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


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.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Thoughts From The First Month

Yesterday marked the final day of April, which means that the first month of the MLB season has come and gone. It seems only fitting that I would reflect on the first month of the season, not only in terms of the Twins but the league as a whole.

  • Things in the AL Central are what I thought they would be up to this point in the season. The Twins appear to be the class of the division, driven mostly by solid starting pitching and an offense that appears to be one of the best in baseball. The Tigers aren’t too far behind and appear that they may be a bit “pesky” as the season continues. The only things that may be a bit different than I expected are that the White Sox starting pitching up until this point has been fairly sub-par, and the Indians may actually be the “cellar dweller” rather than the Royals.
  • Jon Rauch has stepped into the closer role nicely, and has had better success and better overall numbers than I expected. His numbers at this point are that he is 7 of 8 in save opportunities with an ERA of 1.80 and a K/BB ratio of 7/2. His lone blown save came against the Royals last Saturday in their 9-7 extra inning win, and Rauch actually earned the win.
  • Francisco Liriano is 3-0 with a 0.93 ERA and a K/BB ratio of 27/10 over 29 innings. Enough said.
  • Orlando Hudson went 3 for 4 in last night’s 9-3 victory over the Indians to raise his batting average to .301. His season line now stands at .301/.387/.387. Denard Span’s batting average stands at a measly .211, but his on-base percentage is .339. With Span’s batting average likely improving as the season progresses, his presence at the top of the lineup with Hudson setting the table for Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer, Kubel & Thome, this lineup will continue to score a ton of runs.
  • Roy Halladay is rolling. He is 4-1 with a 1.80 ERA, 2 complete games, and a K/BB ratio of 33/3 in 40 innings this year. This not only confirms that the switch from the AL to the NL is much easier for a pitcher, but also that I made the wrong choice in my preseason pick for the NL Cy Young.
  • We may be seeing a changing of the guard in the AL East. Of course the Yankees are going to be there, but with the Tampa Bay Rays looking like possibly the best team in baseball, the Boston Red Sox appear to be the odd man out in that division. They are off to a sub-par start at 11-12 and currently sit 4th in that division behind the Rays, Yankees and Blue Jays. Yes their starting pitching has been bad, but with how good the Rays and Yankees look, barring some sort of an injury, it doesn’t appear that the Red Sox will still be playing in October.
  • Finally, Paul Konerko is absolutely raking right now. He is currently leading the league in homeruns with 11, and slugging percentage at .784. His current line is .297/.413/.784. Those are some pretty impressive numbers, especially the homerun total when you consider the fact that he is only played in 22 games. He is currently on pace to hit 81 homeruns with 155 RBIs and score 96 runs. Obviously that won’t happen, but that doesn’t make his April any less impressive.

UPDATE: Roy Halladay pitched yet another complete game shutout Saturday afternoon, defeating the Mets 10-0 while striking out 6 and walking just 1 on 118 pitches. This now brings his season numbers to a record of 5-1 with an ERA of 1.47 and a K/BB ratio of 39/4 in 49 innings. Let's also not forget his measly WHIP of 0.878. I will say again, it appears that I picked the wrong NL pitcher as my preseason CY Young Winner.


Sunday, April 25, 2010

These Aren't Last Year's Twins

2009 was an exciting year for the Minnesota Twins. 162 games were not enough, as they won the American League Central with a record of 87-76 after defeating the Detroit Tigers in game 163. (fun fact: only one person shown in the picture on the right is currently on the Twins major league roster)

Remember last year when the Twins led all of Major League Baseball with a bating average somewhere near .290 with runners in scoring position? The combination of their batting average with RISP, missing Joe Mauer for the first month and Justin Morneau for the last month of the season, and having generally “shaky” starting pitching seems to show that 2009 Twins may have overachieved just a bit.

That is not the case with this year’s squad. Bill Smith and the gang went into last offseason with one goal in mind, to become a legitimate contender, rather than a stepping-stone for the Yankees, Angels, or Red Sox to yet another World Series title. As the offseason came to a close, most Twins fans were extremely optimistic about the moves that had been made, and how this year’s team would fare.

The 2010 season is now 3 weeks old, and the Twins haven’t disappointed. They own the second best record in all of baseball at 13-6, second only to the Tampa Bay Rays. They have a 3 game lead in the Central division over the Detroit Tigers, who they will be facing for the first time this season on Tuesday.

The Twins are off to one of their best starts in franchise history, having won each of their first 6 series to start this season. They have scored the 4th most runs in all of baseball at an average of 5.32 per game, and have the second best run differential in all of baseball at +31 overall. But what is crazy about all of this is the fact that the Twins have hit poorly with runners in scoring position, and have been downright awful with the bases loaded.

The Twins have hit .262 so far this season with RISP, and they are an abysmal 4 for 26 (.154) with the bases loaded. What does this mean? It means that the 2010 Twins with the second best record in baseball are actually underachieving!

Can you imagine what this season may look like 3 weeks in if the Twins were hitting anywhere close to their mark of last season with RISP, or if they were able to produce with the bases loaded? One thing is for sure; the Twins would be 14-5 rather than 13-6, because the they had the bases loaded twice today in the final game of the series at Kauffman Stadium and were unable to do anything, eventually falling 4-3 to the Royals.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not searching for things that are wrong with this team, nor am I a fatalist who believes the Twins record to be empty and that it is only a matter of time before they come crashing back down to earth. This Twins team is very, very good. They possess the second best record in baseball in spite of their lack of timely hitting because they have played outstanding defense (only 1 error this season), they have pitched very well, and their offense has scored a ton of runs.

I think that Bill Smith should be proud of his offseason work, because I, along with many Twins fans can see that he accomplished what he set out to do. This team is a legitimate contender, and is ready to make a run at the franchise’s 4th World Series title (Twins 3rd). All I have to say is that the rest of the league had better look out, because when the Twins begin producing with RISP and the bases loaded, this lineup could be the most potent in all of baseball.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The "Treasure Island" Twins?

When listening to a Twins game on the radio via AM1500, just before the game begins there is a message that comes across saying “you are listening to a Treasure Island broadcast of Twins Baseball.”

Kevin Slowey and Francisco Liriano have seemed to take that literally for the last couple of nights, appearing as if they are employed by the casino as they were both absolutely DEALING for 8 innings in their respective starts.

Slowey shut down the Indians for 8 innings on Tuesday night, finishing his 98 pitch outing having only given up one run on 5 hits, striking out 9 while walking none. Slowey essentially made only one mistake; a second inning first pitch fastball that Travis Hafner tagged to right for what would eventually be the Indians’ only run of the night. What impressed me most about Slowey's outing was that he threw 70 of his 98 pitches for strikes, regaining the “Greg Maddux like” control (as Bert Blyleven put it) that he has been known for.

Liriano followed up his superb outing against the Boston Red Sox with another gem Wednesday night against the Indians. Liriano needed only 4 more pitches than Slowey to finish his 8 innings, also throwing 70 of his 102 pitches for strikes. This is a very promising sign for Liriano who struggled mightily with his control last season. He finished the night having given up no runs on 6 hits, striking out 6 while walking 2.

The Twins were actually outhit by the Indians 7 to 6 Wednesday night, but unlike the past week, tonight's hits came with runners in scoring position. Brendan Harris drove in the first run in the second inning on a 2 out single to center, followed up shortly by a 2-run single to center by Denard Span. Michael Cuddyer accounted for the rest of the Twins’ runs, homering to right in the 6th, and driving in Mauer and Morneau with a triple in the 8th.

It is officially time to cease speculation regarding whether or not Francisco Liriano is for real. Liriano’s numbers combined through Dominican winter league performance, his dominant spring training, and now his first three outings of the 2010 season look like this: 98.1 innings, 1.19 ERA, 114-21 strikeout to walk ratio. I realize that the winter league and spring training are not the same level of competition that Liriano will face throughout an MLB regular season, but those numbers lead me to the conclusion that Liriano is as close to his 2006 form as the Twins could hope.

Also with tonight’s win, the Twins have won their 5th consecutive series to begin the season. The only other team in baseball with the possibility of doing that is the Yankees who could do so with a win either tonight or tomorrow against the Athletics.

This Twins team is for real. If they continue to receive starting pitching like they have thus far, and this lineup hits like it should, the American League should watch out!

Random Vikings Update:

  • The Vikings signed free agent cornerback Lito Sheppard to a one-year $2MM deal tonight. With the NFL draft beginning tomorrow night, it appears that the Vikings will no longer be looking to draft a CB with the 30th overall pick, as was expected up until now. This signing also increases speculation that the Vikings will possibly select a quarterback with their pick, more specifically Tim Tebow, whom they have been said to have “serious interest” in over the past couple of weeks. Personally, I like Tebow, and I would like to see the Vikings select him at 30, but I still believe if there is a solid safety available at #30, we will more than likely go that direction.

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

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Twins Off to a Fast Start

“Orlando Hudson smacked a high fastball into the left field bleachers to lead off the bottom of the seventh on Saturday.


That’s when Usain Bolted. Hudson took one step, calculated trajectory and ball speed, tossed his bat, put his head down and sprinted like a man who is late for the bus and lacks cab fare.”

This quote from Jim Souhan, found in today’s Sports Sunday section of the Star Tribune not only describes O-Dawg’s reaction to what would eventually be a game winning homerun in yesterday’s win over the Royals. It also fittingly describes the beginning to the Twins 2010 season.

The Twins began the much anticipated 2010 season with a bang, winning 3 out of 4 in Anaheim against an Angels team that they have struggled against for what seems like forever (39-55 in the last 10 years, including 17-28 at Angel Stadium). They haven’t slowed down since.

The Twins are currently leading the league with a record of 9-3 and with a win yesterday, officially won their 4th consecutive series to begin the season. This marks something the Twins have never done in the 50 years they have been in Minnesota, a feat not even accomplished the '87 and '91 seasons when they won their World Series titles.

This also puts the Twins in some very elite company across the league. The only other team in baseball who has already won their first 4 series of the season is the Yankees, last year’s World Series champions, marking the first time they have done so since Gehrig and Ruth donned the middle of the Yankee batting order in 1926. In case you were wondering, the Yankees went on to lose 4 games to 3 to the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1926 World Series, one year before going 110-44 and being regarded as quite possibly the greatest baseball team of all-time.

The Cardinals, Phillies & Giants could also become winners of their first 4 series with wins today.

The Twins have not only gotten off to a great start, but have been extremely entertaining to watch. Clearly the “giddy” feeling associated with the opening of a new ballpark has yet to wear off, and playing well should keep that spirit alive.

The new additions to this year’s team are starting to get into the act with Jim Thome and Orlando Hudson both homering in yesterday’s ballgame. For Thome, his towering blast into the pine trees beyond the center field wall was his second of the year, and Hudson’s shot off of the second deck facing in left was his first. JJ Hardy has also been a solid contributor offensively thus far, while also playing flawless defense.

Pair that with solid pitching and the offensive contributions from the rest of the lineup, and this Twins team looks like everything I expected them to be throughout my offseason optimism.

In addition to my optimism moving forward, I have couple of observations after watching the first 5 full games at Target Field:

  • We have not yet seen how Target Field will play on a day-to-day basis. The wind has seemingly been different during almost every game thus far, sometimes even changing as the game progresses. It has seemed that during day games, the wind has been coming in from right and blowing out to left. Even with this wind, people were beginning to talk as if Target Field was going to be a pitchers park, until yesterday when the ball was flying out of the yard like crazy. My thoughts are that it will be fairly neutral as the season progresses, although I believe more homeruns will be hit on humid days when the temperature is a bit higher.
  • Day games that begin a bit later in the afternoon or night games that begin a bit early may pose a bit of a problem for outfielders in the later innings as the sun goes down. This was something I noticed on opening day from about the 6th or 7th inning on as the sun came through gaps between the second and third levels and just barely peeked over the canopy between home plate and first base. This was later confirmed by comments from Mike Cameron, Kevin Youkilis and Denard Span. This shouldn’t pose much of a problem throughout the season as the Twins are only scheduled to play 6 games beginning at 3:10 and 4 beginning at 6:10.

My apologies for the length of time between this post and my last post, I had every intention of posting something around Thursday, but became a bit busy and it got pushed back until now. I will resume my former pace and hopefully post more in the coming weeks.

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

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Opening Day at Target Field

There isn’t a superlative in the English language capable of describing the new home of the Minnesota Twins. Although I had previously visited an empty Target Field a few weeks back during a season ticket holder open house, yesterday’s opening day experience can be summed up in two words… “Awe inspiring.”

The above photo shows only the panoramic view of Target Field reflecting off of the lenses of my sunglasses, and if you were able to scroll down you would more than likely find my mouth hanging wide open.

My girlfriend, Jenny, and I arrived at the ballpark around 1:45 following a 10-block walk through the skyway from the University of St. Thomas. This walk, due to my excitement and impatience, seemed like it took about an hour. As we moved through Target Center and Target Field slowly came into sight, I could feel my heart start beating faster, and before I knew it I was 6 steps ahead of Jenny and had to be reeled back in.

The amount of people on the Plaza was astounding. There were people huddling around the newly unveiled statue of Kirby Puckett rounding second base following his walk-off homerun during game 6 of the 1991 World Series. Many others were anxiously waiting for their chance to climb up into the pocket of the giant golden glove to have their picture taken.

I was on a direct line toward the Tradition Wall, only to be stopped once along the way to grab a bag of kettle corn (a must for every Twins game as this is the snack of choice for my usual game partner). Back in June, I suggested that it might be a good gift idea for Father’s Day to purchase a spot on the tradition wall. As I walked up to panel 5 of the wall titled “History,” we quickly found my father’s spot on the wall, “Kevin Beck & Family.”

It seemed only fitting to enter the stadium in right field through gate 34, as Kirby Puckett was my boyhood idol (not to mention I was wearing his jersey). We were immediately greeted with some wonderful SWAG (stuff we all get), including an opening day homer hanky and certificate commemorating our attendance at the first regular season game at Target Field. Had we arrived earlier we would have also received a free hat.

After a two minutes of random stopping and staring at various aspects of the masterpiece that is this ballpark, we decided to head to our seats in section 122 as the pregame festivities were about to begin.

Upon taking our seats under the overhang of the legends club, we were wondering why nobody had mentioned that we would be sitting in the designated “alcohol section," which could be described as the exact opposite of the family section which used to reside in the upper right field corner of the Metrodome. Obviously Target Field does not include designated “alcohol sections,” however, nearly every person surrounding us was absolutely bombed. At one point during the 5th inning, a guy who appeared to be in his late twenties passed out in his seat, still holding what seemed to be his 12th beer, began drooling all over himself, and woke up surrounded by 2 security guards and a Twins official who quickly handed him a small leaflet containing the “Twins Code of Conduct.”

As the pregame ceremonies rolled along, the emotions began to take over. It was awesome to see everybody from Shannon Stewart to Jack Morris raising flags in left field, a Minnesota born purple-heart recipient raising the flag on the original Metropolitan Stadium flag pole in right field, and the sheer magnitude of the American flag coupled with an F-16 fly-over and a superb rendition of the national anthem was enough to bring tears to your eyes.

But what really got me were two specific events; when Kirby Puckett Jr. was introduced, and when the historic Twins video was played on the screen before introducing the batting orders. Jenny, who was touching my arm at the time, held it up and called out the fact that she could not only feel but also see the goosebumps on my forearm.

These goosebumps only continued as the Twins took the field to the sounds of the “We’re Gonna Win Twins,” transitioning into the Black Eyed Peas anthem “I Gotta Feeling.” As Pavano readied to throw the first ever regular season pitch at Target Field, the crowd of 39,504 got progressively louder, and Pavano proceeded to throw a ball… eventually giving up a single to Marco Scutaro.

That buzz kill didn’t last long as Pavano quickly picked off Scutaro before surrendering a double to Pedroia and eventually getting out of the first inning unscathed. The Twins didn’t waste time making “firsts” history as Denard Span drew the first walk and later scored the first run with Michael Cuddyer recording the first RBI. The “firsts” continued as Span later stole the first base at Target Field, Jason Kubel delivered the first homerun, Jon Rauch recorded the first save and Pavano was credited with the first win, his second of the year.

As we made our way toward the exits, I couldn’t help but notice just how fast we were able to not only get to the concourse from our seats, but also once we were in the concourse, how fast we were able to get to the exit. Not once did we come to any sort of a “bottleneck” where foot traffic was at a standstill. This is due mostly in part to the wider concourses (and probably to the fact that many people were hanging around their seats a bit longer to soak in just a few more seconds of Target Field).

As we exited through Target Plaza, the sounds reminiscent of the Metrodome were the same, there were a couple of guys banging on metal and plastic 5-gallon buckets, and the occasional man playing the same riff on an acoustic guitar over and over, but the feeling was totally different. This time I wasn’t walking away thinking, “how much longer do I have to get literally blown out of the doors of the Metrodome and wish that the next time I attended a game we would be outdoors?” I now could turn around, look at the amazing view into Target Field and know that for more than likely the rest of my life, I will be attending Twins games at this amazing ballpark. I absolutely can’t wait to go back!

Please feel free to comment not only with thoughts on this post, but also with recommendations for future posts. I love hearing feedback! Thanks for reading!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Reflecting on the Opening Series

Have I mentioned that I love this time of year?

The Twins opened up the 2010 season on Monday night at 9:05 in Anaheim, facing an Angels team that looks a bit different than it did last season. After seeing John Lackey, Chone Figgins, Vladimir Guerrero, Darren Oliver and Gary Matthews Jr. depart via free agency, the Angels signed Hideki Matsui, the 2009 World Series MVP, to make up for the losses of Figgins and Guerrero. They also acquired Joel Pinero and Fernando Rodney to fill the pitching staff voids left by Lackey and Oliver.

There were 2 things I knew for sure going into this series with the Angels; I would not be sleeping much throughout the week, and many Twins fans would make unnecessary assumptions based on the small sample sizes of the season’s first few games.

Both of my assumptions were correct, as I have averaged a mere 6.5 hours of sleep every night since Monday, and following the Twins’ loss Monday night, the phone lines of local sports radio stations and comment sections of blogs were filled with endless negativity making it seem as if the sky were falling.

Denard Span went 0-5 with 3 strikeouts on Monday night, while Carlos Gomez was 4-5 with a double and a homerun in his debut with the Brewers. You would have thought that Gomez was Josh Gibson in the eyes of fatalistic Twins fans. What is it about opening day that makes people believe it is some sort of barometer to how the season will play out? Fun fact: the Twins won division titles in 2006 and 2009 after losing on opening day, so fear not, it is possible to have a successful season in spite of losing the first of 162 games.

I realize that I am losing all credibility for any inferences I might make from the opening series by ripping on people who get worked up over a single game, because let’s face it, the 4 games that make up the opening series are still a small sample size. There still is something that I feel I can comfortably say in regards to this new and improved Minnesota ball club, “these aren’t your daddy’s Twins.”

Gone are the days of the Twins playing the role of the “little engine that could,” both in terms of the size of their payroll and their style of play. No longer will the Twins be forced to scrape and claw for every single run they score through a constant barrage of stolen bases, sacrifice bunts and general “small ball.” This current Twins roster can absolutely mash!

The Twins hit 9 homeruns during the past 4 games, Joe Mauer, Jim Thome and Brendan Harris got into the action, with Justin Morneau, JJ Hardy and Delmon young each hitting a pair. I am not claiming that this year’s team will hit 365 homeruns (which is what they are currently on pace for), eventually shattering the current record of 264 held by the 1997 Seattle Mariners. What I am saying is gone are the days of trotting out an everyday lineup with one guy having the potential to break the 20 homerun barrier (i.e. Morneau was our only 20+ homerun guy in 2008).

This year’s lineup has 7 players with 20+ homerun power (Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer, Kubel, Thome, Young & Hardy), and 5 of those players have legitimate 30+ homerun power (Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer, Kubel & Thome). I am not saying that we should expect to have 5 guys with 30 homeruns come season’s end. I don’t believe that Thome will have enough at bats to reach that mark, and I also don’t expect every one of the other four to put up those kind of power numbers all at once.

Pavano had an excellent outing Wednesday evening, giving up only 1 run over 7 innings, while striking out 6 and walking nobody. As I said on the Henry Lake show this past Saturday (as a caller, not as somebody who was being interviewed as a guest), when you look at Pavano’s FIP (4.00) and BABIP (.335) from last season, it becomes clear that his overall numbers were much worse than they should have been. I fully expect his ERA to come down much closer to his FIB of 4.00 than it was last season, and to be much less “unlucky” with his BABIP moving toward the league average of 3.03. Overall, I expect Pavano to have a nice season, surprising many fans with more wins and better numbers.

This Twins team has shown a bit of what they can do this year offensively in just the first 4 games. Also, with the exception of Jose Mijares’ abysmal performance Monday night, the bullpen has shown that it should be strong again this year. Pair that with starting pitching performances that hopefully resemble Pavano’s first start rather than Baker’s, and as I have said before, I believe the Twins to be not only the AL Central champions, but a legitimate World Series contender in 2010.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Opening Day!

I woke up this morning to the sweet sound of John Fogerty singing of beating drums and holding phones all because the sun was out (yes I set my ihome so that I would wake up to that song). With a smile on my face I went toward the window and pulled back the drapes to see if that was indeed the case for me.

Even though the opening day matchup between the Twins and Angels was going to be played 1931 miles away, for some reason the fact that it was sunny outside of my window made me a bit happier.

This day could easily be considered a holiday for me, and quite frankly, even if it were, it wouldn't have been much different because I basically treated it like one. I had trouble focusing, I was antsy, I had an anxious excitement in my stomach throughout the day, it was as if I were an impatient young teenager on the last day of school. All of this for opening day.

Yes I know there will be another 161 games after tonight, and that this game has no additional significance over another aside from the fact that it is the first one. There is just something about opening day that gets me amped up for summer and the baseball season to come.

As I sit here in the 6th inning, with the Twins trailing 4-3 I have a few random baseball and general sports musings:

  • Mark Buehrle pitched extremely well today in the White Sox victory over the Indians 6-0. Buehrle went 7 innings giving up 3 hits with 1 walk and 3 strikeouts. He also turned in one of the best defensive plays I have ever seen by a pitcher.
  • I went into my fantasy auction draft last week hoping to pick up Jason Heyward for cheap after learning he would begin the season as the Braves starting right fielder. I was successful as I picked up Heyward for a mere $5. I am almost willing to say that the joy I received from seeing what he did in the Braves home opener today. Not only did he homer in his first major league at bat, he also had a pretty good overall day at the dish in the braves 16-5 rout of the Cubs.
  • Albert Pujols is good.
  • I am really glad that the Twins front office doesn’t make decisions based on what fans want. Because if they did, we would have Jason Frasor as our closer right now, and he had a rough day, pitching only 1/3 of an inning, giving up 2 runs and blowing a save.
  • The Duke Blue Devils are national champions, despite Butler giving them everything they could handle, including a half-court shot from Gordon Hayward at the buzzer that was ridiculously close to going in. Had that shot gone in, Butler would have been crowned national champions, and that shot would have immediately become one of the top 3 shots in NCAA tournament history, right up there with Laettner’s in 1992 and Lorenzo Charles’ in 1983.
  • With 161.5 games to go in the Twins season, my “Twins Most Improved Player” pick has started off on the right foot. Delmon Young homered in his first at bat of the season, and then showed off the blazing speed of his now “35 pounds lighter” frame, first by beating out an infield single and then stealing a base later that inning. I seem to recall another Twin homering in his first at-bat of the season last year, and that worked out pretty well…
  • I was extremely pleased to see the 5th inning sequence in which Young hit in an infield single, stole second, JJ Hardy hit a 3-2 pitch to the right side with a clearly intentional inside-out swing, and Nick Punto drove in young with a sacrifice fly. It was very good fundamental baseball, and shows that although we may have “beefed up” our lineup, we still are very good at creating runs, as the Twins have always shown.
  • If you would have told me that Delmon Young would hit a homerun in his first plate appearance of the season, and that Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau’s first hits of the year would come on infield singles, I may have laughed at you.

Check back throughout the week for new posts, including an upcoming post giving an economic analysis of Joe Mauer’s contract. I am always looking for ideas to improve the blog, including new poll ideas, writing topics you would like to see, or general suggestions. Feel free to e-mail me or comment with any ideas.

Friday, April 2, 2010

"Prediction Day" & Thoughts

Twins-Specific Predictions
• Twins MVP: Joe Mauer
• Twins Top Pitcher: Kevin Slowey
• Twins Best Rookie: Anthony Slama
• Twins Most Improved Player: Delmon Young
• Bold Predictions (there is a reason these are BOLD predictions)
o Kevin Slowey will win 20 games
o Pat Neshek will save the most games of any current Twins reliever
o Delmon Young will hit 25 homeruns this season
o The Twins will win the regular season series vs. both the Yankees and Red Sox
• A.L. Central Prediction (Standings):
1. Minnesota Twins (92-70)
2. Chicago White Sox (84-78)
3. Detroit Tigers (82-80)
4. Cleveland Indians (72-90)
5. Kansas City Royals (70-92
• Three Keys to Success for the Twins:
1. Health: The Twins have struggled in years past with staying healthy (Michael Cuddyer in 2008, Justin Morneau & Kevin Slowey in 2009, the list could go on and on). If this lineup stays healthy, it will score a ton of runs.
2. Starting Pitching: Somebody needs to emerge as a leader/ace of this staff. They need to break the constant barrage of chatter around how the staff is comprised of number 3 & 4 starters. It could be Liriano finally regaining some of his 2006 form, it could be Scott Baker continuing to improve as he has each of the last 4 years, it could be Kevin Slowey bouncing back from a season ending wrist injuring last year (see “Bold Predictions”). The Twins will score plenty of runs, we just need to make sure we don’t have a team ERA of 6.00
3. Closer Situation: The “closer by committee” approach that Ron Gardenhire will be using to begin the 2010 season cannot go on for the entire season, especially if the Twins see themselves making a deep playoff run. Somebody from the current bullpen needs to emerge as the closer, or the Twins will have to sign (possibly John Smoltz) or trade for somebody prior to July 31st.

Rest of the League Predictions
• A.L. MVP: Joe Mauer
• N.L. MVP: Albert Pujols
• A.L. Cy Young: Zack Greinke
• N.L. Cy Young: Tim Lincecum
• A.L. Rookie of the Year: Brian Matusz
• N.L. Rookie of the Year: Jason Heyward
• A.L. Breakout Player of the Year: Max Scherzer
• N.L. Breakout Player of the Year: Jay Bruce
• A.L. Comeback Player of the Year: Josh Hamilton
• N.L. Comeback Player of the Year: Russell Martin
• A.L. Playoff Predictions:
o AL East – New York Yankees (100-62)
o AL Central – Minnesota Twins (92-70)
o AL West – Seattle Mariners (94-68)
o AL Wild Card – Boston Red Sox (95-67)
o AL Champion – Minnesota Twins (defeat Red Sox 4-2 in ALCS)
• N.L. Playoff Predictions:
o NL East – Philadelphia Phillies (94-68)
o NL Central – St. Louis Cardinals (92-70)
o NL West – Colorado Rockies (93-69)
o NL Wild Card – San Francisco Giants (90-72)
o NL Champion – Colorado Rockies (defeat Phillies 4-3 in NLCS)
• World Series Prediction:
o Twins vs. Rockies (defeat Rockies 4-2)

With a new contract signed, and the distractions of contract negotiations in the rearview mirror, Joe Mauer can begin 2010 with a clear mind and focus on doing what he does best, being a stud. I fully expect Mauer to put up monster numbers this season, hopefully contributing to more wins out of the gate (rather than missing the first month of the season as he did in 2009). I am not saying that he will replicate the insane season that he had in 2009, but let’s face it, even if he comes close to those numbers, he will not only be the MVP of the Twins, but also of the American League.

Judging by the spring that he has had, Kevin Slowey’s wrist seems to be just fine heading into the season. Albeit a small sample size, Slowey has posted an ERA 0.56 with only 3 BB in 15 innings this spring, dismissing all of the talk that his control may never be the same following wrist surgery.

It is already beginning to happen in the bullpen, Jose Mijares has blurred vision, Clay Condrey has a sore arm, and it is inevitable that injuries will occur as the season progresses. The first guy to get the call may be Anthony Slama. I was actually hoping he would find a way to make the team out of spring training, but it just didn’t make sense that Slama would leapfrog anybody in the current bullpen. Slama gave up 0 runs and struck out 10 in the 6.2 innings he pitched this spring. Pair that with his outstanding minor league numbers over the past 3 seasons, and it is easy to see why I have tagged him as the “closer of the future” for the Minnesota Twins. Here are Slama’s numbers since 2007:

• 2007 A; 1-1, 1.48 ERA, 10 SV, 24.1 IP, 39 K, 0.99 WHIP
• 2008 A+; 4-1, 1.01 ERA, 25 SV, 71 IP, 110 K, 0.94 WHIP
• 2009 AA-AAA; 4-4, 2.67 ERA, 29 SV, 81 IP, 112 K, 1.20 WHIP

He didn’t dominate at the AAA level following his midseason promotion in 2009, but he still managed to strike out 112 in only 81 IP between AA-AAA. I would put an ETA of Slama at some point in June.

Delmon Young was an easy choice for most improved Twin, due to the fact most other players had great years in 2009, and also the fact that Young not only came to camp in the “best shape of his life,” but also that he has had success throughout the spring. I could have chosen Nick Punto or maybe JJ Hardy, the difference there is that Young’s ceiling is much higher than Punto’s, and JJ Hardy has had two all-star caliber seasons already, and had what I would consider to just be a "down year" in 2009.

The bold predictions speak for themselves, and before anybody rips me on these predictions, let me remind you that the definition of bold is “requiring or exhibiting courage and bravery.” Therefore I am not saying that I expect all of these things to happen, I am simply going out on a limb to make these predictions based mostly on a “hunch” or a feeling.

I discussed how I believed the AL Central would shake out in my post, “Examining the Twins Offseason.” I still believe the Twins will win the division, with the White Sox finishing second behind one of the strongest starting rotations in baseball, the Tigers coming in third behind a solid starting rotation as well, and strong contributions from a couple of young talents in Austin Jackson and Scott Sizemore. The Indians and Royals are both rebuilding, and I expect them both to finish well below .500, and although I have them pegged to finish last, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Kansas City finish 4th in the division, ahead of Cleveland.

Looking at my predictions for the rest of the league, I feel that I should provide at least some sort of reasoning to support my decisions. As I mentioned earlier, if Mauer comes even close to the season he had in 2009, he will not only be the MVP of the Twins but also the American League. Albert Pujols is Albert Pujols... Need I say more? I expect Greinke to have a similar season to what he did last year, possibly with a bit higher ERA but more wins. As I said with Albert Pujols, Tim Lincecum is Tim Lincecum... He is going to strikeout a ton of people, have a low ERA, and win a lot of games for a San Francisco Giants team that has a shot to win the NL West this year.

My AL Rookie of the Year prediction is a bit of a shot in the dark, but I expect Brian Matusz to have a good year on the mound for a Baltimore Orioles team that has to face the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays each 19 times a year. If he has a good year in that division, I expect him to win it. Jason Heyward is a unique talent who was just handed the starting RF job for the Atlanta Braves out of spring training as a 20 year old. That doesn’t just happen... He is a guy with enormous power, and is extremely patient at the plate for any hitter, let alone a 20 year old rookie. He could have some competition if Stephen Strasburg lights the world on fire when he is called up, but I expect Heyward to win it. Hardball Talk recently wrote about the possibilities of what Heyward could do this season.

I remember hearing Max Scherzer being touted in 2007 amongst fantasy baseball experts as the “next Tim Lincecum,” due to his excellent fastball and high strikeout rates in the minors. He wasn’t spectacular when coming up with the Diamondbacks in 2008, and followed that up with an average to below-average season in 2009. I expect with the change of scenery by moving to Detroit this offseason that Scherzer will find some success this year with the Tigers. Jay Bruce is pretty much the same story as Scherzer. Highly touted throughout the minors, but not sensational when called up with the Reds. I expect both Scherzer and Bruce to breakout this season, but to be completely honest this is as much of a shot in the dark as anything.

The comeback player of the year is a little less of a complete gamble, due mainly to the fact that the candidates have had some success in the past, and either experienced a down year or went through injury ridden seasons the year before. Both scenarios apply to my choice in the American League, as Josh Hamilton not only struggled mightily in 2009, but was also limited to 89 games and only 365 plate appearances. Hamilton hit .268/.315/.426 with only 10 HR during his limited time in 2009, after he absolutely set the baseball world on fire during a 2008 season in which he hit .304/.371/.530 with 32 HR and 130 RBI. I expect Hamilton to return to numbers a lot closer to those of 2008 as long as he stays healthy. My pick in the National League, Russell Martin, did not struggle with injuries in 2009, but rather just struggled at the plate. Martin hit .250/.352/.329 with only 7 HR and 53 RBI in 2009. This came after averaging a line of .285/.371/.434 with 10 HR and 74 RBI from 2006-2008. I expect Martin to come back from his current groin injury and return to performing similar to how he performed from 2006-2008.

Finally, I see the playoff picture shaping up to be a World Series matchup between the Twins and Rockies. In the AL I have the Twins defeating the Yankees 3 games to 1 in the ALDS, and the Red Sox 4 games to 2 in the ALCS. In the NL I have the Rockies defeating the Cardinals 3 games to 2 in the NLDS, and the Phillies 4 games to 3 in the NLCS. I then have the Twins going on to win the World Series by defeating the Rockies 4 games to 2.

This idea of a prediction day, similar to “Nick Punto Day” on February 12 was exciting to me. Then once I began writing I realized that for the first time, my preseason baseball predictions would be documented on my blog for all to see, and as a result I will not only be held to them, but also be able to see just how “off” I can be. I am excited to look back at these following the 2010 season, and hopefully I will find most of them to be true (mainly the World Series prediction). Let the games begin!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Top 5 Lineups in Baseball

Thought this was something you all might enjoy Buster Olney's take on the top 5 lineups in baseball as I work on my next post, "2010 Twins Prediction Day" coming early Friday morning:

Something that I found quite interesting was his mention of the fact that the foul territory Target Field will be the second least in baseball behind Wrigley Field. I knew that there wasn't going to be much foul territory, and that this might be a hitters park, but wow...

Monday, March 29, 2010

Twins Roster Thoughts

With the regular season a mere 7 days away, there is a lot going on with the Minnesota Twins. Who will make up the 25-man roster? Who will win the 5th rotation spot? Are the Twins going with an in-house option, or make an outside move to fill the void at closer?

As the season inches closer, answers to these questions are becoming much more clear. The Twins made another round of official cuts on Saturday, sending Matt Tolbert, Mike Maroth, Danny Lehmann and Ben Revere down to minor league camp. They also informed Jacque Jones, Kyle Waldrop and Anthony Slama, all of whom will be making the trip north for both exhibition games against the St. Louis Cardinals, that they will not be making the 25-man roster.

This news is significant because it reveals that Alexi Casilla will be given the final roster spot, filling out a bench that will include Jim Thome, either Drew Butera or Wilson Ramos (eventually Jose Morales, who will begin the season on the DL), and Brendan Harris or Nick Punto depending on how the 3rd base competition finishes. Personally, my belief was that it was Punto’s job to lose heading into spring training, and my guess is that Punto will be the starting 3rd baseman when the season begins a week from today. Also, my hope is that the Twins choose Butera as the temporary backup catcher until Morales is healthy. Ramos is one of the top prospects in the organization, and I would hate for him to not only lose at bats at the minor league level, potentially stunting his development, but also waste a year of major league service time to backup Joe Mauer for less than a month.

I am very disappointed to see that Jacque Jones didn’t make the team, for a couple of reasons. First, I really like Jones, I remember following him as he progressed through the Twins minor league system, and every year when my family and I were down in Fort Meyers for spring training, he was a genuinely nice guy (not that almost everybody in the Twins system isn’t). He was an outgoing, exuberant player whom I really enjoyed watching. During his time with the Twins, I would compare him to a much more fundamentally sound Carlos Gomez (although Jones swung at a lot of bad pitches as well), even though Gomez has much more raw athletic ability.

Second, Jones has significantly outperformed Casilla this spring training, hitting .344, with 2 HR and 5 RBI. Obviously his 13 games and 33 at bats are an extremely small sample size, and the fact that the last time he had a productive major league season was with the Cubs in 2007 when he hit .285/.335/.400, but still I believe Jones would have been a better choice based on performance. I know that Jones’ defensive abilities have regressed over his career, and I also know that Kubel can occasionally provide a off-day for a corner outfielder. However, I would much prefer to see Jacque Jones play center field in a pinch, as opposed to Cuddyer, Casilla or Delmon Young...

Finally, I really began to dislike Casilla last season, and my feelings weren’t altered this offseason. He has significantly regressed since his 2008 campaign in which he hit .281/.333/.374 and played solid defense, which is one reason to be frustrated. My main reason for disliking Casilla has less to do with his performance, and more to do with his overall demeanor. He seems to genuinely not care about anything that he is doing, and seems completely disinterested with every aspect of the game. This may stem from the fact that he saw a 2009 starting job at second base as a “right of passage,” due to his 2008 numbers. Unfortunately, instead of improving, he lost his starting spot as he regressed significantly, posting a line of .202/.280/.259, while playing below-average defense. A sophomore slump may have been more acceptable had he “battled his tail off” as Gardy likes to put it, but unfortunately he approached last season with less interest than I have for watching the WNBA.

The fact that Casilla is out of options has a lot to do with him making the team over Jones. The only issue I see with this is that Casilla can hardly be considered a prospect anymore at the age of 26, making this a make or break type of season. Personally, I don’t believe that Casilla will be with the Twins all season, I see him being packaged with another seemingly unpopular clubhouse guy, Glen Perkins, and being shipped somewhere for a prospect or two, or potentially even a closer, making room for Jacque to slide up to the big club, taking over the backup outfielder job.

The bottom line is that, barring an injury, the backup outfielder position shouldn’t be an issue for the Twins. Kubel will be able to play left field at times, with Thome stepping in as the DH. Denard Span played 145 games last year, and there is no reason to think that he won’t play more this season, as he wasn’t given the starting CF job last year out of spring training. If I have to watch Cuddyer play a few games in CF, or even Casilla for a game or two, it won’t kill me. I am just saying that if it were my choice, I would have liked to have seen Jones making the trip north for more than just a couple of exhibition games.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Target Field

Pictures just don't do it justice… I know that you are probably asking yourself, “if pictures don’t do it justice, then why are there six pictures in this posting?” I really don’t have an answer to that question other than because I would like to share my recent Target Field experience.

I attended the season ticket holder open house last Saturday at Target Field, and was absolutely blown away. For the past couple of years I have been closely following the construction of the stadium through reading various updates, and constantly monitoring the webcam on the Twins website. Since the stadium was completed, I have been constantly looking at photographs of the finished product. As a matter of fact, the background on my computer at work has been a phenomenal photo of the new stadium with the grass installed for the past 5-6 months.

There is only one thing I can say about my experience at Target Field, that it is so much better than pictures could ever make it seem. You can’t possibly imagine how amazing this stadium is until you walk through the gate and are standing inside.

I could write a lengthy review of how great the wide-open concourses, new restaurants, wider seats, and better sightlines are, but it wouldn’t matter, because until you see it for yourself you can’t fathom how unbelievable the experience truly is.

Instead of writing a description of all of the features of the stadium, I will just provide a few pictures that I snapped during my visit.

Here are some photos from my season ticket seats in section 103, row 19:

Here are some other photos from around the stadium:

5 Stages of Grief (Joe Nathan Edition)

The following is a diagram of the 5 stages of grief. In this case the red dot will represent where I am at in the process with regards to Joe Nathan's elbow injury and how it will affect the Minnesota Twins this season. Check back for updates...

FINAL UPDATE: As you can see, after 15 days of denial, anger, bargaining and depression, I have officially accepted the fact that Joe Nathan will undergo Tommy John surgery on Friday, and will not pitch this season. Now I know what you are thinking, "15 days is a short period of time, and we just lost arguably the best closer in baseball for this season! How could you go through this process so fast?" My response to that would be that the Twins provided me with 184,000,000 reasons to have gotten to the acceptance stage by now. I realize the loss of Nathan is huge, but I am optimistic that either someone will emerge in-house as somebody who can fill the role, or that the Twins will go out and get somebody. The bottom line is, I am so darn excited for baseball that reaching this point of acceptance this early was inevitable, Joe Mauer has officially signed essentially a lifetime contract, and 12 days from now at 9:05 CST, I will be sitting on my couch watching the Twins take on the Angels on opening day!