Results tagged ‘ Torii Hunter ’

How I Know I’m A Blogger…

The other day, I realized that I’ve started to think like a blogger.  As soon as I heard the news that Carl Crawford…

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…was nabbed by the Boston Red Sox, my first thought wasn’t even about the unfairness of the baseball economic system or even the rising of a new “Evil Empire” (the fact that it’s the Yankees, Red Sox, and everyone else right now).

No, my first thought went to Rays Renegade (a fellow MLBlog) and how disappointed he must have been to lose his star talent.  Hang in there, man, it happened to me with Torii Hunter and Johan Santana, too.  The Twins still thrived without those talents, and I’m sure the Rays can too (granted, making the playoffs is a thousand times more difficult in that division).

Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down

Thumbs Up:

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Joe Mauer winning the AL Gold Glove award for catchers. Doesn’t get much better behind the plate.  Was surprised to NOT see Torii Hunter’s name included in the group.  It’s been awhile since that happened.

Thumbs Down:

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Yep, it’s probably going to happen.  Ho hum…just another lefthanded ace to shut us down when we see them again in the 2011 ALDS.

Junior’s Circuit, No More

The other day, upon hearing that Ken Griffey Jr. had announced his retirement from Major League Baseball, I wanted to take a moment here to reflect on one of my favorite baseball players of all-time:

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Though I grew up a Minnesota Twins fan in the mid 1990s, those Twins teams didn’t exactly have the type of superstars that can captivate the imagination of a youngster (sorry Ron Coomer, Terry Steinbach, and Butch Huskey).  Thus, I naturally gravitated towards the best (with respect to Barry Bonds, a phrase I never thought I would write) player in baseball at the time: Ken Griffey Jr.

Junior could do it all: Hit for decent average (career .284 hitter), tremendous power (630 career dingers, back-to-back seasons of 56 jacks), steal some bases (particularly early in his career; 184 career), and track down balls in center field like Torii Hunter would later do for my favorite club.

In fact, when the big power/steroid boom of the late 1990s occurred, it was the Griffey/McGwire show before Sosa juiced up and changed everything in ’98.  Fortunately, Griffey has never seen the smear of performance-enhancing drugs touch his name.  He also has none of the tell-tale signs (huge musculature, sudden growth, etc.).

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Sadly, the career of KGJ took a down-turn after he signed with the Cincinnati Reds in 2000.  Though he was the darling of Seattle with the Mariners, I couldn’t blame him for wanting to play for his hometown Reds.  However, the Reds never challenged for any sort of title during the “Griffey Years”, and Griffey himself endured so many injuries it would have made Mickey Mantle flinch.  At one point, he was projected to “easily” surpass Hank Aaron’s home run record, and may very well of done it had not the injury bug bitten hard.

After a brief stint with the Chicago White Sox (that, despite good performance, never quite seemed right)…

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…it was nice to see Junior in an M’s uniform once again in the end:

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Perhaps the fondest memory I will take away from Ken Griffey Jr. the baseball player, though, is how as a child I sent him a letter asking for an autograph.  Some time later, I received a glossy 8X10 of Junior that had me nearly bouncing off the walls in excitement.  A first-ballot Hall of Famer in every sense of the word:

 

Three-Deep

 

22e4851097a6cff91b862509d48fa665-getty-97630656jd002_minnesota_twi.jpgIf your favorite team loses on Opening Day, like the Twins did last night, it is easy (in the excitement of the moment) to make snap judgements based on the rest of the season. Basically, no one wants to start out 0-1. However, that is the great thing about the sport of baseball. You’re going to lose 60, win 60, and really it’s what you do with the other 42 that make the difference.

Tonight, the Twins had a nice bounce-back from that first-game loss on Monday night.

On the pitching side, Nick Blackburn successfully navigated (despite a Torii Hunter bomb) a very solid Angels lineup and, while not pitching deep into the game, kept the Twins in it and gave them a chance to win.

The offense came from homers by Mauer, Morneau, and newcomer J.J. Hardy on a blustery night in LA.  It was nice to see the lefty M&Ms tag a lefty pitcher for dingers.

This Angels club is still the class of the AL West (at least until they are seriously challenged), so getting out with a split would be a pretty successful series to open the year.  That would require a win tomorrow night…

Preview (1-1, 3rd, 0.5 GB CWS & DET): Carl Pavano (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Ervin Santana (0-0, 0.00 ERA).

Notes:

-Don’t really like the new road uniforms.  Makes the boys look too much like the Washington Nationals, if you ask me.

A Decade Of Twins Memories

I know I’m a little late on this, as the New Years parties are all but forgotten already, but I wanted to take a few moments to recount some of my favorite Minnesota Twins memories of the decade past:

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2000: When a team features such players as Jay Canizaro, Butch Huskey, Jason Maxwell, Sean Bergman, and Mike Lincoln, it was a bit difficult to really get excited about the teams’ chances.  However, having just been introduced to the sport and completely enthralled by it, I can remember going to the basically-empty Metrodome (been to a T-Wolves game lately?) with my Dad, buying an outfield seat, and then moving right up close to home plate because not even the ushers cared what you did back then!

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2001: The team finally comes together and starts winning thanks to players like Doug Mientkiewicz, Corey Koskie, Jacque Jones, Torii Hunter, Brad Radke, and Eric Milton.  The Twins didn’t win the division, but after nearly a decade of losing baseball, they finally brought some excitement back to the Dome.

contractbud.jpg2002: The year I learned to hate Bud Selig.  In an effort to make MLB more profitable, Selig hatches a scheme to contract two franchise to bolster the others.  The obvious choice were the Montreal Expos (later to become the Washington Nationals), but the Twins?  Obviously some back-room buyout deals between Buddy-Boy and Twins owner Carl Pohlad were occuring.  Luckily, MLB realized that contraction was ill-advised and allowed the Twins to easily capture their first division title since 1991.

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2003: After a dominating 2002 campaign, the Twins were nearly out of the division race at midseason of ’03. However, after acquiring outfielder Shannon Stewart from the Blue Jays to bat lead-off, the Twins took off and won the division nearly going-away.

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2004: Of the back-to-back-to-back division title winning teams, this squad was the best.  In the ALDS, the Twins took the first game at Yankee Stadium and were on the brink of going up 2-0 heading home.  However, Joe Nathan (who had taken over for the departed Eddie Guardado and been completely dominant the entire season) led an extra-inning lead slip away and give the Yankees momentum to win that game and then sweep both at the Dome.  Of course, maybe it was just fate, as those Yanks proceeded to go up 3-0 on the Red Sox and well, Dave Roberts can tell you the rest…

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2005: Not a fun year for Twins Territory.  We didn’t outright suck, but we never really competed for the crown, either.  Even the usually stoic Brad Radke was overheard griping about the lack of run support from a horrendous offensive unit.  Also, this was the year that tensions erupted between Torii Hunter and Justin Morneau and a few blows were thrown, one that somehow connected with little Lew Ford!

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2006: The Twins spent one day in first place, but since it was the final day they made it count!  They played well pretty much the entire season, but so did the Tigers.  A late-season hot streak pushed the Twins over the top on the season’s final day.

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2007: How quickly a team can go from “contending” to “rebuilding”. In the first losing season under Ron Gardenhire, a lack of fundamentals and downright sloppy baseball made the final month of the season almost unwatchable.

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 2008: After underachieving all season, the Twins basically needed to win out the final week of the season, starting with a sweep of the White Sox, whom they were chasing for the division title. I was at all three of those games at the Dome, and they are (easily) the most exciting games I have ever been to. The Twins would later lose to the Tighty Whities in a one-game playoff, but not before some of the most exciting baseball I have ever witnessed.

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 2009: (Read: 2008).  This time the Twins make the one-game playoff count in the most exciting single baseball game I have ever watched!

It was a great decade of Twins baseball memories…why not try for another one?!

Go-Go…Gone?

Gogo.jpgAs a Minnesota Twins fan, one of the moments I will never forget is Opening Day of the 2008 season, when young Carlos Gomez got the start in centerfield directly opposing his predecessor Torii Hunter.  Gomez completely dominated that game both in the field, at the plate, and on the basepaths, and it looked as if he would be one of the most exciting young players to put on a Twins uniform in quite a while.

Unfortunately, it was all downhill from that point (at least so far in his career), and a few weeks ago he was traded to the Brewers for SS J.J. Hardy.

My first reaction to the trade was that we were giving up the cornerstone of the Johan Santana deal, but (looking back) we were really just desperate to unload Johan once he refused our offer in search of a bigger payday, so it’s not like Gomez was the most coveted prospect in the world.

At times, Gomez could be the most exciting player on the field…

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He had incredible range out in centerfield, he was lightning-fast rounding the bases, and (come September) he was always good for a few huge hits against the White Sox down the stretch.  At times he showed good power, and if he dropped down a good bunt it was nearly impossible to throw him out.

At the same time, though, Go-Go could also be the dumbest player on the field…

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I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player crash into the wall, take a bad route to a ball, strike out badly on three pitches, or completely lose himself on the bases like Gomez.  Ultimately, that proved to be his undoing here in Minny, land of Ron Gardenhire Fundamental Baseball.  Plus, he didn’t seem to be making any strides after too full seasons in the major leagues.  He was making the same dumb mistakes in the ’09 playoffs that he made at the beginning of 2008.

But let’s take a moment to look at his “ransom”…

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J.J. Hardy had been a fan-favorite in Milwaukee (kind of like Joe Crede in Chicago) for his hustle and bat, but suffered through a horrendous 2009 campaign, at one point even being sent down to the minor leagues.  The Twins are hoping that he can regain the form of his ’08 year (.283, 24 HR) and anchor the SS position, as Orlanda Cabrera priced himself out of our range.

I guess I would have to say that this is a good trade for the Twins, although there is risk involved in both sides.  Hardy could be the next Bret Boone (a sickening thought) while Gomez could star in Brewtown, or Hardy could bat .300 and Gomez could continue to overrun balls and crash into walls.  We’ll see what happens.

On a more humorous note, I will perhaps miss this combination most of all:

Greatest interview ever!!

The Sad State Of Baseball Economics

mmw_baseball_101608_article.jpgAfter watching my beloved Minnesota Twins got stomped by the New York Yankees in the first round of the playoffs this past season, and then seeing Cleveland-bred C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee pitch the Yanks and Phillies into the World Series, I believe that now is the time for me to comment on the sad economic state of baseball these days.  This has always been a very hot-button topic for me (as I root for the small-market Twins), so I would like to take a few moments to explain why the current system is broken and what can be done to fix it:

Basically, the problem started way back in the 1900s, when both the American and National Leagues were first established.

mathewson-ruth-wagner-cobb-johnson.jpg Instead of free agency, there was something called the reserve clause, which was essentially a legal precedent that baseball used to keep players on one team until their owner decided differently.  The players were treated not too much different from a cattle-range steer, to be bought and sold as commodities.  It wasn’t, by any means, the greatest system in the world (as the only option a player had to fight against an unfair salary, which were very common in those days when most owners made Carl Pohlad look like the Monopoly Guy, was to quit playing altogether), but it did help the competitive balance of the game, allowing all teams (if managed/owned sensibly) to have a shot at competing for a championship.

That all changed in the 1970s when Curt Flood of the St. Louis Cardinals challenged the reserve clause all the way to the Supreme Court.

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Though Flood didn’t actually win his case, he shed so much light on the matter that a free agency sytem was quickly established by MLB. During the 1980s, the system actually worked like it was supposed to…players had better rights, AND the game was still competitive.  But, starting in the mid-1990s, salaries began exploding (along with the economy) and suddenly the system was skewered.  Teams in huge economic markets like New York, Los Angeles, and Boston were able to throw huge wads of cash in the pockets of all the top free agents, all but assuring there services.  Sometimes, in the case of Ted Turner’s Atlanta Braves, all it took was an incredibly rich owner to give a team a distinct advantage.

Those big markets had (and continue to have) such an advantage for a few different reasons: First and foremost is the fact that, just by sheer geography, a team like the Yankees can much more easily fill their ballpark every night than, say, the Twins can out here in Minny.  Also, teams on both coasts have established their own TV networks (YES Network for the Yankees and NESN for the Red Sox), which bring in enormous profits compared to what the Twins get from Fox Sports North.

After about ten years of this broken system, when the same teams started making the playoffs year in and year out, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig established the “luxury tax” system into the game.  Essentially, this is known as the Robin Hood system, as it robs from the rich to give to the poor.

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This has helped a little bit (e.g. the Twins signed Justin Morneau to a long-term deal and have at least a shot at doing the same with Joe Mauer), but it din’t get to the root of the problem, as teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, and Mets can continue to reach into their deep pockets to get the best players.  Essentially, they are saying “luxury tax be damned” and just paying the fine for going over the payroll limit.  This is evidenced very toughly for Twins fans by these two photos:

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johan-santana.jpgThe Twins gave very decent offers to both Torii Hunter and Johan Santana, but couldn’t come close to matching the amount of years the Halos offered Hunter or the sheer dollar amount the Mets dangled in front of Santana.  Another obvious example was the beginning of this season, when the Yankees went out and got C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, while the biggest moves the Twins made was signing Nick Punto, bringing in R.A. Dickey (what a joke) and getting a Joe Crede whose back was so bad that he essentially a non-factor.  Those “moves” were all we could afford.  Imagine how different the 2009 ALDS might have been if Hunter had been patrolling the outfield instead of Delmon Young, or if Santana had made the Game One start instead of Brian Duensing.

Now, to be fair, there are some criticisms of instituting a salary cap into MLB, but I would like to give my rebuttal to two of them:

1. Why should the Yankees be penalized for running an efficent system?  It seems as if Yankee fans could just criticize Carl Pohlad for being a tightwad all those years and not spending money to improve his team, but that really isn’t a fair criticism.  First of all, George Steinbrenner isn’t really spending much (if any) of his OWN MONEY on the Yankees, instead relying on seemingly endless revenue streams based on his sheer geography.  Without those streams, other owners (like the Pohlad family) would be dipping into their own personal reserves, which would be like you paying for your office supplies/furnishings or me paying for Wal-Mart shelf labels. 

Secondly, then, is that if teams know they can’t spend with the Yankees, then why even try?  The Twins know that, under the current economic system, they are already beaten in trying to sign free agents, so instead we save our money to try and lock up as many of our good players as possible (which, in this age of inflated salaries, is fewer and fewer each season).

2. The second criticism of the the salary cap is that it really isn’t needed, due to the fact that the 1998-2000 championship run of the Yankees was accomplished primarily with home-grown players like Derek Jeter, Jorge Posade, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera.

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That may be true, but funny how those great players STILL WEAR YANKEE PINSTRIPES! Instead of losing those great players to a higher bidder, the Yanks can just keep them.  Plus, whether the free agents work out (Jimmy Key, Paul O’Neill, Johnny Damon, Sabathia, etc.) or flop (Kevin Brown, Chuck Knoblauch, Carl Pavano), the Yanks can just “pay through” and be done with it.  If the Twins make a mistake in signing the wrong player to an expensive contract, it would hamper the organization for a decade.

Thus, until MLB institutes a salary cap like the NFL and NBA (to a certain extent) have in place, the economics of the game will remain skewered towards the large markets, and that severely troubles me.  I consider baseball to be my favorite sport, the one that captivated me as a child and still does to this day, but right now the NFL is gaining ground and fast due to the fact that in the NFL setup, all teams have a chance to be competitive.  It is only through bad ownership (Al Davis, Matt Millen, etc.) that teams completely fail.

I know that this situation isn’t likely to change anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean that it is right or correct.  Until Bud Selig can take charge of the National Pastime like he should and not just cater to the owners, the Yankees will continue to unfairly dominate the Twins for years and years to come.

Two Disturbing Trends

I know that the next statement I am about to make is not at all fair to closers all over baseball, but (at least in my case) it is true nonetheless: Having your team’s closer blow the game in the bottom of the ninth is the single worst way to lose a ballgame, bar none.  Now, add to the mix the idea that your closer might do so against your hated enemy, with two outs, and two strikes (twice).  That’s pretty much what Twins fans are feeling towards Joe Nathan today.  He’s too important to our playoff hopes to give up on him now, but I think there has to be a cooling-off period (probably a good thing the Twins are travelling to Cleveland today).

Once Wednesday’s meltdown was complete, the impact of such a crucial and heartbreaking loss really drove home to me two disturbing trends that the Twins have fallen prey to both this season and the last.

First, are the late-season struggles of Joe Nathan:

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When all is said and done, Nathan’s stats inevitably compare very well with the best closers in the league, yet for the past two years he has struggled to close out games come late August and early September.  Now, we’re not talking about the Eddie Guardado-method of struggling here (filling the bases and then wriggling out of trouble)…Nathan’s problems get so severe that he often blows the save chance or the game.  He hasn’t been on his game as of late, and Twins fans will also remember how bad he was during that long, late-season road trip in September of 2008 (capped by that now-infamous throwing error against the Blue Jays in Toronto).   Sometimes he will still have the ability to blow guys away, but all too often he is not able to find the handle on this control, thus having to groove meatballs just to get strikes.  Gordon Beckham and Paul Konerko showed him EXACTLY what happens to grooved meatballs in major league baseball.

Disturbing Trend #2: A similar slump from Justin Morneau…

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If the league MVP award was given out after July, Justin Morneau would win the darn thing almost every single season.  Yet, in those final two months (it happened last year and is happening again now), the home runs disappear and the average begins to sink towards about .270 (after sitting at .310 or so for most of the year).  This trend may be even more disturbing (and perplexing) than Nathan’s, though, as Joe Closer can usually right the ship by season’s end.  Justin, however, continued to sink last year to the point where opposing pitchers were walking Joe Mauer to get to him.

I don’t quite understand why this is, as he plays about the least demanding position on the diamond in terms of physical conditioning and injury potential.  For example, I don’t know any of these splits, but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Torii Hunter (while playing on the Dome turf) slumped in the later months due to the beating his body took from bouncing around on that carpeted concrete.  The same axiom is usually try for mortal catchers (e.g. those not named Mauer)…they take a physical beating the slump accordingly.  About the only thing “afflicting” Morneau, though, is that he gets less off-days than any other player on the team, but once again that should be expected out of his position.

If the Twins think they can continue to play well and capture the AL Central, both those “wrongs” are going to have to be corrected, as the bullpen can’t survive without a closer and the lineup isn’t deep enough to support a slumping Canadian.

Preview (67-66, 2nd, 5.0 GB DET): Carl Pavano (11-10, 5.11) vs. Jeremy Sowers (5-9, 4.88). The schedule is again in our favor this weekend, as the Tigers draw the Rays while we get the Injuns.

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).

Halo(s)

Well, after playing the “Halos” on two consecutive weekends, one thing has become abundantly clear to me…the Twins are absolutely no match for them. Every single time we play them, I fully expect to lose, and get swept in the series at that. The Twins are completely out of their league and would go down just as weekly in a playoff series.

In fact, I will go far enough out on a limb to say that, assuming Torii Hunter returns to health, I consider the Angels to be the favorite to win the whole thing this year. After winning the World Series in 2002 (and beating the Twins in the ALCS to get there…!@#$ rally monkey!), Anaheim has been right in the thick of things every season. However, they always seem to get beat by Boston (or someone else) in the Divisional Series round. What I see different about this season’s team, though, is that 1-9 they can completely dominate an opposing pitcher just by being pests. Whereas in other years they could terrorize only the mediocre pitchers (and thus get beat by the big guns in the big time), this year they have all the bullets locked and loaded. I mean, who has ever heard of this guy…

76ad65c5-0049-4277-b75c-2be41c2fc75b.jpg…until just recently?! Earlier today, he (Kendry Morales) hit two three-run home runs to sink the Twins. Look at it this way…

The three weakest players in the Angels’ lineup today were Gary Matthews, Jeff Mathis, and Sean Rodriguez (who still homered to boot!).  Once Hunter and Vlad Guerrero are back, Matthews and Rodriguez will be back to the bench (where they can probably be the most useful), and I consider Mike Napoli to be a better catcher than Mathis anyway.  Thus, they have a lineup not unlike the 1998 Yankees…work the count, foul off pitches, get to opposing teams’ pen and sink them.

Add that to the great D that Mike Scosia always preaches, as well as a solid pitching corps, and I don’t see who can stop the Halos this season.

Preview (52-53, 3rd, 1.5 GB CWS): Scott Baker (8-7, 4.86) vs. David Huff (5-5, 6.39). The Twins have the easiest schedule of all the AL Central division contenders I believe, and that starts now.  If we can’t go into Indian country and take the series, it might be a long September.

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