Results tagged ‘ Matt Tolbert ’

Contemplating The Yanks

This weekend, the Twins will head to Yankee Stadium in New York for three games with their own particular version of kryptonite: the Yankees.

There is a particular amount of buzz about this series in the Twins Cities area right now (whether suffocating or stimulating is up for interpretation), primarily due to the Twins’ hot start and the potential to erase a few past demons.  Basically, we haven’t been able to do squat against the Yankees since, ironically enough, we started winning on a consitent basis back in 2002.  However, here is the reason why I finally see the Twins turning things around…starting tomorrow night:

 

baseball_back_1024.jpgTo me, the difference between the Twins and the Yankees has always been a deep bench.  Whether Joe Torre or Joe Girardi, in late-inning situations there’s also a big bat coming off the bench that can wreak havoc.  The best example of this was in the ’04 ALDS, when Ruben Sierra came off their bench as opposed to Michael Ryan off ours.  Ouch.

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The picture above more accurately represents our bench (in past years) in a time of need.  Gardy scans the length of the dugout and finds such guys as Brian Buscher, Ryan, Nick Punto, or Matt Tolbert to try and create runs off of Joba Chamberlain or Mariano Rivera.  Not likely.

However, this year we have both the lineup depth AND the pitching to keep pace with the mighty Yankees.  They may still outpace us in top-tier (Sabathia, Burnett, A-Rod, Jeter, etc.) talent, but we now have the bats to hang with them even into the late innings.

Plus, remember this…

In 2003, we took the first game at Yankee stadium before collapsing.  In ’04, we took the first and almost had the second if not for a Nathan blown save.  Last year, we played them toughed in nearly every regular season game (a lot of walk-off wins for them), and had a chance to win all three of those playoffs games if we could have gotten some clutch hits.

Could this be the start of a new era for the Twins (competing with the big boys)?  This weekend provides the first test.

Minnesota Twins Spring Training Preview 2010

sect-101-450.jpgNow that the Twins are cranking things up down in Fort Myers, here is a little preview of what to expect in terms of the build-up to Opening Day 2010:

Last Year: 87-76, 1st in American League Central Division (1 GA of Detroit Tigers), lost to New York Yankees in ALDS (3-0).

 

Manager: Once again, the Twins will have Ron Gardenhire at the helm.  Since taking the reins from Tom Kelly back in 2002, Gardy has posted a 709-588 (.547) record with the Twins.  Besides the lone 1969 Billy Martin tenure, that winning percentage constitutes the highest mark in franchise history, and trails only TK (1140-1244) in overall wins.

 

Venue: After nearly three decades of playing in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, the Twins will now christen open-air Target Field as their new home.  Dimensions: LF-339, LCF-377, CF-404, RCF-367, RF-328.

 

Projected Starting Lineup & Positions:

 

  1. Denard Span (R), CF (2009 stats: .311 BA, 97 R, 180 H, 23 SB, .807 OPS): Though primarily just a singles hitter who runs the bases well, Span is very adept at working counts, getting on base, and coming up big in the clutch.  The best lead-off hitter wearing “TC” since Chuck Knoblauch jumped ship.  Plays Torii Hunter-like defense in the outfield.
  2. Orlando Hudson (S), 2B (for LA Dodgers: .283 BA, 74 R, 35 2B, .774 OPS, All-Star, Gold Glove): One of the newcomers this year.  Can’t say I’ve watched him play much, but the stats don’t seem to lie.  He’s very comparable to the departed Orlando Cabrera, who did wonders for the top of the order down the stretch in ’09.
  3. Joe Mauer (L), C (.365 BA, 94 R, 96 RBI, 28 HR, 1.031 OPS, All-Star, Gold Glove, MVP, Silver Slugger): Perhaps the most talented player in baseball this side of Albert Pujols.  The kind of guy who could hit .320 and call it a “down year”.
  4. Justin Morneau (L), 1B (.274 BA, 100 RBI, 30 HR, .878 OPS, All-Star): Take a look at those stats, and then consider he missed the final month of ’09 due to injury.  His ability to hit for average and maintain a selective eye separates him from the hackers.
  5. Michael Cuddyer (R), RF (.276 BA, 93 R, 94 RBI, 32 HR, .862 OPS): The biggest hurdle for Cuddy is making it through an entire season.  When hurt, he struggles with things like consistency and strike outs.  When healthy, he puts up numbers like last season.  Possesses a rifle arm.
  6. Jason Kubel (L), DH (.300 BA, 28 HR, 103 RBI, .907 OPS): Could be the cleanup hitter in many other teams’ lineups.  Is just coming into his own (a bit late) after struggling through a serious knee injury as a rookie.  Can also more than hold his own in the outfield, where he may find himself on more than a few occasions if Jim Thome heats up.
  7. Delmon Young (R), LF (.284 BA, 60 RBI, 12 HR, .733 OPS): Will be the first to sit if Kubel and Thome play their way into the lineup, but also has tremendous upside.  Is clumsy in the field (but just good enough to make up for it) and prone to hitting nothing but singles for long stretches, but when locked in can be a deadly force.
  8. J.J. Hardy (R), SS (for Milwaukee Brewers: .229 BA, 53 R, 47 RBI, 11 HR, .659 OPS): The Twins are hoping for the ’07-’08 Hardy to re-emerge…the one who hit 25+ homers and posted a respectable average.  The verdict is still out on his D, which is decent but not Punto-like.
  9. Nick Punto (S) (.228 BA, 56 R, 82 H, 16 SB, .621 OPS) or Brendan Harris (R), 3B (.261 BA, 44 R, 108 H, .672 OPS): A classic “offense vs. defense” choice here.  Gardy loves Punto for the defense he brings to the infield, but Little Nicky is often an albatross at the bottom of the order.  Harris is an average fielder, but can rattle one off the wall every so often.

 

Bench:

 

  1. Jim Thome (DH/1B, L) (for White Sox & Dodgers: .249 BA, 23 HR, 77 RBI, .847 OPS): Hopefully the big bat the Twins have desperately needed off the pine.  Could easily play his way into everyday lineup if balls start clearing the walls.
  2. Jose Morales (C, S) (.311 BA, 119 AB, .742 OPS): Showed enough poise as a youngster for the Twins to let veteran Mike Redmond leave.
  3. Alexi Casilla (2B, S) (.202, 228 AB, .538 OPS): At times provides a spark to the top of the order and plays flashy D, but is still far too prone to mental errors/goofs that Gardy can’t stand.
  4. Matt Tolbert (IF, S) (.232, 198 AB, .611 OPS): Plays the kind of scrappy ball and defense that the manager loves and his adept at handling the bat (if not racking up hits).

-Others battling for roster spots include Drew Butera (C), Wilson Ramos (C), Jacque Jones (OF), Luke Hughes (IF), Trevor Plouffe (IF), and Danny Valencia (IF).

 

Starting Rotation:

 

  1. Scott Baker (RHP, 15-9, 4.36 ERA, 200 IP): Baker has shown spurts of ace-like outings, but needs to consistently pitch further into games to really match up against the league’s best.
  2. Nick Blackburn (RHP, 11-11, 4.03 ERA, 205.2 IP): Has a knack for coming up big in the clutch starts, but also needs to work on consistency.  A typical sinkerball pitcher in that if the ball isn’t diving, it’s jumping (off bats, that is).
  3. Kevin Slowey (RHP, 10-3, 4.86 ERA, 90.2 IP): At times looks like the second coming of Brad Radke, but needs to stay healthy for an entire season to prove it.  Has absolutely pin-point accuracy with an assortment of pitches to keep the hitters guessing.
  4. Carl Pavano (RHP, 5-4, 4.64 ERA, 73.2 IP): The only veteran in the starting rotation, but his overall effectiveness is questionable.  Showed he could compete against the AL Central after being acquired during the latter months of the season, but needs to prove his worth against the “big boys” of the league.
  5. Francisco Liriano (LHP, 5-13, 5.80 ERA, 136.2 IP), Glen Perkins (LHP, 6-7, 5.89 ERA, 96.1 IP), Brian Duensing (LHP, 5-2, 3.64 ERA, 84 IP), Anthony Swarzak (RHP, 3-7, 6.25 ERA, 59 IP), or Jeff Manship (RHP, 1-1, 5.68 ERA, 31.2 IP): Liriano is obviously the wild card of this group, as he could become unquestioned ace of the staff or play himself right out of the majors.  Perkins is not on the organization’s good side after squabbles over service time and just plain poor performance, while Duensing is the conservative pick after impressing in the heat of the pennant race last year.  Swarzak and/or Manship would have to pitch their tails off to even warrant consideration.

 

Bullpen:

 

  1. Joe Nathan (RHP, 2.10 ERA, 68.2 IP, 47 SV): Still a top-tier closer in all of baseball, but somehow needs to shake late- (and post-) season demons.  Too many batters (7) tagged him with the long ball last year, so that is a good place to start.
  2. Matt Guerrier (RHP, 2.36 ERA, 76.1 IP): The primary setup man to Nathan.  Is very solid, but fatigue always an issue due to over-use.
  3. Jose Mijares (LHP, 2.34 ERA, 61.2 IP): The lefty-lefty matchup guy who his almost unhittable when in decent shape and possessing a clear head.  Has tendency to put balls in the dirt and sometimes inexplicably loses his control for short periods of time.
  4. Pat Neshek (RHP, DNP-Injured): After missing almost two whole seasons due to Tommy John surgery, the side-winding Minnesota native is back to confuse opponents once again.  Could be a god-send to take some of the strain off Matty G.
  5. Jon Rauch (RHP, 1.72 ERA, 15.2 IP): One of the big (literally!) reasons the Twins made the playoffs last season.  Is very flexible in terms of duration (1-3 innings).
  6. Jesse Crain (RHP, 4.70 ERA, 51.2 IP): An enigma: some fans love his electric stuff, while others cringe at his predictability, wobbly control, and inability to pitch out of jams after creating them.
  7. Clay Condrey (RHP, for Philadelphia: 3.00 ERA, 42 IP): A newcomer who is coming off two solid seasons in the National League.  Adds valuable depth to a unit that would often carry a green rookie or past-his-prime vet in this spot.

 

Prediction: If the starting pitching holds up for the entire season and the bats produce even a trifling of what they should, this could be a very scary team.  Must prove first and foremost that, as well as beating up on the Kansas City’s and Cleveland’s of the world, they now have the firepower to take on the likes of New York and Anaheim (teams that destroyed them in ’09).  A division championship is a very achievable goal, with the sights set on further venturing into the playoff tournament.

 

What In The World Is Happening To MN…!

Okay, so first this guy comes to the Vikes…

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And now this guy is a Minnesota Twin…

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Is nothing sacred anymore?!

Actually, in all honesty, I think this could turn into a great move for the Twins.  If Thome doesn’t see consistent playing time, he will be a HUGE addition to our bench.  How many times have we lamented seeing guys like Brian Buscher or Matt Tolbert pinch-hit in a key spot late in the game?  Big Thome solves that problem.

Also, this puts a bit more pressure on Delmon Young to perform, as Jason Kubel could easily become the everyday leftfielder and Thome could DH full-time.

Worst case scenario: Thome doesn’t have any pop left and we end up paying him less than we paid Mike Lamb. 

5 Alive

deef4233-3c42-49dd-9e36-6eb410141a30.jpgFor 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.

House of Horrors

When the White Sox come into the Metrodome, do you think that songs like that are running through their brain?!   Amazingly, after looking like a glorified Double-A squad against the Yankees, the Twins were able to put together a strong effort and inch back towards that runner-up slot in the AL Central.

Of course, in the first inning it helped when Chicago starter turned the game into the rough equivalent of one of these:

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Danks walked the first four batters of the game and a big hit from Jason Kubel gave the Twins an early lead. Of course, since nothing is easy with this year’s bunch, the White Sox kept pecking away at the defecit until finally tying it in the sixth inning (only a tremendous leaping catch from Michael Cuddyer at the base of the baggie prevented the Sox from taking a lead). I was a bit nervous at this point, but Blackie was still pitching well and the pen did their job the rest of the way. This should come as no surprise, but this guy…
18797011-0959-4c36-9373-16a644e0f41e.jpg…got the big two out hit in the seventh inning that put the Twins in front, while a perfect squeeze bunt from Carlos Gomez an inning later scored Matt Tolbert (pinch running for Kubel after his third hit of the game) with a big insurance run that allowed Joe Nathan to do his thing in the ninth:
6ef10c34-51ee-4b12-b659-4ad5586ceccf.jpgPreview (44-43, 3rd, 0.5 GB CWS): Gavin Floyd (6-6, 4.33) vs. Glen Perkins (4-4, 4.38). Ozzie Guillen juggled his rotation to have his Big Three horses face the Twins this weekend. That went well (at least so far).

One Profane Man

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Yesterday afternoon, the Twins and Red Sox hooked up for a pretty intense duel, with the Sox coming out on top 3-1.  Things really got interesting in the seventh inning, for both clubs:

Top: With the Sox batting, a close play at the plate from Kubel (a great throw) to Redmond was called “safe” for the Sox when replays seemed to show that he was actually out.  Redmond popped up and did his best “Yogi Berra after Jackie Robinson steals home” impersonation.  He was immediately run from the game (which hurt the Twins by losing the DH and thus not pinch hitting for Matt Tolbert in the game’s key moment an inning later) and closely followed by manager Ron Gardenhire.

Bottom: Up until the seventh inning, Josh Beckett had been absolutely mowing down the Twins’ batters (besides the one Joe Crede bomb).  Yet, throughout the game I noticed that he was incredibly angry and often (even after a 1-2-3 inning) would stomp off the mound uttering terrible profanities.  I never really got the feeling that he was being squeezed at the plate, but obviously he thought differently.  Thus, in the seventh, a very close pitch was called a ball and Beckett immediately told the umpire that he could “go have carnal relations with himself” (to put it nicely).  Boy, was Beckett ever hot, almost throwing a temper tantrum right on the mound!  Within minutes, both Jason Varitek and Terry Francona were joining Gardy and Red Dog in the bowels of the Dome.  Why Beckett didn’t get the old heave-ho as well is completely beyond me.  Personally, I lost some respect for him for that little tirade.  I have rarely seen a pitcher get so angry out on the mound (especially when dominating the opposing team) and it makes Beckett seem like just a hot-headed jerk who happens to have some nasty stuff.

All in all, though, a sweep with the Sox isn’t the end of the world by any means.  The real test now will be going into Tampa Bay and trying to play just as tough.  Much like last year, the Twins won’t become a legit contender unless they can even just play below-average (not God-awful) ball on the road.

Notes:

-Joe Crede is coming around.  His defense alone is darn near enough to keep him in the lineup every game, especially considering the struggles of Brian Buscher, while his bat is showing good pop.

-Glen Perkins may not have a job when he gets healthy.  Anthony Swarzak has been VERY impressive in both his starts in the majors so far.

Preview (24-25, 2nd, 3.5 GB DET): Scott Baker (2-5, 6.32) vs. James Shields (3-4, 3.63).

“Getaway” Gardy

e9264050-de1e-40e2-9189-8b4ecf8f5c4e.jpgTruth be told, I think that Ron Gardenhire is a good manager for the Minnesota Twins.  For a team that is always developing young players because we don’t have enough money to spend on the big boys, Gardy also seems to have the right touch to bring the young guys along in the best possible manner.  He may play favorites (Nick Punto, Jesse Crain) and once you get in his doghouse (Delmon Young) it’s tough to get back in the main living quarters, but all in all he seems like a good guy who works hard and demands the same of his team.

That being said, there are some days that I just want to hate on him…and today is one of those days.  As is his custom, Gardy put out his “Getaway” lineup featuring a stretch of batters that included Brian Buscher, Young, Mike Redmond, Punto, Carlos Gomez, and Matt Tolbert.  Joe Crede (hit by pitch the day before), Joe Mauer (general day off), and Denard Span (flu-like symptoms) were all out of the lineup.  While I agree with the Span “benching”, why were BOTH Crede and Jo-Mo on the bench at the same time against arguably the best team in the American League right now?!  The Red Sox trot out the likes of Ellsbury, Pedroia, Bay, Youkilis, and Lowell, while the Twins counter with that above quintet of guys who will make more outs than hits and inspire little confidence.

I guess it just really hit home to me after Mauer hit the home run in the bottom of the ninth off Papelbon, thinking “what would have happened if Mauer (and Crede) had been in the lineup all game long?”.  Mauer would have probably gotten a couple of hits (he is so locked in right now), while Crede wouldn’t have let three balls by him in one inning (yes, they were tough plays, but Crede may have made them).

When playing the BoSox, one has to expect that many runs will need to be scored to win the contest, and Gardy just didn’t put out a viable lineup today to do that.  Of course, he can probably justify every move, and perhaps be correct in the long run, but I still just want to pout for awhile anyway at a loss that could have been a whole lot different.

Preview (22-24, 3rd, 4.5 GB DET): Jon Lester (3-4, 5.91) vs. Nick Blackburn (3-2, 3.83). Blackie has been carrying the pitching staff as of late, and I look for that streak to continue.

Rainy Days And, Well, Pretty Much Any Day These Days

Wednesday: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dPmbT5XC-q0 (pretty accurate?!)

Thursday:

YoungPickOff.jpg

Unfortunately, things didn’t go much better tonight.  Glen Perkins was on the hill against the Orioles and allowed four runs through the first three innings.  The Twins managed to claw back and tie the game, but Jose Mijares couldn’t hold the lead in the eighth inning and the Twins lost yet again.

I’ve been working a lot lately and thus not able to update this blog as frequently as I would like to, but suffice it to say that the Twins are in a pretty big rut right now.  The bats go silent all too often, the bullpen is in shambles, and it seems like at least once every five days a starting pitcher gets tattoed in the early innings like Perk did tonight.

Troubling stat: the Twins have allowed 35 homers this season…and hit 19.  And this is with Carlos Silva, Brad Radke, and Johan Santana NOT on the staff!

Notes:

-The Twins also recently sent Alexi Casilla down to the minor leagues.  Personally, I think that was an overreaction on the part of whoever made the decision, but hopefully it snaps Casilla out of the funk he is in.  I just don’t see it working out, as I don’t think that Tolbert is as good as Alexi.

Preview (13-16, 4th, 5.0 GB KCR): Chris Jakubauskas (1-3, 5.76) vs. Scott Baker (0-4, 9.15). With the way King Felix and Erik Bedard (Saturday and Sunday’s starters) are pitching for the M’s, we better beat Jaku tomorrow night or things could get even uglier.

SS: The Anchor

AirPuntoReview.jpgMuch like at the previous position I review, second base, the shortstop position was thought to be locked down early in the season by newcomer Adam Everett.  However, Everett’s sub-par batting average (.213) and multitude of injuries once again made it necessary to turn to old stalwart Nick Punto to become the starting shortstop.

Now, there are many of you out there you probably think that Nick Punto is not a major-league caliber player (at least offensively).  However, surprisingly enough, he added an element to the Twins’ lineup that proved crucial to them scoring runs all season: speed from the #9 hold in the lineup.  With guys like Alexi Casilla, Denard Span, Carlos Gomez, and Punto batting consecutively in some fashion, their combined speed put a tremendous amount of pressure on opposing pitchers, as every batted ball needed to be played perfectly in order to record an out.

Of course, Punto WAS effective because his .284 batting average was a huge improvement from his 2007 campaign, when he flirted with the Mendoza line for a good portion of the season.  He was on-base enough times to make himself valuable, also stealing 15 bases in the process.  In years past, when the Twins were desperate to score runs, Punto would be a huge liability in the lineup, but with the better hitting the Twins could count on in 2008, Punto’s athletic play was useful.

But let’s not kid ourselves too much here…Punto is really in the lineup every day in large part because of his spectacular infield defense.  Whether at shortstop or anywhere on the diamond, Punto is a human highlight reel, turning in remarkable play after remarkable play.

Looking ahead to 2009, Nick Punto (provided he continues to produce at least average offense) should be the starting shortstop for a large portion of the season (when he’s not filling in somewhere else!).

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For a more long-term future of the shortstop position (and in case of a Punto injury, say, diving headfirst into first base), the Twins have developed another dynamic youngster in Matt Tolbert.  First called up from the minors when Everett went on the DL, Tolbert was very impressive both in the field and at the plate.  A wrist injury then sidelined him for nearly the rest of the season, but he ended up hitting .283 in 113 at-bats.  He could easily eclipse 300 at-bats next season (as Punto is often needed elsewhere).

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