Ghost of Twins Past Haunts the Twins’ Future

Scott Baker, Kane County Cougar

Scott Baker, Kane County Cougar

Almost exactly six years ago, I sat several rows up from home plate as Scott Baker took a perfect game in to the ninth inning against the Kansas City Royals. While he didn’t complete his date with immortality, it was the closest I’ve ever come to seeing a Major League no-hitter in person.

On Wednesday night, I watched Baker continue to try to work his way back to the Big Leagues with the Chicago Cubs with a rehabilitation start for the Kane County Cougars against the future Twins suiting up for the Cedar Rapids Kernels.

I never saw Baker get above 86 mph on the scoreboard, so even giving him an extra tick or two due to the Cedar Rapids scoreboard’s reputation for being slightly slower than the speed guns of the scouts who perch directly behind home plate most nights, the former Twins pitcher never hit any higher than 88 mph and he didn’t mix in more than a couple of off-speed pitches each inning.

But on this night, that was good enough to handcuff the Kernels as only a fifth inning infield single by Adam Brett Walker kept Baker from completing five perfect innings. Jorge Polanco and Travis Harrison each reached the warning track off of Baker in their first plate appearances of the night, but that was the closest anyone came to doing any damage to the former Twins star.

Jose Berrios

Jose Berrios

Jose Berrios, the 19-year-old that Twins fans hope will be one of the anchors of a future Twins rotation, fared far worse.

Berrios has been tabbed as the starting pitcher in the first game of the Kernels’ postseason next Wednesday, but tonight he struggled with his control. Berrios walked three hitters and gave up five hits, including two home runs, as the Kernels fell 9-1 to Baker’s Kane County Cougars.

Don’t Blame “Those Damn Yankees”

The Twins, according to legend, are afraid of the Yankees. And you know what, after some quick post-season exits at the hands of the Yankees, that is a pretty easy narrative to build.  Add in the fact that the Twins have struggled to beat the Yankees in the regular season, despite the Twins having fairly successful regular season teams for most of the 2000’s, and you begin to see how that narrative continues to grow.

Johan Santana

Johan Santana

In the 11 years between 2000 and 2010 the Twins compiled a .537 winning percentage, going 957-826.  During that same span the Twins went 25-57 against the New York Yankees, a .325 winning percentage.  Take out the 77 games against the Yankees and the Twins are 163 games above .500 instead of just 131.  That is a significant bump.  During that same time period the Twins played the Yankees four times in the post-season, managing to win just two games, while losing 12, swept in 2009 and 2010.  That brings the Twins’ 11-year record against the Yankees to 27-69 (.281).  That is bad, almost as bad as the 2003 Detroit Tigers (43-119), the worst team of the last 50 years.

During that same 11-year span the Yankees were 1060-718, only had a losing record against one American League team (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, 45-54), and won two World Series titles (and losing in the World Series two other times).  So clearly the Yankees were a better team than the Twins over that same time period, but the Yankees’ .596 winning percentage is not so much larger than the Twins’ .537 that you would expect the Twins fail so miserably against the Yankees during the span.

Assuming each team’s regular season winning percentages represented their true talent over those 11 years, the Yankees should have beaten the Twins only about 53% of the time, not the nearly 72% clip they had over that same span.  So what gives?  Why did the Yankees perform so well against the Minnesota Twins, especially in the post season?

For me, it comes down to roster construction, and specifically the postseason pitching rotations, where teams often turn to only their top three or four pitchers.

2003

Game (score, winner) Twins (starting pitcher) Yankees (starting pitcher)
1 (3-1 Twins) Johan Santana Mike Mussina
2 (1-4 Yankees) Brad Radke Andy Pettitte
3 (1-3 Yankees) Kyle Lohse Roger Clemens
4 (1-8 Yankees) Johan Santana David Wells

The Twins, with a lack of depth in their starting rotation chose to go back to their ace on four days of rest, facing elimination in Game 4.  The Yankees, alternatively, felt strong enough to run out David Wells (4.14 ERA, 4.3K/9, essentially a league average pitcher in 2003 despite his 15-7 W/L record) knowing that should they be pushed to a decisive Game 5 they could turn to Mike Mussina, their ace, against Brad Radke (4.49 ERA and a pitch to contact friendly contact rate of 82.2%).

So while you would certainly expect the Twins to score more than 3 runs over their final 3 games in this series, outside of Santana the Twins certainly did not have a rotation that could even dream about keeping up with New York (and remember that the Kyle Lohse of 2003 (4.61 ERA) is a far cry from the pitcher he has been over the past three seasons).

2004 Continue reading

Money Matters

I’m constantly struck by how so many otherwise intelligent people suddenly sound like idiots when discussing issues related to money. A number of these people are certainly not idiots… they’re accomplished business owners and/or people who have achieved considerable success at running businesses. So if they aren’t as stupid as the words they’re saying makes them sound, one can only assume that they think the people hearing/reading their words are stupid enough to believe what they’re saying.

Yes, I’m referring primarily to the Twins front office.

Owner Jim Pohlad, GM Terry Ryan and President Dave St. Peter

It was over a month ago that the Twins held a press conference and made owner Jim Pohlad, President Dave St. Peter and General Manager Terry Ryan available to the mainstream media. Predictably, the topic of the team’s potential 2013 payroll came up. Also predictably, the Twins brass was non-committal. Here’s an excerpt from the story written at the time by MLB.com’s Twins beat reporter Rhett Bollinger (click here for the link):

Pohlad said that payroll will not be a concern this offseason, but wouldn’t give a firm number on what that will be. The Twins entered the 2012 season with a payroll right around $100 million.

“We’ve never told anybody they have to spend ‘X’ dollars or that they can’t spend whatever they are recommending,” Pohlad said. “So it could go up, it could go down. It’s whatever Terry tells us. We’ve talked about spending in that 50 percent of revenue, but it doesn’t mean Terry will spend that.”

Ryan said that the payroll situation will be fluid and that it should not hinder him from acquiring the starting pitching the club needs to compete next season.

“I think we can quit fooling ourselves that money is the answer,” Ryan said. “We’re going to have to make good decisions to create a pitching staff that’s going to give us a chance.”

Well, I’m glad they put that question to rest, aren’t you? I’m so glad to know that money doesn’t matter.

We don’t know whether the Twins could have made a deal with the Marlins for the same package of players that they dealt to Toronto last week. There’s absolutely no doubt, however, that the addition of Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes would have gone a long way toward addressing the biggest holes in the Twins lineup and the level of players the Jays sent back to Miami certainly could have been made available by the Twins.

So why wasn’t it the Twins that made the deal? I don’t know. But it’s such a friggin relief to know that whatever the reason was, it wasn’t money!

The Twins also lost Scott Baker to the Cubs last week. Baker got a good deal. $5.5 million guaranteed with another $1.5 million in incentives on a straight one year deal. According to the Star Tribune’s beat reporter, Joe Christensen, the Twins were very interested in keeping Baker, but wanted an option year for 2014, which Baker wouldn’t agree to. Again, it makes me feel so much better to know that the reason Baker won’t be wearing a Twins uniform in 2013 had nothing whatsoever to do with money.

Here’s something I’ve learned from working in Corporate America for the past 30+ years: Whenever someone in senior management tells you, “It’s not about the money,” that means that money is exactly what it’s all about.

As Twins fans, we’ve become programmed to just accept the “company line.” We’ve been hearing it since the days of Calvin Griffith and on through the Pohlad era at the Metrodome. Sure, there were hints that having a new stadium and the revenues it would generate might change things, but by and large, the fan base has continued to just accept the, “we’ll spend 50% of revenue on payroll,” line of crap that has always come out of the Twins’ offices.

It has become second nature, to the point where Twins fans seem to almost think that’s how every Major League team does business and we act surprised when other teams behave differently.

The Tigers went to the World Series, but clearly needed to improve at a corner outfield position. They looked for the best option on the market, moved quickly and signed Torii Hunter to a deal that seemed like it was a little excessive, given his age. How can they do that? Won’t that mean their payroll might exceed half of their revenues? Ah, but they’ve got an old owner who wants to win a World Series before he dies, so that’s why they can do what the Twins won’t, right?

The Blue Jays saw themselves needing much the same kind of help that the Twins need. They agreed to take on more years of higher salaries than they might have really been comfortable with, but they made the deal because they want to compete. But that’s ridiculous, right? Boy, they’ll sure regret having Buehrle and Reyes on the payroll toward the back end of those contracts because in a couple of years, their payroll might exceed half their revenues! Ah, but they’re owned by a giant Communications conglomerate and that’s why they aren’t limited as to payroll.

I’ve got a news flash, folks. Every team starts the offseason with a self-examination that identifies what their biggest needs are. The next step for most teams that are committed to being competitive is to identify the best options available via free agency or trades to meet the identified needs. Unless you’re the Rays (who have a whole bunch of financial issues unrelated to the quality of their team), your front office knows that the quality of the product on the field drives revenue.

But if you’re a Twins fan, you’ve been conditioned not to ask who would best fill the team’s needs, but who would fit in to the Twins’ designated payroll limit. That’s because the Twins have historically seemed oblivious to the basic business tenet that product quality drives revenues.

They’ve brainwashed fans in to believing that the only reasonable way to operate a business is by subscribing to the theory that a drop in revenues last year means they must cut payroll next year. It’s time for fans to become deprogrammed from that mindset and let the Twins know that their fan base is not as stupid as the club has treated them as being.

Maybe I’m being premature with this criticism. After all, it’s still early in the offseason and the Winter Meetings are still a couple of weeks away. Terry Ryan may actually sign honest-to-goodness legitimate starting pitchers to fill the Twins’ needs in that area, regardless of the cost. He may make a trade or two that will improve the middle infield, even if it means making his bosses nervous. Maybe he’ll prove that his words about payroll not hindering him from doing his job were more than just more of the same BS we’ve heard for the past decade.

But until the Twins start ACTING like money doesn’t matter, they should stop saying it. It just makes them look like fools… or like they think that’s what we are.

– JC

Just Winging It: The 2012 Minnesota Twins Starting Rotation

There can be no doubts that a 63-99 team has plenty of areas for improvement.  In 2011 the Twins were 28th in team OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage), ahead of only the Seattle Mariners and the San Diego Padres.  Sure, they were playing half of their games in the pitcher friendly Target Field, but even when adjusting for park factors, the Twins posted an OPS+ of just 84 (100 is average), 29th in the MLB, this time behind the Padres.  Clearly there were issues with the Twins’ bats a year ago.  Part of that was attributable to injuries to Joe Mauer (replaced by Drew Butera and Rene Rivera) and Denard Span (replaced by Joe Benson, Rene Tosoni, and Jason Repko).  Another part of the hitting problem was related to dreadful offensive production from the middle infield, as Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Luke Hughes, Danny Valencia, and Matt Tolbert, and the the old Trevor Plouffe all posted below leave average offensive numbers.

As bad as the Twins’ bats were in 2011, it did not really matter what their pitchers were doing.  And maybe that is what the front office was thinking heading into Spring Training.  If the Twins could just upgrade their offense, even with a mediocre pitching staff, they were likely to see a big improvement.  Unfortunately, the Twins did not have a mediocre pitching staff in 2011, their 4.58 team ERA was 29th, and were one of just two teams (along with the Baltimore Orioles) to allow more than 800 runs.  So to go along with their 29th place OPS+, the Twins also had the 29th worst pitching staff, and yet somehow they still only lost 99 games.

After a winter of free agent signings and departures the Twins arrived in Spring Training as optimistic as any team in baseball.  After all, they were only a year removed from a 94-win AL Central Championship team, and they were truly healthy for the first time in more than a year.  Their franchise catcher, Joe Mauer, had finally recovered from whatever it was that was ailing him in 2011 and caused him to miss almost half a season, and Justin Morneau was finally overcoming his concussion symptoms that cost him the better parts of 2010 and 2011.  Ryan Doumit and Josh Willingham were on board to replace Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer, and the Twins signed veteran on-base sepcialist Jamey Carroll to compensate for the failures of Nishioka.  Alexi Casilla was coming off one of the best offensive seasons of his underwhelming career and looked poised to finally become the everyday player the Twins had been hoping he would be since 2007.  Despite all their failures in 2011, the Twins looked like their bats were ready to hit in 2012.*

*And to some extent, they are.  The Twins’ 2012 OPS+ is 6th in the American League, and they are scoring runs at an almost league average rate (4.30/4.47).  

The Twins, however, did little to improve a pitching staff that was one of the worst in 2011.    They inexplicably resigned 9th inning reliever Matt Capps to a $4.75 million dollar deal to step in for the departed Joe Nathan.  They also sent starting pitcher Brian Duensing back to the bullpen where he had previously been successful and replaced him in the rotation with free agent acquisition Jason Marquis, hoping that he would rebound from a broken leg that cost him the end of the 2011 season, and become the renaissance man that Carl Pavano had been for the Twins since he arrived in 2009.  But with just five real candidates for starting pitching Minnesota was walking a pretty thin line.  The Twins also brought in just about every free agent relief pitcher they could find hoping that a couple of them would pitch well enough in Spring Training to head north with the big league team.  They even went against their traditionally risk-averse strategy and signed Joel Zumaya to a minor league deal hoping to add a power arm to their bullpen without paying the power arm price.  And with that, the Twins were seemingly ready to start the season.

Just five starting pitchers and not a lot of MLB ready pitchers in AAA ready to step in if things went poorly.  Among the starting pitchers not in that group of five, only Liam Hendriks and Scott Diamond seemed like realistic replacements to join the Twins if things did not go well in Minnesota.

As you are well aware, things have not gone well for the Twins’ starting pitchers in 2012.  Even before leaving Spring Training the Twins were forced to move Liam Hendriks into starting rotation as Jason Marquis was pulled away from the team to be with his daughter while she was recovering from a serious bicycle accident.  To make matters worse, Scott Baker did not leave Ft. Myers with the Twins either, dealing with supposedly minor arm issues which ended up as a worst-case scenario as Baker would eventually require Tommy John surgery to repair the UCL in his pitching arm.  That meant that Anthony Swarzak would start the season in the starting rotation, leaving with Twins without their regular long-reliever until Marquis would be back with the team.  Before long the Liam Hendriks experiment was over and he was back in AAA looking garner some additional seasoning.  Now the Twins had to start getting creative.  They had already burned through the only two replacement options they’d planned for and with the Twins already well below .500, it was unlikely that they would be playing any meaningful baseball in October.  Since that time the Twins have used five additional starting pitchers, none of whom the Twins were counting on in April.  P.J. Walters was first, then Scott Diamond, Cole De Vries, Brian Duensing, and finally Sam Deduno.

The Twins still have 63 games remaining in 201. With Francisco Liriano now pitching for the Chicago White Sox the Twins will have to find another arm to step in.  While the next pitcher they call upon to start will likely not be a fresh face, they will still be tip-toeing around a problem unlikely to be resolved without the infusion of some fresh arms this winter.

Twins fans should have known that when Minnesota signed Jason Marquis and hoped for the best that the team was just winging it in 2012.

-ERolfPleiss

GameChat – Angels @ Twins #2, 7:10 pm

First, the bad news: It was announced today that Scott Baker will have further cleanup surgery on bone spurs in his elbow and his season is over. Anyone else have a vague or not-so-vague feeling of deja vu?? This really sucks for both the team AND for Scott.

I think it would go a LONG way to helping the fans feel a bit better if they could actually WIN a game tonight.. just saying. And winning implies scoring runs. That would be MULTIPLE and MORE THAN THEM. Felt it necessary to be specific.

 

LA Angels

@

Minnesota
Aybar, SS Span, CF
Kendrick, H, 2B Carroll, SS
Pujols, 1B Mauer, C
Morales, K, DH Morneau, DH
Hunter, To, RF Willingham, LF
Wells, V, LF Doumit, RF
Callaspo, 3B Valencia, 3B
Iannetta, C Parmelee, 1B
Bourjos, CF Casilla, A, 2B
  Weaver, P   Pavano, P

 

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

Our guys finally get a win!

Considering the pressure of being the last remaining team without a win, so many Twins came through in so many ways tonight that picking a Boyfriend of the Day was difficult.

Carl Pavano came within a fluke inside-the-park HR of pretty much shutting down the Angels. Jeff Gray took all of one pitch to work out of a potential scoring situation in relief of Pavstache in the 7th inning (and earning the “win” in the process). Glen Perkins was extremely impressive in his set up role during an 8th inning that ended with a strike out of Albert Pujols. And Matt Capps survived a Torii Hunter double in the 9th to rack up save number 1 on the season.

The bats finally woke up a bit, as well. Joe Mauer got the scoring started with an RBI single in the 4th inning and scored when Josh Willingham ripped his third home run of the season in the same inning, giving the Twins their first lead in any game this year. Chris Parmelee came through with a 7th inning triple that tied the game.

But in a close vote, Jamey Carroll gets our first BOD award of the season for providing the margin of victory with a two-out base hit to score Parmelee.

It’s a noon game on Thursday… would it be too much to ask for a mini winning streak? – JC

Jamey Carroll

 

Great Expectations

With Opening Day upon us, everyone is making their predictions for how this season will unfold. And why not? It’s harmless fun.

But here are a few things I’ve learned over the years about pre-Opening Day prognostications:

  1. They tend to be based way too much on the previous season. I’m amazed every year by how many people who are supposed to be “experts” about Major League Baseball seem to come up with their predictions apparently by doing nothing more than looking at a team’s record the previous year.
  2. There’s a lot of “groupspeak” going on. Once a couple of these “experts” render an opinion about a team, that’s the end of the discussion. Everyone else falls in line with that “conventional wisdom.”
  3. The pre-Opening Day conventional wisdom turns out to be wrong as often as it’s right… and sometimes it’s very wrong.

Don’t believe me? Take a glance at the picks by the ESPN staff (all 45 of them), FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, the Yahoo Sports trio of writers, and just to make sure the computer projections are represented, take a look at a composite of several such projections (James, PECOTA, etc.). That’s  an even 50 prognostications you can go back to look at.

Or, if you trust my math skills, I’ll save you the trouble of looking:

  • 37 of the 50 picked the Red Sox to win the World Series (the computers didn’t pick a WS champion, but they did project the Sawx to have the best record in baseball). In case you’ve forgotten, Boston collapsed and didn’t make the playoffs. Oops.
  • None… zero… picked the Cardinals to win the World Series… or even be in the World Series. Only ESPN’s Doug Glanville, Peter Pascarelli, Bobby Valentine, Dave Winfield, Joe McDonald and Mark Mulder foresaw the Cards to make the post-season. That’s six out of 50 who believed that the eventual NL champion would even play post-season ball.
  • But what about their AL Central predictions… and specifically, what did they think the Twins would do? Twelve out of the 50 predicted the Twins would win the Division. Then again, why shouldn’t they? They won the AL Central the previous season, right? So who DID the experts like to claim this Division? Well, for 33 of the 50, that would have been the White Sox. The Tigers, who eventually pretty much lapped the field in the AL Central, were the choice of just five prognostications. Give the computers credit, though, they were the consensus pick of the machines (though the same machines did predict that the Twins would win about 84 games).

All of that considered, why shouldn’t we retain some optimism for our Twins?

Last year’s Opening Day roster was good enough that nearly every media “expert” believed they should at least compete in the AL Central Division. What’s changed? While many don’t believe the rotation is any better, I think that’s just a matter of people having short memories of recent failures. I expect the rotation to be stronger. I also expect the bullpen to be better (there are decent arms on this staff AND a couple of guys in Rochester capable of coming up to help, when necessary).

Newcomer Ryan Doumit adds versatility (Photo: Jim Crikket)

The bench depth is considerably better. The starting line-up is better, just considering how much healthier Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau are, compared to a year ago. Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit are at least the equals of Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel offensively. Is there reason to question whether young players like Chris Parmelee, Trevor Plouffe and Luke Hughes can perform at Major League levels over the course of a full season? Of course. Then again, they’re bound to be better than Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Drew Butera and Jason Repko.

So, the question I keep asking myself is this: If last April’s roster was expected to win enough games to contend within the AL Central Division, why shouldn’t the expectations for this roster be similar? To my mind, there’s no reason they shouldn’t have similar expectations, last year’s record aside.

It’s fine to keep expectations in check. There remain concerns with the health of key players like Morneau and Scott Baker. Denard Span still speaks of occasional lingering concussion issues. But from top to bottom, I like the looks of this roster much more than I expected to.

The Tigers are still the smart-money choice to win the AL Central Division and, outside of the White Sox, perhaps, the rest of the division could be better than last year, as well. But I fully expect the Twins to be contending at mid-season. If that turns out to be the case, we’ll find out whether ownership is willing to step up and make a deal or two, even if it means nudging the payroll a bit closer to last year’s level.

No team has ever made the playoffs a year after losing 99 games. Then again, few 99-game losers had as many health issues contribute to their lousy season as the Twins had a year ago, nor have others likely had two former MVPs (both still 30 years old or younger) returning from injury the following season.

Am I expecting greatness out of this Twins team? No, of course not. I’m not expecting more than I expected going in to last season. Then again, I’m not expecting a lot less, either.

My point is… there is reason for hope. And hope is really all that fans of any team have this time of year, because no matter how good the experts say your favorite team is, there are no guarantees. Just ask Red Sox fans.

– JC

 

Twins Predictions

Real live baseball (in America) begins tonight, before ramping up on Thursday, leading to the Twins’ opener on Friday in Baltimore.  With opening ceremonies in mind, here are the Knuckleballs Twins Predictions for 2012:

Pitcher of the Year: Scott Baker (minor early season DL stint not-withstanding) Baker was the best of a bad Twins pitching staff in 2011, despite missing chunks of the season on the Disabled List.  I couldn’t tell you why I think he’s going to be healthy and productive this year (which already seems like a bad idea), but I think he will be great.  Jim Crikket thinks that Francisco Liriano will be the best pitcher of the year.   His spring numbers were very positive, he limited his walks and earned plenty of strike outs.  Unfortunately, if you look back just a little farther to his Winter numbers, they’re terrible.  Let’s hope the recent results tell more of a story for 2012.

Hitter of the Year: Justin Morneau  “Morneau is swinging like I haven’s seen him swing in a couple of years. Vicious cuts.” – Jim Crikket  Again, these are only Spring Training at bats, but ever since Morneau flipped the switch and hit two home runs in a game a couple weeks ago he’s been a man on fire.  Moving into the DH position and focusing solely on hitting seems to be working for Morneau.  Success in 2012 will help distance Morneau from his 2010 concussion and he could be playing first base everyday by the All-Star Break.

Defender of the Year: I wanted to select Alexi Casilla as the defender of the year, hoping against hope that he will remain focused, healthy, and attentive at second base and play more than 100 games for the first time in his career.  Jim wanted to go with Denard Span, because for the Twins to succeed in 2012 Span is going to need to cover huge amounts of ground in the left field and right field gaps (gaps which are now wide open with the move to put Josh Willingham and some combination of Trevor Plouffe and Ryan Doumit in the corners).

Rookie of the Year: Chris Parmelee/Liam Hendriks If Parmelee continues to hit like he did last September and this Spring he’ll be a top choice for the Twins’ best rookie.  The other candidate, who made the 25 man roster and will open the season in the starting rotation is Liam Hendriks.  Hendriks was probably slated to come up after 5-10 AAA starts, but because Scott Baker and Jason Marquis are not ready to start the season Hendriks gets a chance to showcase his skills earlier than anticipated.  If he keeps his spot in the rotation when both Baker and Marquis are back you’ll know he’s pitching well and on track to steal a Rookie of the Year award from Parmelee.

Most Valuable Player: Justin Morneau The engine that makes the Twins go is Joe Mauer, but Mauer is even better with a healthy Justin Morneau hitting behind him, forcing pitchers to attack Mauer allowing him to hit doubles all over spacious Target Field and driving in runs for the Twins.  If Morneau comes back and is indeed the hitter of the year, selecting him as the MVP will be as much about what he does as an individual, as what he does in the lineup to help those around him.

Comeback Player of the Year: Francisco Liriano Obviously Justin Morneau is a candidate here if he hits well and helps the team succeed, but after a horrendous 2011, if Liriano returns to his 2010 form he’s one of the best players in baseball.  If Morneau and Liriano are both All-Stars, this team will be lucky to two potential comeback players on their squad.

Expected Record: The Marcel projections peg the Twins for just a 70-92 record, relying heavily on the Twins’ 2011 results as a predictor of 2012 success (and a heavy dose of regression to the mean).  Even if Joe Mauer’s Cindarella Spring Training Clock strikes midnight and he turns in another injury plagued 2012, simply trading Drew Butera for Ryan Doumit means turning a -1.2 WAR into a 1.2 WAR, 2.4 additional wins, and that’s not even factoring in upgraded seasons the Twins are likely to receive from Denard Span, Alexi Casilla, Jamey Carroll (vs. Tsuyoshi Nishioka), Danny Valencia, and at least half of the Twins’ pitching staff.  Assuming then that the 70-92 record is the worst that the Twins could do in 2012, what is a reasonable expectation for the Home 9?  My best guess, 82-80, Jim Crikket is more optimistic, suggesting even 86-76 for the Twins.  Either way, the Twins are going to be competitive, entertaining and might even be relevant in September.  Will any of this come to pass?   I don’t know, but we’ve got 162 games to find out.  Bring on the baseball!

-ERolfPleiss

Another Saturday In The Park(s)

Busy day in Fort Myers on Saturday. This is supposed to be a vacation, for crying out loud!

This is a subject for another day, but there’s been a lot of tweeting lately between traditional media types that cover the Twins and various bloggers, myself included. Some of it has been interesting, some of it somewhat disappointing, but the crux of the discussion revolves around the value of “access” that the reporters have. Today was a perfect example of a situation where a blogger (that would be me) benefited from the access that a beat reporter (in this case, LaVelle E. Neal III of the Strib) has to sources within the Twins organization.

Neal tweeted late Friday that Scott Baker would be pitching in a minor league game on Saturday morning over at the Red Sox home, JetBlue Park. Thanks to that alert, I headed out for JetBlue instead of Hammond Stadium this morning. It seemed like a good opportunity to (a) get a glimpse at the Red Sox’ new digs on the east side of Fort Myers, and (b) see what kind of arm Baker has at this point.

I saw all that and then some.

It turned out that Baker wasn’t the only Big Leaguer scheduled to play in that game. Jon Lester took to the mound for the Red Sox AAA team, while David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis, Jarrod Saltalamacchia (yes, I had to look up the spelling) and former Twin Nick Punto all opted to stick around and face Baker rather than make the bus trip up to Port Charlotte to face the Rays in Boston’s scheduled Big League game.

Baker gave up one run on a solo HR to Sox prospect Will Middlebrooks, but otherwise got through four innings of work relatively unscathed.  Lester definitely was throwing harder than Baker was and the Twins announced later in the day that Baker would open the season on the 15-day Disabled List, retroactive to his last Big League game on March 27.

The regularly scheduled game in the afternoon against the Pirates saw another offensive blowout by the Twins who have been scoring runs in bunches lately. Anthony Swarzak gave the Twins six solid innings on the mound and Denard Span racked up four hits for the Twins as they bludgeoned the Pirates, 15-3. Span, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Danny Valencia and Trevor Plouffe (who played 2B… so much for him being strictly an outfielder, huh?) all doubled. Ryan Doumit and Brian Dozier homered for the Twins. (I have to confess, I missed the Doumit HR… I was standing in line for a beer with fellow Twins blogger Topper Anton of Curve for a Strike when Doumit connected in the 3rd inning.)

But you can read all the reports of the game provided by the reporters who get paid the big bucks to provide that information. What we offer here at Knuckleballs is photographic enhancement of the Spring Training experience. With that in mind, feast your eyes on the following:

Scott Baker looked sharp, but didn't seem to be throwing at full velocity

Jon Lester had Twins AAA hitters swinging late for four innings

Ron Gardenhire and Tom Brunansky chat during the AAA game

Papi did no damage to Baker. He even tried (unsuccessfully) to bunt on his final plate appearance.

Anthony Swarzak gave up 1 run on 6 hits with no walks and 6 Ks in six full innings of work for the Twins

Denard Span totalled four hits, including a double, in Saturday's win

Sean Burroughs appears close to making the Opening Day roster for the Twins

Finally, I leave you with this…

And they say Chuck Knoblauch has gone in to seclusion and won’t make appearances at Twins games…

Sunday, I’m hoping to hang out on the minor league fields in the morning before heading down Daniels Parkway to JetBlue Park for the Twins and Red Sox game in the afternoon. Things are starting to wind up here in Fort Myers… it’s time to start getting excited for Opening Day!

– JC

Boyfriend(s) of the Month

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

Jason Kubel

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

Nick Blackburn

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

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

 

Scott Baker

Carl Pavano

GameChat – Dodgers @ Twins #3, 12:10pm

What a gorgeous day for baseball!!!! Lexi is sitting today with a sore thumb and a stiff back but should be back on Friday. Otherwise I really would like the Twins to just go outand win a game and a series today.

LA Dodgers @ Minnesota
Gwynn, LF   Revere, CF
Blake, 3B   Nishioka, SS
Ethier, RF   Mauer, C
Kemp, CF   Cuddyer, RF
Loney, 1B   Thome, DH
Uribe, 2B   Valencia, 3B
Thames, M, DH   Hughes, L, 1B
Navarro, C   Repko, LF
Gordon, SS   Tolbert, 2B
  De La Rosa, R, P     Baker, S, P

 

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

 

Wooohooo!!  Nothing like a little run support!  Yeah, obviously I mean VERY little run support. Twins win the game and the series by hanging in here for a 1-0 win.  They really know how to give a girl an ulcer.

Since I was all by myself in the chat at the end of the game, I get to pick today’s BOD all by my lonesome. When you actually get a shutout? yeah, you had some excellent pitching and I think that is really the story of the game. Ben Revere was an awful lot of fun to watch as he single-handedly tried to energize the whole team and the bullpen rocked it again so they all get ice cream sundaes. But for the majority of the pitching mastery, it was Scott Baker who got 9 k’s and just held it all together. For that, he is today’s BOD!