Tuesday, October 24, 2006

2006 Final Count for "The Sabean Special"

If you're not familiar with "The Sabean Special," you can click on this link. Basically, anytime Francisco Liriano or Boof Bonser started a game and got the win, combined with Joe Nathan recording the last outs of a game... that was a Sabean Special (created in the spirit of this blog). Anyway, here's the final tally and games where it occurred:

Francisco Liriano:
April 25 - Twins beat Royals 2-1
May 19 - Twins beat Brewers 7-1
May 26 - Twins beat Mariners 3-1
May 31 - Twins beat Angels 7-1
June 11 - Twins beat Orioles 4-0
June 16 - Twins beat Pirates 4-2
June 22 - Twins beat Astros 4-2
July 23 - Twins beat Indians 3-1

Liriano Count: 8

Boof Bonser:
June 24 - Twins beat Cuubs 4-0
September 4 - Twins beat Devil Rays 4-0
September 9 - Twins beat Tigers 2-1
September 25 - Twins beat Royals 8-1

Bonser Count: 4

Total "Sabean Special" Count: 12

And hopefully there will be many more to count next season and beyond!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Trade Luis Castillo

If I was Terry Ryan, this is something I would look into. Trading Luis Castillo.

Don't get me wrong, Castillo did everything the Twins asked him to do this year coming over in the trade from Florida. Castillo was solid at the top of the order, getting on base, taking pitches, and playing decent defense at 2B. But at $5.75 million, he's become too expensive.

Consider, he's getting older, and his knees have been a problem for him, especially playing on turf half of his games. His game has always been predicated on speed, and he simply doesn't have as much of that as he used to, thanks to age and the chronic knee problems. There's also the matter of his defense. At one time he was a Gold Glover. That time has passed. He's not bad out there, but he simply doesn't have the range that he used to have.

And the reason we can trade him is that the Twins have other options. Mainly, two of them:

1) Alexi Casilla. The Twins got him in the JC Romero deal, and he's been superb. He looks like a younger Luis Castillo... not a lot of power, but a good eye, hits for a good average, plays good defense at 2B, and has great speed. However, he may not quite be ready to start in the Bigs, which is ok becuase we have...
2) Nick Punto. He was very good defensively at 3B, but his offensive production there is supbar. He played 2B when he was younger, and that might let him take more advantage of his very solid range.

Plus, we could use money freed up from getting rid of Luis Castillo's contract, Brad Radke's ending contract, etc. to go after a real 3B, of which there are some out there. This is basically a pipe dream, but I would pretty much be able to die happy if the Twins somehow got A-Rod, as Seth talked about a few days ago.

But anyway, there's no time like the present... Castillo's value probably won't ever be higher than it is now for the rest of his career. I hope this isn't all just a pipe dream.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

is it really over?

6 months of Twins baseball. A 25-33 start, falling as many as 12.5 games back of the division lead, only to comeback and dramatically take the lead on the final day of the season. A batting champ, the probably Cy Young, and MVP candidates.

All erased in 3 games over the span of 3 games.

Did that really just happen? Can it really be over so quickly? What the heck happened?

I could talk at length about why the Twins lost this series, but I'll stick to this quick analysis, and stop with the negatives. Heck, there wasn't a whole lot of positives for the series. I don't understand how a team that won 96 games could look so bad. But I digress.

I'll just focus on what a fun and exciting season this was for the Twins. The aforementioned 96 wins and AL Central title. But that's just a small part of what made this the most fun season following the Twins of my life. What did I love about these Twins? Well, since you asked:

- Joe Mauer. What else needs to be said? The first catcher to lead the MLB in batting while playing Gold Glove caliber defense behind the plate. At age 23. It was a pleasure to watch Joe play baseball day in and day out.

- Another fantastic season for Johan Cytana. He got the pitching triple crown which all but locks up his 2nd Cy Young award. This should be his 3rd straight Cy Young, but voters are stupid.

- The electricity of Francisco Liriano. When he was on the mound, there was no one better in the MLB this year. Great fastball, great changeup, and an absolutely devastating slider. If he was healthy, things might have been a lot different. Come back healthy Francisco.

- Justin Morneau becoming the star everyone thought he'd be. Everyone knew the power was always there, but he became a very complete hitter, hitting to all fields. One of the most fun guys to watch hit the ball.

- The effort of Torii Hunter. Sure, he can make mistakes (see: Game 2). And he's lost a step defensively. And he can take some bad swings at the plate. But he gives it all whenever he's out there, and there's not much better about baseball than watching him play baseball. Friday may have been his last game in a Twins uniform... if that's the case, thanks for the memories Torii.

- Brad Radke. You can't say enough about this guy. Pitching with a torn labrum is bad enough, but he was also gutting it out with a stress fracture in his throwing shoulder. He couldn't do anything without pain, yet he was pitching great start after start, and truly left everything he had. Thank you Brad Radke, for a great season and a great career.

- Covering everything on Thank You Brian Sabean. I wrote about the Minnesota Twins almost every day for the last 4 months... which made me appreciate the good times more. I don't know if I'll be back next year with TYBS, but hopefully time permits it, because it was really a great experience.

So while the last 3 games were not exactly the storybook ending everyone was hoping for, it was an unbelievable and unforgettable season, and one I won't soon forget. From the division title to winning 96 games to getting back to the playoffs, it was just about everything I could ask for. And with a young team, we might be back here again next year.

Thanks for reading, thanks for letting me ramble, and see you in a few days. While it was a great year that I'll look back fondly on, it's still a tough pill to swallow being swept. So I'll mope for a few days, and start looking forward to next year, where I can only hope for half the excitement this year brought.

3 Reasons We Lost This Series

Obviously things can be broken down deeper, but in my mind, there were three key reasons that not only did we lose, but we got swept. I hate to harp on negatives at the end of the year, but I'll just do it quickly.

1) Pirahnas have no bite
Cheesy headline aside, the so-called "Pirahnas" did little to nothing this series. Luis Castillo, Nick Punto, Jason Bartlett, and Jason Tyner combined to bat .200, with a .289 OBP, and a .225 SLG. Pathetic effort over the 3-game series.

2) Bad hitting with RISP
I don't even know how things finished up here, and it's too depressing to look. All that you need to know is the Twins were 0/18 at one point, and their first hit with RISP was in the 6th inning of Game 3.

3) Bullpen Mismanagement
Joe Nathan, one of the best relievers in the MLB, pitched 2/3 of an inning this series. In Game 1, he should have come in in the 9th instead of Jesse Crain. In Game 3, he should have come in in the 7th inning when there were 2 on and 2 out. Although I suppose I can't blame Gardenhire... he's just doing what all managers do. And It's logic I can't understand. Biggest situation of the game, the Twins had to hold Oakland, and they go with their 4th or 5th best RP. But hey, at least Joe Nathan's rested!

Anyway, not a good series all-around. Oakland played very well, but the Twins practically handed them this on a silver platter. A disappointing end to a great season.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Thank You Brad Radke

The last start didn't go as well as everyone hoped, but a great career for Brad Radke, and then leaving everything he had out there on the field, even with a torn labrum and stress fracture.

In the words of the late, great Jack Buck, "Pardon me while I stand and applaud."

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Like a punch to the stomach

That's what it felt like when Torii Hunter dove for the ball and missed. It felt like I had the wind knocked out of me. And apparently, I wasn't alone in that feeling, since the Twins were pretty lifeless after that as well, managing only a bloop single from Bartlett with 2 outs in the 9th the rest of the way.

Anyway, about the rest of the game. You can't say enough about the effort and performance from Boof Bonser. A rookie making his first playoff start, Bonser threw 6 very solid innings, giving up just 2 runs in the 5th. This was a performance worthy of win, but once again the offense couldn't get it done.

However, I did like some things I saw from the offense. Unlike Tuesday, when they flailed at everything, they put together a lot better ABs, taking pitches, fouling pitches off, and making Loaiza work. Unfortunately, this effort was hampered a bit by the HUGE strike zone, but there's not much they can do about that.

The problems with the offense were twofold: they couldn't get anyone on base until there were 2 outs, and they can't hit to save their [playoff] lives once a runner gets into scoring position. After 2 games, the Twins are 0/14 with RISP. And you wonder why they've scored 4 runs in 2 games.

One other comment... Nick Punto has played very well all year, and he continues to supply good defense, but he is just dreadful at the plate right now, and has been for the last month. He's giving away ABs, chasing pitches, and not getting on base. I don't know if this is coincedence or not, but ever since he hit that HR in August he has not been very effective at the plate.

Anyway, maybe this is only fitting, being down 2-0 in the series. After all, the Twins fell way back in the Divison race before crawling back to win it, so maybe they just wouldn't have it any other way. In any event, their work is definitely cut out for them here. Down 2-0 heading back to Oakland, Minnesota will send Brad Radke to the mound on Friday, in only his 2nd start since coming back from the injury. Everyone on the Twins knows that if they lose this game, it will be Brad Radke's final start as an MLB player, which should provide even more motivation, not that they should need any at this point.

The Twins are down, but they're not out. 2-0 is a large deficit, but not insurmountable. If they can continue to get good pitching performances, combined with, I don't know, a hit or two with RISP, they might be able to keep playing baseball into the weekend. If not, it's going to be a long winter thinking about all the mistakes they've made in 2 games.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Well, that was deflating

Gone is the home-field advantage. Gone is the Twins Ace in the Hole, Johan Santana, a man who had not lost a game at home since last year. Gone seemingly are the Twins bats.

So what went wrong? First and foremost, the offense.

Barry Zito is obviously a good pitcher and he had his off-speed stuff working well, but I think a lot of this was because of the Twins approach at the plate. To say that it was bad is an understatement. Simply put, against a guy that did not have good control and struggled locating his fastball, the Twins chased balls out of the zone early in the count, which is why Zito kept such a low pitch count even without great control.

Things started out rocky in the 1st inning. Luis Castillo walked to leadoff the game (which should have been a lesson to other Twins hitters... TAKE SOME PITCHES), and then Punto worked the count to 2-1. Then, i'm not sure if it was a hit & run or what the call was, but Punto swings at a ball out of the zone, Castillo and his bad knee is running, and he's thrown out at 2nd. So instead of having a runner at 1st with no out and a 3-1 count, there's 1 out and it's a 2-2 count. That's a good way to ruin a potentially good inning. And while we're at, will someone please tell Nick Punto to stop sliding into 1st base. I think everyone in the world other than Punto knows that that slows you down.

As far as Gardenhire, there were some questionable calls I thought, but none bigger than going with Jesse Crain in the 9th. Crain has been solid in the 2nd half of the year, but Pat Neshek has been lights out since his callup. Seriously, every single stat says that Neshek is the better pitcher. And it's not like Crain has loads of postseason experience... before this outing he had gotten 1 out in postseason play in his career. This isn't even hindsight bias, I swear... I just don't understand going with Crain over Neshek.

By the way, a memo to the Twins:
Frank Thomas - 3/4
Everyone else - 4/30

As for the game coverage on ESPN, I'll leave it to Bat-Girl:

...but listening to these guys is like listening to the two drunk guys who sit behind you who've seen two games all season and are trying to impress each other with how much they know.... And I know I should get used to it, but this interviewing the managers while the game is going on is disgraceful. If you're borrowing techniques from Fox's coverage of the All-Star Game, it's probably a bad idea.

Sadly, Fox's coverage isn't any better.

Anyway, time to move on and forget about Game 1. Boof Bonser gets the start in Game 2 against Esteban Loaiza, a guy that the Twins have generally hit well against. I have confidence in Boof, but scoring sometime before the 7th inning would be nice too.

In other words, Game 2 would be a perfect time for The Sabean Special!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Twins/Athetics Position-by-Position

Looking at the teams position by position probably doesn't give us a great indication of who is actually going to win the series, but it does provide a nice overview and preview for what is to come. So let's do it:

Catcher: Joe Mauer vs. Jason Kendall
Jason Kendall isn't necessarily a bad catcher, but Joe Mauer is the batting champion, the best Catcher in the MLB, and a legitimate MVP candidate. Joe is much better offensively, much better defensively, and that makes this the most lopsided difference between the 2 clubs.

First Base: Justin Morneau vs. Nick Swisher
Nick Swisher is a very solid, patient hitter with a little bit of power. But Justin Morneau he is not. Morneau is the better all-around hitter... he hits for a higher average, and his slugging is a bit higher than Swisher as well. Add in that Morneau is an above-average defensive first basemen, and Morneau gets the clear edge.

Second Base: Luis Castillo vs. Mark Ellis
Luis Castillo is not as good defensively as he once was, and he doesn't hit for much power at all, but I give him a slight edge over Ellis. Castillo is very good at at taking pitches at the top of the lineup, and gets on base at a respectable rate of .358. Even with his declining range, I give the edge to Castillo.

Shortstop: Jason Bartlett vs. Marco Scutaro
Once again, I give the slighest of edges to Bartlett and the Twins. Bartlett has very good range and a good arm at SS. Offensively, both are similar players. They have some patience at the plate, but aren't going to be supplying a lot of power. Bartlett gets on base at a slightly better rate, which is why I give him the edge.

Third Base: Nick Punto vs. Eric Chavez
I like what Punto has brought this year, but Chavez gets the edge this year even though he hasn't been his normal self at the plate. Both are getting on base at a similar rate, but Chavez does hit for more power. Also, while I think Punto has been very good defensively at 3B, Chavez is still the class of the American League when it comes to that category.

Left Field: Rondell White vs. Jay Payton
The Twins have sorta had a mismatch group and you're never really sure who's going to be out there, but I think Rondell is the most likely. As we all know Rondell was just absolutely atrociously awful to start the year, but he hit very well in July and hit very well in September, showing why the Twins went out and got him. Which Rondell White will show up? Good question, and that's I give Jay Payton the edge here.

Center Field: Torii Hunter vs. Mark Kotsay
Both are excellent defensive outfielders, and with Hunter being a step slower because of injury, things may be pretty equal in that department. So it comes down to offense. Kotsay is the more patient hitter, but Hunter hits for a lot more power. After 9 HR in September, Hunter has the edge here.

Right Field: Michael Cuddyer vs. Milton Bradley
They are actually very similar players. Neither guy hits for a great average, but they both hold their own. Both have pretty good plate discipline. Neither has great power, but both can hit it out of the ballpark. In the end, I think that the fact that Cuddyer hits so many doubles, and that he has a great arm in the OF gives him an edge over Bradley.

Designated Hitter: Jason Tyner vs. Frank Thomas
Frank Thomas has the edge here by about a million bazillion miles. Not even worth really talking about.

#1 Starter: Johan Santana vs. Barry Zito
Zito has been solid this year (though don't look now, his ERA is 4.55 since the AS break), but Johan is in another class from all pitchers.

#2 Starter: Boof Bonser vs. Esteban Loaiza
If you'd have told me earlier this year Boof would be starting game 2, I would have laughed. But he's earned it with his pitching over the last 2 months. For Loaiza, he is also pitching well after a horrid first half, and has a 4.01 ERA since the AS break. If he can keep the ball down and get the Twins pitchers swinging early in the count, he can be effective. I call this one about a draw. I think if either guy goes 6 strong innings, their team will be happy.

#3 Starter: Brad Radke vs. Rich Harden
Both pitchers have been effective when healthy, but that has been a problem for both. For Radke, the problems with his shoulder have been well documented and this is his last hurrah, as he will retire at the end of the year. For Harden, he's always had some of the best stuff of anyone in the Majors, but he can't seem to stay healthy. He's made 3 starts since coming off the DL, with 2 of them being solid, but he struggled in his last start. Still, when he's on, he's on, which is why I give Harden the edge. But it wouldn't surprise me at all if Radke gives the Twins a great outing... what he's done this year is unlike anything I have seen in sports.

#4 Starter: Carlos Silva vs. Dan Haren
If Carlos Silva pitches in this series, that will be a good thing, because it means the Twins will be leading in this series 2-1. However, I don't like his odds against Dan Haren, a very solid SP.

Bullpen: Joe Nathan vs. Huston Street
Out of all playoff teams, I'd rank these teams 1 and 2 in this category. But as I've said before, I think the Twins have the best bullpen in the MLB. If they can get the lead after 6, they're in very good shape, especially with Joe Nathan anchoring things down at the backend. Plus, I'm not sure Oakland has anyone that can consistently get lefties out.

So what does this all mean? Well, maybe nothing. But it gives us a little better idea of what we're dealing with.

For the record, I've got the Twins in 5.

You suck, schedule makers

Twins/A's game on Tuesday: Noon CDT.
Twins/A's game on Wednesday: Noon CDT.

Looks like I'll be missing a couple classes this week.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Congratulations Joe Mauer!

A 23 year-old becoming the first catcher EVER to lead the MLB in Batting... yeah, I think that deserves its own post.

Congrats Joe, and maybe we can do this again next year!


When the Twins were 25-33 and 10.5 games out of first place behind the MLB-leading Detroit Tigers in early June, I didn't like their chances.

When the Twins played great baseball going into the All-Star break but hardly made up any ground on the Detroit Tigers, I didn't like their chances.

When the Twins were 1 game back heading into the final week of the regular season, and needed 2 more win than Detroit in the final 6 games to win the division, I was cautiously optimistic.

When the Twins were tied with the Tigers going into the final series of the season, with the Twins taking on Chicago and the Tigers taking on Kansas City, I was cautiously optimistic.

When it came down to Sunday, with the Twins needing Carlos Silva to beat the White Sox and Odalis Perez to beat the Tigers, I wasn't too optimistic.

When the Tigers jumped out to a 6-0 lead over Kansas City and the White Sox took a 1-0 lead over Minnesota, I was pretty much resigned to facing the Yankees in Round 1.

When the Tigers loaded the bases in the bottom of the 12th inning with 1 out, I was preparing myself for the Yankees.

When the Royals beat the Tigers 10-8 to seal the division title for the Twins, I could hardly believe it.

96-66. American League Central Division Champions. It defies logic. But then, so has this whole season for Minnesota.

See you in the playoffs.