Thursday, November 12, 2009

NOVEMBER 12, 2009 -- Carlos Gomez is out of the Doghouse!...And Post-Season Awards

Greetings all of you in Twinsland. It's been a while since I've posted here at the MTRC, but I have to admit -- I relished the month away from the blog, a month in which I thought about the disastrous Twins very rarely. Bums like Ron Gardenhire and Nick Punto are but a distant memory at this point in my mind, which is refreshing. I only have about four months here before I get to hear those names again.

After the Twins' predictably pathetic showing in the playoffs against the Yankees, I watched the other playoff games sparingly. I tried my best to watch some of the ALCS between New York and the Angels, but man, oh, man -- MLB has a lot to work on if it wants to retain its fan base. Soooooo boring! Game 2 of the ALCS was the worst. Whenever I tuned in to try to watch a bit of the game, Jose Molina was running out to the mound -- eight times in one inning -- to talk to A.J. Burnett. The games moved at a snail's pace, and just weren't fun to watch. Worst of all, the Yankees had to win the whole thing, though rooting for the Phillies isn't exactly great either. It turned out to be a Big Spender's version of the playoffs, with four teams with bloated payrolls playing in the League Championship Series'. And it was because I thought that the Tigers had a better chance than the Twins of beating the Yankees (Detroit actually won a game against New York during the season) that I thought the Twins' late-season charge was unfortunate on two levels: not only would the Yankees be able to beat the Twins in their sleep, but the Twins' season would suddenly be remembered as a success, and thus key offseason moves that need to be made in order to improve the team wouldn't be made.

But one move has been made that is of significance: Carlos Gomez is going to the Brewers for shortstop J.J. Hardy. Now, let's be fair here -- Hardy had a terrible 2009 season, one in which he was sent down to the minor leagues because he was so bad. But, considering the Twins used Nick Punto for the majority of the season there and then turned to an over-the-hill Orlando Cabrera down the stretch, Hardy will give the Twins a shot in the arm at the shortstop position. He's young, a terrific fielder, and, when he's on, an above-average bat for his position. Hardy's acquisition means that Cabrera won't be back, which is a great thing. I had a bad feeling that Cabrera's play down the stretch would have led to a two-year extension from the front office, but, for once, the Twins do the right thing and give Cabrera his walking papers.


More importantly, Carlos Gomez is gone. Talk about FANTASTIC NEWS! I will finally say goodbye to the one player that I think is the barnone stupidest human being to put on a baseball uniform. I've never seen a player that is so, so demented in the head; and what's worse, I've never seen a manager so demented in the head that's so delusional as to play the truly moronic Gomez on a near-daily basis for the better part of two seasons. Yeah, we're talking about Ron Gardenhire, who put faith in the idiotic Gomez that he could "get the job done." Probably the fastest player the team has had since Otis Nixon, Gomez turned out to be the absolute worst baserunner possible, utilizing that speed by making overly-aggressive baserunning blunders (see Game 2 of the ALDS). And at the plate, Gomez looked like a parapalegic pregnant woman whose water just broke. This being said, Milwaukee will probably start Gomez in the minor leagues (where he belongs) and he'll learn baseball from the school of hard knocks, and develop into a fine National League ballplayer. For the Twins, it leaves just the maybe-he-will-or-maybe-he-won't-pan-out Deolis Guerra as the lone remnant of the disastrous Johan Santana trade of 2008. Hardy is now an offshoot, of course, and the jury's still out on whether he can recover from a poor 2009. But using the failsafe rubric of "well, he's a lot better than Nick Punto," Hardy's sure an upgrade at the shortstop position.

POSTSEASON AWARDS

Next week the baseball writers' awards will be announced, and I thought it might be fun to do a little prognosticating on this site. Not that my words count for anything, but here we go:

AL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

1. Rick Porcello, P, Detroit
2. Elvis Andrus, SS, Texas
3. Gordon Beckham, 3B, Chicago

I do think Andrus is going to get the award, as his defense and surprising offense helped Texas stay in the race for much longer than they were expected to. And everyday players always seem to have the edge in Rookie of the Year voting, especially when there's not a runaway rookie pitcher among the contenders. But Porcello's performance in Game 163 sold it for me. Here's a 20-year-old who showed his meddle bigtime in the biggest game of his life. He ended the season as a more-than-comparable #2 man in the rotation behind the Tigers' stellar ace Justin Verlander.

NL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

1. Chris Coghlan, OF, Florida
2. J.A. Happ, P, Philadelphia
3. Tommy Hanson, P, Atlanta

Happ and Hanson are both good candidates to win the award, as they both produced 10+ wins and sub-3.00 ERAs. Coghlan, however, is a perfect Rookie of the Year winner -- one who comes out of nowhere, quickly secures a starting spot, and hits the ball with authority. Does anybody realize he finished sixth in the NL in batting with a .321 average? I had to look that one up twice.

AL MANAGER OF THE YEAR

1. Ron Washington, Texas
2. Don Wakamatsu, Seattle
3. Jim Leyland, Detroit

Yeah, you were thinking that I was going to put Ron Gardenhire on this list? There have been rumors that a Manager of the Year award for Gardy was in the offing, but I just don't see it. You play like absolute doggie do-do for five and a half months and then play good for two weeks, and you're the best manager in the league? Puh-lease. The Twins were predicted to run away with the Central in 2009; Managers of the Year are usually those managers who take bad teams and turn them into a surprise contender. How Ron Washington was able to get almost 90 wins out of that pitching staff is truly a credit to his managing. And Wakamatsu inherited a messy Mariner team that lost 100 games in 2008 and turned in a winning season in his rookie year as manager.

NL MANAGER OF THE YEAR

1. Jim Tracy, Colorado
2. Bruce Bochy, San Francisco
3. Tony LaRussa, St. Louis

No contest here. Tracy's the runaway winner in this race, as he took over for the Rockies in late May when Colorado was 10 games under .500, and directed them to a 74-42 finish and the wild-card. Bochy's Giants were a mild surprise, too, in the suddenly ultra-competitive NL West, but it should be a unanimous victory for Tracy.

AL CY YOUNG

1. Zach Greinke, Kansas City
2. Felix Hernandez, Seattle
3. Justin Verlander, Detroit

This should be a runaway Cy Young for Greinke, but sadly his 16 wins will make the race a close one, and might cost him the award. Those that think that C.C. Sabathia should win the award are those with the typical East Coast bias; Greinke was far and away the best pitcher in the league, and if Greinke was on a team other than the hapless Royals, he would have won well over 20 games. Hernandez is deserving to win the award in any year that didn't also feature Greinke's brilliance. Still, I wouldn't be surprised to see Sabathia win the Cy.

NL CY YOUNG

1. Adam Wainwright, St. Louis
2. Chris Carpenter, St. Louis
3. Tim Lincecum, San Francisco

Both Carpenter and Wainwright are deserving of the award, and I feel that this race might be like the Academy Awards in a bit; Carpenter (and Lincecum, for that matter) has won the award already, and Wainwright hasn't. It's kind of like when Kate Winslet won Best Actress last year even though Meryl Streep could out-act Winslet in her sleep -- it's just that Meryl's won before and Winslet's been perennially stepped on by the Academy. So, for better or worse, it's Wainwright this year, though Carpenter might pick up his second Cy, as a kind of comeback-player of the year plus Cy Young combo prize.

AL MVP

1. Joe Mauer, Minnesota
2. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit
3. Mark Teixeira, New York

This one shouldn't be close, either, but like Greinke, Mauer resides in small-market-ville, and when East Coast voters pulled the lever, it was probably hard for them not to go for Teixeira or Derek Jeter, who people think like should win an MVP, because he somehow like deserves one for his Hall of Fame resume (yeah, right). Look at the numbers -- Mauer is on a different planet than everybody else, and should have won the award in 2006, too. It's time to give Mauer his comeuppance, Winslet-style.

NL MVP

1. Albert Pujols, St. Louis
2. Hanley Ramirez, Florida
3. Andre Ethier, Los Angeles

Pujols is like the FDR of the National League -- if his name is on the ballot, he's going to win. Between Pujols and Mauer, it's a hard choice selecting the best player in the game. Clearly Pujols is the class of the NL, but don't soon forget about Ramirez. He'll win an MVP one of these years, as he's quickly becoming one of the best all-around players in the league. I wonder how long Florida gets to hang onto him...

READER MAIL #2

Send in your questions and comments to me at eisenhowermcsteele@gmail.com. I plan on doing a Hot Stove-themed version of reader mail, so send me your suggestions on how to improve the club. Put yourself in Bill Smith's shoes for a day -- play general manager!

Photos: (1) AP/Peter Morgan; (2) AP/Morry Gash; (3) AP/Steven Senne

Monday, October 12, 2009

OCTOBER 11, 2009 -- NEW YORK 4, MINNESOTA 1

What a shocker folks -- the Twins drop three straight against the Yankees, and go down with hardly a whimper against the Evil Empire. If you're keeping track at home (which I am), that's nine straight postseason losses for the Twins under the Ron Gardenhire regime, and that's only a part of eight straight losses at home in the playoffs. The last Twin to win a playoff game at the Metrodome was none other than Joe Mays, whose gem in the first game of the 2002 ALCS against the Angels stands as the last home victory for the Twins in the Metrodome. This run of postseason futility that the Twins are experiencing is just a perfect example of what the priorities are here in the Twin Cities. Playoffs are gravy to Ron Gardenhire, and he apparently just doesn't care if they win or lose in the playoffs. They're just happy to be there. And this philosophy has translated to an abysmal, embarrassing 6-18 mark in the playoffs under Gardenhire. Considering this, what's the point of even winning the division? If you're just going to play like bird droppings in the playoffs, why tease your fans to think that you actually might win something of actual significance? But no. Winning the perennially weakest division in baseball is hotdish for Ron Gardenhire. It makes me sick to my stomach. This is why I was pessimistic about the Twins hot stretch -- because it gives the illusion that this season was a success. Dude -- you've won the division five times in eight years. Why not try a more challenging goal? I think that winning the division was a bad thing for the Twins, as they'll use the division title as proof that they don't need to improve their ballclub for 2010. In reality, this team should be shaken up, but we know any real change (i.e. canning Ron Gardenhire) will never happen.

The Twins seem to be embodied (at least to those observing the team from a national level) by Nick Punto -- that scrappy, "hard-nosed," talent-deficient excuse for a ballplayer -- and that's really hard for me to accept. Punto may have had some of the best offensive numbers for the Twins in the three-game sweep, as he went 4 for 9 at the plate, but he was there in the eighth inning to put the nail in the coffin that was the Twins season. His baserunning blunder cost the Twins the season, and is yet another example of why this man has no business being a Single-A player, much less a starting player on a playoff team. For some reason he thought that Denard Span's chopper over the mound went into the outfield, and of course he wasn't looking at his third-base coach to see if he should score -- barreling around third was Punto, and Derek Jeter smartly threw home to force Punto to return to third, but he returned too late, and instead of having runners at first and third and nobody out (the Twins were down 2-1 at the time), Punto ran his team out of their season. What I said to myself after that predictable boner was "Nick Punto is the stupidest player in franchise history. Nick Punto is the stupidest player in franchise history." As far as mantras go, that one caught on pretty quick. Seriously though -- the fact that this guy has any words of praise go his way is gut-wrenchingly pathetic. I'm shaking my head in shame right now, having to be a fan of a team that plays Nick Punto on a regular basis. I was thinking about this hard-to-accept fact, too: Nick Punto's played here for six years. SIX YEARS. And he'll be here for probably another six. At the end of his career, he's going to be one of the longest-tenured Twins in franchise history. Why? As Tracy Chapman once sang, Give me one reason, Ron Gardenhire, why Nick Punto is on a major-league roster.

I'm done with this team, finally, for this season. Let me tell you -- it was a maddening adventure to document this sad-sack bunch of characters for nearly six months. I know I'm in the minority when it comes to ragging on guys like Ron Gardenhire, but I've found that the Re-Education Center has been amazingly therapeutic for me. In the past (and especially in 2008) I was unable to contain my rage when I watched the Twins. Often I'd bang a fist on my coffee table in frustration and shout obscenities at the TV screen. But once I started this website, I found it much easier to accept the Twins' patheticness. Now when I watch the games, I find their errors and futility comedic and humorous, and I look at Ron Gardenhire as if he were one of the Keystone Kops of the early silent movies. The guy is such an Andy Kaufman joke -- not at all funny, a little creepy, definitely pathetic, and tragic at the same time. I will go to my grave saying that Ron Gardenhire is the worst manager I've ever seen in my life, and I will continue to say that on this site. By putting faith in guys like Carlos Gomez and Nick Punto, Ron Gardenhire lost this series before it even started. It reminds me of a Modest Mouse album title of a few years back: We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. If there's anything that sums up the 2009 Twins, it's that right there.

It was a blast to do this, and I thank everyone who put in their two cents. Whether you agreed with me or not, I appreciate those who took the time to support this site. I'll keep it updated every once in a while in the offseason (I do plan on doing a 2009 Season Wrap-Up and Postseason Awards sometime within the next week) and I'm considering doing this again next season. I really enjoyed what my neighbor Hank Rickenbacher did when he had the reins, and I'd like to hear more from him next season. If you have any suggestions on how to make the MTRC better, I'd love to hear from you. And I'd like to do another segment of Reader's Mail, so feel free to get questions and comments in to my e-mail: eisenhowermcsteele@gmail.com. Thanks again everyone!

Photos: (1) AP/Jim Mone; (2) AP/Kathy Willens; (3) AP/Charlie Neibergall; (4) www.cinemablend.com

Saturday, October 10, 2009

OCTOBER 9, 2009 -- NEW YORK 4, MINNESOTA 3 (11 innings)

Wow. Unbelievable. As I've said before, you can't lose these games unless you try, or unless you're just in a new category of "pathetic" that I'm just unaware of. Leading 3-1 going into the botom of the ninth, Joe Nathan gives up a single and a mammoth home run to Alex Rodriguez to give up the lead, and then Mark Teixeira comes back in the 11th inning with the game-winning homer off Jose Mijares. Ron Gardenhire didn't do anything during the game that lost the game outright; rather, it was his filling out the lineup that lost the game for the Twins on Friday. I think I thought out loud at least three times as to why Carlos Gomez is even on a major-league roster, much less in the starting lineup in a playoff game. The guy is such absolute doggie do-do that it's hilarious that people actually give the Twins a chance in this series. If I would have known that Gomez would have played Friday, I might as well have just slept through it. Unbelievable that Ron Gardenhire is that stupid. Manager of the Year my ass.


What's even funnier than that is that Brendan Harris propelled the Twins to what would have been a win, and Harris wasn't even in the starting lineup -- Matt Tolbert was, of course. It had to take a pulled muscle to get Tolbert out of the game, and there was Harris, providing the go-ahead triple in the sixth, the key hit to set up the two-run eighth for the Twins, and chipping in on defense with a miraculous Web gem later in the game. The bottom three guys in the Twins lineup -- Gomez, Tolbert, and Punto -- that's Washington Nationals "bad", Pittsburgh Pirates "bad." And you still should have won the game -- unreal. I'll give Punto props, as he delivered a clutch two-out hit in the eighth to put the Twins on top (that hit will probably keep him around for another four years). But I'm not giving Ron Gardenhire props, who I hope was joking when he told TBS reporter/snappy dresser Craig Sager that Punto was "the second best athlete on the team" next to Joe Mauer. That quote prompted me to look up the word 'athlete' in the dictionary, because I don't think Gardy and I are on the same page so to speak. Here it is from dictionary.com:


ath⋅lete 
–noun
a person trained or gifted in exercises or contests involving physical agility, stamina, or strength; a participant in a sport, exercise, or game requiring physical skill. (my emphasis)


OK -- so it doesn't necessary say they have to be good at sports, but merely a participant. But using the modifier "second best" implies that they are good at a particular sport, which just seals the deal -- Ron Gardenhire is the most idiotic, demented, insane man in the game of baseball. If you can hit .220 and play average defense, kids, you're a gold medalist in one man's book. Wow.


Let's get back to Gomez, who was the clear goat in the game. The guy can flat out fly, which was apparently the reason (defense, Gardy'd say, too) that he is even on the postseason roster. Yet Gomez is one of the absolute worst baserunners I've ever seen in my life, and that stupidity cost the Twins a run in the fourth inning. Tolbert actually came through with a hit off Yankee starter A.J. Burnett, sending Seldom Young home with the first run of the game. But wait -- Gomez tripped over his own shoes rounding second and was tagged out trying to go back to second before Young touched home plate, thereby nullifying the run scoring. Just an idiotic turn of events there -- Gomez should be trotting into second base and planting himself there. You're not going first to third there in a million years (I suppose the moronic Gomez probably thought he could), and at the very least, force a run-down so you ensure that the run scores. That blunder was basically the difference in the game, as Gomez proved to everyone, this time on a national scale, that he doesn't belong in the big leagues. But at least Gomez acknowledged his error in a postgame interview, offering his apologies by saying it was "my bad." Oh, OK. I needed that, Carlos.


But that wouldn't be enough for a guy who sucks as bad as Gomez. He had to come through again in the 11th inning, when the Twins started the inning with three straight singles. Seldom Young lined out on the first pitch he saw from reliever David Robertson; that's to be expected from Seldom. Then Ron Gardenhire has Carlos Gomez hit for himself. Huge mistake, Gardy. I'll quote myself from my Doghouse post on Gomez that I wrote way back in June: "This is what Gomez means to me: if the Twins are down by a run in the late innings and the tying run is on third base with one out, Gomez is the last hitter I want at the plate. I'd rather have a pitcher at the plate -- Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn, Joe Nathan, hell, even Nick Punto. Gomez folds in the clutch like it's nobody's business, and it's the listless hitting approach and non-existent instincts that make him a Doghouse Denizen for life." Pretty much the same scenario, except that the Twins were tied and would have gone ahead if Gomez can just get the ball in the air. Nope. Instead, he takes one of the most pathetic swings I've ever seen in my life and taps out to first base, and Teixeira throws home to force the runner. Harris flew out after Gomez, and Teixeira would end the game leading off the bottom half of the eleventh. Hooray, Ron Gardenhire! That stroke of managerial prowess lost you another game in the Bronx!


I would like to add that right field umpire Phil Cuzzi delivered one of the absolute worst calls I've ever seen in my life in the eleventh, such a bad call that it makes Mike Muchlinski's infamous home-plate call to end the Oakland Disaster look like a great call. I've always wondered why MLB has outfield umpires in the playoffs; it seems to me that it just means that two more umps can get the calls wrong. Cuzzi is literally fifteen feet away from watching Joe Mauer's fly ball land at least two feet fair and he calls it foul. What's more, outfielder Melky Cabrera touched the ball with his glove! The guy is planted stationary on the field watching nothing but the foul line, and he still gets it wrong. It's just like Richie Garcia's vomit-inducing call in the '96 ALCS when he said that Jeffrey Maier didn't lean over the fence and turn a fly ball into a home run -- the only thing that these outfield umps can do is screw up calls. Now, a lot of people are going to look at that call and do a Gardy and blame the loss on the umpires, but it's hard to tell what would have happened if Mauer had been on second base. Jason Kubel probably would have been trying to "get the guy over to third," i.e. pull the ball on the right side of the infield, and who knows if he would have gotten a hit or not. It likely would have still been up to Seldom Young and Carlos Gomez to blow it in the clutch. And there's no excuses to leaving SEVENTEEN guys on base. But Phil Cuzzi -- jeez, are you that much a Yankee fan or are you simply blind?
Photos: (1,3) AP/Julie Jacobson; (2,4) AP/Kathy Willens; (5) Reuters Pictures

Thursday, October 8, 2009

OCTOBER 7, 2009 -- NEW YORK 7, MINNESOTA 2

Butt-kicking #1 goes pretty much as planned on Wednesday night, as Brian Duensing can't get out of the fifth inning before taking his team out of the game, and the offense can't provide that clutch hit when it needed it. This game was very much a return to a simpler time, namely May of this year, when the Yankees laid a four-game sweep at the hands of the Twins using the same formula. The Twins did get ten hits -- six of them in the first three innings -- but were 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position. One of their runs came on a passed ball, and the other due to a Michael Cuddyer single. And the Twins had a 2-0 lead in this game, but like so many contests against the Yankees, their lead was extremely short-lived. It lasted a whole three batters, as Douchebag surrendered a game-tying blast off the bat of Derek Jeter in the bottom of the third. Nick Swisher's double put the Yankees up for good in the fourth, and Hideki Matsui clocked a mammoth home run off Francisco Liriano (on the postseason roster for some reason) to put the game out of reach in the fifth.

One of the biggest plays in the game may have been in the top of the first inning, when Denard Span led the game off with a double off C.C. Sabathia. Orlando Cabrera failed in his opportunity to get Span over to third, but Span ended up on third due to a passed ball, but Joe Mauer struck out and Cuddyer flew out, giving the Yankees and everybody else watching a good idea of what was about to come. Frankly, nothing about the Twins' failing in the clutch was surprising when you know how Ron Gardenhire manages his teams against New York. As I've said before, with Gardenhire being absolutely owned by the Yankees, he's of the mindset that the Twins have to play a perfect ballgame when they play them. It's pins and needles baseball whenever the Twins face the Yanks, and that's a philosophy that probably loses more games than it would win them. Every failed opportunity is thus magnified, and momentum swings are that much more apparent. The same thing happened in the seventh inning, when the Twins were already down by four runs. They had runners on second and third with one out, but again, Span flew out weakly to the outfield, not nearly deep enough to score the run, and Cabrera struck out pathetically to end the threat. How were the Twins able to win 17 out of their last 21 ballgames? By getting clutch hitting, and that simply didn't show up on Wednesday night.

They were also driven to win the division by some pretty good starting pitching, and that, too, didn't appear to be the case with Brian Douchebag on the mound. Some people had been saying that, hey, the Yankees had never seen Duensing before, so maybe that's a good thing. What I'm struggling to understand is Ron Gardenhire's logic in starting Duensing. His regular turn in the rotation would have been last Saturday against the Royals, but Gardy pushed up both Nick Blackburn and Carl Pavano to start those two games, probably because he'd want his best pitchers to pitch in important ballgames. But then he lets Brian Duensing start the first game of the playoffs? This is a perfect example of the demented ideology that Ron Gardenhire has instilled on the team. It's more important for Gardy to win the division than to win something of real importance, say a World Series. Their goal every year is only to with the Central, and as we saw on Wednesday, the playoffs are simply "gravy" to Ron Gardenhire. That's why he couldn't care less if Duensing pitched or not -- hell, I wouldn't be surprised if Jeff Manship starts Game 3. How are games against Kansas City more important than playoff games against the Yankees? If it was up to me, I would have thrown Blackburn in Game 1 on three days' rest, and then countered with Pavano in Game 2. There's no excuse for Brian Duensing to be on the playoff roster, much less pitch the pivotal Game 1 in the playoffs. But, as we all know (and accept, which is the difficult part), mediocrity is just fine with us Minnesotans, and we're just happy to be in the playoffs. Except me -- I'd actually want to see us win a real title, and I won't accept anything less. Anything less is a tease, plain and simple.
Photos: AP/Julie Jacobson

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

OCTOBER 6, 2009 -- MINNESOTA 6, DETROIT 5 (12 innings)

I've got to tell you guys -- with a little salt and pepper, crow actually doesn't taste that bad. I'm more than happy to eat a little crow, however, after the Twins completed their miraculous comeback to win the Central Division title (or, as Ron Gardenhire calls it, the Holy Grail). In many ways Tuesday's tiebreaker was a whole lot like the majority of Twins games -- plenty of missed opportunities by guys that are deservedly in The Doghouse, some lucky breaks that go the Twins way, and in the end a Doghouse Denizen gets the game-winning hit. I kind of saw Alexi Casilla's game-winner coming, as he had failed to score the winning run a few innings before due to his stupidity; granted, that was on a Nick Punto sacrifice fly, and at least God has a sense of humor, or at least good sense, because Nick Punto just cannot win the biggest game of the season for the Twins. All in all, it was a whale of a game, and now they get to go to the Bronx and throw Brian Duensing to the wolves. I've heard it all been said -- "anything can happen in October" -- but a Twins win over the Yankees here would be nothing short of apocalyptic. Whatever. Go get 'em, Douchebag.

I had the pleasure (I guess) of watching most of the second half of the game at a local watering hole, and it was there that I found some startling facts out about certain Twins fans. One, that some Twins fans actually like Matt Tolbert, which I thought was damn near impossible. I thought the only reaction any person could have regarding Matt Tolbert was that he was absolute garbage on the baseball diamond. Another was that a lot of people were surprised when Matty Guerrier delivered his most timely Matt Guerrier Special of the season. I predicted Guerrier would blow the lead once Orlando Cabrera put the Twins ahead in the seventh with his home run (everybody was just going nuts over Cabrera, saying that he'd been the biggest piece of the puzzle and the key for the Twins' turnaround!) and got some knowing glances once Magglio Ordonez promptly tied it off Guerrier in the eighth. These "fans" also weren't livid when Ron Gardenhire, in his infinite wisdom, burned his bullpen by the eighth inning and had to get two innings out of Joe Nathan, then had to turn to Jesse Crain and Bobby Keppel to preserve the tie. Crain gave up the lead, and the Twins were bailed out only because Ryan Raburn lost Michael Cuddyer's liner in the lights and misplayed it for a triple. Keppel gave up the lead, too, but umpiring saved the Twins big time in the 12th. With the bases jammed, Keppel clearly grazed Brandon Inge's jersey with a pitch, but home plate umpire Randy Marsh didn't see it that way, and that turned out to be the biggest call of the game, as Inge would force out a runner at home and Gerald Laird struck out to end the inning. As always, the Twins rely on a little bit of luck, both with their ballpark and the men in blue.

I probably could go on further about the game, but let's just leave it at that. It was a terrific, exciting thriller that will go down in Metrodome lore. It's almost too bad that they have to get their butts kicked by the Yankees; if only that could be the swan song on the Teflon Treasure. As mentioned before, Duensing pitches today for the Twins at 5:07 local time, and he opposes Twins killer C.C. Sabathia. Sabathia's 13-8 with a ERA just about 3 in his career against the Twins, and he seems to pitch exceptionally better when there's something on the line. Like everybody says, anything can happen in October, and the Twins are hot. But as Tuesday's contest showed, the Twins' biggest problem remains the bottom of the order. How many times in the game did Matt Tolbert and Nick Punto come up with the game on the line? How many times did Ron Gardenhire let those two slugs hit? That will come back to haunt them against New York, mark my words.
Photos: (1)AP & Star Tribune/Brian Peterson; (2)AP/Tom Olmscheid; (3)AP/Paul Battaglia

Sunday, October 4, 2009

OCTOBER 4, 2009 -- MINNESOTA 13, KANSAS CITY 4

The Twins' win on Sunday clinches a tie for the division title, and with the Tigers' win over the White Sox, for the second straight season the Twins will play in a one-game playoff for the right to go to the postseason. Before I continue, I would like to first thank my good neighbor "Hammerin'" Hank Rickenbacher, who graciously stepped in for me at the last second while I attended to a medical emergency. No need to worry about me -- it just so happened that a young person down in Iowa was recently stung by a nasty swarm of bees and the people down there needed an apiarist's knowledge as to containing the bees. To make matters worse, I knew the victim of the attack, and I felt compelled to drop everything (even during a pennant chase) and drove down to just outside of Dubuque. The one thing about apiary science that drew me to that field was its unpredictability, and it's the one thing that keeps my retirement only half-serious. I'm happy to report that all is well with the person affected by the bees, and I'm back here with a hive of those pesky suckers and I'm going to do a little research that just might be slacked on if there's some postseason whoopin' that the Yankees need to get to later this week. But anyhows, thanks a bunch Hank for the yeoman's work on the site.


As has been the case lately, the Twins' offense took control early, as they jumped on Royal starter Luke Hochevar with two home runs in the first inning. Jason Kubel would add a second three-run home run (I think that's the second time this season that Kubel's had a game in which he's hit two three-run blasts) and Seldom Young would also notch a second home run. Carl Pavano and the middle relief let KC inch back into the game, getting within four before the Twins blew it open in the later innings. So Sunday's game against the Royals will not be the Metrodome's swan song for major-league baseball, as at least one more game will be played there: Tuesday, 4 PM, Scott Baker vs. Rick Porcello. Imagine, for a second, if you're Porcello, who's 20 years old, one year removed from Single-A ball and pitching for the Tigers in the 163rd and potentially final game of the season. That story aside, the Twins are playing hot and the Tigers have languished for three weeks; not to mention the obvious home-field advantage that the Twins have. The Twins should easily win Tuesday's game. Easily. They've got their best pitcher on the mound opposing the Tigers' #3, their bats are clicking and they're at home. There's no reason to think that the Twins can't win, except for the fact that they're the '09 Twins, who are the baseball equivalent of a CD filler-song; something not good to stand alone on its own, but forgettable enough not to lament its brutality when surrounded by actual quality. In fact, it might be more memorable if the Twins lost Tuesday, as people would remember how favored the Twins were, only to lose. If they do drop the game, it'd probably be something pathetic like a 1-0 loss. Hmm, that sounds familiar...

Photos: AP/Jim Mone

OCTOBER 3, 2009 -- MINNESOTA TWINS 5, KANSAS CITY ROYALS 4

Good morning everyone. My name is Hank Rickenbacher. Unfortunately Howie is dealing with an emergency at the moment. Now don't get too worked up, everything will be just fine. But he could not watch yesterday's game, so he asked me, his neighbor for going on 22 strong years now, and also treasurer of the local social club we started together (Association of Recreational Cartographers, Apiarists, and Needlepoint Enthusiasts), to put up this internet blog today. Old Howie says I'm quite the carmudgeon but my dear wife Betsy likes to say it's just that every now and then I wake up on the long side of the bed, especially when it comes to my beloved Twins.

And what an interesting time to be a Twins fan. Yesterday they were going up against Zack Greinke, one of the best young pitchers in the division. (I've noticed a lot of young bucks are named Zack these days.) The Twins needed to win to put pressure on the Tigers, who were playing the dysfunctional White Sox later in the day. Things were looking bleak. But as Mickey Mantle once said, it isn't quite over unless the fat lady is singing. And the fat lady is quiet as a doornail today.

Nick Blackburn continues to emerge as the closest thing to a big-game pitcher (or player) the Twins have. If only he could be consistent all year we might have a true ace on our hands. He outdueled Greinke to the tune of four hits and two runs over seven. Of course after giving up a double in the eighth to Miguel Olivo, Gardenhire yanked Blackburn before the line drive even hit the carpet. Talk about knee jerk (though no one should ever give up doubles to Miguel Olivo).

Up until that point Blackburn had given up just a lone moon ball to somebody named Jacobs that is apparently Kansas City's cleanup hitter. The score was 4-1 thanks to a four-run sixth for the Twins, an inning which serves as devastating verification of the first rule of pitching in the major leagues: DO NOT WALK NICK PUNTO. Ever, ever, ever. I could practically hear snickers coming from the Twins dugout. Fast forward to two outs and Punto on third, and Mauer rips a screamer to right for a 1-0 lead. (I know this won't make me many friends, but it's about time Mauer got a clutch hit.) Even though the broadcasting geometry fanatic Bert Blyleven was sure this would be enough to win the game with the way Blackburn was throwing, Mauer's hit was only the tip of the icebox. With a bases-clearing double (an assist must go to Royals right fielder Teahen, who took a line as if he wanted to hug the center fielder instead of catch the ball), Delmon Young now has more RBIs in the last two games than in his entire Twins career. Now, I don't want to promote violence or anything, but the Twins may want to get an opposing pitcher to throw at Young again as in Detroit, as it seemed to wake him up from the 2-year nap that has been his Twins career.

The lead of course did not last as Mijares got back at his teammates for calling him out after Thursday's melee by promptly giving up a moon ball to the light hitting Alex Gordon, undoubtedly the longest ball that kid has ever hit, probably by double.

I had a bad feeling about where this game was going, but in the bottom of the eight Cuddyer hit a nice home run and the Twins won 5-4. Good win, but I don't think the Twins can count on Young to carry them for another game. Cabrera was the only other Twin with 2 hits, and while he's a nice player he isn't going to make anyone forget Zoilo Versalles any time soon.

So today is the last game at HHH Metrodome. And let me say good riddens. I for one have not been to a Twins game since they left the Met. I don't think Wilbur Doubleday intended for the national past time to be played indoors. Plus Humphrey was a yes man and soft on everything, and I don't know why we should name ballparks after him. I told Betsy I'd never go to the Metrodome as long as it was named after that hippie, and it looks like I made it. I'm looking forward to next year, or rather next June 20th, as that's about the only time the weather will make it worth going down to Target Field. Although with all the crime and drugs and littering in Minneapolis, I'm not sure I'll make it to the new ballpark either.

The Twins go for the sweep today. With the Tigers loss last night, the Twins just need to win to ensure a playoff on Tuesday. They are going to trot out Carl Pavano on three days rest, while the Royals will throw Luke Hochevar. Game time is 1:10. Thanks to Betsy for the help and to Howie for the chance to do this. Here's hoping the big guy will be back tomorrow.

Photos: (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Saturday, October 3, 2009

OCTOBER 2, 2009 -- MINNESOTA 10, KANSAS CITY 7

They wouldn't be the 2009 Twins if they don't let a game against the 95-loss Royals in which they led by ten runs get far too interesting, as Kansas City scores the final seven runs in the ballgame but still loses by three. It was all probably a ploy to allow Joe Nathan to break the Twins' single-season saves record with his 46th save of the season, one-upping ex-Twins great Eddie Guardado's mark set in 2002. Though it got much too tense than it should have late in the ballgame, a win's a win, especially considering that Jake Peavy went out for the White Sox and totally dominated Detroit, and the Twins are still alive and kicking, one game out with two to go. If the Twins are to win both games against KC (a tough task considering they've drawn Zach Greinke today), Detroit will have to also win out to take the division without a one-game playoff. The scenario is so eerily similar to 2006, when the Tigers struggled for the last month of the season and limped into the playoffs while the Twins had been the hot team, getting into the playoffs on a high. As things often go, those patterns didn't stay true to form, as Detroit was the team that turned it on in the playoffs, getting to the World Series, and the Twins' season, which for all intents and purposes had ended on the last day of the regular season considering the lack of effort they gave forth in the ALDS against Oakland, was a stupendous flop for me. If the Twins win the division, they're going to celebrate their asses off, and then likely play some of the most embarrassing baseball anyone's ever seen against the Yankees. The biggest problem of this franchise is its mindset -- that a Central Division title is the end-all goal. That mindset owes a whole lot to its major endorser -- Ron Gardenhire.

As for Friday's contest, it appeared that the game was over by the second inning. Royals starter Lenny DiNardo was knocked out early after surrendering a Seldom Young grand slam in the first inning, among six hits he gave up in an inning-plus of work. Jason Kubel notched his 25th home run of the season in the 4th inning, and the entire Twins offense was clicking. In a trip back to simpler times, every Twins starter had at least one hit except Nick Punto, who so often loves being the exception to the rule offensively. Even Matt Tolbert got two hits, making it that much more possible that Ron Gardenhire decides to have a little more confidence in the Punch-and-Judy-meister. Jeff Manship got his first major league win, silencing those doubts as to why a guy who's pitched like regurgitated pumpkin seeds in the big leagues is pitching with the season on the line. The bullpen made it interesting, as always, as the vaunted combo of Crain-Mahay-Keppel allowed the Royals back in the game. On a side note, why is Bobby Keppel in the major leagues? This guy is such absolute garbage is hard to understand how he could make the St. Paul Saints or the Wichita Wingnuts, let alone a major-league roster, let alone a "contending" major league club. Remember the Oakland Disaster? The one game the Twins will look back on after this season and say, "why couldn't we keep a ten-run lead against a last place club?" Well, Keppel was a big part of that, and that question was nearly asked again on Friday, but luckily for the Twins, they held on, and, like Maxwell House, they're in it 'til the last drop.
Photos: AP/Jim Mone

Friday, October 2, 2009

OCTOBER 1, 2009 -- MINNESOTA 8, DETROIT 3

Scott Baker and the Twins stave off elimination for one more day, as they beat the Tigers in a messy affair that featured a bench-emptying non-skirmish over some hit batsmen. Baker was classic Baker, throwing 105 pitches to get through five innings, but it was good enough as the Twins bats were alive against Nate Robertson and the Tigers. Thirteen hits were spread throughout the Twins lineup, including three by Seldom Young and two by Nick Punto. Orlando Cabrera busted the game open in the eighth with a bases-clearing double that extended the lead from 4-1 to 7-1. For the Twins to win a game in which they committed four errors in the field is miraculous in its own right. All in all, it was a sloppy game, but one in which the Twins absolutely needed to win, and the tease will continue until the final weekend of the year.

The scenario is this: if the Tigers can merely take two out of three this weekend playing against the White Sox at home, they're in the playoffs, no matter what the Twins do. The Twins need to win at the very least two games against Kansas City and hope that the Tigers either get swept or win one game. The problem is for the Twins that Zach Greinke pitches on Saturday, and the way the Twins' bats were not producing in pressure situations against Greinke last Sunday, it's going to be extremely tough for them to win that ballgame. So if you can assume that Greinke will lead the Royals to victory on Saturday, that means that the Twins must hope that the White Sox sweep the Tigers. Hey, it's happened before -- remember 2006, when the Twins won only one game against the Sox in the last series of the year, but still won the division thanks to the Royals sweeping the Tigers at Comerica? And Jake Peavy pitches tonight against Detroit, and he shut them down with relative ease last week. So the Twins have a chance, and the last series at the Metrodome will have at least something on the line for the many fans that will choose to attend. It will be a little different scenario than in 1981, when the Royals helped turn out the lights at Metropolitan Stadium. In those days, guys like Hrbek and Gaetti were just getting their first taste of the bigs, while veterans like Pete Mackanin and Rob Wilfong got the majority of the playing time. Nick Punto would've fit right in on that squad.
Photos: (1) AP/Duane Burleson; (2) AP/Paul Sancya

Thursday, October 1, 2009

SEPTEMBER 30, 2009 -- DETROIT 7, MINNESOTA 2

The Twins are now on the brink of elimination, thanks to a pitiful hitting performance off spot starter Eddie Bonine and terrible pitching by Carl Pavano. After scoring two runs off Bonine in the first on four hits, Jose Morales grounded into a double play, knocking the wind out of the Twins' sails and serving the Tigers really well. Bonine was on the ropes in the first, and had Morales delivered a hit it likely would have ended the night for the Tiger pitcher. Instead, he keeps the damage to a minimum and then watches his offense come back on Pavano and the Twins. The second inning was a classic Detroit hit parade, as Pavano gave up two singles and a walk before back breaking hits by Brandon Inge and Ramon Santiago gave the Tigers a 4-2 lead. The real nail in the coffin came in the fifth, when Magglio Ordonez cleared the gap with a double that extended the lead to 7-2 and effectively put the Twins away. For all the "good" that Pavano has given the Twins -- just listen to Bremer and Blyleven laud Pavano as if he were the second coming of Johan Santana -- he's been supremely average with the Twins, going 4-4 with a 4.50 ERA. Granted, when you have yuksters like Francisco Liriano and Glen Perkins in the rotation before Pavano came over to the Twins, you'll sure as heck take those middling numbers. But when it counted, Pavano failed miserably, and if that was his last start as a Twin, "au revoir."

The Twins' backs are officially against the wall, as they sit three games back with four to play. Thursday's game is an absolute must-win, and in all reality they need to win out while the Tigers need to win no more than one more game. In other words, the Twins have a 4% chance of winning the division, according to the ESPN number crunchers. But at the very least, their win on Tuesday clinches a winning season for the Twins, which was something that looked bleak a few weeks ago. After the season I plan on doing a season summary of the Twins and I'll express more there, but what I think is the real tragedy here is that the last two weeks are going to make the previous five and a half months seem insignificant. People are going to remember the 11-2 run and, because of that, consider the season a success, yet another example of the Twins "always being there at the end." It's that sort of thinking that needs to be re-educated, as I think the Twin Cities are the only market in the country that accepts this sort of second-place mediocrity. More to follow next week.
Photos: AP/Paul Sancya

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

SEPTEMBER 29, 2009 -- MINNESOTA 3-5, DETROIT 2-6

The Twins and Tigers split the twinbill that was prompted by Monday's rain showers, and unfortunately the Twins open play on Wednesday in exactly the same position that they did on Tuesday. Frankly the Twins were lucky to get a split, as they nearly lost the first game all by themselves (namely Mr. Nick Punto). It's ironic that the play from guys like Tolbert and Punto have not been May-esque, i.e. they haven't been losing games consistently like they've done most of the season (or their careers for that matter). What's worse is that this two week stretch of decent play from these guys has made Ron Gardenhire believe that they can be trusted in huge situations. When the season's on the line, Nick Punto will show his true colors, and that wasn't more evident in the ninth inning of the first game, when his suicide squeeze turned out to be one of the most pathetic "ploys" by a "contending" team I've ever seen. It failed miserably for Gardy and company, and if not for a great catch by Denard Span in the bottom of the ninth, the Twins wouldn't have had the opportunity to win it in extra frames.

And then the nightcap, where Brian Duensing reverted back to his Douchebag status, at least for 4 and 2/3 innings, when he graciously put the team in a 5-0 hole. The Twins clawed back, getting back to 5-4 against Tigers ace Justin Verlander, but still could not afford the big hit in the big situation. Jim Leyland, to his credit, kept his ace pitcher in for the pressure situations. For the second time this month, he let Verlander pitch into the eighth inning against the Twins when his pitch count was over 120, something that Ron Gardenhire would probably have a heart attack just thinking about. Verlander got the strikeouts in the clutch situations, and certainly deserved to win. The game was still within reach, however, until Matty Guerrier came in to "hold the fort" down in the eighth, and he gave up that oh-so-important insurance run compliments of a Curtis Granderson home run. Sure enough, the Twins rally to get one run in the top of the ninth (ironically, on a fly ball Granderson misplayed for a double). Guerrier hasn't pitched much of late and the least he can do is get three guys out to protect a one-run deficit. But we all know that Guerrier late in the season loves to suck, so this was a fitting performance from a terrible reliever.

I'm not willing to forget that ninth inning quickly, either, when Ron Gardenhire, in his infinite wisdom, allowed Tolbert and Punto to hit for themselves against Tiger closer Fernando Rodney. Punto was up there and his fly ball to Granderson was nothing more than a medium-deep drive to center that Granderson misplayed. In other words, Gardenhire was willing to end the game with Nick Punto at the plate. Yeah, both players have been playing better and they're no longer flirting with the Mendoza Line. But the fact remains is that both players are still pathetic excuses for a major league baseball player. Tolbert's hitting a paltry .223, and Punto's .232 average is certainly peckish. You've got guys on the bench that, while they're not all that great (Buscher and Harris come to mind immediately), they're not in the league of futility that those to "ballplayers" belong in. But if you ask Ron Gardenhire, I guarantee he'll tell you that a major reason the Twins have gotten back in the race is because of Punto and Tolbert hitting "like they're capable of." This is who we're dealing with, people. A man who has faith in Nick Punto.

The Twins get to face the Tigers' version of Douchebag (or would it be Manship?) in Eddie Bonine tonight, but let's not forget that Bonine took a no-hitter into the sixth inning in his last start against the White Sox before finally giving up a few runs. Carl Pavano's been great against the Tigers this year, and expect Dick Bremer to mention that about fifteen times before 6:30. For all intents and purposes, the Twins need to win the last two games to have a realistic shot at the division. Something tells me that this has all been one big tease.
Photos: (1) AP/Paul Sancya; (2,3) AP/Duane Burleson

Monday, September 28, 2009

SEPTEMBER 27, 2009 -- KANSAS CITY 4, MINNESOTA 1

The Twins revert back to their old ways, i.e. they go an incredible 1 for 14 with runners in scoring position against Zach Greinke and the Royals. What's funny is that the Twins were handling Greinke as good as any team has been, but when it came down to getting the clutch hit at the right time, the Twins were out to lunch. It sure didn't help that Francisco Liriano's "start" didn't go over too swimmingly, as he didn't even last two innings after giving up a three-run home run to arguably the worst player this side of Nick Punto, Yuniesky Betancourt. The Twins failing in the clutch is nothing new, of course, but what is notable is that the guys who really choked were the big boys -- Mauer and Kubel, to be precise, who both struck out in the third inning with the bases loaded. The Twins had a bevy of chances, and though Greinke is a superb pitcher and was able to work out of most of the jams, the Twins must take responsibility of losing what turned out to be a winnable game. It hurts even more when you see that the Tigers lost their game in Chicago; with both teams losing, the gap between the Twins and Tigers is still two games.

The Twins now travel to Detroit for the "Showdown in Motown," or whatever overhyped moniker they choose to attach to the series. If the Tigers win the series, they win the division, and in all reality the Twins need to take three out of four to make it interesting. A split would mean that the Twins would have to basically hope for a miracle to win the division. The way the pitching matchups line up, it would appear that the Twins would catch a break or two; Eddie Bonine and Nate Robertson are both slated to start games in the series, and they're not exactly intimidating hurlers to face. To give the Twins credit, they have made this series relevant, which is noteworthy when you consider that on Labor Day the Twins were seven games behind the Tigers. But the season still cannot be anything but a huge disappointment if the team doesn't finish in first place. For most teams, of course, the World Series is the ultimate goal, but in Twins Territory, winning the Central Division appears to be the holy grail, which would help to explain the Twins' pathetic showings in the playoffs in this decade (nothing left to play for, since the "goal" has been achieved). Here's to the Twins making it interesting in the Motor City.
Photos: AP/Ed Zurga

Sunday, September 27, 2009

SEPTEMBER 26, 2009 -- MINNESOTA 11, KANSAS CITY 6

The Twins continue their hot streak, as Denard Span carries the team to its eleventh win in its last twelve games. There really needs to be more extolling of Span's value to this team, as I think he should be considered as valuable to the Twins' success than Mauer or Morneau is or was. From the leadoff spot, Span goes 4 for 5 with six RBIs, doing more than just setting the table for the Twins offense. He's putting dinner on the table and doing the dishes too -- in other words, he was like a 19th-century housewife on Saturday. Span was one of the major reasons that the Twins were as close as they were last season, doing everything that Carlos Gomez could do and a whole lot more. He's now got the eighth-best batting average in the AL and he's on the leaderboard with his stellar .393 on-base percentage. Quite simply, the Twins wouldn't even be close without Span, especially considering the cavity that the 2 hole has been all season long.

Scott Baker struggled early, giving up two home runs to the Royals in the second inning, but then settled down and pitched into the seventh inning, notching his fourteenth win on the season. The key play in the entire game was in the top of the fourth inning, when the Royals' patheticness shone through, when their version of Orlando Cabrerror, Yuniesky Betancourt, committed an error that directly led to four runs scoring. Instead of getting out of the inning ahead 2-1, Lenny DiNardo and the Royals were down 5-2, the big hit coming on Span's bases-clearing triple. Again the opponent's futility opens the door for the Twins to take advantage. The thing is, nowadays the Twins are capitalizing on those mistakes, whereas just a few weeks ago they would have let them slip through their fingers. The Twins are actually fun to watch right now, and they'll give Zach Greinke a run for his money this afternoon. The way the Twins' bats are swinging right now, they might be able to hit Bob Gibson. Francisco Liriano doesn't strike any fear in anybody right now, however, and the Royals will be glad to see him.
Photos: AP/Ed Zurga

Saturday, September 26, 2009

SEPTEMBER 25, 2009 -- MINNESOTA 9, KANSAS CITY 4

You know you're going good when you score four runs in an inning and get exactly one hit in that inning. That was precisely the case Friday night against the lowly Royals, and it led to the relatively easy 9-4 win against Kansas City. Orlando Cabrera had the lone hit of that fifth inning -- a single to right field -- and then the Twins took three consecutive walks with the bases loaded, just a sampling of the five free passes the Royals surrendered in that inning alone, and eight walks altogether on the evening. Considering that the Twins were facing that kind of talent, you damn well better win the ballgame, and with the Tigers losing to the hands of Jake Peavy and the White Sox, the gap is narrowed again to two games. Michael Cuddyer hit his thirtieth home run of the season (who woulda thunk it?) and Seldom Young added an inconsequential dinger in the ninth (who really woulda thunk that?) to help propel the offense, and Carl Pavano won his fourth game as a Twin, going six innings that would have been great had it not been for two Billy Butler home runs. It really doesn't matter how the Twins do it at this point in the season -- as long as there are wins, the improbable comeback can live for another day.

Saturday's game has a whole lot of importance attached to it, what with the fact that Zach Greinke, who has arguably been pitching better in the last month than he was in April and May (and that's really saying something), is pitching on Sunday afternoon. As long as the Twins don't completely lose it before they get to Detroit on Monday, they'll have a chance, and that's better than what they could have said just two weeks ago. Scott Baker has cooled off considerably since his 10-1 stretch that he compiled from June through August, and he's actually pitched pretty poorly as of late. He's the only Twins pitcher to lose a game since the 12th of September, and that was the finale of the Tiger series that may end up being the costliest loss of the year. Sure, his mound opponent is the retread Lenny DiNardo, the owner of some pretty ugly 2009 numbers and some pretty humdrum career marks, but the big key in Saturday's game is Baker. If the Twins lose, it's because Baker again lost all that mound presence that we all know he can show, and starts nitpicking with his pitches. Let's hope Baker hasn't lingered on Sunday's pathetic start and he can put up some zeroes for the Twins tonight.
Photos: (1) AP/Charlie Riedel; (2) AP/Paul Battaglia

Thursday, September 24, 2009

SEPTEMBER 23, 2009 -- MINNESOTA 8, CHICAGO 6

The Twins have their hitting shoes on again in Chicago, this time sending Mark Buehrle to the showers early and fending off a late rally by the White Sox to sweep their first series on the South Side since 2006. Admittedly, it looks as if the White Sox have thrown in the towel on the season, as they didn't really appear to try a whole lot in the three games, but for the Twins, it was three games they absolutely needed to win and they came through. The Tigers pummelled the equally-half-assed-effort Cleveland Indians on Wednesday and reduced their magic number to nine, but the Twins' sweep precluded any further reduction on that number. Detroit will finish their series in Cleveland on Thursday while the Twins travel to Kansas City, where they ideally need three more wins against the suddenly hot Royals, but in reality, two wins are going to be tough to get, as Zach Greinke will finally make a start against the Twins in his Cy Young-deserving season on Sunday. As it looks now, the Twins are probably going to have to sweep the four-game series in Detroit to win the division, or at the very least take three of four and hope the White Sox play spoiler in their two remaining series against the Tigers.

Brian Duensing again pitched good enough to get the win, his fifth victory against zero defeats since he was put into the starting rotation. Disappointingly, Ron Gardenhire is still aware of Bobby Keppel's existence and it was Keppel who was called upon to put out the fire in the sixth and seventh innings with the Twins hanging on to a one-run lead. In a pennant race, those kind of moves are going to backfire on you big time; the Twins lucked out on Wednesday, as the two runs Keppel did surrender occured after the Twins had extended their lead to 8-4. Just as likely of a scenario is one in which Keppel reprises his performance in the infamous Oakland Disaster of mid-July (wouldn't you like that win back right about now?). Fortunately for the Twins, the offense was in full swing, as Nick Punto again surmounted the .230 mark with a 2 for 4 day at the plate, and even Seldom Young got three hits. Joe Mauer and Jason Kubel went a combined 1 for 7, and the Twins still managed thirteen hits -- that's a sign of an offense that's clicking. Earlier in the season the Twins could have gotten 8 hits out of their 3 and 4 hitters and still lose because guys like Nick Punto and Matt Tolbert batted like, well, themselves. If the Twins want to really make it interesting, those guys are going to have to continue to play at superhuman levels.
Photos: AP/Charles Rex Arbogast

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

SEPTEMBER 22, 2009 -- MINNESOTA 8, CHICAGO 6

The Twins outslug the White Sox on Tuesday, using four home runs to beat up on Jon Danks and the Pale Hose. Pitching wasn't great on either side of the diamond, as the Twins' Jeff Manship continued to confuse Twins fans as to why this guy is even in the big leagues to begin with, much less starting critical games down the stretch in a pennant race. Francisco Liriano couldn't pick up the trash, either, and it turned out that Jesse Crain, quickly becoming the vulture of the bullpen, actually got the win. The Twins spread out their offense again, using another good game from Michael Cuddyer, who seems to be either going 3 for 4 with a home run and multiple ribbies or he goes 0 for 4 with seven men left on base. Orlando Cabrera got the scoring started early with a two-run homer in the first, and even guys like Matt Tolbert got into the action by hitting a home run in the sixth inning. That's two career home runs for Tolbert, and they've both come at U.S. Cellular Field -- talk about a strange coincidence.

The Tigers won in Cleveland, however, dropping their magic number to ten games. Though the Twins certainly still have a shot at the division crown, it appears that this run of good baseball -- clearly the best they've played for any two weeks this entire season -- is a tragic case of too little, too late. Can you imagine where the Twins would be if Cuddyer could have played with the Superman cape on all season? Where would the Twins be if Nick Punto had merely flirted with .230 all season long instead of having to make a strong case for the worst all-around player in big league history? Or how about if the bullpen had even remotely shown the fans a smidgen of what they've seen lately -- namely, little of Bobby Keppel and R.A. Dickey, and a lot of Joe Nathan and Jose Mijares and a solid Matt Guerrier? A Seldom Young that didn't go 0 for 4 with three strikeouts on a daily basis, but one that can chip in a hit or two here or there? When you play a 162-game schedule, consistency is the name of the game in order to get into the playoffs, and frankly the Twins just haven't deserved to get into the playoffs based on their lack of consistency. But, for whatever it's worth, they are making the final few weeks of the season meaningful, and I know I'm not the only one that is glad that the Twins are making a late-season push for the playoffs. The major sports networks like ESPN are pleased as punch that the Twins are making it at least mildly interesting, because the rest of the league is mired in playoff-fever-immunity. So much for that "competitive balance," Mr. Selig, as it seems like the big spenders are getting their way this season, at the expense of the fans and any sort of September excitement.
Photos: AP/Charles Rex Arbogast

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

SEPTEMBER 21, 2009 -- MINNESOTA 7, CHICAGO 0

The Twins take care of business on the South Side of Chicago, beating rookie Daniel Hudson in his first major league start 7-0. Nick Blackburn notched his third win of the second half of the season by pitching shutout ball for seven innings. The Twins spread out the offense, letting guys like Nick Punto go 2 for 2 and Orlando Cabrera 2 for 4, while their bigger stars like Joe Mauer and Jason Kubel were happy to take a lesser role in the victory. The win came with a cost, however, as Denard Span had to leave the game due to getting plunked in the head by reliever Randy Williams in the sixth inning. Just what the Twins need right about now -- they're already playing shorthanded due to the injuries to Justin Morneau and Joe Crede. If Span is forced out of the lineup for an extended period, that might prove to be more costly than the other injuries. Span's value is supremely underrated, especially considering that the second spot in the batting order has been a foreboding abyss for most of this season. Much of the production that the middle of the lineup had was made possible by Span's great season. With him out of the lineup, who bats leadoff for you? Carlos Gomez? Matt Tolbert? I don't even want to know.

With the Tigers idle, the Twins creep to two and a half games behind Detroit with a dozen games left. The Tigers' magic number remains at eleven, and they play in Cleveland for three games starting Tuesday. Monday's win was critical for the Twins, as they needed to take advantage of the obvious pitching mismatch that pitted Blackburn against a wet-behind-the-ears rookie in Hudson. Now they have to deal with Jon Danks and Mark Buehrle, two tough southpaws that the Twins have classically struggled against, and the Twins have to counter with Jeff Manship (really -- he's your best option to win?) and Brian Duensing. A sweep would be sweet, of course, but in reality a split of the last two games is all the Twins could hope for. They'll finally have to face Zach Greinke when they play Kansas City this weekend, and they need to maintain some amount of the momentum they've had when they go into Detroit next week.

On a side note, I see that the Twins and the Vikings face a potential scheduling snafu should the Twins tie the Tigers and force a one-game playoff. The Vikes play host to the Packers on Monday Night Football on the fifth of October, the Monday following the end of the regular season. The NFL won't accomodate a scheduling change in order to appease MLB, and it appears that the situation might be dire. But it confuses the hell out of me, because last season the Twins and White Sox played their one-game playoff on a Tuesday. I do remember that the Sox had to make up a game with Detroit the day before, but with the rest of the playoffs starting on Wednesday anyways, it doesn't seem like that much of a hassle to play the playoff game (if there even is one) on Tuesday. Whatever -- I just needed to say that.

Monday, September 21, 2009

SEPTEMBER 20, 2009 -- DETROIT 6, MINNESOTA 2


A huge win for the Detroit Tigers, and a hugely deflating loss for the Twins. Scott Baker fails miserably to take the Twins to the next level (that sounds familiar), and in a two-game swing, the Tigers come out of Minnesota with a lead just one game less than when they came in. And if not for the Don Kelly-meets-the-Metrodome-roof incident on Saturday, the Tigers could have easily won the series. As it stands, the Tigers win a game that division champions win, taking the momentum right from the Twins' hands and sending a clear message: this little "comeback" of yours isn't going to come easy. In a devilish twist of fate, the only game the Tigers win in the series is compliments of spot starter Nate Robertson, and the Twins revert back to their old ways by sucking up the stadium with runners in scoring position. The only hit the Twins got with a guy in scoring position was little Nicky Punto, who raised his average to .227 with his run-scoring hit in the fourth inning. But it was all for naught, as Baker would fail to survive the fifth inning, and the Tigers' bullpen sealed the deal on a potentially fatal loss for the Twins.

The Twins now embark on a 10-game road trip, one in which the Twins need to at least go 7-3 if they want a shot at Detroit. With thirteen games left and three games back, the Twins are running out of time. If the Tigers were to go 7-6 in the last thirteen, the Twins would need to go 10-3 just to tie them. But if 2008 taught us anything, it's that Central Division teams don't like to win a whole lot down the stretch, so expect the Twins to go 5-8 and the Tigers to go 3-10. Nick Blackburn pitches for the Twins tonight.
Photo: AP/Paul Battaglia

Sunday, September 20, 2009

SEPTEMBER 19, 2009 -- MINNESOTA 6, DETROIT 2

The Twins are really going to be sorry that they are moving outdoors next year. Because they don't know how good they've got it at the Metrodome. Case in point Saturday afternoon, when a routine fly ball gets lost in the roof and pretty much wins the game for the Twins. If Orlando Cabrera's pop-up is hit in any other ballpark in the world, that's an easy out for outfielder Don Kelly, which makes it two out and a man on first in the bottom of the eighth inning. Instead, men were on second and third, and the entire dynamic of the inning shifted. Jason Kubel singled after the Tigers walked Joe Mauer intentionally, and the Twins led 3-2. That spelled the end of the day for Justin Verlander (who was certainly not showing signs of fatigue, pumping his 129th pitch of the day at about 98 miles an hour), and Michael Cuddyer chipped in sloppy seconds-style, crushing a three-run homer off Brandon Lyon for the insurance runs. Yeah, it's a win, but just about as cheesy as they get. It was kind of disappointing -- you just don't really know if the best team won on Saturday. I will say that I was surprised to see a rookie infielder-outfielder be put in the outfield for defensive purposes, someone (Kelly) who only had a few games of major league experience and little experience fielding flies at the Dome. Reminiscent of Ron Gardenhire's classic move of putting Jason Pridie in for defense in Toronto in his major league debut last season (a move that resulted in the Twins losing a winnable game because of Pridie, and by extension they lost the division because of that stroke of genius), Jim Leyland's ill-fated move may come back to haunt him big-time.

It was a great game to see as one's final trip to the Dome to see a Twins game. A classic pitchers duel between Carl Pavano and Verlander was clearly won by Verlander, as Pavano was wiggling out of trouble all game long. Pavano gave up a bundle of hits in his seven innings -- eleven to be exact -- but got the big outs when he needed them. Verlander was nothing short of dominant, and for his line to be what it ended up -- 7 and 1/3 innings, five earned runs -- is really a shame, because the Dome-double changed everything, and Lyon gave up two of those runs on the Cuddyer home run. It's clear that the Twins have the Tigers' number under the Teflon sky, and they'll go as far as exposing the weaknesses of the worst stadium in human history in order to solidify that dominance. But the Twins are the closest to first they've been in a long time, and more importantly they're four games above .500 (a season high) and have won six straight. They're getting hot at the right time, but unfortunately we still can't gauge whether they have the legs to stretch this hot streak for the remainder of the season. The Twins have had this disturbing pattern of playing really well for one week, and then playing like regurgitated Alpo the next. It was just one week ago that the Twins had just lost three straight to the likes of Brett Cecil and the Blue Jays and the last-place Oakland A's. The ten-game road trip will ultimately define the season, and even with a win today against the Tigers, the Twins don't have anything sealed up. Scott Baker pitches for the Twins today.
Photos: AP/Ann Heisenfelt

Saturday, September 19, 2009

SEPTEMBER 18, 2009 -- MINNESOTA 3, DETROIT 0

Brian Duensing gets to retain his "maiden" last name at least for one more start, as he tosses shutout ball into the seventh inning, leading the Twins to a breezy 3-0 win against the suddenly reeling Tigers. Michael Cuddyer continued his run of brilliance -- easily it's the best he's ever hit the ball in the big leagues -- with a two-run home run off Rick Porcello in the fourth inning that turned out to be the only runs necessary for Duensing and the Twins. The lead has been cut to three games over Detroit, and it's quite evident that all the pressure is on the Tigers at this point in the season. Maybe the injuries to Justin Morneau and Joe Crede inadvertently helped the Twins, as the critics (myself included) pointed to those injuries as the last straw for the Twins to come back. But considering the number the Twins have on Detroit at home, I would frankly be surprised if the Twins don't sweep this weekend. The big test for the Twins is going to be the ten-game road trip following this weekend's series. All season long the Twins have been a different team on the road, and with their track record being what it is in Chicago and with the Royals being perennial September headaches for contending teams, the Twins might be in a world of trouble even before they head to Detroit for a pivotal four-game series at Comerica. Whatever the case is, the Twins need to focus on this weekend's games first, and take care of business in their own ballpark before they head out to Chicago.


Ron Gardenhire showed a stroke of sanity by proclaiming that Jose Morales is going to be playing more regularly as a designated hitter due to his hot bat. Morales is 9 for 20 since being recalled for like the fourth time this season, which has only increased his batting average more, to a lofty .368. This kind of move (one that involves logic and common sense) is nothing short of baffling when you realize who's making the move -- King of Illogicism himself, Mr. Ron Gardenhire. Though he's sure making up for his good decision to play Morales more by doing things like put Matt Tolbert in the everyday lineup again. Look, Brendan Harris isn't going to win a Gold Glove or a batting title any time soon, but jeez, Gardy. Matt Tolbert is a horrendous excuse for a ballplayer. He's like a weak punchline to an already bad comedic set-up; in other words, he's the baseball equivalent of Rush Hour 2. But Gardenhire is literally in love with Tolbert, like touchy-feely in love, apparently, because there's no reason for that sad-sack to be playing in any baseball game anywhere. If the Twins lose the division, a big reason is probably going to be Matt Tolbert. Count on that.


Justin Verlander is a Cy Young candidate again, but the Twins have seemed to always handle him, and he goes today against Carl Pavano. I'll have to pleasure of attending today's game, as it will be the last time (most likely) that I'll be able to catch a baseball game at the Dome. I can't wait!

Photos: (1) AP/Paul Battaglia; (2) http://girllovesbaseball.blogspot.com

Thursday, September 17, 2009

SEPTEMBER 16, 2009 -- MINNESOTA 7, CLEVELAND 3

The Twins take care of business against the apparently-not-even-trying-at-this-point Cleveland Indians, who don't even put up much of a fight against the Twins on Wednesday. Michael Cuddyer continued his hot run in non-pressure at-bats, going 3 for 4, with most of those hits coming with the Twins already up by four runs. Even though I like to bash on Cuddyer, he has been hitting well of late, and especially with Justin Morneau and Joe Crede out for the year (most likely), they desperately need someone to step up. The biggest casualty of the Morneau injury, it would seem, would have to be Joe Mauer, as the pitches he sees aren't going to be as good with Cuddyer protecting him as they would be with Morneau hitting behind him. That simply hasn't been the case, as Mauer has raised his batting average an astounding ten points in five games, to the cool altitude of .374. Hitting .400 seems out of reach at this point in the season, but the fact remains that this guy is simply incredible. If only the Twins could put an entire team around him.

Nick Blackburn won just his second start since Ron Gardenhire's stupendous plan of resting a sinkerball pitcher for ten days straddling the All-Star break. He's not even close to the same pitcher that he was in June for the Twins, when he was the clear-cut ace of the staff, and he's even not as good as he was last year, when he started the one-game playoff for the Twins. Blackburn's been wildly inconsistent this season and of course he's going to be a big part of the Twins' final few weeks here in 2009. With the Tigers taking care of the Royals at home on Wednesday, the Twins' gap from first place is still four and a half games, and the Tigers play on Thursday while the Twins are idle. The Twins won't be able to completely catch Detroit this weekend, but consider the three-game series against the Tigers to be make-or-break for the Twins. Following the series the Twins head on the road for a 10-game road-trip that will likely officially end any hope of postseason play, but if the Twins can sweep the Tigers this weekend, they will have a chance. The problem is, the Tigers will be sending two of their top three studs to the hill this weekend, with Rick Porcello and Justin Verlander (and Jarrod Washburn, traditionally a Twin killer). If Brian Duensing wants to remain a Duensing on this site, he'll have to pitch his heart out on Friday; if not, I fear the dreaded Douchebag moniker may have to return to the MTRC.

Photos: (1) AP/Ann Heisenfelt; (2) AP & The Canadian Press/Frank Gunn