Saturday, April 30, 2011

Rock Bottom

Last night, an awful 8th inning in the field for the Twins helped Kansas City to a 4-3 win. It marked the fourth straight defeat for hometown 9, bringing their record to 9-16. They are currently tied with the South Siders for last place in the AL Central. If you have seen any Twins games this week, it makes you nauseous. And one can only think, it can't get much worse.

Injuries have plagued the Twins so far in 2011. Starters Joe Mauer (leg weakness/viral infection), Tsuyoshi Nishioka (broken fibula), and Delmon Young (Flu/Oblique) all have missed a good portion of April. Other mainstays such as Justin Morneau and Jim Thome have battled minor ailments, but they kept them out of the lineup for a few games. So filing the lineup card on a daily basis has not been easy for Manager Ron Gardenhire.

And when your key players are spending more time in the trainers room, than being on the field, your run production is going to suffer. The Twins rank at the bottom of the Major Leagues in runs, home runs, on base percentage, and slugging percentage. To prove how bad it is, the Twins have played 225 innings this year. In those 225, they have had just 8 innings where the offense has gotten four or more hits in an inning. That comes out to three and a half percent.

But perhaps the big problem of the offense is having inept hitting catchers Drew Butera and Steve Holm behind the plate. Together they have hit a combined .118 with 4 RBI. And what makes it worse is that former C's Jose Morales (.227 AVG, 4 RBI, .346 OBP in 8 games with COL) and Wilson Ramos (.373, 2 HR, 6 RBI in 16 games with Washington) are doing much better than Butera or Holm.

And lets not forget that Twins pitching has been sub-par this year as well. Francisco Liriano (9.13 ERA) has just been shelled in seemingly every one of his starts. Joe Nathan was removed from the closers role because his velocity and command have been very bad. And besides Jose Mijares and Glen Perkins, the middle relief has been horrible.

But perhaps my biggest cringe this year has been watching Alexi Casilla play shortstop everyday. He will make some good defensive plays, but then it gets evened out with his booting of a routine play (i.e. last night's 8th inning). Offensively, it has gotten predicable. Lately all he seemingly does is flyout weakly. A guy with decent speed that he possesses should be trying to hit the ball on the ground and use that speed. He only carries a .227 average coming into tonights game. So the leash on him has to be getting close to choke level, especially with Trevor Plouffe continuing his offensive surge down at AAA-Rochester (.261, 5 HR, and 12 RBI).

This is by far the worst I have seen this team play under Ron Gardenhire. Everyday it seems like the same story that results in another loss. The last time the Twins were in last place this late in the season was in 2000, and that team finished last at season's end. So you have to ask yourself, it can only start getting better...right?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Not A Start We Envisioned

Last night, the Twins were crushed 11-0 by the Baltimore Orioles. The Twins are off to a 6-11 start and currently reside in the cellar of the AL's Central division. They have yet to score more than 5 runs in a game, and their bullpen has been what was expected of it...not good. Many people are beginning to push the panic button. Something I refuse to do this early in the season, despite the signs that this team might just play like all other Minnesota sports this past winter (Meaning they will underperform and fail).

There is some good news with this slow start. The Twins will be done, for the most part, with the AL East. Its a big powerful division that, in years past, has feasted on Twins pitching. This year has been no exception. The Twins were just 15-18 against the AL East in 2010. The only team in that division that had a losing record against the Twins was the last place Orioles, a team that is much improved in 2011. After this month, the Twins only have one more East coast trip and that is to Boston in early May. They do have home series against Baltimore, Boston, New York, and Toronto remaining, but the Twins are a much different team at home compared to the road. So clearly the schedule is in the Twins favor going forward.

Here is some more reason for optimism: The Twins play in the AL Central. A division where Cleveland and Kansas City begin the day at the top. If someone were to look at the division, they would say it is in inverse order (Cleveland, Kansas City, Detroit, Chicago, Minnesota). Many have picked the latter three to contend in this division while the front two were nabbed as the cellar dwellers. It will be interesting to see how the Indians and Royals fare as the season goes along and the Tigers, Sox, and Twins begin to heat up. Trust me, these teams will not go down quietly. And with the lack of experience on the Indians and Royals, I still believe one of the bottom three will take the division.

Here's the bad news: The Twins offense has yet to appear. The Twins currently rank last in the majors in runs (50), walks (40), slugging percentage (.315), and home runs (5). Again, some of this is due in part to the team playing the AL East, but some of this is in part to key players missing a significant part of Spring Training. Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, and Delmon Young missed half of Spring with various injuries. And Mauer, Morneau, and Young have/or are currently missing time with aliments during the past week. So the hope of them getting their timing down has to be put on hold. And not forgetting that 2B Tsuyoshi Nishioka has been out since the first week with a broken fibula, the manager has had to pencil some role players into starting jobs. So clearly there is a way to go for the offense.

So please, I urge you to keep the faith in this team. Yes, It wasn't supposed to start like this. But, they will get healthy, they will score some runs, and they will put up a fight before the year is over. Because these players are not used to losing.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Few Good Notes

  • Today, the Twins salvaged their four game series with Tampa Bay by winning 4-2. The Twins carry a 5-10 record in their first 15 games and are 6 games behind the first place Indians. Many people have voiced concern with the team's slow start, mainly due to the lack of offense. But before you jump off the bandwagon please note this: The Twins have played 10 games against the AL East, a division they do not fare well against (15-18 last year). They have just played two games against the AL Central, a division the generally do much better against (47-25 last year). Their offense has yet to come to life, but we all know it will (Do you expect them to hit like this all year?). And finally, if the team can hang around in the race, Bill Smith has a good track record of bringing in some quality help.
  • It was announced today that Joe Nathan will not be closing for a good while. Matt Capps, who picked up a save today, will be the closer. Nathan has the will and intensity to close, but his stuff is far below where it used to be. His fastball velocity, typically 94-95 MPH, is now sitting in the 92-93 area. And he has relied on his slider far too much. Nathan will be used in less stressful situations to help get his game back on track. But if Capps has a 2010 like season, he could be the closer all year.
  • Joe Mauer was placed on the DL Thursday with what was believed to be bilateral leg weakness. But Friday, it was discovered it was just a viral infection. Mauer is traveling with the team, but has reportedly lost 12 pounds since Thursday. He should return relatively quick after his time on the DL is up, but with him, it could be a while. Maybe look for him to rehab and play in some games down in Florida when he feels better. Because honestly, he hadn't looked all that great at the plate so I would rather see the Twins take their time and get him right before putting him back on the big league roster.
  • The Twins released a new TV ad after today's game featuring Jim Thome, Joe Mauer, and Michael Cuddyer. Check it out here:
  • The Twins head out to Baltimore for a four game set before returning home for the weekend. The birds have lost 6 in a row heading into the series. So maybe the Twins can jump on them early tomorrow night and set the table for a good series.

Later on this week, I'm going to start a Minor league update which I will be trying to do on a weekly basis. Also I will start keeping my MLB power rankings on the right side of the blog now that we are a few weeks into the regular season.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Top 10 Games I Have Attended

Today, the Twins open their home schedule against the Oakland A's. Instead of analyzing the series I want to do a little bit of a lighter post. So I will here list the 10 best games I have been at in my brief lifetime of watching Minnesota Twins baseball. All but one of these games was played in Minneapolis. So enjoy!

10. July 20, 2005-Twins 3, Orioles 2: This game was an afternoon game I just happened to score tickets to. Brad Radke gave the Twins 7 good innings and just allowed a 2 run home run to Rafael Palmiero in the fourth. The Twins answered in the 6th with a RBI triple by Shannon Stewart and a RBI groundout by Joe Mauer. After that no team had a hit until the ninth, when in the bottom half, Jacque Jones took a Jason Grimsley pitch into the left field seats giving the Twins a 3-2 win. It was the first walk off hit/home run I witnessed in person and it certainly is not the last on this list.

9. July 22, 2008-Yankees 8, Twins 2: On paper, this game was a blowout. But, this was very memorable to actually say I saw a game in the original Yankee Stadium. I absolutely loved the stadium, and loved being in New York for that matter. The Twins got drilled, but honestly, I didn't care. Yankee Stadium was everything as advertised. And it will always have a place on this list (If not in the top 10, then honorable mention).

8. May 23, 2009-Twins 11, Brewers 3: Another game that on paper shouldn't seem to make this list. But it did thanks to Michael Cuddyer, who quietly hit for the cycle in this game. And his triple in the 6th inning gave him the feat, the second Twins player to do so that year. Definitely a great moment for Cuddyer in a even more incredible season for him.

7. September 28, 2006-Twins 2, Royals 1: This game should be higher up the list. But, this all it gets. The Twins entered the game a half game behind the idle Tigers and battling a Royals team that always likes to play spoiler. They were on that incredible second half tear, while Detroit was in a second half slump. This game also marked the return, and final home start, by Brad Radke following a shoulder injury. The Royals got a run in the second and could not score again. Problem was, neither could the Twins. Radke pitched 5 innings before coming out and receiving a huge ovation from the grateful Dome crowd. The Twins trailed 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth and with two outs, their batting champion Joe Mauer stepped in. He took a Joe Nelson fastball, drove it the opposite way, and it just barely cleared the left field fence for a game tying home run. The following inning, the Twins loaded the bases and the resurgent Jason Bartlett hit a deep drive to center to win the game and get the Twins tied for first.

6. April 17, 2009-Twins 11, Angels 9: Entering the bottom half of the 7th inning, the Twins found themselves in a 8-3 hole after allowing 5 runs in the top half. Half the Metrodome crowd had deemed it best to leave and beat the traffic. The other half were rewarded mightily. Both teams exchanged runs in the next inning to make the score 9-4. The Twins had scored three runs and had the bases loaded with two outs for Jason Kubel, who needed a home run to hit for the cycle. He took a hanging Jason Bulger curveball and buried it in the upper deck of the Metrodome, giving the Twins a 11-9 lead, ultimately a win, and completing his cycle.

5. October 1, 2006-Twins 5, White Sox 1: The Twins and Tigers came into their weekend series tied for first. They both lost on Friday and Saturday, keeping them tied for first. Both had already clinched a playoff spot, but the winner of the division got to start the postseason at home. The Sox scored in the first, but the Twins pulled off 5 unanswered runs and from then on it became scoreboard watching time. The Tigers-Royals game was back and forth. And once the Twins game was finished, the game went on the Metrodome jumbotron. Finally, in the tenth inning the Royals scored twice and finished the game in the bottom half, giving the Twins the division. The players stormed the field and the fans partied in the streets. A great day for any Twins fan.

4. August 17, 2010-Twins 7, White Sox 6: Again, the White Sox make this fabled list. They two teams were locked in a duel at Target Field trying to jockey for position in the AL Central race. The Twins went up 4-0, the Sox battled back and it was back and forth all game. The Sox got a run in the top of the tenth to give them a 6-5 lead. Entering the bottom half, Matt Thornton returned to the mound after completing the ninth for Chicago. Delmon Young hit the first pitch of the inning to center for a base hit. Jim Thome stepped in and took a tremendous cut at his first pitch but missed. The second pitch was a Thornton fastball that caught far too much of the plate. Thome launched one deep into the Minneapolis night sending the Twins home winners, and giving Target Field its first walk off home run.

3. September 25, 2008-Twins 7, White Sox 6: The Twins entered a crucial series with Chicago down 2.5 games and needing a sweep to take the lead with one series left. They won the first two games, but in this finale they found themselves in a 6-1 hole entering the bottom of the fourth. The battled back and were down two entering the eighth. A Carlos Gomez RBI base hit, followed by a dramatic Denard Span triple, off closer Bobby Jenks, tied the game. The game went into extra innings where in the 10th Jenks was still on the hill for the Sox. A walk to Nick Punto followed by a groundout to second by Gomez (Punto advancing to second and eventually third on a wild pitch) and intentional walk to Denard Span with two outs set the stage for Alexi Casilla. He took a 0-1 changeup into centerfield for a hit giving the Twins the win and the division lead. The Twins eventually lost that lead and lost the division to Chicago in the first game 163, but the fact the 2008 Twins got that far when no one expected them to was incredible.

2. April 12, 2010-Twins 5, Red Sox 2: This was a day Twins fans long awaited. They were finally playing a home game outdoors for the first time since 1981. And on a glorious April afternoon, the Twins played a glorious game. They got ahead on the Red Sox and they never could come back. Marco Scutaro got the first Target Field hit, and Jason Kubel belted the first home run. The game was not that memorable, but the fact the days of the Dome were over and that baseball was back under the sun and the stars made this one incredible game. But it was not able to trump the next one...

1. October 6, 2009-Twins 6, Tigers 5: If any Twins fan says game 163, you automatically get a big grin on your face. This was the most back and forth, gut wrenching, hair ripping game I have been and may ever be a part of. Detroit jumped out to a 3-0 lead. It was 3-2 in the seventh, when with one on and one out, Orlando Cabrera hammered a Zach Miner fastball into the left field seats for a 4-3 Twins lead. The first pitch of the following inning was thrown by Matt Guerrier to Magglio Ordonez and Ordonez launched one to left to tie it up at 4. The game went to extra innings (following a incredible line drive double play pulled off by Cabrera). The Tigers got a run in the top of the 10th on a Brandon Inge double. The Twins got a leadoff triple from Michael Cuddyer (More in part to the terrible defense by Ryan Raburn who dove for a ball that could of been just a single). A groundout by Delmon Young and a walk to Brendan Harris put runners at the corners and one out for Matt Tolbert. On a 0-2 pitch he hit a weak grounder up the middle that looked like an game ending double play ball. But it took a quick hop of the Metrodome turf and skipped into centerfield for a base hit. Alexi Casilla, running for Harris, went to third on the play. The Twins did not score again that inning. Into the 12th, the Tigers loaded the bases off of reliever Bobby Keppel. Brandon Inge, who was grazed by a pitch during the at bat, grounded to second and the throw came home to force out the runner. Gerald Laird the next batter worked the count full before whiffing on a low fastball. The next inning, Carlos Gomez leadoff with a base hit and a weak groundout to second by Cuddyer moved him to second. Delmon Young was intentional walked to pitch to Casilla with one out. On Fernando Rodney's 1-1 pitch, Casilla hit a groundball through the right side of the infield and easily scoring Gomez, giving the Twins their 5th division title under Ron Gardenhire.

Enjoy Target Field Baseball Everyone!!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Time To Change The Pitching Philosophy

This kind of a more negative post in spite of the great Twins comeback on Tuesday.

For those wondering why the Twins can not beat the Yankees, or win a postseason game for that matter, the answer is simple: The Twins send out pitchers who "pitch to contact". Sure, Ill give you the fact the offense could do more than put up 3-4 runs per game. But when you play the Yankees, you are going up against some of the games best pitchers. And you are playing in a playoff like atmosphere regardless of what month you play them. So one has to ask the question, if you want to beat the Yankees and get past the first round, are you willing to bring in and develop pitchers who prefer the strikeout over a ground ball?

Under Ron Gardenhire, the Twins have won just 19 out of 74 games against the Yankees (Including the postseason). In the Bronx, they have won 7 out of 36 games (including Tuesday's game). Four of those Bronx wins were started by Johan Santana (Two playoff wins in '03 and '04, and two regular season wins in '05 and '07), a strikeout pitcher. The other three were started by Scott Baker (2007), a flyball pitcher, Nick Blackburn (2010), a groundball pitcher, and Brian Duensing who is a mix between groundball and flyball pitcher (All you hear on him is he pitches to contact!). Otherwise, the Twins have been pounded in the Bronx and in their home park (Metrodome or Target Field) by whoever takes the hill. The Yankees have always fielded veteran teams with great hitters who live on contact pitchers. It's just how they roll...

The more overwhelming stat is the fact the Twins have just won two postseason games since 2003. Both, as before mentioned, were against the Yankees and via Johan Santana. And Santana's game 1 ALDS start was the last time the Twins shook hands on the field at game's end. Since 2006, the following pitchers have taken the hill in postseason games for the Twins: Santana, Boof Bonser, Brad Radke, Brian Duensing, Nick Blackburn, Carl Pavano, and Francisco Liriano. All but Santana and Liriano fall in the contact category and those two pitchers showed they could handle the Yankees (Liriano was dominating through 5 innings in last year's postseason, but had some bad breaks that cost him in the 6th).

My point here is that it has time where the Twins should consider changing their philosophy in the minors, and/or bring in some pitchers (both starters and relievers), that pitch to the strikeout. And the Twins two best starting pitching prospects (Kyle Gibson and Alex Wimmers), fit the pitch to contact category. Can't we take somebody who has swing and miss stuff? Don't get me wrong, Gardy and Rick Anderson have worked miracles in getting the Twins to the postseason all these years, with the pitchers they have been given. But the contact pitchers will only take you so far. At some point you have to have that pitcher with nasty stuff that can hold a playoff caliber lineup down, such as the Yankees, to keep your team in the game. Otherwise, you can just count on the Twins to continue their struggles against the Yankees, and go one and done in the postseason.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Early Test in the Bronx



Well, its not exactly the best time for the Twins to be visiting the Bronx. They came out slow in Toronto. Their hitting was off and untimely. The pitching was just plain awful. And they were nothing like 2010 in terms of defense (Meaning: Not Good!). And now they roll into New York. A place they have won just once in the past two years, not at their best. They are going to play a team that just flat owns them. This could potentially be a long series for the Twins. Or, could they have a resurgence against the Yanks? No one expects it. But that's wishful thinking. Anyway, here are some things you should keep in mind for this series.

Twins Key Player: Joe Mauer-Mauer is coming off a 1 for 7 series against the Jays. He took the Sunday game off, so he should play in the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday games at the very least. Mauer doesn't have the best numbers against the Yankees themselves (.290 AVG in 37 G), but he hits very well in the Bombers new digs. Since the Yankees moved to the new Yankee Stadium, Mauer has hit .333 with 3 home runs and 6 runs batted in while posting a OPS of 1.137. In other words, he hits very well there. At a time when the players that he hits between (Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Justin Morneau) have their own obstacles to overcome, Mauer needs to catch fire in this series. Especially now since his new $23 million contract has kicked in. If the Mauer can add to his good numbers in the Bronx, he should give the Twins a good chance to win.

Yankees Key Player:
Mark Teixeira/Alex Rodriguez-I normally pick one player, but in this case I had to make an exception. Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez absolutely rake against the Twins. Teixeira has a line of .374 with 16 home runs and 46 RBI while posting a .662 slugging percentage. Rodriguez, has hit .328 with 45 home runs and 115 RBI with a .662 slugging percentage against the Twins in his 15 year career. And many of those home runs have come in the clutch situations. The Twins must shut these two down. Pitchers must hit their spots and keep their mistakes to a minimum. If they can't it will be a long series. Because Teixeira and A-Rod live on mistakes.

The Twins and Yanks will play four before the Twins open their home schedule on Friday. And if the past series will carryover, it will be another long series. The Twins always find a way to get up early on the Yankees, but can never put them away. The Yankees then wait for a mistake and run with it. And the Yanks are always on top at games end. As much as I would like to see this trend come to a halt, I don't think it will. Somehow, someway, the damn Yankees find a way to win. The same things will happen and the Yankees will take three out of four from the Twins. It pains me to predict the Twins coming home with a 2-5 record. But look at who they are playing and you will understand why...

Friday, April 1, 2011

Opening Day is Here!

Almost 6 months ago, the Twins were bounced once again by the Yankees in the postseason. And at long last, they hit the field to begin their 2011 season. They start the season in Toronto and then go to New York before opening up their home schedule April 8th against Oakland. So here's what you should and should not expect from Opening Day for the beloved Twins.

What You Should Expect-A Lot of Offense. Pitchers are very vulnerable early in the season. And on Opening Day, they are pitching with lots of butterflies and adrenaline. Despite Carl Pavano's great spring stats (2-1, 2.16 ERA, 25 IP), he pitches to contact. And Toronto is a very hitters friendly ballpark. The Jays did end up leading the major leagues in the home run category (257), last season. But the Twins also possess a good lineup and should be firing right back against the young and inexperienced Jays rotation during the Opening Series. So in this series, look for 5-7 runs to go up on the board for both teams.

What You Should NOT Expect-Great Things From Justin Morneau. Despite being cleared to play, one should not expect Morneau to do much during the opening series. He had a short spring, and he looks like he is still trying to get his timing down. But, I could be dead wrong here. Morneau could get very fired up to exercise his demons (He suffered his concussion in Toronto last year), he could tear the cover off the ball. We just don't know yet. But if he has a series where he say gets 1-3 hits in 12-15 at bats, please don't use the "He hasn't fully recovered from his concussion" excuse. He is ready to go. It would just be more of a getting into rhythm type of deal. So keep your expectations low.

Twins Player to Watch: Delmon Young. In his career against the Jays, Young has hit .309, with 6 home runs and 18 RBI with a .494 slugging percentage. And at Rogers Centre he has an even better .322 AVG, with 3 HR, 10 RBI, and a .522 slugging percentage. Last year Delmon was a huge factor in the Twins success, and from what I've heard he has strengthened his upper body giving him more power. So if he can get the ball up in the air in Toronto look for him to hit a couple of home runs and help the Twins get a opening series victory.

Jays Player to Watch: Edwin Encarnacion. Last year, the Jays had great success against the Twins. A big reason for that was Encarnacion. In 2010 alone, he hit .483, with 7 HR, and 14 RBI with a 1.758 OPS. To compare how ridiculous that last number was, Encarnacion's season OPS was .787. So as you can see, he loved playing the Twins. Also in his career, Encarnacion has hit .389 against the Twins. So if he can continue his success against the Twins, it could be a long series for the visiting team.

One last thing before you leave. Please sit back and enjoy Opening Day. This day is like a holiday. Just appreciate the fact baseball, and mainly the Twins, are back. There are 161 other games we can over analyze. Just leave this one alone.