June 2009

Hitless Wonders

19f0f023-2597-4c84-be24-649f2e355876.jpgWeren’t we all afraid this was going to happen?  Coming off what is traditionally the hottest part of the season for the Twins, Interleague Play, the Minnesota players and fans came into Kansas City on a high.  Sure, we were only a game over .500, but we had been playing better baseball (especially on the road) and still (if only by default) in the AL Central division race.  Then we lay on egg against the Royals with our best pitcher on the mound.

Besides a two-run blast from Justin Morneau, the Twins couldn’t muster any offense against KC’s Luke Hochevar.  I believe we had one hit through five or six innings against him.  Once again, the lineup that can (at times) put some crooked numbers on the board wilted on the road against a team we should handle fairly easily.  Not once in the game did two consecutive batters get a hit.

On the flip side, Nick Blackburn pitched a decent game, but seemed to be just a little “off” from his normal self.  He wasn’t getting first-pitch strikes, and the hitters seemed to be really teeing-off when they got their pitch (thus the two home runs from Callaspo and Olivo).  However, this was probably just the case of a pitcher (as sometimes happens) not having his best stuff, and battling through it.  He kept us in the game, at the very least, although with the kind of stink our offense was wallowing in it really wouldn’t have mattered anyway.

Now the pressure is on to win the final two games of this series…as that is what a contending team should do.

Preview (39-39, 2nd, 4.0 GB DET): Scott Baker (5-6, 5.17) vs. Brian Bannister (5-5, 4.17)

Keep On Rollin’ (And A R.I.P.)

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The Twins finished up the Interleague Portion of their season today, beating the Cardinals 6-2 behind a strong start from Francisco Liriano and some big hits from Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel.

Looking back, the Twins (once again) really enjoyed this month of NL play, as (just recently) we were one Nick Blackburn gaffe and two Albert Pujols swings away from sweeping both the Brewers and Cardinals ON THE ROAD.  The Twins haven’t played that well in an opposing ballpark since guys like Mientkiewicz, Rivas, and Guzman were still lurking around!

Now, though, the test will be whether or not the Twins can parlay this Interleague success back over to the AL.  Luckily, the road doesn’t get much easier than in Kansas City, our opponent tomorrow night.

Preview (39-38, 2nd, 4.0 GB DET): Nick Blackburn (6-3, 3.11) vs. Luke Hochevar (2-3, 5.87). The Royals have nothing without Zack Grienke, and we don’t draw him…sweet.

By the way, this guy died today…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nkuReA-AGa8

Unbelievable.  Celebs (Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, Mays) are dying at an incredible rate these days.

Unfortunately, this just means that this guy…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NJEKqI1e714

…is now the “king” of infomercials. Sad.

Can’t Hit? No Matter

5a6848c5-90c1-47c5-a0ce-44cee65f0a09.jpgIf one thing has become crystal clear during the 2009 Interleague Play schedule, besides the fact that the Twins can win on the road when playing the NL, it is that starting pitcher Glen Perkins cannot hit.  He goes up to the plate, takes a few feeble waves, and (in nearly every occasion past, present, or future) goes back to prepare for the next inning on the mound.

That didn’t matter tonight, however, as Perkins was brilliant for seven innings, holding the Cardinals to just four hits and one earned run.  He didn’t strike many batters out (3), but nobody really hit anything hard off of him, either.  The bullpen then shut the door from that point.  Guerrier struggled a bit in the eighth, but with one out Gardy summoned Jose Mijares, who proceeded to throw one pitch, get the double play, and get back in the dugout.

The offense left a few men on base again tonight, but two-hit games from Kubel and Cuddyer proved to be enough.

Perhaps the most telling stat, though, is that Albert Pujols was just 1-4 on the night, and whiffed against Joe Nathan in the final frame.

Notes:

-At one point, a camera showed former Twin Dennys Reyes warming up in the bullpen.  My first thought was, “Geesh, that’s the ugliest guy I’ve ever seen”…

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But then, Ryan Franklin was brought in for the top of the ninth…

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I rest my case.

Preview (38-37, 2nd, 4.0 GB DET): Kevin Slowey (10-2, 4.04) vs. Todd Wellemeyer (6-7, 5.53). Though still a bit of a long-shot, Slowey might just be pitching himself into All-Star consideration.  He doesn’t have the dominating ERA, but a win tomorrow would give him the AL-lead in that category.  Of course, I remember a year or two ago that Kyle Lohse (for the Cards) was something like 12-2 at the break with a similar ERA and didn’t make the Midsummer Classic.  However, if a few guys picked by the managers fall ill or have other conflicts, you just never know.

The Big Guy Gets One, But The Twins Hang On

210e5591-087a-4a51-9bfb-f9305ed4afa2.jpgTry as he might, the Big Vegetarian was not able to power the Brewers past the Twins today…though he certainly tried, by launching an absolute bomb off Scott Baker in the sixth inning.  Have the Twins played a series against Milwaukee since Prince joined the team where he HASN’T hit at least one home run?!

It was a decent win for the Twins this afternoon, but one that could have been improved upon mightily.  On the offensive side, there are still way too many runners being left on base.  The Twins got four across the plate in the first six innings today, but that total could have been much higher.  It was nice to see Denard Span back in the leadoff spot, as I think he may have the best batting eye on the entire team (Joe Mauer included).

Pitching-wise, Baker was brilliant for five innings, then (as so often happens with him) gave up a few big bombs in the sixth.  Really, Baker’s inability to pitch deep into games is the biggest factor in his never moving into that “next level” as an ace-type pitcher.  Either he throws too many pitches and wears himself out, or he cruises along and then absolutely hits a wall in the middle innings.

All things considered, though, it was nice to take two of three from the Brew Crew on the road.  Losing the sweep (especially in the fashion it happened) was heartbreaking, but for a team that just tries to avoid getting swept when batting first, it’s okay.

Notes:

-I don’t care what people say, Miller Park’s Sausage Races are one of the funnier pre-game activities in all of baseball.  Nothing the Twins do even comes close to that.  Maybe next year I’ll have to get back to one of these “rivalry” games, as I have an Aunt who lives right down in the area.  I suppose next year, though, the buzz will be for Brewers fans to cross the border and see Target Field.  However, going the other way at least one will be guaranteed a baseball game, something you won’t be able to say here in Minny.

Preview (37-37, 2nd, 5.0 GB DET): Glen Perkins (2-4, 5.10) vs. Adam Wainwright (8-4, 3.58)

Take It Away, George…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4SnUij-8nnc&feature=related

Maybe more tomorrow…still too angry to write with a clear head.

Preview (36-37, 2nd, 5.0 GB DET): Scott Baker (4-6, 5.22) vs. Mike Burns (0-0, 0.00)

A Decent (If Lucky) Start To The Road Trip

ad532242-5af8-48be-a9bb-47958d2d7a54.jpgIf you missed the first three innings of tonight’s Twins-Brewers contest at Miller Park, you were pretty much out of luck action wise.  The Twins put seven runs up on the board in those three frames, with Carlos Gomez getting a hit in each!

The bad news is that Liriano stunk once again, allowing three runs over five innings but walking guys all over the park, giving up deep flys, and then getting a lucky strikeout to end an inning.  He was essentially in trouble all night, yet ended up getting the win.

However, the bullpen (Dickey-Guerrier-Nathan) was able to take care of the latter four innings in perfect fashion, something that cannot be underestimated by the Twins pen on the road against a decent team.  I always love it when Nathan completely blows away the side in the ninth, and that is EXACTLY what happened tonight.

About the only thing that made the game less enjoyable was that my FSN North station was crap for the entire game.  It would skip, jerk, and blank out at intervals just enough to be maddening.  Did anyone else have this problem?  I hope it doesn’t continue into tomorrow.

Notes:

-You know, Joe Crede has got to be one of the most productive .230 hitters I have ever seen.  I don’t know how a guy with a batting average that low that provides so much offense when in the lineup.  He must never hit any singles, just extra-base knocks.

-I guess that before Luis Ayala was designated for assignment yesterday, he complained to Gardy about his role in the pen, as he thought he should (and was brought onto the team) to be the primary setup man.  Basically, that tells me why he didn’t last very long here in Minny, what with our general preference for team-first kind of guys.  Nobody gets a free ride around here.  He made have had one decent season in the National League, but when transferring to a different organization you have to prove yourself all over again.  The only thing he proved is that he could give up deep gopher balls with men on base.

-Also, as if this needs to be prefaced, Delmon Young made himself look silly out in left field tonight.  He had one nice running catch, but later on he misplayed a carom so badly that he fell down on the completely opposite direction of the ball.  Would have been quite funny if not for the fact that Young is getting a reputation for that sort of clumsiness.

Preview (36-36, 2nd, 4.0 GB DET): Nick Blackburn (6-2, 3.09) vs. Braden Looper (5-4, 5.21).

Ayala’s On Assignment (And Not The James Bond-Secret Spy Kind)

d47b_2.jpgUsually, when I hear that someone is “on assignment”, I think of something like this.  Guns firing, things blowing up, cool gadgets, and a guy in a suit who always gets the girl.

Unfortunately, for Mr. Ayala, his “assignment” will be the kind of trip where a stunt like this might be the most exciting baseball-related action that happens on any given day (thus is life in the minors for a former major leaguer).

To replace Ayala, the Twins called up Bobby Keppel (a righthanded pitcher who has both relieved and started) from the AAA Rochester Red Wings.

 

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This is a move that, at least I felt, needed to be made quite a long time ago.  After only a month or so, it was pretty clear the kind of pitcher Ayala is now.  He can play the law of averages (much like Livan Hernandez before him), but on too many occasions he will give up the big dinger or just plain get hammered by batter after batter.

With Craig Breslow, Jesse Crain, and now Ayala gone from the pen, I actually like the direction this is heading.  Besides Sean Henn, the Twins are moving away from the re-treads holding on for one last hope and more towards the future.  Yes, it is a full-bore rebuilding effort, but the Twins have always had a knack for doing that kind of thing on the fly.  In all honesty, we seem to handle changes better DURING the season than before or after it.

Unless one of our current pitchers really struggles or gets hurt, it wouldn’t surprise me if Ayala never resurfaces in a Twins major league uniform.

Didn’t See The Game Today…But Didn’t Miss Much

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Yep, it was that kind of day today.  Carlos Gomez just about knocked himself out with a bunt attempt (something I honestly think only Go-Go could accomplish), the Twins only collected two hits, and once again the overall record dropped below the .500 mark.

Plus, Glen Perkins gave up three runs in the first inning, and despite settling down after that, the Twins’ bats couldn’t touch Wandy Rodriguez.

I guess the Twins were just following the well-laden pattern of getting completely shut down on Sunday afternoons no matter what the venue or opposing starting pitcher (although the “lefty” and “on the road” combination might as well equal a loss every time).  Perhaps this is just an errant thought from myself (imagine that!), but I would be willing to almost bet that, since Gardy took over in 2002 as manager, the Twins (day-of-the-week wise) have played their worst baseball on Sundays.  There’s a challenge for all you stat nerds out there…figure out the Twins’ record per day since 2002.  Heck, if “Plunking Gomez” can make Jesse Crain’s stats look good, anything can happen (!).

Oh well, at least something exciting happened today (and no, it’s not that I figured out how to do that cool word-linking thing).

Preview (35-36, 2nd, 4.0 GB DET): Francisco Liriano (2-8, 5.91) vs. Jeff Suppan (5-4, 4.48). Off on Monday, then jetting to Milwaukee for a Tuesday night game.  Am excited to watch the Twins pitchers hit again!

With A Name Like Milton Bradley, Don’t You EXPECT Something Childish?!

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brand.gifEarlier today (Friday), the Twins got a great start from starting pitcher Kevin Slowey, the bullpen did its level best to blow the lead, and the bats got just enough clutch hitting to push enough runners across the plate.

However, were Milton Bradley not playing right field at Wrigley, the game may have gone completely different for a number of different reasons…all related to Bradley.  Through seven innings, Bradley had made a baserunning blunder, lost a ball in the sun, and was unable to catch a bloop double that went for an RBI for Michael Cuddyer.

In the eighth inning, though, Milton pulled a stunt that will be remembered by the 41,000 paid attendance at the game for a long time.  With Joe Mauer up and runners at the corners, Jo-Mo hit a deep fly ball to right field…right into the sun.  Bradley finally located the ball and, once it was nestled safely in his glove, proceeded to strike a dandy pose.  Never once looking in towards the infield, Bradley remained in that statue-like position for a few moments before casually flipping the ball over the fence.  Unbeknownst to him, of course, was that he had only caught the SECOND out of the inning, and thus Brendan Harris continued circling the bases to third.  He didn’t end up scoring in the inning, but the Cubs fans really got on Bradley (booing) as he trotted off the field.

So thanks Milt, for providing some entertainment in the afternoon.  Hope to see you again (roughly same time, hopefully same place!) tomorrow!

Preview (31-32, 2nd, 4.0 GB DET): Anthony Swarzak (1-2, 5.23) vs. Rich Harden (4-2, 4.74). Harden is making his first start since early May in coming off the DL, while Swarzak is basically pitching for his major league roster spot (what with Glen Perkins due back next week).

A Much-Needed Victory

9260ad8b-1ca6-4191-a21d-329a7ce2e299.jpgIf you read my blog post last night, it was pretty obvious that I was angry at the way the Twins (despite picking up the victory) let the game end on Tuesday night.  Thus, I was very glad to see Liriano pitch a good game tonight, as well as the bats coming alive in the late innings (when was the last time THAT happened on the road?!) to get the ball to Joe Nathan in an opposing stadium.

I always just want to add tonight that, no matter what happens the rest of this season, I will be pulling for the Twins all the way.  That sounds like an incredibly obvious thing to say, but it seems as if a lot of negativity has been floating around the Twins this season.  Whether it is hating on the bullpen, the Baker/Liriano early-season disaster, or a few batsmen (Delmon Young, Brian Buscher, etc.), there hasn’t been a whole of positivity so far into the ’09 season.  Though all those areas are ripe for criticism, I think that sometimes we all need (including myself) to remember that this really is just a game.  It’s like little league…you play your heart out on the field, but once the final out is recorded you don’t take it with you whether win or loss.

A few years ago, while writing for the University of Minnesota-Morris campus newspaper, The University Register, I wrote an article entitled “Why We Watch Baseball”.  I would like to copy that into this blog post, as I think it really rings true this season:

Why We Watch Baseball

-With those who don’t give a (hoot) about sports, I can only sympathize.  I do not resent them.  I am even willing to concede that many of them are physically clean, good to their mothers and in favor of world peace.  But while the game is on, I can’t think of anything to say to them. (Art Hill)

If a woman has to choose between catching a fly ball and saving an infant’s life, she will choose to save the infant’s life without even considering if there are men on base. (Dave Barry)…A couple of months ago, a friend of my sister happened to be over at my family’s home for dinner.  This being summer time, my nightly ritual of watching the Twins game was about to commence.  After the meal, she plopped down on the coach next to me and asked: Why do you like watching baseball?  Not being mentally prepared for that kind of question, I gave the typical male answer: “Grunt…Because it’s better than shopping…grunt”.  However, that was not good enough for her inquisitive mind, as she launched into a lecture of how professional sports mean absolutely nothing.  As she mentioned something about starving people in Africa, I realized that I had nothing (at that time) to refute her claims.  The games themselves do mean nothing in the grand context of history and there are more important endeavors in life than stealing second base.  So, why do we watch baseball?  The following argument could be applied to all professional sports, but I am going to keep it confined to a baseball context.

I see great things in baseball.  It’s our game – the American game.  It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism.  Tends to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. (Walt Whitman)…A young boy idolizes his dad and wants to do everything with him.  The dad, a big baseball fan, teaches his son about the game.  They play whiffle ball in the back yard, watch Twins games together, and talk to each other about the game.  Political events have no bearing on the young boy’s life at this time, but baseball does.  Through the sport of baseball they are able to form a common bond that will last the rest of their lives, through good times and bad. 

Say this much for big league baseball – it is beyond question the greatest conversation piece ever invented in America. (Bruce Catton)…The same boy has a grandfather who is 84 years old.  The grandpa lived through the Great Depression, spent his childhood working on a farm, and served his country during World War II.  The boy grew up playing video games, reading science fiction novels, and the closest he ever came to a battlefield was Risk or Fort Apache.  The binding factor between the two–baseball.  While each came from completely different backgrounds and ideologies, making communication with each other difficult, the love of sports provided a bond.  They may not be able to bridge the generation gap, but it is easy to debate the merits of Johan Santana versus Dizzy Dean (the grandfather’s favorite pitcher as a child) or how Rogers Hornsby (star player of the 1920′s and 30′s) would have fared against today’s pitchers.

Baseball, it is said, is only a game.  True.  And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. (George F. Will)…Now that same boy has left home for college.  He finds the transition difficult, but smoothened by one thing–baseball.  Getting through the day might be a struggle, but at night he can watch the Twins on TV or listen to John Gordon bring the game alive on the radio.  The games relax him and give him something other than school to think about.  After a while his spirits raise and he is able to do much better in his classes.

People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball.  I’ll tell you what I do.  I stare out the window and wait for spring. (Rogers Hornsby)…At the beginning of his second semester of college, the boy is feeling lonely again.  Spring will be coming soon and he feels trapped, away from his family or anyone to talk to.  He begins writing for the school newspaper–sports, of course.  This gives him something creative to do and a way to meet new people.  He becomes motivated to make himself more physically fit, letting the Twins take his mind off the treadmill he pounds every night.

             Most people are in a factory from nine till five.  Their job may be to turn out 263 little circles.  At the end of the week they’re three short and somebody has a go at them.  On Saturday afternoons they deserve something to go and shout about. (Rodney Marsh)…When the boy goes home on weekends, the last thing he wants to do is talk about the hard week of studying that has transpired.  He is tired from the week and wants to relax with his family.  What a better opportunity than a baseball game?  Whether it means making the trip to the Metrodome or watching on TV, baseball allows the boy to unwind before another tough week.  It transports him (for a few hours at least) into a world where the concerns of real-life seem to melt away.

            Don’t tell me about the world.  Not today.  It’s springtime and they’re knocking a baseball around fields where the grass is damp and green in the morning and the kids are trying to hit the curve ball. (Pete Hamill)… The boy has now passed his love of baseball on to his two younger brothers.  They play in Little League over the summer, as well as endless games of the MVP Baseball 2005 video game.  Once school starts again, emails are sent back and forth about favorite baseball teams and players.

            I don’t love baseball.  I don’t love most of today’s players.  I don’t love the owners.  I do love, however, the baseball that is in the heads of baseball fans.  I love the dreams of glory of 10-year-olds, the reminiscences of 70-year-olds.  The greatest baseball arena is in our heads, what we bring to the games, to the telecasts, to reading newspaper reports. (Stan Isaacs)…So as you can see, the sport of baseball does have the power to enrich a life.  Or, more specifically, my life; as I am the boy.  While on occasion it has made stay up a little too late (darn extra-innings!) or ignore the outside world because “the game is on”, baseball’s positive influence in my life has outweighed the negatives.

You gotta be a man to play baseball for a living, but you gotta have a lot of little boy in you, too. (Roy Campanella)…To further appreciate the impact that baseball can have on one’s life, please see the movie Field of Dreams.  My favorite sports movie of all-time, it focuses on the relationship between father and son and how that relationship can be enhanced through a mutual love of baseball.  At one point in the movie, James Earl Jones (aka Voice of the Baseball Gods) explains how baseball is able to leave its mark on a person.  I leave you with his quote…

            The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time.  This game: it’s a part of our past. It reminds of us of all that once was good and could be again. (Field of Dreams) 

Preview (30-31, 2nd, 4.0 GB DET): Nick Blackburn (5-2, 3.30) vs. Trevor Cahill (3-5, 4.21).  Another no-name Oakland pitcher…the days of Zito, Mulder, and Hudson seem so long ago! 

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