Results tagged ‘ Jason Kubel ’

Mired in Mediocrity

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At 43-43 44-43, this team is exactly average.  I’m certainly not the first person to notice this, nor am I the first to point out
that it’s mostly because all of the great talent on this team is
balanced by players who have no business on a major-league roster.  The
awesomeness of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau is balanced by the
suckitude of well, the entire second half of the lineup.  Nick
Blackburn is putting up the best numbers of his career, while Scott
Baker and Francisco Liriano are putting up the worst.  The comparison
between the best and worst players on the team is stark:

Hitters:

Joe Mauer:          .389/.461/.651/1.112 OPS  4.3 WAR
Justin Morneau:   .313/.390/.582/.971 OPS  2.8 WAR
Jason Kubel:    .306/.364/.540/.904 OPS  1.3 WAR
Denard Span:  .288/.375/.377/.752 OPS  1.7 WAR

Matt Tolbert:  .178/.272/.225/.497 OPS  -0.9 WAR
Nick Punto:   .211/.322/.234/.556 OPS  -0.2 WAR
Carlos Gomez:  .218/.277/.318/.595 OPS  -0.3 WAR
Delmon Young:  .270/.296/.349/.646 OPS  -1.2 WAR

The pitching is a slightly different story:

Pitchers:

Nick Blackburn:  2.94 ERA   4.94 xFIP  1.272 WHIP  1.82 K/BB  2.0 WAR
Kevin Slowey:  4.86 ERA   4.38 xFIP  1.412 WHIP  5.00 K/BB  1.4 WAR
Joe Nathan:  1.35 ERA   2.42 xFIP   0.750 WHIP  6.14 K/BB  1.4 WAR

Scott Baker:  5.31 ERA  4.24 xFIP  1.221 WHIP  3.90 K/BB  1.3 WAR
Francisco Liriano:  5.47 ERA  4.53 xFIP  1.490 WHIP  2.02 K/BB  1.3 WAR

Obviously
guys like Luis Ayala (0.1 WAR), Sean Henn (-0.2 WAR), and Jesse Crain
(-0.2 WAR) haven’t been helping much, either.  The good news is that
none of these guys are in the bullpen right now.  The bad news is that
they were here long enough to cost the team wins.

There
are a couple of things worth noting here.  First of which is that, as
much as both Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano have struggled this
season, both are still above replacement-level (that is, both are more
valuable than some scrub picked up off the waiver wire), and both
obviously have tremendous upside.  So, unless the Twins are absolutely
blown away with an offer for either one, it would be wise to hang onto
them for now (and no, Jon Garland and his 5.28 xFIP is not that guy). 
Secondly, despite his .270 batting average, Delmon Young is still one
of the worst hitters in the lineup.  His .349 slugging percentage is
anemic, his 58/6 K/BB ratio is the worst on the team, besides providing
crappy defense in left (-9.1 UZR).  No wonder the Rays were so eager to
get rid of him.

Of course, this is
pretty much the way the Twins have operated for the past decade, so
none of this comes as a surprise.  The likes of Ramon Ortiz, Sidney Ponson, and Rick Reed have rounded out a rotation fronted by Johan Santana and Brad RadkeDustan Mohr, Michael Restovich, and Michael Ryan have all patrolled the outfield alongside Torii Hunter.  After Corey Koskie left, guys like Tony Batista and Mike Lamb were manning third base until Joe Crede came along.  Jason Tyner, he of the one major league home run, was the DH for 31 games in three seasons with the Twins (when Rondell White and Ruben Sierra weren’t available, of course).  Tyner, by the way, was featured on the “Best Persons in the World” awhile back when his current (former?) team traded him away for nothing.  And then there was the Luis Rodriguez-Juan Castro-Luis Rivas infield, with Terry Tiffee on the bench.  And these weren’t even the worst Twins teams.

Obviously
there was a lot of talk about the Yankees’ payroll during the series at
the Dome, and it’s true that having a larger payroll gives a team more
flexibility. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a “Woe is us, how can we
ever keep up
with the Yankees and Red Sox?” post.  Simply spending a lot of money
doesn’t necessarily guarantee that a team will even make the playoffs
let alone win a championship, and there is much more parity baseball
(especially the AL) than pretty much any other major professional sport
in this country.  It’s just that a smaller payroll
gives a franchise a much smaller margin-for-error when making trades,
signing free agents, and even in the draft, since a bad move can
hamstring such an organization for decades. 

The Nick Swisher trade is a very good
example.  Now, the Yankees
acquired him from the White Sox for next to nothing, but even if he
doesn’t work out, the team isn’t completely sunk.  The Yankees
technically have six outfielders since acquiring Eric Hinske from the
Pirates, so they don’t really need Swisher and could easily trade him if
he starts to decline. 
Compare that to the Delmon Young trade (I know, I know, they’re not
really the same since the Young deal had a much higher risk, but bear
with me).  The Twins gave up a lot to
acquire Young and he has yet to live up to his potential.  To be fair,
Young isn’t the only terrible hitter on this team (and he hasn’t even
entered the prime of his career yet), but he needs to put up better
power numbers to make the trade worthwhile (and to justify giving him
so much playing time).  At this point, though, it’s hard to argue that
the Twins wouldn’t be a better team
with Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett.  Worse yet, his poor performance
and perceived attitude problems mean the Twins would have a tough time
getting anything of value for him should they consider themselves
buyers the trade deadline.  Like it or not, they’re pretty much stuck
and simply have to hope that Young will eventually start to develop
some power.

By the way, I tend to consider the
Young trade karmic retribution for the A.J. Pierzynski trade. 
Although, when you think about it, the Young trade is even worse. 
Pierzynski was at least competent both at the plate and in the field,
and Giants fans only had to put up with him for one season.  Delmon, on
the other hand, is the gift that keeps on giving.
 

Zzzzzz…..

tommy.jpgSunday’s series finale against the Astros was essentially two hours of my life that I will never get back.  I think I passed out fell asleep on the couch around the fifth inning or so.  The Twins had to go with their C-squad lineup since Justin Morneau was out, Jason Kubel got sick in the middle of the game, and Denard Span won’t be back at least until Thursday.  I guess one run on two hits is about all that can be expected of a lineup comprised of all the worst hitters on the team.  Glen Perkins didn’t have a terrible outing, the Astros got a bunch of lucky breaks in the first inning that scored three runs, but he also walked as many batters as he struck out and benefited from some run-saving catches by Carlos Gomez.  So, I guess I should be glad that one of the most boring 4-1 losses I’ve ever witnessed could have easily been more like the most boring 5-or-6-to-1 loss I’ve ever seen.

In an effort to make moves for the sake of making moves address the bullpen issue, the Twins have called up Bobby Keppel and DFA’d Luis Ayala.  Yes, cycling through replacement-level relief pitchers is exactly the sort of bold vision and creative thinking from the front office that will bring us straight to the top of the division.

By the way, it’s been almost a year since Bill Smith said about the dumbest f***ing thing I’ve ever heard a GM in baseball say.  This, ladies and gentlemen, is the man in charge of your Minnesota Twins.

Yeah, Harold Reynolds said something dumb about OPS or something, too.  I think he was just trying to point out that OPS isn’t perfect and shouldn’t be the decisive factor in determining a player’s worth, albeit in a semi-literate way. He’s actually right about that.  I dunno.  I guess it doesn’t bother me that much when analysts don’t seem to have a basic knowledge of stats and how they work because HAROLD REYNOLDS ISN’T RUNNING MY FAVORITE BASEBALL TEAM.

Brother, can you spare Brad Pitt $50 million to finance the Moneyball movie?  Columbia has suspended production on the project, citing problems with the script.  It’s probably just as well.  I can’t imagine that a film based on the use of advanced metrics to identify undervalued skills (like drawing walks) and help a small-market team remain competitive in the era of free agency would be compelling to anyone other than baseball nerds.

Don Fehr is stepping down after more than 20 years as president of the MLBPA.  I actually have kind of mixed feelings about this.  He did play a central role in the whole steroids mess by resisting PED testing for years (and then failing to have the results of the 2003 tests destroyed, as he was supposed to).  However, I don’t think there has ever been a stronger advocate for the rights of players, and without his leadership the MLBPA would now be about as powerful as the NFLPA.  It was, after all, Fehr who successfully took on the borderline criminal tactics employed by the owners to screw players out of their money, and I’m sure guys like Mark Teixeira and C.C. Sabbathia are grateful for that.  Unfortunately, it was probably his unwavering opposition to MLB and the owners that kept him from having those initial test results destroyed, and the ensuing PR nightmare has ultimately screwed over the very players he fought so hard to protect.

Losing in Style

  • Twins hit four homers and lose anyway

Thumbnail image for kubel_homer.jpgZOMG, this is the most unclutchiest lineup ever!!!11!!  I mean, for the most part, clutch hitting has a lot more to do with luck than skill.  In general, even the greatest hitters will fail more often than not with runners in scoring position, that’s just how the game works.  It sucks, it’s frustrating, but that’s just the way it is.  Which is why I find this article in the Star Tribune so irritating. To suggest that the problem is that the Twins are relying too much on the long ball and not speed or sacrifice hits (i.e., Twins baseball) is ridiculous.  The power hitters in the lineup have been remarkably productive, with Joe Mauer batting .421/.490/.738, Justin Morneau .324/.398/.524 (which is pretty good, considering that he’s been in a slump recently), Jason Kubel .315/.377/.546, and even Michael Cuddyer is starting to pick things up, hitting .281/.360/.518 with 10 homers.  Joe Crede has been kind of an exception since he has a paltry .228 BA and .303 OPB, but he also has a .451 slugging percentage and is on pace to hit 20+ homers this year, so he isn’t really part of the problem, either.  The real problem has been the lack of production from the bottom of the order, and it has been all season.  The Twins certainly aren’t lacking speed in the lineup, with Carlos Gomez, Matt Tolbert, and even Nick Punto all threats to steal, but the three have struggled to get on base consistently.  Delmon Young hasn’t been living up to his potential, either, batting .258/.286/.302 while looking horribly uncomfortable at the plate.  The good news is that Gomez, Punto, and Young have all taken huge steps forward this month (Yes, even Gomez.  He’s drawing more walks and isn’t swinging at so many pitches outside the strike zone, he just hasn’t had much to show for it in the way of results).  The bad news however, is that all three are still barely replacement-level position players.

After tonight’s loss to Houston, the Twins have fallen back to the .500 mark and are threehenn.jpg games behind the Tigers.  This time, the offense wasn’t the problem, since they hit four homers and scored five runs.  No, this time it was the pitching staff, specifically the bullpen that fell down.  The Twins had a 3-2 lead in the seventh, until Sean Henn came in to relieve Scott Baker.  Henn surrendered three runs in the seventh (one was charged to Baker), including a two-run homer to pinch-hitter Jason Michaels, and was yanked in favor of Luis Ayala after recording only one out.  I had written before that the pitching isn’t as bad as fans tend to think, and that’s true.  But it hasn’t been that great, either.  The starting rotation has started to settle down and pitch effectively, but the bullpen is still an issue.  While Matt Guerrier and Joe Nathan have been as reliable as ever, and R.A. Dickey is settling into the long relief role, the rest of the ‘pen is simply a disaster waiting to happen.  Ayala has been much more effective recently, but he pitches to contact and can’t really be used in close games with runners on base.  Jose Mijares hasn’t been too bad, posting a 2.57 ERA in twenty-four appearances, but he’s also been suffering from control issues (his 1.70 K/BB ratio isn’t good) and is bound to get hit hard eventually.  The Twins clearly need bullpen help, but so does pretty much everybody else in the league, which will obviously complicate matters at the trade deadline.  Still, I guess we should be glad that our bullpen isn’t as bad as the Indians’.  Yikes.

  • Speaking of homers

Thumbnail image for joe_mauer.jpgMauer hit his 14th of the season, setting a new career record, and it isn’t even officially summer yet.  It was an opposite-field blast (of course) that had given the Twins a 3-1 lead at the time.  Someday, opposing pitchers will figure out that it isn’t a good idea to throw him fastballs on the outside corner.  Hopefully he’ll hit 20 homers before they do.  Obviously, Mauer isn’t going to put up such Pujolsian numbers all season long, since the physical demands of being a catcher will catch up to him eventually.  As of right now, though, Mauer is the most valuable player in the league, and it isn’t even close.

Thanks for Giving Us Seven Shutout Innings Anthony, Now Go Back to AAA

  • Anthony Swarzak shuts down Cubs, then gets optioned to AAA Rochester

130059_Brewers_Twins_Baseball_large.jpgSwarzak pitched the best game of his young career against the Baby Bears, scattering four hits and striking out six while walking only one.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to keep his spot in the rotation, and Swarzak was notified of his demotion right after the game.  Glen Perkins will most likely be activated from the DL on Tuesday, and with Denard Span and Michael Cuddyer out an indefinite length of time, the Twins can’t really afford to carry an extra pitcher at the sake of a shorter bench.  They have called up backup catcher Jose Morales in the meantime, and how long he’ll stay with the team depends on Michael Cuddyer and Denard Span (more on that in a minute). 

While the timing of the news might have been unfortunate, it isn’t entirely unexpected.  Swarzak hasn’t pitched that much better than the starters who have been struggling this season, namely Francisco Liriano and Scott Baker, and both of them have started to pick things up as of late.  And while three of his five starts have been quality ones, his peripherals suggest that he isn’t quite ready to pitch in the major leagues.  In his five starts, Swarzak has an ERA of 3.90 but with an xFIP of 5.63, a 1.34 WHIP and poor 18/10 K/BB ratio, that ERA should probably be closer to 6.00 (oops, I mean 5.00.  proofreading is important).  He had some very good outings against the Brewers and the Cubs, but he got smacked around by the Indians and wasn’t terribly impressive against either Boston or Oakland.  Still, he does show some promise as a starter, after all, a three-pitch pitcher can make it in the bigs as long as those three pitches are pretty good.  Swarzak will most certainly get another shot, whether it’s as a September call-up or because someone else is injured/continues to suck.  At any rate, it’s nice to know that the organization does indeed have some pitching depth, and not just a surplus of arms.

  • I guess you can’t have too many outfielders

Coming in to the season, the Twins’ outfield was awfully crowded and Ron Gardenhire was charged with the difficult task of finding playing time for all four outfielders (five, if you count Jason Kubel).  Right field was the only position settled, with Denard Span, Carlos Gomez, and Delmon Young battling for the three remaining spots.  This job has been made more difficult by the fact that two of them, namely Gomez and Young, have been very disappointing at the plate thus far.  But now that Michael Cuddyer is out with a finger injury (go figure), and Denard Span is suffering from an inner-ear problem, suddenly the outfield doesn’t look quite so deep.  It’s hard to say how long either one will be out of the lineup, both are still listed as day-to-day, but Cuddyer is scheduled to meet with a finger specialist on Monday so it’s a good bet he’ll end up on the DL.  Span is recovering from what’s being called an “inner ear disorder”, but there’s no official word on when he’s expected to return to the lineup.  Obviously, losing Span has hurt the most, since he’s batting .291/.380/.386 in the leadoff spot while showing a lot of versatility as an outfielder.  Cuddyer might have more power, but he also strikes out a lot and can’t really play any other position than right field.  In the meantime, Jason Kubel has been starting in right, and while his bat has been hot lately, he isn’t the greatest defensive outfielder and there’s always concern that playing in the outfield will aggravate his balky knees.  Obviously, the Twins don’t seem to think either Cuddyer or Span will miss much time, or they probably would’ve called up another outfielder instead of a backup catcher. 

Milton Bradley = Greatest Outfielder Ever

122142_Cubs_Astros_Baseball.jpgMilton Bradley had a very tough day at work today.  He lost Jason Kubel’s routine fly ball in the sun, which put two on with nobody out and set up a two-run inning for the Twins.  Later in the same inning, he couldn’t field Michael Cuddyer’s line drive to right, playing a single into a run-scoring double.  But, most hilariously, he also had a major brain fart on a Joe Mauer pop fly.  Bradley forgot how many outs there were in the inning and threw the ball into the stands (hint:  there was only one, Milton).  Nick Punto scored easily and Brendan Harris was awarded third base.  Personally, I think the play should’ve been ruled a home run.  That ball went right into the stands!  So what if Bradley was the one who threw it there?  Bradley kind of redeemed himself by hitting a big two-run double in the sixth, cutting the Twins’ lead in half at that point.  Unfortunately, he couldn’t redeem himself completely, allowing Delmon Young to rob him of the potentially game-winning hit in the eighth.

For Twins fans and Cubs haters alike, this was a great game.  Joe Mauer hit his 13th home run of the season, a two-run blast that gave the Twins an early lead (and tied his career high set in 2006).  Jason Kubel hit a solo shot in the ninth that extended the lead to 7-4, his tenth of the season.  And Brendan Harris went 3-for-5 with an RBI and a run scored, which should help his case to be the starting shortstop (at least until Gardy realizes he isn’t a utility role player anymore).  Nick Punto even hit the ball out of the infield a couple of times.  I can’t remember the last time I wrote that.

Kevin Slowey was cruising along through the first five innings, allowing one hit and striking out nine Baby Bears.  I guess he decided not to rely on the worst defensive outfield ever behind him.  Slowey did start to fall apart in the sixth, when he surrendered three runs and cut the lead to only one run.  None of that can be blamed on the defense though, all of those runs came on some very hard hit line drives (the outfield didn’t walk Mike Fontenot, either).  The bullpen wasn’t great, but they managed to (barely) hang onto the lead for a change.  Joe Nathan retired the Cubs in order to pick up his fourteenth save of the season in a very non-heart-attack inducing manner.

Ron Gardenhire gets a lot of criticism from fans for his management of the bullpen, especially his reluctance to use Joe Nathan in anything other than a save situation.  And since the front office has consistently failed to put together a decent bullpen, the few reliable relievers on the staff get overworked (sometimes to the point of injury, see Pat Neshek and Jesse Crain).  Case in point:  Matt Guerrier.  Matty G. had logged 28.1 innings coming in to today’s game (where he was asked to record the final out in the eighth) and had made three straight relief appearances, while Joe Nathan had only logged 23.1 and hadn’t worked since Wednesday.  I realize that this is a national league ballpark, and the thought that Joe Nathan might come up to bat isn’t particularly appealing, but it was a save situation anyway and it makes sense to use Nathan since he’s had more rest.  Guerrier was awful in the second half of last season, posting a. 8.88 ERA and 2.092 WHIP after the All-Star break, and a lot of it has to do with the fact that he was overworked.  And with all of the innings he’s logged the past six seasons, it’s probably only a matter of time before he too ends up on the surgery list.

By the way, the best part of the game is that Wrigley was half full of Twins fans.  Seriously, if Wrigley Field weren’t so distinctive, one would think the Cubs were the visiting team.  Chants of “M-V-P!” and “Where’s Mark Prior?” whenever Joe Mauer came up to bat warmed even my icy cold heart.  There was plenty of cheering whenever the Twins would score, or when Kevin Slowey struck out yet another Cub.  There was also a lusty booing of Cub players, although I don’t think all of that was coming from Twins fans.

On a completely unrelated note, but because I find the idea so delightfully disgusting, here is former Toronto pitching coach Bob Miller discussing the fine art of spitting tobacco juice on umpires:

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.
        

Twinkie Offense

gallery07.jpgFirst of all, what a strange ending to the series against Boston yesterday.  Four ejections in the same inning, with the catchers and managers on both sides getting the boot (Which forced the Twins to play without a DH for the rest of the afternoon.  Fun).  Seriously, the consensus on both sides is that the umpiring in that game was pretty bad.  Which is a shame, since all of the controversy overshadowed what was actually a really good ballgame.  Josh Beckett and Anthony Swarzak were locked in a tight pitcher’s duel through the first seven innings, with Beckett eventually outdueling his rookie opponent.  Obviously, it’s a bit disappointing that the Twins only managed to split the series against the Sox at the Dome, but it just doesn’t seem like quite as much of a letdown as the previous 1-6 roadtrip.  Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the Twins had won four games in a row coming into the series, but it doesn’t seem as hard to watch your team lose when they play some good baseball in the process. And the Twins played well for the most part, it just wasn’t enough to win the series against the Sox.  It isn’t like the series at Fenway, where the Twins never really bothered to show up in the first place.  Or against the Yankees, where they let three games slip away in the later innings (and were then pummeled in the finale).  Losses of that sort are enough to prompt a fan suicide watch.

Thumbnail image for joe_mauer.jpgThe Twins’ offense has gotten really hot during the month of May, and with 55 home runs coming into tonight’s game against the Rays, has been unusually potent as well (they hit 111 the entire 2008 season).  Well, at least the first half of the order has been on fire anyway:  Denard Span is batting .303/.412/.404 in the leadoff spot, Joe Mauer is apparently made of magic (seriously, .407/.496/.824 with 11 HR and an OPS of 1.320 in 113 plate appearances), Justin Morneau is leading the AL in OPS and slugging percentage and is in the top five in nearly every other offensive category, and Jason Kubel is having a career year (though he’s still struggling to hit lefties, with an OPS of .429).  Joe Crede will probably be good for about 20 homers this year, besides reminding us what it’s like to have an actual third baseman playing third.  And even Michael Cuddyer is finally showing the type of power the Twins expected when they signed him to a multiyear deal before the start of last season, batting .330/.417/.670 with 7 homers and an OPS of 1.087 through the end of this month.  Whether or not he’ll continue to be so productive remains to be seen (his career numbers suggest otherwise), but if nothing else it could make him a valuable trade piece in the offseason should the Twins fail to make the playoffs for a third straight year.

Unfortunately, not everyone is hitting so well.  The bottom of the order, particularly the middlepunto_bunt.jpg infield, stinks.  Earlier this week, Aaron Gleeman compared the offensive production of Nick Punto, Alexi Casilla, Brendan Harris, and Matt Tolbert combined to that of national league pitchers, and the infielders just barely came out on top.  Of course, it didn’t have to be this way.  Before he was injured, Jason Bartlett was batting .373/.418/.596 and providing some good defense for the Rays, which just makes that trade seem so much worse.  And Orlando Hudson, who the Twins could’ve signed for half the price of Nick Punto, is hitting .340/.413/.485 with an OPS of .898 for the Dodgers.  The failure to upgrade the middle infield, like the failure to address the issues with the bullpen, is coming back to haunt the Twins.

And now Punto is on the 15-day DL because he sucks with an ouchie groin.  Alexi Casilla has been called up from Rochester and Brendan Harris will be the starting SS for the time being.  Hopefully the middle infield will now be a little more productive at the plate than NL pitchers.

The Boston media has apparently been fawning over Joe Mauer already, even though he won’t be a free agent until after the 2010 season.  It doesn’t bother me if an organization wants to pursue high-profile free agents to address one of its most glaring needs, even if some of those free agents happen to be Twins.  Obviously it makes a lot of sense to go after the best talent on the market, especially if you have the resources available to do so. The problem is that Mauer isn’t available yet, and it’s a bit presumptuous to simply assume he will be.  While the Twins are notoriously frugal as an organization, they have expressed a desire to keep their native son in a Twins uniform through the prime of his career.  SO KEEP YOUR FILTHY HANDS OFF OUR CATCHER YOU F***ING VULTURES.  But please help yourselves to one of our useless gritty, scrappy middle infielders who do the little things right and battle their tails off.  No really, I insist.

Hmm, maybe I should add “This Week in F–k You” as a regular feature during the offseason.  Of course, most of those posts would probably be directed at Bill Smith, anyway.

That’s Better (Sort of), Scotty

  • Scott Baker manages to not give any home runs, Twins lose anyway

PH2007083102132.jpgScott Baker, who has had a lot of trouble keeping the ball in the park in his first two starts, had what was his most successful start of the season against the Rays last night (though he still surrendered four runs on six hits).  Things got off to a rough start when he gave up two runs in the first (after he had retired the first two batters he faced).  But then he settled down and retired ten straight batters before running into trouble again in the fifth.  All in all, it wasn’t a terrible outing, as Baker struck out seven and walked only one, and his pitches had a lot more movement than in his previous starts, but in the end it just wasn’t good enough.  Baker’s recent struggles, coupled with the fact that his mechanics were so awful, led to some speculation that he might be hiding an injury (he didn’t want to go on the DL in the first place).  However, it seems as though his mechanics have been causing problems before his issues with shoulder stiffness (he gave up a league-leading nine homers during ST), and that perhaps these mechanical issues were what led to his shoulder issues in the first place. 

Although the young pitching staff has had its share of struggles early on, it isn’t the starting pitching that concerns me.  While all five of them might not exactly be Cy Young winners, they are a lot better than their overall records would indicate.  However, the offense, or lack of it, is something to be concerned about. The Twins struggled to do much of anything against Jeff Niemann, who for his part, wasn’t all that impressive.  They had runners on base with less than two outs in each of the first three innings, and yet each time failed to drive in a single run.  Which wouldn’t be so bad, but this has really been a problem for the lineup (well, at least for the hitters not named Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel, anyway). 

Even though Morneau and Kubel both struck out swinging against Niemann with RISP, it’scuddyer.jpg difficult to get too frustrated with them since both have been essentially carrying the offense.  Actually, all of the left-handed hitters in the lineup (and switch-hitter Jose Morales) have been hitting pretty well.  The righy bats, however, are a much different story.  Outfielders Michael Cuddyer and Carlos Gomez are struggling, with Cuddy batting a miserable .208/.275/.306 and Go-Go an anemic .195/.250/.293.  Delmon Young has been a bit more successful, batting .255/.296/.333, but his focus on trying to pull the ball more has led to a lot more double-plays.  The crowded outfield situation might be part of the problem, since only Cuddyer has seen much regular playing time (though he hasn’t exactly benefited from it).  All of this depth in the outfield was supposed to be one of the team’s major strengths this season, but except for Denard Span, none of them have been very productive at the plate, and two of them are mediocre defensively at best.

While Joe Crede has only twelve hits in 66 plate appearances, half of those have been for extra bases and three have been home runs.  Crede was always more of a power hitter with the White Sox and never really hit for average, so it will be interesting to see if his career numbers hold up outside of U.S. Cellular field.  Right now, the Twins are 9-11 and in fourth place in the AL Central.  While it is still very early in the season, the Twins should be concerned about the lack of production from all of the right-handed hitters in the lineup.  They may be blessed with four very good left-handed hitters (Mauer, Morneau, Kubel, and Span), but these four can’t carry the offense by themselves.  For now, with such huge holes in the lineup and no major moves in the works, a fourth-place finish looks to be about right.

  • You can’t spell V-E-Z-I-N-A without B-A-C-K-S-, dang it

Thumbnail image for backs_sho_oil.jpgOn a non-baseball related note Niklas Backstrom, Boston’s Tim Thomas, and Columbus’ Steve Mason are all finalists for the Vezina trophy.  While none are certainly terrible choices, they are a bit controversial since they do play for teams that implement a defense-oriented system (allegedly, more on that in a minute).  Oh, I know there are some people who would disagree with me on this, but when you look into the numbers and examine the season in general, Backs is really the most deserving of the three.

While it’s true that Mason and Thomas have both had very good years, and that both have led their teams to the Stanley Cup playoffs, Backs is the only goaltender who has ranked consistently in the top five in GAA, save percentage, wins, and shutouts all season.  And while he plays for a team that supposedly plays stifling defense, that certainly wasn’t the case this season.  Niklas Backstrom faced 2,059 shots this year, second only to Calgary’s Miikka Kiprussoff (who saw 2,155), and yet he still put up a stellar 2.33 GAA and .923 save percentage.  Considering all of the horrible defensive plays made in front of him on a regular basis, and the overall lack of offensive support (the Wild finished near the bottom of the league in goals scored), Backs had to perform a miracle almost every single night.  And considering that his mediocre team wasn’t officially eliminated from playoff contention until after the second-to-last game of the season, it’s clear that Backs has been more valuable to his team than any other goaltender in the league.

And he did all that while playing with an injured left hip. But I guess if that isn’t convincing enough, maybe this is:

More Kubel!

  • Jason Kubel homers twice in Twins’ 7-1 victory over Cleveland

Jason-Kubel_2.jpgJason Kubel apparently wants to remain in the cleanup spot once Mauer returns to the lineup (which might be as early as Tuesday), blasting a pair of home runs in today’s game against the Indians.  Kubel’s been on a tear recently, batting .316/.350/.789 in his past five games, with an OPS of 1.139 and, of course, a pair of home runs. And then there was this performance against the Angels.  Kubel has certainly been batting like a cleanup-hitter, but leaving him in that spot means that the Twins would have four left-handed hitters in a row.  Which actually might not be much of a problem.  The M&M boys certainly hit lefties pretty well (though not as well as righties), and lead off hitter Denard Span has had a lot of success against left-handed pitching, too.  Still, I can’t imagine Ron Gardenhire going with such a lefty-centric lineup for any extended period of time, so most likely Mauer will bat third and everyone else will move down in the lineup.

  • Oh, yeah, Kevin Slowey pitched ok, too

Thumbnail image for kev_slowey.jpgActually, he was masterful.  Painting the corners. Changing speeds. Throwing his breaking pitches whenever he felt like it (even on a 3-2 count), and just doing all of the little things necessary to keep hitters off balance.  Slowey shut out the Indians for eight innings, giving up just eight hits and striking out seven.  The lone Cleveland run came in the ninth, when Slowey was lifted after giving up three straight hits to load the bases.  Luis Ayala came in and surrendered an RBI single to Kelly Shoppach before getting Tony Graffanino to ground into a game-ending double play.

It appears as though the pitching staff has finally figured out the secret to winning games:  keeping the ball in the ballpark.  Oh, and not walking anybody, either.  That always helps.  Nick Blackburn pitched a gem of his own against Cleveland on Friday, allowing one run on six hits in seven innings, without walking anybody or giving up a home run.  Although, Blackburn kind of owns the Indians, so I guess his performance wasn’t all that surprising.  Still, after watching the starters give up what seems like a gazillion home runs the past few weeks (and the most walks in the league so far this season), it was fun to watch a couple of well-pitched ballgames for a change.   

Monday Musings

crain.jpgWell, there’s some good news and some bad news on the injury front.  The good news is that the best hitter in the lineup will probably be back by May 1, just in time for the series against Kansas City.  Unfortunately, one of the best relievers in the ‘pen is on the 15 day DL with shoulder inflammation.  This is terrible news.  Except for his last appearance against the Angels, Jesse Crain has been lights-out this season, and other than last year, when he was still recovering from shoulder surgery, has been dominant most of his career.  Pudgy lefty Jose Mijares has been called up to take his place.  Mijares was lights-out during his September call-up, then was horrible in spring training, but has been back to lights-out for the Red Wings.  Which Jose Mijares we will get remains to be seen.

Although, if he can work on his command, the new guy might not be so bad, either.

Of course, if all of the starters could pitch like Glen Perkins, then the bullpen wouldn’t be an issue.

Jason Kubel’s helmet and gloves are going into Cooperstown, after he became just the seventh player in major league history to hit for the cycle with a grand slam

Torii Hunter would like to finish his career in a Twins uniform.  I agree with Howard Sinker: no thanks.

This is precisely why the Royals aren’t going to win the Central this year.  I guess maybe I should stop complaining about the Twins’ bullpen so much.

I thought that the Royker frankenjersey was the ugliest thing I have ever seen.  I stand corrected.

As much as I hate the Vancouver Canucks, even I think that this is pretty funny.

And if you’ve ever wondered what the saddest music in the world must sound like, well, now you know (language is NSFW or living things in general):

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