April 2009

The Ace Was Wild

KazmirWild.jpgFrom the very first inning last night, it was clear that Scott Kazmir wasn’t going to have a good evening.  The Twins scored four runs in the opening frame without the benefit of a hard-hit ball, although Kazmir did uncork a wild pitch to allow the fourth run to cross the plate.

The rest of the evening wasn’t much better for Kazmir, as he allowed eight runs (six earned) in just four innings of work.

On the flip side, Nick Blackburn breezed through seven innings allowing just two earned runs while taming the Tampa Bay bats with his nasty sinker that produced grounder after grounder.

Offensively, the top-three-in-the-batting-order trio of Denard Span, Brendan Harris, and Justin Morneau all had three hits apiece.

Though the Rays are struggling, taking two of three from the defending AL champs is no small feat, as they still are a fundamentally sound ballclub.  Let’s hope that the momentum (and past history of beat-downs) continues with the Twins against Kansas City this weekend.

Preview (11-11, 4th, 0.5 GB CHI, DET, & KC): Sidney Ponson (0-3, 5.79) vs. Kevin Slowey (3-0, 4.44). Well, it’s nice to see that Ponson is enjoying a typical season.  Losing to him was, is, and always will be a complete organizational embarassment.

(Yes) Way, Jose!

8acf1f82-902d-4688-b1df-dd27ea66c3b0.jpgAlright, I was wrong…I’ve got to stop carrying my negativity towards the Minnesota Vikings (the NFL’s perennial messed-up franchise) to the Twins.  When Jose Morales first broke camp with the team (filling in for Mauer), I was on his case right from the very beginning.  He couldn’t throw out baserunners, couldn’t track down pop-ups, and couldn’t hit worth a darn.  However, Morales has now reminded me that baseball, unlike football, is a grind, where a couple of weeks is relatively nothing in comparison to the whole schedule.  Now, Morales (currently a .375 hitter) is hitting line drives all over the place, threw out his first baserunner the other day, and has caught all the sky-scrapers.  He even scored the winning run in last night’s contest against the Rays when Justin Morneau legged it down the line to prevent being doubled up on a sharply hit grounder (that was probably only fielded in the first place because TB skipper Joe Maddon had five infielders in).

Francisco Liriano turned in a great start as well last night, pitching nearly seven frames and only allowing two earned runs.  He isn’t striking out quite the number of batters he once did pre-Tommy John, but (in spurts) he has shown that he can be a very effective starting pitcher on this staff.

Even more impressive, though, was the relief outing from “the other Jose”, that being Jose Mijares, once exiled to the minor leagues (and presumably Weight Watchers) for looking and pitching sluggish during Spring Training.  He definitely didn’t look “sluggish” last night, as all his pitches had bite to them and the batters couldn’t touch them.

Oh yeah, and Joe Nathan is human.

Preview (10-11, 4th, 1.5 GB DET): Scott Kazmir (3-1, 3,97) vs. Nick Blackburn (1-1, 4.44). The bats better get to Kazmir early, as he can be nasty if allowed to find his groove (or get a big lead). 

Hit ‘Em Where They…Are

morneaulinedrive.jpgThe Twins’ 7-1 loss last night to the Tampa Bay Rays was epitomized in the bottom of the seventh inning.  With two runners on and two out and the Twins trying to claw their way back into the game, Justin Morneau hit a scalding liner to center field…right into the glove of B.J. Upton.  The Twins were hitting liners all over the Dome, but they were all right towards a Tampa Bay defender.

Of course, Scott Baker (6 IP, 4 ER) didn’t help matters, as he once again forced our batters to have to come from behind if a win would have been in the cards.  Then, as usual, the bullpen gave up a few moonshots to put the game completely out of reach.  When R.A. Dickey knuckleball doesn’t “knuckle”, it gets hit a Looooooooong way (Carlos Pena showed us that in the late innings).

Preview (9-11, 4th, 2.5 GB DET): James Shields (2-2, 3.67) vs. Francisco Liriano (0-4, 7.06). Cisco really needs to get in the win column before it starts to get too depressing.  Shields is generally tough, but he has struggled mightily against the Twins in the past few years.

The Champ Is Here

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ipHv9Xdj-Oc

Tonight, the Minnesota Twins open a 3-game series with the defending AL Champion Tampa Bay Rays (still not quite used to saying that, even this long after they won!).  Both teams have been a bit off-and-on for these first few weeks of the season, with the Rays actually in the cellar of the AL East due to the hot start of the Toronto Blue Jays and the current red-hot success of the Boston Red Sox.

Preview (9-10, 4th, 1.5 GB DET): Jeff Niemann (1-2, 5.40) vs. Scott Baker (0-2, 12.46). Baker needs to keep the ball down…period.

2010: A Season Preview

FenwayRain.jpgSee the picture above?  That may happen more times than not at Target Field come 2010.  A depressing, pessimistic thought, I know, but it could be a harsh reality of building a non-retractable roof stadium in a state like MN.

But hey, on the positive side, it looks like baseball may actually be played tonight!!  Scott Baker got beat up earlier today and the Twins lost 10-1 in just seven innings (shortened by, guess what, rain!).

Preview: (7-8, 4th, 1.0 GB KCR, DET, & CWS): Francisco Liriano (0-3, 5.09) vs. Brad Penny (1-0, 11.00).

“Cycling” Back Up

KubelSalami.jpgI had to work until 10:00 tonight, so here was my Twins baseball experience:

I got into my car to head home and turned on the radio to hear that the Twins were down 9-4.  I was pretty frustrated and wondering who was blowing it this time (had I known it was Jesse Crain I probably would have driven into the ditch in anger!).  However, as I was driving home, the Twins began to rally in the bottom of the eighth inning on big RBI hits from Mike Redmond and Denard Span.  With two on and two out, Justin Morneau was intentionally walked so that the Angels could face Jason Kubel instead.  Big mistake, as on just the second pitch of the at-bat, Kubel launched a moonshot into the upper deck to give the Twins an 11-9 lead in another dramatic home-field comeback.  I’m glad I was pulling into my driveway at the time or I probably would have gotten into an accident with all the hollering I was doing (Kubel is my favorite Twins batter)!  Only moments later did I realize that the grand salami completed the cycle for Jason…pretty sweet!

Preview (5-7, 4th, 2.0 GB KCR): Darren Oliver (0-0, 2.45) vs. Kevin Slowey (1-0, 7.94).  A little more Dome magic, anyone?!

What the Hill?

BakerDumb.jpgThe above picture pretty much perfectly describes Scott Baker’s first start of the season last night, as he gave up four home runs through the first four innings and didn’t even come out for the fifth frame.

The Twins actually took a quick 2-0 first inning lead in the contest, but it was all downhill from that point, as Scott Richmond and company quieted our bats (as if that is all that difficult so far this year) for the rest of the way.

That’s pretty much all in terms of game summary…a complete breakdown in every aspect of the game.

Notes:

-Let’s just hope that Baker was off because he hasn’t pitched in awhile, not because he’s going back to the “can’t throw strikes” Scotty-Boy of a few seasons ago.

-The Luis Ayala/R.A. Dickey experiment, just a week into it’s existence, has proven to be a complete failure.  Yet, Duensing was the one sent down to the minors when Baker came off the DL…grrr.

Preview (4-6, 4th, 1.5 GB DET and KCR): Roy Halladay (2-0, 3.86) vs. Francisco Liriano (0-2, 6.94). By all accounts Halladay should shut us down tonight, but he does throw the ball with his right (not left) hand, so at least we have a shot.

Leo The Lip Gets It Right

JackieLeo.jpgToday, baseball celebrated the anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier back in 1947.  I wanted to quickly recount my favorite story of that entire experience:

When Jackie Robinson first came up to the then-Brooklyn Dodgers, their manager was Leo “The Lip” Durocher.  Of course, there was fallout just within the clubhouse walls as to whether Jackie should be allowed to wear Dodger blue, and a petition was passed around on which a signature declared a person’s opposition to Robinson.  I believe it was during Spring Training of 1947 when this issue came to a head, and the petition (including at least half the clubhouse) was given to Durocher.  As legend has it, he studied the paper document for a moment, then proceeded to give a heartfelt speech as to how HIS club would feature the best baseball players based on talent, not skin pigmentation.  He concluded by telling the players exactly where they could stick that petition.

So thank you, Leo, for combating the bigotry/racism that permeated the game of baseball at that time.

Earning His Stripes

6766a2a8-c1d4-405f-8692-7ac73f49dd7f.jpgI imagine that just seeing this picture brings up the gag reflex in most Chicago White Sox fans.  Not because they hate Joe Crede, but for exactly the opposite reason…they let him get away.  Until Crede landed with the Twins, I had no idea he was so revered by the ChiSox and their fans.  It would probably be like Torii Hunter roaming the outfield at U.S. Cellular Field, to put things into perspective.

Until last night, Joe Crede had contributed some very nice plays at the hot corner (something not seen when Brian Buscher was at the same post last year) but not much offensively.  Maybe he’s just a slow starter, or maybe he was pressing to try and impress his new club, but the hits just weren’t falling in for him.  However, he bailed his new club out of a game last night that could have been an incredibly demoralizing loss.

Glen Perkins (8 IP, 7 H, 2 ER) turned in another gem of a performance, but the Twins could only muster two runs of their own (hits from Morneau and Redmond) in the required nine, sending the contest into extras.

In the bottom of the eleventh inning, Joe Crede came to the plate with Morneau on first and two outs.  The game had not been going well for New Joe up to that point, as he had ground into a pitcher-home-first double play to squash a potentially huge rally in the sixth, then struck out in the home half of the ninth.

This time, though, Crede smacked a ball deep to straight-away CF that hit the base of the wall and allowed Morneau to touch three more bases for the “W”.  Crede was mobbed by teammates as he ran in from second base, and his “initiation” into the Minnesota Twins family had begun.

Notes:

-I noticed that only 15,000 fans attended Tuesday night’s game.  To me, this seems really poor.  I know it was a Tuesday night against a team that has zero drawing power, but c’mon…15,000?

-I also have to give Jesse Crain credit for pitching two nice innings (the 10th and 11th) in picking up the victory.  I get on him quite a bit, so it was nice to finally see him contribute in a positive way.

-Finally, Carlos Gomez is completely lost at the plate right now.  As much as this may be called a form of heresy here in Twins Territory, I would rather see Delmon Young in the lineup at this point.  Gomez is up there flailing at pitches he has no business even flinching toward.

Preview (4-5, 4th, 1.0 GB DET & KCR): Scott Richmond (0-0, 6.75) vs. Scott Baker (0-0, 0.00). Baker is making his first start of the season after elbow tightness forced him to miss his scheduled Opening Day assignment.  Baker was our most consistent pitcher down the stretch last season and has the stuff to be a bona fide staff ace, provided he can make it through 6+ innings on a regular basis.

A Few Things I Hate…

defusing-angry-cust.jpgI wasn’t able to blog at all over the weekend (probably a good thing as the Twins lost two of three to the Pale Hose over the weekend and were again beaten by the pitching of Mark Buerhle and the batting of Jim Thome), but I was pretty fired up about the final game of that series and last night’s contest…and not in a good way.  I have been VERY annoyed with some of the things I have been seeing, including:

-Gardy’s “getaway” days.  In the final game of the ChiSox series, Gardy threw a lineup on the field that included Michael Cuddyer at 1B and Brendan Harris at 2B and batting out of the #2 hole.  It absolutely drives me NUTS when Gardy does this every single Sunday and Thursday afternoon game.  I realize that guys need a break every once in a while, but why must Gardenhire do it all in one day?!  If I were a pessimist, I would say that he was just hedging his bet, so to speak, figuring that Buerhle would beat his club no matter who he threw up against him, so why not rest a few guys?  I don’t think Gardy would ever concede a game like that, though, so I just don’t understand his logic.  His Cuddy/Harris combination gave the Twins the weakest right-side infield combination possible, and that led to a big Chicago inning in that final game of the series.  I would rather see Gardy stagger, to an extent, the off-days he gives his players.

-Also, this is easily the worst bullpen the Twins have had in a long time.  I would give serious thought to letting guys like Brian Duensing and Philip Humber take over the late-inning roles, as I do not see the Crain/Ayala combination working out, and Guerrier/Breslow still need to prove themselves as being able to consistently get outs.  Oh, and R.A. Dickey is a joke who may be even worse than our most famous mop-up man…Terry Mulholland.  What really sticks in my craw, though, is that a while back the Twins lost relief prospect Bobby Korecky essentially because they needed to make room for Ayala.  Korecky was a hot prospect in the organization, and we lost him for a guy (Ayala) who can’t throw the ball over the plate and thus lays in meatball after meatball while behind in the count.  I think that Jose Mijares better get his butt in shape pretty quick before the current lot puts the Twins in too big of a hole right away.

-One quick positive note: I think that the Twins’ starting pitchers will be fine once the month of April passes.  Being young, they may just need a little more time to get comfortable out on the mound.  And really, when have the Twins EVER (in recent memory) had a bad starting rotation?!  The Mariners always beat us, Chicago only needs Thome to wreak havoc, and the Blue Jays are the best offensive team in baseball right now.  Things WILL improve on this front.

Preview (3-5, 4th, 1.5 GB CWS & KCR): Rickey Romero (1-0, 3.00) vs. Glen Perkins (0-1, 1.13). Can the Twins’ bats decipher another (any?!) left-hander pitcher?  With Roy Halladay looming on Thursday, we better take this game if we want any chance of even splitting this four-game series.

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