Results tagged ‘ Justin Morneau ’

Mulvey Up, Morales Down, a Trade in the Works?

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As reported in the Star Tribune,
Kevin Mulvey has been recalled from Rochester to pitch out of the
bullpen.  Mulvey came over as part of the Santana trade, and this will
be his first call-up with the Twins since coming over from the Mets.  The Twins were trying to get
by with only 11 pitchers, but a series of shortened starts at the Dome
(and the injury to Kevin Slowey, which sounds like it might be getting better)
have made that impossible.  Mulvey has posted a 3.93 ERA, 1.402 WHIP,
2.13 K/BB, 7.1 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 in seventeen starts for the Red Wings
this season.  Meh, these numbers aren’t great, but apparently he’s
going to be used for mop-up duty and should handle that role
competently.  If anything, he will provide some much-needed depth in the bullpen.

Back-up catcher Jose Morales has been optioned
back to AAA to make room for the extra pitcher.  Morales was mostly
called up because Gardy likes to have an extra catcher on days Redmond
is starting and Mauer is the DH, so he wasn’t really getting much
playing time.  Obviously, Morales has been having a better season at
the plate than Redmond, but Red has incriminating pictures of Gardy more experience handling the
pitching staff and I doubt the Twins are willing to eat what little is left of his contract.  Besides, the lack of production from some of the
regulars
in the lineup is much more troublesome than that from a guy who only plays once a week.  The Twins also could probably have optioned
Brian Buscher instead, since he also rarely sees any playing time, but
he offers more versatility in the field than Morales and often fills in
at third when Joe Crede needs a break.

The Twins have been linked
to a number of different players in trade rumors, most notably Freddy
Sanchez, relief pitchers Matt Capps and John Grabow from the Pirates,
and have apparently contacted Toronto about the availability of some of
their relievers.  There doesn’t seem to be anything in the works
though, and I’m guessing that Bill Smith felt those organizations were
asking too much in return (or the Twins just don’t have the prospects
Pittsburgh and Toronto are looking for).  Obviously, all that can
change with one phone call, so we’ll just have to wait and see what
happens.  I don’t really like to get into what moves the organization
should make, who they should be targeting in a trade and all that
because, honestly, I’m not all that good at it.  I don’t pay enough
attention to the rest of the league to know who might be a big impact
player that could help the team down the stretch.  As critical as I can
be of Bill Smith and the front office sometimes, I really do like to
think that they act in the best interests of the team, and there is at
least some sound reasoning behind some of the moves they’ve made, even
if they didn’t exactly pan out.  And I’m really not a fan of
rent-a-player deals, like the ones for Sabathia and Teixeira
last year.  Such trades seldom ever help the team make a deep run in
the playoffs, and more often than not, the player ends up signing
elsewhere during the off-season, leaving the organization scrambling to
fill the same holes they had before.  Only now the farm system is a bit
thinner on top of it, which is not at all a good thing for an
organization that relies as heavily on its farm system as the Twins.

  • Justin Morneau was miffed about the canned Canadian anthem

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Morneau was reportedly annoyed that the American national anthem got
the celebrity treatment at the All-Star Game, while fans were treated
to a pre-recorded version of “O, Canada”.  Here’s what he told Joe Christensen:

“I wasn’t very impressed with that to tell you the truth. You figure they could find somebody to come and sing the song.
They have a hockey team here, the Canadian teams play here.

“It’s something that didn’t really go over too well. I think if it
happened the other way around, if they were playing in Toronto and they
did that, it would have been a lot bigger deal. But nothing you can do
about it.”

Obviously,
he wasn’t too worked up about the whole thing, but Morny really does
have a point.  It would be different if MLB were like football, in
which all of the teams are American-based and there is no need to
represent more than one country, but it isn’t. It’s more like the NHL,
which has both American and Canadian-based teams.  Prior to the start
of every hockey game, someone always sings both national anthems
whether the game is being played in the U. S. or Canada.  Besides, Toronto sent two representatives to the All-Star Game, one of which
was the starting pitcher!  Obviously, there are fewer Canadian baseball
teams than hockey teams, and there are fewer Canadian-born baseball
players than hockey players, but the canned treatment of the Canadian
anthem was a bit disrespectful to our neighbors to the north.  It’s not
really that big of a deal, but if MLB is going to take the time to
honor its Canadian representatives, then at least they should do it right.

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.
 

Giving the Bullpen a Couple of Days Off

  • Nick Blackburn pitches his third complete game of the season in Twins’ 6-2 win

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Blackie (yes, that’s really his nickname) absolutely dominated the Tigers in Sunday’s rubber match, keeping them off the scoreboard through eight innings.  He struck out six and only walked one, and although teh Kittehs recorded seven hits, they weren’t really able mount much of a threat until the eighth.  Unfortunately, Blackie lost his bid for a shut out when Brandon Inge clobbered a two-run homer in the ninth, but he quickly recovered to finish the inning and (most importantly) give the bullpen some much-needed rest.  After pitching 13 innings in Friday night’s marathon exercise in futility, the relief corps will get two full days of rest (some relievers even have three, as Francisco Liriano pitched seven innings on Saturday) before the Yankees come to town on Tuesday night.  When his sinker is working, as it was yesterday, Blackie is a bullpen savior (indeed, he needed only 109 pitches to get through nine innings).  His 116.1 innings pitched are fifth most in the league, and only Zack Greinke has thrown more complete games. 

However, even though Blackburn is putting up some of the best numbers of his career, it’s still way too early to declare him the team ace (or talk about extending his contract).  He wasn’t much better than average last season, and his poor peripherals suggest that a good deal of his success this season is probably due to luck.  Coming in to yesterday’s game, Blackie had a very good 3.10 ERA, but his 1.67 K/BB ratio and 2.3 BB/9 rate are at career lows.  I wrote elsewhere that if those numbers don’t improve, he will likely finish the season with an ERA much closer to his 4.98 xFIP.  The good news, though, is that some of his peripherals have indeed been improving.  While his 1.80 K/BB ratio is still rather low, and he still gives up a lot of hits, his BB/9 rate has been steadily declining the past few months (from 3.08 in May to its current 1.00).  A lot of it has to do with the fact that his fastball is nasty.  The velocity tops out at around 91 mph but the movement on it has been absolutely filthy, and as long as he can sustain that kind of break on his fastball, his strikeout rate should start to improve.  Blackburn will likely keep rolling through the second half of the season (and hopefully the playoffs).

  • Twins once again send three representatives to the All-Star Game

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Joe
Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Joe Nathan are all set to represent the
Twins in the ASG.  Kevin Slowey probably had a good chance of joining
his teammates in St. Louis, if he hadn’t gone down with a wrist injury
(he is supposed to have an MRI on it today.  UPDATE:  it is just a strain.  He was treated with a cortisone shot and should resume throwing in a few days).  You could probably make
the case for Nick Blackburn too (Joe Nathan did), since he is sporting
a 2.94 ERA and 1.27 WHIP, but I have no problem with the likes of
Justin Verlander and Mark Buerhle getting the nod instead.  I’m not
going to get into a huge debate over who got snubbed and who didn’t
deserve a starting spot, there’s already plenty of that on the
internets.  I don’t think there are many glaring oversights on either
team, other than maybe Ian Kinsler and Torii Hunter (who should be
starting), and the ASG isn’t something I get all worked up about
anyway.

Justin Morneau has indicated
that he will probably decline an invitation to the Home Run Derby, if
asked.  It’s probably just as well.  His tendency to fade down the
stretch probably doesn’t have anything to do with participating in the
HR Derby, but why take that chance?  Anyway, this way people won’t get
mad at him for beating a much-flashier superstarAgain

Joe
Mauer is making his second consecutive start in the ASG, and his third
career appearance.  Even after missing the first month of the
season, he’s still far and away the best catcher in the AL.  Although,
5 of the 31 “greatest minds in baseball” think that Victor Martinez
should have been the starting catcher.  That’s right, a guy batting
.303/.382/.506/.888 while making half of his starts at first base
deserves to be the starting catcher, while the guy batting .389/.465/.648/1.113
should be on the bench.  Yes, let’s give all of the voting power to
these people, clearly the fans are too stupid to get it right.

Joe
Nathan is also quietly having one of the best years of his career.  His
last blown save came against the Yankees on May 15th, and he hasn’t
surrendered a run since.  Not an unearned run, not an inherited runner scoring,
nothing.  His 2.40 xFIP, 6.14 K/BB ratio, 11.6 K/9 rate, and 1.9 BB/9
rate as well as 1.35 ERA and 0.750 WHIP are all at or near
career-bests.  He’s been getting hitters to chase pitches outside the
strike zone a little more, which has made him extremely effective even
when he doesn’t have his best stuff.  

I Guess Miracles Do Happen

  • Nick Punto (!) drives in winning run against Tigers

twins_win.jpgOk, first a bit of a rant.  Today’s game was nationally regionally broadcast on Fox.  Probably only 0.001% of the country actually saw it, since most of the rest of America got the Dodgers/Whoever game.  Fine.  Whatever.  I don’t care if the entire nation gets to see the Twins game, or what channel it’s on, as long as I get to see it on my tv (and I did).  What really drove me nuts, however, is when Fox cut from the Twins game to the Dodgers game just as Miguel Cabrera was stepping into the batter’s box because they felt it was so goddam important to show us Manny Ramirez’s first home run since coming back from his suspension.  News flash Fox:  I am a Twins fan, I don’t give a sh!t about Manny Ramirez.  I haven’t given a sh!t about Manny since he left the Indians, and now that he’s no longer in the American League, I care even less.  I want to watch Francisco Liriano pitch!  I haven’t been able to say that very often this year!  And I’m sure the Tigers fans watching the game really wanted to see Miguel Cabrera hit, not Manny.  Worse yet, Cabrera was on base when the mouth-breathers at Fox finally switched back to the Twins-Tiggers game, and we were left wondering how in the hell that happened.  Yes, the broadcasters later replayed Cabrera’s single to right, and yes, nothing really important happened in the game while they cut away, but that isn’t the point.  I am tired of the mainstream media acting like the only things that matter in baseball happen to the three largest markets in baseball.  I realize that a Twins-Tigers game probably isn’t that exciting to 99% of the country, but it is pretty f*cking important to Twins and Tigers fans.  It’s more important to us than whatever the hell Man-Ram or A-Rod or whatever other superstar-we’re-supposed-to-care-about-because-he-plays-in-a-large-market is doing.  Besides, ESPN will show the same Manny highlights every five minutes, so it’s not like we would never get to see it or anything.  Let us watch the battle for the AL Central in peace!

Whew, I feel much better now.  Frankie was great in this game, although a late-inning near-meltdown prevented him from getting the win.  He shut out teh Kittehs through six innings, striking out seven and only walking one.  Unfortunately, F-bomb ran into trouble in the seventh when he surrendered a three-run homer to Twin-killer Magglio Ordonez, allowing the Tiggers to briefly take the lead.  He did settle down after that though, and managed to finsh the inning without any further damage.  This is obviously a huge step forward for a guy who would completely melt down whenever he got himself in trouble, and while Frankie might not be the same pitcher he was before TJ surgery, he should be better than his 5.49 ERA.

Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer both homered in this game, giving the Twins an early 2-0 lead.  The 2006 MVP had a very good afternoon at the plate, going 4-for-4 and driving in the tying run, besides hitting his 20th homer of the year.  But even the Mountie was overshadowed by Nick Punto (of all people), who provided the game-winning hit: a bloop single that drove in Matt Tolbert and put the Twins ahead 4-3 in the eighth.  You know, Punto’s been hitting .286/.545/.286 so far this month, so I’m going to stop making fun of him for now.  He still isn’t exactly earning his $4 million this season, but at least he isn’t as much of a liability in the bottom of the order.

  • Twins drop first game of series in sixteen innings

slowey-fail.jpgToday’s win was particularly sweet because Friday night’s game was no fun for Twins fans.  Kevin Slowey was awful, and as it turns out, is injured.  Slowey has looked like he might be hurt in his past few starts so this
news isn’t surprising, though the cause of the injury is somewhat
suspect (a line drive from a year ago, really?).  The Slow Man has been uncharacteristically wild, walking five batters in his past three starts and, most tellingly, hitting two (he had four hit batsmen all season last year).  Anthony Swarzak has been recalled from Rochester in the meantime.  Swarzak is hardly an ace, but he’s pitched well enough to be a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter and should at least serve as a competent fill-in while Slowey is on the DL.

By the way, this is what it looks like whenever Slowey issues a walk.

The Twins managed to tie the game in the sixth (and later in the fourteenth), but it was all in vain.  Teh Kittehs scored three runs off of R. A. Dickey in the sixteenth inning, and it would be enough to hold off the Twins.  For the Twinkies, this game was lost in the eleventh, when the game was still tied at 7 apiece and Michael Cuddyer came to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs.  The Tigers intentionally walked Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau to pitch to Cuddy, a move that would prove to be brilliant on Jim Leyland’s part.  Cuddy struck out on three pitches, chasing a pitch well outside the zone for strike three.  I actually gave up on the Twinks after that, something I pretty much never do.  I hate to do it, it makes me feel like a bad fan.  This is baseball, after all, and there’s always a chance for a miracle.  But when Cuddy essentially screwed up their best chance to win the game, it was pretty obvious that the Twins just didn’t want to win it.  They simply managed to torment their fans delay the inevitable for five more innings.

As of tonight, Baseball Prospectus has the Twins finishing the season
with 83.9 wins and the Tigers with 84.3.  In other words, the division
is there for the taking so FOR CHRISSAKES JUST GO AHEAD AND TAKE IT
ALREADY!!! 

OK, I’m back now

My hard drive is now fixed and seems to be working just fine.  I’m really glad this happened now and not during the semester, since it would be very, very difficult to get any work done without my laptop.  I’m also really glad I decided to back up all of my important files, otherwise I would have lost everything and would basically be screwed.  In the meantime, a lot of important stuff happened while I was gone:

The Twins win the series!

twins87.jpgI mean the weekend series against the Cardinals.  You know, I too find the fact that St. Louis is so unapologetically a baseball town to be quite endearing.  I do like football, and I am a Vikings fan, but even I have never understood why the Vikes are so beloved in this town.  Unlike the Twins, the Vikings have never won anything important and, if anything, actually have a reputation for choking in big games.  They haven’t brought us anything more than shame and embarrassment, and yet people love them more than any other sports franchise in this state.  Go figure.

Sadly, the Pioneer Press laid off 11 people, including Twins’ beat reporter Phil Miller.  The Press’ Twins’ coverage was pretty minimal at best, now I guess it’ll be non-existent.  Which is just one more reason why I have always preferred the Star Tribune.

Justin Morneau homered in three straight games, one of which was this lovely shot that landed in the fountain at Kauffman Stadium.  He came out of yesterday’s game against the Royals with a groin injury, but it doesn’t sound too serious and he should be back in the lineup tomorrow night against the Tigers.  As of right now, there is no need for a “F*ck!  There goes our season!” post.

The Twins actually got pretty banged up during the series finale in Kansas City.  Mike Redmond had to come out after he got hit in the arm with a foul tip, and apparently he has a bruised forearm and might be out of commission for a bit.  Nick Punto also had to leave the game with back stiffness, after Jose Guillen tried to take him out on a questionable play.  Um, Guillen does realize that taking out Punto actually kind of helps the Twins, right?

The Sean Henn experiment is over, let the Brian Duensing experiment begin.

The Marian Gaborik era is over, let the Martin Havlat era begin.

The Wolves sort of did the NBA equivalent of taking a bunch of wide receivers in the draft.  Actually, I think that the Wolfies did the right thing, for once.  It makes sense for a team as devoid of talent as the Wolves to take the best available talent in the draft, since it will take more than one draft to fill all of the holes on the roster.  The Wolves will probably have to address most of their needs through trade, and now they actually have the assets to do so.  Of course, if the Wolves are still only winning 25 games five years from now, I will be writing an entirely different post.

Michael Jackson, well, it’s no secret that he had a lot of problems.  But if there is a more perfect pop album than Thriller, I have yet to hear it.  And it spawned the greatest music video of all time.

Oh, yeah, I guess Minnesota finally has a new senator.  Meh.  I guess now is as good a time as any to post this video:

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.

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.
        

Back to the Farm With You, Young Man

  • Oakland chases out Anthony Swarzak after only 3.2 innings

Things got off to a really good start for the Twins in Oakland.  They jumped out to a three-run lead early in the ballgame, with some timely hitting from the bottom of the order (and a bases-loaded, two-out walk by none other than Carlos Gomez).  It looked as though the Twins were finally starting to put their previous road struggles behind them.  But, as is apparently the custom in visiting ballparks this season, the pitching staff gave the lead right back.  Rookie Anthony Swarzak suddenly couldn’t find the strike zone, walking Matt Holliday and Jason Giambi on eight pitches.  He then hit Aaron Cunningham right in the head (who stayed in the game, though he suffered a concussion) and surrendered a three-run double. His night was over when he walked Orlando Cabrera, and failed to make it out of the fourth inning for a second consecutive start.  In his defense, he seems genuinely frustrated by his struggles, but it’s clear that he isn’t quite ready to pitch at the major-league level.  Once Glen Perkins comes off the DL, Swarzak will likely be sent back to AAA.  It’s unlikely he’d even earn a spot in the bullpen with the control issues he’s had.

  • Is Justin Morneau in a slump?

Thumbnail image for morneau-j-cp-090309-306.jpgFour games is a small sample size, but it certainly seems to be the case.  He struggled in Seattle, going 1-for-11 and chasing pitches well outside the strike zone.  He also went 0-for-4 in Oakland last night, striking out three times, twice looking.  And while it’s true that the Twins have faced three left-handed starters in a row, this shouldn’t be much of a problem for Morny.  He’s always hit lefties pretty well, but this season he’s been murdering them, batting .380/..406/.663 with an OPS of 1.069 compared to .292/.409/.585 and a .993 OPS against righties.  Morny appears to be pressing at the plate, and considering that he’s played in every single game this year, it’s possible that he just needs a day off.  Michael Cuddyer and Brian Buscher might not be the greatest fill-ins at first base, but a slumping Morneau isn’t doing the team much good right now, either.

Tonight:  I’ll just be happy if Scott Baker has a second consecutive quality start.  The Twins have been waiting for their #1 and #2 starters to consistently pitch well all season, especially on the road.  Of course, a win would be even better, but I fear that’s asking too much. 

Serenity Now

meditationpt.jpgOh, I could harp on our guys for their inability to win games on the road.  I could rake them over the coals for going 2-for-18 with runners in scoring position and stranding 31 runners in the past three games.  I could worry that the Twins seem unable to get themselves above the .500 mark, that they can’t seem to gain any ground on the division-leading Tigers, and that their 7-18 road record is second only to the Orioles (8-20) for the worst in the AL.  But I’ve been doing those things a lot lately, and it doesn’t really seem to be helping.  So, maybe it’s time to take an entirely different approach:  from now on, no matter what happens, I’m only going to focus on the good things that the Twinkies do.  Maybe a little encouragement is exactly what our boys need, maybe they’ll start to believe in themselves.  Maybe they’ll actually start to win some games in places other than the Metrodome.  So, instead of focusing on the fact that the Twins only scored five runs in three games against the Mariners, I’m only going to talk about the things that went well:

  • Joe Mauer

mauer1.jpgThe AL-Player-of-the-Month went practically hitless in the series, got caught in a rundown in a key spot, and only threw out one potential base stealer.  But it’s actually a good thing that the golden boy had a relatively quiet series.  The less productive Mauer is at the plate, the lower his price tag, and the likelier he will remain in Minnesota for the rest of his career.  Besides, he’s already got a couple of batting titles; he should stop being so selfish and let someone else win one for a change. 

  • Justin Morneau

morny.jpgJohnny Canuck was doing his horribly unfunny Carlos Gomez impression at the plate pretty much the entire series, waving at pitches well outside the strike zone with runners in scoring position.  He went 1-for-11 with a couple of strikeouts and stranded seven of his teammates on base.  But, hey, at least he drove in a pair of runs on a couple of sac flies.  Way to be a productive out, Morny. That’s kind of helpful.  And he did score the winning run in Friday’s game on Matt Tolbert’s double/Wladimir Balentien’s fielding error, so there’s that.  Now that selfish jerk Mauer won’t be able to hog all the glory for himself anymore.

  • Kevin Slowey

slowey.jpgWell, four runs on ten hits in 4.2 innings certainly doesn’t sound very good, but give me a minute and I’ll find something nice to say.  Umm…well…at least the three home runs Slowey surrendered were solo shots.  That’s good, right?  So one entire thing did not go really bad for Kevin Slowey.  For the most part, though, the pitching was actually pretty good.  Frankie technically had a quality start, Nick Blackburn pitched pretty well, and even the ne’er-do-wells in the bullpen only surrendered a single run the entire series.  Luis Ayala (of all people) recorded a very important out in the eighth inning of the series finale.  It would’ve been more important, though, if the Twins actually scored against Sean White in the ninth.  But I guess they just wanted to make sure the kid got his first major-league save.  That was awfully nice of them.

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