Tellin’ it like it is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tick. Tock.

-JC

Sometimes you need a sense of humor

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

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

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

More tattoos than meet the eye?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

GameChat – Rangers @ Twins #2, 3:10 pm, FOX & am1500

Well yesterday was a WONDERFUL birthday at the game. GREAT pitching (my favorite) and lots of fun being at the park! And the view at sunset was amazing!

So let’s see if we can’t have an amazing time today too! It’s HOT and sunny with a breeze today. Could be interesting to see if the heat and a little more humidity lofts balls a bit longer (for whichever team). It could be a factor!

Texas @ Minnesota
Andrus, El, SS Span, CF
Young, M, 3B Hudson, O, 2B
Kinsler, 2B Mauer, C
Guerrero, DH Morneau, DH
Hamilton, LF Cuddyer, 1B
Murphy, Dv, RF Kubel, RF
Smoak, 1B Young, D, LF
Ramirez, M, C Hardy, SS
Borbon, CF Harris, B, 3B
Wilson, C, P Pavano, P
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Texas 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 1 0 3 9 0
Minnesota 0 0 0 0 0 2 6 0 x 8 8 2

Well THAT was FUN!  It was a great game but CJ Wilson is quite the deal – he really had the bats befuddled for awhile but, finally, ‘Lando got to him with a long bomb to tie it up and Delmon followed the lead to bang in the winning run.  The final score just shows that the rest of the batting order followed the momentum started by Hudson.  For that reason, Hudson and Young are awarded Co-BOD’s!  Congratulations boys!  And pastries for Pav and the bullpen!

GameChat – Rangers @ Twins, 7:10

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

RANGERS (26-21)

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

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

TWINS (27-20)

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

GameChat – Twins @ Indigenous Peoples #1, 6:05. “Who are these guys?”

“Who are these guys?”

That’s the persistent theme during the first 20 minutes or so of the classic baseball movie, “Major League”. Nobody, from the team’s directors to the coaches to the stadium groundskeepers to the diehard fans in the local bars recognize the players on the Cleveland Indians’ roster as they go through spring training and move north to start the season.

That’s kind of how I feel about this year’s Tribe. Wasn’t it just yesterday that a series with Cleveland meant facing off with Captain Cheeseburger and Cliff Lee?  Where’s Victor Martinez and what happened to Casey Blake, Kenny Lofton and Jhonny Peralta? Those were guys you could take some pride in beating!

OK, yes, technically, Peralta is still an Indian. But he kind of reminds me of another quote from “Major League”…

Manager (seeing Roger Dorn arrive at spring training): “I thought you said we didn’t have any high-priced talent on this team.”

GM: “Forgot Dorn ’cause he’s only high priced.”

And yes, I realize our old friend Mike “Naked Batting Practce” Redmond, is with Cleveland. But honestly, if you’re as big a fan of the movie as I am, you have to be able to imagine Red Dog sprawled across a bed (a la Tom Berenger’s “Jake Taylor”),  and answering the Indians’ phone call with, “Is that you, Tolbert? This isn’t very funny yanno. I’m hungover, my knees are killing me and if you’re going to pull this shit, at least you coulda said you you were with the Yankees.”

(This is where I planned on saying something clever and yet condescending toward Cleveland regarding how the makers of both Major League and the sequel, Major League II, didn’t even want to actually film the movies IN Cleveland. Instead, they used Milwaukee County Stadium in the original movie and Baltimore’s Camden Yards in the sequel. But then I recalled reading that the movie “Cedar Rapids”, scheduled for release later this year, was filmed in Ann Arbor MI. Here in Hawkeye country, that’s tough to accept. As hundreds of t-shirts in Columbus OH will tell you, “Ann Arbor is a w****”)In any event, our guys are in Cleveland tonight to take on the Tribe. In Babs’ absence, I’m going to try to post the line ups and set up the GameChat. If you come here and you see neither, blame me (though you may have to wait a while to yell at me cuz I’m probably watching at least the first few innings in a bar). – JC

Minnesota @ Cleveland
Span, CF   Cabrera, A, SS
Hudson, O, 2B   Sizemore, CF
Mauer, C   Choo, RF
Morneau, 1B   Kearns, LF
Cuddyer, RF   Hafner, DH
Kubel, DH   Peralta, J, 3B
Young, D, LF   LaPorta, 1B
Hardy, SS   Valbuena, 2B
Harris, B, 3B   Redmond, M, C
Slowey, P   Carmona, F, P

 

Well THAT was a heck of a lot more fun to watch than any of the Detroit series.  Good to have the M&M boys back in the lineup.

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 2 3 0 0 1 0 2 0 1 9 12 0
Cleveland 0 0 0 0 3 0 0 0 0 3 12 2

 

And the chat group was UNANIMOUS in it’s support for BOD for Orlando Hudson.  Big ol’ cookie for Justin for coming back with style though!

Just another walk in the (ball)park

Spending the day at the Twins’ spring training complex, for me, involves spending a good bit of the morning on the minor league complex. I enjoy watching the coaches put the younger players through their drills and give a bit of instruction along the way. I thought this would be a good time to share a couple of pictures from my Sunday morning.

Twins pitching prospect David Bromberg gets some instruction.

Terry Ryan discusses the "Twins way" with prospect Ramon Santana... who tucked his jersey back in his pants.

Twins teen aged Dominican prospect Miguel Angel Sano gets in some work at 3B.

On the way back over to the Hammond Stadium, this familiar face was spotted on Field 5 (next to the stadium).

Joe Nathan signs autograph after a workout on the day he and the team announced he'll undergo TJ surgery.

Finally, a few shots taken during the Sunday afternoon game with the Rays. (No story today… nothing I could come up with would top the “story” of Joe Mauer signing a contract that will keep him a Twin for the next 9 years!)

Orlando Hudson turns a base hit in to an out vs. the Rays.

1B coach Jerry White congratulates Joe Mauer on his single vs. the Rays... or was it on the new contract?

Michael Cuddyer is congratulated by Thome and Morneau following his HR vs the Rays.

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.

St. Patty’s day during Spring Training!

Submitted by fellow reader, Corey, who’s down enjoying Spring Training.
 
So, for my first day of Vacation, I headed over to the Cru Restaurant in Fort Myers to meet my friends Omar and Jeri-Lynn. (I went to art school with Omar in New Jersey back in the day.) The plan was to stay anchored at the bar at Cru and celebrate St. Patty’s Day.
 
I met Jeri at about 5:15 and we proceeded to enjoy the evening. Omar arrived about 30 minutes later and rapidly the bar was filling with other patrons. At about 8:30 or so, the bar was PACKED, shoulder to shoulder and I happened to notice three gentlemen walk (squeeze is a better word) past us all at the same time. I recognized the third one almost immediately, but I wasn’t totally sure (I was fairly “happy” at that point).
 
The three men took up a spot not 20 feet from where I was with my friends, and I just studied the their faces, knowing that I knew who they had to be…and it hit me. They were: Denard Span, Delmon Young, and Orlando Hudson of the Minnesota Twins. So I walked over, quickly introduced myself, shook their hands, gave them their props and politely asked for a photo.
 
About an hour later, three other men squeezed into the bar going the opposite direction. I knew exactly who they were, since they were a foot away: Joe Nathan, Michael Cuddyer, and Nick Punto. I acknowledged each of them, shook each of their hands, gave `em their props and they kept on a movin’, so I had no chance for a photo. They were polite, but curt. Of the three, Nick Punto seemed the one most genuinely happy about meeting a fan from Minnesota.
 
Thirty minutes later…former Twin (and current non-roster invitee to Spring Training) Jacque Jones walked in with another person I did not know. Again, I introduced myself as being a fan from Minny and gave Jacque his props and unfortunately again, no chance for a photo.
 
To randomly meet SEVEN Twins players in one hip bar in Fort Myers on St. Patty’s Day was quite unusual. But, memorable!!

Corey with Orlando Hudson, Delmon Young and Denard Span