Saturday, May 26, 2007

Recap 5/26/2007 Twins 8, Black and Blue Jays 9

Oh what a night. In a season full of close calls and inability to capitalize in crucial situations the Twins finally put together a game worth remembering, a game that could have sparked a team big winning streaks. Regretfully to say it ended the wrong way.

The contest began innocently enough with each team pushing a few runs across in the early innings and the sixth inning began 3-2 in the jays favor. But Ramon Ortiz who likely came into this game acutely aware that he may be pitching for his Twins life finally collapsed just as he has done all May as he started the sixth with two outs but then allowed a homerun followed by a double, followed by a homerun and suddenly the Jays had a commanding 6-2 lead.

For the next few innings it seemed as though manager Ron gardenhire would be content to allow the game to slip away as he pitched all three new bullpen pitchers, Julio DePaula, Carmen Cali, and Jason Miller over the next two innings. Of that trio only DePaula really struggled and so far his Major League career has been nothing short of a dismal failure.

However the Twins bats refused to quit on this night and down by five entering their half of the eighth, the Twins would score two in the eighth on a Michael Cuddyer two run homerun. Since May 13th Cuddyer has been on a bit of a hot streak hitting .340 (16/47) with five of his seven homeruns and 16 RBI's coming in that span. In the ninth the Twins five batters reached base beginning with Punto's infield chopper over second, and ending with Morneau's walk to open the inning and tie the game. Regretfully to say Torii Hunter's very hard hit grounder to third was fielded cleanly and John McDonald stepped on third and threw out Hunter at first. Redmond then chopped out to second. Speaking of Redmond he has been fantastic in Mauer's absence catching all but one game since May 4th. In that span he has hit .365 (23-63) with five doubles, a homerun and 4-5BB/K. Furthermore he's played fantastic defense while taking a serious beating behind the plate on many nights over the stretch. In short, he's been the teams less attractive, older, more naked, Joe Mauer.

After an uneventful tenth where the only baserunner was Frank Thomas who draw a leadoff walk against Nathan, the Blue Jays got a two out bases empty homerun from Alex Rios in the eleventh. Rios has been nothing short of dominant against the Twins so far this season going 7-10 with a walk. Thankfully to say Justin Morneau had another opportunity to play hero in the home half of the inning with runners on first and third and one out. When he came up he made good and hammered a liner right back through the middle, sadly the shift was on and Royce Clayton made a nice diving stop and forced Cuddyer at second but Morneau beat out the throw and the Twins tied the game.

The thirteenth would prove to be the undoing for the Twins tonight though as Royce Clayton
led off the inning with a double to the corner in right. He would advanced to third on a ground out up the middle that Jason Bartlett made a fantastic play on to get Jason Phillips. After a strikeout of Alex Rios, Clayton would score on a single by Lyle Overbay.That would prove to be the game winner for the Jays as the Twins would go down in order in the bottom half of the inning as Punto and Castillo struck out and Bartlett Flew out to left.

Forgive me if this entry is long and rambling. I know it is, but I began writing it in the top of the eighth when the Twins were down 7-2. Needless to say I've had to rewrite it about 6 times since then and this is the result.

The Time Has Come

Hitting a baseball is about timing. Mastering that timing requires a batter to find a balance between patiently waiting for the right pitch and being aggressive enough to hit the right pitch when it comes. Effective management necessitates a similar skill set of knowing precisely how long to wait before pouncing. In Moneyball, Billy Beane extols the virtues of appropriate managerial patience within a baseball season. Teams who respond to quickly to especially strong or weak starts are usually punished in kind when the player returns to a previously established performance level. And while different stats take different amounts of time to stabilize, 40-50 games is a generally accepted rule of thumb for how long it takes before one can start making generalizations about a team. The Twins have subscribed to this theory pretty doctrinally over the last couple of seasons; it is no coincidence that Sidney Ponson received his walking papers 37 games into the season, Juan Castro lost his full-time starting job 47 games into the 2006 season, and Francisco Liriano got his first start in team game number 42.

Now that Minnesota has completed 47 games of the 2007 season, a few glaring weaknesses have started to show themselves. Offensively, the team has done a slightly better job of getting on base up and down the lineup than it had in many previous seasons, but besides Justin Morneau, there has been far too little power. The DH, LF, and 3B positions have not produced nearly enough offensively, and the team will struggle to support a less-than-dominant pitching staff if the status quo remains. In the rotation, Terry Ryan has already started to address the problems at the back end. Sir Sidney met his fate last week, and Ramon Ortiz has to be feeling the heat to pick up that 1-5 team record in his last 6 starts. Further complicating matters is the fact that the bullpen has collapsed onto itself, as a mysterious shoulder parasite has been gnawing at the sinews of Jesse Crain, Dennis Reyes, and Glen Perkins. With the impending free agency of Torii Hunter after the season, and contracts running out for Johan Santana and Joe Nathan after next year, the Twins have to straddle the balance between making moves to contend now and putting themselves in a position to remain competitive when moving into their new stadium in 2010.

Addressing these difficulties requires an honest assessment of the team’s stock in the majors and minors. Starting pitching is a position of strength, with an A+ ace at the top, an established, young member of the rotation in Bonser waiting on his first arbitration hearing, four big-time prospects who are either ready or close to ready to contribute (Baker, Perkins, Garza, Slowey), and a gaggle of prospects who would be far more distinguished in any other system that does not cast such a long shadow (Alexander Smit, Kyle Waldrop, Eduardo Morlan, Jay Rainville). On top of that group is a wildcard pitcher who outpitched Santana for long stretches last year, that being the absent Francisco Liriano.With pre-arb pitching prospects in vogue- as evidenced by the market value of recently-traded players like Brandon McCarthy and Jason Hirsch- that embarrassment of riches could help patch over lots of other organizational shortcomings if Terry Ryan chose to make a challenge trade or two. Additionally, the Twins have at least one position player who is ready to step into the lineup this minute in Alexi Casilla, who can do a pretty good Luis Castillo impersonation right now. Finally, one underrated resource is that the Twins grew a lot of their talent themselves, giving them additional leverage through arbitration or buying out those arbitration years in a long-term contract. In other words, the Twins will have several more years of players like Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel, Jason Bartlett, Mike Cuddyer, Boof Bonser, and Francisco Liriano at prices below market value.

At the moment, I see two moves that could dramatically improve the Twins for the next few years and would also decrease payroll. First, I still desperately want the Twins to address their third-base problem. Nick Punto has value as a utility player with some on-base skills and a very good glove. As an everyday corner infielder, his lack of power becomes extremely troublesome. Also, Jeff Cirillo is a fine option to spell lefties at DH or an infield corner, but the fact that his only listed position is “DH” hints at the trouble with playing him there everyday, not to mention the fact that he is extremely likely to break down if he continues playing so frequently.

To the Twins potential benefit, Edwin Encarnacion is a third baseman with some power who has fallen out of favor with the Wayne Krivsky’s Reds, a former Twins employee who has shown an affinity for collecting his former charges (Joe Mays, Juan Castro, Kyle Lohse, Eddie Guardado). Since the Reds were bearish enough on Encarnacion to sent him to AAA earlier this month, it does not seem unreasonable to think that he could be had for the right price. With Cincinnati’s organizational pitching deficiency, I believe the Twins could find a pretty solid match. Offering Krivsky’s choice of the second-tier pitching prospects in the system might be enough to fetch Encarnacion. If not the Twins should at least consider sending Slowey for a player PECOTA saw hitting .277/.350/.482 this year with room for even more growth. Altogether, PECOTA sees Encarnacion as an even bet to reach “star” or “superstar” levels every year from 2008-2010, all of which would come before he reaches his first free agent contract. A right-handed hitter with decent patience and a powerful bat would fit extremely well lower in the Twins lineup, and would look especially potent compared to the man he would replace- the chances of Punto slugging .482 are slim and none, and slim just left town. And even though Encarnacion has had a very difficult 100 plate appearances to start the season, his strong 2006 and previous minor league accomplishments show that he is a quality batsman. The average in the .220s just means the Twins have a chance to buy low from a team that is in a position to blow it all up.

Playing off of their primary non-pitching resource, I believe it would be intelligent for the Twins to aggressively market Luis Castillo for another young bat. Casilla might not replace Castillo’s current hot-hitting, but he’s a better bet to be a productive member of the team after this season, and the difference between them for two or three months (Castillo is a free agent at season’s end) is not nearly great enough to make the difference between contending and falling out. With championship aspirations and a glaring hole at the keystone, the Mets would make a perfect trading partner for the Twins on the Castillo front. Even better, the Mets have a glut of young talent in the outfield, and not enough playing time to go around. With Omar Minaya’s affinity for Latino players, former top prospect Lastings Milledge has seemingly fallen out of organizational favor, sliding out of the outfield rotation. Even with Shawn Green breaking a bone in his foot, the team said it planned on giving the extra at bats to Carlos Gomez, leaving Milledge in New Orleans with his .333 batting average. Milledge’s glove excels at an outfield corner, and can play in center as well, giving the Twins the option of playing him in left this year and immediately solving the Hunter conundrum at season’s end without having to taste the inevitable Denard Span disaster. PECOTA sees Milledge as a .285/.356/.461 batter this year, part of an upward trend continuing for the next 5+ years for the 22 year old. Milledge is far from a finished product- for instance, I have heard some concerns about his makeup. What better way to help a player mature than by putting him next to Torii Hunter, a team leader and an ambassador for the game who happens to play the same position? It doesn’t hurt that the Hunter is one of the most fully established African-American players in the game. Milledge would also have to improve his plate discipline and develop his power potential. Both of these goals are better achieved through playing every day in the majors rather than continue to mash a level of pitching he has already mastered. While the Encarnacion deal seems like a good idea, the Milledge one seems like an absolute slam dunk for both teams to the point where I would be severely disappointed if it didn’t get done.

If the Twins made these trades, it would give them the ability to start a lineup looking something like this:

  1. Casilla- 2B
  2. Mauer- C
  3. Hunter- CF
  4. Morneau- 1B
  5. Cuddyer- RF
  6. Milledge- LF
  7. Kubel/Cirillo- DH
  8. Encarnacion- 3B
  9. Bartlett- SS

Factoring in Hunter’s possible departure (a fate of which I am not yet nearly convinced), putting Milledge in center makes it much easier to find a LF option within the system (Ford, Tyner, Kubel) or on the cheaper side of the free agent market- far easier than paying top dollar for someone with enough of a glove for center. The reason these trades appeal to me is that I think it strikes a balance between their interests for this year and the ability to compete going forward. Both players are cheap today and will remain cheap into the future. The players surrendered in the trades come from spots of organizational depth, lessening the impact of their departures. Addressing these issues now puts the team in a position to compete, just like last year when the Twins proactively addressed their weaknesses. While it is still early enough to make up a steep deficit within the division, enough time has already passed to see some problems clearly. Dealing with them now strikes the delicate balance patience and activity.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A Look Back: Recent Twins Draft History, Part I

With the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft on the horizon, this is the first of two articles looking at the Twins' most recent drafts. This part looks at the first round picks of the last fifteen years and how they are faring (or have fared) in professional baseball. Next week I will look at the Twins minor leagues and how the draft has been used to stock the Twins system.

In the last 15 years, the Twins have drafted 22 players (including the supplemental first round). Of those 22, they have signed 20 of them (91%). They have drafted 9 pitchers, although recently there has been a larger focus at that position as five of the last eight first round picks have been pitchers. 4 outfielders and 3 catchers have also been drafted in the first round by the Twins.

Ten of these players have already made their major league debut with the Minnesota Twins, while eight more remain in the farm system awaiting their chance. That leaves two players (B. J. Garbe '99 and Ryan Mills '98) who never made it to the major league level after being drafted in the first round by the Twins. Incidentally, The Twins current roster (and disabled list) contains four of their first round picks (Hunter, Cuddyer, Mauer, and Perkins).

Of the ten players who have made it to the bigs, Matt Garza and Adam Johnson were the fastest, reaching the majors in their second season in the Twins organization. The average time from draft to debut was 3.8 years for those ten picks.

To satisfy all your curiosity, here are some words and numbers about each of the Twins first round draft picks in the last 15 years:

2006 - Chris Parmelee - (20th overall - OF)
currently with Beloit (A)

Parmelee turned heads with his fast start last year. He hit 8 home runs in 45 games last year at the Rookie level before a late promotion to Beloit. Overall he hit .273/.369/.500 last year which resulted in his being listed as the #94 prospect in Baseball America's top 100 prospects of 2007. So far this year, he's hit .226/.305/.374 at Beloit with two home runs. Some eyebrows have been raised by his high strikeout total (38 SO in 115 AB) but he's only 19 years old, so he's still got plenty of time to develop. His mix of patience and power are the attributes that lead to the Twins selecting him in the first round.
2005 - Matt Garza - (25th overall - P)
currently with Rochester (AAA) - 1 ML season

Garza's unbelievably fast rise through the farm system last year caught a lot of attention, and he was ranked #21 in Baseball America's top 100 prospects of 2007. He began last season with Fort Myers and pitched his way to promotions to New Britain and then Rochester, and finally, Minnesota. In nine starts with the Twins, Garza pitched 50 innings, allowing 32 earned runs (5.76 ERA) while striking out 6.8 per nine innings. He began the 2007 season at Rochester and is currently boasting a 3.86 ERA with 8.4 K/9 through his first nine starts. It's only a matter of time until Garza dons a Twins uniform again.
2005 - Henry Sanchez - (39th overall - 1B)
currently with Elizabethton (Rookie), 3rd minor league season

Sanchez was drafted out of high school and spent some time at Beloit last year. That stint, combined with his time in rookie ball gives a career line of .211/.274/.351 coming into this year. Sanchez is currently recovering from an injury, and so I couldn't find any stats from this season. It doesn't seem like he's on the fast track right now, but only time will tell.
2004 - Trevor Plouffe - (20th overall - SS)
currently with New Britain (AA), 4th minor league season

Drafted out of high school as the first of 5 first-round picks for the Twins in 2004, Plouffe has spent the last two seasons at A level before his promotion this year. In the previous three seasons he has hit .244/.321/.353. So far this season, Plouffe has hit .250/.306/.402 with the uptick in power due mostly to an increased number of doubles (11 2B out of 33 hits). Plouffe's defense has also been improved according to scouts, which adds to the overall optimistic picture for this prospect.
2004 - Glen Perkins - (22nd overall - P)
currently with Minnesota Twins, 2nd ML season

After being drafted from the University of Minnesota, Perkins made his debut in the stretch run for the Twins last season and was called up early this season, where he stayed until a recent injury put him on the disabled list. In those two stints, Perkins has 16 appearances, all out of the bullpen, with an ERA of 3.38, a 1.19 WHIP, and 6.75 K/9. In the minors, Perkins moved quickly, never spending more than one year at any level. He started 60 games while posting an ERA of 3.36, a 1.24 WHIP, and 9.63 K/9
2004 - Kyle Waldrop - (25th overall - P)
currently with New Britain (AA), 4th minor league season

Waldrop was recently promoted to New Britain after getting off to a good start this year. In eight starts, he averaged 5.5 IP, had an ERA of 2.86 while striking out 41 in 44 innings. His first start at AA also looked good, as Waldrop allowed one earned run in seven innings. Since signing with the Twins, he has spent a year at rookie ball, followed by two years split betwixt Beloit and Fort Myers at the A level. In his minor league career, Waldrop has an ERA of 3.83, a WHIP of 1.21, while maintaining a SO/BB ratio of 4 to 1 and striking out 6.3 batters per 9 innings.
2004 - Matthew Fox - (35th overall - P)
currently with Beloit (A), 3rd minor league season

Originally drafted, but not signed, in 2001 by the Arizona Diamondbacks, Fox attended the University of Central Florida before being drafted by the Twins. 2007 represents his first season above rookie level due to a injury to his labrum which took his 2005 season. He's only appeared in one game thus far this year as he spent time at extended spring training, but he did pitch a scoreless inning in that appearance.

2004 - Jay Rainville - (39th overall - P)
currently with Fort Myers (A), 3rd minor league season

Jay Rainville was drafted out of high school and began with one season at the rookie level, followed by parts of a season with Beloit and Fort Myers. In those two seasons, his ERA was 3.06 and his WHIP was 1.20. He would miss the entire 2006 season with an arm injury before returning this year where he left off, at Fort Myers. Rainville has eight starts this season for the Miracle, he has a 3.22 ERA in those starts with a 1.27 WHIP while averaging 4.5 IP/start.
2003 - Matt Moses - (21st overall - 3B)
currently with Rochester (AAA), 5th minor league season

The Twins drafted Moses out of high school, and he spent a little more than a season at each level through the Twins system hitting .261/.323/.402 over the last four seasons. This is his first year at AAA, and he's hitting .244/.264/.341. On a positive note Moses posted his highest home run total last season at New Britain (15, 31.6 AB/HR) which is a good sign for one of the Twins power hitting prospects.
2002 - Denard Span - (20th overall - OF)
currently with Rochester (AAA), 5th minor league season

Span has long been tagged as Torii Hunter's successor in centerfield for the Twins. Due to Mr. Hunter, Span hasn't progressed to the majors as quickly as others on this list, but in his four previous seasons in the minors (none above AA), he has hit .288/.359/.346 while stealing 76 bases in about 1600 plate appearances. In his first season at AAA this year, Span is hitting .226/.282/.299 with 10 stolen bases.
2001 - Joe Mauer - (1st pick overall - C)
currently with Minnesota Twins, 4th ML season, .323/.403/.472

Mauer started the season with the Twins in 2004 after the departure of A. J. Pierzynski. Unfortunately, due to injury, he would only appear in 35 games that year. Since then, Mauer has become a hitting machine, he won the batting title last season and posted a career high average (.347) and OBP (.446). Last year, Mauer won numerous accolades, including the Silver Slugger Award, an All-Star selection, and he garnered enough votes to place 6th in the AL MVP race. Mauer is currently on the disabled list with a leg injury but prior to that was still hitting well (.353/.446/.480).
2000 - Adam Johnson - (2nd overall - P)
2 major league seasons, 10.25 ERA, 2.05 WHIP

Johson shot through the minor leagues, reaching the Majors after short stops at A, AA, and AAA in 2001. He would appear in seven games for the major league club including four starts, posting an 8.28 ERA and a 1.8 WHIP. After spending 2002 at AAA, Johnson made another brief appearance with the Twins in 2003, appearing in two games, pitching 1.1 innings and allowing eight runs. After another season in the minors, Johnson was released by Twins in 2005 and signed by the Oakland A's. After a couple of seasons in the Oakland farm system, Johnson is out of professional baseball.
1999 - B. J. Garbe - (5th overall - OF)
6 minor league seasons

Garbe was drafted out of high school by the Twins and spent two years each at the A and AA levels of the Twins organization. He hit .218/.298/.294 in those four seasons before he was traded in 2004 for Pat Borders. Garbe spent time in the Mariners and Marlins farm systems until 2006, but I couldn't find a current team for him this season.
1998 - Ryan Mills - (6th overall - P)
7 minor league seasons

Mills was originally drafted by the Yankees in the 13th round of the 1995 draft, but instead attended Arizona State University until the Twins drafted him in the first round. Mills would spend about two years at each level of the minors (as a starter at A and AA; and in the bullpen at AAA) but didn't excel at any of them, as he posted a record of 17-40 with an ERA of 5.79 and a WHIP of 1.73 while walking 5.9 batters per nine innings. After 2004, the Twins released Mills and he hasn't resurfaced anywhere else that I can find.
1997 - Michael Cuddyer - (9th overall - SS/1B/2B/3B/OF)
currently with Minnesota Twins, 7th ML season, .269/.341/.454

Cuddyer had his breakout year last year when he hit 41 doubles and 24 home runs with a .284/.362/.504 line. It's probably not coincidental that last season marked the first time Cuddyer played more than 95 games at any one position (142 games in right field). He made his debut in 2001, but spent significant time in the minors each of the next three seasons.
1997 - Matt LeCroy - (50th overall - C)
currently with Rochester (AAA) - 7 ML seasons

The Mets drafted LeCroy initially in 1994, but he went to Clemson University instead for three seasons before the Twins drafted him. LeCroy made his debut with the Twins in 2000 and played six seasons with the Twins before he was granted free agency after the 2005 season. In those six seasons, LeCroy hit .275/.346/.460 with the Twins while averaging about 240 plate appearances per year. His best year was 2003 (coincidentally the year he got the most at-bats) when he hit 17 home runs while posting a line of .287/.342/.490. After a year in Washington, LeCroy returned to the Twins in the off-season as a free agent and is currently hitting .197/.256/.291 at AAA Rochester.

1996 - Travis Lee - (2nd overall - 1B - did not sign)
9 year ML career, .256/.337/.408
1995 - Mark Redman - (13th overall - P)
currently with Atlanta Braves, 9th ML season

Redman spent time with the Twins in three seasons from 1999 to 2001. However, the only consistent action he saw was in 2000, when he started 24 games and posted an ERA of 4.76, 7.0 K/9, and a 1.41 WHIP, which was good enough to place him 6th in the AL Rookie of the Year voting. Those numbers only differ from his career numbers in the frequency of strikeouts (5.5 career K/9, 4.75 ERA, 1.42 WHIP). He was traded to the Detroit Tigers at the deadline of the next year for Todd Jones. After leaving the Twins, Redman has been named an All-Star once ('06 with Kansas City) and won a World Series ('03 with Florida).
1994 - Todd Walker - (8th overall - 2B)
currently with Oakland Athletics, 12th ML season

Walker made his debut with the Twins in 1996 and spent four seasons with the Twins, including a spectacular 1998 season where he posted career highs in BA (.316), OBP (.372) and OPS+ (119). In his Twins tenure, he hit .285/.341/.413 which corresponds with his career line of .289/.348/.435. He was traded to Colorado for another Todd, Todd Sears, in July of 2000.
1993 - Torii Hunter - (20th overall - OF)
currently with Minnesota Twins, 11th ML season, .271/.324/.469

Hunter has patrolled center field for the Twins for the better part of the last nine seasons. In that time, his best performance to date was the 2002 season when he hit .289/.334/.524, won a start in the All-Star game, and came in 6th in the AL MVP voting. This year Hunter is demolishing all those numbers hitting an astronomical .318/.353/.611 so far. Hunter has also won six Gold Gloves and has been widely regarded as one of the best defensive centerfielders in the game.

1993 - Jason Varitek - (21st overall - C - did not sign)
currently with Boston Red Sox, 11th ML season, .269/.349/.449
2-time All-Star ('03, '05), Silver Slugger (2005), World Series (2004)
1992 - Dan Serafini - (26th overall - P)
six major league seasons

Serafini had a six year career in the major leagues starting with three seasons with the Twins from 1996 to 1998 before his contract was purchased by the Chicago Cubs. With the Twins Serafini appeared in 35 games and for a couple stretches filled in as a starter. He started 14 games, posting a 5.45 ERA while averaging 5.1 innings per start with a 1.57 WHIP and 4.7 K/9 in those games. Overall with the Twins, Serafini posted a 5.88 ERA and a 1.67 WHIP.

Enormous thanks to, which is where I found all these images.

[UPDATE:] The Braves have cut Mark Redman ('95). Adjust all relevant stats accordingly.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Recap 5/21/2007 Twins 4. Rangers 14

One night after Ramon Ortiz got pounded Carlos Silva thought he'd try to one up his rotation mate. He succeeded. While Ortiz went 4 1/3 allowing 5 runs, Silva managed to cover the same distance and allow seven runs. Quite the triumph of ineptitude I must say. The difference between tonight and last night was that Silva's replacement wasn't the solid Matt Guerrier, it was AAA callup Julio DePaula who got tagged for seven more runs in his inning of work. By the time the dust had settled the Twins had allowed 14 runs in runs in six innings, including eight in the disastrous fifth.

Beyond that I'm really not certain what to say. After a few good games in Milwaukee the offense wasn't completely inept against the Rangers Vincente Padilla, but they certainly weren't great as they missed multiple opportunities to score runs including a golden chance in the first innings when Castillo and Punto both reached base with no one out. Of course resident sluggers cum choke artists Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau summarily struck out before Torii Hunter drove in Castillo with a chopper through the middle. The Twins would score another run on a Morneau single, a passed ball and a ground out by Punto. Once again however, they failed to record a single extra base hit. The Rangers by contract had 8.

While all of this may have been bad, Silva getting shelled, DePaula getting shelled worse, the offense being miserable... The real pain from tonight's game came when Glen Perkins, one of the Big Four pitching prospects reached to the back of his left arm in the eighth inning and left the game with what the team initially called a cramp. It wasn't a cramp though and according to Joe Christensen of the Star Tribune Perkins is headed to the DL for about two weeks with what Rangers trainer Dr. Keith Meister called a strained teres major muscle. Whatever that happens to be. What that will mean for the Twins with Reyes being completely ineffective means the Twins are without a lefty in the pen for at least a couple days. Maybe longer.

The other side effect of course is that as Silva and Ortiz begin to show their true colors after a brilliant first month, and relievers begin dropping like flies with injuries the Twins find themselves suddenly thin on arms with the only real option being to begin calling up the rest of the Big Four which is now just Slowey and Garza, both of whom Gardenhire has adamantly stated will be used only as starters. At this point the twins really are only one more injury in the bullpen away from crisis and it will be interesting to see how they manage the situation. One particularly intriguing question is whether or not the Twins will end up giving Jose Mijares from New Britain a shot as he's been tearing up AA.

TWIT: A New Hope

Weekly Roundup

A second straight week looked like it was going to be utterly disastrous before the team got enough of a rebound over the weekend to let fans exhale, albeit just a little bit. Going 2-4 and looking absolutely miserable in getting swept by Cleveland (outscored 24-8) is a pretty ominous start to the week. Taking a series against a division leader and nominal rival on the road while coming up a couple innings short of a sweep helps temper the sting just a little bit, and keeping in mind that this road trip has been one of the particularly difficult kind provides the kind of excuse that any worthy failure would desire.

If there was a theme to the Cleveland series, it was that the Twins never really had a chance. Getting blown out by 8 in the slow-pitch softball series opener- Ortiz versus Byrd, 28 combined hits, 10 for extra bases- set a nasty tone, since the bullpen-reliant team had to five relievers for eight innings on the first day of nine straight games. Carlos Silva gave them six mediocre innings the next day to aid in the recovery, although they were not nearly good enough to keep the offense in the game against a dominant C.C. Sabathia. Between Silva and Sabathia giving a combined 14 innings of work, I am extremely glad that I was not the pitching mound, trampled under foot by two of the girthiest pitchers left (now that Sid has beached himself in Aruba, of course). The next day, Johan Santana was out-dueled by Fausto Carmona, who lived up to the rhetorical idiom, “Who is the best young starting pitcher in baseball? Whoever starts against the Twins.” Carmona did nothing more than keep the ball down and in the strike zone, and the Twins gleefully obliged, hitting 17 ground ball outs. The idea for a ground ball pitcher is to work deep into games, give up hits here and there, but limit walks and extra base hits to keep the damage to a minimum. Against Carmona, the Twins hit 6 fly balls, and only one extra base hit, a double by Morneau. A team total of five total bases does not usually get the job done.

At least the weekend series saw the Twins hitting Milwaukee at just the right time, as the Brewers have seemingly hit the high-water mark and are in the process of regressing to their true level of ability, still good, but not .700 good. Boof kicked off the festivities with one of the team’s best starts of the year on Friday, making fans forget all about poor, departed Sidney. Ponson’s replacement, Scott Baker, followed suit on Saturday with another strong outing, propelling the team to an easy win and hopefully restoring organizational confidence that he can be a solid major league pitcher, even if he doesn’t have a dominating out pitch. Ramon Ortiz looked good for four innings on Sunday, and a 5-2 lead gave the appearance that the team was headed for a sweep and a full rebound from the Cleveland debacle. Three Brewers runs in the fifth and another lackadaisical outing from Reyes (against a pair of lefties, no less) ended that notion, preventing a truly happy Monday.

The team is still struggling to hit for power and to get on base. The bullpen is still below what we anticipated coming into the year, especially with one of the better pitchers on the shelf for the remainder of the year. The rotation still has major problems, as Silva is good for innings exclusively, and Ortiz cannot even say that. Nonetheless, I think the highs and lows of the early season are starting to plane out, as the team is hitting about as well as it should without Joe Mauer, and the pitching is starting to become predictable. The next step is finding solutions to the now-apparent problems, which I will discuss later.

Biggest Success

Even though Boof Bonser had an exceptional start on Saturday, functioning like an ace in stopping the team’s bleeding through sheer force of will, he was not the most impressive success of the week. That title goes to newly promoted Scott Baker, the triple-A all-star who won plenty of supporters with a gritty and effective outing against a good offense on the road. Before losing his spot in the rotation, Sidney Ponson’s top single Game Score was 66, a May 1st outing against Tampa Bay- his average GS for the year was 37. Against a tougher offense, Baker came up with a GS of 68 on Saturday, not a career performance, but pretty awesome in comparison. Through seven starts, Ponson had exactly one quality start, the aforementioned Tampa game; Baker matched that total in his first outing. In 37.2 innings of work, Ponson accrued -6.9 runs worth of value over replacement level, while Baker’s one start was worth 3.3. Obviously, Scott Baker is not going to go 8+ innings in every start, and his stats will look different when he gets back into the DH league, but when he has already bested six weeks worth of work by Ponson in only one night, there is finally some room for optimism at the back end of the rotation. Why Baker needed another 30 or so AAA innings instead of starting the season with the big club is beyond me. Why the Twins felt the need to pay Ponson the salary that only became guaranteed when he made the major league roster is also beyond me. How the Twins could imagine that Ponson was going to be part of a contending ball club is way beyond me. But those demons are in the past, and it’s now time to worry about the future. If that future includes an honest shot at a full-time gig for Scott Baker, I think his extensive minor league track record should speak for itself.

Biggest Disappointment

Now that the Ponson situation is resolved, the Twins only have three starting pitching candidates who are more qualified for the rotation than Ramon Ortiz. Ortiz compiled a stunning 18.56 ERA over two starts last week, keeping the team in one game and keeping them out of another. When a good day includes 4.1 innings of work and five earned runs, it might be time to pursue other career choices. The junk that Ortiz got to work in April is simply not working in May; he’s routinely getting tagged as if he were throwing batting practice. In 5.1 innings for the week, he gave up an astonishing 17 hits and 11 earned runs. His control is fine, as he walked only one, but it may be a little too fine, considering that he only struck out a pair of batters. Even though he’s not terribly old (34 on Wednesday), the weak, straight fastballs suggest that Ortiz might be totally done. I’d rather give Perkins, Slowey, or Garza a whirl than spend another 2-3 months trying to figure that one out.

On the Horizon

It wasn’t easy to do, but the Twins finally found a patch in their schedule where they will face a couple of teams struggling even more than they are. The Rangers had high hopes before the season, but at 10 games under .500 and missing Hank Blalock and Kevin Millwood, there is plenty of trouble to go around. Even in a miserable division, the Rangers are already talking about blowing up and starting over, as the Mark Teixeira trade rumors have started earlier than usual this year. Aside from Tex, no regular has an OBP above .335, and the starting pitching has been as bad as it usually is. If not for games like Sunday’s blowout win over the Astros where the team hit six homers, the cause would be even less hopeful. Either way, the Rangers are weak enough that anything less than a series win would be a disappointment for the Twins.

The same can be said for the Blue Jays, whose struggles lie in the fact that they have become the walking wounded. They had a high-risk, high-reward roster, and the season thus far has demonstrated the former part of that duality. It should not come as a surprise that the team has health problems when the last two years’ big ticket items have included Troy Glaus, Frank Thomas, A.J. Burnett, and B.J. Ryan. On Friday, a caller on Philly sports radio commented that the Phillies have no excuse for anything less than a sweep against the Jays. I don’t know how that over-excited gentleman felt about taking 2 of 3, but I’m going to take a slightly more measured approach into the weekend. In any case, if the Twins come out of this week with a losing record, it is something just short of an abomination.

The Big Picture

Cleveland and Detroit are playing extremely well, but recent history has taught us that a seven game divisional lead is not nearly enough to consider run-away-and-hide status. Three games under five hundred is less than optimal, but the Twins are still on the positive side of the ledger in first, second, and third order wins, including a net run surplus of 6 for the year. Since they are losing plenty of close games, there is room for improvement without any major roster tinkering.

That’s not to say that some roster tinkering wouldn’t do them some good. Moving Baker in place of Ponson has probably already given them at least a two win improvement over the course of the season, with the possibility of a much higher upside. The next step must be to fix the “Ortiz” section of the rotation. The franchise has enough bad memories associated with that last name, there’s no reason to miss the postseason on account of another one. With better alternatives up and down the system and enough time having passed to alleviate arbitration concerns, it would be extremely prudent for the Twins to swallow Ramon’s sunk cost and go with whomever they trust out of the Perkins-Slowey-Garza triumvirate. Enough time has passed that we can say that this problem is real and tangible, and the passage of more time will not alleviate it.

Also the offense needs to produce more, even accounting for the absence of Joe Mauer. Specifically, Jason Kubel needs to continue his slow march back to respectability, and Ron Gardenhire has to find a way to get something out of third base. If he can fashion some sort of platoon out of Jeff Cirillo and Nick Punto, they may get a passable amount of production. I’m still concerned that there isn’t enough young offensive talent to support the roster as time goes on, and I would welcome a sort of dashing challenge trade where Ryan tests his scouting chops by trying to get more than value in the form of hitting prospects for one of his young pitching prospects.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

On Assignment: Brewers 6, Twins 5

As I lounged about this weekend, an urgent message suddenly appeared in my inbox from the headquarters of the Minnesota Sports Guys conglomerate. I was chosen to attend a Twins game this weekend at Miller Park. Despite the fact that Ramon Ortiz would be pitching, and that I would be wading into hostile territory with which I was not familiar (my first visit to Miller Park), I felt duty-bound to do my best. Following is my report. (Keep in mind, I am not a professional picture taker, I'm barely an amateur, so there's not much and it may not be high quality, but I'll try to fill in with witty commentary where appropriate)

Yep, that's the place. We (me and my wife) exited off the freeway and were pretty much right by the front gate, which we thought boded well. After another 20 minutes of driving we reached our parking spot and made the long trek back toward the field (which is essentially in the middle of an enormous parking lot).
Also, you may notice that the roof was closed. No outdoor baseball for us.

We found our seats pretty easily (after procuring some cheesy fries in a helmet). This was the view from section 430 (the MNSG budget apparently isn't all that large). The place was pretty well packed with a reasonable representation of Twins fans. And I should point out that the Brewers fans that I met were very well behaved, before and after the game (I probably would have ranted about them if they weren't, so I have to give them credit).
In the above picture, the Brewers had just walked Jason Bartlett to get to Ramon Ortiz in the big 4-run fourth.

At this point my wife pointed out that TC, the Twins mascot, was in attendance, hanging out with Bernie Brewer on the infamous slide. (Emphasis mine, there were no giant purple arrows at the game). Shortly after this half inning finished, Bernie and TC disappeared from the slide and TC wasn't seen again. In an interesting parallel, the Brewers outscored the Twins 6 to 1 for the remainder of the game. Perhaps Bernie took matters into his own hands? I know the Twins policy is not to negotiate for hostages, but it had to be weighing on their minds.

Ramon Ortiz plots his next big inning (alternatively, he frets about the plight of TC).

It wouldn't be Milwaukee without a Sausage Race. Here they come, around the homeplate area, I had the bratwurst in a friendly wager with my wife (that's him in the green hat at the back of the pack. grrrrrrr)

It was Sunday, so it was a relay (as anyone who's witnessed a sausage race knows). The "little weenies" ran the last leg and the bratwurst made a valiant comeback to finish second. Unfortunately the wife's pick, the polish, won easily, so I lost that bet (and no, I won't tell you what the wager was, it's not important).

I had a picture of Ramon Ortiz, and here's a picture of Pat Neshek. I didn't get a picture of Dennys Reyes because I was covering my eyes in horror the whole time he was on the field. He trotted in from the bullpen and I was desperately trying to convince myself that Juan Rincon had become a lefty. But Dennys laughed at my pitiful attempts to deny him as he coughed up a run to give the Brewers the lead.

Neshek was awesome, after getting two outs on two pitches in the 7th, my wife predicted three strikeouts on 9 pitches in the 8th. She was pretty close, Neshek got two strikeouts and a pop-up on 10 pitches. Between this and the polish sausage thing (plus she got the attendance game right, too) I was getting a little freaked out.


I had a good time, I always enjoy a baseball game, and this one was close enough to be entertaining throughout. I got to give Cuddyer a standing ovation for his home run, and I got to curse the offense for failing to capitalize on a leadoff double in a tie game. The whole range of emotions in one afternoon. I really felt the Twins should have pulled this one out, but I can be content with 2 of 3 on the road in a series. That's it from me, I'm off to sharpen my photojournalism skills. Thanks for reading!

PS - Corey, who do I contact about reimbursement for the bratwurst and cheese curds?

Recap 5/19/2007 Twins 5. Brew Crew 2

Last night I began to write an article about how the Twins offense was bound to improve from it's performance so far this season. My justification was the same one I had used earlier in the season, when I pointed out that the team had the most at-bats of any team in baseball with runners in scoring position but was batting a full 30 points worse in that situation than their season average. I never finished the article but the last two games have bore out my point.

As the Twins started their series in Milwaukee, they have countered that trend, progressing back to the mean, as they've gone 4-14 (.285), 4-11 (.363) if you don't count the three at-bats by pitchers. While two games of good offense doesn't mean any more over the long term than the two big games last week did, it's the way in which we scored that has me pleased. The Twins have gotten three homeruns over these past two games with Torii doing the most damage with his two homeruns, a grand slam and two run shot that gave the Twins the lead in both games, but its been the successful sacrifice bunts, the steals, and the singles that brought home runners which have been most pleasing. Thats because for the most part, the Twins simply cannot expect to get big homeruns on a consistent basis, but what they can do is move guys around and score the runners they get into position.

The other obviously good piece of news for the Twins was the brilliant performance of Scott Baker. In his seven games (six starts) this season at Rochester, Baker has been completely brilliant. While his ERA was far from overwhelming, it was still a very good 3.16 over 42 2/3 innings. What was impressive were the peripheral numbers. He had a K/BB ratio of 41/4, and a GB/FB ratio of 1.34 and a WHIP of .89. Those last two numbers are particularly important as Baker has always struggled to keep the ball down in the zone which has led to lots of fly balls and homeruns.

Tonight's game while impressive and just what the team needed, had some things that might make the attentive fan of the game a little worried. Things like the fact that he never really displayed a consistently effective breaking ball, and the breaking balls he did throw he tended to leave up and they consistently got hit hard. You'll notice that he had a number of balls hit hard to the outfield, especially as he passed the 50 pitch mark in the fifth inning. He also gave up two homeruns, both on pitches left up and over. The other worrying point of note is that he still hasn't seemed to learn how to create a good downward plane with his fastball as it still usually comes in very flat. The good thing I noticed however is that he seems to really have gotten very good command of his 2-seamer which bites into right handed hitters. He was consistently hitting the corners and looked very sharp with his fastball. Whether or not that will be enough remains to be seen, but the Twins were desperate for a spark and Baker provided that.