Results tagged ‘ Rangers ’

…One Joe Here To Say!

Well, Joe Mauer is going to have a lot more to smile about now…

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…and so do we (the fans)!  Eight more years (nine, counting 2010) of arguably the most talented player in the major leagues right now.

Although crossing the 20% (of the total payroll) threshold has been suicide for many teams (just remember A-Rod going to Texas), I think the Twins have a good enough organization and farm system to build around Mauer (or keep the talent around, as is the case now) for many years.

Giving 8 years and $184 million to a health-risk catcher may seem dicey, but Mauer is the exception to the rule.  If he wanted to stay, and he did, then the right move was locking him up at any price.

It just boggles my mind that only 20 years ago, Kirby Puckett…

puckett88nike-1.jpg  was the first guy in the majors to make $3 million per season.   Crazy.

Texas Two (Out Of Three) Step

Man, I bet the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays are our biggest fans right now! Like the couple in the above video, the Minnesota Twins took a little while to get going tonight, but when push came to shove we came out on the winning end of another series against the Texas Rangers.

The Rangers took an early 1-0 lead in the third inning when Elvis Andrus singled in Ivan Rodriguez, but a big fly from Kubel (with Morneau on base) took care of that in short order…

KubelRangers.jpgFor the next couple of innings, Scott Baker proceeded to shut down the bats of one of the most potent lineups in the American League…

BakerRangers.jpg  I have to tip my cap to Baker after writing him off in May/June…he has really started to come around the past two months.  Sure, he has a bad start now and then…but who doesn’t?  Without him upping his game, the Twins might be in as big of a free-fall as the Sox are right now.

Yet, with a bloop and a blast in the seventh inning, the lawmen managed to grab a 3-2 lead.  The Twins’ bats managed to have a bit more life in them, though, scoring three times in the bottom of the eighth (including a squeeze bunt from Nick Punto) to take a 5-3 lead.

Then, just when you thought it was safe to exhale again, Joe Nathan got shaky once again.  After a crazy series in KC a week ago, Nathan found himself tonight in a bases-loaded, no-out jam.  Not only was he wild in the strike zone and getting hit, but he also threw low (and in the dirt for a no-catch) to second base on what should have been an easy double play ball.  The good news?  Just three batters later, Nathan was doing this…

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Whew!!

Notes:

-It was a very sloppy game by both sides.  The Twins had the Nathan throw-away in the ninth, while the Rangers couldn’t seem to hold onto the ball all night…

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-Mike Redmond hit a triple. Yep, it is possible. Eat your heart out Matthew LeCroy!!

Preview (65-65, 2nd, 4.5 GB DET): Gavin Floyd (10-8, 3.95) vs. Nick Blackburn (8-9, 4.29). Despite the fact that Brett Favre will be playing on Monday Night Football tomorrow night, I’m still more interested in what the Twins tangling with the ChiSox.  Football can wait its turn.

A series win can all but put away the Pale Hose, while a series loss (especially if Detroit keeps winning) will set us back two weeks.

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?

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).

No No Na-Nathan?

Alright Gardy, please explain something to me…your team (and mine, ours, etc.) is playing in a game that, if won, will vault us into second place in the AL Central and only a game behind the leader. The bats (well, Punto, Young, and Casilla) did enough in the early innings to grab a lead, but the pitching (Liriano) faltered late. Thus, the game goes to extra innings and both bullpens are mowing guys down. In the bottom of the twelfth, though, Duensing (who had been mowing guys down the previous inning) gives up a relatively harmless single, then a sacrifice bunt. With Joe Nathan warmed up (or was, an inning or two previous) in the ‘pen, you amble out to the mound to presumably bring the best closer not nicknamed Mo into the game to shut the door, right? I mean, this is a crucial game. When chasing a team down the stretch, every single inning of every single game is critical (was that not a hard enough lesson learned last year?). Yet, this is (metaphorically speaking) what Nathan was doing during that fateful twelfth…
Nathan-Crossings.jpgInstead, Gardy calls knuckler R.A. Dickey from the pen. There are so many things wrong with this decision that I would probably overload the server if I were forced to list them all. About the only thing he DID do right was not throw a wild pitch. Of course, the only reason that happened was because his knuckler was so ineffective as to be laughable. Starting with the very first pitch he threw to Ian Kinsler, the Texas second baseman’s eyes looked like beach balls (as did the sphere, I would imagine) and he started taking some monstrous hacks, off which he would just miss or foul the ball straight back (i.e. he was on the ball). In all honesty, I don’t think I’ve ever been so sure of something in my life that Kinsler (or the next batter) was going to win the game. Unfortunately, that is EXACTLY what transpired…
3808eaef-c65c-48dc-874e-8245718e53bf.jpgUnless Nathan was considered “off limits” for last night’s game (and I doubt that, as he was warming up in the bullpen on at least one occasion), I can’t think of a single reason why he wasn’t brought in for that situation. I know Gardy likes to take the conservative approach, but that doesn’t fly in the heat of a pennant race. So what if we may need Nathan to close out a game tonight in Oakland…I would have MUCH rather taken my chances with him last night.

Notes: -The Twins signed Mark Grudzielanek to a minor league contract yesterday. They say he won’t be in baseball-ready shape for a month at least. I’m usually good for some trade-deadline satire involving the Twins (“locking up” guys like Punto when other teams pull off blockbusters), but this is just ridiculous.

Preview (47-45, 3rd, 0.5 GB CWS): Nick Blackburn (8-4, 3.06) vs. Gio Gonzalez (1-2, 6.29). The A’s stink, but they have a ton of lefty pitching…meaning more Delmon Young than fans should probably ever see.

Cookin’ With Gas

10043291-3542-4e14-aeb2-86272e320804.jpgNow THAT’s the Scott Baker I like to see!  Against the Texas Rangers earlier tonight, Baker turned in what might have been his best start of the season thus far, allowing just one run and six hits over eight innings and striking out eight.  Like I said in the previous post, the Baker-Liriano tandem will be paramount to the Twins’ second half success, so it was good to see at least half of that combo start off on the right foot.

Offensively, Cuddyer led the way tonight with a dinger and an RBI double.  The streaking Carlos Gomez and Justin Morneau also added run-scoring hits.

Basically, it was just a solid win for the Twins, especially on the road.

Notes:

 

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That is all.

Preview (47-44, 3rd, 0.5 GB CWS): Francisco Liriano (4-9, 5.47) vs. Derek Holland (3-5, 5.97). Time for Cisco to follow in Bakers’ footsteps.

MLB Predictions: 2009

1908Cubs.jpgEach year, usually after receiving the Sports Illustrated Baseball Preview issue, I make a complete set of MLB picks.  It’s always fun to look back at them and see how right/wrong (wrong far outnumbering the right!) I was at the end of the season.  Here they are for ’09:

AL East:

Boston

Tampa Bay (Wild Card)

New York

Toronto

Baltimore

AL Central:

Minnesota

Chicago

Kansas City

Cleveland

Detroit

AL West:

Los Angeles

Texas

Seattle

Oakland

NL East:

Philadelphia

New York (Wild Card)

Florida

Atlanta

Washington

NL Central:

Chicago

Milwaukee

St. Louis

Cincinnati

Houston

Pittsburgh

NL West:

Los Angeles

Arizona

San Francisco

Colorado

San Diego

AL Champion: Boston

NL Champion: Chicago

World Series Champion: Chicago

So, after 100 long seasons of waiting, I think this is the year that the Cubbies will finally win the big one.  I just think that their pitching is too good not to make a deep playoff run.

I Think I’m Gettin’ Old

Two hot topics circulating the baseball newswires (especially Baseball Tonight!) right now are really making me feel old…

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First is the notion that no team will sign Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez because he is too old and his skills are declining.  I remember that during Pudge’s prime, he was so good defensively that teams just stopped running against him altogether.  Plus, at least while in Texas, he was ALWAYS good for a .300 average (if not much higher) and 30 home runs.  All told, he could probably challenge the old notion of Johnny Bench being the greatest backstop of all time.  Now no teams want him?!  Heck, if Joe Mauer ever got hurt for an extended period of time, I would take Rodriguez in a heartbeat.

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Secondly, can you believe that Pedro Martinez is not on a major league baseball team right now?!  I know that his “heater” only tops out around 90 mph (if that) these days and his chances of making it through an entire season are slim, but c’mon…it’s Pedro!  An interesting conversation-starter that I like to pose to fellow baseball fans around my age (23) is this: If your team needed to win one game, which pitcher (in his prime) would you want on the mound: Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, or Pedro Martinez?  For me, the answer was always Pedro, as his late 1990s seasons were the stuff of legends.  As long as I live, I will never forget watching Pedro strike out Barry Larkin, Larry Walker, Sammy Sosa, and Mark McGwire in the 1999 All-Star Game in his Carl Hubbell impersonation.

I guess what this means is that, if I were a GM, I would be the type that allows the old guys to hang on a bit too far past their prime.  But seriously…let’s say for a second that the Twins picked up Martinez on a whim.  In Game Seven of the hypothetical World Series, who would you want on the mound…him or Scott Baker (no disrespect to Scotty)?  I thought so.

World Series Failing? Let Rivalries Develop

1_61_fenway320.jpgThis week, while reading an article in Sports Illustrated magazine, I came across a rather lengthy article (although I cannot recall by whom) discussing how the World Series needs to re-establish its place as the crown-jewel of the baseball season, as in recent seasons (most dramatically this year) the event has lost huge viewership numbers, even losing to the NBA Finals in some seasons.  The author of the article layed out a few solutions to the problem, such as starting games earlier (so kids and working adults can watch them), speeding up pitching changes, and doing something to take bad weather out of the equation (like mandating that all new parks be built with a retractable roof).  However, I had a much different response to that article that I wanted to share on this blog…

To me, the drop in World Series luster in the recent years has, ironically, been caused by baseball’s biggest accomplishment…parity (eight different teams have played in the World Series the past four years).  Think back to when the World Series was a premiere event…it was because the New York Yankees were dominating and everyone either loved them or loved to hate them.  Realistically, the Yankees’ last playoff hurrah was in 2004 (when the Red Sox made their improbable comeback)…since then, the World Series just hasn’t been the same in terms of viewership (the Sox got a boost from beating the Yanks, of course).

So, at least in my mind, the best way to return to a star-studded World Series again is to let a big-market team dominate the playing field again.  However, I am terribly opposed to that sort of economic structure (despite the excitement it brings to the playoffs, as who didn’t have a rooting interest in the Yankees either way over the past decade?!), so here is what I think is the next best solution…let the natural MLB rivalries develop.

Historically, the ALCS and NLCS series’ have often been more dramatic as the World Series just due to the fact that both teams (being in the same league) know each other so well.  During the late 1990s and early 2000s, such rivalries as Cardinals-Astros, Braves-Mets, Yankees-Red Sox, and even Yankees-Rangers (for Texas’ first-round futility against the Bombers) really fueled the postseason structure, creating steam for a big World Series matchup.  Because, even though the WS does not, by definition, precipitate geographic rivalries, it can be made more exciting by teams that just came off a thrilling victory.  Growing up, I was always very anti-Yankees and anti-Braves (because I despised the advantages of large market teams over “my” Twins), but that “hatred” of those teams made me watch them all the more just to see them get beat!  I think the same principle could apply to MLB today, but we just have to let a few rivalries play out.

For example, Red Sox-Rays (as pictured above) could be big for years to come, while White Sox-Twins also has potential  In the NL, the Phillies and Dodgers may “get up” for each other after that spirited NLCS, while the Cubs and Cardinals are always at each other’s throats.  Plus, who knows where new rivalries will emerge.  Just last year, no one would have ever thought Sox-Rays would turn interesting, but look what happened.  From my experience with the AL Central, the Twins and Royals have quite a rivalry, but it will only gain attention if the Royals win a few more games (Yikes!).

Thus, I don’t think that there is a “quick fix” to restoring luster to the World Series.  I would love to see games start earlier and pitching changes go a bit quicker, but that alone will not restore interest…only teams, players, and the rivalries between them.

Another Series Win

Victory.jpgI was out of town this weekend (just the time to be the featured blog on MLB.com, of course!), so here is my recap of the weekend’s action:

Friday: Behind the strong pitching of Glen Perkins (who improved to a remarkable 7-2 on the season), the Twins shut-out the Texas Rangers 6-0.  Delmon Young continued his hot hitting (4-4), while both Jason Kubel and Brian Buscher had two hits and two RBI.  Basically, another impressive Twins victory.

Saturday: The whooping sticks came out, as Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, and Young each homered en route to the big 14-2 victory.  The Fat Man picked up his tenth win of the year in a strong seven inning, two earned run effort.

Sunday: The most compelling (and frustrating) game of the series.  Scott Baker took a perfect game into the sixth inning, then lost everything on one swing of the bat from Rangers’ catcher Teagarden, who hit a solo dinger.  That proved to be the only run of the contest from either side, as the Twins were stymied by Vincent Padilla and could not bring in Mauer from third base in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Essentially, the weekend was another strong series for the Twins.  Despite losing the finale in rather heartbreaking fashion, a series win is the ultimate prize anyway.  Plus, we also gained a game on the White Sox, which is always good news.  A few quick random thoughts:

-Aren’t MLB agents the pits?  If you haven’t heard, Francisco Liriano’s agent is whining about the fact that Liriano hasn’t been called up to the major leagues yet despite pitching very well in the minors.  The agent is claiming that it has something to do with a service time matter, but I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that Liriano was called up once already this season and stunk, or that the Twins are the hottest club in baseball right now on primarily the strength of their starting pitching?!  So, my advice for the Cisco Kid–Tough…Get Over It.

-Delmon Young seems to be heating up at just the right time.  His is a bat that the Twins could really use down the stretch (especially considering our weakness against lefties).

-Doesn’t that series with the ChiSox next week get you excited already?  The Twins need to play well this week to put themselves in a position to do some really damage in the division race by that point.

-Finally, I usually keep this blog about sports, but I saw “The Dark Knight” Saturday night and I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone!  If you are a Batman fan you will love it, and if you have never seen a superhero movie you will still be impressed by the deep themes and incredible acting.

Preview (55-43, 2nd, 0.5 GB CWS): Nick Blackburn (7-5, 3.65) vs. “Sir” Sidney Ponson (5-1, 3.96).  If you know anything about the Twins, you will know why a loss tomorrow night at Yankee Stadium would be deemed tremendously embarrassing.

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