How Did We Get Here? (Part 2)

Earlier, in Part 1 of this essay, we took a trip down Memory Lane back in to last offseason and through spring training and discussed some of the decisions made by Bill Smith and Ron Gardenhire as they constructed the roster that the Twins would start the 2010 season with. Now let’s take a look at how those decisions worked out.

In essence, the Twins started the 2010 season with six starting pitchers that they felt pretty good about, a bullpen that was missing its anchor in Joe Nathan, but was otherwise solid, an improved starting line up and a bench with some speed and one very dangerous bat.

When Orlando Hudson, JJ Hardy and Nick Punto (3/4 of the Opening Day infield) collectively made seven trips to the Disabled List, Alexi Casilla was there to fill in because the Twins decided not to risk losing him to waivers in order to keep Matt Tolbert or Danny Valencia to begin the season. The decision to start the year with Valencia and Tolbert in Rochester and Casilla with the Twins has resulted in all three of them being available to make significant contributions when the starting infielders went down.

Danny Valencia

By the way, it’s just plain mean to say that Nick Punto’s biggest contribution to the Twins success was getting injured and thereby allowing Danny Valencia to take over full time at 3B. Mean… and not altogether accurate. The truth is that Valencia’s ticket back to Rochester had pretty much been bought and paid for when Justin Morneau bumped his head against Blue Jays’ 2B John McDonald’s knee. It was Morneau’s absence and the resulting move of Michael Cuddyer to 1B that kept Valencia in Minnesota.

Of course, it was also Morneau’s injury that made Smith’s signing of Jim Thome all the more important.

Keep in mind, this is the same Jim Thome that mlb.com columnist Hal Brody had written the following about during mid-March:

So, Thome, in the twilight of a career that should land him in the Hall of Fame, will be used mostly as a late-inning pinch-hitter. This is Spring Training, when most everyone oozes with optimism, but the dark side is if Thome’s skills diminish during 2010 he might not finish the year with the Twins.

Or it could be a swan song, his final season.

Jim Thome

In the second half of the season, Thome has hit for a .310 average, with a .450 on-base percentage and a .722 slugging percentage. That’s a 1.172 OPS in 44 games (38 of which he has started as the DH). “Swan song” indeed.

So yes, decisions to sign Hudson and Thome and to keep Casilla to start the season have proved to be huge.

But let’s look at the pitching.

Yes, the Twins have been without the services of Joe Nathan. But they have three pitchers who have racked up over 20 saves each this season (though obviously not all for the Twins). Jon Rauch did well filling in at the back end of the bullpen during the first half of the season. When he started to show some signs of faltering, the Twins traded for Matt Capps. Sure, maybe they overpaid for him, but he’s gotten the job done. Then just for good measure (and to have a shut down arm against lefty hitters), Smith went and got Angels closer Brian Fuentes.

Jesse Crain

So the Twins replaced Nathan with three closers… and yet none of them has been their best relief pitcher this year. That would have to be Jesse Crain (the same Jesse Crain who was rumored to be a non-tender candidate in December), who recovered from a shaky start to the season to become virtually unhittable for the past few months. He’s the guy who has come in to get the critical outs against the opposing team’s toughest hitters before the ninth inning rolls around.

Finally, how huge does that decision NOT to convert Francisco Liriano to a closer look right now? The Twins started the season with six starting pitchers they felt they could rely upon. The two who were battling for the final roster spot, Liriano and Brian Duensing, will pitch games 1 and 3 of the ALDS in October, but the other four haven’t been shabby either.

Those six pitchers, Liriano and Duensing along with Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey and Carl Pavano, have  started all but three games for the Twins this season and nobody outside of that group has started more than one game. All six have been credited with at least 10 wins this season. (By comparison, in 2009, the Twins used 11 starting pitchers, 8 of them started at least 9 games, and only three of them notched 10 or more wins.)

So, how did the Twins get here…with a Division Championship already under their belts with another week and a half of games to play?

I don’t want to minimize the contributions of the other starting pitchers or of guys like Joe Mauer, Delmon Young, Denard Span and Jason Kubel who have all obviously played significant roles in the Twins’ success and the ironman versatility of Michael Cuddyer shouldn’t be underappreciated.

But in my mind, the decisions to retain Pavano and Crain, add Thome and Hudson, keep Liriano in a starting pitcher role and give Casilla the final roster spot out of Spring Training made the difference between the 2010 Twins once again being borderline contenders and being a team capable of blowing away the AL Central competition.

It’s been a fantastic ride so far… let’s hope the best is yet to come! – JC

Pitching and Defense (and Reincarnation)

Nick Blackburn

I read a few articles and posts on Tuesday about Nick Blackburn (“is he back?”, etc.). You can’t draw conclusions based on one start, but given how anemic the offense was and how the defense failed time after time to come up with a big play (or even a few routine plays) Monday night, there’s no doubt Blackburn deserved better results than he got. When you get 7 good innings out of him, you need to capitalize on that opportunity. The Twins failed to do so Monday night.

Then, apparently just to prove that failure wasn’t a fluke, the Twins turned around and wasted a nice complete game by iron man Carl Pavano on Tuesday night, too. True, the offense at least got on the board last night and yes, you can argue that an umpire call here or there might have erroneously gone against the Twins. Still, the fact remains that the Twins blew several scoring opportunities and, once again, allowed the Rangers to score runs they didn’t earn due to not making defensive plays that should have been made, particularly in the fourth inning. (In fairness, there were also a couple of pretty nice defensive plays made last night, as well.)

The Twins, as an organization, have clearly made a decision that they are willing to live with more limited defensive abilities in the corner outfield positions (Young, Kubel and Cuddyer will never impress anyone with their range or glovework in the OF). That’s fine, I suppose, but it means they really need a CF with exceptional range and ability. The organization may have expected Denard Span to provide that exceptional range and ability, but he simply has not done so on a consistent basis this season.

Having weak OF defense in the corners AND a mediocre CF will result in a lot of batted balls falling for hits that should be finding gloves. A good Major League CF makes the catch at the low wall Monday night and Denard simply misjudged where the ball was coming down. Would it have been a good play to make that catch? Yes. Is it reasonable for a Major League team to expect its CF to make that play? I believe so. I won’t even waste words on the ball that fell between Kubel and Span last night.

Of course, it wasn’t just outfield play that let Blackburn down Monday night.

Whether it was Hudson’s decision to play shallow RF against Hamilton or a failure by the coaching staff to position him correctly is a fair question to ask, but Hamilton had no business reaching first base on his “infield hit”. Likewise, sure the runner was going on the pitch and bearing down on JJ Hardy as he tried to turn the double play in the fifth inning and you’d like to think the guy you’ve got over at 1B will scoop up most throws that land 5 feet in front of him and bounce up, but it’s hard not to think that Hardy’s sore wrist affected that throw and ended up costing a run.

JJ Hardy is a very good shortstop and he may potentially be the best #9 hitter in baseball, but if his wrist is that sore, Alexi Casilla should be playing SS until Hardy is healthy. The difference between the two of them simply is not so great as to warrant having a Hardy who’s playing at less than 100% in the line up every day. (Oh, and by the way, if Hardy’s wrist is so bad that Gardy had to send Matt Tolbert up to hit trailing by one run with two out in the ninth inning last night, then Hardy should be DL’d to make room for someone who can provide a better bat than Tolbert off the bench.)

All of this, together, has me wondering a bit about how fair it is for so many people to be criticizing the Twins pitching to the degree that’s been going on this summer. I’m sure there are sabremetricians who would be happy to debate various player’s talents with me, but I’ve watched almost every game the Twins have played this season and based purely upon those observations, here’s what I’ve seen in this team’s defense:

Catcher: Several weeks of Joe Mauer with shoulder/toe/whatever problems that clearly affected his ability to throw out runners and even get down and block relatively routine pitches in the dirt.

1B: Nearly two months now of missing Justin Morneau. Cuddyer has filled in admirably, but he’s just passable defensively.

2B: This position may have been the best, most consistently manned, position as Hudson and Casilla have, together, played a pretty good 2B.

SS: Hardy gets to a lot of balls other shortstops don’t but he’s missed a ton of playing time and when he has tried to play with his wrist injury, his throws have been less than perfect. Combine that with having a backup at 1B and you get a few more baserunners than you should.

3B: Once we got past the early-season games that had Matt Tolbert, Brendan Harris and Michael Cuddyer at the corner, this has been a pretty well-fielded position. I’m not yet convinced Danny Valencia’s defense is as good as his metrics so far have said he is (I don’t think he charges bunts particularly well and while he has a very strong arm, he seems to have trouble getting the ball out of his glove and getting a throw off at times), but he’s certainly been better than advertised at this point and Nick Punto has fielded the position well, also.

LF: Delmon Young is lighter and he moves better than he did last year, but nobody is going to mistake him for a “good” outfielder.

CF: Denard Span has been average, at best.

RF: Whether it’s Cuddyer or Kubel, you aren’t getting good range in RF and while it was possible for a guy to cover up other deficiencies by figuring out how to play the baggie at the Dome, I’m not sure it’s even possible for anyone to do that at Target Field with all of the various types of building materials that make up the RF wall.

I guess my point is that all things considered, it’s probably not all that surprising that opponents are getting on base and scoring at a higher rate against the Twins this season than we’d like to see and I don’t think you can lay all of that at the feet of the pitching staff. The powers-that-be decided the Twins were going to build a stronger offense in 2010 and that came with a price on the defensive side. Unless you suddenly build a pitching staff full of power pitching strikeout artists, you shouldn’t expect your pitchers to put up numbers comparable to years when you focused on putting a strong defense behind them.

Justin Morneau

Of course, perhaps this is all just a very long-winded way of saying that while this patchwork defense is good enough to beat the Orioles, Royals and White Sox, if the Twins are serious about competing with the Rangers (and the Yankees and the Rays), they are going to need #33.

Finally, one more thought this morning…

My beliefs concerning the afterlife do not include putting any stock in reincarnation. As much fun as I might think it would be to perpetually come back around as one of any number of noble species, I just can’t buy in to the belief that we get to keep coming back to the world again and again. That said… on the off chance that I’m wrong about all this, I just want to submit a request that at some point I get to return to this earth as a pigeon. I’ve already got this 7 foot tall hunk of bronze in Milwaukee picked out to rest upon after meals.

Kirby Kestrel

On the other hand, coming back as a kestrel wouldn’t be such a bad deal either. At least you wouldn’t be concerned about rising season ticket prices. – JC

GameChat – White Sox @ Twins, 7:10

WOOOHOOOOO!!!  Can’t believe there were people stalking the airports to see if they could see the White Sox arriving in town..  what?  someone else came in?  Who cares?!  The Twins are playing the WS in Target Field!!!!  Sorry if I’m a little focused on baseball right now – haven’t gotten into the football mode, much less care about prima donna players.

ANYWAY…  given my baseball addiction, the off-day was spent doing what? with BASEBALL PLAYERS!  :D  I went over to Park Tavern yesterday afternoon to see Baseball Unplugged (and chat with) Nick Punto, Drew Butera and Danny Valencia.  I didn’t take TOOOO many pics, mostly because it’s a bar and it’s dark but it was a fantastic night with some guys who were obviously having a good time and enjoy their fans!

Special thanks to Nick Punto for making sure that Betsy, I, and the young boy sitting near us all got to ask a question since the guy who does the hosting was on the other side of the bar…  You are a true gentleman, Nick and it was great to spend a little time with you!  AND it means I have an answer to the question that has plagued me for awhile from the horse’s mouth! 

My question was “who is our backup 1B guy if something happens to Cuddyer before Morneau is back in the lineup?!” *knock on wood*  Danny spoke up and said that, if necessary, it is supposed to be his job and they have had him practicing over there just in case.  Drew said that he’d be backing up Danny just in case but that since soooo many people would have to be injured for him to be responsible, he doesn’t like to think about it.  I don’t blame him.

But let’s focus on tonight – Nicky is eligible to start tonight but he’s not out there.  That’s not terribly surprising given how hot Valencia has been but at least it answers the question many fans had been asking.  We have a good lineup out there to face the Sox and I think they are coming off a great series against the A’s which has lifted morale.  I’m not going to honor comments about starting bench brawls during this series because I think that kind of deliberate nastiness is below the Sox.  If it turns out that it’s not, I’ll be incredibly disappointed.  Win TWINS!

Chi White Sox @ Minnesota
Pierre, LF   Span, CF
Vizquel, 3B   Hudson, O, 2B
Rios, CF   Mauer, C
Konerko, 1B   Cuddyer, 1B
Quentin, RF   Kubel, RF
Kotsay, DH   Young, D, LF
Pierzynski, C   Thome, DH
Ramirez, A, SS   Valencia, 3B
Beckham, 2B   Hardy, SS
  Danks, P     Baker, S, P

 

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 R H
Chi White Sox 0 3 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 1 6 14
Minnesota 4 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 2 7 16

 

The temptation for this game is to completely ignore the majority of the game – just pretend the first 9 innings didn’t happen because the 10th inning was just THAT AMAZING!!!!  THAT was exciting baseball.  *shiver*

But before we get to the 10th, there really was some decent ball we should talk about.  Baker did not have his best stuff tonight so even though he got a 4 run lead to work with early in the game, he ended up giving most of it up and leaving the game in the 5th.  But offense wasn’t REALLY a problem tonight.  Every time we lost the lead, we came back out and hit some more… and so did the White Sox.  yeesh.  Our bullpen did ok but not great tonight.  Felt like we had to use everybody and we nearly did.  Perk covered well though tonight to fill in for Baker and that’s what we have him up here for.  After that, it was a lot of same ol’ same ol’ – and then Capps blew the save.  It’s going to happen but it’s hard to be boost the confidence of your new team’s fans when that happens a couple times in the short time after you’ve arrived.

However, the highlights include two EXTREMELY awesome catches from people I consider unlikely to do the webgem thing – Delmon Young and Jason Kubel.  WOW.  Seriously, they’ll be played on ESPN.  I’ve heard that Kubel’s catch is #1 on the list for today.  For that excellence, both boys are awarded a pan of warm brownies to share – the gooey, dark, awesome kind.

And that was just the defense – the OFFENSE had their night going too!  Young and Hudson both had homeruns, Kubel had a great triple and Valencia had an unfortunate ground rule double – unfortunate because it would have scored Delmon if it hadn’t left the field.  They all were swinging the lumber pretty well and they all get a great big ice cream sundae for it.  Thanks boys.

And it was hardly an issue but you know there had to be some sort of drama after the comments that came out of the coaching staff of the WS today.  So when a pitch appeared to head hunt JJ Hardy and just BARELY missed him, blood pressures definitely went up.  As an almost immediate response, Delmon came in from 3B and decided to take an unusual approach to homeplate since he didn’t have a chance at being safe if AJ didn’t drop the ball – he totally went for the two-handed bar brawl shove instead of the normal home plate tackle.  It didn’t make AJ drop the ball and he was still out but I think the message was clear enough.  Granted, all that is purely my opinion.

And then we have the 10th inning.  Neither Capps nor Rauch who came in to mop up his mess really had the stuff that we needed tonight – which resulted in the White Sox taking the lead in the top of the 10th.  Ouch.  But we got to the bottom of the 10th with it being a 1 run game…  Delmon did his job and got himself on base.  Then, in a perfectly scripted ‘Casey at the Bat’ scenario, Jim Thome walked up to the plate.  I’m sure that every White Sox fan knew what was going to happen.  Every Twins fan knew what was going to happen.  It has happened so many times before – he just wore the other uniform before.  And then homerun #581 went DEEP into the Target Field plaza.  Turns out it was the first walk-off HIT in the new park.  Took awhile to get it.  But ESPN reported that for Thome, it was yet another cool milestone:  Thome is tied for the most walk off home runs of all time, with 12. He’s tied with Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson, Jimmie Foxx, and Stan Musial.  For that, Jim Thome, you are the Boyfriend of the Day!

and just for the fun of it – you should click on Kbro’s pic of the postgame interview PIE!!

Tellin’ it like it is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tick. Tock.

-JC

Twins History Lesson: May 31 – June 6

While we all drain the extra cups of coffee necessary to get through the day after last night’s late game in Seattle, let’s take a quick look back at Twins history for this week*.

Apparently not a single really impressive thing has happened on May 31 (although last night’s win was certainly nice). Well, that’s not entirely true. Big Orioles’ 1B Boog Powell scored from second base on a Twins wild pitch on May 31, 1966. For a guy as big and slow as Powell, that was impressive. And on this date in 1980, the Twins’ Ken Landreaux went 0 for 4. That certainly wasn’t impressive, but the 31 game hitting streak that ended with his May 31 collar was impressive.

June 1 hasn’t been a whole lot more impressive, but at least there were a couple of items worth noting:

1961: The Twins acquired OF Bill Tuttle from the Kansas City A’s  and 2B Billy Martin from the Milwaukee Braves in the first two trades in Twins’ history.

1976: In a trade involving a few more notable players, Minnesota traded P Bert Blyleven and SS Danny Thompson to the Texas Rangers for SS Roy Smalley, 3B Mike Cubbage and pitchers Bill Singer and Jim Gideon.

1996: Led by Chuck Knoblauch’s fifth hit of the game and Paul Molitor’s 3-run HR, the Twins erupted for six runs in the 9th inning in a come-from-behind 9-5 win over the Rangers.

Persistence paid off on June 2, 2005, after Johan Santana’s 14 stikeouts in 8 innings were only good enough for a 3-3 tie game when his work was finished. Despite losing Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer and Nick Punto to injuries during the game, the Twins prevailed in the 13th inning on a Lew Ford double and Jacque Jones single, to win the game 4-3.

On June 3, 1967, Angels pitcher Lew Burdette was about half a dozen games away from the end of his 18-year career when he entered the game in relief and promptly walked Rich Reese. That brought Harmon Killebrew up with Reese on 1B and Rod Carew on 2B. Burdette threw Killer a knuckleball that didn’t knuckle much and Harmon hit the ball 520 feet and cracked a seat in the 6th row of the upper deck in LF at Met Stadium. The seat would later be painted and stand as a reminder of the longest HR in that stadium’s history. In what may have been the closest he ever came to being boastful, Killebrew told reporters after the game, “I got all of it.”

June 4 has seen a couple of games of interest and one critically important event over the years:

1976: In an 8-6 win over the Orioles, Larry Hisle became the third Twin to hit for the cycle.

1982: The 8,000 or so fans attending the Twins’ 6-0 victory over Baltimore celebrated after the game because the win broke the Twins’ 14-game losing streak… and they had each “won” a ticket to a future game for $1, thanks to a pre-game promise by owner Calvin Griffith. But little did they know they had an even bigger reason to cheer. Earlier that day, the Twins signed a certain JuCo player they had drafted in January… Kirby Puckett was headed to Elizabethton.

2002: The Twins set a club record with 10 runs scored in a single inning (batting around before recording a single out) and have four players get four hits, four with at least 3 RBI and four scoring at least 3 runs in their 23-2 win over the Indians. Altogether, the Twins had 25 hits in the game.

June 5 is all about the “kids”:

1970: Despite his manager misspelling his name on the lineup card and his giving up a HR to the first hitter he faced in the Major Leagues (Lee Maye), 19-year-old Bert Blyleven went on to strike out 7 Washington Senators, walk just 1 and give up 4 hits to record the first of his eventual 287 career wins. With Maye scheduled to lead off the 8th inning, manager Bill Rigney had Ron Perranoski relieve Blyleven to start the inning. Good move… Perranoski retired six straight Senators to close out the game.

2001: The Twins made local boy Joe Mauer the first pick of the First Year Player Draft. He would go on to be pretty good at baseball.

Since this feature is labeled “Twins History Lesson”, it’s appropriate that June 6 presented two such lessons through the years, along with a few “firsts”:

1961: The first lesson was learned by Twins Manager Cookie Lavagetto. “If your owner offers you a week’s vacation in June, turn it down.” On June 1, Calvin Griffith gave Lavagetto a week off and made coach Sam Mele the interim manager. By June 23 the move is no longer “interim”.

1965: The second lesson, from Twins backup catcher Jerry Zimmerman: “Any man with a bat in his hands has a chance to hit one out.” Earlier that day, Zimmerman had hit his first career HR. A feat he would accomplish twice more in a career that saw 994 ABs.

1983: The Twins used the first pick in the draft to select pitcher Tim Belcher… who eventually rejected their $125,000 offer. He’s the only first round pick that year who did not sign with the team that drafted him.

1987: The Twins acquired their first knuckleballer, Joe Niekro, from the Yankees for C Mark Salas.

2004: Joe Mauer hit his first MLB home run in a 6-5 win over Detroit in the Dome.

That’s a wrap for this week’s history lesson. Let’s all hope the Twins make all of the late nights and bloodshot eyes we’re going to be enduring to watch/listen to the West coast games this week worthwhile! – JC

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

*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”.

GameChat – Rangers @ Twins #3, 7:05 pm, ESPN & am1500

A LOT happened in baseball this weekend – some very cool things and some not cool things.  In former Twins notes, Carlos Silva is SERIOUSLY kicking ass this season so far – he’s 7-0 and honestly pitching well.  I’m happy for him – especially since it’s pretty unexpected.  Roy Halladay threw MLB’s 20th Perfect Game and the second one this month.  And Kendry Morales hit a walk-off grand slam to lift the Angels over the Mariners – and then failed to walk off.  Why?  Because he BROKE HIS LEG in the home plate celebration!  I think a LOT of teams will be a bit more restrained in such celebrations in the future but I sure do feel horrible for Morales and the Angels.  Whether or not he’s able to get back before the end of the season is still up in the air.  His surgery to make repairs to the ankle has been put off because he still has too much swelling.

I’m listening to the thunder softly rumble outside and the rain come down in dribbles, so I’m not sure what the fate of the game will be.  Too bad we’re on ESPN schedule and didn’t play this afternoon when we usually would have.

Texas @ Minnesota
Andrus, El, SS   Span, CF
Young, M, 3B   Hudson, O, 2B
Kinsler, 2B   Mauer, C
Guerrero, DH   Morneau, 1B
Hamilton, LF   Cuddyer, RF
Murphy, Dv, RF   Kubel, DH
Smoak, 1B   Young, D, LF
Treanor, C   Hardy, SS
Borbon, CF   Punto, 3B
  Holland, P     Baker, S, P

 

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

 

It certainly feels good to get a sweep in!  The boys did an all around good job if the exceptional still eluded most.  However, Kubel continued to follow the big boys with RISP hitting and Nicky did a brilliant job tonight as well – fun to see him on base that often and STEALING besides.  Even Mauer couldn’t do THAT right tonight.  So for those reasons, we voted to let them share the BOD honors.

a salute to you too BOD!

hit that ball Kubes!

And sadly, for those that saw the final pitch and out of the game, you saw the horrific flying formation that Denard Span and Orlando Hudson attempted – which neither landed successfully.  Hudson seemed to take the worst of the landing and Span actually managed to hang onto the ball in the sacrifice of the body.  For their determination and tenacity and for walking off the field under their own power, we award them the Golden Band-aid!

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

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

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

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

Casilla should have been Hardy's replacement.

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

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

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

Now about that roster.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anthony Slama and his old school stirrups are ready NOW!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GameChat – Twins @ Indians #3, 12:05, WFTC 29

This is just personal opinion but this is an “alternate” lineup that I’m a LOT more comfortable with.  Obviously I would prefer to have Mauer in the lineup whenever possible  but as a day game, I would have expected something different today anyway.  And we have the major league debut of Wilson Ramos – the word from Gardy is that he will be the starting catcher while Mauer is healing up instead of Drew… yeah, I think that is ridiculous. But at least he gets to start with a fantastic pitcher on the mound. Drive them batshit crazy Frankie!!

Minnesota @ Cleveland
Span, CF   Cabrera, A, SS
Hudson, O, 2B   Sizemore, CF
Cuddyer, RF   Choo, RF
Morneau, 1B   Kearns, LF
Thome, DH   Peralta, J, 3B
Young, D, LF   Grudzielanek, 2B
Hardy, SS   Marte, A, 1B
Ramos, W, C   LaPorta, DH
Punto, 3B   Marson, C
Liriano, P   Huff, D, P
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 2 0 0 0 2 0 2 0 2 8 20 1
Cleveland 2 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 3 9 1

Wow, coming up with a Boyfriend of the Day was tough today. When your guys rip 20 hits, your pitcher goes 7 strong innings, and guys are making good defensive plays all over the field, it’s tough to single out one guy!

Little Nicky Punto had what might have been his best day in a couple of years and earns an assortment of pastries, while DY and Liriano both certainly earned cookies. Jim Thome gets ice cream for tying Palmiero’s career HR mark. But I think the group in the GameChat largely agreed that when you’re the first Twin to get four hits in your Major League debut since Kirby Puckett in 1984 AND you hang on to the ball to get a key out at the plate, you’ve had a BOD-worthy day. So Wilson Ramos, you are our BOD.

Wilson Ramos... 4 hits in his Major League debut wins you BOD!

Whaddya Worried About (poll)?

Yes, the Twins are off to a great start. But let’s face it, MLB history is littered with teams that got off to great starts and couldn’t seal the deal. And it’s not like our guys have been doing EVERYTHING right, right? I mean… is there any group of fans less excited than Twins fans when their team loads the bases against an opposing pitcher, at this point? And yeah, people pick on Little Nicky Punto and Brendan Harris has his fans, but are you really ready to turn 3B over to Harry long term, if Punto’s groin is going to be a long term issue? And how about this “stiff back” of Morneau’s? See… there are all sorts of things for Twins fans to worry about!

So let’s find out what everyone is MOST worried about (cuz you know we ALL worry about SOMETHING… it’s in our heritage as Twins fans!).

Catching Rays

They say “every picture tells a story.”

I didn’t take a whole lot of pictures at the Twins game up in Port Charlotte against the Rays today, preferring to generally enjoy the game and the company out on the “boardwalk” above right center field. You get a very different perspective out there.

There are observations to be made by the particularly attentive photographer/fan in the cheap seats, though.

For example, this afternoon, I glanced down from my spot above the outfield to notice Nick Punto and Orlando Hudson casually standing deep in the outfield chatting. Now, this might not be unusual if not for the fact that, although both had already been replaced in the Twins lineup, the game was still very much in progress. I wasn’t close enough to hear EXACTLY what was being said, but I’m pretty sure it went something like this…

Punto: I still don’t know why Bill Smith signed you, Hudson. I’m better than you are!

Hudson: What’s your name again? I thought you were the batboy.

Punto: That does it! I’ll show you! We’re gonna race… right here… right now!

Hudson: (Laughing) We can’t do that, there’s a game going on! We shouldn’t even be standing in the outfield.

Punto: It’s OK. As long as you’re with me, Gardy won’t say anything. He likes me.

Hudson: OK, if you say so…

Punto: It’s fine… he won’t even notice. Just stand with your hands on your knees and act like you’re watching the game. Then when Gardy turns his head, we go!

Punto: (puff, puff, puff)

Hudson: Are you sure you aren’t the batboy?

Punto: I win!

Hudson: Wait a minute… you were serious?

Punto: You know, Hudson, you’re alright after all and I suppose there are some things you can do better than I can… but I bet I slide in to first base better than you do!

Hudson: (laughing) Nicky… it’s never even occurred to me to TRY!

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

One more picture from today’s game… this one’s for you, jamar

Former Nebraska Cornhusker Brian Duensing winds and delivers... "Go Big Red!"

Finally, once again this year, Howard Sinker of the Star Tribune has been gracious enough to post some of my spring training observations on his “A Fan’s View from Section 219″ blog. If you’d like to read more about my trip to Ft. Myers, join me there! – JC

P.S. Extra credit for whoever can identify the movie from which, “it never even occurred to me to TRY,” comes from.