August 2009

Texas Two (Out Of Three) Step

Man, I bet the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays are our biggest fans right now! Like the couple in the above video, the Minnesota Twins took a little while to get going tonight, but when push came to shove we came out on the winning end of another series against the Texas Rangers.

The Rangers took an early 1-0 lead in the third inning when Elvis Andrus singled in Ivan Rodriguez, but a big fly from Kubel (with Morneau on base) took care of that in short order…

KubelRangers.jpgFor the next couple of innings, Scott Baker proceeded to shut down the bats of one of the most potent lineups in the American League…

BakerRangers.jpg  I have to tip my cap to Baker after writing him off in May/June…he has really started to come around the past two months.  Sure, he has a bad start now and then…but who doesn’t?  Without him upping his game, the Twins might be in as big of a free-fall as the Sox are right now.

Yet, with a bloop and a blast in the seventh inning, the lawmen managed to grab a 3-2 lead.  The Twins’ bats managed to have a bit more life in them, though, scoring three times in the bottom of the eighth (including a squeeze bunt from Nick Punto) to take a 5-3 lead.

Then, just when you thought it was safe to exhale again, Joe Nathan got shaky once again.  After a crazy series in KC a week ago, Nathan found himself tonight in a bases-loaded, no-out jam.  Not only was he wild in the strike zone and getting hit, but he also threw low (and in the dirt for a no-catch) to second base on what should have been an easy double play ball.  The good news?  Just three batters later, Nathan was doing this…

NathanRangers.jpg

Whew!!

Notes:

-It was a very sloppy game by both sides.  The Twins had the Nathan throw-away in the ninth, while the Rangers couldn’t seem to hold onto the ball all night…

GiftRangers.jpg

-Mike Redmond hit a triple. Yep, it is possible. Eat your heart out Matthew LeCroy!!

Preview (65-65, 2nd, 4.5 GB DET): Gavin Floyd (10-8, 3.95) vs. Nick Blackburn (8-9, 4.29). Despite the fact that Brett Favre will be playing on Monday Night Football tomorrow night, I’m still more interested in what the Twins tangling with the ChiSox.  Football can wait its turn.

A series win can all but put away the Pale Hose, while a series loss (especially if Detroit keeps winning) will set us back two weeks.

At Night At The Guthrie (And Not The Theatre…)

10230ce4-4407-4c48-9aa0-49b1bec2c448.jpgWhy do the Orioles find so much pleasure in ending our streaks?! I know that our little five-game winning streak doesn’t compare to this scale, but in early June of 1991 the Twins were riding a 15-game winning streak (the longest in team history) into the old Memorial Stadium. The Twins were up 5-3 going into the bottom of the ninth, only to see Rick Aguilera blow the save and the streak

Tonight, the O’s again broke up a Twins’ streak when Jeremy Guthrie shut down our bats and Nick Blackburn was shaky again. Blackie pitched just well enough to keep us in the game, but the bats just couldn’t get going.

Back in that ’91 season after the winning streak was destroyed, the Twins recovered to win five more in a row. I’m hoping this ’09 bunch can do the same, starting with the Rangers on Friday.

Preview (63-64, T-2nd w/CWS, 4.5 GB DET): Tommy Hunter (6-2, 2.85) vs. Brian Duensing (1-1, 4.91).

An Unlikely Hero For An Unlikely Streak

18ab6091-e5ee-4d2b-8e94-f1811be6f7e5.jpgThis, my friends, is why you can never count out the Minnesota Twins. Due to the fact that we have some nice young talent, plus play in easily baseball’s worst division, a little winning streak can have us right back in the thick of things.

Of course, the biggest key the past week has been to get at least decent starting pitching (punctuated by really solid outings, like Baker’s last effort). Last night, new callup Armando Gabino didn’t pitch particularly well by any means, but he also didn’t completely implode and lose the game before it ever really got started (something Liriano, for example, was never able to do). Thus, the Twins have been able to stay in games right to the end, and our bats are on fire, leading to a bevy of late-inning wins. Heck, if we could just play the sixth inning of every game on a never-ending loop we would be unstoppable!

The hero last night was Delmon Young, who singled in Michael Cuddyer in the bottom of the ninth to give the Twins a walk-off victory. Young, who earlier in the season was relegated to the bunch due to a mini-resurgence from Carlos Gomez, has started to show some life with the bat of late. Sure, he still has at-bats where he goes up there and waves at 3-4 pitches before heading back to the dugout, but now he’s also driving the ball when he makes contact, not just hitting 15-hoppers through the infield somewhere.

Maybe he’s finally starting to take these guys’ advice:

Preview (63-63, T-2nd w/CWS, 4.5 GB DET): Jeremy Guthrie (8-12, 5.45) vs. Nick Blackburn (8-8, 4.27)

Mauer Might Be Enough

2f99ccf2-40f9-4dfa-8b32-79d8284ae1f5.jpgOn a day when (most) Minnesota sports fans were declaring a national holiday (myself included!) because of the signing of Brett Favre with the Vikings, the Twins actually got a win tonight as well!

Tonight’s win didn’t really prove anything or right the ship, as Carl Pavano allowed five earned runs over four innings, but the bats came alive and got the Twins the “W”. Joe Mauer led the charge with two home runs, his 24th and 25th of the season, a single, and upped his season average to .383.

Besides one Albert Pujols, Mauer is the best pure hitter in the game of baseball right now and is a joy to watch (even when the team around him is imploding). I now know (being a relative youngster) what it must have been like to watch a guy like Rod Carew hit (except Jo-Mo is even better because he doesn’t just hit singles up the middle and drop down bunts).

Notes: -Delmon Young, much like last season, is having a decent second half, hitting another home run tonight and driving in four runs altogether. Perhaps the most encouraging sign from Young, though, is that he has been dead-on when hitting the ball lately, as his homers (I don’t know about tonight, though, as I didn’t see hit) having been going straight away to center.

Preview (57-62, 3rd, 3.5 GB CWS): Scott Baker (10-7, 4.54) vs. Kevin Millwood (9-7, 3.31). Which Scotty-boy will show up?

Never Gonna Give You Up

(Okay Family Guy fans, have your laugh now…out of your system?!)

You know, I almost started this post by talking about how my expectations for the Twins have changed and how we should start watching them purely “for love of the game” and not expect them to be in any sort of pennant race. But then, I got to thinking about those poor fans in Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and a few other cities around the MLB circuit that haven’t had anything break right over the past decade (or more) and would love to be competing in any race of any kind right now. Do I think the Twins will win the AL Central? No. Especially not after those two horrible series’ against KC and Cleveland, teams that supposedly give us the advantage over Chicago the Detroit down the stretch. But do we still have a chance? However slim, yes we do, and that is the way I look at it (or at least am trying to, anyway).

I think that the past three seasons (’07-’09) have proven that only so many things can break right for a small-market organization. In the early part of this decade, the Twins were reborn as a competitive team thanks to a lot of young talent peaking at the same time. A few years later (’05-’06) the team was still able to contend because of our ability to make steals of trades and keep calling up effective players from the minor leagues. The last three years, though, has seen a complete reversal. The farm system is beginning to get tapped out (they may still be decent, but not like the talent of years ago), and the trades (Bartlett/Garza for Young) haven’t been going our way. Plus, the terrible economics of a no-salary cap sporting structure forced the Twins to lose guys like Torii Hunter and Johan Santana, keystones of the franchise.

That being said, the Twins still have a pretty good nucleus of young talent (Mauer, Morneau, Kubel) that can win in the future, but the trick will be keeping them together. One would hope that Mauer (the biggest fish who needs to be landed and mounted behind home plate) can see that and will elect to stay with his hometown team, but nothing is guaranteed in this game.

Thus, the Twins’ goal for the last month and a half of this season is to be as competitive as possible to show our young talent that this is a team that can seriously compete again in the future. That starts tonight against Texas, who is currently leading the AL Wild Card standings and thus will be a tough team to beat on the road. However, if there is one thing I never underestimate about a Ron Gardenhire-coached team, it is their ability to come back in the face of severe adversity. Just when you think this is about to happen…

…the Twins will do something crazy like sweep the Rangers and get back in the thick of things.

Preview (56-61, 3rd, 3.5 GB CWS): Francisco Liriano (5-11, 5.39) vs. Tommy Hunter (5-2, 2.26).

I Hate Roller Coasters

Since the time I rode my first rollercoaster (and got off jelly-legged, terrified, and feeling lucky to be alive…I know, I might be a wimp), I have hated them. One time on the Discovery Channel, I heard that some people’s physiology are actually adverse to large drops, and I truly believe I am that sort of person. Thus, can you imagine my emotional state after this Twins/Tigers series?! I completely gave up on the Twins after the first game, put the foot in the mouth in the next, and after today (although I wasn’t able to watch) I really don’t know what to think.

ecc388b7-3d89-4582-b1f9-bb13a205c434.jpgYeah, you better hang your head when you walk back to that mound, Mr. Baker. Even with guys like Delmon Young, Jesse Crain, and Alexi Casilla on the team, YOU are my choice for “most disappointing Twin” this season. For the past two seasons, you have shown flashes of ace-like stuff out on the mound, but this year you started off in the tank and haven’t found the surface yet. At this point (including the six runs in just over four innings you allowed today) I do not see much hope that you will ever develop into a serviceable “3-4″ starter, much less an ace. I wonder if Baker doesn’t have the same problem that this guy once did…
8418_feature.jpgIn 1991, Scott Erickson won 20 games for the Twins and, statistically, was the best pitcher on the staff. However, Erickson (basically coming out of nowhere) was able to play second-fiddle to veterans such as Jack Morris and Kevin Tapani. Once Scotty became the proclaimed “ace”, though, he fell off the precipice. By 1993 he almost LOST 20 games, and never really became an effective pitcher again after that. I hope that Baker isn’t going down that same path, but so far the tracks are in step with each other.

Preview (54-57, 3rd, 2.5 GB CWS): Kyle Davies (3-8, 6.37) vs. Nick Blackburn (8-6, 3.79). Off tomorrow, back home Tuesday.

Open Mouth…Insert Foot

foot%20in%20mouth.gifLast night, I gave up on the Twins and expoused about how they would not win the division. I should have figured that something like this would happen (not that I’m complaining!). First, I complained that the Twins’ bats need to be perfect in order to beat their competition, and usually have no chance against the elite hurlers in the league. So, what happens when facing Justin Verlander…
28aee4e1-c8a1-4341-bd0b-ad25485e6842.jpgWell, let’s see…every Twins batter gets at least one hit, Denard Span gets five, Orlando Cabrera extends his hitting streak, and Joe Mauer hits home run #20 on the season en route to scoring 11 times (five off the flamethrower in six innings). Pitching-wise, I didn’t give Carl Pavano any love, and he was facing a potent Detroit lineup…

cc25d56d-a787-4090-acc0-63d571ea5c75.jpg Well, how about seven shutout innings on just five hits.

The message of the night?  Following the Twins the last few years has been like riding on one of these…

nolimits_rollercoaster_simulation_games___entertainment_simulation-3725.jpg

Preview (54-56, 3rd, 2.5 GB CWS): Scott Baker (9-7, 4.59) vs. Jarrod Washburn (8-7, 2.93)

I Know The Feeling

9f801e53-3c06-46e2-a588-1e8d3f25b85d.jpgStory #1: During the summer of 2004, my Dad and I coached a Little League baseball team that reminds me a lot of the 2009 Minnesota Twins. We had one really good pitcher (Zane Stratton to Nick Blackburn) and a few guys who could hit, but other than that not much (we played decent D, again like the current Twins). We always had a chance against other similar-ranked teams, but against teams that had more talent we had to do everything perfect. One errant throw (and this was Little League, so imagine that!), a few costly outs from our big bats, or a couple of meatballs from our ace would immediately and automatically doom us to defeat.

Story #2: The next year, 2005, brought another Little League team with even worse results.  We couldn’t pitch, couldn’t hit, and could only basically field the ball (nothing spectacular).  On one dreary Minnesota night, however, our team was taking on the best team in the league and beating them by 7-8 runs.  For whatever reason (luck, primarily) everything was going right for them and wrong for us.  Yet, with an obvious thunderstorm fast approaching, our team ran out of pitchers (i.e. our “ace” was done).  With all the parents and grandparents starting to pack up the fort and get the umbrellas out in anticipation of the game being called, all we had to do was get three outs.  My memory of those next 5-10 minutes is a bit hazy, but I’m not quite sure we even got one of those.  The other team batted around twice, our guys didn’t catch/field the ball on defense, and at the exact second the game-winning run crossed the plate for the opponent, the clouds opened up and it began to pour.  It was almost like a message from God that we weren’t supposed to win that game.

On a macro-level, the Twins are very much like the team from Story #1.  We can compete with our equals, but (unless absolutely everything breaks right) we get squashed by our superiors (Anaheim and New York, primarily).

On a micro-level, though, as in tonight, the Twins are a lot like that sorry 2005 Little League team…struggling to do anything consistantly right and, at the same time, getting all the bad breaks.

I’m sad to have to say this, but for the first time all season I can definitively say that, barring a miracle, the Twins will not win the AL Central this season.  Will I still be tuning in and rooting for them down the stretch?  Yes.  But realistically, this team is a mess and cannot be fixed in the short time until October.

Notes:

p1_pavano.jpg

We “nabbed” Carl Pavano today. Gee whiz, what a move. He’s been just as bad as any of our current starters so far this season. In all honesty, sending down R.A. Dickey was probably a more important move than getting Pavano.

Preview (53-56, 3rd, 2.5 GB CWS): Carl Pavano (9-8, 5.37) vs. Justin Verlander (12-5, 3.29).

Halo(s)

Well, after playing the “Halos” on two consecutive weekends, one thing has become abundantly clear to me…the Twins are absolutely no match for them. Every single time we play them, I fully expect to lose, and get swept in the series at that. The Twins are completely out of their league and would go down just as weekly in a playoff series.

In fact, I will go far enough out on a limb to say that, assuming Torii Hunter returns to health, I consider the Angels to be the favorite to win the whole thing this year. After winning the World Series in 2002 (and beating the Twins in the ALCS to get there…!@#$ rally monkey!), Anaheim has been right in the thick of things every season. However, they always seem to get beat by Boston (or someone else) in the Divisional Series round. What I see different about this season’s team, though, is that 1-9 they can completely dominate an opposing pitcher just by being pests. Whereas in other years they could terrorize only the mediocre pitchers (and thus get beat by the big guns in the big time), this year they have all the bullets locked and loaded. I mean, who has ever heard of this guy…

76ad65c5-0049-4277-b75c-2be41c2fc75b.jpg…until just recently?! Earlier today, he (Kendry Morales) hit two three-run home runs to sink the Twins. Look at it this way…

The three weakest players in the Angels’ lineup today were Gary Matthews, Jeff Mathis, and Sean Rodriguez (who still homered to boot!).  Once Hunter and Vlad Guerrero are back, Matthews and Rodriguez will be back to the bench (where they can probably be the most useful), and I consider Mike Napoli to be a better catcher than Mathis anyway.  Thus, they have a lineup not unlike the 1998 Yankees…work the count, foul off pitches, get to opposing teams’ pen and sink them.

Add that to the great D that Mike Scosia always preaches, as well as a solid pitching corps, and I don’t see who can stop the Halos this season.

Preview (52-53, 3rd, 1.5 GB CWS): Scott Baker (8-7, 4.86) vs. David Huff (5-5, 6.39). The Twins have the easiest schedule of all the AL Central division contenders I believe, and that starts now.  If we can’t go into Indian country and take the series, it might be a long September.

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