Monday, May 15, 2006

Farewell?

I've decided to pretty much pull the plug on this blog because it's become pretty apparent to me I'm just not going to have the time to keep it up properly. If I change my mind at a later date, I will let Twins fans know at DTFC.

I will leave with a few thoughts:

Splitting with Chicago was extremely disappointing. Instead of being able to pick up two or four games on Chicago, the Twins are still 8 1/2 games back and they're not gaining any on Detroit either, which leads the wild card. It will be very interesting to see the team's response in Detroit the next three games, especially after what happened to them last time they were there (Remember 33-1?). If the Twins get swept, or even lose by blowouts the two games Johan doesn't start, you might just see Stewart in Yankee pinstripes. Wouldn't that be something. The Yankees could have Stewart, Johnny Damon and Bernie Williams in the same outfield and have the weakest-armed outfield ever seen.

Even if the Twins plunge further out of contention there still is plenty to watch:

Johan Santana. With a revived offense and a dominant back end of the bullpen, he could have his best season ever.

Joe Mauer. With Jason Varitek and Jorge Posada showing their age, Chairman Joe has a very good shot at making the first of many All-Star appearances. That sweet swing alone is worth the price of admission.

Luis Castillo. How good would he be if he was totally healthy? He's team MVP for the first six weeks and perhaps the best 2nd baseman in the AL.

Francisco Liriano. Hopefully, Carlos Silva will be back this year in the rotation, but it won't be for this guy. I've only seen one other pitcher get this many ugly swings, wide eyes and shaking heads by opposing batters and he's only been the best pitcher in baseball the past two years. The edge for Johan is he has all the intangibles that make a good starter great. At least now we'll get to get an idea if the young pitcher with the electric stuff has the heart and mind of a great pitcher.

Michael Cuddyer. The emergence of the former can't-miss prospect who was missing badly for quite a while gives the team much hope for the emergence of Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel as the all-stars they have been touted to be.

Justin Morneau. See above.

Minor leaguers. If the Twins fall out completely, it will be fun to see who gets called up. If Kyle Lohse or Scott Baker continue to falter, Boof Bonser would probably be the first one called up. Can you imagine Joe Nathan getting saves in back-to-back games for Liriano and Bonser, the three players the Twins got for A.J. Pierzynski? Hopefully, it's agains the White Sox and Nathan strikes out A.J. to end both games.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Taking stock

Well, that was ugly.

After being swept by the Champs in Chicago, the Twins have been left to lick their wounds on the off day and wonder what happened? The scores really look bad, but two of the games were closer than the final score because the White Sox had a big eighth inning after Santana left in the opener and because Juan Uribe broke open the series finale with one swing of the bat, a three-run homer.

This series marked the end of what was considered a brutal opening 18 games, with all 18 coming against what are considered playoff contenders. However, the reality is that the Blue Jays, Indians, Athletics, Yankees and Angels are all hanging around .500. The next 16 games are with the Royals, Tigers, Mariners and Rangers, which at the beginning of the year appeared to be a break after the difficult start to the season. It still appears that way, however the Tigers have a better record than anyone the Twins have played except for the White Sox.

There all ready is talk that the Twins are looking like they are going to be buried quickly this year and might even have a hard time staying ahead of the Royals. What you don't want to forget is this is baseball, it is unlike any sport in how different a team can look from month-to-month or even week-to-week. Ask the A's or the Yankees how the Twins looked to them.

Looking bad in one or two April series means very little. For example, the Twins in 2002 were coming off a season in which they faltered in the second half after dominating the Central in the first half. They had an early four-game series at Cleveland which gave them a chance to make "an early statement." Instead, the Indians were the ones to "make a statement" sweeping the series in dominating fashion. The Twins "looked" terrible. However, a week later, the Indians came to the dome and it was the Twins' turn to dominate, sweeping a three-game series in equally impressive fashion and the Indians were never heard from again that year.

Another good example was the 1987 Twins. They were starting to take control of the AL West in mid-August when they headed to Detroit for what turned out to be a playoff preview. The Tigers thrashed the Twins, outscoring them 26-3 in three blowouts and making the Twins look totally outclassed. Of course, things turned out differently in October.

The 2002 Angels can also serve as inspiration. The Angels opened their season with 17 of their first 20 games against the AL West and promptly fell on their faces, going 6-14. The Angels salvaged the series finale against the Mariners and then played their next 23 games against Toronto and the AL Central. The Angels went 20-3 and ended up winning 99 games, the wild card and the World Series.

So, let's not get too carried away with how the Twins look in April. Remember last year the Twins were 14-7 in April. Like any race, it's not how you start, it's how you finish.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Cleveland rocks?

The Indians have become a popular pick of the national media to upend the White Sox this year in the AL Central, but they have some underlying problems that could cut short their run to the top.

Reasons for Indians to be optimistic:

The Indians were very good last year and the core of the team (Hafner, Peralta, Martinez, Sizemore, Sabbathia, Lee, Westbrook) is still young, so the team should continue to improve.

The Indians were basically the best team in baseball in the second half until a final-week collapse. The Indians were just about as good after the All-Star break as the White Sox were before it. If the Indians can avoid a slow start, they can be extremely dangerous.

Offense. Hafner and Co. aren't quite as fearsome as the 90s Indians juggernauts, but they're dang close. They should score a ton of runs.

Starters. In C.C. Sabbathia, Jake Westbrook and Cliff Lee, the Indians have three starters who have won at least 15 games in a season and thrown at least 200 innings in a season.

Reasons for Indians to be pessimistic:

Bullpen. The Indians traded away David Riske and let Bobby Howry and Arthur Rhodes go as free agents and replaced them with Guillermo Mota and ???? Plus, closer Bob Wickman had by far his best season last year at the age of 36. With a career WHIP of 1.41 and a K rate of .74, it's difficult to imagine him repeating his season.

Back end of the rotation. Replacing ERA leader Kevin Millwood and the surprisingly effective Scott Elarton with Paul Byrd and Jason Johnson is not an upgrade or an even swap. Not even close.

Losing Coco was coo-coo. Trading Crisp to the Red Sox for Andy Marte might end up being the best thing for the Indians in the long run, but Marte is in Triple-A right now and the Indians have Jason Michaels manning left field. Michaels can get on base (career .380 OBA), but he can't match Crisp's speed (6 career steals in 6 attempts) and grittiness and has never been a full-time starter in the majors.

Pennant pressure. The Indians folded like a cheap suit when they finally got close enough to the White Sox to actually make it a pennant race. Many believe that that experience will make the Indians better, but I believe you need success in those situations to benefit from it. The Twins collapsed much in the same way in 2001 before winning the division in 2002. However, the Twins had a 7 1/2-game lead at the All-Star break in 2002 and won the division by 13 1/2 games, so they never really had any pennant pressure in a weak division. I doubt that will be the case for the contenders this year in the Central.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Crain struggles

There's been a lot of angst about Crain, which I think is overblown at this point. He's had three good outings and three poor ones. In two of the poor ones, he gave up his runs on one swing, a two-run homer. One HR was to Eric Chavez, an All-Star who has been tearing it up, and the other was an opposite-field HR to a talented young hitter in Alex Rios.

His other poor outing he came in with runners at 2nd and 3rd and one out in a 4-2 game and gave up consecutive singles to All-Stars Derek Jeter, Gary Sheffield and Alex Rodriguez. Jeter's hit was a looping liner to center and A-Rod's was a hard-hit ground ball that if it was hit one foot to the right would have been an inning-ending double play.

I don't think Crain has been pitching as well as he can, but I'm not overly concerned. I'm guessing he's overthrowing, mainly because his velocity and location have both been up. This is probably because he started the season as the main setup man due to Rincon's lack of work this spring. Now that Rincon is back in his setup role, hopefully Crain can settle into his sevent-inning role he was more comfortable with.

I have heard some fans are concerned that Crain doesn't strike out a lot of batters and think he was just lucky to start his career. That is total BS. In over 111 innings in his career, Crain has a batting average against of .219. That's not luck, that's effective pitching.

The funny thing is if the Twins have had a complaint about Crain is that he walks more than he strikes out. However, this year in six outings Crain has no walks and five strikeouts. If he can relax and get his pitches down and with better movement, he could be better than ever.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

White Sox better?

A couple days ago I looked at reasons the Twins could be optimistic and reasons they could be pessimistic. Today, I'll look at the White Sox.

Reasons Sox can be optimistic:


  1. They're the defending champs. Hey, we did it last year, why can't we do it this year?
  2. Jim Thome. You've got to give Sox GM Kenny Williams credit. He didn't sit back and enjoy the rewards of a WS title. He stayed aggressive and landed the one thing the Sox lacked last year, a legitimate left-handed power bat to offset Paul Konerko.
  3. Starting pitching. The Sox starters were the best last year and Williams went out and traded Orlando Hernandez for Javier Vazquez. With top prospect Brandon McCarthy in the bullpen ready to go if someone gets hurt, the Sox might have more depth than last year.


Reasons White Sox can be pessimistic:

  1. The bullpen: Closer Bobby Jenks essentially came out of nowhere to take over the job when Dustin Hermanson's back wouldn't stay healthy. Hermanson's first half was unreal. He took over the closer's role when Shingo Takatsu proved ineffective in his second year in the majors after coming over from Japan. Hermanson didn't allow an earned run until June despite less than overwhelming stuff. The Sox had a plenty deep bullpen with Cliff Pollitte, Damaso Marte, Neal Cotts and Luis Vizcaino all used as setup men at some point in the year. Marte also was given the opportunity at times to close. Now, Hermanson's back is still bad, Marte and Vizcaino were traded, and Takatsu was released. They replaced them with Boone Logan, who has never pitched about Single A, and Matt Thornton, whose career WHIP is 1.67 and has walked 67 batters in 91 career innings. Now, Cotts is the main lefty setup man and Jenks has no one to back him up if he struggles in his first full season on the job. This is the same Jenks who the Angels just let go (either released or just not re-signed) mainly because of drinking and weight problems. When Jenks was in high school, he wasn't allowed to participate in baseball because he couldn't keep his grades up despite being the best pitcher in northern Idaho, if not the entire state. Now, there are reports that Jenks has been struggling to find the strike zone. Not good for a team whose success last year was predicated on winning the close ballgames.
  2. They're the defending champs. Two recent examples show how hard it is to maintain success after winning it all. The 2003 Angels had a losing record after coming out of nowhere to win it all in 2002. The 2004 Marlins were barely over .500 and missed the playoffs after also coming out of nowhere to win it all in 2003. The White Sox had that Us Against the World mentality last year because so many picked them to finish third. Now, many are picking them to repeat as champs. They're no longer the underdog and that carries a lot of expectations and pressures with it.
  3. Jim Thome's back. Thome played in only 59 games last year because of elbow and back problems. The back is what I would be worried about, especially for a 35-year-old DH that is 6-4, 245. If Thome can't stay healthy, then the Sox traded away Aaron Rowand, a very underrated center fielder, for practically nothing.
  4. Offense. On the surface, Thome would seem to make the Sox better. However, their lineup is no deeper because of the losses of Rowand, Carl Everett and Frank Thomas. Just to maintain a mediocre offense from last year, the Sox will need Thome and rookie Brian Anderson to replace the 48 homers and 182 RBIs that Rowand/Everett/Thomas produced last year.
  5. It can't all go right a second time. The Sox were 35-19 in one-run games. That's an insanely good record. Maintaining that record this year would be next to impossible. If the Sox were .500 in one-run games last year, like most teams, they would have won only 91 games and probably lost the division by a mile, considering they were 9-0 in one-run games with the Indians.
  6. Can starters repeat? Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland and Jose Contreras all had career years last year. Plus, Freddy Garcia, who has had a roller-coaster of a career, had one of his best seasons. With the bullpen worse and the offense only a little better at best, the Sox will need a repeat performance from their starters, which is a tall order.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Jays 6, Twins 3

I hate, I hate, I HATE losing on Opening Day.

Here we've been waiting for six months to watch the Twins play in a real game and they go out and lose it. Now, six months of tempered optimism is ruined by two bad pitches.

That's all it really was. One hanger to Bengie Molina for two runs and another fat pitch to Alex Rios for the final two runs and that's the ballgame.

Please don't jump to conclusions after just one game. Look at how bad the Indians looked in their opener (10-4 loss) before winning 8-2 on Tuesday and making Chicago's Freddy Garcia look bad. (Incidentally, I turned on the game for a while and the White Sox announcers were talking about how Garcia wasn't even throwing in the 90s at all). The A's also gave up 15 runs to the Yankees in their opener before winning 4-3 in the ninth on Tuesday.

The Twins now have Radke and Silva to go against the Jays' Josh Towers and Gustavo Chacin. I like those matchups. Hopefully, the Twins can get out of Toronto with a series win.

There were a few positives to take from the game. Most importantly was a nice debut for Juan Rincon. Hopefully, he will be back to setting up before very long.

Shannon Stewart looked good, getting three hits and a home run off Halladay, maybe the best right-hander in the AL. Rondell White crushed the ball twice without a hit to show for it. Tony Batista got his season off to a nice start with a home run and Juan Castro lined a single off Halladay.

The best reasons to get off to a good start individually on Opening Day? Look at these stats:
Castro .500 avg/.500 OBA/.500 slug/1.000 OPS.
Stewart .750 avg/.750 OBA/1.500 slug/2.250 OPS.
Batista .333 avg/.333 OBA/1.333 slug/1.666 OPS.

And before you start complaining about how bad the offense looked, remember the last time the Twins faced Halladay, he pitched a two-hit shutout. Suddenly, three runs and four hits looks pretty good, especially considering the size of the strike zone last night. How do you call a strike on a pitch the catcher has to put his glove on the ground to catch?

Oh well. I guess we'll have to settle for 161-1.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Play Ball!

Opening Day.

Two of the sweetest words in the English language.

It is a time of extreme optimism. According to an AP story, 10 teams in the AL consider themselves a playoff contender. I count eight who aren't just fooling themselves or just trying to sell a few more season tickets, but you get the idea.

I certainly count myself as an optimist and I feel I have good reason to be optimistic about the upcoming Twins season. Lets look at some of them.

Reasons Twins can be optimistic:

  1. Pitching staff. The Twins have been at or near the top of the AL in era the last couple years and at an initial glance appear to have improved their staff after jettisoning Mays, Mulholland and Romero to bring in top young arms in Baker, Liriano and Eyre.
  2. Luis Castillo. The diminutive second baseman is a vast improvement over the collection of stiffs the Twins had playing second last year, both offensively and defensively. He also is reportedly a great clubhouse presence and a fiery competitor.
  3. Rondell White. The outfielder has always been able to hit, but has had trouble staying healthy. Because most of his injuries happen in the field, the Twins feel switching him to DH will be the best way to prevent him from spending much time on the DL.
  4. Justin Morneau. After a myriad of health problems prior to last season, Morneau struggled in his first full season to live up to expectations. The slugging first baseman had an uneventful offseason this year and looked much more willing to drive the ball to all fields during spring training, something he struggled with in 2005.
  5. Joe Mauer. He was the Twins' best hitter last year at the age of 22. He should continue to get better.
  6. Jason Kubel. The top prospect would probably have been the Opening Day right fielder in 2005 if it hadn't been for a devastating knee injury in the 2004 Arizona Fall League. Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus believes that Kubel finally gives the Twins a legitimate No. 3 hitter. Kubel also spent the last week of spring training hitting rockets to every part of the ballpark to win a spot on the team.
  7. Defense up the middle. It is a widely held belief that the key to a good defense is up the middle. The Twins now have three legitimate Gold Glove candidates up the middle and possibly four if Castro can improve on his endurance to play every day and do enough situational hitting to keep Bartlett from winning the job back. I'm looking forward to watching the DP combination when Silva is pitching.
  8. Cuddyer's spring. The Twins' other right fielder hit .500 in spring training and couldn't even win outright the right-field job.
  9. Bench. Ford and Kubel/Cuddyer on the bench is a vast improvement over the likes of Terry Tiffee and Michael Ryan the Twins had last year. Redmond is considered one of the best backup catchers in the game and Ruben Sierra, if he can get and stay healthy, is a decent choice for a veteran pinch hitter, much like Jose Offerman in 2004. Punto is a good pinch runner and Luis Rodriguez will provide plenty of quality at-bats.
  10. The Royals. You have to like getting 19 games with these Sad Sacks.

Reasons Twins can be pessimistic:

  1. AL Central. The White Sox won the World Series and they probably shouldn't have won the division. The Indians were perhaps the best team in baseball in the second half last year before a final-week collapse that cost them a playoff spot.
  2. Juan Castro. Fortunately, the addition of Castillo will keep Gardy from trying to bat Castro 2nd in the lineup. Can we let Johan bat and DH for Castro on Opening Day?
  3. Tony Batista. I've already stated my reasons why Batista must go. My frustration level will only rise when Kubel or Cuddyer sits on the bench while Batista flails away.
  4. Cuddyer's April. The "super utility" player has won jobs at two different positions only to lose them because he just can't get off to good starts.
  5. WBC. Silva and Liriano rotted away in their teams' bullpens while Johan threw too many high-quality pitches for March. Silva might not last five innings in his first start, Liriano didn't get a real opportunity to win the fifth-starter spot and the Twins might feel the need to get conservative with Johan's innings.
  6. Too much futility. The Twins have three utility infielders and the only one that can actually hit will probably be sent down to AAA when Sierra gets healthy. The one who can't hit at all (except to hit-and-run) will be a starter.

That's about all I can think of now, so it's 10-6 for the optimists. That's pretty good. I'll be looking at the rest of the division later this week.