Results tagged ‘ Blue Jays ’

What the Hill?

BakerDumb.jpgThe above picture pretty much perfectly describes Scott Baker’s first start of the season last night, as he gave up four home runs through the first four innings and didn’t even come out for the fifth frame.

The Twins actually took a quick 2-0 first inning lead in the contest, but it was all downhill from that point, as Scott Richmond and company quieted our bats (as if that is all that difficult so far this year) for the rest of the way.

That’s pretty much all in terms of game summary…a complete breakdown in every aspect of the game.

Notes:

-Let’s just hope that Baker was off because he hasn’t pitched in awhile, not because he’s going back to the “can’t throw strikes” Scotty-Boy of a few seasons ago.

-The Luis Ayala/R.A. Dickey experiment, just a week into it’s existence, has proven to be a complete failure.  Yet, Duensing was the one sent down to the minors when Baker came off the DL…grrr.

Preview (4-6, 4th, 1.5 GB DET and KCR): Roy Halladay (2-0, 3.86) vs. Francisco Liriano (0-2, 6.94). By all accounts Halladay should shut us down tonight, but he does throw the ball with his right (not left) hand, so at least we have a shot.

A Few Things I Hate…

defusing-angry-cust.jpgI wasn’t able to blog at all over the weekend (probably a good thing as the Twins lost two of three to the Pale Hose over the weekend and were again beaten by the pitching of Mark Buerhle and the batting of Jim Thome), but I was pretty fired up about the final game of that series and last night’s contest…and not in a good way.  I have been VERY annoyed with some of the things I have been seeing, including:

-Gardy’s “getaway” days.  In the final game of the ChiSox series, Gardy threw a lineup on the field that included Michael Cuddyer at 1B and Brendan Harris at 2B and batting out of the #2 hole.  It absolutely drives me NUTS when Gardy does this every single Sunday and Thursday afternoon game.  I realize that guys need a break every once in a while, but why must Gardenhire do it all in one day?!  If I were a pessimist, I would say that he was just hedging his bet, so to speak, figuring that Buerhle would beat his club no matter who he threw up against him, so why not rest a few guys?  I don’t think Gardy would ever concede a game like that, though, so I just don’t understand his logic.  His Cuddy/Harris combination gave the Twins the weakest right-side infield combination possible, and that led to a big Chicago inning in that final game of the series.  I would rather see Gardy stagger, to an extent, the off-days he gives his players.

-Also, this is easily the worst bullpen the Twins have had in a long time.  I would give serious thought to letting guys like Brian Duensing and Philip Humber take over the late-inning roles, as I do not see the Crain/Ayala combination working out, and Guerrier/Breslow still need to prove themselves as being able to consistently get outs.  Oh, and R.A. Dickey is a joke who may be even worse than our most famous mop-up man…Terry Mulholland.  What really sticks in my craw, though, is that a while back the Twins lost relief prospect Bobby Korecky essentially because they needed to make room for Ayala.  Korecky was a hot prospect in the organization, and we lost him for a guy (Ayala) who can’t throw the ball over the plate and thus lays in meatball after meatball while behind in the count.  I think that Jose Mijares better get his butt in shape pretty quick before the current lot puts the Twins in too big of a hole right away.

-One quick positive note: I think that the Twins’ starting pitchers will be fine once the month of April passes.  Being young, they may just need a little more time to get comfortable out on the mound.  And really, when have the Twins EVER (in recent memory) had a bad starting rotation?!  The Mariners always beat us, Chicago only needs Thome to wreak havoc, and the Blue Jays are the best offensive team in baseball right now.  Things WILL improve on this front.

Preview (3-5, 4th, 1.5 GB CWS & KCR): Rickey Romero (1-0, 3.00) vs. Glen Perkins (0-1, 1.13). Can the Twins’ bats decipher another (any?!) left-hander pitcher?  With Roy Halladay looming on Thursday, we better take this game if we want any chance of even splitting this four-game series.

MLB Predictions: 2009

1908Cubs.jpgEach year, usually after receiving the Sports Illustrated Baseball Preview issue, I make a complete set of MLB picks.  It’s always fun to look back at them and see how right/wrong (wrong far outnumbering the right!) I was at the end of the season.  Here they are for ’09:

AL East:

Boston

Tampa Bay (Wild Card)

New York

Toronto

Baltimore

AL Central:

Minnesota

Chicago

Kansas City

Cleveland

Detroit

AL West:

Los Angeles

Texas

Seattle

Oakland

NL East:

Philadelphia

New York (Wild Card)

Florida

Atlanta

Washington

NL Central:

Chicago

Milwaukee

St. Louis

Cincinnati

Houston

Pittsburgh

NL West:

Los Angeles

Arizona

San Francisco

Colorado

San Diego

AL Champion: Boston

NL Champion: Chicago

World Series Champion: Chicago

So, after 100 long seasons of waiting, I think this is the year that the Cubbies will finally win the big one.  I just think that their pitching is too good not to make a deep playoff run.

We Are Family (Minus One)

koskie.jpgI was saddened to hear yesterday that former Twin, Blue Jay, and Brewer Corey Koskie announced his retirement from professional baseball.  As Twins fans, how can we not respect the tenacity that Koskie showed for the game of baseball, as he was one of those guys without much raw talent that needed every ounce of skill in his body to hit .280, 20 HR, and play fabulous defense at the hot corner.  Sadly, however, his strange concussion-like malady has now forced him to leave the game he loves.  Though even he admitted he could probably play through the discomfort, he did not want to put himself through another rough year or two, and with young children growing up at home I don’t know how you can blame him for that.

During my time as a writer for the University Register at the University of Minnesota, Morris, I penned an article about Koskie (and other former Twins) that I thought would be appropriate to share on this blog.  Just remember that the article is a wee bit dated (written just in advance of the start of the ’07 season), but the basic principles of the piece still hold true:

Over the last seven seasons, the Minnesota Twins have become a perennial powerhouse in the American League.  Yet, besides a winning product on the field, the Twins have created a family-type atmosphere that makes them so endearing and fun to watch.  While many baseball teams disperse their own separate ways the minute a game is completed (i.e. the New York Yankees), the Twins stick together, evidenced by the roommate pairing of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau last season.  Journeyman players who have wandered the major leagues or young rookies fresh from the bush leagues can be considered “part of the family” once assigned a Twins uniform.  However, in order to stay competitive in baseball’s current economy, many a fine Twins “family member” has needed to be disowned.  In almost all cases, leaving the Twins’ family produced disastrous results…

Christian Guzman–Endeared himself to Twins fans in 2001 with his unusual goatee and that “bionic sound” he made while scampering to third base with another triple.  Since leaving the Twins after 2004, Guzy batted .219 for the Washington Nationals in 2005 and missed the entire ’06 season due to shoulder surgery.

Matt Lawton–Lawton was the most talented Twins outfielder during the doldrums of the late 1990s.  Never sniffed .300 after leaving the Twins via a trade in ’01 and was busted for steroids with the Yankees in 2005.

A.J. Pierzynski–You know the fan who gets a few beers in him and annoys the heck out of his entire section?  A.J. Pierzynski was that guy’s hero.  Pierzynski is still a quality catcher for the Chisox, but his trade brought the Twins Francisco Liriano, Joe Nathan, and Boof Bonser.

Luis Rivas–A mainstay (admittedly if only because of a lack of depth) at the second base position from 2001-2004 and often single-handedly defeated the Kansas City Royals.  Could not make the Tampa Bay Devils Rays roster in 2006, one year after the Twins released him.

David Ortiz–The one who got away.  The gregarious “Big Papi” was a fan-favorite in 2001-2002, but also quite injury-prone, leading to his departure.  Ortiz latched on with Boston and is now arguably major league baseball’s biggest superstar.

Doug Mientkiewicz–Led the Twins’ surge to prominence in 2001, but is now best remembered for stealing a baseball, not hitting or catching one.

Eric Milton–A solid, if not spectacular, starting pitcher for the Twins who pitched a no-hitter in 1999.  Now regularly leads the NL in home runs allowed.

Joe Mays–Highly-touted Twins prospect who, after one great season (2001) fizzled out.  Was recently cut from LA Dodgers training camp.

Jacque Jones–Teamed with Torii Hunter to create the “Soul Patrol” outfield but could not be afforded after 2005.  Last year, Jacque was a steady contributor (.285, 27 home runs) for the Chicago Cubs.

LaTroy Hawkins–After first succeeding (then failing miserably) as a closer, “Hawk” became a premier middle reliever before pricing himself out of a Twins uniform.  Hasn’t been nearly as dominant since leaving Minnesota (4.48 ERA in 60 innings for the Orioles last season) and still collapses in pressure situations.

Eddie Guardado–“Everyday Eddie” earned his nickname as a middle reliever, but transformed himself into a reliable (if not spectacular) closer.  Recently, Eddie has become anything but reliable due to chronic left elbow problems.

Yet, there is one player who has fallen on especially hard times after leaving the Twins family.  The name noticeably absent from this nostalgic list is Corey Koskie.  In 2001, Koskie banded together with Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones, and Doug Mientkiewicz in order to bring winning baseball back to Minnesota, much like Kent Hrbek, Gary Gaetti, Tom Brunansky, and Kirby Puckett did in the early 1980s.

Koskie debuted with the Twins organization in 1999 where, at third base and right field, he made an immediate splash (.310 batting average) on a punchless team.  However, Koskie struggled mightily with his third base defense, not exhibiting enough quickness or range to play the position.  Yet, on a team where playoff aspirations were nonexistent, Koskie was given the time necessary to develop his fielding skills, eventually molding himself into a perennial Gold Glove candidate, with his diving stops and on-target throws (even if he did have to occasionally bounce them off the old Metrodome turf) becoming commonplace.

After being a key contributor to the Twins’ playoff teams of 2002-2004, Koskie was courted by a number of teams who coveted the slick-fielding, decent power/average third baseman.  Though pursued by the Twins, Koskie was ultimately signed by the Toronto Blue Jays of his native Canada.  Before leaving Minnesota, in a gesture demonstrating his appreciation of the Twins’ organization and fans, Koskie took out full-page ads in both the Pioneer Press and Star Tribune expressing his gratitude for being allowed to thrive in Minnesota.

After a disappointing and injury-riddled season in Toronto, Koskie again changed teams, this time heading to Milwaukee.  With a fast start to 2006, Koskie seemed to be getting his career back on track until disaster struck on July 5.  While chasing a pop-up at Miller Park, Koskie overran the ball, had to bend backwards, and ended up falling to the ground, his neck whip-lashing before impact.  While the incident did not seem overly violent, Koskie’s next at-bat was like something out of the fifth dimension of the Twilight Zone, complete with images coming in and out of focus and spells of dizziness.

Since that day, Koskie has not played an inning of baseball for the Brewers.  A week after the concussion, Koskie tried returning to the Brewers’ lineup, but was overcome by dizziness, fatigue, and nausea, requiring him to leave the field once again.  After visiting a neuropsychologist, Koskie was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome from his fall.  For the rest of that season, Koskie could only work out in small increments without the symptoms returning.  His head injury even affected his family life, as watching his son’s hockey games became impossible due to the bright lights giving him terrible headaches. 

As for 2007 season begins, Koskie has begun rehabilitating both mind and body at his home in Minnesota, hoping to rejoin his team at the earliest possible date.  Though post-concussion symptoms can last for years, Koskie seems to be on track to the major leagues again, as evidence by rising scores on the reaction-time and cognitive ability tests he regularly undergoes.  According to Koskie himself (in an interview with the Star Tribune’s Patrick Reusse), “I’m going to play again.  I’m sure of that.  If I wasn’t, I would have a lot more depression to deal with.”

In 1982, a promising young outfielder named Jim Eisenreich debuted with the Minnesota Twins.  After suffering several mystifying seizures at his left field post, Eisenreich was diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome, putting his major league career in serious jeopardy.  However, after three years of undergoing treatment, Eisenreich returned to the major leagues.  In 1993 he helped the Philadelphia Phillies to the National League Championship by batting .318.  In 1996 he hit .361 with the Phillies, and ’97 brought him a World Series championship with the Florida Marlins.  Hopefully, Corey Koskie can do much of the same.

 

I Don’t Believe What I Just Saw

MattGarza.jpgLast night, as I sat down to watch the Boston Red Sox take on the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 7 of the ALCS, I was rooting for the Sawx to win the AL pennant.  I just know a lot more about the Sox and figured it would be more interesting to see them back in the World Series then the upstart Rays.  When the final out was recorded (remarkably, in favor of Tampa Bay), however, I found myself feeling good for the improbable Rays franchise for two reasons: seeing former Twins succeed, and seeing a franchise that never should have been winning something significant.

I have been closely following major league baseball since 1998 (the whole McGwire-Sosa thing, you know), the same year the then Devil Rays (along with the Arizona Diamondbacks) were introduced into the game.  Within a few years, once the Rays organization had time to prove to me how inept they were, I made the prediction that the Rays would never win a significant championship in the history of their franchise.  I though this for two reasons: First, the Tampa Bay area really isn’t suited for a major league baseball franchise, as the fan support is terrible (too much sun in Florida, I think).  Second, they play in what amounts to the high-rollers division of the American League…the AL East.  While the Yankees, Sox, and Orioles (although you would never know it considering how many bad decisions they make with it) have incredible streams of revenue, the Blue Jays and Rays are pretty much left in their dust.  To me, the chances of someone other than New York or Boston winning the AL East were as good as someone knocking the New England Patriots off the top of their weak NFL division the last few years.

So, as the final out was recorded last night, I was glad to see the Rays bring at least some happiness to the few fans in TB who follow them with a passion (like I do my Twins).  Also, I was happy for former Twins Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett (and Grant Balfour, I guess) for their winning performance.  Garza clashed with enough Twins coaches to make his departure imminent, but I don’t begrudge him for that, as the Twins have a very strict organizational stance on pitchers that Garza didn’t feel he could work within.  I liken it to the Twins telling David Ortiz to push the ball into an often wide-open left field, something he wasn’t going to do and thus needed a new team to start fresh with.  As for Bartlett, he never really played up to his true potential for the Twins, so I’m glad to see him step up and become a leader for another club.

Finally, I was wondering throughout last night’s game what team the Twins (and specifically manager Ron Gardenhire) were cheering for.  At first, I thought that perhaps the bitterness at losing Garza and Bartlett would have them leaning towards Boston, but then I consider things further and reached a different conclusion.  Being a Little League coach for three years in my home town, my face always lit up when a former player experienced success elsewhere, so I bet a guy like Gardy (and a close-knit team like the Twins) were rooting for their old pals.

All season long I doubted the Rays.  First, their ability to win the AL East, and second their ability to advance deep into the postseason.  They have proven me wrong at every turn, and I now finally believe they have a shot at accomplishing the unthinkable…winning a World Series championship.  If I were the Devil right now, I’d start getting the heaters installed, as things could get a bit chilly down there if the Rays have their way this week.

Oh Please, Not Now

scratch.jpgIn baseball terms, the month of September is called the “stretch run”, where teams with playoff hopes must step it up a notch and those who do not will be watching the postseason on television.  So far, the Twins seem to be falling into the latter category.

Earlier tonight, the Blue Jays first nickel-and-dimed the Twins, then broke things wide open in the later innings.  The Jays knocked Twins starter Kevin Slowey out of the game in the sixth inning with a 3-0, then pounced on relievers Bobby Korecky and Philip Humber (both call-ups from Triple-A Rochester) for the big lead.

Of course, none of that really mattered much, as you can’t win a game with a big “0” on the board.  Against Toronto starter Jesse Litsch (CG, 4 H), the Twins couldn’t muster even a single threat the entire contest.  A complete shutdown of the bats.  Sure, Toronto has good starting pitching, but nothing?!

Notes:

-I really hope that this isn’t the point where the young Twins fall out of the pennant race.  It has been so enjoyable watching them for the past five months that it would be a shame for the excitement to end now.  At least we are now heading home, where at times we have looked like a completely different team.

Preview (77-63, 2nd, 1.5 GB CWS): Francisco Liriano (4-3, 3.45) vs. Armando Galarraga (12-4, 3.17).  With Cisco on the mound on a Friday night the Dome should be packed, which hopefully is just the spark this struggling team needs.

Everyone To Blame

tolbert.jpgBefore getting into the specifics of last night’s horrible loss, I just wanted to point out what ended up being the epitome of a Twins’ inning as of late:

In the top of the fifth inning, with the Twins trailing 2-0, September call-up Matt Tolbert tripled to deep center field (pictured above).  So, in what looked to be a sure one run, both Carlos Gomez and Denard Span struck out, while Alexi Casilla grounded to second.  Inning, rally, and perhaps game, over.

Yet, there actually turned out to be quite a few fireworks in this game, just not a whole lot for Twins fans.  Joe Mauer’s bases-loaded double briefly put the Twins ahead 3-2 in the seventh inning, but the Jays tied it up again when Nick Punto couldn’t handle a routine grounder.

The Twins then got a huge clutch hit from Brendan Harris to go up 4-3 heading into the ninth, but Joe Nathan once again melted (could not find the plate) and Toronto tied it up.

In extras, the Twins kept going down 1-2-3, while the Jays rallied every inning.  In the tenth, Nathan escaped a bases-loaded one out jam.  In the eleventh, Eddie Guardado was called from the pen and promptly gave up two hits, to be quickly removed in favor of Boof Bonser.  Toronto’s McDonald quickly blasted a double off Boof and won the game.

Notes:

-Two weeks ago, I said that if the Twins could hang with the White Sox through this long road trip, we would have the advantage down the stretch.  However, if our starting pitchers keep turning in short starts and the bullpen keeps blowing leads, this pennant race will crumble as fast as it did in 2001.

-You know your bullpen is in trouble when Bonser must be summoned in extra innings in a crucial situation.  Yikes.

Preview (77-62, 2nd, 1.0 GB CWS): Kevin Slowey (11-8, 3.70) vs. Jesse Litsch (9-8, 4.01).

Lefty Letdown (Including Our Own)

lefty.jpgDespite jumping out to an early 5-1 thanks to RBI hits from Morneau, Mauer, Young, and Span, the Twins could not hold the lead as the Toronto Blue Jays stormed back with three runs in the fifth inning and two in the sixth to take a lead they would hold for good.

Offensively, the Twins’ bats were completely shut down from the fifth inning on by Toronto’s nearly all-lefty bullpen.  Of course, a 5-1 lead should hold up, but Perkins (5 IP, 4 ER) struggled to get through his five innings of work and Boof Bonser (1 IP, 2 ER) took the loss by allowing a deep home run to Lyle Overbay.

Notes:

-On any given night, the Twins can be absolutely stymied by left-handed pitching.  I don’t know why…it just happens.  Also, it seems as if more and more lefties are pitching in baseball today, as almost every series for every team will feature at least one southpaw.  Are they really that difficult to hit?!

-For the past decade, the Twins have made the postseason by winning the close games.  This has not been happening the last few weeks, and the team is really morose because of it, as nothing hurts more (not even a blowout, which one can put behind himself easier) than a loss that should have been a win.  Luckily the ChiSox lost as well, but that can’t be counted on for the rest of September.

-Finally, the TV announcers had been making a big deal the last week over how well Boof Bonser has pitched out of the pen.  I think the real Boof came back tonight.

Preview (77-61, T-1st w/CWS): Nick Blackburn (9-8, 3.75) vs. A.J. Burnett (16-10, 4.48). With staff ace Burnett on the mound, the Twins will likely have to prove themselves in another low-scoring contest.

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