Ready…Break

Last year at the All-Star break, the Twins were in third place in the AL Central, 3.5 games behind the Detroit Tigers.  They went on to win 94 games and claim the division crown by mid-September.

This year, after taking 3 of 4 in ChiTown, the Twins enter the break in 4th place, 6.5 games behind Detroit.  Are we contenders?  Are we pretenders?  Well, the first homestand (KC, DET, CLE) after the break will go a long way towards answering that question.  If we come out flat, we’ll likely never be able to make up the necessary ground.  However, a good homestand would beg the question of whether or not the Twins should make a deal at the deadline.

Our biggest need right now is a solid arm out of the pen.  The starters are what the are, and the offense can only get better (heck, if we can win with Tosoni, Hughes, Rivera, etc. we can win with anyone!), but the ‘pen is where the help is sorely needed.  Barring further setbacks, Joe Nathan should quickly supplant Matt Capps as closer, with Capps sharing setup duties with Perkins.  Beyond that, however, the pen is barren.  Phil Dumatrait has been good for a rookie, but who knows, really.  Alex Burnett and Jose Mijares cannot be consistently counted on to get the job done.

Thus, here is how I see the trading deadline scenario playing out in my head: The Twins package Delmon Young (the most expendable outfielder) and perhaps a Kevin Slowey for a decent bullpen arm.  Then, as we always seem to do, we either call up another ready rook, or pick a guy (remember how we got Pavano in ’09?!) from the scrap heap in September.

If I didn’t think the Twins had at least a decent chance of winning the division this year, I would say “trade a few more guys and replenish the minors”.  However, considering that Detroit ALWAYS chokes in the second half, the Indians are fading, and we OWN the White Sox, a division crown (though not easy by any means) is no doubt within reach.

Preview (41-48, 4th, 1.5 GB CWS): Bruce Chen (5-2, 3.26) vs. Francisco Liriano (5-7, 5.06).

Pitching, Pitching, Pitching Puts NL Over AL

http://i.cdn.turner.com/si/.element/swf/4.1/global/cvp/si_embed.swf?context=embed&videoId=mlb/2011/07/13/071211.mlb.highlights.all.star.game

In the new “Era of the Pitcher”, how fitting was it that this contest was dominated by one big bomb (from Prince Fielder) and suffocating hurling from the NL mound studs.  The AL fared okay, but without their big horses to match up, the NL just had too much firepower coming from that mound.

On the Twins front, Michael Cuddyer saw one pitch…and flied out to shallow right field.  He also played two innings at first base.  Not all that spectacular, but I’m sure a thrill for him nonetheless.

I always look forward to the Midsummer Classic each year, and this one (despite a lackluster AL performance) didn’t disappoint.

On to the second half!

Waddaya Know…Cano?!

The 2011 MLB Home Run Derby was pretty much a mirror image of all that came before it.  Usually in these things, the first round sees the biggest totals put out, after which the competitors begin to tucker out (especially in the final round).  Not this year.

No player even hit TEN HR’s out of Chase Field in the first round, and the second round was pretty pedestrian as well.  But then, in the final round, both Adrian Gonzalez and Robinson Cano put on quite a show, with Cano ultimately coming out on top.  He had that “pure pull” swing working all night long; looking as if he was doing little more than flicking his wrists to send the ball deep into right field.

Despite the slow start, it was still (as usual) a fun show to watch!

Tonight, Jered Weaver will take the mound for the AL, while Roy “Doc” Halladay will start for the NL in the All-Star Game.

Home Run Derby 2011: Preview

For this year’s Home Run Derby in Arizona, my head tells me not to bet against Jose Bautista…

My heart wants to go with Prince Fielder…

But I almost kind of sense an upset pick in Matt Holliday…

I’m excited to see how it all turns out tomorrow night!

Preview:

AL Squad: Jose Bautista, David Ortiz, Adrian Gonzalez, Robinson Cano

NL Squad: Matt Holliday, Prince Fielder, Matt Kemp, Rickie Weeks

My Favorite Twin

As the youngest of youngsters, my Twins hero (predictably) was Kirby Puckett:

Then in the mid-90s, Rick Aguilera (for whatever reason) was my favorite Twin:

Brad Radke then picked up the mantra:

Who passed o the torch to Joe Nathan:

However, with Nathan just now perhaps getting back on the horse after Tommy John, I needed a new “favorite player”…that one guy who either comes in from the pen or strides to the plate and make you inch forward in your seat with anticipation.

Right now, for me, that player is Danny Valencia…

Sure, he’s batting in the low .200s this year after an amazing rookie 2010 stretch run surge.  But I just see so much potential in him; maybe our first bona-fide hot corner man since Corey Koskie.  He hits for power, drives the ball to the gaps, has a flair for the dramatic, and plays a solid (if sometimes spectacular) 3b.  Plus, he has just enough ego to know he’s good, yet has a solid manager and good teammates to keep that Florida ego in check.

So, as of right now, Danny Valencia is my favorite Twin.  Time will tell if V will be around for the long haul (like Cuddyer), but considering his youth and considerable talents already, I’d say he’s well on his way.

Notes:

-A good start to the series with the Rays in beating David Price.  Duesing was dominating today and Valencia (heh heh), Cuddy, and Nishioka provided the offensive firepower.

Preview (37-46, 4th, 4.0 GB CWS): James Shields (8-5, 2.45) vs. Scott Baker (6-5, 3.15)

Michael Cuddyer: Our All-Star

Congrats to Michael Cuddyer on making the AL All-Star squad as a reserve.

Though perhaps not utterly deserving based purely on the stats, I’m glad Cuddy will be making the trip to Arizona next week because of what he means to the Twins organization.

All teams need leaders, and Michael is exactly that right now for this team.  He came up through the Twins’ system as a blue-chip prospect, is the only player to be a part of every Twins division title since 2002, and will play anywhere you ask him (I’ve seen him at first, second, third, left, center, and right).

So, in a down year for individual Twins, I’m excited that Cuddy gets this thrill.  I even have a crazy idea for AL skipper Ron Washington: Remember Caesar Tover?  Well, how about a similar Cuddy experiment July 12?!  Think about it…!

It All Comes Out In The Wash (AKA The Truth About Capps)

On Saturday night, the Twins lost a game they should have won.  On Sunday afternoon, the Twins did roughly the same to the Brew Crew to take the crazy series.  Of course, it took Glen Perkins relieving Matt Capps in the ninth to lock down the final outs.

I am completely bamboozled as to why Capps has so much support from all sides.  The team loves him, Gardy seems to adore him, the media (by and large) give him a free pass, and even Dick and Bert were sticking up for him today.  My take on Capps is a bit different:  I’ll even go so far as to say that this guy…

…was a better closer overall than Capps.

Now, I don’t think that Capps is beyond usefulness.  He could be useful as a setup-type reliever, or a “seventh inning guy”.  However, he just doesn’t have either the physical stuff (like a prime Joe Nathan) or the presence to fake it (like Rauch).  I just wonder when we are going to figure this out for good.

Preview (36-46, 4th, 4.5 GB CWS): David Price (8-6, 3.43) vs. Brian Duensing (5-7, 4.69)

The Same Mistake

Last night at Target Field, I had an upper-deck, bird’s-eye view to one of what had to be the biggest Twins collapses in recent memory.  Aside from the obvious blame on Matt Capps for not really getting anyone important out in the ninth inning, this game was lost by our manager.  What makes it even more painful is the fact that, earlier in the game, the opposing manager of the Milwaukee Brewers made the exact same mistake…

In the early innings, the Twins absolutely blasted Brewers starter Narveson.  Cuddy and Danny V. hit back-to-back jacks to almost an identical spot at one point, and the Twins coasted to a 7-0 lead.  At one point, with the Twins up 4-0, Narveson had thrown almost 100 pitches, given up 11 hits, and yet the Brewer bullpen was JUST STARTING to get loose.  I figured that the inability to get a reliever into the game who could get outs would be the Brewers’ undoing.

Sadly, I was quite mistaken, and the shoe ended up firmly planted on the other foot.  Leading 7-4 going into the bottom of the ninth, “closer” Matt Capps allowed four runs to give the Brewers the lead and eventual victory.  While, to be honest, I am not all that surprised about Capps, as I believe he is the most overrated pitcher on our entire team, what absolutely perplexes me is why Gardy would leave him in the game for so long?

If you know anything about Capps, you know that when me melts down, every single fan in the ballpark knows it.  He’s a control pitcher with no dominant pitch (not exactly a closer repetoire, to be sure), so when the control isn’t present, it gets ugly quick and doesn’t end for a while.  Kind of like if Nick Blackburn doesn’t have his sinker; you KNOW he will struggle.

So, with the game hanging in the balance and potentially Joe Nathan or Phil Dumatrait ready to come in and (at the very least) secure a tie ballgame going into the home half of the ninth, Gardy sticks with Capps who promptly gives up a single and the game with it.  If anyone has one rational reason why Capps was allowed to pitch after allowing the tying run, please let me know.  To add insult to injury, Dumatrait then came in and got Prince Fielder to ground out on one pitch.

I’m sorry to say it, Gardy, but this one is on you.  Everyone makes mistakes, so let’s move on and try to take the series today, but when everyone in the ballpark knows the tide has turned and the pitcher is rattled, it is YOUR job to get him off that mound pronto.  Please do not let the “traditional closer role” dictate your thinking.  Ditto for “matchups”.  Capps needed to be removed, I don’t care if Jim Hoey is coming out of that pen (a profound and terrible statement in and of itself).

Preview (35-46, 4th, 5.5 GB CWS): Zack Greinke (7-3, 5.63) vs. Nick Blackburn (6-6, 3.64)

Anniversary

I just realized the other day that this month makes three years of blogging on this site.  I wanted to take a moment to say “thanks” to the site facilitators for giving us all a place to talk about our favorite subject: baseball!!

When this blog began, it was more of just summaries of Twins games.  After about a year or so, it morphed into my general observations about the team whenever I get a pesky idea rattling around in my head.  Now, with a full-time job and taking online masters degree classes, I have less time than ever to post, but I still enjoy sharing my thoughts about my beloved MN Twins!

Firework

 

Yes, I kind of ripped this little “musical coincidence” off from a FOX pre-game show a little while back, but the song sure does fit the player, doesn’t it?!  Ben Revere, since his everday play earlies this month, has really energized this team in a way only seen twice in recent(ish) seasons:

At the All-Star break of 2003, the Twins acquired Shannon Stewart, put him in the OF, and batted him leadoff.  He began spraying hits all over the field and turned a big Twins deficit into a relatively easy division title.

Then, in 2008, Carlos “Go-G0″ Gomez was quite a spark plug before proving that his raw athletic gifts far outpaced his mental faculties.

Now, I realize that the Twins’ pitchers have (more than anyone else) facilitated this dramatic turnaround, but the correlation with Revere’s presence isn’t just a coincidence, either.

Of course, it helps to channel the “ghost” of Jacque Jones in position (OF), number (11), batting stance (straight legs, hunched over on top), and just general “coolness”.

Preview (31-39, 4th, 2.5 GB CWS): Carl Pavano (4-5, 4.20) vs. Madison Bumgarner (3-8, 3.21)

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