Results tagged ‘ Fenway Park ’

The Cowboy

The Twins lost again to the Red Sox today (and looked pathetic doing it), so instead of evaluating that pitiful performance, I’m going to take my anger out on a different source:

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Yep…”Cowboy” Joe West, major league umpire.  I know that major league players and managers get fined for criticizing umpires, so writing this makes me look over my shoulder a bit, but consider:

On Friday night, Joe West interjects himself into the Terry Francona row:

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On Saturday afternoon, he calls a runner out at second base (trying to steal) when the batter at home plate had drawn ball four.

Earlier today, a Jason Kubel fair ball down the right field line at Fenway Park clips him, turning an easy extra-base hit into a single.

Now, from what I have always understood, umpires are supposed to be “seen but not heard”.  In fact, they really shouldn’t be seen whatsoever, either.  Of course, I realize that their job is much more difficult than anybody gives them credit it for (look what happened to Jim Joyce last season), but this Joe West just seems to rub me the wrong way.  Same with our manager, as Gardy won’t even look at him anymore.

My two hopes for tomorrow: 1. A Twins win, so they can avoid another series loss; and 2. A game with the only mention of Mr. West being his pregame introduction.

Preview (12-20, 4th, 3.5 GB DET): Nick Blackburn (2-4, 4.41) vs. Josh Beckett (2-1, 2.35)

Minnesota Twins 2010: A Season Review

After going through some of my blog posts recently, I realized that I hadn’t penned a “season review” of the 2010 Twins season.  Maybe the quick (again) exit from the playoffs contributed to my apathy, or perhaps it was the Vikings’ season going very bizarre very quickly and giving me plenty of other blogging material.  Either way, I do want ot quickly run down my standout moments of ’10…

To me, 2010 will always be remembered as the “Year of Target Field”:

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At first, I was as skeptical as anyone at the new outdoor ballpark.  Fortunately, that all changed the first time I walked through the gates.  Besides some of the parks (like Wrigley or Fenway) that keep their charm primarily due to history, I can definitively say that Target Field is the best new home we could have possibly asked for (at least when the weather cooperates, which it did in spades last summer…heck, the Vikings in the Dome had more postponements in ’10 than the Twins!).  Also helping to broaden the experience was the fact that our family moved closer to the Twin Cities metro area this year, so I was able to go to more games than ever before.

I’ll just say this: At the end of 2009, I was missing the Dome.  By the end of ’10, I can’t imagine playing anywhere other than Target Field.

Some other memories include…

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-Much like Brett Favre did to the Vikings in 2009, Jim Thome gave the ’10 Twins a bit of a swagger.  He can’t run or play the field, but it doesn’t matter in the least…he proved that (out of the DH spot) he can still be the most prolific power hitter in the game, bar none.  When Justin Morneau went down with his concussion, Big Jim stepped into the cleanup role and did exactly that…clean up.  Perhaps the most memorable Thome moment was his walkoff home run against the Chicago White Sox in extra innings.

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-Carl Pavano, predicted to fail miserably, provides the veteran leadership the staff desperatley needed, and even became a folk hero due to his mustachioed upper lip.

delmon-young.jpg -Delmon Young’s torrid dog-days-of-summer performance, almost single-handedly keeping us in the division race with a hitting surge unlike anything I had ever seen.

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-Some young kid named Danny Valencia coming up from the minors to lock down third base and provide some spectacular clutch hitting, all the while winning the hearts of the yound ladies in Twins Territory with his megawatt smile.

Other memories would include the torrid second half of Joe Mauer’s bat, as well as Francisco Liriano finally returning to his dominant pre-Tommy John surgery form.

So yes, even though the season ended in disappointment once again…

 
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…I choose to remember the good moments that seemed to last all summer long.

Perhaps the one memory above all that will stick with me is sitting in Target Field on a cold, wet September night but loving every minute of it as the Twins clinched the Central Division Championship.  I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.

My Thoughts On Target Field

Quick recap:

Since my last blog, the Twins got caught by two hot pitchers in Boston (Bucholz/Lester), then righted the ship by beating up on the Brew Crew over the weekend (taking two of three and coming within a big hit of sweeping).

About three weeks ago, though, I saw my first two games at Target Field…

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…and never really commented on the experience.  Although I loved the experience and thought that the new digs put the Metrodome to shame, there was just something about it where I couldn’t gush over our new home too much.  I think I may have finally figured it out.

In the old days, ballparks were built with all kinds of quirks that made them stand out.  Some examples:

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Polo Grounds: Almost 500 feet to center field (which featured a garage in the field of play!), and just 250 ft. down the lines (picture a giant horsehoe).

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Ebbets Field: A crazy little nook out in center field, a huge wall in right, with band-box dimension all around.

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Baker Bowl: ENORMOUS brick wall out in RF that puts even Boston’s Green Monster to shame!

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LA Coliseum: Just look at the picture!

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Old Yankee Stadium: Monuments and flagpoles IN PLAY; centerfield almost 500 feet deep.

Then, after going through the terrible cookie-cutter stadium movement of the 1980s (Veterans Stadium, Skydome, Astrodome, etc.), ballparks started to improve in fan amenities, but (for the most part) those little quirks/nuances had disappeared.  In the past few years, there are only a few stadiums I can recall that really spark my interest:

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Wrigley Field: Ivy, brick walls.

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Fenway Park: Green Monster, Pesky Pole

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Minute Maid Park (?; that’s the name I’ll always remember it as!): CF slope, neat LF architecture.

And, dare I say it…

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Metrodome: Vampire seats, Baggie

Basically, my point is this: I really like stadiums with distinct visual features, and I feel as if Target Field is a bit lacking in that area.  Besides the patches of Limestone and HD scoreboard (but that doesn’t really count), it feels like “any other great ballpark”.  Kind of a double standard, I know, but I guess I am more than a bit of a sentimentalist towards those “good old days” of quirky baseball stadiums.

Preview (26-18, 1st, 1.0 GA DET): AJ Burnett (4-2, 3.86) vs. Scott Baker (4-4, 4.88). Time to create a little bit of new history against the Yanks?  I hope so.

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. 

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.

ALCS Predictions: The New Postseason Kings

PapiTwin.jpgHow quickly have we forgotten 2004 and 2007?  After watching the media coverage of the ALCS that begins on Friday night in Tampa Bay, there has been almost an overwhelming consensus that the upstart Rays will dethrone the defending-champion Red Sox and reach the first World Series in franchise history (of course, every Ray victory has some sort of historical significance these days!).  Not so fast, people…

Let’s look at this series a game at a time.  The series opens in Tropicana Field, where the Rays have been nearly a completely different than they are at home, but who really thinks the Rays will win both of those first two home games against the playoff-savvy Sox?  Game 1 pits Daisuke Matsuzaka (18-3, 2.90) against James Shields (14-8, 3.56), while Game 2 is Josh Beckett (12-10, 4.03) vs. Scott Kazmir (12-8, 3.49).  I’d actually favor the Sox in both games, but let’s say (for home-field advantage sake) that the series is even when it moves back into Fenway.

This is where things are sure to get interesting, as it is the classic case of “postseason aura” (which the Red Sox have finally wrestled away from the Yankees) vs. “young team that isn’t intimidated” (the Rays have never experienced this situation before, so how can they be too overwhelmed?).  In that scenario, however, I will take the most experienced team any day of the week.  Although the pitching matchups in Game Three, Jon Lester (16-6, 3.21) vs. Matt Garza (11-9, 3.70), and Game Four, Tim Wakefield (10-11, 4.13) vs. Andy Sonnanstine (13-9, 4.38), perhaps swing a little bit toward the Rays (at least compared to the first two games), I’ll still take the experienced hurlers over the green ones.  Even if the series is 2-2 after four games, the pitching matchups will be who has the best bullpen, and what starters can come back effectively on short rest.  All four Sox starters are battle-tested, while all the Rays are first-timers.  As a Twins fan, I would not feel too confident on a guy like Matt Garza coming back in a game seven facing, say, Tim Wakefield.

Offensively both clubs can score runs.  In fact, I think the only way Tampa Bay can win this series is if they completely outscore the BoSox, and by a large margin at that.  However, the Boston lineup has developed a habit of producing in the clutch, with guys like David Ortiz, J.D. Drew, Jason Bay, Jason Varitek, Mike Lowell, and some guy you would never expect (Jedd Lowrie?!) providing the back-breaking hits to the opposition.  I thought that the departure of Manny Ramirez would really hurt Boston come postseason time, but Manny’s replacement, Jason Bay, has performed admirably after escaping Pittsburgh.

My “official” prediction, then, is for Boston to defeat Tampa Bay in six games.  The Rays have had a great ride, but I think that the playoff experience of nearly every Boston player will be too much for the scrappy Rays to overcome.  However, I would expect to see many close, hard-fought games.  Whereas the Yankees of old developed their “mystic and aura” in the playoffs by crushing opponents, the Red Sox have won in the playoffs by getting the late-inning clutch hits.

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