Results tagged ‘ Target Field ’

Playin’ Big

pologrounds.jpgWay back in the day, there was a ballpark called the Polo Grounds that played host to the New York Giants of John McGraw and Christy Mathewson fame.  The park, pictured above, was shaped like an emormous horseshoe and was roughly 500 feet from home plate to the center field “garage” (imagine sitting out there!).  Though batters could hit lazy pop flies that would easily clear the 250 ft. lengths down both lines, the power alleys (aptly named for where the big drives go) were nearly impossible to clear.

During the current Twins homestand at Target Field, its looking more and more (at least in the soggy weather) that our new digs will play pretty big as well.  In today’s game, Michael Cuddyer hit a blast off of John Danks that looked as if it were so far gone that centerfielder Alex Rios wouldn’t even have a shot at it.  Somewhere, though, the cold air kept the ball in the air long enough to allow Rios, on a dead sprint, to extend his glove over the top of the wall and come down with ball in hand.  Cuddyer (as well as the announcers and all watching fans) was incredulous that the ball didn’t leave the stadium by a mile.

Luckily, the Twins got another solid performance from Pavano (7 IP, 2 ER) and managed not to waste it this time, slapping together a few runs in the early innings to counter a rough first inning and hanging on the rest of the way.  Without the baserunning daring of Juan Pierre, the Sox wouldn’t have had anything going for them today.

Preview (22-12, 1st, 3.0 GA DET): Francisco Liriano (4-1, 2.36) vs. AJ Burnett (4-1, 3.40).  Travel day Thursday in preperation for the big Yankee showdown over the weekend.

Back In Business

twins-harris.jpgWell, after a few games against Baltimore (two losses and one win) in which the lineup didn’t exactly produce a bevy of runs, the bats came through today, albeit in the most unlikely of places.  Though Joe Mauer had a key hit towards the end of the game, it was the 8-2 slots in the order that did most (all!) of the damage…

Brendan Harris: 3-4, 2 R

Alexi Casilla: 2-4, 2 R, 1 RBI

Denard Span: 3-4, 2 R, 3 RBI

Nick Punto: 2-3, 2 RBI

This is nice to see from this club, as the 2006 season proved what magic can happen when both the big boppers and scrappy “piranhas” alternate in picking each other up.

Of course, it helped today that Nick Blackburn stymied the O’s bats for seven innings (what should happen when one faces that dead-end squad).  After missing his previous scheduled start due to a family emergency, it was nice to see Blackie turn in a great effort after struggling so in the month of April.

In other news, the reason for the week-long break from this blog was due to the fact that our family just completely the vast majority of a move from Fergus Falls, Minnesota (the town I had grown up in since Kindergarten) to Forest Lake, MN, a town about 30 miles or so north of the Metro area.  The negative: Uprooting an entire family (I’m currently living with my parents and multiple siblings).  The positive: Closer to Target Field!!

Preview (21-11, 1st, 3.5 GA DET): Freddy Garcia (1-2, 5.28) vs. Kevin Slowey (4-2, 4.93).  Off day Monday (I bet Mauer is relaxing at his cabin already!) before the rival ChiSox make their first trip to our new home turf.  Let’s home it is just as “accommodating” to them as the old place.

Take You Back

francisco_liriano.jpgOooh boy…as if the Twins needed anything more to be positive about after two road series wins and the opening of Target Field, earlier today Francisco Liriano pitched up to his 2006 form, styming the Red Sox for seven innings (with eight whiffs) while the Twins’ bats exploded (or perhaps this is just their normal capacity?).

One of the weaknesses that I perceived in the Twins this year was the lack of a true ace that could kill them come playoff time as it has in past seasons. Baker, Blackburn, Pavano, and Slowey all give you a chance to win day in and day out, but none are a real stopper in the Johan Santana mold.  If Frankie keeps locating his fastball and curving that filthy slider, he’s the guy that can match up against the Sabathia’s, Beckett’s, or Hernandez’s in the first game of a playoff series.

Preview (7-3, 1st, 0.5 GA DET): Zack Grienke (0-1, 3.55) vs. Scott Baker (1-1, 3.86). I smell a pitcher’s duel…

One Joe Gone…

amd_nathan.jpgWell, it’s official…Joe Nathan is now lost for the season due to Tommy John surgery.  Wow.

You know, as good as Nathan has been since coming over to the Twins in 2004, he has always been somewhat under-appreciated by many Twins fans, I think.  Part of that can be due to two heart-crushing blown saves against the Yankees in the ’04 and ’09 ALDS.  But when you really think about, Nathan has been the best closer Minnesota has ever seen.  Consider this lineage:

In the 1960s, before the term “closer” was even used, Al Worthington…

Alworth.jpg

…and Ron Perranoski…

ron_perranoski_autograph.jpg …”saved” games (often pitching multiple innings) for some pretty good teams.  They were two great pitchers, but you can’t really consider them “closers” in the traditional sense.

The next time the Twins were good enough to need a closer (mid-1980s), the great Ron Davis experiment failed miserably…

davis2.jpg

Thus, the emergence of Jeff “The Terminator” Reardon…

5jeff_reardon-449x449.jpg

…seemed like heaven on earth, even though his stats (31 saves, 4.48 ERA) would be considered poor by today’s standards.

Next in line was Rick Aguilera:

 
top40aguilera-718891.jpg

Aggie was really good for a short period of time (1990-1992) and pretty good for the rest of the 1990s, but during both those periods he was always susceptible to giving up baserunners and needing to pitch out of jams.  He would usually do it succesfully, but not without a few heart-stopping moments nearly every night.

During the late 1990s, a closer wasn’t really needed when the Twins would only win 70 games a year, so Mike Trombley…

mike_trombley_autograph.jpg

…usually did the deed.

In 2001, the year the Twins jumped back into contention, LaTroy Hawkins…

latroy_1.jpg …wowed fans with his live fastball, but his late-season meltdown was partially to blame for the Twins missing the playoffs.

Thus, the switching of Eddie Guardado…

EddieGuy.jpg

…from “Everday” to “closer” was like another Davis-Reardon transition.  Eddie was deceptive, but like Aggie he had a propencity for making things interesting since he didn’t have electric stuff.

Then, Joe Nathan rode into town and dominated like no other before him:

nathanyoung.jpg

He had the blow-‘em-away fastball, coupled with an array of breaking pitches that kept batsmen confused inning after inning.  Despite a few high-profile blowouts (but nothing worse than, say, Brad Lidge has gone through in recent years), he had joined the company of Mariano Rivera and Jonathan Papelbon as the best closers in the majors.

Now that he is gone for the season (and likely more, if not his career, at least with the Twins), the Twins have a complex choice for that crucial ninth inning.  Pat Neshek would be my choice, but management is taking it slow after his own major arm surgery two years ago.  Jon Rauch used to close games for the Nats, but his control is spotty.  Guerrier would probably do okay, but his setup role is so valuable as not to be lost.  Mijares/Crain would a disaster, Ron Davis-esque.  Hopefully the Twins can find someone to fill that final frame.

For the time being, I will continue to call this blog “The Closer” until the fate of Nathan is more determined.  He was always a favorite of mine (thus the blog title), and I am hoping (one day in the future) to hear this booming through the speakers at Target Field…

 

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.

 

Thanks For The Memories


dome6.jpgDuring the early goings of September of the 2009 Twins baseball season, it looked as if game number 162 (the contest that typically ends the MLB season unless you happen to play in the Midwest) would be a great remembrance of all the baseball that the Metrodome had produced before giving way to Target Field next season.  A post-game ceremony down on the field after that game was both parts touching and entertaining, but there was just one problem…the old Dome wasn’t done; it would go on to host two more games!

Thus, it never really felt as if the Metrodome got that proper sense of ending as maybe it should have…that moment when you just look around and soak it all in.  Obviously, with the New York Yankees celebrating, it wasn’t the time for that feeling.  That is why I would now like to relive my favorite moments of being at the Dome.  Perhaps you will remember some of these as well:

-1990: My first memory of the Dome recalls seeing Kirby Puckett being given the Silver Slugger award for winning the batting title the previous year.  While going through the turnstiles that day, I got a black bat “signed” by Puck that I believe I still have stashed away to this day.

toilet_paper.jpg

-1991: Though most fans may only remember the ’91 seaons for Puckett’s Game Six and Black Jack’s Game Seven, there was also quite a heated race (at least for awhile) with the Oakland A’s.  Back then, when both teams were part of the AL West division, the A’s were the powerhouse team of the circuit.  They came into a summer series at the Dome and jumped way ahead of the Twins in every game thanks to the power of guys like Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, and Dave Henderson (looking back, can you imagine all the steroids coursing through those veins?).  However, the Twins scrapped back in every game and won them all.  I was lucky enough to be at the one that everyone remembers, where the Twins rallied against Dennis Eckersley (the Mariano Rivera of his day) on a triple from Chili Davis that RF Canseco played like a pin-ball down in the corner.  As Jose was bouncing around, a fan overhanging right field chucked an unravelling roll of toilet paper down onto the field, only adding to the mayhem!

 
108446279_126193ede4.jpg

-1996-2000: I really began following the Twins with a passion in ’96, but from then until ’00 the Twins were perennial cellar-dwellers. Not to be deterred, though, my Dad and I would still get down to the Dome a few times each year to watch guys like Bob Tewksbury, Pat Mahomes, Brent Gates, Rich Becker, and Scott Stahoviak (among others) battle to not lose 100 games.  I didn’t seem to care about the futility, I guess, as I still root-root-rooted for the home team with all I had.  The attendance was so poor during those years that one could (and we often did) guy a cheap ticket and move right up behind the infield.  Believe it or not, there were no users to stop people!

A more specific game from that time period involves a field trip with my sixth grade class.  My exact recollection of the event is understandably a bit hazy, but the Twins were facing Pedro Martinez and the Red Sox.  The game went into extra innings, the Twins loaded the bases with no outs, but then two guys (one of which I’m positive was Terry Steinbach) struck out.  The next batter then singled to win the game (I want to say it was Pat Meares, but I could be wrong).

PrinceTom.jpg

-2002: Fifteen innings of baseball against the Atlanta Braves.  Bobby Cox got tossed in the first inning, the Twins roughed up Greg Maddux, and Christian Guzman’s double off the baggy scored Tom Prince (pictured above) to win it.  Once you do the fourteenth-inning stretch, you never forget it!

200px-Bobby_kielty2002.jpg

-2002: With the Twins already having locked up the division title, they hosted the beaten White Sox to close out the season.  I was at the final two games, both won by dramatic, late-inning home runs from Bobby Kielty.

CasillaAlexi.jpg

-2008: With the Twins needing to sweep the White Sox in the final homestand to stay in the playoff race, they do just that.  I was at all three thrillers, but of course momst remember the final contest when the Twins fell behind early but clawed back into it thanks to a dramatic triple from Denard Span.  A walk-off hit from Alexi Casilla sealed it in extra innings.

So, those are my fondest, brightest memories of the Metrodome.  Though many malign it as a dump and unfit for the National Pastime, it is the only home turf I have ever seen the Twins play on, and no one can take that from me.  Though Target Field may prove to be a rousing success (or a miserable failure, whatever the case may be), it will always be the Dome that holds my childhood baseball nostalgia.

The Big Guy Gets One, But The Twins Hang On

210e5591-087a-4a51-9bfb-f9305ed4afa2.jpgTry as he might, the Big Vegetarian was not able to power the Brewers past the Twins today…though he certainly tried, by launching an absolute bomb off Scott Baker in the sixth inning.  Have the Twins played a series against Milwaukee since Prince joined the team where he HASN’T hit at least one home run?!

It was a decent win for the Twins this afternoon, but one that could have been improved upon mightily.  On the offensive side, there are still way too many runners being left on base.  The Twins got four across the plate in the first six innings today, but that total could have been much higher.  It was nice to see Denard Span back in the leadoff spot, as I think he may have the best batting eye on the entire team (Joe Mauer included).

Pitching-wise, Baker was brilliant for five innings, then (as so often happens with him) gave up a few big bombs in the sixth.  Really, Baker’s inability to pitch deep into games is the biggest factor in his never moving into that “next level” as an ace-type pitcher.  Either he throws too many pitches and wears himself out, or he cruises along and then absolutely hits a wall in the middle innings.

All things considered, though, it was nice to take two of three from the Brew Crew on the road.  Losing the sweep (especially in the fashion it happened) was heartbreaking, but for a team that just tries to avoid getting swept when batting first, it’s okay.

Notes:

-I don’t care what people say, Miller Park’s Sausage Races are one of the funnier pre-game activities in all of baseball.  Nothing the Twins do even comes close to that.  Maybe next year I’ll have to get back to one of these “rivalry” games, as I have an Aunt who lives right down in the area.  I suppose next year, though, the buzz will be for Brewers fans to cross the border and see Target Field.  However, going the other way at least one will be guaranteed a baseball game, something you won’t be able to say here in Minny.

Preview (37-37, 2nd, 5.0 GB DET): Glen Perkins (2-4, 5.10) vs. Adam Wainwright (8-4, 3.58)

2010: A Season Preview

FenwayRain.jpgSee the picture above?  That may happen more times than not at Target Field come 2010.  A depressing, pessimistic thought, I know, but it could be a harsh reality of building a non-retractable roof stadium in a state like MN.

But hey, on the positive side, it looks like baseball may actually be played tonight!!  Scott Baker got beat up earlier today and the Twins lost 10-1 in just seven innings (shortened by, guess what, rain!).

Preview: (7-8, 4th, 1.0 GB KCR, DET, & CWS): Francisco Liriano (0-3, 5.09) vs. Brad Penny (1-0, 11.00).

The New “Voice Of The Twins”

Gordo.jpgUntil he passed away a year or so ago, Herb Carneal was known as the “voice of the Twins”, as he had essentially (he might have missed one season) been with the Twins since they moved from Washington in 1961.  A week or so ago, it was announced that the Twins signed current radio broadcaster John Gordon to an extension, keeping him with the team at least through the 2010 season (the first in Target Field).

While older folks will also consider Carneal to be the greatest Twins broadcaster, I would have to give that nod to “Gordo”.  Not only does he have a “charismatic voice”, but he can also make any situation exciting (“down by nine, bottom of the ninth, Mariano Rivera on the mound…let’s get those rally caps on!).  I don’t miss too many televised Twins games during the season, but when I do I don’t feel as if I am being short-changed, and that, to me, is the sign of a great radio broadcaster.

Dan “Dazzle Man” Gladden will again be joining Gordon in the broadcast booth next season, while his replacements may include Jack Morris and Kris Atteberry.

Gardy At The Helm

070528_gardenhire_hmed_4phmedium.jpgThe Minnesota Twins organization announced today that manager Ron Gardenhire (who has been in that capacity since the start of the 2002 season) sign a two-year extension, pushing his tenure to the end of the 2011 baseball season.  This will assure Gardy an office in the Twins’ new stadium, Target Field, come 2010.

This was a no-brainer move for the Twins to make.  While I often disagree with Gardy’s careful handling of his starting pitchers and his careful playing of the lefty-righty numbers, he has proved me wrong more times than not.  His real talent, though, is in cultivating young players, as he has found the right balance of treating the youngsters with respect but showing them some tough love as well.  This year (2008) might have been his greatest achievement yet, taking a team that absolutely no one thought would contend and taking it within a few innings of a playoff berth.  I wouldn’t want anyone else manning the end spot in the dugout!

Twins Notes:

-In other Gardy news, he again finished second in the Manager of the Year award voting to the Tampa Bay Rays’ Joe Maddon.  Although Gardy deserved the award as much as anyone, how could it not go to Maddon for what he did for the Rays’ franchise?!  This is one of those awards where it’s better to be lucky than good, and Gardy has never been very lucky!  I doubt he cares though…he’ll probably go bowl a few games and forget about it!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.