Results tagged ‘ Ichiro Suzuki ’
With JJ Hardy gone to Baltimore and O-Dawg recently signing with San Diego, the Twins needed to make a splash to shore up their middle infield. It doesn’t get a whole lot splashier than this.
For the first time in team history, the Twins organization reached into the Nippon Professional baseball league of Japan to nab Tsuyoshi Nishioka.
Last year, Nishioka hit .346 to lead the Pacific League of Japan, and is expected to either play shortstop or second base on the 2011 Twins.
Of course, as we all well know, transitioning from “east to west” is never a sure prospect. For every Ichiro Suzuki or Hideki Matsui, there are two Kaz Sasaki’s or Kaz Matsui’s.
I like this move, though, as (if this guy can hit even close to as good as he did in Japan), then he could be a great #2 hole hitter, or even light a little fire under Span for the leadoff spot battle.
On the ESPN commercials, Albert Pujols is depicted as being a “machine”…
However, with due respect to Phat Albert, I consider Ichiro Suzuki to be more machine-like. Just last week, Ichiro recorded his tenth consecutive season of 200+ hits, tying him with Pete Rose and putting him ahead of one Tyrus Raymond Cobb.
If Ichiro were to retire after this seasons, I would vote him into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. Even though he’s only been around in the American game for 10 years, he’s done enough to ensure a place in Cooperstown. I’ve enjoyed watching him play every year since 2001, and I think he really gave baseball a shot in the arm with his exciting play after a bogged-down steroids era of waiting for the three-run homer.
Well, there is a reason why I take this guy every year in my fantasy baseball league. When Felix Hernandez is on, his ball has such incredible movement that it is almost impossible to hit solidly (if at all). That was the case tonight.
The other two reasons the Twins lost:
The Mariners exposed a Carl Pavano weakness and turned the basepaths into a track meet. This is becoming a serious problem when Carlos pitches against teams with speedsters.
Then, Jose Lopez really got ahold of one and you could just feel the air come out of our sails, what with King Felix holding court.
Preview (31-23, 1st, 2.5 GA DET): Scott Baker (5-4, 4.48) vs. Dallas Braden (4-5, 3.60). In the span of three days, the Twins will have stared down last year’s postseason hero (Cliff Lee), one of the top hurlers in the AL (Felix), and a guy (in Braden) who has pitched a perfect game this season. Ouch.
To set the scene: Earlier in the day, with Armando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers just one out away from pitching a perfect game against the Cleveland Indians, umpire Jim Joyce blew a call at first base that broke everything up (the runner was clearly out, as indicated by the instant replay). As of this time, Commissioner Bud Selig is refusing to overturn the call and give Galarraga his perfecto, despite an admission of guilt from Joyce.
Then, the Twins-Mariners game last night transpires as follows:
Kevin Slowey and Cliff Lee lock up in a magnificent pitching duel, with the score tied at 1-1 heading into the bottom of the tenth inning. With runners on first and second and two outs, Ichiro Suzuki hits a slow roller up the middle that Matt Tolbert adeptly smothers and flips to JJ Hardy for what looks to be the final out of the inning. However, despite the fact that replays show the ball beat the runner to the bag, the runner was called safe and, by that time, the lead baserunner had already wheeled around third and scored easily:
Two blown calls that cost their respective players/teams potentially dearly. In Galarraga’s case, he will likely never approach a perfect game if he pitches for 20 more seasons. The Twins, on the other hand, know first-hand the importance of a single game (we’ve played in two consecutive 163-game seasons) on the standings. I can see the kind of tough position this puts Bud Selig in, and thus can understand why he is hesitant to overturn the Tigers call (as wouldn’t that be valuing individual achievement over team victories?).
Let’s just hope that this sort of fiasco leads to the introduction of instant replay into MLB as early as next season (or even this postseason in full-fledged form). Football purists (if such a group exists) argued against instant replay for the same reasons that baseball purists (a much larger group) argue against it today (undermines umps, slows down the game, etc.). However, replay has now become an established part of the NFL, and the league is (at least in my opinion) much better off for it, as getting the call on the field correct is the ultimate goal. It should be the same in baseball as well.
Preview (31-22, 1st, 3.0 GA DET): Carl Pavano (5-5, 3.99) vs. Felix Hernandez (2-4, 3.50)
Though a bit lacking in the “big single round” performance that we have seen in recent years (Josh Hamilton last year being the best example), this iteration of the annual appetizer to the Midsummer Classic, the Home Run Derby, was still fun to watch. Of course, I was pulling for Joe Mauer, and (though not making it out of the first round), he gave a decent showing. Had he just been able to crank a few more out in that “bat-off” he could have really put the pressure on Albert Pujols. Oh well…Joe will continue his quest for the AL batting crown, while Pujols will go back to the NL and chase the Triple Crown.
My pick to win the thing, Carlos Pena, didn’t make it out of the first round. Yep, that turned out well.
All in all, though, Prince Fielder did put on the best show of the night, as he bombed countless baseballs into the St. Louis night, at least two of which I remember seeing traveled 500+ feet. He is the absolute antithesis of Joe Mauer. While Joe has that sweet swing that hitting coaches dream of, Fielder gets in the box and swings with all his might all the time. What makes it work, though, is that he has enough bat control (the guy must have wrists made of iron) to get away with that approach. Of course, having this guy as your dad can’t hurt…
(I doubt Big Cecil was a vegetarian!)
Preview (All-Star Game): Roy Halladay (10-3, 2.85) will take the hill for the AL to open the game, followed by Tim Lincecum (10-2, 2.33) in the Senior Circuit. I would expect to see Dan Haren and Johan Santana to follow Lincecum, while the AL has more options (Josh Beckett, Zack Grienke, Mark Buerhle, Felix Hernandez) after Doc.
Although I will be root root rooting for the AL to win the game, I just have a feeling that the NL is finally going to break through this year. I never like to underestimate Ichiro in an All-Star game, but I would be suprised if Albert Pujols DOESN’T do something spectacular at the plate or be involved in some form of late-inning heroics.
When I was younger, voting for the annual Midsummer Classic was more of a science to me than anything. I would pore over the stats to try and determine who, categorically, was having the best season and vote for them above all other alliegences. In recent years, however, I have come to take a different approach: Just vote for the guys who I want to see in the game (within reason, of course!). Sure, the game actually “counts” now in terms of World Series home-field advantage, but at its core it still is really just a fantastic exhibition event that the fans love…the meaningfullness is only to keep the players interested.
That being said, here are what my current AL & NL All-Star ballots currently look like (barring any severe injuries or horrific slumps during the following month):
C: Joe Mauer
1B: Justin Morneau
2B: Dustin Pedroia
3B: Evan Longoria
SS: Derek Jeter
OF: Carl Crawford, Ichiro Suzuki, Denard Span (Write-In)
C: Brian McCann
1B: Albert Pujols
2B: Chase Utley
3B: Ryan Zimmerman
SS: Jose Reyes
OF: Ryan Braun, Raul Ibanez, Justin Upton
Also, if I had to pick the starting pitchers for each team right now, I would go with Roy “Doc” Halladay for the Americans and Johan Santana for the Nationals.
I will be very busy in the upcoming days leading up to the Minnesota Twins’ Opening Day on April 6th, so I just wanted to post a few season-preview thoughts before the regular season campaign kicks off.
The way I see it, there are three areas in which the Twins need to excel this season in order to win the division crown. In all honesty, these areas are pretty much the same for all other teams as well, but the Twins have their own unique challenges:
1. First, the starting pitching quintet of Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano, Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn, and Glen Perkins needs to continue to keep the team in games. This is the most important cog in the machine, as if the quality starts keep pouring in the Twins will at the very least compete no matter how bad the bullpen or offense stinks. The old baseball adage that “good pitching beats good hitting” holds as true now as it always has. I mean, if say Johan Santana faced no one but Ichiro Suzuki all season long, the very best that Ichiro could do is get a hit four times in every ten at-bats. Thus, the starting rotation is the anchor of every staff, and the Twins’ staff is still a bit of a question mark:
Baker: Has ace-type repertoire but struggles to pitch into the later innings. Is usually up around 100 pitches by the fifth inning or so, putting a strain on the bullpen.
Cisco: Could dominate, could fall apart due to control issues.
Slowey: This is the guy I think is poised for a huge season. He is essentially the second coming of Brad Radke, only with a better assortment of pitches. Just needs to work on limiting damaging situations, as they tend to snow-ball on him pretty quick.
Blackie: As a play-to-contact, ground ball sort of pitcher, Blackburn walks the fine line between Carlos Silva and Jack Morris. On some days he can be the most frustrating guy in the world to drive the ball off of, while on other days he gets lit up.
Perkins: The great unknown. Was very up-and-down last season…showed flashes of both excellence and utter failure.
So, the extent to which that rotation comes together is the biggest factor in how the Twins will finish in the standings in 2009.
2. The bullpen, however, isn’t far behind. Whereas I am confident that the starting five can find a way to hold up their end of the bargain, I’m not nearly as sold on the bullpen, which looks to include:
Joe Nathan: The only sure-bet of the bunch. Will blow a few (who doesn’t…well, besides Brad Lidge last year), but let’s just say that a “down” year would be an ERA over 2.00.
Jesse Crain: Pretty much the root of all frustration in the world. Was overhyped even when he was good, but does have a glimmer of hope in that now is arm is finally “back” after having surgery a while back.
Matt Guerrier: Will have to prove that last year’s collapse WAS just a fluke (or due to fatigue), not because batters just figured him out.
Craig Breslow: The lefty-lefty specialist. Will likely do a good job, and is an upgrade over Dennis “Throw One WP And Leave The Game” Reyes.
Luis Ayala: Don’t know much about his guy, only that he came from the Nats (not a good sign) and struggled mightily last year. Has potential…but so did Mike Fetters.
The final bullpen spot, thought to be filled by Jose Mijares until he came to camp looking like Hideki Irabu, is now up for grabs between newcomer Brian Duensing, Philip Humber (obtained in the Santana trade), and R.A. Dickey, a knuckleballer.
All in all, that is not a very impressive bunch. Like I said, Nathan is solid, but getting to him will be the difficult part. Someone is going to have to step up and become the eighth inning man that guys like LaTroy Hawkins and Juan Rincon were in the past.
3. Finally, I would like to quickly comment on the Twins’ offense. Here is a sample lineup that the Twins could trot out on a semi-day basis:
Denard Span, Alexi Casilla, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Joe Crede, Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer, Delmon Young, Nick Punto.
Essentially, it would likely be the best starting lineup the Twins have had in quite some time (plus Carlos Gomez off the bench). However, I am very wary of predicting a high offensive turnout from this bunch, as it so rarely happens up here in MN. It seems as if the Twins are much better at developing pitchers than hitters (perhaps due to the small-ball philosophy that reins hitters in instead of turning them loose?), so even a lineup that looks rock-solid can quickly turn gooey. Actually, I think the biggest positive this season, as opposed to ’06 or ’08, is that no old fogeys are being counted on to produce. The days of experimenting with guys like Tony Batista, Rondell White, Mike Lamb, and (cringe) even Bret Boone seem to be behind the Twins, with the lineup now given over completely to the young veterans and just youngsters period.
So there you have it…how the Twins perform in those three areas will go very far in determining their division standings come October. Hopefully before the season begins I will post an article about my divisional predictions for MLB (if it ever stops snowing here to allow the mail through!).
For all the apathy I have shown towards the World Baseball Classic this year (not commenting on it once on this blog until now), there is one thing that both installments of the tournament have clearly shown me: the Japanese style of baseball is the most effective at winning ballgames.
Now, of course I realize that if the United States team really did choose all our best players, and if guys like Johan Santana and David Ortiz wouldn’t bug off the Dominican Republic squad, the tournament may play out much differently. However, even if each team’s best possible squad was on the field every day, I think Japan could compete with any of them. Their small-ball, advance-the-runner style of play (plus, nearly every player can run the bases effectively) has really become the sought-after way to win games. I mean, how fitting was it that Ichiro Suzuki (the player who best personifies the Japanese game) got the game-winning hit against Korea?! I’ve never seen a batter where luck plays as big a role at getting him out. Since he never strikes out, retiring him requires the luck of the ball-in-play being hit right to a defender…that’s about it. Pitchers may have learned his tendencies a wee bit, but now he “just” hits .320 every year instead of .350, and has 220 hits instead of 257.
When Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier back in the 1940s, it completely changed the way baseball looked, as it allowed black players to increase the quality of play. What’s interesting is that you can almost say that the same sort of thing happened to the Japanese market in 2001 when Ichiro hit the major leagues and brought his much more exciting brand of baseball to a game then bogged-down by steroid oafs. Now, Japan is continuing to get the recognition they deserve, and you can bet that many more single-hitting, base-stealing, wacky-delivery Japanese players will be popping up on rosters all over MLB.