Monday, December 3, 2012

Hold The Fort!

Today, we saw the annual MLB Winter Meetings kick off. And unlike last year, there was a miniscule amount of rumors going around today.

As Terry Ryan arrived in Nashville, his priority has become quite clear: Acquire starting pitching.

We saw that last week, when he dealt Denard Span to Washington for pitcher Alex Meyer. But Meyer, is coming off a season spent in A-Ball. So Meyer won't exactly be around for a while (Unless he makes a Matt Garza hike through the Minor Leagues in 2013).

Rumors floated about today, that the Twins are targeting free agent pitchers Brett Myers, John Lannan, Joe Blanton, Kevin Correia, and Francisco Liriano (Yep, you read that right). The only one on this who had a decent 2012, was Myers, and he spent most of 2012 coming out of the bullpen for Houston. Myers has spent most of his career as starter, but was moved to the bullpen in Houston (Not exactly a place brewing with great starting pitching).

One thing all these pitchers have in common, except for Liriano, is the fact they all can eat innings, but love to put the ball in play. So basically, the Twins are targeting your typical Twins pitcher. Throws early 90s fastball, pitches to contact, few strikeouts. Not exactly a welcome sign, considering that strategy has dearly backfired the last 2 years.

As one sits here and looks over all the information on these starting pitchers, one thing has become quite clear: If these rumors are indeed true, the Twins really are trying to find some pitchers to hold the fort for 2013 and 2014, while their young talent works their way up the minors in time for 2015 and beyond where Meyer, Kyle Gibson, and possibly Liam Hendriks and Alex Wimmers will be waiting to lead the Twins pitching staff.

The Twins won't come out and say this, but they are more just trying to hold the fort and rebuild for the future. Because if they were trying to actually contend, they would be linked to higher profile starting pitchers with that $30 million or so they have to spend...

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesferrell

Monday, October 29, 2012

Pitching and Second Chances: Giles 2012-13 Offseason Blueprint

First of all, congratulations to the San Francisco Giants on winning the World Series. The weren't my first choice, but after the Division Series, they were my only choice.

But, we have said adieu to the 2012 baseball season, and now it is time to start looking ahead and preparing for 2013.

For those who have not yet purchased their copy of the Twins Daily 2013 offseason handbook, please do so now. It is 72 pages of pure gold, giving you everything you need to know about the upcoming Twins offseason.

At the end of the book, the guys give their blueprints for how they would like the offseason to go. And in the past two years, I have taken part in that on this blog, and I will continue that here.

This year, my focus is pitching, and giving some guys second chances to prove they can play with the big club. Pitching has been the theme in just about anyone's offseason blueprint, but im relying on the hope that some of these young guys getting second chances can iron their stuff out and be the player the Twins need them to be. So here is my offseason blueprint:

(The salary figures are based on the Twins Daily staff's projections, which can be found in the handbook)

1. Offer salary arbitration to Alex Burnett ($800,000), Brian Duensing ($1,750,000), and Jared Burton ($2,000,000). This move really solidifies the backend of the bullpen. The latter two are kind of no brainers. Burton was a pleasant surprise for the Twins out of the bullpen (2.18 ERA, 0.919 WHIP, 55K, in 64 IP), and became the 8th inning setup man to closer Glen Perkins. Duensing posted decent numbers for the Twins as a reliever (3.47 ERA, 1.14 WHIP in 57 IP), but saw his overall numbers get skewed when he was thrown into the rotation for 11 starts in 2012. Burnett was one that I had to think about, but, after taking a closer look at his numbers (3.53 ERA, 1.35 ERA, in 71.2 IP), I am inclined to keep him on for 2013. I am not a believer in Burnett yet, but another season like that, and I may have to change my mind.

2. Release Alexi Casilla, Drew Butera, Scott Baker, and Matt Capps. Matt Capps was let go a few days ago by the Twins, so no surprise there. Scott Baker has a $9.25 million team option, and I am choosing to decline this and just let him go. If he returns from TJ surgery and has great success, then Ill be happy for him. But its time to just move on. Drew Butera's run as the defensive specialist has to come to an end sometime, and I am choosing to do so now by not offering him salary arbitration. I also am not offering arbitration to Alexi Casilla as well, ending one of the more disappointing Twins tenures in recent memory. 'Lexi gave us some great moments, but his overall play was terribly inconsistent.

3. Keep SS Brian Dozier, 1B/OF Chris Parmelee, C Chris Herrmann, SS Pedro Florimon, OF Darin Mastroianni, SP Liam Hendriks, RP Anthony Swarzak, and RP Casey Fien on the 25 man roster. This is where most of the second chances are being handed out. Having Brian Dozier be the opening day shortstop will not be a welcome sight for most Twins fans, but the kid deserves a second chance. Not everyone can come up to the big leagues and produce instantly. The message should be clear to Dozier entering spring though, that if he does not get it going, he will not have a roster spot for long. Parmelee is another deserving guy of another shot at being in the lineup everyday. Last year, he opened up as the starting first baseman, but Justin Morneau moved back into that spot and Parmelee's poor play and Ryan Doumit's great play earned Chris a trip to the bench, and eventually a trip back to AAA. A move later on will give Parmelee a chance to play everyday again to start 2013. The same things can be equally said for Liam Hendriks and Pedro Florimon as well. Hendriks will have a spot in the rotation, and Florimon will begin the year on the bench, but could share time with Dozier at short, if Dozier can't make the plays.

4. Re-sign Carl Pavano to a 1 year, $3.5 million contract. The Twins need starters who can eat up innings. Before 2011, Pavano notched back to back seasons of 220 innings pitched. A shoulder injury sidelined Pavano for most of 2011, but he should be back in full form for 2013. So why not bring him back for less than half his 2012 salary ($8.5 million), and if it pays out, you have a pitcher who will give you and ERA around 4.25 and 200+ innings. Those were things the Twins sorely missed in 2012.

5. Trade Denard Span and Oswaldo Arcia to Tampa Bay for SP James Shields. It seems inevitable that the Twins are going to trade Denard Span this winter. Its a thought I do not like to entertain, but I have to get over it. Span will bring the Twins something the really need. And in this case, Span and top prospect Oswaldo Arcia will bring Tampa hurler James Shields to the Twin Cities (Nick Nelson also had a Span-Shields trade going down in his offseason handbook). I am a huge fan of James Shields. If not for Tampa having David Price, Shields would be considered the team's ace. In the past two seasons, Shields has recorded 31 wins with a ERA of 3.15 and 448 strikeouts. He has done a tremendous job of keeping teams off the bases posting a WHIP in the past two seasons have been 1.043 and 1.168. Span is a native of Tampa, and has a very team friendly contract (Under contract for the next two seasons making $4.75M and $6.5M respectively, with a $9M team option for 2015). With the departure of incumbent CF BJ Upton, the move makes all the sense in the world for both teams to make. Shields has a $9M team option for 2013 and a $12 team option for 2014, which doesn't fit into the Rays budget very well, but fits perfectly for the Twins. (BTW, Joe Christensen mentioned on twitter a few days ago it would take a player like Arcia with Span to get Shields from Tampa Bay)

6. Sign SP Edwin Jackson to a 3 year, $33 million contract. With Shields, Jackson makes for a good 1-2 punch at the top of the Twins rotation. Then throw in the fact the pitchers behind them will be Diamond, Pavano, and Hendriks, and the Twins rotation looks very promising. Last year with Washington, Jackson posted a 4.03 ERA with a 10-11 record, with 168 strikeouts and a WHIP of 1.22. Jackson has been a good innings eater in his career, going at least 183 innings (Including 2 200+ inning seasons) in the past five years. Jackson also has previous experience pitching in the AL Central, as he has pitched for the White Sox and Tigers. Jackson is kind of a gamble, for the money being given to him (A career 4.40 ERA), but, its a gamble that needs to be taken.

7. Sign RP J.P. Howell to a 1 year, $2 million contract. Now that the starting rotation has been addressed, its time to look at the bullpen. The back end of the bullpen appears to be a lock with the combination of Jared Burton and Glen Perkins holding it down in the 8th and 9th innings. But, its those 6th and 7th innings that need some solid arms to get the ball to Burton and Perkins. Alex Burnett and Brian Duensing appear to be the top choices for those innings. But, Duensing would be the only lefty arm available before Perkins in the 9th. Enter JP Howell. Howell had a rough 2011 (6.16 ERA), but rebounded quite nicely in 2012 posting a 3.04 ERA in 50.1 innings pitched with 42 strikeouts. Howell doesn't give you much for velocity (Fastball will be in the 85-88 range), so he needs to rely on command of his three pitches (fastball, curveball, and changeup) to get him through innings. Problem is, he has a career 1.38 WHIP, 8.3 H/9, and 4.2 BB/9. Runners will get on, but in 2012 he showed great poise of getting out of jams (He notched 25.2 consecutive scoreless innings at one point). Howell will make for another good lefty option out of the pen for Ron Gardenhire, and should be worth the $2 million contract.

8. Sign 3B Eric Chavez to a 1 year, $1 million contract. This moves gives the Twins a pinch hitting option late in games. Also, it gives a competition for the 3rd base job, so the hope is that Trevor Plouffe takes the hint and steps up his play at the hot corner. Chavez is coming off a rebound season with the Yankees in which he hit .281 with 16 HR and 37 RBI, in a similar bench role. Chavez spent time at 1st, 3rd, and DH, so he can be used in different roles on a daily basis, should the situation call for it. Also look for Chavez to be a veteran presence to the younger infielders on the team, as he has 13 years of big league experience behind him. A pretty decent investment for $1 million.

So after all of this, here is how the opening day 25 man roster will look with their salaries in parenthesis.

C: Mauer ($23M)
1B: Morneau ($14M)
2B: Carroll ($3.75M)
3B: Plouffe ($500K)
SS: Dozier ($500K)
LF: Willingham ($7M)
CF: Revere ($500K)
RF: Parmelee ($500K)
DH: Doumit ($3.5M)

BN: C-Herrmann ($500K)
BN: SS-Florimon ($500K)
BN: 3B-Chavez ($1M)
BN: OF-Mastroianni ($500K)

SP: Shields ($9M)
SP: Jackson ($9M)
SP: Diamond ($500K)
SP: Pavano ($3.5M)
SP: Hendriks ($500K)

RP: Swarzak ($500K)
RP: Fien ($500K)
RP: Burnett ($800K)
RP: Howell ($2M)
RP: Duensing ($1.75M)
RP: Burton ($2M)
CL: Perkins ($2.5M)

Other contracts: Nick Blackburn ($5.5M)

Total 2013 Payroll: $90.80M

And after all these moves, the payroll adds up to $90.80 million, just above that mark of $90 million that we expect the payroll to be around. You'd figure the payroll would be at $85.30M, but that eye sore contract to Nick Blackburn is still out there at $5.5 million for the 2013 season.

Its not the greatest team. But, it is a vast improvement from the 2012 squad with a big focus on pitchers who can eat innings, and giving some young players second chances at a big league job. As my previous offseason blueprints have been nowhere close to what happens, I have no doubt the same will happen with this one. So lets hope that Terry Ryan and Co. can get the job done greatly. 

154 days until the Twins 2013 opener. 

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesferrell

Friday, October 5, 2012

Handing Out Hardware

This afternoon, we kick off the new playoff format, featuring the 2 Wild Card play in games. But, before we do that. We are going to hand out some hardware for the regular season. We will cover Twins awards and MLB awards.

Twins Awards

Twins MVP-Josh Willingham: This came down to Hammer and Mauer. But ultimately, we gave the nod to Willingham. Willingham was signed last offseason over the incumbent OF and team leader, Michael Cuddyer, and he did not disappoint Twins fans in 2012. He hit .260 and lead the team with 35 home runs and 110 RBI. Not since the likes of Harmon Killebrew have we seen some hit for so much power. He was a much needed addition to the lineup, and was a very worthy choice of MVP.

Twins Cy Young-Scott Diamond: You may remember Diamond was taken in the rule 5 draft by the Twins in the offseason prior to 2011. The Twins ended up keeping him, but they worked out a trade with Atlanta so they could send him down to AAA, where he pitched horribly. So heading into 2012, Diamond was slotted to spend most of the year at AAA. But, Diamond pitched very well, earned a call up in May, and never saw Rochester again. He won his first 3 starts and posted an ERA of 1.40 during that time. Diamond ended up with a 12-9 record with a 3.54 ERA, both lead the team's pitching staff. He also threw 173 innings, which was 64 more than the second place finisher on the team (Duensing). No pitcher was more valuable to the Twins than Scott Diamond in 2012, and we hope he can build on his success in 2013.

Twins Rookie of the Year-Scott Diamond: You just read about him.

Twins Defensive Player of the Year-Ben Revere: Seriously folks, Ben Revere has a ridiculous highlight reel this year. No one covers more ground than Ben Revere does in the outfield. And in addition to his highlight catches, Revere improved his arm in the offseason (Still not great, but definitely better). He is making himself one of the best outfielders in the game. In fact, Revere should be in the conversation for a Gold Glove award, he has done so well. If you wish to watch the Revere highlight reel, here is a link to those videos.

MLB Awards

AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera (DET)
NL MVP: Ryan Braun (MIL)
AL Cy Young: David Price (TB)
NL Cy Young: R.A. Dickey (NYM)
AL ROY: Mike Trout (LAA)
NL ROY: Bryce Harper (WSH)
AL Manager of the Year: Buck Showalter (BAL)
NL Manager of the Year: Davey Johnson (WSH)

Enjoy the Wild Card games tonight!

Friday, September 28, 2012

This One Means More To Mauer

Entering today, Joe Mauer (.323) trails Detroit's Miguel Cabrera (.326) by three points in the race for the American League batting title. Cabrera is also in the hunt for the AL's triple crown award (42 HR-2nd to Hamilton with 43, and 133 RBI-1st in AL), which has not been won since Carl Yaztremski did it in 1967. Adding fuel to this fight is the fact the Twins and Tigers open up a three game series at Target Field tonight, before beginning their teams respective final series of the season on Monday.

If Mauer were to overtake Cabrera and win the batting title, it would be the fourth time in his career he finishes leading the AL in batting (A ridiculous number for any catcher). But yet, he still takes heavy scrutiny from an angry fan base (Probably due in larger part to consecutive 90+ loss seasons). And that is why, this batting title, would mean much more to Mauer, than his previous three.

Looking at each of his titles respectively, there are several cases to make for each of them as why they are the best. In 2006, Mauer hit .347, giving him his first title, helping lead the Twins on a miraculous 4 month surge to a 96 win season and the Central division championship. 2008, he hit .328 and was a part of a resurgent Twins team, that was expected to finish last, that went to a game 163 against Chicago. Then came his finest season as a pro, in 2009. Mauer missed all of April with an injury, then came back and lead the AL in average (.365), OBP (.444), slugging percentage (.587), and OPS (1.031), while hitting a career high 28 home runs and 96 RBI. Mauer received 27 out of 28 first place votes in the MVP voting, giving him the award easily.

After a decent 2010, Mauer saw injuries destroy his 2011 season (just 82 games played, only hit .287). 2011 was also the first year of his new 8 year, $184 million contract, and most fans came down hard on Mauer. He was viewed as soft, and some believed he wasn't really hurt at all and that he just wanted to sit on the bench. Even when he tried playing late in 2011, he received jeers from the home crowd whenever he would get out, instead of getting on base. Not exactly how a fan base should be treating the face of the franchise.

Then came 2012. Mauer set out to stay in the lineup as constantly as possible, and hit what he should be hitting. But early on in the year, Mauer still received the same jeers he was getting in 2011, when he would ground into a double play, or would have an 0 for 4 night. But as the year went on, he silence those jeers by playing everyday and staying near the top of the AL batting charts. And now, he finds himself in a position to set a career high in games played (146-2008, he has played in 141 games in 2012 with 6 games left), and win his 4th batting title.

And should Mauer win the title this year, it would mean more to him, than his previous three. He will have silenced his critics once again. He will prove to the fans he is worth what the Twins are paying him, while setting himself as one of the best players in team history. And, he will prove his status as one of the best hitting catchers in baseball history.

Win this one for yourself, Joe. You've earned it. And, you most definitely deserve it.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Podcast Time

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of being on the Talk To Contact Podcast with Eric (Knuckleballs blog), and Paul (Puckett's Pond blog). We talked about how good Joe Mauer has been this year and the Twins ranking in ESPN's ultimate standings.

(You may find my segment beginning at the 30:00 minute mark, but I encourage you to listen to the entire podcast)

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Twins Rank 83rd In Ultimate Standings

Yesterday, ESPN released its annual ultimate standings for 2012. The "Ultimate Standings", are an in depth ranking of all 122 professional sports teams between the four major sports (MLB, NBA, NFL, and NHL).

The rankings take into account the following factors: Bang for the Buck, Fan Relations, Ownership, Affordability, Stadium Experience, Players, Coaching, and Title Track.

The Twins came in 83rd (2nd out of the 4 Minnesota professional sports teams. Timberwolves-71st, Wild-87th, and Vikings-100th) out of the 122 teams. In the 2011 rankings, the Twins ranked 39th out of all 122 teams. And unless the on field product can get better, they may be here for another year or two.

The team factors were rated as follows (They too are ranked out of all 122 teams):
Bang for the Buck: 106
Fan Relations: 69
Ownership: 82
Affordability: 69
Stadium Experience: 13
Players: 94
Coaching: 76
Title Track: 56

On, you can view each team individually, and it gives you their rankings, and a explanation about their ranking. Ross Marrinson of ESPN offered the following on the Twins ranking: "After a dreadful 63-99 season in 2011 that saw local media stations cheering on the Minnesota Twins' "Hunt for a Hundred" (losses), our poll told the same tale: an average drop of 193 percent across the nine categories, including six drops of 30 spots or more. Watching a Triple-A lineup of Delmon Young, Alexi Casilla, Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Drew Butera only fueled fans' frustration with Justin Morneau, who was still suffering the lingering effects of his July 2010 concussion, and Joe Mauer, who, after signing his eight-year, $184 million deal, was sidelined with what the organization famously called "bi-lateral leg weakness." After a ranking of 15th overall in 2011, the Twins' players category fell 79 spots to 94th, ranking 26th in baseball. With an average ticket price of $33.04 -- more than 20 percent higher than MLB's mean -- the Twins' bang for the buck, already poor in 2011 (91), fell to 106th. Target Field is gorgeous, and fans seem to enjoy the game experience -- the Twins' stadium rating is 13th overall -- but it's a case of putting lipstick on a pig."

I do agree with the rankings and his explanation. The Twins do have some very cheap ticket options, but if you wish to have good seats at Target Field, you have to pay a rather steep price. I was surprised that they ranked the Twins title track at 56. It would seem that 2013 would be tabbed as a rebuilding year, in the hopes that the ship can be righted in 2014. But that is a big IF because not many key players are under contract through 2014 (Joe Mauer, Josh Willingham, Denard Span, and Glen Perkins are the only players locked in for the 2014 season).

The Twins are pretty well summed up here in these rankings. What does the rest of Twins Territory think?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Twins To Host 2014 MLB All Star Game

Today, MLB commissioner Bud Selig announced that the Minnesota Twins and the city of Minneapolis will be hosting the 2014 Major League Baseball All Star Game. At a press conference at Target Field, Selig was joined by Twins owner Jim Pohlad, Twins President Dave St. Peter, Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak, Twins legends Rod Carew and Tony Oliva, and a few other dignitaries as well.

Selig made the following statement, “It is my great honor to name the Minnesota Twins as the hosts of the 2014 All-Star Game. This is especially meaningful to me because of my close personal and professional relationship with Carl Pohlad, who was one of the finest owners in professional sports. The Midsummer Classic will be a celebration of Carl’s legacy, one of our game’s model franchises and the spectacular Target Field, which deserves to be showcased on this global stage.”

The Twins previously hosted the All Star Game in 1965 at Metropolitan Stadium and in 1985 at the Metrodome.

Of course the Twins are not just hosting the All Star Game. With the game comes the MLB fanfest, which starts a week before the game. Then on the Sunday before the game, the futures game (Which always has so few people! WHY?!?!) and the celebrity softball game (But it doesn't air until Monday following the HR Derby). Then on Monday its the all star workout day, followed by the always entertaining Home Run Derby (Unless you like listening to Chris Berman). Then finally on the Tuesday, the game itself is played with the winner getting home field advantage for the World Series that fall.

So for a week in 2014, Minnesota will be the center of the baseball universe. Man, that will be nice. Lets start the countdown to 2014!! (Countdown is on the right side!)

Monday, August 20, 2012

Twins outright Blackburn, Nishioka

Today, the Twins announced they outrighted two players from their 40 man roster. Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who was not a surprise at all, was one of them. The other, was Nick Blackburn. His move was almost stunning.

Blackburn had compiled a 4-9 record, in 19 starts this year, with a 7.39 ERA. Even with another year left on his deal, the Twins simply felt he could be no longer of any use to the team, at least for the remainder of this year. Blackburn is owed $5.5 million in 2013, and was making $4.75 million this year.

Nishioka was almost a no brainer. He had spent almost all of the season at AAA-Rochester (Only hitting .252), before getting a week with the Twins and he went hitless in his 12 at bats. Couple this year and last year (.226 in 68 games with the Twins in 2011), and you can see that Nishioka was simply outmatched after coming over from Japan.

But perhaps the thing that sticks out the most here, is that behind the Joe Mauer contract extension, Nishioka and Blackburn were probably the next two significant deals under the Bill Smith era. Nishioka signed a 3 year, $9 million deal prior to 2011, and Blackburn signed a 4 year, $14 million extension prior to the 2010 season. Obviously, much like the Smith era, they never panned out the way we hoped.

Both moves needed to be done. The Twins need to continue to rebuild the team, and they freed up two spots on the 40 man roster to help with the rebuild. Neither Blackburn and Nishioka had much future past 2013 with the Twins, so why not let them go in 2012?

Even despite the fact the Twins will have to pay the remainder of both their contracts, the moves could greatly benefit the Twins in 2013.

Lets hope they do...

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Denard Span On Intentional Talk

Yesterday, Twins CF Denard Span paid a visit on the MLB Network show "Intentional Talk" with hosts Chris Rose and Kevin Millar. If you have 8 minutes I'd encourage you to watch this video as we see a more humorous side of Span. For whatever reason I can not put the video up on the page yet, but for now click here.

Monday, June 4, 2012

A Few Thoughts From Beloit

This past weekend, me and Zach were able to take a trip on Territory Train, down to see the Beloit Snappers play two games. One game was played in the Quad Cities and the other was played at Pohlman Field in Beloit. The Snappers showed great offensive skills scoring a combined 20 runs in the two games. As we watched the games, I was able to collect the following thoughts on some of the Snappers notable prospects (But keep in mind the small sample size I saw them play):

Jason Wheeler-RHP:
In the 10 prior starts Wheeler made this year, he posted an impressive 6-1 mark with a 2.74 ERA while striking out 41 and only walking 11 in 59 innings pitched. Wheeler showed dominance early by blanking Quad Cities through two innings. But in the third the River Bandits took advantage of some control issues by Wheeler and put a three spot on the board. The Bandits also got a two run homer off of Wheeler in the fifth, and once the inning was over, Jason's night was done. He finished with 4 walks, 5 strikeouts, and 5 earned runs in his 5 innings.

This poor outing aside, Wheeler (A 8th round pick by the Twins in the 2011 draft), has been the best pitcher for Beloit so far this year. He fits the Twins bill and pitches more to contact, thus the low amount of walks, but has been able to show outstanding command, making it for hitters to put runs on the board against him. If he can continue to pitch like he has this year, he could advance through the ranks very quickly.

Eddie Rosario-2B: 
Rosario has been one of the hottest hitters in the Twins system in the past few weeks. Over his last 10, Rosario has hit .356 with 3 HR and 13 RBI while posting an OPS of 1.004. In the two games we saw, Rosario went 3-9 with a walk and two runs scored. Its safe to say, he is one of the better offensive threats the Twins have in their system.

Defensively, Rosario is not as dazzling as his offensive skills are. The Twins are in the midst of converting him to a second baseman from an outfielder (Solid second baseman the Twins system sorely needs). He didn't commit any errors in the two games, but he did boot a few groundballs and was able to recover to make outs. He is still a work in progress at second, but he did not look all that bad at fielding his position.

Miguel Sano-3B:
Sano has been in more of a slump in the past couple of weeks, just hitting .237 with 2 HR. He does have 13 HR and a .517 slugging percentage on the year so far, both of which are in the top 5 of the Midwest League. But, he has watched his average slip to .244 (.292 average last year with Elizabethton) on the year and has 65 strikeouts in 201 at bats on the season. In the two games, Sano went 2-7 with 2 walks, 2 strikeouts, and 3 runs scored. A few weeks ago, many fans were calling for Sano to be promoted as he was in the midst of a very hot streak, but it has been clear since that the Twins made the right call by keeping him in Beloit, and it would be foolish to promote him anytime this year. 

Sano, originally a shortstop, is now playing third for Beloit. He has been very shaky defensively, committing 20 errors on the season and posting a fielding percentage below the .900 mark. Sano booted a routine pop up in Saturday's game in which he simply just did not catch the ball behind the third base bag. He also booted a grounder in the two games that went past him into the outfield, but both times the scorer decided to award base hits, not errors (I'm convinced the official scorer was Santa Claus). So clearly, Sano has far to go defensively. 

Sano has a big body, which is one of the reasons he was moved from shortstop. But it also could be the same reason he gets moved from third, at some point in the future. I know the Twins want Sano to get every effort in to establishing himself as a third baseman. But, if that experiment continues to go at the rate he is playing at, that simply won't be in the question. 

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to chat with the legendary Twins blogger Seth Stohs from Twins Daily. And in one of our talks, we both talked about how likely it is that the Twins move Sano to first base if he can not pan out as a third baseman. And it would also make sense to move him to first, given the fact that by the time Sano gets up to the big leagues (late 2014, early 2015), there will be a vacant spot at first left by Justin Morneau (His contract is up after 2013). Again, that is something that could very well happen, but the Twins want to give him his chance at third. 

Also, on Saturday afternoon, we got to have lunch with some Snapper players (AJ Pettersen, Kyle Knudson, Tim Shibuya, Wang-Wei Lin, Ryan O'Rourke, and Drew Leachman) and former Twin and current Snapper hitting coach Tommy Watkins. I got to talk with Tommy for a bit and it was an awesome experience to listen to some of the baseball stories he had. (Below picture is me with Mr. Watkins)

Much thanks to Territory Train for putting this weekend on. We didn't really know what to expect from this weekend and it ended up being a blast. If you haven't checked out Territory Train before, I encourage you to do so now by clicking the link on the right side of the page or simply just click here. They have a few seats left for their trip to Kansas City in mid July so sign up today!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Let's Be Real

Today, we watched the Twins get no hit through 7 innings, before back to back doubles by Justin Morneau and Josh Willingham ended the no-no and the shutout. That was all the offense we saw from the Twins in a 3-1 loss at Baltimore today.

The Twins are 0-3 to start the season for the first time since 1981 (Finished the year 41-68 in a strike shortened season). And in the aftermath of this sweep, I'm already at wits end with "fans" of this team, who are saying here comes another 100 loss season or saying its time to change managers.

Please folks, be realistic here. The season is 3 games old. Yes, the Twins were never really close to winning in any of them, but that's just one bad series. Everyone has them. And to be honest, they pitched and played better defense than they did hitting, which were area that are questionable for the Twins this season. Despite the slow start, the bats will come around, if they can keep players healthy.

If you are jumping off the bandwagon already, shame on you. Any fan of this great game would know that the season is far from over. There is 159 games left. I could cite numerous examples of teams coming back from impossible deficits in fewer amounts of games until I'm blue in the face. But there are so many I wouldn't know where to begin (Ok, look no further than last year's wild card races).

I'm not saying the Twins are going to make the playoffs. I'm just asking everyone to be rational before they make ridiculous comments regarding their season, which is 3 games old. If the Twins continue to play like this over the course of April, then yes, go right ahead and make these comments. But do so at the end of the month when you can properly gauge how well they can actually play.

Until then, please shut up and enjoy this great game.

Friday, April 6, 2012

A Season Built On Hope

Today, the Twins open up the 52nd season in the history of the franchise. And as the team opens up the season in Baltimore, they have a lot of uncertainty still hovering over the club. And only one can hope that the baseball gods look upon the Twins a bit more kindly in 2012, compared to 2011.

As 2012 opens, we hope that:
  • Joe Mauer can play an injury free season for the first time since 2008.
  • Justin Morneau and Denard Span can put concussion symptoms behind them and have successful years.
  • Morneau plays a game in September.
  • Scott Baker can overcome his elbow problems and continue to be the Twins best pitcher
  • Francisco Liriano can be the pitcher we saw in 2010.
  • Matt Capps pitches the opposite of what he did this spring
  • Someone in the bullpen not named Capps, Glen Perkins, or Brian Duensing can step up and be a solid option in the late innings for Ron Gardenhire.
  • Josh Willingham can produce similar offensive numbers while playing in spacious Target Field.
  • The Twins can win a series against the Yankees (Last one came in August of 2008).
  • The Twins use the DL a bit less than the 27 times it was used in 2011.

And lastly, we all hope the Twins defy the odds once more, and capture their their 7th AL Central division crown.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

MLB 2012 Preview: Postseason and Awards

Before we dive into the postseason, here is a recap of our picks with the Wild Card winners:

NL West: Arizona
NL Central: Cincinnati
NL East: Philadelphia
NL Wild Card: Miami, St. Louis
AL West: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
AL East: Tampa Bay
AL Central: Detroit
AL Wild Card: Texas, Boston

2012 World Series:

AL Champions: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
NL Champions: Arizona Diamondbacks

World Series Champions: Angels in 6

Award Winners:

AL MVP: Evan Longoria (TB)
NL MVP: Justin Upton (ARZ)
AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander (DET)
NL Cy Young: Cliff Lee (PHI)

I guess technically the season started last week between the A's and Mariners in Japan (Yawn...), but the interesting games start tonight as St. Louis takes on Miami, in the Marlins new ballpark. Enjoy the season everyone!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

MLB 2012 Preview: AL Central

5. Chicago White Sox: Last year, this team was the favorite to win their division. Now, they are contenders for the cellar. Gone are Mark Buehrle, Carlos Quentin, Juan Pierre and Sergio Santos. The after seeing all these players leave, the Sox will let their minor leagues fill their holes on the major league roster, which will give them some problems. Their lineup could be good, but they would need improved production out of Adam Dunn. Their starting five could be solid, but they need a full season from Jake Peavy. And their bullpen has a nice back end, but the key is get to them early. Its going to be a long season on the south side. White Sox finish last.

4. Kansas City Royals: A fair warning to the teams in this division: Don't slack off when pitching to Kansas City. Because this is a team that can put up some runs. The problem here is, they lack good pitching. The Royals did go out and acquire Jonathon Sanchez from SF this offseason, but he is not enough to save this staff (Lead by Opening Day starter Bruce Chen). And to make matters worse, the team will be without closer Joakim Soria for the remainder of the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. The Royals will get into a lot of high scoring games, but their pitching will not be good enough to hold those leads.

3. Minnesota Twins: As we talked about yesterday, there are a lot of questions surrounding the Twins in 2012. First and foremost, they have to stay healthy, especially Mauer and Morneau in the middle of the lineup. Their starting rotation could go either way as we've seen the past two years. And if you get into this bullpen early, there will be some problems. Ultimately, we believe that there won't be as many injuries in 2012, they won't finish in last place, but they do good enough to come in third place.

2. Cleveland Indians: Last year, we saw the Indians have an incredibly hot start and were one of the best teams in baseball early on. But they faded horribly and watched their lead in the division slip away to Detroit and the team barely finished at the .500 mark. But they return this with essentially the same team, but a young one at that. The Tribe should have a good pitching staff (Starters Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Derek Lowe, and closer Chris Perez lead the way) this year. But their offense strikes me as a wild card. They really need production from Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner to have a chance to succeed in this division, something they may not get too much of. The Tribe make a stronger push for the title in 2012, but once again, they fall short.

1. Detroit Tigers: Before the winter, Detroit already had a very good offense. But during the offseason, they signed the second best player on the free agent market, Prince Fielder. Now, the Tigers have a great offense when you put Fielder and Miguel Cabrera in the middle of the order. Then add the fact the Tigers have a very good all around pitching staff (led by MVP/Cy Young winner Justin Verlander), and this will be one good baseball team. Last year, the Tigers fell short to Texas in the ALCS, but, if they can keep everyone healthy, they should have no trouble making a similar postseason run. The Tigers run away with this division and should be seen as contenders for the AL Pennant.

*Tomorrow look for our final post in the MLB preview series as we recap our division winners, pick the postseason winners, and pick some award winners.

Monday, April 2, 2012

MLB 2012 Preview: Minnesota Twins

Here it is everyone. The Minnesota Twins 2012 Preview.

2011 Recap:
63-99, 5th in AL Central

From the beginning, the Twins never had a chance in 2011. Seemingly every player that opened the season on the 25 man roster, spent time on the DL. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau each missed half the season due to various injuries. The injuries forced the Twins to call up players from AAA and the team suffered greatly. The lineup was punchless, pitchers could not get outs, and the defense played with iron gloves every night. The poor performance saw notable players Jim Thome and Delmon Young traded in August to contending teams. The team finished the year with the second worst record in franchise history with a 63-99 mark (Only the ’82 Twins finished with a worse record going 60-102). The season cost GM Bill Smith his job and his predecessor, Terry Ryan, was brought back to lead the Twins back to respectability.

Key Departures:

RF/1B Michael Cuddyer (Rockies)
OF/DH Jason Kubel (Diamondbacks)
RP Joe Nathan (Rangers)
RP Jose Mijares (Royals)

This was a difficult offseason for any Twins fan, as mainstays Cuddyer, Kubel, and Nathan (The Twins all time saves leader) were allowed to leave via free agency. All three were asking for more than the Twins could afford at this point (With the announcement in the winter that the payroll would decrease to around $100 million). Losing Cuddyer was toughest due to his ability to play anywhere on the field (Including pitcher as we saw last year), something manager Ron Gardenhire values greatly. Kubel’s bat will be tough to replace, but he saw a decline in his numbers in the two seasons the Twins have played at Target Field. Nathan was not effective for the first half of 2011, and he even spent some time on the DL. But when he return he looked much like the 2004-09 Joe Nathan we all loved. Its obvious he wanted to move to a team that had a shot to win a World Series before the right hander decides to hang up the spikes.

Key Acquisitions:

SS Jamey Carroll
OF Josh Willingham
C/1B Ryan Doumit
SP Jason Marquis

One of Terry Ryan’s main objectives, when he took over the GM duties again, was to get the Twins back to playing basaeball, the Twins way. And one of the big components of the Twins Way is to play sound fundamental defense, something that was rarely seen in 2011. So his first move as GM, was signing Dodger SS Jamey Carroll to a 2 year deal to help patch up a hole offensively and defensively at the position. Willingham was brought in to replace Cuddyer’s bat in the lineup. He brings a bit more power than Cuddyer does, but Cuddy was a bit more sound defensively in the outfield. Bringing in Doumit was by far the best decision the Twins made this winter. Doumit can catch and play first base (Area’s the Twins were in need of last year), while being a bit (When I say a bit, I actually mean a lot!) better than the previous backup catcher, Drew Butera. So if Mauer were to miss time due to injury, Doumit can step in and be the team’s starting catcher. The Marquis signing was to add a bit of depth to the rotation in the event of injury. Marquis did have a decent year in 2011 (8-5 3.95 ERA in 20 starts), but has not played a full season since 2009.The guy obviously can still pitch, its just a question of can he stay healthy. Marquis won’t be on the Opening Day roster due to missing time this spring to tend to a family matter. He misses a start or two, but should be back with the team before April ends.

Projected Lineup and Pitching Staff

Lineup (2011 Stats)

Denard Span CF (.264 AVG .328 OBP, 16 RBI)
Jamey Carroll SS (.290 AVG, .359 OBP, 17 RBI)
Joe Mauer C (.287 AVG, .360 OBP, 30 RBI)
Justin Morneau DH (.227 AVG 4 HR, 30 RBI)
Josh Willingham LF (.246 AVG, 29 HR, 98 RBI)
Danny Valencia 3B (.246 AVG, 15 HR, 72 RBI)
Chris Parmelee 1B (.355 AVG, 4 HR, 14 RBI)
Alexi Casilla 2B (.260 AVG, .322 OBP, 15 SB)
Ben Revere RF (.267 AVG, .310 OBP, 34 SB)

If these players can stay on the field, they should have no issue putting up some runs. This lineup has speed at the top, power in the middle, and speed at the bottom. But, there is a big IF there as Span, Mauer, and Morneau all missed significant time due to injury. All signs are a go for Span and Mauer this year, and Morneau should be fine assuming he plays most of his time at DH (His hot hitting this past week in spring has been a sight for sore eyes). But you never know what to expect as he continues to battle post concussion symptoms. I like Willingham hitting behind Mauer and Morneau as he brings serious power to the lineup. If the stars lineup, Willingham could reach the 100 RBI mark for the first time in his career. The bottom of the order should wreak havoc on pitchers with speedsters Casilla, Revere, then back to the top of the order to Span all having above average speed. This is a really good lineup. Just knock on some wood everybody can remain in it.

Bench (2011 Stats)

Ryan Doumit C/1B (.303 AVG, 8 HR, 30 RBI)
Sean Burroughs INF (.273 AVG, .289 OBP, 8 RBI)
Luke Hughes INF (.223 AVG, 7 HR, 30 RBI)
Trevor Plouffe OF (.238 AVG, 8 HR, 31 RBI)

The Twins bench is a bit more deep compared to last year’s bench on Opening Day (Drew Butera, Jim Thome, Matt Tolbert, and Jason Repko). Ryan Doumit will be a significant upgrade over incumbent backup catcher, Butera, due to the fact Doumit has been able to hit higher than .250 several times in his career. The only knock on Doumit is he has been injury prone over his career. He should mostly see time as catcher as he gives Mauer a day off or lets Joe play first, but you could also see Doumit play some time at first too. Then you have the youngsters Hughes, who has had a phenomenal spring, and Plouffe who both saw significant time with the team last year, but as you can see, they really struggled. Look for Hughes to play first second or third this year and Plouffe will be primarily used as a fourth outfielder. Burroughs was out of baseball between 2007 and 2010. He finally got back in the bigs last year and played briefly with Arizona. He obviously had a decent spring with the Twins to earn a spot on the club, but you have to wonder how short of a leash does he have going into 2012?

Rotation (2011 Stats)

Carl Pavano RHP (9-13 4.30 ERA 222.0 IP)
Francisco Liriano LHP (9-10 5.09 ERA 112 K)
Liam Hendriks RHP (0-2 6.17 ERA 23.1 IP)
Nick Blackburn RHP (7-10 4.49 ERA 148.1 IP)
Scott Baker RHP (8-6 3.14 ERA 123 K)*
Jason Marquis RHP (8-5 3.95 ERA 120.2 IP)*
*Will not be on the Opening Day roster

As you can see, the Twins will begin the year with a four man rotation. Scott Baker (injury) and Jason Marquis (Personal) will not be on the opening day roster. Once again, the Twins turn to the veteran right hander Carl Pavano to take the ball on Opening Day in Baltimore. It will be Pavano’s second consecutive Opening Day start for the Twins. But as you can also see, this staff struggled mightily in 2011. They also battled various trips to the DL as Pavano was the only one to not make a trip to it. Francisco Liriano had a very impressive spring coming off a dismal year, but at this point it’s a tossup as to what you can expect from the lefty this year. Hendriks could be a nice surprise for the Twins in 2012 if pitches like he is capable of pitching, but you would have to believe that when Baker and Marquis comes back, Hendriks will be the one sent back down. Blackburn has struggled since signing his new contract prior to 2010 after coming off back to back years where he threw a minimum of 190 innings, having a ERA around 4. But since then he has seen time on the DL and has lost his sinker ball causing him to be ineffective and not pitching deep in ball games. This staff is crucial for the Twins in 2012 if they want to have a chance to compete.

Bullpen (2011 Stats)

Matt Capps (4.25 ERA, 15 SV, 65.2 IP)
Glen Perkins (2.48 ERA, 61.2 IP, 65K)
Brian Duensing (9-14 5.23 ERA 161.2 IP)
Matt Maloney (9.16 ERA, 18.2 IP, 13 K)
Anthony Swarzak (4-7, 4.32 ERA, 102.0 IP)
Jared Burton (3.86 ERA, 4.2 IP, 3 K)
Alex Burnett (5.51 ERA, 50.2 IP, 33 K)
Jeff Gray (2.70 ERA, 13.1 IP, 7 K)

One better hope that the aforementioned starters can pitch 6+ innings consistently. Because behind Duensing, Perkins, and Capps, this bullpen looks mightily inconsistent. And even Capps is a wild card coming off a awful year which saw him get booed off the Target Field mound more times than he closed out a ball game successfully. Duensing had a bad year, but that was while he was in the rotation. He has had better success when he comes out of the bullpen in the late innings, so he should do just fine there once again. Swarzak should once again be claiming his role as long reliever/spot starting, a place I am just fine with him being in. Alex Burnett once again will make the team, despite his awful numbers in his first two seasons in the big leagues. He has the potential to be a late innings guy for this club, but he is still a long way from that. Then we have newcomers Maloney, Burton, and Gray who all had limited time in MLB last year, so hopefully one of them can be a hidden gem for Ron Gardenhire out of the pen. Like the starters, the bullpen is crucial for the club in 2012. But the starters and lineup have to get them the ball with the lead before we can truly say they are crucial.

Players Who Must Step Up In 2012

Joe Mauer
In the first season of his 8 year/$184 million contract, Mauer disappointed, as he battled various injuries, and was limited to 82 games. The Twins had to use Drew Butera in his absence, and the Twins suffered due to Butera's poor hitting ability. This year, all signs point to Mauer being at 100% health. This year, the Twins brought in Ryan Doumit to backup Mauer, so look for Mauer to get more time playing first or DHing so there is less risk of injury. Look for Mauer to have a bounceback season in 2012.

Justin Morneau
Its hard to put Morneau in here due to the nature of his condition, but he is just as needed as Mauer is. Morneau battled injuries and post concussion symptoms which saw him play 69 games and only hit .227. Going into 2012, the plan is for Morneau to be primarily DH, so there is less chance of him aggravating his symptoms. In the last week of Spring, Morneau has been the Twins hottest hitter. Lets just hope he can carry that into the regular season.

Francisco Liriano
Everyone thought the 2010 Liriano would return in 2011. But instead, we saw more of the 2009 Liriano, who couldn't command his pitches and often fell behind to batters causing many walks and hits. And as a result, Liriano saw his ERA rise over 5 for the second time in his career. If the Twins have success in 2012, they need the 2010 Liriano to return to his ace form. It looks so far so good for that happening this spring, but he too needs to carry it into the season.

Matt Capps
Last year, Capps was far from reliable coming in the 8th or 9th inning (He split time with Joe Nathan as the team's closer). He saw his ERA go from 2.47 in 2010 to 4.25 in 2011. And now, the Twins are without Joe Nathan, and Capps will be the Twins full time closer. When the Twins brought Capps back this offseason, Terry Ryan mentioned that relievers go through phases, and that Matt Capps was just going through a bad one. Lets hope he was right.

Brian Duensing
Duensing was a full time starter in 2011 after splitting time between the rotation and bullpen in 2010. But Duensing struggled being a starter and the plan for him in 2012 will for him to be a late inning guy out of the bullpen (Duensing has a career 3.31 ERA compared to a 4.15 ERA as a starter). If the Twins can get the lead late in the game, they need Duensing to step up and help get the ball to Capps in the ninth.

Prospects Who Could Impact The Twins In 2012

SP Liam Hendriks
Hendriks came up for a cup of coffee in 2011 with the Twins. In his brief time with the club (4 starts), he went 0-2 with a 6.17 ERA in 23.1 innings pitched. Obviously, those four starts do not tell the whole story with Hendriks. Hendriks has excellent control of all his pitches (21 walks in 139.1 innings pitched in the minors in 2011), and has been able to keep the ball in the ballpark (5 home runs allowed all of 2011). Hendriks is due to begin the season with the Twins, but will probably see some time at AAA this year as well.

SS Brian Dozier
No one turned more heads in the Twins organization than Dozier did in 2011. Dozier has shown quite the offensive skill set while playing at a position the Twins are in real need of. Last year, Dozier hit .320 with a .399 on base percentage while slugging .491. He also had 56 RBI, while moving up from Fort Myers to New Britain. Dozier was one of the final cuts from the major league camp in spring and will start the year at AAA. But look for Dozier to get called up should someone go down with injury.

1B Chris Parmelee
Parmelee was a September call up last year for the Twins. And in his month up here Parmelee did not disappoint as he hit .355 and had a on base percentage of .443. He also added 14 RBI with the Twins on top of his 83 he drove in with New Britain. Parmelee continued his hot hitting this spring, and earned himself on the opening day roster. Look for Chris to spend much of his time up here as the first baseman, while Justin Morneau plays DH. If Parmelee can continue his hot hitting into the year, he should have no trouble staying with the Twins the entire year.

OF Joe Benson
Benson, like Parmelee, was called last September by the Twins. He didn't have the same type of success Parmelee did, he still did decently in his month with the club. Benson can just about do it all. He can hit (.285 AVG, .388 OBP, .495 SLG in 2011), he has tremendous speed, and he can play good defense in the outfield. Benson will begin the season at AAA, but he could see serious time up here if an outfielder goes down with injury.

2012 Prediction:
Come back to Twin Minds tomorrow for our AL Central Preview and find out where we picked the Twins to finish in the standings in 2012.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

MLB 2012 Preview: AL East

5. Baltimore Orioles: Its going to be a long year, if you’re a Baltimore fan. The O’s are a decently talented offensive team (J.J. Hardy, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, and Brian Roberts lead the O’s attack). But pitching wise, they really lack talent. This will be one of the worst pitching staffs in all of baseball. And to make things worse, the O’s play in baseball’s toughest division, the American League East. And take in the fact there are now four legit teams in this division, this will not be an easy summer for Baltimore. Look for the O’s to be in a lot of high scoring games, but they lose a majority of them because they have no pitching what so ever.

4. Toronto Blue Jays: It hurts to have to pick Toronto this low. They are a team on the up and coming in this division. They have some very good young hitters (Brett Lawrie, J.P. Arencibia) and some good young pitchers (Ricky Romero, Kyle Drabek). And don’t forget they also have the two time reigning home run king in Jose Bautista. The Jays set out this past offseason to improve the back end of their bullpen, and they did just that. They perhaps made the most underrated move of the offseason when they acquired Sergio Santos from the White Sox. Santos is coming off a terrific year for the Sox, earning 30 saves and getting 92 K in 63.1 IP. The Jays are going to give the teams above them a run for their money this year, but they will ultimately come up short because the teams above them are just so much more talented and have much more experience with playing meaningful September games.

3. New York Yankees: This was the one team we had the most trouble with placing. The Yanks come in as again a World Series favorite, after setting out to get some starting pitching this offseason. And they did just that, when they traded their top prospect C Jesus Montero to Seattle for the young fireballer Michael Pineda (Pineda though, will be starting the season on the DL with shoulder problems). Then throw in the fact Andy Pettite is making a comeback with the Yanks, and one would say this team should be a favorite to win the division. But a lot of their chances rest with their lineup and keeping future hall of famers Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez healthy and in the lineup. But both made trips to the DL last year, and if both were to go down at the same time this year the Yanks will be in trouble. It all just makes too much sense to pick the Yankees. We felt they were due for an off year, so the gut feeling here is that they will finish third and be contenders for the second Wild Card spot.

2. Boston Red Sox: The Sox had an epic collapse in 2011. Gone is manager Terry Francona and closer Jonathon Papelbon. To replace Francona, the Sox went with former Mets skipper Bobby Valentine, a more fiery clubhouse presence than Francona was. The Sox still have a good team in place, they just had to change a few parts during the winter. They still have a good pitching staff (Beckett, Lester, Lackey, Buchholtz) and a powerful lineup (Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, and Jacoby Ellsbury lead the Red Sox lineup). The Sox bullpen could pose a few question marks for Boston, but if they can get good starting pitching and hitting like they should, it shouldn’t be that big of a concern for Red Sox Nation. The Sox should come out fired up after last September’s dismal performance and make a push for a division title. But they will fall just short on that mark, but look for them to hold down a Wild Card spot come October.

1. Tampa Bay Rays: Last year, the Rays took advantage of the epic Red Sox collapse, to fight their way into the postseason. They come into 2012 looking good as ever while making a few changes to their squad during the winter. They first brought back Carlos Pena to add some power to their lineup while playing first base. They then brought in Jose Molina, who has been a good all around presence behind the plate the past few years for Toronto. So add those players to the Rays lineup (Led by 3B Evan Longoria) and keep in mind the Rays hold one of the best starting rotations (David Price, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, Jeff Niemann, and Wade Davis) in all of baseball, and you find yourself with one outstanding baseball team. Joe Maddon has been a genius as to how to get the most of his players, and this year will be no exception. He will get the most out of this team, and guide the Rays to a second AL East division championship in their history.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Look for the 2012 Minnesota Twins preview tomorrow followed by the AL Central preview on Tuesday.

MLB 2012 Preview: AL West

4. Oakland Athletics: We don’t know how Oakland fans (What’s left of them) continue on with this team. They get good young prospects, then develop them into good ball players, then trade them away for more prospects. We saw that all too often with Billy Beane’s A’s this offseason. Gone are Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill, two of their best pitchers. They have promising young players such as 2B Jemile Weeks and their prized offseason signee, OF Yoenis Cespedes. But honestly, to expect the Oakland A’s to win anything more than 65 games is a bit much. This is a very young team, and it will be quite a while before Oakland is relevant once again.

3. Seattle Mariners: Much like Oakland, Seattle has a pretty young team. They went out and acquired C Jesus Montero from the Yankees this offseason, and also brought over SP Hisashi Iwakuma from Japan to fill a spot in their starting rotation. The M’s still have mainstays Ichiro and Felix Hernandez, but beyond that it really does not look good for them. Their rotation could be good, their bullpen is not good, and their lineup will once again be punchless. Seattle will give Oakland a run for their money for last place in this division, but Seattle gets a slight edge. And when we say slight, boy do we mean slight.

2. Texas Rangers: The Rangers made the second biggest acquisition of the offseason, when they lured Japanese starter Yu Darvish to come pitch in the big leagues. He will take the spot in the rotation left vacant by C.J. Wilson, who signed on with Anaheim. The Rangers despite losing their ace, the Rangers still boast a good rotation (Led by Derek Holland, Darvish, Scott Feldman, and Colby Lewis). Their bullpen received a boost when they signed free agent closer Joe Nathan to a two year deal, allowing incumbent closer Neftali Feliz to move to the starting rotation. And their lineup is perhaps the best in all of baseball right now (Josh Hamilton, Michael Young, and Adrian Beltre hold down the middle of the order). But, for us, they lost a bit of depth in the rotation after losing Wilson, and at this point it remains to be seen what the Rangers will get out of Darvish. If this team can pitch and hold the lead, they can play with anyone in baseball. But there is a big if right there. Look for Texas to come close to a third straight division title, but fall short to the Angels.

1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: During baseball’s winter meetings this past December, there were two teams in the running for Albert Pujols. Then out of nowhere came a mystery team. That mystery team went on to win the Pujols sweepstakes. That team was the Angels. Making the biggest splash this offseason, the Angels signed Pujols to help solidify a struggling lineup in 2010 and 2011. Also throw in the fact the Angels added former Rangers ace C.J. Wilson to their starting staff (Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Ervin Santana, and Wilson), and this team has made themselves not only a contender for the AL West, but they should be considered a World Series contender. This will be one of the best races in all of baseball in 2012. The Rangers and Angels should make for a very fun summer out west. But ultimately, we picked the Angels on the basis of the fact that their starting rotation is far superior to that of the Rangers. It wasn’t an easy pick. But it was the right pick.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

MLB 2012 Preview: NL East

5. New York Mets: This was a team that battled injuries all of 2011. Their ace Johan Santana missed the entire season after recovering from shoulder surgery. Notable hitters David Wright, Jason Bay, and Ike Davis all spent time on the DL as well. And going into 2012, the Mets appear to be at full strength. But talent wise, its not that good. Their lineup has potential to be decent, but much of that depends on which Jason bay shows up. Their rotation could be good, but can everyone stay on the field? And their bullpen doesn't look good at all. Too many question marks while playing in a tough division. Mets are the cellar dweller all year.

4. Washington Nationals: This was the most difficult decision for us, when picking these divisions. As much as we like the Nationals offseason moves (SP's Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson, and RP Brad Lidge were all brought in.), we still think this is a team that is just a year away from making a run in the NL East. They obviously boast one of the best starting rotations in all of baseball (led by ace Stephen Strasburg), and they have a pretty good up and coming bullpen. They should be fine offensively as long as 3B Ryan Zimmerman stays on the field and RF Jayson Werth can bat for an average higher than his weight. This team could/should be in it for a majority of the year, but their youthfulness will keep them out of the postseason just one more year.

3. Atlanta Braves: This team has a very talented roster returning in 2012. They have a nice mix of veteran and young players all around in this lineup. They have one of the best bullpens in baseball (Anchored by Eric O'Flaherty, Johnny Venters, and Craig Kimbrel at the back end) to compliment a good starting staff (Led by top starters Tim Hudson and Jair Jurrjens). This team should have no problem putting up runs with a lineup featuring Michael Bourn, Jason Heyward, a healthy Chipper Jones, Dan Uggla, and Brian McCann. But why pick the Braves at 3? They had a epic collapse in 2011, and with the same roster returning, I see no reason why this team will be outside looking in on October once more.

2. Miami Marlins: No one made more headlines this offseason than the (formerly Florida Marlins) Miami Marlins. They were throwing money around (They Reportedly had offers to SP CJ Wilson and 1B Albert Pujols before being turned down) like no other (They have a new ballpark driving this free spending now). They did land SS Jose Reyes, RP Heath Bell, and SP Mark Buehrle with all the free spending. And don't forget they have a new manager, Ozzie Guillen. Throw in existing stars Hanley Ramirez, Josh Johnson, and Mike Stanton, and this should be one good ballclub. They won't be good enough to dethrone the Phillies as East champs, but they should have no problem finding one of the two Wild Card spots.

1. Philadelphia Phillies: The Phillies are set to begin the season without mainstays Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. But lucky for them they have the best pitching staff in baseball and a lineup full of talented hitters after Utley and Howard. If that weren't the case, we would be picking this team lower in the division. They have three aces on this club (Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels). They have a lineup featuring 6 all stars, if you include Utley and Howard. And they now have some stability at the back end of their bullpen with the addition of Jonathon Papelbon. This will be the most contested division title for the Phils since their first one back in 2007. And they squeak it out despite having to hold off the Marlins, Braves, and Nationals. Then look for them to go one and done in the postseason...again.

Friday, March 30, 2012

MLB 2012 Preview: NL Central

6. Houston Astros: Lets be real folks, this team will be a solid lock for the worst record again this year. They have one solid starter (Wandy Rodriguez) and one decent bat in their lineup (Carlos Lee, who is seeing his skills diminish due to age). If Houston wins 60 games that would be impressive. Have fun moving to the AL West next year.

5. Chicago Cubs: Again, being real here, this team has very little to offer. Ryan Dempster was not good last year, so it remains to be seen how he will fare in 2012. Alfonso Soriano is still with the Cubs, and still is under performing. Starlin Castro appears to be the face of the Cubs moving forward, but, he will be the face of a franchise in a rebuilding mode.

4. Pittsburgh Pirates: Last year, the Pirates were the surprise team in baseball through June. But, a second half collapse saw them fall into fourth place. This year the Pirates return with a similar team, but they added AJ Burnett to be the staff ace and brought in Rod Barajas to replace Ryan Doumit who left for Minnesota. It would be fun to see Pittsburgh have a run similar to 2011, but keep it going much past June. But they play in a tough division and they finish closer to the top in fourth place, than the bottom.

3. Milwaukee Brewers: Despite the loss of Prince Fielder, the Brewers are still going to put up a lot of runs (Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez, and Rickie Weeks lead the way). They still have a good starting rotation (Led by Yovani Gallardo and Zack Greinke). But, their problem lies in the bullpen. If they get the lead to the 8th, its game over with K-Rod and John Axford. But before those guys, it doesn't look very good. So getting to Brewers starters early will be key for the opposition. Its hard to pick the Brewers third, but with the talent the two teams above them have, its the only spot they could finish.

2. St. Louis Cardinals: Somehow, the Cardinals got in the postseason and won the World Series in 2011. No one certainly thought Albert Pujols would leave. But he did. And to replace him in the lineup the team brought in Carlos Beltran. With Beltran, this team has a very good lineup (Matt Holiday, Lance Berkman, David Freese bolt down the middle of the order). They are still very strong pitching wise despite the uncertainty of Chris Carpenter's health. The Cardinals make a good run for the division title, but they fall just short and hope for a Wild Card spot.

1. Cincinnati Reds: The Reds set out this offseason to get some starting pitching. So they went out and did just that, when they acquired Mat Latos from San Diego. Throw him in the rotation with Cueto, Arroyo, Bailey, Leake, and possibly Chapman, this team is very deep with their starting 5. Their lineup is one of the best in the NL (lead by 2010 MVP Joey Votto). And their bullpen looks to be solid with Ryan Madson set to close games for the Reds. Ultimately, this team made the right moves this offseason, and it gives them the division title despite close calls from St. Louis and Milwaukee.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

MLB 2012 Preview: NL West

Hello all! The past few days, me and Zach have put our heads together and we hashed out our picks for the 2012 MLB season. This is a continuing tradition I have carried on from the Giles Talks Twins days, the only difference now is that there was a second voice in these picks. We will be posting one per day, ending with a super Twins preview for 2012, leading up to Opening Day. At points, it got rough to agree on certain teams/divisions, but we got them done. We hope you enjoy and watch us fail horribly (Haha, but maybe not so much on the failing part).

5. San Diego Padres: San Diego strikes us as a curious team, but frankly they have to many "who's that?' on the team for our liking. Tim Stauffer (Who?) appears to be their staff ace. Their closer is Huston Street. And their prized acquisition in the offseason was Carlos Quentin, and he is set to begin the season on the DL. This is a young team, with some nice potential. But for 2012, they will be the cellar dwellers in the NL West.

4. Colorado Rockies: The Rockies boast one of the NL's best offenses. But their pitching is a huge turnoff for this team. True, they have some nice young starters due to break camp with the team (Drew Pomeranz, Alex White-Both players acquired in the Ubaldo Jimenez trade), but they lack a true staff ace (Pick between Jeremy Guthrie and Jhoulys Chacin). Also, their bullpen frightens us (Rafael Betancourt is their closer?!?!). So if Colorado can get anything from their pitchers, they could compete. But they won't.

3. Los Angeles Dodgers: Honestly, I'm tired of waiting for the Dodgers to step it up and win. They have good starters (Kershaw, Billingsley, Lilly). They have a lineup full of talented hitters (Kemp, Ethier, Loney). Their bullpen does appear to be out of sorts (No set closer as of yet), but it is not all that bad. This team should be better than this, but we can't see them finishing higher than third. So that's where they will end up.

2. San Francisco Giants: The Giants set out to acquire some offense for the top of their order this year. So their answer was trading SP Jonathan Sanchez for OF Melky Cabrera (Fail!). Also throw in the fact, the Giants will be getting C Buster Posey back, and their lineup should be just about the same: No punch at the top, solid in the middle, lifeless at the bottom. They have one of the league's best pitching staffs, but it will not save them from their dismal lineup. The Giants get second in the division, but sit out on October once again.

1. Arizona Diamondbacks: If you don't love this team, start loving them now. They can hit (Former Twin Jason Kubel is projected to bat 7th!), they can pitch (Former A's standout Trevor Cahill is slated as the team's 4th starter!), and they can play defense as good as anyone. The D-Backs went out this offseason and added another bat (The before mentioned Kubel) and bolstered their bullpen (They brought in Craig Breslow and Takashi Saito to bridge the gap to JJ Putz in the 9th). This team could sneak up on people as a NL pennant contender. They are that good. Don't sleep on them again in 2012.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Spring Notes: 3/22

The Twins are moving along through Spring so quickly. Its hard to believe we are just 2 weeks away from Opening Day in Baltimore. So here is some notes/thoughts on spring training so far.

  • Justin Morneau is batting .091 this spring. I would like to think he will be ok, but at this point, I'm not sure what to think.
  • Scott Baker had some elbow tendinitis this past week, but for the time being appears to be fine. I hope the Twins deal with this right, Baker is too valuable to have multiple stints on the DL again.
  • Tsuyoshi Nishioka was sent down to the minors earlier in the week. This was something that should of been done last July!
  • Francisco Liriano has had a nice spring. If he can translate that success to the regular season, it can make this team so much better.
  • Brian Duensing has done well as a reliever so far in March, and he should have no trouble having similar success once the season starts. He will be very valuable to the team as a late inning reliever.
  • I do not like the idea of a platoon between Ben Revere and Trevor Plouffe in left field. I believe the left field job should be for Revere. Ben and Denard Span could cover a lot of ground in left and center field defensively, especially in the spacious outfield of Target Field. Revere did struggle towards the end of last year at the plate, but don't forget he is young and his best years are ahead of him.
  • Jamey Carroll was brought over to help the Twins defensively by filling the void at shortstop. If he hits during the year like he has in the spring (.156), he better be bringing Gold Glove caliber defense to makeup for that lack of offense.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Hello Old Friend

Today, the Twins officially open spring training. And if you're like me, this couldn't of come any sooner. Yes, its just spring and the starters play 3 innings. But this is baseball. Twins baseball. And today its the Opening Day lineup (With the exception of Ben Revere) out there to open up the Twins Grapefruit League schedule. Get excited everyone! 34 days until Opening Day!

Twins Lineup: Span-CF, Carroll-SS, Mauer-C, Morneau-1B, Willingham-RF, Doumit-DH, Valencia-3B, Plouffe-LF, Casilla-2B, Pavano-SP

Friday, January 27, 2012

Tom Kelly Gets What He Deserved

Last night, the Twins held their annual Diamond Awards. It honored the achievements of the team during the course of the 2011 season. And as the program came to a close, Twins President Dave St. Peter saved the most prestigious award for last. He announced the former manager Tom Kelly will have his #10 retired to the Captain's Deck in left field. He joins Harmon Killebrew (#3), Rod Carew (#29), Tony Oliva (#6), Kent Hrbek (#14), Kirby Puckett (#34), and Bert Blyleven (#28) to have their number retired by the Twins. TK was so touched by this honor, he walked off the stage without speaking. It was one of the more emotional moments in the history of the Diamond Awards.

This has been a long time coming. TK has been a staple in the organization for the past 25 years. He was big in instrumenting "The Twins Way" throughout the organization. Even after he retired from managing, he continued working with the minor leaguers on showing them how the game should be played.

No one is more deserving of this honor than TK. Congratulations!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

5 Metrodome Things That Were Worth Saving

This weekend, Twins Territory will be gathering under the teflon sky in the Metrodome, for the team's annual event, Twins Fest. Last year, the event was held at the National Sports Center in Blaine due to the Dome's roof deflating last winter. So for once, we're glad a baseball related event is back in the Metrodome. And as we get the baseball juices flowing this weekend, I'm going to take a look at the 5 things about the Metrodome we actually miss.

5. Getting blown out the exits-We always had to do this. Getting blown out of the Dome needed to happen everytime we went there. We had to leave quickly so we could wash out the memory of watching a game in there. The air pressure blowing you out of the stadium following a game was a ritual for us. It was extremely fun (One can only imagine how much better this would of been had we been able to drink beer and run out of there a bit drunk. Haha), and it is extremely missed.

4. You play every day-This kind of defeats the purpose of our loving the return of the Twins playing outdoors, but when the forecast is for rain on a Twins game we have tickets for, we get antsy. The certainty of playing every day, regardless of the weather, was so very nice. It wasn't a pretty thing to look at fake grass and a blue garbage bag covering 9,000 football seats, but we got to see the Twins play rain or shine.

3. Opponents losing the ball-This was one of the best home field advantages in sports. When a ball went up in the air, outfielders had real problems bringing it into their gloves. Even until the end, the Dome was playing tricks on the outfielders (Just ask Dom Kelly or Ryan Raburn). And it got even worse during the postseason when the homer hankies were flying in addition to the roof. Maybe once an outfielder will have a brain cramp and misplay a ball at Target Field, but never will you see it 3-5 times a year.

2. Dome Dogs-As much as we love the Schweigert hot dog spread at Target Field, it will never beat the good ol' Hormel Dome Dog. It was another staple of our gameday ritual where we would get a Dome Dog and soda, and save the chips that came with it for later in case the Twins needed a rally (It was our rally food). It was the very best ballpark food, and still to this day is the best hot dog at a ballpark we have ever had. And now, we can't even enjoy it at Twins Fest because it discontinued (WHY?!?!). Maybe one day, the Twins can bring this Metrodome tradition back.

1. The address-In baseball, there was no better address than 34 Kirby Puckett Place (Well ok, 24 Willie Mays Plaza is pretty awesome too). It was the best thing the Twins ever did in their 28 years in the Metrodome. We love the Twins current address, 1 Twins Way, but it will never come close to how awesome 34 Kirby Puckett Place truly was.