Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
I suppose splitting a double-header against the Tigers was about the best the Twins could hope for, especially with Justin Verlander on the mound in game two. Both games were pretty exciting, and heck, it's fun to have meaningful baseball in September. This series certainly didn't look like it would be this important a couple of weeks ago. The Twins were seven games back on September 6. They lost their second-best hitter. They lost their starting third baseman. They lost one of their best young starters for the season, while others dealt with injuries and plain ineffectiveness. Meanwhile, the Tigers were rolling, winning seven of their past ten games and looked to have the division pretty much locked up. It's funny how quickly things can change. Just ask the Mets.
Unfortunately, the Twins' odds of winning the division have dropped to 15% after losing the second game of the double-header. Still, there is at least some reason to be optimistic. The pitching matchups definitely favor the Twins in the final two games of the series, at least on paper. Rookie Eddie Bonine will get the start tonight against Carl Pavano. Bonine is a pretty average righty, posting a 4.60 ERA, 1.466 WHIP and 1.60 K/BB ratio in 29.1 innings this season. He no-hit the White Sox through five innings in his last start, but lost when he surrendered a two-run homer to Gordon Beckham. The Tigers haven't been able to solve Pavano, scoring a mere seven runs in 37 innings, and his K/BB ratio is a pretty-good 22/0. Then Nate Robertson faces off against Scott Baker. Robertson isn't really anything special, but the Twins struggled to do much of anything against him the last time. Baker has been one of the Twins' most consistent starters all season, but he has had trouble against the Tigers, especially at Comerica Park. Yeah, yeah, I know, small sample size and all that, but it does make me a little nervous.
And to those who say that, should they somehow end up winning the Central, the Twins are just going to get destroyed by the Yankees in the ALDS: I know that, shut up. Seriously, setting aside the notion that the postseason is a crapshoot and anything can happen (especially in a short series like the ALDS), the Twins don't really match up well against the Yanks. And they haven't beaten them all season, so there's little reason to think they would do it in the playoffs. But who cares? It's October baseball! It's fun dammit, and the Twins haven't made it to the postseason since 2006. It would be a miracle for this team, with its battered lineup and patchwork starting rotation, to actually beat the odds and win the division in the first place. And that is good enough for me.
Sunday, September 27, 2009
F-bomb um, bombed in Kansas City. He lasted only 1.2 innings, surrendering three runs on three hits, while walking three. Once again he had trouble finding the plate, using 45 pitches to complete not-quite two innings. His day was pretty much done when he gave up a three-run homer to Yuniesky Betancourt, only the sixth homer Yuni has hit all year (seriously, he's slugging an anemic .342). I honestly don't know what, if any, future Liriano has with the organization at this point. It's so frustrating because he has good stuff, he still strikes out a lot of hitters, but he has clearly lost his control. And who knows if it will ever come back. If learning to locate pitches were such an easy thing to do, there wouldn't be any ineffective pitchers in baseball.
Zack Greinke, on the other hand, helped out his Cy Young campaign by stifling an offense that had scored 66 runs in its past ten games. He put runners on base in nearly every inning, and yet managed to pitch out of some very tight spots (the Twins went 1-14 with RISP vs. Greinke and Joakim Soria). He got Joe Mauer to strike out swinging twice, while Jason Kubel (0-4) and Michael Cuddyer (1-4) didn't have much success against him, either. His fastball averaged 94.23 mph and touched 98, his curveball about 72 mph, and he mixed in an 86 mph changeup and one very nasty slider. Too often, I think, fans want to blame the hitters when they fail to score any runs, without giving any credit to the opposing pitcher. Certainly if the offense is stymied by someone like, well, Nick Blackburn, there is reason to be upset. In this case, though, Greinke was just good.
Luckily, the White Sox beat the Tigers 8-4, so at least the Twins didn't lose any ground in the pennant race. There are a lot of good previews of the upcoming series at Comerica Park out there already, so I'm not going to write one. I will say this, however: if the Twins fail to at least win three of the four games, then they're done. A sweep would just about clinch the division. It's not impossible, the Twins are red-hot while the Tigers have been reeling, but it's pretty unlikely.
At least the Vikings game had a much more favorable outcome:
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Yes, that's what I'm calling him now, after the greatest interview ever. Denard Span went 4-for-5 with three singles and a triple, driving in a career-high 6 runs, and just generally helping the Twins beat the pesky Royals 11-6. Hmm, I guess that beaning didn't affect him at all. Or maybe it did. Anyway, the Tigers beat the White Sox so the Twins remain two games back as of this writing. The Twins face Zack Greinke tomorrow, so it's unlikely they will complete the sweep. Meanwhile, the Tigers wrap up the series with the reeling White Sox, whose manager lit into them after yesterday's blowout (um, Ozzie, if you're going to leave your starter in an inning too late, and not pull him until after he gives up back-to-back-to-back hits and coughs up a four-run lead, then you really should be yelling at yourself). The worst that can happen is that the Twins will be three games back when they start the big four game series in Detroit, certainly not an insurmountable deficit for a team that has won 11 of its past 12 games. And hey, they've already clinched a .500 record, so there's that...
Scott Baker won his fourteenth game of the season, though he didn't have one of his best outings. The Royals got off to an early 2-0 lead when he surrendered back-to-back solo shots to Alberto Callaspo and Brayan Pena, though both homers weren't really hit that hard. They were of the annoying, just-enough-to-clear-the-fence variety, the kind that flyball pitchers like Baker are bound to give up. He then retired the next thirteen batters he faced, before running into trouble again in the seventh. Jayson Stark wrote that the Twins have the shakiest starting rotation of all of the playoff contenders, and it's really hard to argue with him on that (Although, he does have Nick Blackburn penciled in as the no. 2 starter for some reason. Um, Beardo isn't even the no. 2 starter right now.). In the unlikely event that the Twins actually clinch the division, their starting rotation would probably be Scott Baker, Carl Pavano, and uh...Blackburn? The Dunce? F-bomb? Not a particularly fearsome group. Sure anything can happen in the postseason, especially in the short ALDS, but, well, let's not kid ourselves.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Despite sweeping the White Sox, The Twins find themselves three games behind Detroit with only ten games left to play. The Tigers swept the Indians while the Twins were idle tonight, and thus picked up a half game in the standings. The odds of the Twins actually beating the Tigers and winning the division are pretty long at this point, but it's not impossible and stranger things have happened. More importantly though, the Twins have been playing much better baseball at a crucial point in the season. They have now won nine of their past ten games, and are six games over .500 for the first time this season. And the lineup will get an enormous boost when Denard Span returns on Friday. If nothing else, the final week of the season should be pretty exciting.
- More playoff teams is not more better
"Essentially the only teams thinking about tomorrow in a September in which the NFL, college football and golf all blitz our consciousness are the eight teams that will be playing in October. So baseball, for 22 franchises, is either tepid or in full autumnal frost, with little momentum heading into the playoffs.
For the record, I'm not a huge fan of the current Wild Card format, either. I tend to agree with Joe Posnanski:
"I know I'm in the vast minority of people who don't like the wild card, but I don't like the wild card. And it really has nothing to do with tradition or the purity of the game or any of that nonsense. No, to me the wild card has taken away a lot of the fun.
This year provides a great example why. The Red Sox are five games back of the Yankees with two weeks left. The Yankees are teetering. The Red Sox are coming on. These should be an amazing two weeks as those two teams have to play their guts out just to make the playoffs. Every day should be filled with drama. The upcoming three-game series between the two should have all the emotion of a World Series. Monday's night's excruciating Red Sox loss to Kansas City -- a game in which Boston blew TWO six-run leads -- should be absolutely devastating. Instead, there's no drama at all. They're both making the playoffs. They're playing for the right to face the AL Central winner instead of the Angels. Not exactly nail-biting stuff."
Besides, it isn't as though there are rarely any pennant races under the current format. This is the first season in recent memory when almost all of the division races were wrapped up this early. Most of the races came down to the wire last year, and the year before that, and the year before that. And if the Wild Card itself has taught us nothing, it's that adding more teams to the mix does not necessarily add to the drama. If anything it just makes the postseason drag on even longer, and I doubt very much that MLB wants the World Series to end sometime around Thanksgiving.
- Francisco Liriano to start on Sunday
Keith Law notes (behind ESPN's pay wall, of course) that control is often the last thing to come back after Tommy John surgery, and not surprisingly, it's the thing F-bomb has struggled with the most this season. His velocity has been back up in the mid-90s, and his stuff is still absolutely filthy, but his lack of control has made him very hittable. It's one of the reasons he's been so inconsistent this season, brilliant in some starts and awful in others (and really more awful than not). Liriano still has enormous potential, however, and the Twins have been understandably reluctant to give up on him as a starter. He should get a chance to compete for a spot in the rotation next year.
- That Mauer guy is pretty good
Matt Tolbert homered. Orlando Cabrera homered. So did Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer, but *yawn* those two do that all the time. Of course, the Sox were not exactly lacking in offense either, tagging the Twins' pitchers for six runs on nine hits, three of which left the yard. The Twins scored eight runs despite losing some of the best hitters in the lineup (and Justin Morneau). Denard Span is listed as day-to-day after getting hit in the back of the helmet with an errant fastball by Randy Williams on Monday (Yes, it was errant. The Sox are notorious for throwing at hitters, but this beaning obviously wasn't intentional). Span has a mild concussion and though he isn't expected to miss more than a few days, it's unclear exactly when he will return to the lineup. Hopefully soon, there's only so much Carlos Gomez
The offense bailed out the leaky (Jeff) Manship, who failed to make it out of the third inning. Manship has struggled as a starter, surrendering twelve runs on nineteen hits in a little over thirteen innings. He doesn't strike out many hitters and has had trouble with walks at the major-league level, posting a dismal 1.20 K/BB ratio, but he hasn't surrendered many homers either (his HR/FB% is 7.1, which is pretty good). However, Manship's minor-league numbers are a little more encouraging and since he doesn't give up a lot of home runs, he should make at least a solid starter someday. Like Anthony Swarzak before him, he probably isn't ready to pitch in the major leagues just yet.
Unfortunately, the Tigers also won (stupid Cleveland, why can't you be more like Kansas City?). While the Twins are still only 2.5 games back, there aren't many games left to play. Provided they don't completely fall apart over the next week, the Tigers could clinch the division as early as next Monday. The Twins, on the other hand, could clinch the division as early as Wednesday, again, barring any major disasters (which is entirely possible, with the upcoming series in Kanas City). Sorry folks, looks like this is the closest thing to an actual pennant race in baseball right now.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Of course. The Twins really needed to seep the Tigers and they came up a little bit short. On paper, this looked like the most favorable matchup of the entire series, with reliever Nate Robertson making a spot start against default ace Scott Baker. The Twins handled Rick Porcello and Justin Verlander, the toughest starters in the Tigers' rotation, and they have owned Roberston throughout his career. But, as has often been the case this season, the Twins lost a game they really needed to win and probably should have won. Robertson stifled the overly-aggressive offense for five innings, scattering five hits while allowing only two runs. Baker, on the other hand, cruised along until the fifth, when he was tagged for three runs on four hits and just couldn't seem to get anyone out (as much as I love Scotty, he does tend to fall apart pretty quickly as soon as he hits a wall). The Tigers tacked on a couple more runs in the eighth just to put the game, and likely the division title, out of reach.
The Twins were seven games back as recently as two weeks ago, and I doubt anyone thought they would be playing meaningful games this late in the season. But here we are, just three games back with thirteen left to play. I am still skeptical that this team will actually catch the Tigers and win the division, but having something to play for is definitely more fun than playing out the string. Ten of their last thirteen games will be on the road and all of those games will be against AL Central foes. The Twins have three games in Chicago (where they play about as well as the Pale Hose play at the Dome), three games in Kansas City (the Royals are riding a ridiculous hot streak and I am terrified of them), and a four-game series in Detroit that will likely settle the division once and for all. The Tigers seem to be in a bit of a tailspin, but the Twins haven't played well on the road all season long and there isn't much reason to think they will start now. Once again, the division will come down to which mediocre team can play the least uninspiring ball down the stretch.
Honestly, though, none of these these teams would be postseason contenders if it weren't for divisional play. The Tigers are leading the Central despite posting a negative run differential (it's only -3, but still). The Orioles are the only team in the AL East with a negative run differential. In the West, only the Mariners and Athletics post negative run differentials, and both teams fell out of contention sometime before the All-Star break. Meanwhile, the Twins are the only team in the division to post a positive run differential (+20) and yet remain firmly in second place (for now). If I felt inclined to do so (i. e., $$$$$), I would look it up and find out how often something like this happens now compared to the era before divisional play, but I really don't care that much. A team that cannot outscore its opponents has no business contending for a postseason berth, period. But here we are.
Injury news: Joe Crede has been shut down for the season and will face yet another operation on his back. This news isn't terribly surprising, as Crede has put up poor numbers since the All-Star break and looked especially lost at the plate during his last game, when he struck out swinging four times. Despite playing only 90 games, Crede has been worth every penny of the $4 million the Twins will end up paying him this season. His defense alone has been invaluable, and it's likely that his bat would have been more than adequate had he been able to stay healthy.
Glen Perkins is scheduled to meet again with Dr. Lewis Yocum. Perkins isn't happy with the way the team has handled his return from the DL, being optioned to AAA instead of the major-league club, and thinks the team is trying to screw him out of service time to keep him from reaching super-two status and earning a bigger paycheck in arbitration this year (they probably are, the move does seem odd). He could have made an extra $2 million or so in arbitration, which a lot of money for a guy with a wife and two young kids (and whose major-league career is far from a sure thing, since mediocre lefties aren't exactly in short supply). However, it's also a lot of money for the Twins to spend on a barely replacement-level starter, especially since they have other, bigger issues to address in the offseason. Brian Duensing probably isn't as good as his 3.22 ERA suggests, but his emergence as a starter has likely made Perkins expendable. I wouldn't be surprised if the Twins dangled Perk as trade bait for a middle infielder.
Oh, yeah, there's also some sort of scheduling conflict with the Vikings should the Twins need to play a tiebreaking game against the Tigers. MLB says the Twins should have priority, but the NFL refuses to budge. I don't think it will end up being much of a problem, though.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
It's hard to believe, but the Twins are still somehow hanging around the AL Central race. They finished off a sweep of Cleveland earlier today and, coupled with a couple of Detroit losses to Kansas City, find themselves 4.5 games back with 16 games remaining. They have an off day on Thursday before the Tigers come to the Metrodome for a three game series. Calling this the most important series of the season isn't hyperbole: if the Twins fail to sweep the Tigers, they're done. A series win simply isn't enough with so few games remaining. Honestly, I don't know if they can pull it off. The Twins haven't won seven games in a row since June of last year, so I wouldn't count on them to do it now.
Obviously, the Twins will have to try to win the Central without Justin Morneau. Here are some perspectives on his season-ending injury:
Twinkie Town has everything you ever needed to know about stress fractures of the L5 vertebrae. It's even got diagrams! The good news is that Morny isn't going to need surgery and should be fine after about 3 months of rest.
Morneau and hitting coach Joe Vavra spoke with Joe Christensen of the Star Tribune about how the stress fracture in his back almost certainly contributed to his late-season slump. Of course, late season-slumps aren't anything new for Morneau, though he claims he's dealt with some sort of lower back pain the last three years. Which begs the question: if Morny is hurting, and if he therefore isn't very productive at the plate, then why is he still in the lineup almost every day? I'm not saying he needs to go on the DL with a few aches and pains, but an extra day off or two probably wouldn't hurt. Especially since he isn't really helping the team when he's in the midst of a slump.
Twins Fix presents Justin Morneau and the Ewing Theory. Maybe this is our year after all.
For his part, Cuddyer has filled in quite competently at first base. He's putting up first baseman-like numbers since taking over for Morneau, batting .328/.358/.688 with an OPS of 1.046 in 16 starts at first. Yeah, I know, it's a small sample size, but it's still much better than what the Twins were getting out of Morneau for the past month or so.
And can't every day be Fire Joe Morgan day at Deadspin? Especially after this gem (this one was pretty good, too). At least make it a weekly feature. Please?
Well, somebody has to carry this team to
Kubel got off to a great start this year, batting .311/.368/.547 in the first half of the season, and has quietly continued to tear the cover off the ball since the All-Star break. Interestingly, he's recently seen a drastic improvement in his numbers against lefties, batting .362/.415/.574 against them in the second half of the season. The inability to hit lefties has been one of Kubel's greatest weaknesses, and it was one of the things that kept him in Gardy's doghouse (and hopelessly stuck in a platoon with crappy right-handed hitters like Craig Monroe and Rondell White). Obviously, it's a little too early too determine whether Kubes has truly figured out left-handed pitching, but it looks like he has started hitting the ball to the opposite field a lot more. This is a very encouraging sign, since the great left-handed hitters in the lineup also tend to drive the ball the other way with authority (Mauer is probably the poster boy for hitting the ball to the opposite field) and not coincidentally, also tend to hit lefties pretty well. You know, maybe I should just let Kubel Khan explain it himself:
"The beginning of the second half, there was a point I wasn't going too well, and the only hits I was getting were against lefties. Against lefties, I feel like I concentrate more on seeing the ball better. I think that could help."
At least he's finally out of the doghouse:
"I like to put him in the lineup," Gardenhire said. "I like him better in there than sitting next to me."
*On a completely unrelated note, the Hardball Times' Geoff Young wrote an interesting piece on the AL batting race. For those too lazy to click the link, he pointed out that this might be the first time in in more than fifty years that someone in the American League has batted over .360 and failed to win the batting title. The last time it happened was in 1957, when Mickey Mantle batted .365 but lost to Ted Williams, who batted .388 (it's happened much more recently in the National League, when Mike Piazza and Larry Walker both batted over .360 but lost to Tony Gwynn in 1997). Ichiro has fallen to .353 since the article was published, but there are 17 games remaining so it could still happen. Man Muscles, on the other hand, just had back-to-back three-hit games to raise his batting average to .371. *Sigh* At least we have something left to cheer for.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Francoeur is a year older than Delmon and made his major-league debut for the Braves at the tender age of 21, batting a respectable .300/.336/.549 with a 125 OPS+. Delmon was only 20 when he made his debut for the Rays in 2006, and batted a decent .317/.336/467, though with a less-impressive 108 OPS+. Unfortunately, they both fell off of a proverbial cliff after that. The two have put up remarkably similar numbers since 2007:
This decline in production isn't terribly surprising, since Young and Francoeur have never displayed much plate discipline. Delmon in particular chases about 41% of pitches outside the zone, while making contact only 54% of the time. They also tend to strike out a lot while drawing few walks, with Young and Francoeur posting respective 0.21 and 0.27 BB/K ratios. Striking out a lot in and of itself isn't necessarily a problem, since most sluggers tend to strike out pretty frequently. It's a lack of pitch selection and recognition combined with a high whiff rate that turns many promising major-leaguers into insurance salesmen.
Both Young and Francoeur are still relatively young and it's obviously too early to write them off just yet. But neither one has shown any improvement in pitch selection or recognition over their brief careers, and neither will see any significant improvement in their production until they do (and really, in Francoeur's case, there isn't much reason to think he even understands the value of plate discipline). Delmon has at least stopped chasing pitches outside the strike zone so much, but he's also hacking away at pitches inside the zone a lot more without actually making contact. Consequently, he's actually walking less and striking out more without seeing any improvement in his production.
The Twins have played with four outfielders all season long, but recently Ron Gardenhire has expressed a desire to find a permanent position for Denard Span. That just isn't going to happen with the crowded outfield situation, and the Twins will have some very difficult decisions to make in the offseason. Michael Cuddyer is putting up some of the best numbers of his career, and he will get paid $18 million over the next two years, so he would be a logical choice to dangle as trade bait. However, there probably won't be much interest in an expensive, injury-prone corner outfielder on the wrong side of 30. Besides, the organization tends to value intangibles like leadership and card tricks, so Cuddy probably isn't going anywhere. Carlos Gomez has actually been much worse at the plate than Delmon, but his tremendous range in the outfield makes even the crappiest of pitchers look decent. Since the Twins tend to preach pitching to contact, the better defender is the more valuable of two crappy hitters. Delmon then logically becomes the odd man out, and indeed his name has been mentioned in trade rumors almost as soon as he came over from Tampa Bay. Rumors that Delmon is stubborn and difficult to for the coaching staff to work with certainly aren't helping his cause, either. Still, the Twins gave up an awful lot when they acquired him from the Rays, and he hasn't even entered his prime, so the front office might not be ready to give up on him just yet.
- Morneau held out of the lineup on Sunday with a stiff back
- Nope, not drinking the Kool-Aid yet
Saturday, September 12, 2009
This season has been disappointing for Twins fans, to say the least. Naturally, whenever a team fails to live up to expectations, the manager and the coaching staff are the first ones to get the blame, even if those expectations may have been somewhat unreasonable to begin with (more on that in a minute). Not surprisingly, there is a growing contingent of Twins fans who feel that Gardy and his staff should be fired. Which is kind of funny because so many people were quick to praise him and his staff when the same team exceeded expectations last year.
I don't think the Twins' lackluster performance this season is all Gardy's fault. Or Andy's fault. Or Joe Vavra's fault (Especially since offense hasn't really been a problem this year. At least somebody on the staff is doing his job, right?). I don't think American League managers really have that much influence over the outcome of the game. Oh, I think there are a few great managers who are certainly hall-of-fame bound once they decide to retire, and maybe those managers really do win ballgames. I mean, if you can win so goddamn much while bouncing from organization to organization over the years, you must be doing something right. But in the grand scheme of things, Billy Beane is probably right. Most AL managers tend to be pretty average, not really brilliant strategists but not incompetent enough to cost their team many wins, and Gardy certainly fits in that category. Perhaps the role of the modern AL manager is simply to manage all of the different personalities in the clubhouse, and Gardy seems to do a pretty good job in that respect.
That isn't to say that Gardy is without fault. We all know how he loves scrappy, light-hitting middle infielders who play hard but don't have much in the way of actual talent. He will always find a way to work these guys in the lineup (usually batting second, one of the most important spots in the lineup *sigh*), while a more capable player (especially a young player) rots on the bench. And that's another thing: his distrust (dislike?) of young players. Whenever a young player makes a mistake (which they inevitably will), Gardy banishes him to the doghouse and bashes him in the press, while a veteran player gets free reign to screw up as much as he wants and Gardy will vigorously defend him. I realize that a lot of managers are like that, but this organization tends to depend heavily on the contributions of young players. In that context, maybe Gardy isn't the best man for the job. It's definitely something the front office will have to think about during the offseason.
As for the season being a disappointment, I guess that's kind of true. This is a weak division, and the Twins do have some very good players, so it is disappointing that they just can't reach out and take it. But, to be honest, this team didn't look like anything to get excited about before the season started. This is essentially the same team the Twins trotted out last year, and while they came within a game of winning the division, that team was clearly playing above its head (and benefiting from an extremely weak division). Projection systems such as PECOTA aren't always right (most of them picked the Red Sox to win the AL East), but most picked the Twins to finish 79-83. And that looks about right, though the Twins might actually exceed those expectations and finish 81-81, so it isn't as though they've underperformed based on their level of talent. Obviously, fans should expect a lot from their teams and shouldn't have to settle for mediocrity, but a mediocre team just isn't going to be anything more than that no matter who is at the helm.
If anyone deserves the blame for the outcome of the season, it is the front office. Bill Smith had opportunities during the offseason to upgrade the middle infield and the bullpen on the cheap, and he repeatedly failed to do either. Instead, he decided to spend $8.5 million on Nick Punto (a decision that actually didn't seem so horrible at the time, considering what Orlando Cabrera was asking and Punto was coming off a decent year offensively). He gambled that the starting rotation would either improve or at least perform to the same level it did last year, and lost. When it became clear that the team wouldn't compete the way it was currently constructed, he spent a lot in resources to provide modest upgrades. Carl Pavano has pitched competently, and I wouldn't mind bringing him back if the price is right, but is he worth Yohan Pino? Is Jon Rauch worth Kevin Mulvey? The Twins better hope that Tyler Ladendorf doesn't turn into anything special, either (ugh, they won't even get any draft picks when Cabrera signs elsewhere). Smith traded away a couple of major-league ready pitchers and middle infield prospect, areas in which the Twins have the greatest need, for a few mid-season rentals that aren't going to put them over the top (at least Rauch will be back next year). I do have to give Smith some credit for addressing the third-base problem by signing Joe Crede, and I do think the signing has been a good one, despite Crede's lingering health issues. And he locked up Scott Baker and Jason Kubel in contract extensions that look to be bargains so far. Still, it doesn't take a genius to realize that it's in the best interest of an organization to lock up its young talent on the cheap, and Smith's other moves don't exactly inspire a lot of confidence.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
So the same team that beat Roy Halladay got pwned by Brett Cecil? *sigh*. And now the Twins are back to .500 for what seems like the billionth time this season. This team just stubbornly insists on being perfectly average.
- Twins help Blue Jays set new attendance record:
before, and I don't really blame Blue Jays fans for not wanting to shell out a ton of money to watch their team lose. I don't fault Jays fans for not wanting to support an incompetent front office that seems intent on alienating what little remains of its fanbase. I can however, blame them for shelling out a ton of money to watch the Leafs lose. Come on Toronto, how can you support one crappy team with a clueless front office and not another? Of course, Twins fans are the last people who should pass judgment on bandwagon fans. If this weren't the final season at the Metrodome (ZOMG, the final season of indoor baseball!!1!), I doubt this uninspiring team would be boasting nearly 2 million in attendance (or sell out the final home game). My dad and I would go to games in the late '90s because it was cheap and you could get pretty good seats, since the place was practically empty most of the time. Ten years ago today, Eric Milton threw a no-hitter in front of a whopping 11,222 fans (To be fair, he was facing a very weak Angels lineup. Glen Perkins could probably no-hit that squad). Since the Twins teams of that era were pretty bad, while the Vikings were fielding one of the greatest teams in franchise history, I don't really blame my fellow Minnesotans for having other sports-related priorities. Of course, once the Twins put together a decent team again, people started coming out to see them.
- I like Denard Span, I like him a lot
It's rare that someone like Span, who was widely considered a bust before he even played a major-league game, would have such an impact in his rookie season. His minor league numbers were less than impressive, and he never displayed much discipline at the plate, so his 2008 season (in which he batted .294/.387/.432 with a 125 OPS+ and finished 6th in ROY voting) seemly came out of nowhere. It was tempting to label him a one-season wonder, but he displayed plate discipline and contact skills that don't usually disappear overnight. And indeed, his numbers this year are nearly identical to last, though his power seems to have declined a little. He's drawn comparisons to Kenny Lofton, and the two are strikingly similar, though Span is probably a little more patient at the plate. Considering that Lofton was a solid player for seventeen seasons in the major leagues, that isn't a bad thing at all.
- F-bomb is back, but in the bullpen
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Oh, sure the Twins decide to play well now that the games don't really matter anymore (Last night's debacle notwithstanding. Or that series in Cleveland, either). *Sigh*. They beat Toronto ace Roy Halladay for the first time ever. Seriously. He was 8-0 in ten starts against our Twinks. I realize that Doc has been awfully beatable lately, but with the
The Twins are one game over .500 for what seems like the billionth time this season. This has to be some sort of record, but I'm way too lazy to research something that doesn't really matter all that much, anyway. Being historically mediocre isn't anything to get excited about, unless the Twins somehow manage to sneak into the playoffs and win the World Series. Hey, it could happen.
Saturday, September 5, 2009
Morneau is apparently in the midst of one of his trademark late-season slumps. He's batting an anemic .161/.284/.274 with only one homer in his past 18 games, and his power has all but disappeared. He's looked awful at the plate, chasing pitches well outside the strike zone and hitting a lot of weak ground balls and shallow pop-ups. This is part of what has been a disturbing trend for Morny over his past five seasons:
While the September swoon is an annual occurrence, Morny's decline seems to be worse than usual this year (in an extremely small sample size of 106 plate appearances since August 1st, that is). He could be suffering from some lingering affects from his inner ear infection, since his production started to decline sharply around the time he was diagnosed with the condition. His timing is obviously off, but that isn't unusual for a hitter in a terrible slump, either. There has also been speculation that Morneau has some sort of chronic, nagging injury, but unless it's something that only affects him later in the season, that doesn't make much sense. Gardy made some sort of off-hand comment about his back during spring training, which seemed odd because Morny had never before complained of back trouble. He has started 826 games in his seven major league seasons, nearly half of which have been on the Dome turf, so it's possible that his back starts to bother him late in the season. However, until Morneau publicly acknowledges that he is suffering from back or any other health problems, there isn't any reason to think that this is anything more than just another late-season slump.
On a completely unrelated note, since
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Oh sure, today's epic fail against the Pale Hosers at the Metrodome was disappointing on so many levels. The umpiring was awful, both behind the plate and in the field. Brian Duensing pitched a gem but was robbed of the win when the best reliever in the bullpen completely shit the bed. It's also the final game at the Metrodome for the Pale Hosers, and this wasn't exactly the way I wanted to remember it. All of this made me say many, many, many bad words. But calling it a brutal loss that might cost the Twins a postseason berth is a tad over-dramatic. Going 2-6 during the previous homestand against division powerhouses Cleveland and Kansas City is the type of thing that might cost the Twins a postseason berth. Besides, this isn't even the worst loss of the season. That would be the shitshow in Oakland, when the Twins blew a 10-run lead against a weak Athletics lineup:
Blech. And it was all topped off by that blown call at the plate. Home plate umpire Mike Muchlinski called Michael Cuddyer, who represented the tying run, out a the plate even though HE WAS CLEARLY SAFE!!! It was just one unbelievably horrible night. I had trouble sleeping after that one. I'll sleep just fine tonight.
I have always found it ridiculous to blame one particular loss, no matter how heartbreaking it might be, whenever a baseball team comes up a little short of a postseason berth. It's a 162-game season! This isn't football, where one heartbreaking loss can indeed make or break an entire season. Baseball teams have many, many, many opportunities to piss away their playoff hopes. This one loss to the White Sox isn't going to cost the Twins the Central. Neither will that one loss in Oakland. It's all of the chances the Twins have had to gain ground on the Tigers, and failed to do so, that will cost them. Letting all those late leads slip away in Yankee Stadium is going to cost them. Getting swept by the Angels during their last series at the Dome is going to cost them. Going 6-6 against the Indians, and 7-5 against Kansas City, teams they should dominate, is going to cost them. Before the last series in Arlington, the Twins had lost seven of their past ten games, while the Tigers went 5-5 during that stretch. This team has lost 66 games so far this year, they're not going to miss the postseason because they didn't beat the White Sox that one time. They're going to miss the postseason because they're just not good enough to make it. It's as simple as that.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
With last night's 4-1 victory over the Pale Hose and Detroit's loss to Tampa Bay, the Twins find themselves only 3.5 games out of first place. At this point, the Twins are the only second-place team with any realistic chance of winning the division, none of the other division races are particularly close (and really, only the NL wild card race is closer). There is suddenly a renewed optimism in the team's postseason chances, heck, even PECOTA thinks they might make it. The comparisons to 2006, when the Twins made a magical run to capture the AL Central title, are probably inevitable. But let's not go nuts.
The 2006 Twins got off to a terrible start, posting a 25-33 record by June 7 and looked to be going nowhere fast. They found themselves eleven games back at the All-Star break, but went on an incredible 49-28 run in the second half of the season to steal the division from the Tigers. It's often thought that they sort of came out of nowhere to capture the division title (or at least Ozzie Guillen thought so). That isn't exactly true. Once they jettisoned some dead weight, this was actually a really good team:
Joe Mauer: 347/.429/.507 144 OPS+ 6.1 WAR. Man Muscles won his first batting title!
Justin Morneau: .321/.375/.559 140 OPS+ 4.4 WAR. And Morny robbed Jeter of the MVP, despite quite obviously being the second-most valuable player on his own team.
Nick Punto: .290/.352/.373 90 OPS+ 3.1 WAR. Yeah, Punto was useful once.
Michael Cuddyer: .284/.362/.504 124 OPS+ 3.1 WAR. Still Cuddles' best season to date.
Jason Bartlett: .309/.367/.393 99 OPS+ 3.0 WAR. God, I miss Barty.
Torii Hunter: .278/.336/.490 112 OPS+ 2.2 WAR. The Twins hadn't had a player hit more than 30 homers in a season since 1987. This year they had two.
Luis Castillo: .296/.358/.370 91 OPS+ 2.1 WAR. Sadly, Castillo is probably the third-best second baseman in Twins' history.
LEWWW!!! Ford: .226/.287/.312 57 OPS+ -0.1 WAR. I kind of miss him. He wasn't very good, but man, those stories.
Rondell White: .246/.276/.365 66 OPS+ -1.2 WAR. And he was the DH! Do you see now, Dave Cameron, why the Twins saw fit to lock up Jason Kubel?
The starting rotation wasn't bad, either:
Johan Santana: 2.77 ERA 3.42 xFIP 3.39 tRA 7.3 WAR. *Sigh* He won his second Cy Young that year, too.
Francisco Liriano: 2.16 ERA 2.57 xFIP 3.14 tRA 4.1 WAR. *Sigh* If only we had a time machine so F-bomb could go back and take a couple of starts off.
Brad Radke: 4.32 ERA 4.85 xFIP 5.21 tRA 2.0 WAR. And his arm had pretty much fallen off at this point!
Boof Bonser: 4.22 ERA 4.39 xFIP 4.42 tRA 1.3 WAR. Boof was kind of thrown into the rotation when F-bomb went down.
Scott Baker: 6.37 ERA 4.95 xFIP 5.24 tRA 0.7 WAR. Scotty's rookie season was somewhat less than stellar.
Carlos Silva: 5.94 ERA 5.09 xFIP 6.80 tRA 0.1 WAR. The worst starter in the rotation was actually pretty average. How I miss those days.
And they had the best bullpen in all of baseball. It's not at all surprising that the 2006 team won 96 games and captured the AL Central crown, and they really should have gone deeper into October. If it weren't for Torii Hunter and his brain fart, there may have been a re-match of the 1987 World Series.
The 2009 team, on the other hand, is a different story. I mean, it's not like Mauer, Morneau, and Kubel are getting a lot of help:
Denard Span: .310/.395/.408 119 OPS+ 3.1 WAR. You have to love indentured servitude.
Joe Crede: .221/.293/.421 90 OPS+ 1.9 WAR. Crede can take the rest of the season off, he's already earned his paycheck.
Michael Cuddyer: .275/.342/.504 126 OPS+ 1.5 WAR. Cuddyver.
Carlos Gomez: .239/.294/.354 99 OPS+ 0.4 WAR. Oh, Go-Go. Um, at least he's good in the outfield.
Punto: .213/.315/.265 60 OPS+ 0.3 WAR. Yeah, Punto was useful. Too bad this version is getting paid $4 million.
Brendan Harris: .267/.311/.372 84 OPS+ 0.2 WAR. God, I sure miss Barty.
Orlando Cabrera: .259/.283/.375 77 OPS+ -0.5 WAR. Well, it looks like Tyler Ladendorf won't amount to much, so there's that...
Alexi Casilla: .194/.278/.251 48 OPS+ -1.2 WAR. At least he's not making $4 million this year.
Delmon Young: .264/.288/.384 80 OPS+ -1.4 WAR. *Sigh* Maybe Delmon will grow up to be a replacement-level outfielder someday.
And, with a few exceptions, the pitching staff is a mess:
Baker: 4.44 ERA 4.28 xFIP 4.41 tRA 3.0 WAR. That 4-year, $15.25 million extension is looking like a bargain right now.
Nick Blackburn: 4.16 ERA 5.02 xFIP 4.72 tRA 2.3 WAR. Blackie earned his first win since the All-Star break last night. Too bad he can't pitch against the White Sox at the Dome the entire season.
Joe Nathan: 1.71 ERA 2.91 xFIP 1.81 tRA 2.1 WAR. You know you're in trouble when a reliever is the third-most valuable pitcher on your staff. Even if that reliever is one of the best closers in baseball.
Kevin Slowey: 4.86 ERA 4.49 xFIP 4.63 tRA 1.4 WAR. Get well soon,
Liriano: 5.80 ERA 4.74 xFIP 5.18 tRA 1.3 WAR. Now, where is that time machine?
Glen Perkins: 5.89 ERA 5.12 xFIP 4.51 tRA 1.1 WAR. Yep, Perk is the fifth-most valuable pitcher on the staff, and fourth-most in the rotation. I know, I was surprised too.
Carl Pavano: 4.06 ERA 4.36 xFIP 4.41 tRA 0.9 WAR. Actually, if you count his time in Cleveland, Pavano is good for 2.8 wins above replacement. Which would make him the second-most valuable pitcher on the team if he had spent the entire season in Minnesota. And he wouldn't have cost an intriguing major-league ready pitching prospect, either.
Matt Guerrier: 2.29 ERA 4.23 xFIP 4.15 tRA 0.9 WAR. Wonder why this team is 66-65? The Mayor is more valuable than half of the rookies that have been thrown into the rotation.
Anthony Swarzak, Brian Duensing, and, of course, the rest of the bullpen round out the list. The relievers haven't been as bad as people tend to think, but they're nowhere near as talented as the 2006 crew. Ugh, this team will be lucky if they win 82 games.
Could the Twins actually win this thing? Uh, sure, why not? It's not like the Tigers are running away with it or anything. But it's hard to call this a pennant race when the division leader is a mere eight games over .500 this late in the season. It's more like last year's meh-fest.