Monday, March 31, 2008

Lucky Guesses

As everyone makes their picks for playoff teams and division finishes, I want to ruminate a bit on the most important quality of a champion:


I'd like to be able to say that having good players and coaches matters more. Certainly, having great players and wise managing decisions improves a team's odds of success. But playing well isn't enough. The best team does not necessarily win the championship. Just ask the 2006 Mets and Tigers. The champion is the team that plays well enough at the right time and gets the breaks.

Example: The Red Sox were the best team in baseball last year by a lot of measures. Yet they were nearly beaten by the Indians. In the 7th game of the series, a ball hit just fair over 3rd base caromed off the wall into no-man's land in short left field. With speedy Kenny Lofton on second base, the Sox were helpless to stop him from coming home with the tying run. But he didn't come home, because the 3rd base coach inexplicably held him up. The Indians stranded him there, and the Sox went on to pad the lead and win the game.

How would that game have been different if Lofton had scored there? What a huge momentum change and emotional lift for the Indians! But the Sox didn't have to face it, not because they did something right, but because the Indians screwed up. Lucky.

Example: On their march to the post-season, the Indians had an incredible succession of breaks, culminating in a plague of insects descending on the Yankees in game 2 of the Divisional Series. Another break you may not be aware of: while Scott Baker was pitching his near-perfect game at the end of August, I was in Chicago for a friend's wedding. The White Sox-Indians game was on in the pizza joint where we had dinner. Trailing 5-2 in the bottom of the 8th, the Indians had runners at the corners with 2 outs. The batter hit a lazy two-hopper to short - inning over, say hello to Bobby Jenks in the 9th! Except that the second hop hit some sort of divot on the infield dirt and bounced about ten feet to the right. The SS, who was in the correct fielding position for a normal bounce, could do nothing to prevent the ball from rolling into left field. A run scored, the inning extended, and the Indians would rally to take the lead and win the game.

I give the Indians credit for making that extra out count and stringing a couple more good ABs together when they had the opportunity. They were a very good team last year, and should be again in 2008. But the White Sox deserved to be out of that inning with a 3-run lead to hand to their closer. The only reason the Indians had the opportunity to be so good that night: luck.

The Rockies, as well as they played last September, needed a dicey call by the home plate ump to make the playoffs. The White Sox got their own dicey plate-ump call in the 2005 ALCS. The 2006 Cardinals were perhaps the weakest team to ever win the World Series. How lucky were they that the Tigers' pitchers threw the ball all over the infield? That Granderson slipped and fell in center field? As for the magnificent 2006 Twins: when Nick Punto is hitting .290 and Dennys Reyes has a 0.89 ERA, things are probably falling your way.

Predictions about pennant races may be based on reputation and past performance of players, or more scientific methods like PECOTA or Pythagorean scoring. Those metrics are usually close, but in the cases where they're off, dumb luck is the biggest reason. Crazy things happen in the course of a baseball game that have nothing to do with the ability and performance of the players. There is no way to predict which teams will benefit, and which will be harmed.

I made some projections about numbers I expect the Twins players to put up. Over the course of a long season and career, one can make reasonably educated guesses about an expected statistical performance. But when it comes to predicting wins and losses, the numbers don't tell the whole story. It's not just how many runs you score, but when you score them. That's how Seattle and Arizona could be way over .500 despite allowing about as many runs as they put up.

So when I'm asked who I think will win in 2008, I feel like what I'm really being asked is, "Who do I think will be luckiest this year?"

(Shrug) Why not Tampa?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

2008 Twins Pre-Season Bullpen

Closer - Joe Nathan
Nathan has been, arguably, the best closer in baseball since he took up that role for the Twins in 2004. Over the past 4 seasons, he's averaged 40 saves and a 92% conversion rate, with an ERA under 2.00 and K/9 over 10.00. After having his best season in 2006 (12.51 K/9!), the numbers dipped in 2007, particularly the strikeouts (9.67 K/9). The first sign of decline, or just an off year? The Twins, having just signed Nathan through 2011, are banking on the latter. Through 11 spring innings, the K/9 was up to 10.64. Whatever the K/9, I'd rather have him than Joe Borowski or Todd Jones.
Best case: a repeat of 2006
Worst case: he gets hurt
SfC projection: 70 IP, 2.10 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 40 SV

Setup - Pat Neshek
When the bullpen imploded last May due to injuries and/or ineffectiveness, Neshek became Gardy's most trusted middle reliever. He was called into just about every sticky situation the Twins found themselves in, and was so effective that he nearly made the All-Star team. He declined steeply after July, probably due to overuse (he accumulated 74 IP despite being shut down with a couple weeks left in the season). This season, he's come back in better shape, and the hope is to use him more judiciously anyway. He could hardly have had a better spring (11 IP, 0 ER, 2 H, 0 BB, 9 K), so his prospects for this season look excellent.
Best case: the first half of 2007 lasts all year
Worst case: he gets hurt
SfC projection: 75 IP, 2.00 ERA, 0.90 WHIP

RHP - Matt Guerrier
I credit Guerrier with keeping the Twins in the race as long as they were last year. Merely the long-relief guy in his first couple years on the team, he had to step into the Jesse Crain/Juan Rincon roll last year, and responded by having his best season. He gave the Twins 88 IP, 2.35 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and drastically improved his BB/9 and K/9. Most of the great numbers happened in the first half - the second half was closer to his career averages so far. With Crain returning from surgery, and Rincon hoping to recover his old form, the Twins might like to move Guerrier back to long relief. But until those guys prove their effectiveness, I wouldn't be surprised to see Guerrier used as the primary 7th inning guy next month.
Best case: 2007
Worst case: It's an off year
SfC projection: 85 IP, 3.20 ERA, 1.20 WHIP

LHP - Dennys Reyes
After putting up ERAs in the mid-4.00s and WHIPs in the 1.60 range for most of his career, Reyes came out of nowhere in 2006 to lead the Twins' bullpen with a 0.89 ERA. That number was shaped a great deal by how he was used, but he was undeniably effective, striking out about a batter per inning and issuing the fewest walks per IP of his career. He came crashing back to reality in 2007, though he was hampered by an injury in the early part of the season. This spring, I've mainly been concerned with his control - he's got to get ahead to be effective. In 10 spring IP, though he's given up 12 hits, he's only walked one batter, and so he's been able to escape his jams and put up a very encouraging 1.80 ERA. Considering he'll be used almost entirely against left-handed batters, his chances for success are pretty good.
Best case: 2006 Reyes
Worst case: Pre-Twins Reyes
SfC projection: 50 IP, 3.85 ERA, 1.35 WHIP

RHP - Juan Rincon
Rincon has been with the Twins throughout their successful run this decade. He peaked in 2004, when he appeared in 77 games and threw 82 IP, with a 2.63 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 106 K and only 32 BB. He had been steadily declining until last season, when he declined precipitously. He put up career worsts in IP, ERA, WHIP, K/9, BB/9 and, perhaps most alarming, HR. The 9 bombs he served up in 2007 equalled the combined total of 2004-2006. And yet, he was offered a contract and is back for one more season. He was embarassed by his performance last year, and will be a free agent after the season, so he's got every incentive to show what kind of pitcher he really is.
Best case: Back to the good old days
Worst case: The decline (gulp) continues
SfC projection: 75 IP, 3.85 ERA, 1.35 WHIP

RHP - Jesse Crain
Crain had been one of the Twins' most effective relievers, even generating some discussion of being a future closer, until he broke down last season with a serious shoulder injury. His labrum and rotator cuff have been repaired, but it's difficult for any pitcher to get back to form after damaging those areas. Though Crain is in as good a condition as anyone in his situation could possibly be, it's still very uncertain as to how he will perform this year. Like Liriano, they'll have to take things slowly, and hope for the best. I wouldn't be surprised to see him in lower pressure situations this year.
Best case: good as new
Worst case: never the same
SfC prediction: 50 IP, 4.50 ERA, 1.35 WHIP

RHP - Brian Bass
Bass found his way onto the roster this spring because the Twins wanted 12 pitchers, he pitched well last year in Rochester and had a great spring, and he's out of options and the Twins didn't want to lose him. He'll be in the Matt Guerrier role from recent years, long relief.
Best case: Guerrier from 2005-2006
Worst case: back to the Minors (and therefore off the team)
SfC projection: 70 IP, 4.00 ERA, 1.40 WHIP

The Twins' motto this year could be: "Get Back to 2006!" and it seems especially true of the bullpen. Nathan and Neshek are going to be as dominant an 8th & 9th inning door-slamming duo as any in baseball. If Rincon, Crain, and Reyes can find their way even halfway back to their 2006 numbers, the Twins will have easily the best bullpen in the AL Central, and one of the best in the Majors. With a young, unproven starting rotation, they'll need it to be that good.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

2008 Twins Pre-Season Bench

Catcher - Mike Redmond
Redmond has been the best backup backstop in baseball since he joined the Twins in 2005. He's hit .312/.355/.381 during that span, and has thrown out 41% of base stealers while helping to lead solid pitching staffs. He doesn't have much pop off the bench, but he uses the whole field. He'll be 37 in May, so it's uncertain how many good games he has left, but a healthy Joe Mauer should keep his playing time down to around 45 games.
Best case: a repeat of 2006
Worst case: a repeat of 2003
SfC prediction: .290/.340/.360, 1 HR, 20 RBI, 15 R

Outfield - Craig Monroe
Despite his 28 HR in 2006, Monroe has been going the wrong way as a hitter for a few seasons. His walk totals have been waning as his strikeout totals climb, and his OBP shows the corresponding decline. He's been particularly struggling vs. right-handed pitchers, against whom he suffers most of his strikeouts and has a far lower SLG%. After a poor start to 2007, he left the Tigers, and was even worse with the Cubs. I don't think he'll be that bad in 2008, and his solid spring reinforces that hope. He has an opportunity to be particularly effective if he's used almost exclusively against lefties. We'll see if that's the way Gardy plays it.
Best case: Monroe in 2006
Worst case: Monroe in 2007
SfC projection: .260/.310/.490, 12 HR, 40 RBI, 25 R

Infield - Nick Punto
Punto won a starting job in the infield after putting up a .290/.352/.373 line in 2006. He gave it right back by going .210/.291/.271 in 2007, and hitting even worse this spring. He's a much better fielder than either Lamb or Harris, and he's always been a high-percentage base stealer, so he'll have a reasonably high value to the team as a late-inning defensive replacement or pinch runner. The key will be to minimize his ABs, although I suspect he'll revert back to something close to his career averages this year.
Best case: Punto of 2006
Worst case: Punto of 2007
SfC projection: .240/.310/.315, 1 HR, 15 RBI, 30 R

Infield - Matt Tolbert
Tolbert was hitting about .350 for Rochester in the first half of last season before cooling off to finish the year at .293. Like Punto, he's a solid glove at 2B, SS and 3B and a high percentage base-stealer. Unlike Punto, he has enough hitting talent to put up a .750 OPS. He'll allow the Twins to take both Harris and Lamb out of games late, and he'll get the occasional start. He's probably going to be Punto's replacement long-term.
Best case: Merits lots of playing time
Worst case: Blows it and gets sent back to Rochester
SfC projection: .275/.340/.380, 1 HR, 15 RBI, 20 R

Hopefully, at some point, the Twins will feel comfortable enough with their young rotation to add a 5th bench player who's more of a hitting threat. Until then, from an offensive standpoint, the Twins will be relying heavily on their starters.

Friday, March 28, 2008

2008 Twins Pre-Season Rotation

1. Livan Hernandez
Hernandez was signed after the Santana trade to give the coaching staff some confidence that the bullpen wouldn't have to throw 4+ innings a night in relief of an unproven young rotation. Innings are the one constant in his career - he's failed to reach 200 innings just once since he became a full-time starter in 1998, and that was when he threw 199.2 innings in 1999. This might be the year he misses the benchmark for the second time. I find it difficult to imagine him pitching consistently well enough to merit staying in the game 6 innings every night for 33 starts. His only effective starts this spring have been against lineups thick with bench players and minor-leaguers, and now he takes his 4.25 career ERA into the AL.
Best case: He gets off to a good start and the Twins trade him in June while his value is high
Worst case: He actually makes 33 starts for the Twins
SfC projection: 8-17, 185 IP, 5.40 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, 70 BB, 90 K

2. Boof Bonser
Bonser disappointed in 2007 after posting promising numbers in 2006 and the minors. Just about every start, it seemed like he'd be really good for 4-5 innings, then hit the wall. The coaches impressed upon him to improve his conditioning, and he showed up to camp 20+ pounds lighter. His results in spring training have been encouraging. He still hasn't made 50 starts or thrown 300 innings in the majors, so it's not unreasonable to assume some growing pains for a young pitcher. If his new stamina translates into more strikeouts, and he maintains the solid control he's shown since the low levels of the minors, this could be the year he finally puts it all together.
Best case: Boof from late 2006
Worst case: Boof from 2007
SfC projection: 12-10, 190 IP, 4.10 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 50 BB, 170 K

3. Nick Blackburn
Blackburn had been progressing through the Twins' system at a modest rate, generally needing to repeat each level for at least a portion of a season before making the necessary adjustments and moving on. But something clicked in 2007, as he baffled the IL hitters with a long scoreless innings streak and earned a September call-up with Twins. He continued to dominate in the AFL, and put together a sparkling spring training to earn his spot on the roster. He's got just 11.2 major league innings so far, and the last 2 were pretty awful - he was blown to bits by the Tigers and Red Sox in the last week of the season. I suspect he'll have a few more growing pains in the early goings this year, just as Baker, Bonser and Slowey did in their initial stints with the Twins.
Best case: he holds his own and keeps his spot all season
Worst case: he struggles and is sent down to make room for Liriano
SfC projection: 4-5, 80 IP, 4.75 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 20 BB, 40 K

4. Kevin Slowey
Slowey is my pick to click in 2008. He was the best pitcher in AAA last season, putting up a 1.89 ERA and 0.96 WHIP in 133.2 innings. He struggled when the Twins called him up in June, but was very effective when he was brought back in September. After a rocky first 2 outings this spring, he's been solid the rest of the way. Particularly intriguing is the increase in strikeouts, up to more than one per inning in Grapefruit League play. His control is impeccable, he pitches to the corners, changes speeds - already a fairly mature pitcher. When this season is over, he'll be the one who had the most impressive campaign.
Best case: Greg Maddux
Worst case: Brad Radke
SfC projection: 16-10, 210 IP, 3.60 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 30 BB, 190 K

5. Scott Baker
Baker soared through the system, making his big-league debut in 2005, just two years after he was drafted. He ping-ponged between the Twins and Red Wings for the next two years, dominating AAA but never quite putting it together for Gardy. That seemed to change as the summer wore on last year, culminating in his near perfect game at the end of August. Like Bonser, he doesn't yet have 50 starts or 300 IP at the Major-league level, and once he puts this spring's physical setbacks behind him, I expect him to nearly match Slowey as the steady hand in the rotation.
Best case: Baker from the 2nd half of 2007
Worst case: Baker from the 1st half of 2006
SfC projection: 17-10, 220 IP, 3.50 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 50 BB, 180 K

I'm expecting these 5 guys to give the Twins 57 wins and 885 IP. But with Liriano, Perkins, Humber and Mulvey getting their work in at AAA, I don't expect the rotation to look very much like this in September.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

2008 Twins Pre-Season Lineup

The last cuts have been made, the roster is set, and the regular season is about to begin. Here is the team the Twins decided to bring north:

1. CF - Carlos Gomez
It's going to be a bit of a bumpy ride with Gomez in 2008. In 1,291 minor-league ABs, he's hit .278/.339/.399 with 18 HRs and 141 SBs. But he's also struck out 250 times while working just 82 walks, and that's a big concern for the Twins this year. Based on the swings he's been taking this spring, I think it's going to be a struggle for him to crack .300 OBP, which would not be a good thing for a leadoff guy. Add to that his wildness throwing from the OF, and the only tool the Twins can really count on next month is his other-worldly speed. He's going to need to make more contact, take more pitches, and consistently hit the cutoff man if he wants to stick in the Majors.
Best case: Curtis Granderson
Worst case: Corey Patterson
SfC Projection: .260/.290/.410, 10 HRs, 50 RBIs, 85 R, 60 SBs, 130 Ks. But I think he'll be sent down by the end of May.

2. C - Joe Mauer
Mauer didn't have his legs under him last year. A stress reaction in March, a hammy in May, a quad in August. His numbers dipped substantially from his batting title in 2006. Still, .293/.382/.426 isn't too bad for an off year. I remember a number of ABs last year where he drove fly balls to the warning track in left - they only have to go 5% further to become homers. If his legs are feeling 5% better, I think we're finally going to see the power we always thought Mauer could display.
Best case: He's back challenging for the batting title and the AL MVP.
Worst case: He gets hurt again
SfC projection: .335/.425/.500, 18 HR, 80 RBI, 100 R

3. RF - Michael Cuddyer
Cuddyer was also derailed somewhat by injury last season, hurting his back when he lost his footing on the base paths in July. He was remarkably consistent in terms of average, OBP and SLG% before and after the All-Star break. He's had 2,097 MLB ABs, which many would say is enough to establish his .270/.346/.450 career line as about as good as he'll do this year. I think that line is weighted pretty strongly by his first 993 ABs, spread over 5 seasons when he was adjusting to the majors. His line over that stretch was .260/.332/.428, with a HR every 31 ABs. In the 1,104 ABs he had in '06-'07, his line was .280/.362/.469, with a HR every 27 ABs. I'm expecting something more along those lines for 2008.
Best case: His numbers fall in line with his career minor league averages (.290/.379/.485)
Worst case: His MLB career average really is his ceiling
SfC projection: .285/.370/.475, 22 HR, 90 RBI, 95 R

4. 1B - Justin Morneau
This winter, Morneau signed the longest, richest contract in Twins history. Not bad for a guy who hasn't put together a complete season in the big leagues yet. He's got just about the same number of career ABs as Cuddyer (2058), and it wasn't too long after the 1000 AB threshold that he began his tear in 2006. His power numbers tailed off drastically after July in each of the last two years. If he can sustain the numbers he's put up in the first four months through August and September, he should wind up with 40+ HRs. He's determined to make that happen this year. I hope he can stay out of his own way, mentally speaking.
Best case: Harmon Killebrew in 1969
Worst case: Justin Morneau in 2007
SfC projection: .295/.365/.565, 42 HR, 120 RBI, 90 R

5. LF - Delmon Young
At 22, Young is, well, young for the Major Leagues, yet he'll reach that 1000 AB threshold by June. Last year he swung at everything, especially the first pitch. He's been much more patient this spring, even though he's still not drawing many walks. As he gets more comfortable with deep counts, he'll find himself with more opportunities to focus his considerable hitting abilities on pitches in the zone. I've been impressed by his ability to drive in runs this spring, whether by hits or fly balls. 2008 should be another step on his path to stardom. His arm in left field will prevent a lot of extra bases on the defensive side of things.
Best case: He starts putting up his minor league numbers (.317/.363/.517)
Worst case: He repeats last year (.288/.316/.408)
SfC projection: .310/.345/.475, 18 HR, 100 RBI, 85 R

6. DH - Jason Kubel
Ever since Kubel lost 2005 to an ACL tear in the AFL, we've been waiting for him to recover his spectacular minor league form (.320/.385/.499). Late last season, it appeared that finally happened: Kubel hit .303/.379/.511 in 170 ABs after the All-Star break. If that continues into this season, the Twins' DH woes could finally be over. Kubel won't turn 26 until May, and he's only had about 700 MLB ABs, so there's reason (once again) to be optimistic.
Best case: His minor league numbers
Worst case: Another 2007
SfC projection: .310/.380/.500, 20 HR, 80 RBI, 75 R

7. 3B - Mike Lamb
Lamb will get a chance to be an every-day player for the first time since his rookie year of 2000, when he got about 500 ABs with the Rangers. Since then, he's been a platoon guy, never reaching even 400 ABs. With the exception of 2005, he's always done a good job offensively. Defensively, he's average at best. He's having a terrific spring, which will hopefully carry over into April. I think we can expect to see Punto or Tolbert come in for defensive purposes in games the Twins are leading after 6-7 innings.
Best case: Corey Koskie
Worst case: Tony Batista
SfC projection: .285/.345/.450, 15 HR, 80 RBI, 70 R

8. 2B - Brendan Harris
Harris finally had a full season in the Majors last year after a number of limited stints from 2004-2006. He was able to come reasonably close (.286/.343/.434) to his career minor league numbers (.294/.365.458). He had a horribly slow start to the spring, both offensively and defensively, but he's been warming on both sides of the ball as late. Like Young, Harris will hit the 1000 AB threshold some time this summer, so there's reason to hope that he'll find his comfort zone and rise to his minor league averages. Though his defense has improved recently, I think it's likely that Punto or Tolbert will replace him in the late innings of every game the Twins are leading.
Best case: His minor league numbers
Worst case: His spring training numbers
SfC projection: .290/.350/.450, 15 HR, 70 RBI, 65 R

9. SS - Adam Everett
Everett was signed to hold down the shortstop position for one season. He's not much of a hitter, barely cracking a .700 OPS in his best offensive season in the Majors. His 2145 career ABs put him in the same league as Morneau and Cuddyer, but unlike those two, Everett hasn't shown any improvement in the last couple of years. At his age, I think we know what we're getting at the plate. However, he's a peerless defender, at the top of the league in range and fielding percentage over the course of his career. Just what a young pitching staff needs.
Best case: Punto in 2006
Worst case: Punto in 2007
SfC projection: .245/.295/.350, 2 HR, 45 RBI, 50 R

I'm projecting this lineup to produce 715 runs, already about equal to the anemic team total from 2007. If the bench guys kick in another 75, that will comfortably lift the team into the major league average. Hopefully that will be enough for a staff of promising young pitchers.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

What Might Have Been

I checked the box score from work today, and saw that today's game was a quickie (2:09 or so), so I decided to listen to it when I got home from work. What a pleasure to listen to baseball in the backyard on a spring evening while playing fetch with the doggie!

Livan Hernandez had his second straight solid outing: 6 IP, 1 ER, 4 H, 1 BB, 5 K. However, like last time, he was facing a lineup of mostly bench players. The three regulars in the Rays lineup (Iwamura, Bartlett and Gomes) combined to go 3-8 with a walk, double, triple and RBI. I remain unconvinced that Livan will be effective on opening day. He did thrill the crowd with a dribbler up the first base line that he kicked into Morneau's glove for the out. Maybe soccer is his sport.

Carlos Gomez flailed at strike 3 in the first after 3 straight bunt attempts. With a runner on second in the 2nd, he flailed so wildly at the first pitch that he fell down. Rays pitcher James Shields apparently didn't appreciate the largeness of the swing, and hit Gomez with a pitch. In the top of the third, he misplayed Iwamura's drive to center, twisting back and forth until he fell down, and the ball sailed over his head for a triple. Dan Gladden: "That's what you're going to get with this kid." He doubled over 3rd base in the fourth, and easily scored on Joe Mauer's bloop single to left. In the top of the 5th, he came up lame while making a running catch in left-center. They say it's just a cramp and he's day-to-day. Gomez says he wants to play tomorrow. Gardy would be absolutely nuts to let him.

(This brings up another reason the Twins shouldn't have had him start the season in the Majors: if he gets hurt and goes on the DL, his service time clock will be ticking away. If he gets hurt in the minors, no worries. Can we get a do-over? Please?)

Hearing Bartlett go 3-4 with a SB got me thinking. It's no use fixating on what might have been, so I'll just mention this one time, then take Garth Elgar's advice (Live in the now, man!). The Twins had too many young players, too many guys who had bad years last year, to be comfortable sticking with the hand they had at the end of last season. But what if they'd signed most of the same free agents, but hadn't traded Garza or Santana, believing that 2 first-rounders plus one more season of the best pitcher in baseball drawing crowds (and a chance at the title) were worth the same as the Mets' package. As we've seen this spring play out, the likely Twins opening day roster would have been:

CF - Span
SS - Bartlett
C - Mauer
1B - Morneau
RF - Cuddyer
LF - Kubel
3B - Lamb
DH - Ruiz/Monroe
2B - Punto/Tolbert

C - Redman
Bench - Jon Knott

I would have taken a flyer on a free agent 2B like Marcus Giles - he plays great defense, he can't hit any worse than Punto, and when he's on, he's got decent pop. But it's the pitching staff that really makes me wistful:

1P - Santana
2P - Baker
3P - Garza
4P - Bonser
5P - Slowey

Bullpen - exactly the same as the actual 2008 bullpen.

Liriano starts the year in the minors, and when he's got his feel back, he can come up. At that time, the Twins could trade Bonser and maybe one other prospect for a proper second baseman. If anyone falters, bring up Blackburn. Should they still give Nathan the extension? Why not? They could use the money they spent on Livan to give him the raise for this year, and with Santana still likely off the books for 2009, they could afford him just as easily as they can in the real world.

I think that roster is better than what the Twins will actually take north. It took a little faith to feel good about the possibilities of that group, but not an unrealistic amount. You just have to believe that the guys are capable of performing closer to their 2006 level than 2007, and that the young pitchers are ready come into their own. With Santana anchoring the rotation, and Neshek and Nathan slamming the door in the 8th and 9th innings, I think the what-if Twins team would have been capable of 90 wins. In a tough division, that might be enough - the Tigers and Indians are not without their weaknesses.

I'm not going to obsess over it, but I suspect that if we were to compile the numbers of that group of players at the end of the season, we'd find a team that could have produced better results than the team Bill Smith assembled.

Oh, well - easy come, easy go.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Really Not That Bad

I was watching today's game on MLB.TV, an interesting hybrid cast between Dick & Bert and the Pirates' commentators. They interviewed Mientkiewicz in the dugout, and it was fun to hear him say that he sometimes ribs Pierzynski: "You're good, but you're not worth Nathan, Bonser and Liriano." So true.

Kevin Slowey was really good today. Never mind the box score line (5 IP, 4 ER, 6H). He retired the first 11 batters before Jason Bay served a 2-strike single into center. The next batter, LaRoche, hit a line drive to CF that was utterly misplayed by Monroe - he took a step forward, froze, then recovered enough for the ball to just get over his glove for an RBI double. I've seen Gomez miss that play this spring, but I'd like to think he would have caught it. The next batter grounded a single to right, and Cuddyer came up throwing, so I figured the inning was over. But the throw was about 15 feet up the third baseline, so the run scored, and the batter advanced to second. A normal Cuddyer throw would have easily had LaRoche at the plate. The next batter lined a single to right, scoring the man from second.

In the 5th, our old friend Luis Rivas led off with a blooper to center that just dropped in between Punto, Harris and Monroe. Punto tipped the ball just after it bounced, knocking it away from Monroe and allowing Rivas to reach second. Pitcher Ian Snell was next up, and he bunted hard back to Slowey, who whirled and threw to third, but Rivas was already there. He really should thrown it to first. With runners at the corners and nobody out, Slowey struck out McClouth looking with a terrific fastball tailing over the inside corner (a la Greg Maddux). Then the Pirates put the squeeze on, and the Twins had to take the out at first while Rivas scored.

Slowey has had pretty shaky defense behind him for three starts in a row and it finally caught up to him. Without the Twins giving the Pirates extra outs and bases, Slowey could have very easily gotten through his work today with no runs allowed. It certainly should have been fewer than 4. Basically, I'm not concerned, and I think he's going to be dynamite in the rotation this year.

Most of the Twins hitters were smacking it around pretty well today. The exception, alas, was Nick Punto, 0-4 with a walk and 3 strikeouts, 2 of them looking. I heard that Morneau had stayed behind today to get extra ABs with the minor leaguers - maybe Punto should do that too.

Monday, March 24, 2008

An Eventful Day

I'll go through the news in the order it happened:

Roster Cuts
The Twins announced 5 cuts before the game today, settling all but one spot on the 25-man roster.

Casey Daigle - needed a flawless spring to make the club, but was merely solid. No surprise.

Philip Humber - pitched extremely well this spring. In 14 IP, he gave up just 2 ER on 9 H and 3 BB. Now he'll stretch out at Rochester. He was the PCL leader in WHIP last season - if he keeps it up in the IL, we'll see him again this summer.

Jason Pridie - held his own in the CF competition, but displayed neither the OBP of Span nor the SLG% of Gomez. He'll likely see a ton of playing time in one of the corner OF spots for the Red Wings, and will be a candidate for an OF bench spot next year.

Brian Buscher - great first week of spring, then the hits dried up. He showed great improvement defensively, and will likely work on both corner IF positions in AAA.

Denard Span - the odd man out, despite finishing the spring with an SfC adjusted hitting line of .310/.420/.429. I didn't observe or hear of him making any mistakes in the field or on the bases. If he keeps it up at Rochester, I think he'll make his major league debut before too long.

This makes the winners of the various competitions:

2B - Brendan Harris - he's starting to warm up on both sides of the ball. Though I'm still glad Punto/Tolbert will be around for defensive replacement in the late innings.

12th pitcher - Brian Bass - despite his outing today (more on that below), he's had a fine spring, and will be lost to the organization if he doesn't make the roster. All indications are that he'll be a fine long-reliever.

Bench - Matt Tolbert - better/more versatile defensively than Buscher, better speed as a pinch-runner, also hit better this spring.

CF - Carlos Gomez - won the job with his speed, the only piece of his game which is major-league ready. While he will undoubtedly use it to create some runs, he will also give a lot of them back with his mistakes. I doubt he'll stick for long.

Nick Blackburn will be the last man cut this weekend, depending on how Liriano and Baker do in their starts this week. I doubt Blackburn will have to wait very long for his chance with the Twins.

Joe Nathan's Contract
In the third inning of today's broadcast, the Twins announced that they'd agreed to terms with Joe Nathan on a 4-year deal, with a club option for the 5th year. The exact terms haven't been published as of this moment, but it appears to be in line with Cordero's $46 million deal earlier this off-season.

I'm very pleased about this. After the Santana trade, I felt that it was imperative to lock up Joe Nathan, not because Neshek isn't capable of doing as good a job (he is), but because, after this tumultuous off-season, the Twins needed to show the fans that they are willing and able to pay market rates for their All-Star talent. Nathan will likely begin to decline by the end of the contract, but, at this point, it ensures that the Twins will have one of the top 3 closers in the game through 2011.

Neshek is under the Twins' control for all that time as well, meaning that, provided they both stay healthy and continue to produce at the rate they've established over the past 2 seasons, the Twins are effectively playing 7-inning ball games for the next 4 years. That's a huge boost to a young lineup and rotation.

Cardinals 8, Twins 4
Brian Bass got the start today, though he pitched from the stretch the whole time. He is going to be in the bullpen, so I think the Twins just wanted to see how far they could stretch him out. Answer: 3 innings. He was already beginning to falter in the 3rd, when he allowed a hit and a walk, but escaped unscathed. They sent him out for the 4th, and he promptly hit the wall - walk, double, walk, and his afternoon was over. I doubt he'll frequently be called upon to go more than 3 innings as the long reliever, and he was as good as he's been all spring in the first 2 innings, so I don't think this should shake anyone's confidence in him.

Dennys Reyes was called upon to get the Twins out of the 4th inning jam that Bass created. He got a broken-bat liner to Harris, who was able to double Ankiel off 2nd base. 2 outs, runners at the corners. It was difficult to visualize the next two plays, but as Dan described them, they were weak infield choppers. The first went over second base, where Tolbert allowed himself to be called off by Harris (who was running full-speed toward left field). Harris' throw to first was just late, and a run scored. I have a feeling Everett would have made that play. The next batter hit his ball over third base, and I guess Lamb fielded it while running into foul territory, and tried to touch the base as he went by, and the ump ruled that he hadn't. Anyway, that loaded the bases, and the next guy hit a clean single to center to score two. In summary, the box score lies again - Reyes pitched well, and with slightly better luck/defense could have escaped that jam unscathed.

Carlos Gomez was credited with a bunt single in his first AB, though Dan & John Gordon were once again incredulous that it was not ruled an error (the pitcher's throw pulled the first baseman off the bag). Gomez was quickly caught stealing for the first time this spring. He lined out to center in next AB, then finished the game with three strikeouts, the last on 3 pitches. Oh, and his "outfield assist" was another off-line throw that Morneau had to cut off, catching a different base runner in a rundown. This is why I would have waited to make the roster decisions until after today's game. Span's 0-4 yesterday was much more impressive than the 0-4 Gomez produced in his last ABs today.

Delmon Young had a pretty rough day at the plate with 2 Ks, but delivered with the bases loaded in the 9th for a 2-RBI single. He also made a nice running catch in the gap.

Lamb and Cuddyer continue to play great. Keep it up, guys.

Nice preview of the New Britain Rock Cats in the second half of the game today. Say what you like about the Cardinals' chances in this rebuilding year, they're definitely better than the Twins' AA team.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Box Score Lies!

I had a lovely Easter here in Pasadena. It was sunny, in the high '80's. My wife and I made brunch for Kenneth the Cardinals fan and Jen the just returned from 6 weeks in Australia/New Zealand Red Sox fan. Good food, good friends, lovely weather. When they left around 3:30, I booted up the laptop to check on the Twins game today.

Four hitless innings from Liriano! Span went 0-4 with a walk - must have had a bad day at the plate. Pridie went 2-4 with 2 runs and a SB - must have had a good day at the plate. Rincon gave up 1 run on 3 hits (1 double) in his inning - guess he got shelled!

I noticed from the box score that the game lasted about 2.5 hours, and I decided I had time to listen and find out for myself whether everyone performed as the box score suggested.

Liriano needed 68 pitches to get through the 14 batters he faced, averaging nearly 5 pitches per AB. At that rate, he would need about 150 pitches to finish that no-hitter. Of the 6 balls that were put in play against him, only the first was hit hard. 3 of his strikeouts were looking, so it sounded like his stuff was pretty good - hard to read, hard to square up on the bat. But he had so many balls and deep counts (he allowed 2 BBs), I can't say the outing was an unqualified success. Certainly the best he's pitched so far, but he's not a lock for the rotation quite yet.

Span hit an easy grounder to second in his first AB and drew a 5-pitch walk in his second. His next 2 ABs were sharp 1-hop grounders, one to first, one to third. The one to third was on a 3-2 pitch and required a diving stop and strong throw to just nip Span at first. I suppose Gomez would have beaten it out, but it was still a good AB for Span. In his last time up in the 8th, he drove a ball down the line that the LF hauled in with a running basket catch. The Orioles played pretty crappy defense today, except when Span was hitting.

Neither of Pridie's two hits left the infield. One was a sharp grounder knocked down by the second baseman. The other was a routine grounder to first that was dropped by the first baseman (former Twin Chris Heintz), and pitcher Daniel Cabrera failed to catch his throw covering the bag. Dan Gladden and John Gordon couldn't believe it wasn't ruled an error. Both of Pridie's runs scored on plays that were ruled errors. If the O's had played solid D, Pridie would have been 1-4 at best, with no runs scored.

Rincon gave up a solid line drive down the RF line to Heintz to begin his inning. Cuddyer had just come out of the game, and Jon Knott was slow retrieving the ball, and made a slightly off-line throw to second, allowing Heintz to reach safely. I doubt he would have attempted to take the extra base on Cuddyer. The next batter slipped a 3-hop grounder through the right side to put runners at the corners. Rincon got the next guy to ground into a double play while the run scored. With 2 now out, the next batter's grounder to third was knocked down by minor league third baseman Luke Hughes. He picked the ball up, threw low to Buscher at first, who couldn't handle it, and the batter reached. Again, John and Dan were incredulous that it was scored a hit. The next batter grounded out weakly. So, really, Rincon didn't pitch as poorly as his line would suggest.

Humber, Nathan and Neshek were precisely as good as their lines suggest. The only hit allowed in their 4 innings of work was a bunt single.

Nick Punto, unfortunately, was every bit as bad as his line suggested (0-4 with a strikeout). The low-point came in the 5th. With the bases loaded and 1-out, Punto popped out to the second baseman in foul territory on a 2-0 pitch. Blecch.

Tomorrow should be an eventful day, as the Twins appear poised to announce a contract extension for Joe Nathan. They have also suggested that they will make a round of cuts tomorrow that will determine the outcome of most of the position battles. I assume they will wait until after tomorrow's game with the Cardinals, but stay tuned!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Home Stretch

I watched the Twins/Cards game today on MLB.TV. Yesterday I only had the box score to go on. Some quick thoughts:

Not a great day for Span yesterday (2 Ks and his first CS), but he did finish 1-3. Combined with his 2-strike single in the ninth today, he's raised his SfC adjusted line to .342/.444/.447. Of the hitters still in camp, only Joe Mauer and Craig Monroe have a higher OPS.

Pretty good outing from Livan, though, again, he wasn't facing many starters. Still, 5IP, 2ER on 3H, BB and 6Ks is about the best we can hope from him. Maybe he's ready to deliver another excellent April/May.

With competition for the last bullpen spot as tough as it is, Daigle might have blown it by giving up the lead in the ninth. Speaking of which, Perkins might have blown it with his outing in the 8th today. The pitch to Glaus that started the rally missed badly over the plate. He hasn't had a good enough spring to make it over the other guys.

Cuddyer looks awesome, but he always has good springs, doesn't he?

Great situational hitting in the 1st today. Gomez lined a 1-0 pitch for a double, Tolbert sent him to third with a grounder to right side, and Young hit a SF to deep center. Young added another SF with men at 2nd and 3rd in the 5th.

Pretty good job by Boof today. In the second, with a man on 3rd and 1 out, he got the grounder to 1st that he needed, but Morneau's throw to plate was high, allowing Glaus to slide in safely. With 2 out in the 4th, Boof walked the #9 hitter on 4 pitches, then fell behind Rasmus 1-0 before serving up a 2-run triple. Other than that little breakdown in concentration, he was effective. And he doubled off the wall(!) in his 2nd AB.

Kubel looked awful at the plate today. I hope he answers the bell in April - my fantasy team is counting on him to have a good OPS!

Buscher finally got a hit in his last AB. He made a terrific defensive play in the 5th. There may yet be time for him to earn the last bench spot.

With 3/4 of the spring training games in the books, here's how I'd evaluate the 35 Twins remaining in camp:

Getting it Done
Joe Mauer
Michael Cuddyer
Denard Span
Delmon Young - the BA & SLG% are dwindling, but he keeps driving in runs
Mike Lamb
Adam Everett - hope he doesn't use up all his hits in spring training
Craig Monroe - ditto
Boof Bonser
Kevin Slowey
Joe Nathan
Pat Neshek
Dennys Reyes
Philip Humber
Nick Blackburn
Brian Bass

So Far, So Good
Carlos Gomez - with an OBP of only .302, I just can't put him up there with Span
Eli Whiteside
Juan Rincon - too many walks to be up there with Reyes
Jesse Crain

Need to Pick It Up
Brendan Harris - seems to be warming up at the plate, and made a nice play in the hole today
Justin Morneau- still not much power...
Jason Kubel
Nick Punto
Mike Redmond
Jason Pridie
Matt Tolbert
Brian Buscher
Jon Knott
Drew Butera
Livan Hernandez - I'd like to see one more start like Friday before opening night
Francisco Liriano - better have a good week to show the team that he's ready for April
Scott Baker - ditto
Matt Guerrier
Glen Perkins
Casey Daigle

Since there may be one or two temporary rotation spots open, I'll list the starters in the order I think they should get chances. With seven games left, I'd fill the roster like this:

5th starter - Slowey, Blackburn, Humber
12 pitcher - Bass
CF - Span, but Gomez is making it tough on me
2B - Harris is finally solidly ahead of Punto
Bench - Buscher, by an eyelash over Tolbert

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Night Baseball

I got to hear the last 6 innings of the game on TRN after work.

Kevin Slowey threw 5 shutout innings, allowing just 3 hits and striking out 5. In his last 9 spring innings, he's gotten 30 outs, giving up 1 run on 4 legitimate base hits, with 1 walk and 10 strikeouts, lowering his spring ERA to 4.02 over 15.2 innings. With Scott Baker likely missing his first turn in April, I'd say Slowey has pretty well made the team.

Carlos Gomez was in the middle of the Twins' offense tonight. Though he looked bad striking out on 3 pitches with a man on in the 5th, his double in the 3rd set up the Twins first run by moving Adam Everett to 3rd base, where he scored on a sac fly. In the 7th, he beat out an infield chopper that would have been the 3rd out with a slower runner. He promptly stole second, and scored on a bloop single by Butera. His mistakes are going to cost the team some games this year, but his speed may win as many or more.

Great job by the bullpen, throwing four scoreless innings. Special props to (the soon-to-be-extended?) Joe Nathan, who stretched it out to 2 IP, giving up just one hit and striking out three.

Brendan Harris had some good ABs tonight and played solid second base. Hopefully he's coming around.

Craig Monroe had a good 0-3 tonight, working deep counts, and driving the ball well twice.

I've added Slowey to my fantasy team - that's how confident I am in his potential for this year.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Hernandez Strategy

No, that's not the title of the lost Robert Ludlum thriller. It's how the Twins should extricate themselves from the mess they got themselves into when they signed Livan Hernandez.

After his pathetic start this weekend, I got really nervous about how much damage he was going to do to the Twins before he goes the way of Sidney Ponson, Ramon Ortiz, and Tony Batista. It certainly raised my eyebrows when neither he nor Gardy seemed the least bit concerned. "He knows how to pitch" says Gardy. "I always do bad in spring" says Livan.

I agree that Hernandez knows how to pitch. However, his stuff is so hittable at this stage of his career, his guile and craftiness won't be able to carry him very far. As for the bad spring comment, I decided to look it up.

He doesn't always do bad in spring. Not at all. His spring lines from the past 5 seasons:

2003: 15.2 IP, 6.59 ERA, 1.60 WHIP
2004: 19 IP, 2.37 ERA, 1.05 WHIP
2005: 33 IP, 2.18 ERA, 1.03 WHIP
2006: 20 IP, 1.80 ERA, 1.30 WHIP
2007: 10.1 IP, 13.06 ERA, 2.52 WHIP(!)

2003 was not particularly good, but the next three years were exactly what you'd like to see from your ace. He went on to have solid performances in each of those seasons (though he slipped substantially in 2006). Last year's spring was atrocious, and this year's (13 IP, 9.69 ERA, 2.15 WHIP) isn't much better so far. However, last year he answered the bell and had a very solid April and May, combining to go 5-2 over his first 11 starts, with 73 IP, 3.58 ERA, and 1.46 WHIP.

The Twins are hoping for similar production this spring, and there's hope he'll deliver. Over the last 6 years of his career, Hernandez has been very effective in April and May. Even as his overall numbers have declined over the past three seasons, his combined April/May numbers from 2005-2007 are decent:

35 starts, 233 IP, 4.09 ERA, .272 BA against

That's reasonably close to Carlos Silva. He turned out to be rather valuable this off-season. If Hernandez' ERA is anywhere close to 4.00 on May 31, the Twins should find someone to trade him to as quickly as possible. Sell high!

If they wait until June, it may be too late. June has been Livan's worst month throughout his career. Over the past three seasons, his combined June line is 99 IP, 5.69 ERA, 1.73 WHIP, and .322 opponent's BA. No matter how well he pitches in the spring, he always goes in the tank in June. There's no reason to think this year will be any different. After he drops that type of performance, his trade value will diminish considerably. The Twins should pawn him off on some poor sucker while they still can!

Every summer, some team loses a starter and is looking for a proven innings-eater to help carry the rotation through the summer. By the end May the Twins will be in a wonderful position to help that team out.

That's because Rochester is going to have one or more starting pitchers in the rotation who would earn a spot on the opening day roster were Livan not in the way. If Baker and Liriano manage to overcome their setbacks and start the season in the rotation, I think it's likely that Nick Blackburn, Philip Humber, and Glen Perkins or Brian Bass (assuming he clears waivers) will be proving all they need to prove for 11 or so AAA starts. To say nothing of Brian Duensing or Kevin Mulvey. I'm probably forgetting somebody. The point is, somebody will be more than deserving of a shot in the Twins rotation by June.

So, best-case scenario: Livan gives the Twins about 70 competent innings in April and May, then gets shipped out for a decent return, while making room for a promising prospect. Two things could de-rail this plan:

1. The Twins don't have the sense to cash out after 2 months. It could be tough to part with someone who appears to be pitching well. But if they really want him to pitch 200+ innings in a Twins uniform, they should be prepared for at least 130 of those innings to totally suck.

2. Harrowing thought: what happens every June? At least 15 games of interleague play. Meaning, that was the month of the season when Hernandez was facing AL hitters. Maybe the reason Livan's numbers have been so mind-boggling awful every June has something to with the fact that he was up against DHs instead of pitchers, and stronger hitters overall. If that truly is the cause, his April may turn out to be like his past Junes. In that case, the Twins may not find a taker for him, and they'll just have to release him. Give them credit, they did it with Ponson et al. That outcome would certainly make his signing seem like a waste of money, though.

I'm rooting for history to repeat itself, and for Bill Smith to have the nerve to trade a winner while his value is still high.

But I'm preparing for a Ponson repeat as well.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

2/3 of the Grapefruit

The Twins finished their 20th of 30 spring games this afternoon, a 4-2 win over the Orioles. After tomorrow's off day, they'll play a game for each of the next ten days, then head back to MN after their last game in Bradenton. Here are some thoughts at this stage of the spring:

Joe Mauer is freakin' awesome! In three PAs today, he drew a walk, hit a 2-run homer the opposite way, then added an RBI single. That raises his spring line to a ludicrous .458/.548/.833, with 2 HRs and 7 RBIs. Did I mention that he's on my fantasy team?

Denard Span got the start in CF today. In 4 PAs, he drew a walk, sacrificed, doubled and struck out. That raises his SfC adjusted line to .324/.439/.471. He's done just about everything they've asked of him so far.

Carlos Gomez went 0-3. After forcing Span in the first, he stole 2nd, and 3rd, and scored on a grounder by Cuddyer. Another run conjured from thin air.

Brian Buscher and Brendan Harris continue to struggle at the plate. Matt Tolbert got a start today and went 3-4. Could he be edging one of them out for the last bench spot?

Humber, Blackburn, and Perkins all pitched well. With the status of Liriano and Baker in some doubt, it now seems possible that all three could make the team.

Finally, in world outside of baseball news, Barack Obama is unbelievably better at speaking than the current president.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

...And Bad News

Listened to TRN again today.

Good day at the plate for Mauer, Morneau, and Monroe. Span took advantage of the hole on the right side in his 1 AB, raising his Sense from Center Adjusted hitting line to .323/.432/.452. Nathan and Crain pitched a scoreless inning each.

Gomez got another bunt single in his first AB, stole second, moved to 3rd on a throwing error from the catcher (needlessly diving head-first into the bag), and scored on a single by Mauer. In his next AB, he failed to advance Punto from 2nd with nobody out, striking out swinging on 4 pitches. He knocked himself out of the game in the top of the 5th, crashing into the CF wall while making a terrific running catch. Sounds like he's going to be OK.

Buscher and Harris each hit the ball hard in their first ABs, but ended the day with nothing to show for themselves. Harris twice failed to drive anyone in with the bases loaded.

Randy Keisler and Juan Rincon got themselves into trouble with walks. Though Keisler didn't give up any runs, I wouldn't be surprised to see him cut soon. This was Rincon's first bad inning - hopefully it's a fluke.

The really disconcerting thing about this game was the performance by Livan Hernandez. He managed to give up 6ER on 9H and a BB to a Blue Jays lineup consisting entirely of backups and minor leaguers. I can't say I'm looking forward to him facing starters! He isn't going to be an "innings-eater" if he has to leave the game in the 5th inning because he can't get anybody out. He's got two more spring starts to try and put things together. Right now, I can't believe that either Slowey or Blackburn will have to start the season in Rochester so Livan can make the opening day start. Yikes!

The broadcast today featured some thoughts from Twins president Jerry Bell and former manager Tom Kelly. TK said he would be inclined to give the CF job to Gomez, despite the mistakes he would expect, because of his game-changing speed. Dan Gladden feels (as I do) that Span is the better choice because he is more polished and would make all the plays. Gardy has acknowledged that Span has been playing more consistently well, while Gomez is far more explosive and exciting. It will be interesting to see which he ultimately values more.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Good News

I got to see the Twins/Phillies game (as broadcast by FSN) on MLB.TV today. I'll start with the bad news:

The hits still aren't falling in for Justin Morneau. Garrett Jones took a called third strike with men on base in the 9th. I don't think he's going to make the team.

OK, now on to the good news:

4 solid innings from Kevin Slowey, allowing 1 run on 2 hits while striking out 5 and walking 1. The run came on a solo Homer by Ryan Howard, and the walk was to Howard as well - no shame there. The second "hit" came when Delmon Young lost a fly ball in the sun. Slowey actually pitched well enough to get 14 outs while having only 2 base runners. Two more good starts, and he'll make the team.

Glen Perkins got into a little trouble in the 6th when Chase Utley lined the first pitch high off the centerfield wall, Howard walked, and Pat Burrell delivered an RBI single. The first 3 pitches to Howard were all close (many had been called strikes earlier in the game), and the Burrell single was a 3-hopper just past a diving Everett in the hole. But Perkins came back to get the next three guys and stay out of a big inning.

Dennys Reyes, Pat Neshek, and Casey Daigle cleaned up with a quick, perfect inning each.

Every Twins starter (except poor Morneau, who was robbed of a hit by Utley in the 5th) had at least one hit:

Delmon Young was 2-4 with a double and an RBI.
Jason Kuble was 2-3 with a homer, RBI, and BB - he seems to be coming to life a bit.
Mike Lamb was 1-3 with a double, and he's hilarious!
Tommy Watkins delivered a 2-run single in the 9th.
Nick Punto was 2-4 with a 2-run triple, BB, and SB - hopefully he can relax a little bit now that he's put a good game together.
Jason Pridie got a hit in his only AB and is now hitting .333 for the spring.
Denard Span had another good day, going 2-5 with an RBI double, R, and a fine running catch at the track in right-center. But that performance was masked by:

Carlos Gomez

What a terrific game he had. The box score line looks fantastic: 3-4 with a 2-run HR, 3 runs scored, a walk(!) and 2 SBs. But that doesn't fully explain it. I missed his first AB, but in the 4 I saw, he went deep into the count in each, with the exception of the bunt single in the 7th. I was very impressed to see him follow a homer with a very well-placed bunt in his next AB. Then he stole second even though they never threw home! The lefty pitcher threw to first, and the 1B threw promptly to 2nd base, but Gomez beat it. He then scored from 2nd on a flare single from Young that just got over Utley's head. Utley actually fielded the ball himself in short right, whirled and threw a strike to the plate, but Gomez got in with a spectacular slide, well to the foul side of the plate, catching with his fingertips the 2 inches of the dish not blocked by the catcher (who didn't even bother to attempt a tag).

The implications of Gomez' performance today are clear: if he can work the count enough to get on base on a regular basis, he's a game-changer. That run in the 7th came without the benefit of a well-hit ball. It was all speed. Such superlative speed that, if he plays a complete season, I have no doubt that Gomez could challenge for the SB title of the AL, if not all of MLB. That's something the marketing department can work with, and it certainly would make the fans feel a little better about losing Santana.

Gomez has now put together two good games in a row (hitting for the cycle between them). But it's the change in approach that impresses me more than the outcome. Officially, his BA has nearly caught Span (.250 to .259, respectively. Though I still consider Span to have 2 more hits, which would put him at .300). Span clearly has the edge in OBP (.275 to .417, the way I'm keeping score), and has played slightly more consistent defense. But Gomez has a significant edge in SLG% (.500 to .433 - even giving Span the extra 3 bases from the rain-out), throwing, and base-stealing ability.

I don't think the Twins can afford to have their leadoff hitter get on base less than 30% of the time, so Gomez still has a ways to go to make the team. However, if he can get his OBP anywhere close to .333, the chances of him being in scoring position are so high, it might almost make up for the 2 times out of 3 he doesn't get on. I'm not on the bandwagon yet, but, for the first time, I'm really excited about his potential.

Friday, March 14, 2008

We're Halfway There

The Twins have played 15 spring games, with 15 more to come. 7 more players were cut this morning. Here's the status of the main guys who remain:

Getting It Done
Joe Mauer
Delmon Young
Craig Monroe
Randy Ruiz - it won't be his fault if he doesn't make the roster
Boof Bonser
Pat Neshek
Juan Rincon
Dennys Reyes
Joe Nathan
Philip Humber - quietly outpitching most of his competition
Brian Bass - not too shabby, either

So Far, So Good
Michael Cuddyer
Nick Blackburn
Denard Span - officially .227/.393/.318, but I think of him as .280/.419/.400. Not too shabby either way.
Adam Everett - doing about as well as anyone would have expected
Mike Lamb
Jason Pridie - apparently no longer in the running for the CF job, but very much alive for the bench spot
Nick Blackburn
Carmen Cali
Francisco Liriano - at least he's getting his work in and getting up to speed
Scott Baker - looked good before the "tweaked" muscle
Jesse Crain

Need to Pick It Up
Justin Morneau
Jason Kubel
Brian Buscher - the average really slipped since last week
Nick Punto
Brendan Harris - really? One of these guys has to be the 2nd baseman?
Livan Hernandez
Kevin Slowey
Matt Guerrier
Glen Perkins
Kevin Mulvey

I was surprised to see DePaula and Casilla cut today. I thought they were performing pretty well for the most part. We'll probably see them later in '08. If I had to pick winners in the position battles right now,

CF - Span is still in the lead. And, frankly, I don't think Gomez is going to grow up enough in the next two weeks to change my mind.
2B - Since I can't give it to Casilla, I guess Punto is the better choice. Not compelling, so far.
Bench - Randy Ruiz really deserves it. Pridie is right behind him.
5th starter - Philip Humber remains unblemished through 9 innings. Bass and Blackburn are also performing very well. Slowey and Perkins have their work cut out for them.
12 pitcher - Humber, Bass and Blackburn are possibilities here as well. Cali has also had a good week. Since I'd rather have the other guys starting somewhere, Cali has the edge in my mind.

Nothing set yet...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Mayor's Cup Round 5

Didn't get to follow the game today, so these thoughts are based on the box score/write-up.

Liriano threw 53 pitches. Not very many of them were good pitches, but at least it keeps him on pace to go 5-6 innings the first week of the season.

Good to see Brendan Harris' bat wake up a bit. He might need to hit like that every day to make up for his "D" at 2nd.

Another 0-fer for Gomez. I don't know how patient he was in any of his 3 ABs, but he's still not showing much as a leadoff hitter.

Mulvey has probably earned himself a spot in the AAA rotation.

Mauer is awesome - did I mention he's on my fantasy team?

It's suddenly been a while since Buscher had a hit fall in.

Ruiz really wants to make the team - and his chances look better all the time.

Sox win the cup. Again.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Monday's Rays Game

Back with John and Danny on good old TRN.

Bottom 1: Poor execution by the offense after Span lead off with a double. Punto popped up, Young grounded to the left side, and Morneau flew out to deep left.

Bottom 2: Monroe continues to get hits against righties. Kubel drew a 4-pitch walk. Good, aggressive base running by Monroe going to 3rd on Redmond's fly to right - even though he almost got thrown out. Buscher had a good, 9-pitch AB. He couldn't get out of the way of ball four up and in - it hit his bat for a foul ball. He struck out on the next pitch, and Kubel, who had been running on 4 straight 3-2 pitches, was thrown out at second.

Top 3: Great indication of how effective Livan can be against an aggressive lineup - he cruised through the first time through the Rays' order. However, once they started taking some pitches, they worked him for a huge 2-out rally, crushing 2 doubles and a single before he escaped. He threw 28 pitches in the inning.

Bottom 3: Everett lined a single to put the leadoff man on for the third inning in a row. Span grounded into a 4-6-3 DP. That'll teach him to swing at the first pitch. Blecch. Punto grounded out. Quick inning for Tampa.

Top 4: Perfect inning for Hernandez.

Bottom 4: After 2 quick outs, Monroe laced a 2-0 pitch for another single. Kubel flew out to the track in left.

Top 5: Glen Perkins pitching. He gave up a one-out infield single, stolen base, then a bloop single to left to score the run. Good job by the cutoff man to catch Aybar in a rundown and clear the bases. Gomes got the first ligit hit of the inning, a solid single to right. After a wild pitch, Perkins retired Hinske on a grounder to Punto.

Bottom 5: Another quick inning for James Shields.

Top 6: Perkins helped out by a nice defensive play by Buscher, who knocked down a one-hop liner, then recovered in time to throw out the runner. Navarro went down and yanked an off-speed pitch for a solo homer down the left field line.

Bottom 6: Birkins pitching (LHP). Span grounded out on the 0-1 pitch. Punto drew a 4-pitch walk, then Watkins pinch-ran. Young flew out to deep right center. Morneau drew a 9-pitch walk. Monroe struck out on 3 pitches.

Top 7: Nathan pitched a perfect inning.

Bottom 7: Another quick inning for the Rays.

Top 8: Rincon pitching. Rookie-of-the-Year candidate and 2006 #3 overall pick Evan Longoria greeted him with a homer to center. Rincon gave up a 2-out walk on a 3-2 pitch, but got the next guy on a come-backer.

Bottom 8: Everett picked up a bloop single to left on the 1-2 pitch. Pridie lined a single to right-center on the 1-0 pitch, sending pinch-runner Tolbert to 3rd. Watkins lined out to 2nd. Jones took a called third strike. Basak looped an RBI single to right, then moved into scoring position on a wild pitch. Knott took a called third strike on the 3-2 pitch.

Top 9: Mariano Gomez pitching. He gave up a line drive single, then a one-out, no-doubter home run.

Bottom 9: Perfect inning for 2007 #1 overall pick David Price.

This game illustrates how bad the Twins can be when they don't do the little things right. They need to work counts, advance runners when the leadoff guy gets on, just generally have productive ABs. If everybody's going to hack at the first or second pitch, I don't see the Twins being very successful. I hope Span doesn't think he needs to play like Gomez in order to make the team - he's much better off continuing with the patient approach that resulted in his outstanding .450 OBP through the first couple weeks of games.

Decent game from Hernandez - if he keeps his ERA around 4.50, I'll be pretty happy. Perkins did better than his line would indicate - he only gave up a couple of hard-hit balls, and the homer he allowed sounded like it was more a credit to the hitter than a mistake by the pitcher.

This year should be the best Rays team ever. With Kazmir, Shields, and now Garza in their rotation, and a system full of top prospects ready to hit the big leagues in the next year or so, they should be a power in the AL East by 2010.

Monday, March 10, 2008

New Man in Center

It seems to be something of a foregone conclusion in the blogosphere that Carlos Gomez is going to be the Twins' starting CF when the team opens the season in three weeks. Some point to his superior tools, which give him a higher upside than his competition, Denard Span and Jason Pridie. Some look at Gardy's apparent willingness to use a non-prototypical leadoff hitter. Some feel that the Twins need to show the fans that they got at least one starter out of the Santana trade. And some are giving Gomez a lot of credit for being "entertaining."

Oh, isn't it a gas how hard he swings early in the count no matter what the situation? Isn't it exciting not knowing where the ball is going to land when he launches it from centerfield? Will his speed be enough to make up for it when he misreads a line drive? How entertaining!


You could call it undisciplined. You could say it doesn't help the team win games. You could say he's not ready to play in the big leagues yet. Of the three CF candidates, I find his potential the most exciting, but his present performance the least acceptable.

We're 2/5 through spring training, and Gomez is off to a 4 for 24 start. That's not so troubling - it takes lots of guys up to 50 ABs to get it going. What is troubling is how big his swing is, regardless of what's going on around him. On Sunday, after NY's Igawa had walked the bases loaded by throwing 8 of 9 pitches out the zone, Gomez hacked at the first pitch, then grounded out weakly on the second. Delmon Young was on deck, the pitcher was on the ropes, but Gomez helped him out of it with his, er, exuberance. Just one example of the liability he is at the plate right now.

I could overlook that to some extent if he were making all the plays in the outfield, but he's shown that his powerful arm can be just as undisciplined, missing cutoff men and allowing base runners to take extra bases. And he didn't help Slowey out last week by taking his first step in on a line drive that turned out to be just over his head. I used to play outfield, and "your first step is always back" was drilled into us constantly. It's something a big league outfielder does without even thinking.

Span, meanwhile, has made all the plays in center field. He doesn't look as flashy out there, but he's been getting it done. At the plate, Span's AVG/OBP/SLG line of .267/.450/.333 far exceeds Gomez' .167/.185/.292. And that's not even counting Span's best game, a 2 for 3 with a double performance against Tampa last Tuesday that was rained out 1/2 inning before it became official. Had the rains held off another 15 minutes, Span's line would be .333/.478/.444. By the way, if Gomez' best day (2 for 5 with a triple) had been lost as Span's was, his line would be .105/.141/.158. Let me lay this out side-by-side:

Including best game:
Span - .333/.478/.444 (.922 OPS)
Gomez - .167/.185/.292 (.477 OPS)

Not including best game:
Span - .267/.450/.333 (.783 OPS)
Gomez - .105/.141/.158 (.299 OPS)

If not for a natural, non-baseball event, it would be pretty clear to everyone who looks at the stats the Span is playing about twice as well as Gomez.

What about speed? Each has stolen 3 bases. I suppose it's more impressive that Gomez has 3 steals out of 4 times he's reached first or second base. But I'd rather have a guy who only steals every 3rd time he gets on, if it means he gets on 3 times as often.

Plate discipline? Gomez has 2 strikeouts and 1 walk. Span has no strikeouts and 4 walks. And it's not by accident. Span is making an effort to go deep into counts, make the pitcher work, show his teammates what the guy has. I'll bet he's seen almost 3 times as many pitches as Gomez has this spring.

I hate to be old-fashioned, but there appears to be a prototypical leadoff hitter in camp, and the Twins would be wise to reward his play. This spot is going to be setting the table for Mauer/Cuddyer/Morneau/Young/Kubel. It makes no sense to send somebody up there who is going to get on base less than 30% of the time.

The Twins always preach to their players how this team plays the game the right way. From what they've shown so far, Span knows how to play the game the right way, and Gomez doesn't. As with Garza last year, the best thing for Gomez and the Twins is for him to start the year in Rochester. There, he can hopefully learn to put his considerable gifts to good use, and Span will find himself in a battle for the job again down the road. But for right now, this is a battle that Span should win.

Gone Fishing

Listening to the Marlins radio team on Gameday audio today. Not a widely available game for most Twins fans, so I'll try to go inside the boxscore a bit.

Top 1: Nice approach by the Twins hitters this inning - everybody took the first pitch (Gomez took 4!), and every AB lasted 5 or more pitches. So, even though Vanden Hurk wasn't in a serious jam, he still needed 24 pitches to get through the first.

Bottom 1: Slowey, meanwhile, dispatched the Marlins on 10 pitches, helped along by a base running head-scratcher from Andino, who managed to get doubled off first on an infield pop-up.

Top 2: Kubel drew a 9-pitch walk. Everybody took a strike but Watkins. Vanden Hurk threw another 20 pitches.

Bottom 2: Slowey worked out of a 1-out, first and third jam with a couple of easy fly ball outs.

Top 3: Casilla lined a single over shortstop on the 6th pitch. Gomez flied out to center on 2 pitches. Casilla stole 2nd without a throw. Mauer drew a walk. Cuddyer singled to left on the first pitch to load the bases. Ruiz cleared them with a 1st-pitch double over 3rd base. Ruiz thrown out trying to steal 3rd(?). Kubel lined out to left. 62 pitches through 3 innings for Vanden Hurk.

Bottom 3: Slowey gets into trouble after a perfect bunt single by Amezega, then a second bunt single when Ruiz and Harris failed to cover first base. After a strikeout, Cuddyer's arm saved a run when Gonzalez singled to left, but the Marlins didn't dare send the speedy Amezega home from 2nd. Slowey escaped on a line-out DP to the shortstop.

Top 4: New pitcher for the Marlins - Kensing. Clark got a bit of a gift double on a misplay of his grounder up the first base line by Cantu. Watkins had a nice AB, but couldn't advance the runner when he grounded to deep short. Casilla grounded out on the 6th pitch. Another long inning for the Marlins.

Bottom 4: Humber now pitching. He worked around a 1-out, ground ball single through the left side.

Top 5: Gomez grounded out to short on the second pitch. Mauer grounded out to first on the second pitch. Cuddyer lined out on the fourth pitch. First quick inning for the Marlins.

Bottom 5: Pridie in right. Span in center. Butera catching. Humber gave up a 1-out walk to De Aza, but then caught him trying to steal second.

Top 6: Badenhop pitching. Twins go down quickly again.

Bottom 6: Macri at first. Casilla now at second. Tolbert at short. Jones in left. Reyes pitching. He gave up a 2-out, 4-pitch walk, but escaped on a line-out to 3rd.

Top 7: 11 Twins retired in a row now.

Bottom 7: Basak at 3rd. Crain pitching. Nearly a perfect inning - Amezega just foul-tipped an 0-2 pitch to stay alive, then fouled off several more 2-strike pitches before doubling off the glove of a diving Garrett Jones. De Aza followed with a bouncing RBI single up the middle just under the glove of a diving Matt Tolbert. Another single and a walk followed before Crain caught Alexi Gomez looking to end the threat.

Top 8: Span blooped a leadoff single to left, then stole second. A big secondary lead enabled him to take 3rd on a come-backer. Pridie promptly knocked in Span with a single to center on the first pitch. Macri grounded to short on the 3rd pitch. Jones grounded out on 5 pitches.

Bottom 8: Neshek pitching. He worked around a 1-out, ground ball single to right.

Top 9: Twins went down in order on 3 fly ball outs.

Bottom 9: DePaula pitching. Barnwell grounded the first pitch over 3rd base for a double. De Aza grounded a single to right. Span got a nice jump on a blooper to center and made the running catch for the first out. Casilla made an error to allow Maybin to reach. Alexi Gomez grounded back to DePaula, but the tying run moved to 2nd. Macri made a dig on a throw in the dirt from Basak to end the game.

The Marlins had base runners in every inning, but the Twins allowed only 2 runs. Credit to all the pitchers for limiting the damage. Slowey's line looks a little worse than his actual performance, since 2 of his 6 hits allowed were bunts. Hopefully he can build off this outing.

Offensively, the Twins had a great game plan against the starter, Vanden Hurk. Their patient approach forced him to throw 44 pitches the first 2 innings. Having seen all his pitches, and worked him to the limit of his conditioning, they attacked him in the 3rd and quickly scored 3 runs. Casilla's error in the 9th was bad way to end what was otherwise a solid game. Harris continues to miss plays at 2nd. Span had more of an impact on the game than Gomez.

It was kind of fun to listen to the Marlins broadcasters. They're very excited about their multitude of former Tigers prospects. And their color guy is really good at math!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

They're All Part of My Baseball Fantasy

My fantasy draft is complete. I got 20 of the 23 players I wanted for my team, the Sabrmetrosexuals. The three I didn't get (all pitchers, all taken at least 2 rounds earlier than expected by my astute friend, Kenneth) were Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano, and Huston Street. Instead, I got JJ Putz, Phil Hughes, and Trevor Hoffman. Not a problem, really. Here is the team I designed to succeed in a league that scores OBP, SLB%, HR, RBI, E, IP, ERA, K, WHIP, and Saves:

C - Joe Mauer
1B - Travis Hafner
2B - Jose Vidro
SS - Carlos Guillen
3B - Ryan Braun
OF - Gary Sheffield, Hideki Matsui, Garrett Anderson
Utility - Jason Kubel
Bench - Kevin Youkilis, Placido Polanco, Evan Longoria, Jack Cust, Jason Varitek
SP - Johan Santana, Erik Bedard, Tim Lincecum, Javier Vazquez
RP - JJ Putz, Trevor Hoffman, Bobby Jenks
P - Phil Hughes, Rich Harden

Because this is a head-to-head league, the idea is to field a roster that is going to win at least 6 categories, no matter who I face. With only 8 teams in the league, everybody should be able to field a reasonably competitive team - if they're paying attention. Everybody's got a bunch of guys capable of hitting homers, driving in runs, racking up innings. Any given week, it's a crapshoot as to which guys will score - especially in the saves department. The trick is to find a category where you beat the other guy every time. Then, if you only get 4 other categories to break your way, you come out even. If 5 break your way, you're winning.

The category I decided to dominate is errors. The guy with the fewest total errors each week wins. The way to ensure that my team won't make errors, while still putting middle-of-the-order, HR/RBI/SLG% people out there, is to keep them away from high error positions, or, even better, keep them off the field entirely. Because Yahoo's fantasy baseball doesn't distinguish between DHs and regular position players, I could draft a DH and play him as whatever his "natural" position would be. Because Yahoo's positions and rankings were based on last year, I could draft someone to play last year's position, knowing he was much less likely to make errors in his new position.

I looked at the projected DHs for the 14 AL teams. There were 6 1Bs (Aubrey Huff, David Ortiz, Jim Thome, Hafner, Billy Butler and Frank Thomas), 7 OFs (Kubel, Sheffield, Matsui, Anderson, Cust, Cliff Floyd and Frank Catalonotto) and a 2B (Vidro). Because none of them steal a lot of bases, and a lot of them don't have impressive batting averages (2 factors Yahoo uses for its default rankings), the highest ranked was Ortiz at #17. Hafner was next, down at #41 or so thanks to his off year in 2007. Sheffield was #64. Only 3 of these players likely to go in the first 8 rounds!

The positions I couldn't fill with DHs were C, SS, and 3B. The left side of the infield is a great place to rack up errors. Luckily, Carlos Guillen is eligible to play fantasy shortstop, and Yahoo didn't even acknowledge that Ryan Braun is now projected to play LF for the Brewers. Mauer plays much better defense than Russell Martin or Victor Martinez.

My starting lineup consists of 6 DHs, a shortstop who will be making errors at the rate of a first baseman, a third baseman who will be making errors at the rate of an outfielder, and the best fielder of the high OBP catchers. I'll be very surprised if that lineup averages more than 1 error per week. It is loaded with heart-of-the-order guys. I should be able to hang with just about anybody in the HR/RBI/SLG% categories, while winning in errors week in and week out.

Meanwhile, I've got the 2 best strikeout pitchers in the majors in Santana and Bedard, both of whom have just moved to pitcher's parks. Vazquez, Lincecum, Hughes, and Harden all have the stuff to be the aces of their staffs. Any week Santana or Bedard happens to pitch 2 times, I've got a real strong shot at the K/IP/WHIP categories.

When I realized that I was going to draft DHs to fill 7 of my 14 position player slots, I thought, "Kenneth will surely be horrified!" After all, he's a National League guy. But by swapping the default fantasy categories of BA, Runs, and SBs for OBP, SLG%, and errors, he unwittingly made DHs the most valuable people in the draft. And I wanted no part of people like Jose Reyes or Chone Figgins - those guys don't hit many homers, don't drive in many runs, and they make errors.

We'll see how the season plays out - but I like my chances.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Mayor's Cup Round 4

Impressions of the Red Sox/Twins matchup as I listen to TRN:

Top 1: Span set the table with a HBP and SB. At last, Morneau connects! And Craig Monroe - off a righty!

Bottom 1: Liriano pitches! No shame walking David Ortiz, and then came back to fan Manny Ramirez.

Bottom 2: Liriano couldn't quite finish the inning, giving up a couple of 2-out singles before Blackburn came in to clean up. Liriano threw 40 pitches, and showed pretty good command of his fastball, changeup, and slider.

Top 4: Mike Lamb looks terrific - he's hitting well, and he's made a bunch of nice plays at 3rd, including 2 in this game already. Sox gave the Twins an extra out on a missed DP opportunity, and the Twins took advantage with 2 SBs and a 2-out RBI single from Basak.

Bottom 4: Another nice play from Lamb. Nice running catch for Cuddyer. Blackburn is pitching very well.

Bottom 5: Rough inning for Guerrier - he gave up a couple of line-drive singles, including one off his left foot. He stayed in and surrendered a wind-blown pop-up single to load the bases with one out. He got the next 2 batters on a strikeout and flyout to escape unscathed.

Top 6: Good game for Monroe at the plate: 1-2 with a walk and a solo HR. Nice small-ball with pinch runner Machado stealing second and Lamb grounding him over to 3rd. Redmond couldn't pick him up with the infield in, but Kubel got a 2-out RBI hit. Span had a 6-pitch AB against a tough side-arming lefty before grounding out.

Bottom 6: Reyes gave up a run on 3 hits, but only one of them was hit hard. He seemed to get stronger as the inning progressed, striking out the last 2 batters.

Top 7: Twins take advantage of a Boston throwing error thanks to a 2-out RBI single from Machado.

Bottom 7: Good job by Jesse Crain, overcoming an error to get through a scoreless inning.

Top 8: Span robbed of a hit on a diving catch by the CF.

Bottom 8: Harris is having a lot of trouble at 2B. Neshek was able to work around the error.

Top 9: At last, a hit for Harris! But then he got himself thrown out at 3rd on a grounder to short.

Bottom 9: Good thing Doug Mirabelli can catch knuckle balls, 'cause he sure can't hit (0-3, 3Ks). Nice inning for Mariano Gomez, allowing only a wind-aided home run.

Final: Twins 7, Red Sox 2

And, on the B side:

Terrific performance by some of the Twins' top prospects against a Blue Jays lineup loaded with Major Leaguers. Glen Perkins (3IP, 2H, BB, 3K), Philip Humber (2IP, H, 3K), Kevin Mulvey (2IP, 0H, 2K), Julio DePaula (IP, H) and Ricky Barrett (IP, H, BB) combined on a 5-hit shutout. Young, Buscher, and Ruiz continued to swing the bat well. Gomez had a good day on offense, with 2 hits, 2 runs, and a SB. His second hit was an RBI triple, and, if I'm reading the box score correctly, Punto followed with a squeeze. Morales got a hit, and, from what I can tell, managed to avoid being thrown out on the bases!

Final: Twins 4, Jays 0

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

It's Been One Week

Here's an early assessment of the Twins after their first 7 days of spring games:

Getting It Done
Brian Buscher - even his outs are rockets
Joe Mauer - seeing the ball well already
Delmon Young - hitting the ball hard, but taking some pitches before he does
Boof Bonser - of course, the first 3 innings never were his problem...
Pat Neshek
Scott Baker
Denard Span
Nick Blackburn
Matt Guerrier
Jason Pridie
Randy Ruiz

So Far, So Good
Dennys Reyes - throwing strikes and getting lots of grounders
Juan Rincon
LIvan Hernandez - might have a chance against aggressive lineups
Jesse Crain - just good to see him pitching again
Mike Lamb
Julio DePaula
Philip Humber
Alexi Casilla
Mike Redmond

Need To Pick It Up
Carlos Gomez - every game he shows off one of his tools, he also makes a mistake. So raw.
Justin Morneau
Jason Kubel
Michael Cuddyer - these 3 are kinda the heart of the order, aren't they?
John Knott
Matt Tolbert
Matt Macri
Garrett Jones - long shot, but a HR off Joba is a good start
Brian Bass
Kevin Mulvey
Casey Daigle
Randy Keisler - looked good against the Yanks today
Ricky Barrett
Zach Day

Kevin Slowey - has to locate the fastball down and away to lefties
Brendan Harris - nothing at the plate, and not much in the field either
Glen Perkins
Brian Duensing
Carmen Cali - useless unless he can come in and throw strikes
Jose Morales - is he going to get thrown out every time he gets on base?

Need to See More
Joe Nathan
Craig Monroe
Deolis Guerra
Nick Punto
Adam Everett
Alejandro Machado
Tommy Watkins
Bobby Korecki
and, of course,
Francisco Liriano

If I had to pick the winners of the contested spots right now, they'd be:
2B - Alexi Casilla
CF - Denard Span, but Pridie is close
5th starter - Nick Blackburn
12th pitcher - Julio DePaula, although Randy Keisler could be close behind
Bench - Brian Buscher, and Pridie has to get some consideration here as well

On to week 2...

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Mayor's Cup Round 3

This game is available on MLB.TV, so I'll get to see what's going on.

Top 2: Most of the guys didn't get good swings off Wakefield's knuckler, but Kubel & Buscher both hit rockets (Buscher was robbed by Pedroia).

Bottom 1-2: Hernandez lives on the corners, changing speeds and trying to get hitters to expand the zone. Ortiz and Lowell were able to force him into fastball counts and cranked them pretty good. He threw rather a lot of pitches, but left with the team in the game.

Top 3: The Twins did a nice job of putting some tough 2-strike pitches in play, and were fortunate to have a bunch of them drop in or find holes. Good base-running all around, especially Cuddyer's heads-up steal of 3rd. Buscher got rung up on 3 nasty pitches.

Bottom 3: Guerrier did well, other than walking Mirabelli on 5 pitches. Mulligan!

Bottom 4: Nice outing from Neshek.

Bottom 5: A Ruiz error extended the inning so that Pedroia could get an RBI single. Good to see Reyes throwing strikes. Nice execution on the rundown to end the inning and keep Ortiz from hitting with men on base.

Top 6: Buscher looks terrific so far - another long AB ending with a single. Nice to see Morales isn't shy about sliding - but it'd be nice to see him actually make it home safely one of these days.

Bottom 6-7: DePaula walked Ortiz and Ramirez to begin his stint, but got Lowell to hit into a 5-4-3 DP, and turned it into a pretty good outing.

Gotta stop there, it's getting late. Obviously, the Twins had a much better game today, and I think the biggest difference was that the pitchers threw strikes (only 3BB). Keep that up!

Is Craig Monroe's leg cramp giving anyone else Rondell White flashbacks?

Sounds like Liriano had an encouraging BP session today - can't wait to see him in action later this week!

Mayor's Cup Round 2

Listening to a belated feed of TRN - may not have time to go through all of it, but I'll balance out my thoughts with the official write-up if needed.

Bottom 1: Gomez seems to be really good at base running, stealing second off a lefty, then moving up to third on a ball in the dirt that didn't go too far from the catcher. Mauer worked a nice walk after falling behind 0-2. Young walks! Perhaps he's trying to take a strike: the walk was on four pitches. I didn't like Morneau's AB: bases loaded, no out, the pitcher has thrown 8 straight balls, yet he swings through a pitch under his hands, then grounds into a DP. Though a run scored, he really let Lester off the hook. If a pitcher is struggling that much with control, the batter has to take a strike, especially in the early innings.

Top 2: Keisler got off to nice start through the first 5 batters, then lost Lowrie in a 12-pitch AB after being ahead 1-2. Gave up an RBI double to Carter on an 0-2 pitch - must have missed his location. Walked Cash and Thurston on 10 pitches. Very similar outing to Slowey on Friday - lots of strikes early, then got burned after a long AB, and seemed to be physically and mentally fatigued afterwards. Blackburn came on and got Ellsbury on a FC to 2nd, then gave up a 2-run ground ball single to Alex Cora (outfield assist to Young getting Cora at 2nd). I wish I could have seen the defensive positioning of Lamb at third - I'm guessing he wasn't particularly close to the line. Unlucky.

Bottom 2: Nice AB by Lamb against a lefty, doubling into the LF corner on the 6th pitch. Macri drew a 7-pitch walk. Jones lucky to reach after he hit a DP ball to 1st that Casey threw away. Terrific AB by Casilla, coming back from 1-2 to draw a 9-pitch walk and chase Lester. Other than Morneau and Jones, the Twins did a great job of grinding Lester down. SF for Gomez after 2 huge hacks. Another walk for Mauer on 4 pitches. Young took 2 balls, then drilled an RBI single. Better approach by Morneau with the bases loaded this time, drawing a 4-pitch, RBI BB. Harris hits into a 5-4-3 DP on the first pitch. Sounded like he hit it hard, but, again, the pitcher had just thrown 10 out of 11 pitches out of the zone - what is he doing swinging at the first pitch?

Top 3-4: Nice outings from Blackburn & Rincon.

Bottom 3: More good ABs from Lamb (6-pitch BB) and Macri (lined to LF on the 6th pitch).

Bottom 4: Good day for Mauer (2BB and a single). Young finally came out hacking against Papelbon - and struck out. Morneau battled back from 0-2 to a full count before grounding sharply into a 4-6-3 DP. Bad ending to a good AB.

Bottom 5: Harris showed some patience this time and drew a walk. Lamb struck out swinging on a 2-2 count - still a pretty good day for him. Macri struck out swinging on a full count - still a pretty good day. Tolbert (running for Harris) stole second on the K, then scored on a 2-out knock from Jones.

Top 6: Duensing didn't have great control in the 5th, and he fell behind everybody in the 6th as well. He gave up a solid lead-off single, a long out to center, a 4-pitch walk, and then a sharp single off his leg. Carmen Cali came on with the bases loaded and 1 out, and walked in 2 runs on 10 pitches. Blecch.

Enough of this interminable, crappy game.

I see from the box score that Pridie and Tolbert picked up hits late. Pridie made a couple of nice catches in CF. Mulvey and Guerra gave up a ton of hits, but at least they didn't walk anybody.

According to Dan Gladden, Rick Anderson views every pitcher's first appearance of the spring as a "mulligan."

A lot of these guys had better hope that's true.