Twins History Lesson: August 23-29

With about 6 weeks left in the season and the Twins grasping on to a five game lead in the AL Central standings, it’s tempting to start to feel like things are well within hand. But before we dig in to the upcoming week in Twins history, let’s keep one little piece of history in mind… one year ago, the Twins were not only 4.5 games behind the division leading Tigers, but 2.5 behind the White Sox. We all know those leads weren’t safe last year and it’s too early to assume the Twins’ current lead is any safer.

Let’s see what August 23 has brought the Twins direction:

1966: Jim Kaat got the W as the Twins notched win number 500 since the franchise relocated to Minnesota with a victory, appropriately enough, over the Senators.

1977: Dave Goltz threw a one-hitter at the Red Sox and got support from everyone in the line up (each of them recording at least one hit), including a home run from Rod Carew. Goltz struck out 10 in the 7-0 win over Boston.

Jacque Jones

2005: For the second time in Twins history, Minnesota won a game 1-0 with the only run coming on the team’s only hit, a 423 foot home run by Jacque Jones to lead off the 8th inning. Freddy Garcia of the White Sox gave up the dinger and lost to Johan Santana, who only gave up 3 hits, himself.

Kent Hrbek made his MLB debut with the Twins on August 24, 1981, and what a debut it was. In what was a sneak preview of things to come, Hrbie delivered a game-winning home run in the top of the 12th inning off of  George Frazier at Yankee Stadium.

A lot was made about the rain out of their Friday game this weekend resulting in the White Sox and Royals having to play three games inside of 24 hours and, without a doubt, that was a challenge for both teams. But on August 25, 1967, the Twins faced the prospect of playing their third double header in four days. That’s 7 games in four days in the middle of a four-team pennant race. Desperate for a complete game to give their bullpen a break, the Twins turned to Dean Chance, who would be pitching on just two days’ rest, to face the Indians in the second game of the twin bill. The result? Only the second no-hitter in Twins history. Chance actually gave up a run to the tribe in the first inning on two walks, an error and a wild pitch, before going on to strike out 8 to earn the 2-1 win.

Jack Kralick

Speaking of no-hitters, the first Twins no-no was recorded on August 26, 1962, by Jack Kralick, who came within a couple of outs in the ninth inning from being perfect. After Kralick helped his own cause against the A’s with a successful sacrifice bunt in the top of the 9th, followed by a Lenny Green sac fly scoring Bernie Allen, the Twins held a 1-0 lead heading in to the bottom of the ninth. Kralick lost his perfect game with a 1-out full count walk, but got two straight pop outs to put the Twins first no-hitter in the record books.

It’s hard telling which factoid was the most unusual to come out of the Twins’ 1-0 extra inning win over the Brewers on August 27, 1975… was it Craig Kusick tying the MLB record of getting hit by three pitches or iron man Bert Blyleven pitching the 11 inning complete game shutout?

August 28 has seen a couple of items of interest:

1981: Just four days after Kent Hrbek’s debut at Yankee Stadium, fellow rookie Tim Laudner also homered in his first MLB game against the Tigers at Metropolitan Stadium.

2009: The Twins acquired relief pitcher Jon Rauch from the D’Backs.

Lets wrap up this week’s trip down memory lane with a couple of items from August 29:

1963: In what has to be one of the more impressive demonstrations of power hitting in the franchise’s history, the Twins swept a double header from the Senators, 14-2 and 10-1. The Twins hit 12 home runs combined in the two games. Rich Rollins, Bob Allison and Zoilo Versalles each hit one HR, while Bernie Allen, Jimmie Hall and Vic Power each hit two balls out of DC Stadium. Harmon Killebrew won the club’s Home Run Derby with 3 round-trippers.

2009: The Twins signed lefty reliever Ron Mahay, who had been released by the Royals three days earlier.

That’s it! Tonight, the Twins start a critical four-game series against the Rangers at the Oven in Arlington (where high temperatures are forecast to be 106, 103, 93 and 94 degrees over the next four days). Meanwhile, the White Sox have the day off as they wait for the Orioles to show up in Chicago for a three-game series starting Tuesday. Should be an interesting week! – JC

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

Twins Are “Losers”? Say It Ain’t So!

I’m still trying to get my head around all the trades that went down over the last few days. The folks over at MLBTradeRumors always do a terrific job of keeping up on who’s doing what and they put together a recap of the moves, by contending team. Here’s the AL Central:

So who were the winners and losers after all of this past week’s trades? That depends on who you ask.

ESPN’s Jason Stark:

Winners: Rangers, Padres, Yankees, Astros, Phillies, Nationals, D’Backs, Cards, Dodgers

Losers: WhiteSox, BlueJays, Orioles, Giants, Twins, Rays, Mets

MLB Fanhouse (AOL):

Winners: Yankees, Astros, Rangers, Nationals (“may have pulled off the heist of the entire trading season” by getting Ramos for Capps)

Losers: RedSox, Giants, Tigers

Hardball Talk (NBC):

Winners: Angels, Rangers, Phillies, Yankees, Pirates (honorable mention: Nationals, Padres, Dodgers)

Losers: WhiteSox, Twins, Giants, Cardinals, Rays (dishonorable mention: Astros, DBacks, Tigers)

Yahoo Sports:

Winners: Rangers, Angels, Yankees, Phillies, BlueJays, Mets, Dodgers

Losers: WhiteSox, Giants, Tigers, Twins, Cardinals, Rays

So to summarize… it seems most of the national media is agreement with most of the Twins blogosphere in that they feel the Twins overpaid for Matt Capps and overvalued the ‘save’ statistic. The good news is that the Twins AL Central competition is not viewed has having improved themselves much at the deadline. It’s hard to imagine Jhonny Peralta being a true “difference maker” for the Tigers and the WhiteSox appear to have a much higher opinion of Edwin Jackson than… well… pretty much anyone else.

In addition to feeling the Twins gave up too much for Capps, the media also seems to feel the Twins inability to acquire starting pitching help moves them in to the “trade deadline loser” category. But before we all retire to our caves sobbing hysterically about being fans of the “loser” Twins, let’s remember a few things.

First… the Twins Major League team IS better with Matt Capps. Those of us who want to see the Twins win THIS YEAR can look past the cost and point out that while Jon Rauch did a nice job of stepping in for Joe Nathan, Capps (and the extra 3-4 MPH he has on his fastball) is likely going to be more reliable at the end of games and Rauch makes the group of quality set up relief pitchers much deeper.

Second… keep in mind that the nonwaiver deadline has become a very soft deadline. All Much of the help that Bill Smith brought in to push the Twins toward the playoffs in 2009 (Cabrera, Pavano, Rauch, Mahay) was obtained after July 31 last summer. [Correction made thanks to commenter Deb who correctly pointed out that Cabrera was obtained pre-July31 last year and Pavano should have been included in the post-July 31 group. My bad.-JC]

The biggest improvements that can be made to the Twins at this point are the additions of Justin Morneau and Orlando Hudson. Hopefully, they’re both on their way back toward rejoining the team and in the mean time, I doubt Bill Smith plans to take the month of August off.

Oh… and as for the whole trade deadline winners and losers thing, keep in mind that the Yankees were on Jason Stark’s ESPN “trade deadline losers list” last year. They managed to find a way to overcome that label and finish the season in good shape.

So let’s not fold up the tent quite yet. – JC

So, What’s Next?

UPDATE: OK so maybe I was premature in handing Lee to the Yankees, since NY Post reporter Joel Sherman is now (at 2:44 pm) tweeting that the Ms are going in “another direction.” the Rangers have acquired Lee from the Mariners in a deal that is somewhat puzzling, but sure looks to me they paid a VERY high price. Nevertheless, while my comments about the Yankees below are now virtually irrelevant, my views about the Twins needing to just get busy and move on to other targets remain as strong as ever. – JC

UPDATE #2: Interesting stuff. Seems the Yankees are pissed off. This is interesting, in that the Yankees were frustrated with the Ms just a year ago when they were trying to trade for Jarrod Washburn. The Ms did get two of the Rangers top 20 prospects in addition to two lesser minor leaguers, one of which (2B Josh Lueke) has some past “character issues” (to say the least). -JC

I’ve always been a big fan of TV’s “West Wing” series. Throughout the seven seasons that Martin Sheen portrayed the fictional President Bartlet in that series, I’m pretty sure he uttered the question, “What’s next?” more than any other phrase. It virtually became a catch phrase. In one episode, he expounded on the phrase in a terse admonition to his staff. “When I ask, ‘What’s next?’, it means that I’m ready to move on to other things. So, what’s next?”

I’m not sure I can describe my feelings about the impending Cliff Lee to the Yankees trade much better than that.

Yes, I was all in favor of making a deal to bring Lee to the Twins, even if it meant overpaying in prospects a bit. But Cliff Lee is going to be a Yankee. OK, fine. I’m ready to move on to other things. So, what’s next?

There are a couple of things you can do when you don’t get what you want. You can whine and cast blame on those who made the decision to deprive you of getting what you want (we’ll call this the Dan Gilbert approach, named for the Cleveland Cavaliers owner who pretty much provided a prime example of it with his reaction to being jilted by his prize free agent player last night). You can also throw a tantrum and set things on fire.

I’m just not sure those approaches are altogether productive and, fortunately, I can’t quite envision Twins GM Bill Smith going with those options either.

I prefer the “What’s next?” approach because, let’s be honest, the Twins need some help and the sooner, the better. So if Lee is not coming to town to help former team mate Carl Pavano deliver us all to the Promised Land (which, in this case, would be the World Series), then let’s focus on other options to get us there.

I know we’ve said a few times that it would be nice to have another option at 3B, but like it or not, I think Michael Cuddyer has become that “other option”. I’m not thrilled, but if it means we get more 420 foot HRs out of Jim Thome’s bat in the lineup, I’ll try to live with it. Frankly, the available 3B options on the market right now don’t exactly excite me anyway. So do your best out there, Cuddy, and try not to hurt yourself.

But for goodness sake, someone please find us some pitching. A top of the rotation starting pitcher like Dan Haren or Roy Oswalt? Terrific! The Cubs are supposedly about ready to start selling off spare parts, so let’s give them a call about Ted Lilly. He’s a rung below these other guys, but on this team, he’d be a marked improvement (but then, the list of pitchers that would constitute marked improvement over what we’ve seen on the mound lately wouldn’t be a short one).

Maybe we shouldn’t be content to settle for just getting one of those guys because, as long as we’re being honest, I think we have to admit we have more than one starting pitcher who isn’t exactly giving his team a great chance to win very often lately. And while we’re in a shopping mood, maybe we should think about a little bullpen help, too.

Is that asking for too much? I don’t think so! A year ago, there was a great deal of debate (and considerable skepticism) concerning whether Smith would make any deals significant enough to really be difference makers. In the end, he brought in Jon Rauch, Ron Mahay, Orlando Cabrera and Carl Pavano. While we could quibble about each player’s ultimate contribution to the Twins winning the Central Division title, there can be no questioning that the Twins were uncharacteristically active in their effort to strengthen their roster for the late season push.

I fully expect Bill Smith to be even more aggressive this month. The Twins can still contend for their Championship rings this season and if you take the time to really look at what their payroll and roster could look like next year and beyond, you recognize that this opportunity could be the best it’s going to get for a couple of years.

“But what about the F’ing Yankees?”, you ask, “Haven’t they wrapped up the World Series by trading for Cliff Lee?”

No. In my mind, they’ve not increased their chances of advancing in the playoffs much at all. What they HAVE done is increase their chances of reaching the playoffs. But wasn’t that pretty darn good anyway? Adding Lee to a rotation that already includes Sabbathia, Pettitte, and Hughes will make them tougher competition for the Rays and Red Sox over the second half of the season, but really what they did was save themselves a first round draft pick which they would have lost to Seattle (or whatever other team Lee ended this season with) by signing Lee in the offseason instead of trading for him now. Bully for them.

But once in the playoffs, they were going to have a tough starting pitcher every game, with or without Lee. It’s not like they were going to be trotting Javier Vasquez out there to start any games, anyway.

So frankly, if the Twins weren’t going to get Lee, I can’t think of many places (at least in the AL) where he would have a less problematic effect on the Twins than with the Yankees. The Twins are done playing the Yankees during the regular season and he’s not going to result in nearly the kind of upgrade to their rotation that he would have to the Rays, Rangers or, God forbid, the White Sox or Tigers.

So the proper response to this turn of events is not to wail about how the Yankees always get what they want (though they do) or to cast aspersions toward the Mariners for getting the Yankees to overpay in prospects even more than the Twins would have (though they did).

Instead, let’s fix our gaze toward Bill Smith and simply ask, “So, what’s next?”  -JC


Tellin’ it like it is.

I’ll be honest. While I’ve watched almost every inning of the Twins games this week, I haven’t been devoting as much time to really focusing on the games or on the Twins in general. My mind has been occupied elsewhere (Nebraska in the Big Ten? Where will the Longhorns go? Isn’t it time for the Irish to give up the “independent” foolishness and join the Big Ten?). I know they’ve won some games and lost some games and some guys have looked good and some guys haven’t looked good… and some guys aren’t even showing up. It’s time to do something about those guys. Not the end of July at the trade deadline. Not in a month at the All Star break. Not in a couple of weeks. The time is now. Right now.

We were all excited about the team Bill Smith built during the offseason and, for the most part, about the choices made with regard to who constituted the 25 man roster coming out of Spring Training. This was, arguably, going to be the most talented gathering of players to don Twins uniforms in years… perhaps even decades. This team was no longer going to send minor leaguers out to play on Sundays. Even the “B” lineup would have can’t miss Hall of Famer, Jim Thome, in the DH spot. This team, we felt, wasn’t going to have to overachieve to win the Central Division. They SHOULD win the Division and the talent was there to do some damage in the playoffs once they got there.

It wasn’t all that long ago that we felt that way. But let’s tell it like it is, gang. Twins fans can not feel that way right now. This team, as currently constituted, is still competitive… but it is far from GOOD. In fact, that lineup card Gardy turned in Sunday was an embarrassment.

Yes, there have been injuries. The nagging kind where you really don’t know if you should put the guy on the Disabled List or let him rest a couple of days. And in almost every instance (or so it seems) the result has been an extended absence from the lineup.

One of the things that has endeared the Twins to its fan base over the years has been the way we could enjoy watching young players come up through the organization and be ready to contribute when they get their chance. All five of the starting pitchers came up that way. Denard Span thrived when he got his shot. The list is long.

Suddenly flush with revenues as a result of moving in to their new stadium, the organization uncharacteristically brought in help to fill a couple of holes in the infield this offseason, even while giving Mauer and others big raises, where in the past they may have been traded away at this point in their career. It has been very encouraging.

Now many people weren’t thrilled with opening the year with Nick Punto as the 3B. Personally, I have been in the “as long as the Twins have improved offensive production from 2B and SS, they can afford one mediocre bat in the 9 position” camp. The problem is… they are no longer getting improved (or any) offense from those other infield positions.

A significant sector of Twins Territory (or at least the Twins Blogosphere neighborhood of the “Territory”) is insistently enthusiastic about “giving the kids a shot” whenever someone with the Big League team either gets hurt or is performing so poorly that replacement appears inevitable. That’s fine. I like to see guys who have worked their way up through the organization get their shot, too.  But the time has come to admit that the Twins do not have infield options that are Major League ready right now. Maybe Trevor Plouffe, Danny Valencia and Matt Tolbert will go on to have fine Big League careers. They seem like good guys who are easy to root for.

But they have no business being on the Major League roster of a team that sees itself as a World Series contender. Not as starting infielders and not really even as utility options off the bench. They just aren’t ready.

And what about that pitching staff? There are some talented young pitchers both in the rotation and in the bullpen. And they seem to be really good guys, too. Lots of reasons for fans to “like” almost all of them. Every member of the rotation has had some very good starts… and some that were pretty ugly. Bert pointed out during today’s broadcast that the Twins’ bullpen has the best ERA in the American League. That’s nice. Everyone out there has had some impressive appearances. But why is it that whenever virtually ANY reliever comes out of the pen, at least one person in any group you may be watching the game with is likely to say, “I wish I felt more confident with him coming in to pitch”?

Maybe JJ Hardy and Orlando Hudson will come back from their DL stints healthy and productive. Maybe one or two of the starting pitchers will become a legitimate #1 guy (I’d settle for legitimate and reliable #2 guys at this point). Maybe Ron Mahay and Jose Mijares and Jesse Crain will become more consistently reliable. Maybe Jon Rauch will add a couple MPH to his fastball and we won’t always have to hold our breath every time he comes in with less than a 3-run lead.

But that’s a lot of “maybes” for a team with expectations at the level we have for the Twins.

It’s mid June. The Twins are 2 and a half games ahead of the Tigers, with whom they have a series in Target Field to close out the month. Between now and then, both teams have 4 interleague series. The Twins with the Rockes, Phillies, Mets and Brewers. The Tigers with the Senators (missing their phenom Stephen Strausburg), D’Backs, Mets and Braves.

The truth is, the Twins will not be leading the AL Central Division at the end of the month with a lineup featuring three starting infielders every game from the group of Valencia, Harris, Plouffe, Tolbert and Punto. Unless changes are made now, look for the Twins to be playing catch-up in the second half of the season… again.

I know the Twins have already stretched their payroll beyond anything remotely close to what they’ve historically spent on MLB ballplayers. I also know they don’t like to send their precious prospects around the country in return for more expensive veterans that may or may not be a part of the team beyond the end of the current year. I can’t argue with any of that when you’re trying to build a competitive team over time.

But if the Twins organization is really serious about being more than just competitive in 2010, it’s time to bring in some reinforcements. In recent weeks, the Twins have been linked to several players who are, or may become, available via trade. The names include top of the line starting pitchers like Roy Oswalt and Cliff Lee and 3B/1B Mike Lowell, in addition to a variety of middle relief pitchers, such as former BitchSox David Aardsma.

It’s fair to debate whether each of these players, or any others that may become available, would be good “fits” for the Twins. Would they upset team chemistry? Would they stay healthy? Have their better years passed them by? Are they overpriced?  All fair questions for discussion. But there’s really only one question that should matter.

Will the Minnesota Twins win more games… now and potentially in the post season… with this player than with the player currently in that role? If the answer is “yes”, it’s time to make the deal, Mr. Smith. And when the names you’re looking at replacing are Harris, Valencia, Tolbert, Plouffe, Mahay, Crain, and Mijares, how could the answer not be “yes”?

My preference? I want Mike Lowell in my lineup as quickly as he can get to Minnesota. If/when Hardy and Hudson come back, we finally get Little Nicky Punto-Tiny Super Hero in his proper role as utility infielder. I also want one of those top of the rotation guys, Oswalt or Lee (heck, even Jake Peavy is making noise about wanting to be trade again). I know, I know… somebody’s favorite current starting pitcher is going to be asked to move to the bullpen (which shores up the pen, by the way), but when you have World Series aspirations and pitchers like that are available, you go get one. That’s how the big boys play.

Now we find out if the Twins front office believe they have truly joined that exclusive club. The clock is ticking, Mr. Smith.

Tick. Tock.

-JC

Sometimes you need a sense of humor

Last night’s loss in Seattle was flat out ugly. The hitters couldn’t hit a soft-tossing pitcher. Nick Blackburn’s sinker wouldn’t sink and he got knocked around by a team who’s 2010 offense has been… well… offensive. Most of us who stayed up to watch/listen to the entire game wondered, after the fact, why we had lost sleep to witness that futility.

But today’s another day and tonight presents a whole new game and most of us will do it all over again.

To get us through the day though, how about a bit of humor? A few quotes from around Twins Territory.

More tattoos than meet the eye?

Ron Gardenhire, on the subject of Jon Rauch’s stiffness in his right hamstring: “It doesn’t affect him when he’s pitching, just when he’s getting tattoos.” I don’t think I wanna know where he’s getting that tattoo if it makes his hamstring stiff.

After getting his “call up” about midnight Tuesday, Matt Tolbert went to Rochester’s Frontier Field to get his equipment, then tried to catch a few winks before his 5:30 am flight: “I worry about oversleeping, so I set a bunch of alarms.” Good thinking Matt. “Sorry I missed the game, Gardy. I overslept,” probably wouldn’t go over real well.

The "biggest second baseman" you've ever seen?

Starting pitchers follow a specific routine on the day of their starts. Apparently, checking the lineup card is not part of Francisco Liriano’s routine. This observation from Frankie after Ichiro led off Monday’s game by grounding out to Michael Cuddyer at 2B: “I was like, ‘What’s Michael doing here?’ I didn’t know he was playing second, so I was really surprised.” Welcome to the club, ‘Cisco… we may have found out about it long before you noticed, but you certainly weren’t the only one “really surprised”.

And what did the Twins “real” second baseman, Orlando Hudson, think of Cuddyer’s performance? “He looks good. That’s the biggest second baseman I’ve ever seen.” Hey, Cuddy… I think O-Dog just called you “fat”.

O-Dawg, in a rare... very rare... quiet moment

Speaking of Hudson… Gardy, can you tell us how Lando’s doing? “He’s really upbeat, I can tell you that, because he’s talking. No, wait, that’s every day.” I suspect Hudson will be in the lineup REAL soon… if only to give Gardy a few minutes’ peace on the bench while the Twins are in the field.

I want to thank Joe Christensen at the StarTribune and Kelsie Smith at the PioneerPress for the quotes… and for giving this tired Twins fan something to smile about over his coffee this morning. – JC

And Their Bats Trembled

If I am fortunate enough to have kids one day, this is one of the stories I’ll tell them about the first year the Minnesota Twins played at Target Field.

Back in 2010, kids, we had a lot to look forward to in Twins Territory. We had a brand-spankin’-new ballpark, we had signed a few new players during the offseason who looked full of promise for the best lineup we had seen for a while, and our hometown hero Joe Mauer signed a long-term contract during spring training. But when we learned that our closer, Joe Nathan, would be out for the season, it was like a little black cloud settled over the bullpen, bringing uncertainty, debate, speculation, and perhaps even a little fear among Twins fans everywhere as we wondered who could save the day in Twitchy’s place. We had become used to what he brought to our team, used to his entrance music, used to seeing number 36 come in at the end to close out games.

At first we were told it would be “closer by committee,” but soon we learned that Jon Rauch would be given the opportunity to prove himself as our closer for the season. I didn’t know much about this guy, except that he was the tallest player in the history of major league baseball, at 6’11″. And that he had a lot of tattoos. As it happened, he had a couple of feats to his name before coming to the Twins in August of 2009. While playing with the Expos/Nationals, he became the tallest player to hit a home run (against Roger Clemens in 2004), and he was the first pitcher credited with a win at Nationals Park (March 30, 2008).

Now, no pitcher is perfect, and in his first 13 save opportunities, Rauch had a couple of blown saves (one of which I was at Target Field for), but one (the other one) ended up being a win for him, similar to that first game at Nationals Park actually, so it wasn’t so bad. I can’t speak for other Twins fans, but by the end of May that year, any fears I might have had about our closing situation had disappeared. I even started considering downloading his entrance music (“Wherever I May Roam,” by Metallica, which was also his music when he was the closer for the Nationals in the injured Chad Cordero’s place in the first half of 2008) from iTunes, despite never really being a fan of metal.

It’s possible the guy was a just a good pitcher, but I’m pretty sure that much of his success was because when he came to the mound, the opposing hitters’ bats simply trembled at the sight of him. That’s my story, anyway.

GameChat – Rangers @ Twins, 7:10

I’m putting this up a little early because KL and I are going to the game and I am planning to celebrate my birthday.. well.  So the Twins better win it for me!!  At the time of this posting, final lineups haven’t been posted to MLB yet so you’ll have to deal with the preliminary list they give the media (thanks Joe C.) and that list has BOTH Alexi Casilla and Nick Punto listed at 3B.  That will be a game time decision based on how Nicky’s finger is responding to BP.  Sorry no fancy lineup chart today.

RANGERS (26-21)

1. Elvis Andrus, SS
2. Michael Young, 3B
3. Ian Kinsler, 2B
4. Vladimir Guerrero, DH
5. Josh Hamilton, LF
6. David Murphy, RF
7. Justin Smoak, 1B
8. Max Ramirez, C
9. Julio Borbon, CF

Starting pitcher: RH Colby Lewis (4-2, 3.45 ERA)

TWINS (27-20)

1. Denard Span, CF
2. Orlando Hudson, 2B
3. Joe Mauer, C
4. Justin Morneau, 1B
5. Jim Thome, DH
6. Michael Cuddyer, RF
7. Jason Kubel, LF
8. J.J. Hardy, SS
9. Nick Punto or Alexi Casilla, 3B

Starting pitcher: RH Kevin Slowey (5-3, 4.53 ERA)

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

 

Kevin Slowey, you are the Knuckleballs' Boyfriend of the Day!

Happy birthday to Babs! She and KL got to see a great game to celebrate the birthday.

GameChat BOD honors go to Kevin Slowey for finally breaking through the 6 inning barrier with a 1-run, 6.2 inning effort. Baked goods for the bullpen trio of Mijares, Guerrier and Rauch for slamming the door and to Orlando Hudson for some remarkable plays on defense. -JC

The Twins Roster – What to do, what to do?

I’ve stayed away from watching the Twins the last couple of games, partially of necessity and partially by choice, but I’m ready to get back in the game. I figured a good way to jump back in would be to share my wisdom with Gardy and Bill Smith on the subject of what roster moves should be made.

I know they say you don’t mess with something that isn’t broken, but let’s be clear… even though the Twins have won several more games than they’ve lost, this roster is at least cracked, if not broken. You don’t carry 13 pitchers, even for just a couple of days, and even pretend that all’s well.

One roster move we all know WILL happen this weekend is that JJ Hardy will be coming off the Disabled List. What’s less clear is who will be removed from the 25-man roster to make room for Hardy. The most likely move will be to send pitcher Jeff Manship back to Rochester since, according to media reports, he was brought up just to give the Twins some bullpen depth in Boston after the pen got used and abused in Toronto earlier in the week. In all likelihood, that’s the only move the Twins will make this weekend… but that doesn’t make it the only move they SHOULD make or even the best move they COULD make.

Casilla should have been Hardy's replacement.

But before I get to my wish list of roster moves, let me take a step back and discuss the Hardy situation briefly. Yes, it will be good to get JJ back and yes, he’s been a very good defender and no, you dare not underestimate the value of his defense to his team and specifically to his pitching staff. That said, I really would love to know why the heck Gardy hasn’t simply plugged Alexi Casilla’s name in to the lineup in Hardy’s absence instead of moving players around the infield like chess pieces. Specifically, I’d like to know what it is that Brendan Harris has done to warrant getting as many starts in Hardy’s absence as Casilla has.

Look, I like Casilla… always have. But I’ve also been a bit of a fan of Harris, so this is not a personal preference thing on my part. This is a “the numbers couldn’t possibly make things any more obvious” thing. Hardy’s offensive contribution so far this year has been pretty pedestrian, but that’s OK for your #8 hitter. His .250/.299/.400 line (batting average/on base pct/slugging pct) isn’t great but it’s tolerable at this point in the season.

But when faced with replacing Hardy for a couple of weeks, why in the world would you give as much playing time to Harris (.181/.277/.264 on the season and .148/.179/.185 the past two weeks) as you do to Casilla (.273/.351/.364 on the season and .294/.400/.471 the past two weeks)? It’s not like Harris is better defensively at SS, either. It just baffles me. In fact, even with Hardy coming back, I’m not sure I wouldn’t be starting Casilla until I’m sure JJ is 100%. Ah well.

Now about that roster.

Valencia isn't ready to replace LNP... yet!

What you won’t hear from me is a loud cry to “bring up the guys from AAA!” I believe there is generally a reason why some players are in the Bigs and some are in Rochester. And let’s face it, the Red Wings aren’t exactly ripping up the International League folks. After getting blown away by Nationals phenom Stephen Strasburg last night, they’ve got the worst record in the I-League. So I’m not going to rant about how half their roster should be promoted while the Twins send a bunch of guys packing who have been contributing (in various degrees) to the Twins success this season. For example, count me as one vote against bringing Danny Valencia  and/or Trevor Plouffe up until they show more (Valencia more power and Plouffe more glove) in Rochester.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t anyone down there who could improve things for the Twins, either.

First, there’s no point in screwing around with the position players. You add Hardy and leave it at that. But the pitching staff… oh my… yes there are some improvements that could and should be made there.

This is perhaps a good time for me to say I wish people would stop with the “Rauch is doing so well that the Twins don’t really miss Nathan” crap. Jon Rauch has been great. But wouldn’t you love to have him being great as Nathan’s set-up man, instead? You’d basically be shortening every game the Twins led after 7 innings to a 7 inning game.

But we’ve got to deal with the situation as it is, without Nathan, and they’re going to have to get down to a 12-man staff to make room for Hardy. As I mentioned, sending Manship down to Rochester is the easy call. But is it the only call or even the right call? Well, kinda.

I do believe you send Manship down. In fact, I don’t quite understand why he was the choice to be brought up in the first place since he really hasn’t been Rochester’s best pitcher (or even their best starting pitcher… among a group of pretty poor starting pitchers). In fact, I can only think of one reason to keep Manship with the Twins… and that’s so you can use him as your long reliever while you send Brian Duensing down to Rochester.

Why send a guy who’s pitched as well as Duensing has down to AAA? Only one good reason… to have him stretch his arm out so you can bring him back up and plug him in to the rotation. When he’s ready, you call him up and give him Kevin Slowey’s spot, move Slowey to the long relief role and send Manship back down.

Now, last but not least, we come to the obvious question everyone is asking. When are the Twins going to give up on Jesse Crain? The answer should be “now”. It is time to designate him for assignment and, if the Twins can’t get anything for him in a trade, eat the $1 million or so they’d owe him and release him. Even saying that, I believe Crain will go on to have a productive career somewhere else. I just don’t think the Twins, in a year in which they believe they have World Series expectations, can afford to have even one pitcher that they clearly have lost all confidence in.

Anthony Slama and his old school stirrups are ready NOW!

So when Crain is gone, who takes his place in the bullpen? Here’s where the Twins have a number of options. Rob Delaney, Kyle Waldrop and Anthony Slama have all been very effective in Rochester and, that being the case, it makes even less sense to keep calling Crain’s number and holding your breath, closing your eyes, crossing your fingers and hoping for the best when he takes the mound. My preference, for what it’s worth, would be Slama.

Will any of these moves actually happen this weekend? Besides the Hardy-for-Manship swap out, probably not. Slama probably won’t make his Twins debut until June so the Twins can postpone his arbitration eligibility an extra year. By the way, I think that kind of thinking is fine when you are just trying to be competitive and build for the future, but when you have a chance to win NOW, it’s just silly… and I feel the same way about the Nationals delaying Strasburg’s MLB debut for the same reason. They’re going to end up a game or two out of making the playoffs and have only their frugalness to blame. I just hope the Twins aren’t looking back and feeling the same way.

 In any event, whether it’s this weekend or two weeks from now when the service time issue is no longer a concern, here’s my recommended roster:

Starting position players: Mauer, Morneau, Hudson, Hardy, Punto, Young, Span, Cuddyer, Kubel.

Bench position players: Thome, Casilla, Harris, Butera (yes, I agree with having Morales and Ramos in AAA… for a little while longer).

Starting Pitchers: Liriano, Baker, Pavano, Blackburn, Duensing.

Bullpen: Rauch (closer), Guerrier (set-up), Slama (set-up/mid relief), Burnett (mid relief/set-up), Mahay (mid relief/LOOGY), Mijares (LOOGY), Slowey (long relief/spot start).

Now… would someone please pass this along to Gardy and Bill Smith? They don’t seem to be returning my calls. Or maybe I should try Tweeting it… I heard Pat Neshek say Gardy really likes the whole Tweeting thing, right? - JC