Results tagged ‘ Dodgers ’

LF: The Breakout Candidate

YoungSlidingReview.jpgWhen the Minnesota Twins traded promising young starter Matt Garza to the Tampa Bay Rays last offseason, the keystone of the deal was Delmon Young, who had batted .288 and drove in 93 runs during his rookie season in 2007.  From the Twins’ perspective, Young was one of the most promising young talents in the American League.

Of course, as had happened at the second base (Brendan Harris), shortstop (Adam Everett), and third base (Mike Lamb) positions, Delmon got off to a slow start in a Twins uniform, flailing away at unhittable pitches and not hitting anything but singles when he did connect (his first home run didn’t come until June 7).  This was at the same time that Garza was near the league leaders in both wins and earned run average for the AL.

Then, on June 27, Michael Cuddyer (the most powerful right-handed bat in the Twins’ lineup to that point) was essentially lost for the season due to a wrist (and later a foot) injury.  From that point, Young really stepped up and became a force in the Twins’ lineup, finishing with a .290 BA, 80 R, 10 HR, and 14 SB.

Defensively, Young was heavily criticized (yes, this is you Patrick Ruesse) during one portion of the season where he misjudged a few fly balls in the Metrodome.  To me, though, that criticism was entirely undeserved.  First off, Young has a rocket arm out in left (a HUGE improvement over our last full-time left fielder Shannon Stewart).  Second, every rookie has their struggles at the Dome, whether it be with the roof (outfielders) or the turf (infielders).  Yes, Young struggled a little bit, but by the end of the season he saved many more hits, runs, and advancing base runners than he allowed.

The key thing that Twins fans must remember about Delmon Young is that his last name is synonymous with his current status in MLB.  Delmon is only 22 years old, and after his breakthrough rookie season in 2007 he had a bit of a “sophomore slump” in the early goings of ’08.  As the season came to a close, though, it became clear that Young can provide some right-handed pop to the lineup (as well as good speed), making him potentially the starting left-fielder of the Minnesota Twins for many years to come.  I, for one, have no qualms about that.

Playoff Notes:

-What a clutch win for the Phillies last night, with Shane Victorino hitting a late-inning two-run home run to give the Phils the victory.  I predicted the Philadelphia squad to win this series in five games, and right now they are one win from doing exactly that.

-ALCS Game Four Starting Pitchers (Tampa Bay 2, Boston 1): Tim Wakefield (10-11, 4.13) vs. Andy Sonnanstine (13-9, 4.38).  Can the Rays win two consecutive games in Fenway Park in October?  I lean towards one, but of course I also doubted their ability to even win one. 

3B: The Platoon

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During spring 2008, the Minnesota Twins were counting on Mike Lamb (like Adam Everett, also acquired from the Houston Astros) to man the hot corner and, more importantly, provide some pop to the offense with his seasoned bat.  Neither occurred (Lamb played below-average defense and hit just .233), and within a few months the platoon of Brian Buscher and Brendan Harris took over the third stop.

Buscher (a lefty) hit .294 in just 218 at-bats and proved to be an RBI machine (47 in 70 games).  His defense was a bit shaky earlier one, but tightened up as the season progressed into September.

Harris (a righty) moved to third after being exiled from both second and short on a starting basis.  Harris played against lefties (and a good share of righties), hitting .265 in 434 at-bats.  Harris tended to be a streaky player, going through stretches where he seemed to get all the key hits, followed by slumps that would find Buscher even starting against left-handers.

Personally, I would like to see the Busch Man installed as the everyday third baseman.  I feel that he gives the lineup more pop, and his defense will only get better.  The key, though, is how Buscher progresses in his development.  At the end of 2008, Buscher struggled for the most part, so perhaps pitchers are figuring him out and now he needs to make the adjustment.  Thus, Harris is very much worth keeping.  If Buscher fails to produce up to expectations, Harris is still a prospect to keep an eye on, as he is still pretty young.

Fan response to the 2008 Twins may lean towards signing a third baseman with a little more pop in his bat than the unproven Harris or the youngster Buscher, but knowing the Twins’ budget a move will almost certainly not be made.  We’ll have to rely on one (or both) of those two players to improve on their ’08 campaign.

Playoff Notes:

-Boy, the Rays sure surprised me by thumping the Red Sox today 9-1.  I never thought I’d see the day when the Tampa Bay baseball organization would make a World Series appearance, but now the world is just two more victories away from that exact feat.

-Right now, the Phillies and Dodgers are just winding down a crazy contest that I believe has featured a lead change every time a run has been scored!  It is currently 7-5 Philly in the top of the ninth, but in a game like this nothing is over until the final at-bat.

2B: The Rabbit

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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.

1B: Everything We Asked For (And Probably A Bit Too Much…)

MornyDerbyReview.jpgWhat did Justin Morneau NOT accomplish during the 2008 season?!  His offensive stats read as follows: 683 AB, 97 R, 187 H, 47 2B (a new team record), 23 HR, 129 RBI, and .300 BA, far and away leading the rest of the team in nearly all of those categories (and likely garnering him at least a few MVP ballots behind probable winner Dustin Pedroia).  Defensively, Morneau has also developed himself into an above-average (and borderline spectacular) defenseman (much like Corey Koskie did years ago).  Oh, and on a personal level, Morneau won the MLB Home Run Derby and scored the winning run in the All-Star Game.  What’s to complain about, right?

While Justin (much like his buddy Joe Mauer) was the team MVP throughout the 2008 season, he also seemed to succumb to a bit of fatigue at certain points (163 games will do that to a player).  Basically, he carried the team when he was hot, but also was abhorrent when he was cold (like the last week of the season).  I hope that Twins manager Ron Gardenhire will view this as just another learning experience with his always-potential MVP candidate, as it would be smart to give him a few days off next season whether or not it messes up the lineup.

In order for that to happen, though, the Twins may need to go out a sign a part-time player (much like Mike Redmond does at the catcher position) to play 1B, or give Brian Buscher a bit more work at the position so they at least feel moderately comfortable giving the Big Canuck some rest.

All in all, it was a great season for Morneau and I hope he continues his success in subsequent seasons, as he is the rock that our offensive lineup is built on.

Playoff Notes:

-Talk about some bad blood in Los Angeles…the Dodgers got back into their NLCS with a 7-2 win over Philadelphia.  Besides some early offensive fireworks from the men in Blue (knocking Phillies’ starter Jamie Moyer in the second inning), both benches also emptied when Hiroki Kuroda (the Dodgers’ starting pitcher) threw over the head of Shane Victorino, with Manny Ramirez leading the charge out of the home dugout.  A bunch of other beanballs were exchanged (whether intentional or not) during the contest, setting up a Game Four tomorrow night that was the potential for high drama.

-Yes, the Tampa Bay Rays evened the series with the Boston Red Sox on Saturday night, but with the series moving to Fenway Park tomorrow afternoon, does anyone really think the Rays will take two of three on that hallowed ground.  IF this series goes back to The Trop, it WILL be with the Sox holding the advantage.

NLCS Prediction: Phils Keep Fightin’

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Well, that sure turned out well for me (as yours truly predicted a Cubs-Brewers NLCS).  Before I “analyze” (which nowadays seems to be code for “predict wrong”) the correct NLCS matchup, however, lets take a quick look at how each team advanced out of the first round:

-The Los Angeles Dodgers stunned the baseball world by sweeping the heavily favored Chicago Cubs, who were by far the best team in the National League all season long.  The Dodgers pretty much dominated every aspect of the season, outscoring the Cubbies 20-6 overall in the three-game sweep.

-The Philadelphia Phillies beat the Milwaukee Brewers on the strength of their starting pitching, getting fantastic starts from Cole Hammels, Brett Myers (who defeated the seemingly untouchable C.C. Sabathia), and Joe Blanton.  The Philly pitching staff held the Brew Crew to just a .206 series average (including just 1 home run).

So, this Thursday night, the Dodgers will open the best-of-seven series in Philly.  Personally, I will admit that I don’t know a whole lot about either team, as I don’t follow the NL nearly as much as I should.  However, I was very impressed by what I saw from the Phillies in their series against the Brewers.  Over the last decade, the Phils (at least in my mind) have had a reputation of never being able to advance deep into the postseason, whether it be being beaten in late-season play or in the ALDS.  This time, though, at least they have cleared that hurdle, and now I think they are poised for the World Series.  They can pitch with anybody (and I would say pitch better than LA), and their bats, guys like Rollins, Howard, Burrell, and Utley, are usually difficult to contain.

Of course, the other perspective on this series is that the Dodgers are a white-hot club right now, one that has been pitching lights-out AND outscoring opponents by multiple runs at the same time.  However, I think the difference maker will be that the Philly offense will be more difficult to contain than the Cubs’ hitters.  From my (albeit limited) experience, the Cubs have the type of lineup that, while it can score many runs, can be worked through by a solid starter, which is exactly what happened to them against LA.  Philly, though, has hitters (mentioned above) with proven track records that I think will step up in the big series.

So, at least to me, this series will hinge on the productivity of Philadelphia’s offensive attack.  If they can score a decent amount of runs, which I think they will, their pitching is good enough to hold LA down, resulting in a 4-1 dominating series win.  If the Phillies’ offense struggles, though, LA has a very good chance of putting runs on the board in bunches and making this a very close series.

As much as I would like to see a Red Sox/Dodgers World Series (with the whole Manny Ramirez and Joe Torre in Boston connection), I don’t think that the Dodger Blues will hold up their end of the bargain.  The Sawx, on the other hand…

NLDS Predictions

NL_logo.jpgWith the Tigers losing to the White Sox today, the Pale Hose will now host “my” Twins tomorrow at 6:30 p.m. CT on TBS.  Nick Blackburn (11-10, 4.14) will oppose John Danks (11-9, 3.47).  On the season, Blackie is 2-2 with a 5.67 ERA against Chicago, while surprisingly the Twins have gone 1-1 (7.91) against Danks on the year in four of his starts.  With that huge game still not solidifying the AL playoffs, I would first like to comment on the matchups in the National League’s Division Series:

Brewers over Phillies in 5: Although Philly has the definite edge in pitching (what with Hamels, Myers, and Moyer) and probably the bullpen, Milwaukee has the great equalizer: C.C. Sabathia.  I think that the Brewer’s pitching will be good enough to win at least one game where C.C. isn’t on the mound, as their hitters are a resilient bunch.  Plus, I can see Brad Lidge again folding in postseason play.  That combined with two wins from Sabathia will push the Brew Crew into the NLCS.

Cubs over Dodgers in 3: The Cubs have Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano, and Rich Harden scheduled to pitch the first three games of the series.  Game Over.  The Dodgers may win in Derek Lowe’s start, but I don’t think Chad Billingsley and Hiroki Kuroda (as good as they have been in September) can wade through the deep Cubs’ lineup.  A Dodger victory in this series would be one of the bigger ALDS upsets in recent memory.

Tomorrow, once the AL playoff matchups are set, I will preview them.  Go Twins!!

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