Friday, May 13, 2005
Link-O-RamaYou know the drill by now ...
Anyway, I was watching Final Table With Fossilman, which is the last episode of the Main Event with some DVD-style commentary from champion Greg Raymer, for the third or fourth time Wednesday, and I heard something that shocked me. In telling a story about his early poker career, Raymer said something like, "When I was going to school in Minnesota ..."
Sure enough, I did a little Yahooing (I think people say they "Googled" something even when they used another search engine, and that doesn't seem fair), and found the following on Raymer's Wikipedia page:
A graduate of the University of Minnesota Law School ('92), he no longer works as a lawyer but still resides in Stonington, Connecticut with his wife and daughter.We've all heard that old cliche about how you learn something new every time you see/hear/read something, but how is it even remotely possible that I watched Raymer on TV dozens of times for an entire year, read dozens of articles about him, and saw dozens of interviews with him, and yet never heard that he went to school at the University of Minnesota until just now? Amazing. And then you know what happened? I quickly realized that I didn't really care all that much.
Normally I lay fairly low in the early going in tournaments, but this one was only giving a prize for first place, so I figured I would be aggressive from the very beginning and take risks in an effort to either build up a huge chip stack or get knocked out immediately. Well, my aggression was working, and I had built a pretty big stack by the time the field was narrowed to around 200 players. Then all hell broke loose.
Twice in the span of 20 hands I was dealt pocket queens. Both times, there was a single raise in front of me, and both times I re-raised to a significant amount of chips. Facing a re-raise, my opponent pushed all-in both times and I, not being nearly good enough as a player to lay down queens pre-flop unless someone almost literally bashes me over the head and tells me they have aces, called. The first time my opponent turned over pocket aces. The second time my opponent turned over pocket kings.
I went from being in the top dozen spots to having barely enough to cover the blinds for a round, all in the span of about 15 minutes. And that's how my dreams of playing in this year's WSOP ended. The funny thing is that before I went on a prolonged poker losing streak, I actually had thoughts of taking my winnings and simply buying into one of the lesser events. But after the losing streak (or during it, since it's not over by a long shot), I was stuck using my frequent player points to get into a 400-person crapshoot for a seat.
I guess I'll have to wait another year to fulfill my lifelong dream of meeting Norman Chad.
Ray (Boston): If there's a movie about the 2004-2005 NBA Playoffs, do you think Jim Carey would sign on to play rick carlisle? He would be the best casting job since Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison.Also, let me join the many devoted Simmons fans in saying to Bill that we are very happy about the birth of your daughter, but happier that you can now get back to pumping out 50,000 words a week for us to read on the toilet.
My favorite line from the movie came from Bruce Willis' "Hartigan":
Skinny little Nancy Callahan. She grew up. She filled out.Mickey Rourke was pretty incredible in a very unique role, although just slightly less incredible than the scene where we first meet Carla Gugino's "Lucille." If you've seen the movie, you surely know what I mean. And lest anyone think I'm a Johnny come lately, because I was on the Gugino bandwagon from way back.
Today at The Hardball Times:
- Snapshots: September 8, 1940 -- Fenway Park (by John Brattain)
- Fantasy Report: 5/13/05 (by Ben Jacobs)
Today's Picks (32-21, +$1,175):
Texas (Drese) +130 over Minnesota (Mays)
Boston (Gonzalez) -110 over Seattle (Pineiro)
Thursday, May 12, 2005
Minor League Update: Triple-A RochesterOne of the disappointing things about being a Twins fan is that you never have any dreams of your favorite team signing a big free agent. The Twins just don't do that, at least not since ... geez, I don't know, maybe Terry Steinbach and Paul Molitor? In other words, it's been a while. The flip side to that is, of course, that one of the nice things about being a Twins fan is that you can track the future of the franchise as they make their way up through the minor leagues.
For instance, this time last year Justin Morneau, Jesse Crain, Terry Tiffee, and Jason Bartlett were playing in the minors. This time two years ago it was Lew Ford, Michael Cuddyer, and Joe Mauer. Each offseason, veterans leave and prospects are asked to fill their spots on the roster. It is both good and bad, but it is definitely something that makes keeping an eye on the team's prospects a whole lot more interesting.
With a little more than a month in the books, I thought it would be worthwhile to take a team-by-team look at what's going on in the Twins' minor-league system. We'll start at the top today, with the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings, who are 17-15 and a game back in the International League North.
He had a 98-to-28 strikeout-to-walk ratio at Double-A last year, and has a 35-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio so far this season. Jones appears to have as much power potential as anyone in the organization and that certainly makes him an intriguing prospect, but a 24-year-old hitter who is drawing a walk per week in the high minors and striking out four times for every free pass he gets isn't destined to become a star in the majors.
Though he's only a career .245/.295/.327 hitter in the majors, Abernathy hit .294/.357/.463 at Triple-A last year and there's a decent shot he could match Luis Rivas' production at second base in 2005 -- and he'd do it for about 20% of the cost. It'll never happen, of course -- he'll do a nice job for Triple-A Rochester.Sure enough, Abernathy is hitting .311/.376/.459 in 20 games at Rochester. And, sure enough, I doubt he has any chance of getting a look before September unless an injury hits.
Durbin's sudden inability to throw strikes is a major concern at this point, because he looked capable of stepping into the rotation on a full-time basis in 2006. His struggles are also why Scott Baker, who was 1-0 with a 1.33 ERA and 20-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in five Triple-A starts, was called up to sub for Juan Rincon this month.
Injuries have since sidetracked his career, and Smith has thrown a grand total of just 173.1 innings between the majors and minors since 2001, including just 16.2 innings last season. He last pitched in the majors back in 2002. I have no idea what sort of condition Smith's left shoulder is in, but he's still just 24 years old. If the Twins can get him back on track and turn him into something at the major-league level, it would be one hell of a pickup.
UPDATE: Baseball Tonight researcher and friend of AG.com Mark Simon has a nice piece on Joe Nathan in today's "Baseball Tonight Extra." Go check it out (scroll down to the bottom).
Today at The Hardball Times:
- ¡Cuídate, Tony Peña! (by Craig Burley)
- Ten Things I Didn't Know Last Week (by Studes)
Today's Picks (31-21, +$1,075):
Chicago (Garland) -120 over Baltimore (Chen)
Wednesday, May 11, 2005
Twins 6, Orioles 4Last night was one of those games that just felt like a loss from the outset. Brad Radke had a bad case of homeritis, serving up long balls to Javy Lopez, Rafael Palmeiro, and Brian Roberts before he had recorded his 13th out, Baltimore's starting pitcher, Erik Bedard, shut the Twins' lineup down for the second night in a row, and it was 4-1 Orioles after five innings.
Yet somehow the Twins managed to tie it up and then win it in extra innings, and come September wins like last night's are what can put a team over the top. Plus, it didn't hurt that the Devil Rays, fresh off a three-game sweep at the hands of the Twins, miraculously beat the White Sox for the second straight game. It doesn't get much better than watching Joe Nathan slam the door on a Twins win and then flipping channels in time to see Jorge Cantu take Shingo Takatsu deep for a walkoff homer.
The key moment of the game took place in the top of the 10th inning, after the Twins tied the Orioles at 4-4 on the strength of three sacrifice flies. With Jason Bartlett due to lead off the inning against righty Todd Williams, Ron Gardenhire brought Jacque Jones off the bench to pinch hit. Baltimore manager Lee Mazzilli countered by bringing in lefty Steve Kline from the bullpen to face Jones.
It was a no-brainer move on Mazzilli's part, as Kline is Baltimore's situational lefty and Jones has been significantly worse against southpaws for his entire career. Add in the fact that left-handed batters Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, also significantly worse against southpaws during their brief careers, were due up two batters after Jones and it was about as good a move as Mazzilli could have made and about as good a situation as he could have asked for.
And, thankfully, it completely backfired. Jones fell behind Kline 0-2, and just when I started cursing at the TV set he fought back to bring the count full at 3-2. Then, just as I started begging the TV set for a walk, Jones hammered Kline's 3-2 offering into the seats in right-center to give the Twins a 5-4 lead. Prior to that pitch, Kline had allowed a total of just three home runs to left-handed batters since 2002, a span of 306 at-bats. Similarly, Jones had hit just five homers off southpaws in his last 330 at-bats.
Shannon Stewart capitalized on what was surely a shell-shocked Kline, swinging at a first-pitch fastball right over the heart of the plate and driving it out to left field to put the Twins up 6-4. Kline then got Nick Punto, Mauer, and Morneau on two ground outs and a strikeout, but the damage had already been done. Nathan came in for the bottom of the 10th and was his typically unhittable self, recording his 10th save of the season.
Last night's game was definitely one of those hard-fought, gritty, gutty wins that everyone loves to wax poetic about. The Twins fell behind early, scratched out enough runs to stay in the game despite an overall lack of hitting, and captured an unlikely win when an unlikely hero came through in a tough situation. Suffice it to say I won't be complaining about Jones being in the lineup against a lefty for at least a week.
And let's talk a little bit about Punto. In his first game since being publicly handed the second-base job, Punto had the sort of night the Twins have long dreamed of Luis Rivas having. He got on base in a key spot and changed the game with his speed and hustle. With the Twins down 4-3 in the eighth inning, Punto reached on an infield single, stole second base, narrowly advanced to third on a ball in the dirt, and sprinted home with the tying run on a Mauer fly ball to left field.
It was "small ball" at its finest, and the sort of all-out effort that had to have Gardenhire smiling from the bench and feeling good about his decision to bench Rivas. And you know it had me smiling. As Jim Young once said: "Look at the f---ing smile on my face. Ear to ear, baby."
Today at The Hardball Times:
- Introducing PrOPS (by J.C. Bradbury)
- Business of Baseball Report (by Brian Borawski)
Today's Picks (30-20, +$1,130):
Chicago (Hernandez) -145 over Tampa Bay (Brazelton)
Minnesota (Santana) -155 over Baltimore (Ponson)
Tuesday, May 10, 2005
FinallyLast night's punchless loss to Daniel Cabrera and the Orioles was tough to take, but there was a wonderful piece of news in this morning's Minneapolis Star Tribune that makes it all better:
Second base belongs to PuntoSomebody pinch me, because I think I'm dreaming.
I remain skeptical that this isn't just another in the long line of motivational ploys the Twins have tried in an attempt to turn Luis Rivas into something other than a horrible baseball player, but at the very least it's a really strong motivational ploy. So remember May 10, 2005, because if we're all lucky it might just mark the end of the long and painful Luis Rivas Era.
Nick Punto is little more than a run-of-the-mill utility infielder and I am by no means suggesting that he is a massive upgrade over Rivas or the long-term answer at second base for the Twins. But if Punto is who the team needed to finally force Rivas to his rightful place on the bench, then that's good enough for me.
Rather than comment further on this momentous occasion that has taken such a long time coming, I think I'm just going to bask in the glory of it for 24 marvelous hours. I imagine this is what it felt like when, say, the Berlin Wall tumbled to the ground. Ding dong, the witch is dead. Now, can we get that $1.625 million back?
Today at The Hardball Times:
- Whither the Closer? Part Two (by Steve Treder)
- I'm Batty for Baseball Stats (by Studes)
Today's Picks (29-19, +$1,100):
Minnesota (Radke) +130 over Baltimore (Bedard)
Kansas City (Greinke) +180 over Toronto (Halladay)
Monday, May 09, 2005
Taking Care of BusinessThis weekend seemed like a great time to make up a game or two on the White Sox. The Twins headed to Tampa Bay for a three-game series against the Devil Rays, whose 11-18 record had them in a familiar position near the bottom of the league. They'd be up against three starting pitchers -- Dewon Brazelton, Scott Kazmir, and Doug Waechtler -- who were a combined 2-9 this season and 19-36 in their careers, and Johan Santana was set to start the first game of the series.
Meanwhile, Chicago was headed to Toronto for a three-game series with the Blue Jays, who were 16-13 and had won seven of their last nine games. Sadly, it didn't quite turn out how I imagined. The Twins did their part, sweeping the lifeless Devil Rays while outscoring them 24-8 in the three games, but the White Sox also swept the Blue Jays to maintain their 4.5-game lead atop the American League Central.
I did, however, come to a startling realization while watching the ninth inning of Chicago's 5-4 win over Toronto yesterday afternoon. With Damaso Marte just a couple outs away from saving the White Sox's MLB-leading 24th win of the season, I realized that if the Twins keep playing as well as they are playing right now, it won't matter one bit whether or not the White Sox keep up their current pace.
Chicago could continue playing .774 baseball all year and end up with an all-time record 125 wins, and the Twins will still make the playoffs for the fourth straight season. Heck, thanks to the otherwise loathsome Wild Card, the White Sox could finish the year on a 139-game winning streak, end up at a record-shattering 155-7, and the Twins will still need the same seven October wins to get to the World Series as they needed last year. And in 2003. And in 2002.
Because if the Twins continue to play as well as they're playing right now -- winning nine of their last dozen games to rank third in the AL at 19-11 overall -- they'll cruise into the postseason and play either the winner of the AL East or the AL West in the best-of-five American League Division Series. In other words, all the Twins have to do is take care of their own business and the rest will take care of itself.
In addition to being a cliche, that seems like a rather obvious sentiment. But it's also quite reassuring in a season that has seen the Twins' chief rivals start out as hot as a team can be. I am far from giving up on the AL Central, and in fact I still think the Twins will end the season at the top of the division, but it is nice to know that there's no reason to go crazy wondering if the White Sox will ever lose again.
As long as the Twins keep winning, it doesn't much matter what the White Sox do. That is, of course, if you don't mind getting your postseason berth without winning the division. It's not my favorite way to make the playoffs, and I am really looking forward to typing "back-to-back-to-back-to-back" a few times next year, but it certainly worked out okay for the Red Sox last October. Not to mention the Marlins in 2003 and Angels in 2002.
Those of you who, like me, still have your hearts set on another division crown shouldn't give up hope either. Four and a half games is far from an insurmountable deficit on May 9. In fact, last year at this time the Twins and White Sox were tied atop the AL Central at 17-12, but everyone forgets that because the Twins ended up outplaying Chicago by nine games from May 9 to the end of the season. If Minnesota does that again this year, they'll win the division by five games.
This Twins team may just be shaping up to be the franchise's best since at least 1991, and it's important to remember that while you yell at the TV after another Chicago win. After ranking near the bottom of the league in offense last season, the Twins currently rank third in the AL in batting average (.281), second in on-base percentage (.356), fourth in slugging percentage (.427), and fourth in runs scored per game (5.10). And after leading the league in pitching last year, they currently rank second in both ERA (3.43) and runs allowed per game (3.73).
Santana is 5-1 with a 2.88 ERA and 59-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio, Jesse Crain and Joe Nathan have combined for a 0.00 ERA in 23 innings, Joe Mauer is hitting .356/.447/.529 and we haven't heard a thing about The Knee in weeks, Jacque Jones is hitting .341/.451/.538 with a team-best 17 walks, Justin Morneau is hitting .429/.448/.841 with 20 RBIs in 16 games, Shannon Stewart, Michael Cuddyer, Lew Ford, and Torii Hunter have yet to get on track ... and the team is on pace to go 103-59.
So really, who cares about the White Sox?
Today at The Hardball Times:
- News, Notes and Quotes (May 9, 2005) (by Aaron Gleeman)
Today's Picks (29-18, +$1,270):
Chicago (Garcia) -170 over Tampa Bay (Nomo)