Thursday, May 06, 2010

What I Believe

There aren't a lot of good reasons to be a blogger. The pay is nonexistent. The daily appetite of readers is constant. You’re competing in a wide open market for attention without any outside promotion. You're the butt of every joke established media can dream up, and members of the organizations you promote seemingly go out of their way to provide barriers. Hmmm. Let me revise that first sentence.

There is really only one good reason to be a blogger, or, as they were called before weblogs, an independent writer. It's the independent thing. You get to write what you want when you want to write it. You get attention on your own merits. And you can take as many risks as you want without needing to worry about everything you're going to lose. Because, frankly, you don't have a damn thing to lose.

So let's try something new, and while we're at it, let's blatantly rip off a more established writer. Bill Simmons recently revisited a writing structure that he pulls from the movie And the Band Played On. So let’s borrow his "What do I think? What do I know? And what can I prove?" structure (introduced here) to evaluate the American League.

We’ll start with the AL standings, but rather than just look at the wins and losses, we’ll see how each team is doing by runs scored and runs against. This is as of midnight:

EAST GB Runs Scored Runs Against Run Differential
Tampa Bay - 160 85 75
NY Yankees 1 151 96 55
Toronto 5 140 125 15
Boston 6.5 139 144 -5
Baltimore 13.5 97 144 -47
CENTRAL GB Runs Scored Runs Against Run Differential
Minnesota - 149 106 43
Detroit 3.5 139 135 4
Chicago Sox 7 118 139 -21
Kansas City 8 113 148 -35
Cleveland 8.5 95 134 -39
WEST GB Runs Scored Runs Against Run Differential
Oakland - 126 122 4
Texas 0.5 122 116 6
LA Angels 3 112 155 -43
Seattle 3 91 103 -12

What do I think?

I think Oakland or Texas is going to find themselves in the postseason. By default.

But I'll readily admit, I sure didn't think that four weeks ago, so stay tuned.

I had picked the Angels to win the division, because they won 97 games last year, distancing them from the second place Rangers by 10 games. This year they are only 2.5 games back in the standings, but they've already been outscored by 41 runs. That's the second worst differential in the league, ahead of only the 7-21 Orioles. Forget the Red and White Sox - this is the most disappointing team in the American League.

But I won't be too hard on myself about the Angels, because I was dead on about the Mariners, the other team that isn't winning that division. I don't care how smart Jack Z is, or how in vogue defense is this offseason, you can't make the postseason sporting the most inept offense in the league. Jose Lopez is your cleanup hitter? Really? That's the plan?

I think I was dead wrong about the White Sox.

Don't get me wrong - I still don't think they are quite this bad, but they aren't going to compete, and they aren't even going to finish second in this division.

Their pitching is going to get better. There is no reason that staff and that bullpen should be giving up over five runs a game, except – OK, there is one reason. And it may be the critical error GM Kenny Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen made in compiling this team this offseason.

They are a terrible defensive team, especially at key positions. AJ's looked terrible for years even with a pitching staff that does just about everything it can to protect him. Juan Pierre looks so overmatched in the outfield I wondered about his senility. And Alexei Ramirez is a joy to watch at shortstop - because I love to see the Pale Hose lose. Dear Alexei seems to try his very best to make that happen consistently.

When the best course of strategy includes more Omar Vizquel and Andruw Jones, it may be time to chart a different course. Kenny Williams is one of the more aggressive GMs in the game and clearly understands he is in the middle of a rebuilding process, so this team may be dismembered before they can even come together.

What do I know?

I know the Red Sox don’t matter.

The national media wants to talk about the Red Sox’ demise because the Rays and Yankees, two excellent teams, already have sizable leads over them. That’s not the problem. The problem is that the Red Sox aren’t a very good team. They’re a .500 team, and that’s not going to be good enough in that division. Just ask Toronto, who has played that role for years.

I know that the Twins are the third best team in the American League. But they still need to prove to themselves and the rest of the baseball world that they matter.

Look at those run differentials. There are three teams that are heads and shoulders above the rest, and it’s not close. (By the way, check out those runs against numbers for the Yankees and Rays. Holy cow. I had no idea their pitching was that good. That’s downright intimidating.)

For the Twins to show they belong among the elite, they need to make some noise next weekend in Yankee Stadium. I’ll carry it a bit further. There are, in my mind, only five series that mean much to this team for the rest of the regular season:

May 14-16 @ NYY
May 25-27 vs. NYY
June 18-20 @ PHL
July 1-4 vs. TB
August 1-4 @ TB.

Do those series mean everything? No, but they mean something. This team needs to prove that they’re more than first round fodder to the big guns in the AL East. That was abundantly clear as gaffe after gaffe caused them to cough up games last October.

And speaking of proving something….
What can I prove?

I can prove that the Twins will handily win the AL Central.

A couple of weeks ago I suggested that the Twins might hold a seven game lead in the division by the time they go on next week’s killer road trip. That's no longer likely to happen, but if it wasn't for that epic meltdown in Game 2 of last week's Detroit series, they would be well on their way.

But that run differential column shows me what Detroit's record doesn't: they are a mediocre team. While I'm willing to concede that their pitching will improve, their lineup is going to hold them back. Beyond their top four hitters, there is nothing to fear in that lineup. And even Magglio Ordonez and Miguel Cabrera will lose some firepower once Austin Jackson comes back to earth.

People talk about Jackson’s propensity to strikeout, but nobody is talking about how lucky he is getting on balls that are in play. Currently his BABIP is .534, which is roughly 100 points above "mortal." I think we can expect the wings to melt a bit and for Jackson (and Detroit's overachieving offense) to come crashing back to earth soon.

And if you’re looking for further proof, all you need to do is look at what Twins fans are debating. Who should the 25th man on the roster be? Should there be a 3rd backup catcher? Can we find room for a Rochester reliever on the 40 man roster?

Seriously? Those are the concerns? The Tigers have Brennan Boesch, who has all of 58 AB above AA, hitting fifth in their lineup. And we’re worried about when an injured Red Wing can be put on the 60 day dl?
It’s over. There’s your proof.

More TwinsCentric...

- Seth discusses the misdiagnosis of Pat Neshek's "Finger" injury.

- Nick thinks the Twins should be looking to trade Wilson Ramos.

- Seth will be on KFAN today (thursday) with Paul Allen around 9:15.

- And don't forget the TwinsCentric and Twins blogger get-together on May 15th at Major's in Bloomington. I'm so excited about laying a beat down on the Yankees in their ballpark I might fly too close to the sun myself.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Twins 4, Tigers 3: Quick Notes

I took my kids to Target Field for the first time tonight. The most memorable reaction? The Boy asking me "If they put so much money already into this thing, why not add a roof?"

That just about killed me. And I don't mean that in a ha-ha funny way. I mean in a "Oh my god, what have I done to my impressionable young son?" kind of way. Keep in mind that he is named after an outdoor ballpark.

And then, because God wanted to make me his own personal Job for a half hour, he made sure it rained on us for the first couple of innings. The kids enjoyed that quite a bit. So that was nice.

Fortunately, The Big Guy ended up coming through before the night was out. And by "The Big Guy", I mean JJ Hardy. I saw the defensive play and the offensive blast, but I missed how he got the skies to clear in that third inning. Still, it's a skill that should come in handy with an outdoor ballpark, but probably not as much in a place with a retractable roof. No wonder the Brewers were willing to trade him away.

Hey - how is that trade going for the Brewers anyway? I'm honestly asking. I haven't heard Gomez' name since he went 4-5 in that first game. Let's find out....

Since that first game he's 14-62 since then with a .225 batting average. Overall he's hitting .269 with a .310 OBP and 14 K in 67 AB with 4 walks. Those ratios look awfully (emphasis on the first five letters) similar to what we saw here the last two years. And of course he's batting second, where he can do the most damage. But I'm sure his defense makes him worth all of that....

Finally, I have two questions to those who could watch replays at home...

- The miss by Delmon should have been an error, right? It looked from our seats like he had that measured all the way.
- Did Hardy break into a home run trot up to the point where he was rounding first base? It looked like it in the brief replay I saw.

That's it for tonight. The Voice of Reason is waiting out on the stoop for me with a pint of Premium. We'll talk more tomorrow.