Thursday, October 01, 2009

On Magic Numbers, Matchups and Channeling Trent Tucker

We just need to take care of our business, we can only control what we can control, we can't worry about the Tigers, it doesn't do any good to watch the scoreboard, blah, blah, blah, blah.

Did you know that teams that are in second place can have a Magic Number? It's true. The Twins' Magic Number is six. Unfortunately, they only have three games left, so we ARE going to worry about the Tigers and watch the scoreboard. And while we're at it, let's look at the pitching matchups for both series, because the sad truth is that if five of these six games don't go the Twins way, we're done.

Jeff Manship(MIN) vs. Lenny Dinardo(KC)

Time for Jeff to show a little Manship. He regressed in each of his four starts, but had decent success in his last bullpen appearance. He's got to quit freaking walking batters. Take the hill and throw the ball over the plate, young fella. (Hmm. I'm channeling my inner Trent Tucker. How adorable.)

Fortunately, almost everything I just said about Manship, I could say about Dinardo. Except for the "young fella" part. He's 30.

Edwin Jackson
(DET) vs. Jake Peavy(CWS)

I love Ozzie Guillen. Peavy, who is an NL Cy Young award winner, last pitched last on Friday, so he could've pitched Wednesday. But Ozzie held him off to pitch against the Tigers instead. Jackson has struggled for most of September, and gave up five runs to the White Sox last Sunday in a 8-4 loss.

Nick Blackburn(MIN) vs. Zach Greinke(KC)

I suppose it's only fair that the Twins get to face a probable Cy Young award winner the next day. Grienke's is a heart-warming story about a player who battled back from depression to fulfill the sizable expectations that were heaped on his shoulders. And I can't think of a better ending than the Twins ripping his still-beating heart out of his chest and ruining any Cy Young consideration the last six months has generated. Call me a hopeless romantic.

Freddy Garcia(CWS) vs. Alfredo Figaro(DET)

When Monday's game was rained out, there was a lot of debate about whether it would have a negative effect on the Twins because Joe Mauer wouldn't catch both games of the doubleheader. (He did, but he ran like he did the next two days.) But the far bigger impact to both teams was that it meant the pitchers for that game would need to pitch their next game on just three days rest. That's what Blackburn is doing for the Twins.

The Tigers went in different direction. This spot should be taken by Rick Porcello, who is just 20 years old and was stretched to 165 innings already this year. Rather than make his young arm pitch on short rest the Tigers are turning to Figaro, a 25-year-old right-hander who doesn't look like a bad prospect, but who has appeared in only four major league games and is working his way back from wrist surgery.

The White Sox are countering with Garcia, who has been pretty good for most of September, but got the snot pounded out of him last Saturday by....the Tigers. Sigh.

Brian Duensing
(MIN) vs. Luke Hochevar(KC)

Duensing has been lights out since joining the rotation, but had his worst start of the year on Tuesday night. Keep your fingers crossed. Hochevar threw a complete game shutout on September 18th - and still had an 8.16 ERA in September. Let's hope he's not "on" because then he's almost certainly "off".

Justin Verlander(DET) vs. John Danks(CWS)

The Tigers have announced that if this game means anything, Verlander will be the guy on the mound. You might have heard about him. But don't give up hope, because several of the White Sox have had a lot of success against him over their careers, including Jermaine Dye, Carlos Quentin and AJ Pierzynski. And one gets the sense that the White Sox kind of thrive on spite.

Which might also explain Danks starting. He's been good lately, almost the exact opposite of Hochevar. Danks gave up seven runs against the Twins last week - but still had a 3.21 ERA over the month of September. That's tight.

I'm hopeful that on Monday you'll return to see another pitching matchup - something like Rick Porcello against Carl Pavano for the AL Central Championship. But if you don't, you're going to want to be here as we prepare for the offseason with the release of the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook. I'm really excited about this book which lets you make the same decisions as the Twins general manager and build the team you think they should have. We're putting the final touches on it this weekend, and it'll be released only if the Twins are actually eliminated. Otherwise, we'll hold off. We don't want to be done with this season yet.

I almost forgot. For those of you who go to the Hot Stove Annual Winter Banquet that is thrown by Julian Loscalzo and Michael "Sammy" Samuelson, you'll be happy to hear there is also a celebratory event this Sunday. I can't make it to the last game, but this sounds beautiful. From Sammy....

To all: We will, for the final time at at the HHH Metrodome, be hosting our annual end of the season potluck "brunch" this next Sunday, 10/4 starting around 10:30 am before the Twins vs Royals game. We will be gathering at the low wall on the Left side of the Dome's main entrance at 6th and Chicago (just behind the kettle corn stand). Due to planned pre-game festivities, we are asking that folks show up a bit earlier then usual so we do not miss too much of the going ons.

You can expect to munch on everything from shrimp, White Castle sliders, cheesecake and my famous tater tot hotdish! If you can make it please bring a dish to share for between 12-15 of your fellow seat mates. We hope you come by even if you do not have a ticket.

Win! Twins! - Sammy and Kiki

Also, apparently there will be a film crew there from to do a feature on Sammy. If I get the link, I'll be sure to pass it along.

So I Suppose I Gotta Post...

But there are times where things are better not written.

So let's wait. We can dissect this season slowly, and probably painfully, next week. After all, the season isn't over, even if it's just one loss away from over.

I'll say two things:
1) Yesterday on KSTP AM 1500, Patrick Reusse said he was as impressed with the Twins on Tuesday night in a loss as he had been all season. And I sat back and thought "Yes, that's true."

I did NOT feel the same way last night. I'm assuming Mr. Reusse would say the same thing.

2) If you stop by this site, I'm begging you, try out Twitter. I posted roughly twenty times over the last couple days, including WAY too many times while watching game one of this series with @sethtweets. It is not Facebook. It is not social networking. You don't have to "friend" anyone, and you don't have to post anything about yourself. All you have to do is choose people to follow, and you get a cross between (very short) blogging, news feeds and a discussion group. Oh, and you get it all right on your mobile phone.

I'll be back tomorrow, hopefully breaking down some pitching matchups for the Twins/Royals and Tigers/White Sox for game that still mean something.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Head to Head

You know how you decide which is the best team? You watch them play head-to-head. The team that wins - that's the best team.

That's why I like the unbalanced schedule. It's easy to criticize. Fans will point out that it makes the Wild Card inherently unfair. Stats geeks gripe cuz it ruins their clean little metrics. And team promoters grumble because big market teams visit less often.

But I'll take it, because I like seeing my team face the opposition. 70+ games every year against your own division generally decides things. Just look at the last four years:

- The team with the best record within the Central division also won the division in 2005 (the White Sox, 52-22) and 2007 (Indians, 48-24).

- The happened again last year, only in a much cooler fashion. At the end of the regular season, both the White Sox and the Twins not only had tied for overall record, but they had tied for their divisional record too (44-29). So they had a one-game playoff, which propelled the White Sox to finish +15 games in the division while the Twins slipped to +13. And the White Sox were the AL Central champions.

- In 2006, it also worked out, though no quite as cleanly. Detroit had the best divisional record (+15 games over .500), but Minnesota (who was only +6) passed them in the overall standings on the last day of the season. But both teams went to the playoffs, and the Tigers got the last laugh, making it to the World Series, while the Twins couldn't get out of the ALDS.

That's why somewhere between 2001 and now I stopped penning a yearly staple of sports writers. You see it almost every August. It's the story that shows that even though your team is only back a handful of games, they would need to play something like .700 ball assuming the team in front of them plays .500 ball. I quit writing it because it's become almost meaningless with the unbalanced schedule. You don't need a sustained period of excellence to gain three games. You need a really good weekend.

Or week, which brings us to this year. Within the division, the Twins have had a much better record, finishing +15 games over .500 compared to the Tigers +9. The Twins have also beat the Tigers head on this season, winning nine of fourteen games. But to continue this clean little divisional trend, they'll need to win three of four in Detroit.

That's the way it should be. Prove you're the better team the week before the playoffs. Sweep and it's over. Win three of four, and you're worthy. Win one of four and the last weekend is meaningless. And if it's a draw, we'll let the rest of the season break the tie.

There is an elegance in lots of the advanced baseball metrics that we examine throughout the season. But I'll take the simple head-to-head matchup. The team that wins - that's the best team.

Bring on the Tigers.