It’s been a long time since I haven’t watched a MN Twins Opening Day…a streak that won’t be broken come Friday night!
What blows my mind sometimes, though, is how (no matter how different our lives may look from year to year) baseball is always “The Constant” (LOST fans or Field of Dream fanatics get it!) each April.
I mean, last year I was watching the Twins opener in a rental house because our family was in the process of moving, I was driving a different car, and working a different job. A lot of changes in the span of one calendar year.
Luckily, baseball (except on very few occasions) has always brightened the mood of life come spring!
For previous seasons, I have written very detailed summaries about the Twins’ chances in the upcoming season. This year, however, I think that all the storylines have been covered ad nauseum. We are all nervous about Nathan, Morneau, everyday Casilla, Mauer’s health, and the bullpen.
Thus, instead of an in-depth analysis, here is a quick look at the other teams in the division and how I think we stack up against them:
Cleveland Indians: This team is a mess. From what I see, it will be years before they compete for anything.
Kansas City Royals: Are probably still a year or two away from a serious run at winning baseball, but could seriously begin that process at any time. Still make too many dumb mistakes to consistently win ballgames. Both pitching and hitting is improving, however, to the point where expecting to sweep them (even on their turf, like in previous years!) is unrealistic.
Detroit Tigers: Good luck figuring this team out year-to-year. They have enough general talent to compete, but their streakiness is incredible. Remember who was leading the division at the AS break last year? I believe it was the Tigers (I know it wasn’t us). Then…complete collapse. I don’t see them putting up enough of a fight to win the division unless they put on a huge streak in the waning months.
Chicago White Sox: The team that can challenge us because of their pitching (especially bullpen) and power hitting. That being said, they better have a pretty big lead heading into that final month, because we OWN them (especially on our turf) come September.
I won’t say that the Twins will waltz away with the division in 2011, but I think it is clear that another division title is easily within our grasp. If key guys stay healthy and get their innings/at-bats, I think we’re still the favorites to repeat.
Just heard the other night that Mike Sweeney retired. Whew! Talk about a Twin-killer! He OWNED our pitching during his long stint with the Kansas City Royals, then continued his mastery of our hurlers in Oakland and Seattle. I always cringed when he came up to bat against us.
Good guy, though, who just had a solid career with the bat. A career .297 hitter with 215 home runs. Not too shabby, especially considering all the years on dismal KC teams.
Oh yeah, this guy retired too…
I’ll always remember Mike Hampton for those couple of dominating seasons he had early in his career with the Houston Astros. Sadly, after being traded to the Braves (in a huge deal at the time) injury woes got the better of him and pretty much rendered him spotty for the rest of his career.
Today, Pat Neshek was claimed off waivers by the San Diego Padres. I had no idea he would even be “up for grabs”, so this move kind of blind-sided me. Sad to think how much potential he had in this organization, before the major arm troubles hit him hard and heavy.
I mean, a few years ago he was considered closer material. Now, his velocity tops out in the mid-80s and that sidewinding delivery isn’t enough to fool batters on its own.
Neshek’s heralded (then brief) stay with the Twins reminds me of another guy in this organization…
During the early 2000s, Michael Restovich was heralded as our best blue-chip prospect. That went well. The power never developed, the batting eye wasn’t there, and pretty soon he was bouncing all over the majors (even Japan for awhile) looking for jobs.
Pretty much the same story with Neshek. Great prospect, great potential, but ultimately very little delivered (at least for us). I wish him well in his future exploits, but have a bad feeling that perhaps he may never be able to re-capture that “spark” he once had. I hope I’m wrong.
Enough said (for now).
Every Spring Training for the MN Twins, at some point I am reminded of the death of Kirby Puckett in 2006. Although I didn’t become a serious baseball fan until the mid 1990s, the very end of Puck’s cut-short career, I just remember (as a child) the presence of Kirby being larger than life. He was (perhaps more than any other) the player who initially got me excited about Twins baseball.
It’s very sad to me that Puckett is no longer around. When I think of legendary players, I think of guys like Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva. For my dad, for instance, just seeing those guys is enough to rekindle a flood of old (and primarily rosy!) memories. Unfortunately, I don’t get to do that with Puck. Later this August, when the Twins have their 20th Anniversary of the 1991 World Series, there will be a big hole in CF, as has been the case since 2006.
We only have videos like the ones in this post to remember #34.
I remember a time, back in the late 1990s, when the Minnesota Twins were the scourge of major league baseball. We were mockingly called “Twinkies”, the Metrodome was (on most nights when the Yankees weren’t in town) a sea of blue seats, the playing surface was literally coming up at the seams, and we rooted for players like Jay Canizaro, Brent Gates, Chip Hale, Bob Tewksbury, and Pat Mahomes. We almost got sold to a guy named “Beaver” in 1998, and the Pohlad-Selig contraction deal nearly swallowed us up in 2002.
Contrast this with the news today, where the removal of a wart on the bottom of Michael Cuddyer’s foot was the top news (top news!) in my “MLB” module of My Yahoo! today. Yes, a wart, which will keep him out of two weeks of meaningless spring training games.
How far we’ve come (for better or worse), indeed.
Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Jeter, and A-Rod dominated SS in the American League for quite a few seasons. I was always partially to “Nomah”, but you couldn’t go wrong with any of them.
With the Twins now in Fort Myers, FL, for Spring Training, they’ve been getting more media attention than usual due to issues like Morneau’s concussion comeback, Nathan’s Tommy John rehab, and the new Japanese SS whose name I’m too lazy to look up for spelling (probably should get on that).
However, there are three other areas I would like to comment on that perhaps slip our minds in the midst of the “bit stories”:
1. Alexi Casilla has never been an everyday player for a full season. Whenever he’s been given the opportunity to start, he’s droppped the ball (sometimes even in the literal sense). Considering Gardy’s love of guys like Matt “The Next Punto?” Tobert or the newcomer Luke Hughes, Casilla still has a lot to prove and will not be handed the job by any means.
2. Can “Valencia Mania” continue? A favorite example of mine of this case comes from 2000, when the Mets had an outfielder named Timo Perez (heck, he might be bouncing around somewhere yet) who, in August-September that year, looked like the next coming of Junior Griffey. He then made a few World Series blunders, pitchers figured him out, and he’s been a fringe player since. Pitchers now have a similar “book” on young Danny-Boy, so those fat pitches will be fewer and farther between.
3. Besides a summer (June-July) that was out of control, Delmon Young was very average at the beginning and end of 2010. What if that “Beast Mode” doesn’t occur again in ’11, or for nearly as long? He’s always been a streaky hitter.
Keep an eye on these issues, as they could be every bit as important as “the big boys”.
Andy Pettitte retired this week. Putting aside the steroid stuff for a moment, I believe he belongs in the HOF five or so years from now.
The raw stats (240 wins, high-ish 3.88 ERA) might not bear this statement out, but (at least to me) what Pettitte always signified was “winning”. This guy just, plain and simply, won ballgames. His overall winning % is .635 over 16 seasons, and if you look at the stats there are just so many seasons where he won 9-10 more games than he lost.
Plus, Pettitte was the epitomy of a big-game pitcher. Sure, he got the chance to pitch under the October lights so many times because of his Yankee pinstripes, but his career postseason #’s are 19-10, 3.83, in 263 innings. So, basically, he pitched an entire season in the postseason, and almost exactly duplicated his regular-season stats (high win percentage, highest-3’s ERA). Not bad at all on the biggest of stages for the biggest of teams. When he pitched against my Twins in a big game, I had very little hopes for pulling out a victory.
The one problem, of course…
Andy Pettitte is inside that steroid cloud based on his relationship with Roger Clemens. In fact, Pettitte admitted using HGH on multiple occasions, supposedly in order to heal an injury and help return to the team faster, not necessarily to improve performance (definitions, definitions, I know). I’m usually wary of these guys, but for whatever reason I’ll give Pettitte the benefit of the doubt. Considering that no firm anti-doping rules were in place before the mid-2000s, players in a situation like Pettitte’s WERE likely unsure what was “right” or “wrong” to do chemically and still play by the rules. While I truly believe that Clemens knew that what he was doing was wrong but did it anyway because he just didn’t care, I think that Pettitte was caught in that grey area of past steroid usage.
Thus, if I’m voting, I’m putting Mr. Pettitte in the Hall.