Thursday, September 21, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

The big story out of the Twins-Yankees game Friday afternoon wasn't the outcome but the little girl who got hit by a line-drive foul.

The Yankees have not -- yet -- extended screens down the foul lines. I suspect this incident will change that.

The Twins took some grief when they put up screens the length of the dugouts. I'm glad they did that; the dugout seats in Target Field are very close to the playing field, and that increases the risk.

The ball Todd Frazier hit was timed at 106 mph. No kid, and darn few adults, could react fast enough to that.

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Lost in translation:




Among the responses:







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This tweet references the San Juan stadium where the Montreal Expos played some "home" games years ago and, I believe, where the Twins and Indians are supposed to play a pair of regular season games next April:


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Max Kepler and CC Sabathia

The Twins lost again to the Yankees Tuesday night. Didn't hurt them any in the "race" for the wild card slot, though, because the Angels lost also (to Cleveland).

Paul Molitor gave Max Kepler the start in right field against CC Satathia, who at 36 remains a useful starter. He's not the front-of-the-rotation workhorse he used to be -- he's still 25 innings shy of enough innings to qualify for the ERA title -- but there aren't a lot of teams who couldn't slot him into their rotation.

Sabathia hadn't allowed a homer all season to a left-handed hitter, even though this version of Yankee Stadium is just as short to right field as previous versions. Part of that is that he doesn't see many left-handed hitters -- just 103 have come to the plate all season against Sabathia. He's had four starts in which he never saw a lefty hitter. Sabathia may be older and diminished, but left-handed hitters still seem to come down with a fever when he's scheduled to start.

Kepler's struggles against southpaws this year have become rather notorious. Ehire Adrianza, of all people, has essentially taken a platoon outfield job because of Robbie Grossman's thumb injury and Kepler's ineffectiveness against same-side pitching.

But Molitor started Kepler anyway. And Kepler took Sabathia deep. It was not only Sabathia's first homer allowed to a lefty hitter, it was Kepler's first off a lefty pitcher.

Obviously it wasn't enough; the Twins didn't score another run off Sabathia or the Yankee bullpen. But it was just another sample of how you can't predict baseball.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The wild card years fly by

I may have mentioned here before one of my pet observations about how age affects how we perceive time. For a five-year old, a year is one-fifth of her existence; indeed, it feels like more, since she doesn't actively remember the first three or so. For a 60-year-old, a year is a much smaller piece of the pie.

This has a specific baseball-related (and Twins related) point. I became a baseball fan in 1969, which coincidentally was the first year of divisional play. The Twins were put in the American League West, and there they remained until baseball went to three divisions and added wild cards to the playoff mix.

The Twins in that alignment were placed in the AL Central, and there they have remained. That happened in 1994.

So the Twins were in the AL West for 25 years. They have now been in the AL Central 24 years. Next year they will have been in the Central for as long as they were in the West. And baseball will have been using wild cards in the postseason as long as it had just four teams in October. It doesn't seem possible.

This came to mind in large part because I was mulling over my continued disdain for the wild card. The idea that a team can be second (or now even third) best in its division and still win the championship does not sit well with me. It didn't 25 years ago, it doesn't today, it won't if I've still capable of contemplating such things 25 years from now.

Much as I would like the Twins to get into the tournament, I cannot make a case for them as a deserving champion.

I have, to be sure, the same problem with the 1987 team, and I have certainly had no problem living with that cognitive dissonance. I am always careful to identify the 1987 Twins as "World Series champions." They were that, but they were not the best team in the league, much less in both leagues, that year. 1991, that's a different story.

It occurred to me that the 2017 Twins, flawed as they are, still have the best record of the old West division teams. The Angels, the Athletics, the Mariners, the Rangers, the Royals, the White Sox -- they all have lesser records this year than the Twins. That doesn't mean much, really, with all the changes since 1993 -- interleague play, unbalanced schedules, an additional team in the AL, the Brewers and Astros trading places -- but it makes me feel a little better, a little more rooted.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

During my truncated biweekly appearance on KMSU Thursday, I volunteered the notion that Kyle Gibson was the key figure in the Twins push for the wild card.

He gave us reason to beleive that Sunday, both pro and con.

His first two innings were SOG -- Same Old Gibson. Four walks and four runs in the first inning, five runs -- including two homers -- in the first two innings. And then, four innings practically without blemish, the good Gibson of his previous five starts.

Gibson has had remarkable run support all year, and particularly of late. Five runs allowed in six innings is not a great start, but with 13 runs of support, it was good enough.

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Last week the Twins designated Engelb Vielma for assignment. The San Francisco Giants claimed him on waivers.

Last winter, the Giants waived Ehire Adrianza, who was initially claimed by the Milwaukee Brewers, to tried to get him through waivers themselves only to see the Twins claim him. Adrianza has stuck all year, starting games at five different positions. He's been the gloveman I expected (easily the best defensive shortstop on the roster) and a more productive hitter than anticipated.

In a very real sense, the Twins traded Vielma for Adrianza, just about seven months apart. They;re rather similar players -- switch-hitters, shortstops, some speed, glove-first. Vielma has options left, and Adrianza does not, and Adrianza has more pop in his bat, but in the main, they're the same guy.

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Adrianza has picked up a good bit of playing time in left field since Robbie Grossman's thumb injury in a platoon with Max Kepler, who has struggled at the plate against lefties. (Eddie Rosario shifts to right when Adrianza is in left.)

It's only 53 plate appearances, but Adrianza has slashed .298/.340/447 against southpaws. And he hasn't embarrassed himself in the outfield despite little previous experience out there. (There have been too few innings for the metrics to be definitive, but they show him as a very good defensive outfielder.)

Grossman, whose splits last year showed more power right handed, has been the opposite this year. He's slugging just .355 as a right-handed hitter, .412 from the left side -- but his on-base percentage as a right handed hitter is a stellar .406, markedly better than his still-useful .355 as a lefty.

I know there are those who want to see more Kennys Vargas as DH and less Grossman, but one long ball a week really doesn't make up for the all the extra outs Vargas would make.

Paul Molitor has this month largely limited his lineup juggling to the outfield corners and DH. I certainly didn't expect Adrianza to emerge as a viable outfielder, and I do believe that platooning Kepler now is detrimental to his future, but Molitor has gotten immediate benefits from this approach.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Pic of the Week

Curtis Granderson cooperates Saturday with a pair of
selfie-seeking fans in Washington.

Curtis Granderson is fondly remembered in Mankato. He was a Mankato Masher in this city's first season with a team in the Northwoods League, and he's had a fine major league career with the Tigers, Yankees, Mets and now Dodgers.

And he is even more highly regarded for his off-the-field activities and persona. He isn't a Hall of Fame caliber player, but by all accounts he's a Hall of Fame caliber human being.

That said ... he's 36 and the numbers are trending down. Granderson came into Saturday with 90 plate appearances with the Dodgers; he's hitting .107 in that time.

One-oh-seven.

He has hit for some power; he has 23 homers on the season to flavor his .206 batting average. But time is undefeated, and the Grandy Man's career may well be nearing its end.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Good bye, Mientkiewicz

Doug Mientkiewicz's
teams in Fort Myers and
Chattanooga finished
first four times in five
seasons.
Doug Mientkiewicz, who has managed in the Twins system for five years at two different levels, was fired Friday. His was the most prominent firing of three in the farm system (the others being pitching coordinator Eric Rasmussen and Larry Bennese, the trainer at Triple A Rochester).

Mientkiewicz, in an echo of his bitter comments in 2004 when the Twins moved him aside and then traded him to make way for Justin Morneau, reacted acidly to his dismissal. From a Star Tribune story:

“I’m out here working my rear end off, dealing with the remnants of the hurricane, and they call to tell me I’m fired. You think they will ever do something professional as an organization?”
OK, Mientkiewicz is in a stressful situation. He lives in the Florida Keys, and Irma did a number on pretty much everything there. And he has a rather impressive record as a minor league manager. And -- I can speak from experience here -- it's never fun being fired. But it happens to managers, at every level, a lot. And it's not going to do him any good to rip the guys who let him go.

Mientkiewicz interviewed for the big-league job when Ron Gardenhire was fired. He was my personal favorite for the position, but then-general manager Terry Ryan, perhaps with a push from above, picked Paul Molitor instead. Mientkiewicz reportedly was not even the runner-up. It may be worth noting that Mientkiewicz' name has not been connected with any managerial openings around baseball since.

Off what is visible from here, Mientkiewicz's firing makes little sense. He's developed players, and he's won. But much of the job of minor league manager -- major league manager too, for that matter -- is, like an iceberg, submerged and out of view. And Thad Levine, the Twins general manager, is correct in saying that the earlier in the offseason the firing, the better in terms of finding a new job.

I expect media criticism of Mientkiewicz' firing. It will come from the contingent of writers and talkers who can't or won't understand analytics. Mientkiewicz was a pretty reliable "good quote" 15 years ago as a player, and there are several guys with prominent platforms who harbor fond memories of those days yet. They've been itching for something to rip the new regime for. Mientkiewicz gives them an opportunity.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Contemplating Byron Buxton

Bryon Buxton brings his home run
home through a shower of bubble gum
Thursday night.
Another blown lead, another extra-inning game, another walk-off homer by a blossoming Twins outfielder.

Eddie Rosario on Wednesday, Byron Buxton on Thursday.

(We should, therefore, expect big things from Max Kepler tonight.)

Jeff Passan of Yahoo posted this piece on Buxton's emergence earlier on Thursday. Two noteworthy items in it, one trivial and one substantial. The trivial: Buxton can't beat his 30-year-old brother in a footrace. The substantial: how hitting coach James Rowson worked with Buxton to overcome his hitting difficulties.

I said here when Tom Brunansky (and Butch Davis) were fired from the coaching staff last November that Buxton and Miguel Sano's difficult 2016 season did in Bruno as hitting coach.

There were players Brunansky helped, with Brian Dozier being a prime example. But as I said 10 months ago, the Twins have to have Buxton as a cornerstone. And now he appears to be just that.

Buxton's greatest contribution, of course, is his defense. And this week the geniuses (no sarcasm intended) at Statcast rolled out a new defensive metric: Outs Above Average. Buxton tops that standard, with Kepler 13th in the majors and Rosario well down the list, behind even Robbie Grossman.

OAA is a metric I intend to keep an eye on.

So .. Twins win, Angels lose. Twins have a three-game lead for the final wild card spot with 16 games to go.