Monday, August 30, 2004

Decisions Afoot

Call it the calm before the storm. Just don’t expect this storm to have much thunder and lightening. Yesterday the Twins had an off day while much of the speculation centered on the formation of the playoff roster and the August 31 waiver trade deadline. Decisions for both must be made today, with the team having a little leeway with its roster because 3 players are on the disabled list. The team has already called up top prospect Jason Kubel and has left open the option of keeping flamethrower Jesse Crain for the October roster. The question remains of whether the team will add any help from outside the organization before the deadline.

The chances of that happening are very slim. The Star Tribune reports, “the two holes the Twins would most like to fill – lefthanded bullpen help and a catcher – are particularly hard positions to fill now.” There just doesn’t seem to be a whole lot out there that will even slightly upgrade the roster. Many players who can help simply did not get through waivers, while the ones that did either aren’t very good or way overpaid. Colorado catcher Charles Johnson is an example of both. It would not be worth messing with the chemistry by making a deal to say they did and would be highly uncharacteristic of Terry Ryan to do so.

As I have stated before, my belief is the Twin’s biggest hole is in their rotation. The reality is it is too late in the season to fix this flaw unless someone within the organization steps up and according to the Star Tribune, “doesn’t appear to be a main objective.” At this point Terry Ryan cannot be blamed for not liking what he sees out there. However, if this team falters in the playoffs after a serious of poor outings from pitchers not named Brad and Johan, the organization does deserve criticism for not going the extra step earlier in the season in an attempt to get to the next level.

Interestingly enough, the team does have the third best starter ERA in the league at 4.26. There seems to be a hope coming from the organization that someone will step up and take the third spot in the final month of the season with each pitcher bringing a special attribute to the competion. There has been hardly any mention of what will happen when the team needs a 4th starter, almost a certainty should the team go deep into the playoffs. The Twins cannot expect Brad Radke and Johan Santana to handle the workload of a 3-man playoff rotation and expect success. Neither has ever had to do anything similar before in their careers. It is also ironic that much of the blame Oakland received for losing to the Twins 2 years ago came from using a 3 man rotation and now the Twins seem destined to do the same whether they receive the extra day in the division series or not.

Kubel Time
The promotion of Jason Kubel has a lot of people excited. I even saw one fan that believed the Twins had a deal in the works to move Jacque Jones and make room for Kubel now. That is probably not the plan. He is going to play when the team thinks he will help. That means the occasional start and mostly as a weapon off the bench. I don’t see him cracking the starting lineup before the playoffs but he certainly provides for better late inning match-ups. Who would you rather have coming to the plate in the middle of the 8th inning of a tie game with runners on base, Luis Rivas or Jason Kubel?
Next year I don’t expect Jacque Jones to return. Matt LeCroy will still be around to give the team an option of starting Kubel in the minors. The rest is all up to Kubel. Either he starts in the big leagues or he’ll play in the minors. He probably will not sit on the bench. He’ll get some competition for the job from LeCroy and Mike Restovich but the obvious top choice for the organization is for Kubel to step into that role. There are many people out there who expect him to do just that.

Glancing Back, Peering Ahead

“The reason that you have the big lead is so that you’re still in first when something like this happens.”

-Joe Torre after the Red Sox cut the Yankees’ lead in the AL East to 5 ½ games

When I heard Torre say this on TV the other day, I was struck by the simple yet often overlooked truth of the statement. I think it applies very well to the Twins’ current situation. Sure, they lost 2 of 3 to the Angels this weekend and finished the road trip with a 3-4 record, but when you have a 7 or 8 game lead, such things are mere trivialities. It also helps that the Indians and ChiSox did their part by splitting a four game series over the weekend.

In all actuality, there is absolutely no shame in winning one game against the Angels and then coming close in another (damn you, Adam Kennedy). Even the Yankees weren’t able to do as much last week when they were swept by the Halos. Brad Radke experienced a little hiccup on Friday, but Santana further solidified his already-solid case for the AL Cy Young award on Saturday. Even Carlos Silva got into the act yesterday, pitching five pretty decent innings while allowing one run. If the Twins can catch a break with their playoff schedule and get that extra day off during the Division Series (as they did last year), Gardy might just have found his third starter. Neither Lohse nor Mulholland nor Silva has pitched well enough overall to actually deserve to start in the postseason, but if the Twins can squeeze five innings from Silva in a Game 3 and then piece the rest together with the bullpen, it might just be crazy enough to work.

Mauer Matters
If you looked carefully at the Twins’ dugout this past road trip, you probably saw a familiar (and welcome) face: Joe Mauer. Mauer has joined the team and is taking batting practice as his injured knee heals. Terry Ryan talked a little about Mauer on the WCCO “Inside Twins Baseball” show yesterday, and I was slightly encouraged by what he had to say. He said that Joe has looked very good swinging the bat and is experiencing minimal soreness in his knee. I also gleaned that from TR that it is unlikely Mauer will catch much (if at all) this year. It does sound like he might be ready to hit before the end of the year, however. How can does this affect the Twins’ postseason roster plans? Since Mauer is on the DL, he can be “added” to the postseason roster until almost right before the playoffs begin, so there is no rush with activating him before Tuesday’s deadline. The real question is, do the Twins have room on their postseason roster for another left-handed pinch hitter, even one as good as Joe Mauer? They already have one in Jose Offerman, and the only two starters who Gardenhire would actually consider pinch-hitting for are Blanco and Rivas. If Mauer can’t even enter the game as even a one or two inning defensive replacement for Blanco, then his usefulness as a pinch hitter diminishes greatly. The Twins would then have to use a roster spot on Rob Bowen as well. This is however something to consider as Mauer continues to improve and October looms near…

Jason Kubel Called Up
Another thing Terry Ryan discussed during yesterday’s radio program was that the Twins were going to make some moves before the August 31 roster deadline. The first of these moves was made last night, as the team called up #1 prospect Jason Kubel. This was expected, as the Kubel needed to be with the team on the deadline in order to be eligible for the postseason roster. If you remember, the Twins did the same thing in 2002 with Cuddyer and he hit pretty well in the ALDS that year. Also, if you’d like a little more information on Kubel, be sure to check out this post from Aaron Gleeman the other day. Jesse Crain was “sent down” to make room for Kubel, but he isn’t going anywhere. All this means is that he’ll be unavailable for Tuesday’s game before he is “recalled” when rosters expand on Wednesday, September 1. The team will probably make a least one or two more roster moves either tomorrow or Tuesday, so stay tuned.

10,000 Strong
By the time you read this, Twins Chatter will have been visited by over 10,000 people in the 144 days we have been online. I believe we’ve found our “niche” as one of the better lesser-known Twins blogs, right behind the big boys over at Twins Geek, Aaron’s Baseball Blog, Batgirl, and also Seth Speaks. Even spread out over 5 months, 10,000 is a pretty big number, and on behalf of Twins Chatter I want to thank everyone who’s comes by to check us out. You’re still here, so we must be doing something right :)! We plan on remaining your source for Twins talk all the way through the playoffs and even during the off-season.

The Twins have an off-day tomorrow, so plan on seeing more postseason roster speculation in this space. We should have more information about what the Twins plan on doing by then, and no doubt John (or I) will feel the need to put in our two cents worth. Until then, take care everyone.

Adam Kennedy, that accursed Rally Monkey lives in thee

Friday, August 27, 2004

Setting the Playoff Rotation

There was a possibility of the Twins employing a grizzled veteran as their third starter in the playoffs come October. That dream may have died last night as Terry Muholland came back down to earth against Texas. It may have been his worst outing of the season as he went 3.2 innings while allowing 7 runs. He wasn’t even able to stay in the game and eat innings for the team. It was a rude reminder of why he only cost the team a dollar, way back at the beginning of the season. The Texas lineup is filled with the kind of power the Twins can expect to see in the playoffs and was able to expose Muholland and his lack of stuff.

The last 3 starts have done little to clear up the dilemma that is the Twins playoff third starter. Carlos Silva remains the front-runner with a nasty habit of putting guys on base. Kyle Lohse returned to his old crappy self, failing to run with a huge early lead. Even J.D Durbin has been hit hard recently in AAA. It is beginning to look more like a competition of who can suck the least.

The only reason this is a topic worth discussing these days is the Twins large lead in the division almost assures they will be in the playoffs. Now is the time to look ahead in preparation to advance further then the last 2 years. The lack of a quality third starter means the Twins are going to have to role the dice and hope their 2 Aces are able to win close to 90% of their games. Luckily there aren’t a lot of teams out there with 2 pitchers who have pitched as well as Brad Radke and Johan Santana.

Another reason for optimism is the propensity for certain players to emerge in the playoffs. Just like when some stars choke when it matters, other fringe players make their names in the playoffs. No one expected Jaret Wright to be the Indians Ace in 1997. Last year Josh Becket and Carl Pavano pitched much better in the playoffs then the regular season. Their surprise excellence was the reason the Marlins won the Series.

It is hard to identify whether the Twins have that player capable of making a big impact. It is certainly not Carlos Silva. He may pitch one or two good games but eventually all the hits he gives up will catch up to him. Who know though, maybe 1 or 2 good games are all the Twins would need. Kyle Lohse would seem to fit the mold. In previous years it appeared that he pitched better in big games but last year he was terrible in his playoff outing and this year he has continued to struggle in every kind of outing.

Any surprise performance would have to come from a pitcher with good stuff and a makeup not prone to getting rattled. The Twins have 2 young pitchers in Scott Baker and Durbin who the league hasn’t seen yet, which could also work to their advantage. If the Twins are going to hit it big it would have to be with one of those 2 pitchers. They have not performed well enough to warrant a promotion but the other starters may not leave the organization an option. It is not good enough to make the playoffs this year; everything is in place to advance deep into them. The only ingredient missing is the third starter. Who will answer the call and how long must we wait to find out?

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Not-So-Super Joe Escapes; The Fall of Kyle Lohse

I had originally planned on focusing solely on Kyle Lohse in today’s entry, but I decided Joe Nathan’s Eddie-like save last night cannot go un-commented upon.

As most of you already know, Nathan entered last night’s game with the easiest possible scenario a closer can face: no one on base with a three run lead. Many baseball purists believe that a save shouldn’t even be awarded in this situation. They contend that almost any major league caliber pitcher should be able to go one inning without allowing three runs or more. For a guy that had allowed just five runs the entire season before a week ago, this should not have been a problem. Unfortunately, it was a problem. Nathan didn’t allow any runs, but he gave the Rangers a good chance to win by loading the bases. Obviously Joe is struggling right now, and I’m sure he’d tell you exactly why this is the case: Nathan isn’t attacking hitters like he used to. He’s nit-picking at the corners, trying to be too fine. Earth to Joe! You can throw a baseball 97 mph! Keep the ball below the belt and get it in the general vicinity of the catcher’s glove and you will be just fine. Most players can’t hit that stuff and by pitching around them you are doing these guys a tremendous favor. I heard Joe acknowledge his problem after the game, so hopefully he can get it straightened out before his next appearance. I certainly hope so, because I liked the way things used to be. I’m talking about the Xantax-free save, a Minnesota rarity before this season and something I was getting used to with Super Joe.

The Rise (And Subsequent Fall) of Kyle Lohse
When the Twins jumped out to a four-run lead in the first inning of last night’s 8-5 win, it seemed to be the perfect situation for Kyle Lohse. Here was a guy that has been struggling for almost the entire season. Before he even steps on the mound he’s got a nice little safety net beneath him. Less pressure should translate into a better performance, but such was not the case last night for Lohse. He hung a curveball to Blalock in the first and the lead was prompt cut in half.

Overall, Lohse once again pitched poorly, failing to build off his last start—a 7 inning 3 hit win over Cleveland last week. We all hoped that he had turned the corner but it simply did not happen. It is plain to see that Lohse can’t locate his fastball at all and hangs seemingly every other curveball, but let’s compare some of his numbers from the last two seasons with this year:

This was Kyle’s best season statistically, and he was a key member of that 94 win team. His ERA was a stellar 4.23, although he threw only 180.1 innings. He allowed 181 hits and 70 walks for a 1.39 WHIP. His 124 strikeouts lead to a 6.18 K/9 ratio and a 1.77 K/BB ratio. Those were great numbers for a #5 starter and seemed like something to build off for Lohse.

Last year wasn’t a step forward for Lohse but it also wasn’t really a step back either. Kyle’s 4.61 ERA was a little high, and his 211 hits allowed (including 28 HRs) in 201 innings wasn’t overly impressive either. But Lohse did cut down on his walks (45) and improved his strikeouts (130), both of which were positive signs. Lohse seemed to fit right in on the Twins’ staff: lots of hits but few free passes. At multiple points during the season he seemed very close to putting it all together, which garnered him his first playoff start against Roger Clemens and the Yankees.

This year has been a letdown for Lohse almost since Day 1. In 27 starts, Lohse has only 9 “quality starts” (6+ innings with three earned runs or less). I question the definition of a “quality start”, and looking back at those games one can safely question the “quality” of at least two of those starts. In reality, Lohse has had pitched up to his potential a mere 7 times this season, the most obvious example being his complete game shutout of the Royals on July 7. His ERA currently stands at 5.35 and he’s had a monthly ERA over 5 every month except one. He’s already walked 12 more batters than last year in almost 50 fewer innings; he’s allowed more runs (93) and hits (196) already this year than he did the entire 2002 season and is quickly approaching his 2003 totals in those areas. His K/BB and K/9 ratios have obviously suffered as well. Lohse’s 1.38 K/BB ratio is one of the worst in the American League among starters, and this coming from a guy who doesn’t have the electric stuff of a Victor Zambrano (who walks a ton of guys but doesn’t give up very many hits).

All those statistics only confirm what we knew all along: Lohse is walking way more batters than normal, striking out far fewer than he has in the past, and is allowing WAY too many hits. Add it all up and you get a pretty predictable result: multiple schalackings such as the one that occurred last night. Five runs in five innings wouldn’t be that big a deal if Lohse hadn’t been doing the exact same thing all season long. A contender (or any team for that matter) needs more than five innings from a #3 starter, and Lohse has officially proved that he is no longer this team’s #3 guy. Frankly, I doubt that he will come around before the season is over.

That raises the obvious question: if not Lohse, then who will take the ball in Game 3 of the ALDS? It’s a topic we’ve discussed in length before and one that we will no doubt explore in much more detail as the playoffs get closer Thanks for stopping by Twins Chatter today, and be sure to check out John’s post tomorrow. Have a good one, everybody.

-Ryan M.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Cause for Concern? Not Quite Yet

While yesterday’s ninth-inning 5-4 loss to the Texas Rangers was indeed disappointing, Twins fans everywhere (including myself) must fight the urge to panic. Just keep reminding yourself that it was only one game, only one loss. The Twins’ lead in the AL Central didn’t even go down, as the Indians lost their 9th game in a row (though the White Sox won). Both the Tribe and the Sox are tied for second place, a whole eight games behind our Twins.

Tuesday’s game was only one loss, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was a rather disappointing loss for a variety of reasons. First of all, Carlos Silva pitched much better than he has in quite some time, shutting out the AL’s top offenses for six innings. It’s a shame he couldn’t pick up a win. In the seventh, some kind of shoulder ailment (allegedly) caused him to inexplicably groove a few pitches to the bottom of the Texas order, loading the bases with one out. Juan Rincon, who hasn’t been particularly sharp of late (seems to be a common theme in our bullpen right now) pitched decently in getting out of that jam, but imploded in the eighth. It was a very uncharacteristic outing for Rincon: I’m pretty sure he hasn’t blown a three-run lead all season long.

It has been well-publicized that J.C. Romero hasn’t given up a run since his return from Rochester, but Dick and Bert never mention the fact that opponents are hitting .317 off J.C. this season with runners in scoring position (compared to just .178 with the bases empty). But J.C. performed the unlikely last night (barely) and the game remained tied.

This is where the game really got weird. The Twins staged a nice little rally against Francisco Cordero in the top of the ninth, which is no small feat. The Good Doctor Morneau came through in the clutch with a big RBI double on a tough breaking pitch—anyone else notice how much better he looks against curveballs this year compared to last?

The only real negative note during “The Best Week Ever” was the Yankees’ shattering of Super Joe’s protective bubble. I would like to think that he is able to get past that fluke outing, but it sure hasn’t looked like it his last two innings. Joe once again was not locating his pitches nearly as well as he has the entire season, evidenced by the leadoff walk and the terrible pitch to Michael Young (a high fastball right over the plate). That last pitch to Texiera wasn’t so bad, but the curveball still got too much of the plate in my opinion. Whatever is wrong with Joe, let’s hope he gets it figured out sooner rather than later. Every pitcher has rough stretches, even Eric Gagne, so Nathan’s last three outings are no reason to panic. Yet.

Just how safe is it, anyway?
Many of the national baseball experts and writers have pretty much conceded the Central division crown to the Twins for the third consecutive year. On the outside, it appears they have good reason to do so. The Twins are eight games ahead in the division with 37 left to play. The two teams chasing them are currently sub-.500 clubs. One is in the midst of a nine game losing streak; the other has lost its two best players for the season and is in disarray. However, no self-respecting Twins fan is going to call this race over just yet (at least not out loud). Let’s take a look at all three teams’ remaining schedules.

The Indians seem to have faded for good this time, and even if they weren’t in the middle of a long losing streak they would still have their work cut out for them. The combined winning percentage of the Indians’ remaining opponents is .503, but if you look deeper, it is actually worse than that. The Tribe still must play the Yankees four times, the Athletics three times, the Angels three times, and the Twins seven times. They do get to beat up on the hapless Royals six more times, but even those games aren’t gimmes considering how poorly this team has played of late. Given their strength of schedule, I’d say that its very unlikely (albeit not impossible) that the Tribe makes a serious run on the Twins in 2004.

Chicago, on the other hand, seems to have a slightly easier road to climb. The combined winning percentage of their upcoming opponents is only .488, although they will still face the Twins (6), Rangers (4), A’s (3), and Angels (3). The ChiSox also have the good fortune of playing the Royals and Mariners a whopping 11 times. If they can take five of six from the Twins (heaven forbid) and pound the dregs like they’re supposed to, this could become a real race once again.

The Twins, unfortunately, have the toughest remaining schedule as their upcoming opponents sport a nifty .506 winning percentage. Minnesota still has about 17 games remaining with possible contenders, including the Yankees (3), Texas (5), Angels (3), and White Sox (6, if you can count them as “contenders” still). However, that’s the beauty of a big lead: you control your own destiny. If the Twins can go 6-7 in their remaining 13 games with Cleveland and Chicago, they will be just fine. It should be no problem for this team to play .500 ball for the rest of the year. If they can do that, they’ll still finish with about 90 wins and easily claim a playoff spot. The only thing that can stop the Minnesota Twins right now is the Minnesota Twins.

There you have it, folks. Despite yesterday’s loss, the only way the Twins can blow this thing is if they totally implode. Given the streaky nature of this team such a scenario is not entirely out of the realm of possibility, but it still highly unlikely to me.

Thanks for checking out Twins Chatter again today. We’re closing in on 10,000 visitors, and most of those hits aren’t either me or John! How amazing is that? Anyway, thank you for your continued support. If you have anything so say about today’s entry or just something about the Twins in general, feel free to drop a comment below and I’ll respond in timely manner if that comment warrants a response. Have a good one and I’ll see you all again tomorrow.

Monday, August 23, 2004

A Collection of Thoughts

First, let me begin by apologizing in advance for the length of today’s entry. I’m in the process of moving back to school and everything is a little jumbled right now. I look forward to getting settled in and getting down to business. Today I just want to cover a hodge podge of Twins thoughts I have had in the last couple of days.

Twins Win Again
Johan Santana continues to make his bid for the Cy Young. His dominance continued last night against Texas when he allowed 1 run in 8 innings while striking out 11. His has been so consistent that he must now be considered someone for teams to fear in the playoffs. A starter of his quality can easily make the difference between where the Twins have finished up the last 2 years and a World Series title this year. He is 4th in the league in wins, 1st in strikeouts, and 1st in ERA. When you consider how he started his season in mediocrity his numbers become even more impressive.

Something Twins fans may want to worry about with Santana is that he is also 3rd in the league in innings pitched. He already has surpassed his previous career high of 158.1. It’s safe to say that the 25 year is in unknown territory. My worst fear is that sometime in mid-September he is going to pull up with a tired arm. He has done a marvelous job, being such a horse and saving the bullpen, but there could be a cost. No one can foresee the future though and he has repeatedly defied doubters throughout his career. Also, his pitch counts have remained relatively within reason in all of his starts when he has gone late into the game. Is anybody else worried about this out there, or am I just being a pessimist? Perhaps with the big lead the team will be able to ease him into the playoffs without messing up his streak.

There were a few other highlights from last night’s game. Torii Hunter continued to play like he is ready to be a leader for this team, breaking the game open with a 2 run double in the 6th. Henry Blanco may be a frustrating alternative to Joe Mauer but despite his abilities he continues to play better then he ever has hitting his 8th homerun of the season. Kenny Rogers, who has 1 more win then Santana, was knocked out in the 6th innings. The Gambler really saved the Twins last year and it is good to see him having success in Texas. The Twins could probably use him but no one could have expected what he has done. He didn’t look good last night but along with Ryan Drese is a big reason Texas is playing so well. (I apologize if that sounded like Sid, I’ll try to never do that again!)

Speed Rules!
The Twins have all of a sudden become a very good running team. The past couple of years they have always had potential but it would be very common to see players have a steal percentage of 50%. Now everyone is running with great success. Lew Ford is 16/17, Jacque Jones 12/20, Corey Koskie 9/12, Luis Rivas 13/13, Cristian Guzman 8/13 and Torii Hunter 19/23. Teams are not even throwing the bal down on many plays to second. The team is even aggressively stealing 3rd. This is putting pressure on other teams and really sparking the offense. It makes for a fun game to watch. I know Torii Hunter says it’s the new turf that is making it possible but that cannot be the only reason. What has lead to so much recent success?

Paging a 3rd Starter
Who is this teams playoff third starter? Neither Kyle Lohse or Carlos Silva solicit much confidence. Lohse pitched better in his last start but has been terrible inconsistent all year and was shelled in his previous playoff outing. Silva is very unimposing. Imagine him making a start against the Yankees allowing hit after hit with the powerful Yankee lineup driving those runners home. He plays with fire every time he pitches and that is not a formula for success in the playoffs. At this point would Muholland make a possible start? He has pitched very well in his role but come on, he is still 108 years old! He hadn’t even been a starter in 4 years before this one. The Twins might need a fourth starter if their games don’t land on the right day. That will only compound the problem. Right now it looks as if Muholland gives them the best chance to win but it is shaky at best. There are no pitchers out there who are better then these three either. Shawn Estes is a name that has been thrown out and I cringe at the prospect of him even pitching a regular season game for this team. Maybe the team would be better off promoting Baker or Durbin and hope they perform the role that John Lackey did for the Angels in 2002. The 3 man rotation can be dangerous and if Radke or Santana lose one of their games it would be a tough series to win. Teams that are second in the league in pitching should not have to worry about such things, making the performances of Radke, Santana, Nathan and Rincon that much more impressive. Wouldn’t it be nice to have Joe Mays right about now? (I know many of you are cursing his name and probably me for bringing it up but let us throw out money right now because that is a sunk cost. He was hurt last time he was crushed but most people would have to admit that if healthy he is probably a better option then the 3 pitchers in the rotation right now who are doing an admirable job holding it together. The Joe Mays bashing may recommence when next we talk about payroll for next season or why we did not add any big contract during this one.)

I’ve said it before but we are definitely living in one of the best times to be a Twins fan. I want to know what people are thinking about the team. Feel free to drop a comment below about any topic including the ones I talked about above. As always you can reach me at In the meantime the greatest week every has spread into a second week.

(Twins Edition)

Even though the Twins may not be mentioned alongside Britney Spears, Bobby Brown, and Paris Hilton on the VH1 hit show “The Best Week Ever”, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who had a better seven days than our very own Minnesota Twins. Last Saturday, the Indians had trounced the Twins for the second consecutive day and looked poised to completely erase what was once a six or seven game lead in the AL Central. But Terry Mulholland came through with eight strong innings and Corey Koskie broke out of his season-long slump in a big way as the Twins won 4-2 in 10 innings. From last Sunday through yesterday, here is what the Twins have done:

Win-Loss Record: 6-1
Team ERA: 2.81
Team Batting Average: .308
Team OPS: .918
Runs: 49 total (avg. 7 per game)
Stolen Bases: 10 in 12 attempts (83%)
Lead in Division: 7 games (previously 1 game)

However, the Twins dominance goes beyond mere statistics. To fill out this post, I’d like to draw your attention to what I consider the five most important developments to have taken place during the week that was:

1. Kyle Lohse pitches seven strong innings to defeat Cleveland 5-1 on Friday.
We all know that, come October, Brad Radke and Johan Santana will be ready to against the Yankees, Athletics, Angels, or whomever else the Twins may find themselves up against in the ALDS. But one of the key weaknesses on this team (besides an inconsistent lineup) is its lack of a true #3 starter. As I’ve stated on numerous occasions in this space, Carlos Silva has performed admirably in his first full year as a starting pitcher, but he should not be counted on as more than a slightly above-average #4 guy. He’s simply doesn’t have the stuff to beat a good team come crunch time. Lohse, on the other hand, has that ability. He’s shown flashes of brilliance the past two seasons, but those flashes have been few and far between thus far in 2004. A 5.26 ERA on August 22 doesn’t lie: Lohse has been pretty bad overall. That’s why Friday’s performance was so encouraging—Lohse allowed just three hits and one run to one of the game’s most potent lineups. The Twins were four games up at the time, but still needed to get out to a good start and squash those young upstarts from Ohio. Lohse wasn’t perfect by any means; the Indians missed more than their fair share of hittable pitches early in the game. But Kyle did pitch much better as the game went on, and hopefully that start was the turning point for the young righthander. His team’s playoff fortunes may rest upon his shoulders.

2. Corey Koskie hits a game-winning two-run home run off Rick White the 10th inning last Sunday
You could make a very valid argument that this was the play that made “The Best Week Ever” even possible, and you’d probably be right. The full story has now become a part of Twins lore: Koskie commits an error and strands five baserunners by striking out twice in clutch situations, all in the game’s first five innings. He vents his frustrations on a chair in the clubhouse and promptly collects three hits in his next three at-bats, including the game-winning homer in the 10th. The Twins escape Cleveland with a much needed win and are still alone in first place. And so on. But the fact remains that incident, Koskie is hitting .462 with 5 homers, 9 RBIs, and has a mind-boggling 1.506 OPS. He’s been the team’s best hitter during that span (obviously) and is a big reason why the offense has experienced its recent renaissance. Maybe the Twins should re-sign Koskie after all…

3. Brad Radke pitches seven tremendous innings as the Twins beat the Yankees 8-2 on Tuesday
Although this game didn’t hold as much significance in the division race as any of the games against the Indians did, it was a HUGE win for the Twins. Seemingly every news outlet in the country was broadcasting the fact that the Twins hadn’t beaten the Bombers in the regular season since 2001, and with the team having lost six of its last eight, it didn’t appear that the streak would end anytime soon. But Radke was truly vintage Brad Radke that night. He located his fastball impeccably, fooled the A-Rod-less but still-powerful Yankee lineup with his devastating change-up, and got the big outs when he needed them most. Koskie and Morneau hit two mammoth homers and Shannon Stewart went 3-4 as the offense finally burst out its self-imposed protective bubble. With that monkey off their backs, the Twins could focus on doing something else they hadn’t done in 3 ½ years: take a series from the Yanks.

4. Shannon Stewart leads off with a home run and the Twins never look back in a 7-2 victory over the Yankees on Wednesday
“Okay,” you tell yourself, “The Twins beat the Yankees once. Big deal. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…” Well anyway, it was the Yankees and their fans who were shamed on Wednesday, as Johan Santana checked off yet another team on his “To Dominate” list. Stewart’s homer set the pace for another laugher. Guzman had a clutch double and Koskie continued his hot hitting. I cheered my head off along with almost 42,000 other people as the Twins beat the Yanks for the second straight day.

5. Torii Hunter caps off a 10-pitch at-bat with a three-run double against C.C. Sabathia as the Twins complete their sweep of the Indians at home
There is no doubt in my mind that Hunter’s at-bat against Sabathia in the sixth inning of yesterday’s game was the BEST at-bat any Twin has had all season long. Up 4-2, Hunter comes to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs. Lew Ford had just popped up on the first pitch (the antithesis of a good at-bat) and the Indians were on the verge of escaping a very dangerous situation. Hunter quickly fell behind 0-2 but was able to lay off the next three pitches, working the count to 3-2. He then proceeded to foul off four consecutive 95-97 mph fastballs from Sabathia, no small feat in itself. But on the 10th pitch of the at-bat Hunter crushed an outside fastball and barely missed a grand slam, settling instead for a three-run double high off the baggie in right. That hit put the Twins up 7-2 and essentially dashed any comeback hopes the Tribe may have held. Sunday’s game was as important for the Indians as last Sunday’s game was for the Twins: Cleveland desperately needed to win one of three to stay within striking distance in the division. Instead, the Indians are riding a seven-game losing streak and stand seven games out. To make things even worse, the Yankees are coming to town and they will be out for blood. The Indians most definitely have their work cut out for them.

Well, there you have it: the top five moments of “The Best Week Ever” as chosen by yours truly. It certainly was a great week to be a Twins fan, but as Master Yoda once said, “Mindful of the future, you must be.” The Twins need to parlay their recent successes into road victories against Texas and Anaheim or all will have been for naught. It’s gonna be a tough upcoming week for the Twins, but I’m confident that they can handle it.

Thanks for stopping by the site today, and I hope you enjoyed this column. If you’re in the mood for some more Twins chatter, check out the running game summary below that John posted yesterday in his triumphant return. Also, if you have any other favorite moments from “The Best Week Ever” feel free to share them with the rest of us in the comments section. Take care, everybody.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Going for the Sweep

I'm finally done travelling this summer which means now I can sit back and enjoy the Twins drive toward their third straight playoffs. I had a great trip to New Zealand if anyone was wondering. It's a beautiful country but unfortunatly I didn't have regular internet use. I vaguelly knew what was going on with the team from the few minutes I had and little of it seemed to be good. I was shocked to discover on my second to last day there that one of the local cable networks had picked up the ESPN broadcast of the Twins and Yankees Wednesday night game. It was a great pleasure to learn that the Twins had rebounded from a 1 game lead to take the first two from the hated bombers.

Now that I'm back I'm trying my best to get caught up with everything. It makes it easier that the lead is back to 6 and the Twins have played very good baseball the last week. Today they go for the sweep of Cleveland. To ease my way back in I thought I would just post my thoughts on today's game as it is happening. It is a nice casual way for me to get back into my blogging stride.

Pregame -
Today the Twins go for the 3 game sweep of Cleveland and 7 game lead in the division. It's hard to sweep a division rival but the Twins have already done it to the White Sox this year. Brad Radke is on the mound for the Twins agaisnt the Indians ace, C.C Sabathia. Radke as usual should give the team a great chance to win while Sabathia may pose problems for the Twins. It should be a good matchup but this will be a tough one for the Twins to pull out. Jacque Jones is not in the lineup today against the tough lefty. As a result Ford is batting second and LeCroy gets to Dh.

1st Inning -
Smooth start for Radke, it is always good to see him get through the first inning. The Lew Ford double play was a buzzkill. Sabathia looks like he is trying to pick the corners. A bad sign for a pitcher who has recently had problems with the umpires, this should work in the Twins favor if they can resist the urge to chase pitchs. Hunter had a great first at bat laying off pitchs out of the zone. The continued to put pressure on the Indians by stealing second. Morneau is my favorite player to watch hit. Every swing could be a homerun, something us Twins fans have waited along time for. Even his outs, such as this flyout, go a long way.

2nd Inning -
Rough top of the inning for the Twins. Radke has some problems leaving his pitches up and they were pretty flat. He still should have been out of the inning without giving up a run but Guzman had a ball skip off of his glove that should have been the last out. The inning started off with a couple of bloop hits off the end of the Indians bats. The Indians hit the ball a little harder near the end of the inning. Radke needs to get his pitches down and pitch better if he's going to keep the Twins in the game. Guzman made a second mistake in the top of the fourth dropping a throw to second on a steal. He can be such a frustrating player when his head isn't in the game. Twins went down 123 in the bottom of the second.

Bottom of 3rd -
This is starting to look like it is going to be an exiting game. Neither pitcher is dominent today. The Twins got a run back on a Luis Rivas double and then steal of 3rd. Shannon Stewart then drove him in with a ground ball. The Twins then had a couple of hard hits off of Sabathia before the inning was over. While I love Rivas's aggresive base running, I'm wondering if it was a smart play. Stewart is probably the Twins best clutch hitter and Rivas was on second with only 1 out. The liklihood of Stewart getting a hit seems high to me. Regardless it worked out this time for the Twins but may be cause for concern in the future. Radke rebounded to pitch a strong top of the third.

4th -
Corey Koskie continues to carry this team on his back. His 21st homerun of the season tied this game at 2. It is amazing how this team always has someone step up and carry it on his back. Koskie, Hunter, Guzman, Mauer, Jones, Stewart and Ford have all stepped up at some point and gone on a hitting rampage. This helps to make up for the lack of a Manny Ramirez, Magglio Ordonez or any other star hitter in the lineup.

Bottom of 5th -
Twins baseball at its best. The got a few big hits, drew a walk and ran the bases aggresively to go ahead 4-2. Tori Hunter is playing almost as well as Corey Koskie right now. He had his second hit of the game while moving Lew Ford to third. Then on the Justin Morneau sac fly he advanced to second while Lew scored. Matt LeCroy finished the scoring by driving in Hunter with a single of his own. Hunter never let up, running hard all the way to home plate. This is how team's win ballgames and divisions. When the Twins play this way they look like a team that can compete in the World Series. It has been three years and its time to take the next step. Now Radke seems to be heating up with back to back 123 inning in the 5th and 6th. The Indians are going to have a tough time winning this game.

Bottom of 6th -
What did I say about Tori Hunter above? He just narrowly missed hitting a grand slam with a 3 run double. He hit on a 3-2 count after having fouled off several pitches. Sabathia self destructed in this inning, missing his spots, overthrowing the ball and afraid of his breaking ball. The Twins took advantage like good teams do. Meanwhile, stick a fork in the Indians, they are DONE! If they are swept as is likely to happen they have an almost insurmountable road to climb in the last month of the season. 7 games for a team as inexpierenced as they are against the 2 time defending division champs is near impossible to make up.

Scary Moment -
Following the Hunter double, Morneau was hit in the hand with a pitch. He was taken out of the game and to the hospital for X-Rays. Everyone should be holding their breath that they are negative. Losing him would be a huge blow to the lineup.

8th Inning
Radke pitched 7 very solid innings before giving way to JC Romero. Romero looked nasty albeit slightly erratic. Pitching a 123 8th inning. Uneventful bottom of the inning for the Twins. Stewart had a 1 out single against Bob Wickman. Wickman could have been a differance maker had he been healthy all year. Casey Blake made a great play at third to rob Lew. Once again punishing the Twins for letting him go.

Postgame -
The Twins have put themselves in the driver seat to win the division. Joe Nathan pitched the ninth and while he allowed a run looked to be his old self. This win and sweep of the series was huge for the Twins. They sent a message that it is still their time. Some key players appear to be getting hot just at the right time. The Twins have a tough schedule up ahead so they might need the 7 game pad, but if they continue to play so well they wont. The best thing to see this weekend was a solid performance from Kyle Lohse. He has been so inconsistent and it would be a huge boost if he could build off that start.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

You Can't Win 'Em All

It seemed almost too good to be true, and in the end, it was.

In one of the more impressive comebacks in team history, the Twins, down by six runs at two points in the game, managed to score a total of nine runs in a span of three innings. Five of those came against two of the better relief pitchers in the game, Paul Quantril and Tom Gordon.

When Shannon Stewart’s two-out line drive flew past Gary Sheffield out in right field, it looked as though the Twins could do no wrong. Up 10-9 and with “Mr. Automatic” Joe Nathan entering the game, it seemed the impossible (or at least improbable) was inevitable.

We should have known better.

I’m not too mad or disappointed with Joe Nathan despite his ugly performance in the ninth last night (2/3 of an inning, 4 hits, 3 earned runs). Let’s face it: as tremendous as Nathan has been this year, Eric Gagne he is not. Joe hadn’t been particularly sharp his last couple of outings, and even though he had gotten by pretty well, you could plainly see the writing on the wall. Nathan was due, probably even overdue, for a bad inning and it just so happened to come at a rather inopportune time. Let’s not forget the first three batters for the Yankees in the ninth, either: Jeter, Sheffield, and Rodriguez. That’s almost like facing the #2 through #4 hitters on the AL All-Star team. Even Joe Nathan is human. He wasn’t his sharpest last night and the veteran hitters of the Yankees made him pay.

But the disappointing end does not mask the fact that this was a great game. If the Twins had lost the first two games of the series we might not be saying that, but they did so we are. Thursday’s comeback shows just how much confidence this team gained by handling the Yanks on Tuesday and Wednesday. Usually when you’re down by six runs against the Yankees late in the game, you pretty much resign yourself to defeat. Not consciously, of course; these guys are professionals and they will still give a good effort even in defeat. But subconsciously, you’re thinking “I don’t know how we can possibly score six runs against Quantril, Gordon, and Rivera.”

The thing is, those two victories have got the Twins thinking that they should be able to score six or seven runs off the Yankees’ bullpen. Everyone was getting big hits: Offerman, Rivas, Jones, Ford, and of course, Stewart. For a team that has struggled mightily to get the clutch two-out hit (the Twins were last in the AL with a .213 average with RISP and two outs before Thursday) it was great to see so many guys step up when needed. I have no doubt that the success the Twins experienced in this series will carry over into this weekend’s series with Cleveland. All in all, I’m extremely satisfied with taking two of three from the Yankees, and the Twins should be too.

Big Powwow with the Indians
That takes us to our next topic: those previously hard-charging Indians. I say “previously” because, as most of you already know, the Indians were swept by Texas this week in rather convincing fashion. Now the Rangers are a much better hitting team than the Twins, but it doesn’t say a whole lot about the Indians’ seemingly invincible offense when they manage to score just 8 runs against the likes of Mickey Callaway, Scott Erickson, and “The Gambler” Kenny Rogers (he of the 4.61 ERA). We shall see what takes place this weekend, but I strongly suspect the Twins will play much better. Tomorrow’s pitching match-up isn’t the greatest (Lohse vs. Westbrook) but Saturday and Sunday look much better, as it’s Mulholland vs. Durbin and Sabathia vs. Radke.

Despite the loss, the Twins have finally gained a little momentum heading down the stretch. We’ll just have to see how far it takes them.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

A Long Time Coming

I only have one thing to say: it's about freakin' time.

Your Minnesota Twins defeated the New York Yankees 8-2 last night, their first regular-season win over the Bronx Bombers since May 10, 2001. For the sake of amusement (and to see just how far this franchise has really come), let's compare these two victories, which were separated by a mere three years, three months, and seven days (1195 days total).

In 2001:
The Twins featured a lineup that had Christian Guzman leading off, Matt Lawton batting third, Chad Allen batting sixth, and the ever-fearsome Jason Maxwell starting in the DH slot (he would be replaced by the just-as-fearsome Denny Hocking later in the game). Mark Redman started for the Twins and pitched well in his matchup with Andy Pettitte.

In 2004:
The Twins of 2004 decided to throw everything they had against the Yanks. Newcomers into the lineup were Shannon Stewart, Lew Ford, Justin Morneau, and Henry Blanco. Radke started against the Yankees' new ace, Javier Vazquez.

The Twins played their patented version of small-ball, scratching out 4 runs in the first 4 innings against Pettitte. A.J. went 3-4 and scored twice, and Allen had a key run-scoring triple. Dougie Baseball went 2-3 with 2 RBIs, including the game-winner in the 10th against Mariano Rivera. Mientkiewicz drove in Guzman who had stolen second to get into scoring position. LaTroy (remember now, this is before his second-half meltdown) pitched a scoreless 10th to earn his 11th save and the Twins won the series in New York.

Brad Radke pitched seven innings of outstanding baseball, squashing a big Yankee threat in the seventh. Koskie and Morneau hit mammoth home runs in the second and third innings, respectively. Stewart (wouldn't he have been nice to have back in 2001?) went 3-4 and started two key Twins rallies. Hunter even pulled a Chad Allen with his steal of second in the fifth, taking off when the pitcher had barely toed the rubber (the steal also ended Vazquez's no-steal streak at 225 2/3 innings). Juan Rincon and J.C. Romero, neither important members of that 2001 team, escaped jams of their own in the 8th and 9th as the Twins held on for the victory.

Just a little bit of interesting information there. I guess it's true what they always say: the more things change, the more they stay the same. Yesterday's win was a big one for the Twins, and it should hopefully do a lot for their confidence as they head into one of the tougher parts of their schedule. The lightning in Corey Koskie's bat was not lost during the flight from Cleveland, which is extremely encouraging (as I mentioned yesterday). I also must say that Justin Morneau's homer was one of the most impressive sights I've seen all season. When Posada called for that cutter (or whatever that pitch was) I just knew Morneau was going send that baseball on the ride of its life.

I am very excited for tonight's game, featuring the pitching matchup of Santana versus Mussina. I have two of the best seats in the house (18 rows up from the visitor's dugout right on the aisle) for one of the biggest games of the year, and I can't wait. Plus, it's Twingo and Dollar-a-Dog night! What more could a guy ask for? Because I'll be at the game until rather late, I may or may not have a new post up tomorrow, so consider yourself forewarned. Thanks for stopping by Twins Chatter and come on back right soon, ya hear?


Photo courtesy of
Koskie rounds the bases after his two-run homer puts the Twins ahead of the Yankees for good

Monday, August 16, 2004

Hammer Time (Break it Down)

Don't you just love my corny/wildly entertaining post titles? I feel they are a key part of the whole "Twins Chatter" allure... but I digress. As promised, today I'll take a quick look at the members of the Twins' lineup that are currently struggling through a rough patch. In other words, I mean the majority of the Twins' lineup. Let's break it down.

Corey Koskie
Nobody embodies the Twins' season-long offensive struggles better than Koskie. Simply put, Corey is having a horrible season. Sunday's outburst was nice, to be certain, but it still doesn't change the fact that Koskie is hitting an anemic .239 this season with an OBP (.339) a full 35 points lower than his career average and 54 points lower than last year. His 17 homers are fine, but the guy has been hitting in run-producing spots in the order all season long and has a measly 48 RBIs (which doesn't look that bad on the Twins, but trust me, it is). Koskie has had a tough time driving in runs the past two seasons (69 in '02 and '03) but at least he was getting on base those years. Now he's not even doing that. He's on pace to strike out 111 times while drawing just 55 walks, which would be the worst ratio in his career. Not exactly great numbers to parade out there on the FA market this winter. But who knows? Maybe after Sunday's performance Koskie will turn his season around and once again become a force to be reckoned with. But I'll believe it when I see it.

Torii Hunter
For the season's first four months, it appeared that Torii Hunter may have found his niche as an offensive player. Obviously he has always played world-caliber defense out in center, and that is a large part of his value as a player. After Torii's breakout 2002 season (29 HRs, .858 OPS) Hunter regressed a little last year (.250 BA, .763 OPS). He did post a career-high in RBIs with 102, but we all know how meaningless that statistic was; it's more telling that he hit .228 with runners on base. Through July of 2004, I thought that Torii's place as a hitter would lie somewhere between his 2002 and 2003 numbers: a .275 batting average, 25 homers, and 85-90 RBIs. Not superstar numbers by any means (and most certainly not worth the $6.5 million the Twins will pay him this year) but solid nonetheless. In August, however, Torii has looked nothing like the player that was voted to start the 2002 All-Star game. He's hit .236/.276/.455 with only 5 RBIs in 55 at-bats, and has drawn a pathetic 2 walks to go along with 12 strikeouts. I'm be tempted to say that my little brother could draw more than 2 walks in that many major league at-bats, and he's 12. Once again Hunter is hitting 30 points lower with men on base than he is with the bases empty, so there can be no doubt that he has contributed more than his fair share of ineptitude to the Twins' struggling offense this season, especially these past few weeks.

Jacque Jones
Jones is leading the team in homers (19) and RBIs (60) this season, but this is almost by default as few others have performed up to their potential. He also has the most at-bats on the team with runners on base (175) and is one of the only Twins who has not hit lower than his overall season average in this situation. Jacque has been one of the team's lone bright spots in August (.341/.396/.523) but it is hard to forget what he did (or didn't do) in May, June, and July. Jacque posted some pretty measly numbers during those months (.220s, anyone?) although he did remain one of the team's top RBI men. Jones is on pace to hit 26 homers and drive in 83 runs this year, which isn't too terrible, but I know the Twins wouldn't mind if he caught fire the last month and a half and made a push to bring his season totals in line with the rest of his career marks.

Christian Guzman
When Guzman goes into a slump, hardly anyone makes mention of it simply because it happens so often. Hasn't this guy pretty much been in a perpetual slump since July of 2001? Right now, Guzie is REALLY struggling, even by Guzie standards. He's 1 for his last 25 and has seen his batting average (which actually reached the .290 range in July) drop down to .270. Because he hardly ever walks (just 18 in 430 at-bats this season) Guzie's on-base percentage is an embarrassing .299. I sure hope Guzman is embarrassed by that number, because he sure as hell should be. Unfortunately, from what I know about Guzman's personality, I'd be willing to bet that he couldn't care less. It's amazing how quickly Guzie has fallen back to earth after his spectacular July in which he hit had an OPS of .800. For those of you unfamiliar with Guzman's prowess (or lack thereof) at the dish, the terms ".800 OPS" and "Christian Guzman" are actually listed as antonyms in Webster's Thesaurus. Getting Guzie to hit at even normal Guzie levels would go a long way towards curing what ails the Twins' offense.

Luis Rivas
With the numbers that Louie has put up the past few years, it is truly amazing that he still has a starting (or even platooning) role in the major leagues. For a guy that plays no better than slightly above-average defense at SECOND BASE for crissakes (in my opinion one of the easier defensive positions on the diamond) he been on the receiving end of some very good fortune. Rivas is hitting .244/.269/.389 this season with 7 homers, 25 RBIs, and 11 SBs, but with no obvious replacement looming on the horizon, he may very well be around again in 2005. In Sid's "Jottings" the other day Gardy expressed his displeasure with Rivas' work habits. While I'm not glad that Louie doesn't seem to be giving it his all, I'm glad that Gardy had the testicular fortitude to call him on it. Maybe that is the spark that Rivas needs to turn his season around, but in my opinion, Rivas just plain stinks. Maybe Cuddyer is the short-term and/or long-term solution at 2B, but it remains to be seen if he can handle the position competently defensively. I don't know about you, but I'm not expecting a whole lot of production from Rivas for the rest of this season and beyond.

As the Twins open up a much-anticipated three game set with the hated Yankees tonight, their most pressing weakness is definitely the lineup. I've gone over a few of the key non-performers, but in reality the entire lineup can take some of the blame (with the exceptions of Ford and Morneau). It remains to be seen if the Twins' Achilles' Heel dooms them against the pinstripes, but I sure hope it doesn't. Should be a fun series to watch if only because both Radke and Johan will toe the rubber. I'll be watching. Won't you?

Now THAT Was a Close One

If there is anyone else out there who is as inherently pessimistic as I am, hopefully you can sympathize with my plight.

Following the 8-2 and 7-1 butt-whuppings the Tribe unleashed on our offensively-challenged Twins Friday and Saturday, I thought it was all over.

Carlos Silva had pitched like crap, allowing seven(!) runs in only two(!) innings of work. Kyle Lohse nearly matched Silva's ineptitude the next day by allowing seven runs in five innings, including three in the first.

The Twins had managed to strand 26 runners on base and eke out three runs against the likes of Scott Elarton (he of the 8.00+ ERA) and Jake Westbrook (who has admittedly been pretty good this year). The Twins had just one hit with runners in scoring position in the series' first two games.

Things didn't start that well on Sunday, either. Mulholland threw a sure double-play ball into center field after facing just his second batter. The next batter (Matt Lawton) grounded into a DP which allowed Mulholland to escape with just one run allowed.

Predictably, the Twins made Indians' starter Chad Durbin look WAY better than he actually is through the game's first five innings. Durbin threw 106 pitches through five innings, walking four and hitting a batter. Yet, this team keeps finding new ways to NOT score runs. First and second no outs? Second and third no outs? Bases loaded one out? It really doesn't matter. I couldn't even bring myself to yell at the TV (something I usually relish) because this routine has become so commonplace of late.

Durbin would have leave the game after the fifth, but that hardly seemed to matter. With one out, Lew Ford had singled and Corey Koskie had connected with a rare double. Christian Guzman had followed with his usual plate appearance (a completely unproductive one, in this case a foul out). With two outs, it seemed inevitable that yet another once-promising rally would fall by the wayside. However, something would then take place that the gods did not foresee: a man named Jose Offerman came to the plate.

With two runners on base and TWO OUTS, no less, Offerman connected with the hit that may have saved the Twins' season for now--a two run double into the rightfield corner. For the series, the Twins on batted .083 with runners in scoring position (RISP), but that second hit was certainly a big one.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the tremendous job that Terry Mulholland in his eight innings. The Twins simply could not afford another short and/or terrible start, and Mulholland, with all his crafty veteran mojo, turned the clock back to 1993 for a day. He allowed just two runs (one earned, although the unearned run was his fault anyway) and shut down a lineup that had previously looked nearly invincible. No matter what he does from here on out, it looks like Terry Ryan outsmarted us all (fans and the rest of the league alike) when he signed Mulholland back in April. Sunday's game was HUGE for the Twins and the vet didn't choke like Lohse and Silva did.

Perhaps this win will also be the coming-out party for Corey Koskie. It was a game in which Koskie finally hit absolute rock-bottom by striking out twice in his first two at-bats, stranding five runners. His second strikeout was especially ugly, as it came on a curve in the dirt that everyone in the entire stadium knew was coming. After that embarrassing AB, Koskie's body language seemed much more determined his last three at-bats. He crushed a double in the sixth, lined a single in the eighth, and delivered the big blow in the tenth.

After J.C. escaped a jam in the bottom of the ninth, the Twins were left with the unenviable task of winning a game in extra innings on the road. Lew Ford was buzzed by a Rick White fastball that skimmed the top of his helmet. When Koskie fell behind in the count 1-2, I thought (pessimistically) that he would revert back to his old ways and flail at some off-speed pitch in the dirt. But White decided to challenge Koskie and he connected with a mammoth two-run homer to put the Twins up 4-2. The homer was even more impressive considering that if was against the wind and hit to one of the deepest parts of the park. The Nathanator would slam the door as usual in the bottom of the inning and the Twins flew out of Cleveland with their pride wounded but not shot.

More reactions from this weekend's series
As you can probably tell from the tone of this post, I was extremely disappointed overall by the Twins' performance over the weekend. To be sure, Cleveland played extremely well. They are a terrific hitting team, and when you make mistakes (Silva and Lohse made plenty) they turn into three-run homers, not just singles (or harmless foul balls in Torii Hunter's case). I don't like it when people say that this series made the Twins "stand up and take notice" of the Indians. I'm assuming that the Twins took the Indians very seriously even BEFORE this series began. They are very hot right now, but that doesn't change the fact that they are an extremely formidable opponent. Sunday's game did prove one thing: when the Twins get a good performance from their starting pitcher, they should have the edge over the Tribe. But anytime it's a slugfest between these two teams, the Indians will come out ahead almost every time. These teams do play each other 10 more times this season, so nothing has been decided just yet. If the Twins can start playing a little better they can still win this thing.

I know I rambled a tad in today's post, but I had a few things that I wanted to get off my chest. I appreciate that you stuck with me today, and I promise to be my normal self tomorrow. Tomorrow is an off-day, and I plan on using this space to look at some of the Twins' struggling hitters, most notably Hunter, Jones, Rivas, and Koskie. Be sure to stop by and check us out again. Have a good one.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Put Up or Shut Up

This is it. Now is the time when we will see whether or not these Minnesota Twins are for real. While yesterday's 4-3 loss to the Mariners (the second straight such loss) may have ended on a couple of flukey plays, the fact still remains that it was still a loss, yet another against a bad team. The Twins now have a record of 62-51, three games ahead of the Indians (60-55) and five games ahead of the White Sox (56-55). I'm just about ready to write off the White Sox, who have been struggling to score runs with their best two hitters (Magglio Ordonez and Frank Thomas) on the disabled list. Since these two guys are probably out for the remainder of the season, and since the Sox pitching was never that good in the first place, I highly doubt that the South Siders will make much noise in the AL Central Division race.

The Indians, on the other hand, are a completely different story. This is a young team that is fiery, plays hard, and is hungry to win. The same formula allowed the 2001 Twins to win 85 games and set the stage for back-to-back playoff appearances. However, this Indians team has much more talent than the Twins of three years ago. First of all, they hit the snot out of the ball. Victor Martinez (18 HRs, 84 RBIs, .885 OPS) and North Dakota native Travis Hafner (22 HRs, 88 RBIs, 1.007 OPS) are having breakout seasons. They are two of the best young hitters in the game right now and pose a formidable threat in the middle of the Cleveland lineup. Matt Lawton is also having a nice comeback season for the Indians after suffering from various injuries the past few years. Twins castoff Casey Blake is having a solid year and is outhitting Corey Koskie by a very large margin. Even veterans Omar Vizquel and Ronnie Belliard are enjoying offensive renaissances as members of this Cleveland team.

As unimpressive as the Twins' hitting has been this season, Cleveland's pitching has been perhaps even LESS impressive, if that's even possible. Cleveland has a team ERA of 4.86, third-worst in the American League (the Twins are first in the AL with a 4.04 team ERA). Their starting rotation has had two solid starters this year: ace C.C. Sabathia (9-6, 3.77) and undeserving All-Star Jake Westbrook (10-5, 3.61). After that, it seems to go downhill pretty fast. Lefty Cliff Lee has 10 wins and was pretty effective until the last six weeks or so, and his season ERA is an unimpressive 4.77. The Indians are also sending out Scott Elarton and Chad Durbin every five days, which certainly doesn't say much about their starting rotation. I'll take an inconsistent Kyle Lohse and a washed-up Terry Mulholland over those two any day.

The Indian's bullpen is where the Twins really have a marked advantage on their pursuers from Ohio. The Indians have blown and astounding 24 saves this season and their bullpen has an ERA of 5.32 and a WHIP of 1.53. By comparison, the Twins' bullpen has blown just 9 saves this season (6 by Fultz and Romero) and has an ERA of 3.71. If the Indians had even an average bullpen they would have overtaken our Twins long ago. The recent return of Bob Wickman has brought some stability to the closer's role for Cleveland (he's 6 for 7 in save opportunities) but that doesn't change the fact that this bullpen has cost this team many many victories this season.

However, I digress from the matter at hand: the Seattle Mariners. I'm willing to dismiss the past seven games; let's pretend they don't matter that much. The Twins are still in first place by three full games, they still play a last-place team this afternoon, and they still have the best pitcher in the American League on the mound to face said last-place team. Things may look a bit bleak right now, but there is no reason to think that another patented Johan-esque performance won't turn everything back around.

I hate to say this on August 12, but today's series finale is a must-win game for the Twins. Because they are such a streaky team, they need to gain a little momentum as they head into Cleveland for a key three-game series this upcoming weekend. As I've discussed in this post, Cleveland is a team with some definite strengths (hitting) and weaknesses (pitching). On the surface, the Twins appear to match up quite well with the Indians, whom they have beaten four times in six games already this season. But championships aren't won and lost on paper--they're won on the playing field. We'll just have wait and see what happens.

Thanks for stopping by Twins Chatter today. Our readership numbers seem to be leveling out, which is good. Tomorrow I'll have some reactions to Thursday's game as well as an extensive preview of this weekend's big series against the second-place Indians. So long, everybody.


Wednesday, August 11, 2004

A Plethora of Topics

The fact that it was freakishly cold yesterday in Minnesota (temps in the high 50s? In August? Come on!) is all the more reason for you to curl up in front of your computer today and enjoy a nice helping of Twins Chatter. And we've got plenty of news to discuss, so here goes.

Twins lose to Mariners 4-3
As disappointing as losing three of four to the Athletics this was weekend was, Tuesday's loss to the Mariners was just as bad. Yes the game was close and the Twins played the once-mighty M's tough, but this was a game the team needed to win for a number of reasons. Terry Mulholland needed to deliver a quality start, but he gave up two two-run homers in the first and the Twins quickly found themselves in a 4-0 hole from which they could never fully recover. This team has a number of comeback victories this season, but getting down by four in the first inning can sometimes psych a team out. That seemed to be the case yesterday as our hitters made Gil Meche (he of the 6.51 ERA) look like Curt Schilling. I thought that this offense had finally outgrown that nasty habit of making bad/mediocre pitchers look like world-beaters, but apparently old habits die hard.

Another reason this would have been a key win is because both the Indians and White Sox won their games on Tuesday, moving to within 4 and 5 games of the Twins, respectively. Before the Oakland series there was a temptation for Twins fans to automatically place this team in the playoffs, as I myself have been guilty of this assumption on more than one occasion. Instead of running away with the division, the Twins seem determined to let these two teams stick around, which could be a recipe for disaster. A four-game lead can evaporate in a hurry, and two teams are a lot tougher to shake than just one. With two key series coming up with the Indians (the next two weekends) now is not the time to go into a funk. The Twins have been a very streaky team these past two years, and nobody wants this current stretch (the team has lost 4 of their last 5) to become a losing streak. I am confident, however, that the Twins will take two games of the series. If they can give both Radke and Santana any kind of run support whatsoever, I don't think the last-place Mariners should pose too much of a problem.

Joe Mauer is scheduled to get a third opinion on his sore knee Wednesday
From what I hear, this latest doctor's diagnosis is going to have a large impact on the course of action that the Twins choose to take with their star catcher. If he agrees with the Twins' team doctor and says that the problem will heal with rest and treatment, Mauer could be back in a matter of weeks. If he says the problem is severe and requires more surgery, then Mauer will most likely be out for the rest of the season. If that is indeed the case (God forbid), then the Twins will most likely be in the market for a veteran catcher to platoon with Henry Blanco. Blanco has done an admirable job this season given the circumstances, but he is what he is: an all-field, no-hit backup catcher forced into a full-time role. Any help in that area (since Matthew LeCroy obviously isn't an option) would be a welcome addition.

The third Mauer possibility is the one that most of us would rather avoid. I'm talking about the possibility that he won't be able to catch ever again. While this is admittedly the most unlikely scenario of the three, it is still possible. The Twins need Mauer's bat badly, but I just can't see him playing a different position this year already, unless it is as a part-time DH. This is only a remote possibility and one that we probably needn't worry about just yet.

Aaron Fultz is demoted to AAA Rochester; Matt Guerrier recalled
I don't know if this was true for anyone else out there, but I was very surprised to see Guerrier on the mound in the 8th inning of last night's game. Although I realize that Fultz most certainly had to go, I simply didn't think that Guerrier would be the one to take his place. Looking at it now, I realize that Terry Ryan didn't really have many other choices. He's not going to bring up J.D. Durbin or Scott Baker and have them pitch in relief, and the Twins could ill-afford another short Mulholland start with long reliever Joe Roa still recovering from his "start" on Sunday. Even though Guerrier was fine in his inning of work, I think this move really brings to light the weaknesses the Twins have in the back end of their bullpen and how much they need Grant Balfour to get healthy. Both Guerrier and Roa are mop-up/long relief guys, Crain has struggled somewhat, and Romero has been tough-and-go at times. Getting Balfour healthy eliminates the surplus long relief guy and gives Gardy another hard thrower to bring in at key times.

That's about all the relevant Twins news I have come across today. If I missed anything or you would like to give your own two cents on any Twins-related manner, feel free to drop a comment below. Otherwise, be sure and bundle up because it's downright COLD outside!


Monday, August 09, 2004

It's Been a Hard Night's Day

I'm sorry to disappoint all my loyal readers, as there are actually quite a few of you out there, but I just don't have the will to write a good post today. As sometimes happens, I had this great idea all planned out that simply did not materialize the way I hoped it would, so I'm going to take the night off and save it for tomorrow.

In the meantime, don't forget to check out all the other Twins blogs out there: Twins Geek, Aaron Gleeman (who's skill level I hope to someday approach), Seth Speaks, and last but not least, BatGirl. BatGirl is really moving into the mainstream now, as she even has her own Online Emporium! How cool is that--official merchandise for a blog!

If you're also looking for something interesting to read, I highly suggest that you check out Chris Kline's minor league tour diary over at Baseball America. Kline is a writer for BA, and the Pirates' organization agreed to let him become a "player" for both their AAA and high-A minor league teams for a week. He did everything that the players did except play in the games, including batting practice. This 8-part series (and I highly recommend you read them all) is both hilarious and informative at the same time. If you've ever wondered what life is like for the thousands of professional players who AREN'T in the major leagues, you'll get something out of this diary. Plus, former Twins catcher Tom Prince happens to be the manager at single-A Lynchburg, which is one of the teams that Kline "played" for. I always knew Princey would make a good manager someday and it appears that day has come sooner rather than later. Just thought I would share this interesting tidbit.

I did go the game yesterday afternoon, and even though it was disappointing that the Twins lost, I'm not entering panic mode just yet. Gardy had very few options out of the pen, and I'm glad we finally saw the true colors of Aaron Fultz. Jesse Crain wasn't overly impressive in his stint either, but I'm now fully convinced that Fultz should be the one to go next week when Balfour gets healthy.

Thanks for stopping by Twins Chatter and hanging in there with me while I fly solo for the second time in the past month. The difference between writing 2 or 3 and 5 posts a week is actually larger than I imagined, but I'll keep throwing my thoughts, analysis, and opinions out there every day in case something sticks. Have a good one.

This is the view I had from my seat on Monday afternoon. Lower GA is still the best deal in town!

The Longest Day

Whoa. If what took place on Sunday afternoon was not the longest baseball game that I have ever watched or attended or participated in, then I will eat my hat. The game went all Energizer Bunny on the Twins and just kept going, and going, and going, and going... you catch my drift. Despite the fact that the Hometown Nine came out on the short end of the stick, it was still a highly entertaining game to watch, one of the best all season long in my opinion. Who would have thought that Carlos Silva would extend his scoreless streak to 15 innings and nearly outduel Mark "Cy Young" Mulder? Or that Christian Guzman, of all people, would come up with the clutch 8th inning homer (which he absolutely crushed, by the way) to tie the game at 3 apiece? Or that Joe Roa (!) would pitch five innings of one-hit baseball? Or that the Twins bullpen would throw 10 (!) straight scoreless inning? Or that the recently rejuvenated Twins offense would go 10 innings without scoring?

Who would have thought that Terry Mulholland would promptly give up three runs in his only inning of work and render all those other accomplishments totally meaningless? Okay, I would be willing to bet that most of us could probably have seen that last one coming, but you can't be too hard on ol' Gramps. He had already thrown a bullpen and done his regular workout earlier in the day, so he understandably had even less on his pitches than he normally does, if that's even possible.

Even though it came in a losing effort, it was still a fun game to watch that included some memorable moments. New utilityman Augie Ojeda made his Twins debut, and once again reminded us all just how short he actually is. Guzman's homer was the second dramatic home run of the series that caused the Twins to use up their bullpen in a losing effort (Shannon Stewart's 9th inning homer on Friday being the other). And for those of you who watched the bottom of the 18th because you are a "never say die" Twins fan (or just couldn't find anything else to watch on TV) saw Justin Morneau literally golf a baseball about 415 feet over the centerfield fence, which was an almost awe-inspiring feat.

All these extra inning games are taking their toll on the Twins bullpen, however. The starters have been doing their part, but Juan Rincon, J.C. Romero, and Joe Nathan have pitched quite a bit recently. Gardenhire was so concerned about Rincon's workload that he opted to bring in Mulholland, Tuesday's scheduled starter, instead of the team's top setup man. That's Gardy's call, but it sure would have been nice to hold the A's for a couple more innings with Rincon in there. Once again, I was very impressed with the performance of Joe Roa. His five innings means that Rincon, Nathan, Fultz, and Crain will all probably be available for today's game. They might all be needed, seeing as Kyle Lohse will be the one to toe the rubber. Roa once again proved that he is a very valuable member of this team and needs to be retained when Balfour comes off the disabled list.

Sunday's loss bothers me a lot less now that the Twins hold a comfortable six game lead over both the White Sox and the Indians, who have taken advantage of Chicago's ineptitude (and failing health) to seriously challenge the Sox for second place. I'm planning on writing tomorrow's post about these two teams and what the Twins should expect in terms of pressure for the season's final two months.

I'm cutting off today's post a little sooner than normal because I'm getting up a little earlier and heading out to Metrodome for today's series-ending tilt. I'm planning on testing out the $715 million investment all the Minnesota taxpayers put into our new light rail system (I don't include myself in that group since I don't actually pay taxes yet). As you've undoubtedly seen already, it stops right at Metrodome and is supposedly quite the cat's meow. Hopefully this Kyle Lohse start will go better than the last one I attended, in which he was lit up for seven runs by the Red Sox. If in fact he has turned the proverbial "corner" then hopefully we'll see a little proof of that this afternoon.

I love the new red hats, but unfortunately, Terry Mulholland does not model them well at all

Friday, August 06, 2004

Post-Trading Deadline Roster Review Part Two: Pitchers

We all know that the Twins did not make a significant move at the July 31st trading deadline, and that the current 25-man roster will probably be very similar to the 25-man playoff roster that will be set on August 31st. Yesterday I wrote up a brief overview of the Twins' hitters, position by position, highlighting some strengths, weaknesses, and minor controversies. Today we move on to the pitchers, also known as the "best athletes on the field" (with the exception of David Wells).

Starting Pitchers:
Despite the poor overall performance the Twins have received from Kyle Lohse (5.14 ERA) and from the #5 starter, starting pitching has actually been a relative strength of this team. The starters' 4.21 ERA (which includes Terry Mulholland's horrific "performance" yesterday) actually isn't too bad and is above league average. Who do we have to thank for this better-than-average number? Two men: Brad Radke and Johan Santana, as good a 1-2 punch as exists in the American League this side of Oakland, California. As well as these two have pitched this season they present a serious challenge to any team that has the bad fortune of matching up with the Twins come October. Radke has suffered from a lack of run support, as his 7-6 record is no where near indicative of how well he has pitched this season. He sports a nifty 3.77 ERA and a solid 1.16 WHIP in 148 innings (he's on pace for about 225). But here's the real kicker: Radke has walked just 12 batters in those 148 innings, for an average of .73 per nine innings. That's one walk every 12 and a third innings. When you have a good defense behind you and don't allow ANY extra baserunners, you are going to be pretty formidable. Especially when you have a changeup that is as good as Radke's. The only thing I worry is that Brad might go into one of his occasional funks where he doesn't have the impeccable control. As I've mentioned before in this space, because Brad doesn't throw that hard and is always right around the plate, he has a very little room for error. When his control does leave him for (usually) brief stretches he can get hit pretty good. But he has yet to endure one of those slumps thus far this year and I'm confident that he'll be just fine.

What more can I say about Johan Santana that hasn't already been said? The guy is a strikeout machine (172 in 152.2 innings). Opponents do not get hits off of him (just 37 hits allowed in 91.2 innings since June 1). And opponents rarely score runs against him (he allowed 6 runs total in 6 July starts). Is there really anything more you could possibly want in a starting pitcher? Johan is prone to the longball, as he has allowed 22 this season, but if no one ever gets on base anyway, how much could that possibly hurt? Santana is now among the elite pitchers in the game, right up there with Mark Mulder, Randy Johnson, Curt Shilling, and Jason Schmidt. There is no one else I would rather see on the hill in Game 1 of the ALDS than Johan, and I'm sure the rest of the Twins community feels the same way.

After the Big Two, things start to get a little sketchy. Carlos Silva, as I mentioned the other day, has been all that we hoped he would be and more. He throws strikes (1.48 BB/9), eats innings (140.1 so far), and gives his team a chance to win (he has 10 victories). Silva has been a key part of this team's success thus far and he will continue to be so until October. In a 162 game schedule you need guys like Silva to help take the pressure off your big guns, who were supposed to be Santana, Radke, and Kyle Lohse for the Twins before the season began. That brings me to my next point: Kyle Lohse. As you are all fully aware no doubt, Kyle Lohse has pitched like the second coming of Rich Robertson so far this year. His five wins and 5.14 ERA are very disappointing, as is his 1.65 WHIP and 50 walks allowed in 133 innings pitched. The walks have been a big problem, as Lohse only allowed 45 free passes all of last season. I was, however, encouraged by Lohse's last outing on Wednesday against the Angels. After squandering a three run lead Lohse didn't back out in the fifth on the defensive. He attacked the strike zone and the Anaheim hitters and retired 12 of his last 13 batters. That, my friends, is the Kyle Lohse that we know and love--not this imposter that we have seen for the previous four months. I'm cautiously optimistic that this will be the turning point for Kyle. He beat a very good hitting team and had to overcome some adversity to do it. Lohse is also key to the Twins' playoff hopes, because if he shows he is back to his old self I think the Twins probably make him their third starter in October.

I won't dwell much on the fifth starter spot, as I could easily write an entire post on this subject alone. Before his start yesterday Terry Mulholland had performed admirably in this role, picking up two wins while posting a 3.02 ERA. Yesterday was only a matter of time, however. You knew that the clock was ticking on Mulholland as he was FAR overdue for a bad outing. Maybe he'll be able to bounce back in his next start (whenever that might be), or maybe not. The Twins do have some options at Rochester. J.D. "Real Deal" Durbin pitched the brilliantly the other day in his AAA debut and is already on the 40-man roster I believe. Scott Baker, a second round pick last year, has also pitched well at both AA and AAA but would have to be added to the 40-man roster, making a non-September call-up very unlikely. I advocate giving Mulholland a couple more starts and then calling up Durbin and giving him a chance. As the #5 starter hopefully there won't be too much pressure on the kid, and it will be a good gauge for next year when he will probably have to inherit a more prominent role in the rotation.

Relief Pitching:
In all my ranting about the Twins starting staff I have neglected what is arguably this team's greatest strength: the bullpen. Much maligned in the off-season, this group of players has lived up to the high standards set by the Twins' 2002 and 2003 'pens. The Twins bullpen leads the league with 25 wins (a statistic that really only means the team has a lot of late-inning victories) and is 5th with a solid 3.74 ERA. Juan Rincon has been outstanding, seamlessly inherited the role left by the departed (and now combative) LaTroy Hawkins. Joe Nathan has been the best closer in the league and is unscored-upon in almost two months. J.C. Romero has seemingly emerged from his season-and-a-half long funk and is pitching very capably. Grant Balfour is currently on the shelf but has emerged as a relatively reliable and sometimes downright dominating option after Rincon. The Twins should be fine with those four guys leading the charge, but the bullpen's final 2-3 spots may see some change before playoff rosters are set.

I wasn't able to catch Jesse Crain's major league debut yesterday, but the Twins' coaching staff sounded positive after the game. He allowed two hits, one of them an infield single, and struck out two in an inning and a third of work. It will be interesting to see what the Twins do with their roster when Balfour comes off the D.L. next week. Will they keep 12 pitchers on the roster, even though it seems unnecessary given the team's recent success? That would be the easy way out, as Rob Bowen could easily be shipped back down to AA for about the 10th time already this year. Personally, I think that the Twins need to make a decision on Aaron Fultz and/or Joe Roa. Unless he falls flat on his face, Crain should not be sent back to AAA. Roa is the obvious candidate for release, simply because he is righthanded and Fultz is lefthanded. However, I think it is Fultz that should be the one to go. Fultz is a mediocre pitcher that doesn't even fare that well against lefties, the only guys he really needs to get out on a consistent basis. He has proven time and time again that he can't get the big outs in clutch situations. Roa, while he hasn't pitched that well lately by any standards, actually inhabits a much more important role in the Twins' bullpen. As a long reliever/mop-up guy, he has saved the rest of the bullpen on numerous occasions, protecting Rincon, Romero, and Nathan from overuse. It will be interesting to see what Terry Ryan and Ron Gardenhire do when this decision must be made in the coming weeks.

Well folks, there you have it. It took me two days, but I addressed nearly every player on the Twins' 25-man roster, some in greater depth than others. As always, if you have any qualms, questions, or comments pertaining to what was discussed above feel free to let me know below. I usually respond in a timely matter. The Twins have a big four-game series coming up this weekend against one of the hottest teams in baseball, the Oakland A's. We all know that the Twins have traditionally fared well against Oakland for some reason, but we'll have to see what happens. Thanks for stopping by Twins Chatter today.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Post-Trading Deadline Roster Review Part One: Hitters

The main topic of conversation in Twinsland the past week and a half has been the controversy (if you could call it that) surrounding the Doug Mientkiewicz situation, as well as the July 31st trading deadline. It became more and more apparent as the deadline approached that the Twins would not make a major addition, although it could be argued that they made an addition through subtraction by substituting Morneau for Mientkiewicz. What this means is, that for better or for worse, the 25-man roster that currently resides in the Metrodome is probably the same one that will square off against one of the American League's powerhouses come October (barring an unlikely South Side turnaround). The roster has changed quite a bit from spring training, and I think it is time to go through position by position and evaluate the Twins' performance through the first 105 games and predict what the season's final two (hopefully two and a half) months holds in store for us. This is already a really long post so I will go over the hitters today and the pitching staff tomorrow.

This position, more than any other on the Twins roster, is a source of anxiety for the Twins organization and their fans alike. We all know that Joe Mauer will produce when he plays. He's been arguably the team's best overall player when in the lineup. He hits for average (.308), power (6 HRs and a .570 SLG in 107 ABs), and gets on base (.382 OBP). Unfortunately, Mauer's key statistics are 35 and 107: the number of games he's played in and the number of at-bats he's had. The Twins may even go out and deal for a veteran catcher if it is determined that Mauer's sore knee will prevent him from playing for the rest of the year.

But let's focus on what we've got right now. In my opinion, Henry Blanco has done all that has been asked of him and more. His batting average, while paltry (.218) is almost identical to his career average. But he has a surprising 7 home runs thus far and has been superb defensively: he's thrown out an impressive 50% (20-40) of attempted base stealers, has blocked everything in sight and has been an outstanding receiver behind the dish. I think that he deserves a great deal of credit for the development of Carlos Silva, if only for the way he has called the game in Silva's starts. Matthew LeCroy, on the other hand, has had a subpar season. Sure his .746 OPS looks much better than Blanco's .651, but LeCroy is simply not good enough to catch on a consistent basis in the major leagues. He blocks okay and seems to be an average receiver, but I'm afraid he couldn't throw out a runner at second to save his life. Unfortunately for LeCroy, he looks less and less like an everyday each day. Overall I think the Twins can survive the rest of this season with the Blanco/LeCroy platoon but I wouldn't be upset at all if they acquired a veteran like Dan Wilson before the August 31st deadline.

First Base:
I hate to put too much pressure on a 23 year old, but Justin Morneau may just be the difference between another early playoff exit and a World Series run. He finally became impossible to ignore back out in AAA (22 HRs, .915 OPS). The only downside (that I can see) to trading Dougie mid-season is it means the Twins are operating without a safety net. If Morneau somehow falls flat on his face (an extremely remote possibility I'll admit) or gets injured, the Twins are left with Jose Offerman and Matthew LeCroy as replacements. Offensively the Twins might be okay with that pair, but defensively those two make Morneau look like, well, Doug Mientkiewicz. We'll leave that negative voodoo alone right now. Morneau already has 7 homers this year and will probably finish out the season with 15-20 in 250-300 at-bats. He's gonna strike out quite a bit, and probably won't hit much higher than .250 or .260, but his power stroke is unmatched in the entire organization. I feel much better about this team now that the good Doctor has taken over.

Second Base:
This was a position we questioned in spring training, and neither Luis Rivas nor Michael Cuddyer has done much so far to quell those doubts. After a torrid June, Rivas came back down to earth in July by batting just .210 with a .242 OBP. I actually feel good about the direction Gardenhire is heading in regards to the second base position right now. Gardy has been playing Rivas on a regular basis, but he has been starting Cuddyer two or three times a week in order to get him playing time and spell Rivas. In games Cuddyer starts Rivas usually comes in as a pinch runner and/or defensive replacement in the late innings, which makes sense. Since neither one of these guys is hitting all that well right now (Cuddyer is hitting in the .250 range with a .326 OBP for the season) I think that this strategy will serve the Twins well if they continue to do so for the rest of the season, or until one member of the duo steps to the forefront.

Shortstop and Third Base
Shortstop, along with third base, are the two least controversial positions on the diamond for the Twins. This isn't because Christian Guzman and Corey Koskie are playing so well; it is simply because we don't really have any viable replacements right now. Guzman is hitting .287 and having arguably his best season since 2001, which unfortunately isn't saying a whole ton. He did have a .313 batting average (to go along with a .337 OBP) in July, however, so maybe he has finally turned the corner (but don't count on it). His defense has been about average. Jason Bartlett recently made his major league debut, but he's not ready to replace Guzman quite yet. There's a chance he might hold onto a major league roster spot for the rest of the season as a utility infielder/pinch runner now that Nick Punto is out for the year, but he could just as easily be sent back down to AAA. At the very least he gives the Twins some middle infield depth.

Despite his 15 home runs, Koskie has had a very disappointing season. This is unfortunate because 2004 might be his last with the team (the Twins hold a $5.5 million option for 2005). He has played outstanding defense but is hitting just .240 with 45 RBIs and an uncharacteristically low .343 OBP. While the rest of the team was surging in July, Koskie hit just .209 with one homer. While it would help this team's offense immensely if Koskie began living up to his standards, the Twins will keep sticking him out there no matter what happens. Koskie is a veteran though so I'm holding out hope that he will somehow turn his season around.

I have included the designated hitter in this category for an obvious reason: the Twins actually have four starting outfielders, but someone has to play DH in order to get in the lineup. Lately that someone has been Lew Ford. I highly disagree with this move by Ron Gardenhire for a number of reasons. First of all, Shannon Stewart has a below-average arm. It doesn't detract from his overall status as a baseball player that much, but the fact remains that Stewart has always had a weak arm and always will. Ford, on the other hand, has one of the better leftfield arms in the league. He's not always that accurate, but then again neither is Stewart. I also think that Shannon should be DHing in order to protect his foot. Anyone can easily tell that Stewart has lost a step both on the basepaths and in the outfield, and that double he misplayed against the Red Sox the other day only served to reinforce my position. Why is Gardenhire so reluctant to make Stewart the full-time DH? He's a very good offensive player. Isn't that the main requirement for a designated hitter? Instead Gardy refuses to let one of his better outfielders showcase his skills in the field. I just don't get it.

As for Hunter and Jones, you pretty much know what you are going to get with those two. Hunter has been having a pretty mundane season, and he will finish with about 20 homers, 75 RBIs, and a .275 batting average after missing a few games at the beginning of the season. Jacque's average is about 50 points too low, but his other numbers are right in line. With a late season surge he could finish with 30 homers and 100 RBIs. Twins fans have nothing to worry about here, as Ford, Stewart, Hunter, and Jones are arguably the Twins' top four hitters.

There you have it. Part One of this post-trading deadline roster review. I hope I have highlighted a few key issues that we will no doubt expand upon in the coming months. I would also be remiss if I didn't mention the Twins' on-the-field exploits last night. Wednesday's 6-3 saw Kyle Lohse finally throw a decent game and Justin Morneau homer for the second consecutive night. The Twins are now the proud owners of a 6 game lead in the AL Central, thanks to Brian Anderson and his 2-hit, 11-0 shutout of the fading Chicago White Sox (note: that is not a misprint). I'll have more on Lohse and the rest of the Twins' pitching staff tomorrow in Part Two of this post.