Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Roster issues

Nick Punto (left) made it through all nine innings Monday, which suggests that the infielder isn't headed to the disabled list.

This may be bad news for third-string catcher Jose Morales, who is the likely loser if, as appears likely, the Twins revert to a 12-pitcher roster with seven relievers.

They've been carrying 11 pitchers for more than a week, partly because they had nicked-up position players and partly because they had the six-game interleague road stretch, which means no DH, which means more need to pinch hit.

(Never mind that National League teams, who typically play without the DH, also typically carry 12 pitchers; every year, Ron Gardenhire wants the extra bat available. for those games.)

Now that stretch is over, and the question arises again: Are the Twins better off using the 25th roster slot on a position player (specifically a third catcher) or a pitcher?

Morales was useful in the interleague games as a pinch-hitter; now his value largely lies in allowing Gardenhire to pinch-run for Mike Redmond in those games in which Joe Mauer is the DH. (Morales is arguably a better player than Redmond right now, but Gardy has been quite emphatic the last few days that Redmond is the No. 2 catcher.)

The value in a seventh reliever would be to spread out the workload. R.A. Dickey on Monday made his third straight appearance; while Gardy is fond of claiming that Dickey can pitch everyday, it's not a good idea to actually do that, knuckleball or no. After getting a week off, Jose Mijares has now pitched three times in four days. Matt Guerrier, who led the AL in appearances last season, is leading again this season.

The problem is that these guys are getting the ball in close situations, in winnable games. Sean Henn can't be trusted — he hasn't had a perfect outing (no baserunners) since June 8. Bobby Keppel had a superficially good debut during the weekend (three walks in four innings isn't encouraging); he hasn't earned key spots yet, and probably never will.

A 12th pitcher is only going to be truly helpful if he's capable of taking some of the workload off the setup men, not the long man or the mopup guy. Of the in-house candidates, that sounds most likely to be Jesse Crain, but he walked five men in his first 5 2/3 innings in Triple A.

He ain't fixed yet.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Quotes, notes and comments

* Jose Mijares on Friday had a one-pitch outing — one pitch, double-play grounder, done. It evoked memories of Dennys Reyes (left), who spent almost three seasons as the Twins LOOGY.

Reyes did that kind of thing all the time, according to Ron Gardenhire.

So I looked. Last season he had six one-pitch appearances. This year, with St. Louis, zero.

Tony LaRussa — who I blame for today's mania for LOOGYs — uses Reyes in much the same manner as Gardenhire: The Big Sweat has 38 appearances for the Cardinals but just 20.6 innings. Eight of his outings have been for one batter.

His ERA is considerably higher, however: 4.35 this year, 2.33 last year. His control is off a bit, but not enough to explain two more runs per nine innings.

But that's one of the things about being a Left-handed One-Out GuY — you clean up other pitchers' messes, and you turn your own over to somebody else, but you seldom get to clean up your own.

* LaVelle Neal of the Star Tribune figured that Francisco Liriano was pitching Sunday to save his rotation job. Perhaps; Neal's certainly closer to the situation than I am.

I'm a bit skeptical of the notion that he proved something Sunday. The results were good — but it was the Cardinals. St. Louis has a team batting average of .226 against southpaws and a slugging percentage of .355. He darned well ought to get those hitters out.

One trembles to think how bad those numbers would be without Albert Pujols. Pujols is actually hitting worse against lefties than against righties this year: .289/.438/.724 vs. lefties, .344/.457/.721 vs. righties.

*The great Ozzie Guillen's response when Lou Pinella tweaked the White Sox for their attendance woes: "Our fans are not stupid like Cubs fans. They know we're (bleep)."

Next question, please.

*More on the subject of the circle change: ESPN's Buster Olney reports that Toronto lefty Ricky Romero's circle change has so much movement it's been mistaken for a splitter or a screwball.

* This box score perhaps explains why stats from the California League have a lot of (thin) air inflating them.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Twins and the circle change

A digression from Monday's print column:

The Twins have had no shortage of success with pitchers relying on the circle change (seen above).

Frank Viola won the World Series MVP in 1987 and the Cy Young in 1988 with the circle change as his out pitch. Johan Santana won two Cy Young awards, in 2004 and 2006, with the circle change as his out pitch. (Should have won the Cy in 2005 as well.) Brad Radke never got a Cy Young (nor did he deserve to), but his 148 career wins are third most for a Twins pitcher.

Combined, those three went 353-276 as Twins.

That kind of success breeds imitators. The Twins are known today for a pitching staff modeled on Radke: unimpressive fastballs, but good to great command of that pitch — and the willingness to change speeds on it. And the first change up the minor leaguers are taught is almost certainly the circle change.

It has certain advantages over other change ups. Perhaps most important, it has a reverse curve break. (As mentioned in the Monday print column, Warren Spahn's "screwball" was probably the circle change.) So it not only messes with the hitter's timing, it's moving on multiple planes as well.

Not that it works for everybody. Eddie Guardado, for example, uses a palmball, or four-finger change. It was a very good change up, strong enough to make a top-flight closer out of a guy with subpar fastball velocity.

Carlos Silva tried a number of different change ups and, by the end of his Twins career, appeared to have settled on a splitter/forkball.

Silva's pitch went through a variety of names. When he broke it out in training camp 2007, he was calling it a split-fingered fastball. Then it became a forkball, then simply a change. I suspect that was because the Twins organization frowns on the splitter, fearing elbow injuries, and didn't want minor league pitchers arguing Silva throws it, why can't I. (It's worth noting, too, that Silva, who had been quite durable with the Twins, has broken down physically each of the last two seasons since adding the splitter.)

Almost all change up grips start with the idea of holding the ball deeper in the hand. Fastballs and curves are gripped between the thumb and the first two fingers, with the ring and little fingers tucked out of the way. Whether the change is a circle change, a palmball, a forkball or some other variation, it's held deeper, and often brings a third or fourth finger into play.

There have been a number of legendary change-up artists — guys who threw almost nothing but change ups, guys known for changing speeds on their change ups. Jean Dubuc. Eddie Lopat. Stu Miller. Doug Jones. Allan Anderson, who won the AL ERA title with the Twins in 1988 and followed with a 17-10 season the next year. Jamie Moyer. I suspect a number of them mastered multiple change ups. A circle change here, a palmball there, maybe Paul Richards' "slip pitch" — a variation of the palmball — and suddenly one has an entire repertoire of pitches not thrown hard enough to bruise a peach.

Pitching to Pujols (and other stuff)

On Friday, the Twins (specifically Glen Perkins and Joe Nathan) got Albert Pujols (right) out – or at least kept him from hurting them. On Saturday, they (specifically Kevin Slowey) didn't.

Ron Gardenhire has it exactly right: "Just make better pitches. Keep the ball away from him. If you want to just (intentionally) walk him every time up, I think that's embarrassing baseball. That's ridiculous baseball. If we have the same situation tomorrow, I hope that my pitcher makes better pitches so I don't have to put four (fingers) up every time."

Slowey has it right, too:
"I don't know if looking back you should say we should have walked him. For me, looking back, I need to make a better pitch in both situations."

No question, the margin for error is less with Pujols than with probably any other hitter since Barry Bonds was in his prime. But he's "only" hitting .328. (With considerable power, of course.) He can be pitched to. Slowey didn't do it very well.

* The latest odd development in the Milton Bradley-Lou Piniella saga is that the Chicago Sun-Times printed (most of) the excrement expletive the (sometimes) volatile manager used in his Friday confrontation with the (often) volatile outfielder and the defusing response from Bradley. Piniella publicly apologized to Bradley for the insult Saturday. And the Cubs complained that the White Sox stadium staff shouldn't be leaking what's said in the visiting clubhouse.

My take, at an extreme distance, is that Bradley wants to be a nice guy but hasn't figured out how to do it. Given time and distance, he says the right things. In heat of the moment — that's another matter. Playing in a major market, for a team whose fans have expectations of success and stronger expectations of disappointment, doesn't help.

*Poll stuff: Of the offered bullpen trade options offered, five votes (35 percent) went to getting LaTroy Hawkins; three votes (21 percent) perfered the status quo; two apiece (14 percent) opted for Danys Baez or Takashi Saito; and one each (7 percent) for Matt Capps or Cla Meredith. Fourtenn total votes.

New poll is up. And, yeah, it's inspired, sort of, by the pending Monday print column — and more strongly by an offshoot of that column that will be posted here later.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Quotes, notes and comments

* That was the very definition of pitching efficiency Friday from Jose Mijares: One pitch, two outs.

Mijares hadn't pitched in a week. On July 19, his previous outing, he faced three hitters and didn't throw a first-pitch strike to any of them (and gave up a homer to Jeff Keppinger in the process). His appearance before that, June 16, he pitched on inning, giving up two hits and a walk but no runs. And that outing followed a spell in which he was used five times in eight days.

Sometimes Ron Gardenhire's bullpen usage seems to follow this pattern — use a guy hard, then ease off when he shows signs of breaking down. The problem comes when the easing off comes too late, as with Matt Guerrier last season.

* What a surprise: Milton Bradley had a temper tantrum Friday. What a secondary surprise: Lou Piniella reacted:

"I told him to take his uniform off. He threw his helmet and smashed a water cooler, water flying all over. I just told him to take his uniform off and go home. I followed him up into the clubhouse, and we exchanged some words."

Bradley (above) is not the only Cub to bash water coolers; Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster have too. Piniella — notorious for his short fuse — doesn't really seem the guy to calm things down, and there've been times this season when he's joked about it.

* Alex Rodriguez is being described as a shell of the player he once was. How much of it is the hip — remember, the surgery this spring was not a complete correction of the problem, but an attempt to get him back on the field for this season, with another surgery to come — and how much is the fact that he's about to turn 34 (and may be off the juice) is a matter of conjecture.

His OBP (.389) and SLUG (.487) aren't nearly as bad as his batting average (.227), and since the Yankees started making an effort to give him days off and started enforcing limits on his batting practice, his numbers have picked up (.333 BA over his past 10 games. Of course, he's been facing National League pitching, and that's probably had something to do with his surge.

Still: The Yankees have 10 more years to go on that contract.

*David Ortiz's stat line for the season remains ugly, but his baseball obituary appears to have been premature. His slash line for June: .311/.386/.705. Again, however: NL pitching.

Meanhile, teammate Mike Lowell — who had the same hip problem as A-Rod — is also running into problems, and the attempted solutions include an injection of an artifical lubricant and a reduction in his playing time.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Rising role for R.A. Dickey

The Greg McMichael rule lives, and R.A. Dickey (left) is abiding by it.

The McMichael rule — dubbed for the pitcher who, in 1993, rose from minor league free agent to closer for the Atlanta Braves — holds that, if you get people out, they'll find a role for you. The Braves of the 1990s had one of the greatest pitching staffs ever assembled, but they found room for McMichael.

Dickey, like McMichael, was a minor league signing. He was supposed to be the long man, the mop-up man, a guy who sucked up innings so more valuable pitchers didn't have to.

In April that's what he looked like. His ERA that month (11 innings): 5.73. Nothing great there.

In May, he started getting outs: 1.86 ERA (19.3 innings).

June has been even better: No earned runs so far (11.1 innings). Just four hits and one walk this month.

So on Thursday afternoon, with the Twins holding a 6-3 lead, it was Dickey who got the seventh inning. Not Sean Henn, not the departed Luis Ayala, not the demoted Jesse Crain. He faced three men, none of whom got it out of the infield, and collected his first hold of the season. He threw 10 pitches, seven of them strikes.

Dickey has earned this bigger role. His emergence may slightly diminish the burden on Matt Guerrier (who surrendered a home run in the eighth inning Thursday) and Jose Mijares, but that's OK. The Twins have been aching for somebody to do just that.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Blackburn, K-rates and a bad loss

The Twins took a tough loss Wednesday night. It was the kind of game that (speaking purely subjectively, without a trace of objective analysis behind it) good teams win because good teams don't beat themselves by heaving balls from outfield warning track to backstop and back to the warning track.

(Having raised the issue, I wonder how many times a pennant winner has lost a game by committing a pair of two-out throwing errors in the bottom of the eighth.)

Nick Blackburn was in the middle of the disaster, and Blackburn is, by conventional standards, having a fine season: 6-3, 3.11 ERA (eighth in the American League) leading the team in innings pitched (almost 17 more than Kevin Slowey), 10 quality starts in 15 starts).

He's not an ace. He's a decent pitcher pitching well, not a legitimate Cy Young contender or even an All-Star. And he's not a particularly good bet to keep this up.

Why? His strikeout rate — 41 Ks in 101.3 IP, 3.44 per nine innings is year — is low. Lower, even, than his career rate, 4.31. It is incredibly difficult for any pitcher, but particularly a right-hander, to sustain success with K-rates that low.

See Joe Mays. Or Carlos Silva. Or the Twins-era Scott Erickson. The Twins have, obviously, a long history of similar pitchers — guys who are supposed to rely on their sinkers (also known as two-seam fastballs) but don't really get that many ground balls.

They'll have a good year or two, then recede into the mediocrity their inability to miss bats dictates. (Or, as Erickson did in Baltimore, they'll find a way to boost their strikeouts).

This is why Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey are better than Blackburn. Baker is 13th in the AL in K/9 this season (7.6); Slowey is 16th (7.1). This is also why Francisco Liriano (eighth, 8.1) cannot be given up on. Blackburn? Last among the 46 qualifiers in the American League.

This has been a blind spot for the Twins in the past. K-rates are a better predictor than ERA. But the Twins have a history of hobbling themselves with long-term deals for low-strikeout pitchers. As long as the Twins recognize Blackburn's limitations, fine. If they take a good 2009 season as evidence that they should build the rotation around him, it's a problem.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Luis Ayala and cognitive dissonance

"Cognitive dissonance" is the psychological term for conflicting beliefs held simultaneously. We can identify it at work in almost any field, but since this is a baseball blog, I'll stick to baseball.

We see it in the strange case of Luis Ayala, who is said to have complained a few weeks ago to Ron Gardenhire that he wasn't being used as the primary eight-inning setup man.

The reason is fairly obvious:

Matt Guerrier: 0.86 WHIP, 2.76 ERA, 22K, 6 BB, 4 HR (32.6 IP)
Jose Mijares: 1.38 WHIP, 2.57 ERA, 17K, 10 BB, 3 HR (21 IP)
Luis Ayala: 1.42 WHIP, 4.18 ERA, 21K, 8 BB, 4HR (32.6 IP)

What there suggests Ayala deserved a more prominent role in the Twins bullpen?

Ayala was the primary set-up option for years with the Expos/Nationals, and fell into the closer role last September with the Mets, so one can understand why he's attached to the notion that he belongs in that role.

Clinging to that belief requires him to disregard the evidence.


Monday's print column on possible bullpen trade targets was echoed, more or less, by this posting on NBC's Sports' Circling the Bases blog. It mentions several of the names I did Monday, and a few others — and contains details (such as the expanding salary of Takashi Saito) that I didn't have.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Bullpen shuffle

Word out of Rochester is that the Twins have called up pitcher Bobby Keppel. (You have to read to the bottom of the story to find it out.)

No word yet on who is being taken off the 25-man roster; they don't have to do anything until Tuesday, since today's an off day. The two obvious targets are Sean Henn and Luis Ayala; Henn's pitching worse, but he's left-handed, and swapping him out for Keppel would leave just one lefty in the pen, Jose Mijares.

I doubt it will be Jose Morales, the No. 3 catcher; the relief corps right now isn't being overworked, and the Twins will spend the rest of this week on the road in NL parks, so can use an extra pinch hitter. When Denard Span returns, which is supposed to be a bit later this week, it will probably be Jason Pridie who goes back down.

Update: Luis Ayala has been designated for assignment.

Keppel has had a good season in Rochester, but his (very limited) major league track record doesn't suggest he's an eight-inning option. I wouldn't be surprised if R.A. Dickey began to get significant late innings.

They love the night life

The Twins got just two hits in Sunday's loss. This is just an extreme manifestation of a continuing trend — they can't hit in day games.

They've played 25 day games so far — 92 runs, 10th in the AL. (and one of the teams below them, the Angels, have scored six fewer runs in five fewer day games.) That's 3.68 runs per game — and remember, they had 20 runs in one day game. Ignore that bizarre one, and they have 72 runs in 24 day games, exactly 3 runs per game.

They've played 46 night games — 249 runs, second in the AL. That's 5.41 RPG.

In the daytime, the Twins have a 2.42 batting average, a .316 on-base percentage, a .369 slugging percentage, and a .682 OPS. All these percentages rank between 10th and 12th in the 14-team American League.

At night: .289 BA (first); .361 OPB (second); .461 SLG (second); .822 OPS (second).

One can come up with a variety of surmises on why this is happening — a weak bench, players not getting sufficient rest, just a fluke — but it sure looks like a problem.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Notes, quotes and comments

A war of words over the "indefinite" benching of Magglio Ordonez by the Detroit Tigers:

From Scott Boras, Ordonez' agent: "Give me the compelling reasons for benching Magglio. You bench Magglio, and you're gonna have a problem — a real problem justifying that to me."

From Jim Leyland, the Tigers' manager: "It is total bull-(beep) for Scott Boras to say I blind-sided Magglio. This is just another grand-stand move in the newspapers by Boras." And: "Scott Boras would be better off if he left this between me and Magglio."

Part of what's at stake here: Ordonez is some 215 plate appearances (or 67 starts) shy of triggering an automatic extension of his contract at $18 million for next season.

Considering the dull market for old corner outfielders last winter, Mags and Boras don't want to hit the free agency market this offseason. Considering that their attendance is down about 10,000 fans per game, the Tigers don't want to see that extension kick in.

Also at stake: The Tigers (leading the Twins by 3 games at this writing) want and need more than a .343 slugging percentage from their right fielder.

* New Ulm native Jamie Hoffmann was sent back to Triple A last week by the Dodgers. He had a few good moments, but his major league stay figured to end once their injured or suspended outfielders started to return, and his .182 batting average didn't compel Joe Torre and Co. to find a spot for him.

He'll get another shot someday.

* The results from last week's poll: 20 respondents, of whom one (5 percent) said Joe Mauer would finish the season hitting between .300 and .330; four (20 percent) said .331-.350; nine (45 percent) said .351 to .375; two (10 percent) said .376-.399; and four (20 percent) and .400 or better.

The new poll might make more sense after Monday's print column comes out.

* The Twins' decision to waive Craig Breslow and go with Sean Henn as the LOOGY looked OK for a while, but it has taken a sudden turn for the worse.

In his last two outings (Wednesday and Saturday) Henn has faced seven hitters, five of who reached base and two of whom homered. Five earned runs in two-thirds of an inning, and Henn's ERA is now an unsightly 7.36, up from 3.48 coming into the home stand.

Breslow, meanwhile, has had an ERA of 2.31 since joining Oakland.

Coming in Monday's print column: Some possible bullpen trade targets for the Twins.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Roy Oswalt vs. Joe Mays

I about gagged Friday evening when I heard Dick Bremer seriously suggest that Roy Oswalt is a comparable pitcher to Joe Mays, formerly of the Twins.

Let's see: They're both "small" right-handers, and they use first names of three letters, the second being "o." Beyond that .. not so much.

Roy Oswalt, in his ninth season, has a lifetime record of 132-68 after Friday's loss to the Twins, a career ERA of 3.20 and two 20-win seasons. He's been in double digits in wins each of his first eight seasons. He's been on three All-Star teams, finished in the top four in the Cy Young voting four times. He's led the National League in wins, in ERA, in winning percentage, in starts.

Joe Mays' career ended after seven major league seasons, several of them partial seasons, with a won-loss record of 48-70 and an ERA of 5.05. His best year, 2001, isn't close to Oswalt's best three.

Reason No. 1 Roy Oswalt is a better pitcher than Joe Mays ever was: Oswalt misses bats. Oswalt has, over his career, struck out 7.4 men per nine innings; Mays, 4.6. Reason No. 2: Mays missed the plate. Mays averaged 3.0 walks per nine innings; Oswalt, 2.1.

Bert Blyleven's comp of Bret Saberhagen is more accurate — the difference between Oswalt and Sabes may well be that Oswalt's managers didn't abuse him during his early 20s, as Saberhagen's did.

Declaring Oswalt and Mays to be equivalent pitchers is an insult to Oswalt — or a sign of mindless blather.

Beautiful bunts

A Jim Souhan column in Friday's Minneapolis paper bemoaned the lack of small-ball from the Twins, and cited as evidence that this is a problem this set of won-loss stats — the Twins are 24-16 when they hit a homer, 10-18 when they don't.

Make that 11-18 now, after Friday's win — a win with plenty of small ball. The Twins had three sac bunts and a bunt single. Two of the sac bunts came back to back, the last a beautiful suicide squeeze by Nick Punto.

* Matt Guerrier has been in danger of being overworked. And suddenly he was in danger of disappearing altogether before he pitched the seventh inning Friday.

He had pitched five times in six days after last Saturday's game. He hadn't pitched since. Sunday was the Jesse Crain debacle, Monday an off day, Tuesday's win was largely mopped up by R.A. Dickey, Wednesday's loss turned into a blowout by Sean Henn and Luis Ayala, and Thursday was Blackburn's complete game.

For that matter, Jose Mijares, the other primary setup man, made only his second appearance of the past week Friday.

The Twins have both cut their bullpen from seven to six and gotten their main setup arms some days off.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Six players in one word

Nick Blackburn— good. His first complete game.

Joe Mauer — ill. Not in the current slang sense, but in the real sense. It was time for him to get a day off.

Dontrelle Willis — anxious. Or something. He says he's fine, but the Tigers have returned him to the disabled list with anxiety disorder. I continue to be skeptical of the medical claim.

Magglio Ordonez — benched. Man has lost his power. He's slugging .343.

Michael Cuddyer — fine.

Dusty Rhodes — remembered. The pinch-hitter extraordinaire of the 1954 Giants died Wednesday. He wasn't a great player — wasn't even a particularly productive pinch hitter over the course of his career — but he had a magical season in '54 for Leo Durocher, and it made him a legend.

Bye-bye, Mel Hall

Mel Hall was an outfielder during the 1980s (amd a little bit of the '90s) who I tended to think was better than he really was.

The man was, ideally, a platoon corner-outfielder/ DH, like his contemporary Randy Bush of the Twins.

The difference was that Bush had managers who recognized his liabilities. Tom Kelly, Ray Miller, Billy Gardner — these guys didn't try to play him in 150 games a year, didn't feed him 500-plus plate appearances. Hall's managers frequently had greater illusions about his abilities.

The thing I really remember about Hall was his habit of stuffing a bunch of extra batting gloves in his rear pocket with the fingers dangling out. The idea was that when he was running around the bases, the gloves would be waving bye-bye to the infielders.

Now we can all wave bye-bye to Hall. On Wednesday he got a 45-year sentence for raping a 12-year-old girl, a player on a basketball team he coached. There was testimony from other women who said he molested or raped them as minors; some of this activity is said to have occurred during his playing days. He's been charged in at least one of those cases too.

Hall is 48 now; he won't be eligible for parole for 22 1/2 years, so he figures to be 70 or more when he gets out. If he ever gets out.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Liriano mystery

Wednesday was yet another game in which Francisco Lirano in many respects didn't pitch poorly, but still gave up too many runs.

What killed him Wednesday — and has been his biggest problem statistically this season — was the long ball. The Pirates, not a notably powerful club, hit a pair of two-run homers off Liriano, and that was their scoring (at least until they got to look at Sean Henn and Luis Ayala, but we'll get to those two later.)

From the AP game story: "It's really frustrating, because every time I miss one pitch it just changes the whole game," Liriano said. "I don't know what to do anymore."

For the season, Liriano has now allowed 14 homers in 84 2/3 innings — almost 1.5 per nine innings. That's a high rate, and its compounded by the walks (Liriano has now walked 36 men; no other Twins pitcher has walked 25).

But the rest of Liriano's line score Wednesday wasn't bad at all. He allowed just nine baserunners in seven innings (eight hits, one walk) , struck out six and threw about twice as many strikes (70) as balls (36).

Still a work in progress — but one with signs of improvement.

Henn, on the other hand — 11 balls, six strikes. Ayala — 16 balls, 17 strikes. Not good on either count.


Joe Mauer went 1-for-4 with a walk, and even the double wasn't well hit. Season average now .425. Twins and Pirates have a day game Thursday, and I rather expect him to either get a full day off or a DH day.

I wish I had this on tape: I caught a bit of the White Sox-Cubs broadcast on WGN — the White Sox crew — and in the seventh inning Steve Stone asked Ken Harrelson if he thought Mauer could hit .400.

Harrelson said — and I think I have this wording exactly right — "Joe Mauer can do anything he wants to."

The Hawk went on at length about Mauer: In more than 50 years in this game, I've never seen anybody like him. He does everything so smooth and effortlessly. He throws, smooth and effortless. He runs, smooth and effortless. He hits, smooth and effortless. He's just a unique athlete. Fifty years, I've never seen anything like him.

At some point Stone said something about Justin Morneau and the obvious force in his swing as compared to Mauer, and The Hawk said: "Justin Morneau is the antithesis of Joe Mauer."

Which made me laugh. I suspect that there are at least two Twins broadcasters who could neither pronounce nor define antithesis.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Joe Mauer goes 4-for-4

It's enough to make one giddy.

Mauer's batting average is now .429.

He's 7 for 9 over the last two games, and so what if he has just one extra-base hit in that span? It's still an .888 slugging percentage.

It takes 205 plate appearances for a Twins player to qualify for the batting title right now, and he has 185, 20 shy. If you charged him with 20 hitless at-bats, he'd be hitting .381 — which would lead the American League.

His slugging percentage right now is .756. Charge him with 20 empty at-bats, and it's .670 — and yes, that would lead the league (Mark Teixeira is the official leader at .618).

If he went 0-for-58, Mauer would still be hitting .300.


Denard Span has been put on the DL and Jason Pridie recalled. Had to happen. The Twins played Michael Cuddyer in center a bit on the road trip, but that was on grass. They need a legitimate center fielder in reserve in the Dome with its artifical turf.

Crain demoted

The move to make room for Glen Perkins: The demotion of Jesse Crain.

This is a surprise in the sense that I didn't think he had options left. Also in the sense that he makes $1.7 million, and I doubt that at this point he was on a split contract. That they got him off the roster, at this point, is hardly shocking. That happens to pitchers with ERAs in the eights.

So ... Now the Twins have 11 pitchers, six of them in the bullpen (Joe Nathan, Jose Mijares, Matt Guerrier, Luis Ayala, Sean Henn, R.A Dickey). Even with seven relievers, Ron Gardenhire was piling up the appearances for Guerrier, Mijares and Henn. Crain's ineffectiveness had made him unusable, so in a sense dropping to six doesn't change anything.

But something has to. The Guerrier overuse, in particular, mirrors last season and threatens to fulfill a definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result.

One of two things has to happen: A) a seventh (reliable) reliever is added, or B) Gardenhire stops using two or three relief pitchers to pitch two innings and goes to using one set-up man a day. I wrote several weeks ago about the now-bygone technique of a relief rotation.

There are some obvious parallels between the people in this bullpen and the core of the 1987 pen.

Nathan equals Jeff Reardon. Mijares is a lefty version of Juan Berenguer — chubby power arm. Ayala and Guerrier are somewhat comparable to George Frazier and Keith Atherton. Then there's Henn to provide a lefty fill-in and Dickey for the long man role.

This can work. But it would be a real shift in the way Gardenhire and pitching Rick Anderson have handled dividing the bullpen workload, and I don't really expect them to try it.

Quotes, notes and comments

* From Al Yellon, ringmaster of Bleed Cubbie Blue: "Watching the Twins play is like attending a baseball clinic. I don't think I have seen all year, and maybe not in several, a team as fundamentally sound as the Twins. ... The uncontested stolen base that (Carlos) Gomez took in the second inning clearly had to be setting up exactly what happened — Nick Punto's perfect bunt single that scored Gomez — and even though many of us in the stands and probably everyone in the Cubs dugout knew what was coming, the Twins executed it perfectly and scored a run after two were out and no one on base. The Cubs could take a lesson from this kind of execution."

That kind of gushing feels like overkill to me, but I'll take it.

* Dontrelle Willis of the Detroit Tigers walked eight men in 3 2/3 innings Sunday. That's right: 11 outs and eight walks. That's not a ratio one can live with, and even he knows it. He threw 88 pitches — 45 balls, 43 strikes.

The Tigers have problems with the back end of their rotation (Willis and Andres Galarraga), but Justin Verlander, Edwin Jackson and Rick Porcello (to a lesser extent) are getting it done. I have my doubts that Porcello can continue to be effective with his current walk/strikeout and strikeout/9IP rates.

Jackson's turnaround has been very impressive. He's always had a great arm, but no control, much less command. (Lifetime stats: 252 BBs, 376 Ks.) This year he's striking out about three men for every one he walks, and it's real tough to do that and lose. He's allowed just 91 hits-plus-walks in 88 1/3 innings.

One assumes that Rick Knapp, formerly the Twins minor league pitching coordinator and now the Tigers' pitching coach, has had something to do with improving Jackson's location. Willis remains a major challenge for Knapp.

* Bullpens are one of my basic measuring sticks for the quality of an organization. If the front office and the manager know what they're doing, they can almost always put together a competent relief corps.

The Cleveland Indians, in the current regime of GM Mark Shapiro and manager Eric Wedge, have consistently had trouble with this task. They've had two years with good bullpens; they won the divisonal title one year (2007) and almost caught the White Sox in the other (2005). Every other year has been a disaster, and this one is no exception.

Monday was the latest horror show: Eight runs in four innings, with the Tribe losing to Milwaukee 14-12.

The guys they expected to handle their late innings — Kerry Wood, Rafael Perez and Jensen Lewis — have combined to allow 50 earned runs in 71 innings, an ugly 6.33 ERA.

* There's a lot of angst in Mets-dom over Johan Santana's 15-0 loss to the Yankees Sunday. Aaron Gleeman suspects it's overblown.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Crain train detrailed

The moment I saw Jesse Crain warming up Sunday, I knew the Twins were in trouble.

And sure enough, four of the five men he faced in the bottom of the ninth reached safely, which was more than enough for the Cubs to break the 2-2 tie.

Crain this month has faced 17 batters, eight of whom have either gotten a hit or walk.

I have some sympathy for Gardy on this one: Matt Guerrier had pitched on June 8, 10, 11, 12 and 13 — five times in six days. Granted, most of those outings were brief — he totaled eight outs in those five games — but that's still excessive use. Luis Ayala had pitched the eighth — more on that later. And the Cubs had a string of right-handed hitters up, so it's understandable that he wanted to avoid calling on Sean Henn or Jose Mijares.

Which left Joe Nathan, Crain or R.A. Dickey. Nathan had pitched four times in five days himself, so he wasn't going to be asked to pitch multiple innings. And Dickey ...

Well, frankly, why not Dickey? I know: He's the long man. Well, guess what? He's been far more effective than Crain — his ERA since April is 1.52 — he's right-handed, and if the game goes extra innings, he's equipped to soak up the extra work. And he hadn't pitched in a week.

The underlying issue here remains bullpen depth. Guerrier has been far better than I could have hoped; Mijares has bounced back from his spring training disaster; Henn and Ayala are contributing in limited fashion; and Dickey has been marvelous in the long role.

Crain's supposed to be the eighth-inning right-handed power arm. And he's been useless.

The Gardenhire quote above sounds like he's running out of patience with Crain. A lot of fans reached that point a few weeks ago.


Ayala had a perfect eighth inning Sunday — three up-three down, three first-pitch strikes, even a strikeout.

And somehow it took him 22 pitches to accomplish it, because there were 10 foul balls. The man just cannot miss bats.

Which is why I say he's useful in a limited fashion.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Swarzak, the roster shuffle and other things

The hook to the game stories from the Twins' Saturday's 2-0 win over the Cubs: Anthony Swarzak throws seven shutout innings, gets shipped to minors. Which is both accurate and easy to write, and paints Twins management as a little dimwitted, which isn't accurate.

Swarzak made five starts while filling in for Glen Perkins. Two were quite good, two were lousy and one was mediocre — in terms of runs allowed. The stat line — 2-2, 3.90, 10 walks and 18 strikeouts — is quite acceptable, especially for a fifth starter. In terms of process, not so much.

Zero in for a moment on a sequence of hitters Saturday. Swarzak dispatched the first hitter of the third inning (Ryan Theriot) on three called strikes. Then he fell behind Aaron Miles 2-0; Miles singled on the 2-1 pitch. Rich Harden, the Cubs pitcher, was up to sacrifice, but Swarzak threw two balls to open the at-bat before Harden bunted the 2-0 pitch. Then he fell behind Alfonso Soriano 2-0; Soriano tapped the 3-1 pitch to short to end the inning. Swarzak went 3-1 on Mike Fontenot to lead off the third; Fontenot also grounded to short.

At that point, I wouldn't have given a dime for Swarzak's chances of getting through the fifth inning. And Cub manager Lou Piniella was probably regretting that he hadn't had Harden take a strike before bunting.

To be fair, Swarzak's ball-strike ratio for the day was pretty good — 63 strikes, 37 balls, and first pitch strikes to 16 of the 26 men he faced. But I suspect the Cubs lack of plate discipline had something to do with it.


The Twins are now in the odd situation of having two catchers on the bench (Mike Redmond and Jose Morales) and no outfielders.

The Twins play this afternoon in Wrigley. They have Monday off, and Perkins is supposedly to start Tuesday. So Morales, called up to take Swarzak's place on the roster, might be there just for one game.

Much depends on the health of Denard Span and/or Michael Cuddyer. If either is to go on the DL, Perkins can be activated to fill the roster spot. If not, Morales goes back to the Red Wings.

The Twins have just one outfielder in the minors on their 40-man roster. That's Jason Pridie, who is not having a good season so far for the Red Wings (.280 OBP, .333 SLG). Rather than call him up, the Twins will apparently use either Nick Punto or Matt Tolbert in the outfield if need be.


The results of the 3300-game-winner poll: 15 votes. Maddux was the choice of 9 respondents (60%). Clemens and Johnson got two votes each (13%) and Glavine one (6%). I'm surprised Glavine got that much support. A great pitcher, but ... the others were clearly better.

Next poll up.

The Hoffmann watch: NUN Jamie Hoffmann had one pinch-hitting appearance last week and made an out. He's now at .182 with the Dodgers.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Milton "Boo" Bradley

Milton Bradley, signed by the Chicago Cubs to a three-year $30 million deal during the offseason, is not having a good year.

It got worse Friday against the Twins.

He did have a two-run double. But he also ran into an out (trying to advance to third on a grounder to third); lost a fly ball in the sun (which resulted in a run for the Twins) and, most embarassingly, lost track of the outs and threw the ball into the seats after Joe Mauer's sac fly.

That brain cramp cost the Cubs a couple of base but no runs. And it got Bradley — hitting all of .224 on the year — roundly booed by the Wrigley Field crowd.

From Cubs manager Lou Piniella: "Do we have to go over the math? One, two, three. I don't know what else to say."

The headline from the Chicago Sun-Times: "Lost and dumbfound"

From the blog "Bleed Cubbie Blue" : "Baseball 101: Milton Bradley needs to go back to class." (And Al Yellon, a guy I happen to know from years in a now-defunct historical simulation game together, is quite fair to Bradley in dissecting him.)

As bad as Bradley's game was, it pales next to the disaster that befell former Twin Luis Castillo, now with the Mets. He dropped a popup with two outs in the ninth inning, allowing the tying and winning runs to score.

"E-Mazing" was the front-page headline of the New York Post. "Amazing Disgrace," said the Daily News.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Thursday: A bullpen breakdown

The Twins didn't do a lot at the plate Thursday — eight hits and three runs — but it was almost enough. They bunched a single, walk and homer (Joe Crede, above) for three runs in the fourth. Which gives them now 75 runs in 20 day games, or 3.75 per game, which doesn't get it done very often in 21st century baseball.

Nick Blackburn had a three-hit shutout going into the eighth and just 80 pitches thrown, according to the radio guys, so I can't second-guess the decision to leave him in. And while Michael Cuddyer misplayed a single into a triple, that didn't matter in the scoring; Adam Kennedy's homer still would have tied the game.

No, the aspect that should roil Ron Gardenhire's gut tonight was how the ninth inning got away from the bullpen.

The A's had three left-handed hitters due up in the ninth, and Gardy went to Sean Henn, successor to Craig Breslow as the second lefty. (Jose Mijares had pitched Tuesday and Wednesday; this is where the ninth inning meltdown of Tuesday night hurts. Had Baker or Crain gotten through the ninth, Mijares doesn't pitch that night, and would have been available Thursday.)

Henn walked Jason Giambi on four pitches. Control has been the issue for Henn; it's why Minnesota is his third organization. He has now pitched 76.2 innings in the majors, and he's walked 56 and struck out 54.

Beyond that, there's no real reason right now to regard Henn as a LOOGY specialist. Lefties are hitting .294 off him this year; righties, .063. Now, that's a very limited number of batters — 34 total, 17 from each side — but it hardly cried out for Henn to be pulled when Oakland pinch hit for the second batter.

Gardenhire brought in Matt Guerrier, who got ahead of pinch-hitter Kurt Suzuki — and then hit hm with a 1-2 pitch. The A's then bunted both baserunners along, and the Twins pulled the infield in, and Rajai Davis chopped the game-winning hit through. That ended the game and the inning, but it sure felt like one of those multi-pitcher, multi-run meltdowns that crippled the Twins last season.

Other comments:

* Jack Hannahan — former Mankato Masher, former Minnesota Gopher — came into the series hitting .179 for the season; he went 5 for 13 ( a double and the Cuddyer-aided triple) and raised his average to .205.

* The Twins' starting outfield was Delmon Young-Cuddyer-Jason Kubel, which is not a particularly impressive defensive alignment. But Blackburn didn't allow a run with that trio behind him; the big inning came after Carlos Gomez entered the game for Kubel.

Twins 6, Oakland 3 (Wednesday night)

Last West Coast night game for a while. Now the Twins face four straight day games — one today (Thursday) in Oakland, three in Wrigley against the Cubs — which will be a test of their weak-bats-in-the-daytime pattern.

Comments on Wednday's game:

* Francisco Liriano continues to pitch better than his results. He allowed just eight baserunners in six innings (five hits, two walks, one HBP); he induced 20 swings-and-misses; he struck out seven. And three of his seven runners scored, because all five hits came in two innings. There's an old cliche about scattering hits; Lirano this year seems to bunch them.

There were flaws. He threw first-pitch strikes to just 13 of 25 hitters, further evidence of his lack of fastball command. Kurt Suzuki, the Oakland catcher, swiped two bases. 

* Luis Ayala had another scoreless inning and knocked his ERA down to 3.95. Eighteen pitches, 15 of them strikes. Eighteen pitches is a lot for a one-two-three inning, but the A's fouled off nine pitches. They didn't have a swing-and-miss. 

That's the kind of thing that continues to make me uneasy about Ayala. I want to see power arms in the bullpen, and he doesn't miss bats.

* Michael Cuddyer, center fielder. I doubt that Ron Gardenhire is eager to go with that defensive formation — Delmon Young in left, Cuddyer in center, Jason Kubel in right — often, but it's not known how long Denard Span will be out of action, and if they don't put him on the DL, they don't have a true CF behind Carlos Gomez.


Draft stuff: Prominent among the Twins second-day selections was Gopher second baseman Derek McCallum.

He's got some gaudy stats, but he's an amateur second baseman, and few of them become standout big-leaguers. As a rule, if you have the mobility and throwing arm to be a second baseman in the major leagues, you were the best athlete on your amateur team, and you played shortstop. 

The Twins took a couple of college catchers in the fifth and sixth rounds (Tobias Streich of West Virginia and Chris Herrmann of Miami) and three more as they worked through the 30th round. Lots of pitchers and shortstops. Only two outfielders, and one of them, Eric Decker of the U of M, almost certainly isn't going to sign.  

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Twins win (Tuesday night) and draft Gibson

10-5, Twins, despite a lousy mop-up job in the ninth inning, when Scott Baker, Jesse Crain and Jose Mijares wouldn't or couldn't throw strikes and Alexi Casilla couldn't pick up a ground ball. Mijares in particular — six strikes, nine balls.

Don't let the box score line fool you: Delmon Young had an RBI single and an RBI double, but the single didn't leave the infield and the double — just his third extra base hit of the season — was a soft-hit blooper down the right field line. In other words, he wasn't stinging the ball.

Scott Baker had his third quality start in his last four outings, but two of them — this one and his previous start against Cleveland — came against teams that are having trouble scoring runs.

Now, on to the first day of the Twins draft: The pitcher in the picture is Kyle Gibson of Missouri. The Twins landed him with the 22nd pick after he dropped out of the Top 10 — possibly top five — with what is reported to be a stress fracture in his forearm.

Baseball America had regarded him as the "safest" pick among pitchers, including the much-hyped Stephen Strasburg: He relies on two-seam fastballs rather than four-seamers, usually pitching at 88-91 mph with good sink and tailing action, though he can reach back for 94 mph when needed. He has two of the better secondary pitches in the draft, a crisp 82-85 mph slider and a deceptive changeup with fade that can generate swings and misses.

Then came a sudden loss of velocity and the report on Monday of a stress fracture. He may not pitch again this summer, but considering his collegiate workload, that might have been the plan anyway. Certainly without the injury, he wouldn't have made it to the Twins.

The Twins followed this pick with three more collegiate pitchers: LHP Matt Bashore of Indiana with the supplemental pick for losing Dennys Reyes; RHP Billy Bullock of Florida in the second round; and RHP Ben Tootle of Jacksonville State. All three are said to have power arms, particularly Bullock and Tootle, and fastball velocity is something the organization was out to emphasize after a few years of drafting toolsy outfielders and command specialists early.

Warning, however: Gibson, Bashore and Tootle all slipped because of injury/illness concerns.

Bullock was most successful in college out of the bullpen, and Tootle is seen as a relief pitcher also.

The draft continues today.

One poll to the next

The results of the division-pick poll: 71 percent say Twins, 29 percent say Tigers, zero the Indians, Royals or White Sox. Seven votes.

Can't beat that one for meaninglessness.

Which won't stop me. New poll up.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Oakland 4, Twins 3 (Monday night)

About 10 days ago, there was a lot of chatter about the idea of Anthony Swarzak (right) displacing Francisco Liriano or Glen Perkins in the rotation.

I doubt that was ever seriously contemplated by the people with the responsibility of making such decisions. If it was, Swarzak's performance Monday night did much to discourage such a move.

He was wild. Officially, he threw more strikes than balls — 46 strikes, 35 balls  — but that was strictly because of the generosity of home plate umpire Wally Bell.  He bounced a pitch off Aaron Cunningham's helmet. His ERA is now 5.23, and he has walked nine batters in less than 21 innings in his four starts. 

That's no way to pitch your way into the Minnesota rotation. 

* Swarzak doesn't get the loss on his record; that goes to Luis Ayala, who gave up the home run to Jack Cust that put the A's ahead. I'm still not completely sold on him, but that was the first earned run charged to him since May 18, and he's taken his ERA down from 5.71 to 4.10. He had three strikeouts in 1.3 innings Monday, 21 strikes and just eight balls. It wasn't a horrid outing, but it's an "L" anyway. 

* Carlos Gomez had a very good bases-loaded at-bat in the fourth inning — taking every pitch and walking on the 3-1 pitch to bring home the first run. He supposedly spent the winter working on taking pitches, and I wondered if he's really seeing more pitches per plate appearance this year. Nope. Entering Monday, Gomez was seeing 3.35 pitches per trip to the plate; last season it was 3.41.

Delmon Young — another Twins outfielder with notoriously poor strike zone judgment — is seeing more pitches: 3.59 last season, 3.74 this year. Not that it's helping any

*Craig Breslow — speaking of people who've lowered the ERA — had a 6.28 ERA with the Twins, 2.16 since Oakland picked him up. He pitched Monday in the eighth inning; Joe Mauer singled, Justin Morneau flew out, and then the A's brought in a right-hander to get Michael Cuddyer to ground into a DP. Seven pitches for Breslow, four of them strikes. Not real impressive, but it got the job done.

* One final note: Jack Hannahan, former Mankato Masher and Minnesota Gopher, had the big three-run double after Swarzak's wildness set things up in the fourth. 


The first two rounds of the amateur draft are to be held later tonight (I'm posting this after midnight); for a variety of reasons, personal and professional, I'm unlikely to comment on the Twins picks as soon as I have the past couple of years. I expect to get something up early Wednesday. 

300-win lefties and other old themes

The Monday print column was a collection of trivia about the six left-handed pitchers with 300 wins.

It was, at one point, going to be an attempt to rank Randy Johnson and Tom Glavine, but ESPN.com's Rob Neyer, Jayson Stark and Jim Caple did it better than I was going to (and at greater length). My only quibble with their work is that Tom Glavine (above) didn't get a mention. If they can consider the likes of Carl Hubbell, Whitey Ford, Eddie Plank and Sandy Koufax — if only to dismiss them — they should have cited Glavine.

Glavine is Warren Spahn writ small — a consistent winner who had a fastball more noted for its command than its velocity and the ability to change speeds. They even spent the bulk of their careers with the same franchise. There's no way I'd argue that Glavine was superior to Spahn — 305 wins is impressive, but still 58 behind Spahn — but still.

* The Twins offense in day games after Sunday's LOB festival: 72 runs in 19 games, 3.79 runs per game.

* NUN Jamie Hoffmann had a hit last week. That's the good news. The bad news is he went 1-for-10, mostly as a pinch hitter, and his batting average is .190.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

They only come out at night

One of the reasons for the Twins' inconsistent play is that they simply haven't hit in day games.

They've played 18 day games so far, in which they've scored 70 runs — 3.89 per game. And that's deceptively high, because it includes their 20-1 shellacking of the Chicago White Sox on May 21. Remove that one, and they've got 50 runs in 17 day games — 2.91 runs per game.

At night: 39 games, 210 runs — 5.38 per game.

As a team, the Twins are hitting .242-.320-.363 in the day time, .287-.359-.460 at night.

The pitching staff has also been better in the daytime, but not to this extent (4.39 ERA day, 4.75 night). As a result, the Twins are 5-13 in day games, 23-16 at night.

Some — Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel — are doing well during business hours, but even they are hitting better when the sun goes down.

And some ... Well, Denard Span in the daytime has an OPS of .521, .898 at night. Joe Crede is .615 in the day, .811 at night. Michael Cuddyer is .681 day, .943 night. Mike Redmond — a big part of his job is catching day games — .445 day, .823 night. Brendan Harris, .604, .790.

And Carlos Gomez, Delmon Young, Alexi Casilla, Nick Punto — these guys haven't hit at any hour.

Is there a solution? The obvious initial theory is that some of these guys need the Dan Gladden treatment — Tom Kelly seldom played Gladden day game after a night game. But TK wasn't playing with a four-man bench in those days. Ron Gardenhire doesn't have as many options.

It's possible that all this is fluke anyway, that Cuddyer, Crede and Co. will eventually hit during the day.

But right now, the sun is not their friend.

Another road loss

It's easy — and accurate — to criticize Delmon Young for not scoring in the third inning Saturday when Jerrod Washburn threw a pitch to the backstop. There came a point in watching the play unfold when I thought, where is he? He apparently got a lousy jump — the Fox broadcast didn't delve into the issue at all — and, as seen above, got tagged out.

Which put fini to a very promising inning. Bases loaded, one out — and no runs.

But just as guilty in ruining that inning were Denard Span and Justin Morneau, and Span not so much. He struck out, but his real failure was in not successfully bunting — and that was negated by Joe Mauer's walk. Morneau waved at three pitches, all well out of the strike zone, a truly poor at-bat. Bad at-bats from a couple of guys who haven't had many of them.

But Young gets the blame because — well, because Young hasn't done a whole lot of anything right all season. Morneau had a bad at-bat, and that happens every so often. A lot less often with Morneau than with Young.

If Young had scored on that play, as he should have, the Twins don't necessarily win the game. But they'd have had a chance.

They'd have had a better chance had Span, Mauer and Morneau gotten some hits. They went 0-for-12.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Twins win after midnight

A really odd 10th inning for the Twins Friday night in Seattle — Jason Kubel robbed of a three-run homer, Joe Mauer caught in a rundown on a busted squeeze bunt, and the Seattle LF, Wladimir Balentinen, fielding as well as his parents could spell. (That's Balentinen above chasing the ball to the wall after muffing the game-winning fly ball.)

Ron Gardenhire is irked that Mighty Matt Tolbert didn't get credited with a hit on Balentinen's misplay, which is silly. Tolbert has the far more mature attitude.

* Incidentally, since I gripe a lot about the quality of the Twins broadcasters, I should note that Dick Bremer mentioned while Kubel's drive was headed over the fence and into Franklin's Gutierrez's glove that Mauer was tagging up at second base. Normally the Twins broadcasters figure we can see the baserunners, which is particularly irritating from the radio guys. Bremer did a good job on that play, checking the baserunners while the ball was in flight and telling us something useful.

* A few days ago, there was talk about shifting Francisco Liriano to the bullpen so that Anthony Swarzak could stay in the rotation when Glen Perkins returns. Then Swarzak got raked on Wednesday by Cleveland, and Liriano had six innings of one-run ball Friday. 

Liriano continue to put up odd stat lines. This time ... 101 pitches, 60 of them strikes, not a horrid ratio — but he still walked four hitters. He didn't really pitch that well against a weak offense.

Swarzak, meanwhile, has had three starts, getting progressively worse in each, at least in results. Nothing in his major league stat line, brief though it be, shouts out that this man is superior to Liriano or Perkins.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Fun facts: Joe Mauer

Joe Mauer had three more hits on Thursday. He is now, for the season, 48 for 110, a neat .436 batting average.

A few fun facts ....

* If Joe Mauer went 0-for-50, he'd still be hitting .300. Seriously.

* He is hitting .507 against right-handed pitchers.

* He is hitting .492 at the Metrodome.

* He hit .414 in May, which looks like a slump, because he is hitting .632 so far in June. OK, it's just 11 at-bats this month. Still, .632?

* He has appeared in 31 games and gone hitless in five of them.

* He is about 32 plate appearances short of qualifying for the batting lead. The rule is 3.1 plate appearances per team game; the Twins as of Friday morning had played 54 games, so that works out to 167.4 PA needed at this point. Adding up Mauer's at-bats, walks, sac flies and HBP, I come up with with 135 PA.

If and when he actually shows up on the leaderboard hitting .400, we'll start getting the stories and speculation about whether he can accomplish that feat. Actually, in some math-driven corners of the Internet, that speculation has already started.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Around the AL Central

I sure picked a fine time to bench Jason Kubel in one of my fantasy leagues. A pair of three-run dingers in his first two at-bats this afternoon against the Indians.

* What's wrong with the Tribe? Lots of things, actually — like nine guys on the disabled list — but today's sore point is Fausto Carmona — who was a legit Cy Young candidate two seasons ago. He has now allowed nine homers in 60-plus innings with an ERA of 7.62.

He entered the game with a 6.60 ERA — tied with Francisco Liriano for next to worst in the AL among ERA qualifiers (41 pitchers). But ... Carmona has walked more men than he's struck out — for the second season in a row — while Liriano's ratio (28 walks, 50Ks), while not good, isn't horrendous. Ron Gardenhire sounds determined to keep Liriano in the rotation, and one can argue that one either way, but for Cleveland to keep running Carmona out there seems borderline suicidal.

The worst ERA, by the walk, belonged to Tampa Bay's Andy Sonnenstine (7.07).

* Dontrelle Willis made his fifth start Thursday for Detroit. Not good. He blew through the first two innings, walking one guy but throwing a DP ball, so just six hitters. But the third: He hit the first guy, walked the second, struck out the third. Then he issued three straight walks and got pulled. 53 pitches, 24 of them strikes.

There's a large reservoir of good will for Willis; it seems everybody around the game genuinely likes the guy. As a result, his comeback effort this year had gotten generally positive reviews -- positive in the form of "He's an acceptable back-of-the-rotation guy" assessments, which is considerably less than he used to be. Frankly, I haven't seen that. His ERA is in Carmona territory, and so is his walk/strikeout rate.

* Not only did Willis implode, Miguel Cabrera left the game early with a hamstring problem. The Tiger offense has struggled this year — it's the pitching that's carried them to the top of the AL Central — and they can ill afford to be without Cabrera for long.

* For a while, Kansas City was a sexy pick in the division. No more. The Royals are 3-11 in their last 14 games.

* This was Ozzie Guillen, manager of the Chicago White Sox, a couple of days about about Gordon Beckham, last summer's first-round pick: “He's a great player, he's going to be in the big leagues, he's going to be a big part of this organization pretty soon. But we don't have Beckham on our mind right now. I don't and I'm the one making the lineup. If we have Beckham here, we're in trouble.

“That kid needs to play. A lot of people say between Triple-A and the big leagues is one jump. It's a huge jump. In Triple-A you're going to face a good pitcher maybe once a week. Here, it’s every day.”

This afternoon, Beckham's playing third base for the White Sox. Just another example of a manager blowing smoke.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

All done for Glavine?

Tom Glavine signed with the Atlanta Braves this offseason -- the one team he was willing to play for -- got hurt, made his way through rehab, and just when he declared himself ready to pitch, the Braves released him.

It seems harsh, but the reality is that the Braves aren't the Braves of Glavine's heyday, and there really isn't much point in giving a 43-year-old, even a Cooperstown-bound 43-year-old, 22 starts the rest of the season. It's time for them to give Tommy Hanson, a prime prospect, the ball and the chance to develop.

Glavine can probably still help a contender, but whether he wants to is another matter. He's got 305 lifetime wins, a World Series ring and more than enough money.

* Speaking of old lefties once-great and now something less, Randy Johnson got rained out Wednesday. He's slated to try for win No. 300 Thursday.

* Last season Cliff Lee got snippy with Carlos Gomez when Go-Go bunted. same thing happned Wednesday. It seems so obvious that bunting on Lee bugs him that it really ought to be the Twins strategy some day -- bunt, bunt, bunt until he can't think straight.

300 win units for the Unit

Randy Johnson goes tonight for win No. 300. He's been wobbling to the finish line — which isn't uncommon at that rarified air. 

Early Wynn staggered to 300 — his last three seasons went 8-2, 7-15, 1-2, with a peak of 167-plus innings pitched.

Lefty Grove just got there — 7-6 in 1940, 7-7 in 1941. 

Tom Glavine has 305 wins and, officially, counting. But he has yet to appear in a game this season, and who know how much he has left in the tank. He won No. 300 on Aug. 4, 2007, at which point his ERA for the season was 4.31. It wasn't a horrid year, but he started falling apart late in the season, and he hasn't gotten it back together yet.

Then there are the guys who tried to hang in there long enough to hit the milestone and couldn't quite do it: Bert Blyleven, Robin Roberts, Tommy John, Jim Kaat,  Ferguson Jenkins ... 300 wins is a big number.

Every time somebody gets to 300, there's a rush of columnists opining that this guy will be the last to get there. It was said about Roger Clemens, then about Greg Maddux, then about Glavine. It's being written about Johnson too, only not quite so emphatically — I suppose some of them remember writing it about the others.

It is true, however, that there's nobody particularly close right now. Mike Mussina decided to quit at 270 — had his first 20-win season in 2008 and walked away last winter. Curt Schilling, as great as he was, surrendered this spring to the ravages of age at "just" 216 wins. Jamie Moyer just collected no. 250; his chances of getting even 50 more starts, much less 50 more wins, are slim indeed.

For what it's worth, the Bill James Handbook this spring gave Johan Santana a 24 percent chance of getting to 300. He has, at this writing, 116 wins. Just 184 wins to go, Yo-Yo.

It might be Santana, it might be CC Sabathia (18 percent chance), it might even be Moyer (25 percent chance, according to James; I was skeptical of that number when I first saw it, even more skeptical now that Moyer's 4-5 with a 6.75 ERA this year.). Or even 20-year-old Rick Porcello, with all of six wins so far. But somebody pitching right now is going to win 300.

Besides Johnson.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Notes and quotes

Aubrey Huff of the Baltimore Orioles, on Detroit Tiger pitchers Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson: "Honestly, I've played nine years, and the last two guys are probably the best back-to-back I've seen in my nine years." (Link here)

*The Los Angeles Times discovers New Ulm.

*Baseball America's latest mock draft has the Twins selecting RHP Matt Hobgood of Norco (Calif.) High School with the 22nd pick of the first round. "A 6-foot-4 245-pounder, Hobgood resembles a young Goose Gossage." Throws hard, has questionable command. I'd provide a link, but it's subscription only. The real draft begins June 9.

*It was a bad idea from the beginning, and the Chicago Cubs have finally pulled the plug on it. The Gatorade dispenser they stuck in the middle of the Cubs dugout — battered on at least two occasions by pitchers throwing tantrums — is to be removed.

*Roy Oswalt says he's not interested in being traded to the Chicago White Sox. Not to worry, Roy; Ken Williams, the Chisox GM, says he's not interested in you.

* The results of the Mauer power poll: 10 votes cast. Four say 21-25 homers; three say 26-30; 1 31-35; two 35-plus.

* Nick Punto takes a lot of grief for his offensive struggles, and he deserves it. But those demanding Brendan Harris as the Twins everyday shortstop don't see the less obvious defensive issues. He had crucial unmade plays — not errors, but plays he should have made — in the Twins' two losses to Tampa Bay last week.

*Of coincidental connection to baseball: This year's list of names for tropical storms/hurricanes, should we have enough of them, gets to Peter and Rose. Let's hope the Atlantic storms don't rack up 4,256 hits this season.