Sunday, April 30, 2006


On Friday night, the Twins got slaughtered 9-0 by the Tigers. It was an embarrassing loss. So how did they respond? By coming out and getting absolutely obliterated on Saturday afternoon, 18-1. A truly pathetic performance on a number of levels. The Twins were absolutely dominated in every facet of the game. All of their pitchers were crushed -- the Tigers scored multiple runs in every inning except two.

Carlos Silva followed up Brad Radke's Friday night dud with an even worse performance. Silva was crushed for 9 earned runs on 9 hits in just 2.1 innings. It seems like batters have finally figured out he and Radke are going to be throwing strikes almost all the time and they're jumping on them. Both of their stuff has been extremely hittable, as evidenced by the astronomical number of home runs that both have given up. Francisco Liriano followed Silva's ugly performance with his first truly bad outing of the year, getting knocked around for 5 ER on 8 hits in 3 innings. Check out Jesse Crain's outing from the play-by-play:
- Crain pitching.
- Gomez singled to center, Monroe to second.
- Inge doubled to center, Monroe scored, Gomez scored.
- Granderson lined out to left fielder Stewart.
He has been laughably bad this year. The pitching is an absolute wreck.

It is getting past the time for niceties. Up to this point, there has been a lot of, "Well, it's early," and, "He's just off to a slow start." The fact is that Torii Hunter is SUCKING. He posted another collar yesterday and is now hitting .184 on the season. He's really earning that salary. Rondell White is SUCKING. He did not start yesterday, but failed in a pinch-hitting appearance late in the game to drop his batting average down to .141. Justin Morneau's nickname until further notice will be Justin Mendoza, in honor of his batting average which now sits just three points above .200.

Ruben Sierra, who had a horrible game, got hurt late in the game and could be done for the year. It should be interesting to see what the Twins do to replace him. Will they recall Jason Kubel, who has hit well in Triple-A? Will they bring up an additional pitcher (Dennys Reyes perhaps), since the ineptitude of the starting rotation has caused the bullpen to be so overworked? We'll see.

It's difficult to get overly upset with Ron Gardenhire regarding the team's performance. While his management certainly hasn't been spectacular, there's really just not much you can do when the majority of the players on your team are playing at an incredibly poor level. Still, Gardenhire must do something. No season can be lost at the end of April, but right now it's starting to feel dangerously close. The Twins are the worst team in baseball right now and have been thoroughly outclassed by nearly every team they've played. Things need to be seriously shaken up, because right now the Twins' play is totally unacceptable and very difficult to watch.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Sucking at a Higher Rate

Sorry, but this post has to brief. Why? Who wants to constantly reiterate the same points over and over again? Nothing new happened last night. Brad Radke was absolutely awful. No surprise. At this rate, you'd swear the guy wanted a higher ERA than his paycheck. It doesn't end there either. Torii Hunter? Not hitting a thing. Rondell White? Ditto. Strikeouts, GIDP in big situations? Check. Table setters like Stewart and Castillo still doing their jobs? Yes they are, but it doesn't make a difference when no one can drive you in.

Beyond all that, a 9-0 loss to the Tigers was just plain embarassing. I couldn't even watch Radke pitch, the results were so predictable. At this rate, this team is very much a fourth-place team and not a contender. And watching Gardenhire try to "manage" gets harder by the night. Lets pray that tommorow's game isn't so terrible, but with 100 mph heat-throwing Justin Verlander on the mound, its unlikely.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Taking Care of Business

Yesterday, for the first time all season, the Twins took an early lead and held it all game for a good solid victory. It was the type of performance that we'd hoped to see in each game against the last-place Royals, but better late than never. The Twins now leave Kansas City with a series victory. A sweep would have been nice, but we'll take what we can get.

The Twins jumped all over KC starter Mark Redman, who couldn't even get out of the second inning. Redman was tagged for 5 earned runs on 6 hits in just 1.2 innings. Luis Castillo, who had gone 0-for-8 in the first two games of the series, went 3-for-4 in the game, including a 2 RBIs and a walk. Michael Cuddyer and Shannon Stewart both had three hits apiece as well. The Twins' hitters showed patience at the plate, drawing a total of 7 walks after walking just twice in the first two games of the series.

Meanwhile, Rondell White and Torii Hunter both continued to look horrid in the middle of the lineup. Hitting fourth and fifth, the two combined to go 1-for-10 with 1 RBI, no walks, two strikeouts, and a total of 13 runners left on base. Hunter, who went hitless, now has one hit in his last 27 at-bats. White has a total of one extra-base hit in 80 at-bats on the season. The performance of these two veterans is becoming increasingly frustrating and unacceptable.

On a positive note, Johan Santana picked up his first win of the season with a very strong outing. After 7 innings, Santana's line was 4 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 9 K. He got roughed up a bit in the 8th, allowing three hits and a couple runs in, but he got out of the inning with a strikeout to pick up his first 10-K game of the year.

The Twins did score 7 runs, but also left a lot of runners stranded. Overall, their offensive performance in this series was disappointing. However, on the bright side, the pitching does appear to be back on track, with each of the three starters picking up a quality start in the series. This is what we'd hoped for against the Royals' lousy lineup, now we'll just have to see if they can pitch similarly well against a much better Tiger lineup during their weekend series in Detroit.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

No New Words to Describe This Old Feeling

Wow. The Royals (it hurts so much to say this) beat the Twins 3-1 last night. The Twins lost to a pitcher who is considered overweight after Tommy John surgery and who lost his three rehab starts in the minors. Yep, they did it again. They made an awful/mediocre starter (Runelvys Hernandez) look like a Cy Young candidate, as they managed only two hits off of him in seven innings and four hits total over the course of the game against a shoddy Kansas City pitching staff.

It was simply put a pathetic effort. We can spend all day offering reasons for why the Twins lost to good teams to start the year, but we can't do that with the Royals. Instead of the pitching giving a weak effort, it was the hitting. Scott Baker had a fine outing, giving the Twins another quality start that they have had so few of this year. He went seven innings and gave up three runs, striking out six. That should be enough to win again, especially against Hernandez.

But the Twins hitters had different things in mind, apparently. Only Justin Morneau did anything, homering off of Hernandez in the fifth. Otherwise, Mauer, Stewart, and Ford had a hit apiece and nobody walked. There was a chance to go ahead with Rondell White, but with two outs and a .147 hitter at the plate, what do you expect? That's why it may be time to implement a new battin order. Me and Nick Nelson discussed this and here's what we feel could be successful:

Castro (preferrably Bartlett)

Clearly not ideal, but there isn't exactly much to work with on this roster right now. You could play with the names at the bottom of the order, but right now, Hunter is doing absolutely nothing at the plate and despite his homer, Morneau hasn't looked good. Mauer is the only guy who seems competent enough to drive guys in and we need to try something before this season slips away to losses against awful teams like the Royals.

Today, Johan Santana starts and naturally it's not televized. If anything is right in the world, the Twins should win this game and come away with a series victory.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Tight Squeeze

The Twins' pitchers had to work out of a ton of jams last night, and the offense almost came up empty, but they ended up with a crucial 2-1 victory in their series opener in Kansas City. The Royals stranded 14 runners over the course of the game, blowing several opportunities with runners in scoring position and less than two outs (a performance similar to the frustrating one the Twins put up in the same stadium last August).

The Twins were totally inept against mediocre starter Scott Elarton, collecting only two hits over 7 innings, but were finally able to break out in the 8th against Kansas City's weak bullpen. Royals' manager Buddy Bell mysteriously chose to send out Luke Hudson -- a pitcher good enough to be cut by the pitching-starved Cincinatti Reds this spring -- to protect a 1-0 lead in the 8th. The Twins collected three straight hits against Hudson, including a pinch-hit RBI single from Ruben Sierra that tied the game. That knocked Hudson out of the ballgame, and big southpaw Andy Sisco came in. Joe Mauer drilled a sacrifice fly to left that scored the go-ahead run, and Juan Rincon and Joe Nathan took care of the last two innings to seal the victory for the Twins.

Kyle Lohse picked up a quality start, holding the Royals to 1 run over 6 innings, but he struggled with his control, walking five (one intentional). This could be attributed to the cold and wet playing conditions, but they didn't seem to affect Elarton too much, as he dominated the Twins for 7 innings and walked only 2. Lohse didn't look overly impressive, but he did work out of some tough jams and gave the Twins a good chance to win. Francisco Liriano picked up his first win of the season, pitching a scoreless 7th.

While it was good to see the Twins put together another late comeback and get a clutch pinch hit from Sierra, the offensive ineptitude they displayed for the majority of the game was extremely frustrating. Justin Morneau and Torii Hunter have been absolutely awful lately, continually striking out in key situations. It was on full display last night, as the Twins put runners on first and third with no outs against Elarton in the 7th inning, only to have Hunter and Morneau deliver back-to-back strike outs, killing a potential rally. Morneau is hitless in his last 18 at-bats and is now hitting just .203 on the season. He has struck out 20 times and drawn only 4 walks. If you take out Hunter's 4-for-5, 6 RBI performance in the second game of the season, he is hitting only .174/.230/.362 with 7 RBIs -- truly terrible production from the middle of the lineup. Meanwhile, Rondell White batted cleanup last night and picked up a hit but is still batting just .155 on the season. White is 2-for-24 with runners in scoring position, with 7 strikeouts. If you want to know what's wrong with the Twins' lineup, you need look no further than the middle of the order. The 1-2-3 guys have been doing their job. Shannon Stewart, Luis Castillo, and Joe Mauer each sport an on-base percentage upwards of .380. Unfortunately, the guys in the middle of the lineup have proven totally incapable when it comes to driving them in.

While it wasn't the prettiest thing in the world, it was a win. Tonight the Twins will look for another as they send out Scott Baker against Runelvys Hernandez, who will be making his first start of the year.

* By the way, did anyone else notice that White pulled a Tony Batista in his 7th inning at-bat and had his back pocket sticking out? I wonder if that was intentional...

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Hitting Woes?

18 games down. A 7-11 record. 1-8 on the road. 144 games to go. We know how bad the pitching has been so far, but how about the hitting? This offseason, the main question was whether or not the Twins had a better offense with its acquisitions of Tony Batista, Rondell White, and Luis Castillo. So how has it been? Together, the Twins are hitting .267/.327/.400, have scored 86 runs on 18 HRs and 81 RBI. Lets go through the good, the bad, and the ugly for the Twins' offense so far:

The Good

Luis Castillo: He has by far been the best Twins hitter so far. At .404/.481/.468, he leads the team in average and OPS and is tied for the lead in steals. His defense has been shaky at times, but he's adjusting to the turf. We've seen his patience, intelligence, speed, and slap-style hitting being very effective. If he stays healthy, he could be the Twins' MVP.

Joe Mauer: He's a stud, plain and simple. Sure, his power so far hasn't been great (4 XBHs, .421 slugging), but his patience at the plate is as good as it's ever been. He has shown some speed, he is hitting .316 and he just got his first homer Sunday. He'll hit .300 this year and be a cornerstone of the top of the order along with Castillo.

Tony Batista: Limited range, funky stance, and helmet-tapping aside, he's been plenty productive this spring for the Twins. Hitting .279/.353/.459 with 2 HRs and 8 RBI and drawing seven walks (tied for second on the team) are all positives and maybe more than what we were expecting from Batista. Granted, he may not hit .279 all year, but if he draws 50 walks and hits 20-25 homers, that would certainly be a improvement in production from the hot corner.

Shannon Stewart: He was needed this weekend and was off with family issues and that's too bad. The 1-2-3 hitters have all been solid this year and Stewart is no exception. He started out hot, with those two homers in the Toronto series, but he is batting .333/.377/.456 so far and if the Twins end up with three .300 hitters at the top of their order, that would be huge.

The Bad

Torii Hunter: If you take away his grand-slam and 6 RBI night against the Jays, Torii has 4 homers, 7 RBI, and a .214 average. He has hit some home runs that have been big, but otherwise, his production hasn't been too good and the .280 OBP is pretty ugly. Torii really needs to pick it up, as he has left a lot of runners in scoring position recently. It's great to see Stewart, Castillo, and Mauer getting on base steadily, but if no one drives them in, it really doesn't matter.

Justin Morneau: Same goes for Morneau. He has had a few homers, but right now has a .215/.271/.415 line very reminiscient of last year. Justin seemed to be doing better, but he's slumped recently. Getting Hunter and Morneau going is what will really get this offense moving and hopefully facing Kansas City's awful pitching will help out.

Juan Castro: It seems unfair, but despite a .280 average, he has a .608 OPS. That would be the result of two walks and only one extra-base hit, a double. Castro has gotten some big hits, but he has no power, little patience, and is hitting only .158 in his last seven games. We may be pleading for Jason Bartlett's third coming very, very soon.

The Ugly

Rondell White: You knew it was coming. Sure, he's hitting .300 in his last seven games, but with no walks this year and one extra-base hit, White is hitting .149/.157/.164. Thats so cringe-worthy it's hard to look at. It's worse that our middle-of-the-lineup guys are in need of so much improvement. White is getting some singles, but he's helpful and great in the lineup when he's hitting a ton of doubles, a few homers, and driving guys in. He has a long way to go, but I'm sure he'll be back in the fourth spot soon, since Ruben Sierra really isn't a solution.

Needless to say, so far, things haven't been that bad. In fact, that the Twins won seven games with the pitching they've gotten is impressive. They have shown more patience at the plate, and the ability to come back against great pitchers. Now all they need is guys to drive the ball some more and, of course, the pitching staff to show a hint of life. With a visit to Kansas City this week, that sounds quite possible.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Pitching Woes

However you want to look at it, the Twins have gotten off to a pretty rough start this year. While things look slightly less grim thanks to a five-game winning streak to open the home schedule, the Twins started the season by losing five of their first six games and have now lost six of their last seven. This is largely attributable to a difficult early schedule, but the fact remains that the Twins are an atrocious 1-8 on the road and 0-6 vs. AL Central opponents. Surprisingly, the biggest problem for the Twins this year has been pitching.

The Twins were projected to have one of the strongest pitching staffs in the league this season, as they returned their top four starters and most of the relievers from one of baseball's best bullpens. Inexplicably, the pitching has been downright awful to this point, with no real signs of improvement. The Twins have held their opponent to less than 5 runs only five times in 18 games so far. Their staff ERA of 6.10 ranks worst in the majors outside of Kansas City and Tampa Bay. That's not good company. They rank last in the MLB in strikeouts.

The rotation has consistently dug the team into early holes. To expect an offense that was possibly the worst in the league last year to consistently hit their way back into these games is unfair. The fact that they have won even seven games so far is really quite fortunate.

Johan Santana has not been terrible. Despite his 0-3 record, he's shown improvement and pieced together a pretty good start against the White Sox on Friday night. (Is it just me or does he always step it up when he's facing an elite pitcher?) He hasn't allowed more than 4 runs in a start, and while he has struggled with his control and hasn't looked particularly dominant, he hasn't really put the team into any insurmountable deficits in when he's pitched. He seems to be coming around. I'm not particularly worried about him

I cannot say the same for Brad Radke or Carlos Silva. Both have looked absolutely horrible so far. Radke's first inning troubles have been worse than ever, and he's posted a 7.50 ERA while allowing a league-leading 8 home runs in 24 innings. Opponents are hitting an astronomical .453 off of Radke with a 1.334 OPS. Silva has not fared much better. Yesterday he might as well have been tossing batting practice to the White Sox, as he was crushed for four home runs, putting his season total up to 7 (watch out Brad!). Silva has a despicable 8.33 ERA in four starts and opponents are hitting .447 against him. His nearly even groundball-to-flyball ratio is particularly alarming, and he's induced only one double-play so far this year.

Kyle Lohse has gotten lit up worse than anyone so far, with an 11.57 ERA through three starts. Lohse has as many walks (6) as strikeouts, and while he had one solid start against Oakland, he has yielded 8 earned runs in both of his other starts. Lohse's performance this year has been particularly disappointing considering that he seemed to have made some large gains last season and was coming off a phenomenal spring.

The lone bright spot in the rotation thus far has been the young Scott Baker, who has posted a solid 3.31 ERA to this point and had by far the season's most impressive start when he held the formidable Yankees lineup to 1 run on 3 hits over 7 innings on April 14.

Outside of Baker, the rotation has been just plain bad. Unfortunately, the bullpen hasn't been a whole lot better. Jesse Crain has been horrific, posting an 8.68 ERA in 9.1 innings while yielding 16 hits and 3 home runs. Matt Guerrier has gotten crushed, with opponents hitting .515 against him over 8.2 innings. These were two guys who the team was ready to rely on heavily coming into the year. Juan Rincon has pitched fairly well outside of a terrible outing in Chicago Friday night where he allowed 4 earned runs without recording an out. Rookie Willie Eyre has pitched pretty well, allowing just 2 runs in 7.2 innings, but he has allowed 10 hits and has only 2 strikeouts. Francisco Liriano has been the only guy who's gotten it done regularly in middle relief, allowing just 1 run in 10.1 innings while yielding just 9 hits and striking out 15. Liriano has made it clear that he is deserving of a spot in the rotation, though Ron Gardenhire makes it sound like he has no intention of moving him there any time soon.

Meanwhile, Joe Nathan, arguably the team's best pitcher and certainly its most reliable reliever, has been limited to only 5 innings thanks to Gardy's hesitation to use him anywhere outside of a save situation (of which the Twins have had only two this year). Nathan has been lights-out, but unfortunately he has rarely been able to pitch in key situations.

So what are we to make of all this pitching ineptitude? Will it get better? I'm confident that Santana will start to settle into a groove soon and I think once Silva starts getting his stuff to sink more he should improve quite a bit also. I'm not nearly as optimistic about Lohse and Radke. They pretty much have to get better than they've been so far, but opposing hitters seem to have them both figured out pretty well and neither has been able to make any adjustments to this point.

It should be interesting to see if the Twins' pitchers can get back on track against the light-hitting Royals in their upcoming series in Kansas City, and then maybe carry some momentum into Detroit for the weekend. One thing is clear: If the pitching does not improve dramatically soon, the season is going to be lost. The Twins simply cannot afford to fall much further behind in this division.

Sunday, April 23, 2006


I am not really sure there is too many new observations to bring about after watching the Twins get destroyed by a superior Chicago White Sox club yesterday. It pains me to write that, but they just walked all over the Twins. And in so many ways, the Twins defeated themselves.

It was the same story it has been all year in our losses: Starting pitcher was awful, bullpen didn't fair any better or did worse, and the offense got guys on but couldn't drive them in. Although the Twins offense has made some improvements, that really doesn't matter if the Twins opposition is batting .314/.354/.488 with 22 HRs. Brad Radke can be blamed for some of that, as he has allowed eight home runs this year along with 30 hits and a 7.71 ERA. He looks awful, but so does most of the Twins pitchers.

I know its still April, but if pitching and defense is the plan to win games, things need to improve. A 5.76 ERA is not acceptable at all and neither is an ugly 1.51 collective WHIP.

I could discuss the 16 men the Twins left on or Jesse Crain's continued failures. But its pointless if the Twins don't change things. Tommorow, they go up against Jose Contreras, whose had some major success against them. Let's hope for a return of Shannon Stewart and Luis Castillo to hopefully spark something in this team that is looking like a doormat for the streaking White Sox right now.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

White Sox 7, Twins 1

The Twins kept it close for most of the game last night, thanks to a great outing from Johan Santana, but it got away from them quickly in the 8th inning when the bullpen got hit hard to blow the game open.

Santana struggled with his command for much of the night, but gave up only 2 runs in 7 innings, with both coming on a Jim Thome home run. Seeing Santana pitch well was encouraging, but the bullpen's struggles were troubling. The Twins' lineup couldn't do much against Mark Buehrle, but that is understandable since he's one of the better pitchers in the league.

The Twins need to at least take one game in this series. Let's see if they can get a win tonight against Freddy Garcia, who has not pitched particularly well this year.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Gardy Doesn't Get It

I could have used yesterday's article title, "Unbelievable," for today's. It fit perfectly. In what was a competitive, hard-fought game yesterday afternoon, Ron Gardenhire gave the game away with his continued incompetence in managing his pitchers.

For some reason I can't fathom at the moment, Jesse Crain was allowed to pitch three innings. There are many reasons this seems confusing and idiotic. For one, it was a tie game when Gardenhire brought him in. Crain isn't exactly what you would call a "long reliever." If he wants to leave a guy in there for three innings, his name better be Fransisco Liriano or, if need be, Matt Guerrier. Those guys have the stamina to do it and Crain doesn't. Beyond that, if he has pitched two scoreless innings and its the eigth, why aren't you bringing in Juan Rincon or even Joe Nathan to pitch and keep the score even?? As soon as Crain allows a baserunner in the eighth, you need to get him out of there. At least Rincon can induce the double play. What happens? Crain, who has been incredibly hittable this year with a .359 OBA and a 7.56 ERA, serves up two runs and in steps the Angels bullpen, which is not ready to blow a lead in two straight games.

This is, of course, nothing new. Gardenhire has been praised for his use of bullpens in the past, but this year, he has looked completely lost. In the Yankees series, he brought in Crain to protect a Twins lead (it was clear then that Crain looks lost and easier to hit than Jose Lima) and that lead was promptly given up. Of course, they came back to win that game. He also put the first game out of reach the same way. So why does Gardenhire persist on bringing him in in key situations? Why can't he see how obvious it is that Crain is not going to be successful on the mound right now? Why continue to bring him in to protect and inevitably blow leads?

Further, why does he feel the need to adhere to some strict order? When the game is on the line, you bring in your best pitchers. Period. If Crain doing this poorly, his only use now is in mop-up duty. That means Rincon, Liriano, or -- most importantly -- Nathan. Yes, it's not the ninth and he isn't trying for a save, but so what? Being a good manager means being unconventional sometimes and trying different things. It needs to be asked why Nathan, who outside of Liriano has the most dominant stuff on the team, has pitched only four innings this year despite how great he looks. If you bring in Nathan for two innings right there, you give yourself a great chance to keep the game tied and eventually win. It's not as if the Twins weren't getting chances against the Angels or that they didn''t have other good options left in the bullpen.

Needless to say, I was very frustrated by the management in yesterday's loss. But other bad things happened. The Twins offense stranded a total of 23 runners, with Torii Hunter leaving seven and Lew Ford and Michael Cuddyer leaving four. Hunter was awful, going 0-for-5 with three strikeouts while grounding into a double play and, as you can see, costing the Twins plenty of opportunities to score. He killed plenty of rallies, as Tony Batista went 3-for-4 in front of him with two RBIs and a walk.

The other positive performance, by Luis Castillo who went 3-for-4 and scored two runs, was soured when Castillo suffered a leg injury in the seventh after beating out an infield hit. Hopefully it's not serious and just related to the nagging quad injuries he has dealt with. If it is serious, the Twins have a bad predicament on their hands, as Castillo was hitting .404 and has been extremely valuable at the top of the order.

Otherwise, Twins fans are probably happy to see Rondell White have his first multi-hit game of the year, going 2-for-4 with 2 RBIs in the seventh spot with a 2-out clutch hit to top it off. It's just too bad that the offense had too many holes yesterday and that the manager can't seem to figure out the basics of bullpen management.

Thursday, April 20, 2006


In Monday's comment section at Aaron Gleeman's site, I made a few negative statements about Michael Cuddyer. This won't shock most who read this blog, who are probably aware that I'm not a huge Cuddy fan. In Aaron's comments, I stated that Cuddyer is one of the worst clutch performers I've ever seen. This was met with a lot of disagreement, because, well, many people love Cuddyer. I will confess that my negative thoughts regarding Cuddyer's clutch ability might come off as irrational, and I realize that sometimes the statistics don't really back up my position. I guess my grudge against Cuddyer has come from watching him play a lot and seeing him ground into a lot of inning-ending double plays and strike out in a lot of important situations. That and his .204 average with runners in scoring position last year.

Sure enough, last night, Cuddyer hit a walk-off 2-run homer off of J.C. Romero in the bottom of the 10th inning to give the Twins a 12-10 victory over the Angels. This two days after I publicly pondered whether Cuddyer has "ever come up with a meaningful hit." There's really not much I can say except that Cuddy shut me right up.

Not surprisingly, Gleeman gave me some crap in his post for today (although he went a lot easier on me than I probably deserved... thanks Aaron.) While this is just one hit and I still don't feel like Cuddyer is a great player by any means, I will say this much: Watching Cuddy gleefully sprint into home plate with his limbs flailing in excitement following that big home run was truly a great thing to see. Cuddyer has always seemed like a good guy, and while it might seem like I loathe the man based on some of the comments I've made about him, I really am happy to see him come through with a big hit. This is a guy that enjoys playing the game, and that was made evident by his behavior last night as he met his celebrating teammates at home plate.

The Cuddyer homer capped off what was truly one of the most amazing Twins games I have ever seen -- at least since Saturday. After another terrible Kyle Lohse outing (his line: 3.1 IP, 7 H, 8 ER, 1 BB, 1 K), the Twins found themselves in another early hole. By the end of the fifth inning, they were behind the Angels 9-4. Last year, the Twins' offense was so punchless that if they fell behind an opponent by even one run early in a game, you got the feeling that the game was pretty much lost. The difference this year has been drastic. Including last night's game, each of the Twins' seven victories this year have involved coming from behind.

Here's a breakdown of the extremely impressive comeback:

Down by 5 runs in the 6th inning, the Twins' offense put together their second 4-run inning of the game, with Lew Ford, Juan Castro, and Shannon Stewart each driving in a run, and the other one coming in when right fielder Vladimir Guerrero dropped a Mike Redmond pop fly. With the score 9-8, Francisco Liriano allowed his first run of the year, which put the Angels ahead by two. Torii Hunter led off the next inning with a solo home run to bring the Twins back within one.

Things looked fairly bleak heading into the bottom of the 9th, as the Twins trailed 10-9 with Halos' closer Francisco Rodriguez heading out for the save. There was no way the Twins could rally against one of baseball's top closers for the second time in five days... was there?

On Saturday night, it was Joe Mauer who led the rally against Mariano Rivera with a crucial two-base hit to put himself on second representing the winning run. Last night, Mauer pinch-hit for Redmond to lead off the bottom of the 9th and he managed to fight off an 0-2 pitch from K-Rod for an infield hit. Ruben Sierra followed this with a walk, and then Torii Hunter tapped a single to right field (third base coach Scott Ullger wisely held Mauer at third on the play, since Guerrero has one of the strongest arms in the league). This loaded the bases with no outs for Saturday night's hero, Justin Morneau. Morneau popped the first pitch into foul territory near third base. One out wasted. Tony Batista was up next. Three-pitch strikeout. Suddenly things were looking quite grim again. In stepped Lew Ford.

Ford worked the count to 2-0. He then swung and missed at a pitch and fouled off the next two. Then he took a ball. Full count. He fouled off another pitch. Rodriguez's next pitch was outside, and Ford took it for ball four to walk in the tying run. Truly one of the most impressive clutch at-bats I have ever seen. While Cuddyer will no doubt receive a ton of adulation for his part in this victory -- deservedly so -- we'd be remiss to forget about the other right fielder's contribution that brought this game to extra innings in the first place.

While it was truly a great game and an important victory, the performance of Lohse is extremely disconcerting. The Twins' starting rotation, anticipated by almost all to be the team's major strength this year, has by and large been horrible this season. Lohse's performance last night might have been the low point of the season so far. The Angels' lineup is not what I'd call elite, yet Lohse got hit all over the place and just couldn't seem to get anybody out. Opponents are now hitting a ridiculous .340 off Kyle. Guerrier's performance was also unimpressive. He allowed the last two of Lohse's earned runs to score when he inherited them in relief, and he also allowed in one of his own.

The Twins' bullpen did look pretty good outside of Guerrier. Despite the fact that he didn't seem to have his best stuff and allowed a run to score, Liriano's outing wasn't too bad. Juan Rincon pitched a very efficient 1.2 innings, needing only 14 pitches to retire 5 men. Joe Nathan picked up the win by pitching a scoreless 10th.

Nonetheless, the starting pitching has simply got to be better. The Twins' offense has been ridiculously resilient in their seven wins this year, but one really cannot expect that to continue on a regular basis.

I certainly learned my lesson regarding Cuddyer last night. And with another brilliant comeback victory, I think that all Twins fans are learning a lesson... don't leave the Dome early.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Angels 8, Twins 2

Well, there is not too much I feel like saying right now. Last night's game was awful on many levels. Basically, the Twins failed to do just about everything: Drive runners in, be aggressive at the plate, keep the ball down on pitches, and of course, allowing inherited runners to score.

Carlos Silva had a fairly horrible start (8 2/3 innings with 8 earned runs is not exactly a common box score line) and his problem right now doesn't seem to be so much his control but his location. With his stuff, which is all-too-hittable, he cannot leave so many pitches up or else guys like Chone Figgins will continue to get extra-base hits at an extreme clip. And Jesse Crain seems to be J.C. Romero's replacement. (By the way, J.C. hasn't changed. 14 pitches, 7 strikes. Still hasn't learned control.) Crain came in with two outs in the ninth and promptly allowed an inherited runner to score before actually getting the last out. Needless to say, he doesn't seem to be able to handle much at all right now. If the Twins aren't going to use Fransisco Liriano in the rotation, they might as well use him in the seventh and avoid Crain for now.

And the hitting wasn't much better. Before the game, Ron Gardenhire decided it would be a good idea to bat Tony Batista cleanup and move Rondell White to the seventh spot, as White has struggled mightily for two weeks. It didn't work out that well, as White still looks lost, despite his single during the game, and Batista went 0-for-4 while leaving a running in scoring position with two outs.

This was just one of the many issues the Twins had at the plate. In general, they didn't seem aggressive enough at the plate. When they were, specifically in the third, they got three singles in a row and got a runner in. When they weren't, plate ump Jerry Meals' ever-expansive strike zone came back to haunt them (with Luis Castillo and Joe Mauer striking out looking back-to-back in the 5th). And leaving thirteen runners on isn't much to be proud of either, as the Twins continously failed to do much with men aboard. Some things were positive, as Juan Castro went 2-for-4 with an RBI and Lew Ford scored two runs along with his two hits during his start in right.

The only other positive is that the game went quickly, especially with Silva on the mound, lasting only 2 hours and 24 minutes. Looking ahead to today, it feels like a must-win situation even though its April. I have a lukewarm feeling about Batista's new batting spot, it's hard to tell which Kyle Lohse will show up today, and Erwin Santana is the kind of young pitcher (hard fastball, good breaking stuff) that dominates the Twins. Lets hope things drop in our favor, but the Twins are going to have to be a lot more aggressive today.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Credit Where Credit's Due

Ron Gardenhire, Terry Ryan, and the rest of the Twins' brain trust frequently draw the ire of Twins bloggers. Heck, disagreeing with the moves those guys make is the sole reason many Twins blogs exist in the first place. Much of the time, when the majority of Twins fans vehemently disagree with a move the Twins make, they end up being right. For instance, keeping Corky Miller on the roster out of spring training last year was a terrible decision, and taking Joe Mays out of the rotation a couple months earlier than they did probably could have prevented a few losses. It doesn't take a pro baseball analyst or sabermetric genius to realize these things ahead of time. Read entries from this blog (or almost any other) from around those times and you can see that even the casual fan could easily predict the bad outcomes of these decisions.

With that said, I think now is a good time to step back and applaud Gardenhire and Ryan for a couple controversial moves they made during the offseason and spring training. These moves were widely met with disgust and criticism from the Twins blogosphere, yet both have really turned out well, at least to this point. Many were appalled when Ryan signed Tony Batista in the offseason and essentially handed him the job of everyday starting third baseman. The move seemed bizarre considering Batista's paltry career on-base percentage and the fact that he couldn't even land a gig in this country last season. Likewise, there was a great deal of disgust felt by Twins fans everywhere when the young and promising Jason Bartlett was sent down to the minors just before the start of the season and Gardenhire dubbed light-hitting Juan Castro the starting shortstop on a team desperately in need of more offense.

Personally, I was never all that worked up about the Batista signing. I didn't expect much from him, but I recognized the fact that he could provide some much-needed pop at the bottom of the lineup and would at least be a better defender at third than Michael Cuddyer was last year. Still, the signing received a lot of harsh criticism from a number of bloggers and analysts. The decision to name Castro the starting shortstop while sending Bartlett back to the minors (again) after hitting .382 in spring training did bother me quite a bit, and both Mr. Mosvick and I were quite vocal in our disagreement with the decision.

As it turns out, the moves have made the Twins' management look pretty smart up to this point. Batista has been hitting the ball extremely well, posting a .297/.366/.568 line with two home runs and six RBIs through his first 11 games. He's also been steady with the glove, and has shown surprising patience at the plate, drawing four walks in 41 plate appearances. For those keeping track, that gives him the same number of unintentional walks as Joe Mauer, the Twins' poster boy for patience at the plate.

Castro, on the other hand, hasn't been as flashy at the dish, but he has been extremely solid overall. He has been steady defensively at shortstop, making all the necessary plays plus a few outstanding ones; he has also shown some very nice chemistry with second baseman Luis Castillo. Castro hasn't delivered any extra-base hits but he has looked quite a bit better offensively than he ever has in the past. He is hitting .355 at this point in the young season, and he's been stinging the ball pretty well. Oftentimes when a guy who historically hasn't done much at the plate has a hot streak, you can easily attribute it to luck -- bloop singles falling in the right place and grounders squeezing through the infield. Castro's offensive production hasn't struck me that way. He's had some great at-bats and come through with some big hits, routinely driving the ball to the opposite field.

Based on the long major league histories of both of these players, it is unrealistic to think that this level of play will continue much longer for either. Castro is a .230 career hitter who has never posted an on-base percentage higher than .290 in a season -- right now his OBP is nearly .400. Batista's career OPS is .757, and right now it's a monstrous .934. One has to expect these guys are going to come back down to Earth, and perhaps pretty hard. Still, it is undeniable that both players have been invaluable to the team's early success. At the very least they should continue to provide defensive stability at a couple positions that were highly unstable throughout last season. Should either one continue to produce at even close to the level they have so far at the plate, it will be a huge bonus at the bottom of the batting order.

Gardenhire and Ryan should sit back and enjoy this moment. Who knows how long it will last, but for now, they are looking mighty wise and we who criticized them so ferociously could all stand to eat some crow.

Monday, April 17, 2006


Its unfortunate, but the Twins couldn't pull off a sweep yesterday afternoon, as the Yankees offense finally came out and crushed them 9-3 on Easter Sunday. Brad Radke apparently has fixed his "first-inning woes," but now he's replaced those issues with second-inning problems. Yesterday, he gave up three runs in the second, which he also did in the start before that. Whatever it is, he's having problems with the gopherball, as he has now given up a total of seven home runs in three starts. (That would mean if he makes 30 starts, he'll be projected to give up 70 HRs. Dang. That would make his former teammate Eric Milton proud.) In other words, it was an ugly start and despite his 2-1 record, he has a 6.63 ERA.

And, to make matters worse, the offense wasn't too great yesterday and didn't give Radke the type of help it gave him in his other two starts (the Twins scored 20 runs in his two previous outings). The offense managed three runs off of Chien-Ming Wang, one of them being unearned due to the horrible defense Hideki Matsui plays in left field (just like Saturday night. Nice throw, Hideki). In seven innings, the Twins had seven hits off of Wang, but struck out eight times. You can thank Rondell White in large part for that. Four trips to the box and three return trips due to K's. Folks, I think its about time to let him sit a little. Rondell is trying WAY to hard and that would account for the disgusting .085 average he holds.

Of course, seventeen men left on-base isn't a great stat to see either, even if the Yankees did the same. The Twins had their chances and don't let Luis Rodriguez's or Justin Morneau's two-hit days let you forget about the strikeouts they had in key situations.

But, let's not forget this is the Yankees offense and coming out of the last two series 5-1 and owning a .500 record are great things to have. Just a week ago, the Twins were 1-5 and things looked awfully grim. Of course, the next two opponents (Angels at home, White Sox on the road) aren't exactly slackers either. the Twins can take two of three from the Angels and at least one at U.S. Celluar, that would be an accomplishment. A sweep in either series would be particularly helpful in this rough early-season schedule. Let's just hope the Twins can keep playing with the flair and energy they played their last six games with.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Comeback Kids

The Twins' offense has shown tremendous resiliency in each of their wins this year, consistently falling behind early and hitting their way back into the lead. Last night's comeback was much more dramatic. Down 5-4 going into the bottom of the ninth against arguably the greatest closer in baseball history, things looked pretty grim. Instead of laying down and taking the loss, the Twins pieced together an incredible rally to capture their fifth straight victory.

Against Yankees' closer Mariano Rivera, Luis Castillo reached on an infield single to start the ninth. Joe Mauer followed this with a great at-bat and ended up knocking the ball down down the left field line, advancing to second on the unsuccessful throw to get Castillo at third. This put runners on second and third with no outs. Rondell White and Torii Hunter both went down on ugly strikeouts. This brought Justin Morneau up with two outs. Morneau laced Rivera's first pitch into right field for a game-winning 2-run single.

It was invigorating to see the Morneau come through with such a huge hit, capping off a 2-hit, 3 RBI night for him. Castillo had 4 hits, including a triple -- he has been fantastic. The great thing about Castillo is that he puts the ball in play, and when you put the ball in play anything can happen. He had one at-bat earlier in the game with the bases loaded where he drilled the ball into the ground and it ended up probably 5 feet away from home plate, but a run scored and Castillo safely reached first.

Unfortunately, the great victory was marred by a couple of really ugly performances that nearly lost the game for the Twins. The most disconcerting was that of White. I was a huge defender of his signing during the offseason, and I have stuck with him through his slow start this season, continually assuring myself that it's only a matter of time before he breaks out of his slump. However, my patience with White is giving way to frustration. He had another absolutely terrible night. He did have a base hit to right field in the 3rd, but outside of that he went hitless with two strikeouts, including a crucial one with no outs and runners on second and third in the bottom of the ninth. Opposing teams are starting to use White's ineptitude in the cleanup spot against the Twins. Last night, the Yankees intentionally walked Mauer with two outs and a runner in scoring position on two occasions, and both times they easily dispatched White to escape the inning unharmed. He left seven runners aboard tonight and killed a couple rallies. This has got to stop.

Jesse Crain had a terrible night as well. Johan Santana had worked through the first six innings having only allowed two runs to the potent Yankees lineup, but he ran into trouble in the seventh. With one out and runners on second and third and the Twins up 4-2, Ron Gardenhire went to Jesse Crain. Crain promptly allowed three straight hits, resulting in three runs and a 5-4 Yankees lead. Hopefully Gardenhire learned his lesson and will not use Crain in high-leverage situations in the future, as he has been just awful this year. Fortunately, the amazing Francisco Liriano came in and pitched 1 and 2/3 innings, allowing no hits.

Crain and White's struggles aside, this was a great ballgame and another extremely impressive victory. The Twins go into today's game against the Yankees with a chance to pick up their sixth straight victory and second straight sweep against an outstanding ballclub. Even if the Twins lose, they will come out of this 12-game stretch against the Blue Jays, Indians, Yankees and Athletics with a .500 record. I don't think anyone can complain too much about that, particularly after the team's slow start.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Taking Down the Bombers

The Twins are finally at .500, as they took down the New York Yankees last night in a 5-1 victory. That makes four straight victories at home to bring the Twins within one game of first place. That's a heck of an improvement considering how things looked Sunday. Scott Baker, following the lead of Kyle Lohse's quality start Thursday afternoon, was not intimidated by the Yankees lineup filled with big sluggers and run-producers. With four Ks, a walk, three hits allowed, and only one earned run in seven innings, Baker looked great on the hill. But, beyond the pitching performances (four hits allowed total) and solid defense turned in by the Twins, the offense was just as much of a surprise.

Facing Mike Mussina, who came in 20-4 against the Twins, things did not look too great. However, the Twins managed to put together a few solid innings and showed patience and an ability to get some big hits with two outs. Things were nothing near the way they were all of last year. With nine hits on the night, the most impressive performances came late, in the seventh and eight innings. Juan Castro had a 10-pitch at-bat against Mussina that resulted in an RBI single and the next inning, Torii Hunter and Tony Batista had doubles and Justin Morneau had an RBI single.

Needless to say, the offense did its part, as it has for the last four games. It seems safe to say there are definite improvements we've seen. Extra-base hits, two-out hits, well-placed sacrifices, and of course, home runs. And now, the pitching staff is coming around, with great performances from all last night.

With Johan on the mound today, a sweep may be possible, but at the least, the Twins should come out of series with the Blue Jays, the Indians, the A's, and the Yankees with a .500 record and to do so would be a accomplishment and a sign that they can be a contender.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Power Surge

I titled Wednesday's post "Home Sweet Home" in celebration of the Twins returning to their home park with a victory Tuesday night. Perhaps a more fitting phrase with regards to their opening series against the Athletics would be "Homer Sweet Homer."

The Twins hit 6 home runs in their home-opening sweep against Oakland, which they completed with an 8-2 victory yesterday afternoon, and those homers accounted for 11 of the 21 runs they scored in the three-game series.

What's so encouraging about the team's performance in this series is not necessarily the fact that they scored so many runs, but the fact that they did so against good pitching. Esteban Loaiza is no good, but Dan Haren and Joe Blanton are two of the game's better young pitchers. Blanton was coming off a first start against Seattle in which he pitched 8 innings and allowed just two hits and no runs. The Twins shelled him for 11 hits and 7 earned runs in 6 innings.

Meanwhile, Kyle Lohse delivered the Twins their first quality start of the year, though he wasn't fantastic by any means. Lohse gave up a couple runs in the first inning on a Frank Thomas double, but then settled in and ended up pitching six solid innings. He still seems to be struggling a bit with his command, and his 6 to 10 ground ball-to-fly ball ratio seems to go against the philosophy he was trying to instill for this year, but the results were good.

A few thoughts on yesterday's sweep-clinching victory:

* It's not very often that you'll see a team's backup catcher hitting third in the lineup. It worked out for the Twins today though, as Mike Redmond went 3-for-4 with 2 RBIs as Joe Mauer took the day off. In our position analysis series in March, I said, "Catcher is easily the team's strongest offensive position coming into the 2006 season." So far, that assertion has held true. Redmond has 5 hits in 8 at-bats -- including 3 doubles -- and Mauer is hitting .333 in seven games.

* Francisco Liriano had another brilliant outing out of the bullpen. He struck out 5 batters in 2 innings. Here's a nice detailed analysis from Roger in Seth's comments section yesterday:
Liriano was unhittable. 3 K's on 12 pitches in the 7th without anyone toucching a pitch. In the 8th, he had 1 K and an easy fly...with Swisher swinging late and getting a double. Game wasn't in jeopardy, however, runner on 2nd with 2 outs and the Big Hurt up. Pitch 1 a 97mph fastball for a called strike. Pitch 2 a 84mph change that he was way in front and ticked foul off the end of his bat. Pitch 3 a 90mph slider that he took a huge swing and wasn't anywhere near the pitch. 2 innings, 5 K's and 1 hit...this kid has to get into the rotation.
I concur.

* Michael Cuddyer hit a solo home run in the 8th inning with the Twins up 7-2. It was a very typical Cuddyer homer: Nobody on base and with the game already long since decided.

* After nine games, Rondell White is hitting .088. He has not drawn a walk while striking out 10 times in 34 at-bats and grounding into two double-plays. I remain confident that White will come around and become a good hitter, but it's pretty difficult to accomplish much offensively when you're getting that kind of production from your cleanup hitter.

The three-game sweep brings the Twins' record to 4-5, which is a lot better than the 1-5 record they sat with after their opening road trip. They are hardly in the clear at this point though; tonight they open a three-game series against the Yankees. Winning the series would leave the Twins with a .500 record, but taking two of three against New York is a pretty tall order. Should be a fun series.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Loving the Three-Run Jack

The last two Twins games have been won in a way we may have never expected last year: clutch three-run home runs. Tuesday night, Tony Batista was the hero with the big blast. Last night, it was Justin Morneau. Morneau came up after Joe Mauer singled, Rondell White flew out (he was hitting hard, but he just can't do very much at all right now), and Torii Hunter walked, with two outs in the inning. Justin came up and blasted an Estaban Loaiza pitch over the baggie in right.

Now, to be fair, I figured the Twins could knock Loaiza around because he looks awful so far this year. However, that doesn't take away from the fact that these kinds of comebacks and big homers just didn't come up last year. Morneau hit half his home runs last year with the bases empty, after all.

The point is, it's very exciting to actually have that kind of power to come back, even if it means having Tony Batista in the lineup. That's a lot more power than you can say for Michael "Takes-Lots-of-Pitches-to-Try-to-Walk-But-Strikes-Out-Anyways" Cuddyer.

Other observations:

* I was actually at the game last night and some things came to mind while watching. For one, Joe Nathan looks just great. Definitely a top-three closer in this league. Hard fastball, nasty breaking stuff, goes right at hitters. It's all there.

* I have to wonder if there was a reason Tony Batista tried to steal third base in the third inning. He has no speed at all! Seems like he saw a shot to get over there, but its too bad he looks slower than Bengie Molina. Worse yet, why was Joe Kennedy trying so hard to keep him at first in the seventh, despite the fact that he was only about a foot off the bag?

* Good to see Juan Rincon out for the eighth instead of Jesse Crain. Strikeout and a double-play grounder. Looks like Juan is coming back.

* Juan Castro did have a good day at the plate and in the field, making plenty of good defensive plays while going 2-for-4 at the plate. Still, I'm missing Bartlett's offensive potential and hate seeing it go to waste in the minors...

* Speaking of Morneau, gotta love the walk he coaxed when the A's brought in lefty Brad Halsey. Ignoring that he struck out against Kennedy in his next at-bat, he was looking at lot better at the plate with plenty of patience. A good step, since now he has 4 HR and 9 RBIs.

* Can't forget Torii Hunter. He hit a high home run to left-center in the fifth that ended up being the difference in the game. The .258 average isn't great, but he's hitting with power again.

* Lastly, Carlos Silva didn't have much last night, showing signs of control issues still, as he hit Milton Bradley but didn't walk a man in seven innings. Thats a total of eight Minnesota starts without a quality start. Not a great sign at all and I don't know that the number will change any with Kyle Lohse facing Joe Blanton tommorow at noon.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Home Sweet Home

In their home opener last night, the Twins picked up a much-needed victory over a tough opponent in the Oakland Athletics. The Metrodome stands were packed with fans, including myself (I had awesome seats, not to brag), and fortunately we were treated to a great ballgame.

Brad Radke had a start very similar to his first outing in Toronto, as he put the Twins in a 4-0 hole early but watched the offense come alive to get him the victory. Radke managed to get through the first inning 1-2-3 (stunning in and of itself), but then got hit hard in the second, allowing 3 runs. He gave up a solo shot to Bobby Crosby to start the third inning but then settled down.

The Twins were hitless going into the third inning but then broke out in a big way against A's starter Dan Haren. After Juan Castro flied out to right to start the inning, the top of the Twins' lineup strung together six straight hits, including a 2-run single by Joe Mauer and an RBI single by Torii Hunter. Justin Morneau struck out, which was followed by a mammoth 3-run homer by Tony Batista which put the Twins ahead 6-4. Morneau added a solo home run in the fifth to put the Twins ahead by three.

After allowing the Crosby home run, Radke retired 15 of the next 17 Oakland batters to finish with a solid line of 7 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 1 BB and 5 K. Jesse Crain came on to pitch the 8th and made life harder for Joe Nathan by promptly allowing a 2-run homer to Eric Chavez. Nonetheless, Crain got out of the inning and Nathan pitched an impressive 9th to pick up his first save as the Twins won 7-6. A few thoughts:

* Ron Gardenhire's management late in the game left me scratching my head. In the bottom of the 8th, the Twins were up by one run and looking for some insurance to give Nathan a little more breathing room. Batista doubled off the baggie in right with one out. This appeared to be a good opportunity for a pinch-runner. Nick Punto probably would be able to score on a single, whereas Batista does not run well at all. Instead, Gardy left Batista out there. Michael Cuddyer hit a chopper to short, and Batista moved up to third. This brought up Castro. With two outs and an important run on third base, it would make sense to bring in a pinch-hitter, such as Jason Kubel. Gardy decided to stick with Castro, who proceeded to strike out on four pitches. Obviously, the non-moves did not end up hurting the Twins, but I really would have liked to see Gardy make more of an effort to bring that run in.

* Batista went 2-for-4 with a home run and a double. He now has four hits this season, all for extra bases. He's hitting only .200, but slugging .600. As predicted, he has been making a lot of outs, but hitting the occasional 3-run homer doesn't hurt.

* Joe Mauer is just a stud. He had two hits, including a double which would have been a single if not for some great aggressive baserunning. He also went from first to third on a Rondell White single when he saw that it was going to drop in front center fielder Mark Kotsay. It's enjoyable to watch a guy play as hard as Mauer does each night.

* The Twins need to get Crain out of the set-up role, he is just not well-suited to pitch the eighth inning in close games. Juan Rincon should be back in that spot.

* The Twins made several great defensive plays last night. Michael Cuddyer made a diving catch in right field. Luis Castillo showed some phenomenal range, diving to snag a grounder that got by Morneau and flipping it to Radke for an out. Castro made a very nice off-balance throw from the hole to retire Frank Thomas in the 8th.

Some general notes:

* There was a time when I was not a big fan of Jim Souhan as a columnist. I have complained in the past about some of his articles which, in my mind, were not particularly well thought out or strongly supported. That said, I really think he's gotten a lot better. He wrote a nice article in Tuesday's Strib regarding Francisco Liriano and his potential importance to the Twins' future. Notes Souhan:
A member of the Twins' braintrust told me Monday that Liriano has better stuff than Johan Santana, and could be more dominant in the long run.

Remember Santana? He's the guy who won the Cy Young in 2004 and should have won another in 2005.

Just wait until Liriano pitches his 30th inning in the big leagues.
I was struck by Souhan's (correct) assertion that Santana should have won the AL Cy Young Award last year. Perhaps he should tell that to his colleague Patrick Reusse, who voted for Bartolo Colon and employed shoddy reasoning to defend his choice, then backed up his position with more shoddy reasoning.

Another blurb from the article:
Regardless of his role, Liriano has made the Twins' braintrust look smart. They traded A.J. Pierzynski to the Giants to make room for Joe Mauer, and got All-Star closer Joe Nathan, pitching prospect Boof Bonser and a thrown-in prospect who turned out to be Liriano.
When I attended a Twins/Athletics game at McAfee Coliseum in Oakland last year, I sat next to a Giants fan who jokingly expressed his contempt for Terry Ryan and the Twins. The Pierzynski for Nathan/Liriano/Bonser trade is often written about in local media and on Twins blogs as one of Ryan's finest moments and a huge success for the Twins franchise. It's interesting to think about it from the perspective of a Giants' fan... they really got screwed over. Just think about how much better shape they would be in right now if their rotation featured young stud Matt Cain and Liriano and they had Nathan as their closer.

* Aron Kahn of the Pioneer Press writes that the Twins' stadium bill is in better shape than it has been in the past, but is still far from a lock.

* Joe Mays started for the Royals against the Yankees last night... you just knew that wasn't going to be good. His line: 2.2 IP, 3 H, 4 ER, 5 BB (!), and zero K.

* Last week, someone was led to our site by this Google search. That's just depressing on so many levels.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Kubel Down?

Word across many blogs and according to the Strib is that Jason Kubel, who is struggling out of the gate with an average of .083, will be sent down to the minors when Ruben Sierra comes up. This seems like a terrible, terrible idea. This follows the same principle the team has followed this year and in years past. And every time, it's worked out badly.

Most people are likening it to David Ortiz, David McCarty or Todd Walker. Those names don't, to me, hold the same parallels as Michael Restovich or Michael Cuddyer. Cuddyer, as my counterpart Mr. Nelson will tell you, has never been quite the prospect Kubel is. Ditto for Restovich. Both of them came up with big power potential, whereas Kubel projects to be a better overall hitter and a better defender. However, that doesn't dull the other parallels; both those players were jerked back and forth between the majors and the minors in their early career. Restovich, many will say, never hit in the majors. But I don't know that such an opinion is fair. Restovich was never really given much of a chance to have success in the majors.

The question is how do we measure the effect of "jerking" these players around? Can we just say that Cuddyer hasn't been successful yet or Restovich has failed because their confidence was killed by those actions? No, but it's strong speculation. And if Kubel goes down, similar things may occur.

Of course, I have two points in which I don't think Kubel will fall the same way. For one, there is the injury excuse. Being told that he's being sent down because he is still "recovering" and needs to get his swing back, as Gardy says, may actually go to Kubel's head. Also, it's hard not to say next he comes up, he'll have a permanent spot in right field. Why? Because, on one hand, Cuddyer is practically guaranteed to hit himself out of the lineup, Sierra is a 40-year old aging slugger who doesn't exactly have "Julio Franco II" written on his chest, and Kubel, above all other things, has a better skill set.

Overall, I'm just not sure that this will result in terrible things for Kubel. However, sending him down is a bad idea for the Twins. As I've said before, these next few weeks are crucial to the Twins' season, as they take on several contenders and try to dig themselves out of an early hole. They need their best players on the roster. Neither Cuddyer nor Sierra fill anything near the best possible guys in the lineup. Kubel does and, yes, they should show patience with him the way other teams do with their young stars.

Monday, April 10, 2006

'Tis Better to Remain Silent and Be Thought a Fool...

I like Torii Hunter a lot, he's one of my favorite players, but I just have to gripe about some complaints he's been making to the media lately with regards to the steroid investigation being launched by Bud Selig and Major League Baseball. Hunter is claiming that the investigation being launched is racially motivated, which, in my mind, is ridiculous. Here's a quote from an ESPN article on the subject:
"It's so obvious what's going on," [Hunter] told USA Today. "He has never failed a drug test and said he never took steroids, but everybody keeps trying to disgrace him. How come nobody even talks about Mark McGwire anymore? Or [Rafael] Palmeiro [who tested positive for steroids in 2005]?

"Whenever I go home [to Pine Bluff, Ark.], I hear people say all of the time, 'Baseball just doesn't like black people. Here's the greatest hitter in the game, and they're scrutinizing him like crazy.' It's killing me because you know it's about race," Hunter told USA Today.
"Baseball just doesn't like black people"? The fact that Hunter is echoing this sentiment leads me to believe that he agrees with it. To me, it is a ridiculous assertion. Presently, some of baseball's most treasured heroes are black. Hank Aaron. Reggie Jackson. Willie Mays. Jackie Robinson's number is retired in every Major League ballpark. Who's unquestionably the most popular player in Minnesota Twins history? Kirby Puckett. Who's arguably the most popular player on the team right now? Why, I believe you are, Mr. Hunter.

To answer the very obvious questions posed in the quote, the reason people aren't talking about McGwire or Palmeiro anymore is because neither are active ball-players. Palmeiro was heavily scrutinized after testing positive last year and has subsequently retired and faded out of the public eye. Hunter seems to feel like Bonds is being unjustly grouped with steroid users, but it is beyond naive to act like Barry claiming that he never took steroids means that he never took them and we should just take his word for it.

When people try to act like racism is at work every time an African-American is scrutinized in any situation, it only perpetuates racism in general. There's no way I would try to argue that racism is not around in this country, or even that it's nowhere to be found in baseball. But to claim that baseball's latest investigation into steroids is somehow based on racism is really bad form. It's quite easy to see why Selig ordered the investigation, and it's quite easy to see why Bonds is the main figure being attached to the investigation. There is a mounting pile of evidence connecting Bonds to steroid use, and he is on the verge of breaking one of the game's most celebrated records (one that is, by the way, held by a black man).

If Pete Rose was black, can you imagine how many accusations of racism we'd be hearing regarding his banishment from baseball? Why doesn't anyone say that he's being held out of the Hall of Fame because he's white? I don't see any of the African-Americans who agree with keeping Rose out of baseball being labeled racists. And they certainly shouldn't be.

Some people try to relate the current situation to 1998 when McGwire was chasing Roger Maris' single season home run record, noting that everyone supported Big Mac and he didn't draw the same scrutiny. I have no doubt whatsoever that if the same type of evidence was out connecting McGwire to steroid use at that time, there would have been just as much talk of cheating and asterisks and investigations. I'm pretty sure I recall seeing just as much support for Sammy Sosa and Ken Griffey Jr. during that season.

Racism remains a problem in American culture, and not just against blacks. There is sadly a great deal of prejudice out there, aimed at Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, and even whites. I am all for racism being exposed and condemned in all legitimate cases. However, there is no way that I will be led to believe that this investigation, nor the general sentiment that Bonds is a cheater, is in any large part due to the color of his skin. For Hunter to come out and make these comments is, in my opinion, ignorant and in very poor taste.

Stumbling Out of the Gates

The season has gotten off to a rough start for the Twins. They've lost five of their first six games, smothering a lot of early optimism. The pitching has not been good. The offense started out hot, but in the last couple days it has looked about as inept as it did last year. The Twins' hitters have fallen back into the extremely frustrating trend of making mediocre pitchers look like Cy Young contenders. Against Roy Halladay, three runs is acceptable. Against Jason Johnson, zero runs is not. Indians' starter Jake Westbrook retired 14 straight batters at one point in yesterday's 3-2 Twins loss.

Rondell White has been extremely disappointing thus far. In 22 at-bats this season, he has collected just 2 hits (one of which was a weak dribbler down the third base line for an infield single), and he's struck out 8 times. I was raving about White throughout the preseason, defending him against those who said the Twins were foolish not to sign a more legitimate power hitter like Frank Thomas or Mike Piazza. I remain confident that White will have a good year once he settles into his role, but his performance in these first six games has been disconcerting to say the least.

Stick and Ball Guy's got the numbers for the Twins over their first five games, and they're not pretty. The first time through the Twins' rotation didn't produce one quality start. In his second start yesterday, Johan Santana looked better but still allowed 3 earned runs and took the loss. He might have gotten out of it with only one run allowed had Juan Rincon not entered the game in the sixth and done his best J.C. Romero impression, allowing both inherited runners to score.

The Twins have looked totally overmatched by both of their first two opponents, and I'm nervous. I'm scared that the Twins are going to struggle to play .500 ball this year and will not be legitimate playoff contenders. Perhaps I've been spoiled by the last five years of winning baseball, but I'm not ready to go back to the way things were.

With that said, even with the extremely low quality of play thus far, there are some reasons for optimism. Francisco Liriano has looked terrific. He has appeared in two games, pitching 5 and 2/3 innings and allowing just four hits while striking out 7 and issuing no walks. This begs the question: How long until Liriano breaks the starting rotation? He has been the best pitcher on the team so far, and he is molded to be a starter. If things are even half as bad as they've looked so far, the Twins can't afford to not have Liriano starting, and I would not be at all surprised to see him and Scott Baker switch spots if Baker has a couple more shaky starts. Offensively, things should get better. We know guys like White, Jason Kubel, and Luis Castillo are capable of a lot more than they've shown so far. One has to think those guys are going to turn it around and start hitting better.

Whatever the case, it is imperative that the Twins string some wins together in their upcoming homestand. It won't be easy, as they open their home schedule tomorrow against the Oakland Athletics, one of the better teams in the majors. As we explained a while back, the Twins need to keep their heads above water against this tough early schedule or they may dig themselves into a hole they cannot climb out of.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Point Taken?

Watching the Twins get rocked by the Indians again yesterday afternoon made me wonder about some of our preseason predictions. Obviously, we were concerned about the offense. And putting up zeroes against Jason Johnson is never encouraging. What I wonder about is for one, why is Nick Punto batting in the two-spot again? He's an awful number-two hitter and we should have learned that last year, when our hitters in that spot were atrocious. If anything, if you're sitting Luis Castillo (Gardy are you listening?), move Joe Mauer up to the two spot and, although I'm not a huge fan, put Torii in the three spot and Justin in the five hole. It isn't great, but better than having a rally-killer in the early lineup. Why do I say this? Because Punto went 0 for 4.

Of course, let's not just pick on Punto. I wasn't happy to see Jason Kubel go hitless with a GIDP after (surprise!) Tony Batista got on base with a walk. Nor was I happy to see Justin Morneau go hitless with two Ks after he seemed to break out last night with two homers. About the only positives are seeing Rondell White get his first extra-base hit with a double (though he too killed a rally with a GIDP) and Juan Castro and Luis Rodriguez continuing to get some base-hits. And of course, I love seeing Fransisco Liriano continue to show his fantastic stuff, as he struck out four Indians in 2 and 2/3 innings of work.

But leaving 14 men on base and 4 on with two outs and runners in scoring position is not a good sign. And having the starting pitching, which was supposed to be the Twins' strong point, come out of the box so weak is a worse sign. It's the worst time, especially when Chicago is down (1-4 so far after losing two straight to Kansas City) and Detroit is streaking, with five straight wins to start the year. Of course, Detroit is starting with a somewhat easier schedule, but the point is we needed to start this year strong. An inconsistent offense and poor starting pitching is not just disconcerting; its making me very nervous. What happens this week when Oakland (who's pitching is looking great, after Joe Blanton threw eight shutout innings on Friday and Barry Zito and Co. held the Mariners to one hit last night) visits and the Yankees and their juggernaught offense arrive for the weekend?

Lets just hope that today, with Johan Santana on the mound, we can start to right this ship. I know, its only been five games right? But these are the big opponents and games where we need to be going .500 before beating up on weaker teams. There just aren't enough Tampa Bays out there to destroy weekly; the AL is certainly strong this year and the Twins need to toughen up quick.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Lohse Rocked

After posting a career-best ERA in 2005 and putting up phenomenal numbers in Spring Training, the 27-year-old Kyle Lohse appeared poised to come out and have a terrific season in '06. If his first start yesterday afternoon is any indication, that's not going to be happening. Lohse was hit hard early and often and took the loss as the Indians pounded the Twins 11-6.

Pretty much everything about Lohse's outing was terrible. He had trouble finding the strike zone, throwing only 58 of his 99 pitches for strikes. He fell behind in the count against 15 of the 27 batters he faced. He gave up 8 runs, all earned, and allowed 11 hits over just 4 and 2/3 innings. He walked three and struck out three. The low point came in the 5th inning. After trailing 4-1 at the end of the fourth, Joe Mauer had brought the Twins back within one with a 2-run double in the top half of the inning. In the bottom of the fifth, Lohse loaded the bases with two outs. He met with Rick Anderson and the infielders to discuss how they would approach the next batter, Casey Blake. Apparently it wasn't a very successful talk, as Lohse proceeded start the at-bat by throwing the worst pitch imaginable to Blake, a hanging breaking pitch right over the middle of the plate that was easily deposited into the left field seats for a grand slam.

I'm sure Ron Gardenhire will claim that Lohse's struggles were due to him over-exerting himself because of the excitement of his first start. To me, it just seemed like he was being extremely tentative with the potent Cleveland lineup, afraid to throw the ball in the strike zone. I can't say I blame him, but if the Twins' pitchers can't find a way to pitch to these guys and get outs it's going to be a long season, because -- aside from having to play the Indians several times -- the White Sox and Tigers both have lineups that are looking pretty intimidating at this point.

If there's a bright spot to be found in this game, it is the resiliency of the Twins' hitters. Despite the fact that Lohse put them in a hole early, the offense kept chipping away at the Indians' lead. Unfortunately, Cleveland just kept building on that lead and eventually just put it to far out of reach. Justin Morneau broke out of his early slump with a big game, hitting 2 home runs and driving in 3 runs. Meanwhile, Rondell White continued to slump, going 0-for-4. He has one hit this season, and it was a weak dribbler down the third base line for an infield hit. I remain high on White and I'm not too worried, but he needs to start producing from the cleanup spot.

Surprisingly, the Twins' pitching early this season has left a lot more to be desired than the hitting. It's hard to imagine the inexperienced Scott Baker having a ton of success against Cleveland's lineup in today's game, but here's hoping he can piece together a solid start and the offense can score some runs against Jason Johnson, a guy the Twins have had success against in the past.

-On another note, Michael Cuddyer entered the game to replace Lew Ford, who started the game and apparently tweaked his hamstring. I have no idea why it was Cuddyer who replaced Ford and not Jason Kubel, since Indians' starter Paul Byrd is pretty hittable for lefties (as evidenced by Mauer and Morneau), but Cruddy continued his usual April ineptitude by going 0-for-2. He is now hitless in 7 at-bats this season.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Out of Control

Last year, in 188 and 1/3 innings, Carlos Silva walked only nine batters. That added up to .43 BB/game, a modern record. Last night, Silva's control, which is essentially the only thing that keeps him from getting lit up each day he goes to the mound, was not anywhere in sight. Silva uncharacteristically walked two hitters in 5 and 2/3 innings, losing himself completely in the sixth inning. In addition to the walks, he threw only 56 strikes to 34 balls, which is a bad sign for Silva, and hit a batter. He was constantly falling behind hitters, as evidenced by his third inning, where he threw first-pitch balls to every batter but managed to escaped unharmed. In fairness, Silva didn't get a lot of innings in the World Baseball Classic and didn't have a great spring, and he's still working his way back into shape. With that in mind, you can't read too much into last night's performance. What I take from it is that it's a great example of just how much Silva needs his control to be successful.

Other observations:

With lefty Gustavo Chacin on the mound, the Twins had a different and significantly weaker lineup out against the Jays in their losing effort last night. Here's what happened:

* Shannon Stewart continued his hot streak. He was 2 for 4 with a run scored and a double. His average now sits at a sizzling .538 and he even got his first SB of the year. Like many others, I wonder why Stewart doesn't get moved back behind Luis Castillo, where his extra-base hits can actually drive someone in, especially in their line-up against lefties.

* The guy in the nine-hole last night, Nick Punto, did better than one may expect. He went 1 for 2 with an RBI and walk. However, it's still terribly annoying to watch him strike out looking because he can't protect the strike zone at all with two strikes. It's been three years and nothing -- NOTHING -- has changed there.

* Joe Nathan and Willie Eyre finally got work in, as they both pitched scoreless innings. All 25 players on the Twins roster have now seen game action.

* Tony Batista committed his first error of the season, but made up for it with a double and run scored. So far, compared to the guy he is replacing (Michael Cuddyer), I'm sufficiently satisfied. He plays sufficient defense, albeit with limited range, but he generally makes plays on the balls he gets to and he delivers extra-base hits, which is much more than you could say about Cuddyer. A few more hits, a boast to the average, and Twins fans should be happy with what they got. Of course, that's no small order for a guy who hasn't hit above .244 in the majors since 2000.

* Speaking of Cuddyer, who started in place of Jason Kubel in right, he had another typically awful April day at the plate. He went 0 for 4 in the five-spot. No better things could be said for Rondell White, who hit into a double-play and went hitless. He has one hit this season and it wasn't much of a hit.

* Joe Mauer's replacement, Mike Redmond, was solid as usual, going 2 for 4 with two doubles and an RBI. Obviously its early, but I am constantly happy with Redmond, as he is a great back-up to have for Mauer and the Twins. Unlike previous backups (Tom Prince, Henry Blanco) he can actually hit in additonal to being a good defender and solid clubhouse guy.

The Twins face the Indians at 2 this afternoon and we'll get our first look at Kyle Lohse.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Bouncing Back

I'm glad my turn in the Nick & Nick posting order came on last night's game rather than Tuesday's opener, because it puts me in a much better mood as I write this. The Twins struggled against Roy Halladay Tuesday, scoring just two earned runs and losing 6-3. Last night, the offense came out firing against starter Josh Towers and a couple of Blue Jays relievers and the Twins picked up their first victory of the season, a 13-4 pummeling of Toronto.

When the Jays made a variety of moves to bolster their offense during the offseason, a lot of people wondered what type of effect it would have on their defense. They traded away Gold Glove second baseman Orlando Hudson and slick-fielding third baseman Corey Koskie and replaced them with inexperienced Aaron Hill and butcher Troy Glaus. The effect was evident last night. The Blue Jays gave away several runs through their sloppy play, with a variety of errors, wild pitches, and boneheaded decisions in the field. But, in fairness, the Twins hitters came out and just pounded the ball after a relatively slow start.

Brad Radke gave up three runs in the first inning, on home runs by Troy Glaus and Lyle Overbay. This would normally be the space for a rant about Radke's continual inability to get out of the first inning without massive damage, a trend that has apparently carried over into the 2006 season, but I'll lay off. It's frustrating, but hey, it's frustrating for him too and I know he's tried just about everything he possibly can to shake that nagging flaw in his game. Hopefully he can fix it. Following his rough first inning, he pitched five more decent -- not great -- innings and picked up the win.

The Twins' offense tonight displayed precisely the reasons I think it will be much improved over last year. The 1-2-3 hitters in the lineup (Shannon Stewart, Luis Castillo, Joe Mauer) reached base a total of nine times and Castillo and Mauer stole a bag apiece. The middle of the lineup (Rondell White, Torii Hunter, Justin Morneau) combined for 8 RBI. Six of those were from Hunter, who had a monster night. He went 4-for-5 with a grand slam.

One observation. Josh Towers seems to have a tendency of grooving a fastball right down the middle on the first pitch in an effort to get ahead in the count. I was noticing this early in the game, and wishing the Twins would jump on some first pitches. In the first three innings, the Twins took a strike looking on the first pitch five times, and they struggled offensively as they constantly fell behind in the count. In the fourth inning, they became more aggressive at the plate. Hunter came up with runners on first and third and swung at the first pitch, singling in a run. In the next at-bat, Morneau jumped on the first pitch and swatted an RBI single to center. Don't get me wrong, working the count and wearing out the pitcher are important, but I think that hitters like Hunter and Morneau -- who aren't exactly known for their discerning eye at the plate -- need to make a point of being more aggressive and taking a swing at the first good pitch they see.

There were several other nice things in last night's game. Francisco Liriano made his season debut, pitching two excellent innings of relief. He struck out three, and worked out of a jam with runners on second and third in the 8th inning. Luis Rodriguez pinch-hit for Tony Batista late in the game, and hit an opposite-field home run. I'd love to see Elrod play well and push Batista for playing time at third. Batista went 0-for-3, striking out twice (once in a key RBI situation).

Castillo was much more impressive last night than in his sluggish Twins debut Tuesday. He made an excellent play in the field, ranging far to his right and retiring Eric Hinske with a strong off-balance throw. He also displayed much-needed aggresiveness on the basepaths, going from first to third on a Mauer single (then scoring on a White sac fly in the next at-bat). He had two hits and a walk in the game, and eventually scored all three times he reached base.

All in all, it was a very good win for the Twins, giving them a chance to win the series and go into their weekend set in Cleveland with a little momentum. Tonight's matchup: Carlos Silva vs. Gustavo Chacin.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

First Impressions

The Twins opened their season last night, as for some reason, they had to wait an extra day to start the season. But facing Roy Halladay remained an issue. There were a lot of things to notice throughout the game, though, other than Halladay's continued domination of the Twins (He's now 5-0 against them in his career). A few notes on the Twins' 6-3 loss to Toronto:

* The offense for the Twins was provided mostly by Shannon Stewart, who went 3 for 4 with a home run, and Tony Batista, who managed to do the only thing expected of him by hitting a home run.

* The Twins managed a meager five hits, the other being provided by (gulp) Juan Castro. Let's hope that the Twins really aren't relying on those three for offense.

* The Twins left nine runners on and two in scoring position, as only Rondell White managed to do anything with a runner in scoring position, hitting a deep-fly to center in the first for a sac fly. White did what was expected after his signing, which is doing well with runners on.

* Not much can be said for the other middle-of-the-order guys. White went 0 for 3 and all together, Mauer, White, Hunter, and Morneau went 0 for 15 with 4 Ks.

* For some reason, after Hunter flailed away at a Ryan slider to reduce the Twins to two outs in the ninth, Gardy didn't pinch-hit for Morneau and left him in to embarrass himself against one of the toughest lefty-on-lefty pitchers in the bigs. I realize the game was essentially out of reach, but I felt bad for Justin. That's a bad indication, although obviously there aren't too many choices on the bench anyway.

* Johan started well, having a solid first inning and a 1-2-3 second, before running into trouble in the third and giving up a two-run homer to Bengie Molina in the fourth. His control wasn't great, he gave up 10 hits in only 5 2/3 innings before leaving with a couple runners on. He only struck out three and appeared to have a poor feel for his change-up. It was thought that Santana would come out of the gate on a roll after his good outings in the World Baseball Classic, but he appears to have the same issues he has each spring. That could be bad news for the Twins, who have an April schedule filled with tough matchups and desperately need to get off to a good start. Hopefully they can bounce back with some easier pitching matchups in the remainder of this series and then play well in Cleveland this weekend.

* Juan Rincon looked better than advertised (word was he wasn't ready and his control was erratic), as he got Santana off the hook coming into a bases-loaded situation in the 6th with a strikeout.

* Jesse Crain did not look so good. He exhibited bad control and his fastball, though hitting 96, was awfully straight and he was lit up with a two-run Alex Rios home run in the eighth which essentially put the game out of reach for good. I'm worried about what Crain will be able to do and I think Anderson probably shouldn't try to keep him as a groundball pitcher when his tendencies put him as a power guy. In the minors, Crain dominated everyone. Obviously, that doesn't translate, but that low K-rate could be a serious issue soon.

* The Roy Halladay choice for AL Cy Young looked pretty good for Nick Nelson last night. It was the usual kind of Halladay line: lots of innings, good amount of Ks, a run or two, and little or no walks.

Hopefully, that middle of the lineup looks a little better tonight, when they face off against Josh Towers with Brad Radke getting the start for the Twins.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Spring Cleaning

The Twins open their 2006 season tonight in Toronto, with what should be an entertaining pitcher's duel between preseason Cy Young Award favorites Johan Santana and Roy Halladay. I think we've pretty much exhaustively covered just about every offseason angle we can here, so I'm about ready to watch some baseball and get down to business. To close out the offseason, a few quick notes regarding the offseason, the spring, and what to look forward to early in the season, as well as some random observations from yesterday's slate of games:

It seems like Ron Gardenhire and Terry Ryan might be trying to make an annual tradition out of making one inexplicably stupid roster decision heading into the season. Last year, it was carrying four catchers, including the despicable Corky Miller. This year, it is the demotion of Jason Bartlett in favor of Juan Castro as the starting shortstop. Maybe Gardy and Ryan are closet blog readers who get sick pleasure out of reading the angry rants from Twins fans who understandably cannot comprehend the reasoning behind decisions like this. Either way, Castro will be trotting out to shortstop and batting ninth today against one of the game's best pitchers. How exciting.

There will be a variety of new faces for Twins fans to get used to early this season. Luis Castillo will provide range and stability at second base. Rondell White (if healthy) will be a more polished and consistent hitter than we've seen in the clean-up spot in some time. Who knows what to expect from Tony Batista. Scott Ullger will now be waving men home as third-base coach, replacing the departed Al Newman. Joe Vavra will hopefully bring a fresh offensive approach as the new hitting coach. Jason Kubel, after missing all of the 2005 campaign, may be the starting right fielder tonight against Halladay. Scott Baker will be a full-time member of the rotation, and a pair of rookies will come out of the bullpen in Francisco Liriano and Willie Eyre. Some questions to ponder about a couple of these guys as we watch them play in the coming weeks:

-Castillo was once a tremendously prolific base-stealer, but that aspect of his game has kind of disappeared in the past few years. Castillo has stated that the reason he didn't steal much last year had less to do with injuries and more to do with hitting in front of two monster run producers (Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Delgado). Gardenhire has said that the Twins will run Castillo aggressively on the bases. Should be interesting to see what he does when he gets on base.

-If Batista gets off to a slow start and can't make the plays in the field, how long does it take the team to start trying other options at third base? Does Luis Rodriguez start to see some play time?

I'm a little scared about the Chicago's new DH, Jim Thome. When the White Sox made the move to acquire Thome, I casually brushed it off, reminding myself how ineffective he was last season and convincing myself that he'd miss most of this season due to injury. However, the guy hit a whopping 8 home runs in 7 exhibition games this spring, and he looked really good on Sunday night against the Indians. I could tell in watching his first at-bat that his swing was really on; he popped out to center but he hit the ball really hard. Sure enough, he hit a monster homer later in the game. If he stays healthy, the White Sox are going to be very hard to stop, and I'm not sure the Twins have a bullpen answer for him. Their only lefty, Liriano, is inexperienced.

The MLB season got fully underway yesterday with several interesting games. A few notes of interest:

-Jimmy Rollins had been a big storyline this spring. He ended the 2005 season on a 36-game hitting streak, and needed to get hits in his first 20 games this season in order to match Joe DiMaggio's legendary streak. Facing the Cardinals yesterday, Rollins was 0/3 when he stepped up against Cards' reliever Adam Wainwright. Rollins worked the count to 3-0 before pounding a double down the right field line. I don't believe Rollins has any chance of reaching 56 games, but with each game he adds on to the streak, the storyline becomes more fun to follow. In the same game, Albert Pujols homered twice, walked twice, and drove in four. People complained that we were being "unoriginal" by choosing Pujols as our NL MVP favorite, but how could you not pick this guy? He's plain and simply the best hitter in baseball.

-Former Twin Jacque Jones nearly homered in his first game with his new team, the Cubs. He drove a ball deep to left field and flipped his bat, thinking it was gone, only to watch Adam Dunn make a leaping catch at the wall.

-It was a day of good first impressions. Mike Piazza homered in his first at-bat for the Padres. Kenny Rogers pitched six very solid innings to pick up a win for the Tigers in Kansas City. Juan Pierre had three hits, including a triple, for the Cubs. Japanese import Kenji Johjima homered for Seattle. Xavier Nady went 4/4 for the Mets. Mike Lowell (surprisingly) homered for the Red Sox. Heck, even J.C. Romero pitched 1.2 hitless innings for the Halos.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Indian Trail

Recently, the Indians secured another large part of their young core by signing Grady Sizemore to a six-year, $23 million contract. It was an unprecendented contract for a 23-year-old player. Sizemore's signing of a long-term contract at a young age follows suit, as the Indians have shortstop Jhonny Peralta (five years, $13 million) and catcher Victor Martinez ($15.5 million for five years) signed to long term contracts as well. Beyond that, they have Travis Hafner and left-hander C.C. Sabathia under contract through 2007 with club options for 2008 and are currently trying to get Cliff Lee under a long-term contract.

The thing about the Indians' strategy is that they seem to be the only team doing it right now. They have a strong, talented core signed and ready to compete for years. The Twins should do the same. They don't need to do so with Justin Morneau yet, as he still needs to prove himself. They might consider it with Scott Baker, Fransisco Liriano, Jason Kubel, and other rising stars. But they definitely should give a similar contract to Joe Mauer.

Mauer is another 23-year-old rising superstar. Granted, he didn't have the year Sizemore did last year (Sizemore hit .289 with 22 home runs, 81 RBI, 111 runs scored, and 22 stolen bases), but there need be no question mark about what Mauer will do for years to come. Even if he has to switch positions, he'll be a great offensive player. He already is.

Part of the reason for bringing this up is that many reports have suggested that Terry Ryan may be considering signing Mauer to a long-term deal. I'm sure the Twins are and the likeliness is that they'll try and sign Mauer long term after the season is over. That's because after this season, they'll likely have Brad Radke's, Torii Hunter's, and Shannon Stewart's contracts off the payroll (unless Hunter's option is picked up, which is unlikely). Of course, Radke could come back, and Shannon could re-sign, but the likeliness is that the youth movement will take over.

With that in mind, let's look forward to the season. And hopefully, Jim Thome's monster blast to finish off Cleveland last night following his big spring (eight home runs in seven games, yikes!) doesn't become a trend. Or else the Twins might not have a postseason to look forward to.