Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Weather or not, a losing streak

The less said about the Twins play of late, the better.

Nevertheless, I shall expend a few, perhas trite, words on the subject.

  • A team is never as good as it looks when it's winning and never as bad as it looks when it's losing.
  • The Twins' five-game losing streak is now longer than any losing streak they had in 2017.
  • I have no idea how much their sporadic schedule affects their inconsistent performance, but Jose Berrios' outing Tuesday shouldn't have been affected.
That last point probably merits some discussion. Kyle Gibson and Lance Lynn had long layoffs between starts. There was the lost weekend against Chicago during the blizzard, and the trip to Puerto Rico in which neither pitched, and the result was that each went more than a week between starts.

Berrios, however, has worked on pretty close to normal rest -- five days off in Puerto Rico, four days in New York. He was very good against Cleveland on his native island, not very effective against the Yankees. 

The ESPN crew doing Monday's game talked quite a bit about the shortage of games for the Twins, and I will accept the notion that they have yet to get into the rhythm of the season. I haven't yet myself. Too many off days, too many rain/snow outs. 

If that's a problem, it's a self-curing one. They're going to play 162, just not as many of them in April as everybody else.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Busenitz down, Duffey up

As the Twins discover that, yep, they do too need a long reliever. ...

LaVelle Neal assured somebody on Twitter that this year's bullpen is better than last year's. "Going through a rough patch," the Strib reporter said. Perhaps, but that's assuming that the expiration dates haven't been hit on Fernando Rodney and Zach Duke, ages 41 and 35 respectively.

I was a bit surprised two weekends back when the Twins added a relief arm. They were, at the time, in the middle of a series of snowouts and looking at four days in a row without games. The bullpen was, if anything, overly rested at that point.

And then they had a 16-inning game in San Juan. And then they transformed one of those relief arms into the fifth starter (demoting Gabriel Moya to activate Phil Hughes). And the bullpen is pretty beat up.

Bad games and bad series happen, even to the best teams, and one ought not overreact to them. But the Twins really feel like a different team without Byron Buxton in the lineup.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Notes from the weekend

Ugly series all told against Tampa Bay for the Twins. They couldn't deal with the former Twins in the Rays outfield (Denard Span and Carlos Gomez) and the bullpen stuck so bad one assumes the trainer had to check the old guys for signs of decomposion.

Sapn went 5-for-14 with three runs and six RBIs. Gomez scored the winning run on Friday and hit a monster walk-off homer off the previously impregnable Addison Reed on Sunday.

Go-Go, by the way, is hitting third for Tampa Bay despite a .160 batting average. It's still early.


Gabriel Moya, lefty reliever I really like even through his major league numbers to date aren't good, was optioned out Sunday to make room for Phil Hughes. Dick Bremer was claiming that Hughes showed improved velocity on his rehab assignment, but we certainly didn't see that in Sunday's start.

For the first time, I now consider it a genuine possibility that the Twins will give up on Hughes relatively soon. They're on the hook for not only this season but next on his contract, so that's a genuine consideration. But when Ervin Santana returns -- and my guess is end of May at the earliest for that -- there's no room for him in the rotation. And there may not be room for him in the bullpen either.

Gotta get outs. And Hughes needs to start getting them soon.


Luke Bard, a hard-throwing relief prospect the Twins lost to the Angels in the Rule 5 draft, has now been designated for assignment. If he slips through waivers, I would assume the Twins will happily reclaim him.

Bard is said to have the highest spin rate on his four-seam fastball in the majors this year. That's nice. It obviously wasn't enough to keep him on the Angels roster.

If the Twins get him back, it may make it a bit easier for Minnesota to abandon the Tyler Kinley experiment. Kinley has pitched just three innings so far, and those innings haven't made Paul Molitor eager to increase his role. It's difficult for a contender to carry a Rule 5 guy.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Pic of the Week

Broken bat, home run. Seriously.

I have posted broken bat photos before. I've not posted a broken bat photo in which the batted ball went 400-plus feet for a home run.

It's not the first time somebody's broken his bat hitting a homer. I remember Jack Howell doing it with the Angels on a Game of the Week in the 1980s, but that was a cheapie down the foul line. Barry Bonds did it in Miami at least a decade a ago, and that was no short shot.

This one went to right-center. Bryce Harper, man. Some kind of strong.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Fernando Rodney Experience

Fernando Rodney has appeared in seven regular season games now for the Twins. He has two saves, two blown saves (one a vultured win), and a loss in a game he entered tied.

What he doesn't have yet is a clean, 1-2-3 inning. He had a chance at that Friday night, but after striking out the first two men he faced with a one-run lead he put a pitch in Carlos Gomez's ribs. Then came a steal and a grounder that bounced over the shortstop, and the lead was gone.

And the next inning Zach Duke, who is about as veteran as Rodney, messed up a PFP play at first base as the winning run scored from second.

I don't want to hear about the bad luck on the bounce, and I don't want to hear about the ump missing the call at first on Duke. The problem starts with hitting Go-Go. Rodney has spent his entire career flirting with disaster, and disaster took him up on the offer Friday.

It comes with the territory.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Should they have played in San Juan?

As it became evident last September how badly Hurricane Maria had damaged Puerto Rico,  I expected MLB to cancel the planned Indians-Twins series in San Juan. They didn't.

Those games were played Tuesday and Wednesday -- the second one in the midst of an island-wide blackout, with literally millions of Puerto Ricans in the dark and backup generators powering Hiram Bithorn Stadium. The stadium itself needed extensive repairs after the storm to be ready for these two games.

And I ask myself: Was it worth it? Should the needs of MLB have been a priority in the reconstruction of Puerto Rico? Is it right that the ballpark is fixed when blue tarps remain on rooftops all over the island? Or did the games provide a useful dose of escapism, pride and hope for the island's beleaguered residents?

The image of the ballpark as a brightly-lit oasis in the blackout darkness of San Juan is both repugnant and attractive. My instinct, despite my obvious fandom, is to declare that the trivialities of  sports must be far down the list of priorities in a disaster such as Maria. But it's also true that people need some relief from constantly facing grim reality; a joyous diversion is helpful in stressful times.

As a practical matter, diverting the stadium generators to a different use would not have solved the blackout. The rickety, outdated and undercapitalized power grid is one of Puerto Rico's major drawbacks; no amount of backup generators can resolve that problem.

Michael Lananna of Baseball America this winter wrote of the determination on the island to play its winter league. It was a shortened season, and there were no night games, but there was a winter league, and Puerto Rico went on to win the Caribbean Series. There is reason for pride in that accomplishment.

Baseball is part of the pattern of life in Puerto Rico (and here). How much a part depends on one's personal tastes. Playing two major league games in San Juan doesn't mean the island is back; it certainly doesn't fix the problems. But it probably represents a small step forward, and if nothing else for a few days reminded the rest of the country that a portion of our fellow citizens are still hurting.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Ryan LaMarre, starring in small sample size theater

Ryan LaMarre's
second major league
RBI was a gane-winner/
Ryan LaMarre, who had the game-winning hit in the 16th inning in the midnight hour in San Juan, Puerto Rico, is now 7-for-12 with five strikeouts. All seven hits are singles.

The man's BABIP -- batting average, balls in play -- is 1.000. His batting average is .583.

Obviously, he's not THAT good. If he was, he wouldn't be coming off the bench, much less be on the option yo-yo with Rochester. (LaMarre was optioned to Rochester during the snowed out weekend, restored to the active roster as the 26th man for the Puerto Rico series, and restored to the 25-man roster to take the place of Byron Buxton when Buxton went on the disabled list.)

Nothing in LaMarre's minor league track record says he's a quality hitter. He is said to have reworked his swing over the winter. and he hit .500 during spring training to find a spot on the opening day roster.

Still, a manager who believes in "the hot hand" would start increasing LaMarre's playing time. And with Buxton sidelined and Max Kepler apparently feeling something in his knee, there may be more at-bats in LaMarre's immediate future.