Old Guys Playing Baseball?

saintslogoSo today, the St. Paul Saints are having their yearly try-outs in which they take all comers. Yes, it is snowing  – which is why I think they postponed the activity from yesterday to today – but from what I have heard, they are going ahead today. At least the website still says that they are going today.

So if you’re dying to play professional baseball and think you have the stuff, you should head over to Midway Stadium – at least if you’re young and vigorous, right?

Paul Risso pitch_400

Paul Risso, a 60-year-old pitcher from New Mexico who will try out for the St. Paul Saints on Thursday, May 2, 2013, is shown pitching during the Mens Senior Baseball League – Phoenix 55+ World Series in a 2009 photo. (Photo courtesy of Paul Risso)

So here’s the thing. One of the guys who will be “auditioning” today is 60 yo Paul Risso. Yes, you read that right. He’s 6-0 years old – as in “born in 1952.”

According to the Pioneer Press story, Risso had a promising career back in college when kids normally are drafted to play professional baseball: son of Giants prospect, Albert Risso; promising right-handed pitcher from San Mateo College in California; drafted by they Pittsburgh Pirates in the sixth round; but… A torn rotator cuff ended all that in 1973 as they didn’t have the medical technology to make those diagnoses or repairs.

Paul Risso mug_200

Paul Risso, a 60-year-old pitcher from New Mexico who will try out for the St. Paul Saints on Thursday, May 2, 2013, in a 2011 photo. (Photo courtesy of Paul Risso)

Mr. Risso went on with life without baseball as a civil engineer but always with the shoulder pain that had killed the baseball option – that is until about 10 years ago. For whatever reason, the shoulder had repaired itself, gotten stronger and the pain went away so… he started throwing again. He still throws a fastball around 84 miles an hour, which is nothing to sneeze at.

Risso is the oldest player ever to try out for the Saints but he’s certainly not the only “old guy” who wants to play baseball over there. And he’s NOT the oldest guy to actually play for the Saints. Other senior players include a 53 yo Knuckleballer (always a fav) named Jon Secrist and Minnie Minoso who was signed each in 1993 and 2003 with at-bats as a designated hitter so he could record professional play in 7 decades. Minoso is now 87 years old and you wonder if maybe they’ll throw him out there now that it’s 2013 to give him one more decade to make 8.

Of course, those are names none of you have ever even heard of so who else wants to play for the Saints this year? According FSN, Jose Conseco. Anyone else think it would be more entertaining to have Minoso again? At least Conseco is honest enough to admit that he is making the proposal purely for promotions’ sake – although whether it’s for his OWN promotion or the team would be hard to differentiate.

And the Saints have been known to do crazier things with players on the backside of their careers. Darryl Strawberry was attempting a legitimate comeback, which worked since he ended up back with the Yankees the next year.

jim-thome-25-mlbSo with all this attention to the Saints possible roster additions, has anyone reminded them that our dear friend, Jim Thome doesn’t have a home yet?? Now THAT would sell WAAAAAAY more tickets than Jose Conseco. Anyone have his email address??

I’m all for it! Let’s get some Old Guys Playing Baseball!

Book Review: Harmon Killebrew: Ultimate Slugger

I recently received a review copy of Harmon Killebrew: Ultimate Slugger.  The book was written by Steve Aschburner with a foreword by Jim Thome and published by Triumph Books.

Steve Aschburner is a long time sports writer, covering all four major league sports and NCAA basketball.  His primary area of emphasis is NBA basketball, but between this book, and his 2008 work “The Good, the Bad & the Ugly: Minnesota Twins”, it is clear that he has a soft spot for America’s Pastime and the Minnesota Twins.

As a Twins fan not old enough to have seen Harmon Killebrew play for the Senators/Twins, nor old enough even to remember him calling games for the Twins on television, reading Ultimate Slugger provided an excellent opportunity to familiarize myself with one of the greatest men to ever play professional baseball.  Not only did I learn a lot about Killebrew, but I learned a lot about the game of baseball as it was played nearly 50 years ago.

The book is straight forward enough, it starts with a brief synopsis of Killebrew’s family lineage, includes some stories about Killebrew as a young kind, and then follows his career through his early days as a “Bonus Baby” in the 1950s right through his playing days and his strong presence with the Twins up until 2011.

The two things I liked best about Ultimate Slugger was the way Aschburner captured the spirit of Killebrew and the insights into Major League Baseball as it existed in the 50s and 60s.  Aschburner best captured Killebrew through interviews and stories from his life long friends.  He provided insight into the MLB gone-by with just enough statistical analysis to give you an idea of how the game was played and who the biggest players were, and throwing in some anecdotes that highlight the essence of the game.

One thing that particularly struck me was the story of how Harmon Killebrew’s first trip to the Major Leagues.  Killebrew joined the Washington Senators during a 19 game road trip.  A NINETEEN GAME ROAD TRIP (The Twins’ longest road trip in 2012 is 10 games, and that’s one of the longest road trips in MLB this year).  But when Killebrew joined the Senators on that road trip, it was not just the first time he’d been to a Major League game, but the first time he’d even seen a Major League stadium.  Because he was a “bonus baby” Killebrew did not have the benefit of Minor League seasoning, and his first two years he played sporadically, mostly being used as a pinch hitter or pinch runner.  Pretty interesting start for a man that would become an MLB icon.

The biggest drawback to the book is Aschburner’s writing style.  As a seasoned sports writer, his book reads more like a 230 page newspaper column than a regular biography.  Aschburner uses more than his fair share of hokey transitions and cliches to chronicle the life of Harmon Killebrew, but that’s really the only knock on the book.

If you’re a Twins fan looking to gain more insight into the life and stories that surrounded Harmon Killebrew you should definitely pick up a copy* of “Harmon Killebrew: Ultimate Slugger”.

*Knuckleballs will be running a contest during the upcoming All-Star break and giving away two copies of “Harmon Killebrew: Ultimate Slugger”.  Stay tuned!

The Watch has ended… for Thome at least.

The word has come down the pipeline that a deal has been reached with the Cleveland Indians for Jim Thome and that he has waived his No-Trade Clause in order to facilitate the return.

I’m sure there will be a LOT of stories reporting on the various aspects – since we don’t know what we’re getting in return yet – but Mackey has the known details over at ESPN 1500.

I have to admit, I’m kind of a sucker for the story going this way. I really do want him to have the opportunity for a ring. He’s a fantastic guy and I think he deserves it. This is the team where he started and it’s kind of cool that he’ll likely end his career there… of course, he may surprise us all and keep going for awhile yet. Given how my “not-quite-40-year-old” body feels when I get up in the morning, I honestly don’t know how he still gets out there but I wish him the best of luck and at least I’ll have someone to cheer for in the off-season since the Twins won’t be there – and I’m pretty sure that the Indians still kind of count as an underdog since they still have to get past the Tigers.

Thank you, Jim Thome, for the incredible service you gave to Minnesota and the work ethic and class you brought to our organization no matter for how brief a time. You will be missed and we wish you well (even if it IS in the division!)

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

Just wanted to add my 2 cents… and to also thank Jimmer for the class he showed during his time with the Twins. I’ll be rooting for the Tribe to catch the Tigers and give Thome a shot at a ring.

The worst part of losing him is that the current batch of young Twins won’t have him in the clubhouse for the rest of the season. Then again, if they haven’t learned from him what being a Major League ballplayer is supposed to be all about by this point (and I see no indication that many of them have), the lesson is probably not going to to sink in with these guys.

Anyway… best of luck, Mr. Incredible! – JC

Much Ado About Nothing

Yes, it’s true… “Much Ado About Nothing”, the title of a Shakespearean comedic farce, could well be an apt description of the comedic farce that has become the entire Twins season. In this case, however, its use is being applied to the fan angst over Jim Thome and Jason Kubel getting sent through waivers by the Twins.

Jim Thome in Spring Training... when there was still hope

I think the problem is that Twins fans have become a bit spoiled. We’re accustomed to trade deadlines being among the times of the year when we’re wondering which key veteran “spare parts” GM Bill Smith would/could/should snatch from non-contending teams in return for a prospect or two. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what trade deadline life looks like from the other side of the looking glass. Sucks, don’t it?

A year ago, I authored a post here entitled “When Is A Trade Deadline Not A Trade Deadline”, in which I gave a bit of a rambling, not-so-serious look at the waiver-trade process that teams go through in August. Go back and read it if you care to. It wasn’t my best writing, but I thought there was a line or two that worked. I admit, however, that it seemed a bit more humorous last season, when the Twins were “buyers” this time of year. Maybe I was just in a better mood at the time.

But here’s the deal. A team in the Twins’ situation (hopelessly and painfully going through the motions and desperately trying to find someone… anyone… who they think might be a capable MLB baseball player that can help their team in 2012) is going to put a lot of their roster through waivers in August. Most of those players will finish the season with the Twins. Perhaps, some won’t. 

Jason Kubel

Any player that isn’t under contract for 2012 is a likely candidate to be put on the waiver wire. Thome and Kubel are both pending free agents, so why shouldn’t the Twins see if there’s a contender out there who might give up something potentially useful in return for renting their bats for a few weeks? If the Twins want them back next season (and for some unfathonable reason, they would want to return to this crappy organization), they can bid for their services again this offseason, which they would have had to do anyway. Similarly, fans shouldn’t be surprised if Michael Cuddyer and Joe Nathan are put on waivers.

Teams also waive players under team control beyond this season that they think may be overcompensated, in the hope that someone will relieve them of the remainder of that contract. Delmon Young was such a player, as manager Ron Gardenhire pointed out yesterday. He told the media that Young was likely to be “non-tendered” (which is what you do to a young player instead of offering arbitration when you don’t want to pay anything close to what an arbitrator might decide he’s worth). A guy like Carl Pavano might also fit this category. The Twins have him under contract for 2012, but if another team claims him, the Twins may just let him go and let the new team pick up responsibility for the remainder of the contract.

Remember, though, just because a team puts a player on waivers, it doesn’t mean he’s going anywhere. He may not get claimed, which on the one hand, means nobody in either league was certain enough that he’d be any help that he was worth taking a chance on having to pay off the rest of his contract, but on the other hand, means he can then be traded to any team. The terms of the trade could then involve the Twins agreeing to eat some contract.

Also, if a player IS claimed, the Twins can pull him back off of waivers one time. This is where the speculation gets interesting.

I don’t think most Twins fans would begrudge letting a guy like Jim Thome get another shot at the post-season. This may (or may not) be his last such opportunity. Similarly, why should we be upset if Kubel, Cuddyer or Nathan get a little unexpected taste of the post-season? At least it would give us someone to root for in October, because nobody else on this team is going to be playing late baseball.

But what if the first team to have the opportunity to grab one or more of these guys off the waiver wire is the White Sox? Would the Twins really do anything to aid the Bitch Sox in their effort to catch the Tigers?

Hell, yes, they would.

Kenny Williams is notorious (among White Sox fans, themselves) for overpaying to acquire veteran players. If he’s stupid enough to give up highly regarded prospects for the Twins’ spare parts, Bill Smith would be an absolute fool NOT to take advantage. OK… so maybe that means it’s not so likely after all, but he SHOULD take advantage.

It’s not very fun being a Twins fan right now. It’s not fun envisioning the players who have brought so much excitement over the past several years suiting up for other teams the rest of the season. But, as they say, baseball is a business. And while our friend Seth Stohs is trying to cheer us up by pointing out that the Twins minor league system is not totally useless, the fact is that it could use some shoring up (by the way, I firmly believe Seth knows more about the Twins minor leaguers than anyone within the Twins organization itself… I’m just not sure whether that says more about Seth or the people actually getting paid by the Twins). When you’re out of the race and you have the opportunity to get something useful for players that have expiring or expensive contracts, you do it. You have to, if you want to have any hope of getting competitive again any time soon. It’s how the business works.

And hey… look at the bright side… the team, as currently constituted can’t seem to score more than 1 run a game WITH Thome, Kubel and Cuddyer, so how much worse can the offense really get without them? Besides, think about how much cheaper tickets on StubHub or on the street corner the day of games are going to be for a while!

– JC

GameChat – Twins @ Tigers, 6:05pm

Wow, lots of controversy in Twins Territory today – although not nearly as much on Twitter as you would think. It appears that those who are more of my mind about the Delmon trade are in greater numbers in that particular venue than those who are of JC’s mind. Frankly, I think that we could have gotten a towel and a bar of soap for Delmon and the Twins would have come out ahead.  I know he has devoted followers but I was done with waiting for his potential to show up as existing talent instead of potential. Yes, I know he was younger than he looks.. I kept hoping that with the weight up & down and the occasional sign of effort in the outfield that he was really trying to improve his baseball skill. But somehow he never did. Batting practice bombs do not win baseball games and I wish the Twins had moved him on to another environment where he could succeed while he still had some actual trade value.

For the record – this was not a situation where the Twins approached an intra-division team and said, ‘let’s deal.’  The Twins apparently decided they were done as well and put him on waivers. The Tigers grabbed him and the Twins had to either get the deal done or let it all go for nothing. Don’t be confused folks, the Twins didn’t really have a lot of options here. Delmon had no value to speak of so I think we did ok.  It will be interesting to face him as the #3 hitter tonight though and the whole thing with him riding the team bus over to Comerica and then saying goodbye to everyone was a bit… odd… awkward.. hope it went ok for him. And don’t get me wrong – I wish him the best of luck and really do think he needs an entirely new situation for him to have any chance at being successful. I’m absolutely certain it was never going to happen here.  Good Luck Delmon! (just not tonight! ;) )

 

Minnesota

@

Detroit
Span, CF Jackson, A, CF
Plouffe, 2B Raburn, 2B
Mauer, C Young, D, LF
Morneau, 1B Cabrera, Mi, 1B
Kubel, RF Martinez, V, DH
Thome, DH Peralta, Jh, SS
Valencia, 3B Ordonez, RF
Revere, LF Avila, C
Nishioka, SS Betemit, 3B
  Liriano, P   Porcello, P

[EDIT] The Twins have a lineup change. Denard Span scratched – didn’t feel right during BP. Revere in CF Plouffe in LF. Uh-oh…

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

Lots of cool stuff happened during the game tonight, not the least of which was Delmon Young going yard off of Frankie in his first AB as a Tiger and Ben Revere ALMOST hitting an inside-the-park-homerun that ended with a collision at the plate.

But let’s be honest… nothing else measures up to Jim Thome mashing career taters #599 AND #600 against the Tigers.

Congratulations to our BOD, Jimmer! (aka Mr Incredible). – JC

Mr. Incredible, Jim Thome! (Image: TD Davis)

GameChat – Royals @ Twins #4, 1:10pm

It’s hard not to look forward to the next eight games in seven days against the ‘Toons and Tigers, but the Twins need to focus on not letting today’s game against the Royals slip away. It’s important to win this series, too.

It sounds like it’s going to be another hot one at Target Field, so let’s hope everyone stays hydrated and comes out of this game healthy… and with another win!

ROYALS

@

TWINS
Getz, 2B   Revere, CF
Cabrera, Me, CF   Casilla, A, 2B
Gordon, LF   Mauer, C
Butler, DH   Cuddyer, 1B
Hosmer, 1B   Thome, DH
Francoeur, RF   Young, D, LF
Betemit, 3B   Valencia, 3B
Treanor, C   Plouffe, RF
Escobar, A, SS   Nishioka, SS
  _Paulino, F, P     _Duensing, P

 

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

R

H

E

Kansas City

1

0

0

0

0

0

2

0

0

3

7

1

Minnesota

1

0

0

0

0

3

0

0

x

4

8

1

 

Wow.. what a game! Starting at the end because we WON and that puts us 5 games back in the division (serious progress) Nathan got his 2nd Save in his third straight appearance in a solid and decisive way. It was a thing of beauty and for that he gets a tall frosty adult beverage of his choice to cut the heat.

Of course, the REAL story of the game was Jim Thome hitting the longest HR in Target Field so far – estimated at 490 ft – which gave him HR #596. It’s good to see him start to get to his rhythmn back. It’s even better when he drives in three runs in the process and gives us the win!  So for that, Jim Thome is today’s BOD!

 

 

As post-game news goes, Twins made several moves before tomorrow’s double-header & not all of them for good reasons.

  1. Scott Baker has been put on the DL with a strained flexor muscle in his right arm – this is retroactive to July 7th.
  2. Matt Tolbert was optioned back to Rochester.
  3. Scott Diamond’s contract was picked up and he’ll come up to start tomorrow night’s game.
  4. Chuck James is also being called back up to add a fresh arm to the bullpen.

Don’t forget that there is a makeup game at 12:10 tomorrow before the regularly scheduled 7:10 game and that will likely still have extremely high temperatures & humidity which will make the double-header a real challenge for both teams. Hopefully, they won’t have have to deal with any serious storms in the process.

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

Getting Reacquainted

 It’s been an odd season.

For a team in a league that limits active roster size to 25 players, the Twins have certainly manage to fit an awful lot of guys in to uniforms. 39 different players have taken the field for the Twins in 2011… 20 position players and 19 pitchers.

Of course, if you happen to be one of those fans that only pays attention to who’s playing when the Twins are taking the field at home in Target Field, you may not have noticed the constant roster adjustments that have resulted in Gardy putting something like 57 unique line ups on the field out of their 61 games. The reason you may not have noticed is that only 21 of those games have been at home.

From way down here in Eastern Iowa, I’ve personally attended almost 15% of the Twins’ home games. Quite the avid fan, aren’t I? Well, not really. I’ve actually only driven up to the Twin Cities for one series (the Angels)… and I didn’t even stay for every game of that series.

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

Well, get ready to get reacquainted with your team, folks, because all that is about to change.

The Twins will play 31 of their next 41 games at Target Field. They’ll have series in San Francisco and Milwaukee later this month and play a series in Chicago just before the All-Star Break, but otherwise, it’s time for some home cooking.

So, for those of you who have kind of lost touch with this team since the season started, here are a few things you should know:

  • You may have heard the Twins have a new second baseman. You may have heard that he’s from Japan. You may have heard wrong. Or not. Tsuyoshi Nishioka did start the season at 2B, but only lasted a week or so before breaking his leg, so when you go to the game, expect to see Matt Tolbert there. Or Luke Hughes. Or Michael Cuddyer. Or Alexi Casilla. Then again, Nishi is hopefully wrapping up his rehabilitation work in the minors soon, so you MAY see him out there. Or you may see him at shortstop instead. Or it may be Casilla there. Or Tolbert. Yeah… better just check the lineup on the big screen.
  • You may remember that the Twins have a home-grown All-Star MVP catcher. Well, yes they do. He’s currently DHing and catching a few innings here and there… for the Class A team his brother manages down in Ft. Myers. He, too, may be back on the field for the Twins some time during the next few weeks. But I wouldn’t bet on it. His legs are weak. Seriously… that’s the story… the $23 million/year hero is apparently taking the year off because his legs are weak.
  • You may have heard that Jim Thome is approaching a career milestone… 600 home runs! That’s true. He’s just approaching it very… very… slowly. He’s on the Disabled List at the moment (where he has lots and lots of company).
  • You may have heard that you can at least cheer for Jason Kubel and Denard Span because they have been among the few Twins actually hitting the ball well this season. Well… maybe. Kubel is keeping Thome and the others company on the Disabled List and Span has been missing games lately with what could be a recurrence of some vertigo issues he had a couple of years ago. Or maybe he just misses Thome and Jason (and the other Jason… Repko) and Joe (and the other Joe… Nathan) and the other guys on the DL and wants to hang out with them for a while.
  •  You may have heard that the Twins’ bullpen is full of guys you’ve never heard of. This is true. It’s just not necessarily the SAME group of guys you’ve never heard of that started the season out there. The good news is that THIS group of guys has actually been getting hitters out lately. Still… if you go to a game and the Twins have a lead of say 2 runs (or 3.., or 4… or 5) heading in to the last couple of innings, it might be premature to assume it’s safe to go line up at the light rail station.

Hopefully, during the course of the next 6-7 weeks, Twins fans will get to see more familiar jersey numbers at Target Field… either that or the team is going to have to consider putting names on the back of those old-school throwback uniforms they’re wearing at home (something they decided to do to honor Harmon Killebrew).

Even more importantly, I hope the performance on the field continues, as it has over the course of this past road trip, to resemble something fans have come to expect from the Twins in recent years. Their record is still the worst in baseball, but the pitching is more consistent (in a good way) and while the remaining sluggers still haven’t been slugging, the guys at the top and bottom of the order have been finding ways to score some runs. It has become fun to watch the Twins again… just in time for this long homestand.

I wrote a few weeks ago that I didn’t believe the Indians were for real. I’ve seen nothing to change my mind. The Tigers are the team that everyone in the AL Central need to focus on and the Twins are currently exactly 10 games behind Detroit. Six weeks from now, the Twins will be wrapping up this favorable stretch of their schedule by hosting the Tigers for a four-game series. If they aren’t within clawing distance of Detroit at that point, you might want to get a good… and last… look at some of your favorite players in their Twins uniforms, because many of them will likely be wearing someone else’s colors a week or so later.

– JC

Keep Hope Alive!

“You must not surrender. You may or may not get there, but just know that you’re qualified and you hold on and hold out. We must never surrender. [The Twins] will get better and better. Keep hope alive. Keep hope alive. Keep hope alive. On tomorrow night and beyond, keep hope alive.”

Jesse Jackson at 1988 DNC (AP Photo-Ron Edmonds)

This is what it has come to… I’m resorting to channeling my inner Jesse Jackson.

For those of you too young (or too politically/socially disinterested) to recall, The “Keep Hope Alive!” quote in the first paragraph was the closing line from Reverend Jackson’s speech to the 1988 Democratic National Convention in Atlanta and he was assuring us that “America” would get better, not specifically the Twins (but if the shoe fits, right?). I may not have agreed with Rev. Jackson’s politics a whole lot, but my goodness the man could work a crowd!

With all the gloom and doom in Twinsville these days, it occurs to me that maybe a little dose of Jackson-like oratory might just be what’s called for (setting aside, for the moment anyway, the inconvenient fact that at the time Rev. Jackson gave his 1988 speech, Michael Dukakis had about a 20 point lead on George H. W. Bush in the polls… so Jackson’s speech didn’t exactly motivate the Democratic faithful enough to drive Dukakis to the White House).

I’m not sure I’m the one to turn to for motivational oratory these days, however. I not only have not posted a lot of commentary here, lately, but I’ve all but completely stopped posting comments on other blogs and podcasts. It’s not that I’ve given up on the Twins. Quite the contrary. I believe that when the “real” Twins get healthy and join Denard Span and Jason Kubel in the line up, this team will bounce back.

What I have given up on are many so-called “Twins fans”. I understand the frustration because I feel it, too. I don’t particularly enjoy watching the Twins lose game after game any more than anyone else does.

But I simply can’t tolerate the volume of the insane (and often inane) opinions regarding the reasons for the Twins’ poor showing, thus far. I listen/read some of the stuff out there and I just want to yell, “It’s the injuries, stupid!” Seriously… does anyone with half a brain think that Bill Smith, Ron Gardenhire or any other member of the Twins management should have EXPECTED to have Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Joe Mauer, Delmon Young, Jim Thome, and Jason Repko all on the Disabled List at the same time?

You want to know why the Twins can’t win more ballgames? Go back and read this post from Jim Mandelaro, in which he posts the opening day lineup for the Rochester Red Wings. Let me know if you find these names familiar… Ben Revere, Trevor Plouffe, Luke Hughes, Rene Tosoni, Rene Rivera. That’s right, five members of the Red Wings’ opening day lineup are currently getting regular playing time for the Minnesota Twins (and their opening day starting pitcher, Anthony Swarzak, made a brief cameo appearance for the Twins, as well). The Twins’ bullpen also has been littered with guys who started the season in Rochester.

I think we all have every reason to be surprised that the Minnesota Twins find themselves with the worst record in baseball, 11 games behind the leaders in the AL Central, as we reach mid-May.  But that’s just it… it’s not so much that the Twins are in that position… but rather the Rochester Red Wings are 11 games out in the AL Central and that really shouldn’t surprise anyone.

I know, I know… this is all just “making excuses” for the Twins’ ineptitude. That’s fine, if that’s how you choose to feel. But if you’re one of the people who refuse to acknowledge the role that injuries have played in the Twins’ results, thus far, then there’s a pretty good chance you’re just one of the “fans” who carry so much hate in your heart for everyone in authority with the Twins organization, that you actually come across as being happy about the team’s current struggles, because it allows you to pump up the volume on your “fire/trade/release everyone” rants. If that’s the kind of fan you are, congratulations, I guess. Enjoy yourself… but don’t expect me to listen to your BS.

Denard Span, one of the more prolific Tweeters on the Twins, posted this on Wednesday night: “Before I talk about the heat winning… If ur a genuine twins fan plz be positive and have faith in us bc we haven’t lost faith in ourselve”

Count me in, Denard.

Nobody associated with the Twins likes the way things are going right now and it’s fair to point out when players fail to perform up to expectations. But if you want to be fair, when you point out that six Twins are hitting below the “Mendoza Line” (.200 BA), you probably should also point out that only one of the six was expected to fill a starting role this season, while the others have had to fill in for injured regulars. And in the further interest of fairness, you could mention that three of the six were supposed to be playing in Rochester this season. But, hey… what fun is being “fair” when you can be negative?

This really isn’t rocket science and Tiger manager Jim Leyland knows it. “It’s pretty simple,” Leyland was quoted by media. “When your horses are at the vet, that’s not good. When they’re on the track, that’s good. Their horses will be on the track here shortly.”

I believe that when Mauer, Nishioka, Young, and Thome get back in the line up, this team will score runs. They will win games. Will it be enough to overcome this awful start? I don’t know. Maybe… maybe not. But they’ll be fun to watch again and I’ll enjoy doing so.

In other words, until then… Keep hope alive!

– JC