Saturday, December 25, 2010

My Christmas Wish List

It's a Christmas miracle! I'm writing an entry on my blog! Unfortunately, the past few months have been so draining that I had absolutely no thought to write, much less do anything else. But now I'm on almost a 2 week break from work, back in Minnesota for the holidays, and I can already feel my batteries recharging. And what better way to recap the months of material that I've missed than to assess the state of my team in a manner befitting of the season...


Dear Santa,

I'm sure you're really busy this time of year, and I'm sure you way too many requests from Pirates fans and Royals fans and the like to give me much thought, but just in case you had enough time for people up in Twins Territory, I thought I'd give you a little checklist of things I'd like to see. Where to start?

1. I'd really, really, appreciate the front office hiring someone proficient in sabermetrics. They don't need to listen to him all the time, but at least check it out? It seems like every other team in baseball is at least venturing slightly into advanced metric stats and taking those into account when making decisions, why can't we? Perhaps if we had such a person they could help point out how Nick Blackburn isn't really a ground-ball pitcher and is due for significant regression, or how picking a pitcher simply because they have a low ERA and lots of innings under their belt doesn't always tell the whole story...

2. I miss J.J. Hardy. Can you undo this, Santa? I know it hasn't been a long time, and I know we have to say goodbye sometimes, but I was just kind of getting familiar with having him around. It was kind of nice to feel confident whenever a ball was hit to the left side of the infield. And it was really nice to see the 9th spot in the order roll around and not groan. Please help Alexi Casilla not suck too badly.

3. I'd really like for Jim Thome to mash his 600th tater in a Twins uniform. I know he might not be the the thing this team needs next season, but I can be a little selfish with one of the 25 roster spots, and I chose being selfish for Jim Jam.

4. Help Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan come back feeling 100% better. They are important pieces of our team and I'm scared to go into a season not knowing how well they'll perform. Morneau still not feeling 100% scares me, in fact it really really wigs me out. And at this point I'm kind of just expecting the worst from Nathan. If the two of them survive a full season on our roster without any significant setbacks, that will be a true miracle, and I could go for one of those.

5. Bless our farm system. It seems like every year that we do well, someone from the minors needs to step up. I don't really care who it is this year, but I am very excited that you've given us gifts like Kyle Gibson, David Bromberg, Deolis Guerra, Joe Benson, and Ben Revere, all of whom are probably very close to being unwrapped. Can't we just take a peek early? No, no, I know, that will spoil it.

6. Magically transport me to Minnesota so that I can get season tickets and enjoy my team all the time. It's tough living in New York sometimes, and knowing that if I want to see a baseball game on a random day that I either have to suffer through the pain of the Bronx, or sit out in Queens watching Johan in another uniform. When I can't get back to Minnesota, please help me make arrangements to roadtrip it up to nearby places like Toronto and Boston this year when our boys go there.

7. World Series? Please?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Something to Make You Feel Better

Sometimes as a Twins fan in New York, it can be a little tough. I remember living in Minnesota and finding the stray Yankee fans out there and being immediately turned off by their obnoxious arrogance -- out here it's really no different except YOU are suddenly the stray.

The one thing to take solace in is that the majority of people around the world are on our side, even if I can't see them. And when you do find a couple other like-minded, sane, rational, down-to-earth people out here in New York who ALSO happen to despise the Yankees, there's an immediate bonding. Regardless of if it's a Red Sox fan, Mets fan, or anyone else.

I found a few of those at the bar last night, and I also thankfully had a cadre of Twins fans with me, although they all seemed to wander home after the 7th inning.

Anyway, I don't know about you, but I need a pick-me up this morning. And there's no better way to accomplish that than to make fun of the Yankees a little:

Jeter -- this is just completely inappropriate behavior on the field.

Focus on the game A-Rod! The game!

Dammit, I said focus on THE GAME!

I see vanity doesn't plague A-Rod alone. This picture makes me throw up a little.

I should be rocking one of these shirts more often...

Glad to know I'm on the Lord's side!

Lack of taste doesn't only extend to their choice in sports teams...

My wishes for their franchise. In pictoral form.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Twins vs. Yankees: Lineup Comparisons

I'm psyched -- the Twins finally have a chance to redeem themselves against the Yankees and the postseason jinx they've put on us. My last experience at Yankee Stadium was the Kubel walkoff, and I'm hoping that I have a few more of those instead of what I had to deal with last year.

While I'm always nervous during the postseason, I'm not quite as edgy as I've been before. While last year I was talking trash with Yankee fans but secretly wringing my hands and hoping, hoping, hoping that we wouldn't screw things up, this year is a different story. The Twins can match up with any team in baseball this year.

To put that to the test, let's examine the two opposing lineups today:

Joe Mauer: .327/.402/.467, 9 HR, 75 RBI, 42 2B, 65 BB, 52 K
Jorge Posada: .250/.358/.458, 18 HR, 57 RBI, 23 2B, 58 BB, 98 K
Francisco Cervelli: .271/.359/.335, 0 HR, 38 RBI, 11 2B, 33 BB, 42 K

- I think this one is pretty clear cut and it's a nice way to start out. Joe Mauer is obviously the better catcher between the two teams. While Jorge still has the jolt in his bat, Joe Mauer is a hitting machine. He's also got the best plate discipline of anyone in the two starting lineups, being the only person to actually draw more walks than strikeouts. Advantage: Twins. And by a long shot.

First Base:
Michael Cuddyer: .271/.336/.418, 14 HR, 81 RBI, 37 2B, 57 BB, 93 K
Mark Texeira: .258/.366/.484, 33 HR, 108 RBI, 36 2B, 92 BB, 121 K

- Texeira has better power, plate discipline, and probably fielding skills as well. Although this isn't a knock on Cuddyer, who still shows solid numbers. Cuddyer doesn't have awful plate discipline, he's been serviceable in the field, and he has decent power and average. The advatage goes to the Yankees, but not by as much as you'd think.

Second Base:
Orlando Hudson: .267/.337/.372, 6 HR, 37 RBI, 24 2B, 50 BB, 87 K
Robinson Cano: .320/.382/.535, 29 HR, 108 RBI, 41 2B, 57 BB, 77 K

- Just like it was clear that Mauer was the better catcher, it's pretty clear that Cano is the better second baseman. Cano is probably the most complete player on the Yankee roster. Hudson's overall numbers have shown a drop in September, and he's clearly an upgrade over anyone the Twins have seen at second in a longtime, but they have a long way to go to match Cano's production. Advantage: Yankees. By a longshot.

JJ Hardy: .269/.320/.396, 6 HR, 38 RBI, 19 2B, 27 BB, 53 K
Derek Jeter: .269/.340/.369, 10 HR, 66 RBI, 30 2B, 63 BB, 104 K

- This is a pretty tough call. Hardy's overall numbers are down by the lack of games due to injury, but he actually stacks up pretty evenly with Jeter. Clutch and leadership are not a factor in this decision, this isn't the MVP race... Hardy is a much, much, superior defender, and I think it comes down to that. They are about even at the plate and Hardy has the edge on defense. Advantage is going to the Twins, although not by a whole lot.

Third Base:
Danny Valencia: .314/.354/.453, 7 HR, 40 RBI, 18 2B, 20 BB, 45 K
Alex Rodriguez: .270/.341/.508, 30 HR, 124 RBI, 29 2B, 58 BB, 96 K

- Valencia is having a monster year. It's too bad he's only played a half season because you have to take his numbers with a grain of salt. Alex Rodriguez is typical Alex Rodriguez. There's no doubt that the edge is going to the Yankees, although the question is which A-Rod will show up this post season? The '09 version or the choke artist we've seen every year before. Advantage is to the Yankees, but the Twins don't have a slouch at third for the first time in a long time.

Right Field:
Jason Kubel: .250/.324/.427, 21 HR, 92 RBI, 23 2B, 56 BB, 116 K
Nick Swisher: .288/.358/.506, 28 HR, 88 RBI, 33 2B, 57 BB, 137 K

- Kubel is having a down year, and Swisher is going to be as annoying as ever. They are about equal in all facets. Kubel probably has more potential and he's shown he can be dangerous against the Yankees. Swisher is better in the field, and so he gets the nod. Advantage: Yankees, although slight.

Center Field:
Denard Span: .266/.333/.350, 3 HR, 58 RBI, 24 2B, 60 BB, 73 K
Curtis Granderson: .247/.325/.469, 24 HR, 67 RBI, 17 2B, 53 BB, 115 K

- It really depends on what you're looking for here. Granderson has the power and Span has the average. Granderson strikes out a lot, Span has better plate discipline. Granderson probably has a slight edge in the field. I think the edge actually goes to the Twins, Span isn't meant to hit for power but he can sure as hell get on base and that's what he's there for. This is a pretty tough one for me but it's hard to ignore that power disparity. Advantage: Yankees. I think...

Left Field:
Delmon Young: .299/.334/.495, 21 HR, 112 RBI, 46 2B, 28 BB, 81 K
Brett Gardner: .275/.383/.377, 5 HR, 47 RBI, 19 2B, 79 BB, 100 K

- No comparison. As pesky as Gardner is, Delmon is a beast and there's no denying the year that he's having. He might not be the best fielder, and Gardner has more of a penchant for walks, but Delmon will likely get MVP votes (even if unwarranted), Gardner will not. Advantage: Twins. Not close.

Designated Hitter:
Jim Thome: .280/.410/.625, 25 HR, 59 RBI, 16 2B, 60 BB, 82 K
Lance Berkman: .248/.368/.413, 14 HR, 58 RBI, 23 2B, 77 BB, 85 K
Marcus Thames: .288/.352/.495, 12 HR, 33 RBI, 7 2B, 19 BB, 61 K

- Thome is putting up a monster year. He's got the best slugging % of anyone on this list and also a killer slugging percentage. The job of the DH is to hit the ball, and Thome does that perhaps better than anyone on either roster. Hopefully the lefty duo of Sabathia and Pettite don't neutralize this advantage, but it is an advantage. Berkman and Thames are solid players, but they are no Thome. Advantage: Twins. Not really close.

The Yankees are better at 5 positions. The biggest disparity is obviously the Cano/Hudson, followed by Rodriguez/Valencia. The margins between Texeira/Cuddyer, Swisher/Kubel, and Granderson/Span are not that big though, and the Twins are right there with the Yankees at those spots.

The Twins have the advantage at 4 positions, and 3 of them aren't even close. Mauer/Posada/Cervelli is a huge gap, likewise Young/Gardner and Thome/Berkman/Thames. The only place it's really even close is Hardy/Jeter.

Basically these are going to be some very competitive matchups, the likes of which we have never had before in the postseason against the Yankees. The Twins have 3 vastly superior matchups at positions, and the Yankees have 2. The other four matchups are going to be pretty close. It will be interesting to see...

Next up: rotation comparisons.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Twins MVP Award Ballot

Seth Stohs has done a great job of keeping the Twins blogging community together, and this year he's invited a bunch of us to pool our collective minds to figure out our choices for the Twins MVP, Twins Top Pitcher, and the Twins Top Rookie.

Today he posted the collective results for the MVP and I'll release my ballot to the awaiting public. Unlike K-Bro's careful thought process, I feel like I'm the Keizo Konishi of this year...

1.) Francisco Liriano

I know, I know, I could've gone Mauer. But he set the bar pretty high for himself last year, and I guess I feel a little let down. He's been amazing, but I don't think anyone would put him in the top running for League MVP, unfortunately. Liriano on the otherhand has stepped up in a way above-and-beyond what anyone expected for him this year. He's filled a void on our team that has been absent since we shipped Johan Santana off to New York -- and I think for any team to succeed in the long-run they need a truly identifiable ace on their pitching staff. That guy is Liriano, and that deserves some MVP love in my book.

2.) Joe Mauer

Easy choice. If Mauer wasn't first on my ballot there was no way he was slipping any further. Mauer is too consistently good to fall any lower.

3.) Carl Pavano

This is a little crazy, perhaps, but I'll stick by it. For all the times I roll my eyes at the banter about needing that veteran presence on a pitching staff, Pavano may have just proved me wrong. There's something comforting about knowing that every 5 days he will toe the rubber and give us a shot to win.

4.) Jim Thome

I don't think anyone went into this season expecting such an explosive impact from Big Jim. What an amazing contingency plan, though! With Morneau's injury derailing him for over half the season, this team probably would've been doomed without Thome's ability to step in and contribute -- seemingly entering the prime of career at age 40.

5.) Delmon Young

Delmon carried this team on his back for the entire month of July, and he hasn't been a slouch the rest of the year either. Despite his obvious defensive shortcomings he's had a monster of a year, showing everyone exactly what we were hoping for when we acquired him from Tampa Bay.

6.) Michael Cuddyer

I think everyone can get caught up in how streaky and inconsistent his bat is, but I don't think you can put a fair pricetag on his versatility. There really wasn't any player in our minors who was anywhere close to being ready to man first base. Beyond covering 1st, Cuddyer has spent time at both second base and third base year -- running around and trying to plug holes wherever he can. I think it's apparent to anyone that Cuddyer gives an all out effort both on and off the field, wherever he may be.

7.) Orlando Hudson

O-Dawg has slowed down a bit over the last month, but I think it's not enough to devalue the presence he's brought to our team. Being able to run him out at second base and the second spot in the lineup day after day is a great asset to us, getting on base for Mauer to drive him in. This is something our team has been lacking for years and it's part of what put us over the top in 2010.

8.) Brian Duensing

This was a tough call for me. I'm already beating myself up for putting two pitchers on this ballot but a 3rd??? The amazing thing about Duensing is how he has done it both in the bullpen and in the rotation. When he was pitching out of the pen he was arguably our best reliever. Since stepping into the rotation his numbers have been ridiculous and unexpected. What was expected to hopefully be a stopgap move has given him a surefire right to be a starter in the postseason and the inside edge in a rotation spot in 2011. If the Duensing-in-the-rotation experiment hadn't panned out back then when our rotation was in complete disarray, we could've been in for a miserable 2nd half.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Post Season Roster Dark Horse

UPDATE: I would have written a congratulatory article about the Twins clinching last night but I think enough voices out there have a better handle on that than me. It was great to watch though, and it's kind of surreal to not have to worry about the hunt for October when there's actually still baseball left to be played. Over at Baseballism, my buddy Francisco lends his congratulations to our squad for their clinch last night and reflects on what a great year the Twins have put together. He's one of the most lucid and intelligent baseball afficionados I get to interact with on a regular basis so be sure to add his blog to your daily reads!

There's been plenty of speculation around our blogosphere about who will and who won't make the post-season roster. Questions remain about who exactly will be cut to whittle down to the stated 11-man pitching staff. The biggest elephant in the room is obviously the health of Justin Morneau and whether he will be around as a potent bench threat for us in October.

The general assumption though is that if Morneau isn't back that Jose Morales comes off our bench as a pinch-hitting/3rd catcher option. I'm a little skeptical.

Morales has been on the backburner all year and except for Mauer's recent tweaked knee he's barely seen the light of day in a game. In the microcosm of the postseason there's no reason to waste a roster spot on someone who will never get in a game and a 3rd catcher who can occasionally get a single really doesn't do any good for us. Besides, as Seth Stohs pointed out on his Twins Centric column -- who in our lineup do you plan on pinch-hitting for anyway?

So who is the final bench spot going to?

Ben Revere.

***I'll excuse you while you laugh and disagree with me***

Think about it though -- our bench will not be made of pinch-hitters. It will be made up of defensive replacements and speedsters who will all come in late in the game pinch-running for our slow-plodding starters.

Look at that! Even the shutter can't keep up to him!

This isn't a new concept. In fact, the 2002 World Champion Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim followed the same formula with their fresh-faced rookie: Chone Figgins.

Figgins was a "September" call-up (end of August really) who was used in all of 15 games the last few weeks of the season and was almost unilaterally implemented as a late-inning speedster/defensive replacement. It didn't matter that his batting average was a miniscule .167 that season because he was simply there to wreak havoc on the basepaths.

In fact, the minor league slash line of '02 Figgins is almost identical to Revere's minor league slash from this year, except Figgins had a little bit more power.

Figgins: .305/.364/.466 with 39 SBs
Revere: .305/.371/.363 with 36 SBs

Revere is really the best pure threat on the basepaths that we have on our roster. We all know Span's baserunning gaffes and penchant for getting picked off. Punto is coming off a tweaked hamstring injury (and I'm sure we remember his baserunning blunders from last postseason as well...). And for how fast Casilla is he only has 5 SBs all season.

It was a nice story to call Revere up this September, something for people to get excited about certainly. But there had to be more of a reason to bring him up then just getting him a little playing time with the Major League club. We didn't need to exercise an option year yet or throw Matt Fox on waivers for someone we weren't planning on implementing.

September has been and continues to be an audition for Ben Revere's postseason debut. He is our dark horse and our secret weapon in October.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


Since 1998 the Twins have been locked into a divisional dogfight with the Detroit, Cleveland, Kansas City, and Chicago. And since the Twins righted the ship this past decade, they have been a divisional powerhouse by slaughtering the other Central teams on a consistent basis.

In 2003, the Twins posted a solid 43-33 record within in the division en route to a playoff appearance.

In '04 we were even better -- posting a remarkable 45-29 record in the Central. Only New York and Boston could claim they bullied their own division more.

In '06 we finished 41-35 against the Central.

In '08 we were 43-30 (just barely behind the Game 163 winning Sox who were 44-29).

In '09 our domination of the division (46-27 against the Central) led us to our amazing resurgence in early October, coming from behind to overtake our divisional foe ahead of us.

And this year? How do we fare so far? 38-19 against AL Central opponents. That's good for a .667 winning percentage in our division. That is far and away the best divisional record -- the next closest perhaps being the Rangers who are 24-16 for a .600 mark -- or in the NL only Cincinnatti with a 40-24 (.625) record.

While it's true the season isn't over -- if we continue to feast upon teams within our division it has the added benefit of not only boosting our record but also crippling theirs. This philosophy -- demonstrated by the Twins in their successful pennant chases of the past decade -- is what secures a ticket to the playoffs, and it's what will secure our appearance in the 2010 playoffs as well.

Bring on Cleveland.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

It's All About Depth

Wow, looking at my last posting date it's been QUITE awhile since I've ventured around my own corner of the internet and helped contribute to our blogosphere. My apologies for being so remiss -- I suppose that's what happens when you have to balance a demanding day job on top of your passion but it makes me all the more appreciative of the guys out there who blog about our team nearly every day despite everything else going on in their lives...

At the outset of the season I had one concern about the Twins roster which I voiced several times in podcasts and posts. It was the question of depth. Unlike many years where the Twins were relying on guys from their farm to step into key positions from the outset or bringing in stopgap veterans, the Twins front office aggressively pursued trades and free agents to bolster the 25-man roster for the first year in their new house.

Gold-glove caliber All-Stars were brought in to shore up the SS and 2B positions, Thome filled a long empty power bat off the bench role, and almost every other player on our roster seemed primed for a solid year.

As we all know by now, the opening day roster for the Twins has barely been active together at one time since the first week. This was and always has been my biggest concern: what happens if the pieces we brought in and the pieces we already had ended up dropping out for extended periods?

Going into 2010, the Rochester Red Wings roster was full of unproven, unready, and uninspiring prospects for the most part -- and that demonstrated itself in the dismal season that's played out at Frontier Field. But what fans in Rochester haven't seen on display, the Twins have been fortunate enough to reap the benefits of.

Danny Valencia, one of the top prospects in the Twins system who many were clamoring for to break camp with the team (myself included) has stepped up heads above anyone else. Anchoring the long upheaval of names strolling through the 3B position on the Twins roster, Valencia has shown the Twins solid-if-not-flashy defense and a white-hot bat with a penchant for timely hits.

Trevor Plouffe, a potential middle infielder of the future and former first-round draft pick has survived a constant flux of shuttling back and forth between the big leagues and AAA to always be there when the Twins have needed him. While his learning curve of adapting to Major League pitching hasn't quite been as fast as we'd like, he's conducting himself like a pro and hasn't taken his offensive woes with him onto the field -- allowing one error in 70 innings.

Drew Butera has been quite a surprise. His even-keeled manner behind the plate and maturity and calm have helped keep our ever-changing pitching staff together. While his bat will never be anything to speak of he's still had his share of clutch hits, but it's his glove-work, gun, and ability to call a game that put him light-years above many 2nd string catchers around the league. And with a guy like Mauer in front of him on the depth chart, we don't need another .300 hitting catcher on the roster.

Alex Burnett was one of the more pivotal performers out of the bullpen at the start of the season. Making the quick jump from AA to the Majors when he broke camp, Burnett held hitters over the first half of the season to a .278 BAA. While the hits came more frequently after the first couple of months as hitters began to adjust -- Burnett has shown poise far beyond his years that will certainly help him out as he makes a bid for a bullpen spot next year.

Jason Repko has meant more than we could've expected. While at the beginning of the year I was clamoring for the Twins to add a bench outfielder along the lines of Endy Chavez, Angel Pagan, or Juan Pierre, the Twins never made any such move. Jacque Jones was brought in for some AAA depth (and I'm still hoping we at least see him once this September), but other than Span there was really no true centerfielder on the team. There were musings of Punto and Tolbert filling in as a backup outfielder (and look where that ended up) but eventually the front office made a move for a AAAA guy with spectacular defense and a career that had never really lived up to its potential in Los Angeles. Where would we be without Repko on the team? His dazzling glove in the outfield has made up for the lack of range elsewhere on our team and his brilliant putout on a deep fly Friday night likely saved the first game of this pivotal series against the Rangers.

There are countless examples. Matt Fox's solid last-minute debut. Key pickups like Capps, Fuentes, and Flores to help anchor an exhausted and depleted bullpen. Brian Duensing's light's out performance out of the 'pen translating itself as a starter. Luke Hughes brief but exalting moment in the spotlight with a homerun in his first AB.

Despite the fact that the Red Wings have scuffled and fallen flat all season long, their team has contributed greatly to the success of the Twins and we owe it to the gutsy performance of these players to be seated atop the Central and fighting for the possible position of homefield advantage in the first round.

Monday, August 2, 2010


The Twins have long been known around baseball for having one of the best relief corps, but over the past couple of years most Twins fans have watched as what was always one of our strengths had quickly turned into an Achilles heel.

Going into this season, the loss of our most consistent bullpen presence -- Joe Nathan -- left many of us wondering what kind of mess we'd be late in games once again. Arbitrarily, the role of "closer" was handed to Jon Rauch out of Spring Training, presumably because he had what was known as "closing experience", but most likely because he was just so tall he looked terrifying.

Amazingly enough, the Twins bullpen has made a resurgence this year to claim its once heralded place among the best in baseball. Going into today our bullpen is statistically dominant -- 2nd in MLB ERA with 3.11 behind only the Padres, 3rd in WHIP with (1.22) and a commanding 1st in fewest walks allowed: 82 -- the next closest being Tampa Bay with 88.

Despite all of our success in late game pitching this year, as a fanbase we've come to mistrust our team's bullpen management. The Save has become a statistic so meaningless and yet always sought after that we've thrown our most valuable trading piece away after the hope of gaining one or two more "saves". Players with numbers and track records screaming for recognition continue to sit in the minors while those we view as overrated or on the decline continued to pitch with the major league club.

But despite all this, our bullpen is in an amazing place -- and there's no way our manager or anyone else can mess this up.

The most consistent annual criticism of Gardy's bullpen management has been his reliance on having a closer and confining him to a role at the backend of the bullpen, despite the need to use him elsewhere. Understandably this is vexing and it was vexing for many years. But the only way that can be considered bad is when it's your best reliever is given this limited closer's role.

In 2010 any fan would be hard pressed to say who our best reliever is. I think even the team's management would have a hard time determining that. Without the presence of someone so statistically dominant in every category, our manager has just arbitrarily handed the role of closer over to someone with experience.

The only pitching category that Jon Rauch or now Matt Capps is more distinguished in than the rest of our bullpen is that of the Save. And the Save is a completely meaningless statistic.

Jose Mijares has the best ERA of any reliever on our team.

Matt Guerrier has the best WHIP.

Mahay and Mijares have the fewest free passes.

Capps only has one more strikeout than Jesse Crain.

Essentially the Twins have a bullpen full of quality pitchers, none of whom really have such overwhelming dominance that everyone in a room could point to them and say "Him. He's the closer. Put him in at the end of games." So while this might be a conundrum for someone like Gardy who has to have that anchor he only uses at the end of games, for fans that means that we'll always see someone reliable at the end of the game but that there are many other equally reliable options being trotted out there before him.

It's foolproof.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Baltimore Trip Recap

You have absolutely no idea how hot it was. Perhaps the most uncomfortably hot I've been in my life.

Let me start over.

I've been trying to check out as many of the east coast ballparks as I can in case I decide to move from New York, and when I saw this year that the Twins would be visiting Baltimore for a weekend series it looked like the perfect opportunity to check out a ballpark I've heard so many good things about. Anyone I've spoken to who has visited Camden Yards has had nothing but good things to say -- and now I can see why.

Planning this trip I knew it was going to be pretty hot. After renting a car and reserving a motel just south of Downtown Baltimore, I checked the forecast for the weekend. Triple digits are never encouraging.

The temperature gauge on my car kept climbing. I needed photographic evidence.

Thankfully my motel was supposed to have air conditioning. And it did. But there was no way to adjust it and whatever the AC was set at wasn't going to get the job done this weekend. This kind of went along with the theme of the hotel, which included drug dealing and prostitution in one corner of the parking lot. Basically, what I was told to expect from Baltimore.

Camden Yards, however, was gorgeous!

I met some friends of mine who live in the D.C. area on Saturday night, and they were able to secure some of the company seats from Lockheed Martin for us, which happened to be about 10 or so rows back from the Twins dugout.

Besides being amazed at how inexpensive tickets of this quality normally are (sitting in these seats normally costs $48 -- the same price could maybe get you into the upper deck of Yankee Stadium...), I was also amazed at the vast amount of Twins fans at the stadium.

...and North Stars fans! Classic!

Twins fans turned out in droves for this series. I've seen a decent representation when I went to Citizen's Bank Park in Philadelphia or to Citifield and Yankee Stadium, but it almost felt like a home crowd.

The game Saturday night was great but seemed to drag on forever. This was primarily due to the fact that all of us were drenched in sweat. You couldn't lean against the back of your chair without leaving a big sweat mark on your shirt. We had stuffed all of our pockets with towels and napkins and were constantly drying off. Some of us also resorted to sitting with our beer pressed against our cheek or forehead like an icepack. Every couple of innings I decided to make my way to the bathroom and take a bum-shower in the sink by washing off my arms and face.

Moving around the concourse was much more pleasant, and so on one trip to the bathroom sink I decided to spend a little bit more time ambling around the concourse. I didn't get any food that night, just beers -- a microbrew that I can't remember for the life of me -- and I really don't regret not getting any food at the stadium. That's probably the only drawback I can think of about Camden -- nothing really stuck out in terms of signature food! There was an item called Boardwalk Fries that seemed popular and was labeled as a "Baltimore tradition" but they looked like normal fries. Everything else was pretty much standard ballpark fare of hotdogs and hamburgers and cracker jacks except for one stand I saw serving crab cakes. Maybe I missed something -- if anyone knows of a particularly heralded food item at Camden please let me know because I plan on going back and would love to try it when I do!

After the game we drove over to Fells Point near Inner Harbor and met up with some of my friends' coworkers who were on a pub crawl. We joined up with them at a pub called The Wharf Rat and I highly recommend it. It feels very colonial, almost like stepping back in time, and it's just enough off of the Broadway Market place that it doesn't get horribly crowded. Their selection of beers and ales is great and there's nostalgia practically baked into the walls -- it's like the bar you imagine your ancestors used to gather in as their local haunt. Hard to describe.

We followed this up with going to The Horse You Road In On Saloon which was much more crowded but featured some nice music and a decent amount of Twins fans. This bar was a little bit more on the beaten path and consequently more crowded, but there's soooo many nice places to get a drink in Fells Point that you can't go wrong just wandering around.

After some drinking we went to a late night pizza place on Broadway Market and because I was in Baltimore I had to try the Four Cheese and Crab Meat pizza, which proved to me that you can probably put crab meat on anything and it will still be pretty good. This capped off the night before I headed back to my seedy Baltimore hotel.

I left there as early as I could the next morning and parked in Downtown Baltimore, walking around in my lucky Rick Aguilera jersey to check out the city before the game. After wandering a few blocks I realized that there was no way I would survive in a baseball jersey in that heat and direct sunlight (pangs of sympathy for the guys who would be playing were also present). I picked up some 50+ SPF sunscreen and changed into a T-Shirt and continued my short tour of the city.

Eventually I wandered over to the ballpark to check out some of the things I didn't get to see the night before. I was supposed to meet Eric from Call to the 'Pen and his wife for the game and I had a little bit of time to kill before we were supposed to meet so I checked out their Sports Legends Museum which is pretty cool. If you hang around the outside of the ballpark near the Camden Street Gate H entrance, you will be right next to the Sport Legends Museum. Even just hanging outside they play classic sports calls over a loudspeaker system and it's fun to just sit there and listen to some of the classic moments in sports history.

Shortly after I left the Sports Legends Museum I met up with Eric and his wife and we headed in to go to a pregame picnic near the bullpen. The Minnesota State Society of Baltimore was having an all you can eat (and all the beer you could drink!) picnic with the purchase of a special ticket, and Eric was kind enough to find out about this and invite me along.

Not only was it great meeting him and his wife who are both instantly some of my favorite people to hang out with, but it was obvious what a huge Twins fan Eric is to make the trip out to a baseball game just a couple days before he had to take THE BAR EXAM!

Our seats were in centerfield with a great view of the whole ballpark but the unfortunate side effect of being directly in 100% sunlight with no shade or relief. Our dark green seats were scalding hot and the only relief we had from the constant heat beating down on us was occasional cloud cover passing by.

Thankfully the ballpark staff set up a free ice stand near the flagpoles in the outfield for anyone to go by and grab a cup of ice -- something I utilized many times that day. I don't think we were the only ones going delirious in the heat: Matt Guerrier kept wrapping a towel around his head like a turban and doing a Pharoah dance in the bullpen, and Ron Mahay started jumping around and waving his arms maniacally in the bullpen occasionally when we would look over.

The best thing about sitting in the heat was that the Twins rewarded us on the field. This was the beginning of their recent offensive onslaught and completely made up for the fact that we were roasting in the sun and baking in the heat for hours just to watch them.

Around the 6th inning the wind suddenly picked up and started blowing around banners in the upper decks and sending napkins, wrappers, and tons of other litter through the air onto the field and into the bullpen. The Twins relievers were all interested in the flying litter and ran out to get a view of what was going on just in time to see dark storm clouds rolling ominously closer to the ballpark.

We tried to tough it out through the rain, and it was actually somewhat relieving to be cooled off like that, but as soon as the game got postponed I knew I had to start heading back to New York in order to get home at a reasonable hour. Unfortunately my car was parked a little ways from the ballpark and I had no umbrella, so before I hopped into my car to drive back to the city I had to wring out my soaking wet T-shirt in the parking garage so that it was at least partially dry!

All in all it was a great trip -- Camden was a gorgeous park and everyone should visit it -- and Eric is an awesome guy with a great blog that hopefully you all read!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Mid-season Awards/Predictions

It's tough to write about the Twins these days -- call it a lack of inspiration. So today is just a baseball-in-general post as I dole out completely meaningless mid-season awards:


AL: Terry Francona, Boston Red Sox. Talk about a guy who has found a way to rally his team and field a winner despite unforeseen circumstances! Currently on the DL are Josh Beckett, Clay Bucholz, Junichi Tazawa, Manny Delcarmen, Victor Martinez, Jason Varitek, Dustin Pedroia, Jed Lowrie, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Lowell and Jeremy Hermida. (And we're upset that Nathan and Morneau are there...) Not only does Martinez go down but so does his backup (Varitek). Not only does Pedroia go down but so does HIS backup (Lowrie). But they keep winning in the toughest division in baseball. It will be a travesty if Francona isn't rewarded.

NL: Buddy Black, San Diego Padres. Black has taken a team that was expected to be in complete rebuilding mode, including neverending speculation about where his star players like Adrian Gonzalez and Heath Bell would be traded to by the end of July, and shown us one of the best teams in 2010 baseball. With a team full of young talent like Tony Gwynn Jr., Kyle Blanks, and Mat Latos to name a few, he has harnessed their youth and given San Diego something to cheer about.


AL: Brennan Boesch, Detroit Tigers. At the beginning of the year, this young slugger was on nobody's radar. He could barely sniff top prospect rankings and was unlikely to crack a Tigers roster already dangerously overloaded with youth for a team trying to compete. Boesch posted solid but unspectacular numbers over his career in the minors (but he did have 28 HRs last year in AA), and has taken the Majors by storm posting a .342/.397/.593 slash line over 65 games and looks to be a mainstay here to torment the Central for years.

NL: Mat Latos, San Diego Padres. 3rd in the NL in Wins and 7th in ERA, Latos is simply solid in every statistical category. 8.4 K/9 and only 2.4 BB/9 with a WHIP of 0.966 and only 9 home runs allowed in 106 innings. Not only is he my hands down ROY so far but he's in consideration for the Cy Young.


AL: David Price, Tampa Bay Rays. Probably the easiest choice of any of these mid-season awards. Leading in Wins and ERA, Price is dominant across the board. With 100 K's in over 115 innings pitched, he is a consensus choice and leads a staff of talented Tampa Bay pitchers as easily the most dominant pitcher in the American League.

NL: Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies. This is a much tougher choice than the AL. Ubaldo Jimenez, Adam Wainwright, Mat Latos, Tim Hudson, Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum and so many more are begging for attention. But Doc is the cream of the crop. 4th in ERA (2.19), 2nd in K's (128), and 3rd in Wins (10) is reason enough.


AL: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers. It pains me to admit it, but he is probably the best hitter in baseball this year. Tied for 1st in all of the Majors with a .346 average, 2nd in homeruns (22), and 1st overall in RBIs (77) you couldn't reasonably argue that anyone else is more deserving.

NL: Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds. This one isn't so clear cut. I was tempted to think someone along the lines of Albert Pujols or David Wright, but Joey Votto is really the only person consistently near the top of every statistical category. Wright is too deficient in the power game this year. Pujols is too deficient in average this year. Votto is having an amazing season and spearheading a great year by the Reds. He's the most deserving player in my book.


New York Yankees over Detroit Tigers
Texas Rangers over Boston Red Sox

Atlanta Braves over San Francisco Giants
St. Louis Cardinals over San Diego Padres


Texas Rangers over New York Yankees
Atlanta Braves over St. Louis Cardinals


Atlanta Braves over Texas Rangers (4-2)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Jesse Crain Parallels

Joining with all of Twins Territory in honor of another member of our favorite team, I'd like to examine the parallels between Jesse Alan Crain and the famous bird that shares his last name. One might wonder what kind of similarities can be found between a Major League relief pitcher and an aviary animal. The answer? Several, if you don't mind stretching your imagination a little bit:

Cranes are renowned for their migratory habits.
- Crain was born in Toronto, Canada but spent a good portion of his childhood living in Boulder, Colorado. Playing high-school ball in Colorado and college ball in Texas, Jesse plays professional ball for Minnesota and every 3 years migrates back to his Canadian team to represent them in the World Baseball Classic. He is a well-travelled man.

Cranes usually stay with the same mate all their lives.
- This has yet to be proven in Jesse's case (I'm referring to his mate as the team he is currently coupled with). Jesse has donned the uniform of only one Major League club, and that club happens to be the Minnesota Twins. Whether that loyalty is his or his mate's trait has yet to be determined, but as it stands neither of them is ready to give up on the other despite the hard times they've been enduring over the years. That's a solid relationship.

Cranes can be long-lived. 40-60 years in captivity, but some even longer.
- Jesse will not have a 40-60 year career, but his career does seem to have a long lifespan so far, it just isn't going away! Despite the fact that his career has seemed like it might be teetering on the brink of death, it still plows along. Resiliency.

Many cranes are becoming endangered, particularly the sandhill crane, the Siberian crane, and the whooping crane.
- One can't help but feel that the Jesse Crain might be becoming endangered too. More and more when he is released into the wild from the bullpen the hunters from the other team seem to target him and light him up. It can be tough to watch sometimes. PETA should intervene.

Cranes are opportunistic feeders.
- This was particularly true in 2005, when Jesse picked up 12 wins out of the bullpen. He was what the great Bert Blyleven kept referring to as a "vulture", showing up in relief to pluck up a win.

In some myths, including one told by Aristotle, cranes were thought to migrate with a "touchstone" in their belly. (Touchstones are a tool to help determine precious metals.)
- I get a pit in my stomach whenever I see him enter a close ball game.

In Celtic mythology, cranes are often an ill omen.
- This is usually why I get that pit in my stomach.

In Asian mythology, the powerful wings of the crane are though to be able to convey souls to the Western Paradise.
- Ok, not really sure about this one. But, if Western Paradise is being on base, opponents have a career .316 OBP against him? That's not awful I suppose, so I guess Western Paradise can be a rare place to gain entry to.

Many ancient Asian cultures also saw valuable lessons in the flight trajectory of cranes, from which the young could follow and learn.
- Sign a guaranteed contract early, because if you have arm problems and end up not doing as well as you thought, you'll still make a solid salary and your team will be less likely to let you go until you've been proven completely ineffective.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Check out Podcast tonight

Check out the weekly Twins Talk podcast where I'll be co-hosting tonight along with Fanatic Jack! 9PM CST/10PM EST.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Starting to Worry?

I've been lucky to have our boys in my neck of the woods the past two weekends in a row, but despite that pleasure, this weekend they decided to showcase some pretty lousy baseball (for the most part). Coming off a particularly horrible series against Milwaukee that I think everyone has done their best to forget, the Twins didn't look any livelier Friday night.

A couple ex-Minnesotan buddies of mine joined me for the game, and being about half an hour late due to work meant that I missed the only real highlight for us -- Span's leadoff homerun. That kind of set the expectations high for our Citifield experience, but the rest of the game quickly ran downhill.

Thankfully I missed witnessing most of the action firsthand. We were wading through lines at the beer garden when the Mets put their rally together and started beaning Slowey. Our lead of 1-0 quickly dropped to 3-1 about the time I made it up to the head of the beer line. That helped me decide to order two large beers and drink one of them right then and there.

We also made our way over to Blue Smoke, which apparently has a couple stands at Citifield. I had heard about Shake Shack's presence there, and while I didn't want to brave the lines there, Blue Smoke was much quicker and almost just as good. They are one of the best BBQ places in the city (outside of the famous Dinosaur BBQ under the GW bridge), and their pulled pork sandwich hit the spot. That was probably the highlight of the night.

The rest of Friday night was completely forgettable except for Mr. Met making an appearance in our section and tossing out some T-shirts. He's a lovable mascot, but it didn't help distract from the carnage on the field.

Saturday I was in slightly better spirits. I decided to break out the lucky Aguilera jersey (the one that was present for the Liriano/Hudson pitcher's duel at Target Field and also the amazing come-from-behind win against the Phillies the prior weekend). I was also meeting Shawn from On the Road with Shawn, and I think the two of us being in attendance together at a game bodes well ever since that Phillies series.

I met Shawn at McFadden's and we were soon joined by Nick Nelson and a number of his friends from the Battle Your Tail Off message board. I joined Nick and his friends as we headed into the ballpark and made our way up to our seats in the Promenade along the 3rd base line. Nick commented on how nice it is than in most all of today's stadiums their way of stacking the tiers on top of each other makes even the higher up seats seem like you're right on the playing field and I tend to agree. The Mets' new ballpark, for all of its quirks and the ridiculous amount of advertising present in the stadium completely buries Shea -- and probably even New Yankee Stadium.

Even the proximity to La Guardia and its low-flying air traffic as planes take off and land over the stadium is kind of fun. None are particularly distracting but can be quite fun to watch.

This game was significantly better, and I again think it has something to do with Shawn's and my presence and the Aguilera jersey. Pavano was absolutely fantastic, and it was nice to see a game where our pitching and offense both clicked at the same time.

Afterwards we met up with the Twins Geek and The Voice of Reason and all headed over to Forum, a bar near Union Square that is managed by former Twin Frankie Rodriguez. I wanted to introduce my fellow bloggers and it was fun to have him pull up a chair and just download about what it was like playing for the Twins, playing with Knoblauch, Radke, Aguilera, and in the huge concrete Metrodome (where apparently even the players were skeptical about the use of the air conditioning fans behind home plate). If you're ever in the city you should stop by Forum and chat with him because he's a great guy and always open to talking with fans.

Sunday was completely forgettable. I don't even want to talk about that game. I was getting so upset with our ability to put any sort of life into this team or any sort of momentum behind them. After great wins in Philly they fall flat against a significantly inferior Milwaukee team, and after a solid win against Santana, Baker and the offense both forget to show up ready to play.

I don't doubt our ability to win games or compete. We have a solid team, and I'm not suddenly starting to think that the sky is falling. But you can count me as starting to get a little concerned that there doesn't seem to be any spark or fire in this team right now. Gardy's post game comments are always the same, "We played some pretty good teams that are hot..."; "You can't do anything about it..."; "We ran into some pretty good baseball teams this year...". That's all well and good but the Twins are a pretty good baseball team. The Twins should be able to play with other good baseball teams and they need to. They can't expect a schedule full of visits from Kansas City and Baltimore every week, and the next few weeks before the All Star break aren't going to give them any reprieve.

Sorry for the little rant, but it would be nice if they'd shape up quick!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Podcast tonight

Stop by at 10PM CST/11PM EST as I host the weekly Twins Talk podcast! Fanatic Jack should be joining live from Milwaukee after the game, and we'll also be joined by Shawn Berg of On the Road with Shawn and Maija of Kirby's Left Eye. Should be a great show so stop by!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Philly: On the Road for the Tenth Inning Stretch

First off, be sure to check out Seth's Weekly Twins podcast from last night as I feebly attempted to run the switchboard for him while discussing baseball with Seth and Travis Aune...

At the beginning of the year I decided that as long as I currently live out on the East Coast, I should take advantage of my proximity to other Major League cities and notch a few ballpark visits under my belt. Thankfully the Twins were happy to oblige with their schedule by coming out my way a few more times than normal this year.

So as soon as I saw the 2010 schedule, I circled this Philadelphia visit in red, and these boys didn't let me down.

I couldn't make the Friday game, and I don't feel too bad about that. But early Saturday morning I made my way over to Penn Station to catch the first Amtrak over to Philly.

Note: the crazy guy in the yellow shirt ready to greet me.

The thing I still love most about New York is its proximity and easy access to almost anywhere. My train zipped along and in just a little over an hour we were pulling into 30th St. Station.

The plan for the day was to hang out in downtown Philly and explore until Shawn and his family got into town to start our day at the ballpark. I killed some time hanging out in Rittenhouse Square where I first noticed that the city is decorated in little Philly Phanatic statues just as we have Joe Mauers dotting Minneapolis.

I have to admit that downtown Philadelphia is gorgeous. The shops, bars and restaurants along Walnut and Chestnut street gave it a very Greenwich Village feel and I wish I had been able to spend a bit more time there.

or perhaps just get my hair done at my spa apparently?

I wandered over to the Mutter Museum and after about an hour or so of looking at dry-preserved and wet-preserved anatomy and medical anomalies, I had found more than my fill.

After looking at John Wilkes Booth's spinal cord I decided it was time for a drink. Thankfully there was a nearby bar called Drinker's Pub and I hung my hat there chatting with some friendly locals about Citizen's Bank Park until Shawn and his wife and stepson arrived. (It was then that I felt it finally safe to put on my lucky Aguilera jersey... I was actually a little more scared of being an enemy in Citizen's Bank Park than I am of Yankee Stadium.)

Shawn is an awesome guy (and his wife and stepson were just as cool) and I was looking forward to finally meeting him for the first time after reading his blog for so long! We had a beer and chatted for a bit before carpooling over to the park and finding a space in a Holiday Inn parking lot amidst a horde of tailgaters. The tailgaters were something my new friends from Drinker's Pub told me was a tradition and I can see why: with all the sports facilities and their parking lots adjoining each other it's the perfect expansive layout of concrete for people to set up grills and lawn chairs.

The stadium itself is amazing. Having just been to Target Field, which for me was like a dream come true, Citizen's Bank Park still managed to leave quite the impression on me. From the various bronze statues adorning the outside of their gates:

To the beautiful vista of their downtown skyline which I'm sure would look amazing lit up at night:

and my horrible Blackberry can't really pick up the skyline, oops... but trust me it's breathtaking.

I had found tickets at the last minute in the row next to Shawn and his family

and so I was lucky to be able to sit with them and have a little companionship in the sea of Phillies apparel out there. Thrylos made the comment that that day was the most representation of any opposing team he had seen at the stadium and if that's the case it must get very lonely and intimidating out there!

We found our seats, thankfully sheltered from the sun (which was making me regret wearing my jersey), and were able to strike up a nice conversation with some Phillies fans nearby.

This was our view
I think everyone knows how this game went. It started out wonderfully and we were in pretty good spirits, but by the time that Slowey had coughed up his early lead and I was getting angry (if still jesting) text messages from Betsy, I thought it would be nice to go explore the food.

Sorry Target Field, but Citizen's Bank Ballpark has food-fare that would blow you away. Their famous Chick & Pete crab fries and the amazing sandwich known as "The Schmitter" were enough to make me forget about the travesty I was witnessing on the field.

Though I don't know if I was sweating from the heat or from the ridiculous amount of food I was trying to eat.

I'm also not a big fan of hopsy beers, but one sip of the Flying Fish Summer Pale Ale and I was hooked. (Get it? Fish? Hooked?) They do a great job of showcasing their local microbrews and craft beers at the stadium side by side with a wide spectrum of delicious food.

During the later middle innings Shawn and I worked our way back to where Thrylos98 of The Tenth Inning Stretch mentioned his seats were and we tried to scope him out by the jersey he said he was wearing. The moment we popped up the stairs in his section we started getting heckled by a bunch of Phillies fans, and while Shawn kindly waved back at them I just ducked back into the concourse.

But it was enough time for Thrylos to spot us and come running down to the concourse to say hi! And yes, indeed, he does exist! We chatted baseball and anything to get our mind off the game for a few minutes before finally making our way back down to our seats for the last couple innings.

That's when it all got interesting of course. When Thome stepped up to the plate and got his ovation was fun to see. We joked with our Phillies fans in the row about whether or not Punto was going to get the same treatment but they didn't seem to think so. Thome was actually very well represented in the Twins jerseys that we saw. It's clear that Philadelphians still hold a special place in their heart for him, and to watch him launch that home run and receive the rabid applause was amazing.

Hey, Parker! Your shirt in Philly!

As the Twins started to mount a threat the rest of the inning, you could sense the Phillies fans around you start to tense up. They saw this all last year in Lidge but had spent the better half of the 8th inning talking about how dependable he's been this year.

It just wasn't his day.

The Mauer shot sent chills down my spine. I was in disbelief, standing in my seat, high-fiving Shawn and trying not to lose my calm and get murdered at the stadium (apparently lots of people die at stadiums every year, now I'm paranoid, kind of).

Butera's homerun was almost just as surreal. I was trying to figure out how we'd stand a chance in extras with our bullpen so taxed and with only Butera available to come off the bench. I was even curious what it would be like for Rauch to just try putting his weight into a swing. But when our .175 hitting backup catcher launched one into the left field seats that completely floored me.

The Gload homerun was kind of a letdown. I know Rauch isn't perfect but that was just sad, and it didn't even look like a homerun. I didn't think that there was anyway our bullpen could stand much longer and didn't see how the ragtag bottom of our lineup was going to do anything against a mostly solid Phillies bullpen but this team never ceased to amaze me that day. I'm still not sure why they pitched to Delmon with an open base and Tolbert coming up but I'm glad they did!

After the game we met up again with Thrylos and hung around until they kicked us out of the stadium. We got high-fives and congratulations from scores of smiling Twins fans milling about while we watched all the Phillies fans stream out of the ballpark without any of them harming us! A miracle!

Goodbye Phillies fans!

Shawn and his family dropped me off downtown and I hung out around the 30th St. Station and had a few drinks near there, proudly displaying my lucky Aguilera jersey, while waiting for a red-eye Amtrak back to New York.

All in all a great trip, a lovely ballpark, and one of the more memorable games I've ever seen in person!