After being utterly and thoroughly owned by the Evil Empire this season, the Twins have slid back to the
.500 mark for the hundred-somethingth time (oh, and you’re welcome,
Yankee fans). They currently sit in third place, four games behind the
division-leading Kittehs and two behind the second-place Pale Hosers.
All of which is very, very depressing. But take heart Twins fans,
we’re not the only ones sharpening our razor blades and drawing a bath:
The Royals are teh suck. This is hardly news. But this team has so many problems, it’s difficult to know where to begin. I mean, good God, they replaced Sidney Ponson with Bruce Chen in the starting rotation! What, Buddy Groom wasn’t available? Ooh, and now the infield will be manned by both Ryan Freel AND
Willie Bloomquist! Obviously, GM Dayton Moore hates his job and is
trying his best to get fired. That should just about do it.
The Cubs took a team that won 98 games last year and made the
playoffs for the third time in six seasons, and tore apart the roster
as rebuilding teams are wont to do. Perhaps it was simply an emotional
response to getting swept in the NLDS by the Dodgers, or maybe they
felt they needed to dump salary to expedite efforts to sell the team,
but they traded away key contributors like Mark DeRosa and Jason
Marquis without getting much in return. The Baby Bears are currently
in third place behind the division-leading Cardinals and a Brewers team
that features both Jeff Suppan and Seth McClung in its rotation. Now,
the Cubs are only three games out of first, but even with a recent hot
streak they still have the third-worst offense in the league (only the
Diamondbacks and the Padres are more futile at the plate). Of course, this is all a goat a cat Milton Bradley’s fault.
The Diamondbacks have committed
77 errors this season, the second-most in baseball (only the Nats have
committed more). Granted, errors and fielding percentage aren’t
exactly the best way to measure a team’s defensive efficiency, but I think if you commit three errors in one inning, it’s safe to assume that you are, in fact, not good at baseball.
I’m going to refrain from taking shots at the Nati(o)nals. It’s just too easy. I did get a kick out of the “Oh no: no O!” wardrobe malfunction, though. At least Montreal Washington’s ineptitude is entertaining:
(image courtesy chatterbalks.com)
- Anthony Swarzak shuts down Cubs, then gets optioned to AAA Rochester
Swarzak 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 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:
- Former Twins third baseman Corey Koskie signs minor league deal with Cubs
I’ve mentioned this a little bit before, but I feel this story deserves its own post. I’ve always liked Koskie and have been hoping he’ll manage to resurrect his big-league career. The former infielder hasn’t played in the major leagues since July 5, 2006, after suffering a concussion during a bizarre accident while fielding a routine fly ball. He struggled with symptoms of post-concussion syndrome for the better part of two years, feeling dizzy and nauseous, struggling with his balance and basic motor skills, and getting disoriented easily. It wasn’t until he met physical therapist John Groves, who specializes in whiplash cases, that he finally found treatment that worked. He’s been symptom-free since January, and has been working hard to get back into the majors. Recently he earned a spot on Team Canada’s roster, and signed a minor league deal with the Cubs.
It’s been a long and difficult road for the former Twin, who’s had to struggle with a number of devastating and bizarre symptoms in the past three years. Worse yet, he had trouble getting the medical community to believe that there was something wrong with him. All of his tests would come back normal, and doctors told him he was fine. Except he wasn’t fine. He would walk into doorways, had trouble doing simple tasks like picking up a spoon, would get disoriented easily in crowds or hot weather, and would often sleep most of the day. His doctors for the most part refused to believe there was anything physically wrong with him, and thought he either had anxiety or that his problems were all in his head. It wasn’t until Koskie met concussion specialist Dr. Robert Cantu, who then referred him to physical therapist Dan Dyrek, who in turn referred him to another physical therapist, John Groves. Groves has been doing ground-breaking work with victims of whiplash, and it is his treatment program that finally alleviated the strange symptoms Koskie had been experiencing.
Once he was cleared to participate in baseball-related activities by his doctors, Koskie started working out with the University of Minnesota baseball team, trying to make a comeback. The Twins agreed to let Koskie work out with them during spring training so he could try to get back into playing shape. His ultimate goal was to play for Team Canada in the WBC and hope to draw the interest of a few major league teams. It wasn’t long after he was named to Team Canada’s roster that he signed a minor league deal with the Cubs. He’ll report to camp once his stint in the WBC is over, since he had already agreed to represent his country. And so far he’s shown little rust, going 1-2 and getting hit by a pitch while scoring three runs in his first game on Tuesday against the Blue Jays. He’s still a long shot to make the Cubs’ active roster, but at least he now has a shot.
Koskie was one of my favorite players when he was with the Twins, and I was really sad when he signed with the Blue Jays in 2005. How could you not love a guy who once smeared chunky peanut butter all over the inside of David Ortiz’s pants? He was the everyday third baseman for nine seasons, and was a very good third baseman and just a good guy in general. Not to mention the fact that his departure left a huge hole a third that hasn’t been filled until just recently (and even Crede isn’t a permanent solution, he’s mostly just a stopgap so Danny Valencia can develop). I wish Koskie the best, and I hope he does manage to catch on with the Cubs, even if it is only in a part-time role.