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.