was sent down, so Plouffe makes sense. Let’s just hope Gardy isn’t tempted to use him as a late-game defensive replacement in a close game. Trevor has eight errors already this year.

Joe Mauer... moving up TSN's "Best Player in Baseball" list.

The Sporting News polled 125 baseball “experts” (apparently my ballot was lost in the mail) to find out who they thought the best 50 players in baseball are. Guess what!? Joe Mauer isn’t #1! Yeah, that Pujols guy over in the National League (or as I call it, Class AAAA) got the nod for the second year in a row. But Joe’s on Albert’s heels at #2 after moving up 37 spots from last year’s poll. Seriously… these experts thought Joe was the 39th best player a year ago? I mean… I know he missed April with back issues so maybe the votes last year were influenced by what was then Mauer’s “current performance”, but 39th?

Doc not impressing the TSN 'experts'?

The Twins’ other representative in the top 50 is another head-scratcher. Justin Morneau is ranked 23rd by these experts. If current performance is important, how is Doc’s 2010 not being recognized? He’s off to arguably the best start of his career. And he’s DROPPED 9 spots from last year?

The panel, as described by TSN, “included 18 Hall of Famers, 12 Cy Young award winners, 8 MVPs, 15 rookies of the year, 3 batting champions, 3 home run champions, 9 Silver Slugger award winners, 18 Gold Glove winners, 6 ERA champions, 4 World Series MVPs, 2 relievers of the year, 7 managers of the year, 5 former executives, 6 media members and 9 team broadcasters.” Sounds like a bunch of old men, to me.

Apparently senility has set in among some of those old “experts”.

It wouldn’t be a JimCrikket link fest without something from Joe Posnanski, of course… so I’m going to link to two of Joe’s recent efforts. Don’t worry, they’re both short.

First, Poz (I don’t know if that’s really a nickname he uses, but if it isn’t it should be) looked at the Hanley Ramirez fiasco and posed the question “What if it had been Jeter?”  He’s also given us a peek inside the Sports Illustrated tent and, as someone who’s giving some thought to buying an iPad in the near future, I found his “Sports Illustrated for iPad” posting of some interest.

You may have noticed how I’ve avoided any mention of last night’s loss to the East Coast Bitch Sox in Boston. It was aggravating on so many levels, but I think the thing that stood out the most, right from the start of the game, was the absolute joke that particular umpiring crew has become. Since the Twins have a “history” with some of those guys (remember Brendan Harris not being allowed a time out and having a pitch zip by him while not even looking?), it was probably predictable. But rather than me ranting today, I’ll just send you over to k-bro’s place to see her scientific (I’m sure) diagram of the strike zone last night.

I guess I need to get a little real work done this morning, so that’s enough for now. Check back later… if I come across any other interesting ingredients for today’s hot dish, I’ll add them as the day rolls on. – JC

UPDATE 1: I did mean to include this post from Jim Manelaro concerning the Stephen Strasburg “event” in Rochester. Strasburg, the uber-phenom of the Washington Nationals who is being kept busy mowing down minor leaguers until the Nats can be sure he won’t qualify for “super 2″ arbitration status in a couple of years, pitched against the Red Wings Wednesday night.

He pitched well (although newly promoted Twin Trevor Plouffe did get one hit off him). As you’d expect, the Rochester stadium was overflowing (with a significant number of fans wearing Strasburg T-shirts sold at the stadium by the Red Wings!) and when Strasburg was finally relieved of duty, he was given a huge ovation as he left the field. However, he apparently did not acknowledge the ovation with the traditional “cap tip”, causing much of the ovation to turn to boos. This has apparently become a bit of a “thing” now. So my questions, working backwards a bit, are:

1- Why is it a big deal that Strasburg didn’t tip his cap to the opposing crowd?

2- Why would an opposing crowd be THAT enthusiastic in the first place toward an opposing pitcher?

3- What the heck were the Red Wings thinking when they printed up T-shirts and turned their entire crowd in to an 8,000-strong Syracuse/Strasburg love fest? (Yes, I know, money.)

4- I want to know what the Red Wing players… and for that matter the Twins organization… thinks of Rochester’s bizarre promotion of an opponent? (If I were a Red Wing player, I’d have been pissed!)

UPDATE 2: This one made me laugh and almost cheer a bit, as well. Seems the people who run the city of Los Angeles decided they should boycott the state of Arizona over the issue of their controversial immigration law. Now, this blog is not the place for me to express my feelings regarding the law itself, but I REALLY don’t like it when the people on either coast (who think they know everything and that the rest of us should do things the way the folks on the coasts tell us to) start throwing their weight around.

So THAT’S why I found this response from an Arizona Corporation Commission (an oddly named agency that oversees electrical power plants in Arizona) member to the Mayor of Los Angeles hilarious:

“If an economic boycott is truly what you desire, I will be happy to encourage Arizona utilities to renegotiate your power agreements so Los Angeles no longer receives power from Arizona-based generation.”

Seems Los Angeles gets about 25% of their electricity from power plants in Arizona. Oops.

Yeah, I know it’s unlikely they could actually withhold electricity from LA, but any time someone is willing to stand up and say “stick it, jerk!” to bullies, I love it. I also know this article has almost nothing to do with baseball… except let me say that if Bud Selig actually does change his mind (what mind?) and pull the 2011 AllStar game from Arizona over this issue, the good people of Arizona should tell Bud to “stick it”, too. Immigration is a serious issue and should be dealt with by serious people… and that leaves out Bud Selig (and the LA City Council, too).

Blogs you may not have read (and why you should)

I have no rant today. My Bud Selig rant yesterday apparently drained me of most of my rantishness.

Friday seems to be a day that many bloggers use to post links to other blogs they’ve found something worth reading on. I wonder if that’s because, collectively, our brains tend to shut down on Fridays and we just don’t want to do any more thinking than we’ve already done for the week. Regardless, I don’t feel much like thinking (or even ranting) today either.

It would be easy to link to some really good stuff that’s been written by the better known (and deservedly widely read) bloggers, but you should all be reading most of them without any urging from me. So I’m going to mention a couple of blogs that some of you may not be following as closely (or maybe never have checked out).

I’m working today (seriously… I am!) so I’ve only checked out a few of the “out of the mainstream” blogs, but here are three you should definitely look in to.

First, if you dont read Joe Posnankski’s blog, you really should. Set aside your biases against all things related to divisional rivals and read this KC (and SI.com) writer occasionally. This recent post combines a discussion of home run trots with a call for the return of bullpen cars. If that’s not worthy of a “Knuckleballs” endoresment, what is? (As an aside, if you’ve never read Joe’s “Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O’Neil’s America”, I can’t urge you to do so strongly enough.)

Today, we added Brendan Harris’ new blog to our list of Additional Twins Blogs. There are probably over 100 of us blogging about the Twins now. A few people with the access that comes with having press credentials  are among those bloggers. But when actual players join the Twins blogosphere, it’s worth keeping an eye on!

Finally, I also find it worthwhile to check in with Jim Mandelaro in Rochester from time to time. This recent posting included a couple of bits of information I found interesting. First, guess who the Rochester Red Wings centerfielder is. If you guessed Dustin Martin, Ben Revere (or any of the other high draft choice CFs the Twins have signed in recent years) or even Jacque Jones, you’d be wrong. Matt Tolbert is playing CF for the Red Wings. Hmmmmmmmmm… interesting. Oh, and he also mentions that former Twin Boof Bonser’s ERA is 17.05 after two rehab starts for the Red Sox’ AAA club in Pawtucket. Ouch!

Looking forward to tonight’s first night game at Target Field! I’m not sure if I’ll be watching at home (and joining our LiveChat here at Knuckleballs) or watching it at a sports bar, but in either case, I’d much rather be there in person!  – JC