Sunday’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.
- Twins ground into five double plays, still beat Pirates 8-2
Well, not really. But this was a statistically strange game for the Twins. I mean, how in the hell do you ground into five double plays and still manage to score eight runs? Obviously a good number of those came with a runner on third and nobody out. I guess if you’re going to ground into a lot of double-plays, it should always be with less than one out. And a runner on third. While it’s certainly an unusual occurrence, it isn’t unheard of and isn’t any kind of record or anything. The Tigers also grounded into 5 double plays on the way to a 13-8 victory over the Blue Jays on April 16, 1996.
Joe Mauer went 4-for-4 with an RBI double, but no home runs. Slacker. Although, he was robbed of his last chance to hit one when Brendan Harris grounded into an inning-ending double play in the eighth. Right now, Mauer is batting .429/.497/.756 with 13 home runs. While it’s unlikely that Mauer will finish the season batting over .400 (he is a catcher, after all), he will most certainly be in contention for his third batting title as long as he remains healthy. Which is important because the Twins are probably going to try to sign him to a long-term deal, and obviously his numbers are going to have a significant effect on his value. The front office is obviously aware of the PR nightmare that would ensue if they failed to re-sign their native son, not to mention that they can’t seriously expect to contend for a World Series title if they keep letting their top talent go.
Glen Perkins was pretty effective, if not exactly dominant, in his first start since coming off the DL with elbow inflammation. He surrendered seven hits, but only two runs, and struck out four through six innings. His one mistake was to Nyjer Morgan, who blasted a two-run homer that cut the Twins’ lead in half. Paul Maholm wasn’t exactly sharp, but he also got a lot of tough breaks. Delwyn Young lost a Joe Crede fly ball in the lights for a Dome double that scored a run. And then there was that bizarre stikezone.
One of the things I hate the most about the Twins’ broadcast team (both radio and tv) is their obsession with pitch counts. Well, that and their inability to pronounce
Muhollam Mahalo Maholm’s name correctly. Obviously they had to bring it up last night, since Perk was on a relatively short leash. This has been the subject of heated debate for years, and Rob Neyer wrote an interesting piece that sort of defends the concept behind the pitch count. I actually agree that pitch counts are unnecessary, but not for the same reasons as Bert Blyleven. Yes, they’re arbitrary and probably don’t really help prevent injury (it’s a lot more important to avoid a dramatic increase in workload, but that’s for another post), but they’re also, well, arbitrary. That is, unless they’re dealing with a rookie, most managers don’t really adhere to them too strictly and tend to let the starter pitch as long as he feels comfortable. If it’s the eighth inning and a starter is near 100 pitches, he’ll probably be allowed to go over that limit as long as he doesn’t feel fatigued. If it’s the fifth inning and a starter is near 100 pitches, then he’s probably laboring and should be taken out anyway. So the furor over pitch counts is a little overblown.
- Speaking of injures
Denard Span was placed on the 15-day DL. He has vestibular neuritis, which if I understand correctly, is essentially inflammation of a nerve in the middle ear caused by some sort of infection. Apparently it isn’t serious and he is expected to make a full recovery, but he’ll need to be out at least the next few games. In the meantime, Jason Pridie has been recalled from AAA and there’s a pretty good scouting report on him here. Most Twins fans probably remember Pridie as the guy who blew the save for Joe Nathan against Toronto last year, when he misplayed a single into a triple. Pridie came over as part of the Delmon Young trade, and doesn’t project to be anything more than a fourth outfielder at best. It isn’t likely that he’ll see much playing time, and will probably just be used as a defensive substitute in later innings.
As I mentioned in my previous post, Jesse Crain has been optioned to AAA Rochester. He hasn’t pitched in the minor leagues in nearly five years, and was obviously stunned by the news. Crain hasn’t even been marginally effective since May and the Twins really couldn’t afford to wait and hope he would work through his issues any longer. It was either that or release him, and obviously the organization isn’t ready to give up on him just yet. The Twins will go with only eleven pitchers for now, since they need to carry extra bench players at least as long as Denard Span is on the DL. The starters have been averaging about six innings per start this season, so it might not be necessary to carry more than six relievers. The only real issue is that Matt Guerrier, who’s already overworked, might have to carry an even heavier workload with fewer relievers in the ‘pen. However, it isn’t as though Crain was taking a lot of work away from Matty G. in the first place and the Twins may decide to call up another pitcher once Span is activated.
- 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.
First 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.
The 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 middle 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.
- Francisco Liriano rolls in Twins’ 7-2 win over the Tigers
After suffering four losses and two no decisions through his first six starts, Francisco Liriano finally beat the Tigers to earn his first win of the season. It isn’t as though he hasn’t pitched well enough to earn a victory before, he’s really only had a couple of bad starts this season. He has, however, suffered from a lack of run support and just some terrible luck. But not this time. Frankie dominated the Tigers through seven innings, allowing only two earned runs on four hits and striking out a season-high nine batters. Of course, it helps that the Detroit lineup is full of free-swingers that like to chase balls in the dirt. His one real blemish was a solo homer to Miguel Cabrera, but since the pitch was a low and inside fastball (that probably wasn’t even a strike), it’s tough to really consider that a mistake pitch. Actually, the only time Frankie got into any real trouble was in the second inning, when he walked Ryan Raburn to load the bases with two outs. He then struck out Adam Everett (who was the big hero for Detroit on Saturday) to end the inning without any damage.
The offense managed to provide Frankie with some much-needed run support, and it was kind of nice to see someone else’s bullpen implode for a change. The Twins struggled to do much of anything against Edwin Jackson, who was pretty impressive himself through six innings. Jackson has struggled with his command in the past, but seems to have improved greatly under the tutelage of new pitching coach (and former Twins’ director of minor league pitching) Rick Knapp. Jackson cruised along, scattering a few hits and giving up only one earned run, until he ran into trouble in the seventh. After failing to retire the first four batters he faced, Jackson was lifted in favor of Brandon Lyon. And that’s when the fun began. The Twins batted around in the inning, scoring five runs on five hits and burning through three different Detroit pitchers before Clay Rapada finally managed to stop the bleeding. The Twins would tack on another run in the ninth, when Carlos Gomez doubled(!) and then scored on a Denard Span single (Span, by the way, was having a great night at the plate. More on that in a minute). For his part, Matt Guerrier managed to not screw things up for Frankie and retired all five batters he faced.
Apparently, Monday night was also the night of frightening injuries. Rick Ankiel crashed headfirst into the outfield wall and had to be carted off the field (he was released from the hospital this morning after tests revealed no serious injuries, though it’s unclear at this point when he’ll return to the lineup). The Twins had kind of a scary moment of their own when first base coach Jerry White was stung right above the ankle by a line drive off the bat of Joe Crede in the eighth. He laid on the ground for a long time and was in obvious pain, but managed to walk off the field with help. The good news is that he just suffered a contusion and should be back tonight.
- Twins activate Jesse Crain from DL, demote catcher Jose Morales
I’m a little disappointed that Morales got sent down to AAA Rochester, especially since he’s been swinging one of the more productive bats in the lineup. However, even though Mike Redmond has some lingering soreness in his shoulder, it isn’t serious enough to land him on the DL (although his quip about the injury evidently made the people at Anheuser-Busch very happy) and it’s tough to justify carrying three catchers at this point. Morales also needs to work on his defense, as he struggled to throw out base runners (all but one of the fourteen stolen base attempts against him were successful), and he won’t get enough playing time with the big club in order to do so. Morales should make at least a competent backup catcher in the major leagues and, since the Twins aren’t likely to extend the 38 year-old Redmond’s contract after this season, will probably have a more regular role with the team next year.
- There’s something wrong with this picture
To be honest, I don’t usually care that much about the All-Star Game. I mean, I think it’s a nice promotional event, and it probably helps MLB increase revenue and all that, but I find the actual game itself to be kind of boring. I know it’s a lot of fun for the players, so I’ll vote for the guys that I think deserve to go, but I don’t get all that worked up about who deserves a spot on the roster and who got snubbed. However, I do find it a bit puzzling that Denard Span isn’t on the ballot to represent the Twins. I mean, I’m not sure he deserves a spot over, say, Grady Sizemore or Curtis Granderson, but he certainly deserves it more than any of the other Twins’ outfielders. Span has been one of the most consistently productive hitters in the lineup, batting .323/.398/.404, and last night went 4-for-5 and drove in a run against some very tough Detroit pitching. Granted, Span doesn’t have the strongest outfield arm, but he’s been asked to play every single OF position this season, and aside from a couple of misplays, has played them all very well. I guess it isn’t really that big of a deal, since you can write in Span on your ballot (and please do), but it’s still kind of strange that the organization feels Michael Cuddyer (who hasn’t done much at the plate until recently), Delmon Young, and Carlos Gomez are all more worthy of consideration for the ASG.
Oh, and the Strib’s LaVelle E. Neal III has an interesting wager with Justin Morneau. I’m kind of rooting for LaVelle, and not just because of my seething hatred for the Vancouver Canucks, either (I also have a general disdain for all things Chicago-related, with a few exceptions). I also really like the idea of Morneau as a guest blogger, though I would like it better if he had to com
pare the fighting styles of Alex Burrows with Rachel McAdams in Mean Girls.
Remember all that stuff I said about Kevin Slowey earlier? That he is the new Brad Radke and will be a dark horse candidate for the AL Cy Young this year? Well, never mind (And thanks for making me look like a complete idiot there, Kev. Lord knows I don’t need any help with that!). As Joe Christensen has helpfully pointed out, Kevin Slowey is looking a lot more like Livan Hernandez than Brad Radke. He gave up five runs on thirteen hits in five innings against Toronto last night, and has given up ten runs in twenty-two hits in his two starts thus far. At this rate, he’ll surpass Livo’s grand total of 257 hits surrendered last season sometime around August.
The bullpen wasn’t exactly spectacular last night, either. Even though Slowey struggled, he did exit the game with a very slim lead. Which the bullpen (specifically Luis Ayala) promptly coughed up. Ayala has been doing his best Juan Rincon impression this year, and by that I mean he sucks. He’s given up four runs on ten hits in five appearances so far, one of which was a two-run bomb to Lyle Overbay in the eighth that put the Jays on top for good. I have to wonder what he was doing pitching the eighth in the first place, though, especially since Jesse Crain is starting to look like the dominant reliever he was before having shoulder surgery in 2007. Ayala gave up a run in the seventh that was charged to Matt Guerrier (since he put the runner on in the first place) and was being hit pretty hard. And yet for some reason Ron Gardenhire thought it was a good idea to put him out there again, even though he had just threatened to cough up the lead one batter ago. Unfortunately, he made good on that threat in the eighth, and the Twins ended up losing a game they really should have won.
Last night’s game, as painful as it was to watch, did have a little bit of a silver lining. Jason Kubel hit his first home run of the season, a bomb off of Jesse Litsch in the second inning. Denard Span seems to be putting his awful ST campaign behind him, as he went 2-for-4 with a walk and a stolen base and is now hitting .310/.444/.448 in the lead off spot. And R.A. Dickey managed to retire all four Jays he faced, which is something the entire pitching staff had failed to do up to that point. So the Twins might actually have one reliable reliever in the bullpen after all.
And, in honor of outgoing Wild head coach Jacques Lemaire (and because I need cheering up), here is a collection of his best quotes:
My personal favorite? When asked if he was worried about his team getting lazy against non-playoff bound opponents down the stretch, Lemaire responded: “Worry is part of our life. We wake up, we worry. We go to bed, we worry. And when we dream, we dream about being worried.” And that is exactly how the pitching staff (and Gardy’s mismanagement of it) is making me feel right now.
- Twins score 16 runs against Rays
Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, and Jason Kubel all belted homers off of Rays’ starter Scott Shields en route to a 16-2 rout of Tampa Bay. Denard Span, who has been struggling all spring, went 2-for-4 with a pair of hits and a pair of walks. Even Nick Punto had a couple of hits and an RBI. Punto has been hitting .435/.500/.652 this spring, and though I doubt he’s going to continue to be so productive during the regular season, I am hoping that this is a sign that his worst years are behind him. I would be perfectly happy if he put up similar numbers to last year.
Scott Baker had his best outing of the spring, allowing two earned runs on five hits in five innings (one of which was a solo homer to Carl Crawford). He recorded two strikeouts but only one walk, so it appears as though he had better command of his pitches. Matt Guerrier bounced back from his awful appearance against the Red Sox in which he gave up two two-run homers, and pitched a scoreless frame. Brian Duensing and Craig Breslow were also effective in shutting down the Rays.
- No Surprises Here
There were five more players cut from the 25-man roster this morning, none of which were terribly surprising. Jason Pridie was optioned to AAA Rochester, as there is no room on the roster for yet another outfielder. Non-roster invitees Sean Henn, Bobby Keppel, Brock Peterson, and David Winfree were all reassigned to minor league camp. Jose Mijares has survived the cuts so far, but i suspect this is because the Twins want him to continue working with pitching coach Rick Anderson some more before optioning him to AAA. I would be extremely surprised if he actually made the team, considering the way he’s been pitching as of late.
Boof Bonser and Joe Mauer will be placed on the DL, which would make room for two additional roster spots. Whether or not the Twins will decide to carry extra pitchers or extra bench riders remains to be seen. Right now, though, it looks like catcher Drew Butera, infielders Brendan Harris and Brian Buscher, and relief pitchers Philip Humber and R. A. Dickey are the top candidates to win the final roster spots.
Speaking of Mauer, the change in his medication appears to be working and he is able to run without pain. It is now a matter of getting back into game shape, so it’s not likely that he’ll be on the DL for very long. By the way, that same article has a nice story about former Yankee catcher Johnny Blanchard, who sadly passed away from a heart attack on Wednesday.
- North Dakota is experiencing record flooding
About a third of the residents of the Fargo-Moorhead area have been asked to evacuate their homes today due to the record flooding. The President has already declared a State of Emergency for seven nearby counties, and the National Guard has already been deployed to help out with the relief efforts. The river is expected to crest sometime
tomorrow (the National Weather service now expects the flood waters to crest on Sunday), at about 43 feet. This is higher than the record of 40 ft. set in 1897 and considerably higher than the 39.5 ft. in the recent 1997 flood, which caused some $3.5 billion in damages. Let us please act like civilized humans for once and not let this turn into another Hurricane Katrina.
If you would like to help out the victims of the Red River flood, go here.
(image courtesy BBC News)