Thursday, April 15, 2010


The first weather-affected game goes against the Twins, as the Red Sox get the clutch hits and take the middle game of the three-game series. The Twins offense was dreadfully pathetic, as they couldn't come up with the big hit all game long. The key at-bat in the game came in the seventh inning, when the Twins loaded the bases with two outs. Boston was up a run at 3-2 and brought in Hideki Okajima to face Justin Morneau. Morneau, predictably, popped up -- just about as pitiful of an at-bat as you could come up with. Jesse Crain then returned to his old self in the top of the eighth by surrendering three insurance runs to effectively put the nail in the coffin. Those three runs were driven in by none other than Jeremy Hermida, no doubt the weak link in the Boston lineup. What Crain's history will tell you is that when he struggles, all that he can figure out to throw is a straight fastball, and that's when bad hitters like Hermida can feast on Crain. Many people were expecting big things from Crain this year, but I'm pretty skeptical. The only big thing I see from Crain in 2010 is his ERA (hey-o!). Worth mentioning as well is Michael Cuddyer's fly-out to end the game. He represented the tying run and of course failed to deliver. His home run in the eighth was classic Cuddyer -- a meaningless homer that pads the stats and looks good on his baseball card. If he would ever hit a homer that would actually mean something...

Kevin Slowey pitched poorly, barely getting through five innings and obviously struggling to pitch through the weather. As mentioned before, Crain's terrible outing put a stain on the bullpen's overall impressive start to the season, and they'll be getting some help in the form of Ron Mahay, who was called up from extended spring training. Alex Burnett drank his cup of coffee and he's back to Rochester and will likely sink into Twins oblivion. The Mahay call-up has everything to do with Jose Mijares, who's looked as good as a pregnant woman on roller skates so far this year. As Hank eluded to yesterday, to see Ron Gardenhire put Brian Douchebag late in the game for multiple innings is a plan waiting to backfire. Mahay's endurance is questionable, however -- he's always been a lefty to face a batter or two; certainly not full innings. In a sense, the Twins got an emergency pinch-hitter, too. Some may be surprised to hear that Mahay first broke into the big leagues as an outfielder for the Red Sox. His numbers translate to a Nick Punto-esque kind of career at the plate, so it's a great thing that he turned out to be left-handed, because he's made quite a career for himself out of pitching exclusively to left-handed batters.

Just as a quick sidenote, we are officially nine games into the season (that's 153 to go!) and Dick Bremer is already in pennant chase mode. In the middle of Wednesday's game, he was giving all-too-frequent-for-the-middle-of-April updates on the Kansas City-Detroit game, saying that it'd be a "good thing" if the Royals were able to beat the Tigers. Dude, it's APRIL. Last season is over -- there is no need to keep us apprised of the Tigers. For all we know, the Royals might be the team to catch this season -- it wouldn't be good for the Twins if KC won then, would it? Just do me a favor Dick: give it fifty games at least before you start blowing shit out of proportion. 50 games. That's all I ask.
Photos: AP/Andy King

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Hello folks, Hank Rickenbacher checking in. Well, my son Henry gave me and Betsy tickets to Opening Day as a birthday present, so yours truly was at the Target Field for yesterday's festivities. Before we get to the game, I thought you folks would like a "Rickenbacker Review" of the Target Field.Now let me just say, I don't know why the Twins ever left Met Stadium for a football stadium named after a hippie. What was wrong with the Met? And I remember all the hype about the Metrodome before that place opened, and look how that turned out. So when I heard all the hubbub about the Target Field after two practices, I thought, let's not put the horse before the apple cart here.

Well, I don't want to be a drain on the old parade here, but let's just say the Target Field isn't perfect. I mean, it's a nice looking park and all, and for all the tax money they spent on the place it better be. But after the drive Betsy and I were hungry enough to eat a pony, so we got in line at one of the concessions. Of course all the kids in front of us had to use their debit cards and the debit card machine wasn't working, so we waited thirty minutes just to order. What happened to good old fashioned green backs? Anyway I ordered a hot dog and they said they didn't have any hot dogs at that stand. You could've rolled me over with a feather. A baseball game, and I couldn't get a hot dog. Betsy, bless her heart, ordered us cheeseburgers, but they tried to charge us nineteen dollars for the two of them. Like heck I was paying that for two cheeseburgers, so we just left and found our seats.

Of course we had to get the seats in front of the four loudmouth Boston kids who watched about three pitches of the game total and babbled on and on with those mobile phones instead. Betsy said if I let them get to me, they'd win. Well I'm no loser, but let me just say I don't want to talk about those Boston kids anymore. Except that those punks could have used about five bars of Lifeway to clean out those mouths, good Lord, and I let 'em know it too.

Well after all that there was still a game to be played, and that’s why I made the trip down for my first game since 1981, because I have high hopes about this team. And I’ll say it was a good game for this Twins fan. Pavano pitched 6 strong innings, outdueling the Lester kid from Boston. I for one was not impressed with this “Lesser” fellow. He started his outing with a walk, and after hits by Hudson, Cuddyer, and Kubel he was down 2-0. Later, Punto turned his monthly hit into a run, and a lucky hop off the bag on a patented Mauer grounder led to another run. In the 7th Kubel hit the first moon ball in the Target Field and even landed one section from me and Betsy.

The Twinkies showed some swagger Monday which was refreshing since they usually play frightened against the Big Boys. They smacked the ball around, came inside with some pitches (though with the feminine way that Youklis kid holds the bat, I’d throw at him too), and generally acted like they were the better team. Gardenhire tested the limits of cockiness when he trotted out Brad Duensing for the 7th and then to start the 8th too! If that kid gets you three 7th inning outs against the Red Sox, you thank your lucky stripes and have a good chuckle about it later. You don’t tempt fate by sending him out there again! Thankfully the joke ended with a screaming double from one of the Beantowners, and from there it was Guerrier and Rausch to close things out.

All and all, a decent visit to the new park. I suppose I would go back, but I’ll plan on having Betsy pack some ground ham sandwiches for us, because nineteen dollars for two cheeseburgers is criminal. The Twins are back at it Wednesday at noon, Slowey vs. Lackey. Hammering Hank, signing off.
Photos: (1) & (2) - AP/Ann Heisenfelt; (3) AP/Paul Battaglia

Monday, April 12, 2010


The Twins find a way to lose on Sunday, barring them the chance of entering their new ballpark on a six-game winning streak. Nick Blackburn was in continuous "lets-give-up-the-lead" mode all day long, as he surrendered three home runs to the White Sox. Paul Konerko's two-run shot in the first was at least hit by a guy who you expect to go deep. Blackburn giving up homers to the likes of Mark Kotsay and Gordon Beckham, however, are not. If you want to win, you've got to get guys like Mark Kotsay out every time at bat, and certainly you don't give up home runs against them. But Sunday was not without its share of goats. There's Ron Gardenhire for putting Nick Punto in the starting lineup. Punto's double-play grounder early in the ballgame was crucial, as the Twins were threatening to make it a short day for Mark Buehrle. So predictable was Punto's failure at the plate that it made Brendan Harris' walk in the previous at-bat look genius. But Ron Gardenhire is a goat of every Twins loss; what makes the Twins unique is how often the spread around the love, so to speak, in terms of losing ballgames.

Scott Ullger has to be one of the stupidest men working in the major leagues. That's saying something, because not many members of the Twins management are going to get into Mensa anytime soon. But the game ended so pathetically that Scott Ullger must be chided for his ultimate stupidity in the ninth inning. With J. J. Hardy at first base and two outs, pinch-hitter Jim Thome doubled off the wall in left field. Hardy of course was off with the crack of the bat, but had not quite made it to third base when the ball was relayed to the infield. What does Ullger do? He sends Hardy, and he's thrown out by forty-five feet. I realize that you want to make things happen, Ullger, but my God -- that was absolutely pathetic! It's true that Nick Punto was the on-deck hitter, likely to be replaced by a pinch hitter (though with Ron Gardenhire, you might very well see Punto hitting for himself in that theoretical situation -- or he'd send up Alexi Casilla). Maybe that was what motivated Ullger to make such a stupid decision. And in the post-game interview, it was suggested that perhaps Hardy made the decision to go on his own. Either way, the third-base coach needs to do his job there. Hardy doesn't have eyes in the back of his head, and Ullger has a clear view of the play. Who knows what would have happened if Hardy would have rightfully stayed at third, but at least don't make it look that pathetic.

Now the Twins return home for the first time, and for the first time since 1981, the Twins will be playing outdoors in their home whites. Tomorrow, readers will be treated with co-blogger Hank Rickenbacker, who will have a report from the game. It's the first game that Hank's attended since the old Met, and he'll be able to give us a full report on Target Field as well as the Red Sox-Twins game. Looking forward to it Hank!

Sunday, April 11, 2010


The winning ways continue in Chicago, as Jason Kubel bails out the rest of the lineup by smashing a two-run home run for the lone Twins scores of the game, and Scott Baker pitches well enough to pick up his first victory of the season. For the majority of seven innings, the Twins were handcuffed by White Sox retread fifth-starter Freddy Garcia, who has been reduced from the sometimes-dominant pitcher he once was for the Mariners and Chisox to a slop-throwing Quadruple-A pitcher who probably would be a better fit with his neighborhood beer-league softball team. Instead, the Twins looked baffled by Garcia, which is truly pitiful, but not as pitiful as the White Sox lineup, which appears to have lost nearly all of its potency that it had for years. But Kubel did the job, and the bullpen preserved the lead, including Jon Rauch, who picked up his fourth save of the season with relative ease.

Ron Gardenhire cannot escape the long arm of the MTRC, however, for his mismanagement in the top of the eighth inning. The Twins had the bases loaded and nobody out and Michael Cuddyer at the plate. Ozzie Guillen brought in reliever Scott Linebrink to pitch to Cuddyer, who predictably didn't get the job done. Cuddyer's one of the most un-clutch hitters around, and whenever there are runners in scoring position, Cuddyer seemingly always either pops up or strikes out. Cuddyer's patheticness cannot be attributed to Gardenhire. But the next at-bat absolutely must. Gardenhire let Alexi Casilla hit. Casilla, who had entered the game for basepaths-clogging Jim Thome an inning before, remained in the game as the DH and hit for himself. WHY? We're not quite sure why any person -- it doesn't even care how much they know about the game of baseball -- would let a guy like Alexi Casilla hit in that situation. What Gardenhire would probably tell you is that they didn't have any left-handed hitting options to face Linebrink, so Casilla was the best matchup for the situation. This, of course, is a self-defeating prophecy, as Casilla is as much a left-handed batter to be taken seriously as I am the star of the next Real World. You might as well put a lamp shade in the batter's box when Casilla's turn in the order is up. Of course, Casilla struck out, and the Twins failed to score after loading the bases with no outs. In a different game, when you're actually facing a quality opponent, that kind of managerial blunder costs you games. And when you're in a tight division that has necessitated the playing of a 163rd game the last two seasons, one game makes the difference. Because Gardy got off the hook with this move, expect it to happen again -- and expect it to backfire big time.

Like most successful seasons, the Twins are winning in spite of Ron Gardenhire's best efforts to lose the game. We'll see if the Twins can complete the sweep on Sunday, with Nick Blackburn facing Twins nemesis Mark Buehrle.
Photos: (1) AP/Paul Beaty; (2) AP/Jim Mone

Saturday, April 10, 2010

APRIL 9, 2010 -- MINNESOTA 4, CHICAGO 3 (11 innings)

The Twins continue their winning ways on their season-opening road trip, pulling out an extra-inning victory from the hands of the White Sox, who squandered plenty of chances to win the game. J. J. Hardy, suddenly the Twins' #3 hitter, won the game with a two-out single in the eleventh, prompting many fans to scratch their heads and try to remember the last time a Twins shortstop had hit third for this team. Is never the right answer? Certainly the last few years have featured offensive black holes at short stop, but it's almost surprising that Ron Gardenhire didn't put Nick Punto in the #3 hole for at least one game. The way Gardy'd justify it would be worth it -- to say that he had good numbers against a certain pitcher and that he's an "igniter" anyways. He came close enough last year when he had the balls to put Punto in the #2 hole "protecting" Joe Mauer. But, with Hardy, the Twins actually have a major-league ballplayer in the starting lineup. Add Orlando Hudson to the mix, who, although he's having a rough start to the season at the plate, is another bona fide professional, and you get to see how much an improvement the 2010 team is over last year's sad-sack loser version which featured thoroughbred Double-A talent in Carlos Gomez, Alexi Casilla, Matt Tolbert, Nick Punto, and others as key parts in the everyday lineup. The 4-1 start is an early indication that this team is leagues better than last years, and it has absolutely nothing to do with Ron Gardenhire, folks. It's not like Ron Gardenhire has the ability to coax quality at-bats out of the newcomers. Here's a guy who took good players (see Ortiz, David) and nearly sucked the life out of them. No, the thanks should be in order to Bill Smith, who's suddenly earning his keep after sleepwalking through the first few years on the job.

Scott Baker will make his second start on the road trip, facing Chisox retread Freddy Garcia. Joe Mauer will be back in the lineup Saturday after sitting in lieu of Drew Butera, who only struck out in all three of his at-bats on Friday night. Like father, like son -- Drew's dad Sal was an offensively-challenged backup catcher in his own right. With Butera and Casilla taking up roster spots, Gardenhire has at least set his quota at two minor-league players on the 25-man major league roster (never minding pitcher Alex Burnett, who's serving as an injury replacement for Clay Condrey). Like himself, Ron Gardenhire has a fond spot in his heart for undeserving players in the big leagues. The big difference, however, is that when Gardenhire played himself, he played on a terrible New York Mets team that had nothing to play for anyway (interestingly, once the Mets started to get good in the mid-80s, Gardenhire was waved bye-bye). Nowadays, Gardy helms a competitive team that can't afford to lose games due to minor-league talent clogging up the roster. It was sure cute, though, to see those three pathetic at-bats from Drew Butera on Friday. Cute.

Photos: (1) AP/ Nam Y. Huh; (2) AP/Steven Senne

Friday, April 9, 2010


The Twins open a can of whoop-ass on the perenially-competitive Angels, taking three of four in the season-opening series. The surprising thing about the series was not that the Twins hit the cover off the ball for the majority of the four games, nor was it the somewhat-surprising fact that the starting pitching fared pretty well. What surprised me the most was how lackluster and imminently beatable the Angels looked. Their pitching is going to win them plenty of games, but their lineup has some major holes. Who knew losing Chone Figgins would hurt the ballclub this much? Torii Hunter anchors the lineup, and we all know too well what Hunter could do to a promising rally when he consistently failed in the clutch in a Twins uniform. Either way, the Twins looked impressive in this series on most sides of the diamond.

What was frustrating to see was the Twins' first inning performance against Angels starter Joel Pineiro. After Joe Mauer doubled Orlando Hudson to third base with one out in the first, Pineiro got Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer to strike out to end the threat. The Cuddyer at-bat is a given, as Cuddyer rarely delivers big hits in the clutch, but the Morneau strikeout is somewhat troubling. Usually, when you're facing premier teams such as the Angels, you need to drive in guys on third base with less than two outs in order to have a chance to win the game. You NEED to, no questions asked. What exacerbates the fact that the Twins failed at this rudimentary part of the game is the fact that one of their best players did it. Sure, if Nick Punto or Alexi Casilla or a pitcher gives three half-assed waves of the bat at terrible pitches in the same situation, we at least wouldn't be surprised. With a former MVP, however -- your clean-up hitter, mind you -- those situations MUST be productive. It's unacceptable for Justin Morneau to fail to get the run home there, and though the rest of the lineup bailed out Morneau, it's not going to be everyday that guys like Brendan Harris and Seldom Young hit home runs to provide the bulk of the scoring.

Jim Thome also homered for the Twins, and although that's a sight that Twins fans should be used to (the guy's hit fifty homers against the Twins, for crissakes), don't think that this will be a regular occurance when he plays for the Twins. Here's my bold prediction of the week: Jim Thome will end up with less than 100 at-bats for the Twins this season. I'm predicting that his line, at the time the Twins finally release Thome in mid-June, will read something like this: 89 at-bats, 19 hits, five home runs, and 33 strikeouts. Thome will be Tony Batista-esque in his short-lived stint with the Twins, and once it becomes apparent that he cannot deliver bloop hits to the opposite field (the hitting approach so prized by Ron Gardenhire and Joe Vavra), the team will jettison him in favor of the more versatile player in Matt Tolbert. Here's hoping I'm wrong, that Thome will hit so well that they bench Seldom Young and he ends up hitting 30 home runs -- sorry, but I see the former scenario much more likely.

Now the Twins are off to the South Side to face the White Sox. Tonight will be interesting, as Francisco Liriano takes the hill for the Twins. Ron Gardenhire would be wise to have a short leash on Liriano, not only in this game but also in terms of his status as a starting pitcher. After struggling so mightily with elementary things like command and mound presence, Liriano's career very much hangs in the ballots in the early season here. He opposes Chisox southpaw John Danks.
Photos: (1,2) AP/Francis Specker; (3) AP/Nam Y. Huh

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Quick write-up today, as I'm entering headlong into the start of bee season. Justin Morneau and J. J. Hardy both hit home runs for the second consecutive game, and Carl Pavano's solid start clinches at least a split in the season-opening series in Anaheim. This is surely a good thing, as the Angels are a difficult draw to open the season, and playing in Anaheim has not been fun for the Twins the last few years. As long as they get pitching, the Twins are going to be in a lot of games this season. The what-ifs in the staff -- Blackburn, Pavano, and Liriano -- are usually so inconsistent that it's hard to tell from inning to inning what kind of pitcher you're getting. Pavano's next start may be absolutely dreadful, and it may go something like his performance on Wednesday. Either way, the Twins will take it, and rest easy in the fact that they won't begin the season behind the eight-ball.

Jon Rauch picked up his second straight save, surrendering a meaningless run in the ninth inning and retaining the victory for the Twins. Coming into a three-run game with three outs to get -- and getting credited with what is perceived to be a big-time! The joys of being a major-league closer. Seriously, if you blow a three-run lead with one inning to play, you don't deserve to be in the big leagues, much less a "closer." I've said before that this is one rule change that I'd impose if I were commissioner for a day. I'd narrow the save margin to a two-run lead, because frankly that's not that great an accomplishment to earn a save after holding a three-run lead. This is why Rauch will do a stupendous job in the closer's role -- anyone can, really. With the Twins slated to reach 90 wins, Jose Mijares could rack up 30 saves easily. Hell, Brian Douchebag could. Jeff Manship could do it from Triple-A Rochester. Keep piling them up, Jonny!
Photos: (1) AP/Andy King; (2) AP/Steven Senne

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


The Twins ride the power of three home runs and, after a shaky start, Nick Blackburn settled down and pitched into the seventh inning, notching the first victory of the season for the Twins. Three first-inning runs proved to be the difference in the ballgame, as Joe Mauer's two-run home run provided the spark the Twins needed, and Justin Morneau and J. J. Hardy also hit their first home runs of the season. With Ron Gardenhire forced to leave the ballgame because of "flu-like symptoms," one of the drones had to fill in, in this case Scott Ullger, who proceeded to make the same ticky-tacky managerial moves that has come to be expected from The Brain. A computer could very well manage this ballclub, as Gardenhire has become merely mechanical in his in-game management.

Brian Douchebag got a key out in the seventh, making fans across the upper Midwest wonder why Brian Douchebag is asked to get key outs in the seventh inning. Matt Guerrier pitched a clean eighth which prompted Dick Bremer to personally induct Guerrier into the Hall of Fame, and Jon Rauch mowed down the Angels in the ninth, the first of many saves Rauch will pick up that Joe Nathan couldn't have done any better. As I've said before, the closer's job is perhaps the most overrated role in all of professional sports, and actually (don't jump out of your chair or anything) the Twins might be better off without Nathan in the ninth, for the simple reason that Ron Gardenhire classically underused Nathan. Maybe Gardy will be more apt to go to Rauch in the eighth inning, something that was anathema when Nathan was healthy. Gardenhire constantly babied Nathan and, as a result, lost more games in the eighth inning because he refused to put his best pitcher in the game. If anything, Rauch is a more durable reliever, and he could go for a two-inning save with relative ease. Of course, that won't happen with Ron Gardenhire managing this group or any group for that matter. When you struggled to play baseball successfully, as Gardenhire's brief playing career indicates, your talent appraising skills aren't the best, and real talent is something to be feared. How else do you explain the consistent benefit of the doubt given to slugs like Nick Punto and Matt Guerrier? Anyways, Rauch is guaranteed to get 30 saves. With any luck and a good offense that will provide Rauch many save opportunities, he could get 60 saves. That's why the closer's position is so overrated. Frankie Rodriguez had a terrible season with the Mets last year after setting the record for saves in 2008 -- a worse team and a lack of luck cut Rodriguez's saves in half in one season's time.

Carl Pavano toes the rubber tonight for the Twins, and like Blackburn, Pavano's a guy to keep your eye on. His stuff is eminently hittable, and he wasn't all that good last season with the Twins (don't believe what Dick Bremer will tell you -- Pavano was average at best after joining the ballclub). In an interesting irony, Pavano is currently on track to pitch the home opener, which means that he would have started the final game in Metrodome history and the first game in Target Field history. If that happens, that'd be a nice factoid for uncles to spring on unsuspecting nephews for Christmas gatherings aplenty in the future.
Photos: (1) AP/Jae C. Hong; (2) AP/Ann Heisenfelt

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


With a group of newly acquired players and a brand-spanking new set of road uniforms, the 2010 season got of to an inauspicious start, as the Twins channeled their April-through-mid-September performance of last season in kicking off this year's campaign with a disappointing 6-3 loss to the Angels. I will say that the opener did not feel like a season opener one bit -- it felt as if it were a mid-season game, and for that I will give both teams credit for not looking rusty. It also felt like a mid-season game for the Twins in the respect that their patheticness in not producing clutch base-hits appeared to be in mid-season form. The Twins didn't get a clutch hit in the late innings from their big stars, and the team went a true-to-form 1 for 6 with runners in scoring position. In probably the biggest at-bat of the game, Justin Morneau hit a scorching line-drive to first base with two outs and the bases jacked in the seventh, one inning after Seldom Young ended the sixth with a bases-loaded flyout. Also in mid-season form: the bullpen surrendering key insurance runs late in the ballgame to stretch a one-run deficit to a three-run deficit. Jose Mijares gave up two solo home runs in the eighth that pretty much sealed the deal for the Angels. Mijares is quickly becoming a left-handed version of Matty Guerrier and Monday's opener may be a harbinger of things to come in 2010.

Scott Baker pitched poorly in the opener, staying consistent in that he neared the 100 pitch count in the fifth inning before getting lifted. Falling behind hitters all game long, Baker put the Twins in an early hole after surrendering two runs in the first inning. Baker is like Johan Santana in the respect that it will take Baker a month or two before getting into his groove. Santana classically struggled in April before getting into lock-down mode once the second half of the season started. Now, Baker's second-half success isn't nearly the same as Santana's post-All Star Game domination of the league, but historically Baker's been much better in the latter half of the season. With the Twins having a tough early schedule, having a struggling Baker may sink the Twins into a deep hole in April. Surely his approach of "let's get behind every hitter I face and lack poise and confidence at every step of the way" is a loser's mentality, and for the Twins to go to Baker on Opening Day, telling the league he's the best we have -- that's a "gulp" moment if I've ever seen one.

Now it's Nick Blackburn's turn in the rotation, and out of all of the pitchers on the starting staff, I have concerns that Blackburn's sinker is going to flatten out this season and hitters will start to drill his pitches with consistent authority. This is a guy who gives up a ton of hits but seems to avoid big innings because he doesn't walk many batters. That control might come back to harm him, as he can't blow away anybody with pure stuff, and hitters may just sit back and wait for a hittable pitch to drive out of the ballpark. We'll get a good indication of how Blackburn's going to be tonight as he faces a patient team in the Angels. They certainly aren't free swingers, and they're the type of team that Blackburn could easily get shelled by. Joe Saunders goes for the Angels.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Opening Day Roster Announced

Ron Gardenhire made a couple of noteworthy announcements over the past few days regarding the 2010 roster. First, he announced that Nick Punto will be his regular third baseman, ending speculation that Brendan Harris would platoon with Punto at the hot corner. This, of course, is a potentially disastrous move that could end up costing the Twins valuable runs and, hence, victories down the road. One failproof tenet that people should learn here at the MTRC is that Nick Punto will do everything in his power to lose baseball games for the Twins. Punto defenders are usually quick to point out his defensive prowess, but Punto's glove can betray him just as easily as his bat always does. Of course, Brendan Harris is far from a viable upgrade at third, but in comparison to his competition, Harris suddenly looks like Brooks Robinson next to Punto. Alas, Harris will ride the pine for the time being. Most clubs (well-managed ones, at least) would confront the situation by at the very least giving one player the job on a earn-your-keep basis; if you're not producing, you're going to be replaced. Yet, Ron Gardenhire has been through a five-year trial period with Punto and has loved what he has seen (i.e., .210 production at the plate and an average glove). So even if Punto goes out there and hits a buck-forty with ten errors through April, he's likely to keep his job until he gets injured or retires or dies. In many ways, he's like a Supreme Court justice -- job security is a given for a guy like Punto on a Ron Gardenhire-run team.

Secondly, Gardenhire has given the closer's job to Jon Rauch instead of a closer-by-committee approach that he hinted at last week. As a closer, Rauch reeks of a Ron Davis type, one that blows saves in epic fashion. Like Davis was, Rauch is a more than serviceable bullpen asset in a set-up role; replace Davis' Coke-bottle eyeglasses with Rauch's one-of-a-kind neck tattoo, and the similarities continue. At least Rauch isn't Matt Guerrier, but the chances that Ron Gardenhire would prefer losing games in the ninth inning with Guerrier were slim anyways; Gardenhire has proven that Guerrier is a much better pitcher to plug in there when Gardy is in the mood for blowing eighth-inning leads. Consistency in stupidity is a motto that Ron Gardenhire has always employed, and with the roster already undergoing a major change (Nathan's injury), Gardy was certainly hesistant to continue to shake up an already crappy bullpen. In a mild surprise, Pat Neshek made the club out of spring training, but his effectiveness will be questionable considering he's coming off a lengthy rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery and his mechanics leave something to be desired in the first place. Guys like Jose Mijares and Clay Condrey and Brian Douchebag will be "relied" upon to get late-inning outs, too. In short, the bullpen will again be a headache in 2010, and their troubles are exacerbated with the glaring absence of the lone consistent arm, Joe Nathan.

Gardenhire's love-fest with Alexi Casilla will continue for at least the beginning of this season. This move to have Casilla occupy the final roster spot is supremely confounding, but the other options -- Matt Tolbert, Jacque Jones, et al. -- barely sound better. The thing that is so frustrating is that Casilla has done absolutely nothing to deserve winning the spot. He was atrocious in all three of his call-ups last season, played pathetically in winter ball and his average was hovering in the .150 range during spring training. Add to the fact that Drew Butera won the job as Joe Mauer's backup catcher -- not Jose Morales, not Wilson Ramos, who perhaps deserved the job based on spring training performance -- and Gardenhire's final roster spots are a confusing mess. But hey, it's not like we're surprised at this sort of tomfoolery. Leave it up to Ron Gardenhire to turn simple talent appraisal into an unfunny joke.
Look for complete 2010 predictions Sunday.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

MTRC Relaunch...We're Back in Business, People.

After a lengthy hiatus, I'm proud to announce that the Minnesota Twins Re-Education Center is going to be a go for the 2010 season! Like many nowadays, the MTRC was not immune to the tough economic times besetting the country currently, but thankfully a few of my most loyal supporters came through in a big way to provide the funding to maintain this site. So, to Donna, Terry, Hank, and Betsy, a big THANK YOU is graciously extended. As many of you know, the apiary business has not turned out to be an adequate source of part-time cash, and even with my Roth IRA not totally tanking, I needed to tend to the more important things over the winter; hence, the MTRC essentially shut down for a few months. But those four wonderful folks mentioned above wanted to see the MTRC return for this season and paid for that privilege. Our mission statement for 2010: Bigger and better this year. Hank Rickenbacher, who many of you voiced positive responses following his guest gig at the end of last year, has agreed to step into an elevated role for this season. You'll still be mostly hearing from me, but Hank will be featured here on something like a weekly/bi-weekly basis. I, for one, am excited to welcome Hank to the full-time staff here. Like hell I'd ask Mr. Rogers to be my neighbor -- I'm blessed to have Hank and his lovely wife Betsy (who makes the meanest oatmeal-raisin cookies, by the way) live so close by.

Now to get to the stuff you're hear to read about...

A secondary reason that I was resistant to relaunching the blog for the 2010 season was that I thought the Twins weren't going to be as underachieving (and, hence, having the potential for a hilariously pessimistic blog) as last season. They made some good moves in the offseason -- great moves if you count who won't be on the 2010 roster ([cough] Carlos Gomez [cough]). The middle of the field is greatly strengthened for 2010 -- J.J. Hardy provides a much-needed offensive spark at shortstop, and Orlando Hudson was almost too shrewd a move for the front-office to make; you'd think they'd prefer having Matt Tolbert sucking up scoring opportunities in the 2 hole like it's nobody's business. Add Denard Span playing center field full time (like he should have been for the past two seasons) and a locked-up Joe Mauer -- that's a potent combination down the middle. The Twins' other "significant" moves over the offseason were pretty humdrum -- the Jim Thome signing still confuses me, as I don't see him getting all that many at-bats, but at least he'll be a home run threat off the bench, and Clay Condrey might as well be a Matt Guerrier in disguise. At least Condrey's presence will give Ron Gardenhire one more serviceable option to blow leads in the seventh and eighth innings.

That's a good segue to the biggest news for the Twins since they opened spring training in Fort Myers, the Joe Nathan situation. Nathan's done for the 2010 season, about to undergo Tommy John surgery, seemingly dealing a devastating blow for the Twins in the bullpen. Sure, Nathan's a great closer -- right up there with Mariano Rivera in my book in terms of the best closers in the game. But we're talking about a closer here for crissakes -- someone who pitches one inning a game maybe three times a week. As lights out as Nathan can be, let me say it here -- he is replaceable. For any other team in the league and any other manager, Nathan's absence can be overcome through a little roster tinkering and a little inspiration and coddling by the coaching staff. But we're talking about the Tweedledee-Tweedledum regime of Ron Gardenhire and Rick Anderson here. Here's a pair of clowns who didn't know how to manage a pitching staff with a healthy Joe Nathan. Now that you take the all-star stopper out of the mix, I'd just as soon suspect Ron Gardenhire is going to dictate his relievers' appearances by drawing names out of a hat.

What the Twins should be doing right about now is exploring outside options. It can be a blessing that Nathan's injury occurred before the season, as it could give them some time to address the issue before the games counted for real. But let's be honest -- Bill Smith already went over budget when he signed Hudson for $3.5 million, and then he signed Mauer for his deserved extension. Do you think Smith is ready to pony up another few million to add a Heath Bell (the best choice) or a Kerry Wood (a distant #2 option)? Doubtful at best. Most likely the Twins will turn to in-house options [gulp] Jon Rauch, Matt Guerrier, and the like. Francisco Liriano's name has been bandied about in regards to the closer's job, and I for one would welcome Liriano in that capacity if they are going to go with an in-house replacement. He probably doesn't have the meddle to handle the stress that comes with the job, but Liriano usually unravels after two or three innings in his starts -- meaning that his first inning or two is usually solid. That being said, he's probably a LaTroy Hawkins in the making, and I doubt that Ron Gardenhire would want to throw Liriano in that position to start the season, even if he was their best candidate (Gardenhire, of course, struggles making talent-based decisions [see Punto, Nick]).

Either way you think about it, the closer's job is definitely replaceable. Even a pitcher with a solid 3.00 ERA is going to give up a run every three innings, and you just hope that that run is surrendered when the team is up by more than one run. And it's not like Joe Nathan was rock solid all the time -- his playoff record is, well, checkered at best (see the 2004 and 2009 playoffs against the Yankees), and his blown saves down the stretch in 2008 were a major reason the team didn't qualify for the postseason that season. A big loss, for sure, but one that can be overcome.

Photos: (1); (2, 4) AP/Steven Senne; (3)