- 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.
- The end of an era
Monday is Opening Night and Francisco Liriano is scheduled to pitch against the Mariners’ Felix Hernandez. This will be the final home opener at the Metrodome (yay!). The Twins are having all kinds of promotions to celebrate the final season at the
Dump Dome. There will also be new (alternate) home unis, which are throwbacks to the inaugural 1982 season:
Or these hideous vests:
I haven’t decided if I want to write a tribute to the old
Dump Dome. It’s not as though I’m really going to miss it. It has to be the ugliest ballpark in history:
But then again it has been host to some of the greatest moments in Minnesota sports history. I guess I could write about that. Or I could just be lazy and put up links to other writers who have already done the work for me. Maybe I’ll do both!
- In other news:
The Twins finalized the 25-man roster today by reassigning Matt Tolbert to Rochester. If the injury bug keeps biting the team though, he probably won’t be down there very long.
Carl Pohlad was often a ruthless businessman, but he was also a decent human being.
At least Mikko Koivu always makes me happy:
- Scott Baker will start the season on the DL
First it was Joe Mauer and his aching back. Then Brian Buscher had a health scare. Delmon Young, Joe Crede, and Michael Cuddyer have all been struck with various hand injuries. Justin Morneau is battling stiffness in his back. And if all of that weren’t enough, now starter Scott Baker is going to start the season on the DL with stiffness in his right shoulder. It isn’t clear at this point how long he will be out, and he will be re-evaluated on Saturday, but things certainly aren’t getting off to a very good start for the Twinkies. Baker doesn’t think the stiffness is anything serious and would have preferred to pitch anyway, but the Twins have decided not to take any risks with their $15.25 million-dollar arm. In the meantime, Francisco Liriano has now been given the Opening Night nod opposite Seattle’s Felix Hernandez, and R. A. Dickey will take Baker’s spot in the rotation. With Baker going down, there is now an extra spot in the bullpen, so it looks like both Philip Humber and Brian Duensing will be coming north with the team.
The only real position battle left now for the Twins is the final bench spot. Brendan Harris, Matt Tolbert, and Brian Buscher have all been competing for the utility role, with Harris having somewhat of an edge because he’s out of options. The Tenth Inning Stretch has raised the intriguing possibility of Buscher being traded to the Cardinals, as Troy Glaus’ recovery from shoulder surgery isn’t going as well as expected. While I would be sad to see Buscher go, he isn’t the greatest defensive infielder and he isn’t the most versatile, either. Still, I would be kind of surprised if the Twins did move him. Joe Crede is hardly a sure thing at third, and the organization might be more apt to keep Buscher around simply to provide more depth.
Speaking of Liriano, he was effective in his brief start against the Red Sox. He was only allowed to pitch three innings, as he will be starting right away on Monday, and gave up two hits and a run while walking one and striking out three. He wasn’t struggling with his command like he was in his previous appearances, which is very good news. Well, it’s good news for the Twins and bad news for opposing hitters. Unfortunately, Brian Duensing wasn’t as effective in relief, giving up a two-run homer to Jason Bay. Luckily the offense was able to bail him out to the tune of seven runs on twelve hits, with Michael Cuddyer doing most of the heavy lifting.
By the way, The Answer Man has an interesting interview with Joe Nathan.
- Wait, Sidney Ponson has a job?
Remember all those nice things I said about the Royals? Yeah, never mind. They’ve decided that Sidney Ponson and Horacio Ramirez are going to be the fourth and fifth starters this season. Apparently Dayton Moore was so impressed with Ponson’s performance in the WBC that he thought the pudgy righty could be an effective major league starter, despite all of the evidence to the contrary. Horacio Ramirez is remembered very fondly on the South Side for being the worst reliever in Sox history. What either one of these two is doing in the starting rotation for a major league ballclub is beyond me, especially over the likes of Brian Bannister and Luke Hochevar. Perhaps it’s all part of of some elaborate, Major League-esque scheme to build the worst team in baseball and get out of their lease at Kauffman stadium.
- 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)
The Twins had an off day today, so I had a lot of time to think about what’s going to happen this season. This is generally a bad thing, as I tend to think of all of the ways the season could go horribly, horribly wrong. To be honest, I don’t think the Twins are going to win the division this year. And a lot of people seem to agree with me. Here’s why:
- The starting rotation doesn’t have much depth: The Twins will get at least league-average production from their young starters, with Francisco Liriano poised to have a very big year. But that’s only if everyone manages to stay healthy. While none of the five besides Liriano have had serious arm issues yet, it is almost certain that somebody is going to face some sort of injury at some point this year. There has already been concern with projected fifth starter Nick Blackburn’s knee, which he had arthroscopic surgery on in the offseason. The Twins do have some promising prospects in Anthony Swarzak and Brian Duensing, but neither one really appears to be major-league ready at this point (though there is talk of Duensing earning a spot in the bullpen). Otherwise, Philip Humber or R. A. Dickey would probably be called upon to fill out a spot in the rotation. If that doesn’t make you nervous, I don’t know what will.
- Joe Mauer might or might not be healthy this year: There is still no official word on what exactly is wrong with Mauer, but whenever he faces injury issues the news is not good. While he’s certainly more durable than most fans tend to think (he’s caught 4296.7 innings since 2004), his injuries tend to sideline him for a significant period of time. The Twins do have some competent backup catchers, but it’s extremely difficult to replace a batting-champ catcher in the lineup.
Update: Mauer has been officially diagnosed with an inflamed sacroiliac joint. No surgery will be necessary, just a change in medication. It’s not likely at this point that Mauer will be ready by opening day, and I’m still worried that this is the kind of thing that might linger and affect him the entire season
- The lineup still doesn’t have much power: Last year, the Twins managed to score 829 runs despite hitting only 111 homers. Most of their success had to do with an unusually high batting average with RISP, which essentially makes them a statistical anomaly. Since these things don’t generally repeat themselves from season to season, the Twins will have a tough time scoring runs without some pop in the lineup. And this is going to be a problem, considering that Justin Morneau is really the only power-hitter in the lineup. The Twins are essentially relying on Michael Cuddyer (who will be thirty), Delmon Young, and Jason Kubel to all have breakout seasons this year. Oh, and if Joe Crede stays healthy he might provide another 20+ homers this season, but that’s a big if.
- The front office failed to address the bullpen issue: They signed Luis Ayala, but that doesn’t really count as an upgrade. Ayala was once a dominant relief pitcher, but that was before Tommy John surgery in 2005. While he does have some upside (he is a workhorse, and has a pretty good K/BB ratio), whether or not he’ll pitch effectively against some of the American Leagues’ toughest hitters is another question. Otherwise, the bullpen looks as though it’s going to consist of Matt Guerrier (who should be fine if he isn’t overused), Jesse Crain (who’s been really sharp so far, but it’s still early), Craig Breslow (a lefty specialist), whoever wins the Jason Jones/Humber/Dickey/maybe Duensing battle for the final two spots, and closer Joe Nathan. While the ‘pen should bounce back from last year’s poor showing, it certainly isn’t going to be one of the best in the league. It probably won’t even be the best in the division.
- The infield defense will be mediocre at best: Joe Crede (if healthy) provides a significant defensive upgrade at third. And Justin Morneau is pretty reliable, though he isn’t the best defensive first baseman in the league. Otherwise the rest of the infield is a huge question mark. Nick Punto is really better suited to a utility role, not as a starting shortstop. Alexi Casilla had a rough start last year, and seemed to lack focus in the field when he was first called up. He did improve as he settled into his role at second, but whether or not he will ever be a decent second baseman remains to be seen.
- The outfield defense won’t be much better: Delmon Young was terrible in the field last year, and while he’s young enough to improve his defense, I doubt he will ever possess much range. Michael Cuddyer is pretty good with the glove, but has never shown tremendous range, either. Carlos Gomez and Denard Span can cover a ton of ground in the outfield, but both will probably have to split time in the outfield with all of the outfielders competing for a spot. This is obviously going to be a problem for the flyball pitchers on the roster, namely Kevin Slowey and Scott Baker, who will most likely see a rise in their respective ERAs.
Even with the core of young talent on the current roster, I don’t hold out much hope for the Twins to win a World Series any time soon. I hope I’m wrong, and I would love it if someone would show me that I’m wrong, but with the Pohlad family ownership and Bill Smith as the brains of the operation, I just don’t feel terribly optimistic. And it’s so frustrating, because this team is probably only a few key pieces away from being great. But the ownership has consistently refused to invest in the team, and while the front office has done a good job with what little they’ve been given to work with, it isn’t going to be enough to compete against the talent-laden teams of the AL East (who they will most likely face in the playoffs). I realize that the Twins will never have the sort of resources available to them that the larger-market teams do. I also realize that spending doesn’t guarantee a championship, and that increasing payroll for the sake of increasing payroll is not a good idea. However, if the Twins ever hope to be anything more than AL Central champs (or also-rans, as is likely the case this year), they will have to spend a little money to acquire solid major-league talent to fill their holes and to hang onto some of their young stars. And while there is nothing wrong with the oc
casional low-risk/high-reward deal for a cheap veteran player, you should not be relying on these types of players to fill all of your holes.
While there is still no official word on what exactly is ailing Joe Mauer, GM Bill Smith said he expects an update either today or tomorrow. Apparently all of his doctors are still discussing the best course of treatment, although the good news is that surgery appears to be unnecessary at this point. Mauer has taken a lot of criticism from fans, analysts (and I use that term lightly when describing Souhan), and certain former teammates alike for his perceived tendency to be injury prone (which isn’t entirely true. He’s really only had two season that were drastically shortened due to injury and has started 498 career games at backstop). People tend to celebrate warriors: guys who will pitch until their arm falls off, or insist on playing everyday even though they can barely field routine ground balls. The media and the fans were so quick to praise Mike Lowell for attempting to play with a torn labrum in his hip, even though the injury was clearly affecting his performance. There is also this perception that many of today’s baseball players are too soft and would rather sit out until they are 100% than to tough it out and try to play anyway. With the Carl Pavanos, Mike Hamptons, and Jason Schmidts of the baseball world, it’s hard to argue with this position. But is playing through the pain always the smartest thing to do?
J. R. Richard was part of the Astros’ one-two punch with Nolan Ryan during the late ’70s and early ’80s, and had become one of the more dominant right-handed pitchers of his time. His franchise-record 313 strikeouts in the 1979 season still stands (and will probably never be broken). However, he struggled a lot the next year and complained of discomfort in his shoulder. The Astros organization and fans alike treated him as though he was a whiner and told him to simply deal with it. On July 30, Richard suffered a stroke while throwing a bullpen session and had to have emergency surgery on a life-threatening blood clot in his neck. Richard would never pitch another major league game again.
Obviously, not all cases are as dire as that. And it’s possible that a lot of the criticism leveled at guys like Carl Pavano is justified and they simply don’t really want to play. But there is little doubt that a lingering injury can affect a player’s productiveness, and Mike Lowell is one particular example. In the first half of the season, the BoSox third baseman was batting .297/.360/.507 with 13 homers and an OPS of .867. It was clear that his hip was starting to bother him in the second half, however, as his numbers dropped to .225/.286/.357 with 4 homers and an anemic OPS of .642. While Lowell statistically tends to do better in the first half, his career numbers don’t drop off that significantly in the second. It’s difficult to criticize the Red Sox for allowing Lowell to delay surgery, especially since they didn’t have a lot of viable options to replace him. And the Sox managed to make the playoffs anyway, though they probably would’ve won the AL East and perhaps repeated as World Champions had they been able to shut Lowell down much sooner. This is also why I think the Yankees are doing the right thing in having A-Rod’s hip surgically repaired right now (well, as much as possible at this point. He’ll probably have to have more surgery once the season is over).
Baseball is certainly not the only sport in which players are praised for trying to play through an injury, though. It seems to be a requirement for those who play in contact sports such as football and hockey, even though these guys often pay dearly for it much later in life. Two of the most beloved Wild players are guys who would try to play with a severed jugular vein: Owen Nolan and Andrew Brunette. Nolan in particular hates to be out of the lineup for very long and has been skating for what seems like forever on a broken toe. Brunette has been playing half of the season with a partially (maybe even completely) torn ACL in his knee. He’s probably going to have to have surgery during the offseason (the poor guy can barely walk on it now), but why wait until then? I realize that he wants to help the team, and he feels that he needs to be in the lineup in order to do so. The season is pretty much over at this point though (I don’t care what the standings say, the Wild are not in playoff contention), and Bruno would probably be better off having the surgery now so he could be ready for next year.
- Dutch eliminated in WBC, 9-3
Team Hollandaise was sent packing in spectacular fashion by the heavy-hitting American team last night. The USA pounded the Dutch pitchers for nine runs on twelve hits, including a two-run homer by Jimmy Rollins and a solo shot by Adam Dunn. The Dutch, on the other hand, eked out a mere three runs (though they also had twelve hits). Things got a little chippy in the eighth, when Bryan Englehardt spent a little too much time admiring his solo shot (the Dutch were down 8-1 at this point) off of reliever Matt Lindstrom. Lindstrom proceeded to throw behind Vince Rooi, and both benches were warned. That was about as close to any actual fighting as the two sides got, and the Dutch would score one more run on a sac fly before the US put the game away in the bottom of the inning.
As I’ve said before, the Americans had a lot more on the line in this game than the Dutch. The US was absolutely embarrassed in the 2006 WBC when they failed to make it past the first round. They had already been humiliated by the Puerto Ricans, and a loss by the underwhelming Netherlands team would have struck a blow to the already-flagging interest in the tournament on the part of American baseball fans. The Dutch, on the other hand, weren’t even expected to win a game in the WBC, let alone knock off a Dominican team that was loaded with major-league talent. Losing to the Americans will do nothing to diminish interest in baseball or the WBC in the Netherlands, considering that there wasn’t much to begin with.
There is some bad news for Team USA (and the Marlins): Matt Lindstrom has a strained rotator cuff and will be unable to pitch for at least 10 days. This isn’t the first time the Americans have suffered injuries in the WBC, Chipper Jones, Ryan Braun, and Dustin Pedroia have all suffered injuries of varying seriousness. While none of these guys are likely miss any of the season, fans and baseball executives alike are all nervous about their favorite players suffering devastating injury in a tournament that isn’t very important to them. This is one of the major criticisms of the WBC: that it is held during spring training, when guys aren’t quite in game-shape and are much more injury-prone. It has gotten so bad that Team USA manager Davy Johnson has threatened to forfeit the tournament if anyone else gets hurt.
- Twins fall to Yankees 5-1
I’m not going to harp on the lack of offensive production in Sunday’s game at Steinbrenner field, considering that the lineup was full of guys who have no chance to make the team this year (though the few regulars who were in did pretty well, except for Denard Span). I’m also not going to rake anyone over the coals for the piss-poor defense, either. While no Twins players were actually charged with any errors, those of us who actually saw the game know better. There were some defensive miscues by the infield, and a dropped pop fly by SS Trevor Plouffe that led to some not-so-earned Yankee runs. While Glen Perkins officially gave up three earned runs on five hits, in truth he probably gave up one earned run on three hits. Other than that, the pitching was really good (aside from Bobby Keppel, but he’s probably going to start the season in AAA). Nick Blackburn pitched two spotless innings in relief, and gave up only one hit while recording a strikeout. Blackburn is scheduled to make his next start on Tuesday, as the soreness in his knee is apparently gone now. Philip Humber will start in his place today against Baltimore.
By the way, Perk is apparently fine after getting hit in the calf by Hideki Matsui’s broken bat (he even got Matsui to sign it). He wanted to come back out and pitch the fourth, but the team decided not to take any chances on the projected fourth starter for a spring exhibition game and put in Nick Blackburn instead. He should make his next start against the Yankees on Friday.
Andy Pettite looked really sharp on the mound for the Yanks, shutting out the Twins for three innings. More importantly, though, Jorge Posada caught three innings without experiencing any pain in his shoulder. He also went 2-for-2 and plated a pair of runs. That is very good news for Yankee fans who already have enough to worry about as it is.
- Twins vs O’s
The Twins were hitting! And not stranding that many runners for once! Most importantly, Denard Span went 2-for-3 with a triple, which is his first extra-base hit of the season I believe. Span has been struggling at the plate so far, and it appeared in yesterday’s game against the Yankees as though his timing was off. It was pretty clear that he was seeing the ball well, as he was taking a lot of pitches and was working some deep counts. However, he would end up either grounding out or popping out, and it appeared he was a little in front of the ball. Hopefully Span has finally found his swing. Joe Crede hit a two-run homer in the third with two outs, that put the Twins on top for good. Crede hasn’t been having a good spring, either, but considering that he only played in 91 games last year because of his back, and that he tends to be a bit of a slow starter, it’s a little too early to panic just yet.
And Philip Humber pitched well, giving up no hits and no runs while striking out two in his two innings of work. Actually, the only runs given up by Twins pitchers were by guys who will most likely spend the season in Rochester: Armando Gabino (leadoff homer to Aubrey Huff) and Sean Henn (another leadoff homer to catcher Guillermo Rodriguez). Oh, and Rule 5 draft pick Jason Jones gave up one run on four hits in two innings. I’m not sure if Jones is going to remain on the roster or not. Although the Twins will have to offer him back to the Yankees if they choose to send him down, it doesn’t sound like the Yanks are too interested in him so some sort of deal might be worked out.
- Still No Mauer News
There’s still no official word on what is ailing Joe Mauer. According to the Star Tribune, he was in the clubhouse this morning and seemed to be in a good mood, so maybe there isn’t anything seriously wrong. While it would be nice to know what, if anything, is going on, I doubt it is serious otherwise there would have been some sort of announcement by now. At least that’s what I keep telling myself, anyway.