Results tagged ‘ Joe Mauer ’

What Went Wrong

After the season ended, I had planned on doing a position-by-position look at the Twins to examine what exactly went wrong that sent a 94-win team (2010) to a 99-loss squad (2011).  However, with the recent front office move of swapping Bill Smith for Terry Ryan (again), it seems as if three key categories came into play during the ’11 season that really just doomed the Twins from the start.

First, from a tactical perspective, the injuries were horrific…

When half (or more) of your starting team is injured for half (or more) of the season, the plan you put in place all of last offseason was pretty much shot in the foot before it ever had a chance to walk.  Whether bad luck, bad conditioning, or bad “mental toughness” (to quote Mike Tice), the team was limping off the field all season long.

Also, the depletion of the bullpen was another crippling tactical shortcoming…

I realize that the money got too much to retain our key bullpen horses, but in the end the lack of any steady relief help came back to bite the team perhaps more than anyone thought possible.

Second, beyond the tactical stuff, was the inability of our “core group” (outside of Cuddyer, of course) to produce.

Mauer & Morneau needed to get back to this…

But instead they barely played two weeks of the season in the same lineup.

Then, the “solid five” (Baker, Blackburn, Liriano, Perkins, Slowey) starters that we envisioned a few years ago have never (and probably never will) produced to their expectations…

Liriano is an enigma, Slowey is in the doghouse, Baker is failed potential personified, Blackburn is a rollercoaster, and Perkins is now a reliever (and one who has injury troubles at that).

Finally, the final area that really killed the Twins last year was a step away from their tried-and-true organizational philosophy of hoarding draft picks, developing talent, throwing strikes, and playing solid, fundamental baseball (especially defense).

When Nick Punto left in the offseason and ended up winning a ring with the Cardinals…

It signaled a shift from playing “Twins baseball” towards “going all-in to win now”.

Perhaps this was a difference in philosophy between two GMS…

But clearly, the team got away from the “fundamentals”.  The defense was rot, the pitchers walked more batters than ever, and the whole foundation collapsed.

Notes:

-Amazingly enough, Terry Ryan’s first move on his second go-’round as GM impressed the heck out of me, signing Jamey Carroll to play shortstop in ’12…

From what I hear/read, Carroll can play solid defense, handle the bat, stay in the lineup, and get on base a little bit…nothing our middle infielders did in ’11.  Carroll is not a long-term solution by any means, but he adds stability to a team desperate for it right now.

Paying The Piper

We sports fans are a fickle lot most of the time.  For the last few years, Twins fans were ALWAYS badgering GM’s (either Ryan or Smith) to sign more players to help us win.  Since the pitching seemed solid, a lock of hitters was always our “dire” need.

Well, we brought in guys like Delmon Young, Orlando Hudson, JJ Hardy, and Jim Thome to help the offense.  Plus, we signed out “Mantle & Marris”…

…to long-term deals.

Well, those offensive players (for a variety of reasons) never really paid off, and “M&M” have been too hurt to meet the return on investment.

Thus, part of the reason for this season spiralling into disaster has been an inability to patch holes like we have done in the past.  The bullpen guys got too pricey, the starters all regressed or never hit their potential, and all the hitters got hurt.  ALL…OF…THEM.

So, we are now realizing (as we did in the 1990s) that we still can’t quite spend with the big boys on the coasts…even with a new stadium.  The time to pay the piper has come, and that time is now.

Notes:

-Twins get swept by lowly Orioles at home.

-Liriano goes on the DL (Scott Diamond will take his place).

-Kubel is claimed off waivers (though no deal yet) by the White Sox.

-Same story as above for Jim Thome & the Indians.

Preview (55-75, 4th, 9.0 GB CWS): Rick Porcello (11-8, 5.17) vs. Scott Diamond (0-1, 4.26)

The Mauer Effect

Memorial Day weekend is often used as the first “benchmark” in a long baseball season.  Which teams are strong, which are weak, who may be sellers at the break, who may be gearing up for a mid-season trade.

Usually, the running joke here in Twins Territory is that the Kansas City Royals are usually making winter vacation plans at about this time.  Well, the Royals ARE in fourth place in the AL Central and more than a few games below .500, but there’s something this year that makes the joke quite a bit less funny: the Royals are 6-7 games ahead of the Minnesota Twins.

So far this season on this blog, I have lamented the terrible play and given a few opinions of my own on it.  I would like to add one more here, known possibly as the “Joe Mauer Effect”:

Clearly, the biggest reason for the Twins’ struggles has been the time lost to injuries to key players.  There’s no debating that fact.  However, I wonder if perhaps the potential “babying” (the word goes in quotes because nobody seems to know exactly what transpires with him on a day-to-day basis) of star catcher Joe Mauer isn’t creating a tinge of bitterness in the clubhouse that translates over onto the field.

A baseball clubhouse, besides the crass camaraderie and checkbook amounts, is no different than any other workplace.  If one person is getting better treatment than others, and those others feel that that treatment is not well-deserved, a bitter attitude can poison the work environment.  Some people can put that bitterness behind them and be abject professionals, while others let it stew and bleed over into their work habits.

I’m not accusing the Twins of anything, as I have never stepped foot into their pre- or post-game clubhouse and thus cannot pass judgement.  However, it’s just something to think about as the weird injuires (and losses) keep piling up.

What the Twins have on their side, though, is Ron Gardenhire.

While I have–in the past–criticized some of Gardy’s on-field decisions, I do not question for one moment that he is one of (if not THE) best player-relations manager in the game today.  He demands respect for the game, and if he doesn’t get it you won’t play for him all that much longer.

I hope this “Mauer Effect” isn’t seeping through the Twins clubhouse on a daily basis, but like I said, it is worth mentioning.  Of course, as is always the case in professional sports, if Mauer comes back and hits .350, all will be forgiven.  Let’s hope against hope that something similar transpires to give the team a bit of a spark this season.

Notes:

-Kubel and Thome put on DL today.  Oy.

Preview (17-37, 5th, 7.5 GB KCR): Anthony Swarzak (0-2, 3.60) vs. Sean O’Sullivan (2-4, 6.75)

Well, This Is Just “Sick”…

9456_sick_woman_with_the_flu_walkin.pngIn my previous post, I made the point that part of the reason why the Twins are struggling is because their young pitchers haven’t panned out as planned.  That is without a doubt part of the reason, but the main thing right now is injuries…plain and simple.

We’ve never been a team with a lot (or even a little) depth, so more than one long-term injury and all of a sudden guys like Hughes, Tolbert, Tosoni, and Butera are expected to hit at a major-league level and win games.  Nope.

With Mauer, Young, Thome, Nathan, and Nishioka all struggling through various stages of convalescence, the talent level just isn’t what it needs to be.  As much as Gardy can opine about “finding a way to win”, the reality is that with the kind of lineups we have been putting up the last few weeks, we shouldn’t expect to win.

The good news: Injuries heal.

The bad news: It takes time…do we have enough of it?

The Great Mauer Debate

Joe Mauerasdfgh.jpgFirst off, good to see the Twins pull off a nice little win against Cleveland today. Three in a row!  Of course, it’ll be back to the AL East starting Tuesday night, so lets home that the home turf (or nice green grass, I guess I should say now!) is the difference-maker.

What I really wanted to comment on in this post, however, is the absolute raging debate here in the state of Minny regarding moving our catcher, Joe Mauer, to another position.  I truly believe that this is a move that will have to happen sooner than later.  He’s already shown signs (and they are getting worse) of health issues, and all that squatting won’t help anything.  However, I also strongly believe that moving him THIS SEASON is out of the question.  Here’s why:

The potential places he could move are:

1B- Not an option with Morneau entrenched.

Middle Infield- Nope.  Not that kind of player.

3B- The most intriguing option, but there’s no way (I don’t care how much athletic talent Mauer may possess) that he could jump into that position right away and play it well.  Remember how long it took Corey Koskie to develop into a vacuum at the hot corner?

OF- We already have too many outfield roamers as is (Kubel, Span, Young, Cuddyer).  Cuddyer and Young are not long-term locks, however, so I’d say that moving Joe to the OF may be a future possibility.

DH- We’ve got this guy named Jim Thome right now, who’s doing alright in this slot (!).  Another option a season or two down the road (perhaps as early as next year) would be to have Mauer DH more and be behind the plate less.  The downside to this is that he wouldn’t be learning a new position, and would be a half-time DH before the age of 30.

So, though I think Mauer will likely have to move somewhere–perhaps as early as next season–moving him anywhere in the present campaign would be too difficult and disruptive.  For now, we’ll just have to wait (and hope) that those legs strengthen up and he can come back strong once again.

Preview (9-12, 4th, 2.5 GB DET/KC): Wade Davis (2-2, 2.73) vs. Francisco Liriano (1-3, 7.40) (Tuesday).  Weather-permitting, I’ll be attending this contest!

Home

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Joe Nathan coming home, indeed.  For the Twins’ 2011 Target Field opener, they pretty much sleepwlked through seven innings at the plate.  Luckily, Carl Pavano was dominating, setting down Oakland A after Oakland A.  Then, in the eighth, Danny Valencia’s infield single was followed by hits from three lefties (Kubel, Span, Mauer) to scratch two runs across.

As this was occuring on the field, Joe Nathan was quickly warming in the pen, anticipating his first Target Field save situation.  When those gates opened and “Stand up and Shout” played over the loudspeakers, it was clear that Mr. Nathan was “Home” at last.

For whatever reason, Joe Nathan is a favorite Twin of mine (just look at the name of this blog).  He’s easily the greatest closer the team has ever had, and there’s just something about a save situation that gets me pumped.  Besides Cuddy gunning a runner, Span slapping a triple, or Thome blasting off, there isn’t anything that will get me on my feet faster than a closer coming into a game to get those final three outs.

I also admire Nathan’s grit and determination.  He started off as a struggling SS with the Giants, then came over here with Liriano and Boof Bonser in the A.J. Pierzynski trade (thanks again, A.J.!) as a so-so reliever.  We gave him Eddie G’s closing role, and he never missed a beat.

If the weather holds out, I may be attending the game either today or Sunday, and I would like nothing more than to see Nathan return to domination in person!

Preview (3-4, T-4, 2.0 GB CLE): Gio Gonzalez (1-0, 1.29) vs. Nick Blackburn (1-0, 1.50).

What I Want To See On Opening Day…

What I want to see Friday night in Toronto…

-Denard Span having a 9-pitch at-bat and drawing a walk.

-Alexi Casilla getting through a whole game without a bonehead mistake of some kind (not holding my breath on this one)

-Nishioka lining a single to left/center/right and being halfway to first base before the ball leaves the infield.

-The M&M boys together in the lineup.

-Cuddyer gunning a ball in from RF.

-Danny Valencia just being himself…or cool.

-Pavano laboring through 7-8 innings and keeping us in the game.

-Jim Thome just swinging.  Seriously…even a whiff is epic with that guy.

And finally, what I’ve been waiting to here for over a year now…

If that song is playing, I’ll know a win is within reach!!

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.

Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down

Thumbs Up:

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Joe Mauer winning the AL Gold Glove award for catchers. Doesn’t get much better behind the plate.  Was surprised to NOT see Torii Hunter’s name included in the group.  It’s been awhile since that happened.

Thumbs Down:

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Yep, it’s probably going to happen.  Ho hum…just another lefthanded ace to shut us down when we see them again in the 2011 ALDS.

Go Ahead…Make (His) Day


Angels_Twins_Baseball_sff_189132_game.jpgTisk, tisk.  Once again, a team (this time the Angels) intentionally walks Joe Mauer to get to Jason Kubel.  Bad idea (for the other team, that is).  Twins route Haren and Duensing coasts to victory.

Preview (71-51, 1st, 4.5 GA CWS): Trevor Bell (1-3, 5.40) vs. Kevin Slowey (11-5, 4.22)

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