Thursday, October 09, 2008

Live Blog - Phils vs. Dodgers - Game 1

We're coming to you from the Bonnes Bar and Baseball Basement in the Twins Geek Observatory. It's been more than a decade since the Phils made it to the NLCS. The last one ended with the Phils advancing to the World Series, me making that face you see above, and a bunch of us being discovered (and chased) from the kitchen of a Pizzaria Uno well after closing time. Sounds like an opportunity for a live blog...

1st Inning

Good Lord, is Manny Ramirez good. I don't know how far he hit that "double", but it only stayed in the Citizen Bank Park because of an architectural quirk in center field. He is an absolute hitting freak and hot as two suns right now. If the Phils end up being eliminated early in this series, I'm going to need to start rooting for the Red Sox in the ALCS, just so I can watch him face them.

Jack Buck and Tim McCarver raised one salient point and yet, I find them annoying.

Dodgers 1, Phils 0


Fox gets mad props for having Harry Kalas introduce the Phils at the top of the first. He doesn't rank as high as cheesesteaks, pretzels and TastyKakes as a Philly institution, but he's at the next level.

Gawd, I miss Whitey.

So does Ryan Howard ever inside-out a ball to the opposite field? If not, it's going to be an awfully long night for him.

Dodgers 1, Phils 0

2nd Inning
I just want to point out the The Voice of Reason(TVoR) just arrived for the game because she was too busy vacuuming upstairs. We both agree she's to blame for the early deficit.
And we learn that the home plate umpire tonight is Mike Reilly, whose recent work includes butchering the final game at the Metrodome between the White Sox and Twins. The next day I wrote:

I don't know if he had a bad night, or if he's just going through a rough patch, or if he's losing it after 31 years on the job. But I do know that someone besides the guys yelling from the two dugouts should call that performance what it was: embarassing. It truly marred an otherwise amazing game.

He doesn't seem as bad tonight, though he did call a strike on Ryan Howard for a pitch that Fox showed to be at least 6 inches outside.
Dodgers 1, Phils 0

The bottom of the second provides a good example of why the designated hitter is underrated. The seventh hitter in the order gets a 2-out single, and my reaction is a yawn. You know the worst position player will be hitting next. And even if he somehow gets on base, the pitcher will be batting next. Yawn.

Dodgers 1, Phils 0

3rd Inning
Hamels has only given up one run through 3 innings, but he's also give up three hits, two walks and four strikeouts. Usually Ks are a good thing, but in this case, its adding to his pitch count. He's already at 55 pitches through 3 innings.
Dodgers 1, Phils 0

The highlight of the bottom of the 3rd inning? Using the basement toilet that was recently fixed for the first time in six months.

So, no, this game hasn't been everything I hoped so far. Utley leads off next inning. We'll hope for better.

Dodgers 1, Phils 0
4th Inning

And things don't get any better in the top of the fourth. The Dodgers benefit from a fortunate lead-off double, but they take advantage of it. Give credit to Casey Blake for the job he did. Down 0-2, he works the count and eventually grounds out to the right side of the infield (and he's right-handed). The Dodgers got 'em over and got 'em in.

Dodgers 2, Phils 0


Derek Lowe is at his junkballing best tonight. Everything he throws seems to be swerving as it approaches the plate. He might as well be throwing a wiffle ball - but harder. He just sat down the heart of the Phils order - Utley, Howard and Burrel - in order.

Dodgers 2, Phils 0


5th Inning

TVoR is tempting fate tonight. For the upcoming elementary school book fair, she's cutting bookmarks. With a paper cutter. While she tries to watch her Phils. 8.5 is the over/under on digits she'll have at the conclusion of this game. If Manny Ramirez gets on again, I wouldn't put it past her to take one off just out of anger.

Dodgers 2, Phils 0


The Phils finally get the crowd a little revved up and a runner in scoring position when the catcher Carlos Ruiz and the pitcher Cole Hamels each get two-out hits. Rollins pops out to left field, but at least he got the ball out of the infield.

Oh, and that second point under the second inning? You can ignore that, OK? We'll just keep that our little secret.

Dodgers 2, Phils 0


Sixth Inning

After a lead-off single, the Phils turn a double play on a nice play by shortstop Jimmy Rollins. It not only snuffs a possible rally, but it probably means Cole Hamels gets to pitch the seventh inning.

Dodgers 2, Phils 0


Shane Victorino leads off the inning. I'm guessing that South Philly loves Shane Victorino.

And they probably love him even a little more right now, because shortstop Rafael Furcal just threw a ball over first baseman's James Loney's head. Victorino is on second base.

Which turns out to be significant. For some reason, Derek Lowe, both last inning and this one, is a little freaked out by having a runner on second base because he believes they're reading his signs. Even after calling out his catcher to change the signs, he starts dancing around and scratching the mound like a hyperactive chicken. He looks like someone dumped itching powder down his pants.

Which may or may not have had an affect on the meatballs he threw to Chase Utley or Pat Burrell. And which they deposited into the bleachers of the Bank.

I never thought that Derek Lowe would exit this game before Cole Hamels, but it just happened. And I think I probably speak for a large segment of Dodger fandom when I say it happened a couple of batters too late. (Do people in Souther California scream at their TVs? I have trouble picturing that. "Dude. You should should pull him. Like now.")

Dodgers 2, Phils 3


Seventh Inning

Hamels finishes (I assume) his night by striking out two of the batters he faces and getting the other to ground out weakly. That's 105 pitches, and he was battling from behind through the 92nd one. Nice recovery, kid.

In a related note, my wife has been doing The Happy Dance (which The The Boy™ believes he has copyighted) roughly a dozen times since that 92nd pitch. She's doing it right now. Join along, won't you? DO-dah-DO-dah-DO - DAH!

Dodgers 2, Phils 3


I love the Joe Torre State Farm commercial. I like the idea of him sticking the Yankees nose in another playoff run. And I'll even buy that he should get some of the credit for the Dodgers success this year.

But he pulled Lowe too late. He should have been pulled before Ryan Howard, let alone Pat Burrell.

Dodgers 2, Phils 3


Eighth Inning

The Dodgers' have the meat of the lineup hitting in the eighth, but since it's not the ninth, the Phils can't bring in Brad Lidge. Fortunately, they also have Ryan Madson, and he gets out of the inning without a runner getting past first base. Manny Ramirez was totally fooled by a changeup - and still managed a weak line drive that fortunately went right to Phillies third baseman Pedro Feliz. Manny is going to be scary this whole series. There is just no way around it.

Dodgers 2, Phils 3


Chase Utley bats, and I end up getting props from TVoR for his very existence.

Apparently, very early in his career, he hit a grand slam, and she was all excited to tell me about how some rookie with a WASPie name hit a grand slam. And I got all excited because he was on starting on my roto team. And she was flabbergasted.

So now she claims I discovered him. And I'm OK with that.

Dodgers 2, Phils 3


Ninth Inning

This will be a tough inning to type up. And I don't mean that emotionally. I mean that physically, because I'm going to need to knock on wood every time they mention that Brad Lidge hasn't blown a save yet this year (knock, knock). Except in Philly they call it "touching wood". You can add your own punchline to that one.

That first out was a fly ball hit awfully far to right field.

Lidge has been perfect, but he has not got stronger as the season has progressed. He's bringing to mind another closer from the playoffs from an earlier decade, and I hesitate to even mention his name.

Good lord. The second out might have been hit farther than the first. TVoR is even making sure her happy dance is a tiny, quiet, lower case, happy dance.


Anyway, until the Phils win a big one, it's going to be hard for Philly to ever trust a closer again. But you have to like how the Phils handled that this year. Guess who threw out the first pitch for the first playoff game this year? Yep. The-Wild-Thing-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Talk about jumping in head first....

And like TWTWMNBN, Lidge gets the third out on a pitch that bounces in front of home plate.

Game 1 Final: Dodgers 2, Phillies 3


Phils win, Mike Reilly redeemed his reputation, and TVoR won the "over" bet on her digits. Thanks for stopping by.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Phoning It In: Lingering Injuries

Hey. If you've looking for a TwinsGeek fix on the offseason, check out SethSpeaks radio podcast from last night. I'm on with Seth, Nick Nelson from Nick's & Nick's and Parker from Over the Baggy.

Towards the end of the podcast, we talk a little bit about the offseason and how the Twins have a chance at signing a number of players to long-term deals. So I'm rerunning a story from March of 2007, where I talk about the poor timing some of their better players have had in terms of injuries, and how much it cost the Twins in subsequent years.

It also explains why the offseason before they are eligible for arbitration is the best possible year to get long-term deals done. The Twins have several players who fit that description this offseason, including Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano, Glen Perkins, Delmon Young and Pat Neshek. I expect we'll see long-term deals for at least those first two, and I wouldn't be shocked if we see nearly a half dozen long-term deals or extensions worked out.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Lingering Injuries

They keep telling us that Matt Garza’s neck is just stiff, but they can’t fool me. It’s some degenerative spinal injury, requiring at least a half year’s worth of rehab.

And that’s if we’re suddenly lucky.

For some major league franchises, the cost of the minor leagues is just the cost of doing business. To the Twins, it’s an investment. The millions of dollars that are spent in salaries, scouting, per diems and signing bonuses are quickly recouped when a high-impact rookie provides millions of dollars worth of production for pennies on the dollar.

For instance, for the numbers that Justinn Morneau and Joe Mauer put up last year, a good chunk of teams would have been happy to pay $10 million. Each. And then they would’ve toasted their good fortune.

The Twins paid them $785,000. Combined. Which means that the Twins previous investments in the minor leagues provided at least a $19 million return for the organization, just for those two players. That’s the kind of return that low-revenue, low-payroll teams need be competitive.

Unfortunately, the Twins ability to leverage those investments has been limited due to a nearly unprecedented string of year-long injuries to high ceiling prospects. The Twins have had four players in the last few years who were considered elite prospects, an impressive number for any organization. But so far only Garza had managed to stay relatively healthy (knock, knock).

Joe Mauer’s knee cost him almost all of 2004. Jason Kubel’s knee cost him almost all of 2005 and ultimately most of 2006. Francisco Liriano’s elbow cost him half of 2006 and all of 2007. And the concussion from a bean-ball, along with a series of offseason plagues, didn’t keep Justin Mornea from playing 2005, but likely cost him a year of development.

Of course, injuries are a part of the game, and it isn’t difficult to find other teams who had players that suffered year-long injuries. You might even be able to find another team with year-long injuries to four high-impact players. But you’ll need to look long and hard to find a team that had worse timing.

That’s because what REALLY hurts a team like the Twins is that they all happened within the first two years of each player’s major league careers. Injuries those two years minimize the return a team receives from their minor league investments. But they hurt just as much years after the player has healed, because it makes it unlikely that a club can sign their high-impact players to a long-term contract that is below market value.

There is no better time for a ballclub to approach a rising star about a long-term deal than after their second complete season as major leaguer. Up to that point, the player has made close to the major league minimum, probably in the neighborhoold of $300-400,000 per year. That’s some nice ching to be sure, but it’s likely not enough to make sure they’ll never need a real job. They still have one more year to play before their first year of arbitration, which is where a star player can suddenly make several million dollars.

If the club offers the player a multi-year guaranteed deal after two years, they’re offering a lifetime of security a year earlier than the player would otherwise receive it. And all they’re asking in return is for the ballplayer to be a little less filthy rich over the next few years. It makes a ton of sense for both the ballplayer and the club to agree to that kind of a deal.

But because of early injuries, the Twins have yet to agree to that kind of deal with any of their young impact players. Everyone talked about locking up Maure and Morneau this year, but the time to negotiate with them was last offseason, before they reached arbitration. Unfrotunately, Morneau had underperformed through an injury-plagued year, and Mauer’s knee was still a question mark. Instead, the Twins didn’t get to talk about long-term deals until each one of them was already guaranteed a lifetime of security with their $4 million arbitration settlements.

This spring, Kubel is in the same boat as Mauer and Morneau were last year. You can bet that two years ago the Twins planned on approaching him with a long-term deal this offseason. They can’t, because they don’t know if his knees will remain healthy, or whether he’ll regain his stroke. If he does this year, he’ll get his $3 million whether or not he signs a long-term deal with the Twins. And we’ll be wondering why he and the Twins can’t get a long-term deal done.

And next offseason? Well, Liriano will be finishing his second year – except that he won’t have pitched in the majors for a year-and-a-half. So the Twins won’t be able to comfortably offer him a long-term deal, and will again see if their highly prized prospect breaks out just before his first big pay day. And you wonder why they weren’t anxious to have Liriano go under the knife?

When a star player’s lack of production is taken into account, the cost of an injury for every team is easily in the millions of dollars. That’s already devastating to most low revenue franchises. But the timing of these injuries is even worse, because it’s likely costing the Twins another $1-2 million worth of salary per year than if they could have negotiated a long-term deal at the best possible time. And it’s happened four times.

Is there any doubt the fifth is coming? So when you see pictures of Terry Ryan standing behind Garza in the Twins dugout, delivering a neck massage, don’t be so sure it’s a Photoshop job. That neck rub could be as valuable an investment as the entirety of the Twins minor league payroll.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Q&A: A Veteran Starting Pitcher

Asked in another forum.....
Q: Are the Twins satisfied with the young SP or will they go to the well and grab a vet or was the Livan experiment enough for them to stick with the youth? It seemed Blackburn and others began to tire at the end of the year.

In 2003, when Eric Milton got hurt in spring training, rather than use the left-handed prospect they had in the bullpen, the Twins went out and signed left-handed Kenny Rogers. Why? Because they didn't want to count on the left-handed prospect too much, they liked having him in the bullpen, and because they liked having depth.

That left-handed prospect was Johan Santana.

Oh, and here's the kicker - Santana wasn't an unknown at the time. He had been pressed into starting duty in 2002 because of injuries. In 14 starts, he had posted a 7-4 record, a 3.13 ERA and 89K in 74.2 innings.

So will they sign a veteran pitcher?

Between the five young guys they already have in the rotation, and the amount of pitching talent they already have still in the minors, and the fact that Rick Anderson could probably teach a bowl of linguini to to be a respectable starting pitcher, it makes absolutely NO sense for them to sign a veteran SP this year.

Which brings the chances of them doing so down to 90%.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Switching To Fall

“Looks like someone moved the switch to ‘Fall’”, jokes the mom as she walks her son into the Basilica’s Youth Ministry. I’ve played the Minnesotan-discussing-the-weather role enough, and know it’s my job to agree good-naturedly. But I’m not staying in the school with mom and The Chatty Chatty Princess. I’m going to soak up The Fall a bit, do a little wandering, hopefully spiritually as much as physically.

That was a half hour ago, and now I’m sitting on a bench in Loring Park, overlooking cat ‘o nine tails, a pond, and rising condos with large red banners that display enormous telephone numbers. The wandering turned into planning, and the planning turned into writing, mostly because I’m hoping the laptop warms me a bit.[1]

The cold, cloudy and slightly gusty weather is ugly, but it has some healing properties, the meteorological equivalent of a scab. I’ve been too busy the last few days with various crises to think about the Twins season or even GameDay. I’ve also been too busy to watch most of the playoffs, and I’m realizing that’s not a new phenomenon. Since I’ve started this blog and thought about baseball on a daily basis, I’ve often quit following October baseball after my Twins were no longer factors.[2]

That changed last night since The Voice of Reason’s team, the Phillies, are alive and well in the postseason. We had a planned date last night, going to Champps Alley in the Warehouse District to see if the Phils could sweep the Brewers out of the playoffs. It didn’t go particularly well for the Phils, but we did well enough.

It was way too cold for the Alley, but we tried it anyway, placing TVOR directly under one of those propane heating umbrellas. The weather meant that a good portion of the handful of customers was either regulars or employees who were off-duty, and we had a nice time comparing stages of life with them.

I asked TVOR what I should order and she gave me here eye roll. She’s heard that joke roughly two dozen times, because in the past 15 years I have never – not once – ordered anything besides the Buffalo Chicken Sandwich with Waffle Fries and Seasoned Sour Cream. I’m surprised a bigger deal isn’t made of this, especially because I know I’m not alone. My brother, who lives in Australia, brings a list of food he must have in every return visit, and the BCSwWFaSSC is on there every time. It’s not just me.[3]

We pay as much attention to the beers[4], the commercials[5], and the local wildlife[6] as to the game. It is not going like we might have hoped. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel makes a somewhat dubious aggressive move early in the game, pulling Jamie Moyer for a pinch-hitter in the top of the fifth. I don’t know that it cost them the game, but it didn’t help. Later I notice that the Brewers have brought in Eric Gagne, and he looks tinder dry, begging to be torched. A runner is on base, and he falls beyond to Chase Utley, and we stir the ashes a bit, looking for a spark. But Utley chases a bad 3-1 pitch with Ryan Howard waiting on deck. The 3-2 pitch is popped up, and the sparks fade.

But I notice that I’m not living and dying with every pitch, like I was earlier this week. I’m not dissecting at-bats, or looking up a ballplayer’s splits against left-handers. I’m just watching a game, watching a bar, and watching my wife. Maybe regaining some perspective. Maybe healing a little. There is time now to wander around, find some of these other things. Someone has moved the switch to ‘Fall’.


[1] It is not unlike Bill Murray in The Razors Edge, when he starts burning pages from his spiritual books to keep warm. The fire leads to his moment of enlightenment. The laptop just causes my butt to fall asleep.

[2] This is a big change for me. I used to be an absolute fall baseball junkie in the 90s. It was one of my favorites sporting events for the real-world drama, like the first round of the NCAA tournament still is. And I wonder if the change is because I’m blogging, and absolutely gorging on baseball during the season. Or if it’s because the Twins don’t suck, so I’m not starved for relevant baseball come October. I suspect both.

[3] I suppose it could be genetic.

[4] I like beer. So when you have 12 beers on tap, I’m gong to find one that I like, and with Summit and Sam Adams, I was taken care of. But I gotta ask – why would you have four light beers on tap? Champps had Miller Lit, Bud Light, Coors Light and Mich Golden light clogging up 1/3 of their available tap beers. The bartender swears that it is absolutely necessary. They actually get unholy spawn of brand marketing who reject beer completely if all the bar has is Miller, Bud and Coors Light. I’m pretty sure this is somehow tied to the End of Days.

[5] The savvy folks at Viagra have done it again. Sponsoring a “Plays That Changed The Game” spot during the Phils/Brewers game, they chose Joe Carter’s home run in Game 6 of the 1993 World Series. You know, the one that killed the Phillies dream season in 1993, and still causes 37% of the Philly metro area to awake screaming a couple of times per year. Clever strategy that. The lesson? Buy stock in Cialis.

[6] We’re almost sure we saw a paid escort. There is no other way to explain it.