First off, I have a new blog. Well, it’s basically the same as this one, just on a different site. I’m not sure yet if I’m going to permanently move or not, so I guess this is just sort of a trial run. I’ll probably simply paste the same entry over here for the most part, just to make my life a little easier. Except the other site will provide an uncensored version of whatever I post over here, so that might be interesting. Plus the other site will be strictly devoted to baseball, so if you don’t wish to read about hockey or basketball or whatever other crap I sometimes post here, please feel free to visit my other site instead. And, in light of recent events, there will be some basketball crap at the end of this post.
I did a recap of Wednesday’s loss to Pittsburgh here, but I want to discuss Francisco Liriano and whether he should be moved to the bullpen in greater detail. Frankie did surrender a pair of two-run homers, but for the most part he pitched a pretty good game against the Pirates. He struck out six and, most importantly, only walked one through seven innings. It’s just that he got burned badly by the few mistakes he made and didn’t get any run support. Twins fans have been understandably frustrated with Frankie’s struggles this season, and some have been calling for him to be bumped from the rotation in favor of Anthony Swarzak. The organization itself has been patient and maintained their faith in him as a starter, with good reason I might add. Liriano has actually been showing steady improvement over his last four starts, though he doesn’t have much to show for it in terms of his 2-8 record. His K/BB ratio has improved from an awful 1.76 in May to 2.57 through his past three starts. His walk rate has decreased from a season-high 5.04 BB/9 in May to 3.32 in June, and he’s holding opponents to a .229/.308/.414 line. Subsequently, his ERA has dropped from 7.12 through the end of May, to a season-low 3.79 and his WHIP has improved from 1.85 to 1.21. Obviously, this is an extremely small sample size and he’ll need to prove himself against tougher lineups than Seattle and Oakland, but as long as his K/BB ratio continues to improve, there’s reason to be optimistic about Frankie as a starter.
Oh, and Nick Blackburn pitched a complete game against the Pirates this afternoon, so Bert Blyleven can shut up about that now.
- Wolves finally get around to doing what should have been done 10 years ago
New president of basketball operations David Kahn has officially fired Kevin McHale. That’s right, the worst GM in the history of Minnesota sports won’t be back with the team in any capacity next season. Not in the front office, not as a coach, not even as a janitor. Oh, don’t get me wrong, McHale did some good things for the Timberwolves as GM. He drafted Kevin Garnett. And when he traded him to Boston, he did get Al Jefferson in return (plus eight benchwarmers, but that’s beside the point). The Wolves did make eight straight playoff appearances under McHale, but only got past the first round once: when they lost to the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals in the ’03-’04 season. They haven’t made the playoffs since, and haven’t even posted a winning record in four seasons. Worse yet, attendance has been flagging, and season ticket holders would probably have started rioting if McHale were kept on. So Kahn was left with little choice but to fire McHale, even though he was actually a pretty decent coach. I have no idea who the next coach of the Timberwolves will be, but the list of potential candidates looks pretty good. I’m not sure it matters much who they get, since the roster is so bereft of talent (besides Big Al, of course) that it will be years before the Wolves are serious contenders in the Western Conference. Still, as much as the move was justified (and long overdue), I do find it really sad that Kevin McHale will probably be more widely remembered as a failed GM than as the basketball legend he truly was.
- 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.
- Pirates victimize the projected Opening Day starter
The Pirates hit three home runs off of Baker yesterday, two of which came from former Twin Craig Monroe. The Twins traded for Monroe prior to the 2008 season, and he was a bust. He batted .212/.274/.405 before being released just after the All-Star break. This is one of those deals that didn’t make a whole lot of sense when Smith pulled the trigger, as it appeared that Monroe was pretty much washed up at the time. The reasoning behind the deal was pretty sound: the Twins needed a right-handed power bat and the Cubs weren’t asking much in return. However, Monroe clearly was not the bat they were looking for. Other than his monster season in 2006, he had never hit more than 25 home runs in a year, and the most he had ever hit was 22. But I digress, this post is supposed to be about Scott Baker!
This game highlighted one of the 27 year old righty’s major weaknesses: the tendency to give up the gopher ball. Baker gave up 20 home runs in his 28 starts last season, and is projected to give up anywhere from 19-22 again this year. A lot of this has to do with the fact that his fastball isn’t very fast, usually topping out at around 91 mph. It (and all of his other pitches for that matter), is very effective if he can locate it, which is something he obviously struggled with yesterday. Still, Baker has a solid K/BB ratio of 3.36 and doesn’t put a lot of runners on base, so the damage is usually limited to solo homers (as all of the Pirates’ homers were yesterday).
- Joe Mauer may or may not be ready for Opening Day
According to the Star Tribune, Mauer is currently in Baltimore getting a second opinion on his back problem. This was apparently a mutual decision between the player and the organization, who are taking no chances with their All-Star catcher. We should know more about the injury and if Mauer will be ready for Opening Day once the results of the exam come back. However, even if Mauer isn’t ready at the start of the season, the Twins aren’t completely sunk. They do have some other good options behind the plate:
- Mike Redmond: Red Dog has always been a solid backup catcher, and could probably handle all of the catching duties himself if he were asked. But he’s 37 years old, and though he would probably post better numbers than he did last year with more playing time, it’s unlikely his body could withstand the grind of catching six nights a week.
- Jose Morales: Having Morales and Redmond share the catching duties is probably the best option. Morales showed a lot of promise when he was first called up in 2007, but suffered torn ligaments in his ankle when he was rounding the bases in his first major league game. This injury ended up sidelining him for most of the season last year, but he had more surgery and is now apparently pain free.
- Drew Butera: The son of former major-league catcher Sal Butera, the 24-year old prospect has been having a pretty good spring, though he’s only started five games so far. He isn’t one of the top-ranked prospects in the organization, though, and has yet to advance past AA ball. He would probably only get called up if Mauer is out and the Twins needed a third catcher.
- Wilson Ramos: Ramos is the catcher-of-the-future should the Twins decide they cannot afford to keep Joe Mauer. I’ve written about Ramos before, and he’s been pretty impressive during camp. Not only has he been hitting very well, he has also demonstrated an ability to handle the big-league pitching staff. Naturally this has led some people to speculate that Ramos might get the call if Mauer will indeed miss some of the season. However, Ramos is only 21 years old has yet to advance higher than Advanced A ball, so he’s probably not quite ready to make his big-league debut just yet. Very few prospects can make the jump from the low minors to the major leagues successfully, and even fewer can do so while playing the most difficult position on the field. It would be best to allow Ramos to develop further, and to let Morales or Butera split time with Redmond at backtstop.
- Pudge Rodriguez: Do. Not. Want. Yes, Pudge has been tearing the cover off the ball in the WBC, but he’s been declining both offensively and defensively over the past few years (of course, his decline might have something to do with his alleged use of PEDs). He’s a year older than Redmond, and clearly his best days are behind him. Pudge batted .276/.319/.374 with 7 home runs and an OPS+ of 87 between Detroit and the Yankees last year. While adjusting to a new team after being traded might have affected his numbers some (he was clearly better in Detroit than New York), the effects were likely minimal because he wasn’t much better the year before that. In comparison, Redmond hit .287/.321/.333 with an OPS+ of 80 in the 38 starts he made behind the plate last season. The Twins would be better off saving their money and letting Redmond and one of their prospects handle the catching duties.
- Wild fall to Avalanche 2-1
Ugh, just when I thought they couldn’t possibly play any worse, the Wild go and lay an egg against Colorado at Pepsi Center. The Wild were pretty bad against the Sharks on Tuesday, but at least they showed some life in the third period. They would score three goals in that period and tie the game, only to fall in OT when San Jose D Christian Erhoff picked off an errant pass by Antti Miettinen and scored the winning goal.
The Mild (yes, that’s what I’m calling them from now on) never showed up against the Avs last night, and this was a game they absolutely had to win. The Avs are the worst team in the Western Conference, and it appears that Minnesota took their opponent lightly. They got off to a quick 1-0 lead, but never mounted much of a threat since then. Poor Niklas Backstrom was under siege all night long, but he managed to turn aside 40 shots, while his counterpart Peter Budaj faced a mere 16 shots on goal the entire game.
How bad was the Wild’s offense last night? About as bad as poor Patrik Stefan:
I never thought I’d say this (Okay, I’ve been saying this for awhile, but humor me), but it looks like our guys are just playing out the season now. This team can’t even win two games in a row (though they obviously have no problem putting together a losing streak), how in the world are they going to make a successful run for a playoff spot?
- Speaking of playing out the season…
The Wolves dominated the Grizzlies 104-79 at Target Center on Wednesday night, snapping an eight-game losing streak. I was starting to get kind of excited about the season and hoped our guys could finish at .500 for a change. Then I looked at the standings and realized the Wolfies haven’t even won 20 games this year. Oh well, at least we have that high draft pick to look forward to. And the Wolves aren’t even the worst team in the league, so there’s that. And Al Jefferson’s rehab is apparently going really well so far, so he should be back next season. Maybe then they won’t post a losing record for once!
Oh yeah, and Glen Taylor has no intention of letting Kevin McHale come anywhere near the front office again, so I guess there’s some hope for our Wolfies.
Bert Blyleven is the type of pitcher who is likely to be overlooked by Hall of Fame voters because, while he was dominant for most of his career, he’s never really been considered one of the greatest pitchers of all time. And that’s a shame, because when you look at all he’s accomplished during his career, Bert really does deserve to get in. He had 3,701 career strikeouts (he is the only retired member of the 3000 strikeout club not in the Hall), a 3.31 ERA, won two World Series rings (one with the 1979 Pirates and one with the 1987 Twins), and was a two-time All-Star (once with his first stint with the Twins in 1973, and with the 1985 Indians). Not to mention the fact that he had the nastiest curveball of his generation.
One of the major reasons voters have been so reluctant to include Bert in the Hall is that he never won a Cy Young Award. There’s also the fact that he allowed a lot of home runs, setting the single-season record in 1986 (50) and back-to-back seasons (’86, & ’87, when he allowed 46). He also never reached the magic 300 career wins threshold, falling short at 283. I think, though, that all of this stuff is irrelevant when you consider just how good his stuff was when he was in his prime. And while he never really won a lot of individual awards, he did lead two different teams to Wold Series victories.
Bert is eligible to get in through the writer’s vote until 2012. Each year he gets a little more support (he finished with 61.9 % of the vote last year). Hopefully the voters will finally get it right this time.
As a side note, I have to say that I really like having Bert do the color commentary for Twins games. Yes, he’s kind of crabby and if I hear him complain about how today’s pitchers are coddled, I’ll throw something at the t.v. Or invent a new drinking game. But he, and play-by-play guy Dick Bremer, really have a passion for the game that’s missing from the national broadcasts. I hate it when FOX features the Twins in the game-of-the-week because I have to listen to a bunch of drones who have absolutely no clue about what’s going on with the team, and sound as though they would rather be somewhere else (I’m looking at you, Joe Buck).
- In other news….
The Timberwolves have now won 5 straight games!!! I have no idea how long it’s been since they’ve had a 5-game winning streak, probably back when KG was still a Wolf. And I’m sure they’ll start losing again once they have to face an opponent who’s actually competent. Still, considering that the team was coming off a 13-game skid, it’s good to finally see the team show some flashes of talent.
I know I should be rooting for the Wolves to lose, otherwise it just validates Kevin McHale’s idiotic decisions as GM. And it’s clear that they’re not going to make the playoffs, so they should go for the higher draft pick. But, if I have learned anything over the past 20 years it is that the Wolves front office has no idea how to evaluate talent, and they’ll probably just screw it up anyway. For now, I am just going to enjoy this little hot streak, because it certainly won’t last.