- 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:
- Team USA poops the proverbial bed
Well, things got off to a good start for the Americans. Brian Roberts hit a leadoff home run against Daisuke Matsuzaka. And then things kind of went downhill from there. The Japanese would score nine runs, only five of which were actually earned. Team USA’s defense was atrocious. Officially the Americans committed three errors, but unofficially it was probably closer to five or six. Obviously they didn’t want the Venezuelan record of five errors in a WBC game to stand (those commie ********!) and were trying their hardest to set a new standard in horrible defense. Either that or they simply forgot that this was a single-elimination game.
Japan now gets to defend its WBC title against Korea tonight. It’s kind of disappointing that the US didn’t make it to the finals, but this should be a very good game. These two teams are powerhouses of Asian baseball, sort of like the Yankees and the Red Sox of the far east. I don’t have a particular favorite to win it all, but I guess I’ll root for the defending champs. Which of course means that Korea is going to win. I mean, look at my track record so far.
- Twins beat Toronto, 11-6
The offense finally decided to score some runs in yesterday’s game against the Blue Jays. Justin Morneau had a three-run homer, his first big blast of the season. Morny had a very good day at the plate, going 2-for-2 with a walk (apparently Morny has been taking Harmon Killebrew’s batting advice). Actually, pretty much everybody had a good day at the plate, since Jays’ starter Matt Clement wasn’t very effective. The Twins knocked the righty out after 4 1/3 innings, pounding him for nine runs on six hits.
Our own Scott Baker wasn’t particularly sharp either, giving up four earned runs on nine hits in 4 2/3 innings. He didn’t give up any homers though (for once), and recorded five strikeouts and no walks. Jose Mijares continued to struggle, giving up two earned runs in 2/3 of an inning, and also injured his ankle while trying to cover first. It’s looking more likely that the lefty is going to spend the season in Rochester (although Gardy is stubbornly insisting they can turn him around before the team heads north in two weeks). This might give Brian Duensing an opportunity to make the team if the Twins decide they need another lefty in the ‘pen. Duensing has been a starter his entire career, and did struggle a bit early in the season while in Rochester last year, but has looked really good in his relief appearances during spring training. At least he can get hitters out, anyway.
- Wild shutout Oil at the X
Owen Nolan scored a couple of goals, the Oil scored on themselves, and Niklas Backstrom made himself worth every penny of his four year, $24 million contract extension in one of the closest games the Wild have played all season. They got off to kind of a slow start in the first, though they weren’t helped by some awful officiating. Mikko Koivu got called for a phantom interference penalty on Ales Hemske (that was a beautiful piece of diving), and Dan Fritsche got called for boarding when he barely touched Ladislav Smid. I don’t normally complain about officiating, but this was ridiculous. Luckily the penalty-killers (and Backs!) stepped up to prevent any sort of ill-gotten gains by the Oilers.
Marian Gaborik made his triumphant return to the ice after having surgery on his hip. Though he didn’t score any goals, it was just really good to see him out there again. Unfortunately, captain Mikko Koivu suffered a knee injury when he was pulled down by Ales Kolatik and will be out the rest of the week. He might even miss the rest of the season, which means the Wild might as well forget about playing hockey past April. Come on, Mikko. Just rub some dirt on it and you’ll be fine.
If you think Vancouver sucks, clap your hands
If you think Vancouver sucks and they’ll never win the Cup
If you think Vancouver sucks, clap your hands
I really shouldn’t mock the Canucks for this hilarious piece of epic fail. They are a lock to make the playoffs after all, and my
Mild Wild will be lucky if they manage to sneak in as the eighth seed (although beating the Oil certainly helps). But there is nothing quite as satisfying as watching a hated rival do something so ridiculously dumb. Especially when your own team has been doing so many ridiculously dumb things as of late.
The uproar over Alex Rodriguez and his bum hip has made me realize how nice it is to cheer for a team nobody cares about. Joe Mauer, Joe Nathan, and Boof Bonser have all had their share of ailments so far (some of them devastating), and yet the mainstream media has barely even noticed. While ESPN has been covering the A-Rod drama nearly 24/7 and obsessing over what Brian Cashman needs to do to ensure that the Yankees make the playoffs, we here in Twins Territory have had to keep up with the progress of our injured players through the local papers (both of them). The injuries to all of these players, like the injury to A-Rod, could potentially cost the Twins the season. But at least I don’t have to hear about it.
There is one other benefit to having little media coverage of your team: nobody cares if they lose. It’s true; the Twins could go on a 20-game losing streak (God forbid) and ESPN would barely even mention it. Could you imagine what it would be like if that were the Yankees or the Red Sox? tWWL would be in full-on panic mode, with all of their analysts talking nonstop about what kind of fire sale the team needs to have. They would spend hours agonizing over what went wrong, and calling for the firing of everyone in the front office. In some ways I kind of felt bad for Yankee fans last year. Every time I turned on the television, I had to hear about how they weren’t going to make the playoffs and that they were a laughingstock because they spent so much money to finish in third place. I can’t imagine Yankee fans really enjoyed having that thrown up in their faces all the time.
Oh, sometimes it can be difficult to be a Twins fan. You often have to watch your favorite players walk away once they become too expensive. But when you realize that Torii Hunter is getting paid $90 million to hit about 25 homers a season for the Angels, you appreciate the $7.2 million Jason Kubel even more. After awhile you tend to think of your favorite players as your children. It’s fun to watch them come up through the system and develop into well-rounded individuals, but eventually they have to grow up and leave the nest. You wish them well, but you know that it’s in the best interests of everyone involved if you just let them go.
Besides, you always have more babies at home to worry about.
I am not trying to disparage large-market teams in any way. Nor do I think the fans of such franchises should abandon their beloved teams and become Twins fans (though that would be nice. The Twins could always use more fans). I just don’t really want the Twins to ever have the sort of media coverage those other teams endure. I realize that the sort of unlimited financial resources these franchises enjoy comes from overexposure by the mainstream media, and I admit that sometimes I wish the Twins had that kind of money. Still, I don’t think I could take it if I had to hear about my teams’ shortcomings every time I turn on the friggin’ television. Obviously I don’t need any help getting all worked up over nothing.
- Twins shutout Reds 3-0
This game wasn’t all that interesting, either, except for the fact that Glen Perkins has been pitching well. I realize that it’s only spring training, but this is still good news. Perk was very inconsistent last year, to say the least, with September being his worst month by far. He didn’t make it past the fifth inning in any of his starts and was having trouble locating his pitches. Considering that he is projected to be the fourth starter (Blackburn has knee issues and the Twins want to take a conservative approach), he’ll have to start pitching more like he did in August.
And Jason Kubel had an RBI single, extending the good spring he’s been having so far.
- Joe Nathan Aching Shoulder Watch:
Nathan threw a full bullpen session the other day and reportedly feels fine, so I’m calling off the watch for now. He even said it himself: “I haven’t felt this good in four years”, whatever that means. Also, Nick Blackburn’s sore knee apparently isn’t bothering him anymore. The starting rotation doesn’t have much depth so this is obviously very good news. While Philip Humber or R. A. Dickey could potentially fill out a spot if necessary, whether or not they could do so competently is another matter. Anthony Swarzak and Rob Delaney look like very promising prospects, but the organization feels like they need more seasoning in the minors. The same could be said about Jason Jones (who will probably end up being a reliever, anyway). While I initially thought the Twins could probably get away with an eleven-man pitching staff, maybe there’s a need to carry twelve pitchers after alll.
Oooooh, I almost forgot. Our old friend Dennys Reyes, aka the Big Sweat, has signed with the Cardinals for two years and $3 million, plus incentives. Reyes was mostly used as a situational lefty during his time with the Twins, and he’s been a very good one at that. The Cardinals had one of the worst bullpens in the league last season (or so I’ve been told), and this signing gives them some much-needed depth at a reasonable price. He isn’t going to solve all their problems, though, since he tends to be shaky against righties and probably wouldn’t make a good closer.
- Wild defeat Sharks in OT, 4-3
This game is worth
mentioning because it is going to go down as one of the greatest in
franchise history. The Wild were down 3-0 in the middle of the second
period, after playing so terribly throughout the first. It looked as
though they were going to lose their fifth straight game and fall
completely out of the Western Conference playoff picture. I was about
to change the channel when captain Mikko Koivu deflected a shot into the net for the first goal, which ignited the unbelievable rally. Minutes later, defenseman Kim Johnsson found Pierre-Marc Bouchard all alone a the blue line, and he beat Brian Boucher over the shoulder for the second Wild goal. There was no stopping the Wild after that, as they kept pressuring the Sharks until they finally gave in.
Of course, Boucher inadvertently helped them out with some sloppy goaltending (and bad ice):
Zidlicky was simply trying to clear the puck into the offensive zone and head off to the bench for a change. He had no idea he’d scored until he saw his goal on the jumbotron. I doubt the Wild would’ve been able to stage such a comeback if Evgeni Nabokov were between the pipes, but I don’t care. This team hasn’t won a game since they beat the Blackhawks on Feburary 22nd at United Center. I will take a win of any kind at this point.
The Captain saved the best for last, though, when he scored the game-winning goal with a mere 20 seconds left in overtime:
Yep, that’s about how I reacted, too.
The Wild are now one point away from making the playoffs, with about 19 games left to play. I still don’t think they’re going to make it, but I’ll be happy if they just finish the season with a winning record.
- Twins Content to Stand Pat While Division Rivals Improve
This offseason has been very frustrating for Twins fans. It has been very difficult to sit back and watch division rivals like the Indians make drastic moves to improve their ballclub, while ours does nothing. Cripes, even the Royals have tried to improve (tried being the operating word. I’m not sure if their moves are much of an improvement). And I’m sure White Sox GM Kenny Williams has something up his sleeve, he usually does. And, unlike last season, it’s not as if the Twins have a lot of holes to fill. They mostly need an upgrade at third and in the bullpen. And it’s been even more frustrating to see other clubs jump in and sign players that would be a perfect fit. The Twins have missed out on Jeremy Affeldt (who signed with the Giants and was apparently not even on their radar) and Koji Uehara for the bullpen, and Mark Derosa at third. Missing out on Derosa was even more frustrating because, not only did he go to the Indians, they didn’t have to give up much to get him. This was mostly a salary dump on the part of the Cubs to make room for Milton Bradley’s contract, and the Indians got him for a bargain.
I have been willing to give GM Bill Smith a pass for some of the boneheaded moves he made in the last offseason (his crop of free agents, the Delmon Young trade that was ill-advised from the beginning, etc.) since it was his first season as the Twins’ GM. And he does seem to have learned from some of these mistakes; he’s been adamant about hanging on to our young talent unless the deal is good enough and hasn’t been dumpster diving for free agents, yet. But the Indians got Derosa for nothing, and I’m sure that, much like the Cubs, the Mariners would love to get out from under Adrian Beltre’s contract (he does have that pesky no-trade clause that makes things a bit more difficult, though I’m sure he would waive it if the price was right. Oh, and his agent is satan himself). It just seems that Smith lacks the shrewdness of his predecessor Terry Ryan when it comes to making deals. Not everything Ryan did was brilliant, releasing David Ortiz is probably the biggest mistake he ever made, but he did have a penchant for ripping off other teams when it comes to trades (just ask the Giants).
Having said all that, I do think the Twins, even without making any major moves, could contend next season. Even with the Indians and the Royals making improvements (okay, maybe not the Royals), the division doesn’t look to be all that strong. Michael Cuddyer will most likely be healthy and provide the right-handed power bat the team is lacking. Scott Baker is starting to emerge as the staff ace, and Francisco Liriano is poised to have a big year. Rookie Jose Mijares was very impressive in his few relief appearances last year, and should compete for the set-up job. And I can live with the Brendan Harris/Brian Buscher platoon at third. But that’s just it, I’m sick of simply contending. We’ve been contending for the past 8 years! I want to make a deep run in the playoffs for once, and this team has enough young talent to make such a run. They just need a little help, that’s all.
- And Another Thing:
While I’m ranting, I have some things to say about my other favorite team: The Wild. In particular, my all-time favorite player, goaltender Niklas Backstrom. Backs has been having a great season, posting a .927 save %, 2.17 GAA, and 5 shutouts, as well as being named to the All-Star Game. So why am I upset? Because Backs is going to be an unrestricted free agent after this season, and the Wild don’t seem too intent on resigning him. I realize the team doesn’t have much space under the salary cap and has much more pressing needs that must be addressed. Still, since when is having depth at goal such a bad thing?
To make matters worse, Backs keeps telling us how much he loves playing in Minnesota and has no desire to leave: “You can’t take it for granted, but we’re playing in front of a sellout
crowd every night that knows a lot about hockey. So for a hockey
player, it’s a dream”. Oh Backs, just stop it. Stop it right now. You are making me cry. This divorce would be much easier if you told us you hate Minnesota and would rather play anywhere else, especially Vancouver. Or you could pull a Gabby and miss the rest of the season with a mysterious “lower body injury”. Then we would be more than happy to let you go.
Oh well, At least we’ll still have Mikko Koivu.