Monday, October 31, 2016

Back to Cleveland

So the Series returns to Cleveland, where

  • the Indians have last ups 
  • the Indians have still a 3-2 lead
  • the Cubs have Jake Arrieta ready to go for Game 6
  • the Indians will have Andrew Miller rested and ready.

I've been underestimating the Indians all postseason. I keep getting hung up on their thin starting pitching. But depth doesn't matter nearly as much in October as in the regular season, and it matters even less in November. Josh Tomlin doesn't have Arrieta's name and rep, but he hasn't had a poor start this month. If he can get the lead to Miller, the Indians are in great shape.

And behind Game Six  is Corey Kluber, for my money the best starter on either team.

So yeah, my logic finally has the Indians winning this thing. Which might be a very good sign for the Cubs.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Pic of the Week

The scene outside Wrigley Field before Friday night's
World Series game.
You may have heard this: The World Series is back at Wrigley Field for the first time since 1945. It's apparently a big deal, and a major attraction.

So much so that Wrigleyville bars were levying $100 cover charges Friday.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Five shutouts in 11 games

This is really quite impressive.

The Cleveland Indians swept the divisional series in three games, with a shutout in Game Two.

They took the league championship series in five games, with shutouts in Games One and Five.

And now they've shut out the Cubs twice in three games of the World Series.

That's 11 games of postseason play, and five shutouts -- with, really, two healthy starters (Corey Kluber and Josh Tomlin). And this against three imposing lineups (Red Sox, Blue Jays and Cubs).

It's impossible to know how much of a factor Derek Falvey, the Twins incoming director of baseball operations, is in that, but pitching -- planning, evaluation, conditioning -- is supposedly a big part of what he does for the Indians.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Ex-Twins watch: Jeff Manship

You probably know that only one former Twins player is active for the two World Series team, that being Cleveland reliever Jeff Manship.

Manship was a 16th round pick out of Notre Dame and spent parts of four seasons on the Twins roster (2009-2012), He never worked as many as 35 innings in any season for Minnesota, and his best ERA was 5.28. He was probably most noticed for a game he worked with his name misspelled on the back of his jersey. 

He then bounced through Colorado and Philadelphia without making an impact before landing with Cleveland.

And something has clicked for him with the Tribe. His 2015 ERA was an astounding 0.95 (39 innings). His ERA this year, a still-solid 3.12. His secondary numbers are full of red flags, and he's certainly not one of Terry Francona's high leverage arms, but his ERAs by team are ... interesting.

  • Minnesota: 6.20
  • Colorado: 7.04
  • Philadelphia: 6.65
  • Cleveland: 2.07

One of these is not like the others.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The World Series catchers

Having commented Wednesday on Cleveland catcher Roberto Perez, I can't help but note the oddities of the two teams' rosters regarding the position.

The Indians have now played 10 games in the postseason. Perez has caught every inning. His backup: Yan Gomes, who had been the starter until he wrecked his knee July 17. Gomes returned at the end of the season, finishing a couple games and starting a third -- and even hitting a home run. Chris Gimenez, who had shared the catching chores with Perez after the Gomes injury, isn't on the World Series roster.

The Indians also have two other experienced catchers on the roster. Carlos Santana and Mike Napoli split first base and designated hitter chores. I believe both are ex-catchers in the same way Joe Mauer is, meaning that they're not going back behind the plate, period. Unlike Mauer, neither man was ever a good defensive catcher anyway.

So the Indians this year have gone from:

  • catching Gomes as often as possible (54 starts in their first 71 games) to
  • alternating between Perez and Gimenez to
  • catching Perez every game with Gomes available.

The Cubs, at least in theory, have four catchers on their World Series roster: David Ross, who serves as Jon Lester's personal catcher; Kyle Schwarber, added to the roster to be the designated hitter in the Cleveland games; Miguel Montero, who Baseball Reference lists as the Cubs No.1 catcher during the regular season; and rookie Willson Conteras, who came up in mid-June and started 37 games behind the plate and 13 in the outfield.

Conteras hasn't completely shoved Montero aside. The Cubs have played 12 games so far in the post season. Ross has started five -- the five games Lester started. Conteras has started five, and Montero two. Schwarber's return to action is probably limited to hitting; it's remarkable enough that he's back to do that.

Part of why the Cubs can afford to carry four catchers is the remarkable positional flexibility of Joe Maddon's roster. Conteras can play outfield for him, so he's a catcher plus. And, of course, calling Schwarber a catcher is a bit like calling David Ortiz a first baseman. He's a catcher in theory. He's more likely to play outfield, and he's not likely to do that either, at least not in this series.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Cleveland's catching choice

Going, going, gone: Roberto Perez hits the first of his two
home runs Tuesday night in Game One of the World Series.

The Cleveland Indians, it's safe to say, didn't get much offense out of its catchers this year. Yan Gomes, who was the No. 1 guy before his July knee injury (suffered against the Twins), hit .167. Roberto Perez and Chris Gimenez, who shared the chores after Gomes went down, hit .183 and .216 respectively.

Cleveland tried to trade for Jonathan Lucroy at the deadline, but he exercised his no-trade clause and wound up dealt to Texas. And the Tribe's apparent need for a backstop had a good piece of the Twins blogosphere expecting them to deal for Kurt Suzuki.

Which, clearly, did not happen. Nobody traded for Suzuki. He spent the season in Minnesota, where he finished the season with a .258 batting average, which turns out to be the highest batting average of AL catchers with at least 300 plate appearances.

I doubt Cleveland regrets not going for the better bat, and not merely because Perez (three homers in the regular season) hit two longballs Tuesday in the first game of the World Series. Perez has been a hidden factor in the Indians' imposing postseason pitching performance, a quiet receiver who isn't taking away strikes from his hurlers.

Suzuki, according to Baseball Reference, compiled 0.4 WAR. Perez, in about half the playing time and about half the offense, is credited with 0.5. I won't guarantee that anybody's version of WAR had defense perfectly measured, and particularly that of catchers, but that feels about right to me.

Bottom line: Cleveland, with Derek Falvey presumably involved in the evaluation, prefered the no-hit Perez to Suzuki. Meanwhile, the Twins sacrificed defense behind the plate for better production at it, not only with Suzuki but with backup catcher Juan Centeno. It's certainly possible that this will be a point of disagreement between Falvey and manager Paul Molitor when Falvey starts with the Twins.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The waiting continues

We may know for certain the name of the president-elect before we know who will hold the title of general manager for the Twins.

Derek Falvey, of course, has been named the chief baseball officer. The new GM will be under Falvey. And other than a report that interim general manager Rob Antony will not get that job, there has been little reported about it.

Which, I suppose, makes sense. We're working our way down food chains here. Whoever is general manager of the Twins will not have the authority that Terry Ryan had, even if he has the title. And I don't know that anybody other than Falvey and maybe Jim Pohlad/Dave St. Peter knows what responsibilities the job will entail.

But it figures to be an important job. Nobody can do everything; Falvey's got to delegate, as did Ryan. The titles -- general manager, assistant general manager vs. chief baseball officer, general manager -- are less important than the quality of the decisions, and the quality of the decisions depends on the ability of the decision makers of process the flood of information available to front office today. 

When the World Series is over and Falvey finally can officially take the helm, naming his No. 2 is likely to be Job 1.

Monday, October 24, 2016

On to the World Series

You already know that this World Series pits the two longest title droughts in baseball against each other. Cleveland last won baseball's championship in 1948, the Cubs in 1908.

It also -- and this doesn't happen often in this era of wild cards and multi-level playoffs -- pits the best teams from each league. (True, Cleveland didn't have the best record in the American League, but the Texas Rangers' record benefited from the unbalanced schedule and the soft AL West.)

The Cubs for a while this season looked like they could be an historic team. But they had a relatively soft June and wound up with "only" 103 wins, not the 110 or so that seemed possible in the first two months of the season.

And they are, pretty clearly, the better team of the two. Which doesn't mean they'll win. Weaker teams regularly win short series in baseball.

And there's an obvious path for the Tribe to take this series, the same path they took past the Red Sox and the Blue Jays in the first two rounds: Get the lead in the early innings and rely on that marvelous bullpen.

I didn't think Terry Francona had enough healthy, effective starters to get to the bullpen in the ALDS or ALCS; I was wrong, I don't think he has enough healthy, effective starters to get to the bullpen in this series either; I may be wrong.

I'm picking the Cubs, And, as often happens, I'm rooting the other direction.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Pic of the Week

Troy Tulowitzki flings his bat away after making the
final out of Game 5 of the ALCS.
There was a famous bat toss by a Toronto Blue Jay last year in a moment of triumph.

This one isn't (and shouldn't be) nearly as famous, but it makes an interesting counterpoint to Jose Bautista's fling.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Don't go there

There appears to be a push on to have Charlie Sheen throw out a first pitch at a World Series game in Cleveland this year. His connection to Cleveland, of course, is a work of fiction: He played an Indians pitcher in the "Major League" movies.

Which would seem to suggest that there is no real person from the Cleveland area worthy of the honor. I'm no expert on Cleveland, but a city of that size has to have thousands of people who would carry more dignity and honor onto the playing field than that contemptible clown.

Friday, October 21, 2016

A pre-emptive comment on Bartman

The Chicago Cubs now have a 3-2 lead in the NLCS. The last time they were this close to the World Series was 2003, and the popular shorthand for what happened is "Bartman."

Which is enough sewage to clog a waste treatment plant.

Fox and ESPN being ESPN and Fox, we will be inundated with the Steve Bartman story now. Let it be said right here, right now: Steve Bartman, wherever he is now and under whatever name, did nothing wrong in 2003. He was just a fan reaching for a ball that was in the seating area. Moises Alou had no more chance to catch that ball than I did sitting in Mankato.

The Cubs lost that game and that series because they made too many mistakes. The Cubs deserved, in a karmic sense, to lose that game and that series because the Cubs of that era and that managment -- Jim Hendry as general manager, Dusty Baker as manager -- acceptted no responsibility for anything that went wrong. For some reason, the national broadcasters went along with it. And the local broadcasters? Well, Steve Stone got fired for speaking truth about the Cubs.

It's a different owner, different front office, different manager, different players. But the Cubs have not earned their way back into my esteem, not that my esteem matters to them or anybody else. And if they play along with the Bartman nonsense, they never will.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Strictly on Merritt

The Cleveland Indians did what I didn't think they could: They beat the Toronto Blue Jays in a LCS without their second and third best starting pitchers (Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar). They beat the Jays while getting less than an inning from their No. 4 starter, Trevor Bauer.

And kudos to Terry Francona, who probably cemented his Cooperstown credentials with his bullpen mastery in this series. The Jays have a lineup stacked with power, and the Tribe shut them down even when they had to resort to a rookie lefty with one major league start on his resume. Ryan Merritt was pitching in instructional league when the Indians hurriedly added him to the roster for the LCS after learning of Bauer's injury.

If, as is speculated, Salazar will be ready to work in the World Series, Merritt probably won't be on the Series roster. He may not be anyway. Francona didn't let him work deep enough Wednesday night to get credit for the win -- 4.1 innings -- but Merritt should be a piece of Cleveland legend for years to come anyway.

I'm sure that Francona wouldn't have been nearly so quick with the hook in a regular season game. But this wasn't regular season, and he took advantage of the opportunity to close out the Jays and move on to the World Series.

Both metro papers this week carried stories on a theme I wrote soon after Derek Falvey was identified as the next baseball ops boss of the Twins, to take the position after the Indians were done with the postseason: Decisions have to be made in October, and not having Falvey on board is something of an impediment.

As I watched Merritt carve up the Toronto lineup with a mediocre fastball, I wondered: How much credit does Falvey deserve for the effectiveness of the Indians pitching? A major part of his duties as assistant general manager in Cleveland is reportedly pitching preparation. Merritt had to make the pitches, and somebody, probably catcher Roberto Perez, called the individual pitches, but Falvey is apparently key in drawing up the plan.

Then the followup question: Even if he does a brilliant job at that, how does that translate into moving into the big job? What he does now, no matter how well, is not what he's going to be doing in Minnesota. I'm not saying he can't succeed as the boss. I do raise the possibility of the Peter Principle (people rise to the level of their incompetence) coming into play.

In Cleveland, Falvey did certain jobs, and presumably did them very well, In Minnesota, he has to find and hire people to do those jobs. There's a difference,

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The first (player) move of the offseason

With or without Derek Falvey on board, with or without an announcement, the Twins made some moves:

No surprises there, really, not even Tommy Milone, who Berardino later tweeted will declare himself a free agent rather than accept the assignment to Triple A Rochester. The veteran cleared waivers during the season, which suggests that trade interest in him was nil; he spent September in the Twins bullpen; and he's arbitration eligible.

So the Twins officially now have 35 players on their 40-man roster, but there are three players who have to be brought off the 60-day disabled list and restored to the 40 -- Phil Hughes, Glen Perkins and Danny Santana. And Kurt Suzuki, free-agent to be, technically remains on the roster until after the World Series. So realistically, the Twins now have three open roster slots.

It's a good bet there are more minor leaguers they want to protect than that, so there will be more deletions to come. These were the most obvious ones.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Mauch's Minnesota firemen

Between the time I decided on the topic of the Monday print column and its actual composition, the great Joe Posnanski posted this essay on roughly the same theme, using John Hiller's brilliant 1973 to examine the issue of "leveraging" relief ace use.

Posnanski's piece suggests the one-inning closer was actually Pete Rose's invention, not Tony LaRussa's. I think LaRussa's use of Dennis Eckersley was more influential than Rose's use of John Franco. The timeline is pretty much the same; Pos says 1987 with Rose/Franco, and LaRussa made Eckersley a full-time closer the next year.

Either way, in both cases, I think the managerial rationale for one-inning was to hide the pitcher's vulnerabilities. Franco was left-handed; Rose had in previous seasons split the late-inning work with an eye to keeping Franco from facing right-handed hitters in crucial situations. (I lived in the Cincinnati fan base in 1985, and I know Ted Power was Rose's preferred late-inning guy that year over Franco). Eckersley threw from a low angle, and left-handed hitters were forcing him out of the starting rotation when he came to Oakland.

Limited exposure worked for those two, in part because they weren't being asked to work out of other pitchers' jams. They had long runs as one-inning closers, and Eck, of course, wound up in the Hall of Fame.

Pos also lists a number of "firemen" of the 1970s and early to mid '80s, pitchers who would enter early or late as the situation warranted. And I was struck by the number of them connected to Gene Mauch, who managed the Twins 1976-1980.

  • 1976: Bill Campbell went 17-5 with 20 saves in 167 relief innings for the Twins. 
  • 1977: Tom Johnson went 16-7 with 15 saves in 146.2 innings.
  • 1978: Mike Marshall, 10-12 with 21 saves in 99 innings, (Only 99 innings because he didn't appear in a game until May 15.)
  • 1979: Marshall again: 10-15 with 32 saves, 142.2 innings, 90 games (still the American League record for appearances)
  • 1980: Doug Corbett, 8-6, 23 saves, 136.1 innings

It was Mauch, in Montreal, who made Marshall a workhorse relief pitcher. He worked for Mauch 111, 116 and 179 innings in 1971-73. Then he was traded to the Dodgers, where he had his famous 106 games, 208 relief innings season in 1974.

My recollection had been that those big years were followed by a sudden implosion, But in truth, Campbell had almost as good a season in 1977, this time with the Red Sox, and lasted in hte majors 10 years beyond that, with two 100-inning seasons in his 30s. Corbett was very good again in 1981, then declined; he had an eight year career. Marshall's career was something of a yo-yo, but he lasted into his late 30s.

Johnson is the real implosion of Mauch's Minnesota firemen. He had the one big year, had a poor season in 1978, and was done as a major league pitcher.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Pic of the Week

Clayton Kershaw (facing camera) celebrates Thursday
after getting the final two outs of the decisive Game 5
on one day of rest in the NLDS against the Nationals.

Clayton Kershaw has carried a bad rap as a postseason choker -- or something akin to that -- for a while now. The NLDS this year probably wipes that reputation out. He started Game 4 (an elimination game for the Los Angeles Dodgers) on three days rest, and gave them 110 pitches and 7.2 innings. And they won, even though Kershaw wasn't the winning pitcher.

Two days later, he entered in the ninth inning to protect a one-run lead with two men on and the National League's OPS leader at the plate. He got a popup from Daniel Murphy, then fanned a pinch-hitter, and the Dodgers advanced.

It was a dramatic moment, made more dramatic by Kershaw's balky back, which limited him to less than 150 innings in the regular season.

His postseason stats remain unimpressive. Kershaw has pitched 77 innings in the playoffs in his illustrious career (12 starts, 4 relief appearances). His career ERA in the postseason is 4.79, almost two-and-half runs worse than his regular season career ERA. Even in this most recent series, his ERA was 5.84.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Into the championship series

OK, let's try predicting the two league championship series.

I write this after Game 1 of the American League Series, won by the Cleveland Indians. But my prediction is that the Toronto Blue Jays will win the series. Cleveland's starting pitching, so strong for much of the season, has been dropping like flies. Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar are out for the season. On Friday the Indians revealed that Trevor Bauer cut a finger while repairing a drone and will be held out until Game 3.

They still have Cory Kluber, which means they still have the best pitcher in the series. But Josh Tomlin is a step or two down from Bauer, and the options behind him are worst still. If Bauer's injury makes him ineffective, Cleveland's in trouble.

Over on the NL side, it's much the same story. The Chicago Cubs are a really outstanding team. The Los Angeles Dodgers are something less than that. Despite Clayton Kershaw's short-rest heroics in the final games of their divisional series against Washington, I don't see the pitching depth need to deal with the Cubs.

I expect a Cubs-Jays World Series. That's not what I'm rooting for.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Byron Buxton, bad fielder? I don't think so.

I was poking around Baseball Reference looking for a quick-n-easy comment for today blog post and came up with this:

The defensive metrics on Byron Buxton as posted on that site have bizarrely different views of his defense.

Total Zone has Buxton sharply below average. Runs Saved has him a bit above.

He made, certainly, a few mistakes (generally near the wall). But I can't see that they were enough to rank him as a terrible defensive outfielder.

To be sure, the metrics are based on less than a half season of time, and even the most devoted advocates of these numbers say they need three years of date to be confident in the conclusions. This is one case where I will go with what my eyes tell me, and my eyes tell me that Buxton is a prime defensive outfielder.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The ups and downs of baseball

Brandon Crawford makes a (good) throw
from shortstop Monday night.
On Monday night in San Francisco -- Tuesday morning here -- Brandon Crawford was a hero, In the eighth inning, the left-handed hitting Giants shortstop (and former Mankato MoonDog) singled home the tying run off Aroldis Chapman. In the bottom of the 13th, he led off against Mike Montgomery and doubled; he then scored the winning run. Both hits came, notably, off left-handed pitchers.

On Tuesday night, Crawford had another double and another run scored. But he also committed two throwing errors, each of which resulted in an unearned Cubs run -- and the Giants lost by one run, and were thus eliminated from the playoffs. Hero to goat in less than 24 hours.

Those poor throws will presumably stick in Crawford's, uh, craw all winter. The immediate focus of the reporting and social media chatter was the meltdown of the Giants bullpen; Bruce Bochy went through five relievers in the four-run ninth inning disaster, none of whom faced more than two batters. And yeah, the bullpen was a problem for Bochy and the Giants for most of the second half. Fact remains: If Crawford makes his throws, the Cubs lose two of their runs, and the Giants get another game.

Crawford is generally regarded as one of the game's best defensive shortstops (he won the Gold Glove in 2015), but his play Tuesday did not enhance that reputation.

Still, 2016 was a good season for Crawford. He hit fifth in the Giants lineup in that elimination game; that he could be a middle-of-the-order hitter for a playoff team was inconceivable just two years ago. But he hit 21 homers in 2015, and led the majors in triples this year. He had career highs in batting average, on-base percentage and runs scored.

But defense is his calling card, and his defense failed Tuesday.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Watching baseball and the ads

I've been on a "staycation" for the past week-plus, watching a lot of playoff baseball on a bewildering number of outlets. EPSN, TBS, FS1, MLB ... there's been at least one game on each of those cable-only outlets this week, and I suspect that a slice of baseball's ratings postseason ratings issues come from there not being an easy answer to the question: Who carries the games?

Most of the regular-season baseball I watch is, of course, on Fox Sports North, followed by ESPN and a bit of MLB. So an intensive burst of baseball on other outlets (there was only one ESPN game) carried a new dose of ads. And some of them, I decided, merited comment.

* A "minor" sponsor on TBS -- my term for a advertiser who shows up once a game, as opposed to those that show up seemingly every other inning -- appears to be Vagisil. My wife tells me it's for yeast infections, which is generally not a male complaint. MLB has been known to claim a stronger-than-most-sports appeal to women, and maybe there's something in the demographic on TBS' broadcasts that works for the product.

Vagisil does have an illicit baseball connection; it is supposedly an effective "foreign substance" for a pitcher inclined to cheat.

*FS1, which has been largely spinning its wheels in its stated intent to catch EPSN as an all-sports outlet,  is spending a ton of money mimicking the worst aspect of the Worldwide Leader -- obnoxious opinion fests. We got this summer on FSN way too many promos for the likes of Skip Bayless and Colin Cowherd, and Dick Bremer must have an inexhaustable supply of dignity if he has any left after touting these braying donkeys all summer. The FS1 announcers have been spared those readings, but man, there are a lot of ads for these shows anyway. The thing is ... they barely register on the Nielsen ratings, if at all.

* On FS1 -- specifically on the Giants-Cubs series -- there's been a showing a game of an ad about a San Francisco ballot measure, a tax on soda. It's a curious thing to see advertising on a local election get what is purportedly a national airing, but ...

  • A sizable minority of the viewers of those Giants-Cubs games are probably in the Bay Area and that the games are at least competitive there with the network offerings;
  • I suspect the ad rates on FS1 are lower than for, let us say, the ABC affiliate in the Bay Area;
  • Michael Bloomberg, the billionare and former New York mayor who paid for the ad promoting the tax, probably doesn't mind paying to promote the idea to a wider audience. For his purposes, it doesn't have to be targeted.

* We haven't had any games yet on Fox itself; I think that will come in the next round. Fox annually picks a new show and promos it so intently in October that baseball fans are pretty much sick of it by the end of the World Series. With the exception of "House," and maybe "The O.C," getting picked for this treatment by Fox is a kiss of death.

Off what we've seen on FS1, the loser of this year's Fox promo derby is "Lethal Weapon."

Monday, October 10, 2016

Contemplating Joe Mauer, web addition

The Monday print column considered the outlook for Joe Mauer. A tangent I skipped in that piece for space reasons:

On Aug. 16, Joe Mauer went 3-for-4 with a home run, a walk and two runs scored. The run he didn't score on the homer appears to have wrecked the rest of his season. He injured his right quadriceps scoring from first base on a double. As he tried to play with the injury, he strained the left quad, which left him with two gimpy legs.

At the end of that game, Mauer's slash line was .284/.384/.417. These are not MVP-quality numbers, to be sure, but they compare pretty favorably with most AL first basemen. An OPS of .801, had he maintained it for the rest of the year, would have ranked him fourth among the 10 qualifiers at the position, above such luminaries as Eric Hosmer and Chris Davis.

But, of course, he didn't maintain that rate. The rest of the season, Mauer slashed .146/.255/.244.

As the season wound down, the dwindling viewers of FSN's broadcasts could hear Bert Blyleven opine that an offseason's rest and rehab would get Mauer back into condition to perform at a high level again. The problem with that optimism: He'll be 34 before next April is over. He played the bulk of his career at a physically punishing position. Leg injuries probably aren't a fluke for him now.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Pic of the Week

Carlos Santana kisses the pate of manager Terry Francona
before Saturday's playoff game in Cleveland.
Ah, the goofy things players will do before games. (Or during them. Or after them.)

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Ex-Twins watch: Francisco Liriano

The Toronto infield gathers around Francisco Liriano
after he was hit in the head by a line drive Saturday. Liriano
was removed from the game and taken to a hospital
but cleared to fly with his teammates to Toronto.
It was a frightening moment Saturday when two former Twins teammates faced each other in the eighth inning of Game Two of the Toronto-Texas series. Carlos Gomez smacked a 102-mph line drive off the back of Francisco Liriano's noggin, with the ball flying into center field for a base hit.

Liriano remained on his feet but was pulled from the game, then taken to a hospital by ambulance but was there cleared to fly back to Toronto with the team.

The big lefty was having a difficult season in Pittsburgh when the Pirates traded him to Toronto in a deal that seemed more about dumping his contract than the return.

He went 2-2, 2.92 in 49.1 innings with the Jays, eight starts and two relief outings, then picked up the win in that extra-inning wild card tilt with Baltimore. There had been some chatter leading into that game that Liriano would be a better choice to start than Marcus Stroman, but obviously manager John Gibbons didn't see it that way. 

Liriano is presumably a power arm in the bullpen who can go multiple innings for the postseason, and that's a valuable weapon.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Ex-Twins watch: Chris Colabello

Last year at this time, Chris Colabello was an emphatic factor in the Toronto Blue Jays lineup. He had had a productive season at the plate -- .321/.367/.521 -- but was being largely limited to a platoon role because his skill set as a hitter largely duplicated those of Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Russell Martin and Troy Tulowitzki, all of whom either had more defensive value or were better hitters or both, and at some point one has too many right-handed sluggers in the batting order.

But he mattered away in the 2015 postseason -- he hit a couple of homers, dominated the Texas pitching staff, and by the time the Royals knocked the Jays out had pretty much pushed aside Justin Smoak, the switch-hitting first baseman who was his platoon mate.

This year Colabello is not a postseason factor. He failed a PED test during spring training, and he had only 10 games in when the suspension hit -- 10 games in which he hit a dismal .069. After the suspension, Colabello was sent to the minors, and he hit .180/.248/.288 for Buffalo, which is more likely to get him released than recalled.

He never got back to Toronto, and wouldn't be eligible for the postseason anyway because of the PED suspension. He turns 33 later this month. Colabello has never been anybody's first choice for a major league job, and his future is not notably bright.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Ex-Twins watch: Rene Rivera

It's been five years since Rene Rivera caught for the Twins, and he had such an undistinguished time of it in 2011 that many have probably forgotten it. He played in 45 games, had 114 plate appearances, and hit .144.

He re-upped with the Twins on a minor league deal in 2012, spent the entire season in the minors, was not called up for September, vented in a tweet that he quickly deleted, and wound up signing with San Diego. He got a little time in 2013 and quite a bit of time in 2014 -- he was the Padres' No. 1 catcher and actually hit a bit.

Then he was packaged in a three-way trade that sent him to Tampa Bay -- a trade known at the time as the Wil Myers trade and that may ultimately be known as the Trea Turner trade. He didn't hit for the Rays, and they released him this spring, and he signed with the Mets, where he wound up in a three-way timeshare of the catching job.

Rivera started Wednesday's wild card game for the Mets, and one of the running pieces of commentary -- both on the ESPN broadcast and on my Twitter feed -- was the quality (or lack of it) in his pitch framing. The general consensus was that Rivera was costing the Mets pitchers strikes, particularly at the bottom of the strike zone.

Rivera is supposed to be a good defensive catcher, but that's a label that gets attached to veterans who don't hit much. Rivera is 33 now, he doesn't hit much, he must be a defensive specialist.

I asked myself about halfway through the game Wednesday: Would the Twins have been better off with Rivera as their backup catcher than Juan Centeno? (Centeno, by the way, made his major league debut with the Mets.)

Rivera slashed .222/.291/.341 this year for the Mets in 207 plate appearances; he caught 481.2 innings in which he was charged with three passed balls and was involved in 19 wild pitches, and he threw out 30 percent of base stealers (league average 27 percent).

Centeno slashed .261/.312/.392 in 192 plate appearances. He caught 438.2 innings with five passed balls, 33 wild pitches (!) and threw out 14 percent of base stealers.

Centeno is the better hitter. Rivera is the better receiver. I think that's pretty obvious. Rivera got a little more playing time. Neither should be a regular catcher.

I'd prefer the Rivera type of backup catcher, a guy who doesn't actively damage the defense when he's playing. As I've observed repeatedly, Paul Molitor appears to value hitters over gloves, and Centeno is just another example of that.

In truth, the question of the No. 2 catcher is secondary to the Twins this winter. The presumption is that Kurt Suzuki won't be back, and the No. 1 job has no obvious heir.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Kim, Park and Korean stars

Just as Buck Showalter waited too long Tueday night to bring Zach Britton into the AL wild card game, I waited too long to comment on the odd year of Hyun Soo Kim.

Kim and the Orioles are done now, having lost the wild card game to the Toronto Blue Jays

Dedicated readers may recall that I made my biennial trip to spring training this year, and it came in early March. One of the games I saw at Hammond Stadium was against the Baltinore Orioles, and it brought out a TON of Korean media, because it involved two high-profile Koreans who had come over to the States: Byung Ho Park of the Twins and Kim of the O's.

Neither distinguished himself in that contest. Kim, to be blunt, didn't distinguish himself at all in March, and Showalter (and the Oriole front office) entered the season trying to get the outfielder to waive his contractual clause prohibiting his demotion.

Kim refused. And he saw little playing time early in the season. But by the end of May he was in the lineup pretty consistently, and he wound up slashing .302/.382/.420, albeit in less than 350 plate appearances. Showalter allowed Kim only 22 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers, and he never got a hit against a southpaw.

It was an odd thing this spring, however. The Twins entered the regular season feeling comfortable with Park as the DH, and the Orioles entered it believing Kim couldn't play in the majors. Park wound up in the minors (and having his season end early for hand surgery), and Kim was a significant help to a playoff team.

Kim and Park are significantly different kinds of players; Park is a first baseman and power guy, Kim an on-base guy. Then there's Jung Ho Kang, the Pittsburgh infielder, roughly the same age as Park and Kim, whose season didn't get started until May because of the broken leg he sustained late in the 2015 season and who missed a good bit of time in August with another injury. Kang was a more productive hitter, albeit in less playing time, in 2016; he also was restricted to third base in the field.

The Twins have a significant number of players limited to first base and designated hitter: Joe Mauer, Park, Kennys Vargas, maybe Miguel Sano. I'm sure there are plenty of fans willing to discard Park this winter. I don't share that notion. I suspect Park's hand/wrist issues had more to do with his struggles than we know, and there's nothing so far in the careers of Kim and Kang that suggest that Korean stars are automatically overmatched in the American majors.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Meet the new boss. Not so fast

The Twins on Monday morning issued a press release naming Derek Falvey "executive vice president, chief baseball officer." This is not quite the title we had been led to expect ("president of baseball operations"), but it is an impressive amount of verbiage.

The title is of less importance than the authority, and it may be some time before Falvey gets to wield any authority over the Twins operation. He will remain with the Cleveland Indians until their season is finished, and that may last long into the month.

One cannot blame the Indians for insisting on retaining Falvey for the postseason run. By their description, he has been a crucial component of what may be the trickiest part of analytics -- relying the information to the manager, coaches and players in a way that is accessible and persuasive. Disrupting that arrangement now would hurt the Tribe's chances.

But the clock is ticking, and the Twins are left for now with Rob Antony in what must be an awkward interim position. It was reported over the weekend that Antony is out of the running for the No. 2 job under Falvey, but if the Twins hold to their usual timeline of holding organizational meetings in October, it may well be Antony running the show and making the initial decisions on the 40-man roster, arbitration offers and trade targets. Antony reportedly told Paul Molitor's coaches that their status awaits Falvey's arrival. (Lead owner Jim Pohlad has insisted all along that Molitor will be back as the manager in 2017.)

Falvey should be at the helm well before the deadlines for roster assignments and arbitration offers, but it's not optimum for him to step in well into the process.

Monday, October 3, 2016

It's over

Something odd happened to me the other day: The Twins were playing, and I could have had the game on, and I chose not to. I don't know when that last happened, when I consciously chose to go without the game.

I think that speaks to how sour the 2016 season felt to Twins fans in general and to me in particular. I can pick through the rubble and find some encouraging things -- Byron Buxton's September! -- but 103 losses is 103 losses. The Twins won two games in a row Aug. 16-17, and didn't do it again until the final weekend, Oct. 1-2. To go basically a month-and-a-half without even the basis of a winning streak ... uff da.

There have been other get-it-over-with Septembers in Twins history, of course. Some of them even came with the team in contention. 1977, for example: The Twins were 75-58 and 2.5 games out of first place after sweeping a double header on Aug. 29; they went 9-19 the rest of the way and finished 17.5 games behind the Royals. (They won their last two games that year too.) That was the year Rod Carew hit .388, and that's what those of us who were around back then remember of that season, not the collapse.

Maybe some year we'll come to remember 2016 for Brian Dozier's 42 homers or for Buxton's emergence. Maybe we'll remember it as the end of the MacPhail-Ryan era, the second epoch of Twins history. We had the Calvin Griffith years, and the MacPhail-Ryan years, and now ... now we'll see if Derek Falvey can construct a more modern organziation that will last a generation or more. 

And perhaps that's why I was willing to ignore that game last week. Not only did it not matter in the context of 2016, there wasn't much reason to believe it mattered in the context of what follows this offseason.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Pic of the Week

The Miami Marlins left their caps on the pitcher's mound
after Monday's game, their first after the death of
ace Jose Fernandez.

Having a co-worker die is a sorrowful thing. I've been though it a few times myself; we all have or will.

It's never easy, even when you know it's coming. It's even rougher when it comes suddenly, as was the case with Jose Fernandez last weekend. And, probably, rougher still when it comes to one of great talent, as was the case with Fernandez.

It was a goosepimple moment last Monday when Dee Gordon, a left-handed hitter, stepped into the batters box right-handed in tribute to Fernandez for one pitch -- then took his stance in the proper batter's box and hit his first home run of the season.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Boileryard, the BIg Train and the Walking Man: Piling up the losses

The 2016 Twins officially set a new Minnesota standard for futility Friday night with their 103rd loss of the season.

They have a chance to catch or pass the 1949 Senators (104 losses) for third most losses in franchise history this weekend. But since the three worst Washington clubs racked up their godawful records in the days before the 162-game schedule, the 2016 Twins will have a better winning percentage.

The worst teams in franchise history: the 1949 Senators (50-104, .325); the 1909 Senators (42-110, .276); and the 1904 Senators (38-113, .252).

The '49 team is a collection of nonentities. They finished 47 games behind the Yankees. The most recognizable names these decades later would be first baseman Eddie Robinson, who had a pretty solid season; third baseman Eddie Yost, who would go on to earn the nickname "Walking Man" for his ability to draw bases on balls; and Sam Mele, who went on to manage the 1965 Twins, the team with the best record in franchise history.

The '04 team is even less distinguished, as you might expect.; they finished 55.5 games behind the Red Sox. The most interesting names on the roster are the nicknames: Boileryard Clarke, Highball Wilson, Beany Jacobson, Happy Townshend. Beany, Highball and Happy were pitchers who combined to go 10-52; I don't know how happy any of them were that year.

And then there's the '09 Senators, who finished 56 games behind the Tigers. They had a 21-year-old pitcher who threw 294 innings with an ERA of 2.22 who you might have heard of: Walter Johnson. It was the Big Train's second full season in the majors, and one of the worst seasons of his brilliant career (lowest winning percentage, most losses, fourth-worst ERA+). A 2.22 ERA sounds good, that was only the 17th best ERA among the AL's 34 qualifying pitchers in that deadball era. The next year he really tapped into his greatness.

If nothing else, a few minutes gazing at Johnson's stats is time well spent.