Alexi Casilla – A Twins Career in Retrospect

Alexi (Lora) Casilla was signed by the Anaheim Angels as an amateur free agent in 2003.  He played for the Angels’ Minor League affiliates for two seasons before being traded to the Twins in 2005 for left-handed reliever J.C. Romero.  Casilla started the 2006 season in High-A Fort Myers playing for the Miracle and by September had earned himself a Major League call-up and played in nine games to close out the year.  For the next six seasons Casilla was at least a part time player for the Minnesota Twins, though he never really became the reliable middle infielder that many expected him to become.  And then last week, after losing the starting second base job and struggling to live up to even the meager offensive standards he had set for himself following 2010 and 2011 (the first time in his career he put up two relatively similar offensive seasons back to back), the Twins waived Casilla and he was claimed by the Baltimore Orioles, ending his lackluster career in Minneapolis.

Alexi Casilla, Credit: Knuckleballs Blog

In parts of seven seasons in Minnesota Alexi Casilla hit .250/.305/334 (BA/OBP/SLG), and only in his initial nine games in 2006 did he record an above average offensive season by OPS+ (clearly, some small sample size bias).  All told, he was worth 57 runs LESS than an average hitter in Minnesota.  In terms of Runs Created, among Minnesota Twins players with at least 1500 plate appearances, Casilla ranks 71/76, ahead of only Hosken Powell, Scott Leius, Jim Holt, Al Newman and Jerry Terrell.

Defensively, where most Casilla Apologists would pin most of his value, Casilla falls short of average in almost every defensive statistic. He’s been worth -21 runs in Total Zone Total Fielding Runs Above Average, -1 in BIS Defensive Runs Saved Above Average, and his fielding percentage (arguably a poor predictor of true defensive value) was just .976 compared to a league average of .985.  Again, against other Twins with 1500 plate appearances, Casilla compares poorly coming at 53/76 with -3 runs created from fielding.  Though he’s ahead of some other big name Twins, Joe Mauer (57th), Kirby Puckett (59th), Jason Kubel (68th), Harmon Killebrew (75th) and Michael Cuddyer (76th).  Unlike many of the Twins below him on the all time list, as noted above, Casilla’s bat did little to justify his continued presence on the Twins roster.

The only place where Casilla compares favorably to Twins of the past, is his ability to effectively steal bases.  Casilla’s 71 stolen bases are good enough for an 18th best in franchise history (though 71 is a fairly low total, as Ben Revere, with 700 fewer plate appearances, is already ahead of him with 74).  However, Casilla is the most efficient base stealer in Twins history (min 25 SB attempts), swiping bags in 88.75% of his attempts.  Why Casilla doesn’t have more stolen bases is probably the result of not getting on base frequently enough and playing for Ron Gardenhire, who doesn’t typically push runners to steal bases.*

Casilla leaves the Twins as a fairly successful Major Leaguer, if not a successful Twin, simply because he was able to collect so many plate appearances.  Not counting his September call-up in 2006, only 241 MLB players have more plate appearances since 2007, putting him in the top 10% of players since the start of 2007 (2,447 players had plate appearances between 2007 and 2012.).  And while that list contains players who may have since retired, Casilla still ranks in the top 15% for plate appearances by active players during the same time period.  Whether it was the Twins’ lack of viable middle infield options, or their continued belief in Casilla as a project, he has more plate appearances than all but 57 other Twins players putting him ahead of 92% of players to play for the Minnesota Twins.  He might not be missed, but he was certainly a big part of the ball club for a little more than six years.

*Only three Twins have more than 100 SB attempts since Gardenhire took over as skipper, Torii Hunter, Nick Punto and Denard Span.  And only Ben Revere has a chance to join that group in the next several years.  For a quick point of comparison, Tom Kelly had seven different players attempt at least 100 SB, and Chuck Knoblauch attempted 353 (2nd in team history to Rod Carew).  

-ERolfPleiss

The Punto-Cuddyer Syndrome

First off, I like Michael Cuddyer. Let’s get that out of the way right up front. I’m a fan of the man and assuming there’s no 12th hour change of heart on the part of Cuddyer and/or the Twins, I’ll miss watching him in a Twins uniform and wish him success with whatever team he suits up for in 2012.

That said, I’ve been around long enough to know that baseball is first and foremost a business these days, not only for the people running the teams but for the players, as well. And both parties have had to weigh a number of factors as they decide whether Cuddyer would continue being a member of the Twins.

Michael Cuddyer

For the Twins, it is perfectly reasonable to step back and question what the player’s worth is to the organization. They should be (and I’m certain they have been) considering his age, his level of past productivity, not just in the most recent season but over the course of the past several years, the value of his clubhouse presence, the value of his work in the community, and the value of the draft picks they get when he signs elsewhere. They also are clearly looking at other available options to replace his presence on the roster and what those options would cost, compared to the cost to bring Cuddyer back. It certainly sounds like it’s going to be cheaper to sign Josh Willingham and he certainly appears to be a comparable talent.

Cuddyer, as well, has things to consider as he weighs whether to return to the Twins. He and his agent have established what they think he should be worth on the open market. The Twins haven’t been offering that, so Cuddyer and his family have to decide if being a career Minnesota Twin is worth potentially leaving a few million dollars on the table. I wonder how many of us would do that. Cuddyer also has to determine how important having a better shot at winning a championship is to him. The chances of doing so in Minnesota over the next three years are probably not as good as they would be in Philadelphia, Boston or, arguably, even Colorado. I think it’s fair for him to wonder just whether it might be best for his career to move on.

In other words, I can see plenty of reasonable factors for either the team or Cuddyer to decide either that they should or shouldn’t continue their relationship.

But what I have never understood is the level of venom that a very vocal segment of the fan base (at least among those who haunt the internet) express in Cuddyer’s direction. At at time when many of us question the toughness of some of the Twins “stars” and their willingness to play through bumps and bruises, Cuddyer is one guy who has consistently tried to do that. Yes, he’s had some injuries over the years and yes, he’s had years that have been better or worse than others. He’s not a superstar. He has weaknesses.

But he’s played a pretty significant role in whatever levels of success the Twins have had in recent years.

Is the problem that people think he’s overpaid? Maybe, but is that his fault? He, like every player, has an agent who’s responsible for getting the best contract terms he can. We should dislike Cuddyer for that?

I think there’s a certain segment of Twins fans that take a particular joy, or at least satisfaction, it tearing down players that they view as being “liked” too much. These people think they’re smarter than most Twins fans and so they trot out this statistic or that criteria to demonstrate that anyone the rest of us dumb fans “like” isn’t as good as we think they are. It happened with Nick Punto and it’s happening now with Cuddyer.

So, in all likelihood, Cuddyer will move on now. That means the haters can joke and feel smug and superior to the rest of us who have valued his contribution to the team and the way he seemed to genuinely enjoy and appreciate the fans… just as they did when Punto finally signed elsewhere.

Most of us have been on this earth long enough to realize that there are people who can only feel better about themselves by denigrating others. I don’t like spending much time with such people on either a social or business basis. I’ve found myself with much less patience for that personality type in the virtual world lately, as well.

I’m not saying there’s no room for debate about the abilities and contributions of players, coaches, managers, GMs or any other member of the Twins organization. Debate and discussion is what we’re all about. Criticism is fair. If someone isn’t doing their job well, pointing that out is fine.

But when it turns personal or when it clearly has less to do with abilities than it does simply wanting to trash a guy that others happen to like just to be contrary… to show us all how much smarter you are than the rest of us… to point out how stupid we all are for liking the way a guy conducts his life on and off the field… you’re not showing us how smart you are, you’re just being a jerk. You’re showing the rest of us a lot more about yourself than you are about anything or anyone else.

These folks threw a little party when Nick Punto was shown the door and we’re already seeing evidence of the same thing as Cuddyer’s time as a Twin appears to be drawing to a close. It makes me wonder who these brilliant people who are so much smarter than the rest of us will choose to pick on next. I guess Matt Capps will be around for a little while longer, but he really isn’t popular enough with fans, in general, to make picking on him all that fun.

Punto had to leave to get the championship jewelry that every player wants. Now he’s signed with the Red Sox, giving him a helluva lot better shot at more such opportunities than anyone associated with the Twins has. And I’d be willing to bet Cuddyer will land in a situation with a better shot than he’d have had in Minnesota, too (just as Joe Nathan did).

So if you are one of those people who enjoy hating on a guy who has done nothing but give 100% to his team, his team mates, his fan base and his community, congratulations… it looks like you’re getting what you want.

But we all know it won’t make you happy. You’ll just need to find someone else to put down in order to make yourself feel superior again.

And that’s sad.

- JC

 

Paying to Bring Us the Playoffs

This is what it has come to. I don’t have anything all that interesting to post about so tonight, you get “Jim Crikket Reviews the NLCS… Commercials”.

That’s right, I don’t even have enough material about the Cardinals/Brewers game itself to fill a post… so I’ll sprinkle a comment about the game here and there, but for the most part, you get my impressions about the sponsors who are allowing us to see this game without having to pay for it.

And here we go…

I’ve been drinking Southern Comfort for over 35 years (no… not CONSTANTLY) and I like the relatively new SoCo Lime. But Southern Comfort Fiery Pepper (SoCo and Tobasco)? Um. I think not.

Seeing Brian Wilson eating at Taco Bell does not make me more inclined to eat there. I also have to concur with someone (Posnanski maybe?) who tweeted recently something to the effect that Brian Wilson might be the least likely ballplayer to fit the “Black Ops” mold.

I’ve been inside the Transamerica Pyramid building in San Francisco a few times. Trust me, it looks nothing like the new “Tomorrow Makers” commercials inside. I like the ads, though.

Holliday hit a home run… I thought he was hurt.

I don’t think the gal being driven by her boyfriend frantically around a city in his Chevy Cruze Eco is ever going to see the airplane with her boyfriend’s proposal… and if she does, she’s going to turn him down. Now… if he had just done something original, like proposing on a JumboTron at a baseball game…

James Beresford. Australian for "ballplayer"

I saw that Twins prospect James Beresford, who is from Australia, tweeted that he was glad to get home and not have to see the Foster’s “Australian for beer” commercials… but some of them still make me laugh out loud. I’ve been told I have an odd sense of humor. The “free agent” commercial where the Aussie footballer changes teams for the beer reminds me a bit of my 16″ slow pitch softball days.

Home run by Allen Craig (who the hell is Allen Craig?).

The Pepsi commercials in the middle of the cornfield aren’t great, but wouldn’t it have been a blast sitting around with all those former players in between takes on the set? I’d want a digital recorder just to capture the stories.

I’ve never watched “Big Bang Theory”, but after all the saturation advertising TBS has made us endure, if there ever was a chance I would watch it, that has disappeared. Enough, already! It’s almost enough to make me look forward to FOX broadcasts. (I said “almost”.)

Helluva head first slide by Hairston to score the Brewers’ first run.

All of the people in the “what am I going to do about retirement?” commercials seem to be younger than I am. It’s making me wonder if perhaps I should have started planning for that by now. Good thing I have this blogging thing to fall back on.

Conan O’Brien commercials: See “Big Bang Theory” paragraph above. Yes, the only thing worse than BBT and Conan commercials is BBT and Conan commercials running back-to-back.

The State Farm commercial where the wife “catches” her husband talking to “Jake from State Farm” in the middle of the night is hilarious. “She sounds hideous!” “Well, she’s a guy, so…”

Kyle Lohse leaves in the 5th inning with a 2-2 tie game and a man on 3rd.  LaRussa would never cut it as Gardy’s pitching coach. Doesn’t he know you don’t pull your starter until he’s coughed up the lead and fallen behind by 4 runs?

Over the years, Budweiser has come up with some memorable and imaginative ad campaigns. The one they’re using during the LCS is not one of them. I’m betting most of you reading this right now can’t even picture the commercial I’m talking about.

Another excuse to post this picture (Photo: Craig Lassig/AP)

The new Captain Morgan ads are fun, but the womenfolk in the ads have a ways to go to measure up to the ladies that accompanied the Captain to Target Field last year. But I love the new commercials. In fact, if I ever get drunk enough to get a tattoo, “To Life, Love and Loot” might find itself forever captured on some part of my body.

Speaking of rowing, the GEICO commercial with the gerbils rowing doesn’t do as much for me.

Did I mention the Conan commercials are just plain stupid? My first thought was, “he has to be flat out embarrassed to have to do those commercials.” Then I remembered. It’s Conan.

Ouch. That shot on the bicep taken by plate umpire Mike Everett had to hurt.

The “pay it forward” themed commercials by Liberty Mutual are kinda cool.

Arthur Rhodes is still pitching in the Major Leagues… and in the playoffs. Mothers and fathers, for God’s sake, if you have left handed children, teach them to PITCH!

The Allstate commercials with the guy from HBO’s “Oz” prison show (and narrated by Pedro Cerrano of “Major League” fame) are great. I’m starting to notice a trend. I really like a lot of insurance company ad campaigns. Wonder why that is.

I like Tommy Lee Jones, but I don’t recall seeing his eyes move to read cue cards in MIB the way they do in his Ameriprise commercials.

Yes, lady, your mother was probably right. You should have married John Clark instead of the hubby who paid AT&T for unlimited messaging just so your family could get unlimited calling.

Hey, did you hear “Big Bang Theory” is coming to TBS?

Little Nicky Punto did not look much like a Tiny Superhero with that pinch hit K in the 7th.

Will you just throw Conan out the window of the damn blimp, already?

The ETrade commercials with the babies talking investments (and wildebeasts propagating the heard) are still funny, but those kids must be about ready to graduate from college by now, aren’t they?

The girl in the pink dress doing the T-Mobile commercials looks strikingly like an old girlfriend of mine. Of course it’s not her. Daughter maybe? Hell, probably a granddaughter. Crap, I’m getting old.

Carlos Gomez looks weird, but better, with short hair.

Those guys are right. That thing really does not like Dwayne. But if the only reason I need State Farm insurance is in the unlikely event a giant robot terrorizes my neighborhood, I think I’ll take my chances going uninsured. Turns out I don’t like all the insurance commercials, after all.

Now that I think about it, I don’t think I like any of the GEICO commercials at all. Rowing gerbils, dunking 5 year old… nope. Bring back the little green thing that talks funny.

Note to Nissan: If you have to create fake stunts for your four-wheel drive pickups in your commercials, what does that say about your four-wheel drive pickups?

If the Cardinals don’t go to the World Series, it won’t be because David Freese (did I spell that right?) didn’t do his part.

OK, the last two innings brought no notable commercials that I hadn’t already commented on, so I guess that’s a wrap. If you feel inclined to share your thoughts on these or any of the other commercials we are getting to know very, very well during the postseason, please leave a comment.

Oh yeah… the Brewers beat the Cardinals 4-2. I’m sure my mother is not happy.

- JC

Last Man Standing… and Other Peoples’ Words

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

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

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

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

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

Nick Punto

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

Nick Punto is going to the playoffs.

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

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

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

Delmon Young

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I couldn’t have said it better, myself.

So I won’t even try.

- JC

Off-season Photo Farewell

With all the off-season signings that took several of our Twins to other teams, we thought we would take a moment to bid a fond farewell with a little photo montage of some of our memories of their time with the Twins.  Obviously, for those that had been with us longer, I had a LOT more time to take pics of them.

Since we won’t get to see their adorable faces (or other features of choice) on the field this spring, here’s an opportunity for you to get one last look of Guerrier, Crain, Fuentes, Rauch, Hardy, Punto, Hudson and Harris in Twins uniforms.  We really do with you all the best with your new teams guys!

Does the Twins Front Office kill your Offseason Optimism?

Ok, this is now the third rewrite of this post because I’m so distracted/lazy/busy/otherwise occupied that every time I’m about ready to put it up, the Twins front office goes and does something else that changes (AND ADDS TO) at least part of what I had to say.  So… if there are parts that are confusing, just keep all that in mind.

The original beginning of this post covered the seemingly rare ability our team management has to keep whatever discussions they are having so quiet and under the radar that there is virtually no discussion of it – which is a GREAT aggravation to fans who are assembling/disassembling/reassembling the 2011 roster in hopes of coming up with that perfect proposal for Bill Smith if only he would listen to us bloggers.  In fact, some fans mistake that discretion for lack of activity.  Do I know for certain that discussions are actually taking place?  Well, no, not until they do something like sign a couple contracts out of the blue.  Do I prefer to choose the optimistic viewpoint that Smith likes his job and isn’t sitting on his thumbs wondering why no one is calling him? Yes, yes I do.  I’m not sure where the overreaction to silence comes from in the blogging/sports fan community.  But then again, I have never known why there is so much overreaction to any given activity in the fan base.  It’s almost as if it’s an addiction to the drama.  The Twins fan/blogosphere is like an odd combination of American Idol+Twilight+WWE. (Besides, I’m sure that Simon Cowell is already a vampire, right?)

Of course, that’s all setup for this optimist to say I’m still looking forward to the season! Do I agree with all the moves that the team has made this offseason?  Not even close.  It’s about 50% for the moves I like vs the ones that puzzle or annoy me.  It’s hard to settle down my feelings in a general way without covering specifics for a few of them.

So, my offseason commentary will continue with the most recent activity and move backwards:

A) Pavano’s contract is exciting for me.  They stuck to their guns when a talented pitcher wanted to go three years.  It’s my biggest pet peeve that these contract extensions are just getting ridiculous.  This game is just too unpredictable to sustain that level of commitment.  And they didn’t overpay either which leads me to believe that Carl Pavano and his family actually really liked it here and wanted to come back.  I’m sure that he didn’t give the Twins a discount per se but I think he was ready to take whatever they were willing to give (within reasonable negotiations of course).  I like having him in our rotation.  Of course, that gives us 6 starting pitchers.  Yet another calculation that has some fans up in arms.  Is there a trade in the works? Who should go? Honestly? I don’t think there is going to be a trade. I’m not worried that any of my favorite arms are going to be gone (unlike my favorite fielders *sigh*). I am simply looking forward to spring training to see what shakes out. It seems more likely given the emptiness of our bullpen, that whoever doesn’t make the starting rotation in April, will occupy the BP until the inevitable bump in the road for one of the lead-off guys which will be very handy to have an experienced starter ready to step into the spot.  Whoever that pitcher ends up being is probably less happy with that option than I am.

B) Matt Capps being signed is far less interesting for me.  I know this may be hard to believe but I disagree with JimCrikket and his premise that Capps is the new Punto. Maybe I’m projecting my own feelings out there on other folk but this is my perception.  The feelings about Capps just aren’t strong enough about him personally to equate to the love/hate extremes Punto engenders. And for the record, it has NOTHING to do with Ramos. I still haven’t figured out what it is about Capps that people like. There’s just nothing there for me. Maybe it is my love of Joe Nathan and the holdover disappointment that Capps just isn’t it him. But you know, I didn’t have that reaction with any of the other temporary closers we had in Nathan’s place. I actually grew to like Rauch a lot despite his somewhat rocky second half. So, I don’t really think it’s the disappointment factor for me entirely.

I propose that Matt Capps is actually the new Delmon Young. I think he has a LOT of talent but doesn’t employ it consistently enough to give fans confidence in him when he walks out onto the grass. Those who want to see the talent develop and feel like the potential is just too high to let go (especially given Nathan’s uncertainty) are excited by this signing… I’m just not one of them. I don’t despise Capps, that would imply a level of investment that I just haven’t made with him – again much like Delmon. I just haven’t felt the ‘chemistry’ yet. His record is what it is and he could get better or worse – stats just don’t have much to do with it at this point in my book. The one thing I keep reminding myself is that, again like Delmon, he’s a much younger guy than he looks when he’s out there. He’s only 26 and that supposedly gives him time to continue to improve. I hope he does. I wish him well and would love to see him succeed – again like Delmon – I just think we’re paying him too much for I feel is at best a ‘maybe’.

C) THOME! Ok, I really like this signing and it does make me feel better about the offseason. Do I think there were other DH’s out there we could have signed that would have had fun hitting in TF? Yep.. and I could have accepted Vlad (he still scares me at the plate) or even Thames in that role but I LIKE Thome and I think he was a natural fit here and still has the ability to play for what we need in that spot. Like Pavano, I think he feels the same way and hearing that he received legitimately good offers from other GOOD teams but chose to stay here for less tells me that he has a lot of faith in what this team can do in 2011. I choose to see that as optimism.

As for the rest of the moves made this offseason (excluding the outlier event of Nishioka), I have been disappointed in the actions. I thought they should have kept more of our bullpen intact and we have a seriously depleted pen now. I would have liked to see us keep Guerrier and possible Rauch but obviously my opinion carries little weight. I’m downright depressed that Hardy is gone, and I’m not sure I will know what to do with a bench with no Punto.  But here’s the thing, I don’t think I need to agree with the moves the Front Office makes in order for me to believe they are actually trying to do what they believe is best for the team. Even when I disagree, I can trust the motive. The track record for this team’s success isn’t when they have miraculous signings or when they got that perfectly right player over the offseason. This team succeeds when they take whoever they have (or have left) and go out and play with everything they have. It’s the character of the guys in the locker room that will or won’t send us to the postseason again.  Whether it happens during Spring Training or August, they rally together and fill the holes.  That attitude is more important to the success of the team and to this fan than any single contract’s consequence.

*Per MLB Trade Rumors: Nick Punto is going to the Cardinals. *sigh* I’m going to miss him for all the flak he got around here.  Good Luck Nicky!  http://bit.ly/e1wGXg

For this optimist, I’m taking it all in stride and looking forward to Spring Training and really curious and excited to see where the 2011 season takes the MN Twins!

Matt Capps: The “New Nick Punto”?

UPDATE: Just a quick midafternoon update. MLB.com’s Kelly Thesier’s report from the Twins Caravan  included a couple of notable items: She reported that Dave St. Peter announced that the Twins will be unveiling a bronze statue of Tony Oliva outside Gate 6 at Target Field on/about Opening Day (YAY!).  In addition, she (and other various media reporters) provided an update on Harmon Killebrew’s ongoing battle with cancer. Kelly also included this link to the Get Well, Harmon Blog for anyone wishing to pass on messages to Killebrew. – JC 

Based on early returns, it’s starting to look to me like relief pitcher Matt Capps could give Michael Cuddyer a run for the money in the race to replace Little Nicky Punto as the Twins’ MOTO (Most Often Trashed Online… a term I just made up) player for 2011 among the “blexperts” (blogger/commenter experts… another term I just made up. Am I on a roll here, or what?). I have to say, I really don’t understand the disdain so many people have for Capps.

Photo: Star-Telegram/Max Faulkner

On Tuesday, the Twins announced they had reached a contract agreement with Capps that avoided arbitration. They signed Capps to a one-year, $7.15 million deal for 2011. Based on the electronic reaction, you would have thought the Twins just signed Brett Favre to pitch.

I’ve been trying to figure out WHY Capps’ signing caused so much consternation.

I know that it’s widely believed among the blexperts that closers are overpaid because the Save statistic is overvalued. They are and it is.

It’s kind of funny, though, how two years ago so many people downright demanded that the Twins, with a new stadium on the horizon, give then-34-year-old Joe Nathan whatever it would take to stay in a Twins uniform. And the Twins did… to the tune of a contract that guaranteed Nathan something like $35 million over three guaranteed years plus an option year. The primary concern at the time, as I recall, was simply that the signing may have made it difficult for the Twins to also afford also re-signing Joe Mauer (which, of course, it didn’t).

But now, folks are downright apoplectic that Bill Smith would give Matt Capps $7+ million, while letting Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Brian Fuentes and Jon Rauch leave town via free agency and trading away JJ Hardy. The argument is something like, “the Twins could have kept two of those pitchers or a starting shortstop instead of Capps.”

Well… first of all… no they couldn’t have. Hardy was no longer going to be the Twins’ starting shortstop regardless of what the Twins did with their bullpen… the two things weren’t related whatsoever… and Guerrier, Crain and Fuentes all signed elsewhere for multi-year deals with total values well above what the Twins have committed to Capps.

Still, some maintain that, “the Twins could have paid Rauch half as much and had a pitcher just as good as Capps.” Seriously? Even totally forgetting the Save statistic, when you compare the two over the last half of 2010, you would have to get very creative to make a statistical case that  Rauch is “as good” as Matt Capps. There was a reason the Twins traded for Capps, whether a person wants to believe it or not.

Photo: AP/Ted S Warren

And Fuentes? Look… I’d have loved to have him back with the Twins because he absolutely shuts down lefty hitters. But there’s a reason the Angels gave him up and it has nothing to do with “Saves”. It has to do with his .747 OPS against him in the first half of the season, on the heels of an even worse .830 OPS the second half of 2009. The guy has not been strong against right handed hitters in a while.

As for Guerrier and Crain, hey… both guys have served the Twins well and they were entitled to go after the free agent money. But it would have been absolutely nutty to match the three-year deals they ended up signing elsewhere. The Twins offered arbitration to Crain and he (wisely) turned it down. They didn’t offer it to Guerrier because they were afraid he wouldn’t turn it down and they’d be stuck paying a 30-something middle reliever they have no confidence in ever being more than a middle releiver $5+ million.

While the Twins appear hopeful that Joe Nathan will be fully recovered to start the year, there’s no way they can be sure and absolutely need a Plan B in place. Since Crain and Guerrier were certainly not returning and Fuentes has not been effective enough to provide reliable back up in case Nathan isn’t his old self, Capps is obviously the best Plan B. So why do so many blexperts think keeping Matt Capps is a mistake?

Could it really be that people think Capps is taking a spot that should go to someone that came up through the Twins’ system (e.g. Crain, Guerrier, Pat Neshek, or a prospect such as Anthony Slama) and still hold it against him that Bill Smith traded catching prospect Wilson Ramos to get him? 

There’s really no other good reason not to like having this guy (and frankly, even this reason is damn silly… it’s time to get over the Ramos-love, folks!). Capps throws harder than any of the bullpen arms that left, with the possible exception of Crain. He throws harder than Joe Nathan. Is his fastball more hittable than we’d like? Yes… but that’s exactly what a lot of people have criticized Crain for over the years and Capps’ career strikeout/walk ratio is better than any of the departing guys (especially when you factor out the oddly high number of intentional passes the Pirates ordered Capps to give out… could he really have faced Barry Bonds THAT often?).

Photo: Knuckleballs/Jim Crikket

Capps, at just 27 years old, may just improve a bit yet, as well. Of the departing arms, only Crain (at 29) is still south of 30. Go back and look at where Joe Nathan (or pretty much any of today’s top relievers not named Mariano Revera, for that matter) were at age 27 and compare them with Capps. How many of them already had four seasons of entering games in critical situations under their belts?

By the way, a closer may not be getting used most efficiently by always being saved for the 9th inning, but almost every time he enters a game, he’s coming in to a situation where having a bad night is very possibly going to cost his team the game. A guy who comes in and coughs up a 3 run lead in the 6th inning can take a seat and tell himself, “I just didn’t have it tonight,” while he watches his team mates try to fix the damage. The closer who has that kind of night doesn’t have that luxury. Closers may not deserve to get paid 10 times what middle relief pitchers do… but getting paid 2-3 times that going rate is not outragious. While you’d like to think every pitcher at the Major League level has that sort of mental toughness, it’s simply not the case.

One final thought on Matt Capps…

The stat website baseball-reference.com performs some sort of calculation (supposedly using a method adopted originally by the patron saint of stat-heads, Bill James) to determine each Major Leaguer player’s top 10 “most similar” players. According to that site, Matt Capps’ closest comparable player is the Padres’ closer, Heath Bell. The same Heath bell that many blexperts were crying for the Twins to trade for when Joe Nathan blew his elbow out a year ago.

Capps is six years younger than Bell and the Padres avoided arbitration with Bell on Tuesday by signing him to a $7.5 million contract… $385K more than the Twins are paying Capps. And, just for context, Bell’s salary accounts for just about the same percentage of the Padres’ anticipated 2011 payroll as Capps’ and Nathan’s pay… combined… do of the Twins’ payroll.

I’m glad Matt Capps is a Twin and I expect others will be, too, by the end of the season.

- JC

Twins: Foreign/Domestic, New/Old, Friend/Foe

Just a few things that have come up around TwinsWorld lately that we haven’t gotten around to commenting about yet.

International Flavor:

Hope this is "our" Javier Pimentel. If not... oh well, worth a try, right?

In the past week, the Twins have submitted the high bid for the rights to negotiate with Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka and signed the supposed #10 prospect in the baseball-rich Dominican Republic, 17-year-old infielder Javier Pimentel. This continues the trend, started a couple of years ago, of the Twins flexing their international muscles more than a bit. They’ve had a strong presence in Australia for some time, but they’ve now made a name for themselves in the European, Latin American and Japanese markets, as well.

You have to give the Twins front office credit for not waiting for the increased revenues from Target Field before starting to bolster their international scouting organizations. Rather than waiting until the ballpark opened to start the long process of establishing a presence, learning how things worked, and getting to know the markets, they started doing all of that pretty much as soon as they had a deal in place to build the ballpark. As a result, now that the money is available, they’re already a recognized “brand” in those markets and it appears we’re seeing the fruits of those labors starting to be realized.

Red Dog gets a gig:

The Big Lug

Our old friend Mike “Naked Batting Practice” Redmond has been announced as the new manager of the Blue Jays Midwest League affiliate, the Lansing Lugnuts. It will be interesting to hear whether his BP style (if you can call being naked a “style”) is passed along to his players. Red Dog will be hanging out with Lansing mascot “The Big Lug”, who is certainly no TC Bear (but then, who is?). In any event, I’m already looking forward to seeing Red when the Lugnuts travel to Cedar Rapids to face the Kernels in 2011. Good luck NBP!

Keeping an Eye on the Competition:

It’s starting to look like it may be difficult to recognize some of the Twins’ AL Central competitors in 2011. The Tigers have been the media’s big “winner” in the free agent market so far, having added Victor Martinez and Joaquin Benoit to their ranks. It doesn’t look like they’ll have familiar faces Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Robertson and Maglio Ordonez  around any more (though word is that they could still re-sign Mags). Detroit had something like $50 million in contracts come off their books after this season, so they’re still looking to add more. I have to say, though, that I think they’re overpaying for what they’re buying. I understand they probably had to overpay to get the guys they wanted, but in a year or two, I think they’ll be saddled with contracts they wish they didn’t have.

The bitchiest Bitch Sox?

The White Sox could very easily have neither Paul Konerko nor our old friend AJ Pierzynski in uniform next season. GM Kenny Williams always pulls some sort of surprise signing out of his butt so I’m sure they’ll make a splash yet. But they apparently don’t have a lot of salary room and his deals seem to almost always blow up in the Sox’ face, so it’s hard to worry too much about them getting a lot better. Admit it though… it won’t be nearly as much fun hating the Bitch Sox if their chief bitch, AJ, isn’t around, will it? On the other hand, if he gets no other offers and has to return to Chicago on some sort of minimum wage deal, that might be kinda humorous. As for Paulie, I hope he finds a nice place to play ball… preferably in the National League. I don’t want to see him back in Target Field unless it’s in the World Series… or he’s wearing a Twins uniform (or both). [UPDATE: Appears I may have spoken too soon. The Sox have signed Adam Dunn to a 4-year, $56 million deal and still are interested in bringing Konerko back. If they manage to sign both, there's no doubt they'll be improved. Twins should hope they stop at Dunn and let him play 1B]

Media experts keep talking about how the Royals have all these great young players coming up through their system and that now is the time for them to trade Zack Greinke. I’m on record already as wanting the Twins in on that action if the Royals are serious about letting him go, but after reading that his “partial no-trade” clause expires at mid-season (meaning after that date, the Royals are not limited with regard to who they can trade him to), I don’t really expect KC to get serious about letting him go until the trade deadline. And as for the Royals actually getting competitive… I’ve heard it all before, so pardon me if I’m skeptical until I see evidence on the field above the AA level.

Finally, there’s the Indians. I haven’t really heard or read anything of interest about Cleveland except that they’re the only team I’ve read about (other than possibly the Twins, of course) having an interest in signing Nick Punto. I guess if there’s one franchise around who could use a Tiny Superhero, it’s the Indians. By the way,we’re hearing that one of the things Nishioka is known for over in Japan is… wait for it… yes… sliding head first in to first base. Sigh.

New Road Jersey:

In case you missed it, the lone change to the Twins’ uniform options in 2011 will be a new alternate road jersey. It’s a navy blue jersey with the same “script Minnesota” across the chest that the grey road jersey has.

The Twins dropped the very popular navy “block MINNESOTA” road jersey from their options a couple of years ago and, since then, the only alternate road jersey has been the same “script Twins” jersey that’s also worn at home.

Twins new "alternate" road jersey for 2011

As others have pointed out, the Twins tended to wear their navy jersey most of the time, at home and on the road, through the middle third or so of the season. The home whites and road greys seemed to be worn regularly early and later in the season and some people wondered if it had to do with superstitions among the players.

While I’m certainly not going to reject that possibility, because ballplayers are notoriously superstitious, I think there’s actually a more likely reason. The navy jerseys are made of much lighter weight material and during the dog days of June, July and August, the players (especially the starting pitchers, who have traditionally chosen the jersey they want to wear for their starts) opt for the coolest jersey among their choices. Conversely, they were more likely to wear the heavier (and warmer) white or grey jerseys during the cooler spring/fall parts of the season.

While the new road jersey will hopefully give them a second light-weight option, the real question that you would think someone would get around to asking is, “Why can’t they make a second set of white/grey jerseys out of the cooler material?”

Anyway… maybe we should keep track, here at Knuckleballs, of how many times each jersey is worn by the Twins next season. It seems like one of those interesting, if not at all important, pieces of information that would fit in nicely around here.

- JC

Baseball Means Saying Good-bye

I admit that Saturday night I was ready to forcibly and forever remove the Twins logo from the chest of almost every member of the Twins’ starting lineup. I’ve regained my perspective since then. Well, most of it.

We’ve begun to see writers/bloggers discuss various topics related to the issue of the makeup of the Twins’ 2011 roster. Some look at payroll figures and possible free agents. There’s also some good material about Twins minor leaguers who may be ready to step up on to the big stage next year.

My first reaction to reading this stuff was that it’s a bit early for all that. My team just “died” and I’m not sure I’m quite ready to look at who I’m going to be rooting for next season. But it was the first week of November last year when Bill Smith sent Carlos Gomez to Milwaukee for JJ Hardy. No doubt, the Twins’ GM is already working on piecing together the 2011 Twins, so I suppose a devoted blogger should start doing the same thing.

This is going to be a long process, however. I’m simply not prepared to ask and answer every roster question yet, so let’s do this in stages, shall we?

We’ll start with what is, perhaps for some of us, the most painful question to ask… who are we willing to say good-bye to?

To many of us, the players that make up our favorite team become pseudo-family members. This is especially true for the sort of players that traditionally make up the Twins roster. They’re good guys and they each have their own devoted following among fans. But every year, we have to say good-bye to some of them. Last year, in addition to Go-Go, we said farewell to Mike “Naked Batting Practice” Redmond, Joe Crede and Orlando Cabrera. Crede and Cabrera weren’t really with the team long enough to build much of a following, but Redmond and Gomez, despite being reserves, each had their own loyal fan base.

This year could see more dramatic changes. In fact, the number of players who are virtual locks to be on the team next year, whether because of performance or contract status, are very few. I would put Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer, Span, Valencia, Liriano and Nathan (assuming all are healthy) in this category. That’s it.

So let’s look at the rest.

A year ago, the Twins had five players eligible to file for free agency. In addition to Cabrera, Crede and Redmond, pitchers Ron Mahay and Carl Pavano also filed. While they followed different paths, both pitchers eventually found their way back to the Twins roster in 2010.

Will Thome hit #600 as a Twin?

This off-season, not only is the number of players eligible for free agency higher, but we’re talking about some guys who made major contributions this season. Pavano and Mahay are eligible again and they are joined by Orlando Hudson, Jim Thome, Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Jon Rauch and Randy Flores. While I think we can all agree that re-signing Flores and Mahay won’t be high priorities for Bill Smith, that still leaves half a dozen significant contributors that can walk out the door and sign with the highest bidder. The truth is, some of them will not be in Twins uniforms next year. In fact, it’s possible that none of them will be.

Other players, while technically still under Twins control, still present some tough decisions for Bill Smith in terms of deciding whether to exercise team options or offer arbitration.  Is Hardy worth $7 million to keep or do you let him become a free agent, too? Jason Kubel would make $5.25 million in 2011, the final year of his current contract… but the Twins can buy out that year for just $350,000, making him a free agent, as well.

Will Nick Punto and Orlando Hudson be back?

What about Nick Punto? The Twins have been paying him “starter” money and have an option for 2011 to do the same (at $5 million). They’ll certainly pay him the $500,000 buy out instead. Does he re-sign with the Twins for less money or will his agent find him a deal with a team offering more money, more playing time, and less blogger abuse than he’ll get with the Twins?

If you offer Delmon Young and Matt Capps arbitration, they’re going to get something between $5-6 million (Young) and up to $9 million (Capps) for 2011. If you don’t offer them arbitration, their agents will find someone more than willing to pay those amounts, or more. Don’t think you need both Capps AND Brian Fuentes with Joe Nathan coming back? OK… but keeping Fuentes from free agency means picking up the team’s $9 million option for him, too.

And we haven’t even discussed possible trades yet. In addition to the possibility that the Twins could trade any of the players mentioned above who are still under team control, you have to wonder if any of the five starting pitchers not named Pavano would be trade bait in the off-season. I don’t think any of them are untouchable except Liriano.

Finally, there are a handful of guys that may just be gone next year because, even though the Twins technically still control them, their performance levels make them candidates to either be traded or simply beaten out for jobs in Spring Training. I’m looking at you, Brendan Harris, Matt Tolbert, Alexi Casilla, Drew Butera, Jason Repko, Jose Mijares and Pat Neshek.

By my count, that’s 25 players who may be playing elsewhere in 2011. A small number are almost certainly gone. A couple are almost certainly staying. Most are somewhere in between. Off the top of my head, I’d break it down like this:

Almost certainly gone: Mahay, Flores, Rauch, Fuentes

Probably gone: Guerrier, Crain, Hudson, Pavano

Virtually a toss-up: Punto, Thome, Repko, Butera, Neshek, Harris, Tolbert

Probably staying: Kubel, Hardy, Capps, Baker, Blackburn, Duensing, Slowey, Casilla

Almost certainly staying: Young, Mijares

We’ll share our own thoughts about what Bill Smith should or shouldn’t do with regard to roster changes in future posts, but for now, please use the comment section to let us know your opinions.

Who are you willing to say good-bye to? Who do you think the Twins MUST bring back? – JC

PROGRAMMING NOTE: We’ve had some inquiries about whether we’ll be hosting GameChats for any of the remaining postseason games and we’re more than willing to do that if anyone is interested in hanging out at the Knuckleballs Virtual Sports Bar. We’re hoping to open up a GameChat window during tonight’s Rays/Rangers ALDS Game 5 so check back later if you’ve got nothing better to do with your life than watch baseball with us! :)

Twins History Lesson: September 20 – October 3

After what can only be described as a truly ugly weekend series in Detroit, maybe what we need to get that taste out of our mouths is a Twins History Lesson “doubleheader”. Let’s look at highlights for both the past week and the upcoming week in Twins history*.

September 20 has seen a couple of interesting events:

1965: As the Twins wound the clock down toward their first World Series appearance, it’s hard to imagine just 537 fans showing up for a make-up game with the Kansas City A’s. “Catfish” Hunter beat “Mudcat” Grant 8-2 before the smallest home crowd in Twins history. I suppose the 52 degree drizzling weather kept people away. Almost enough to make you wonder if they should build a domed stadium in the Twin Cities or something.

2004: The Twins clinched the AL Central title as Carlos Silva picked up the win in an 8-2 victory over the White Sox.

Harmon Killebrew

September 21 has seen both highs and lows:

1963: Harmon Killebrew hit three home runs in the first game of a doubleheader at Fenway Park. To prove it wasn’t a fluke, he hit another one in the second game against the Red Sox. While it would seem that Fenway would be a great place for a guy like Killebrew (a right handed hitter known for his towering fly balls to LF) to hit, it was actually the only multi-home run game for Killer at the home of the Green Monster. It was also the only 3-home run game of Harmon’s career.

1997: There weren’t a lot of Twins highlights in the late 90s, but on this day Brad Radke gave us something to cheer about. He pitched all 10 innings of a 2-1 win over the Brewers at the Dome, striking out 9, walking nobody and giving up 6 hits (including a Jeff Cirillo solo HR). The Twins won on a Paul Molitor triple that drove in Brent Brede from first base. The Twins would finish with just 69 wins on the year… and Radke won 20 of those.

Looking at September 22:

Cesar Tovar

1968: Proving he could “do it all”, Cesar Tovar played one inning at each of the nine defensive positions in a win over Oakland. Tovar pitched the first inning and not only threw a scoreless inning, he struck out future Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson in the process. The game was the ONLY time a position player pitched for the Twins at a game in Metropolitan Stadium, the only time a position player has been the starting pitcher for the Twins, and the only time the Twins have ever won a game in which a position player has pitched. It was obviously a Calvin Griffith publicity stunt and I suppose you would say it worked. The game drew the second highest paid attendance among the final 10 home games of the season… 11, 340. Griffith was so moved by Tovar’s willingness to do his part to bring in the extra fans, that he gave Tovar a little bonus… a new color TV.

1969: The Twins clinched the AL Western Division title with a 4-3 win over the Royals, on the strength of Harmon Killebrew’s 47th home run of the year. Bob Miller was the winning pitcher. (See NOTE at September 28 entry)

1970: Exactly one year later, to the day, the Twins clinched their second AL Western Division title with a 5-3 win over the A’s.

September 23:

1978: California Angel (and former Twin) Lyman Bostock, Jr., was shot and killed in Gary, Indiana. He remains the only Major League Baseball player murdered during a baseball season while he was an active player.

2003: The Twins clinched the AL Central title as they defeated the Tribe 4-1 at the Metrodome, then watched the White Sox and Royals both lose their games.

Johan Santana became the first Venezuelan to record 20 wins in a season on September 24, 2004, with an 8-2 win over Cleveland. In the process, he established a new Twins record with his 13th consecutive win and also broke Bert Blyleven’s franchise single-season strikeout record.

September 25 has seen its share of eventful games:

1985: Bert Blyleven was the winning pitcher as the Twins beat the Rangers 5-1… win number 2,000 for the Twins

2000: One of those “things you don’t see every day in MLB.” The Twins beat the Indians in the nightcap of a split doubleheader. What’s odd about that? Well, it was the only game of the doubleheader that the Twins participated in. In the afternoon game, the Tribe lost to the White Sox 9-2. This sort of 3-team twinbill has occurred only twice in MLB history.

Carlos Gomez

2008: The White Sox had come to Minnesota with a 2 and a half game lead over the Twins in the AL Central, but that lead was down to a half game when the teams took the field for the final game of the series. The Sox built a 6-1 lead through the top of the 4th inning, then managed just 4 baserunners the rest of the game. The Twins scored 2 in the 4th on a Carlos Gomez triple and Denard Span double and added another in the 6th on another Gomez triple and a successful Span suicide squeeze bunt. The 8th inning saw two more Twins runs on a double by Brendan Harris, a single by Gomez and a triple by Span that tied the game at 6. The game stayed that way until the bottom of the 10th inning when Alexi Casilla singled home Nick Punto with the winning run, sending the Twins a half game ahead of the White Sox and forcing Chicago to play a make up game in Detroit the following day in an attempt to force a Game 163 with the Twins.

1965 Twins Celebrate

On September 26, 1965, the Twins clinched their first American League Pennant, with a 2-1 win over the Senators at DC Stadium. Jim Kaat got the complete-game win for Minnesota, striking out 10 and walking nobody. Kaat and battery-mate Earl Battey were among 7 Twins on that team that had played for the organization as Washington Senators in 1960, before the move to Minnesota. Surveying the crazy scene in the winners locker room after the game, Battey smiled and said, “You guys act like you have never done this before.” It had been over three decades since the franchise had won a pennant.

September 27 has witnessed a couple of games of note:

1981: In recording their last win at Met Stadium, the Twins beat the Rangers 5-2 with John Castino and Gary Ward each hitting a pair of home runs.

1987: The Twins set a team record for single game regular season attendance when 53,106 watch a day game with the Royals.

1998: Paul Molitor ended his Hall of Fame career by going 2 for 4 with a single in his final at-bat in the Twins 6-2 win over the Indians.

Of interest for events of September 28:

1969: The Twins clinched the AL Western Division championship with a 5-2 win over the Mariners in the opening game of a doubleheader in Seattle. (NOTE: As indicated in the entry for September 22, there appears to be some confusion as to exactly when the Twins clinched their title in 1969. Perhaps they clinched at least a tie on 9/22? In any event, rather than digging to find out which is accurate, I’m reporting both… I’m feeling particularly lazy today.)

1974: The Twins were on the losing end of Nolan Ryan’s third (of an eventual seven) career no-hitter as Ryan and the Angels topped Minnesota 4-0. Ryan struck out 15 Twins in the game.

1978: This is the date of “the Speech”, given by Twins owner Calvin Griffith at a Lions Club event in Waseca MN. You can read all about it here, if you haven’t before. It was… unbelievable. For me personally, the low point in Minnesota Twins history.

1987: A much higher point in franchise history was reached when the Twins clinched the AL Western Division title with a 5-3 win over the Rangers in Arlington.

Kirby Puckett

1995: Kirby Puckett’s jaw was broken by a Dennis Martinez pitch. It would be the last regular season appearance of Puckett’s career. He would go through spring training the following year, but be diagnosed with glaucoma before the regular season would begin.

On September 29, 1991, the Twins clinched the AL Western Division title despite their 2-1 loss to Toronto, when the White Sox also suffered a 2-1 loss to the Mariners.

There have been two historic Twins games held on September 30:

1981: 15,900 fans attended the final home game played at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington. Roy Smalley made the final out of the final game, a 5-2 loss to the Royals.

2008: We try not to hold it against him today, but on this date, Jim Thome broke our hearts with a home run off Nick Blackburn, accounting for the sole White Sox run in their 1-0 win over the Twins in the extra “Game 163″ necessitated when the Twins and Sox finished the season tied for the lead in the AL Central.

Let’s look at October 1:

2002: Despite falling behind 5-1 after the first two innings, the Twins came back to defeat Oakland 7-5 in Game 1 of the ALDS. Corey Koskie and Doug Mientkiewicz each homered in support of winning pitcher Brad Radke.

2006: It had never happened in MLB history before but it did on this date… a team that had not held sole possession of first place in their division/league for a single prior day the entire season, claimed their title on the last day of the season. The Twins won their game and then watched with fans as the Tigers blew a 6-0 lead over the Royals before losing 10-8 in 12 innings. 23 year old Joe Mauer became the first AL catcher to win a league batting title, hitting .347 to lead the Major Leagues.

A few oddities are mixed in with the events of October 2:

1974: In a game against the Twins, Texas manager Billy Martin became the first AL manager in the DH-era NOT to use a DH… allowing pitcher Fergie Jenkins to hit instead.

1988: With a crowd of 35,952, the Twins became the first team to pass the 3 million mark in paid attendance for a season. It was a Twins attendance mark that would stand unitl… well… a few days ago, when the Twins broke that record during a game at Target Field last week.

2004: Play was suspended at the Metrodome after 11 innings with the Twins and Indians tied at 5. Why? So crews would have sufficient time to convert the playing field for the scheduled Minnesota Gopher football game that night. Hmmm… maybe they should think about building a basball-only ballpark?

2009: Joe Nathan notched his 46th save, breaking Eddie Guardado’s prior team record of 45, which he recorded in 2002. Nathan would finish the season with 47 saves.

For those who may be tempted to take the Twins recent success for granted, let me end this History Lesson with a review of the final game of the 1999 season at Comisky Park on October 3, 1999. The White Sox scored in the bottom of the first inning and neither team tallied again until the top of the 7th when Doug Mientkiewicz singled and Torii Hunter drove him in with a double, both coming with two outs. At that point, with the score tied 1-1 in the middle of the 7th, the game was called due to rain, wind, cold and, I would imagine, indifference.

The Twins simply didn’t matter in 1999.

Win or lose this post season, the Twins matter now and they’ve mattered for the past 9 seasons. It’s good to be a Twins fan! – 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”.