Results tagged ‘ Matt Garza ’

Never Quite Fit

After a team-wide collapse during the final months of 2007, the Twins were a ballclub in desperate need of hitters.  The thought was, at least at the time, that the Twins had a solid stable of starters and a deep bullpen, so Matt Garza (and Jason Bartlett) were deemed expendable and sent to Tampa Bay for Delmon Young (and Brendan Harris).  Unfortunately, Young never quite fit in with the Twins organization and is now a Tiger.

In 2008, with the promise of power based on a solid TB rookie campaign, Delmon hit .290 with little power.  In 2009, he hit about .290 with…little power.  In 2010, he hit about .300 with 21 homers and 110+ RBI.  So far this season, he’s missed much time on the DL and never really found his stroke.

Basically, there are two Delmon Young’s:

The first Delmon can put a team on his shoulders from the middle of the order.  When he’s locked in, he’s almost Vlad Guerrero-like with his free-swinging ways.  He (more than probably any other Twin) took the “sage” advice of Tony Oliva in this now-infamous TV spot…

The other Delmon, however…

…was an out machine when swinging at those early pitches, completely unable to draw walks or move runners along.  In the field, he was a complete klutz.  Though sometimes he’ll dive and catch a ball, it is usually because he misplayed it so thoroughly to begin with.  He just doesn’t have any natural coordination in the field.

Sadly, that “second” Delmon Young was much more apparent as a Twin than the first.  Looking back, I can’t blame the Twins for giving Young a try.  At the time, we though we were getting two above average hitters for a pitcher (in Garza) that needed a change of scenery and a hitter (in Bartlett) who didn’t blossom until his Tampa stay.

However, it just didn’t work out.

Two Good Teams

This past weekend, the Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves (both leaders of their respective divisions) played some hard-fought games that brought to mind another series between each club that you might remember:

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On Friday night, Francisco Liriano and Tim Hudson locked horns in an epic pitchers duel (I was at this one in person!).  Frankie struck out seven batters in a row at one point (tying a club record), and the Twins did Hudson in with one productive inning in the seventh.

For Saturday’s game, another pitching lockup commenced, this time with Nick Blackburn taking the hard-luck loss to Derek Lowe.

In the finale, Kevin Slowey came back down to earth after a series of outstanding starts, and the Twins effectively lost after the second inning (down 5-0).  Delmon Young did continue his hot hitting with a three-run bomb, though.

Notes:

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-It was nice to see the Twins organization recognize Bobby Cox before the opening game of the series (Cox has announced his retirement from managing effective at the end of this season).  He truly is a class act who will be sorely missed by Atlanta and all MLB.

-Boy, is Delmon ever on a tear!  Of course, he is also prone to those bone-dry stretches as well, so is it really necessary to re-hash the Garza/Bartlett for Young/Harris trade every time he goes on a streak?!

-We need to get healthy.  We may be able to beat some NL clubs (like the incoming Rockies) with the likes of Danny Valencia and Trevor Plouffe in the lineup, but we need O-Dawg and JJ back to compete with the big boys offensively.

Preview (36-27, 1st, 2.5 GA DET): Aaron Cook (2-3, 4.76) vs. Carl Pavano (6-6, 3.92).  Does Pavano ever get a no-decision?  I’m kidding…that’s actually a positive thing, as it means he’s pitching deep into games.

I’m So Sick Of You, Brendan Harris

Well, the Twins were able to right the ship this weekend in Oakland (taking two of three from the A’s) after a rough week in Seattle.  Despite some shakiness of late and a rash of injuries/sickness, we’re still managing to win enough ballgames to not feel much heat from the Tigers.

I would like to touch on a subject that really got under my skin yesterday:

In the eighth inning of yesterday’s game, the Twins finally were rallying to try and make things interesting.  Delmon Young whalloped a two-run dinger to get the Twins within one, then Jim Thome doubled to put the tying run in scoring position.  Up to the plate came Brendan Harris, who proceeded to quickly strike out, taking a called third strike right down broadway and proceeding to berate the ump for the easiest call he made all night:

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Right now, I don’t think I could be more sick of Harris. A little history:

After the 2007 season, the Twins traded for Harris (along with Young) in the swap that netted the Rays Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett.

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It was thought that Harris would be our everyday second baseman in 2008, but that experiment failed miserably, as Harris could not field the position.  Thus, in 2008-2010, he has bounced around between third base and shortstop, never being able to land a starting gig for any prolonged period of time.  Were he even just a decently consistent hitter, he could easily see more playing time over the likes of Nick Punto and Matt Tolbert, but (although his bat sometimes has a little pop in it) he is prone to streaks where he is about as automatic an out as is human possible.

This season, Harris’ average has hovered around .150, but it is his attitude that really bothers me.  When Justin Morneau or Michael Cuddyer strike out looking (and know it), they might show some frustration, but only at themselves.  Harris, on the other hand, is: A. So lost at the plate that he apparently doesn’t know what a strike is or isn’t anymore; and B. Ready, willing, and able to place the blame squarely on the shoulders of anyone else, preferably the umpires.

I usually don’t like singling players out like this, but in this case I’ve just had it with Harris’ antics.

Never Gonna Give You Up

(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).

The Next Timo Perez?

1twin0629gomez.jpgOne of the surprises of the 2009 Minnesota Twins’ season so far has been the reduced playing time of Carlos Gomez.  Whereas last year Gomez seem to be the catalyst of the batting order more times than not, this year he starts about one in every four games or so.  Conspiracy theorists like to point out that perhaps Delmon Young is “stealing” Go-Go’s playing time to maximize his trade potential come mid-season, but I think the fact of the matter is that Young can keep his batting average above .250, while Gomez cannot.

Right now, Gomez (while improving defensively…he is taking much better routes to balls and I haven’t seen him overrun a grounder yet) is completely lost at the plate.  He takes swings that often embarrassing and his pretty much a goner if the pitcher ever gets two strikes on him.

I hope I am wrong in this parallel, but currently Carlos Gomez is falling into the pattern of another young, exciting player who never lived up to his potential:

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During the late 1990s, with the Twins a perenniel cellar-dweller, I jumped on the bandwagon of the New York Mets, partly because I hated their chief rival the Atlanta Braves and partly because I just wanted to cheer for someone in the playoffs!  Thus, during the 2000 playoffs, I remember watching young Timo Perez make a tremendous impact for the Mets.  Timo only played about 20 games for the Mets that entire ’00 season, but he made a big enough impact with his torrid September play that he made the playoff roster.  For that one month and during most of the postseason, Timo was the catalyst for the entire Mets’ lineup, whether it was getting on base, stealing them, or hitting line drives all over the field.  Unfortunately, Perez is probably best remembered for his baserunner blunder that may have cost the Mets a game in the 2000 “Subway” World Series with the Yankees, but he was the kind of player that seemed to have a bright future in New York.

However, a telling sign was the two hits that Perez collected the ENTIRE World Series.  Thus, it was obviously that pitchers were finally figuring out how to get him out, and it was time for him to make the most crucial adjustment that a batter ever makes (that first one after pitchers find a weakness).  He never did.  He played a few more seasons with the Mets (one decent), then became a journeyman, popping up in Chicago with the Pale Hose most recently, I believe.  However, he was never able to regain that flash of talent he showed late in the 2000 season.

Like I said, I hope this isn’t true, but right now Gomez is following that same path.  Gomez single-handedly won games for the Twins early last season, but by the end of said season he had been replaced by Denard Span as leadoff hitter and was striking out at an enormous rate.  The pitchers finally figured him out, much like they did to Timo Perez, and he has yet (as far as I can see) to make the adjustment to start getting hits again.

The ray of hope I see for Gomez, though, is that he really hasn’t gotten enough playing time yet this season to show his current talent level.  Whereas Timo Perez got many years to try and recapture that once-attained talent, Gomez has primarily been riding the pine in his second season as a Twin.  It is a sticky situation, as the Twins like Cuddyer and Span in the lineup but also have high hopes (and Garza/Bartlett) invested in him.  It will be interesting to see how the entire situation pans out.

World Series Game Three Preview: The Old Man

Moyer.jpgBarring a rain-out tonight, the pitching matchups for Game Three of the World Series are as follows: Jamie Moyer (PHI, LHP, 2-0, 5.1 IP, 13.50 ERA) vs. Matt Garza (TB, RHP, 2-1, 19 IP, 3.32 ERA).

This entire World Series has been billed of one featuring young, athletic players who will be the future of the game in years to come.  Whereas old stalwarts such as the Yankees and Braves always seemed to make the playoffs in years past, this year has been quite the opposite.  However, Jamie Moyer couldn’t be more different from that promotion.  Moyer is 45 years old and has been pitching in MLB since 1986, right around the birth date of many of his teammates on the Phillies.  Much like Terry Mulholland (I only recollect that name because he played a little while for my Twins), Moyer is blessed with a rubber arm, and managed to win 16 games this season when most people wrote him off as washed up after a disappointing 2007 campaign.

As much as I would like to see Moyer tame the youngsters, I think he will be defeated tonight (or whenever the game is actually played).  Moyer has given the game his all for many years, but I think the youthful exuberance of TB’s kids will be too much for him this time.

I Don’t Believe What I Just Saw

MattGarza.jpgLast night, as I sat down to watch the Boston Red Sox take on the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 7 of the ALCS, I was rooting for the Sawx to win the AL pennant.  I just know a lot more about the Sox and figured it would be more interesting to see them back in the World Series then the upstart Rays.  When the final out was recorded (remarkably, in favor of Tampa Bay), however, I found myself feeling good for the improbable Rays franchise for two reasons: seeing former Twins succeed, and seeing a franchise that never should have been winning something significant.

I have been closely following major league baseball since 1998 (the whole McGwire-Sosa thing, you know), the same year the then Devil Rays (along with the Arizona Diamondbacks) were introduced into the game.  Within a few years, once the Rays organization had time to prove to me how inept they were, I made the prediction that the Rays would never win a significant championship in the history of their franchise.  I though this for two reasons: First, the Tampa Bay area really isn’t suited for a major league baseball franchise, as the fan support is terrible (too much sun in Florida, I think).  Second, they play in what amounts to the high-rollers division of the American League…the AL East.  While the Yankees, Sox, and Orioles (although you would never know it considering how many bad decisions they make with it) have incredible streams of revenue, the Blue Jays and Rays are pretty much left in their dust.  To me, the chances of someone other than New York or Boston winning the AL East were as good as someone knocking the New England Patriots off the top of their weak NFL division the last few years.

So, as the final out was recorded last night, I was glad to see the Rays bring at least some happiness to the few fans in TB who follow them with a passion (like I do my Twins).  Also, I was happy for former Twins Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett (and Grant Balfour, I guess) for their winning performance.  Garza clashed with enough Twins coaches to make his departure imminent, but I don’t begrudge him for that, as the Twins have a very strict organizational stance on pitchers that Garza didn’t feel he could work within.  I liken it to the Twins telling David Ortiz to push the ball into an often wide-open left field, something he wasn’t going to do and thus needed a new team to start fresh with.  As for Bartlett, he never really played up to his true potential for the Twins, so I’m glad to see him step up and become a leader for another club.

Finally, I was wondering throughout last night’s game what team the Twins (and specifically manager Ron Gardenhire) were cheering for.  At first, I thought that perhaps the bitterness at losing Garza and Bartlett would have them leaning towards Boston, but then I consider things further and reached a different conclusion.  Being a Little League coach for three years in my home town, my face always lit up when a former player experienced success elsewhere, so I bet a guy like Gardy (and a close-knit team like the Twins) were rooting for their old pals.

All season long I doubted the Rays.  First, their ability to win the AL East, and second their ability to advance deep into the postseason.  They have proven me wrong at every turn, and I now finally believe they have a shot at accomplishing the unthinkable…winning a World Series championship.  If I were the Devil right now, I’d start getting the heaters installed, as things could get a bit chilly down there if the Rays have their way this week.

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.

SP: The Four Horseman and One Stud

LirianoReview.jpgLast offseason, the Twins lost arguably the top three starters from their pitching rotation in Johan Santana, Matt Garza, and Carlos Silva, as the money just wasn’t there to sign them to long-term contracts.  So, heading into the 2008 season, the starting rotation was the biggest question mark of the team.

Remarkably, though, by the end of the season, the Twins had again dug deep within their organization and (big props to pitching coach Rick Anderson) built a solid starting rotation.  Here is how the starters performed over the course of the season:

Livan “Fat Man” Hernandez (10-8, 139.7 IP, 5.48 ERA): The Twins signed the Fat Man before the start of the season in order to give their starting rotation some veteran experience, but he was a colossal failure.  He benefited from some extremely good luck (to get those 10 wins), with his only talent being the ability to throw a complete game nearly every start (of course, he would surely give up five runs).  Hernandez was jettisoned at the end of July.

Francisco Liriano (6-4, 76, 3.91): In 2006, the Cisco Kid wowed Twins fans with his biting slider and extremely live fastball before rupturing his arm and needing Tommy John surgery to tidy it up.  After taking 2007 off, then, Twins fans had high hopes for Cisco in ’08.  At first, things took a terrible twist, as Liriano (in his first few starts with the big club since ’06) could not throw strikes and got hammered even by poor teams like Kansas City.  After just three starts and an 11.32 ERA in April, Liriano was sent back to the minors to work out the kinks.  He returned in August and looked much more like the Liriano of old, striking out more batters with higher velocity.  He struggled a bit at the end of the season, but clearly has the potential to be the staff ace in ’09.

Scott Baker (11-4, 172.3, 3.45): With Santana a Met, the Twins were counting on Baker to be the rock of their rotation in a year where Liriano would still be gaining his footing.  The success of Baker, though, depends on how you look at it: Usually, Baker did live up to the moniker of staff ace, mowing down batters in a Liriano-like fashion when he was on.  However, Baker also struggled mightily with pitch count, often leaving games after just five innings and putting more strain on an already-brittle bullpen (more in further posts)…not what you want out of your ace.

Kevin Slowey (12-11, 160.3, 3.99): The Twins were looking for Slowey to take the next step in his development as a major league pitcher, and by and large he did just that.  Injuries prevented him from achieving the 200 inning plateau, and he (like Baker) also struggled with pitch counts and leaving games early.  When he’s on his game, it’s eerily similar to watching the departed Brad Radke ply his trade.

Nick Blackburn (11-11, 193.3, 4.05): Judging on past experience, Blackie turned in the most remarkable season of all Twins starting pitchers in 2008.  A complete unknown coming into the season, Blackburn nearly reached 200 innings and spun a legendary game in the one-game playoff against the White Sox (although sadly he was not rewarded for his effort).  He’s a sinkerball pitcher, so either he was getting his ground balls, or the balls were flying out of the park.

Glen Perkins (12-4, 151, 4.41): After missing nearly an entire season due to injuries, Perkins (a former Golden Gopher) latched on to the fifth starter position and didn’t let go for nearly the entire season.  He was arguably the Twins’ most consistent pitcher in the middle months of the season, but seemed to tire (or just stink) down the stretch, raising some concerns about his strength.

So, the 2008 Twins were able to put together a remarkable young rotation (no one older than 26) that pitched them to within one Jim Thome home run of the playoffs.  Of course, with that youth brings question marks for ’09: Can Perkins hold up over a whole season?  Can Baker and Slowey manage their pitch counts better?  Can Blackburn get the sinker working more times than not?  Can Liriano get back to version.2006?

Looking ahead to 2009, Perkins’ spot in the rotation may be in jeopardy due to the emergence of young starter Anthony Swarzak (5-0 in Triple-A).  Other than that, the starting rotation looks to be, at the very least, competent.

LF: The Breakout Candidate

YoungSlidingReview.jpgWhen the Minnesota Twins traded promising young starter Matt Garza to the Tampa Bay Rays last offseason, the keystone of the deal was Delmon Young, who had batted .288 and drove in 93 runs during his rookie season in 2007.  From the Twins’ perspective, Young was one of the most promising young talents in the American League.

Of course, as had happened at the second base (Brendan Harris), shortstop (Adam Everett), and third base (Mike Lamb) positions, Delmon got off to a slow start in a Twins uniform, flailing away at unhittable pitches and not hitting anything but singles when he did connect (his first home run didn’t come until June 7).  This was at the same time that Garza was near the league leaders in both wins and earned run average for the AL.

Then, on June 27, Michael Cuddyer (the most powerful right-handed bat in the Twins’ lineup to that point) was essentially lost for the season due to a wrist (and later a foot) injury.  From that point, Young really stepped up and became a force in the Twins’ lineup, finishing with a .290 BA, 80 R, 10 HR, and 14 SB.

Defensively, Young was heavily criticized (yes, this is you Patrick Ruesse) during one portion of the season where he misjudged a few fly balls in the Metrodome.  To me, though, that criticism was entirely undeserved.  First off, Young has a rocket arm out in left (a HUGE improvement over our last full-time left fielder Shannon Stewart).  Second, every rookie has their struggles at the Dome, whether it be with the roof (outfielders) or the turf (infielders).  Yes, Young struggled a little bit, but by the end of the season he saved many more hits, runs, and advancing base runners than he allowed.

The key thing that Twins fans must remember about Delmon Young is that his last name is synonymous with his current status in MLB.  Delmon is only 22 years old, and after his breakthrough rookie season in 2007 he had a bit of a “sophomore slump” in the early goings of ’08.  As the season came to a close, though, it became clear that Young can provide some right-handed pop to the lineup (as well as good speed), making him potentially the starting left-fielder of the Minnesota Twins for many years to come.  I, for one, have no qualms about that.

Playoff Notes:

-What a clutch win for the Phillies last night, with Shane Victorino hitting a late-inning two-run home run to give the Phils the victory.  I predicted the Philadelphia squad to win this series in five games, and right now they are one win from doing exactly that.

-ALCS Game Four Starting Pitchers (Tampa Bay 2, Boston 1): Tim Wakefield (10-11, 4.13) vs. Andy Sonnanstine (13-9, 4.38).  Can the Rays win two consecutive games in Fenway Park in October?  I lean towards one, but of course I also doubted their ability to even win one. 

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