Sunday, September 30, 2018

Pic of the Week

The Fenway Park scoreboard pretty much tells the
story, in one game, of the 2018 season for both the
Boston Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles.

The Baltimore Orioles have lost more games this season (115) than the Boston Red Sox have won (107). I would like to say that they're not really that bad, but ... they kinda are.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Imagining the 2019 bullpen

The Twins used six pitchers Thursday night, with Stephen Gonsalves the "primary" pitcher but only recording 10 outs. He and "opener" Gabriel Moya were the two most ineffective pitchers the Twins used, but Gonsalves got credited with the win, for whatever that's worth.

Anyway: None of the six spent the entire 2018 season with the big league club, and their ERAs suggest why: 4.84, 6.57, 3.88, 7.82, 6.61, 5.68. (The 3.88 is Matt Magill.)

The Twins last offseason brought in three veteran relievers as free agents -- Fernando Rodney, Addison Reed and Zach Duke. They traded two of them away, and Reed, who has another year on his contract, has been an afterthought since returning from his first career stint on the disabled list.

Not counting position players or starters under another name, I count 19 relievers used by Paul Molitor this season. Six of the 19 are no longer in the organization. Only two, Trevor Hildenberger and Taylor Rogers, have been on the active roster throughout.

Hildenberger was given an opportunity these last two months of the season to claim the closers role. He hasn't, and nothing he does in the final weekend will change that. The Twins will go into the offseason with a vacancy in the glory job, and that means the rest of the roles are undecided.

If the 2019 closer is on the roster now, it's probably Trevor May. But Molitor has used May with some caution in this post-op season, and I can see him being aimed at the starting rotation next year.

I suspect the Twins will delve again into the free-agent market in search of another stopgap closer for 2019. They'd like to have a set guy for the ninth to build the rest of the bullpen around, and I don't think they are comfortable with the notion of starting next season with May, Hildenberger or Reed in the role.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Notes, quotes and comment

A generous gesture from the manager of the Chicago White Sox:

It's been a trying season for Renteria. The White Sox weren't expected to be good, and they haven't. They were expected to start seeing some progress from a collection of prospects from whom much is expected -- the Sox made a bunch of trades last year, dealing off quality players such as Chris Sale, David Robertson and Adam Eaton -- and those guys have largely spun their wheels.

With the pitchers -- guys like Michael Kopech, Lucas Giolito. Carlos Rodon and Dylan Covey -- that's more or less expected. I note with frequency that many star pitchers struggle in their first 30 big league starts. And Kopech, of course, blew out his elbow in his fourth start.

More concerning, I think, is  Yoan Moncada's struggles. He's hitting in the .230s and leads baseball in strikeouts. They had to expect more from him, and maybe better is coming. He is just 23.


I somehow missed entirely the Juan Graterol addition to the Twins, not that he's a big deal.

The Twins signed the journeyman as catching insurance in June after the Angels released him, and he spent much of the season in Triple A sharing time behind the dish with Willians Astudillo and a collection of who-dats. He got a belated September callup last week, with Ervin Santana going on the 60-day DL to make roster space, when it became obvious that Mitch Garver (concussion) wasn't going to catch again this year.

So the Twins have three catchers on their roster. Astudillo is by far the most interesting.


The Twins' win Wednesday was greatly aided by an odd umpiring ruling. Runners on first and second, no outs, and Paul Molitor put on the hit-and-run with Astudillo, who figures to be really good at this. But he lined out to the second baseman for what should have been a triple play.

Except that the shortstop was nowhere near the bag at second for the throw, and Niko Goodrum muffed the throw at first. The second base ump called Robbie Grossman out at second, and Grossman, who never tried to return, went to the dugout. But the Twins appealed the call, and it was overturned. The umps put Grossman back at second, and the Twins wound up scoring five runs.

As I see it, Grossman conceded the out when he left the field. I think the umps -- in Minneapolis and New York -- messed up.


Trevor May has an idea:

May apparently is quite taken by the atmosphere at Oakland and Cleveland. I'm not sure how well the notion will play in staid Minnesota.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Primary colors: Coincidence or evidence?

Kohl Stewart on Tuesday made his eighth appearance with the Twins. The first four were straight-up starts; the most recent four were as a "primary" pitcher, still charged with getting through the lineup at least twice but not pitching the first inning.

He allowed exactly three earned runs in each of the four starts but never finished the fifth inning: a total of 16.1 innings with an ERA of 6.61 and a dismal nine walks (with 11 strikeouts).

In the second four outings, including Tuesday, he worked 20.1 innings, allowing four runs, three earned. ERA: 1.33. The walk-strikeout ratio is better, but not good (nine walks, 13 strikeouts).

Coincidence, or evidence that the "opener" tactic works? Thirty-six innings and change doesn't really settle anything, and there are signs that a lot of luck is involved, but Stewart has been better while avoiding the top of the order while getting settled in. That's part of the theory behind the opener.

Paul Molitor pulled Stewart after six innings, 75 pitches and 21 batters Tuesday, and the bullpen -- specifically Trevor Hildenberger, who is suddenly struggling again -- promptly surrendered four runs. The decision to yank Stewart was second-guessed on social media, with the commentary focused on the 75 pitches.

More important in that decision, I think, is the 21 batters. That's twice through the batting order, plus three hitters. Opener Gabriel Moya faced the first five men, then Stewart began with the Tigers No. 6 hitter (James McCann). Molitor wanted to prevent Stewart from facing the top of the order a third time, and also wanted to give Hildenberger a clean start to the inning.

The pitch count was a secondary consideration. It clearly didn't work, but that's on Hildenberger.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Losing a writer

A Casey Stengel story: It's 1954. The Yankees are in Cleveland late in September, and the Indians are having a historically great season. The Yankees have won five straight World Series, but they won't win a sixth straight pennant, and the writers aren't going back to New York. They're picking up the Tribe and covering them the rest of the way,

Stengel, who has insisted all along that his squad will catch Cleveland,  is dismayed: "We're losing our writers."

Well, we're loing a writer. Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press is jumping ship this week to join the Indianapolis Star. He'll be based in South Bend and cover Notre Dame sports.

I have linked to Berardino's stuff quite a bit over the years, partly because it's accessible and partly because he's good. I assume the Pioneer Press will have somebody covering the Twins going forward, but the PP newsroom is a shell of former glories -- the descrecration of that newspaper in the name of hedge fund profits is appalling -- and I don't expect that his ultimate replacement will be of the same caliber.

Berardino's had jobs vanish from under him before -- that's how he wound up in St. Paul to begin with -- and I certainly can't blame anybody for getting out of the Pioneer Press' continuing contractions when a promising opportunity arises. But as a reader, I will miss him. And I wish him well in his new post.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Gopher the bullpen

The Twins outscored the Oakland Athletics in their weekend series, but the A's won two of three.

In the process they underlined the biggest failing of the Minnesota bullpen -- its vulnerablity to home runs.

Trevor Hildenberger has given up 12 homers in his first 71.2 innings, far too many for a closer but still a lower rate than many of his colleagues.

Addison Reed and Matt Magill have each given up 11 long balls in 55 and 54 innings respectively. Alan Busenitz has given up eight in less than 25 innings. Gabriel Moya and Tyler Duffey, like Busenitz yo-yo'd up and down this season, six apiece in 33-plus and 22-plus.

There's some things to like about the arms in the Twins bullpen. But giving up homers every four or five innings is a road map to failure.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Searching for catchers

The Twins announced their instructional league invites on Thursday, and eagle-eyed Steve Buhr noted on Twitter that Michael Davis, who took over at shortstop for Cedar Rapids after Royce Lewis was promoted, was listed as a catcher.

Davis was taken in the 24th round as a senior out of Texas Tech, and he apparently played third base as a senior in college, second base as a junior. When I saw him at the end of the Midwest League season, he sure looked like an experienced shortstop.

But even if he is a shortstop, he's sandwiched between Royce Lewis and Wander Javier in the Twins organization, and that doesn't equate to a lot of opportunity moving forward. The Twins, it's safe to say, have a lot more invested in Lewis and Javier than in Davis.

So this experiment -- assuming that the listing as a catcher wasn't some sort of clerical error -- might be a blessing for Davis. Or it might be another logjam; the Twins have in the past few years, both under Terry Ryan and the Falvine regime, seemed to be gathering as many catchers as possible. Their second-round pick in the same draft in which they took Davis is a catcher.

But it's a tough position to fill because it's a difficult position to play. No-hit receivers like Chris Gimenez, Drew Butera and Bobby Wilson seem to hang around forever -- not necessarily with one team, but but into their mid 30s despite their lack of offense. Davis looks like he can hit, he's got a strong arm, and if he can take to the position with alacrity, there will be an opportunity for him.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Mitch Garver's future

The Twins sent two injured players, Eddie Rosario and Mitch Garver, back to the Twin Cities on Wednesday rather than have them make the long haul out to Oakland. Not only was it obvious that neither would play in Oakland, it's quite possible that both are done for what remains of the season.

This is not the first notable concussion Garver's sustained; he had one a few years ago when he was in Cedar Rapids. And he's a catcher, the position most vulnerable to head injuries because of the foul tips and occasional bat backlashes.

Two tweets:

I get what Steve's saying, but: Where else other than catcher is he going to play?

Garver is 27, so he's already in the peak phase of his career. His hitting is -- good for a catcher, but his OPS+ is a tick under league average, which means it's not really good enough to play a corner position such as first base or left field. 

The "offensive potential" Berardino cites is based almost entirely on being a league-average hitter at catcher. The Twins have better hitting options at any other postions Garver might reasonably play.

Not that Garver is a stellar defensive catcher either. Another tweet:

Yeah. A poor pitch framer who has been behind the plate for nine wild pitches and 33 passed balls in just under 670 innings and has thrown out just 18 percent of the base stealers. He'd better hit.

All of which leads me to suspect that those of us trying to project Willians Astudillo as a utility man for the 2019 Twins might be missing a more significant point: He may be a better choice as the No. 2 catcher (behind Jason Castro) than Garver.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Earl Weaver and the opener

The Twins are to deploy Gabriel Moya as the opener again today -- he had that duty on Monday as well -- with Stephen Gonsalves apparently slated for the primary pitcher role.

This new-school tactic clearly does not sit well with at least two prominent Twin Cities media voices, Bert Blyleven and Patrick Reusse. Their disdain for the opener strikes me as a feature, not a bug.

And it also seems to me misplaced, given that their stated concern is for the future of what we know as starting pitching. I think this approach fits well with the development of true starters.

Gonsalves has put up ugly numbers in his first five major league appearances -- 9.39 ERA in four starts and one "primary" outing with 17 walks in 15.1 innings.

His big league struggles come after a stellar season in Triple A, where he made Baseball America's Triple A full-season all-star team. The lefty has the ability to get major league hitters out; he just hasn't done it yet.

Using Gonsalves -- and, for that matter, Kohl Stewart -- as primaries rather than as true starters calls to mind one of Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver's principles: The place for a rookie pitcher is long relief.

Weaver seldom -- if ever -- put a call-up straight into the Baltimore rotation. They had to earn their chance to start with some success in longer relief outings. But true long relief outings are passe today; two innings of work out of the bullpen is generally seen as a long stint. That's not what Weaver was doing with Mike Flanagan in 1976 or Dennis Martinez and Scott McGregor in 1977.

The opener, in a sense, formalizes Weaver's approach. Stewart and Gonsalves are getting their innings and their opportunity to learn how their stuff plays at this higher level. They're just not facing the first batter of the game.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Catching on (and off)

I grumped a while back that I was uninterested in seeing Chris Gimenez behind the plate the rest of the way. I now must swallow my objections, because I now doubt that we'll see Mitch Garver at all these final two weeks.

Garver left Wednesday's game after getting hit in the head by a foul tip. Apparently trying to watch Friday's game from the bench set off concussion symptoms. I'm quite sure that if this weren't the month of expanded roster that Garver would be on one disabled list or another. The practical result is the same: He's not going to catch.

Which creates more opportunity for Willians Astudillo, certainly. but I don't think Paul Molitor is eager to have anybody catch every game for two weeks. Speaking of Astudillo -- he went hitless Monday night but drove in a run with a hit-and-run ground out. One of the plusses of a catcher who is an extreme contact hitter is the ability to avoid double plays by sending runners one knows can't steal.

And then there's this comment on Astudillo behind the plate:

Molitor didn't have Astudillo catch his first time up, which might suggest that the skipper doesn't think much of Astudillo's receiving skills. But he looks pretty good behind the dish to me, and he certainly hasn't been as prone to passed balls/wild pitches as Garver.

Meanwhile, Bobby Wilson -- remember him? -- has yet to appear in a game for the Cubs.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Ex-Twins watch: Brian Dozier

Brian Dozier started his tenure with the Los Angeles Dodgers with a bang, but he fell into a deep slump and has apparently fallen into a platoon role.

Chase Utley was L.A.'s second baseman for their Sunday Night game with the St. Louis Cardinals. The Dodgers got shut out, and Dozier never got off the bench.

Apparently he's been dealing with a sore knee all season, and he told the Orange County Register this weekend that he's developed "bad habits in (my) swing" trying to compensate for the injury.

He wasn't having a good season with Minnesota before the trade, and his averages have deteriorated since the trade.

Dozier, as we all know, is headed to free agency after the season. He's in his 30s, he's having by far his worst season since the shift to second base, and the marketplace last winter was rather cruel to 30-something sluggers.

But at least he has a structural reason for his decline. His argument might be: Once we get the knee fixed, I can snap back into my accustomed production.

How willing today's analytically inclined front offices will be to buy into that is questionable.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Pic of the Week

Willians Astudillo scores from first base on a double
Wednesday against the Yankees.
 (Screencap from Fox Sports North)
El Tortugo -- The Turtle -- is deservedly becoming a cult hero among not only Twins fans but baseball fans, much for the same reasons that Bartolo Colon is. He doesn't look like an athlete.

But there Willians Astudillo was Wednesday night, scoring from first base on a Max Kepler double, head-tossing his helmet off as he rounded second and rumbling home, hair flying in his wake. 

Astudillo via a translator after the game: "I just wanted to show that chubby people also run."

Friday, September 14, 2018

A pinball bumper at shortstop

Jorge Polanco pulled off a rarity Thursday night -- a three-base error at shortstop. Yet another groundball that richocheted off him. Later in the game he mishandled a throw from catcher Chris Gimenez; that error was wrongly charged to Gimenez.

Earlier in the day, on my every-other-week radio spot on KMSU, I pulled out my pinball bumper metaphor to describe Polanco's shortstop play and got some laughs from the other two. But it can't be a laughing matter to the Twins decision makers. Polanco has been charged with 12 errors in 62 games at shortstop -- his season, of course, halved by his steroid suspension -- and deserves at least one more.

It was common in the 1960s for even good shortstops to commit 30 errors in a season, but no more. That's an atrocious rate for a shortstop in 2018.

The Twins right now have Logan Forsythe as their regular second baseman. He's to become a free agent after the season. The Twins could plug that hole by moving Polanco to second base, the position the minor league staff thought a better fit for him. But moving Polanco to second opens up shortstop, and that's a more difficult position to fill.

Nick Gordon, theoretically the shortstop in waiting after being the fifth overall draft pick in 2014, didn't get a callup this month after hitting .212/.262/.283 in Triple A. I've been skeptical for some time of Gordon's ability to be a major league regular; 2018 did nothing to change that opinion.

Paul Molitor appeared a few years ago to be the organization's biggest advocate for playing Polanco at shortstop, and as the manager he has the final call. But even Molitor must realize that Polanco needs to be better at picking up groundballs than he has been.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Contemplating Jake Odorizzi

Jake Odorizzi came five outs shy of a no-hitter Wednesday night, and we can expect Dick Bremer to make a big deal in coming days about the fact that this performance came against the Yankees.

Setting aside the mystery of why the Yankees have so dominated the Twins for so long, let's get this straight: The Yankees hit a lot of home runs (they lead the American League in that department), they draw a lot of walks (they lead in that department) and they score a lot of runs (they're second in that department, to the Red Sox). They aren't a great team at hitting for average, and that makes them somewhat vulnerable to being no-hit.

They didn't get no-hit, of course. They got one hit, a double that not only broke up the no-hitter but plated a run and drove Odorizzi from the game with a season-high (and career-high matching) 120 pitches.

Bert Blyleven wasn't doing this game, but I'm sure his reaction to Odorizzi throwing 120 pitches is a sarcastic: And his arm didn't fall off. But the last time (only) time Odorizzi threw 120 pitches -- June 3, 2016 for Tampa Bay against the Twins -- he followed that performance with a month in which his ERA rose by a run. I expect he will have rough outings the rest of the way.

Odorizzi made it clear after the game that, had his no-hitter remained intact, he expected to be allowed to pursue it. And given that the Twins aren't going to be in the playoffs and have plenty of starting options for what remains of the season, I'm fine with giving him the chance to make a little history.

2018 has been the worst, at least at a quick reading of his stat lines, of Odorizzi's five seasons in a major league rotation -- highest ERA, worst winning percentage, second-worst walk rate, second worst walk/strikeout ratio. He started on Opening Day, but that was a fluky miscast born of Ervin Santana's injury and the desire to set up Jose Berrios to pitch in the Puerto Rico series. Odorizzi has, in truth, been basically what we should have expected: A middle-to-back-of-the-rotation arm who has made 30 starts. Those don't grow on trees.

Odorizzi has another year left on his contract. A month ago I figured that the Twins might do well to clear him out to make room in the rotation for a younger arm with more upside. After watching Kohl Stewart and Stephen Gonsalves splutter, I'm less inclined to argue for pushing him aside.

The Twins figure to go into the offseason with a rotation foundation of Berrios, Kyle Gibson (also with one more year of control) and Odorizzi. That leaves two slots to fill, either internally or from the outside. They might improve the team by trading Odorizzi, but that would be because of what they get in return, not through the process of addition by subtraction.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Celebrating Mauer

The Twins wrap up this homestand tonight against the Yankees, then trundle off to Kansas City, Detroit and Oakland before returning home for their final six games of the season.

Which will be the final six games of Joe Mauer's contract, and perhaps the final six games of his illustrious career.

Mauer on Tuesday hit the fifth grand slam of his career. His career batting average with the bases loaded is .378. That is a fact. Also a fact is that Minnesota has a vocal set of Mauer haters, fueled by a popular but cynical set of media voices (radio and print) that are adverse to facts. They are, at least for the moment, drowned out by the public embrace of the hometown hero who may be on his way out.

Nobody knows, perhaps not even Mauer, what his future holds. He could retire, he could return. He could even sign elsewhere, although nobody appears to think that likely.

We've toted up before reasons for him to keep going and reasons for him to hang it up, and all of them still hold. Neither decision should surprise anybody.

Meanwhile, there is this: seven more games in Minnesota for Joe Mauer. There may be more, but there may not. Cherish them.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Done in the minors

A little before the Twins bullpen imploded in Target Field against the Yankees on Monday, the Fort Myers Miracle won the Florida State League playoffs.

That concluded the season for the Twins' minor league affiliates. Fort Myers and Elizabethton won their league titles, Cedar Rapids got bounced in the second round of the Midwest League playoffs by Peoria, and neither Chattanooga nor Rochester made the post season.

This essentially matches my perception of the Twins system: Strong at the lower levels, lacking in bona fide prospects at the upper levels. The Twins did not draft effectively the last few years of the Terry Ryan administration. There was a particular emphasis on power-armed collegiate relievers; few of them remain in the organization and even fewer have contributed to the big league club.

Next up: The Arizona Fall League and instructionals.

For the AFL, the Twins this year are contributing talent to the Salt River Rafters: Four pitchers (Adam Bray, Griffin Jax, Hector Lujan and Devin Smeltzer); one infielder (Travis Blankenhorn) and three outfielders (Jaylin Davis, Luke Raley and Brent Rooker).

I won't dismiss anybody sent to the AFL as a prospect, but Rooker and Jax strike me as the most significant of the Twins contingent.

Rooker is listed on the roster as an outfielder, but I expect his future to be at first base, and I expect him to get to Target Field sometime next season. Jax is also a significant prospect, although his military committment -- he's an Air Force Academy graduate -- has been a hurdle for his professional baseball career. (Apparently the restoration of baseball as an Olympic sport cleared the way for him to go on reserve status and focus on his athletic endeavor.)

Also worth noting is that Tommy Watkins will be managing the Rafters. Watkins' Chattanooga club did not fare well -- they finished last in their division overall -- but that doesn't appear to have damaged his status.

The Twins didn't hold instructionals last year; in the wake of Hurricane Irma, their complex was used as a staging area for relief efforts.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Astunding Astudillo

I don't know if Willians Astudillo is a major league catcher. I do know he's fun to watch, and a one-man solution to pace of play issues.

His homer on Sunday afternoon gives him three in his limited MLB at-bats. He also has two walks and zero strikeouts. Yes, it's just 38 plate appearances. Those are still astunding ratios (see what I did there?) and, at least in the walk and strikeout categories, of a piece with his minor league record.

Twins fans of a certain age remember another catcher of dubious defensive skills who seldom walked or struck out. Brian Harper was a pretty valuable backstop for a few years and helped win a World Series.

The mold may be the same for Harper and Astudillo, but the applicable skills may be pitched differently. Harper didn't throw well and was not a great receiver, but I believe Tom Kelly trusted him as a pitch caller.

I know this: I'd rather see Paul Molitor divvy up the catching chores this month between Mitch Garver and Astudillo than see Chris Gimenez prominent in the mix.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Contemplating Trevor May

Trevor May was credited with the win Friday night. This gives the big righty a 4-1 record in 15 appearances for the Twins.

Plus he has four holds -- save-situation leads turned over to the next reliever. Nine quasi-decisions in 15 games suggests that Paul Molitor has not shied away from giving May game-crucial innings.

May has allowed seven earned runs since his call-up during the sell-off in late July, four of them in an ill-fated "opening" assignment in Houston. He also -- impressive ratios alert -- has walked three and struck out 24 in 17.1 innings.

May is, from all appearances, recovering well from his 2017 Tommy John surgery. What he hasn't done -- and this is unusual in Molitor's bullpens -- is work back-to-back games. This makes sense: He was out all of 2017, and 2018 is a season that combines actual game work with rehab. Molitor is protecting him with usage limitations.

Which means his future is wide open once again. Come 2019, May could return to a starting role. He might get a more prominent slot in late-inning relief. Or he could remain essentially where he is, working in the middle of games but more frequently.

I'd like to see him get another opportunity as a starting pitcher. But that's based on the assumption that he can be more than a five-and-fly guy, and he wasn't in his half-season as a starter in 2015.

There is a substantial difference between 30 starts, 150 innings -- five innings a start -- and 30 starts, 200 innings -- a bit less than seven innings a start. If May can do the latter, he should be in the rotation. If it's the former, he may have more value in the bullpen.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Contemplating Shohei Ohtani

Shohei Ohtani, the two-way sensation for the Los Angeles Angels, made his return to the mound on ESPN's Sunday night game. He showed his customary velocity in the first inning. He did not have that same velocity in the second and was pulled.

The Angels initially downplayed the loss of velocity, but on Wednesday afternoon the club announced that the Japanese right-hander had further damaged his right elbow. Tommy John surgery is recommended.

On Wednesday night, after the diagnosis, Ohtani was the designated hitter for the Angels -- and hit a pair of home runs.

This is a remarkable athlete, and a complex situation. A few facts and assertions:

  • Ohtani wants to both hit and pitch, and would not have signed with the Angels without a pledge that he would be allowed to do both.
  • He is probably more valuable to the Angels as a pitcher; they, like most teams, lack a true ace starter, and they have a lot of money invested in Albert Pujols as the designated hitter.
  • The split role dampens Ohtani's value to the team. Even when healthy, he made no more than one start a week, and he didn't hit on the days before and after his starts. He's a part-time hitter and a spot starter.
  • The Angels handled him carefully, and he still got hurt.
Presumably he will have the ligament replacement, and presumably sooner rather than later. Given what we've seen from other position players who've had the surgery, he can return to hitting for the Angels sooner than he can return as a pitcher.

But again, dividing his time, his attention and his rehab between the dual roles is a complicating factor. He is a unique case.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Sano's ugly slide

"When you start to slide, slide. He who changes his mind may have to change a good leg for a bad one."

That is the fifth of Hall of Fame manager Joe McCarthy's "10 commandments," and it came to mind Tuesday night when Miguel Sano slid late and hard into second base and wound up riding a cart off the field.

The inelegant slide also involved bumping bodies, head and elbow with Houston shortstop Carlos Correa, who isn't as bulky as Sano but is considerably larger than the stereotypical middle infielder. 

Yet the report later in the game was largely positive. A bruised left shin, no fracture, status day-to-day. Considering that the bruised shin is the one that had a rod implanted last offseason because of a slow-healing stress reaction, I suspect the Twins will be cautious about playing Sano for a day or so.

He got away with one.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The error-prone Jorge Polanco

This tweet grated on me more than it should have:

What grated was the "two crummy pitches" line. Yeah, Kyle Gibson served up a pair of gopher balls. That accounted for two of the four runs he allowed. The other two came in large part because Jorge Polanco booted a (judging from the radio play-by-play as I did some yardwork before the rain hit) likely double-play ball. Gibby paid the price not only for the homers but for having a subpar shortstop.

There's a long-standing adage, which I think is credited to Paul Richards but may well predate him: More baseball games are lost than won. Meaning that the team that makes the fewest mistakes -- physical errors, mental errors, tactical errors -- comes up on top. 

This, I think, accounts for the remarkable second half of the season for Cedar Rapids in the Midwest League, which as a low-A circuit is more prone to what-are-they-doing moments than the majors. The Kernels lost a lot of top-shelf talent after the first half as Royce Lewis, Alex Kiriloff and Brustar Gaterol were promoted, and have compiled a better record after they left.

They aren't bereft of talent now -- the Twins' top two draft picks from June's draft are on their roster -- but they really benefit from their new middle infield, a pair of June draftees who played for major programs. Shortstop Michael Davis and second baseman Michael Helman aren't as highly regarded as predecessors Lewis and Jose Miranda, but they are older, more mature and more reliable. In the two games I watched last week in Cedar Rapids, Davis and Helman turned four double plays and didn't miss a makable play. The same could not be said of the infielders for the opponents.

This year's Twins team has been given to baserunning gaffes, unmade plays and general sloppiness. Polanco has been charged with 10 errors already, and remember, he lost half the season to suspension. Errors are an exceedingly blunt tool for evaluating defense, of course, but 10 errors in 52 games -- that's a lot for a major league shortstop in 2018. 

I like Polanco -- as a second baseman. Paul Molitor has been determined to find a shortstop in him. Last year it appeared that Molitor might be right about Polanco. This year, not so much.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Opening the opener

Well, that didn't go well.

Opening pitcher Gabriel Moya gave up a two-run homer in the first. I like Moya, and I expect him to be a quality relief pitcher, but he has now surrendered five homers in a bit more than 25 major league innings this year, and that's too high a rate. (He's not alone in this in the Minnesota bullpen.)

Primary pitcher Zack Littell didn't fare much better at the end of his stint. The key theory behind the "opener" tactic is that the nominal starter will begin his third trip through the batting order somewhere in the second, weaker, half of the lineup. On Sunday he entered to begin the second inning against the No. 6 hitter, and in four innings allowed one unearned run. His fifth inning began with that feared third trip through the order, and he gave up a double and a homer. And that was all for him.

And then Tyler Duffey was completely ineffective, and Matt Belisle got ejected, and the whole contest got out of hand.

The opener isn't a cure for bad pitching, and the Twins had too much of that on Sunday. The tactic is -- as is true of baseball tactics -- an attempt to achieve a marginal advantage. One game, one example, doesn't truly determine anything.

One thing I heard Dick Bremer say during the telecast that I wish to dispute: He said that Tampa Bay has used slider specialist Sergio Romo a lot as the opener. The Rays did use Romo five times in that role at the beginning of the experiment, but he hasn't opened since May 27.

What happened? Two things:

  • The Rays traded then-closer Alex Colome to Seattle and shifted Romo back to the late innings;
  • The Rays used Romo to open against two specific clubs (Angels and Orioles) that had no left-handed hitters at the top of their lineups.
The most-often used opener for Tampa Bay has been Ryne Stanek, with 22 "starts" in 46 appearances.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Pic of the Week

Yankees manager Aaron Boone gets into a catchers
crouch during an argument with umpire Nic Lentz Friday.
The argument resulted in Boone's ejection.

The arrival of replay review largely ended the era of demonstrative arguments between managers and umpires.

On Friday, Aaron Boone did his part to bring them back.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Wilson for Gimenez

I interrupt this blog's series of deep thoughts about the Cedar Rapids Kernels to offer my deep thoughts on the Twins trade Friday of Bobby Wilson for Chris Gimenez.

Here they are: ????

What we have here are a pair of essentially interchangable backup catchers -- both 35, both with reputations as excellent clubhouse presences and receivers, both possessors of medicore batting records.

Wilson, I think, is a slightly better defensive catcher; Gimenez balances the scales by being more versatile and a usable hitter against lefties, although that latter attribute may have deteriorated with the years. He certainly has not hit much this year, either in his brief midsummer sorjorn with the Cubs or at Triple A Iowa.

So why trade them?

My guess: The Cubs prefer Wilson to Gimenez as catching depth for September and the postseason. Not, mind you, that they will necessarily have him active for October -- but as insurance should something happen to starter Wilson Contreras or backup Victor Caritini.

The Twins give Wilson a change at a piece of postseason coin and get a backup catcher available immediately (Wilson is on the disabled list with a sprained ankle and is eligible to return Sept. 4). The trade also involves a player to be named or cash coming to the Twins. Neither figures to amount to much.

This will, of course, be Gimenez' second tenure with the Twins. He's been on the Indians roster three times and Texas twice. It's not often that a player returns to a previous organization, but Gimenez does it repeatedly.