Thursday, September 30, 2010

And now, a bit of good news

About the only positive development for the Twins during the just-completed 1-5 road swing: Justin Morneau has had enough good days of late that he may take part in the full workout today.

Justin Morneau's 18 home runs still
rank fourth on the club.
Ron Gardenhire hastened to tamp down questions about whether the slugger might be on the roster for the first round of the playoffs. As I wrote here after the previous news on Morneau — in which Gardy implied that Morneau was out for the postseason — it's difficult to imagine the Twins stuffing him back into the lineup for the postseason after almost three months away from facing major league pitching.

This has been a long enough recovery period that the Twins (and Morneau) might be wisest to let him have the winter also. CC Sabathia was known to use Morneau for target practice in his Cleveland days; even if Morneau switches to the big helmet — and I rather hope he does — having a Sabathia heater skip off his noggin is never a good idea, and would figure to be particularly bad at this juncture.

So my take on this development: Good news for 2011; irrelevant for the 2010 postseason.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Keeping some perspective

The Twins haven't won since their Hangover Special — 0-5  on their current road trip. Five games of lousy  starting pitching, anemic offense and sloppy defense.
Nick Blackburn has allowed as many
hits this season as Cliff Lee —but in
about 50 fewer innings.

It's not good, and it's not that important.

History, even recent history, is replete with examples of teams staggering to the finish line of the regular season and still winning the World Series. The Twins in 1987 didn't win a regular season game after clinching the division title; they won the World Series. They finished the 1991 regular season by getting swept at home by playoff opponent Toronto; they turned around to beat the Blue Jays in the ALCS and went to take the Series.

More recently, St. Louis almost played its way out of the 2006 postseason with a dismal September — and wound up winning it all.

To the extent that the pitching has been poor because the rotation has been scrambled to get it into ideal alignment for October, that's something the Twins will live with. To the extent that the lineup is skipping beats because regulars and quasi-regulars such as Joe Mauer, Jim Thome, .J.J. Hardy, Orlando Hudson and  Denard Span are resting aching joints and muscles, that's acceptable also.

I am concerned about Nick Blackburn. He is the weakest link in the playoff rotation, he has a tendency to go from hot steak to cold streak, and he got hammered on Tuesday. That said, he still, on paper, is a better matchup to the Yankees for a start in New York than either Scott Baker or Kevin Slowey.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Good team, bad attendance

The Tampa Bay Rays are a good baseball team, perhaps the best team in all of the sport. They went to the World Series two years ago, so it's not a complete surprise that they're good this year.

Baltimore's Koji Uehara
pitched Monday before
a Tampa Bay audience
of empty seats.
So there they were Monday — narrowly ahead of the defending World Series champs for the divisional lead, one win away from clinching a playoff berth — and their announced attendance for a home game with Baltimore was a lowly 12,000 plus. There may not have been 10,000 paying customers in the joint.

They aren't the worst-drawing team in the league — there are five AL teams (Cleveland, Oakland, Kansas City, Toronto and Baltimore) doing worse at the gate. Still, for a quality team to draw as poorly as the Rays  is a problem.

Tropicana Field is not among the 19 stadiums in which I've seen a game. All I know of it is what I see on TV and what I read. There is a general consensus that, as a baseball venue, it's worse than the Metrodome; in my experience, that's pretty bad. An unappealing facility in an unappealing, not-easily accessed location is a handicap.

I spent a lot of money over the Metrodome years to watch the Twins play there, because I am a Twins fan and that's where they played. I wouldn't — and never did — write that anybody else had to make that same choice. It is no coincidence that the Twins attendance shot through the roof this year with Target Field. The Metrodome handicapped the team as a draw. But when the team was really good, the handicap was brushed aside. People packed the place.

That isn't the case in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area. Whether that's because there is no sense of fan connection to the relatively new Rays, because the economy is so sour there, because the facility really is that much worse than the Metrodome, because the franchise doesn't market the team as well — any or all of those things may be real factors.

It will be interesting to see how well, or poorly, the Rays draw during the playoffs.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Catching up on the past week

So many things I didn't get around to commenting on, for medical and other reasons:

The George Steinbrenner plaque
dwarfs all others in Yankee Stadium's
famed Monument Park.
* The bigger-than-life George Steinbrenner plaque unveiled last week at Yankee Stadium is a fitting memorial to him. How else to mark a life of mindless excess and ego? Let no one imagine that he had any sense of humility, or that anybody close to him has good judgment.

* Speaking of the Yankees: I was really hoping, as I watched the game Sunday night, that the Red Sox would win and raise at least the specter of a New York collapse. Alas, Mariano Rivera's blown save was matched by Jonathan Papelbon, and the Yankees clinched at least a tie for the wild card.

But the big takeaway from it for me: When Ryan Kalish and Bill Hall can each steal second and third off the Rivera-Posada battery, the rest of the playoff field should take notice. And duplicate. (Assuming that they can get anybody on base against Rivera.)

* Josh Hamilton didn't celebrate with his teammates when the Rangers clinched their division title. Good move, given his notorious problems with addiction.

* Of more recent vintage: Check out the size of the Rangers' new TV deal.

*Aroldis Chapman, the Cuban defector now pitching for the Reds, hit 105 mph on a stadium radar gun. Wow. We don't know what Bob Feller or Walter Johnson would have hit on a modern gun, but it's difficult to imagine throwing at greater velocity.

Unless you buy into the legend of Steve Dalkowski. Which I do.

Playing with match-ups

Francisco Liriano has allowed
0.3 home runs per nine innings
As I've alluded to a couple of times, I've been fighting a virus of late. The Monday print column — on how this year's projected Twins playoff rotation matches up better with the Yankees (and Rays) than previous versions — was cobbled together in pieces over a three-day span, Thursday-Saturday, as I had the energy to focus.

There's always a risk in that — the risk that events between the writing and the publication will make the writer appear at least a bit foolish.

So naturally, the Twins' big three of Francisco Liriano, Carl Pavano and Brian Duensing, pitching Friday-Sunday, combined for three poor statistical starts:

  • Liriano allowed a home run and more fly balls than grounders; he got just nine outs.
  • Pavano surrendered three longballs (and seven runs on 11 hits) in four innings.
  • Duensing walked four men and allowed two homers, five runs.

Does this undermine my thesis? Not really.

  • Liriano's outing I discount because of his illness. 
  • Pavano's I discount because his start was pushed back eight days to set up the playoff rotation. 
  • Duensing's line would look markedly better if Danny Valencia — who had an atrocious series defensively in Detroit — had made a clean play on a likely double-play grounder; he got an out, so there was no error, but the extra out set up the first, three-run, homer off Duensing.

All three figure to get another start in the regular season; this might be particularly important for getting Pavano back into his regular routine. Certainly all three need to pitch more effectively once the calendar page is turned.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Poll stuff

Nick Blackburn is 7-3, 3.81
at Target Field, 3-7, 6.99
in road games.
Still a bit depleted from the flu, but I'll get the poll stuff updated.

Two questions last week, both concerning the playoff rotation, and the results indicate general agreement with Ron Gardenhire's plans.

Question One: Who do you prefer as the Twins Game One starter?

We had 64 votes, of which 33 (51 percent) went for Francisco Liriano, 25 (39 percent) for Carl Pavano, and six (9 percent) for Brian Duensing. Liriano is lined up for the playoff opener.

Question Two:  Who should be the Twins' fourth starter in the playoffs?

This one drew 49 votes, a dropoff of 15. Nick Blackburn was the overwhelming favorite with 32 votes (65 percent), while Kevin Slowey had 10 votes (20 percent) and Scott Baker seven (14 percent).

New poll question up.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

My apologies ...

To anybody looking for my usual pattern of posts.

My wife and I are battling flu bugs, and to the limited extent that I am capable of coherent thought and expression about baseball, I'm going to apply it to my Monday print column.

At least it's the weekend, and the numbers tell me fewer readers come here on Saturday and Sunday.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Morneau likely out for playoffs

Justin Morneau hasn't
played since July 7.
Ron Gardenhire today on ESPN 1500 (the former KSTP-AM) about Justin Morneau returning for the playoffs: "I don't see how it can possibly happen."

Yeah. It would be one thing if he were already in Fort Myers, hacking away at pitches in the Florida Instructional League, and they could get him even three or two games in the regular season. That's not the case.

Beyond that, one has to wonder how Gardenhire would juggle the postseason lineup to fit Morneau in. There isn't room in the outfield corners, first base, third base and DH — five of the nine lineup slots — for Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Jim Thome, Danny Valencia and Delmon Young. The latter five have obviously been instrumental in the second-half surge. Morneau, if healthy, is obviously better than any of them, but they've earned the October playing time.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Twins song I like

I'm posting this as much to make it easy for me to hear this as for y'all.

This will take you to the Baseball Project's "Don't Call them Twinkies."

Nick Blackburn, double-digit wins, and how pitching has changed

Nick Blackburn on Wednesday became the sixth Twins pitcher credited with at least 10 wins. This is a new team record, if such a thing can be called a record.

A .500 pitcher: Nick Blackburn is 10-10
so far this season, 11-11 in both 2008 and 2009
Two previous Minnesota teams -- 2008 and 1970 -- had five double-digit winners. The 2008 team, you probably remember. Glen Perkins and Kevin Slowey had 12 wins each to lead the team, Blackburn and Scott Baker had 11 apiece, Livan Hernandez had 10. None of them threw 200 innings. They wound up losing a one-game playoff for the division title, which perhaps illustrates the difficulty in winning anything without an ace.

That wasn't the issue for the 1970 Twins, which had Jim Perry winning 24 games and the Cy Young Award. He threw 278 innings. Jim Kaat won 14 and worked more than 230 innings. The other three 10-game winners were Tom Hall (11), Bert Blyleven (10) and Stan Williams (10).

I remember that team fondly. They won 98 games and the old AL West title before succumbing to the Baltimore Orioles (the better team won). It was my first full baseball season, and I was enthralled by the idea of a teenager (Blyleven) pitching in the majors.

But what strikes me in reviewing that team now: They used just 13 pitchers all year.

The four-man rotation to open the season probably seemed ridiculously loaded. Perry and Dave Boswell were coming off 20-win seasons. Luis Tiant, acquired in a wintertime trade (which cost the Twins Craig Nettles), was one season removed from a 1.60 ERA. Kaat probably belongs in the Hall of Fame. So might Tiant.

In the event, only the Jims were good. Boswell, just 25, was awful (3-7, 6.42) and never bounced back. Tiant got hurt; it took him a couple of years to recover.

Blyleven, age 19, came up from Triple A to plug one hole. Swingmen Hall and Bill Zepp combined to plug the other (31 starts, 300-plus innings and a 20-10 record combined).

And the firemen were a couple of aging Dodger refugees, Ron Perranoski and Stan Williams, who pitched 111 and 113 innings respectively.

That's nine pitchers. The other four men to take the mound for Bill Rigney that season -- Dick Woodson, Steve Barber (the lesser), Pete Hamm and Hal Haydel -- combined for 83 innings.

Seven guys did most of the work. And almost all of them fell apart the next season.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A "spring training lineup"

Ron Gardenhire was visibly irritated after Wednesday's win against Cleveland when a reporter used the phrase "spring training lineup."

Gardy bristled as he defended the players he started — in a day game after a late-night clinching party — as "major league players."

T.C., at least, hit the field Wednesday,
Managers playing September lineups laden with calls-ups and bench guys seldom appreciate the spring training reference, because it implies a lack of seriousness, suggests that the paying customers are getting fleeced. Certainly Twins fans could have no complaints about what they saw Wednesday, even if what they saw didn't include regulars Michael Cuddyer, Jim Thome, Delmon Young, J.J. Hardy or Orlando Hudson, not to mention ailing superstars Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. The Twins played well, and they won.

But in point of fact, it was the kind of lineup one might see in March — and not at their home grounds in Fort Myers, either.

The spring training rule (not always followed by bus-tripping visitors) is that each team is supposed to start at least three regulars.

The Twins on Wednesday started three regulars (Denard Span, Jason Kubel and Danny Valencia) plus Nick Blackburn. They started four players who opened the season in Triple A Rochester (Valencia, Jose Morales, Matt Tolbert and Jason Repko) and a fifth who spent the minor league season in Double A (Ben Revere). They had not one but two back-up catchers in the lineup, not one but two utility infielders in the lineup.

Gardenhire hardly started his A Team. He doesn't need to apologize for that, either.

Playing around with the playoff roster

Alexi Casilla shares it with the fans
Now that the party's over — watching the celebration on TV, I had the sense that the players wanted to pour the beer and sparkly and get the heck out — let's take a quick run at the 25-man roster for the playoffs.

The Twins have typically gone with 12 pitchers, during the regular season, but Ron Gardenhire appears to have it in mind to go with 11 in October. The sure-things (barring injury) will be in regular font; the italics are for the questionable choices

Starters (4): Francisco Liriano, Carl Pavano, Brian Duensing, Nick Blackburn

Relievers (7): Matt Capps, Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, Jon Rauch, Brian Fuentes, Jose Mijares, Scott Baker

(Outside looking in: Kevin Slowey, Jeff Manship, Glen Perkins, Randy Flores, Pat Neshek, Alex Burnett)

Comment: The conventional wisdom has Blackburn, Baker and Slowey splitting two roster spots. I suspect Perkins would be a better choice for the last bullpen spot. If the Twins face the Yankees, Perkins gives them another lefty; if it's the Rays, he's more likely to be able to give the catcher a chance to throw out a basestealer. He certainly getting opportuntiies to pitch of late, albeit in low-leverage situations.

Position players
Catchers (3): Joe Mauer, Drew Butera, Jose Morales

Infielders (6): Michael Cuddyer, Orlando Hudson, Danny Valencia, J.J. Hardy, Nick Punto, Alexi Casilla

Outfielders (4): Delmon Young, Denard Span, Jason Kubel, Jason Repko

Hitter (1): Jim Thome

(Outside looking in: Matt Tolbert, Ben Revere, Justin Morneau, Trevor Plouffe)

Comments: Should Morneau be ready to return — and I don't know enough to rule it out or in — Morales doesn't make it.

Punto, Tolbert and Casilla are all essentially the same player: switch-hitting middle infielders who can run. When all were healthy this year, Tolbert was the odd man out, if only because he had options left. That's not a factor in postseason. If all are healthy now, Tolbert still loses out because Casilla is a better pinch-running possibility and Punto is the best defensive infielder. I expect we'll see quite a bit of all three in the next few days to see if anybody plays his way on or off the roster.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Late night: Twins clinch AL Central

In Minnesota, Twins win 6-4. In Oakland, the White Sox lose 7-2.

And the Twins win the AL Central for the sixth time in nine years under Ron Gardenhire.

Managerial musical chairs

This morning's USA Today had a story on the likelihood of a mass of managerial changes, which ties in to a recent post here about Scott Ullger and his ambitions.

Bobby Cox is retiring after
29 years as a major league
manager -- 25 with Atlanta,
four with Toronto.
Dave Nightengale's piece conveys the false impression that managers used to have greater job security than they do now. In reality, managers today who have any real success get far more rope than in the past. A big part of the coming upheaval comes from a group of 20-year managers who are leaving on their own behest --Joe Torre, Bobby Cox, Lou Piniella, maybe Tony LaRussa, possibly Dusty Baker.

Some other comments:

*Nightengale mentions Joe Girardi's contract status with the New York Yankees -- signed only through this season. I don't think he's going anywhere. George Steinbrenner is dead, and his infantile emotionalism was buried with him. The people running the Yankees now are not going to dump Girardi on a whim. And for his part, Girardi knows that, so long as the rest of MLB allows the Yankees to hold such a massive financial advantage over everybody else, whoever manages the Yankees has one foot in the Hall of Fame.
If Ozzie Guillen leaves the White Sox
for Florida, will bench coach Joey Cora
go with him, or get a managerial job
of his very own?

* According to Nightengale, Ozzie Guillen in recent weeks told people in the White Sox organization that he would resign after the the season, then changed his mind.

Nightengale, in an on-line only piece, predicts Guillen will decamp for the Florida Marlins job. I'm pretty sure that would be a mistake on both sides, and I think Ozzie is too smart for that (I won't say the same for Marlins owner Jeffery Loria, who is apparently set on getting Guillen).

And Nightengale figures Guillen's successor on the south side will be Tony LaRussa. Jerry Reinsdorf loves LaRussa, but I don't think a one-and-fly guy is a good idea.


Fascinating stuff in the Dodgers divorce trial: On Monday. Jamie McCourt (a lawyer herself) testified that she never read the postnuptual agreement in which the Dodgers franchise was declared to be husband Frank's sole property. Bad for her, right?

On Tuesday, the lawyer who drew up the agreement said he changed it AFTER it was signed, switching the Dodgers from community property to sole property. Incredible. Equally incredible: he told the court he saw no reason to tell Jamie McCourt of the change.

The words unethical and incompetent come to mind -- for Jamie McCourt, for Frank McCourt, for their lawyer ... for pretty much everybody involved in this unseemly mess.

The Dodger divorce is working for at least one guy: A law student at the University of Minnesota from L.A. who has chronicled the entire travesty on his blog.

Late night: Athletics 3, White Sox 0

Gio Gonzalez lowered his
ERA to 3.36 with
six shutout innings.
Box score here

Game story here

Seven straight losses for the White Sox now, which certainly helps lower the magic number.

A lot of Minnesota ties to the Oakland bullpenners who finished this one out.

Boof Bonser, who pitched for the Twins in 2006-08, worked a perfect seventh inning to collect the win, his first of the season.

Mike Wuertz, who pitched his high school ball for Austin, worked the eighth.

Craig Breslow, who pitched well for the Twins in 2008 and less well last season before being waived, handled the ninth for his third save.

And Chris Carter — 0-for-32 entering the game — finally got his first major league hit. It opened Oakland's three-run seventh inning. So Carter now has a batting average of .029.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Scott Ullger's managerial ambitions

Scott Ullger: Will his
managerial ambitions
be fulfilled?

This post from Hardball Talk on the Blue Jays' managerial job springboarded my thoughts into the managerial prospects in the Twins organization.

We know that Scott Ullger wants to be a manager someday. He applied for the Twins job when Tom Kelly retired, even though it was generally assumed that the choice would be between Ron Gardenhire and Paul Molitor. He's had one or two interviews since, but obviously didn't get hired.

This may be a big winter for managerial changes. The Cubs, the Jays, the Braves, the Marlins, the Diamondbacks -- all already have either interim managers or retiring ones. There's widespread expectations that the Mets and Brewers will be changing skippers. Dusty Baker is leaving the door open to leaving Cincinnati. 

I would think that, in an era when the Twins are widely viewed as a model organization, that people like Ullger would be hotter prospects than they are. But I don't see any speculation in that direction out there.

Ullger has been Gardy's fill-in for years, and I assume is the guy who'd take over if Gardenhire got hit by a bus tomorrow. Whether he's really the best long-term managerial candidate in the organization is beyond me.

I'm quite sure that there are plenty of Twins fans who would love to see Ullger land a managerial job elsewhere just to get him out of Minnesota's third-base coaches box. I don't know how much blame for the base running blunders he deserves, but he certainly had a role. 

Not that an erroneous decision to try to score Jason Kubel from first on a double has any bearing on what Ullger offers as a manager.

Pierzynski, playoff pitching, poll stuff

A.J. Pierzynski was both hero and goat Sunday night, which seems apt considering how up and down his season has been.

Good game, bad game: A.J. Pierzynski was 3-for-6
Sunday night with two RBIs,
but his White Sox lost 9-7 in 11 innings.
The Tigers entered the ninth with a 7-3 lead, but Pierzynski led off the bottom of the ninth with a ground-rule double off Detroit LOOGY Phil Coke, and the White Sox scored four runs in the inning to force extra innings.

But in the top of the 11th, Brandon Inge struck out on a wild pitch and Pierzynski made a poor throw to first, with Inge taking third on his strikeout. The Tigers scored twice, and the Sox didn't have another comeback in them.

ESPN kept showing Pierzynski in the dugout, clearly replaying his miscue. I almost felt sorry for him. Almost.

The catcher Twins fans love to hate is is the final month of his contract, and it's hard to tell what the White Sox have in mind. He turns 35 in December, and he has a lot of mileage on him. He had a horrid April (.169/.229/.200) and a weak first-half (.247/.288/.376) but has been his typical self in the second half (.306/.321/.409).

Further complicating factors: Tyler Flowers, who's been groomed to be Pierzynski's successor, had a weak season at the plate in Triple A; and the White Sox may have budget issues this offseason.

My guess: Pierzynski will get a one-year deal to stick with the Sox. But he may be on the verge of being a nomad.


The Star Trib's LaVelle Neal reports that the Twins shuffle up their rotation this week to set up an order of Francisco Liriano, Carl Pavano and Brian Duensing in the first three games of the playoffs.

That prioritizes talent and power over veteran composure. That's what Tom Kelly did in 1987 when he flipped Frank Viola ahead of Bert Blyleven.

The poll questions are about the playoff rotation.


More poll stuff: We had 61 votes on the question of whether Johan Santana, as of now, is a Hall of Famer.

The heavy majority — 46 votes, or 75 percent — said no. The other 15 (24 percent) say yes.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Posnanski's annual Gardy rant

Joe Posnanski thinks Ron Gardenhire is the best manager in baseball. He has for a long time.

And, as he wrote in this posting from Friday, he takes a lot of grief for it.

Ron Gardenhire may be better at handling personalities
than at strategy, but the people part of the job may be
the more important part — and the more difficult.
For my part, I think Pos is closer to right than those who tell him that the Twins win despite Gardenhire, not because of him.

I too can find moves and decisions to criticize and question. I think he burned out Matt Guerrier in 2008, and if he didn't burn Guerrier out this year, he came mighty close. I remain skeptical of Gardenhire's ability to handle time-share arrangements when there isn't a clear-cut starter at a position.

But my gripes are, by and large, minor issues.

Lineup construction, for example. Those people who have really studied the issue have concluded that batting order really doesn't matter much. You'll score about the same amount of runs with those players in any order.

That Michael Cuddyer hits in the middle of the lineup with a slugging percentage of .410 while Danny Valencia hits in the bottom third while slugging .454 doesn't bug me; Cuddyer has a track record that says he's better than that, and Valencia's minor league stats suggest he's over his head.

And there are factors beyond the stats. Cuddyer is clearly one of the veteran leaders, a player who sets the tone; Valencia is not merely a rookie, but a personality who has been perceived as, let us say, self-centered. Cuddy hitting fourth or fifth and Valencia seventh or eighth keeps the pecking order intact. That kind of thing doesn't compute in Strat-O-Matic, but it matters in real life.

Ron Gardenhire's managerial record includes five
divisional titles with a sixth on the way, but only one
series win in the postseason.
There's a line in Pos's piece about Gardenhire being a "Cardinal in the Roman Church of Grit." I think that's great. Managers are supposed to push their players to greater efforts. We want to criticize Gardenhire for that? Really?

There's a comment staple about Gardy — Nick Punto. There is almost always somebody ripping Gardenhire for playing Punto, and almost always sarcastically chalking it up to Punto blackmailing him with photos. The commenters doubtless think they're being clever. They're the opposite.

Punto has played because he did things that help the team, and because the alternatives didn't. Yes, he's had some dismal offensive seasons, had some lengthy slumps. A manager has to work through the talent on hand. Who was a viable alternative in 2007? Luis Rodriguez? Jeff Cirillo?

The Nick Punto of 2006 deserved to enter 2007 with a starting job. The Nick Punto who solidified shortstop down the stretch in 2008 deserved to enter 2009 with a starting job. The Nick Punto whose on-base percentage in Sept./Oct. of 2009 was above .400 deserved to play this year too.

The next time FSN airs Game 163 from 2009, watch Punto. Every at-bat is a good one. He was, in that game, probably the best player on the field.

And for that matter, Punto has had two starts since July 27. Two. Matt Tolbert's had five this month; Alexi Casilla's had three this month. It's not hard to tell where Punto is on the depth chart these days. In the meritocracy of the second half of the season, other infielders offered more. That simply wasn't the case in past years.

Gardenhire never played for Earl Weaver, but he did play for Davy Johnson, who did play for Weaver. Weaver's Orioles were notorious for their second-half surges. Gardenhire's Twins are building the same reputation. That's no coincidence.

Rob Neyer, commenting on Posnanski's post, suggests that Gardenhire is a World Series win away from becoming a viable Hall of Fame candidate.

Neyer's probably got that about right too. Of course, Gardy still has to get that win.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Weekend reading list

Here are:

Ozzie Guillen on the Twins, Danny Valencia and his pitching advisor ("let me talk to my vodka."

A New York Times piece on how and why the Twins consistently walk fewer batters than anybody else.

Joe Posnanski on Kenny Williams, Ozzie's boss and lover of creative conflict.

Jay Jaffee on the 40th anniversary of Ball Four. That book just may be one of the biggest reasons i became as big a baseball fan as I am. If you haven't read it, read it.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Resting Joe Mauer

Joe Mauer caught last night for the Twins. This is noteworthy only because Carl Pavano was the starting pitcher, and Pavano has been paired for months with backup catcher Drew Butera.

There were good reasons for breaking the pattern Thursday.

  • Jason Kubel was out with an injury;
  • Starting Butera means sitting either Mauer or Jim Thome;
  • It was a game to really break any hope of resistance from the White Sox.

So Mauer played, and got another couple of hits (including his 42nd double; the team record is 47). And the Twins won, and now have a nine-game lead in the division.

And I fully expect Mauer to get a full day off this weekend, maybe a DH day as well. He should.
Regular time off from the rigors
of catching benefits Joe Mauer,
but it's easier said than done.

A Free Press colleague, Chad Courrier, was telling me Thursday of a talk-show caller who claimed the biggest hit of the Twins season was Mauer's failed bunt. After that, the reasoning went, he got hot. There's some truth to that, but it oversimplifies things.

You may remember the play. On July 20, the Twins were rallying. Two on, one out, tied game -- and Mauer tried, and failed, to bunt for a hit. Kubel also went out, and the Twins lost the game by a run. Mauer was royally reamed in press and cyberspace.

My take on the play was that Mauer was admitting on the field what he may not have been willling to admit in words -- he was too beat up, too sore, to play at his accustomed level.

These things happened shortly after that: Jose Morales was called up. Mauer got a cortisone shot in his ailing right shoulder. Butera caught every day for a week, nine starts in 15 games. For more than two weeks, Mauer spent little time behind the dish. He got rested, and he started hitting again.

And ... Butera was paired with Pavano, building an automatic day off from behind the plate into Mauer's schedule.

I wrote here during spring training that, for purposes of keeping Mauer healthy and productive through the length of his contract, that he should be limited to 125-130 games caught in a season. He's at 108 now, with the postseason still to come.

That total is about right. How they got there was dicey.

Sweep, sweep, sweep

Joe Mauer for the series: 8-for-14, five runs, three RBIs.
Delmon Young: 4-for-9, four runs, two homers, four RBIs.
One win would have gotten the job done.

Two wins, even better.

And the sweep ... well, it feels almost like overkill.

I don't think the Twins played all that well in Chicago. None of the starters got into the seventh inning. There are still a distressing number of infield throws that elude Michael Cuddyer. There are still too many baserunner blunders, still too many outfield mishaps.

But the lineup, even without Justin Morneau. remains deep. And after a series in Cleveland in which runs were scarce, they pounded the White Sox's three best starters for 16 runs. Four off John Danks on Tuesday. Six runs off Gavin Floyd on Wednesday. Six runs off Mark Buehrle on Thursday.

Starting pitching is the strength of the White Sox.  The Twins made it look like a weakness.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Local minor league notes

Jamie Hoffmann: Spring
training with the Yankees,
Triple A for the Dodgers
The NUN — New Ulm Native Jamie Hoffmann — never got back to the majors this season. The outfielder spent the year at Albuquerque, the Dodgers Triple A affiliate, where he hit .310/.369/431. Those numbers look better than they are, as Albuquerque's a great place to hit.

Tough year for the NUN. I thought he had a real shot to make the Yankees roster as a reserve outfielder after they arranged a Rule 5 draft-and-trade for him. But he wound up back with the Dodgers and never cracked their 40-man roster.
He's 26 now, and his window of opportunity may be closing.

Mark Dolenc, an outfielder out of MSU, spent the season in Double A New Britain for the Twins. New Britain had a terrible season, and Dolenc's numbers fell off from his High A stats of the year before. It is a tough place to hit, but almost nobody looks good on a 44-98 team.

Left-handed pitcher Clint Dempster, former MoonDog, signed with the Twins this summer as their 16th round pick. He pitched seven-plus innings at Elizabethton (Rookie ball) and 40 innings at Beloit (Low-A). His BB/K ratio in Beloit — 20 walks, 32 strikeouts — suggest that he has command issues to work on.

Alex Burgos, another MoonDogs lefty, spent his first professional season with the Tigers complex league team. Eleven innings at that level, even dominant innings — and the numbers are good — is pretty meaningless.

Twins rotation is well grounded

Brian Duensing has induced 14 groundball double plays
in 113 innings ptiched this season.
Brian Duesning went six innings Wednesday night against the Chicago White Sox — 18 outs. Four strikeouts, five fly balls, nine ground balls (including two double plays).

Duensing, as noted in a previous post, has been pretty good at keeping the ball in the park this year (the homer Wednesday by Carlos Quentin was Duensing's eighth gopher ball, not a bad number for 113 innings). Avoiding the home run is generally a characteristic of ground ball pitchers.

And sure enough, of the 68 American League pitchers with 100 or more innings pitched, Duensing has the 10th highest ground ball/fly ball ratio.

What surprised me, however, is that he's not alone on the Twins staff in being a ground ball pitcher.

Francisco Liriano is fourth, with 1.29 grounders to every fly ball. Duensing is 10th (1.15), Carl Pavano 11 (1.14) and Nick Blackburn is 13th (1.09).

The Twins have traditionally built their rotations around fly ball pitchers, from Bert Blyleven and Frank Viola to Johan Santana and Brad Radke. They've generally had a "sinker" specialist in the rotation, the best of them being Scott Erickson, but the organizational emphasis on change ups tends to result in fly ball pitchers.

Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey live up to that tradition (Slowey is 68th, last on that list). But this rotation is more of a ground ball staff than we're used to seeing.


A couple of links that, to appropriate a non-word from a retired Free Press colleague, you might find recommendable:

• USA Today on Wednesday ran this piece on Carl Pavano and Delmon Young, depicting them as baseball outcasts who found a home with the Twins.  I'm not sure I buy the writer's thesis.

The conclusion is noteworthy, however — not so much for this year as next:

Add it up, and Pavano could again be a hot commodity on the free agent market this winter, though he says his preference is to stay in Minnesota, and the Twins do not want him going anywhere.
"You can spend your whole career looking for a place like this and never finding it," Pavano says. "I know they're counting on me. I know they're counting on Delmon, too. I can't tell you how good it feels to be counted on again."

It's too soon for me to do heavy thinking about the 2011 roster, but if Pavano wants to stay and the Twins want to keep him, it will happen — in which case I count six guys for the rotation.

Here is Bill James on — well, on cheating and the American way of life.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ozzie being Ozzie

I suspect a lot of us expected some delicious bluster from Ozzie Guillen after Tuesday's game. Didn't happen.

From the Chicago Sun-Times:

''Those guys are better than we are,'' manager Ozzie Guillen said.
And Guillen said that before the 9-3 loss to the front-running Minnesota Twins.
''They play good all year long, and they're a good team,'' Guillen said. ''Remember, we were 12 games behind them, and we caught them. We got them. We just let them go.''

Ozzie Guillen: I have seen
the future, and it is not good.
In retrospect, we shouldn't have expected what we always expect from Guillen. Sure, he's quite willing to rip his players to the media. But he only does it when he's said the same things to their faces, and he doesn't do it when he thinks the team's psyche is too fragile — which is probably the case right now.

The notion of Ozzie the Nurturer may contradict the caricature we have of him,  but he's not a one-note manager. He's lasted too long for that to have been the case.


What happens this offseason with the reality-show Sox is an interesting question. There are consistent rumors that the Florida Marlins want him as their manager. Guillen and his boss, general manager Kenny Williams, have had public spats over such trivia as Twitter and what rounds their respective sons were drafted in. Williams might decide he's had enough of the high-pressure job with or without Guillen.

But my belief remains that both Guillen and Williams will stay as long as Jerry Reinsdorf, the owner, wants them to. And Reinsdorf likes them both and has before told them to work out their own problems.

Error, hit or misplay (Alex Rios edition)

Eighth inning Tuesday night, bases loaded, and Denard Span drives a shot to deep left-center. Alex Rios, the White Sox center fielder, appears to have it in his glove, but the ball shoots up and out of the webbing. He grabs for it with his bare hand, but it again eludes his grasp and falls to the ground.  Three Twins run home.

Alex Rios' juggling act in center
Scoring ruling: Double.

And let the argument  begin.

My take on that play and that ruling:

1) I expect a major league center fielder to make that catch. Perhaps I've been spoiled by watching Kirby Puckett, Torii Hunter and Carlos Gomez patrolling center field for the Twins, perhaps my standards are too high, but I expect it to be caught.

2) There's not an official scorer who'd rule that play an error (perhaps if it's late in a no-hitter, then they might, but they'd feel cheap and guilty about it).

The two thoughts are compatible in this way: Imagine that the White Sox had in center field a player who isn't a bona fide center fielder. Carlos Quentin, let us say. He might give good effort, but he's not going to lay a glove on that ball. And the scoring ruling would be a double. (Or triple.) Rios is fast enough to lay a glove on it; should he really be penalized for being a better outfielder than Quentin?

I don't know what the advanced metrics say about Rios as a center fielder. I have to say that I'm  not impressed. He overran a single earlier Tuesday to allow a run to score. Back in July, his bizarre throw to nowhere handed the Twins one of the signature games of the 2010 season. It's possible that he's a good center fielder who just happens to have made his worst plays when facing the Twins. I think it's more likely that he ought not be a center fielder, just as I'm increasingly convinced Span isn't living up to the the Puckett-Hunter-Gomez standard.

It doesn't have to be an error to be a bad defensive play. Rios had a couple of bad plays; Span had one.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Santana, surgery and the Hall

Johan Santana: 93-44 with
the Twins, 40-25 with Mets
Johan Santana had surgery today to repair the torn anterior capsule in his left shoulder.

It is easier for me to name pitchers who have had this surgery without recovering their form (Chien-Ming Wang, Kelvim Escobar, Mark Prior) than pitchers who have regained their form (uh, none that I know of).

Which doesn't mean Santana is cooked. It does mean that he's at a career crisis.

The Great Santana has been on the decline since leaving the Twins, but at his best — 2004-08 — he was the best pitcher going, and that kind of thing counts big time with Hall of Fame voters. The lack of such a period of dominance is why Bert Blyleven isn't in yet, why 300-game winners like Don Sutton and Gaylord Perry had to wait for entry.

Even if he never pitches again, Santana meets the 10-year career minimum for the Hall. He has two Cy Young awards, has led the league in ERA three times, in strikeouts three times, in innings pitched three times, in wins once. Career record: 133-69, 3.10. See his stats here.

And so the new poll question: As of now, is Johan Santana a Hall of Famer?

Matching up with the White Sox

Keeping the ball in the park has
been a real plus for Liriano.
The conversation was about pitching matchups, and specifically if it's really a good idea to have left-handers Francisco Liriano and Brian Duensing face the heavily right-handed White Sox.

Paul Konerko, Manny Ramirez, Alex Rios, Alexi Ramirez, Carlos Quintin, Gordon Beckham, Andruw Jones — the left-handed "power" for the South Siders in this Year-Without-Thome is A.J. Pierzynski, Juan Pierre and Mark Kotsay, which is to say they have none.

Into the stats we go:

  • Liriano against Chicago this year: Four starts, 24.1 innings, 4.07 ERA, 2-0.
  • Duesning against Chicago this year: Four games, all in relief, seven innings, 1.29 ERA, 2-0.

Brian Duensing is 3-0, 2.40
for his brief career
against the White Sox.
Duensing really hasn't been that good against the White Sox; he's given up nine hits in 25 at-bats, a .360 batting average. But it's all singles.

And that's really the key to both Liriano and Duensing. Liriano has allowed just four home runs all season (172.1 innings), Duensing seven (107 innings). One of Liriano's homers allowed was against the White Sox.

If Liriano and Duensing can continue to keep the ball in the park in that South Side launching pad, they'll be OK against even the right-handed White Sox.


Poll results: We had 64 responses to my Rookie of the Year (AL) question. Thirty-one (48 percent) picked Austin Jackson; 22 (34 percent) Danny Valencia; nine (14 percent) Neftali Feliz; two (3 percent) John Jaso; and zero (0 percent, if you were wondering) Brendan Boesch.

I threw Boesch into the mix solely because Dick-n-Bert gave him the award back in July.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Not all situations are the same

Julio Borbon of the Texas Rangers not only squeezed home
the go-ahead run with this seventh-inning bunt
on Sunday, he reached first base safely.
Aaron Gleeman this morning linked to this tweet from Matt Klasssen of Fan Graphs, which claims that less than a third of bunt attempts increase the bunting team's Win Probability Added.

WPA is a situational stat. It attempts to measure how much a given act (a single, a stolen base, a double play) affects a team's chances of winning the game given the situation in which it occurred. Jim Thome's home run in the 12th inning Saturday ranked a lot higher in WPA than did his home run last Tuesday, when the Twins already had the lead.

And like many of the sophisticated sabermetric stats, WPA is essentially non-auditable, and I regard such stats with varying levels of suspicion.

Gleeman takes Klaassen's tweet to be another nail in the coffin of the sacrifice bunt. I don't — because every situation is different.

Man on first base, nobody out, tied game, ninth inning. WPA views this as the same situation whether the batter is Jim Thome or Jason Repko, whether the pitcher is Bobby Jenks or Matt Thornton, whether the third baseman is Omar Vizquel or Mark Teahen.

No, you don't bunt with Thome; that runner on first is already in scoring position. With Repko, it makes more sense — especially if the erratic Teahen is at third and the chunky Jenks is on the mound. And it makes a bit less sense if Vizquel is playing third and Repko has the platoon advantage against Thornton.

A lot of variables there — and we haven't even discussed weather conditions, home or road, length of grass ...

I've blogged about this specific paragraph from Bill James (in his 2010 Gold Mine book) before, but it remains relevant:

Sabermetricians are often critical of the bunt, arguing that the sac bunt, even when successful, reduces the number of runs the team can expect to score. But this misses a critical point: that the "Denard Span" bunt, where you're really bunting for a hit but you'll take the sacrifice as a by-product of failure, is a very good play. If there's a runner on first and nobody out ... you only have to bunt about .275 to make it a good play — assuming that you'll get the sac bunt even if the effort for a hit doesn't work. A good bunter can bunt much more than .275 —making it a good play.

(James was writing in the context of examining Span's bunting prowess in 2009, when he bunted 27 times for 12 sacrifices and 10 singles. That's a .370 "batting average" when bunting.)

Earl Weaver hated the bunt. Billy Southworth, another Hall of Fame manager — who managed a team Weaver followed as a kid — loved the bunt. Tom Kelly tended to avoid the bunt; Ron Gardenhire deploys it frequently.

This difference of opinion is well and good — and logical. They all managed in different times and places, with different players of various skills.  The illogic comes in envisioning the game as one-strategy-fits-all.

Talking Twins-White Sox

Chris Sale: One run allowed in 14 major league appearances.
Both the Twins and the White Sox are off today before their final regular-season series starts Tuesday.

We Minnesota fans know that the Twins didn't do much at the plate this weekend in Cleveland. Shut out by Fausto Carmona on Friday, shut out for 11 innings on Saturday, and Sunday's five-run first inning was fueled by a Cleveland error.

It still added up to two wins. Chicago, at home against Kansas City, also got two wins, and as with the Twins, can feel fortunate about it.

Kansas City led Friday 3-1 in the eighth inning but gave up three unearned runs to lose 4-3.

And on Sunday, the Royals scored six runs in the first inning and couldn't make it stand up. Phil Humber — remember him from the Santana trade? — got charged with the loss, but really, it was a group effort. The Royals used six pitchers; the lowest ERA of the bunch is now 4.41.

Those two games are good examples of why bad teams are bad.

Of interest concerning the Sox: Chris Sale, the rookie lefty, is now closing for them. He got the save Friday; he finished Sunday's 12-6 win, with J.J. Putz and Matt Thornton handling set-up duties. He hasn't pitched 20 innings yet, but he's sure got Ozzie Guillen's confidence.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Contemplating Randy Flores

It's a small sample size. It's an excruciatingly small sample size.

And it's so one-sided it still appears to be significant.

Randy Flores has faced eight left-handed batters since the Twins picked him up on waivers. He has gotten one of them out.

One. There have been six hits — two of them in the bottom of the 12th inning on Saturday — and one walk.

Flores is on the roster specifically to get left-handed hitters. They're getting him — so much so that if he retired the next 13 lefties he sees, they'll still be hitting .300 against him.

It's been said that the job of a relief pitcher is to dominate small sample sizes. Flores isn't doing that.

Saturday might have been the final straw. Jose Mijares has been reactivated from the disabled list. Brian Fuentes is apparently ready to pitch again after about two weeks of back miseries. Glen Perkins was impressive in an inning of mop-up work on Tuesday against Kansas City.

The Twins picked up Flores when Mijares and Ron Mahay went down and they were out of left-handed relievers. Now they have three better options. I don't expect to see Flores face an important batter again.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Ex-Twins watch: Johan Santana

If you have the same grasp of detail of the structure of the shoulder that I do, knowing that Johan Santana needs surgery to repair the torn anterior capsule of his left shoulder doesn't tell you very much.

Johan Santana works in what proved to be
 his final game of the 2010 season
But the prognosis of almost half a year before he can being throwing — much less pitch — should tell us how potentially serious this surgery is.

Santana's season is over — another season in which he clearly outpitched his support. His 11-9 record belies the 2.98 ERA, 10th best in the National League. He may not be, as he was in his heyday with the Twins, the best pitcher in baseball, but he's still very good.

Or he has been very good, What he will be after this surgery is unknowable. Santana himself is optimistic, but the track record of the procedure on pitchers isn't particularly promising. Chien-Ming Wang and Kelvin Escobar, for example, have not bounced back well.

Santana, 31, is has another three years left on his contract — three years at more than $20 million per season, a hefty commitment even for a healthy pitcher. This is his third season with the Mets, and this will be his third significant surgery.

Setting aside the return on the Santana trade, it's quite possible the trade will prove worthwhile for the Twins because it meant they're not paying him $20 million plus to break down.

Friday, September 10, 2010

This race is OVAH! (Probably)

Lifted from Carl Skanberg's Smells Like Mascot blog.

For about a week after the Manny Ramirez trade, the White Sox made some Twins fans sweat. Then the South Siders' seven-game winning streak gave way to a three-game slide in Detroit, and now the Twins hold a six-game lead. Cue the Hawk Harrelson cockiness.

Here's what a magic number of 17 means when the two teams involved have 22 games left to play:

If the Twins go 11-11 the rest of the way, the White Sox have to go 17-5 just to get to a Game 163.

Mathematically, it's not over; but the path is getting mighty dark for the team in black.


The hulking Twin in the above cartoon is suggestive of Jim Thome, whose presence on the Minnesota roster rankles many of the White Sox faithful and is, I think, somewhat misinterpreted. From my reading of the Internets, the general assumption is that Thome is playing every day in the absence of Justin Morneau.

The truth is that it's rare to see him in the lineup four days in a row, and such a stretch is almost always followed by a couple days (or more) in which he is limited to pinch-hit duties at most.

I underestimated Ron Gardenhire's ability to handle the roster issues presented by a player limited to part-time DH duties. Thome enters today's play with 297 plate appearances, and that seems to be both a burden that he can sustain physically and a level keeps him fresh and productive while not screwing up other players' at-bats.

This is less easily done that one might think. Ozzie Guillen didn't think he could do it; that was part of why he argued against bringing Thome back.

Those three losses this week at Detroit all came at the hands of right-handed pitchers. Chicago scored a total of five runs in those games. It's no wonder there is disgruntlement among the fan base about the Thome decision.


One reason the Twins have thrived with a roster slot given to such a limited player is that Michael Cuddyer is a Swiss Army knife. The man has started 61 games at first base, 60 in right field, 14 at third base, one each at second base and center field. He's great at none, passable at each.

Mark Teahen was (is) supposed to fill a similar role for the White Sox (and provide some left-handed punch). But he not only hasn't hit, his defense has been atrocious enough to inspire this mocking flow chart. Quite amusing -- to a Twins fan.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

On Target: Home/road splits, take four

Target Field in twilight
There was a distinct taste of autumn in the air Tuesday night at Target Field. With the heat of summer probably largely behind us, it's time to update the running project of measuring the effect of the new park on the games.

Hitters, home: 71 games played, 361 runs scored (5.08 per game); 42 home runs (.59 per game). Slash stats: .280/.360/.426

Hitters, road: 69 games played, 324 runs (4.70); 80 HRs (1.16 per game). Slash stats: .269/.332/.432

Pitchers, home: 71 games, 269 runs allowed (3.90 per game); 51 HR (.71 per game). Slash stats: .265/.311/.394

Pitchers, road: 69 games, 295 runs allowed (4.27); 72 HR (1.04 per game). Slash stats: .267/.318/.428

The consensus is that the new park depresses home runs (unless you're Jim Thome), and certainly the numbers so far support that. The Twins hitters are going long about twice as often on the road as at home.

But it's not really having any effect on runs scored. There are 8.98 runs scored per game at Target Field, and 8.97 runs scored per game in the Twins road games.

One season by itself doesn't necessarily provide an accurate depiction of how a park plays, and the 2010 season isn't complete anyway. But so far, Target Field appears favor batting average more than power.

Daydreaming about Zach Greinke

Zach Greinke:
The Twins are ruining
his season stats
Zach Greinke is having a "bad season." The defending Cy Young Award winner isn't going to retain that title; he's now 8-12 with an ERA of 3.91, which is more than 1.5 runs worse than last year.

The Twins have stuck him with four of those losses and a good portion of that ERA. (When he's not facing the Twins, his ERA this season is 3.36, which is still more than a run worse than last season but really isn't bad at all,)

The strikeout rate is down, but still well above average. (He whiffed 9.5 men per nine innings last season, a bit less than 7.3 per nine this year). He walks roughly one man for every four strikeouts. He still looks to me like an elite pitcher.

He's also a bit of a frustrated one, because the Royals have been bad for years and he's getting tired of waiting for reinforcements.

Prospect gurus drool over the Kansas City farm system; years of drafting early have resulted in a growing stockpile of talent. Unfortunately, almost all of it is in Double A or lower, and the Royals didn't even bring any of it up for a September look-see.

So here's Greinke, from the above link, speaking about a month ago on the outlook:

“Every system has something.The biggest problem is I have two more years on my contract. Are those guys supposed to make it up by the beginning of next year? Very rarely do guys come straight into the big leagues and make an impact, especially hitters. Just look at the top prospects in baseball. Delmon Young was one five years ago, and he’s finally starting to play well.  ... So the problem (with the Royals’ prospects) is that it’s not like as soon as they get here that it’s going to be instant (success). Maybe by 2014. There’s no reason for me to get real excited about it, because the chance of more than one of them making a major impact by the time my contract is up is pretty slim.”

The Royals don't have to do anything about this; as Greinke said, he has two more years on his contract, and maybe the Royals really can turn things around by then.

But they have, at the moment, a star who has apparently soured on his surroundings -- and, what's more, a star whose well-documented emotional/mental health issues may make him of limited interest to the big-market, high-pressure franchises.

If I'm Bill Smith, checking with Kansas City on Greinke's availability is on my wintertime list of things to do.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

My continuing exploration of Target Field

Last night was my fourth game at Target Field, but the first truly night game. (One was a 6 p.m. start, but Kevin Slowey and Felix Hernandez conspired to end it in about 2 hours 5 minutes, and we didn't even need the headlights when leaving the parking ramp.)

Minnie and Paul celebrated
Tuesday's victory.
It was also my first game above the first level of seats, and my first trip on light rail to Target Field.

A few notes:

• I am a big fan of the light rail and used it for almost every Metrodome trip I made the past three years or so. But now that the Twins play on the west side of downtown Minneapolis, it's just not as practical for those of us coming from the southwest. It's still cheaper (and more environmentally sound) than driving and parking, but it's also a whole lot slower.

When they get the proposed Eden Prairie-Target Field line running —that'll be right in my nitro zone.

• I ordered my ticket during the weekend and got a "wheelchair" row seat in section 219, essentially behind home plate but slightly toward third base. I don't know when they open those seats to the able-bodied. Very good seats. In the long ago and far away, when the Free Press was an afternoon paper and I had evenings free, I had partial season tickets at much the same angle and level. This seat was better.

The upper concourse runs under the top deck and behind the 2-level sections. (Top deck is 3-level). I didn't attempt to explore all the amenities, but it has many of the specialty food concessions (including Kramarczuk's — yay!), a bar, and an apparel store. The latter came in handy; I quickly determined that I needed another layer, as the wind had not subsided as forecast earlier.

• I enjoyed watching the daylight fade in downtown and the skyscrapers light up. And the Minnie and Paul sign works a lot better with the black backdrop.

Revere, Neshek and a pennant race

The Twins' win Tuesday night mathematically eliminated the Kansas City Royals. That just made official what was known all season, of course.

Beyond the obvious implications in the Twins' drive for the divisional crown — now up 4.5 games on the White Sox — there were two things about the game that stood out to me.

1) Ben Revere made his first appearance. He pinch hit in the eighth inning for Denard Span and finished out the blowout win in center field.

Pat Neshek gets the last out on a pop-up:
Finally, a strike and an out.
Not an overwhelming debut. He struck out on four pitches — the last a breaking ball that appeared be well off the plate — and had just one routine chance in the field.

Revere was called up (and Matt Fox jerked from the major league roster) to provide speed and outfield defense off the bench in this final month, but Ron Gardenhire had bypassed opportunities to use him in those roles in close games. I assume Gardy was waiting for a low-press spot to get Revere's feet wet and that now the manager will begin to use him.

If not, what's the point of bringing him up?

2) Pat Neshek struggled in his mop-up chores of the ninth inning. It wasn't just that he walked two and gave up a hit and a meaningless run. Nor even that he barely threw more strikes than balls (13/12).

It's that nothing registered above 86 mph on the Target Field radar gun, and most of what he threw was 81 or 83 mph.

Before his injury and Tommy John surgery, Neshek threw in the low 90s. That velocity wasn't there earlier this season, and it wasn't there last night. Unless and until it returns, his career is in jeopardy. Certainly he's not in position to be a postseason factor this year.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Comparing the schedules

In a recent post I said the schedule was conspiring against the Twins (because the Chicago White Sox still has a series to play against the deflated Boston Red Sox).

Here's how the beasts actually break down. Chicago has, as of this posting, 25 games yet to play, the Twins 24; Chicago's current series is at Detroit, the Twins at home vs. Kansas City. Records are as of posting.

White Sox 
Sept. 7-9 @ Detroit (68-70)
Sept. 10-12 Royals (57-80) -- game of 9/11 on WGN
off Sept. 13
Sept. 14-16 Twins (81-57)
Sept. 17-19 Tigers (68-70) -- game of 9/18 on Fox(?), game of 9/19 on ESPN
Sept. 20-22 @ Oakland (68-69) -- game of 9/21 on WGN
off Sept. 23
Sept. 24-26 @ Anaheim (66-72) -- game of 9/24 on WGN
Sept 27-30 Red Sox (77-61)
Oct 1-3 Indians (56-82) -- Game of 10/3 on WGN

Seven games against teams with winning records, all at home. Nine games against teams just a bit south of .500. They aren't scheduled to face Zach Greinke in their remaining series against Kansas City. The question mark for the Fox game is because I'm assuming that this market will get that game, but I don't know that for sure.

Sept. 7-8 Royals (57-80)
Off Sept. 9
Sept 10-12 @ Cleveland (56-82)
Off Sept. 13
Sept. 14-16 @ White Sox (77-60)
Sept. 17-19 Athletics (68-69)
Sept. 20-22 Indians (56-82)
Off Sept. 23
Sept. 24-26 @ Detroit (68-70)
Sept. 27 -29 @ Kansas City (57-80)
Sept. 30-Oct. 3 Blue Jays (71-66)

Seven games against teams with winning records, four at home, three on the road. Six games against teams just under .500.

Both teams have three games with Oakland. The Twins have five games left with Kansas City, three with Detroit, six with Cleveland; the White Sox have six with Detroit, three with Cleveland, three with Kansas City.

On paper, the Twins probably have a slightly easier schedule the rest of the way, because they have an extra series with Cleveland as opposed to the Angels, but that may may not mean much.

Two managers, two quotes and the wisdom of "Bull Durham"

Ron Gardenhire on the White Sox, 7-0 since acquiring Manny Ramirez:

Ozzie Guillen: Full of ...
deep thoughts
"You try not to think about them. I mean everybody's watching them, and all you do is yell at the other team because they're not getting them out. That doesn't help."

Ozzie Guillen on the Twins, 6-1 in that same span:

"I don't think (the Twins) even think about us, to be honest with you. They worry about their game, they play their game. They should worry about themselves and not worry about us. We're the ones that have to worry about them. We're behind them."

Crash Davis to Nuke LaLoosh:

"You just got lesson number one: don't think; it can only hurt the ball club."

Monday, September 6, 2010

Rule 7.09(h) and other fun stuff

But Mr. Umpire, sir, I was safe, really I was.

Rule 7.09
It is interference by a batter or a runner when:
(h) In the judgment of the umpire, the base coach at third base, or first base, by touching or holding the runner, physically assists him in returning to or leaving third base or first base.

My copy of the rules lists that as 7.09(i), but my copy is about 15 years old and they may have tightened up the section. All the stories say 7.09(h), so that's what I'll go with.

Rule 7 is about base running, and 7.09 deals with baserunner interference, (h) obviously with interference by the coaches. 

On the face of it, 7.09(h) gives the umpire discretion. It appears, from the comments in the postgame stories, that in practice, there's a zero tolerance policy.

The Rangers don't argue that the contact between third base coach Dave Anderson and baserunner Michael Young was incidental. They say it didn't happen. 

The crew chief,  Tim Tschida, said bluntly, "They can't make contact."

Ron Gardenhire: "It probably didn't help him stop, or it didn't help him get back, but contact is contact, and that's what Alfonso (Marquez) called." 

My take on it: There was contact, and so what? The rule book should be interpreted literally, and I don't think the hand contact "physically assisted" Young. Bad call.

And as a Twins fan, I'll take it. That same ump jobbed the Twins earlier this season.  


The Twins got no help from the Red Sox this weekend. Chicago swept that series — the White Sox are 6-0 on their current road trip — and had to score four in the ninth off Jonathan Papelbon to do it.

Two reasons to expect little from Boston this month. One, they've got injury problems: Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron are all out for the season. That's half the infield and two-thirds of the outfield regulars. Second, they've fallen out of contention — 10 games out in the division, 7.5 in the wild card — and veteran-laden teams having disappointing seasons have a tendency to pack it in.

The White Sox have another series late in September against Boston. The schedule again conspires against the Twins.


Poll stuff: 43 votes on who should be AL MVP. Twenty nine — 67 percent — love them some Josh Hamilton. Seven (16 percent) went for Miguel Cabrera, three (7 percent) for Robinson Cano or none of the above; one for Evan Longoria. 

New poll, related to the Monday print column, is  up.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Bringing up Ben Revere

Ben Revere, the diminutive outfielder who was probably the most controversial first-round pick the Twins have made in the first round in the Pohlad ownership era, is to be added to the 40-man roster today and called up.

Ben Revere: Speedy
singles hitter
How the Twins will make space for him is not yet revealed. I'm hoping, for purely sentimental reasons, that they aren't dropping Matt Fox, but I wouldn't be too surprised. I doubt Fox was going to be added to the 40 during the offseason; he got to the big club for a specific purpose, and that purpose has been met. Still, I wouldn't like to be the guy to tell him he's being waived two days after his big moment.

(Addendum: It was Fox, who has been designated for assignment.)

Revere doesn't figure to start. but he has the tools to be useful off the bench as a reserve outfielder. Of the five tools in the scouting lexicon, Revere has two in abundance (he can run, and he can hit); two are definite weaknesses (throwing and power); and the fifth (fielding) has been questioned.

Gardy is probably weary of watching Jason Repko flail away at the plate; since Aug. 8, Repko is just 3-for-43. Revere's arm won't play in right field, but then, neither did Jacque Jones', and that didn't stop Gardenhire from playing Jones there regularly.

That Gardenhire has plans for him is certain. He is reported to have been lobbying for Revere for a couple of weeks.

Revere won't be eligible for the postseason; he wasn't on the 40-man roster before the Sept. 1 deadline. But he might help the Twins get there.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Semi-Fantastic Mr. Fox

Momentum is tomorrow's starting pitcher.

That Tom Kelly mantra is part of why Thursday's fiasco appeared so potentially devastating for the Twins: They had no starting pitcher for the next day.

Matt Fox: Because
sleep is overrated.
An out-of-the-blue selection, a little roster juggling, a sleepless night and a day traveling later, and Matt Fox is an unlikely hero.

Pitching on short rest — he threw 90 pitches in six innings Monday for Rochester — and wearing the No. 61 made famous by Livan Hernandez, the right-hander looked like a Twins pitcher.

He threw strikes (for the most part): 90 pitches, 55 strikes, 35 balls, although he had just nine first-pitch strikes. He got 17 outs, none on strikes. Pitching to contact — but this game the defense was crisp. Denard Span made a big catch behind him in the first inning, the infield turned a double play (really they did) in the second, and he allowed just five baserunners.

He's not a great pitcher; whatever chance he had at that was probably ruined by his shoulder injury early in his minor league days. He doesn't figure in the Twins rotation plans moving forward, even with the injury to Scott Baker; Kevin Slowey is penciled in to make Baker's next scheduled start.

Fox will stick as a long-man/mop-up guy this month, soaking up some low-leverage innings.

But he earned his letter — and his cut of the postseason kitty — on Friday.


One potential reason Fox disconcerted the Rangers lineup: They probably knew almost nothing about him.

It was his major league debut; heck, he wasn't even on the 40-man roster on Friday morning. So they had no video of him.

He's been pitching in the International League this season; the Rangers' Triple A affiliate is in the Pacific Coast League. He spent 2009 in the Eastern League; the Rangers'  Double-A affiliate is in the Texas League. The last time Fox pitched in a league that included a Texas affiliate was in 2007. Since the Rangers hold spring training in Arizona and the Twins in Florida, they don't even cross paths in March.

This is no small advantage for a pitcher, to be so completely a stranger to the opponents.