Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Talking prospects

Tuesday's major league rainout coincided with the arrival of the dead tree edition of Baseball America and its top prospects lists for each minor league.

The list contains some familiar names from the Twins system, and a couple of  intriguing newcomers to prospect lists.

International League: RHP Jose Berrios, No 9. No surprise there. Berrios has clearly emerged as the best pitching prospect in the organization, and one of the offseason storylines figures to be if and how the Twins clear a path to get him into the major league rotation.

Southern League: 3B Miguel Sano (1), CF Byron Buxton (2), OF/1B Max Kepler (6), Berrios (9), MI Jorge Polanco (14). Chattanooga was loaded, especially early in the first half, before Sano, Buxton and Berrios were moved up. These are five guys who've dotted the organization's top ten lists for a while, and the four position players have all gotten at least a cup of coffee in the majors.

Florida State League: Nobody from the Miracle made the FSL top ten, but RHP Kohl Stewart (15), LHP Stephen Gonsalves (16) and SS Engelb Vielma cracked the second ten. Stewart, who was the No. 4 overall pick 2013, hasn't been as dominant in A ball as one might expect. Vielma is the one of those intriguing newcomers cited above; observers rave about his glove, and as was the case last year, he hit better as the year progressed. Hitting is going to be the key for him.

Midwest League: SS Nick Gordon (4), Gonsalves (18). No surprises there, although I would have thought RHP Felix Jorge might have gotten into the top 20.

Appy League: SS Jermaine Palacios (3), 3B Travis Blankenhorn (15), OF LaMonte Wade (17). If you;re going to remember a name from this list, it should be Palacios. Palacios got a bit of attention this summer from BA for his bat, and this write-up quotes an unnamed scout as saying Palacios is "right there with Nick Gordon," the No. 5 overall pick in 2014. A surplus of young quality shortstops is a definite positive, and a real rarity for the Twins.

Gulf Coast League: Palacios (17).

BA also gave writeups to a selection of players who didn't qualify for the league lists and included to a pair of left-handed pitchers in the Twins system, Tyler Jay (the Twins first-round pick in June) and Mat Batts. Jay didn't qualify for a lack of innings (only 16 after he was used hard in college). Batts didn't make the lists because of his lack of velocity, but his other skills are (BS's word) intriguing. He had dominating numbers in the FSL, but the league is very pitcher friendly. We'll see if his skill set passes muster in the higher levels next year.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

One starter's as good as the next (corrected)

The Twins rotation has been a shambles all month, and it got a bit more piecemeal Monday when Phil Hughes was sent back to the hotel with a fever and the flu. Tommy Milone started and got 17 outs (and his ninth win).

Milone's ERA stands now at 4.04. The Twins have six pitchers with at least 16 starts and 100 innings this year, and their ERAs are strikingly similar, with Hughes a bit out of step from the rest:

  • Kyle Gibson (31 starts, 188.2 innings): 3.96
  • Mike Pelfrey (29 starts, 163 innings): 4.09
  • Hughes (24 starts, 154.1 innings): 4.43
  • Milone (22 starts, 122.2 innings): 4.05
  • Trevor May (16 starts, 113 innings): 4.06
  • Ervin Santana (16 starts, 101 innings): 4.10

For that matter, Tyler Duffey and Ricky Nolasco have combined for 16 starts (but just 84.1 innings). Their combined ERA: 4.06.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Bryce Harper, Jonathan Paplebon and the Nationals disaster

Bryce Harper (right) is pulled away from Jonathan Papelbon
in the eighth inning Saturday in Washington.
Bryce Harper is 22 and having a monster season for the Washington Nationals. As disappointing as the Nats have been, Harper is the overwhelming favorite for the National League MVP award.

Jonathan Papelbon has been one of the game's better closers for almost a decade. He's prolific enough a saves artist that he harbors ambitions of catching Mariano Rivera's career mark.

Washington has here two giant egos who clearly don't like each other very much. Sunday's dugout scuffle, in which Papelbon grabbed Harper by the throat purportedly because Harper didn't sprint to first base on a popup, was a vivid illustration.

This isn't about how hard Harper ran or about a veteran policing professionalism. This has its roots in (a) the massive disappointment that has been the Nationals in the second half and (b) the Manny Machado incident of a week or so ago, when Papelbon decided to throw at the Orioles star and Harper in the postgame declared. "It's tired. I'm probably going to get drilled tomorrow."

As it turned out, Buck Showalter, the Orioles manager, quashed any notion of immediate revenge-taking (which doesn't mean it won't happen next year). The point is: Harper called out Papelbon for his stupidity, and as Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post says in this piece on the meaning of Sunday;s tussle, "the fuse had been lit to a tinderbox player."

Boswell last year inaccurately derided Harper as the seventh-best player on the Nats. He is no Harper apologist, but the overwhelming consensus appears to be on Harper's side in this dispute.

During the runup to the trade deadline, I floated here the notion of the Twins acquiring Papelbon. That notion was based on a wildly inaccurate reading of Papelbon's motivations and contract, and I am quite pleased two months later that Papelbon isn't in Minnesota.

The Nats probably wish now he wasn't in Washington either, but they're stuck with him for another year, having guaranteed his overpriced option for 2016.

Washington figures to have a lot of roster turnover this winter, including manager Matt Williams. This is one team where the single most important quality of the next manager is going to be his ability to handle giant egos. Baseball history is replete with managers who ran their careers aground on such rocks.

I never thought I'd say this again, but this might be a team that would benefit from having Dusty Baker as its skipper.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Pic of the Week

Mike Trout, Superman
If you were up late enough last night watching the MLB Network -- or perhaps a highlight show -- you saw this play. Mike Trout of the Angels going far over the centerfield fence in Anaheim to take a three-run homer away from Jesus Montero of the Seattle Mariners.

It might be the best defensive play of the season, By anybody.

The catch certainly mattered to the Angels, who won 3-2 in 10 innings (walk-off homer by David Freese). And it mattered to the Twins, who also won Friday night but made no progress in their quest for a wild-card berth. They're still behind the Angels and the Houston Astros (who also won on Friday).

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Looking failure in the eye

Glen Perkins after yielding a two-run, go-ahead
home run in the eighth inning Saturday.

Baseball has been called a game of failure. More accurately, it is a zero-sum game: Every win is balanced by a loss. And in baseball, at least at the highest levels, even the best teams lose a lot. The best winning percentage in the American League so far belongs to Kansas City, and the Royals lose 4.2 games of every 10 they play.

So even those who succeed in the majors fail frequently. They strike out, sometimes, with men on base; they give up, sometimes, home runs in tied games.  The image of Kirby Puckett pumping his fist as he runs the bases in Game Six of the 1991 World Series is balanced by the image of Charlie Leibrandt walking off the field covering his mouth with the crook of his elbow.

I thought Friday night of Leibrandt as I watched Glen Perkins squatting next to the mound after giving up a two-run homer to Rajai Davis. I don't know how much, if any, discomfort Perkins has in his troublesome neck and back these days. He obviously believes he's sound enough to pitch. He also realizes that he's been part of the problem the past few months:

I can name pitchers  whose careers went downhill fast after high-profile failures. Connecting those dots may be overly simplistic. Maybe Byung-Hyun Kim and Calvin Schiraldi and Salomon Torres weren't ready emotionally for those moments and were stunted by their failure in the spotlight; maybe they were never destined for stardom.

Perkins, at least, has a base of success to fall back on. But it has to be a searing feeling to squat by the mound watching a game and a wild card berth slipping away.

Friday, September 25, 2015

The return of Ricky Nolasco

The Twins are expected to bring veteran (and high-priced) pitcher Ricky Nolasco off the 60-day disabled list today.

He's not likely to pitch many innings in what remains of the season, and what he does pitch probably won't be significant innings. This move isn't so much about trying to reach the postseason as

  • rewarding him for rehabbing his midseason surgery diligently enough to be able to pitch this year; 
  • establishing that he is indeed sound going into the offseason.
The Twins have some serious sorting to do among their starting candidates this winter. Nolasco, Ervin Santana and Phil Hughes are to get nearly $40 million next year (and the year after that); if healthy and on the roster, they will be in the rotation. None of them were, taking the season as a whole, as effective/helpful as Kyle Gibson and Tommy Milone. That's a full rotation right there, and we haven't accounted for Tyler Duffey, Jose Berrios or Trevor May -- or for the genuine possibility that the fascination with free-agent-to-be Mike Pelfrey has not run its course.

I doubt Nolasco has much trade value right now, and two or three innings of mopup relief in the final 11 games probably won't change that assessment. But knowing that he's sound might make it easier to deal somebody else.

Nolasco is not, as I write this, on the 40-man roster, so even with the expanded active roster somebody has to go to make room, presumably somebody who didn't get a September callup. Eyeballing the roster, my guess is Aaron Thompson will be DFA'd. While I have argued for waiving Oswaldo Arcia, I can't imagine that happened before the organizational meetings.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Notes, quotes and comment

The 2015 Twins are not a particularly outstanding team. Their record (78-73) is too close to .500 for that. But they have a resilience that seems noteworthy.

After they were swept in Saturday's doubleheader, I had (again) essentially written them off as a playoff contender. Three wins-in-a-row later, they are, in the cliche phrase, in control of their own destiny. Win them all, they win a wild card spot.

Yes, they're a game out of the second wild card. But they are tied with Houston in the loss column, and that's the crucial factor. If the Twins win out, and the Astros win out, they will finish the schedule dead even -- and go to a game 163.

The odds of them winning out are, of course, incredibly thin, but they don't have to. They will have to win a lot, however. And the more whoever gets that second wild-card wins, the less pedestrian their record will be.


Let's put the remaining schedules for the wild card contenders on the record. I'll include the Rangers, in first place in the West, because much of their remaining schedule is against the Astros and the Angels. One of those teams could catch them for the division crown, which would leave them in the WC picture.

The Twins have 11 games to play. They finish their homestand today with Cleveland, Then it's off to Detroit for three games Friday-Sunday and to Cleveland for four. They finish at home with three games against the Royals.

Houston (nine games to play) is off today. They are home against the Texas Rangers this weekend for three games, then hit the road for three games at Seattle and three games at Arizona.

Anaheim (10) is off today. They are home for three games against Seattle and three games against Oakland, then finish with four games at Texas.

Texas (10) finishes its series at Oakland today, then travels to Houston for three games before returning home for three against Detroit and four against the Angels.

Baltimore is three games behind the Twins, Cleveland 3.5 back. I'll not bother with their schedules. Nor will I bother looking at the Yankees, who are four games ahead of the Astros. If the Yanks come back to the pack, great, but I'll let them actually do so before I start thinking about them.


A belated note on Yogi Berra, since I had a couple of people ask me about it yesterday. The Hanna-Barbara animated cartoon character was dubbed in the ballplayer's honor, not the other way around. Berra had been known as "Yogi" from childhood after a pal saw him sitting crosslegged "like a yogi." The cartoon character debuted in 1958, by which time Berra had won his three MVPs.

The initial Associated Press bulletin on Berra's death Thursday morning identified him as "Yogi Bear." Ah, the curse of becoming such a cultural icon that cartoon characters swipe your name.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Yogi Berra, 1925-2015

Yogi Berra as manager of the New
York Mets in 1983. The Mets went to
the World Series that year despite
being barely better than ,500.
Always go to other people's funerals. Otherwise they won't go to yours.

Lawrence Peter "Yogi" Berra

The family of Yogi Berra announced this morning that the legendary catcher, manager and malaprop philosopher died on Tuesday.

It was appropriate timing; Sept. 22 was also the anniversary of Berra's major league debut.

If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.

Lawrence Peter "Yogi" Berra

The question "Who is the greatest catcher in baseball history" has many plausible answers. One of the best answers is Yogi Berra.

A three-time American League Most Valuable Player, Berra was the rare catcher who sustained a middle-of-the-order bat for a full career. Bill James once wrote that Berra made Casey Stengel a genius by being the one guy who could hit cleanup, catch 140 games a year and never have an off season.

So I’m ugly. I never saw anyone hit with his face.
Lawrence Peter "Yogi" Berra

Stengel and Berra had aspects in common -- faces that drew gibes and a penchant for wisdom hidden in fractured English. When Berra joined the Yankees, one teammate reacted: "They finally found one uglier than (Charlie) Keller." 

We were overwhelming underdogs.
Lawrence Peter "Yogi" Berra on the 1973 Mets

Berra was done as a player by the time I started paying attention to baseball. But I well remember his work managing the New York Mets in 1973. He had a rotation featuring Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Jon Matlack and a broken-down Willie Mays in center field. The Mets won just 82 regular season games, but that was enough to win the Al East. Then Berra piloted them past the Big Red Machine of Pete Rose, Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench to get to the World Series, where it took the Mustache Gang A's of Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter and Rollie Fingers seven games to win their second of three consecutive championships.

It’s deja vu all over again.
Lawrence Peter "Yogi" Berra

Berra was, of course, no stranger to the World Series. He holds the records for World Series games played and World Series hits. As a manager, he led the 1964 Yankees to the Fall Classic (and got fired for his efforts); nine years later, as noted, he guided the 1973 Mets to the Series. He never won the title as a manager, but he won 10 as a player and earned another ring as a coach of the 1969 Mets.

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.
Lawrence Peter "Yogi' Berra

And before he could get his brilliant major league career started, Berra served in the Navy during World War II. He was on a "landing craft support small" off the coast of Normandy on D-Day. His heroics, obviously, went beyond the baseball field.

The future ain’t what it used to be.

It ain't over 'til it's over.

Lawrence Peter "Yogi" Berra

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A title-winning core

Two Twins minor-league affiliates played Monday night for championships. The Cedar Rapids Kernels lost by one run to the West Michigan Whitecaps for the low A Midwest League title; the Chattanooga Lookouts beat Biloxi for the Double A Southern League crown.

Cedar Rapids' proximity and the presence of Nick Gordon not withstanding, the Chattanooga team is the more interesting and important to fans of the major league team, and not only because it's two rungs higher on the ladder. Chattanooga was loaded this year, stuffed in large part with the players who won the Florida State League title in 2014 and the Appy League title in 2012. (That same group lost in the Midwest League playoff in 2013 to an equally-loaded Quad Cities squad.)

Even with the midseason promotions of the likes of Miguel Sano, Jose Berrios and Byron Buxton, the Lookouts were still loaded. Max Kepler was the Southern League player of the year. Adam Brett Walker hammered 31 homers (and struck out 195 times). Jorge Polanco spent much of the season at shortstop next to former first round pick Levi Michael. For much of the first half of the season, manager Doug Mientkiewicz could run out lineups with nine likely future major leaguers.

The seven players who were on the roster for all three titles, as listed by Mike Berardino: outfielders Kepler, Walker and Travis Harrison; first baseman D.J. Hicks; infielder Niko Goodrum; and pitchers Brett Lee and B.J. Baxendale.

The immensely talented Kepler, who has been on the 40-man roster for two seasons, was immediately called up to the big-league club after Monday's game. I don't expect the German to get much playing time unless and until the Twins are ousted from the playoff picture, but he'll get a taste of it these next two weeks.

He's 22, a left-handed hitter and thrower. the offspring of two world-class ballet dancers (mom from Texas, dad from Poland, both were performing in Berlin) who was signed in the same summer as Sano and Polanco. He has the speed to play center -- once Buxton was moved up, Kepler got the bulk of the center field time -- but has had some elbow problems in the past. He played all three outfield spots for Chattnooga and has considerable first base time as well.

Growing up in Germany didn't afford Kepler much exposure to quality competition as a kid, and it took him a while to catch up to his peers. But he certainly had a breakout year this season.

On a team with Buxton and Aaron Hicks, Kepler's not going to play center field. With the elbow issues on his resume, I suspect he's best suited for left field or first base, and the Twins have Joe Mauer at first base with three more years on his contract. I also suspect that of the four young outfielders -- Buxton, Hicks, Eddie Rosario and Kepler -- that Kepler may emerge as best hitter.

The Twins have time to sort out that alignment.

Monday, September 21, 2015

More on Hunter and the outfield choices

The Monday print column examined Paul Molitor's September reliance on Torii Hunter and the possibility that the veteran's resurgence would result in his return in 2016.

On Sunday, the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo's notes column contained this paragraph:

7. Torii Hunter, RF, Twins — He has said he’s going year to year, but the Twins want him back for at least one more season, according to a team official. The impact Hunter has made in the clubhouse and leading a team featuring some younger players has been off the charts. Hunter, 40, is hitting .242 with 20 homers and 74 RBIs. He also has played a good right field.

I would dispute the last sentence, but the rest is plausible -- especially if Molitor, Terry Ryan and the other evaluators doubt that Bryon Buxton is ready to hit major league pitching. Plausible but essentially self-defeating, unless (as I said in the column) there is an explicit understanding that Hunter is not expected to be a regular.

It's a numbers game. Leaving Hunter out of the 2016 equation for now, the Twins have Buxton, Aaron Hicks and Eddie Rosario as presumptive regulars, plus Southern League MVP Max Kepler pounding on the door. The four young guys have their flaws, but so does Hunter -- and the foursome have futures. I want them to play. Hunter, if he expects to be in the lineup six days a week, is in the way.

It may well be that Hunter's two-month slump in July and August was connected to a shoulder injury, and some may argue that his season stats should be discounted as a result. I would say otherwise. Injuries happen, and they happen more often to, and persist longer for, 40-year-olds than for 25-year olds. (I would also suggest that if Hunter hit .130 in August because of an injury, playing with the ailment hurt the club.)

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Pic of the Week

Umpire Toby Basner steps over Houston's Jose
Altuve after the Astro scored on a sacrifice fly Friday.

Jose Altuve is pretty clearly the smallest player in the majors. But this is fairly ridiculous anyway.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

An appropriate quote from Bull Durham

"Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains. Think about it."

Nuke LaLoosh

The Twins got rained out Friday and gained slightly in the wild card chase as both Houston and Texas lost.

As difficult as this week has been for the Minnesotas, all they've lost is time. And some margin on the Angels, who are still behind them but barely. The Astros have lost five in a row now.

Big twin bill for the Twins today against the faux LA team. But you knew that already.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Notes, quotes and comment

The Twins went from a difficult-to-swallow extra-inning loss on Wednesday to an embarrassing, can't-anybody-pitch one on Thursday.

Score eight runs, you ought to win. All the Twins accomplished with eight runs was force the Angels into a save situation.

A game and a half out of the second wild-card, 16 games to go.


Ron Gardenhire has been strongly linked with the Detroit Tigers managerial job since last month, when Dave Dombrowski was fired as club president. This week the Star Tribune's LaVelle Neal wrote that Gardy's agent has been "in contact with more than one club about a possible return, according to someone close to Gardenhire,"

Which sounds like the former Twins manager is trying to drum up some competition for his services, or at least the illusion of competition.

The overwhelming trend in dugout bosses in recent years has been for inexperienced managers who are likely to be more receptive to front office "suggestions" than the old hands. Gardenhire does not fit that trend. I find it difficult to imagine that he's going to have multiple teams to choose from.


I don't believe I've made mention of this before, but both Max Kepler, the outfielder-first baseman who tore up the Southern League for Chattanooga, and Jose Berrios, the right-handed pitcher whose absence from the September call-up list stirred some fan displeasure, were named to the mythical all-prospect teams by both Baseball America and MLB Pipeline.

On Thursday, Kepler hit a pair of homers, one a grand slam, as the Lookouts evened the Southern League championship series with Biloxi.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

One throw made, one not

Wednesday's was a bad loss for the Twins in many ways. Rain delay at the start, early deficit, rally to take the lead, cough the lead up in the ninth, rally to tie, get the first two on in the 10th and strand both of them ... it all added up to an opportunity to gain on a playoff spot wasted.

There are several plays and players who could be commented on here, but I shall limit myself to two similar plays -- two closers who had to get off the bound, field a soft-hit ball and make a throw to first base. This is an aspect of pitching that seems lost on many power pitchers, and both Bruce Rondon of the Tigers and Kevin Jepsen of the Twins are power pitchers.

Jepsen's play came first. The leadoff batter in the top of the ninth, Victor Martinez, hit a dribbler to the third base side of the mound. V-Mart is one of the slowest runners in the American League -- he's old, he wasn't fast when young, he's a former catcher and he's had knee injuries. But Jepsen reacted to the dribbler as if it were Byron Buxton, or at least Danny Santana, heading to first base. He barehanded the ball and made a spinning, off-balance throw to first.

It's no surprise that he bounced the throw. The wonder is that he didn't heave it down the right field line or into the camera well. I will concede that Joe Mauer probably should have been able to handle the throw anyway, but no official scorer is going to charge the first baseman with an error on a bouncing throw. Martinez was credited with a single, which is a gift to the DH. In my view, Jepsen, confronted with the need to make an unforeseen play, panicked. And that started the two-run ninth.

Rondon had his chance in the bottom of the inning, when Buxton was asked to sacrifice. Unlike Jepsen, Rondon knew ahead of time that he was probably going to have to make a play. Buxton's bunt wasn't great, and Rondon didn't make a great throw -- he lobbed the ball to first, and Buxton made it a closer play than it should have been. But Rondon did get his out, uncomfortable as he appeared in the role.

It has long been my observation that most power pitchers are poor fielders, and it has long been my contention that, aside from the difficulty of bunting fastballs in the upper 90s, forcing such pitchers to get off the mound and make plays would be a fruitful strategy. This applies to both Jepsen and Rondon. But on Wednesday, Rondon made his play. Jepsen didn't.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Santana pinch-hitting for Buxton

On Tuesday, against a right-handed starter, Torii Hunter was the outfielder out. In this case, with extreme fly-ball pitcher Phil Hughes working for the Twins, the decision may have been based less on who figured to hit than on catching the ball. Eddie Rosario- Byron Buxton- Aaron Hicks is simply a superior defensive alignment to any involving the 40-year-old Hunter.

Buxton, who has often appeared overmatched at the plate, bunted for a single and chopped a double past the third baseman (a single for just about anybody else). And in the ninth inning, down two runs and facing the high-velocity Bruce Rondon, Paul Molitor opted to pinch-hit for Buxton to open the inning.

With Danny Santana, not Torii Hunter. It was a move not particularly well-received.

I view Molitor's decision as something of a Strat-O-Matic move -- more obviously logical in the simulation game than in real life. Buxton's on-base percentage is .242; Santana's is even worse, .238. And the switch-hitting Santana's OPB as a left-handed hitter this year is .214.

But the pitcher's splits argue strongly for getting a left-handed hitter up. Rondon's OBP allowed to lefties is .404. against righties .333. In Strat terms, Molitor was hoping to get the roll on the pitcher's card.

Molitor knows full well he's not playing Strat, of course, He simply figured a poor-hitting lefty had a better chance of doing something against Rondon than any righty (which is why Hunter was bypassed). As it turned out, Rondon retired two of the three lefties he faced (Mauer doubled) and one of the two right-handed hitters.

The quotes from Molitor about the decision had a bit of the traditional managerial defensiveness to them, something that's been fairly rare from him:

"Have you been watching the games? I mean, Byron's been battling but it's been hard for him to get hits. His speed has gotten him a few and he's really trying to do the most that he can."

Well, yeah. We've seen more than 260 Danny Santana plate appearances this year. It's been tough for him to get hits too. That is really the point of contention.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Tyler Duffey and limiting innings

Tyler Duffey's ERA since his
disastrous debut :2.45. 
Tyler Duffey made his seventh major league start Monday. He may not make another start for the Twins, at least this year.

Not because he's been ineffective; the 24-year-old's 6.1 innings of one-run ball Monday drove his ERA below 3.80.

But even after skipping a turn in the rotation -- Duffey was pitching on nine days rest -- he's in novel territory. He has 138 minor league innings on his record this year, and now 38.2 more on the big club. That's 176.2 innings split among three levels (Double A, Triple A and the majors), and the college reliever hadn't reached 150 before.

It's a dilemma for manager Paul Molitor and pitching coach Neil Allen. By the results, the rookie is clearly one of their best starters right now, and every game matters for a team that is just outside the playoff field. On the other hand, one of the organizational philosophies -- evidenced by the Jose Berrios shutdown -- is "protect the pitchers."

The Twins have 19 games left on the schedule. Duffey could make as many as three more starts; if he does, and matches Monday's 19 outs in each, that's 19 more innings, which puts him at 195.2. I don't think the Twins want to go there, but they may need to if they are to get to a place they do want to go, the postseason.

Certainly the Twins have other options to get them through the final weeks of the season. Phil Hughes comes off the disabled list today. Kyle Gibson, Tommy Milone and Ervin Santana remain in regular turn. Mike Pelfrey is getting the skipped-turn treatment this time through. That's five guys without Duffey.

Molitor even, unbidden, brought up the name of Ricky Nolasco on his pregame radio show Monday, saying he hoped to get Nolasco into a game yet this season (while stopping short of saying it would be as a starter). Nolasco hasn't pitched since May.

Molitor is clearly piecing together his starters one series at a time now. I doubt he's going to shut Duffey down completely. But he's not going to rely on Duffey either.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Survivng the gauntlet

On Aug. 16, the Twins defeated the Cleveland Indians at Target Field. Their record was 59-58.

They then entered probably the most grueling stretch of their season: two road trips featuring 10 games in 11 days apiece sandwiching a six-game homestand. Twenty of the 26 games would be against fellow playoff contenders, and four of the series would be against teams leading its division at the time.

The Twins completed that stretch Sunday with a 76-68 record. They not only survived that gauntlet, they thrived, going 16-10. They leapfrogged the Orioles and Angels in the wild card chase and stayed essentially even with the Rangers. They did this despite the prolonged absence of closer Glen Perkins and the hamstring issues of cleanup hitter Miguel Sano.

One of my wife's co-workers asked me a while back: Should we take this playoffs talk about the Twins seriously, or are they going to fade? I don't remember exactly what I said then, but my reply today would be: If they were going to fade, those road trips would have been the time and the places.

The Twins now have six series left on the schedule, four of them against sub-.500 clubs, a fifth against the somewhat fading Angels and the sixth, concluding the season, against a Kansas City club that figures to be more interested in setting itself for the post season tournament than in padding its regular season stats at that point.

They are in good position, Now they see if they can finish the job.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Pic of the Week

Tony LaRussa, the chief baseball officer
of the Arizona Diamondbacks, poses
with Internet sensation Grumpy Cat
before Monday's game.
What happens when Tony LaRussa encounters an online celebrity?


Grumpy cat, grumpy former manager.

The photo, incidentally, moved on the AP service with a mandatory credit. Rob Schmacher of the Arizona Republic was the photographer.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

A partial starting rotation

Paul Molitor's "starting rotation" appears to have essentially dissolved.

He used Thursday's off day to skip Tyler Duffey, who has thrown 170 innings this season, majors and minors, easily a career high. Phil Hughes is to start Tuesday after a month on the disabled list; Mike Pelfrey will be skipped, presumably on the basis that he's not very good. (If there is an arm on the staff the Twins should be careless with, it's Pelfrey's; he's a free agent to be, and they have plenty of replacement options available.)

What Molitor will do after that probably depends on what happens next week.

It's all reminding me of September 1987, when Tom Kelly kept Frank Viola and Bert Blyleven in regular rotation (but resisted the temptation to start them on short rest) and patched and filled around them. Les Straker, who had blister issues, pitched once a week. Steve Carlton spot started three times against Cy Young candidates (literally; his last three starts were against Teddy Higuera, Jack Morris and Bret Saberhagen). Kelly used a little Joe Niekro here, a little Mike Smithson there. A veteran minor leaguer named Jeff Bittiger started on Labor Day and won; Kelly didn't give him another start, which didn't make sense to me then and doesn't today,

Molitor is presumably anchoring Kyle Gibson, Tommy Milone and the resurgent Ervin Santana and shuffling the deck around them. If the Twins wind up in a Game 163 for that second wild card, Santana would be eligible to pitch, because that would still be considered regular season. As part of his PED punishment, however, Santana is ineligible for the postseason.

Which, a couple of weeks ago. wasn't necessarily a bad thing. Three quality starts later, one wishes he would be available.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Notes, quotes and comment

The word out of Chicago (where the Twins spent Thursday's off day) was that Kurt Suzuki's knee felt good enough that it was deemed unnecessary to see another doctor.

If that assessment is accurate, that's good. I certainly expected at the time of Wednesday's collision that Suzuki's season was over. We'll see, obviously, how all this plays out.


Plenty of Ron Gardenhire talk the past few days out of Detroit, where the chatter is that owner Mike Ilitch has decided that Brad Ausmus won't return as manager and that the 86-year-old owner wants Gardy as the dugout boss.

I can't help but notice that Al Avila, the new general manager in Motown, is barely mentioned in these reports. It's all being driven, apparently, by Ilitch. As a general rule, when owners start making basic baseball decisions, it turns out poorly.

One aspect in which Gardenhire is an obvious good fit for Detroit: His bullpens in Minnesota were generally quite good, and the relief corps in Detroit were, for both Ausmus and Jim Leyland, frequently the weakest point of the roster. And Gardy's preference for veterans fits well with an organization with one of the game's weakest farm systems.

The arrow is pointing down for Detroit right now. It's not a job positioned for immediate success, even with Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander on the roster. But Gardenhire wants to manage again, and there are only 30 such jobs.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Twins didn't kneed this

As this 10th-inning play illustrates, the 2014 rule changes
have not eradicated home plate collisions. 
Kurt Suzuki is not having a good year even by his own standards. The 31-year-old backstop is below his career averages in all three of the slash categories (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage), and his OPS+, which compares his production to the league average, is a mere 68.

Still, he entered Wednesday's game having hit .290 over the past four weeks, and he bopped a homer to open the scoring. And, of course, he exited the game with assistance after the above play.

There was nothing wrong with Dyson's play, and nothing Suzuki did wrong either. Blaine Boyer hung Suzuki out to dry with a sloppy throw on the comebacker.

The Twins announced before the game ended the Suzuki has a bruised knee. Paul Molitor sounded a bit wary of that diagnosis in the post-game presser, and I don't blame him. That looked like a ligament-damage play to me. We'll see what comes of it today.

Bruise, sprain or worse, it certainly seems possible that Suzuki won't be playing for a few days at the least. The Twins have an off day today, but the games will resume on Friday, and somebody's gotta catch.

About the only thing keeping Suzuki's many online critics from demanding his benching is the belief that neither Chris Herrmann nor Eric Fryer are capable replacements. My thought is that Herrmann might be a competent hitter if given a straight platoon role -- limit his exposure to left-handed pitching and play him regularly versus right-handers. What he's gotten is something else again: 104 plate appearances scattered through the season, a fourth of them against lefties. If Suzuki is, as I suspected immediately after the play, out for the season, I'm OK with a straight platoon of Herrmann and Fryer. It might be better than we anticipate, not that that's a tremendously high bar.

Two things we know aren't going to happen: Joe Mauer isn't strapping on the gear, and Josmil Pinto isn't coming up. I keep seeing those suggestions online. Really, folks. We might as well ask for Terry Steinbach to return.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The outfielder who isn't there

Most of my posts in recent days have been about which outfielders are playing. Is Torii Hunter in the lineup, or is it the "outfield of the future" -- Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton and Aaron Hicks?

Forgotten is the Opening Day left fielder, Oswaldo Arcia. He got hurt early, was sent to Triple A on a rehab assignment, then optioned out. He never made it back to the big club, not even as a September callup, And even a cursory look at his numbers with Rochester -- a slash line of .199/.257/.372 -- tells us he didn't deserve to return.

We've seen his power. We've also seen his flaws. He's a poor defensive outfielder. He doesn't hit lefties at all. His strike zone judgment is lacking. None of that has changed.

Arcia poses an interesting roster challenge for the Twins this offseason.

Question: How does he fit in the Twins plans for 2016? My answer: He doesn't.

It's not just the Buxton-Hicks-Rosario trio of multi-tooled outfielders ahead of him. There is also Max Kepler, who dominated the Double-A Southern League and is likely to be called up once Chattanooga is finished with the playoffs. I can't see how Arcia can return to the head of the line for a regular job.

Even as a bench player, Arcia is a poor fit because he has just one tool worth deploying, He has more power than Shane Robinson, but Robinson does everything else on the field better. There was a time when a team could carry a platoon DH, but not now, not if that team has the now conventional 12- to 13-man pitching staff.

Question: What's his trade value? My answer: Practically none.

Arcia isn't even appealing as a "lottery ticket" because (a) he's on a 40-man roster and (b) out of options in 2016. That means he either makes his team's major league roster out of camp or is exposed to waivers. Nobody's going to trade for him on the basis of we can stash him in Triple A and see if he figures it out. That period of his career is done.

Question: Is there any point in the Twins keeping him on the 40-man roster this winter? My answer: I'd hate to lose a player in Rule 5 in November because a 40-man spot was tied up in Arcia. If I had a vote, I would cast it for waiving him now and see if he clears. He's going to get waived before April one way or another; I say do it early and increase the roster flexibility. He's certainly more valuable on a minor league contract than on a major league one at this point.

Arcia is still only 24. There's still a chance he will find himself. But he is deservedly much further down the depth chart today than he was six months ago, and he's about out of time with the Twins.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Monitoring the outfield

Monday morning I predicted that Aaron Hicks would be out of the starting lineup for that day's game. Instead it was Byron Buxton, for the second time in four games.

And, of course, Hicks led off the game with a home run, prompting me to tell my wife: "Once again, Eddie doesn't know what he's talking about."

Meanwhile, Torii Hunter had a good game -- two hits, one of them a double -- despite a matchup against a very hard thrower that didn't figure to particularly fruitful. That will make it easier for Paul Molitor to continue to put Hunter in the lineup.

I return here to first principles. I want the outfield defense. This pitching staff needs an outfield that can turn hits into outs and extra-base hits into singles. I said that at the start of the season, when the Twins opened the year with an outfield of Oswaldo Arcia in left, Jordan Schafer in center and Hunter in right. And I say it in the final month, with Arcia's season over, Schafer teamless and Hunter somewhere between being a regular and being a part-timer.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Notes, quotes and comment

I split Sunday's game between the radio broadcast and the TV, and I'm not sure which announcer said it, but supposedly Torii Hunter was displeased that he was out of the lineup on Saturday.

Which doesn't surprise me but does give me some sour amusement. Does Hunter really believe he's playing so well that he has to be in the lineup? Maybe not, but I'm sure he believes his recent performance understates his current abilities. I'm not saying he's right, mind you. I think he is simply unwilling to admit he's losing the battle (at long last) with time.

The Twins have played three games since Aaron Hicks came off the DL. Of the four "regular" outfielders now active, Hicks is the one who started all three games. Byron Buxton sat Friday, Hunter on Saturday and Eddie Rosario on Sunday, against one of the league's best lefties. I imagine that Hicks will sit today at Kansas City against Yolando Ventura. Paul Molitor will start this playing guys evenly for a bit, then narrow somebody's PT.


An idle thought struck me during Sunday's game: What is somebody named "Dallas" doing starring for a Houston team?


The Monday print column compares the shutdown of prime Twins prospect Jose Berrios with the controversy in New York over Matt Harvey's concern over possible overuse in his Tommy John return.

Harvey was roundly ripped in the New York media this weekend, and there is growing speculation that he will be traded during the offseason as a result. Which reminds me that the Mets were supposedly casting around for a shortstop earlier in the year and haven't really solved the position,

Harvey for Eduardo Escobar? Much as I like Escobar, if I'm the Twins I do that deal in a heartbeat. The linked piece above suggests Brian Dozier as a potential target, and I'd be good with that too, considering that Jorge Polanco is about as ready as he'll ever be and probably ought to be a second baseman in the majors. But I doubt that no matter how unhappy the Mets front office may be with Harvey over this spat that they're seriously going to trade him.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Pic of the Week

Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta takes a pull from a bottle of
Champagne during a team photo after his no-hitter Sunday
in Los Angeles. The team wore pajamas for their
overnight flight back to Chicago,
Jake Arietta didn't do much with the Baltimore Orioles, the team that drafted him in the fifth round in 2007 and brought him to the big leagues in 2010. He went 20-25 with a 5.46 ERA for the O's, who shipped him to the Cubs in a four-player deal in July 2013.

He sure blossomed with the Cubs, though. A 3.66 ERA in nine starts in 2013, then 2.53 last year and 2.03 so far this season, including a no-hitter on last week's Sunday Night Baseball and eight innings of four-hit shutout ball on Saturday. His strikeout rate is a bit higher with the Cubs than with the Orioles, but his walk rate is far lower.

The difference, as explained in this piece, is that he has de-emphasized his "unremarkable" four-seam fastball in favor of his slider and other pitches. Whether that was something encouraged by Chris Bosio, the Cubs pitching coach, or something he decided on his own, it has sure worked. He's now one of the best pitchers in the game.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Outfield alignments

Aaron Hicks rejoined the Twins on Friday and was immediately returned to the starting lineup. Byron Buxton sat.

We'll see how Paul Molitor juggles playing time now with four presumably regular outfielders -- Buxton, Hicks, Torii Hunter and Eddie Rosario. My belief is that the team will be better off if Hunter sits and the three 20-somethings play, but as I've said before, the Twins have a substantial emotional investment in Hunter. They signed him to be at the center of the team, and they're not likely to push him aside completely in the final month.

Molitor has said that if Buxton is in the lineup, he's playing center field. That's the right call. Presumably Hicks will be the play-around guy.

Buxton: CF
Hunter: RF
Rosario: LF
Hicks: Whichever position is open.

My guess is that the two highest priorities to play will be Rosario and Hicks, who have the best hitting numbers on the season.

The guy who's pretty much guaranteed to lose playing time is Shane Robinson, who has been getting consistent time in left field when Hunter sits, with Rosario shifting to right field. Now it''s going to take sitting two "regulars" to get Robinson in the lineup.

Robinson, incidentally, has already set career highs in at-bats, runs scored and hits. He has almost no power, but his batting average and on-base percentage are better than Hunter's, and his defense is markedly better. He's a decent fourth or fifth outfielder, but the need for him this month is probably pretty light.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Another crucial road trip

Two-and-a-half weeks ago, the Twins started a road trip that posed particular peril to their postseason ambitions: New York, Baltimore, Tampa Bay. They emerged from that gauntlet with a winning record and even a sense of missed opportunities.

Today they begin another such trip, this one through two division leaders (Houston and Kansas City) and a disappointing White Sox team that nevertheless has solid starting pitching and is therefore dangerous.

If they can survive this three-city trip, the schedule gets easier. They have two series left with Detroit, which appears to be folding up shop; two series with Cleveland, another team whose lineup and bullpen has betrayed the starting rotation; one series with the fading Angels; and a season-ending set with the Royals, who will likely be more concerned with health and setting up their rotation for Round 1 than with piling up more Ws.

But all that lies after the immediate task -- staying in the hunt for at least the final wild card berth with Glen Perkins out (the closer's back siezed up Wednesday morning and he's not traveling) and Miguel Sano hobbled.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

A "no" to Berrios

Terry Ryan made it explicit Wednesday: Jose Berrios will not be a September call-up.

And as I said when the right-hander wasn't brought up at the start of the month, I'm fine with that.

Ryan cited innings pitched; I assume that's a shorthand for a more complex approach to pitcher health. There's no guarantee that shutting down Berrios after this next start will avoid injury, and there's no guarantee that pitching him in regular rotation through September and even October would injure him. Ryan and his colleagues in the organization have to estimate the risk and decide where they draw the line of prudence, and none of us know exactly where that line is. Ryan doesn't know that either, but he's got more information than you, me or anybody else with an opinion and a platform from which to voice it.

But in terms of the reward, I'll repeat what I said Tuesday: There is no obvious need for Berrios on the major league roster right now.  If the biggest reason for bringing up Berrios is to get that wild-card spot, then it follows that you'd use him in high-leverage roles. And there isn't one open.

The Twins' current starting rotation may not feature any Cy Young candidates, but none is doing so poorly that there's a need to boot him from the rotation. Plus Phil Hughes, currently on the disabled list, is to throw a bullpen session this week; he might be ready to return fairly soon.

As for the bullpen: While the roles are certainly in flux, I can't see any reason to force Berrios into a late-inning assignment, and long relief is not exactly a high-leverage use.

There is a criticism going around that the Twins could have/should have planned for this earlier in the season and limited Berrios' workload. Nonsense. Handling a 21-year old-pitcher (Berrios turned 21 in May) in Double A on the basis of the big league team being in a wild card race in September is putting the cart before the horse. You handle that pitcher to develop him.

The Twins are paying Hughes, Ricky Nolasco, Ervin Santana, Mike Pelfrey, Kyle Gibson and Tommy Milone something in excess of $40 million this year to be the bulk of the starting rotation; dealing with September is on them.

One other point with Berrios: roster flexibility. He doesn't have to be added to the 40-man roster this winter. Call him up now, that changes. So by waiting until 2016 for Berrios' major league debut, Ryan saves a roster spot for this winter.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A night at Target Field

My wife and I scooted up to Minneapolis Tuesday night for the game, in part so I could add Chris Sale to my mental checklist of great pitchers I've seen in person. Sale didn't have one of his better games -- he suffered through a four-run inning -- but he's still mighty impressive.

For some reason, the Twins have done well against Sale this year (his ERA against the Twins in five starts is well over 6 runs per nine innings). I'll take it, but I wouldn't count on that continuing.

Some other observations:

* For a good while I thought I'd be raving over Tyler Duffey's performance. When he got the first two hitters of the fifth inning, he had faced the minimum through 4.2 innings. But then he never got another out. Single, walk, walk, walk, single  and gone.

I saw some chatter on social media that he was getting squeezed by home plate umpire C.B, Bucknor, and Bucknor doesn't have a great reputation. But from my perch -- front of the upper deck behind home plate -- Duffey in that bad stretch wasn't throwing strikes.

Still, in the main, Duffey was impressive. I can't criticize Paul Molitor for getting him out of there when he did, but I certainly liked what I saw from him for the first 14 hitters.

* Miguel Sano is some kind of special hitter. Watching him "run" worried me, though. And I'll bet it worries Molitor, too.

* Six of Sale's strikeouts came at the expense of Trevor Plouffe and Torii Hunter. Plouffe's at-bats didn't look that bad to me, but Hunter certainly appeared to be, in Reggie Jackson's phrase about hitting against Nolan Ryan, eating soup with a fork. And the White Sox fan next to me thought the two doubles the Sox got off Neal Cotts and Casey Fien in the sixth inning, one a blopper down the right field line and the other more to right center, were catchable balls.

Aaron Hicks is to come off the disabled list later this week, and once he's back, every at-bat and every inning afield Hunter gets at the expense of the Byron Buxton-Hicks-Eddie Rosario trio hurt the cause. But, of course, Hunter is still very much at the emotional center of the team. It's not going to be an easy line to draw.

* Buxton didn't look good at the plate against Sale either (two strikeouts), but his speed was very much a factor in the three-run eighth. That he got to second on the third baseman's error was impressive enough; that he scored standing up on a fly ball that I doubt anybody else on the team would try to score on, even more so.

* Eduardo Escobar: 3-for-4 with two doubles, two runs scored and one RBI, plus a couple of nice defensive plays at shortstop. Yeah, I'll take that.

* Kramarczuk's brats are still the bestest.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

No Berrios, at least for now

The first wave of September callups were notified Monday in Rochester after the Red Wings' game, and they are guys we've seen before. Kenny Vargas. Danny Santana. Michael Tonkin, A.J. Achter. Eric Fryer.

Not included was Jose Berrios, who started Monday for the Wings. This spurred some consternation on my Twitter feed Monday night, but I can't see any reason to be riled up about it.

Realistically, they aren't calling up a 21-year-old who is already well above his previous high in innings to displace a (healthy) veteran in the rotation in a playoff push. It doesn't make sense in developing Berrios, and the risk outweighs the rewards. (Tyler Duffey is not a veteran, but the Twins obviously think he's ahead of Berrios.) Nor is there a immediate need for Berrios in the bullpen. The late inning guys are doing well, and there's little immediate payoff in long relief.

And even if the Twins do have a role for Berrios, hes not going to pitch for at least four days anyway.

Two other Rochester players whose absence is notable but not surprising: Oswaldo Arcia and Alex Meyer. Neither earned it.

As for the guys who did get the callup, none (my opinions) should be major pieces in the stretch run. Santana put up good numbers for Rochester as a hitter, but he was also charged with a pair of errors Monday. The Twins were pretty consistent in Santana's previous stints with the big club this year -- if he was here, he was the No. 1 shortstop. I hope they stick with Eduardo Escobar now, but I won't guarantee it.

Vargas and Fryer will make it easier to pinch hit for a catcher. Vargas to pinch hit, Fryer for catching depth. Tonkin and Achter will eat meaningless innings.

The Twins do have a move yet to make, because Fryer is not on the 40-man roster and the roster is full. So somebody has to come off. I wouldn't be surprised if they move J.R. Graham to the 60-day DL and end his season