Results tagged ‘ Nick Blackburn ’
If you missed the first three innings of tonight’s Twins-Brewers contest at Miller Park, you were pretty much out of luck action wise. The Twins put seven runs up on the board in those three frames, with Carlos Gomez getting a hit in each!
The bad news is that Liriano stunk once again, allowing three runs over five innings but walking guys all over the park, giving up deep flys, and then getting a lucky strikeout to end an inning. He was essentially in trouble all night, yet ended up getting the win.
However, the bullpen (Dickey-Guerrier-Nathan) was able to take care of the latter four innings in perfect fashion, something that cannot be underestimated by the Twins pen on the road against a decent team. I always love it when Nathan completely blows away the side in the ninth, and that is EXACTLY what happened tonight.
About the only thing that made the game less enjoyable was that my FSN North station was crap for the entire game. It would skip, jerk, and blank out at intervals just enough to be maddening. Did anyone else have this problem? I hope it doesn’t continue into tomorrow.
-You know, Joe Crede has got to be one of the most productive .230 hitters I have ever seen. I don’t know how a guy with a batting average that low that provides so much offense when in the lineup. He must never hit any singles, just extra-base knocks.
-I guess that before Luis Ayala was designated for assignment yesterday, he complained to Gardy about his role in the pen, as he thought he should (and was brought onto the team) to be the primary setup man. Basically, that tells me why he didn’t last very long here in Minny, what with our general preference for team-first kind of guys. Nobody gets a free ride around here. He made have had one decent season in the National League, but when transferring to a different organization you have to prove yourself all over again. The only thing he proved is that he could give up deep gopher balls with men on base.
-Also, as if this needs to be prefaced, Delmon Young made himself look silly out in left field tonight. He had one nice running catch, but later on he misplayed a carom so badly that he fell down on the completely opposite direction of the ball. Would have been quite funny if not for the fact that Young is getting a reputation for that sort of clumsiness.
Preview (36-36, 2nd, 4.0 GB DET): Nick Blackburn (6-2, 3.09) vs. Braden Looper (5-4, 5.21).
If you read my blog post last night, it was pretty obvious that I was angry at the way the Twins (despite picking up the victory) let the game end on Tuesday night. Thus, I was very glad to see Liriano pitch a good game tonight, as well as the bats coming alive in the late innings (when was the last time THAT happened on the road?!) to get the ball to Joe Nathan in an opposing stadium.
I always just want to add tonight that, no matter what happens the rest of this season, I will be pulling for the Twins all the way. That sounds like an incredibly obvious thing to say, but it seems as if a lot of negativity has been floating around the Twins this season. Whether it is hating on the bullpen, the Baker/Liriano early-season disaster, or a few batsmen (Delmon Young, Brian Buscher, etc.), there hasn’t been a whole of positivity so far into the ’09 season. Though all those areas are ripe for criticism, I think that sometimes we all need (including myself) to remember that this really is just a game. It’s like little league…you play your heart out on the field, but once the final out is recorded you don’t take it with you whether win or loss.
A few years ago, while writing for the University of Minnesota-Morris campus newspaper, The University Register, I wrote an article entitled “Why We Watch Baseball”. I would like to copy that into this blog post, as I think it really rings true this season:
Why We Watch Baseball
-With those who don’t give a (hoot) about sports, I can only sympathize. I do not resent them. I am even willing to concede that many of them are physically clean, good to their mothers and in favor of world peace. But while the game is on, I can’t think of anything to say to them. (Art Hill)
If a woman has to choose between catching a fly ball and saving an infant’s life, she will choose to save the infant’s life without even considering if there are men on base. (Dave Barry)…A couple of months ago, a friend of my sister happened to be over at my family’s home for dinner. This being summer time, my nightly ritual of watching the Twins game was about to commence. After the meal, she plopped down on the coach next to me and asked: Why do you like watching baseball? Not being mentally prepared for that kind of question, I gave the typical male answer: “Grunt…Because it’s better than shopping…grunt”. However, that was not good enough for her inquisitive mind, as she launched into a lecture of how professional sports mean absolutely nothing. As she mentioned something about starving people in Africa, I realized that I had nothing (at that time) to refute her claims. The games themselves do mean nothing in the grand context of history and there are more important endeavors in life than stealing second base. So, why do we watch baseball? The following argument could be applied to all professional sports, but I am going to keep it confined to a baseball context.
I see great things in baseball. It’s our game – the American game. It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tends to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. (Walt Whitman)…A young boy idolizes his dad and wants to do everything with him. The dad, a big baseball fan, teaches his son about the game. They play whiffle ball in the back yard, watch Twins games together, and talk to each other about the game. Political events have no bearing on the young boy’s life at this time, but baseball does. Through the sport of baseball they are able to form a common bond that will last the rest of their lives, through good times and bad.
Say this much for big league baseball – it is beyond question the greatest conversation piece ever invented in America. (Bruce Catton)…The same boy has a grandfather who is 84 years old. The grandpa lived through the Great Depression, spent his childhood working on a farm, and served his country during World War II. The boy grew up playing video games, reading science fiction novels, and the closest he ever came to a battlefield was Risk or Fort Apache. The binding factor between the two–baseball. While each came from completely different backgrounds and ideologies, making communication with each other difficult, the love of sports provided a bond. They may not be able to bridge the generation gap, but it is easy to debate the merits of Johan Santana versus Dizzy Dean (the grandfather’s favorite pitcher as a child) or how Rogers Hornsby (star player of the 1920’s and 30’s) would have fared against today’s pitchers.
Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. (George F. Will)…Now that same boy has left home for college. He finds the transition difficult, but smoothened by one thing–baseball. Getting through the day might be a struggle, but at night he can watch the Twins on TV or listen to John Gordon bring the game alive on the radio. The games relax him and give him something other than school to think about. After a while his spirits raise and he is able to do much better in his classes.
People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring. (Rogers Hornsby)…At the beginning of his second semester of college, the boy is feeling lonely again. Spring will be coming soon and he feels trapped, away from his family or anyone to talk to. He begins writing for the school newspaper–sports, of course. This gives him something creative to do and a way to meet new people. He becomes motivated to make himself more physically fit, letting the Twins take his mind off the treadmill he pounds every night.
Most people are in a factory from nine till five. Their job may be to turn out 263 little circles. At the end of the week they’re three short and somebody has a go at them. On Saturday afternoons they deserve something to go and shout about. (Rodney Marsh)…When the boy goes home on weekends, the last thing he wants to do is talk about the hard week of studying that has transpired. He is tired from the week and wants to relax with his family. What a better opportunity than a baseball game? Whether it means making the trip to the Metrodome or watching on TV, baseball allows the boy to unwind before another tough week. It transports him (for a few hours at least) into a world where the concerns of real-life seem to melt away.
Don’t tell me about the world. Not today. It’s springtime and they’re knocking a baseball around fields where the grass is damp and green in the morning and the kids are trying to hit the curve ball. (Pete Hamill)… The boy has now passed his love of baseball on to his two younger brothers. They play in Little League over the summer, as well as endless games of the MVP Baseball 2005 video game. Once school starts again, emails are sent back and forth about favorite baseball teams and players.
I don’t love baseball. I don’t love most of today’s players. I don’t love the owners. I do love, however, the baseball that is in the heads of baseball fans. I love the dreams of glory of 10-year-olds, the reminiscences of 70-year-olds. The greatest baseball arena is in our heads, what we bring to the games, to the telecasts, to reading newspaper reports. (Stan Isaacs)…So as you can see, the sport of baseball does have the power to enrich a life. Or, more specifically, my life; as I am the boy. While on occasion it has made stay up a little too late (darn extra-innings!) or ignore the outside world because “the game is on”, baseball’s positive influence in my life has outweighed the negatives.
You gotta be a man to play baseball for a living, but you gotta have a lot of little boy in you, too. (Roy Campanella)…To further appreciate the impact that baseball can have on one’s life, please see the movie Field of Dreams. My favorite sports movie of all-time, it focuses on the relationship between father and son and how that relationship can be enhanced through a mutual love of baseball. At one point in the movie, James Earl Jones (aka Voice of the Baseball Gods) explains how baseball is able to leave its mark on a person. I leave you with his quote…
The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This game: it’s a part of our past. It reminds of us of all that once was good and could be again. (Field of Dreams)
Preview (30-31, 2nd, 4.0 GB DET): Nick Blackburn (5-2, 3.30) vs. Trevor Cahill (3-5, 4.21). Another no-name Oakland pitcher…the days of Zito, Mulder, and Hudson seem so long ago!
Truth 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.
Yesterday, the Twins announced that they had placed relief pitcher Craig Breslow on waivers and he was claimed by the Oakland Athletics. In his place, the Twins brought up Anthony Swarzak…
…who will make the start on Saturday against the Brewers in place of Glen Perkins.
One down, two (Crain and Ayala) to go!
Preview (18-23, 3rd, 5.5 GB DET): Nick Blackburn (2-2, 4.38) vs. Bartolo Colon (2-3, 4.21). This season is on the brink of spiraling out of control before the end of May. Blackburn needes to turn in a quality outing and have the pen back him up.
From 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.
Alright, 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).
Though the Twins and Mariners played the final tilt of their four-game series yesterday (Jarrod Washburn out-dueled Glen Perkins for a 2-0 win as the Twins’ bats went silent), I think that all games yesterday were played with a heavy heart due to the sudden passing of Nick Adenhart.
For the past few years, Adenhart had been a prized young prospect in the Los Angeles Angels’ farm system. He came up for a “cup of coffee” during the 2008 season and earned what turned out to be his only major league victory.
This year, after making the Angels out of spring training, Adenhart pitched six innings of shutout ball against the Oakland Athletics on April 8th. Just hours later, he was killed when a minivan (which we now know was manned by a drunk driver who fled on foot after the accident but was later apprehended) ran a red light and smashed into the vehicle he was riding in. Two of the other passengers were pronounced dead at the scene of the collision, while Adenhart was taken to a local hospital but died due to his internal injuries.
A terrible tragedy like this just makes me think how fleeting this thing we call “life” can really be. I mean, Adenhart was only 22 years of age…one year younger than myself. From a Twins perspective, I can’t imagine how the team would react if, say, a guy like Slowey, Blackburn, or Perkins was taken from us in a similar fashion.
The Angels cancelled their regularly scheduled contest yesterday, but will resume play tonight, presumably with very heavy hearts and conflicting emotions. Knowing Mike Scoscia, Torii Hunter, and that Angels crew, though, they will do their best to honor the memory of Nick Adenhart.
Preview (2-2, 2nd, 0.5 GB KCR): R.A. Dickey (0-0, 0.00 ERA) at Jose Contreras (0-0, 0.00 ERA). The Twins’ starter tonight will feature a knuckleball, something I haven’t seen from a Twin in, well, as long as I have been following the team.
Though I was a bit crushed that I had to work at night on the day of the Twins’ home opener against the Seattle Mariners, I taped the game and watched it later in the evening. Gee, that was worth it. First, this guy…
…”King” Felix Hernandez, completely shuts down our bats. Even in the sparse situations we scraped together that could have produced runs, Felix would always get out of the jam either via a strike out (usually Michael Cuddyer, who whiffed three times) or a double play (Justin Morneau). This was especially frustrating due to the fact that it wasted a pretty decent effort from our mound man..
Sure, Francisco Liriano gave up three dingers, but one came after a glaring error from Alexi Casilla. All told, he pitched very well and just didn’t get any offensive support.
So, I went to bed hoping that the next day’s matchup (which I would be watching on TV…or so I thought) would produce a much better result. The next morning, however, I was informed that my grandparents (who live in the Metro area suberbs…Fridley, to be exact) had received four free tickets from a Target store promotion and were wondering if my brother and I wanted to go with them?! Stupid question, as we headed out the door right away!
Game #2 of 162 proved to be much more exciting than the previous one…and perhaps the next 160! Of course, it didn’t start out so great, as our guy…
…Nick Blackburn found himself down 4-0 after just four innings. RBI hits from Denard Span and Cuddyer (he was basically either whiffing badly or driving in runs all game) brought the Twins to within one run for the middle innings, but Luis Ayala surrendered another Mariner run in the top of the ninth. Thus, new Seattle closer Brandon Morrow was summoned to the Dome mound with a 5-3. That’s when things started to get interesting:
Morrow got two quick outs in Joe Crede and Delmon Young, but Carlos Gomez put together a surprisingly good at-bat (he would have K’d on four pitches last season in that spot) and drew a walk. Jason Kubel was called on to pinch-hit for Jose Morales (who had struck out in all three previous at-bats), and Kubel used patience to his advantage to coax another base-on-balls.
Then, with the Jumbotron at the Dome flashing the “Walks Will Haunt” graphic, Morrow walked a third straight batter (Brian Buscher) and was pulled in favor of Miguel Batista. By this time the lineup had turned over again, so Span The Man stepped in and hit a high chopper that Adrian Beltre couldn’t will down into his glove fast enough, making the score 5-4.
This brought Alexi Casilla to the plate, and my flashback started…the last time I was at the Metrodome, Lexi singled to center field with the bases loaded against the Chicago White Sox to complete the late-season sweep. This time, Casilla again ripped the first pitch he saw into center, plating both the tying and winning runs…
Though this wasn’t the greatest run-differential the Twins have ever come back from, it still has to go down in team history as one of the great late-inning victories due to the fact that all the action transpired with two outs. When Buscher slide across the plate and was mobbed by his teammates, what was left of the 23,700 announced crowd was in a bedlam!
Man, I think I need to starting getting to more of these games…whenever I’m there, something crazy seems to happen.
Preview (1-1, 2nd, 0.5 GB CWS): Kevin Slowey (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Carlos Silva (0-0, 0.00). Though Silva is gone from “Fatboy” to “Slim” over the off-season, he still lives and dies by the sinker. If “on” he can be maddening. If not, he WILL get pounded.
The Twins just announced today that Scott Baker will no longer be slated to pitch on Opening Day (Monday) due to some right shoulder tightness. Francisco Liriano will move into the April 6 slot, followed by Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey, and Glen Perkins. Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey will make a spot start for Baker, who will only miss one turn in the rotation.
This is probably nothing too serious, it’s just that all teams (more than I have ever seen) are being extremely cautious with their prized young pitchers. I’ve never seen so many “ace” pitchers not starting on Opening Day in my life! It should almost be re-named Opening Week!
I 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!).