Sunday, May 31, 2009

MAY 30, 2009 -- TAMPA BAY 5, MINNESOTA 2

The Twins are unable to get anything off of Tampa Bay starter David Price, who struck out eleven batters in 5 2/3 innings on Saturday, and Francisco Liriano gave the Twins yet another subpar start, lasting only four innings and giving up four runs. The big inning for the Rays was the third, when Tampa batted around and scored four runs off Liriano. This followed Twins-on-the-road protocol, which states that once the team has a lead on the road, their pitchers must give that lead back immediately and usually take the team out of the game while they're at it. Liriano cruised through the first two innings, and then the third inning saw him throw 47 pitches and give up the four runs.

Fox analyst Eric Karros was partly blaming the defense for some of the runs scoring, and it's not like Liriano was hit very hard in the inning; a lot of seeing-eye hits and ground-ball bleeders led to the four runs. But Liriano did a few things that are unacceptable: 1) he gave up a home run to a guy named Joe Dillon -- you don't give up hits to this slug, much less home runs; 2) he walked two batters to prolong the inning and 3) most importantly, he struggled with command and looked lost on the mound. He hasn't shown a whole lot of mound presence in his last few starts, and especially when he gives up a run, Liriano seems to lose confidence quickly and he spirals into a huge inning. I for one don't see the defense as the reason for the four runs; even Nick Punto and his "better range" than Brendan Harris wouldn't have been able to stop the bleeding.

The Twins were basically non-existent at the plate against Price, who looked overpowering in his first major league win. They did, however, squander two runs while Price was on the mound, one of which was courtesy of third base coach/idiot Scott Ullger. Price had walked Joe Crede in the second inning and pitched to Carlos Gomez, who (not surprisingly) swung pathetically and tapped back to the pitcher. Price then threw wildly to first base, overthrowing everybody. Crede made it to third, rounded the bag, and then Ullger held him up. The replays confirmed that Crede would have likely made it home on the play, but Ullger held him up while he was positioned near home plate. Karros was correct in criticizing Ullger on the play, as you need to 1) force the issue, 2) realize that Price is throwing almost-unhittable stuff and you aren't going to get many opportunites to score against him and 3) most obviously, you need to know who is on deck. Alexi Casilla was on-deck, and Ullger apparently forgot about that in his over-conservative basecoaching, or he was showing a perverted sense of confidence in the beleaguered infielder. Casilla, obviously, failed to get the run home, and the Twins, thanks to their base coach, were stripped of a run. Come on, Ullger -- it was going to be an easy play to end the inning, and now you have a good chance of getting a cheap run across the plate. Everyone in the building knows that Casilla is a minor-league player; force the freaking issue.

Michael Cuddyer also failed to get a run across in the third inning. With Joe Mauer at third base and one out (with one run already in), Cuddyer struck out on a pitch way out of the strike zone. As I said after Cuddyer's cycle last Friday, the guy loves to fail in clutch situations. All he's done since the cycle is hit two solo home runs in losing efforts. Cuddyer's a lot like the erstwhile Torii Hunter in that they love to pad stats in blowouts and they wilt at the knees in clutch situations. I don't think Hunter had one hit in the clutch in his entire career with the Twins, and I'm struggling to think of a big hit that Cuddyer has had. He was the beneficiary of hitting between Mauer and Morneau in 2006 and he put up some good numbers that year; he's parlayed his one good year in the majors into a large contract, and the Twins are paying for it now. For most of the season Cuddyer has looked old, frankly, and his serviceability for the Twins is really limited. But, like Nick Punto, Cuddyer's contract isn't going to be easily moved, and the Twins are essentially stuck with him.

Randy Choate came in to shut the door again on Saturday, recording his second major league save the day after his first. Ex-Twins great Grant Balfour had provided a more-than-adequate bridge between Price and Choate. Boy, wouldn't the Twins love to have Balfour right about now. Just another example of the Twins being overrated in their talent-appraisal department; they let guys like Grant Balfour and Casey Blake and Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett go and they keep guys like Nick Punto and Matt Tolbert and Alexi Casilla. Tolbert, by the way, lost his second-base job to Casilla, and Brendan Harris will play short until Nick Punto is healthy, which hopefully is never. It's the second time this year that the Twins have replaced someone at the major-league level with a minor-league callup, which is simply ridiculous. Casilla and Tolbert were in the minor-leagues for a reason -- they suck, and in both cases, they were called up from Rochester and inserted into the everyday lineup. For how bad Tolbert is, I think Casilla might actually be worse, but his bloated 2008 numbers mean that he'll get the benefit of the doubt. Just like the Twins are still banking on Punto to replicate his 2006 numbers, the Twins will probably give Casilla three years of sucking until he finally proves to the team that 2008 was a fluke.

Nick Blackburn, suddenly the staff ace (which doesn't strike fear in anyone), goes today to prevent another road sweep. Matt Garza opposes Blackburn, marking the first time that Garza will pitch against his former team. Garza's been a lot better than his 4-3 record would indicate, and we all know that it is protocol for ex-Twins to kill their former team at least once (Corky Miller) if not repeatedly (Casey Blake). Bank on a Rays sweep.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

MAY 29, 2009 -- TAMPA BAY 5, MINNESOTA 3

The Twins go on the road for a short three-game trip to Tampa Bay and follow their early-season routine of playing terrible baseball away from the friendly confines of the Metrodome. Again they pick a team off the mat; Tampa Bay was reeling from five-straight losses (including some heartbreakers in Cleveland, a city where they haven't won in four years) and is going through a rash of injuries. The perfect team for the Rays to play are the Twins at home right about now. So far this year the Twins have been Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; pretty tough to beat at home, and pathetically abyssmal on the road.

Scott Baker, following a familiar script that he's adhered to most of this season, started strong and faltered late. The sixth inning was the fatal inning for Baker this time around, as he gave up a three-run home run to Evan Longoria three batters into the inning; this was after Michael Cuddyer had tied the game with a long home run in the top half of the inning. One of the runs was unearned due to a Joe Crede error, which certainly loomed large after the Twins came back in the eighth with two runs to cut the margin to 4-3. Baker, who had retired seven in a row going into the sixth inning, was unable to finish the inning, yet another example of the right-hander hitting the wall with a "splat."

In that eighth inning, Justin Morneau doubled to bring home Joe Mauer, who had tripled, and Morneau scored following a Longoria error. The Twins had a chance to tie the game with Cuddyer on second and one out, but both Crede and Brendan Harris struck out. The bullpen did its job in the bottom of the eighth by giving up that critical insurance run; it took a couple of pitchers to do it, but the Crain-Mijares-Guerrier triumvirate came through to effectively seal the victory for the Rays. The fifth run was driven in by a guy named Willy Aybar -- it never fails to amaze me the players that the Twins choose to let beat them.

The Twins did have a mild threat in the ninth, but it is important to note that the Twins let Matt Tolbert lead the inning off -- as if Tolbert's numbers (.194 average, .535 OPS -- Puntoesque patheticness, which is a term I'm officially coining) dictate he'll actually get on base. Brian Buscher walked when he pinch hit for Carlos Gomez -- probably the only time in big-league history that a guy hitting .183 (Buscher) pinch hit for a guy hitting .217 (Gomez) and that was the correct move. I know that you're bench sucks, Gardenhire, and you know I don't care for Seldom Young, but why not go for it? Wouldn't you use your best players? Young's terrible, but he's better than Buscher, Tolbert, and Gomez. On a side note, Joe Mauer ended the game by striking out against ex-Yankee great Randy Choate, who I assumed was long out of baseball if not dead. Randy Choate -- such an obscure reference, and a perfect guy to shut the door on the Twins and record his first major-league save.

The Twins made me giddy for two seconds when I saw that they placed Nick Punto on the 15-day disabled list after the game with that lingering groin problem that's kept him gleefully out of the lineup for the last few days. Then, of course, I saw that the Twins were replacing Punto by calling up Alexi Casilla, who interestingly might be worse than Punto. The Twins are an amazing organization -- constantly bringing up horrible Punch-and-Judy slap hitters from the minors to replace horrible Punch-and-Judy slap hitters in the majors. Amazing.

Friday, May 29, 2009

MAY 28, 2009 -- BOSTON 3, MINNESOTA 1

The Twins can't take three out of four against the Red Sox, struggling to get anything off of Boston ace Josh Beckett, and losing 3-1. The lone Twins run came on a Joe Crede bomb to left field, but other than that the Twins rarely threatened against Beckett and the bullpen. The seventh inning was certainly an eventful frame, as both teams saw their catcher and manager being tossed in that inning. It really hurt the Twins, as they were forced to use Joe Mauer behind the plate and lose the designated hitter for the remainder of the game. This probably will now make Ron Gardenhire wary of using both Mike Redmond and Joe Mauer in the same game, and he'll probably resort to just resting Mauer and not using him as a DH. It may also prompt Gardenhire to call up Jose Morales as a third catcher, which I would welcome. What value does Luis Ayala have on this team? Zero, and his days on the roster should be coming to a close, which could make room for a third catcher. In all reality, Redmond has no serviceable talent available anymore, but he's a "clubhouse guy" and "gritty," as Gardenhire would say, and he has a sick aversion of keeping talent-deficient "character" guys on his team (Punto, Tolbert, Redmond, et al).

Anthony Swarzak pitched good enough to win the ballgame for the Twins, pitching into the seventh inning and allowing only three runs. Now I know that young pitchers have a tendancy to do well in their first few starts, before teams have a good knowledge of how the pitcher approaches at-bats and what stuff he has. It's not wise to assume that Swarzak is going to be lights-out all season long. But it is refreshing to see a pitcher on the mound who is confident in his pitches. Swarzak is a pitcher's pitcher, a pitcher and not merely a thrower, who has appeared to be wise beyond his years in his first two starts. Conversely, Glen Perkins looked like a deer in the headlights in his last four or so starts, Francisco Liriano seems to have zero confidence in his ability right now, and Scott Baker doesn't exactly own the mound at this point either. Swarzak's poise is really his number one asset, and I don't think you can remove him from his starting spot until he appears to lose that poise. I reiterate that I believe the best situation for the team is for Liriano to move to the bullpen -- and don't think of it as a demotion to the bullpen, but rather perceive it as having both the team and the pitcher's best interest in mind when making the move. Liriano has devastating stuff when he's on, but he seems to lose that edge rather quickly in his starts. Bottle that lights-out stuff and expose it for an inning or two at a time; it can help the team drastically, because we all know that the middle-relief is the Achilles heel of the franchise. Joe Nathan isn't going to be around forever, either, and Liriano potentially has closer material. Moving Liriano to the 'pen makes logical sense, which probably means that the Twins will never do it.

Here's a Nick Punto update for all you fans. Punto sat out on Thursday due to a sore groin, and passionate Twins fans can only hope that that groin problem does not improve. He's hitting a feeble .187 with an OPS of an almost-unimaginable .501. Punto is about ten plate appearances from qualifying for batting average statistics, but just to put that in perspective -- the next lowest OPS in the American League is .544, by Tampa Bay's Dioner Navarro. The numbers don't lie -- Punto is far and away the worst offensive player in the league. His defense, the attribute normally cited as the reason he makes $4 million a season, isn't so hot either; his fielding percentage is 15th out of 22 qualifying major-league shortstops, and he's made the seventh-most errors out of any shortstop in the league so far (5). Pretty pedestrian numbers for a guy with the fifth-highest contract on the team. And if you want a really good laugh, check out the Official Nick Punto Fan Club. So funny that it almost made me throw up.

The Twins travel to Tampa Bay, who are reeling right now, losers of five straight games and decimated with injuries. Scott Baker pitches tonight for the Twins against James Shields, a pitcher whom the Twins have had good success against.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

MAY 27, 2009 -- MINNESOTA 4, BOSTON 2

Another victory for the Twins against the BoSox on Wednesday, as they beat the erratic Daisuke Matsuzaka, who threw four wild pitches in five sloppy innings. Kevin Slowey pitched good enough to get his seventh win on the season against only one defeat. His 99-pitch performance was deemed good enough for Ron Gardenhire, who lucked out with his bullpen on Wednesday. Jose Mijares pitched a clean seventh inning and started the eighth. Mijares got the first batter, and with two right-handed hitters up (and lefty David Ortiz following that), The Brain chose to keep Mijares in the game. Mijares would walk Kevin Youkilis, which prompted Gardenhire to bring in Matt Guerrier to face Jason Bay, one of the best hitters in the league. Talk about a mismatch, but Gardenhire lucked out again, as Bay grounded into a double play.

My question is, why stick with Mijares if you're going to take him out if he puts a man on base anyways? The only scenario in which Mijares would have finished the inning is if he got both right-handed batters out, or if he got Youkilis, Bay reached base, and Mijares faced Ortiz. If you're going to overmanage the game, overmanage it. Bring Guerrier in to face Youkilis and see what that gives you. It's these kind of moves that just make one scratch their heads. Suppose Guerrier gave up a hit to Bay -- now what do you do? Do you bring in lefty Sean Henn to face Ortiz? Are you prepared to use seven pitchers in an inning, Gardenhire? Moving a guy like Francisco Liriano to the bullpen would alleviate these concerns, as he could be that one or two-inning reliever that could bridge the gap from the starter to Joe Nathan, or at the very least be a consistent eighth-inning option. As long as Ron Gardenhire is committed to taking out his starters after six innings and 99 pitches, he's going to have nights like this, where his bullpen does its job. But probably more often he's going to have bullpen implosions, but apparently Ron Gardenhire is willing to let that happen thousands of times before he changes his gameplan.

Late in the ballgame, when Joe Nathan was warming up in the bullpen, the TV cameras caught a glimpse of Luis Ayala filling a role that I think is just fantastic -- ball boy. He was the guy that was "guarding" Nathan by defending possible foul balls from hitting the pitcher warming up. Talk about a really good role for Ayala -- too bad he would have to be the most expensive (and oldest, probably) ball boy in the history of the game. But it's a change that I certainly welcome. The way this guy throws the baseball makes one vomit.

Speaking of vomit, Nick Punto made up for his RBI single on Tuesday by sucking it up big time on Wednesday. He committed an error on a routine groundball in the first inning -- his fifth error of the season. As I've said before, the only way this guy has any value to a team is if he plays shortstop like Luis Aparicio. Instead, Punto's on pace for a 15-20 error season at shortstop, which is pretty pedestrian for a shortstop. The error almost led to a run for the Red Sox, as Dustin Pedroia was at third with one out. Slowey bailed out his shortstop by pitching out of that jam, but later in the game Punto made up for it at the plate. With Carlos Gomez on third (pinch-running, mind you -- it's not like he made it to third by himself) and one out, Punto was at the plate in a 4-2 ballgame. For whatever the reason, Ron Gardenhire didn't safety squeeze Gomez home -- he let Punto swing away. Of course, the guy meekly grounded out to second base, and Gomez was cut off trying to score on the play. In reality the guy that got hurt the most by Punto's patheticness was Red Sox catcher George Kattaras, who was bowled over by Gomez at the plate in a bone-rattling collision. Part of the blame has to go on Gardenhire here -- dude, do you know how bad Punto sucks at the plate? Do you watch to same game that I do? One thing that Punto can do fairly well is bunt the ball (it is, after all, the easiest thing to do in all of sports). Think of it this way -- if you're in the National League, what would you do in that situation if the pitcher was batting? Do you think you'd let him swing away?

The Twins go for the series win on Thursday afternoon, and Anthony Swarzak battles Red Sox ace Josh Beckett. Swarzak's major league debut went along swimmingly, and he'll no doubt have a tougher challenge on Thursday. Here's more good luck to the youngster; if he continues to pitch well, the Twins will be forced to make a rotation alteration. My stance remains the same -- move Liriano to the bullpen. It's not that I don't like Liriano -- I do, but I think that the move would be better for Liriano, the bullpen, and the team. Considering that, Ron Gardenhire probably won't do it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

MAY 26, 2009 -- MINNESOTA 5, BOSTON 2

Justin Morneau's three-run home run capped a five-run fifth inning that provided all the offense that the Twins needed to beat the Red Sox 5-2. Nick Blackburn struggled through seven innings but limited the damage to two runs. In a shocking turn of events, Nick Punto came through with a big hit in the fifth inning that scored the first run for the Twins. Some will say that, hey, maybe Punto's turning it around, but no no no no no. Pitchers in the National League sometimes do get hits, and it just so happened that Punto's one key hit per month was due. Remember when Jim Abbott pitched for the Brewers at the end of his career? Abbott got two hits and three RBIs when he was in the National League -- and the guy has one freaking arm. Considering Punto has two arms, he's at least good for that much. At least, in theory, he should be.

It's time to address Seldom Delmon Young's continued run of patheticness. I should have mentioned in yesterday's post that The Brain chose to let Seldom hit at the end of the game, and he ended up making the final out of a one-run ballgame. This was the same game in which Young looked pitiful against Brad Penny, being totally unable to catch up to a 93-MPH fastball. I'm sorry, but if you can't hit a major-league fastball, you've got some serious problems. Since coming off the family emergency list, Young has gone 0-for-12 with eight strikeouts, and they've pretty much all been on straight fastballs that Young hasn't came close to touching. I know the guy hadn't played in a while and he's going through the death of his mother. Obviously he's bringing this baggage to the plate, because he looks plain out of it. The manager's job, then, is to make sure that Young is in the right frame of mind to be playing baseball. We all know what he can do in the outfield (i.e., turn bloop singles into inside-the-park home runs) and lapses like this at the plate and in the field can cost your team dearly. I can't believe I'm saying this, but you might as well put Carlos Gomez in the outfield -- at least he can play defense and, though he is plenty worse than Young offensively (which is hard to do), he at least looks like he has fun sucking at the plate.

Speaking of Gomez, there has been a lot of talk recently regarding Bill Smith's two splendid trades since he has assumed the general manager post in late 2007. Gomez was the "blue chip" prospect that the Twins received from the Mets in the Johan Santana trade, and right now Omar Minaya and Met fans alike must be chortling loudly for that lopsided trade. Phil Humber was so bad that he cleared waivers, which meant that any team could have picked him up for nothing and every team passed. Deolis Guerra and Kevin Mulvey are toiling away in the minors, and they don't appear to be much of a blip on the radar screen in terms of the team's top prospects. Meanwhile, the Twins reportedly could have gotten Jon Lester or Jacoby Ellsbury (plus Jed Lowrie and/or Justin Masterson, also important cogs for the Red Sox) from Boston or Phil Hughes and Melky Cabrera from the Yankees. At this point, had the Twins traded Santana straight up for Justin Masterson, the trade would be better than what actually transpired. In the poker game that was played that winter in which Bill Smith held the biggest card in the deck, he simply got played. And it may be that the embarrassment of that trade may be forcing the Twins to keep Gomez on this roster, to show fans that they got something for Santana. The only role that Gomez has the ability to fill for the Twins right now is bat boy, and he may actually be underqualified for that.

The other trade that Smith made, of course, was the trade for Seldom Young. The "throw-in" in the trade, Brendan Harris, has more value for the Twins at this point. Oh, and Jason Bartlett is second in the league in hitting (.373) and reigning ALCS MVP Matt Garza is sixth in the league in strikeouts and has an opponents batting average of .200. Garza would be the far-and-away ace of the staff if he was on the Twins, and he's probably the best pitcher on the Rays right now. It is the failure of these two moves that will forever doom Smith, who will probably now retract into Terry Ryan mode and not do anything to improve the team via trade. He'll be scared to pull the trigger because every move that he's made thus far has badly backfired.

Kevin Slowey goes for win #7 on the year tonight, but he is facing Daisuke Matzusaka, who has the stuff that Twins hitters just wilt at the knees against. Don't worry about Matzusaka's horrid numbers this year -- he'll pitch a gem tonight.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

MAY 25, 2009 -- BOSTON 6, MINNESOTA 5

The Twins cannot continue their winning ways against the Red Sox, who have resorted to benching the slumping David Ortiz. A 6-5 loss that was very winnable, Ron Gardenhire pretty much lost the game when he turned in his batting order to the umpires before the game. It's pretty surprising to consider the Twins got five runs out of the order that they started the game with -- Carlos Gomez leading off, Matt Tolbert second, Mike Redmond instead of Joe Mauer, Delmon Young reminding us how bad of a hitter he is, Brian Buscher lowering his batting average even more, and Nick Punto being Nick Punto. Squeezing five runs out of that lineup is a godsend, but of course, Francisco Liriano and the rest of the pitching staff had to give up six to a lighter-than-usual Red Sox order. Some major things to get here, so in we go.

Let's start with Liriano, who has been decidedly underwhelming on the mound this season. Only three of his starts have been decent, and most of the time his demand of his pitches is erratic. He walks far too many hitters and his slider that was so dominant in 2006 seems to fade quickly. With Glen Perkins on the disabled list and Anthony Swarzak pitching well in his major-league debut, there might be six pitchers right now battling for five spots in the rotation. Blackburn and Slowey have locks on their spots, and Scott Baker's contract dictates he has a firm grip on his spot. Perkins shined early in the season before imploding quickly, and Swarzak's stuff is certainly big-league material. Here's my suggestion, which may come as quite a surprise to some readers: move Liriano to the bullpen.

I say this for a few reasons. Most importantly, the bullpen is the Achilles heel of the team and the front office has been very reluctant (stupid, really) in addressing that weakness. The Twins have always prefered in-house replacements to acquiring outside help, and Liriano fits that mold. With his stuff, Liriano doesn't need to be just a lefty specialist but, like Eddie Guardado in his prime, could get batters out from both sides of the plate. The numbers suggest that the move could really help the team, too. The first trip through the batting order is hitting under .200 against Liriano, and the batting average really climbs the more that hitters see Liriano. That type of statistic obviously favors short relievers. Another reason to put Liriano in the bullpen is that he really has never had nine-inning stuff. He's never had a complete game in his big-league career and has never exceeded 121 innings in a major-league season. He's had a well-documented history of arm trouble; by putting him in the 'pen, you not only vastly improve your bullpen and your ballclub, but you save his arm and perhaps a few years of his career.

R.A. Dickey did an admirable job of relief, but as usual, the bullpen did just enough on Monday to provide the cushion for the Red Sox to win. The only run that Dickey surrendered was on a home run to Jeff Bailey, one of the sore thumbs of the Red Sox batting order that you need to get out. It's the second time this season that Bailey has went yard against the Twins, which is absolutely ridiculous. Bailey is hitting .197 on the season, and it was his home run that turned out to be the winning run of the game. With Big Papi on the bench, the Red Sox' lineup was not as dangerous as it had been in years previous. They still found a way to get sixteen hits, including four hits by the over-the-hill Mike Lowell. And Gardenhire was at it again in the ninth by bringing in Luis Ayala, who promptly put the Twins in a first-and-third, one out situation. Sean Henn bailed the team out by not allowing the runners to score, which made it still possible for the Twins to come back in the ninth, but the question still needs to be asked: Why is Luis Ayala still on this roster? More importantly, why does Ron Gardenhire continue to use Luis Ayala?

Down 6-3 in the ninth inning, the Twins used a base hit by Jason Kubel and a pinch-hit home run by Joe Mauer to cut the lead to one. Mauer did not start the game, which brings me to the second burning issue of the day: Why? Why is Joe Mauer unable to play DH? The guy is the hottest hitter on the planet right now and Ron Gardenhire chooses to give him a day off completely. Obviously Mauer was ready to play -- he hit a mammoth home run off of one of the game's best closers in Jonathan Papelbon. Idiots like Dick Bremer continue to say that (especially considering Mauer's back/hip injury) he needs a day off. Wait a minute -- don't these guys get paid millions of dollars for playing a child's game? Do you know what goes into being a designated hitter? Not much. You're swinging a bat, and, hopefully, running a little bit. That's it. Yeah, I'm all for giving him a day off behind the plate, but why would you lose that offense? In the four games since Ron Gardenhire made a batting-order adjustment and put Mauer in the two hole, the team had scored 43 runs in 4 games and won every ballgame. And what does The Brain do? Change the batting order. Of course, he loses the game. I think Joe Mauer could DH and get two hits in a coma. Why on earth would you bench the best hitter in the game?

Let's not forget that we're talking about baseball players here. My father was a union electrician for forty years and I can count the days he didn't go to work on one hand. He worked ten hour days all-year round, mind you. Baseball players put in, what, six hours at the ballpark seven months of the year, get paid millions of dollars, and we as fans find it necessary to agree with Ron Gardenhire by giving Joe Mauer a "much deserved" day off? The most overrated sports record is Cal Ripken's consecutive games streak. Don't get me wrong -- the guy was a Hall-of-Fame player without the streak. But people who toil anonymously everyday for their entire lives at their jobs would scoff at such glorification. Two factors go into play with Ripken's streak: a) he was a good player and b) he was lucky. Plain and simple. Had Ron Gardenhire managed Cal Ripken, I'd have a sneak feeling that he would have wanted to give Ripken a "much deserved" day off. Why some people think that Ripken's streak is "unbeatable" is beyond me. All you need to do is be a good player and be lucky. My point here is that Ron Gardenhire's decision to sit Joe Mauer on the bench perhaps cost him the game. For all the mojo that Gardenhire's lineup change created, it all went away with one decision by the skipper.

Nick Blackburn goes tonight against Jon Lester. Blackburn's always been a much better Dome pitcher than on the road, but he's also been pitching well of late, which doesn't quite bode well for tonight. Blackburn's definitely not one of those pitchers who like to carry teams on their backs -- they'd do that, but for only seven innings or one hundred pitches, nothing more.

Monday, May 25, 2009


The Twins again use the long ball to their advantage, smacking three home runs to beat the Brewers and complete the sweep in front of a national television audience. Joe Mauer hit his tenth home run in three weeks since returning from the disabled list, one more homer than he hit all of last season. Joe Crede also hit a solo home run, and Justin Morneau's grand slam in the bottom of the seventh all but sealed the victory for the Twins, who improved to 17-9 under the Dome. The team seems to be channeling the 1987 Twins this month -- they've hit thirty-five home runs in the month and have consistently won at home while sucking on the road. Not that this team will win a World Series or anything -- Ron Gardenhire will make sure that that won't happen -- but at least they've been entertaining to watch.

Gardenhire's animated discussion with the umpire in the seventh turned out to be perhaps a motivation for the Twins. Joe Mauer was apparently hit by a pitch by Milwaukee southpaw Mitch Stetter, but home plate ump Adrian Johnson ruled that the ball hit his bat. In a once-in-a-century turn of events, Johnson reversed his call, allowed Mauer to take first base, and the next pitch Morneau hit the grand slam. Whatever Gardenhire said, it sure looked good from the fan's perspective. I wonder if Gardenhire is that uncle in his family that dresses up as Santa Claus during Christmas and drinks too much eggnog -- he certainly has the personality for it, the out-of-shape paunch, rosy cheeks and thinning hair. All that's needed is the beard for Gardenhire. Hey -- that'd would be a career change that I would welcome: Ron Gardenhire as a shopping-mall Santa.

The Twins now face the Red Sox at home, where they will try to avenge their two-game mockery of baseball that they partook in a month ago. The Twins will get a challenge by facing pitchers that actually have talent; no more Manny Parras and Braden Loopers and Dave Bushes to tee off against.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


I’m on vacation this weekend for the Memorial Day holiday, and also the Twins breezed to their second consecutive easy victory against the Brewers on Saturday night – two reasons why this post will be relatively brief. I was very happy to see Anthony Swarzak throw seven shutout innings in his major league debut and quite nonplussed when Ron Gardenhire took him out in favor of shutout-wrecker Matty Guerrier. It’s becoming a disturbing trend – taking out starters who are mowing people down and bringing in the bullpen to either blow leads or make them unsafe, and most of the time Guerrier is involved in that effort. I know the kid’s out there for his first major league start, but banking on the poise that he displayed in the post-game interview, he wasn’t scared at all and appeared to have that swagger that the good ones possess. Now, it’s just one win, and most likely Swarzak will only get another start or two before the less talented Glen Perkins comes back from an injury, but it’s a good sign that the farm system can still develop solid pitchers.

I have to comment on the performance of Joe Mauer. You’ll read absolutely nothing pessimistic regarding Mr. Mauer, who I believe is the best hitter I’ve ever seen. He was at it again on Saturday, hitting a home run along with another base hit. I read in a national publication earlier this year that one scout had it that Justin Morneau had the sweetest swing in baseball, and I nearly spit out my coffee when I read that. Mauer’s swing is a thing of beauty, and it’s also Mauer’s presence in that batting order that stirs the drink in the Twins lineup. The team will go as far as Mauer goes. Plain and simple. Morneau is indebted for life for the MVP he received in 2006 because in all reality the MVP just on the team was undoubtedly Mauer. The guy is simply super-human. He is the anti-Punto. And that’s a very, very good thing.

Scott Baker should be pitching for a spot in the rotation tonight. He’s sucked so much that it’s almost laughable to remember that he was penciled in as this year’s opening day starter before an injury scratched him of the honor. In my world, if Baker doesn’t cut it tonight, it’s his spot that Swarzak should fill once Perkins is ready to come off the DL. Sadly, the Twins invested a lot of money in Baker and won’t do that in a million years.

Saturday, May 23, 2009


I’m pleased to report that my prediction of a post-rout hangover was not the case on Friday night against the red-hot Brew Crew. I’m always glad to be wrong here at the MTRC, but it should also be said that my view of the Twins will not change because of back-to-back blowout victories. It would be easy to speak highly of the Twins today, but considering that you can read the daisies-and-unicorns spin on the team a lot of other places, I feel that it’s necessary for someone to look at the team with a critical eye. I can say this about the team: it’s very nice to win like this, because it takes the manager out of the game. Ron Gardenhire really can’t mismanage games that his team wins 20-1 and 11-3 – wait, I should rephrase that: Ron Gardenhire always mismanages games, whether they’re 2-1 or 200-1, but at least in these games his managing cannot lose the game for the team.

Michael Cuddyer produced the second cycle of the season for the Twins, following Jason Kubel’s Herculean effort in mid-April against the Angels, when the Twins actually needed that cycle. Here it’s a classic Cuddyer game, a la Torii Hunter – padding the stats in meaningless ballgames. I’ll guarantee this much – the next time Michael Cuddyer comes to the plate in an at-bat of actual meaning, he’ll fail, and it will likely be with one of those strikeouts where he waves at an outside slider half-way into the other batter’s box. The Twins also got good production at the plate from Justin Morneau and Denard Span, who homered in the sixth for unneeded insurance runs. In a rare instance, the Twins controlled the game from the start, scoring in each of the first four innings to knock out Brewers starter Manny Parra.

Kevin Slowey was again the beneficiary of a lot of run support, as he cruised to 6-1. Of course, Ron Gardenhire refused to save the bullpen, and took Slowey out after 91 pitches in the eighth inning. What are you worried about, Gardenhire? Why take these pitchers out once they get into trouble? It’s as if Gardenhire is that unused to being up by eight or nineteen runs – he just doesn’t know what to do with big leads. It appears that Gardenhire is determined to go yet another season without a nine-inning complete game, as was the case in 2006. Just another sign of the apocalypse.

Gardenhire’s shakeup of the batting order continues to pay quick dividends, as the team has scored 31 runs since Joe Mauer was moved into the two hole. My question is, why did it take so long? One of the major reasons the team got swept in New York was the prolonged suckiness of Matt Tolbert, who seemed to get up to the plate with runners on the entire weekend. Gardenhire’s commitment to untalented slap hitters is bad enough, but what the hell is the philosophy behind hitting one of these guys in the two hole? Hitting Mauer there is the obvious choice and it became apparent once Casilla and Tolbert solidified their status as brutal hitters. Classic Gardenhire – waiting much too long to adapt, and receiving the benefits of that change pathetically too late.

Here’s good luck to Anthony Swarzak tonight as he toes the rubber for his major-league debut. This guy’s certainly been hyped, but considering that the Twins’ starting staff really has no one pitcher who strikes fear in any lineup, we could use a rookie jolt a la Liriano 2006. He faces veteran hurler Braden Looper for the Brewers.

Friday, May 22, 2009

MAY 21, 2009 -- MINNESOTA 20, CHICAGO 1

No, that's not a typo. The Twins put a twenty-spot on the board Thursday afternoon, pasting the White Sox on the day that Padres ace Jake Peavy spurned a potential trade to the South Siders. Coincidence or not? Whatever the case, the fact remains that the White Sox are committed to putting the best players on the field and they are willing to part with their best prospects in order to get a major piece of the puzzle. That sort of thing is simply non-existant in Minnesota, where the team regularly chooses to go with homegrown players with severe deficiencies in the talent department (think Nick Punto, Matt Tolbert, et al.) and annually refuses to make that key acquisition down the stretch. Different philosophies for sure, and it's not surprising that the White Sox have a World Series title to show for it.

I know what some of you must be thinking. Howie -- the Twins won by nineteen runs. You can't possibly take anything negative out of a 20-1 win. My friends, I am afraid you simply don't know me well enough to make that assumption. There's plenty to take out of the game that is hard to accept from a Twins fan. I know this team and one thing is for certain: they'll do this sort of thing once and awhile and score a ton of runs, and then the next day invariably they get shut out. It doesn't matter who they're playing or what pitcher they're facing. They got their hits in for the week on Thursday and expect some low-scoring games from the Twins this weekend against the red-hot Brewers. That I will guarantee.

Secondly, did anyone else get the feeling after they were up by eight runs after two innings that the lead was not safe? In the third inning, when Nick Blackburn started the inning by loading the bases with no one out, I had this sneaky feeling like "Here we go again." Believe it or not, the Twins needed all twenty runs on Thursday. With the bullpen the way it is and the manager mismanaging games on a regular basis, no lead is safe. As long as the Twins had their hitting shoes on, they need to tack on as many runs as they could get.

Thirdly, what the hell was Ron Gardenhire thinking when he took out Nick Blackburn after seven innings and eighty-one pitches??? That's it, Gardenhire -- there's no more bitching about an over-worked bullpen anymore, because you chose to send out Jose Mijares in the eighth and Joe Nathan in the ninth inning. Talk about classic Gardenhire -- using three pitchers to get through a 20-1 victory. You say you wanted Joe Nathan to "get some work in." How about an extra bullpen session, or even better, why not use him in a two-inning situation when you really need the outs? Blackburn was just simply cruising, and the gall that Gardenhire displayed by taking him out just emphasizes his inability to manage games. What legitimate reason do you have for taking Blackburn out? The pitch count was low, the game was a blowout, and you've overworked your bullpen your entire career. Managers should love blowouts like these, because they're essentially bullpen savers. But not to The Brain, who chooses to overmanage 20-1 victories. Because of this pathetic display of stupidity, Gardenhire has no right to complain about his bullpen being overworked. You, Gardenhire, chose to use three pitchers in a 20-1 ballgame.

Because seven days have elapsed, outfielder Delmon Young needed to be activated from the "family emergency list" even though he won't be able to rejoin the team until Sunday night. As expected the Twins sent down catcher Jose Morales, making it two times this season that the Twins have sent down a guy hitting .358. Meanwhile, Mike Redmond is swinging at balls three feet outside to end ballgames, has lost five steps, can't throw out a runner at second base to save his life, and pitchers have an ERA over 6 when he's behind the plate. Makes a whole lot of sense, Gardenhire.

As mentioned, the Twins battle the Brewers in the first batch of interleague games this season. The Twins have previously thrived on playing the National League, but the Brewers have been the hottest team in baseball for the last month or so, and the Twins have limped back home. Don't expect a carry-over from Thursday's rout; knowing the Twins, I expect more of a hang-over than anything. Kevin Slowey pitches tonight against Manny Parra.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

MAY 20, 2009 -- CHICAGO 7, MINNESOTA 4

The losing streak has hit six, and there's no end in sight for Ron Gardenhire's bunch right now. Even a post-game meeting after Tuesday's loss was not enough to shake up the troops, as Wednesday's defeat was pretty much the same as the previous five losses -- get a lead, blow it, try meekly to come back and end up on the short end of the score. Francisco Liriano pitched another poor game -- he's really had only one or two quality starts this whole season -- and a seven-run fifth inning, capped by a Jermaine Dye grand slam, was the difference in the ballgame.

Liriano followed what has appeared to become Twins-on-the-road protocol this season, which is to take a Twins lead and immediately give up that lead and put your team completely behind the eight-ball. Glen Perkins did that in spades on Monday, and was put on the disabled list afterwards as an excuse for his lame effort. Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn did that very well in the two matinees in the Yankee series, and Liriano outdid the rest of the staff on Wednesday. The 2-0 lead that the Twins built (compliments of an Alexei Ramirez error) lasted a whole two batters, when Paul Konerko tied the game with a home run in the bottom half of the fifth. Liriano could have bore down and gotten out of the inning with his team still in the game, but these are the Minnesota Twins we're talking about -- competing in games is gravy to these guys. Winning games is a whole different ballgame. Doesn't it seem like it was a month ago that the Twins swept the Tigers at home?

The inning opened up with two key at-bats by sore thumbs in the White Sox order. Sore thumbs, you'll remember, refers to the weakest spots in an opponent's batting order. For the Yankees, it was Brett Gardner and Francisco Cervilli, whose hits on Friday and Monday were crucial to New York victories. For the Chisox, ex-Twins great catcher Corky Miller doubled and Jayson Nix walked in front of the Dye grand slam. If you expect to beat anybody, you need to get the sore thumbs of the batting order out. Look at it from the other angle -- opponents who play the Twins know that in order to beat them, they've got to get their sore thumbs out (Nick Punto, Carlos Gomez, Matt Tolbert), and it's no surprise that during this six-game slide, those hitters (like any other time of the year) aren't hitting.

We need to revisit the case of Corky Miller to see actually how bad this guy really is. As I mentioned, he was a Twin for a brief time, breaking camp with the team in 2005. He was hitless in twelve at-bats before the Twins jettisoned him, but that cup of coffee was just part of a major-league slump that Miller experienced. Get this: from September 2003 to the end of 2006, Miller had a string where he went 1 for 59 at the plate. Let me repeat that: Miller had one hit in fifty-nine at-bats! That's a .017 batting average! This was with three teams (the Reds, Twins, and Red Sox) and most notably included his 2004 campaign with Cincinnati, when Miller went an astounding 1 for 39. Those are Nick Punto-type numbers right there. Wait a minute -- the Twins signed this guy after he went 1 for 39?!! Amazing how much credit this team gets.

On an "elated" note, the Twins lost left-handed reliever Craig Breslow on waivers to the Oakland A's! Breslow was an absolute train-wreck for the Twins this season, proving to everyone that his stellar 2008 campaign was a fluke. Most of the time Breslow's demeanor on the mound was such that it appeared that Breslow wanted no part of pitching in ballgames, and that was reflected in his 6.28 ERA and 11 walks in 14 innings. To replace Breslow, the Twins called up super-prospect Anthony Swarzak, who'll fill Glen Perkins' spot in the rotation Saturday night against the Brewers. Kudos to the Twins finally calling this guy up, but with Breslow gone from the bullpen, it may mean more innings for slugs like Luis Ayala and Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain. The guy it affects the most is Jose Mijares, now the lone lefty in the 'pen, who has been erratically inconsistent this season. Losing Breslow was no big blow, but the fact remains that the Twins should be desparate for bullpen help and will likely grin and bear it for the remainder of the season.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

MAY 19, 2009 -- CHICAGO 6, MINNESOTA 2

The Twins are unable to get off the schneid in Chicago, losing pathetically 6-2 to Mark Buehrle and the equally slumping Chisox. It seems as if from Friday night on, the Twins have lost more pathetically each day; Monday's 7-6 loss in the Bronx was not as close as the score suggests, and following Scott Baker's 40-pitch second inning Tuesday night, the Twins were really never in the game. Buehrle continues to have the Twins' number, and the Twins bats were obliging the White Sox all night long. Plenty to get to, so let's just do it.

Two at-bats by Carlos Gomez really stand out here. Gomez, a player with Double-A talent and tee-ball smarts, is increasingly becoming a player that you just can't bear to watch at the plate. His defensive exploits, while certainly overrated, are worthy of praise, but it's rare for a major-league club to have an outfielder on their roster simply for defensive purposes. Who am I kidding, though -- these are the Twins were talking about, who are committed with losing valuable offense at the plate by starting defensive "wizards" Nick Punto and Matt Tolbert everyday. Of course Gomez has a spot on the roster, especially with "Seldom" Delmon Young letting the outfield play him. Offensively, Gomez is an absolute wreck. His .232 batting average, believe it or not, is deceivingly high, as he has yet to have one base hit of any consequence this season. And for all of Dick Bremer's idiocy, Gomez is perhaps the worst bunter I've ever seen, especially when it comes to sacrifice situations. Gomez hasn't gotten it through his thick skull that a sacrifice bunt means exactly that -- sacrificing your at-bat for the good of the team. He tries to bunt for a basehit every time he's asked to sacrifice, and rarely does he put it in fair territory.

In the top of the fifth, Mike Redmond was fortunate enough to lead off the inning with a double, and Gomez was the next batter. The Twins were down 3-0, but when Carlos Gomez is at the plate, you know he won't produce anything good at the plate, so he should have been bunting. Swinging away was Gomez, and he grounded out to the left side, failing to advance the runner. Even more aggregious was Gomez' at-bat in the seventh inning, when the Twins had runners at the corners with nobody out. Pathetically, Gomez struck out on three pitches, and he never took one good swing in the at-bat.

One may be quick to blame Ron Gardenhire for Gomez' continued struggles (and don't think for one second that I'm letting The Brain off the hook), but one must consider the Twins lineup as a whole. Usually a sacrifice bunt means that the next hitter will produce an RBI for you, but in the Twins lineup, Nick Punto hits behind Carlos Gomez, which is pretty much like saying a pitcher is hitting behind Carlos Gomez. In a National League game, it is rare that an eighth-place hitter lays a bunt in front of the pitcher's spot (unless that pitcher is Yovani Gallardo or Micah Owings, perhaps). In essence, the Twins have two pitchers hitting in a row with Gomez and Punto. It probably doesn't make sense to waste an at-bat with Gomez because you already know that Punto won't get the job done himself. Both Gomez and Punto (especially Punto) cripple your batting order, and it's a major reason for the current five-game losing streak. I never thought I'd say this -- we need you, Delmon Young!

Now the only reason (I hope) that Ron Gardenhire legitimates Nick Punto being a starting shortstop is his defense, and in my book, for 1) the insane amount of money that Punto makes and 2) the hapless, nonexistent offense he contributes, the only way I can justify Punto being an everyday player is if he plays error-free baseball in the field. It's the only way -- Punto needs to be a Gold Glover in order for him to be out there everyday, and pathetically he's not a Gold Glover. He had a terrible error on Monday night in New York and Tuesday a misplay that was not counted as an error loomed large in the seventh inning, when the Sox broke it open. New Twins reliever Sean Henn picked off Scott Podsednik from first base, and Justin Morneau's throw to second was right on target to get the runner, but Nick Punto dropped the ball. Why an error was not charged I don't know, and the inning wouldn't end until two runs had scored, taking a 4-2 game into a 6-2 game. That's it for me, Gardenhire -- when Nick Punto's defense betrays him, he has zero skills to offer a major-league team. The Twins are stuck with Punto and his $4 million contract -- I can just imagine Bill Smith trying to shop Punto to other clubs. Other GMs would likely laugh at Bill Smith or perhaps get offended at the gesture. "How dare you offer me the worst player in the league?" they might say. At this point, as far as a trade goes, I don't think Nick Punto is worth a bag of baseballs-- an absolutely valueless ballplayer.

Sean Henn had to watch the first five innings of the ballgame in the bullpen with his new fellow relievers, and apparently the vibes of Jesse Crain and Luis Ayala and Matt Guerrier rubbed off on the southpaw, who did his job and took the Twins out of the ballgame. I've been hearing so much of these young Twins prospects down on the farm -- Swarzak, Slama, Delaney -- and needless to say it was not surprising that the Twins brought up this Henn guy. Looks like he's found a home in the Twins bullpen.

Props to Rick Anderson getting in Scott Baker's face after his 40-pitch patheticness in the second inning, but Bert Blyleven and Dick Bremer overplayed the situation. Yes, Baker and the rest of the team deserves a stern talking-to, but let's remember that this team is definitely not the 1978 "Bronx is Burning" Yankees who made a routine of clubhouse tension and animosity. This team is settling into its status as a second-rate ballclub, and episodes like this are a visible sign of the team seriously cracking.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

MAY 18, 2009 -- NEW YORK 7, MINNESOTA 6

Ron Gardenhire does his annual "let's lose four" in the Bronx and the Twins are swept in a four-game series by an admittedly mediocre Yankee team. Mediocrity or not, these games might as well be the Harlem Globetrotters against the Washington Generals. Ron Gardenhire is the ideal coach for the bumbling Generals, and the Yankees continuous pummeling of the Twins is getting somewhat comedic. It sure makes for good entertainment if you're a Yankee fan (as you keep wondering if all these good things that people keep saying about the Twins aren't true) and absolute heartache for a Twins fan. With the loss, Gardenhire drops to 3-23 in the regular season in the Bronx and an incredible 16-44 career (including playoffs) against the Bombers. That's an unbelievably low .267 winning percentage -- just over once every four games does Gardenhire's Twins beat the Yankees. A team with a dead blind man managing the team could probably do as good as Ron Gardenhire does against the Yankees.

Same old story on Monday, however with a different twist. Glen Perkins did his best impression of pitching in the first inning, lasting one trip through the batting order before good ol' R.A. Dickey came in to save the day. By the time Perkins' night was through, he had given up six runs (four of which crossed the plate via the long ball) and gotten only two outs, one of which was a warning-track fly ball. Perkins topped his night off by giving up a pathetic hit to some guy named Francisco Cervilli -- yet another example of the Twins giving up hits to what I call "sore thumbs." They did it constantly last year with Jose Molina and they're back at it this year with Brett Gardner and Francisco Cervilli -- looking at that dreaded Yankee lineup, guys like Cervelli stick out like sore thumbs in the batting order and must be retired. Due to the one-run deficit at the end of the game, the hit to the sore thumb of the batting order was the difference of the game.

Dickey surprisingly mowed the Yankees down, but Ron Gardenhire was not satisfied with his bullpen putting zeroes on the board, so he put Luis Ayala into the game. Perhaps the worst pitcher in the American League, Ayala has continued to prove to everyone (except Ron Gardenhire, who has a demented sense of confidence in him) that he cannot get anybody out. Ayala was lucky to get through the sixth inning unscathed, but then he laid a 0-2 cookie right down the plate to Mark Teixeira leading off the seventh that he hit for a mammoth home run, which turned out to be the winning run in the ballgame. Hey, Gardenhire, are you watching the same game that I am? If Luis Ayala is able to pitch a scoreless inning, it's like you just got away with murder. You take him out of that game before the Yankees can process the fact that they were unable to get a run off of him. But, in another episode of "Gardy being Gardy," The Brain left Ayala in and the results were fantastic.

How 'bout Mike Redmond, folks? Representing the last out of the game, The Brain chose to go with Mike "No Gas Left in the Tank" Redmond to pinch hit for the pitcher-- er, Nick Punto. Redmond, facing left-hander Phil "Definitely Not Mariano Rivera" Coke, worked the count full and then started swinging at pitches feet from the strike zone. The game ended with Redmond literally swinging at a pitch half-way into the left-handed batter's box. For Pete's sake, Gardenhire, I could do that. Nick Punto could do that. Hell, I'd have sent up Jose Morales in that situation -- at least I've seen him get a hit that didn't make me want to puke. It was the perfect way to wrap up one of the most pathetic weekends of baseball I have ever seen in my life.

Why can't Gardenhire win in New York? It's pretty simple, I think. Gardenhire's well aware of his track record in the Bronx and he certainly lets his players know about that. There was a shot of Gardenhire Monday night after another failed scoring opportunity, shaking his head and chuckling to himself in disbelief. The failures in New York are so much a part of Gardenhire that it's the mentality that he conveys to his players. He's a scared manager managing a bunch of scared players. They are under the belief that it takes a perfect game to win in New York, so they play on pins and needles the entire time that they're there. If they could just relax and play their game, they'd do at least better than 3-23, which I don't think you could do if you tried to lose those games on purpose. Unfortunately, Gardenhire is a weak and shallow fool, and he imparts the fear of the Yankees that he experiences regularly to his players.

As it turns out, Glen Perkins had a bad elbow and that was the reason, aside from him sucking with a good elbow, that he was unable to finish one inning on Monday night. He was put on the disabled list and some guy named Sean Henn, he of a career record of 2-6 with a 7.56 ERA, was called up to replace him. With those numbers, it sounds like he'll fit into that bullpen real well.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

MAY 17, 2009 -- NEW YORK 3, MINNESOTA 2 (10 innings)

The New York Horror Story continues, as Ron Gardenhire drops to an unimaginable 3-22 career in the regular season in the Bronx. New ballpark, same old crap for Gardenhire, who has seen the Yankees surprisingly struggle to win the first three games of this series. Traditionally, the Twins are good for at least two ass-kickings in a series at Yankee Stadium; this series has seen the Yankees have three walk-off wins, the latest compliments of a Johnny Damon home run in the tenth inning.

Of course there were plenty of goats for the Twins today aside from Ron Gardenhire (who’s mismanagement of games is so consistent now that it’s simply taken for granted at this point). Denard Span has had a terrible series and had two critical misplays in Sunday’s game. In the seventh, Span’s throw to the plate on a sacrifice fly was so pathetic; had the throw been on target they would easily have had the slow Hideki Matsui at the plate. Then in the eighth, Span failed to get the run home when the bases were loaded and one out. Span singled in the first at-bat of the series, and since then he’s gone hitless at the plate, played Brett Gardner’s bloop hit on Friday into a momentum-shifting inside-the-park home run, and also had the horrid throw to the plate on Sunday.

Michael Cuddyer is continuing to prove that he does not belong in the major leagues, and Sunday was especially pathetic. The only way this guy gets on base is by walking – he consistently swings at terrible pitches two feet out of the strike zone – and when by chance he gets on base he finds a way to run his team out of an inning. In the critical eighth, he was on second base and no one out when he was thrown out trying to advance on a Brian Buscher comebacker to the mound. That baserunning blunder was amplified when the Twins would eventually load the bases in the inning – had Cuddyer not screwed up, the Twins perhaps could have won the game. This bonehead play maybe overshadowed his earlier error, when he grounded into an inning-ending double play with runners on first and third in the fourth inning. Twice in the game the Twins failed to get guys home from third with less than two outs – you’re not going to win a lot of games by doing that, especially when you are 1 for 25 (!!!!!!) with runners in scoring position in the first three games of the series.

That one hit was compliments of Matt Tolbert, who is quickly making a case for getting in The Doghouse. This guy is such a terrible hitter, and he’s hitting second!!!! How many guys has he left on base in two games of this series? Eleven! Yet Ron Gardenhire will likely remember the one hit he did have in the series. You have to consider averages though – Matt Tolbert’s a .176 hitter, which is about one hit every six at-bats, so he was simply due. That one hit means that he’ll go five at-bats without a hit – and don’t think that Tolbert hitting .176 is just a “slow start”; as a hitter, he has Single-A abilities. With all due respect, Tolbert doesn’t deserve a spot in the big leagues, and with him hitting second, it only compounds the problems for the Twins. Consider the 7-8-9-1-2 hitters for the Twins and their batting averages: Brian Buscher (.217), Carlos Gomez (.222), Nick Punto (.194), Denard Span (.284, the only legitimate hitter in the bunch), and Matt Tolbert (.176). How low can these averages go until there’s a shake-up? How low can they go? I said in the seventh inning prior to Tolbert’s hit that Brendan Harris should have pinch-hit for Tolbert and I still say that. In a scoreless game, you need to put someone at the plate that actually has a legitimate chance to get a hit. Gardenhire lucked out there, but in the eighth inning Tolbert made up for it. With a 2-0 count, Gardenhire apparently did not tell Tolbert to take a pitch (apparently Gardenhire did not know that the only way the Twins could get the run in the situation was a walk), and Tolbert pathetically fouled out to the catcher. Talk about taking advantage of a hitter’s count.

Nick Punto also has a permanent spot in The Doghouse (a feature will be coming soon) and he proved it again today with a hitless effort. The guy loves to pop the ball up – considering his lack of talent across the board and especially his lack of power, I suggest a Willie Mays Hays approach with Punto – every pop up means ten push-ups for Punto. There is no reason for Punto to be popping the ball up, and it just looks pathetic with him doing it. It seriously makes me want to throw up. Seriously. I give serious props to Bert Blyleven, who commented after Punto’s walk in the seventh inning that it was comparable to walking the pitcher in the National League – finally, someone on Fox Sports North speaks the truth! That’s what I consider Punto at the plate – a pitcher. Unfortunately, with Matt Tolbert and Carlos Gomez also in the lineup, three hitters in their lineup are essentially pitchers at the plate, which does not bode well for future success for the Twins. And I’m getting sick and tired of FSN previewing a feature that they’re airing on Monday, with Ron Coomer and Nick Punto visiting Yankee Stadium’s monument park. It’s basically Nick Punto talking about Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth. Oops – sorry about that. I just put Nick Punto and Babe Ruth in the same sentence. I think God just fainted.

So the game was tied in the tenth, and Jesse Crain was brought in to lose the game. All I asked of Jesse Crain was to make it quick, and he did oblige, though one batter later than I thought it would take. Derek Jeter inexplicably grounded out against Crain, but then Damon parked one into the next borough, and I was satisfied. At least I didn’t have to suffer through any more of this pathetic imitation of baseball. It did make for a cute course of events – in the series, the Yankees have had walk-off wins in the ninth, tenth, and eleventh innings. Cute.

Also worth noting is the fact that this was the second consecutive game in which Ron Gardenhire pulled a dickhead move by removing his pitcher in the middle of the eighth inning. He did it to Nick Blackburn on Saturday and he did it again Sunday with Kevin Slowey pitching a great ballgame. By removing Slowey in the middle of the inning, it erased any possibility of Slowey being rewarded for his excellent performance with a victory and it gave the job of getting the final out of the inning to the crappy bullpen. Jose Mijares’ first three pitches to Hideki Matsui were out of the strike zone, which certainly was not surprising; shocking it was when he came back to strike him out. Still, it’s a primo dickhead move by a dickhead manager; I would be livid if I was either Blackburn or Slowey and I had to watch the bullpen lose the game for them from the dugout.

Only one more game to lose in the Bronx, and Glen Perkins gets the honors Monday night. Here’s to a Yankee blowout; three-straight walk-off wins for the Yankees are ten times worse to watch.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

MAY 16, 2009 -- NEW YORK 6, MINNESOTA 4 (11 innings)

Different day, same result for the Twins. Another walk-off win for the douchebag Yankees; this time it’s A-Rod who homers in the eleventh inning to send the Yankees home for a 6-4 victory. The Twins battled back in the eighth inning to take a one-run lead, but if you’ve followed the Twins, you knew that was far from enough. Another pathetic effort in the Bronx; the loss drops The Brain’s regular season record there to an astounding 3-21.

You don’t get a record like that against anyone without being a terrible manager, and Ron Gardenhire again showed everyone why he is among the league’s worst in-game strategists. However, I would like to make a first here at the MTRC – I thought Ron Gardenhire made the correct move in the eighth inning by keeping Nick Blackburn in to face Mark Teixeira, who would eventually single to tie the game. In reality, if his bullpen was fresh, Blackburn never would have even started the inning (interesting – only when you’ve overtaxed the bullpen by overmanaging the game do you actually make wise decisions). Though the move backfired on him, it was the correct call, but then Ron Gardenhire displays his idiocy by taking Blackburn out after the Teixeira hit. Talk about a dickhead move: Blackburn’s given you almost eight innings, saved your bullpen, and all you do is take him out in the middle of an inning, which ended Blackburn’s chances of getting a win, and put the game into the hands of Matt Guerrier to face Alex Rodriguez, who is an astonishing 4-6 with three home runs against Guerrier. Potentially Blackburn could have lost the game sitting in the dugout – a nice treat from Ron Gardenhire.

Well, Guerrier ended up throwing a wild pitch, advancing Teixeira to second base and putting the count at 3-1, and here again Ron Gardenhire showed his supreme stupidity. He pitched to Alex Rodriguez! Here’s Matt Guerrier, topping out at 85 miles an hour, who’s served it up three times in six at-bats to A-Rod, pitching to him with an open base! Unbelievable stupidity. It’s too bad the game didn’t end there, but had to drag on for three more innings. Gardenhire deserved to lose the game right then and there.

Four runs in Yankee Stadium is a phenomenal feat for the Twins, so it was no surprise that when they achieved that plateau, they shut down the bats for the final three innings. They had a chance in the tenth inning, however, when Ron Gardenhire again mismanaged a scoring opportunity. It’s as if Ron Gardenhire heard me give him props for leaving Blackburn in during the eighth inning and he was just making up for his lapse of stupidity. Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel both got hits off Mariano Rivera to start the 10th, bringing Michael Cuddyer to the plate in a fairly obvious bunting situation. Cuddyer’s a middle-of-the-order guy, sure, but in a lineup which features Matt Tolbert hitting second and Nick Punto hitting anywhere, that’s not a big compliment. Gardenhire doesn’t even think of bunting, and Cuddyer pops up. Brian Buscher, the next batter, flies out to center – had the runners been sacrificed, a run would have scored on the play. You’ve got to understand the situation here and acknowledge that you’re facing a Hall-of-Fame pitcher in Rivera. By not bunting Cuddyer, you’re betting that either Cuddyer or Buscher is going to get a hit against him in order to get the run home. Have you seen Cuddyer hit this year? Here’s a guy who tried to fake getting hit by a pitch that wasn’t within a foot from touching him – even Cuddyer himself knows he can’t get the job done with the bat. In that situation, you play small ball (like you’re supposedly good at) and manufacture the run. Hell, Buscher already had a sac fly and an RBI double in the game; it’s not like Nick Punto or a pitcher was on deck.

Then there’s Gardenhire leaving lefty Craig Breslow to face Alex Rodriguez. Most likely he’d say he was just “saving the bullpen,” which apparently he’d rather do than try to win a ballgame. Sure enough, A-Rod hit it into Manhattan.

Two more games left to lose here in New York, and it’s been very surprising that they haven’t gotten their ass kicked yet; that’s usually an annual tradition. Kevin Slowey gets the honors Sunday, and with his hittable stuff, expect a lot of runs for the home team.

MAY 15, 2009 -- NEW YORK 5, MINNESOTA 4

Absolutely ridiculous. Unbelievable. Ron Gardenhire cannot win in New York to save his life. It’s Joe Nathan’s turn to blow the game this time, failing to protect a 4-2 lead in the ninth inning and losing the game by giving up a two-out, two-run single to Melky Cabrera. That’s right, the Twins lost a game by giving up a hit to a guy named Melky.

For all the games that Matty Guerrier and Luis Ayala and Jesse Crain have lost recently, it was somewhat refreshing to see Joe Nathan lose a ballgame. I can at least accept Nathan losing a game a little bit more than the others; at least you’re losing with your best talent on the mound. Not uncharacteristic of the Twins was the fact that the momentum turned with Jesse Crain on the mound in the seventh inning. Brett Gardner, in the game because of Johnny Damon’s third inning ejection, looped a flyball down the left field line that Denard Span misplayed for an inside-the-park home run. Span displayed shades of Delmon Young on the play, and it was a costly error, as the fans and the Yankee players were rejuvenated by the play. Any momentum that the Twins had was gone, and Crain couldn’t finish the inning. Jose Mijares held the lead in the seventh and pitched a clean eighth, setting the stage for Nathan in the ninth.

Offensively the Twins did just enough to win the ballgame against starter Phil Hughes and the Yankees’ very mediocre bullpen. Justin Morneau hit two home runs and Joe Mauer one, and the other run was driven in by Nick Punto – I know, incredible! Of course it’s not my job to forget Carlos Gomez failing to drive a runner home from third base with less than two outs in the second inning. The Twins really had Hughes on the ropes early on and failed to put the game away. It seemed as if Matt Tolbert came to the plate with two guys on every time he batted and he failed to get a hit, dropping his average below .200. It’s so funny how Dick Bremer spins Tolbert’s nonexistent hitting as being “all the Twins asked for from the #2 hole.” What!!??? My question is, how low can Tolbert go and still be an everyday player? My intuition tells me that as long as he plays error-free ball in the field, his average can dip below the .l00 line before Ron Gardenhire thinks of making a change. The other question to ask is: how high does Brendan Harris’ average need to be at for him to be an everyday player? Again, I know Gardenhire, and he just doesn’t care for people that he penciled in as bench players during spring training to be hitting above .300 and deserving of a job. Ron Gardenhire doesn’t want to have to think about things, and especially when it comes to improving his ball club, Ron Gardenhire doesn’t want anything to do with that.

Such a debilitating loss like this really knocks the wind out of both a player and a fan. The game was very exciting, but the ending was certainly bittersweet. I’ve been around the Twins long enough to know that they’re packing it in today; expect a blowout in the range of 10-1. You can’t come this close to winning in Yankee Stadium – they’ll make up for it in spades today.

One final thought: an ESPN analyst hypothesized that Mark Teixeira’s overreaction to Carlos Gomez running outside the baseline in the eighth inning “stirred the team up” and may serve as a “catalyst” for turning around the season. Certifiable idiot Dick Bremer tried to defend Carlos Gomez on the play, whereas in reality the Yankees have a legitimate beef. Gomez was clearly running on the inside of the baseline and not in the runner’s lane that is provided. His sole intention was interfering with the play, and then he screams like a petulant child when Teixeira, a man with five hundred times the skill and smarts that Gomez has, called him out on his dirty play. With Seldom Delmon on the “family emergency list” for 3-7 days, this unfortunately means more playing time for Carlos Gomez, a Double-A player who is by far the dumbest person I’ve ever seen play the game – so dumb, in fact, that he makes Alexi Casilla look like a Jeopardy champ. You’ll read more next week on Gomez, who is the next Twin to be In the Doghouse.

Friday, May 15, 2009

MAY 14, 2009 -- MINNESOTA 6, DETROIT 5

Another improbable comeback from the Twins, who rallied from five runs down in the seventh inning to beat the Tigers. Justin Verlander cruised through six innings, striking out a baker's dozen in all, but once the bullpen entered the game, things became unraveled. Sound familiar? That's usually what happens with the Twins, but I guess turnabout is fair game. Actually, had Ron Gardenhire controlled the Tigers for a day, Verlander probably wouldn't have started the seventh inning. Jim Leyland stretched Verlander out to over 120 pitches -- anathema for Ron Gardenhire, who believes that 100 pitches is far too many.

The Brain notched his first ejection of the season during that crucial seventh inning, and it was laughable why he got thrown out. He was "defending" Michael Cuddyer, who deserves a Razzie Award for his horrible acting trying to claim that he was hit by a Zach Miner pitch. The ball didn't quite come within a foot of hitting Cuddyer, but for some reason (probably well aware of his lack of talent), Cuddy tried to say he was hit by the pitch. It made Gardenhire's animated display with umpire Paul Neuert that much more pathetic. C'mon Cuddyer -- are you that terrible that you just don't even want to be in the batter's box?

No doubt Gardenhire was still pulling the strings from the clubhouse; either that's the case or Gardenhire has indoctrinated his brainless underlings on the ways of bad managing. In the eighth inning, with a man on and two outs, Scott Ullger summoned Matt Guerrier into the game to get one out. Whether or not Gardenhire made the move or not, the point remains the same. Why are you taking the risk of losing the game with your fourth-best reliever when your relief ace and $12 million-a-year man Joe Nathan sits on his ass? I'm fairly confident that Joe Nathan is capable of getting four outs on his own. It worked this time, but (like in Wednesday's game) more often than not Guerrier implodes and loses the game for you. Apparently Gardenhire is going to the grave with Joe Nathan not throwing more than 50 innings in a season, and with that philosophy goes your World Series chances.

Now Gardenhire and the Twins travel to the Bronx to face the so-so Yankees. Gardenhire must be thrilled that the Old Yankee Stadium is but a museum, as he could not win there to save his life. He was an amazing 3-19 against the Yanks at the House that Ruth Built; he nearly won as many playoff games (2) in four games than he won in twenty-two regular season affairs over seven seasons. It can't get much worse for Gardenhire. The Twins do catch a break by missing C.C. Sabathia in the four-game series, but consider taking one out of four to be a serious accomplishment. With Gardenhire, you learn the value of "baby steps."

Thursday, May 14, 2009

In The Doghouse: Ron Gardenhire

Ron Gardenhire's consistent mismanagement of the Minnesota Twins earns him a permanent place in The Doghouse. A manager only capable of winning division titles and nothing else, Gardenhire provides Twins fans constant frustration. A terrible player in his own right (think Nick Punto in a double-knit uniform), Gardenhire has no real skills to impart to his players and thrives mainly on being a clubhouse guy, a "player's manager." A good baseball manager, on the other hand, is a shrewd strategist -- a chess player, if you will -- and by the first seven-plus seasons as a manager, we are well aware of the fact that Ron Gardenhire is a horrible chess player. Gardenhire's real talents as a baseball man are in other areas -- scout, bench coach, cheerleader -- and his current title only hampers the Twins chances of real success (a World Series title). Unfortunately, Twins fans and Twins executives adore Gardenhire, mainly because his tenure started on the heels of the team being a perennial doormat, and three division titles in a row was a sign of success. Those three years were a real success, but in the seasons after -- especially 2006 -- have been a major disappointment, and Gardenhire's lack of in-game management have become startingly evident. Gardenhire must go, and until then he has a permanent spot in The Doghouse.

MAY 13, 2009 -- VIKINGS 14, LIONS 10

Fran Tarkenton throws a last-minute touchdown pass to Ahmad Rashad for the game-winning touchdown…or, Joe Crede hits an improbable walk-off grand slam in the 13th inning, giving the Twins a 14-10 victory over the Tigers. Quite obviously this game was not without its share of mistakes, which I’ll focus on later. But for those who think I am just a joyless pessimist, I have to say that I really enjoyed this game. Truly it was a Metrodome Classic, a game that just won’t be the same in Target Field. But enough accolades. There’s plenty to get to, so let’s just get started.

Pitching was not a strong suit tonight for the Twins. Yet again, the bullpen fails to hold multiple leads. Without the improbable comeback from the Twins, this blog would have lamented The Brain’s continued mismanagement of the bullpen. Luis Ayala was kept in the game two batters two late, setting the stage for the situations which have made Matt Guerrier (im)famous. Guerrier comes through with his first true Matt Guerrier Special of the year, giving up a go-ahead three-run home run on the first pitch he threw to Miguel Cabrera, and two batters later he gave up a center-field blast to some dude named Jeff Larish. This is an ideal MGS: Guerrier inherits a lead, gives up that lead and allows an insurance run to boot. This gives conformation to my hunch that Guerrier’s string of decent performances was all just a tease. This is the Matty Guerrier that we all know and love.

These failings were all forgotten when Jason Kubel came through with a booming pinch-hit home run to tie the game in the bottom of the eighth. Tigers flame-thrower Joel Zumaya pumped a 98-mile-an-hour fastball that left the building just as quick. If I was a Tiger fan, I’d be a lot more content with Zumaya blowing leads throwing absolute smoke. It sure looks and sounds better than seeing these pathetic 87-mile-an-hour cookies from Matt Guerrier getting drilled every time out. At least they are losing with their best talent on the mound, rather than the Twins losing consistently with their fourth-best reliever.

Hilarious sidenote to the bullpen continuing to suck is Dick Bremer’s comments. Bremer, a certifiable idiot, remarked that both Luis Ayala and R.A. Dickey were having real trouble with the first batters that they’ve faced in appearances this season. Wait a minute, Dick, they’ve had trouble getting any batter out this season, and only especially do they struggle with first hitters. Get it right, Dick. See, morons like Bremer, for many Twins fans, provide the only source of opinions on the Twins, and he loves to sugarcoat things. This re-emphasizes the importance of this blog, which seeks to re-educate those wayward fans who are too used to the type of undeserved praise constantly heaped on the team by fools like Dick Bremer, who are essentially cheerleaders paid for by the Twins.

Now, when the offense was non-existent in the 9th, 10th, and 11th innings, it appeared that the loss was warming up in the bullpen – the loss in this case being Jesse Crain, who’s looked absolutely dreadful this season. It underlines a major hole for the Twins – they are so incapable of winning games which are relegated to battles of the bullpen. Detroit’s bullpen is leagues better than the Twins’ bullpen, especially when The Brain chooses to use his best reliever (Joe Nathan) for one measly inning. Contrast that to the Tigers, who used Zumaya for fifty pitches and Brandon Lyon (the eventual loser) for sixty pitches. Fifty pitches are about a month’s worth for Joe Nathan, but look at the results – Zumaya was still touching 98 on the last pitches of his appearance. This proves the fact that these pitchers are certainly capable of stretching it out, and the theory damn near won the ballgame for the Tigers. Think of Brandon Lyon’s sixty-pitch performance this way – had he started the game for the Twins, Ron Gardenhire and Rick Anderson would have been thinking of taking him out soon, as he was approaching the 100 pitch count!

Had Crede not bailed out the team with his home run, the goat of the game no doubt would have been Jesse Crain. When he entered the ballgame, you knew the Twins were going to lose – all that was undetermined was the way the Tigers would do it. So surprising was the 12th inning, when Crain induced a double-play ball and pitched a scoreless inning! Considering Jesse Crain’s lack of talent, we knew that trend wouldn’t continue, and when Curtis Granderson hit a triple in the top of the 13th, we knew we were well on our way. We just needed to know how it would end. When Crain’s on the mound, we’ve learned to expect the worst possible way to lose, so it wasn’t surprising when he got Placido Polanco to pop up to left. Now, with two outs and Granderson on third, how was it going to happen? An error – no, that would mean it wasn’t Crain’s fault. A base hit – that would require talent from the hitter, which certainly isn’t a prerequisite when facing Crain. A home run – I like the way you’re thinking, but we need something more pathetic than that. A wild pitch – now this would be pathetic. It happened on Sunday with Crain on the mound, and it looked like a perfect spot for another. Crain had two strikes on the hitter, setting up a perfect opportunity for a back-breaking wild pitch.

Then Crain did something incredible – he outdid himself. He found a way to allow the run on a more pathetic way than I had even imagined – he balked in the run. Of course Bremer spun it that Granderson so shrewdly deked out Crain, forcing him to alter his delivery and not come set. No, Dick, no. What really happened on the play is that Jesse Crain is a f***ing idiot, and there’s no bullpen sessions or minor-league assignments that can change that.

One more thing. The Re-Education Center gives some serious props to Tiger skipper Jim Leyland on his ejection in the seventh inning. Leyland’s old-school bitching and barking at umpire Paul Schreiber (who called an awful game behind the plate, btw) was classic, and it’s that sort of negativity and pessimism that is so prized here at the MTRC.