Results tagged ‘ Johan Santana ’

Five Aces? Not So Much

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In light of the Twins’ recent struggles, I wanted to comment on one of the reasons WHY I feel we are sitting in the basement of the AL Central right now:

Just think back about 3-4 years, after we traded Johan Santana.  Likely one of the reasons we let Johan walk was because we thought we had a five-pitcher nucleus that would last for many years at a relatively low cost.

Well, you know what they say about “best laid plans”…

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Nick Blackburn: Maddeningly inconsistent, including various nagging injuries.  Typical sinkerballer…either boom or bust on any given day.

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Kevin Slowey: Almost chronically injured at this point.

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Francisco Liriano: Was supposed to be the ace of the staff, but post-TJ (except for parts of 2010) has been a mess.  No consistent delivery, no control, seemingly lax attitude.

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Scott Baker: The biggest disappointment of the bunch.  Has not improved one iota since the day he arrived in a Twins uniform.

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Glen Perkins: Bad-mouthed the Twins organization, served his minor league “sentence”; has been decent of late as a reliever.

At one point, all five of those guys showed tremendous promise.  Sadly, they have each fizzled for different reasons, leaving the Twins somewhat pitching-poor when they thought they would be solid in the next decade.

How I Know I’m A Blogger…

The other day, I realized that I’ve started to think like a blogger.  As soon as I heard the news that Carl Crawford…

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…was nabbed by the Boston Red Sox, my first thought wasn’t even about the unfairness of the baseball economic system or even the rising of a new “Evil Empire” (the fact that it’s the Yankees, Red Sox, and everyone else right now).

No, my first thought went to Rays Renegade (a fellow MLBlog) and how disappointed he must have been to lose his star talent.  Hang in there, man, it happened to me with Torii Hunter and Johan Santana, too.  The Twins still thrived without those talents, and I’m sure the Rays can too (granted, making the playoffs is a thousand times more difficult in that division).

The Franchise


francisco-liriano-versus-tigers.jpg“It’s the franchise, boy, I’m shining now…”

In 2006, the Minnesota Twins were supposed to have the lethal 1-2 combination of savvy vet Johan Santana and unhittable rookie Francisco Liriano leading them deep into the playoffs.  That is, until Frankie’s arm popped one too many times, and old Tommy John reared his ugly head.

After losing all of 2007 and most of 2008, last year was a lost one for the Cisco Kid, as he struggled mightily with control, his delivery, and his velocity.  Good thing that is now in the past, as “The Franchise” is now living up to the billing.

His stat line tonight might not have been all that sparkly (6 IP, 3 ER), but he did strike out seven batters (including Manny Ramirez twice) and pretty much dominated until he ran out of gas a little early due to an extended opening inning.  He was hitting 97 mph on Chicago’s radar gun, had the biting slider, and even a nice assortment of changeups to really keep the batsmen shifting.

Amazingly enough, that wasn’t even the pitching performance of the game, as that “award” goes to Jesse Crain for striking out Paul Konerko and Manny Ramirez with likely the game on the line in the seventh inning.  While I may not take back ALL the things I’ve said about Crain on this blog, I will say that he has undergone perhaps the most remarkable in-season turnaround of any reliever I’ve ever seen.  He’s absolutely unhittable right now, and is mopping up all of Guerrier’s and Rauch’s messes.

I was very surprised by the lack of pizazz shown by the Chicago crowd tonight.  With Ramirez up and the bases loaded in the seventh, the fans never really even got on their feet or made any noise (except, of course, to boo Manny rigorously as he returned to the dugout).  Then, when Alex Rios misplayed a ball in center field that allowed three runs to score and effectively clinched a Twins victory, I thought the Chi-Sox fans were practicing a fire drill the way they were heading for the exits.

I would like to believe that, if the roles had been reversed, Twins fans at Target Field would have been on their feet in those crucial situations and not leaving until that 27th out.

Preview (86-58, 1st, 7.0 GA CWS, Magic #: 12): Brian Duensing (8-2, 2.02) vs. Gavin Floyd (10-12, 3.91)

Take You Back

francisco_liriano.jpgOooh boy…as if the Twins needed anything more to be positive about after two road series wins and the opening of Target Field, earlier today Francisco Liriano pitched up to his 2006 form, styming the Red Sox for seven innings (with eight whiffs) while the Twins’ bats exploded (or perhaps this is just their normal capacity?).

One of the weaknesses that I perceived in the Twins this year was the lack of a true ace that could kill them come playoff time as it has in past seasons. Baker, Blackburn, Pavano, and Slowey all give you a chance to win day in and day out, but none are a real stopper in the Johan Santana mold.  If Frankie keeps locating his fastball and curving that filthy slider, he’s the guy that can match up against the Sabathia’s, Beckett’s, or Hernandez’s in the first game of a playoff series.

Preview (7-3, 1st, 0.5 GA DET): Zack Grienke (0-1, 3.55) vs. Scott Baker (1-1, 3.86). I smell a pitcher’s duel…

Go-Go…Gone?

Gogo.jpgAs a Minnesota Twins fan, one of the moments I will never forget is Opening Day of the 2008 season, when young Carlos Gomez got the start in centerfield directly opposing his predecessor Torii Hunter.  Gomez completely dominated that game both in the field, at the plate, and on the basepaths, and it looked as if he would be one of the most exciting young players to put on a Twins uniform in quite a while.

Unfortunately, it was all downhill from that point (at least so far in his career), and a few weeks ago he was traded to the Brewers for SS J.J. Hardy.

My first reaction to the trade was that we were giving up the cornerstone of the Johan Santana deal, but (looking back) we were really just desperate to unload Johan once he refused our offer in search of a bigger payday, so it’s not like Gomez was the most coveted prospect in the world.

At times, Gomez could be the most exciting player on the field…

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He had incredible range out in centerfield, he was lightning-fast rounding the bases, and (come September) he was always good for a few huge hits against the White Sox down the stretch.  At times he showed good power, and if he dropped down a good bunt it was nearly impossible to throw him out.

At the same time, though, Go-Go could also be the dumbest player on the field…

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I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player crash into the wall, take a bad route to a ball, strike out badly on three pitches, or completely lose himself on the bases like Gomez.  Ultimately, that proved to be his undoing here in Minny, land of Ron Gardenhire Fundamental Baseball.  Plus, he didn’t seem to be making any strides after too full seasons in the major leagues.  He was making the same dumb mistakes in the ’09 playoffs that he made at the beginning of 2008.

But let’s take a moment to look at his “ransom”…

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J.J. Hardy had been a fan-favorite in Milwaukee (kind of like Joe Crede in Chicago) for his hustle and bat, but suffered through a horrendous 2009 campaign, at one point even being sent down to the minor leagues.  The Twins are hoping that he can regain the form of his ’08 year (.283, 24 HR) and anchor the SS position, as Orlanda Cabrera priced himself out of our range.

I guess I would have to say that this is a good trade for the Twins, although there is risk involved in both sides.  Hardy could be the next Bret Boone (a sickening thought) while Gomez could star in Brewtown, or Hardy could bat .300 and Gomez could continue to overrun balls and crash into walls.  We’ll see what happens.

On a more humorous note, I will perhaps miss this combination most of all:

Greatest interview ever!!

The Sad State Of Baseball Economics

mmw_baseball_101608_article.jpgAfter 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.

mathewson-ruth-wagner-cobb-johnson.jpg 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.

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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.

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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:

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johan-santana.jpgThe 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.

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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.

Goliath vs. Goliath

It’s been way too long since I updated this blog, but in part it is because of exactly what I am about to say.  Last week, the New York Yankees beat the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series, and I’ll admit that I hardly watched any of it.  Was it because my beloved Twins were knocked off by the hated Yanks?  Partially, I will admit.  But I think the real reason is just because of how depressing it was to see the “haves” of baseball continue to lay the unrequited smackdown on the “have nots”.  This line of thinking was epitomized by the Game One starting pitching matchup:

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The Yankees opened the Series with burly lefthander C.C. Sabathia, who had pretty much dominated any opponent sent to face him all season long.  Just two seasons previous (2007), though, old cap-tipping C.C. (the Yanks must have straightened that out along with Jason Giambi’s mustache, Randy Johnson’s dangly hair, and Johnny Damon’s Jesus-mane) had been the star of Cleveland, winning the AL Cy Young award.

Sabathia’s mound opponent in Game One was Cliff Lee:

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Much like C.C., Lee had lead his Phillies with dominating performance after dominating performance down the stretch the throughout the playoffs. But, again like Sabathia, just one year previous Lee won the AL Cy Young while in Cleveland.

So, while most baseball fans may have just seen a great pitching matchup, I saw what is wrong with the very fabric of what was once America’s Pastime (much more on that topic in my next post).  Instead of a level playing field, some teams are given advantages (based no more than upon the geographic territory they happen to inhabit) that allow them to dominate the lesser opponents.  I mean, just imagine how Cleveland fans must have been feeling while watching that Game One?  It would probably be like how you and I (Twins fans) would feel should the Mets ever stop sucking and Johan Santana gets the chance to shine in the postseason.  It is a very helpless feeling, and one that completely turned me off to the rest of the Series.

About the only excitement I got out of it was watching old Pedro Martinez turn back the clock one more (last?) time against the team he will be forever paired with:

pedro-martinez-phillies.jpg Other than that, I don’t have much interest in watching teams steal young talent from around the league and then calling it “high drama” when they invetabily meet in the biggest of games.  I can’t begrudge the fans of either team, as I guess I can’t blame them for their economic advantages, but I personally find it very disheartening.

Coming up next: Why football is quickly approaching my beloved baseball in terms of “favorite sport”.

The Doc Is OUT

3305f3be-e2b9-411d-9bbe-9461d17e41dd.jpgI really don’t like to say anything bad about Roy Halladay, as he is one of my favorite pitchers to watch in the American League, but the Twins finally (for the first time in 12 years) got to him today and came away with a victory.

There have been a handful of pitchers over the years who have had the Twins’ number, including Mike Mussina, Roger Clemens, Mark Buerhle (for a time) and Chuck Finley. The latest in that string had been Halladay, 8-0 in his career against the Twins.

Of course, we really didn’t GET to him tonight (a couple of solo homers from Cabrera and Morneau) and a big hit from Cuddyer, and he still managed to pitch all nine innings of the contest (what a gamer!). It’s just that Carl Pavano was just as good through seven and one third, allowing just one run on six hits and striking out five.

A few things that were nice to see:

-Morneau and Cuddyer driving balls again. Morneau really crushed that one in the eighth inning (hitting it that deep in Rogers Centre is quite a feat), and Cuddyer had been in the pattern of giving away at-bats again until breaking out in the ninth.

-Pavano pitching deep (and well) into the late innings of a game.  If his price tag isn’t too high, I think that the Twins would do well to sign him up again for 2010.  He’s never going to be the next Johan Santana or even Brad Radke, but he can (on a pretty regular occasion) post a quality start, something the young guys in the rotation haven’t yet been able to accomplish.

-In other baseball news…

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With three hits in the Yankees game today, Derek Jeter tied Lou Gehrig for the most hits all-time by a Yankee at 2,721.  I have never been shy about letting people know that, while not hating the Yankees outright (like I do the White Sox!), I pretty much despise everything they stand for (big market greed, selfish owner, etc.).  However, Derek Jeter is the exception to that rule.  I have always admired his day-to-day ability, and (in a way) he sort of reminds me of Cal Ripken (just with a great skill-set).  A first-ballot Hall of Famer if he never plays another game.

Preview (70-69, 2nd, 5.5 GB DET): Scott Baker (13-7, 4.34) vs. Brett Cecil (6-4, 5.46). We gained a game on Detroit last week…now we have to do it again.  With the season running out of dates, the way I see the Twins having a chance is if, going into both series’ with the Tigers, we need to be close enough so that a sweep will pull us even with them.  Even then it is a long shot, but look at what happened with the Twins and Sox last year. 

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).

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.

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