Thursday, May 27, 2010

Hey, Fellas, Good to See You Again

Finally, the Twins offense showed a pulse.

The result was a surprisingly easy 8-2 victory over the Yankees.

Two predictions before I head to bed:

The Twins are about to embark on a winning streak of at least five games.

Jason Kubel is about to rip off a sizzling stretch where he raises his average 40 points in the next week and a half.

This is about the time Kubel got red-hot a year ago. He was the catalyst tonight, so it's kind of lame to forecast a big turnaround. But he's been consistently putting good swings on the ball the past week or so, and he's due. He's too good not to bump that average up somewhere near .300.

TwinkieTown is taking the weekend off. Can you take time off from a non-paying job? Apparently, you can. Heading to Virginia for a few days of camping and a possible trip to Hibbing Days.

If Hibbing Days isn't a scream, I'll be shocked.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Hitting .209? Wear Pinstripes? You're an All-Star!

How ludicrous is Major League Baseball's All-Star Game?

Fan voting determines the starting lineups, and thus you have scenarios like the following.

Player A is hitting .209, with a .378 slugging percentage and .327 on-base percentage. He has 30 RBIs and seven home runs.

Player B is batting .383, with a .701 slugging percentage and .497 on-base percentage (all three numbers were tops in the American League entering Tuesday's action). He has driven in 34 runs and belted 11 homers.

Player A and Player B occupy the same position on the diamond. Obviously, only one can start. Which would you expect to be the leading vote-getter, and thus the starter for the Midsummer Classic?

First, consider this: Player A is a Yankee.

Player A is Mark Teixeira, Player B Justin Morneau. Tallies released Tuesday show Teixeira with a commanding lead over Morneau — 396,034 votes to 258,225.

I know, I know: It's only late May and there's plenty of time for Morneau to whittle down that gap. But that doesn't always happen. In fact, the Yankees routinely dominate the American League roster each July. Sure, they typically have a bevy of quality players, but the current system is so unbelievably skewed toward big-market teams, it's laughable. More fans equals more votes, equals more starters — regardless of who deserves to be there.

Another oddity from the first vote tally: Derek Jeter is the clubhouse leader for the starting gig at shortstop. Derek Jeter is hitting .276.

And Robinson Cano has the most votes for a second baseman.

If you're keeping score at home, that means the Yanks would have three of the four starting infield spots.

Thankfully, Joe Mauer is leading the pack of catchers. Then again, Jorge Posada is in second place (though he's way back) — despite having been on the disabled list for close to half the spring.

This shouldn't be a popularity contest. The All-Star Game should reward the players who have played the best through the season's first three months. Should an underwhelming Teixeira edge out a far, far more deserving Morneau simply because Teixeira plays in New York and dons pinstripes?

Obviously, the answer is no.

Combined with ever-expanding rosters and the logic-defying rule that requires every club be represented, the Midsummer Classic is morphing into the Midsummer Bummer.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Build it and They Will Come (though they might leave early)


Driving through downtown Minneapolis on Saturday afternoon, my buddy (we'll call him T-Spoon ... because that's what we call him) made a dynamite observation. We were headed to Target Field for the Twins-Brewers game, and Spoon said something along the lines of, "You can just feel the buzz."

He was right. If I had to describe my first trip to Target Field in a few words, it would go like this: The stadium, the experience, dazzles the senses.

Outdoor baseball. 39,000 happy, energized, passionate fans. Awash in sun. Green grass. Impossibly blue skies. Smells of a thousand different foods wafting through the concourse. Cold beer. Boisterous chants. Minnie and Paul. A swift breeze.

I've been to 13 stadiums around the country, from Houston to Cincinnati, Detroit to Denver. Target Field, for me personally, is in the top three. And to be honest, I'd say it's No. 1, but I don't know how objective that view is. It's in the same tier as Comerica Park in Detroit and PNC Park in Pittsburgh. Just an amazing baseball experience.

Two issues I had with Target Field: blind spots if you're sitting in the upper deck of the outfield and the JumboTron being out of view for a significant percentage of fans (left and center field seats, along with those deep down the third base line).

One other negative: leaving early only to watch the Twinkies score a walk-off win, while you're sitting on a couch miles from the action. Yep, that's a problem. With the score 6-2, we made a collective decision: This game's over. So we left. Headed back to Spoon's and watched the 12th-inning drama unfold on TV. But, then, who knew the Brewers would score five runs in the ninth inning and the Twins would respond with a game-tying run of their own in the bottom of the frame, paving the way for bonus baseball? Not us. Obviously.

I'll be honest, I was pretty sure the score was 4-2 when we left (see the third paragraph, where I reference cold beer).

Regardless, it was a spectacular experience, and one I hope to reprise a few more times this summer.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Blackburn Continues to Impress

Quick, what's Nick Blackburn's ERA? 3.40? 3.90? Nope, it's 4.50. Weird, ain't it?

Seems like, with the way Blackburn's thrown the ball this season, that number would be significantly lower.

A month ago, Francisco Liriano was the undisputed ace, the savior, a Sandy Koufax clone. Now, Liriano is bouncing over a few speed bumps. Familiar questions are resurfacing, and there's a very real possibility that the wicked lefty is just a pretty good major-league pitcher, not the dominant knee-buckler of 2006.

Which doesn't bode well for the Twins. They need a stud, a stopper, a guy who can put the skids on a losing streak and match up favorably with other No. 1s. Liriano could still very well be that guy, though it's not as much of a foregone conclusion as it was two or three weeks ago.

Could Blackburn jockey for that distinction? It's early, but he's pitched very well en route to a 5-1 record. A couple sub-par outings have inflated his ERA a bit, but otherwise, he's been outstanding — not to mention fun to watch if you enjoy quick workers who pitch to contact and induce a bevy of grounders.

As it stands now, I'd say the race for staff ace goes like this: Liriano is 1 and Blackburn is 1A.

Of course, if the Twins continue to pound out 17 hits and shuffle across home plate 15 times a night ... well they could throw Frankie Rodriguez out there and it wouldn't matter.

By the way, nothing like Carlos Gomez dancing down to first base after closing the gap to a nail-biting 15-3 tonight.

Again, it's great to see Gomez ... in a Brewers uniform.

Where Can I Get My Southern Miss Baseball Gear?

Anyone else wonder if Southern Miss baseball gear is suddenly a hot commodity across Minnesota?

That would be kind of a cool marketing idea for the Twins or Saints, no? Southern Miss baseball posters for the first, say, 10,000 fans. Cool idea. Don't steal it.

That's all.

Oh, and Brett Favre is definitely playing professional football in 2010.

Gomez Looks Great ... in a Brewers Uniform

Great to see Carlos Gomez again.

Correction: It's great to see Carlos Gomez in a Brewers uniform. Zing!

Is Jeff Suppan the highest-paid mop-up man in the majors? I didn't realize he was still alive, let alone still pitching. Good for him. Good for you, Jeff Suppan.

I missed the list of the top 50 Twins of all time, unveiled during the pre-game show.

But as expected, Mauer, Morneau and Nathan made the cut. So, too, did Cuddyer. I thought he was a long shot. In retrospect, he's definitely deserving of making that squad. Lots of good names on that list, which breeds a healthy dose of nostalgia.

Alright, I'm gonna watch the rest of this blood bath.

Could the Brewers be any more dysfunctional?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Lucky Charms Unlucky for Wolves

Two random NBA thoughts:

• Vince Carter has the intestinal fortitude of a baby goose. He just stumbled over the 3-point line, pulled his groin (that doesn't sound too swell), and looked like he had just been run over by an 18-wheeler. He's out of the game. Of course he's out of the game.

Has any NBA player ever done less with more?

• Point No. 2 is this: Whoever invented the NBA Draft Lottery is a huge douchebag (and why does blogspot put a red line under "douchebag" ... it's a real word!). As miserable as the average Wolves season is, the Lottery is typically much more deflating. They got saddled with the No. 4 pick tonight, hours after team czar David Kahn said there were three legit, top-of-the-line studs in this year's class.

Biggest question of the night, at least from the Wolves' perspective: would it be wrong to nab a point guard in the first round after taking three in last year's first round?

Shades of the Detroit Lions and their love affair with combustible and drastically overrated wide receivers?

Yuck

Hey Carl, Jesse Crain called — he'd like his ERA back.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Twins v. Yanks: Who has the Edge?

So the Twins are headed to the Bronx this weekend for three games against the damn Yankees. To recap:

The Twins were 0-10 against New York in 2009. In their four-game series at Yankee Stadium last May, three of the Yankees' victories were of the walk-off variety. That was pudding, though, compared to October's heartbreak. The Twins held a lead in each of their three playoff games against the Bombers. They lost all three.

Joe *&@%^* Nathan!

The Twins come equipped with a bit more ammo this time around. Remember the playoff opener: CC Sabathia, he of the 25-million-dollar annual salary, vs. Brian Duensing, he of the ... hell, how much could Brian Duensing possibly make. The league minimum?

Is that you Tolbert?

The opening of Target Field has altered the chemistry of Twins v. Yankees. No longer is Minnesota the Little Engine That Could. The result? A lineup that, at least on paper, rivals that of the mighty New Yorkers. Just for fun (because it's an off day and we're killing time before bed), let's break down the two teams by position.

Catcher:
Jorge Posada or Joe Mauer? Yeah, let's just move on. Advantage Twins.

First Base:
Justin Morneau or Mark Teixeira? The overwhelming national consensus would be Teixeira in a wash. But Morneau's a former MVP, a perennial .300/30/120 guy. Still, Teixeira's defense gives the advantage to the Yanks.

Second Base: Orlando Hudson or Robinson Cano? Cano is off to a sizzling start. Hudson brings a ton to the table — solid hitter, gold-glover, can run, awesome clubhouse guy, smart, etc. But Cano is a superior offensive player. Thus, advantage Yankees.

Shortstop: What's not to love about J.J. Hardy? He's a wizard with the glove, and is showing signs of returning to the offensive player he was in 2007 and 2008. But let's be honest, here. Derek Jeter could realistically end his career on the plus side of 4,000 hits. Advantage Yanks.

Third Base: I was out for a run this evening, and about eight miles into it, I came across a lady walking her dog. They were stopped on the side of the trail as the dog was honed in on some movement in the brush. Seriously, I don't think the dog even noticed me running past. And then I saw it: a skunk scurrying through deep grass, inching ever closer. Lady and dog took off in a brisk walk one way, I upped the pace heading the opposite direction. What's the point? That's how I envision folks reacting in the presence of Alex Rodriguez. Just get away. Flee. Don't make eye contact. Don't look back. Never has there been an athlete who I despised more. Never. And thus, even though the Twins run out a platoon of Brendan Harris and Nick Punto, I refuse to give the edge to the Yankees. Let's call it a draw and proceed.

Left Field: Delmon Young or Brett Gardner? Advantage Twins.

Center Field: Denard Span or Curtis Granderson? One word — overrated. Who? Granderson. He used to be a good defensive outfielder. Used to be. Now, when a ball comes his way, he looks like a clown chasing a squirrel.

Right Field: Michael Cuddyer or Nick Swisher? Swisher carries himself like a superstar. Cuddy carries himself like a guy trying to stick in the bigs. Hell, advantage Twins.

Starting Rotation:
Tough call? The Yanks have the glitz and big-money guys in Sabathia, Burnett, and Pettitte, but it seems a little like a classic case of more style than substance. Francisco Liriano looks reborn, but it's still way too early to proclaim him a bona fide ace. The Twins have a bunch of No. 2 and 3 starters, but no clear-cut stopper. Still, they rock quality depth, 1 through 5. We're calling it a draw.

Bullpen:
Mariano. Rivera. Cutter. Advantage Yanks.

Skipper:
Joe Girardi or Ron Gardenhire? Not even close ... Gardy wins in a route!

Overall, the Yanks have a slight edge.

Still, here's hoping the Twins can snap the hex and find a way to win a game (preferably two or three) at Yankee Stadium this week.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Scott Ullger: Aggressive or Kind of an Idiot?

Google Scott Ullger's name. Now, take a look at two of the first four results:

• Result No. 1: "Scott [Ullger] cost the Twins at least 1 more run"

• Result No. 4: "Scott Ullger Makes Terrible Call ... Recapping a disappointing 5-4 Twins loss to the White Sox, with the final out not made by a player but by the third base coach."

To which I ask: What does Scott Ullger not understand about his job as the Twins' third base coach. I just texted that question to a buddy and his response was that Ullger is trying to make a name for himself. It was said in jest, but in a way, he is making a name for himself — or a new name, that is. Instead of Scott Ullger, he will soon be known as "Scott Fucking Ullger." Just a rash of terrible decisions by Ullger through the first month of the season.

He just waved Kubel home when it was painfully clear that Kubel had about as good a chance of scoring as I did.

Memo to Scott Ullger: If the cutoff man already has the relay, and one of the top-10 slowest men in the AL is barreling down on third base, throw up your arms.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Ramos: Just Passing Through

The early fervor over Wilson Ramos has melted away a bit after the young catcher cooled down at the plate, but Ramos' emergence thrusts the Twins into an enviable "predicament."

Let's face it: If there's one position the Twins don't need a top-flight prospect at, it's catcher. That Mauer dude has established himself quite well, thank you. But Ramos is the owner of jaw-dropping skills. Who smacks four hits in his major league debut, and then follows that up with a three-hit performance the following night? Wilson Ramos, of course.

And unlike Mauer, who was polished and poised when he arrived in Minneapolis, Ramos is excelling almost solely on pure talent.

Some of his at-bats have been downright ugly. That's expected — he's 22 years old. He hasn't figured out the nuances of putting together a patient, professional at-bat. Prior to his call-up, Ramos had 15 strikeouts in 67 minor league at-bats. So he's going to swing and miss from time to time. Again, he's young.

More precisely, he's raw.

Thus, it's easy to ponder what his future holds once he gets a little seasoning. It's easier to hit when you're no longer guessing, when you have a plan, and the patience to execute that plan. When there's some experience to match the talent.

So what do the Twins do? Is Ramos' early success just greasing the wheels for a future trade? Or should the Twins find a way to keep him, perhaps a DH-catcher platoon with Mauer?

Realistically, it's a great problem to have. No club ever can have too many talented players. But Mauer's still too young — and too talented defensively — to start moving him around the diamond. He's the catalyst, the face of the franchise, and one of the top five defensive backstops in the game. He needs to catch. He makes the Twins better when he catches. Thus, he's going to catch.

And there's no point in leaving Ramos in the majors to DH once a week and catch once a week. That does nothing for the development of a budding star. And frankly, there's just not much value in that kind of scenario. More value could be had in a potential trade — maybe he fetches a bona fide bullpen arm and another solid prospect.

It's unfortunate and a bit unorthodox, but in the near future, once Mauer returns and regains his form, Wilson Ramos becomes more valuable to the Twins if he's wearing a different uniform.

That's just an opinion, of course, and I've thoroughly watching him break into the majors with a flurry. But let's not forget that the guy ahead of him has morphed into a Minnesota icon before reaching the age of 30, and is primed to become one of the greatest catchers of all time.

Ramos is a catcher. He needs to catch. He needs to develop.

It just won't happen with the Twins.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Twins Rained Out — Yes, a Home Rainout

It's time to blow up Target Field.

I kid.

Perhaps the only positive thing to be said about the Metrodome, in light of Target Field's spectacular grand opening, is this: no rainouts!

That's right, Game 2 of the Twins' four-game series against the Orioles has been pushed back a day. Saturday turns into a double dip with a day-night doubleheader.

In a related story, it's snowing in Duluth. I mean big fluffy flakes, though they're melting once they hit the ground. Still ... snow. In May.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Money Quotes

Money quotes following Thursday's 5-4 victory over the Tigers, courtesy of twinsbaseball.com:

"I really enjoyed it," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said of Target Field. "The place is beautiful. Outdoor baseball, the fans seemed to be enjoying it. Unfortunately, we let them enjoy it a little too much."

"I drank a 5-Hour Energy today so I know my energy was probably pretty good," Span said with a laugh. "I saw Cuddyer drinking one, too. We've got to pass those around during day games to get us going and complete sweeps. That's been our Achilles' heel, day games after winning the first two games. 5-Hour Energy got it done today."

Break out the Brooms

The good news: The Twins secured their first sweep of the season, meaning in Twinkie Town's two days of existence, the Local 9 nabbed a walk-off W and a series sweep, both firsts and both especially delightful considering they came against the Tigers. If (when?) the Twins win the World Series, I expect a postseason share.

The bad news: Minnesota had the audacity to play the series finale in the afternoon. While I was at work. I have little idea how the contest unfolded. I know Slowey was functional and Rauch gave up a harmless ninth-inning run en route to another save, but what about the offense? I'll have to scour the box score later.

The Twins are 19-9 entering a four-game set against the hapless Baltimore Orioles. By the way, you can substitute a ton of adjectives for "hapless" in that sentence — atrocious, punchless, inept, woeful, stumbling, and so on. On second thought, don't — we don't want to jinx the home team. We'll just say the O's are in a funk and hope the Twins can prolong the stench.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Twinkie Town = Good Luck

Let the record show that on the day Twinkie Town was launched, the Twins got their first walk-off win of 2010. At least I think it's their first walk-off win. I could be wrong. It's happened before — in 1995, I believe.

And J.J. Hardy ... are you kidding me? The shortstop crafted a personal highlight film in the span of 10 minutes: ridiculous snag on a bouncer destined to be a go-ahead RBI single to left field, one-out triple off the wall, and game-winning run on a passed ball. Not the prettiest of walk-offs, but that's kind of picking nits.

Two other things: Who the hell is Brennan Boesch and why did it take him three and a half minutes to round the bases after he tied it in the top of the ninth with a solo homer to right? Speed it up, junior.

Also, Tom Emanski needs to make another video and use Nick Blackburn as Exhibit A for young pitchers. He wore out the infield grass at Target Field with a steady dose of ground-ball outs. And I think his pitch count was in the 90s — he was at 74 through seven innings. Efficient.

The Twins are now 18-9. At their current pace, they'd win 108.054 games. Let's round that up to 109 (it's highly unlikely they'll go 108.054 and 53.946).

I'm rambling.

Good night.

This is a Test

Just a test, checking aesthetics and whatnot.