Thursday, June 30, 2005

Time for Some Big Moves

Upon reading my associate's posts today, I saw that I either completely agreed with him or his thoughts lit a bulb in my head. The Twins need to seriously rethink their game plan completely. Matt Guerrier is turning out to be a good middle-reliever, but is not be used as much as he should with a 2.79 ERA. If Romero is out there, so should Guerrier. And especially if they think at all about using Mulholland in key situations. That is just ridiculous. There is still no reason to have a batting practice pitcher on the team. I don't buy the whole "veteran" logic, since Rincon, Romero, and Nathan have the experience anyways and seem to be doing fine. If his role is the mop-up guy or what not, why isn't he being used this way? He needs to be dropped, and not just because of his terrible pitching, but more because of the prospects we have in the wings. That's part of the reason to make a trade, as it makes sense to get rid of guys like Lohse, Mulholland, Cuddyer, and possibly Radke. Get rid of guys not doing their jobs and bring up the potentially great pitchers in the minors and give them a chance. Who do we have waiting?

* Travis Bowyer - Bowyer leads the International League with 19 saves and has a 3-1 record with a 1.27 ERA in 42 and 2/3 innings. Most impressive, though, is that he's allowed only 20 hits in those innings. That's incredible. He also has 59 Ks and will be a minor league All-Star for the Rochester Red Wings. Bowyer is clearly ready for a shot in the bigs, as he has simply dominated the minor leagues with his great fastball. (Reminds me of Jesse Crain) He definitely deserves a shot and it looks like no matter how he reacts immediately, he certainly has a lot of upside.

* Scott Baker - Baker made a very good impression in Spring Training and even got a small call-up this year, only pitching a scoreless inning. He should the Twins that he can mix his pitches well and he certainly has some good control to go with it. Baker has had a great year at Triple-A, going 2-5 with a 2.83 ERA in 14 starts. He has 72 Ks in 82 and 2/3 innings and 21 walks. Baker also has certainly earned his call up and his chance, as he can start or be used in any situation well. Reminds me of the situation with Santana in 2002.

* Boof Bonser - Another pitcher acquired in the trade for A.J. in 2003, Bonser has also had a good year a Triple-A. He has gone 6-4 with a 3.82 ERA with 93 Ks in 92 innings this year with 29 walks. There is no scouting report on Bonser, so I have no way to be sure what his pitching selection is, but Bonser has certainly been a power pitcher in the minors and would go along well with the current Twins bullpen.

* J.D. Durbin - Durbin, ever since being shaken up last year in his call, has had a decent year at Triple-A. His fastball is down and he isn't hit 100 like he did last fall. However, as with the others, Durbin has such a high upside that it is hard not to give him a chance. The 4.43 ERA isn't great, but the arm is and it certainly would be good for his confidence.

* Dave Gassner - He's pitched well at Triple-A and even had a call up earlier this year, but did not do so well, making two starts and going 1-0 with a 5.87 ERA. At Rochester, he's gone 6-5 with a 3.86 ERA, striking out 38 and walking 19 in 79 and 1/3 innings. His main asset is being a solid lefty with good control and that would certainly be a step above Mulholland. However, he still does not look quite ready for the big leagues. I'd look to see he him next year as a possible starter or long reliever.

* Fransisco Liriano - It is likely too early to call him up, but this lefty will be something else. He throws 97 to 98 with his fastball and he has a great slider to go along with it. He dominated in Double-A and recently was called up to Triple-A, where he had a 3.75 ERA with 15 Ks in 12 innings. He might be raw now, but it would be fun to watch him pitch.

Either way, the Twins need to make a move, and based on their prospects in Triple-A, they have the guys ready to go.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Offensive Incompetence Returns, Injuries Ravage

After a couple games where they will able to piece together some runs and get much-needed victories, the Twins were unable to complete a sweep today over the lowly Royals, as they fell 3-1. Brad Radke YET AGAIN got hammered in the first inning, allowing 2 runs, and while he would pitch pretty well the rest of the way, the Twins could do almost nothing offensively and - with a dramatic 13th inning victory for the White Sox - lost another game in the standings.

But the bad news doesn't stop there. It was revealed today that Glenn Williams, who hurt his shoulder sliding back into first on a pick-off throw Tuesday night, will miss at least six weeks due to a tear and might eventually need surgery. This is a tough blow for a kid that had really come up and filled a need for this team and was exciting to watch. Juan Castro also missed today's game with "dizziness"... not sure what to make of that. To worsen matters, Michael Cuddyer was hit in the hand by a pitch late in the game forcing him to come out. Outfielder Mike Ryan had to finish the game at third. The Twins' infield is in a very sticky situation, which will be relieved slightly when Brent Abernathy returns from the DL on Friday and when Nick Punto (hopefully) returns to the club early next week.

However, even with those guys back, this is still going to be a makeshift infield and if this team wants to be able to compete they are going to need to make a trade. While the Star Tribune has reported that the Twins are no longer seeking him, I would still endorse Joe Randa of the Reds. Many people have expressed that they wouldn't want the trade because they just don't think Randa is that good... well his numbers this year say differently and even in the worst-case scenario he couldn't be any worse than what we've got now.

One other thing... Matt Guerrier came in and pitched a scoreless 9th inning today. He has a 2.79 ERA on the year. So why is he being brought into games where the Twins are already down, while Terry Mulholland and his near-6 ERA are being brought into close games like yesterday? It's moves like this that make me seriously question Ron Gardenhire's judgment.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Hitting Surplus

Well, after a long drought (or, to go with the title, deficit) of hitting in Minnesota, they certainly exploded on Kansas City pitching tonight. And its a good thing, because Minnesota's pitching was nearly as subpar. With 15 hits, 11 runs, and three stolen bases, the Twins can out of the blocks, running all over the young staff. Shannon Stewart had three hits and three RBI; Glenn Williams took his hitting streak to 13 games, all extending from his first major league game, Mike Redmond started again, but went 3 for 3 with two RBI; Justin Morneau took over first in the eight only to final hit his 10th home run of the season; Torii Hunter had a stolen base and went 1 for 3 with two RBIs, bringing his team-leading total to 48; Luis Rivas even got in on the fun, going 2 for 2 as a defensive replacement. In most ways, it was stunningly different from recent Twins outings, but then again this is Kansas City we are playing.

* Carlos Silva started the game, but pitched under expectations, giving up 10 hits and six runs in five innings, not looking sharp at all against the meager Kansas City lineup.

* And, of course, just as the lead as slipping away, who do they bring in? Terry Mulholland! What does he do? Comes in in the sixth, gives up three straight hits and gives Kansas City their first lead of the night. Mulholland's 5.46 ERA isn't completely telling of how bad he has been, as he cannot even hold his ground against Kansas City hitters. Its a good thing the rest of the bullpen isn't in the same league as Mulholland....

* Jesse Crain came in and started a different trend for the Twins bullpen, taking care of all five men he faced and not allowing anymore of the runners Mulholland put on to score. Crain's good pitching, and the rest of the Minnesota bullpen (besides Terry, of course), settled down and allowed Minnesota the chance to come back and win. Crain picked up the win, his seventh of the year, while Juan Rincon, J.C. Romero, and Joe Nathan finished the game off, as Nathan pitched another good ninth for his 20th save.

* Good defense (no errors, three double plays), great offense, and a good effort by the bullpen helped the Twins pull out a good victory, but did not bring them any closer to the White Sox, who beat the Tigers 2-1. The Twins just need to keep on plugging away, with a chance here against KC and Tampa Bay to pick up some games. Brad Radke pitches tommorow in an afternoon game. Hopefully, he's worked out the kinks in his neck and will have a good start with far more Radke-esque control.

Monday, June 27, 2005

A Win's a Win

The Twins took advantage of a bad team and picked up a relatively unimpressive victory at home against the bottom-feeding Kansas City Royals tonight 3-1. I shouldn't say it was totally unimpressive, Joe Mays did pitch very well, but the Royals don't exactly have a dynamic offense.

All three of the Twins' runs in the game basically came as the result of miscues by the Royals' young defense. While all three were technically "earned", Torii Hunter, who scored the first run of the game in the second inning, moved into scoring position on a wild pick-off throw by the 15 year-old Zach Grienke (honestly, have you ever seen a younger-looking professional athlete?). Next, Jacque Jones hit a single, which Royals' center-fielder David DeJesus threw to the plate in an attempt to get Hunter. Grienke tried to cut off the throw but it hit off his glove, dribbling away and allowing Jones to reach second. Jones would steal third and then score on a sacrifice fly by Lew Ford. The Twins would not score again until the 8th inning, when they loaded the bases with two outs for Glenn Williams, who would hit a weak infield pop-up that somehow dropped in between pitcher Jimmy Gobble and shortstop Angel Berroa, allowing Justin Morneau to score.

Regardless of how the runs were scored, they scored, and the Twins won against a bad team. And hey, if they can continue to do that for a week, then they can string together a much-needed win streak, but the rest of their homestand consists of 2 more games against KC followed by 3 against Tampa Bay.

*Mays, who pitched 8 strong innings and didn't allow a run until DeJesus hit a solo homer in the 8th, lowered back below 4 to 3.94. He didn't seem to be commanding his pitches very well, as he continually fell behind hitters early and worked a lot of 3-ball counts, but he surprisingly didn't have issue any walks.

*Joe Nathan worked an efficient 9th, retiring the side on 18 pitches while striking out 2, although he did issue a 2-out walk. FSN posted a very telling statistic in today's broadcast, stating that Nathan has an excellent 1.40 ERA in save situations and a miserable 9.00 ERA in non-save situations. To me, this just says the guy needs to be getting more regular work. Typically, when a closer pitches in a non-save situation, it's because he hasn't pitched in a while and the manager is just looking to get him some work. If he's not pitching well in those situations, it might be a sign that he has trouble getting acclimated after not pitching for a few days. It also might have to do with his mindset... maybe he just brings it more when he is under pressure.

*Glenn Williams went 2/3 and is now hitting .421, and he has extended his career-opening hitting streak to 12 games. This is getting pretty interesting. He's not slaughtering the ball, but he's getting on... and that's more than Cuddy could say.

*The Twins' infield showed some great defense tonight, with excellent off-balance throws by Juan Castro and Luis Rodriguez. Castro also went 2/3 at the plate, but he might be the one who finds the bench when Nick Punto returns if Rodriguez and Williams continue to hit. Luis Rivas no longer has any place on this team.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Twins salvaged series behind strong pitching

Finally, a few things came together for the Twins and hopefully its a sign of things to come. The Twins pitched well and the offense came out with enough vigor to pull out a good victory against the Brewers to avoid a sweep this afternoon. A near shut-out for the staff and a offensive explosiveness right out of the box. In the first inning, Luis Rodriguez hit the first home run in the majors and a two-run homer at that, just over the right-field fence. The Twins put the rest of their runs up on the board in the sixth, where they had three runs on three hits, a walk, an a failed fielder's choice that allowed a run to score. It was a very positive effort for the Twins and a few players stood out in today's victory:

* Glenn Williams appears to be the choice for third baseman for the time, as Gardenhire finally has benched Cuddyer after his awful two error game on Wednesday that brought him to a tie for the major league league with 13 errors. (A very bad stat to lead in, indeed) Williams has responded to the regular playing time by hitting .400 and hitting safely in every game he has playing in so far. Today, he went 2 for 5 with with a run scored. Although his defense might not be significantly better than Cuddyer's, his bat certainly appears to be.

* Shannon Stewart had a great offensive day, going 3 for 5 with a run scored and a two-out, run scoring double in the sixth that brought the Twins to a comfortable 5-0 lead. Stewart, who was slumping a bit as of late, is hitting .293 and has been fairly steady all year for a club that is in dire need of stability.

* Luis Rodriguez continues to impress. Besides his first home run to give the Twins a quick 2-0, he went 3 for 5 as well, bringing his average to .321. Rodriguez, along with Williams, has been a bright spot during the past few forgottable weeks of play. Gardenhire's choice to continue to play him is a both a smart and delightful decision to see.

* Kyle Lohse was a bit erratic in his sixth inning of work, but did not give up any runs over six innings, acting as a stopper for the staff and ending a personal streak that has seen him look terrible over his past few starts. Along with Matt Guerrier, who pitched two scoreless innings of relief with three strikeouts, Lohse gave the Twins a excellent opportunity to win, which they finally capitolized on.

* Joe Nathan, who has been extremely unstable as of late and who hasn't pitched much lately, came out to pitch the night. It started out terrible, as he gave up four hits and a two-run home run to Geoff Jenkins, but he settled into a better groove to strike out the last two hitters. Hopefully, that's a sign of things to come, because a Nathan who is walking this many hitters and who owns a 4.15 ERA is the not the dominant Nathan we are used to. (Same goes for Johan. Something has to change soon, because the starts he has had lately have been just awful to watch)

It was a good way to end another bad series for the Twins. They start a three-game series with Kansas City at home, but run into a KC team that has been 12-6 with new manager Buddy Bell on board. Their young pitching (Zack Greinke, J.P. Howell) could spell relief or more doom for the Twins as they begin another series they should and need to win.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Youth Movement

It was the Milwaukee's future stars that made an impact tonight and led the Brew Crew to a comeback victory over the Twins. Both second baseman Rickie Weeks and first baseman Prince Fielder (in a pinch-hit appearance) hit their both career home runs, and Fielder's was a three-run shot that came with the Brewers down 6-5 to put them on top for good.

Johan Santana's struggles continued, as he failed to pick up a win despite the fact that the Shannon Stewart and Torii Hunter's first-inning homers handed him a 3 run lead before he even took the mound. Santana has simply been allowing way too many men to get on base. After walking an uncharacteristic 4 batters in his last start, he did it again tonight, and also allowed 6 hits. After he was pulled from the game, Jesse Crain came in with two runners on base and faced Fielder, and his first pitch was a terrible fastball right down the middle which ended up over the fence in center field.

I overheard a theory as to why Santana's performance has been so poor as of late. Word is that Johan was signaling his pitches so opposing teams could figure out what he was going to throw. In order to fix this problem, the Twins' staff worked with Santana to adjust his motion so that he wouldn't signal, but now these changes have got him all screwed up and he's lost his control. That would make sense. Clearly, something must be done to get him back on track, because we will never get back in the race in the AL Central if Santana can't step up and be our ace.

Hunter continued his red-hot June with two home runs tonight. Glenn Williams started at third again and got another hit... he has now hit in each of the 10 games he has played since being called up. The offense was not the problem tonight, but their pitching just could not do the job.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Hitting Still Isn't Alive

If the Twins could have gotten a few hits tonight, maybe they could have pulled out a victory. But the loss certainly can't be blamed on pitching this time, as the staff yielded three runs, one unearned. What has been a problem as of late continued, as bad fielding and the absence of offense created the loss for Brad Radke and the Twins. Radke is having a year quite similar to last year's, as he has pitched well (4.08 ERA, 9 walks in 101 and 2/3 innings) but has a 5-7 record. As usual, the Twins just cannot score runs for Radke. Now, the Twins are 10 and 1/2 games behind the blazing White Sox, who pounded the Cubs 12-2 in a day game.

The only offense the Twins were able to produce came from Torii Hunter's 12th home-run in the 8th off of Julio Santana. Otherwise, they scrapped together only six hits as they allowed other runs on poor defense. Two errors, from Glenn Williams and Juan Castro, helped the Brewers to a 2-0 lead along with Radke's uncharacteristic lack of control. Castro's error in the fifth helped start a Brewers rally for a second run.

The same old problems haunt the Twins game in and game out: They cannot hit decent pitching too well and they get pummeled by good pitching. The have lost any ability to hit with runners in scoring position. Tonight, they were a hideous 0 for 8, throwing the opportunities they had to score off of Brewers starter Chris Capuano that they simply threw away. They had the bases loaded in the seventh, but couldn't produce with Mauer at the plate. They had Castro on the third with one out in the fourth, but followed with consecutive groundouts to end their chances. It had been a pathetic example. Just look at how they lost to Darrell May, who was jumped all over by the Mariners in a 14-5 victory, barely getting a run off of him.

The core of the lineup, like Jacque Jones, has not been adequete. After a 13-game hitting streak, Jones has done absolutely nothing. Those blaming the young stars Mauer and Morneau should look elsewhere: They've been doing ok as of late, maintaning their averages and hitting better than most. Its the veterans, from Castro to Stewart to Jones to even Hunter, despite his homer, who have completely cooled off. More than a trade, the Twins need their biggest investments to step up and do what they've been given contracts for: That includes Santana (who has not been completely consistent or as dominant as he could be), Nathan (lots of saves, bad control, high ERA for a closer), Hunter, Mays, and a few others. Now is the time to step up and take control of this club's destiny. Come on guys.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Saving Grace

The Twins' return to the victory column today wasn't exactly dazzling. Half the runs in their 6-2 win over the Tigers came on a wild pitch and an error. Then again, when you're in a slump like this, you take what you can get. Jacque Jones came up with the bases loaded in the first and struck out swinging, but the third strike sailed past catcher Vance Wilson and allowed both Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau to score. Next, Matt LeCroy would plate 2 on a bloop single to right. The 4 runs would be all they would need (although they added 2 more in 6th when Mauer scored on an error and LeCroy hit a solo home run), as Carlos Silva tossed another impressive complete game victory, needing only 91 pitches to dispose of the Tigers on 9 hits and 2 runs. He struck out two and walked no one.

*Mike Ryan has cooled down considerably since a pretty hot start when he was called up from Rochester. He hit leadoff today and went 0/5, shrinking has average to .211.

*Luis Rodriguez, who has also cooled a bit after a hot start after his call-up, went 0/4, though his average still its at .300.

*Mauer, Morneau, LeCroy, Juan Castro and Glenn Williams all had 2 hits apiece. Williams is hitting .450 since being called up. Probably just a fluke, but he sure looks a lot better than Crappy Cuddyer right now.

*Silva has walked 5 batters in 105 innings this year. That is unbelievable. This guy has become the stopper on this team. He lacks the gaudy strikeout (30) and win (6) numbers, so he might need another good start or two in order to lock up a place on the All Star roster.

In other news, I read an interesting tidbit in's rumor mill today:

"Because they have some young, inexpensive pitchers on the rise, the Twins may deal Kyle Lohse, the St. Paul Pioneer Press speculates, for a hitter, possibly Padres third baseman Sean Burroughs."
When they say, "Pioneer Press speculates", I don't know if they mean some beat writer put it out there as an idea or they actually have a scoop that the Twins are thinking about it. I didn't read the Press yesterday. In any case, I don't see how the move would really benefit the Twins. . Burroughs, a 24 year old, has only 11 career home runs so he wouldn't exactly be the established veteran power-hitter the team desperately needs, although he did hit .298 last year and is steady defensively. He would most certainly be an upgrade over Mr. Cuddyer. Plus, he's relatively cheap at $1.6 mil. Then again, he bats left-handed, and the Twins need another left-handed hitter like they need Joe Mauer's knee to explode. Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan yesterday put out the name of Joe Randa as a potential trade option, and he would make a lot more sense in my opinion. Randa, a righty, is a ten year vet with decent power, a good glove, and a very good career K/BB ratio. He's currently hitting .293 with 11 HR and 39 RBI for Cincinatti, and his $2.1 million price tag would not be crippling. Furthermore, the trade would make sense from both sides because the Reds are badly in need of pitching.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Twins fall to Tigers again

Wow. They lost again. And worse this time. They now got beat badly by Nate Robertson after Jeremy Bonderman, two guys the Twins have beat up in the past. 8-1 was the final score. Its almost impossible to see this team as contenders when they just get slaughtered by mediocre teams with bad pitching. (Giants, Tigers, and even the Dodgers in a way) The Twins once again managed absolutely no offense, getting five hits and one run in the first off of Lew Ford's RBI single. After that, it was just atrocious. And the fielding and pitching didn't show up either. Michael Cuddyer made two errors, giving him thirteen on the year.

That's unacceptable and makes me incline to agree with Jim Souhan that the Twins desperately need a veteran infielder. And I agree that the man to go should be Kyle Lohse or even Joe Mays. Or, yes, even Micheal Cuddyer, who has proven himself to be below the exectations created by being drafted in the first round. Why? Simple; the Twins have ample pitching in the minors, with guys like Scott Baker and Boof Bonser ready to be promoted, with Fransisco Liriano not far behind. Trade some of our mediocre starters or Cuddyer and get what the Twins really need: offense and veteran presence, especially in the infield. Guys like Joe Randa and Rob Mackowiak are likely to be available, as they are having good seasons on bad teams. Whatever it the solution, something needs to happen.

Other than the offense and defense, the pitching wasn't too great either. Joe Mays continued the trend of not-so-good starting pitching, though the bullpen had a very productive night. Beyond that, what more can I say? Its embarrasing to watch the Twins beat themselves and be content playing with guys that do not show the patience at the plate or the intelligent decision making abilities that are so key to winning, especially for the pitching-based Twins. Its time to make a move. Trade Lohse, Cuddyer, or Mays and get the Twins what they need soon, before any hopes of making the playoffs fade.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Fading Fast

I'm starting to get pretty down on the Twins. Their deficit in the AL Central has now grown to 9 games, they've lost 5 of 6, and they just don't seem to really be trying all that hard to get it going, as evidenced by a lackadaisical 7-2 defeat tonight at the hands of Jeremy Bonderman and the Tigers. What the Twins really needed in this home set against Detroit was a sweep to get back on track, and that goal is now already out of sight. At this point, all they can hope to do is pull themselves together and win the series. And they need to do that, because the White Sox and Indians (and Tigers, perhaps) are simply not going to let up.

Paradise Lost

Aloha all. I returned from Hawaii yesterday, but the news has not exactly been favorable in Twins Territory since my absence. The Twins haven't been playing well, while the first-place White Sox and third-place Indians have both been winning and winning. The Sox have now built a daunting 8-game lead, and Cleveland (the team which most people picked before the season as the one to give the Twins a run for their money in this division) have snuck up from behind and are just a couple games out of knocking the Twins down to third. These are distressing trends, to be sure. It's too early to panic, and we're still very much in the thick of the Wild Card race, but 8 games is a lot of ground to make up, even over half a season. I know, I know... we've done it before. But let's face it; this White Sox team is not going away. They are a good team, and their pitching is good enough to win games where they don't get much run support (Rob Neyer recently wrote an article for discussing the Sox' 9-11 record in games where they score 3 or less runs, which is the best in the AL).

I don't know how likely it is that the Twins will be able to capture a fourth straight division title. Right now the need is just to concentrate on playing good baseball and regaining some ground, and that needs to start with a win over the Tigers tonight.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Needed Recovery

Upon reading the paper this morning, I discovered that there is a big figure amongst the Twins that agrees with me about their recent troubles: Ron Gardenhire. Now, that's not to say that he thinks we should jettison Terry Mulholland, but he does sees the major problems the Twins offense has been facing. On Friday, after the Twins pulled out a extra-innings victory over the Padres, Gardenhire held a team meeting in which he pleaded with his hitters to be more patient at the plate and to try and use all the fields; in other words, to hit to their abilities. Apparently, they heard none of it, as Brian Lawrence and finesse lefty Darrell May mowed down the Twins batters on consecutive nights this weekend.

Basically, such defeats proved Gardenhire's, and in a way, my own points about the Twins offensive problems. They cannot handle good pitches that change the eye-level i.e. change-ups, sinkers, etc. Why is this? Because, most of our hitters are free-swingers (Hunter, even Morneau) who try and pull all the pitches they say. Now, for a guy like Hunter, he can actually be somewhat successful doing this, but that is not a method to be passed along to our other young hitters.

The bigger problem is that the Twins have no easy way out. They cannot make majors trades since they have no real financial flexibility the way the Yankees or Red Sox do. So, they cannot just send down the players have problems, because they have no one to replace them that would do much better. Basically, they are stuck with what they have. So, I think they have one larger option: A new hitting coach. The basic idea, as silly as it sounds, is that sometimes hitters or players respond differently when a new guy says the same thing the other guy did before. It happens all the time in baseball. Look at alot of the success stories. Its all in approach, since its different for all players. With all the problems, I think that is the Twins best option at this point. Sorry Scotty Ulger, but you gotta go.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Santana falters as the Twins lose more ground

Today, I had high hopes. Our ace, Johan Santana, was taking the mound. Surely, he would be the one to put a stop to all the problems our starters have had recently. For the first six innings, I was right. He gave up only the one run until the seventh, were the San Diego Padres jump all over him for four runs, as Santana gave up a bases-clearing double to seldom-used ultility player Damion Jackson. Worse, Santana didn't strike out any batters after the second, instead walking four. He was mediocre at best for a pitcher who has done so well. Its not the Johan has no room to falter, but that he should have dominated a lineup that for the most part had never seen his incredible change-up.

It was a very dissapointing end to an ugly homestand that saw the Twins fall to the Giants and the Padres after a near-sweep by the Dodgers, who now are on a six game losing streak. In all, in their last nine games, the Twins have loss six and now are seven and a half games behind the White Sox and only a game in front of the fast approaching Indians. Its almost useless to point out the problems the Twins had today, since they are the same as they have been all-week, except worse.

Against Darrell May, the floundering left-hander who was left go by the Royals, the Twins managed a pathetic three hits and one run off of Matthew LeCroy's home-run in the fifth. After that, the Padres bullpen (which is, unlike the Giants bullpen, actually very good) shut the Twins down, giving up only one hit. Other than LeCroy's homer, Stewart, Williams, and Ford all collected hits, but never put anything together. It was simply a weak effort all around. No patience amongst our hitters against a guy like May, who was 9-19 last year with Royals, who has been a batting practice pitcher in seemingly half of the other games he pitches. Its just like losing to Mike Maroth, a similar soft-throwing lefty. For some reason, the Twins have a major problem against such lefty finesse pitchers, like say Kenny Rogers or David Wells. And, like Radke's first inning woes, that has yet to been solved. I would think with all those problems, Ullger would have thought of something by now, but he seems to be a hitting coach content with his hitters being fooled by pitchers they should tee off on.

Needless to say, there is no excuse. The Twins looked terrible and they need to get it together. After an off today tommorow, they go on a road and start a three-game series against the Tigers before finishing up interleague play against the Brewers. They need to sweep the Tigers and get back in order against a mediocre team with a weaker overall pitching staff. More on this tommorow.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Radke, Bullpen Falter

Tonight was just an overall bad night for the Twins. Usually, we have seen offensive wooes, but those were joined by pitching problems, as starter Brad Radke and the bullpen lightweights Matt Guerrier and Terry Mulholland allowed a 7-2 San Diego victory. As the Twins have lost six of their last nine games, the starting pitching has had an ERA north of 6 as they have been beyond mediocre. Radke left early and had troubles with a sore neck that may cause him to miss his next start. Now, San Diego starter Brian Lawrence has been seen as an ace and a big starter in his career, so a good night can be expected, but Radke was not up to par again, this time walking two hitters (thats a Radke no-no) while giving up three runs on seven hits in five innings. Those are not the numbers expected from a ace or veteran and especially Radke. Granted, we shouldn't expect Radke to give up a total of ten walks all year, but its entirely possible. He just shouldn't walk two batters in five innings; that's not his game. But, the bullpen didn't give the Twins much of a chance either, as little-used Guerrier gave up two runs, as did Mulholland. (But I expect that out of Mulholland, who now has a staff high 5.13 ERA and a 11.57 ERA in the past seven games. Time to drop him) With the pitching staff faltering, the offense did not pick them up either.

The Twins offense managed only seven hits, including two from Torii Hunter, who had a good night scoring a run and stealing his 16th base in a great effort early that manufactured a run. (He may have a 30-30 season this year. That would be impressive) The RBIs came from Joe Mauer's single and Lew Ford's sacrifice fly. Otherwise the output was little or none. Justin Morneau, who had a great night last night, wasn't terrible going 0 for 2, but seems to now did nothing one night and then have decent output the following night.

Inconsistency is certainly not what the Twins expected or need from Morneau, especially with White Sox's non-stop run on top the AL Central. With their win tonight, they are now 6 and a half games in front of the Twins. It may be only June, but the Twins need to make some serious moves soon if they expect to contend. They cannot continue to lean on their pitching, as tonight and other loses as of late have shown. They need offense; they need a real cleanup hitter; and they need to shore up their infield that has been decimated by injuries. That or maybe they could drop Mulholland and bring up Scott Baker or Travis Bowyer to shore up pitching as well (as Radke may miss his next start). Either way, the Twins need to start thinking of October, because they continue to make mistakes that playoff teams cannot make if they wish to make a serious run.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Another Extra-inningsThriller

Through his first week or so of being in the major leagues after 12 years of professional baseball, spending time in the Atlanta and Blue Jays systems before his move to Minnesota, Glenn Williams has had a large impact that couldn't have been easily forseen. Williams is 6 for 13 (a .462 average) since his call-up to replace Terry Tiffee. His game-winning single off of Dennys Reyes in the 11th tonight was his first major-league RBI and his biggest hit so far. After spending so much time on the backburner, Williams seems to have finally broken the streak against him. So has Luis Rodriguez (who after tonight's 2 for 5 perfomance is hitting a club-high .349), another long-time minor leager who has come up to the Twins club to make an impact at the perfect moment. Having such great replacements come out of nowhere is a testament to the Twins scouting, who seem toable to pick the right guys out of everyone else's minor league system.

But besides those surprises, it was a good win the Twins had to fight for. They went up 3-0 after a two-run first and a second inning Michael Cuddyer homer. They were down quickly, though, after Carlos Silva had an autrocious third inning in which he gave up four runs and plenty of hits; clearly an inning that could have been much worse. Other than that, it was the usual for Silva: 7 and 1/3 innings, 11 hits, four runs, four Ks, and a walk. (That makes five on the year for Carlos in 87 innings) He did settle down after the third, shouting down the Padres offense. (Silva now has reached the eight inning in all but one start this year. Having an inning-eater like that is incredibly valuable to the team)

After that, the Twins bullpen went to work, shutting down the Padres as well. Even the always-terrible Mulholland managed to have a inning without a run-scoring fest. Sadly, the win did not go to Jesse Crain this time, but to Juan Rincon, who pitched two good innings with three Ks before the Twins won it in the 11th. That, of course, wouldn't have been possible without Torii Hunter or Justin Morneau. Hunter, who didn't do too much during the game other than driving in the first run on a sacrifice, got a single off of reliever Akinori Otsuka in eight and once again, took over the basepaths to set himself in scoring position. If there is one great positive about Hunter's offense, its his aggressiveness on the bathpaths. By getting into scoring position, he set up Justin Morneau's run-scoring single that tied the game and gave the Twins the chance to pull the game out. However, Morneau would turn out to be the hero again in the 11th.

After a leadoff walk to Lew Ford, Morneau hit a double off of Reyes to put men on second and third with no out. After intentionally walking Cuddyer, who had hit the homer in the 2nd, Williams preceded to knock a single over the shortstop to win the game in extra. The only negative is that the White Sox wiped out the Dodgers in a 6-0 victory, so the Twins did not gain any ground with the win. However, hopefully it sets a pace after the Twins have lost several very close games in the recent weeks.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Mulholland Again

Well, I guess I have to repeat myself: Terry Mulholland is useless. He has nothing left. Everytime you put him on the mound, your asking for a seven-run defecit. Sure, Nathan's control wasn't there, but I'd rather see Romero out there than old man Mulholland. Lets see, he allowed all inherited runners to score, gave up three hits, two walks, all in 2/3 of an inning while inflating Nathan's ERA to 3.81. Thanks Terry. Now Nathan loses some of his chances in going to the all-star game. Oh, but worse, WE LOST! Again! Because of you! Chicago had an off day today after going 1-2 versus the Diamondbacks. We have had so many opportunities to catch up to Chicago, yet we are still five games behind. Why? Bad decisions like keeping Mulholland on the team and of course, our inability to hit other over-40 pitchers like Jeff Fassero, who struck out four Twins tonight. That's just pathetic. We lost 2 of 3 to the terrible Giants, who had lost 15 of 18 coming in, in our homepark. There's not much to really say more about it. We did get our hits, seven runs total off of Brett Tomko, but couldn't get runs off a meager Giants bullpen again. And to top it off, our bullpen failed us and we made several costly errors. So, yea its not all Mulholland's fault, but with the game on the line, what the hell is he doing pitching?

So, what did we all do wrong? Of course there's Mulholland. Then, there are Nathan's three walks in the ninth that set-up the hit fest off of old man. Then there is the three unearned runs for Joe Mays, caused by two costly errors by recent call-up Glenn Williams and Shannon Stewart, who failed to make a easy catch that must of got in the lights. Williams also made another rookie mistake, as he got caught stealing home in the late innings. And Jones again, in the eigth, bobbled a ball and failed to make a good throw to prevent a run that tied the game. Of course, the aggressiveness is ok, but errors once again proved to be costly for the Twins. They need to catch the ball, especially when their pitchers are getting knocked around by nobodies in Giant uniforms. There was, as always, a few standouts in the mix. Joe Mauer did hit his sixth homer in the first, a two-run blast. Justin Morneau went 3 for 4 with 2 RBIs in a good offensive night. Lew Ford went 2 for 4 with his own three-run homer (with two outs nonetheless. Its amazing because all of Lew Ford's homers have been with two outs and all have been for three runs. The exception is, of course, that the others won those games for the most part) and Michael Cuddyer and Luis Rodriguez also had two hits a piece. But it was not enough to make up for a rough start for Mays, costly errors, and the disgraceful performances of Nathan and Mulholland in the ninth.

Simply put, it was an ugly loss. And the Twins will have to get it together before the face the young Padres team this weekend, which includes a wonderful pitching matchup between Johan Santana and Padres ace Jake Peavy on Sunday. Unfortunately, it will not be on FSN. They too, it seems, screwed up big for Twins fans.

* One positive note: Gifted left-handed pitching prospect Fransisco Liriano was promoted to Triple-A after going 3-5 with a 3.64 ERA and 26 walks and 92 Ks in 76 and a third innings at Double-AA ball in New Britain. Liriano, who was acquired with Nathan and Boof Boonser in the A.J. deal in 2003, is a 21-year old with a great fastball that hits 97, a slider, and a change. (Sound familiar?) As with Johan, the Twins want to work with Liriano to use his change more in order to be effective and to gain more command with all his pitches. Hopefully, they'll have the same success as this young man is filled with talent. Bet on seeing him late this year, especially after with expanded rosters in September.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Lohse, Romero can't take of the Giants

For a pitching staff that has gotten and earned an awful lot of praise this year, they looked pretty bad against a meager, pathetic San Fransisco team. Before coming to the Metrodome Tuesday, the Giants put two more players, third baseman Edgardo Alfonzo and outfielder Marquis Grissom, on the 15-day disabled list. Without Alfonzo, Grissom, or Bonds, who is still rehabing his knee, the Giants have had to fill all sorts of holes in their lineup and rotation with rookies and Triple-A regulars. Looking at the names--Linden, Ellison, Cruz--the only hitters with some power are Moises Alou, Ray Durham, and Pedro Feliz. Despite this, the Twins and mainly Kyle Lohse managed to lose 8-4 tonight. I was at the game and I felt the whole time that we should be beating this team left and right, but Lohse had a Radke-esque first inning, allowing four runs, before settling down for the next six and J.C. Romero allowed a ninth-inning homer to Omar Vizquel.

Lohse, whose recent success has been due to a changed approach and selection of pitching, didn't seem to have the same mentality to begin the game. He wasn't going after hitters with his two-seamer, trying to get ground balls and following the success of teammate Carlos Silva. Instead, he reverted to the old Lohse for the first and third innings and only showed his new approach in the other innings. Its the same frustrating inconsistency he has shown since his call up in 2001. Sometimes it seems that its impossible to convince Lohse that what he is doing isn't working and that, in fact, most major league hitters can handle his fastball easily and that he may be problematic for coaches to work with. I say this mainly because he is surrounded by similar pitchers, like Silva, Mays, and Radke who know (besides Radke's first inning woes) how to use their abilities to their advantage. With such influences, Lohse should have figured out how to use his gifts consistently.

Other than Lohse struggles, there was some other frustrating plays. Jacque Jones' play in the first that allowed two runs to score was a bad fundamental play for two reasons: For one, the throw was bad following a misplay of the Tucker flyball, as he did not hit the cutoff man, allowing Tucker to go to third and another run to score. He also did not approach the line drive from the right angle, diving and missing it instead of cutting the angle and getting it back to the infield. If he had done so, he could have made a good throw and prevented a run or maybe two. Instead, Tucker came in and four runs had come across in a quick and ugly first.

Otherwise, it was the usual from the offense: Some good timely hits, but too many misses and an inability to knock anything off the horrible Giants bullpen. Joe Mauer and Shannon Stewart both had good games, getting two hits each, and Mauer look very well, hitting the ball hard to the opposite field and rapping two doubles off of Giants starter Noah Lowry. Other than that, it was Torii Hunter's two-run, line-drive homer in the fourth that gave the Twins their four runs. But, like their hitting against Foppert last night, for Lowry's lack of control and the ineffectiveness of the Giants' bullpen this year, they should have scored a lot more.

Out of all our hitters, Justin Morneau looked the worse, weakly popping out to the outfield and ending a rally with a weak double-play grounded directly to the shortstop. He is just not getting done at all, as he simply cannot adjust to outside pitching. Someone needs to get to this guy and let him know to use his power in ways other than trying to pull the ball all the time. Step into those outside fastballs the way a Jim Thome or Carlos Delgado does and use your strength to take it out the other way, Justin. I would love to see Morneau reach that level, because it would take our whole offense to the next level, as the lineup would be built around a power guy who could get good pitches for the guys around him. (As Bonds does for the Giants) Guys like Hunter and Ford, who live off of bad fastballs, would rack up RBIs left and right and the Twins could score a lot more runs and thus, take pressure off their pitching staff. That would the path to a good playoff run. Its not to say that our season rest on Morneau's shoulders, but he is certainly a wild-card that could make or break the season on the basis of whether or not he finally breaks out. Let's hope that tommorow's game, though not televised, looks a lot better than this. We should be able to knock Jason Schmidt around, as he has looked awful all year after two years of Cy Young contention for the Giants.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Stewart Saves it for Extra Again

Shannon Stewart seems to have a pension of saving his best hits for when the Twins really need them. So far this year, he has many game-winning homers and hits that have lead many to see him as the Twins best clutch hitter. He certainly showed that skilled tonight, as his single in the 11th of off Tyler Walker won the game for the Twins 4-3, as the White Sox lost big time to Arizona again, 10-4. It was another game that seem to fall just off out the Twins' grasp, as Johan Santana was not his dominant self and the Twins lost many chances against Giants starter Josh Foppert, whose control was sporadic at best. It was classic Twins syndrome, as it seemed nearly every opportunity ended with a double-play or worse, a Torii Hunter strikeout. The runs came on a Micheal Cuddyer home-run that was nearly caught by Moises Alou and a strange sixth inning that contained some bad plays by the Giants infield. At the end of the game, the Twins were lucky to have won. Santana nearly gave up more runs, if not for the foolish decision to let Yorvit Torrealba swing away instead of buntin with two on and no outs in the fourth.

Of course, the Twins were also guilty of some embarrassing decisions. Michael Cuddyer's first-inning error didn't harm the Twins, but was unpleasant to watch, as it was a simple, routine grounder that he made a rookie mistake on. And Johan Santana almost made two errors to take away from his great play in the second, as he misplayed a bunt by Deivi Cruz that would later lead to a run.

But despite those problems, the Twins usual heroes emerged at the right times. Santana settled down and pitched four scoreless innings before Juan Rincon and Joe Nathan stepped in to do the same. But it was Jesse Crain who took the hill in the 11th and picked up the victory, the sixth of the year for him, all coming in extra-innings games. That leads all relievers so far and is one of many impressive stats for the best middle-reliever in the AL so far. Of all in the bullpen, I think Crain deserves a All-Star nomination this year. (ESPN's Phil Rodgers agrees) He has allowed a .152 opponents batting average, a 0.67 ERA, and seven holds to go along with those six wins in relief. Along with Nathan and Santana, whose breakout years in 2004 should get them nominations as well, Crain deserves to be there.

Besides the efforts of Crain and Stewart to win the game, Cuddyer, despite his ugly play, went 3 for 5 with a HR and scored the winning run after leading off the 11th with a single. Stewart's hit, which came with two outs, was proof that when the Twins play to their abilities, that is, fundamentals, they win often. As the Twins were able to move Cuddyer into scoring position for their clutch hitter, they were able to score. The keys of a good running game, timely hitting, contact over free-swinging, and of course, good pitching is what will win the Twins a playoff spot this year.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Missed Opportunties over the Weekend

In the past week, the Twins could have gone a long winning streak. That's because all the loses they have had have been by one run. Since May 31st, when the Twins lost 4-3 to Cleveland, every loss has been by one run. So, with that in mind, the Twins could have a 12-game winning streak right now and be right on the backs of Chicago. So what has caused all these defeats? Hitting difficulties and missed opportunities. The loss against the Yankees had plenty of examples, as did the loss against Arizona, but the two losses against the Dodgers this weekend have had it all. Pitchers giving up gopherballs and basically letting themselves get beat by the easiliy beatable Hee Seop Choi. J.C. Romero easily struck him out on inside fastballs in Saturday's victory, so why couldn't our other pitchers take this approach instead of giving him easy fastballs and weak breaking pitches to hit. But more so, were the problems with hitting. The Twins had perfect chances all weekend. Just look at last night:

* In the second, when the Twins did score two, they had a chance to score a lot more, with the bases loaded and no outs

* In the third, with Lew Ford on third and one out, the Twins' sluggers Justin Morneau and Torii Hunter failed to make contact, both weakly striking out and not showing the patience so key to their success

* In the fourth, with Mauer on third and Micheal Cuddyer on second and one out, once against both hitters failed to make any contact, those hitters being Juan Castro and Brad Radke

* In the sixth, with Jacque Jones on third and Mauer on second and one out against, the same two hitters came up and a similar result came: Castro struck out again and Radke popped out (at least he made contact)

* And in the seventh, with Ford on second and one out, Morneau and Hunter were due up again and the result? Morneau popped out to second and Hunter struck out

So basically, the Twins wasted opportunity after opportunity by mainly striking out. And those are simple situations were all the hitter has to be is make contact. Not even a hit, but just contact to the outfield or the right side of the infield. And worse of all, as I mentioned last night, this was against Houlton, a pitcher who has been incredibly hittable ever since he's been in the majors. Its not like in these games, the Twins were facing any Cy Young candidates. From Penny to Wang to Houlton to Vazquez, the Twins had plenty of chances. (To be fair, the loss Friday was to Eric Gagne and it was, after all, Mulholland who surrendered that ugly home-run)

I can't stress it enough, but its time the Twins focus in on those hitting basics and that comes down the hitting coach. These guys need to learn to be more selective and to make contact. We can't have them always striking out or grounding in to double-plays (Cuddyer) when our hitters come into no outs or one out, runners on situations. They need to do the things winning teams do: Drive in the runs whatever way possible and they need to start now, because this is a team with the talent to go to the playoffs. So come on, Ulger, earn your pay and get these guys together so we can watch our team due something in October.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Choi crushes Radke, Twins

Hee Seop Choi, who hit a game-winning homer off of old man Mulholland on Friday, crushes the Twins spirits again tonight as he hit not one, but three home-runs off of Twins starter Brad Radke. Radke, who is now notorious for his first-inning problems, also showed off his pension for giving up gopherballs. Along with Choi's three solo home-runs, J.D. Drew also hit a homer off of Radke. The only really impressive stat for Radke was his seven strikeouts, but it was dissapointing to also see him walk a Dodgers batter. The positive is, of course, that Radke didn't give up any homers with men on, but he gave up four, so that hurts the Twins no matter what. Of course, the game wasn't lost simply on the count of Radke's mediocre start.

The Twins offense never really took off. There were plenty of positives along the way, as Joe Mauer 2 for 3 with a SB after being moved to the third spot, as Gardenhire switched up the batting order with Lew Ford replacing Shannon Stewart as the lead-off hitter. Torii Hunter and Jacque Jones continued to hit well in June, as Jones went 2 for 4 with an RBI and two doubles, bringing his hitting-streak to 12 games, and Hunter went 1 for 3 with two runs scored. But the Twins should have managed more hits and runs against D.J. Houlton, who came into the game with an ERA over six and a opponent batting average approaching .400. The meager offense proved that the Twins cannot always depend on pitching to win. They have to score runs as well, especially against a pitcher like Houlton.

With the White Sox winning again, the Twins lost ground again. I realize its June, but things need to change in more than a few ways if the Twins are serious about making a run for the playoffs. Scott Ulger either needs to get fired or start acting like a productive hitting coach. We need a more mature version of Justin Morneau to balance the lineup; we need a consistent Torii Hunter; we need a Michael Cuddyer who shows the power he's always been capable of. And Brad Radke really needs to work on the first inning and his consistent ability to give up the gopherball.

With an off-day tommorow, I'll discuss this issue further before the Twins begin an interesting series at home against the Bond-less San Fransisco Giants.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Turnaround Victory

After two straight nights of close games and bad loses, the Twins pulled it together tonight. And good thing, because the White Sox lost. Justin Morneau, who's been kept quiet as of late, was the driving force in the win, driving in four runs with a home run off of Dodgers starter Derek Lowe in third and a two-run single in the first. It was a classic Twins victory in all forms; the Twins had two double plays, got a quality start from their starting pitcher (Carlos Silva), good fielding, and of course, a few timely big hits. There wasn't any real negatives in this game, as everyone did what they were good at in order to gain a victory.

Here's a summary of the game in full:

* Joe Nathan picked up his 18th save this with a great ninth in which he struck out two dodgers and threw 11 strikes out of 15 pitches. That's a large improvement in control over the past few weeks and seemingly a return to the All-Star form of Nathan we've grown so accustomed to in Minnesota

* Torii Hunter also had a homer, giving him 10 on the year and the lead on the team. Hunter now has a .277 average, 10 HRs and 39 RBIs. The vast improvement in June has been exciting to watch and has been a big boost for the Twins, who despite being behind the White Sox, have one of the best records in the majors

* Recent call-up Glenn Williams went 2 for 4, giving him three hits so far in his five major league at-bats he has had. Williams seems to have appeared out of nowhere to provide the Twins with some help off the bench when they desperately needed it. It just shows the incredible depth of the Twins' farm system, as most fans had never really heard much about Williams until he was called up to replace Terry Tiffee this week

* Luis Rodriguez also continues to swing a hot bat since his call up, going 3 for 4 tonight and bringing his average to .367. He has been a significant upgrade over Luis Rivas and has shown the ability to make consistent contact in the toughest situations. I just hope the Twins keep this guy on the team, cause he has certainly earned his spot

* J.C. Romero also looked very impressive in relief, going two innings with four strikeouts and an all-important no walks. His breaking ball has been simply nasty this year. Now its just a matter of consistent control for Romero. Maybe he should talk to his fellow pitchers, who happen to have the best control in the majors (Or maybe he did. Now that would be a smart move!)

Friday, June 10, 2005

Mulholland Failes

Its just that simple. Terry Mulholland is a useless pitcher and I cannot for the life of me figure out why this guy is on a team that is trying to get into the playoffs. He has nothing! Sure, he has a few tricks up his sleeves, some good breaking stuff, but no fastball. He might hit 86 on a good night and he isn't Jamie Moyer or Greg Maddox, folks. Maybe he can do his little routine on a team that isn't going anywhere, like Colorado or Tampa, but Minnesota? Come on guys, save that spot for someone more deserving. Like, say, call up Travis Bowyer, who is considered a top relief prospect for the Twins. What happens when Mulholland comes on in a close, tight came and needs to make a good pitch? He makes one and it goes over the fence. Pathetic. He is NOT a big-game pitcher anymore. He cannot handle it. Why wasn't Romero or Nathan in there? We are out in Los Angelos and we are trying to gain on the White Sox, who are still at it. We cannot afford to lose games like this at all. Especially not ones where we throw old man out there in the 9th against Eric Gagne to try and keep a game alive. Plain and simple. He needs to be out. Give the Mariners their dollar back, cause that wasn't a dollar well spent.

In other notes:

* Joe Mays didn't have a great start, but two of the five runs he allowed were unearned, caused by a terrible defensive effort by the Twins. Some of our best defenders made critical mistakes, including Jacque Jones, Joe Mauer, and Juan Castro. As much as Mulholland's lack of pitching irks me, so does the defensive effort that has not been consistent when it needs to be.

* For the third straight game, Jacque Jones had a homer. However, he only went 1 for 4 and he did have an ugly bobble in the outfield.

* Joe Mauer did collect two hits, as did Shannon Stewart, who had two doubles. Those are two key hitters who have been a little cold lately, so hopefully that will heat up their bats at the opportune moment.

* To his credit, Joe Mays went 1 for 3 went a single. Twins pitchers have done good hitting so far, as Radke had a solid bunt and Mays and Santana got solid hits.

* However, this should have been the Twins' game. The knocked up Dodgers starter Brad Penny for five runs in six innings and lost this game for two reasons: Bad defense and Terry Mulholland. Both of these items need to be remedied quickly.

Thursday, June 09, 2005


Unlike last night's game, which seemed to be perfect and a game in which all the elements came together for the Twins, tonight's game was a failure on many accounts. Matthew LeCroy proved to be a failure as a pinch hitter, looking pathetic against 92 mph "heat" right down the middle. If LeCroy can't even handle fastballs, I can no longer see his use on the team. He is, however, just one of the many offensive problems the Twins had. They were lucky to manage three runs, as they only had five hits all night. Two of those hits were home runs, one off the bat of Jacque Jones (his second straight night with a two-run homer driving in Torii Hunter) and another for Justin Morneau. Morneau's was his first since May 17th and was a blast to center field. But, alas, don't get your hopes up too much Twins fans. Morneau's homer was off a pitch in his sweet spot. For some reason, Vazquez throw him a middle-in fastball that came back over the plate, just like Morneau likes. It wasn't a well-placed fastball on the outside corner, like so many have been to Morneau lately. He still has yet to show he can handle those tough pitches. Its nice to see the power, but Morneau has a lot to improve on still. And the rest of Twins offense looked pretty meager against Vazquez, who has been fairly hittable most of the year.

Shannon Stewart and Joe Mauer both went 0 for 4, as Mauer continues to struggle at the plate, with his average now down to .287. We have come to expect a lot of Mauer, but for a guy who has such a sweet swing, he also needs to get back in the groove quick. Lew Ford, who was swinging a good bat coming into the series, finally got an at-bat, but not until the 9th, hitting a two-out single that put Cuddyer in scoring position before LeCroy screwed up big. Hunter's hitting streak ended, as he went 0 for 3 in a bad night all around for the Twins. Starter Kyle Lohse also didn't look as good as he has lately.

He managed to settle down in the later innings, but not until he had surrendered four runs. He seemed to fall back into his same old problems, not using his best pitches to try and induce groundballs with men on, allowing several runs to score that he wouldn't have allowed in recent starts where he has been focusing on utlizing his two-seamer as much as possible. Lohse is still doing better, but it wasn't his best start all year.

The nicest thing about tonight is that the Twins nearly did pull out a win, if not for LeCroy, and that Jones continued his great hitting and recent power surge. Let's hope that carries into the exciting series with the Dodgers this weekend. It will be the first meeting of these two teams since 1965, when Koufax shut the Twins out to win the series.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

D-Back Destruction

Tonight was the last Twins game I will be able to watch in a pretty long while, and boy did they go out on a good note. The Twins crushed the Diamondbacks 10-0. You may have noticed that we tend to be a bit cynical, but for perhaps the first time this season, this is a game in which I can find nothing to complain about. The pitching was brilliant and every starter had a hit (including Mr. Santana).

Johan was in Cy Young form tonight. He tossed a complete game shutout, allowing only 4 singles. He struck out 9 and walked none. He improved his record on the year to 7-2 and lowered his ERA to 3.31.

The Twins offense continued to scorch in the Arizona desert. Unlike a typical big offensive day for this team, they did not score all their runs in a couple big innings. Instead, they spread the scoring out over the entire game, scoring in every inning but the 1st, 4th, and 9th. Jacque Jones hit his 7th home run of the season, a 2-run shot off D-Backs starter Claudio Vargas in the second inning with one on. Torii Hunter continued with his excellent hitting, going 1/3 with an RBI. Joe Mauer had a pair of hits and a pair of RBI. Shannon Stewart went 3/4.

I've got to say that I've been very impressed by Juan Castro. He went 2/4 tonight with a couple RBI, and made a tremendous play in the field. Castro is batting .269 with 3 HR and 13 RBI this year. While he doesn't show exceptional patience at the plate, he has struck out only 16 times in 108 at-bats, which is not bad (it's about the same percentage as Mauer). If he can continue to hit around .270 and keep up with the consistent work in the field, he is going to turn out to be a pretty serviceable starting shortstop, which is more than I ever gave him credit for coming into this season.

Early tomorrow morning I leave for Hawaii, where I will be for 11 days. I'll do my best to keep up with the Twins while I'm there, but during my absence posts will be handled by my associate Mr. Mosvick, who no doubt will keep things moving smoothly in my absence. Great win for the Twins, and good luck tomorrow as they look for the sweep Arizona and then in the following series against the Dodgers and the Padres. Seeya in a couple weeks!

-Nick N.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Hunter hits big again

Torii Hunter once again pratically won a game for the Minnesota Twins. He didn't have an amazing catch, but he did everything else. Every rally was started by something Hunter did. In the fourth, he put the Twins on the board with a two-out 426 ft. blast to center field after a another bad first-inning by Brad Radke had left the Twins down by 4. Then, in the sixth, he came out swinging again, leading off with a double and ended up scoring the second run of the game and starting the rally that tied the score at 5. The next inning, he did it again, crushing a weak Matt Herges fastball to the left-field seats for another solo homer. What followed was aggressive hitting from everyone, as Jacque Jones and Matt LeCroy nearly knocked balls out and Michael Cuddyer did, with a two-run home-run to a similar spot. But Hunter's work wasn't done yet. After the Diamondbacks tied it up again with a three-run homer from pinch-hitter Tony Clark off of Juan Rincon, Hunter started the 9th with a single off of Arizona reliever Jose Valverde. The following events were not so pretty, but Hunter's hustle won the day in the end. As he tried to steal second, Valverde made a bad throw to second, going into the outfield. Hunter tried for more, but then tried to get back. He was clearly out, but Alex Cintron was not able to tag him, as he thought Hunter was still going for third. Following the error, Hunter was driven in by a Jones single, hustling in and making a nice slide at home for the Twins' 9th and winning run. Joe Nathan had a good ninth, showing improvement in his command and hitting 97 mph on the radar gun as he blew Luis Gonzalez away (who was 3 for 3 with 2 HRs off Nathan coming in) and had Troy Glaus flailing away before he popped out on a cutter to end the game.

So at the end of a crazy game, it was Hunter who pretty much won it for the Twins. That's impressive since Hunter had such a bad beginning of the season. He is now hitting .280 with 9 HRs and 36 RBIs, leading the team in HRs and RBIs now. If he can hit .270 with 25 or more HRs and close to 100 RBIs, I think that would be a good year for Hunter. But as he seeing the ball really good right now, the key for Hunter is to not let himself fall right back into his free-swinging problems and go right after whatever pitchers offer. The problem is so many of his hits come on first-pitches lately, and for that matter, mostly bad first-pitch fastballs. The homer off Estes was a bad breaking-ball, but Hunter still needs to adjust to the kind of good breaking pitches pitchers have long been able to get Hunter out with. The key for Hunter, though, has been his ability to play with pain. He has a seperation in his left shoulder, bone chips in his elbow, a broken toe, and other unnamed problems. Hunter continues to play, which shows good leadership. Hopefully, that can be an example for others (Morneau, even Mauer) to follow.

Other than Hunter, the Twins had an interesting game overall.

* Brad Radke continued to have major problems in the first inning. He now has a 11.77 ERA in the first inning and that's unacceptable. The problem is that its not a fluke, but a consistent problem for Radke. He just can't get out of the first. He needs to take advice from Anderson and use all his pitches in the first. The problem is that hitters know he's vulnerable in the first, so they come out swinging and against a guy like Radke, who doesn't have lots of velocity but tons of control and is going to be around the plate, that can be bad. So, he needs to mix in his change and curve alot more into his first-inning pitch selection to be successful.

* Glenn Williams, who was called up to replace the struggling Terry Tiffee and help out at first, had his first major league hit on the first pitch he saw in the majors, getting an infield off of Shawn Estes off of Estes' hand. (Which caused Estes to leave the game)

* Cuddyer went 1 for 3, but most importantly beyond his third homer this year was his two walks, as Cuddyer was a lot more patient. That's a good sign for Cuddyer, who can get into the same problems as Hunter. (Though it should be noted that Cuddyer's homer also was off of Herges, who looked just terrible tonight)

* Jones went 2 for 5 with the winning RBI, raising his average to .293. After a fall in May following a great April, Jones is now on a seven-game hitting streak (as is Hunter) and is heating up again at just the right time

* Nathan's 17th save ties him for the major-league lead with the Cardinals' Jason Isringhausen. Despite his recent struggles, Nathan should be a lock for the All-Star team, along with last year's Cy Young, Johan Santana

Monday, June 06, 2005

An Encouraging Weekend

The Twins took 2 of 3 against the Yankees at the Metrodome over the weekend, and could have easily swept the series if not for a tough loss on Saturday night. Now, while beating the Yanks this season is clearly not the same kind of accomplishment it has been over the past decade, the series still has to be seen as a huge success. Here are some reasons why:

Makeshift offense comes through
The Yankees pitching this year is not good, no doubt about that, and the Twins avoided having to face Randy Johnson in this series. Nonetheless, the guys they did face certainly were no walk in the park. Mike Mussina perennially dominates the Twinks, Chien-Ming Wang is a promising guy who has New York fans very excited, and Kevin Brown is a former Cy Young winner. The Twins' offense was without three of its top OBP guys for the entire series, with Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau both ailing and Nick Punto on the DL. Shannon Stewart, the best hitter on the team, was not in the lineup on Sunday. Taking all of that into acocunt, a guy can't be blamed for thinking the offense would struggle this weekend. Well, aside from Saturday's game in which they got all three runs on a Jacque Jones homer and didn't do much else, the hitting was pretty impressive. This team seems to have some depth and that is a key characteristic for a club making a playoff run.

The starting pitching!
While the Yanks' pitching is down this year, this is still one of the top offenses in the league without question. You just can't downplay a roster with a $200 million payroll and featuring names like Rodriguez, Sheffield, and Jeter. The fact is that there is not a single bad hitter in their lineup, even the young second-baseman Robinson Cano is showing some serious ability. The Twins' staff performed admirably. I was particularly impressed with Kyle Lohse. I notched Friday night's game as a big test for him... it was nice that he was able to string together a few good starts against mediocre offenses, but if he could hold his own against the Bronx Bombers, I would truly believe he has turned a new leaf. Kyle did just that. After getting hit hard early, he uncharacteristically was able to settle down and make outs. It wasn't a fantastic start by statistical standards, but for those who watched it, it was a very nice sight to see.

Take a look at these stats from Joe Mays, who was again impressive on Saturday night:
2005: 3-2, 3.59 ERA, .264 OBA, Groundball/Flyball ratio: 1.21
2001: 17-13, 3.16 ERA, .235 OBA, Groundball/Flyball ratio: 1.28
Take away a couple bad starts and Mays is pitching as well as he did in 2001 when he was an All-Star and the team ace. And right now he might be the worst pitcher in the rotation. That says something about how incredibly good this team's starters are.

The emergence of Brent Abernathy
You have to love the way this kid plays. I know it's a cliche, but he plays the game hard every minute. The Twins needed some kind of production from him with both Punto and Luis Rivas on the DL, and Brent has answered the call. He busted out on Friday night with a couple of important walks and a rally-inducing solo home run, and went 1/4 with a sac fly on Sunday. If this kid can show the ability to consistently perform at a Major League level, it would be a big plus for this club.

Mike Ryan's Sunday show
In his first start of the season, Mike Ryan gave evidence that he should be the left-handed pinch-hitter for this club. He turned in a very impressive 3/5 performance, including a somewhat controversial bases-loaded bunt that worked out and kept a rally going for the Twins.

Jacque and Torii step up
Jacque Jones and Torii Hunter both had very bad months of May, but both did some very good things at the plate in this series. Jacque went 6/12 in the series with 5 RBI, while Torii had a couple hits on Friday and then followed up with a hit on Saturday and a hit on Sunday. Jones has his average back up near .300. Hunter is still hitting .267, which ain't great... but it ain't .230 either.

The fans
I was at Friday night's game and it was like a playoff game. It was awesome to see the Dome so packed. They drew 41,000 that night, which I figured they wouldn't be able to top; but the next night they brought in 45,000. In total, the series had the highest attendance of any since 1992 for the Twins. Great to see.

The Twins head to Arizona for their first road interleague series, which means we will all get to see the hilarious spectacle of American League pitchers attempting to hit. Pinch-hitting becomes significantly more important in an NL stadium so hopefully Stewart and Mauer will be able to play so the Twins can add some bench depth.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Utterly Impressive

...Is all I can say to describe the performance by the Twins in this weekend's series against the New York Yankees, which was capped today with a 9-3 victory. The Yankees certainly aren't the same dynasty that they have been for the past decade, as they came to the Dome off a sweep at the hands of the lowly Royals and their pitching has been terrible, but this team still has some serious bats. The Twins sent out their numbers 3, 4, and 5 pitchers, and all of them pitched terrific games. Today, Carlos Silva tossed 7 strong innings, allowing 7 hits and just 2 runs. However, the blowout score was not necessarily indicative of how the game went. The Twins were down 2-0 going into the bottom of the 6th but then exploded for 5 runs thanks to some much-needed timely hitting. Up 5-2, JC Romero came in to start the 8th. The inning began with a ground ball to Matt LeCroy which he mishandled in what can only be described as an embarrassing error (that's actually how John Gordon announced it, and he typically isn't too hard on players). LeCroy CANNOT start games in the field, I think it has become pain-stakingly obvious. Gardy has got to learn this lesson, and fast. Following the misplay, Romero hit a batter to put runners on first and second. Romero proceeded to get ripped by Hideki Matsui for an RBI single. This brought the game within 2, and put runners on first and second with the almighty A-Rod stepping in. Bye-bye JC... nice outing. Enter Jesse Crain, who has been the Twins best reliever this season without much doubt. He would promptly get three outs and work the Twins out of a tough jam. Still, going into the bottom of the 8th, you have to think the Twins didn't feel too comfortable with a 2-run lead considering their closer's past against the Yankees. Well, Mr. Nathan would not be needed, as the Twins unloaded on New York's crappy bullpen for 4 more runs, turning a tight battle into a blowout.

More thoughts tomorrow on the series as a whole and why it was so impressive, and so important, that the Twins were able to take two out of three against the Yankees.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Nathan goes down again

Joe Nathan apparently has a problem getting saves against the Yankees, but tonight was not a save situation, but rather a bad managing play. Having extensively used the bullpen in the past few games, Gardenhire had only a few fresh arms left. With the game tied, he should have used Romero for more than the out he got in the eighth, though the lead was given back with Romero on the mound. He also, as soon as he got into the extra-innings, gone to a fresh arm. It was Nathan's third straight day out and for a guy who hasn't been the best against New York, it was a bad move. I am not suggesting that Mulholland be brought out, because he's a joke. But Gardenhire should use Matt Guerrier once-in-a-while. Who knows? Maybe he's a hidden Yankee-killer. Its unlikely, but he shouldn't bring out his closer in the 10th. And don't forget about Jesse Crain, who's been so great lately, but likely was tired about extensive use recently.

Otherwise, it was a game that the Twins should have won. But some bad late-managing and some defensive errors are what gave the game away. And the Twins also put on a meager offensive showing only helped by Jacque Jones' 3rd inning three-run jack off of New York rookie Chien-Ming Wang. Here's the breakdown:

* Terry Tiffee, besides a 0 for 4 day that brought him down to a .194 average, made a bad throwing error in the eight with the bases loaded. Brent Abernathy had already made a crucial mistake, dropping a throw for an error instead of securing a sure out, when Tiffee fielded a Matsui grounder, stepped on the bag before throwing home, and thus erased the force play and allowed rookie Robinson Cano to slide in safely. It was another example of the loss of the great Twins defense that support the last three years of AL Central Championships.

* Other than Lew Ford and Torii Hunter's singles before Jones' homer, the Twins had only three hits, two from Juan Castro. It was paltry hitting against a pitcher who doesn't exactly have a track record of being dominate. This is the major problem that continues to hold the Twins back from winning consistency and utilizing the great pitching they are getting.

* On that note, the Twins wasted an excellent start from Joe Mays, who went seven and a third innings, giving up four hits and two earned runs while walking two and striking out three. Mays is 3-2 with a 3.59 ERA season now and appears to be fully recovered. He has been a pleasant surprise for the Twins, along with Lohse and Silva, who now have given the Twins a very formidable starting rotation. Its just too bad the offense has been so bad, because with the recent run, the Twins should be close to, if not, ahead of the White Sox by now.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Injuries don't take away from Twins Victory

With the three injuries in yesterday's 13-inning fiasco with the Indians, the Twins figured to be tired and weary against the dominating Yankees this series. But Friday was all things the opposite. Our bullpen dominated the Yankees. The Twins hit more homers. The Twins, overall, took over the game. It was a pleasure to watch. There were, as always, some bad spots. Michael Cuddyer's pension for hitting into double plays continued, as he hit into two tonight and he now has done that 12 times this year. Cuddyer basically did the same thing at the bat all night, hitting it weakly to the left side. It may be again time to consider some platooning at third, as after a good May, Cuddyer has once again fallen into his old habits. And Hunter and Jones both made bad plays in the lights to create two hits for the Yankees. But that shouldn't take away too much for a generally great game the Twins played.

Kyle Lohse is the beacon for this success, as he did not give up today after a bad start. In the first, the Yankees had four hits, including a two-run home-run off the bat of Gary Sheffield. If not for a double-play, the Yankees would have had a few more. He ran into similar problems in the second and he gave up seven hits through three innings, but Lohse continued his progress as a pitcher by utilitizing his two-seamer again to induce ground balls and get double plays. That good pitching allowed him to get through six innings and he only gave up the three runs. After that, the best bullpen in the AL took over. Jesse Crain, who has allowed only one earned run so far in 22 innings this year, came in and dominated the heart of the Yankees order, striking out Derek Jeter on a nasty slider. Juan Rincon came in with a blazing fastball to fly through the eight and Joe Nathan look a lot better tonight as he picked up his 16th save of the year. In all, the bullpen threw 35 pitches, 21 strikes, walked none, struck out three, and gave up no hits against the Yankees. That's impressive, especially after the Cleveland game on Thursday. If there is any reason the Twins are 3 and 1/2 games behind the White Sox now, its their all-around great pitching.

With Lohse's start tonight, the Twins have gone through the rotation three times and have had all quality starts but one. Each starter has an ERA under four in that time period, with Carlos Silva leading the way, going 1-1 with a 1.88 ERA in his last three starts. And the bullpen is now tops in the AL in ERA with a budding closer in Jesse Crain. The only key now is offense and a few unlikely elements allowed for the win tonight.

For one, Brett Abernathy, who was just called up in the wake of Rivas' injury, hit his first home-run in three years into the left-field porch. He has been doing very well in the few days since his call up, helping to ease the wounds of recent injuries. Lew Ford went 2 for 4 with the key hit in the game, a three-run homer off of Mike Mussina in the fifth inning and a hustle triple in the fourth. Torii Hunter continued his recent hitting streak, going 2 for 4 with a great steal off of Mussina and Posada that didn't even warrant a they, while Jones also had two hits. It was an incredible game, as without the M and M boys, the Twins had no trouble producing runs off a pitcher who has beat them 20 times in his career. We can only hope the good times continue and that the M and M boys return soon.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

That Elusive W

When Jacque Jones singled in the bottom of the 13th today to plate Lew Ford, the Twins picked up their 31st victory of the season. Unable to pick up his 7th victory of the season, however, was Twins' starter Johan Santana, despite a dominant 8-inning performance in which he struck out 14. With the game tied 3-3, the Twins tried hard to get a run for Johan late in the game to give him a chance to pick up the win, but failed. In the bottom of the 7th, Nick Punto walked with one out, and tried to steal to move into scoring position but was thrown out. So Santana came out to pitch the 8th despite a relatively high pitch count of 97. Johan got three quick outs, and it seemed he might still have a chance to pick up the W. In the bottom of the 8th, Shannon Stewart led off with a single. Unfortunately, Joe Mauer then grounded into a double play. Lew Ford would then walk, but Matthew LeCroy would strike out, ending a threat. So despite a very solid effort for Johan, his record stands at 6-2 on the year.

After the Twins tied the game at 3-3 with Punto's 2-run homer in the 5th, neither team would score again over the next 7 innings. That's what happens when you have two of the best bullpens in the league going at it in an extra-inning ball-game, something that has happened a TON between these two teams this season. Joe Nathan was shaky again for the Twins, allowing two runners to reach with two outs in the 10th and then putting them both in scoring position with a wild pitch, but he was able to get the third out and avoid disaster. Lately, Joe has looked awfully remniscient of a former nerve-racking Twins closer by the name of Eddie. Juan Rincon pitched a hitless 9th, Jesse Crain pitched two scoreless innings, and JC Romero struck out two of the three batters he faced in the 13th to pick up his first win of the season.

Torii Hunter followed up his monstrous day yesterday with a pretty solid game this afternoon, going 2/5 with a double and a walk. Justin Morneau came out of the game in the 5th inning with what I assume was an injury, but I missed what happened to him (if anyone knows please comment). He was replaced by Matt LeCroy who, despite a pretty decent start this year, has become absolutely worthless. LeCroy went 0/4 with 3 strikeouts. What good can a guy who can't run, play defense, or hit .250 do for a team? Absolutely none. Fatty has gotta go. Punto also came out of the game, which I assume was an injury that occurred during his slide, as he was removed following his failed attempt to steal second in the 7th.

It was a tough, long game, but the Twins finally won and got the series victory. Unfortunately, they used all of their relievers except for Matt Guerrier and Terry Mulholland today, and also ended up using all of their bench players in the game as well, so the team might be fairly tired going into an important Yankees series that starts tomorrow night. Hopefully they can regain their strength and put up a good showing this weekend against the Bronx Bombers.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Torii's Torrid Night

For all the rants and raves we've had about Torii's miserable offense and defense so far this year, he certainly came through tonight in a big way. Torii had a career night, going 5 for 5 with a grand slam, two doubles, and all six of the Twins' RBIs for the night. And he brought all the runs in with the bases loaded, nonetheless. Of course, he had some along the way. His two-run double in the sixth was aided by the horrible play of Aaron Boone and Jody Gerut, who failed to catch his pop-fly down the left-field line. And a bad misplay by Ben Broussard in the third that should have been an error (it was easily a double-play ball off the bat of Justin Morneau, who had another bad night as he didn't deserve that single) set up Torii's grand-slam. What was surprising about both those hits is that they were first pitch knocks. He literally loaded up on Cliff Lee's breaking ball left up in the third, creaming it into the left field bleachers. Usually, when he is so impatient, the results aren't so good. Whats my point?

Torii did have a tremendous night, just crushing the ball on his way to raising his average to .258, his team-leading RBI total to 32, and making a spectacular play in the outfield that saved the Twins and Brad Radke from losing the lead. However, he did it hitting most the same way that hasn't worked all year. The idea is that it won't keep up even if he goes on a bit of streak. Torii still needs to adjust, the way Morneau does, to low outside breaking pitches and outside fastballs. (or in Torii's case, inside/high fastballs) When Torii is hitting good, he is taking the ball the other way. Its the same with Morneau, Jones, or even Mauer. The temptation to pull the ball all the time is a very bad habit and it all goes back to hitting coach Scott Ulger. Its still time to step it up and get these guys to hit the right way; the way Pujols or Bonds does. Its nice to see a outbreak, but what the Twins truely need is consistency.

Other than that, here's some other points about tonights game:

* Brad Radke was not outstanding, but his usual reliable-self. He did serve up a first inning 2-run bomb to Ben Broussard, but after that, he settled in and pitched seven good innings, giving up six hits and those two runs while walking none and striking out six, a good number for Radke. Being at the game, his change-up was looking good and Brad continues his unbelievable control, as he leads the walks per nine innings, hovering around .30, having given up three walks in 82 innings so far this year. Just simply great control and the best in the game right now. He's also been the workhorse, having gone at least six innings in all his starts this year

* Other than Hunter, the best Twin hitter was Lew Ford, who went 3 for 5 in the three-spot while scoring two runs. Although more moves should be made, Ford is doing well in the three-spot but it is still not enough.

* Struggling hitters Luis Rivas and Terry Tiffee were sent down and Michael Ryan and Brent Abernathy were called up. Well, not exactly. Rivas has been terrible at the plate so far, but he is having back problems, so he is actually on the DL, were is Tiffee is being sent to the minors. He deserves, as he has been lacking in the pinch-hitting role he has been given, not even getting a memorable hit in the past month. He needs to get that swing together. Ryan has been up before and he has a good swing, which should make him valuable of the bench and Abernathy seems to be a better hitter than Rivas, having had major league experience and of course, a much better attitude. Lets hope this move pays off, but no doubt we will see the same guys back up within a month or so.

* And on a personal note, during the break after the second inning, I was on TV during the FSN broadcast. How exciting, eh?

The Pierzynski/Prior Paradox

A few weeks ago, I heard about a poll of Twins fans asking whether they would rather have the duo of current Twins Joe Mauer and Joe Nathan as a battery or the "ones that got away", AJ Pierzynski and Mark Prior. I must say I was somewhat surprised to hear that most chose the latter, if only because people have fallen in love with the potential of hometown hero Mauer and the immediate success that Nathan has found in the closer role. Still, on further review, it is hard to deny that, at least for now, the team would be much better off with Prior and Pierzysnki. I don't think this is the case for the long haul, since Pierzynski is already 28 and at his peak, and Prior - while a great pitcher - is going to have arm problems his whole career and would have been very difficult for the Twins to keep as he quickly would have been out of their range of affordability.

This season, Mauer and Pierzysnki have been about equally productive hitters. Pierzynski has shown more power, with his 8 home runs doubling Mauer's, but Joe's average and OBP kill AJ's (JM .307/.390; AJ .265/.338). At first I was going to say that Pierzynski has an upper hand in that the White Sox don't have to deal with such a tender injury situation with their catcher in which he must sit out seemingly every third game, but a look at the stat sheet quickly shows that AJ has played in only one more game than Joe and that Mauer actually has one more at-bat on the year. Guess AJ hasn't been playing as much as I'd thought. Defensively, Mauer is clearly superior because AJ has trouble blocking pitches and doesn't have nearly the arm. Still, I don't think the Twins would mind having Pierzynski's powerful stroke and feisty attitude at this point. Down the road, clearly Mauer will be the better player. Right now, you could go either way. Both players will gain All-Star consideration.

The pitching part of the equation is where separation is made. Nathan is one of the best closers in baseball, but does he have the value to this team that Prior would? Mark has made 9 starts for the Cubs this year and posted some pretty impressive numbers. He's 4-1 with a 2.93 ERA and opposing batters are hitting a paltry .194 against him. The strikeout number isn't as high as one might expect for him, just 9.57 K/9 (though certainly nothing to scoff at), but he's clearly getting the job done. Nathan has been excellent despite some recent control problems, but could the team do without him? With a seemingly ready replacement in Jesse Crain, I would venture to say yes. We would lose a little in the pen, but gain much more in the rotation.

So when looking at this issue from all sides, my opinion is that, yes, the Twins probably would be better off with Pierzynski and Prior this season. However, in the long-run, I don't think there is much doubt that Mauer will become a tremendous player and Nathan's arm will probably go through less trouble than Prior's. The Twins are a team constantly building for the future, and having Nathan and Mauer in place keeps that future looking very bright.