Two Weeks In: Who Is This Team?

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

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

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

I don’t know what to think.

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

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

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

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

    Luke Hughes, we hardly knew ye

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- JC

Yankee Doodle Dandy

After some early season snafus relating to the Twins’ previous post-season failures against the Yankees, the Twins have an opportunity to put some of those demons to bed, starting tonight, as the open a 4-game series in New York tonight at 6:05pm central.

Image from M.T.'s Blog, http://matt7.mlblogs.com/

While some former Twins (Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer, etc.) may have indicated that they Twins were mentally beat against the Yankees before their previous post-season collapses, there is a wealth of historical precedence that helped create those mental barriers.  In the past 10 years the Twins are 18-51 against the Yankees, and that does not include the three times the Yankees eliminated the Twins from post-season play.  Add those in and the Twins are an even more embarrassing 20-63 against the Bronx Bombers. A W-L% of  about .241.  To put that in perspective, over a 162 game season, playing ONLY the Yankees, the Twins would win 39 games.

In those 83 games against the Yankees, 42 were in New York, and the Twins won only 7 times, which does not bode well for the Twins as they roll in to Yankee Stadium this evening.

But here is why I think the Twins have a chance to split* this four game series, which would be a resounding victory, historically:

*Let’s just assume that C.C. Sabathia is his regular self, and Francisco Liriano is the disappointing fallen star that we’ve come to know, so the Twins are not going to win tomorrow night.  And while only two Twins have faced Hiroki Kuroda (Ryan Doumit and Josh Willingham), both have been unsuccessful and the Yankees have blasted Jason Marquis to the tun of .361/.395/.778 for an OPS of almost 1200! In the other two games, the Twins will face Freddy Garcia, and Phil Hughes.  Both are beatable and if the Twins can pitch well enough to keep the Yankees to 5 runs per game, they will have a chance to steal a couple of wins from the Yanks.

Hitting:

In addition to hitting 4 home runs and 6 doubles against Garcia in 71 plate appearances, Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer have combined to walk 10 times compared to just 5 strikeouts.  Of the 114 total plate appearances by current Twins, only Danny Valencia (1/4) has an OBP against Garcia that’s lower than .285.  The Twins have not fared quite as well against Phil Hughes, but still post an OBP of .317, albeit in a sample size limited to just 38 at bats.  Either way, the Twins have an opportunity to get out front of the Yankees early and to allow their starters to work deeper into games, limiting the opportunities for the bullpen to let another close game slip away.

Pitching/Defense:

In addition to hitting well against the Yankees, Carl Pavano (tonight’s starter) and Anthony Swarzak (projected to take Nick Blackburn‘s start on Thursday) have managed to keep the Yankees in check.  Pavano has limited current Yankees to a triple slash of just .229/.252/.359 with just 9/30 hits against him going for extra bases.  Swarzak has faced current Yankees hitters just 39 times, but he has yet to give up a home run to any of the current Yankees, which has been one of their biggest weapons against the Minnesota Twins.  Decent starting pitching will be complemented with a defense that is likely to be near league average with Justin Morneau slotted into first base and either Trevor Plouffe or Clete Thomas taking an outfield spot away from Ryan Doumit.

Winning two games against the Yankees and splitting the series will not get this team any closer to contending for the AL Central, but it will help plant the seed in the minds of this current group of Twins that they can beat the Yankees, something the Twins haven’t really done for a decade.

It starts tonight!

- ERolfPleiss

What, Me Worry?

(This image is almost certainly the property of whomever owns the rights to MAD Magazine these days.)

Yes, I’m feeling a bit Alfred E. Neuman-ish today.

Yes, the Twins are 0-4, a trait they share with the Atlanta Braves. Yes, they’ve hit at a pathetic .165 clip and struggled to score a run or two, at most, each game. Yes, three of their four starting pitchers currently sport ERAs of 5.14, 7.50 and 11.25 after their first time through the rotation. 

But is all of that really enough to make everyone bail on the entire season?

Given that so many fans had pretty much written this season off before it started, I guess it’s not surprising that the answer to that question for just as many people is, “yes.” It just seems a tad premature, to me, after just four games, especially when everyone knew (or should have known) that April was going to be a brutal month.

No, the Orioles are not among the American League’s elite teams, but the Twins have struggled with them recently, especially on the road. And, yes, this team is likely to remain at or near the bottom of their Division through the rest of the month, given the nature of the upcoming schedule (the next 15 games are against what are probably five of the six best teams in the AL).  

But let’s keep a little perspective here. Despite the losses, there are a handful of things that haven’t gone too badly so far:

  • Josh Willingham will never be mistaken for a gold glove outfielder, but he’s done what he was brought in to do… hit the baseball hard. He’s hit .385 and has an OPS of 1.390 with a home run in Baltimore and, just to prove it can be done, another home run in Target Field Monday. (Hey, if others can use a small sample size to “prove” the team sucks, I can use it, too.)
  • Justin Morneau is hitting the ball hard. Do I wish he was playing 1B while hitting the ball hard? Of course. But given my limited expectations a month ago, I like what I see.
  • Most of the bullpen arms are looking OK. Matt Capps hasn’t blown a save (then again, there hasn’t been a save situation, yet) and he, along with Brian Duensing, Glen Perkins, Jeff Gray and Alex Burnett, have managed to hold opponents scoreless in their limited work.
  • Speaking of limited bullpen work, only Francisco Liriano failed to go at least five innings in his first start and the WHIPs (walks + hits per inning pitched) for the other three starters were very reasonable (1.20 for Anthony Swarzak, 1.17 for Nick Blackburn and 1.00 for Carl Pavano).

The bottom line, for me anyway, is that I believe this team will score some runs. My greatest fear entering the season was that the pitching staff would implode. In fact, that’s still my greatest fear. But the arms are off to a reasonably decent start, with a couple of exceptions (that would be you, Mr. Burton and Mr. Maloney, along with Mr. Liriano), so when the bats start to come around, maybe things won’t look so bad.

Even in the middle infield, where Jamey Carroll and Alexi Casilla have managed a total of one hit between them, at least they are making most of the plays they need to defensively, which is more than we could say a year ago. And if their bats don’t come around soon, Brian Dozier is already raking down in Rochester and he’s only a phone call away.

I really don’t expect a lot of wins over the next couple of weeks and I’m sure that will only intensify the grumbling among the fan base. But I’m anxious to see whether some of the young players like Swarzak, Liam Hendriks, Trevor Plouffe, Chris Parmelee and, eventually, Dozier, can do when they get past the, “Oh my God, I’m in the Big Leagues!” phase of their seasons.

I’m still interested in this team and I hope most of the rest of you are, too. But if you really just can’t imagine the start to a season being any worse, keep in mind that things could be much worse.

Ask Ozzie Guillen.

- JC

Boyfriend(s) of the Month

You may have noticed that we didn’t give “Boyfriend of the Month” awards for April or May. (OK, honestly, you probably didn’t notice.) The BOM is our way of keeping track of who’s been leading the charge for the Twins.

Jason Kubel

Frankly, the folks who join us for GameChats had relatively few opportunities to even vote Boyfriend of the Day awards in April and May, but a couple of players did stand out. It seems like a long time ago, now, but in April, Jason Kubel was one of the few bright spots for the Twins. He was also the only Twin to receive more than one BOD award here at Knuckleballs, making him the April Boyfriend of the Month.

Nick Blackburn

In May, there weren’t many more opportunities to hand out those BOD awards. It was clear that what little success the Twins had in May was due to their starting pitching. Nine of the ten BODs handed out in May went to starting pitchers and Nick Blackburn collected three of those honors, making him our BOM for May.

June, as we all know, was a considerably more successful month for the Twins. Five different players were bestowed multiple BOD awards last month. Two of them came through with three such awards. Once again demonstrating the critical role that starting pitching has continue to play for the Twins, Carl Pavano and Scott Baker are our co-Boyfriends of the Month for June.

 

Scott Baker

Carl Pavano

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

.

GameChat – Mariners @ Twins #2, 7:10 pm

Wow there was a lot of “trade” discussion in the digital universe today. Kevin Slowey’s options are being discussed extensively – including the fact that he’s getting a second opinion on abdominal pain. Also, out of the blue, someone started the discussion about what Thome would bring.. God that would suck to lose him. I really hope that never happens.

The weather is cool and cloudy but no sign that there is going to be any rain to rescue the Twins if things go badly. Blackburn is starting so lets hope that we can get a good result off a good start from Nick. I would hope that the Twins are able to use that to get a W tonight.

Cuddy’s hip must still need a little downtime – I haven’t checked to see if anyone has said whether he’ll be available off the bench though. Delmon is back so his shin must be ok. It also sounds like both Mauer & Nishioka are getting some time in down in Florida so that could be REALLY good news soon.

I’m getting the post up but I’m off to go say hello to a brand new little baby that arrived on Sunday and I don’t intend to be in a rush to say goodbye… LOL I’m such a sucker for the short ones.. JC is also at a Kernels game tonight and given questionable weather there, if you see him, it’s because he got rained out. Have a good chat guys!

Seattle @ Minnesota
Suzuki, I, RF   Span, CF
Figgins, 3B   Tolbert, SS
Smoak, 1B   Kubel, RF
Cust, DH   Morneau, 1B
Olivo, C   Thome, DH
Kennedy, A, 2B   Young, D, LF
Peguero, LF   Valencia, 3B
Ryan, SS   Rivera, R, C
Saunders, M, CF   Casilla, A, 2B
  Fister, P     Blackburn, P

 

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

 

HELL YES!!

That is EXACTLY what the Twins needed – a fantastic outing from Nick Blackburn, getting some hits, doing some running, and in general breaking a 9 game losing streak at home.

And honestly, I said in the pregame that the Twins really needed Blackburn to do well but they needed more than a quality start – they needed a monster start because three of their bullpen pitchers were unavailable. Blackburn gave them EXACTLY that – a MONSTER of a complete game in 127 pitches and finished with a 1-2-3 9th inning. For simply ROCKING it, Blackburn gets unanimous support for today’s Boyfriend of the Day!

The Kevin Slowey Dilemma

I don’t often listen in via the internet to Ron Gardenhire’s Sunday morning appearances on ESPN1500, but I did yesterday. If you’ve been reading or listening to any Twins-related news in the past 24 hours, you’re probably already aware of his comments with regard to Kevin Slowey. If not, let me give it to you in a nutshell:  Gardenhire and Slowey met together to discuss Kevin’s role with the Twins and there appears to be some agreement between them that Slowey has not worked out as a relief pitcher, so they need to get him innings in a starting role… somewhere.

Gardenhire mentioned possibly sending Slowey to Rochester to be used as a starting pitcher. Slowey hinted to reporters that perhaps the Twins are no longer a “fit” for him.

Assuming Gardy is not going to go “Ozzie Guillen” on us and implement a six-man rotation the way the BitchSox have, there really are only three options for dealing with Slowey at this point: Insert him in to the Twins rotation to replace one of the five arms already there, send him to Rochester, or trade him to another team.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

If the Twins would decide to simply move Slowey in to the rotation, say for example in place of Brian Duensing, and have Duensing take Slowey’s bullpen spot, then I suppose it is relatively simple. But the Twins don’t really need a long reliever in the bullpen and that’s pretty much what Duensing would be. They need an arm they can use in critical set up situations. Maybe Duensing could do that, but it’s hardly a sure-thing.  

This swap would also result in the Twins having just one left hander in the rotation and while it’s easy to pick on Duensing because he hasn’t had a lot of success in the past month or so, a glance at his stat line shows us that opponents have a .381 BABIP (batting average on balls in play), which is well above normal, indicating that he may be the victim of a little bit of bad luck. That particular stat, after all, was the one that fans of Francisco Liriano liked to trot out there every time a discussion about Frankie’s abilities took place over the off season (and his BABIP was only .335 last season).

So why not just send Slowey to Rochester and bring up someone else for the bullpen? Makes sense, I guess, but let’s be honest… the Twins haven’t exactly had a lot of good fortune with the bullpen arms they’ve brought up from Rochester already. Yes, Chuck James has performed well in Rochester’s pen and has arguably earned a promotion opportunity. But James is not currently on the Twins’ 40-man roster, so promoting him means someone currently on the roster has to be jettisoned. Would the world come to an end if the Twins lost Eric Hacker, Jim Hoey, or Scott Diamond? No. But I’m not sure the Twins are ready to give those guys up just to find out if James can pitch effectively at the Big League level.

That leaves us with some sort of trade scenario and the internet is abuzz today with “Twins will trade Slowey” stories. Heck, it may even happen before I can post this!

A lot of people thought the Twins should trade Slowey or one of their other starting pitchers before the season started. I disagreed, because it’s not at all unusual for a team to end up needing that sixth starting pitcher at some point during the first couple of months of the season. It turns out, the starting five stayed relatively healthy so the need to insert Slowey in to the rotation has not materialized. Certainly, none of the five guys in the rotation have been consistently effective, but despite the contention of his fans (and those fans who for one reason or another just dislike one of the current rotation members), there’s no solid evidence at all that Slowey would be an improvement over anyone currently with a starting rotation spot.

The assumption all along has been that the Twins would promote top pitching prospect Kyle Gibson from Rochester in June, once the risk of accelerating his eligibility for arbitration passes. Gibson hasn’t exactly set the International League ablaze this season, but he’s held hitters to somewhere around a .250 batting average and has a nice 41/8 strikeout-to-walk ratio, while striking out almost one hitter per inning. The point being, we’re almost at the point in the season where the Twins can afford to trade one of their six pitchers with credentials as a Big League pitcher.

I’m just not sure that should be Slowey.

If it is, so be it. It’s not like he’s demonstrated that he’s irreplaceable. But I’m just not sure that’s the direction I’d go if I were the General Manager.

Slowey is making just $2.7 million this season, so there’s bound to be a market for him. Maybe the Twins could even get a serviceable middle infielder in return. But they aren’t likely to get anyone significantly better than the mediocrity they’ve been sending out to man 2B and SS so far and adding a MLB infielder means they’re still left with the dilemma of how to fit James on to the 40-man roster so they can promote him. In any event, while I’m not ready to give up on the 2011 season yet, if I’m running the Twins, I’m not going to feel inclined to trade one of my cheaper starting pitching options.

For the same reason, you don’t trade Brian Duensing either. He’s still barely making above the MLB minimum salary.

Nick Blackburn and Scott Baker are both roughly in the $5-6 million per year range through 2012. The Twins won’t (and shouldn’t) trade Baker, but if you can get some decent prospects for Blackburn, I suppose you listen to offers. I just doubt that Blackburn’s performance has done much to create significant demand for his services, given his contractual agreement.

Does Francisco Liriano still have significant trade value? He’s making $4.3 million this year but he’s likely to get more expensive next year. Still, I suspect there are teams who would be very tempted to give up something of value for the chance to see if Liriano can grow in to a consistently dominant lefty. If so, I’d be very tempted to make him available because I just don’t see it as being likely to happen in Minnesota. Blame Liriano or blame the coaches/manager, but either way, I don’t see him ever being worth what the Twins would have to shell out to keep him beyond this season.

And then there’s ‘Stache. Carl Pavano is getting $8 million this season and is guaranteed $8.5 million in 2012. Has anyone who’s been watching the Twins seen anything in Pavano’s performance to make them feel like he’s worth that deal? He certainly has not been the “innings eater” he was last year, having averaged just about 6 innings per start. I don’t know what he’s worth on the market, but I would imagine someone would give up something for him, even if the Twins do have to eat a little of that contract.

Trading one of these guys for decent prospects would clear a roster spot for James  (or for Gibson or possibly RP prospect Carlos Gutierrez next month) without leaving the Twins significantly short-handed in the starting pitching department.  If I could get something of real value in prospects for either Pavano or Liriano, I’d make that move right now.

That said, it will probably be Kevin Slowey sent packing. If and when it happens, I suspect most of us will be underwhelmed with talent received in return.

- JC

GameChat – Twins @ A’s #2, 2:35 pm, FSN & am1500

Well the Twins have had two previous three game winning streaks this season – I don’t think we have ever done more than that yet – and I would really like to see today make the third. Who knows if we have any chance of getting back into the realm of competitive opportunity this season but I would just like to approach EVERY game with a must-win attitude. Get it done Boys.

Minnesota @ Oakland
Span, CF Crisp, CF
Plouffe, SS Barton, D, 1B
Kubel, RF Sweeney, R, LF
Morneau, DH Matsui, H, DH
Cuddyer, 1B Suzuki, K, C
Valencia, 3B DeJesus, D, RF
Young, D, LF Ellis, M, 2B
Rivera, Re, C Kouzmanoff, 3B
Casilla, A, 2B Pennington, SS
Blackburn, P Ross, P

 

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 1 1 0 0 2 0 0 6 1 11 16 3
Oakland 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 6 0

 

WOOOHOOOO!!!  The Twins no longer have the worst record in baseball! Today’s win officially moved them past the Astros.  And wow, was that a fun game to watch. The boys remembered how to use the bats and the pitching was ON! I really miss that kind of baseball.  Lots of people contributed today but the eventual BOD debate came down Justin Morneau, who really is starting to get his rhythm back, and Nick Blackburn, who followed up his last three consecutive quality starts with another gem.  We finally said, why are we arguing about this?

They’re BOTH today’s BODs!  Congrats!

Justin Morneau

 

Nick Blackburn

GameChat – Twins @ White Sox #2, 1:10 pm, FSN & am1500

I’m pretty sure that the whole team is still riding a high from last night and the optimist in me hopes that that works in their favor.  And I hope that they all got a lot more sleep than FranKKKie because he was reportedly up all night talking to friends and family in the DR and receiving text after text of congratulations – including one from Orlando Hudson. He will get back to his regular schedule I’m sure but he is more than welcome to recover on a little bit looser time frame given that his next start will be a few days away. The rest of the team has to go out there today and continue to kick White Sox butt and I would REALLY like to see a bit more hitting than last night. It just seems like it’s pushing it a little far to expect another no hitter today – or even a shutout, just saying.

In other news, yes, Thome is on the DL now. Oddly, because we all seem to know about it already, Repko is also supposedly going on the DL with continuing issues with the quad he injured and Ben Revere will be back up with the big boys but it’s not been made OFFICIAL that I have seen yet.  *shrug* I’m wondering if that has something to do with the official lineups being a little slower than normal today which is why the post is a little later than normal and only half here. The lineups will be up shortly…

[update] apparently the flight that both Plouffe & Revere are on was delayed and Gardy is waiting because he may actually put one or both in the lineup.

I guess Gardy finally gave up because the lineups were just posted without either callup.

Minnesota @ Chi White Sox
Span, CF   Pierre, LF
Tolbert, SS   Ramirez, A, SS
Morneau, 1B   Dunn, A, DH
Kubel, RF   Konerko, 1B
Cuddyer, DH   Quentin, RF
Tosoni, LF   Pierzynski, C
Valencia, 3B   Rios, CF
Butera, C   Teahen, 3B
Casilla, A, 2B   Vizquel, 2B
  Blackburn, P     Danks, P

 

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

 

YAY!! Two wins in a ROW!!  That’s fantastic! And even more important? 

SWEEP!

Yes, I know it was only a 2 game sweep but still – it was the White Sox. And we need to enjoy every win we can get.

However, it wasn’t nearly as easy to vote for a BOD today. This was a consistent effort on the team but no REAL standout screamed “pick me.” Kubel once again held down the RBI crown for today but Span had 2 hits and 2 runs and young, Mr. Tosoni had the winning RBI to his credit – which we needed – so he’s not to be forgotten either.

But in the end, the vote went to Blackburn who, like Liriano, followed up his previous poor start with a solid outing today. With as little run production as the Rochester Redwings are able to get in the big show, we need our starting pitchers to keep the hitting to a minimum. That’s exactly what Blackburn did today.  And the important part of that effort came to show in the failed participation of Mijares and Perkins. Thankfully, Capps came out and didn’t give up the lead completely and got his save but for all these reasons, Nick Blackburn is today’s BOD!

In an odd followup to the series victory today, the team sent Steve Holm back down to Rochester. It’s an odd move BECAUSE they didn’t bring anyone else up to go on the roadtrip to Boston and Drew is currently our only pitcher on the roster and it appears that Mauer is still not ready to make his return. I will definitely be keeping my eye on this situation.  Something is stirring.

The Cure For What Ails You

I’m not going to go through a recitation of all of the ailments currently afflicting the Twins. If you want to go through all of that even more than you have already, you can click on any one of about a dozen of the blogs in our Twins blogroll over on the sidebar (including Howard Sinker’s return to his “A Fan’s View from Section 219” blog… welcome back Howard!). Instead I’m going to focus on a cure.

If ever there was a team that appeared prepared to provide a cure for what’s ailing the Twins, it’s this week’s opponent, the Baltimore Orioles.

If you haven’t paid much attention to the O’s lately, you might wonder why I’d make that comment. After all, Baltimore got off to a 6-1 start during the first couple of series of the year. But things have not gone so well over the past week or so for the Birds. They’ve lost seven games in a row and have been scoring runs at a pace that almost makes the Twins’ offense look productive by comparison. Almost.

They’ve also been bitten by the same injury bug that has chewed its way through the Twins clubhouse. Don’t look for old friend JJ Hardy out there at shortstop for the O’s, he’s down with a strained oblique muscle. They’re also missing pitchers Justin Duchscherer and Brian Matusz.

We’re all familiar with the early season struggles of Francisco Liriano (0-3, 9.42 ERA), but if you wanted to conjure up a cure for Frankie’s ills, I’m not sure you could do much better than the lineup he’ll face tonight in Baltimore… not to mention his opponent on the mound. Chris Tilman sports an 0-1 record and a 7.30 ERA covering three starts, during which he’s amassed just 12 and 1/3 innings pitched.

In fact, the only game in this series that looks to have to potential to be a bit of a pitchers’ duel is game three on Wednesday, when Nick Blackburn takes his 3.06 ERA up against the Orioles’ Zach Britton, who’s been pretty much the O’s lone reliable starting pitcher. Britton sports a nifty 2.75 ERA over his three starts.

Take aim! Eutaw Street beyond Camden Yards' RF fence (Photo: Brian Cassella-Times)

This would also appear to be a good series for Jim Thome to resume his assault on 600 career home runs. Not only is Oriole Park at Camden Yards known as a hitters’ park, but all four of the O’s starting pitchers this series are right-handers and Baltimore pitchers have already given up 19 home runs this season. That means Jimmers should get plenty of opportunities to put a ball out there on Eutaw Street. In fact, this would be an ideal time for Justin Morneau to find that home run stroke and the way Jason Kubel is swinging the bat, he could add a few taters to his total, as well.

Right now, the only Orioles hitter that’s been making solid contact is second baseman Brian Roberts. If you think Kubel and Denard Span are feeling a bit like they’re having to carry the load for the Twins, pity Roberts who doesn’t even have a partner to share the load with.

The Twins return home after this series and the Orioles will be hosting the Yankees and Red Sox as their homestand continues after our guys leave town. I’m sure both of these struggling teams are looking for this series to provide a cure to their recent ailments. Let’s hope it’s the Twins that come away with that cure.

Getting their first series win of the season on the road in Baltimore would go a long way toward making everyone, players and fans alike, feel better.

- JC