Friday, August 11, 2006
- Michael S. Schmidt of the New York Times wrote an excellent feature on Francisco Liriano's journey from the Dominican Republic to the majors.
- Hall of Fame announcer Ernie Harwell wrote a nice little puff piece on Joe Mauer in the Detroit Free Press.
- Larry Millson of the Toronto Globe & Mail penned a column on Canadian-born Justin Morneau.
- And, sadly, Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe used Liriano to discuss protecting young arms from injuries.
Here's my favorite excerpt:
I follow Francis and his bodyguard through the crowd to find Kaitlyn Bultema. She's dancing on a podium and leaps off at the sight of Francis. She's wearing a skirt-and-shirt ensemble that exposes her stomach, most of her breasts and much of her bottom. I ask her why she wants to appear on "Girls Gone Wild" and she looks me in the eye and says, "I want everybody to see me because I'm hot."Normally I'd mock such an explanation, but that's exactly the sort of logic that has led to Paris Hilton becoming one of the most famous people in the country based on what is essentially zero talent or accomplishments (unless you count the skills displayed in her video). Go read the whole piece.
I'm not sure what it says about me as a person, but aside from baseball and poker the only TV shows I watch regularly are on either HBO (The Sopranos, The Wire, Lucky Louie, Big Love, Entourage, Curb Your Enthusiasm) or FX (Rescue Me, The Shield, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia). I occasionally get hooked for a brief moment on stuff like The OC or Grey's Anatomy, but quickly cut bait when things inevitably get too cheesy.
What's particularly insane about the whole thing is that the live coverage means they aren't able to use hole-card cameras, so I can't even see what cards the players are holding. Still, it's been surprisingly compelling, in large part due to good commentary from Phil Gordon and visits by various big-name pros. The real beauty of it is that by discussing the show just now, I can officially write the expense off on my taxes.
It's funny how some "battles" don't end up following anything close to the script most people expected. For instance, once upon a time there was much debate over whether Christina Aguilera or Britney Spears was better to look at. I also assume there was some debate somewhere over which one was better to listen to, but I've been unable to uncover any evidence of that being the case.At some point I began discussing the Broncos' running-back situation, although you may have to trust me on that given the distracting links I offered up before getting to that point. My favorite e-mail of the week stated, simply: "More Christina Aguilera, less Ron Dayne."
Though [Romero's] hold on a roster spot seemed tenuous Thursday--and it's possible he could be designated for assignment if the Angels need another starter Tuesday-- [manager Mike] Scioscia continued to back the maligned left-hander.I'm shocked--SHOCKED!--that Romero would have command issues. Alexi Casilla, the 22-year-old middle-infield prospect the Twins received for Romero, is hitting .321 with 45 steals between Single-A and Double-A.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
Finally 30It took 19 years and at times the drought seemed like a lot longer than that, but the Twins finally have another 30-homer hitter. Justin Morneau smacked his 30th homer of the season last night, becoming the first Twins batter to reach that mark since I was four years old. Seriously.
Morneau picked one hell of a time for No. 30 too, turning around a 99-mile-per-hour Joel Zumaya fastball and sending it into the seats in right field for a two-run homer that gave the Twins a 4-3 lead. Juan Rincon, Dennys Reyes, and Joe Nathan finished things up for Johan Santana, and thanks to losses by both the White Sox and Red Sox, the Twins took over the Wild Card lead:
WILD CARD W L WIN% GBPrior to Morneau, the last time a Twins hitter homered 30 times in a season was back in 1987, when Kent Hrbek (34), Tom Brunansky (32), and Gary Gaetti (31) all did so. Kirby Puckett nearly made it a foursome with 28 homers that year, which makes it all the more difficult to believe that it took nearly 20 years for the team to produce another 30-homer season.
Between Hrbek, Brunansky, and Gaetti all going deep 30 times in 1987 and Morneau's game-winning blast last night, 471 different 30-homer seasons took place across baseball. Included among those 471 were 139 seasons of at least 40 homers, 20 seasons of at least 50 homers, six seasons of at least 60 homers, and two seasons of at least 70 homers. The Twins, of course, had none of them.
The two-run homer also pushed Morneau's RBI total into triple digits, which is something only two Twins hitters had done over the past nine seasons. Morneau joins Harmon Killebrew (seven times) and Gaetti (twice) as the only three hitters in team history to produce a 30-homer, 100-RBI season, which is amazing given that those numbers have long been the standard for power-hitting.
Breaking a 19-year drought is great--I was sick of reading and writing about it--but the real beauty of Morneau's season is that it's still early August. He has another 49 games to add to those totals, which are already among the best in Twins history. Here's how Morneau's current 43-homer, 145-RBI pace would stack up in team history:
YEAR HR YEAR RBIIt seems like that Killebrew guy could hit a little bit.
Lost somewhat in the homers and RBIs is that Morneau is also hitting .322. In the entire history of baseball, a .320-40-140 season has taken place only 38 times, including just 10 times over the past 50 years. In other words, not only is he about to re-write the Twins record book, Morneau has a chance to place himself in some pretty rarefied air well beyond the team's power-starved history.
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
Twins 4, Tigers 2
After a loss to Cleveland on May 24, Radke was 4-6 with a 7.44 ERA as talk of shoulder problems and looming retirement grew louder. Since then he has been among the best pitchers in baseball, going 7-2 with a 3.08 ERA in 14 starts. Given his injury situation Radke is always one pitch away from what could be the end of his career, but he's had an overlooked impact on the Twins' dramatic turnaround.
With Johan Santana being human, Francisco Liriano heading to the disabled list, and the back of the rotation being a revolving door, Radke has suddenly turned into the Twins' most reliable starter. It's a shame that Santana and Liriano aren't also firing on all cylinders, because with Carlos Silva pitching well again and Matt Garza coming up from Triple-A, a Santana-Liriano-Radke-Silva-Garza rotation would be scary.
It's obviously unfair to expect Garza to truly "replace" Liriano, but he has a chance to make losing the best pitcher in baseball a little less painful. It'd be easy to point to the struggles of young starters like Scott Baker and Boof Bonser as reasons to be skeptical of Garza having an immediate impact, but Garza is several steps beyond Baker and Bonser as a prospect.
In fact, an argument could be made for Garza being the single best pitching prospect in all of baseball now that guys like Liriano, Justin Verlander, Jered Weaver, and Jonathan Papelbon are established as major leaguers. At the very least, Garza is the most major league-ready of the elite prospects, and that's the key right now.
It's a shame that it took an injury to Liriano for Garza to get his feet wet in the majors, but that doesn't take away any of the excitement of seeing him in a Twins uniform. He's expected to make his debut Friday against the Blue Jays, which is a tough first opponent. I'd gladly settle for five decent innings, which should be the goal going forward when it comes to the back of the rotation.
As Ron Gardenhire told Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune yesterday, the Twins are more concerned about Liriano's future than when his next start will come:
The ultimate goal here is to protect our young pitchers. We're going to miss having him in the rotation, a great arm like that. But we want him to understand that it's all about protecting that young arm so he's here many, many years down the road.It's difficult to offer up any sort of strong opinion on how the team should handle Liriano's situation until more details are known, but I certainly agree with Gardenhire's overall assessment. If there's any increased potential for long-term risk by Liriano coming back to pitch this season, he should be shut down immediately and start preparing for spring training. Hopefully it won't come to that.
I was skeptical about the new-and-improved Punto when I first heard about the adjustments he was working on this spring, but at this point anyone waiting for him to turn into a pumpkin probably hasn't been paying much attention. Punto is a completely different hitter than the guy who struggled prior to this season.
AVG OBP SLG IsoD IsoP SO% SO/BBPunto used to approach his plate appearances like a power-hitter who didn't actually have any power, working long counts in an effort to coax walks and taking big swings that resulted in warning-track fly balls. That inevitably led to a decent number of free passes, but also meant tons of strikeouts and a low batting average.
Now he's actually hitting like a speedy guy with little power should, cutting his strikeouts by nearly 40 percent and turning a horrible strikeout-to-walk ratio into an excellent one. Punto's walks now come as a result of fouling pitches off and putting together tough at-bats, rather than being passive and putting his fate in the hands of an umpire. He's a hitter now, not a walker.
He's unlikely to maintain a .313 batting average long term, but he's closer to being a .313/.403/.418 hitter than he is the guy who entered this year hitting .238/.302/.321. Assuming he stays away from old habits, Punto has gone from being an overused utility man with marginal value on a big-league roster to someone whose only question going into next year should be which position he'll start at.
Instead, Mariano Rivera blew a rare save opportunity when Paul Konerko led off the bottom of the ninth inning with a solo homer, and Chicago eventually beat New York in 11 innings. The Wild Card standings now look like this:
WILD CARD W L WIN% GBTonight's Santana-Jeremy Bonderman matchup should be a great one, and leaving Detroit with a series win and the Wild Card lead would be quite an accomplishment.
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
Open Chat: BuzzkillThe bad news is that the Twins followed up a lopsided four-game sweep of the Royals by losing 9-3 to the Tigers last night, with Francisco Liriano giving up a career-worst 10 hits before being yanked after four innings.
The worse news, according to Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune:
Francisco Liriano, Minnesota's rookie All-Star, is out indefinitely with what appears to be a left elbow injury.And to think, just 24 hours ago the Twins were perhaps at their highest point of the season.
So much for that.
Monday, August 07, 2006
Walking Through Kansas CityAs the Twins left Minnesota Wednesday night, it would have been hard to argue that they had any sort of positive momentum. They ended a six-game homestand with back-to-back blowout losses to the Rangers, losing 9-0 on Tuesday and 10-2 on Wednesday, and the starting rotation was in disarray because of injuries and demotions.
Thankfully, the Royals are exceptionally bad. After being knocked around at home by Texas, the Twins traveled to Kansas City for a four-game series and proceeded to absolutely destroy the worst team in baseball. In particular the Twins' offense, which entered the series ranked among the bottom half of the league, exploded for 41 runs in four games.
The Twins hit a relatively mundane five homers during the series, yet scored 41 times in 37 innings. How does that happen? Well, the Royals' pitching staff couldn't throw the ball over the plate most of the time and, when they actually did, the Twins' hitters smacked the ball into a gap somewhere as multiple runners raced around the bases.
Kansas City pitchers handed out a ridiculous 36 walks in the first three games, including 14 free passes Saturday behind starter Runelvys Hernandez's pathetic nine-walk effort. They managed to throw strikes Sunday, but given a chance to actually swing away the Twins' hitters treated the game like batting practice, going 22-for-44 (.500) with eight extra-base hits.
The Twins hit .371 (56-for-151) with a .576 slugging percentage during the series, which amazingly aren't even the most staggering numbers. With 56 hits, 36 walks, and five hit batsmen, the Twins had a combined on-base percentage of .503. At the risk of stating the obvious, here's a point that must be made: Over nearly 200 plate appearances, the Twins reached base half the time. Literally.
In direct contrast, the Twins' pitching staff issued a total of 10 walks in four games and held the Royals to a .250 batting average. Most impressive, they did so with Mike Smith, Carlos Silva, Willie Eyre, and a fresh-from-the-disabled-list Matt Guerrier throwing 40 percent of the innings and Francisco Liriano sitting the entire series out.
Some other notes from a delightfully lopsided series ...
There are all sorts of things wrong with Bremer's preferred and annoyingly oft-stated strategy, from the fact that this isn't 1968 to the Twins' .371 batting average during the series. Thankfully Ron Gardenhire let Bartlett swing away, because he went 11-for-18 (.611) with three doubles, four RBIs, and seven runs scored.
One of the staples of this blog over the years has been me pleading with the Twins to give Bartlett a chance (and then a second chance). Not only did I opine that he was underrated defensively, which is now clear, I stressed that his minor-league track record suggested Bartlett could be a major asset offensively as well. Watching him emerge as one of the team's best players has been gratifying.
Maddeningly deemed not worthy of starting over Juan Castro coming out of spring training, Bartlett is now hitting .377/.443/.497. If not for the Twins sending him to Triple-A for a third year and leaving him at Rochester for three months in favor of Castro, Bartlett would be right with Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau among the league leaders in batting average. Or bunts, if Bremer were in charge.
Here's what Gardenhire told reporters about Smith's Twins debut:
He threw 80 pitches in three innings. That's not the way we pitch up here. We attack the hitters. It's 100 degrees out there. We need to move the game along, pick up the pace, make them hit the ball, get the fielders off the field.The Twins need a fifth starter again on Friday, but I'd be shocked if Smith gets the nod. Matt Garza tossed seven shutout innings while racking up 11 strikeouts in his last outing at Triple-A, so calling him up from Rochester is the obvious solution. However, given Terry Ryan's statements last week about not thinking Garza is ready for primetime, giving Guerrier the start seems possible.
Guerrier has worked strictly out of the bullpen over the past two seasons, but he made 80 starts at Triple-A between 2001 and 2004, posting a 3.98 ERA in 487 innings. Prior to the Twins calling him up in 2004, Guerrier had a 3.19 ERA in 23 starts at Rochester, posting a 97-to-25 strikeout-to-walk ratio while allowing just 135 hits in 144 innings.
It's unlikely that he can pitch very deep into a game, both because he hasn't started in several years and is fresh off the disabled list, but there's no reason he wouldn't be a better bet for five passable innings than Smith. Given the Twins' bullpen depth and the multiple off days coming up on the schedule, that's all they'd need from the fifth starter for a while.
While many fans and media members (like Jim Souhan of the Minneapolis Star Tribune) still cling to the long-expired notion of Hunter as the "face" of the Twins, the fact is that he's almost an afterthought at this point. He's not one of the team's five best players and he's not one of the hitters you'd want to see up at the plate in a key at-bat.
None of which is to say that Hunter has ceased being a good player, because that's certainly not the case. However, any argument about keeping him past this season that includes talk of an off-field impact should be taken about as seriously as the early-season talk of Castro being a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop. Both things were debatable at one time and are now just flat-out silly.
After driving in 10 runs during the series, Morneau is now hitting .321/.376/.599 with 29 homers and 98 RBIs. He's on a 40-homer, 140-RBI pace that only Harmon Killebrew has reached (or even come close to) in the entire history of the team. Plus, overlooked in his RBI binge is that Morneau has cut way down on his strikeouts while showing considerably more patience.
Some of the added walks are due to teams being scared to pitch to him, but Morneau is also doing a much better job laying off borderline pitches and going deeper into counts. Morneau had a 58-to-25 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the first half, but since the All-Star break has struck out just seven times in 92 at-bats while drawing 11 walks. Oh, and he's hitting .382 with 19 homers and 62 RBIs since June 1.
Redmond had gone 126 plate appearances without drawing a single walk this season until Odalis Perez gave him a free pass in the first inning yesterday. What's odd about the whole situation is that Perez was a rare Kansas City pitcher who actually threw strikes (aside from that plate appearance, obviously) and Redmond had to take a borderline 3-1 pitch to work the walk.
When not walking, Redmond also went 3-for-4 with two RBIs in what was his lone appearance of the series, bringing his season totals up to .352/.366/.440. And if it seems like the Twins have an awful lot of guys sporting huge batting averages, you're right:
Jason Bartlett .377As a team, the Twins rank second in all of baseball with a .289 batting average on the season and lead MLB with a .327 batting average since the All-Star break.
The last Twins right fielder to reach triple-digit RBIs? Kirby Puckett in 1994. Before that it was Tony Oliva in 1969 and 1970, and the only other right fielder in team history with a 100-RBI season was Bob Allison in 1961 and 1962. Similar to Bartlett breaking out once he got away from Rochester, can you imagine where the Twins would be if they hadn't reconsidered their stance on not giving Cuddyer everyday at-bats?
He's still capable of making hitters look silly for stretches, as he did with six strikeouts in the first three innings Friday, but simply can't sustain it for as long as normal due to iffy command. When going 3-0 with a 4.31 ERA over a five-start stretch is deemed reason for concern, you know you're dealing with a special player.
If Santana suddenly couldn't miss bats and was being knocked around with hard-hit balls all over the field that'd be one thing, but that's not the case. He has 30 strikeouts in 31.1 second-half innings and has gone back-to-back starts without serving up a homer. Twins fans have been so spoiled by Robo Santana that it's shocking to see him actually give up runs in the second half, but he'll be just fine.
WILD CARD W L WIN% GBGiddy up!