Results tagged ‘ Jon Rauch ’

Evolution of A Curse

Before 2004, the year in which a staggering chain of events (begun with this)…

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…released the Boston Red Sox from their Yankee-dominant purgatory, the Sox were seemingly “cursed” by the inability to: A. Win the big game; and B. Win ANY meaningful game against the arch-rival Yankees.

After watching (in person) the Twins fall twice to the Yanks in one day today at Target Field, I now have my own little theory as to where that curse went and where it is dwelling now…

In both 2003 and 2004…

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…the Yankees defeated the Twins in the ALDS.  From that point forward, we haven’t been able to touch them.  At home, we are something like 10 games under .500 against them in the Ron Gardenhire era.  On the road, we have won (literally) a handful of games in that same time period.  Plus, the 2009 playoffs brought another ALDS defeat at their hands, this time a clean sweep.

Could it be possible that the Red Sox, free from the “1918” chants, somehow transferred the curse to us, seeing as it was us who allowed the epic 2003 and 2004 ALCS’ to transpire in the first place?

Today, the Yankee heroes were primarily three-fold:

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First, Derek Jeter provided the lone offense in the resumption game today, then proceeded to make a spectacular “jump-throw” (his trademark) to gun down a runner at first that, if safe, would have allowed the tying run to score.

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Then, Pettitte again basically shut us down for eight innings, only allowing two measly runs.

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Finally, the back-breaker came from Nick Swisher, who launched a bomb into the right field bleachers in the bottom of the eighth inning (with two outs, of course) off Jon Rauch to give the visitors a lead they would not relinquish.

Let’s just say this: Remember those old “whose your Daddy” chants that Yankees fans used to hurl at Pedro Martinez?  They now apply for a completely different reason.

Preview (26-20, 1st, 1.0 GA DET): Javier Vazquez (3-4, 6.69) vs. Nick Blackburn (5-1, 4.50)

O(ld)-Dawg

Hudson18_593541gm-a.jpgUntil the seventh inning of Saturday’s Twins-Royals matchup, both teams had seen their starters struggle but gotten enough big hits to overcome it.  Blackburn gave up a few bombs to Rick Ankiel, while the Twins did all their damage in the second inning, including a monster straight-away-center jack from Jim Thome.

Just after Stretch time, though, Orlando Hudson (batting righty) launched a mammoth home run that hit the facing of the second deck out in left field.  I didn’t realize that the 32-year old Hudson had that in him!  From that point, it was Matty Guerrier for a perfect eighth and Jon Rauch for the Guardado-type (aka tenuous) save.

Another series win already in the books, with a sweep now firmly in the sights.

Notes:

-I know that it’s still just April, but I’m already ready for the Yankees to come to town in late May.  Mark my words: If a sweep happens in that series, it won’t be by the visiting team.

Preview (9-3, 1st, 2.5 GA DET): Luke Hochevar (1-0, 2.84) vs. Carl Pavano (2-0, 1.38). 

A Tall Order (Beating The Twins, That Is)

Twins_Angels_Baseball_sff_164043_game.jpg 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.

Notes:

-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).

All According To Plan

The last time reliever Jon Rauch was on the mound to start a ninth-inning save situation, he was closing out games for the worst team in the National League…

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Now, he’ll (hopefully) be doing much of the same, only this time for a competitive squad in the junior circuit:

Jon_Rauch_2009.jpg Today, Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire announced that Rauch will be closing games for the Twins in 2010 (at least to start the year).  This didn’t surprise me one bit, considering the big man’s experience in the final frame.  If he suceeds, then great.  If he fails, then perhaps Neshek will be ready.

No word yet on an entrance theme.  Perhaps something from “Papa Roach”?!

In other late Spring Training news:

Brendan Harris hit .357 during the Florida exhibitions, Nick Punto finished in the low .200s.  Guess who will be starting on Opening Day?  If you know Gardy, the answer will be obvious.

Pondering The Closer(s)

Well Twins fans, has it really come to this…the dreaded CBC (Closer By Committee).  My thoughts on the candidates:

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The safe choice. Matt Guerrier is a solid setup man, and would likely do a tidy job in the ninth as well.  The problem: He’s oh so valuable as that solid setup guy.  I’d only go to Matty if another candidate fails.

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Well, it’s clear from the picture that Jon Rauch would have the role if intimidation was the only factor.  He’s got a live fastball, but can’t always control it.  He’s the guy I would throw out there to begin with if Neshek isn’t ready.  Has previous closing experience in Washington, for what it’s worth.

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When we last saw Jose Mijares, the Yankees were walking off.  I would be really scared trusting this guy to the ninth inning in pretty much any situation.  He’s too much of a head-case and easily melts down (the worst character trait of a potential closer).

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The picture says it all for Jesse Crain.

Neshekcloser.jpg Of course, if Pat Neshek successfully shows he has come back from Tommy John surgery, this whole debate will be moot.  I mean, would you want that coming at you?  Every time he’s been healthy he’s dominated batters, so barring arm issues he should be the guy.

One Joe Gone…

amd_nathan.jpgWell, 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…

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…and Ron Perranoski…

ron_perranoski_autograph.jpg …”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…

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Thus, the emergence of Jeff “The Terminator” Reardon…

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…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:

 
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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…

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…usually did the deed.

In 2001, the year the Twins jumped back into contention, LaTroy Hawkins…

latroy_1.jpg …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…

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…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:

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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…

 

Minnesota Twins Spring Training Preview 2010

sect-101-450.jpgNow 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:

 

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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”.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.

 

Bench:

 

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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).

 

Starting Rotation:

 

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

 

Bullpen:

 

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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).
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

 

A Farm Is No Place For Rauch-es

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Though Mr. McDonald may have all the animals listed above, I don’t believe that “Rauch-es” were one of those inhabitants. Basically, with the Twins cruising to what looked like a momentum-building victory against the Blue Jays earlier tonight, the Jays came back with a six-run sixth inning en route to defeating the Twins 6-3. The back-breaking blow came when John McDonald (Toronto’s #9 batter) connected for a three-run frozen rope off of Twins reliever Jon Rauch that just barely cleared the high wall out in left field

Well, there goes another chance at Big Mo (especially with KC knocking off the Tigers). The season is quickly growing short, and if the Twins don’t start winning they will be eliminated by pure arithmetic before we know it (a depressing thought).

Preview (69-69, 2nd, 6.5 GB DET): Carl Pavano (11-11, 5.09) vs. Roy Halladay (14-8, 2.98).

No Way…Yep, Jose!

JoseMoralesYes.jpgCan anything go wrong for the Minnesota Twins right now (especially with Chicago in town)?!

After the game ended in dramatic fashion, with Jose Morales pinch hitting with two outs and a man on third in the bottom of the ninth and getting a solid base hit to win the game, I began thinking of all the remarkable occurences that transpired over those nine innings:

-For starters, Jeff Manship held the Sox to just one earned run over five innings.  Yep, Jeff Manship, facing guys like A.J., Konerko, and Dye got the job done.

-Jon Rauch (recently acquired from Arizona) made just his second appearance in the white pinstripes, pitched a scoreless ninth inning, and got his second win of the season.  I believe it took Francisco Liriano about two months to get to two wins!

-Michael Cuddyer once again clubbed two bombs in one game.  We’re turning this place back into the Homerdome yet!

-And finally, there’s Jose Morales, the hero himself.  In his first at-bat since God knows when (a month or two at least), Morales didn’t allow himself to be cowed by the pressure situation and just got good wood on the ball.  A new hero emerges every night, it seems.

The only thing to go wrong tonight was Jose Mijares and Matt Guerrier combining to blow a late-inning lead, but that only set the stage for all the dramatics (so maybe they just have a keen sense of theatre)!

Preview (67-65, 2nd, 3.5 GB DET): Mark Buerhle (11-7, 3.89) vs. Brian Duensing (2-1, 4.37).  Let’s make Buerhle’s last Dome start a “memorable” one for him.

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