Results tagged ‘ Johan Santana ’

Ahh…That’s More Like It

0a73eba9-a8e1-4b2e-a682-ed05d0226bf8.jpgUp until just recently, the Minnesota Twins had owned the Kansas City Royals.  During the “division title years” earlier this decade, the Twins would routinely come into KC and get fat both at the plate and on the mound.  Recently (the past few seasons), though, the Royals have morphed into one of our toughest divisional opponents.  Though perennial cellar-dwellers (although I won’t gloat too much, as I, having grown up in the 1990s with Twins Baseball, know what that is like), the Royals seem to bring their A-game when the Twins come to town.  The first two games of this series only served to continue that trend, with the Twins and Royals playing each other very tough, right down to the wire.

That being said, today the Royals reverted back to their old ways and gave the Twins a much-needed victory.  Glen Perkins was by no means perfect (allowing 10 hits over seven innings), but the Royals could only muster a measly one run for all their efforts.  More daunting, though, were the defensive miscues, such as a ball that went right through the wickets of second baseman Callaspo, and a ball lost in the sun by Willie Bloomquist.  John Bale walking in a run even put a cap on things.  For a time, and had the Twins not needed a win so badly I would have felt worse, I felt bad for the boys in royal blue, as this kind of play just seems to be their kind of lot in life.  I know how difficult it is to compete in today’s game without a large payroll, and the Royals continue to get bit time and time again.  Whenever a guy gets good (Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltran, etc.) he gets shipped somewhere else, or else a player that once looked great suddenly falters and is gone within a year or two (too many to count).

The Twins were actually really lucky back in the early 2000s to have the nucleus (Santana, Hunter, Jones, Koskie, Dougie Baseball, Guzman, etc.) come together so quickly.  The Royals have not been so lucky, instead reduced to playing “payroll roulette” and hoping the hit the jackpot.  Were it not for the fact that the Twins need to make a living by beating them, I would love to see the Royals develop into a competitive franchise once again.

Preview (41-39, T-2nd w/CWS, 3.0 GB DET): Lucas French (0-0, 0.00) vs. Kevin Slowey (10-3, 4.41).  The fact that the Tigers, playing in perhaps the most important series of their season so far (as are the Twins), are sending a guy making his major league debut to the Metrodome mound tells you something about where they are right now pitching-wise.  Hopefully the Twins can take advantage of it.

A Much-Needed Victory

9260ad8b-1ca6-4191-a21d-329a7ce2e299.jpgIf you read my blog post last night, it was pretty obvious that I was angry at the way the Twins (despite picking up the victory) let the game end on Tuesday night.  Thus, I was very glad to see Liriano pitch a good game tonight, as well as the bats coming alive in the late innings (when was the last time THAT happened on the road?!) to get the ball to Joe Nathan in an opposing stadium.

I always just want to add tonight that, no matter what happens the rest of this season, I will be pulling for the Twins all the way.  That sounds like an incredibly obvious thing to say, but it seems as if a lot of negativity has been floating around the Twins this season.  Whether it is hating on the bullpen, the Baker/Liriano early-season disaster, or a few batsmen (Delmon Young, Brian Buscher, etc.), there hasn’t been a whole of positivity so far into the ’09 season.  Though all those areas are ripe for criticism, I think that sometimes we all need (including myself) to remember that this really is just a game.  It’s like little league…you play your heart out on the field, but once the final out is recorded you don’t take it with you whether win or loss.

A few years ago, while writing for the University of Minnesota-Morris campus newspaper, The University Register, I wrote an article entitled “Why We Watch Baseball”.  I would like to copy that into this blog post, as I think it really rings true this season:

Why We Watch Baseball

-With those who don’t give a (hoot) about sports, I can only sympathize.  I do not resent them.  I am even willing to concede that many of them are physically clean, good to their mothers and in favor of world peace.  But while the game is on, I can’t think of anything to say to them. (Art Hill)

If a woman has to choose between catching a fly ball and saving an infant’s life, she will choose to save the infant’s life without even considering if there are men on base. (Dave Barry)…A couple of months ago, a friend of my sister happened to be over at my family’s home for dinner.  This being summer time, my nightly ritual of watching the Twins game was about to commence.  After the meal, she plopped down on the coach next to me and asked: Why do you like watching baseball?  Not being mentally prepared for that kind of question, I gave the typical male answer: “Grunt…Because it’s better than shopping…grunt”.  However, that was not good enough for her inquisitive mind, as she launched into a lecture of how professional sports mean absolutely nothing.  As she mentioned something about starving people in Africa, I realized that I had nothing (at that time) to refute her claims.  The games themselves do mean nothing in the grand context of history and there are more important endeavors in life than stealing second base.  So, why do we watch baseball?  The following argument could be applied to all professional sports, but I am going to keep it confined to a baseball context.

I see great things in baseball.  It’s our game – the American game.  It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism.  Tends to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. (Walt Whitman)…A young boy idolizes his dad and wants to do everything with him.  The dad, a big baseball fan, teaches his son about the game.  They play whiffle ball in the back yard, watch Twins games together, and talk to each other about the game.  Political events have no bearing on the young boy’s life at this time, but baseball does.  Through the sport of baseball they are able to form a common bond that will last the rest of their lives, through good times and bad. 

Say this much for big league baseball – it is beyond question the greatest conversation piece ever invented in America. (Bruce Catton)…The same boy has a grandfather who is 84 years old.  The grandpa lived through the Great Depression, spent his childhood working on a farm, and served his country during World War II.  The boy grew up playing video games, reading science fiction novels, and the closest he ever came to a battlefield was Risk or Fort Apache.  The binding factor between the two–baseball.  While each came from completely different backgrounds and ideologies, making communication with each other difficult, the love of sports provided a bond.  They may not be able to bridge the generation gap, but it is easy to debate the merits of Johan Santana versus Dizzy Dean (the grandfather’s favorite pitcher as a child) or how Rogers Hornsby (star player of the 1920′s and 30′s) would have fared against today’s pitchers.

Baseball, it is said, is only a game.  True.  And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. (George F. Will)…Now that same boy has left home for college.  He finds the transition difficult, but smoothened by one thing–baseball.  Getting through the day might be a struggle, but at night he can watch the Twins on TV or listen to John Gordon bring the game alive on the radio.  The games relax him and give him something other than school to think about.  After a while his spirits raise and he is able to do much better in his classes.

People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball.  I’ll tell you what I do.  I stare out the window and wait for spring. (Rogers Hornsby)…At the beginning of his second semester of college, the boy is feeling lonely again.  Spring will be coming soon and he feels trapped, away from his family or anyone to talk to.  He begins writing for the school newspaper–sports, of course.  This gives him something creative to do and a way to meet new people.  He becomes motivated to make himself more physically fit, letting the Twins take his mind off the treadmill he pounds every night.

             Most people are in a factory from nine till five.  Their job may be to turn out 263 little circles.  At the end of the week they’re three short and somebody has a go at them.  On Saturday afternoons they deserve something to go and shout about. (Rodney Marsh)…When the boy goes home on weekends, the last thing he wants to do is talk about the hard week of studying that has transpired.  He is tired from the week and wants to relax with his family.  What a better opportunity than a baseball game?  Whether it means making the trip to the Metrodome or watching on TV, baseball allows the boy to unwind before another tough week.  It transports him (for a few hours at least) into a world where the concerns of real-life seem to melt away.

            Don’t tell me about the world.  Not today.  It’s springtime and they’re knocking a baseball around fields where the grass is damp and green in the morning and the kids are trying to hit the curve ball. (Pete Hamill)… The boy has now passed his love of baseball on to his two younger brothers.  They play in Little League over the summer, as well as endless games of the MVP Baseball 2005 video game.  Once school starts again, emails are sent back and forth about favorite baseball teams and players.

            I don’t love baseball.  I don’t love most of today’s players.  I don’t love the owners.  I do love, however, the baseball that is in the heads of baseball fans.  I love the dreams of glory of 10-year-olds, the reminiscences of 70-year-olds.  The greatest baseball arena is in our heads, what we bring to the games, to the telecasts, to reading newspaper reports. (Stan Isaacs)…So as you can see, the sport of baseball does have the power to enrich a life.  Or, more specifically, my life; as I am the boy.  While on occasion it has made stay up a little too late (darn extra-innings!) or ignore the outside world because “the game is on”, baseball’s positive influence in my life has outweighed the negatives.

You gotta be a man to play baseball for a living, but you gotta have a lot of little boy in you, too. (Roy Campanella)…To further appreciate the impact that baseball can have on one’s life, please see the movie Field of Dreams.  My favorite sports movie of all-time, it focuses on the relationship between father and son and how that relationship can be enhanced through a mutual love of baseball.  At one point in the movie, James Earl Jones (aka Voice of the Baseball Gods) explains how baseball is able to leave its mark on a person.  I leave you with his quote…

            The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time.  This game: it’s a part of our past. It reminds of us of all that once was good and could be again. (Field of Dreams) 

Preview (30-31, 2nd, 4.0 GB DET): Nick Blackburn (5-2, 3.30) vs. Trevor Cahill (3-5, 4.21).  Another no-name Oakland pitcher…the days of Zito, Mulder, and Hudson seem so long ago! 

My All-Star Ballot (NL & AL)

2009-mlb-all-star-ballot1.jpgWhen I was younger, voting for the annual Midsummer Classic was more of a science to me than anything.  I would pore over the stats to try and determine who, categorically, was having the best season and vote for them above all other alliegences.  In recent years, however, I have come to take a different approach: Just vote for the guys who I want to see in the game (within reason, of course!).  Sure, the game actually “counts” now in terms of World Series home-field advantage, but at its core it still is really just a fantastic exhibition event that the fans love…the meaningfullness is only to keep the players interested.

That being said, here are what my current AL & NL All-Star ballots currently look like (barring any severe injuries or horrific slumps during the following month):

American League

C: Joe Mauer

1B: Justin Morneau

2B: Dustin Pedroia

3B: Evan Longoria

SS: Derek Jeter

OF: Carl Crawford, Ichiro Suzuki, Denard Span (Write-In)

National League

C: Brian McCann

1B: Albert Pujols

2B: Chase Utley

3B: Ryan Zimmerman

SS: Jose Reyes

OF: Ryan Braun, Raul Ibanez, Justin Upton

Also, if I had to pick the starting pitchers for each team right now, I would go with Roy “Doc” Halladay for the Americans and Johan Santana for the Nationals.

Rainy Days And, Well, Pretty Much Any Day These Days

Wednesday: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dPmbT5XC-q0 (pretty accurate?!)

Thursday:

YoungPickOff.jpg

Unfortunately, things didn’t go much better tonight.  Glen Perkins was on the hill against the Orioles and allowed four runs through the first three innings.  The Twins managed to claw back and tie the game, but Jose Mijares couldn’t hold the lead in the eighth inning and the Twins lost yet again.

I’ve been working a lot lately and thus not able to update this blog as frequently as I would like to, but suffice it to say that the Twins are in a pretty big rut right now.  The bats go silent all too often, the bullpen is in shambles, and it seems like at least once every five days a starting pitcher gets tattoed in the early innings like Perk did tonight.

Troubling stat: the Twins have allowed 35 homers this season…and hit 19.  And this is with Carlos Silva, Brad Radke, and Johan Santana NOT on the staff!

Notes:

-The Twins also recently sent Alexi Casilla down to the minor leagues.  Personally, I think that was an overreaction on the part of whoever made the decision, but hopefully it snaps Casilla out of the funk he is in.  I just don’t see it working out, as I don’t think that Tolbert is as good as Alexi.

Preview (13-16, 4th, 5.0 GB KCR): Chris Jakubauskas (1-3, 5.76) vs. Scott Baker (0-4, 9.15). With the way King Felix and Erik Bedard (Saturday and Sunday’s starters) are pitching for the M’s, we better beat Jaku tomorrow night or things could get even uglier.

3 Up…or 3 Down?

andersoncallingbullpen-739405.jpgI will be very busy in the upcoming days leading up to the Minnesota Twins’ Opening Day on April 6th, so I just wanted to post a few season-preview thoughts before the regular season campaign kicks off.

The way I see it, there are three areas in which the Twins need to excel this season in order to win the division crown.  In all honesty, these areas are pretty much the same for all other teams as well, but the Twins have their own unique challenges:

1. First, the starting pitching quintet of Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano, Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn, and Glen Perkins needs to continue to keep the team in games.  This is the most important cog in the machine, as if the quality starts keep pouring in the Twins will at the very least compete no matter how bad the bullpen or offense stinks.  The old baseball adage that “good pitching beats good hitting” holds as true now as it always has.  I mean, if say Johan Santana faced no one but Ichiro Suzuki all season long, the very best that Ichiro could do is get a hit four times in every ten at-bats.  Thus, the starting rotation is the anchor of every staff, and the Twins’ staff is still a bit of a question mark:

Baker: Has ace-type repertoire but struggles to pitch into the later innings.  Is usually up around 100 pitches by the fifth inning or so, putting a strain on the bullpen.

Cisco: Could dominate, could fall apart due to control issues.

Slowey: This is the guy I think is poised for a huge season.  He is essentially the second coming of Brad Radke, only with a better assortment of pitches.  Just needs to work on limiting damaging situations, as they tend to snow-ball on him pretty quick.

Blackie: As a play-to-contact, ground ball sort of pitcher, Blackburn walks the fine line between Carlos Silva and Jack Morris.  On some days he can be the most frustrating guy in the world to drive the ball off of, while on other days he gets lit up.

Perkins: The great unknown.  Was very up-and-down last season…showed flashes of both excellence and utter failure.

So, the extent to which that rotation comes together is the biggest factor in how the Twins will finish in the standings in 2009.

2. The bullpen, however, isn’t far behind.  Whereas I am confident that the starting five can find a way to hold up their end of the bargain, I’m not nearly as sold on the bullpen, which looks to include:

Joe Nathan: The only sure-bet of the bunch.  Will blow a few (who doesn’t…well, besides Brad Lidge last year), but let’s just say that a “down” year would be an ERA over 2.00.

Jesse Crain: Pretty much the root of all frustration in the world. Was overhyped even when he was good, but does have a glimmer of hope in that now is arm is finally “back” after having surgery a while back.

Matt Guerrier: Will have to prove that last year’s collapse WAS just a fluke (or due to fatigue), not because batters just figured him out.

Craig Breslow: The lefty-lefty specialist.  Will likely do a good job, and is an upgrade over Dennis “Throw One WP And Leave The Game” Reyes.

Luis Ayala: Don’t know much about his guy, only that he came from the Nats (not a good sign) and struggled mightily last year.  Has potential…but so did Mike Fetters.

The final bullpen spot, thought to be filled by Jose Mijares until he came to camp looking like Hideki Irabu, is now up for grabs between newcomer Brian Duensing, Philip Humber (obtained in the Santana trade), and R.A. Dickey, a knuckleballer.

All in all, that is not a very impressive bunch.  Like I said, Nathan is solid, but getting to him will be the difficult part.  Someone is going to have to step up and become the eighth inning man that guys like LaTroy Hawkins and Juan Rincon were in the past.

3. Finally, I would like to quickly comment on the Twins’ offense.  Here is a sample lineup that the Twins could trot out on a semi-day basis:

Denard Span, Alexi Casilla, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Joe Crede, Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer, Delmon Young, Nick Punto.

Essentially, it would likely be the best starting lineup the Twins have had in quite some time (plus Carlos Gomez off the bench).  However, I am very wary of predicting a high offensive turnout from this bunch, as it so rarely happens up here in MN.  It seems as if the Twins are much better at developing pitchers than hitters (perhaps due to the small-ball philosophy that reins hitters in instead of turning them loose?), so even a lineup that looks rock-solid can quickly turn gooey.  Actually, I think the biggest positive this season, as opposed to ’06 or ’08, is that no old fogeys are being counted on to produce.  The days of experimenting with guys like Tony Batista, Rondell White, Mike Lamb, and (cringe) even Bret Boone seem to be behind the Twins, with the lineup now given over completely to the young veterans and just youngsters period.

So there you have it…how the Twins perform in those three areas will go very far in determining their division standings come October.  Hopefully before the season begins I will post an article about my divisional predictions for MLB (if it ever stops snowing here to allow the mail through!).

The Japanese Revolution

japan%20flag.jpgFor all the apathy I have shown towards the World Baseball Classic this year (not commenting on it once on this blog until now), there is one thing that both installments of the tournament have clearly shown me: the Japanese style of baseball is the most effective at winning ballgames.

Now, of course I realize that if the United States team really did choose all our best players, and if guys like Johan Santana and David Ortiz wouldn’t bug off the Dominican Republic squad, the tournament may play out much differently.  However, even if each team’s best possible squad was on the field every day, I think Japan could compete with any of them.  Their small-ball, advance-the-runner style of play (plus, nearly every player can run the bases effectively) has really become the sought-after way to win games.  I mean, how fitting was it that Ichiro Suzuki (the player who best personifies the Japanese game) got the game-winning hit against Korea?!  I’ve never seen a batter where luck plays as big a role at getting him out.  Since he never strikes out, retiring him requires the luck of the ball-in-play being hit right to a defender…that’s about it.  Pitchers may have learned his tendencies a wee bit, but now he “just” hits .320 every year instead of .350, and has 220 hits instead of 257.

When Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier back in the 1940s, it completely changed the way baseball looked, as it allowed black players to increase the quality of play.  What’s interesting is that you can almost say that the same sort of thing happened to the Japanese market in 2001 when Ichiro hit the major leagues and brought his much more exciting brand of baseball to a game then bogged-down by steroid oafs.  Now, Japan is continuing to get the recognition they deserve, and you can bet that many more single-hitting, base-stealing, wacky-delivery Japanese players will be popping up on rosters all over MLB.

Cookin’ Up A Few More Years

20080924_scott_baker_33.jpgA few days ago, I was excited to see that the Twins signed their young ace Scott Baker to a new four-year contract (worth something like $14-15 million, I believe).

All things considered, Baker is the current ace of the Twins’ pitching staff.  Though Francisco Liriano may have a better fastball/slider combination and Kevin Slowey probably has better command of the breaking stuff, Baker is able to put everything together in a devastating arsenal of pitches.  When Baker is “on”, as evidenced by his near no-hitter towards the end of the 2007 season, he is almost unhittable.

The one key area that Baker needs to improve upon to vault himself into the elite American League pitchers, though, is his ability to pitch deeper into games.  For the first five innings of any ballgame, I would take Baker right up there with the best of them.  By that point, however, Baker will likely have thrown over 100 pitches already and thus always be on the verge of being yanked by Gardy.  Johan Santana had the same problem at some points with the Twins.  Thus, Baker needs to either become more economical with his pitches, or condition himself better so as to be able to throw 120 pitches a game (although that would be difficult due to the “magic pitch counts” firmly in place these days).

Twins Hall Of Fame

3cAmHuPZ.jpgThe other day, I was very excited to hear that former Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Brad Radke is being inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame in 2009.  Radke was my favorite Twins pitcher of all-time, as I loved the way he was able to dominate batters with little more than a great changeup and pin-point accuracy.  Though not quite as good, I always thought of Brad the Rad as the “poor man’s” Greg Maddux.  The big knock on Radke (what kept him from really becoming an elite pitcher) was his tendancy to give up the gopher balls at an alarming rate, but he still managed to be a very effective pitcher nonetheless.

A few years ago, while writing for the University Register (the student-run newspaper at the college I attended, the University of Minnesota-Morris), I penned a column about Radke that I would like to share on this blog.  It was written it 2005 and thus is a bit dated, but I think it still manages to capture the essence of why I admired Radke so much.  Here it is:

Over the years, starting pitcher Brad Radke has been the subject of much debate among Twins fans.  Is he the glue that holds the pitching staff together, or just an average pitcher who has been overrated his entire career?  Looking at his career statistics, the latter argument seems to win:  136 wins, 130 losses, 2,288.2 innings pitched, 2,446 hits, 302 home runs, 4.22 ERA.  While those statistics are better than most who toe the rubber, they are definitely not what legends are made of.  However, Radke’s value to the Twins cannot be calculated on statistics alone.  By giving his heart and soul to the Twins organization for the past eleven years, this sportswriter feels that Brad deserves a better legacy than “.500 pitcher”.

After the 1991 World Championship season and a strong second place finish in 1992, the Minnesota Twins started disbanding the nucleus of those teams due to financial constraints.  The area hit hardest was starting pitching.  Jack Morris, staff ace in 1991, was let go amid concerns over his age, while Scott Erickson and Kevin Tapani (key contributors in ’91 and ’92) each faltered under the “ace” mantra.  During the ’93 and ’94 seasons, such players as Willie Banks, Mike Trombley, Eddie Guardado (yes, Eddie!), Pat Mahomes, and Jim Deshaies tried to bolster the starting staff, but to no avail.  Not one of those players made the rotation for any length of time and both seasons were losing efforts.  It wasn’t until the next year that the Twins would find a true ace–Brad Radke.

When Radke made his debut in 1995, he looked like another pitcher to be discarded to the scrap heap.  In 181 innings, Radke was 11-14 with a 5.32 ERA and had a tendency to give up home runs, allowing 32 of them.  Though he got battered around his inaugural campaign, he did have good control of his pitches and the Twins, having no better options, decided to bring him back for another try in 1996.  In ’96, he managed to give up 40 gopher balls, but pitched 232 innings (a team-high that season) and get his ERA down to 4.46.  Now, while those numbers may not sound impressive, the Twins at that time had no other starter with an ERA lower than 5.00.  Radke (in just his second year) was the “established” ace of the Minnesota Twins.

In 1997 (arguably his best season as a Twin) he posted a 20-10 record with a 3.87 ERA.  To put his 20-win feat into perspective, he did it on a team that finished 68-94 with little offensive talent.  On a winning team, Radke could have easily racked up even more wins and established himself as a premiere pitcher in the league.  Instead, Brad was playing for the lowly “Twinkies” at the time and getting little or no attention from the press.

Over the next three seasons (’98, ’99, and ’00), Radke was 36-44 with an 4.17 ERA.  For most pitchers, those stats would kick them out the door, but one must remember that Radke was playing for perennial cellar-dweller teams.  Numerous times Brad would keep his team in the game and receive no offensive support (and consequently a loss), or leave the game with a lead and watch the bullpen squander it.  He might have won 15-20 games every year playing for a respectable team.  For those reasons, his value to the Twins could not be based on statistics.  His dependability (pitching over 214 innings in each of those seasons) and willingness to take the mound every fifth day for a sink-hole of a team were vital for an organization trying to build a winning philosophy.  In the ultimate show of loyalty to Minnesota, Radke signed a four year contract at the end of 2000.

Radke’s confidence payed off in 2001, as the team finished with its first winning season since 1992.  Brad was once again the leader of the pitching staff, going 15-11 with a 3.94 ERA and eating up 226 innings.  The playoffs were narrowly missed that year, but better days were on the horizon.

During the 2002 season, Radke pitched only 118.1 innings due to injuries, but got his first chance at pitching in the playoffs.  In two starts against Oakland he was 1-1 with a 1.54 ERA (winning Game 5 to clinch the series).  In the ALCS against Anaheim, he won his lone start, going 6+ innings and giving up only two earned runs.  Though the Twins lost that series, Radke had proven that he could perform well in the biggest starts of his career.  He was the unquestioned ace of the staff, but competition was lurking.

In 2003 and 2004, Radke was his old reliable self (25-18, 3.99 ERA), but Johan Santana was getting all the attention.  While Santana burst onto the scene in 2003 and won the Cy Young award in 2004, Radke kept laboring along every fifth day.  He still gave up a startling number of home runs as well as more hits than innings pitched, but more often than not he gave the Twins a chance to win in his starts.  The Twins made it to the playoffs each year (losing to the Yankees both times) and Radke turned in two more good performances, bringing his career postseason ERA to 3.19.  In typically Radke fashion, however, he was 1-3.  At the end of 2004, Radke’s contract was up and he was being courted by the Yankees, Red Sox, and Angels.  Signing with either of those teams would have meant better statistics for Brad (as a result of better run-support), but once again he chose to stay with the Twins, signing a two-year deal well under the $-value of the other offers.  He was looking forward to another run at the AL Central division title.

This year, that “run” never materialized.  Though Radke and the rest of the pitching rotation pitched well the entire year, an anemic offense doomed the Twins to a mediocre finish.  Before being deactivated in late September due to soreness in his shoulder, Radke was 9-12 with a 4.04 ERA and ten no-decisions.  For the first half of the season he was quite dominant, but after the All-Star break his shoulder injury pushed him back to mediocrity (he was not even able to throw in the bullpen between starts).  He battled the injury for a month and a half, not succumbing to the pain until the season was all but over.

Next year will be the end of Brad Radke’s current contract, after which he plans to retire.  For ten years, Radke has given his competitive heart and soul for a team that has too often not given him much in return.  While he will likely go down in Twins history as second-fiddle to Johan Santana (Brad didn’t play for many good teams, didn’t put together one spectacular season, didn’t strike out many batters, or didn’t pitch deep into the postseason often enough to get media recognition), he deserves better.  Many fans will await his retirement after next year, chafing over his mediocre record and statistics, but I will applaud his every start.  He deserves all we can give him.

More HOF Talk

bert-blyleven-shirt-425mh0108.jpgNow that the traditional (not the Veterans Committee) Hall of Fame ballots are out, I would like to quickly point out two players that I have not yet discussed on this blog:

-First off, Ricky Henderson is obviously a first-ballot shoo-in for the Hall, as he was (and nobody has come close to surpassing him since) the greatest leadoff hitter in the history of the game.  Yeah, he may have been an arrogant jerk with an affinity for speaking in the third person, but he did more than enough on the field to warrant a trip to Cooperstown.

-The other player I wanted to discuss, Bert Blyleven, is currently my biggest pet peeve about the Hall of Fame voters.  I know this gets brought up every year about how Bert should be in the Hall, but let me assure you it isn’t just a Twins fan griping about a favorite player/personality.  The statistics completely speak for themselves:

287 wins, 4,790 innings pitched, 242 complete games, 60 shutouts, 3,701 strikeouts, 3.31 ERA

Now, if those stats aren’t good enough to get a guy into the Hall of Fame, then I don’t know what are.  Sure, Bert could be surly with the media and was a little crude at times (as evidenced by the picture posted above), but once you get to “know him” (I say this from listening to him broadcast Twins games for many years) you find that he just likes a good laugh…he isn’t really trying to be mean.

The other big knock on Bert is his 250 losses to go with all his wins, but you can’t necessarily blame him for the (mostly) terrible teams he played for.  And, think of it this way…the two really good teams that Blyleven played for (’79 Pirates and ’87 Twins) ending up winning their respective World Series titles in LARGE part due to the contributions of Bert’s masterful pitching.

Finally, there are also some people who say that a player must dominate in a certain area of the game to be HOF-worthy, but Bert meets that qualification as well, as he had the greatest curveball of any of his contemporaries.  You don’t top 3,000 K’s (and close in on 4,000) without a tremendous “out” pitch (think Johan Santana’s changeup or Francisco Liriano’s slider), and Bert had the curve.

So, here’s to hoping that Bert finally gets his dream of ascending those Cooperstown steps to receive his bronzed plaque.  Let’s just hope he doesn’t moon the audience in the process!

SP: The Four Horseman and One Stud

LirianoReview.jpgLast offseason, the Twins lost arguably the top three starters from their pitching rotation in Johan Santana, Matt Garza, and Carlos Silva, as the money just wasn’t there to sign them to long-term contracts.  So, heading into the 2008 season, the starting rotation was the biggest question mark of the team.

Remarkably, though, by the end of the season, the Twins had again dug deep within their organization and (big props to pitching coach Rick Anderson) built a solid starting rotation.  Here is how the starters performed over the course of the season:

Livan “Fat Man” Hernandez (10-8, 139.7 IP, 5.48 ERA): The Twins signed the Fat Man before the start of the season in order to give their starting rotation some veteran experience, but he was a colossal failure.  He benefited from some extremely good luck (to get those 10 wins), with his only talent being the ability to throw a complete game nearly every start (of course, he would surely give up five runs).  Hernandez was jettisoned at the end of July.

Francisco Liriano (6-4, 76, 3.91): In 2006, the Cisco Kid wowed Twins fans with his biting slider and extremely live fastball before rupturing his arm and needing Tommy John surgery to tidy it up.  After taking 2007 off, then, Twins fans had high hopes for Cisco in ’08.  At first, things took a terrible twist, as Liriano (in his first few starts with the big club since ’06) could not throw strikes and got hammered even by poor teams like Kansas City.  After just three starts and an 11.32 ERA in April, Liriano was sent back to the minors to work out the kinks.  He returned in August and looked much more like the Liriano of old, striking out more batters with higher velocity.  He struggled a bit at the end of the season, but clearly has the potential to be the staff ace in ’09.

Scott Baker (11-4, 172.3, 3.45): With Santana a Met, the Twins were counting on Baker to be the rock of their rotation in a year where Liriano would still be gaining his footing.  The success of Baker, though, depends on how you look at it: Usually, Baker did live up to the moniker of staff ace, mowing down batters in a Liriano-like fashion when he was on.  However, Baker also struggled mightily with pitch count, often leaving games after just five innings and putting more strain on an already-brittle bullpen (more in further posts)…not what you want out of your ace.

Kevin Slowey (12-11, 160.3, 3.99): The Twins were looking for Slowey to take the next step in his development as a major league pitcher, and by and large he did just that.  Injuries prevented him from achieving the 200 inning plateau, and he (like Baker) also struggled with pitch counts and leaving games early.  When he’s on his game, it’s eerily similar to watching the departed Brad Radke ply his trade.

Nick Blackburn (11-11, 193.3, 4.05): Judging on past experience, Blackie turned in the most remarkable season of all Twins starting pitchers in 2008.  A complete unknown coming into the season, Blackburn nearly reached 200 innings and spun a legendary game in the one-game playoff against the White Sox (although sadly he was not rewarded for his effort).  He’s a sinkerball pitcher, so either he was getting his ground balls, or the balls were flying out of the park.

Glen Perkins (12-4, 151, 4.41): After missing nearly an entire season due to injuries, Perkins (a former Golden Gopher) latched on to the fifth starter position and didn’t let go for nearly the entire season.  He was arguably the Twins’ most consistent pitcher in the middle months of the season, but seemed to tire (or just stink) down the stretch, raising some concerns about his strength.

So, the 2008 Twins were able to put together a remarkable young rotation (no one older than 26) that pitched them to within one Jim Thome home run of the playoffs.  Of course, with that youth brings question marks for ’09: Can Perkins hold up over a whole season?  Can Baker and Slowey manage their pitch counts better?  Can Blackburn get the sinker working more times than not?  Can Liriano get back to version.2006?

Looking ahead to 2009, Perkins’ spot in the rotation may be in jeopardy due to the emergence of young starter Anthony Swarzak (5-0 in Triple-A).  Other than that, the starting rotation looks to be, at the very least, competent.

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