Results tagged ‘ Francisco Liriano ’

Doing The Laundry At A New Place

white-sox-twins-mascots-jc-425.jpgIn the film “Field of Dreams”, Terrance Mann tells Ray Kinsella that “the one constant through all the years…has been baseball”. Well, to amend that statement, the one constant through the last decade of Twins baseball has been the ability to defeat the Chicago White Sox on our home turf.

 

Mets - Bobby Kielty.jpgStarting in 2002, when at the end of the season Bobby Kielty blasted back-to-back game-winning homers against the White Sox that buried them in the standings, the Twins embarked on a streak of home domination against the Pale Hose.

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In 2003 and 2004, the Twins fended off late-season pushes by the South Siders with sweeps under the Teflon roof. Heck, the last time Twins fans probably remember seeing young Michael Ryan (noteworthy considering he just resurfaced in the majors with the Angels) is when he had the series of his life against the Sox in late September of ’03.

 

ozzie-paws-up.jpgAfter an off year in ’05 that saw the Chisox win the whole thing, the Twins didn’t despair, quickly getting under Chicago manager/nutcase Ozzie Guillen’s skin so much in 2006 with their pesky hitting that Guillen termed them the “piranhas”, a description that is now part of Twins lore.

Then, in 2008, before one coin flip gave them The Cell, it was the Sox we swept at the Dome in remarkable fashion to even have a shot at the postseason.

Thus, when the White Sox enter town tonight, it will be interesting to see how the new digs treat them. Was it only the lime-green turf and white roof that turned them into quivering jelly? Or, perhaps, it was something more…like an entire packed stadium on their feet when Cisco has two strikes on Pierzynski.

I, for one, am hoping for the latter.

The Missing Piece

the_missing_piece_book.jpgIn today’s baseball economy, simple numbers (if not a relatively shallow talent pool because of expansion) dictate that teams build a pitching staff one of two wins: Either rely on one or two horses and patchwork, or collect five “average joes” that give you a chance to win every night and pray that one develops into an ace.

For playoff-bound teams, the former solution seems to be the way to go, as evidenced by the Yankees being able to essentially rely on the shoulders of CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett all the way through to the World Series championship.  The Twins, however, may have just gotten lucky…

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Earlier tonight, Francisco Liriano and Justin Verlander hooked up in a duel that could have easily been the first game of a postseason series, with Frankie matching Verlander pitch for pitch and eventually out-dueling him with eight scoreless innings of 4-hit ball and 10 strikeouts.

There was one sequence in the bottom of the fifth inning that I especially enjoyed: With young Scott Sizemore at the plate, Liriano broke off two nasty sliders down and in for swinging strikes.  After one high heater to change Sizemore’s eye level, Cisco came back with the slider and made the young man look silly.  Just complete domination the likes of which we haven’t seen since, well, Liriano (at least in ’06-form)!

Right now, there is just a certain electricity whenever Liriano takes the hill, and that’s what being an ace is all about…just knowing that you have that advantage right from the get-go.  Of course, it’s too early to give Frankie the Cy-Young plaque already, but the signs sure are encouraging.  I can’t wait for Sunday to see him again!

Notes:

-A funny thought: In last year’s game 163 against Detroit, Michael Cuddyer was at first base because of Morneau’s back injury, Alexi Casilla was in the infield, and Ryan Raburn was misplaying balls out in left.  Huh (!).  In all seriousness, though, I hope Justin is okay and just tweaked a muscle trying to catch up with Verlander’s heat.

Preview (14-6, 1st, 3.5 GA DET): Scott Baker (2-2, 4.81) vs. Max Scherzer (1-1, 2.63).

A Rivalry Renewed

When we last saw our rivals from the Motor City, the greatest game of baseball I have ever seen was the result…

 

Tonight, the rivalry continues.

Preview (13-6, 1st, 2.5 GA DET): Francisco Liriano (2-0, 1.29) vs. Justin Verlander (1-1, 6.95)

Just Win, Baby

AL-DAVIS.jpgYou know, there aren’t a whole lot of scenarios in which I can think of many positive things to say about Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, but he did coin a catchphrase that pretty much describes professional sports in a nutshell: Just win, baby.

In football, that phrase translates into doing everything possible to get the “W” on a Sunday or Monday night.  In baseball, where the schedule stretches on into the dog days of summer, it comes down to winning series, something the Twins have done with remarkable success (i.e. no failure) so far this season and, with a win over Cleveland tonight, are in a great position to do so again.

Tonight, the star of the show was Kevin Slowey, who sliced his way (8 IP, 1 ER, 5 H) through the Indians lineup with relative ease, striking out nine in the process.

Offensively, the Twins were helped by an inning that one would be accustomed to seeing in Dwarf League baseball, not the majors, featuring an easy double-play ball going through SS Asdrubal Cabrera’s legs, and then two runs scoring on one wild pitch.

If this single game told me anything, it is that I can say with little to no trepidation that the Cleveland Indians will be in last place come early October.

Notes:

-Yesterday, this guy…

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It always amazes me how quickly one can fall while playing this game.  In 2003, Eric Gagne put together perhaps the greatest season by a closer in major league history: 1.20 ERA, 55 saves.  After one more good season in LA, Gagne pretty much dropped off the face of the earth, never again even coming remotely close to his old dominating form.  Of course, Gagne was also named in the Mitchell Report as admitting to have taken HGH.  Perhaps that explains a few things.

Preview (10-4, 1st, 3.0 GA DET): David Huff (1-1, 1.80) vs. Francisco Liriano (1-0, 2.08).

Take You Back

francisco_liriano.jpgOooh boy…as if the Twins needed anything more to be positive about after two road series wins and the opening of Target Field, earlier today Francisco Liriano pitched up to his 2006 form, styming the Red Sox for seven innings (with eight whiffs) while the Twins’ bats exploded (or perhaps this is just their normal capacity?).

One of the weaknesses that I perceived in the Twins this year was the lack of a true ace that could kill them come playoff time as it has in past seasons. Baker, Blackburn, Pavano, and Slowey all give you a chance to win day in and day out, but none are a real stopper in the Johan Santana mold.  If Frankie keeps locating his fastball and curving that filthy slider, he’s the guy that can match up against the Sabathia’s, Beckett’s, or Hernandez’s in the first game of a playoff series.

Preview (7-3, 1st, 0.5 GA DET): Zack Grienke (0-1, 3.55) vs. Scott Baker (1-1, 3.86). I smell a pitcher’s duel…

Minnesota Twins Spring Training Preview 2010

sect-101-450.jpgNow that the Twins are cranking things up down in Fort Myers, here is a little preview of what to expect in terms of the build-up to Opening Day 2010:

Last Year: 87-76, 1st in American League Central Division (1 GA of Detroit Tigers), lost to New York Yankees in ALDS (3-0).

 

Manager: Once again, the Twins will have Ron Gardenhire at the helm.  Since taking the reins from Tom Kelly back in 2002, Gardy has posted a 709-588 (.547) record with the Twins.  Besides the lone 1969 Billy Martin tenure, that winning percentage constitutes the highest mark in franchise history, and trails only TK (1140-1244) in overall wins.

 

Venue: After nearly three decades of playing in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, the Twins will now christen open-air Target Field as their new home.  Dimensions: LF-339, LCF-377, CF-404, RCF-367, RF-328.

 

Projected Starting Lineup & Positions:

 

  1. Denard Span (R), CF (2009 stats: .311 BA, 97 R, 180 H, 23 SB, .807 OPS): Though primarily just a singles hitter who runs the bases well, Span is very adept at working counts, getting on base, and coming up big in the clutch.  The best lead-off hitter wearing “TC” since Chuck Knoblauch jumped ship.  Plays Torii Hunter-like defense in the outfield.
  2. Orlando Hudson (S), 2B (for LA Dodgers: .283 BA, 74 R, 35 2B, .774 OPS, All-Star, Gold Glove): One of the newcomers this year.  Can’t say I’ve watched him play much, but the stats don’t seem to lie.  He’s very comparable to the departed Orlando Cabrera, who did wonders for the top of the order down the stretch in ’09.
  3. Joe Mauer (L), C (.365 BA, 94 R, 96 RBI, 28 HR, 1.031 OPS, All-Star, Gold Glove, MVP, Silver Slugger): Perhaps the most talented player in baseball this side of Albert Pujols.  The kind of guy who could hit .320 and call it a “down year”.
  4. Justin Morneau (L), 1B (.274 BA, 100 RBI, 30 HR, .878 OPS, All-Star): Take a look at those stats, and then consider he missed the final month of ’09 due to injury.  His ability to hit for average and maintain a selective eye separates him from the hackers.
  5. Michael Cuddyer (R), RF (.276 BA, 93 R, 94 RBI, 32 HR, .862 OPS): The biggest hurdle for Cuddy is making it through an entire season.  When hurt, he struggles with things like consistency and strike outs.  When healthy, he puts up numbers like last season.  Possesses a rifle arm.
  6. Jason Kubel (L), DH (.300 BA, 28 HR, 103 RBI, .907 OPS): Could be the cleanup hitter in many other teams’ lineups.  Is just coming into his own (a bit late) after struggling through a serious knee injury as a rookie.  Can also more than hold his own in the outfield, where he may find himself on more than a few occasions if Jim Thome heats up.
  7. Delmon Young (R), LF (.284 BA, 60 RBI, 12 HR, .733 OPS): Will be the first to sit if Kubel and Thome play their way into the lineup, but also has tremendous upside.  Is clumsy in the field (but just good enough to make up for it) and prone to hitting nothing but singles for long stretches, but when locked in can be a deadly force.
  8. J.J. Hardy (R), SS (for Milwaukee Brewers: .229 BA, 53 R, 47 RBI, 11 HR, .659 OPS): The Twins are hoping for the ’07-’08 Hardy to re-emerge…the one who hit 25+ homers and posted a respectable average.  The verdict is still out on his D, which is decent but not Punto-like.
  9. Nick Punto (S) (.228 BA, 56 R, 82 H, 16 SB, .621 OPS) or Brendan Harris (R), 3B (.261 BA, 44 R, 108 H, .672 OPS): A classic “offense vs. defense” choice here.  Gardy loves Punto for the defense he brings to the infield, but Little Nicky is often an albatross at the bottom of the order.  Harris is an average fielder, but can rattle one off the wall every so often.

 

Bench:

 

  1. Jim Thome (DH/1B, L) (for White Sox & Dodgers: .249 BA, 23 HR, 77 RBI, .847 OPS): Hopefully the big bat the Twins have desperately needed off the pine.  Could easily play his way into everyday lineup if balls start clearing the walls.
  2. Jose Morales (C, S) (.311 BA, 119 AB, .742 OPS): Showed enough poise as a youngster for the Twins to let veteran Mike Redmond leave.
  3. Alexi Casilla (2B, S) (.202, 228 AB, .538 OPS): At times provides a spark to the top of the order and plays flashy D, but is still far too prone to mental errors/goofs that Gardy can’t stand.
  4. Matt Tolbert (IF, S) (.232, 198 AB, .611 OPS): Plays the kind of scrappy ball and defense that the manager loves and his adept at handling the bat (if not racking up hits).

-Others battling for roster spots include Drew Butera (C), Wilson Ramos (C), Jacque Jones (OF), Luke Hughes (IF), Trevor Plouffe (IF), and Danny Valencia (IF).

 

Starting Rotation:

 

  1. Scott Baker (RHP, 15-9, 4.36 ERA, 200 IP): Baker has shown spurts of ace-like outings, but needs to consistently pitch further into games to really match up against the league’s best.
  2. Nick Blackburn (RHP, 11-11, 4.03 ERA, 205.2 IP): Has a knack for coming up big in the clutch starts, but also needs to work on consistency.  A typical sinkerball pitcher in that if the ball isn’t diving, it’s jumping (off bats, that is).
  3. Kevin Slowey (RHP, 10-3, 4.86 ERA, 90.2 IP): At times looks like the second coming of Brad Radke, but needs to stay healthy for an entire season to prove it.  Has absolutely pin-point accuracy with an assortment of pitches to keep the hitters guessing.
  4. Carl Pavano (RHP, 5-4, 4.64 ERA, 73.2 IP): The only veteran in the starting rotation, but his overall effectiveness is questionable.  Showed he could compete against the AL Central after being acquired during the latter months of the season, but needs to prove his worth against the “big boys” of the league.
  5. Francisco Liriano (LHP, 5-13, 5.80 ERA, 136.2 IP), Glen Perkins (LHP, 6-7, 5.89 ERA, 96.1 IP), Brian Duensing (LHP, 5-2, 3.64 ERA, 84 IP), Anthony Swarzak (RHP, 3-7, 6.25 ERA, 59 IP), or Jeff Manship (RHP, 1-1, 5.68 ERA, 31.2 IP): Liriano is obviously the wild card of this group, as he could become unquestioned ace of the staff or play himself right out of the majors.  Perkins is not on the organization’s good side after squabbles over service time and just plain poor performance, while Duensing is the conservative pick after impressing in the heat of the pennant race last year.  Swarzak and/or Manship would have to pitch their tails off to even warrant consideration.

 

Bullpen:

 

  1. Joe Nathan (RHP, 2.10 ERA, 68.2 IP, 47 SV): Still a top-tier closer in all of baseball, but somehow needs to shake late- (and post-) season demons.  Too many batters (7) tagged him with the long ball last year, so that is a good place to start.
  2. Matt Guerrier (RHP, 2.36 ERA, 76.1 IP): The primary setup man to Nathan.  Is very solid, but fatigue always an issue due to over-use.
  3. Jose Mijares (LHP, 2.34 ERA, 61.2 IP): The lefty-lefty matchup guy who his almost unhittable when in decent shape and possessing a clear head.  Has tendency to put balls in the dirt and sometimes inexplicably loses his control for short periods of time.
  4. Pat Neshek (RHP, DNP-Injured): After missing almost two whole seasons due to Tommy John surgery, the side-winding Minnesota native is back to confuse opponents once again.  Could be a god-send to take some of the strain off Matty G.
  5. Jon Rauch (RHP, 1.72 ERA, 15.2 IP): One of the big (literally!) reasons the Twins made the playoffs last season.  Is very flexible in terms of duration (1-3 innings).
  6. Jesse Crain (RHP, 4.70 ERA, 51.2 IP): An enigma: some fans love his electric stuff, while others cringe at his predictability, wobbly control, and inability to pitch out of jams after creating them.
  7. Clay Condrey (RHP, for Philadelphia: 3.00 ERA, 42 IP): A newcomer who is coming off two solid seasons in the National League.  Adds valuable depth to a unit that would often carry a green rookie or past-his-prime vet in this spot.

 

Prediction: If the starting pitching holds up for the entire season and the bats produce even a trifling of what they should, this could be a very scary team.  Must prove first and foremost that, as well as beating up on the Kansas City’s and Cleveland’s of the world, they now have the firepower to take on the likes of New York and Anaheim (teams that destroyed them in ’09).  A division championship is a very achievable goal, with the sights set on further venturing into the playoff tournament.

 

Boof To Boston

fantasy_bbonser_300.jpgJust heard today that Boof Bonser was traded to the Boston Red Sox for a player to be named later.

My first reaction is regret, as Boof (when healthy) has a live arm and nasty stuff that can really tie-up opposing batters.

However, he did have two pretty big strikes against him:

1. After his brilliant rookie campaign in ’06, he has never returned to that form again.  Perhaps hitters figured him out and he hasn’t been able to adapt?

2. His injury status.  This decade, the Twins have seen two pitchers (in Joe Mays and Francisco Liriano) struggle mightily after major arm surgery.  Mays was forced to retire because he was no longer effective, while Frankie is a shell of his ’06 self.

If that big arm ever comes back, the Boofster could be a very nice addition to the BoSox.

In other news:

The most exciting player in the division…

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…that being Curtis Granderson, was recently traded from the Tigers to (guess who!) the New York Yankees.  Though I don’t mind the fact that he won’t be around to terrorize Twins pitching anymore, it makes me want to puke that the Yanks are at it again.

Gardy

ron-gardenhire-picture.jpgA while back, the balloting for the American League Manager of the Year Award was announced, and (once again) Twins’ skipper Ron Gardenhire was the bridesmaid, this time to Mike Scoscia of the Angels. I was not too steamed at this, to be honest, and here is why: I’ll start with the positive:

I think that Gardy is a very good fit for this Minnesota Twins ballclub. He preaches fundamentals (a must for a young team, which the Twins will always be under the current economic structure of baseball), keeps a cool head (another “lead by example trait for the youngsters), and is just a good guy, plain and simple.  He isn’t a complete nutcase like Ozzie Guillen, and he isn’t too full of himself like, say, a Lou Pineilla.  Since Gardy succeeded a burnt-out Tom Kelly as manager, five division titles (and one near-miss) speak for themselves.

That being said, I didn’t necessarily cry myself to sleep at Gardy not getting Manager of the Year for two particular reasons:

First, is his loyalty to certain players (well, one player in particular):

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Back when T.K. was at the helm, he always said that as long as he was a major league manager, Dick Such would be his pitching coach. The same can now be said for Gardenhire and Nick Punto.  While other players (like Alexi Casilla, for instance) can make one mistake and instantly be demoted to Gardy’s “doghouse”, a place that is easy to languish in for extended periods of time, Punto pretty much gets a free pass.  Though this kind of loyalty is nice in a personable sort of way, I think it gets Gardy in trouble a little bit in terms of on-field potential.  Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the skipper himself was that same type of utility player back in his playing days with the Mets:

 

ron_gardenhire_autograph.jpg2. The other issue is his playoff-managing style.  Instead of “going for the throat”, Gardy tends to manage a playoff game like any other regular season game.  This was evidenced in the ALDS against the Yankees when Francisco Liriano was the first arm out of the pen in a close Game One against the mighty Yanks.  Was he just playing the matchups, or hedging his bet that Frankie could somehow get out of the jam and save the good relievers for later?  I have my suspicions it was the latter.  Of course, later never happened (and often does not in a playoff series).  This was not the first instance of that problem, either.

To re-iterate, though, I think that Ron Gardenhire is the man that the Twins need at the helm right now.  He’s great at teaching the fundamentals of the game to young players, as well as trying to keep them on an even keel and just play the game in front of them.  There’s just a few things that could be improved upon…like not already penciling in Punto as a starting infielder and batting ninth.

Why We Lost, Theory #1: We Beat Ourselves

4767380f-27d8-4a7b-9fd8-d4d6a3153f25.jpgNow that a bit of time has passed and my initial reaction to the ALDS sweep has lessened a bit, I wanted to take a look back and see why the Twins got the broom. Here is one theory, with another to follow in a later post:

We beat ourselves. Plain and simple.  No B.S., no excuses.  Each and every game the Twins gave their all against a very tough Yankee ballclub, yet there was one key collapse and enough mistakes to go around that the only entity to blame for the sweep is staring us in the mirror.

Game 1: As expected, young starter Brian Duensing had trouble containing the big bats of the Yankees, and C.C. Sabathia was mowing us down like a shiny new Briggs & Stratton.  However, in the middle innings, the Twins were just down by a pair of runs and manager Ron Gardenhire decided to go to the bullpen in a key situation to retire Hideki Matsui.  Twins fans expected Ron Mahay, but instead Francisco Liriano trotted into the game.  My reaction: OMFG.  Matsui poked one into the seats and the Yanks never looked back.  Poor managing, plain and simple.

Game 2: Too many mistakes to count, really.  First was the now-infamous rounding of the base from Carlos Gomez (him being in the lineup in the first place could also be viewed as another Gardy Gaffe), where he allowed himself to be tagged out before Delmon Young could cross home plate and thus erasing a potential early lead and key run for the Twins.

Next, was the complete and utter implosion of closer Joe Nathan.  Way too many times down the stretch of the regular season (and in this game, obviously), Joe would come into games with no life on his fastball, the pitch that sets up his nasty breaking stuff.  Thus, he would be forced to throw the breaking stuff (which rarely gets over the plate) early and, when the patient Yankee hitters would lay off, he would then have to groove a fastball, exactly what happened to A-Rod.

The thing that sticks in my (and Gardy’s, I bet) craw the most, though, was the debacle when the Twins loaded the bases with no outs in the top of the eleventh inning.  Both Gomez and Delmon Young proceeded to swing at the first pitch of each at-bat (proving that they still just don’t “get it”, yet) and record outs en route to no runs coming in at all.  I bet that Gardy could have wrung their necks at that point.  Thus, the walk-off from Mark Teixera was all but imminent (if we can’t score with the bases loaded and no outs, when would we ever?).

Game Three: The Nick Punto baserunning blunder was the deflation-point of this game, as Punto got a little too excited when he heard the roar of the crowd and decided to round third with his head down at full speed, completely ignoring (well, not even seeing, actually) the “stop” sign that was clearly given from Scotty Ullger.  Jeter snagged Span’s bouncing up the middle and easily doubled Little Nicky off.  The Yankees then went on to dominate us (especially our bullpen once again) in the later innings.

Not only were those blunders quite apparent, but also present was the fact that the Twins left about a week’s worth of runners on base throughout the entire series.  Basically, we rarely got the big hit, and when we finally did we found some way to screw it up.  Kubel, Cuddyer, and Young (the hot hitters who propelled us to the AL Central crown) were downright atrocious in nearly every at-bat.

So, grouse all you want about a botched fair-foul call that went the Yanks’ way or the fact that their payroll triples ours, but the sad truth may be that we lost this one all by ourselves.

No Way…Yep, Jose!

JoseMoralesYes.jpgCan anything go wrong for the Minnesota Twins right now (especially with Chicago in town)?!

After the game ended in dramatic fashion, with Jose Morales pinch hitting with two outs and a man on third in the bottom of the ninth and getting a solid base hit to win the game, I began thinking of all the remarkable occurences that transpired over those nine innings:

-For starters, Jeff Manship held the Sox to just one earned run over five innings.  Yep, Jeff Manship, facing guys like A.J., Konerko, and Dye got the job done.

-Jon Rauch (recently acquired from Arizona) made just his second appearance in the white pinstripes, pitched a scoreless ninth inning, and got his second win of the season.  I believe it took Francisco Liriano about two months to get to two wins!

-Michael Cuddyer once again clubbed two bombs in one game.  We’re turning this place back into the Homerdome yet!

-And finally, there’s Jose Morales, the hero himself.  In his first at-bat since God knows when (a month or two at least), Morales didn’t allow himself to be cowed by the pressure situation and just got good wood on the ball.  A new hero emerges every night, it seems.

The only thing to go wrong tonight was Jose Mijares and Matt Guerrier combining to blow a late-inning lead, but that only set the stage for all the dramatics (so maybe they just have a keen sense of theatre)!

Preview (67-65, 2nd, 3.5 GB DET): Mark Buerhle (11-7, 3.89) vs. Brian Duensing (2-1, 4.37).  Let’s make Buerhle’s last Dome start a “memorable” one for him.

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