Monday, July 16, 2018

Into the break

Well, that was a wacky one Sunday, and the Twins go into their four-day vacation on a hgih note. A few comments:

* Did a 9-2 homestand take the front office out of their expected/projected sell mode? My guess is not.

That came against a fairly weak set of opponents. Tampa Bay is a competitive team; the Orioles and Royals are not. Yes, the Twins made up four games in the standings, but they remain 7.5 games behind Cleveland, and the schedule is about to get a bit tougher.

* The Twins got a dose of Tampa Bay's "opener" strategy Sunday, with Ryne Stanek working the first two innings and making a planned early departure. (The Twins scored a run against him, ending his streak of nine straight "opens" without allowing a run.)

As I understand what the Rays are doing, they have basically three kinds of pitching plans:

  • Traditional starter. We saw this in the first three games of the series, with Blake Snell, Nathan Eovaldi and Chris Archer. They are the only true starters on the Rays staff at the moment, and Eovadi and Archer have each been on the DL in recent weeks.
  • Starter in the middle. The opener goes an inning, maybe a batter or two more, and then a pitcher enters with the intent of working through the order (18 hitters) at least twice. This is generally how Ryan Yarbourgh has been used. 
  • "True" bullpen games. This is what we got on Sunday. The Rays used nine pitchers, none of whom got more than six outs.
Yarbourgh, who pitched Sunday and got five outs, is basically a misplaced starter. The rookie lefty is second on the team in innings pitched with just five official starts in 24 games pitched. He's averaging almost four innings an appearance.  Sunday's outing was a bit briefer because he pitched three innings on Wednesday and an inning on Friday.

* So we aren't to read anything into the fifth inning use of Fernando Rodney; he pitched early because he had a plane to catch in order to make his appointment to become a citizen, which is an excellent excuse. 

Unfortunately, Trevor Hildenberger blew the save in the ninth, which means Dick-n-Bert will be vocally worried about the lack of a proven closer the next time Rodney isn't available for the ninth inning.

* Botton of the 10th. Jake Cave leads off with a double. Mitch Garver bunts him to third, and Dick-n-Bert are happy. The real result of that bunt is that the bat was taken out of the hands of the Twins two best left-handed hitters, because Joe Mauer and Eddie Rosario were walked.

It worked out for the Twins, obviously, as Brian Dozier's fly ball got over the wall for a grand slam. But I was sitting there muttering that the Twins deserved to see him ground into a double play. I'd rather they take three shots at scoring Cave from second with Garver, Mauer and Rosario against a righty than two shots at scoring him from third with Dozier and Escobar.

* I've read game stories out of both the Twin Cities and Tampa Bay, and still have no idea what the two bench-clearings were about. 

Were the Rays peeved that Dozier took advantage of their extreme shift and provoked a balk?Probably, but that's as much their own fault as were the throwing errors that put Dozier on third base to begin with. 

I'm going to chalk it up to general crankiness and forget about it. 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Pic of the Week

George Rusch, 4, of Alexandria, Va., swings
 a bat at the virtual reality home run derby
Saturday at the All-Star FanFest in Washington.
I'm old. I have no experience with virtual reality and no real interest in trying it. "Real" reality is challenging enough for me.

That said, he looks like he's having fun.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

A few thoughts on the shift

My Free Press colleague Jim Rueda had a piece in today's edition about the shift making inroads in amateur baseball as seen in the Mankato area -- colleges, high school, town ball, Northwoods League.

Executive summary: The local coaches are seeing more shifts from opponents, particularly a few opponents, but seem wary of the tactic themselves. They cite lack of specific data on individual hitters and, by implication, doubt that their pitchers have the command to "pitch to the shift."

My sense of this, which applies what the data says about hitters in professional ball (majors and minors) to amateur ball -- which may not be the wisest assumption to make -- is that those are not sound reasons to avoid shifting.

Point one: Almost all ground balls are pulled. It does not matter if it's a left-handed hitter or right-handed. Very few grounders go the other way. Balls hit the other way are almost always hit in the air -- line drives, popups or outfield flies.

And that's what the shift is for, ground balls. Line drives are likely to be hits regardless of defensive alignment (the batting average on line drives is over .750). Popups to the opposite field might test the range of that lone infielder, but they're still generally catchable. Outfield flies, the shift is irrelevant.

Conclusion: More shifts equal fewer ground-ball hits allowed.

Point two: That data comes without pitching to the shift. Logan Morrison (to drag a specific MLB example into this) doesn't try to hit where it's pitched. His approach is about launch angle -- get the ball in the air. Pitchers don't need to try to get him to pull the ball; they need to try to get him to hit it on the ground.

That's a different concept. Don't worry about in and out. If you get ground balls, they're going to pull.

Point three: These rules are universal enough that some MLB organizations employ blanket shifts all the way through their minor league systems. The book Big Data Baseball tells how the Pirates' farm director took short lengths of PVC pipe to their various minor league locales, drove them into the ground and told the infielders: You will play all left handed hitters here, all right handed hitters there, no exceptions allowed or tolerated.

Specific individual data? They don't need that. The general principle is enough to act on.

There is a fourth point, however, that does undermine the shift in amateur ball: Bunts. High school and college teams bunt more than pro teams do, often a lot more. You can shift on Morrison or Chris Davis of Baltimore with impunity; they might bunt once a year if that, and they just aren't very confident in that skill. That's probably not the case with high school and college teams.

Maybe that's enough to keep the shift from becoming as prevalent in amateur ball as in the pros.

Friday, July 13, 2018

No LoMo (for a few games)

Logan Morrison was placed on the disabled list Thursday; with the All Star break coming up, the slumper-slugger may miss only six games with what is described as chronic hip impingment.

The way he's played, we might wish it were more. He has a dismal slash line (.193/.287/.367) and has looked at least as bad afield when he's playing first base in Joe Mauer's stead.

That last may be deceiving. Morrison grades out in the metrics, at least as listed by Baseball Reference, as a slightly better than average first baseman. It may be that Mauer is so good that Morrison's flaws are glaringly obvious, or it may be that Morrison's miscues have been particularly costly and thus stand out in our memories.

But the biggest issue with Morrison is the bat. He simply hasn't hit. Part of it may be, again, bad luck -- he has lost a few "home runs" to Target Field's high right field wall, and his batting average on balls in play is a dismal .213. But it should also be noted that Morrison's 38-homer outburst in 2017 was markedly higher long-ball production than in his previous seasons.

Most of us thought the Twins had made a coup by signing Morrison late in spring training. It certainly hasn't worked out that way.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Contemplating Addison Reed

The Twins put Addison Reed on the disabled list (triceps) Wednesday and recalled Alan Busenitz from Triple A. This is at least the third call-up for Busenitz this year, maybe four. None have been for very long.

This is apparently Reed's first time on the DL, which is rather impressive for a hard-used reliever in this era. It probably ensures that he won't be traded this month, not that his pitching of late was making any contenders salivate at the thought of adding him.

Reed was supplanted weeks ago in the bullpen heirarchy as the primary set-up man by Trevor Hildenberger, which seemed plausible even after Reed's signing. Hildenberger had a rough spring training, I think in part because he was working on a breaking ball, and there was no question coming into the season that Paul Molitor trusted Reed more.

But that's changed. Reed's now allowed eight homers in 41 innings, and several of those long balls led directly to losses.

To a degree, heirarchy matters less than depth. Good teams need deep bullpens, the deeper the better. Whether as the primary eight-inning guy or a seven-inning guy or a strand-these-runners specialist, Reed was supposed to deepen the Twins 'pen. By the time he conceded that there was a problem affecting his pitching, he was unusable in game situations.  Now it's Busenitz's turn, at least for a while.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Taking stock

Jake Odorizzi stated the obvious the other day: The Twins have dug a deep enough hole for themselves that it isn't enough to win series. They need sweeps. They need a long winning streak.

Tuesday's loss to the punchless Kansas City Royals ended a five-game winning streak and contained way too many of the elements that have made 2018 a disappointment for the Twins:


  • A disasterously short start (this time by Aaron Slegers)
  • A baserunning blunder (Logan Morrison trying to turn a leadoff double into a triple down four runs)
  • A leaky bullpen (Addison Reed, who ballooned his ERA to 4.83)
  • A ninth-inning rally against mop-up relievers to make the final score look better.

Just a dreary, noncompetitive game. Just another in a season riddled with them.

Mike Berardino suggested in a game story during the weekend that the Twins might be able to move themselves out of the "seller" category before the nonwaiver trade deadline at the end of the month. Ken Rosenthal, as plugged into the web of trade rumors as anybody, said from the FS1 studio that the Twins were in wait-and-see mode -- talking trade but not yet ready to pull the trigger.

Games like Tuesday's should make the decision easier.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Gone and back

Ryan LaMarre, who made the Minnesota roster out of spring training, bounced up and down, got some regular playing time in center with Byron Buxton's rehab assignment/demotion and was finally waived by the Twins, was claimed by the Chicago White Sox.

I found LaMarre an easy player to root for, but that hardly overcomes his limitations as a ballplayer. He looked like a good defensive outfielder (the metrics didn't really agree), displayed little power at the plate and made too many baserunning mistakes. In that last he was hardly unique on this team. Jake Cave has a higher ceiling.

LaMarre was a fringe guy on the Twins. He'll be a fringe guy with the White Sox.

---

The Twins announced that Felix Jorge had been released and then re-signed to a minor league contract. 

The mechanics here are ... interesting, at least to me. Jorge was called up twice last season for spot starts and spent the offseason and much of season on the 40-man roster but sidelined by a triceps injury. The Twins DFA'd him at the start of the month to create a spot for Willians Astudillo.

So Jorge cleared waivers -- and then apparently, the Twins released him and re-signed him rather than outright him. The advantage for the Twins: If and when they decide to put him on the 40 again only to decide to take him off, he won't have the option of declaring free agency. He had that opportunity this time around.

This is probably all academic anyway, certainly in the short term. Jorge is a long way from being a factor for the big league club.

---

Closer to being a factor for the big league club: Ervin Santana is apparently expected to be restored to the Twins roster and rotation after the All-Star break. Barring a trade or injury involving somebody else, this is presumably not good news for Aaron Slegers.

A bit further away: Michael Pineda, signed to a two-year deal by the Twins last winter while he recovers from Tommy John surgery is slated to go on a rehab assignment later this month. He might get a month to six weeks in the major league rotation this year. I don't think the Twins were counting on that when they signed him.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Notes from the weekend

We learned Sunday that Jose Berrios made the All-Star team; "Dos Eddies" -- Rosario and Escobar -- did not, although Rosario is among the "final five" candidates of online voting.

I can't bring myself to be riled up about the so-called snub. There will be enough guys dropping off the roster to get one or both of the Eddies on the roster, and the Twins really don't deserve two All-Stars anyway.

---

The Twins swept the Baltimore Orioles over the weekend, four games, and the O's are 24-65, an incredible 41 games under .500. I say that's incredible because the Birds, while flawed, have some significant talent (Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop).

And they have Buck Showalter as the manager, and I think he's really good at running a baseball team. The Orioles have been in contention in a difficult division more years than not since the (apparently uneasy) pairing of Dan Duquette and Showalter took over the operation. It's startling to see this team plummet so sharply to the bottom of the standings, especially since they are not among the tankers.

One problem for the Orioles going forward -- they have for some time made no real effort in the international market. It's not that they've tried and failed to make an impact in the Dominican, Venezuela and other hotbeds; they simply don't make any investment in that talent market and generally wind up trading away their international bonus allotment.



Sunday, July 8, 2018

Pic of the Week

Didi Gregoius tries -- and fails -- to complete a double
play over Atlanta's Ender Inciarte on Wednesday.

I sometimes wonder what the large cadre of foreign players make of the obsentacious displays of patirotism major league baseball is given to.

Inciarte is from Venezuela. Gregoirus was born in Amsterdam and raised in Curaco; he is officially a knight in the Dutch order of Orange-Nassau.  Yet here both are, playing baseball in the United States while wearing gaudy stars-and-stripes accented duds.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Prospecting

The Futures Game rosters came out Friday. The Twins, who have frequently had just one player named to the game, got the full complement of two this time around: outfielder Alex Kirilloff to the U.S. team, left-handed pitcher Lewis Thorpe to the World team.

Kirilloff's big season in A ball after missing 2017 to Tommy John surgery has gotten more attention than the progress shown by Thorpe, who is regaining the prospect luster lost during two seasons on the sidelines. The Aussie (who is on the 40-man roster) is posting his career best walk/strikeout ratio in Double A and has already faced a career high in hitters.

---

The issue of Baseball America that showed up in my mail box Friday contains BA's mid-season top 100 prospects list. The Twins have four names on the list:

SS Royce Lewis, No. 11
Kirilloff, No. 38
RHP Brustar Gratrol, No. 88
SS Nick Gordon, No. 96

Notable for his absence: Stephen Gonsalves. who has been near the end of the springtime Top 100's in 2017 and '18 (No. 97 this spring). That is presumably what waking six men per nine innings in Triple A will do for you. (Fernando Romero, while back in Triple A at the moment, worked more than 50 innings in his 10 starts and has "graduated" from prospect status.)

---

Roster note: The Twins activated Taylor Motter from the concussion DL and optioned him to Double A Chattanooga. So the "bench" now has Robbie Grossman, Willians Astudillo, Ehrie Adrianza and Bobby Wilson.




Friday, July 6, 2018

Notes, quotes and comment

It came down close to the deadline, but the Twins got all of their draft picks from the first 10 rounds signed. The last three, including College World Series hero Trevor Larnach, signed Thursday.

The wait on Larnach was because Oregon State's season went to the maximum; there was never any serious doubt that he would sign. A closer call, at least according to the people who cover the draft and prospects, was Charles Mack.




The other Thursday signing was Cole Sands, who also got a hefty slice over slot:


The Twins appear to have spent pretty much their entire draft allotment.

---

Aaron Slegers had a solid start Thursday -- one run in six innings, just 72 pitches. I'm not a big fan of the decision to pull him after just 22 hitters, but Addison Reed only gave up one homer, and the Twins won for once.

I saw no indication that he was returned to Triple A immediately after the game, so perhaps the shuffling in the fifth slot of the rotation is over for now. He could be in line for two more starts before the All-Star break.

This was Sleger's fourth major league start, but they've all been spot starts; he's not gotten a true taste of a major league rotation. Might as well give him a shot.

Of course, if -- as I expect -- the Twins move a veteran starter this month (Lance Lynn, cough, cough), there will be more activity with the rotation.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Turn the page. Please

If there was any question about the fate of the 2018 Twins, it was sealed on this just-completed misbegotten road trip (White Sox, Cubs, Brewers, one win in the nine games).

A goodly percentage of the final scores were competitive. The Twins too often didn't appear competitive.

My Twitter feed seems convinced that Paul Molitor's tenure as manager is pretty much over. I'm skeptical of that conclusion; it doesn't seem likely that Falvine would go from granting the skipper a three-year extension to dropping the ax in half a season.

And as for the cliche that you can't fire the players -- well, yes you can. That is, in a very real sense, what the trade deadline is for. I doubt that Molitor is a dead manager walking, but I have no doubt that a bunch of the veterans will be wearing different uniforms in short order.

And I am realistic about this. Lance Lynn has not had a good season by any measure. Jake Odorizzi has been less than I expected. As a fan, I'm quite willing to see both traded this month and their rotation spots taken by somebody from the Fernando Romero-Aaron Slegers-Zach Littell-Stephen Gonsalves etc. collection in the farm system.

But the upside to Slegers is that he might become Odorizzi. The upside to Romero is that he might become Lynn. Neither is to that level yet or maybe ever.

But I'm willing to find out. Yes, I am too frequently fascinated by bright shiny objects. But I am also frustrated by the failure of the proven veterans. Failure by the youngsters might at least be interesting.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Contemplating Zach Littell

Zach Littell went 19-1
while splitting 2017
across two levels,
two organizations
and three teams.
Zach Littell, who was called up earlier on Monday to shore up the overworked Twins bullpen, fared ill in the 10th inning Monday night. He allowed a single, hit a batter, and walked two -- the last with the bases loaded.

To be fair to him, had Jorge Polanco made a good throw home on the bases-loaded grounder the batter before that final out, the Twins might have gotten a double play, in which case that walk would have merely refilled the bases.

Still -- he walked in the winning run. Gotta make 'em hit the ball. And the Twins promptly returned him to Triple A, doubtless to contemplate the error of his ways.

Littell came to the Twins last summer (with lefty Dietrich Enns) when Minnesota flipped Jamie Garcia to the Yankees. He was called up earlier for a spot start, in which he walked four men in three innings and allowed six runs.

So now it's six walks (and a hit batter) in 3.6 big-league innings. This is, obviously, not good. It also contradicts Littell's minor league history. He's a strike-thrower, a "pitchability" guy with a varied repertoire but lacking one truly dominant offering.

That's the profile of a starter. And despite the poor first impression he's making in these initial one-and-done callups, he is may well get a longer opportunity as a starter later this summer if and when the Twins start unloading some of the veteran starters.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Notes from the weekend

That was a couple of ugly series the Twins played in Chicago, first losing two of three to the lowly Whtie Sox, then getting swept by the Cubs.

The Cubs are a quality team, or at least a quality lineup, and Wrigley Field in hot weather has long been known as a hitter's paradise, but what befell the Twins pitching staff was not acceptable.

The Monday print column this week is a (superficial) once-over on the most likely trade candidates on the Minnesota roster, written on Saturday before Lance Lynn laid his egg on Sunday. When I said in the column that Lynn and Jake Odorizzi would deepen the playoff rotation of most contenders, particularly in the National League, I had the Cubs in mind as one of those teams. (Also the Milwaukee Brewers, who the Twins play next.)

The Cubs have, however, seen a lot of Lynn in the past -- he spent his previous major league seasons toiling for the St. Louis Cardinals, the Cubs division rival -- and he has not fared well in Wrigley. He certainly didn't Sunday. The carnage -- which included Lynn failing to cover first base -- pretty much wrecked the improvement he had made in his ERA over the past month.

---

The Twins DFA'd Felix Jorge over the weekend in the process of shuffling their roster (making room on the 40-man roster for Willians Astudillo).

Jorge made two appearances on the major league roster last season, but has been largely sidelined this year (just three innings, all at the bottom rung of the Twins stateside affliations.)

Assuming that at least one of the Twins veteran starters gets moved this month -- and I do so assume -- it seems safe to say that Jorge is not likely to benefit.

---

The Twins, beset by heat-related illnesses, finished Saturday's game with an outfield of Logan Morrison is left, Astudillo in center and Robbie Grossman in right.

Aaron Gleeman speculated on Twitter that that might be the worst defensive outfield in major league history. I have no idea how one might attempt to measure that, but it's certainly an alignment that would seem to be an invitation to triples.

I have a memory of attending a 1997 game in the Metrodome in which the Oakland A's started an outfield with Jason Giambi in left, Geronimo Berroa in center and Jose Canseco in right. However, a check of Baseball Reference's gamelogs suggest that never happened. Berroa didn't play any centerfield that year (or, apparently, ever). Giambi was the A's regular leftfielder that season (accommodating Mark McGwire at first base and Canseco, in his second go-around with Oakland, as the DH), and Berroa played a lot of right field before being traded in late June. Any outfield with two of those three in it was bound to be brutal afield.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Pic of the Week

The Baltimore Orioles marked the
press box seat for the Annapolis
paper with a memorial before Friday's
game. One of the murdered
reporters occasionally covered the O's.
You probably know that I work at a community newspaper. So I can identify with the people at the Annapolis newspaper -- those who were killed on Thursday and those who honored their slain colleagues by, as one said on Twitter, putting out the damn newspaper.

It didn't happen at the The Free Press. That doesn't mean it can't. We have certainly angered people with our coverage in the past, and I certainly hope we anger people in the future, because if we don't, we're not doing the work the way it should be done.


Friday, June 29, 2018

Experiencing Fernando Rodney

The Twins got the not-so-good Fernando Rodney Experience on Thursday. The Twins closer hit one batter and walked two, the second with the bases loaded, to blow a save opp. The Twins eventually prevailed in 13 innings anyway, but Rodney's loss of command stressed his bullpen mates and leaves the relief corps wearied going forward.

That said, Rodney has been impressively good since April's chronic uncertainty. His ERA remains below 3, which didn't seem possible two months ago (his ERA entering May was 5.87).

It is a major oversimplification to depict the Twins' offseason closer decision as a binary one of Rodney or Brandon Kintzler; there was a wide range of options available to the Minnesota front office, some more practical than others.

Kintzler took a slightly richer deal to be a setup man with Washington than the 41-year-old Rodney accepted with the Twins. At the time, I thought, and wrote, that the Twins would have been better off bringing back Kintzler.

As June nears its conclusion, it appears that I was wrong. Kintzler's walk rate has almost doubled this year. Rodney, who carries a merited reputation for lack of command, actually has a superior BB/9 rate this season. Kintzler's ERA is pushing 4.50.

To be fair, Kintzler's FIP -- fielding independent pitching -- suggests that he is actually pitching almost exactly as well this year as last. FIP says he didn't fully merit his 3.03 cumulative ERA in 2017 and is doing better than his 4.45 this season.

But Rodney is getting better results than Kintzler. I didn't see that coming.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Bosio, Anderson and Gardenhire

It was impossible to imagine Ron Gardenhire managing the Twins without Rick Anderson as his pitching coach. The duo, old buddies during their playing days with the mid-80s Mets, supposedly made a pact back then -- if and when Gardy got a big league managing job, Andy would be his pitching coach.

And so it was, for 13 seasons, many good and some not.

Which made it noteworthy that, when Gardenhire landed the dugout job in Detroit, it was with a different pitching coach. The Tigers has already hired Chris Bosio, discharged by the Chicago Cubs when Jim Hickey became available. Gardenhire did get to bring Anderson on as his bullpen coach, but Bosio was imposed on him by the higher ups.

And on Wednesday, the higher ups removed Bosio, reportedly without any input from Gardenhire, over something Bosio said to an unspecified team employee. From the Detroit Free Press:

The nature of Bosio’s comments — and who they were directed toward — were not disclosed by (general manager Al) Avila. It is not clear whether those comments were racial, sexual or otherwise bigoted in nature.
Gardy, in the above linked piece, speaks highly of Bosio as a pitching coach but added: “This organization has to act and they did."

And so Gardenhire has Anderson as his pitching coach once again.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Tampa Bay experiments

An intriguing statistical tidbit from the weekend (no longer up to the minute):




Since the Rays shut out the Nationals on Tuesday, the larger point still stands. This is a team running with two traditional starters, and almost five weeks into it, with a bunch of games against good lineups, it's working.

I caught the end of the Rays' 1-0 win Tuesday, which featured some really out-of-the-box managerial strategy from Kevin Cash.

Top of the ninth, the Nats have up Bryce Harper (lefty), followed by Anthony Rendon (righty), Juan Soto (lefty) and Daniel Murphy (lefty). Four high quality hitters. Cash brings in Jose Alvarado, his top lefty reliever. Alvarado promptly walks Harper, who showed bunt on practically every pitch.

Now ... Cash doesn't want Alvarado pitching to Rendon with the tying run on, but he wants him to face Soto and Murphy. What to do?

His answer: He pulled right fielder Johnny Fields; moved Mallex Smith from left to right, shifted first baseman Jake Bauers to left field and had Alvarado play first base (with Bauers' glove), with Chaz Roe coming in to pitch. (As a sidelight to all this, the Rays lose the DH). Alvarado was laughing as he took his new position.

This kind of thing -- moving the pitcher to a defensive position for a batter -- isn't unprecedented. Paul Richards did it a few times in the 1950s, and Whitey Herzog did it in the 1980s. But they generally were putting the transplant someplace where they didn't expect the ball to go. First base may carry the lightest physical demands, but the first baseman is quite likely to touch the ball.

So the Nats announcers are speculating on whether Roe dares try a pickoff throw and if Rendon should bunt toward first and force Alvarado to make a play. There are a lot of ways for the Nationals to try to take advantage of this novice playing first base.

And they did none of them. Harper doesn't take a monster lead and steal second; Rendon doesn't bunt toward first. Rendon strikes out.

And Cash undoes all his earlier moves. Bauers reclaims his glove and returns to first, Smith goes back to left, Carlos Gomez comes in to play right, and Alvarado returns to the mound (and gets his warmup pitches). The Rays have lost their DH for the remainder of the game, but they have their favored lefty to face Soto and Murphy, so they're where they want to be.

Soto singles to center, Harper stops at second. Murphy singles to left; Harper stops at third. All this maneuvering to get Alvarado to face the lefties, and he retires none of 'em.

Now the Nats have right-handed hitters up, Trea Turner and Michael A. Taylor. Cash brings in Sergio Romo, who throws a few sliders and pops up Turner and fans Taylor, end of game.

And all the postgame attention went not to Cash's brainstorm but to the postgame yelling by Romo at Taylor, who apparently drew Romo's ire in a previous game by stealing a base. Eyeroll.

That, in my mind, is just stupid jock stuff. It's nowhere near as interesting as a pitcher playing first for a batter.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Passing the Buck

Apparently it's not time for Byron Buxton's return to the active roster:



Per Berardino,  the Twins expect to see four straight right-handed starters, so Cave figures to provide another lefty bat. Come the weekend, however, they'll see a string of left-handed starters. That might be the opening for Buxton's return. It can't the just-demoted Ryan LaMarre, unless somebody else goes on the disabled list.

Which, the way this season has gone for the Twins, is quite possible.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Notes from the weekend

The Twins won Sunday 2-0. They also lost two of three to the last-place team in the AL West and sit eight games behind Cleveland in the standings.

Reinforcments, at least internal, are probably on the way. The Twins optioned out Ryan LaMarre after Sunday's game; my expectation is that Byron Buxton will rejoin the team in Chicago tomorrow.

Between injuries and slumps, the Twins haven't gotten anything out of Buxton yet this season. He was, by Baseball Reference's version of WAR, the best player on the 2017 Twins. The gap between the 2017 Buck and the 2018 Buck is a significant portion of the difference between the 2017 Twins and the 2018 Twins.

And next week Jorge Polanco returns from his PED suspension. I'm not sure that's going to improve the infield defense, but Polanco is a better hitter than Ehire Adrianza, and this lineup can use a dose of his relatively high bat-on-ball skills.

---

One obvious conclusion to be drawn from a glance at the AL standings is that the "pennant races" in the junior circuit are merely about playoff positioning. The Yankees and Red Sox have a double-digit lead over everybody else in their division; Cleveland, as noted, is eight games up in the Central; and the Astros and Mariners are putting space between themselves and the Angels.

Jessica Mendoza of ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball crew tried during a rain delay to make a case for the Twins getting back into the picture. While I appreciate the effort, I'm not buying it.

It's possible for the Twins to run off a winning streak. But I suspect the story around this team for the next five weeks or so is going to be who gets sold off.

---

RIP to Donald Hall, former U.S. poet laureate. I don't consume much poetry, but Hall was a marvel when he turned his wordsmithing into the direction of baseball.

I can recommend to you his "Dock Ellis in the Country of Baseball." I can't lend you my copy; I lent it years ago to a colleague who promptly dropped it while taking a bath.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Pic of the Week

Curtis Granderson and umpire Mike Muchlinski
are in agreement on the call on his double Tuesday.

Curtis Granderson, known in these parts as the greatest of the Mankao Mashers, is having a decent bounceback season with the Toronto Blue Jays.

He's become a platoon player at age 37 -- just 20 plate appearances against lefties coming into Friday's play -- and having his at-bats focused on right-handing pitching has resulted in a sharply improved on-base percentage.

This is the Grandy Man's 15th major league season and his fifth team. I was, frankly, a bit surprised he got an offer during the winter. He's lived up to it, probably in part because he's not getting overexposed.


Saturday, June 23, 2018

Matt Belisle: One inning, four runs

The portion of Friday's post that regarded Matt Belisle emphatically stands.

He didn't cost the Twins Friday's game, but he certainly made sure they were out of it. I can't see how he makes it through the month, mentor or no.

Friday, June 22, 2018

On the bullpen

It would be inaccurate to blame the Twins loss Thursday on the bullpen. The lineup contributed zero runs to the cause until the ninth inning against one of Boston's lower leverage pitchers.

But the bullpen -- specifically Ryan Pressly and Matt Belisle -- did turn a close game into a rout, and there were big-picture choices involved that made that outcome more likely than not.

Choice One: The heavy use of Pressly.

Thursday was the 71st game the Twins have played this year. It was the 37th appearance for Pressly, who has now appeared in 52.1 percent of the Twins games. At that usage rate, he would pitch in 84 games. This would not be a record -- 1970s relief legend Mike Marshall pitched had three seasons, with three different clubs, of at least 90 appearances (the last being the Twins in 1979).

But using Pressly at the frequency of Iron Mike is beginning to backfire. He has surrendered multiple runs in four of his last six outings, and his ERA, which entered the month at 2.22, is now at 4.15.

Of course, somebody has to pitch. And the Twins have four other relievers (Zach Duke, Trevor Hildenberger, Addison Reed and Taylor Rodgers) with at least 30 appearances apiece, and Hildenberger, has pitched more innings than Pressly.

Which brings us to the second choice.

Choice Two: The presence of Matt Belisle on the roster.

The Twins have eight relievers on their roster -- the above mentioned five hard-worked middle/setup men, closer Fernando Rodney, Matt Magill and Belisle.

Magill has pitched well (1.46 ERA after Thursday's mopup inning), but Paul Molitor seems reluctant to use him in game situations.

And Belisle -- well, we saw him quite a bit last season, and what we saw then remains true now. He's not a guy you can use with frequency, and he's prone to outings that just get away from him. One of them was Thursday: one inning, four hits, three runs.

Between the Twins and Cleveland, Belisle has made 12 major league appearances this season. He wasn't charged with a run in eight of them, and he allowed just one run in another. But he's now had three multiple-run outings, and they have ballooned his ERA to 5.93. (He showed a similar tendency in Triple A after Cleveland outrighted him earlier in the season.)

The Twins apparently love Belisle as a mentor, but the first job is getting outs. If the Twins are going to carry that extra reliever, it has to be somebody who can lighten the burden on guys like Pressly and Reed, who are showing signs of fatigue. That's not Belisle.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Better results than process

Lance Lynn, facing one of the best teams in baseball, allowed just one (unearned) run Wednesday night.

Lance Lynn threw 97 pitches, just over half for strikes, and walked five men while striking out two. He lasted just five innings.

Good results, bad process. Which do you trust more?

Lynn's ERA is now a season best 4.64, which ain't good but is 3.73 better than his ERA at the end of April. But even as he lowered his ERA through his nine starts in May and June, he walked 23 men in 50 innings.

He's made it work, in large part because he's surrendered just two home runs in that stretch. But it isn't pretty. He gives me Mike Pelfrey flashbacks at times -- a big right-hander with one usable pitch of which he has imperfect command.

Lynn does miss more bats than Pelfrey did, however. He didn't pile up a lot of strikeouts Wednesday against Boston, but in those most recent 50 innings he has 47 strikeouts. Pelfrey would have needed about 90 innings to get to 47.

Bottom line: Lynn isn't really pitching that well.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Two two-base hits, two hit-by-pitch




Every double helps, I guess. 

Really, that scoring ruling changed nothing except Escobar's doubles count. It went from a single and error on Jackie Bradley Jr to a double and error on JBJ, since Escobar wound up at third. It doesn't affect anybody's ERA, batting average or even fielding percentage. 

Escobar has played in 66 games so far this season and has had at least one double in 25 of them. His longest doubles streak is four (June 3-6, a span that includes an off day and, natch, a doubleheader). 

I'm about ready to embrace his chances of getting this record. 

---

Joe Mauer was hit twice with pitches on Tuesday. They were his first two HBPs of the season. His career high is three, which is higher than I expected. 

So I guess Mauer is now on pace for a career high in a statistical category.

Mauer is at 25 career HBP. This does not put him in the top 100 of active players. In comparison, Mike Trout (tied for 37th among active players) has been hit 58 times, Miguel Cabrera 60 and Carlos Gomez -- who does get under some people's skin -- 96. 

The current career leader in HBP is Chase Utley with an even 200.  That's a few bruises.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Some minor notes

Some of us have been anticipating the return of Trevor May to the major league club at some point this season as he returns from Tommy John surgery.

Such a return seems farther away than I expected. May has had command issues -- which is fairly common at this point in the rehab process -- and is now on the disabled list at Triple A Rochester with shoulder inflammation. 

---

One aspect of the addition of Taylor Motter to the Twins organization -- and the retention of Gregorio Petit -- is that Taylor Featherston got pushed out. The Twins released the light-hitting infielder the other day.

Featherston's had some major league time with three different clubs, and the Twins signed him as a minor league free agent over the winter and had him in training camp. But he didn't hit at all in Rochester, and with Nick Gordon now at Triple A and Petit back in Rochester, Featherston was redundant.

---

I thought last winter that the Twins would have to push top prospect Royce Lewis to high A sooner rather than later because of Wander Javier, a Dominican shortstop of Lewis' age who figured to move up to Cedar Rapids this year. You can't play both at short on the same club, and both need the repetitions at the position,

The problem solved itself, and not in a good way for Javier, who developed shoulder issues early in camp and is now out for the season after surgery on his labrum. He's expected back in time for next spring training.

Lewis has had some ups and downs in the Midwest League, including some knee discomfort, but he's expected to get promoted to high A Fort Myers soon. If, like me, you put off going to Cedar Rapids in the first half of the MWL season, you are likely to miss not only Lewis but Alex Kirilloff, the Twins 2016 first round pick. The outfielder, who missed all of 2017, is hitting .333/.391/.607 for the Kernels.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Adventures in baserunning

The Twins on Sunday had an inning ended when both Ehire Adrianza and Mitch Garver got caught in rundowns. It is today a what-if play -- what it Joe Mauer had gotten to hit with men on the corners in that inning? Would it have changed the complexion of the game?

We don't know that alternative universe. We do know that in this universe the 2018 Twins have seemingly been prone to baserunning blunders.

So I decided to dive into Baseball Reference this morning to see what their numbers say about the Twins baserunning. A highlights (or lowlights, if you prefer):

*The Twins lead the American League in getting picked off, with 10. Nobody else has more than seven.

* The Twins are next to last in stolen base attempts (23). Only Oakland tries to steal less often.

* The Twins have the fifth worst stolen base percentage in the AL, at 72 percent.

* The Twins have been thrown out on the bases 23 times, which is exactly league average. Boston and Houston are 1-3 in this, but they have lots more baserunners. Tampa Bay is second in lost runners.

* The Twins are second in the AL in extra bases taken. They've gone first-to-third  or second-to-home on singles, or first to home on doubles, on 48 percent of such opportunities; only Texas, at 50 percent, is higher.

Specifically, the Twins have gone first to third on a single 38 times in 101 such opportunities; first to home on 23 of 51 doubles with a man on first; and second to home on 42 of 64 singles.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Pic of the Week

Capitol Police Special Agents Crystal Griner, left,
and David Bailey, right, assist U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise
 to his position at second base at the start of the
annual Congressional Baseball Game
All three in this photo were injured in the shooting last spring at the Republican team's practice session. Scalise, whose position as majority whip makes him the No. 3 leader in the Republican caucus, has had multiple operations.

He started the game for the GOP and made a play in the field before coming out after a few pitches. Which is excusable considering that he uses a cane to get around. 

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Follow the bouncing roster spot

It started, in a sense, when the Twins filled the 40-man roster spot created by waiving Phil Hughes by picking up fringe utility man Taylor Motter, who they then stashed at Triple A Rochester.

But the dominoes started falling earlier in the week, when the Twins decided they just had to bring back Matt Belisle, who has thrown literally one pitch since his acquisition. (Blink and you missed it.)

To put him on the active roster, they waived infielder Gregorio Petit. At one point I seriously thought he might have moved ahead of Ehire Adrianza, the Worst Pinch-Runner in the World, but no. Petit cleared waivers and he was stashed at Rochester.

Then came Thursday's Sano shakeup, and the return of Joe Mauer from the disabled list. Lost in the tumult over Sano was the simultaneous demotion of Jake Cave, who had been platooning in center with Ryan LaMarre, with a corresponding move made Friday.

That move was bringing up Motter.

What all this means for the lineup:


  • Eduardo Escobar remains the third baseman;
  • Mauer presumably gets the bulk of the first base time, but he and Logan Morrison will split first and DH duties;
  • Robbie Grossman is the backup outfielder, with either Max Kepler or Eddie Rosario in center if LaMarre needs a break;
  • Motter is the backup infielder, with Adrianza the main shortstop;
  • It remains a 13-man pitching staff.


Obviously, the Mauer and Sano moves deal with the foundation pieces of the roster. Motter, Cave and Petit are fringe guys. Theoretically, Jorge Polanco is back from his suspension in a couple of weeks, and when he returns, Motter doesn't matter, at least in terms of the roster. (Polanco was to begin a minor-league tune-up this weekend, but he reportedly damaged a finger in a car door, so that's been put off. If it's not one thing it's another.)


Friday, June 15, 2018

The Sano demotion

Eleven months ago Miguel Sano was an All Star. Today's he's not only back in the minors but in A ball.

Sending the slugger to Fort Myers rather than Triple-A Rochester tells us that this is more than a "break the slump" demotion. This is intended to be a reboot of the slugger's career. We may not see the big man back in Minnesota for months, perhaps even until 2019.

Quoting Derek Falvey (via the Pioneer Press' Brian Murphy):

“We’re not going to follow the traditional view, just go get at-bats at Triple-A. We wanted to take a step back and blank-canvas this a bit and say, ‘What do we think the best next steps are for him?’ It’s a holistic plan. We felt like that was the most supportive environment for what we’re trying to achieve.”
I interpert that as Sano can't be a star if he's not in the lineup, and he can't stay in the lineup if he's 290 pounds.

And the solution is not as simple as "DH him" or "move him to first." Dmitri Young years ago was a first-rate hitter who ate his way out of the league and into a health crisis. I have no clue as to Sano's off-field habits, but it seems likely that the Twins want to drastically rework his entire approach to his career. They want him to be great, and he's not on that trajectory today.

Sano, at least for public consumption, appears to be embracing this: 

"I'm not mad. I'm happy because I'm struggling. You know, this is an opportunity they gave me. I know they love me here and everything. … Everybody here trying to help me. It's a chance to go there and work, and I'll come back soon."
Say this for Falvey and the Twins: This is not a half-measure. This is a drastic move that undercuts Sano's trade value. Falvine are committed to making Sano the best he can be. Now we'll see how committed Sano is to the same project.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Grumpy Ed post




Yeah, well, I got nothing good to say about the Twins hitting other than the two Eds (Rosario and Escobar), but if you have to score six runs to win you're probably not winning a lot of games.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Belisle's back




Ugh.

I not only do not care for this signing, I actively despise it as a symptom of the fetishization of the "proven veteran."

Follow along: Belisle signed with the Cleveland Indians during the offseason. He allowed six runs in 10.2 innings, at which point the Tribe DFA'd him and he cleared waivers. He accepted a demotion to Triple A, where he gave up five runs in another 10.2 innings, whereupon Cleveland released him.

And the Twins promptly gave him a major-league contract.

Meanwhile, Alan Busenitz has an ERA of 0.38 in Rochester. Zero-point-three-eight. John Curtiss has a 2.31. Luke Bard 2.65. Lefty Gabriel Moya, 1.85.

Here's the thing: the Indians bullpen has been awful all season. They decided Belisle can't help them. The Twins bullpen has been getting overworked, and Belisle last year seldom was asked to pitch on back-to-back days. 

Paul Molitor and Co. may love Belisle as a clubhouse presence and as a mentor to young pitchers, but this is not a team with s surplus of novices. The job is to get outs. There are plenty of more likely candidates for that at Rochester.


Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The fast facts and stereotypes

Filed under fast facts:


Kinda makes you wonder why the fixation with having Ehrie Adrianza pinch run for Robbie Grossman, doesn't it?

It's understandable. Adrianza is a glove-first middle infielder; Grossman is a poor defensive corner outfielder. Most good middle infield gloves come attached to fast feet. Most poor defensive outfielders aren't very mobile. 

And it's even possible that if you had the two run a 40-yard dash that Adrianza would win.

But there are few situations on a baseball field in which a player is asked to run 120 feet in a straight line. It's 90 feet from home to first, after which there's a 90-degree turn to navigate. And what these numbers tell us in that Grossman does the running baseball requires faster than Adrianza.

And after watching Adrianza stumble twice rounding third base before getting thrown out at home, I believe it.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Awaiting Joe Mauer

The Twins announced Sunday that Joe Mauer, who last played May 18, will begin a rehab assignment  today with their Triple A affiliate. If all goes well, they apparently envision a two-day stint: DH today, first base Tuesday, rejoin the team Wednesday in Detroit.

That's the best-case scenario. When it comes to Mauer's health, best case is a rarity, and we'll see how things actually transpire.

I view Mauer's return with some trepidation. Not so much about him in the lineup; I remain convinced that this is a better team with Joe Mauer than without. I fret, instead, about Mauer himself. He has had some severe brain injuries, and that this occurrence of symptoms appears to have come without an actual blow to the head strikes me as worrisome.

Coming into the season, I was relatively confident that Mauer would play beyond 2018. I am less confident of that today.

I want Joe Mauer and his thoroughly professional example in the Twins lineup. But more than that, I want Joe Mauer to have a good life beyond his playing career. I'm hardly a neurosurgeon, but it's difficult for me to see how playing helps that latter goal.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Pic of the Week

Charlie Culberson looks into his dugout last Sunday
after hitting his second walk-off homer of the homestand.
Charlie "Clutch" Culberson. The utility infielder has eight home runs in his major league career, and half of them have been walk-offs.

One came when he was playing for the Dodgers. It happened to be Vin Scully's final call as the Dodgers' broadcaster.

This is the sixth season Culberson has been in the majors, but -- so far -- it's the first that he hasn't also spent time in the minors. He's not a star, not a regular, not truly an established major leaguer -- but he's had some spectacular moments.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Feeding the gopher


In my best glass-half-empty mode, I will note here that Ryan Pressly and Addison Reed have become disturbingly gopher-ball prone. ... Both have histories of allowing long balls, so it's not as if this is unexpected.

And what happened Friday night? Pressly pitched the seventh, and gave up a two-run homer to turn a 2-1 lead into a 3-2 deficit. Reed pitched the eighth and gave up a solo shot.

Ugh.

That we can see this coming just adds to the irritation when it happens.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Notes, quotes and comment

Trevor May, rehabbing from last spring's Tommy John surgery, apparently ran out of time on his rehab assignment. On Thursday the Twins essentially swapped him and Jason Castro's roster status -- Castro went on the 60-day DL and May came off -- and optioned May to Triple A.

May's rehab is officially complete, but he's not ready for the majors yet. He appeared in six minor league games, four of them starts, on two levels during his rehab assignment, and struck out 20 hitters in 18 innings. He also walked 12, which tells us a lot about where he's at. 

---

Pedro Martinez is a hellva comp for any young pitcher, but last night, as MLB Network was showing highlights of Jose Berrios' complete game earlier in the day, the Hall of Famer said: He reminds me of me as a young pitcher.

I can see that in a few ways -- short righties with a big fastball and imposing breaking stuff. What ultimately made Martinez great was his complete mastery of the changeup. Few power pitchers develop that pitch as well as Martinez did. It's no insult to Berrios to observe that his change isn't nearly as effective.

---

I listened briefly to the Twins radio broadcast while walking the dog and turned it off during a Dan Gladden rant against analytics that booth visitor Tim Laudner was subtly encouraging. First Gladden complained that the Twins based some draft picks more heavily on analytics than on eyeball scouting. Then he said he'd like to see a team turn its baseball ops over to old school guys. Laudner agreed, at which point I turned it off.

The old-school had its run. Its time as expired. We've seen what happens to old-school GMs in the era of analytics. Ruben Amaro Jr in Philadelphia. Tony LaRussa-Dave Stewart in Arizona. Terry Ryan in Minnesota. They get beat, and they get fired. Deliberate, defiant ignorance is a losing strategy.

I doubt that when Gladden needs a physician he seeks one who figures that everything he needs to know was known in John McGraw's era, or even Branch Rickey's.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Feeling a draft, Day 3

The third and final day of the baseball draft deals in quantity, not quality. Picks 11 through 40 occasionally produce major league players, but rarely stars, and many high schoolers taken on the third day decline to sign and go to college.

So in a very real sense, the biggest thing to happen Wednesday was something that didn't happen. Nobody took Luke Heimlich, Oregon State's ace lefty who pleaded guilty years ago to molesting his niece.

Heimlich now denies what he admitted in court as a juvenile, and his record officially has been expunged. On talent alone, he was worthy of at least a second-round pick, perhaps higher, but no front office thought him worth the risk to their reputations.

This, frankly, surprises me. We've seen this repeatedly in pro sports: The highest moral virtue is winning. I expected somebody to, at the very least, take him in the third day. And nobody did.

Presumably no owner, no general manager, no scouting director wanted to take the risk. Heimlich is now too notorious to fly under the radar. No farm director could relish his inevitable quotes in the inevitable story in whatever town Heimlich was assigned to play in: "Admitted child molester to pitch here." And if that blowback is insufficiently intimidating, imagine the blowback if Heimlich got into trouble again.

It's possible that Heimlich will get a free-agent offer from somebody. Perhaps he'll find an independent league team to pitch for. Or perhaps his baseball days end with this collegiate season -- the Beavers, with three first-round picks even excluding Heimlich, play Minnesota this week in a NCAA superregional for a berth in the College World Series.

My personal hope is that his baseball days end with a loss to the Gophers.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Feeling a draft, Day 2

The Twins took, as noted in Tuesday's post, a pair of collegiate hitters with their first two picks in the amateur draft.

Round 3-10 were held Tuesday, and the focus remained on hitters. The Twins forfeit their third-round pick to sign Lance Lynn, and they used their fourth-rounder to take a centerfielder from the University of Utah, DaShawn Keirsey. Keirsey hits and throws left-handed and is described as having a leadoff hitter profile.

Fifth round was a pitcher, Florida State right-hander Cole Sands. Their first prep of any sort was sixth-rounder Charles Mack, who got some enthusiasm from a former Baseball America guy who is now with Prep Baseball Report:




And from BA's Carlos Collazo:




Mack is apparently a Clemson commit, and I'm guessing the Twins will have to go over slot ($254 K) to sign him. If so, that might explain the Jeffers pick in the second round.

The Twins drafted just three pitchers on Day 2, and added a second catcher in Clemson senior Chris Williams. He too is likely to be a below-slot signing. 

The Twins are really stockpiling catching prospects these days. They drafted Ben Rortvelt in the second round in 2016 and traded for David Baneulos from Seattle during the offseason; those two are both at Cedar Rapids now. They got a catcher out of the Padres in the Phil Hughes deal as well; Janigson Villalobos hasn't been assigned to a roster yet.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Feeling a draft, Day 1

For a few minutes Monday evening, it seemed possible that one, or even two, consensus top-five talents in the baseball amateur draft would slip to the Twins' 20th pick.

But a pair of teams with five first-day picks -- and a great deal of financial flexibility as a result -- interceded. Tampa Bay selected prep lefty Matthew Liberatore with the 16th pick and Kansas City claimed University of Florida ace Brady Singer with the 18th pick.

The Twins wound up using their two first-day selections on a pair of college bat-first position players., Oregon State outfielder Trevor Larnach with that No. 20 pick and North Carolina Wilmington catcher Ryan Jeffers at No. 59. (The Twins could have had another first-day pick but surrendered their Competitive Round B pick in the Phil Hughes trade last week,)

The Jeffers pick was, at least to outsiders, a bit of a surprise. Baseball America barely had him in their top 300; MLB.com didn't have him in their top 200. He was, I believe, the one first-round pick for which MLB Network didn't have a highlights package premade.

That this choice wasn't foreseen doesn't make it a mistake. Two possibilities that can combine to make this a savvy choice:


  • The Twins think he can develop as a defensive catcher, and really like his bat even if he can't catch in the majors.
  • They have the financial parameters in place for a significantly below-slot deal that sets up an above slot selection today. (The Twins forfeit their third-round choice to sign Lance Lynn.)

The Twins reportedly already have an agreement in principle with Larnach, whose team plays the University of Minnesota in a superregional this week.

This is the second draft for the "Falvine" regime (and for scouting director Sean Johnson). It is also the second year in which their first two selections were position players (Royce Lewis and Brant Rooker last year). There is a principle gaining credence these days of "Draft bats, buy arms," the leading example of that being the Chicago Cubs. It's too soon to tell if that's what's going on here with the Twins, or if that's just the way these two first days fell.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Notes from the weekend

Well, that Cleveland series worked out pretty well for the Twins. They went from being at risk of being buried to pulling within 3.5 games of the Tribe by winning the last three games of the four-game set.

Eddie Rosario ... well, what can one say? His three-homer game Sunday raised his slugging percentage 42 points, and I don't believe any of the homers came on pitches in the strike zone. The Twins have had some notable bad-ball hitters in my lifetime -- Kirby Puckett and Tony Oliva most prominent -- but I don't think I've seen anything like this.

In my best glass-half-empty mode, I will note here that Ryan Pressly and Addison Reed have become disturbingly gopher-ball prone. Pressly in particular has been worked hard -- at his current rate of usage, he would set the American League record for games pitched, established by "Iron" Mike Marshall during his brief tenure with the Twins.

Both have histories of allowing long balls, so it's not as if this is unexpected.

---

The Twins have an off day on the field today, but it's the biggest day for the scouting department as the amateur draft begins. I haven't posted about the draft this year nearly as much as I usually do, in large part because the Twins pick 20th. That's pretty far down the list to get revved up about mock drafts.

The idea seems to be, however, that this year's pool is heavy with college pitchers, and the mock drafts I've looked at suggest that's what the Twins are likely to take.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Pic of the Week

Pittsburgh pitcher Trevor Williams
makes the catch on a popped up bunt
on Thursday. 
Here we see a pitcher startled by the necessity of doing something other than throw a pitch.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Contemplating Fernando Rodney

On April 26, Fernando Rodney entered with a lead. He did not get an out, and the Yankees beat the Twins. At that point Rodney had a 1-2 record with two saves, two blown saves and an ERA of 6.75. He had not had a 1-2-3 inning in 2018.

He has allowed one run since. He has allowed just 10 baserunners in 11.1 innings -- five hits, five walks . His ERA on the season is 2.84, which isn't eye-popping for a closer but a far cry from his April figure. He's even had seven 1-2-3 innings, which helps mute The Fernando Rodney Experience jibes.

While the Twins bullpen has its issues, Rodney is not one of them. A month ago, I could not have said that.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Darn close to must win

It's only the first of June. The Twins have more than 100 games to play. But these next two games against Cleveland feel darn close to must-win for Minnesota.

Cleveland now has a 6.5 game lead on the third-place Twins. Add a couple more to the margin, and it's hard to see how the Twins can stay in the race with the surging Tribe.

Cleveland's not the nearly perfect team it was last year; the bullpen is notably weaker, with Andrew Miller injured, Bryan Shaw gone and a number of guys who had big years in 2017 suddenly ineffective. But other than the starting rotation -- which itself has suddenly sprung a leak -- the Twins aren't nearly as good in any aspect as they were last year either.

The Twins were good enough last year, barely, to grab the last wild-card spot. This year, it appears, the best chance of making the playoffs is winning the AL Central. And two months into the season, that chance seems to be rapidly vanishing.

---

In Thursday's post I made an offhand comment about the imminent return of Ervin Santana. A few hours after I typed that, I learned what many others knew Wednesday, that Santana's rehab assignment had been aborted.

I have, from time to time, voiced caution about Santana's return. The role of the fingers in pitching is subtle but vital, and if the surgery on his right middle finger winds up imparing flexibility or feeling in the digit, that figures to be a significant problem. I should have been more skeptical Wednesday, especially considering the reports of diminished velocity in Santana's first two outings.

In other bad news, Joe Mauer's concussion symptoms apparently aren't getting any better. The chatter from the broadcasters late in the road trip was positive, but the standard broadcaser optimism was misplaced.

I think the Twins really miss the consistent quality of Mauer's at-bats and the example he sets. He plans his work and works his plan. We see so many flail-and-fail at-bats; we should appreciate Mauer's quiet professionalism more than we do.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

A lost cause road trip

The Twins went a dismal 1-5 on their excursion to Seattle and Kansas City. They return home with Byron Buxton on the disabled list and a weary bullpen that seems addicted to giving up late and crucial runs.

I switched the channel after the game to MLB Network in time to hear Harold Reynolds suggest that the Twins need a "reboot." They'd probably like to restart the season, but it's the last day in May and they have the record they deserve. Yes, they've had a few bad breaks --  Thursday's Mike Moustakas homer was little more than a popup down the line -- but this team has played sloppy baseball.

June trades are rather rare, last week's deal between Seattle and Tampa Bay notwithstanding. But a trade moving one of the veteran starters next month should perhaps be expected. Ervin Santana's impending return figures to overflow the rotation.

Roster stuff: The Twins finally conceded Wednesday that Buxton was not playing effectively with his fractured toe. So he's back on the DL. Aaron Slegers came up, pitched 5.1 shutout innings of relief after Fernando Romero put the Twins behind 9-0, and got optioned back out after the game -- punished for doing a good job, but the Twins need more bullpen reinforcements.

Slegers will probably be the 26th man for an upcoming doubleheader (June 5), but he wasn't going to pitch before that. He loses out on a few days of major league pay, though.


Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Applying the "opener" to the Twins

The Monday print column examined the Rays' innovative use of veteran short reliever Sergio Romo, who has been deployed four times in two weeks to pitch the first inning against righty-heavy lineups.

The Rays all told have done this five times in that span, using another righty bullpen arm for the first inning and then turning to another pticher for length.

The column got about as long as I care to submit for print without getting into the applicability of this strategy for the Twins. And without a specific transaction to comment on today, here goes.

Against the Twins

I don't see the Rays trotting Romo out for the first inning when they come to Minnesota in July. Romo, who throws about 60 percent sliders, is a right-handed specialist, and the Twins are heavy with left-handed hitters and switch hitters. It's a rare lineup from Paul Molitor that doesn't have at least one left-handed hitter in the top two lineup spots.

Remember, a big part of what Kevin Cash is doing here is getting a favorable matchup at the start of the game. He's not eager to have Romo face Joe Mauer, Eddie Rosario or Max Kepler at any time that matters.

By the Twins

Unlike the Rays, the Twins don't have any lefties in their rotation, marginal or otherwise, and won't even after Ervin Santana returns from his surgery rehab. And there's really nobody in the current rotation Molitor would necessarily want to protect.

But last year was another matter. Adlaberto Mejia made 21 starts for the Twins and threw all of 98 innings -- less than five innings per start. The hefty lefty was their fourth-used starter but didn't provide the bulk innings one wants from a middle of the rotation piece.

It might have helped to use somebody like Alan Busenitz or Ryan Pressly against a righty-heavy top of a lineup to open Mejia's outings and then turn to Mejia. One or two more wins out of those games would have been valued.

Mejia not only didn't make the team this year, he isn't giving the Twins reason to bring him up. If the opener concept is going to spread out of Tampa Bay, it won't do so in Minnesota.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The meaning of Taylor Motter




Uh, who what?

The Twins created an opening on their 40-man roster last week by designating Phil Hughes for assignment (and later trading him to San Diego). It was presumed that they created that opening so they could activate Trevor May or Ervin Santana around about now as they become eligible to come off the 60-day disabled list.

And they fill the roster spot with organizational depth for Triple A?

Taylor Motter (not Tyler) is 28 and has 390 major league plate appearances over three seasons for two teams on his Baseball Reference page, with a batting average of .198. He has played every position in the majors except catcher and center field. In 2017 he stole 12 bases in 13 attempts, so he probably has some speed. He appears to have played considerable shortstop in the minors.

I don't really see the purpose in having him on the 40, but he may not have that roster spot long. I suspect the Twins will waive him themselves in hopes he can clear waivers for them and they can stash him at Rochester.

Remember: Jorge Polanco comes off his steroid suspension in 31 games. Presumably either Ehrie Adrianza or Gregorio Petit would be waived to make room for Polanco. Motter could be viewed as insurance against losing one of those utility men.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Phil Hughes and the money

There was a taker for Phil Hughes' contract, or at least some of it, after all.

The Twins on Sunday traded Hughes to San Diego. On the face of it, it's pretty much all subtraction:




That pick was tradable because it's a competitive balance pick. And while the amount of cash the Twins are sending with Hughes wasn't announced, it's been reported to be quite a bit, with the Padres assuming only about $6 million to $7 million of the $20 million or so left on his contract.

Now that we've set the technical details, let's break this deal down to two component parts:

I would like to be wrong on this, but the Padres overpaid on the first half of this trade. The current version of Phil Hughes is not worth $6 million. (San Diego is a pretty good landing spot for Hughes, and I hope he does well there.)

I would like to be wrong on the second part as well, but there's a better chance the 74th player in next month's draft will be a productive major leaguer than there is for Villalobos. Plus deleting more than $800,000 from the bonus pool figures to constrict the Twins' draft flexibility.

Villalobos is 21 and hasn't gotten out of Rookie ball in the San Diego organization. He's going to be on a short-season team again this year, presumably Elizabethton in the Appy League. You can look at his stats in the above link, but Rookie level numbers don't mean much. 

When the Twins DFA'd Hughes last week, Derek Falvey mentioned that principal owner Jim Pohlad signed off on the decision. I suspect that getting ownership's OK to write off $20 million required Falvey to agree to make minimizing that write off a priority. (I also suspect that the late signings of Lance Lynn and Logan Morrison put the Twins over budget on this year's payroll, which may be another reason to emphasize for the savings.)

It's not my money, and we have no idea what talent the Twins will lose out on for Villalobos. But I think the Twins would probably have been better off eating the full term of Hughes' contract and keeping the draft pick. 

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Pic of the Week

Dexter Fowler left the game Friday after
being hit in the knee by a pitch.
What really attracted me to this photo is the good look it provided of the camouflage socks the players were wearing with the special Memorial Day Weekend uniforms.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Notes, quotes and comment

At least Friday night's loss in Seattle was a quick one: 2:14, the fastest game in the majors this year.

The other day the Twins were 1-1 in the eighth inning, and the game was almost three hours in. Pace of play, man.

This just in: James Paxson is a pretty good pitcher. Fernando Romero ain't bad either, but the business of walking somebody with two outs, wild-pitching him to second and then giving up a hit against the shift -- that's emblematic of the 2018 Twins as we hit Memorial Day weekend. That's giving the Mariners a run, and that run gave them the game.

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Worth reading department: This story from USA Today about protective cups. Plenty of Twins (Eddie Rosario, Brian Dozier, Torii Hunter and Paul Molitor) quoted in it, but my favorite line is the explanation by former Giants and White Sox infielder Juan Uribe of why he didn't wear one.

This piece from Fangraphs' Jay Jaffe on Phil Hughes, DFA'ed earlier this week by the Twins, and thoractic outlet syndrome.

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The Red Sox on Friday DFA'd veteran slugger Hanley Ramirez to reactivate Dustin Pedroia from the disabled list, and there was immediate speculation from MLB Radio's Jim Bowden that the Twins might be a landing place for the first baseman-DH.

I assume that the Twins came to mind because the acquisition earlier this week of Chris Carter signaled an interest by Minnesota in that ilk of player. Ramirez still has a better hit tool than the swing-and-miss addicted Carter, but they are both right-right first basemen who are relatively inept in the field. Ramirez was hitting .330 through April and .163 this month.

I know this: The Twins aren't taking on Ramirez' contract. No team is. He will clear waivers, the Sawx will release him, and he'll get to pick from his suitors, who will pay the pro-rated minimum while Boston pays him the rest.

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Finally, relationship advice from veteran reliever John Axford via Twitter:



Friday, May 25, 2018

The return of Miguel Sano

The Twins celebrated their off day Thursday by reinstating Miguel Sano from the disabled list and optioning Jake Cave back to Rochester.

I would expect to see a lot of Sano as the designated hitter, at least initially, and perhaps as long as Joe Mauer is sidelined.  Logan Morrison has first base while Mauer waits for his concussion syndrome to subside, and the Twins would rather play Eduardo Escobar at third base than at shortstop.

Sano had a productive five-game rehab stint at Triple A, and perhaps his return after a 24-game absence will give this lineup a jolt. It needs one.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

RIP, Philip Roth

Oh, to be a center fielder, a center fielder -- and nothing more.
Philip Roth, Portnoy's Complaint

Philip Roth died this week, and even though I stopped buying his new works years ago and haven't really revisited the older ones in some time, that news hit home. I have the doubtless erroneous notion that he's one of those writers that anybody serious about the craft has some familiarity with, and I certainly read him heavily in my high school/college/post college years.

The Washington Post news service provided an obit on Roth that would fill more than a full page of a newspaper. What struck me is that even such an extensive accounting of his career didn't even mention The Great American Novel, which is the Roth book that comes to my baseball-addled mind most readily.

Trying to sum up TGAN in a sentence or two, particularly without having read it in a couple decades, is a challenge, but here goes: The Ruppert Mundys, once the power of the Patriot League, have surrendered their home stadium to the war effort and are playing the season on the road with a sad sack roster of ne're-do-wells and malcontents. Ultimately their efforts to rise above their lowly status end with the collapse of the league and the flushing of its very existence from the memories of all but the aged sportswriter telling the tale.

All the players bear the names of pantheistic dieties: Ptah, Baal, Agni, Gil Gamesh. Echoes of genuine baseball history figure in the fantastic tale -- for example, the outfielder who grew up without fences and thus crashes repeatedly into walls recalls the career of Pistol Pete Rieser. 

Roth even appears to forecast the rise of sabermetrics by having a young, emphatically nonathletic, Jewish genius take control of the Mundys. 

TGAN clearly isn't Roth's most important or most popular work, but it's a fun one. I took note Wednesday that at least three of the baseball writers I follow on Twitter mentioned it (athough one of them said he has never been able to finish it.) And I intend to revisit the book sometime this summer.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Contemplating Chris Carter

The Twins on Tueday filled the open spot on the 25-man roster created by DFAing Phil Hughes with Ryan LaMarre, who figures to wind up with an impressive amount of frequent flier miles bouncing between Rochester and Minneapolis.

They also purchased slugger Chris Carter from the Angels. Meaningful or meaningless? Let's examine:

Who is he? The ultimate one-trick pony. Carter has big-time power -- he led the National League in homers in 2016 -- and does little else. He's 31 now, and to the extent that he plays a position it's first base. He's listed at 245 pounds, but I won't vouch for the accuracy of that weight.

Carter has seen big league time in Oakland, Houston, Milwaukee and the Yankees, hitting 158 homers in his wandering but also hitting just .217 and leading his league twice in strikeouts. Milwaukee nontendered him after he hit 41 homers in 2016 rather than deal with his arbitration eligibility.

Carter has spent this season in Salt Lake City, the Angels' Triple A affiliate, which is a very good hitting environment. He's slugging .600 there. He's also hitting just .255. He remains an all-or-nothing hitter.

Why the Twins? Start with the uncertainty about Joe Mauer's health. If the concussion symptoms that landed him on the disabled list persist -- and given his history, that seems a legitimate possibility -- the Twins may need some help at first base behind Logan Morrison.

Kennys Vargas is still in the organization, but Vargas is really scuffling at Triple A, where his slugging percentage is literally half Carter's (albeit in a much more difficult hitting environment).

And, again, Carter is right-handed. Even with Mauer and Jason Castro sidelined, this remains a very left-handed lineup, which suggests vulnerability to southpaws.

Any drawbacks to adding him? Probably not. I had hoped that Brent Rooker would continue to push his way rapidly up the ladder; he opened the season at Double A Chattanooga. But Rooker is hitting just.236/.273/.379 with the Lookouts, and while I remain optimistic that he's going to be a major league first baseman someday, that day is unlikely to come in 2018. I wouldn't want Carter (or Vargas) blocking Rooker, but Rooker is stalling himself right now.

Bottom line: Carter is very flawed, but a reasonable addition at the price. Given Mauer's cloudy outlook, Miguel Sano's recurring leg issues and Morrison's spotty record against left-handed pitching, Carter might wind up being a useful piece. Or he might be irrelevant. The latter is preferable.