Alright, now that I’ve gotten over yet another horrific loss to the
Pale Hose White Sox, I can more objectively assess the team’s performance up to this point. Yeah, the Twins are now 3-4 and neither the pitching nor the offense have been terribly impressive so far. However, there are some encouraging signs that the Twins will turn things around:
- When the offense is productive, it’s been really productive:
The Twins have scored a total of 26 runs in their past seven games, which certainly isn’t bad. Unfortunately, the offense has also been producing runs rather inconsistently. In the three wins so far this season, the hitters have driven in a combined 24 runs. In the four losses, however, the team has only scored two runs and has been shut out twice. That’s right. The offense has been completely shut out twice already this season. That is certainly something to be concerned about. However, I do think that the offense will start to produce more consistently when Joe Mauer returns to the lineup. Actually, that they’ve been able to score this many runs without him is a very good sign.
- The pitching isn’t quite as bad as it looks, either:
The pitching staff has a 5.16 ERA and a WHIP of 1.31. Which is obviously not good. However, I think the starting pitching will get better. The entire pitching staff seems to be suffering from a bout of wildness, which is unusual for this particular group (last year they gave up a league-best 54 walks, so control isn’t generally an issue). The pitching staff has given up 19 walks so far this year, compared to the mere 37 strikeouts they have recorded. And really, nearly half of these walks came from the series in Chicago, when Francisco Liriano struggled to find the plate in the fifth (and walked four batters) and knuckleballer R.A. Dickey also walked four during his start on Friday. Most encouraging, however, is that the starters have looked really good when their stuff is on, and that most of the damage has been limited to a few bad innings.
I am a little concerned that the bullpen is struggling to pitch scoreless innings, though. So far they have only had one save opportunity, Wednesday night against Seattle, and they managed to not screw it up. However, in every single one of the Twins’ losses this year, and even in their blowout victory against the White Sox on Friday, the bullpen has given up at least one run and sometimes more. While it didn’t matter much in games like the one in Chicago on Saturday, when the Twins were down by five runs and couldn’t solve Bartolo Colon, it does matter in close games. It’s one thing to be down by a pair of runs in the later innings, but quite another to be down by four or five. Especially for an offense that has been struggling to produce consistently.
- Joe Mauer and Scott Baker should be back really soon:
Scott Baker will be back as early as Wednesday. Joe Mauer is trying to return to the lineup by the end of the month. Can’t hardly wait:
- Rivalries are fun
Like the Yankees/Red Sox, Cubs/Cardinals, and Dodgers/Giants, the Twins and the White Sox have developed their own rivalry over the course of the past decade. Although the two teams have been divisional rivals for years, it wasn’t until both started to become relevant that things began to heat up. These games are always exciting regardless of where the teams are in the standings. There’s all kinds of bizarre incidents, heartbreaking losses, and thrilling come-from-behind wins. And, of course, it’s just not a rivalry without the requisite trash talk from both sides.
Games against divisional opponents always carry a special weight, but games against the Pale Hose are different. While Cleveland is a tough opponent, the Twins haven’t had much success against them (except for last year) so the rivalry is kind of one-sided. Although things sometimes get chippy with the Tigers and the Royals, neither team really has the cast of characters that makes games against the Sox so intriguing:
Ozzie Guillen is the most entertaining figure in sports. Period. He always says whatever he thinks and doesn’t care if anyone likes it or not. And more often than not, he’s right. He was right to complain that the Cubs get treated like the Yankees by the Chicago media, while the Sox are treated more like the Mets (it might have something to do with the fact that the Tribune owned the Cubs at the time). He was also painfully honest when asked about a potential reunion of the 2005 World Series Sox. Whatever you want to say about Guillen as a person, there’s no denying that as a manager he is a brilliant strategist and is obviously liked and respected by the guys in the clubhouse (well, except maybe by this guy). And no matter what he says, I hope Kenny Williams has the good sense to never, ever, ever, ever fire Ozzie.
Speaking of controversial figures, A.J. Pierzynski has to be the most hated man in baseball. He’s done something dirty to almost every team in the league, and fanbases everywhere are always vocal about their disapproval. Having said that, I have to admit that I don’t really hate A. J. I find his antics amusing for the most part, and it would be hypocritical of me to criticize him now for things he did all the time as a Twin. But more importantly, he was the centerpiece of the greatest trade in Twins history. I cannot find it in my heart to hate the man who brought us the joy that is Joe Nathan and Francisco Liriano (and, to a lesser extent, Boof Bonser). Oh, and his departure made room for the superstar that is Joe Mauer to come up, which just makes it even harder to hate A. J.
The only White Sock I can muster any angry feelings for is Jim Thome, and that’s simply because he’s a Twin-killer. I’ve seen his career numbers against the Twins, and I’m not going to post them because they make me ill. All I’m going to say is that he hits like a modern-day Babe Ruth off of any and all Twins pitchers. But I can’t really say that I hate Thome either; he’s a good guy and he’s very good at what he does. I mostly just feel a sense of dread whenever he comes to the plate, because I know something bad is about to happen.
No, there are really only two sports franchises I actually hate: The Green Bay Packers and the Vancouver Canucks. Hating the Packers (and their fans) is obligatory if you root for the Vikings, although this year’s team didn’t inspire the usual feelings of animosity. The Packers under Brett Favre were very hateable, and their fans were the most obnoxious and arrogant of any fanbase in major league sports. But now that the Gunslinger is gone, the Packers are much harder to hate. Aaron Rogders just doesn’t inspire the sort of frothing vitriol that Fav-ruh did and I actually kind of feel sorry for the poor guy. Besides, Packer fans have been awfully quiet this year. Gee, I wonder why…
I guess when I really think about it all of my sports-related hate is reserved for the Vancouver Canucks. I HATE them. They like to play dirty, and there’s a palpable sense of animosity between the players on the ice. Although the Wild have typically dominated the Canucks, things are different this season. They have yet to win a single game against Vancouver and currently trail them by two points in the standings. To make matters worse, they went out and signed former Wild star Pavol Demitra and will probably go after Marian Gaborik as well.
So which Canuck do I hate the most? Mattias Ohlund, of course. Because he did this to Mikko Koivu:
Go to hell, Vancouver.
- Brad Radke will be inducted into Twins’ Hall of Fame
It’s not a big surprise that longtime fan-favorite RHP Brad Radke is going to be inducted into the Twins’ Hall of Fame in a pregame ceremony on July 11th. Radke was the anchor of the starting rotation for 12 seasons, and was really the only decent starter the Twins had for the longest time. Although he was never considered a big star by anyone outside of Minnesota, he did make one All-Star appearance in 1998 and finished third in Cy Young voting once in 1997 (behind Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson). As a soft-tossing righty, Radke never really had what you would consider dominant stuff. He was, however, famous for his circle changeup that changed speeds during its trajectory (and was once clocked at 56 mph). It was this changeup that he reportedly taught a young, struggling Johan Santana and, well, we all know how that story ends.
Radke had pretty decent stuff, though he never threw particularly hard ( I doubt he ever hit more than 90 mph on the radar gun). He was mostly known for his excellent control, walking only 445 batters in his career. Unfortunately, he also had a reputation for giving up the gopher ball, having surrendered 72 homers in his first two seasons (although he was much stingier later on, giving up a grand total of 326 in his career). At one point there was even a commercial for a video game that proclaimed itself to be “real as Radke” that showed him watching one of his pitches leave the ballpark (I can’t remember which game this was, nor can I find any video anywhere).
It’s really too bad that the Twins were so awful for most of his career, and he had to retire without ever winning a championship. Radke actually pitched well in most of his postseason starts, his overall record is 2-3 with a 3.60 ERA. His final playoff appearance was in game 3 of the 2006 ALDS, when he gave up two 2-run homers in four innings. The Twins went on to lose 8-3, and get swept by Oakland. The 2006 season was one of the worst of Radke’s career, and it’s obvious that his shoulder was really bothering him. He suffered a torn labum, and then a stress fracture, that had sidelined him for several weeks during the regular season. Although he was still fairly young at the time (34), Radke decided to hang it up rather than undergo surgery to repair his shoulder. He announced his retirement at a press conference on December 19, 2006.
- At least somebody is going to miss Dennys Reyes
Joe Christensen wrote a nice piece on former situational lefty Dennys Reyes, aka The Big Sweat. I have to admit, I’m going to miss him, too. Don’t get me wrong, it makes sense for the Twins to let him go. Craig Breslow and Jose Mijares could easily fill his spot in the bullpen, at a much lower price (probably more effectively, too). Reyes has reportedly drawn interest from the A’s, Mets, and Dodgers, so he’ll probably get a fairly lucrative contract from somewhere. Unfortunately for him, it’ll likely only be half of the 3-year, $12 million he would command in a better market.
Reyes had been a journeyman pitcher until he signed a contract with the Twins prior to the 2006 season. He had seen time as both a starter and relief pitcher, but struggled a lot and was bounced around between eight different teams in as many years. It wasn’t until he signed with the Twins that he found his niche as a lefty specialist, and has been a very effective one at that. He’s been very good against some of the toughest lefties in the American League, holding the likes of Bobby Abreu, Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner, and Jason Giambi to a tidy .202/.250/.287 line (except for Jim Thome, but few Twins pitchers have ever had much success against him. Hence the “I Hate You Jim Thome” tag). He’s starting to become more hittable, though, posting a 2.33 ERA with three blown saves last season, so the Twins are wise to let him sign elsewhere.
On a side note, Reyes kind of reminds me of Goldy the Gopher. Perhaps they were separated at birth?
- Baker, Liriano, Slowey, Perkins, & Blackburn, LLP
On a stop on the Twins’ winter caravan yesterday, manager Ron Gardenhire unveiled his projected starting rotation for 2009. Now, we all remember what happened the last time Gardy opened his mouth regarding next season’s starters. This time, however, there was little surprise and even less controversy. As it stands, barring any sort of trade, this season’s projected rotation is: Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano, Kevin Slowey, Glen Perkins, and Nick Blackburn. I have to say, I like this a lot. There’s a nice balance of lefties and righties, and the kids are all poised to improve on last season’s quality showing.
There is no question that Scott Baker deserves the #1 spot, as he is quickly emerging as the staff ace. Last season the hard-throwing righty finished 11-4, with a 3.47 ERA, a 1.18 WHIP, and led the team with 141 srikeouts. Baker probably would’ve won at least six more games if not for a lack of run support (he was on the wrong end of numerous 1-0 losses) and the leaky bullpen that forgot how to make outs. If he remains healthy, I wouldn’t be surprised if he finishes the season with over 200 strikeouts and 20 wins.
Francisco Liriano was an enigma at the start of last season. He was coming off Tommy John surgery, and it was uncertain whether he would even be able to pitch again, let alone return to his previous dominating form. At first he was awful, going 0-3 with an 11.32 ERA, and it was painfully obvious that he just wasn’t ready to pitch in the major leagues. However, he seemed to find himself down in AAA, going 6-1 and posting a sparkling 2.47 ERA upon his return. Frankie still seems to struggle with his command a bit (he seems to have trouble getting his infamous slider over for strikes), and he needs more movement on his fastball, which has become very hittable. Otherwise, I expect he will eventually challenge Scott Baker for the top spot in the rotation.
Kevin Slowey, a soft-tossing righty similar to our beloved Brad Radke, gets the third spot. Slowey had a pretty good year last season, finishing 12-11 with a 3.99 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. He’s definitely a control pitcher who doesn’t get a ton of strikeouts (well, except for this game), and does tend to give up the occasional long ball (22 to be exact). However, he doesn’t like to give up many walks, so batters will just have to earn their way on (probably by hitting home runs). Like the Giants’ Tim Lincecum, Slowey looks a lot more like a bat-boy than a big-league pitcher. Oh, and he has a blog.
The rotation is rounded out by Glen Perkins and Nick Blackburn. Until the last few weeks of the season, Perk was having a banner year and was in the running for the Rookie of the Year award. Unfortunately, fatigue began to set in, and the Stillwater native struggled mightily, posting a bloated 7.45 ERA in the month of September. I do think Perk will rebound, though, and probably finish the season with at least 12 wins and an ERA around 3.30.
Nick Blackburn was a pleasant surprise in the rotation last year. He was a 26 year old rookie who was terrible in his few relief appearances in 2007, going 0-2 with a 7.71 ERA. It looked like he was destined to become a career minor-leaguer who simply lacked the confidence to pitch in the big leagues. But Blackburn was very good in his first full season, finishing with an 11-11 record and a 4.05 ERA, and he pitched an absolute gem in the biggest game of his career (well, aside from the one mistake to notorious Twin-killer Jim Thome). Like Carlos Silva, Blackburn is a contact pitcher who relies on his sinking fastball, so he tends to give up a lot of hits. Unlike Silva, however, Blackburn can actually make outs and is about $48 million cheaper.
The Twins are lucky in that they don’t have to worry about their starting rotation. Besides having five very talented youngsters (who will make a combined $2.5 million this season), they have pitching talent in the minors ready to take over a rotation spot if the need arises. Anthony Swarzak, Rob Delaney, and Kevin Mulvey could be called up should one of the kids suffer an injury or start to regress. Right now, though, the rotation looks pretty solid as it is.
Now, the bullpen is a completely different story…
I came across this article in the New York Times awhile back, and needless to say I was not surprised to find that watching sports can cause heart attacks. I know that watching the Twins nearly killed me many times last season. We started calling them the “Cardiac Kids”, given their penchant for making things much more exciting than they really needed to be. And although my heart may have survived all the stress, I have discovered some grey hair. And I’m not even 27 years old yet!
To say that last season was exciting is an understatement. I think only the 2006 season, in which the Twins made a late-season run to capture the division title, had more drama. This was a season in which absolutely nothing happened the way it was supposed to. The starting rotation, which was supposed to be the team’s biggest weakness, was actually one of it’s strengths. The bullpen, which was has been so reliable in recent history, fell apart down the stretch. The offense, which nobody expected to be very productive, scored 829 runs (3rd most in the AL) despite hitting a mere 111 home runs (dead last in the AL). It was a season in which no lead, no matter how big, was safe, and no deficit was too large to overcome. There were heartbreaking losses and thrilling come-from-behind wins. Not to mention the most amazing play any Twin has ever made.
And it all ended with one bad pitch.
Of course, Carlos Gomez was the main Cardiac Kid last season, causing me to make many trips to the fridge for more beer. You just never knew what this goofy kid was going to do. And I have to admit, Go-Go has grown on me, despite my better judgement. His hitting was very inconsistent, to say the least, and he has a tendency to swing for the fences at pitches way outside the strike zone. But I haven’t seen anyone cover more ground in center field than our dear Gomez. Seriously, he and Denard Span could probably patrol the outfield all by themselves. And there were all of the spectacular plays he made, as well as some spectacularly bad ones (like the one pictured. Ouch.)
Gomez also had a habit of annoying opposing pitchers with his threats to bunt and steal, hence the title of this blog. Oh, and there was that time he told Justin Verlander that his “mind was not good.” Um, that’s not really something you want to say to a guy whose fastball has been clocked at 100 mph.
Opening day is only a few short months away. I better start making sure I have enough beer in the fridge.