Results tagged ‘ White Sox ’

Matchups, Matchups

a89afc92-b2c3-485b-9648-a895602e3764.jpgWith just twelve games remaining on the 2009 regular season schedule for the Minnesota Twins, we are right back in the thick of things in the AL Central division race. It seems like every pitcher in the starting rotation (while underachieving terribly at one point or another over the course of the season) now has their defined “role” in the remaining tilts:

-Blackie’s job was to beat the White Sox, which he did with ease tonight. The Pale Hose (well, sans Thome at least) cannot solve Blackburn to save their lives.

-Carl Pavano was brought in to beat the Tigers, and he has done so succesfully so far (I’m sure he’s lined up for another start against them next week).

-Then, it is just up to Scott Baker to dominate the Royals (a very important feat with the KC boys creaming everyone these days).

I guess you also have to include Brian Duensing, whose job it is to continue pitching well against whomever he is thrown against!

Notes: A scary moment for Denard Span tonight, as he got hit right in the back of the helmet…

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The report on (aside from Joe Mauer) the guy I consider to be our team MVP this year came back good and he’s officially listed as “day-to-day” (of course, as Bert Blyleven would say, “aren’t we all”?).  I’m sure he’ll get the night off tomorrow (unless he’s 100%) and then hopefully be back for Wednesday’s contest.

Preview (77-73, 2nd, 2.5 GB DET): Jeff Manship (0-1, 5.31) vs. John Danks (12-9, 3.59).

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.

No Way…Yep, Jose!

JoseMoralesYes.jpgCan anything go wrong for the Minnesota Twins right now (especially with Chicago in town)?!

After the game ended in dramatic fashion, with Jose Morales pinch hitting with two outs and a man on third in the bottom of the ninth and getting a solid base hit to win the game, I began thinking of all the remarkable occurences that transpired over those nine innings:

-For starters, Jeff Manship held the Sox to just one earned run over five innings.  Yep, Jeff Manship, facing guys like A.J., Konerko, and Dye got the job done.

-Jon Rauch (recently acquired from Arizona) made just his second appearance in the white pinstripes, pitched a scoreless ninth inning, and got his second win of the season.  I believe it took Francisco Liriano about two months to get to two wins!

-Michael Cuddyer once again clubbed two bombs in one game.  We’re turning this place back into the Homerdome yet!

-And finally, there’s Jose Morales, the hero himself.  In his first at-bat since God knows when (a month or two at least), Morales didn’t allow himself to be cowed by the pressure situation and just got good wood on the ball.  A new hero emerges every night, it seems.

The only thing to go wrong tonight was Jose Mijares and Matt Guerrier combining to blow a late-inning lead, but that only set the stage for all the dramatics (so maybe they just have a keen sense of theatre)!

Preview (67-65, 2nd, 3.5 GB DET): Mark Buerhle (11-7, 3.89) vs. Brian Duensing (2-1, 4.37).  Let’s make Buerhle’s last Dome start a “memorable” one for him.

Blame It (On The T-T-T-T-T-T-T-Twins)


abd12ee9-c0c5-4ce0-9a3a-3447ff6bc19e.jpgLast night, as the Chicago White Sox opened their last three-game series at their personal house of horrors, the Metrodome, the team was essentially playing for the rest of the season in one night. With the post-season roster deadline kicking in at midnight, it represented teams’ last chance to improve their club for the stretch run.  The Pale Hose were the epitomy of a bubble team, quickly fading from the AL Central race and needing to win this series to have any realistic hopes of remaining in the conversation.

Good thing that the Twins showed up to play then, huh?!  Nick Blackburn (7 IP, 1 ER, 7K) continued his mastery of the Sox, while both Jo-Mo and Kubel went deep for most of the home boys’ offense.  Can you believe that Mauer (now at 26 dingers) has a shot at 30?!  If Albert Pujols is the undisputed king of NL hitters, than Joe Mauer obviously holds that position in the junior circuit.

After the loss, then, the Pale Hosers decided to cut bait, trading Jim Thome and Jon Garland to the LA Dodgers and sending Jose Contreras to the Colorado Rockies.  So even if the Twins don’t game another game on the Tigers all season, at least we have the satisfaction of knowing that he did our part to knock our fiercest rivals out of it (sounds crass, yes, but I cannot and will not sympathize with a team coached by a nutjob like Ozzie Guillen).

Notes:

-Wild prediction of the day: The Tampa Bay Rays will win the Wild Card in the AL.

-Speaking of the Rays, their big slugger Carlos Pena, quite remarkably, has more home runs than singles this season.  Baseball Tonight continues to chart his progress, and it would be funny to see him finish that way.  I believe Mark McGwire did that in his 70-homer season, if I’m not mistaken (or at least was close).

Preview (66-65, 2nd, 3.5 GB DET): John Danks (12-8, 3.82) vs. Jeff Manship (0-0, 5.14). Manship starting a game scares me a bit, but at least he won’t have Big Thome to deal with anymore!

 

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).

Good Deal

Well, for the first time since Shannon Stewart was acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays back in 2003, the Minnesota Twins finally pulled the trigger on a mid-season addition, this time in the form of A’s shortstop Orlando Cabrera:

130984_Athletics_Rangers_Baseball.jpgPersonally, I think this is a GREAT move for the Twins to have made, as Cabrera plays great defense and hits, at .280, rougly 70-80 points better than Nick Punto on any given day. Plus, he is on a terror with the bat (.377 this month) right now, so maybe we’re getting him just when he is starting to peak this year.

Back in ’03, when Stewart came on board, the Twins miraculously went from a team almost out of contention, to one that won the division almost going away. It’s amazing what a little excitement (from a big trade) can do for the players on a team. Shannon brought the leadoff presence that year, while now Cabrera brings offense out of the #2 hole in the lineup (exactly what we need).

What will be interesting is how Harris, Casilla, and Punto will be used now that Orlando is in town. Harris was terrible at the second sack last year, but can (and will) play third when (not if, unfortunately) Crede needs to be out of the lineup. That leaves Punto and Casilla at second, and assuming Gardy doesn’t stroke out in the near future, we all know what that means (although batting ninth, one is probably just as good as the other).

By the way, I attended the first two Twins/Sox games at the Dome earlier this week, and really, is there any better feeling than sweeping the Sox?! Hey, maybe we can give the Angels a little payback this time around now that Cabrera is on our side!

Other deadline deals:

-Victor Martinez is on the verge of going to the Red Sox.

-Halladay is still a Jay (two minutes to go!)

-Tigers acquired starter Jarrod Washburn

Preview (52-50, 2nd, 2.0 GB DET): Ervin Santana (3-6, 7.29) vs. Nick Blackburn (8-5, 3.75). No Cabrera yet tonight, but Blackie might not need him.

We Are Spoiled

f872189a-f3f6-4a93-8427-33b2b8629f1f.jpgThe Twins killed the White Sox today. Denard Span, Brendan Harris, and Carlos Gomez all homered, and Mark Buehrle was finally brought to justice. A good win to close out the unofficial “first half” of the 2009 regular season. Yet, while watching Sportscenter tonight, it was brought to my attention that this is the sixth straight season that the Twins have finished above the .500 mark at the All-Star Break. Though none of those clubs ever made it out of the first round of the playoffs, that is still quite an achievement nonetheless, and one that should be appreciated. I remember watching Twins baseball back in the late 1990s and wondering if the team would ever get back to this sort of excitement:

Of course, once the Twins DID become competitive again, yet never reached a World Series, we are now all spoiled because they don’t do it every single season:

Sure, the Twins may not win the division this year, but we will (barring a complete collapse) be one of only a handfull of teams with real playoff aspirations come September. Just think about being a fan of the Royals, who are all but mathimatically eliminated each All-Star break, or the number of other teams mired in the bottoms of their respective divisions. At least our Twins have something exciting to play for.

Preview: Tomorrow night is the annual Home Run Derby, including these participants…

American League: Joe Mauer, Nelson Cruz, Brandon Inge, Carlos Pena

National League: Adrian Gonzalez, Ryan Howard, Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder

Though the NL seems to have the stacked field in this competition, I’m going to go with Pena to win the whole thing. Mauer is my guy, and Pujols is the home-town boy, but that swing of Pena is just made to blast home runs.

A Team Loss, If Such A Thing Exists (But Thanks, Brad)

a7fe91c9-d7a9-4bd5-99c5-b591ed92d190.jpgBefore the game earlier tonight, the Minnesota Twins inducted former starting pitcher Brad Radke into their Hall of Fame, an honor I believe he rightly deserves.  Although he was just a smidge over .500 for his career winning percentage, he also played on a bunch of terrible Twins clubs early in his career, and then for few teams that didn’t score him many runs at all.  About the only run support he got was in his final year, 2006, when he was essentially pitching with a torn-up shoulder.  Yet, even during that ’06 campaign, where he showed more heart and guts than any pitcher in a long time, he was still more reliable than any Twins starter this season, save for perhaps Nick Blackburn.  Deep down I wished he could have just stayed out there on that mound in place of Glen Perkins and set down the ChiSox order with his pinpoint control and pull-the-string changeup.  He looks like he could still do it!

After the ceremony, however, the game was nothing but a slow spiral into another notch in the right-hand column of this season’s winning percentage.  During his inning in the TV broadcast booth, Radke kept talking up the fact that baseball is a team game, giving all the credit to his success to his former teammates.  The Twins proved him right on the field, but unfortunatly it was in the opposite way he intended.  Basically, all areas of the Twins’ game stunk in some way, shape, or form:

Starting pitching: Perkins just didn’t have it tonight.  Maybe he wasn’t still fully recovered from his recent illness, but he just wasn’t hitting his spots or making good pitches.  Thus, the Sox battered him around accordingly.

Bullpen: Brian Duensing and Jose Mijares were solid, but R.A. Dickey was just a complete pain to watch.  He didn’t throw strikes, couldn’t get batters to chase the knuckler, and walked three batters in an inning and a third.  Of course, his outing wouldn’t have been nearly as bad if not for…

Defense: With the bases loaded with Sox in the sixth inning, Jim Thome busted his bat and hit a little bloop to left-center that Gomez pursued with his usual reckless abandon.  The ball bounced once on the turf, vaulted Go-Go, and Span got all turned around in trying to back up the play.  When all was said and done, the bases were cleared.

Hitting: Yes, the Twins did eventually put seven runs on the board, but WAY too many at-bats earlier in the game were just give-aways.  The reason Gavin Floyd was able to last as long as he did in the game was because we had such weak at-bats in the first innings.  Michael Cuddyer especially got on my nerves tonight, as he is such a sucker for that low, sweeping slider down and away.  Makes him look like an idiot when he flails at it.

Preview (44-44, 3rd, 1.5 GB CWS): Mark Buerhle (9-2, 3.14) vs. Scott Baker (6-7, 5.31). The wait for Baker to develop into any sort of consistent starting pitcher continues on Sunday before the break.

House of Horrors

When the White Sox come into the Metrodome, do you think that songs like that are running through their brain?!   Amazingly, after looking like a glorified Double-A squad against the Yankees, the Twins were able to put together a strong effort and inch back towards that runner-up slot in the AL Central.

Of course, in the first inning it helped when Chicago starter turned the game into the rough equivalent of one of these:

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Danks walked the first four batters of the game and a big hit from Jason Kubel gave the Twins an early lead. Of course, since nothing is easy with this year’s bunch, the White Sox kept pecking away at the defecit until finally tying it in the sixth inning (only a tremendous leaping catch from Michael Cuddyer at the base of the baggie prevented the Sox from taking a lead). I was a bit nervous at this point, but Blackie was still pitching well and the pen did their job the rest of the way. This should come as no surprise, but this guy…
18797011-0959-4c36-9373-16a644e0f41e.jpg…got the big two out hit in the seventh inning that put the Twins in front, while a perfect squeeze bunt from Carlos Gomez an inning later scored Matt Tolbert (pinch running for Kubel after his third hit of the game) with a big insurance run that allowed Joe Nathan to do his thing in the ninth:
6ef10c34-51ee-4b12-b659-4ad5586ceccf.jpgPreview (44-43, 3rd, 0.5 GB CWS): Gavin Floyd (6-6, 4.33) vs. Glen Perkins (4-4, 4.38). Ozzie Guillen juggled his rotation to have his Big Three horses face the Twins this weekend. That went well (at least so far).

Must Be A Horrible Feeling

03f39244-686b-4ea0-9ecf-05c296c9732d.jpgFor almost a decade, the Minnesota Twins have laid a claim to having the best control coming from a starting pitching staff.  While other staffs may have “that one guy” who can throw gas but can’t find home plate with any frequency, the Twins consistently pound the zone and, while giving up a high frequency of home runs, also get a lot of outs.

Thus, the struggles from Scott Baker in the early innings of tonight’s 6-2 loss against the Chicago White Sox were almost painful to watch.  For whatever reason, Baker could not command any of his pitches and made catcher Mike Redmond look like a human pin-ball with the way he was reaching to-and-fro and blocking pitches behind the plate.  I actually started to feel bad for Baker during those second and third innings, as it was clear that he just couldn’t control any of his pitches.

After that horrific second inning, Baker came into the dugout and was given an earful from pitching coach Rick Anderson, who looked as if steam were about to come out of his ears.  Though Twins announcer Bert Blyleven defended Anderson and liked the fiery persona, I don’t know what good it did and whether it was called for.  I mean, if Scott Baker wanted to control his pitches, he would have…it’s as simple as that.  Anderson can stew all he wants, but it still comes down to Baker hitting his spots.

Considering that Scotty-boy has had troubles locating pitches all season so far, I hope that he doesn’t have some sort of mental block (sort of like the Rick Ankiel syndrome).  Of course, it could also just be the typical Scott Baker “off” season that has plagued him his entire career.  Baker has never pitched 200 innings in an entire season, nor has he had too really impressive years in a row.

Notes:

-Ozzie Guillen is a joke (as if that is new knowledge, I know).  A Pale Hose batter (Podsednik, I believe) bunts the ball down the first base line, the ball looks like it hits him, yet no call is made.  Ron Gardenhire comes out to argue the play, and the home plate umpire decides to call a “conference meeting” and the play is overturned.  Why, then, does Ozzie need to trot out and give the umps an earful?  The umps would not have changed the call unless “indisputable visual evidence” (to steal an NFL phrase) was utilized, in this case one of the other umps seeing the ball hit the batter.  I don’t like managers who argue just for the sake of getting steamed up, and that is EXACTLY what Guillen was doing.  Just sit down and shut up.

-Sean Henn made his Twins debut tonight…and now has a 13.50 season ERA.  Will this ever end?

-Seriously Gardy…walking Paul Konerko to GET Jim Thome to the plate?  I don’t care if Carl Hubbell or Steve Carlton suddenly descended from the sky to take the mound for the Twins, I don’t put guys on for the greatest Twins Killer in history (with respect to Griffey Jr. and A-Rod).

-Finally, I don’t like to complain about the announcing a whole lot, but Bert: When Span bunts the ball unsuccessfully with the infield playing way back, he loses the “element” of surprise, not the “ultimate” of surprise.  I only say this because I have heard it before.

Preview (18-22, 3rd, 4.5 GB DET): Francisco Liriano (2-4, 5.21) vs. John Danks (2-3, 4.82).

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