Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Looking for Hope

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Can the Twins can really make a run at the nine game deficit that they face for a playoff spot? With two weeks left to determine if they’re going to be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline, answering that question isn’t just fun, it’s necessary. So, let’s look at the remaining 76 games and see if the schedule maker is going to help them out…

Good news: 22 games versus the White Sox and Tigers, 13 of which are at home. It’s not often that a team is excited to play nearly a third of their remaining games versus the two best teams in the major leagues. For this team, it’s their best hope.

Bad news: Fourteen games versus Cleveland. They’re a much better team than they appear in the standings, having outscored their opponents by 45 runs this year. They also have a trio of left-handed pitchers that could give the Twins fits.

Good news: Eleven games versus Kansas City, seven of which are at home. The Royals are playing better, but we’ll see how motivated they are as they sniff that upcoming five-month vacation.

Bad news: Six games versus the Yankees and Red Sox on the road. Strangely, they’re not on the same road trip. The Twins face the Yankees Labor Day weekend, and travel to Fenway Sept 19-21.

Good news: Seven games versus the Devil Rays. Did you know Tampa Bay has a baseball team? It’s true. Though it’s worth noting that the Twins have been beat-up by the D-Rays in recent years.

Coin Flip: Seven games versus Baltimore on the road. Four versus Toronto at home. Three versus the Athletics at home. Six games versus Texas.

The schedule has more good news than bad for a team trying to make up ground. The schedule leans towards home games, is heavy on teams below .500, and leaves lots of chances to play the teams the Twins are chasing. In addition, the White Sox and the Tigers still have most of their head-to-head match-ups (12 games) remaining on their schedule. The opportunity is still there for the Twins this year, if they care to seize it.

Trusting Our Eyes

"If he hits .400, I’ll buy him a car."
- Torii Hunter, on what he'll do if Joe Mauer hits .400 (as reported by the Kansas City Star)
"A Hyundai."
- Hunter, when asked what kind of car

We were warned about this “catchers wear down” thing, and we may have seen the first signs of it as the All-Star Break approached. Chairman Mauer went 3-18 on the last road trip, though two of those three hits were home runs. More telling were some plays not made behind the plate, such as some wild pitches that shouldn’t have been, and a clean miss of a one-hop throw that would have assasinated a Royal in Kansas City.

This probably says more about our expectations than Mauer’s performance. He was fighting a stomach ailment, hitting third, playing catcher on the road in July in Kansas City and Texas, and dealing with the attention that comes from his first All-Star selection. Oh, and he’s 23 years old. Given all that, it’s amazing that we can categorize a four game lapse as a “slump”. That’s how other-wordly his performance has been so far this year.
So let people quote the numbers about how few catchers have won batting titles, just like they used to tell us how few 6’ 4” catchers had any kind of baseball career. While they’re at it, they should probably add some trivia demonstrating how difficult it is to hit .400. It’s fine to understand the history, but my eyes tell me I’m watching something different.
Status Report
Cleveland: You might never see another team that’s 16.5 games out of the playoff race and is this good. They’ve actually outscored their opponents by 45 runs this year, and yet they’re 40-47 and in fourth place of the AL Central. They’ve even started to trade players away to contenders, looking towards next year, which still looks bright.
Minnesota: After a memorable, if not historical, hot streak, they stumbled on their last road trip before the All-Star Break. They’re 47-39, 11 games behind the Tigers in the AL Central.
On The Hill
Cleveland: Cliff Lee (8-6 4.76 ERA)
  • 2005: 18-5, 202 IP, 143 K, 3.79 ERA

  • 2006: 109.2 IP, 127 H, 73 K, 31 BB, 17 HR

  • Came in 4th for the Cy Young award last year. He was that good.

  • You never want to see bigger numbers next to “H” than you seen next to “IP”. For the first time in his career, Lee has been really hittable, and too many of those hits have been home runs. After a very tough May, the Tribe thought he was tipping his pitches, and he had a fair amount of success in June.

  • However, in his last two starts versus Cincinnati and the Yankees, he had very mediocre outings, giving up four earned runs in six innings in each start.

  • Gave up five runs in five innings in a 6-5 loss versus Minnesota on 5/23.
    • Minnesota: Francisco Liriano (10-1, 1.83 ERA)
      • 2005: 1-2, 24.2 IP, 33 K, 5.70 ERA

      • 2006: 88.1 IP, 63 H, 102 K, 23 BB, 5 HR

      • Everyone thought he’d be good, but this is just silly. He’s the best pitcher in the American League right now, and nobody’s particularly close, not even Johan. If the second half of the year is anything like the first, the only thing that can keep the Cy Young away from him is some quibbles about how many innings he’s pitched.
      • Please, god, keep this kid healthy.

          TheBentKangaroo said...

          We can't really expect Joe to hit .400, cuz he hasn't even made it there once this year, and he's sliding backwards.

          But he still could well finish with the highest ever average by a catcher. And that would be talked about forever.

          P.S. Tampa has a team? Damn. What's their name? Lightning, or something?

          John said...

          I think it's the Buccaneers.

          Twins Territory said...

          You right on about the Mauer thing, since he is leading the League by about 20 points in the batting average we have set the standards to high. If he goes 0-4 or doesn't come through in one clutch situation then everybody gets worried.

          Nice job on this story!