Results tagged ‘ Nick Punto ’

What Went Wrong

After the season ended, I had planned on doing a position-by-position look at the Twins to examine what exactly went wrong that sent a 94-win team (2010) to a 99-loss squad (2011).  However, with the recent front office move of swapping Bill Smith for Terry Ryan (again), it seems as if three key categories came into play during the ’11 season that really just doomed the Twins from the start.

First, from a tactical perspective, the injuries were horrific…

When half (or more) of your starting team is injured for half (or more) of the season, the plan you put in place all of last offseason was pretty much shot in the foot before it ever had a chance to walk.  Whether bad luck, bad conditioning, or bad “mental toughness” (to quote Mike Tice), the team was limping off the field all season long.

Also, the depletion of the bullpen was another crippling tactical shortcoming…

I realize that the money got too much to retain our key bullpen horses, but in the end the lack of any steady relief help came back to bite the team perhaps more than anyone thought possible.

Second, beyond the tactical stuff, was the inability of our “core group” (outside of Cuddyer, of course) to produce.

Mauer & Morneau needed to get back to this…

But instead they barely played two weeks of the season in the same lineup.

Then, the “solid five” (Baker, Blackburn, Liriano, Perkins, Slowey) starters that we envisioned a few years ago have never (and probably never will) produced to their expectations…

Liriano is an enigma, Slowey is in the doghouse, Baker is failed potential personified, Blackburn is a rollercoaster, and Perkins is now a reliever (and one who has injury troubles at that).

Finally, the final area that really killed the Twins last year was a step away from their tried-and-true organizational philosophy of hoarding draft picks, developing talent, throwing strikes, and playing solid, fundamental baseball (especially defense).

When Nick Punto left in the offseason and ended up winning a ring with the Cardinals…

It signaled a shift from playing “Twins baseball” towards “going all-in to win now”.

Perhaps this was a difference in philosophy between two GMS…

But clearly, the team got away from the “fundamentals”.  The defense was rot, the pitchers walked more batters than ever, and the whole foundation collapsed.

Notes:

-Amazingly enough, Terry Ryan’s first move on his second go-’round as GM impressed the heck out of me, signing Jamey Carroll to play shortstop in ’12…

From what I hear/read, Carroll can play solid defense, handle the bat, stay in the lineup, and get on base a little bit…nothing our middle infielders did in ’11.  Carroll is not a long-term solution by any means, but he adds stability to a team desperate for it right now.

Congrats, St. Louis!


I never got a chance to congratulate the St. Louis Cardinals yet on this blog for winning the World Series, so I wanted to take a moment to do that now.  You knocked off the “juggernaut” (Philly), the “chic pick” (Milwaukee), and arguably the most steady team in the American League (Texas).  Much like in 2006, you surprised us all!!

Especially, though, I was happy for former Twin Nick Punto…

He finally has that World Series ring for all his hustle!

On a related note, I was surprised to hear about the retiring of Tony LaRussa.  Personally, I will always remember Tony for this…

I logged more hours on this baseball sim than perhaps any other video game I have ever played!

LaRussa was a great manager who will always be remember for his strategy, and perhaps his involvement in the Steroid Era.  I think I’ll always say that Bobby Cox was the greatest manager of my generation, but LaRussa isn’t too far behind (just look at those win totals).

Pavano & Punto

Item #1:

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Our veteran leader returns for two more seasons. Don’t expect the next coming of Johan Santana or anything, but Pavano can save a bullpen and give you quality starts when healthy.

Item #2:

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Nick Punto is a St. Louis Cardinal.  The end of an era, for sure.  I’ll always remember Punto for his hustle (especially those head-first dives into first base), even if it did lead to more jammed fingers and other body parts than probably necessary.  Could he hit a lick?  Besides 2006…no.  But he played spectacular defense and could fill in at any position as the heir to Dennis Hocking.  Who will be next in the chain?  I’m betting Matt Tolbert.

Happy Trails…

http://www.youtube.com/e/XcYsO890YJY

Two down (gone to the Orioles) for now…

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JJ Hardy: You know, I’m willing to bet that we can find a guy who can hit .268 with no power, no RBI’s, no speed, and who won’t even go through an error-prone stretch in the field.  Didn’t see him as having an impact on our team whatsoever last season (maybe the injured wrist hampered him all season long).

1013-alds-yankees-twins-bas.jpg Brendan Harris: Came from TB (with Delmon) with all this hype, but failed in almost all respects.  Was an abomination at 2B, couldn’t beat out Punto for 3B, and wasn’t athletic enough to hold down SS.  Had one good month or two hitting stretch in three years, otherwise was inconsistent at the very best.

We got a couple fireballers (Jim Hoey and Brett Jacobson) from Baltimore, which sounds like a decent wager for these two mediocre players.

Maybe I’m just in a harsh mood tonight, but I don’t see the Twins missing either of these guys whatsoever.

Options, Options

The other day, the Twins made a few “option” decisions on players:

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First, Jason Kubel was brought back for 2001.  Overall, he had a disappointing ’10 campaign after a breakout 2009, but the RBI’s really started coming in those final months, so there is hope he can bounce back.

 
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Also, Nick Punto was not offered an option, but could return at a lower salary. It would be strange to see Little Nicky go, as it would truly signal an end to that “pirahna” era, but I wouldn’t miss Gardy’s unwavering devotion to him one bit, even when we were desperate for some offense at times.  The presence of Matt Tolbert might make Nicky expendable.

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?

A Different Feeling

Last year ended (at least the regular season) about as exciting as a Twins season has ever come to a close (see above).

This year obviously felt a little different.  For most of today’s regular season finale against the Toronto Blue Jays, the 3-4-5 batters were: Drew Butera, Ben Revere, and Trevor Plouffe.

This occured due to the Twins trying to rest guys for the playoffs, but it was still a bit disconcerting to see the team lose so many games after clinching.  I’m not too worried, though, for this reason:

Last year in the ALDS against the Yankees, the Twins Brendan Harris, Nick Punto, and Matt Tolbert in the starting lineup.  No such thing will happen this year, as those guys are replaced (respectively) by Jim Thome, Orlando Hudson, and Danny Valencia.

We know that our first-round opponent this year will again be the Yankees, but I’ll have more on that matchup in a later post.

Final AL Central Standings:

y-Minnesota 94 -68 . -
Chi White Sox 88 -74 6.0
Detroit 81 -81 13.0
Cleveland 69 -93 25.0
Kansas City 67 -95 27.0

Piranhas No More

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OzzieGuillenLead_crop_200x136.jpgIn 2006, Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen gave the Minnesota Twins the nickname “piranhas” for there ability to “peck away” at you until they finally succeed.  Basically, Ozzie was just frustrated that a team featuring the likes of Jason Bartlett, Lew Ford, Luis Castillo, Nick Punto, Juan Castro, and Jason Tyner could beat his band of sluggers.  The Twins were that pesky team you should beat, but don’t more often than not.

 Just recently, though, Guillen announced that the Twins were no longer piranhas.  You know what I say to that?  Great!

It was fine to watch that small-ball, attacking style of offense over the course of the regular reason, but once the playoffs were at hand it always failed us.  It’s common sense, really: give too many important at-bats to Punto, Brian Buscher, Tyner, or the like, and eventually (once you face good pitching) you will start to falter.  That is exactly what happened in the 2006 ALDS against the A’s.

Really, it comes down to this.  Take a look at these two players, and tell me who you would rather have up in a key spot against, say, Mariano Rivera in the playoffs:

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mp_main_wide_GardenhireThome452.jpgYep.

Preview (70-51, 1st, 4.0 GA CWS): Dan Haren (1-3, 3.44) vs. Brian Duensing (6-1, 2.00).

More Bailouts Than Obama (aka Don’t Mess Around With Jim)

Tonight’s Twins-White Sox game featured more bailouts of Twins’ pitchers than the Obama Administration:

First, Scott Baker stunk it up once again, giving up a bevy of hard-hit balls, including a moonshot from Paul Konerko in the early innings:

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However, the Twins also got dingers of their own from Delmon Young and Orlando Hudson, as well as a big triple from Jason Kubel, to stay in the game.

With the Twins leading 5-4 going into the bottom of the ninth, Matt Capps was brought in for the save situation.  The first batter, Alexei Ramirez, homered to tie the game, but Capps was bailed out by a huge, bases-loaded double play to end the inning.

In the tenth, Jon Rauch took the mound and, with one out, gave up three straight singles to once again allow the White Sox to score a run, giving them a 6-5 lead.  Rauch, for the second time in as many games, couldn’t even finish off his inning and had to be replaced:

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At this point, though, is when Big Jim took matters onto his own, rather broad shoulders:

 


White_Sox_Twins_Baseball_sff_188630_gameBigJim.jpgIn the bottom of the tenth, Delmon Young sent a rocket right through the crotch (almost literally) of Matt Thorton.  Up stepped Jim Thome, and three things happened in rather short fashion:

1. The ball rocketed towards the right field pavilion;

2. The ball landed, giving Thome career homer #581, and the first walk-off jack at Target Field;

3. A shaving cream-filled towel quickly homed in on Thome’s face, courtesy of one Nick Punto.

 

Every win against the Sox is a good win at this point, but it’s so much sweeter when Thome does it to his former mates!  Next to Delmon Young choosing to punch AJ Pierzynski in the face instead of sliding into home plate, Thome’s blast is easily the highlight of the season-series with these two clubs so far.  Can we drop them even further back tomorrow?!

Preview (69-50, 1st, 4.0 GA CWS): Gavin Floyd (8-9, 3.70) vs. Francisco Liriano (11-7, 3.26).

Jammed

Twins_White_Sox_Baseball_sff_187721_game.jpgTonight, Francisco Liriano went 5.2 innings and only gave up one run. Without observing the game and just going by that stat line, you’d think that maybe he walked a few too many guys or just ran out of gas.  This was not the case whatsoever.  In fact, Frankie (if not spectacular) was remarkable in his ability to get out of jams.

In the fifth inning, with the bases loaded with Sox and no one out, Cisco got Rios to hit into a force play at the plate, then struck out both Konerko and Quentin on nasty sliders to end the inning.

In the sixth, the Sox again loaded the bases, this time with one out, only to see Liriano get Pierre to line out and then cede to Guerrier, who popped out Ramirez.

All told, it was a miraculous performance from Liriano in terms of pitching out of jams.

Then the seventh inning dawned, the Tighty-Whities put a man on base (Mauer) to pitch to Kubel, and that pretty much ended things:

Twins_White_Sox_Baseball_sff_187726_game.jpg Notes:

-With Valencia playing so well at third, there seems to be no rush to hurry along Nick Punto back from injury.  When Little Nicky does return, I would hope that Gardy would use him as a sub, not wrenching the starting job from a still-hitting Danny Boy.

-Will anyone really miss Mijares?  He’s basically what I call a 50-50 guy.  He might get the lefty out, but he also has just a great a chance at walking him or uncorking a wild pitch.  Is he worth it as a LOGEY?

Preview (65-50, 1st, 1.0 GA CWS): Gio Gonzalez (10-7, 3.51) vs. Carl Pavano (14-7, 3.28). As Bert Blyleven said on the telecast tonight, Oakland is playing some decent ball right now, and can throw some quality arms at us this weekend.  But is it any match for the stache?  I think not.

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