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Monday, June 21, 2010

“Super Pavario” Outduels “Doc Halladay”

If that title doesn’t sound like either a comic book or a video game than I don’t know what would.

Sporting one of the fullest and creepiest moustaches I have ever seen, Carl Pavano pitched the Twins to a series win yesterday afternoon against the Philadelphia Phillies. Pavano went the distance, marking the second time he has done so this year. His line for the day included 1 run on 4 hits while walking none and striking out just 2. Pavano didn’t need many strikeouts as he claimed 14 of his 27 outs via ground balls.

Other than making him far less popular with the ladies, Pavano’s newfound facial hair has provided him with somewhat of a performance boost. Over his last 3 appearances vs. the Royals, Rockies and Phillies (the mustache first appeared prior to his outing against the Royals) Pavano is 3-0 with a 2.25 ERA in 24 IP with 3 walks and 8 strikeouts.

This is exactly what the Twins pictured when they avoided arbitration by inking the Super Mario lookalike to a 1-year $7MM deal last offseason. A solid veteran presence who can pitch late into games, induce a lot of ground balls, and win 12-15 ballgames with an ERA below 4.00. One thing is for sure, with the rumors swirling around about Minnesota being a possible destination for Cliff Lee, I would be extremely comfortable with a postseason rotation that includes Liriano, Lee, Pavano and more than likely Baker.

I would fully support the idea of the entire Twins roster growing moustaches. If they have the same effect on everybody as they did on Pavano, the Twins may begin to resemble the 1927 Yankees in terms of their on-field performance (as those moustaches clearly wouldn’t fit the “clean cut” dress code of the pinstripes).

One area that I have failed to write about yet this season, and I feel is being overlooked is the success of the leftfielder for our beloved Twins. Delmon Young has “quietly” been putting up some monster numbers this year out of the 7 spot in the lineup. Outside of Justin Morneau, who is having an MVP caliber season, the argument can be made that Delmon Young has been the Twins’ second best hitter this season.

I am not trying to make a case that Delmon Young is somehow a better hitter than Joe Mauer, because we all know that would be ridiculous and asinine. But in terms of numbers, Young currently not only has a higher batting average than Mr. Mauer, but has also driven in more runs, while also clobbering nearly 3 times as many homeruns. Young’s statistics through .306/.343/.502 with 8 HR and 43 RBI, and those 43 RBIs are second on the Twins only to Justin Morneau’s 47.

Another area that has also been overlooked is the number of “clutch hits” that Young has this season. He has, on multiple occasions, delivered a big hit for the Twinkies at just the right time, with his latest coming on Saturday afternoon vs. the Phillies when he singled in the top of the 11th inning to give the Twins an 11-10 lead they would not relinquish.
Although I believe his decreased playing weight this season (Young lost 35 pounds in the offseason) has given more speed, quickness and flexibility, I fully believe that Young’s emergence in 2010 has mostly to do with his age. People forget that young is merely 24 years old and yet is already playing in his 5th major league season. Most players by age 24 are either just reaching the majors or beginning their 2nd or 3rd years.
People were way too quick in writing off Young as a “bust” based on his first two seasons with the Twins. He is just now developing the plate discipline and baseball IQ necessary to be a star in this league, and I don’t see his 2010 numbers as a fluke. I fully expect Young to be one of our better players for the remainder of the year, and to be a staple in left field for the Twins in years to come.

The Twins’ “stretch of aces” continues this week as they are set to face Yovani Gallardo Thursday afternoon in Milwaukee and Johan Santana Saturday in New York. This stretch of interleague road games comes to an end Sunday in New York before the Twins return home for a fun 7 game home stand when they will face the Tigers for 3 before welcoming the Tampa Bay Rays for 4.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Hiatus Is Over!

My last legitimate blog post came nearly a month ago, following the 3 game series against the Yankees. Oh how far ago that seems.

The fact of the matter is that I recently moved into a new house with some friends (9 days ago to be exact), and I have been in the process of getting settled in. Throw in the fact that we do not yet have Internet access or cable and that may help to explain the reason why this post is coming 28 days after that May 17th post.

Since I have last posted, a lot has happened with the Minnesota Twins. As I look back on the last month, I realize that it was basically the worst month to not be blogging due to the innumerable topics that I could have written about. There were numerous times throughout the past 9 days that I thought, “hey, I should blog about that,” and then I realized that I did not have an Internet connection at my newly rented house. The only reason I am able to be writing this post right now is because I recently discovered that one of my neighbors apparently doesn’t believe in locking his wireless network, which doesn’t bother me one bit.

Since that series at Yankee Stadium the Twins have gone 12-13, somehow managing to game a half game in the AL Central standings. Joe Mauer’s batting average has fallen even further from its’ May peak of .364, while Jason Kubel’s average has risen from a “Mendoza-esque” .213 to nearly .250 while also regaining some power. Delmon Young has silenced most critics of the Matt Garza/Jason Bartlett trade, and Orlando Hudson and JJ Hardy have seemed to be taking their advice on how to stay healthy from Eric Chavez.

Let’s also not forget that the Rochester Red Wings made a visit to Target Field to take on the Atlanta Braves Sunday afternoon. The lineup that Ron Gardenhire trotted out against Bobby Cox’s squad was one that even the Orioles or Pirates may have been ashamed to run out there. I realize that Hudson and Hardy are both on the DL, and that Mauer and even Denard Span occasionally need days off, but don’t you think with a day off on Monday (not even a travel day I would like to add) and the NL East-leading braves in town for a Sunday afternoon rubber match, Gardy maybe could have done something a little different?

Needless to say, the end of May and beginning of June has seen some interesting things from the Minnesota Twins. Being the, as Paul Allen would say, “great baseball mind” that I am, I would like to give my thoughts on certain things.

Justin Morneau officially passed Mark Teixeira in the All-Star Game balloting, and now leads the Yankees first baseman by nearly 200,000 votes. This is absolutely the way it should be as Morneau is having an “MVP caliber” season, batting .350/.460/.636 with 13 HR and 43 RBI. Teixeira is hitting a measly .229/.346/.392 with 9 HR and 37 RBI, numbers that aren’t even in the same stratosphere as Morneau’s. If Teixeira somehow ends up regaining the lead and ends up starting for the AL, I may actually vomit.

Joe Mauer leads the American League in All-Star votes with 2,617,822 while putting up a fairly mediocre season. Don’t get me wrong, Lou Marson or Gerald Laird would love to be putting up numbers like Mauer has this season, but when you look at what Mauer did last season after missing all of April, this season doesn’t even compare thus far. Obviously Mauer has lost some of his power due to the fact that Target Field seems to resemble the Polo Grounds at times when balls are hit into the power alleys (where Mauer hits a majority of his homeruns), but he still should have more than 2 homeruns and at least have a few at home.

Francisco Liriano gave the baseball world even more confirmation that he is ready to assume the role of an ace on the Twins pitching staff with his latest outing against the Braves. Liriano and fellow Tommy John “recoveree” Tim Hudson dueled on Friday night, with Liriano getting the best of Hudson, picking up the 2-1 victory while pitching 8 innings, striking out 11 and walking none. Aaron Gleeman wrote an excellent article over at his blog, comparing 2010 Liriano to his former 2006 self.

Over the weekend, rumors emerged around the Twins and Red Sox having discussions involving the Twins acquiring Mike Lowell. I would fully support this move for many reasons. For one, Lowell is a significant upgrade offensively over Nick Punto, who is currently hitting .221/.295/.290, at what is typically a power position in third base. Additionally, although Punto is an above average defender, Lowell is no slouch at the hot corner, and wouldn’t prove to be much of a defensive drop-off. I also believe that given his age (36) and the fact that Adrian Beltre has the third base position locked down for the Red Sox, Lowell would more than likely be able to acquired for mid-level talent, rather than one of our top prospects. All of these factors make this an attractive deal, and considering that the Twins feel they have the pieces in place to make a World Series run, I don’t see why Bill Smith and Company wouldn’t make think long and hard about this.

This is an exciting time of year for not only baseball, but sports in general. The baseball season is entering the “dog days of summer,” the NBA finals are winding down, the NBA draft is a week from Thursday, and the NFL season is right around the corner with OTAs and minicamps already taking place. With me having taken nearly a month off from blogging, I don’t see myself having a shortage of topics to write about in the weeks to come.

Please feel free to comment or e-mail with any feedback or suggestions. In terms of topics and anything related to the blog, I appreciate hearing feedback and accept it openly. If you enjoy reading, tell your friends!

Coming Tonight!

The wait is over, I am moved into the new house, and am fairly "settled in." I wanted to post this before I left for work and let any readers know (if they are even still checking) that a new post is coming TONIGHT! Check back later!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Yuck

I wanted to name this post "disgusting" but then I decided to look up synonyms instead and here is what came up. I figure just about any one of these words could be used to describe my feelings toward the Twins' offense right now:

abominable, awful, beastly, cloying, creepy, detestable, distasteful, foul, frightful, ghastly, grody, gross*, gruesome, hateful, hideous, horrid, horrific, icky, loathsome, lousy, macabre, monstrous, nasty, nauseating, nerdy, noisome, objectionable, obnoxious, odious, offensive, outrageous, repellent, repugnant, revolting, rotten, satiating, scandalous, scuzzy, shameless, shocking, sleazeball, sleazy*, stinking, surfeiting, vile, vulgar, yecchy, yucky

I am far too upset to post right now, so I will just leave this for you to chew on...

Over the past 5 games the Twins have left a combined 53 runners on base while our opponents have only stranded 30

p.s. I am in the midst of preparing to move into a house on June 1st, that is why my posts have been few and far between. I am planning to pick it up and begin posting on a regular basis again sometime after I move in.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Pretty Good Weekend (yes, taking 1 of 3 at Yankee Stadium qualifies)

I have been known to describe myself as an optimist. I have even gone so far as to describe myself as an “eternal optimist” in one of my posts within the last few months. I am that guy who doesn’t want to leave a game until the last out is recorded, not because I am trying to “get my money’s worth,” but rather because I fully believe that “my team” has a shot to win no matter how large the deficit.

This weekend, the Twins threatened to send me deep into pessimistic territory.

Following Saturday’s 7-1 beat down that the Yankees issued, the Twins had zero wins in their last 12 meetings with the pinstripes, including last postseason. This stretch consisted of what seemed like an infinite number of late inning, come from behind victories, including Friday nights 8-4 loss which included a 7th inning grand slam from Alex Rodriguez to put them ahead 7-4.

Saturday night I was as close as I have ever been to abandoning all optimistic hope and buying into the notion that the Twins just aren’t in the same league as the New York Yankees. I was drinking the kool-aid served up by fatalistic Twins fans that claimed they were unable to hold a late inning lead, because quite frankly, they hadn’t been able to.

My twitter post immediately following the A-Rod grand slam stated, “I think A-Rod's confidence came from the fact that he saw Guerrier wet his pants when he stepped to the plate...”

I was just about to dive head first into pessimism, and then Sunday happened...

Phil Mackey said it best on Twitter when he said, “Twins can exorcise a lot of demons here if Kubel (coldest hitter) comes through w/ bases loaded (achilles heel) against Yankees.” This came just moments before what I would consider the biggest homerun of Kubel’s career. I know that it is May, and this game is only 1 out of 162 that will be played this year. But it is less about the grand slam itself, and more about what it represents.

That homerun was “epic” (yes I just used that word) in more ways than one. It came at a time when the Twins desperately needed it. This is the year that the Twins have been dubbed as “ready to make a world series run.” One of the obstacles standing in the way is the hated Yankees. Getting swept in the Bronx to make it 13 straight losses would not have done well for the psyche of anybody on the roster.

Not only did the Twins come back in the late innings against the Yankees, something that has forever been the other way around, they did it against Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera, probably the best setup man and closer in all of baseball. To put into perspective just how huge this was, here are some facts for you; Rivera’s blown save was his first at home since 2007, a span of 51 consecutive saves. His bases loaded walk to Thome was his first issued since 2005, and the grand slam that Kubel hit was the first given up by Rivera since 2002! I would say that is reason to call the blast “epic.”

Let’s also not forget just how bad Kubel has been so far this season (.225, with 3 HR and 15 RBI), and also how bad the Twins have been with the bases loaded. This late inning comeback against arguably the best closer ever, might be just what Kubel needed to jump start his season, and also what the Twins needed to get going with the bases loaded and give them the confidence that they can win come October.

The other reason for this weekend being good for the Twins organization as a whole was the AA debut of Kyle Gibson.

“There was a time not too long ago when Kyle Gibson's name was mentioned in the same breath as Stephen Strasburg's. Judging by his recent performances in the Minnesota Twins' minor league system, it may happen again in the near future.”

Geoff Morrow of the The Patriot-News hit the nail right on the head regarding Gibson’s Saturday performance. In his debut with a terrible New Britain Rock Cats squad, Gibson went 7.1 innings, giving up zero runs on 4 hits, while walking only 1 and striking out 10. Pretty impressive for a 22 year old already pitching at AA when he didn’t throw a single minor league inning last year due to a stress fracture in his right forearm.

Gibson is on the fast track, some scouts and writers have said that we may see him pitching for the Twins as early as this September, although I believe that time won’t come until next season. Either way it is clear that the Twins have a special talent who fell to them at the #22 pick in last year’s draft, due solely to this forearm stress fracture that prior to diagnosis, many feared was the precursor to elbow problems. Prior to that injury, Gibson was pegged as a top-5 lock, I think you could say this is one time that an injury to a Twins prospect was a good thing.

I am really excited about Gibson soon joining the Twins for more than just the fact that he is a special talent. I also had the chance to speak with him briefly at TwinsFest this past winter, and he is an extremely nice guy. He is very grounded and humble, a strong Christian (he actually signed a baseball for me with a bible verse included below his name, something that I have never seen an athlete do, and I thought this was extremely cool) and seems to be a very genuine individual.

Gibson is now 5-1 with a 1.60 ERA and a K/BB ratio of 50/13 in 50.2 innings on the year, split between A+ and AA. This kid is for real and could be just the ace that this pitching staff will need for years to come.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Coming Soon

You may have noticed that I haven't made a post in quite a while. I just wanted to assure my thousands... hundreds... 13-14 readers that I have not abandoned writing for this blog. I was very busy last week, and I actually made a trip home last weekend to officially move my things out of my parent's house. I assure you that a new post will be coming in the next day or two, so please check back and read!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Pitcher of the Month, Bases Loaded & Wilson Ramos

If any Twins fans were in need of validation for Francisco Liriano’s performance over the first month of the season, they definitely received it on Monday. Liriano was named American League pitcher of the month for the month of April after going 4-0 with a 1.50 ERA in his first 5 starts of the year. This marks the first time a Twins pitcher has won the award since September of 2006 when Johan Santana brought it home.

Across his first 5 starts, Liriano has accumulated 36 strikeouts over 36 innings pitched, but walked 13 batters, a trend that hopefully will not continue over the next 5 months.

What’s been most impressive about Liriano thus far aside from his numbers is the fact that his velocity finally appears to be back. His fastball late in ballgames has been consistently 94-96 mph with his slider working around 87-88 and his changeup around 84-85. This is usually the surest sign that a pitcher has fully recovered from Tommy John.

Another encouraging sign was something that I noticed in his last start against the Indians last Sunday. Coming into the game riding 23 consecutive scoreless innings, Liriano proceeded to quickly give up 2 runs in the bottom of the first inning, something that would have lead to a complete mental breakdown a year ago. Liriano recovered well, and ended up throwing 7 strong innings, giving up a total of 3 earned runs while striking out 9. This ability to settle down after a rocky start shows a maturity that we haven’t seen from Liriano.

Anybody that has watched the Twins so far this season has probably noticed that they have been struggling a bit with the bases loaded. Anybody who consistently reads about the Twins is probably sick of reading about their struggles with the bases loaded. This has frustrated me all season, so I decided to do some statistical digging to see just how bad it really is, and the results are disgusting…

Entering Monday the Twins led all of baseball in plate appearances with the bases loaded at a whopping 52. The league average slash line in these situations sits at .292/.334/.443, meaning that on average that amount of opportunities in 25 games should lead to a ton of runs. However, the Twins in those situations have hit an abysmal .163/.192/.186

Albeit those numbers are terrible, the Twins are tied for 3rd in all of baseball with 140 runs scored. As all of my readers should know by now, I am eternally optimistic and believe that the Twins production with the bases loaded will improve significantly over the year. This increased timely hitting will make one of the best offenses in baseball even more potent.

To make Twins fans and even the occasional sports writer even begin to think about muttering the words “Mauer who?” would take nothing short of a superhuman performance on the field. Somehow Wilson Ramos was able to perform well enough in his first 2 major league games that had some people thinking this way.

Wilson Ramos began his major league career by going 4 for 5 with a couple of doubles that he absolutely laced. He didn’t skip a beat by going 3 for 4 last night in his first game at Target Field, giving him 7 hits in his first 9 at bats. If you were a casual observer at Target Field on Monday night you would have thought that people believed they should begin etching Ramos’ name on a plaque in Cooperstown. I even heard one fan two rows behind me trying to muster up the chant, “trade Mauer.”

Yes, Ramos has been hitting the ball well and calling a good game behind the plate, but how even the most casual of fans trying to reason that the Twins should trade arguably the best player in baseball, a 3-time bating champion and reigning AL MVP who we just locked up with a long-term deal just makes me want to vomit. I know that Minnesota sports fans have been called “short sighted” or “fair weather” by people outside of this market, and it is thoughts and comments like this that lead to this belief.

Ramos is one of the top 3 prospects in the Twins organization, one of the best prospects in baseball, and is a prototypical catcher who is built like a brick wall. He is a guy who will hit for average, and seems to have as much raw power as just about anybody in the organization. He will fill in nicely while Mauer is injured, and will be sent back down to Rochester when Mauer comes back. I am sure that many fans will be up in arms when this takes place, but you just simply cannot risk stunting the growth of one of your organization’s top prospects by sitting him on the bench and giving him maybe 4 at bats a week.

Literally as I am writing this sentence, JJ Hardy is crossing the plate for the Twins first ever walk-off win at Target Field. It seems fitting that Hardy be the one to score this run as he made a phenomenal heads up defensive play for the last out of the 9th and preserve the tie. I thought the ball that Hardy hit was gone when it left the bat, which probably would have been cooler, but a win is a win.