Before getting to the weekly link dump, a quick thanks to everyone who stopped by here this season. According to Site Meter this blog had 602,000 visitors between Opening Day and Tuesday's one-game playoff loss to the White Sox, and many of you were also kind enough to support my various work at Rotoworld, NBC Sports, and MinnPost. If you're relatively new here and wonder what AG.com is like in the offseason, it's pretty much business as usual.
There will be near-daily entries from now until spring training mercifully arrives again, including trade breakdowns, analysis of free-agent signings, in-depth prospect rankings, live chats, the continuation of my Top 40 Minnesota Twins series, and of course a new Link-O-Rama each Friday. If you've enjoyed reading this blog during the season, my guess is that you'll also enjoy reading it during the offseason. Anyway, thanks for reading and feel free to stick around for the too-long winter ahead.
If you haven't yet seen the video from earlier this week of Raiders owner Al Davis' truly epic press conference to announce the firing of head coachLane Kiffin, do yourself a huge favor and check it out. Seriously, you won't be sorry. My favorite moments were Davis tracing the words with his finger while reading from a letter being shown on an overhead protector and smiling while asking someone in the room "how's your mother?" seconds before absolutely eviscerating Kiffin.
Of course, choosing a favorite moment is like a parent choosing a favorite child, because in reality the whole thing kept me fascinated non-stop for an entire hour and like a classic film previously unseen goodies emerge with each new viewing. It's the feel-good press conference of the year and if you only watch one possibly insane 79-year-old Hall of Famer try to ruin the career of the 33-year-old coach he just fired, make it this one. Two thumbs up!
Finally, some theater for those of us who once fell asleep watching Rent on Broadway.
Yes, that's an end-zone game of Duck Duck Goose (or Duck Duck Gray Duck for us Minnesotans).
Not satisfied with making a mediocre, dumbed-down version of Richard Matheson's excellent novel, Hollywood is reportedly now set to produce an I Am Legend prequel.
Not only did an AG.com reader crowbar a reference to me into Jerry Crasnick's recent ESPN.com live chat, Crasnick actually threw me a compliment back:
Joe (Minneapolis): In reference to venerable Twins blogger Aaron Gleeman, I think there needs to be a "free Grady Sizemore" campaign started. This guy totally deserves the award. Thanks for the chat Jerry!
Jerry Crasnick: Joe, Aaron Gleeman is terrific, and Keith Law, my ESPN colleague, feels the same way. But I just don't see it.
Speaking of gratuitous mentions of me on other sites, here's one from Craig Calcaterra:
Please make a point to peruse the blogroll to the left and click through to as many of those sites as possible. I am stingier than many when it comes to those things, but that means that you can be assured that I read and value all of those joints and believe that you will enjoy them every bit as much as I do. Well, maybe not Gleeman. I just read him in the hopes that he'll post pics of that chick from The Office.
Sure, but why stop at just pictures? Here's a video of Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com second runner-up Jenna Fischermaking an appearance on The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson:
News of Jason Williamsretiring at the age of 32 made me feel old. He was style over substance to be sure, but those run-and-gun Kings teams were awfully fun to watch because of that style. Plus, as a fellow white point guard with little interest in defense and an obsession with overly difficult passes, White Chocolate immediately became one of my favorites when he showed up a decade ago.
Blogger and stand-up comic Scott Longwas in the KFAN studio for my appearance on "The Power Trip Morning Show" a couple weeks ago. He wasn't planning to bring it up, but having read his blog my first words were: "Are you guys aware that Scott is a White Sox fan?" We then each spent 20 minutes trying to top the other guy's pessimism regarding his favorite team's playoff chances. On a related note, today may be the last of my weekly Friday morning appearances, so give it a listen at eight o'clock.
Losing 1-0 on the road in a one-game playoff is an awfully tough way for things to end and leaves me sort of shell-shocked when it comes to looking back at the Twins' season. For the most part fans seem to fall into two categories regarding the Twins this year, either viewing their 88-win, second-place finish as gravy because of low expectations or seeing their late-season collapse as a disappointing failure to take advantage of an unexpectedly weak division. For me, their season falls somewhere in between.
It's true that expectations for the Twins this season were lower than they've been at any point since Ron Gardenhire took over as manager. In fact, my March 31 entry noted that "for the first time in the nearly six-year history of this blog Opening Day has arrived without the Twins being viewed as serious playoff contenders." In that sense they certainly out-performed expectations, spending all season as "serious playoff contenders" and ultimately coming up one game short of their fifth division title in seven years.
On the other hand, the now oft-repeated notion that no one could have possibly expected the Twins to play as well as they did is an exaggeration to say the least. Sure, my prediction that they'd finish in third place proved to be wrong, but that has more to do with the rest of the division under-performing than it does anything else. My guess was that the Twins would win 83-85 games this season and they ended up winning 88, which is hardly shattering expectations.
Instead, 88 wins (or even 83-85 wins) proved to be better than anticipated compared to the rest of the division because both the Indians and Tigers failed to emerge as elite teams. Coming into the season it looked to me at least like winning 83 or 85 or 88 games would be good for third place, because the Indians and Tigers would likely win 90-plus. In reality 83 or 85 or 88 wins led to a near first-place finish and season-long stay in playoff contention because the rest of the division under-performed.
In other words, while the Twins absolutely out-performed preseason expectations they hardly shattered them to the degree that many fans suddenly seem to believe, and if the Indians and Tigers hadn't fallen apart the Twins winning 88 games would be viewed much differently. Context is everything. All of which is why their season ultimately strikes me as both successful and disappointing, which is admittedly an odd combination. Of course, it was an odd season.
Winning 88 games and finishing nine agonizing innings away from another division title is clearly a more successful season than anyone should have realistically expected. However, a big part of why winning 88 games put the Twins in position to contend all season is that the rest of the division was dramatically weaker than most people expected. Because of that there's a lot of disappointment mixed in with the success.
By not addressing the bullpen's problems and stumbling to a 14-21 record down the stretch the Twins failed to take advantage of a surprising opportunity to win the weaker-than-expected division. Sure, they won slightly more games than my prediction and a dozen more games than many people expected, and it's understandable that those same people view 88 wins and contending until the very end as successful, period. Part of me definitely agrees with that.
At the same time the front office followed a poor winter by refusing to address an in-season weakness that consistently led to losses, and the team limped to the finish line by repeatedly blowing chances to emerge atop a division that was there for the taking. Should that be overlooked because they won 88 games and the division struggled? Perhaps, but that's a tough sell for me after watching things unfold. Successful doesn't preclude disappointing, just as disappointment doesn't take away from success.
The season included many memorable wins, outstanding performances from Joe Mauer, Joe Nathan, Scott Baker, Justin Morneau, and Jason Kubel, an encouraging comeback from Francisco Liriano, the emergence of Denard Span and Kevin Slowey, and clear signs of promise from Alexi Casilla, Glen Perkins, Nick Blackburn, Jose Mijares, Carlos Gomez, Delmon Young, Brian Buscher, Matt Tolbert, and Craig Breslow.
The season included many crushing losses, regrettable acquisitions Livan Hernandez, Craig Monroe, Mike Lamb, and Adam Everett, unfortunate departures from Johan Santana, Matt Garza, Torii Hunter, and Jason Bartlett, forgettable performances from Matt Guerrier, Boof Bonser, Brian Bass, and Juan Rincon, underwhelming debuts from Gomez, Young, and general manager Bill Smith, and injuries to Michael Cuddyer and Pat Neshek.
The season was simultaneously successful and disappointing, which is a combination that made the 163-game marathon such an interesting roller-coaster ride and what leaves me struggling to stomach how the whole thing ended. The promise of a significantly improved division in 2009 also makes me wonder what the offseason holds for a GM who struggled in his first year on the job and a young team that exceeded expectations before crumbling under the pressure of an unexpected pennant race.
Five months until pitchers and catchers report for spring training.
Been down so long, getting up didn't cross my mind I knew there was a better way of life and I was just trying to find You don't know what you'll do until you're put under pressure Across 110th Street is a helluva a tester
After six months and 162 games, the Twins' season now comes down to a one-game playoff tonight against the White Sox, in Chicago. Winner takes the AL Central crown and begins a first-round series Thursday against the Rays. Loser takes their 88 wins and starts waiting 'til next year. For a moment yesterday it looked like the Tigers might knock off the White Sox, but after a three-hour rain delay Alexei Ramirez made sure that the Twins will have to do their own dirty work.
My promise to live chat throughout the entire rain-delayed game led to a seven-hour marathon session that has me pretty much talked out, but there isn't a whole lot to say about a one-game playoff anyway. Both teams' shallow, mediocre bullpens figure to be big factors, because John Danks has a 6.88 ERA in seven starts against the Twins and Nick Blackburn has a 5.67 ERA in five starts against the White Sox. Here are their overall numbers this season:
W L ERA xFIP GS IP SO BB HR OAVG Nick Blackburn 11 10 4.14 4.55 32 187 93 36 22 .295 John Danks 11 9 3.47 3.94 32 187 155 54 15 .251
The White Sox have a tough southpaw on the mound and are 53-28 at home while the Twins are 35-46 on the road and have the league's fourth-worst OPS against lefties. Beyond that, Chicago's ballpark significantly boosts homers and the wind will reportedly be blowing out at 30 miles per hour. Given that the White Sox hit the league's most homers with 234 and the Twins hit the league's fewest homers at 111, conditions also clearly favor Chicago.
Fortunately just about anything can happen and just about anyone can be Bucky Dent for one day, and even with the deck stacked against them and a 14-20 record to finish the year the Twins are nine good innings from their fifth division title in seven seasons. I'd sure love to spend tomorrow writing an ALDS preview.
AG.com "Makeup Game Live Chat" Today at Noon 4:00 P.M.
As it turns out, winning two out of three games from the Royals would've given the Twins the AL Central title. Instead, they dropped back-to-back home games against a 75-win team before avoiding a sweep yesterday, finishing with an 88-74 record. The White Sox also won yesterday, improving to 87-74, but due to a rain out earlier this month they'll play game No. 162 today against the Tigers. If the White Sox lose, the Twins take the division. If the White Sox win, there's a one-game playoff in Chicago tomorrow.
TODAY'S MATCHUP W L ERA xFIP Freddy Garcia 1 1 4.50 4.59 Gavin Floyd 16 8 3.91 4.69
Unfortunately for the Twins, the odds are stacked pretty heavily in the White Sox's favor. The game is in Chicago, where the White Sox are 52-28, and Detroit has nothing to play for except perhaps trying to tie for last place rather than owning sole possession of the cellar. The Tigers completely unraveled late in the season, going 19-34 since August 1 and 8-17 in September, and have already announced plans to fire both their pitching coach and bullpen coach.
Beyond that, the White Sox are starting Gavin Floyd, who's 16-8 with a 3.91 ERA and has seen the team go 4-0 when he's faced the Tigers this season. Meanwhile, Freddy Garcia is starting for the Tigers. Not only is Garcia making just his third start after missing a year following elbow surgery, he's friends withOzzie Guillen and married into his family, pitched for the White Sox from 2004-2006 (before being dealt for Floyd, oddly enough), and may try to land another job with Chicago as a free agent this winter.
In other words, the Twins definitely shouldn't count on Garcia and the Tigers doing them any favors. On the other hand, stranger things have happened and even as very heavy favorites the White Sox probably have at least a 25-percent chance of losing. Plus, even in victory they may have to use Bobby Jenks or Matt Thornton extensively, thus hurting their chances in the one-game playoff tomorrow. Whatever the case, I'll obviously be watching the game and it seemed like a good time for another live chat.
I'll start chatting at noon and do the usual Q&A thing for an hour, leading up to the first pitch in Chicago at 1:05 CT. Once the game gets underway, I'll continue fielding questions while also providing some play-by-play/commentary. If you're stuck somewhere without a television or just feel like cheering for the Tigers in the (online) presence of fellow Twins fans, feel free to stop by. If things run smoothly and the Twins make the playoffs, we can try some more in-game live chatting in October.
UPDATE: Today's chat will be simulcast at Rotoworld, so it'll be more crowded and less Twins-centric than initially planned. However, the strong anti-White Sox sentiment will remain. Promise.