Results tagged ‘ Justin Morneau ’

A.L. Steals Another One

2009_AS_game.jpg(I was out of town for the A.S. Game, thus am just commenting on things now…)

For whatever reason (probably because of the rich history of the event), I am an MLB All-Star game junkie. I started watching the Midsummer Classic in 1997, the same year the American League began their current winning streak, and have been hooked ever since. I mean, how can a baseball fan NOT be excited about the biggest gather of current stars in the same place, as well as the fact that the actual game means more than any other professional sports’ All-Star games (almost put together). I am also in the minority (at least I think) of people who LOVE the fact that the game determines which league gets home field advantage in the World Series…I would never want to go back to those by-and-large boring contests of the 1990s, where the Home Run Derby and pregame ceremonies far eclipsed the game itself. Thus, this year was no less exciting for me.

 First, there were the always-touching pregame ceremonies…
Stan.jpgOld-time St. Louis Cardinals such as Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith, Red Schoendist, Bob Gibson, and Stan Musial (picture above) were honored before the ceremonial first pitch. As a self-proclaimed “baseball historian”, I always find it exciting to see those stars of yesteryear and remember their past greatness on the diamond. It was also quite interesting to see how the metaphorical St. Louis baseball torch is being passed from Stan The Man to Albert Pujols. Stan owned St. Louis since his retirement, and only Pujols has been able to carry that mantra since.

The network then made a big deal about the ceremonial first pitch, as it was thrown out by some guy you probably have heard of…
Barack.jpgLet’s just say that maybe he should stick to hoops (although at least he didn’t bounce it too badly!).

The game then began with the two horses (Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum) taking their respective mounds for either league…
DocLink.jpgRight out of the gate, the National League looked like a circuit that has had its hind end handed to it for a while now, as some fielding jitters allowed the AL to take an early 2-0 lead.

 In the second inning, though, the NL came storming back…
Yadier.jpgYadier Molina singled to score David Wright and Shane Victorino, and was quickly driven home himself when Prince Fielder hit a ground-rule double, giving the Senior Circuit a 3-2 lead.

For the next few innings, the contest was dominated by pitching. Only a Joe Mauer double in the fifth, preceded by a Derek Jeter fielder’s choice, finally tied the contest at 3-3…
MauerJeter.jpgArguably the biggest play of the night, though, came in the seventh inning, when pinch hitter Brad Hawpe sent a towering fly to left-center off the first pitch he saw from Jonathon Papelbon. Carl Crawford drew a bead on the missile, though, and timed a perfect leap to rob Hawpe of four bases…
Catch.jpgThen, right away in the next half-inning, Curtis Granderson tripled off of NL reliever Heath Bell, and later scored on a sacrifice fly from Adam Jones, giving the AL a lead it would not relinquish (not with Joe Nathan and Mariano Rivera next out of the pen). Granderson took home MVP honors for his triple and run-scored…
Curtis.jpgSo once again, the 2009 version of the MLB All-Star game was another exciting experience. The game was well-contested and full of tension, while (selfishly) the AL extended its winning streak and will now have home turf come late October. Plus, Joe Mauer (1-3, double), Joe Nathan (1 scoreless inning), and Justin Morneau (two hard-hit outs) had good showings in the game.

Twins Notes:

-Relief pitcher Kevin Mulvey is up, third-string catcher Jose Morales is down, as the Twins want a 12-man pitching staff going forward.

-Late breaking news: Alexi Casilla may still be a bonehead; letting a ball skip right past him on one occasion last night and then failing to cover the base on another. Let’s just chock it up to “I want to impress Gardy” nerves and keep our fingers tightly crossed.

Preview (46-44, 3rd, 0.5 GB CWS): Scott Baker (7-7, 5.42) vs. Scott Feldman (8-2, 3.83). One big key for the Twins in the second half is to have Baker and Liriano pitch better than they did in the first 81. That starts tonight.

One Man Show

6421c48a-b99e-42ae-a2d8-48d44e134bc1.jpgBack in their hey-day, the Three Stooges used a gag in one of their infamous shorts where Curly and Larry create the “Two Man Quartet“, much to the dismay of Moe (2:22 in the clip).

Tonight, the Minnesota Twins used a similar approach to beat the Kansas City Royals.  A dinger from Justin Morneau (into the waterfalls!) and a run-scored from Joe Mauer provided the only offense of the game.  The M&M Boys strike again!

Scott Baker did just enough (i.e. got lucky) to survive through five innings and a buttload of pitches, but was picked up nice by a very strong outing from newcomer Bobby Keppel.  You mean we kept him the minors while Ayala and Crain stunk up the joint for months…grrr.

A strong showing?  By no means.  We should pound KC…we didn’t.  Baker should breeze through their lineup…he struggled.  Yet, a win is a win and keeps us in the same spot we were last night: On the cusp of contention, on the brink of utter failure.

Preview (40-39, T-2 w/CWS, 4.0 GB DET): Glen Perkins (3-4, 4.70) vs. Gil Meche (4-7, 4.27). With a big Detroit showdown looming this weekend, the Twins don’t want to fall any further behind in the “division race” (a.k.a. who sucks the least down the stretch).

Hitless Wonders

19f0f023-2597-4c84-be24-649f2e355876.jpgWeren’t we all afraid this was going to happen?  Coming off what is traditionally the hottest part of the season for the Twins, Interleague Play, the Minnesota players and fans came into Kansas City on a high.  Sure, we were only a game over .500, but we had been playing better baseball (especially on the road) and still (if only by default) in the AL Central division race.  Then we lay on egg against the Royals with our best pitcher on the mound.

Besides a two-run blast from Justin Morneau, the Twins couldn’t muster any offense against KC’s Luke Hochevar.  I believe we had one hit through five or six innings against him.  Once again, the lineup that can (at times) put some crooked numbers on the board wilted on the road against a team we should handle fairly easily.  Not once in the game did two consecutive batters get a hit.

On the flip side, Nick Blackburn pitched a decent game, but seemed to be just a little “off” from his normal self.  He wasn’t getting first-pitch strikes, and the hitters seemed to be really teeing-off when they got their pitch (thus the two home runs from Callaspo and Olivo).  However, this was probably just the case of a pitcher (as sometimes happens) not having his best stuff, and battling through it.  He kept us in the game, at the very least, although with the kind of stink our offense was wallowing in it really wouldn’t have mattered anyway.

Now the pressure is on to win the final two games of this series…as that is what a contending team should do.

Preview (39-39, 2nd, 4.0 GB DET): Scott Baker (5-6, 5.17) vs. Brian Bannister (5-5, 4.17)

Keep On Rollin’ (And A R.I.P.)

7eff62d2-01f0-4949-98b2-05eef3a6839a.jpg

The Twins finished up the Interleague Portion of their season today, beating the Cardinals 6-2 behind a strong start from Francisco Liriano and some big hits from Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel.

Looking back, the Twins (once again) really enjoyed this month of NL play, as (just recently) we were one Nick Blackburn gaffe and two Albert Pujols swings away from sweeping both the Brewers and Cardinals ON THE ROAD.  The Twins haven’t played that well in an opposing ballpark since guys like Mientkiewicz, Rivas, and Guzman were still lurking around!

Now, though, the test will be whether or not the Twins can parlay this Interleague success back over to the AL.  Luckily, the road doesn’t get much easier than in Kansas City, our opponent tomorrow night.

Preview (39-38, 2nd, 4.0 GB DET): Nick Blackburn (6-3, 3.11) vs. Luke Hochevar (2-3, 5.87). The Royals have nothing without Zack Grienke, and we don’t draw him…sweet.

By the way, this guy died today…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nkuReA-AGa8

Unbelievable.  Celebs (Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, Mays) are dying at an incredible rate these days.

Unfortunately, this just means that this guy…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NJEKqI1e714

…is now the “king” of infomercials. Sad.

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.

The Ace Was Wild

KazmirWild.jpgFrom the very first inning last night, it was clear that Scott Kazmir wasn’t going to have a good evening.  The Twins scored four runs in the opening frame without the benefit of a hard-hit ball, although Kazmir did uncork a wild pitch to allow the fourth run to cross the plate.

The rest of the evening wasn’t much better for Kazmir, as he allowed eight runs (six earned) in just four innings of work.

On the flip side, Nick Blackburn breezed through seven innings allowing just two earned runs while taming the Tampa Bay bats with his nasty sinker that produced grounder after grounder.

Offensively, the top-three-in-the-batting-order trio of Denard Span, Brendan Harris, and Justin Morneau all had three hits apiece.

Though the Rays are struggling, taking two of three from the defending AL champs is no small feat, as they still are a fundamentally sound ballclub.  Let’s hope that the momentum (and past history of beat-downs) continues with the Twins against Kansas City this weekend.

Preview (11-11, 4th, 0.5 GB CHI, DET, & KC): Sidney Ponson (0-3, 5.79) vs. Kevin Slowey (3-0, 4.44). Well, it’s nice to see that Ponson is enjoying a typical season.  Losing to him was, is, and always will be a complete organizational embarassment.

(Yes) Way, Jose!

8acf1f82-902d-4688-b1df-dd27ea66c3b0.jpgAlright, I was wrong…I’ve got to stop carrying my negativity towards the Minnesota Vikings (the NFL’s perennial messed-up franchise) to the Twins.  When Jose Morales first broke camp with the team (filling in for Mauer), I was on his case right from the very beginning.  He couldn’t throw out baserunners, couldn’t track down pop-ups, and couldn’t hit worth a darn.  However, Morales has now reminded me that baseball, unlike football, is a grind, where a couple of weeks is relatively nothing in comparison to the whole schedule.  Now, Morales (currently a .375 hitter) is hitting line drives all over the place, threw out his first baserunner the other day, and has caught all the sky-scrapers.  He even scored the winning run in last night’s contest against the Rays when Justin Morneau legged it down the line to prevent being doubled up on a sharply hit grounder (that was probably only fielded in the first place because TB skipper Joe Maddon had five infielders in).

Francisco Liriano turned in a great start as well last night, pitching nearly seven frames and only allowing two earned runs.  He isn’t striking out quite the number of batters he once did pre-Tommy John, but (in spurts) he has shown that he can be a very effective starting pitcher on this staff.

Even more impressive, though, was the relief outing from “the other Jose”, that being Jose Mijares, once exiled to the minor leagues (and presumably Weight Watchers) for looking and pitching sluggish during Spring Training.  He definitely didn’t look “sluggish” last night, as all his pitches had bite to them and the batters couldn’t touch them.

Oh yeah, and Joe Nathan is human.

Preview (10-11, 4th, 1.5 GB DET): Scott Kazmir (3-1, 3,97) vs. Nick Blackburn (1-1, 4.44). The bats better get to Kazmir early, as he can be nasty if allowed to find his groove (or get a big lead). 

“Cycling” Back Up

KubelSalami.jpgI had to work until 10:00 tonight, so here was my Twins baseball experience:

I got into my car to head home and turned on the radio to hear that the Twins were down 9-4.  I was pretty frustrated and wondering who was blowing it this time (had I known it was Jesse Crain I probably would have driven into the ditch in anger!).  However, as I was driving home, the Twins began to rally in the bottom of the eighth inning on big RBI hits from Mike Redmond and Denard Span.  With two on and two out, Justin Morneau was intentionally walked so that the Angels could face Jason Kubel instead.  Big mistake, as on just the second pitch of the at-bat, Kubel launched a moonshot into the upper deck to give the Twins an 11-9 lead in another dramatic home-field comeback.  I’m glad I was pulling into my driveway at the time or I probably would have gotten into an accident with all the hollering I was doing (Kubel is my favorite Twins batter)!  Only moments later did I realize that the grand salami completed the cycle for Jason…pretty sweet!

Preview (5-7, 4th, 2.0 GB KCR): Darren Oliver (0-0, 2.45) vs. Kevin Slowey (1-0, 7.94).  A little more Dome magic, anyone?!

Earning His Stripes

6766a2a8-c1d4-405f-8692-7ac73f49dd7f.jpgI imagine that just seeing this picture brings up the gag reflex in most Chicago White Sox fans.  Not because they hate Joe Crede, but for exactly the opposite reason…they let him get away.  Until Crede landed with the Twins, I had no idea he was so revered by the ChiSox and their fans.  It would probably be like Torii Hunter roaming the outfield at U.S. Cellular Field, to put things into perspective.

Until last night, Joe Crede had contributed some very nice plays at the hot corner (something not seen when Brian Buscher was at the same post last year) but not much offensively.  Maybe he’s just a slow starter, or maybe he was pressing to try and impress his new club, but the hits just weren’t falling in for him.  However, he bailed his new club out of a game last night that could have been an incredibly demoralizing loss.

Glen Perkins (8 IP, 7 H, 2 ER) turned in another gem of a performance, but the Twins could only muster two runs of their own (hits from Morneau and Redmond) in the required nine, sending the contest into extras.

In the bottom of the eleventh inning, Joe Crede came to the plate with Morneau on first and two outs.  The game had not been going well for New Joe up to that point, as he had ground into a pitcher-home-first double play to squash a potentially huge rally in the sixth, then struck out in the home half of the ninth.

This time, though, Crede smacked a ball deep to straight-away CF that hit the base of the wall and allowed Morneau to touch three more bases for the “W”.  Crede was mobbed by teammates as he ran in from second base, and his “initiation” into the Minnesota Twins family had begun.

Notes:

-I noticed that only 15,000 fans attended Tuesday night’s game.  To me, this seems really poor.  I know it was a Tuesday night against a team that has zero drawing power, but c’mon…15,000?

-I also have to give Jesse Crain credit for pitching two nice innings (the 10th and 11th) in picking up the victory.  I get on him quite a bit, so it was nice to finally see him contribute in a positive way.

-Finally, Carlos Gomez is completely lost at the plate right now.  As much as this may be called a form of heresy here in Twins Territory, I would rather see Delmon Young in the lineup at this point.  Gomez is up there flailing at pitches he has no business even flinching toward.

Preview (4-5, 4th, 1.0 GB DET & KCR): Scott Richmond (0-0, 6.75) vs. Scott Baker (0-0, 0.00). Baker is making his first start of the season after elbow tightness forced him to miss his scheduled Opening Day assignment.  Baker was our most consistent pitcher down the stretch last season and has the stuff to be a bona fide staff ace, provided he can make it through 6+ innings on a regular basis.

Same Score, Different Path

SilvaWipe.jpgAfter that thrilling 6-5 victory on Tuesday night, the Twins also took tonight’s contest with Seattle by the same score.  However, they did it in much different fashion:

Though Carlos Silva lost 35 pounds over the offseason, he still looked like the same guy that got pounded last year, as Justin Morneau pounded an upper-deck moonshot to right field in the first inning to give the Twins a 2-0 lead.

Yet, Twins starter Kevin Slowey was also bit by the home run bug, giving up a two-run shot to Russell Branyon in the second inning to even the score.

So, given a reprieve, Silva began anew in the second frame…only to this time see Denard Span crank a home run to right to again give the Twins a 4-2 lead.

At that point it looked for all the world like the Twins might just run away with this one, but the Mariners (as they often do against the Twins) stormed back against Slowey in the top of the fourth with three runs (including a homer from Jose Lopez and one run scored on a very wild Slowey offering) to take a 5-4 lead.

Of course, Seattle skipper Dan Wakamatsu then made the mistake of the night (!)…letting Silva saddle up again for the fifth inning, where back-to-back doubles from Morneau and Kubel gave Minnesota a 6-5 lead we would not relinquish, as the combination of Craig Breslow, Jesse Crain, and Joe Nathan (in dominating fashion) held the M’s scoreless for the duration.

Notes:

-In very un-Twinlike fashion, a batter struck out three times for the third consecutive night.  First it was Cuddyer, then Jose Morales, and tonight’s victim was Joe Crede.  Actually, pretty much all Twins batters are piling up the K’s right now…let’s hope their just getting them out of their systems early!

-Though Slowey didn’t pitch particularly well (6 IP, 5 ER), he did come away with the win, and I’ll think he’ll be just fine in the coming weeks and months.  Perhaps it was just nerves tonight, but he left some balls up that the Seattle bats took advantage of.  At times, though, Slowey seemed to be in complete control.

Preview (2-1, 1st, 0.5 GA CWS and KCR): Jarrod Washburn (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Glen Perkins (0-0, 0.00 ERA). Another lefty for the Twins to decipher in Washburn…that often leads to trouble  Hopeful Seattle has the same problem with Perk. 

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