Results tagged ‘ Justin Morneau ’
I know I’m a little late on this, as the New Years parties are all but forgotten already, but I wanted to take a few moments to recount some of my favorite Minnesota Twins memories of the decade past:
2000: When a team features such players as Jay Canizaro, Butch Huskey, Jason Maxwell, Sean Bergman, and Mike Lincoln, it was a bit difficult to really get excited about the teams’ chances. However, having just been introduced to the sport and completely enthralled by it, I can remember going to the basically-empty Metrodome (been to a T-Wolves game lately?) with my Dad, buying an outfield seat, and then moving right up close to home plate because not even the ushers cared what you did back then!
2001: The team finally comes together and starts winning thanks to players like Doug Mientkiewicz, Corey Koskie, Jacque Jones, Torii Hunter, Brad Radke, and Eric Milton. The Twins didn’t win the division, but after nearly a decade of losing baseball, they finally brought some excitement back to the Dome.
2002: The year I learned to hate Bud Selig. In an effort to make MLB more profitable, Selig hatches a scheme to contract two franchise to bolster the others. The obvious choice were the Montreal Expos (later to become the Washington Nationals), but the Twins? Obviously some back-room buyout deals between Buddy-Boy and Twins owner Carl Pohlad were occuring. Luckily, MLB realized that contraction was ill-advised and allowed the Twins to easily capture their first division title since 1991.
2003: After a dominating 2002 campaign, the Twins were nearly out of the division race at midseason of ’03. However, after acquiring outfielder Shannon Stewart from the Blue Jays to bat lead-off, the Twins took off and won the division nearly going-away.
2004: Of the back-to-back-to-back division title winning teams, this squad was the best. In the ALDS, the Twins took the first game at Yankee Stadium and were on the brink of going up 2-0 heading home. However, Joe Nathan (who had taken over for the departed Eddie Guardado and been completely dominant the entire season) led an extra-inning lead slip away and give the Yankees momentum to win that game and then sweep both at the Dome. Of course, maybe it was just fate, as those Yanks proceeded to go up 3-0 on the Red Sox and well, Dave Roberts can tell you the rest…
2005: Not a fun year for Twins Territory. We didn’t outright suck, but we never really competed for the crown, either. Even the usually stoic Brad Radke was overheard griping about the lack of run support from a horrendous offensive unit. Also, this was the year that tensions erupted between Torii Hunter and Justin Morneau and a few blows were thrown, one that somehow connected with little Lew Ford!
2006: The Twins spent one day in first place, but since it was the final day they made it count! They played well pretty much the entire season, but so did the Tigers. A late-season hot streak pushed the Twins over the top on the season’s final day.
2007: How quickly a team can go from “contending” to “rebuilding”. In the first losing season under Ron Gardenhire, a lack of fundamentals and downright sloppy baseball made the final month of the season almost unwatchable.
2008: After underachieving all season, the Twins basically needed to win out the final week of the season, starting with a sweep of the White Sox, whom they were chasing for the division title. I was at all three of those games at the Dome, and they are (easily) the most exciting games I have ever been to. The Twins would later lose to the Tighty Whities in a one-game playoff, but not before some of the most exciting baseball I have ever witnessed.
2009: (Read: 2008). This time the Twins make the one-game playoff count in the most exciting single baseball game I have ever watched!
It was a great decade of Twins baseball memories…why not try for another one?!
After 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.
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.
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.
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:
The 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.
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.
For much of this season, I had been rather disgusted (perhaps a bit strong…but not much) with the at-bats taken by one Michael Cuddyer. In fact, in terms of the dollars and cents of his long-term contract, he might just be one of the worst investments (factoring in injuries) that the Twins have made over the last few years (although the jury is still out on that verdict, obviously).
For now, though, the man known as Cuddy is carrying the Twins’ offense on his back after Justin Morneau went done with his season-ending back issue. Whereas for most of the season Cuddy was giving away at-bat after at-bat by chasing the breaking balls that drop away from him from a right-handed pitcher, he is now locked in at the plate and hitting everything with force.
Tonight, Cuddyer was 3-4 with a single, double, and home run, keeping up his long-held tradition of blasting everything that White Sox starter John Danks throws in his general direction (Cuddy is hitting over .500 against Danks in his career).
Michael also had some help tonight and it was needed, as Jeff Manship struggled in the early goings and didn’t make it past the third inning. Orlando Cabrera, Jason Kubel, and Matt Tolbert (yep, that’s right) also contributed home runs in the contest, while Joe Mauer had a big RBI double that seemed to revitalize the team at the time.
Unfortunately, the Cleveland Indians left the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth (you would have scored them against us!) and fell 3-1 to the Tigers. However, the Injuns actually out-hit the Little Kitties, so it isn’t as if Detroit has righted the ship.
One final thought: How in God’s name is Jesse Crain 7-4 on the season?! Ponder THAT one for a while…
Preview (78-73, 2nd, 2.5 GB DET): Brian Duensing (4-1, 3.22) vs. Mark Buerhle (12-9, 3.84). In Duensing, we may have just found the antidote to Buerhle…another crafty lefty who does whatever it takes to get guys out.
After hearing (and digesting, if you will) the news that Justin Morneau will no longer be contributing for the remainder of the season due to some pretty serious back issues, it was clear that other players would have to step up in the big Canadian’s abscence.
Well, Nick Punto made that quick impact tonight, collecting three hits and knocking in two runs as the Twins defeated the Indians 5-4. Despite jumping out to an early lead, the Twins found themselves down 3-1 to the Indians after Scott Baker’s mini-meltdown in the fourth inning. However, in the bottom of that inning, Punto’s RBI single brought the Twins to within one and later, after a solo homer from Orlando Cabrera tied it and a big hit from Brian Buscher put the Twins in the leader, Punto again singled to score the Busch-Man and give the Twins a much-needed insurance run, as Nathan struggled (solo shot, left tying run on second) to close the door in the ninth.
A great win that, what with Detroit again having their backsides handed to them by the Royals, pulls us one game closer.
Preview (73-72, 2nd, 4.5 GB DET): Aaron Laffey (7-5, 3.79) vs. Nick Blackburn (9-11, 4.39)
I 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…
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.
I know that the next statement I am about to make is not at all fair to closers all over baseball, but (at least in my case) it is true nonetheless: Having your team’s closer blow the game in the bottom of the ninth is the single worst way to lose a ballgame, bar none. Now, add to the mix the idea that your closer might do so against your hated enemy, with two outs, and two strikes (twice). That’s pretty much what Twins fans are feeling towards Joe Nathan today. He’s too important to our playoff hopes to give up on him now, but I think there has to be a cooling-off period (probably a good thing the Twins are travelling to Cleveland today).
Once Wednesday’s meltdown was complete, the impact of such a crucial and heartbreaking loss really drove home to me two disturbing trends that the Twins have fallen prey to both this season and the last.
First, are the late-season struggles of Joe Nathan:
When all is said and done, Nathan’s stats inevitably compare very well with the best closers in the league, yet for the past two years he has struggled to close out games come late August and early September. Now, we’re not talking about the Eddie Guardado-method of struggling here (filling the bases and then wriggling out of trouble)…Nathan’s problems get so severe that he often blows the save chance or the game. He hasn’t been on his game as of late, and Twins fans will also remember how bad he was during that long, late-season road trip in September of 2008 (capped by that now-infamous throwing error against the Blue Jays in Toronto). Sometimes he will still have the ability to blow guys away, but all too often he is not able to find the handle on this control, thus having to groove meatballs just to get strikes. Gordon Beckham and Paul Konerko showed him EXACTLY what happens to grooved meatballs in major league baseball.
Disturbing Trend #2: A similar slump from Justin Morneau…
If the league MVP award was given out after July, Justin Morneau would win the darn thing almost every single season. Yet, in those final two months (it happened last year and is happening again now), the home runs disappear and the average begins to sink towards about .270 (after sitting at .310 or so for most of the year). This trend may be even more disturbing (and perplexing) than Nathan’s, though, as Joe Closer can usually right the ship by season’s end. Justin, however, continued to sink last year to the point where opposing pitchers were walking Joe Mauer to get to him.
I don’t quite understand why this is, as he plays about the least demanding position on the diamond in terms of physical conditioning and injury potential. For example, I don’t know any of these splits, but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Torii Hunter (while playing on the Dome turf) slumped in the later months due to the beating his body took from bouncing around on that carpeted concrete. The same axiom is usually try for mortal catchers (e.g. those not named Mauer)…they take a physical beating the slump accordingly. About the only thing “afflicting” Morneau, though, is that he gets less off-days than any other player on the team, but once again that should be expected out of his position.
If the Twins think they can continue to play well and capture the AL Central, both those “wrongs” are going to have to be corrected, as the bullpen can’t survive without a closer and the lineup isn’t deep enough to support a slumping Canadian.
Preview (67-66, 2nd, 5.0 GB DET): Carl Pavano (11-10, 5.11) vs. Jeremy Sowers (5-9, 4.88). The schedule is again in our favor this weekend, as the Tigers draw the Rays while we get the Injuns.
Man, I bet the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays are our biggest fans right now! Like the couple in the above video, the Minnesota Twins took a little while to get going tonight, but when push came to shove we came out on the winning end of another series against the Texas Rangers.
The Rangers took an early 1-0 lead in the third inning when Elvis Andrus singled in Ivan Rodriguez, but a big fly from Kubel (with Morneau on base) took care of that in short order…
For the next couple of innings, Scott Baker proceeded to shut down the bats of one of the most potent lineups in the American League…
I have to tip my cap to Baker after writing him off in May/June…he has really started to come around the past two months. Sure, he has a bad start now and then…but who doesn’t? Without him upping his game, the Twins might be in as big of a free-fall as the Sox are right now.
Yet, with a bloop and a blast in the seventh inning, the lawmen managed to grab a 3-2 lead. The Twins’ bats managed to have a bit more life in them, though, scoring three times in the bottom of the eighth (including a squeeze bunt from Nick Punto) to take a 5-3 lead.
Then, just when you thought it was safe to exhale again, Joe Nathan got shaky once again. After a crazy series in KC a week ago, Nathan found himself tonight in a bases-loaded, no-out jam. Not only was he wild in the strike zone and getting hit, but he also threw low (and in the dirt for a no-catch) to second base on what should have been an easy double play ball. The good news? Just three batters later, Nathan was doing this…
-It was a very sloppy game by both sides. The Twins had the Nathan throw-away in the ninth, while the Rangers couldn’t seem to hold onto the ball all night…
-Mike Redmond hit a triple. Yep, it is possible. Eat your heart out Matthew LeCroy!!
Preview (65-65, 2nd, 4.5 GB DET): Gavin Floyd (10-8, 3.95) vs. Nick Blackburn (8-9, 4.29). Despite the fact that Brett Favre will be playing on Monday Night Football tomorrow night, I’m still more interested in what the Twins tangling with the ChiSox. Football can wait its turn.
A series win can all but put away the Pale Hose, while a series loss (especially if Detroit keeps winning) will set us back two weeks.
(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).
A recap of the events on the fateful night of 7-20-09 in Minnesota Twins fan history:
From 7:00 to 10:00 p.m., I was at the local theater performance of “The Sound of Music”
It was a great performance, especially considering the small-town venue. It ran a bit longer than I thought it would, so I hurried out to the car radio to get the Twins games on the sub-woofers. At that point, I found out that this was happening…
Basically, it was a good ‘ole fashion beat-down courtesy of guys like Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel, and, well, pretty much everyone else. The high point came at 12-2 in the third inning, I believe, when it looked as if the Twins might set a new single game scoring record.
The only damper on the evening is that the A’s kept trying to crawl their way back into the game due to the fact that Nick Blackburn was essentially throwing batting practice (his sinker wasn’t moving at all). He left after five innings having given up seven runs.
Of course, the bullpen would come in and cobble together the rest, right. Yeah…the lines for the next two Twins hurlers:
Brian Duensing: 1.1 IP, 3 ER
Bobby Keppel: 0.0 IP, 3 ER
As I thought the game was well in hand, I was kind of messing around on Facebook while all the horrendousness was going down, so I don’t remember exactly what transpired, but suffice it to say that Duensing loaded the bases in the seventh, then Keppel gave up a grand slam to Matt Holliday to tie the game at 13-13…
Then Gardy, looking like he could bite the head off a bat, pulled Keppel for Jose Mijares. On the first pitch. Jack Cust took HIM deep, and the A’s had remarkably taken the lead. This was my status quote on Facebook at that point:
But that wasn’t the last of it by far. With two outs and the Twins looking to go down meekly in the bottom of the ninth, Cuddyer doubled and Kubel was intentionally walked. Delmon Young then stepped to the plate and did his level best to prolong the game (by not swinging…his premier aspect). On the second pitch to Young, the ball bounce high of the plate and, to the horror of Oakland catcher Kurt Suzuki, could not be found. Cuddyer easily took third, then made the now-fateful decision to try and tie the game. He came barreling into the plate, slide across the dish right between Suzkuki’s legs and before the tag, and looked to home plate umpire Mike Muchlinski for the “safe” sign that would surely be forthcoming:
Unfortunately, to paraphrase poet Ernest Thayer:
Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Twinsville – mighty Cuddy was called out.
I have watched a lot of baseball over the years, and that “out” call may have been the worst umpiring decision I have ever seen. Cuddyer was halfway across home plate before Suzuki’s glove hit him, yet Muchlinski gave him the fist pump. I am usually not one to call for suspensions/fines lightly, but if Muchlinski doesn’t get some sort of reprimand from MLB I would be disappointed. A major league umpire should make that call in his sleep.
Preview (47-46, 3rd, 1.5 GB CWS): Anthony Swarzak (2-3, 4.50) vs. Dallas Braden (7-8, 3.45). How exactly does a team bounce back from a loss like last night? That is the question I posed to Bert Blyleven on the Carsoup.com “Email the Booth” website before tonight’s game.
Now THAT’s the Scott Baker I like to see! Against the Texas Rangers earlier tonight, Baker turned in what might have been his best start of the season thus far, allowing just one run and six hits over eight innings and striking out eight. Like I said in the previous post, the Baker-Liriano tandem will be paramount to the Twins’ second half success, so it was good to see at least half of that combo start off on the right foot.
Offensively, Cuddyer led the way tonight with a dinger and an RBI double. The streaking Carlos Gomez and Justin Morneau also added run-scoring hits.
Basically, it was just a solid win for the Twins, especially on the road.
That is all.
Preview (47-44, 3rd, 0.5 GB CWS): Francisco Liriano (4-9, 5.47) vs. Derek Holland (3-5, 5.97). Time for Cisco to follow in Bakers’ footsteps.