Results tagged ‘ Joe Nathan ’
The Minnesota Twins have had new closer Matt Capps for about a month now, and so I think it’s time to evaluate his performance so far. Here are the raw stats:
13 G, 13 IP, 6 SV, 2.08 ERA
What I like about Capps is that he seems to have the raw “stuff” to get people out. He has a live fastball, and a decent assortment of breaking pitches to keep opposing batters off-balance.
However, there is a troubling sign that makes the new closer a bit too much like the old one for my tastes…
For all his velocity, Capps is a “pitch to contact” type of closer. Those kind of guys make me nervous, especially in the playoffs when “contact” usually is the equivalent of “base hit”. Now don’t get me wrong…I think that Capps is better suited for the role than Rauch, who didn’t have the live fastball or control of the nasty curve to ever dominate the final inning. However, on a scale of “Guardado-Aguilera-Nathan”, I think Capps falls somewhere between Eddie & Aggie.
Thus, it is very interesting that the Twins just traded for Angels closer Brian Fuentes:
The “official word” is that Fuentes will be used primarily as a setup man to Capps, but Gardy also made the interesting comment that Fuentes could be used in “certain save situations”. I like that reasoning, as it shows me that Gardy understands that Capps isn’t Rivera or Papelbon and thus wants to consider all his options.
Perhaps the best thing that could come out of all of this is that it gives the Twins some bullpen depth, something that always seems to be lacking (on any club, really). Guys like Crain and Guerrier can’t always shoulder the load, the biggest case in point being Matty G., as we may have already burned him out from years of overuse.
Just recently here in Minnesota, the guy pictured above (Cliff Lee, for those living under a brick of Target Field limestone) has been on the brains of all Twins fans (and for good reason, as he could be a great addition to our ballclub).
However, games like tonight only go to show that another need is just as pressing…a true closer.
When Mr. Joe Nathan used to come into games (to the fans urging others to “Stand up and Shout!”), you got the feeling that everything would be okay, and most of the time (if not the ALDS against the Yanks…grrr) it was.
With Jon Rauch, though, the exact opposite is true. He is basically just your average middle reliever who challenges hitters and lives by the law of averages (that which states that a pitcher should be able to pitch one inning without giving up a run). However, come October or even a steamy September, and I can see Rauch losing too many key games for us. Past demons aside, I would (if given the option…booo) send Nathan out to the mound every time against, say, the Yanks again over Rauch any day of the week.
Tonight was just another example. Two great teams, the Twins and Rays, played a hard-fought game into the eighth inning (featuring more heroics from Delmon Young both at the plate and in the field), when the Twins finally edged out in front. However, Rauch then blew the save that led to Matty Guerrier’s eventually loss.
So, with all the pandering over Cliff Lee, let’s not forget another pressing need…that “last guy” spot in the ninth. Rauch isn’t preposterously bad, but also probably not good enough to make it through the playoffs, either.
-Carl Crawford may just be the best player in baseball. Blazing speed, incredible defense, and hits for power/average. If I’m building a major league baseball team right now, he’s A-1 on my short list.
Preview (43-36, 1st, 1.0 GA DET): David Price (11-3, 2.44) vs. Scott Baker (6-7, 4.97).
Tonight, the Twins figured out Zack Grienke and got a superb outing from Kevin Slowey en route to a 7-3 victory over the still-hapless (especially on the road) KC Royals.
However, the entire baseball universe was ecplised today by the debut of young pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals:
Just in case he turns out to be the next Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, or Randy Johnson, I would be remiss not to mention this spectacular debut, so future generations (when they dig out my computer from all the rubble and power up MLBlogs!) could be privvy to his initial greatness.
Against the Pittsburgh Pirates tonight, Strasburg struck out 14 batters in seven innings, whiffing the last seven men he faced in the contest. He gave up a two-run that only left the park because the velocity on the pitch was so nasty, but teammates Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn, and Josh Willingham also homered to get the young kid a victory.
I’ve been watching baseball for quite awhile now, but I’ve never seen anything like this: a youngster so thoroughly dominant at this (the infant) stage of his career. Sure, it was only Pittsburgh, arguably the worst team in the majors this season, but he had them completely flummoxed. It should be even more fun to watch him terrorize good hitters as his innaugural season progresses.
-It was nice to hear from Joe Nathan (in the broadcast booth) tonight, as I really miss him and wish him all the best in his recovery from Tommy John Surgery. He seems like a class act and all-around nice guy.
-The only bad news of the night: Orlando Hudson was put on the 15-day DL from lingering wrist soreness after last week’s collision with Denard Span. Doesn’t sound like anything too serious, so hopefully some rest will allow it to clear itself up and not linger all season long.
Preview (34-24, 1st, 3.5 GA DET): Kyle Davies (4-4, 5.49) vs. Carl Pavano (5-6, 4.11)
This weekend, the Twins will head to Yankee Stadium in New York for three games with their own particular version of kryptonite: the Yankees.
There is a particular amount of buzz about this series in the Twins Cities area right now (whether suffocating or stimulating is up for interpretation), primarily due to the Twins’ hot start and the potential to erase a few past demons. Basically, we haven’t been able to do squat against the Yankees since, ironically enough, we started winning on a consitent basis back in 2002. However, here is the reason why I finally see the Twins turning things around…starting tomorrow night:
To me, the difference between the Twins and the Yankees has always been a deep bench. Whether Joe Torre or Joe Girardi, in late-inning situations there’s also a big bat coming off the bench that can wreak havoc. The best example of this was in the ’04 ALDS, when Ruben Sierra came off their bench as opposed to Michael Ryan off ours. Ouch.
The picture above more accurately represents our bench (in past years) in a time of need. Gardy scans the length of the dugout and finds such guys as Brian Buscher, Ryan, Nick Punto, or Matt Tolbert to try and create runs off of Joba Chamberlain or Mariano Rivera. Not likely.
However, this year we have both the lineup depth AND the pitching to keep pace with the mighty Yankees. They may still outpace us in top-tier (Sabathia, Burnett, A-Rod, Jeter, etc.) talent, but we now have the bats to hang with them even into the late innings.
Plus, remember this…
In 2003, we took the first game at Yankee stadium before collapsing. In ’04, we took the first and almost had the second if not for a Nathan blown save. Last year, we played them toughed in nearly every regular season game (a lot of walk-off wins for them), and had a chance to win all three of those playoffs games if we could have gotten some clutch hits.
Could this be the start of a new era for the Twins (competing with the big boys)? This weekend provides the first test.
Well, here we are just three games into the 2010 baseball season, and the Twins already look like a much more polished team from the under-achieving gang of ’09. I can only imagine the thoughts that must run through the minds of the opposition:
Opposing pitchers have to navigate through one of the strongest 1-6 in the American League, plus now Delmon Young and JJ Hardy (another homer tonight, along with Justin Morneau) are swinging the bat well, creating quite a Murderers Row, of sorts.
Opposing batters know that, no matter who they face in a series against the Twins (especially if Pavano keeps throwing like he did tonight), there will be no “gimme” games…all five starters give us a chance to win. Add in a deep pen that doesn’t really on just one or two guys to get late-inning outs, and that creates the all-important sense of pressure on every opposing at-bat.
The final blow we administer has been, so far, in an area (closer) presumed to be a gaping hole after the devastating Joe Nathan injury. Well, Rauch has saved two in a row without much trouble (although he did give up a run tonight).
I know I have to keep in mind that, for as down as I was after the season opener, I shouldn’t get too high after two straight wins. But this team just has oh so much potential that it is difficult not to get pumped up when things start rolling.
-Pavano had to pitch out of many jams tonight, but I liked his ability to make the Angels whiff. He’s never struck me as a guy with anything near overpowering stuff, but tonight he really located well and had great ball movement. I’m not as down on him as some, but my knock on him was always that he could compete against the bad teams but get hammered by the good ones. Not this time!
-JJ Hardy showed some great range in the ninth, coralling a ball deep in the hole and firing it to first for the out.
-Had a laugh at something the announcers said tonight after Punto tripled. He’s been pretty good in the last two even-numbered years (’06, ’08), but horrendous in the odd ones (’07, ’09). Kind of like watching Star Trek movies for all you fellow sci-fi geeks out there!
Preview (2-1, 1st, 0.5 GA All): Kevin Slowey (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Joel Pineiro (0-0, 0.00 ERA).
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…
Right now, this is the approach I am taking towards the Joe Nathan situation. There have been many dire predictions about the Twins’ chances without The Nathanator (predictions I don’t necessarily agree with) this season, but I’ll get into that in two weeks’ time if the arm still isn’t ready to go.
Nathan (as evidenced in the name of this blog) has been a favorite of mine since replacing Eddie Guardado, so I would really miss watching him do his thing. Until the docs are scrubbing up, though, I’m holding out hope.
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.
I know I’m a little late on this, as the New Years parties are all but forgotten already, but I wanted to take a few moments to recount some of my favorite Minnesota Twins memories of the decade past:
2000: When a team features such players as Jay Canizaro, Butch Huskey, Jason Maxwell, Sean Bergman, and Mike Lincoln, it was a bit difficult to really get excited about the teams’ chances. However, having just been introduced to the sport and completely enthralled by it, I can remember going to the basically-empty Metrodome (been to a T-Wolves game lately?) with my Dad, buying an outfield seat, and then moving right up close to home plate because not even the ushers cared what you did back then!
2001: The team finally comes together and starts winning thanks to players like Doug Mientkiewicz, Corey Koskie, Jacque Jones, Torii Hunter, Brad Radke, and Eric Milton. The Twins didn’t win the division, but after nearly a decade of losing baseball, they finally brought some excitement back to the Dome.
2002: The year I learned to hate Bud Selig. In an effort to make MLB more profitable, Selig hatches a scheme to contract two franchise to bolster the others. The obvious choice were the Montreal Expos (later to become the Washington Nationals), but the Twins? Obviously some back-room buyout deals between Buddy-Boy and Twins owner Carl Pohlad were occuring. Luckily, MLB realized that contraction was ill-advised and allowed the Twins to easily capture their first division title since 1991.
2003: After a dominating 2002 campaign, the Twins were nearly out of the division race at midseason of ’03. However, after acquiring outfielder Shannon Stewart from the Blue Jays to bat lead-off, the Twins took off and won the division nearly going-away.
2004: Of the back-to-back-to-back division title winning teams, this squad was the best. In the ALDS, the Twins took the first game at Yankee Stadium and were on the brink of going up 2-0 heading home. However, Joe Nathan (who had taken over for the departed Eddie Guardado and been completely dominant the entire season) led an extra-inning lead slip away and give the Yankees momentum to win that game and then sweep both at the Dome. Of course, maybe it was just fate, as those Yanks proceeded to go up 3-0 on the Red Sox and well, Dave Roberts can tell you the rest…
2005: Not a fun year for Twins Territory. We didn’t outright suck, but we never really competed for the crown, either. Even the usually stoic Brad Radke was overheard griping about the lack of run support from a horrendous offensive unit. Also, this was the year that tensions erupted between Torii Hunter and Justin Morneau and a few blows were thrown, one that somehow connected with little Lew Ford!
2006: The Twins spent one day in first place, but since it was the final day they made it count! They played well pretty much the entire season, but so did the Tigers. A late-season hot streak pushed the Twins over the top on the season’s final day.
2007: How quickly a team can go from “contending” to “rebuilding”. In the first losing season under Ron Gardenhire, a lack of fundamentals and downright sloppy baseball made the final month of the season almost unwatchable.
2008: After underachieving all season, the Twins basically needed to win out the final week of the season, starting with a sweep of the White Sox, whom they were chasing for the division title. I was at all three of those games at the Dome, and they are (easily) the most exciting games I have ever been to. The Twins would later lose to the Tighty Whities in a one-game playoff, but not before some of the most exciting baseball I have ever witnessed.
2009: (Read: 2008). This time the Twins make the one-game playoff count in the most exciting single baseball game I have ever watched!
It was a great decade of Twins baseball memories…why not try for another one?!