The Dome isn't much of a place to watch baseball, but anywhere the Twins win against a pretty good team has its own beauty. And the Angels are a pretty good team. Leading the AL West, if memory serves. Some highlights and other memorable moments:
The garden burger from Grandstand Grill is pretty good. And, unlike everything else you can get at the Dome, it's not crusted with salt and/or dripping with grease.
Miracles do happen. Radke pitches a scoreless first, despite giving up two hits, one to the leadoff hitter.
Morneau realizes he hasn't sent his mom anything lately, so he punches a homer all the way to British Columbia.
The Angels actually score a run, but it's not on Radke's head--it's unearned. Did they just put Radke's uniform on Joe Nathan? Nah, the fastball's not leaving re-entry trails, can't be him. Must actually be Radke. Cool.
The Twins enter the Land of Sharply-Hit Balls. With one out, Stewart zings a single to right. Then Bartlett hits one so hard that, though the Angels shortstop and second baseman appeared from where I was sitting to both be touching the second base bag, the ball flew between them, emitting a small sonic boom over the base. Mauer hit one to the shortstop with such force that he, fielding it on a bounce, was driven backward a staggering step and was unable to throw anyone out. (Stewart scored on the play). And I don't know what first base coach Jerry White said to piss Morneau off, but those screaming foul balls Morneau shot at him didn't miss him by much.
Nick Punto legs out a stand-up triple in the time it takes most guys to just slide in under a tag for a double, or LeCroy to reach first.
With one out, Morneau hits one to the wall in right-center, and the Angels right and center fielders converge, tiptoeing after it like it's going to bite them. Morneau takes third on what I can only describe as defensive weirdness. (Is there a scoring notation for that? DW?) Then Hunter walked on four pitches, which just doesn't happen. Then Jones grounded into a double play, which does.
Seventh inning stretch:
Augh! They're playing that damn song! Where are my headphones?! MUST BLOCK OUT THE HORROR! I swear, if I die before Lee Greenwood, I am going to come back and haunt him until he ends up gibbering in a corner, peeing himself. He won't be so "proud to be an American" then, no sir.
Juan Rincón, after a brief foray into Lohseland on Thursday, returned to his usual form. By which I mean: "You guys. Yeah, you with the bats. Sit down."
Okay. So Orlando Cabrera is batting, right? And Joe Nathan is pitching. So Joe throws a 1-2 pitch and Orlando gives a mighty swing and what goes toward the mound is not the ball, but the bat, which lands right by Joe's feet. He bends and scoops like he's fielding a ball except there's nothing in his hand, but he straightens up anyway and underhands that handful of nothing toward first base. Morneau just stands there staring at him like he sprouted a second head or said that hockey sucks or something.
Catchers and closers, man. They're crazy. If it weren't for baseball, they'd be hanging out at bus stops talking to light posts.
Then again, the same thing's probably been said of me, a time or two.
Saturday, April 30, 2005
The Dome isn't much of a place to watch baseball, but anywhere the Twins win against a pretty good team has its own beauty. And the Angels are a pretty good team. Leading the AL West, if memory serves. Some highlights and other memorable moments:
Friday, April 29, 2005
Minnesota Twins News:
Gardenhire has no qualms about continuing to go with Michael Cuddyer at third base, who is hitting .200 through 65 at-bats. 'He just needs to get a little more confident swinging the bat,' Gardenhire said. 'He can drive it to the gaps, he can drive the ball out of the ballpark. Defensively, he's playing the heck out of third base. Offensively, he hasn't gotten there yet. But hopefully, he can work through that and everything will be fine.'
Um...Gardy? You know you can get arrested for smoking that stuff, right?
I'd like to call out part of his quote: "Defensively, he's playing the heck out of third base."
I'd say five errors in 19 games would be more like pounding the heck out of third base. Or perhaps playing nowhere the heck near third base. Or even annoying the heck out of everyone who thought he was supposed to field third base.
The only starting third baseman in the major leagues with an error rate that high thus far this season is Jose "Boot" Valentin. Jose Friggin' Valentin, for chrissakes, who was the league's worst-fielding shortstop up until this season and who never met routine grounder he couldn't bobble. Fielding at the same level as Jose Valentin is not a good start.
Now, before Cudderror's fans jump all over me, allow me to point out that I'm not saying he'll never improve. He probably will. Because when you're Valentin v2.0, there's nowhere to go but up.
Thursday, April 28, 2005
Early in the evening in Minneapolis, the April weather went missing. In its place we found November weather. The former is notable for sunshine, cool evenings and warm afternoons. The latter is known for damp chill with scattered snow showers.
A reward is being offered for the return of the April weather, which was last seen being herded southward by a Canadian front. Everyone misses it.
Later that same evening, in the seventh inning in Kansas City, the April Twins went missing. In their place we found the August Twins. The former are notable for their erratic pitching and craptacular "hitting". The latter are known for dancing on the graves of their fallen foes.
No reward will be offered for the return of the April Twins, who were last seen striking out on a changeup in the dirt. Only the
White Wind Sox miss them.
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
[TBL normally blogs during her breaks at work, but the advent of a new and time-sensitive project have made those breaks few and far between. Blogging in the next week or two may frequently be brief and occasionally nonexistent. Blogging from home will happen when time permits.]
Going into the 20th game of the season, let's see who's coming out of the gate quickly, and who hasn't figured out where the gate is yet:
minimum 35 AB or 8 IP
red text = team leader
green text = worst on team
And the strangest headline I've seen all year:
Exploding Toads Puzzle German Scientists
More than 1,000 toads have puffed up and exploded in a Hamburg pond in recent weeks, and scientists still have no explanation for what's causing the combustion, an official said Wednesday.
Both the pond's water and body parts of the toads have been tested, but scientists have been unable to find a bacteria or virus that would cause the toads to swell up and pop, said Janne Kloepper, of the Hamburg-based Institute for Hygiene and the Environment.
'It's absolutely strange,' she said. 'We have a really unique story here in Hamburg. This phenomenon really doesn't seem to have appeared anywhere before.'
The toads at a pond in the upscale neighborhood of Altona have been blowing up since the beginning of the month, filling up like balloons until their stomachs suddenly burst.
Monday, April 25, 2005
For those of you who, like me, have been wondering what lit such a fire under Torii's butt on the basepaths lately, here's the scoop:
Minnesota Twins News:
[Torii] Hunter entered Sunday as the Major League leader in steals with 10, one more than Scott Podsednik of the White Sox. At the current pace, Hunter is on track to steal 95 bases. He is 26-of-29 in steals since last year's All-Star break, including a perfect 10-for-10 in 2005.
First base coach Jerry White encouraged Hunter to steal more over the years, but he didn't really start trying it until an injured hamstring from early last season felt better and team offensive struggles had him looking to make things happen on base.
Hunter decided he wanted to keep running right from the start of 2005, and the team has given him the green light to go at will.
'I sat down [last winter] and evaluated my season,' Hunter said. 'I told myself that I would need to incorporate more stealing into my game to help the team.'
However, Hunter doesn't resemble prototypical base stealers like Podsednik or Juan Pierre, who are smaller and speedier. Hunter has speed, but relies more on perfectly timed big jumps before a pitcher begins his delivery toward home.
'I'm like a hyena,' Hunter said. 'I'm always looking for the weak link.'
Torii "the Hyena" Hunter. I like it!
Sunday, April 24, 2005
Okay, so there are these pirates, right? Well, not really pirates. Pirate re-enactors. All the grog and nifty outfits, none of the getting maimed. Kind of a sweet deal, really. We're the pirates of the good (if slightly imaginary) ship "The Bloodwake", and you can learn more about us by following the Bloodwake Pirates link in my favorites section.
Despite being a generally scurrilous bunch of brigands, we occasionally raise our faces from our tankards long enough to do something that doesn't carry legal and/or civil penalties should we get caught. A few of us will be participating in the Minnesota AIDS Walk on May 15th.
The AIDSWalk benefits the Minnesota AIDS Project, which provides HIV prevention education along with services and advocacy for HIV-positive Minnesotans. Considering that a new case of HIV is reported in Minnesota every 29 hours, that's pretty darn important stuff. And it costs money, which is the Walk raises.
And that's where you, Dear Readers, come in. This blog is free, but getting a pirate off his/her rum-soaked rump and into Minnehaha Park on a Sunday morning isn't.
If you can spare a little money for this worthy cause, please do. You can donate online at my AIDSWalk page or sponsor the pirate of your choice at the Bloodwake Pirates AIDSWalk page. All contributions are tax-deductible.
Saturday, April 23, 2005
Hi, Jason. How's it going?
Listen, we need to talk. Remember that game on Thursday, when you got two hits and made that sweet play? Remember? That was wonderful. Not that you haven't been fielding, don't get me wrong. That glove of yours is just brilliant, so much better than anyone expected.
But the hitting...well, the hitting's kind of been, and please don't take this the wrong way, sucky. Just lately. The last two weeks. Do you remember the last time, before Thursday, that you got two hits in a game? No, I didn't either. It was April 13th, but I had to look that up on CBS Sportsline, and that's kind of sad, because it was a really special day for us. Do you remember why it was a special day? Yes, that's when I decided you were going to be my favorite position player now that Corey Koskie, who I gave five years of my life to, is now a Blue Jay. I make this season-changing decision, and you stop hitting. Where's the love?
So now I'm thinking maybe I wasn't really clear with you, because you've obviously been under some gawdawful pressure that can't be explained away by "scouting reports". So let me lay it all out on the table for you, and you can shake this off and go back to winning that RoY, 'kay?
See, Jason, I don't expect you to replace Corey. You're not a thirty-one-year-old Canadian third baseman with a mighty swing and godlike fielding ability being held together by duct tape and prayer. And that's okay. I don't want you to be. I want you to be a good-fielding, good-hitting healthy young American shortstop whose pants and socks meet at the knees, just as they ought.
Besides, Juan Rincón isn't just my favorite pitcher, when Corey left he got promoted to favorite player. All you have to do hold down the position-player end of things, and keep Juan company on road trips. He gets lonely. But you don't see him going out there and walking everybody now that he's on the top of my list, do you? No, you don't. Juan knows I don't expect perfection, even from my very favorite player in the whole world, much less from a sweet little rookie like you.
So take a deep breath, Jason. It's all going to be fine. See, I'm the loyal sort. If I wasn't, do you really think I would have stuck with Corey through the last two seasons when he'd go on the DL if you looked at him wrong? I already put your rookie card into my double holder next to Juan's, and that's as good as a signed contract. I am going to stick with you through thick and thin, and all I ask is that you go out there, do your best, and keep those socks up.
Are we clear? Good.
P.S. The occasional Web Gem wouldn't hurt, either.
Thursday, April 21, 2005
You know what's great? Going to a Twins game when pretty much everyone you know is at work, and when you're normally scheduled to be. That's great. What's even better is when BatGirl and BatMom have seats directly in front of yours, and the wisecracking runs riot. What's even better still is when the Twins win. And they did, but this was certainly no (pardon the pun) walk in the park.
Our starting pitcher today was rookie lefty Dave Gassner, making his second and final start in place of the injured Carlos Silva, who comes off the disabled list tomorrow. Gassner seemed, well, a bit rattled. Which is odd, because he acted pretty relaxed in his debut. On second thought, perhaps not so odd. See, Kyle "Hit Me!" Lohse will be skipped in the next turn through the rotation. I guess two years plus three starts of uninterrupted suckitude (okay, there was one interruption--that complete game shutout last year) is what it takes to get the organization's attention.
Anyhoo, this is making all sorts of people, like me for instance, think that maybe Lohse is bullpen-bound unless he pulls it together really soon. And that would leave a hole in the rotation. And Gassner would like to fill that hole, wouldn't he? So he might have considered today's start an audition. Next time he auditions, he might want to skip the whole tripping-over-a-prop-and-falling-into-the-orchestra-pit part. Just a thought.
Will we ever see you again, Dave Gassner?
Five runs and an error in an inning and two-thirds later, they've pried Gassner out of the tuba and escorted him into the wings, leaving the stage clear for Matt Guerrier, who is filling in for the injured Grant Balfour and who, while not in imminent danger of getting a plane ticket to Rochester, would surely love to nail down a more permanent gig. He would pitch three scoreless innings and be handed a three-run lead before hacking up three runs on two homers in the sixth and being replaced by JC "Meltdown" Romero. More on that later.
While all this was going on in the tops of the first six innings, the Twins were getting some hitting and running done in the bottoms. With Stewart on first in the bottom of the first, Bartlett outraced the double play curse and got to first before the ball. Hunter and LeCroy hit back-to-back jacks, combining for three runs. In the bottom of the third, Stewart, Bartlett and Hunter all singled, driving in one run. Bartlett was at ease on the basepaths, despite not having been there since disco was cool. Hunter got caught off of first base while LeCroy was batting, Mike Sweeney missed the tag but thought he'd made it, and Hunter darted safely down to second in the confusion. Things got even stranger a couple of pitches later when LeCroy got an RBI infield hit to just inside the third base bag. Sit back a minute, try to imagine LeCroy reaching first on a ball that doesn't even cross the baseline. It's okay if you can't do it--I saw it and I have trouble picturing it!
Ford hit the fifth consecutive single for the third consecutive RBI before Jones hit into a double play (dammit!). Cuddyer then got the inning's sixth and last single to plate a fourth run. Hitting with runners on--novel concept! They did it again in the fourth, an inning somewhat marred by two drunken jerks (who's liquored up at 1pm on a Thursday?) bellowing trite taunts at Sweeney all inning while those around them cringed and clapped their hands over their ears. On the field, Bartlett knocked Rivas in on a fielder's choice, but then the hitting wasn't so nice as LeCroy got hit by a pitch. Redmond would take a fastball to the leg in the bottom of the fifth.
In between those two homers Guerrier gave up in the top of the sixth there was a walk. And in the middle of the walk there was a strike that bounced into the stands, and thence into my gleeful little hands. Woo-hoo!
04/21/2002, top 6th, 0 on, 0 out. #54 Guerrier pitching for Minnesota, #36 Pickering batting for Kansas City. Strike 2, lined foul.
It was all tied up at 8 after Guerrier got the hook, and Romero came in to relieve him. Someone needs to relieve Romero, perhaps with a deep tissue massage and a dram or three of Tullamore Dew, because he was having a meltdown from the word go. He misplayed a bunt for an error and then escorted the runner to second by way of a balk. A BALK. When was the last time you saw a balk? He got out of the inning when the Royals willingly took an out with a sac bunt, and Mike Redmond tagged an incoming runner after the next batter missed a suicide squeeze bunt attempt and the runner couldn't put on the brakes in time.
There was some walking and some running but no scoring on either side for a while after that. In the top of the ninth, Juan Rincón gave up a single and then something (possibly Bartlett alerting him to the fact that the runner was on the move just as he got into his optimal mental pitching zone) startled him so badly that he literally jumped off the rubber. Jumping off the rubber is, of course, a balk. Two balks in one game. Un-balkin'-believable. A single later in the inning would give the Royals the lead and tarnish dear Juan's heretofore unblemished ERA.
But the Twins roared back in the bottom of the ninth. Hunter scored the tying run on a one-out Jones double, with Ford, on base from an earlier single, moving to third. The bases loaded up with two outs on a walk to Redmond, whereupon Tiffee kept bases-loaded tradition alive by striking out to end the inning. Dammit!
On to extra innings, and Joe Nathan. Joltin' Joe jolted three Royals straight back to the dugout when he struck out the side. The bottom of the tenth started with a Stewart groundout to short. Bartlett then doubled (holy ****, a two-hit game! He lives!). Hunter was intentionally walked. LeCroy hit a single to left to load the bases. Uh-oh.
Ford, sweet Leeeeeeew Ford, strode to the plate with the sacks jammed and he did not hit into a double play, or strike out, or spontaneously combust. He hit...
I love it when the Kansas City
Royals Landed Gentry come to town. I mean, no offense against KC, but they present a glorious opportunity to end all sorts of streaks you wish you'd never started in the first place. Streaks like losing, and stranding a hundred runners a game on base.
50/50 isn't bad, I suppose. The Twins broke the losing streak, winning 5-4 last night. They stranded nine runners in the process--KC had a much more efficient 2.
This shouldn't have been a close game. Jose Lima, the Gentry's starter, was not at his best (And his best...? Well, let's just say it hasn't been Lima Time in a while). He walked three in five innings, throwing 99 pitches over that span. And yet, the Twins were trailing or tied for five innings.
Not that Johan "Holy Toledo" Santana was at his peak, either. Sure, he struck out ten and walked none in seven innings, but he gave up four earned runs, and that's just not Johan-like. He was probably thinking about his youngest daughter, born a mere hour before the game, who he had yet to see. It's understandable.
But still. Santana vs. Lima? I expected a final score of 16-2, you know?
This whole stranded runner thing has got to stop.
Wednesday, April 20, 2005
Last night, the Twins lost their third game in a row. Check the papers and the blogs, and you'll see a lot of talk about missed opportunities, stranded runners in particular. Let's take a look at some numbers, shall we?
The Twins have stranded 100 runners in 14 games, averaging 7.1 per game. I'm unable to find league averages (or player LOB stats), but that doesn't sound too good. In the games they've won, they've stranded an average of 6.6 runners, while in losses it's 7.8.
In the last three games, all losses, they've averaged 8.7 stranded runners a game, leaving a total of 26 runners on while scoring only 6 runs. Sweet Teddy's knickers, that's bad! In the 6-game winning streak which preceded this, they averaged 6.7 stranded per game, leaving 40 while scoring 37.
I wish I could get my hands on player LOB stats. If anyone out there knows of a site that has that info, please let me know! Right now all I can say for sure is that this team is simply not getting the job done when it comes to driving runners in. They lost 1-3 last night after stranding 12 runners. Twelve. The night before, they lost by one run after stranding ten. Those games were not only winnable, there's no excuse for losing them.
Tuesday, April 19, 2005
CSI saved my television.
Because if CSI: Miami hadn't aired a new episode last night, I would have seen the last few innings of the Twins game in their entirety and I surely would have put my fist through the screen. Or possibly my forehead.
The Twins lost by one run after LEAVING TEN RUNNERS ON BASE. And that's not counting all the runners who got erased in double plays. See, you're only "left on base" if you're still safe at a base when the inning ends. So what with all the DP's they wasted, oh, half a million runners. Give or take.
After the game, Torii Hunter commented, "You got to do something. I have to come through right there. I have to hit a ball in the outfield -- a sac fly or something," referring to the first double play of the evening, which he hit into with bases loaded in the first inning. You really think so, Torii? 'Cause if you did something other than hit into a double play with bases loaded, I think we might all be looking at the spontaneous appearance of four horsemen and the mark of the beast and a Cubs championship.
And, of course, last night was the night Kyle "Tater" Lohse realized that his career ERA had somehow slipped below 5.00 and decided to fix that by giving up three homers, two with runners on. Now, I know Kyle has to be himself, and the real Kyle is more of a collective organizational penance than an actual starting pitcher, but couldn't he pretend to be Radke or Silva when we play the White Sox? And maybe the Yankees? Is that too much to ask?
Monday, April 18, 2005
Poor Joe. Poor, poor Joe. He has to have surgery after a whole lot of stinking like warm Limburger which, not coincidentally, was accompanied by a whole lot of elbow pain, then he misses a season and a half before he finally gets to pitch again and he's okay but not great in his first start, which involved a scary number of walks, and then...
...and then he goes out there for his second start and he looks a lot like the Joe Mays who went to the All-Star Game before the sucking and the surgery, and he pitches seven innings, giving up one run on one lone not-so-hot pitch, walking none, and he's only thrown 72 pitches, and he's just gotta be thinking 'complete game!', and sure it's tied at 1-1 but all he has to do is hang on a little longer and the Twins will score and he'll get his first win since the Reagan administration.
They pulled him, Dear Readers. They did. I do not know why.
They pulled him and they put in JC Romero, whose name when spoken in my home gains several syllables the FCC won't allow on prime time, but who to be fair had pitched pretty darn well so far this season, and JC gets up there and he gets himself a groundout, and I start to relax a little, even though I really should know better.
The groundout is followed by a single, which is followed by a popout, and there are two outs and a runner on first and I am not grinding my teeth because the inning is nearly over and it's all going to work out. But the popout is followed by an error at third, which is followed by some heated aspersions being cast on Cudderror's ancestry, which is followed by the top of JC's head blowing off, only no one knows it because he was wearing a titanium cap and the smoke doesn't start seeping out around the edges until it's far too late.
Deprived of a cranium, JC walks the bases loaded, which occasions much cursing and the throwing of couch pillows at the television and the fleeing of the cats who had been sleeping on those pillows, and then...
...and then Travis Hafner crowds the plate a little bit and JC forgets that the bases are loaded on account of his brain being splattered across the inside of his titanium cap, so he beans Hafner and the tie-breaking run comes in for the wrong team and certain aspersions are cast on JC's ancestry, too, and that's that except for the Twins going down 1-2-3 in the top of the ninth to a guy with an ERA over 10.00.
Poor Joe. There's only one thing he can do now: take a page out of Koskie's book and pull some really horrible practical jokes on JC Romero. Something involving Nair, I think.
Saturday, April 16, 2005
Today lefthanded rookie pitcher Dave Gassner became one of those baseball stories that reaffirm your faith in the game and in at least some of the people running it.
Early in spring training I speculated on Gassner's chances of being called up, thinking only of how well he had handled the batters, not about how hard he threw.
See, Gassner's fastball tops out in the upper 80s, and some of his offspeed pitches drop well into the 60s. This is not the hard-throwing young pitcher most clubs are looking for, which goes a long way toward explaining why he only became the "player to be named later" in the Shannon Stewart trade five months after the fact. According to published reports, he heard a whole lot about hard throwers and how the majors were looking for them to the exclusion of all else as he climbed through the minor leagues.
Undeterred, he made himself a pillar of the Rochester rotation last season and embraced the invitation to spring training his efforts won him, displaying the control and guile that served him so well in the minors and allowing only three runs in eleven innings pitched. But the Twins rotation and bullpen were practically engraved in stone before camp even started, and when they went north to start the regular season they left Gassner behind.
On to Rochester one more, then, where he pitched well in his one start before Carlos Silva's meniscus tore. Most people seemed to expect (hard-throwing) top prospect Scott Baker to get the call, despite weak showings in AAA late in 2004 and spring training this year. Many fans seemed shocked and appalled when Gassner got the call instead. Perhaps I'm not au courant with how these things are done, but give me a guy who can change pitches and speeds and spot his fastball and has proven himself as a AAA starter, and I'm happy, "hot prospect" or not.
Gassner made his major-league debut today against division rival Cleveland. The small Wisconsin town where he grew up practically emptied to make the drive down to Ohio and cheer him on. Under the eyes of his big-league teammates, the coaches and officials who had decided to give him this chance, and a hundred or so people who "knew him when", he did not disappoint. Pitching on the heels of fellow lefty Johan "You Never Saw That One" Santana may have given him an advantage, keeping the Cleveland hitters off-balance. Fine control of his four pitches and his pitch speed, with an excellent changeup as a finishing pitch, certainly did.
(AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
He pitched six innings on only 72 pitches, giving up one earned run on a homer in the second inning. Every time he recorded an out, you could hear his family and friends cheering. He was credited with the win and given the game ball (closer Joe Nathan saved it for him), and after the game his entourage was allowed onto the field to celebrate with him. There were a few tears and a lot of laughter. Gassner looked stunned and faintly worried, as though he were afraid to blink and banish this lovely dream.
Soft-tossing finesse pitcher defies the odds, making it to the major leagues through determination and skill, winning his first game in fine style. It could be a movie, a novel. But this story is better. It's real, and it's Minnesota's. It's baseball, played the right way.
So here's a tip of the cap to Dave Gassner, and another to the Twins. Congratulations.
Friday, April 15, 2005
Yesterday I started writing a post. It was about going to a company meeting, and how dismal it is to sit in a cramped, stuffy hotel conference room munching on stale party mix while a bunch of management types smile through clenched teeth and try to convince you that, despite their having bungled everything so badly that it became necessary to lay off 10% of the workforce (but not, mind you, of the management staff) last week, everything is going to be perfectly okay now. I wondered how dumb they think we are, to expect us not to realize that the people who f***ed it all up are still in charge. I remarked upon how disheartening it was to look around and realize that most of your (remaining) peers are swallowing this bullshit hook, line and sinker. Then I realized I was turning phrases around way too many words starting with "d" and besides I was getting pretty
depressed glum just remembering it, so I just trashed the whole thing and went to the Twins game.
At first, it didn't look like the game was going to be much better than the post-writing. We were fielding the "B" team behind Brad "My Kingdom For Some Run Support" Radke, and Detroit had a lefthander on the mound. Then Brad coughed up the obligatory first-inning runs (two of them), putting the Twins in a hole, and the Twins went down meekly 1-2-3 in the bottom of the inning.
Note: nine games into the season, the Twins are the only ML team which has yet to score first in a game. Pride is not what I'm feeling here, boys, 6-3 record aside.
Ah, but then...
Then Radke said, "I want a 1-2-3 inning!" and he went out and got himself one. The guys in the field said, "Hey, Radke needs some run support!" and they ran to the dugout and grabbed their lucky eyeglasses--the better to see all the balls Detroit lefty Nate Robertson threw outside of the strikezone--and on two walks, two hits and a hit-by-pitch they tied up the game.
Mr. Radke liked that 1-2-3 feeling, so he pitched himself another in the top of the third. The Twins hitters said, "Hey, let's try something different and score 1-2-3 instead of going down that way!" Ably assisted by Mr. Robertson, who hit one, walked one, and gave up two hits, and Omar Infante, who committed a well-timed error at second, they did indeed score three.
It was all pretty much over at that point. Sure, the Tigers would manage two more runs, and Gardy would be ejected when he got a teensy bit angry about the umpire warning both dugouts after Radke just barely brushed Marcus Thames' jersey with an inside fastball. But the Twins would put another five runs on the board, and the brooms would come out, and many a fan would have a good laugh at Dmitri Young's expense.
"Control issues" was the phrase of the day for the Tigers, as their pitchers (they used four) combined to face 44 batters, pitching themselves into six full counts, allowing eleven hits, a mind-boggling nine walks, and hitting two batters while striking out only three. I think the whole team had a little too much Starbucks, because the defense was almost as wild as the pitching, accumulating three errors. Try the decaf, guys.
And Brad Radke actually got run support. To steal a line from Bull Durham: "It's a miracle!"
Wednesday, April 13, 2005
On Sunday, Detroit first baseman Dmitri Young said: "This is our rival right here. Forget the other teams. I think it's going to come down to us and them."
Well, okay, sure. Detroit is much improved, and has a much higher payroll, from last season. They should see themselves as legitimate contenders for the division. There's no reason they can't compete with the Twins for...wait. What's that? He was talking about Cleveland?!?!
The venerable Shannon Stewart, Earl of Swing, reads the papers. He read about Mr. Young casually dismissing our Twins as being of no consequence next to the (*snicker*) incredible might of (*snort*) the Tigers and (*chortle*) the Indians. Lord Stewart pondered this during the off-day on Monday. He considered it as he prepared for Tuesday's game. He reflected upon it as he sat on the bench between at-bats and stood in the field between plays during the game Tuesday. Until finally, in the bottom of the ninth, with the score tied 4-4, he reached a conclusion.
Master Ford was on second, Master Punto on first. On the mound was the fearful Sir Percival, who had never in his entire career allowed an earned run to the Twins. Stepping into the box, glancing down the line at the smirking Mr. Young, Lord Stewart pronounced with an aristocratic sneer, "I don't think so, you loose-lipped churl." And with that he smacked Sir Percival's first pitch into right center, where it bounced over the wall for a game-winning RBI ground-rule double.
Silly Detroitish peasants--don't you know that it's a bad idea to anger the Earl of Swing?
Other highlights of the game:
Master Mays pitched for the first time since the invention of the gasoline-powered
Young Master Bartlett hit his very first four-bagger, against Detroit's Mike Maroth
in the 3rd.
Tuesday, April 12, 2005
Last month, I posted about transit in the metro and its various problems. That post made its way, in a rather circuitous fashion involving the Minneapolis mayor's blog, to a member of an organization called go Minnesota!, who turned me on to their excellent and useful website.
go Minnesota! is all about solving Minnesota's transit problems. They want safe roads, reduced congestion, pollution control and a public transit system suitable for a modern, thriving metropolis. Sign up, and they'll tell your legislators you're concerned about transit issues. They'll provide you with editable emails to send to your legislators. They'll give you all sorts of information you didn't have about the issues and a veritable bouquet of proposed solutions. Sound good? Go to their website, already.
Launched by Third Base Line at 9:06 AM
Monday, April 11, 2005
The good news is, Santana's still The Man and the Twins are back up to .500.
The bad news is, Carlos Silva is down for the cournt and their fielding is looking a lot like their hitting.
BatGirl has a hysterical rant about the fielding this weekend, and of course the Goat Award reared its ugly head here. The thing that bugs me about this series against the Whine Sox isn't the fact that we lost two of three--it's only April, and the Sox are never an easy opponent--it's how awful we looked doing it.
The Twins are not as bad as they looked this weekend, and the Sox are not as good as the Twins made them look. It's one thing to lose games, and another thing entirely to give them away.
We're hosting a much-improved (on paper, at least) Detroit ballclub starting tomorrow, and the Twins need to get out of that preseason mindset and start focusing on making plays, making pitches, and having good at-bats. You know--fundamentals?
Saturday, April 09, 2005
I've complained here and there about various performances (notably Lohse's last night), but for the first time this season there has been a lousy outing of such epic proportions I feel compelled to whip out TBL's most dubious honor: the Goat Award. (TBL's least dubious honor, by the way, is the Hero Award, and is still awaiting its first appearance of the season.)
The Goat Award goes to a player who doesn't just have an off night, but hacks up such a spectacularly bad performance that he appears to be actively working against his own team, and indeed against the very laws of nature, physics and probability. Any player "winning" the Goat Award five times in a single season will be crowned Emperor Crappius Maximus and forever enshrined in the Hall of Shame.
And the first 2005 Goat Award goes to the player who:
Michael Cuddyer, you are the Goat.
Twins RHP Carlos Silva has been placed on the 15-day DL with a torn meniscus in his knee. He may be out six weeks. Dave Gassner has been called up from Rochester (AAA) to fill in for him, and may make his MLB debut during Silva's scheduled start Tuesday night. So, now that rotation that looked so shiny and solid a week ago boils down to:
Guy Who Can't Get Run Support To Save His Life
Rookie Question Mark
Too Bad You Can't Get DLed For Sucking
Postsurgical Question Mark
Edit by way of a postscript:
I saw Gassner pitch a couple of times in spring training, and he was impressive. He's the right choice for the job, I just wish he weren't being called up to replace one of our top three, that's all...
So I have this notebook that rides around in my game bag. I use it to jot down notes, impressions, odd phrases that occur to me, whatever. I often refer to it when blogging a home game. This morning, preparatory to this post, I read through what I'd recorded and decided I liked it pretty well, with a few minor additions and corrections.
Great quotes from the Strib the next morning:
When he walked off the mound four batters into the inning, it looked a lot like last season."
--LaVelle E. Neal
So, it's official: In the year 2005 A.D., a baseball crowd at the HHH Metrodome remains the only group of humans on the planet who still find high hilarity in a wave."
Friday, April 08, 2005
Ah, it doesn't get much better than this, does it? Fantastic weather, the end of the work week, and the Twins playing their first home game of the season with three games against the Whine Sox, to be followed by fireworks on the Metrodome plaza. If Kyle Lohse pitches like Silva did Wednesday, tonight will be damn near perfect. If the Metrodome suddenly shapeshifts into a retractable-roof baseball-only stadium, it will be absolutely perfect.
I'm slipping away from the W.P.E. (Worst. Project. Ever.) early today, heading to the Dome to catch the pregame festivities on the plaza. It's a lovely day for it, sunny and in the low seventies. I watched the Seattle series faithfully, but the new season never seems quite real until I see the boys in person.
It's going to be interesting to watch the Whine Sox adjust (or not) themselves to their new defense-and-speed-minded system of play this season, and doubly interesting to see how they match up with the Twins (who have been running a defense-and-speed system for ages) as the season goes on. It's kind of flattering that they've overhauled their team in an attempt to be more like our boys. And isn't it cute how they seem to think they can out-Twins the Twins, just because they want to? Yeah, good luck with that. And don't come whining to me when the mandatory post-system-overhaul period of utter suckitude smacks you across the face. We here in Minnesota suffered through it, too--it was called the mid-to-late '90s.
Speaking of Chicago, their bullpen is already having its first meltdown of the season, giving up seven walks, three homers and eleven earned runs in a combined nine innings pitched. How wonderfully obliging of them.
Hey, Gardy, wanna have some fun tonight? Knock out their starter early. And pass the popcorn.
Thursday, April 07, 2005
Seven innings. One run. No walks. Sixty-eight pitches. Seventeen groundouts. Name that pitcher.
Carlos Silva had the kind of game we expected out of Radke, the kind of first inning we expected out of Santana. He even had his deadly slider working in the first inning, which was often a problem for him last season. I don't know why they didn't just leave him in for the whole game. I mean, sixty-eight pitches? Well, okay, there was that whole bases loaded thing in the seventh, but I'm almost sure he could have come out strong for the eighth...
But the eighth went to Juan Rincón, who proceeded to shoo the Mariners back to their dugout like the pesky little flies they were. Joe Nathan took the mound in the ninth and earned his first save of the year in three minutes flat.
Meanwhile, it was color commentator Bert Blyleven's birthday--national holiday proponents are calling it BertDay--and Matthew LeCroy promised Bert a homer for the occasion. Matty delivered in the fourth, knocking a three-run blast over the left-field wall. Happy birthday in triplicate, Bert!
Seattle reliever Ron Villone got confused and thought it was first baseman Justin Morneau's birthday instead. Despite the fact that he was actually born in May, I'm sure Justin would have loved the game ball Villone picked out for him, if it hadn't accidentally hit him in the temple.
(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Poor Justin. Every time he starts looking like he's not on the verge of passing out, something like this happens. The good news is, he didn't even have a concussion, just a big red welt and a headache. But if I were him, I'd start buying stock in ibuprofen. He might as well get something out of whatever evil hex has been laid upon him!
Wednesday, April 06, 2005
Are you, by any chance, a morning person? I know I was slowing down by the time you threw your first pitch, around 9:30 PM Central. Or perhaps you doesn't care for cold weather, being from sunny Venezuela? I could see Joe Mauer's breath when he came up to bat in the top of the first, so it must have been chilly up there on that mound, without an umpire and a catcher to block the wind.
Did Rick Anderson slip you a Vivarin when he came to the mound after you let in that fourth run? Did they smuggle a space heater into the dugout for you? Whatever it was, it worked! Great job on those last four innings. And tell JC he should pitch like he did last night all season!
Third Base Line
You are not going to believe this, but it's true. That wasn't me out there at all in the first inning. It was an evil lookalike sent by the White Sox to make us lose the game! I was tied up and stuffed in a locker that whole half-inning, swear to God. Lucky for me, Lew forgot his GameBoy in the clubhouse and found me in the bottom of the first when he went to get it.
It was pretty hard pitching the second, because I hadn't gotten all the circulation back in my fingers yet, but it turned out okay. JC says hi, and he'll think about what you said. Juan wants to know if he's your favorite now that Koskie's gone?
Oh my! Are you okay? Curse those devious White Sox! What happened to the impostor?
Tell Juan not to be silly--of course he is! But would it kill him to write? Sheesh.
Third Base Line
I'm fine. That seven-run inning perked me right up.
The fake me tried to run, but Radke subdued him. I think Brad had some frustrations to work out, he kept muttering something about "run support" and "ungrateful wretches" while he was pounding the guy. Anyway, we got him plastic surgery to make him look like CC Sabathia. We're force-feeding him McDonald's now, but he should be ready in a few weeks. Just in case the Indians become a problem, you know--we don't think we'll really need him.
Juan says he's sorry. He'll write you on the next road trip, promise.
And the White Sox are cursed. Torii knows this voodoo guy in Louisiana, and...well, I'll spare you the details. Suffice it to say, you don't need to worry about them.
Anyway, I have to go. Silva wants to play some ping-pong, and he's so cranky before his starts it's best to humor him.
Tuesday, April 05, 2005
"You do not have to be a bit touched in the head to want to earn a living as a reliever, but many relievers seem to be."The 2004 Twins bullpen was among the best, possibly the best, in the business. It, unlike the infield, survived the offseason intact in every sense that matters. We lost Joe Roa and Aaron Fultz, who played their parts in a championship season but were, when all was said and done, replaceable.
--George F. Will
Twins fans and outsiders alike are making great sport of the re-signing of 42-year-old Terry Mulholland; the "grandpa" jokes alone are legion. But not only is he lefthanded, he can also pitch in long relief, short relief, or as a starter. He did all three for the Twins last season and really pulled our bacon out of the fire a few times when the members of the rotation were taking turns spinning the Wheel of Suck ("Lohse has landed on 'getting shelled like Baghdad' again, folks--let's give him a hand!"). He'll be called upon, though with any luck less frequently, to fill much the same role this year.
Righty setup man Juan Rincón has a fastball that tops out in the mid-nineties and a slider that makes batting champions cry for their mommies. Okay, so he hung one in that last playoff game, and the damn Yankees did what the damn Yankees do, and that inning was only slightly less horrible than being hit by a light-rail car, but it's all in the past now. One of the great things about this guy is his numbers have improved noticeably every year of his career. Great raw talent, ever-improving command, mental toughness and a willingness to take the ball under any circumstances any day of the week combine to make Rincón the unsung hero of the bullpen.
Every bullpen has a mystery man, a guy who is brilliant just often enough to be loved by half the fans and completely collapses just often enough to be hated by everyone else. JC Romero is the Twins mystery man. Case in point: last year he racked up some ungodly number of innings (for a guy who rarely throws much more than an inning at a time) without surrendering an earned run. Great, right? Except that during that stretch he allowed over half the runners he inherited from other pitchers to score, blowing several wins for our starters in the process. That's just the kind of pitcher Romero has been--alternately (and, as illustrated, sometimes simultaneously) hero and goat. He has a penchant for throwing fits that damage equipment and/or relationships when things aren't going his way. Above all things, Romero needs to get control of his emotions. He'll be a better pitcher and a better teammate for it.
Remember all the horror and lamentation when beloved closer Eddie Guardado left? That was before last season. Yep, I'm serious, it was just a year ago. After four big-league seasons with four save opportunities between them, Joe Nathan and his damn-near-100mph fastball came on over from the National League and had us all saying "Eddie who?" by May. He was our only All-Star. He converted 44 of 47 save opportunities--Eddie's team-record 45 saves two years prior included six blown chances. He's healthy and he's got a year's experience as a closer. There's no good reason he shouldn't repeat.
Jesse Crain is a product of the Twins farm system, tagged as their "closer of the future" before he even hit AAA. 2005 marks his first season of apprenticeship under Juan Rincón and Joe Nathan. Nathan is signed through 2007, with a club option for 2008, so there's no rush. Crain will pay his dues as a middle reliever and occasional setup man for some time before being asked to handle the ninth inning regularly. His best pitches are a blazing fastball and a sweeping curve, both of which will benefit from finer focus and control. He's very young (23), so a certain lack of concentration and command is only to be expected, but both the organization and the fans are expecting him to mature quickly and be a critical piece of this bullpen.
Grant Balfour, heir-apparent to Roa's right-handed long relief role, is injured (what else is new?) and the optionless Matt Guerrier has been chosen to fill the breach. What will happen when (if) Balfour is ready to rejoin the team is anyone's guess, and may ride more on Guerrier's performance in the meantime than on pre-season visions of what the bullpen should look like. Control will be key for Guerrier, and staying cool under fire.
IP = Innings Pitched, WHIP = Walks & Hits Per Inning Pitched
P/IP = Pitches Thrown Per Inning Pitched
Monday, April 04, 2005
"The real test comes when you are pitching with men on bases. Do not worry. Try to appear jolly and unconcerned. I have smiled often with the bases full with two strikes and three balls on the batter. This seems to unnerve."You know you've got a contending team when the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner is your number two starter.
We have here a good staff with the potential for greatness. Meet the boys:
His Honor, The Ace. And rightly so. Radke tends to come out of the gate slowly, unimpressive early in the season, but he hits his stride at or before the break and is exactly the guy you want out there when the younger starters are flagging in the dog days of summer, wearied by the long run of a contending season. The quintessential control pitcher, Radke uses pinpoint control and a wily mix of pitches in place of raw "stuff". No worries here, not for me.
Two words: Cy Young. The Twins only lefty starter, but many teams would trade two to get him. And he's only, what, twenty-six? Hot damn.
The two-pitch wonder. Word is his changeup (pitch the third) is improving, though. He throws mostly a fastball and a deadly sinker. He doesn't strike guys out and relies heavily on his defense. "Ground ball pitcher" is an understatement. When he starts getting more air balls than ground balls, worry. A lot. Can he repeat his success of 2004, or has he been figured out? Stay tuned. One note: I'm looking for more complete games out of Carlos this year. He's built for them--young, strong, pitches better as the game goes on (he tends to come out "too strong" and overthrow in the early innings), and throws fewer pitches per inning, by quite a margin, than anyone else in the rotation.
When I think of Kyle, the first thing that pops to mind is what a friend of mine, a loyal Lohse fan, said mid-season last year: "Whenever hope rears its ugly head, Lohse will be there." He's been Mr. Consistency the last two years--consistently unstable. He's got brilliant "stuff" and no idea what to do with it. He needs to get a clue this season--he can't ride on a good 2002 forever. If he can get his "stuff", his rational mind and his emotions on the same page, he could be excellent.
Back from Tommy John surgery and fresh off a better-than-expected spring training, "Joltin' Joe" Mays is hoping to jolt batters, not his ERA, this time around. He didn't pitch at all last year, and frankly sucked in 2003. The elbow problems that have dogged him for so long have reportedly disappeared thanks to the surgery, however, and if anything resembling the 2001 All-Star edition Mays takes the mound this season, it'll be more than enough.
IP = Innings Pitched, WHIP = Walks & Hits Per Inning Pitched
P/IP = Pitches Thrown Per Inning Pitched
On deck: the bullpen
Sunday, April 03, 2005
"Championship baseball teams are not founded on bats. They're built on a backbone of catching, pitching, a second-base combination and a center fielder."Fielding stats are the least useful of baseball's statistical groupings, because they derive from the most subjective measurements--what a fielder should have gotten to, what he should have been able to make a play with, how great his range should be. The newer stats of range factor and zone rating attempt to address this problem by factoring in averages, by attempting to measure each player against what the average guy at his position does and doesn't do, but even then fielders can be awarded or penalized for playing behind ground ball pitchers vs fly ball pitchers, on a slow surface or a fast one. And it is nearly impossible to take a fielder's arm into consideration--sure, he gets to the ball, but can he throw it to first hard enough to get there ahead of the runner? Fielding stats are also skewed by time played much more so than any other--a position player playing nine innings will get at least three at-bats, but he may never get a fielding chance; a pitcher will throw pitches but likewise may not be required to otherwise handle the ball. A fielder needs to rack up a lot of innings to get enough chances to make his stats in any way meaningful.
"I don't like them fellas who drive in two runs and let in three."
So I take fielding stats with more than a grain of salt. I may glance at the stats of an everyday fielder to begin to evaluate him, but only as a beginning. I like to compare fielding percent against range factor; I think the strengths and weaknesses of the two balance each other to a certain extent, though I don't pay them any attention below 500 innings, and don't take them seriously at all until around 1000. If you're interested in learning more about fielding stats and the problems thereof, put "range factor" or "zone rating" into Google and you'll turn up a ton of articles.
The Twins have been a good-fielding team for lo these many years, and they promise to be pretty good again this year. This season the Twins have traded some defense for some offense, all of it in the infield, but how much of a defensive downgrade and whether it will be overcome by scoring more runs remains to be seen.
The infield is the big question mark in the defensive equation this year. Instead of the sure-handed Koskie on the hot corner, we have the still-adjusting Michael Cuddyer, who also has yet to prove that he's an offensive upgrade. Instead of Doug Mientkiewicz's golden glove across the diamond at first, we have Justin Morneau, whose arrival in the big leagues was greeted with wailings and lamentations from defense lovers both inside and outside the organization, and who has yet to even approach screwing up on the scale expected of him. All-Star shortstop Christian Guzman has been replaced by rookie Jason Bartlett, who did a really nice impression of a drunken moose in the field last July but surprised this spring with a nearly flawless showing. These are three young guys who appear able to be at least competent in their positions, but have yet to actually do it for a full season.
The other question mark, for me, is left field. Shannon Stewart is an able fielder, but he has a history of hamstring and shoulder troubles, and his throwing arm is not what it used to be. Designated hitter Lew Ford can easily out-field him these days, and I'd really love to see them switch places. I'm also uncomfortable with our primary designated hitter being our only legitimate backup for all three outfield positions, as I mentioned yesterday in the bench analysis.
The Twins defense shows a lot of promise going into 2005. A couple of guys will need to reach deep and find their inner Torii, but if they can do that, we're (pardon the pun) golden.
|Nick Punto||4||no chances||--|
|Joe Mays||did not play||--|
Players listed in bold are the probable starter at that position. Players in italics are either starters at another position or considered an emergency backup only.
RF = Range Factor (not applicable to catchers)
On deck: the starting rotation
Saturday, April 02, 2005
"There is no way that 25 men, whose livelihoods depend on records compiled on the field, can be kept happy in a game that calls for only nine players."
Having few at-bats with long dry stretches in between is part of the whole utility guy/bench player role, so their offensive numbers often derive from a statistically insignificant number of appearances. The stats provided below, while interesting in their way, are of limited use in evaluating past performance or predicting future results. Managing of bench players, more than any other players, relies on manager's instinct. We may say that Matt LeCroy is "clutch", but he doesn't have enough ABs in a recent season to bear that out. We may say Juan Castro hits well when leading off an inning, but again--the sample size is too small to prove or disprove that impression. The usage of particular bench players in particular situations is a favorite topic of postgame debate. What is important is having the right players on the bench, guys who can come into any fairly common game situation and perform creditably.
Three questions spring immediately to mind when reviewing the Twins bench roster.
- Why the are we carrying three backup catchers?
- Where's the spare outfielder?
- Where's the lefthanded pinch hitter?
The answer to the first question requires a list of its own. We are carrying three backup catchers in case the following things happen, in the following order, in a single game:
- Joe Mauer is or becomes unable to play, but is not on the DL (allowing the team to call up a replacement from AAA).
- Matthew LeCroy is the designated hitter.
- Mike Redmond is catching and becomes unable to play. Alternatively, he must be pinch-hit for late in the game.
If all of those things happened and we did not have a fourth catcher waiting on the bench, LeCroy would have to vacate the DH role and play catcher, while the Twins pitchers were forced to bat for the rest of the game. And that is the worst of all possible fates, up to and including contraction. Besides, Corky Miller is a really good defensive catcher and he's out of options.
Reasons why the above is a load of horseshit:
- Lew Ford is our DH. LeCroy is unlikely to be DHing on any given day, and we certainly have the option of only letting LeCroy DH when Mauer is available but not starting.
- If it's late in the game, pinch-hitting for Mike Redmond (or anyone else), may be desirable but it is never an absolute necessity. Leave him in if he's the only catcher available--how hard is that?
- It is conceivable (though highly improbable) that any team might run out of players for any given position in the course of any game. If you must have your pitchers hit, you must have your pitchers hit. Hey, free feature on Baseball Tonight, go for it. The Earth will continue to revolve around the sun, I promise. Even if Corky Miller is gunning down base stealers for another team.
Now that we've established that a completely superfluous catcher is occupying 20% of our precious bench space, let's move on to the second question--where's our spare outfielder?
The glib answer is, our spare outfielder is Lew Ford. Ah, but he's also our usual DH, and if we are determined to avoid letting our pitchers swing the bat we are in a very awkward position. Now there are three guys who could twist an ankle, take a high fastball to the clavicle or otherwise be required to leave the field mid-game, whose best replacement is our designated hitter. So who's backing up Lew?
Check the bottom of the bench roster. The guy who doesn't have the infield (IF) qualifier on his utility designation. Yep, that's our outfielder-on-the-bench. Nick Punto. The man who has played exactly 13 innings in a major league outfield. Any chance Corky Miller can play outfield in a pinch, too?
Nick's also the answer to the left-handed pinch hitter question, but can you really afford to use your only available spare outfielder as a pinch hitter? What if someone gets injured in the outfield after he's been used? Will Juan Rincon have to bat? Will Joe Mays have to borrow an outfielder's glove? Will Ron Gardenhire's head spontaneously detonate, taking a chunk out of the AFLAC Owner's Seats?
We've got a good lineup, a good rotation, and a good bullpen here, folks, but the way the bench is being constructed makes me twitch. How does an organization overflowing with outfielders end up with a total of 13 innings of outfield experience on their bench? Apparently they do it by getting a bug up their ass about a laughably improbable scenario involving their catchers, after signing a new utility infielder to a two-year contract despite having an abundance of cheaper utility infielders available to them within the organization.
Castro and Miller are good players within their roles, but the Twins don't need either of them. We could have had Redmond and LeCroy backing up Mauer, Restovich and Punto backing up the outfield, Punto and Tiffee as left-handed pinch hitters, and Punto, Tiffee and LeCroy backing up the infield. That would have been a versatile bench.
Insert Ryan for Restovich and you've got a third lefty bat. Insert switch-hitting Ojeda for switch-hitting Tiffee and you have two guys--Ojeda and Punto--who can cover all the infield positions, though at the expense of Tiffee's batting talents.
The Twins could have had options for just about any situation, but they gave them up to have options for Joe Mauer's knee. I wonder if Joe himself worries about that knee as much as Gardy does?
On deck: Twins in the field
Friday, April 01, 2005
"If you're a major league ball player, you ought to have pride. Learn to stroke outside pitches to the opposite field. That's part of your job. A major league hitter is supposed to be a professional."Presumably, the Opening Day batting order will look like this:
** less than 300 AB
On paper, this is a pretty solid lineup. Let's take it batter-by-batter.
Leading off: Shannon Stewart
Stewart is the prototypical leadoff hitter. He wears pitchers out and exposes the full range of their repetoire for his teammates to see; he will stand up there taking bad pitches and fouling off mediocre ones until he sees a pitch he really likes, and then chances are good it'll fall for a hit. He doesn't run like he used to, but he's still the best leadoff guy on the team.
Batting second: Jason Bartlett
Fan opinion is sharply divided on whether or not Bartlett should be batting so early in the order. I like him here. He strikes me as a young Stewart-in-training: hits for high average and gets on base at an excellent clip, not afraid to take a walk or steal a base, runs well. He'll never be a 40-HR guy (or even a 30, most likely), but he should knock in a few more each season as he matures. There will probably come a time, in the middle months of the season, when the scouting reports really pin him down and he struggles. He's shown an ability to adapt himself to the demands of the game, and I hope fans and management will be patient with him during the nearly inevitable rookie slump.
Batting third: Joe Mauer
Ah, Joe--the perfect bridge between the OBP machines in the top of the order and the sluggers in the middle. An OBP machine and something of a power threat himself, the #3 spot should afford him many opportunities to both drive in runs and score them. And Mauer and that sweet, sweet swing are just made to make the most of opportunities.
Batting fourth: Justin Morneau
Remember all those years we bemoaned the lack of a "real cleanup hitter"? Well, here ya go, folks. Meet Justin Morneau, our unsmiling Canadian savior. When I think of Justin (and I'm not alone in this), I think of that mind-boggling bomb he hit into the centerfield second-deck scoreboard in Miller Park, shattering several lightbulbs. That damn ball went at least 500 feet and it was still rising when it hit. He's probably going to hit over .260 (I have hopes of .280+) , he's going to take his fair share of walks, and he's going to hit mind-boggling bombs. And that, my friends, is all you need to know about Justin Morneau hitting cleanup.
Batting fifth: Torii Hunter
Here's where Twins management and I start to diverge on the optimal batting order. The #5 hitter's job is, basically, to clean up anything the cleanup hitter left behind or, given empty bases, get on. Hunter? Not very good at either, I'm afraid. Too often, faced with any sort of RBI opportunity, he swings for the fences, usually swinging himself right back into the dugout--and I don't mean that in the "touch-'em-all" sense. That said, Hunter's not a bad #5 hitter, though he hits into way too many DPs, but I'd put Ford there if I had my druthers. Apropos of nothing, I'd also like to see Torii show more power up the middle.
Batting sixth: Jacque Jones
It's hard to know what to do with Jacque. Looking at his year-by-year stats, it's immediately obvious that 2004 was a drastic departure from the norm. He's a .284 career hitter, but in six seasons he hit below that only twice, and .300 or better twice. The question we go into 2005 is: what caused his 2004 slump, and are those reasons still a factor? The #6 spot is as good a place as any to stick him while we figure that out. If the slump continues, though, he should keep movin' on down. (Why yes, I am a proponent of the "stack the top and score early" method of batting-order building. How did you guess?)
Batting seventh: Lew Ford
Leeeeeeeeeew! Is he the genuine article, or did he just have a freakishly good first full season? Now we begin to find out. I think he's the real thing: he'd got a good eye, bat speed and pretty good mechanics. The scouting reports are out on him and he's made his adjustments, hitting .289/.389/.811 in the second half; he didn't just ride on a breakout first half, as some allege. He seems to be the leadoff hitter of choice when Stewart has a day off, but I'd love to see what he'd do with more RBI opportunities, hence my desire to plug him in at #5.
Batting eighth: Michael Cuddyer
Well. Hmm. We have ourselves an enigma. His startlingly average (by league standards) stats fit well enough in the 8-hole, where his job description translates to "We're still batting? Really? Cool." When he first came up to the bigs, he was expected to hit for higher average than he has. He wasn't expected to steal bases and he really ought to stop trying, because his failure rate is unacceptable. He was also expected to hit homers, which he does in fits and starts. Getting some dingers would be good, though, 'cause after him comes...
Batting ninth: Luis Rivas
...the #9 hitter. This is where you put the guy who makes you wish you could have two DHs. His job? Not to hit into double plays. He did pretty well at that last year, though I wonder how often the Twins aenemic 2004 offense even put someone on first for him. You'd like your #9 guy to get on base, though--take a few walks, maybe lean in on some inside pitches. Rivas doesn't strike out much, but conversely he's never met a ball-four he liked. Mostly he just grounds out weakly to the infielders or lofts lazy pop flies into right and center. I really have to wonder if Nick Punto could do better.
On deck: the Twins bench
The Twins have made their final cuts, so this (barring late injuries) is the Opening Day roster. Take some time to draw your own conclusions; more detailed commentary from yours truly will follow in good time.