Thursday, December 19, 2019

Bells and Boones

The Twins needed a new bench coach after Derek Shelton left to become manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates. During the weekend they landed Mike Bell, who had been the farm director of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

I would imagine that the vacancy was eyed by a number of wanna-be managers. It was opened, of course, when Shelton landed one of those jobs. The Twins new regime is developing a reputation for forward thinking -- not, I would think, on the level of Tampa Bay or Cleveland, but getting into that territory -- and a struggling organization might well look to poach somebody from such an operation.

Bell, who played briefly in the majors (31 plate appearances with Cincinnati in 2000), is part of one of a pair of three-generation baseball families that are oddly parallel. The other is the Boones.

Patriarchs: Gus Bell and Ray Boone

Gus Bell was a distinguished center fielder with Cincinnati in the 1950s. He made four All-Star teams in five years (1953-1957), not bad in a league that featured Willie Mays, Duke Snider, Stan Musial and Richie Ashburn throughout that period and had the likes of Frank Robinson and Hank Aaron for parts of it.

Ray Boone was a distinguished infielder in the American League in the 1950s -- started as a shortstop with Cleveland, moved to Detroit and third base, played his declining years at first base bouncing from team to team. He didn't make as many All-Star teams as Bell did, but he drew move MVP votes.and got votes in more seasons.

Second generation: Buddy Bell and Bob Boone

If you really work at it, you can make a Hall of Fame case for either of these guys, but neither is in and that's quite acceptable. Boone's case was more plausible during the brief period when he held the record for games caught. The Two Pudges, Rodriguez and Fisk, have long since passed Boone, but Boone is the only one of the top four all time who doesn't have a plaque in Cooperstown (the other is Gary Carter).

Boone won seven Gold Gloves (mostly after he was no longer competing with Johnny Bench for that honor) and made four All-Star teams, but nobody ever constructed a batting order around him.

Bell was primarily a third baseman, with six Gold Gloves in the middle of his career and several seasons of down-ballot MVP votes. Eighteen years in the majors and no postseason appearances; that might be a record, at least for the divisional era.

Both these guys were managers as well, and neither was successful. Which is a bit of an understatement. Bell got 1,243 career games as a skipper with three different teams (Detroit, Colorado and Kansas City) and racked up a .418 winning percentage. Boone had a shorter managerial career (815 games, Kansas City and Cincinnati) and a .468 winning percentage, with no .500 seasons.

Third generation: Bret and Aaron Boone; David and Mike Bell

The two Boones were the more distinguished players of this generation, and Bret in particular. He was a good second baseman who developed notable power in his 30s and drove in 141 runs in 2001. He finished his career with the Twins and was later named by Jose Canseco as a steroid user, which Boone has publicly denied.

Aaron Boone's playing career was less than Bret's but he hit a famous playoff homer for the Yankees and, of course, is now their manager.

David Bell was a teammate of Bret Boone with the Seattle Mariners, including their marvelous 2001 season when the M's won 116 games and then flopped in the playoffs. He's now the manager of the Cincinnati Reds.

And Mike Bell ... well, as a player he's least distinguised of this bunch, but miles better than the rest of us. And his new job might put him in line to join his brother in the managerial ranks.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Sergio Romo and the 2020 bullpen

The Twins are bringing veteran reliever Sergio Romo back for 2020. This is a keep-the-band-together move (as was the earlier retentions of starters Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda) and not, strictly speaking, an upgrade.

Bullpens are always a work in progress. I've written that sentence, or variations of it, repeatedly over the years. The 2019 Twins bullpen was much different at the end of the season than at its beginning. And Romo, a well-traveled veteran, was part of that restructuring -- and a unique piece of it.

The bulleon early last season featured a number of pitchers discarded by other big league teams. Matt Magill and Mike Morin were signed as minor league free agents. Blake Parker was simply released by the Angels, a team with chronic bullpen problems, despite a couple of quality years for the Halos. Parker had the most significant role of the three, but all three were gone by the end of July.

The Twins traded at the deadline for Romo and Sam Dyson. Dyson, injured and ineffective, didn't pitch much the last two months, but Romo was prominent in Rocco Baldelli's usage patterns.

Pretty much everybody else in the late-season bullpen -- most prominently Taylor Rogers, Trevor May, Tyler Duffey and Zach Littell -- are 20-somethings who have pitched in the majors only for Minnesota. Romo was the exception.

Rogers, Romo, Duffey, May, Littell -- those five figure to be the key figures in the Twins bullpen in the coming season. I wouldn't mind seeing them add a second lefty to that mix, but it's a quality group -- and maybe one that won't need a midseason remake.

Monday, December 16, 2019

On MadBum and the Klubot

Word broke Sunday that Madison Bumgarner had reached agreement with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Snakes didn't give him the $100 million total that was supposedly his ask, but they did go five years, and the Twins reportedly wouldn't do that.

I am neither surprised nor disappointed. Not surprised because the Twins were almost certainly not high on Bumgarner's wishlist, not if, as Jon Heyman tweeted last week, location and league were obstacles. The lefty stays in the NL, where he can hit, and he gets to be in the Phoenix area, where he apparently owns property and horses. Not disappointed because, while he would certainly be welcome in the Minnesota rotation, he is clearly not the pitcher he was about five years ago. His arrows are pointing down.

Speaking of pitchers whose arrows are pointing down: Cleveland traded Corey Kluber to Texas on Sunday in what appears to be a salary dump. Kluber didn't pitch well last season before a suffering a broken arm on a line drive, and he never made it back with the Tribe.

The return -- a part-time outfielder and a minor league reliever -- seems pretty light for a two-time Cy Young winner, even one on the wrong side of 30. Presumably the Rangers are taking on all of Kluber's contract. And, also presumably, nobody -- at least nobody to whom Cleveland was willing to trade Kluber -- was willing to top that offer.

The Cleveland operation has been pretty good in recent years at turning out quality young pitchers, and I suspect that Delino Deshields Jr. will be an outfield upgrade for them even if he couldn't attain regular status in north Texas. But not having the Klubot at the head of their rotation feels like a big loss, even if it can be rationalized.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Random winter meeting takeaways

*The Twins neither took nor made a selection in the Rule 5 draft, which essentially closes baseball's annual winter meetings.

That they skipped making a pick was no surprise. They're not eager to devote a roster spot to a developmental project, even with 26-man rosters next year. And they shouldn't be.

That nobody else took somebody out of the organization was at least mildly surprising. There are so many tanking teams that I figured somebody would take an arm and figure they can hide him in the bullpen -- and again, the expanded rosters figure to make that easier to do.

* The Twins likewise were quiet on the free agent and trading fronts. Lots of rumors but no announcements. They did formalize the signings of Michael Pineda and Alex Avila, but those are already old news.

Derek Falvey, in a Thursday appearance on MLB Network Radio, said they were happy with the progess they made in talks with free agents and potential trade partners. Whether that's meaningful is to be seen.

We know the Twins still need to bolster their rotation. And we saw some eyebrow-raising price tags for what I described in an earlier post as "disposable" veteran starters. Martin Perez, cut loose by the Twins, signed with Boston for $6 million. Martin Perez. The Boston deal is less than the option the Twins declined last month, but still: 160 innings carries a lot of value.

* The MLB-sponsored research on the rabbit ball was ... unsatisifying. Which is probably to be expected. First off, there should always be a mistrust of research paid for by an entity that has an interest in a specific finding. MLB would much rather have us believe that it doesn't tinker with the baseballs. Surprise: That's the finding!

But secondly, even if the research is indeed completely independent and the findings unedited by the commissioner's office, there are so many variables that it's truly ludricious to point to one thing and say: That's the reason for the homers.

There is science -- physics -- behind the long balls. But there is art as well. I have heard too many veteran pitchers -- men who have held hundreds of baseballs over the years -- talk about the differences between the 2019 ball and, say, the 2014 ball to buy the notion that there has been no genuine change between them.

And the research doen't explain why using the major-league ball in Triple A last year lead to a major spike in homers at that level, while homers were flat or down at other levels.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

The MadBum rush

The Twins were most likely never seriously in the Gerrit Cole market, but now that the right-hander has signed the most lucrative pitcher contract in history, the top pitchers left in free agency are guys the Twins have been pursing. Which brings us to this:


And there's nothing the Twins can do about either of those factors.

I'm not particularly optimistic about the Twins' chances to sign either Madison Bumgarner or Hyun-Jin Ryu. The Dodgers and Angels, having failed to land Cole, will probably be after those two, and at least for the Dodgers, neither league nor location is a drawback. Nor will I be upset if the two lefties sign elsewhere.

I suspect the Twins' most likely route to a name addition to their rotation is via trade. The Red Sox are eager to dump David Price's contract, and I'd just as soon have Price as either Bumgarner or Ryu. And Price's price in a trade might not be that high if the Twins are willing to take on most of the money. He is to make $32 million over the next three seasons; if MadBum's signing point is indeed  $100 million, three years of Price -- seriously -- is a bit cheaper.

All three of these lefties are on the wrong side of 30, and all three have medical histories. None of them are sure bets. But the Twins seem eager to take this sort of plunge. Whether any of them are eager to take the Twins' money is another matter.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Talking rotation

Derek Falvey at the winter meetings Monday:


Clear as mud, right? Presumably the Twins rotation now looks like

  1. Jose Berrios
  2. Jake Odorizzi
  3. Michael Pineda
  4. (veteran to be acquired)
  5. (rookie to emerge)

Except that we know Pineda's not pitching in April. He's got the rest of his suspension to serve yet. So maybe Falvey means the "early in the season" rotation projects as:

  1. Berrios
  2. Odorizzi
  3. (veteran to be acquired)
  4. (veteran to be acquired)
  5. (rookie placeholder for Pineda)
One of the hallmarks of the Terry Ryan era was the placeholder veteran starter. The Twins regularly brought in an older arm on a disposable contract to fill a back-of-the-rotation slot for a while. Sidney Ponson. Ramon Ortiz. Livan Hernandez. They were usually gone by mid May, but in the meantime a prospect had marinated a bit longer in Triple A. And sometimes the veteran was effective enough to last a while longer.

That's an approach I can see Falvine taking here. So yet another potential meaning of Falvey's quote:

  1. Berrios
  2. Odorizzi
  3. (veteran to be acquired)
  4. (veteran placeholder for Pineda)
  5. (rookie to emerge)

No. 3 in that scenario would, ideally, be somebody along the lines of Madison Bumgarner or Hyun-Jin Ryu -- somebody they're counting on to be a season-long starter. No. 4 would be a different matter.

Theoretically, of course, the veteran placeholder could do well enough to remain in place (as Martin Perez did last season), but that would probably mean that none of the prospects are faring well, and I think that's unlikely. They won't all emerge, but they won't all fail either.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Two for the Hall and one for the plate

This year's version of the Veterans' Committee -- which included Rod Carew and Terry Ryan, so two guy with Twins connections -- on Sunday selected Ted Simmons and Marvin Miller for the Hall of Fame.

Long overdue for each, frankly, although Miller's dead and can't enjoy the honor.

Simmons is one of the best hitting catchers in baseball history -- seven seasons with a batting average over .300 -- and it was always a bit of a mystery why he was one-and-done when he came up for consideration by the writers. My answer to that puzzle has several facets:

  • He was a direct contemporary of, and in the same league as, Johnny Bench, and Bench was better. Simba wasn't getting to start any All-Star Games.
  • He was pretty much finished as a catcher by the time he got to play in the postseason.
  • He wasn't a great defensive catcher.
  • He left St. Louis on bad terms with Whitey Herzog, who was seldom shy about sharing his opinions with the baseball press.
  • He hung around for a few years as a pinch-hitter/scrub at the end of his career, so the final memories of him weren't particularly strong.
Simmons was essentially finished as a regular catcher in his early 30s, which is typical of big-hitting backstops. Managers don't like taking one of their very best bats out of the lineup, but catcher is a punishing position.

Which sorta leads us into the news entering the weekend that the Twins and Alex Avila had agreed on a contract.

It's pretty clear what the Twins have in mind here. They split the catching duties last season between Mitch Garver and Jason Castro, with a sprinkling of Willians Astudillo. It wasn't a true platoon, and Garver got more playing time, but there were stretches in which nobody caught two games in a row. Castro is a free agent, and Avila, like Castro, hits left-handed.

My perception of the two is that Castro is the better defensive catcher and Avila the better hitter. That sense is not necessarily supported by the metrics. Avila's deal is apparently less than Castro was paid last year, and if you regard the two as essentially the same set of skills -- a reasonable assessment -- this sets up a 2020 reprise of the 2019 time-share behind the plate.

My one significant concern with Avila mimics my one significant concern about Garver: Concussions. They both have a history of head injuries. As I said about Simmons, it's a punishing job.

Friday, December 6, 2019

The return of Pineda

The Twins and suspended starter Michael Pineda have agreed on a two-year contract. I approve.

Presuming the oversized righty passes his physical, the Twins have accounted for three of their five rotation slots, although Pineda will have to sit the first five weeks or so of the 2020 season to finish his suspension for a drug-testing violation.

The 2019 Twins had a remarkably stable rotation, but they entered the offseason with four vacancies. Two of the four free-agents are back, and they are the two best of the four, Pineda and Jake Odorizzi.

Somebody said on Twitter last night that the fan base would be more excited about Odorizzi and Pineda if they were coming from outside. Since they were here in 2019, they don't have the appeal of a new bright shiny object. But we've seen them be effective. But I'd rather have either of them than Zack Wheeler, who the Twins reportedly had as a top priority but who is going to be a Phillie.

Meanwhile the speculation about Madison Bumgarner continues. The longtime Giants ace was widely expected to be the next prominent free-agent starter to pick a suitor, and the Twins are prominently connected with him. I'm lukewarm on the sjbject, in large part because I think people see that name and think of the postseason stud of the first half of the decade. Those years are past. Bumgarner would still help this rotation, but he's no longer the Cooperstown-caliber ace of those three San Francisco championship teams.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Good-bye (presumably), Cron and Hildenberger

The Twins "celebrated" the contact-tender deadline by turning first baseman C.J. Cron and reliever Trevor Hildenberger into free agents.

That the Twins declined to offer either a 2020 contract is perhaps mildly surprising, although there was plenty of speculation that Cron might be non-tendered. Hildenberger, not so much; the sidewinder isn't, or wasn't, even arbitration eligible. The Twins apparently put a higher value on the spot on the 40-man roster he was occupying than on Hildenberger himself.

I doubt very much that the old regime would have non-tendered these two, but teams are much more aggressive this year about non-tendering controllable players than even last winter.

Passan implicitly sees this as a logical development. I am inclined to view it as evidence that the arbitration system is now as broken as free agency appears to be. Arbitration is supposed to give established players who don't qualify for free agency some leverage. While teams frequently chafed at the large raises the system funneled to arbitration-eligible players, those salaries were generally still seen as lower than they would get on the open market. Non-tenders at this scale suggests that teams don't expect free agents in their upper 20s to be treated any more kindly in free agency than 30-somethings.

That said, there are individual factors in play with both Cron and Hildenberger. Cron is coming off thumb surgery; the public certainly doesn't know his physical status, and it's quite likely the Twins and Cron himself don't know yet how much the procedure will cure his problems. Cron certainly, and understandably, didn't hit much in the second half of 2019. And as a right-right first baseman, he's got to hit.

Cron was a better defensive first baseman than I expected but a step down from Joe Mauer with the glove. And, as I've noted before, right-handed power doesn't seem to draw the interest of current front offices. (Cron himself the last three winters has been traded for a minor leaguer, waived and now non-tendered.) The Twins certainly weren't viewing him as a long-term fixture at first base, but I don't know that  there is a clear front runner among the minor-leaguers who might be that someday -- Alex Kiriloff, Brent Rooker, Luke Raley. 

It may be that the Twins will fill the position out of free agency. It may be that Plan A is to fill first base early with a combo platter of the guys who played there in Cron's absence last year -- Marwin Gonzalez, Ehire Adrianaza (who was tendered a contract), Willians Astudillo, Miguel Sano -- and see if one of the young guys bashes the door down. I like that second route more, but I expect to see a veteran brought in,

Hildenberger has had stretches of utter dominance, and stretches of utter futility. He could re-sign as a minor league free agent, but I suspect his struggles last September after a strong finish at Triple A have put him too far behind other bullpen arms in the Twins arsenal. 

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Holiday movement

There was some action involving the Twins on the eve of Thanksgiving, all of it outgoing:

  • Kyle Gibson signed with the Texas Rangers
  • Derek Shelton was named manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates
  • Jeremy Hefner will be pitching coach of the New York Mets
To the degree that any of these moves are a surprise, it would be Gibson's destination. Texas has not been a friendly environment for pitchers, but that's not necessarily relevant now, since the new stadium is to open next season.

Aaron Gleeman noted on Twitter that Gibson made as many starts in the past decade for the Twins as the next two guys (Jose Berrios and Ervin Santana) combined, so it's a bit odd to contemplate a Minnesota rotation without him. He was, early in his career, frequently frustrating to watch, but he developed into a good middle of the rotation arm, at least until he developed his intestinal issues that wrecked his 2019 season.

I bumped into a reader at a supermarket this week who asked: What happened to sinkerballers?  The short answer is: The sinker -- the two-seam fastball -- has fallen out of favor because of the "launch angle" revolution. The flight path of that pitch and the swing patch of hitters looking to lift are simply too similar.

And that's relevant to Gibson because he was a classic "sinker-slider" pitcher. a type that populated pitching staffs for years and now has fallen from favor. He had to reinvent himself a few years ago, and did so. I can imagine him, some time down the road, as a pitching coach. (He may prefer a post-playing career in broadcast, however.)

An off-field aspect to Gibson's departure: He was, I believe, the Twins union rep. With storm clouds massing on the labor front, that could be a significant role in the Twins clubhouse over the next two years. 

Shelton was reportedly the runner-up to Rocco Baldelli during last winter's managerial search, and he was viewed as a hot commodity this winter. The Pittsburgh job, now that Ben Cherington is the general manager, is a better one than it was when the Pirates started looking for a new dugout boss. Shelton should get a genuine multi-season opportunity.

But the Pirates' chaotic offseason rippled onto the Twins. Had they been more decisive early in the process -- they didn't fire Neal Huntington as general manager until well into the process to replace Clint Hurdle -- the Twins might have been able to retain James Rowson. But Rowson took the bench coach job in Miami, and now the Twins have to find a new bench coach to fill Shelton's spot.

And they need a new assistant pitching coach too. Hefner seemed, from this outsider perspective, a wonderful complement to Wes Johnson. Johnson's rep is as a guru of delivery and mechanics. Hefner's strength was in video review and forming plans of attack for pitchers against specific hitters. That, I'm sure, oversimplifies things, but I fully expect the Twins to fill Hafner's post with somebody with his own chops in breaking down at-bats.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Adding to the 40

Wednesday was the deadline for teams to add minor leaguers to their 40-man rosters ahead of next month's Rule 5 draft. The Twins protected five prospects, leaving three slots open on the 40.

The five:
  • IF/OF Travis Blankenhorn 
  • OF Gilberto Celestino
  • RHP Dakota Chambers
  • RHP Jhoan Duran
  • 1B/OF Luke Raley 
Four of the five came to the Twins via 2018 mid-season trades. Celestino was part of the Ryan Pressly deal with Houston (as was Jorge Acala, who pitched a little in September for the big-league team) . Raley was part of the 2018 Brian Dozier trade with the Dodgers (as was Delvin Smeltzer, who was a frequent call-up to shore up the rotation or long-relief). Duran was part of the Eduardo Escobar trade with Arizona. Chambers came from Oakland for Fernando Rodney.

Blankenhorn is the only one of the five who was in the organization before the Derek Falvey/Thad Levine regime arrived. He's also, in my estimation, the least likely of the five to make an impact on the major league team.

Among the notable exposures to the Rule 5 draft are shortstop Wander Javier, who had a miserable 2019 (.177 batting average at Cedar Rapids amid shoulder problems); pitcher Griffin Jax, whose development has been somewhat stunted by his military obligations (he was drafted out of the Air Force Academy); and Luis Rijo, who the Twins got from the Yankees for Lance Lynn in another 2018 deal.

I mighr rather have any of those three than Blankenhorn, but Blankenhorn, who spent most of 2019 in Double A, is closer to the majors and might be more likely to stick on an active roster next season if taken in the draft.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Retaining Odorizzi

Jake Odorizzi on Thursday accepted the Twins qualifying offer and took himself off the free agent market this winter. He gets a one-year contract for $17.8 million.

Few players have accepted a QO, but presumably Odorizzi and his agency shared my reading of the market -- and/or my sense of risk adversion. They took the bird in hand and will go after the one in the bush next winter.

These are key factors informing Odorizzi's decision:

  • Odorizzi, while coming off the best season of his career, was not close to the best starter on the market. That would be Garrett Cole, with Stephen Strasburg right behind. Odorizzi was perhaps the fourth-best free-agent starter.
  • The draft-pick penalty for signing a QO-tagged free agent is stiff enough that a lot of teams simply rule it out. In each of the last two winters, a couple such pitchers have gotten burned, finding no significant interest in a multi-year deal. Think Lance Lynn two winters back; he landed with the Twins late in spring training and had a miserable 2018 season.
  • The Twins cannot make another qualifying offer to Ordorizzi after the 2020 season, and the crop of free-agent starters will be considerably more shallow next winter.

The worst case scenario for Odorizzi is that something happens this year that wrecks his future value. He elbow pops in September, say. In which case, hey, he got $17.8 million, and that's not a bad consolation prize.

The best case scenario is that he has at least as good a 2020 season as he did a 2019. In which case he's better positioned for a big multi-year contract than he was this year.

I don't know that the Twins brain trust is celebrating Odorizzi's return. They may have preferred that he depart; that way, if they sign a qualifying-offer free agent, they get a draft pick back, which partially makes up for the pick they lose. But they too have the bird in hand. My guess is that Odorizzi's return makes the pursuit of Cole or Strasburg less likely, not that landing either was anything resembling a certainty.

So two pieces of the Twins projected 2020 rotation are known, Jose Berrios and Odorizzi. Pencil in lightly a rookie-to-be-determined at the tail end of the rotation. That leaves two slots -- the ones occupied in 2019 by Kyle Gibson and Michael Pineda -- to fill.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Roster moves

The Twins made a number of notable moves Monday. One made official what was already known, some were expected and none was truly startling.

The biggest news involved the starting rotation.

The Twins declined their option on Martin Perez, making the veteran lefty a free agent. I thought they might opt to keep him around as an innings eater at the back of the rotation, but they will go in a different direction.

They made a qualifying offer to Jake Odorizzi but not to Kyle Gibson or Michael Pineda. This presents a significant obstacle to Odorizzi on the free-agent market. I rather suspect he'll wind up taking the QO, which is a one-year deal for something around $17.8 million, and know that he'll be unrestricted after the 2020 season.

If he does take the offer, that's two rotation slots filled, three to go. He has until next Monday to decide.

Odorizzi is an effective but limited starter. He's not an innings-eating horse. In 2019, as an all-star having his best season to date, he didn't reach the 162 innings required to qualify for the ERA title. Perez, while far less effective, threw more innings. So I was mildly surprised that the front office made the QO.

It's not surprising that Gibson and Pineda didn't get QOs. Gibson's health issues and Pineda's lingering suspension were good reasons not to go there. I can imagine the Twins bringing one of them back, but not both. 

Also on the pitching line, the Twins parted ways with Kohl Stewart and Stephen Gonsalves, a pair of prominent draft picks who never quite forced their way into the Twins plans. They were taken out of high school in 2013, Stewart in the first round (fourth overall) and Gonsalves in the fourth, but they've been leapfrogged by other prospects.

Gonsalves, who had injury issues and seldom pitched in 2019, was claimed off waivers by the New York Mets, and Stewart opted for free agency after the Twins outrighted him.

The Twins also officially exercised their 2020 option on Nelson Cruz. One can debate the wisdom of any of the other moves and non-moves of Monday, but not this one.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

A Washington champion

Quite the impressive October for the Washington Nationals, who won five straight elimination games and had to overcome deficits in each.

Here's an apparent trend: This is the third straight World Series won by a team whose manager, with reason, mistrusted his bullpen and turned to starters to fill relief roles:

The 2017 Astros saw Ken Giles --  who had a fine regular season, with 34 saves and a 2.30 ERA -- implode repeatedly in the playoffs. In the Series that year, A.J. Hinch finished wins with Charlie Morton and Brad Peacock. Lance McCullers finished the clinching win in the ALCS.

The 2018 Red Sox similarly saw their closer, Craig Kimbrel, splutter in the postseason. When Alex Cora had a chance to wrap up the series, he brought in his top starter, Chris Sale, and left Kimbrel in the pen. Kimbrel was charged in the 2018 postseason with seven runs in 10.2 innings.

The Nationals this year were in a different boat; bullpen depth was a problem all season. Closer Sean Doolittle had some injury issues and pitched to a 4.05 ERA. They picked up Daniel Hudson, an oft-injured journeyman -- he's had two Tommy John surgeries -- from the Blue Jays in an end-of-July trade that barely showed on the radar, and he performed far better than anyone could have imagined.

Doolittle and Hudson gave the Nats a usable back-end of the bullpen. Bridging the innings between the starters -- and the Nats do have a notably strong rotation -- and Doolittle/Hudson was an issue. Davey Martinez dealt with that issue in the playoffs by utilizing starters, particularly lefty Patrick Corbin (the winning pitcher in Game Seven).

The Astros were confident in the quality of their bullpen this October. And that confidence was sustained until Game 7, when Will Harris and Joe Smith imploded and Roberto Osuna didn't get the job done either. My Twitter feed Wednesday night fed me plenty of criticism of Hinch for bypassing Gerrit Cole for his usual relief crew. I suspect that criticism gets extra lift because we now have a string of winning managers -- including Hinch in 2017 -- who bypassed his usual relief crew for a starter.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

On to Game Seven

Ron Luciano, who was an American League umpire during my formative years as a fan, wrote -- or at least had his name on -- a handful of books telling tales of his career. I trust any specific anecdote's accuracy about as far as I can throw a locomotive, but "The Umpire Strikes Back" and "The Fall of the Roman Umpire" are at least amusing, and his description of umpiring as an vocation is both appealing and repelling, which suggests it's an honest one.

Anyway, one serious point he made in one of the books was this guideline about a sticky rules call: If in doubt, penalize the team that screwed up. The rulebook, he said, is designed to do that.

Sam Holbrook did not do that on his botched inteference call in Game 6. The screwup wasn't on Trea Turner's part, it was on Brad Peacock, who made a poor, off-target throw. An accurate throw from Peacock

  • doesn't take the first baseman into the baseline and
  • probably doesn't beat Turner to the bag either.

The issue was largely mooted when Anthony Rendon launched his homer one out later, but it could have been a pivotal play.

So ... on to Game Seven. Which suggests a close series. Which it is and isn't. None of the games have had a close final score, and the home teams have seldom really been in the contests late.

Presumably Max Scherzer is going to start for Washington, Zach Greinke for Houston. Greinke has long been one of my favorite non-Twins players, but he hasn't looked good this October. On the other hand, I have no idea how Scherzer's back and neck are going to respond.

We have two starters with their Cooperstown tickets pretty much already punched, and a genuine possibility that both of them will have poor starts.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Tinkering with the 40

The Twins got a head start on paring their 40-man roster Monday, outrighting Ian Miller, Ryan LaMarre and Ronald Torreyes. None of them were on the 40 before September, and they might not have been on the 40 had it not been for all the injuries the Twins were dealing with in the final month. Cutting them is no surprise.

So the 40 is down to 37, and there will be more coming off the 40 when the World Series ends and free agency begins. Off the top of my head, that includes Jake Odorizzi, Kyle Gibson, Michael Pineda, Sergio Romo, Jonathan Schoop and Jason Castro. I had thought C.J. Cron was on that list also, but he has another year of arbiration eligibility.

They also have two guys on the 60-day injured list. Byton Buxton will certainly be restored to the 40, and I presume Sean Poppen will also, although I can see the Twins deciding to outright him also.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Notes, quotes and comment (World Series edition)

Just one or two games left to the 2019 major league season. A few quick comments regarding the World Series so far:

* I came into the Series uncertain of who to root for. The Nationals have more former Twins, and I can't imagine any Twins fan with unkind thoughts about Brian Dozier in particular. The Astros, meanwhile, are building a case for themselves as a top-shelf dynasty, and it's always fun to see greatness establish itself.

Then the Astros front office made the decision easy with its abominable behavior.

They chose last year to acquire Roberto Osuna, a talented relief pitcher who probably committed a felony in Toronto and managed to avoid prosecution. They have been dishonest in their defense of that decision. They continued that dishonesty in attacking a critic.

*  Long as I'm quoting Twitter takes:

Agreed. I've had my own experience with debilitating back problems. And the competitive drive to high-level athletes like Scherzer is not to be underestimated.

Questioning the veracity of his injury is silly.

* There were eight managerial openings after the regular season. Three have been filled: Joe Maddon with the Angels, David Ross with the Cubs, Joe Girardi with the Phillies. Derek Shelton, the bench coach of the Twins, is reportedly still in the running with the Mets and the Pirates.

The Mets, being the Mets, will probably go with a bold-faced name this time around. I don't think the Pittsburgh job is one that offers a clear route to success.

* I've been watching the Series with the sound down, and unfortunately the At Bat app this year appears to have dropped the radio feeds for the postseason games. So I missed the "lock him up" chant that greeted President Trump at Game Five.

Booing presidents at World Series games is a time-honored tradition. It happens to them all. This takes it to a new level.

Trump, incidentally, is on track to be the first president since Taft to avoid throwing out a first pitch at a major-league game.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Good-bye, Rowson

James Rowson, who has been the Twins hitting coach the past two seasons, was reported Thursday to have taken a job with the Miami Marlins as bench coach and "offensive coordinator."

That last is, so far as I know, a unique title in baseball, and is apparently intended to denote Rowson's reponsibility for hitting instruction not only with the major league team but throughout the organization.

I have often wondered how much, and how effectively, organizations coordinate between the major league staff and the farm system. We have certainly seen examples in Minnesota of disconnect between two fiefdoms, most prominently over Jorge Polanco. The minor league people clearly had concluded that Polanco could not play shortstop, and when he arrived in Minnesota then-manager Paul Molitor wouldn't play him anywhere else.

Molitor's gone, but he clearly won that battle. Polanco is still the shortstop, and he's not vacating the post anytime soon. It's worth noting that the farm director and Triple A manager at the time are in a different jobs with the organizaton, now, although I doubt the differences over Polanco had much to do with either move.

But it's asking a lot to put supervising minor league coaching on a major league coach's plate. Rowson's not going to be spending any time with the Marlins' minor league teams during the season. Supervising from a distance may be possible, but it's unlikely to be as effective. That said, if the minor league instructors are to report to him rather than somebody in the farm system hierarchy, the expectations, suggestions and instructions may be more clear.

Anyway: The Twins have not only lost their primary hitting coach, but their minor league hitting coordinator as well. Peter Fatse was hired last week by the Red Sox as their assistant hitting coach. So the Twins have a couple of positions to fill along those lines.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Washington and the ex-Twins factor

The Washington Nationals made short work of the NLCS, sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals so emphatically -- the Cardinals never had a lead in any game -- that they didn't have to pull their starters-as-relievers bullpen gimmick.

And so Brian Dozier, Kurt Suzuki and Fernando Rodney, three ex-Twins of varying tenure, are going to the World Series. As is Anibal Sanchez, who was in spring training with the Twins as a non-roster invitee in 2018 and was released when the Twins signed Lance Lynn. Since then Sanchez has pitched more than 300 innings with an ERA of  3.39. (He pitched more innings this year as the Nationals' fourth starter than Jake Odorizzi worked for the Twins.)

We can call Sanchez an ex-Twin, or decide that a few weeks in spring training doesn't count -- but he certainly qualifies as one who got away.

As for the others:

Dozier, now 32, had the lion's share of playing time at second base for the Nats and bopped 20 homers, but Howie Kendrick has pretty much taken over the position in the postseason. He was a bench piece for the Dodgers in last year's World Series also.

Suzuki, now 36, essentially splits the catching chores with former Indians backstop Yan Gomes. Gomes is the better receiver, Suzuki the better bat. I frankly thought Suzuki was pretty much done when his Twins tenure ended, but playing a little less than half-time has worked well for him the pst three seasons. Uniquely among the Nats' ex-Twins, he's signed through next season.

Rodney, now 42, is one of the bullpen pieces the Nationals seek diligently to avoid using in key moments. The Nats picked him up after the A's released him; he pitched in 38 games for Washington with an ERA of 4..05, which is considerably better than the 9.42 he had with Oakland.

Their roles are smaller than they were with the Twins, and their time remaining in the majors is dwindling. But if this is it for Dozier and Rodney, they're going out on a big platform.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Back, at least for a day

Years ago I realized that blogging every day made it easier to blog every day.

And taking days off  when the well seems dry makes it easier to skip other days, days when I might have something to say.

But here I am, because I figure I ought to put in an appearance after almost a week of avoiding this corner of the internet.

News from Twinsland since their playoff crawl ended:

* The Twins picked up Nelson Cruz' option for 2020. Might be the easiest decision the front office makes all winter. Man hit 41 homers and batted .311, and now he gets a pay cut.

* The Twins dismissed their entire Triple A coaching staff: manager Joel Skinner, pitching coach Stu Cliburn and hitting coach Javier Valentin. Cliburn in particular has been around the Twins organization for a long time. The Redwings finished 70-70 in 2019, which seems pretty solid considering that they couldn't have had a stable rotation considering how often the Twins shuffled the major league staff.

* Royce Lewis, who had a rough 2019 -- .236/.290/.371 split between high A Fort Myers and Double A Pensacola -- has been tearing it up in the Arizona Fall League. He was named the MVP of the Fall Stars Game on Sunday. He also has been playing mostly third base in the AFL, with a little second base and center thrown in. I don't know how much to read into this. The Twins have long said they see him sticking at shortstop. Not everybody agrees with that assessment.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Out with a whimper

When Miguel Sano fouled off the hanging slider in the second inning, whatever optimism I had about the Twins in the third game of their ALDS series faded almost completely away.

Bases loaded, nobody out, and a fat pitch -- and an opportunity lost. Sano eventually popped up. Which is more than Marwin Gonzalez and Jake Cave achieved; each struck out.

And in their next at-bats, the Yankees -- with a man in scoring position, two outs and and two strikes -- managed to push a ground ball through the infield.

The 2019 Twins hit a lot of homers. We know that. But they also didn't strike out very much. They struck out a lot in this series. Credit the Yankee pitchers, blame the Twins hitters, question the heavy use of hobbled players. It happened.

The 2019 Yankees were a slightly better team during the regular season than the 2019 Twins. That this series went the Yankees way is not really surprising. That it went their way so emphatically, that does surprise me.

But that's baseball. If Sano crushes that hanging slider, that game might be completely different. An opportunity lost.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

NL wild card game

The argument for homer-centric lineups in October is simple and, I think, logical:

You're not going to beat the likes of Justin Verlander with a sequential offense. He might allow five baserunners in seven innings; it's asking a lot to get those five baserunners, or even four of them, in the same inning. You are more likely to get the three or four runs you need with one or two longballs.

Josh Hader is in the same category, only as a reliever rather than as a starter. When he fails, it's generally because somebody took him yard.

On Tuesday night, the Washington Nationals beat him with sequential offense, starting with a disputable hit-by-pitch and culminated by a single and outfield error with the bases loaded that plated three runs.

It was an unlikely way for the Brew Crew to go out. But that's baseball, the game that gave the late 1980s star pitcher Joaquin Andujar what he called his "favorite English word: youneverknow."

Monday, September 30, 2019

The season of the Bombas

The end of the regular season always saddens me. I love the rhythm of the daily game, the momentum of routine, the dozens of mundane moments. No one thing matters, but all of them combined do.

But there has to be a conclusion, and that conclusion arrived Sunday. The Twins wound up winning the AL Central title by eight games -- Cleveland, once eliminated from the division title, faded almost immediately from the wild card race as well. The Twins also got the single-season home-run record as well, with 307 bombas. The Yankees "only" got 306.

Both figures are, of course, insane.

The homer record overshadowed the actual outcome of Sunday's game, in which the Twins came from behind to lose. The bullpen culprits were Lewis Thorpe and Bursdar Graterol; when I suggested in the Monday print column that Kyle Gibson looks like the 13th pitcher for the postseason, it was with Thorpe and Graterol ahead of him.

My opinion on such things is meaningless to the people with the responsibility for making the decision, of course. And I'm pretty sure that nobody in the Twins dugout wanted extra innings on Sunday.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

100 wins

One hundred is just one more than 99, and the difference isn't all that great. But this is only the second time in the long history of the Senators-Twins franchise that they've hit triple digits in wins, so this is an accomplishment.

Friday, September 27, 2019

The hangover lineup

The Twins hung around the Comerica Park visitors clubhouse late Wednesday night to see if the White Sox would beat the Indians; when that happened, they held their champagne celebration.

Then they had a noon game to play Thursday. Which meant a "hangover lineup." These generally feature subs and callups and would be deemed unacceptable for a spring training exhibition.

And this one was ... spectacular. Ian Miller, 0-for-5 in his major league career, led off. Jake Cave hit cleanup. LaMonte Wade Jr. played first base, and he hadn't played the position since he was a sophomore in college.

He had to borrow a first baseman's mitt from Max Kepler, who has played the position as a pro. (I hadn't realized it until Thursday, but the Twins had played strictly right-handed throwers at first base until then: CJ Cron, Willians Astudillo, Miguel Sano, Marwin Gonzalez, Ehire Adrianza.)

And they won, of course. Jonathan Schoop, who was the designated hitter, hit team homer 300 (which is just a ridiculous figure). Astudillo got four hits, including a bomba of his own. Miller got his first major league hit and major league RBI on the same swing. Devin Smeltzer staggered through five innings for the win, and four relievers -- Ryan Harper and three young power arms -- worked one inning each.

The Tigers are, of course, a ridiculously bad major league team -- they might be a bad Triple A team, frankly, So that helps. But it seems to me, without doing any sort of serious study on the question, that hangover lineups -- teams playing immediately after celebrating a title -- win more often than not. 

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Magic number: zero

Back in late March, during the opening weekend of the season, I made a $20 wager with a colleague in the Free Press newsroom about the Central Division title. I took the Twins, he took the field.

Time to collect.

If I understood back then the quality of this Twins team -- and the terms of that wager suggest I did -- I certainly did not understand some aspects of that. I would not have imagined then that on the day the Twins clinched that Randy Dobnak would be the winning pitcher and and Luis Arraez would hit the go-ahead home run.

I still want at least two more regular season wins from this bunch. Two more gets them to 100. Four would tie the franchise record. They can't beat the 1965 Twins and 102, but they could match it.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Magic number: Two

This is playing pretty much as I suggested it should after the Twins' final series with Cleveland. The Tribe is making the Twins win to get their divisional crown, and they are doing just that, driving ever closer to the century mark.

The 1965 Twins won 102, as you probably know. The old Senators never won a hundred, but they never had the benefit of a 162-game schedule either. The pre-expansion standard of 154 games made it a lot tougher to get to triple digits in either wins or losses.

It took a .649 winning percentage in those days to get 100 wins. Today, .617. Those extra eight games make a difference.

The best winning percentages in franchise history came from two of the three Washington pennant winners. The 1933 Senators -- who lost the World Series in five games to the New York Giants -- went 99-53, a .651 winning percentage. Those two unplayed games probably kept them from 100 wins.

The 1925 Senators -- who lost the Series to the Pittsburgh Pirates in a truly fascinating Game Seven managerial meltdown -- went 96-55, a .636 winning percentage.

Next up, the 1965 Twins, who also lost the Series in seven games (but you knew that already): 102-60, .630.

You don't get to any of the franchises' three World Series champs until No. 10 on the list, with the 1924 Senators actually tied with the 1931 Senators (92-62, .597).

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Gardy not a goner

A few weeks ago I devoted a Monday print column to the proposition that we were seeing the end of Ron Gardenhire as a major league manager.

Not every decision is predictable or understandable. The word out of Detroit last week was that Gardenhire would not only return for the third year of his three-year contract, but that an extension was in the works.

I'm fine with this for two reasons. One, I like Ron Gardenhire, or at least his public persona. Two, I the longer the people above him in the Tigers organization see him as a good fit for a rebuilding team, the longer that rebuild is going to take. That's good for the Twins.


My apologies to readers who have left legitimate comments in recent weeks. In trying Monday to quickly eliminate an outbreak of spam, I inadvertently wiped out not only the spam but dozens of legit comments as well. I regret that.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Magic number: Three

My wife and I scooted up to Target Field for the home finale, where I enjoyed a bratwurst with kraut and some bombas from Miguel Sano and Nelson Cruz. And where I chafed at way too many walks late in the game.

Martin Perez started for the Twins. The lefty, I noted at the start, was just 14 outs away from the 162 it takes to qualify for the ERA title. Well, he's only got seven of those outs, so he's still short of that accomplishment, and I'm really not sure what to make of his season.

The good: He's 10-7 and set a career high in strikeouts. He's stayed healthy enough to pitch (no stints on the injured list.) His strikeout-to-walk ratio and his strikeout rate are career bests.

The bad: His ERA inflated to 5.13 Sunday. He hasn't gotten an out after the sixth inning since June. He has just 10 quality starts in his 27 starts.

The Twins have a contract option on him, and I have assumed all season that unless injury strikes they will bring him back for 2020. I'm not so sure that will happen.

The Twins staked him to a 6-0 lead in the first inning, and he strove mightily to give that lead back. I'm quite sure Rocco Baldelli didn't want to yank him in the third inning, but Perez really gave him no choice. He never walked anybody, but he didn't miss any bats either.

Which led to the walkfest late. Baldelli burned through Zack Littell, Tyler Duffey and Trevor May just to get through the sixth inning. Then it was Cody Stashak for the seventh and Brusdar Graterol for the eighth as the Twins opened the margin.

Those five relievers got 17 outs, 11 on strikeouts, with both Duffey and Graterol fanning all three men they faced. They allowed one run, and it was unearned (yet another throwing error by Jorge Polanco.)

For that matter, the Twins bullpen struck out three more men in the ninth, but Fernando Romero and Sergio Romo walked five also. That was a really long and boring inning -- eight hitters, none of whom put a ball in play. Baseball fever 2019 -- Catch it.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Magic number: Six

The Twins won Thursday night, but the victory is shadowed considerably by Kyle Gibson's continued struggles. As matters stand -- and time to straight him out is short -- it is difficult at best to imagine him on the postseason roster.

With Michael Pineda suspended, with Gibson ineffective, with Martin Perez spluttering, the Minnesota rotation is Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi and the void.

For much of 2019, the rotation was reliable. For much of 2019, it was better than the bullpen. That has reversed now. The bullpen -- with the addition of Sergio Romo and the emergence of Tyler Duffey and Zach Littell -- is better than the rotation right now.

Berrios and Odorizzi will be conventional starters in the playoffs, of course, although Odorizzi is not an innings eater. The other games will likely be bullpen-heavy, with Perez, Lewis Thorpe, Delvin Smeltzer and perhaps Randy Dobnak going once or at most twice though the batting order.

Craig Counsell, the manager of the Milwaukee Brewers, is given to describing his pitchers' roles as "out-getters." I have more faith right now that the unproven guys -- Smeltzer, Dobnak, Thorpe -- can get outs than in the veterans Gibson and Perez.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Magic number: Seven

There were no witnesses, and you can believe me or not, but I called the Ronald Torreyes hit-by-pitch that capped off the Twins three-run bottom of the 12th.

The sports crew had left, the press had started running, and I was just hanging around to see the end of the inning, and after the second pitch of the at-bat, I said at the newsroom TV: Go ahead and get hit.

And the next pitch hit his right forearm. Game over.

So the magic number is down to seven. Seven is also how many wins the Twins need to get to 100 for the season, and I really want to see then get that milestone. This is a charter franchise in the American League, even if it is on its second location, and in its entire history it's had one 100-win season, 1965.

I expect they'll get there. They have 11 games left, and the 10 after today's finale against the White Sox -- not a good team -- are all against the Tigers and Royals, who are even worse. Even if the Twins spend half of that span pitching the likes of Kohl Stewart and Lewis Thorpe, even resting Max Kepler and C.J. Cron and Nelson Cruz in hopes of full health for the playoffs, they are sufficiently better than those two teams to get to 100.

So go ahead, Cleveland; you can keep winning games and drag out the inevitable. It will just make the Twins win more games.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Berrios, Marwin and the bullpen

The Twins knocked the magic number down to eight on Monday. One digit was all that was available Monday, as the Indians didn't play. One digit might be all we can expect the next few days, since the Tribe is finishing up their seasons allotment of games with the Tigers who ... are not good.

Plenty of good things to be seen Monday anyway:

* Marwin Gonzalez, sidelined for weeks by a strained oblique, returned to the lineup. He hadn't played since Aug. 27.

He was at first base Monday, but we should expect him to be wandering around the field. Dick Bremer sounded most interested in seeing him back in right field as Max Kepler rests his shoulder. Of course, C.J. Cron needs to rest his thumb.

* Jose Berrios had his second straight strong start. He had a awful August -- a Boeing ERA, 7.57 -- but now he's overwhelmed the Nationals and White Sox. The Chisox aren't a particularly good team, but they have some hitters, and certainly the Nats have an outstanding lineup.

Having La Maquina back in form is important.

* The Twins used three relievers to get five outs, which seems a bit excessive even for September and expanded rosters.

I saw a Twitter complaint about bringing Taylor Rogers in for the six and seven hitters, but I'm not concerned. Yeah, somebody else could probably have wrapped up that one; had Sergio Romo kept Eloy Jiminez in the park, he might have gotten the entire ninth inning.

But I understand, and applaud, Rocco Baldelli's urgency. They might, or might not, need Rogers tonight. But there was a game to be secured on Monday, and Baldelli went for it. As he as all season.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Grinding the magic number down

The Twins' doubleheader sweep Saturday didn't clinch anything mathematically, but it effectively took Cleveland out of contention in the division.

With the magic number in single digits, Rocco Baldelli experimented a bit with the pitching on Sunday. And while the Twins lost, it was a productive loss in that sense.

* Jose Berrios, initally slated to start Sunday, was pushed back to Monday. I assume there are two rationales behind that -- first, to give him a little more rest, and second, to set up the playoff rotation. I would think the Twins would like to have Berrios and Jake Odorizzi lined up in either order to start the first two games of their division series.

* Kyle Gibson, whose durability as a starter has been sapped by his intestinal problems, worked out of the bullpen. It didn't go perfectly -- Gibby gave up the homer that put Cleveland ahead for good -- but it wasn't all his fault. The Twins played a remarkably sloppy game in the field Sunday. I expect to see more of Gibson in relief.

* For all Dick Bremer's chatter about Fernando Romero finding a consistent release point, he was wild and ineffective. Which set up the jam that Gibson didn't escape.

Had the Twins really needed that game, probably none of that happens. As it is, the magic number to clinch the division is nine, and the Twins don't an above-.500 team the rest of the season.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Buxton and Berrios

Some Tuesday developments of note for the Twins.

The good: Jose Berrios was absolutely superb: seven innings, two hits, no runs. It was the first time in more than a month that he pitched like a top-of-the-rotation ace -- and it was against a quality lineup in the Washington Nationals.

Berrios pitching in such dominant form is a positive under any circumstances. With Michael Pineda's suspension, it takes on added importance.

The bad: Byron Buxton is out for the season, with surgery apparently performed Tuesday afternoon in California on his injured shoulder.

Buxton played just 87 games this season and garnered fewer than 300 plate appearances, but even as literally a half-time player he still compiled a 3.2 WAR (wins above replacement), fifth most on the team.  (That's the Baseball Reference version of WAR, by the way.)

He remains too talented to discard or give up on, and too injury-prone to rely on. The Twins are certainly a better team when he plays, but that's no longer possible in 2019.

The indifferent: The Twins, who broke the major league record for homers in a season on Aug. 31, were briefly passed Tuesday by the Yankees in homers. Mitch Garver's two-run shot -- which gave the Twins the lead in the game -- pulled the Twins back into a tie.

I'd rather the Twins finish with the record than not, but I am not confident they can do so. They have so much power languishing on the sidelines right now, even if Nelson Cruz got back into the lineup on Tuesday.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Notes from the weekend

In terms of the pennant race, the Twins got the bare minimum they needed. They knocked two digits off the magic number. Cleveland, denied the sweep, is still 5.5 games back.

In the big picture, it wasn't a good weekend at all. By the end of Sunday's game, the Twins were without Nelson Cruz, Miguel Sano, Max Kepler, Marwin Gonzalez, Jake Cave and Bryon Buxton with various physical issues. That's a lot of power sidelined; that's a lot of outfielders sidelined

It says a lot that the Twins felt compelled to pick up Ryan LaMarre for outfield depth. It says even more that LaMarre got to hit with two outs in the ninth with men on base. A hit would have been a great story. What he got was a strikeout.

Minnesota can certainly use today's off day.


The really big news came really late, after the Sunday Night Baseball game on ESPN, when the Red Sox fired Dave Dombrowski.

This appears to be a classic what-have-you-done-for-me-lately move. The 2018 Red Sox won 108 regular season games and were really never seriously challenged in the postseason. And the architect of that team -- the best Red Sox team ever -- didn't make it through the following season.

Peter Gammons on Twitter:



I won't pretend to know what's going on here, but the chronic changing of the guard in Fenway is probably becoming self-destructive. And it is an ironic contrast to Yankee Stadium, where Brian Cashman has become one of the longest-tenured tops-of-baseball-ops figures in the game.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

The opener

I don't think the Twins had specified that Randy Dobnak would be the opener Tuesday night against the Red Sox rather than a traditional starter, but it shouldn't have been a surprise, either. The righty had pitched four innings over the previous five days.

And now he's allowed two runs -- both unearned -- over nine major league innings. Not bad for a guy who opened 2019 in High A ball.

The bullpen didn't exactly shine Tuesday in Fenway; Trevor May and Taylor Rogers each allowed homers, and a 6-0 lead dwindled to 6-5 by the final out. But they got the job done.

We'll probably see more of the opener this month, particularly while Kyle Gibson is out. The Twins have a ton of arms available in the bullpen right now. Last night Lewis Thorpe was the bulk inning guy -- he got 11 outs -- but the Twins also have Kohl Stewart and Devin Smeltzer active now. That gives Rocco Baldelli four stretched-out arms in his bullpen.

Cleveland lost to the White Sox on Tuesday, so Minnesota now leads the division by 6.5 games. I said here entering the road trip that I'd be happy with 7-3; the Twins are now 7-1 on the trip with two more to go in Boston. And the magic number to clinch the division is 18.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

The ever-deepening bullpen

The word late Monday night was that Trevor Hildenberger was to be among the second wave of the Twins September call-ups, which is to wash ashore today in Boston.

There isn't a lot to like in Hildenberger's seasonal stat lines this year. The Twins shipped him out in mid-May with an ERA of 8.36, and he spent much of the summer on the injured list for Triple A Rochester. where he put up a 5.09 ERA in 13 games, 17.2 innings.

But he's been either very good or very bad over the years. He didn't allow a run through his first 11 major league appearances this year, and then everything went sour (13 earned runs in 6.1 innings). And he was quite effective at Rochester after returning from his IL stint -- four games, seven innings, one hit, one walk, no runs.

Hildenberger has seldom been so-so.  Right now, he appears to be very good. And a very good Hildenberger -- well, any bullpen has room for that pitcher.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Thoughts from the weekend

And quite the weekend it was for the Twins, who enter Labor Day with a 5.5 game lead on the Cleveland Indians. One more game in Detroit today, and then ... well, then the schedule turns a little difficult again -- Boston on the road, home for series against the Tribe and Washington, back on the road to Cleveland.

And then it's back to playing the bad teams of the division for the remainder of the month.

OK, the big stuff:

Kyle Gibson to the injured list: This move may not have been necessary. I am not, to be clear, questioning the illness or its severity. But the Twins put Gibson on the injured list after rosters expanded. That usually doesn't happen.

Two possible reasons for it: First, to publicly acknowledge Gibson's physical problem. The team has known of his intestional tract issues all season, but the fans have been kept in the dark. And Gibson is going into free agency after the season.

I want to call Gibson's season somewhat disappointing. His ERA is a slightly worse than his career mark and is almost a run higher than in 2018. But his underlying numbers are actually better than last season. Put in the context of his e. Coli infection at the start of the year and his current weight-sapping  ulcerative colitis, it has been a very solid season.

The other reasons for putting Gibson on the injured list when there is no obvious roster issue involved may be to create a paper trail. Followers of LaVelle E Neal III on Twitter know that the Star Tribune beat writer has been patiently explaining that the postseason roster rules permit the Twins to add players already in the organization but not on the 40 at the end of August if they are replacing a 40-man player not able to perform.

That may -- or may not -- be useful in the case of ...

Brusdar Graterol. The organization's top pitching prospect was added to the 40-man roster and to the active roster on Sunday and made his major league debut in the ninth inning, showing off his high-velocity arm.

As matters stand, Graterol isn't eligible for the postseason roster. It's possible the Twins won't want him on it after pitching him in September. But they very well might -- and there are avenues to make him eligible, even if Gibson is deemed ready to roll after a more intensive treatment for his colitis.

268. The Twins on Saturday blew past the existing record for home runs in a season, and did so with the month of September still to go.

Saturday's six-homer outburst was almost a parody of my oft-stated offseason concern that the Twins power-focused revamp of the lineup would result in a lot of solo homers. The Twins scored seven runs on six dingers -- and lost.

Seven runs ought to be enough to win. They didn't lose that game to the lowly Tigers for lack of runs. They lost it on sloppy starting and sloppy fielding, and those are different issues. On Sunday they didn't hit any homers, but still scored eight runs. And won.

The Twins entered September having scored more than 800 runs already. The team record is 877, set in 1996. They've already passed the previous team record for extra base hits in a season.

It really is an impressive offense.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

The Tyler Skaggs case

The news Friday about the death of Tyler Skaggs -- that the Angels pitcher died of a mix of opioid drugs and alcohol -- was saddening but not necessarily shocking.

Nor am I all that surprised by the suggestion from the Skaggs family that the evidence -- not (yet) public -- suggests that Skaggs got the drugs from a team employee.

The high-profile opioid deaths of Prince and Tom Petty followed a certain pattern -- two aging rockers whose bodies had been damaged by years of public performance. They were in pain, and they sought to mute the pain and still perform. Skaggs was a generation younger than them, but the performance imperative was no different.

We don't know if Skaggs was prescribed opioids by a team physician or if he went black-market for them. It may even have been a combination -- he may have been prescribed the painkillers briefly after a surgery, gotten hooked, and sought out a back channel for them after the official medical need for them had passed. That sequence is hardly uncommon in opioid overdoses.

I expect we'll learn more with the passage of time and further official investigation. I also expect that the commissioners office, and perhaps the players union, will take interest in what the Skaggs case reveals about the practice of baseball medicine.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Comedy Central

That's the derisive term somebody on MLB radio used Thursday to describe the AL Central. And there's no question that three of the four teams in the Twins division are bad. They expected to be bad, and at least two of the three expect to be bad in 2020 as well. (The White Sox might be the exception.)

But there are bad teams in every division. Won-loss records, after all, have to balance at exactly .500. For every game the Yankees or Astros or Twins or Indians win, somebody else has to lose.

Cleveland beat Detroit Thursday. The Tribe is now 15-1 against the Tigers. That is not a typo: Fifteen wins, one loss. Almost 19 percent of their wins have come against Ron Gardenhire's crew.

The good news for the Twins, I guess, is that Cleveland only has three more games against the Tigers. (The bad news is, Cleveland still has three games to go against the Tigers.)

The Indians are 12-7 against the Royals; no games left between Cleveland and Kansas City. And -- surprise -- they are 5-7 against the White Sox with seven games to play against Chicago.

The Twins, of course, start a four-game series in Detroit today. They enter that series with a season record of 8-4 against the Motor City Kitties. They're 9-3 against Kansas City, 11-5 against the White Sox.

All told, then, Cleveland is 32-15 against the dregs of Comedy Central. The Twins are 28-12. The Twins have a slightly better winning percentage against the three bottom-feeders while playing seven fewer games against them.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Bomba countdown

The Twins hit three more homers on Wednesday. This puts them at 258 for the season, nine short of the single-season team record. And we're not out of August yet.

Even if the 2019 Twins don't advance in the October tournament -- and they very well may not, as they appear destined to play either Houston or the Yankees, two powerhouses with superior records -- this validates their remarkable season. They're going to shatter the single-season team homer record, perhaps by Labor Day. They stand to break the record for team slugging percentage as well.

I didn't particularly care for the off-season's add-homers, discard-walks approach from the front office. But I've been acknowledging for a while, and will continue to, that it has worked.


Byron Buxton is not off the disabled list. Eddie Rosario is not on the disabled list. The Twins replaced Lewis Thorpe on the pitching staff Tuesday with another pitcher, Randy Dobnak, as the Rochester shuttle keeps moving for a few more days.

Come September, the Twins can just activate everybody still on the shuttle: Thorpe, Devin Smeltzer, Kohl Stewart, Zach Littell, Sean Poppen, maybe Trevor Hildenberger. They can have a whole bullpen of low-leverage arms.

That will only matter indirectly. It will mean that Trevor May or Sam Dyson or Tyler Duffey won't have to pick up innings in blowouts, which in turn will mean they'll be kept fresh for the at-bats that matter.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Notes from the weekend

It was nowhere near as productive a homestand for the Twins as I expected. They split six games with two bad teams. The sun was shining and the hay was there to harvest, and they didn't take advantage.

The saving grace is that Cleveland actually lost ground to that span. And Cleveland lost their second-best position player, Jose Ramirez, to a broken hamate bone.

Now comes a 10-game, three-team road trip that begins with those same two bad teams, plus Boston. I want 7-3 from that trip.


Byron Buxton started what is expected to be a short rehab assignment in Cedar Rapids on Sunday. The idea seems to be that he'll play again today in CR, then report to the Twins on Tuesday in Chicago.

His reactivation may be be corresponding move to the Sunday demotion of Lewis Thorpe. Or not. Eddie Rosario is still on the active roster despite his hamstring injury, and they might opt to put Rosario on the DL retroactively and bring up another pitcher.

Buxton would certainly help the defense, although he doesn't play infield, and that's where the bulk of the fielding issues have been.


Those Players Weekend uniforms were awful.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019


The "Rally Squirrel" goes five-hole on Max Kepler.
(Image from @Twins Photography twitter and Brace

The squirrel that has darted around the Twins' home grounds the last two nights captured most of the attention that didn't go to Nelson Cruz's slugging Tuesday night, but let us also note the pitching prowess of Michael Pineda.

Four runs in seven innings isn't all that impressive, but six hits and zero walks are.

Both Pineda and Kyle Gibson on Monday night had crooked-number inning that involved a homer with men on base. Pineda got more run support than Gibson did, so Pineda gets a W and Gibson an L.

Gibson's ERA for the season is significantly higher than Pineda's, but the underlying numbers aren't nearly as different.

I think a lot of Twins fans are currently more comfortable going into a Pineda start than a Gibson one. I know I intuitively am. But intuition isn't necessarily accurate. I don't know who the Twins would rather start in a playoff game, Gibson or Pineda. But they have more than 30 games to go before that decision gets made.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Contemplating Tyler Duffey

Tyler Duffey has been credited with the win in each of his last three appearances, including Friday and Saturday. (The Friday one was initially awarded to Sam Dyson and changed the next morning.)

"The Doof" -- that's what will be on the back of his Player's Weekend jersey -- is the rare Twins reliever who hasn't gotten a save. But he's 4-1 with seven holds, he's only blown one lead this year, he hasn't been charged with a run in almost a month, and he seems to currently be the preferred get-out-of-a-jam option in the middle innings.

Duffey has ridden a roller-coaster for his career. The Twins drafted him out of Rice University -- where he was a closer -- and made him a starter. He had 10 down-the-stretch starts in 2015 in which he was one of Paul Molitor's more reliable rotation arms.

And then it fell apart for him. In 2016 he got 26 starts and pitched to an ERA of 6.43. That did for him as a major-league starter.

In 2017 Molitor used him successfully for about two months as a multi-inning reliever with rest between outings. Then Molitor, dealing as he generally had to with a thin bullpen, tried to cut back on the rest. Duffey's ERA was 2.10 after his appearance on May 28; he finished the season at 4.94.

In 2018 he rode the Rochester shuttle and made just 19 major league appearances with an ERA of 7.20. Ugly.

He started this season that same shuttle, but once he came up a second time in May he's stuck. And his role has increased.

He has for years tried to pitch with two fastballs -- a two-seamer and a four-seamer -- but there wasn't much separation in velocity and he didn't get reliable movement with the  two-seamer. It appears that he's largely junked that sinker this year. And his strikeout rate has spiked to more than 11 K/9 -- a statistical trait that makes him valuable with men on base.

Duffey is not closing games, but he's closing innings.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Pineda, Smeltzer, Polanco

Michael Pineda came off the injured list and threw five innings Thursday. His first four innings were really good. His fifth was better than it looked. He was charged with three earned runs, but that's because the scoring rules say you can't assume the double play.

Jorge Polanco's throwing error, on that basis, cost the Twins bases but not an out. The reality is, if he makes an on-target throw, Pineda gets out of the fifth allowing just the lead off homer. Maybe he would have gotten the ball to at least start the sixth in that case, maybe not. He struggled to get his fourth out of the fifth and there wasn't any question that he was done after five.

That makes four errors in three games for Polanco -- two muffed catches, two errant throws. At least three of them have come on potential double plays. He really needs to clean it up.

Devin Smeltzer mopped up -- four innings, three earned runs and a save in a game in which he never had less than a six or seven run lead. The scoring rules say a pitcher who finishes a win with three or more innings holding a lead of any size gets a save. That sounds goofy, but Smeltzer at least saved the rest of the bullpen.

He becomes, incidentally, the eighth Twin credited with a save this season. I tried off the top of my head to list the eight during my midnight walk home after work and missed one. The eight: Taylor Rogers (18), Blake Parker (10), Sergio Romo (2), Ryne Harper (1), Mike Morin (1), Trevor May (1), Trevor Hildenberger (1), and Smeltzer (1).

Parker and Morin are both with the Phillies now, and Hildenberger and Smeltzer, with his immediate demotion after throwing 68 pitches, are in the minors.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

One that got away

The Twins had an opportunity to extend their lead, but didn't take advantage of it. Putting the eighth-inning problems concisely:

  • Sergio Romo is probably not the best right-hander in the pen to face a lefty with power and
  • Jorge Polanco is in a fielding slump at shortstop.
Winnable games get away sometimes. They always hurt. They particularly hurt in a pennant race.

Two interesting developments regarding minor league bullpen possibilities on Wednesday.

First, the Twins lost Ryan Eades to the Baltimore Orioles on waivers. Eades had a brief callup earlier in the season, pitching in two games. He had 3.2 scoreless innings but had six baserunners.

This is a good development for the right-hander; he's got a lot more opportunity with the Birds, who have a team ERA of 5.91 and have gone through 36 pitchers this year. (Some of them are position players, but still ...)

Selling off Eades opens a spot on the Twins 40-man roster, which would allow them to add somebody on waivers or to bring up somebody who isn't on the 40 already.

The odds are against a useful piece hitting outright waivers. The odds are even more against a useful actually reaching the Twins, who do have the fourth-best record in baseball despite all the wailing and gnashing of teeth. So the more likely benefit from the Eades move is to create a route for a not-on-the-40 player to come to the Twins.

Which brings us to the other development: Brusdar Graterol, generally considered the Twins' top pitching prospect, made his first relief appearance since 2017 (his first season in the states), picking up the save for Double-A Pensacola and reportedly hitting 102 on the radar gun.

I'm personally skeptical of the notion that the 20-year-old will get a September role. That he pitched in relief isn't surprising despite his lack of such use. He's missed much of the season with injury, and they weren't going to have him trying to goe five innings (or more) fresh off the injured list.

But I get why outside observers might anticipate such a move. The Twins bullpen lacks power arms, and Graterol is certainly a power arm. Since he has just 12 games pitched on his 2019 stat line, the Twins don't need to shut him down to avoid overuse.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

First place

Twins win. Indians lose. And the half-game margin reverses in Minnesota's favor.

The biggest thing -- other than the W -- about Tuesday's game for the Twins might have been Sam Dyson, who came off the injured list (with Cody Stashak optioned out) and threw a scoreless eighth inning.

Dyson was, at least in theory, the single biggest bullpen get of the trading deadline, but he hadn't done anything useful for the Twins before they IL'd him. If he's sound and effective, that's a big piece for the bullpen.

Or maybe the biggest thing was Martin Perez. The southpaw celebrated "International Left-handers Day" with his best start since early May -- six innings, one unearned run. It was his first quality start in almost a month.

I won't proclaim him back in form, however. He walked four with just three strikeouts and allowed six hits. He was in and out of trouble throughout his start. Of course, Ryne Harper, the first reliever of the seventh, never got out of trouble, so Perez got a non-decision.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Second place

The Twins didn't play Monday. Cleveland did. And for the second day in a row, Indians closer Brad Hand blew the lead in the ninth inning -- and for the second day in a row, Indians first baseman Carlos Santana homered to win the game anyway.


The Twins are now a half-game out of the lead in the AL Central. I still expect them to win the divisional title.

So, for what it's worth, did the guys on the ESPN broadcast, and for much the same reason: The Twins have much the easier schedule the rest of the way.

Cleveland has gone 43-19 since June 1. That's mighty good. It's worth knowing, however, that they went 20-3 in that span against Detroit and Kansas City. That makes them 23-16 against everybody else, which ain't bad either, but is a bit less daunting to contemplate. And they're running low on games against the Tigers and Royals -- six with the Tigers, three with the Royals.

The Twins, in contrast, have 10 games left against Ron Gardenhire's Tigers team and seven with K.C.

Give the Indians credit: They made the most of their games against the weakest teams in the AL Central. If the Twins can do the same, they'll be in good shape.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Ehire Adrianza, pinch runner

The Twins could have won Sunday's game in the ninth, but Ehire Adrianza isn't Byron Buxton afoot, and Cleveland executed its relay well, and Adrianza -- who was pinch-running for C.J. Cron -- was out by about 10 feet at the plate.

Even after Adrianza was nailed, the Twins still had the tying run at second with two outs. But Jonathan Schoop has had a terrible season in close games -- almost all his production has come in blowouts -- and he once again didn't come through.

But I want to discuss the Adrianza play. A few points:

1. Adrianza was pinch-running for Cron specifically to try to score from first on an extra-base hit. There was a runner (Luis Arraez) on second, so a stolen base wasn't in order, and Cleveland wouldn't be holding the runner on first, so the man on first could get a longer lead.

So it wasn't surprising that Tony Diaz sent Adrianza. This was exactly what Adrianza was in the game for. If the Twins were willing to settle for a double scoring Arraez and having the other runner stop at third, they didn't have to run for Cron.

2. Adrianza isn't truly fast. He is a middle infielder, and middle infielders are frequently fast, but Adrianza is an exception. He has nimble feet -- he's good at fielding a ball and being in position to make a throw, but that's not the same as running 270 feet in three directions.

3. I thought at the time that Adrianza took a poor route between third and home, but on the replay I saw that he indeed cut third base well and took a more direct route home. We've seen players run a wide loop around the bases, sometimes running closer to the third-base dugout than to the chalk line. That wasn't the case with Adrianza.

4. Was there a better pinch-running option than Adrianza? Rule out Jason Castro. Maybe Jake Cave is faster than Adrianza. And Cave could have played right in the 10th inning with Marwin Gonzalez shifting to first in Cron's place. But I assume the Twins know who's faster between Adrianza and Cave, and it's quite possible that even if there is a difference that it wasn't enough to make the difference betweens safe and out on that play.

Friday, August 9, 2019

A cheery post

The Free Press this morning carries an obituary containing a sentence that sounds way too much like me:

John was happiest playing Strat-O-Matic baseball while listening to his extensive music collection.

That's enough for today. I don't want to think deeply about the Twins this morning.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Notes, quotes and comment

Jose Berrios didn't fare well Tuesday night. His first pitch was hit about as well as the last pitch on Monday night was -- both blasts hit the limestone above the batter's eye -- and things deteriorated from there.

I shall avoid dwelling on that unpleasantness and find some other things to comment on ...

* I said in Tuesday morning's post that Trevor May hit 98 at times on Monday night. He actually peaked at 100, on the pitch that got the double-play grounder that got him out of the eighth inning. I don't know that I've seen any Twins pitcher hit triple-digits.

It was rather optimal conditions for May. He had thrown exactly one pitch in game conditions in a week, so his arm was about as fresh as it could be in August. It was a warm, humid night, so no chill to contract the muscles. And it was a close game in a pennant race, so the adrenaline was flowing.

If he was going to throw 100, that was a prime opportunity for it.

* Jonathan Schoop has started once in the past six games. I'm starting to suspect that he might be a candidate to be DFA'd if the Twins need a roster spot.

He has been better this year than in 2018, but that's not saying much. And much of his production has come in blowouts. He is, I believe, a better defensive second baseman than Luis Arraez, but not enough to make up for the difference between the two at the plate.

I certainly prefer to see Arraez at the plate in the ninth inning of a tied game than Schoop.

* I've commented before on how much Rocco Baldelli shuffles players around various positions. Marwin Gonzalez, Arraez, Ehrie Adrianza and the injured Willians Astudillo have all started games at at least four different positions.

Deciding where to put them is frequently an interesting puzzle. On Monday Gonzalez, Arraez and Adrianza were all in the infield (with Jorge Polanco at shortstop). Baldelli's alignment had Adrianza at first, Arraez at second and Gonzalez at third. My inclination would have been to flip Adrianza and Gonzalez.

I do sometimes wonder how much of a connection there is between the position shuffling and the misplays and errors we've seen over the past couple of months. The Twins were changed with 77 errors in their first 112 games; the average team had 69.

Of course, there's a lot more to defense than avoiding errors, and the Twins, at least by the defensive metrics available on baseball reference, are solidly above average.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Contemplating Trevor May

The Twins won Monday night. Cleveland lost. So the lead is four games.

(Let me note here that I apparently can't read a schedule. I thought Cleveland was playing Cincinnati. It's actually Texas.)

The win was important for the Twins. Perhaps even more important was the performance of Trevor May, who hit 98 at times in blowing away Atlanta batters in his two innings of relief.

May has been a bit of a disappointment this season. I expected him to emerge as a key late-inning guy, the most likely candidate in this bullpen for the role of closer. Rocco Baldelli, as you know, hasn't gone with the contemporary closer, but May hasn't really pitched well enough to seize the glory job anyway.

Monday was actually May's second straight outing in which he was credited with the win; he got one on Friday in a one-pitch appearance. Prior to that, he had allowed at least one run in five straight appearances, blowing two leads and taking two losses. It was not a good month of July.

It's not hard, looking at his stat line for the season, to see the issue. May walked five hitters in his 25.1 major league innings last year (he spent much of 2018 rehabbing his elbow after ligament replacement surgery); that works out to 1.8 walks per nine innings. Monday's outing gives him 21 walks in 40.2 innings, 4.6 per nine innings. That's too high.

Trevor Rogers and Sergio Romo had each pitched in three of the previous four days, and Sam Dyson is on the injured list, so the Twins needed somebody to take care of the final innings. May came through. It would be a bit help to the Twins if he continues.