Results tagged ‘ Jesse Crain ’
Well, 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…
…and Ron Perranoski…
…”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…
Thus, the emergence of Jeff “The Terminator” Reardon…
…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:
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…
…usually did the deed.
In 2001, the year the Twins jumped back into contention, LaTroy Hawkins…
…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…
…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:
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…
Now 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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”.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
For much of this season, I had been rather disgusted (perhaps a bit strong…but not much) with the at-bats taken by one Michael Cuddyer. In fact, in terms of the dollars and cents of his long-term contract, he might just be one of the worst investments (factoring in injuries) that the Twins have made over the last few years (although the jury is still out on that verdict, obviously).
For now, though, the man known as Cuddy is carrying the Twins’ offense on his back after Justin Morneau went done with his season-ending back issue. Whereas for most of the season Cuddy was giving away at-bat after at-bat by chasing the breaking balls that drop away from him from a right-handed pitcher, he is now locked in at the plate and hitting everything with force.
Tonight, Cuddyer was 3-4 with a single, double, and home run, keeping up his long-held tradition of blasting everything that White Sox starter John Danks throws in his general direction (Cuddy is hitting over .500 against Danks in his career).
Michael also had some help tonight and it was needed, as Jeff Manship struggled in the early goings and didn’t make it past the third inning. Orlando Cabrera, Jason Kubel, and Matt Tolbert (yep, that’s right) also contributed home runs in the contest, while Joe Mauer had a big RBI double that seemed to revitalize the team at the time.
Unfortunately, the Cleveland Indians left the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth (you would have scored them against us!) and fell 3-1 to the Tigers. However, the Injuns actually out-hit the Little Kitties, so it isn’t as if Detroit has righted the ship.
One final thought: How in God’s name is Jesse Crain 7-4 on the season?! Ponder THAT one for a while…
Preview (78-73, 2nd, 2.5 GB DET): Brian Duensing (4-1, 3.22) vs. Mark Buerhle (12-9, 3.84). In Duensing, we may have just found the antidote to Buerhle…another crafty lefty who does whatever it takes to get guys out.
Well folks, here we go again!! As common as .500 baseball has been for the Twins over the past two or three seasons, just as common has been incredibly inspired late-season play.
After taking the first game in this playoff-like Dome series against the Tigers last night thanks to the brilliant pitching of Brian Duensing, the Twins needed to keep the momentum going this afternoon and did so in spectacular fashion.
For the first seven innings, this game was the tightest of pitchers duels, with Carl Pavano’s hex on the Tiger bats matching Justin Verlander’s 99 mph heater. Both teams got a run early, and the Tigers scored again in the third to go up 2-1, a score that would hold until the bottom of the eighth inning.
Really, though, the momentum in this game began to shift in the top half of that inning. With Pavano out of the game after having pitched incredibly well, the ball was given to the ever-shaky Jesse Crain…who proceeded to get three quick outs on just eleven pitches (I probably should heap the credit on Crain tonight, as somewhere along the line I will be quick to jump all over him a bit later).
Of course, things didn’t look all that bad for Verlander in that fateful eighth to begin with, as Punto struck out and Span hit one of his patented singles to land on first. Orlando Cabrera then lifted a lazy fly ball to left field that Don Kelly, who had been put into the game as a defensive substition just an inning previous, easily had measured…until he didn’t, of course, and the ball dropped to put runners on second and third. With opposing teams only having to deal with those kind of Dome Balls for five more contests, the baseball gods must be getting their money’s worth.
Joe Mauer was intentionally walked to load the bases, but Jason Kubel promptly doinked a single into left that scored both Span and Cabrera to give the Twins a lead. That was the end of the night for Verlander, but the firemen didn’t do much better, as Brandon Lyon quickly served up a three-run jack to the suddenly red-hot Michael Cuddyer to give the Twins a 6-2 cushion, which would amount to the final score.
For the first time in quite awhile, I am seriously considering watching the Twins over the Vikings tomorrow afternoon. I usually award that time-slot to the footballers due to their once-a-week status, but there is just too much excitement emanating from the Metrodome right now to turn away! Since the Vikes start at noon and the Twins’ opening pitch is 1:10, I’ll at least have a bit of time to see how the Vikes game is going (maybe they’ll be beating the Lions so badly it won’t even be a decision!).
Preview (76-72, 2nd, 2.0 GB DET): Nate Robertson (1-2, 5.35) vs. Scott Baker (13-8, 4.35). Basically, this game could decide the season. A win pretty much evens things up, while a loss likely means that perfection will be needed down the stretch.
Since the time I rode my first rollercoaster (and got off jelly-legged, terrified, and feeling lucky to be alive…I know, I might be a wimp), I have hated them. One time on the Discovery Channel, I heard that some people’s physiology are actually adverse to large drops, and I truly believe I am that sort of person. Thus, can you imagine my emotional state after this Twins/Tigers series?! I completely gave up on the Twins after the first game, put the foot in the mouth in the next, and after today (although I wasn’t able to watch) I really don’t know what to think.
Yeah, you better hang your head when you walk back to that mound, Mr. Baker. Even with guys like Delmon Young, Jesse Crain, and Alexi Casilla on the team, YOU are my choice for “most disappointing Twin” this season. For the past two seasons, you have shown flashes of ace-like stuff out on the mound, but this year you started off in the tank and haven’t found the surface yet. At this point (including the six runs in just over four innings you allowed today) I do not see much hope that you will ever develop into a serviceable “3-4” starter, much less an ace. I wonder if Baker doesn’t have the same problem that this guy once did…
In 1991, Scott Erickson won 20 games for the Twins and, statistically, was the best pitcher on the staff. However, Erickson (basically coming out of nowhere) was able to play second-fiddle to veterans such as Jack Morris and Kevin Tapani. Once Scotty became the proclaimed “ace”, though, he fell off the precipice. By 1993 he almost LOST 20 games, and never really became an effective pitcher again after that. I hope that Baker isn’t going down that same path, but so far the tracks are in step with each other.
Preview (54-57, 3rd, 2.5 GB CWS): Kyle Davies (3-8, 6.37) vs. Nick Blackburn (8-6, 3.79). Off tomorrow, back home Tuesday.
Three days after the All-Star break, the Minnesota Twins were flying high. They had just taken two of three from the Rangers (and could have easily swept them if not for a walk-off home run in the final game) and were right back in the division race.
Four days later, that feeling has been squashed like an unlucky squirrel on an Interstate.
In Oakland, it turned out that we were lucky to win a single contest (and in extra innings at that). The other two games were an embarassment, and well, maybe even a bigger embarassment, respectively.
Then, there was last night in Anaheim. Scott Baker looked great through four innings, then tanked (as he so often does) in the fifth, allowing the Halos to claw back to within one run at 3-2 (the Twins had done some early scoring thanks to Mauer and Kubel).
From that point, both teams alternated runs until the ninth inning, when the Twins handed the ball to Joe Nathan with a 5-3 lead. Right away, though, it was apparent that Nathan (for whatever reason) just didn’t have his usual “stuff” out on the mound. He walked the first batter of the inning on a wild curveball, then hit another guy to put the game-tying runs on base.
Of course, that is when the next “strange thing” reared it’s head. With a run already in and runners at the corners with two outs, Nathan was able to coax Angels batter Howie Kendrick to hit a weak little tapper up the middle. Both Alexi Casilla and Nick Punto converged on the sphere to try and get the final out, but this was the end result…
On a freak play, the ball hit off the corner of the second base bag and bounded away from both fielders, allowing Mike Napoli to score the tying run. Had the ball not honed in on that base, it looked as if Punto would have been able to make the play and end the game.
So, it was off to extra innings once again. The Twins went down 1-2-3 in their half of the tenth, then brought in there “new” callup from Triple-A…Jesse Crain. As soon as I saw him coming into the game, I was more sure than I had ever been in my life that the Twins were going to lose this game. The soundtrack in my head…
A seeing-eye single from Chone Figgins to open the inning, after which he was quickly bunted to second, only sealed the deal. True to form, Crain actually gave fans a smidgen of hope when he struck out Kendrie Morales, but a gapper from Napoli quickly had the Twins trotting back to the visitors dugout.
Final thought: The Twins are sinking (although not out yet), the starting rotation (unless Blackburn throws a gem every outing) is a mess, and Crain is probably a basket case by now and should be put on the waiver wire.
Preview (48-48, 3rd, 2.5 GB DET & CWS): Francisco Liriano (4-9, 5.33) vs. John Lackey (5-4, 4.39).
Back in their hey-day, the Three Stooges used a gag in one of their infamous shorts where Curly and Larry create the “Two Man Quartet“, much to the dismay of Moe (2:22 in the clip).
Tonight, the Minnesota Twins used a similar approach to beat the Kansas City Royals. A dinger from Justin Morneau (into the waterfalls!) and a run-scored from Joe Mauer provided the only offense of the game. The M&M Boys strike again!
Scott Baker did just enough (i.e. got lucky) to survive through five innings and a buttload of pitches, but was picked up nice by a very strong outing from newcomer Bobby Keppel. You mean we kept him the minors while Ayala and Crain stunk up the joint for months…grrr.
A strong showing? By no means. We should pound KC…we didn’t. Baker should breeze through their lineup…he struggled. Yet, a win is a win and keeps us in the same spot we were last night: On the cusp of contention, on the brink of utter failure.
Preview (40-39, T-2 w/CWS, 4.0 GB DET): Glen Perkins (3-4, 4.70) vs. Gil Meche (4-7, 4.27). With a big Detroit showdown looming this weekend, the Twins don’t want to fall any further behind in the “division race” (a.k.a. who sucks the least down the stretch).
Usually, when I hear that someone is “on assignment”, I think of something like this. Guns firing, things blowing up, cool gadgets, and a guy in a suit who always gets the girl.
Unfortunately, for Mr. Ayala, his “assignment” will be the kind of trip where a stunt like this might be the most exciting baseball-related action that happens on any given day (thus is life in the minors for a former major leaguer).
To replace Ayala, the Twins called up Bobby Keppel (a righthanded pitcher who has both relieved and started) from the AAA Rochester Red Wings.
This is a move that, at least I felt, needed to be made quite a long time ago. After only a month or so, it was pretty clear the kind of pitcher Ayala is now. He can play the law of averages (much like Livan Hernandez before him), but on too many occasions he will give up the big dinger or just plain get hammered by batter after batter.
With Craig Breslow, Jesse Crain, and now Ayala gone from the pen, I actually like the direction this is heading. Besides Sean Henn, the Twins are moving away from the re-treads holding on for one last hope and more towards the future. Yes, it is a full-bore rebuilding effort, but the Twins have always had a knack for doing that kind of thing on the fly. In all honesty, we seem to handle changes better DURING the season than before or after it.
Unless one of our current pitchers really struggles or gets hurt, it wouldn’t surprise me if Ayala never resurfaces in a Twins major league uniform.
Yep, it was that kind of day today. Carlos Gomez just about knocked himself out with a bunt attempt (something I honestly think only Go-Go could accomplish), the Twins only collected two hits, and once again the overall record dropped below the .500 mark.
Plus, Glen Perkins gave up three runs in the first inning, and despite settling down after that, the Twins’ bats couldn’t touch Wandy Rodriguez.
I guess the Twins were just following the well-laden pattern of getting completely shut down on Sunday afternoons no matter what the venue or opposing starting pitcher (although the “lefty” and “on the road” combination might as well equal a loss every time). Perhaps this is just an errant thought from myself (imagine that!), but I would be willing to almost bet that, since Gardy took over in 2002 as manager, the Twins (day-of-the-week wise) have played their worst baseball on Sundays. There’s a challenge for all you stat nerds out there…figure out the Twins’ record per day since 2002. Heck, if “Plunking Gomez” can make Jesse Crain’s stats look good, anything can happen (!).
Oh well, at least something exciting happened today (and no, it’s not that I figured out how to do that cool word-linking thing).
Preview (35-36, 2nd, 4.0 GB DET): Francisco Liriano (2-8, 5.91) vs. Jeff Suppan (5-4, 4.48). Off on Monday, then jetting to Milwaukee for a Tuesday night game. Am excited to watch the Twins pitchers hit again!
Yeah, yeah, I know…the Twins finally got a big win (bats-wise) on the road tonight in Oakland. Another game closer to catching the Tigers in the AL Central “race”.
However, when a team is leading 10-0 in the bottom of the ninth and the CLOSER has to come in to get the SAVE, something is wrong with that team.
I can excuse Baker, as he pitched a gem up until the ninth and maybe just ran out of gas. However, if I were Ron Gardenhire, I would be pretty perplexed/frustrated by the performance of the other relievers. Jesse Crain was horrible, as usual these days, and (much like Juan Rincon last year) could be nearing the day when he finds a pink slip in his locker. Jose Mijares couldn’t find the strike zone with a navigational device, which further extended the pen. Of course, Nathan then came in and slammed the door shut.
So, although the Twins picked up the “W” in this one, I can’t imagine that the mood in the clubhouse was too jovial. I know that Gardy may have tried to make it that way in accordance with his even-keel philosophy, but each and every member of that terrible inning (Alexi Casilla included) knows they could have easily blown a game tonight.
Preview (29-31, 2nd, 4.0 GB DET): Francisco Liriano (2-7, 6.12) vs. Dallas Braden (5-5, 3.41).