Monday, August 31, 2009

AUGUST 30, 2009 -- MINNESOTA 5, TEXAS 3

A perfect example of the Twins winning a game in spite of their manager, Ron Gardenhire, whose moves in the bottom of the eighth inning are head-scratching mystifiers if you ask this fan. To make matters worse, Dick Bremer pointed to "shrewd managing" as a reason why the Twins were able to come back against the Rangers; it's unfortunately paradoxical and counter-productive when one idiot heaps praise on a fellow idiot. Let's examine this half-inning to see how the Twins were shockingly able to come back: after Justin Morneau walked and Jason Kubel singled against C.J. Wilson, Michael Cuddyer came up to the plate with one goal in mind: to strike out. Some baseball people would have had Cuddyer bunt, but I'm fine with what happened. In those situations, Cuddyer has to strike out, because that is apparently what he's paid to do. No problem there. Then Brendan Harris singles to left to tie the game, and outfielder Nelson Cruz's error allows runners to move to second and third with one out. So far, so good for Ron Gardenhire -- he hasn't done jackshit, and the team has tied the game and is on the verge of taking the lead. Then he continues to do nothing, and inexplicably he lets Mike Redmond hit. Here's a guy who, if it weren't for Nick Punto and Alexi Casilla also being on the team, would be by far the worst hitter on your team, who hits the ball to the right side of the field because he can't catch up to anything at this point in his career and is perpetually behind the baseball. Gardenhire had some moves on the bench to make: Jose Morales, he of the Joe Mauer-esque batting average, Orlando Cabrera, and Seldom Young -- all three of those players are far superior hitters to Redmond. But Gardy goes with Redmond, who bounces it to first, and pinch-runner Carlos Gomez is only able to score because of a bad throw home. Gardenhire again lucks out, does nothing and gets the advantageous bounce to take the lead.

Now it's Nick Punto's turn, and Bremer lauded Gardenhire's ploy to bunt Punto here. As if everybody else in the building didn't also think that Punto just *might* bunt. Dude, have you seen Nick Punto swing the bat this season? It's kind of like watching Elaine Benes dance -- he's got these little kicks and herky-jerky movements that's very hard to watch most of the time. Yeah, like you're going to have Nick Punto try to swing away to get the run home. The bunt is a decent one, and Wilson's throw home was again errant, allowing the run to score, and Bremer takes that opportunity to praise both morons, Gardenhire and Punto, for teaming together to score another run. As if Gardy was done making moronic managerial moves; in the middle of the next at-bat, on a 1-1 pitch, Gardenhire pinch-runs Redmond at second base in favor of Orlando Cabrera? Whaaaaaat???!!! You'd pinch-run Redmond in the middle of an at-bat but you'd think that he could get the job done at the plate? What the hell are you thinking, Gardenhire? And to make matters worse, instead of putting Jose Morales behind the plate for the ninth, he loses his DH and has Mauer catch the ninth. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the Master of Logic, Ron Gardenhire. Oh, and as a side note, the Twins are unable to extend their lead because Alexi Casilla, batting .198 and second in the lineup again, failed to get a two-out hit. Hmm. I wouldn't have expected that.

So Sunday's game was a perfect example of the Twins winning despite their manager's best efforts to lose ballgames. Not that this should be necessarily new to Twins fans, as Gardy has done this ever since he took over the managerial reins in 2002. Unfortunately for the Twins, Gardenhire's poor managing did constitute enough to lose the season for the Twins in 2008, and if they want to make the playoffs this year, it's going to be the players that are going to have to rise up and win in spite of Gardenhire's best Pete Rose imitations. By the way, the Tigers' dramatic 4-3 win against Tampa Bay again prevented the Twins from moving up on Detroit.
Photos: (1) AP/Tom Olmscheid; (2) Getty Images/G. Newman Lawrence

Sunday, August 30, 2009

AUGUST 29, 2009 -- TEXAS 3, MINNESOTA 0

The Twins follow up a nice victory against the Rangers on Friday with a pitiful effort against Scott Feldman and company, as they aren't able to score a single run off the Texas pitching staff and lose 3-0. Yet again, the Twins can't buy a hit with runners in scoring position, as they revert back to their old selves and strike out with guys at third and one out, as was the case so often for most of the season. The two biggest threats that the Twins posed were in the fifth and sixth innings against Feldman; in the fifth, Alexi Casilla struck out with Brendan Harris on third and one out. As you've probably noticed, Casilla's name has been largely absent from this site for a while, mainly because he was hitting much better than he had earlier in the season (granted, it's only a small accomplishment to raise your batting average from the .160-range to .201), but for that kind of non-production, Casilla's once again persona non grata here at the MTRC. Jason Kubel popped up in the same situation an inning later, and Michael Cuddyer's strike out to end the inning (what? Michael Cuddyer striking out in a pressure situation? No, really?) was the final nail in the coffin for the Twins. They didn't get a guy on base over the final three innings, and went softly into the night against the competitive Rangers. Again, the Twins fail to move on the Tigers, whose loss earlier in the day opened the door for the Twins to gain ground.

Carl Pavano didn't pitch horribly, but he did go out there and get his team in a hole right away, giving up two quick runs in the first inning. When your offense decides to take the day off, and collect only four hits and zero hits with guys in scoring position, two runs is far too many runs to give up. It's yet another example of the Twins failing to click on one facet of the game. Desparate for some kind of consistency in their starting rotation, it's that much more frustrating when their pitching can keep them in ballgames but then see the team lose because their offense phoned in the effort. Sure, they're only 4 and 1/2 games out, but the team that "we've all been waiting for" still hasn't come out to play this season, and that team that came out of spring training is a lot different than the players that are taking the field right now for the Twins. Pavano might as well be their ace for the starts that he's put forth, Brian Douchebag has a role that's much too big for a team that fashions itself as a contender, and as of Sunday Jeff Manship is going to be starting the Wednesday afternoon tilt against the White Sox, thereby becoming the second pitcher to be making his major-league debut during the "pennant chase." The one thing it certainly doesn't breed is a whole lot of confidence.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

AUGUST 28, 2009 -- MINNESOTA 3, TEXAS 2

The three runs that the Twins score off Ranger starter Tommy Hunter is just barely enough to beat Texas, as Brian Douchebag puts forth his first solid start as a major leaguer. To give Douchebag props, he went out there and shut down a potent Rangers offense, limiting them to three hits over seven innings. Of course, shutting down potent offenses over seven innings and 96 pitches is just too much to ask, so Matty Guerrier was on the hill for the eighth inning, and if not for Joe Mauer throwing out potential base stealer Elvis Andrus, Guerrier would have surrendered a run, and David Murphy's blast off Joe Nathan in the ninth came about five feet from clearing the baggie. By the hair on their chinny-chin-chin, the Twins squeek one out at home, but again fail to move on the Tigers, as they handily defeat the Rays at home. The Twins do move into second place due to the White Sox losing to the Yankees, but as long as the Tigers continue to win, they're going to be hard to catch coming down the stretch.

The Twins did some roster maneuvering on Friday, acquiring both Jon Rauch from Arizona and Ron Mahay from Kansas City to "bolster" their bullpen. The Rauch acquisition I actually like, as the Twins will likely retain Rauch for next season at a modest price (around $3 million). The tallest player to ever play in the big leagues, the 6-11 Rauch could also potentially be a boon for the Timberwolves, as their GM has been so anti-Bill Smith this offseason (i.e., making moves) that I couldn't name you two players on that team right now. Mahay, on the other hand, is the classic Twins move. He's had a terrible season with the Royals this season; a 4.79 ERA for a left-handed one out guy ("LOOGY," as they're referred to in some circles) isn't that impressive, and he's given up a whopping 55 hits in 41 innings, including nine home runs. It's funny that Craig Breslow, who the Twins shipped out in May, has benefited from the change of scenery in Oakland and has had a pretty good run with the A's; Mahay's acquisition is such that he basically becomes a lesser Breslow, and in no way does his presence in that bullpen do anything to improve the ballclub. Sure, he may alleviate the pressure and stress on Jose Mijares' arm, but if the guy can't get batters out, it doesn't really matter. Yet, the Twins acquisition that I disliked the most was the one that flew completely under the radar, and that was the Twins sending Yohan Pino, their best starter in Rochester, to the Indians to complete the Carl Pavano deal. Remember that I had said that Pino was more deserving of the call-up than Armando Gabino was, and now the Twins have dispatched Pino for the two months that they'll get from Pavano. You'd like to think that the Twins got Rauch for next to nothing, as a "player to be named later" was sent to the D-Backs; but, knowing Bill Smith, that player to be named later just might as well be Danny Valencia or Anthony Slama.


Joe Crede finally went on the disabled list (for the first time this season, amazingly) and Jose Morales was dutifully called up from Triple-A. Crede's injury likely means more playing time for Nick Punto, and we all know how great that is. And with the rosters expanding in September, the suddenly new-look Twins are about to get a new batch of fresh faces to join them for the "pennant chase." Remember what Ron Gardenhire did last season when he put those minor-leaguers in key spots down the stretch -- he damn well lost the season because he put Jason Pridie (in his major league debut) in for defense in Toronto and Pridie ended up committing a costly error which cost the team the game (and, by extension, the season). So what green rookie is Ron Gardenhire planning on ruining the season with this September?
Photos: (1) AP/Andy King; (2) AP/Ben Margot

Thursday, August 27, 2009

AUGUST 26, 2009 -- BALTIMORE 5, MINNESOTA 1

Well, so much for that winning streak the Twins had. Nick Blackburn goes on the mound for the Twins and he puts forth a Blackburn-esque outing, giving up two quick runs in the first inning to put his team behind the eight-ball early. One of those runs, it should be noted, was unearned due to another Orlando Cabrera error, as he had one hell of a game -- 0 for 4 at the plate, his league-high 19th error of the season which directly cost the team a run, and he was ejected for childishly slamming his bat after getting called out on strikes in the eighth inning. Certifiable idiots Bremer and Blyleven were suprised at home plate umpire Todd Tischenor's quick hook of Cabrera, but the more I think about it, the more I love that ejection. As Blyleven said, most of the time players are fined but never ejected for displaying such a poor example of sportsmanship. Yeah -- like a $5,000 fine is really going to make them think twice about doing that again, as these players already make insane amounts of money. For the kids that watch the game, these players are role models, and you damn well should get ejected for acting like a 5-year old. That and the fact that Cabrera sucks anyway.

Cabrera's ejection had some interesting side effects, mostly due to Ron Gardenhire's stupidity. It can be argued that Ron Gardenhire lost Wednesday's game even before it started, as he put both Alexi Casilla and Nick Punto in the starting lineup. Now, let's remember that the Twins were on a five-game winning streak. Does anybody want to guess how many of those five games Nick Punto appeared in? That's right -- zero. Of course -- after all, we are talking about one of the worst players to ever play in the big leagues. It makes perfect sense that the Twins reel off their biggest winning streak of the year and Nick Punto wasn't around to f*** things up. So what does Ron Gardenhire do to "keep the train moving"? He changes things up. He benches Brendan Harris, who had been playing third base since Joe Crede's back crapped out finally last Friday, and plays Punto at third. The best part about that work of genius was that Wednesday was Harris' 29th birthday, for Pete's sake. Yeah, we all know how much you hate Brendan Harris, but you don't have to be a dick about it. And what's worse is that by the late innings, after Punto had put forth his 0-for-2-with-two-strikeouts "effort", Gardenhire had to replace him with Brendan Harris anyways, which came back to haunt him when Cabrera was thrown out of the game. Michael Cuddyer had to be placed at second base and Casilla was shifted to shortstop, all because Ron Gardenhire was insane enough to change the entire momentum of a winning streak and put Nick Punto in a ballgame.

The Twins get a day off on Thursday before they play the competitive Rangers on Friday. With both the Tigers and White Sox losing on Wednesday, the Twins remained tied for second place, 4 and 1/2 games behind Detroit. The Twins will have to play well, which likely means playing without Nick Punto in the starting lineup, to beat the Rangers this weekend and give them a little momentum heading into the Chicago series next week.

Photos: (1) AP/Paul Battaglia; (2) http://www.bleacherreport.com/

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

AUGUST 25, 2009 -- MINNESOTA 7, BALTIMORE 6

Another one-run squeeker against one of the worst teams in the American League goes the Twins way, as Seldom Young's fourth hit of the ballgame drove home the winning run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. The Twins clawed their way back from three runs down twice against the Orioles' horrendous pitching staff, and the game featured a little poetic justice, as the Twins' three runs in the sixth were charged to former Twins great Brian Bass, who at least pitched the sixth inning like he did last season with the Twins. These games are very important for the Twins if they feel like playing well the rest of the way, as their easy, easy schedule affords them the opportunity to play last-place and second-division clubs frequently down the stretch. After Baltimore leaves town after Wednesday's tilt, the Twins entertain two playoff contenders, Texas and Chicago, so it's imperative to beat the teams that you need to beat. With Detroit's second consecutive impressive win in Anaheim against the Angels, the Twins fail to gain any ground on the division leader, but with the White Sox loss in Boston, the Twins have moved into a tie for second place. More importantly, the Twins are back to the .500 mark, which is certainly impressive seeing as they were six games under .500 just a little over a week ago. Yes, the season-long five game win streak was compiled against the likes of Baltimore and Kansas City, but the way the Twins play (i.e., inconsistently), any run of victories is for sure a good sign.

The Armando Gabino experiment failed miserably, to say the least. Gabino was all over the plate, showing no signs that he was even ready to pitch in the big leagues or wanted to, for that matter. The ineffectiveness and the surprising early-onset male pattern baldness will likely combine to make Gabino's major-league stint a short-lived and somewhat forgettable. Even idiots like Ron Gardenhire and Rick Anderson know that they can't survive getting only eight outs from their starters. That's bad enough, but when you've got Philip Humber and Bobby Keppel as your options beyond the poor start, that just compounds the mistakes. If the Twins had been facing a halfway decent opponent on Tuesday, the score wouldn't have been close. But the Orioles pitching staff is worse off than the Twins (and that's saying a lot, mind you) and starter Brian Matusz nearly matched Gabino's lack of command, and the Twins were able to come back on Baltimore. Any game just wouldn't be complete without a Ron Gardenhire head-scratcher, and Tuesday's came compliments of Gardy delusionally believing that Jesse Crain could go a third inning in relief. Crain had completed two solid innings of relief to keep the Twins in the game, and Gardenhire put him out to start the ninth. Let me get something clear, Gardy -- you get six outs out of Jesse Crain in a week, you should be satisfied. If Crain is able to get six outs in a game, you take him out of there like he just committed a crime. Sure as shit, Crain gives up a leadoff double in the ninth, and only Jose Mijares' superb relief stint made it possible for the Twins to win it in the ninth. It all goes back to a familiar theme with Ron Gardenhire, and that's his babying protection of Joe Nathan. If the game's tied in the ninth and you're at home, you put your closer into the ballgame. You don't keep your sixth-best relief pitcher on the mound to try to get a third inning out of him. But, hey, Nathan pitched fifty pitches last week, so he still needs the rest.
Photos: AP/Andy King

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

AUGUST 24, 2009 -- MINNESOTA 2, BALTIMORE 1

The Twins are able to scratch across two runs against the worst pitching staff in the American League, and they were lucky enough to do that. During Orlando Cabrera's at-bat in the sixth inning, a two-strike curveball by Baltimore starter Chris Tillman appeared to break straight across the middle of the plate belt-high. Even Bert Blyleven and Dick Bremer appeared to think that home plate umpire Paul Emmel made the incorrect call by judging the pitch a ball. With second life at the plate, Cabrera lined a single to center field, moving Denard Span to third base with nobody out, and Span would eventually score the game-winning run on a Jason Kubel sacrifice fly. But strangely absent from any post-game commentary was a rant by Baltimore manager Dave Trembley, who really should be bitching about umpires missing calls that turn out to be the difference of the game. I mean, what kind of manager wouldn't just take the easy way out and blame officiating when bigger, more crucial problems are actually in the manager's control to change? It was just very odd, this display of professionality and class by Mr. Trembley -- something that just would never happen if it were the other way around. It's always refreshing to know that whenever the Twins play another team, there's one professional manager in the stadium that doesn't cry over sour milk or whine and moan when things don't go his way. It's funny that, when the shoe is on the other foot, Ron Gardenhire's suddenly a quiet fan of Mr. Emmel's strike zone and poor calls.

So the Twins have run off four straight wins against last-place ballclubs; if we're talking about a good team, that wouldn't be noteworthy, but when we're discussing the 2009 Twinkies it should be duly noted. The problem is that you're only as good as the next game's starter, and in this case it's wild-eyed rookie Armando Gabino, who'll be making his major league debut against the Orioles. Since every game is extremely important from here on out, it's pretty hard to accept this line of reasoning from the front office and Ron Gardenhire, that Armando Gabino represents the best chance of netting the team a victory on Tuesday. It's usually the case, however, that rookie pitchers tend to have a successful first couple starts (see Swarzak, Anthony), due mostly to the fact that a solid advance scouting report has yet to be circulated throughout the league. The Orioles can hit, that's for sure, but I would be surprised if Gabino totally implodes. It's hard to expect wins out of guys pitching in the big leagues for the first time ever, and Gabino's no different. Hell, this guy was mainly a reliever for Rochester; he's started only five games for the Red Wings this year and only 13 in his entire professional career, dating back to 2004. It would appear that, out of the Red Wings' current staff, Yohan Pino would be more deserving of a major-league promotion, as he's pitched very well in eight starts in Triple-A since being promoted from New Britain. But whatever the case, the fact remains that games in late August that are the most critical to your ballclub just plain cannot be started by guys like Armando Gabino. Here's to eight innings of shutout ball, kid.

Photos: (1) AP/Tom Olmscheid; (2) www.rockcats.com

Monday, August 24, 2009

AUGUST 23, 2009 -- MINNESOTA 10, KANSAS CITY 3

Michael Cuddyer homers twice in the seventh inning, one of some import (the first being the tiebreaking shot to lead off the inning), and, like most of Cuddyer's production, the second being of the get-em-while-their-hot variety (offensive stats, namely). Carl Pavano did a nice job mowing down an easy Kansas City lineup, and yes, the Twins completed a three-game sweep of the lowly Royals. Sweeping this series did nothing to satisfy this fan's desire to want to know why and how on earth the Twins could drop two out of three to this team at home, mind you. Yet again, the Twins lucked out and didn't have to face Zach Greinke, and that's a godsend to this team that struggles to beat mediocre pitching, but the fact remains that the Twins have somehow lost five games this year to Kansas City. O, to think if the Twins didn't play in the Central Division...

The Tigers lost their final two games while in Oakland, so coupled with the Twins' sweep in Kansas City, the Twins are but 4 1/2 games behind Detroit for the division lead. Again, I don't feel as if the Twins have the team (and the pitching, to be precise) to pull off a thrilling comeback, and the team continues to frustrate and fluster its fan base by playing almost on a week-to-week fluxuation: one week they have things clicking, like they did most of the last week against Texas and Kansas City (without Justin Morneau to boot); the next, they'll take a breather and lose two home series to bottom-feeders like Kansas City and Cleveland. Consistency has consistently eluded this team, and there's no reason to believe that they will suddenly run like a well-oiled machine here in the last forty games. Good pitching always beats good hitting, and with the two teams ahead of the Twins in the standings having obvious advantages on the rubber, it's going to be increasingly hard for the Twins to come back. But I feel like I can say this until my face turns blue; yes, I would like the Twins to make the playoffs, I think it would be cool, sure. But it's a matter of saving face, and I for one don't like my chances of the Twins facing the Yankees in the first game of the playoffs with Carl Pavano being the "ace" of the Twins staff. That does not sound cool.
Photos: AP/Charlie Riedel

Sunday, August 23, 2009

AUGUST 22, 2009 -- MINNESOTA 8, KANSAS CITY 7

Two wins in a row against the pitiful Royals, and with the Tigers losing at Oakland, the Twins are "back in the thick of things," as certifiable idiot Dick Bremer would say. They're still three games below .500, mind you, and the Royals haven't been playing like a major league team in the last three months. Saturday's game was an example of a game that if the Twins needed to pitch one more inning, the Royals were likely going to finally overtake them. Brian Douchebag pitched the game of his life, which at this point in his career is just five innings and two earned runs. Because of the short start, the Twins had to rely on their bullpen, and what's worse was that Joe Nathan's 53-pitch outing on Friday apparently made him unavailable on Saturday, making Matt Guerrier the de facto closer [Gulp]. Ron Coomer, filling in for Bert Blyleven on color this weekend, was quoted as saying that this series is something like make or break, the most important series of the year and they desperately can't lose games like this. If that's the case (and it is, unless you want to fall further back in the division), you need to have Joe Nathan on the mound in the bottom of the ninth inning. Frankly I don't care if Nathan had to throw 120 pitches on Friday, if these games mean that much, you've got to have your best players in the spots that they are asked to deliver in. What's the worst that could happen, Gardenhire? You're banking on one good inning from Joe Nathan -- 15-20 pitches at most. Who in their right mind wouldn't be able to throw that many pitches, no matter how many they threw the night previous. Considering Nathan's classic "brush-off" of the push-over Gardenhire the night before, I thought that perhaps Nathan could easily talk his way back into the game. But alas, Matty Guerrier got the save, nearly giving up the tie in the eighth and giving back the insurance run the Twins cheaply got in the top of the ninth to win by the narrowest of margins.

After Douchebag left after the fifth, the Twins had to seriously patch it up until Stopper Guerrier came in in the eighth. Bobby Keppel and Jesse Crain helped get the Royals back in the game in the sixth and seventh innings, each surrendering two runs in their less-than-one-inning performance. Both of these slugs have proven that they simply cannot get major league batters out, but I have a sneak feeling that the front office will bring both of these guys back for 2010. Hell, considering the pay hike that Billy Smith gave Nick Punto last offseason, Keppel's 5.55 ERA may be due for a raise. That the Twins were even able to win this game was a testament to how truly bad the Royals are. The three runs that the Twins got in the top of the sixth were mainly due to Joe Mauer reaching first on a wild pitch on strike three, and Michael Cuddyer's pop-up in a clutch situation in the ninth (Cuddyer popping up in the clutch? No, really???!!!) needed to be caught, and that turned out to be the difference in the game. But the seventh inning was a classic, as the Royals loaded the bases with nobody out against Jesse Crain. Jose Mijares inherited that mess and promptly gave up a single to cut the lead to 7-5. After a key Cuddyeresque pop-up by Mitch Maier for the first out, the madness ensued. Yuniesky Betancourt hit a can of corn to center field, and Carlos Gomez dropped the ball, and instead of getting the easy force play right in front of him at second, threw to third to get the out there instead. To cap it off, Josh Anderson lined a ball to left, and Seldom Young, instead of retreating back on the ball, did a standing leap and barely caught the ball. It was literally one of the funniest things I'd ever seen; I laughed for a solid minute after seeing that patheticness.

The Twins go for the sweep on Sunday, with Carl Pavano making the start for the Twins. Anthony Swarzak, by the way, was finally outrighted back to Triple-A, and some guy named Armando Gabino was called up. Not sure whether this Gabino is going to get a shot at the starting staff, but whatever his role is, there are two things that are important with this transaction: 1) Swarzak's back in the minors, where he belongs, and 2) even the thought of a guy like Gabino making critical starts down the stretch for a "contending" team should tell everyone that the team has zero chance of getting to the playoffs. But hey, anybody's a step up from Swarzak, who in his last four or five starts was serving more meatballs than Olive Garden.
Photos: AP/Charlie Riedel

Saturday, August 22, 2009

AUGUST 21, 2009 -- MINNESOTA 5, KANSAS CITY 4 (10 innings)

The Twins win a sloppy game in Kansas City, using some terrible Royal defense to parlay that into a couple runs. Denard Span hit a Little League homer in the sixth when outfielder Josh Anderson twice "Seldom'd" the ball as he attempted to return it to the infield (obviously a reference to Twins "outfielder"/butcher Seldom Young), and Orlando Cabrera's game winner in the tenth was turned into a gift triple due to Willie Bloomquist (ironically in for Anderson for defensive purposes) struggling to play the carom. Joe Nathan blew a save, giving up a two-out, two-strike home run to pinch hitter Brayan Pena, and then held on for a heart-attack save (OK, not technically a save, but you get it) in the bottom of the tenth. Nathan threw 53 pitches in his two innings, which likely means that Ron Gardenhire will give him anywhere from five to ten days off before he next sees action. What was hilarious was Nathan waving off Gardenhire after his 11-pitch battle with Alberto Callaspo, which resulted in Nathan getting the second out of the tenth, precluding Gardy from removing Nathan. Here's a man, Ron Gardenhire, who is all too prepared to take out his best pitcher and risk it with Jose Mijares or Bobby Keppel or Jesse Crain just because Joe Nathan had thrown a few too many pitches that is considered "normal" or "ideal" for a closer. Yeah, if ever there's a push-over manager in the majors, one that the best players can merely wave off as if they were declining finger food from an annoying caterer, it's Ron Gardenhire. Way to freaking go, Joe Nathan.

I had a dream last night that I'd like to share with the readers here today. Now, please understand that I am certainly not part of that ilk which lionizes Freudian analysis of rapid eye movements and psychosomatic imagery, but the fact remains that this dream was the first such interlude that I had experienced in quite some time, and it does relate to the MTRC. See, I was at the Metrodome watching the Twins play the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and Nick Blackburn was pitching. Apparently in the dream Blackburn had also been recently pitching like an absolute dog turd too, so it was accurate in that respect. Blackburn, surprisingly, had a no-hitter going after eight innings, but it was one of those no-nos that sneak up on you. The Twins were winning big, like 9-0, and there had been a few errors and walks and hit batsmen -- far from a perfect game, mind you. But I had always wanted to be able to say that I had seen something special at the ballpark -- a no-hitter, a cycle, a three-homer game, for instance (the closest thing to a miracle I've seen at a ball park was probably a two home-run game from the legendary Tom Prince back in 2002). Blackburn gets the first two batters out in the ninth and suddenly the rest of the crowd seems to pick up the fact that he's on the precipice of history. For some reason, the Angels still have David Eckstein, and he's sent up to pinch-hit for whoever was supposed to hit. I'm sitting next to my father, and we both look at each other, thinking that Eckstein's one of those guys who's going to get that cheesy, Cesar Tovar-esque hit to break up the no-hitter. Then, out of nowhere, something really dreamy happens -- Ron Gardenhire takes Blackburn out of the game in favor for Craig Breslow. I know; Breslow's with Oakland now (and it's not like Eckstein plays for the Angels, anyway) and he's a lefty where Eckstein is a right-handed batter. It's probably something that Ron Gardenhire never would do. It turns out that Breslow gets Eckstein to finish the no-hitter, but everyone in the building is so pissed off at Gardenhire that they simply don't care.

Somehow, I make my way down to the Twins clubhouse and I confront Ron Gardenhire. I get the most disgusted look on my face and just ask him point blank, "Why?" He starts giving me this bullshit half-answer, it's classic political-speak, and I'm thinking this guy should bloody run for Congress. He's ready to just walk away when I tell him I'm a blogger and I'm going to put this whole show verbatim at the MTRC, and then he turns around and he brings me into his office. He sits down at his desk and his mouth's open, like he's ready to finally tell me the truth. I'm half expecting a Pete Rose kind of confession, like he's got bookies breathing fire on his back and he's been throwing games for years. And then it comes, like a torrent of springtime rains: the man simply weeps like a baby. He's crying and weeping and muttering something incoherent, something about letting down his family and his father in particular, and then he gets on his knees, right, like some groveling loser, and collapses in a dead sort of unmoving stasis and just lies there, at my feet.

Then I woke up.
Photos: AP/Charlie Riedel

Friday, August 21, 2009

AUGUST 20, 2009 -- TEXAS 11, MINNESOTA 1

Two comeback wins by the Twins were enough for them to salvage a split in the series, so Ron Gardenhire's bunch felt that it would be acceptable to phone in their effort for Thursday's game, and the results clearly showed a pitiful effort. The Rangers hit four home runs off Twins starter Anthony Swarzak, who again showed everyone watching that his scouting report has been duly circulated throughout the league and that teams know what to expect when he pitches. Especially considering his stuff isn't dazzling to begin with, that's a recipe for absolute disaster, and Swarzak followed the pattern set by, well, all the other starters when he put the Twins down 4-0 early. Seldom Young continued his hot streak (who knew?) when he led off the fifth with a home run, and the Twins mounted a threat in the sixth, loading the bases with one out. Ranger fans were probably groaning as they were expecting the same course of events to occur in Thursday's game that also happened the previous two nights: that the Twins, namely, would score four in the sixth to get back in the game, as they had on both Tuesday and Wednesday. Well, after Ron Washington put rookie Neftali Feliz into the game, Joe Crede silenced all that crap by tapping into an inning ending 5-3 double play, thereby extinguishing both the rally and the chance to win.

Swarzak started the bottom of the sixth by giving up his fourth homer of the game, and the inning wouldn't end until Jeff Manship could stop the bleeding. In between the Swarzak-Manship sandwich was another classic outing by Bobby Keppel, who's becoming kind of like the evil cream in the middle of a disastrous Oreo cookie of failure. More traditionally that cookie, which apparently stands for those big innings ("crooked numbers," as certifiable idiot Dick Bremer would say) that the bullpen is wont to give up, involves such notables as Jesse Crain and R.A. Dickey; Keppel's usually been part of that mix, too, and Thursday was no exception, as he faced three batters and all three Rangers hit doubles off Keppel. Talk about thrifty patheticness -- Bobby Keppel has mastered that art.

With the dramatic comeback win for the Tigers on Thursday afternoon, the Twins dropped back to 6 1/2 games behind the front-running Tigers (and 4 1/2 behind the second-place Pale Hose), which means that even with the two impressive comeback wins in Texas, the Twins ended up losing a half-game in the standings. Justin Morneau, meanwhile, will see a specialist concerning his inner ear infection that kept him out of the lineup for pretty much all of the Texas series. An injury to Morneau would be fatal for the team, and a trip to the disabled list just might put the final nail in the coffin to this season. But first they have to travel to Kansas City to put forth what likely will be a pathetic effort. Luke Hochevar, who looked nothing better than Bret Saberhagen the last time he faced the Twins, will be on the hill for the Royals, and Nick Blackburn, he of the 0-4, 10.17 ERA since Ron Gardenhire rested him for ten days between the All Star Break, will oppose him for the Twins.

Photos: AP/Tony Gutierrez.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

AUGUST 19, 2009 -- MINNESOTA 5, TEXAS 4

Yet another shocker on Wednesday, as the Twins come back from a 4-0 hole this time around, scoring the final five runs to beat the wild-card competing Rangers by a run. The resiliency shown by the Twins has been honorable, and it's nice to see that the Twins haven't completely thrown in the towel at this point of what has been a lost season. It's pretty hard to carry over momentum from one season to the next, but at the very least the Twins can find out who belongs on their roster and who they can easily dispatch. That would at least be the logical thing to do, but when you're confident playing Nick Punto on an everyday basis, that sort of undermines your talent-appraisal skills. And it's sorry to say that these wins might not be the best thing for the team right now. They are in limbo as an organization currently. They're five and a half games behind first place, but they're also four games below .500. It's hard to gauge whether the team can actually pull off a run and compete for the division or whether they aren't suited for a race in the first place. If it were up to me, I would start the 2010 rebuilding process right now. Let's face it; even if the team were to make the playoffs, there's absolutely no way they can beat anyone in the playoffs, and a division title would likely mean they may win 83-85 wins, which in any other division in baseball would have put them in third place at best. But it's tough for Bill Smith to wave the white flag at this point, however, with the Brett Favre circus in full gear, now might be the best time to do that. Get rid of stopgaps like Crede and Cabrera and get the young kids up here to get their feet wet, the Danny Valencias and Anthony Slamas of the world.


Another encouraging sign in Wednesday's win was that the Twins offense came back largely without the help from Joe Mauer, who went hitless in three at-bats, drawing two walks. The sixth inning in which the Twins scored four runs to take the lead was that much more astounding when you consider that the last three runs scored with two outs and runners in scoring position, just the sort of situational hitting that the Twins have really struggled with this season. Nick Punto may have gotten the biggest hit of the bunch, as he drove home the second run of the inning with his single, and that perhaps sparked Denard Span and Orlando Cabrera to follow up Punto's knock with two hits of their own. It was yet another discouraging loss for Ranger fans, who have been pleasantly surprised with their pitching staff this season, only to see that Achilles heel of years past come back to haunt them the past two nights. And again, the Twins have lucked out two nights in a row here after getting poor starts by their starters. Scott Baker was able to pitch into the sixth inning, but did put the Twins in a 4-0 hole. Though these two comeback wins were refreshing to see from the Twins, the fact remains that that sort of starting pitching will not consistently win you games. And there's no reason to think that Anthony Swarzak can post good numbers on Thursday, which probably means he'll pitch a gem. The team continues to be a head-scratcher.
Photos: AP/Tony Gutierrez.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

AUGUST 18, 2009 -- MINNESOTA 9, TEXAS 6

The Twins fall behind 5-0, as Carl Pavano struggles to get through four innings. It appears that the formula for losing, which the Twins have darn near patented in the last few weeks, is again on track. Then something funny happened on the way to the middle innings. The Twins came back. Seldom Young, of all people, who had just struck out pathetically on a pitch at his head with a runner on third and one out in the second inning, ignited the rally, doubling home two to tie the game at five in the sixth inning. When Phil Humber threw the ball to nobody covering third base in the bottom of the sixth, which gave the Rangers the lead again at 6-5, it appeared that this would be how the Twins would lose -- pathetically with a Triple-A pitcher losing the game on an asinine fielding decision. But then what happened? Joe Mauer led off the seventh with a home run, his second of the game, and then there's that pesky Seldom Young winning the game with a two-run blast of his own in the seventh. Shocking. Absolutely stunning. The only thing that would have made it more surprising if Nick Punto had done it all offensively and defensively (in other words, been worth the four million dollars the Twins are shelling out for him). After Joe Nathan quickly retired the Rangers (in his first save opportunity of the month) in the ninth, the Twins could breathe easy again, as they posted a key win in a situation where the Rangers, in sole possession of the wild card lead coming into the game, needed to win.


It's a nice win, sure, a little late of course, but yet another example of how the offense certainly can produce for you. The Twins played the game shorthanded again, as Justin Morneau sat on the bench one day after dizzy spells forced him to leave the game, and Jason Kubel had to exit early in Tuesday's contest due to fouling a ball off his knee. But the bigger story in the game should have been how the starting pitching continues to betray the Twins. Pavano's now had two bad starts following his brilliant debut with the Twins, and Tuesday's win was more of an anomaly than a harbinger of future success. You're not going to win a whole lot of games when you're starter gives you four pathetic innings and you have to (again) rely too heavily on an already overtaxed (and lacking in the talent department to begin with) bullpen. The Twins lucked out on Tuesday, but there's no reason to expect this "winning" thing will continue.


As a few of you commented on last night, the whole Brett Favre saga is now in full gear, and though I'm glad I don't blog about the Vikes, I will say some words about it here as they relate to the Minnesota Twins. I'll tell you one thing: Brett Favre in a Vikings uniform is an absolute godsend to the Minnesota Twins. Why? Well, that circus is now in full gear, and with the Twins season rapidly falling apart, Ron Gardenhire and his bunch of clowns can relish the fact that the media darling Favre will likely steal all of the attention in this media market. September is likely going to be a miserable month for the Twins, as they're going to be fighting for third place and staving off the Indians; but with Favre helming the Vikings, not many people around Minnesota are likely going to care much about the Twins' troubles. It's an understated quality of Ron Gardenhire's undeserved job security, that the Vikings (and the Wild, it can be argued) really own the town in terms of Minnesota pro sports. The Twins are more than happy to be second banana to their Metrodome cohabs, because Minnesota sports fans will quickly latch on to the Vikings and soon forget about the Twins' woes. Ron Gardenhire should almost feel obliged to thank Brett Favre personally, just because it makes his own idiocy that less visible to the public.

Photos: (1,2) AP/Tony Gutierrez; (3) AP/Hannah Foslein

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

AUGUST 17, 2009 -- TEXAS 8, MINNESOTA 5

Yet another bad start for Francisco Liriano, and after the game Ron Gardenhire announced that the young southpaw would be placed on the disabled list for a "tired arm," or technically speaking, "suck-itis," which is a disease that has plagued the pitching staff all season long. It doesn't seem like there's any real reason for Liriano to be put on the DL; if anything it may be better for his morale than if the team rightfully sent him back down to Triple-A. My guess is that the Twins are just going to shut Liriano down for the rest of the season and figure out a gameplan for how to use Liriano in 2010 -- either in the starting staff or in the bullpen. In any case, Phil Humber returns from Triple-A, in yet another example of the Twins calling up less deserving guys from Triple-A. Slama and Delaney continue to toil in the minors, and even Juan Morillo, who looked awful in a cup of coffee early in the season, has apparently righted the ship in Rochester and throws absolute gas. But Humber it is; apparently they tried to call up Kevin Mulvey but his phone went straight to voicemail and it's pointless to leave a message at that point because you know they aren't going to get the message for at least a day.


Liriano's line was a gaudy one on Monday: two innings pitched, seven hits, seven runs, two walks, a hit batter, and one strikeout. And this was after he was given a brief lead by Joe Mauer's 23rd homer of the year in the first inning. Mauer, by the way, was the only hitter it seemed that wasn't catatonic, as he collected almost half the Twins' hits (3 of their seven) and pushed his average to .380. For the third straight game, Ron Gardenhire was forced to exhaust his bullpen early, and this time Bobby Keppel came in and did a pretty good job in relief, throwing 3 1/3 shutout innings to provide a little bit of relief and allowing the Twins to get back in the game. Then Gardy had to use Jose Mijares and Matty Guerrier earlier than usual, in the fifth, sixth, and seventh innings; aside from the expected Matt Guerrier insurance run that he surrendered, those innings went fine. Then Ron Gardenhire did a very strange thing: he put in Brian Douchebag, who he had announced would (graciously) start for Anthony Swarzak on Thursday, on the mound for the eighth inning. What??? After the game, of course, Ron Gardenhire told the press that Swarzak would make the start after all because he felt forced (apparently) to use Douchebag in the eighth inning when guys like Jeff Manship, a converted starter who's thrown exactly 2 1/3 innings since being called up last week, were more than available to pitch. This was the second straight game where Ron Gardenhire made some curious moves with his pitching staff (sending in Jesse Crain in the third inning on Sunday, when the team is glutted with long relievers) and it's further proof that this man is purely bat-shit insane.


One piece of good news that did occur for the Twins on Monday was their signing of first-round pick Kyle Gibson. In classic Twins fashion, the deal went right down to the deadline, as the two sides agreed to terms about ten minutes before the midnight deadline. Gibson's a college pitcher, and this is an organization that's suddenly pitching thin, so Gibson's signing, though his impact at the major league level is a few years away at the least, is good news for the club. Hell, the Twins need to fill Liriano's spot in the rotation on Saturday -- I wonder what Gibson's up to that day? It can't be any worse than the prospect of seeing Douchebag or Phil Humber out there. And it keeps getting funnier (but sad at the same time) to hear Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven still believe that the Twins can make a run. Take a look at their starting rotation -- how on earth can teams even ponder the idea of postseason baseball when Thursday's starter comes into the eighth inning on Monday and Saturday's starter is potentially flying in from Triple-A? The acquisitions of Orlando Cabrera and Carl Pavano (Tuesday's starter) continue to be dwarfed by their divisional rivals -- the White Sox will try to plug their fifth-starter spot in the rotation by Freddy Garcia, and more importantly the Tigers addressed their biggest weakness (the lineup) by getting Aubrey Huff from Baltimore for virtually nothing (a Single-A reliever). Huff's 73 ribbies will fit in nicely in that order and make Detroit that much better come playoff time. But, hey, keep us informed on that "three-team" divisional race in the Central, Dick.

Photos: (1,2) AP/Tony Gutierrez; (3) University of Missouri Media Relations

Monday, August 17, 2009

AUGUST 16, 2009 -- CLEVELAND 7, MINNESOTA 4

I had the (dis)pleasure of watching Sunday's pathetic rubber match with the Cleveland Indians in person at the Metrodome. I have to tell you, it doesn't look any better when you're at the game than it appears on television; any way you can disect Nick Blackburn's imitation of "pitching," it was absolutely horrible. What's worse is that the six run third inning that Blackburn started (and Jesse Crain inexplicably finished) came directly on the heels of a three-run second inning by the Twins that gave them a 3-0 lead over the Indians and their newfound nemesis, Aaron Laffey. Hell, I thought I was fortunate enough to witness a minor miracle when Seldom Young blasted a home run to center field in that three-run frame, and I had a good feeling that Blackburn could get off the schneid and post his first victory since Ron Gardenhire rested him for a week and a half at the All-Star break. Blackburn, who had retired the first six batters with relative ease through the first two innings, faced the bottom of the Cleveland lineup to start the third, and what does he do? He gives up a towering fly ball that lands in the seats to Kelly Shoppach (still can't believe that ball went out), a home run bombed to right field by the light hitting Luis Valbuena, hits 9th-place hitter Andy Marte and gives up a tape-measure fuhgettaboutit blast to Grady Sizemore. Just like that, within a matter of minutes, the Twins lead had vanished, and of course Ron Gardenhire kept the downtrodden Blackburn on the mound in order to give up two more runs before the inning was up. Why Gardenhire went to Jesse Crain in the third inning is beyond me (don't get me wrong -- the only innings he deserves are mop-up duty in a wiffleball game) and not one of their four long relievers -- Jeff Manship being the newbie of that group. But whatever, Ronny Boy -- the game (and the season) was lost long before Sunday's contest.


The goat of the game just may have been Orlando Cabrera, who had one of the worst all around games I've ever had the privilege to watch first hand. Cabrera went 0 for 5 at the plate and found a way to make seven outs in those five at-bats, courtesy of two double plays that Cabrera banged into. To make matters worse, Ron Gardenhire has Cabrera hitting second in the lineup, protecting Joe Mauer, so with Cabrera's pathetic day at the plate, that insured that Mauer would not be hitting with runners on base all game long. His biggest folly was his second GIDP, which came in the seventh while the Twins were mounting a mild rally. With runners on first and second, Cabrera grounded into the Twin killing with Joe Mauer waiting on deck. Cabrera struck out for the final out in the game in the ninth, and Joe Mauer again was the tying run, left in the on-deck circle. To make matters worse, Cabrera's defense again betrayed him. He made a bad error on an easy play in the third inning that would have loomed larger had the Indians taken advantage of the error, and also showed his lack of range by failing to field a grounder that went for a base hit later in the game. He extended his major-league lead of most errors out of anyone playing in the bigs with his 18th boot of the season. Yeah, he's an awesome pickup.


Seldom Young's two-run blast in the second inning was also not without its repercussions, as that meant that he had to play the rest of the game like he's played it the majority of the season, namely like he's the worst player ever to pick up a bat. Those qualities were ever so apparent in the bottom of the fourth, when Young bounced into an inning-ending double play, wasting a bases loaded, one out opportunity for the Twins to get back in the game. Considering what Laffey and the rest of the Indians pitchers were giving them (not much mound presence, very hittable pitches), the Twins seemed to be sleepwalking through this match. It appears as if some players have begun to merely phone in the effort on what has become a lost season -- Michael Cuddyer's someone who has routinely called in sick whenever the game is on the line, and especially now with the chance of the postseason slim to none (the Twins are officially closer to fourth than first with Sunday's loss), expect those players who aren't playing for a contract to give decidedly half-assed efforts. There is one saving grace, and it's probably the only reason (other than the maintenance of this blog, of course) that I'm going to want to watch the Twins the rest of the season -- and that of course is Joe Mauer. If he hits like he did in May (which is a tall order, no doubt) he has a legitimate shot at hitting .400. Reaching such a coveted milestone may come with a downside for the Twins, however. If he does do something historic this season, that just means that the Red Sox and Yankees are going to try that much harder to sign this guy once his contract is up after next season. The big question will remain: Will the Twins try to put a World Series competitor (not just an A.L. Central Division championship competitor) on the field and convince Mauer that they are serious about winning?


Photos: (1) AP/Paul Battaglia (2) AP/Hannah Foslein (3) AP/Tom Olmscheid

Sunday, August 16, 2009

AUGUST 15, 2009 -- CLEVELAND 7, MINNESOTA 3

Yet another example of the Twins horrendous inconsistency this season, as the fall weakly to the Cleveland Indians at the Dome. Michael Cuddyer set the tone for Saturday's patheticness when he popped up with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the first inning, the second such failure to get guys home from third base with less than two outs in this series (it's the umpteenth time that Cuddyer hasn't done his freaking job in those situations -- but hey, he's got "good" numbers, so we won't chastise him). Shin-Soo Choo (bless you) homered to lead off the top of the second and the Indians didn't look back, adding four more runs off beleaguered starter Anthony Swarzak and two more off Brian Douchebag to open up a 7-0 lead. A few meaningless RBI singles by Justin Morneau and Joe Crede in the fifth and a Joe Mauer solo home run in the ninth weren't nearly enough to come back on one of the worst teams in the league. David Huff had been so bad -- Twins-terrible, in fact -- against the Twins this season, but of course Ron Gardenhire's bunch picked Huff to be the one to shut them down on Saturday. It didn't help that Ron Gardenhire did one of the most insane managerial decisions of this season (which is saying something, believe me), by sitting Jason Kubel (who had gone 2 for 3 with a home run the last time he faced Huff) in favor of Seldom Young, whom Gardenhire "wanted in the lineup" over one of his best hitters. That makes a whole lotta sense, Gardy, to replace an elite hitter with perhaps the worst outfielder in the game -- I was going to say worst player in the league, but we have to remember that Seldom's not even the worst player on the team -- that race is a dead heat between Sirs Punto and Casilla.


I have to give new Twin Carl Pavano some mad props for his expletive he slinged on air during an in-game interview with Fox broadcaster Dick Stockton. Usually I'm not a fan of those in-game interviews, because especially if the inning drags on, it can get quite awkward to listen to. But in an attempt to skirt a foul ball that entered the dugout, Pavano let an "Oh, S@$%!" fly on-air, and even Bert Blyleven's snickering and Stockton's comments couldn't make that one easily forgettable. That happened to be one of the funnier moments in a game which was laughable from a fan's standpoint. Orlando Cabrera's seventeenth error of the season (on such a routine play, too) was hilariously pathetic, and Cleveland's four-run fifth inning off the two-headed monster of Swarzak and Duensing (sounds like a bad law firm) was nothing short of gut-busting. At this point of a lost season (with Detroit's sound thumping of a clearly inferior team, the Kansas City Royals (whom the Twins couldn't beat twice in three games at home earlier this week), the Twins are six games behind first -- and six games ahead of fourth-place Cleveland) all you can really do is laugh about it. There's no point in getting frustrated -- I think my frustration with the team left after the mid-May Yankee Massacre, and not only has this blog been the ideal outlet to let off steam regarding this pathetic ballclub, but it has been almost therapeutic to document the foibles of Gardy's sad circus of clowns.


The Twins face Aaron Laffey on Sunday, who's been nothing short of Steve Carlton this season against the Twins. Nick Blackburn unfortunately takes the mound for the Twins.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

AUGUST 14, 2009 -- MINNESOTA 11, CLEVELAND 0

Well, the Twins won on Friday, so that must mean two things: one, that they won by six or more runs, and two, that they'll likely lose on Saturday. The Twins haven't won back-to-back games in the month of August, and again there's nothing that can signal to Twins fans that Friday's 11-0 romp is a harbinger of future success. On Friday, they were clicking on all cylinders: Scott Baker pitched an outstanding two-hit shutout (which likely means that his next start will be as frustratingly horrendous as this one was terrific), and the hitting was both timely and came from all parts of the lineup. Hell, even Alexi Casilla had two hits, including a bunt single that Dick Bremer blew all out of proportions, basically saying that it was the hit of the year and it likely will spark the Twins to overtake Detroit and win the division -- in fact, they probably won't lose another game the rest of the way because of Lexi's awesome single that raised his batting average to a still paltry .179. Jason Kubel continued his dominance over Cleveland, driving in five runs and hitting his sixth home run this season against the Tribe. When you win 11-0, most fans will condone such failure as two inning-ending double plays with runners on third and one out (compliments of Justin Morneau, and, not surprisingly, Michael "I Live to Fail in the Clutch" Cuddyer, whose lone contribution to the scoring came when the game was out of reach). People who follow this blog know that I'm not that forgiving. That kind of crap won't be tolerated here at the MTRC, and if they want to go anywhere, their "star players" need to get the job done in those situations. This is a team that hasn't won a close ballgame in over two weeks; if you're going to make a run at the division, at-bats like those are going to be the difference in games and perhaps the season. If I'm Ron Gardenhire, I -- wait, wait, wait. I'm not Ron Gardenhire and I don't even like the thought of being that weasel. Forget it.

Thanks to Dick Bremer's delusions, the broadcasters kept us well apprised of the goings-on in Detroit, where the Tigers won a classic pitcher's duel with a walk-off home run in the ninth inning, so the Twins' victory only prevented them from falling further behind the Tigers. The fact that anyone seriously believes that a team that came into Friday's action four games below .500 could actually win a division or even play consistent baseball is proof enough that Bremer belongs in a straitjacket. But I've heard this garbage for more than twenty years with this fool, and it ain't gettin' any better. I'd love to be able to mute the TV and flip on the radio for the play-by-play, but John Gordon and the Wrench, Danny Gladden, continue to yuk it up on the radio waves. One thing I will give the radio guys credit for (and especially Gladden) is that it doesn't appear that they're being paid to wax poetic on the heroic exploits of losers like Casilla and Punto. Gladden will tell you exactly what he thinks, which is a good thing when he's rightfully doing color, but it is a formula for disaster when he's calling the action. My vote is for Jack Morris to do Twins games more often -- anybody with me?

Any time that I have to criticize the broadcasters more than the players must mean that the Twins did well, and that they did. But as I said after Wednesday night's blowout win over the Royals, this team has done nothing to prove to their fans that they can ride these wins and start a winning streak. Most importantly is the fact that Anthony Swarzak gets the ball on Saturday afternoon, and he has lapsed into the scared rookie that most people figured he would be when he was first called up. David Huff, whom the Twins have roughed up twice this season, gets the ball for the Indians.

Friday, August 14, 2009

AUGUST 13, 2009 -- KANSAS CITY 5, MINNESOTA 4

Another humbling loss to the hands of one of the worst teams in the American League, the Kansas City Royals. Carl Pavano lets the bottom of the order beat him in the first four innings, and the Joe Mauer machine couldn't power the Twins to a victory. Mauer drove home all four runs for the Twins off Royals starter Gil Meche, including a three-run home run in the fifth inning that brought the Twins back in the game at 5-4. But the Twins had chances galore, and yet again couldn't get a two-out hit to save their lives. Mauer's home run was the lone hit the Twins had with runners in scoring position, and five innings ended with a runner in scoring position being stranded there. Michael Cuddyer did that twice, again securing his status as a guy who only produces in low-pressure situations, and new acquisition Orlando Cabrera failed big time in the sixth inning when he grounded into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded. The real goat of that inning was likely Nick Punto, who couldn't even do the easiest thing to do in all of sports -- get a freaking bunt down, and three times he bunted it foul. I'd love to say "see, Gardenhire -- why are you playing this worthless excuse of a ballplayer?" but I feel I've said it before until I was blue in the face. We just have to accept the fact that Ron Gardenhire wants horrible, terrible, pathetic players in the lineup every single game. If he could, he'd pencil himself into the lineup, because I don't know how Gardenhire could do worse than his career .232 batting average. Well, what am I talking about -- of course he could do worse, as evidenced by Nick Punto's embarrassing batting average, which is sitting pretty at a cozy .204.

Not much to add about such a pathetic series as this one, but I do have to give props to Royals manager Trey Hillman for doing something that's so logical and strategic that Ron Gardenhire would never think of doing. Hillman, whose starter Meche had struggled through five innings, was finding that his patchwork bullpen was shaky at best, so he decided to bring in his closer Joakim Soria to start the eighth inning and have a chance for a two-inning save. And guess what happened? The Royals won the game. Soria hadn't pitched at all in the other two games in the series, and so he was fresh enough to go a little bit more than is normally expected of a modern-day closer. Sure, Soria ended up throwing 35 pitches, which may be out of his comfort zone, but more importantly, the Royals won. Trey Hillman -- there's another man in baseball who would do a better job managing the Twins than the sad-sack Ron Gardenhire. I was explaining to a family member who isn't much of a Twins fan why it was a terrible idea to bring in Jesse Crain in the ninth to "hold" a one-run deficit, and they asked (quite logically) "Why not bring in Nathan?" All I could respond with was, "you can't. They have to be in the lead for Nathan to come in the game." This person looked confused and said, "you can't put him in if you're behind?" "Yeah, I know it doesn't make much sense, but them's the breaks when you've got Ron Gardenhire for a manager."

The Twins will now face the fourth-place Cleveland Indians at the dome, and nothing is taken for granted anymore with this ballclub. They haven't won a series in seemingly forever (only two weeks, surprisingly) and the Twins are roughly about the same amount of games ahead of Cleveland (6) than they are behind Detroit (5). And they have to face Aaron Laffey in this series, who the Twins have selected as their arch nemesis for the month. We'll see if the Twins can win one of three here in this upcoming series.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

AUGUST 12, 2009 -- MINNESOTA 7, KANSAS CITY 1

It would be nice to think that the Twins could build on Wednesday's easy 7-1 win against the Royals and that perhaps they could start a winning streak and become a serious threat to win the Central Division. But there just hasn't been enough of this to believe that the Twins can start winning a lot of games in a row. The Twins have won exactly three times in their last eleven games, and the scores of those wins has been 10-1, 11-0, and 7-1. They have responded to those blowout victories with blowout losses, terrible pitching, untimely hitting, poor defense and always pathetic managing. It just goes to show how inconsistent this team has been, that they can play near flawless baseball one night and come back the very next game and don't even put forth a semi-effort. For what it's worth, Francisco Liriano responded to the imminent danger of being sent to the bullpen by what was perhaps his best outing of the season. He gave up a home run to the second batter he faced on Wednesday (to the power-challenged Willie Bloomquist, no less), but after that gave up only two more hits for the rest of his seven innings. He struck out eight and more importantly walked only one. His command was sharp and he actually looked like wanted to be on the mound. In a season that has been marked with frustrating inconsistency, Liriano has perhaps been the shining example of that inconsistency. If the Twins can get some solid pitching from Liriano down the stretch, that will be certainly encouraging; but as long as the other spots in the rotation continue to be a sore spot, Liriano can pitch like it's 2006 and it won't make much of a difference.

Joe Crede came back from (take a guess) another injury and promptly belted a three-run home run in his first at-bat in the first inning, capping a five-run inning off Royals starter Brian Bannister that the Twins used to coast to the victory. Crede's been just about what the Twins asked for when they signed him in the offseason. He'll provide a little pop in the order while hitting for a low average and getting on base sparingly. And we all kind of knew about his fragility and thought that the idea of Crede playing on turf would spell doom for his back, and it's been pretty much an assortment of injuries that's sharply limited his playing time. For the kind of numbers Crede is putting up (sub-.300 on-base percentage), it's not like the Twins should really be missing them. The guy pops up to the infield more than anybody else I've ever seen (even Nick Punto and Michael Cuddyer), but that being said, he's a lot better than the alternatives that the Twins have. Brendan Harris has limited range at third base, Brian Buscher is toiling in Triple-A, and Nick Punto couldn't crack the St. Paul Saints roster if the Twins weren't insane enough to give him $4 million a season, so when Crede's out of the lineup, it's not a good thing.


The Twins are so desperate for pitching that Ron Gardenhire is forced to do something pretty much unheard of from Ronny Boy: skip a starter and move up his ace, Carl Pavano, to pitch the Thursday afternoon matinee. Pavano's on his normal rest and such a move (especially considering what the Twins' back end of the rotation consists of) would be obvious to most people. But we're talking about Ron Gardenhire here, and if there's ever a guy who would want guys like Anthony Swarzak and Nick Blackburn and Glen Perkins to take a turn in the rotation just because it won't "screw things up," it's Ron Gardenhire. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if Jeff Manship, who was called up to replace the disabled Perkins on Wednesday, gets a crack at a few starts. Anything is better than what they have. Put it this way -- Armando Galarraga has had a bad season for the Tigers and his status as Detroit's #5 starter has been in limbo for much of the season. If he were on the Twins, he might damn well be their top starter. That's depressing.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

AUGUST 11, 2009 -- KANSAS CITY 14, MINNESOTA 6

Another embarrassing loss for the Twins, this time twice as embarrassing considering that it was to the hands of the lowly Kansas City Royals at home under the Teflon sky of the Metrodome. Making matters worse, the Twins weren't in this game right from the start. Before Nick Blackburn could blink, the Royals had already put four runs on the board in the first (three of which came home after there were two outs), and a Brendan Harris error in the second inning led to two more runs and Blackburn's departure. Although Blackburn didn't deserve to pitch any longer than he had, his short start meant that the bullpen would have to pitch the final 7 and 1/3 innings of the game, and that just spells runs. Sure enough, Brian Douchebag (who apparently won't be starting in the series), Bobby Keppel, and Jesse Crain all gave up runs in their relief outings, and only Jose Mijares, who pitched a clean eighth, was able to hold off the suddenly barnstorming Royals. This is a team that came into the game with one of the lowest team batting averages in the American League (batting .255 as a team), and they put up 18 hits in the game, making that the sixth game out of their last ten that the Twins pitching has given up at least fifteen hits in a game. Not surprisingly, the Twins have lost all six of those games, and the way things are going (and how the rest of this series is set up), it's going to be a challenge to even win one of these games against the last-place Royals.


Games like this must make those foolish fans who are still believing that the team is going to make the playoffs second-guess themselves. Blackburn had been the team's solid #1 starter throughout the first half of the season, but ever since Ron Gardenhire had the ingenious idea to rest Blackburn for ten days between starts (straddling the All-Star Break), he's pitched really, really poorly -- kind of like Joe Mays bad, or Sean Bergman bad, late-90s Twins bad. I read somewhere that it's possible that Carl Pavano, with one start down in his Twins career, is pert' darn near the ace of this staff, and I'd have to say that's about right. When you have zero starting pitching and even worse bullpen help, it's going to be increasingly difficult to notch wins, and right now the Twins are four games under .500. They're at the nadir of their season, and though they're five games out of first place, it's quite deceiving. Look at what the White Sox did the other day, by picking up Alex Rios from the Blue Jays. Though Rios hasn't proven that his monstrous contract he signed last season has been a good investment, he's a solid upgrade from what the White Sox had in their outfield, and he's still a young player. Rios and Jake Peavy are now going to be South Siders for quite a while, and even if the Sox don't win the division this season, they're going to be bonafide contenders for a good number of years. What have the Twins done to solidify their future, especially considering their move to Target Field next season? Nothing, at least, to signal to Joe Mauer that the Twins are committed to putting a winning club on the field, and if I'm Mauer, I sure as hell don't take one penny as a "hometown discount" to sign with the Twins. Mauer's a born winner, and he's not going to give a team which is so content with mediocrity the benefit of the doubt just because he was born a few minutes away from the stadium.


The Mark Grudzielanek experiment officially ended on Monday, when the Twins released the veteran infielder eight games into his comeback attempt with Double-A New Britain. The Twins felt that Grudzielanek's range wasn't what it once was, and his bat hadn't bowled over the Twins, either. That the Twins felt eight games was enough to prove to them that Grudzielanek wasn't the answer, and that they've given Alexi Casilla nearly 100 games at the major league level to prove to everyone else (other than the Twins' on-field management) that he isn't a major-league player is frankly a slap in the face to this Twins fan. Eight games is enough to gauge a veteran player who hadn't played competitively for a year due to injury? He was hitting .267 with the Rock Cats, which is roughly 100 points higher than what Casilla's hitting at the major league level, and don't talk about "range" when guys like Casilla and Punto are getting the bulk of the playing time at second base for the big-league team. They're average defensively -- sure, they'll put forth a Web Gem once in a while, but then also make plenty of miscues too -- and their defensive talents are further underemphasized when they give back all their defensive assets by consistently going 0 for 4 at the plate. With the Grudzielanek cutting, the Twins have officially said that they are just fine with their second basemen hitting .186 with average defense. Grudzielanek had a classic quote (actually a text message) printed in the Star Tribune that may go down as the quote of the year around here at the MTRC: "They [the Twins] just wasted my time." Thanks, Mark. That makes two of us.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

AUGUST 9, 2009 -- DETROIT 8, MINNESOTA 7

The Twins make a valiant comeback after they let the Tigers take control of the game in which they had an early 3-0 lead, but it's all for naught once Matt Guerrier serves it up in the eighth, providing Twins fans of a glimpse of the 2008 Matty Guerrier that we know and love. The classic Matt Guerrier Special came back to haunt the Twins in the eighth, where Guerrier not only gave up the lead to the Tigers, but like all classic MGSes, he gave up the critical insurance run as well that ended up to be the deciding run in the game. In all the Twins pitching staff gave up fifteen hits, which is simply incredible -- it was the fifth time in nine games that the staff had surrendered that many hits in a game. Not surprisingly, the Twins have lost all five of those games. Tom Kelly used to say that the three most important facets of the game of baseball were pitching, pitching, and pitching, and never is that more true than with the 2009 Twins. They're hitting the cover off the ball right now, smacking three long home runs in Sunday's game and collecting fourteen hits of their own. If only they could get some consistent pitching, they'd be running away with the division and be in a position to actually compete with the elite of the American League. But alas, Sunday's loss drops them 5 1/2 games behind the front-running Tigers, and more importantly the Twins remain three games below the .500 mark.


Mike Redmond surprisingly got three hits for the Twins today. Perhaps Jarrod Washburn wasn't as "tough" an assignment for a backup player, which is a reference to Redmond's curious statements following Thursday's loss to Cleveland, where Redmond basically hinted that he shouldn't have been in the lineup facing Fausto Carmona. It's so bad that even the talent-free Redmond knows he's got nothing left in the tank, but he doinked three hits on Sunday and helped produce some runs. But his actual value for the Twins has continuously diminished, and that was emphasized on Sunday, when Ron Gardenhire was forced to remove Redmond from the game in the eighth inning for a pinch runner. Of course, when Gardenhire does that, that means that Joe Mauer must move from the DH spot to the catcher's position, which means that the pitcher must now assume the vacant DH spot in the batting order. By needing to pinch-hit for the .176-hitting Alexi Casilla in the same inning, Gardenhire effectively exhausted his bench in that one inning, and it nearly made for an embarrassing situation in the ninth inning. The pitcher's spot was sixth in the batting order for the Twins in the ninth, and that meant that if they were to mount a rally against Fernando Rodney, the Twins would have had no recourse but to send a pitcher to the plate with the game on the line (and no, I'm not using that as a euphemism for Nick Punto -- an actual pitcher (which, by the way, probably would be a better opportunity to score than if Punto had been at the plate)). It goes to show how having guys like Redmond and Casilla (who you're going to replace late in close ballgames anyway because they suck in more than one way) on the team absolutely cripples your roster. Again, there's a guy down in Triple-A who has a major-league batting average this season residing in Joe Mauer-land who's young, energetic, and isn't any more of a defensive liability than the elder statesman Redmond is. Why the Twins refuse to make the obvious talent upgrade is beyond me and I'm sure it continues to confuse Twins fans elsewhere. I would have loved to see Joe Nathan taking hacks at Fernando Rodney with the tying run on base with two out in the ninth inning -- actually I would have more enjoyed the look that Ron Gardenhire would have had on his face at that point. But, the patheticness of Seldom Young made that an impossibility when he took a brutal quasi-swing at Rodney's first pitch and tapped weakly to third base to end the ballgame.


The Twins have an offday Monday and then travel home to open a six-game homestand against the AL Central's two bottom feeders, the Kansas City Royals and the Cleveland Indians. Once again the Twins will luck out and not have to face Zach Greinke in that Royals series, but the real story will be that the Twins will have to have good starting pitching down the stretch if they want a sniff at the divisional title. It doesn't matter who you're playing -- the Yankees or the Royals -- if you can't pitch, like the Twins haven't lately, you simply won't win ballgames. The Twins aren't even sure who's going to make the Thursday afternoon game at this point, and Francisco Liriano is tentatively penciled in to make Tuesday's start. My bet is that Brian Douchebag makes one of those starts, and something tells me that Ron Gardenhire will go ahead and let Liriano make another start. It sure as hell doesn't inspire a whole lot of confidence when you are unclear who's going to be pitching the majority of the innings in an upcoming series. Especially when you consider yourself a playoff "contender."

AUGUST 8, 2009 -- MINNESOTA 11, DETROIT 0

Man, this team is hard to figure out. They have to be the most inconsistent team I've ever had the opportunity to watch. One day, they'll look like absolute garbage, failing at all aspects of the game -- hitting, pitching, defense, and managing. Then the next day, they'll come out, knock around one of the best pitchers in the league, and ride their pitcher to an easy win. I don't know from day to day what team is going to show up, and whenever the Twins do win games like the one on Saturday, I can't believe that the team is "turning the corner," because every other time they've won convincingly, they've come out the next day and phoned it in (like they did earlier in the road trip). If ever there is a season-saving victory in early August, Saturday's 11-0 romp was just that. With a loss, the Twins were in danger of dropping 6 and 1/2 games out; by winning, they are 4 and a half back and have a chance to get within another game of first place with a win today. But am I convinced that they will bring a lot of momentum into Sunday's game? Absolutely not.


I will give credit where credit is due, and Carl Pavano pitched like it was 2004 on Saturday. His pitching performance was a breath of fresh air for Twins fans, who have become all too accustomed to the Twins giving up eight runs a game, especially since the All-Star break. He had a veteran's presence on the mound, again refreshing when the Twins trot out an unexperienced, deer-in-the-headlights starter seemingly every other day. Not that the "veteran presence" is going to be a good thing necessarily (Livan Hernandez, anybody?), but if Pavano can pitch even a little bit like he did on Saturday, his acquisition will at least be justified (again, it's not as if he's going to be the tipping point for the Twins' winning the division). But the knock on Pavano has been all season long is that when he's on, he's on; but when he's off, he's absolutely dreadful, and the Tigers were the one team that Pavano has really owned this year, as he notched his fourth win of the year with no losses against Detroit on Saturday. The reason, however, that Pavano can't be the savior for the staff is that not one but two spots in the rotation are still up for grabs, even after the Pavano acquisition. Anthony Swarzak's run of good pitching appears to have elapsed, and not only does he not deserve to be in the starting staff, but it's probably overdue that he should return to Triple-A. Glen Perkins and Francisco Liriano also have not deserved to stay in the staff; so in effect the Twins have three for-sure starters on their staff: Scott Baker, who'll pitch today, Nick Blackburn, and Pavano. Brian Douchebag has been pitching effectively out of the long man bullpen role (what major league team, other than the Twins, has three long men in the bullpen? Well, I guess -- considering that you can count on a starter turning in a clunker twice every five games, so you need those long men). By process of elimination more than anything else, Douchebag should be penciled into the rotation. I've said it before that Liriano can really help the bullpen, and I think his value is greater in the bullpen. So who's the fifth starter? Glen Perkins can't get anybody out, whether he's in relief or starting, so he can't assume that role, and the scouting report on Anthony Swarzak appears to have gotten around to the entire league now, so he can't be trusted. You look at the other two Central competitors and their top 3 pitchers: Detroit's Verlander, Jackson, and Washburn, and Chicago's Buehrle, Peavy (when he's healthy) and Danks/Floyd, you've got to give both of those teams the edge over the Twins' Baker, Blackburn and Pavano. That's not saying anything about the glaring holes at the back end of the rotation for the Twins.


The bullpen continues to be a sore spot for the Twins, and again the Twins passed up the opportunity to add a bullpen arm on Saturday. Twice in the past week the Tampa Bay Rays have made waiver claims on two arms that had been designated for assignment by their prior clubs. Jeff Bennett was picked up from Atlanta, where he had put up a 3.18 ERA (albeit with a high opponent's batting average), and on Saturday the Rays picked up Russ Springer from Oakland. Springer's 40 years old, sure, but he's still effective (a lot more effective than Jesse Crain, for instance). He had been pitching stellar of late, posting a sub-2.00 ERA over his last 25 games, and he has 47 strikeouts in 41 innings pitched. The Rays have a better record than the Twins, meaning that had the Twins claimed either pitcher, they would have gotten them because their record is worse than Tampa Bay. Why they didn't pursue either of those relievers is astounding considering the fact that Joe Nathan continues to be the only guy in the 'pen that can consistently and confidently get batters out. But hey -- Luis Ayala was sent down by the Marlins the other day after posting an 8.50 ERA for them. He might be available (for the right price, that is -- "we don't want to mortgage our future just to make a move").