Thursday, April 06, 2006

It's late, and I didn't get to see the game because I spent the night at the Mill City Museum, which is absolutely wonderful, especially for kids. Oh my gawd, is it worth the time (and the rather expensive ticket). Fortunately, some readers are doing the heavy lifting.

One of the unfortunate side-effects of writing every night is that I'm not spending time reading every night, which means I miss some awfully good stuff on the 'net. That's one reason why, a couple days ago, I asked for some volunteer interns to help with the site, and some very kind people responded. The first challenge I gave them was to give me 2-3 links that Twins Geek readers would like, and their original commentary about them. I got four very good entries, and it occurs to me that surfing around on these might make for a nice Friday afternoon. Here they are:

Jimmy's Picks
Counting Pennies: That's what it must feel like to George Steinbrenner, who once again won the prize for most exorbitant payroll in MLB with $194.6M, actually down $13.7M from last year's excesses. The Twins clocked in with a modest $63.4M, good for 19th highest and an increase of $7.2M from last year. Note the quick arc into the payroll stratosphere for Carl Pohlad and Terry Ryan, a stark difference from 5 years ago. Ah, what winning will do.

Three Twins cracked the list of the top 88 player salaries: Torii Hunter ($10.75M), Brad Radke ($9.0M) and Johan Santana ($8.75M). It's a good sign that defense and pitching still earn their keep, unlike the Evil Empire Yankees who throw dough around like a Bronx pizza pie maker. A whopping 9 Yanks, most old enough to run for President, make more than Hunter, including the top 3 salaries in baseball. Here's another cool link regarding payrolls, contracts and the mugshots of those who broker them.

Razzing the Opposition: It's anyone's guess how long the "honeymoon" lasts for the Blue Jays' double-play duo, so get your ribbing while the ribbing is good. In retaliation to a prank executed by SS Russ Adams and 2B Aaron Hill, ace pitchers Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett exacted revenge on their teammates. I guess "turning deux" assumes a whole new level of meaning in Toronto, not that there's anything wrong with that.

Looking ahead to the Cleveland series, the Indians trot their new acquiree Paul Byrd to the mound to duel the Twins spring sensation, Kyle Lohse. In an odd twist of fate, this becomes Byrd's first start for the team that originally drafted him in 1991. Fret not Twins fans as this Byrd is a rare breed, rivaling the dodo in ugliness and adept at flying the coop once his feathery arm begins to molt. Case in point, after shocking the world with 17 wins for the Royals in 2002, he was ushered out for introducing this unconventional release. All kidding aside, it's never a good thing when you're joining your 7th team in 12 big league seasons.

Sam's Picks
1. Jim Souhan jumps in the wayback machine to tell us that Santana's problem Tuesday night was that the Blue Jays believe he tips his pitches. In other breaking news, Souhan has revealed that Bill Clinton is rumored to have a bit of a fidelity problem, and that Mark McGwire was once spotted in the parking lot of a GNC.

2. reports (second item in the article) that Ruben Sierra isn't going to be coming north until the front office is convinced that his strained quad is healed enough for him to play the outfield as well as hit. No one seems to know how long that will take, and in the meantime, the Twins have to figure out how they're going to clear a spot for Sierra on both the 25-man and 40-man rosters, a problem that will likely need to be solved before the right field, third base, and shortstop situations have sorted themselves out. This, of course, is #624 on the list of reasons you should be glad you're not Terry Ryan.

3. Down in the bush leagues, the identical twins who have made New Britain, Connecticut a favored stop for Twins farmhands in recent years were promoted in the offseason. Stan and Stu Cliburn (please don't ask us which is which) are in Triple-A Rochester to continue their work as manager and pitching coach of the Twins' top farm club, after seven years with the Double-A Rock Cats. The Cliburn boys have a terrific reputation as developers of young talent, so it'll be interesting to see what they can do to keep players who've already made significant strides toward major league readiness (like Jason Bartlett and J.D. Durbin) from developing why-me syndrome as they look to get back to Minneapolis.

4. A lot of Minnesota mouths were left gaping last Sunday when New York Times baseball writer Murray Chass declared the White Sox to be "last year's news" and made the Twins his favorite to win the AL Central. At the time, we thought ol' Murray was just being a good guy, and doing his part to root for the underdog. But now we know he's nuts...

Thomas' Links
- Interested in finding out more about Pat Neshek, the man Patrick Reusse thinks is the leading candidate for the Twins’ setup role if the bullpen needs a shakeup? Well, who better to ask then Pat Neshek himself ? And even if you could care less about what Reusse thinks, you should still check out his site for his explanation of the best side arm motion to come out of Brooklyn Park.

- The season may have already started, but Third Base Line has assembled a veritable League of Nations of Twins’ bloggers (Batgirl, Seth of Seth Speaks, Twins Junkie, Hannah and Frightwig) to toss it around the horn with her to help preview the season. While Frightwig’s (Blogging at 1st Base) name isn’t long enough to need a School House Rock song in order to “Get to Know ‘Em”, Seth (Blogging at Short) does actually make the same nanananana sound while typing that Guzman used to make legging out a triple.

- Andrew Berg at Minnesota Baseball Central has an in depth look at the ramifications of the Twins decision to demote Jason “Actually has an OBP” Bartlett to the minors. And no, I’m not angry about that decision at all. Not…at…all…

Bryce's Links
Bloggers bask in the nauseating high of the Twin's first victory

- No resting on laurels for Will Young, he dissects the game using themagic of an excel spreadsheet. His analysis results in a stunningconclusion- Tony Batistas was NOT the game's MVP.

- Bat-Girl reveals the source of Radke's first inning woes, turns out it's Lew's fault.

- Aaron Gleeman gives his professional analysis of the game. One of the moreprofound observations is below:

"Late in the game Blyleven made a joke about his pubic hair, which Ibelieve is a first in Twins broadcasting history. The potential for thatsort of thing is why you should never turn the game off, even in a blowout."

In order verify this claim, I googled "twins" and "pubic hair" and cameup with 1,232,458 hits. I will spend the next months deep in research.

- Over in Canadia, battersbox laments the loss of the "good guys" to the"loveable twinkies." Those Canadians, even after humilation they arestill so darned friendly. Kind of makes you want to move there, if itwasn't for the whole sucky baseball team thing. Oh, and that Queen ofEngland thing.

Thanks to the new Twins Geek interns and to everyone for stopping by today. Have a great weekend, and we'll see you on Monday for the big announcement.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Twins 13, Buttermaker's Bears 4

Wait - that’s the team that is supposed to challenge the Red Sox and Yankees in the AL East this year? My gawd, at the end of that fourth inning that I thought ‘CCO might change their set bumper music to the William Tell Overture. I like our chances today now that we know Samantha isn’t going to be on the mound. Let's continue in the Bad News Bear Theme with a few Quotes and Notes.

Don't jump in Engleberg, you'll flood the valley.
John Gordon and Dan Gladden could not have been more dismissive of Benji Molina’s speed last night. First they went after him for a wild pitch that he let by and didn’t chase down quickly enough. Then, in the seventh inning, Molina’s groundout sounded something like this:

Gordon: Molina with a HIGH chopper off the mound. Liriano waits for it to come down and throws it to first…..

At this point, I’m wondering if the Twins are going to get the out, because Gordon dragged out that “HIGH chopper off the mound” like only Gordon can. His next nine words tell the story…

Gordon: And Molina only got about half way to first.

Well, we committed 24 errors, and their pitcher threw a no hitter against us, but there is some good news! Two of our runners almost managed to get to first base, and we did hit seventeen foul balls!
Tony Batista swinging on 3-0? Tony Batista has the green light on 3-0?!?

Crud, does that booger eating spaz make me want to puke.
Not only is Joe Mays pitching for someone this year. Not only is Joe Mays in the starting rotation for someone this year. But Joe Mays is seemingly the #2 pitcher on the staff this year. You can guess how that went.

You can take your apology and your trophy and shove it straight up your @$$!
You know all those quotes from Bradke last year where he would make some veiled reference to the runs that weren’t being scored in games he started? In today's paper, I want to see Shannon Stewart lamenting the strain the offense is feeling from having to rally from all these early game deficits. I think I would enjoy that.

Do you want to quit Tanner?
Crud no, I wanna play ball.
I continue to be impressed with Gardenhire's timing with relievers. Bringing in Liriano in the seventh inning was exactly the right move, and two innings and three strikeouts later he has that much more confidence. I think I’m going to get very excited about the bullpen this year.

Quick Reminder: There's a day game today (late edit: My bad. The game starts at 6:00) , but you can still get your baseball fix tonight. Stew Thornley is giving an illustrated presentation about his book Baseball in Minnesota: The Definitive History at the Mill City Museum. You can get more details here. I'll see you there.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Opening Night

What do you do on Opening Night? Watch baseball. AND talk baseball with a gathering of 30 to 40 Twins fans, which Bat Girl was kind enough to host at the Park Tavern in St. Louis Park. The game was, well, kinda disappointing really. I mean, you don’t make us wait 186 days for a baseball game and then make us watch a loss, do you? Do you?!?

But it was great fun nonetheless, primarily because it gave us a chance to talk baseball and then to talk some more baseball. In case you missed it, here were the top nine topics.

9. Juan Rincon – You can criticize Gardenhire, and god knows I have, but he does know how to handle a bullpen*. He found exactly the right time to bring in a reliever who needs to regain some confidence after coming back from an arm injury. He got him involved early in the season. He didn’t throw him right into the fire. It was a nice move, and Rincon’s 1.1 scoreless innings were a great building block.

Incidentally, on my way home, Rick Anderson revealed something interesting about the Rincon stint. He said that while Rincon was pitching, Anderson went into the clubhouse to watch it on TV. It’s not a mystery why. Anderson wanted to get a better feel for Rincon’s location and speed. It’s not often you hear a coach admit that we have a better view on our living room sofa (or Park Tavern bar stool) than they have from the dugout.

*Unless it’s the 12th inning in Game 2 of the ALDS in Yankee Stadium. Then he chokes.

8. The Boy™ – I still think the Twins might want to investigate replacing Wayne Krivsky with The Boy™ as a lead contract negotiator. This morning The Voice of Reason™ found herself saying to a six-year-old, “No. Thin Mints are NOT breakfast food.”

Nice work, son. When you’ve reached the point where you’re pressing for a concession that Girl Scout Cookies are the start of a nutritious breakfast, you’ve already won. Eat your heart out, Scott Boras.

7. Chili Davis –I have nothing to back this up, but Rondell White is going to have a monster year. He’s so reminiscent of Chili Davis, that it’s a bit eerie. While discussing this topic, Bat Girl’s close personal friend draws a sharp breath and admits that all she needs in life is another Chili Davis. Her husband is, mercifully, not around to hear this.

6. Jesse Crain gives up the long ball, ruining a potential Twins comeback. I’ve been in denial all offseason about his lack of strikeouts last year. I don’t see any reason to stop now. So stop talking. Go away. La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la…..

5. The Chatty Chatty Princess™ – She big timed me last night and didn’t want to come to the party. Seems she’s getting too old for this silliness. I’m blaming it on this book she’s reading about this girl that gains confidence and stuff by resolving the problems of Greek gods. Stupid self-esteem. Someone’s going to pay for that.

4. Tony Batista – First, Batista hits his first homerun as a Twin. As soon as it goes out, everyone looks at Aaron. Aaron, meanwhile, looks around in the vain hope that nobody saw it. Heh, heh. Frightwig’s table and I decide we all need to leave some choice comments on Aaron’s site tonight. Good times.

3. Jason Bartlett – He’s not on the field. He’s not in the stadium. And yet that’s all anyone wanted to talk to me about. What’s the deal with Bartlett? Why didn’t they keep Bartlett? What’s going on?

You got me, but I’m not buying the leadership thing. For weeks, I wondered if there was something going on that we can’t know about – like they don’t like the way he’s conducting himself off the field, or in the clubhouse, or something. But that just doesn’t jive with everything I’ve heard about him, and everyone tonight was equally baffled.

Then Twins Talker gave us the rumor du jour, which is that the Twins wanted him to play winter ball, but he refused, and this is their way of sending him a message. That seems petty and small, but it would make sense with the code language that Gardenhire uses when talking about demoting him.

So the answer is that I don’t know, and Twins Talker doesn’t know, and I’m not entirely sure that the Twins really know. But we sure are talking about it a lot.

2. Opening Day – I found a new reason to continue my quest to make Opening Day an official holiday – because then people give you presents. TVOR came through big time with a small $.99 packet of pistachios. They should be to Opening Day what chocolate bunnies are to Easter.

1. Johan Santana - My guess is you’re going to read a lot of quotes today about how teams are going to struggle when they face Roy Halladay. That’s true, but the Twins scored three times tonight off of Halladay and had their own Cy Young candidate on the mound. The Twins didn’t lose tonight because of their offense. They lost because Santana left a slider up against Overbay and a change-up up against Molina. They lost because Santana made mistakes.

That isn’t totally unheard of for Santana early in the season. And it doesn’t mean a thing in the larger scheme of things. But don’t assume that last year’s story line was last night’s story line. It wasn’t.

Still, a nice night, and not a bad start to a new season. It’s good to be back. It is really, really good to be back.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Watch Out. The Light at the End of the Tunnel Might be a Semi.

Imagine you’re new to this world, you see a car for the first time, and someone asks you what makes it go. You might start with those spinning rubber tires. A little more inspection might point you to the wheels, and quickly afterwards to the spinning axle. Eventually you might happen upon the small explosions that lead to the power thrust of the pistons, but it would likely take some time.

I think we’re struggling with the same problem explaining the White Sox. For years, we watched their offense perform unevenly, and when they started to succeed, lead-off hitter Scott Posednick was viewed as the cause. During their playoff run, the majority realized that the real cause of their success was their pitching. I wonder if the story ends there.

The White Sox front office is paying enough to make you think it is. The White Sox starting rotation this year is making $44.25 million, and there isn’t one of them that would make less if they were to declare free agency. Think about that the next time you read how deep the Twins starting rotation is.

However, all that talent is judged a bit skeptically. The popular perception is that the White Sox starting rotation overachieved last year. Certainly if you look at each of the returning starters – Mark Buehrle, Freddy Garcia, Jon Garland and Jose Contreras – they each had career years. The question is whether or not there’s a reason they all had career years. The question is whether there is something we can’t see that was firing those pistons.

I'm afraid there is. The power stroke of the White Sox combustion engine might well be pitching coach Don Cooper. Cooper was named the Sox pitching coach at the end of the Jerry Manuel era, and the White Sox pitching has never been the same. Cooper worked with Esteban Loiaza as he developed from a non-roster invitee to the runner-up in the Cy Young Award in 2003. Freddy Garcia was a talented but enigmatic malcontent in Seattle, but with Cooper he’s pitched 228 innings with a 3.87 ERA last year. Jose Contreras was a punchline with the Yankees, but under Cooper’s tutelage, he posted a 2.96 ERA over the second half of last year. There’s also Jon Garland, and the bullpen which was built and rebuilt and rebuilt again until they mowed through the league’s best in October.

So before you start believing those preseason projections that have the White Sox regressing back to the mean, understand how projections work. Projections don’t know anything about wheels or axles or engines. They don’t know anything about cars other than that they go, and cars of a certain type with certain characteristics tend to go a certain distance. I'm afraid that actual mileage may vary, especially when the car has a strong engine.


"Take it easy. Take it easy. It'll all happen in time. This is the job. Don't wait for it to happen. Don't even want it to happen. Just wait - and see what does happen."
I've had some folks ask me about the "big announcement" that I promised a few weeks back. It will be on Monday, the 10th, just in time for the Twins opener. And yes, the timing is significant.

Who is the gopher's ally? His friend?
I'm toying with a new idea for this site, and I think I'm going to open the door to a little crowd participation.

I want an intern. Not an intern in the Clintonesque sense - The Voice of Reason would likely object, and so would roughly 108% of all possible interns. But someone to help out with some posting of links and such on the site. Qualifications include:

1. You have to visit Twins blogs, stories and forums on the 'net at least semi-obsessively.
2. You need a sense of humor.
3. You need to not suck as a writer.
4. You can spend at an hour or so a couple (week)nights per week working on the site.

If you're interested, send me an email using the link in the upper right hand corner and tell me why you should get the job. I'll go through the applications, come up with some sort of contest, and we'll see what we get.

Congratulations Anne. Believe it or not, you deserve every bit of attention that comes your way.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Back Where It Belongs?

All this energy calling me
Back where it comes from
It’s such a crude attitude
It’s back where it belongs

- Cleveland Rocks

The White Sox weren’t the only AL Central team who has been waiting an interminable time for a Major League Baseball championship. Fifty-seven years have passed since Cleveland fans have had a World Series trophy back where it belongs. The last dynasty won six division championships and two AL pennants, but went O-fer in the World Series. More frustrating is that the new dynasty being built by General Manager Mark Shapiro is struggling the same way previous GM John Hart's did.

In the 90s, the Indians were literally a murderers row of offense, but lacked the key arms necessary to put them over the top. They never made the deal they needed for a #1 starter, despite aces like Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson being available. Meanwhile, their bullpen, while good in stretches, never showed the dependability that Tribe fans sought.

A decade later, history is repeating itself. Stacked with young offensive talent, Shapiro has sought to upgrade his pitching and failed. This year, the starting rotation certainly didn’t improve, and may have slid backwards. The bullpen, while it has plenty of solid arms, is anchored again by soft-throwing, 37-year-old Bob Wickman. He’s old enough that his first year as a closer was during the last Tribe dynasty.

The rotation is anchored by last night’s starter C.C. Sabathia, who was taken out of the game for what looks like a pulled stomach muscle. (The only surprise is that he found any muscle to pull there.) It isn’t hyperbole to say that there isn’t a team that would be hurt more by an injury to a starting pitcher than the Indians would be hurt by an injury to Sabathia. He’s their ace, he eats innings and he’s left-handed kryptonite to their division rivals. Plus, they haven’t acquired the arms they need around him.

Obtaining front line starting pitching can be difficult, but the same can’t be said for some of the offensive positions that have been left unaddressed. Last night Cleveland’s #2 hitter was Jason Michaels, a 29-year-old 4th outfielder that they obtained from the Phillies. He was starting in one corner outfield spot while the other was manned by Casey Blake, a 32-year-old who was best described as a “career minor leaguer” as recently as 2002. Blake was inadequate as a corner outfielder last year. Rather than replace him, they duplicated him.

The tragedy about Michaels and Blake starting in this lineup is that Cleveland is so strong offensively at defensive positions. Victor Martinez (C), Jhonny Peralta (SS) and Grady Sizemore (CF) are young, cheap and all-star caliber players. Two of the easiest positions to upgrade offensively and cheaply are the corner outfield spots, but Shapiro, for whatever reason, hasn’t made a move.

An outsider can only be so critical about non-moves, because sometimes there are not moves to be made. But two wide-open free agent seasons have passed, and the Indians have again been unable to find the last pieces of the championship puzzle. That may well have cost them a championship in the 90s, and a playoff spot last year. Another quiet offseason, combined with an injury to their most indispensable player last night, may mean another season wondering what could have been.

So find a place
Grab a space
And yell and scream for more...

Twins Takes

It doesn't make up for leaving Jason Bartlett off the 25 man roster, but Ron Gardenhire should get some credit for bringing Jason Kubel (way) north to Toronto. Kubel showed everything he needed to show in spring training, but his injury gave the Twins had the excuse they needed to send him to Rochester. Bringing him instead of a a designated left-handed pinch hitter took some courage.

It will take more courage to play him regularly. They'll get their chance tomorrow night as they face hard-throwing right-hander Roy Halladay. That's exactly the kind of pitcher that Michael Cuddyer should be resting against, and exactly the kind that Kubel needs to face. It will be interesting to see if Gardnhire is willing to bench his starting right fielder for the better matchup on opening night.

And more courage will be necessary if Kubel thrives, and earns more playing time. And yet more will be necessary if Cuddyer also thrives and Batista struggles. The inclusion of Kubel on this roster was the right thing to do, but raises all kinds of possible headaches for the manager. It'll be fun to watch Kubel, and equally fun to see how Gardenhire handles all this.