Results tagged ‘ Jon Lester ’

My Thoughts On Target Field

Quick recap:

Since my last blog, the Twins got caught by two hot pitchers in Boston (Bucholz/Lester), then righted the ship by beating up on the Brew Crew over the weekend (taking two of three and coming within a big hit of sweeping).

About three weeks ago, though, I saw my first two games at Target Field…

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…and never really commented on the experience.  Although I loved the experience and thought that the new digs put the Metrodome to shame, there was just something about it where I couldn’t gush over our new home too much.  I think I may have finally figured it out.

In the old days, ballparks were built with all kinds of quirks that made them stand out.  Some examples:

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Polo Grounds: Almost 500 feet to center field (which featured a garage in the field of play!), and just 250 ft. down the lines (picture a giant horsehoe).

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Ebbets Field: A crazy little nook out in center field, a huge wall in right, with band-box dimension all around.

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Baker Bowl: ENORMOUS brick wall out in RF that puts even Boston’s Green Monster to shame!

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LA Coliseum: Just look at the picture!

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Old Yankee Stadium: Monuments and flagpoles IN PLAY; centerfield almost 500 feet deep.

Then, after going through the terrible cookie-cutter stadium movement of the 1980s (Veterans Stadium, Skydome, Astrodome, etc.), ballparks started to improve in fan amenities, but (for the most part) those little quirks/nuances had disappeared.  In the past few years, there are only a few stadiums I can recall that really spark my interest:

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Wrigley Field: Ivy, brick walls.

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Fenway Park: Green Monster, Pesky Pole

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Minute Maid Park (?; that’s the name I’ll always remember it as!): CF slope, neat LF architecture.

And, dare I say it…

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Metrodome: Vampire seats, Baggie

Basically, my point is this: I really like stadiums with distinct visual features, and I feel as if Target Field is a bit lacking in that area.  Besides the patches of Limestone and HD scoreboard (but that doesn’t really count), it feels like “any other great ballpark”.  Kind of a double standard, I know, but I guess I am more than a bit of a sentimentalist towards those “good old days” of quirky baseball stadiums.

Preview (26-18, 1st, 1.0 GA DET): AJ Burnett (4-2, 3.86) vs. Scott Baker (4-4, 4.88). Time to create a little bit of new history against the Yanks?  I hope so.

“Getaway” Gardy

e9264050-de1e-40e2-9189-8b4ecf8f5c4e.jpgTruth be told, I think that Ron Gardenhire is a good manager for the Minnesota Twins.  For a team that is always developing young players because we don’t have enough money to spend on the big boys, Gardy also seems to have the right touch to bring the young guys along in the best possible manner.  He may play favorites (Nick Punto, Jesse Crain) and once you get in his doghouse (Delmon Young) it’s tough to get back in the main living quarters, but all in all he seems like a good guy who works hard and demands the same of his team.

That being said, there are some days that I just want to hate on him…and today is one of those days.  As is his custom, Gardy put out his “Getaway” lineup featuring a stretch of batters that included Brian Buscher, Young, Mike Redmond, Punto, Carlos Gomez, and Matt Tolbert.  Joe Crede (hit by pitch the day before), Joe Mauer (general day off), and Denard Span (flu-like symptoms) were all out of the lineup.  While I agree with the Span “benching”, why were BOTH Crede and Jo-Mo on the bench at the same time against arguably the best team in the American League right now?!  The Red Sox trot out the likes of Ellsbury, Pedroia, Bay, Youkilis, and Lowell, while the Twins counter with that above quintet of guys who will make more outs than hits and inspire little confidence.

I guess it just really hit home to me after Mauer hit the home run in the bottom of the ninth off Papelbon, thinking “what would have happened if Mauer (and Crede) had been in the lineup all game long?”.  Mauer would have probably gotten a couple of hits (he is so locked in right now), while Crede wouldn’t have let three balls by him in one inning (yes, they were tough plays, but Crede may have made them).

When playing the BoSox, one has to expect that many runs will need to be scored to win the contest, and Gardy just didn’t put out a viable lineup today to do that.  Of course, he can probably justify every move, and perhaps be correct in the long run, but I still just want to pout for awhile anyway at a loss that could have been a whole lot different.

Preview (22-24, 3rd, 4.5 GB DET): Jon Lester (3-4, 5.91) vs. Nick Blackburn (3-2, 3.83). Blackie has been carrying the pitching staff as of late, and I look for that streak to continue.

RP: You Are The Weakest Link…Goodbye?

nathanreview.jpgAlthough the 2008 Minnesota Twins season was effectively ended on a Jim Thome home run in game number 163, the season realistically slipped away during the month of August, when the bullpen inexplicably failed to record any key outs (even Joe Nathan included, for a time) and lost game after game in the late innings.  Any major league manager will tell you that any competitive team needs to have at least a decent bullpen, and right now that is about the only weak link (albeit a major weakness) for the Twins to potential shore up over the offseason.  A quick look at how the major relievers fared in ’08:

Joe Nathan (67.7 IP, 39 SV, 1.33 ERA): Despite a shaky spell in mid-August, Nathan was by and large the most dominant closer outside of Anaheim’s Francisco Rodriguez for the majority of the season.  No reason to be concerned here.

Matt Guerrier (76.3, 5.19): After Pat Neshek went down with a season-ending injury, Guerrier stepped up as an ace setup man, bridging the gap to the dominant Joe Nathan.  Alas, Guerrier completely crumbled as the season progressed, getting to the point where he was pretty much “off limits” in crucial games down the stretch.  His mindset is probably what needs the most soothing heading into ’09, as he was really messed up at the end of this year.

Dennys Reyes (46.3, 2.33): Reyes turned in a decent season out of the pen (his numbers are tricky, as he rarely throws to enough batters per inning to factor into the earned runs), but needs to work on one crucial area: control.  When facing good hitters in pressure situations, Reyes would often throw terrible wild pitchers (ones Joe Mauer wouldn’t have a chance at stopping) and letting runners move up.  So, batters would then key on the strikes and blast them, as Reyes would practically have to throw the ball right down the middle to be confidant of getting it in the strike zone.

Jesse Crain (62.7, 3.59): Crain can throw harder than any of the Twins’ current middle relievers, but still completely wilts in pressure-packed situations (think of LaTroy Hawkins trying to close in 2001).  He far and away led the team in walk-off hits given up, due (like Reyes) to shoddy control, allowing batters to tee off on the pitches thrown down the pipe to prevent walks.  The one hope for Crain is that ’08 was his first season back from arm surgery, so perhaps he was still just getting himself back into playing condition (although I don’t think so).

Craig Breslow: (38.7, 1.63): All in all, Breslow (acquired in mid-season from the Cleveland Indians) was probably the most consistent reliever of the bunch.  He didn’t pitch many innings, but got the job done more often than not.

As if those less than thrilling reports weren’t bad enough, three more Twins relievers (Brian Bass, Juan Rincon, and Eddie Guardado) turned out to be complete busts, with no chance of returning in 2009 (Bass and Rincon are already gone).

There is, however, at least some hope on the horizon.  Pat Neshek, the side-winding righty that is so difficult to figure out, will be back in ’09, while young Jose Mijares impressed many people in crucial late-season 2008 action.  If those guys can come back strong, perhaps the Reyes’, Crain’s, and Guerrier’s of the world can better settle into their own specific roles.

Playoff Notes:

-Is there anyone alive out there right now who DOESN’T think the Boston Red Sox are going to advance to the World Series by beating the Rays tonight?!  Here is the starting pitching matchup: Jon Lester (16-6, 3.21) vs. Matt Garza (11-9, 3.70).  The Sox are just following their typical playoff pattern…dominate the ALDS, come from way behind in the ALCS, then dominate the World Series.  Will it continue?  I think so.

2B: The Rabbit

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The Twins started the 2008 series with Brendan Harris (acquired from the Rays in the Matt Garza trade) installed at second base.  After a month or two of sluggish fielding from Harris, however, the Twins called up young Alexi Casilla from Triple-A to man the second sack.  Yes, that was the same Casilla whose boneheaded plays were seen night after night as the Twins wallowed into obscurity at the end of 2007.  This time, however, things were much different…

During this season, in 385 at-bats, Casilla netted 108 hits, scored 58 runs, drove in 50, and hit .281 in the process.  More importantly, though, was the stability Casilla brought to the Twins’ lineup once manger Ron Gardenhire planted him in the #2 hole for good.  Sure, Nick Punto is great at bunting leadoff guys around the bases, but Little Nicky often breaks down (either physically or talent-wise) when used for an entire season.  So, Casilla was a perfect fit to bat behind Gomez/Span throughout the later months of the season, as his speed really put the screws to opposing pitchers.

Defensively, Casilla was spectacular.  Whereas at the end of 2007 Alexi played himself back to the minor leagues with one fielding blunder after another, it was obvious this season that all those kinks were worked out, as Casilla now makes every play required of him (and many that are not!).  Essentially, he’s Luis Castillo without the balky knees.

As far as areas of improvement, there are two things that Casilla could work on in order to become a more well-rounded player: First, he still needs to keep his head in the game on the basepaths.  Every once in awhile, he would get thrown out at a base for no apparent reason, or make a bad judgment call.  It was probably just the excitability factor that is inherent in all young players, but it still needs to be tamed just a bit.  Second, Casilla also needs to work on driving the ball more.  He did hit for a decent average in 2008, but most of those hits were singles.  Every once in awhile we saw Alexi’s ability to turn on a pitch and launch it either into the gap or over the right-field fence, but those occurences were much too few and far between.  I’m not saying he should turn into a power hitter, but he could really keep defenses honest (not just playing in all the time) if he could start driving the ball more.

However, those weaknesses (keeping a cool head and driving the ball) are areas that all young players likely need to work on, and are pretty nit-picky at that.  With a full season under his belt, Alexi Casilla will likely continue to give the Twins that dimension of speed that so often powers the offense when the big sluggers aren’t slugging.

Twins Notes:

-I heard the other day that the Twins are going to (and perhaps already did) pick up their $900,000 option on backup catcher Mike Redmond for 2009.  Print the World Series tickets now…(I shouldn’t joke, though, as I wish Justin Morneau had someone to back him up like Joe Mauer has in Red Dog).

Playoff Notes:

-ALCS Game Three Pitching Matchups (Boston 1, Tampa Bay 1): Jon Lester (16-6, 3.21) vs. Matt Garza (11-9, 3.70).  It will be interesting to see how the fiery former Twin Garza handles the pressure-cooker of October baseball in Fenway Park.

-NLCS Game Four Pitching Matchups (Philadelphia 2, Los Angeles 1): Joe Blanton (9-12, 4.69) vs. Derek Lowe (14-11, 3.24).  Lowe was beaten by the Phillies in Game One of this series, but if anyone can come back on short rest in the postseason it’s the grizzled Lowe.

ALCS Predictions: The New Postseason Kings

PapiTwin.jpgHow quickly have we forgotten 2004 and 2007?  After watching the media coverage of the ALCS that begins on Friday night in Tampa Bay, there has been almost an overwhelming consensus that the upstart Rays will dethrone the defending-champion Red Sox and reach the first World Series in franchise history (of course, every Ray victory has some sort of historical significance these days!).  Not so fast, people…

Let’s look at this series a game at a time.  The series opens in Tropicana Field, where the Rays have been nearly a completely different than they are at home, but who really thinks the Rays will win both of those first two home games against the playoff-savvy Sox?  Game 1 pits Daisuke Matsuzaka (18-3, 2.90) against James Shields (14-8, 3.56), while Game 2 is Josh Beckett (12-10, 4.03) vs. Scott Kazmir (12-8, 3.49).  I’d actually favor the Sox in both games, but let’s say (for home-field advantage sake) that the series is even when it moves back into Fenway.

This is where things are sure to get interesting, as it is the classic case of “postseason aura” (which the Red Sox have finally wrestled away from the Yankees) vs. “young team that isn’t intimidated” (the Rays have never experienced this situation before, so how can they be too overwhelmed?).  In that scenario, however, I will take the most experienced team any day of the week.  Although the pitching matchups in Game Three, Jon Lester (16-6, 3.21) vs. Matt Garza (11-9, 3.70), and Game Four, Tim Wakefield (10-11, 4.13) vs. Andy Sonnanstine (13-9, 4.38), perhaps swing a little bit toward the Rays (at least compared to the first two games), I’ll still take the experienced hurlers over the green ones.  Even if the series is 2-2 after four games, the pitching matchups will be who has the best bullpen, and what starters can come back effectively on short rest.  All four Sox starters are battle-tested, while all the Rays are first-timers.  As a Twins fan, I would not feel too confident on a guy like Matt Garza coming back in a game seven facing, say, Tim Wakefield.

Offensively both clubs can score runs.  In fact, I think the only way Tampa Bay can win this series is if they completely outscore the BoSox, and by a large margin at that.  However, the Boston lineup has developed a habit of producing in the clutch, with guys like David Ortiz, J.D. Drew, Jason Bay, Jason Varitek, Mike Lowell, and some guy you would never expect (Jedd Lowrie?!) providing the back-breaking hits to the opposition.  I thought that the departure of Manny Ramirez would really hurt Boston come postseason time, but Manny’s replacement, Jason Bay, has performed admirably after escaping Pittsburgh.

My “official” prediction, then, is for Boston to defeat Tampa Bay in six games.  The Rays have had a great ride, but I think that the playoff experience of nearly every Boston player will be too much for the scrappy Rays to overcome.  However, I would expect to see many close, hard-fought games.  Whereas the Yankees of old developed their “mystic and aura” in the playoffs by crushing opponents, the Red Sox have won in the playoffs by getting the late-inning clutch hits.

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