Monday, August 31, 2009

Game 131: Where the Twins Do Everything Right

Maybe it's just a mostly forgettable season, but I can't think of the last game when this team has played such solid baseball.

Nick Blackburn's starting pitching? Fantastic. Reminiscent of his beautiful start in Game 163 last year.

Relief pitching? Not even Joe Nathan gave me anything to sweat about! Maybe he listened to us bloggers?

Our defense? Beautiful. I can only imagine being a White Sox fan and worrying about every single ground ball being a hit with how dreadful their defense has been all year. We're blessed.

Our line-up? Well, how can you complain when you've got Joe Mauer and Jason Kubel teeing off like it's BP?

OK, so I can't write a real post since I have to go to bed in time to wake up for an early early flight to Minnesota to watch Jeff Manship make his major league debut (instead of Rich Harden; I guess you win, Betsy and Katie). 

But please, if you're looking for extremely fun reading ... take today to expand your horizons beyond the Twins blogosphere. Indulge yourself in a guilty pleasure that I like to partake. The comment section of the in-game thread from the South Side Sox website during last night's game. It's a good way to witness other fans go to through the dismay, pain, and fear that we've seen in our tenure as Twins fans. 

He may be the President, but when's he gonna pick a better team?

I'll have more tomorrow after I go to the game!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Bring on the Dirty Laundry!

*Due to the increased importance of this series with the Chicago White Sox, my desire to say goodbye to the Metrodome during a meaningful series, and the lovely convergence of the Minnesota State Fair, I will be returning to Minnesota for Tuesday and Wednesday's games against the White Sox! Let me know if you're going to the game and make sure to say hi! I'm going to bring my lucky Rick Aguilera jersey and sit right down by the field close enough to trash talk Gordon Beckham and try to get inside his head. Let's go Twins!

Leaving for Atlantic City and returning to NYC in the middle of a game in time to watch the Twins have one of their signature Dome rallies in the 8th inning was the perfect way to spend a weekend! We played at the Taj Mahal and The Tropicana this weekend and had a great time. My poker buddies and I didn't win as much as we should have due to some bad beats, but we didn't lose money, which is the key. Similar to the Twins' season thus far, no? They haven't really made the big runs they should have been capable of with the talent of guys like Mauer and Morneau, but here we are going into September and postseason is in the air alongside Minnesota State Fair cheese curds!

Going into this season, I was eyeing this upcoming White Sox series at the Dome, its convergence with the State Fair, and already planning coming back for my last hurrah at our stadium, and I simply prayed that at the very least these games would be meaningful. With the Twins and Sox separated in the standings by only 1 1/2 games and the Twins only 4 1/2 back from the Tigers (who are about to play the suddenly decent Cleveland Indians), we are in great shape. And we could be in even better shape soon!

If the Twins are serious about acquiring Harden, I'm all for it. Penny would be a decent boost to our struggling rotation, but Harden could be the golden ticket. Before being traded from his career in Oakland over to the Cubs last year, Harden has been plagued by an injury history that would make even Michael Cuddyer groan. He holds a career 3.36 ERA and 1.22 WHIP and average just over a strikeout per inning. Plus he's on my fantasy roster already and it would give me one more reason to cheer for him.

If the Twins can sign him to an extension (preferably incentive-laden), that also just might give Mauer the whiff of looming success that he's been hoping for before re-upping.

I must also say that I'm very happy after watching Jon Rauch pitch, and from what I hear, Mahay didn't do awfully himself. At the least, they have adequately replaced Humber and Gabino -- now we just need to see a fresh face in place of Keppel. And speaking of Keppel, I'm not quite ready to give ultimate confidence to Rauch and Mahay just yet, because hopefully we all remember how dominant Keppel looked in his first few starts until his career stats began to catch up with him. But I'm willing to applaud Rauch and Mahay for their performances, and I'll definitely be rooting for them to keep up that level of success and make the Twins look brilliant in their waiver wire maneuvering.


Things have already been written about the September Call-ups, and I don't mean to add anything that hasn't already been said. But I will say that it looks as if by all means the Twins front office hasn't given up on this season, and judging by Gardy's words and the Twins' place in the standing we're going to have to wait to see some of our long-anticipated prospects hoist a bat or toe the rubber in the majors.

Obviously Morales was going to come up, I don't think anyone didn't see that coming. But the real question was whether the front office would keep the party line and bring back Buscher, Tolbert, Swarzak and Dickey, or whether we'd see some of our better prospects (who might not be as refined yet), like Valencia, Tolleson, Plouffe, Hughes, Huber, Slama, and Delaney. At least Gardy stated that he wanted to see Valencia up but he's being told that "it's not the time". I just wonder who exactly is telling him that! Gardy is the manager!

I still wouldn't be surprised if someone like David Winfree or Brock Peterson makes a surprise cameo in September, as soon its going to be time to cut bait on them and we might as well add some extra bats to our bench for the stretch run and get a look at them up here. Although the real question is who would we remove to add them to our 40-man now that we know Tolbert and Buscher are coming up. Perhaps Dickey? The real surprising thing is that Tolleson and Hughes haven't been announced as coming up as they're already on the 40-man roster and could provide some valuable bench bats -- and Tolleson has versatility in the infield and outfield just as Tolbert does.

In another somewhat overlooked move, Yohan Pino was traded to the Indians to complete the Carl Pavano acquisition. This could actually come back to haunt us as he's been on fire lately, and despite falling out of the picture the last few years he once was a very promising prospect. Chances are he would have been taken in the Rule 5 draft this year anyway, as there are many prospects to add to our 40-man roster this offseason and not enough spots for all those deserving. I wish him luck, but it's going to be tough to like Pino if he comes back and makes us look foolish!

Ok, hopefully I have some good news tomorrow to write in regards to Harden (or Penny if Harden doesn't work out). But in the meantime, check some of the great blogs on the left for some more Twins news!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Quick Update: Bullpen NOOOOOO

Alright, I'm about to head off to Atlantic City, so I won't be around to hear the fallout from this, but, meet your two new bullpen members:

Ron Mahay, LHP 4.79 ERA, 1.79 WHIP ('09)

The Twins acquired Ron Mahay from the Royals for, well, basically nothing. Which is about what Mahay's worth. The one upside is that he's another lefty who at least knows how to throw a something towards a plate, but his chance of having a real impact is almost next to nothing. It's basically change for the sake of change. He's had a couple better years previously, but to bank on Mahay suddenly finding his own groove with only a month to go is a long shot. At least we didn't give up too much but he's not an answer.

Jon Rauch RHP, 4.14 ERA, 1.36 WHIP ('09)

So these aren't bad numbers per se, and he'll probably be an upgrade over Keppel, Humber, Manship, etc. But he's no 8th inning guy. His numbers are also a little high for his career this year, so maybe he's just had some bad luck. At least we probably won't cringe every time he takes the mound, I just wonder who the "player to be named later" is. It looks as if we'll be seeing Rauch next year as I seem to remember reading somewhere that he's signed for another year. Unfortunately I think by that time he'll kind of be dead weight in a stellar bullpen, but for now he shouldn't be too bad. Let's just hope they haven't given up on Penny.

OK, I'm off for the weekend for real this time. Make sure to check out my Target Field post earlier, and there's some good stuff about Jon Rauch on The Tenth Inning Stretch, and Seth Stohs also talks about both acquisitions, so I'd check out their sites, both are definitely worth a read.

Also, if seeing Betsy's pictures of Target Field the other day on her site made you want more, Nick Nelson's got a post up as well. Have a great weekend and "Go Twins!"

Thursday, August 27, 2009

"Weather" or Not We're Built For Success

Yes, I know, bad puns will get me nowhere. But late at night after a long day at work and it's the best I could come up with.

Some of you might recall my previous posts looking ahead to what we'll see next year from other AL Central teams. My original intent had been to build up and then start looking at what we'll see on the Twins roster next year -- although the recent win streak somewhat derailed me from the whole "next year" kick, temporarily at least.

But I got to thinking -- we don't even really know what to expect from our stadium, much less our team. We've been so conditioned to people's stats inside a dome that sees balls get lost in the ceiling or take evil hops off a seam in the carpet in half of our games. Should I maybe only evaluate our team based off of our road splits?

Let me confess, one of my guilty pleasures is reading in-game threads and posts from White Sox blogs the day after we beat them. It's kind of fun. Do you know the one thing they keep harping on? That glorious day when we leave the Metrodome and give up our Domefield advantage... yeah, they can't wait until they face us next year.

Really? I thought we were the only ones who get to look forward to our new stadium! This is just a little disconcerting to me. What's it going to be like changing from that scrappy indoor team that always beats people with things like the "Butcher Boy"? Or air conditioning?**


There are certain factors we need to take into consideration to really imagine next year: Ballpark dimensions, elevation, weather, and the composition of our team are probably the key ingredients to think about.


Left Field: 339ft.
Center Field: 404ft.
Right Field: 328ft.

These dimensions are smaller than the Metrodome all-around. They've scraped 4ft. off of the left field wall, 4ft. off the center field wall, and just a foot off the already shortened porch in right. This will be a somewhat cozier ballpark than we're used to -- and we've already had to adjust to the lack of plexiglass in our lifetime!

Now, it's no Yankee Stadium, which takes the liberty of being a whopping 21ft. shallower in left, as well as 14ft. shallower in right (though they're both just as deep in center field -- I really hated geometry), but based on these dimensions we should still probably see a few more balls leave the park than at the Dome. We've seen how many of Mauer's homeruns are to left and center, and giving him an extra 4 feet there who knows what his power numbers are going to be like?

I went through the dimensions at Clem's Baseball of other parks, and while none really exactly match the new Target Field dimensions, the two that seem to come closest are Turner Field of the Atlanta Braves, and -- U.S. Cellular Field of the Devil's Children. (Ugh, it'll almost be like they're playing at home on the road!)

Now, both of those fields have a left field porch of 335ft., center field of 400ft, and right of 330ft. That's about four feet shorter than ours will be in in left and center and just a couple feet deeper than ours in right. That's about as close as it comes all around. Now, both U.S. Cellular and Turner Field are considered somewhat "pitcher friendly", and while that doesn't necessarily equate only to the dimensions, those play a large factor.


Mountains symbolize elevation, in my mind. And, one of the most "hitter friendly" parks is widely considered to be Coors Field, home of the Rockies, which we all know is high up on a giant mountain peak where it's really hard to breathe because the air is so thin. (Citation needed.)

The principle behind why elevation has anything to do with baseball is that the ball tends to travel further in lower pressure, and it doesn't carry as well in particularly high-pressure air -- and we all know that air pressure is associated with elevation.

Two extremes: Philadelphia's Citizen's Bank Park is located 9 feet above sea level. Coors Field, on the other hand, is located 5,183 ft. above sea level. That's why the ball carries just a little bit further in Coors Field.

Let's look at Turner Field and U.S. Cellular though. Turner Field is on the relatively high end of the spectrum, sitting at 1,050 ft. above sea level. That's really behind only Colorado and Arizona for lowest air pressure. The Cell is about middle of the pack, at 596 ft. above sea level.

While I don't know Target Field's exact elevation, it's safe to assume it will be similar to the Metrodome's, which is 812 ft. above sea level and right behind Turner Field as the 4th highest elevation. We've had the luxury of defined air pressure which has sustained our inflated roof, so we haven't really noticed the effect of elevation on the flight of the ball in Minnesota yet.

My guess though, is that it won't make too much of a difference. Sure, the ball might carry slightly further in Minnesota than at Citizen's Bank Park, but the only place that elevation is really noticeable in its effect on a game is in Colorado, which still has around 4,000 ft. of a gap on its closest competition. Still, the ball could carry slightly further at Target Field than some other stadiums, it's just something to keep in mind.


That's what July baseball is going to look like next year. OK, so, that's an exaggeration. But that is a picture from opening day at The Met in 1965. And you may recall that The Met was in the same city as the outdoor stadium we're building now.

I would love nothing more than to fly out from New York to be there for the opening of Target Field, but, truth be told I'm worried as hell that it would be snowed out.

Here's the thing though: the average high and low in Minneapolis in April is 56/36, and in Chicago it's 58/38. In May that jumps to 68/47 in Minneapolis and 70/47 in Chicago. It averages through the 80's and 60's during June, July, and August, and then in September it drops back down to 70/50 in Minnesota and 74/54 in Chicago. October, if we get that far, is 58/38 in Minnesota, and 62/42 in Chicago. Not that different from April. (I don't want to even compare these numbers to the average temperatures in Atlanta. That's not even relevant.)

So it will certainly get chilly, and the White Sox are used to that, but the Twins will just have to start wearing long underwear all the time. Its playable. Cold air is dense, which means that in April, May, September, and October, the ball won't be carrying as far as it will in June, July, and August. The temperatures will swing dramatically between our coldest point and our warmest point, so I wouldn't be surprised if our power numbers don't start flashing until a couple months in.

What about the snow though? That picture of the Met on Opening Day in '65 is scary. In truth, the average snow fall in Minneapolis in April is 2.8 inches, and in Chicago, where they've been playing outdoor baseball for awhile, it's still 1.7 inches. It's miniscule in May, and it doesn't really register again until October when the average snowfall in Minnesota is .5 inches and in Chicago it's .4 inches. Further, the average date of the 1st inch of snow in Minnesota doesn't usually hit until November 18, and the average date of the last inch of snow is April 2nd (which isn't too bad).


So, that just leaves us with what our team will look like next year playing in that environment. The real question is, with a smaller park does that mean we want ground ball pitchers? With almost two months of the weather hindering our homerun chances, should we seek high-contact hitters primarily to supplement the power threats of Morneau and Kubel?

I'll get to some of this stuff in a later post. For now, I need to rest off before I take off to Atlantic City for a weekend of Texas Hold 'Em. Wish me luck! If I win enough, I'll give it all to Joe Mauer and maybe we'll be able to keep him around a while longer?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Well, that's that

I wonder if this is what Dave Trembley's afterparty was like Wednesday night after the game?

Do you think Gardy laughs like that after a win? For some reason, Gardy reminds me more of Santa.

At least it was kind of nice to have David Ortiz help us out with a walk-off win even when he's not on the team. I don't really feel like writing much about this game, and I'm trying to work on a Target Field write-up before I head off to Atlantic City for a poker weekend.

So check back tomorrow and I should hopefully have a decent post up, but for now, check out some of the pictures of Target Field over at For the Love of the Game. They make me excited for next year -- and this season isn't even over yet (maybe)...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Magic Number?

No, I'm not talking about the infamous elimination number we start to see this time of year, I'm talking about the magic number the Twins have been taking advantage of:

At least that's what Joe Christensen reports in his blog that La Velle Neal believes:

La Velle called tonight’s comeback in a text message: “The sixth inning has been magic for the Twins.” Sure enough, after two more runs tonight, the Twins have now scored 19 sixth-inning runs in their past eight games.

For some reason I just kind of glanced over that before the game today, and as I watched the Twins try to claw their way back from the 5-3 deficit, I noticed the innings tick by until -- the 6th. And when I saw Brian Bass warming up? Well, let's just say that I used to cry and moan and throw (soft) things at the TV last year when Bassy would take the mound at the Dome. Tuesday night? I knew the comeback was about to start.

Oh, and what was the score they tied it up at?

Oh yeah, 6! Sports are crazy aren't they? But maybe there's something to this. Let's look at those games where we fought back in the 6th inning.

The Twins lost to the rangers 8-5. The Twins scored 3 runs in the 6th inning. It started out great, with Mauer doubling. Casilla then flew out to left. Kubel walked and Cuddyer flew out to center. Then Tommy Hunter was replaced by Darren O'Day. O'Day came in and immediately walked Crede to fill up the bases. But he didn't stop there! He issued a free pass to Delmon to bring in the 1st run of the 6th inning.  LNP followed up with a 2RBI single that ushered O'Day out of the game, and Neftali Feliz came in to close the door by getting Span to ground out. Ok, so, this is how it happened: the Rangers starting pitcher got into the 6th inning and his 3rd time through the order we start to figure him out and his pitch count gets to him. An ineffective reliever is brought in and BOOM, we have a fighting chance until the Rangers stop fooling around with their big lead and bring in the lock down guys. Seems pretty normal.

The Twins beat the Rangers 9-6! This time we score 4 runs in the 6th. The rangers leave Scott Feldman in longer and so his meltdown is even bigger. After a lead-off single misplayed in the outfield to allow Orlando Cabrera to second, things get out of hand. Feldman retires Mauer, but Harris, Cuddyer, and Crede all single and the damage is underway. Gomez is retired, but Feldman walks LNP and then the Rangers realize it's time for the bullpen to solve things and Jason Jennings is brought in to erase the threat.

Twins win 5-4. And we score 4 in the 6th ... again. Oh look, their starter -- Kevin Millwood -- is still pitching! So the Twins figure him out and start to pound him. Cuddyer doubles, Crede dounbles, and just when Millwood thinks he's settled down by retiring Young and Gomez, he implodes. LNP does it again by getting an RBI single followed up by a Span double. Millwood is shown the door and O'Day is brought back. O-Cab knocks in another before O'Day gets out of the inning.

Let's forget about this one. Nothing good happened at all, and certainly not in the 6th (when the Rangers scored 5 runs and the Twins put up a goose-egg).

Twins @ Kansas City. The Twins won 5-4 after tying it up -- in the 6th!!! It started out simply enough with Delmon grounding out to Hochever, the starting pitcher. Then Gomez singled and used his awesome speed to take 2nd and then 3rd on a throwing error. Casilla doubles, then Span triples, before Hochevar finally gets out of the inning.

Twins get another 3 runs, obviously in the 6th, because that's where they seem to do all their scoring.  Starter Kyle Davies runs into struggles his 3rd time through the lineup. The Twins rough him up before he's replaced by Ron Mahay, who eventually gets them out of the inning, and the Twins go on to win 8-7.

The Twins didn't do anything in the 6th here, but they did win ridiculously, 10-3. In fact, they exploded for 8 runs in the 7th. Maybe that's because it was starter Brian Bannister's 3rd time through the order? Perhaps?

Twins pull ahead to take the lead 2-1 against the Orioles in the 6th and end up winning by that score. You'll never believe it: it was start Chris Tillman's 3rd time through the order. I think I'm seeing another trend other than the number:
So, Tuesday the Orioles took their starter out after the 5th, but I think it's safe to say that any time Brian Bass takes the mound, people are going to start scoring in droves. It just happened to be the 6th inning.

I love these weird coincidences and superstitions in sports, but you know what's special about the 6th inning? That's usually when a starter begins to tire. If only 3 people get on base in the first 5 innings, the pitcher will be facing the top of the order for the 3rd time that night at the start of the 6th. And by then, the hitter has probably seen the pitcher's complete arsenal of pitches and probably has his timing down. Couple that with the higher pitch count and chances are you'll see runs, not only in the 6th, but probably the 5th and 7th. The only times you'll see huge numbers put up in early innings is probably when the starter utterly fails, and in later innings when a team has a horrible bullpen.

Don't we have a guy who struggles after his 1st and 2nd time through the order?

Just a thought. But I still like thinking about the whole 6th inning thing, it gives me hope if we're behind going later into the game. And, hey, if we can win Wednesday's game, guess how high our win streak would reach?
In other news ...

Armando Gabino got roughed up in his debut. But don't most people? Swarzak was a rarity in his first major league start. I don't think Gabino will be a frontline starter, but he could very well be effective in the majors if used properly (i.e. not in a desperation start). Check out Thrylos's blog for a more detailed look at Gabino, it's some great material.

And over at Plunking Gomez, Erin provides an awesome look into Joe Nathan,his usage and his effectiveness since we got him for that "other" catcher we used to have.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Wingin' It in Rochester

The Twins have been playing better baseball of late, but I haven't been there to see it. Instead, I was getting my first glimpse of Twins AAA baseball at the beautiful Frontier Field in Rochester, NY.
Coming with me was my friend Dan (from here on known as Boston Dan):
A graduate of University of Rochester, Dan cheered for the Red Wings during the Cuddyer/Morneau era and still cheers for the local AAA affiliate of the Twins. He's actually one of the few east coast fans I know with some respect for our team -- so he's OK in my book.

We left Manhattan early Saturday morning to pick up our Kia rental at Newark Airport, and after a long drive discussing the minutae of Boston and Minnesota sports, we finally arrived in Rochester around 1 in time to stop by Dan's college hang-out, The Distillery, which I highly recommend if you're in the area.
Because of these delicious Buffalo wings (note the proximity of Rochester, NY to Buffalo, NY).
And this delicious Ithaca Apricot Wheat Beer. 
Which was the perfect blend of apricot flavor with a wheat beer. Much better than the other stuff Dan made me try while we were there.

We stayed at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Rochester, which had a great view of Frontier Field out our window 

and was right by the Genesee River. Unfortunately, our hotel was overrun by a very odd group of people -- I felt like I was walking through the set of Little Miss Sunshine.

We left our car at the hotel and wandered over to Frontier Field to purchase some tickets. FYI, seats right next to the field (a.k.a. "Premium Seats") are only $10. Tickets in the tiers behind home plate at the new Yankee Stadium run around $100. And the atmosphere and festivities (and food) at Frontier Field was much better than it was at Yankee Stadium. Dan and I both came to the conclusion that if we lived here we'd be season ticket owners.
(The view from our $10 seats)

We had some time to kill so we wandered around down to the nearby falls, saw the Genny Light brewery, picked up some cigars for later at a cigar lounge (where we also watched some of the Red Sox shellacking the Yankees), and then headed back to Frontier Field. When we got back we noticed that there was a special exhibit set up outside the stadium commemorating minor league baseball and it included a little showcase of Kirby Puckett, which obviously made me almost well up:

After checking out the exhibit, we made our way into the stadium and wandered around, and let me just say -- Rochester sure knows how to make a beautiful field. Maybe I was just happy to be out of the concrete jungle of Manhattan and about to see my hometown's minor leaguers play outdoors on a beautiful weekend day, but really, Minnesota is going to love outdoor baseball.
The stadium isn't extremely large. The capacity looked somewhat similar to Hammond down in Ft. Meyers, except the construction and amenities were much nicer. Also, as opposed to $11 beers at Yankee stadium, you could get a delicious, large, micro-brew for $6.
And it was good. Similar to the Leine's Sunset Wheat.

We explored the stadium and the gift shop for awhile longer before we finally took our seats to watch some of the pregame festivities:

(Look in the center, in the white get-up. Oh yes, that's Elvis. And he rode around the field in a white Caddy convertible waving to everyone.)

(Apparently the Geico Gecko is a Red Wings fan.)

(This is Mittsy, she is the female mascot for the Red Wings. Spikes was cool, but he had nothing on Mittsy's dance moves. She could groove.)

Things not pictured? How about Bill Buckner signing autographs for free at an autograph stand? (Boston Dan loved that Buckner was there.) Or maybe the Chinese Lion Dance group with the ceremonial drum parading through the concourses and then onto the field. Oh, wait, and then there's The Famous San Diego Chicken. He was amazing.

The Famous Chicken took over mascot duties for the game and provided some very entertaining spectacles between innings, including arguing with the home plate ump and pulling out an eye chart, trying to distract the pitcher in a critical at bat with a poster of a pin-up girl, getting in a water-balloon fight with the entire dugout of the visiting Norfolk Tides, and much much more.
(The Chicken arguing with the home plate ump.)

(The Chicken hexing the pitcher of the Norfolk Tides during his wind-up.)

And those were just the non-baseball highlights.

-Kevin Mulvey pitched a beautiful 7 innings on 112 pitches while only giving up 2 earned runs. He worked himself out of one or two minor jams, but never seemed to lose composure on the mound.
-Danny Valencia had mixed results in the field. He made a very quick throw on a slow dribbler in time to get the runner in the first inning. Then he had a great stab in the 2nd. In the third, however, he missed a seemingly easy line-drive off his glove eliciting groans from the fans (that run ended up scoring). Later he bobbled an easy grounder leading to another runner. He made up for all this by lacing a huge double down the third base line in the 9th for what was eventually the game winning rally.
-Plouffe made a very agile stab and quick turn for a double play in the 2nd which ended a Norfolk rally.
-Huber can rake. He hit a sharp comeback on a rope in the 3rd which took a nasty sharp deflection off the pitcher's mound straight to the third baseman and robbed himself of a hit in the consequence!
-Dustin Martin made a beautiful catch in the outfield to lead off the 8th and followed it up in the 9th with a solid 2 RBI single right through the gap between 2nd and 3rd in the exciting 9th inning rally.
-Morales had a pinch hit appearance with a base-hit in the 9th inning rally.
-Tolbert was the hero, with an amazing diving catch where he splayed out on the ground in left field to rob a sure extra-base hit in the 6th. He was then the first to bat in the bottom of the inning and led off with the Red Wings' first run of the game with a solo blast down the left field line. He also had the game winning walk-off hit with a single to the warning track.
-Henn looked untouchable with two K's in a perfect 8th.
-Delaney got hit around, though his defense didn't help him with Tolleson playing out of position in RF making a few mistakes, but he didn't look horribly dominant, sadly.

But the Red Wings won in walk-off fashion and it was pandemonium at Frontier Field. Even Boston Dan was ecstatic. The evening was capped off by fireworks, but we rushed back to the hotel to change in time for some Dinosaur BBQ.
If you've never had Dinosaur BBQ, you're missing out. There are 3 locations (Syracuse, which is the original, along with Rochester, and Harlem). If you are ever near one of those areas, you should do yourself a favor and eat the best BBQ you'll ever find.

Dinner was followed up by a jaunt down to Rochester's "nightlife" area, which we quickly abandoned after we found out there essentially was no nightlife, and we took advantage of our cigars on a pleasant walk home.

A quick lunch of more Buffalo chicken set us up on Sunday to enjoy a day game. We got to Frontier Field as soon as the gates opened, but a number of people were already lined up for Bill Buckner autograph day. Instead of Buckner, I had more important people I wanted to see:

(Reid Santos and Jose Morales working out with Bobby Cuellar.)

(Jose Lugo talking to a grounds crew member.)

(Slama & Delaney conferring near the bullpen.)

(Matt Tolbert looking skeptical as I congratulate him for his good game Saturday.)

(Huber signing an autograph for a fan.)

(Buscher and Tolbert standing around during pregame warm-ups.)

And when warm-ups were over, I managed to catch the three people I was there for to add to my shelf of autographed Twins baseballs.

(Delaney signed a ball for me on his way out to the bullpen. Dan took over camera duties.)

(Slama signed the ball with Delaney, and I asked if they were excited about probably being on the roster for Target Field's opening season. They just laughed.)

(Valencia blinked in our picture after signing a ball for me. Oh well.)

I felt pretty content with that haul -- 3 future big leaguers with a bright future. Dan and I settled in to watch the game, and this time we were sitting a few rows above the Red Wings dugout along 1st base. Amazing seats. Some notes:

-Huber and Morales both had sharp base hits in the 1st, but the rally didn't go anywhere. Morales looks as solid as ever and I can't wait for him to take over the back-up catcher and pinch-hitting duties for the Twins:
(Morales at bat.)
-Tolleson was back at 2nd after the night game in RF. He had a nice pick in the top of the 2nd inning. He also got thrown out on a great throw by the Norfolk catcher when he tried to steal second base in the 4th inning:
(Tolleson on deck.)
-Dustin Martin had a mammoth homerun in the 2nd, followed immediately by Brock Peterson. The Twins never looked back after that. Martin just barely missed another homerun and settled for a triple in the bottom of the 6th. Macri followed that with an RBI double down the third base line to scored Martin from 3rd base.
(Martin and Tolleson wait between innings.)
-Tolbert again flashed his bat with a bases clearing triple in the 4th to continue an impressive series.
-The Red Wings pitching continued to impress! Reid Santos pitched 6 incredibly strong innings, showing lots of poise on the mound, and he only gave up one run.
(Santos on the mound.)
-Henn gave up a double but no runs as he pitched the 7th.
-Delaney looked like hittable again. He gave up a couple hits and couldn't finish out the 8th, so they brought Slama in early.
(Delaney in the 8th.)
-Slama gave up an inherited runner in the 8th before finishing with a slow roller back to the mound in the next at bat. In the 9th, he struck out a Norfolk player with a particularly nasty offspeed pitch and made the Norfolk batter just look silly.
(Slama, nasty.)

All in all, the games were great. It was amazing to see the beautiful stadium and enjoy a game so inexpensively with such great seats. Congratulations to Rochester on quickly become one of my favorite places to see a game -- that is -- until this, I'm sure.

That's about it for our trip. We got back in late thanks to horrible traffic, otherwise this post would've been up earlier.

And, how about that game against the Orioles Monday night? That brings the winning streak to 4 -- which is actually starting to look like a streak. One thing I noticed during the game, which really has nothing to do with anything, but isn't there a striking similarity between Orioles manager Dave Trembley and William Shatner?

Just Checking In!

Feeling uninspired by Twins baseball recently, I went up to Rochester, NY for the weekend to go see a couple Red Wings games for the first time -- and boy was I impressed, both with the play and with the stadium and activities. I'll have a more detailed post up probably by Monday night or Tuesday morning.

My friend, Boston Dan (my token Red Sox fan), and I just got back into town from the trip and I've got a long day at work tomorrow but I want to get around to a write-up quick while everything's still fresh.

For now, let me leave you with two points Dan and I discussed ad nauseum during the trip:

1) What is the weird connection between Minnesota and Boston sports? Simply looking at baseball, they've received Tom Brunansky, Frank Viola, Rich Garces, Rick Aguilera, Jeff Reardon, David Ortiz, Dougie Baseball and Bobby Kielty (those are just from recent memory). And this isn't including our other sports where we see Randy Moss, Kevin Garnett, and Manny Fernandez wind up in Beantown. Also, the Miracle on ice team -- primarily Boston and Minnesota players. Not sure what I'm chasing after there, it's just something I've always noticed and came out more in our discussions this weekend in the long car ride between Manhattan and Rochester.

2) Best team in baseball history? Our suggested pick: the '94 Montreal Expos, debatable. But what a stacked line-up: Marquis Grissolm, Larry Walker, Wil Cordero, Moises Alou, Cliff Floyd, and a pre-Twins Rondell White. Then also had a young Pedro Martinez and John Wettelund. Sadly their amazing season was hampered by the  strike and we didn't get to see how good then could have been. -- Anyone have any thoughts on the best baseball team they remember?

Check back tomorrow for a detailed account of Rochester!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Next Year: A Look at the Chicago White Sox

UPDATE: Disappointing loss last night. I'm not planning on doing a game recap, but you should head over to Jack Steal's site to read it there -- that's always where I check. Great site with good game updates and insights into how the Twins should improve. Check it out.

*Disclaimer: This is the 4th installment in a look at our AL Central rivals. I saved the White Sox for last partly because I dislike them so much, and partly because they're probably the team we tend to focus on the most. That's because something always seems to happen when we play them. Again, these conjectures are extremely premature as the season isn't even over yet, but this is my best guess as to what to expect next year from the South Siders. All stats are from '09 unless otherwise indicated.

The Chicago White Sox are probably the team I despise most in any area of sports: yes, more than the Packers, and yes, more than the Iceland team from Mighty Ducks 2. But I'm going to try to not let that stop me from an objective look at their team. Over at his blog, Josh Johnson has a terrific write up of why we should be worried about the Sox, and if you haven't already read it, you definitely should.

But, without further adieu, White Sox 2010:

Mark Buehrle, LHP, 11-6, 3.78 ERA, 1.19 WHIP
*He of the perfect game. The man who likes to trash talk our home team in the press. He's also easily one of the best left handed pitchers in the American League -- and now that Santana isn't around he's definitely the best in the AL Central. He's really easy to hate because he always hurts us. He's been a model of consistency throughout his career, and all this from a 38th round draft pick in 1998. Since his rookie year in 2000 he's always started at least 30 games and pitched at least 200 innings while posting numbers very similar to what he's done this year (and barring something awful, I doubt that will change sometime soon). Even with the pick up of Jake Peavy, it would be hard to convince me that Buehrle is not the staff ace.

Jake Peavy, RHP ** Career 3.29 ERA, 1.19 WHIP (posted similar numbers before injury)
*When Peavy was almost traded to the White Sox in June but quickly flashed his no trade clause, Twins Territory breathed a massive sigh of relief. When it actually went through almost two months later it was a little bit easier to ignore as he wasn't going to make an immediate impact since he's currently on the DL. In fact, the day after he rejected the trade to the White Sox is when he landed on the DL, running the bases in Wrigley he hurt his ankle. When Peavy is healthy, he has a significant ability to miss bats, and his name will usually always be up there on the leaderboard in K's when he can stay healthy a full season. He's made two rehab starts for AAA Charlotte, and in his last start on Tuesday he went 4 innings giving up 3 earned runs on 5 hits with 5 strikeouts. The one-two punch of Buehrle-Peavy is going to be one of the best in baseball, and we get to see it on our arch-rivals for the next couple of years. But then there's stuff like this.

Gavin Floyd, RHP, 10-7, 3.94 ERA, 1.25 WHIP
John Danks, LHP, 10-8, 3.96 ERA, 1.31 WHIP
Lucas Harrell, RHP, 4-1, 3.29 ERA, 1.37 WHIP***(AAA numbers in 9 starts)
Daniel Hudson, RHP, 3.27 ERA, 1.27 ERA***(AAA numbers over 2 starts)
Jack Egbert, RHP, 5-8, 3.50 ERA, 1.24 WHIP***(AAA as a starter in 14 games)
Carlos Torres, RHP, 10-4, 2.36 ERA, 1.19 WHIP***(AAA as a starter in 21 games)
Wes Whisler, LHP, 9-10, 3.82 ERA, 1.41 WHIP***(AAA as a starter in 23 starts)
Jeff Marquez, RHP, 2-8, 9.85 ERA, 2.06 WHIP***(AAA in 11 starts)

*Gavin Floyd and John Danks have both locked up a spot in the Chicago starting 5. Both were acquired via trade. Danks came over from Texas in '06 for Brandon McCarthy (I think the White Sox got the better end of the deal...), and Floyd was acquired from Philadelphia in '06 as well when they dealt Freddy Garcia. Both of their numbers are pretty similar to their career marks so it's reasonable to expect they'll be about as effective in 2010. 

The 5th spot is the question. Contreras is playing out his final year now, and Colon and Garcia will both be gone as well. They have several starters who they could look to at AAA Charlotte, the most ready probably being Lucas Harrell and Daniel Hudson. Harrell started this year at AA Birmingham and could probably use a little bit more seasoning in AAA. Hudson is a guy to keep your eye on. While he hasn't had more than two starts at AAA, he's moving very quickly through their system. He was a 5th round pick back in '08 and started this season at Low A but is now pitching very well at Charlotte. His previous stop, in Birmingham, he started 9 games with a 1.60 ERA and 0.83 WHIP -- and numbers like these have been consistent at every stop he's made. Sound familiar? I'm not saying ... but I might be saying... just pay attention to him.

As far as the other prospects go, Carlos Torres did make two starts in the majors this season, and he ended up lasting 9.1 innings while giving up 7 earned runs on 9 hits with 8 strikeouts and 9 walks. He does have great numbers this year in the minors, but if you look at his track record these numbers are a little too good and he might be playing above his head. Jack Egbert also appeared in the majors this year, but he showed up in relief. And gave up 8 runs in 2.2 innings. So my vote would be for him to be the 5th starter (Ozzie Guillen and Kenny Williams might beg to differ). He has much better numbers as a starter though in AAA than as a reliever -- think 1.89 WHIP vs. 1.24 WHIP. So maybe we don't want to see him start for the White Sox?

Wes Whisler had a very bad major league debut as well, and over his career he's shown a very mediocre K-BB ratio. He might have some future but I don't know how bright it is. Marquez looks like a wash. He came over from the Yankees as one of the pieces in the Nick Swisher trade, and he wasn't really that much better with Scranton Wilkes-Barre. He seems to have hit a wall at AAA, but I'm sure he'll be given a little bit longer to see if he can pull things together.


C: A.J. Pierzynski, .311/.342/.462, 13 HR, 36 RBI
1B: Paul Konerko, .276/.342/.483, 22 HR, 72 RBI
2B: Chris Getz, .267/.325/.367, 2 HR, 28 RBI
SS: Alexei Ramirez, .275/.330/.411, 14 HR, 55 RBI
3B: Gordon Beckham, .297/.379/.477, 7 HR, 44 RBI
LF: ?
CF: Alex Rios, .265/.316/.430, 15 HR, 64 RBI
RF: ?

*OK, don't think too much about those question marks in the corner outfield. I think they have easy solutions, but I'll get to those in a minute. For now, let's just point out that I think so far the White Sox have a very nice mix of old and new talent. Chris Getz isn't going to wow anyone and will probably not appear on most lists of the best second basemen in the AL, but let's be fair: he's better than any second basemen we have for sure. He's actually shown much better plate discipline in the minors, and his .325 line isn't even that bad! Chances are he's a solid major leaguer who will never be outstanding but will do just fine. And Gordon Beckham? Well, White Sox fans have a nickname for him. And just like the pitching prospect who has rocketed up through their system, Beckham was also drafted in '08 and this year he's moved from AA all the way up to the majors. He doesn't really have huge power numbers at any stop through the minors but he's a fine fielder with a good average.

And Konerko and Pierzynski aren't really slouches in their lineup either. Konerko came over in '98 in a trade with Cincinnati for Mike Cameron, and while he's posted slightly lower averages in '07 and '08 before this year, his OBP has remained pretty constant throughout his career. You can probably expect a similar line next year. Pierzynski is having a good year in Chicago. He's hitting better than he really has over his stint there since '05 (he's a career .286 which is a slight dip from the .311 he's posting now). In fact, his numbers this year look a little bit more similar to what he was showing in Minnesota back in '02-'03.

As far as the rest of their team goes, Alexei Ramirez is a little hard to predict. His numbers aren't necessarily dissimilar from '08, which was his only other year of professional ball. He was signed out of Cuba and ended up being the runner up to Evan Longoria in the Rookie of the Year balloting last year. He's not easy to project, but he should be in the same ballpark (no pun intended). Alex Rios was a great pickup. As Josh Johnson wrote, the White Sox can afford to eat that contract with even the type of numbers he's putting up this year. And if he happens to turn things around? Kenny Williams will look like a genius. It will go down as one of the better ideas from the White Sox brass ever ... which isn't that hard when you compare it to ideas like this.

The corner outfield spots could very easily be answered. Carlos Quentin is a left fielder, although I think he's more suited for the DH role. And my gut tells me that the White Sox pick up the contract for Jermaine Dye. He has a 12 million dollar option with a 1 million dollar buy-out, and this year he's posting a .271/.352/.495 slash with 24 HR and 71 RBI. And it wasn't too long ago he garnered serious MVP talk before eventually being beaten out by someone else.


Bobby Jenks, RHP, 3.80 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 39-11 K-BB ratio, 42.2IP in 42 games.
Scott Linebrink, RHP, 3.53 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 44-21 K-BB ratio, 43.1 IP in 44 games.
Matt Thornton, LHP, 2.44 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 63-15 K-BB ratio, 51.2 IP in 50 games.
DJ Carrasco, RHP, 3.65 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 53-26 K-BB ratio, 74 IP in 39 games.
Tony Pena, RHP, 4.59 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, 41-15 K-BB ratio, 49 IP in 53 games.
Jon Link, RHP, 4.66 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, 55-23 K-BB ratio, 48.1 IP in 41 games.***(AAA)
Jhonny Nunez, RHP, 2.40 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 74-23 K-BB ratio, 63.2 IP in 36 games***(AAA-AA)
Derek Rodriguez, RHP, 2.08 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 46-18 K-BB ratio, 60.2 IP in 40 games***(AAA-AA)
Kelvin Jimenez, RHP, 4.59 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 43-19 K-BB ratio, 68.2 IP in 33 games.
Ehren Wasserman, RHP, 3.77 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 52-15 K-BB ratio, 57.1 IP in 39 games.

*Bobby Jenks looks more like his '06 numbers than the last two years, but he's ultimately their closer for the forseeable future. There was some talk of moving him but quality relievers are hard to come by. Which is why even though Matt Thornton could be bought out, I think they'll opt to pick up his option for this year. Look at his numbers, he's arguably the best reliever on their team right now despite the fact that he's not the closer. Linebrink is decent, and although he's not having the stellar season he had last year with the Sox, his numbers have been pretty consistent throughout his career. DJ Carrasco was a nice pick-up and it was a good move to make him a reliever. He was not a good starter with Kansas City, and although his WHIP has climbed a little bit since last year, he's still been a reliable man out of the pen. Tony Pena was acquired from Arizona this year for one of their better prospects, Brandon Allen, who might have been the future after Konerko -- that trade wasn't given the stamp of approval by White Sox fans, so maybe we aren't the only team that makes inexplicable moves. He'll stick around as he's cheap and affordable, although he's not having the best year. Jon Link might not be retained as he's only on a minor league 1 year contract. Kelvin Jimenez has bad numbers in the majors and probably is a long shot to make the pen. Ehren Wasserman's line for this year at AAA is even a little high for him as he's posted better numbers than that along the way in the minors, but he just can't seem to figure it out in the bigs, posting a 5.06 ERA and 1.59 WHIP in 57 appearances.

Derek Rodriguez is someone to keep an eye on. He's having a good year but his numbers are a little varied and he could be playing over his head. Jhonny Nunez might be the next big arm in their pen. His good stats this year don't look dissimilar from his other years, and I'm sure the White Sox would love to see one of the prospects they got from the Yankees for Swisher end up panning out, as Marquez and Betemit look like lost causes. Other options for the pen include some of the starters who don't end up getting that final 5 spot.


Carlos Quentin, OF-DH, .255/.324/.450, 13 HR, 32 RBI
Brent Lillibridge, INF, .157/.253/.186, 0 HR, 0 RBI
Josh Fields, 3B, .220/.301/.354, 7 HR, 30 RBI
Wilson Betemit, INF, .200/.280/.311, 0 HR, 3 RBI
Cole Armstrong, C, .250/.285/.425, 10 HR, 32 RBI *** (AAA)

*Carlos Quentin (forgive the photo, I couldn't resist) could play in the field too, but he's had a few nagging injuries that might mean he'd be better suited to take over Thome's role after he surely leaves next year.  Quentin had a monster year in '08, although he faded from MVP consideration after he suffered a devastating wrist injury when punching his bad in frustration after fouling off a pitch from Cliff Lee. They could use another outfielder with the departures of Scott Podsednik and Dewayne Wise, who I doubt they will retain even when he makes amazing, momentous plays. There will be plenty of options available for back-up outfielders in free agency though.

Josh Fields might find a new home this offseason, as it's pretty clear that Beckham has supplanted him on the depth chart as the starting third baseman. But he's cheap and they're in no rush. Betemit is probably almost a lost cause and he could easily be replaced with any number of free agents as they did this year with inking Jayson Nix to a one year deal and giving him the back-up infielder job.

Lillibridge, despite his bad numbers (in only 28 games mind you), should be fine. He's hitting slightly better at AAA and was a decent prospect acquired along with Tyler Flowers from the Atlanta Braves. Now Tyler Flowers is another story:

I have Cole Armstrong as the catcher as he should be cheap and replacement level, and I doubt they want Flowers at the majors just as Pierzynski's back-up. Flowers is a prize prospect hitting .300/.427/.525 with 14 HR and 50 RBI between AA and AAA this year, and he should be a cornerstone for them once Pierzynski's contract runs up after 2010.

The other real prospect is Dayan Viciedo.

The Sox seem to hold a corner on the Cuban import market. He's a solid hitter in AA right now but it's his fielding that could have some problems and they're contemplating a move to first base or possibly left field. That might actually work out for the best as Brandon Allen, their former top 1B prospect is now in Arizona.


The White Sox have primed themselves to dominate the Central now and also build for the future at the same time. As much as it pains me to say it, they have a smart GM and a solid team, and that's probably why I utterly despise them. They have the flexibility to pick up another impact starting pitcher if they want, or they could go young. They can retain Dye and even pursue a big free agent outfielder (or trade for one?). And they have some prospects to be afraid of coming up through the minors.

Ludicrously early prediction:
93-69, 1st place, AL Central