Thursday, May 03, 2007

And now for something completely different....

3 things...

1. If you didn't read "What Joe Mauer Says During Mound Conversations", then stop, click and enjoy.

2. You would've found that story if you were stopping by everyday. Tom Genrich, one of the brothers who originally founded GameDay, is doing an outstanding job of keeping up with blogging posts from across the blogosphere and giving links there. Why wouldn't you let him do your legwork for you?

3. At GameDay, we're working on something a little extra this week which you may find in the programs starting next week. It's an insert sponwith the players pictures, vitals, and....

well, that was the problem. What else?

After kicking around ideas for about two-and-a-half minutes, we settled on a haiku about each player. I took a first pass at some of the players last night and I'll publish them below, but I'd like to encourage you to do a haiku about one of your favorite players. If we like it (and I know I have plenty of room for improvement on the ones below) we'll throw out mine and use yours. So show us your haiku chops...


Joe Nathan
Fastball and slider
Our closer snorts like horse
but always comes through.

Pat Neshek
Call him “Twitch-n-Pitch”
or “Sideshow Pat”. Either way,
he’s sure fun to watch.

Scott Baker
A brutal ‘06
Was his prospectdom lost?
Not yet. One more chance.

Boof Bonser
When he finds the plate,
double digit Ks result.
The Boof is on fire!

Jesse Crain
Right-handed cannon
Hastens sweet oblivion
During middle innings

Matt Garza
The Twins top prospect
Mows them down in Rochester
Just wait young Red Wing

Matt Guerrier
Three teams let him go
He found his Path to the Show
Twins found long relief

Francisco Liriano
Minnesotans knew
It was too darn good to last
Please god, make him whole.

Ramon Ortiz
Replaces Radke
Twins hope his new change-up helps
Keeps ball in ballpark

Glen Perkins
Southpaw ex-Gopher
May make starting rotation
in this year or next.

Sidney Ponson
Offseason gamble
makes Opening Day’s roster.
How long, we wonder?

Dennys Reyes
Last year he surprised
as a left-handed setup.
Another Eddie?

Juan Rincon
He owns the eighth frame
Vice-president of the best
bullpen in baseball.

Johan Santana
Two Cy Young awards.
He’s achieved one name status
‘Johan’ says it all.

Carlos Silva
Double-play artist
Without his power sinker
Needed to adjust.

Chris Heintz
When Gardenhire frets
that his catcher might get hurt
Chris gets to play here

Joe Mauer
We watch his sweet swing
And dream about the year when
he’ll chase .400

Mike Redmond
“Red Dog” backs up Joe
Teaches the team to “smell ‘em”
(RBIs. Not Joe).

Jason Bartlett
Exceptional range
Usually has no stick.
Here’s the exception.

Rick Anderson
Ortiz and Silva
Prove that Rick Anderson
is a god. Again.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Hope's Turn

This offseason, Sidney Ponson probably hoped that his career would be reborn in Florida. He just imagined it would happen in March, not May.

To some extent he was right. Twins fans will recall that nobody argued much about Ponson joining the Twins staff at the end of spring training. April has been a different story. Maybe May will be yet another?

Last night's final results could indicate that it will be. In last night’s 9-1 Twins laugher, Ponson pitched seven innings, and allowed just one run and seven base runners. He also struck out five Devil Rays, exactly when it was being speculated that he was pitching for his job.

The performance itself wasn’t quite so pretty. If Ponson felt extra pressure, it was certainly lessened by the 2-0 lead the Twins had before he threw a single pitch, and the 6-1 lead before he returned to the mound.

Early, it seemed like the Twins might need those runs, because Ponson was pretty lucky those first couple of innings. He needed to be. He hit the second batter he faced, walked the third batter, and gave up a home run ball to the fourth, which fortunately drifted just foul. He escaped the inning with no damage because the Rays were caught stealing early in the inning and finished the inning on a checked swing.

The second inning started even worse. His second pitch was deposited in the left-center field bleachers. The pitch after that was singled to right field. His next pitch saved him, as it led to a double play. But even the final out was a fly ball to the warning track in right field. The Rays had scored only one run, but it was less than a dominating performance.

And so was the third inning. Ponson was victimized by a mistake by Nick Punto and a terrible call by a second base umpire who was late in getting in position for a call at third base. But he escaped the inning because of two warning track fly balls (both of which were hit with two men on base). Maybe worse, he spent most of the inning falling behind hitters in the count.

The fourth inning? He induced some ground balls, but it also became clear that the Devil Rays were taking the first pitch every time, which is never a good sign. Two of the outs were off-speed pitches that were left high in the zone but were popped up and grounded out. His next opponent will be looking for those.

The fifth inning started with two hard-hit line drives, one of which was directly at Jason Bartlett. Then a hard hit ball to Torii Hunter in center field. And then a 3-0 count to Carl Crawford, before fighting back with some pitches that caught enough corner to strike out Crawford looking.

The last two innings were the highlight of the night. He retired all six batters, including the middle of the Devil Rays order. The sixth inning included another warning track fly ball and a line drive to Hunter, but it also included two strikeouts on breaking balls.

So was a corner turned? Maybe, but it didn’t look like it for the first five innings. And Ponson was also aided by the Rays approach, since they clearly didn’t expect him to attack the zone. One gets the sense that maybe Ponson has reached the point in his career where he needs to become a fly ball pitcher doing a Silva-esque dance each inning to escape trouble, which isn’t especially comforting.

But ultimately, it’s the results that really matter. Maybe Ponson turned a corner in those last few innings. Or maybe he has discovered enough tricks to keep runs off the board. Or maybe this will give him enough confidence to improve even more. Today, hope should get its turn. Five days from now against Boston, we’ll see if it gets another.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

April Questions, May Answers

The Twins have finally faced each of their division foes for the first time, so one might think there would be some real insight about this team. But the only answer we’re getting is the one we should’ve learned last year – that there are precious few answers in April.

That is especially true in the AL Central, partly because each team is a mixture of veterans and youthful promise. But it’s also because this is a competitive division, and the progress of a couple of key players will likely be the margin of victory or defeat. That’s a good thing, by the way. It’s what a baseball season should be about.

Generally, one doesn’t focus on a series with the Devil Rays because, well, they’re the Devil Rays. But this series should be a little more interesting to Twins fans, because they’re going to highlight some of the key players that could impact the season.

Sidney Ponson
Time is running out on Ponson. On the one hand, he seems to be behaving himself well. On the other, even Pope Benedict isn’t going stay on a major league roster if he’s sporting an 8.44 ERA.

To his credit, Ponson is throwing strikes. Unfortunately those strikes have been extremely hittable, resulting in twice as many base runners as innings pitched. And when six of them have been hit for home runs in just 21 innings, there’s no reason to assume it’s all bad luck (though that likely played a part in at least the outing versus the Yankees).

This week Ponson gets to start against the Devil Rays, and probably again on Sunday against the Red Sox in the Metrodome. If he doesn’t show significant progress, I can’t imagine the Twins will continue to invest in this rehabilitation project. Depending on what Terry Ryan saw this last week when he was in Rochester, it’s possible the Twins wouldn’t even wait that long.

Boof Bonser
Bonser was one of the players that the Twins hoped wouldn’t be on this list in late April, but he’s been the second worst starting pitcher on the staff, and maybe the most frustrating. Bonser is pitching exactly the way he did last year – in the first half of the year, when he was earning himself trips back and forth to Rochester.

Bonser has posted eye-catching strikeout numbers for several years, but stayed in Rochester because he had trouble with his control and keeping the ball down in the zone. In his initial promotion, he showed the same problems, and it wasn’t until late in the season that the mistakes disappeared and all that remained were the wiffs.

Not this year. Bonser leads the team in home runs against (7) and in walks (16). In walks, nobody else is even particularly close, as he doubles everyone except Ponson (9). Boof has smoothed over some of those numbers with lots of Ks, posting a strikeout rate higher than anyone else on the staff, including Johan Santana.

But this organization doesn’t tolerate a lot of walks, and they rarely hesitate to demote a prospect to relearn that fact in Rochester. Bonser faces the Devil Rays, who are about as patient as a coked up commodities broker, on Wednesday. A tougher test might be the White Sox next week. In both, watch to see if he’s getting ahead or falling behind the hitters.

Jason Kubel
Sunday’s paper mentioned what you probably have noticed, which is that Kubel is getting a lot of playing time lately. The paper drew a parallel to Michael Cuddyer last year, but there is an important difference. Cuddyer was playing right field because he was hitting the crap out of the ball. Kubel is playing left field because…um…well…let’s get to that later. Suffice to say it isn’t because he’s forcing the issue with his bat.

So far this season, Kubel is hitting almost exactly the way he did last season. The only big difference is that he’s both walking and striking out less, which means he’s putting a few more balls in play. That’s resulting in a slightly higher batting average and slightly less power.

Which would be fine if last year’s production wasn’t totally unacceptable. Last year’s .241 batting average was bad enough for a left fielder (especially one whose strives to show as much range as Manny Ramirez) but it’s especially brutal for a designated hitter. If the other options weren’t currently Jason Tyner and Josh Rabe, Kubel likely wouldn’t be playing as much as he has.

The lack of other options is one reason that Kubel is playing so much lately, but there are likely two others. First, Kubel could probably use the at-bats, because the Twins need someone to start showing some production in the bottom half of the order. Developing Kubel is the only current option since RonDL White’s recurring injury is making everyone remember that his career has been filled with injuries that never healed.

But another reason might well be that the Twins need to find out if Kubel is ever going to be the answer, because they’ll need to do some shopping this season is he isn’t. The paper and radio shows like to float around the name of Jacque Jones, but the Twins are likely interested in a cheaper, right-handed bat. A player like that can often be plucked away from teams cheaply, ala Phil Nevin last year, and some teams wouldn’t need to wait until the trade deadline to do it.

For instance, if Twins scouts saw ability in someone like Kansas City’s Ryan Shealy, a deal could probably be made prior to the All-Star break. Or, in about a month, when Ken Harvey is recovered from his knee surgery, the Twins might like to know if they’re ready to trust Kubel full-time, or bring Harvey up to platoon at DH. And don’t forget that Matt LeCroy is still plugging along (or is that up?) in Rochester, too.

So Twins fans have a good reason to lean a little closer to their TVs when Kubel is batting over the next couple of weeks. And a couple of good reasons to pay attention to some road games before the Red Sox come to town on Friday. The jury is still out on the seasons that Sidney Ponson, Boof Bonser and Jason Kubel are going to have. The answers will likely reveal themselves in the fairly near future, and they’ll go a lot further in determining the AL Central champ than an April weekend series in Detroit.