Wednesday, July 28, 2004

A Clean Sweep

Talk about making a statement.  Your Minnesota Twins marched down to the South Side of Chicago this week with a negligible 1/2 game lead over the Sox, and marched right back out a mere two and a half days later with a 3 1/2 game lead in the division.  Today's game was very exciting to watch, for those of you who had the opportunity, and I think that it captured the fundamental differences between these two teams beautifully.  Let me count the ways:

-The Sox committed two key errors that lead to two Minnesota runs, including the game winning run in the tenth.  Even though the Sox defense may look better than the Twins'  on paper, let's face it: it isn't, and it probably will not be for quite a while.  The fact that the White Sox have to play Jose Valentin at shortstop is proof positive that this team has never placed the correct amount of emphasis on defense, and it killed them today.  Even without Dougie Baseball, the Twins have a better defensive player than the White Sox at almost every spot on the diamond.  Hunter's catch in the bottom of the tenth only puts an exclamation point on that statement.

-The Twins ran wild on the White Sox this weekend, and that doesn't include Torii's (clean) collision at the plate on Monday.  The Twins stole five bases in the three game series, a pretty big total for a team that had stolen 70 in the 98 games previous.  If I remember correctly, two or three of those steals didn't even warrant an attempt from the White Sox catchers.  Ben Davis was particularly inept, as the Twins were 4-4 in stolen base attempts off the new acquired backstop.  On the other side of the spectrum, the White Sox managed to run themselves out of a potentially big seventh inning yesterday when the had two runners caught stealing, one of them on a particularly bone-headed play by Valentin.

-Without Mags and Thomas, the ChiSox offense is very unbalanced.  Sure, they still have the power threats of Lee, Valentin, and Konerko, but unless someone gets on base ahead of those guys, this team will struggle to score that many runs.  Uribe is in a deep slump right now, and Wille Harris and/or Timo Perez are not very good options for the top of the lineup either.  The White Sox hit six homers in this series, but all of them were solo shots.  As we've heard Bert Blyleven say countless times, there isn' much harm in giving up homers as long as they're solo homers.

All told, it was a very impressive three-game sweep for the Twins.  As deflating as getting swept by the Sox at home was at the end of June, this sweep has finally erased any doubts I had about the quality of the 2004 Twins.  The team we have seen over the past 10 days is the team that we were all so excited about this spring.  The rotation has been solid, with Radke and Johan on lead vocals.  The offense has been scoring runs in bunches, even manufacturing runs against tough competition.  And the bullpen has almost fulfilled its full potential, with Nathan, Rincon, Balfour, and Romero (today's outing notwithstanding) emerging as solid contributors.  The Twins are surging.  The Sox are bumbling.  The galaxy's natural balance has once again been restored.

Some other thoughts
The trade market is very slow right now, but there have been a few new developments from a Twins perspective.  Doug Mientkiewicz was originally scheduled to be in the starting lineup for Tuesday's (and possibly Wednesday's) games against Chicago, but was scratched after meeting with Gardenhire.  I realize that Dougie is distraught over the fact that he will probably be traded, but come on!  You are still a professional baseball player on a major league baseball team and getting paid.  If the team wants you to play, you play!  Handle the rumors like a professional and just go about your business.  I see absolutely no way that the Twins could NOT trade Mientkiewicz now, despite the fact that he might actually serve a purpose as an (albeit overpriced) defensive replacement/pinch hitter for the final two months of the season.  However, Pittsburgh recently eliminated themselves, understandably, as a possible destination for Mientkiewicz on Tuesday.  They are in no need of a relatively expensive veteran first baseman, as one of the reasons they are sellers in the trade market is to dump salary.

One proposed deal in the Strib today would have the Red Sox sending Kevin Youkillis to the Pirates, Mientkiewicz going to Boston, and Kris Benson coming here.  An interesting proposal, no doubt, but I think that Youkillis is a steep price to pay for Mientkiewicz.  Dave Littlefield is also said to be asking for Jason Kubel in a trade, which I hope TR is not seriously considering (I strongly doubt he is).  It has always been the Twins mantra never to mortgage the future for the present, and I wholeheartedly agree with that philosophy right here.  A Benson rental is worth nowhere near a top prospect like Kubel; Littlefield needs to go get his head examined if he thinks the Twins are that stupid.  The franchise didn't climb out from the depths of ineptitude by making shortsighted trades.  Such tactics are better left to the dregs of major league baseball.  A certain team in Pennsylvania that has endured 12 (almost 13) straight losing seasons comes immediately to mind.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Gaining momentum

With all the trade speculation circulating this week much attention has been drawn away from one of the biggest series of the year.  Everyone wants to know where Doug is going and we grow impatient for Kris Benson to finally be in a Twins uniform.  In the meantime the Twins have  come out punching against their rivals, the White Sox.  The way the Twins have played the first two games it almost appears that no moves are  needed.  They have played with a fire that was lacking in previous meetings.

Last night Johan Santana continued to pitch like a man from another planet and for awhile it looked like it wouldn't be enough.  Then in the fifth inning the Twins came alive with a big two out rally.  Things are generally going in the right direction when a team is scoring with two outs in clutch situations.  The Bitch(copyright Batgirl) Sox were not ready to concede the game and finally made Santana look human in the 7th inning with a Carlos Lee homer, a walk and a hit batter.  For the first time in 10 starts Santana looked tired before the 8th inning.  Never fear, Juan Rincon came in and conquered his previous demons to get the Twins out of the jam.  It was all business after that with the Twins winning 7-3. 

This series has been huge for the team.   They are finally sending a message that they aren't going to back down to the White Sox.  It's no longer good enough for them to just stick around, they are now in a position to surge ahead in the division.   Suddenly, even the national media is back on the bandwagon.  The Twins have shown that there is life in their bats and that their top two starters are above and beyond that of the White Sox.  They don't have to make the big deals that the White Sox made because they can call up guys like Justin Morneau who make a big impact.  The return of Shannon Stewart to the lineup has also helped.  The Twins are showing why they have won the last two years and should have been favored all along this year.

Meanwhile, the Sox have already fired all their bullets.  They have made their big trades and now must face the reality of playing without two of their best hitters.   Ozzie Guillen has closed the gap but all that means is that the final standing will be closer.   Granted, the Twins have only won the last two games and could very well lose tonight but the White Sox had the chance to put them away a long time ago.  Now that task is getting harder by the day and the Twins seem to only be getting stronger.

A major trade should go down between now and the deadline.  Rumors circulated all day about Kris Benson coming to the Twins in exchange for Doug Mientkiewicz and a prospect(Restovich).  Still three days have passed since we learned Doug was to be traded and no deal has transpired.  Twins official have started hedging their bets and backing off their statement.  They say there is a chance he isn't going anywhere which might have been the best decision all along.  Meanwhile Doug sits in limbo on the bench not contributing.

The Twins need to be leery of making a deal just to make one.   Kris Benson has been very good for about 10 starts.  The rest of his career has been inconsistent with nothing that should lead anyone to think he is ready to pitch in big games.  There is an argument circulating that Doug and Resto need to be traded.  That it is the right thing to do so that they can play.  Of course they deserve to be in a situation where they play every day but that is no reason to not get full value for them. 

Last year the Shannon Stewart deal was questioned.  People believed the Twins gave up too much potential in Bobby Kielty.  No one has mentioned anything to that effect in a long time about that deal.  Kris Benson is no Shannon Stewart though.  He is not going to come in and change the attitude of the team.  He is more of a Rick Reed.  The good news is that neither Doug or Resto are likely to make the Twins regret giving up on them.  They are not David Ortiz.  Both will probably go on to be solid players and will most certainly be a part of any deal the Twins make before the deadline. 

It is a great time of year to be a Twins fan.  Since the Twins were built from within and so many of their prospects had to pan out for them to be where they are today, it is only natural for us to be leery of trading them away.  We have grown attached to players who came up through the organization especially when they have succeeded at the major league level.  To win the big one risks need to be taken.  Many of the best prospects don't pan out, the well dries up and the window of opportunity closes.  Unless you win it all during those years, you are left with nothing.   Nobody will care that the Twins paid too much for a third starter if they win it all. 

The situation with Doug Mientkiewicz seems to be getting wierder.  Yesterday reports had him all but traded to the Pirates.  Then last night he was penciled into the lineup before later being taken out, normally the sign of a trade.  Then it seemed momentum started to shift in the other direction.  Reports of the Pirates lack of interest in Doug and his salary began to surface and Doug apparently did not play for another reason.  Right now there seems to be too much speculation and not enough actual knowledge.  Both teams are trying to swing the very best deal possible and it appears the deal is not done yet.  It is too bad that in the meanwhile everyone is left holding their breath.  Twins Chatter will continue to follow the situation tomorrow and right up until something goes down.  We will continue to update the situation.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Starting Things Off With a Bang

Going into this week's crucial three game series with the White Sox, the Twins were a team that was winning in spite of myriad distractions.  Doug Mientkiewicz is about to be traded.  Other Twins (like Michael Cuddyer) were rumored to be on the block.  Kyle Lohse and Ron Gardenhire were disagreeing about his approach on the mound.

To top it all off, the Twins had not played very well lately against their rivals from the South Side, losing 7 of their last 8 by a combined score of 65-30.  That includes a seemingly-devastating three game sweep at the Metrodome late last month.

But the 2004 Twins have shown a resilience that reminds us of their improbable run to the AL Central Division crown in the second half of last season.  Yesterday they came out fighting and showed the White Sox that the road to the playoffs still runs through Minnesota, no matter how much Kenny Williams mortgages his future for a chance at the post-season this year.  This attitude was never more apparent than in the 8th inning when a charging Torii Hunter flattened ChiSox catcher Jamie Burke after tagging on a fly ball to right field.  That play (which was a very clean play in my opinion) sent a clear message to the Sox: we ain't goin' nowhere.

Overall, this was a pretty well played game by the Twins.  They got to starter Mark Buehrle early, collecting 10 hits in the first four innings of the game.  Every Twins fan has heard countless times from the likes of Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven that the key to beating Buehrle is scoring early, and on Monday the Twins were finally able to do so.  Brad Radke was vintage Brad Radke, changing speeds and hitting his spots with the fastball, generally just keeping the Chicago hitters off-balance all night.

Without Frank Thomas and Magglio Ordonez in the lineup, the White Sox offense is considerably less fearsome (or at least seemed to be on Monday).  No doubt, Carlos Lee, Jose Valentin, and Paul Konerko are still dangerous hitters, but without those two big boppers in there a pitcher actually has places where he can relax and get away with a bad pitch or two.  Instead of having a legitimate power threat in spots 2-8, opposing pitchers now have much less to worry about after Konerko bats in the #5 hole.  It remains to be seen what (if anything) Williams does to address this, since Thomas is out for at least another month and Mags might be done for the season.  However, he is limited in the chips he has to throw around after making four significant mid-season trades the past two seasons.

Let's Start Getting Ahead of Ourselves

Although nothing had been announced in terms of a Doug Mientkiewicz trade as of late Monday, speculation came to a feverish pitch in Twins country today.  Where would he go?  Who would the Twins get in return?  Why exactly did they tell him in advance?  It is the last question that has had me scratching my head since I published yesterday's post.

What could the Twins possibility stand to gain by informing Mientkiewicz of their imminent decision?  Did they feel that they "owed" him the courtesy of this advance notice because he had been such an important part of the team for the past three seasons?  If you have any theories, please, enlighten the rest of us.

The fact that nothing happened today did sway my belief that something will happen with Mientkiewicz within the next couple of days.  First of all, there is the fact that neither Terry Ryan nor Ron Gardenhire came out and publicly stated that Mientkiewicz was not going to be traded.  If there was no/little truth to the rumors then TR would have most certainly stated as such to the press.  Second of all, Kris Benson made his final start for the Pirates tonight, going six innings while allowing four runs in a loss.  Lastly, the fact that Mientkiewicz may play again for the Twins makes it unlikely that the team would go too long with him still on the 25-man roster.

And what if Benson is the player that the Twins land--where does he fit into the whole equation?  Personally, I think that he will make a good #3 starter for the Twins.  As solid as Carlos Silva has been this year, he is probably not the guy that you want to send out there when you NEED a standout performance.  Kyle Lohse, the #3 starter at the beginning of the season, has been disappointingly inconsistent and I feel should be relegated to the #5 spot if indeed the Twins acquire a starting pitcher.

Well, that's all the Twins Chatter I've got for you today.  I just want to thank everyone for dropping by on what was a record-setting day for us yesterday (200 visitors) and for all your positive comments and support.  As always, if you have anything to say about the topics discussed today feel free to drop a comment or e-mail me at  Tomorrow marks the (hopefully) triumphant return of John Betzler to this space, in case some of you had forgotten that Twins Chatter actually has two writers.  Thanks again for stopping by and good night.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Mint Condition No More

As I sat down at my computer this evening, I racked my brain for a viable topic to write about.  The Twins taking two of three from the Orioles at Camden Yards?  It works, but it would be a little dry.  Kyle Lohse's continued struggles and his slight disagreement with manager Ron Gardenhire?  Yeah, but there's not a whole ton to say there.  The trade market?  Always an idea, but I kinda covered that on Friday.

Then it hit me like a ton of bricks.  The answer to all my doubts.  A piece of news so big (sorta) that it simply could not be ignored by any would-be journalist.

Doug Mientkiewicz was told that he will definitely be traded before the deadline

Now this headline isn't quite as exciting as say, "Twins trade Jason Kubel and Scott Baker for Randy Johnson", but it is as close as we'll ever get here in Minnesota.  Dougie Baseball has been a subject in trade rumors for a few weeks now, and those rumors began to swirl as Justin Morneau continued to hit the cover off the ball and, not coincidentally, the Twins began to win ballgames.  With the towering bulk of Morneau waiting in the wings, Dougie's days in the Twins Cities were numbered anyway; it was just a matter of when.

I have some mixed feelings about this move.  As a person who would like to see the Twins do well this year and in the years to come, I am glad the Twins decided to act quickly.  I firmly believe that Morneau is ready for a full-time job in the bigs right now and that he will continue to produce in the #4 spot for many years to come.  He hit a monster 3-run bomb today in Baltimore and is batting .299 with 5 homers and 13 RBIs in just 67 at-bats this season.  In comparison, Mientkiewicz was hitting a paltry .238 with only 5 homers and 23 RBIs in 281 at-bats.  The Twins have not had a bonafide slugger since, well, before I was born, and Morneau seems to be the power threat this lineup has been sorely lacking for so many years.  There is also the omnipresent matter of finances.  Mientkiewicz is scheduled to make about $4 million next year while Morneau will obviously make the minimum of $300K.

However, the nostalgic Twins fan in me is a little saddened at the loss of a key part of the "Turnaround Twins".  After growing up during the Dark Years and having almost no fond memories to cling to, I attached myself to the Twins of 2001-2002.  Torii, Jacque, Koskie, A.J., Dougie, Milty: they were my guys.  While other contenders cobbled together generic contenders through free agency, the Twins did it the right way.  This was a group of players that came into their own as a unit.  A group that played the game hard, took the extra base, made both the routine and the spectacular play, and came through with the clutch hit when it counted.  Doug Mientkiewicz was a stalwart on those teams.  He exemplified their fighting spirit: suffered through a miserable rookie season in '99, went down to AAA, won the Olympics, and came back to the majors a force to be reckoned with.  I was proud to say that Doug Mientkiewicz played for my favorite team--the Minnesota Twins.

But now, it appears that the time is right for both Doug and the franchise to move on.  Doug Mientkiewicz did his job in Minnesota.  He anchored a position for three successful seasons, filling a void that had been left empty since the departure of Kent Hrbek.  He played spectacular defense and hit well enough to be considered an offensive asset (most of the time).  He saved Christian Guzman, Luis Rivas, and Corey Koskie dozens and dozens of errors and helped call attention to the Twins'  awesome glovework with his regular appearances on "Baseball Tonight".  He delivered with some key hits in the 2002 ALDS against Oakland.

We will all miss Mint's solid and sometimes spectacular defense, but this team will not reach the next level (a WS berth) without a big bopper to augment a sometimes lackluster lineup.  Dougie's performance (or lack thereof) was becoming a distraction in the local media as Mientkiewicz began publicly lobbying for more playing time.  In Boston or Pittsburgh he will get a fresh start and have a chance to help a team that needs him much more than the Twins.

Thanks for the memories, Doug.  Your time with the Twins may not end very neatly, but we won't forget all that you did for this franchise. 

And we most certainly won't ever forget how to spell "Mientkiewicz".

Dougie's signature pose: the classic bubble

Side Note:  I would also be remiss if I didn't mention the fact that former Twin and Minnesota native Paul Molitor was inducted into the Hall of Fame yesterday.  My family has an interesting connection with Molitor, as my dad played against him in a few times during his amateur career including the 1974 Minnesota State Legion Tournament.  Molitor's St. Paul Attucks-Brooks team defeated my dad's squad from Bemidji in the championship game, but he always "brags" about the fact that he beat out Molitor for tournament MVP honors.  Just a little interesting tidbit on a day when everyone is coming out with their favorite Paul Molitor stories.  Congratulations, Paul.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

As the Wheels Turn

The Twins are most certainly turning things upside down right now.  With yesterday's strange 7-5 win, a duel of the grand slams, over the Tampa Bay Deviled Hams (I have decided that I can call them that again) the hometown nine extended their winning streak to four games, almost right on the heels of a five-game losing streak.  This is very reminiscent of last year's streaky team, which seemed to either sweep or be swept in almost every series for a large portion of the year.  But with just nine days remaining until that magical July 31st deadline, one wonders if recent events will have any impact on whether or not the Twins' brass makes a trade.

Kris Benson
I have said on more than one occasion that I would love for the Twins to acquire the Pirates' Kris Benson, but there have been some interesting developments lately with this case.  Benson has been pitching very well of late, While the staff has been pretty solid of late, I think that the rotation would benefit from a veteran like Benson.  Terry Mulholland, as much as I love his recent performance, probably can't keep up this Jamie Moyer impression for very much longer.  And Kyle Lohse has just been so darn infuriating (i.e. inconsistent) for this entire season that I hate to think what will happen when we need him for a big game against the Sox in September.  He simply hasn't been getting the job done.

However, Pirates' GM Dave Littlefield seems to think that he can receive enough talent in return for a guy with a 4.25 career ERA to turn his franchise around.  Littlefield has been quoted as saying that he wants a major league ready player and a top prospect (plus more possibly) in return for Benson.  For the Twins, that translates roughly to perhaps Michael Cuddyer and J.D. Durbin in exchange for Benson.  Every Twins fan (and Terry Ryan I assume) will tell you that a trade like that is utter hogwash.  Littlefield will get nothing near what he is demanding for Benson, who will cost almost $3 million for a two month rental.  It doesn't matter that Benson is probably the best pitcher available on the market: he simply isn't worth that much in a trade.  A more realistic (and fair) trade would include perhaps Michael Restovich and borderline prospect like Adam Johnson.  I doubt the Pirates will find anyone stupid enough to give in to their excessive demands, so it is probably just a matter of who offers the best mid-level prospect.

Bret Boone
Now this one is pure speculation (started perhaps at the other day) but it is intriguing nonetheless.  It is rumored that if the Mariners are unable to find a taker for the struggling Boone they may just release him as they did with Rich Aurilla and John Olerud.  But as Seth suggests, why not have the Twins trade them some token players (Rivas, Restovich, or Adam Johnson) instead?  If he's released, the M's will have to pay his salary for this year anyway, so you'd think that they'd be happy to get a warm bucket of spit in return.  But there are definite issues here--Boone's option, his injury status, whether or not the Yankees want him--but it's still fun to think about.  Can you imagine if the Twins all of a sudden had a legitimate power threat at second base instead of the Black Hole (i.e. Luis "The Place Where At-Bats Go To Die" Rivas) that currently resides there?  Excuse me now while I drift into a state of contented bliss...

I would be excited if the Twins were able to acquire either of those players, and ecstatic if they acquired both.  However, the latter is obviously just a misguided pipe dream.  If you're in the mood for more trade speculation, there have been a number of well written articles dealing with the subject.  Today, Twins Geek has a very enlightening post about Paul Wilson as a trade candidate and also predicts the upcoming uproar that will occur when the Twins don't match the White Sox next (inevitable) blockbuster trade.  Jimmy Souhan over at the Strib helped fan the speculatory flames with his article the other day.  And as always, the DTFC Twins' Forum is rocking with all sorts of opinions on the trade situation, including some very interesting ideas from numerous hardcore Twins fans.

That's all I've got for tonight.  I appreciate the recent upsurge in support I've received since John left me flying solo last week, as it gives me a lot of confidence and motivation to write something new each day.  If you have any thoughts on the topics discussed here, feel free to drop a comment below or email me at  I almost always respond in a timely matter to both forms of communication.  Good night everyone.

p.s. Also, if you haven't read the paper yet this morning, be sure and read this article by Souhan and I'm sure you'll get a snicker or two from it (I know I sure did!).  Dougie is all paranoid that he has been Pipped, and in his desperation he's saying all sorts of crazy stuff!  I love it!

That's the Way (Uh-Huh Uh-Huh) I Like It

Now that's more like it.

The Twins collected a season-high 17 hits in their impressive 12-2 victory over the D-Rays, a victory that seemed oddly out of place in a post-April world. Are these the same guys that had only scored five runs once in the past week and a half? The improbable return of Henry "Babe" Blanco? Lew Ford hitting homers? Stranding just seven base runners? Just what exactly is going on here?

On a more serious note, the Twins sorely needed a game like yesterday's. The mini-sweep of the Tigers was nice, but the Twins' offense still did not look very impressive. Although there have been numerous other offensive "breakout" games this year (a 16-4 victory over the Rays on June 1st springs to mind), perhaps this is the one that finally counts. I'm still very skeptical, but you never know.

Wednesday's laugher aside, it is time to move on to the REAL issue: Doug Mientkiewicz is eligible to come off the 15-DL today (Thursday). Mientkiewicz took batting practice on Wednesday, One thing is known for sure--Justin Morneau is not the one that will be sent down to clear space for Dougie. He went 3-5 today and has looked like one of the team's best hitters since his recall. Since the Twins have 11 pitchers, that means a position player has to go. The only real candidates are Rob Bowen (just called up from AA), Jose Offerman, and Michael Cuddyer. But, as Patrick Reusse (is it just me or has he gotten a lot better lately?) writes in his column today, the Twins would like to keep both Cuddyer and Offerman. And I don't think that Terry Ryan would call up Rob Bowen just to demote him a couple days. However, I think that demoting Bowen is the right move in this situation if indeed the Twins are set on activating Mientkiewicz. The Twins will be able to get by with Blanco and LeCroy catching, which is what they did during Mauer's previous two-month absence. Bowen is nothing more than injury insurance, which is a luxury that the Twins cannot afford right now. If TR doesn't want to demote Bowen, then he is going to have a very tough decision to make.

Logjam on multiple fronts
For the sake of argument, let's assume Morneau, Cuddyer, and Offerman stay with the team when Mientkiewicz is activated. I also heard Gardenhire quoted as saying that Shannon Stewart is recovered enough to begin playing the outfield, a development that further complicates matters. In my mind it should be irrefutably obvious that Ford is a much better outfielder than Stewart, even when SS is completely healthy, but I'm sure Gardy will defy logic and insert the weak-armed Stewart into left the first chance he gets. That leaves the Twins with four outfielders deserving of extensive playing time. Ford could DH, but then where will Morneau play? Who sits if/when Mientkiewicz begins throwing away his four at-bats on a nightly basis? I personally think Mientkiewicz should serve as nothing but a late-inning replacement for Morneau until he starts to hit again, but that probably won't happen.

No matter what Gardy decides to do (sit Dougie, DH Morneau, or DH Lew) Matthew LeCroy is the one who stands to lose the most. With just two catchers (hypothetically, of course) Matty's role would be as a platoon player. He has looked terrible at the plate of late, and his days as a starter on this team are over. As much as I liked his power potential, he simply hasn't produced enough in the DH slot and should probably accept his new role as pinch hitter/backup catcher.

Then there is always the possibility that a trade could help free up the logjam. If the Twins could find a taker for Dougie Baseball and/or Jacque Jones, both problems would be solved. But Terry Ryan has said again and again that the Twins will not make a trade just for the sake of making a trade.

Anyway you slice it, Gardenhire has some serious decisions to make in the near future. Which veteran player will be relegated to the bench or to a platoon role? Can he live with just Henry Blanco and Matthew LeCroy as his only catchers? Whatever choices he does make, this quote makes me think that Gardy finally realizes that "his guys" aren't always the best ones for the job:

"I can't worry about anyone's feelings. At this time of year, all I can worry about is doing what I think will give us the best chance to win ball games."

Whether that means putting his nine best players in the lineup each day remains to be seen.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Out With the Old, In With the New

I don't have a ton of time to write today, as I have to get up early for work in the morning, but I thought that yesterday's 5-4 10-inning win over the Tigers could not go uncommented-opon by Twins Chatter (however brief those comments may be).

The title to this post sums it up best: Tuesday's victory was truly one for the 2004 version of the Twins, as opposed to the 2002 or 2003 versions.  Lew Ford, Justin Morneau, Grant Balfour, and Joe Nathan all played key roles in the win.  None of the those players contributed much (if anything) to the Twins' back-to-back division titles.  Lew Ford's hustle double was the play of the day in my mind.  That hit exemplified everything that is great about the Official Player of Twins Chatter: Lew is an aggressive player who goes all out 100% of the time.  If Lew collects a single instead of a double, perhaps the Tigers don't pitch around Morneau as much (he was walked on four pitches), which would have changed the complexity of the inning.

Morneau also delivered the game's big blow, a three-run homer.  Even though he did look foolish in an at-bat against Estaban Yan, there is no way that this guy is going down to AAA again.  No way.

Perhaps the most encouraging sign to emerge from the win was the performance of Grant Balfour, who had three scoreless innings, after he almost single-handedly lost the series finale against the Royals.  This is the reason the Twins kept this guy around when he was struggling early in the year.  Balfour has electric stuff and a fastball that just jumps out of his hand.  I'm not sure about the reports that say he was throwing 100 mph out there, but I do know that the Tigers did not stand much of a chance against his heat.

Last season, a one-run lead in extra innings against one of the league's best lineups would have hardly seemed safe.  Eddie G. would have undoubtedly surrendered at least two baserunners before finally ending the game on a deep fly ball to center field.  Nathan, on the other hand, comes into the game throwing 97 mph and blowing it by the Tiger hitters.  It was almost a foregone conclusion when "The Nathanest of Joes" entered the game.  I don't know about the rest of you, but I think it's nice to have fingernails left after your closer ends the game.

Thats all I have time for today, Twins fans.  Sorry about my brevity, but this pesky thing called life keeps getting in the way (which is rather annoying).  I promise that I'll have something much more substantial for tomorrow.  Good night.

Ford is congratulated in the Twins dugout after yet another big hit

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Taking the Bad With the Good

Okay.  I have some good news, and I have some bad news.  Which do you want to hear first?  To be kind, let's start with the good: yesterday's 3-1 win over the Detroit Tigers, which was just the team's second victory in their last eight games.  Terry Mulholland continues to throw a wrench in the chain of the Twins' trade plans.  He had his best start in about a year and a half (since a victory over the Twins in September of 2002) and is 2-0 with a 3.11 ERA as a starter this season.  Just how is this guy doing it?  Last night, he kept the Tiger hitters off-balance with good command of his breaking pitches, change-up, and 89 mph fastball.  I didn't know Mulholland could even throw harder than 85, let alone almost 90!  For the second consecutive start he shut down one of the better hitting teams in the AL.  I wasn't a huge proponent of the Mulholland signing back in April, but in my mind, he's already earned his $600,000 paycheck.  The only downside to his recent performance is that it might cause TR to let up on his search for a viable 5th starter, which reports say he is actively hunting for.  As impressed as I've been with the old geezer in his short stint as a starter, I can say with some certainty that he is probably not the answer.  But who knows?  I've been known to be wrong in the past (on rare occasions), so I might be wrong here too.  We'll wait and see.
In other good news, it was none other than Jose Offerman who delivered Monday's game-deciding RBI hit, a two-run single in the seventh.  As I said yesterday, this guy has a knack for sticking around, doesn't he?  His stats are still atrocious (.228 BA, .731 OPS) but you can't argue with results.  Or can you?
Now that I've brightened your day with those two little positive tidbits, I'm about to bring you crashing down to earth.  As most of you have probably already heard, Joe Mauer once again went on the 15 day disabled list yesterday with knee soreness.  The Twins expected this a little bit, as it was assumed there would be some discomfort when Mauer came off his anti-inflammatory medication, but it seems that the soreness hasn't improved since.  The Twins were forced to call up Rob Bowen from AA (how lucky is this guy to have that 40-man roster spot?) to serve as the emergency/3rd catcher.  I talked a little about this topic the other day when it was revealed Mauer had the sore knee, but now the situation has become much more dire.  What should the Twins do with their prized rookie?  Personally, I think the team is being overly optimistic when they give 10 days to two weeks as a probable date for Mauer's return.  If he has any more setbacks, I honestly think that the Twins should just shut Mauer down for the rest of the season rather than risk mortgaging their future for the sake of a single playoff birth in 2004.  I'm glad that the Twins are being very cautious with their catcher, but Mauer's absence screws up the entire lineup big time.  Matthew LeCroy is only able to catch a handful of pitchers on the Twins staff adequately--Radke, Mulholland, and MAYBE Silva--and Henry Blanco can't hit his weight (although LeCroy is approaching that weight plateau as well--not that he has that far to drop).  Plus, the market for catchers is extremely thin right now (Reusse suggests Dan Wilson as a possible backup) and it seems the Twins will just have to make due with what they have.  It's a slippery slope, and I don't envy Ron Gardenhire.  He and Terry Ryan have some tough personnel decisions to make in the coming weeks.
Twins Geek also reported a rumor that the Blue Jays are seriously pursuing Justin Morneau right now, but I don't know how much truth there is to it.  I don't think that the Jays would give the Twins market value for one of (if not the) game's best power prospects.  I honestly don't know what to make of the rumor, but it is just that: a rumor.
That's all the jottings I have for today.  Thanks again for stopping by Twins Chatter.  Feel free to drop a comment below or zap me an e-mail at  Goodnight everybody.

Monday, July 19, 2004

A Few Good Men (And A Few Not So Good)

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past few days (or in Europe, as a certain co-blogger of mine has been) then you probably already know that the Twins lost three of four to the last-place, firesale-mode Kansas City Royals over the weekend.  Now, I will admit to you that the last two games were much more encouraging than the first two, but it doesn't change the fact that the Twins once again lost a series to a team that they should have beaten--something that "good" teams must avoid at all costs.  I could ramble on and on about the ramifications of this past weekend's series, but for the sake of my sanity and yours, I won't.  Instead, I'd like to highlight (or lowlight) some individual performances from the first series after the All-Star break.
The "We Need Them On That Wall" Category

Johan Santana 
Throughout the Twins' recent scuffles, Johan has been one of the lone bright spots, a shining beacon of excellence amid a sea of futility.  At this moment, I would have to say that he is the most dominant pitcher in the American League.  He hasn't had a less-than-spectacular start since June 3rd; a span of eight starts.  He's lowered his season ERA to 3.55 and has even managed to scrounge a remarkable 8 wins with extremely limited run support.  He pitched eight innings of 1-hit ball on Saturday, completely shutting down the Royals to give the Twins their only win of the series.
Lew Ford 
The Official Player of Twins Chatter seems to be snapping out his mini-slump (.208 average in July) as we speak.  He hit his first two homers in over a month the past two days, which unfortunately used up the Twins' run quota for the coming week.  Lew had been 1 for his last 23 before Saturday's blast, and hopefully he can keep his average above the .300 mark.  However, it is a shame that we have no one else to bat third, since, as good as Lew is, he isn't a #3 hitter.
Carlos Silva
I was very encouraged to see that Silva had a good outing yesterday.  Gardy probably should have taken him out after seven (although I understand he only had thrown about 75 pitches), as it would have saved a couple runs and the bullpen was very rested.  Either way, he pitched much better than he had in his previous three starts (6.50+ ERA) which was nice to see. 
The "They Can't Handle the Truth" Category

Grant Balfour
I am a huge Grant Balfour supporter, but I must admit, he screwed up big time yesterday by walking the bases loaded in the 10th.  That is something that no major league pitcher should EVER do.  Unlike some people, I can't fault Gardenhire for putting in Balfour in that situation; I probably would have done the same thing.  Balfour has been very dominant overall for about the past month or so, and we need to see if he can really become a dependable reliever during the stretch run.  While this one outing doesn't offer an definitive answer to that question, it does call into question Balfour's mental toughness when the game is on the line.  But if the Twins are going to win this year, they need major contributions from guys like Balfour.  I hope this was an aberration and Grant will rebound in his next outing.
Jose Offerman
I'll bet many of you expected to see Offerman's name in the other category based on the fact that he hit a "triple" during the ninth inning on Sunday.  Upon further review (remember, the game wasn't on TV) it appears that this "triple" was little more than a fly ball lost in the lights.  As I read on the DTFC, Offerman should be on the cover of "National Geographic": he has some amazing survival skills.  This guy contributes almost nothing to the team when he starts, yet manages to hang on to a roster spot by getting the occasional high-profile clutch hit.  Yesterday's "hit" will probably enable him to stick around for at least another month.
The Twins' Ability (or Lack Thereof) to Get Hits With Runners On Base
Once again, the Twins stranded 14 baserunners on Sunday.  The collected 10 hits, yet were only able to score 3 runs (2 of which stemmed from the above-mentioned gift triple).  I am honestly at a loss here: what can be done about this problem?  Are the Twins' hitter simply choking in the clutch?  Were they never that good in the first place?  Is this just a phase that will eventually pass?  If you know the answer (or even have a viable theory), please share it with the rest of us.
That's all we have from Twins Chatter for the time being.  It seems that many of you people enjoy (or at least find tolerable) what I have to offer each weekday, because you keep on coming back for more.  Take care, y'all, and don't forget to come back again sometime (preferably tomorrow).  :)

Friday, July 16, 2004

Extra! Extra! Read All About It!

Whew! The Twins returned to action Thursday night in Kansas City, and already we have a bunch of interesting stories and breaking developments to discuss. In fact, the least noteworthy of these was the Twins’ 3-1 loss to Wunderkid Zack Greinke and the punchless Royals. More on that a little later, but let’s instead focus first on the really big news.

Doug Mientkietkiewicz placed on 15-day DL; Justin Morneau recalled

I only have one thing to say about this move: it’s about frickin’ time. Every baseball insider and their brother has been scratching their heads for the past two months as to why the Twins persisted in keeping Morneau at AAA. Your team can’t score runs? Your starting first basemen is hitting .220 with 2 homers? The game’s best first base prospect is tearing it up on your AAA team for the second consecutive season? Hmmm, now there’s a real stumper.

Seriously, I believe this is the last time that Morneau will ever have to be recalled from AAA for the rest of his baseball career. He is ready to hit big league pitching now, and if he shows absolutely ANYTHING in this, his second big league trial of the year, the Twins will undoubtedly keep him with the big club when Dougie Baseball comes off the DL. Jose Offerman outlived his usefulness long ago and soon he will have outlived his 25-man roster spot as well. It looks like the current plan calls for Morneau and LeCroy to platoon at 1B and DH, with LeCroy also seeing some time behind the plate because…

Joe Mauer undergoes MRI after knee inflammation is discovered; listed as day-to-day

Now, I know many Twins fans will react to this news by blurting out a stream of expletives (I know I almost did), but hold on—this isn’t as bad as it sounds. According to Mauer and his doctors (click on the above link), this is simply Mauer’s body telling him to take things slowly. Gardy had been catching Mauer pretty extensively before the break, up to four games in a row, and it seems he wasn’t quite ready for that. While Mauer’s season-opening injury (and this recent setback) probably doesn’t pose a serious long-term threat to his catching days, it does have some consequences for the remainder of this season. Once he is able to return to action, the team will probably give him a day off once every two or three days, which means we will be seeing a whole lot more of Henry (formerly “Babe”) Blanco and his .191 batting average. In the meantime, Mauer will be able to pinch-hit, as he did on Thursday.

If you still have some questions/concerns about Joe and his meniscus, I highly encourage you to check out this link, courtesy of jan over at the DTFC. From what information I’m able to gather, once the body becomes used to life without the meniscus it can function quite normally, but that reclamation process takes time and healing—two things that are tough to come by in the middle of a pennant race.

Shannon Stewart collects 2 hits fresh of a two-month stint on the DL

This is the one bit of good news to come out of Thursday. Stewart looked good in his debut, collecting two singles, which is highly encouraging. Unfortunately, it didn’t help out the Twins’ morbid offense, which looked pretty helpless against Greinke. I’m willing to throw this game out because I have been really impressed by the poise and stuff of Greinke. He is going to be a very good pitcher in this league for a long time, and he’s also the perfect type of pitcher to face the Twins’ undisciplined hitters. He has good control and is able to get hitters to swing at “pitcher’s pitches”, an approach the Twins are especially susceptible to. Hopefully tomorrow Radke will pitch better than Lohse did today and the Twins can score some runs for him off the Royals’ Darrel May.

That’s the Twins Chatter I’ve got for you today. There is plenty of ammunition for discussion here, and I’ll probably have reason to expand upon these topics and more in the coming days. In the meantime, feel free to drop a comment below or e-mail me at Have a good one.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Second Half Preview

I realize the following speculation has been done to death in various places (the DTFC, the Geek’s comment boards, etc.) but for today I’m going to condense all the speculation and postulation into one post. As you are all fully aware, the Twins are currently a half game out of first and seven games over .500 as the second half begins tonight in KC. While that is not overly impressive considering the relative weakness of the division, it’s still a whole helluva lot better than last year (the Twins were 44-49 at the break, 7.5 games out).

The first half is over, and I took a long, hard look back at the events that transpired during the season’s first 87 games the other day. Now, it is time to look forward. Obviously, looking forward is much more difficult than looking backward (the whole not-knowing-the-future thing gets in the way) but that doesn’t mean it still can’t be fun!

As the July 31st trading deadline approaches, everyone wants to know: “Will the Twins make a trade?” Now, I don’t have any special insider knowledge (yet), but in my heart of hearts, I believe the answer to that question is “yes”. Despite the fact that Terry Ryan’s brilliance has recently come under scrutiny, I honestly think he’s more than capable of pulling off another potential impact trade. The Twins have one of the strongest farm systems in the major leagues, and good prospects are the most valuable trade bait in baseball today. Lack of prospects is the reason why the Yankees will be unable to land Randy Johnson, and in a perfect world (one without such financial disparity among teams) the Twins would be the ones with the ammunition to land the flame-throwing lefty. But alas, we don’t live in a perfect world and Randy will never be a Twin. That doesn’t mean, however, that the Twins won’t land a starting pitcher. If Pirates GM Dave Littlefield comes back down to earth and lowers his demands for starter Kris Benson (he currently wants a top-level prospect), I think TR will pull the trigger on that trade. I’ve read from numerous sources that the Twins are the most likely destination for the righthander.

Now I know you’re all saying “The Twins don’t need a pitcher, they need a hitter (or hitters)!” And you would be correct in saying that. Yesterday, Seth tossed out there a couple of potential trades that I believe make some sense, but neither is likely to happen. The Twins won’t take on Carlos Delgado’s unbelievable salary; they probably won’t land Montreal SS Orlando Cabrera. In fact, I haven’t heard much at all about any impact bats being on the trade market. If TR pulls a deal for a hitter, it will probably be someone we would never have expected (like with Rick Reed in 2001). And hopefully it will involve Jacque Jones and Doug Mientkiewicz.

Another hot topic of discussion as the second half gets underway pertains to Shannon Stewart’s recent activation from the disabled list. What will his role be, now and later on? What will happen to Sweet Lew? Can he ignite this offense a second time?

As of right now, I believe the plan calls for Stewart to DH (at least for a while) while Lew stays in left. If I were the Twins, this is what I would do for the rest of the season (or at the very least until Jones is traded). Lew is much better outfielder right now than Shannon ever was, and with his recovering foot Stewart would become the Twins slowest outfielder as well as the one with the weakest arm. Stewart at DH and Lew in left gives the Twins the best chance to win: its as simple as that. Matty LeCroy simply hasn’t shown enough this season to warrant regular at-bats in the designated hitter role. His average is now below .270, and he still has just the six homers in 153 at-bats. That works out to less than 20 in 500 at-bats, which isn’t good enough for a guy that can’t run (at all) and has no real position. I’ve always been a big Matthew LeCroy guy, but let’s face it: he’s a backup catcher and power threat off the bench, not an everyday player. Let Stewart DH.

So if TR doesn’t swing a deal and Stewart isn’t the Twins’ 2004 offensive “miracle cure”, then what else needs to happen in order for the Twins to score some runs in the second half? First of all, Justin Morneau needs to be in the major leagues. Now. He needs to be worked into the regular rotation at first base and DH (spelling Stewart). That is a certainty. Also, Corey Koskie needs to start hitting the ball. Koskie might not be a .300 hitter anymore, but he is not a .240 hitter either. I firmly believe that if he’s healthy his numbers will begin to approach his career averages (.280 average, .380 OBP, 20+ HRs). The same will probably happen with Jacque Jones, whether or not he’s with the team (I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Matt Lawton-type midseason trade involving Jacque). Dougie Baseball, on the other hand, might be a different story. He has looked so incredibly bad for most the season that I’m doubtful he’ll snap out of it in the second half. At least JJ and Koskie have shown flashes; Dougie has shown almost no signs of life. Mark my words: his performance over the next few weeks will go a long way in determining what direction the Twins go as an organization.

There you have it. A few assorted prognostications about the second half of the season as we get started again. As always, feel free to e-mail me at or post a comment below. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I do know one thing: buckle your safety belts, Twins fans, because it’s gonna be a wild ride.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Life at the Half-Way Point

Well, the first half of the 2004 baseball season is officially over, and what a half it has been for your Minnesota Twins. On the surface, it seems simple enough. The Twins have a record of 47-40, which puts them just a half game out of first place. That doesn’t sound so bad when you look at it that way, does it? But here at Twins Chatter we strive to find the deeper, more subtle story that lies beyond mere wins and losses. That being said, I present to you my analysis of the Twins’ first 87 games.


Starting Pitching:
The Twins are currently tied with the Oakland Athletics for second in AL in team ERA at 4.16, and the starting staff deserves a fair amount of credit for that impressive number (4.28 starter ERA). The rotation started the year rather slowly (with the exception of Carlos Silva), but has come on nicely the past two months. Johan Santana (3.78 ERA, league-leading 136 strikeouts) has successfully regained the form that made him the Twins’ ace last season, despite a slow start. Johan has been arguably the best pitcher in baseball since early June, but lack of run support has left him with just a 7-6 win/loss record. Brad Radke, despite some recent scuffles, has actually been earning his 10 million dollar salary thus far. He has a 3.47 ERA and has pitched nearly as well as he did the second half of last season. He’s given the Twins a chance to win in just about every one of his starts, which is exactly what you ask for from a veteran starting pitcher. Kyle Lohse has had a disappointing season thus far, but he has shown signs of life lately (3.18 ERA in June and July). Look for him to have a good second half. Before the season began, no one knew what to expect from Carlos Silva as a starter, but he has put together a pretty solid first half as a starting pitcher. Sure, he’s just 3-7 since starting the season 5-0, but he had a solid month of June and I believe he will continue to be a slightly-above average starting pitcher in the second half. The fifth slot in the rotation still remains a question mark, despite the fact that we are in the middle of July. Seth Greisinger and Matt Guerrier have come and gone, and the “distinguished” (read: old) Terry Mulholland is the latest one to come through the revolving door. Rumor has it that the team is looking to trade for a solid replacement starter, with Kris Benson and Miguel Bautista mentioned as possible candidates.

The Bottom Line:Twins starters have performed above expectations this season overall. Radke and Santana have been excellent, Silva above-average, while Lohse has been inconsistent. I give them a grade of B+.

The Twins’ bullpen was a much-maligned unit before the season began, one riddled with question marks. Could Joe Nathan become an effective closer? Could the combination of Juan Rincon and J.C. Romero adequately fill the setup role vacated by LaTroy Hawkins? Could the hard-throwing Grant Balfour step up and some depth to the ‘pen? The answer to these questions, for the most part, has been “yes”. Joe Nathan has literally blown away hitters this season and has every Twins fan saying “Eddie Who?”. Juan Rincon has done his best LaTroy impersonation the past four months, posting a 1.84 ERA while averaging over 11 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. After a brief demotion, J.C. seems to have regained his dominant form (5.1 scoreless innings in July). I have championed the Grant Balfour cause for many months, and he is finally repaying my loyalty. Balfour had an outstanding spring but landed on the DL just days before the regular season began. He had a rough stretch after being recalled in May, but has since then entrenched himself as one of Gardy’s go-to guys, allowing just 2 ER in his last 13 appearances. Aaron Fultz and Joe Roa have each struggled recently, but it seems Gardenhire has finally learned how to use the pair effectively. They are not to be trusted in key situations, but both should be adequately effective in their more limited roles during the second half.

The Bottom Line: Despite losing their best two arms from a year ago, the ‘pen has hardly missed a beat this season (3.98 ERA). Rincon, Nathan, Balfour, and Romero form a solid core, and Jesse Crain will probably be called up this month as well. I give them a grade of A-.

If you read the two-month report card I wrote a six weeks ago, you’ll notice that I gave the Twins a “D” for defense (funny, I just recognized the irony in that). My, how things have changed. The Twins are no longer one of the worst defensive teams in the league (statistically speaking); they now stand in the middle of the pack in errors, fielding percentage, and zone rating. Those rankings will undoubtedly continue to improve during the second half, as no one can deny the fact that this is a very good defensive team.

The Bottom Line: Fluke errors by pitchers, some crappy Cuddyer play at 3B, and the Evil Turf™ cost the Twins a few games early on in the season, but the return of Koskie, Rivas, and Mauer seems to have revitalized this team defensively. I give them a grade of B.

Looking at the grades I’ve given out so far (B+, A-. B), the casual fan may wonder why the Twins are still just seven games over .500. Herein, ladies and gentlemen, lies the source of our anguish. I was among the many that believed the Twins’ offense would be a team strength this year. Every key offensive player from a year ago was returning, and normal baseball wisdom states that players are supposed to improve offensively as they enter their prime. But as usual, the Twins continue to defy normal baseball logic. Three key players have taken GIANT steps backward offensively in the first half. Jacque Jones is hitting just .260 with a .313 OPB. Corey Koskie’s batting average is down to .245, and he has an extremely uncharacteristically low OPB of .331 to go along with just 37 RBIs. Then we have Doug Mientkiewicz. Dougie Baseball was absolutely putrid in the first half, hitting .244 with a miniscule .368 slugging percentage. He also has just 5 HRs and 23 RBIs in 275 at-bats. I don’t care what he does on defense: right now, Mientkiewicz hurting this team with his lack of offense. The Dynamic Duo of Guzman and Rivas have been their usually mediocre selves in the first half, and Torii Hunter hasn’t exactly been a ball of fire himself (.812 OPS). Injuries to Hunter, Koskie, Mientkiewicz, Rivas, Stewart, and Mauer can also be partially blamed for the Twins’ lack of offense, but now that most of those players are back that previously weak excuse is now a moot point.

As most of you have already divined, a pair of rookies (okay, Lew isn’t technically a “rookie”, but he’s close enough) have been the team’s best overall hitters so far. Sweet Lew carried this team in April and was solid in both May and June. Joe (nickname pending) Mauer has been outstanding for the past two weeks, and he continues to embarrass the rest of our “veteran” hitters with his superior plate discipline. I love that Joe has taken so nicely to the #3 spot in the order, but the fact that he’s there speaks volumes about the quality of the Twins’ offense.

The Bottom Line: There have been a few bright spots offensively this season (April, Lew, and Joe) but overall this is the area that has kept the Twins from taking charge in the division. I’m being generous when I give them a grade of D+.

Team Management:
This is a category I usually don’t touch on, but a thread over at the DTFC convinced me to add it. For the past two years, I have been reasonably supportive of Ron Gardenhire’s managing style, and he didn’t disappoint. This year, however, Gardy’s “stick with my guys” approach has cost this team ballgames. Why was J.C. brought in during crucial situations when he obviously wasn’t pitching well? Why does Jacque Jones continue to start against every lefty when there are plenty of viable alternatives on the bench? Why not give someone else a chance to produce at 1B (i.e. Justin Morneau) until Mientkiewicz straightens himself out? And the most befuddling question of them all: WHY DOES JOSE OFFERMAN PLAY SO MUCH?!? I think Gardy is starting to show signs of thinking outside the box (for example, Joe Nathan has been used the 8th inning a number of times this season) but it will take more of the same to pull this team out of the doldrums. I realize that Gardenhire is a loyal person, but it’s getting to the point where enough is enough. We need to move on and explore other options. I’m also loathe to criticize Terry Ryan, one of my idols, but he needs to get his act together in the second half as well if the Twins are to win a third straight division title. Whether that means promoting Morneau and Crain, trading for a hitter and/or starting pitcher, or something else altogether, it’s clear that something has to be done.

The Bottom Line: Gardy has been true to form, which isn’t always bad but has been harmful at times throughout the season. However, any grade for this section should probably wait until after the trading deadline passes. For now, I’m giving the Twins a C in this area. However, that could soon change. Stay tuned, Twins fans.

There you have it, the official Twins Chatter report card for the first half of the season. Overall, the Twins are right about where I thought they would be at this point in the year: battling for the division crown with a slightly-above .500 record. The thing is, this team is capable of being so much better! Perhaps Stewart’s return will eliminate the putridity from our bats, but I highly doubt it. It’s up to Koskie, Jones, and Mientkiewicz to turn their seasons around and get the offense firing on all cylinders again. The pitching has been good, and I see no reason to expect that it will drop off anytime soon.

Meanwhile, the White Sox are not going to roll over and die this year. On paper, they are markedly better than the Twins (especially offensively) and they also have a sense of urgency about them this year. Unless some things change soon for the Twins, the White Sox may run away with the division. Here are a few predictions for the second half (feel free to add your own in the comments section below):

-Joe Mauer continues to play well and emerges as a top ROY candidate
-Shannon Stewart struggles with his nagging foot injury and doesn’t fully recover until September
-Johan Santana solidifies his place as a top-5 AL starter (if he isn’t already)
-TR is unable to catch lightning in bottle twice as his mid-season acquisition (or lack thereof) doesn’t spark the team like Stewart did last year
-Kyle Lohse is the team’s second best starter in the second half
-The Twins stay with the Sox until September but finish in second place

I hate to be a pessimist with that last prediction, but as of right now, I think that is what will happen.

I hope you enjoyed this rather lengthy entry today, as I probably won’t have anything new up tomorrow (unless something earth-shattering happens). Like I stated earlier, feel free to post some thoughts of your own below and I’ll do my best to respond in kind. Thanks for stopping by.

-Ryan Maus

Monday, July 12, 2004


Well folks, the verdict has finally been determined once and for all: the 2004 version of your Minnesota Twins simply isn’t that good.

Does that mean they aren’t going to make the playoffs this season? It most certainly does not. The AL Central is still weak enough for a highly flawed team such as the Twins to sneak its way into the postseason, if only to get crushed by the Yankees in the first round.

Losing three of four to the Detroit Tigers this weekend pretty much sealed the deal for me. Coming off an impressive sweep of the Royals earlier in the week, the Twins pulled out an impressive 7-1 win last Thursday to run their winning streak to four games. Then, true to form, they proceeded to score a grand total of five (5) runs in three games against the likes of Gary Knotts (5.28 ERA before series), Nate Robertson (4.39), and Jason Johnson (4.60). That, I must say, is very pathetic for a team that has playoff aspirations. I know that the Tigers are a much improved team, but the fact remains that their pitching staff is still very mediocre and their defense is poor (last in the AL). Yet the Twins somehow found a way to lose the series at home.

As much as I love the Twins, they are just so damn inconsistent! In April, it seemed the offense was finally living up to the hype. When the pitching finally came around, it was gonna be “Look out American League, here come the Twins!” In June and July, the pitching staff (the same one who’s quality was deeply questioned before the season began) has been outstanding. The offense has been up and down, but most down. But everyone connected with the Twins has been saying “Just wait until Stew comes back. Then the offense will come around and it will be ‘Look out American League, here come the Twins!’”

Sadly, it seems the only teams that might need to look out for the Twins are the Indians and Tigers as the Twins struggle to keep them at bay in second place. I would like to draw your attention to two other outstanding articles that deal with this very same theme of inconsistency. John Bonnes a.k.a Twins Geek wrote an excellent entry that puts into words many common thoughts shared by Twins fans. Also, the Geek links this article by CityPages’ Brad Zellar (and author of his very own blog called Yard: The Blog). I highly encourage all of you to check out these two pieces, as they provide some excellent food for thought to dwell on over the All-Star break.

That’s all I’ve got for today here at Twins Chatter. I’m still adjusting to blogging without a safety net (John left for France on Saturday) so I hope you’ll forgive my brevity. Tomorrow, I’m going to post my first-half review of the Twins’ season, including a report card, statistics, and some thoughts/suggestions/predictions about the second half of the season. I hope you’ll all stop by and check it out. In the meantime, have a relaxing and enjoyable All-Star break.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Reeling in the Big One

The Twins have Larry Corrigan, special assistant to GM Terry Ryan, in Toronto scouting starting pitcher Miguel Batista.

While much of the national attention on potential trades centers on Pittsburgh starter Kris Benson, the Twins are higher on Batista and might find his contract reasonable for a potential third or fourth starter.

The Twins could lose Brad Radke to free agency or retirement this winter, and Radke is making $10 million this year.

Batista is in the first year of a three-year, $13.1 million contract. He'll make $4.75 each of the next two years.

Batista is 8-5 with a 3.85 ERA and has pitched two complete games. People in the Twins' organization say he is reputed to be a good teammate. He would give the Twins a deep, strong rotation for the second half and alleviate pressure on top pitching prospect J.D. Durbin to quickly recover from early-season surgery.

The big question is what the Jays would demand in a trade. The Twins wouldn't want to take on salary and give up much in the way of prospects, but they have outfielders to give, especially with the emergence of Lew Ford as an everyday big-league player and Jason Kubel as a top prospect. - Jim Souhan, Star Tribune

First things first. Retirement? Souhan must be kidding. Radke is in his prime at the age of 31. He still has one very big contract ahead of him. Yes, he has already made plenty of money in this league but there is more then money to play for. Radke has never won the big one and he still has that fire when he pitches. He has never even had a major injury to hold him back. Retirement is not in Brad Radke's near future. Will he be a Twin next year? Now that is a question for another night.

Miguel Batista would be a great fit for this organization and not in the "great fit" way that Rick Reed was back in 2001. Batista should cost less in a trade then Reed did while being more productive. Much praise went out to the Blue Jays in the off season for signing him to such a reasonable deal. It's hard to believe that they would now turn around and deal him. Especially, when they consider what they got for Shannon Stewart last season. That said, the Blue Jays are a flawed team that has grossly underachieved at 39 and 46. They also play in a division where the window of opportunity is about the size of a pin. They need parts and the Twins might be able to offer some of the best young position players they are going to see with the opportunity of cutting salary to boot. Frank Catalanatto is not the future there while Mike Restovich might look pretty good in left field next year.

There is more to Batista then just being cheap. The guy is durable, flexible and able to pitch in a big game. He would plug in nicely in the void that is the Twins fifth starter spot while anchoring a spot in the rotation for seasons to come. If the Twins do lose Radke in the off season, Batista would show good planning on the part of the front office and really offset some of the growing pains in the rotation.

This year is what counts now though, and Batista would give the Twins a great chance to take the division. He might turn out to be a better pickup then Freddy Garcia. It took more then two starters for the Diamondbacks to win the World Series in 2001 and Batista came up big for them. In the World Series he pitched 8 innings and didn't allow a run. He started a game and came out of the pen as an invaluable piece. He was also a big reason they got there in the first place. That might make him a little more valuable then Terry Muholland being wheeled down in his wheel chair. Freddy Garcia has never pitched in the World Series. He has an inconsistent career and some might say that he is now overpaid. To get him, the White Sox only had to give up two future cornerstones.

Miguel Batista would be a better long term pickup then Kris Benson and might end up costing about the same. Benson may have a better arm but Batista has more experience. The Twins would probably enjoy getting Benson's contract off the books following the season but then wouldn't have anything left of what they gave up to get him. Batista would make it easier to justify giving up someone like Restovich for a push the Twins need to make. They would then have him for next year’s run. The price is steep but the results would be more then worth it.

Twins Win!
Complicating matters is the way Terry Muholland has pitched in his two starts. Nothing more could be asked of him. He has kept the Twins in ballgames and given them the chance to win. The Twins should not mistake this for a trend. In the end Terry Muholland is still Terry Muholland and this is not 1993. No matter what deals the Twins pull off, their organizational depth is lacking starters at this time and it needs to be addressed. For now though, we can all bask in last night's 7-1 victory against the Tigers. The Twins continued their winning ways and we all wont have to gut out another Muholland start until after the all star break. It is great to see the team fly into the break this year as opposed to the way they limped last year. Hopefully they can carry the momentum through.

On a personal note, this will be my last entry for a couple of weeks. I finally broke into my savings and am spending the next two weeks in France. I will follow that with another two week trip to New Zealand 10 days later. Please be patient with Twins Chatter in the meantime. Ryan will be all by himself and I'm going to sadly be out of touch with what's going on over here. I will try to stay up to date but who knows what kind of internet access I will have over there so any postings will probably be short and random. Ryan is up to the challenge of taking on the whole site in my absence but if he has an off day or two here and there no one can really blame him. My biggest regret is missing the All Star game. I hope Nathan comes in and gets the save in the ninth striking out the side and Bonds goes yard. Hey, maybe Clemens and Piazza will duke it out right there on the field! That's enough rambling for me tonight, take good care of my team while I'm gone.


What a Difference a Week Makes...


That one little word sums up the Twins’ recently-completed three game sweep over the Kansas City Royals perfectly. In fact, the Minnesota Twins have never dominated an opponent as utterly over the course of a series as they did KC over the past three days. The last team to throw three straight complete game shutouts in a single series was the Orioles against the Tigers back in 1995, and it has only been done four times since 1973. The only other time this franchise accomplished such a feat was way back in 1913 when the team was still the Washington Senators. A few head-to-head stats from the series:

Twins 25, Royals 0
Twins 34, Royals 13
Twins 3, Royals 0
Twins 14, Royals 0
Royals 10, Twins 2
STRIKEOUTS (pitching)
Twins 24, Royals 17
Royals 3, Twins 0

I could go on and on, but I won’t. It’s safe to say that the Twins completely and utterly dominated the lowly Royals these past three days, in just about every facet of the game. In fact, I could have sworn that the name on the front of the Royals’ jerseys said “Omaha” instead of “Kansas City”. That’s how poorly they played. While I’m ecstatic that the Twins played so well, I’m also saddened by how far the Royals have fallen over the past few months. Despite the fact that they are divisional “rivals” of the Twins, you can’t help but root for a fellow small-market team, especially one that showed as much character and spunk as the Royals did last year. I personally didn’t think that the Royals were for real before this season began, but no one could have foreseen how far they would drop off. It really is a little sad.

Now, back to our beloved Twins. Seems like a lifetime ago, but it was in fact just one week that we here at Twins Chatter (ok, it was just me) were hitting the panic button after getting swept handily by the White Sox in three games. At the time, it looked like the balance of power in the AL Central had shifted; the Twins were no longed the hunted but had become the hunters. Many people said the ChiSox were on the verge of running away with the division.

Not so fast! Since last Thursday, the White Sox have lost five games in a row, including last night’s 12-0 pounding at the hands of the Angels. The Twins, in the meantime, have won five of six, all of them in rather convincing fashion. The Twins turned a two-game deficit into a two-and-a-half game lead in a span of six days. Six days! Talk about playing the right teams at the right time. Kyle Lohse wasn’t quite as brilliant as either Radke or Santana on Wednesday, but he was more than good enough to beat the hapless (and punchless) Royals lineup. The Royals had a grand total of three bona-fide major league hitters starting against Lohse: Angel Berroa, Ken Harvey, and Matt Stairs. And none of those guys are nearly as good as either Mike Sweeney or Carlos Beltran.

With the All-Star break quickly approaching, the Twins sit with a record of 46-37, which is well ahead of last-year’s pace when the team stood 7.5 games out at the break. Sometime during the All-Star break I’ll have a detailed “Half-Season in Review” post, so be sure and look out for that. The Twins start a four game series with the Tigers starting today (Thursday).

NOTE:To all of my fellow bobblehead fanatics, listen to this! The Twins recently announced a Joe Mauer bobblehead giveaway on October 2nd! Now there’s a collectible that will be worth something!

The "Three Amigos" of Radke, Santana, and Lohse all pitched complete game shutouts against the Kansas City Royals this week

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Simply Amazing and Handing out the Hardware

Wow is all anyone can say about Johan Santana's performance last night. I need to confess, I wasn't always sure he could do it. I was worried that the pressure would get to him and when he was struggling with his changeup early on in the year it was settled. This guy was just another tease who was just a 3 month wonder like so many others.

I should have known better. Johan has great stuff and a great presence on the mound. All three of his pitches are hard to hit and he throws strikes. Actually, he pumps strike after strike into the zone and ends up with 13 K's in one game. Santana is so good that he is leading the AL in strikeouts with 125. So it is hard for hitters to put good wood on the bat. He doesn't walk anybody either so there aren’t many runners on base and without runners there isn't a lot of scoring in his starts.

Johan has been more dominant then any pitcher in the majors in the last month. He gives the club a legitimate Ace and chance in any short series. He is a big reason they are in first place by a game. There is no reason that he wont keep it up. He might tire a little as the season goes on and he gets to a level of innings he hasn't been at before. Then again, last night he just got stronger as he pitched his first career complete game. The same can be said for his career to this point. Every year has built upon the last. Santana should be protected but the gloves are coming off and what is emerging doesn't come along very often.

Midseason Awards
Last night the Twins played their 82nd game of the season and their record stands at 45 wins and 37 losses. Not great but good enough for a weak division. It's now time that we hand out some hardware for performance thus far.

MVP - Lew Ford
Where would the Twins be without the official play of Twinschatter? Probably off somewhere rebuilding, that's where. Instead Ford has been a life saver. First taking over for Torii Hunter in center and later Shannon Stewart in left, arguably two of the most important players in the lineup. The team never missed a beat. Lew hasn't stopped hitting. He has been all over the lineup and he has continued to produce even while everyone else has struggled. He's got on base, scored runs and drove them in. Nothing more could be asked of a player in his first real major league season.

Rookie of the Year - Joe Mauer
Was there ever any question? The team got to see just how big a part he is already when it lost him for much of the first two months. Now that he is back Mauer is winning ballgames for the club. He might be young but he has taken on the added pressure of batting third in the order. The kid can do it all and has definitely lived up to the hype.

Cy Young - Brad Radke
Santana was mentioned above and has been nearly unhittable lately but it was Radke who carried the team through the period where nothing was working for any of the other starters. He doesn't have the wins but he has kept the team in ballgames while eating innings. His ERA of 3.42 is also lower then Santana's of 3.89. Brad is still the leader of the staff and coupled with Santana creates a great 1-2 punch.

Gold Glove - Torii Hunter
He is still the most feared defender on the team. He can transform a game with his glove. It has to be demoralizing for other teams when they see their guy get a hold of one only to have it pulled back at the last second. Torii is money in one of the most important positions on the field.

Best Reliever - Joe Nathan
Hands down the most dominating reliever on the staff. Juan Rincon deserves credit for stabilizing the rest of the bullpen but it is Nathan that has shut the door on victories. Coming into he season it was hard to know what to expect of him and he has exceeded all expectations enroute to an All Star selection. With 23 saves and a 1.19 ERA, he is most deserving of this award.

Hitter to Watch in the Second Half - Shannon Stewart
Shannon barely beats out Corey Koskie. Both players have had quiet first halves largely because of injuries. Look for Koskie to raise his batting average to near his career average. Stewart transforms the lineup. It's hard for me to admit but the team scores more when he's there. He adds patience and it will be like making a big trade. Look for Stewart to largely do what he did last year in pushing the Twins to the division title.

Pitcher to Watch - Jesse Crain
This guy may be the key to whether the team wins its third straight division. He will be in the majors sometime soon and he throws smoke. The question is whether he can harness his ability and be consistent. If he can, Crain will fill the 7th inning void. If Crain doesn't pan out look for Grant Balfour or JC Romero to step up and finally take the role for themselves. This is why the Twins should use their assets to acquire a hitter or 5th starter, the bullpen should be able to work itself out from within.

What do you think? Am I right, or are there other players more deserving? Email me or drop a comment below.

Technical Difficulties

We apologize for no new post today. Blogger continues to give us problems and we are currently seeking a new forum for our content. Hopefully, if it is alright with blogger, we will have a new entry up this evening.

Monday, July 05, 2004

Much Ado About Very Little

Hello and welcome to Twins Chatter, your source for insightful, thoughtful, and somewhat opinionated Minnesota Twins coverage. I hope you all a happy Independence Day weekend.

I don’t have a whole ton to say today for a variety of reasons, the most notable of which being that Sunday was a holiday and also that today is actually John’s turn to write.

The Twins rebounded somewhat from last week’s five-game losing streak to take two of three from the Diamondbacks this weekend in Phoenix. While this was rather encouraging, it by no means signals an end to the Twins’ struggles. Both Friday and Saturday’s wins were unspectacular. I hate to be a pessimist here, but for example: on Friday, Kyle Lohse blew an early 5-0 lead, the Twins scored 3 unearned runs (that can be viewed as either good or bad, but either way it reflects poorly on the D-Backs), and Guzman committed a key error himself. On the positive side, J.C. looked like the J.C. of old for three strong innings, and Matty LeCroy once again delivered with a clutch pinch hit. Saturday, Grant Balfour and Juan Rincon dominated for 4 innings, striking out 8, but the Twins left a whopping 17 men on base (yet managed to score 8 runs). Yesterday, we were predictably shut down by Randy Johnson, but I’m willing to overlook that as an inevitability. The bottom line is that the Twins aren’t out of the woods yet. The D-Backs are a very flawed team that a contender should beat, and the Twins were able to exploit their myriad weaknesses.

Sunday also saw the announcement of the 2004 All-Star Game selections. As expected, closer Joe Nathan is the Twins’ lone representative. He has been one of the top relievers in the game this year, posting a 1.19 ERA and 1.14 WHIP while converting 23 of 24 save opportunities. Not many criticized the Pierzynski trade this off-season, but I can’t imagine too many people expected it to work out as well as it has for the Twins thus far! There really weren’t any Twins that were snubbed this year either, and Patrick Reusse over at the Strib wrote a great piece describing why the the Twins only deserved one All-Star. I usually dislike Reusse, but this column was a pleasant surprise.

About a month ago, I predicted that Nathan and Radke would make the team this year if Brad started winning some games. Obviously, that has not been the case and no one batted an eye when he wasn’t named. If Radke was 8-3 right now instead of 4-3, I think he would have made it. Lew Ford, the Official Player of Twins Chatter, didn’t make the initial 31-man roster but is one of five candidates in the final online fan vote for the 32nd roster spot, a relatively new feature that began three years ago. Lew has absolutely no chance of winning, as Hideki Matsui and his Japanese supporters will no doubt stuff the “ballot boxes”, but nevertheless it’s nice to see Lew get a little national recognition. For what it’s worth, I encourage you to click here and vote for Lew as many times as you can.

The weekend series also saw a little lineup shake-up. Doug Mientkiewicz was FINALLY moved out of the top of the lineup and sent to the 7/8 hole. He responded with 2 HRs and 5 RBIs, so maybe he’s turned over a new leaf. I’m still a little skeptical, however. Dougie’s demotion signaled the promotion of Joe Mauer to the #3 spot, and the 20 year-old only responded by going 5-8 with a double, triple, homer, and 2 RBIs. He seriously puts all our other “veteran” hitters to shame, as he’s already better than most of them. In 27 games (82 at-bats), Mauer is hitting .317/.394/.682 with 6 HRs (!) and 13 RBIs. I have been very surprised by the amount of power Joe has displayed already, as his current pace says he’ll hit about 25 homers this year given 350 at-bats (a fairly generous number for someone who missed two months). He’s already erased any doubts I held about him being a special player.

Well, that’s enough rambling for one day. Don’t forget to get out and vote for Lew. Also, if you’ve been having trouble accessing this site lately, please drop a comment below or e-mail me at Blogger has been very unreliable as of late, and we may be in the market for a new domain name in the near future. Also feel free to post your comments about any topic I covered today and I’ll be sure and respond when I can.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Living on the Edge

“The quest stands upon the edge of a knife. Stray but a little and it will fail, to the ruin of all.”

-Galadriel in “The Fellowhip of the Ring” (2001)

I know I may be labeled a geek and berated for bringing “The Lord of the Rings” to Twins Chatter, but I honestly think that the above quote sums up the Twins’ current predicament quite appropriately. In case you’ve been living under a rock these past three days, our Minnesota Twins were swept at home by the now first-place Chicago White Sox. Right now, I feel too numb to provide any thorough statistical analysis of the series, or to speculate as to what the Twins could/should have done differently.

Here’s what it all comes down to: the White Sox are simply a better team than the Twins right now. There is no way you can really prove otherwise. The Sox outplayed the hometown nine in almost every facet of the game, and the Twins looked helpless to stop them (Johan being the lone exception). Like every true Twins fan, I predicted that the Twins would win the Central once again this year. I said (with fingers crossed) that the rotation would stabilize; the bullpen would emerge; and that offense would be a strength of this Twins team.

Despite the fact that the team sits with a record of 41-36 and is still just two games out of first place, I have been wrong on all three accounts thus far. The rotation is incomplete and inconsistent, the bullpen is falling apart, and the offense has been bad (if not atrocious). This week’s series only served to accentuate those myriad weaknesses.

The Twins’ season truly stands upon the edge of a knife. The date is still only July 2; it is not too late by any means. But one thing IS for certain: something must be done, and this something (whatever it may be) must be done soon, before it is too late. I’m pretty certain you only get one Shannon Stewart mid-season miracle per lifetime. Terry Ryan needs to take action, as the current 25-man roster will not win a third straight division title and most certainly will not advance in the playoffs. Perhaps TR has already seen enough—perhaps he doesn’t feel like he has the financial flexibility to improve this team through a trade and therefore decides to start trading off veterans (like JJ and Koskie) for prospects. It’s a little premature to be discussing such things on July 2, but the way it looks right now, that isn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility.

Or maybe TR will decide to revamp the roster with players within the organization. That would mean benching Mientkiewicz and handing the first base job to Morneau. That would mean calling up Jesse Crain and give him a baptism by fire. That would mean magically conjuring a suitable 5th starter from the scrap heap that is Rochester’s rotation (or giving Scott Baker a similar baptism). Now this is just a hunch, but I don’t think such an approach has turned around too many seasons. With the Twins’ minor league talent, however, you never know.

The third option, and probably the most conventional (if also the most unlikely given the front office’s history and financial restraints), is to improve the team through the trade market. This year, it won’t be as simple as adding that one key piece to the jigsaw puzzle. It’s going to take more than that. The Twins need at least one more solid bullpen arm and a starting pitcher, if not more. I’m not sure if anything less than that can change the course of events that seem to be unfolding before our eyes right now. I discussed a few trade possibilities the other day, but your guess is as good as mine when it comes to the specifics. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

In the meantime, the Twins are heading to the Valley of the Sun to take on the last-place Diamondbacks for three games. If there ever was a cure for the we-just-got-swept-by-out-division-rivals-at-home blues, it should be a series with a team that has a .359 winning percentage. But with these Twins, you never know. The Sox sharpened the blade, and the Twins’ chances for a three-peat may soon come crashing down.