Results tagged ‘ Minnesota Vikings ’

Minnesota Twins 2010: A Season Review

After going through some of my blog posts recently, I realized that I hadn’t penned a “season review” of the 2010 Twins season.  Maybe the quick (again) exit from the playoffs contributed to my apathy, or perhaps it was the Vikings’ season going very bizarre very quickly and giving me plenty of other blogging material.  Either way, I do want ot quickly run down my standout moments of ’10…

To me, 2010 will always be remembered as the “Year of Target Field”:

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At first, I was as skeptical as anyone at the new outdoor ballpark.  Fortunately, that all changed the first time I walked through the gates.  Besides some of the parks (like Wrigley or Fenway) that keep their charm primarily due to history, I can definitively say that Target Field is the best new home we could have possibly asked for (at least when the weather cooperates, which it did in spades last summer…heck, the Vikings in the Dome had more postponements in ’10 than the Twins!).  Also helping to broaden the experience was the fact that our family moved closer to the Twin Cities metro area this year, so I was able to go to more games than ever before.

I’ll just say this: At the end of 2009, I was missing the Dome.  By the end of ’10, I can’t imagine playing anywhere other than Target Field.

Some other memories include…

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-Much like Brett Favre did to the Vikings in 2009, Jim Thome gave the ’10 Twins a bit of a swagger.  He can’t run or play the field, but it doesn’t matter in the least…he proved that (out of the DH spot) he can still be the most prolific power hitter in the game, bar none.  When Justin Morneau went down with his concussion, Big Jim stepped into the cleanup role and did exactly that…clean up.  Perhaps the most memorable Thome moment was his walkoff home run against the Chicago White Sox in extra innings.

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-Carl Pavano, predicted to fail miserably, provides the veteran leadership the staff desperatley needed, and even became a folk hero due to his mustachioed upper lip.

delmon-young.jpg -Delmon Young’s torrid dog-days-of-summer performance, almost single-handedly keeping us in the division race with a hitting surge unlike anything I had ever seen.

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-Some young kid named Danny Valencia coming up from the minors to lock down third base and provide some spectacular clutch hitting, all the while winning the hearts of the yound ladies in Twins Territory with his megawatt smile.

Other memories would include the torrid second half of Joe Mauer’s bat, as well as Francisco Liriano finally returning to his dominant pre-Tommy John surgery form.

So yes, even though the season ended in disappointment once again…

 
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…I choose to remember the good moments that seemed to last all summer long.

Perhaps the one memory above all that will stick with me is sitting in Target Field on a cold, wet September night but loving every minute of it as the Twins clinched the Central Division Championship.  I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.

Are You Watching Closely?

Man, it’s been awhile since I’ve written on this blog. I guess this year, I’m taking the annual loss to the Yankees in the playoffs a bit harder than usual.

To be honest, I’m not even going to comment on that ALDS.  If you are curious as to some analysis about why we were beaten by the Yankees again, just look at two older posts from this blog:

http://zkonedog.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/ramoswilson1.jpgarchives/2009/10/why_we_lost_theory_1_we_beat_o.html

http://zkonedog.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/ramoswilson1.jpgarchives/2009/10/why_we_lost_theory_2_we_were_o.html

Just change around a few of the names and faces, and that (once again) perfectly explains why the Twins can’t quite topple the mighty Yanks (even though a team like Texas doesn’t seem to have much trouble with them).

What I want to look at right now, instead, is a huge missed opportunity.  After seeing Cliff Lee (Game 1 WS start aside) pretty much buzz-saw his way through the playoffs once again, I can’t help but wondering if Twins execs shouldn’t be “watching closely” as to the difference one ace pitcher can make.

Consider this:

Throughout the regular season, the Twins were the far superior team than Texas.  In those final months of the year, we practically ran away with the #2 seed in the American League.  The ultimate turning point, though, came at the All-Star break, when we had a chance at acquiring Mr. Lee…

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However, it seemed as if Wilson Ramos…

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…was the stumbling block (at least as reported in the papers) as to why the deal fell through.

Basically, the way I understand it, the Twins didn’t want to give up such a touted prospect for a guy who they knew they would only be renting, especially at a time when a playoff spot was not a given at that point.

Here’s what boggles my mind, though.  Ramos eventually did get shipped out of town, but for the services of one Matt Capps, who did relatively nothing to lock down a solid closing role and was a non-factor in the playoffs.

Now, on one hand, I get what the mid-market (with the new stadium) Twins were trying to do, and that is not tie up too much money in a short-term player when our own talent will need to be paid again soon.  I just wish that Twins execs would have taken a page out of the 2009 Vikings handbook.  The Vikes gambled on Brett Favre, and it took them to the NFC Championship game with a magical season.  Why couldn’t the Twins have done the same?!

I truly believe that we were a much better team than the one that lost to the Yankees in a short three games.  We could hit, field, and pitch (despite a lack of a star bullpen) quite well, but we were just missing that one ace who could give us that confidence-building lead in the series.  Cisco and Pavano did their best, but once it got to Duensing it was all but over.

As much as I hate to say it, the window may have just closed a bit.  Thome’s status is uncertain, Hardy/Hudson might both be gone (leading the old faithful Punto/Casilla middle infield that inspires little confidence both on the field and in the box), and who knows if Pavano can put together another inspired season again (if he even does return).  As evidenced by Texas bouncing the Yanks rather easily, they were ripe for the picking this year.  It just would have taken one ace…the one ace we didn’t gamble on.

Twins execs…are you watching closely?

Duensing Domination

Royals_Twins_Baseball_sff_192722_game.jpgIf the playoffs were to start right now, the Twins would go against the Rays and could trot out Francisco Liriano, Carl Pavano, and Brian Duensing in the first three games.  After Duensing’s domination of the Royals last night, I like those odds.

A starting pitcher SHOULD dominate the paltry KC Royals offerings, and that is exactly what Duensing did.  It may have been the most impressive pitching performance of the season, considering the fact that KC (despite scratching out one weak run) really had no chance against Brian all night long.

Big hits from Tolbert and Span provided the offense against Zack Greinke, who the Twins have now bested four times this season.

I’ll be rooting on my Minnesota Vikings tonight while the Twins hope a plane to Cleveland, but also be keeping my eye on the White Sox game, as a loss could put them a full six games back in the division race!

Preview (83-57, 1st, 5.5 GA CWS): Carl Pavano (16-10, 3.52) vs. Fausto Carmona (11-14, 4.05)

What To Do, What To Do

Tonight’s dilemma:

The last time Brett Favre suited up in a Vikings uniform against the San Francisco 49ers, he did this:

He will start tonight’s preseason game.

At the same time, the Twins will be looking to bounce back from a dysmal performance yesterday against the Angels:

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The solution: watch the first two series of football, then once Tarvaris Jackson steps under center, immediately switch back to baseball!

Preview (71-52, 1st, 4.0 GA CWS): Jered Weaver (11-8, 3.11) vs. Scott Baker (10-9, 4.85).

When Delmon Ain’t Happy, Ain’t Nobody Happy

Twins_Rays_Baseball_sff_185986_game.jpgOne of the startling (but in a good way) characteristics of the 2009 Minnesota Twins has been their ability to overcome injury adversity and play on despite extended DL trips for three starters (Orlando Hudson, Nick Punto, and Justin Morneau) and a beat-up Joe Mauer.  Guys like Delmon Young, Michael Cuddyer, Alexi Casilla, Drew Butera, and Danny Valencia have found their niches over the past few months.

However, if the first two games dropped in Tropicana tell us anything (besides the fact that the Rays are fast and shouldn’t be walked, respectively), it is that Delmon Young is the key to everything right now (at least with Morneau still on the sidelines).  So far against Rays pitching, Delmon is 1-9.  Without him spraying the ball everywhere, the Twins just don’t have enough lineup depth to keep mounting rallies when needed.

Thus, against good teams that we can’t just clobber, we all too often send a bullpen full of late-inning collapsers (Guerrier, Crain, Mijares) into the game at the most pressure-filled situations.  Unless the splits/matchups go exactly our way, bad things are almost bound to happen.

I’m not saying that the pen is altogether rotten, but put it this way…right now I have as much confidence in Jesse Crain as in anyone else that comes out of those swinging doors, and anybody who has read my blog in the past knows how difficult it is for me to even CONSIDER that statement.

Notes:

-Another good start for Duensing (just one mistake that happened to be hammered by Sean Rodriguez), but still too many walks, which only serve to raise the pitch count and tack on runs that shouldn’t ever materialize.

-Woke up this morning, heard Brett Favre had texted his retirement to the Vikings, and thought “Well, the Twins had better be the bread-winners this sports season”.  Of course, that would mean I actually BELIEVE #4…

Preview (59-48, 2nd, 1.5 GB CWS): Scott Baker (9-9, 5.00) vs. David Price (14-5, 2.90).

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. 

The Answer

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about the rough shape that major league baseball is in when it comes to parity and competitive balance.  I was then challenged by another blogger to provide a solution to the problem.  To me, the solution is relatively simple…it’s the implementation that is the tough part.  Here are my thoughts…

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First and foremost, baseball needs a salary cap akin to the system in the NFL.  Sure, baseball has the luxury tax, but that is like asking a billionaire to pay a thousand-dollar fine everytime he does something wrong.  It sounds like a lot, but to the billionaire it is relatively little, thus he will continue to repeat his bad behavior (e.g. buying up and keeping contracted all the best players).  In the NFL, teams can only spend a certain amount (in 2009 the figure was $128 million) per season.  Plus, there is even a “minimum floor” clause of sorts that says a team has to spend at least so much money (like a minimum speed limit on the freeway) in order to prevent some franchises from just packing it in and hoarding $$$ to line their wallets if the season isn’t shaping up as planned.  Sure, there would still be bad teams.  However, general suckish-ness would be based on poor team management, like, say, starting this guy at QB…

 

Secondly, the TV pot needs to be broadened as well…

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Once again, the NFL (which I considered to have the best professional sports economic system out there today) requires TV rights to be shared between both teams competing.  In baseball, all the revenue goes to the home club.  So, the Yankees, because of their enormous and populace viewing area, can create their own TV network and rake in the dough, while the Twins (after trying that approach with Victory Sports Network and failing miserably) plod along with Fox Sports North and, comparatively speaking, get chump change in return.

Those two changes would go a long way towards making baseball much more economically sound (in terms of honoring the heritage of the game, not just turning the biggest possible profit by assuring the Yankees and Red Sox in the playoffs every year), and would not be all that difficult to implement.  However, major obstacles still exist in the implementation of the plan.

The biggest problem (and this will probably be the biggest understatement I ever post on this blog) is this guy…

confused.jpg Allan H. “Bud” Selig, baseball’s commissioner, was once an owner himself (of the Milwaukee Brewers), so he is very sympathetic to their causes.  Thus, he will NEVER impose sanctions on their freedom, even if it means destroying the fabric of the game in the process.

Because of this, the Players Union (once headed by Donald Fehr, but now led by Michael Weiner, pictured below)…

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…won’t, and doesn’t, budge an inch, as they are always terrified that former owner Selig is out to get them.  That is why implementing a salary cap or steroid testing is like pulling teeth.  A new, much more impartial commissioner would go an incredibly long way towards rectifying the situation, but since the players are still raking in the dough and the owners are protected by Buddy-Boy, the status quo hasn’t quite been shaken enough yet to oust Selig.

Of course, in a certain humerous turn of events that even I can smile at, Selig’s contract expires after the 2012 season.  In other words, right before the world is supposed to end (!)…

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So, I guess our only hope is to pray that the Mayans were wrong…as after ’12 baseball might get back on the right track!

Why Exactly Are We Moving Out Of Here Again?

b04c3acb-5040-499b-914d-21abe2ed58f7.jpgWell folks, here we go again!!  As common as .500 baseball has been for the Twins over the past two or three seasons, just as common has been incredibly inspired late-season play. 

After taking the first game in this playoff-like Dome series against the Tigers last night thanks to the brilliant pitching of Brian Duensing, the Twins needed to keep the momentum going this afternoon and did so in spectacular fashion.

For the first seven innings, this game was the tightest of pitchers duels, with Carl Pavano’s hex on the Tiger bats matching Justin Verlander’s 99 mph heater.  Both teams got a run early, and the Tigers scored again in the third to go up 2-1, a score that would hold until the bottom of the eighth inning.

Really, though, the momentum in this game began to shift in the top half of that inning.  With Pavano out of the game after having pitched incredibly well, the ball was given to the ever-shaky Jesse Crain…who proceeded to get three quick outs on just eleven pitches (I probably should heap the credit on Crain tonight, as somewhere along the line I will be quick to jump all over him a bit later).

Of course, things didn’t look all that bad for Verlander in that fateful eighth to begin with, as Punto struck out and Span hit one of his patented singles to land on first.  Orlando Cabrera then lifted a lazy fly ball to left field that Don Kelly, who had been put into the game as a defensive substition just an inning previous, easily had measured…until he didn’t, of course, and the ball dropped to put runners on second and third.  With opposing teams only having to deal with those kind of Dome Balls for five more contests, the baseball gods must be getting their money’s worth.

Joe Mauer was intentionally walked to load the bases, but Jason Kubel promptly doinked a single into left that scored both Span and Cabrera to give the Twins a lead.  That was the end of the night for Verlander, but the firemen didn’t do much better, as Brandon Lyon quickly served up a three-run jack to the suddenly red-hot Michael Cuddyer to give the Twins a 6-2 cushion, which would amount to the final score.

For the first time in quite awhile, I am seriously considering watching the Twins over the Vikings tomorrow afternoon.  I usually award that time-slot to the footballers due to their once-a-week status, but there is just too much excitement emanating from the Metrodome right now to turn away!  Since the Vikes start at noon and the Twins’ opening pitch is 1:10, I’ll at least have a bit of time to see how the Vikes game is going (maybe they’ll be beating the Lions so badly it won’t even be a decision!).

Preview (76-72, 2nd, 2.0 GB DET): Nate Robertson (1-2, 5.35) vs. Scott Baker (13-8, 4.35).  Basically, this game could decide the season.  A win pretty much evens things up, while a loss likely means that perfection will be needed down the stretch.

Mauer Might Be Enough

2f99ccf2-40f9-4dfa-8b32-79d8284ae1f5.jpgOn a day when (most) Minnesota sports fans were declaring a national holiday (myself included!) because of the signing of Brett Favre with the Vikings, the Twins actually got a win tonight as well!

Tonight’s win didn’t really prove anything or right the ship, as Carl Pavano allowed five earned runs over four innings, but the bats came alive and got the Twins the “W”. Joe Mauer led the charge with two home runs, his 24th and 25th of the season, a single, and upped his season average to .383.

Besides one Albert Pujols, Mauer is the best pure hitter in the game of baseball right now and is a joy to watch (even when the team around him is imploding). I now know (being a relative youngster) what it must have been like to watch a guy like Rod Carew hit (except Jo-Mo is even better because he doesn’t just hit singles up the middle and drop down bunts).

Notes: -Delmon Young, much like last season, is having a decent second half, hitting another home run tonight and driving in four runs altogether. Perhaps the most encouraging sign from Young, though, is that he has been dead-on when hitting the ball lately, as his homers (I don’t know about tonight, though, as I didn’t see hit) having been going straight away to center.

Preview (57-62, 3rd, 3.5 GB CWS): Scott Baker (10-7, 4.54) vs. Kevin Millwood (9-7, 3.31). Which Scotty-boy will show up?

(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). 

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