April 2010

The Missing Piece

the_missing_piece_book.jpgIn today’s baseball economy, simple numbers (if not a relatively shallow talent pool because of expansion) dictate that teams build a pitching staff one of two wins: Either rely on one or two horses and patchwork, or collect five “average joes” that give you a chance to win every night and pray that one develops into an ace.

For playoff-bound teams, the former solution seems to be the way to go, as evidenced by the Yankees being able to essentially rely on the shoulders of CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett all the way through to the World Series championship.  The Twins, however, may have just gotten lucky…

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Earlier tonight, Francisco Liriano and Justin Verlander hooked up in a duel that could have easily been the first game of a postseason series, with Frankie matching Verlander pitch for pitch and eventually out-dueling him with eight scoreless innings of 4-hit ball and 10 strikeouts.

There was one sequence in the bottom of the fifth inning that I especially enjoyed: With young Scott Sizemore at the plate, Liriano broke off two nasty sliders down and in for swinging strikes.  After one high heater to change Sizemore’s eye level, Cisco came back with the slider and made the young man look silly.  Just complete domination the likes of which we haven’t seen since, well, Liriano (at least in ’06-form)!

Right now, there is just a certain electricity whenever Liriano takes the hill, and that’s what being an ace is all about…just knowing that you have that advantage right from the get-go.  Of course, it’s too early to give Frankie the Cy-Young plaque already, but the signs sure are encouraging.  I can’t wait for Sunday to see him again!

Notes:

-A funny thought: In last year’s game 163 against Detroit, Michael Cuddyer was at first base because of Morneau’s back injury, Alexi Casilla was in the infield, and Ryan Raburn was misplaying balls out in left.  Huh (!).  In all seriousness, though, I hope Justin is okay and just tweaked a muscle trying to catch up with Verlander’s heat.

Preview (14-6, 1st, 3.5 GA DET): Scott Baker (2-2, 4.81) vs. Max Scherzer (1-1, 2.63).

A Rivalry Renewed

When we last saw our rivals from the Motor City, the greatest game of baseball I have ever seen was the result…

 

Tonight, the rivalry continues.

Preview (13-6, 1st, 2.5 GA DET): Francisco Liriano (2-0, 1.29) vs. Justin Verlander (1-1, 6.95)

Just Win, Baby

AL-DAVIS.jpgYou know, there aren’t a whole lot of scenarios in which I can think of many positive things to say about Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, but he did coin a catchphrase that pretty much describes professional sports in a nutshell: Just win, baby.

In football, that phrase translates into doing everything possible to get the “W” on a Sunday or Monday night.  In baseball, where the schedule stretches on into the dog days of summer, it comes down to winning series, something the Twins have done with remarkable success (i.e. no failure) so far this season and, with a win over Cleveland tonight, are in a great position to do so again.

Tonight, the star of the show was Kevin Slowey, who sliced his way (8 IP, 1 ER, 5 H) through the Indians lineup with relative ease, striking out nine in the process.

Offensively, the Twins were helped by an inning that one would be accustomed to seeing in Dwarf League baseball, not the majors, featuring an easy double-play ball going through SS Asdrubal Cabrera’s legs, and then two runs scoring on one wild pitch.

If this single game told me anything, it is that I can say with little to no trepidation that the Cleveland Indians will be in last place come early October.

Notes:

-Yesterday, this guy…

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It always amazes me how quickly one can fall while playing this game.  In 2003, Eric Gagne put together perhaps the greatest season by a closer in major league history: 1.20 ERA, 55 saves.  After one more good season in LA, Gagne pretty much dropped off the face of the earth, never again even coming remotely close to his old dominating form.  Of course, Gagne was also named in the Mitchell Report as admitting to have taken HGH.  Perhaps that explains a few things.

Preview (10-4, 1st, 3.0 GA DET): David Huff (1-1, 1.80) vs. Francisco Liriano (1-0, 2.08).

Based Loaded (Etc.)

Long ago, there was a game for the Nintendo Entertainment System that looked like this:

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Then came this…

bl2.jpg And then, finally…

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If you were to add a few more sequels to that list, it would pretty much describe the Twins’ loss today against the Royals. I believe that we had six at-bats with the bases loaded in the game, and ended up with five runs (not bad, but not good enough, either). The positive take, of course, is that we had all those guys on base in the first base

Not helping matters was the fact that Carl Pavano didn’t have anything (Yankees fans are saying “tell us something we don’t know” right now). He got rocked in the third inning, then didn’t do much better in the fourth and was quickly removed.  The bullpen (until Crain, but more on that later) did a great job of keeping the Twins in the game after Pavano’s pounding, but those bases-loaded chances fell by the wayside one too many times to ever even the slate.

Notes:

-Well, the first Jesse Crain sighting (blowing a close game) has occurred.  Many more to come.

-Speaking of retro baseball video games, this is pretty cool:

 

Preview (9-4, 1st, 1.5 GA DET): Off Monday; Tuesday: Justin Masterson (0-1, 2.45) vs. Kevin Slowey (1-1, 3.48)

O(ld)-Dawg

Hudson18_593541gm-a.jpgUntil the seventh inning of Saturday’s Twins-Royals matchup, both teams had seen their starters struggle but gotten enough big hits to overcome it.  Blackburn gave up a few bombs to Rick Ankiel, while the Twins did all their damage in the second inning, including a monster straight-away-center jack from Jim Thome.

Just after Stretch time, though, Orlando Hudson (batting righty) launched a mammoth home run that hit the facing of the second deck out in left field.  I didn’t realize that the 32-year old Hudson had that in him!  From that point, it was Matty Guerrier for a perfect eighth and Jon Rauch for the Guardado-type (aka tenuous) save.

Another series win already in the books, with a sweep now firmly in the sights.

Notes:

-I know that it’s still just April, but I’m already ready for the Yankees to come to town in late May.  Mark my words: If a sweep happens in that series, it won’t be by the visiting team.

Preview (9-3, 1st, 2.5 GA DET): Luke Hochevar (1-0, 2.84) vs. Carl Pavano (2-0, 1.38). 

Take You Back

francisco_liriano.jpgOooh boy…as if the Twins needed anything more to be positive about after two road series wins and the opening of Target Field, earlier today Francisco Liriano pitched up to his 2006 form, styming the Red Sox for seven innings (with eight whiffs) while the Twins’ bats exploded (or perhaps this is just their normal capacity?).

One of the weaknesses that I perceived in the Twins this year was the lack of a true ace that could kill them come playoff time as it has in past seasons. Baker, Blackburn, Pavano, and Slowey all give you a chance to win day in and day out, but none are a real stopper in the Johan Santana mold.  If Frankie keeps locating his fastball and curving that filthy slider, he’s the guy that can match up against the Sabathia’s, Beckett’s, or Hernandez’s in the first game of a playoff series.

Preview (7-3, 1st, 0.5 GA DET): Zack Grienke (0-1, 3.55) vs. Scott Baker (1-1, 3.86). I smell a pitcher’s duel…

2010 MLB Picks

crystal-ball.jpgMy “official” predictions for the 2010 MLB season (before the season gets too far along and starts to affect my judgement!):

AL East

New York

Boston (Wild Card)

Tampa Bay

Baltimore

Toronto

AL Central

Minnesota

Chicago

Kansas City

Detroit

Cleveland

AL West

Los Angeles

Oakland

Texas

Seattle

NL East

Philadelphia

Atlanta (Wild Card)

New York

Florida

Washington

NL Central

St. Louis

Chicago

Milwaukee

Cincinnati

Houston

Pittsburgh

NL West

San Francisco

Los Angeles

Arizona

Colorado

San Diego

AL Champ: New York

NL Champ: Atlanta

World Series Champ: Atlanta Braves

Questions, comments, rants, profanity-laced tirades?!

A Tall Order (Beating The Twins, That Is)

Twins_Angels_Baseball_sff_164043_game.jpg Well, here we are just three games into the 2010 baseball season, and the Twins already look like a much more polished team from the under-achieving gang of ’09.  I can only imagine the thoughts that must run through the minds of the opposition:

Opposing pitchers have to navigate through one of the strongest 1-6 in the American League, plus now Delmon Young and JJ Hardy (another homer tonight, along with Justin Morneau) are swinging the bat well, creating quite a Murderers Row, of sorts.

Opposing batters know that, no matter who they face in a series against the Twins (especially if Pavano keeps throwing like he did tonight), there will be no “gimme” games…all five starters give us a chance to win.  Add in a deep pen that doesn’t really on just one or two guys to get late-inning outs, and that creates the all-important sense of pressure on every opposing at-bat.

The final blow we administer has been, so far, in an area (closer) presumed to be a gaping hole after the devastating Joe Nathan injury.  Well, Rauch has saved two in a row without much trouble (although he did give up a run tonight).

I know I have to keep in mind that, for as down as I was after the season opener, I shouldn’t get too high after two straight wins.  But this team just has oh so much potential that it is difficult not to get pumped up when things start rolling.

Notes:

-Pavano had to pitch out of many jams tonight, but I liked his ability to make the Angels whiff.  He’s never struck me as a guy with anything near overpowering stuff, but tonight he really located well and had great ball movement.  I’m not as down on him as some, but my knock on him was always that he could compete against the bad teams but get hammered by the good ones.  Not this time!

-JJ Hardy showed some great range in the ninth, coralling a ball deep in the hole and firing it to first for the out.

-Had a laugh at something the announcers said tonight after Punto tripled.  He’s been pretty good in the last two even-numbered years (’06, ’08), but horrendous in the odd ones (’07, ’09).  Kind of like watching Star Trek movies for all you fellow sci-fi geeks out there!

Preview (2-1, 1st, 0.5 GA All): Kevin Slowey (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Joel Pineiro (0-0, 0.00 ERA).

Three-Deep

 

22e4851097a6cff91b862509d48fa665-getty-97630656jd002_minnesota_twi.jpgIf your favorite team loses on Opening Day, like the Twins did last night, it is easy (in the excitement of the moment) to make snap judgements based on the rest of the season. Basically, no one wants to start out 0-1. However, that is the great thing about the sport of baseball. You’re going to lose 60, win 60, and really it’s what you do with the other 42 that make the difference.

Tonight, the Twins had a nice bounce-back from that first-game loss on Monday night.

On the pitching side, Nick Blackburn successfully navigated (despite a Torii Hunter bomb) a very solid Angels lineup and, while not pitching deep into the game, kept the Twins in it and gave them a chance to win.

The offense came from homers by Mauer, Morneau, and newcomer J.J. Hardy on a blustery night in LA.  It was nice to see the lefty M&Ms tag a lefty pitcher for dingers.

This Angels club is still the class of the AL West (at least until they are seriously challenged), so getting out with a split would be a pretty successful series to open the year.  That would require a win tomorrow night…

Preview (1-1, 3rd, 0.5 GB CWS & DET): Carl Pavano (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Ervin Santana (0-0, 0.00 ERA).

Notes:

-Don’t really like the new road uniforms.  Makes the boys look too much like the Washington Nationals, if you ask me.

All According To Plan

The last time reliever Jon Rauch was on the mound to start a ninth-inning save situation, he was closing out games for the worst team in the National League…

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Now, he’ll (hopefully) be doing much of the same, only this time for a competitive squad in the junior circuit:

Jon_Rauch_2009.jpg Today, Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire announced that Rauch will be closing games for the Twins in 2010 (at least to start the year).  This didn’t surprise me one bit, considering the big man’s experience in the final frame.  If he suceeds, then great.  If he fails, then perhaps Neshek will be ready.

No word yet on an entrance theme.  Perhaps something from “Papa Roach”?!

In other late Spring Training news:

Brendan Harris hit .357 during the Florida exhibitions, Nick Punto finished in the low .200s.  Guess who will be starting on Opening Day?  If you know Gardy, the answer will be obvious.

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