October 2008

The Free Agent Shuffle

FreeAgents.jpgToday, three Minnesota Twins announced they were filing for free agency.  Here are the likely scenarios for those three guys:

Dennys Reyes- Unless he is dirt cheap (and if he’s filing that probably isn’t the case), the Twins will likely cut ties with the Big Sweat.  He is too wild and too erratic, while Jose Mijares and Craig Breslow are just as effective and cheaper options.

Eddie Guardado- Despite all the excitement when Everyday Eddie returned to the Twins, he stunk it up this second time around and is almost certain to not be brought back.  It actually wouldn’t surprise me if Eddie doesn’t receive any offers and retires before the 2009 season.

Nick Punto- Despite a bit higher of a price tag that Denny Hocking ever commanded, I can’t see Little Nicky leaving Ron Gardenhire’s side.  Punto can play too many defensive positions and is too good of a bunter/aggressive hitter for the Twins to part with him.  He has filled in admirably around the diamond and I would like to see him return.

Glad For Phillies Players, Disappointed At Philly Fans

Howard.jpgTo be honest, I really can’t say this year that I am glad one team won the World Series over the other.  Being a Twins fan I don’t follow the NL much, so the Phillies (besides their star players) were pretty much a mystery to me, while the Rays only came unto my “baseball radar” screen when they made the playoffs.  Thus, I didn’t know enough about either team to have a rooting interest in either direction.  However, after watching Phils closer Brad Lidge whiff Rays batter Eric Hinske to give Philadelphia its first baseball champion since 1980, there were two things I noticed about the Phils that will always shape how I remember their 2008 championship season:

First, I was very impressed by the genuine excitement and gratitude shown by Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel.  While on the outside “Charmin Chuck” (as he was known when he played for the Minnesota Twins from 1969-1972) seems like a grumpy old codger (I likened him to Tom Kelly in his mannerisms), one could easily tell from his “acceptance speech” while being given the World Series trophy that he is one of the genuine “good guys” of the game of baseball and am I happy for him.  I’m sure Rays manager Joe Maddon is just as genuine of a guy, but he (being young) will likely get another crack at a championship.  Manuel may not be on this Earth much longer so I’m glad he got to experience what it’s like to hoist up a championship trophy.

On the other hand, I was very disappointed with the fans of Philadelphia, as they booed MLB Commissioner Bud Selig when he stepped up to make the trophy presentation.  To be honest, I understand exactly WHY they are booing (I think Selig is a no-backbone goon as well), but is that really the time or place to express your feelings?!  No!!   In what should have been a moment of jubilation, many Philly fans were just looking for something to ridicule, and to me that says a lot about the character of the people who walk into Citizen’s Bank Park on a nightly basis.  I know I’m generalizing here, as many fans didn’t boo Selig, but by and large the lack of sportsmanship was permeating.  Over the last few years I have heard all the stories (e.g. booing Santa Claus at an Eagles game) about the rude behavior of Philadelphia fans, but last night I experienced it first hand and was appalled.

With the baseball season now “closed for the winter” (much like my local DairyLand ice cream shop), I don’t know how much I will be contributing to this blog in the coming months.  I will keep you updated on the happenings involved with the Twins, as well as every once in awhile write on a topic that may intrigue me as it comes across the media.

I started this blog in June of 2008, so I am looking forward to 2009, when I can blog about my favorite team (the Twins!) from beginning to end!

World Series Game Three Preview: The Old Man

Moyer.jpgBarring a rain-out tonight, the pitching matchups for Game Three of the World Series are as follows: Jamie Moyer (PHI, LHP, 2-0, 5.1 IP, 13.50 ERA) vs. Matt Garza (TB, RHP, 2-1, 19 IP, 3.32 ERA).

This entire World Series has been billed of one featuring young, athletic players who will be the future of the game in years to come.  Whereas old stalwarts such as the Yankees and Braves always seemed to make the playoffs in years past, this year has been quite the opposite.  However, Jamie Moyer couldn’t be more different from that promotion.  Moyer is 45 years old and has been pitching in MLB since 1986, right around the birth date of many of his teammates on the Phillies.  Much like Terry Mulholland (I only recollect that name because he played a little while for my Twins), Moyer is blessed with a rubber arm, and managed to win 16 games this season when most people wrote him off as washed up after a disappointing 2007 campaign.

As much as I would like to see Moyer tame the youngsters, I think he will be defeated tonight (or whenever the game is actually played).  Moyer has given the game his all for many years, but I think the youthful exuberance of TB’s kids will be too much for him this time.

World Series Game Two: A Nice “Shield”

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Although I admit I did not watch Game Two of the World Series from first pitch to last-I mostly tuned in and out while doing other household tasks-the thing that caught my eye the most was the solid pitching of Rays starting pitcher James “Big Game” Shields, who held a crafty Philadelphia Phillies lineup to zero runs over five and two-thirds innings.

Shields’ pitching performance may not be the stuff that legends (Jack Morris, Curt Schilling, etc.) are made of, but it is something the Rays have not seen since the inception of the franchise.  To this day, Rolando Arrojo either holds or is dangerously close to holding nearly all of the key Rays franchise pitching records.  Point being, the Rays have never, in the history of their organization, had a shut-down pitcher that could be counted on to win a game, but throughout this postseason James Shields has been exactly that.

After today’s travel day, the Series will continue on Saturday night in Philadelphia (barring the inclement weather that is forecast).  I will preview that matchup later.
 

World Series Game Two Preview: Digging Themselves A Hole

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Although before last night’s opening game of the World Series I predicted that Tampa Bay would beat Philadelphia’s ace Cole Hamels, I knew that there was a pretty good possibility that Hamels would still win, as I was just playing a momentum-based hunch.  However, now down 1-0 in the Series on their home turf, Game Two of the WS tonight is almost a must-win game for the Rays, as they don’t want to dig themselves too deep of a whole and be forced to fight their way out of it while in Philly.

Tonight’s starters (with their 2008 postseason stats) are James Shields (TB, RHP, 2-0, 19.1 IP, 3.72 ERA) vs. Brett Myers (PHI, RHP, 2-0, 12 IP, 5.25 ERA).  Shields has been pretty dominant this postseason, while Myers can be gotten to, so I think this series has a very good chance of being evened up heading into Citizen’s Bank Park on Saturday.

World Series Game One Preview

Hamels.jpgTomorrow night, October 22, the World Series will commence at roughly 7:00 p.m. on FOX.  Pitching matchups for Game 1 are: Cole Hamels (PHI; LHP, 3-0, 22 IP, 1.23 ERA in postseason) vs. Scott Kazmir (TB; LHP, 2-0, 15.2 IP, 4.02).

To me, this is the key game of the series.  While the Phillies seem to have the advantage because of the brilliant ace Hamels, I think that the Rays will knock him off (due to their home field mojo that has propelled them to victory all season long) and thus set the tone for the entire series.

Of course, if Philly does succeed, it would really put the pressure on the Rays to win Game Two before heading to the City of Brotherly Love.

World Series Prediction: The Magic Continues

WorldSeriesTrophy.jpgThe entire season, I have doubted the Tampa Bay Rays, first thinking they would never win the division, and secondly, thinking they would not advance deep in the postseason.  However, now that the Rays have proven me wrong time and time again (and beaten the playoff-savvy Red Sox), they are my pick to host the Commissioner’s Trophy in about a week.

I think both teams are very evenly matched (as pitching is the strong suit of either side), but I’m giving the series to Tampa Bay because of their home field advantage at the Trop.  In a shocking upset, I think that the Rays will defeat Philadelphia Phillies ace starter Cole Hamels in Game One and shake up the Phils a bit.  However, I also see the series advancing to at least a sixth game (as Philly plays well at home too), but likely no further, as the home-town magic will be enough to propel the Phils into the promised land.

So, because of the home field advantage and enough talent to beat Philly’s ace, I predict a Rays world championship in six games.  I’m excited to see what happens…

I Don’t Believe What I Just Saw

MattGarza.jpgLast night, as I sat down to watch the Boston Red Sox take on the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 7 of the ALCS, I was rooting for the Sawx to win the AL pennant.  I just know a lot more about the Sox and figured it would be more interesting to see them back in the World Series then the upstart Rays.  When the final out was recorded (remarkably, in favor of Tampa Bay), however, I found myself feeling good for the improbable Rays franchise for two reasons: seeing former Twins succeed, and seeing a franchise that never should have been winning something significant.

I have been closely following major league baseball since 1998 (the whole McGwire-Sosa thing, you know), the same year the then Devil Rays (along with the Arizona Diamondbacks) were introduced into the game.  Within a few years, once the Rays organization had time to prove to me how inept they were, I made the prediction that the Rays would never win a significant championship in the history of their franchise.  I though this for two reasons: First, the Tampa Bay area really isn’t suited for a major league baseball franchise, as the fan support is terrible (too much sun in Florida, I think).  Second, they play in what amounts to the high-rollers division of the American League…the AL East.  While the Yankees, Sox, and Orioles (although you would never know it considering how many bad decisions they make with it) have incredible streams of revenue, the Blue Jays and Rays are pretty much left in their dust.  To me, the chances of someone other than New York or Boston winning the AL East were as good as someone knocking the New England Patriots off the top of their weak NFL division the last few years.

So, as the final out was recorded last night, I was glad to see the Rays bring at least some happiness to the few fans in TB who follow them with a passion (like I do my Twins).  Also, I was happy for former Twins Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett (and Grant Balfour, I guess) for their winning performance.  Garza clashed with enough Twins coaches to make his departure imminent, but I don’t begrudge him for that, as the Twins have a very strict organizational stance on pitchers that Garza didn’t feel he could work within.  I liken it to the Twins telling David Ortiz to push the ball into an often wide-open left field, something he wasn’t going to do and thus needed a new team to start fresh with.  As for Bartlett, he never really played up to his true potential for the Twins, so I’m glad to see him step up and become a leader for another club.

Finally, I was wondering throughout last night’s game what team the Twins (and specifically manager Ron Gardenhire) were cheering for.  At first, I thought that perhaps the bitterness at losing Garza and Bartlett would have them leaning towards Boston, but then I consider things further and reached a different conclusion.  Being a Little League coach for three years in my home town, my face always lit up when a former player experienced success elsewhere, so I bet a guy like Gardy (and a close-knit team like the Twins) were rooting for their old pals.

All season long I doubted the Rays.  First, their ability to win the AL East, and second their ability to advance deep into the postseason.  They have proven me wrong at every turn, and I now finally believe they have a shot at accomplishing the unthinkable…winning a World Series championship.  If I were the Devil right now, I’d start getting the heaters installed, as things could get a bit chilly down there if the Rays have their way this week.

Coaching Staff: The Great Motivator

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In my mind, there are two areas in which a MLB manager should be judged: Ability to motivate players, and game strategists.  I would like to evaluate Twins manager Ron Gardenhire on both those characteristics:

As far as motivating players, Gardy may just be the best in the business.  With his down-to-earth (yet effectively intense) attitude, Gardy gains the respect of his players, which is nice to have over a six-month season.  Plus, with the kind of turnaround that major league rosters currently endure, the ability to incorporate new faces into the clubhouse is an invaluable skill.

On the game strategy side, I think Gardy is a bit lacking in one key area: pitching management.  In my mind, Gardy is much too careful with his pitchers, often overworking the bullpen as a result.  Rarely does Gardy ever just let a starter (much to the chagrin of TV broadcaster Bert Blyleven) even come close to finish what he started.  He also plays the lefty-righty percentages a little more than I would like (instead of going with the “hot hand”), but he has had success with that strategy in the past, so I’m not too frustrated about that.

All in all, Gardy is a great skipper to lead a team like the Twins that, just because of their small-market nature, will always have a high turnover rate in players, thus needing a strong leader in the corner spot of the dugout to keep the ship afloat.

So, that concludes my review of the 2008 Minnesota Twins.  Despite not making the ’08 playoffs, the Twins took a huge step forward (in a year they were expected not to compete whatsoever) in player development and have just as good a chance as anyone else in the AL Central division to take the ’09 crown if they can shore up one key area: the bullpen.  It was a great season with many great memories, and that is what I will take from the 2008 Minnesota Twins experience.

Coming up in later posts will be my thoughts on the AL Champion Tampa Bay Rays, as well as a World Series prediction.

RP: You Are The Weakest Link…Goodbye?

nathanreview.jpgAlthough the 2008 Minnesota Twins season was effectively ended on a Jim Thome home run in game number 163, the season realistically slipped away during the month of August, when the bullpen inexplicably failed to record any key outs (even Joe Nathan included, for a time) and lost game after game in the late innings.  Any major league manager will tell you that any competitive team needs to have at least a decent bullpen, and right now that is about the only weak link (albeit a major weakness) for the Twins to potential shore up over the offseason.  A quick look at how the major relievers fared in ’08:

Joe Nathan (67.7 IP, 39 SV, 1.33 ERA): Despite a shaky spell in mid-August, Nathan was by and large the most dominant closer outside of Anaheim’s Francisco Rodriguez for the majority of the season.  No reason to be concerned here.

Matt Guerrier (76.3, 5.19): After Pat Neshek went down with a season-ending injury, Guerrier stepped up as an ace setup man, bridging the gap to the dominant Joe Nathan.  Alas, Guerrier completely crumbled as the season progressed, getting to the point where he was pretty much “off limits” in crucial games down the stretch.  His mindset is probably what needs the most soothing heading into ’09, as he was really messed up at the end of this year.

Dennys Reyes (46.3, 2.33): Reyes turned in a decent season out of the pen (his numbers are tricky, as he rarely throws to enough batters per inning to factor into the earned runs), but needs to work on one crucial area: control.  When facing good hitters in pressure situations, Reyes would often throw terrible wild pitchers (ones Joe Mauer wouldn’t have a chance at stopping) and letting runners move up.  So, batters would then key on the strikes and blast them, as Reyes would practically have to throw the ball right down the middle to be confidant of getting it in the strike zone.

Jesse Crain (62.7, 3.59): Crain can throw harder than any of the Twins’ current middle relievers, but still completely wilts in pressure-packed situations (think of LaTroy Hawkins trying to close in 2001).  He far and away led the team in walk-off hits given up, due (like Reyes) to shoddy control, allowing batters to tee off on the pitches thrown down the pipe to prevent walks.  The one hope for Crain is that ’08 was his first season back from arm surgery, so perhaps he was still just getting himself back into playing condition (although I don’t think so).

Craig Breslow: (38.7, 1.63): All in all, Breslow (acquired in mid-season from the Cleveland Indians) was probably the most consistent reliever of the bunch.  He didn’t pitch many innings, but got the job done more often than not.

As if those less than thrilling reports weren’t bad enough, three more Twins relievers (Brian Bass, Juan Rincon, and Eddie Guardado) turned out to be complete busts, with no chance of returning in 2009 (Bass and Rincon are already gone).

There is, however, at least some hope on the horizon.  Pat Neshek, the side-winding righty that is so difficult to figure out, will be back in ’09, while young Jose Mijares impressed many people in crucial late-season 2008 action.  If those guys can come back strong, perhaps the Reyes’, Crain’s, and Guerrier’s of the world can better settle into their own specific roles.

Playoff Notes:

-Is there anyone alive out there right now who DOESN’T think the Boston Red Sox are going to advance to the World Series by beating the Rays tonight?!  Here is the starting pitching matchup: Jon Lester (16-6, 3.21) vs. Matt Garza (11-9, 3.70).  The Sox are just following their typical playoff pattern…dominate the ALDS, come from way behind in the ALCS, then dominate the World Series.  Will it continue?  I think so.

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