Results tagged ‘ LaTroy Hawkins ’

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…

 

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!).

We Are Family (Minus One)

koskie.jpgI was saddened to hear yesterday that former Twin, Blue Jay, and Brewer Corey Koskie announced his retirement from professional baseball.  As Twins fans, how can we not respect the tenacity that Koskie showed for the game of baseball, as he was one of those guys without much raw talent that needed every ounce of skill in his body to hit .280, 20 HR, and play fabulous defense at the hot corner.  Sadly, however, his strange concussion-like malady has now forced him to leave the game he loves.  Though even he admitted he could probably play through the discomfort, he did not want to put himself through another rough year or two, and with young children growing up at home I don’t know how you can blame him for that.

During my time as a writer for the University Register at the University of Minnesota, Morris, I penned an article about Koskie (and other former Twins) that I thought would be appropriate to share on this blog.  Just remember that the article is a wee bit dated (written just in advance of the start of the ’07 season), but the basic principles of the piece still hold true:

Over the last seven seasons, the Minnesota Twins have become a perennial powerhouse in the American League.  Yet, besides a winning product on the field, the Twins have created a family-type atmosphere that makes them so endearing and fun to watch.  While many baseball teams disperse their own separate ways the minute a game is completed (i.e. the New York Yankees), the Twins stick together, evidenced by the roommate pairing of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau last season.  Journeyman players who have wandered the major leagues or young rookies fresh from the bush leagues can be considered “part of the family” once assigned a Twins uniform.  However, in order to stay competitive in baseball’s current economy, many a fine Twins “family member” has needed to be disowned.  In almost all cases, leaving the Twins’ family produced disastrous results…

Christian Guzman–Endeared himself to Twins fans in 2001 with his unusual goatee and that “bionic sound” he made while scampering to third base with another triple.  Since leaving the Twins after 2004, Guzy batted .219 for the Washington Nationals in 2005 and missed the entire ’06 season due to shoulder surgery.

Matt Lawton–Lawton was the most talented Twins outfielder during the doldrums of the late 1990s.  Never sniffed .300 after leaving the Twins via a trade in ’01 and was busted for steroids with the Yankees in 2005.

A.J. Pierzynski–You know the fan who gets a few beers in him and annoys the heck out of his entire section?  A.J. Pierzynski was that guy’s hero.  Pierzynski is still a quality catcher for the Chisox, but his trade brought the Twins Francisco Liriano, Joe Nathan, and Boof Bonser.

Luis Rivas–A mainstay (admittedly if only because of a lack of depth) at the second base position from 2001-2004 and often single-handedly defeated the Kansas City Royals.  Could not make the Tampa Bay Devils Rays roster in 2006, one year after the Twins released him.

David Ortiz–The one who got away.  The gregarious “Big Papi” was a fan-favorite in 2001-2002, but also quite injury-prone, leading to his departure.  Ortiz latched on with Boston and is now arguably major league baseball’s biggest superstar.

Doug Mientkiewicz–Led the Twins’ surge to prominence in 2001, but is now best remembered for stealing a baseball, not hitting or catching one.

Eric Milton–A solid, if not spectacular, starting pitcher for the Twins who pitched a no-hitter in 1999.  Now regularly leads the NL in home runs allowed.

Joe Mays–Highly-touted Twins prospect who, after one great season (2001) fizzled out.  Was recently cut from LA Dodgers training camp.

Jacque Jones–Teamed with Torii Hunter to create the “Soul Patrol” outfield but could not be afforded after 2005.  Last year, Jacque was a steady contributor (.285, 27 home runs) for the Chicago Cubs.

LaTroy Hawkins–After first succeeding (then failing miserably) as a closer, “Hawk” became a premier middle reliever before pricing himself out of a Twins uniform.  Hasn’t been nearly as dominant since leaving Minnesota (4.48 ERA in 60 innings for the Orioles last season) and still collapses in pressure situations.

Eddie Guardado–“Everyday Eddie” earned his nickname as a middle reliever, but transformed himself into a reliable (if not spectacular) closer.  Recently, Eddie has become anything but reliable due to chronic left elbow problems.

Yet, there is one player who has fallen on especially hard times after leaving the Twins family.  The name noticeably absent from this nostalgic list is Corey Koskie.  In 2001, Koskie banded together with Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones, and Doug Mientkiewicz in order to bring winning baseball back to Minnesota, much like Kent Hrbek, Gary Gaetti, Tom Brunansky, and Kirby Puckett did in the early 1980s.

Koskie debuted with the Twins organization in 1999 where, at third base and right field, he made an immediate splash (.310 batting average) on a punchless team.  However, Koskie struggled mightily with his third base defense, not exhibiting enough quickness or range to play the position.  Yet, on a team where playoff aspirations were nonexistent, Koskie was given the time necessary to develop his fielding skills, eventually molding himself into a perennial Gold Glove candidate, with his diving stops and on-target throws (even if he did have to occasionally bounce them off the old Metrodome turf) becoming commonplace.

After being a key contributor to the Twins’ playoff teams of 2002-2004, Koskie was courted by a number of teams who coveted the slick-fielding, decent power/average third baseman.  Though pursued by the Twins, Koskie was ultimately signed by the Toronto Blue Jays of his native Canada.  Before leaving Minnesota, in a gesture demonstrating his appreciation of the Twins’ organization and fans, Koskie took out full-page ads in both the Pioneer Press and Star Tribune expressing his gratitude for being allowed to thrive in Minnesota.

After a disappointing and injury-riddled season in Toronto, Koskie again changed teams, this time heading to Milwaukee.  With a fast start to 2006, Koskie seemed to be getting his career back on track until disaster struck on July 5.  While chasing a pop-up at Miller Park, Koskie overran the ball, had to bend backwards, and ended up falling to the ground, his neck whip-lashing before impact.  While the incident did not seem overly violent, Koskie’s next at-bat was like something out of the fifth dimension of the Twilight Zone, complete with images coming in and out of focus and spells of dizziness.

Since that day, Koskie has not played an inning of baseball for the Brewers.  A week after the concussion, Koskie tried returning to the Brewers’ lineup, but was overcome by dizziness, fatigue, and nausea, requiring him to leave the field once again.  After visiting a neuropsychologist, Koskie was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome from his fall.  For the rest of that season, Koskie could only work out in small increments without the symptoms returning.  His head injury even affected his family life, as watching his son’s hockey games became impossible due to the bright lights giving him terrible headaches. 

As for 2007 season begins, Koskie has begun rehabilitating both mind and body at his home in Minnesota, hoping to rejoin his team at the earliest possible date.  Though post-concussion symptoms can last for years, Koskie seems to be on track to the major leagues again, as evidence by rising scores on the reaction-time and cognitive ability tests he regularly undergoes.  According to Koskie himself (in an interview with the Star Tribune’s Patrick Reusse), “I’m going to play again.  I’m sure of that.  If I wasn’t, I would have a lot more depression to deal with.”

In 1982, a promising young outfielder named Jim Eisenreich debuted with the Minnesota Twins.  After suffering several mystifying seizures at his left field post, Eisenreich was diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome, putting his major league career in serious jeopardy.  However, after three years of undergoing treatment, Eisenreich returned to the major leagues.  In 1993 he helped the Philadelphia Phillies to the National League Championship by batting .318.  In 1996 he hit .361 with the Phillies, and ’97 brought him a World Series championship with the Florida Marlins.  Hopefully, Corey Koskie can do much of the same.

 

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