Wednesday, September 30, 2009

AL ROY: Why not Beckham?

A post on Tuesday springboarded from the first game of the Twins-Tigers doubleheader to discussing Rick Porcello, Elvis Andrus and the American League rookie of the Year balloting.

Absent from the discussion was Gordon Beckham of the White Sox (right).

Why not Beckham? He is a legitimate candidate, with 42 extra base hits and an increasingly prominent role in the Chicago lineup. He appears to be the lineup foundation for the next five years or so of the White Sox — he and Alexei Ramirez.

Among AL rookies, he is first in RBIs and doubles; second in home runs and runs scored; third in walks and hits. Among those with at least 300 at-bats, he's first in slugging percentage, second in OBP, third in batting average, second in OPS. (Only Andrus among AL rookies qualifies for the batting title.)

So why not Beckham?

1) Andrus is not the hitter Beckham is, but he's a premium defender at a premium position. Beckham might be capable of playing shortstop in the majors, but the Sox aren't about to ask him to.

2) Andrus just turned 21; Beckham just turned 23. Those two years matter in estimating the future.

3) In evaluating the present, Andus got more playing time. The Rangers moved their veteran shortstop, Michael Young, in spring training to make room for Andrus. Ozzie Guillen, a few days before the Sox recalled Beckham, said: If we have to play Beckham, we're in trouble.

They did have to play Beckham, and they'll finish the season under .500. The Rangers reshaped their lineup to make room for Andrus, and it transformed them from a bad team to a contender.

Beckham's a good player. Andrus mattered more this year and has more room to grow. Which is why I boil the ROY question down to the best pitcher (Porcello) and the best position player (Andrus).

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Game 2: Tigers 6, Twins 5

Tragic number: Four.

Tuesday split doubleheader was an example of how the Tigers have remained in first place since May. They've been challenged, but they haven't broken, as the White Sox did in late August-early September on a death-march road trip through New York, Boston and Minnesota.

Or, for that matter, as the Twins did after a couple of difficult losses on a long West Coast road trip in July.

If the Tigers hold off the Twins this week, we shouldn't look so much to this game with regret as the game of July 18 — when R.A. Dickey tried to sneak a fastball past Ian Kinsler with the game on the line. Or the game of July 19, when the Twins staked Nick Blackburn to a 12-2 lead and lost 14-13, with the final out coming on a blown call at the plate. And the four losses in five games that followed those two shouldn't-have-happeneds.

The Twins keep grinding though. It's difficult to believe that they touched up Justin Verlander for four runs the way he was overpowering hitters the first five innings. But Brian Duensing had his worst start — five runs allowed in 4 2/3 innings, and Bobby Keppel didn't help a whole lot.

Facing Verlander is a lot like facing Zach Grienke — it's not easy to get the win. The Twins theoretically have the advantage in the pitching matchups the next two games. They need to win both. A split of this series does them no good.

I'm looking forward to seeing Eddie Bonine pitch Wednesday for the Tigers. Besides my tendency to root for my fellow Eddies, he is said to throw a knuckleball, albeit not as his primary pitch. There used to be a lot of pitchers who threw a knuckleball as a changeup, but that approach died out sometime in the 1960s.

Other news:

*The Pioneer Press says the Twins have a deal with Miguel Angel Sano, a supposedly 16-year-old superprospect from the Dominican.

This signing, once finalized, would be significant as an indication that Minnesota is becoming a major player in the Dominican market. The Twins have scouted Dominica, and they've traded for players (Cristian Guzman, David Ortiz, Francisco Liriano) as a result of their scouting, but they haven't signed amateur players there.

*Chuck Knoblauch, once the Twins best player and then the resource upon which then-general manager Terry Ryan used to trigger the revival of the team, has been charged in a domestic battery case.

* The White Sox will not use Mark Buehrle against the Tigers in the season-closing series — he'll make his final start on Wednesday in a make-up doubleheader — but will pitch Jake Peavy against Detroit. This is good for the Twins, as Buehrle is struggling now and Peavy dominated the Tigers last week. The Sox's scheduled starters: Peavy, Freddy Garcia and John Danks.

Thanks, Ozzie.

Game 1: Twins 3, Tigers 2 — and Porcello

The tragic number remains at six after the first game. A lot of twists and turns — a sloppy first few innings by Nick Blackburn followed by 12 straight outs; a failed suicide squeeze in the ninth; and a 10th inning homer allowed by Joe Nathan after the Twins scored twice in the top half of the inning.

The Tigers started Rick Porcello (left), the 20-year-old who opened the season as Detroit's fifth starter and ends it as their second-most reliable starter.

And so the question: Should he be the AL Rookie of the Year?

Pitchers seldom win the prize, but this has been, literally, the season of the rookie starter — there have been more starts by rookies this year than in any season since the 1800s. And yeah, there are more games, period, but the trend is there.

Porcello — 14-9, 4.04 — has been, arguably, the best of the bunch, even though he's worked all season on a short leash. He's made 30 starts but worked just 165 innings — 5.5 innings per start — and only four times been allowed to exceed 100 pitches. (He threw a season high 111 pitches Tuesday.)

Heavy exposure in the majors is usually hazardous to young arms, and Porcello entered the season with just 125 minor league innings on his resume, all in High A ball. But Jim Leyland has been successful at the tricky task of prying valuable innings out of vulnerable arms and keeping them healthy. He did it a few years ago with Justin Verlander, and he recognized years ago that Livan Hernandez could be pushed beyond the workloads of most youngsters.

Porcello has room to improve. His BB/K and K/9 rates — the two things I most want to know about a pitcher — are unimpressive at best. But he is establishing himself as an extreme groundball pitcher, the kind of pitcher the Twins always imagined Carlos Silva to be, and he may be the rare pitcher who can get by striking out less than five men per nine innings. More likely, he'll add strikeouts as the reins are loosened. And, of course, if he stays healthy.

So: Is he the Rookie of the Year? Well, I'm not sure that he's had a better season than Texas shortstop Elvis Andrus, whose hitting stats don't connect to the value of his glove. Andrus may
not win the Gold Glove — it generally takes players a while to establish their superiority to the managers and coaches around the league — but I'm convinced that he's the best at the position in the league.

If I had a vote, I'd probably go for Andrus, but I'm not certain I'm right. I know this: I'd take either one for the Twins in a heartbeat.

Weather or not

And so game one of the Motown Showdown gets postponed. Theoretically to 11 a.m. today, but there's rain in the forecast again in Detroit.

The rainout and subsequent doubleheader doesn't affect the pitching assignments for this series. But it does create issues for both teams for the weekend. Nick Blackburn and Rick Porcello had been penciled in for Saturday's games; now those would be on three days rest rather than four. That's a problem to be resolved on another day, but it does eliminate the notion of handling the fifth-starter issue (and Friday's start) by going to four starters for the final week.

The day-night doubleheader in Comerica probably means Joe Mauer will catch the first game and DH in the nightcap, which is not optimal but is probably wise.

By the same token, the Tigers are likely to use their back-up catcher, Alex Avila, in one of the games. Jim Leyland hasn't been reluctant to pair rookie Avila with rookie Porcello — two of Avila's last three starts have come in games started by Porcello — and he's given Avila (a left-handed hitter) just 10 at-bats against lefties, so I rather expect Avila to catch the day game against Blackburn rather than the night game against Brian Duensing. (On the other hand, Avila has faced Duensing, hasn't faced Blackburn, and Gerald Laird is 3-for-10 against Blackburn with two walks.)

For what it's worth — not much, given how little Avila has played — the Tigers ERA with Avila catching is 5.87, with Laird 4.21. Laird hasn't had a good year at the plate, but he's got a legitimate argument for a Gold Glove.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Greinke and the tyranny of the win column

The old-school argument against Zach Greinke's Cy Young candidacy can be summed up in one sentence:

Sixteen wins from a starting pitcher isn't enough to win.

Not when there's a CC Sabathia hurtling to 20 wins.

Sabathia is a fine pitcher having a fine season. He's doing essentially what he always does, and he does it well. His durability is without peer in the current generation of starting pitchers. If anybody deserves the salary he's getting, he does.

He's not having as good a season as Greinke.

Sabathia's current W-L record (19-7) works out to a .730 winning percentage. That's 89 points above team — which is impressive enough.

Greinke's 16-8 record (.667) comes for a .410 team. That's 257 points above team. Or about three times Sabathia's margin.

And then there's this: The Royals —a bad team to begin with — are, in a sense, even worse with Greinke pitching.

Of the 36 AL pitchers with at least 140 innings, none —zero — have as few runs scored for them as Greinke does. Teammate Brian Bannister, for example, gets 5.9 runs of support per game; Greinke gets 4.8, more than one run less.

Grienke has had eight no-decisions this season. In four of them, he allowed either zero or one run. Twice he gave up two runs, twice three. He has had five starts all year in which he allowed four or more runs; he 0-5 in those starts, He has, in short, zero cheap wins.

Sabathia? He's had a couple of cheap wins, giving up four runs in six-plus innings for a W once, five runs in seven for another.

Really these two are the Cy Young argument. Felix Hernandez is, like Greinke, racking up better stats than Sabathia, but whatever argument one makes for King Felix, Greinke trumps.

It's the old-school guys who value wins over all else versus the new wave. The old-school argument prevailed in 2005, when Bartolo Colon (2-8, 3.48) won the award over Johan Santana (16-7, 2.87); there seems to be a general consensus since then that the electorate blew it.

Sabathia's season is better than Colon's but Greinke's is better than Santana's.

This year, I think, the writers will get it right. Greinke will win.

Voting for somebody else?

I see that somebody today cast a vote for "somebody else" for NL rookie of the year.

It occurred to me after the voting started that I probably should have put Andrew McCutcheon of the Pirates on the ballot rather than Randy Wells, but by then it was too late.

Anyway: If you vote for a somebody else on any of the awards, feel free to tell us who in the comments to this post. (Or any post, for that matter, but this one would make sense.)

What next for Liriano?

The tragic number is six headed into the Motown Showdown, and it's pretty clear what Minnesota needs out of that four-game series: A sweep.

If the Tigers win three (or four) of the four games, they clinch. A 2-2 split leaves the Twins two games out with three to play — and one of those three will be against Zach Grienke. Even a 3-1 series win only pulls the Twins into a tie with Detroit.

At least the Twins won't have to deploy their fifth starter in that series. Francisco Liriano got the call Sunday and displayed the same basic problem he displayed for most of the season: No command of the fastball.

Five outs, four baserunners, three runs — a three-run homer to Yunisesky Betancourt, which might be excusable if the man could actually hit — and just 24 strikes in his 45 pitches.

A quick hook, and deservedly so.

Not that Jeff Manship was a while lot better in his long-relief outing at throwing strikes — 66 pitches, 32 of them balls. But Manship at least got 11 outs and only allowed one run.

It ws, in fact, a very un-Twins like day on the hill; Bobby Keppel threw nine balls in his 19 pitches. Of the four guys who pitched Sunday for Minnesota, only Jesse Crain pounded the strike zone.

Assuming that Friday's game — the next, and final, time this spot in the rotation cycles around — matters, who should Ron Gardenhire call on?

He can't, right now, have any faith in either Liriano or Manship. But they remain the best options; Gardy sure isn't giving another start to Armando Gabino. Pick one, pull him fast, and make it a bullpen game.

My choice would be Manship. But I'm not in the clubhouse, and I'm not looking in their eyes to see who's afraid to fail. One danger is putting an "unready" prospect in a key game is the long-term damage a bad game can do to his psyche.


Meanwhile, out in Chicago the White Sox

a) beat the Tigers and

b) still didn't get to watch football.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Win first, football later

Tragic number update: Seven. The Twins won Saturday, and so did the Tigers, who bounced back from a 5-0 White Sox lead to win 12-5 and set Ozzie Guillen off again when he found his team watching college football games on TV afterwards:

"[Do] they think the season's over for them? Yes. If they think the season's over for me, no. And I'm going to make it clear. It's a bunch of [bleeps] out there watching football games like a piece of [bleep] with no pride the way they [bleep] play, and that's embarrassing."

And a few more choice sentences, the upshot of which may be: If the White Sox players want to watch NFL games in peace after their game with the Tigers today, they'd better win.


The Twins haven't faced Zach Greinke this season. That changes today. The presumptive AL Cy Young winner is to finish his season with two starts against Minnesota.

I suspect that, if the Twins are to win the division title, they will need to find a way to win at least one of the the Greinke games.

Detroit has faced Greinke five times and won two of those five games — despite the fact that Greinke's ERA against the Tigers is 1.00.


Poll results: Some blog readers believe.

We had 21 votes in this week's poll. Ten (47 percent) said the Twins will win the AL Central; nine (42 percent) said the Tigers; two (9 percent) said it doesn't matter 'cause the Yankees will win the first round easily.

The new poll is actually multiple polls —MVPs, Cy Young, Rookies of the Year. The Monday print column will be on Joe Mauer and the AL MVP race. I hope to blog in the coming week on the other awards, but I suspect a flu bug is about to grab me by the respiratory tract, so we'll see how energetic I am.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Migrating from 'Zona to Midwest

In 2007, the Arizona Diamondbacks won 90 games. Nobody in the National League won more. Still, they really weren't that good — their runs scored/runs allowed ratio suggests they "should" have gone 79-83.

In 2008 the D'backs were 20-8 at the end of April and then faded slowly away. One of their problems was the bullpen. They opened with Brandon Lyon closing; he had 26 saves but a 4.70 ERA, and manager Bob Melvin switched late to Chad Qualls. Whoever wasn't closing split the primary set-up chores with Tony Pena. Juan Cruz put together impressive stats in low-leverage relief. And they made a midseason deal for Jon Rauch, who helped bury the D'backs — 0-6 with a 6.56 ERA.

A year later, only Qualls is still there (and establishing himself, quietly, as a reliable closer). The rest of them are in the AL Central.

*Cruz — who walked home a run Friday night — is pitching poorly for Kansas City; the Twins were indeed wise to pass on him in the free agent market.

*Lyon (above) is arguably the most effective piece in the Detroit bullpen.

*Pena is essentially doing for the White Sox what he did for the Snakes — eating middle innings with an ERA around 4.30; he remains more talent than results.

*Rauch, as you probably know, is helping the Twins in the late drive.

Makes me wonder how the Indians didn't wind up with Brandon Medders, who is having a pretty good season with the Giants.

Losing two-hitters and Eddie G.

The tragic number remains at eight. Tigers lose, Twins win, and Detroit now leads by two games with nine to play.

Normally it's a good thing for a starting pitcher to allow just two hits. Not in these games.

Robinson Tejada allowed the Twins just two hits, but one of them was a homer, and the hard-throwing righty walked seven while getting just 13 outs. He threw 82 pitches, and 40 of them were balls. One of them was a wild pitch that scored Nick Punto from second base (photo above).

And for Detroit, Eddie Bonine gave up two hits in 6 2/3 innings, but one of them was a homer that followed an error — and his mound opponent, Jake Peavy, showed what all the midseason fuss was about with seven shutout innings. The White Sox bullpen — now without closer Bobby Jenks — added two more shutout innings, and Chicago wins 2-0 with just two hits for the entire game.


One of my favorite Twins is hanging 'em up after the season — Eddie Guardado, Everyday Eddie. A great first name. And a pretty good pitcher.

He was around for the lean years in the 1990s and he played a big role in turning the franchise around in the early part of this decade. He's bounced around since leaving the Twins for a big free-agent deal, and he's pitched for years with his throwing shoulder hanging by a thread.

Tom Kelly persisted in viewing him as strictly a LOOGY. One of the first things Ron Gardenhire did when he took over was declare Guardado his closer. It seemed odd, as he didn't have "closer stuff." But he was more effective in that role than he had been as a specialist.

He had command of his fast ball, a good palm ball, and never seemed afraid of anything out there. That was enough.

He is, at the moment, tied with Cy Young in career appearances. With more than a week to go, he should be able to get into at least one more game.

And anybody beating old Cy in any career category was doing something right.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Around the division

The Kansas City Royals are playing pretty well this month. They're moved out of the cellar, they took five of six from the Tigers earlier in September and they have a 13-9 record for the month that actually understates how well they're playing now (four of the losses came in the first five games of the month, so they've won 12 of 17).

And naturally, the Twins have six games to go with this resurgent bunch.

We've seen this before. The Royals seem to relish the spoiler role. Remember 2006? K.C. swept the Tigers in the season-closing series to keep them from winning the division title. Remember last year? The Twins lost two of three to the Royals in the final series of the season and were forced into that 163rd game.

Today's starter for Kansas City, Robinson Tejada (above), is no small part of their surge. They stuck him in the rotation this month, and in four starts he's 3-0 with an 0.81 ERA and striking out more than a batter an inning.

Is Tejada for real? Probably not. He's been kicking around for a while with minimal return. Maybe he's figured something out. But then, some people thought the same thing last September about Kyle Davies. He turned last year's brilliant September (4-1, 2.27) into 8-9, 5.27 this year.

What matters right now isn't whether Tejada can be an effective rotation piece for the Royals in 2010, but whether he can stifle the Twins tonight.

* Detroit LOOGY — that's Left-handed One-Out GuY — Bobby Seay is a hurting unit and is to have an MRI on his throwing shoulder.

The Detroit Free Press calls Seay the Tigers' top lefty reliever, and certainly Jim Leyland turns to him frequently in game situations. Man has six wins and 28 holds. Still, Fu-Te Ni appears to have pitched better than Seay this season and may be a more-than-adequate replacement.

* The Cleveland Indians are done playing the two contenders, which is probably a good thing considering how poorly they are playing. The Tribe has now lost 11 in a row; the franchise record is 12, and this is a franchise that had what seems in retrospect to be a 40-year losing streak.

General consensus is that Eric Wedge is finished as Cleveland manager after the season.

* Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen, in a postgame rant I quoted here last week, declared of his players, "If they quit on me, I quit on them." General manager Kenny Williams seemed to echo that line of thought Wednesday:

"I know who’s quit and who hasn’t, who’s willing to sacrifice. Listen, it’s hard to win. Winning and success, whether it be baseball or any other facet of life, if you are not willing to sacrifice, you’re not willing to put in the work, you’re not going to be successful. You’re just not.

"We’ve got some guys here who know all about sacrifice. Some have to be taught. And I hope the guys that know about it are teaching some of the other guys. If not, that’s where your coaching staff has to step up. But you’re not getting anywhere in life, period, if you don’t understand that the work has to be put in."

Neither Williams nor Guillen are naming names.

An underlying point here: There are some people who look at Guillen's diatribes and figure this is a manager who's turning off his players and losing his clubhouse and thus destined to be fired. Other than in the sense that all managers are destined to be fired, I don't see it. It sure sounds like Guillen and Williams are in agreement on the major point here.

Managers of the future

Tragic number update: Eight. The Tigers had just enough padding on the scoreboard in Cleveland Thursday night to survive Fernando Rodney in the ninth inning.


It's a rather pointless exercise, but I sometimes try to guess what current players will someday become major league managers.

It's pointless because relatively few of today's managers had long major league careers as players. Consider the five in the AL Central this year. Ozzie Guillen had a real career as a player. Ron Gardenhire had a brief major league career — 285 games, one season as the Mets regular shortstop. Eric Wedge (Cleveland) had 39 games in the bigs, which was 39 more than Jim Leyland (Detroit) or Trey Hillman (Kansas City).

Still, I see three guys on the Twins current roster who I have no trouble imagining as big league managers some day.

Michael Cuddyer appears, at least from this distance, to be an effortless leader, a guy who knows when to ease the tension (magic tricks) and when to focus his mates on the job at hand. Certain metro columnists have drunk deeply of the Torii Hunter-is-a-leader Kool-Aid, but it appears to me that Cuddyer is better at the job, because he buys into the Twins approach completely.

Mike Redmond, unlike Cuddyer, fits one of the two prevalent molds for managers — he's a catcher, and thus has some experience working with pitchers as well as the offensive side. He's also seen Leyland work up close; the LaRussa-Leyland branch of the managerial tree rooted in Ned Hanlon and John McGraw has already proven influential in the field.

Nick Punto fits the other mold — pepperpot infielder. (Cuddyer would represent a strain popular in the 1960s and relatively rare today — an outfielder/first baseman who can project an air of quiet strength. Think Walt Alston or Gil Hodges.)

My guess is that Cuddyer would be the best manager of the three, but that's strictly a guess.

It's entirely possible that none of them would even want to try it. Each has made a few million dollars, and the prospect of riding the buses in the Midwest League while learning the ropes generally holds little appeal to those who don't really need the job.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Going left: Duensing, Buehrle and Anderson

Tragic number: Nine. Into single digits now — but it's only gone down four in the past week. Twins and Tigers both won Wednesday. Twins are off today (Thursday), Tigers have Justin Verlander going against a no-name Cleveland starter.


Brian Duensing had his worst start since entering the rotation on Tuesday — he didn't finish the sixth inning, gave up nine hits and four runs. He still got the W.

In the process, he a) had his first home run allowed since Aug. 11 and b) had the first runs scored while he was on the mound since Aug. 28. (The only runs charged to him in his four previous September starts came on Sept. 8, when he was pulled with the bases loaded and Jon Rauch allowed all three to score.)

At one point during Wednesday's telecast Dick Bremer suggested that Duensing was comparable to Allan Anderson, a Twins pitcher in the late '80s and early '90s. Anderson led the AL in ERA in 1988 (16-9, 2.45) and saw his stats deteriorate rapidly from there (17-10, 3.80 in '89; 7-18, 4.53 in '90; 5-11, 4.96 in '91; then out of baseball at age 28).

There's a substantial difference between Anderson and Duensing, or at least the Duensing we've seen so far. Anderson for his career struck out 3.7 men per nine innings, with a peak during his time in the rotation of 3.9 K/9; Duensing so far is averaging 5.7 K/9.

Anderson's K-rate was never high enough to allow him a long career; Duensing's might be. (As I've noted before, however, Duensing's K-rate so far is higher than he had in Triple A, which suggests that he's not really this good. Plus he's had just one strikeout in each of his last two starts.)

Bert Blyleven suggested Mark Buerhle as a Duensing comp, which, considering how ineffective Buehrle (above) was on Wednesday, might not have appeared all that encouraging.

After Buehrle's perfect game this summer, I wrote a print column extolling Buehrle's future. A couple of months later, there are hints that he's reaching a career crossroads. His fastball velocity Wednesday was in the low 80s, his strikeout rate this season is near a career low, and the White Sox are publicly insisting that he revise his offseason condition work (and he's in agreement).

But Buehrle's 30 years old and has 134 wins. Duensing is 26 and has five. When Buehrle was 26, he had his fifth season of at least 14 wins and 220 innings.

Buehrle's early-20s workload may be taking its toll on him now, but he's still a good pitcher. Duensing's getting a later start, but if his career should mimic Buerhle's, the Twins (and Duensing) should be very happy with that.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Taking the fifth

La Velle Neal suggests in the game story from Tuesday that Jeff Manship may be bounced from the rotation before Sunday's start against Kansas City and Zach Grienke.

It could be Francisco Liriano (right). Or Armando Gabino. For that matter, the Twins might still be able to pluck somebody off waivers and toss him into the fray. He wouldn't be eligible for the playoffs, but he might help get there.

Certainly the in-house options right now aren't particularly impressive. Whoever takes the ball for the first pitch on Sunday isn't a good bet to be around for the fifth inning, much less the seventh.

Away back in 1987, Tom Kelly finagled his "rotation" through September — Bert Blyleven and Frank Viola in regular rotation, and he pieced things together in between. Steve Carlton got three starts in the last five weeks or so — the washed-up future Hall of Famer was pitted against Teddy Higuera, Jack Morris and Bret Saberhagen, arguably the three best pitchers in the American League that season. TK's thinking: The Twins weren't likely to score a lot of runs in those games, so he'd see if Lefty had one more big game left — and if not, he wasn't wasting a bullet.

But TK was playing with a lead. Ron Gardenhire's playing catch-up. He can't afford to concede Sunday's game.

Neal dismisses immediately the notion of a four-man rotation for the last two weeks of the season. It would be an un-Twins-like thing to do; this organization believes strongly in protecting its pitchers. Plus, Carl Pavano is not exactly Iron Man McGinnity; there's a limit to how far he can be pushed.

But the prospect of two bullpen starts against Grienke in the last eight days of the season is daunting. Gardenhire has to find the idea of shortening his rotation for the last 11 games tempting.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Who needs Rich Harden, part II

Tragic number after Tuesday's game: 10. Tigers and Twins both won.

At the end of July there was a great deal of speculation that the Twins were about to make a waiver deal for Rich Harden. The trade did not come to fruition, and — if you care to put credence in the public statements of Jim Hendry, the Cubs general manager — never was seriously considered.

The rotation spot that would have gone to Harden is being filled now by Jeff Manship (above).

Manship has now made four starts and has lived up to the public evaluations of the Twins management — he's not ready to pitch in the majors, but he's the best available option right now. He went five innings in his first start, and hasn't gone that deep since. On Tuesday, he got all of seven outs, giving up five hits and four runs.

And yet, the Twins are 3-1 in Manship's starts.

That's a credit not to Manship, whose ERA as a starter is now 6.89, but to the lineup and the bullpen. Harden, by the way, has pitched all of 12 innings this month. At last word, he may start again in the final week, or he may not. He is not, and should not be expected to be, an innings eater. Which is relevant because the only damage Manship can be argued to have done to the Twins divisional chances is straining the bullpen.

If the Twins fail to win this divisional title — and the odds are against them — the decision not to deal for Rich Harden is not to blame.

Addendum: Manship is scheduled to start Sunday in Kansas City. His likely mound opponent: Zach Grienke, who is only the best pitcher in the league. It figures to be a tough matchup for any of the starters.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The inconsistent Nick Punto

Tragic number after Monday's play: Still 11. Twins won 7-0 in Chicago on Monday; the Tigers were off, open a series in Cleveland on Tuesday.


Another strong game from the resurgent Nick Punto: 2-for-2 with two walks, two steals, two runs scored, and even a feet-first slide (above).

Punto's playing everyday at second base these days, and for a good reason: He's the best middle infielder the Twins have right now.

Orlando Cabrera? His batting average for the season (.271) is 39 points higher than Punto's — and his on-base percentage is 25 points lower.

Alexi Casilla? Weak as Punto's batting average is this season, it's just 15 points lower than Casilla's slugging percentage.

Punto this month has raised his batting average 19 points, his on-base percentage 22 points, his slugging percentage 33 points.

One of my co-workers a few weeks ago said the Twins should just put Casilla in the lineup and see what he's got, because "you know what you're going to get from Punto."

The fact is, you DON'T know what you'll get from Punto. This is his fifth straight season of 300-plus at-bats with the Twins. His batting averages have been .239, .290., .210, .284, and now .232 (so far). He's had OBPs around .350 and OBPs under .300.

If the Twins knew what to expect from Punto, they'd have a better idea of what they need to do this offseason.

This I know: If they keep Punto on the roster, eventually he's going to find a spot in the lineup.

Showdown, Game 3: No sweep

Tragic number: 11

Who could have figured this? On paper, Sunday's game was the one pitching matchup of the weekend series that favored the Twins.

And that's the one game the Tigers won. Scott Baker — clearly the ace of Minnesota's staff — continued to struggle against Detroit, while Nate Robertson and the beleaguered Tiger bullpen held the Twins to two runs. It's tough to win with just two runs — ask Justin Verlander — and Baker wasn't sharp enough to get it done.

And so both teams leave the series have accomplished the minimum they needed. The Twins had to win the series — a sweep would have been better, but two-of-three keeps them alive. The Tigers had to win at least one game — seeing their lead dwindle to one game would have been discouraging.

Thirteen games to go for each. The Tigers go on to Cleveland, the Twins to Chicago. And another showdown awaits next week.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Poll and a Peavy sighting

The poll on which one of the current middle infielders is the best bet for 2010 drew 18 votes.

The leader was: None of the above. Six respondents (33 percent) wanted a completely fresh middle infield.

Five (27 percent) said Alexi Casilla; three (16 percent) Brendan Harris; and two each (11 percent) want Orlando Cabrera and Nick Punto.

Let it be noted here that Ron Gardenhire is going with Cabrera and Punto in this late-season run. They're also the oldest of the five middle infield choices he has on hand (including Matt Tolbert, who I didn't include in the poll).

New poll up.


Jake Peavy (above) on Saturday made his much-awaited White Sox debut, about seven weeks after Chicago traded four pitchers for him and far too late for him to make a difference in the divisional race.

So the slumping Sox promptly exploded for 13 runs, and the Chicago Tribune story suggests his presence sparked the offense.

I'm guessing the presence of the Kansas City Royals pitching staff had more to do with it.

Showdown, Game 2: The Dome strikes again

The tragic number: Still stuck on 13.


Don Kelly is a 29-year-old with all of 50 major league games on his resume.

For a player like him, every day in the majors is wonderful. But Saturday had to feel like something less than that. For Kelly was the defensive sub in left field in the eighth inning who lost Orlando Cabrrera's fly ball in the dome roof.

"If he can see it, he'll catch it," said Dick Bremer on the Fox telecast. But he didn't see it, and he didn't catch it, and when the inning was over, the Twins had scored five runs and turned a 2-1 Tigers lead into a 6-2 Twins lead. And win.

We'll never know what would have happened had Kelly caught that ball. We know what did happen — a "double" for Cabrera, putting him and Denard Span in scoring position; an intentional walk for Joe Mauer; a bloop single from Jason Kubel on the 128th, and final, pitch from Justin Verlander; and then the three-run bomb from Michael Cuddyer (above).

And, for that matter, we'll never know what would have happened had the game been played without a roof.

After all, even major league players have been known to lose a fly ball in the sun.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Showdown, Game 1: Duensing delivers

Tragic number remains stuck on 13. Should the Twins catch the Tigers, I'll switch from the tragic number to the magic number. But we're still some ways away from that. It's a lot better to be in the Tigers' position — three game up with 15 to play — than the Twins' position.

A few comments and observations on Friday's 3-0 Twins victory:

* Brian Duensing continues to impress: 6 1/3 innings, four hits — more on that later — one walk, no runs.

Jim Leyland's explanation: "He kept us off balance, move the ball around, went in and out. Was he overpowering? No. Did he show great stuff? No. But he showed good stuff, and he showed tremendous pitchability."

Pitchability is a wonderful word. It means the ability to get hitters out. Juan Morillo, who was briefly with the Twins this season, has a 98-mph fastball, and no pitchability.

What I wonder: Did Duensing learn something about pitchability in the majors that he didn't know in the minors? Because he sure didn't do anything like his current run in Triple A.

* Ron Gardenhire's new-look lineup includes two September call-ups (Jose Morales and Matt Tolbert), his two worst defensive outfielders (Jason Kubel and Delmon Young) and an out-of-position first baseman (Michael Cuddyer). Plus two rookies (Duensing and Jeff Manship) in the rotation.

Very little of this could have been expected. Gardy appeared slow to recognize that Morales is a superior player to Mike Redmond. There has long been concern about Kubel's knees and if they can stand up to regular outfield play. It just seems odd to go with defense at third and the weakest available outfield gloves.

Some of this may have been born out of desperation. But it's working.

* Early on, Bert Blyleven was touting the Twins defense on the basis that they have the fewest errors in the league. But we saw later a reason why: The official scorers at the Dome have been trained not to charge errors.

A prime example came in the seventh inning. when Tolbert fielded a grounder by Marcus Thames and threw high to first base. It was ruled a hit. Not in my book. The pickup of the grounder was not necessarily an easy play, but once Tolbert had it in his glove, it was a routine throw, and he botched it. That was one of the "four" hits Duensing was charged with.

A similar ruling in the second inning — Young hit a grounder in the first base hole, and Miguel Cabrera made a very nice play on it — then threw the ball over the pitcher's head. Young got credit for a single, but that ruling makes no sense to me.

Friday, September 18, 2009

AL Central update

"I'm tired and I don't have anything. ... It was 2 1/2 hours of satisfaction and then 2 1/2 hours of [bleep] baseball. Go ask them. I don't have any more quotes, seriously. What the [bleep] am I going to say? They're [bleep]? Yes, they are. ... If they give up on me, then I give up on them."

— Ozzie Guillen after the White Sox lost in 14 innings Thursday in Seattle. Closer Bobby Jenks gave up two homers in the ninth inning to tie the game.

And the Sox are apparently about to shut down Gavin Floyd and Mark Buehrle.

That could have an effect on the division race. The Twins face the White Sox in Chicago for three games after the Detroit series; the Tigers have six game left with the Pale Hose. Floyd and Buehrle are two of Chicago's top three starters.


The Twins' schedule the rest of the way: Detroit (3 games); @ Chicago (3); @ Kansas City (3) @ Detroit (4); Royals (3).

The Tigers' schedule: @ Minnesota (3); @ Cleveland (3); @ Chicago (3); Minnesota (4); Chicago (3).


The Tigers had planned to start Jarrod Washburn, who has a very good record (3.38 ERA for his career) against the Twins, in this series, but the lefty only made it through one inning in his last start with a bum knee. Nate Robertson will pitch Sunday instead. Washburn might be done for the year.

Grienke, Lombo and Delmon Young

Tragic number update: Stuck on 13, with the Twins and Tigers set to begin today a three-game series in the Metrodome.

Detroit lost Thursday 9-2 to Kansas City. There's no shame in getting shut down by Zack Greinke (left) — he's only the best pitcher in the league this year — but the Tigers got shelled twice in this series by a pathetically weak lineup.

A colleague pointed out to me today that Grienke has yet to face the Twins. Of course, the Twins have two series left against Kansas City. Meanwhile, Detroit's faced him five times (and the White Sox and Indians also five times each).

Hardly seems fair, does it?


The latest issue of Baseball America reports that second baseman Steve Lombardozzi had a big year for the Hagerstown Suns, the Low A affiliate of the Washington Nationals.

No, not the Steve Lombardozzi who played second base for the 1987 Twins. Not the Steve Lombardozzi who hit ,344 in the postseason that year, including .412 in the World Series. Not the Steve Lombardozzi who lost his starting job the next year and complained so much about it that Dan Gladden punched him out.

It's his son, known to Baseball as Stephen.

It is to be hoped the younger Lombo (above) proves a better hitter than his dad. The elder Lombadozzi's stats make Nick Punto look good.

You may know that the Twins have two player who were the first overall pick in baseball's amateur draft — Joe Mauer (2001) and Delmon Young (2003).

Baseball America annually picks a minor league player of the year — as described by executive editor Jim Callis, it's "essentially the elite prospect who had the best season." This year's winner is Jason Hayward of the Braves organization.

The Twins have three of them on their roster: Mauer (2003), Young (2005) and Jon Rauch, the recently-added middle reliever, who won the award in 2000 when he was seen as a rising ace in the White Sox system. It obviously didn't happen for the big guy.

For that matter, it hasn't happened for Young either. That Young won that award two years before the Twins traded for him underlines the high regard the scouting world had for his talent at the time.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

My last (?) Dome game

Tragic number: 13. Can't count on the Royals beating Detroit every game.

My wife and I went Wednesday to what we expect will be our final game at the Metrodome (photo, right, by Linda Vanderwerf). While the journey itself will, for reasons irrelevant to the blog, likely be more memorable than the game itself, a few observations:

* More examples of how difficult it is to capture defense in the stats. Cleveland's Aaron Laffey — a pitcher I really like — was victimized repeatedly by the apparent decision by his teammates that cutoff plays are overrated. A Twin heads to third, the throw has no chances of getting him, the throw goes through, and the batter takes second base. Some variation on this play happened three times Wednesday, and it would have been four if Jason Kubel could run — and the Twins turned those extra bases into three runs.

Then there's Jose Morales's second double of the game — or, as I would have scored it, single and error on Shin-Soo Choo. Next guy (Matt Tolbert) hits an grounder to first, Morales goes to third, later scores. If Morales is held to a single, maybe the Indians can keep him out of scoring position.

These things matter to Laffey. Well, they matter to all pitchers, but they particularly matter to a Tommy-John-in-training. He's going to give up hits. He needs his defense to keep the double play in order, and they didn't do that Wednesday. So he gets saddled with six earned runs — but if the defense had been sharper, it's three or so.

Not to oversell Laffey's performance. He did give up 12 hits and three walks, and he didn't strike out anybody. He's been better.

* It sure seems as if they've had more problems with the Dome's dirt since the football season started and the Dome has to do double duty. At least twice now the grounds crew has had to come out for mid-game mound reconstruction, and on Wednesday Michael Cuddyer twice spent pitching changes over at the mound cleaning mud out of his spikes.

Mud. In the Dome. Strange.

* Jose Morales can hit. (Two doubles and a sac fly, a run and an RBI in four plate appearances.)

* Carlos Gomez can run. (Scored from first on a double by Cuddyer — who took third on the throw home. See above.)

* The bullpen made me nervous. Jose Mijares, Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier and Joe Nathan combined to throw 67 pitches to get eight outs. Only 36 of those pitches were strikes.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Pitching inside works both ways

The Yankees and Blue Jays had an on-field skirmish Tuesday night. The condensed version, if you don't want to bother with the Daily News' link above:

Toronto took an early lead; the Yankees hit a couple of Blue Jays hitters; Toronto relief pitcher Jesse Carlson threw a pitch behind Jorge Posada; Posada, after scoring a run, threw a forearm at Carlson; and there they go.

A few points here, some of them specific to the incident, some in general:

1) Plate umpire Jim Joyce blames Posada for the brawl, calling the forearm a cheap shot.

2) The Yankees pitching staff leads the majors in HBP, 7.6 percent more than the runner up Phillies. No. 6 in HBP is closer to No. 2 than No. 2 is to No. 1.

Put another way: No team with A.J. Burnett (9 HBP), Joba Chamberlain (12) and CC Sabathia (7, including the one that ended Carlos Pena's season) on its roster has any right to complain about opposing teams buzzing its hitters.

3) "They started it" may sound childish, but it's still true on an emotional level.

4) The Yankees — and the Red Sox and Cardinals, for that matter — tend to react to an opposing team playing well by trying to physically intimidate them. The Rays last season had a number of incidents with both the Yanks and BoSox. At their core, the Yankees, Red Sox and Cards are bullies.

5) There are a LOT more HBP than there used to be. In 1976 (picking a year at random) the average AL team was hit 31 times, the average NL team just 26. The low in the majors this year is 33.

Why is that? A few factors:

1) Hitters have learned that — contrary to what was thought 30 years ago — that they can hit the opposite way for power. They crowd the plate and even dive over the plate to do that. This makes it more difficult to get out of the way.

2) The tendency of some umpires to follow the catcher outside almost encourages hitters to crowd the plate and dive. If the ump is calling strikes on pitches three or four inches off the plate, they have to.

3) Hitters wear more protective padding than they once did. Everybody has ear flaps now (it's mandatory). There are elbow pads, hand pads, forearm guards. Again, that encourages them to set up closer to the plate.

4) Baseball's powers want umpires to be assertive about warning against brushbacks/purpose pitches. This, I think, has the opposite effect of making "deep inside" pitches more of a surprise.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Quotes, notes and comments

The tragic number remains frozen at 14 after Tuesday's games. It's been a while since it stayed steady.


"What have I seen from (Alex) Rios? A lot of outs. The only batting ninth guy making $5 million was me. This (blank-blank) is making $10, $12, $14 million, he ain't going to be batting ninth (in 2010). I'm going to make sure he earns his money. But right now I have to put him there because he's struggling. Next year, if we have Rios batting ninth we're in deep (bleep) once again.''
Ozzie Guillen on outfielder Alex Rios, due some $60 million from the White Sox over the next five years.

Since the Blue Jays surprised the White Sox by handing over Rios and his lousy contract for the waiver price, Rios has hit .140 with a .153 on-base percentage and .215 slugging percentage. My previous entry pointed out how badly the Twins middle infielders have hit this year; Rios, as a White Sox, is making them look good.

Another take on Rios, this one from an unidentified scout for a National League team via the Chicago Tribune: "He's a teaser. He can get you fired."


Joe Mauer went 2-for-3 Tuesday, so over his last three games he's a mere 8-for-10. At this writing he leads the AL in batting average by 21 points over Ichiro Suzuki, in on-base percentage by 17 points over Kevin Youkilis, in slugging percentage by 40 points over Kendry Morales and in OPS by 61 points over Youkilis.


Following up on this afternoon's post about the Twins middle infield hitting: Nick Punto's 3-for-4 raised his batting average for the season over .230 for the first time since May 2.

And Orlando Cabrera had two hits, one a homer. On this day, the middle infield wasn't a drag.

Incidentally, when I wrote this afternoon's post, Punto had zero votes in my poll about which of the incumbents should be in the 2010 middle infield. Since then, there have been two added votes, both for Punto.


Cabrera, in Cleveland's big fourth inning — when the Tribe scored three runs — provided a good example of the difficulty of telling what's pitching and what's defense. With one out and a man on second, Jhonny Peralta hit a ground ball to the left on second base. Watching on TV, I thought: A perfect DP grounder. And then the ball rolled on into center field, Cabrera being nowhere near making a play on it.

I don't know what the deal was. Maybe Cabrera was playing Peralta to pull the ball. Maybe Cabrera, at age 34, doesn't have the range he once did. What I do know is that I've watched several hundred games, on the tube or in person, and I expected a ground ball hit in that location at that velocity to be fielded by a major league shortstop.

Bert Blyleven blamed Scott Baker for making a bad pitch; I blamed Cabrera for not making the play. I don't know that either of us can convince the other.


Rany Jazayerli's blog on the Kansas City Royals has a place on my blogroll, but he's shutting it down out of disgust with the K.C. organization. I'll leave it on the roll for now in case the winter eases Dr. Jazayerli's pain, but I suspect that eventually it will have to come down.

Middle infield numbers

Here's something you didn't know:

Nick Punto (left) has outhit Orlando Cabrera since the O-Cab arrived in Minnesota. Yes he has.

Cabrera's slash stats with the Twins (numbers entering Tuesday): .242/.271/.357. OPS: .628
Punto's slash stats, same period: .271/.344/.346. OPS: .690

Cabrera's .271 on-base percentage is particularly repulsive. It is the lowest of any Minnesota position player. Yet he's been anchored in the No. 2 slot in the lineup since he joined the lineup Aug. 1.

Of the 73 AL players who qualify for the batting title, Cabrera is last in OPS, last in slugging percentage, and third from the bottom in on-base percentage. He hit better for Oakland than with Minnesota, but it's been stinky regardless.

Then there's Alexi Casilla: .196/.275./.249 (.524). Of the 150 American League players with at least 225 plate appearances, Casilla is dead last in OPS — by 58 points. He's last in slugging percentage — by 32 points. He does manage to crawl out of the cellar in OBP — he's 146th in that category. Just a dismal season.

A few weeks ago, Casilla has a five-game binge in which he got 11 hits. Dick Bremer was ecstatic. Casilla followed that with five straight hitless games and is three for 14 this month, and Punto has taken the bulk of the second base time.

Not that Punto is having a great season either. He's 147th in that 225-PA group in OPS, and he's the guy Casilla trails in slugging percentage. It's been a lousy season for Punto, but he's got a pretty good September going — and it might keep him prominent in the Twins' 2010 plans.

Morneau done for season

Tragic number down to 14 entering Tuesday. Twins win, Tigers win on Monday.

And the slim possibility of the Twins catching Detroit got a bit slimmer Monday night with the word Justin Morneau has a stress fracture in his lower back. It's supposed to heal on its own, but it will take three months.

In a sense, of course, the Twins have been doing without Morneau for quite some time. He's hit just .201 since the All-Star break. The home run rate was down only a little bit, but he wasn't doing anything else well.

And even so, this is pretty clearly his third best season. Not quite as good as 2008, and certainly not up to 2006 standards, but better than the rest.


He's not the only infielder down for the count. It's pretty clear now that Joe Crede has flailed at his last pitch of the season.

I can't imagine a team willing to bank on him to play third base for 2010. This is the third straight season cut short by back miseries for him. He's had two major surgeries.

Crede was handled carefully this year by the Twins. Only once did he play in more than 10 games in a row. He was essentially day-to-day all season. And when he didn't start, he didn't play; Ron Gardenhire operated on the basis that even if he was properly stretched out when the game started, by the time the seventh inning rolled around he was probably stiffening up.

There were a lot of days, between the insistence on carrying 12 pitches, Crede's balky body, and other bumps and bruises, that Gardenhire had just one or two position players available to play off the bench. It was an oft-overlooked handicap all season.

Monday, September 14, 2009

31 innings (and no home runs)

Tragic number entering Monday: 15. Another day off the calendar.


I predicted in the Monday print column that Brian Duensing (above) will be Plan B for the Twins rotation in 2010. Sunday's start — seven shutout innings — doesn't change that assessment.

Yes, he sports a sparkling 2.00 ERA in the majors as a starter. If that were even close to a realistic gauge of his ability, he'd be at the top of the rotation. But ...

A) It's only 36 innings. Six starts, three of which were just 15 outs. Manager Ron Gardenhire has kept him on a short leash.

B) The results of those 36 innings as a starter are in stark contrast to his 30-plus innings out of the bullpen (relief ERA: 5.34).

C) They're also out of line with his results in the high minors. He has, in 2008 and '09, 214 innings pitched for Rochester, almost all as a starter. His ERA in Triple A: 4.46. Minor league stats for Duensing here.

Why is his starter ERA for the Twins so low? Home runs — or, more accurately, the lack of them. He allowed two solo shots in his first start, none since. Even if he were an extreme ground ball pitcher, that rate isn't sustainable — and he's actually gotten more fly outs than ground ball outs.

Another factor: He's averaging, in those starts, seven strikeouts per nine innings. In Triple A, he was a bit over 5 K/9.

Thirty-six innings isn't enough to establish a level of ability. And everything else in his record says those 36 innings are out of character.

That doesn't mean he's not capable of being a useful, even good, major league starter. It just means we shouldn't regard him as the second coming of Frank Viola. He's got more to prove.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sunday morning comin' down

Tragic number entering Sunday: 16. Twins lose, Tigers lose. Stop me if you've heard this before.

The Twins entered Saturday 12th in the 14-team American league in starter's ERA (4.84); 11th in innings pitched by starters; and 10th in strikeouts. Decidedly below average.

One strong point: They were (and still are) first in fewest walks allowed.

So how'd they lose Saturday? The starter (Jeff Manship, right) walked the first two batters in the fifth inning; they both came around to score.


Poll results: One the question of who should be in the Twins rotation next season, we had 15 respondents. Eight (53 percent) said Brian Duensing; five (33 percent) said Francisco Liriano; one each (6 percent) said Carl Pavano and Glen Perkins; zero opted for Manship, Anthony Swarzak or none of the above.

I have to figure the Perkins vote came from a diehard Minnesota chauvinist, bound to take the Stillwater native against the out-of-staters. Either that or a White Sox fan.

New poll up.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Franchise hit king

Tragic number as of Saturday morning: 17. The Tigers are trying to let the Twins back in the hunt, and the Twins just won't take them up on the offer.

On to more pleasant topics.

As you may have heard, Derek Jeter on Friday night passed Lou Gehrig in career hits, making Jeter the career hit leader for the Yankees. This is reckoned a really big deal by the New York media and by ESPN, which is technically not part of the New York media but likes to act as if it is.

Being a provincial Minnesotan (and not a provincial New Yorker), the question that obviously arises is: Who is the Twins franchise leader? And the answer is, it depends on how you define franchise.

If we're just dealing with the 49 seasons the team has been located in the Twin Cities, the answer is Kirby Puckett.

But if we accept the 61 seasons in which it played its home games in Washington — the old Senators — it's Sam Rice, whose Hall of Fame plaque appears above. Who?

Rice is the answer to a trivia question: Who is the closest to 3,000 hits without going over? He finished 13 short of the milestone, which didn't get that much attention in the 1930s.

Three things to look at in his stats (click on the link above): how few homers, how many doubles and triples, and how few strikeouts. Griffith Stadium was a tremendously spacious stadium during Rice's time — more than 400 feet down the left field foul line and with a 30-foot-high fence in right — which helps account for the low homer totals.

He played on all three Senators teams to win the AL pennant, although he was just a part-timer on the 1933 team. He had a famous disputed catch in the 1925 World Series, in which he fell into the right field seats and disappeared from view before emerging clutching the ball.

Provincial Minnesotan or not, I'll take Rice as the franchise leader over Puckett. After all, 2,889 hits (Rice's total with the Senators) looks better than 2,304 (Puckett's total).

Friday, September 11, 2009

New life in Quadruple A

A few added reasons to believe that the National League just isn't nearly as tough as the AL:

John Smoltz (left) with Boston (30 innings): 8.33 ERA
John Smoltz with St. Louis (22 innings): 3.27 ERA

Brad Penny with Boston (131 2/3 innings): 5.61 ERA
Brad Penny with San Francisco (15 innings): 1.20 ERA

Jose Contreras with Chicago AL (114 2/3 innings): 5.42 ERA
Jose Contreras with Colorado (9 2/3 innings): 1.86 ERA

OK, so there are sample size issues. Fact remains that all three veteran right-handers consistently stunk in the American League this year; two of them were flat out released; none has had a lousy outing since landing in Quadruple A — I mean, the National League.


I wrote the previous entry before reading the LaVelle Neal III gamer for the Star Tribune. He too focused on the bunts. The wrong end of the bunts, the execution of them, not the dubiousness of the decision to sac bunt when behind.

The point is: Even if Span and Punto had moved their runners up, the bunts were bad percentage baseball.


Check out the final entry in Craig Calcaterra's daily roundup of the baseball action: Probably worth noting that this west coast game ended before the eastern time Steelers-Titans game did. Even better, it didn't end with the losing team not having a chance to play offense. I'd list all the other reasons why it was superior to football, but I'm going on a trip next week and therefore won't have the time to get to them all.


The wrong times to bunt

Tragic number as of Friday morning: 18. Twins and Tigers both lost on Thursday.

Today's sermon is a response to this quote from the AP game story:

"You give up three runs, you should have an opportunity to win," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Unfortunately for us, our offense never could get anything going."

Well, maybe — just maybe — that's because Gardenhire didn't give it a chance to get anything going.

Fifth inning. Toronto has a 2-1 lead. Nick Punto opens the inning with an eight-pitch at-bat that concludes with a double down the right field line. This brings up Denard Span, possessor of a .392 OPB, master of the drawn-out at-bat, who had homered in his previous at-bat (above). It's the perfect opportunity to build a big inning and wear down starter Brent Cecil.

Gardy has Span bunt the first pitch. He pops up. Orlando Cabrera singles Punto home anyway, but Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau do nothing, and the inning ends with no further damage.

Seventh inning. Twins are again behind by a run. Brendan Harris leads off with a walk. In defiance of the adage "play for the tie at home, play for the win on the road," Gardy has Punto bunt. It turns into a force out at second. The Twins don't score.

It isn't just that the Twins failed to execute the bunts, although that's certainly the case. It's that giving away outs when trailing on the road is a really bad idea.

It's especially bad when one of the guys who's giving away the outs is a hitter of Span's quality and the runner is already in scoring position.

It's marginally more justifiable with Punto, because he's not a quality hitter. But that's why you have pinch hitters. When Punto bunted, he was giving away one of the nine outs the Twins had left.

That's wasteful spending.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The confidence game

Tragic number remains at 19; Kansas City beat the Tigers again Wednesday, which has to be at least as unlikely as the Twins beating Roy Halladay.

Broadcaster line of the night: Bert Blyleven, talking about the just-reactivated Francisco Liriano: Sometimes, confidence is all in the mind. Really? It's not located in the big toe? It's just that kind of insight that gets Bert the big bucks.

Baseball players talk a lot about confidence; I suspect there are more quotes from baseball floating around about confidence than there are from football, basketball and hockey put together. Successful players frequently credit their confidence rather than their talent.

I've always figured it was a chicken-and-the-egg thing: Justin Morneau (above) has been slumping for a while, but he hit a homer Wednesday to put the Twins ahead for good. Is he a good hitter because he's confident he can hit, or is he confident he can hit because he's a good hitter? Which one led to Wednesday's home run off Halladay? Can you really split them apart?

It would be understandable if Liriano's confidence is shattered; he's three years removed from his dominating 2006 self, and since then he's had major arm surgery and a revamping of his pitching motion. He doesn't have the velocity he once did. So on what does he base the belief that he's a major league pitcher?

Confidence without the talent (and the ability to use it) is just bravado. It's J.D. Durbin dubbing himself the Real Deal after his first minor league inning. A good arm, but he washed out.

It isn't confidence Liriano needs to find this month in the bullpen; it's something realistic on which to base that belief.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Old McDonald hit a bomb

Tragic number as of Wednesday morning: 19.

Twins and Tigers both had three run leads in the middle innings behind rookie starters, and both saw their middle relief implode.

In the Twins case, it was newcomer Jon Rauch (above), who entered with the bases loaded and no outs. He not only allowed all three inherited runners to score, he gave up three of his own. Which really ruins his Minnesota ERA (from 0.00 to 5.78), not that 4 2/3 innings is significant.

Unlike most middle relief meltdowns under Ron Gardenhire, this was strictly a one-pitcher affair. But Rauch faced no left-handed hitters; Cito Gaston loaded the lineup with right-handers against Brain Duensing and stuck with them against Rauch. That meant Gardenhire didn't have his usual opportunities to shuffle in a LOOGY and work back to a righty.

Two other points:

* Any team that gives up three hits, including a home run, to John McDonald deserves to lose.

* Last Friday I posted a piece comparing Jose Morales and Mike Redmond. Since then Morales has started once; the Twins won. And Redmond has started once; the Twins lost.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Blocked by Morneau

Tragic number as of Tuesday morning: 20, unchanged from Monday. Twins won, Tigers didn't play. The Twins need to keep that number locked in place for a while.


Garrett Jones
(above) has made quite the impression in Pittsburgh since the Pirates brought him up from Triple A at the start of July. Eighteen homers in 231 at-bats? A .303 batting average? .606 slugging percentage?

The man spent six years in the Twins organization and had some 20-homer seasons in the minors, but there was never a time when one could have reasonably expected this sort of sustained production.

The Twins gave him 80-some major league plate appearances in 2007, in which he hit .200 with five extra-base hits, and let him go. They had Justin Morneau at first, and Jason Kubel to DH, and Jones wasn't — and probably isn't — much of an outfielder. He didn't get much of a chance with the Twins, and he really didn't merit one.

I was hanging around the Twins minor league complex in spring training 2008 the day the Twins outrighted Jones to the Rochester club. While the bulk of the team was working on fielding drills, the manager — Stan Cliburn — and Jones were off to the side, Cliburn talking and Jones looking over his shoulder in the direction of the major-league camp with a thousand-yard stare. Looking at his future, I thought, and he can't like what he sees.

He's 28 now, getting a sustained chance with the Pirates and doing something with it. Right now he's splitting time at first base with Steven Pearce, another minor league slugger who is aging out of the prospect label, and in right field with people like Brandon Moss, but it's Peace and Moss who sit. Jones is in the lineup every day.

Pearce and Moss are both 26; it's going to be tough for Pittsburgh to build anything if they're just stuffing their power positions with late-20s Triple A guys. They're just throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks.

Right now, Jones is sticking. Good for him.

Meanwhile back in Minnesota ... The Twins called up Justin Huber, age 26, from Triple A, another minor league hitter with limited defensive skills. Huber was signed out of Australia with the Mets, dealt to Kansas City, and basically shafted by the Royals. His major league numbers here; his minor league numbers here.

Huber is a good case study in why the Royals are such a pathetic operation. He's been a productive hitter in the minors — a line-drive hitter, some power but more attuned to hitting for average. Different shape to his numbers than Jones. But they wouldn't let him play in the majors, and unlike the Twins, it wasn't because they had obviously better options.

Consider 2005, when Huber was 23. He split the season between Double A and Triple A, and combined hit .326 with 23 homers and a .417 on-base percentage, .560 slugging. But K.C. kept tossing Matt Stairs out there. Stairs was 37.

The next year, it was Doug Mientkiewicz, age 32; then it was Ross Gload, age 31. Huber's minor league numbers weren't eye-popping, but he had to be a better option than Gload. (Now Huber's role as young hitter blocked by a recycled major leaguer has been taken by Kila Ka'aihue. The role of the recycled major leaguer is played by Mike Jacobs. They never learn.)

Huber started out as a catcher, injured his knee, switched to first base, and now sees some time in the outfield. Basically, he's a bat — and the Twins still have Morneau and Kubel, so this isn't the best place for him.

And that's the thing about first base. If Jones or Huber moved well enough to play the outfield competently, they'd have played in the majors, or at least gotten real shots, long before this. If they could play shortstop — or catch — and hit as they have in the minors, they'd be All-Stars.

But at the first base/DH end of the defensive spectrum, it's tough for people like them to get opportunities.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Seven out and sinking

The Twins tragic number — the total of Minnesota losses and Detroit wins needed to eliminate the Twins from the AL Central title — as of Monday morning: 20.


A couple of items worthy of comment:

*Ron Gardenhire, at least for public consumption, has been critical of Jose Morales' receiving skills. But the manager did have something good to say about his pitch calling.

The Twins catching hierarchy is fairly obvious: Joe Mauer catches as many games as he can. If the Twins are carrying two catchers, Mike Redmond is the wise choice as the number 2 guy because A) he has an extensive track record that says he can handle the job and B) the Twins can't send him to the minors without exposing his to waivers. Jose Morales has options, so the Twins could (and did) demote him while retaining him.

But it is becoming increasingly certain that Morales is now a better player than Redmond. With September's wins and losses becoming meaningless in terms of making the playoffs, Gardenhire is likely to continue to uphold the fiction that Redmond's the No. 2 and Morales the No 3, but the reality is the reality.

* Glen Perkins apparently won't be recalled this month. Leaving him in the minors is likely to cost him arbitration eligibility, which has led to talk of him filing a grievance.

Perkins has an ERA this season of 5.89 and an career ERA of 4.93. He's been on the disabled list twice, this after a 2007 that saw him spend most of the season idle with a shoulder injury that supposedly would take a couple of weeks to heal.

Perkins' major league future may now hinge less on his potential than on his price tag. He has a real chance of pricing himself out of the game. Pushing for super two status would be a mistake.

* Jesse Crain has shaved 2.33 runs off his ERA since returning from the minor leagues in late July. It's still an ugly ERA — 5.82 — but he's re-establishing himself as a relief option.

Which would give the Twins four usable arms in front of Joe Nathan: Matt Guerrier, Jose Mijares, Jon Rauch and Crain. If Pat Nesheck can come back next year, they figure to have real depth in the pen in 2010 for the first time since the 2006 season.

If they hadn't bungled the Craig Breslow situation this spring ...