Monday, June 14, 2004

Ford’s MVP Award Caps Storybook Season for Twins

November 9, 2004

MINNEAPOLIS, MN- If you had asked any so-called baseball “experts” for their AL MVP pick before the start of the 2004 season, the list would have probably been a predictable one.

Alex Rodriguez. Manny Ramirez. Vladimir Guerrero. Derek Jeter. Even Garrett Anderson.

But Lew Ford? Come on. No one in their right mind can honestly say they saw this one coming, Ford included.

“To tell you the truth, this [the MVP award] was the absolute last thing on my mind at the beginning of the season. Heck, I was just trying to get back to the big leagues,” said the Twins outfielder at Tuesday's award presentation ceremony.

On April 9th, Ford did indeed get recalled from AAA Rochester, and he never looked back. He hit a blistering .419 in April, rebounded from a June slump to bat .357 in July with seven home runs, and proved himself once again by coming up with several clutch hits during the Twins drive for the American League Central Division title in late September. Overall, Ford’s numbers are indeed MVP-worthy: a .338 batting average, 35 home runs, 112 RBIs, and a league-leading .456 on-base percentage. Most importantly, he was the main offensive catalyst on a team that struggled to score runs at various points throughout the season.

“What more can you say about the kid?” said manager Ron Gardenhire at the press conference. “Lew really stepped up this year and carried us. I know many people thought his great April was simply a fluke, but I think he really proved his mettle when he had that unbelievable series down in Chicago.”

“Unbelievable” is putting it mildly. Entering a late September series with the division-leading Chicago White Sox, the Twins were three games back and needed a sweep to keep their already-slim playoff hopes alive. Ford, it seems, wasn’t ready for his breakout season to end. He collected an astounding 12 hits during the three game series, none bigger than his game-winning three-run homer in the 9th inning of the series finale. The now-famous “South Side Sweep” would propel the Twins to their third consecutive AL Central Division championship, and also to their first World Series championship in 13 years.

“A lot of point to that series as the turning point of our season, and I have to admit that they’re right,” said Gardenhire. “Lew obviously carried us during that series, and once we were in the playoffs, our starters simply took the torch and led us to the promised land. But there is no doubt in my mind that Lew was as valuable to us as any other player in the league was to his team.”

Ford’s near-unanimous selection puts an exclamation on what has been an extraordinary year for the Minnesota Twins. Like Ford, not many expected the team to make much noise (at least in the playoffs) before the season started, but both surprised the entire nation in a very big way.

“I still can’t believe any of this has happened,” said Ford on Tuesday. “It all seems like some incredible dream.”

For the Twins organization and their fans, this is one dream they hope will never end.

If you enjoyed this 'article' check out the one I wrote about Henry Blanco back in April

The Sunday Chatter

It is back. The Sunday Chatter has returned just in time. The Twins were caught up in a whirlwind weekend of news. Players were sent down and others took their place and oh by the way the team also played some baseball this weekend. Unfortunately the team lost 2 out of 3 but at least there is plenty to talk about so enjoy.

What are your reactions to the Twins' play so far during the interleague schedule? What are some of your thoughts for the upcoming week (vs. Montreal and Milwaukee)?

John‘s Response: “I think we should all be encouraged by the results so far. The Twins were not winning any games before and now they seem to be turning things around. The team suffered a couple of tough losses during the Phillies series. There are some things they have not fixed. The offense is still much too inconsistent and I'm not sold on the pitching either. Starters such as Santana and Lohse need to continue to build on good outings and a fifth starter needs to emerge. The bullpen, with the exception of the now demoted J.C Romero, has been phenomenal. The Twins need to play well in their upcoming series. Montreal is a team that they need to beat up on. It should be very eerie for the players to go into Olympic stadium and play in front of 3,000 fans.”

Ryan‘s Response: "I was also encouraged by the early returns from interleague play. The sweep of the Mets wasn't always pretty, but you can't argue with results. Those perennial underachievers from Queens were the perfect remedy for the Twin’s funk. I was a tad disappointed by the Phillies series, not only because the Twins lost 2 of 3, but because they conceivably could have swept the Phils. Friday's comeback was outstanding until J.C. went into his patented "implosion mode", but I thought it was enough of a boost for the Twins to charge back and win the series. Today's loss was heartbreaking. That being said, the team should bounce back against the lowly Expos, although I'm not looking forward to watching games in Olympic Stadium (yeeech!)."

Obviously, the big story of the week was J.C. Romero, he of the 5.70 ERA, being sent down to AAA Rochester. Michael Restovich was recalled to take his place on the 25 man roster. Do you think J.C. will be able to get himself straightened out in AAA? And why did the Twins call up Restovich of all people?

JPB: “J.C has so much talent but it is difficult for him to put it together mentally. The demotion could be either very good or bad for him. It sounds like he saw it coming and almost welcomed it meaning it was the right decision. Now he can go down and put together some good confidence boosting outings without any pressure. Maybe he'll never totally put it together for more then short intervals. I just hope he doesn't go down and give up. I hate to see wasted talent.”
Restovich is 25 years old. The team needed another bat on the roster but their options were limited because of the 40 man roster. I don't think they wanted to commit the playing time needed to call up Morneau. Restovich gives them a power hitting, pitch hit option off the bench for at least the rest of interleague play. The only other choice to call up would have been Prieto but he was called up yesterday to replace Michael Ryan."

RM: "I was flabbergasted to see that J.C. was expecting a demotion! This is a guy who was arguably the best middle reliever in the game only 2 years ago. I realize he's had more than his fair share of troubles, but as a big leaguer you have to at least have confidence in your own ability! I realize his options were limited, but Gardy should have never sent him out there for that 9th inning against Philidelphia. There is no denying J.C.'s great stuff, but I have serious doubts as to whether or not he will rebound simply from a demotion. J.C. strikes me as a player with an extremely fragile psyche, and I can't reliably say what will become of him. But obviously as a Twins fan I hope he can bounce back.
The Restovich call-up was a tad unexpected (even by Restovich himself) but I like it, even if he gets limited duty. With Mike Ryan on the DL, perhaps we can give Resto some extended playing time, if only to showcase him to other teams. I think there is a good possibility that Restovich will get traded come July."

The Twins finally cut bait on Seth Greisinger this weekend after a series of mediocre to terrible outings. Can they reasonably expect more from Matt Guerrier or is he just holding the spot until an option outside the organization materializes?

RM: "In the short-term, I like this move. It has become undeniably apparent over the last few weeks that Seth Greisinger could not get the job done at the big league level. I think its great the Twins are becoming a 'meritocracy' (a word I learned over on the DTFC)--if you suck, you get sent down. THAT'S THE WAY THINGS ARE SUPPOSED TO WORK! If anything, Guerrier can't be any worse than Greisinger. He was a bit of a hard-luck loser at AAA (with a 3-6 record), as his ERA was solid around 3.50. He gives up some homers, but then again, so did Greisinger. I just think it's a shame Rick Helling couldn't hang on for another week or so..."

JPB: “I'm pretty sure Rick Helling would not have been an upgrade for this team. Everything I've heard about him seems negative as far as his stuff goes. If he was worth something other teams would be standing in line to give him a chance. I would rather they give those innings to a young kid who has a chance to prove himself. Guerrier is the first in line for an opportunity. The best thing I've heard about him is that he doesn't walk anybody which is always a good sign. His stuff isn't supposed to be amazing but the staff likes him. I'm just happy that he's not Greisinger. I began calling for his demotion weeks ago when everyone still had his 7 shutout innings fresh in their minds. The guy never looked like a major league pitcher and was a waste of a start every fifth day. I foresee Guerrier getting starts for a month before the team swings a trade for a veteran. They already tried to go after Paul Abbot so they must see starting depth as a weakness. Who knows, maybe they'll pull off a blockbuster for someone big. They have enough upper level prospects to do it and this is the year they want to get over the hump. I suppose we can all ask ourselves “when will Joe Mays return?”

This weekend also saw the re-emergence of Luis Rivas (who went 7-8 vs. Philly, raising his BA to .275). What do you think about this rather unexpected new development? How does it change the Twins' second base predicament?

JPB: What second base predicament? Luis has come storming back and reclaimed the spot. The question with Luis has always been potential. Right now he looks like he might live up to it. Last year he put together a couple of good months in the middle of the season too. Michael Cuddyer did not do enough with his opportunity to change anything. A serviceable Rivas strengthens the lineup. He is fun to watch when he comes to play and nobody turns the double play better. I don't think anyone can complain about good performance so we should ride his wave as long as possible.
At this point I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a defense of Luis Rivas I recently received from one of our readers and a former little league coach of mine, Bill Johnson. When discussing the play that occurred last Thursday in extra innings versus the Mets he points out that Rivas had no idea whether Mientkiewicz would be safe or not at third base. If the play goes through and Doug is thrown out, then Rivas would have been criticized for not getting to second on the play and putting himself in scoring position with two outs. As it was, the play turned out unfortunate when Rivas was thrown out at second and the inning ended without the Twins scoring. This is an explanation I have not previously seen mentioned and paints Rivas in a better light then the one claiming Rivas was trying to take away the possibility of a double play.

RM: Even though I have never been a big Rivas guy (and have been just as hard on him as anyone out there these last 2 seasons) I was pleasantly surprised to see how well he's played the past two games and sense his return. This is what Luis Rivas is supposed to do; we've all kind of forgotten how good he once was. Louie is supposed to hit the ball in the gaps, utilizing his great speed to turn singles into doubles and doubles into triples. He's also supposed to play great defense, as he's always turned the DP with the best of them. You're right about Cuddyer-as much as I love his power potential, he did not do enough in Rivas' absence to justify more playing time now that Luis is back. And he is still horrific at turning the double play, especially when compared to Rivas. Plus, if Rivas is hitting, what good is Cuddy?

What is the Twins ideal lineup with everyone back and healthy?

Stewart - DH
Guzman- SS
Ford- LF
Koskie- 3B
Jones- RF
Hunter- CF
Mientkiewicz- 1B
Mauer- C
Rivas- 2B
"I think it's pretty obvious by now that Lew is a better defensive outfielder than Stewart will ever be (especially now with his foot problems), and there is simply no way you can take him out of the lineup. LeCroy is the odd man out, but we should be able to find some ABs for him at first, catcher, and DH. As I stated earlier, Rivas simply looks better than Cuddyer right now (my, how things change quickly!) and he should probably be starting at 2B. There aren't many surprises in the rest of the lineup, except that Dougie is hitting 7th. Until he starts driving in some runs and hitting higher than .250, that is where he should be."

Stewart - DH
Mientkiewicz - 1B
Ford - LF
Koskie - 3B
Hunter - CF
Jones - RF
Mauer - C
Guzman - SS
Rivas - 2B
“Ford is the team’s best hitter right now and deserves to bat third. They have not had a legitimate third hitter in the lineup since Paul Moliter. It’s hard to decide who bats second between Mientkiewicz, Mauer and Guzman. I go with Mientkiewicz because I think he is the most consistent hitter at this point in his career and does a good job taking pitches and moving runners over. Koskie is not an ideal cleanup hitter but that’s the way the lineup works out, if Morneau or LeCroy are in the lineup they would hit cleanup (Funny how that works). I would feel confident that this team would consistently score with this lineup. It just flows in my mind."