- Nick Blackburn pitches his third complete game of the season in Twins’ 6-2 win
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
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
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 superstar. Again.
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.
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.
- Nick Punto (!) drives in winning run against Tigers
Ok, 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
Today’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
Last night, he hit a game-winning grand slam in the thirteenth inning. In the series finale earlier this afternoon (which I actually didn’t see because I was still sleeping from last night’s extra-inning marathon), he drove in a pair of runs on a single to give the Twins a lead they would never relinquish. Crede has always hit Tigers’ pitching well, posting a career .276/.339/.558 with an OPS of .897 and 24 home runs going into today’s game. And his numbers aren’t skewed just from hitting in U.S. Cellular field for so many years, either. At Comerica Park, he’s a career .287/.341/.599 with 15 homers and an OPS of .939. The Crede deal looks as though it’s starting to pay dividends. Even though he’s provided Gold-Glove caliber defense all season, his bat has been relatively slow to wake up. And that makes sense, as he’s never hit well at the Dome and he’s had to adjust to playing with a new team with an entirely different approach to hitting. But he’s been batting .290/.313/.548 in the month of May, with two homers and eight RBI in his last four games, so perhaps he’s starting to see the ball better inside the Teflon confines. And yes, it does beat having Tony Batista at third.
Scott Baker suffered from yet another big inning that got away from him when the Tigers scored five runs on six hits in the sixth. It wouldn’t be such a big deal, except this is at least the third time he’s had such an inning this year. Dr. Baker was very effective through the first five innings, and though he may not have matched Justin Verlander’s impressive performance, he pitched well enough to keep the Kitties off the scoreboard. Unfortunately, Mr. Scott came out to pitch in the sixth, and things promptly fell apart. Of course, it didn’t help that he had Jason Kubel in the outfield, who rarely plays in the field and missed a fly ball that probably should’ve been caught (and would’ve ended the inning). Kubel is usually the DH because his defense is less than stellar, but he was in the outfield today because Delmon Young is out with a family emergency and is expected to miss at least the next three days. Jose Morales has been called up from Rochester in the meantime. Still, if this doesn’t make the case that Denard Span and Carlos Gomez should both be starting in the outfield, then I don’t know what will. Yes, Kubel is swinging a hotter bat than Go-Go, but his lack of range in the field nearly cost the Twins the game.
Most importantly, though, the bullpen was handed a one run lead and actually held onto it for a change. Craig Breslow pitched a scoreless seventh and retired the first two batters in the eighth before being lifted in favor of Matt Guerrier. Breslow struck out a batter and didn’t walk anyone, which is good news for a guy who has an ugly 0.90 K/BB ratio. He didn’t surrender any home runs, either, something he had become prone to doing lately. Matt Guerrier bounced back from a terrible appearance the night before, when he gave up a three run homer to Miguel Cabrera and a solo shot to Jeff Larish to put the Tigers ahead by a couple of runs. Still, one has to wonder why Guerrier was asked to get the final out in the eighth. While it is perfectly understandable that acting-manager Scotty Ullger (Ron Gardenhire was ejected after arguing with the home plate umpire) didn’t want to leave Breslow in to face Ryan Raburn with a runner on base, since all of the homers he’s surrendered have been to right-handed hitters, Matty G. has pitched 18.1 innings so far this season and has made five straight relief appearances. Why not bring in Joe Nathan? He’s going to pitch the next inning anyway, and unlike Matty G, has only pitched thirteen innings so far this year. Save Matt Guerrier’s arm!
Oh, yeah, and that Joe Mauer guy sucks.
Scott over at I’m Not a Headline Guy wrote a lovely entry explaining his devotion to the New York Yankees. And it got me to thinking about my beloved Twinkies, and, well, why they’re my beloved Twinkies. Of course, a lot of it has to do with the 1987 World Series, which I am just barely old enough to remember. Nobody expected the ’87 Twins to win it all, and with good reason I might add. They finished with a mediocre 85-77 record, which was good enough to win the weak AL West division, but was the worst winning percentage of any playoff-bound team in history (a record that would stand until the 83-78 Cardinals won it all in 2006). The 98-64 Detroit Tigers were heavily favored to win the AL pennant, with most analysts predicting a sweep of the supposedly hapless Twins. Instead it was the Twins who nearly pulled off a sweep of their own, beating the Tigers four games to one to clinch the ALCS and advance to the World Series for the first time since 1965. Once again, the Twinkies were up against a heavily-favored opponent in the St. Louis Cardinals, who were about to make their third World Series appearance in six years. And once again the Twins would pull off a stunning upset, beating the Cards in seven games and clinching their first World Series title since moving to Minnesota in 1961 (and second in team history). Frank Viola, Kirby Puckett, Dan Gladden, Gary Gaetti, all those guys on that team would become great heroes in Minnesota sports history.
And then there was the ’91 World Series, the greatest World Series of all-time. This Series had everything: dramatic walk-off home runs, fantastic pitching performances from youngsters Tom Glavine and John Smoltz and veteran Jack Morris, wrestling (Braves fans still haven’t quite gotten over that one), a new MLB record for extra-innings WS games, and two teams that had finished in last place in their respective divisions the previous season. This time around the Twins weren’t exactly considered underdogs, having finished the regular season with a 95-67 record. They steamrolled over the Blue Jays in the ALCS, winning four games to one on the way to their second World Series title in four years.
The Braves would prove to be a much more challenging opponent, however, and the Twins would have to grind out five one-run games and three extra-innings games before clinching the title. The most dramatic game of the series, however, had to be game six. The Twins were facing elimination, having dropped three straight games to Atlanta, including a 14-5 blowout in game five. The Twins took a 3-2 lead into the seventh inning, when Atlanta 2B Mark Lemke scored on a fielder’s choice with the bases loaded to tie the game. The score remained even until the bottom of the eleventh, when Kirby Puckett untied the game with a solo shot off of Charlie Leibrandt to left-center field. That shot, and Jack Buck’s now-famous call, has to be the single greatest moment of my entire childhood. The Twins would go on to win game seven in ten innings, with a walk-off bloop single by Gene Larkin. Jack Morris pitched a ten-inning masterpiece (yes, you read that right, ten innings) in that game, which to this day is one of the best pitching performances I’ve ever seen. Good times.
There’s been a lot of other good stuff since then, too. The 2002 team was amazingly talented, and looked like they were going to bring us another championship. Alas, it was not to be. The Angels made sure of that. The 2006 team made an incredible late-season run to win the division. Unfortunately that was as far as the Twinkies would go, as they would then get swept by Oakland in the ALDS. They really got under Ozzie Guillen’s skin that year, too. That’s always fun.
And of course, there’s this guy:
Come on, admit it. You know you love him. Even if you aren’t a Twins fan.
- I love the Wild, too, even though I complain about them a lot
Hockey in Minnesota is like hockey in Canada. Or football in Texas. It’s just what you do. It’s what we’re good at. If your hockey team has any Americans on it, chances are pretty good that they’re from Minnesota. Or that they once played for the Golden Gophers. I started off as a North Stars fan when I was a little kid. They weren’t very good for the most part, though they did make a run for the Cup in 1991. But then a very bad man decided to move the team to Dallas after the 1992 season. I was heartbroken. I cried like a little girl (of course, I was a little girl, but that’s beside the point). And I was also torn. I wanted to cheer for my Stars, even though they weren’t really my Stars anymore, because they took Mike Modano with them. And I loved him. But, like any other bitter divorce, the animosity I felt for my ex-team was too great and I just couldn’t get over it. I couldn’t bring myself to cheer for any other NHL team either. It just didn’t seem right. I was a die-hard hockey fan without a team.
So I decided to fill the hockey void in my life with my hometown Gophers. I mean, they’ve done some good things:
It just wasn’t the same as having a professional hockey team, though. So when the NHL granted Minnesota an expansion franchise to open for the 2000-2001 season, I was absolutely thrilled. Though I wasn’t crazy about the team name (what the heck’s a wild?), or the logo (or the home unis, blech), I was excited to have an NHL franchise back in Minnesota. And though the team itself hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations, it’s been better than most of the old North Stars teams. And we have new heroes now:
- I root for the Vikings, and to a lesser extent, the Wolves, too
Why? Because somebody has to, that’s why. Oh there was a time when the Vikings were good. The Vikings of the late ’60s and early ’70s were some of the best football teams to never win a championship, but that was before my time. I remember the 1998 Vikes, though I’ve spent the past ten years trying to forget the NFC Championship game. And the current team is actually pretty good, it’s just missing a few key pieces. Like a starting QB. And special teams that can, um, not give up so many touchdowns (I mean really, when your punter is trying to make a tackle you know you’re in trouble). And some decent play-calling (which, by the way, helps out the starting QB a lot).
I’m not a huge basketball fan, but I do have a soft spot for the Timberwolves. I kind of feel sorry for them because they suck so bad. It’s not their fault, they’ve been mismanaged for years. And before Al Jefferson went down they had a pretty good shot at being a mediocre team this year. At least they aren’t the worst team in the league, so there’s that.
In the grand tradition started by Jimmy over at Baseball, the Yankees, and Life, I will dedicate my ranking on the leaderboard to the most notable Twin to wear the number 8: third baseman Gary Gaetti. The G-Man played a crucial role in helping the Twins during their incredible playoff run in 1987, and was an important part of the organization for nearly eight seasons. He was an ALCS MVP, a two-time All-Star (1988 & ’89), and won four consecutive Gold Glove awards for his work at the hot corner. The Twins inducted him into the franchise Hall of Fame during a pregame ceremony on August 19, 2007, nearly twenty years after he helped the team clinch its first World Series title since moving to Minnesota in 1961.
Gaetti was always one of the most productive hitters in the Twins’ lineup. He hit .255/.308/.434 with 360 home runs in his career, though is best seasons came with the Twins. The G-Man lead the league in home runs three times (’86,’88, and ’95) RBI twice (’87 & ’88) and slugging percentage twice (’86 & ’88). It is his postseason heroics, however, that have made Gaetti a fan favorite. He was, after all, named the MVP of the 1987 ALCS for a very good reason. The ’87 team was absolutely stocked with talent both in the field and on the mound, but it was Gaetti’s two home runs in his first postseason at-bats during the ALCS against the Tigers that proved so valuable in clinching the series. At the time, Gaetti was the first player to ever hit back-to-back home runs in his first career at-bats during the playoffs (a record that would stand until last season, more on that later). The heavily-favored Tigers would lose the series four games to one, and wouldn’t make another postseson appearance until 2006.
There are a couple of major-league records the G-Man set while wearing a Twins uniform. Besides the aforementioned post-season home run record, he was also the first player in MLB history to record an assist on two triple plays in the same game. It was on July 17, 1990 against the Boston Red Sox. The Twins would of course lose this game 1-0.
As Over the Baggy helpfully pointed out, I forgot to mention that Gaetti was called upon to pitch a couple of innings in relief for both the Cards and the Cubs. He posted a 7.71 ERA in 2.1 innings, so he was obviously much better at the hot corner than he was on the mound.
Gaetti left the Twins via free agency after the 1990 season, and his career kind of went downhill from there. He had a couple of mediocre seasons with the Angels before being released in 1992. The Royals took a chance on him after their regular 3B, Keith Miller, went down with an injury. Gaetti managed to turn his career around in Kansas City, and enjoyed one of his most productive seasons in 1995: batting .261/.329/.518 and hit 35 home runs, barely missing the franchise single-season record set by Steve Balboni in 1985. The G-Man signed with the Cardinals following the ’95 season, and he rewarded them with two very productive seasons, but he was never again able to match the offensive production he enjoyed with the Twins. St. Louis released him in favor of rookie phenom Fernando Tatis in 1998, and he then played a couple more forgettable seasons with the Cubs and the Red Sox before retiring after the 2000 season.
Interestingly enough, Gaetti is now the hitting coach for the Durham Bulls, Tampa Bay’s AAA affiliate. He coached a young Evan Longoria, the same player who would go on to break his post-season home run record during the 2008 playoffs.
- Bad news for our other number 8
Nick Punto is having an X-ray on his elbow after being hit with a pitch in the WBC game against Venezuela. Apparently it’s swollen and extremely painful, so it is probably broken. Although I am hardly Punto’s biggest fan, I certainly don’t wish bad things on the little guy. He might not be the greatest shortstop in baseball history, but he’s certainly not a liability in the field. He can make some very tough plays (although he sometimes struggles with the routine ones, especially in close games), and he can be a pretty good hitter (see his 2006 & 2008 stats). Considering that Brendan Harris is his backup, I really hope Punto will be back in the lineup by Opening Day.
I wasn’t too thrilled when the Twins re-signed Punto to a two-year $8 million deal during the offseason, but I wasn’t all that surprised, either. I have to say, though, that the ’06 & ’08 versions of Little Nicky will be well-worth the investment, although the Twins probably could’ve gotten either Orlando Hudson or Orlando Cabrera for less money. Either one would’ve provided a much-needed upgrade in the infield defense, and both are much more productive at the plate, as well. However, Hudson and Cabrera are also both Type A free agents, so the Twins would have had to surrender a first-round draft pick if they signed either one. I realize that this is too high of a price to pay for an organization that relies as heavily on its farm system as the Twins, so in this case they probably did the right thing in sticking with Little Nicky.
Besides, if signing Punto keeps the likes of David Eckstein off my team, then I am all for it.