Results tagged ‘ Alexi Casilla ’

F*ck!

  • Slowey suffers setback in rehab

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Well, there goes the season 
Ugh, I hope it’s just a slight one.  The Slow Man was supposed to throw
a bullpen session today, but his wrist injury flared up again and was unable to do so
He’s supposed to try throwing again on Wednesday, and the Twins are
holding off on any further decisions regarding treatment until then. 
So I’m going to hold off on any further panicking until then.  What is
certain, however, is that he won’t be making his next scheduled
start on July 21 at Oakland.  Anthony Swarzak will get the nod instead. 

  • Casilla up, Tolbert down, Harris back to the bench?

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As LEN3 reported,
Alexi Casilla has been recalled from Rochester, while Matt Tolbert has
been sent back down.  It’s essentially Casilla’s last chance to prove
he can stick in the major leagues, or the Twins will probably be moving
him in the off-season.  Casilla struggled mightily at the plate earlier
this season, batting a mere .180/.242/.225, and all of the defensive
miscues certainly didn’t help his case.  But he’s been on fire since
his demotion to Rochester, batting .340/.379/.449/.827 OPS for the Red Wings.  Still, as Jason
Bartlett can attest, it’s very difficult to get out of Gardy’s doghouse
once you have been banished there.  Casilla will probably have to magically
turn into Chase Utley overnight to keep his job, and even that wouldn’t
be enough.

With Casilla getting the start at second, this begs
the question as to who will be the everyday shortstop.  Gardy says he
will try to find playing time for both Punto and Harris, but this is
highly unlikely.  Punto will most certainly be the starting SS, and
Harris will almost certainly be back to the bench. The Twins are paying
Punto $4 million this year, so he and his .201/.319/.223 line won’t be
playing the utility role.  Gardy has already said as much
And really, when you look at the numbers, neither one is exactly running away
with the starting job.  Punto is terrible at the plate, but he’s a
career 21.0 UZR at the position, so his defense is good enough to make
him at least replacement-level.  Harris isn’t very good on defense (he’s a
career -11.9 UZR) but his .275/.318/.392 line makes him just a little
better than replacement-level, but not enough to just hand him the job,
either.  Now, if only there was a way to combine Harris’ bat with Punto’s glove

  • Gomez goes 3-for-4 with a home run and 5 RBI in series finale against White Sox

That goofball is bound and determined to make me love him. 

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Actually, I pretty much already decided that the first time I saw him sniff his bat.

Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down

  • Getting over the .500 mark is just too damn hard

Once again, a starter pitched well enough to get the win, and once again, it was all in vain.  Of course, this time Nick Blackburn screwed himself out of the “W” when he surrendered three runs in the bottom of the eighth (with a little help from Michael Cuddyer), allowing Oakland to tie the game.  Sean Henn and Matt Guerrier then conspired to give up the winning run in the bottom of the ninth.  Had they managed to close out this game, The Twins would have reached the .500 mark for the first time in nearly a month.  Instead, the Twinks have fallen to 30-32 and are currently trailing the division-leading Tigers by four games.  Oh, and their league-worst road record is now 9-20.  Not good.

The bats weren’t exactly hot this afternoon, but the Twins did jump out to an early lead thanks to a three-run homer by Joe Crede.  Gosh, that signing is looking better and better every day.  Even though Crede’s batting average is a paltry .233, he’s clubbed seven homers in just 81 at-bats and now has ten already on the year.  He has been a tad on the injury-prone side (to say the least), but at least his back hasn’t been much of an issue so far (*knocks on wood*).  Of course, the organization is probably just trying to protect its investment, so they’ll likely keep him out of the lineup if he isn’t exactly 100%.

Joe Mauer went 1-for-4 and his batting average has now dropped to .410, and is in danger of not being the first player since Ted Williams to hit over .400 in a season.  STUPID CHEAP TWINS WHY DIDNT U TAKE MARK PRIOR INSTEAD!!!1!!1!   

Not surprisingly, Alexi Casilla was sent back down after Nick Punto was activated from the DL earlier this afternoon.  Casilla made a few unfortunate misplays that nearly cost the Twins in Tuesday night’s game, but for the most part he hasn’t been that bad since being recalled from Rochester.  He’s been hitting .308/.357/.385, which is a vast improvement over the .167/.202/.231 he was batting before his first demotion.  However, Matt Tolbert is more versatile, and Nick Punto obviously isn’t going anywhere with that $8.5 million albatross of a contract he signed in the offseason, so Casilla was sort of the odd man out of the infield.  Still, I would rather the Twins send Brian Buscher down instead, since he’s a liability both offensively and defensively and is seldom used anyway (he’s played in all of 32 games this season).

Why is there this tingling in my left arm?

  • Twins survive ninth-inning nightmare to beat Oakland 10-5

HomerHA.jpgThis game was much, much closer than the final score would indicate.  The Twins had a 10-0 lead going into the ninth.  Scott Baker had pitched brilliantly, holding the A’s two just two hits in eight innings, and since he’d thrown only 96 pitches, was going for a complete game.  And that’s when things got a lot more interesting than they really needed to be.  Baker was obviously gassed, and loaded up the bases without recording an out (although he didn’t get any help from Alexi Casilla, more on that in a minute).  Jesse Crain was brought in to relieve Scotty, but ran into trouble of his own.  After Alexi Casilla again failed to field a routine ground ball that allowed a pair of runs to score, Crain had trouble finding the strike zone.  He walked Jack Cust with the bases loaded, and was yanked in favor of Jose Mijares.  Mijares struck out Jason Giambi, but then suffered some control issues of his own.  He walked the next two batters and forced in a pair of runs.  With the score now 10-5, and the bases loaded with only one out, Joe Nathan was brought in to complete what had suddenly become a save situation.  He struck out Jack Hannahan and Rajai Davis to end the threat and pick up his 12th save of the year. 

I’ll admit that I was nervous before Nathan came in.  If there’s any team that can screw up a 10-0 lead in the ninth inning, it is the Twins.  They’ve had such awful luck on the road this season and it really wouldn’t have surprised me if they ended up losing 11-10.  Besides, it’s not like this kind of thing has never happened before.

The horrorshow that unfolded in the ninth overshadowed what had been a rare quality road win.  Not only did Baker pitch a gem, but the bats sprang to life and gave him some much-needed run support.  Delmon Young, who’s really been having a rough season both on and off the field, went 2-for-4 with a double (his first extra-base hit since April 22) and three RBI.  Justin Morneau made me look silly for suggesting he might be in a slump, going 4-for-5 with a solo home run.  Jason Kubel hit a three-run homer.  Brendan Harris, who saw his career-high 12 game hitting streak come to an end on Monday night, went 3-for-4 with a walk and a run scored.  Even Carlos Gomez, who was put in the leadoff spot when Denard Span was forced to leave the game, came up with a big two-run double (though he also struck out twice).  It’s a good thing too, because the Twins needed every single one of those runs to hold off the A’s and get the win.

  • Bert Blyleven is an a**

OK, here comes a mini-rant.  I’m not really a fan of the Twins’ broadcast team, but I don’t usually complain about them here because it’s a waste of time.  The Twins aren’t going to fire Bert and Dick simply because I don’t like them, and rehashing ad nauseum all the dumb things they say is enough to give me a headache.  And since most of my readers don’t have to listen to Dick and Bert, they’d probably have no idea what I’m talking about, anyway.  But when Blyleven called out Scott Baker during the broadcast for failing to pitch a complete game, I felt I needed to make an exception.  It wouldn’t have been so bad, but he made it sound like the ninth-inning collapse was all Scotty’s fault, and it wasn’t (Alexi Casilla had a lot to do with it, but I’ll get to that).  Baker was on his game all night: he struck out eight batters, didn’t walk anyone, and allowed only one extra-base hit.  He retired fourteen straight batters coming into the ninth inning, and considering how much Baker has struggled this season, his performance had already exceeded expectations.  The complete game would simply have been icing on the cake.  But Bert ripped into Scotty when he loaded the bases without recording an out (again, not really his fault), accusing him of lacking the mettle to pitch a complete game.  Ridiculous.  If Baker truly wasn’t interested in trying to finish the game, then what the hell was he doing out there in the first place?  It was obvious that he was exhausted, and one would think that if Baker didn’t care about finishing the game himself, he would’ve simply told Gardy that he was done for the night.  Scotty didn’t deserve the public tongue-lashing Bert doled out from the safety of the broadcast booth, not after pitching eight innings of two-hit ball.  And it will never happen, but Bert owes Scotty an on-air apology.  Maybe I should change the title of this blog to “Fire Bert Blyleven”.

Worse yet, there was little rage directed at the true goat of the game:  Alexi Casilla.  The second baseman booted a couple of routine ground balls, one of which might have been a double-play. If Alexi even made one of those plays, Baker likely would’ve escaped the ninth having pitched a three-hit, maybe one-run complete game.  But because of Casilla’s incompetence, Baker had to settle for eight innings and three unearned earned runs.  And the Twins had to use their closer to save what should have been a complete blowout (of course, Jesse Crain and Jose Mijares could’ve pitched better, too).  Ugh, I never thought I’d be so happy to hear that Nick Punto is coming back soon.  I will take a sub-.200 middle-infielder who can make routine plays over a sub-.200 middle-infielder who can’t any day.
        

Road Woes

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Before I get into how awful the Twins have been away from the Dome, I just want to say:  OMG THE BULLPEN MANAGED TO NOT BLOW A ONE-RUN LEAD FOR ONCE.  ON THE ROAD TOO.  TRULY THE END IS NIGH.  Anyway, at 25-27, the Twins are currently two games under .500 and 4.5 games out of first in the AL Central.  And it’s really no mystery why our boys are struggling to stay above the .500 mark:  their 6-16 road record is abysmal.  While there aren’t many teams in the league with winning records away from home, few have such a record of futility as the Twinks.  There are only two teams in the league with worse road records than Minnesota:  Washington (6-20) and San Diego (8-19), and obviously neither one is likely to make the playoffs this year.  While the Twins had lost 11 of their past 12 road games before beating Tampa on Sunday, four of those losses had been by one run and six of their last nine losses have been by two runs or less.  

The Twins, like most teams in the league, have always played better at home than on the road.  Most people like to blame it on the obvious home field advantage the Twins enjoy at the Dome, but the disparity between their home and road records hasn’t been as vast as people tend to think (they usually have a league-best home record and a road record somewhere around the .500 mark).  In the seven seasons under manager Ron Gardenhire, the Twins have posted a worse road record through the end of May only once:  in 2006, when they were 8-20.  The Twins had gotten off to a slow start that year and were 24-29 on June 1st, 11.5 games behind the division-leading Tigers, before riding an incredible hot streak and finishing 96-66 to capture the division title (they finished with a 42-39 road record, btw). 

Pitching has obviously been part of the problem, though the pitching staff as a whole hasn’t been that much worse on the road.  As a team, the Twins have a road ERA of 5.16 compared to 4.53 at home. In road games, opponents are batting .272/.345/.485 against the Twins and the pitching staff in general is posting a 1.45 WHIP, 1.70 K/BB, and 6.15 K/9, compared to .273/.322/.427 with a 1.33 WHIP, 2.50 K/BB, 6.06 K/9 inside the teflon confines.  Obviously these numbers aren’t great, but they’re not bad for a team whose one and two starters have been pitching more like back-of-the-rotation starters through the first few months of the season.  For the most part, the pitching has been good enough to keep the team in ballgames as long as the offense has been productive.  Unfortunately, this hasn’t usually been the case.

The lack of offense has really been the heart of the Twins’ struggles away from the Dome.  There’s a very good assessment of the offense to this point here, and while it’s hardly surprising that the bottom of the lineup has been ice cold, these problems have been exacerbated on the road.  At home, the Twins are batting a decent-enough .278/.356/.447 with an OPS of .803.  On the road, however, the Twins are a mediocre .263/.335/.406 with an OPS of .741.  The best hitters in the lineup, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, have put up some very good numbers on the road, but with the likes of Nick Punto, Delmon Young, Matt Tolbert, Alexi Casilla, and Carlos Gomez at the bottom of the order it’s not surprising that the Twins have averaged only 4.2 runs per game away from the Dome (which is actually skewed from the 20-1 thumping of the Pale Hose).  And that’s an improvement over the 3.6 runs per game the team was averaging with Casilla and Tolbert batting second in the lineup.  While Young, Casilla, and Gomez are all young enough that they should improve, it remains to be seen how much longer the organization will be patient with their development.

Well, that was ugly

  • If I pretend the seventh inning didn’t happen, the Twins win this one, right?

Thumbnail image for baker.jpgScott Baker was cruising along, pitching a no-hitter through six innings.  The offense, with the help of some Kansas City errors, managed to scratch out four runs against tough right-hander Gil Meche.  It looked as though the Twins were about to win their third straight series, and put the ugliness of last night’s game behind them (more on that in a minute).  But then all hell broke loose in the seventh.  Scott Baker gave up a single to lead off batter Willie Bloomquist.  Then another single, then a three-run homer to Jose Guillen.  Baker failed to record a single out in the inning, and when it was all over, Kansas City had a 5-4 lead that it wouldn’t relinquish.  R.A. Dickey would allow two more runs, and the Royals’ bullpen would hang on to beat the Twinkies 7-5.

Yes, five runs on five hits in one inning is pretty bad, but Baker has shown steady improvement in his past couple of starts and his very good 16/5 K/BB suggests that he’s on the right track.  Before he completely fell apart in the seventh, Baker dominated the Royals throughout the entire game, giving up only one walk.  I’m not sure if he just lost focus after surrendering the single to Bloomquist, or if he was starting to get tired (Baker has never been terribly efficient and had already thrown about ninety pitches going into the seventh), but this is still a vast improvement for a guy who was surrendering home runs at the rate of once per inning, all of which came with runners on.  His ERA has now dropped to 9.15, which is pretty good considering that it was as high as 12.46 after his implosion against the Red Sox in Boston. 

I have mentioned before that the Royals will be a good team this year, but this whole series had less to do with the Royals’ talent and everything to do with the Twins’ ineptitude.  If it were not for some poor pitching performances in this game, and some crucial defensive mistakes in Saturday night’s game, the Twins would have swept Kansas City and moved into first place.  If nothing else, they would have taken two out of three and remained only a half game back.  But now they’re 12-13, and are two games behind the first place Royals.  Which is precisely where they were before this homestand began.

  • Defensive miscues and a horrendous bullpen cost Twins in Saturday’s 10-7 loss

casilla_groundball.JPGSaturday night’s game against the Royals was about the ugliest I have ever seen.  Officially there were four errors between the two teams, but unofficially, well, I lost count of all of the misplays in the field.  Brian Bannister, who did struggle a bit, didn’t really get much help from the defense behind him.  Only three of the six runs he surrendered were actually earned.  Glen Perkins, on the other hand, was terrible on his own, giving up five earned runs on ten hits.  For the third start in a row, Perk reverted into his old bad habits and started throwing a steady stream of fastballs whenever he got into trouble.  And the Royals made him pay, chasing him out after six mediocre innings.  The Perkins that got off to such a good start earlier in the season, the one that went at least eight innings in three starts and gave up only four runs, changed speeds effectively and generally did a good job keeping hitters off balance.  I wonder whatever happened to that Perk and if we’ll ever see him again this season.

After last night, Ron Gardenhire has finally decided he’s seen enough of Alexi Casilla’s poor play and has benched the second baseman, at least for one game.  Casilla made two crucial errors in the second game of the series, both of which likely cost the Twins the game.  In the seventh, with the Twins clinging to a one-run lead, he failed to cover second on a steal attempt by Willie Bloomquist, who later scored on a single by Billy Butler to tie the game.  The Royals untied the game in the very next inning, when Casilla misplayed a routine ground ball that would have ended the inning but instead allowed Alberto Callaspo to score from third.  Alexi tends to be an emotional guy, and sometimes he lets his struggles at the plate affect his concentration in the field.  Casilla was one of the big question marks coming into the season, as he’s struggled at both AAA and the major league levels before putting together a successful 2008 campaign with the big club.  Still, Gardy doesn’t think that Casilla’s hot start with the Twins last year was a fluke, and is holding out hope that a day off is all the young second baseman will need to get back on track.     

I don’t really know what to say about Craig Breslow.  He’s now walked nine batters in 6.2 innings, and walked the bases full in the eleventh before he was pulled in favor of R.A. Dickey.  Breslow was very effective last season, but seems to have lost his release point and Ron Gardenhire has now officially put the lefty on notice.  The organization has been losing patience with Breslow, whose days are likely numbered since Jose Mijares has been lights out since his call-up and Anthony Slama has been pretty impressive with AA New Britain.  It’s kind of a shame, too, because I started to really like the guy.  Still, I guess this is probably why he’s bounced around between four different organizations in his five major-league seasons.  But hey, at least he still has that medical school thing to fall back on.

  • Bruce Boudreau is probably glad that he decided to bench Jose Theodore

Not bad for a rookie:

Yay, Joe’s Back!

Thumbnail image for joe_mauer.jpgIn his very first at-bat of the season, Joe Mauer drilled a 2-0 pitch from Sidney Ponson into the left-field seats.  In his next at-bat, he spanked a double and then scored on a Justin Morneau single.  In his third at-bat, he drew a walk and then scored on a Justin Morneau home run (which ended up being the winning runs, I might add).  In his fourth at bat, well, he grounded into a double play.  Still, that’s not bad for a guy who hasn’t played in any major league games since the heartbreaker tiebreaker against the White Sox last year, and hadn’t really even swung a bat until, like three weeks ago.  The Twins chased Sir Sidney out after five innings, tagging him for seven runs on nine hits.  Considering that the Twins were one of the few teams that His Royal Highness the Prince of Slobenia has consistently been successful against (he is 11-4 with an ERA of 3.13 lifetime against Minnesota), it was a very good night indeed.

It’s tough to complain about the lineup too much, since the Twins did manage to score seven runs. However, one has to wonder why the struggling Alexi Casilla is still batting second.  I realize that Ron Gardenhire probably doesn’t want four lefties in a row (although, it isn’t a bad idea when those lefties are Denard Span, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel), but why he keeps batting Casilla second is a mystery.  Casilla is batting a miserable .167, but even worse he’s been getting on base at an underwhelming .231 clip.  This simply isn’t good enough, and while Casilla is much better defensively at second than Brendan Harris, Harris has been riding a hot streak lately and probably should be in the lineup everyday.  I don’t mind Gardy being patient with Casilla and hoping he’ll turn things around (he did hit the ball really hard three times last night, unfortunately it happened to be right to a Royal each time), but he should be moved down in the lineup until he actually does so.

Of course, it’s a good thing the offense managed to provide him with all of that run support, since starter Kevin Slowey needed every single one of them.  He gave up five runs on eight hits in five innings and surrendered the lead twice, although he didn’t run into trouble until the third.  Still, it was good enough to earn his fourth victory of the season and he improved(?) to 4-0.  Joe Nathan, after blowing a save against Tampa Bay in his last relief appearance, gave up a single to Mike Aviles but pitched an otherwise-perfect ninth to record his fourth save of the season.

Oh, and Joe Crede was out of the lineup last night because his wife was having their third childHe is expected to miss the rest of the series against the Royals but should rejoin the team in Detroit.  Never mind, he’s back in the lineup tonight.  But Kubel’s sick, so he’s out. And the flame-throwing Juan Morillo was demoted to AAA Rochester to make room for Mauer on the roster.  It isn’t really that surprising that he managed to clear waivers, as his 22.50 ERA and poor 0.33 K/BB rate probably scared off any prospective suitors.  It will be interesting to see if pitching coach Bobby Cuellar can tame some of his wildness.  The minor-league coaching staff has had a lot of success in teaching the young prospects to throw strikes, so Morillo has definitely come to the right place.  At any rate, it’s tough to imagine that Morillo won’t get another shot with the big club.  A guy whose fastball averages 96.5 mph would be a very good thing to have in the bullpen indeed.

Baseball is the greatest game there is

casilla_gogo.jpgI am inclined to agree with Mike Pagliarulo (and Jen) on that one.  Yes, I am also a football fan.  And as regular readers of this blog are well aware, I absolutely loooooove hockey.  But baseball is definitely the greatest game there is.  Because unlike those other sports, there is no clock to kill any potential rally.  In baseball, there’s always hope for a comeback.  Which is precisely what the Twins did last night.  Down two runs in the bottom of the ninth, with two out and nobody on, the Twins battled back and scored three runs off of Brendan Morrow (oops, Miguel Batista. That’s the kind of sloppy journalism you are bound to produce when you are very sleepy or heavily intoxicated or both) for their first victory of the season.

 
Thumbnail image for blackburn_fail.jpgThis was hardly the best game the Twins have ever played.  Nick Blackburn was shaky in his five innings, giving up four runs on eight hits while walking three and only striking out one.  There were a couple of misplays in the outfield by Delmon Young and Denard Span that certainly didn’t help, either.  The offense struggled to do much against Erik Bedard for most of the night.  It looked as though the Twins were about to drop their second straight game against the Mariners.  But the Twins managed to score three runs off of him in the fifth, to pull themselves within one.  Well, until Luis Ayala gave up another run in the top of the ninth, anyway.  The game looked like it was over when Seattle closer Brendan Morrow got two quick outs in the bottom of the ninth.  The free-swinging Carlos Gomez was coming to the plate, and fans were already starting head for the exits.  But he drew a walk (!) after one of the best ABs he’s ever had, and that seemed to really rattle Morrow, who struggled to find the plate after that.  Seattle’s self-proclaimed closer then proceeded to walk the bases full, and was pulled in favor of Batista.  Denard Span drove in a run on an infield hit (Span, who had an awful spring, was 3-for-5 with a pair of RBI singles).  Alexi Casilla then smacked a two-run single to center field and that was the ballgame.  Casilla, by the way, is getting really good at this whole walk-off-win thing.

Mike Redmond is still questionable after injuring his groin while running out a double in the series opener.  This was right after he got hit in the neck with a broken bat.  It just wouldn’t be a ballgame if Redmond didn’t get hit in the head with something.  He was kept out of last night’s game as sort of a precautionary
measure and will be re-evaluated today.  Apparently the injury isn’t that serious and Redmond has declared himself ‘ready to catch’ if necessary, but we shall see.  Groin injuries can be one of those lingering things that affects a guy the entire season.

Apparently I’m not the only one who likes the throwback jerseys, either (and judging by that last pic, somebody else does, too).  Although, I’m starting to wonder if it’s really such a good idea to emulate a team that lost 102 games.

I do like what I’ve seen from Joe Crede so far.  Not so much at the plate (though he did hit a double in the big three-run fifth inning), but he has tremendous range at third.  This isn’t something I’m used to seeing, as the last decent third baseman the Twins had was Corey Koskie.  So forgive me for getting a little excited at the prospect that the infield defense might not suck this year.

The Twins really should win tonight’s game, though.  Kevin Slowey (aka the new Brad Radke) is on the mound against Carlos Silva.  Silva has apparently lost a lot of weight and did put together a decent ST campaign, but he’s still prone to having a total meltdown out on the mound if things aren’t going his way.

  • No, no, you had it right the first time

I think I know what I’m going to call the Pale Hose White Sux White Sox from now on:

Everybody Lost Today

  • Canada loses 6-5 to the U.S.

morneau_justin031031.jpgThat’s right, I am cheering for team Canada.  Why?  Because I am a terrorist Twins fan who hates freedom, that’s why.  I know I should root for my home country and I know it’s unpatriotic if I don’t. I would just find it much easier to do so if there were any Twins on the American roster.  Besides, I can’t bring myself to root against Justin Morneau.  I can’t.  I won’t.  It’s like rooting against puppies or Jesus or something. 

This game was probably the best of the WBC so far.  Canada jumped out to an early lead, but the U. S. answered right back.  Then they answered back some more, to the tune of four runs on two monster home runs.  But then Canada battled back and came within one run.  They had runners at second and third with only one out with Morny and Jason Bay coming up to bat.  And both of them promptly killed the rally and thus ended Canada’s hope of embarrassing the U.S. team a second time.  Oh, well, the sooner Canada gets eliminated the sooner Morny and Jesse Crain can resume playing for the only team that really matters.

By the way, I think the Dominican Republic forgot that they were supposed to win this game.

  • Twins lose 10-1 to the Pirates

This is actually the first blowout loss the Twins have suffered in these exhibition games, so I guess I’m not going to get too upset.  It just would’ve been nice if one Minnesota team could’ve beaten somebody at something today.  Michael Cuddyer scored the only Twins run after hitting a triple, but Alexi Casilla went 2-for-3 with a double.  I’ve expressed concern that Casilla might not be able to repeat the success he enjoyed last year, and so far he hasn’t looked very comfortable at the plate.  Maybe he’s starting to get settled in now, though.

Scott Baker wasn’t exactly dominant, but he held the Pirates to one run on six hits in his four innings while striking out four (his one run allowed was a solo shot by Adam LaRoche).  The rest of the pitching staff, unfortunately, didn’t fare so well.  R. A. Dickey was the only other pitcher who was effective, shutting out the Pirates in his one inning of relief.  Most notably, Matt Guerrier gave up two runs on two hits and eighth-inning candidate Jose Mijares gave up one run on two hits.  Although he’s a lefty and was very impressive during his September call-up last year, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mijares was sent down to Rochester for more seasoning.  He just doesn’t seem to be quite ready to pitch in the major leagues yet.  Besides, the Twins wanted him to work on some things and he’s failed to do so thus far.

  • Scott Baker signs four-year deal with Twins

PH2007083102132.jpgThere was talk earlier during the offseason that the Twins might want to lock up some of their young starters into long-term deals, since most of them will be arbitration-eligible next year.  They took the first step in doing so by signing projected Opening Day starter Scott Baker to a four year, $15.25 million deal, with an option for a fifth.  The Twins have essentially bought out all of Baker’s arbitration-eligible years and have an option for his first year of free agency.  Better yet, they will have him under contract until he’s thirty-two, and the most he will get paid is if they pick up his $9.25 million option (Joe Christensen breaks down the deal here).  While it hardly takes a genius to recognize that it is in an organization’s best interest to lock up young talent while it is still relatively inexpensive, I will give Bill Smith some credit for keeping Baker through what will be the peak of his career at a reasonable price.

Baker was very good last year.  Actually, according to Fangraphs, he was the second-best pitcher on the team (behind Joe Nathan of course).  Baker started to emerge as the staff ace, since Francisco Liriano was struggling to recover from Tommy-John surgery.  While I do think Liriano will eventually surpass Baker and claim the top spot, for now the twenty-seven year old righty is the best pitcher in the rotation.  He posted an ERA+ of 118 and an FIP of 3.79.  His K/BB ratio was a respectable 3.36 and he also posted a WHIP of 1.18.  Baker is more of a fly-ball than strikeout pitcher, though, and sometimes gets burned by the long ball (his HR/9 inning rate was 1.04 last year).  However, most of the damage is limited to solo homers since he’s good pretty at keeping runners off the base paths. 

  • Wild lose to Kings, 4-3

I have said it before, but I think it bears repeating:  the Wild are not going to make the playoffs this year. They haven’t been able to string together more than two wins in a row since they won their first six games to start the season, and such a team doesn’t deserve to make the playoffs. This game featured some rare shoddy goaltending by our Backs, who seemed to be sleeping out there. Ugh. Can’t we just call a mercy rule on the rest of the season?  I don’t think I can take anymore.

On a more positive note, defenseman Kurtis Foster made his first appearance on the ice in nearly a year.  It was obvious that he wasn’t quite ready to play, but he had no choice as Brent Burns was sick and there wasn’t anyone else who could replace him.  Fozzie looked a little shaky out there at first, and didn’t earn any points through his twelve shifts.  Considering that he’s been out of the lineup for so long, and wasn’t even expecting to play tonight, he actually fared pretty well.  It was just really good to see him out there skating with the team again.

The Army We Have Part I: the Infield

Spring training opens next week, and since the front office has apparently decided that the roster is 90% set, I guess now would be as good of a time as any to pick it apart analyze it in a detailed and thoughtful manner.  I’ve already covered the starting rotation so let’s look at the infield:

allstar40.jpg

  • 1B, Justin Morneau:  There’s really not much to say about Johnny Canuck that I haven’t said before.  Morny had a pretty good season last year, though his power numbers were down a bit. Oh, I don’t know, maybe he’ll finally have his breakout season and hit 40 homers.  And rob Derek Jeter of yet another MVP award.

    There is one Justin Morneau story I forgot to mention last time.  When he
    was still just a young pup in 2005, he got into an argument in the club-
    house with Torii Hunter.  Hunter thought his young teammate needed an
    attitude adjustment, so he threw a haymaker at him.  Unfortunately he missed and
    nailed poor Nick Punto (or Lew Ford. There are some conflicting reports as to who actually     got the errant punch) instead.  The two sorted everything out after the altercation and          didn’t have any other major incidents afterwards.

  • 2B, Alexi Casilla:  Casilla and his buddy Carlos Gomez were two of the most electrifyingCasilla.jpg players the Twins have had in a long time.  Their energy was infectious, and the two would often provide the spark that would get the whole team going.  Having said that, I’m not completely sold on Casilla as the everyday second baseman just yet.  He put up decent numbers last year (.281/.333/.374), and absolutely killed the ball in AAA, but was terrible in his rookie season.  After being called up from Rochester in 2007, he put up an abysmal .222/.256/.299 while playing atrocious defense and was promptly sent back down.  Casilla is only 24 and should continue to improve, but his performance this season will be an indication as to whether or not he is the answer at second base.

  • SS Nick Punto:  Punto is the Martin Skoula of Twins baseball (Skoula is a WildOHTD103_Twins_India_8340477.jpg defenseman whose occasional brain farts have earned him the nickname “f***ing Skoula”), except in this case it’s his habit of grounding into double plays that gets fans so hot and bothered. Little Nicky put up decent numbers last season, but he’s very inconsistent.  He’s been great in the seasons he’s had to battle for a roster spot (’06 & ’08) but terrible when he’s been guaranteed a starting job (’05 & ’07).  Since the Twins inked him to a two-year, $8 million deal during the offseason, it will be interesting to see which Punto shows up this year:  Good Punto or f***ing Punto.

  • 3B Brendan Harris/Brian Buscher:  Meh, the two combined will probably be about as productive as Casey Blake, but will be about $16 million cheaper.  Harris is better defensively than Buscher, but neither one is really a liability at the position.  I have already covered the Twins’ third base situation in greater detail here.

The Twins are lucky in that they do have some infield depth.  Matt Tolbert won the starting shortstop job out of Spring Training last year, and was putting up decent numbers before he went down with a torn ligament in his thumb.  Matt Macri also did a very good job filling in for an injured Adam Everett last season, and could make a good utility man if Nick Punto takes to the shortstop position.  Third base prospect Luke Hughes will probably get a look sometime this year too, since the organization really needs to see what they have in him before committing a lot of money to a free agent.

The infield as it stands looks pretty good right now, and I can live with it.  Though I would love to see an upgrade at third base, there isn’t anyone I find all that exciting currently available through trade or free agency.  There are rumors that the Twins are interested in Joe Crede, but his injury history and the fact that he would have to play on Field Turf makes it seem unlikely that they will actually sign him (especially not for the $5 million he is reportedly asking).  He’ll probably go to the Giants instead.   

Next up in the series:  the outfield.
On deck: the bullpen
In the hole: catcher 

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