Friday, July 31, 2009

JULY 31, 2009 -- Trade Deadline; Detroit and Chicago 2, Twins 1

At around noon today, the news flash reported that the Twins had acquired Orlando Cabrera from the Oakland A's, in a deal that had been rumored to go down for nearly a week. In return the Twins gave up last year's second-round draft pick, a young shortstop named Tyler Ladendorf. The A's also sent cash to the Twins, thereby deferring even more of the $1.4 million still owed to Cabrera for the rest of this season. It's a safe move, relatively low-risk but not too high in terms of return. Sure, Cabrera's spot on the roster most likely means that the Alexi Casilla experiment will end for the third time this season, and it also means that Nick Punto can play second base instead of giving the Twins limited range at shortstop. But that also means that Cabrera's limited range takes over at shortstop, and it means that Nick Punto is still in the everyday lineup. And if you take a look at Cabrera's numbers this year, they're very, well, Brendan Harris-esque: he's hitting .280, but his on-base percentage is a paltry .318 and his OPS is just .683 (in comparison, Harris' OPS is a near-identical .676, and Harris' range is similar to Cabrera).

So in essence, the Twins got rid of a minor-league prospect in favor of a 34-year old version of Brendan Harris. Considering that Harris might actually be a better defender than Cabrera, the trade can be interpreted as a downgrade from what they have on the roster. But here's how the Twins management will spin this: a) the Twins made a move, which, save for an August acquisition like Eddie Guardado or Phil Nevin, they can't say they've done in six years and b) Cabrera is a playoff-tested "experience" guy who will bring a sort of veteran leadership to the clubhouse. Ron Gardenhire never liked Brendan Harris from the moment the guy put on a Twins uniform, and even though Cabrera and Harris are virtually identical players, Gardy probably will be more likely to use Cabrera and stick with Cabrera. As to the second "benefit" from getting Cabrera -- wasn't this the same player that the Chicago White Sox (and manager Ozzie Guillen in particular) criticized as being somewhat of a clubhouse cancer for the Sox last season? Sure, the guy's got a World Series ring, for being a deadline acquisition by the Red Sox in 2004. The more I consider the trade, the more I dislike it, even if this Ladendorf was a low-level prospect. But it will force Ron Gardenhire to not play Alexi Casilla, and in that long-shot possibility of Mark Grudzielanek being able to play this season, that may mean that Nick Punto can ride the pine like he should be.

And, of course, the Twins did nothing to address their bullpen issues or their pitching issues in general. With the Cabrera trade likely to make little impact for the Twins, it's interesting to consider that the moves that will most affect the Twins' chances of getting in the playoffs were ones that other teams made. Cleveland traded both Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez this week, and that's important for the Twins, because they still get to play the Indians 12 times down the stretch. Those games are even more winnable now with those players off the team. But you have to look at the other teams in the Central Division and clearly say that the Twins made the third-best acquisition out of the divisional contenders. The Tigers' acquisition of Jarrod Washburn was a great move for the current division leaders, as Detroit had a need for a quality starter and they sure got one in Washburn, who has the third-lowest ERA in the league at 2.64. And then the White Sox came calling at the eleventh hour and came through with Jake Peavy, who, though on the disabled list, now makes Chicago a viable contender in the divison. Though the Cabrera trade may slightly benefit the Twins, in reality it's a low-impact acquisition, and though I still hope that the Twins can pass the Tigers, I have to look at the pitching disparity and give the edge to Detroit at this point, and now the White Sox' rotation is as formidable as any in the American League. But here's to Cabrera hitting .410 as a Twin down the stretch and the Twins winning the division by seven games.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

JULY 29, 2009 -- MINNESOTA 3, CHICAGO 2

The Twins sweep the Sox, getting a decent enough spot start from Brian Douchebag, who pitched admirably in Francisco Liriano's turn in the rotation. Alexi Casilla had two hits and two RBIs on the day that the Pirates dealt Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez (not surprisingly, neither of them went to the Twins, who desperately need middle infield help). Instead of looking for outside help, the Twins will use Wednesday's performance from Casilla to prove to their fans that he is capable of putting good wood on the ball, which is wrong on so many levels. First off, both of Casilla's hits were of the fly-ball variety, and this is a guy who should never be putting the ball in the air. How this guy got eight home runs last year is beyond me, and I don't think it's inappropriate to bring up the S-word with this guy when talking about Casilla's flukish success in 2008 (that's steroids, not...yeah, you get it; this year he's been the other S-word). Secondly, the goat of last night's game was arguably whatever Chicago coach had Scott Podsednik playing Casilla deep to center field, because Casilla's second hit was nothing more than a can-of-corn pop up to medium deep center field, and because of Podsednik's already limited range, he had no chance of catching it. So we're talking one legitimate hit and one cheeser -- but again, if you're struggling to hit .171, you'll take 'em any way you can. Nonetheless, Ron Gardenhire will point to this one two-hit performance as "proof" that Casilla can do the job. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Casilla's hitting in the #2 hole on Friday. I'm serious; we are talking about one of the stupidest men in the game, after all.


Liriano was scratched from his start on Wednesday due to "swelling in his pitching forearm." According to certifiable idiot Dick Bremer, team doctors had checked out Liriano and given him the green-light to pitch on Wednesday, and then Ron Gardenhire went ahead and gave Douchebag the start anyway. Which brings up an interesting question: why even send Liriano to the doctor? If you weren't going to listen to the doctors, why not just put him on the disabled list for the hell of it? I can just see Ron Gardenhire going to a Mexican restaurant and asking the waiter if the fajitas are better with chicken or steak, hearing that the waiter highly recommends the steak, and then saying "thanks, but I think I'll go with the fish tacos instead." Doctors, schmoctors, Gardy would say; it's not like they've been to school for decades and might have an educated opinion on a medical issue. Face it, Gardy -- you've just been too pleased with Douchebag's horrendous pitching out of the bullpen that you wanted to put him on the mound to start a game. He did report to Dick Bremer that Douchebag's bullpen outings were "fine," which if anything changes the dictionary definition of "fine," because Brian Douchebag was far from "fine." Well, if by "fine" you mean "f***ing horrible," then I s'pose, Gardy. Keep eatin' those fish tacos, Ronny Boy.


Less than 48 hours to the trading deadline, or as it's known here in the Upper Midwest as "Status Quo Day" or "Time to Spiel The Old 'We Tried to Improve Our Team But We Didn't Want to Endanger Our Future' Rigamarole Day." Seriously, the only thing I expect Bill Smith to do come midafternoon on Friday is move his bowels. The Twins already made their quasi-move when they signed Mark Grudzielanek a few weeks back, and we'll see if he even makes it on the roster before the season is up. But, as some others have said, the Twins have so many holes right now that addressing all of them would require a complete overhaul of the team. In short, the team could use two top starters, a couple good bullpen arms and a new middle infield. And the way the other real contenders are actually addressing their needs, the Twins are going to be even more mismatched if they make it to the playoffs. If the Twins were to win the Central, they would likely face the Yankees in the first round; does that sound like wins to you? The Twins fan base is going to be teased again mainly because the Central is the worst division in baseball. If the Twins were in the AL East, they'd be 10.5 games back; the AL West, 9 games back; and that's not even considering the fact that with the Twins in the Central, their schedule is so much easier because of lots of games against bottom feeders like Cleveland and Kansas City. So yeah, go out and get Orlando Cabrera, because that's going to make us be able to beat the Yankees.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

JULY 28, 2009 -- MINNESOTA 5, CHICAGO 3

An incredible pitching performance by Mark Buehrle goes for naught, as his attempt for a second consecutive perfect game became all too serious, but the Twins come back against Buehrle and beat the Sox again under the Teflon, 5-3. Buehrle set a major league record by retiring 45 batters in a row, which spanned three starts (most obviously his perfect game last Thursday made up for most of that streak), but invariably his perfect game was broken up when he walked the .160-hitting Alexi Casilla. The no-hitter was spoiled a batter later when Denard Span singled cleanly to center, and the shutout was ruined when Scott Podsednik lost a catchable ball in the roof for a Joe Mauer double that tied the score. The Twins would benefit from a miscue by second baseman Chris Getz in the seventh, who inexplicably dashed towards second to play Joe Crede's squibber to the right side of the infield; that moved Michael Cuddyer to third with nobody out and RBI hits by Brendan Harris and (yes) Nick Punto ended Buehrle's night. Punto's hit was pure Punto -- an ugly, inside-out blooper to right field that found some open real estate. But, as they say in baseball, it was a liner in the boxscore, and when you're flirting with .203, you'll take them anyway you can get them.


Scott Baker pitched impressively for the Twins, too, though his performance was certainly trumped by Buehrle's incredible run. Jose Mijares notched his first major league win and Joe Nathan came in to get the save once Bobby Keppel again failed to shut the door in the ninth. Keppel needs to go back to the minors now, as he just doesn't have the stuff that late-inning relievers (successful ones, at least) have. Nathan's been racking up the cheap saves this season, as nine of his saves have been in games which he has entered the game with a three-run lead or more or has pitched less than one inning and has been credited with a save. In most years, Nathan struggles to get save opportunities, but in a sense it's his sort of comeuppance this year. He's on track to get around 45 saves this season, which would be a career-high. He's been an unbelievable closer in his Twins career. Once in six seasons has his ERA been above 2; that was in 2005, when he posted a 2.70 ERA that looks really high when you compare it to the other ERAs that he's put up in his other five seasons: 1.62, 1.58, 1.88, 1.33, and 1.59. There's really only one other closer that has matched that sort of consistency over the last six years, and he's a little guy named Mariano Rivera. Considering all the bullpen woes the Twins have that continue to go unaddressed, Joe Nathan has to be one of the most valuable players on the Twins. It's yet another reason to shake your head as to how Ron Gardenhire has managed this team: he's arguably got two of the top five hitters in the league on his team and one of the top three closers, and he's only been able to steer that group to a couple of first-round defeats in the playoffs (and those teams had the best starting pitcher in baseball, too), and this year's version barely has their heads above water at 51-50. Unbelievable.

It was a key win for the Twins, however. I'd like to address another baseball-related topic that I'm struggling to make sense of, and that is the Red Sox retired Jim Rice's number 14 yesterday in a pre-game ceremony. Let me just try to figure this out -- the guy was just inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sunday, he's been retired for twenty years, and now the Red Sox retire his number? I think that's a good indication that this guy should not have been voted into the Hall of Fame -- the only team that he ever played for didn't acknowledge his greatness to one franchise until Cooperstown came calling. I'm not here to say that Rice was a bad player -- he was a superb hitter, a stupendous run producer and a true ambassador for the game. But is he Hall of Fame material? I don't think so. We're talking about the Hall of Fame, people -- Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron...Jim Rice? Look, the guy was a very good ballplayer in his era, but the Hall of Fame isn't about honoring very good ballplayers. It's for honoring the best of the best. When the Red Sox went on the road, did fans from different cities go out to watch Jim Rice play like they do for Albert Pujols or Alex Rodriguez? And while we're at it, I think the Hall needs to reconsider its voting rules. A fifteen year stretch on the ballot is too long and I think it provides the opportunity for very good players (but not Hall-of-Famers) to sneak in at the end of that tenure simply because the voters have been seeing that name for over a decade. If you can't be voted in after five years, why should you get voted in after fifteen? I guess the Red Sox felt forced to retire Rice's number after the Hall of Fame voted him in; to me, if you're a great ballplayer, you'd think you would be honored by your team shortly after you retired. I still don't understand that one.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

JULY 27, 2009 -- MINNESOTA 4, CHICAGO 3

Michael Cuddyer's two-run home run in the bottom of the sixth inning, about as clutch as Cuddyer could get, proved to be the difference in the Twins topping the White Sox on Monday. With the Tigers losing in Texas on Monday, the Twins pull within three games of the division leaders, although the White Sox also stand in the Twins' way of first place. No doubt the Sox are all in favor of the Twins' immenent move to Target Field, as the Metrodome has become a house of horrors for Ozzie Guillen's club, and they had nobody to blame but themselves on Monday. Three errors by the White Sox defense directly led to an embarrassing dugout temper tantrum between ex-Twin A.J. Pierzynski and shortstop Alexei Ramirez, which culminated in Guillen chucking a bucket of bubble gum onto the field. Two runs were caused by Chicago errors in the second inning and pretty much were the difference in the ballgame. The Twins were more than willing to take those extra outs and they pounced on those additional chances and won a ballgame that they desperately needed.

Glen Perkins surprised everyone by pitching well on Monday, and it couldn't have come at a better time. Kevin Slowey's season is apparently done, which is definitely not a good thing for the Twins, who are basically pitching without an ace on this staff right now. Nick Blackburn had assumed that role for most of the first half, but Ron Gardenhire made sure that that kind of stellar pitching needed to end, and he made that a quick reality by resting him for ten days between the All-Star Break. Perkins has been so bad this year that his manager has been covering for him most of the time, claiming injury conveniently whenever Perkins goes out on the mound and can't get out of the second inning. He is a pretty decent pitcher at the Metrodome, however, and by giving the Twins seven innings on Monday, he gave them a chance to win. Sure, he gave up a couple of home runs, to Paul Konerko and rookie Gordon Beckham, but that's part of Perkins' repertoire, and at the very least he practiced good damage control. Matt Guerrier turned in another impressive performance and Joe Nathan was benefited by a fine defensive play by Denard Span to preserve the win in the ninth inning.

The win on Monday was especially huge considering that Mark Buehrle will be pitching for the first time since his perfecto last Thursday. Keep in mind, however, that Buehrle gave up eight runs and three home runs just a few weeks ago in his last start against the Twins. He's always been a pitcher who's either really humming or really scuffling against the Twins, but most of the time he's been pretty good; he's beaten the Twins 23 times already in his career, the most against any club in the big leagues. Scott Baker opposes for the Twins.

Monday, July 27, 2009

JULY 26, 2009 -- MINNESOTA 10, LOS ANGELES 1

The Twins exorcise some demons on Sunday, hitting three home runs (two by Justin Morneau) and riding starter Anthony Swarzak to an easy 10-1 win. At this point, the rookie Swarzak is pert' damn near the top starter on this team, and though I mean no disrespect to Anthony, that's not a good thing for the Twins. Nick Blackburn has responded to Ron Gardenhire's extra rest and pitched like a batting practice pitcher since the All-Star break, Francisco Liriano is the same bad pitcher that he was in April, Glen Perkins is probably going to move to the bullpen when Kevin Slowey is ready to come off the disabled list, and Scott Baker has been wildly inconsistent all year long. Twice on the road trip, Swarzak has stepped up and stopped the bleeding; the first in response to the Oakland Disaster, when he pitched seven strong innings and kept the game close enough for the Twins to win in extras, and now on Sunday, when he helped save an overtaxed bullpen by throwing 122 pitches in six plus innings, giving up only four hits and one run to an Angel lineup that had been working on all cylinders. To his credit, Swarzak has shown that he can pitch very much unlike a 23-year old rookie on the mound. He does tend to walk a few more batters than is to be accepted here at the Twins, but other than that, he's been more than adequate as a minor-league call-up; in fact, he's outclassed many of his mates on the pitching staff.


Perhaps the biggest hit in the game on Sunday was a two-out, two-run single by Nick Punto, who snapped a 1 for 18 slump with that single which put the Twins up 4-0. Denard Span would follow a batter later with a two-run single of his own, and the Twins chased Los Angeles starter Ervin Santana in the fourth inning. Punto was twice the beneficiary of poor official scoring on Sunday, but when you're hitting .205 and playing mediocre shortstop, you need all the breaks you can get, or you should hope that some idiot organization would pay you some ridiculous amount of money -- like three, four million dollars a year -- to replicate the same pathetic numbers that you have put up in the past (wait...that last part is actually true; damn you Bill Smith!). In the sixth inning, Punto lifted a medium-deep fly ball (it was almost a line drive -- dare I say Punto sort of hit the ball hard) that Reggie Willits and Gary Matthews Jr. let drop between them (see left), and the play was inexplicably ruled an RBI-double for Punto when in reality that's a ball that needs to be caught every single time. And Punto should have been charged with two errors in the seventh, as he stupidly dropped a routine liner to short stop and made Swarzak have to leave the game instead of completing seven innings; two batters before that, Punto had been charged with an error on a routine throw to first base. It just goes to show you that this is a guy who just can't put one solid all-around game on his resume. He's got to screw up somehow, and when it does happen it's not pretty. I liked Punto's quote after the game, though, when he said that "it's been an inconsistent year for me, to say the least." Inconsistent? No, that's not it; actually, Punto's been a shining example of consistency (consistently pathetic, that is). Inconsistent? Please. I've got another term for it, and it's not exactly PG-rated, buddy.


The Twins now return home to face the Chicago White Sox, fresh off losing three out of four to the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. The Twins will be the first team to face Mark Buehrle following his perfect game last week against Tampa Bay, but first they have to deal with John Danks, and unfortunately for the Twins, it appears as if Glen Perkins will pitch tonight. Ron Gardenhire made it seem like Perkins' last start (1 inning pitched, eight earned runs) was because of a bum shoulder, but he's made that excuse a few times this season. Managers shouldn't lie for their players like that -- Perkins has to man up and accept the fact that he sucks, and Ron Gardenhire needs to acknowledge that himself and juggle the rotation to ensure Twins fans that they aren't subject to watching that poor imitation for a pitcher do his "act" in front of tens of thousands of fans.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

JULY 25, 2009 -- LOS ANGELES 11, MINNESOTA 5

For the third time in six games, the Twins give up seven-plus runs in an inning -- that's got to be some sort of record for futility, at least a club record or something -- and this time it's a nine-run fourth inning that's the doom of Nick Blackburn and the Twins. I have a sneak feeling that Ron Gardenhire's awesome decision to rest his ace pitcher for a week and a half is still producing terrible results for the Twins, as Blackburn has shown absolutely none of the confidence and poise, not to mention sharp sinkers, that he displayed for most of the first half. Let's not forget that the Angels' nine-run inning was bookended by home runs from power-deficient hitters Chone Figgins and Maicier Izturis, the latter hitting his three-run bomb off R.A. Dickey, who appears to be settling back to his early-season yuckiness. And let's also not forget that the nine-run inning is not the worst inning that a Ron Gardenhire-managed team has had in Anaheim; the last game of the 2002 ALCS featured a ten-run inning that sealed the Angels' first trip and only to the World Series (and it included a guy named Adam Kennedy goin' Reggie Jackson on the Twins' asses), and Ron Gardenhire hasn't been close to the Series since then.


Down 9-2, the Twins did end up scoring three times in the seventh inning and had a bevy of chances throughout the game to make it interesting, but yet again the clutch hitting for the Twins failed them miserably. They went 2 for 12 with runners in scoring position, and seemed to mount a rally every inning but consistently choked with two outs. Spot starter and 30-year old rookie Matt Palmer showed everyone why he's a spot starter and 30-year old rookie, never getting ahead on any hitters and working basically all day out of the stretch. Michael Cuddyer, always the choker in the clutch, fouled out to first base with two on and two out in the first. Denard Span had two terrible at-bats, tapping back to the pitcher with two on and two out in the second and then swinging at two pitches which would have been ball four in the fourth inning -- obviously Span was still thinking that Casilla or Punto were hitting behind him and not Joe Mauer; had Span been smart and taken those pitches, Mauer would have hit with two runners on base. The Twins started the sixth inning with two straight singles and had runners on at first and third and nobody out, but then Brendan Harris flew out, Mike "No Gas Left in the Tank" Redmond struck out and Alexi Casilla -- well, you know what happens when Casilla hits. Failing to score that inning would prove even more costly when the Twins ended up putting three on the board in the seventh (though a bigger inning was prevented when Justin Morneau grounded into a double play with two on and nobody out), but reliever Jose Mijares took care of any "rally" the Twins may have by walking two guys in the eighth and letting both score. To add insult to injury, Michael Cuddyer popped out with a guy on third and one out in the ninth. All in all, it was a pathetic day at the ballpark for the Twins, and because Fox aired the game, the whole country got to see how bad of a team that the Twins really are.


If it weren't for them being in the weakest division in baseball, the Twins would be well out of playoff contention already. As it stands, with the Tigers winning three in a row and the Twins dropping four straight, the Twins are five games out as the trade deadline nears. I've been one who has said that they desperately need bullpen help and also have glaring holes up the middle (like those will be addressed, though). But the way this road trip has gone, I have to agree with the guys over at Fire Gardy when I say that there's no point right now in improving the ballclub. Will a bullpen guy really put this team over the top? And the real fact of the matter is is that the Twins are far from actually contending; by that I mean that even though they still have a shot to win the Central, if they get into the playoffs, how in Sam Hell are they going to compete with the Yankees, Red Sox, and Angels? They're a combined 5-14 against those teams, and there's not even a team on the fringe that the Twins match up well against. If it's just going to be another Ron Gardenhire three-and-done trip to the playoffs, what's the point? They've done that the last three times they've made the postseason, and each time that it happens it hurts a little bit more. The Twins aren't the Royals; a trip to the playoffs would not be an accomplishment in itself. If I'm a player on the Twins (or the manager), I'm not satisfied until I win the World Series. That should be the goal, but unfortunately both the front office and the field staff believe that the Central Divison is the end-all goal for the team. And like Fire Gardy opines, if the Twins aren't buyers at the trade deadline (which they've never been, except for a Phil Nevin here and an Eddie Guardado there), there's not much that the Twins can offer to other teams, either. Four months into the season, the Twins are languishing at two games below .500; frankly I don't see how the team can "turn it on" like everyone thinks they're going to. For the Twins to win 90 games, they'll have to pull off a 42-22 stretch, and I just don't think that's going to happen.


Just one more game to lose here in Anaheim, and then the Twins get to go home and face the White Sox and Angels in a week-long homestand. Anthony Swarzak has been the only starter to pitch well in the past week for the Twins, and he gets the task of getting the Twins off the mat for the second straight start; he was the pitcher who did his job last Tuesday following the Oakland Disaster. He opposes Angel flamethrower Ervin Santana.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

JULY 24, 2009 -- LOS ANGELES 6, MINNESOTA 3

Another inconsistent start for Francisco Liriano, as he pitches decent but gives up three home runs -- a solo shot to Jeff Mathis (he of the Puntoesque batting average of .197), a two-run home run to part-timer and ex-Gopher Robb Quinlan (his 25th career home run in seven seasons) and a back-breaking three-run home run to Mike Napoli, who won the game with a double the game earlier. It was especially disappointing considering the fact that the Twins desperately needed a good start from Liriano to save the bullpen if nothing else. After Glen Perkins went one pathetic inning against Oakland on Wednesday and Scott Baker amassed a huge pitch count on Thursday and had to leave after five innings, the Twins were counting on Liriano to pitch deep in the game. But the Twins have been counting on Liriano to pitch well all season, and he has just not stepped up to the plate at all. He's only had maybe one instance where Liriano pitched well in two consecutive starts; for the most part, Liriano's been bad with patches of brilliance. It's the kind of recipe that would make for a pretty successful relief pitcher, and it really makes sense to move him to the bullpen when you consider what the Twins have out there currently. But Ron Gardenhire stupidly believes in Liriano, and this crap will continue for the rest of the year. The loss drops Liriano to 4-10 and he's also the owner of a dismal ERA of 5.56. As long as Ron Gardenhire keeps going to Liriano every fifth day, he's easily going to lose fifteen games, with a good chance to lose a few more after that. Pathetic.

According to Dick Bremer, Ron Gardenhire has moved Joe Mauer into the #2 hole "at least in the short term, permanently." First off, what the hell does that mean? It's either permanent or in the short term, there, brainiac. In all fairness, I'm not sure which idiot has the information wrong -- Gardy or Bremer. A pipeline of information like that is something that I cringe at, but any way that it goes, we know that that info's going to be worthless however you interpret it. It's kind of like when Bremer reported that Gardenhire had commented that reliever Brian Duensing (5.82 ERA) was doing "fine." Whaaaaaaat? If that's "fine," I'm scared of what your opinion of "good" is -- well, we kind of already know, since Nick Punto has the best job security on the planet, as even the jaws of life couldn't pry Punto from the starting lineup. Getting back to the #2 hole controversy, Gardy claimed he did this earlier in the season to, in May, when the season could still be salvaged. Let's just put this into perspective; Ron Gardenhire waited until July 24 -- 97 games into the season -- to address the weakest part in his batting order. He gave Alexi Casilla three separate occasions, Matt Tolbert way too many opportunities, and it got so bad that he put Nick Punto there earlier in the road trip. I'm shaking my head just thinking about that stupidity. The higher you hit in the lineup, the more at-bats you're going to eventually get during the season. Why any person -- baseball person or not -- would hit a guy hitting in the .160s over a two-time batting champion is absolutely beyond me. Casilla, by the way, went 0 for 3 again, putting him at 3 for 29 since being recalled from the minors again. It's incredible how each time that Casilla has been called up, he's been miraculously worse every single time. And Nick Punto, who had a three-hit game in Texas last week that apparently prompted Gardenhire to bat him second in Oakland, has exactly one hit since then, going an incredible 1 for 17, dropping his average to a .202 average that is, well, Puntoesque. Mauer, by the way, went 2 for 4 with 2 home runs hitting out of the #2 spot on Friday.

Friday, July 24, 2009

JULY 23, 2009 -- LOS ANGELES 6, MINNESOTA 5 (10 innings)

The bullpen does it again, giving up four runs in five innings and miraculously losing a game to the Angels which they should have won. Joe Nathan blew the save, giving up two runs in the bottom of the ninth. In all fairness, the game tying hit was nothing more than a fourteen-hop grounder that deflected off the second base bag and eluded the grasp of Nick Punto. Sometimes the bounces don't go your way, and it was a frustrating way for Nathan to blow the save. Once Los Angeles tied the game, the momentum was clearly away from the Twins, and it didn't take long for the Angels to bring the game home. Brian Fuentes mowed down the middle of the Twins order in about a minute and a half in the top of the tenth, and then came the bottom half. Ron Gardenhire must have said something like, "Bounces be damned, I'm going to make sure we lose this game on some solid hits," because he brought in Jesse Crain to lose the ballgame. Crain, fresh from a stint in Rochester, did so in spades, though he did retire two batters (well, one, really -- the other out was a sacrifice bunt). Mike Napoli's two-out double brought home the game winner, and the Twins lost for the second time in three extra-inning affairs on this road trip.

Crain's numbers suggest that he has become the Matt Guerrier of 2009, and with the Twins still unwilling to address their bullpen woes, it will likely spell doom for the club for the remainder of the season. Bobby Keppel gave up a quick run in the sixth inning, as his run of good pitching appears to have come and gone. No doubt Ron Gardenhire will continue to go to Keppel until his ERA starts to offend grandmothers across the Upper Midwest, but for an intents and purposes Keppel's finished as an effective pitcher. What's worse is that in the last week, more than serviceable relief pitchers have been seemingly dealt with ease and have not demanded a whole lot in return in the trade market. Ground ball specialist Cla Meredith with traded to the Orioles last week (who may in turn trade Meredith again before the deadline) for a middling prospect. Just yesterday the Colorado Rockies traded a Class-A pitcher for Rafael Betancourt of the Indians, a guy who's always pitched well against the Twins. Perhaps the Indians didn't want to help their divisional rivals, but I have a sneak feeling that Bill Smith and the front office didn't even inquire as to Betancourt's availability. And former All-Star B.J. Ryan, released by the Blue Jays, was scooped up by the Cubs last week; since Toronto is still on the hook for Ryan's contract, any team signing him would have little financial obligation. But, at least as it looks from up here, Ron Gardenhire and the field staff is more than content using minor-league call-ups, retread wash-ups and never-even-has-beens, and Matt Guerrier than acquiring outside relief help. It's an area that they should have addressed in the previous offseason and came out of it bragging about Luis Ayala, so I wouldn't be surprised if the Twins sit on their hands again.

It had appeared that Ron Gardenhire had come to his senses finally when he put Joe Mauer in the #2 hole for the last two games in the Oakland series. Mauer's been the only guy that has hit in the #2 hole all season long, and on Monday he put Nick Punto in the second hole protecting Mauer; that move is so wrong on so many levels -- I wouldn't be surprised if Tanzania declared war on Djibouti for that stroke of genius. But Ron Gardenhire's a guy who likes to tinker with things that are working and he'll try his darnedest to screw them up again. So for that reason and that reason alone, apparently, Alexi Casilla hit in the #2 hole again. I've said it before: How long does it take Mark Grudzielanek to get into game shape? Casilla was at it again, going 0 for 4 at the plate, striking out twice and looking pretty pathetic doing it. His average is now at a head-shakingly bad .168, and he's 3 for 26 (.115) since being recalled again after the All-Star break. Putting Casilla in the #2 hole is kind of like putting your pitcher in the middle of the freaking lineup, shoulder to shoulder with Mauer, Morneau and company. Gardy -- it was cute before when you'd put Casilla and Tolbert in the #2 hole, but enough's enough. Get your head out of your ass and stop putting minor-league talent in a major-league lineup.

Francisco Liriano takes his 4-9 record and 5.33 ERA to the hill on Friday, and he opposes Angel ace John Lackey. The Twins did do enough at the plate on Thursday to beat Jered Weaver, and they're going to have to be on against Lackey if they want a chance on Friday. More importantly Liriano's going to have to pitch well, and that certainly has not been a given this season.

The MTRC also tips its cap to Mark Buehrle, who pitched the 18th perfect game in major league history on Thursday afternoon. Most impressively it was Buehrle's opponent, the Rays, who are an offensive power that just sent five of their hitters to the All-Star Game. Buehrle's a guy I've always admired for his attitude on the mound, his passion for the game, and his old-school approach. He's the ideal ace starter for his similarly old-school manager in Ozzie Guillen, as both players are a few decades behind their time (and that's a good thing). Though he's certainly been outspoken, especially when talking about the Twins, he's a guy I've always had respect for, and with the type of career he's already had (he's only 30), I wouldn't be surprised if there is Hall of Fame talk when he decides to hang 'em up.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

JULY 22, 2009 -- OAKLAND 16, MINNESOTA 1

The Oakland Athletics came into the series with the lowest batting average in the American League. They were twelfth in the league in runs scored. If it weren't for their pitching, which has actually been pretty decent this season (middle of the pack in ERA), the A's might be challenging the Nationals for the worst record in baseball. The Twins, on the other hand, are "competing" for a division title, and had just taken two out of three from the "competing" Texas Rangers. What happens in the three game series? The Twins lose two out of three, give up an incredible thirty-two runs in three games to the offensively-challenged Athletics, and leave the Bay Area on the losing end of a 16-1 ass-whoopin' at the hands of the last-place A's. Twice in the series -- twice -- the Twins gave up seven runs in an inning against Oakland; prior to the series the A's had scored seven runs in a game only six times in their previous thirty-six games. On Wednesday, it was Glen Perkins that gave his best impression of pitching, giving up eight runs and getting three outs, raising his ERA nearly a full run to 5.55. The key at-bat for Perkins was a bases-loaded, two-out walk to back-up catcher Landon Powell, who at nearly 300 pounds is surprisingly a light-hitting Puntoesque hitter. Perkins had Powell 0 and 2 and then dicked around with him, walked Powell to make it 2-1 in the first, and the next batter, the weak-hitting Rajai Davis, cleared the bases with a triple to make it 5-1.

Now, at 5-1, the Twins were out of the game. Never mind the fact that the Oakland A's came back from a ten-run deficit just two nights before. The Minnesota Twins are just not the kind of team that likes to come back from any deficit over three runs. After one inning of play, the Twins basically gave up, and it was reflected in Perkins' demeanor in the second inning, when the first two batters reached on a single and a walk, and Scott Hairston brought them home with a three-run home run that sent Perkins to the showers. Kevin Mulvey came in and did almost worse than Perkins, surrendering four more runs to score in the second to make it 12-1 before the Twins could catch their breath. Now remember -- that's about the score that the Twins were up on the A's at about the same spot in the ballgame on Monday. But did the Twins want to come back? Did it appear that they even wanted to be on the field at that particular point in time? Absolutely not. Only three times in the game did the Twins mount a rally with two runners on base, and their only run came on a solo home run by Justin Morneau in the first inning. The game was an absolute embarrassment. I wonder, though, which is more embarrassing -- losing a ten-run lead or losing 16-1. What do you guys think?

Now the Twins have to actually face a talented team in the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who are streaking with a six-game winning streak after sweeping the lowly Royals in Kansas City. The Twins swept the Angels early in the season, but that was when Los Angeles' pitching staff was heavily depleted by injuries. The three starters that the Twins saw in that series were Dustin Moseley, Darren Oliver, and Shane Loux. It was Oliver's first start in four years and the only start he made for the Angels this year; he's back in the bullpen. Moseley's been on the disabled list for most of the season and Loux was just recalled by the Angels after spending two months in Triple-A. This time around, the Angels are hurting from the other side of the diamond, as both Vladimir Guerrero and Torii Hunter (in the midst of a career year, by the way) are on the mend. But their pitching is back, and the Twins will be facing some tough hurlers this weekend in Anaheim. Jared Weaver pitches tonight for the Halos, and he faces Scott Baker, whose first start after the break was a phenomenal success. Baker's start Thursday will be as important, as he looks to get the Twins off the mat following a disastrous series against Oakland.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

JULY 21, 2009 -- MINNESOTA 3, OAKLAND 2 (10 innings)

A big win for the Twins, coming back from their worst loss in twenty-five years and beating the lowly Athletics in extra innings, 3-2. The Twins and Michael Cuddyer in particular got a break on Tuesday, as Oakland outfielder Ryan Sweeney inexplicably missed Cuddyer's catchable fly ball that ended up being the game-winning triple for the Twins. Granted, it would have been a nice running catch, but did you think that Cuddyer could actually have a clutch hit that wasn't screwed up in some way by the defense? The guy thrives on cheesy hits and pour-it-on run production, and we all knew that if it were Cuddyer that gets the winning run home, it was going to have to be on a play just like that. But, whatever, the Twins will take it, as they desperately needed to pick themselves off the mat after the Oakland Disaster on Monday night. The star of the game was undoubtedly Anthony Swarzak, who surprisingly pitched like a calm and collected veteran on the mound. He made the correct adjustments against the A's, a team that had beaten Swarzak a month ago, and his strong seven inning performance kept the Twins in the game and gave them a chance to win. Thanks to a misplay by Ryan Sweeney, the Twins took advantage.

Matt Guerrier got the win for the Twins, pitching two innings of near-perfect relief. Now, I will say this -- Guerrier is having a great season, but it's as good a time as any to bring up the fact that Guerrier is still in The Doghouse. Guerrier did this last year too -- pitch well in the first half only to implode (and I mean implode) in the second half. Last season he pitched to a 3.35 ERA ERA in the first half (over 45 games) and held opponents to a .241 batting average -- stellar numbers, especially considering that he had assumed Pat Neshek's eighth-inning role in mid-May and was still learning the role. The second half, however, Guerrier went 1-5, had an 8.88 ERA and opponents teed off against Guerrier to the tune of a .336 batting average. Along with the fact that Ron Gardenhire continued stupidly to bring Guerrier into close ballgames, Guerrier was perhaps the biggest reason that the Twins missed out on the playoffs last season, so it's mainly that resentment that's still lingering to this season. Even though Guerrier's been absolutely fantastic this season -- 2.18 ERA, 5-0 record, 0.86 WHIP, .191 opponent's batting average -- my heart still skips a beat every time that he's brought into the game. If Guerrier can put together a solid season -- an entire season, and not just a good half -- he'll be out of The Doghouse, but until then, he's still under hard watch. And think of it this way -- if Guerrier doesn't give up another run for the rest of the season but the Twins don't make the playoffs, that's still one blown season that's on Guerrier's record. So the resentment will always be there.


In a pre-game interview, Ron Gardenhire suddenly turned into Ozzie Guillen for a little bit, and his comments regarding how managers should be able to throw "red flags" like coaches can in the NFL were a little embarrassing. Gardenhire actually said it best after the game on Monday, that Mike Muchlinski's call should not have mattered because the Twins did not deserve to lose. He manned up and took full responsibility for the loss (well, he didn't blame himself, and that's the real issue here, but close enough). Then Gardenhire has to give this interview, and it makes him come off quite unprofessional, whiny, and still lingering on the bad call from Monday. Added to that was the fact that Gardy's "plan" was just plain asinine. I'm still having trouble making sense of the plan, so here it is from the horses' mouth, printed in the Pioneer Press:

"You'd have to have one (challenge) an inning, just for fun," Gardenhire said. "You throw it out and they go, OK, let's go look at it. Have a guy in a box that has a red scorecard and a green one and if (the call was right) he (holds up) green, you got it right, umpire. If you were wrong, you got red. You don't even have to talk."


So the umpires wouldn't look at the play? Some dude would hold up colored placards and that's it? One challenge per inning? Do we want to play a nine-inning game in five hours? I thought Bert Blyleven said it best during Tuesday's telecast, in response to Dick Bremer (not surprisingly) calling for expanded instant replay, "Why do we even need umpires then? Why not just have machines and robots make the calls?" If you're going to expand replay to calls at home plate, then you're going to have to expand it to include calls at all the bases, and then sooner than later you're going to just have a machine call balls and strikes. It's a game played by humans that involves some amount of human error -- Ron Gardenhire is certainly a prime example of a human making many mistakes -- what should be addressed is the fact that minor-league umpires like Mike Muchlinski are simply not trained well enough for the big-leagues. Why a Triple-A ump was given the task of umpiring home plate is beyond me. Clearly Muchlinski was out of position to call the final play on Monday -- what needs to be addressed is that these umpires, whether full-time or substitute, must be adequately trained for the big-leagues. As far as replays go, yeah -- do anything except whatever Ron Gardenhire was blathering about. That's childishly stupid, Gardy.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

JULY 20, 2009 -- OAKLAND 14, MINNESOTA 13

Buckle up, folks. This one's going to be a long one.

Many people might come here and expect a nice long rant on how home plate umpire Mike Muchlinski blew the call at home to end the game, calling out Michael Cuddyer trying to score from second base on a wild pitch. And let's get it straight -- Cuddyer was very safe; it really wasn't close at all. Muchlinski's horrible call cannot go unnoticed, as it probably is one of the worst, most gutless calls I've ever seen in my life. But the fact remains is this -- to cry over a bad call in the ninth inning in a game in which the Twins led by ten freaking runs is not the correct emotion to cling to. This was a game so classically Gardenhire-esque and so pathetic and yet so predictable that Muchlinski probably made the right call. The Twins had no business even being close in this game. They were as far from deserving to win on Monday as any team in the history of major league baseball. This is the real Twins, folks. These players and this manager -- these pathetic excuses for baseball people are what we stress out over for six months of the year.


OK -- you don't call yourself a competitive team -- no, scratch that; you don't call yourself a major-league team if you're losing games in which you were leading the second worst team in the American League by TEN runs. This is a mockery of the game to lose a game like this. A mockery of the game. The sad part about it is that a lot of people will forget how pathetic the Twins actually were and remember only Muchlinski's bonehead call. We need not to forget about such games -- that's Ron Gardenhire's awesome idea, to just forget about it and move on. No -- we need to examine how games like this get out of hand so it never, EVER happens again. Ron Gardenhire needs to look at his own managerial style and see how this game was lost well before it even began. I'm sorry -- in a game in which you have a ten run lead and you lose, it's not all on the players. A lot of the blame must be thrown on the manager here, and this was one of the worst managed games I've ever been a witness to. Quite often here at the MTRC, I tend to overplay my hatred for Ron Gardenhire and I might be a little harsh on him at times. But it's these kind of performances that just reaffirm Gardenhire's status as truly one of the worst in-game managers in the game. It's absolutely cuckoo to me how this man can sleep at night.



Gardenhire's first folly: deciding (whenever it was) that his staff ace, sinkerballer Nick Blackburn should get nine days between starts, giving some bullshit excuse like "he's worked a lot of innings in the first half of the season." That's ridiculous right off the bat, because Blackburn's been your ace in the season and you ride your best pitcher, not give him nine days off and throw off his rythym. More importantly, it doesn't take a lifelong baseball fan to know that nine days between starts for a sinkerball pitcher would tend to make Blackburn a little too strong for his start on Monday, thereby putting too much force on the sinkerball and straightening it out. I was curious why Blackburn was skipped on Friday when he should have started, and to hear that Blackburn's workload was perhaps a little "taxing" in the first half of the season was pure Gardenhire blather that makes little to no logical sense. Not surprisingly, Blackburn put forth his worst performance of the season, giving up thirteen hits and seven runs in five innings of work. But when you get a week and a half between starts, that's only going to screw with the winning rythym he had set in the first half. Good one, Gardy.



Then the bullpen. I had to do a double take last night when I heard Ron Gardenhire's post-game comments (usually I don't, but I had to see what he was going to say after this one). I don't have the exact quote, but Gardenhire said something like, "You're used to seeing this happen to the other team and not ours," referring to a bullpen meltdown. Ah--whaaaaat? Does the year 2008 mean anything to you? Remember when you brought Matt Guerrier in every freaking game to blow leads and lose games down the stretch? Apparently this has all been taken care of thanks to Ron Gardenhire's patented GARDY 2K8 Amnesia Therapy, and it's another reason why forgetting about what didn't work at one time is a terrible philosophy not only to manage a baseball team but life in general. It's one thing that Ron Gardenhire's a terrible manager, but it's even worse when he goes Last Year at Marienbad on us all. Good managers have the ability to adapt, and acknowledge what didn't work once and try a different approach. Monday's game and his bullpen management was predictably bad, but I still can't figure out the logic behind any of it.


1) He brings in Brian Douchebag in the sixth inning. Douchebag was apparently Gardenhire's bridge from Blackburn to the eighth inning, which makes zero sense considering Duensing had pitched in Sunday's game (and took the loss). Douchebag's sixth inning was a struggle, as he allowed the first two batters to reach before being bailed out by a double-play ball. You'd think after Douchebag struggled so mightily in the sixth inning that Ron Gardenhire would come to his senses. Why he didn't go to R.A. Dickey in the sixth and the seventh is beyond me; Dickey had pitched Sunday too, but only threw six pitches, and hadn't pitched for eight days prior to that. Besides, he's the staff junkballer and you've boasted the fact that Dickey can give you four innings each night. But there was Douchebag on the mound for the seventh, and the same scenario unfolded: this time the first three batters reached, and then Ron Gardenhire waddled out to the mound to make a pitching change.


2) We were all waiting in steep anticipation for the Bobby Keppel Meltdown. What we were waiting for is the most pathetic opportunity for that to happen, and when Keppel was called on to "extinguish" the situation on Monday, I knew that Keppel was giving up the lead like nothing else in the world. If I were in Las Vegas, I would have made a killing on that, because that is the perfect situation for this career 7+ ERA wash-up never-even-has-been to finally implode. Why this guy was even called up from the minors when stud prospects like Anthony Slama and Rob Delaney continue to post impressive numbers still confuses me. Of course, with Ron Gardenhire, all you have to give him is two or three good outings out of the bullpen and you are then called on to blow games on a regular basis, and after Monday, we'll probably get to see a few more Bobby Keppel Meltdowns before that whole experiment officially goes kaput. It was pretty quick with Keppel -- bloop double, walk, and game-tying grand slam -- and in came Jose Mijares to give up the game-winning home run on the first pitch he threw to Jack Cust.


3) Then there's the situation in the top of the eighth inning. Joe Mauer had been given the night off, apparently because he's been struggling of late, but now with the Twins behind on the scoreboard, now Ron Gardenhire had the luxury of having the best hitter in the American League on his bench, and he could use him in a number of favorable situations. Brendan Harris led off the eighth with a single off reliever Brad Ziegler, and Mike Redmond strode to the plate. I figured that Gardenhire was going to save Mauer for the ninth inning or, if Redmond can at least move Harris to second base, pinch hit in the eighth inning for Alexi Casilla. Gardenhire had already dug himself a hole when he used Nick Punto in the #2 hole, and with Casilla also playing, the Twins had two sore thumbs in the batting order, but at least they had their ace in the hole in Joe Mauer (Casilla and Punto, by the way, went a combined 0 for 8, with two strikeouts and five pop-ups -- again, how long does it take Mark Grudzielanek to get into game shape?). Redmond's bunt attempts (he hadn't sacrificed in over three years, by the way) were for naught, and you had the sneak feeling that Redmond better strike out, because if he puts the ball in play, he's going to hit into a double play. Well, that's exactly what happened. With two out and nobody on base, up strode Joe Mauer to pinch hit for Casilla. This one I still can't fathom the logic behind. What are you doing, Ron Gardenhire? In essence, he wastes Mauer -- what, does he think he's going to hit a home run? Compounded on that was the fact that Mauer took over for Redmond behind the plate in the bottom of the eighth. So instead of pinch hitting Mauer for Redmond -- which is the logical move if you're planning on putting Mauer at catcher anyway -- Gardenhire uses his best hitter in a meaningless spot and lets Mike Redmond take their team out of the inning a batter before. With two out and nobody on, I'd might as well let Alexi Casilla make the third out of that inning and save Mauer for the ninth, because you have Nick Punto in the #2 hole that you need a pinch hitter for, too. As it turned out, Gardenhire had to use Brian Buscher, his other pinch-hitting option, at third to take over Redmond's spot in the lineup, and Punto had to hit in the ninth. Basically, with that beyond-stupid move, Gardenhire made three outs with one move -- Redmond made two outs when he should have been pinch-hit for, and Punto struck out because Gardenhire pinch hit Mauer in the wrong place and had to waste his other pinch-hitting option for defense. Absolutely demented managing.


Well, I'm done with this one. For all those out there who still think this team is competitive and can win this division, I hope you can look at this game and see who the real Minnesota Twins are. And the fact is, this has been the team all along. They've been masquerading as a .500 club up to this point, and all it takes is one West Coast classic like this one to prove to everyone that the Twins aren't going anywhere this season and as long as Ron Gardenhire manages this bunch of clowns, they'll never do anything.

Monday, July 20, 2009

JULY 19, 2009 -- TEXAS 5, MINNESOTA 3 (12 innings)

Ian Kinsler started the game with a home run off Francisco Liriano and ended the game some twelve innings later, belting a two-run shot off R.A. Dickey to give the Rangers a much-needed 5-3 win. In between Kinsler's home run, the Twins' offense was pretty much non-existent against the always subpar Texas pitching staff. They got only three runs off a lost rookie lefthander, Derek Holland, and those runs were produced by Nick Punto (on a home run -- yes, miracles do happen!), Alexi Casilla and Denard Span. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau continued to phone it in during the three-game series, and the Twins' 3-4-5 hitters went a combined 0 for 15 in Sunday's game. That's just ridiculous folks, and it's almost amazing that the game went 12 innings to begin with. The Twins struck out thirteen times against Holland and company and went 2 for 8 with runners in scoring position. There was a huge shortage of clutch hitting, which is quickly becoming a theme for this team.

Casilla finished the day 1 for 5 and completed the series going 2 for 14, which actually lowered his already low batting average from .180 to .176. Compounded to his absolute patheticness at the plate, Casilla made yet another defensive lapse in the field, letting a catchable foul ball drop because he wanted Justin Morneau, who had a much worse angle at the ball, to catch it instead. Casilla grounded into a double play in the first inning, too. With the Twins signing veteran Mark Grudzielanek on Sunday, the only question I have is this: how long does it take Mark Grudzielanek to get into game shape? I'm not saying that Grudzielanek is the be-all and end-all option at second base. He's old (39) and he hasn't played at all since last August. But considering who the Twins have (Casilla, Punto, Tolbert -- or in other words, Bad, Terrible, and God-Awful) Grudzielanek might as well be Joe Morgan. Seriously, how can Grudzielanek be any worse than what the Twins already have? Here's a guy who has always hit consistently (.290 career hitter) and he even won a Gold Glove in the later part of his career, in 2006 with the Royals. Most importantly, the guy is experienced and he's not going to make the mental errors that Casilla has been making every single game that he plays. And, it's going to be a lot less embarrassing to pencil in a guy like Grudzielanek in the #2 hole instead of guys hitting below the cost of a gallon of gasoline. This being said, even if Grudzielanek comes to the Twins, you know Ron Gardenhire's going to look at his infield -- Joe Crede at third, Brendan Harris at short, Grudzielanek at second, Morneau to first -- and say that that's way too good, and insist on putting Nick Punto somewhere. An infield just wouldn't be an infield for Ron Gardenhire if there wasn't at least one guy hitting under .200.

Well, the Twins won a series against the competing Rangers, and now they get to travel to Oakland to face the bottom-feeding Athletics, who have the second-worst record in the American League. The first time the Twins went to Oakland they let the A's win two games which the Twins should have won, but this time around if the Twins don't win the series (they really should sweep Oakland) it would be a major disaster, especially considering that the Twins actually face a competent opponent next weekend in the Angels. Staff ace Nick Blackburn goes for the Twins against southpaw Gio Gonzalez.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

JULY 18, 2009 -- MINNESOTA 4, TEXAS 1

Another key win for the Twins against the Rangers, and Scott Baker throws by far his best game of the season. I said it yesterday and I'll say it again: if the Twins plan on doing any contending in the second half of the season, Scott Baker must pick it up. He pretty much sleepwalked through the first half of the year, and part of that may have been due to his arm injury that he had to begin the season, but at many times in the first few months of the season, what was so disappointing about Baker was that his demeanor just wasn't there on the mound. He looked as if he didn't want to be pitching, period, and that killer instinct that he appeared to have last season looked non-existent. But maybe with Saturday's eight-inning performance, Scott Baker can turn the corner, and with that the Twins may be able to mount a rally to win what is a pretty winnable division.


The offense again did just enough to win on Saturday, as Michael Cuddyer got two hits that were as clutch as Cuddyer can get -- a run-scoring double and a solo home run that was reminiscent of a Tom Watson golf shot. Usually Cuddyer's production comes in blowout victories or failed comeback wins, but with half of the team's RBIs on Saturday, that damn near qualifies as clutch in Cuddyer's book. Alexi Casilla went 1 for 4 out of the #2 hole, making him 1 for 8 since his call-up, but that didn't stop certifiable idiot Dick Bremer from beatifying Casilla for that one hit. It was a two-out, nobody on base single in the eighth inning, and Casilla ended up scoring that inning. I was just waiting for Bremer to lay the praise on Casilla for that one hit, and sure enough, there's Bremer putting Casilla into the Hall-of-Fame because of a 1 for 8 weekend. I can somewhat understand now what I think Ron Gardenhire might be thinking when he puts guys like Casilla and Matt Tolbert in the second hole. Take a look at that lineup -- Casilla is protecting Joe Mauer in that lineup. With Mauer, Morneau, and Kubel following Casilla, pitchers are going to give whoever hits second a lot of fastballs, and perhaps Gardenhire is putting Casilla there to make him prove to the on-field staff that at least he can hit hittable pitches. If he doesn't produce in the #2 hole, really where will Casilla get hits? In a way the #2 hole in the lineup is an express lane to finding out who's good on the team. There's a few problems with that philosophy, however -- first off, this isn't spring training or tee ball, this is the majors and you can't cripple your team by putting minor leaguers near the top of the order, and secondly, Casilla has hit in the #2 hole everytime he's been on the club and he's hitting .170. The experiment has failed, Gardenhire, three times in fact, so now you quit the whole experiment and cut ties with Casilla. The guy just can't get the job done. Case in point, the ninth inning on Saturday, when Casilla had the bases loaded, two outs, and had the count full. With Joe Mauer on deck, everybody in the ballpark knows a fastball is coming, and what does Casilla do with that fastball? Pop it up to second base. That's it Gardenhire -- that's the real Alexi Casilla.


I'm going to make a first here at the MTRC -- I'm going to give Ron Gardenhire props. I'm going to give him props about his tantrum he threw in the ninth inning which resulted in his getting ejected from the game. Gardenhire is good at acting like a six year old whose mom has sent him to the corner. It's extremely entertaining, in fact, and I got a good chuckle out of Gardenhire and first base umpire Gary Cedarstrom pointing fingers at each other and bitching back and forth. That's the one trait that Gardenhire has that is from the old school -- too bad that his unwavering 100-pitch count philosophies, coddling of sucky players like Casilla and Nick Punto, and consistent dicking with professional hitters' swings is terribly new school and pathetic. I'm not sure what school he belongs to that adheres so closely to Gardenhire's philosophy of "we can never win in the playoffs" -- that one must be unique to Gardenhire and Gardenhire alone.


Speaking of the umpires, I was getting a little restless watching home plate umpire Brian O'Nora run off the field every fifteen minutes to ice his midsection. He got hit in the cubes by a foul ball early in the game, which is something I don't wish on anybody. But the joke got pretty old by about the fourth time that O'Nora had to run to the clubhouse to fix his jock strap. Of course Dick Bremer was busy heralding O'Nora's "perseverance" and "toughness," but c'mon -- you're an overweight umpire who not only got hit in the nuts but was obviously struggling to survive the Texas heat. It was a three-hour game to begin with, and then because of O'Nora's stubbornness to stay in the game (not perseverance, but stupid insistence) the game drug out another half-hour. It should not take anybody three and a half hours to play a 4-1 game, and thank you Brian O'Nora for "persevering" through it all.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

JULY 17, 2009 -- MINNESOTA 5, TEXAS 3

Glen Perkins opens the second half of the season by giving up a two-run home run to the third batter he faces, Josh Hamilton, and it would appear that the crucial ten-game road trip is off to a horrendous start. Collectively, it seemed as if Twins fans everywhere muttered, “Here we go again.” But then the Twins picked themselves off the mat, tied the game in the very next inning thanks to a two-run triple by Carlos Gomez, and then rode Jason Kubel’s three-run home run in the third inning to a 5-3 victory. Perkins really struggled through five innings, throwing over one hundred pitches in getting the undeserving victory. Again, Bobby Keppel pitches the six and the seventh and mows down the opposition, striking out three of the six batters. Though Keppel’s done a yeoman’s job in this sort of role, I still think that the jury’s out with this guy. The bad thing is, we’re going to have to find out about Keppel’s real lack of talent the hard way, because all indications are that Ron Gardenhire is going to not only continue to put Keppel in games, but continue to put him in close games. Sooner or later, Keppel’s gonna go Sean Henn on everybody’s ass, and Gardenhire was willing to lose games with Henn a handful of times. So when Keppel finally implodes, it’s going to be ugly, I guarantee that much.

Alexi Casilla came into this season coming off a career year in which he hit close to .300, played stellar defense, provided a speedy option at the top of the order, and even hit a few clutch home runs during the year. That being said, Casilla fell back to earth so hard this year that it was just one month into the season that Casilla was sent down to the minors, and quite frankly that decision was a few weeks too late. Casilla’s been recalled and sent back again this year, and now he’s with his third go-round with the club. He’s back to square one, needing to earn playing time, a la spring training, which for Ron Gardenhire means that Casilla starts at second base immediately AND bats second in the lineup. What the hell Gardenhire? What is with his whole “the second baseman must hit second in this lineup regardless of how low that average sinks?” Matt Tolbert was hitting there for a while, too. The only guy that has really flourished in that spot is Joe Mauer, but Gardenhire would rather have Mauer hit third, for good reasons. Brendan Harris was spanking the ball until a recent slump, which has precipitated his move to the bottom of the order. Do you see the logic in that? Harris has one bad week (lowering his batting average to a mere .270) and he’s relegated to the #8 hole; Casilla and Tolbert have sucked all year long and have not had their averages above the Mendoza Line since, well, Opening Day, and they’re plugged into the #2 hole like that’s how it’s always been. That just makes a whole hell of a lot of sense.

Scott Baker is definitely one of the keys for the Twins in the second half if they plan of making a push for the divisional title. He’s been wildly inconsistent this season and if the Twins want to go anywhere, Baker’s going to have to pitch like the ace pitcher he was last season. He pitches tonight in Texas, and he opposes Rangers righthander Scott Feldman.

Friday, July 17, 2009

JULY 17, 2009 -- Reader Mail #1

Howdy, folks, and I am proud to present the first segment of Reader's Mail here at the MTRC. I got plenty of e-mails posing questions on a broad variety of subjects, so what I decided is that this segment is just one of many that will be posted here when things are slow around the Center. I appreciate all the e-mails that I did receive and I encourage those to keep them coming. Here's just a sampling of the stuff that I got, and remember -- if your question was not answered here, it will most likely be featured in a future installment of Reader's Mail.


From Dave in St. Peter --

Hey Eisenhower, I'm wondering what you think about Rick Anderson. I know that you're very critical of Ron Gardenhire and I'll be honest -- I like the guy. I can see where you're coming from though. But what's your take on Rick Anderson?


Thanks Dave for the good question. For me, Rick Anderson and Ron Gardenhire are ideal bedfellows, as their philosophies go hand in hand. It's kind of like the old question of what came first, the chicken or the egg, with these two numbskulls. Is it Anderson that initiated the 100-pitch limit (not pitch count, as it's as strict as it can be), or was that Gardenhire all along? What can be said about both of these guys is that they failed so pathetically in their own playing careers -- both getting cups of coffee for the Mets in the early to mid-'80s -- that they really can't impart any real experience to their players. More often than not, they're running on book knowledge of the game. Their coaching philosophies are very similar to Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan, who really revolutionized the game with their greater usage of a bullpen and not stretching their starters out too long. Hey, if you look at the numbers that the pitching staff has put up in the past, it would be easy to lionize Anderson as a successful pitching coach. One rule I have will all the Twins is "What have you done for me lately," and the pitching staff this season has been far from superb. And secondly, Anderson was grateful to have guys like Johan Santana, Brad Radke, and Francisco Liriano (2006 version) on his staff. Those guys didn't really need a whole lot of coaching. But, like Gardenhire, Anderson is a stubborn, unchanging coach who still coaches his pitching staff as if it were 2004. Both coaches need a greater flexibility and a willingness to adapt to current situations.


From Nick in Plymouth --


I was wondering why the Twins insist on keeping catcher Mike Redmond as the second string catcher when a younger, less injury prone catcher, Jose Morales is hitting .343? From what I hear is Mike Redmond is a great guy to have in the clubhouse, but what ever happened letting the best player play for the better of the team? It’s not little league where everyone gets a chance to play.


Great timely question, Nick. It's timely because the Twins, for the fourteen-hundredth time this season, sent down Morales in favor of a third long-man out of the bullpen, Kevin Mulvey. Mulvey was one of the low-level prospects the Twins netted in the disastrous Santana trade, and with him in the bullpen, that means that he joins R.A. Dickey and Bobby Keppel as long-relievers when their real need, a eighth-inning stopper, continues to go unaddressed. And compounding this head-scratching move is the fact that Morales has continued to be ignored by Gardenhire and the regime. You're exactly right, Nick -- Mike Redmond, while being a classy, hard-nosed guy, is way over the hill. He plain can't hit, his defensive skills are average at best, and the pitching staff has struggled when Redmond has caught them. Redmond just doesn't have much left in the tank, but because the Twins owe Redmond money, they'd rather have Morales, a guy who's hit every time he's been called up, languish in Triple-A. And with Joe Mauer on the team, you need to DH Mauer on those days that he doesn't catch, and that means that Redmond is essentially the only catcher on the roster those days. You'd think that doesn't mean a whole lot, but earlier in the season the Twins were screwed when Redmond was unexpectedly thrown out of the game and Mauer had to catch, thereby eliminating the DH for the game and making the pitcher have to hit. You really don't need three long-relievers on any team at any time, so keep Morales on the team as your third catcher (and, in actuality, your second best catcher). It makes zero sense to keep Redmond over Morales at this point, but remember that we're dealing with Ron Gardenhire, who doesn't tend to make a ton of logical decisions concerning his team. All that we can hope is that Mike Redmond retires at the end of the season, because we know that if he wants to play, the Twins will gladly overpay him.


Donna from Sioux Falls, SD says --

Hi Eisenhower! You do a great job with the blog. I was just wondering about how you got your name -- it's very original and I almost wish I could go back and name one of my kids Eisenhower. Are you named after Dwight Eisenhower?


Thanks for the email, Donna. Yes, I was named after our great 34th president and military genius, Dwight David Eisenhower. My parents were lifelong Republicans and my father served in World War II in the European Theater. Though he did not serve directly under Eisenhower's command, he was my father's hero, and when I was born in the mid-'50s, my folks decided to honor him by naming me after him. I will say that I was made fun of when I was younger for the name, and in response I prefered the name Howie for a long time. But in my later years I've embraced the name, and I even extended that gratitude when my first daughter was born. I paid homage to my folks by deciding to name my daughter Reagan, after the newly-sworn in president at that time. And some people still ask me -- if your parents wished to honor Eisenhower, why not name me Dwight? Or David? But I'm glad that they didn't, and I've learned to really love my handle.


From Pete in Richfield --

[In response to my post regarding the Twins calling up Alexi Casilla and sending Matt Tolbert to Triple-A], Casilla isn’t that bad. Tolbert was. Hustle and effort only go so far, then you have to rely on talent, and Casilla has shown by last year’s performance that he has some talent[...]Finally, if Terry Ryan Jr. doesn’t get off his hands and make a deal, the fans may leave in droves in August and September. Billy Smith has done one thing better than any other GM in baseball: NOTHING.


Casilla did have a good year last year, but at the beginning of this season I did predict a crash down to earth. Not in my wildest dreams did I think he'd do this bad, but I figured that 2008 was a fluke and that appears to be the case. It's not too often that a guy goes down to the minors, gets called back up again, and plays worse than he had before being sent down for the first time. After all, the guy was hitting a mere .170 when he was first sent down, but somehow he played even worse the second go-round, and his defensive play is an absolute joke. If I was Bill Smith I would have put Casilla on my Do Not Call List and have him play the rest of the season in the minor leagues to get his act together. Now, as far as a Tolbert vs. Casilla argument goes, I guess I can agree with you, seeing as Casilla at least has had some success at the majors, and Tolbert not only has not played well in the big leagues, but he has been supremely average in the minors as well. He didn't deserve to be in the big leagues in the first place and certainly hasn't earned a spot to stay. And I totally agree with your analysis of Bill Smith, but I wouldn't expect anything drastic from the front-office. The only guy that the Twins have signed as a free-agent in the last five years that has actually panned out is Joe Crede, and has anyone noticed how they're handling that situation? Check out the stipulations of Crede's contract that he signed in the late winter. It's only a $2 million base salary, and he could make as much as $7 million if he reaches a certain amount of at-bats. But Crede's basically a player who plays four to five days a week, and there's absolutely no way that he makes the maximum amount of his deal. I'm not surprised one bit, because we're talking about the cheapest organization in professional sports -- for every hangnail, scratch, flake of dandruff, cough or burp that Crede produces, the Twins immediately bench him "for precautionary measures," but more importantly that means a few extra bucks that the Twins can save. The guy's on pace to hit over 25 homers, but the Twins would rather play Brian Buscher a couple days a week so they can save money on Joe Crede. Ridiculous.


That concludes the first edition of Reader's Mail, and expect more such segments throughout the year and especially during the off-season. I had a blast doing this and I beg of you -- please keep the e-mails coming. Even if you disagree with me -- especially if you disagree with me, in fact -- don't feel afraid to let your comments known.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

JULY 14, 2009 -- AL 4, NL 3

Let's get it straight right off the bat: All-Star Games in any sport are supremely overrated. Some baseball fans would like to immediately point out that the MLB All-Star Game "means something," which is actually a strike against it being even worth watching. I've already said how much the current All-Star structure is an absolute mockery, so I won't repeat myself. I saw about ten minutes of the game last night, enough to watch Joe Mauer tie the game with a double in the fifth inning and Joe Nathan cling to the one-run lead that he inherited in the eighth inning, striking out Ryan Howard with two runners in scoring position to end the inning. However much I'm glad that Nathan was able to fan Howard, the situation was a prime example why the All-Star Game needs to be an exhibition. Once Orlando Hudson stole second base, which opened up first base, most managers in a real game would have walked Howard (even with two strikes) and gladly faced Justin Upton instead of Howard. That's no jab at Upton, who's a deserving All-Star in his own right, but with first base open you shouldn't pitch to Howard. At least Nathan wasn't throwing strikes to Howard and had the Phillie slugger fishing at a pitch in the dirt to get him out. The fact is this -- fans want to see power-versus-power matchups like Nathan vs. Howard. It was a pretty exciting moment to tell you the truth. But as long as the All-Star game has a false sense of importance attached to it, there will be managers who will choose to forgo such situations and walk Howard there, and strip the fans of an exciting moment.


Barack Obama threw out the first pitch of the All-Star Game wearing a White Sox jacket, and whatever your politics may be, I'm wondering if anyone else among us Twins fans were thinking to themselves -- boy, as a southpaw, Obama might just be as good as Brian Duensing or Sean Henn. No doubt Ron Gardenhire was sitting in his living room kickin' back the Schmitt's and eating SpamWiches, reaching for the telephone and begging Bill Smith to sign 'im up. At least that way, Smith won't have to trade anybody to get him. Ah, but what am I talking about -- Obama probably wouldn't even want to play for the Twins. He's got enough headaches in Washington what with the whole "country falling apart" thing, that he'd probably not want to compound his troubles by joining the already beleaguered Twins bullpen.


Remember, folks, send in those e-mail questions to eisenhowermcsteele@gmail.com. I've already had a few great e-mails come in and I look forward to more. The first "Ask Howie" segment will be featured on Friday, so don't be afraid to send me your questions!