Monday, July 31, 2006

Update: Lohse Traded

According to, Kyle Lohse has been traded this morning to the Cincinnati Reds. No surprise in this move. With Torii Hunter coming off the DL today and Ron Gardenhire wanting to go down to 11 pitchers, Lohse was the odd man out (Willie Eyre will probably get sent down when Matt Guerrier comes off the DL). And moving him to the Reds makes plenty of sense, with former Twins Assistent GM Wayne Krisky running the show, and helps perhaps explain why Lohse has been around so long in the first place.

The only confusion here is why Lohse was traded for a minor league pitcher and not a hitter. In exchange for Lohse, the Twins got what Jim Callis calls "one of the most pure arms in the Reds system" in Zach Ward. Ward throws a good 93-94 mph fastball and a mid-80s slider. In 20 games and 18 starts a Single-A Dayton, he had a 7-0 record, a 2.29 ERA, a 95-37 K/BB ratio, a .188 BAA, and only two homers allowed in 114 innings. He sounds like a good arm, and its great that the Twins acquired a good pitching prospect, but it still makes little sense to me. The Reds have hitting and need pitching. The Twins have lots of pitching and need hitting now and in the future. Why not get a bat of some sorts?

Of course, we are talking about Kyle Lohse here. Its hard to be selective. The fact is we got rid of a huge headache, got a good college arm and prospect for him, and who knows, we may be able to use Ward as trade bait at a later time if he develops. Once again, thank the Reds for solving another one of our problems.

Keep in tune for anymore potential trades on the horizon.

An Eighth for the Ages

What a strange, odd, crazy, but wonderful eighth inning it was yesterday. The Twins defeated Detroit in that inning, as the Tigers fumbled the ball around, committed errors, allowed a run on a balk, and allowed only two hard hit balls and a bunch of wimpy grounders add up to six runs.

The day initially looked pretty bad for the Twins. It looked like the White Sox would win, the Yankees had won, Johan Santana had a very unspectacular start, and the Twins offense could do nothing against Jeremy Bonderman (one hit through the first seven innings). But in the eighth inning, the Detroit fielding issues caught up with them.

The Tigers made four errors in the game, two in that eighth inning. After Justin Morneau singled and advanced to second on a Carlos Guillen error, Chris Shelton made an Buckner-esque error to get Jason Kubel to first and Morneau across the plate to score the first Twins run. Mike Redmond quickly following by hitting a ball down the line just fair for a double to drive Kubel in. After Jason Tyner singled, the Tigers committed another defensive mishap, as Jason Bartlett hit the ball down to third and third baseman Brandon Inge unsuccessfully tried to tag Redmond out as he dove back into third. Everyone was safe to load the bases.

The next play was even crazier. With Luis Castillo at the plate and looking just as nervous as he did last night with the game on the line, taking fastballs down the pipe to get in a hole, Bonderman balked to bring home the game-tying run. Castillo then gave the Twins a lead by driving in a run with a groundout. After Nick Punto flied out (to cap off an awful day at the plate for him, seeing him revert to his old strikeout-prone days) and Joe Mauer was intentionally walked, Michael Cuddyer got the big hit, a two-run triple, to seal the deal.

Of course, I can't let Cuddyer off the hook too easily. He's had a pretty down July and has been striking out in bunches recently. He had troubles with Bonderman, a hard right-hander, throughout the game before getting the big hit. Naturally, the whole Twins lineup did most of the game, but a .236/.331/.419 line against righties can't be ignored.

The point is, despite his huge hit, I still feel that Cuddyer needs to be moved down in the order in favor of Morneau in the cleanup spot. You need a guy whose hitting .316/.360/.599 in that spot, especially when he's two home runs away from 30 and second in the league with 86 RBI. With Hunter back, its even possible to put Hunter in the fifth spot and Cuddyer in the sixth, though Cuddy may be best-suited for the fifth spot.

The point is, just as they did in the eighth, the Tigers and other teams are constantly walking and pitching around Mauer because Cuddyer simply doesn't possess the same kind of threat Morneau does. Cuddy has some power and he drives in runners very well (.324/.430/.598 with RISP), but he could do that just as well in the fifth or sixth spot while making the team's offensive engine run a bit smoother.

However, Cuddyer may not be the Twins greatest offensive issue, especially in the near future. The issue lies with Ron Gardenhire, who takes way too long to make changes in the lineup. It's doubtful he'll realize that Cuddyer needs to be moved in time for it to mean anything. (More on this in tommorow's post with the other Nick.) Punto, not Cuddyer, is showing worse signs of reverting to his old form. While Cuddyer's walk rate has gone way down and he's been striking out too much recently, Punto has dropped off the last two days since his 19-game hitting streak ended.

As Aaron Gleeman notes in his post, it simply seems like some of the Twins have run out of steam in the midst of their huge run. Though they seem to have righted the ship for now with the luckiest inning you'll see in a long time, they may run into troubles with silly decision-making. How can the Twins or fans feel confident with Carlos Silva on the hill tonight against the gaudy Texas lineup? He's bound to give up at least five or six runs, if not more. That's a lot of pressure on the offense in games not started by Liriantanke and it may be catching up to them. It's about time the Twins call up Matt Garza or make any move, like inserting Matt Guerrier into the rotation, to replace the obviously washed up Silva in the rotation.

Here's hoping Silva can surprise again like he did last week in Chicago, and the Twins can start another winning streak.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Needs Evident as Deadline Looms

The Twins got a couple two-run homers and kept things close to some degree last night, but for the majority of the game it was pretty clear that they stood no chance against a relentless Tigers team that just would not stop scoring. A three-run seventh inning for the Twins cut Detroit's lead down to one, but the Tigers responded by adding a run in each of the last two innings and smothering a ninth inning rally en route to an 8-6 victory. Friday night the Twins couldn't score more than two runs against an unspectacular rookie in Zach Miner, and last night they hit grounder after grounder against Nate Robertson and were unable to string hits together at any point. Nick Punto ended his 18-game hitting streak by going 0-for-5. Luis Castillo was afraid to swing the bat with the game on the line in bottom of the ninth, striking out looking with two on and no outs. Michael K-ddyer struck out three times in the game. Even with the two-run homers from Justin Morneau and Josh Rabe that kept the game close to some degree, on nights like this the Twins really look like they could use that one extra bat. With the trade deadline approaching tomorrow, their only real chance to add an impact hitter for the rest of this season is about to arrive.

A few of the Twins' options may have come off the market on Friday, when the Brewers dealt left fielder Carlos Lee to the Rangers and the Dodgers sent promising young third baseman Willy Aybar to the Braves as part of the Dannys Baez/Wilson Betemit deal. The big name still on the market in an area of need for the Twins is Alfonso Soriano, but I'm disinclined to believe that Terry Ryan will make an agressive effort to acquire him. The asking price is likely to be too high for a guy who may simply be a two-month rental (although many analysts believe that acquiring Soriano would make the Twins possible World Series favorites).

Instead of giving up several valuable players to obtain Soriano from the Nationals, the Twins could make a play for a less high-profile player such as the Pirates' Craig Wilson. Wilson is a pretty good hitter who would no doubt cost considerably less than Soriano, but on the downside he is a nearly identical player to what Michael Cuddyer has become. Wilson is a couple years older than Cuddyer and has a career .268/.360/.486 line in six major league seasons (Cuddy is hitting .267/.351/.488). Both are right-handed hitters that strike out a lot and don't walk much, both hit for decent but not great power, and both play first base and the corner outfield positions.

With that said, Wilson is a solid player, and if Pittsburgh was willing to give him up at a reasonable price, I think he would be a nice addition to the lineup who could provide the Twins a boost for the remainder of the season without forcing them to sell out their future.

Speaking of trades, Kyle Lohse likely made his last audition to the rest of the league before the deadline last night, and it was not a particularly impressive one. Lohse came on in relief of Brad Radke, who the Tigers chased from the game after just three innings, and promptly proceeded to give up a brutal two-run homer to Curtis Granderson. Outside of the home run, Lohse ended up pitching three solid innings, but the damage was done. I have to imagine Ryan is pretty desperate to get rid of Lohse, so it will be interesting to see what kind of return there is if he's dealt tomorrow.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Wasted Domination

Francisco Liriano once again proved last night that he is an unstoppable pitcher in so many ways. The only problem is that the Twins and their offense failed to follow. The embarrassing part is that it came against Zach Miner, a finesse righty who come into the game with two straight awful starts against two of the worst offenses in the league in KC and Oakland. Miner hass had a fine year, but he didn't exactly come in with much momentum and the Twins didn't seem to fight him the way they had against their previous 42 or so opponents.

Instead, a brilliant Liriano outing was wasted. Eight innings, three hits, three walks, two runs, and 12 strikeouts gets put on the wall with his other two great outings in July, against Milwaukee and his previous outing against Cleveland. All in all, he went 4-1 in July with a 1.51 ERA and 55 Ks in 41 2/3 innings, while only allowing 22 hits and 13 walks. Pretty amazing.

For those of you keeping track with the Cy Young award run, that means Liriano is now third in strikeouts, just two behind Scott Kazmir and 21 behind our Johan Santana. Lirano 12 wins, is second in winning percentage, and leads the league in ERA (1.96), WHIP (0.96), and BAA (.191). Remember, there was a guy last year in the National League having a year like this, except for with a lot less wins but more publicity. His name is Roger Clemens. And, yes, if you remember, Liriano beat him this year too. The point is this hasn't just been a historically great rookie season, but a historical great season period. His ERA+ is 235 (or, in other words, the league average in the AL is about 4.45). An ERA+ anywhere near or above 200 is incredible.

The modern record was set by Pedro Martinez in 2000 at 285. If Liriano finished on his pace right now, his 235 adjusted ERA would be 11th All-time, behind the great seasons of Pedro (2000), Dutch Leonard (1914), Greg Maddux (1994), Walter Johnson (1913), Maddux (1995), Bob Gibson (1968), Mordecai Brown (1906), Pedro (1999), and Johnson (1912). That would fall in front of the great years of pitchers like Clemens, Christy Mathewson, Lefty Grove, and even good ol' Dwight Gooden in '85.

Of course, its hard to tell if Liriano has even a chance to finish with a 200 adjusted ERA. (200 would be tied for 35th All-time with Dean Chance in 1964) The point is that Liriano is having one of the best seasons we may see in our lifetimes. This would be the best rookie season ever. Realizing that makes this run all the more enjoyable.

As for the game last night, losing to Zach Miner was tough. The bullpen couldn't hold a lead, as Juan Rincon lost the game with a run-scoring single allowed to Twins Killer Craig Monroe in the 10th. Most of the problem was that the offense simply couldn't get it going, which is what got the game to extra innings in the first place. Joe Mauer had an RBI and a hit and Justin Morneau went 2-for-4, but other key guys, like Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, and Jason Tyner couldn't manage a hit in 11 collective at-bats and the Twins simply couldn't get any runners into scoring position.

The biggest failure in that lied on the basepaths, where the Twins runners got caught stealing once, but more importantly, ended rallies with poor baserunning (See Castillo, Luis in the third inning). The question now is whether the Twins can recover tonight against lefty Nate Robertson with Brad Radke on the mound. All I can say is I doubt another pitching duel will occur tonight. Wait until Sunday, when co-ace Santana takes on Jeremy Bonderman.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Friday Notes

* The Metrodome should fill up nicely this weekend for what should be a terrific series between the Twins and Tigers. It should be interesting to see how these red-hot Twins play against another team that is actually playing well. As impressive as the Twins' play has been over the past month-plus, the competition has not exactly been top-notch. You probably know that the Twins' record since June 8 is 34-8, but what you might not realize is that the only teams with a record currently above .500 that the Twins have played during that span are the Red Sox and the White Sox. Now, the Twins did complete sweeps in both of those series, but they got Chicago during a major post-break slump. The Tigers have been nearly as hot as the Twins over the past 40 games, so it should be fun to see these two winning machines face off.

Fortunately, the pitching match-ups this weekend would seem to favor the Twins pretty nicely. Minnesota will be starting their three best pitchers while avoiding Detroit's rookie phenom Justin Verlander

Unfortunately, the Twins will not have a chance to face Kenny Rogers. In my mid-season breakdown of the Cy Young race back in June, I ranked Rogers pretty low, commending his performance over the first couple of months but noting, "with the knowledge of his tendency to collapse in the second half of the season, I'm holding my reservations about his ability to continue to pitch like he is now." Lo and behold, the American League All-Star team's starter has posted an obscene 9.37 ERA in four July starts, including an outing in Cleveland on Tuesday night where he was pummeled for seven runs without escaping the first inning.

* Carlos Silva surprised me by piecing together a decent outing in Chicago on Wednesday afternoon, holding the White Sox to three runs over five innings before giving way to the automatic bullpen. Nevertheless, Silva looked shaky and continued to get the majority of his outs through the air rather than on the ground, a troubling trend which he has been unable to buck this season.

In order to keep up in the Wild Card race over the next two months, the Twins will need to solidify the back end of their rotation so they can occasionally win when someone other than the three-headed monster I like to call Liriantanke is starting. The answer just may come in the form of Matt Garza, a pitching prospect who I have raved about quite a bit on this blog over the course of the season. Garza, a 2005 draft pick who started the year in Single-A but has rocketed his way up to the highest level of the minor leagues, tossed a complete-game shutout Tuesday night against the Charlotte Knights, who happen to be the only team in the International League with a better record than Garza's own Rochester Red Wings. He allowed just three hits and two walks over nine scoreless frames while striking out eight. Garza posted a 1.42 ERA in eight starts in Single-A, a 2.51 ERA in 10 starts in Double-A, and now holds a 2.05 ERA in three Triple-A starts. During that entire span, he has amassed an incredible 142:30 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

It's always a bit of a risky move bringing a guy up too early, and Garza is just 22 years old and in his first full year of professional baseball. With that said, this kid has pitched so well that he just looks out of place in the minor leagues. It would probably be a mistake for the Twins to trade something of value for a veteran starting pitcher before the deadline when Garza could conceivably come up and pitch considerably better than Silva or Scott Baker have.

* This is fun to see. Three of the six players pictured on the league leader page on are currently Twins. Joe Mauer leads the majors in batting average, while Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano top the lists for strikeouts and ERA, respectively.

* Barring injury, it's pretty clear that Justin Morneau is going to break the dreaded 30-HR curse for the Minnesota Twins this year, but a more interesting question is whether or not he will become the first Twin since Harmon Killebrew to smack out 40. In the months of June and July, Morneau has homered about once every 11 at-bats. He has averaged 89 at-bats per month so far this season. If he gets about that many ABs in both August and September and continues to homer at the aforementioned rate, he would finish the season with 43 home runs (and that's not counting the last few days of July).

* Even though they almost surely won't, it sure would be nice if the Twins could acquire a left-fielder by the trading deadline. For those who believe that Rondell White truly is the answer out there, please note that since his 4-hit outburst against Cleveland on Friday night, White has reverted to his old ways and gone 3-for-19 (.158) without an RBI.

* The Twins made news yesterday by extending the contract of backup catcher Mike Redmond. While the financial terms were not announced, the extension locks up Redmond through 2008 with a club option for 2009. The move is a little odd in that, while Redmond has been a solid player offensively and defensively in his two years as Mauer's backup, he is 35 years old and he'll be 37 by the time the club option comes up following the 2008 season. Then again, Redmond's ability to rip lefties complements Mauer very nicely and he is a positive clubhouse presence, which are probably the reasons Terry Ryan saw fit to lock him up. His age is a concern, but since he's never really been a regular player, Redmond has less wear-and-tear than many catchers in their mid-30s.

* One final thought to leave you with. If things continue at their current pace, the Twins could end the year with two 20-game winners, the major league batting champion, the American League Rookie of the Year and Cy Young award winners, the best bullpen in the majors, and a first baseman who could make a run at the AL MVP. Oh, and they're the second-youngest team in baseball.

Sometimes, it just feels good to be a Twins fan. Have a great weekend and enjoy the series.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Running Wild

Wow. What an amazing comeback. Its been a crazy, intense, exciting, exhilirating, and enjoyable past couple weeks. The Twins already had an historical run in June, but July has been just as good if not better. Remember, in June, despite going 18-1 at one point, the Twins were making up no ground. Well, that's now changed.

Back then, we were saying it didn't mean much and things looked dim, and many weren't exactingly looking forward to the time when they had to play their AL Central counterparts instead of weak NL teams. It turns out we were far off. The Twins have gone 16-6 in July play, managing sweeps of the White Sox and the Devil Rays.

Everything has come together in some way, shape or form. Take a look at this year compared to last year. Last year, we had J.C. Romero to use against left-handers. J.C. was a clubhouse cancer, had awful control, and seemed to let every inherited runner score. This year, instead, we have Dennys Reyes, who has stranded the last 13 runners he's inherited while posting a 0.75 ERA in his last 20 appearances. Compared to J.C., he's a godsend.

How about this year's version of Justin Morneau? Last year, he was hot for about two weeks, after a concussion in May, and then looked dead for the rest of the year, posting Carl Everett-like numbers instead of Harmon Killebrew ones. This year, he has been hot for over two months. He now, after a 3-for-4 game with a home run (another big one off a lefty, this time Mark Buehrle) and 3 RBI yesterday, Justin is hitting .313 with 27 home runs and 84 RBI. Having a big slugger has made all the difference in the lineup, even though the Twins have only hit more home runs as a team than one squad in the league -- the Royals.

The list goes on. Jason Bartlett, who is hitting .336 after a three-hit game yesterday, or Nick Punto, who with two singles yesterday is now on an 18-game hitting streak. The bullpen has been lights-out. Fransisco Liriano and Johan Santana both have 12 wins and are on top of the AL leaders for pitching in nearly every category.

The most enjoyable aspect of this run is knowing that meaningful games will be played throughout the rest of the year. This runs constrast to the divisional titles in 2002-2004, in which the Twins had the divison mostly locked up by August. Beyond that, the knowledge that the Twins have the scariest pitching staff to potentially be in the playoffs is wonderful. With their two aces, Brad Radke (who has been very good in the postseason), and the best bullpen in the MLB, thats a lot to take up against most anyone.

However, despite being tied against with the White Sox, the Twins still need to contend with the New York Yankees and possibly the Toronto Blue Jays along with the Sox. With a ninth-inning Jason Giambi home run, the Yanks beat the Texas Rangers 8-7 last night, giving them a 1/2-game lead over the White Sox and our Twins.

The good, or maybe bad news, is that the Twins have a lot of control over their destiny. In the final two months, the Twins will play a four-game series against the Blue Jays, a three-game series in New York, ten games against the Tigers (including this weekend's series), and nine more against the White Sox. That's 26 key games, with series against contenders Texas and Boston along the way.

It seems that the writers and analysists at ESPN are still writing the Twins off. On Baseball Tonight, Orel Hersheisher wrote the Twins off completely, suggesting that the White Sox will come around again with their pitching and the Twins are playing above their heads and can't keep this up. The thing is, we've heard this logic before. Houston last year? Boston in 2004? Florida in 2003? The Angels in 2002? For that matter, most national analysists said there was no way the Twins would keep it up when they started their incessant winning back in June but they really haven't stopped yet.

It's ridiculous to count out a team thats playing with so much confidence and that has a lot of talent on it at the end of July. Yes, guys like Jason Tyner, Nick Punto, and others don't have a track record for what they are doing. But what difference does that make? Punto seems to be legit, carrying an 18-game hitting streak, and even if Tyner begins to slump, Torii Hunter could be back next Monday.

And the middle of the order? Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and yes Michael Cuddyer, are not playing over their heads. Their talent and minor league track records suggest this kind of play is entirely possible. Pitching-wise, there is no question about the next two months. Radke has settled into being reliable, Santana and Liriano are incredibly good (and there is no reason to think that will end anytime soon), the bullpen is phenomenal, and Carlos Silva probably shouldn't be allowed to start much longer.

If anything, the Twins have the advantage of getting Hunter back (almost like a trade) and having a streaking, talented minor league pitcher on the cusp in Matt Garza. If the Twins have Santana, Radke, Liriano, possibly Baker, and a hard-throwing righty the league has never seen, a lot goes in their favor. I'm of course not making any predictions. Anything can happen and all the teams the Twins are up against are filled with talent. I merely wish to point out that there isn't that much reason to think the Twins' play is more fluky than the play of Aaron Guiel in New York.

All in all, it's been pretty exciting to watch the team since the break and the series against Chicago was exhilirating. After an day off today, the Twins set up for a home series against Detroit. Lucky for us, struggling Detroit starters Zach Miner and Kenny Rogers (along with Jeremy Bonderman, who is doing great this year) will have to face off against the Liriano-Radke-Santana rotation everyone fears. I can't wait.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Twins 4, White Sox 3

For the second consecutive game, the long ball did the talking in Chicago last night. After a series opener that featured five home runs, all seven of the runs scored in last night's 4-3 Twins victory came on dingers. While the middle of the Twins' lineup carried the offense on Monday night, it was the bottom of the order coming through big in the second game of the series. Jason Bartlett and Jason "Tiny" Tyner, who combined for six hits including three doubles on Monday night, went a collective 4-for-7 in the 8 and 9 spots in the lineup last night. The big highlight was a three-run homer by Bartlett that broke a 1-1 tie in the seventh inning. Jason Kubel, hitting in the seventh spot in the order, provided a solo home run in the second inning that initially put the Twins on the board. This is the type of production the Twins never got from the bottom of the order when it consisted of Tony Batista, Juan Castro, and a slumping Rondell White.

Johan Santana gave the Twins seven solid innings, surrending home runs to Jim Thome and Joe Crede but shutting down the Sox lineup outside of that. Santana struck out six and walked none. As usual, Juan Rincon and Joe Nathan did their job and made it a seven-inning game, despite a nerve-wracking ninth inning in which Nathan allowed a couple base-runners on a walk and a hit with one out. Just when it looked like an A.J. Pierzynski rip to right field might tie the game (or worse), Michael Cuddyer made a diving catch for the out and Nathan got Alex Cintron to ground out in the next at-bat to end the game.

It was an intense battle, and a crucial series-clinching victory for the Twins who are virtually assured a loss today with the struggling Carlos Silva taking the mound. Let's not forget that the last time Silva and his opponent, Mark Buehrle, faced off, the Twins put up seven runs in the first inning and still managed to lose thanks to Silva's ineptitude.

Since the All-Star break, the Twins have gained eight games on the slumping White Sox, and now entering today's game tied with the Yankees and just one game behind Chicago in the Wild Card standings. It's only July, so it's clearly too early to be making a big deal of this, but the fact that the Twins are within one game of a playoff spot after their horrendous start is just really amazing.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Middle of the Lineup Leads the Way

The Twins are now only two miniscule games behind the Chicago White Sox. A sweep with two wins today and tommorow, and they may have a tie for the Wild Card, unless the Yankees have something to say about it. Of course, there are over two months left in the season, so we can't really draw conclusions at this point. However, three big home runs last night certainly made a statement to the White Sox on their home field.

Of the seven runs the Twins scored en route to a 7-4 victory, six came on home runs from Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau. If you're keeping track, that's the 3-4-5 hitters not only doing their job, but winning the game for the Twins. Cuddyer started the scoring, following a Nick Punto hit and a Mauer strikeout with an absolute blast to right field. Not to be shown up, Morneau came up and promptly deposited a Javier Vazquez fastball just over the right field wall.

However, the best was saved for last. In the seventh inning, Jason Tyner and Jason Bartlett chased Vazquez with straight singles to start the inning. Neal Cotts was brought in and got the first two outs, getting Luis Castillo on a weak popup and getting Nick Punto to ground into a fielder's choice, with Tyner getting "thrown out" at the plate on a controversial call. That left Mauer at the plate with two runners in scoring position (after a Punto steal) and two outs facing a lefty. After working the count to 3-1, Mauer took a Cotts fastball and deposited it over the center field fence for a three-run shot, his first homer of the year against a southpaw. That gave the Twins more than enough cushion, giving them a 6-2 lead. Before the at-bat, Mauer was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts, but with the home run and his sac fly in the ninth, Mauer ended the night with four RBI.

Other than the middle of the order, which went 5-for-14 with 3 HRs and 7 RBI collectively, the other production came from the ever-impressive Tyner and Bartlett, who had three hits apiece. That gives the Twins eight and nine hitters with .372 and .316 batting averages respectively. Not too shabby. The only bad offensive aspects of the night were watching Jason Kubel and Rondell White go 0-for-8.

Pitching-wise, Brad Radke continues to have a good second half. With the victory, he is now 9-7 with a 4.74 ERA. Along with Liriano and Santana, the top three Twins pitchers are 19-2 with a 2.30 ERA in the last 30 games. Giving up two home runs isn't great, but against the White Sox, it's nothing to be ashamed off and it helped that both were solo shots. Only Kyle Lohse performed badly last night, as he gave up a two-run home run in the ninth to Brian Anderson. Twins fans should be reminded that not only is Anderson hitting .211/.285/.349 with 6 HRs and 23 RBI, but this isn't the first home run Lohse has given up to him. If memory serves me correctly, he also gave up another one to him in April when the Twins got swept in Chi-Town.

Needless to say, Lohse is looking more and more useless as a pitcher. He needs to be traded in the next week, if only for spare parts. The Twins don't need his salary, bad attitude, or awful pitching around anymore. They already have a good bullpen outside of him and Willie Eyre and the manager is constantly asking for one less pitcher and a backup catcher. Even though it's ridiculous that Gardy is so nervous about the catching situation, it would be great if that led to Lohse's ousting.

Tonight's matchup should prove even more intense, with potential Cy Young candidates Johan Santana and Jose Contreras matching up. My money is on Santana, since Contreras hasn't been particularly great recently.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Bring On the Sox

After an 11-0 slaughtering on Saturday night, the Twins rebounded in a big way to defeat the Indians 3-1 yesterday and leave Cleveland with a series victory. This hopefully gives them some momentum as they head into Chicago for a pivotal three-game series against the White Sox that will be by far the most important the Twins have played this year. The Sox lead the AL Wild Card race by three games and the Twins will enter Chicago with a chance to cut down that lead or even tie the Sox in the standings with a sweep. Whatever happens, one of these teams is going to make a statement.

Yesterday's victory was certainly an impressive one and a stark contrast from the previous night's massacre. On Saturday, the Twins sent out three of their worst pitchers (Scott Baker, Kyle Lohse and Willie Eyre) and the results were ugly. Yesterday, they sent out several of their best arms and as a result the potent Indians offense was thoroughly dominated. Five Twins pitchers combined to strike out 17 Cleveland batters, with 10 of those coming in five innings from starter Francisco Liriano. Liriano was devastating early, but ran into some trouble in the fourth and fifth innings, and as a result had to come out of the game after just five frames due to a high pitch count.

Fortunately, Ron Gardenhire had the luxury of protecting his young starter's arm because his bullpen was, as usual, phenomenal. Pat Neshek continues to look tremendous, as he came on in relief of Liriano and pitched 1 and 2/3 hitless innings, striking out two and walking one. In the seven innings he has thrown since being called up, Neshek has allowed just one hit, good for an .045 opponents' batting average. His success has made Jesse Crain look relatively expendable, and as the deadline approaches those Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Lee rumors are starting to swirl (not that I'm apt to buy into the Twins' involvement with either one). Following Neshek, it was Dennys Reyes, Juan Rincon and Joe Nathan looking like their usual dominant selves and slamming the door on the Tribe.

The Twins offense did nothing outside of the third inning, but the three runs they scraped together there were plenty on this day. Michael Cuddyer picked up an unconventional RBI by hitting a chopper up the middle with the bases loaded that shortstop Jhonny Peralta could do nothing with, and Justin Morneau followed that by singling in his 79th and 80th runs of the year. Joe Mauer went 2-for-2 with a couple walks on the afternoon to raise his average to .381. With each passing day, the possibility -- likelihood, even -- that Mauer is going win a batting title this year becomes more real.

Despite the rough spot on Saturday night, the Twins do look like a better team on the road. Even with the recent hiccups in Kansas City and Texas, the Twins are 10-6 in their last 16 road games, and now they head into a crucially important series in a stadium where they played very poorly earlier this season.

We're still in July, so it would of course be nonsensical to claim that the season hinges on this upcoming series. That said, with the Twins red-hot and the White Sox stumbling, this should be a really fun series to watch.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Reversal of Fortune

After Friday night's game, we wrote that for once, we just wanted to bask in a great Twins victory. Last night, however, was an entirely different story. The Twins were absolutely clobbered by the Indians in a most embarassing fashion. 11-0. Shut out by a rookie pitcher (Jeremy Sowers) whom they not only beat up last time they saw him (five earned runs, three home runs, eleven hits last Sunday), but also a pitcher who came in with a 1-3 record and a 7.15 ERA.

The Twins offense managed a pitiful four hits and one walk on the day. Jason Bartlett had one of those hits and the walk, with Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, and Rondell White picking up the other hits. After a huge night offensively Friday, it seemed like they had used up everything they had.

The pitching of Scott Baker naturally wasn't too great. He struck out four in 5 1/3 innings, but also allowed six runs and nine hits. Kyle Lohse pitched 1 and 2/3 scoreless relief innings after nearly giving up a grand slam Friday night, perhaps helping his trade value a bit. Willie Eyre proved he doesn't deserve to be at the major league level (and needs to be sent down when Torii Hunter returns) by giving up five earned runs in his one inning of work. He now has a 7.84 ERA, a .344 BAA, a 1.90 WHIP, and only 14 strikeouts in 30 innings pitched. There really isn't much of a point to him being up right now. If Gardy really requires another pitcher, Matt Garza is well on his way up and he also has J.D. Durbin, a potential reliever, doing well in Triple-A. Neither of them may be necessary however, since Matt Guerrier should be back soon.

Regardless, it was not a great night for the Twins. The good news is that they didn't lose any ground with the White Sox and Tigers both losing and the Twins have their co-ace Francisco Liriano on the mound today. That should spell a likely victory.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Cleveland Rocked

On this blog we try to keep a fairly balanced and level-headed view of the Minnesota Twins. We try not to get too worked up after a loss or too excited after a win. However, I have to say that last night's 14-6 clobbering of the Indians in Cleveland has gotten me downright giddy. Despite the fact that they have been the best team in baseball over the past month and a half and their record ranks fourth in the American League, the Twins have consistently been one of the league's worst teams on the road, even recently when they've been almost literally unbeatable at home. Last night they went into Cleveland to open a three-game series -- in a stadium where they were easily swept early in the season -- and they had their worst pitcher taking the mound against the Indians' ace. There was every reason to think the Twins would snap their seven-game winning streak.

Instead, the Twins' offense, which has generally been flat when away from the Metrodome this year, turned around their road woes and piled on C.C. Sabathia and the Indians' pitching staff for 14 runs on 18 hits, including an eight-run fourth inning. The Revival of Rondell continued as White went 4-for-5 with four RBI. Michael Cuddyer delivered four RBI of his own to go along with three hits. Joe Mauer went 3-for-5 with a double and a triple and a pair of runs batted in. Justin Morneau went 2-for-4 with a couple walks and scored four times. The same Twins' offense that could do nothing away from the Metrodome for most of the season was absolutely spectacular, making a big statement in the first match-up of a six-game AL Central road trip.

One guy who did not rebound from his road struggles was Carlos Silva, who got knocked around for six runs (five earned) on 13 hits in just 4 and 2/3 innings. Fortunately, that didn't matter much thanks to the offensive explosion and thanks to the bullpen -- as usual -- keeping runs off the board for the remainder of the game.

The Twins' turnaround has been nothing short of incredible. On June 8th, they were 25-33, eight games below .500. They were in fourth place in the AL Central, trailing the Tigers by 11.5 games, the White Sox by 11 games, and even the Indians by four. Any fan making an attempt to be even slightly realistic or objective had to believe that the Twins were pretty much out of the race, considering they were playing in the same division as the two best teams in the league and had lost seven of their last nine. Instead of laying down, the Twins went ahead and won their next series against the Orioles. Then they swept the Red Sox and the Pirates. Then they won a series in Houston. Then they won 11 straight games, sweeping the Cubs, Dodgers and Brewers in the process. Then the Twins hit a bit of a rough stretch, losing series against the Royals and Rangers. Now the team has rebounded, piecing together another eight-game winning streak.

As a result of all that winning, the Twins are now just three games away from a playoff spot, which would have been unthinkable back in the middle of June. If the Twins and White Sox play even for the next couple games, the Twins will enter Chicago on Monday night with a chance to sweep and move into a tie for second in the division, and potentially for the lead in the Wild Card race.

Who would've thought that two months ago?

Friday, July 21, 2006

Twins 6, Devil Rays 4

* The Twins are an incredible team this year, at least when they are home. With the victory over the Rays yesterday, they have now won 20 of their last 21 games played at the Dome. That amounts to a 37-11 home record, the best in the bigs. That home success is just the same for Johan Santana, who hasn't lost at the Dome since last August.

* The bad news is that now the Twins have six road games in front of them in two cities that have not been forgiving this year: Chicago and Cleveland. After trading Bob Wickman to the Braves yesterday for a Single-A catcher, the Indians seem to have conceded the season and are looking to the future again. That means it may be a lot less likely that the Twins will get swept in Cleveland as they did earlier this year. However, the series in Chicago is key.

* After the Tigers took the last two games in their series against the Sox and the Twins completed a four-game sweep of the Rays, the Twins now are within four games of a playoff card with the Wild Card race. With a Yankees win, they are in third place for the Wild Card spot, 1 and 1/2 behind the Yanks. Following the three games with Cleveland and the three with Chicago, they come back to the Dome for a weekend series with the Tigers. That means the next nine games are crucial for the Twins. It's their big window of opportunity. If they can continue their most recent winning streak (now at seven straight wins), they could very soon be even with the Sox for a playoff spot. Who'd have thought that back in early June?

* Santana picked up his 11th win yesterday, though he did not pitch a particularly great game against the Rays to get it. He allowed seven hits in six innings while striking out seven. The stat that stood out, and not in a good way, is that he walked four Tampa batters. The outing raised his ERA to 3.00, but the important thing is that he picked up a win. If he can go on his usual second half run, he has a good chance at 20 wins and a Cy Young. Then again, he faces a tough battle against of all people his teammate and student Francisco Liriano. Liriano seems to win every time he goes out, has been more dominating, and has an incredible feel for pitching, especially for a 22-year-old. The way things look, the Cy Young winner has a very good chance of being a Twin, especially if they go to the playoffs, but it's hard to know which one it will be. Right now, though, its definitely Liriano. Being a rookie who is first in ERA (1.94), BAA (.196), and WHIP (.95), plus third in winning percentage and fifth (115) in strikeouts is incredible. Just no one say Dwight Gooden. It's bad luck.

* Of course, Santana wouldn't have won without some good run support. The Twins mustered 11 hits on the day against the Rays staff, garnering two-hit games from Luis Castillo, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Tyner, and Mike Redmond. Cuddyer had two RBI, including a run-scoring double, Mauer went 1-for-3 with an RBI single and a walk, and Tyner continues to hit, with his two hits, an RBI, and now a .370 average. Of course, with no walks and no extra-base hits, whenever he stops getting two hits and an RBI every night, his value to the team will be in high question. A guy like that has to hit a lot, run, and play defense to be valuable over the long haul. Here's to getting Torii back.

* An interesting event just transpired yesterday in baseball. Shea Hillenbrand was released by the Toronto Blue Jays following an argument with manager John Gibbons that nearly lead to a fist-fight. Apparently, Hillenbrand wrote "this is a sinking ship" in the clubhouse and had complained over and over again about not playing, no one celebrating his adoption of a child, and was not very well-liked by Gibbons most of the time. He clearly may be a headcase, but he may be a useful player should the Twins choose to consider picking him up. My contention is that the team could very well move Luis Castillo, who has largely been a disappointment at second base this year, and move Nick Punto to his more natural position at second and give the third base job to Hillenbrand. Of course, that may mean trading Castillo elsewhere, as Toronto already has plenty of middle infielders and GM J.P. Ricciardi already has said that he is looking for a pitcher for the playoff race. That means Toronto could end up being a possible destination for Kyle Lohse. Either way, the Twins could consider giving Hillenbrand a chance. He isn't much defensively, he hardly walks or works counts, but he is hitting .301 with 12 home runs, 15 doubles, and 39 RBI. It would be much better than Terry Ryan throwing another retread player, like Vinny Castillo, on board.

* Tonight, Carlos Silva makes the start in Cleveland against C.C. Sabathia. Last time the Twins faced him, Justin Morneau had a great day against him, going 3-for-4 with a home run. Lets see if they can chase him again.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Twins at the Deadline

As much as I would like to write about the triumphant return of Rondell White (46-point increase in slugging percentage in one night!) and the continued success of the Twins at home (six straight wins), I have another topic I'd like to discuss today, so gushing over their latest winning streak will have to wait.

The trading deadline is just 11 days away, and at this time of year there is always a lot of talk about what moves particular teams might make in order to set themselves up for a playoff run or for success in future years. Buyers, sellers, contenders, pretenders... selling the farm for that one last piece. Even though most of the blockbuster trade rumors never even come close to materializing and few of those that do actually have a legitimate effect on a team's ability to make the playoffs, it's a fun time of year for speculation.

The Twins are in an interesting position right now. Five games out of the Wild Card lead and 9.5 games behind the Tigers for first in the AL Central, the Twins are on the fringe of contention. Today I will examine what, if anything, Terry Ryan might try to do in the next week and a half in terms of roster moves.

The recent injuries to Torii Hunter and Shannon Stewart have put a serious damper on the Twins' trade possibilities. If the Twins were going to be part of a blockbuster deal of any kind at the deadline, it would have involved Hunter. Before he got hurt, many felt that the Twins might try to deal him in order to wipe themselves clean of his $12 million salary for next year while adding a few solid prospects at the same time. With Hunter gone until at least mid-August, that won't be happening. Likewise, there was much talk about the possibility of the Twins unloading Stewart, who was having a decent year, for something of value. Since he is in all likelihood done for the year, the Twins will probably have to let Shannon walk in the off-season and get nothing in return.

One guy who the Twins will most likely deal by the deadline is Kyle Lohse. Ryan passed on the opportunity to deal Kyle during the off-season, which turned out to be a big mistake. As a result of his horrific performance early in the season, Lohse's trade value has dropped considerably. Still, due to the fact that he is young, has had success in the past, and has pitched relatively well as of late (just two runs and eight hits allowed in 11 July innings to go along with 12 Ks and one walk), Lohse might be worth a little more than one would initially be led to believe. I'm not saying he's going to bring back an impact outfielder, but there are a lot of teams in contention for a playoff spot around the majors and a number of them are desperately in need of starting pitching help. The pickings are fairly slim, particularly if the A's aren't shopping Barry Zito, which I believe to be the case.

With Stewart and Hunter hurt, the Twins don't really have anyone who needs to be unloaded aside from Lohse. Luis Castillo and Brad Radke aren't going anywhere, Rondell White has no value, and the rest of the team is pretty young and cheap. If the Ryan does have a particular player in mind who he'd like to add, he certainly has some weapons in his arsenal. The emergence of Pat Neshek as a potentially excellent reliever gives the Twins a lot of bullpen depth and might entice Ryan to part with a guy like Jesse Crain or Matt Guerrier for the right price. Keep in mind, there are a number of contending teams out there looking for bullpen help, and if you need evidence that some general managers are ready to wildly overpay for relief pitchers, just take a look at the Reds/Nats trade from last week. The Twins also have a number of valuable pitching prospects waiting in the wings, but again, Ryan is unlikely to blindly deal any of those guys unless the offer truly blows him away.

There has been some speculation that the Twins may try to trade for a starting pitcher, which to me is pretty stupid. Francisco Liriano and Johan Santana are lights-out, Brad Radke should be at least serviceable, Scott Baker is solid, and Carlos Silva -- while unpredictable -- seems capable of getting the job done as a fifth starter. The Twins should be okay for the rest of this season, and like I said before they have plenty of pitching prospects who will merit a look in 2007 and beyond.

If the Twins were going to try to acquire an impact player of any sort, it would probably be a young outfielder or third baseman who would help them not only for the remainder this season but in the future as well. I heard a totally unsubstantiated rumor that the Twins have offered Matt Garza and Lohse to the Marlins for Miguel Cabrera and that Ryan would be flying down to Florida to discuss a deal. This is undoubtedly just a pipe dream since there's no way the Marlins would make that move, but it's still a fun thought. Even though Garza is my favorite prospect and I would hate to lose him, Cabrera is an absolute stud and the thought of him hitting between Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau makes me lick my chops.

In any case, the Twins have played so well as of late that it doesn't really seem like any changes need to be made. Nonetheless, while they have some nice young players and are looking good at several positions, the team does have areas of need that will have to be addressed at some point. Will it happen by the end of the month? Probably not, but it's at least worth keeping an eye on.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Youngsters Deliver (Tiffee Not Included)

Francisco Liriano was only a few outs away from his first career complete game, shutout, and a masterful performance that won't be soon forgotten before subbed-in first baseman Terry Tiffee managed to flat-out drop a routine throw from Jason Bartlett.

If not, Liriano may have had a seven K, two hit, no walk shutout. That would have easily ranked amongst the best performances so far in the bigs this year, up there one-hitters from John Lackey and Chris Young's earlier this year. The runner who reached on Tiffee's error ended up scoring, erasing Liriano's shutout (though it was unearned) and causing him to come out of the game so Kyle Lohse could get the last out. Regardless, Liriano was magnficient.

Fortunately, I was able to see Liriano's greatness live in person. Liriano, along with Johan Santana, Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer, has given me plenty of reason to go out to Twins games this year, even if I know their hopes of going to the postseason are slim. In the ninth inning, Liriano hit 96 on the Metrodome radar gun with a pitch to Rocco Baldelli before he surrendered the shutout-breaking hit.

The greatest aspect of his performance is that he didn't even really rely on his fastball until the later innings. His assortment of sliders and change-ups along with some fastballs was plenty to hold the Tampa Bay lineup to a few pitiful singles. He proved that he can not only adjust after last week's rough outing against Cleveland, but also that he clearly has three very good pitches in his arsenal, much the same way his teammate Santana does.

It was as if Liriano, if he wanted to, could impersonate Jamie Moyer for half the night and still be nearly impossible to hit. The only negative here is that his luck may have evened up, as his groundball-to-flyball ratio was still considerably high, especially for Liriano (who has been a groundball pitcher all year), at 13-6. Its great that he can be effective that way, but he has to use that fastball if he wants to get the best lineups out.

Other than Liriano's great game, I feel the need to comment on one other great young Twins player: Mr. Morneau. Pulling him from the game in favor of Terry Tiffee turned out to hurt Liriano, but ignoring that, Morneau did well while in the game. He went 1-for-3, but his one hit was big: a towering fourth inning blast off of young and spectacular Tampa Bay lefty Scott Kazmir that brought his season total to 25.

Justin's home run was great not just because it's his 9th dinger against a lefty this year (more than doubling his total of four from last year), but because its only the second home run and fifth extra-base hit Kazmir has allowed to a lefty all year. That's further proof of just how much Justin has improved in hitting against lefties from last year (.201, 4 HR) to this year (.281, 9 HR) and that not all his homers against lefties are coming against guys like Bruce Chen (Chen has allowed 22 HRs).

What is become more apparent as well is that Morneau needs to be moved back into the cleanup spot. Aaron Gleeman mentioned this in his post yesterday, pointing out how many intentional walks Joe Mauer has gotten hitting in front of Michael Cuddyer. This is bad news because Cuddyer has continued to strike out in bunches (three last night, 68 in 283 at-bats in total compared to 37 walks), hits very poorly against right-handers (.227/.335/.415), and has not been hitting homers and driving in runs like he was early in the season.

Gardy seems to think it's risky to have the two left-handers back-to-back, as conventional baseball wisdom would have it, but that's just ridiculous at this point. Morneau is the big hitter and slugger in the lineup and he needs to hit fourth. Period. Cuddyer can be a great number five hitter if he keeps taking some walks and hitting well with men on, but Morneau can be a big improvement at the four-spot, because no one will want to pitch around Mauer with Morneau's big bat behind him, barring a huge slump.

In my mind, the lineup, at least until Hunter returns, should go something like this:

1. Castillo 2B
2. Punto 3B
3. Mauer C
4. Morneau 1B
5. Cuddyer RF
6. Kubel DH
7. White LF
8. Rabe/Tyner CF
9. Bartlett SS

Now, of course, Gardy probably won't think of this until Cuddyer slumps for a long time and hurts his confidence. It shouldn't come down to that. Cuddyer has shown himself this year to have the potential to be a solid presence in the lineup with the power we've always heard of, but, even though he was a solution the cleanup problem for a while, Morneau looks ready.

Morneau was always the big bat of the future, "Lil' Harmon," as SBG calls him. Big sluggers, from Albert Pujols to Vladimir Guerrero to Jim Thome to Travis Hafner to Lance Berkman, bat in one of two spots: in the third spot or in the cleanup spot. Mauer is going to be on base and I think it's time Morneau starts driving him in. After all, isn't that what we've been waiting for?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

This 'Pen is Mightier

Last night, the Twins' bullpen provided three perfect innings, backing up a solid six-inning outing from Scott Baker in his first game back with the Twins en route to a 6-3 victory.

It's no secret that the Twins' mostly excellent play over the last month has had a lot to do with their much improved offense and the two-headed monster at the top of their rotation. One area where the Twins have excelled that is not given much credit, however, is their bullpen. Despite some early struggles, the Twins rank first in the league in bullpen ERA. The nice thing about that is that as good as the bullpen has been so far, it is entirely likely that it will only be better from here on out. Here's why:

Jesse Crain, who posted a 7.50 ERA in April and a 6.97 in May, appears to have put his early struggles behind him (since then, he has a 2.18 ERA). As good as their numbers have been, there is no reason to think that Joe Nathan or Juan Rincon will not continue to dominate in the last two months. Over the past few years, they have firmly entrenched themselves as two of the elite relief pitchers in all of baseball. Willie Eyre, who has been pounded all year with a 6.60 ERA and .339 opponents' batting average, will in all likelihood start seeing his appearances go to the superior Pat Neshek. Kyle Lohse, who has been unspectacular, will probably be gone by the trading deadline. The only guy who is probably due to regress some is Dennys Reyes. It's hard to imagine Reyes, who has been mediocre at best for the entirety of his career thus far, to continue holding opponents to a .224 average and a 1.52 ERA. That said, even if Reyes sees some decline in his numbers, it would not be a huge deal seeing as how Ron Gardenhire does not go to him particularly often in the first place (Reyes has pitched just 23 and 2/3 innings through the team's first 91 games).

It is easy for fans to overlook a great bullpen -- after all, if the starter exits the game with a lead we pretty much expect the bullpen to hold it and seal the victory. However, the Twins' relievers have provided a lot of quality innings this year and that has been extremely important to the team's success. The Twins have won a lot of late, close ball-games this year, and without the steady work of the bullpen, they would find themselves a lot further behind in the Wild Card Race than 6 games. If they are to continue to close that gap over the next couple months, the continued success of the relief squad will be crucial.


Some other notes:

* I was reading the most recent issue of Sports Illustrated, and towards the back I came across an article on Francisco Liriano and the hot-hot Twins. Here's one excerpt of the article that I found particularly intriguing:
Since June 15 Minnesota has released free-agent signee Tony Batista (.303 OBP and six errors in 50 games at third base), unloaded shortstop Juan Castro (.258 OBP) to the Reds and designated another off-season pickup, DH Rondell White (.182 average), for assignment. Now thriving in their places: 28-year-old third baseman Nick Punto (.350 average in his last 10 games), 26-year-old shorstop Jason Bartlett (.312 average, .411 OBP through Sunday) and 24-year-old outfielder Jason Kubel (seven home runs), each of whom is also a defensive upgrade. "The Batista signing, I didn't understand," a Twins player said last weekend. "And we expect Rondell to be an every-day DH even though he's never been one? From Opening Day we should have just gone with the kids."
I'd be really interested to know which Twins player said that, but obviously we'll never know because if the writer had revealed his identity he would be in some kind of trouble. Anybody have a guess? I almost want to say it sounds like Torii, but then again I can't imagine him saying anything negative about his boy Rondell. Brad Radke has been known for speaking his mind... he is certainly a possibility.

* Speaking of White, he is an interesting topic right now. The rash of injuries the Twins have experienced lately have put pressure on a lot of players, but perhaps none moreso than Rondell. While it would be nice to see guys like Jason Tyner and Josh Rabe perform well, not too much can be expected of them considering their dearth of major league experience. White, on the other hand, is the experienced player who was brought in for $3 million this off-season to hit, and now that the Twins are missing three veteran outfielders, they need him to come around more than ever. Fortunately, White has shown some signs of life. He hit his first home run on Sunday and last night, after recording outs in his first three at-bats, he came through with a huge two-run single with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth inning, giving Nathan some breathing room and essentially sealing the win for the Twins.

*It took an unusually long amount of time, but the injury bug has finally bitten Nick Punto. Punto pulled up gingerly at third base in the fourth inning and eventually came out of the game with what has been diagnosed as a "jammed left knee." It is extremely unfortunate, not only because Punto has been extremely productive at the plate this year with a .313 batting average and .395 on-base percentage, his ability to play nearly every position on the field has become increasingly useful considering the number of players who have gone down as of late. I haven't heard much yet as to the severity of Punto's injury, but if he ends up having to go to the DL, the Twins will be in serious trouble. As Aaron Gleeman notes, the Twins are running extremely thin on replacement options in their minor league system.

Let's not forget that Punto was hitting well last season before getting hurt in June, and after returning from that injury he was complete trash. It would be an awful shame if history were to repeat itself.

* Tonight we will be treated to a great pitching matchup, as two of the game's best young pitchers face off in the form of Liriano and Tampa Bay's Scott Kazmir. It will be interesting to see how Liriano performs in this game, coming off of his worst start of the season. I personally think he will bounce back with a great outing.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Twins Take It To the Tribe

Despite the laundry list of reasons to hate it, the Metrodome continues to be a plus for the Twins. At the Dome, they are an MLB-best 33-11 after yesterday's victory. In that win, the Twins garnered a little help from the Dome, which is hardly a first this season.

In the fourth inning, following a Justin Morneau single, Rondell White (or RonDL or whatever nickname you have for the terribly disappointing White) came up and hit what looked to be a weak fly ball to end the inning, one that would kill the momentum following Cuddyer's blast to tie the game and Morneau's single.

Instead, Todd Hollandsworth lost the ball in the Metrodome roof and it fell for a "double." Jason Tyner came up and as he has done ever since being called up to replace Lew Ford, he came through, smacking a two-run single to seal the win. Since his big hit Friday, I've been reluctant to get too excited. Then again, Nick Punto is having a pretty amazing year and we didn't expect that. Anything is possible and we should be excited if Tyner really can consistently give the Twins good at-bats, drive in a few runs, play solid D, and steal some bases. That play would more than replace what Ford was supposed to give the Twins.

Otherwise, the big news from the game was White's first homer. It wasn't a blast, the way Cuddyer's was, but many look at this and see the possibility that White may regain his form. I'm not so sure. Jeremy Sowers, yesterday's starter, is a soft-tossing lefty who doesn't have a great fastball. White's issue all year has been catching up to major league fastballs and Sowers doesn't even possess a league-average heater.

Sure, it's possible White will regain his form, but I think it's unlikely. After all, White only hit .235/.245/.294 at Triple-A on his rehab assignment with only one homer and five RBI in 51 at-bats. At best, White looks like a bench option against some of the softer tossing lefties in the division (Buerhle, Sowers, Rogers, Robertson, etc). I'm just not sure there is any reason to think he's ready to break out.

And lastly, Torii Hunter is on the DL with Shannon Stewart now, so we may end up with a Josh Rabe-Jason Tyner-Michael Cuddyer outfielder tonight, with Rabe called up from Triple-A. Rabe was hitting .297/.364/.399 at Rochester with 4 HRs and 38 RBI and 34 walks in 316 at-bats. Rabe has some decent patience, a little speed, and doubles-power, but he won't be hitting lots of home runs anytime soon. What's problematic is that Rabe is 27 years old and has been in Triple-A for nearly four years, so its hard to know if he can contribute much.

However, Scott Baker is really the man to watch tonight. He was 3-2 with a 2.92 ERA in Triple-A after being sent down in May, striking out 41 and walking 18 in 49 innings. The walks are up a little, but Baker has shown great control at the major league level, so lets look forward to a solid return against the D-Rays tonight. (By the way, after the Yankees swept the White Sox this weekend, the Twins are now 6 1/2 games behind in the WC race. That's an improvement from the way things looked after Thursday's game.)

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Unlikely Suspects

In a 6-2 victory over the Indians last night, the Twins got the following performances:

* Career utility-man Nick Punto collected two hits, including an RBI double, to raise his season line to .306/.393/.403. Punto is currently on an eight-game hitting streak, in which he has hit .424 with five doubles. Stat-heads keep waiting for Punto to start to regress and hit closer to his career rates, but he keeps looking better and better with more regular play-time.

* Jason Tyner, in his second game since being called up, went 2-for-4 with another big RBI. Tyner is a career .262 hitter who has not been a regular major league player since 2001, but he has come up big in his first couple games with the Twins.

* Mike Redmond, a career backup catcher who is hitting .347, went 0-for-3 but continued to be a productive number-3 hitter, driving in a run on a sac fly.

* Dennys Reyes shut the door with a 1-2-3 ninth inning, striking out each batter he faced. The Twins picked up Reyes in the bargain bin just before the start of the season after he had been cut by the Padres last year when he posted a 5.15 ERA. His current ERA is 1.52 and he is holding opponents to a .224 batting average.

That the Twins got outstanding performances from their ace Johan Santana and their young slugger Justin Morneau is not surprising... what is surprising is that the players listed above are doing as well as they are. Considering their pasts, it would seem that these players have no business performing this well. Nonetheless, the Twins do often seem to have guys like this play way over their heads. Is it good coaching or luck?

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Tyner's Debut

Jason Tyner hasn't exactly had the most storied major league career. He owns a light .261/.299/.305 line (before last night) with no home runs in 834 career at-bats. He's already 29 years old and has been with five organizations in his career.

However, his lack of power, great hitting, or any really stand out abilities besides speed, he managed to be a hero for the Twins. Replacing Lew Ford, who has, other then a few big hits, been a complete mess at the plate all year, Tyner had two RBIs and the winning hit in the 10th inning. The thing is, despite Tyner's two RBI and hit to win the game, this reminds me of a game earlier this year, when Luis Castillo had the winning hit in a May game, but wasn't necessarily the hero.

That night, Shannon Stewart helped set up the winning hit. Last night, to me, Justin Morneau's at-bat was big. He had a long fought at-bat against Indians reliever Edward Mujica, forcing him to throw a lot of pitches before flying out. Following his at-bat, Torii Hunter, Jason Kubel, and Tyner had three straight singles to win the game. Obviously, there is no way to prove either is the "hero," but we shouldn't forget Justin's at-bat. He got back on track last night, as well, going 2 for 5 and bringing his average up to .299.

Otherwise, the other large positive of the game was Brad Radke. Giving up a two-run home run to Jason Michaels on a bad breaking ball isn't a great thing, but seven innings with six Ks and only four hits allowed is for Brad. He looked pretty solid against a good Indians lineup. Unfortunately, the Twins failed in many run-scoring opportunities and left Radke without a win.

Today's matchup is most definitely the best of the series. Johan Santana will go up against Cleveland lefty ace C.C. Sabathia. Lets looked forward to seeing the beginning of another great Johan second-half run.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Indians 6, Twins 4

"This series for me is more important than anything else we are dealing with," Ryan said. "You have to set the tone for the second half."

That is a Terry Ryan quote from yesterday's Star Tribune, talking about the importance of playing well in the team's first post-break series. Well, the Twins certainly did not set a very positive tone in the series opener last night. The offense failed to produce a hit until the fifth inning and Francisco Liriano had his worst start of the year.

Among the culprits on the Twins' flailing offense was Torii Hunter, who continued to be a non-factor in the lineup by going 1-for-4 with three strikeouts. Justin Morneau ended his hitting streak by going 0-for-3 with four men left on, although he pick up an RBI on a sac fly.

Nonetheless, the team was put in an early hole by Liriano. That Liriano struggled to throw strikes at time was not entirely surprising, but that he gave up three home runs was. Liriano picked up just his second loss of the season. His ERA rose, but still sits at a solid 2.12.

On a brighter note, we have drawn winners in our Twins DVD giveaway. Congratulations to:
Carlos Pesante
Ron Eddy
Nate Skinner

Thanks to everyone who sent in, particularly those of you who added a little note. It's always nice to learn a little bit more about the readers (you guys should comment more!). Hopefully we'll be able to do more stuff like this in the future. I'll be in touch with the winners about mailing info, so check your e-mail.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Second Half Predictions

I don't really want to ramble much more on wrapping up the first half, as we have the past two days, so instead I want to change gears and look ahead to what we can expect for the rest of the year. There are many things to look at. Many players could and should be dropped, there is still a slight chance of going to the playoffs, and there is the great question of awards. Lets take a look:

5) Kyle Lohse won't end the year with the Twins

There is simply no way he can stick around in my mind. The brilliant men over at The Bleacher Bums suggest that Lohse has a "million dollar arm and a ten cent head." That's pretty much spot on with my thoughts. From being a immature player to being completely ineffective as a pitcher, there is little reason to keep him around.

Its great and all that he is doing halfway decent out of the bullpen, but for $3.95 million (more than Joe Nathan gets this year), it really isn't worth it at all. There are much better pitching prospects around in the system who deserve a shot over this headcase. I don't think the Twins can get very much for him, considering the market, but they might as well take any deal they can get. Just getting rid of his baggage seems like a victory.

4) Scott Baker will have a good second half

The stats show that Scott Baker really wasn't that bad during his tenure in the starting rotation. He just happens to be an extreme-flyball pitcher who ran into some bad luck. His control is great, he has plenty of strikeouts, and his head is sitting squarely on his shoulders.

Now that he has been recalled (hopefully ruling out a return of Lohse to the rotation for now), he should get that chance. Its tough with young guys when Gardy is managing, since he doesn't see much beyond his age, experience, and ERA. Thats unfortunate, because he looked like the one bright spot for the rotation in April. I think he'll work things out and end up with an ERA around 4.50 and a few wins to go with it.

3) The Twins will not make the playoffs

This unfortunately is obvious to many of us bloggers. The Twins sit in the best division in baseball and are too far back to have much of a shot at the playoffs. In order to get there, as Aaron Gleeman noted yesterday, the Twins basically have to play over .600 ball the rest of the year and the teams in front of them (wild card included) have fall hard in the second half.

The fact is its unlikely the Tigers, White Sox, Yankees, Blue Jays, and potentially the Red Sox (if the Yankees or Blue Jays make a push) will go on a huge losing streak anytime soon. The Tigers probably won't win as much in the second half, but they don't have to in order to get to the playoffs. We know the White Sox are legit and their pitching hasn't even been great yet.

The great news is that despite not making it this year, there is so many reasons to watch the team and its hard not to look foward to the future. With so much young talent, the Twins need only to invest in their young stars and forget about tired, mediocre veterans. Lets just hope they learned a lesson this year.....

2) Fransisco Liriano wins Rookie of the Year

Hold on, any Sox fans. I'm aware of Jonathan Palpelbon. I know about the .59 ERA, .72 WHIP, and 26 saves. This guy nearly saved one of my fantasy teams this year. However, it should be a given by now that starters are worth a lot more than relievers, even great closers.

As Rob Neyer observed watching the All-Star game, Brad Penny easily threw 99 MPH fastball after 99 MPH fastball at the AL hitters when he didn't have to worry about lasting seven or more innings. The fact is, the moment Palpelbon allows a few runs and his ERA all the sudden sits a 2.00 or more, he won't be as big of a story. For what its worth, B.J. Ryan has been just as good, if not better, for the Jays this year.

Liriano, on the other hand, looks absolutely unstoppable. I know based on experience, we all want to hold our tongues and resist predicting a 20-2 record. That probably won't happen, but if he finishes with 18 wins, a 2.40 ERA, and over 200 Ks, he has to win the award. And those stats are very much within this young man's reach.

1) Johan Santana is your 2006 AL Cy Young Award Winner

This isn't a hard one to guess on. We've already commented numerous times on this blog about how great he has been this first half and how historically great he is in the second half. The only thing in his way is Roy Halladay and his 12-2 record. Knowing how crazy wins drive award voters, it could be a problem.

However, if he can get 11 wins (in between his 13 in 2004 and 9 in 2005 for the second half), that gives him 20. With 20 wins and a great ERA and strikeout title, I can't see the writers keeping him from what should be his third straight Cy Young.

Of course, I know I'm missing one big second half story: Joe Mauer. But Mauer is so huge, I'm not sure if its worth predicting. I think a .340 or .350 average is well within his reach. If he just hits around .300 in the second half, he'll finish with about a .340 average. That would definitely put him in range of a batting title. Can you say MVP?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Midseason Position Player Grades

Yesterday's introduction fits pretty well, so I'm just going to go ahead and re-use it.

With the All-Star Game behind us, the Twins tomorrow will open a four-game home series against the Indians tomorrow. Even though the season is technically 53% complete, many people consider the All-Star break to be the unofficial halfway point in the season. With that in mind, I thought this might be a good opportunity to break down the first-half performances of each player currently on the Twins' roster. Based on what should be expected of a particular player based on their role with the team and the amount of time they've spent in the league, I will assign letter grades to each player's performance thus far.


C - Joe Mauer #7
286 AB, .378/.446/.535, 7 HR, 45 RBI, 30 K / 38 BB, 7/8 SB

Before going 0-for-8 in his last two games prior to the break, Mauer was hitting .390. Even afterward, he leads the majors in batting average by a pretty wide margin at .378. Needless to say, that pretty much surpasses any expectations that might have been set for the 23-year-old catcher in just his second full year in the league. In our preseason predictions back in March, I projected Mauer to hit .300/.375/.450 with 15 home runs and 80 RBI. The run production predictions look about right (Mauer currently projects to hit 13 HR and drive in 85 runners) and so do the discipline and power predictions (I predicted an Isolated Discipline of .075, it is currently .068; I predicted an Isolated Power of .150, it is currently .157). The difference, of course, is that Mauer is hitting for a much better average than we could have possibly hoped. Meanwhile, he is playing excellent defense and controlling the opposing running game, throwing out 38.5% of potential base-stealers. If there can be one complaint about Mauer, it is that he still is not hitting for enough power, but here at the All-Star break he has already nearly matched his 2005 totals in home runs (9) and RBI (55).

1B - Justin Morneau #33
300 AB, .300/.352/.587, 23 HR, 73 RBI, 58 K / 25 BB, 1/2 SB

After an extremely disappointing 2005 campaign, many were ready to give up hope on Morneau. With the gaping holes in his swing, particularly against left-handed pitchers, it was looking like his future might be as a platoon player at best. Well, after a rough April, Morneau has completely turned things around and become a legitimate power threat and a great hitter overall. Most importantly, he has improved dramatically against southpaws, posting a solid .267/.294/.525 line against them this year after hitting just .201/.255/.331 against them last year. Not only is Morneau on pace to easily break the Twins' 30-HR drought, he could well become the first Minnesota player since Killebrew to knock out 40 in a season. Of course, considering Justin's atrocious second half in 2005, we cannot just assume that he will keep up his current level of production, but right now he looks like a premier slugger who is continually improving his approach at the plate.

2B - Luis Castillo #1
307 AB, .280/.368/.356, 2 HR, 29 RBI, 25 K / 28 BB, 9/14 SB

For the first month of the season, the Castillo acquisition was looking like another stroke of genius for Terry Ryan. Castillo was a sparkplug at the top of the Twins' lineup in April, hitting .362/.436/.420. However, since the beginning of May, Luis has hit just .256. He has provided almost no power, with a tiny .356 slugging percentage on the season, and his lack of hustle on the basepaths and in the field have become increasingly frustrating. A .280 batting average and a .368 on-base percentage are certainly not bad at the top of the order, but as a guy who's been in the league for quite a while and who is making around $5 million dollars, one might expect more hustle and consistency from Castillo.

SS - Jason Bartlett #18
77 AB, .312/.411/.390, 0 HR, 8 RBI, 17 K / 7 BB, 1/3 SB

The fact that Bartlett only has 77 at-bats on the year is quite sad, as it serves as a reminder that Juan Castro was the team's starting shortstop for over two months. Nonetheless, the Twins' braintrust eventually woke up and realized that Bartlett should be in the majors, and since his call-up Bartlett has responded by posting an excellent .312 batting average while getting on base at a .411 clip through his first 23 games. Perhaps most importantly, Bartlett has been exceptional defensively, having committed only one error in those 23 games while providing numerous dazzling Web Gems. Sure, he's not showing much patience at the plate and he's not hitting for any power, but Bartlett has been a tremendous improvement over Castro in all aspects. A strong second half would send a nice message that this kid is the shortstop of the future for the Minnesota Twins.

3B - Nick Punto #8
175 AB, .297/.383/.377, 0 HR, 12 RBI, 24 K / 24 BB, 7/10 SB

Punto looks and plays more like a middle infielder than a third baseman, but he has been quite productive since taking over for Tony Batista at the hot corner. His abilities to put the ball in play, to bunt and to steal bases have made him a valuable asset at the top of the order. Will the career utility player be able to maintain his excellent batting average in the second half? Maybe not, but at the very least, Punto has thus far provided the Twins with stability offensively and defensively at third base that they have lacked ever since the departure of Corey Koskie.

LF - Jason Kubel #16
134 AB, .291/.324/.485, 7 HR, 24 RBI, 24 K / 7 BB, 2/2 SB

Like with Bartlett, the Twins' irrational impatience with Kubel has prevented him from receiving a lot of at-bats this season. Also like with Bartlett, the organization's lack of patience might have translated to a lack of patience for the player. Throughout his minor league career, good plate discipline was one of Kubel's trademarks, and yet he has drawn only seven walks in 141 plate appearances this year. That probably has something to do with the fact that Kubel was demoted after one bad week at the beginning of the season, causing him to feel that he needs to make things happen in order to maintain his spot in the batting order. Yet, while he has made things happen, Ron Gardenhire continues to frequently hold him out of the lineup, especially against left-handers, against whom he is only hitting a pathetic .296/.345/.519. Makes sense. In any event, Kubel has been phenomenal offensively this season and his cannon in left field provides the Twins with perhaps the best trio of outfield arms in baseball.

CF - Torii Hunter #48
314 AB, .264/.345/.443, 14 HR, 49 RBI, 58 K / 38 BB, 6/10 SB

As usual, Hunter has hit some homers and driven in some runs. Also as usual, he has hit for a mediocre batting average and hit into numerous rally-killing double plays. To his credit, Hunter is showing much more patience at the plate than he has previously in his career, as he is on pace to draw far more walks this season than he ever has before. That said, he's still striking out a lot and still quite frequently swinging at the first pitch and grounding out (often against a pitcher who has had trouble throwing strikes). Hunter is still a spectacular defensive player and by no means is he a terrible hitter, but with the money he's making, his awful slumps and lack of consistency have become completely tiresome.

RF - Michael Cuddyer #5
260 AB, .269/.364/.496, 11 HR, 48 RBI, 60 K / 36 BB, 3/3 SB

It has been a long time since the Twins have had a good cleanup hitter, and Cuddyer's success in that spot this season has really gone to show just how invaluable one can be. It is no coincidence that as Cuddy has emerged as a dangerous hitter in the fourth spot, Mauer and Morneau have seen dramatic improvement in their production. Cuddyer strikes out quite a bit and he is nothing special defensively aside from his arm, but he has been an excellent run producer in the middle of the Twins' order which has no doubt helped the guys hitting around him thrive.


3B - Terry Tiffee #32
38 AB, .237/.273/.349, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 8 K / 4 BB, 0/1 SB

As an occasional pinch-hitter and an infrequent starter, not much is expected of Tiffee. When he's played, he hasn't been anything special, having delivered just two extra-base hits (both home runs) in 38 at-bats while providing sub-par defense. It's worth noting that as a pinch-hitter, Tiffee has gone just 1-for-7.

IF - Luis Rodriguez #38
60 AB, .217/.319/.350, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 8 K / 9 BB, 0/0 SB

Elrod got off to a great start, hitting .304/.429/.522 in 23 April at-bats, but he struggled in May, picking up just three singles in 24 at-bats. Since then, he has seen a serious decline in play-time, collecting just 13 at-bats since the beginning of June. Rodriguez has not started a game since June 13, but when called upon he has at least shown decent patience at the plate and he has played solid defense.

OF - Lew Ford #20
188 AB, .234/.304/.324, 3 HR, 14 RBI, 34 K / 15 BB, 8/9 SB

Ford has had some memorable moments this year, walking in the game-tying run in an early-season game against the Angels and hitting a walk-off home run to complete a sweep against the Mariners, but for the most part he has played pretty poorly. It's pretty sad how much Ford has regressed since his terrific 2004 campaign, but it's becoming increasingly clear that he no longer has that type of performance in him. Because he has played good defense and been an asset on the basepaths, I'm inclined to go somewhat easy on Ford, but his inadequacy has made Hunter look a lot less expendable.

LF - Shannon Stewart #23
167 AB, .299/.355/.377, 2 HR, 21 RBI, 17 K / 14 BB, 3/1 SB

At this point in his career, Stewart is really nothing more than a good singles-hitter who doesn't run or field particularly well. Stewart is a decent fit as a temporary designated hitter, but I think his better days are pretty clearly behind him.

C - Mike Redmond #55
98 AB, .357/.366/.418, 0 HR, 13 RBI, 12 K / 0 BB, 0/0 SB

Redmond has done pretty much everything you could ask of your backup catcher, hitting a terrific .357 while playing great defense when spelling Mauer. Even though he hasn't drawn a single walk or hit a single home run, Redmond has done very well at the plate, especially in clutch situations.


In looking at the grades for these hitters, an outsider might think that the Twins have one of the best offenses in the league. After all, six of their eight starting position players received a B+ or better. However, let's not forget that three players who started the year with the team and almost certainly would have received big fat F's for their production (Castro, Batista and Rondell White) are no longer with the major league club. Rather than pouting about how much better the offense might have been had such disasters been averted much earlier than they were, I think we should look ahead to the future with optimism. After all, despite being pushed around early in the year, Bartlett, Kubel, Cuddyer and Punto are pretty much locked in at their positions for the second half and if they can keep up their production along with the M&M boys, this offense should be pretty fun to watch from here on out.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Midseason Pitching Grades

Even though the season is technically 53% complete, many people consider the All-Star break to be the unofficial halfway point in the season. With that in mind, I thought this might be a good opportunity to break down the first-half performances of each player currently on the Twins' roster. Based on what should be expected of a particular player based on their role with the team and the amount of time they've spent in the league, I will assign letter grades to each player's performance thus far.

Today we will take a look at the pitching staff, and tomorrow Mr. Nelson will grade the position players.

SP - Johan Santana #57
9-5, 2.95 ERA, 9.48 K/9, 1.00 WHIP, .221 BAA, 5.75 K/BB
Grade: A-

Johan Santana's season has been pretty exciting so far, but it's hard to give him a straight A considering his teammate Fransisco Liriano's performance and after a great June, his last two starts against KC and Texas were rather disappointing. However, he has been great this year and much better than he was at the break last year (7-5, 3.98 ERA) and in 2004 (7-6, 3.78 ERA).

Knowing how absolutely ridiculous he has been the last two years in the second half (22-2 record) lets us know its likely he'll go on another run. If so, he has a great chance to finish with 250 Ks and a ERA around 2 and maybe 20 victories. And the 12 quality starts is an indication of how good he has been. He's had a few rough starts, but for the most part, has been consistent most of the year. Its easy to point to Liriano as a likely Cy Young contender, but I think Johan still has the best chance by far.

SP - Fransisco Liriano #47
10-1, 1.83 ERA, 10.39 K/9, .97 WHIP, .201 BAA, 4.44 K/BB
Grade: A

This one was easy. How do you not give a guy this good an A? Even though he didn't enter the rotation until May 19th, as spending the first month and a half in the bullpen put him eight starts behind most AL "aces," Liriano leads the AL in ERA, WHIP, and opponent OPS, is second in BAA and winning percentage, tied for 4th for wins with six other starters, and sixth in strikeouts.

Now, I don't want to say he won't maintain these numbers, because ten straight quality starts for a rookie is amazing. As I mentioned in a recent post, these are the best rookie numbers before the All-Star break since 1968. I don't think he'll finish with a sub-2.00 ERA, because he doesn't have the control of Johan, but there is no reason to think he won't keep winning or striking guys out.

I say he finishes with a 19-3 record, 210 Ks, a 2.45 ERA and the Rookie of the Year award. Yes, Jonathon Papelbon and Justin Verlander have been great. But Verlander's K rate and K/BB ratios aren't great and his ERA will probably eventually rise and the minute Palpelbon starts given up runs, he may lose out of the race because of how great Liriano has been.

SP - Brad Radke #22
7-7, 5.13 ERA, 4.61 K/9, 1.60 WHIP, .336 BAA
Grade: C

I feel in some ways I'm being easy on Brad because I really like the guy, but he has been good since an awful start. He was 3-1 with a 2.09 ERA in June and was rolling before his blurp in Kansas City.

I think Radke will probably be okay in the second half. I wouldn't expect a great resurgance, but he should be solid in what is supposed to be his last year. Needless to say, when the Twins were winning, Radke was doing great. He'll be vital to any playoff chances in the second half, as he'll be stuck between Santana and Liriano.

SP - Carlos Silva #52
4-9, 7.00 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, .343 BAA, 3.60 K/9
Grade: D-

Carlos has had a few moments this season of "goodness," but has otherwise been awful. Those of us expecting a season like last year's have been let down big time. Carlos is now even being called out by Rick Anderson for lacking "mental toughness."

As the numbers attest to, opponents have simply enjoyed seeing Silva this year. No one doesn't love the sight of a pitcher who allows a .343/.379/.574 line to opponents. Don't forget he has allowed 19 homers this year. Even when he was put in the bullpen earlier this year in favor of Liriano in the rotation, he wasn't great.

I don't forsee a great second half for Silva, but rather injuries, mediocrity, and likely a move out of Minnesota in favor of youth.

SP - Kyle Lohse #49
2-5, 7.48 ERA, 1.77 WHIP, 6.67 K/9, .319 BAA
Grade: F

I, in some ways, feel that Silva has been the worst pitcher on the Twins staff this year. But, it's nearly impossible to forget how terrible Lohse has been. Even after some good relief outings, the moment the game is on the line, he is the pitcher to end the Twins' winning streak.

Of course, if you get rid of the embarassing outings and subsequent loses out of the pen against Baltimore and Houston, he has had 14 1/3 scoreless innings and 14 Ks with it. All I can hope, like Seth over at SethSpeaks, is that some GM sees this and decides to take a chance on him.

CL - Joe Nathan #36
5-0, 15 SV, 1.75 ERA, .185 BAA, 13.00 K/9, .81 WHIP, 10.40 K/BB
Grade: A

If you forget those stupid saves, which only put him on pace for 28 this year, Nathan is the best reliever in baseball this side of Mariano Rivera and Jonathon Papelbon. To put it simply, the baseball world has seen this kind of control since Dennis Eckersly.

Everything about Joe has been great this year and there is no reason he won't continue it in the second half. The great thing is that he comes at a discount for the Twins. Lets hope he can continue with the rest of this great Twins core.

RP - Juan Rincon #39
3-0, 2.06 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 8.04 K/9, .231 BAA, 0 HR allowed
Grade: A-

Rincon has been nothing but stable all year. Realistically, he's had two bad outings all year: One in a lost to Chicago in April and the other in a loss to the Dodgers in June. He continues to be a great set-up man for Nathan and is by far the best reliever on the staff next to Joe. Once again, no reason to think his numbers won't continue to be great.

RP - Jesse Crain #28
2-5, 5.03 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, 7.55 K/9, .305 BAA
Grade: C-

After being the bullpen vulture last year (12 wins), things have been vastly different this year. For one, he's back to being a strikeout pitcher, as he was in the minors. However, he didn't dominate the competition at all early in the year. He had a 7.50 ERA in April and a 6.97 ERA in May.

However, he has been much better since. In June, his ERA was 2.03 and opponents only hit .216 off him. So far in July, his ERA has been 2.45. That's great news for the Twins, as he could not hold a lead for his life early in the year. If he has turned the corner, Crain will end up being a much pitcher than last year's "sinkerball" version.

RP - Willie Eyre #27
0-0, 6.60 ERA, 1.83 WHIP, .339 BAA
Grade: F

We supported his inclusion in the bullpen after spring training this year, but the experiment has gone on far too long. Time and time again he is brought into blowout games and can't get anyone out. In the last week, he has a ridiculous 27.00 ERA. With Matt Guerrier coming back soon, the Twins already have a pitcher to fill Eyre's role.

He desperately needs some seasoning in the minors and his numbers have shown it. With Ruben Sierra released, it will be interesting to see who gets brought up. Neshek really belonged over Eyre for while, so it's possible Scott Baker will return. Regardless, Eyre just isn't ready for the bigs.

RP - Dennys Reyes #37
1-0. 1.66 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, .218 BAA, 6.65 K/9
Grade: B+

Reyes hasn't been used a lot since his call-up in April and hasn't appeared in many "tight" situations, so it's tough to give him an A. But he has been far more effective than expected. After having almost no control his whole career, he has managed to walk only five batters in 21 2/3 innings this year. His ability to throw strikes, get some Ks, and be consistent out of the pen has been a very pleasant surprise.

And, yes, he has been very effective against lefties (.171/.216/.286) this year, making a good LOOGY even if the Twins don't necessarily need one.

RP - Pat Neshek #72
0-0, 0.00 ERA, .143 BAA, .50 WHIP
Grade: A

So far, so good. Sure it was only one apperance, but I can't help but be excited. He looks like he'll be a great addition to the bullpen and plus he's a native Minnesotan. Couldn't be happier to see him finally in the bigs and playing for the home team.

RP- Matt Guerrier #54
0-0, 3.34 ERA, .310 BAA, 1.64 WHIP
Grade: B-

His numbers aren't too great and he is currently on the DL, but since he was one of the bright spots early on, I saw no reason to keep him off the list. Just as he was effective last year out of the same role (3.39 ERA), Guerrier has been stable as a long reliever. He probably will never be a great setup man or closer, but he's nonetheless a great piece to have in the bullpen. He can pitch for many innings, be effective, and is important part of the bullpen. When he returns, I expect him to continue putting up similar numbers. Perhaps eventually he will move into the starting rotation.