Tuesday, June 30, 2009


A pathetic performance from the Twins on Monday, who managed a paltry two hits -- two -- of young Royal righthander Luke Hochevar, who's a terrible pitcher in every sense of the word. He struggled mightily early on just getting the ball over the plate, as he allowed two Twins to reach in each of the first three innings, but the Twins did not break through with a hit until the fourth. In that inning, Michael Cuddyer doubled to lead off the inning, and was unacceptably left there, as the vaunted combo of Brian Buscher, Seldom Young, and Nick Punto all flew out to the outfield. Yeah, that's Nick Punto folks, "healthy" again and in the everyday lineup. It was said, however, that Punto's ribs felt good enough to play on Monday but if they were to flare up again, Ron Gardenhire would have no choice but to put Punto on the disabled list. I'm crossing my fingers in the hope that those ribs flare up (and soon) and I even like that he played on Monday, because if he did go on the DL, he would miss the full 15 days, whereas if they had disabled him prior to Monday's game, he would have been eligible to play in about a week and a half, seeing as he had already missed five games. My hope is is that Gardy plays Punto tonight and he slides headfirst into first base again and he injures himself. In fact, while you're at it, break a leg, Punto, because you gone for the season would make this .500 team that much better to watch.

Speaking of injuries, Joe Crede's nagging injuries are back, and now it involves what Twins fans were dreading all along. Apparently Crede's back was giving him problems in St. Louis and that forced him out of the game on Monday. For the first three months, Crede had more injuries than I even think is humanly possible, but none of them concerned the back that was cited as Crede's liability in the offseason. Now the back is starting to hurt, and that could mean more playing time for Brian Buscher. That's not exactly a good thing, because Brian Buscher sucks -- I mean sucks. The guy's hitting .198 with little power, and he's no defensive upgrade, wherever he plays. Buscher doesn't belong in professional baseball -- he fits the mold of a good St. Paul Saint, in that he a) sucks, and b) he's got a Minnesota connection that could bring in a few fans here and there. He reminds me of another ex-Twin that I happened to notice scanning through the Northern League boxscores the other day: outfielder Dustan Mohr, who did have a pretty good year for the Twins in 2002, and then fell off the face of the earth and is now playing for the Wichita Wingnuts of the Northern League. Buscher's success last year was nothing more than a fluke, and he's proving it to everyone who follows the Twins now (well, except Ron Gardenhire). The Twins apparently have a top-notch prospect at third base named Danny Valencia, who was recently promoted to Triple-A. If Crede's back craps out, you might as well bring Valencia up -- the Twins aren't going anywhere this season anyway, and since Valencia will probably be the starter come Opening Day 2010, it might be a good idea to give the guy some experience now.

Nick Blackburn pitched very well for the Twins in the first five innings, surrendering only a two-out, unearned run in the second inning (caused by Michael Cuddyer stupidity, who insanely threw the ball into the left field corner to score a run). Then came the sixth, when Blackburn gave up back-to-back home runs to Alberto Callaspo and Miguel Olivo. I know, who???! You don't give up hits to guys like Alberto Callaspo, much less home runs. It should also be said that Blackburn gave up a base hit to Tony Pena Jr., who is by far the worst hitter among position players in the major leagues. Nick Punto looks like God at the plate compared to Pena, who came into the game hitting .088!!! It's not as if it's an anomaly, either -- Pena hit .169 in 95 games last season for the Royals, with an unheard-of OPS of .398. Blackburn's stuff is conducive to giving up some base hits, but if you're giving up hits to Tony Pena Jr. you don't belong in the bigs, I'm sorry.

Scott Baker pitches tonight for the Twins against right-hander Brian Bannister for the Royals, who's done well against the Twins in his career. Baker has done very well against the Royals in his career, too, notably coming close to a perfect game against KC in 2007. Baker had a no-hitter after six innings against the Royals this year (and had a 4-0 lead) and ended up losing the game in what was one of the most pathetic games I have ever seen. This Royal team has really struggled since the Twins first saw them this year, but the way the Twins' are (i.e. wildly inconsistent), it would make a lot of sense for them to win two series on the road against teams tied for first place and then get swept by the fourth-place Royals. Let's hope that doesn't happen.

Monday, June 29, 2009

JUNE 28, 2009 -- MINNESOTA 6, ST. LOUIS 2

The Twins complete a rare series victory on the road, riding a Justin Morneau three-run homer in the first inning and seven solid innings by Francisco Liriano to an easy 6-2 victory. The Cardinals could not be buoyed to a win by their new acquisition, Mark DeRosa, who batted cleanup for St. Louis and is pretty much the second-best hitter in their lineup behind Albert Pujols. The Twins only surrendered one base hit to Pujols when he doubled off of Matty Guerrier in the eighth inning, and importantly they walked him once. The Twins are very adamant in their no-walks approach to pitching, as they have perennially led the league in fewest walks ever since the current regime took over. What they need to realize is that sometimes walks are not necessarily a bad thing. Had they walked Albert Pujols on Saturday with runners on base instead of going after him, they may have won the game, and at the very least it would have forced the Cardinals to beat the Twins with secondary weapons. Pujols is a sore thumb in the St. Louis lineup, but in a good way -- he's the only guy with a good amount of talent in that lineup, so he sticks out like a sore thumb in a different way. Once again, the Twins let sore thumbs beat them on Saturday, but on Sunday they were fortunate to not have to face Pujols with guys on base. If that would have happened, Ron Gardenhire certainly would not have walked him, because he's too hellbent on not playing "embarrassing baseball." It's funny what Gardy considers embarrassing -- I think that a manager stupid enough to pitch to the best hitter in the league just so he can gain some points with Tony LaRussa is red-faced embarrassing, but that's just me.

Morneau snapped out of his funk with the home run in the first inning, but he was right back at it in the third, grounding into a double-play with runners on first and second and nobody out. It would have been a rally killing double play had it not been for Jason Kubel, who picked up Morneau with an RBI single in the next at-bat. Kubel is increasingly showing his value for the Twins, and with Morneau being a very streaky hitter, Kubel has been a rock in the #5 hole for the Twins. He's been surprisingly consistent and he's arguably had some of the biggest hits of the year for the Twins. Say what you will about Morneau, but I'd take Jason Kubel in a clutch situation any day of the week and twice on Sunday. Morneau continues to take some ugly swings -- it's definitely not the kind of swing that you'd like to teach your twelve-year old. He constantly steps in the bucket and he takes his left hand off the bat during his follow-through. It's really not pretty, but if he's hitting thirty homers and driving in 120 ribbies, I'll take it. But you just don't see too many game-tying hits late in the ballgame from Morneau. And the fact is, he's always going to get good pitches to hit, especially the way that Kubel's been going. With Joe Mauer hitting before you and a red-hot Kubel following you, Morneau's always going to be given fastballs. He's been in a rut of late, but thankfully Kubel has been perhaps more valuable all season long, and he's always there to pick up the team.

The Twins have surprisingly won both series to start this 9-game road trip, though both games that they have lost they really could have and should have won. Now they get to travel to Kansas City, and the Royals have really struggled in the last month and a half. The Twins get a break because they won't have to face Zach Greinke in the series. Staff ace Nick Blackburn looks to rebound from the eighth-inning disaster on Wednesday against the Brewers tonight as he opposes Kansas City youngster Luke Hochevar.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

JUNE 27, 2009 -- ST. LOUIS 5, MINNESOTA 3

The score basically could have been Albert Pujols 2, Kevin Slowey 0. Slowey gave up two home runs to the Cardinals superstar on two pitches that I think a pitcher could have hit out of the park -- hell, Nick Punto could maybe have gotten a double on those pitches. Ron Gardenhire has too much class to walk Pujols, so he'd rather lose the game than play "embarrassing baseball," as he put it. Wait, wait, wait a minute -- you'd rather pitch to the only guy in the St. Louis lineup that can do any sort of damage just so you can keep up your street cred? Look, Gardenhire, you're no Crip and the Bloods want no part of you after all. Whether or not it's an intentional or unintentional walk, put the guy on base and give yourself a chance to win! You did exactly that after his first two home runs -- why not nip the deficit that you're in before it even happens by sticking to that gameplan all along?

This is different than playing the Yankees, whose lineup is so formidable that to give up key hits to the sore thumbs of the lineup will cost you dearly, as the Twins proved in May. Look at the Cardinals lineup -- Yadier Molina hits fifth for the Redbirds; Ryan Ludwick is apparently playing part time baseball now; the rest of the lineup is cluttered with Joe Schmos and "some guys." Some guy named Skip Schumacher is hitting lead off for St. Louis, rookies like Tyler Greene and Cody Rasmus are playing everyday. Albert Pujols sticks out like a sore thumb in a good way for the Cardinals -- in that he's the only good player that they have. Just like you say to yourself that Francisco Cervelli and Brett Gardner can't beat you when you play the Yankees, you've got to say that Pujols, because of the lineup that surrounds him, cannot be the guy that you lose the game to. Let Rick Ankiel and Chris Duncan win the game for you -- at least then it might be a bit of a surprise. Ron Gardenhire would have none of that, however. He defended his decision by not walking Pujols in the at-bats in which he would end up homering against Kevin Slowey by saying, "If you want to just [intentionally] walk him every time up, I think that's embarrassing baseball. That's ridiculous baseball." No, Gardenhire. What's ridiculous is that a major-league manager would watch Pujols hit not one but two home runs against you when the situation obviously dictates that you don't give the guy anything good to hit. Okay, so you don't intentionally walk him -- tell Slowey to bean him, or throw four out of the zone "unintentionally." There's no loss of integrity by intentionally walking the best hitter in the National League when there's runners on base. If you intentionally walked him with the bases empty, sure, that's kind of a dickhead move. But especially in the third, when there were two out and Slowey had already given up a home run to Pujols, you've got to at least pitch around him. Instead, Slowey gives him a straight, 90 mile-an-hour fastball right down the pipe, and Pujols hits it to Jefferson City. That's ridiculous baseball, Gardenhire.

The offense did not fare too much better either on Saturday. Todd Wellemeyer struggled in a horrendous 2 1/3 innings and the Twins were only able to get a lucky two-out three-run single off the bat of Brendan Harris that should have been caught by left fielder Chris Duncan. Tony LaRussa gave Wellemeyer an early shower in the third inning, and the Twins hit the rest of the way against the mediocre (read: much better than the Twins') bullpen of the Cardinals. Josh Kinney and his Sean Henn-esque 8.50 ERA ended up with the victory, and a menage of other retreads buckled the hapless Twins for 6 and 2/3 innings, no-namers like Kyle McClellan and Jason Motte combined with veteran lefties Trever Miller and Dennys Reyes, jowls and all, who is certainly familiar to Twins fans, as he was pretty effective out of a largely ineffective bullpen last year for the Twins. Considering Reyes' replacement, Jose Mijares, can belly up to any buffet as good as Reyes can, it's not as if we lost a whole lot (maybe ten pounds, give or take -- just give Mijares some time). If we still had Reyes, however, we probably would not have gotten to know Sean Henn, and that would have been for the best. Henn pitched for the first time since last Saturday's MGS and continued his ineffectiveness by walking two batters. The highlight of the game for the Twins was probably Bobby Keppel, who made a good debut with the Twins in his new role, which is basically the new R.A. Dickey. Keppel pitched for scoreless innings in relief of Slowey, who only went three innings. What, may you ask, was a large reason why Keppel was able to throw zeroes in those innings? He walked Albert Pujols twice.

Now the Twins have to count on Francisco Liriano to win the series on Sunday, and Liriano's been nothing close to what the Twins wanted out of him. Furthermore, the Twins have to face Joel Pineiro, against whom the Twins have never done much against and Pineiro is fresh off a two-hit shutout against the Mets his last start. The Twins were lucky to get one win in St. Louis, and Ron Gardenhire made sure that his team would drop at least one to the Cardinals, as sort of a tip of the cap to Tony LaRussa. A good way that Gardenhire can assure his team of losing the series is to continue pitching to the only good hitter the Cardinals have. He might not have a choice -- if Liriano continues his trend of pitching two balls to every strike, Pujols might be coming to the plate with a lot of runners on base on Sunday.

JUNE 26, 2009 -- MINNESOTA 3, ST. LOUIS 1

The Twins snag an easy, breezy win in hot and humid St. Louis Friday night, as they ride the pitching prowess of Glen Perkins and the shaky bullpen to a 3-1 win. A clutch two-out hit from Jason Kubel in the first inning provided the spark for the Twins, who were also aided by a Cardinal error in scoring their second run of the opening frame. Michael Cuddyer singled home Kubel in the sixth inning for the Twins' final run, and the lead would hold up against the shockingly average Cardinal lineup. I said in Milwaukee that I was unimpressed with the Brewer lineup and surprised that they were just a game out of first place; now I'm even more flabbergasted to see the Cardinals, who held first place coming into the game. Beyond Albert Pujols and maybe Ryan Ludwick, the Cardinals offense scares no one, and their pitching isn't overwhelming either. I'd love to say, hey, it's a credit to Tony LaRussa's expert managing that he always seems to find a way to compete with the players he's given, but people say that all the time about Ron Gardenhire, and I've found that to be undeserved praise. Some teams just get lucky consistently, and that's certainly the case with Ron Gardenhire's Twins, and it's also probably true with the Cardinals. Both teams are fortunate to play in weak divisions, but what separates the two is LaRussa's actual talent as a playoff manager. Gardenhire's good enough to get the team into the playoffs, but LaRussa isn't satisfied with that. He's been to the playoffs literally thirteen times with three ballclubs -- he wants to win the World Series, dammit, and he's done that twice, too.

In the top half of the eighth inning, Matt Tolbert struck out in front of the pitcher's spot for the third out of the inning, making it possible for Glen Perkins to go out and pitch the bottom half of the inning. With 82 pitches and in complete command of the game, it would be the logical choice. After all, your bullpen has failed you consistently for a few seasons in a row, now, and even Ron Gardenhire himself said that he'd like to get more innings out of his starters. Well, what you could do for a start is not take out Glen Perkins after 82 pitches. Of course, unreliable ol' Matty Guerrier started the eighth inning and promptly gave up two singles. There seemed to be a collective rumbling from Twins Nation that said, "Here we go again," but then Guerrier came back to strike out Tyler Greene, and then surprisingly Ron Gardenhire came out of the dugout and brought in Jose Mijares to face Skip Schumacher. It's going to be a collective Matt Guerrier Special, I thought, but then Mijares bailed out Guerrier, Gardenhire, and the Twins by inducing a double-play grounder on the only pitch he threw. Joe Nathan came in and pitched a clean ninth inning, and perhaps providing the highlight of the game when he fanned Pujols when the slugger represented the tying run.

No doubt Gardenhire would have cited the unbearable St. Louis heat for taking out Glen Perkins. Gardenhire's a better liar than most of us think, and he gives more excuses than a petulent five year old. He may have even referred to a scary incident in the stands, when a fan toppled headfirst from the second deck to the lower bowl of the stadium from an apparent case of fainting. "We need Perk ready for his next start," Gardy would likely cop out. Most likely, however, taking out Perkins on Friday was directly influenced by his decision to keep Nick Blackburn in the game on Wednesday, and that ended with Blackburn giving up the Little League home run that lost the game for them. And that whole spiel about "keeping the starters in longer?" Yeah, you can pretty much throw that out the window. The only thing that's probably going to change is that Sean Henn won't be called on to lose games anymore, and his role has likely been relegated to long-relief mop-up duty. Gardenhire just feels a heckuva lot more comfortable losing with Matt Guerrier in the eighth, and with the status quo resumed, we're probably in for a sequel of last year -- by that I mean a second place finish. They won't be nearly as close as they came in 2008, though; my odds are that the Tigers will run away with the division, winning it by about ten games.

Friday, June 26, 2009


The Twins pick up a nice win in Milwaukee, winning two out of three games at Miller Park. That seems to be the protocol for the Twins against the Brewers the last few years -- they've fared quite well against their neighbors to the east. Scott Baker pitches five solid innings and then hits the wall like he usually does in the middle innings. Fortunately, the Twins lead was such that his two home-run, three-run sixth inning did not give up the lead, and the Twins would tack on a couple of runs the following inning and extend the lead to a safe 6-3 margin. Denard Span had a marvelous return from the disabled list, reaching base four times and really providing that spark that was desperately missing for two weeks. Brendan Harris was doing a fine job there until Ron Gardenhire inexplicably changed things up and put one of his worst players in that spot (either Matt Tolbert or Carlos Gomez). Span is really the only guy on the team who's a natural fit in the lead-off position, and him being healthy means that Ron Gardenhire doesn't have to exercise any more of the all-too seldom brain cells that he has in order to decide who will lead off. For those who didn't think Span was invaluable to the team were supremely educated on Thursday. The Twins won't be winning a division title this season, but Span's presence can at the very least preserve a .500 record.

The bullpen has continued to pitch decent enough, and Ron Gardenhire surprised me by putting R.A. Dickey into the game in the seventh inning. All indications are that it might be Dickey after all who could assume the role that Luis Ayala had on the club (seventh-inning guy), and it appears that Dickey is not as hellbent on extending leads as Ayala apparently was. He's a junkballer, yes, but he's been an effective one at that, and he might as well assume the eighth inning role as well. Matt Guerrier's been garnering some favorable press as of late, but let's remember that he started last season off pretty well too. The cookie that Guerrier threw to Ryan Braun in the eighth inning -- you could see Braun's eyes pop when he saw that pitch -- that's the real Guerrier, folks. He cannot be trusted with leads; well, apparently Ron Gardenhire has faith in Guerrier. He had so much faith last year in Guerrier that he chose the right-hander to be the guy to block them from making the post-season. The frequency of which Gardenhire chose to put the ragged-armed Guerrier into close ballgames last year should raise red flags to gambling monitors. By September if Guerrier was brought into the game it was 100% certain that he was giving up runs. The lingering resentment of one lost division title is the main reason that Guerrier has a permanent spot in The Doghouse, and even if he pitches to a 1.50 ERA this season, he's there for life.

Now the Twins will stop in St. Louis for a three-game series, and will be playing their first games in the New Busch Stadium, which if anything is good for the Twins. The Old Busch Stadium was a bit of a nightmare for Tom Kelly, who went 2-10 there (including, of course, the 1987 World Series). Ron Gardenhire will be managing against the Cardinals for the first time in his career, and it's a long time coming, because Tony LaRussa is probably the manager that Gardy takes after the most. It's LaRussa, after all, that is primarily responsible for introducing the concept of the modern bullpen to the game, wherein the team's designated closer rarely goes more than one inning per appearance, and set-up men, previously a role unheard of, bridged the gap from the starter to the closer. It's revolutionized the game, and no doubt LaRussa has his critics, but you can't argue with two World Series championships, five Series appearances, and umpteen playoff appearances. Pretty sure Ron Gardenhire won't touch that.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


The Twins lose on a Little League home run by the light hitting Jason Kendall, and it was also reported that Ken Macha took the entire Brewer team to Dairy Queen after the game for their spectacular come-back win. There was no such joy in the Twins clubhouse, as Nick Blackburn's throwing error cost the Twins a game in which they should have won. Blackburn's pitched at least eight innings in three straight starts now, which is expected from your staff ace. But in all three of those starts, he's had the lead in the eighth and twice he's blown those leads. Two weeks ago in Oakland he was cruising along with a 3-0 lead and, after an Adam Kennedy home run, the game was tied after eight and the Twins would end up losing in the ninth. On Wednesday Blackburn had a 3-2 lead with two out and nobody on base in the bottom of the eighth inning. All he needed to do was to get out light-hitting J.J. Hardy and his night would be satisfyingly complete. Hardy blooped a single to center field -- still, you're fine, as long as you get out the .230-hitting Jason Kendall. Instead, Kendall hits one off the wall, Hardy scores, and because Brendan Harris' throw got past Joe Mauer on the relay to the plate, Kendall took off for third. Nick Blackburn, who was backing up the play at the plate, threw wildly to third, and the ball went into the outfield, and Kendall could walk home with the winning run. In essence, Blackburn made two bad pitches in the entire game: the pitch that Kendall ripped for the double, and the errant throw he made to third. Not sure why Blackburn even threw to third; as long as you get the next guy out, the game's still tied. It would have taken a perfect throw to get Kendall, and instead you make a terrible decision and a horrendous throw and you lose the game right then and there. Ridiculous.

I imagine Ron Gardenhire will be second-guessed for keeping Blackburn in the game. I'm not one of those people who would second-guess Gardenhire for this move, as Blackburn's your ace and you ought to ride your best pitcher. He had a low pitch count (not that that should matter, anyway) and he was in control of the game. And even though Blackburn chose a really pathetic way to lose the game, it's better than seeing Matt Guerrier lose the game. But the reality is, now that Blackburn's lost leads in the eighth inning twice in three starts, it's probably going to make Gardenhire even more cautious with his starters. I think a reason that Blackburn and all of the starters seem to struggle in the eighth inning is that it's uncharted territory to them. The regime has told them, "give me six or seven good innings and you've done you're job," and because of that mentality that has been driven into them even as early as the minor leagues, when they get to the eighth and ninth innings, they feel that they shouldn't be on the mound. If they're good, they should possess that killer instinct that great pitchers have. Not only do they not have that, but they're managed by a guy who loves to lose with his bullpen. So Blackburn's struggles will likely force Gardenhire's hand. The next time that the Twins are up by a run going into the eighth inning, expect Matty Guerrier to be in there. That means that Guerrier will be pitching a whole lot more than he has already this season, which means that Guerrier will eventually be overused, which means more Matt Guerrier Specials (MGS), which means more Twins losses. So it'll all even out as it should.

Blackburn's eighth inning was pretty pathetic, but it's not as pathetic as the earlier runs that he surrendered. Looking at the Brewer lineup, it's surprising that the team is competing for first place (considering the Twins, that sounds familiar). Aside from Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, there isn't a whole lot in that lineup that really scares the opposition. The bottom of the order is so bad that it even conjures up a certain sense of Puntoesque Patheticness: J.J. Hardy's hitting in the .210s, Jason Kendall hasn't done jackshit since leaving the Pirates five years ago, and on Wednesday the pitcher's spot was filled by Braden Looper, who was hitting .050 on the season. So of course, all three RBIs that the Brewers got were from Kendall and Looper, who inexplicably got a base hit in the third inning. You don't give up hits to the opposing pitcher, especially ones who are 1 for 21 at the plate. That's tantamount to giving up a hit to Nick Punto -- it's just unacceptable. You look at that lineup and you say, hey, if Braun and Fielder are going to beat us, so be it. They're their best hitters. But you don't give up hits -- game winning hits, no less -- to the sore thumbs of the opponent's lineup. Jason Kendall is terrible at the plate -- you sure as hell don't give up game-winning Little League homers to this guy. The ball almost went over the fence legitimately. We're talking about a guy who has hit six home runs combined in the last five years. Pathetic.

Now the Twins face minor-league veteran Mike Burns on Thursday afternoon, and he opposes Scott Baker, who might have a good start and might have a bad start. He's just so inconsistent that it's been frustrating to watch this season. The Twins likely will have a hard time with Burns on Thursday; after all, they only got three runs off Braden Looper on Wednesday, and he didn't have much to offer in terms of talent.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


The Twins doink their way to a sloppy 7-3 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday, with Francisco Liriano putting forth probably the worst performance I have ever seen garner a win by a starting pitcher. In five innings, Liriano gave up seven hits, walked five batters and threw 117 pitches -- quite incredible, actually, to think that Liriano was still in the game at that point. In a rare fit of altruism, Ron Gardenhire let Liriano be eligible for the win, even though Liriano was far from deserving of picking up any kind of win. R.A. Dickey pitched a clean sixth and seventh innings, continuing his run of dominance while not being able to pitch in more pressure situations. The role for Dickey has remained the same since the beginning of the year; a long reliever who can go 2-3 innings each appearance. In Ron Gardenhire's mind, a knuckleball/junkball pitcher cannot possibly have a role more important than mere mop-up duty, so even though he's had by far the best year of any reliever save Joe Nathan, Ron Gardenhire won't think of putting Dickey in, say, the eighth inning. That's Matt Guerrier's job for life, and we all know that Gardenhire is willing to lose division titles because of that philosophy (2008, anybody?).

The Twins offense was clicking against Jeff Suppan, who's about as average as you can get when it comes to starting pitchers. It was a good matchup for Liriano, as Suppan's stuff is very hittable; that is evidenced in Carlos Gomez' 3 for 5 night at the plate. Gomez was again inexplicably leading off -- still not sure why Ron Gardenhire has a guy hitting .220 in the lead-off spot when Brendan Harris has thrived there. The Twins lucked out in the first inning, when they benefited from a wild pitch. Not surprisingly, Michael Cuddyer swung at a pitch literally three feet outside -- he didn't come within a foot of touching the baseball -- but the pitch was so terrible that it got past Jason Kendall. Instead of an inning-ending strikeout, Cuddyer made it to first base, which loaded the bases for Joe Crede. Crede promptly cleared the bases with a double, and the Twins were quickly ahead 3-0. Liriano made it clear to everyone in the park that a 3-0 lead with him on the mound is far from safe, and he put the Brewers immediately back in the game in the bottom of the first, giving up hits and walks to make it 3-2 Twins. The offense kept chugging away at Suppan, and the Brewer defense also chipped in some unearned runs in the third. Seldom Young doubled home a run following a J. J. Hardy error, and then Gomez cheesed a hit that fell just past Hardy into center field, bringing the Twins' lead to 7-3. With the way Liriano was going, it did not appear that the lead was safe, but strangely the score did not change, and the Twins opened their nine-game road trip with a nice win against the rival Brew Crew.

Ken Macha was to say following the game that the Brewers played their worst game of the season, and it did not help that Miller Park was in a bit of disrepair following a severe rainstorm that happened there on Sunday. The clubhouses were flooded and the damage to the park was evident, and if anything else it appeared that the Brewers' morale was affected. They didn't really seem ready to play, and with Liriano again struggling with command, it was surprising that they didn't jump on him more. The Brewers just looked a little listless out there on Tuesday, and I would expect an increased intensity from the Brewers for Wednesday's game. Twins ace Nick Blackburn has been pitching very well of late and he opposes Brewer veteran Braden Looper, who the Twins fared well against last month at the Metrodome. As a side note, Nick Punto had to leave the game again due to those bruised ribs that he's dealt with since sliding head-first into first base on Saturday!!! Though it means more playing time for Matt Tolbert, who's now in an 0 for 14 slump at the plate, at least I don't have to watch Punto any more than I have to. Here's to another trip on the DL for Superman -- I'm crossing my fingers.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Luis Ayala is Out of The Doghouse!

Happy day! The Twins officially dispatched horrible relief pitcher Luis Ayala on Tuesday in anticipation of the opening game of the three-game series against the Brewers. Ayala, who had a deceivingly low 4.13 ERA, had the perennial task of extending opponents' leads, and he was doing that fantastically. Give Ayala a one-run deficit and he'd turn it into a two-run deficit, whether you give him one batter or five. In reality, Ayala had lost any value for the Twins by the middle of April, but characteristically, the Twins let Ayala lose a few more games for them in order to get their money's worth. After all, they paid this guy $1.3 million to lose games for them, and they'd be darned if they weren't going to get all that they paid for. Ayala's departure is yet another in the long list of free-agent busts and bad trades that the Twins have had in the last five years. Here we go:

Terry Mulholland
Pat Borders
Juan Castro
Bret Boone
Tony Batista
Rondell White
Ruben Sierra
Phil Nevin
Jeff Cirillo
Sidney Ponson
Ramon Ortiz
Adam Everett
Mike Lamb
Carlos Gomez
Seldom Young
Livan Hernandez
Craig Monroe
Eddie Guardado
Luis Ayala

That's impressive. Some guy named Bobby Keppel has been called up to take Ayala's spot on the roster. In ten major league games, Keppel is 0-4 with a 6.10 ERA, though most of those games were starts for the 2006 Kansas City Royals. Whatever Keppel's stats are, he's going to be an upgrade from Luis Ayala, who just could not get people out at the major league level. And Keppel's been doing a fine job in Rochester, for whatever that's worth. We all know that Sean Henn was firing aces down in Triple-A, and that hasn't exactly translated to success in the majors. But it was about time that the Twins addressed Ayala's suckiness -- too bad it was two months two late. He was so bad that he got a spot in The Doghouse, but before I was able to write a formal piece on Ayala in The Doghouse, he was released. There's only a few ways that you can get out of the Doghouse: getting released, retiring, getting sent to the minor leagues, or winning a World Series. Ayala is free because of his release.

In the Doghouse: Carlos Gomez

Carlos Gomez is, quite simply, the dumbest player I have ever had the pleasure to watch in my many years following baseball. And the really sad thing is, I don't think it can be attributed to "youth." It's Gomez' stupidity and lack of baseball instinct that puts him in The Doghouse with no forseeable end to this dubious honor. In all fairness to Gomez, he really should not be in the major leagues, but Ron Gardenhire and Bill Smith have the fans in mind for this one, as they feel that the disastrous Johan Santana trade would perhaps look less bad if one of the players was on the 25-man roster. Unfortunately for Gomez and the Twins, he's a Double-A player at best, and he hurts the team far more than he helps them. Gomez certainly has desirable attributes that you want out of a ballplayer: he plays pretty good defense and he is fast. Now the defense is above average, for sure (though he's not immune to the defensive lapse, i.e. overthrowing cut-off men, taking horrid angles at balls in the gap). The speed, however, is one thing that Gomez has not harnessed. For how much speed he does possess, he negates it by being a terrible baserunner. He has no instincts on which he can get good leads of the basepaths and gets terrible jumps off of the pitchers. No doubt he doesn't have much in-game experience at gaining leads off pitchers because, as we fans know all too well, Gomez has a hard time even getting on base in the first place. Gomez at the plate is kind of like the dry heaves; you're so sick to your stomach that you can't throw up, even if you want to. He's kind of like a Latino version of Denny Hocking, in that he swings at balls way out of the strike zone and looks at fastballs right down the middle. You can tell that Joe Vavra and the regime have told him to take more pitches this season, as last season he was swinging out of his shoes in every single at-bat. 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.

Monday, June 22, 2009


A pathetic showing in a series finale at home against a second-division ballclub in the Houston Astros. Frankly the Twins are appearing to be second-division in their own right, especially on Sunday, when they were never in the game and never seemed even even attempting to participate in the game. They got two hits in the game -- two -- off Houston starter Wandy Rodriguez and the bullpen. That's not too surprising considering the pathetic lineup that Ron Gardenhire put on the field. Justin Morneau inexplicably sat out the game; for what reason I am still baffled. Carlos Gomez, he of the .219 batting average, batted leadoff, struck out twice in three at-bats and saw a grand total of nine pitches all afternoon -- absolutely unacceptable for a guy in the lead-off position, yet Ron Gardenhire thinks that Gomez can do the job. He's been going pretty good with Brendan Harris in the leadoff position, so what does he do? Changes things, and puts one of the worst players on the team in the lead-off spot. Here's to Denard Span coming back to the everyday lineup; though Harris did admirably in the lead-off spot, Ron Gardenhire apparently was not ready to use him there every day. With Span, there's no question where he's hitting in the lineup. It just makes that decision easier for Ron Gardenhire -- and we're talking about a guy who struggles making simple decisions like that.

Glen Perkins put forth a miserable start on Sunday. Before he got an out, Perkins had given up two runs, and considering the Twins' lineup, that was enough for the Astros, who added another in the first and one in the seventh. Looking at Perkins' line on Sunday doesn't indicate a terrible start, but giving up three runs in the top of the first inning to a poor ballclub like Houston is a punch in the stomach for your team, especially one that, because of your manager, was pretty much playing shorthanded voluntarily (Justin Morneau being on the bench for rest). And the defense sort of betrayed Perkins in the first, as Matt Tolbert did a terrible job covering first base on Michael Bourn's leadoff bunt single, and Jason Kubel lost Miguel Tejada's double in the roof. In all fairness, Kubel wasn't feeling 100% and had to be lifted in the fourth inning due to illness. The Twins lineup, hence, for the bulk of the game looked like this: Gomez, Harris, Mauer, Cuddyer, Buscher, Crede, Seldom, Redmond, and Tolbert. By far the worst lineup that has taken the field this season.

Why are we giving Justin Morneau a day off, Gardenhire? I did state on this site yesterday that Morneau has struggled of late and needs to pick it up, but I didn't mean bench the guy. He had played in 319 straight games until Sunday, and you have a scheduled off day Monday. Why on earth would you bench a guy who's in the top ten in all three Triple Crown categories? See, this is the kind of insanity that separates Ron Gardenhire from the rest of the idiots. Most of the time Ron Gardenhire's insanity shines through during the game -- he did it Saturday with his mismanagement of the pitching staff, something he's done an umpteen amount of times. But on Sunday, Gardy's stupidity was secured even before the first pitch, accomplished when he sat down to write out the starting lineup. Why Justin Morneau was benched is absolutely beyond me. First off, you play baseball. A kid's game. Secondly, baseball players get paid oodles of millions of dollars to play said kid's game. There are people right now who are working seven days a week, ten hours a day who get paid peanuts and don't get a day off. Ron Gardenhire sits his second best player the day before a scheduled off day so he can get some "rest." That, my friends, is sheer insanity.

So the Twins finish a six game home stand in which they faced a fifth-place team and a sixth-place team and they went 3-3. Now they get to go on the road to face a first-place team and a second place team in the Milwaukee Brewers and the St. Louis Cardinals. The road has not been kind to the Twins, and by them not taking any momentum into the road trip, this nine-gamer might spell doom for the Twins. The prospects for a winning road trip are bleak, especially considering the mediocrity that is so prized with Ron Gardenhire and the Twins. It's getting more and more apparent that Francisco Liriano belongs in the bullpen, which means that Ron Gardenhire will likely keep him in the rotation, and it's Liriano's turn to start the series opener in Milwaukee on Tuesday. He opposes Brewer veteran Jeff Suppan.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


One day after rinky-dinky cheese-ball scores them five runs (well, three legitimate runs, not counting the Seldom Young line drive that was misplayed into two runs), the Twins power their way to five runs, all via the long ball, and they lose the game 6-5 due to their bullpen. The game was a throwback in many ways to the Twins of 2008, when Ron Gardenhire regularly lost the game with his pathetic bullpen. This time around he takes out Scott Baker with the lead in the seventh inning and entrusts Sean Henn with a lead for the umpteenth time, and for the umpteenth time, Henn comes in and loses the game. We all know that Gardenhire is obsessed with his bullpen pitchers having set-in-stone “roles”; but the rapid ascension of Henn from career minor-league journeyman to seventh-inning left-handed stopper on a “competing” team is baffling even to Gardenhire’s most outspoken critic. Henn did nothing prior to assuming this new important role to suggest that he could hold leads and be anything close to reliable. But Ron Gardenhire has embraced the idea that Henn is a guy who can come into close games late and lose them pathetically. After all, Henn’s lost three games in two weeks since becoming that guy, and with Matt Guerrier having an uncharacteristically “good” year, all indications are that Henn is quickly becoming the new yukster in the ‘pen, a Guerrier version.2009, if you will.

When Gardenhire took Baker out, it was expected that Sean Henn would definitely not hold the lead. The only thing up in the air was whether Henn would produce the true Matt Guerrier Special (MGS), in which the reliever not only gives up the lead but puts his team behind by at least two runs. Henn came through in spades, as he gave up the tying hit to .200-hitting Jason Michaels and then a two-run home run to the power-deficient Michael Bourn, who absolutely mashed the ball into the right field football seats. In every sense of the word, Henn’s MGS was efficient, as he faced three batters, gave up two hits, two runs (in addition to the inherited runner who scored), and took the loss. His ERA is quickly climbing to that level known as, well, Sean Henn career numbers – by that I mean the 7.50 range. He came into the season as a career minor leaguer whose major league numbers would offend somebody’s mother-in-law, and after a few deceivingly “good” appearances for Ron Gardenhire in mop-up duty, Henn had “proven” himself for the Twins and thereby was called upon to lose games on a regular basis. To add insult to injury, Ron Gardenhire put in Luis Ayala when he yanked Henn three batters too late, and Ayala came through again with his role, which is to extend opponent’s leads. Lance Berkman fouled one off Ayala that went half-a-mile, then he dutifully ripped one that was definitely fair over the fence. Berkman’s home run ended up being the winning run – how many times does Luis Ayala give up the winning run but fail to get any negative attention lavished on him? He’s certainly immune to the microphones of Fox Sports NoTruth, who were busy lionizing Nick Punto for getting his average over .220.

Speaking of St. Punto, his patheticness had to leave the game after a head-first slide apparently bruised his ribs in the middle-innings. Hooray! As my earlier feature “In The Doghouse” stated, I am all for Punto’s head-first slides, as one of these days he’ll seriously injure himself and thereby not be available for Ron Gardenhire to put him in the everyday lineup. I always thought it would be a separated shoulder, but bruised ribs? I’ll take it. It was getting almost unbearable to hear Dick Bremer and Ron Coomer to take turns lauding the exploits of Punto. They were heaping praise on Punto during his first at-bat, and he ended up grounding out weakly to the second baseman, and Coomer was extolling how “even in his outs, he hits the ball hard.” WHAT??!?! The rest of the lineup didn’t produce much of anything outside of the four home runs hit by the top of the order. Three of the four bombs were of the solo variety (Brendan Harris, Joe Mauer, Seldom Young) and one was a two-run shot (Jason Kubel). Following a familiar script, the top of the order came through while the bottom of the order failed to contribute anything, and the Twins paid for it. All they were able to manage off of retread Brian Moehler (3-4, 6.66 ERA, .322 opponent’s average) was four hits and three runs in six innings, and Moehler ended up with the win. That’s absolutely unacceptable, especially for a team that would like to consider themselves “contenders.” You don’t lose to pitchers like Brian Moehler if you fancy yourselves a good team.

Glen Perkins goes Sunday against Wandy Rodriguez, who’s a pretty good lefty for the Astros. For a team who sucks so bad on the road, it is imperative for the Twins to win the rubber game of the series. A 4-2 homestand against the fifth-place Pirates and last-place Astros is nothing to write home about, but it’s better than 3-3, and they need all the wins that they can afford at home if they plan on sucking it up on the road. How about some production from Justin Morneau, eh? He plain hasn’t done squat in the last few weeks, and frankly he’s looked ugly on some swings. As I’ve said before, the team will go only as far as Mauer and Morneau take them; Mauer’s been pulling his load, but Morneau has not. Not surprisingly, the Twins are only hovering at the .500 mark.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


The Twins cheesed their way to a 5-2 victory over the last-place Houston Astros, as Kevin Slowey pitched good enough for his incredible tenth win of the season against two losses. The Twins' runs were produced via a sacrifice fly, a squeeze bunt, a Michael Cuddyer double and a Seldom Young "double" that was in reality a ball lost in the lights by outfielder Jason Michaels. The offensive production was what people love to call "Twins baseball," which is pretty much a euphemism for "rinky-dinky cheese-ball that's good enough to win division titles but nothing more." It's actually nice to see line drives hit across the field and it's refreshing when your team wins because they hit the ball with authority. It doesn't need to go over the fence, but it looks better and sounds better when batters make good solid contact with the baseball. But I'm a Twins fan for life, and I suppose I have to accept this brand of baseball. I get it -- Nick Punto can't hit the broad side of a barn, and he's basically a pitcher at the plate, so why not suicide squeeze with Punto at the plate. It's sure as hell better than having Matt Tolbert lay down a suicide squeeze -- we know what happens then.

But wins like these are almost so cheezy that you're kind of
embarrassed to be a Twins fan, like saying it's the only way that we can consistently win, by bunting and hitting high choppers that turn into turf hits. Hey, it's going to win you some division titles and give you a good story for Tim Kurkjian to write about how a small-market team "consistently competes," but when playoff time rolls around, you're going to realize that the teams that are actually good, that have relied on talent to get them to the playoffs, are going to roll over you time and again. Even the 2006 Oakland A's, who weren't all that talented but are the epitome of anti-smallball, beat you handily. This isn't the '80s, when teams like the Cardinals and Astros regularly competed with the speed-based, Astroturf-assisted smallball that the Twins are apparently following. Classic Ron Gardenhire -- playing the game 20 years behind its time. Next year things are going to be different without artificial turf. I have a feeling that the team will remain largely the same, and the philosophy of small ball will still be intact. With Target Field playing totally different than the Metrodome, that could lead to some horrible results.

Slowey uncharacteristically walked four batters in his six innings, but Ron Gardenhire, one game after Nick Blackburn put forth the first (and perhaps only) complete game of the season, apparently thought that his starters couldn't go past six innings on Friday, so he characteristically lifted Slowey after ninety pitches for good ol' Matt Guerrier for the seventh inning. Guerrier pitched a clean seventh, though of course not without a mild heart attack, and Jose Mijares came on for the eighth inning. Mijares gave up a home run to some guy named Jeff Keppinger, which is unacceptable. The Twins have been doing this way too often lately -- giving up home runs to "some guys" -- people that you've never heard of that are pathetically terrible. I'll list the players who got home runs in the Pirates series and raise your hand if you've even heard of any of them -- Naijer Morgan, Andrew McCutchen, and two LaRoches (Andy and Adam). Now career journeyman infielder Jeff Keppinger goes deep on them. Terrible.

Then in a move of utter surprise, Ron Gardenhire brought in Joe Nathan to face Miguel Tejada to close out the eighth inning. It's the second time this month that Gardenhire has stooped to this level -- by that I mean make the obvious, correct managerial decision. Nathan got Tejada to strike out, and in the bottom of the eighth Seldom Young got his cheezy two-run lost-in-the-lights double to pad the lead and thereby seal the win for the Twins. Scott Baker goes tonight against Brian Moehler, he of the very hittable stuff and devilish 6.66 ERA. Twins better win.

Friday, June 19, 2009


Nick Blackburn (not Kevin Slowey, as I mistakenly said would start Thursday) pitches the first complete game of the season for the Twins, narrowly missing out on a shutout but still pitching well enough to pick up his sixth win of the season. Blackburn has been pitching like the defacto ace of the staff that he has become, and he came through for the Twins to beat the Pirates and avoid what would have been an embarrasing series loss to a terrible team. Michael Cuddyer and Brian Buscher hit home runs for the Twins, as they beat their ace Zach Duke. Once again Ron Gardenhire sat the hottest hitter on the planet, Joe Mauer, and he shifted his lineup once again. Since putting Brendan Harris in the lead-off spot, the Twins have been pretty successful and Harris has definitely responded by hitting well. So Gardenhire does the old "if it's working, we might as well change it" theory that he lives his life by, and dropped Harris to the 2 hole and placed Carlos ".282 on base percentage" Gomez in the lead-off position. Harris had three more hits from the 2 hole, and because Gomez put forth an oh-fer, Harris basically was the catalyst for the Twins. He had the only hit with runners in scoring position on the day for the Twins, as they went a pitiful 1-for-11 in that category. It's becoming an increasingly evident problem for the Twins, hitting with runners on base. We all know that last season's success in that capacity was a fluke, but this season it is getting pretty ridiculous, especially when their run producers like Justin Morneau consistently struggle in those situations.

The Twins now move on to another second-division opponent in the Houston Astros. They will have to face Roy Oswalt on Friday night, and though Oswalt's numbers are significantly down this year as opposed to years' past, Kevin Slowey will have to answer the challenge to notch his tenth win of the season. Like the Pirates, the Astros have decent pitching but their offense struggles to score runs for them. Aside from Carlos Lee, the Astros are pretty thin in the run-scoring department. Twins fans will also welcome the return of former great LaTroy Hawkins, who is now closing games for Cecil Cooper's 'Stros. Many will remember Hawkins' infamous stretch as closer for Tom Kelly in 2001; the first half of the season went aces for The Hawk, and the second half of the season was an absolute disaster, and he ended up losing the closer job near the end of the season. He did end up finding a niche as a set-up guy with Ron Gardenhire in 2002 and 2003, providing lights-out relief for those two seasons, easily his best in the bigs. Since then he's bounced around from team to team, and according to the Pioneer Press' Charley Walters, the Twins may have some interest in acquiring Hawkins, who figures to be available come the trading deadline. Knowing the Twins, they'd rather look from within to try to patch the sinking ship that is the bullpen, and even if Hawkins is available and wants to come back to the Twins, Bill Smith is likely too scared to make any trades, since the two trades that he has made have been spectacularly pathetic.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


So this is what losing to the Pittsburgh Pirates feels like. I’ve got to tell you, it doesn’t feel too good. In perhaps their worst performance of the season, the Twins are pummeled by the lowly Pirates 8-2, in a game in which every facet of the game was absolutely pathetic. They lost to a pitcher, Ian Snell, who had a 1-7 record with a gaudy ERA of 5 and a half. Not only did they lose to Snell, they were manhandled by a guy who is so average it’s hard to even distinguish him from a pack of average pitchers. Snell’s better than Francisco Liriano, however, who was busy giving up home runs to the likes of Andy LaRoche and Andrew McCutchen (who???). And Snell’s way better than Sean Henn, who finally turned in a terrible performance that will bloat his once deceivingly-low ERA. Henn’s been pitching awful of late but hasn’t seen his ERA reflect his patheticness; with his line on Wednesday (1/3 of an inning pitched, three runs) his ERA is now more indicative of his lack of talent. The same is true for Luis Ayala, who also padded his ERA and also let Henn’s two baserunners score in the eighth. The Twins just did a stupendous thing by sending Jesse Crain to the minors; it’s really too bad that what they have up in the big leagues isn’t much better. Other than Joe Nathan, every pitcher in the bullpen is a sore spot. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but R.A. Dickey has been the best bullpen pitcher aside from Joe Nathan, but his “role,” as Ron Gardenhire has defined and is therefore set in stone, is long relief, and though Dickey did work the seventh and eighth innings on Tuesday, that was mainly mop-up duty in a blowout win, and I don’t see Dickey’s role changing any time soon.

The only offense on the day was provided by a two-out double by Joe Crede, which tied the score at 2 in the fourth inning. The Twins had plenty of chances to tie the game late, but it appeared that their horrid clutch hitting that they displayed on Tuesday carried over into Wednesday. With Michael Cuddyer on third and one out in the sixth, Seldom Young tapped out to the pitcher, and Cuddyer stupidly was going on contact and got thrown out at home, and the rally was thereby killed. In the seventh, the bases were loaded with one out, and the game was very much still winnable, as the Bucs were only up by two. But, alas, Jason Kubel struck out against a guy named John Grabow and Crede tapped out pitifully to the pitcher. Rally snuffed out again. Other than two rallies that the Twins embarrassed themselves in, they didn’t really put together another rally the entire game. I love it how Fox Sports has now chosen to say that Seldom Young is “coming out of his slump” and providing the offense that the Twins are counting on from him. It was really classic Dick Bremer timing, as they couldn’t have picked a better game in which to lie to the fans about Seldom Delmon. The truth is, Seldom might be the worst player on the team, which is really saying something considering some of the other talent-free players on the team (Gomez, Tolbert, Punto, etc). And Young proved to everyone that he does indeed massively suck, as he went 0 for 4, struck out again, grounded into a double play, and failed in that guy-on-third-less-than-two-outs situation alluded to earlier. I don’t think there’s many ways that Young could fail at the plate more than he did on Wednesday. Absolutely ridiculous.

There is no excuse for losing to the Pittsburgh Pirates at home, my friends, and the Twins just did that. So much for the “interleague dominance” that the Twins apparently have, as one game like this can prove that theory wrong. It really doesn’t have anything to do with interleague play at all; the Pirates are a second-division team in the worst sense of the term, and the Twins (and Dick Bremer) would like to fashion themselves as a contending ballclub. It’s similar to losing to the Washington Nationals; the Twins should have seen three games against the Pittsburgh Pirates at home as a gift from the schedulers. Instead they go through the motions and put forth probably the worst excuse for baseball since that dreaded series against the Blue Jays in early April. And now they have to face the Pirates’ best pitcher, Zach Duke, who is 7-4 on the season with a good 3.10 ERA. Considering the Twins’ actual talent, it’s going to be a struggle for them to beat the Pirates on Thursday. I know that it’s June and that there’s a lot of baseball left, but I think the series finale is a big game for the Twins, for their morale if anything. It appeared on Wednesday that they didn’t think they needed to try to beat the Pirates. After all, they put forth a half-assed effort on Tuesday and routed the Bucs. But after a humiliating loss, now they have to battle to win the series and have to beat the Pittsburgh ace to do it. If you want to lose a series at home against the Pirates, go ahead and do the same crap that you’ve done the first two games of the series. If you want to avoid embarrassment and take care of business, then you put your game face on, treat the game like any other and go out there and pound their sorry asses. It’s not rocket science, folks, it’s the Pittsburgh Pirates. Kevin Slowey has the mound today, looking for win #10 on the season.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


The Twins easily defeat the Pirates, as Glen Perkins comes off the disabled list and limits his damage to two runs over six innings. Joe Mauer goes 4-for-4 and increases his batting average to an incredible .429. Simply put, if Mauer were not on this team, the Twins would be sunk. They have one of the worst in-game managers in the game and the bottom of their order is downright atrocious. Without Mauer, this team wouldn't be even close to .500. Even with Mauer, this team doesn't appear to be that great, as their pitching will keep the team from really competing. Here's a team that had to wait two and a half months before doing something about Jesse Crain, who did not have one appearance out of his 23 that was not disastrous. I will say it was a tad surprising to hear that Crain was sent to Triple-A to make room for Perkins on the roster. Surprising because it's the first time in two years that the Twins have done something about their terrible bullpen for the positive.

The Twins pounded out sixteen hits against the Bucs, and it would be easy to lavish praise on the team after such a convincing win. But let's be honest folks -- they played the Pirates, and if they don't sweep this series, it would be a disappointment. The Twins better win these games against Pittsburgh and Houston if they want to have a shot at competing, especially the way that they are playing on the road. Did you see who the Pirates are trotting out on the field? This is a team that traded their best player, Nate McLouth, for prospects a few weeks back. It was so bad last night that Craig Monroe was batting fifth for the Pirates -- yes, that Craig Monroe, he of the .215 batting average who didn't do much better last season with the Twins. For how surprising (and deceiving) the Twins' .500 record is, I find it more shocking that the Pirates are a modest 30-34. They did get some great starting pitching early in the season, especially from Zach Duke and Paul Maholm, who the Twins roughed up on Tuesday. But that's leveled off, and now without McLouth, the team looks headed for ninety losses. I was there in the late '90s when the Twins were terrible, but I don't think it was ever that bad, where the Twins would be to the point of trading off their best young players two months into the season. And this will likely be the 17th -- SEVENTEENTH -- consecutive losing season for the Pirates. That, my friends, is a new definition of bad.

The Twins did post eight runs on the board, but if not for some terrible situational hitting, the Twins could have had a lot more. They grounded into an incomprehensible five double plays on Tuesday, which no doubt cost them some more runs. Two double plays, one by Justin Morneau and the other by Jason Kubel, resulted in runs scoring but also killed any potential runs from scoring as well. Kubel was thrown out at the plate on a Michael Cuddyer double in the second inning. But through it all, the Twins did score more than enough runs on plenty of base hits, sixteen in total. Even Seldom Young and Carlos Gomez had two hits. Young, FYI, struck out on Tuesday, making it eighteen out of the last twenty games with at least one strikeout. He's started 41 games this season and has struck out at least once in 33 of them. Incredible. Speaking of Young, there was the distinct possibility of broadcasters being confused with the Twins and the Pirates playing each other. Delmon Young started left field for the Twins, whereas Delwyn Young started right field for the Pirates. Their names being close is the only thing similar to the two Youngs; DelWYN Young is far from Seldom, as he's hitting a mere .365 this season, and he thereby becomes the 462nd player in baseball that's better than Seldom Delmon.

As a side note, it appears as though my loving sobriquet for Mr. Young is not as common as another nickname for the outfielder. A loyal reader forwarded me a snippet of Young's Wikipedia page, which states that he is known in some circles as "Delmontello, due to his resemblance to a Ninja Turtle." You be the judge. Francisco Liriano pitches tonight for the Twins against Pirate righty Ian Snell.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

JUNE 14, 2009 -- CHICAGO (NL) 3, MINNESOTA 2

The Twins can't complete the sweep at Wrigley as they drop 3-2 to the Cubs. Scott Baker pitched well, Joe Mauer had three hits, and the runs were driven in by the unlikely duo of Nick Punto (on an inexplicable two-out bunt hit) and Carlos Gomez (on an inexplicable display of power -- a home run). In a game in which they get good pitching from a guy who's been wildly inconsistent this season (Scott Baker) and their bottom of the order produces, it's all that much more frustrating when the team ends up behind the eight-ball. Though the road trip must be considered a success, as the 5-5 trip is leaps and bounds better than any of their previous road trips, it was disappointing when you consider the losses: 2-1 and 4-2 to Seattle, two 4-3 losses in Oakland, and a 3-2 loss to Chicago. The gauge of a good manager is a good record in one-run games, and at least on this road trip, the stats correctly indicate the quality of the manager. Most people point at Ron Gardenhire's career record and make the incorrect assumption that he's one of the best managers in baseball, but in reality luck has mainly powered the ship for Ron Gardenhire. In the last few seasons, luck has begun to let up, and the skill of the manager (or lack thereof) has been evidenced.

The loss on Sunday was not radically different than many of the others. There were no glaring managerial mistakes that deserve special attention here. It's just that this loss was like so many others, and Gardenhire continues to confound those who watch the game. Decisions like batting Matt Tolbert lead-off -- now what manager in their right mind would do this? Gardenhire had been successful with Brendan Harris in the leadoff position, as they had won their previous two games. And it's not like Harris was on the bench on Sunday -- he was batting fifth for the Twins. Why change what has been going right for you, Gardenhire? And if you're going to shakeup the lineup, why put in a guy hitting .175? In all fairness, Tolbert hitting from the right side against lefthander Ted Lilly meant that Tolbert would be hitting from his better side (he's .214 from the right side of the plate versus .169). But it's just unacceptable for a minor-leaguer to be hitting leadoff in the major leagues. And for a manager to make a rash change in a lineup following two wins -- why don't you stick to what's working for you?

That's the unique idiocy of Ron Gardenhire, the quality that sets him apart from all the rest of the idiots in the world. He'll change things that are positively working and then not change something that's so bad that it's beyond disrepair. That would be an adequate description of the bullpen, and in particular Jesse Crain, who has deteriorated to the level of a batting-practice pitcher. Ron Gardenhire has not altered his managerial style when approaching his bullpen since he began managing the team in 2002, and he's lost at least one division title because of that resistance to change. I consider Gardenhire to be a bad Pavlov dog -- you know the ones that were used in the eponymous scientist's behavioral tests. The Pavlov dogs were trained by the ringing of a bell, and after a few times of hearing the bell, they would be conditioned to act in a certain way. Ron Gardenhire, however, would be the control to Pavlov's experiment, as he would be that one dog that would be doing the same thing again and again, even when disciplinary measures were used. Gardenhire would do the same thing with his bullpen -- lose -- and he would rather watch that happen a million times over before he might change his approach. Most likely this is due to the fact that Gardenhire's bullpens from 2002-2006 were spectacular, perenially among the best in baseball. For five years Gardenhire consistently lucked out when he called upon his relievers. But in the last three years, the pen has become the Achilles heel of the team, apparent to anyone who is willing to admit it except Ron Gardenhire and Rick Anderson.

Jesse Crain was called upon to bring the game into extra innings on Sunday, as Gardenhire brought him in to pitch the ninth inning in a 2-2 tie. Guess what happened? Crain promptly gave up two hits, and, after he induced one strikeout, gave up the game-winning hit to Ryan Theriot. As I said to myself during the Yankee series last month, when Gardenhire was dumb enough to bring Crain in to "preserve" a tie game, all I asked out of Jesse Crain was to make it quick. He obliged in May against New York and again he does it here in Chicago. Now, with Ron Gardenhire's new role for Sean Henn being a left-hander who loses games late, and Jesse Crain giving up runs every time he pitches, Gardy has the convenience of being able to go to a number of pitchers in the bullpen who can lose games for you when you could really use them. It's really disappointing when you consider that every game of this road trip was winnable, and the Twins really should have won eight or nine of them instead of just five. But when you're talking about a Ron Gardenhire-managed club, a .500 record on the road is utterly fantastic, and you can't do anything but be surprised that they didn't blow more games than the four that they did.

A .500 record on the road would be a godsend for the Twins, but that's going to be really hard to accomplish with the Twins still only 11-21 on the road. If they want any chance of competing, they're going to have to win just about every game at home, and especially when their schedule features three game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Houston Astros, you need to take advantage when you can. Though both teams are National League bottom-feeders, you have to realize that they are only a few games worse than the Twins. Glen Perkins returns from the disabled list, and he'll oppose Pirate pitcher Charlie Morton in the opener on Tuesday.

JUNE 13, 2009 -- MINNESOTA 2, CHICAGO (NL) 0

Anthony Swarzak puts in his best performance as a major-league pitcher, buckling down against the struggling Cubs and tossing seven shutout innings, and the Twins hold on for a 2-0 victory, their second consecutive victory at Wrigley Field. And what does Swarzak get as a reward for his second major league win? A demotion to the minor leagues. Ron Gardenhire's bench is razor thin, as Dizzy Span and Michael Cuddyer both are unavailable to hit, and he prefers to have another bench player, so Jose Morales was called up from Triple-A to provide the team another option off the bench. With Glen Perkins coming off the DL on Tuesday, the move to option Swarzak was not all that surprising (especially considering Ron Gardenhire's preference of talent-deficient players) but what remains mystifying is the fact that Michael Cuddyer was not put on the disabled list weeks ago when this finger started giving him problems. He hasn't done jack since the finger started swelling two weeks ago, and he's not a very good player to begin with. Sending Cuddyer to the disabled list would have allowed the Twins to handle the Swarzak demotion with a little more grace. As it turns out, the Twins look like primo dickheads after the move.

Jason Kubel's home run in the second inning and Joe Mauer's two-out single in the third inning, which drove home Nick Punto (inexplicably on base with a single) provided enough offense to carry the day for the Twins. Kubel's been the hottest Twins hitter of late, which is saying something considering Joe Mauer hasn't really stopped hitting since returning from the DL. If it weren't for Swarzak and the pitchers mowing the Cubs lineup down, the major talking point in the game would have been the struggles of the lineup. But they were facing Rich Harden, a pitcher who is dominant when healthy, which isn't too often. And the Twins aren't 100% healthy, either. Brendan Harris has been doing an admirable job in the lead-off position since Span has been unavailable, but he's better suited for the 6 or 7 hole in the lineup. And of course Nick Punto is back with the team, which cripples your lineup on a daily basis. I like it how the writers and broadcasters keep referring to these interleague games as unique because the Twins have to bat the pitcher when playing in National League parks. Wait a minute -- the Twins bat a pitcher in every game, and his name is Nick Punto. I think that's why the Twins are so successful in interleague games -- they're so used to playing National League baseball because they regularly feature a hitter who bats like a pitcher does in their lineup. Now that you think about it, it is surprising that the Twins are so successful playing interleague games on the road, because with Nick Punto batting eighth, there are back-to-back pitchers in the batting order. Hey, the Twins got a run out of Punto on Saturday, so they should be laughing all the way to the bank.

The Twins face a tough, hot lefty in Ted Lilly on Sunday. Lilly has been lights-out as of late, and the Twins have struggled against left-handers all year long, especially on the road. Their two wins in Oakland, games which were started by lefties Brett Anderson and Dallas Braden, were the Twins' first wins this year on the road in games started by southpaws. Lilly's more than a little bit better than those pitchers, and with the unpredictable Scott Baker on the mound, the chances for a Twins sweep aren't that great. But the Twins have salvaged at least a .500 road trip with the series win at Wrigley, which is awesome considering their road woes to date.

Friday, June 12, 2009

JUNE 12, 2009 -- MINNESOTA 7, CHICAGO (NL) 4

The Twins quite literally owned Wrigley Field on Friday afternoon, not only beating the hometown Cubs but out-cheering them in the stands. There was certainly a festive air in the stadium with more-than-audible chants of support for Joe Mauer and company overpowering any plaints of fans rooting for the home team. The only point of the game in which the home fans were noticable was when they were booing their hearts out at Milton Bradley, whose Puntoesque Patheticness extended as much to mental gaffes than merely physical blunders. The Cubs are certainly far from contending at this point, but with Ron Gardenhire's horrid record at so-called "hallowed" playing grounds -- Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park -- it was somewhat surprising to see the Twins win a game at Wrigley. Kevin Slowey did good enough to improve to an astounding 9-2 on the season, and then the bullpen carousel took over, as the Twins used five relievers to get the final nine outs of the game.

Let's start with the consistently overmanaged bullpen. Joe Nathan got the save in the ninth inning, but let's face it -- I don't think there's too many people out there, much less baseball players, who can't get three outs before giving up three runs. If I were commissioner of baseball for a day, I think the first thing that I would do is alter the save rule. I think it should be tossed out altogether, as it has now evolved to the point where managers dictate their "closer's" workload around that statistic. Ron Gardenhire is pretty good at ignoring other statistics -- for what reason, besides utter stupidity, can you explain his decision to bat Carlos Gomez and Matt Tolbert in the leadoff position the previous two days in Oakland? Statistics like batting average and on-base percentage (both beyond pitiful in both cases) would indicate that both Gomez and Tolbert suck to an extreme. But apparently Ron Gardenhire doesn't care about stats for those guys. Yet when it comes to Joe Nathan, Gardenhire falls back on the crutch that is the save rule.

There are three ways to get a save in the rule book: 1) pitch at least one full inning after entering the game with no more than a three-run lead and finish the game; 2) enter a ballgame with the tying run at the plate or on-deck (this means that, with the bases loaded, a pitcher can get a save with a five-run lead) and finish the game; or 3) pitch three full innings and finish the game, no matter the score. The third stipulation I would toss out the door altogehter, as those saves are usually picked up by long relievers in blowout victories in which the starter struggled, and there rarely were times of real stress by the pitcher who got the "save." I remember in 1996 when the Twins beat the Tigers in a memorable 24-11 rout; a guy named Greg Hansell, if I remember correctly, got a save in that game by the three-inning save rule -- the team won by thirteen runs. No doubt this part of the rule was reasonable at the time in which the save rule was drafted (in the late 1960s), as relievers back then were expected to go multiple innings at a time, and the "bullpen" consisted of two or three pitchers. It wasn't unusual for Al Worthington or Ron Perranoski, for instance, to go two or three innings for a save.

As for the other parts of the rule, there is an inherent contradiction at play. While giving a reliever a save in a five-run win might be a little extreme, I do agree with it, in that having the tying run in the on-deck circle poses an immediate threat and there isn't much room for error. But when a pitcher comes into a game with a three-run lead (as Joe Nathan did on Friday) and retires the side in order, not once does the tying run even come to the on-deck circle. If I were commissioner, I would amend the save rule by shorten the three-run rule, thus making a two-run lead at the start of an inning being the largest margin possible for gaining a save. With a two-run lead, the tying run is always at least on-deck, and this would be consistent with the second part of the rule which stipulates that the tying run must be at least on-deck.

That being said, when a team has a three-run lead in the last inning, managers should view that as a comfortable enough lead to rest your best pitcher. Or, more importantly, the manager should use his best pitcher when the situation calls for a rally to be extinguished. However, Ron Gardenhire prefers to rely on the save rule and by imaginary standards of modern-day management of a team's bullpen ace. These standards dictate that one's closer should work the ninth inning and the ninth inning alone, and only in a desperate emergency should a closer be asked to do anything more than work either in save opportunities or in non-save opportunities in which the pitcher is asked to get some "much needed work" in because of a lack of save chances. A perfect situation reared its head on Friday and Ron Gardenhire mismanaged it again for the zillionth time in his career. The Twins had a 6-3 lead in the eighth inning and the Cubs had two runners on and two out with the dangerous Derrek Lee at the plate representing the tying run. Instead of using Joe Nathan in a big spot, Ron Gardenhire brought in Matt Guerrier to face the Cubs' clean-up hitter. That's Matt Guerrier, folks, he of the Matt Guerrier Special, he of the "we lost the division last season solely because of Matt Guerrier," he of the hanging-curveball-bashed-560-feet reliever. This is what's crazy about it: in a perfect world, Gardenhire would have had Guerrier get out of the eighth and then had Joe Nathan come on in the ninth with a 3-run lead and get three outs and never have to face the tying run. In essence, he's calling on Matt Guerrier to get the most important out of the game -- now, on what planet does that make sense? You're not paying Joe Nathan $12 million a season for nothing. He's your best reliever in the bullpen -- use him in the situations in which you need your best bullpen arm, not because of some statistical qualification. Fortunately for the Twins, Guerrier only let one of his inherited runners to score, and Jason Kubel's home run in the top of the ninth made it a three-run cushion for Nathan to pick up the cheap save in the ninth.

Anthony Swarzak might be starting for the last time in the bigs for a while on Saturday. He got off to a good start in his first two outings for the Twins, but has struggled in his last two, especially on Monday night in Oakland, when he appeared erratic and could not hold a three-run lead for more than two outs. He faces the Cubs on Saturday against Rich Harden, who's once again fresh off the DL. Harden, always plagued by injuries in his career, has been dominant when healthy, but let's see if the droves of Twins fans in attendance can buoy the team to another victory.