Friday, July 30, 2010

Dear Twins Front Office...

So you had to go and make a deal, that's understandable, I mean, we were all kinda eagerly waiting to see what you would do, hopeful of maybe landing a Lee or Oswalt type but more realistically expecting a lesser pitcher like Lilly or Carmona. Imagine my surprise when I received a text from 'domedog' last night saying that you had traded away one your most valuable trade pieces AND another minor leaguer for...Matt Capps? I fancy myself a fairly rational guy and I also think I have a decent grasp on some of the more advanced stats. Just so we're clear, number of career saves is NOT, I repeat, not an advanced stat. Given what I've seen here, with you trading Ramos (and Testa) for Capps, you rational must have been something like, "Capps has a lot of saves, and he was an all-star, so he will be able to help the Twins down the stretch."

I guess my question is, you do know that every team is required to have a representative at the all-star game (I mean, even the Royals (i know right?) had a player there) and that being an all-star, especially these days, doesn't mean much right? Another question might be, you do know that 'saves' is one of the most fickle stats in baseball and that they are much more situational than substantive...right? Yet another question would be, "HOW DOES THIS TRADE IMPROVE THE TEAM?" Here's some other opinions on the matter, they're almost universally against it:

Aaron Gleeman - summarized: you paid too much for something that's not that different than what you have
Josh's Thoughts - summarized: WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?
Twins Geek - summarized: general hatred of the trade broken down into 8 parts
Over The Baggy - summarized: Bill Smith is perhaps wise, but doesn't listen to his own good advice
Twins Target - summarized: a positive review of the trade, the only one I could find (didn't check the papers)

So there you have it, 80% unfavorable, 20% favorable, and that's a very brief sampling, by no means exhaustive, but I'm gonna go out on a limb on say that the opinion of the trade among fans is mostly unfavorable.

In the Over The Baggy piece, I was particularly surprised by a quote that came from you Bill, when you said, "There is a fine line between patience and impatience or patience and panic, you don’t want to overreact either way." Really...because this move strikes me as ill-conceived and poorly thought out. Not only that, it wreaks of impatience. Gleeman did a nice job, as he always does, of breaking down the trade from a statistical standpoint and no matter how you look at it, this trade doesn't make sense. Bill, you've done an ok job trying to fill Terry Ryan's shoes and even Ryan didn't always pull the right strings, but I'm fairly confident that he wouldn't have made this deal.

My thoughts on the deal? If it doesn't make the team obviously better, and it costs you what is arguably your most valuable trading piece, then why make the deal? It just seems like a deal that didn't need to be made. My suggestion is to hire Aaron Gleeman or someone with a similar grasp on sabremetrics to help you in avoiding a mistake like this in the future.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Going In-Depth: Jason Repko

Twins fans all over the U.S. are basking in the team's recent 6-1 road-trip which saw them light up the scoreboard in a historic fashion despite the absence of Justin Morneau. It's been an enjoyable run and I'm hoping for more of the same in this weekend's series with the floundering Mariners. One player who caught my eye on the recent road-trip was Jason Repko, a recent call-up of the Twins. I wanted to learn a little more about it him and here's what I found...

Jason Repko was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1999 amateur draft with the 37th pick in the 1st round. He was coming fresh out of high-school at the time and during his senior year he hit .581 with 18HRs and 14 SBs (wikipedia). After a couple of early career injuries (torn hamstring & broken vertebra), the Dodgers decided to switch him from the infield to the outfield. Repko performed solidly in the minors for a couple years before making his Major-League debut in 2005. Injuries ended up robbing him of more playing time in 2006 and 2007 and he spent 2008 and most of 2009 in AAA before the Dodgers released him prior to the start of spring training this year. The Twins signed Repko to a minor league deal and on June 24th, they called him up after he hit .281/.368/.412 in 60 games at AAA Rochester.

For the first month or so that he was up with the Twins, Repko wasn't used much. During the recent road-trip, however, he received some regular playing time and came through big in the last 5 games (though, to be fair, who didn't?) collecting 8 hits in 23 at-bats, driving in 3 and scoring 7 runs. Then there was that spectacular catch in center a couple of games ago, seriously, check that out, one of the better plays by a Twins outfielder this year. When given the time, Repko has come through.

At 29 years old, the ceiling on Repko is pretty limited. His professional baseball career has been marred by all sorts of injuries and his hitting line when he has been healthy hasn't been all that special. For the Twins, he's been a nice momentary improvement defensively in the outfield and a pleasant surprise at the plate, but there is a log-jam in the outfield right now and no matter how well Repko does, it's likely that he'll go back to a pinch-hitting role or be sent back to Triple-A when Justin Morneau comes back from the DL.

No new news on the Twins and the trade deadline. Next up, the Mariners in to town for a 3-game set, another winnable series, pitching matchups are:

Friday: Doug Fister (3-6; 3.56) v. Scott Baker (8-9; 5.00)

Saturday: Felix Hernandez (7-7; 2.86) v. Kevin Slowey (9-5; 4.76)

Sunday: Luke French (0-1; 6.39) v. Francisco Liriano (9-7; 3.35)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Danny Boy Valencia

Or should I say, "boy, how about Danny Valencia?!?" In another Twins rout of the Royals last night, Valencia did something no other Twins rookie has done in franchise history by collecting 4 hits in two consecutive games. On Monday night, he became the first Twins rookie to ever hit a grand-slam as their 1st major league home run, and if you want a truly mind-boggling stat, Valencia now has 14 hits in his last 19 at-bats (.736) with 6 runs scored and 8 knocked in over that 4-game stretch. If somebody skilled in baseball-reference (and a subscription) could work the searching magic, I bet they wouldn't find too many similar hot streaks in the history of the Twins, if not the history of baseball. Valencia now owns an inflated .400/.449/.511 line through his first 90 Major League at-bats and he's given Gardenhire absolutely no reason to take him out of the lineup, especially in July where he is hitting .500/.542/.705 in 44 at-bats. Valencia was nothing special offensively in the minors so this must be a pleasant surprise for the coaching staff and after the game last night, Valencia himself said, "This is rare. It's definitely rare, it's great to have, but it's something that probably could never come again." No pressure on young Danny Boy, but if he manages to get 3 hits today, he will be the first player to have 5 consecutive 3+ hit games in almost 20 years, and it will also be only the 10th time in baseball history that a player has collected 3+ hits in 5 or more consecutive games.

As Twins fans we're just getting spoiled now with 47 runs and 72 hits in the past 4 games. It's been both fun and somewhat relaxing. The only downside to it all is that the White Sox keep winning which hasn't allowed the Twins to tie for or overtake 1st place. If they keep playing on the pace they are right now though, it won't be long.

There was some talk yesterday about the Twins being interested in current Washington Nationals closer Matt Capps. The background on Capps is that he's a fairly reliable reliever who would certainly help to stabilize the bullpen, but if the Twins have to give up anything substantial, I don't think he's worth it. Here are Capps 2010 numbers so far:

2.80 ERA
3.51 FIP
3.58 xFIP
25 SVs

For a guy with a career 3.50 ERA, he's having a good season, but given what the Twins have now, he would only be a marginal improvement. The MLBTR piece also mentioned Scott Downs from the Blue Jays, another guy who is having a good season but hasn't been all that dominant over his career. I remained unconvinced that the Twins will make a move before midnight on Saturday, but we'll see.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Yee-haw! Twins Win 19-1

Two days, 39 hits, 29 runs and most importantly, two wins. Playing the bottom-feeders of the American League can be a great confidence boost, as can a 19-1 rout. I have to say, it was great to watch, it's been awhile since the Twins had that big of a laugher. I thought the most encouraging and impressive performance of the night (aside from Liriano's dominant outing) was Joe Mauer going 5 for 5 with 7 RBIs. For a guy who's been having an off year by his standards, it was a great step in the right direction. It was also a night of 4s for young Danny Valencia who hit a grand-slam with 4 runs, 4 RBIs and 4 hits. Since Liriano's 1.2 inning debacle against Detroit on July 9th, he has only give up 2 runs in 21.2 innings, striking out 22 while only walking 6.

Congratulations to Matt Garza, former Twin pitcher who threw the 5th no-hitter in the Major Leagues this year and first in Tampa Bay Rays history. After having been no-hit 3 times in the past two seasons, it's good to see the Rays get one, too bad there were only 17,000 people there to see it...

Twins trade news has become almost non-existent lately. Roy Oswalt said yesterday that he doesn't care which team he goes to, as long as they are a contender and are will to pick up his $16MM option in 2012. I still doubt the Twins land him, mostly because of that high price tag. Dan Haren was traded to the Angels over the weekend and promptly proceeded to get beat AND get hurt in his debut last night. Doesn't look too serious though.

The Twins are now 8-4 since the All-Star break which is encouraging. They've scored an average of 6.6 runs over those 12 games and given up an average of 3.6 which is a solid recipe for winning baseball. Twins starting pitchers have been the eventual game winners in 5 out of the last 6 games and came within mere outs last night of a 3rd shutout in their last 6 games. Tonight is Carl Pavano v. Bruce Chen, hopefully the hot hitting continues.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Beating Bad Teams and Steroids Revisit

Aside from a slight misstep on Friday night, the Twins took 3 out of 4 from the Orioles over the weekend, capped off by an impressive all-around effort yesterday. That combined with a little help from the As over the weekend and the Twins find themselves merely a game out of 1st place in the AL central staring at a three-game series with the mediocre Kansas City Royals. Tonight you have a marquee matchup between Francisco Liriano and Zack Greinke, which is quite fortunate for the Twins because it means they have a legit shot at winning this, the hardest game of the series (on paper anyway). Tuesday night is Pavano v. Chen and Wednesday is Duensing v. Bannister. A winnable series to be sure, the Royals come in having lost 10 of their last 13 games and the Twins have fared well in the meeting this year, owning a 6-3 record. Go Twins.

I wanted to take a little time to re-address PEDs and steroids as it has come up again with the recent Hall of Fame ceremonies over this past weekend, and in light of A-Rod approaching 600 career homeruns. Our good friend (sic) who is now writing for TheYankeeU, recently penned an excellent piece on A-Rod's pursuit of 600HRs, specifically criticizing those who would use the milestone to speak hatefully of A-Rod and make him the scapegoat for the "Steroid Era." The comments section was particularly amusing, especially after (sic) quoted something from a website I'd alerted him to, a website that can be found here. The website it pretty lengthy, but does a good job detailing the various scientific studies that have been done over the years regarding the "Steroid Era," and comes to the following conclusion:

Examinations of the actual records of major-league baseball for over a century, with an especial focus on the last 25 or so years, those now being attributed to a "steroids era", show clearly and conclusively--by a number of independent analyses by a number of independent analysts each using a different methodology--that there simply is not any power boost needing explaining: PEDs are an "answer" lacking a pertinent question. This fact has been disguised by the analytically faulty method of counting power events instead of determining their rate of occurrence in hitting, and further confounded by changes in the baseball, notably the juicing whose effects were felt in 1994 and possibly back in 1993, when the change occurred.

To be clear, this conclusion is not suggesting that certain players who were already HR hitters (McGwire, Bonds, Sosa, Brady Anderson (lolwut?)) didn't see a spike in their numbers as a result of PED use. The author of this website claims that changes in the baseball itself, starting in 1993, have been ignored completely and might bear some, if not as much, responsibility for the numbers of the specific players I mentioned before. What this website does conclude, however, is that the overall power numbers in baseball did not surge during what is now called "The Steroid Era" and that this has been the conclusion of independent researchers using vastly different methods. In other words, the effect of steroids in baseball has been blown out of proportion by the media while in reality, their effect was much less than we have been lead to believe. As a caveat, I understand that you cannot believe everything you read on the internet, but this website is very well done, lays out the facts and then makes conclusions, and is as non-biased a treatment of the issue as I have seen anywhere.

Yesterday, Andre "Hawk" Dawson was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame and had something to say about steroids in his speech (though he didn't mention it specifically):

Nothing is wrong with the game of baseball. Mistakes have hurt the game and taken a toll on all of us. Individuals have chosen the wrong road, and have chosen their legacy... Do not be lured by the dark side. It's a stain on the game. A stain gradually being removed. But that's the people, not the game. Nothing is wrong with the game. There never has been.

I think his "individuals have chosen the wrong road, and have chosen their legacy" line was the most important line in his brief mention of the issue. It will never be possible to tell what the effect, whether great or small, steroids had on individual numbers. Would McGwire have broken Maris' record in 1998 without PEDs? Would Barry Bonds with all of his talent done what he did in the late '90s and early '00s without PEDs? We will never know. To paraphrase Dawson, it really doesn't matter, they chose their legacy and no matter their numbers, the legacy they chose will be the one they are remembered by.

I think we all need to move on from talk of steroids and the "Steroid Era." Major League Baseball has taken a number of steps to clean up the game and now it's time for us to move on. I think we should celebrate A-Rod's milestone and I think we should not be so quick to question a player who is having a great season. Roger Maris, whose record of 61HRs stood for 37 years (some would claim it still stands), never had another season during his career where he hit more than 39HRs. The great Mickey Mantle had two seasons during his career in which he hit 50+ HRs, the other 16 seasons, he was in the 20s, 30s and low 40s. For a more modern example, look at Joe Mauer; prior to last year his career high for home runs in a season was 13 and last year he hit 28.

In every great career there are going to be a few spectacular, outlier seasons. Those who took steroids will be remembered for that and history will be their judge. Meanwhile, I'm going to appreciate the great things I see on a daily basis within the game of baseball, and move on from the "stained" era.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Twins Trade News Roundup

I was talking with (sic) the other day and we were in agreement that this year's MLB trade season has been rather tame so far. You've had the one big deal involving Cliff Lee, but aside from a couple of other very minor deals, there's been nothing but speculation. That speculation, however, has been wide-ranging and nearly constant, with this team and that team and this player and that player being talked about. In that vein, I thought I would make an attempt at rounding up that news for you Twins fans out there who don't want to scour the internet to find out what people think the Twins might be doing.

The latest and greatest news for Twins fans is that they appear to have officially joined the Roy Oswalt bidding circus. Both The Houston Chronicle and MLB Trade Rumors are reporting it. I have to think the Cardinals have a clear advantage in all of this mostly because Roy Oswalt is going to want to pitch in the National League. He's been a NL pitcher for his entire career and there are too many examples (Peavy most recently) that suggest that the AL is much more difficult. With it being the last year of his non-option contract, I'm guessing he will want to be in a situation where he can pitch as well as possible in preparation for the next contract. The one advantage the Twins have is the particular trade piece they have in Wilson Ramos. The two catchers who are currently on the roster for Houston are Humberto Quintero and Jason Castro...not exactly the cream of the crop. If the Twins offered up Ramos and say, a minor league pitcher for Oswalt, that might tip the scale in their favor as the Cardinals have reportedly offered two major-league players.

The Twins will not be pursuing Dan Haren, mostly because The Minnesota Twins are on his 'no-trade' list. Well good, we didn't want him anyway. Go give up homeruns somewhere else, like Detroit. I had my doubts about the Twins ability to get a deal done with the Diamondbacks anyway, particularly because they have a decent young catcher in Miguel Montero that renders the Twins best trading piece (Ramos) useless.

News on the Twins and Ted Lilly has been virtually non-existent for the past week or so. There are random bits and pieces out there stating there there is interest in Lilly from several teams, but nothing solid. Lilly, in my opinion, would be a great pickup for the Twins because of his mid-range salary and consistency. He is a fly-ball pitcher, yes, but Target Field has shown that it can hold mere fly-balls.

There has been some scattered talk about the Twins pursuing Ben Sheets, but it doesn't look like the A's are being too cooperative. There has also been very general talk about Fausto Carmona or Jake Westbrook, but Cleveland doesn't seem to be too active either.

The trade deadline is July 31st, a mere 8 days away. With the way Carl Pavano is pitching, the Twins could really solidify their rotation with the addition of a consistent 3rd starter, but with what teams are asking for, it's really hard to say whether the Twins will jump for someone Oswalt or even Lilly. I hope they do, I think it would be awesome to have an Oswalt, Lilly or Carmona on the team.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Come On Guys...

Step 3 to getting back into 1st place was "win the winnable games." These last two games qualify as the Twins were/are playing ONE OF THE WORST TEAMS IN THE AMERICAN LEAGUE. Not only are you now right back to where you started the 2nd half at 3 1/2 games out 1st, you've lost two games that should have been easy victories. This team is infuriating. Last night, right after the Twins scratched back to tie the game at in the 7th, Jose Mijares comes in, walks the leadoff guy and coughs up what turned out to be the winning run.

Come on Twins, what more do you need? You have the new stadium, you have ~40,000 people at every home game, you have the awe-inspiring lineup, you have all the tools to be a winning baseball team yet you continue to stumble and sputter at the WORST times. Admittedly, I don't get to watch many Twins games on TV. I live in Chicago, I don't have's season pass so save for the rare nationally televised game, or when the Twins are playing the White Sox, I don't get to watch. But in the games I have watched, this team seems to lack urgency. It would be a tough argument to call their play on field "lazy" but it wouldn't be a stretch to call it 'uninspired.' In the recently concluded White Sox series, they seemed to have a little fire, which seems all but gone in this current series.

It's hard to say what kind of impact the absence of Justin Morneau has had on the offense. The Twins are 4-6 in the 10 games that Morneau has so-far missed, but they've been on a similar trajectory for the past month and half. The reports of late have not been that encouraging and it's looking unlikely that he rejoins the team this weekend. Concussions are tricky things so the Twins will probably be careful with this injury.

The Twins made it official today that Nick Blackburn will be replaced by Brian Duensing in the rotation and Duensing will start Saturday against the Orioles. Unfortunately, Blackburn will now be pitching out of the bullpen when I wish they would just invent an injury for him and send him back down to Triple-A for "rehab" starts...for the rest of the season. Twins Geek illustrated just how bad Twins pitchers have been over the past month and a half, with Blackburn leading the way. In an ideal world, Duensing would duplicate his effort from last season and provide the Twins with a 3rd reliable starter. If not, pretty much anything is better than the garbage Blackburn was throwing out there. And the Twins gave him how much money?...oh my.

The Twins continue to be pretty quiet in the trade market, which isn't a bad thing, but I think they waste an opportunity to improve this year's team if they don't make a trade. We don't need an ace, we just need some consistency.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Slama Ready to Make His Debut

OK, I'm kinda sorry that "Stop: Slama-time" was already taken, but I apparently wasn't the first one to think of it, so I had to go with something a little more pedestrian. It looks like after some dominating minor league performances and a whole bunch of clamor from the blogosphere, Anthony Slama is finally getting his shot at the bigs. After a series against the White Sox where Twins pitching was generally very good, it was just as bad last night during a 10-4 loss to Cleveland, allowing 20 hits. With Brian Duensing poised to join the rotation and Alex Burnett continuing to look overmatched, this seems like the ideal spot to see what Slama can do.

Slama seems to be a bit of a mystery in that he has been incredibly dominant in the minor leagues with, by most accounts, raw stuff that is not overpowering. Here's a rundown of his overall minor league stats:
  • ERA: 1.83
  • Saves: 85
  • K/9: 12.8
  • BB/9: 3.7
  • K/BB: 3.42
  • WHIP: 1.037
Those are some impressive numbers at any level, and this season at Rochester, Slama is sporting a 1.71 ERA with 64 K in 52.2 innings. This guy certainly deserves a shot, but how will his stuff play in the majors? Slama has a basic arsenal of three pitches: fastball, changeup and slider. His fastball sits only in the high-80s to low-90s, so he relies on changing speeds and a somewhat deceptive delivery to fool hitters. He's proved he can get it done in the minors, but it's no certainty that he'll be able to translate that success. His 60th percentile PECOTA projection has him at a 3.99 ERA, with 83 Ks in 74 innings, good for 1.4 WARP. I would assume those innings totals would be less given his later call-up, but those are effective enough numbers. Although it's not clear (and probably very unlikely) that Slama will dominate hitters like he did in the minors, there's no doubt that he deserves a chance to prove it, and I'm happy that he now has that chance. Here's to the Twins getting him a nice lead tonight for a low-pressure debut.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Step 1: Check

In my last post about keys to 2nd half success, my first key was "BEAT THE WHITE SOX" asserting that on a purely psychological level, taking at least 3 of 4 was a necessity. As I predicted, it wasn't easy, but the Twins did take 3 of 4 over the weekend, capping it off with a 4-run, 9th inning comeback yesterday afternoon. To me, the most encouraging development of the weekend was offense. Over the 4 games, the Twins scored 24 runs, including three 7-run games. The non-Liriano/Pavano starters continued recent struggles with Slowey giving up 5ERs on Thursday and Blackburn giving up 5ERs yesterday. Liriano and Pavano were both their typical selves, keeping the Twins in the games and each posting wins on Friday and Saturday.

The next step is a series win vs. the suddenly on-fire Indians who just wrapped up a 4-game home sweep of the Detroit Tigers. Fortunately for the Twins, the Indians are a vastly different team on the road barely winning 1/3rd of the road games they play and I doubt that's going to suddenly change. The matchups are as follows:

Tonight: Aaron Laffey v. Scott Baker

Tomorrow Night: Justin Masterson v. Kevin Slowey

Wednesday Night: Jake Westbrook v. Francisco Liriano

Both Laffey and Masterson have not fared well against the Twins during their careers, giving up .830+ OPS against. Westbrook has fared slightly better( .730 OPS against), but has a 5.03 road ERA so far this season. This is one of those "winnable series" I talked about it, and I expect the Twins to take care of business. After this series, the Twins have 4 games at Baltimore and 3 at Kansas City, again, a couple of "winnable series." I have a good feeling here, that the Twins could get on a run, here's to hoping.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The 2nd Half and Reclaiming 1st Place

It's hard to call it a "fresh start" since the Twins have only had 3 days off, but I at least hope the guys got a chance to get away from the game a bit and recharge. They start the '2nd half' in 3rd place, 2.5 games behind the Tigers and 3.5 games out of 1st place. Fortunately for the Twins, they start with a nice little 7-game home-stand followed by what should be a winnable road-trip to Baltimore and Kansas City. Here are the steps to getting back to 1st place.

Step 1:
BEAT THE WHITE SOX. A split is not good enough, you have to win at least 3 out of 4. It won't be easy, but winning at home against the White Sox is something this team has done a good job of for the past couple of years. Winning 3 of 4 would leave the Twins 1.5 games out, but more than that, it would be a solid post-break start and set this team back on the winning track.

Step 2:
Trade for a competent and consistent starting pitcher and demote Nick Blackburn to Triple-A....preferably before his next start on Sunday. Blackburn hasn't been the only Twins pitcher to perform poorly in the past month and a half, but he's been the worst performer and when hitters are making contact with 91%+ of your pitches, you don't deserve a spot on a major-league roster. With Wilson Ramos as a trade-chip, the Twins outta be able to land a solid mid-rotation starter like Ted Lilly or Fausto Carmona, and possibly even a front-line guy like Roy Oswalt. For more on Lilly and Carmona, read here.

Step 3:
Win the games you should win. Aside from the White Sox to start the 2nd half, the Twins have a pretty cake schedule from now until the 1st week in August when they play at the Tampa Bay Rays for a 4-game set. They should be able to win series against the Indians, Orioles, Royals, and Mariners (at home).

Step 4:
Maybe this is step 3, but the bottom-line for 2nd half success is learning how to pitch well on the road. Every Twins starter (as of July 1st) has a sub-4 ERA at home. On the road, it's a different story. Maybe every Twins starter should grow a mustache because right now, the guy to emulate is Carl Pavano. He's consistent and right now, that's what this team needs from the starters.

Step 5:
Shake up the bullpen a little and call-up Anthony Slama. I can't take full credit for this and I defer to Gleeman's comments on the matter:

"I've been banging the Slama drum for a while now and at this point I'm not sure what else the guy can do to get a shot in Minnesota. His numbers in the minors have been ridiculously good at every stop and he now has a 1.80 ERA, .152 opponents' batting average, and 79 strikeouts in 65 innings at Triple-A. His control is shaky and his raw stuff isn't overpowering, but so what? He's dominated at every level and is already 26 years old. Why not at least give him a chance?"

When a team's been going in the wrong direction for over a month, you can't just expect that things are going to turn around on their own. They won't. People will say, "well, what about the White Sox?" Their talent was there, it just wasn't performing. For the Twins, I feel like they've been hanging on to some dead weight, particularly in Blackburn, just waiting for things to turn, but they aren't. Now it's time to mix it up a bit.
Step 6:
This kinda goes along with Step 1, but WIN THE DIVISION GAMES. The Twins have actually done a very good job of this so far this season going 20-12 against the AL Central, by far the best out of the AL Central teams. In fact, no other division opponent is over .500 against the rest of the division. The Twins have 40 more games against AL Central teams this season, and if they duplicated their success from the first half, that would equal another 25 division wins. As the last two seasons have proven, division wins are precious commodities.
In my opinion, these are the keys to 2nd half success for the Twins. Clearly the offense needs to be a little better than it has been, but that is much less of a concern overall than the pitching, which has been the true 'achilles heel' of this team so far. I'm hopeful for the Twins and I'm really looking forward to seeing how they do this weekend in what is about as crucial of a series as you can have in mid-July.
**Puckett Image for good luck.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Thoughts on the All-Star Game

Well, well, well. The NL finally manages an all-star game win. What does it mean? Pretty much nothing considering that the World Series has not gone past 6 games for the past 8 years. In fact, in the past 30 years, the World Series has gone to 7 games only 8 times (27%). For those of you who don't like that the All-Star game actually means something, just wait for the outrage after the first time that it decides where a 7th game of a World Series is held.

Anyway, I disgress.

Was anybody else put off by that staged "meeting of the all-stars" in the middle of the field? At first I was thinking, "this is a cool gesture by major league baseball to have the baseball all-stars go and shake the hands of the People's All-Stars", but then it turned into this awkward mash-up and I was left with a sour taste in my mouth. The best camera shot was Ichiro and Matt Thornton just standing there not knowing what to do, seemingly suppressing laughter at the absurdity of the whole thing.

I did enjoy that the players actually seemed to care about the game, particularly the members of the National League squad. Ryan Braun made an excellent diving catch (where'd he learn to play defense?) and Marlon Byrd almost made a diving catch and made an excellent play on David Ortiz from the outfield. I'm not sure you want your all-star diving around if you're the Brewers, but hey, it seemed important to the players and that's what I like to see. Afterall, what's the point of mid-season exhibition game?

More than once I heard someone from the ESPN crew comment that "player x has had a rough start to this season." Should anybody who's had a rough start to the year be on the all-star team? Omar Infante, Yadier Molina, some of the selections just don't make sense. Biggest snub of the year? Adam Dunn.

I loved seeing the bevy of excellent pitchers in the game. I'm not generally a fan of low-scoring games, but almost every pitcher besides Hughes and Thornton showed why they deserved to be All-Stars. Overall, I thought that the Angels did a good job hosting. The fans in Anaheim need to straighten up, I understand you may not like the Yankees, but give the guys a break, they just had to deaths in the "family" in the past week. Show some love!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Ballpark Report: Coors Field

I did this last year when I attended baseball games and it's kinda fun, so I'll do it again. I had the fortune (thanks Father-In-Law!!) of attending the St. Louis Cardinals v. Colorado Rockies game on Wednesday July 7th and it ended up being on of the most enjoyable times I've had at a ballpark in my life. We got to the park a good two hours before the game hoping to catch some BP but the weather didn't cooperate.

We had great seats (row 14) and I really enjoyed watching the process of the tarp removal, something I had never seen before. The game got started on time, but first, some pictures of the Prince of Baseball, Albert Pujols.

I had never seen Pujols live before, so I was paying special attention to his at-bats, but he went 0-5 with a strikeout. The game was pretty wild with 33 hits and 15 runs. The real treat though was the bottom of the ninth. The previous night, the Rockies had a 9-run comeback win, the largest in their history and with the game tied at 7 in the 9th, Chris Iannetta stepped to the plate and delivered a game-winning, walk-off homerun. Words can't describe the excitement in the stadium, the whole place was rockin' and it was awesome to be a part of it. Some people enjoy pitcher's duel and I can appreciate those, but my heart is really in what John Gordon calls, a "donnybrook." I'll leave you with a few more pics from the game.

George Steinbrenner (1930-2010)

Think what you may of George Steinbrenner as a person, but in the end, he was a great owner who turned his love of the Yankees into World Championship after World Championship and restored the 'Yankee Swagger' to that franchise. Since 1973, Steinbrenner was the owner of the Yankees and during that time, they won 11 AL Championships and 7 World Series titles and that is all that really needs to be said. I believe that his legacy will live on through his sons and through Brian Cashman as the Yankees look to be contenders for years to come. I think it's fitting, in some ways, that as the current crop of Yankee legends (Jeter, Rivera, A-Rod to an extent) approach the twilight of their careers, the corporate face of the Yankees will change as well. R.I.P. George Steinbrenner, thanks for making me jealous for the past 15 years.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Cliff Lee to the Rangers, Third Place Sucks

So Cliff Lee has found his way to his fourth team in two years, and it's not the Twins. The Rangers nabbed Lee for a package featuring Justin Smoak (after reportedly turning down a deal with the Yankees that would have included Jesus Montero), and one of the most talked-about free-agent targets for the Twins is now off the table. It certainly would have been nice to have Lee, but it was hard to see the the Twins realistically landing him. If the rumors about Minnesota offering both Ramos and Hicks were true, I probably wouldn't have liked that scenario anyway, even if, as Gleeman noted, the minor league seasons for both thus far have at least temporarily taken some of the luster out of their upside projections.

In other news, the Twins now sit two games back of Detroit and only five games over .500, and it appears that the All-Star break can't arrive soon enough. Baker got shelled early and often last night (the latest chapter in the saga of awful road outings for Twins starters), Alex Burnett continues to look lost after a strong start to the season, and the bats went quiet. Justin Morneau sat out another game after suffering a concussion, and Denard Span was out of the lineup after his collision with Delmon Young on Wednesday. This team seems beat up in all facets of the game right now, and could use a boost heading into Detroit for three games before the break. I'm trying to resist the "sky is falling" impulses, but it's frustrating to watch things unravel. The good news is that the Twins host the White Sox and Indians at Target Field after hopefully getting a chance to rest and regroup, and then head on a very manageable road trip to Baltimore and Kansas City.

For now, I'm still sticking with my opinion that this is still a very good team that has been severely underachieving, but I'm only going to be able to hold onto that for so long if things don't improve. I hope the Twins are still going to be buyers at the trade deadline, but with Lee now off the table they're obviously going to have to look elsewhere for pitching help.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Halfway Point and All-Star Musings

We just passed the half-way point of the season this July 4th weekend and after 82 games, our beloved Twins are 44-38, good for 2nd place in the AL Central, 1/2 a game behind the Tigers. Some might say that this is the low-point of the season so far considering that the Twins just lost the division lead yesterday and they also lost 3 out of 4 against the Rays over the weekend, including two blown leads by the bullpen. I guess I take solace in knowing that this team is still in it and towards the end of this month, have a nice easy schedule for a couple of weeks (Indians, Orioles, Royals, Mariners). As Gleeman covered on both his blog and on Hardball Talk, there have been some rumors swirling around that the Twins are shopping around prospects for Cliff Lee in hopes of adding him to their rotation. I agree with Gleeman though, I really hope that the package that is being reported is not real, because that would be too much to give away. Don't get me wrong, Cliff Lee would be a fantastic addition to the rotation and I would be ecstatic about that, but bringing on one guy to make a run at the championship is not worth leveraging the future.

Now some All-Star game thoughts. I was very happy to see that Joe Mauer lead the way in all-star votes. That could probably be attributed to the glut of media coverage that his signing received early in the season, but is nevertheless cool. The M&M boys are both starters for the AL squad with Morneau starting at 1st base. I thought maybe Jon Rauch or Francisco Liriano deserved all-star nods, but it's not shocking that they were not selected. Delmon Young is on the short-list of the last spot, if you want to vote for him, visit HERE.

 Looking at the list of all-stars, there are some glaring omissions and some selections that defy reason. Here's one of the worst.

Pitcher A:  (7-7)    3.69ERA    1.28WHIP    57Ks    39BBs
Pitcher B:  (6-5)    3.01ERA    1.14WHIP    122Ks  40BBs

If I asked you which player was selected to the all-star game, you would say laugh and say that there is an obvious difference and select player B. Player A is Fausto Carmona and Player B is Felix Hernandez and Player A is going to the All-Star game while Hernandez is left out. I know every team has to have a player representative in the game, but why not give the selection to Shin Soo Choo, who is actually deserving but is injured, so that you can fulfill that requirement. Instead you've added a player who does not deserve the honor and someone like King Felix, who finished 2nd in the Cy Young voting last year (btw), gets no recognition.

Player A:  .318/.418/.599    56Rs    59RBI    21HRs    169OPS+ (league leading)    173TB
Player B:  .302/.333/.367    23Rs    22RBI     1HR       90OPS+                               62TB

Player A is Joey Votto, Player B is Omar Infante, the ladder was chosen to play in the All-Star game... as Jeff Passan wrote for Yahoo Sports, this has to be one of the WORST all-star selections of all-time. You can't even blame this one on the "every team has to have a player" rule. This is just a terrible selection and I feel as though baseball ought to rectify this situation by saying, "ok, we didn't realize how blind Charlie Manuel was, we're changing his selection." I mean, this one is such a no-brainer, it's almost infuriating. Joey Votto is so overwhelming deserving of an all-star appearance, how he was not chosen is beyond my understanding. His numbers are ridic, he's on a 1st place team, he has an insane on-base streak going, the dude's having a monster year. Fortunately he's on the ballot for the final spot on the NL team, and he should win.

Looking at the rest of the selections, they look pretty good. You have a lot of usual suspects in Lincecum, Sabathia, Jeter, Rodriguez, Pujols, and Han-Ram. There is some new flavor in David Price, Neftali Feliz, Elvis Andrus, Jason Heyward, and Ubaldo Jimenez. I'm looking forward to the game and I'm a fan of the fact that it means something. I know that opinion isn't popular, but I like that the players and managers still have to care about the game itself. Couple of other thoughts:

* The entire starting lineup for the AL is made up of players from 5 teams (2 each from MN, TX, NY, TB) and Ichiro.
* "If he is able to play, Heyward would be the first non-Japanese rookie outfielder to start an All-Star Game since Minnesota's Tony Oliva in 1964." I read that on, I have to say, that's a very odd-sounding stat. Do Japanese rookies not count?
* The Yankees and Cardinals are the only two teams with 2 starting pitchers in the All-Star game...I have to disagree with the selection of Phil Hughes though...again, where is the love for Felix Hernandez??
* This is A-Rod's 13th All-Star appearance, Derek Jeter's 11th, Ichiro's 10th, Vladimir Guerrero's 9th, Pujols 9th, Halladay's 7th, Scott Rolen's and David Ortiz' 6th, and Miguel Cabrera's 5th.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Free Agency: The Cheaper Options

With the Twins payroll sitting right around $100M for this season, it's unlikely that the Twins will be major players in the Cliff Lee/Dan Haren/Roy Oswalt sweepstakes, mostly because of price. It's not impossible, but it's unlikely. That said, there are a couple of cheaper options out there that would help to solidify the starting rotation a bit.

Ted Lilly - SP - Cubs
With the Cubs falling further and further behind in their division, there comes that inevitable point where their best strategy will be to shed some of the ridiculous payroll they have. Ted Lilly is set to make $13M this year, the final year of his current contract, of which the Twins would only pay a pro-rated portion of. Since the Cubs would be looking to dump the salary anyway, it probably wouldn't cost the Twins all that much. Lilly was on the DL for the first part of the season, but has performed well since:

86IP    3.12ERA    1.06WHIP    61Ks    22BBs

Fausto Carmona - SP - Indians
Coming off back-to-back rough seasons, Carmona has rediscovered a little of the magic he had in 2007 season which saw him finish 4th in the Cy Young race. The Indians always seem to deal away anyone who is performing well and it wouldn't surprise me if Carmona goes somewhere before July 31st. Best of all, if he came to Minnesota, the scenery wouldn't change all that much in terms of the opponents he's facing. In fact, White Sox batters hold a lifetime average of .219 against Carmona and Detroit isn't that much better at .243. It might be worth bringing him on just for his experience (and success) against those two clubs. Another thing to consider is the cheap price tag. He's set to make just over $5M this season and $6.2M next season with an option for 2012. In other words, he wouldn't just be the 2nd half rental that Lilly would be.

102IP    3.68ERA    1.28WHIP    54Ks    36BBs

Those are a couple of the cheaper options that this Twins might pursue. The Twins did have a scout at Dan Haren's last start and some have speculated that the Twins might be front-runners for Cliff Lee considering the Mariners desperate need for a catcher, but I don't expect them to land either of these studs. Don't get me wrong, I would love it if they did, but I don't expect it. I love this time of the year.

Gotta Love Being Home

It was a nice win for the Twins yesterday afternoon as they took 2 of 3 from the Tigers and reasserted themselves as the division leaders. Kevin Slowey was solid for 6 innings and the offense scored more than 5 runs for the 3rd straight game. The Twins are now 25-14 at home (against an 18-21 road record) and have the Rays coming in for a 4-game set this weekend. This team looks very different at home and I did a little research to find out just how different. Let's start with the starting pitchers:

Nick Blackburn
Home ERA: 3.47
Road ERA: 9.40

Scott Baker
Home ERA: 3.55
Road ERA: 6.55

Kevin Slowey
Home ERA: 3.54
Road ERA: 6.11

Carl "Call me Ace" Pavano
Home ERA: 3.81
Road ERA: 2.82

Francisco Liriano
Home ERA: 3.12
Road ERA: 3.81

At home, the Twins have 5 solid starting pitchers and they are 11 games over .500. On the road, they have Pavano and Liriano and that's about it, and they are 3 games under .500. Let's take a look at a few of the hitters.

O-Dog Hudson
Home Line: .302/.405/.472
Road Line: .277/.315/.333

Jason Kubel
Home Line: .279/.366/.500
Road Line: .252/.341/.403

Delmon Young
Home Line: .319/.349/.466
Road Line: .268/.309/.472

Home Line: .382/.460/.500
Road Line: .192/.257/.293

Alright, so that's your lead-off hitter, your two-hole guy, and your 5 and 6 hitters who pretty much blow on the road. Now I'm starting to see why this team really struggles on the road, their pitchers aren't very good and a majority of the lineup doesn't produce. On the flip-side, it's not hard to see why this team is dominant at home. They get on-base and they hit for power, a good combination for offensive production.

This weekend's series against the Rays should be interesting, mainly because the Rays are a much better road team (25-13) than they are at home (20-19), though if you've caught any part of a Rays home game lately, you'd understand why. The Rays have been scuffling a bit lately so hopefully the Twins can take advantage. The pitching matchups are as follows; (7/1) Niemann v. Pavano, (7/2) Price v. Baker, (7/3) Davis v. Liriano, (7/4) Shields v. Blackburn