Wednesday, September 30, 2009


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

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

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

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

Monday, September 28, 2009


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

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

Sunday, September 27, 2009


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

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

Saturday, September 26, 2009


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

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

Thursday, September 24, 2009


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

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

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


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

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

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


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

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

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

Monday, September 21, 2009


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

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

Sunday, September 20, 2009


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

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

Saturday, September 19, 2009


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

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

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

Photos: (1) AP/Paul Battaglia; (2)

Thursday, September 17, 2009


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

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

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

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


The Twins draw closer to the Tigers, as they finally make up some ground on first place with their win over the Indians and Detroit's 11-1 pummeling at the hands of the Kansas City Royals. Joe Mauer had two more hits for the Twins, bumping his average to .373, and Nick Punto slapped three ugly hits and drove in two runs. You know things are going good when Punto's average clears the .230 mark, a figure that just a month ago seemed completely out of reach. Scott Baker labored through 5 and 1/3 innings, but pitched well enough to keep the Twins in the game, and vulture Jon Rauch picked up his third win in about three weeks of being on the team. Joe Nathan again struggled to get the save, as he surrendered a booming home run to rookie Matt LaPorta and had the tying run on second base with two outs before inducing the game-ending pop-fly off the bat of rookie Michael Brantley. It never is an amazing feat to beat the languishing Cleveland Indians, but with the 2009 Twins, nothing comes easy, and these two wins are huge in setting the stage for this weekend's series with Detroit.

They'll face a test today (well, a test for them at least) in lefthander Aaron Laffey, against whom the Twins are 0-3 this year. He's seemingly always been a pest to the Twins, and we're talking about a guy who's rarely a pest for anybody else. Added to the fact that Laffey goes for Cleveland is that it's Nick Blackburn's turn in the rotation, and he's been nothing short of horrendous ever since Ron Gardenhire had the ingenious idea to rest a sinkerball pitcher for ten days straddling the All-Star break. Need to win this game if you want a chance...
Photos: (1)AP/Paul Battaglia; (2) AP/Ann Heisenfelt

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Again the Twins sleepwalk through seven shutout innings against mediocre-at-best Jeremy Sowers, and it appeared as if the Twins were on their way, thanks to a late comeback win by the Tigers, to falling further behind Detroit. But then a funny thing happened on the way to third place: the Twins came back, picking themselves off the mat. A clutch three-run home run off the bat of Michael Cuddyer (no, really!) tied the game off reliever Chris Perez, and then the Twins used rinky-dinky cheeseball to take the lead. Matt Tolbert, playing in a "pennant race" for some reason, doinked a bloop double behind third base after Seldom Young had singled, and Young would score on a wild pitch/passed ball. Jason Kubel would launch a home run later in the at-bat, and the Twins' six-spot they put on the board in the eighth was enough to carry them past the pitiful Indians. It was nice to see the Twins win a game when their opponents' reliever put up a Matt Guerrier Special, but the biggest news of the night would come to the surface during the post-game interviews.

Justin Morneau's done for the season, as is Joe Crede's (most likely), as both players' backs have officially crapped out. Morneau, frankly, has been nothing short of terrible lately, but it goes without saying that this injury is potentially fatal for the Twins' chances of holding on to second place. Add Crede's injury, and that means a few things: one, it means more playing time for guys like Carlos Gomez and/or Seldom Young, and it means more playing time for Nick Punto and/or Matt Tolbert. Any way you cut it, the two injuries makes the Twins that much worse offensively. Especially when you have a manager who's willing to play guys like Matt Tolbert in "key games down the stretch," these injuries will force Ron Gardenhire to be creative, which is kind of like asking a kindergartener to go without cake at his birthday party. Lots of tears will ensue and it'll probably mean that you'll have to clean the drapes afterwards.

If the Twins want any shot at first place, they'll have to sweep the Tigers this weekend at the Dome, and if they really want that to happen, they're going to have to win these games against an inferior opponent in order to gain momentum. Scott Baker has been pitching lights-out as of late, and he faces Fausto Carmona, owner of some pretty ugly numbers who mowed down the Twins the last time he faced them.

Photos: (1) AP/Jim Mone; (2) AP/Ben Margot

Monday, September 14, 2009


Finally the Twins can beat the Oakland Athletics at home. It really, really shouldn't have been this hard, but considering what kind of team that the Twins have, it should not come as any surprise that they lost two out of three. This time it's Brian Duensing (I'm retiring my "Douchebag" moniker for now, as he's hardly been doucheing it up lately; rather, he's damn near been the best pitcher the Twins put out there) who gets the win, pitching shutout ball over seven innings. Scattering eight hits over those seven innings and wiggling his way out of jams, Duensing was deserving of the win, and the Twins offense finally showed up, providing most of their eight runs early against Oakland starter Gio Gonzalez. Joe Mauer had three hits, including his 27th home run of the season, and most of the lineup was clicking -- except for Joe Crede, who started his first game in three weeks in the designated hitter spot, and went Seldom Young on everybody by going 0 for 4 with four strikeouts. Glad to have you back, Joe.

Of course, with the Twins winning, the Tigers won as well, and the Twins remain five and a half games behind first-place Detroit. It's getting to that point in the season where even certifiable idiots like Dick Bremer are beginning to doubt whether or not the Twins can actually overtake Detroit. Two pathetic losses to the hands of a last-place team like the Oakland A's will make even the most gullible sap skeptical, and I think that's certainly worth noting (this coming from the same moron, Bremer, who Sunday predicted on-air that the Baltimore Orioles would be a surprise team in 2010 [stiffled laughter]). The lack of any sense of urgency on the part of the Twins is really disturbing to anyone even remotely aware of sports. Alas, the Twins do end up playing the Tigers seven times down the stretch, and especially at the Dome, the Twins seem to have their number. And acknowledging that the Twins don't have the heart to compete here when it really counts, the Tigers haven't played well at all either here in the last week. Can somebody please win this division? Dare I say a .500 record could win the Central. As far as the Twins go, what's most important this season is that they simply don't deserve any team accolades that can possibly be given them.
Photos: AP/Jim Mone

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Another loss at the hands of the pathetic Athletics drops the Twins two games under .500 and it's yet another example of the wasted opportunities that the Twins have had to gain on the suddenly slumping Tigers. Detroit hasn't won a game since last Sunday's thrilling comeback win in Tampa Bay, going 0-5, yet all the Twins have been able to do is gain a paltry game and a half on first place. In fact, with the White Sox winning yesterday in Anaheim, the Twins have fallen back to third place in the division -- this is notable considering the Twins had a 3 1/2 game lead over Chicago for second place just ten days ago. It makes you think that the Twins surely could have come back on Detroit, except for the fact that the Twins just aren't that good of a team. And it really doesn't help when minor-leaguers like Jeff Manship are called upon to stop the bleeding. Manship's longest start in the majors is a five-inning performance, and on Saturday he lasted only a few batters into the fifth. Walks came back to haunt the Twins in a big way, as the A's scored the two game-winning runs in the fifth without the benefit of a single base hit. Manship walked the first two batters (facing the eight and nine hitters, no less) and gave way to Jesse Crain, who promptly walked the first batter he faced. Two sacrifice flies later, the A's had a two run lead, and they used that same margin to coast to a victory.

Brett Anderson pitched like an ace against the Twins, mowing them down over seven innings. Michael Wuertz and Andrew Bailey slammed the door on the Twins in the late innings, and the Twins offense continued to sleepwalk down the stretch. The biggest tragedy of this season has been the fact that the Twins, with the talent they have, should be RUNNING AWAY with this division. Detroit hasn't shown any real moxie down the stretch following that Tampa Bay series, and the fact remains that 85 wins will likely win this division. Right now, the Twins can't guarantee themselves a winning season, and when you have guys like Mauer and Morneau and Span and Kubel all having career years or close to it (Morneau's last month and a half will be most remembered, however, as his struggles have stood for the struggles of the whole offense lately), you'd like to think you have a good chance to win a weak division. But it always comes down to pitching, and this season has been a flashback to the good old Dick Such days of the mid-90s. To rewrite the classic Simon and Garfunkel song, Where have you gone, Scott Aldred?
Photos: AP/Tom Olmscheid

Saturday, September 12, 2009


Talk about inspiring confidence in your fans that you can actually, let's say, finish the season over .500. A 12-5 thumping at home to the last-place Oakland Athletics says a lot about your team -- a whole lot. Frankly, it wasn't even as close as the 12-5 score would indicate. The A's mashed and bashed their way to a Texas-sized romp of the Twins. Facing one of the worst offenses in the entire major leagues, the Twins have found ways to give up 12, 16 and 14 runs in individual games to Oakland this year -- that's just plain unacceptable. Oakland came into Friday dead last in the American League in hitting home runs, so what do they do? They clobber five bombs over the wall and by the end of the third inning the Twins are out of the game. What's funnier is that the Tigers lost again, this time to the Blue Jays, so again the Twins could have "climbed their way back into this thing" if they could have taken care of the second-division ballclub they were facing. But alas, the loss drops the Twins under .500 again, and makes even the most optimistic fan question the Twins' actual talent.

As always, it comes down to pitching, and Nick Blackburn again didn't have it on Friday. He hasn't "had it" since Ron Gardenhire's masterful plan to rest his then-ace pitcher for ten days in between the All-Star break. I've mentioned that umpteen times since he decided stupidly to do that, for the mere reason that, of all the boneheaded managerial moves Gardy has made just this season (and there's a whole low-light reel worth of them, trust me), that one might turn out to be the most costly. Sinkerball pitchers tend to tighten up when they receive too much rest, and even a fan mildly interested in the art of pitching knows that. When they tighten up, their sinkers don't quite sink, and especially if you don't have strikeout stuff to begin with (like Blackburn), your pitches are going to get hit, and hard. Jack Cust's home run in the second inning was more like a moon shot -- a towering, majestic big fly that landed some 440 feet later. Add a few more home runs to unlikelier sources -- Cliff Pennington (who?) and Mark Ellis, and Blackburn's day was quick and unproductive, like most of his second-half starts. Ron Mahay formally introduced his presence in the Twins bullpen to the fans by giving up the nail-in-the-coffin three-run blast to Daric Barton, and Armando Gabino continued to etch his name in the pantheon of Twins obscurity by surrendering the fifth and final Oakland home run to Kurt Suzuki. One bright spot for the Twins was Francisco Liriano, finally pitching out of the bullpen, who pitched two scoreless innings, notching four strikeouts. Now if only he did that when the season was still up for grabs...

Photos: AP/Ann Heisenfelt

Friday, September 11, 2009


So the Royals do the unthinkable and sweep the Tiggers, and the Twins are able to gain one whopping game off their insurmountable lead because they lose two very winnable games against the lackluster Blue Jays. In a dastardly twist of fate, they actually win the game that they virtually should have no chance to win -- the game that Roy Halladay started. Continually the Twins have frustrated their fans by juxtaposing huge, seeming momentum-building wins with pathetic, effortless losses to the hands of Brett Cecil and company. On Thursday, the Twins get yet another solid start from Scott Baker, but the offense falls asleep against southpaw Cecil, and the Toronto bullpen slams the door on any potential comeback. Five and a half games back with twenty-two games left -- dare I say they need a 9-0 homestand to make things interesting?

The Twins offense sure had their chances, but they were crippled by a lack of two-out clutch hitting (what's new) and weren't helped by the fact that Nick Punto is absolutely dreadful at everything he does in life. Seriously, I'd be surprised if Punto can pee standing up, because everything he does on the baseball diamond is below Little League caliber. Case in point his bunting prowess, which the entire Rogers Centre crowd got to enjoy. In the seventh inning and the Twins down a run, Punto was asked to bunt pinch runner Matt Tolbert to second. Punto, of course, openly defied that command and failed to do the easiest thing in professional sports. He bunted the ball way too hard back to the pitcher, and Jeremy Accardo was easily able to throw out Tolbert at second base. Add Punto's standard failure to get the bunt down with Denard Span's failed sacrifice attempt earlier in the ballgame, and that made it two times that the "fundamentally sound" Twins failed to get down fundamental elements of the game. Especially if your whole team is hitting .237 for the month, you need to do the little things if you want to win these games. Like Michael Cuddyer -- don't ground into double plays just before Seldom Young hits a double! That damn well lost the game for you right there.

The vaunted combo of Blackburn (one win since Ron Gardenhire benched him for ten games straddling the All-Star Break) Manship (Triple-A level pitcher) and Douchebag (Triple-A level pitcher) will be on the hill this weekend whe the Twins face the A's. With Blackburn going tonight, here's hoping there's no redux of the Oakland Disaster.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Certainly an unlikely victory by the Twins on Wednesday, as they beat a halfway decent pitcher named Roy Halladay for the first time in his twelve-year career, 4-1. Halladay pitched a complete game, obviously, and was done in by a mammoth Justin Morneau home run in the eighth inning, the first real hit of consequence that Morneau's had in about a month. Even more unexpected was Michael Cuddyer's two-run, pinch-hit double in the ninth inning that provided the much-needed insurance runs; we all know that Cuddyer's hit wouldn't have come had the Twins been down 2-1 or had the game been tied -- it still is about as clutch a hit as Cuddyer could get and it should be duly noted that he actually got the job done. Carl Pavano pitched well for the victory, getting into the eighth inning and earning his third win as a Twin. And, hey, the Tigers lost, so the Twins are (as Dick Bremer would like to say) "only" 5 1/2 games behind first place. What is noteworthy is that the Twins are playing somewhat competitive baseball, and at the very least, the games are still worth watching.

Orlando Cabrera had a big hit for the Twins, as he homered in the sixth inning to tie the game at one. Cabrera, after about a good first week for the Twins, has been absolutely dreadful at the plate and in the field for the Twins. Just look at his numbers: He's hitting .254 as a Twin, he has a .280 on-base percentage (about forty points lower than Nick Punto in fact) and has committed seven errors. The common spin regarding the Cabrera trade was that he was upgrade from Punto and, unlike perennial Ron Gardenhire shit-list denizen Brendan Harris, Cabrera would actually play. But I can't believe I'm saying this -- you might as well have the limited range and .220 hitting of Nick Punto in there -- at least the guy can take a walk here and there. No, you know what -- I can't do this anymore. I can't say good things about Nick Punto. It's kind of like rooting for the Yankees; you just don't feel good about yourself after you do it.

Scott Baker tries to build on his magnificent pitching run that he's been on since June and the Twins will try to [gasp] win a series in Toronto. I certainly didn't see this coming, but if Baker can pitch the way he has been, chances are good that the Twins can take three out of four. Brett Cecil pitches for Toronto.
Photos: AP & Canadian Press/Frank Gunn

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


These are the Twins we know and love, from cruising with a 3-0 lead in the sixth to imploding thanks to poor pitching and a timely bullpen collapse that put them behind the eight ball for good. John McDonald of all people hit the game-winning three-run home run off Jon Rauch, who made his proper introduction to Twins fans. You can't be a mainstay in that bullpen until you've let leads slip through your fingers, and after Rauch's classic performance on Tuesday, he's damn well entrenched in the 'pen. Inheriting a three-run lead, Rauch began his night by giving up a sacrifice fly to ex-Twins great Randy "The Latino LeCroy" Ruiz, then walked a batter to re-load the bases, gave up a single on a hanging curveball to the Puntoesque Edwin Encarnacion, and an out later surrendered the back-breaking home run to the light-hitting McDonald. Though the Tigers lost a late lead themselves against Kansas City and the Twins didn't fall further back in the standings, they have to be concerned about their own team, and games like Tuesday do nothing to inculcate inspiration to dreary Twins fans ready to turn their attention to other teams.

I, for one, am greatly looking forward to the postseason, and I think the American League matchups, though certainly stale and not suggestive of any real competitive balance (how many times will this be that the Angels and Red Sox meet in the first round?), will be entertaining to watch, especially the Tiger-Yankee series. And of course the National League is always tough to handicap, but the Phillies are certainly strong, maybe better than they were last season when they won it all. The Dodgers played their best baseball early in the season and have slowly wilted as the season has progressed, and the Cardinals right now might be playing the best baseball of anyone in the majors. You can't count out the Giants or Rockies, either. All in all, playoff baseball should be entertaining to watch. At the end of the regular season, I'll do some playoff predictions on this site as well as submit my ballot for the regular-season awards (as if it actually counts, right). And I'll do a little preview for the Twins offseason, which should be interesting considering the potential Joe Mauer soap opera that might be in store. It's really simple, actually: if the Twins don't sign Joe Mauer, expect a near mutiny by the Twins fan base. Good luck filling the seats in Target Field if you let Mauer walk or if you trade him a la Johan Santana. Twins fans are a loyal bunch, but you can't go Pittsburgh Pirates on them, or else they will act.
Photos: (1); (2)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


The Twins use a five-run first inning against Blue Jays starter Scott Richmond to coast to a relatively easy win for the Twins on Labor Day. No win, of course, comes easy to the Twins these days, but especially considering the fact that the Twins hadn't won in Canada since Brad Radke started a game, the Twins victory over the below-.500 Jays was certainly worth noting. After that first inning, the Twins' bats went to sleep as if they were still in Cleveland, but the damage was done, and six pitchers were able to fend off Toronto the rest of the way. One thing that I have learned from the 2009 Twins is that no lead is safe, so even after the five run first, we knew that that just wouldn't be enough for Jeff Manship and company. To give the pitching staff credit, they did buckle down when they needed to, inducing two pop-ups with runners on third and less than two outs. With the Tigers idle on the holiday, the Twins actually gained ground on first-place Detroit; however, with the Tigers in Kansas City ready to feast on the Royals and the Twins ready to struggle against Toronto like it's 2007 (especially with Roy Halladay in the rear-view mirror, coming off a one-hit shutout of the Yankees), don't expect the Twins to make any serious movement towards first-place anytime this week.

Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau both snapped their long hitless streaks with cheesy base hits in the first inning -- Morneau's was a seeing-eye fourteen-hopper through the right side, and Cuddyer's was a one-handed lob shot that doinked into center field. If the Twins want to retain their hold on second place, these two guys will have to pick up the slack, Morneau in particular. Cuddyer's garbage and we all know it; Morneau is the key in this equation. It might be that he's still feeling the ill effects of those dizzy spells he came down with in Texas a few weeks back, but it does appear that a late-season swoon has become commonplace for Morneau. Had Morneau had a better September last season (and in particular that last homestand where he simply didn't show up), the Twins would have made the postseason and he may have deservedly won another MVP title. Again, he picks the absolute worst time to go into an extended cold slump, and when Morneau's not hitting, that effects everyone in the lineup, most of all Joe Mauer. Cuddyer's a fifth wheel on the team who's best known for his "sloppy seconds" approach to run-production; namely, when the runs are to be had, Cuddyer's got no qualms about getting a little piece for himself. When the game's on the line, Cuddyer chokes more than a donkey with a small esophagus, and that's the extend of his "value."
Photos: AP & The Canadian Press/Darren Calabrese

Monday, September 7, 2009


The nail-in-the-coffin road trip that I thought would really come to fruition in Toronto has blossomed a little premature with the Twins' second pathetic effort in three games against the second-division Indians. David Huff was a guy who the Twins just pummeled the first two times facing him, and on Sunday all the Twins were able to scratch across against Huff in seven innings were two measly base hits in the fifth inning. Add to the fact that Nick Blackburn gave up three back-breaking two-out hits, and that's a formula to lose a game in which you desperately need to win. It's not the formula that the Twins have used all that frequently in the second half -- they love to use the "three-inning, seven-run performance by a starter" formula, but the hallmark of a bad team is that they find different ways to lose. The Twins aren't simply one-track losers; they can scratch and claw their way to losses and, most importantly, be creative in their patheticness. Case in point Sunday, when they use a botched run-down to directly lead to the Cleveland insurance run. Michael Brantley had just knocked a two-out single to score the go-ahead run, and the throw to the infield was cut off, and Brantley was a dead duck between first and second. But, because of the Twins' ineptness, they fail to get Brantley out, mainly because Michael Cuddyer playing first base has no clue how to defend his position. Sure enough, Brantley would end up scoring on a base hit in the next at-bat. Though the extra run certainly wasn't needed considering the Twins offense on the road, it was yet another stroke of the hammer banging down on that coffin nail.

Contrast the Twins' sluggish performance on Sunday against a miserable opponent with the Tigers' character-building classic comeback against Tampa Bay. Down 3-1 with one out in the ninth, Brandon Inge hit a grand slam home run, leading the Tigers to a 5-3 win that extended their division lead to a comfy seven games. Though the Tigers' magic number is 20, that home run might have damn well clinched the division for Detroit. A three-game sweep on the road against the defending AL champs, in which all three games featured the Tigers scoring late runs to win the game, is proof positive that the Tigers are for real. Can you see the Twins having that impressive of a series on the road against a good team? The Twins can't even win two out of three against the Cleveland Indians -- facing the team with the second-worst team ERA in the league, the Twins scored a whopping seven runs in the entire series (it certainly doesn't help when your "stars" like Cuddyer and Justin Morneau are in extended slumps -- 0 for 16 for Cuddyer, 0 for 19 for Morneau). As I've said before, the lone drama that will unfold here in September is whether the Twins can hold on to second place. Before the season I predicted an 82-80 third-place season for the Twins, a prediction that resulted in sneers and derision and skepticism from overly optimistic fans who banked on the notion that 2008 wasn't an outrageous fluke. Though I hoped I was wrong, I just didn't see how certain players could duplicate their success in 2009 (guys like Casilla and Buscher and the entire starting staff). Unfortunately, it looks like my prediction has turned out to be precient, though I would like to see the team put it together here at the end and finish above .500.
Photos: AP/Tony Dejak

Sunday, September 6, 2009


Scott Baker extends his great run of pitching since a disastrous first two months of the season, as he notched his eleventh win in his last twelve decisions, beating the lackluster Cleveland Indians 4-1. Baker labored through six innings, throwing 100 pitches, or what's known around the Twins clubhouse as "time to throw in the towel," and Baker kindly obliged, letting the bullpen finish the task and help Baker secure his 13th victory of the season. Things must have been clicking for the Twins, as even Nicky Punto got two hits, including the game-tying double in the fourth inning that also scored the eventual winning run due to a Jamey Carroll error. Coupled with the White Sox dominating the wild-card leading Red Sox and the Tigers mounting a terrific comeback against the defending American League champions, not only does the Twins win against lowly Cleveland look like small potatoes, but they were unable to make up any ground on Detroit or extend their lead over third-place Chicago. Six games out with 27 games to play, it's becoming increasingly clear that the Tigers are going to win this division. Expect the bottom to fall out on the Twins not here in Cleveland but in Toronto, which has been nothing short of a house of horrors for them the last three-four years. Dropping at least three of the four games against the Blue Jays will likely put the nail in the coffin for the Twins.

For the Twins sake, they would like to hope that their ultimate collapse doesn't come until a week from now, for the mere reason that football season has officially started and with the Gophers opening TCF Bank Stadium and the Vikings employing the Brett Favre circus, Minnesota sports fans' attention is going to quickly divert from the Twins. The Gophers' overtime win against Syracuse on Saturday was a good game to watch and breeds hope for Brewster's Millions, who perenially come into every season with high hopes that are traditionally dashed by mid-October. And with this season being perhaps the most-anticipated Vikings season since perhaps the arrival of Randy Moss, people are going to drop the Twins like a sack of potatoes here in a week or so. It's the general psychology of being a sports fan in a prime market -- you follow the teams that you can when they're in season, and when there's an overlap, you focus more intently on the club that's less likely to rip your heart out. Now I know that there are some folks out there that would like to argue that the Vikings are more classic heart ripper-outers, but around here at the MTRC, it's nice to know that the pressure of sucking isn't relegated to Ron Gardenhire's bunch.

Nick Blackburn tries to follow up his only good start of the second half today against David Huff, a guy who the Twins have twice burned and then were burned by him in his last appearance against them. Considering the embarrassment that's going to happen north of the border, the Twins better win today to save face.

Photos: (1) AP/Mark Duncan; (2) AP/Kevin Rivoli

Saturday, September 5, 2009


The Twins follow up their most deflating loss of the season with perhaps their worst overall effort, losing pathetically to the Cleveland Indians, 5-2. The Twins were just plain sloppy in all aspects of the game on Friday, committing four errors in the field, receiving a mediocre-at-best start from the mediocre-at-best Carl Pavano, and again failing to hit anything of notable authority against Tribe starter Jeremy Sowers. Orlando Cabrera was quoted as saying that he thought the offense needed to pounce on Sowers, what with his 5+ ERA coming into the game; fortunately for Cabrera he didn't have to be on the team in the past, when they pretty much hit with their hands tied against Sowers. Scattering six hits against Sowers and that not-so-vaunted Cleveland bullpen is simply not going to be enough for you any day of the week, especially not one in which your defense doesn't show up and your pitchers don't make good pitches in key spots. Brendan Harris led the way with two errors at third base, all but solidifying his spot on the bench for Saturday's matinee in favor of the Fantastic Nick Punto. I, for one, really look forward to that. In fact, I'm steeped in anticipation.

The Twins certainly had chances at the plate to cut the deficit that Pavano put them in, notably in the fifth and sixth innings against Sowers. Alexi Casilla, back under the Mendoza line where he belongs, grounded into a rally-killing double play with runners on first and second in the fifth inning, and Michael Cuddyer continued his two-out, runners-in-scoring-position non-brilliance in the sixth inning, when he flew out measly to the outfield with two men on base and the Twins down by a run. Cuddyer's now batting .172 on the season in those situations, and if you expand those numbers, it becomes clear that this guy does all of his damage in low-pressure situations. With no one on base, Cuddyer does just fine -- .305 average, 18 home runs, .982 OPS. But he's a totally different player with guys on base, hitting a mere .236 with a .704 OPS. And you have to factor in the reality that Cuddyer really comes to play when the rout is on. He's best known for his eighth-inning three-run home runs that extend the Twins' lead to 13-3. Really crucial hits, you know. Back to Friday, the threats that the Twins mounted in those two innings was enough to prompt Eric Wedge to go to his bullpen, but the likes of Tony Sipp and Jose Veras and Kerry Wood would breeze through the Twins in the late innings, not allowing a hit for the final three innings.

Scott Baker goes for the Twins today against Justin Masterson. The last time Baker faced the Indians he shut them out on two hits, by far the best start by any Twin this season. Has anyone noticed that Baker's gone 10-1 since June started? That has certainly flown under the radar for me, and he'll have to continue that hot streak if the Twins want to stay in second place.

Photos: (1) AP/Mark Duncan; (2)

Thursday, September 3, 2009


Probably the worst lost of the season. One of those games where you look back on your season after it's over and you put a big red circle around this game. The White Sox were reeling. They had lost five straight and had just traded two of their veterans, apparently waving a white flag on their season. Joe Nathan had two outs, nobody on base, and an 0-2 count on Gordon Beckham, with the Twins leading 2-0. Beckham worked the count full, plastered a fastball into the left field seats, and Paul Konerko would do just about the same exact thing in the very next at-bat to tie the game. Two walks later would prompt The Brain to inexplicably take Nathan out of the game in favor of Matt Guerrier. Such a dick-head move by Ron Gardenhire, yet so predictable. What's better, Guerrier sucks so much that he grooves an 0-2 curveball down the heart of the plate to Alexei Ramirez, who pasted it to left to drive home the game winning run. A wild pitch during the next at-bat would complete the Matt Guerrier Special, which is extra special in this case because Guerrier's stats are completely clean according to the boxscore. That's what makes Gardenhire's move that much more of a prick move -- you let Matt Guerrier allow runs that go on Joe Nathan's ERA while Guerrier gets off scot-free. And Joe Nathan's your best pitcher -- I don't care if he walked three batters in a row, you don't replace your best reliever for Matt Guerrier with guys on base. Joe Nathan has earned the right to get out of his own mess. But, since Ron Gardenhire (rightly) let Joe Nathan pitch 53 pitches in Kansas City like three weeks ago, he's been extra cautious with his closer, and that in turn has led to this game slipping through his fingers.

Mike Redmond has to be commended for putting his two cents into losing the game for the Twins. On Ramirez's game-winner, Denard Span's throw to home beat pinch-runner DeWayne Wise by ten feet, but the old, craggly Redmond couldn't field the one-hopper, or much less block the plate, and allowed Wise to score. Then on Guerrier's wild pitch, Redmond put forth a quasi-effort, the sort of effort that screams "well I'm damn near forty and these knees are barkin' dogs right about now, but I still get the respect of the manager and the fans, so they won't really mind because Guerrier sucks anyways." Mike Redmond looks old on the field and more importantly he plays old. The talent that he has in terms of athleticism left him a few years ago, and the only value he has anymore is that of a mentor. Sadly, you don't pay mentors millions of dollars a year, or at least you shouldn't (try telling that to a team that pays Nick Punto $4 million dollars more than what he's worth). Jose Morales' pinch hit single in the bottom of the ninth raised his average to a mere .362, but hey -- don't think for a second that he's better than Mike Redmond. No sirree Bob.

A deflating loss like this not only drops them a critical game in the standings, but it takes the momentum that they had built over the past two weeks and throws that out the window. Now they embark on a seven-game road trip against Cleveland and Toronto, two second-division ballclubs, but that surely doesn't mean it's going to be easy for the Twins. Case in point Friday's starter for Cleveland, southpaw Jeremy Sowers, who throughout his career has posted some ugly numbers (5.07 career ERA) but has somehow been able to be very stingy against the Twins (3.35 ERA in five starts, including a complete-game shutout). And don't get me started on the struggles the Twins have had against the Blue Jays -- they've amazingly lost twelve of their last thirteen games against Toronto, and haven't won north of the border since April 2006. Most importantly, the 2009 Twins team has continued to be an enigma, and their two-week stretch of near-brilliance may just as easily be backed up by two weeks of gut-wrenching futility.

Photos: AP/Ann Heisenfelt

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Jeff Manship does a yeoman's job as a spot starter, tossing five innings of one-run ball to keep his team in the game, and Jose Morales, he of the "I shoulda been playing in the majors all year long but the team likes its no-talent character guy bring-your-lunch-in-a-lunchpail Mike Redmond more," delivers the game-winning hit in the bottom of the ninth inning to give his team the victory. Tom Kelly was quoted as saying that Jose Morales is "the most professional hitter" the Twins have in Triple-A, which is saying something whe you see how many non-professional hitters the Twins have on their major league roster (Redmond, Nick Punto, Alexi Casilla). Morales' hit bailed out Matty Guerrier, who delivered another Matt Guerrier Special in the top of the eighth inning when he gave up the game-tying home run to the first batter he faced, Gordon Beckham. Jon Rauch got his second victory in two appearances since becoming a Twin, quickly making a name for himself as the vulture of the bullpen.

Morales' hit also bailed out Carlos Gomez, whose ninth-inning at-bat with the game on the line is such an epitome of the terrible hitter that Gomez is that it will certainly not go unnoticed. After Jason Kubel singled off Sox reliever Matt Thornton to start the inning, Brendan Harris singled pinch-runner Nick Punto over to third base with one out. That's the situation: first and third, one out. A sacrifice fly would win the game. In all likelihood a ground ball up the middle might end the game, because Gomez's speed is such that a double-play would be tough to turn. In short, Gomez has plenty of ways in which he can make an out and the game would be over. But, as I've mentioned in my Doghouse post on Gomez, he is probably the last player on the team that I'd want at the plate in this kind of situation. Everyone in the building knows that Gomez is going to strike out; it's not even a question at this point. You might as well name a church after Gomez if he actually produces the run because that's damn near a miracle in my book. Sure as shit, Gomez strikes out, and everyone gets to forget about that folly because Morales came through in the next at-bat, pinch-hitting for Alexi Casilla. My question is this, Ron Gardenhire: why not pinch-hit Morales for Gomez?

The Twins go for the sweep this afternoon with Brian Douchebag on the mound facing Mark Buehrle. The Tigers beat the hapless Indians on Tuesday, so the Twins remain three and a half games behind Detroit for first place. Every game from here on out is crucial, and especially when you're facing a team that's down and out like the White Sox, you need to win these games.
AP: (1) AP/Ann Heisenfelt; (2) Getty Images/Jonathan Daniel