Sunday, June 27, 2010

Pavano's Got that mustache feeling and Mets trip recap

Twins beat the Mets yesterday 6-0, while this is old news, they have already lost 6-0 today, I've been busy recovering from the events to post quickly.

The Twins as a team have been struggling lately but not Carl Pavano. He has been excellent. In his last two starts, he has given up just one run combined and given the Twins 9 innings in each outing. He has beat Roy Halladay and Johan Santana in the process. He has been good most of the year. Pavano has gone 7+ innings and given up 4 runs or less in every start since late April, other than a 4 inning 10 hit 6 earned run start against the Blue Jays. I found some video that might help explain Carl's transformation and posted it below.

Anyway, Carl went all 9 innings, giving up 3 hits, 1 BB and 1 HBP, while striking out 4. Former Twin Johan Santana struggled in the first inning, giving up 4 runs. This was more runs than Carl needed. This was the second Saturday in a row I saw the Twins on the road. Two road games at two nice, new stadiums and most importantly, two wins. Recap in Philly is here.

Unlike the Philly comeback, this game was almost free of drama, although it was fun just the same.
Not that anyone could tell from this pic, but Prince Harry is throwing out the first pitch.

Mets fans also have a thing with mustaches.
The Apple stayed down all day.... wish it would have today.

Saw a lot of Twins fans, including a fan doing Dio horns. We ran into him in the beer line in Philly last week also.

This was a fun game, if not terribly memorable. The stadium was nice and the weather was perfect, but the game was free of drama. The game went by really quick. The drama level was about a 2 where the Philly game was a 10 at the end. It was fun beating Santana and Pavano's mustache ruled the day. 

After the game, we went to Manhattan and had some drinks with John Bonnes, writer of the Twins Geek blog  ,the Voice of Reason, Nick Nelson of Nick's Twins Blog, and Topper Anton of Curve For a Strike. It was fun getting together and meeting everyone post Twins game in NYC. We met Topper in Philadelphia and it was fun to see him for the second week in a row.

Later in the evening, we spent some time with Frankie Rodriguez. Frankie, a former Twin, told us some stories of his time with the team and of coaching his son's team. If you don't remember Frankie, check him out here. He had some good stories about Gardy (he likes him), Knoblauch (well, he seemed to respect him), as well as guys such as Pat Mahomes. He seemed like a very affable, likable guy, and it was cool spending time with him. He told us some about his career and how he is coaching his son now. He's also a friend of Manny Ramirez and explained that Manny donates money and equipment to the program they both played in growing up. My 11 year old step-son soaked in everything that he said.

It was a great day. Even though the Twins lost today and have been struggling lately, the last two Saturdays were amazing Twins experiences, so excuse me if I don't jump off of the bandwagon just yet. Days like these are why I love the game of baseball.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Hard Hittin' New Britain comes to town

Being back in Binghamton, Offtheroad if you will, I was excited to see the New Britain Rock Cats come to town this week. It's fun to see some of the Twins best prospects come to town.

Despite their 19-53 record, New Britain has some of the better prospects in the Twins system. Levelle E. Neal III, one of the Star Tribune's Twins writers posted his top 10 here yesterday. Five of the players are on New Britain's roster.

#3 Kyle Gibson Starting Pitcher: He's 22 and Neal predicts he will be with the Twins by mid next year. I agree with his assessment. I believe Gibson will be with the team mid next season, perhaps sooner if the Twins trade pitching for Cliff Lee. I was looking forward to seeing Gibson pitch, but he was skipped this week. He has been struggling lately, perhaps due to a jump in innings over college. He also missed time last year due to a forearm injury. I might have to travel to see Gibson pitch this year.

#4 Ben Revere Center Field:  He's also 22 and Neal also predicts he will be with the Twins in 2011. He played yesterday after missing some time with injury. He went 1-4 with a strikeout. While he didn't do much in the game, it was great to see him play. I saw his speed trying to beat out ground balls.

#5 Carlos Gutierrez Starter/Reliever: He's 23 and Neal predicts he could be on the MLB club in late 2010. I don't see him with the club this year but maybe next year, probably as a reliever. He started the game Wednesday. He got the win, going 6 innings, giving up 6 hits, walking 2, and striking out 3. He looked very confident on the mound. His sinker was working for him, topping out at 95 MPH and sitting around 91-93. Some of the hits could have been outs with better defense. (Jair Fernandez, a catcher played a few innings at 3rd base when Chris Cates was thrown out of the game) His off speed pitches looked ok but I'm not sure if they are swing and miss pitches right now.

#8 David Bromberg Starting Pitcher: He's 22 and could be with the Twins mid/late next year. I did not see him this trip. I will try to check him out later this year.

#10 Joe Benson Outfield: He's 22 and Neal thinks he'll arrive in 2012. For some reason, he was sent back to Fort Myers this year. I personally think he is a better player than Revere right now. He certainly looks to have more upside. He is almost as fast as Revere but also has power. He went 2-5 with a 2B and a walk on Wednesday and 1-4 with a HR in Thursday's game. He leads New Britain with 9 HRs. The bounce in power is great especially since he is considered more of a speed guy. He already has 13 HRs in 2010 between Fort Myers/New Britain. He's never had more than 5 HRs in a season. If Micheal Cuddyer were traded in the off-season, Benson may be better equipped then Revere to replace some of his offense by next season.

The Rock Cats won Wednesday 10-2. Michael Dolenc had 3 hits including a 2b, Erik Lis had 3 hits, and Jair Fernandez went 2-3, not letting his defensive troubles (key to Binghamton's 2nd run) affect his bat. Chris Parmalee also had 3 hits and hit a very hard foul ball right by us. Dude has scary power, if he can ever put it all together. I also got to see Jenrry Mejia pitch for the Mets. He has been sent to AA from the Mets to transition from reliever to starter. He only went 2.1 innings, giving up 2 hits and 2 walks but his arm was electric. He was hitting 97 consistently. He's only 20, if he can keep the velocity while pitching as a starter, he will be sick.

The Cats lost Thursday 5-1. Mike McCardell pitched pretty well, giving up 2 hits through the first 6 innings. He got in trouble in the 7th. He loaded the bases before Cole DeVries gave up a first pitch HR to Brahiam Maldonado. Brahiam looks a lot like Candy Maldonado and they are both from Puerto Rico, but I cannot find proof of a relation.

Well, that's it. The two games were pretty quiet. There is not a lot to report, but it's always nice to see the Twins prospects play. My stepson got a signed ball from Revere, Bromberg, Benson, Dolenc, Steve Singleton, Danny Lehmann, and Chris Cates. The 11 year old stood about even with Cates. It was fun to see Cates play, especially when the little guy got tossed. I will report again when New Britain returns later this summer.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

What's Wrong with the Twins? Nothing

The Twins are in first place. They are 40-31. They are 1.5 games up on  Detroit and 3.5 games up on Chicago. They have been scuffling a little lately. They have lost 6 of 10 and generally looked like an average team most nights.

So, what's wrong with the team?


However.... some subtle improvements can be made to the current roster.

Let's start with the batting order:

1. Move Delmon Young up in the order.
Delmon Young is having the best offensive year of his young career. He is 23rd in the American League with an .847 OPS and 19th in Slugging. He is batting .309/.345/.502 on the season. His OPS is actually better against righties than it is versus lefties and his OBP and SLG have improved every month in 2010. He should be moved from 7th to 5th and should play every day except for rest.

2..... So Michael Cuddyer should be moved off the 5th spot. Cuddyer is batting .269/.334/.427. this is not too far off of his career numbers, but well off his 2009 numbers. His OBP and SLG have gotten worse every month in 2010. He is batting .312/.424/.532 vs. lefties however. Cuddyer has played every day where Delmon has sit. Cuddyer should sit vs tough righties.

3. When Orlando Hudson is not batting 2nd, Joe Mauer should. Why let Matt Tolbert .227/.300/.341, Nick Punto .252/.335/.329 get more at-bats than Joe Mauer .309/.387/.445? Move everyone up a slot and let the extra weak hitter hit 8th or 9th.

4. Thome is my homie, vs a righty. Against righties, Thome is hitting .260/.427/.562, vs. lefties he is hitting .212/.257/.364. No more pinch-hitting Jim against a lefty. Just keep the Punto's of the world in. Thome may be useful vs. a righty later in the game.

The regular lineup vs. righties should be:


Thome should play often in favor of Cuddyer vs. righties.

The regular lineup vs. lefties should be:


How about the starters? The starters have been doing ok this season. Liriano has bounced back nicely, Carl Pavano has been great, and Scott Baker has been ok. The Twins haven't gotten enough from Kevin Slowey or Nick Blackburn.

1. Slowey hasn't been able to pitch deep into games. He also tries to be too fine with his pitches and he shakes off the catcher a lot. Having said that, he had been having a pretty decent season until his last 2 starts. There are some concerns with Slowey, but I'd ride it out with him for now.

2. Blackburn should be addressed. Blackburn was bad in April, decent in May and awful in June. Looking at his career numbers, June is his worst month. July has been his best month, so hopefully better times are around the corner. I'd keep Blackburn as the 5th starter but I'd skip his spot in the rotation whenever there is an off-day. (assuming the other starters are pretty healthy) I'd use Blackburn in long relief  between his starts to keep him fresh. (Say when Slowey pitches :)) Blackburn has proven to be a big game pitcher in the past and should still be looked at as the #5 starter, but using him less minimizes the damage he can do when he is not pitching well.

Post All-star pitching staff:
Blackburn (skipped with off-days)

What to do with the bullpen? The bullpen often gets bashed when a lead is blown or when a narrow deficit has been widened. So, how has the bullpen been doing?  Well, the Twins bullpen leads the AL and is second in all of the MLB with a 3.00 ERA. Pretty damn good looking at the numbers! A couple of tweaks could make it even better.

1. Jesse Crain has often been a whipping boy of the fan-base. He seems to blow-up at bad times but number wise, has been pretty good, especially against righties who are hitting .236/.313/.347. He has been awful against lefties however, they're hitting .283/.327.587. Crain should be trusted vs. righties but, if the situation allows, I'd pull him when a lefty is hitting. There are 3 lefty relievers on the roster.

2. Use Alex Burnett more. Burnett has not been as dominant vs. righties as Crain .247/.309/.397, but has been much better vs. lefties .250/.350/.404. He'd be a better choice to use against a balanced lineup.

3. Only use Ron Mahay vs. lefties in tight spots. Mahay should not see a righty unless he is brought in during a blow-out. The last 2 years his OPS against vs. righties has been terrible and vs. lefties has been quite good.

4. Use Mijares, pretty much the same as Mahay.

5. Make Duensing the late inning lefty stopper. He has been killing lefties at a .198/.271/.237 clip. If a righty is brought in as a pinch hitter, he has held his own righties at .265/.333/.405 and could be left in the game.

Bullpen roles:
Mahay: Mop-up or lefties only.
Crain: Late innings vs a righty laden lineup only.
Burnett: 7th inning go to guy?
Mijares: 7th inning lefty.
Duensing: 8th or 9th inning lefty.
Guerrier: 8th or 9th inning. (except vs. A-Rod)
Rauch: 8th or 9th inning.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Baseball equals Life?

Baseball is a lot like life. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes, it rains!

Last year when the Twins schedule was released, I was exited to see the Twins would be playing the Phillies in Philadelphia and the Mets in New York City. I live 3 hours from both stadiums, and was very exited to see the Twins at two stadiums that were new to me. Two series in back-to-back weeks. I'd go to both Saturday games. What could be better?

But..... I was also unemployed at the time.

 I soon found a job..... In Texas! 
A really good job in the IT field. Seemed like a really good opportunity. Too good an opportunity to pass up for sure! The dream to see the games vs. the Phillies and Mets died pretty quickly. Oh Well! It is better to be employed than to go to baseball games right?

Life gets involved again.

The good job opportunity, the one too good to pass up, turned out to be pretty lousy. While I loved almost every person I worked with there, the decision makers made it pretty hard to fit in. The biggest problem, of course, was that the company had over-extended itself. A staff reduction of 25% put me out the door before I'd really settled in.

So, here I was, in Texas, unemployed.

My new wife and family where still in New York and I hadn't been able to sell my home there yet.

I was stuck... I had to return to New York with my tail between my legs.

But, sometimes life is not what it seems. Some would look on this as a bad time for me or a failed venture. Me? I got to be with my family again. I got to hang out with my dogs. I get to go to the Twins/Phillies and Twins/Mets games on consecutive Saturdays.

I liked the Austin, Texas area a lot but, I missed my family and I was 1700 miles away in a job I hated, a job that hated me, and I was all alone.

Upon returning home, I received the Twins tickets as a birthday present from my wife. You may remember her from this or perhaps this.

Long story short. On Saturday we attended the Twins/Phillies game.

I met with Topper Anton from Curve For A Strike who wrote a summary of the day's events. We had a blast. Topper is a really fun guy to watch a game with. If you have never read his blog, go there now. It's good! I'll wait......

done yet?


Anyway, the game is one of the greatest games that I have ever seen. It was the best game I have ever attended. After coming out quick with 3 runs in the top of the first, the Twins eventually fell behind 9-4. Topper and I went to meet Thrylos98 from the Tenth Inning Stretch blog. It was nice to meet him but we had to go.... last call for beer you know.

....well, the game moves to the top of the 9th inning. Delmon Young started off with a single. Jim Thome was brought on to pinch hit. Thome, a beloved former Philly and all around nice guy got a great applause. After depositing a 2-run HR in the bullpen, 466 feet away, he was applauded once again. This seemed odd to me. I felt the tide starting to turn in the Twins favor and I'm surprised the Philly fans did not as well. The Twins scratched across another run. With one on and two outs, down by two, Joe Mauer stepped to the plate. Mauer has had a decent year, but not to 2009 MVP standards. I actually felt in my mind that Mauer could HR in this spot. Maybe I was just a homer. Mauer had only 2 HRs in 2010 but, I felt he could do it. Sure enough, a 419 foot shot by Mauer tied the score at 9. Justin Morneau flied to left to end the threat. In the bottom of the 9th, the Phillies got men on 1st and 2nd before two strikeouts ended the inning.

To the 10th. We were sitting in foul territory near left field. When Drew Butera hit the first pitch, I watched it come by and knew it would be gone. I have never been so excited at a game in my life. DREW BUTERA!!!!! I was going on and on! Drew Butera had never done anything to suggest these heroics. The Phillies fans were probably ready to throw me off  the 2nd deck. :). Of course the Twins gave the lead back on a Ross Gload HR. I'm not sure how it went out, but it did.

In the 11th, Mauer and Morneau were essentially walked to get to John Rauch. The Twins had no one left to hit, so Rauch had to do so himself. With 2 strikes, the 6' 10" Rauch laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt, to move the runners to second and third. To me, this was the play of the game. If he doesn't get the bunt down, he strikes out. If Rauch strikes out, the runners stay on first and second and Young may be pitched differently. Anyway, Young gets an infield hit to score Mauer. Matt Tolbert doubles to score two more. How many big hits have come from unexpected sources lately? With the 3 run lead, John Rauch had more than enough runs to hold on for the 13-10 win. What a fun game!

After the game, Topper and I met with Thrylos once again. The 3 bloggers and the future major leaguer took a pic on the way out the door.

Hanging out with Topper and Thrylos was as fun as the game result. The time we spent after the game allowed the stadium to empty. We saw a couple of surly post loss Philly fans on the way to the car and our timing meant that we didn't have to see more. 

I know baseball is just a game. I know it is not life. But the last year has been difficult. I've had a friend die, a co-worker die, and a great neighbor die. Last week, my aunt died. I have lost two jobs since September. It's been a rough year. Life, like this baseball game is about coming back. I have never been more happy than I am now. I have never been so happy to lose a job. The Texas experience did not work out, but I am home with my family.

I'd rather be home with these guys than working for a company that is struggling. I'd rather go to these games and live my life. Tomorrow, the AA Twins come to town. Saturday, The Twins play at the Mets. 

I hope to see everyone there or living your dreams as you choose!