Before I get to the regularly scheduled link dump, a quick note: I will be featured on this week's Rosen's Sports Sunday, which airs locally at 10:35 p.m. on CBS. I'm hoping there's a video clip online that I can link to here Monday, but if you feel like watching me babble about myself and the Twins live, turn on CBS right after the 10 o'clock news Sunday night.
As far as I know Sunday's piece will complete my little mediablitz, so you won't have to see my mug again for a while. With that bit of promotion out of the way, let's get to the links ...
I haven't linked to any new pictures of the Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com in a while, so here are some shots of Elisha Cuthbertin something called 944 Magazine. The other day I was debating whether or not Cuthbert should lose her title, but then I watched The Girl Next Door for probably the dozenth time and decided she was safe for another decade or so.
This isn't a link, but humor me. Last week a service person from a company that shall remain nameless came out to my house to fix the air conditioner. After looking things over and flipping a few switches he told me that the AC needed a new filter. I'm just about the least-handy person in the world, so I asked where I would go to get something like that.
He quickly responded, "You can get it at any hardware store in free, white America." Maybe I'm just out of touch with the world, but that's sort of an odd thing for someone being paid to provide a service to a complete stranger to say, isn't it? Perhaps the saying is more prevalent than I know, but it seemed to me like a fairly racist comment. I'm not the sort of person who would call the guy's employer and tell them what he said, but apparently I am the sort of person who would write about it on his blog.
It's amazing how quickly the Wolves have gone from being in the Western Conference Finals to being a complete joke of a franchise. They benched their two best players for the final two weeks of the season in order to secure better draft position and then made an absolute mockery of the final game of the year.
Mark Madsenwent 1-for-15 from the floor, taking (and missing) seven three-pointers after not attempting a single three-pointer during the first 81 games of the season. I'm not sure why the NBA turns a blind eye to teams that so blatantly throw games, but apparently it's not considered a big deal. As a Wolves fan, it certainly leaves a horrible taste in my mouth heading into the offseason. Of course, Wolves fans already have a horrible taste in their mouth after watching the losses pile up this year.
Considering the team's recent draft and tradehistory, and the many horrendous contracts on the books, I find it hard to stomach that Kevin McHalewill be back for another year. The team better hit a home run with this year's lottery pick, because the Wolves lost their first-round pick for 2007 and 2008 while making bad trades with the Clippers and Celtics.
If you are somehow able to ignore the left side of this picture, the right side is pretty amazing.
How is that a college basketball player can be named "the nation's top amateur athlete" after shooting 3-for-18 and 5-for-21 in arguably the two biggest games of his season? Hell, in the final 10 games of the season J.J. Redick shot 36 percent from the floor while committing 25 turnovers, and his team lost three times. You're telling me he was better than Reggie Bush or Vince Young, let alone athletes from the sports no one cares about?
At least Redick has the right idea:
I'm thinking to myself I really don't belong in their company. They win world championships and all I do is score.
This is why people hate Duke. Oh, and put me on record as saying that Redick will be nothing more than a role player in the NBA. Because of that I fully expect the Wolves to take him with the seventh pick.
- There are at least 35 million blogs, with approximately 19 million that are updated regularly and four million that are updated weekly.
- The blogosphere has doubled in size every six months since 2004 and is now 60 times bigger than it was three years ago.
- About 75,000 new blogs are created each day, which works out to a new blog every second.
I was talking to someone who I would consider an old-school print journalist last week and he mentioned to me that he thinks "blogging is nothing more than a fad." Maybe, but that's one hell of a fad. When I started this site, way back in 2002, there were no more than a dozen widely read baseball blogs. Now there are literally hundreds. It's been amazing to watch the entire medium grow at such an incredibly rapid pace.
Mark Saxon of the Orange County Registersuggests that the Twins might look to sign pending free agent (and North Dakota native) Darin Erstad if they decide not to pick up Torii Hunter's $12 million option for next season. Erstad has been incredibly overrated while playing first base for the past two years, but as a center fielder he has plenty of value.
Signing Erstad to a one-year deal for a fraction of what Hunter would cost while giving Denard Span a little extra time at Triple-A would be a decent idea. On the other hand, Span is hitting .380/.446/.480 in 13 games at Double-A this year, so if he keeps that up the Twins can just skip the middle man.
I meant to link to this at the time, but forgot. Last week I wrote a rare article for The Hardball Times about Neifi Perez's quest to become the least-valuable hitter in modern baseball history. I think the article is pretty amusing and it was linked to by a whole bunch of different places--including the Wall Street Journal--so some of you might be interested in reading it.
I've also been lax in promoting my work at Rotoworld, so here's a reminder that I write a "Daily Dose" column every weekday. You can read it at Rotoworld.com each afternoon by clicking here or you can read it each afternoon at USAToday.com by clicking here.
Finally, I want to once again offer my sincere thanks to everyone who sent along words of support and sympathy regarding my sick dog, Samantha. It's been a tough few days for me, but having this blog has helped keep my mind occupied and the wonderfully thoughtful and heartfelt comments and e-mails that continue to roll in have helped me feel better about the situation. She's doing well so far, and I'm hoping for a few more good weeks that allow her to live out the rest of her life without much pain.
Before I get to some baseball talk, I want to thank everyone who offered up their support yesterday after I wrote about my sick 6-year-old Boston Terrier, Samantha. The response was truly overwhelming--50 comments, several dozen e-mails, and a few entries on otherblogs--and hearing everyone's stories about the dogs they've loved and lost made me feel a little better about the whole situation.
Unfortunately, we learned yesterday that Sammi has at most two months to live, and the specialist at the University of Minnesota indicated that it's more likely that she'll begin to go downhill quickly within a month. I was sort of expecting to hear that, but the news was made harder to take by the fact that she had a really good day yesterday, walking around the house without any problems, going up and down the stairs a few times, and hopping on the bed to take a nap with me in the afternoon.
For now we are going to let her be, but we plan to move quickly once she starts to suffer. I tried to make peace with her being seriously ill once we signed on for the CT scan last week, but now that there's an actual timetable involved it is certainly a lot more "real." She won't last the entire summer, she won't be around when I leave to attend the SABR convention at the end of June, and she probably won't even be here when my family from Milwaukee visits in two months.
If only because I need to take my mind off Sammi for a while, here are some Twins notes ...
I don't have my usual collection of notes for last night's game--although it was a great one with tons of interesting subplots--but in light of how the game ended I wanted to point out thesequotes from Nick Nelson of Nick & Nick's Twins Blog in the comments section here earlier this week:
Has Michael Cuddyer ever come up with a meaningful hit? ... [W]hile at times a capable major league player, Cuddyer is one of the worst players under pressure that I've ever seen.
There are various aspects of Cuddyer's track record that lead me to believe he simply does not handle pressure well. ... While Cuddy has put up respectable numbers in his career, he rarely seems to do his damage at opportune times.
(To be clear, I'm mostly just giving Nick a hard time. I like him, think he does a nice job blogging, and enjoy his comments here. I just think he has irrational feelings about Cuddyer and immediately thought of the comments he made when Cuddyer went deep to win the game. Plus, a few minutes after the game he instant messaged me and said: "Look, I know what you're gonna say, so all I can ask is ... go easy on me.")
Here's a picture of Sammi watching while Lew Ford coaxes a hard-fought, game-tying walk off Francisco Rodriguez:
And here's a picture of Sammi just a short time later, moments after Cuddyer won the game with a walk-off homer:
A longtime reader who goes by the name "Barry Metropolis" in the comments section recently had a chance to hear Twins general manager Terry Ryan speak to his University of Minnesota law school class. Metropolis wrote up the experience at his blog and included all sorts of interesting and fairly revealing details about what Ryan reportedly said.
Among the highlights: Ryan said Rondell White's at-bats have been "terrible" ... During his own playing career Ryan spent too much time "drinking, chasing, and carousing" ... He's worried about Francisco Liriano's arrest for drunk driving and doesn't want him to become "another Dwight Gooden" ... Torii Hunter may not be back next season because of his high salary ... A's general manager Billy Beane is "smarter than some people give him credit for."
There are a lot more interesting notes in what was a lengthy write-up, and I found Ryan's extended comments on Liriano particularly fascinating. I feel somewhat uneasy quoting specific passages--I wasn't there to witness Ryan's talk and given the nature of his comments I'm unsure if he was under the impression that what he said would show up in writing somewhere--but if you're curious, check out Metropolis' blog for the full story.
Speaking of Hunter possibly not returning next season, Johnny Damon said last week that he'd be willing to move from center field to make room for Hunter on the Yankees. I said this offseason that trading Hunter would be a good decision, so I certainly won't be heartbroken if he leaves after the season. However, given his potential trade value over the past couple years it will be a shame if Hunter leaves without the Twins receiving anything in return. Cashing Hunter in for a top prospect like Philip Hughes while clearing about $10 million off the books would be nice.
Whenever Johan Santana gets roughed up against Toronto the local media (and specifically Shecky Souhan) speculates about the Blue Jays stealing signs. Jason Varitek and the Red Sox apparently agree, because when playing the Blue Jays they plan specifically for the sign-stealing. As Varitek told the Boston Herald: "They're known for relaying signs at second. They always have been and they're good at it."
Of course, the bigger issue is perhaps why sign-stealing hurts Santana more than it does other pitchers. After all, the Blue Jays have knocked Santana around, but last year they ranked fifth among AL teams in runs scored and the year before that they ranked 12th. I'm guessing that when it comes to Santana struggling against Toronto a bigger deal is made of the sign-stealing than is probably merited.
Monday in this space I wrote that one of Ron Gardenhire's biggest weaknesses as a manager is that "starting pitchers are almost never pulled from a game until they've gotten themselves into trouble." Sure enough, on Tuesday he left Carlos Silva in the game to give up eight runs on 12 hits. Here's what Gardenhire had to say after the game:
It just didn't work out for us. It just kinda got away from us at the end.
Not quite. It actually "got away" from the Twins in the middle, when Silva gave up two runs in the fourth inning and three more runs in the fifth inning, but Gardenhire stubbornly left Silva in long enough for things to get really ugly. Last night Kyle Lohse stuck around long enough to see six runs cross the plate (with another two runners on base).
Jason Williams of the St. Paul Pioneer Press had an interesting article last week about the Twins' pursuit of Frank Thomas this winter. The article reports that Thomas and the Twins talked during the offseason, but the Twins turned to White instead because they were concerned about Thomas' injury status and wanted to get something worked out with a new designated hitter quickly.
Thomas has long been one of my favorite players and I would have loved to see him end his career with the Twins. On the other hand, his ankle injury remains a question mark and has basically sapped him of the ability to do more than jog around the bases, and like White he's struggled thus far. With that said, Thomas still has tons of power and a great eye at the plate, which is something the Twins certainly could have used in the middle of the lineup.
Remember how I kept bugging the Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com, LaVelle E. Neal, to write something in the Minneapolis Star Tribune about Jay Rainville's season-ending shoulder injury? Well, he finally did last week. I consider this a morale victory, even though it took about a month for news of the injury to make it into the paper. I'm hopeful that one day I will be able to use the newspaper as my personal message board, coaxing reporters into printing whatever I bug them about.
Last night's game featured all sorts of interesting things. Tony Batista batted cleanup, Rondell White got a hit, J.C. Romero returned to the Metrodome as the enemy, Carlos Silva once again had trouble keeping the ball on the ground, and the Twins lost to drop below .500. Despite all of that, I'm not going to talk about the Twins today. I'm just not in the mood.
A couple months ago my 6-year-old Boston Terrier, Samantha, started having trouble jumping up on my bed. She had been a Dominique Wilkins-caliber leaper in the past, so seeing her unable to make a safe landing every time was concerning. Then one day she jumped off the bed and squealed as she landed. I didn't think much of it at the time, in part because she's occasionally had some minor knee problems.
However, over the next few weeks she began to walk gingerly around the house and was rarely able to jump up or down from anything. It gradually got worse. Soon she was walking around like a drunk, stumbling over her own feet, bumping into everything in her path, and tipping over seemingly at random. She was no longer even interested in attempting to get up on my bed and when I picked her up and put her there she was deathly afraid of jumping down on her own.
Then one day she started squealing again. Sometimes it happened when she was walking around or trying to climb stairs, but other times it took place when she was simply sitting quietly on the floor. She also stopped eating and drinking, and would stare aimlessly off into space for hours at a time. It was absolutely horrible to watch, as I was overtaken with a mix of helplessness and pity.
My mom and I took her to the vet, who put her on a mix of steroids, pain-killers, and anti-inflammatory medication, with the hope that her injury was perhaps a pinched nerve of some sort that came when she landed awkwardly jumping off the bed. That made her feel better at first, but when we began weaning her off the medication all the symptoms came back.
X-rays were taken, but nothing was found. Meanwhile, her motor skills deteriorated further, her right eye closed up almost completely, a dent in her head formed behind the eye, most of the right side of her face became paralyzed, and the squeals returned. She had some good days when she was in a good mood and able to jump up on a bed without problems, and we bought her a set of "doggy steps" to ease her path down.
But when a 6-year-old dog is limping around the house and squealing that means they are in obvious pain, and that's something that simply can't continue for very long. So, last night we took Sammi to the VCA Animal Hospital in Richfield, where Vet Imaging Services took a CT scan of her scull. What they discovered was a brain tumor, which the vet described afterward as "very big," "growing," and "probably inoperable."
The diagnosis makes sense in hindsight, as it explains both her loss of motor skills and the deterioration of the right side of her head, face, and jaw. What it doesn't explain is the source of her pain that causes the squealing, but the vet hypothesized that perhaps that was due to headaches caused by the growing tumor. Whatever the case, we now know what has caused Sammi to fall apart over these last couple months.
There is a certain part of me that feels silly for caring so much about a dog. After all, I've seen family members go through horrible illnesses in the past and logically that is far worse than going through something similar with an animal. However, there is also a part of me that sees a sick dog as something even worse. People can at least make sense of what they're going through, but all Sammi knows is that she feels like crap every day and suddenly can't do the things she used to.
I'm not sure what the next step is. We're supposed to hear back from a radiologist at the University of Minnesota today, and I'm guessing some sort of a timetable will soon follow. There will certainly be options to pursue, such a chemotherapy or even surgery. However, while I would without question be willing to take on the incredible financial burden that comes with that--the X-rays, CT scan, medication, and vet visits have racked up a huge bill on their own--I don't think it's right to make a dog go through it.
Just a few months ago Sammi was posing with me for a story in Sports Illustrated, taking over the photo shoot when the photographer predictably fell in love with her and later receiving the bulk of the compliments from people who saw the picture (which is shown below). And now I fear her life is coming to an end. It's a shame, because there has never been a nicer, sweeter dog who was less deserving of this fate.
An individual who is observed to be inconstant to his plans, or perhaps to carry on his affairs without any plan at all, is marked at once, by all prudent people, as a speedy victim to his own unsteadiness and folly.
- Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers
Heading into spring training the feeling seemed to be that the Twins would begin the season with Michael Cuddyer and Lew Ford splitting time in right field, and would send Jason Kubel down to Triple-A for a couple months to both get healthy and start hitting again after an entire season off. When Kubel started showing that he was relatively healthy and hit well near the end of camp, the Twins decided instead that they would bring him north with the team and hand him regular at-bats in right field.
He started against Roy Halladay on Opening Day and against Josh Towers the next day, and after a couple days on the bench so Cuddyer and Ford could make their season debuts Kubel was back in right field for the next two games. Sadly, after going 0-for-2 with a walk in the sixth game, the Twins abandoned their plan. Over the next six games Kubel received a total of four at-bats, and when Ruben Sierra was activated from the disabled list Sunday Kubel was sent down to make room on the roster.
Kubel's situation represents yet another example of the Twins mismanaging their young hitters. This long-standing tradition is something I discussed earlier this month in relation to Jason Bartlett, and now you can add Kubel's name to the long list of position players who have been jerked around to varying degrees over the years because of the Twins' impatience, indecision, and lack of long-term planning.
If Ron Gardenhire and Terry Ryan were so impressed with Kubel this spring that they felt he had to make the Opening Day roster, that's fine. However, if that's the case he needed a lot longer than four starts to establish himself in the lineup. And if a poor performance in four measly starts was enough to convince Gardenhire and Ryan that Kubel in fact wasn't ready to be playing regularly in the majors right now, then their decision to bring him north was terribly shortsighted.
Meanwhile, the jerking around of Kubel also meant that the annual tradition of jerking Cuddyer around also took place. With Kubel at Triple-A Cuddyer is now in line for the bulk of the at-bats in right field, which is fine. However, the problem with how the situation played out is that during Kubel's incredibly short opportunity to claim the everyday job, Cuddyer sat on the bench. In fact, Cuddyer's situation was basically the opposite of Kubel's.
Cuddyer barely played during the first six games of the year and then, once Gardenhire apparently soured on Kubel, he was back to playing regularly. Again, this shows a lack of planning on the Twins' part. If they thought this spring that Kubel should be the starter he needed a much longer leash than one week after not playing at all the previous year. And if the team thought this spring that Cuddyer should be the starter they shouldn't have kept him on the bench for the first week of the year.
Instead, Kubel was given false hope and shown that the organization is perfectly willing to jerk someone around if they play poorly for a handful of games. And Cuddyer is now expected to do well with the starting job and will certainly lose his spot in the lineup if he doesn't, yet he wasn't even given the chance to play regularly during the first week of the year to prepare himself. It's a mess all the way around.
I refuse to believe that the lack of development among young position players over the past decade is a coincidence and I refuse to believe that the numerous cases of the team jerking hitters around doesn't have a negative impact. If you give Kubel a starting job and then take that job away from him a week later, that's going to do something to him. If you continuously move Cuddyer in and out of the lineup, nailing him to the bench in between short stints of regular at-bats that come at a different defensive position seemingly every time, that's going to do something to him.
And if you don't believe me, here's what Kubel said shortly after learning of his demotion:
I couldn't relax too much thinking about what might happen. It's been on my mind the whole year. I knew the team couldn't keep three guys out there in right.
As he returns from what was a potentially career-threatening injury, the Twins could have let Kubel experience some success in the minors before calling him up. Instead, they handed him a major-league job that was almost immediately taken away, and in the process demoted him back to Triple-A feeling like a failure. The St. Paul Pioneer Press described Kubel as "teary-eyed" as he headed to Rochester.
When Kubel does return to the Twins he'll almost certainly be feeling added pressure because of how he was treated this time, which is the exact opposite of how you want a young player to feel. Of course, it's wonderful to know that he won't be alone in that feeling. Cuddyer and Bartlett will know exactly what he's going through.
Let's get something out of the way right off the bat: Tony Batista and Juan Castro have been fantastic during the season's first two weeks. That's not to say that they'll keep it up all year or that people like me were wrong for thinking that making them two-ninths of a lineup that was horrible last season was a bad decision, but there's no denying how well they've each played thus far.
Castro has shown off his typically fluid and impressive-looking defense while wearing out the right-side of the field with bloops and liners that find that magical spot beyond the infield and in front of the right fielder. Batista has recovered from an early display of rangelessness to show that he can make non-routine plays at third base, and has shown a ton of power and surprising discipline at the plate.
As much as any pair of Twins players, Batista (.297/.366/.568) and Castro (.355/.394/.355) have been responsible for the team's .500 start. And while starting the season with six wins and six losses may not sound like much, it's a major accomplishment considering the Twins' schedule. Opening on the road against the Blue Jays and Indians is tough, but then going home to face perhaps the league's top two teams in the A's and Yankees is downright brutal.
After the Twins' 1-5 start had everyone depressed, I attempted to play the role of an optimistic fan for once by telling someone that if the team could simply manage to get out of April at .500 they'd be in great shape for the remainder of the season. There's still a long way to go before that happens--the Angels and White Sox are next up on the incredibly unforgiving early season schedule--but there's little doubt that the first dozen games of the season have played out favorably for the Twins.
With 12 games down and only 150 more to go, let's go over the good and the bad from the early season. I'll start with the good stuff in addition to Batista and Castro, so if you're one of many optimistic Twins fans who frequents this site and gets upset when I criticize the team, you can skip the last section to avoid the indignity of having some negative aspects of your favorite team discussed (and if you're a cynical bastard like myself, feel free to skip to the bottom).
Scott Baker's performance against the Yankees Friday night was one of the most impressive I've ever seen from a young pitcher. Facing perhaps baseball's best lineup--a gauntlet of All-Stars and Hall of Famers who chew 24-year-olds up and spit them out--Baker pitched brilliantly. He changed speeds exceptionally well, used everything in his expansive repertoire of pitches, and showed an approach to pitching that is extremely impressive for a guy in his first full season.
The hype surrounding Francisco Liriano became almost unbelievable at times over the winter, but now that he's on the mound again all of it seems rather understated. Liriano has made hitters look absolutely silly in nearly every at-bat, racking up 13 strikeouts in 8.1 innings while allowing just six baserunners. He's quickly forced himself into a more important bullpen role and the cries for him to join the starting rotation have begun sooner than even I imagined.
I'll say what has become one of my favorite lines: Joe Mauer is a stud. The power still isn't there, but Mauer's plate discipline and raw hitting talent have been on display more than ever. He effortlessly lays off borderline pitches regardless of the count, seemingly willing the umpire into calling them balls, and then deposits a line drive somewhere for another hit. His ninth-inning at-bat against Mariano Rivera Saturday was amazing to watch, and behind the plate he's very quietly made the Twins a team that opponents rarely attempt to run on.
The bench has been very productive in limited opportunities, as Mike Redmond, Nick Punto, and Luis Rodriguez have each come up with big games already. There isn't a better catching situation in the majors than Mauer and Redmond, and Rodriguez has quickly become one of my favorite players. As for Punto ... like with Batista and Castro sometimes it's nice to appreciate what's already happened rather than focus on what's likely to occur in the future.
Luis Castillo has been everything I thought he'd be and more. His approach at the plate is downright fun to watch, his defense at second base has been fantastic since a shaky first game, and he's shown that there's some life in his legs when needed. Seeing Castillo man the position and bat so effectively near the top of the lineup after years of watching Luis Rivas is a revelation.
I'm not sure how it feels to the person its attached to, but to everyone else Torii Hunter's surgically repaired ankle looks great. Hunter has played his usual outstanding defense in center field and has shown enough aggressiveness on the bases to put aside any concerns that the ankle will slow him early on. There's still the danger of aggravating the injury, of course, but for now Hunter looks as good as ever.
Shannon Stewart began this season like he didn't even remember what went on last year, going 5-for-9 with two homers in the first two games against Toronto. He still looks lost at times tracking down fly balls in left field and hasn't shown any power since the second game, but overall he's been every bit as good as the guy people foolishly talked up as an MVP candidate in 2003.
Juan Rincon was a major question mark coming out of spring training because of an elbow injury, but he has looked more or less like the Rincon of old thus far. He's given up a few more hits than you'd expect, but he's also gotten out of jams effectively and racked up six strikeouts in 6.1 innings of work. Rincon has been perhaps the most underrated member of the Twins during the past three years and having him pitching at full capacity is hugely important.
Michael Cuddyer went hitless in his first seven at-bats, but since then he's gone 3-for-11 with a homer and a double. That's not particularly meaningful, obviously, but more than that I've been encouraged by how good he looks defensively in right field. I still think Cuddyer should be in the infield, but he's shown good range to go along with what is an extremely strong arm. Now, if only the Twins would have planned ahead far enough to not have their starting right fielder spend the first week of the season on the bench.
The Twins haven't had a 30-homer hitter since 1987 and have had just two 100-RBI seasons since 1996. Through a dozen games Justin Morneau has four homers and 13 RBIs, putting him on roughly a 50-homer, 160-RBI pace. He's not walking much and still can't hit lefties, but man it's nice to see someone with some big-time power for once. Plus, no one bloops a single past Robinson Cano's outstretched glove better than Morneau.
For whatever problems the Twins may encounter in the first eight innings of games this season, they can be confident that with Joe Nathan around the ninth inning with go smoothly just about every time. Nathan has been limited to just three innings thus far because Ron Gardenhire continues to use him in a very rigid way, but he's looked as dominant as ever.
As I feared because of his overly fortunate 2005 campaign--he had a good ERA despite a sub par strikeout rate and mediocre control--Jesse Crain has gotten off to a very rough start. Here's what I wrote about him Thursday in this space:
Crain has missed more bats so far this year than he did last season, but he remains far too hittable for a guy with his stuff. At this point he is simply trying to throw a 95 MPH fastball past every hitter, on every pitch. That'll work some of the time, and maybe even most of the time, but when it doesn't work things will get ugly.
Crain has very little movement on his fastball, and regardless of how hard you throw good major-league hitters can catch up to something that is arrow straight. He also seems very hesitant to rely on his off-speed pitches despite the fact that they can be effective.
And that was before he coughed up the lead (and a win for Johan Santana) against the Yankees Saturday night. Until pitching coach Rick Anderson (or perhaps Baker) convinces Crain that the key to getting big-league hitters out goes beyond throwing the ball really hard, he's going to be unreliable in the late innings. Luckily Rincon is ahead of schedule, so Crain can safely be pushed into a low-leverage role until he gets things straightened out.
Jason Kubel looked out of sync at the plate, trying to pull just about every pitch he saw and ending up with little more than a whole bunch of ground outs to second base. With Ruben Sierra now off the disabled list, Kubel is headed back to Triple-A for a while to get his bat going. Kubel playing at Triple-A for a few months is fine--he missed an entire year after all, and was far from an established major leaguer before the injury--but that the Twins had to yank him around beforehand is both par for the course and sad.
Gardenhire has always struggled to make good decisions setting his lineup, but so far this year his actual in-game managing has been iffy. He's wasting outs by allowing one of the team's best hitters to bunt nearly every time someone is on base and starting pitchers are almost never pulled from a game until they've gotten themselves into trouble. There are some other head-scratchers too, but they are fairly insignificant compared to those two things. Oh, and the baserunners blunders that were so hard to take last season? They haven't disappeared.
Santana is 0-2 with a 5.71 ERA in three starts, although he's pitched well enough to have picked up a win with better support from the lineup and to have a lower ERA with better support from the bullpen. Still, he's definitely struggling. The good news is that he essentially starts off like this every season, before eventually morphing into baseball's best pitcher sometime around June 1. After three starts, Santana had a 6.46 ERA in 2004 and a 4.00 ERA in 2005, and he ended up being the league's best pitcher in both seasons.
Brad Radke has put the Twins in a hole in each of his three starts, and while he continues to be a strike-throwing machine he has served up seven homers in 19 innings. When Radke's big decline comes--and it hits nearly every pitcher eventually--it will likely be because he can't keep the ball in the ballpark. He'll always have great control and will always be crafty enough to get people out, but at some point he's going to simply be throwing batting practice. I'm willing to cut him some slack because of the lineups he's faced, but I'm far less optimistic about Radke getting on track than I am with Santana.
Rondell White has been horrendous. Everyone keeps saying that he's "hitting the ball hard" and has just "been unlucky," and that's certainly true to some extent. However, he's not hitting the ball at all in a high percentage of his at-bats, and his penchant for laying off fastballs over the middle and swinging wildly at breaking balls out of the strike zone is already becoming tough to watch. White will surely get on track at some point, but the double plays and strikeouts in key spots have really hurt thus far. When your third-place hitter is being pitched around so teams can get to your cleanup guy, that's a bad sign.