GameChat – Twins @ Angels #2, 9:05pm

*yawn* Another west coast game… I swear I’m actually a nightowl but there’s something about baseball at this time of the night back home that just puts me right to sleep every time. Especially the way so many of these games have been going lately. My only request for the team tonight is the Twins give me a reason to stay awake for the end of the game.. is that too much to ask?? I would REALLY love to award our ’91 World Series DVDs prize to someone tonight. That would be good enough.

Also – Thome is sitting tonight because he came to work today with a stiff neck.. I don’t know what that means for his availability off the bench.

 

Minnesota

@

LA Angels
Span, CF Izturis, M, 2B
Revere, LF Aybar, SS
Mauer, C Hunter, To, RF
Cuddyer, 1B Abreu, DH
Kubel, RF Wells, V, LF
Valencia, 3B Callaspo, 3B
Young, D, DH Trumbo, 1B
Nishioka, SS Bourjos, CF
Tolbert, 2B Mathis, C
  Baker, S, P   Pineiro, P
  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 1 2 0 1 4 0 1 0 2 11 15 1
LA Angels 0 0 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 6 0

Five home runs? In one game? By the Twins?

Is that allowed?

It certainly was in this game. In fact Jason Kubel came just a few feet from being the third Twins player to hit two HRs in this game. Instead, he had to “settle” for two doubles to go with his one HR. Scott Baker got off to a good start, but he hit a wall in the 3rd inning (or maybe the wall hit him?). Enter Anthony Swarzak, who followed with five innings of one-hit shutout baseball.

Delmon Young ripped two home runs, which certainly makes him worthy of BOD consideration, along with Swarzak and Kubel. But matching him home run for home run was Michael Cuddyer and one of his home runs was a tie-breaking grand slam HR, which gave Swarzak and the Twins a mid-game boost and that earned Cuddy the majority of the GameChat’s BOD votes, with Swarzak and Young also garnering enough support to earn them baked goods of their choice.

Michael Cuddyer

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GameChat – Indians @ Twins #3, 7:10pm

Wow, I thought sitting through YESTERDAY’s games was a hot deal.  It’s like some little blond girl is staring at a dopplar screen and saying “it’s baaaa-aack.” We’re looking at temps around 95 degrees for game start time and given the ridiculous levels of humidity, the heat index says 117 degrees. Yeah, that’s even worse than it was yesterday.  At least they are only playing one game today – too bad it’s after the last three. At least the evening looks clear for any more storms so we shouldn’t have to deal with any rain delays.

After yesterday’s performances though, I have to say that as long as Liriano holds it together for more than 5 innings, the problem is going to be OFFENSE. We simply have to see more guys hitting more often with men on base. Gotta start getting runs before the last inning of the game.. first rule in the baseball primer is: you win when you score more often than the other guys. If we’re able to win tonight and tomorrow, we’re at least back to where we started in relation to Cleveland. We fought pretty hard to get to the point where we were in striking distance. I would hate to see all that dissipate in a single series.

At any rate, thinking positively, I think we can do this. Win Twins!

Cleveland

@

Minnesota
Carrera, CF Revere, CF
Cabrera, O, 2B Casilla, A, 2B
Cabrera, A, SS Mauer, 1B
Santana, C, 1B Cuddyer, RF
LaPorta, DH Thome, DH
Kearns, RF Valencia, 3B
Hannahan, 3B Young, D, LF
Marson, C Nishioka, SS
Buck, T, LF Butera, C
  Masterson, P   Liriano, P
  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Cleveland 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 5 1
Minnesota 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 2 6 0

I have to say that game didn’t exactly come with the offensive outburst I think many of us have been hoping to see, but a win is a win and the guys certainly came through with a big ninth-inning come-from-behind walk-off win over the ‘Toons.

Frankie wasn’t exactly efficient, but he survived six innings of 1-run pitching and the bullpen arms of Dumatrait, Capps and Perkins were just about perfect, so can’t give anything but praise to the pitching staff tonight. They also got some excellent defense from their team mates behind them, as well.

But at the end, when it was needed the most, Michael Cuddyer doubled and then read Danny Valencia’s game-winning base hit perfectly to score from second base behind Joe Mauer. So Cuddy and Danny V are our co-BODs tonight! – JC

Danny Valencia

Michael Cuddyer

GameChat – Royals @ Twins #3, 6:10pm

First things first, the Twins are retiring Bert Blyleven’s number today and the festivities start at 5:30 if you are able to turn into FSN early.  For those who are watching from elsewhere and won’t have that coverage, I’m sure that there will be clips later on the Twins website and Kristie is at today’s game hopefully getting us some pictures from a first-hand view.

Secondly, the “official” word came down from Tom Pelissero on Twitter that Matt Capps is out at Closer and the assignment has been returned to Joe Nathan. I’m definitely in favor of tha move and that does NOT mean that I don’t think that Capps is a bad pitcher or should go to AAA. I just think he needs a little less pressure as he works through a fairly common for all pitchers downturn in his stability. Let the man go through hte same kind of “rehab” that Nathan did working through the beginning of this season and get him back to being a good pitcher.

Thirdly, just a reminder for Twins fans everywhere working off an original calendar: Monday is now a day/night split double header to make up for the earlier rainout with Cleveland.  The first game will be at 12:10 and the second at 7:10 as originally scheduled.

I would like to see Pavano be able to go out and do a solid outting and get us back into the win column – sadly, Blackburn did a good job last night but the offense is going to have to break out the bats if they want to get the W.

 

Kansas City

@

Minnesota
Getz, 2B Revere, CF
Cabrera, Me, CF Casilla, A, 2B
Gordon, LF Mauer, DH
Butler, DH Cuddyer, 1B
Hosmer, 1B Young, D, LF
Francoeur, RF Valencia, 3B
Moustakas, 3B Plouffe, RF
Pena, B, C Butera, C
Escobar, A, SS Nishioka, SS
  Francis, P   Pavano, P

It’s good to get back in the W column again, but this 4-3 win over the Royals seemed more difficult than it should have been. Nevertheless, as Nuke said, “winning is better than losing.”

The night got off to a great start with the Twins doing a great job on the ceremony retiring Bert Blyleven’s #28. It was well done, without dragging on the way some of those things do.

The Twins gave Carl Pavano some early run support, which is always appreciated by starting pitchers. Pavstache threw a nice game, though he called it an early night (for him) after just 97 pitches in seven innings. On the other hand, maybe it was just the heat and humidity. Glen Perkins K’d two in a perfect 8th inning and Joe Nathan, in his return to the closer role, gave up a lone single to close out the Royals in the 9th. All three pitchers deserve our thanks and a cold brew of their choice (assuming all the good beer in Minnesota hasn’t been pulled off the shelves due to the shutdown).

It was an odd night offensively for the Twins. Some infield hits. Some questionable defense by the Royals. Some odd baserunning. In the end, our GameChat’s Boyfriend of the Day award goes to the only guy to get more than one hit for the Twins… and the guy who came through with the game-winning 2-out RBI in the bottom of the 8th inning. Michael Cuddyer, you are our BOD! – JC

Michael Cuddyer

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If The Price Is Right

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

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

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

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

Bill Smith

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

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

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

Denard Span

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

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

Delmon Young

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

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

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

Justin Morneau

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

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

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

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

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

– JC

Game Chat – Brewers @ Twins #3, 1:10

Michael Cuddyer

Congratulations to Michael Cuddyer on being named to the AL All-Star Team for the first time. Cuddyer has toiled in the shadows of guys like Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Joe Nathan, Johan Santana and others over the years, so he hasn’t gotten the broad recognition that others have, but more than once he’s had to step in to a leadership role with the Twins and for all the shit some people seem to enjoy dumping on him at times, he’s never demonstrated anything but class and a solid work ethic. Congratulations Cuddy!

One of the toughest things to do in sports is put a tough defeat, like last night’s loss to the Brewers, behind you and not let it have an effect on another game less than 24 hours later. That’s exactly what the Twins have to do today, however.

Let’s hope they find the intestinal fortitude to do the job.

[I'm planning on enjoying a Cedar Rapids Kernels vs Burlington Bees ballgame this afternoon, so I won't be around for much, if any, of the chat. I'm not sure if Babs will be either, but for those who do join in, enjoy the game! - JC]

BREWERS @ TWINS
Weeks, 2B Revere, CF
Morgan, CF Casilla, A, 2B
Hart, C, RF Mauer, C
Fielder, 1B Cuddyer, RF
Gamel, 3B Thome, DH
Betancourt, Y, SS Valencia, 3B
Kotsay, LF Tosoni, LF
Lucroy, C Hughes, L, 1B
Counsell, 2B Nishioka, SS
_Greinke, P _Blackburn, P

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

This game is exhibit A for why you just don’t want to overreact to one bad game. The season is 162 games long and you’re going to give up some late leads and lose some games you should have won… you’re also going to have some games… like today… where you’re offense has to just keep hitting baseballs until you come back on a team and steal a win.

Since I was at the local minor league game today, the best I could do is follow along on my phone, but from what I could tell, there was no shortage of heroes today. Big Jim Thome cracked home run number 595 (and his second of this series). Rene Tosoni got the Twins back in to contention with a 3-run HR of his own. Danny Valencia had a couple of hits including a double and an RBI. Joe Nathan threw a perfect 8th inning and Glen Perkins entered in the 9th with two men on and Prince Fielder coming to the plate, but struck out the two batters he faced to nail down the win. That’s a group worthy of a dessert buffet if I’ve ever seen one.

But on a unanimous vote of those in the GameChat, the Boyfriend of the Day award goes to Michael Cuddyer, who came up with a key RBI single not once, but twice, on the day he was announced as the Twins’ representative in the 2011 All-Star Game!

Michael Cuddyer

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GameChat – White Sox @ Twins #”3″, 12:10

I like beating the White Sox… let’s do it AGAIN! oh yeah, and the big story for today is Nishi’s return to the lineup – playing SS & batting 3rd. This should be interesting.

Chi White Sox @ Minnesota
Pierre, LF Revere, CF
Ramirez, Al, SS Casilla, A, 2B
Quentin, RF Nishioka, SS
Konerko, 1B Cuddyer, RF
Pierzynski, C Young, D, DH
Rios, CF Hughes, L, 1B
Dunn, A, DH Valencia, 3B
Beckham, 2B Rivera, R, C
Morel, 3B Repko, LF
Buehrle, P Blackburn, P

 


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Chi White Sox 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 8 1
Minnesota 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 x 1 4 2

Yes, I know it’s just a two game series but it’s still a SWEEP of the BitchSox!

Kinda says it all, doesn't it!?

I played hooky this afternoon to go home and watch the game and at the end of the game, I was the only person in GameChat. You would think that when there’s only one voter in Chat to cast a BOD vote it would be a pretty easy thing to determine. But not really.

It was nice to see Tsuyoshi Nishioka back on the field and the Sox certainly gave him plenty of fielding opportunities at shortstop. He had 8 assists and made a couple of additional very nice fielding plays where he wasn’t quite able to get the throw to 1B in time for the out. His arm is clearly not as strong as Lexi’s, but he looks comfortable over there. He did boot one ground ball that coulda/shoulda been a DP. Welcome back Nishi!

The Twins got the win today, but let’s not kid ourselves, this was not a really good game for the Twins, as a team. Four hits? Two errors? Mark Buehrle pretty much dominated this line-up… with one exception. Michael Cuddyer showed that he still owns Buehrle. He had two hits, including the one he launched in to the bullpens to lead off the second inning, accounting for the only run by either team in the game.

Nick Blackburn threw eight shutout innings without really breaking much of a sweat. He walked one, struck out one and spread 7 hits over the 8 innings. I admit I was queasy about bringing in Matt Capps to pitch the 9th inning, especially with Adam Dunn due up in the inning, but while Capps gave upa single to Dunn, he shut down everyone else to earn the save.

In the end, my right brain and left brain couldn’t agree on a BOD, so we’re going to have co-BODs today… Blackie and Cuddy.

Nick Blackburn

Michael Cuddyer

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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

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

THAT’S How Ya Do It!

After attending the debacle Friday night and then reading that Francisco Liriano had been scratched from his Saturday start in favor of Anthony Swarzak, who would be facing off with Jared Weaver, I can’t say I was optimistic about the possibility of witnessing a Twins win Saturday night.

Silly me.

OF COURSE this would be the circumstance under which the wins would put things together to pull out a W!

There was a great crowd on hand, reminding me a bit of the enthusiasm I felt during so many games last season. I think we all knew that the Twins were likely to have trouble scoring much off of Weaver, who’s had a pretty strong year, thus far. But Swarzak was every bit Weaver’s equal as the two pitchers matched one another almost pitch for pitch from one inning to the next.

Toward the 7th inning, Swarzak gave up a couple of pretty deep, well hit balls that found the gloves of Michael Cuddyer and Delmon Young. In fact, the defense tonight was very solid all night long. It hasn’t been often that we’ve been able to say that this year.

With one out in the 8th inning Peter Bourjos laced a line drive down the left field line for a double to ruin Swarzak’s no-hitter bid and the crowd immediately rose to give the young pitcher a huge standing ovation. As we sat down, the three 20-something women sitting to my left asked me why everyone had been cheering… they had no idea Swarzak had a no-hitter going. I’m not sure they even knew what a no-hitter was, to be honest. Ah well.

The guy to my right almost flipped out when Matt Capps entered the game to start the 9th inning on the mound for the Twins… but he stood and gave Capps an ovation with the rest of us after his hitless inning. Alex Burnett followed with a clean inning of relief, himself. (Where have THESE versions of those two pitchers been lately… and can we keep them a while?)

And then it was the bottom of the 10th. Lefty reliever Hisanori Takahashi took over for Weaver and struck Jason Kubel out looking before giving up a solid line drive single to Justin Morneau. Jason Repko ran for Morneau and righty Kevin Jepson took the mound for the Angels. Michael Cuddyer grounded a single past the SS in to left field and Delmon Young lined a single to center field. Unfortunately, Repko couldn’t get a jump on that single because there was a real chance it could have been snagged by the shortstop (I thought he was going to catch it from where I sat).

A lot of people around me were upset that Repko didn’t score, but to be honest, he HAD to make sure that ball got through. The LAST thing you want is to have him get doubled off 2B to end that inning. He still got to 3B and the bases were loaded with just one out and Danny Valencia at the plate.

The Angels used five infielders, all playing in on the grass, and just two outfielders, but it didn’t matter. Valencia lifted a fly ball to RF and right off the bat, everyone knew it was deep enough to score Repko from 3B. Torii Hunter jogged back a bit but he knew it didn’t matter whether he got to it or not and it landed well beyond Hunter. Game over.

The Twins celebrated on the field and you could just tell this was a win that made everyone feel good… players and fans alike.

I didn’t take as many pictures this trip as I usually do at games and many I did take are far from high quality, but I thought I would post a few anyway… hope you enjoy!

– JC

Pregame fraternization between Torii, Denard and Cuddy, as well as Justin and Russell Branyan

TC Bear fires tshirts in to the crowd

Anthony Swarzak was very, very good

Jared Weaver was also very, very good

Torii Hunter went hitless... but looked good doing it

An appreciative crowd gives Swarzak a standing ovation after he gives up the first Angels hit in the 8th inning

The Angels play a 5 man infield when the Twins loaded the bases in the 10th

Danny Valencia strokes a deep fly ball to right field...

... and the Twins celebrate a much-needed win!

Just Keepin’ It Real

Wow, that game last night was kinda fun… the way it ended anyway. Not so much the first seven innings, but in Big Boy League, they play nine (or in this case, 10) and it was great to see our guys show some backbone and scratch out a W in the Bronx.

And it’s fine that we were all giddy last night… including the players, if some of their Tweets are any indication.

But today brings another game and the reality that not too much should be read in to that win. Just as I’d caution people not to think Monday’s loss was an indication that the season is going in the toilet or that the Yankees will continue to forever dominate the Twins, let’s not jump to the conclusion that last night’s win gets King Kong off the Twins’ backs, either.

As our old friend Nuke LaLoosh so profoundly stated, “Winning is like, you know, better than losing!” But as the Twins learned last season, pulling off one come-from-behind win over the Evil Empire in that Mausoleum in Bronx (and seriously, that’s all the better Yankee fans can do in terms of showing up for a ballgame? I don’t care what the weather was… that’s a joke. They call themselves baseball fans?) does not, in itself, constitute a reversal of a trend.

I have to kind of like the pitching matchups for the next two games and I’ve held the minority view that the Twins bullpen is actually better than the Yankees’ overall, despite how “vaunted” it is by the media (especially the YES network broadcasters, apparently). I mean really… how many fans would have been screaming for the heads of Bill Smith, Ron Gardenhire, and/or pitching coach Rick Anderson if the Twins would have left Ft. Myers with Luis Ayala in the bullpen (again)?

But we can debate pitching and middle infielding until we’re all out of breath (or our typing fingers fall off) and it really won’t matter in the long run. Yes, the starting pitchers need to stop giving up early gopher balls. Yes, Casilla and Nishioka need to step up their games a bit.

It's time for Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer and Thome to show up

But no matter what anyone else does, this team’s fortunes are going to be tied to how the heart of the batting order performs with the bat and, so far, they flat out haven’t performed well. If and when Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Delmon Young, Michael Cuddyer and Jim Thome start hitting with some consistent authority, this team will win a lot of baseball games. It’s really that simple.

At this point, none of those guys has been able to accumulate as much as a .150 batting average. Yes, I know BA isn’t the be-all and end-all of offensive statistics, but I think it’s safe to say that if you aren’t hitting above .150, chances are none of your other fancy in-depth sabremetric offensive stats are going to be looking too good either.

If all people want to fret about is whether your middle infield or 4th and 5th starters or middle relievers are performing up to standards, then everyone is missing the giant elephant in the room. It’s only five games in to the season, but the problem right at this moment is not the middle infield… it’s the heart of the batting order.

Pardon me for continuing to channel my inner Nuke today, but it’s time for the studs on this team to start announcing their presence with some authority.

– JC