His run of sending big names home continued yesterday, as Thayer knocked three-time WSOP bracelet winner John Juanda out in 12th place.
(Proof that reading this blog makes you a good poker player.)
Thayer began yesterday in the middle of the field, but went on a huge run late last night, knocking players out in 16th, 15th, 14th, and 12th place before the tournament ended for the day with 10 players remaining. He currently sits second in chips with 685,000, which is just 13,000 off the chip leader. Two big names are left in Barry Greenstein (375,000) and Chau Giang (318,000), but Thayer is in great position to make a name for himself in the poker world. The winner receives $768,775.
When he's not producing the videos at NBCSports.com, Matt Casey also provides some of the links you see here each week. For instance, yesterday he gleefully passed along this amazing video showing the "Running of the Urinals":
If the Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com had a "45-and-over" division, the titleholder would look like this.
Following in the footsteps of Pat Neshek, Gilbert Arenas, Curt Schilling, and Curtis Granderson, Kevin Youkilisis now blogging. Oh, and amazingly so isBob Ryan of the Boston Globe, who Tony Kornheiser dubbed the "quintessential American sportswriter." Somewhere in Outoftouchville, Patrick Reusseis freaking out.
Reason No. 1,853,089 why cultural differences and speaking through a translator are amusing: Daisuke Matsuzaka blamed some of his recent struggles on poor sleeping conditions on the road, but declined to discuss what changes he plans to make with his routine. According to the Boston Herald:
Matsuzaka told reporters he may have come up with a solution for the next road trip. He did not wish to share it, Japanese reporters said, because he preferred not to have people wondering or imagining how he looked while he slept.
How very thoughtful (or incredibly weird) of him.
I attended a little league game last night that was played by 11- and 12-year-olds, and included the losing team holding a lengthy "player's only meeting" in the dugout after getting blown out. Seriously, they kicked the manager out and the no-door session lasted over five minutes. I don't really have a point, but I felt the need to share that. I'm amazed that no one tested positive for performance enhancing drugs or fired their agent before the game.
This isn't actually a link and it's probably of little interest to anyone except me, but I'll bore you with it anyway: AG.com's May readership was up 19.6 percent compared to last May. On a related note, this blog should surpass three million total visitors at some point next week. The entry you're reading right now is No. 1,231 in the nearly five-year history of this site, which means the average entry has been read by a little over 2,400 people.
That may not seem like much, but the average daily readership during the first six months of this blog's existence was 90, 107, 135, 147, 213, and 252. AG.com averaged just 390 readers per day for the first year and didn't surpass a 1,000-visitor daily average until the second year. After starting this site way back in August of 2002, it took 30 months to reach one million visitors. From there, it took another 17 months to amass the second million.
The two-million mark was cracked last June, which means it will have taken almost exactly 12 months to rack up the third million. Whether or not those readership numbers are impressive depends almost entirely upon what you're comparing them to, but I've long since passed the point of being amazed. Of course, I never imagined that I'd be approaching my five-year blogging anniversary either. As always, thanks for reading.
This worked pretty well when we tried it the first time back in January, so let's try it again. With the Twins off today and the weekend coming up, I'd like to once again open the floor up for questions. If you have something to ask me on any (somewhat reasonable) topic, please post it in the comments section or e-mail it to me. I'll go through the questions and then answer them here at some point next week. I'm certainly open to answering Twins-related questions, but don't feel that you're limited to that subject.
In fact, the first time we tried this there were more than enough questions to split my responses into two entries, with one devoted to "baseball questions" and one devoted to "random questions." In other words, not everything has to be about Johan Santana and Nick Punto. If there's some pressing issue that you want my opinion on or some random thing that you've been wondering about me or this blog, fire away. Think of it as a low-tech version of ESPN.com's chat sessions.
In a game full of good moments from the Twins, perhaps the most encouraging was Jason Kubel smacking his second homer and later narrowly missing his third homer when Rob Mackowiak made a catch up against the wall in left field. Mackowiak's grab continues a season full of hard-hit balls off Kubel's bat finding gloves, but he's still slowly starting to build up his numbers. Since snapping a 0-for-12 streak on May 10, Kubel has hit two homers and seven doubles in 55 at-bats.
After failing to record a victory in his first seven starts, Boof Bonser picked up his fourth straight win last night. Bonser's control has been surprisingly shaky at times, but for the most part he's been a solid No. 2 starter behind Johan Santana. Bonser has a 3.61 ERA and 68-to-30 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 62.1 innings, making him 11-7 with a 3.98 ERA and 150-to-54 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 162.2 innings spread over 29 career starts.
After Bonser used 102 pitches to record the first 20 outs, Pat Neshek, Carmen Cali, and Ramon Ortiz combined to get the final seven outs on a total of 16 pitches as the White Sox hacked their way off the field. The game wasn't really in doubt with the score 9-2 in the seventh inning, but Neshek came in for Bonser anyway with Paul Konerko at the plate and the bases loaded, retiring him on one pitch to end the threat.
When Neshek enters a game, the first batter he faces has gone 1-for-19 (.053) with nine strikeouts. Opponents have hit 4-for-40 (.100) against him with runners on base, including 2-for-21 (.095) with runners in scoring position. After Konerko's ground out last night, Neshek has set down all four batters he's faced with the bases loaded. Of course, I could also simply point out that batters are hitting .145 against Neshek overall and leave it at that.
Like Kubel, Justin Morneau came close to hitting a pair of homers, settling instead for a two-run shot and a double off the very top of the baggie in right field. He later added a two-run double down the right-field line, giving him a four-RBI night. Both the homer and near-homer came off left-hander John Danks, which is noteworthy given that Morneau came into the game batting just .212/.278/.424 against lefties. The reigning MVP is now on a 50-homer, 135-RBI pace.
While Morneau piles up huge numbers, Michael Cuddyer deserves a ton of credit for the job he's done getting on base in front of him with Joe Mauer sidelined. He drew just six walks in 133 trips to the plate as the cleanup hitter, but has walked 14 times in 69 plate appearances since replacing Mauer in the No. 3 spot. After going 3-for-4 with a walk last night, Cuddyer has a Mauer-like .486 on-base percentage hitting third, along with a .357 batting average and .661 slugging percentage.
It'll never happen, but I'd love to see Ron Gardenhire leave Cuddyer in the third spot even after Mauer returns, with Mauer hitting second and Morneau cleaning up. That arrangement would get the team's three premiere hitters additional plate appearances while removing Nick Punto's inept bat from a table-setting position. Incidentally, while the rest of the lineup went 15-for-32 (.469) with six extra-base hits and seven walks last night, Punto went 1-for-6 while leaving seven runners on base.
Ozzie Guillen chose to intentionally walk Torii Hunter following both of Morneau's doubles, including once with the Twins up 9-1. That gives Hunter a total of four intentional walks, which is twice as many as he had all of last season and just three short of his career-high. Meanwhile, he's drawn just six non-intentional walks in 201 plate appearances, which would be by far the worst walk rate of his entire career. Of course, he's also hitting .314 with a .574 slugging percentage and does things like this.
In an amusing bit of synergy, as Ortiz pitched the final inning with a seven-run lead in his new mop-up role, LaVelle E. Neal IIIconfirmed that Kevin Slowey will be called up from Triple-A to replace him in the rotation. Slowey will debut Friday against Oakland, which is an interesting first matchup for him because the always patient A's rank second among AL teams in both walks and pitches seen per plate appearance.
That's normally a bad scenario for a young pitcher, but Slowey is a strike-throwing machine and with a grand total of just 35 walks in 285 career innings few prospects in baseball history have shown better control while coming up through the minors. Assuming Slowey and his excellent control don't fall victim to first-start nerves, the A's patient approach plays right into his hands and it's a very favorable debut matchup for the 23-year-old right-hander.
Jason Bartlett's throws to first base have been erratic and his hands have been anything but sure, but his range up the middle continues to impress. Whether he's knocking choppers down to keep them in the infield or actually making plays like he did on A.J. Pierzynski's grounder up the gut last night, Bartlett gets to balls behind second base (and into shallow center field) that Cristian Guzman and Juan Castro wouldn't have even come close to.
To be more specific about the balls up the middle that Bartlett gets to on a regular basis, Castro would stare at them from five feet away and Guzman would wave his glove at them as they bounced past. Bartlett has made some ugly errors, including botching a would-be double play in the seventh inning last night, but I'll gladly take a somewhat error-prone shortstop with good range like Bartlett over a supposedly sure-handed statue like Castro any day.
Unless the defender in question commits an obscene number of errors, shortstop is largely about simply getting to as many balls as possible. Bartlett does that extremely well, particularly going up the middle, and nine errors in 375 innings is certainly not disastrous. If he can eventually learn to cut down on his mistakes once he gets his hands on balls, he has a chance to be an outstanding shortstop. He's also hitting .280 with a .370 on-base percentage since beginning the season 1-for-20.
Luis Castillo was hitting .273/.322/.309 when he headed to the disabled list in mid-April, but after going 3-for-5 with a walk he's batting .368/.412/.396 with 24 runs in 25 games since returning. Castillo is up to .335/.386/.366 overall, which is a sizable improvement over last season's .296/.358/.370 once the league-wide drop in offense is taken into account. Oh, and in case you didn't buy into my anti-error speech regarding Bartlett, last night marked the one-year anniversary of Castillo's last error.
Do you think Pierzynski realizes that the Twins pulling off a double steal two games in a row while being up five runs both times was almost surely done entirely for his benefit?
The Twins haven't learned from their mistakes enough to actually stop making the same mistakes, but they've at least learned to get them over with more quickly. After waiting until mid-June to get rid of Tony Batista and Juan Castro last season, the Twins cut bait on Sidney Ponson in mid-May and demotedRamon Ortiz to the bullpen yesterday. Not giving a pair of washed-up veterans $4.1 million and 17 starts to post a predictable 6.22 ERA would have been better, but at least it's "only" the end of May.
Thanks in large part to the horrible all-around play of Batista and Castro, it took the Twins until the 68th game of last season to even their record at .500 following a poor start. This time around Ponson and Ortiz helped put the Twins in another early hole, but they've managed to climb out enough to stand at .500 after 50 games. Again, not making poor decisions that give the rest of the division a head start would be much preferred, but at least there are four months left with which to make up ground.
How much did giving 17 starts to Ponson and Ortiz hurt the team? It's tough to say for certain, but a rough estimate is possible. On the most basic level, the Twins went 6-11 in their starts. If you assume that they would have managed a .500 record if those same starts had been made by Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, and Matt Garza, then going with Ponson and Ortiz cost 2-3 wins. If you assume that Baker, Slowey, and Garza would have won more than half the time, then 4-5 games were lost.
Beyond that, by paying them $4.1 million the Twins devoted about six percent of their payroll to Ponson and Ortiz. It's difficult to say how much of an impact spending $4 million to improve the team elsewhere would have had, but certainly having another capable bat in the lineup at third base or designated hitter would have been helpful. Twins third basemen have combined for the third-worst production in the league at .226/.308/.328, while the DHs have been fourth-worst at .256/.342/.384.
While it's impossible to pin down specific numbers or players at this point, it's clear that spending $4 million to sign or trade for even a run-of-the-mill bat at those spots could have easily led to a multi-game improvement over the course of an entire year. Add it all up and the decision to go with Ponson and Ortiz will likely end up costing the Twins at least 3-5 games and perhaps as many as 6-8 wins by season's end.
There's an argument to be made that keeping Baker, Slowey, and Garza at Triple-A while Ponson and Ortiz lost games will end up helping the team in the long term because of service-time issues. However, there's little argument to be made for it being a positive right now and that was clear from the beginning. As I wrote back in February when it first became clear that Ponson and Ortiz would be filling two-fifths of the rotation, for once I'd like to see the Twins simply put the best team on the field:
Trust the talent you have regardless of when it was born, spend what little money you have available to fill legitimate holes on the roster instead of buying expensive, mediocre insurance for spots you don't need it at, and go to war with the best possible group in place. If the AL Central is as tough as I expect it to be this year--with perhaps four of the 10 best teams in baseball--the Twins will need every win they can get from Opening Day to Game 162 in order to make it back to the playoffs.
Opening the season with Silva, Ortiz, and Ponson in Minnesota and Garza, Baker, Perkins, and Slowey in Rochester might be a lot of things--and might not prove to be a season-killing mistake--but putting the best team on the field isn't one of them.
Getting rid of Ponson and demoting Ortiz in favor of Slowey or Garza while the team evens its record at .500 represents something of a clean slate, but the Twins are still looking up at three teams in the division and will have to make up at least five games to grab a playoff spot. It's nice that the mistakes have been realized and dealt with more quickly, but perhaps next time the Twins can try things without making the mistakes, period. As for this time, let's hope Baker, Slowey, and Garza can dig fast.