October 2010

Options, Options

The other day, the Twins made a few “option” decisions on players:

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First, Jason Kubel was brought back for 2001.  Overall, he had a disappointing ’10 campaign after a breakout 2009, but the RBI’s really started coming in those final months, so there is hope he can bounce back.

 
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Also, Nick Punto was not offered an option, but could return at a lower salary. It would be strange to see Little Nicky go, as it would truly signal an end to that “pirahna” era, but I wouldn’t miss Gardy’s unwavering devotion to him one bit, even when we were desperate for some offense at times.  The presence of Matt Tolbert might make Nicky expendable.

Are You Watching Closely?

Man, it’s been awhile since I’ve written on this blog. I guess this year, I’m taking the annual loss to the Yankees in the playoffs a bit harder than usual.

To be honest, I’m not even going to comment on that ALDS.  If you are curious as to some analysis about why we were beaten by the Yankees again, just look at two older posts from this blog:

http://zkonedog.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/ramoswilson1.jpgarchives/2009/10/why_we_lost_theory_1_we_beat_o.html

http://zkonedog.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/ramoswilson1.jpgarchives/2009/10/why_we_lost_theory_2_we_were_o.html

Just change around a few of the names and faces, and that (once again) perfectly explains why the Twins can’t quite topple the mighty Yanks (even though a team like Texas doesn’t seem to have much trouble with them).

What I want to look at right now, instead, is a huge missed opportunity.  After seeing Cliff Lee (Game 1 WS start aside) pretty much buzz-saw his way through the playoffs once again, I can’t help but wondering if Twins execs shouldn’t be “watching closely” as to the difference one ace pitcher can make.

Consider this:

Throughout the regular season, the Twins were the far superior team than Texas.  In those final months of the year, we practically ran away with the #2 seed in the American League.  The ultimate turning point, though, came at the All-Star break, when we had a chance at acquiring Mr. Lee…

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However, it seemed as if Wilson Ramos…

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…was the stumbling block (at least as reported in the papers) as to why the deal fell through.

Basically, the way I understand it, the Twins didn’t want to give up such a touted prospect for a guy who they knew they would only be renting, especially at a time when a playoff spot was not a given at that point.

Here’s what boggles my mind, though.  Ramos eventually did get shipped out of town, but for the services of one Matt Capps, who did relatively nothing to lock down a solid closing role and was a non-factor in the playoffs.

Now, on one hand, I get what the mid-market (with the new stadium) Twins were trying to do, and that is not tie up too much money in a short-term player when our own talent will need to be paid again soon.  I just wish that Twins execs would have taken a page out of the 2009 Vikings handbook.  The Vikes gambled on Brett Favre, and it took them to the NFC Championship game with a magical season.  Why couldn’t the Twins have done the same?!

I truly believe that we were a much better team than the one that lost to the Yankees in a short three games.  We could hit, field, and pitch (despite a lack of a star bullpen) quite well, but we were just missing that one ace who could give us that confidence-building lead in the series.  Cisco and Pavano did their best, but once it got to Duensing it was all but over.

As much as I hate to say it, the window may have just closed a bit.  Thome’s status is uncertain, Hardy/Hudson might both be gone (leading the old faithful Punto/Casilla middle infield that inspires little confidence both on the field and in the box), and who knows if Pavano can put together another inspired season again (if he even does return).  As evidenced by Texas bouncing the Yanks rather easily, they were ripe for the picking this year.  It just would have taken one ace…the one ace we didn’t gamble on.

Twins execs…are you watching closely?

Was It Over When The Germans Bombed Pearl Harbor? NO!

At the old Metrodome, when the Twins were down going into the final inning, this pump-up video would play on the Jumbotron:

C’mon Twins…don’t go down meekly again!

Tomorrow

Okay, deep breath Twins fans.  Remember, in ’03 and ’04 we won the first game of those ALDS (and in NY no less), but still couldn’t get the job done.  Tomorrow is a new day, and we don’t know which Andy Pettitte will show up: the one who dominates us, or the one who couldn’t do anything at the end of this season.

Going into this series, I just wanted the Twins to split those first two games at Target Field.  Obviously, that can still be accomplished.

Losing the first game of a playoff series is a lot like losing the first game of the regular season in that everybody panics.  Sure, the sample size is much smaller now, but there is still a good amount of baseball to be played.

Tomorrow.

Preview: Andy Pettitte vs. Carl Pavano

Twins vs. Yankees X-Factors

Well, here it is, the night before the playoff ALDS opener against the New York Yankees at Target Field.  Here are my “x-factors” for this series:

Yankees:

The first two starters…

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andy-pettite.jpgBoth these two starters are renowned Twins-killers, capable of shutting down even our most potent bats for inning after inning.  To me, just splitting (even at home) with these guys on the mound would be the best we could hope for, as I’m confident that Duensing will beat Hughes in the Bronx for Game 3.  However, two straight losses would pretty much doom us.

For the Twins:

The big righthanded bat…

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In previous years, the Twins have never had that powerful righthanded bat in the lineup to counter-act a tough lefty on the mound. Delmon Young changes the equation.

Also, though I won’t necessarily say this is a prediction, but I think Ron Gardenhire gives the Twins a big edge…

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Not saying that Joe Girardi isn’t a quality manager as well, but you know that Gardy will have our boys ready to go for every game. Plus, this year he has some “bullets in the chamber” instead of blanks to match up with the Yanks’ firepower.

I’m too superstitious to make a prediction on this series due to the fact that my home team is in it, so about all that’s left to say is this:

 

Preview: C.C. Sabathia (0-0, 0.00) vs. Francisco Liriano (0-0, 0.00).  The slate is wiped clean in the postseason!

Very Quick NLDS Thoughts:

Phillies vs. Reds:

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Though the Reds are clearly the “fly under the radar and upset everyone” team, I’ll take Halladay, Oswalt, and Hamels in a short series.

Braves vs. Giants:

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The Giants can pitch, but Jason Heyward is a special player and will turn this series to Atlanta. Bobby Cox is also an X-Factor as the best manager in baseball.

Quick ALDS Preview: Rays vs. Rangers

carl-crawford-ap2.jpgI’ll take the Rays in this one. Not only did they match the Yankees step for step this season, but guys like Carl Crawford (above) can beat you almost single handedly with gap power, speed, and just plain getting on base and wreaking havoc.

Unless Cliff Lee can work his magic again, I don’t think the Rangers can pull this one off (especially at the Trop).

A Different Feeling

Last year ended (at least the regular season) about as exciting as a Twins season has ever come to a close (see above).

This year obviously felt a little different.  For most of today’s regular season finale against the Toronto Blue Jays, the 3-4-5 batters were: Drew Butera, Ben Revere, and Trevor Plouffe.

This occured due to the Twins trying to rest guys for the playoffs, but it was still a bit disconcerting to see the team lose so many games after clinching.  I’m not too worried, though, for this reason:

Last year in the ALDS against the Yankees, the Twins Brendan Harris, Nick Punto, and Matt Tolbert in the starting lineup.  No such thing will happen this year, as those guys are replaced (respectively) by Jim Thome, Orlando Hudson, and Danny Valencia.

We know that our first-round opponent this year will again be the Yankees, but I’ll have more on that matchup in a later post.

Final AL Central Standings:

y-Minnesota 94 -68 . -
Chi White Sox 88 -74 6.0
Detroit 81 -81 13.0
Cleveland 69 -93 25.0
Kansas City 67 -95 27.0

Thanks Again, ‘Lexi!

Blue_Jays_Twins_Baseball_sff_197164_game.jpgIf the Twins were to start Alexi Casilla at second base (or SS for that matter) on a regular basis, he would hit .250 with no power, strike out often, and make enough bonehead plays (both in the field and on the basepaths) to send Gardy to an early grave.

However, put him in a late-season pressure-cooker situation, and the results speak for themselves:

 

For a team looking for a spark going forward into the playoffs, this could be it!

Notes:

-Still don’t know our first-round opponent.  Tampa Bay holds the tiebreaker over New York, so (with both teams tied heading into the regular season’s final day) a TB win would automatically give us the Yanks.

Preview (94-67, 1st, 7 GA CWS): Marc Rzepczynski (3-4, 5.56) vs. Nick Blackburn (10-11, 5.55)

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