Results tagged ‘ Eddie Guardado ’

“I Think I’ll Miss You Most Of All, Scarecrow”

After a 99-loss season, change is inevitable.  However, I was very sad to hear today that Joe Nathan is now a Texas Ranger.

Since his arrival in Minnesota in 2004, Joe Nathan (with the exception of perhaps Brad Radke) has been my favorite Twin.  He had the dominant “stuff” that Everyday Eddie lacked, the humble attitude, and the most incredible “walk-up” theme in Twins history.  I had his jersey for awhile and it is no coincidence that the name of this blog is so closely related to Mr. Nathan.

I realize that this is strictly a business decision for the Twins organization (and I guess we offered him a decent proposal, too), but oh I’m going to miss this so much…

Re-Capping Matt

x610.jpgThe Minnesota Twins have had new closer Matt Capps for about a month now, and so I think it’s time to evaluate his performance so far. Here are the raw stats:

13 G, 13 IP, 6 SV, 2.08 ERA

What I like about Capps is that he seems to have the raw “stuff” to get people out.  He has a live fastball, and a decent assortment of breaking pitches to keep opposing batters off-balance.

However, there is a troubling sign that makes the new closer a bit too much like the old one for my tastes…

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For all his velocity, Capps is a “pitch to contact” type of closer.  Those kind of guys make me nervous, especially in the playoffs when “contact” usually is the equivalent of “base hit”.  Now don’t get me wrong…I think that Capps is better suited for the role than Rauch, who didn’t have the live fastball or control of the nasty curve to ever dominate the final inning.  However, on a scale of “Guardado-Aguilera-Nathan”, I think Capps falls somewhere between Eddie & Aggie.

Thus, it is very interesting that the Twins just traded for Angels closer Brian Fuentes:

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The “official word” is that Fuentes will be used primarily as a setup man to Capps, but Gardy also made the interesting comment that Fuentes could be used in “certain save situations”.  I like that reasoning, as it shows me that Gardy understands that Capps isn’t Rivera or Papelbon and thus wants to consider all his options.

Perhaps the best thing that could come out of all of this is that it gives the Twins some bullpen depth, something that always seems to be lacking (on any club, really).  Guys like Crain and Guerrier can’t always shoulder the load, the biggest case in point being Matty G., as we may have already burned him out from years of overuse. 

O(ld)-Dawg

Hudson18_593541gm-a.jpgUntil the seventh inning of Saturday’s Twins-Royals matchup, both teams had seen their starters struggle but gotten enough big hits to overcome it.  Blackburn gave up a few bombs to Rick Ankiel, while the Twins did all their damage in the second inning, including a monster straight-away-center jack from Jim Thome.

Just after Stretch time, though, Orlando Hudson (batting righty) launched a mammoth home run that hit the facing of the second deck out in left field.  I didn’t realize that the 32-year old Hudson had that in him!  From that point, it was Matty Guerrier for a perfect eighth and Jon Rauch for the Guardado-type (aka tenuous) save.

Another series win already in the books, with a sweep now firmly in the sights.

Notes:

-I know that it’s still just April, but I’m already ready for the Yankees to come to town in late May.  Mark my words: If a sweep happens in that series, it won’t be by the visiting team.

Preview (9-3, 1st, 2.5 GA DET): Luke Hochevar (1-0, 2.84) vs. Carl Pavano (2-0, 1.38). 

One Joe Gone…

amd_nathan.jpgWell, it’s official…Joe Nathan is now lost for the season due to Tommy John surgery.  Wow.

You know, as good as Nathan has been since coming over to the Twins in 2004, he has always been somewhat under-appreciated by many Twins fans, I think.  Part of that can be due to two heart-crushing blown saves against the Yankees in the ’04 and ’09 ALDS.  But when you really think about, Nathan has been the best closer Minnesota has ever seen.  Consider this lineage:

In the 1960s, before the term “closer” was even used, Al Worthington…

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…and Ron Perranoski…

ron_perranoski_autograph.jpg …”saved” games (often pitching multiple innings) for some pretty good teams.  They were two great pitchers, but you can’t really consider them “closers” in the traditional sense.

The next time the Twins were good enough to need a closer (mid-1980s), the great Ron Davis experiment failed miserably…

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Thus, the emergence of Jeff “The Terminator” Reardon…

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…seemed like heaven on earth, even though his stats (31 saves, 4.48 ERA) would be considered poor by today’s standards.

Next in line was Rick Aguilera:

 
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Aggie was really good for a short period of time (1990-1992) and pretty good for the rest of the 1990s, but during both those periods he was always susceptible to giving up baserunners and needing to pitch out of jams.  He would usually do it succesfully, but not without a few heart-stopping moments nearly every night.

During the late 1990s, a closer wasn’t really needed when the Twins would only win 70 games a year, so Mike Trombley…

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…usually did the deed.

In 2001, the year the Twins jumped back into contention, LaTroy Hawkins…

latroy_1.jpg …wowed fans with his live fastball, but his late-season meltdown was partially to blame for the Twins missing the playoffs.

Thus, the switching of Eddie Guardado…

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…from “Everday” to “closer” was like another Davis-Reardon transition.  Eddie was deceptive, but like Aggie he had a propencity for making things interesting since he didn’t have electric stuff.

Then, Joe Nathan rode into town and dominated like no other before him:

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He had the blow-’em-away fastball, coupled with an array of breaking pitches that kept batsmen confused inning after inning.  Despite a few high-profile blowouts (but nothing worse than, say, Brad Lidge has gone through in recent years), he had joined the company of Mariano Rivera and Jonathan Papelbon as the best closers in the majors.

Now that he is gone for the season (and likely more, if not his career, at least with the Twins), the Twins have a complex choice for that crucial ninth inning.  Pat Neshek would be my choice, but management is taking it slow after his own major arm surgery two years ago.  Jon Rauch used to close games for the Nats, but his control is spotty.  Guerrier would probably do okay, but his setup role is so valuable as not to be lost.  Mijares/Crain would a disaster, Ron Davis-esque.  Hopefully the Twins can find someone to fill that final frame.

For the time being, I will continue to call this blog “The Closer” until the fate of Nathan is more determined.  He was always a favorite of mine (thus the blog title), and I am hoping (one day in the future) to hear this booming through the speakers at Target Field…

 

Fingers Crossed

fingers-crossed_sxc-776014.jpgRight now, this is the approach I am taking towards the Joe Nathan situation.  There have been many dire predictions about the Twins’ chances without The Nathanator (predictions I don’t necessarily agree with) this season, but I’ll get into that in two weeks’ time if the arm still isn’t ready to go.

Nathan (as evidenced in the name of this blog) has been a favorite of mine since replacing Eddie Guardado, so I would really miss watching him do his thing.  Until the docs are scrubbing up, though, I’m holding out hope.

A Decade Of Twins Memories

I know I’m a little late on this, as the New Years parties are all but forgotten already, but I wanted to take a few moments to recount some of my favorite Minnesota Twins memories of the decade past:

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2000: When a team features such players as Jay Canizaro, Butch Huskey, Jason Maxwell, Sean Bergman, and Mike Lincoln, it was a bit difficult to really get excited about the teams’ chances.  However, having just been introduced to the sport and completely enthralled by it, I can remember going to the basically-empty Metrodome (been to a T-Wolves game lately?) with my Dad, buying an outfield seat, and then moving right up close to home plate because not even the ushers cared what you did back then!

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2001: The team finally comes together and starts winning thanks to players like Doug Mientkiewicz, Corey Koskie, Jacque Jones, Torii Hunter, Brad Radke, and Eric Milton.  The Twins didn’t win the division, but after nearly a decade of losing baseball, they finally brought some excitement back to the Dome.

contractbud.jpg2002: The year I learned to hate Bud Selig.  In an effort to make MLB more profitable, Selig hatches a scheme to contract two franchise to bolster the others.  The obvious choice were the Montreal Expos (later to become the Washington Nationals), but the Twins?  Obviously some back-room buyout deals between Buddy-Boy and Twins owner Carl Pohlad were occuring.  Luckily, MLB realized that contraction was ill-advised and allowed the Twins to easily capture their first division title since 1991.

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2003: After a dominating 2002 campaign, the Twins were nearly out of the division race at midseason of ’03. However, after acquiring outfielder Shannon Stewart from the Blue Jays to bat lead-off, the Twins took off and won the division nearly going-away.

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2004: Of the back-to-back-to-back division title winning teams, this squad was the best.  In the ALDS, the Twins took the first game at Yankee Stadium and were on the brink of going up 2-0 heading home.  However, Joe Nathan (who had taken over for the departed Eddie Guardado and been completely dominant the entire season) led an extra-inning lead slip away and give the Yankees momentum to win that game and then sweep both at the Dome.  Of course, maybe it was just fate, as those Yanks proceeded to go up 3-0 on the Red Sox and well, Dave Roberts can tell you the rest…

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2005: Not a fun year for Twins Territory.  We didn’t outright suck, but we never really competed for the crown, either.  Even the usually stoic Brad Radke was overheard griping about the lack of run support from a horrendous offensive unit.  Also, this was the year that tensions erupted between Torii Hunter and Justin Morneau and a few blows were thrown, one that somehow connected with little Lew Ford!

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2006: The Twins spent one day in first place, but since it was the final day they made it count!  They played well pretty much the entire season, but so did the Tigers.  A late-season hot streak pushed the Twins over the top on the season’s final day.

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2007: How quickly a team can go from “contending” to “rebuilding”. In the first losing season under Ron Gardenhire, a lack of fundamentals and downright sloppy baseball made the final month of the season almost unwatchable.

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 2008: After underachieving all season, the Twins basically needed to win out the final week of the season, starting with a sweep of the White Sox, whom they were chasing for the division title. I was at all three of those games at the Dome, and they are (easily) the most exciting games I have ever been to. The Twins would later lose to the Tighty Whities in a one-game playoff, but not before some of the most exciting baseball I have ever witnessed.

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 2009: (Read: 2008).  This time the Twins make the one-game playoff count in the most exciting single baseball game I have ever watched!

It was a great decade of Twins baseball memories…why not try for another one?!

Everyday Eddie Still Hanging Around

340x.jpgBy and large, I’ve never been one to criticize a player for sticking around a sport for too long (I was fascinated by Michael Jordan on the Wizards and, let’s face it, Brett Favre this season), as I feel that is a choice that is dictated both by the player and the league he plays in, but I sincerely hope that “Everyday” Eddie Guardado doesn’t embarass himself in the attempt.  It was just announced that he has signed a minor league contract with the Washington Nationals.

Over the past few seasons, it has become clear to me that Eddie just doesn’t have it anymore.  He was great with the Twins as a middle reliever, had a run of luck (and great defense behind him) as a closer, but since then has been average bordering on washed up.

I hope that Eddie G. proves me wrong, but I just don’t see it happening.

Two Disturbing Trends

I know that the next statement I am about to make is not at all fair to closers all over baseball, but (at least in my case) it is true nonetheless: Having your team’s closer blow the game in the bottom of the ninth is the single worst way to lose a ballgame, bar none.  Now, add to the mix the idea that your closer might do so against your hated enemy, with two outs, and two strikes (twice).  That’s pretty much what Twins fans are feeling towards Joe Nathan today.  He’s too important to our playoff hopes to give up on him now, but I think there has to be a cooling-off period (probably a good thing the Twins are travelling to Cleveland today).

Once Wednesday’s meltdown was complete, the impact of such a crucial and heartbreaking loss really drove home to me two disturbing trends that the Twins have fallen prey to both this season and the last.

First, are the late-season struggles of Joe Nathan:

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When all is said and done, Nathan’s stats inevitably compare very well with the best closers in the league, yet for the past two years he has struggled to close out games come late August and early September.  Now, we’re not talking about the Eddie Guardado-method of struggling here (filling the bases and then wriggling out of trouble)…Nathan’s problems get so severe that he often blows the save chance or the game.  He hasn’t been on his game as of late, and Twins fans will also remember how bad he was during that long, late-season road trip in September of 2008 (capped by that now-infamous throwing error against the Blue Jays in Toronto).   Sometimes he will still have the ability to blow guys away, but all too often he is not able to find the handle on this control, thus having to groove meatballs just to get strikes.  Gordon Beckham and Paul Konerko showed him EXACTLY what happens to grooved meatballs in major league baseball.

Disturbing Trend #2: A similar slump from Justin Morneau…

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If the league MVP award was given out after July, Justin Morneau would win the darn thing almost every single season.  Yet, in those final two months (it happened last year and is happening again now), the home runs disappear and the average begins to sink towards about .270 (after sitting at .310 or so for most of the year).  This trend may be even more disturbing (and perplexing) than Nathan’s, though, as Joe Closer can usually right the ship by season’s end.  Justin, however, continued to sink last year to the point where opposing pitchers were walking Joe Mauer to get to him.

I don’t quite understand why this is, as he plays about the least demanding position on the diamond in terms of physical conditioning and injury potential.  For example, I don’t know any of these splits, but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Torii Hunter (while playing on the Dome turf) slumped in the later months due to the beating his body took from bouncing around on that carpeted concrete.  The same axiom is usually try for mortal catchers (e.g. those not named Mauer)…they take a physical beating the slump accordingly.  About the only thing “afflicting” Morneau, though, is that he gets less off-days than any other player on the team, but once again that should be expected out of his position.

If the Twins think they can continue to play well and capture the AL Central, both those “wrongs” are going to have to be corrected, as the bullpen can’t survive without a closer and the lineup isn’t deep enough to support a slumping Canadian.

Preview (67-66, 2nd, 5.0 GB DET): Carl Pavano (11-10, 5.11) vs. Jeremy Sowers (5-9, 4.88). The schedule is again in our favor this weekend, as the Tigers draw the Rays while we get the Injuns.

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.

 

Twins Hall Of Fame

3cAmHuPZ.jpgThe other day, I was very excited to hear that former Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Brad Radke is being inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame in 2009.  Radke was my favorite Twins pitcher of all-time, as I loved the way he was able to dominate batters with little more than a great changeup and pin-point accuracy.  Though not quite as good, I always thought of Brad the Rad as the “poor man’s” Greg Maddux.  The big knock on Radke (what kept him from really becoming an elite pitcher) was his tendancy to give up the gopher balls at an alarming rate, but he still managed to be a very effective pitcher nonetheless.

A few years ago, while writing for the University Register (the student-run newspaper at the college I attended, the University of Minnesota-Morris), I penned a column about Radke that I would like to share on this blog.  It was written it 2005 and thus is a bit dated, but I think it still manages to capture the essence of why I admired Radke so much.  Here it is:

Over the years, starting pitcher Brad Radke has been the subject of much debate among Twins fans.  Is he the glue that holds the pitching staff together, or just an average pitcher who has been overrated his entire career?  Looking at his career statistics, the latter argument seems to win:  136 wins, 130 losses, 2,288.2 innings pitched, 2,446 hits, 302 home runs, 4.22 ERA.  While those statistics are better than most who toe the rubber, they are definitely not what legends are made of.  However, Radke’s value to the Twins cannot be calculated on statistics alone.  By giving his heart and soul to the Twins organization for the past eleven years, this sportswriter feels that Brad deserves a better legacy than “.500 pitcher”.

After the 1991 World Championship season and a strong second place finish in 1992, the Minnesota Twins started disbanding the nucleus of those teams due to financial constraints.  The area hit hardest was starting pitching.  Jack Morris, staff ace in 1991, was let go amid concerns over his age, while Scott Erickson and Kevin Tapani (key contributors in ’91 and ’92) each faltered under the “ace” mantra.  During the ’93 and ’94 seasons, such players as Willie Banks, Mike Trombley, Eddie Guardado (yes, Eddie!), Pat Mahomes, and Jim Deshaies tried to bolster the starting staff, but to no avail.  Not one of those players made the rotation for any length of time and both seasons were losing efforts.  It wasn’t until the next year that the Twins would find a true ace–Brad Radke.

When Radke made his debut in 1995, he looked like another pitcher to be discarded to the scrap heap.  In 181 innings, Radke was 11-14 with a 5.32 ERA and had a tendency to give up home runs, allowing 32 of them.  Though he got battered around his inaugural campaign, he did have good control of his pitches and the Twins, having no better options, decided to bring him back for another try in 1996.  In ’96, he managed to give up 40 gopher balls, but pitched 232 innings (a team-high that season) and get his ERA down to 4.46.  Now, while those numbers may not sound impressive, the Twins at that time had no other starter with an ERA lower than 5.00.  Radke (in just his second year) was the “established” ace of the Minnesota Twins.

In 1997 (arguably his best season as a Twin) he posted a 20-10 record with a 3.87 ERA.  To put his 20-win feat into perspective, he did it on a team that finished 68-94 with little offensive talent.  On a winning team, Radke could have easily racked up even more wins and established himself as a premiere pitcher in the league.  Instead, Brad was playing for the lowly “Twinkies” at the time and getting little or no attention from the press.

Over the next three seasons (’98, ’99, and ’00), Radke was 36-44 with an 4.17 ERA.  For most pitchers, those stats would kick them out the door, but one must remember that Radke was playing for perennial cellar-dweller teams.  Numerous times Brad would keep his team in the game and receive no offensive support (and consequently a loss), or leave the game with a lead and watch the bullpen squander it.  He might have won 15-20 games every year playing for a respectable team.  For those reasons, his value to the Twins could not be based on statistics.  His dependability (pitching over 214 innings in each of those seasons) and willingness to take the mound every fifth day for a sink-hole of a team were vital for an organization trying to build a winning philosophy.  In the ultimate show of loyalty to Minnesota, Radke signed a four year contract at the end of 2000.

Radke’s confidence payed off in 2001, as the team finished with its first winning season since 1992.  Brad was once again the leader of the pitching staff, going 15-11 with a 3.94 ERA and eating up 226 innings.  The playoffs were narrowly missed that year, but better days were on the horizon.

During the 2002 season, Radke pitched only 118.1 innings due to injuries, but got his first chance at pitching in the playoffs.  In two starts against Oakland he was 1-1 with a 1.54 ERA (winning Game 5 to clinch the series).  In the ALCS against Anaheim, he won his lone start, going 6+ innings and giving up only two earned runs.  Though the Twins lost that series, Radke had proven that he could perform well in the biggest starts of his career.  He was the unquestioned ace of the staff, but competition was lurking.

In 2003 and 2004, Radke was his old reliable self (25-18, 3.99 ERA), but Johan Santana was getting all the attention.  While Santana burst onto the scene in 2003 and won the Cy Young award in 2004, Radke kept laboring along every fifth day.  He still gave up a startling number of home runs as well as more hits than innings pitched, but more often than not he gave the Twins a chance to win in his starts.  The Twins made it to the playoffs each year (losing to the Yankees both times) and Radke turned in two more good performances, bringing his career postseason ERA to 3.19.  In typically Radke fashion, however, he was 1-3.  At the end of 2004, Radke’s contract was up and he was being courted by the Yankees, Red Sox, and Angels.  Signing with either of those teams would have meant better statistics for Brad (as a result of better run-support), but once again he chose to stay with the Twins, signing a two-year deal well under the $-value of the other offers.  He was looking forward to another run at the AL Central division title.

This year, that “run” never materialized.  Though Radke and the rest of the pitching rotation pitched well the entire year, an anemic offense doomed the Twins to a mediocre finish.  Before being deactivated in late September due to soreness in his shoulder, Radke was 9-12 with a 4.04 ERA and ten no-decisions.  For the first half of the season he was quite dominant, but after the All-Star break his shoulder injury pushed him back to mediocrity (he was not even able to throw in the bullpen between starts).  He battled the injury for a month and a half, not succumbing to the pain until the season was all but over.

Next year will be the end of Brad Radke’s current contract, after which he plans to retire.  For ten years, Radke has given his competitive heart and soul for a team that has too often not given him much in return.  While he will likely go down in Twins history as second-fiddle to Johan Santana (Brad didn’t play for many good teams, didn’t put together one spectacular season, didn’t strike out many batters, or didn’t pitch deep into the postseason often enough to get media recognition), he deserves better.  Many fans will await his retirement after next year, chafing over his mediocre record and statistics, but I will applaud his every start.  He deserves all we can give him.

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