Results tagged ‘ Joe Mauer ’

Two Disturbing Trends

I know that the next statement I am about to make is not at all fair to closers all over baseball, but (at least in my case) it is true nonetheless: Having your team’s closer blow the game in the bottom of the ninth is the single worst way to lose a ballgame, bar none.  Now, add to the mix the idea that your closer might do so against your hated enemy, with two outs, and two strikes (twice).  That’s pretty much what Twins fans are feeling towards Joe Nathan today.  He’s too important to our playoff hopes to give up on him now, but I think there has to be a cooling-off period (probably a good thing the Twins are travelling to Cleveland today).

Once Wednesday’s meltdown was complete, the impact of such a crucial and heartbreaking loss really drove home to me two disturbing trends that the Twins have fallen prey to both this season and the last.

First, are the late-season struggles of Joe Nathan:

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When all is said and done, Nathan’s stats inevitably compare very well with the best closers in the league, yet for the past two years he has struggled to close out games come late August and early September.  Now, we’re not talking about the Eddie Guardado-method of struggling here (filling the bases and then wriggling out of trouble)…Nathan’s problems get so severe that he often blows the save chance or the game.  He hasn’t been on his game as of late, and Twins fans will also remember how bad he was during that long, late-season road trip in September of 2008 (capped by that now-infamous throwing error against the Blue Jays in Toronto).   Sometimes he will still have the ability to blow guys away, but all too often he is not able to find the handle on this control, thus having to groove meatballs just to get strikes.  Gordon Beckham and Paul Konerko showed him EXACTLY what happens to grooved meatballs in major league baseball.

Disturbing Trend #2: A similar slump from Justin Morneau…

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If the league MVP award was given out after July, Justin Morneau would win the darn thing almost every single season.  Yet, in those final two months (it happened last year and is happening again now), the home runs disappear and the average begins to sink towards about .270 (after sitting at .310 or so for most of the year).  This trend may be even more disturbing (and perplexing) than Nathan’s, though, as Joe Closer can usually right the ship by season’s end.  Justin, however, continued to sink last year to the point where opposing pitchers were walking Joe Mauer to get to him.

I don’t quite understand why this is, as he plays about the least demanding position on the diamond in terms of physical conditioning and injury potential.  For example, I don’t know any of these splits, but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Torii Hunter (while playing on the Dome turf) slumped in the later months due to the beating his body took from bouncing around on that carpeted concrete.  The same axiom is usually try for mortal catchers (e.g. those not named Mauer)…they take a physical beating the slump accordingly.  About the only thing “afflicting” Morneau, though, is that he gets less off-days than any other player on the team, but once again that should be expected out of his position.

If the Twins think they can continue to play well and capture the AL Central, both those “wrongs” are going to have to be corrected, as the bullpen can’t survive without a closer and the lineup isn’t deep enough to support a slumping Canadian.

Preview (67-66, 2nd, 5.0 GB DET): Carl Pavano (11-10, 5.11) vs. Jeremy Sowers (5-9, 4.88). The schedule is again in our favor this weekend, as the Tigers draw the Rays while we get the Injuns.

Blame It (On The T-T-T-T-T-T-T-Twins)


abd12ee9-c0c5-4ce0-9a3a-3447ff6bc19e.jpgLast night, as the Chicago White Sox opened their last three-game series at their personal house of horrors, the Metrodome, the team was essentially playing for the rest of the season in one night. With the post-season roster deadline kicking in at midnight, it represented teams’ last chance to improve their club for the stretch run.  The Pale Hose were the epitomy of a bubble team, quickly fading from the AL Central race and needing to win this series to have any realistic hopes of remaining in the conversation.

Good thing that the Twins showed up to play then, huh?!  Nick Blackburn (7 IP, 1 ER, 7K) continued his mastery of the Sox, while both Jo-Mo and Kubel went deep for most of the home boys’ offense.  Can you believe that Mauer (now at 26 dingers) has a shot at 30?!  If Albert Pujols is the undisputed king of NL hitters, than Joe Mauer obviously holds that position in the junior circuit.

After the loss, then, the Pale Hosers decided to cut bait, trading Jim Thome and Jon Garland to the LA Dodgers and sending Jose Contreras to the Colorado Rockies.  So even if the Twins don’t game another game on the Tigers all season, at least we have the satisfaction of knowing that he did our part to knock our fiercest rivals out of it (sounds crass, yes, but I cannot and will not sympathize with a team coached by a nutjob like Ozzie Guillen).

Notes:

-Wild prediction of the day: The Tampa Bay Rays will win the Wild Card in the AL.

-Speaking of the Rays, their big slugger Carlos Pena, quite remarkably, has more home runs than singles this season.  Baseball Tonight continues to chart his progress, and it would be funny to see him finish that way.  I believe Mark McGwire did that in his 70-homer season, if I’m not mistaken (or at least was close).

Preview (66-65, 2nd, 3.5 GB DET): John Danks (12-8, 3.82) vs. Jeff Manship (0-0, 5.14). Manship starting a game scares me a bit, but at least he won’t have Big Thome to deal with anymore!

 

Mauer Might Be Enough

2f99ccf2-40f9-4dfa-8b32-79d8284ae1f5.jpgOn a day when (most) Minnesota sports fans were declaring a national holiday (myself included!) because of the signing of Brett Favre with the Vikings, the Twins actually got a win tonight as well!

Tonight’s win didn’t really prove anything or right the ship, as Carl Pavano allowed five earned runs over four innings, but the bats came alive and got the Twins the “W”. Joe Mauer led the charge with two home runs, his 24th and 25th of the season, a single, and upped his season average to .383.

Besides one Albert Pujols, Mauer is the best pure hitter in the game of baseball right now and is a joy to watch (even when the team around him is imploding). I now know (being a relative youngster) what it must have been like to watch a guy like Rod Carew hit (except Jo-Mo is even better because he doesn’t just hit singles up the middle and drop down bunts).

Notes: -Delmon Young, much like last season, is having a decent second half, hitting another home run tonight and driving in four runs altogether. Perhaps the most encouraging sign from Young, though, is that he has been dead-on when hitting the ball lately, as his homers (I don’t know about tonight, though, as I didn’t see hit) having been going straight away to center.

Preview (57-62, 3rd, 3.5 GB CWS): Scott Baker (10-7, 4.54) vs. Kevin Millwood (9-7, 3.31). Which Scotty-boy will show up?

Never Gonna Give You Up

(Okay Family Guy fans, have your laugh now…out of your system?!)

You know, I almost started this post by talking about how my expectations for the Twins have changed and how we should start watching them purely “for love of the game” and not expect them to be in any sort of pennant race. But then, I got to thinking about those poor fans in Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and a few other cities around the MLB circuit that haven’t had anything break right over the past decade (or more) and would love to be competing in any race of any kind right now. Do I think the Twins will win the AL Central? No. Especially not after those two horrible series’ against KC and Cleveland, teams that supposedly give us the advantage over Chicago the Detroit down the stretch. But do we still have a chance? However slim, yes we do, and that is the way I look at it (or at least am trying to, anyway).

I think that the past three seasons (’07-’09) have proven that only so many things can break right for a small-market organization. In the early part of this decade, the Twins were reborn as a competitive team thanks to a lot of young talent peaking at the same time. A few years later (’05-’06) the team was still able to contend because of our ability to make steals of trades and keep calling up effective players from the minor leagues. The last three years, though, has seen a complete reversal. The farm system is beginning to get tapped out (they may still be decent, but not like the talent of years ago), and the trades (Bartlett/Garza for Young) haven’t been going our way. Plus, the terrible economics of a no-salary cap sporting structure forced the Twins to lose guys like Torii Hunter and Johan Santana, keystones of the franchise.

That being said, the Twins still have a pretty good nucleus of young talent (Mauer, Morneau, Kubel) that can win in the future, but the trick will be keeping them together. One would hope that Mauer (the biggest fish who needs to be landed and mounted behind home plate) can see that and will elect to stay with his hometown team, but nothing is guaranteed in this game.

Thus, the Twins’ goal for the last month and a half of this season is to be as competitive as possible to show our young talent that this is a team that can seriously compete again in the future. That starts tonight against Texas, who is currently leading the AL Wild Card standings and thus will be a tough team to beat on the road. However, if there is one thing I never underestimate about a Ron Gardenhire-coached team, it is their ability to come back in the face of severe adversity. Just when you think this is about to happen…

…the Twins will do something crazy like sweep the Rangers and get back in the thick of things.

Preview (56-61, 3rd, 3.5 GB CWS): Francisco Liriano (5-11, 5.39) vs. Tommy Hunter (5-2, 2.26).

Open Mouth…Insert Foot

foot%20in%20mouth.gifLast night, I gave up on the Twins and expoused about how they would not win the division. I should have figured that something like this would happen (not that I’m complaining!). First, I complained that the Twins’ bats need to be perfect in order to beat their competition, and usually have no chance against the elite hurlers in the league. So, what happens when facing Justin Verlander…
28aee4e1-c8a1-4341-bd0b-ad25485e6842.jpgWell, let’s see…every Twins batter gets at least one hit, Denard Span gets five, Orlando Cabrera extends his hitting streak, and Joe Mauer hits home run #20 on the season en route to scoring 11 times (five off the flamethrower in six innings). Pitching-wise, I didn’t give Carl Pavano any love, and he was facing a potent Detroit lineup…

cc25d56d-a787-4090-acc0-63d571ea5c75.jpg Well, how about seven shutout innings on just five hits.

The message of the night?  Following the Twins the last few years has been like riding on one of these…

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Preview (54-56, 3rd, 2.5 GB CWS): Scott Baker (9-7, 4.59) vs. Jarrod Washburn (8-7, 2.93)

Strange Things

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…

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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.

 

e3f5a8df-4117-45b5-ab98-6542f93c0498.jpgFinal 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).

A.L. Steals Another One

2009_AS_game.jpg(I was out of town for the A.S. Game, thus am just commenting on things now…)

For whatever reason (probably because of the rich history of the event), I am an MLB All-Star game junkie. I started watching the Midsummer Classic in 1997, the same year the American League began their current winning streak, and have been hooked ever since. I mean, how can a baseball fan NOT be excited about the biggest gather of current stars in the same place, as well as the fact that the actual game means more than any other professional sports’ All-Star games (almost put together). I am also in the minority (at least I think) of people who LOVE the fact that the game determines which league gets home field advantage in the World Series…I would never want to go back to those by-and-large boring contests of the 1990s, where the Home Run Derby and pregame ceremonies far eclipsed the game itself. Thus, this year was no less exciting for me.

 First, there were the always-touching pregame ceremonies…
Stan.jpgOld-time St. Louis Cardinals such as Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith, Red Schoendist, Bob Gibson, and Stan Musial (picture above) were honored before the ceremonial first pitch. As a self-proclaimed “baseball historian”, I always find it exciting to see those stars of yesteryear and remember their past greatness on the diamond. It was also quite interesting to see how the metaphorical St. Louis baseball torch is being passed from Stan The Man to Albert Pujols. Stan owned St. Louis since his retirement, and only Pujols has been able to carry that mantra since.

The network then made a big deal about the ceremonial first pitch, as it was thrown out by some guy you probably have heard of…
Barack.jpgLet’s just say that maybe he should stick to hoops (although at least he didn’t bounce it too badly!).

The game then began with the two horses (Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum) taking their respective mounds for either league…
DocLink.jpgRight out of the gate, the National League looked like a circuit that has had its hind end handed to it for a while now, as some fielding jitters allowed the AL to take an early 2-0 lead.

 In the second inning, though, the NL came storming back…
Yadier.jpgYadier Molina singled to score David Wright and Shane Victorino, and was quickly driven home himself when Prince Fielder hit a ground-rule double, giving the Senior Circuit a 3-2 lead.

For the next few innings, the contest was dominated by pitching. Only a Joe Mauer double in the fifth, preceded by a Derek Jeter fielder’s choice, finally tied the contest at 3-3…
MauerJeter.jpgArguably the biggest play of the night, though, came in the seventh inning, when pinch hitter Brad Hawpe sent a towering fly to left-center off the first pitch he saw from Jonathon Papelbon. Carl Crawford drew a bead on the missile, though, and timed a perfect leap to rob Hawpe of four bases…
Catch.jpgThen, right away in the next half-inning, Curtis Granderson tripled off of NL reliever Heath Bell, and later scored on a sacrifice fly from Adam Jones, giving the AL a lead it would not relinquish (not with Joe Nathan and Mariano Rivera next out of the pen). Granderson took home MVP honors for his triple and run-scored…
Curtis.jpgSo once again, the 2009 version of the MLB All-Star game was another exciting experience. The game was well-contested and full of tension, while (selfishly) the AL extended its winning streak and will now have home turf come late October. Plus, Joe Mauer (1-3, double), Joe Nathan (1 scoreless inning), and Justin Morneau (two hard-hit outs) had good showings in the game.

Twins Notes:

-Relief pitcher Kevin Mulvey is up, third-string catcher Jose Morales is down, as the Twins want a 12-man pitching staff going forward.

-Late breaking news: Alexi Casilla may still be a bonehead; letting a ball skip right past him on one occasion last night and then failing to cover the base on another. Let’s just chock it up to “I want to impress Gardy” nerves and keep our fingers tightly crossed.

Preview (46-44, 3rd, 0.5 GB CWS): Scott Baker (7-7, 5.42) vs. Scott Feldman (8-2, 3.83). One big key for the Twins in the second half is to have Baker and Liriano pitch better than they did in the first 81. That starts tonight.

The Prince Becomes A King

mlb_g_princewins_400.jpgThough 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…
fielder.jpg(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.

We Are Spoiled

f872189a-f3f6-4a93-8427-33b2b8629f1f.jpgThe Twins killed the White Sox today. Denard Span, Brendan Harris, and Carlos Gomez all homered, and Mark Buehrle was finally brought to justice. A good win to close out the unofficial “first half” of the 2009 regular season. Yet, while watching Sportscenter tonight, it was brought to my attention that this is the sixth straight season that the Twins have finished above the .500 mark at the All-Star Break. Though none of those clubs ever made it out of the first round of the playoffs, that is still quite an achievement nonetheless, and one that should be appreciated. I remember watching Twins baseball back in the late 1990s and wondering if the team would ever get back to this sort of excitement:

Of course, once the Twins DID become competitive again, yet never reached a World Series, we are now all spoiled because they don’t do it every single season:

Sure, the Twins may not win the division this year, but we will (barring a complete collapse) be one of only a handfull of teams with real playoff aspirations come September. Just think about being a fan of the Royals, who are all but mathimatically eliminated each All-Star break, or the number of other teams mired in the bottoms of their respective divisions. At least our Twins have something exciting to play for.

Preview: Tomorrow night is the annual Home Run Derby, including these participants…

American League: Joe Mauer, Nelson Cruz, Brandon Inge, Carlos Pena

National League: Adrian Gonzalez, Ryan Howard, Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder

Though the NL seems to have the stacked field in this competition, I’m going to go with Pena to win the whole thing. Mauer is my guy, and Pujols is the home-town boy, but that swing of Pena is just made to blast home runs.

House of Horrors

When the White Sox come into the Metrodome, do you think that songs like that are running through their brain?!   Amazingly, after looking like a glorified Double-A squad against the Yankees, the Twins were able to put together a strong effort and inch back towards that runner-up slot in the AL Central.

Of course, in the first inning it helped when Chicago starter turned the game into the rough equivalent of one of these:

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Danks walked the first four batters of the game and a big hit from Jason Kubel gave the Twins an early lead. Of course, since nothing is easy with this year’s bunch, the White Sox kept pecking away at the defecit until finally tying it in the sixth inning (only a tremendous leaping catch from Michael Cuddyer at the base of the baggie prevented the Sox from taking a lead). I was a bit nervous at this point, but Blackie was still pitching well and the pen did their job the rest of the way. This should come as no surprise, but this guy…
18797011-0959-4c36-9373-16a644e0f41e.jpg…got the big two out hit in the seventh inning that put the Twins in front, while a perfect squeeze bunt from Carlos Gomez an inning later scored Matt Tolbert (pinch running for Kubel after his third hit of the game) with a big insurance run that allowed Joe Nathan to do his thing in the ninth:
6ef10c34-51ee-4b12-b659-4ad5586ceccf.jpgPreview (44-43, 3rd, 0.5 GB CWS): Gavin Floyd (6-6, 4.33) vs. Glen Perkins (4-4, 4.38). Ozzie Guillen juggled his rotation to have his Big Three horses face the Twins this weekend. That went well (at least so far).

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