August 2011

Thank You, Jim Thome

Before this blog turns to the negative posts that will likely dominate the month of September, I want to take a moment to thank Jim Thome for a lot of great memories.

For two decades, Thome was the bane of existence to our pitching staffs.  In less than two years, however, he endeared himself to the state of Minnesota like almost no other ballplayer in team history…

From a home run off the flagpole, to one over the batting eye, to one 490 feet away, to two in Detroit for 600, Thome gave us some special moments in a short time span.

He’s a class act, a true gentleman, and I wish him the best in Cleveland and beyond.

Just try not to clobber around our starters too much in September, will ya Jim?!

Preview (55-77, 4th, 11 GB CWS): Brad Penny (9-9, 4.82) vs. Brian Duensing (8-13, 5.12)

Paying The Piper

We sports fans are a fickle lot most of the time.  For the last few years, Twins fans were ALWAYS badgering GM’s (either Ryan or Smith) to sign more players to help us win.  Since the pitching seemed solid, a lock of hitters was always our “dire” need.

Well, we brought in guys like Delmon Young, Orlando Hudson, JJ Hardy, and Jim Thome to help the offense.  Plus, we signed out “Mantle & Marris”…

…to long-term deals.

Well, those offensive players (for a variety of reasons) never really paid off, and “M&M” have been too hurt to meet the return on investment.

Thus, part of the reason for this season spiralling into disaster has been an inability to patch holes like we have done in the past.  The bullpen guys got too pricey, the starters all regressed or never hit their potential, and all the hitters got hurt.  ALL…OF…THEM.

So, we are now realizing (as we did in the 1990s) that we still can’t quite spend with the big boys on the coasts…even with a new stadium.  The time to pay the piper has come, and that time is now.

Notes:

-Twins get swept by lowly Orioles at home.

-Liriano goes on the DL (Scott Diamond will take his place).

-Kubel is claimed off waivers (though no deal yet) by the White Sox.

-Same story as above for Jim Thome & the Indians.

Preview (55-75, 4th, 9.0 GB CWS): Rick Porcello (11-8, 5.17) vs. Scott Diamond (0-1, 4.26)

What The “Deuce”?

As a rookie in 2009, Brian Duensing impressed the Twins so much that he started a playoff game in the Bronx (although I’ll let you guess about the result).

In 2010, Duensing was a starter, long reliever, and setup man on another division-winning team.  In fact, he was my personal choice for ’10 team MVP.

This year, however, has been a disaster for Duensing.  He pitched okay towards the beginning of the season, but the last few months have been a train wreck.  He’s walking guys left and right, only pitching a few innings per start, and (rather inexplicably) has been very poor at throwing to any base on a batted ball.  I don’t think he’s been hurt, so that’s a small consolation, but the effectiveness has vanished as quickly as it developed.

I’ve seen a lot of batters in the throes of “sophomore slumps”, but pitchers usually struggle early on and then only get better (potentially).  Duesing, so far in is career, has been the polar opposite.

Just another question mark on a team that, just a year ago, were beginning to run away with the division.

A Glimpse Of The Future

With the Twins all but mathematically eliminated from 2011 playoff contention, the team is now taking some long looks at guys who may play key roles in the future.

Danny Valencia may be playing for his starting job, Nishioka will likely get the rest of the year to get his game straight, and youngsters like Rene Tosoni & Trevor Plouffe may be given opportunities to prove themselves.

Last night, a bright glimpse of the future occurred via some spectacular center-field D from Ben Revere:

http://mlb.mlb.com//shared/flash/video/share/ObjectEmbedFrame.swf?width=400&height=254&content_id=18125963&property=mlb

Preview (54-68, 4th, 7.5 GB CWS): CC Sabathia (16-7, 2.93) vs. Brian Duensing (8-11, 4.53)

The Man With The Ox In The Batter’s Box

Last night, against the Tigers, Jim Thome clubbed two opposite-field shots for homers #599 and #600.

First off, I don’t want to hear anything more about Thome’s Hall of Fame “case”.  Gimme a break!!  Let’s take a look at the career stats to this point:

.277 BA, 600 HR, 1,662 RBI, 1,710 BB, 2,453 SO, .403 OBP, .558 SLG, .961 OPS.

In his early years with Cleveland…

Thome teamed with Manny Ramirez to wreak havoc on the AL Central division.

After three powerful years in the NL with the Phillies…

Thome moved back to our division with the White Sox, where the long-balls kept flying:

Then, after a short stint in Los Angeles…

Big Jim came to Minny and provided us with many great memories in 2010-2011:

Better than anything, though, is that Jim Thome (much like Harmon Killebrew before him) is as humble as he is strong.  He respects the game, plays hard, enjoys his teammates, and just has fun hitting the ball hard.  A true hero playing through an era of cheats.

Preview (53-68, 4th, 7.5 GB CWS): Carl Pavano (6-9, 4.55) vs. Brad Penny (8-9, 4.99).

Never Quite Fit

After a team-wide collapse during the final months of 2007, the Twins were a ballclub in desperate need of hitters.  The thought was, at least at the time, that the Twins had a solid stable of starters and a deep bullpen, so Matt Garza (and Jason Bartlett) were deemed expendable and sent to Tampa Bay for Delmon Young (and Brendan Harris).  Unfortunately, Young never quite fit in with the Twins organization and is now a Tiger.

In 2008, with the promise of power based on a solid TB rookie campaign, Delmon hit .290 with little power.  In 2009, he hit about .290 with…little power.  In 2010, he hit about .300 with 21 homers and 110+ RBI.  So far this season, he’s missed much time on the DL and never really found his stroke.

Basically, there are two Delmon Young’s:

The first Delmon can put a team on his shoulders from the middle of the order.  When he’s locked in, he’s almost Vlad Guerrero-like with his free-swinging ways.  He (more than probably any other Twin) took the “sage” advice of Tony Oliva in this now-infamous TV spot…

The other Delmon, however…

…was an out machine when swinging at those early pitches, completely unable to draw walks or move runners along.  In the field, he was a complete klutz.  Though sometimes he’ll dive and catch a ball, it is usually because he misplayed it so thoroughly to begin with.  He just doesn’t have any natural coordination in the field.

Sadly, that “second” Delmon Young was much more apparent as a Twin than the first.  Looking back, I can’t blame the Twins for giving Young a try.  At the time, we though we were getting two above average hitters for a pitcher (in Garza) that needed a change of scenery and a hitter (in Bartlett) who didn’t blossom until his Tampa stay.

However, it just didn’t work out.

A Lesson From The Band Room

During the four years I attended the University of Minnesota-Morris, I played in the Concert Band each semester.  During one of those years, the director said something I will never forget: he told the group that if each musician makes one glaring error in each song, the entire performance will probably be a wreck.  He didn’t tell us this to put us under added pressure, but just to emphasize the pure fact of the matter.

The same concept applies in baseball.  If each player makes one error each game, that team will never win a game.

Sound familiar?

Of course, Nishioka & Tolbert combined tonight to make enough errors to lose 3-4 games.  There’s really nothing more to say.

Preview (52-66, 4th, 6.0 GB CWS): Brian Duensing (8-10, 4.56) vs. Josh Tomlin (11-5, 4.08)

One Last Stand

After getting roughed up at home by Chicago and Boston, the Twins now hit the road to face Cleveland and Detroit.

I’d like to say the season hangs in the balance, but I think that would be far too optimistic.  Instead, the Twins are now playing for pride.  Right now, we are the old, once-powerful gunslinger who is now struggling to get the job done.  The dusty town may be overrun by the “bad guys” with no hope for the season at hand, but the gunslinger stands in the middle of the street anyway to defend the honor of himself, his people, and his future.

The question then remains: Will the gunslinger get gunned down in cold blood, or will he maintain that honor?

Preview (52-65, 4th, 5.5 GB CWS): Carl Pavano (6-9, 4.71) vs. Justin Masterson (9-7, 2.71)

The Two Constants (Or Not So Much)

Here in Twins Territory, it used to be that solid defense and strike-throwing pitchers were the name of the game.  We’d do those two things right and be able to get by with players that didn’t necessarily matchup well with our opponents.

This year, I can understand why the defense has gone downhill a bit.  The organization made a conscience choice to go offense-over-defense the least few years with guys like Delmon Young and Tsuyoshi Nishioka, with primarily negative results.

What perplexes me, though, is why the pitchers aren’t throwing strikes anymore.  I mean, in the span of just a couple of years, we’ve gone from strike-throwing machines to probably being below-average in that category.  AS a team with no ace pitchers, we just can’t put guys on base and expect to win ballgames.

After this humiliating sweep at the hands of the White Sox, I think that same hard decisions about the constitution of this team will need to be made over the rest of the season.

Preview (51-63, 4th, 4.5 GB CWS): Tim Wakefield (6-4, 4.99) vs. Scott Baker (8-6, 3.01)

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