Results tagged ‘ Alexi Casilla ’

A.L. Steals Another One

2009_AS_game.jpg(I was out of town for the A.S. Game, thus am just commenting on things now…)

For whatever reason (probably because of the rich history of the event), I am an MLB All-Star game junkie. I started watching the Midsummer Classic in 1997, the same year the American League began their current winning streak, and have been hooked ever since. I mean, how can a baseball fan NOT be excited about the biggest gather of current stars in the same place, as well as the fact that the actual game means more than any other professional sports’ All-Star games (almost put together). I am also in the minority (at least I think) of people who LOVE the fact that the game determines which league gets home field advantage in the World Series…I would never want to go back to those by-and-large boring contests of the 1990s, where the Home Run Derby and pregame ceremonies far eclipsed the game itself. Thus, this year was no less exciting for me.

 First, there were the always-touching pregame ceremonies…
Stan.jpgOld-time St. Louis Cardinals such as Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith, Red Schoendist, Bob Gibson, and Stan Musial (picture above) were honored before the ceremonial first pitch. As a self-proclaimed “baseball historian”, I always find it exciting to see those stars of yesteryear and remember their past greatness on the diamond. It was also quite interesting to see how the metaphorical St. Louis baseball torch is being passed from Stan The Man to Albert Pujols. Stan owned St. Louis since his retirement, and only Pujols has been able to carry that mantra since.

The network then made a big deal about the ceremonial first pitch, as it was thrown out by some guy you probably have heard of…
Barack.jpgLet’s just say that maybe he should stick to hoops (although at least he didn’t bounce it too badly!).

The game then began with the two horses (Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum) taking their respective mounds for either league…
DocLink.jpgRight out of the gate, the National League looked like a circuit that has had its hind end handed to it for a while now, as some fielding jitters allowed the AL to take an early 2-0 lead.

 In the second inning, though, the NL came storming back…
Yadier.jpgYadier Molina singled to score David Wright and Shane Victorino, and was quickly driven home himself when Prince Fielder hit a ground-rule double, giving the Senior Circuit a 3-2 lead.

For the next few innings, the contest was dominated by pitching. Only a Joe Mauer double in the fifth, preceded by a Derek Jeter fielder’s choice, finally tied the contest at 3-3…
MauerJeter.jpgArguably the biggest play of the night, though, came in the seventh inning, when pinch hitter Brad Hawpe sent a towering fly to left-center off the first pitch he saw from Jonathon Papelbon. Carl Crawford drew a bead on the missile, though, and timed a perfect leap to rob Hawpe of four bases…
Catch.jpgThen, right away in the next half-inning, Curtis Granderson tripled off of NL reliever Heath Bell, and later scored on a sacrifice fly from Adam Jones, giving the AL a lead it would not relinquish (not with Joe Nathan and Mariano Rivera next out of the pen). Granderson took home MVP honors for his triple and run-scored…
Curtis.jpgSo once again, the 2009 version of the MLB All-Star game was another exciting experience. The game was well-contested and full of tension, while (selfishly) the AL extended its winning streak and will now have home turf come late October. Plus, Joe Mauer (1-3, double), Joe Nathan (1 scoreless inning), and Justin Morneau (two hard-hit outs) had good showings in the game.

Twins Notes:

-Relief pitcher Kevin Mulvey is up, third-string catcher Jose Morales is down, as the Twins want a 12-man pitching staff going forward.

-Late breaking news: Alexi Casilla may still be a bonehead; letting a ball skip right past him on one occasion last night and then failing to cover the base on another. Let’s just chock it up to “I want to impress Gardy” nerves and keep our fingers tightly crossed.

Preview (46-44, 3rd, 0.5 GB CWS): Scott Baker (7-7, 5.42) vs. Scott Feldman (8-2, 3.83). One big key for the Twins in the second half is to have Baker and Liriano pitch better than they did in the first 81. That starts tonight.

Changes Will (Or Should Be) Made

nervous.gifYeah, yeah, I know…the Twins finally got a big win (bats-wise) on the road tonight in Oakland.  Another game closer to catching the Tigers in the AL Central “race”.

However, when a team is leading 10-0 in the bottom of the ninth and the CLOSER has to come in to get the SAVE, something is wrong with that team.

I can excuse Baker, as he pitched a gem up until the ninth and maybe just ran out of gas.  However, if I were Ron Gardenhire, I would be pretty perplexed/frustrated by the performance of the other relievers.  Jesse Crain was horrible, as usual these days, and (much like Juan Rincon last year) could be nearing the day when he finds a pink slip in his locker.  Jose Mijares couldn’t find the strike zone with a navigational device, which further extended the pen.  Of course, Nathan then came in and slammed the door shut.

So, although the Twins picked up the “W” in this one, I can’t imagine that the mood in the clubhouse was too jovial.  I know that Gardy may have tried to make it that way in accordance with his even-keel philosophy, but each and every member of that terrible inning (Alexi Casilla included) knows they could have easily blown a game tonight.

Preview (29-31, 2nd, 4.0 GB DET): Francisco Liriano (2-7, 6.12) vs. Dallas Braden (5-5, 3.41).

Rainy Days And, Well, Pretty Much Any Day These Days

Wednesday: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dPmbT5XC-q0 (pretty accurate?!)

Thursday:

YoungPickOff.jpg

Unfortunately, things didn’t go much better tonight.  Glen Perkins was on the hill against the Orioles and allowed four runs through the first three innings.  The Twins managed to claw back and tie the game, but Jose Mijares couldn’t hold the lead in the eighth inning and the Twins lost yet again.

I’ve been working a lot lately and thus not able to update this blog as frequently as I would like to, but suffice it to say that the Twins are in a pretty big rut right now.  The bats go silent all too often, the bullpen is in shambles, and it seems like at least once every five days a starting pitcher gets tattoed in the early innings like Perk did tonight.

Troubling stat: the Twins have allowed 35 homers this season…and hit 19.  And this is with Carlos Silva, Brad Radke, and Johan Santana NOT on the staff!

Notes:

-The Twins also recently sent Alexi Casilla down to the minor leagues.  Personally, I think that was an overreaction on the part of whoever made the decision, but hopefully it snaps Casilla out of the funk he is in.  I just don’t see it working out, as I don’t think that Tolbert is as good as Alexi.

Preview (13-16, 4th, 5.0 GB KCR): Chris Jakubauskas (1-3, 5.76) vs. Scott Baker (0-4, 9.15). With the way King Felix and Erik Bedard (Saturday and Sunday’s starters) are pitching for the M’s, we better beat Jaku tomorrow night or things could get even uglier.

17 Drab Innings…Then A Walkabout

Though I was a bit crushed that I had to work at night on the day of the Twins’ home opener against the Seattle Mariners, I taped the game and watched it later in the evening.  Gee, that was worth it.  First, this guy…

Felix.jpg

…”King” Felix Hernandez, completely shuts down our bats.  Even in the sparse situations we scraped together that could have produced runs, Felix would always get out of the jam either via a strike out (usually Michael Cuddyer, who whiffed three times) or a double play (Justin Morneau).  This was especially frustrating due to the fact that it wasted a pretty decent effort from our mound man..

DingerCisco.jpg

Sure, Francisco Liriano gave up three dingers, but one came after a glaring error from Alexi Casilla.  All told, he pitched very well and just didn’t get any offensive support.

So, I went to bed hoping that the next day’s matchup (which I would be watching on TV…or so I thought) would produce a much better result.  The next morning, however, I was informed that my grandparents (who live in the Metro area suberbs…Fridley, to be exact) had received four free tickets from a Target store promotion and were wondering if my brother and I wanted to go with them?!  Stupid question, as we headed out the door right away!

Game #2 of 162 proved to be much more exciting than the previous one…and perhaps the next 160!  Of course, it didn’t start out so great, as our guy…

BlackieSeattle.jpg

…Nick Blackburn found himself down 4-0 after just four innings.  RBI hits from Denard Span and Cuddyer (he was basically either whiffing badly or driving in runs all game) brought the Twins to within one run for the middle innings, but Luis Ayala surrendered another Mariner run in the top of the ninth.  Thus, new Seattle closer Brandon Morrow was summoned to the Dome mound with a 5-3.  That’s when things started to get interesting:

Morrow got two quick outs in Joe Crede and Delmon Young, but Carlos Gomez put together a surprisingly good at-bat (he would have K’d on four pitches last season in that spot) and drew a walk.  Jason Kubel was called on to pinch-hit for Jose Morales (who had struck out in all three previous at-bats), and Kubel used patience to his advantage to coax another base-on-balls.

Then, with the Jumbotron at the Dome flashing the “Walks Will Haunt” graphic, Morrow walked a third straight batter (Brian Buscher) and was pulled in favor of Miguel Batista.  By this time the lineup had turned over again, so Span The Man stepped in and hit a high chopper that Adrian Beltre couldn’t will down into his glove fast enough, making the score 5-4.

This brought Alexi Casilla to the plate, and my flashback started…the last time I was at the Metrodome, Lexi singled to center field with the bases loaded against the Chicago White Sox to complete the late-season sweep.  This time, Casilla again ripped the first pitch he saw into center, plating both the tying and winning runs…

BuscherWin.jpg

 

Though this wasn’t the greatest run-differential the Twins have ever come back from, it still has to go down in team history as one of the great late-inning victories due to the fact that all the action transpired with two outs.  When Buscher slide across the plate and was mobbed by his teammates, what was left of the 23,700 announced crowd was in a bedlam!

Man, I think I need to starting getting to more of these games…whenever I’m there, something crazy seems to happen.

Preview (1-1, 2nd, 0.5 GB CWS): Kevin Slowey (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Carlos Silva (0-0, 0.00).  Though Silva is gone from “Fatboy” to “Slim” over the off-season, he still lives and dies by the sinker.  If “on” he can be maddening.  If not, he WILL get pounded.

3 Up…or 3 Down?

andersoncallingbullpen-739405.jpgI will be very busy in the upcoming days leading up to the Minnesota Twins’ Opening Day on April 6th, so I just wanted to post a few season-preview thoughts before the regular season campaign kicks off.

The way I see it, there are three areas in which the Twins need to excel this season in order to win the division crown.  In all honesty, these areas are pretty much the same for all other teams as well, but the Twins have their own unique challenges:

1. First, the starting pitching quintet of Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano, Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn, and Glen Perkins needs to continue to keep the team in games.  This is the most important cog in the machine, as if the quality starts keep pouring in the Twins will at the very least compete no matter how bad the bullpen or offense stinks.  The old baseball adage that “good pitching beats good hitting” holds as true now as it always has.  I mean, if say Johan Santana faced no one but Ichiro Suzuki all season long, the very best that Ichiro could do is get a hit four times in every ten at-bats.  Thus, the starting rotation is the anchor of every staff, and the Twins’ staff is still a bit of a question mark:

Baker: Has ace-type repertoire but struggles to pitch into the later innings.  Is usually up around 100 pitches by the fifth inning or so, putting a strain on the bullpen.

Cisco: Could dominate, could fall apart due to control issues.

Slowey: This is the guy I think is poised for a huge season.  He is essentially the second coming of Brad Radke, only with a better assortment of pitches.  Just needs to work on limiting damaging situations, as they tend to snow-ball on him pretty quick.

Blackie: As a play-to-contact, ground ball sort of pitcher, Blackburn walks the fine line between Carlos Silva and Jack Morris.  On some days he can be the most frustrating guy in the world to drive the ball off of, while on other days he gets lit up.

Perkins: The great unknown.  Was very up-and-down last season…showed flashes of both excellence and utter failure.

So, the extent to which that rotation comes together is the biggest factor in how the Twins will finish in the standings in 2009.

2. The bullpen, however, isn’t far behind.  Whereas I am confident that the starting five can find a way to hold up their end of the bargain, I’m not nearly as sold on the bullpen, which looks to include:

Joe Nathan: The only sure-bet of the bunch.  Will blow a few (who doesn’t…well, besides Brad Lidge last year), but let’s just say that a “down” year would be an ERA over 2.00.

Jesse Crain: Pretty much the root of all frustration in the world. Was overhyped even when he was good, but does have a glimmer of hope in that now is arm is finally “back” after having surgery a while back.

Matt Guerrier: Will have to prove that last year’s collapse WAS just a fluke (or due to fatigue), not because batters just figured him out.

Craig Breslow: The lefty-lefty specialist.  Will likely do a good job, and is an upgrade over Dennis “Throw One WP And Leave The Game” Reyes.

Luis Ayala: Don’t know much about his guy, only that he came from the Nats (not a good sign) and struggled mightily last year.  Has potential…but so did Mike Fetters.

The final bullpen spot, thought to be filled by Jose Mijares until he came to camp looking like Hideki Irabu, is now up for grabs between newcomer Brian Duensing, Philip Humber (obtained in the Santana trade), and R.A. Dickey, a knuckleballer.

All in all, that is not a very impressive bunch.  Like I said, Nathan is solid, but getting to him will be the difficult part.  Someone is going to have to step up and become the eighth inning man that guys like LaTroy Hawkins and Juan Rincon were in the past.

3. Finally, I would like to quickly comment on the Twins’ offense.  Here is a sample lineup that the Twins could trot out on a semi-day basis:

Denard Span, Alexi Casilla, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Joe Crede, Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer, Delmon Young, Nick Punto.

Essentially, it would likely be the best starting lineup the Twins have had in quite some time (plus Carlos Gomez off the bench).  However, I am very wary of predicting a high offensive turnout from this bunch, as it so rarely happens up here in MN.  It seems as if the Twins are much better at developing pitchers than hitters (perhaps due to the small-ball philosophy that reins hitters in instead of turning them loose?), so even a lineup that looks rock-solid can quickly turn gooey.  Actually, I think the biggest positive this season, as opposed to ’06 or ’08, is that no old fogeys are being counted on to produce.  The days of experimenting with guys like Tony Batista, Rondell White, Mike Lamb, and (cringe) even Bret Boone seem to be behind the Twins, with the lineup now given over completely to the young veterans and just youngsters period.

So there you have it…how the Twins perform in those three areas will go very far in determining their division standings come October.  Hopefully before the season begins I will post an article about my divisional predictions for MLB (if it ever stops snowing here to allow the mail through!).

SS: The Anchor

AirPuntoReview.jpgMuch like at the previous position I review, second base, the shortstop position was thought to be locked down early in the season by newcomer Adam Everett.  However, Everett’s sub-par batting average (.213) and multitude of injuries once again made it necessary to turn to old stalwart Nick Punto to become the starting shortstop.

Now, there are many of you out there you probably think that Nick Punto is not a major-league caliber player (at least offensively).  However, surprisingly enough, he added an element to the Twins’ lineup that proved crucial to them scoring runs all season: speed from the #9 hold in the lineup.  With guys like Alexi Casilla, Denard Span, Carlos Gomez, and Punto batting consecutively in some fashion, their combined speed put a tremendous amount of pressure on opposing pitchers, as every batted ball needed to be played perfectly in order to record an out.

Of course, Punto WAS effective because his .284 batting average was a huge improvement from his 2007 campaign, when he flirted with the Mendoza line for a good portion of the season.  He was on-base enough times to make himself valuable, also stealing 15 bases in the process.  In years past, when the Twins were desperate to score runs, Punto would be a huge liability in the lineup, but with the better hitting the Twins could count on in 2008, Punto’s athletic play was useful.

But let’s not kid ourselves too much here…Punto is really in the lineup every day in large part because of his spectacular infield defense.  Whether at shortstop or anywhere on the diamond, Punto is a human highlight reel, turning in remarkable play after remarkable play.

Looking ahead to 2009, Nick Punto (provided he continues to produce at least average offense) should be the starting shortstop for a large portion of the season (when he’s not filling in somewhere else!).

TolbertReview.jpg

For a more long-term future of the shortstop position (and in case of a Punto injury, say, diving headfirst into first base), the Twins have developed another dynamic youngster in Matt Tolbert.  First called up from the minors when Everett went on the DL, Tolbert was very impressive both in the field and at the plate.  A wrist injury then sidelined him for nearly the rest of the season, but he ended up hitting .283 in 113 at-bats.  He could easily eclipse 300 at-bats next season (as Punto is often needed elsewhere).

2B: The Rabbit

LexiSlideReview.jpg

The Twins started the 2008 series with Brendan Harris (acquired from the Rays in the Matt Garza trade) installed at second base.  After a month or two of sluggish fielding from Harris, however, the Twins called up young Alexi Casilla from Triple-A to man the second sack.  Yes, that was the same Casilla whose boneheaded plays were seen night after night as the Twins wallowed into obscurity at the end of 2007.  This time, however, things were much different…

During this season, in 385 at-bats, Casilla netted 108 hits, scored 58 runs, drove in 50, and hit .281 in the process.  More importantly, though, was the stability Casilla brought to the Twins’ lineup once manger Ron Gardenhire planted him in the #2 hole for good.  Sure, Nick Punto is great at bunting leadoff guys around the bases, but Little Nicky often breaks down (either physically or talent-wise) when used for an entire season.  So, Casilla was a perfect fit to bat behind Gomez/Span throughout the later months of the season, as his speed really put the screws to opposing pitchers.

Defensively, Casilla was spectacular.  Whereas at the end of 2007 Alexi played himself back to the minor leagues with one fielding blunder after another, it was obvious this season that all those kinks were worked out, as Casilla now makes every play required of him (and many that are not!).  Essentially, he’s Luis Castillo without the balky knees.

As far as areas of improvement, there are two things that Casilla could work on in order to become a more well-rounded player: First, he still needs to keep his head in the game on the basepaths.  Every once in awhile, he would get thrown out at a base for no apparent reason, or make a bad judgment call.  It was probably just the excitability factor that is inherent in all young players, but it still needs to be tamed just a bit.  Second, Casilla also needs to work on driving the ball more.  He did hit for a decent average in 2008, but most of those hits were singles.  Every once in awhile we saw Alexi’s ability to turn on a pitch and launch it either into the gap or over the right-field fence, but those occurences were much too few and far between.  I’m not saying he should turn into a power hitter, but he could really keep defenses honest (not just playing in all the time) if he could start driving the ball more.

However, those weaknesses (keeping a cool head and driving the ball) are areas that all young players likely need to work on, and are pretty nit-picky at that.  With a full season under his belt, Alexi Casilla will likely continue to give the Twins that dimension of speed that so often powers the offense when the big sluggers aren’t slugging.

Twins Notes:

-I heard the other day that the Twins are going to (and perhaps already did) pick up their $900,000 option on backup catcher Mike Redmond for 2009.  Print the World Series tickets now…(I shouldn’t joke, though, as I wish Justin Morneau had someone to back him up like Joe Mauer has in Red Dog).

Playoff Notes:

-ALCS Game Three Pitching Matchups (Boston 1, Tampa Bay 1): Jon Lester (16-6, 3.21) vs. Matt Garza (11-9, 3.70).  It will be interesting to see how the fiery former Twin Garza handles the pressure-cooker of October baseball in Fenway Park.

-NLCS Game Four Pitching Matchups (Philadelphia 2, Los Angeles 1): Joe Blanton (9-12, 4.69) vs. Derek Lowe (14-11, 3.24).  Lowe was beaten by the Phillies in Game One of this series, but if anyone can come back on short rest in the postseason it’s the grizzled Lowe.

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