Thursday, June 30, 2005

Pitch by Pitch

The main theme I was trying to address this morning was about how a pitcher handles crucial game situations as well as makes adjustments to fix ongoing problems.

Setting aside Radke's particular problem for the moment, I think we could all agree that one of the most aggravating things a pitcher can do is to cough up runs immediately after he's been staked to a lead. It deflates his team's good mojo, reverses the momentum of the game, and puts extra pressure on his offense which suddenly has to play catch-up. Even if the pitcher ends up going 7 innings and can claim credit for a "quality start," he must know in his heart that he has to do a better job of bearing down to protect that lead he's just been given. If it becomes an ongoing problem nearly every time he starts--give him a lead in the 3rd, he coughs it up in the 4th--how many times could you see it happen before you begin to dread him taking the mound after his team has put runs on the board? How long before it begins to annoy and weigh on his teammates?

When a pitcher consistently puts his team in a hole to start the game, isn't it a similar problem? When it happens nearly every time he takes the mound for half a season, can it be ignored anymore? Radke's problem has become such a demoralizing nuisance, I believe, that to overlook it because he recovered to stick around for 7 innings and keep his team in the game is like damning with faint praise--and it does him and the team no favors.

For the record, I'll give you Radke's pitch sequences for all 7 batters he faced in the 1st inning yesterday. You tell me if the leader of the rotation "did his job" here:

D. DeJesus, lefty
Pitch 1: strike looking, down the middle
Pitch 2: strike, low and away, hit up the middle for a single

A. Berroa, righty
Pitch 1: strike, middle-low, bunted for a sacrifice

T. Long, lefty
Pitch 1: strike down the middle, hit to CF for groundrule double
(DeJesus scores from 2nd)

E. Brown, righty
Pitch 1: Ball, inside
Pitch 2: strike, middle-away, fouled
Pitch 3: strike, inner half, grounded to SS
(Brown reaches 1st on Rivas error, Long advances to 3rd)

M. Stairs, lefty
Pitch 1: Ball, low and away, just off corner
Pitch 2: strike, low and away on the corner, hit to LF for single
(Long scores, Brown advances to 2nd)

M. Teahen, lefty
Pitch 1: strike, low and away on the corner, grounded to 2B
(reaches on fielder's choice)

T. Graffanino, righty
Pitch 1: strike down the middle, looking
Pitch 2: strike, belt-high and outer half of the plate, looking
Pitch 3: strike, low and down the middle, looking

2 runs, 3 hits, 1 error

First of all, Tony Graffanino deserves a large fine for looking at three strikes in that situation, facing a pitcher who is guaranteed to deliver a steady diet of pitches over the plate. Tony, he can't just put it on a tee for you! But we thank you for your generous gift.

More importantly, does it look like Radke is starting with an effective gameplan, or that he's making any adjustments to the situations? Or does he remind you of a football coach who keeps running up the middle even while he sees his backs getting stuffed at the line time and again--because those are the 15 opening plays his staff scripted during the week and, dammit, he's going to stick with the plan!

It seems to me that the first 6 Royals batters were comfortable in the box and had a pretty good idea that they would see pitches to hit early in the count, and Brad never did anything to change that. He got what was coming to him, and nothing he didn't deserve.

A Game of Adjustments

All right! After spending a couple hours on a column and getting it posted (I swear, it was up!), it seems that Blogger has deleted the whole thing while I tried to republish an edit.

Oh, what a beautiful morning!

Long story short: yes, it's too bad the Twins couldn't get much going against D.J. Carrasco (who did have a 3.67 ERA coming into the game, it should be noted, and even that was inflated by a bad day in Coors Field). But spare me the sob story about Radke's hard luck. Brad had a decent game on the whole, but once again he was his own worst enemy in the first inning. And the reason he once again put his team in a hole to start the game is because he refuses to make adjustments and try to bust hitters on the hands or even make them move their feet.

I wrote up a pitch-by-pitch analysis of his 1st inning yesterday which showed his pitch patterns were ridiculously predictable, served to the batters' strengths, and that he threw exactly ONE inside pitch to move someone off the plate in an inning where he faced 7 men. In the case of the Matt Stairs at-bat, I think it's fair to wonder if the pitcher had his brain engaged in the situation of the game at all.

Down 1-0, with runners on the corners and 1 out (from a sacrifice bunt), Radke was faced with the most dangerous hitter in the Royals lineup: a veteran lefty bat who has made his living by raking righthanded pitchers like Radke. Given that Radke had been working the outside half of the plate with every prior batter in the inning, serving up hits just as in the 1st inning of nearly every other start this season, do you think the staff ace might try to bust Stairs on the hands or at least make a show of moving his feet off the plate? No, of course not.

He started Stairs low and away (are you shocked?), just off the corner for Ball One. Then the next pitch, he delivered to the exact same location--and the veteran professional hitter was comfortably waiting on it, slapping the ball into Leftfield to plate another run. What's more, even after that happened, he started the next batter, the lefty Mark Teahen, in the exact same way--except then the rookie dove after the first pitch and tried to pull it, grounding to the 2nd baseman for a fielder's choice.

Go look at the pitch charts at CBS Sportsline and see for yourself. Radke was starting the game from a rote script, pump strikes down the middle and on the outer half of the plate: the same script that has tagged him with an 11.12 ERA while allowing batters to hit .386/.391/.783 in the 1st inning all season. In a game of adjustments, the leader of the rotation stubbornly refuses to adapt to the reality of game situations in the 1st inning. Even in what might be called a "quality start" because he held a lousy team to 3 runs in 7 innings, his ongoing failure to make necessary adjustments is still hurting the team.

That's what is so aggravating about even this generally decent statline he turned in yesterday. It's not so much that the team finally lost a game to the Royals, which was going to happen eventually. It's that the team lost in part, yes, because the so-called staff ace continues to start off games with the same lousy game plan that hasn't worked all year--and what makes him think the results are going to be any different?

And, I swear, the original full column I posted was so much better than this. More eloquent and reasoned in my ranting, I'm sure you can imagine! Blogger, I curse thee.

They Say It's a Game of Adjustments

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Too Good for the League

There is a story circulating out of Columbus, Ohio, today about an 11- and 12 year-old boys' baseball team called The Stars of Columbus which was kicked out of its league for being too good. The Bad Boys of the Buckeye State were beating the other teams by scores of 18-0, 13-0, 24-0, 10-2, and17-6, until their opponents just stopped showing up and forfeited their games.

"They were just beating the rec kids up," said Michael Mirones, the league's board chairman. "It's no fun for the kids that are losing."

"We didn't want one of our kids to get hit in the face with a ball," said rival coach Kris Hutchins, who said all his players' parents agreed that their boys not face the Stars.

Finally, the head of the league refunded the team's entrance fee and told them to find a more competitive league.

Why didn't the American League do this to Team Steinbrenner years ago?

Seriously, I think most everyone involved may be happier if all the boys are playing more competitive games at their own levels of ability. On the other hand, I don't think it's unusual for youth sports leagues to have one or two dominant teams at the top and at least one group of kids who get creamed by just about everybody. The Bad News Bears is based on that fact of life. At some point, everybody has to run up against someone else who, despite your best efforts, is just way more talented than you, and maybe even to a humiliating degree. Do 11- and 12 year-old boys these days need to be protected from that realization?

Said Stars 2nd baseman Matthew "Boomer" Hufferd (btw, I'd like to meet the 12 year-old who has already acquired the nickname "Boomer"): "If they learn at their age that they can forfeit on things they don't want to do, it's quitting."

Say what you will about Tanner, but he never was a quitter.

True story about myself: the very first organized baseball game I played, my team lost, 26-1. I remember the score vividly, mostly because I scored my team's only run. I recall going home and telling anyone who asked that "I scored a home run!" What I meant was, I'd drawn a walk, took 2nd on a wild pitch, took 3rd on a wild pitch, and I'm pretty sure I scored when yet another wild pitch hit the backstop. Hey, it's the little things... right? And, you know, maybe my teammates didn't feel the same way, but I remember feeling happy that day.

I would go on to play for some good sports teams, some lousy ones, and I would experience some losses that I took personally and upset me in ways that my first baseball game did not. But the only thing that really stung all that badly was when I just didn't get a chance to play. Win or lose, I always felt like the playing's the thing. Has a group of kids ever suffered any permanent damage to their self-esteem just because they played a game and lost by a score of something like 26-1?

Since being kicked out of their league, the Stars have been
fielding offers to play teams from around Ohio and even outside the state; but, ironically, the boys recently lost their first game of the season, 5-4, to a team from the Columbus area, called Georgian Heights, whom the Stars had beaten twice before this year. The Stars seem to be taking it in stride. Pitcher Josh Dameron said, "The mood of our team is the same. We don't care about the loss. The next time we play them, we hope we win.''

When the boys on the Georgian Heights team look back on their experiences this season, I wonder what will stick with them: losing a couple games to a team that was "too good" for the league, or that they came back to beat them on the third try?


George Soros is a billionnaire currency speculator and philanthropist; and, if you pay close attention to politics, you know he spent over $20 million last year trying to defeat George W. Bush and elect Democrats in other races as well. Now he'd like to buy a stake in the Washington Nationals, and the Republicans in Congress are threatening to punish MLB if the league allows that to happen.

From Roll Call, via the DCCC:

"I think Major League Baseball understands the stakes," said Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis (R), the Northern Virginia lawmaker who recently convened high-profile steroid hearings. "I don't think they want to get involved in a political fight."

Davis, whose panel also oversees District of Columbia issues, said that if a Soros sale went through, "I don't think it's the Nats that get hurt. I think it's Major League Baseball that gets hurt. They enjoy all sorts of exemptions" from anti-trust laws.

Indeed, Hill Republicans could potentially make life difficult for MLB in a variety of ways. In addition to being exempt from anti-trust rules, baseball is still under scrutiny over the steroid issue....

Rep. John Sweeney (R-N.Y.), vice chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee that covers the District of Columbia budget, said if Soros buys the team and seeks public funding for the new stadium or anything else, the GOP attitude would be, "Let him pay for it."

"We're not going to interfere with [the sale], but from a fan's perspective, who needs the politics?" Sweeney said.

Understand that there's nothing unusual about a baseball owner being actively involved in political fundraising. Fred Vincy reveals that 13 current or former MLB owners and their families are Bush Rangers or Pioneers, meaning each raised at least $100K for his campaign. George Steinbrenner was convicted of making illegal contributions to Richard Nixon as well as obstruction of justice. Fred Malek, perhaps the frontrunner to buy the Nationals, was once an advisor to Bush the Elder and also Deputy Director of Nixon's Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP). That's OK. Congress has no complaints about any of that.

Do business with a sworn enemy of Dubya's GOP, however, and let's just say the esteemed committee chairs would strongly suggest that the league might reconsider. Mmm. We wouldn't want a review of the anti-trust exemption or more hearings on the steroid issue, now would we? Ah, Bud. Of course we know we can trust you to do the right thing....

Monday, June 27, 2005

Twins vs. Twins

Bob Collins has a thoughtful column over at The Bleacher Bums which puts the Twins record at this stage of the season into relative perspective. Even despite the way the team has been stumbling, bumbling and giving away winnable games the last couple weeks, as Bob points out, the team is playing at the same pace it set at this point last season. In fact, a little research turns up, the Twins are playing at about the same pace we've seen them set in late June every year since 2001. The main difference is only that one of our rivals this year has been playing out of its gourd.

So, with that in mind, I've decided to track in the righthand sidebar how the Twins are doing vs. all the other Twins clubs of this decade. I thought about including all the other league/division winners in Twins history too, but I guess it's ultimately not so fair (or flattering) to compare this team to the Killebrew clubs from another era that ended up winning 97-102 games in their best seasons. Anyway, the point of the exercise is just to track whether the club is doing better or worse than what we're used to seeing lately.

However, if you're curious to know where some other Twins clubs stood through 73 games:

The 1991 Twins were 44-29
The 1987 Twins were 42-31
The 1970 Twins were 48-25
The 1969 Twins were 40-33
The 1965 Twins were 45-28

So at this stage, the team's record doesn't compare badly even to most of those highlights of franchise history. When even the '65 Twins would be trailing the '05 ChiSox pace by 4.5 games, I guess that tells you something. Fortunately, we have the wild card still in play, even if Chicago might be on the verge of slipping out of reach.

This morning the Twins trail the Orioles in the Wild Card Standings by 1 game.

Sunday, June 26, 2005


These photos were sent to Jenn this weekend by her Mom, which she says came from her cousin, titled "Patience, Tolerance, Stoicism." We believe these are original pictures of the family dog and kitten.

Brace yourself for something adorable.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Kitten Patrol

Keeping tabs on Ornette

There may be something more interesting over there... (O'Malley)

Phew! Naptime

Rank Managers

Over at ESPN SportsNation, they're asking:

Who is the best of the best, when it comes to the men on the bench in MLB? Do you put Joe Torre at the top of the heap, or are you more impressed with what Ron Gardenhire does with limited resources? How about Bobby Cox and his dynastic Braves or the innovative Tony La Russa? Heck, even Buddy Bell has a winning record with the Royals this season! Help settle SportsNation's rankings....

It's your chance to register your rankings of the Top 5 managers in the game, or go wild and rank all 30.

Looking over the rogue's gallery, it occurs to me that I have a negative or nil opinion about the vast majority of the lot. You know, when Gardy is criticized by fans, there is always someone ready to insist that the man in charge must really know best, as if there is a rigorous screening process to ensure that only the wisest and most qualified leaders of men could be entrusted to manage a major league baseball team. But look over the 30 pictures and tell me how far you get into your rankings before you're up against managers who make you shrug, or guys you'd never even want interviewed for a job in the Twins dugout, and guys who may not even be qualified to manage the team's laundry, truth be told.

I have a little trouble settling on five active managers I'd want in the Twins dugout, and a lot of trouble selecting ten. This doesn't make me any more grateful for our blessings to have Gardy in charge, as some lesser of possible evils. Instead, it confirms for me that there isn't anything sacred about the field manager's job or most men who hold it. There are a few great ones. Some lousy ones. Many who could win if you give 'em the horses, but could just as well be fired, retired, or recycled if not. I'd lump Gardy with the majority in the last category.

How does Gardy rate with you?

For what it's worth, these are the current rankings in the poll:

1. LaRussa
2. Cox
3. Torre
4. Robinson
5. Scioscia
6. Gardenhire
7. Showalter
8. Guillen
9. McKeon
10. Francona
11. Baker
12. Piniella
13. Alou
14. Bochy
15. Tracy
16. Mazzilli
17. Randolph
18. Trammell
19. Yost
20. Manuel
21. Garner
22. Hargrove
23. Melvin
24. Macha
25. McClendon
26. Wedge
27. Bell
28. Gibbons
29. Miley
30. Hurdle

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Don't Panic

Just last week, as the Twins had taken a 4-3 win over the Giants in extra innings on Tuesday, the hometown team was 4 games behind Chicago in the standings--or only 3 in the Loss column. There was an 8-4 record in June, as the team scored 5.58 runs per game and allowed just 3.58 rpg. If not for a few missed opportunities and questionable managing decisions, or better luck in 1-run games, we could have reasonably expected another win or two to go our way; but that would work itself out later, wouldn't it? The future looked rosy. We had the 3rd best record in baseball. The ChiSox could not shake our team. It seemed just a matter of time until the pretenders fell to earth, and the defending champs would rise to the top of the standings once again.

Little more than a week later, Twins Territory is in a panic. The team is 2-6 since the morning after Shannon Stewart sent the fans home happy with his bloop single in the 11th last Tuesday, while the ChiSox have not lost a game. The win this afternoon only brought the team within 9.5 games of the still-streaking South Siders. Writers have begun calculating how hot the Twins would have to get to catch Chicago if the Sox can only play .500 ball the rest of the way. Even Sid is pessimistic. A Strib online poll has 23% of respondants saying the time to give up on the Twins is NOW. Many others say it's time for Terry Ryan to pull the trigger on another Stewart-for-Kielty trade to inject some life into the lineup, with Joe Randa being a name that keeps cropping up. Whatever might happen, everyone seems to agree, something needs to be done, and quick!!!

What has brought us to these depths of despair?

Mainly, the team looked flat for just 4 games. Last Wednesday, the Giants took an 8-4 win in which Kyle Lohse gave up 4 runs in the 1st inning but recovered to pitch well through the 7th as the team climbed back into the game, only to see J.C. Romero implode in the 9th to put it out of reach. The next night, the team handed a 7-6 lead to Juan Rincon in the 8th, but he let one run score; then in the 9th, Joe Nathan got rattled by an ump who was squeezing him. Automatic Joe walked 3 batters, threw a wild pitch, and gave up a single that put the team behind 9-7, before Terry Mulholland came in to make the final look like a football score.

Did the team look flat in the Giants series? I didn't think so. The bats battled to stay in each game, and the team almost always would win the rubber match when handing Rincon/Nathan a lead in the 8th. The core of the bullpen uncharacteristically melted down for one night. OK, it happens. The next night, the team recovered against the Padres to make up a 4-3 deficit in the 8th inning and eventually win the game in the 11th. The fighting spirit still appeared to be alive and kicking.

The bats got shut down on Saturday by Brian Lawrence, a "control-type" who relies on the location and movement of his sinkers and cutters to keep hitters off balance--and his game worked as designed, while Brad Radke dodged trouble for 5 innings, and then the long relief tagteam of Guerrier & Mulholland (who should partner to practice law after they retire from baseball) combined to blow up the final score.

Perhaps Lawrence threw off the batters' timing enough so they were primed to be equally befuddled by the soft-tossing lefty Darrell May, a man who had a 3.88 ERA in 55.2 IP against the Twins in the last 3 seasons. Johan Santana matched him through 6 innings, but had some disputes with the umpire, shall we say, in the 7th inning which led to 3 walks before the #9 hitter doubled down the line past Glenn Williams--and I still believe the rookie backup failed in his primary responsibility to guard against a bases-clearing double in that situation. "It's the little things," as they say. Oh, well. We dropped a pair to the NL West leaders. That's disappointing, but not quite the stuff to raise our terror alert levels into the Red, is it?

Following that up with two blowout losses at home to the Tigers really does feel like a kick in the ribs while we're down: we can shake on that. But it also seems to me that the pitching matchups in those two games were really awful for the Twins. The Tigers had their emerging young ace, Jeremy Bonderman, facing our resident enigma from the back of the rotation, Kyle Lohse. Then Detroit had a talented young lefty--which meant Mauer & Morneau were out--having a very good season, up against our #5 pitcher coming off two shaky starts. Is it a shock that they clobbered the Twins in those two match-ups?

The next time any team sends out two of its top three starters to face Lohse & Mays, I wouldn't recommend betting on the Twins unless you like gambling against long odds.

It is unfortunate that this all happened while the White Sox have gone on a winning streak, but I don't think the Twins need any radical changes right away to save the season.

I would like to see Gardy shake up the middle infield again by benching Juan Castro and allowing Luis Rodriguez to play regular SS for awhile. He was playing very well as part of the regular lineup this month; it's unfair to him and bad for the team to bench him just because Luis Rivas came off the DL. Before long, the club ought to cut out somebody (*cough*dumpRivas*cough*) to make room for Jason Bartlett again, too. He's been playing well in AAA and deserves another chance in the Twins lineup, and it's in the club's interest to take another shot on his upside, sooner rather than later, too. For now, if Gardy would play Rodriguez at SS, move Cuddyer to 2nd base, and let Williams play awhile as the regular 3rd baseman, that could be an idea worth trying. Management probably should look at adding another short reliever, and moving Lohse into the bullpen to make way for fresh blood, too. Travis Bowyer and Scott Baker, perhaps?

I like the idea of adding Joe Randa to the Twins lineup. I liked it even more last winter, when TR could have signed him to a cheap deal without giving up any players (but Rivas). Keep in mind, however, that his current .293/.364/.492 line is considerably better than his typical production--and that's because the numbers are inflated by his production at home in Cincinnati (.299/.358/.552). His career line of .286/.342/.428 is more like what we've come to typically expect of him, aside from a couple bigger years in the late '90s.

He could give the infield a lift if management moved Cuddyer to 2nd base, but probably not if he's Cuddyer's replacement. Although he had a gloomy April, Cuddles is hitting .258/.338/.452 this month; or .289/.358/.443 since the start of May. The way he's been hitting the last couple months, or even through the course of his major league career so far (.259/.330/.421), his bat is essentially what we could expect to get out of typical Joe Randa; and of course Cuddyer still has the potential to improve with experience. It's easy to forget that Cuddyer still is 26 and has only 887 total plate appearances in his career with the Twins. And although his defense at 3B has been rough at times, I think he has shown improvement at the hot corner even since the start of the season. Giving up on Cuddyer now, and trading him away for Joe Randa, I believe would be a short-sighted mistake that we'd regret within the next year or two.

I hope that Terry Ryan still looks at Cuddyer as an important part of the longterm goals of the team. There still is time for the club to right the ship and make a strong push for the wild card spot, if not the Central title, by tinkering with some in-house moves in the next few weeks. Trading a young talent with his prime years just ahead of him, in exchange for 35 year-old stopgaps, is not the Twins Way, is it? Let's hope we haven't come to that way of thinking, just because the team is finally being pushed to figure out how to win in a good division.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Well, Did You Evah?

The game last night was a crashing dud, but we had a swell-egant, elegant party thanks to the Admission Possible event, anyway.

What a huge bash! I hadn't anticipated so many families associated with the organization being there, so I was surprised to see the picnic area already packed with young kids when I arrived fashionably late. (Really, traffic was backed up on I-94.) It felt like there should have been some sort of graduation ceremony or awards handed out. I had trouble getting my bearings and spotting anyone I could recognize. At one point I saw Skorch wandering around, but didn't wave him over to my table only because I'm an awkward freak about initiating introductions. It must be the English blood in me. Now that I see on the Batgirl site that he saw me but wanted to give me space because I was eating, I want to say I'm sorry for being such a bloody doofus, Skorch. Next time I see you at an event, I'll make a point of saying hello.

If Jenn hadn't spotted SBG waving at me while I was walking out, I might not have met anyone. But I did get to say hello to Aaron and Twins Junkie--I believe it was Twins Junkie--at the SBG table, and later SBG and his buddy Moss came over to sit by me at the game. In the stands I also got to meet AMR, who turns out to be a great Sonic Youth fan, and his bright-eyed little daughter who seemed to be in a perpetual quest to move and explore her environment, not too unlike my kitten when she's charged up. Somehow these people knew me by sight, and I'm not sure how. Did the Mariners shirt give me away? I don't think I look too much like Einstein or Dr. J.

Anyway, I had actually won seats to sit in the owner's box, but I declined the prize. It's weird because I had a strong feeling I was going to win the seats too, but I'd decided to pass on them because I was already getting into the game for free. I'm glad to hear that Twins Geek and his family sat in the box, since he probably sold most of the tickets to the event. Skorch probably sold a good stack via the power of the Batgirl site, too. Me? I would have felt wrong, an interloper in the lap of luxury... plush, velvety luxury... mmmmmm.... As it turned out, I think I got the best deal sitting in my favorite section 227... plastic blue seats, upper deck, looking down the 1B line... and talking with SBG and Moss. Even though the game was uninspiring, they helped make watching it a good time, still.

Two highlights: Torii leaping over the wall to rob Brandon Inge of a home run to end the 3rd inning, and Inge waiting to say something to him in the infield. The AP recap says he flipped his helmet on the ground as Torii jogged past, as a sign of respect, but I'm not too sure that was the real sentiment he intended to express. Also, SBG almost called Luis Rivas' first extra-base hit of the season when he predicted a double to lead off the 6th, and Louiee poked a ball down the 1st baseline, but somehow couldn't make the turn towards 2nd before Craig Monroe could collect the ball in Rightfield. SBG was totally cheated of his moment of glory. Rivas, you owe him one. Not that you don't already owe us all. Moss said he had predicted Dmitri Young would homer, but I think he must have called it before they came to sit by me. We'll just have to take his word for it.

The rest of the game action is kind of a hazy wash in my mind. Jeremy Bonderman dominating the Twins with a crazy strike/ball ratio; Lohse reverting back to his Disappointing Enigma mode, getting knocked around after the batters had one or two looks at him, just like early in the season. Guerrier and Mulholland combined for 4.1 good innings, but if you see both of them in the same game, chances are you've either been at the park for 4 hours or the contest was essentially over by the 4th or 5th inning. This one was true to the latter form. Moss even ditched us to hit the road early. In my younger days I would have scorned him for such a faithless act, but now... life is short, and if a guy doesn't care to spend another minute of it watching Terry Mulholland mop up a lost cause, who am I to judge the fickle bastard?

No, really, thanks to both of them for coming up to talk, and thanks to Admission Possible and Twins Geek for bringing the gathering together. I hope we can have another meet-up like it again. Looking forward to it.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Hold That Line

I enjoy the Glenn Williams story. I appreciate seeing someone from the other side of the globe finally get his shot in the majors after toiling in the minor leagues for a dozen years, and while wearing #16, maybe because a Mientkiewicz jersey just happened to be lying around when he showed up for his uni assignment, he hits .444 (8-for-18) in his first seven games and one night he even lives the thrill of being mobbed by his teammates when he chops a game-winning RBI in extra innings after entering the game as a late-inning sub. Seeing it does the heart good. It should give us hope in that the struggles of today may still yield a better tomorrow.

But somebody needs to tell him to guard that 3rd baseline!

My Mom played 3rd base for her fastpitch team while growing up in Portland; she's still the one person in my family who has been on ABC's Wide World of Sports, or taken part in any televised sporting event to my knowledge. So when I was a boy playing some 3rd base, I took it to heart when Mom told me, "A good 3rd baseman never lets a ball get by him down the line." Sure, I've learned that the axiom isn't absolute, but I still believe in the essential wisdom of her principle. Especially late in the game, and like when you have 2 outs and the bases loaded... you guard that line with your life, boy. There's no way, come hell or high water, that the #9 hitter should get to clear the bases and run Johan Santana out of the game by pulling an inside pitch past the 3B's right side. It's not the first time Williams has been caught off guard late in the game like that, either.

Coaches? A little word, please? Or does my Mom need to get on the case?

Suck(ing) It Up

After Brad Radke had dodged trouble through 5 innings Saturday like Mr. Magoo at a construction site, Dick & Bert informed the TV audience the next afternoon that Bradke hasn't been so rad lately because of a sore neck--which, Bert was quick to point out, must explain why he has a 6.48 ERA in his last three starts. The club and the Strib prefer to excuse his last five starts because of the injury, dating back to May 26, lowering the ERA sample to 5.46. Coaches tell the paper that the strain may be hindering Radke's ability to work inside on lefthanded batters. The homer served to Ryan Klesko on Saturday is provided as Exhibit A.

Who's buying?

One problem with the alibi is that Radke says the stiffness doesn't bother him early in the game, but gets worse as the game progresses. However, Klesko's drive was a 1st inning shot, when of course Radke notoriously has had the most trouble this season. Also, the first homer he served to Hee Seop Choi was plenty inside--he just hung it up so Choi could turn on it. The next two homers by Choi were meant to be outside pitches that strayed over the middle of the plate. He was working away from J.D. Drew when he homered in the 4th that day, as well.

In Arizona, he was stung for 4 runs in the 1st inning, when he says the neck isn't bothering him, mostly getting whacked on outside pitches to lefties. Facing the Indians on June 1, he got the Win while only suffering damage in the 1st inning by a Ben Broussard home run on an outside pitch. In Cleveland on May 26, he gave up a 1st inning run when Casey Blake doubled on an outside pitch and Broussard singled him home when Radke worked away from him, too. However, you may recall that he settled down and coasted heading into the 7th, when he fell apart thanks to some confusion between Torii Hunter and Shannon Stewart on a routine flyball, a Blake "triple" that glanced off Hunter's glove, and a bad-luck flare by Grady Sizemore that landed just inside the RF line. He actually pitched a pretty good game that day, even if his neck was sore.

I don't know how much this neck strain might be hurting Radke, but his troubles in the last 3-5 starts don't seem to have much to do with the injury as he describes it. Radke is getting whacked early, mostly on outside pitches over the plate, which he's been throwing because that's what he always does. He aims to throw a fastball over the plate for strike one, then prefers to work away from batters, particularly lefties, I'd guess because he doesn't have confidence in his stuff to bust lefties inside.

As the skies opened to a choir of cherubim, heralding the occasion of Bert actually criticizing Bradradke out loud, Bert said himself on Sunday that Radke doesn't throw inside often enough. Any lefty who can't tag Radke's fastball for strike one should know that he can count on at least one tailing sinker or change-up on the outside corner with the next few pitches. Like clockwork. It looks like those batters are getting comfy and sitting on those outside pitches, too.

I'd wager this is his problem, not his sore neck.

If the neck really is bothering him so much, I wish he'd either go on the DL or at least scratch himself from a start to let himself get loose and healed. He does the team no favors by pitching if he's too hurt to perform well. However, when he and the coaches leak word that he's been bothered by this stiff neck lately which explains his troubles lately--oh, but he doesn't expect to miss a start--it just looks like a phony excuse. Upon further inspection, it feels, tastes, smells, and quacks like one, too.

Come Together

Remember, the Admission Possible get-together is tomorrow evening, starting at 5:00 with the pregame picnic outside the SW corner of the Metrodome. Enjoy grilled hot dogs, jazz music, a Twins game with the Tigers, say hello to Twins legend Tony Oliva and get a chance to sit with him in the owner's box, and meet lots of Twins bloggers and fans in our online community, including a certain person who may or may not be The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh, Architect of The Wall of Sound, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, or Eraserhead.

All proceeds will be matched by Carl Pohlad and go to benefit Admission Possible, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping promising, low-income students get into college.

Buy tickets HERE.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Ornette & His Shadow

"Everywhere I go, I just can't shake this feeling that someone is following me...."

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Owners Doin' It For Themselves

While the Twins ballpark bill is struggling for attention in our state capitol, the Yankees this week announced plans to build a new $800 million ballpark designed to mimic Old Yankee Stadium, to be financed by the club itself. This comes on the heels of the Mets announcing their own self-financed plan to build a $600 million yard next to Shea Stadium. The city and state will invest in land and infrastructure improvements, which includes retail and parkland development around the facilities, but the rest of both projects will be financed privately.

Since San Francisco already showed in the last five years how this could be done very successfully, the Cardinals have begun a privately financed project in St. Louis, and now the New York clubs are ready to finance their own projects for themselves, why should we still be listening to the Twins beg us to fund 75% of their project as a gift to the team?

The Yankees are planning to pay for the most expensive stadium project ever built in this country, and you know George Steinbrenner wouldn't do it if he expected to be crushed by the debt. Nothing is pushing his club out of its current, storied home. He's making the move because he expects to profit from the investment as well as leave a nice legacy when he's gone.

Why can't Carl Pohlad make a similar investment in his club's future at around half the cost?

At the Movies

I didn't bother with last night's game; I watched House of Flying Daggers, instead. Beautiful film to look at, even if the story didn't quite sweep me away into its fantasy world from start to finish like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon--the film which director Zhang Yimou has been consciously trying to top with this project and Hero. Still it had some scenes that could be suitable for framing, and the experience of it certainly must beat watching Kyle Lohse bury the team in a 5-0 hole before the bats scratch back into the game, only to see J.C. Romero melt down in the 9th to put it all out of reach, anyway.

On the bright side, Lohse hung in there for 7 innings, and Crain threw just 5 pitches for his appearance in the 8th, so everybody in the pen but Romero should be fresh for the rubber match. The top four batters in the lineup rustled up 6 hits, but Jones and Morneau scuffled against the lefty pitching in the #5-6 slots, as one might expect. The current arrangement of the batting order is something that might bear some rethinking, at least when the team is facing a lefthanded starter.

However, the team is 8-5 in June, and this was the first loss of the month that wasn't by just one lousy run. So far this month, the offense has scored 71 runs, or 5.46 runs per game. Meanwhile, the pitching has a 3.42 ERA in June, as the team has allowed 3.92 rpg. Things are going pretty well, even considering Morneau's slump; the run differential for the month gives the club a .660 expected winning pct. Given some better managing or a little more luck on the last road trip, getting one or two more wins wouldn't have been out of line with the team's performance of late.

I like our chances of taking the series today with Joe Mays facing Brett Tomko, a generally mediocre righthanded pitcher who is 2-6 with a 4.68 ERA on the road this season. And then maaaaaan am I looking forward to that matchup of Santana and Jake Peavy on Sunday afternoon. For the first and perhaps last time in my life, I'm jazzed about watching a Padres game. I guess that makes this interleague homestand all worthwhile. Now, whether this Saturday evening might be more profitably spent watching Brad Radke vs. Brian Lawrence or going to the theatre to see Mr. & Mrs. Smith or Batman Begins is another matter entirely. I'm leaning towards the movies again. Any recommendations?

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Twins 4, Giants 3 (11 inn.)

Hey, whaddya know. We had a tie game in the 9th, 10th, and 11th; Gardy tapped his best relievers to hold the score rather than call on his veteran rubber arm (like Alou did); and the Twins won this one. Huh! Now, I'm not saying that going to Rincon, Nathan and Crain guaranteed the win, but it gave the Twins an advantage over the Giants with Fassero and Walker going for them, didn't it?

Why would a manager play his strongest hand like that at home, but not a few days before on the road?

Nice to see the Twins scratch out a win in a tight game, anyway. I'd like to have seen the team capitalize better on the Ray Durham error in the 6th and bring in some more runs with the bases loaded; yet again, the Twins let the opponent off the hook in that situation, when eventual hero Shannon Stewart grounded out to 3rd. But it was a well-pitched game by both sides, and the Twins showed some heart in taking another comeback victory.

God's favorite creation pitched a tidy 8 innings, allowing 3 runs while striking out 7 Gigantes; and in the 1st inning, like a cat he dove off the right side of the mound to corral a squib-grounder and popped back up to throw out the fleet Omar Vizquel at 1st base. Cuddy Bear had 3 hits, including a homer that glanced off the top of Moises Alou's glove to put the Twins on the board in the 5th, and the leadoff single that set up his winning run in the 11th. Shannon Stewart atoned for his missed opportunity in the 6th by delivering the flare into Right-Centerfield with 2 outs in the 11th, bringing home Cuddyer to win the game, too.
El Duque and the ChiSox even took a massive beating in Arizona, drawing the Twins back within 3 games in the Loss column. Who's to complain?


Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Admission Possible

As you may have read at Twins Territory, Twins Geek is organizing a gathering at the Twins-Tigers game on June 21 to benefit Admission Possible, a non-profit organization set up to help promising low-income students earn admission to college. Towards this goal, the organization helps prepare students for entrance exams, provides assistance in preparing college applications, helps to obtain financial aid, and gives support to students in their transition to college.

Admission Possible is selling tickets for $25, or $5 per child, which includes admission to the game as well as a pregame picnic with hot dogs/chips/soda and a jazz band, and an entry in a raffle to win seats in the owner's box where you may sit with Twins legend Tony Oliva. Tony O is expected to drop by the picnic to say hello, as well. Carl Pohlad has pledged to match every dollar raised by the event, and all proceeds go to benefit Admission Possible.

I'm planning to be there, along with Twins Geek, Gleeman, Twins Junkie, and Peter from Mudville Magazine. Stick & Ball Guy has indicated he'll probably be there, maybe with Lucy and her cat photos. So it should be a nice time. I'm looking forward to meeting folks in our online community, at last.

To buy tickets, GO HERE. A Twins game, jazz music, food, hanging out with other baseball fanatics, a chance to meet Tony O, and it's all for a good cause. Sounds like the event of the season. I hope to see you there.

The Sternest Test Yet!

Over at CBS Sportsline, Scott Miller sends Ron Gardenhire a June valentine:
"Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire is turning over infielders the way the grill cooks flip flapjacks at the International House of Pancakes, the way the pizza chefs in Little Italy flip the dough before putting on the toppings...

What is happening right here in the clubhouse of the three-time division champion Twins quietly is one of the most impressive stories this summer and a testament to an organization that is a model for growing and developing players.

The Twins are facing their sternest test yet since Gardenhire replaced Tom Kelly in the skipper's seat in 2001. Thanks to a rich and fertile pitching staff, the experience of outfielders Torii Hunter, Jacques Jones and Shannon Stewart, the guiding hand of Gardenhire and his staff and some crack scouting work (as usual) from the front office, the Twins have been able to endure the infield shuffle and remain in playoff contention."

Yes, folks, it is the sternest test the Twins have faced since Gardy took over for TK: how to stay in playoff contention despite having no set replacements for... Cristian Guzman and Luis Rivas? The two regulars who contributed the least to the team's last three division titles? That's right. Sternest test.

Well, that's Scott Miller for you.

Since Rivas lost his starting job, and also later went on the Disabled List with a dubious injury on June 1, we have seen three other players make starts at 2nd base: Nick Punto, Luis Rodriguez, and Brent Abernathy. Meanwhile, is there anybody here who misses Rivas even a tiny bit? If Terry Ryan just quietly dropped him from the roster when Rivas is due to come off the DL, would you give it a second thought? Would you even notice?

Some numbers.... This season, all Twins 2nd basemen not named Luis Rivas have combined to hit .297/.346/.432, while Rivas has hit .203/.253/.203. And Abernathy appears to be the only one who has shown less range in the field than Rivas has done. So is it OK with everyone if Louiee just never comes back?

Over at Shortstop, Cristian Guzman last season hit .278/.309/.384, and .272/.303/.379 over the past three years. The rookie Jason Bartlett hit .242/.310/.374 in the 6 weeks he was with the club, while I thought his fielding range was a tremendous upgrade on what we'd been used to seeing at the position. Since Juan Castro effectively took over the job on May 14, he's hit .261/.278/.432 while also showing good range and possibly a steadier hand in the field.

All together, Twins shortstops this season have hit .254/.305/.382, essentially a match for the production we'd been used to getting from the position. Meanwhile, Guzy in Washington has gone on to be the worst SS bat in the majors to this point in the season (.190/.225/.246; and 12.1 Runs Below Replacement Level!) and is a favorite target of the boo-birds at RFK Stadium.

Whether it was some wizardly trick for Gardy to replace those two and remain on the winning track, I'll finally leave to you....

Monday, June 13, 2005

Tooling in the Garden (Again)

"If we didn't let Hee Seop Choi hit the ball, we would have won a few games," Twins center fielder Torii Hunter said. "Hee Seop Choi. You know what? I think I'm a fan of his now. I've never seen that with my eyes. Six home runs in three games. That's very impressive. I've never seen that, even in Little League."

Jim Souhan delivers the goods in his column this morning, commenting on Sunday's game in LA.

After what Hee Seop Choi had already done on Friday and Saturday, what was going through Brad Radke's mind while facing him on Sunday? Once Choi had turned on an inside fastball in his first at-bat of the day, launching his fourth home run of the series, how can Radke explain his decision to start off the next encounter with a belt-high strike? And after that pitch had been driven into the bleachers, is there any excuse for a veteran leader of the rotation to offer Choi yet another first pitch fastball over the plate in his third at-bat of the game? What was he thinking?

Of course, the first time we saw Radke show any emotion all game was when Gardenhire came to pull him in the 7th, before Choi's fourth at-bat. You could see Radke seethe, as Dick/Bert observed that 'he wants the challenge' of facing Choi again. But it was quite a bit late in the day to be just starting to get the adrenaline flowing. I would've appreciated seeing him get fired up and recognize that a new approach to Choi was needed at least a few innings before. So much gets made of Radke's remarkable control, and the fact that he's now walked only 4 batters in 93.2 innings, but the flipside of that coin is how predictable he can be. The Twins like to preach the importance of Strike One, but Radke can be dogmatic about the principle to a fault. When he sees batters sitting on his pitches, does he refuse to adapt out of stubborn pride, or just a lack of imagination?

Props to Souhan, too, for daring to point out that Gardy wasted a key opportunity to bring home 2 runs in the 6th inning, when he allowed Radke to bat with runners on 2nd and 3rd and 2 outs, despite already seeing Radke show the worst batting form of all Twins pitchers in the past week. Radke feebly popped out, stranding two runners in scoring position just as he did when striking out to end the 4th inning. Juan Castro deserves his share of the blame for failing to put the ball in play with 1 out and runners on 2nd and 3rd, in both the 4th and 6th innings, when the Dodgers were willing to concede a run. (Note to manager: maybe you don't want to bat a guy with a .285 obp right before the pitcher the next time you're playing by NL rules.) That's a failure to execute; a SS with a 683 OPS coming into the game found himself overmatched. Go figure, eh? But the manager in the 6th just failed to engage his brain to enact a simple strategy that would give his team a better chance of winning the game, which is harder for me to forgive.

Gardy has often been criticized by fans online for trying too hard to preserve a starting pitcher's chance of hanging in there for a 'W,' even at the expense of the team's chances for winning the game. He seems particularly sensitive to the pitcher's selfish interest when Radke is on the mound. Sunday, it appears he let that concern get the best of his better judgment again. With a 3-3 score in the top of the 6th, he's thinking he can get a couple more good innings out of Radke and give him a chance to hang around for the 'W,' when instead he should have been thinking about how to take advantage of that golden opportunity to score 2 runs and take the lead in the game.

All Gardy had to say about it: "It's not on Radke to get [the runs] in. He's hitting with two outs every time." So apparently nothing was learned by the man in charge. When your pitcher is up with 2 men in scoring position and 2 outs in the 6th, what can you do but curse the #8 hitter who's left you stuck in that predicament without any options, right?

Between that move on Sunday, the decision to tap Terry Mulholland to pitch the 9th inning of a tie game on Friday, and his efforts to malign and undermine his young stars when the team was in Arizona, it's not been a banner week for the Twins skipper.

I'm glad to see Jim Souhan casting a critical eye on some of these latest turns of events, though. He even referred to Dodger Stadium as a "sun-dappled joint," which comes as a ray of sunshine through my window today--even if the choice of words has absolutely nothing to do with my little blog.

A wink and a nod to you too, if you're reading, Mr. Souhan. Keep up the good work.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

The Felines Return


Gusto and O'Malley

Ornette trying his best to ignore the little pest

Something outside the window?

Ornette, where'd you go?

He has more important things to do... like holding this door open.

Friday, June 10, 2005

We're Talking About You Too, Joe

Just in case Joe Mauer got to thinkin' he could duck the jibes about babying injuries, or that the criticism might have been intended mainly for Justin Morneau, manager Ron Gardenhire and bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek went to Jim Souhan to call him out by name in today's Strib, too.

Said Gardy:

"If his knee were blowing up, then I would say, yeah, we need to move him. But a groin muscle, it has nothing to do with catching. So if his knee is fine, then he should be our catcher.

"The thing here, you're going to have to start deciding what your body can and can't do. It's a pretty hard game at this level. You're going to be beat up. You're going to have to play through something. And he's going to have to learn that."

Stelly chimes in:

"The kid has been pretty well pampered the majority of his career. At that position, if you're going to play 125, 135, 140 games, if you think you're going to be 100 percent every single day, you're crazy. I think we'll have to see how he responds to these nagging injuries, and if they keep up, then he doesn't help us out as a catcher.

"You'd think that a young, strapping body wouldn't have these types of injuries, but they seem to keep creeping up on him."

Keep a few things in mind now.

One, I've noticed at least three writers in the Strib covering this issue, and one in the Pioneer Press, as well as it being the lead in an AP game recap and the subject of the note on the Twins in the latest ESPN Power Rankings. Gardenhire, two of his coaches, Torii Hunter, and Brad Radke have been quoted directly on the issue or made a veiled allusion to it. It's definitely a coordinated campaign to get this issue played out in the press.

Two, they're talking about a cornerstone of the franchise future, a kid in whom millions of dollars have already been invested and who could generate millions more in profits as well as be a key man on championship teams in years to come. It's not only in Mauer's own interest to take special care of himself, it's in the club's interest to look out for him and keep an eye on the big picture, too.

Three, this is a kid who tried to hurry back after knee surgery last season and played through knee pain for over a month, before succumbing and going back to a rest and rehab routine that carried into even the start of this season. When he pulled his groin muscle in Cleveland in late May, he sat out 5 games (counting one in which he appeared as a pinch-hitter), started 2 of the 3 games in the next series, then asked for a few more games off because the injury was still bothering him. I don't think you could call Joe Mauer a "malingerer" (as TK once infamously labelled Mark Redman). He's tried to play through both injuries. If anything, I hope that the club might have realized last season to watch out for the kid, because he might even be a little too willing to play through a serious injury in stoic silence.

Four, can you imagine squatting and standing for over 3 hours--up & down, up & down--as well as batting 5 times a game with an inflamed groin muscle? Now imagine doing it again tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that.... How ya feeling? Does it seem fair to say that the groin muscle "has nothing to do with catching"?

Five, remember when the Annointed Ace for Life missed half the season in 2002 with a pulled groin muscle? Did anyone ever call out Brad Radke in the papers and imply that he was a big wuss who was letting the team down, and that he needed to learn how to play through pain? Now they're ripping Mauer because he missed about a week.

The way Gardenhire and Co. are handling this issue just boggles the mind. Props to Jim Souhan, by the way, for pointing out in fairness to Mauer that last year he was "if anything... too willing to play" through a serious injury; and he also asks, "How can anyone but the athlete know how much he hurts?" Now I'd like to see those points posed to Gardenhire for a response.

That the future of the franchise is being handled by people who actually would say out loud, "The kid has been pretty well pampered the majority of his career... You'd think that a young, strapping body wouldn't have these types of injuries, but they seem to keep creeping up on him," just about makes me feel like bursting into flames. If I ran across Rick Stelmaszek anytime soon, I don't know if I could restrain myself from popping him--and I have not actually punched anyone since I last hit my brother when I was in high school. I'm a gentle soul, dammit! Live and let live. But there are things that just shouldn't be said.

But leave it to the professionals, folks! They know best. Or maybe some work experience as a futility infielder in the 1980s and being the man responsible for deciding whether to wave runners home through the '90s really isn't the best qualification for now being in charge of 25 men, the development of multi-million dollar investments, and the direction of a franchise's future.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Macho, Macho Men

While the M&M Boys have been nursing injuries lately, yesterday Torii Hunter, Ron Gardenhire and some anonymous wags murmured to the press some thinly veiled questions about the toughness of the younger guys. Torii rattled off a list of injuries and aches he's been feeling, adding, "It's just the mentality. Some people have to be 100 percent to play; some don't." He also told a Pioneer Press reporter, "some guys just need to suck it up and play." Gardy chimed in, "He's taken it upon himself to try to show some people how to play through injuries."

Strib beat writer La Velle Neal took the opportunity to let his readers in on the pregame ritual he shares with Torii, in which Torii complains about his aches and pains, Neal asks, "Why don't you take a day off?" And Hunter replies, "What?! Puhleeze!"

Joe Christensen added in his analysis feature for the Strib, titled "Outfielders still taking charge":
"So far, those two [Mauer and Morneau] have shown flashes of brilliance. But it's hard to lead a team when you are hurt, and both have been rather fragile... Perhaps most importantly, Stewart, Hunter and Jones had combined to miss eight games this season. Morneau and Mauer had combined to miss 29... the Twins privately questioned Morneau's toughness after this last injury, which is the result of a small bone spur in the elbow. And just when it seemed Mauer's knee was no longer an issue, the groin injury flared up once, subsided, then flared up again."

Clearly, there was a coordinated effort to call out the young stars, and today Morneau rightly took exception. He told Neal that he'd expected to play Tuesday after getting a cortisone shot for his elbow, but Gardy had decided to keep him out--and told Morneau he just wanted to give him another day to rest (presumably because Arizona had a lefty starter on the mound). The next thing he knows, his toughness is being questioned in the papers.

Gardy seems to feel like his brilliant plan worked, because it got under Morneau's skin. To me, it affirms Doug Mientkiewicz's complaint last summer that Gardy had a habit of saying one thing to his face, and then doing and saying another thing later. I'm also reminded that this club pushed Mauer to play through a knee injury that would need nearly another year to heal. There were whispers about Balfour's commitment, until he went to a doctor outside the organization and found that he needed Tommy John surgery. Gardy is also the guy who once called out Lew Ford for nursing a little arm injury, which turned out to be a broken arm. Not to mention how the club pushed Joe Mays to pitch two seasons with a bad arm, which the insurance company later refused to cover because it was a "pre-existing injury" that predated the contract he signed before the 2002 season. Besides, Morneau pointed out that he himself played through a hand injury late last season, although it put a severe crimp on his numbers.

Is this really effective management strategy? Do you want to publicly embarrass a player for sitting out, knowing that he was willing to play? If you could give a player a few days to heal up now and be good to go, or have him play at 60% for a couple months until he needs to go on the DL, which way would you rather have it? Gardy's message may have been received loud and clear, but is it at the expense of his young players' trust in their manager and clubhouse elders?

Good Times

The Twins got off to a rocky start in May, losing 7 of 12, but since losing to former Twin Kenny Rogers on May 14 the team has turned around to post a 15-7 mark and has not dropped a series in its last seven. They've been such fun to watch, game commentary seems nearly beside the point.

Is this for real? Part of me can't help but wonder whether the team with the league's best pitching staff shouldn't have done better than a 4-3 mark against a Cleveland team with the league's worst offense, and if the Twins just didn't catch New York and Arizona at the right time. The Yanks came to the dome having already lost 5 straight, dating back to a 17-1 thrashing at the hands of the Red Sox in Yankee Stadium, and lost another series to the Brewers after leaving Minnesota. The Diamondbacks just returned from a 2-5 road trip to the Northeast, and had lost their previous four series.

On the other hand, I also really enjoy the thought, after all the crap we've taken about "the worst division in baseball," that the two best teams in baseball this season just might be playing in the AL Central. The Twins have the best staff ERA in the majors. The worst ERA in the rotation is Lohse's 4.25, and he's been improving; the worst ERA in the bullpen is Old Mulholland's 3.68. The offense has been heating up, despite slumps and injuries for Morneau and Mauer--which may lead one to believe that the best is still to come. Chicago keeps rolling along, but the Twins keep drafting off their bumper. They can't shake this team.

No worries for the ChiSox, though. They can take solace in the knowledge that they still lead the wild card race by 7 games. There's a nice cushion for them when they fall.

Meanwhile, God's favorite creation pitched a brilliant 4-hit shutout last night, striking out 9 while walking none. He even hit a single up the middle (now 6-for-20 in his career at the plate, which should give him bragging rights over his countryman Carlos Silva as well as Luis Rivas), scored a run, and as a special bonus FSN showed him in a promo spot touting his "mini-me" statuette that set a million hearts aflutter (boys & girls) across Twins Territory. Is he not the coolest man on the planet right now? If you could be another person, is there anyone you'd rather be than Johan Santana?

I feel like Tim Kurkjian right now, except I don't have to fabricate stories to make Johan look good. Meanwhile, it was also nice to see the team rack up 10 runs on 15 hits in support of their Ace--and with Mauer and Morneau back in the lineup, too.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

The Ace!

The AP recap of last night's game, in which Brad Radke gave up 4 runs in the 1st inning, quotes the man:
"I know I'm going to give up some runs in the first inning. My job is to keep us in the game as much as I can."

Very inspiring, Bulldog.

Somehow, I had hoped that the Leader of the Rotation might aim a little higher than keeping us in the game as much as I can....

Such a shame that he didn't get any run support again, too, wasn't it?

The next time you get to feeling too sorry for Brad because of his run support, keep in mind that the Twins have scored 4.54 runs per game in his 13 starts this season, and 5.71 rpg in his last 7 starts, while the overall team average this season has been 4.68 rpg. He had some bad luck with run support last season, but it hasn't exactly become a standing rule when he starts.

Would You Rather Be Right....

Just one more comment on the ballpark issue for the week....

On this issue, I have occasionally thought about the question, "Would you rather be right, or have a ballpark?"

I want a ballpark done right, is all, although if the club managed to push through a shady scheme that built a nice facility, I would eventually accept what happened and enjoy the new baseball cathedral. But that's because I am a fan at heart. See, I am not the Twins' strongest opposition. Ultimately, I am not the sort they have to worry about winning over. To get their way, they really have to persuade those who aren't so irrationally passionate and devoted to baseball.

And when you press those folks on resolving this issue, they might rightly ask: Just exactly who is holding his hand out here? Carl Pohlad is the one asking for the $353 million favor from the public, and has been for a decade. He's created the issue. He's the one hoping to land the financial backing to get the issue resolved. If he isn't willing to negotiate or make concessions to resolve the issue and get his ballpark built, whose fault is that? Isn't he the one who is really cutting off his nose to spite his face?

When Pohlad or Jerry Bell protest, "But they did it this way in these other cities," how is that persuasive? Should a man justify abusing his wife because the neighbor next door does it too? Should we accept lower standards of education, environmental protection, and labor laws in Minnesota, based on the way things are done in Texas or Florida? I won't apologize for saying that we deserve something better here. Those who have insisted on a fair deal for the public should feel proud. If Pohlad and his representatives would negotiate towards an agreeable resolution, we should wind up with a better project than we'd have if our public officials had capitulated years ago.

Meanwhile, Carl is the one with his hand out. The onus is on Carl and Jerry to move things forward. Now, do they want to be "right" and get all the goodies to themselves, just because some other clubs got such sweet deals, or do they want a ballpark?

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Give and Take

As usual, we're generating some good discussion between this blog and the Stick and Ball Guy site. This is part of a reply I posted at his site, in response to his most recent post on the ballpark issue, which I think bears repeating here:

I don't imagine that the Marty/Krinkie plan would be accepted by the Twins, not in a million years. But it should be a good starting point for negotiation. Right now, the Twins want everything. Marty/Krinkie are saying, give 75% to the public. If we all want a partnership on this deal, they ought to be able to negotiate a compromise between those two positions. Yes?

For many fans, paying the taxes for the pleasures of watching the Twins play outdoors is well worth the money. OK. But that feeling isn't the majority view. So, and I can't emphasize this enough, how do you appeal to those who aren't charmed by the delights of baseball under blue skies?

Many baseball fans support the Twins' plan out of self-interest. The Twins are pushing a specific plan that entirely serves their self-interest. That still leaves a majority of the people looking at that $353 million bill and wondering, "What's in it for me?" To win them over, what can the Twins give them?

There should be concessions from both sides in any fair negotiation. What are the Twins giving up for their part?

Monday, June 06, 2005

Shooting the Breeze w/ SBG; Shooting Down the Flim-Flam Men

Today SBG has either come over to the Dark Side or finally has seen the Light. He's against a new ballpark of any kind.

Not really. But even in jest, he raises an interesting point for discussion. We fans often assume that given an extra $20 million or so to spend, our wise GM could naturally make all kinds of fantastic moves to put the team over the top. But how do we know that the increased revenue really would be invested in player acquisition? And even if Terry Ryan were allowed to spend a lot more money on players, what if it just meant he'll be more likely to throw it at mediocrities and the devils he knows?

Necessity is the mother of invention. People often can become more resourceful and creative within some restrictions than they would be if given unlimited freedom of choice. Some important turnover has taken place on the Twins roster by necessity of circumstances, and may not have happened otherwise.

Think back to when Eric Milton's knee flared up before the 2003 season, and Terry Ryan had a choice between promoting Johan Santana to the rotation or spending Milton's insurance money on a 38 year-old veteran who's typically a little better than average. What did TR do?

This past winter, when he might have moved Ford into RF and Cuddyer to 2B, and used the $6.65m saved by cutting Jones and Rivas to address the left side of the infield, DH, or pitching, did TR try to shake up a team (that was 10th in runs scored last year) or did he try to maintain as much of the status quo as possible?

Terry Ryan and Ron Gardenhire run a conservative operation. They'd prefer a weak-hitting veteran SS with a reputation for steady glovework to the more unpredictable possibilities of playing a rookie who isn't an All-Star right out of the box. Given a choice between the upside of youth or Terry Mulholland, they like the old veteran. Gardy indicated in the offseason that he had wanted to bring back Cristian Guzman. What if Terry Ryan had the funds to make that happen?

I don't put all this forth as a reason in itself to be against the project. On the other hand, these are questions to keep in mind when presented with the argument that a new ballpark equates to greater payroll and better players. We've seen places like Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Detroit, and Pittsburgh where payroll stayed frozen or dropped shortly after a new ballpark opened, anyway. And even if Pohlad suddenly gets generous with his budget, the Twins just might become one more team that overpays for experienced mediocrity like Juan Castro or Terry Mulholland, but ordered from a more expensive section of the store.

Meanwhile, last week the project cheerleaders in the Strib put forth the latest shady excuse for supporting the deal on the table: namely, the provision that calls for Carl Pohlad to share 18% of an immediate sale after ballpark construction began, decreasing by 1.8% annually until the public share would hit zero after 10 years. The Mike Kaszuba piece leads by calling it an "unusual provision"; it "separates the plan from nearly all other recent deals across the country"; it "shows that the county drove a harder bargain than opponents have claimed"; Mike Opat says the issue was "almost a walk-away point." The piece goes on to list other recent ballpark projects which didn't include such a nice provision; and, why, even the executive director of the committee which co-owns Miller Park sounds envious: "We didn't have that in Milwaukee. It's something that communities should take a good, strong look at."

Sounds wonderful, doesn't it? Our representatives sure are driving a hard bargain, eh, folks?

Apparently the Twins executives haven't quite grasped the fine nuances of this new sales pitch, though. Buried deep in the middle of the story, Twins spokesman Jerry Bell says, "Part of the debate was, well, Carl and the Pohlad family could get this legislation approved and turn around and sell the team, immediately making a profit -- which is true." So as a sign of good faith, Pohlad wants the public to know he would share his good fortune in such a turn of events? Well, no. Bell says it's intended as a sign that there are no plans to sell the team. "If you were likely or possibly looking at a sale, you wouldn't offer [this profit-sharing deal] up."

Get that? There are no plans to sell the Twins. Pohlad/Bell wouldn't even think of offering to share the sale profits with the public if there were a chance in hell of it actually happening. I spotted this a month ago (5/9/05) when I said that the language of the clause guarantees that "a man who would haggle with his own grandson over the price of a cup of lemonade has every incentive to keep the ownership of the club within the family for at least the next 10 years--when he or, more likely, his heirs become free to keep all sale profits to themselves." But it's still nice to see Jerry Bell confirm it in print. This profit-sharing clause is an empty gesture intended either to fool anyone hoping to see the public get some money back in this scheme, or to placate anyone who just hates to think of the Pohlad family hitting the jackpot and cashing out.

Remember when people actually wanted Pohlad to promise he'd get out once the ballpark was built, though? He even made promises to that effect once or twice before, didn't he? Now we're supposed to feel good to hear that he's NOT in any hurry to sell the store.

Every time they get a scheme on the table, the ingredients may change, but it's always just more flim-flam in new bottles.

The counterproposal by State Sen. John Marty and Rep. Phil Krinkie, which calls for taxpayers to get 75% of the ballpark revenue, is never going to be accepted by the Twins; but they're on the right track. If the ballclub is truly interested in the well-being of the community and cares to give back something more than charitable gestures to those who support it, Jerry Bell and the other Twins representatives should be willing to negotiate in good faith towards getting an agreeable profit-sharing arrangement with their public backers. If they insist it's a giveaway to them or nothing, well, that's their unfortunate choice, isn't it? Shame on them. The Twins will have only themselves to blame if they fail to get a deal this time around.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Saturday with Izzy

Isabella and O'Malley

Now she has the tree to herself!


Friday, June 03, 2005

Twins Rotation Review

Starting Pitchers

Johan Santana
These are the expectations Santana has built up. His 2-1 loss to the Angels on May 1 ended a streak of 17 Wins without a Loss hung on his record in 20 starts, dating to last July 17. That's a 17-0 record with a 1.77 ERA. The Twins were 19-1 in those games, the only defeat coming on September 29 when Gardenhire pulled Santana with a 3-1 lead after 5 innings in order to conserve his ace for the playoffs--and Romero and Rincon would blow the game in the 7th inning that day. Even in Johan's last Loss before the streak began, on July 11 he had held the Tigers to 2 runs on 2 hits and 2 walks, with 11 strikeouts in 8 innings, only to watch Jason Johnson respond with a shutout. Johan hadn't really pitched a mediocre game in defeat since a pair of starts against the Royals and Devil Rays in late May/early June last year, and had not been knocked out since the White Sox scored 7 runs in 3 innings off him on May 23, 2004.

He had been Supernatural for nearly a whole year in which the Twins could almost count on adding one to the Win column every time he took the mound. So when he gives up 4 runs in 6 innings and the team loses to the Orioles, and he follows that act by coughing up 7 runs in 5.1 innings to the Blue Jays... what's this?!?? Johan Santana does not get knocked out in the middle of an inning, or get knocked around at all, does he? What's wrong?!?

Well, it turns out that even God's favorite is still human--and he might have been tipping his change-up. Since working with Rick Anderson after that sour start against the Jays, Johan is back on track with a 2.86 ERA in his last 3 starts, all Twins wins. Order is restored. He stands at a 6-2 record and 3.67 ERA, and leads the rotation with 83.1 IP, a 0.94 WHIP, and a remarkable 11.34 strikeouts per 9 innings. To sustain that rate for a full season, he would be breathing the rare air of Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and Nolan Ryan. It would be one of the Top 15 single-season strikeout rates of all time.

Meanwhile, the Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) stat listed at Baseball Prospectus still rates him as the most valuable pitcher on the Twins staff, with a 19.2 VORP. A couple bumps notwithstanding, he's still on track for another great season, cementing his position as the true staff ace. Now if only we could get a deal to make sure all his starts are on the flippin' TV....

Brad Radke
As far as the local media are concerned, Brad Radke is like the Derek Jeter of the Minnesota Twins. A very good veteran player whose every move is blown up to some great symbolic significance, representing All That's Good About Baseball and The Right Way to Play the Game. As with Jeter, I guess you either really dig that, or having it shoved down your gullet all the time eventually makes you want to barf. Sometimes I can't stomach all the hype about a #2 pitcher who consistently struggles to pitch a clean 1st inning and shows all the personality of a Stepford wife; but he has been programmed to be a pretty good pitcher, just the same.

After a rocky start to the season which saw him with a 5.08 ERA on April 25, he has posted a 4-1 mark and 2.79 ERA in 7 starts since then. I still may have to turn down the volume on Bert when Brad is pitching, and I'll have to vent every time I see him put his team in an early hole with a 2-strike changeup that gets launched into the seats, but I appreciate how well he's been pitching for the most part in the past month. He's been almost worth his hype.

Carlos Silva
Despite allowing batters to hit a .298 avg, and striking out a measly 2.82 per 9 innings, the man has a 3.09 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 67 innings, through 9 starts. His ERA tops the rotation and ranks 7th in the AL, while he's been the most consistent pitcher on one of the league's best staffs. His 17.8 VORP is 2nd on the team only to Johan Santana. In 4 road starts, his ERA is 1.86. So far, he's completely defied my expectations of seeing him regress from last year's marks, and he shows no signs of slowing down. Even a supposedly season-ending knee injury turned into nothing more than 2 weeks' rest on the Disabled List. Does he lead an even more charmed life than Jon Garland, or what?

Of course, it helps that he doesn't walk anybody, he's held batters to a .412 slg pct., and he's been able to rack up 16 groundball double plays. As to whether all this can hold, I'm still skeptical. If he could keep this up despite a strikeout rate in the 2's, I believe he would be unique in the history of baseball. But in the meantime, let's enjoy the freakshow while it lasts. If it turns out that Carlos Silva really does have something new under the sun, I'll be glad to see it.

Joe Mays
Before the season began, many Twins fans, if not most, were just looking forward to the day when the club would be out from under Joe Mays' contract. GM Terry Ryan had rewarded his Ace of 2001 for his breakout season with a 4-year deal that was a bust from the start. Mays struggled through arm injuries in 2002-3, until finally submitting to Tommy John surgery on his elbow which put him on the shelf for all of 2004.

I'd be happy if he could just post an ERA in the mid 4's and eat 180 innings in this first year back. I know many fans feared much worse. There was some talk of how soon Mays could be stashed in the bullpen to make way for younger talents with the promise of greater potential. He actually did make his first appearance of the season as a reliever, after all, and was skipped in the rotation a couple times in April due to his demotion to #5 starter status. Even his pitching coach and manager seemed none too sure of what he could do anymore.

Well, surprise! Surprise! Through 2 months, he's 3-2 with a 3.73 ERA and 1.28 WHIP. He hasn't really had more than a couple bad games, and he even pitched a complete game shutout against the Blue Jays on May 19. The 3.13 K/9 rate doesn't bode well for the future, especially as long as he's on pace to give up 30 home runs. But so far he's done all one could want of a #5 starter, and then some.

Kyle Lohse
Young enigma, favorite whipping boy of Twins Territory and the legion of Batlings. He had shown real signs of greatness in the latter half of 2002 and some months in 2003, but had pretty well fallen apart last year. Some were ready to cut him loose, or wondered why he couldn't be banished to AAA. In April, I began to think that it might be time to turn him into a reliever, since it seemed that he would run into most of his troubles after batters had been through the order a couple times. I also said in my game of Pepper! with SBG at about the same time, "I like Lohse, but I think he needs to focus on a narrow approach that works for him and can be repeated consistently. Maybe that means concentrating on two pitches instead of mixing in four." (April 15, 2005. You can go look it up.)

It pays to listen to frightwig, folks! Ha! Lately there has been a lot of hullabaloo about how Lohse is now concentrating on his fastball and slider, as Rick Anderson took a couple pitches away from him, and the result has been a 3-1, 2.30 mark in May. Now I have to wonder, was that so hard?! Doesn't it seem like they could have made Lohse do that long ago? I mean, you tell the Catcher to give signs for no more than three pitches--and don't give in if Lohse wants something else, under any circumstances. Then tell Lohse, "He's giving you three signs, and if I see you shaking him off all day, pouting about it, or crossing him up with a curveball, you're coming out of the game--and the rotation." It seems fairly simple, doesn't it?

Anyway, it seems Lohse is buying into the new program and reaping the rewards. Now the Twins have 4 starting pitchers with an ERA under 3.75, and Lohse is heading in that direction.

Don't look back, Chicago. Somebody might be gainin' on ya....