Monday, October 15, 2018

Notes, quotes and comment

I've been quiet here for few days, which is unusual. But I haven't felt that I have anything useful to say here. and as long as that persists, I expect to post less frequently than has been my norm.

---

One of my colleagues asked me about the report that the Twins had interviewed Hensley "Bam Bam" Meulens for the managerial job. My response: "I don't really understand what the Twins are looking for, so I don't know if he's got what they're looking for."

Besides a great nickname, Meulens' resume includes being the hitting and bench coach for the San Francisco Giants, including during their three World Series titles earlier in the decade. He wasn't a particularly successful player, not that that's a managerial imperative.

He's about a decade younger than the departed Paul Molitor, but not really young as managerial candidates go. And the Giants might be the least-analytically inclined organization in the majors right now, so he's not bringing a background steeped in sabermetrics to the table.

Conclusion: I don't think he's particularly likely to land the Minnesota job.

---

The current issue of Baseball America features the Top 10 prospects in the short-season leagues. For the Twins, that means the Fort Myers team in the Gulf Coast League -- the lowest in-the-states rung on the ladder -- and Elizabethton in the Appalachian League.

Nobody was listed from the Twins in the GCL piece. Trevor Larnach, the Twins' first-round pick in the June draft, came in at No. 5 in the Appy League; he didn't spend much time in E-Town before moving up to Cedar Rapids. Two other Twins showed up in the second 10 listing: Luis Rijo, a right-handed pitcher they got from the Yankees for Lance Lynn, and Ryan Jeffers, their second-round pick in June who also was rapidly promoted to CR.

But the Twins also have the No. 1 player in the New York-Penn League, without having an affilate in that circuit. Gilberto Celestino was that league's top prospect while playing for the Astros' affiliate, and then he was traded to the Twins for Ryan Pressly.

The NY Penn league is probably a half-step  above the Appy League and a half-step below the Midwest League, and the Twins had Celestino finish the year at E-Town. They had enough outfielders to find playing time for at Cedar Rapids, and he's only 19.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

A quality field

Baseball in the 21st Century is not set up for the best team to win the World Series. October has evolved from a pairing of two teams that survived the summer marathon -- combined, one-eighth or one-tenth of the franchises -- to a mob of 10 teams -- one third of the franchises.

On Tuesday the 2018 field was whittled down to four. And in a rarity, the four are almost certainly the two best squads in their respective leagues: Boston and Houston in the American League, Milwaukee and Los Angeles in the National.

It doesn't take a lot of analysis to recognize that the AL teams, each of which won more than 100 games during the season, are both superior to either of the NL teams. That doesn't mean the AL survivor is certain to triumph at months' end.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Notes, quotes and comment

Miguel Sano is apparently in the clear legally in his native Dominican.

The broader point remains. Nothing good happens outside nightclubs at 3 a.m. in any country.

---

Angel Hernandez set some sort of umpiring record by having three calls overturned by replay in the first four innings Monday night in the Yankees-Red Sox series.

The consensus worst umpire in MLB is to call balls and strikes tonight. Lord knows why he's still umping in the majors much less involved in any postseason series.

---

I am far from the first to note that both the (Cleveland) Indians and (Atlanta) Braves were eliminated on Columbus Day -- or, as it's now officially recognized by the city in which I reside, Indigenous Peoples Day.

When I decided by process of elimination, to root for Cleveland in the AL after Oakland was ousted, I did not realize that the Tribe was going to once again exclusively wear Chief Wahoo caps in the postseason.

They didn't lose this series because of their logo, of course. They lost this series because Houston is a better team, and because Cleveland's bullpen is no longer the deep and effective unit that pulled it to the brink of winning the 2016 World Series.


Monday, October 8, 2018

Oh no, Sano

Miguel Sano was apparently detained and released by police in the his native Dominican Republic after a hit-and-run early Sunday morning in which a policeman's leg was broken.

The Twins issued a statement saying they are "aware" of the situation and trying to learn more about it.

There's a lot of unknowns about this incident. But I'm probably not getting too far over my skis to say the Twins expect better from the troubled slugger. His midsummer exile to the minors was supposed to be as much, or more, about revamping his lifestyle and improving his professionalism as getting his swing back.

Friday, October 5, 2018

RIP Dave Anderson

Roger Kahn's The Boys of Summer sits at the intersection of my adult occupation (newspapering) and preoccupation (baseball). While it has been years since I last re-read it, it literally took me less than a minute to find this story about Dave Anderson, the great sportwriter whose death was announced Thursday. This is from 1953, long before Anderson acceived fame as a New York Times columnist:

***

Through the hot months, the Dodgers played phenomonal .800 baseball. They clinched the pennant in Milwaukee on Saturday, September 13, when (Carl) Erskine defeated the Braves 8 to 3, in a game punctuated by three Milwaukee errors. Dave Anderson, a young reporter who had succeeded Harold Burr on the Brooklyn Eagle, wrote the best lead. "The Milwaukee Braves," he began, "died with their boots."

"Two-to-one they change it on you," (Dick) Young said.

"If not the deskman, then the printer," I said. "I've tried to get 'cerebration' into the Tribune four times this season and it's always come up 'celebration.'"

Anderson grinned, but turned less cheerful when he saw a copy of the Eagle. Someone had indeed murdered his pleasant pun. His published story read, "The Milwaukee Braves died with their boots on." On. Not even Dante conceived an inferno for sodden copyreaders.

***

I am, and have been for more than three decades, the modern equivalent of what Kahn calls here a "deskman" or a "copyreader," although the adjective "sodden" probably doesn't fit. That ancedote has been a cautionary tale down the years, but making that kind of mindless editing blunder would first require a writer with Anderson's skill and inventiveness. It's not an insult to my Free Press colleague to say few of them qualify.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

The wild card games

One game and done, thanks for playing, Cubs and Athletics.

One of the games (National League) went the way of my rooting interest, the other (American League) did not. One of the games (National League) was tight and compelling, the other (American League) was not.

In terms of who I want to see win, which is different than who I expect to win, we're running out on AL teams. I am habitually unwilling to root for the Yankees, and the Red Sox fan base has become almost as insufferably entitiled. The Astros damaged themselves in my eyes by trading for Roberto Osuna while continuing to declare themselves to have "zero tolerance" for abusers. That leaves Cleveland, to whom I have no real objection other than that they play the Twins 18 times a season.

That's why I really wanted to see the A's knock off the Yankees Wednesday. Didn't happen, of course, and I saw the jeering on social media over the failure of opener Liam Hendriks (former Twin). Yep, the tactic didn't work that night for Oakland. I guess they should have started their Cy Young candidate.

That last was, to be clear, sarcastic. The A's pitching staff is emphatically bullpen-heavy. Hendriks and, later, fellow former Twin Fernando Rodney, didn't get it done.

So now its Yankees-Red Sox -- 100 regular season wins vs. 107 in one ALDS -- and Astros-Indians in the other. It should be good baseball; the only problem is, I want everybody to lose.

I also want both teams to lose in the Dodgers-Braves NLDS, the Dodgers on basic rooting principles and the Braves because their ownership, with the connivance of the government of Cobb County (sururban Atlanta), essentially defrauded the taxpayers of that county to get their new stadium. On the other hand, at least somebody will emerge from the Rockies-Brewers series I can root for.

But know this: Every team in the AL field (including Oakland) is probably better than any team in the NL field (including Chicago).

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Goodbye, Molitor

It's easier to fire the manager than to fire 25 players. The Twins might spend a lot of this offseason doing both.

Starting with Paul Molitor, relieved of his managerial duties Tuesday.

Not everything that went wrong for the 2018 Twins can be fairly blamed on the manager.

It's not on Molitor that Ervin Santana's finger didn't heal with an offseason of rest or recover from surgery. Nor is it his fault that Jorge Polanco got busted for steroids or that Jason Castro's knee gave way.

But ... this was a team with the highest payroll in club history, it was expected to contend, and it didn't. The fielding was poor and the baserunning worse. And, perhaps most crucially, the young core at the heart of the roster did not develop. Even Eddie Rosario and Jose Berrios only duplicated their 2017 performances. The Twins enter this offseason far less certain of what they have than they were a year ago.

Dumping Molitor was always a possibility once Terry Ryan was ousted as the head of the Twins baseball operations. Molitor was forced on the front office duo of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine two offseasons ago; now they get to hire a manager of their own choosing.

Still, I was a bit surprised at the news Tuesday. Not only did Molitor still have two years left to run on his contract, he seemed -- with the possible exception of whether Polanco is a bona fide shortstop -- to mesh well with their new front office's analytic bent.

The Twins on Tuesday also dismissed their longtime major league strength and conditioning coordinator and a number of minor league coaches. It seems likely that there will be further changes on the major league staff. Slowly but surely, the Ryan-era figures -- players, managers, coaches -- are giving way to the new regime. In some cases, it seems, they are being ousted simply because they were there when the new guys showed up.

That may not be fair, but that's pretty routine around baseball. We're just not used to that in Minnesota.






Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Minor matters

The Twins have in recent years maintained rather stable minor league affiilations, but Double-A has been the exception.

That, they presumably hope, is about to change.

On Monday it was announced that Minnesota would affilate with the Pensacola (Fla.) Blue Wahoos of the Southern League. They had been paired with the Chattanooga Lookouts in the same league, but that connection ran out at season's end and the Lookouts reunited with Cincinnati.

I'm not sure if Cincy or Atlanta is the dominant major league team in that part of Tennessee, but my guess is that there are considerably more Reds fans around "Nooga" than Twins fans. So this probably makes some economic sense to the Lookouts ownership.

Pensacola, which had been affiliated with the Reds, provides the Twins with


  • better facilities than Chattanooga and
  • a location theoretically more convenient to their high A farm team and spring training complex in Fort Myers. Well, it's in the same state, but it's at the west end of the Florida panhandle. It might be easier to sail to Pensacola from Fort Myers than drive.

This will be the Twins third affilation in Double A in six years. Minnesota has a reputation for really good relationships with its affiliates, but that rep was earned during the Terry Ryan years, and the people responsible for building those relationships are pretty much gone now. Still, I would expect the Twins would want to have a long connection with Pensacola because of Point No. 1 above.

Monday, October 1, 2018

A season's, and maybe a career's, end

An emotional Joe Mauer caught one, presumably final,
 major-league pitch in the ninth inning Sunday, five years
after a concussions forced him to abandon the position.
The final day of the regular season is always one of the saddest of the year for me. Some years I'm eager for the postseason, but even in those years I know I'll miss the rhythm of the schedule -- and winter is coming.

On Sunday we got a glimpse of how much Joe Mauer misses being a catcher. His postgame description of having put the gear in a bag five years ago and never opening it until Saturday night, when he put it on over his clothes -- that helped explain the tears as he stood on the field one more time in the "tools of ignorance" to receive one more pitch.

I was unenthused about the stunt while it was happening, just as I frowned at the one-pitch return to third base by Jim Thome in 2011.  But it clearly meant a lot to Mauer, and apparently to Mauer's family.

It occurred to me in these past few days of trying to ferret out of Mauer's deeds and words what his intentions are that much may hinge on how he defines "Joe Mauer" to himself. If his first thought is "baseball player," it's a lot less likely that he'll retire than if it's "husband and father," and vice versa.

Sunday made me wonder if "catcher" isn't still top shelf in his self-image, more than five years after he last caught a competitive pitch.

And I wonder, too, if the theatrics the Twins worked into Sunday's game -- his daughters visiting first base for the usual Sunday kids starting lineup (which he didn't know about before hand), the one-pitch return to catching (which he had know about), the old promo commercials on the scoreboard -- if all that was intended to nudge Mauer in the direction of retirement.

Mauer will decide what he deems best for himself. It's not for me to substitute my judgment for his. I expect him to walk away, but it's certainly plausible that he'll decide he wants to live baseball's rhythms at least one more season.