Results tagged ‘ Joe Mauer ’
We locked up Blackie for four more years. While I don’t ever think that the sinker-balling righty will be the ace of our staff (pretty much because of that darn unpredictable pitch!), he is durable, an innings-eater, and usually always gives you a chance to win. You don’t want to lose a guy like that.
After leaving his first spring training game action with “arm tightness”, Nathan will now undergo some more tests and an MRI to find out why. No need to tell Twins fans how big of a loss Nathan would be if removed for a prolonged length of time from our ‘pen.
Each day that goes by without Joe Mauer doing this…
…makes me nervous. Until his John Hancock is dryed on the page, I won’t completely exhale.
And now, the Weird…
I’m sorry, but NOTHING can ever replace this…
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.
At the end of last season, the Twins picked up Orlando Cabrera…
…to anchor the SS position and provide some pop at the top of the order.
Unfortunately, Cabrera is somewhat of a bid-hunter in the baseball business, and thus was all but assured a ticket elsewhere. So, just a few days ago, the Twins picked up another Orlando (this one carrying the moniker of Hudson)…
…to, once again, anchor an infield position (this time 2B) and hit in between Denard “Singles Machine” Span and Joe “Drive ‘Em In” Mauer.
I really like this move, as it continues to reduce the number of weak outs the Twins have in their lineup. A possible Opening-Day squad now looks like this:
1. Denard Span
2. Orlando Hudson
3. Joe Mauer
4. Justin Morneau
5. Michael Cuddyer
6. Jason Kubel
7. Delmon Young
8. J.J. Hardy
9. Nick Punto/Brendan Harris
Compared to past years, that lineup has the real potential to put some feet on home plate.
I have to give it to the Twins organization this season for opening up the wallet a bit. The combination of “new stadium funds” and “trying to woo Mauer into staying” seems to be working quite well together! Instead of just treading water and competing in our weak division, if our pitching gets back on track we could have a real contending squad.
For as long as I have been following the Minnesota Twins, one thing (well, besides the one rubber-armed old fogey left-handed reliever) that has remained constant is a grizzled, experienced catcher to either handle the pitching staff in the abscence of a long-term starter, or to mentor guys like Joe Mauer and A.J. Pierzynksi.
In the late 1990s, that guy was Terry Steinbach…
Then, in the 2000s, the torch was passed from Tom Prince…
…to Henry Blanco…
…and finally to Mike Redmond…
However, it was announced a few days ago that Redmond, a free agent, signed a one-year deal with the Cleveland Indians, meaning the Twins will go with young Jose Morales…
…as their primary backup to Joe Mauer during the 2010 season.
This decision makes sense, as it is either boom (catch all year) or bust (lose a large chunk of time due to injury) for Mauer, it seems. Red Dog was no longer an overyday player, although an apt fill-in on Thursday and Sunday afternoons, and thus probably couldn’t hold the job alone in Mauer’s abscence.
I enjoyed watching Red over the past few seasons, and will miss that inside-out swing and all those little dinks between first and second that always seemed to drop in for hits. I wish him the best in Cleveland and have always thought that, if he wanted to and the opportunity presented itself, he could be a big league manager someday.
After watching my beloved Minnesota Twins got stomped by the New York Yankees in the first round of the playoffs this past season, and then seeing Cleveland-bred C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee pitch the Yanks and Phillies into the World Series, I believe that now is the time for me to comment on the sad economic state of baseball these days. This has always been a very hot-button topic for me (as I root for the small-market Twins), so I would like to take a few moments to explain why the current system is broken and what can be done to fix it:
Basically, the problem started way back in the 1900s, when both the American and National Leagues were first established.
Instead of free agency, there was something called the reserve clause, which was essentially a legal precedent that baseball used to keep players on one team until their owner decided differently. The players were treated not too much different from a cattle-range steer, to be bought and sold as commodities. It wasn’t, by any means, the greatest system in the world (as the only option a player had to fight against an unfair salary, which were very common in those days when most owners made Carl Pohlad look like the Monopoly Guy, was to quit playing altogether), but it did help the competitive balance of the game, allowing all teams (if managed/owned sensibly) to have a shot at competing for a championship.
That all changed in the 1970s when Curt Flood of the St. Louis Cardinals challenged the reserve clause all the way to the Supreme Court.
Though Flood didn’t actually win his case, he shed so much light on the matter that a free agency sytem was quickly established by MLB. During the 1980s, the system actually worked like it was supposed to…players had better rights, AND the game was still competitive. But, starting in the mid-1990s, salaries began exploding (along with the economy) and suddenly the system was skewered. Teams in huge economic markets like New York, Los Angeles, and Boston were able to throw huge wads of cash in the pockets of all the top free agents, all but assuring there services. Sometimes, in the case of Ted Turner’s Atlanta Braves, all it took was an incredibly rich owner to give a team a distinct advantage.
Those big markets had (and continue to have) such an advantage for a few different reasons: First and foremost is the fact that, just by sheer geography, a team like the Yankees can much more easily fill their ballpark every night than, say, the Twins can out here in Minny. Also, teams on both coasts have established their own TV networks (YES Network for the Yankees and NESN for the Red Sox), which bring in enormous profits compared to what the Twins get from Fox Sports North.
After about ten years of this broken system, when the same teams started making the playoffs year in and year out, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig established the “luxury tax” system into the game. Essentially, this is known as the Robin Hood system, as it robs from the rich to give to the poor.
This has helped a little bit (e.g. the Twins signed Justin Morneau to a long-term deal and have at least a shot at doing the same with Joe Mauer), but it din’t get to the root of the problem, as teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, and Mets can continue to reach into their deep pockets to get the best players. Essentially, they are saying “luxury tax be damned” and just paying the fine for going over the payroll limit. This is evidenced very toughly for Twins fans by these two photos:
The Twins gave very decent offers to both Torii Hunter and Johan Santana, but couldn’t come close to matching the amount of years the Halos offered Hunter or the sheer dollar amount the Mets dangled in front of Santana. Another obvious example was the beginning of this season, when the Yankees went out and got C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, while the biggest moves the Twins made was signing Nick Punto, bringing in R.A. Dickey (what a joke) and getting a Joe Crede whose back was so bad that he essentially a non-factor. Those “moves” were all we could afford. Imagine how different the 2009 ALDS might have been if Hunter had been patrolling the outfield instead of Delmon Young, or if Santana had made the Game One start instead of Brian Duensing.
Now, to be fair, there are some criticisms of instituting a salary cap into MLB, but I would like to give my rebuttal to two of them:
1. Why should the Yankees be penalized for running an efficent system? It seems as if Yankee fans could just criticize Carl Pohlad for being a tightwad all those years and not spending money to improve his team, but that really isn’t a fair criticism. First of all, George Steinbrenner isn’t really spending much (if any) of his OWN MONEY on the Yankees, instead relying on seemingly endless revenue streams based on his sheer geography. Without those streams, other owners (like the Pohlad family) would be dipping into their own personal reserves, which would be like you paying for your office supplies/furnishings or me paying for Wal-Mart shelf labels.
Secondly, then, is that if teams know they can’t spend with the Yankees, then why even try? The Twins know that, under the current economic system, they are already beaten in trying to sign free agents, so instead we save our money to try and lock up as many of our good players as possible (which, in this age of inflated salaries, is fewer and fewer each season).
2. The second criticism of the the salary cap is that it really isn’t needed, due to the fact that the 1998-2000 championship run of the Yankees was accomplished primarily with home-grown players like Derek Jeter, Jorge Posade, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera.
That may be true, but funny how those great players STILL WEAR YANKEE PINSTRIPES! Instead of losing those great players to a higher bidder, the Yanks can just keep them. Plus, whether the free agents work out (Jimmy Key, Paul O’Neill, Johnny Damon, Sabathia, etc.) or flop (Kevin Brown, Chuck Knoblauch, Carl Pavano), the Yanks can just “pay through” and be done with it. If the Twins make a mistake in signing the wrong player to an expensive contract, it would hamper the organization for a decade.
Thus, until MLB institutes a salary cap like the NFL and NBA (to a certain extent) have in place, the economics of the game will remain skewered towards the large markets, and that severely troubles me. I consider baseball to be my favorite sport, the one that captivated me as a child and still does to this day, but right now the NFL is gaining ground and fast due to the fact that in the NFL setup, all teams have a chance to be competitive. It is only through bad ownership (Al Davis, Matt Millen, etc.) that teams completely fail.
I know that this situation isn’t likely to change anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean that it is right or correct. Until Bud Selig can take charge of the National Pastime like he should and not just cater to the owners, the Yankees will continue to unfairly dominate the Twins for years and years to come.
Garth brooks – the dance (clip)
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Well, it’s been a little while since I last updated this blog, but I think perhaps (during that time) I have gained the proper perspective from which to evaluate the 2009 Minnesota Twins.
As Garth so poignantly sings:
I’m glad I didn’t know
The way it all would end the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance I could have missed the pain
But I’d of had to miss the dance
That simple verse pretty much sums up my memories of the 2009 Twins baseball season. Sure, it ended with a bitter taste in our collective mouths, but would we rather have just missed out on the postseason altogether? Heck no!!
Much like in 2006, when I watched the Twins clinch the division on (until a few weeks ago) what many considered to be the most improbable streaks in team history, 2009 was somehow even more thrilling! I’ll never forget the anticipation of each late-September contest, feeling the Dome rocking that final weekend against Kansas City, or watching game #163 (for the second year in a row!) that turned out to be the single most exciting baseball game I have ever watching in my entire life (I was a bit too young to be conscious for any of the ’91 World Series).
Thus, that is the way I will look back on the Twins when I recall 2009. It was witnessing an incredible comeback (no outs, no one on) in game #2 of the season, watching Joe Mauer put together the greatest season in catching history, and seeing my team completely put a fork in its most hated rival (the Pale Hose) time and time again.
Another way to look at things is this: The Twins, a team that couldn’t pitch all season and couldn’t get clutch hits for a good part of it, managed to play 166 games…four more than 23 other teams counting both leagues.
Since the Twins began their “competitive” run in 2002 after nearly a decade of celler-dwelling and being the butt of countless jokes, there is one take-away memory I have of each season…
2002: Making the playoffs.
2003: Getting Shannon Stewart and overcoming a large first-half deficit.
2004: Dominating the division and having the Yankees on the ropes in the ALDS.
2005: Not being able to hit all season long and having even the always-stoic Brad Radke begin to grouse about it.
2006: The Comeback (Part I)
2007: Too much youth, too many bonehead plays.
2008: Sweeping the White Sox on the final homestand to stay in contention.
2009: The Comeback (Part II); especially that one-game playoff.
Though none of those season ended with the team hoisting a trophy or parading around a city, they still bring back some great memories that still make it all worthwhile.
Coming up next: A look at my favorite Metrodome moments
In the previous post, I made the point that the Twins have nobody to blame but themselves for the ALDS sweep at the hands of the Yankees. But is this really true?
This is kind of a touchy issue, at least for me, as it implies that the Twins (or any small-market “David” vs. a big-market “Goliath”) really never have much of a chance to compete against the “big boys” of the league.
Any competant baseball fan knows that the economic system of the game is messed up due to the fact that no salary cap is in place. Teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, and Angels (in the American League) have such a huge advantage over the Twins and Royals of the world that its a wonder any other team ever represents the league in the World Series (I guess that is the crapshoot of a playoff structure that features a 3-of-5 first round). Sure, Bud Selig’s supposedly brilliant luxury tax system (where, much like Robin Hood, the league robs from the rich to give to the poor) helps a little bit, but in reality all it ends up doing is narrowing the free agent pool each year (as the middle-market teams are able to lock up a few key players to long-term deals). It most definetly, however, does not prevent teams like the Yankees from nabbing the best free agents year after year (case in point: C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett brought in before the start of this season). The Twins could never have dreamed of signing guys like that.
Of course, baseball will likely never changed (at least not with Selig at the helm), as the success of the Yanks, Sawx, and Halos fuels the revenue machine, especially in the World Series. Though it might provide some sanctity back into the game, nobody wants to see the Twins and Athletics, to use two examples, duking it out in the ALCS. If the MLB execs had it their way, it would be New York and Boston every single year.
The whole situation kind of reminds me of the infamous “You can’t handle the truth” speech from the movie A Few Good Men:
“My existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives…You don’t want the truth. Because deep down, in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall.”
While more parity would be great for baseball, it will never happen because admittedly it would weaken the short-term (until new rivalries are formed, at least) revenue stream of the league.
Thus, can the Twins even be expected to compete with the Yankees in any series? They have Sabathia and Burnett, we have Baker and Blackburn. They have the best middle of an order (Teixera, A-Rod, Matsui) since Ruth, Gehrig, and Lazzeri batted consecutively, while we have one stud (Mauer) and two others (Kubel, Cuddyer) that are by and large overmatched by quality pitching. They have guys like Melky Cabrera and Robinson Cano at the BOTTOM of the order, while we have Carlos Gomez, Nick Punto, and Jose Morales because they are all we can afford. They can throw arms like Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes at us, while he have Matt Guerrier and Jose Mijares. No comparison.
So, those are the two theories as to why our beloved Twins were brutalized by the hated Yanks. Which one is more valid? I think it is a mixture of both. The Twins would need to play a perfect series to even give themselves a chance to beat the Yankees, and instead we choked in every big opportunity.
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.
With just twelve games remaining on the 2009 regular season schedule for the Minnesota Twins, we are right back in the thick of things in the AL Central division race. It seems like every pitcher in the starting rotation (while underachieving terribly at one point or another over the course of the season) now has their defined “role” in the remaining tilts:
-Blackie’s job was to beat the White Sox, which he did with ease tonight. The Pale Hose (well, sans Thome at least) cannot solve Blackburn to save their lives.
-Carl Pavano was brought in to beat the Tigers, and he has done so succesfully so far (I’m sure he’s lined up for another start against them next week).
-Then, it is just up to Scott Baker to dominate the Royals (a very important feat with the KC boys creaming everyone these days).
I guess you also have to include Brian Duensing, whose job it is to continue pitching well against whomever he is thrown against!
Notes: A scary moment for Denard Span tonight, as he got hit right in the back of the helmet…
The report on (aside from Joe Mauer) the guy I consider to be our team MVP this year came back good and he’s officially listed as “day-to-day” (of course, as Bert Blyleven would say, “aren’t we all”?). I’m sure he’ll get the night off tomorrow (unless he’s 100%) and then hopefully be back for Wednesday’s contest.
Preview (77-73, 2nd, 2.5 GB DET): Jeff Manship (0-1, 5.31) vs. John Danks (12-9, 3.59).
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.