Taylor's Twins Talk

Focusing on the Twins, with a few ramblings on other things that catch my attention

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Nightly Notes: Game #163

And so it ends. This season was both exhilarating and frustrating. In my opinion, the Twins dramatically outperformed expectations this season, thanks in large part to unbelievably timing hitting and, until recently, consistently good performances from their starters. Unfortunately, they couldn't quite make the push into the playoffs -- but I'm incredibly excited about next year. Here are some notes on tonight's season finale:

1.) Tonight isn't a night to blame anyone for the loss. Obviously, the hitters didn't get it done tonight -- but that was mostly because John Danks was fantastic tonight. He was much, much better than predicted (by anyone!), and he just beat the Twins hitters. There were individual approaches that I wasn't pleased with (Delmon Young swinging on the first pitch to start the 8th inning, for instance), but for the most part the Twins just got beat. There's not a lot you can do when the opposing pitcher throws a gem.

2.) Kudos to Nick Blackburn for defying expectations as well. This would have been Kevin Slowey's start but for the wrist injury, but Blackburn stepped up and delivered a great performance. Yeah, he threw a bad pitch to Thome that ended up leaving the yard, but one big mistake in 6+ innings of work is pretty commendable in the circumstances he faced today. Thanks for the effort, Nick.

3.) Perhaps the most interesting question tonight was whether Michael Cuddyer should have been sent home on Brendan Harris' short fly to center that resulted in an inning ending double play when Ken Griffey, Jr. nailed Cuddyer at the plate and A.J. hung onto the ball. Like the TBS announcers, I don't have a problem with sending Cuddyer in this situation. The Twins weren't doing anything at the plate, and Nick Punto was coming up next. The Twins had to be aggressive and take a chance. Of course, Gardy could have been really unconventional and put someone fast on 3rd as a pinch runner for Cuddyer -- but it was just the 5th inning, and Cuddyer was the only guy who had done anything good offensively against Danks. Talk about risk/reward. It's easy in hindsight to say that it was a mistake to send Cuddyer, or even not to get creative and pinch run for him, but at the time I think it was handled about as well as it could have been.

4.) Even though this thing didn't end the way I wanted it to, I have to acknowledge that this game was a blast to watch. There was tension in every inning, every at bat, every pitch. That's what a game like this is supposed to bring, and it delivered. You better believe I'm a Rays fan starting Thursday, though.

5.) Incidentally, there's been a lot of talk about whether the Twins got screwed over by the coin flip. While I think there are better ways to decide where to play a playoff game like this, I think it's pretty weak to complain about it. The Twins had a chance to make the playoffs by winning another game against the Royals in that final series. Unfortunately, they didn't get the job done and so fell into a position where the coin flip mattered.

That's about all I have the gumption to write tonight. I plan on enjoying the post-season, rooting for the Cubs and Rays and against the White Sox. I'll be back in the next day or so with a look at what faces the Twins in the post-season ahead, and plan on continuing regular posts as I have in each of the last few off-seasons. I hope you keep stopping by in the long, baseball-less months that lie ahead. Thanks to the Twins one last time for a season that was a lot of fun, even if it came up a bit short of where we fans hoped it would.


Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Season Continues

NOTE: Just like last week, I'll be appearing on Marty Andrade's podcast tonight at 8:00 Central. Check it out if you haven't taken care of your Twins fix yet for the day.

Before I get to today's notes, I just wanted to take a second to mention that this is post # 1000 for this blog. I started blogging on the Twins shortly after the start of the 2006 season, so it's been roughly two and a half years since I began. For those of you who check in from time to time, thanks for reading. I haven't always had a chance to blog as consistently as I would like to (life often gets in the way), but I still enjoy posting as much as I did when I started and hope to keep it up for a long time to come.

Now, onto the baseball. With today's dueling wins for the Twins and White Sox, the Twins have retained their half game lead in the division. That means that the White Sox face a must-win game tomorrow against the Tigers. While I would love to see the Twins celebrate a playoff berth on the field, I don't think I'd mind too much if the Tigers took care of business tomorrow and took away the need for Tuesday's tiebreaker. Here are some other notes:

1.) Scott Baker is a stud. It seems as if he's been more impressive in big game situations of late than Francisco Liriano has been -- so does that mean he's the ace? I still put the Franchise in that position because of his ability to be overpowering when he's on his game, but if Baker continues to be consistently good when the needs it, I might have to reconsider. A couple of years ago, shortly after I started blogging, Marty and I had a conversation on one of his old podcasts about whether Baker was a "AAAA" player -- a guy who had mastered the minor leagues, but would never develop into a Major League talent. I frankly don't remember what I said, but the fact that we were having that discussion shows how far Baker has come in just two years.

2.) Jose Mijares is clearly a lock for the post-season roster if the Twins need one, since he's turned into the club's setup man. If I had to guess, the Twins would carry a 12 man pitching staff into post-season play, with 4 starters and 8 relievers. Depending on how Kevin Slowey's wrist feels, he would be one candidate not to make the starting rotation. Arguments could be made for excluding either Nick Blackburn or Glen Perkins as well. As for the bullpen, some names are obvious: Nathan, Mijares, Reyes, Breslow, Guerrier, Crain, and Bonser have all probably done enough to make the squad. The last spot would then go to the excluded starter. The team could also carry a larger bench, going with just 11 pitchers -- but I like the matchup options the Twins would have with all those lefties. It will be interesting to see how Bill Smith and Ron Gardenhire approach the problem.

3.) If Justin Morneau doesn't win the MVP award, it could be because he was so very bad with the spotlight on the Twins over the last week. Since the start of the White Sox series, Morneau is 3-for-28 with a single RBI. I assume that Morneau flew under many media member's radar for most of the season, since the Twins weren't figured to be contenders. If they just started paying attention now, they didn't see much from Morneau. I haven't decided yet who I personally think the MVP should go to, but I'm going to predict that Morneau will not win it this year.

4.) Congratulations to the Milwaukee Brewers for finally making it back to the post-season. I said publicly that I was rooting against the Brewers because of the Ned Yost situation, and I meant it -- but I'm happy for the fans and for the players that the Brew Crew will be participating in post-season play. Also, I also wanted to root against the Mets, just to demonstrate that Johan Santana did not equal a guaranteed playoff spot, even for a team with significant financial resources.

5.) I'll be on campus tomorrow when the Tigers and Sox are going at it, and I won't have access to a computer for most of that time. Brutal.

6.) This was a great weekend for sports generally, and I hope you all got a chance to check out some of the fun. You undoubtedly are all already aware of the baseball and football news, but the fun didn't stop there. Formula 1 held the first night race in the history of the series in Singapore, and the victory went to two time champion Fernando Alonso, who hadn't won a race since joining Renault at the start of the year. He was the seventh winner of the season -- a far cry from last year, when I'm pretty sure the only drivers to win were the two McLaren Mercedes drivers and the two Ferrari drivers. Also, the English Premiere League delivered a major shocker this weekend when Hull (one of the two teams I follow) shocked Arsenal at Emirates Stadium (Arsenal's home) with a 2-1 win. Hull is a recent addition to the Premiere League, earning promotion for this season. This was sort of the equivalent of Appy State beating Michigan last year. All in all, a great weekend with a lot of fantastic story lines.


Saturday, September 27, 2008

More of the Same?

The Twins 4-2 loss today was tough to take, especially so since I didn't have a chance to actually watch it (thanks again to MLB's idiotic agreement with Fox allowing Fox to black out 4 games rather than just 1). Since I didn't get to see the game, I don't know how upset to be with Justin Morneau for the bases loaded groundout double play that ended the 7th inning, for instance (did he hit the ball hard, and just get unlucky? Or did he take a bad approach at the plate and essentially waste his at bat?).

The bottom line is that the Twins have now entered a place that they really don't want to be in -- they once again need to rely on the Indians to take care of the White Sox tonight (something which so far is happening). It's looking more and more likely that the Twins will be playing on Tuesday in Chicago for the division title -- and that will not be friendly territory, to say the least. On the plus side, with the Angels decision to start their series with Boston on Wednesday, the Twins wouldn't have to start the series with the Rays until Thursday so travel shouldn't be an issue.

I hope to get an actual, honest-to-goodness Nightly Notes post up after tomorrow's game. I'm even more hopeful that I'll be talking about the division-winning Twins -- but thanks to the Twins unfortunate inability to take care of business over the last two days, everything will have to go right in order for that to be the case. Enjoy your Saturday night (try not to think too much about the game!).


Friday, September 26, 2008

Dueling Blowouts

One night after the most emotional victory of the year, the Twins laid a big fat egg tonight against the Royals. Francisco Liriano was bad, the offense was bad, and not unexpectedly in such circumstances, the result was bad. Thankfully, at least as I write this, the Indians are taking care of business by beating up on the White Sox (although I took some liberties by calling an 11-6 game a "blowout").

If the Indians can finish off the Sox, I'll be fine with tonight's result. The Twins aren't quite able to just run out the clock (since if Minnesota and Chicago finish with identical records over the next two days, the Sox will have a chance to force a tiebreaker by beating Detroit on Monday), but they're still in a better position than Chicago is, and identical finishes today won't hurt too much. I don't have much else to say tonight -- I admit that I was watching the Presidential Debate more closely than I was watching the runaway ballgame. Hopefully tomorrow gives us a better result from the Dome.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

First Place!

I am absolutely speechless right now. For the Twins to come back and win tonight after falling behind 6-1 to a White Sox team that obviously has some talent on it is unbelievably impressive. To need a sweep, and to deliver that sweep, is equally impressive. Here are a few notes:

1.) It's time to stop ragging on the bullpen. The Twins would not have won either of the last two games without the pen, and they were unbelievable both nights. Sure, there are still issues -- and maybe even some challenging decisions about who to put on the playoff roster -- but these guys have stepped up in a big way over the last two nights.

2.) Kevin Slowey looked great until he gave up the 4th inning homerun, and then everything sort of unraveled. Physically, he didn't look nervous -- but if I had to guess, he really was unnerved by giving up the dinger, and his concentration was probably affected. How remarkable, though, that the Sox weren't able to do anything offensively other than what they did against a presumably rattled Slowey? I heard Dick announce during the game that x-rays on Slowey's wrist were negative, so hopefully he'll be alright going forward (although of course his next start wouldn't be until, presumably, Game 3 of the ALDS, so he should have plenty of time).

3.) Nights like tonight show why the decision on who to play in the outfield will be awfully difficult next year if Cuddyer comes back fully healthy. The Twins essentially have 5 good choices for 4 positions (Young, Gomez, Span, Cuddyer, and Kubel). I'm pretty sure I'm not serious with this, but maybe the Twins should look at playing Cuddyer at third base again . . .

4.) How sweet is it to pin Bobby Jenks with his first loss of the season?

5.) The Twins caught another break when Nick Swisher was called out on strikes after clearly holding up in the 9th. Unlike last night when the Twins caught a break on the second base pickoff call that led to the winning run, I don't feel too bad for the White Sox tonight. They had a 6-1 lead and couldn't hold it. When that happens, you lose whatever right you otherwise had to gripe about the officiating.

6.) I'm staring at my television in disbelief right now, with Oregon State leading USC 21-14 with less than 10 minutes to go in this game. I still expect the Trojans to come back and win the game, but I'm rooting hard for the Beavers. My philosophy in college football is almost always to root for the underdog, and that's definitely in force here. I don't hate USC like I hate the Yankees or Manchester United, but I also don't really like them. I'd be pretty thrilled if Oregon State could take them out tonight and make the Trojans' trip to the national championship extremely difficult if not impossible.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Nightly Notes: Game #158

Two down, one to go. Tonight, the Twins emerged victorious in the middle game of their most important series of the season -- by my reckoning, the toughest of the three for the Twins to win. Now, they sit just a half game back of the White Sox, with a chance to take the lead in the division tomorrow night. Either way, the Twins have now pretty much guaranteed that this weekend will be interesting! Here are some notes:

1.) Nick Blackburn's 5 inning, 2 run, 8 hit and 2 walk performance was hardly a thing of beauty -- but it also wasn't an unmitigated disaster like the Twins were getting from their starters last week. Over the past few years, this would have left me more than satisfied, because the bullpen was always one of the team's biggest strengths. Tonight, I have to admit that I was nervous turning the game over to the pen with just a one run lead. But . . .

2.) There's nothing I can say about the performance of Craig Breslow, Boof Bonser, Jose Mijares, and Joe Nathan that wouldn't just be a string of superlatives. Particular kudos go to Breslow, who hasn't allowed an earned run since August 28 (he did allow two unearned runs on September 19) and who now has an ERA of 1.97 on the season, and also to Jose Mijares, who I'd say just locked up a spot on the post-season roster (should the Twins be so lucky as to NEED a post-season roster) with his performance in the 8th inning.

3.) There were not as many offensive heroes tonight as there were last night, but Delmon Young deserves to be singled out even though he didn't account for any runs. Young went 3-for-4 tonight, and has been on a relative tear since his last hitless night (back on September 14). His batting average is now as high as it's been since July 22, and my conclusion that his season had to be viewed as a disappointment now looks rather premature. If he can hit .295 or so again next season while picking up his power numbers a bit (say 20 homers), I would be quite thrilled with him.

4.) My not-so-fearless prediction: if the Twins win tomorrow's game, they will win the division. If they lose, Chicago will win the division.

5.) I was hoping the Twins would get a few extra runs to take away the taint of what appeared to be a bad call in the second when the Twins caught a break on the pick-off at second. I didn't get a close look at the replay, but what I did see suggested that the Twins were the beneficiaries of a blown call. If I remember correctly, that runner went on to score what would be the winning run. I'm sure the White Sox have been on the plus side of a few calls over the course of the season as well, but of course everything comes into sharper focus at this time of year. Either way, a win is a win and I'll take it. I absolutely cannot wait until tomorrow night!


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Nightly Notes: Game #157

Wow! I can't speak highly enough about the all around performance we saw the Twins put out on the field tonight. This was a team that was fired up and ready to battle -- as opposed to the White Sox, whose players mostly seemed uninterested. Here are some notes following this very encouraging series opener:

1.) First and foremost, this win means that the Twins will still be alive at the end of this series no matter what else happens -- although if they lose the next two games, they'd be barely hanging on and would need to win all of the rest of their games with the White Sox losing all of theirs just to get a chance to play Chicago next Tuesday in the tiebreaker. While tonight was huge, then, there is still obviously a lot of work to be done.

2.) Francisco Liriano stepped up with a great start on Sunday against the Rays, and tonight Scott Baker did the same (even better!) against the Sox. Baker's 7 inning, 1 run performance showed remarkable poise, and demonstrated once again that, while he might not be as flashy as Liriano, he's still a big game pitcher. With those two at the top of the rotation in a short playoff series, the Twins would be able to compete against just about anybody.

3.) There was a lot of angst before the start of the game because Jason Kubel got the start over Michael Cuddyer as the DH. This was apparently based on some statistical evidence that Cuddyer was better than Kubel against Javier Vazquez (although I wasn't interested enough to bother looking at what the numbers were). It was with great amusement, then, that I watched Kubel go 3-for-4 with 2 homers and a triple. Now, I always prattle on about how you can't judge a decision based on the result -- but in this case, the result at least seems to confirm that going with Kubel over Cuddyer wasn't some insane oversight on Gardy's part. Frankly, I don't know how I would have felt about this before the game started if I had looked at the overall numbers (maybe there's some evidence supporting the Cuddyer supporters -- I don't know); however, intuitively I would have gone with Kubel. He's been a solid contributor all year, and he's a lefty facing the right-handed Vazquez. In other words, all the fuss before the game was silly, and I really was pleased to see how things worked out tonight.

4.) I am probably the last person to believe this, especially after tonight, but I still think that Matt Guerrier can be a valuable part of the Twins bullpen. If not this year, hopefully next. If not, the Twins will have lost an important piece.

5.) For the first time since 1995, all is right with the world as the Yankees have finally been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Alright, I'm using some hyperbole there -- I don't mind seeing the Yankees make the playoffs on occasion. I just got incredibly sick of watching playoff games in Yankee Stadium, with all of the pompous coverage that went with it. I can't argue with the Yankees historical success -- clearly, they're the most successful team in MLB history. I also have to admit that this success is probably largely responsible for my dislike of the team (in fact, I don't try to hide that fact at all). Whatever the reason, though, I'm giddy that the Yankees playoff streak is over. Maybe if it lasts a few more years, I won't even mind if they become good again. Another World Series, though? Nah -- let's spread those around some more. Maybe in 2050 the Yankees can pick up another ring.

6.) Time is running out for the Brewers, as they'll need a ninth inning comeback if they're going to beat the Pirates tonight. I've officially decided that I'm rooting against them 100% after the firing of Ned Yost -- I don't want other GM's to get the idea that it's somehow anything other than idiotic and wrong to fire your manager with 3 weeks left when that manager got you to a position to contend for a playoff spot. Go Mets and Phils!

7.) Does anyone else think that the new CBS series "The Mentalist" is just a not-funny version of USA's "Psych?" I watched the premiere tonight (I get the Twins on my computer, leaving the TV open for such things), and wasn't that impressed. It wasn't a BAD show, it just wasn't that exciting. Psych, on the other hand, is hilarious -- and if you've never had a chance to watch it you should make the effort when it comes back this winter.


Sunday, September 21, 2008

The State of the Race

NOTE: I'll be appearing on Marty's podcast tonight at 8:00 Central. The show will be live, and you can participate real time by using the chat feature or calling in. You can also check the show out after the fact, as it will be archived.

The Twins and White Sox head into the last off day of the season tomorrow before facing off in the biggest series of the year in the Metrodome from Tuesday to Thursday. The Sox will have a 2.5 game lead heading into that series, and for the Twins it really is something of a last stand -- after all, those three games will mark the last chance for the Twins to control their own destiny.

When the two teams finish up the series, the Twins will have three games to go at home against the Royals to finish off the season. The White Sox, meanwhile, will head home to play the Indians -- and if the AL Central race is within a half game either way after that series, they'll also host the Tigers in a makeup game on the Monday after the official regular season comes to an end.

There is no question that the Twins need to at the very least win the series with the White Sox. After all, if the Twins get swept the White Sox would clinch the AL Central race. If the Sox win the series 2-1, they'll have a 3.5 game lead when they leave Minnesota -- and for the Twins to get into the playoffs at that point, they'd need to sweep the Royals, the Indians would have to sweep Chicago, AND the Tigers would have to win the makeup game. In other words, the Twins would need 7 games to all come out the right way, which is unlikely.

If the Twins win the series 2-1, there will at least still be hope. They would trail Chicago by 1.5 games, and could at least force the game with the Tigers to take place if they did one game better than the White Sox in the last full series of the year. The Sox would still have a tremendous edge in this scenario, however -- so clearly it isn't optimal.

What if the Twins sweep? We'll, at that point they WOULD control their own destiny, at least to an extent. A Twins sweep would put them 1/2 game ahead of the White Sox going into the last series. If they then swept the Royals, they could at the very least force a playoff with Chicago -- and the Sox would have to win each of their last four games to force that tiebreaker. Of course, the odds of the Twins winning each of their last six ballgames to finish out of the season are not particularly high.

I remain hopeful that the Twins can put it together against the Sox and make things interesting heading into next weekend. If not, by this time next week it will be time to conduct a postmortem on the season. I'd much rather be talking about first round playoff matchups!

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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Where the Twins Need to Be on Sunday Night

After last night's loss (and the White Sox victory) dropped the Twins to 2.5 games out of first, I got to thinking about where I feel the Twins need to be on Sunday night in order to have a reasonable chance of making the playoffs. Obviously, until the team is mathematically eliminated, all sorts of strange things could happen -- but I'm talking about a reasonable chance, not any chance.

My conclusion, essentially, is that the Twins need to be 1.5 back after tomorrow night's game. They will obviously need some luck for this to happen, as the Royals will need to cooperate (and the Rays will need to stop killing our starters). Why 1.5 back, you ask? Largely because I think a Twins sweep over the White Sox next week is unlikely, but that a 2-1 series win is very possible (and if the Twins can't at least win that series, they don't belong in the playoffs anyway). If they entered the series 1.5 back and then won the series 2-1, they'd be just a half game back going into the final series of the season.

That last series should favor the Twins. Minnesota plays the Royals at home, while the White Sox will be hosting Cleveland. Even though the Indians have had a down year, they still have far more firepower than the Royals have, and I think it's very possible for the Twins to either finish with the same record as the White Sox or win one more game in that last series. Either way, Chicago would then have to play Detroit the day after the season ended to determine whether a playoff was needed.

Again, many other paths to the playoffs are possible (I'd love it if the White Sox just layed down and lost every game they had left, for instance). This seems to me to be the most likely scenario for the Twins to get back to the post-season. Let's hope they at least make it exciting over the next 8 days.


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Nightly Notes: Game #153

Never have I been happier to have to rewrite my intro than I was tonight. Instead of talking about the White Sox running out the clock on what was becoming a race to the bottom for the AL Central, I can instead talk about how the Twins have renewed life after getting a big comeback win over the Rays tonight to get to 1.5 games back of the White Sox. Here are some notes:

1.) I have not laughed harder at something baseball related this season than I did when Adam Everett pulled back his bunt and drove Trevor Miller's pitch into the left field corner for an RBI double. My heart was in my throat when I saw him pull the bat back, but the end result can't be argued with! As for the decision to pinch hit Everett for Kubel, I was actually fine with it (under the assumption that he was going to sacrifice -- had I known he was going to actually swing away I would have had a very different reaction, but since it worked out fine I can't be too upset). While I normally don't like giving up outs to advance runners, in this situation it made sense -- the team could expect to advance two runners, putting both in scoring position, while also avoiding the most likely kinds of double plays.

2.) The starting pitching has been horrendous of late, and the inability to get outs has spread through virtually the entire rotation. Glen Perkins has been amongst the hardest hit. Tonight's 2/3 of an inning disaster was just the worst of what has been a relatively rough months for Perkins -- he went just 3 innings in his last start, and went just 5.2 and 5 innings in his other two September starts. This follows an August in which he was solid -- he gave up 4 runs a few times, but made it at least 6 innings in every start and went 4-0 on the month. I really do have faith in this group of starters (and I can't wait to see them in action next year), but something is obviously wrong. I'm inclined to think it's just a bunch of young guys getting a little tight in the middle of a pennant race. I'm also inclined not to blame Gardy or Rick Anderson. Good thing those two aren't coaching in Milwaukee -- they probably would have been fired by now.

3.) Some nights, you just can't win against a particular player. Evan Longoria obviously owned the Twins tonight. I didn't get a good look at most of the pitches that led to the Longoria homers, although the 1st inning shot off of Glen Perkins didn't look like a terrible pitch -- fastball in and low. It might have drifted a bit into his zone, but it wasn't as egregious as, say, the fastball that Eddie Guardado threw to Grady Sizemore a couple of nights ago. I'll say one thing, though -- if the Twins have been using a particular strategy for facing Longoria, it certainly seems like its time to change it!

4.) Great job by Philip Humber tonight to go 5.1 innings when the Twins really needed it. He gave up 2 runs in that span, but I'd take a 5+ inning, 2 run performance from a starter -- and it's even more welcome from a long reliever. Remember, Humber will be out of options next year, and the Twins will almost certainly want him to win a job in Spring Training to avoid losing him. Tonight's performance may go a long way to demonstrating his ability to nail down a long relief role next year, since you have to assume the rotation is closed to him (barring the kind of injury that doesn't bear thinking about). One of the interesting questions over the winter and into the spring will be whether Humber, Bonser, both or neither will end up in the long relief role next season. I'd say Humber officially launched his bid tonight.

5.) For that matter, the entire bullpen deserves kudos. For much of the season, the Twins have been either losing because of or winning in spite of the bullpen. Tonight, the bullpen was a vital contributor to the victory (even Eddie Guardado!). It was also nice to see Joe Nathan come in and get a very solid save, after some dubious performances of late.

6.) Is it just me, or do you also cringe every time you see Matt Tolbert field a ball at third just as he fires across the field? It certainly seems like he could use some work on the accuracy of his throws.

7.) Nightly Milwaukee watch -- the Brewers lost tonight, and the Mets and Phillies are both winning as I write this. Yep, Ned Yost sure was the problem with that ball club.

8.) I'm loving the way the CU Buffs are handling West Virginia tonight heading to the half. While WVU doesn't appear to be as good as a lot of people (including me) thought they would be coming into the season, this would still be a big win for CU. They aren't good enough to win the Big 12, but they could do some damage to the mid-level and below squads in the conference. With Minnesota at 3-0 and the Buffs trying to go 3-0, I feel a little bit like the college football universe is out of balance. Of course, as soon as conference play begins in earnest in a couple of weekends, that feeling will probably go away pretty quickly!


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Podcast Appearance

I somehow forgot to mention that I'll be on with Seth on his podcast from about 8:00-8:20 central time tonight. The podcast will be archived, so you can check it out after the fact if you don't get the chance to hear it live. I'm the opening act on a show that will also include Twins prospects Joe Benson and Steven Singleton, so check it out even if you decide to fast-forward through my opening!


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Nightly Notes: Game #151

Time's running out! The Twins have just 11 games left on the schedule, which comes out to three series and a game. Unbelievable how time flies, isn't it? With the White Sox winning tonight, this game was crucial for the Twins -- which makes it all the more frustrating that they came up short in the end. A 2.5 game deficit now faces the Twins heading into tomorrow's action. It's not looking good, but hope remains alive. Here are some notes:

1.) I'm not going to belabor the point -- Francisco Liriano was awful today. I was multitasking for the most of the evening, so I didn't get a chance to put together an armchair (and likely wrong!) diagnosis. The bottom line is that this was either a transient issue that Liriano will recover from for his last few starts, or the Twins are in pretty big trouble. As young as he is, he needs to be the dominant guy in this rotation, the one who the Twins can count on for a pick-me-up when things haven't been going well. Obviously, he failed at that tonight.

2.) I can't blame Gardy too much for how he used his bullpen tonight, especially with bringing in Bonser for 3.1 innings when Liriano failed to put it together. After all, Bonser pitched great (well, ok, 6 baserunners in 3.1 innings isn't great, but for Bonser any scoreless performances are close enough). The one big issue, though, was with bringing Eddie Guardado in to pitch the 8th inning. There are at least two superior options. First, Dennys Reyes has been far better than Eddie Guardado, and not just recently -- at this point in their respective careers, Reyes is a better bet. Granted, he doesn't often go a full inning -- but if you need to throw one of the two on the mound for an inning of work, Reyes is the guy who is most likely to be able to get through that inning without allowing a run. The second option would have been going directly to Joe Nathan (despite his recent struggles, including what happened tonight). I usually don't like using the closer for two innings, but he is by far the best option in the bullpen, and the Twins held a one run lead in a game that they had no right to be in, where a huge comeback had been key. Winning this game 9-8 would have been huge psychologically. I would not have complained if Nathan had been brought in to start the 8th tonight.

3.) It was strange not seeing Alexi Casilla in the lineup, but Matt Tolbert certainly played well. If there was a way to give Tolbert Punto's defensive skills, the hybrid would make a nifty little player, eh?

4.) Going back to Eddie Guardado for a second -- when you don't have a good fastball anymore, it's generally not a good idea to throw a high fastball. I bet Grady Sizemore was awfully excited to see that coming his way. Elevation is your enemy, Eddie. Unless you go over a guy's head, that is.

5.) That Brewers managerial change doesn't seem to have had much effect so far, as the Brew Crew lost 5-4 to the Cubs tonight. The good news for Milwaukee -- the Wild Card race looks to be a race to the bottom against the Mets. Who can lose the fewest! How exciting will that be!?! Oh yeah . . . not very. I'll be rooting for the Brewers, though. I think it would be just a little bit satisfying if the Mets and Johan didn't make the playoffs (especially if the Twins did!).

6.) I should at least mention that I'm proud of the Twins players for not quiting when they got down so far so early. Of course, they should keep digging -- they're professionals, after all. Still, it's a positive takeaway from a game that had a lot of negatives, regardless of the end result.


Monday, September 15, 2008

Saved by the Yankees

As much as I hate the Yankees, I was awfully thrilled to see Mariano Rivera coming in with a 4-2 Yankee lead over the White Sox in the 9th. That's an awfully bizarre feeling, isn't it fellow haters? Such is the world of baseball, when in the last two weeks your enemy's enemies truly are your friends. On a night when the Twins offense was non-existent (two games in a row now), the Twins certainly needed the help.

For me, though, the big story of the day was not on the field, but instead centered around the firing of Ned Yost in Milwaukee. I admit that I don't follow the Brewers closely enough to know whether or not Yost's managing over the past few weeks was noticeably different than his early season managing (there are apparently some suggestions that he was managing "tight" of late). But this looks an awful lot like a move based completely on desperation. Certainly, the Brewers have been downright dreadful throughout September -- but firing a manager with 2 weeks to go in the middle of a playoff race is simply unprecedented.

There are several possibilities, of course. One, this move could have absolutely no effect on the clubhouse. The Brewers might continue playing just as they would have had Yost been left alone. There's no way to measure this, because we don't know what the future would have held with Yost left in charge. It seems somewhat incredible though, doesn't it? The players are fully human, and the reason the games are played on a field instead of on paper is because emotions and attitudes and thoughts all play into results. Ned Yost helped guide this team into a playoff chase with two weeks to go; you would have to think the players won't immediately forget that.

The question seems to be whether the players felt that Yost was responsible for the recent slump. If they don't (and perhaps even if they do), the players will undoubtedly resent Yost being fired so close to the end. They could see it as a dishonorable move by team management, and could resent being asked to move forward without the man who has led them through the vast majority of the season.

Alternatively, they could see this as a necessary move. I have no idea what was going on in the Brewer clubhouse. Perhaps Yost's attitude or behavior or managerial style did indeed change in September, and the players may have become unsettled or tight because of that. Or they may have "quit on" Yost for some undisclosed reason. Perhaps they might even welcome a move even if they supported Yost; it might even serve to center and focus the team. Consider it a shot of adrenaline straight into the bloodstream from the GM's office.

If I had to guess, though, this is not going to end well for the long-suffering fans of the Brewers. As I said earlier, I see this as a desperation move, a hail mary pass with time ticking off the clock. How often does such a move work? If anything, I think the move will probably backfire (although the Brewers can't possibly be as bad for the rest of September as they have been so far, you would think). To me, the Brewers season probably ended today. We'll see if they can surprise me.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Turnabout Is Fair Play

Since we thumped the Orioles in both halves of yesterday's doubleheader, you had to figure that the baseball gods would try to even things out a bit today. The loss (well, presumed loss since I'm writing before the game is over) is disappointing, but not overly so -- I'll take 2 out of 3 on the road in any series, even against the Orioles. The Twins will now sit and wait to see what the White Sox do, assuming they even get on the field. The most likely scenario is probably a split, which would leave the Twins 1/2 game back heading into the final two weeks. Considering that a week ago the team was 2.5 back, I'll take it. Nice job by the bullpen, by the way, to keep the team in this thing. Unfortunately, the offense abandoned ship. Let's hope there's no rain in Cleveland!


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Blog Update

I decided against posting a second nightly notes column for the night, because it would have centered primarily on Glen Perkins and his recent uninspiring performances. Since the Twins got the win and are now tied for first in the AL Central, I'm just going to call it a night. I should be back tomorrow afternoon, after the Twins have hopefully grabbed sole possession of first!


Nightly Notes: Game #147

Halfway to first place! With the White Sox double-rain out today, the Twins have a chance to move into a first place tie by winning both halves of the doubleheader today. Here are some notes on game #1:

1.) Didn't the end of this thing feel like a spring training game? When they scrolled around to show Pridie taking over in left, Tolbert at second, Jorgenson behind the plate, and (thankfully!) Mijares making his big league debut on the mound, I flashed back to March. When that happens in September, something has either gone very right or very wrong -- and obviously tonight it was the former.

2.) Speaking of Mijares, it was about time to get him in a game. There have been several opportunities, including at least one that was absolutely designed for a big league debut, but Gardy so far has avoided the move. Obviously, striking out Kevin Millar was a great start for Mijares, and I hope it's a sign of things to come -- but let's not get too worked up about it. The Orioles aren't that good, for one thing. Secondly, they probably have only very limited scouting available on Mijares, so the hitters Jose faced were pretty much out there guessing. I certainly liked what I saw, though, and am starting to get on the Mijares bandwagon.

3.) Great to see Michael Cuddyer come off the DL today, even if his return AB wasn't anything to write home about. Simply having him available as a bat off the bench could be huge for the next couple of weeks. I have no idea when his foot will be strong enough to let him play in the field, but Carlos Gomez will undoubtedly see less playing time if that happens. I think Denard Span has pretty definitively settled the argument about which of the two deserves to play every day.

4.) I can't state enough how much I like Gary Thorne, who was one of the Orioles two announcers tonight. Still, he was absolutely brutal tonight once the TV crew came on the air (the first part of the game was televised and I believe had the radio feed for audio -- I had the game muted while I was watching college football). First, he misprounced pretty much every name that could be mispronounced (Denard "Spawn", Jason "PRID-ee -- as opposed to "PRIDE-ee", the always popular Nick "PUN-toe" rather than "POON-toe"). He also was completely oblivious to Michael Cuddyer pinch hitting for Alexi Casilla, even referring to Casilla as having ground out while the camera was very clearly showing Cuddyer. There were a few more things that I've since forgotten, but trust me -- this was not a banner night for one of my favorite announcers.

5.) Justin Morneau for MVP? Yeah, I could see it . . .

I'll be back later with a few more notes on Game 2. Hopefully, we'll be talking about the first place Twins at that point!


Friday, September 12, 2008

Nightly Notes: Rainout Edition

With a doubleheader now on deck for tomorrow (along with a White Sox doubleheader just to make things interesting), there should be plenty for me to talk about in a Nightly Notes column tomorrow. Since there were some other things I wanted to discuss, it seemed like a good time for a non-game related Nightly Notes column. Here goes:

1.) The weather could end up being the Twins best friend in the race against the White Sox. While the rain in Baltimore is supposed to clear up by the end of tomorrow morning, it's a completely different story in Chicago. The Windy City is facing extended periods of rain and thunderstorms for the rest of the weekend. If the White Sox and Tigers are unable to play any of the three games scheduled for the weekend, that would put Chi-Town in an incredibly awkward position. More than likely at least one game will be able to be played in Chicago tomorrow, but I'm not at all confident that they can play two (and the Chicago groundskeeper, speaking in an interview on Chicago TV tonight, was not at all confident about Sunday). Could be a very interesting thing to watch develop.

2.) You've probably read by now that the Twins lost the AL Central coin flip and the Wild Card coin flip. While it would certainly be easier to win either of those tiebreak games at home, I still say that if a team can't win one game on the road with a playoff berth on the line, they don't belong in the playoffs.

3.) ESPN has an article up talking about Brian Cashman possibly leaving the Yankees at the end of the year. Included in the article is a discussion about how Hank Steinbrenner wants to bring back a multi-headed "advisory group" similar to what the Yankees had in place prior to giving Cashman more control back in 2005. Depending on how the group was structured, that could be good or bad news for the Yankees -- but I'm guessing it would be bad. Too often in the early 2000's the Yankees were trying to go in about 3 directions at once -- which is obviously impossible. Times may be getting tough in the Bronx, but I think having one person largely in charge of personnel is the right model to use, rather than establishing some sort of baseball Politburo with all of the internal politics that can bring. Of course, if Hank Steinbrenner turns the Yankees into a joke or an afterthought (like they were in my formative years), I certainly won't complain.

4.) There's just no way to give anyone other than Cliff Lee the AL Cy Young, is there?

5.) I can't wait for tomorrow morning's battle between Manchester City and Chelsea. At the beginning of the Premier League season I revealed that I was a fan of Man City, and pointed out how such an affiliation inevitably led to disappointment. If you aren't a soccer fan, you've probably not heard about Man City's rollercoaster season -- suffice it to say that everything that could go wrong did go wrong for most of the summer off-season and into the early part of the season. Over the last few weeks, though, the team was sold to incredibly rich owners who love to spend money, has won a few matches, and signed a player that should have been out of their league. In other words, they're trying to become the next Evil Empire. I don't know whether to be incredibly excited or horrified -- but for now I'll stick with excitement.

6.) Think the Gophers can beat Montana State to get to 3-0 tomorrow? Does it really mean anything if they do?

7.) Good luck tonight and tomorrow to the folks in Texas bearing the brunt of Ike. This is just one reason why I never want to live anywhere along the Gulf Coast.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Loss Was Bad, But . . .

This story from ESPN is worse. Baseball's not American? Color me horrified.

If I get a chance this weekend, my plan is to post daily Nightly Notes columns (obviously not today, or I would be doing it now), and I also would like to give my thoughts on the rather fascinating MVP race in the National League. Colin Cowherd discussed whether "time" was a factor in the determination of an MVP, and it's a great topic that I'd like to address.


Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Nightly Notes: Game #144

What a huge day for the Twins! After what seemed like weeks of running in place, and then the rather precipitous fall of late last week, the Twins got a whopping game and a half back in the standings today thanks to the suddenly tenacious Blue Jays. Here are some notes:

1.) The Royals can be pesky at times, but Brian Bannister hasn't had a particularly good year, with an ERA of 5.56 coming into the game. The Twins did exactly what they had to do against a pitcher with a line like that -- they clobbered him, scoring 7 runs off of 10 hits and a walk in the 3.2 innings that Bannister pitched. The fact that they couldn't get any offense going against a poor cast of relievers wasn't inspiring, but I'll take the solid 7 runs that started things off.

2.) This is the Nick Blackburn that I hope we see consistently next year. Looking at his game-by-game log on the season, there are too many sub-5.0 inning starts -- but when he's on, he pitches like he did tonight. Even with those occasional poor outings, you simply can't complain about what he's done this year. Just thinking about how good the Twins starting five could be in 2009 gets me incredibly excited. Maybe we can even get them a real bullpen to back things up!

3.) OK, that was admittedly a cheap shot on a night when the bullpen went 2 scoreless innings. However, they were facing the Royals, and they darned well better be able to take care of business against KC.

4.) Maybe Brian Buscher's 3-for-4 will ensure that he doesn't lose any playing time to Matt Tolbert. I like Tolbert, but he shouldn't be starting at all when there's a righty on the mound. Even though Buscher can sometimes be a butcher at 3B, I still much prefer having his offense in the game.

5.) A five run lead probably was a little close to do it, but I still can't wait to see Jose Mijares make his debut. The blowout the other night was the perfect chance, and I still don't know Gardy used Matt Guerrier instead in that situation. It appears that anyone who hoped Mijares would step in and be an instant contributor was misreading the Twins plans for him -- but to this point I can't for the life of me say what that role is. Maybe all will become clear in time!

6.) Gotta love the fact that the White Sox have to face Roy Halladay tomorrow night while the Twins face Kyle Davies. In a span of 48 hours the Twins could easily go from being 2.5 back to tied. Of course, I'm counting my chickens here before they hatch, but this seems entirely plausible. Amazing how much baseball can mess with your mind.

7.) I personally loved the Fringe premiere tonight, but J.J. Abrams is one of my favorite people in the world of entertainment so I was predisposed to like it. The critics were more evenly split on it, with many saying it was promising but that it didn't quite deliver. If you didn't see it, but you're a fan of shows like the X-Files or Alias that have some interesting mythology backing up the stories, I suggest you check it out when it repeats on Sunday night (or go to Fox.com and stream it).

8.) I realize that guys get hurt in the NFL every year, but doesn't it seem like there are a lot more high profile season-ending injuries occurring so far this year? Maybe it's just that Tom Brady's injury was so incredibly shocking that it feels like the impact from injuries has been more significant than normal. I guess in one sense this season has had a bigger impact from injuries, because Tom Brady's injury all by itself is more significant than the other injuries we've seen combined. All of a sudden, the Patriots don't look like a sure thing Super Bowl team -- and the entire AFC has been shaken up by it. My feelings on the injury are a bit complicated. I don't like the Patriots, but I also don't hate them like I hate the Yankees. I don't want to see the Patriots lose because Tom Brady is hurt, I just want to see people beat them! The one good thing about this is that it makes the NFL season even more interesting, and from the standpoint of someone who is interested in the stories that come from sports, that's a dream scenario.


Sunday, September 07, 2008

Blog Update

The Twins just lost -- again -- to remain 2.5 games behind the White Sox in the AL Central race. I intend to be back posting Nightly Notes columns when the team returns to the field on Tuesday against the Royals. There's a good chance I'll also post something tomorrow -- there are several possibilities, including a look ahead to the post-season and recaps of minor league season-that-was.
I hope you all had a chance to check out some of the many sporting events on the schedule today -- it's been great for me, from this morning's thrilling Formula 1 race to this afternoon's Sprint Cup and IRL races to, of course, the first full day of NFL action. This is an incredible time of year for sports, isn't it? Enjoy what remains of your weekend, and I'll be back tomorrow or Tuesday.


Friday, September 05, 2008

Nightly Notes: Game #141

That's more like it. Thanks to a White Sox victory over the Angels tonight, the Twins aren't going to gain any ground -- but staying 1.5 games back is a lot better than falling to 2.5. Here are some notes:

1.) Like Ron Coomer said, Liriano is starting to look a lot more like The Franchise than he has for most of the season. Even with his struggles in the eighth inning, he still finished with a line of 7 innings and 2 runs allowed on just 5 hits and a walk with a whopping 9 K's. If he really is heating up, it's at a great time -- if the Twins make the playoffs, I'd love to see him leading off a series as a legitimately overwhelming ace.

2.) What I'm about to say has nothing to do with the fact that Liriano struggled in the eighth. I frankly have no idea why Gardy left Liriano out there. I understand the bullpen had just struggled the night before. I understand that Liriano had only thrown 86 pitches. Nonetheless, I would have turned the ball over to Jose Mijares. It seemed to be the perfect time for him to make his big league debut -- a 9 run lead (at the start of the inning, remember), little pressure, and an opportunity to go two innings if he succeeded. Now, I watched the game with the sound off, so perhaps Dick & Bert revealed that Mijares wasn't able to go tonight -- but I'm pretty sure I saw him warming up. I am just frankly baffled that Mijares didn't debut tonight unless there was something physically wrong.

3.) Why use Matt Guerrier in the eighth? If Bonser was going to pitch tonight (and of course he did in the 9th), why not bring him in right away? Guerrier made no sense in that spot -- he's not a garbage man. In fact, despite his August struggles, he's much too valuable to be used in that situation. I don't usually rag on Gardy too much (I disagree with some of his decisions, but not vehemently). Tonight, though, I was utterly baffled by what I see as some serious bullpen mismanagement. You have got to take advantage of games like this, because they don't come around all that much.

4.) I'm loving the college football season so far. I don't know if it was really an upset for Ball State to beat Navy tonight, especially since the game was in Muncie. However, it felt like an upset to me (maybe I just don't have faith in Ball State). Add that to last night's great win by Vandy over South Carolina and last weekends losses by Michigan, Virginia Tech, and especially Texas A&M, I'm thrilled to see that upsets are still the order of the day.

5.) Delmon looked great tonight at the plate. I would love to see that Delmon show up for a full season next year.

6.) Justin Morneau only picked up one hit tonight, but it was of course the Slam. It was nice to see him catch hold of one, because for awhile on the road trip he seemed to be pressing just a bit (understandable, since no one else seemed interested in contributing offense in key spots).

7.) I'm not ignoring Brian Bass, I just didn't feel he warranted his own post or an early note. Bass was going to be leaving the organization as a free agent at the end of the year, and was no longer on the 40-man roster. I'm glad the Twins will get something for him from the Orioles (although it's not likely to be much), but this really isn't a significant piece of news. I wish Bass luck in Baltimore, where it sounds like he might get a chance to earn a place in the rotation. Hopefully things work out for him.


Thursday, September 04, 2008


That's pretty much about all I have to say. Talk about mailing it in on the last day of the long road trip! There was no life in the bats, the pitching was largely dreadful (Slowey wasn't horrid, but man was the bullpen bad), and I'm just glad the road trip is over. Thankfully, the Twins find themselves just a game and a half back, and there's still plenty of time -- but the team I saw playing tonight was in no sense of the word a playoff team. This is not a nightly notes column (a game like this doesn't deserve one), but I do have a few thoughts:

1.) This is why I always question relying on minor league pitchers to come in and be saviors at the big league level. Korecky and Humber both pitched tonight, and really struggled. I'm not saying that's going to continue -- I'm rooting for these guys are hard as anyone -- but it would have been a mistake to call Korecky up in August and then insert him into close games.

2.) Apparently TV folks don't do much research. The Blue Jays announcers said several times that Humber was making his big league debut (they also called him Philip HUM-ber, and I think it's pronounced "UM-ber", but that's not my point). Of course, he wasn't -- a simple trip through any number of baseball reference sites will tell you that. What's interesting about this isn't that they got it wrong -- that happens to everybody. No, instead I was amused by the fact that they then blamed the Twins for the misinformation. Now, that's probably true -- the Twins undoubtedly provide an info sheet to the TV folks to make their lives easier. But was it really necessary to blame the Twins for a screwup? Just make the correction and move on -- I don't know, I thought it was sort of funny.

3.) I hope to have something positive to write about tomorrow -- lord knows there's really nothing tonight. Enjoy your weekend!


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Nightly Notes: Game #139

I'm frustrated again tonight, so I'm going to post anything too long. The Twins will have to do better than to continually blow saves and give up late runs. Now they're down a game on the White Sox -- and while I still have faith, even I am finding that faith harder to come by. Here are some notes:

1.) Nick Blackburn continued to demonstrate why the Twins are in good shape -- the young starters just keep delivering. A line of 6.2 innings, 3 runs (2 earned) on 6 hits and 6 K's will do it for me every time. I realize the Twins have five young guns -- but I'll take them over the White Sox starting five any day.

2.) Matt Guerrier got through 1.1 innings, including a bases loaded situation in the 7th that could have been disastrous. I've been saying it for weeks, but his re-emergence is essential if the Twins are going to stay in the race and win the AL Central. Look down at the rest of the bullpen -- who else should be pitching in that situation? Certainly not Eddie Guardado, the way he's pitched of late. Certainly not Bobby Korecky, who pitched well in his earlier call up but has done nothing to establish that he can hold down the 8th inning of a tight game. Guerrier has the big league experience and the past history to indicate that he can do the job -- and despite his August failings, I feel strongly that for the rest of the year he needs to be that guy for the Twins.

3.) Speaking of Guardado, what to do with him? I still think it was a good idea to pick him up, because he had pitched reasonably well this year. He certainly hasn't pitched well as a Twin, though, and what possible situations will he be used in now? Yeesh.

4.) I'm thrilled that Jason Pridie made his big league debut tonight (I love big league debuts). I'm not as thrilled that in his first game, he made a significant error that helped the Jays tie the game. We don't know what would have happened if Pridie had fielded that ball cleanly -- Nathan may very well have allowed the run to score anyway. Nonetheless, it was an ignominious debut for a player that a lot of us are hoping can be a solid contributor for the big league club at some point.

5.) Speaking of callups making errors, it's hard to ignore Matt Tolbert's rather horrid throw. I like Tolbert -- he went 2-for-4 today and looked pretty decent swinging the bat. Take your time and make a solid throw from third, though, my friend!

6.) I liked the lefty-filled lineup today. It's got to be a bit intimidating (even for a guy like A.J. Burnett) to see lefty after lefty heading to the plate. Obviously, he did pretty well with the Twins lineup -- but I like that we have the ability to toss 8 lefties in a row at the guy.

I'm certainly hoping for better tomorrow! Let's get this freakin' road trip done already!


Tuesday, September 02, 2008

No Notes Tonight

I'm trying to catch up with a couple of classes that I jumped into a week late, so no notes tonight. I'll just say I'm glad that the White Sox are on their way to losing tonight, keeping the AL Central all tied up. Also, while the focus will once again probably be on the bullpen, since Glen Perkins left with the lead, Perkins obviously didn't pitch that well either. Hopefully tomorrow brings a better result.