April 23, 2003

Short and sweet

No long entry for today, sorry. I have a paper due this afternoon at 12:45, so I have been busy doing that. Well, mostly I've been procrastinating and trying to find other stuff to do instead, but some of the paper writing happened along the way too. Before you get too upset, I do have some good news. I wrote a new article for Baseball Primer that just got posted!

Bi-Weekly Review: A.L. Central (by Aaron Gleeman)

I think it's a good article that you'll enjoy, so please go check it out. Basically, I recapped the action in the AL Central thus far. The plan is for me to write a similar article about the Central every other week, which means you'll have even more of my writing to read! The other 5 divisions are also being covered in the same manner, so check those out while you're over there too.

After you read that, make sure to head over to Alex Belth's Bronx Banter site, where he has a really great interview with New York sportswriter Buster Olney.

Here's a little sample for you...

Olney was covering the Baltimore Orioles at the time of the Roberto Alomar/John Hirshbeck spitting "incident" a few years ago and Alex asked him about it:

ALEX: What exactly did Hirshbeck say to him?

BUSTER: The situation was, it was late in the year, and the Orioles needed to win the game. It was a very tense game. In an important moment, Robbie complained about a call, went back to the dugout, and Robbie said, ‘Just pay attention to the game.’ Then Hirschbeck threw him out. He came on the field, Robbie’s going nuts. [Baltimore manager] Davey Johnson asks Hirshbeck, ‘Why did you throw my best player out of the game?’ And he said, ‘I don’t care about that motherf-----, he’s outta here.’ Robbie was right there. Now subsequently people said that Hirshbeck used a racial slur, or that he [said Alomar] was gay, or whatever it was, but that night, what everyone involved said, was, 'I don’t care about that motherf-----' I think the other stuff is revisionist history.

I enjoyed the interview immensely and I'm sure you will too, so go check it out:

Bronx Banter Interview: Buster Olney

One more thing...

I was reading the Twins coverage over at StarTribune.com (the Minneapolis paper) yesterday. The Twins' beat-writer is LaVelle E. Neal, whom I generally like quite a bit and who does a very good job covering the team. However, you all know I like to pick nits occasionally and I found something in his column that really bugged me:

KANSAS CITY, MO. -- Here's what happens when a team is desperate for momentum.

The Twins lost 4-3 Tuesday night to Kansas City in which they mustered only three hits against a second-year pitcher, went 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position, walked 10 times but stranded all of them, failed to get a hit from its No. 3 and No. 4 hitters and ended the game with Doug Mientkiewicz losing his bat and watching it sail farther than any ball he hit during the game.

Okay, in theory, this is a relevant point, right? I mean, not getting a hit from your 3 and 4 hitters would seem like a bad thing generally. In this case, LaVelle is using it as an example of the futility and ineptitude of the Twins' offense for the game/season.

But guess what? Those two hitters, Bobby Kielty and Corey Koskie, combined for 6 walks in 10 plate appearances! Sure, they didn't get a hit, but they only had a combined 4 at bats. Is that even a big deal? Beyond that, is it a big deal if they get on base in 60% of their plate appearances?!

LaVelle, if you are reading this (and I think there is a chance he is or will at some point), I am wondering how/why you would put that in an article as an example of the offense not working? I've said before on this blog that one of the things I hate most about many sports writers is that they pick some random stat that they deem appropriate to support their overall point. In this case, LaVelle's point is that the Twins can't score any runs and he chose the #3 and #4 hitters not getting any hits in the game as evidence of this. But c'mon LaVelle, they walked 6 times, got on base in 60% of their plate appearances and even drove in a run!

There is plenty of evidence of the Twins stinking on offense this year without you pointing out that two guys had a .600 OBP and an RBI, but went 0-4 (oh no!). Anyway, I just wanted to get that off my chest. I really like LaVelle's writing and he does a great job, which is why it bugged me so much when I read it yesterday. Please don't turn into Phil Rogers LaVelle!

Okay, carry on....

Oh, and don't forget to check out my new article...

Bi-Weekly Review: A.L. Central (by Aaron Gleeman)

Today's picks:

San Francisco (Moss) -110 over Pittsburgh (Benson)

Los Angeles (Brown) -145 over Cincinnati (Dempster)

St. Louis (Williams) -110 over Atlanta (Hampton)

Detroit (Cornejo) +325 over Oakland (Mulder)

New York (Pettitte) -150 over Anaheim (Ortiz)

Total to date: + $1,090

W/L record: 44-42 (1-2 yesterday, with one rainout, for a total of -$135)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

April 22, 2003

Mr. Popular

You know how I can tell that this blog is getting more and more popular? [No Aaron, how can you tell?] Because I have a backlog of emails like you wouldn't believe. [That's it? That's the punchline?! Geez.]

Back when I first started writing this thing in August, I was desperate for emails from readers. If I got one in a day, I was the happiest man on earth. And I would always ask for reader mail, with the promise that I read and responded to every single one, sometimes with tremendously long replies.

Since the start of the baseball season, this site's readership has grown approximately 25-35% on an everyday basis. In addition to the new visitors, the old visitors have now been reading my stuff for quite a while now, which means they are more comfortable with emailing me - which is a great thing, for sure.

But guess what? I am no longer at the point where I can answer every single email I get with a response as in-depth as it deserves - at least not without spending a very long time each day doing so. I'm definitely not complaining, and I would love even more emails. I am just saying this so that the people that have sent me really good emails in the last couple of weeks don't hold a grudge against me for not answering them with great responses or even responses at all (in a few cases).

All that said, I think I have found a new practice for emails that will help me read/answer more.

I use AOL, which means the mail I get stays in my "mailbox" for 7 days after I read it and then it is automatically deleted. In the past, when I was getting like 5 or 10 emails a week from my readers, in addition to the normal amount of emails I get from non-readers, it wasn't a problem keeping track of stuff.

Sometimes I read my emails right when I wake up in the morning or right when I get home from classes or right when I am going to bed, so I don't always feel like responding to them immediately. So, I would read them and leave them in the mailbox for a while and get back to them later, which was no problem when there were only a dozen or so emails in there at a given time.

Well, this way of doing things has proven unsuccessful of late. The more emails I have been getting, the more I have been reading and not responding too immediately. I'd still leave them in the mailbox to respond to later in the week, but now there are hundreds of emails in there at any given time and some emails just get lost in the shuffle.

How did I come to realize I was losing some emails and not responding to each and every single one anymore? Well, I got a really good email that I wanted to use for a future "mailbag" entry, but I didn't respond to it right away, with the thought that I'd email the guy later in the week and tell him that I'd be responding via an entry on the blog. A week passed and then a couple more days apparently, and when I went to go find the email to write the entry about it, it was gone. Lost in cyberspace forever.

I figure if I lost one email that I was intentionally saving for later, there must be plenty of others that have disappeared too. It's not such a big deal I suppose, although I feel horrible not responding to someone that is a reader of this site and took the time to send me an email. I recognized that I needed a new plan of action and I think I have found one.

Everyday, when I go through my new mail, I will read each and every single email and, when I see one that I want to save or respond to at a later date, I will put it in my "personal filing cabinet," which is an AOL feature that I didn't know existed until like 3 days ago. In the filing cabinet, the email gets saved for more than 7 days and it is put into a place where only the emails I feel deserve responses/attention go. In other words, it doesn't get lumped in with the notes from my mom telling me to do my homework or the notes from the people in my Diamond-Mind keeper leagues asking me to trade them Jim Thome for Enrique Wilson.

Then, when I have some free time, I will open up the filing cabinet and go through the emails that I have decided deserve attention and respond to them. Sometimes I put off an email even at that point, which is okay, since it goes back into the filing cabinet and is saved for another day (which can still be more than 7 days away).

Sounds pretty good right? I hope so, because I really do appreciate all the emails I get from you guys and it makes me feel awful that I haven't responded to every one of them over the past month or so.

With that in mind, let's clear out the old "personal filing cabinet" and do a little "reader mailbag," shall we?



I posted this picture of myself here last week and said the following:

"So what do you think? Am I not the best looking 20 year old baseball blogger in Minnesota or what? And yes ladies, the man in that picture is 100% single! I told my mom that I was going to put a picture of myself up today and she suggested I not do it, because 'I might scare away my audience.' Aren't moms wonderful?"

To which "Gracie," one of my many female readers (seriously, I'd say there are at least 15 of them, and those are just the ones that have emailed me!) replied:

Honey, you are simply adorable. You look like a very sweet young man. There are lots of girls out there who are looking for a nice young man who loves baseball. I know, because that's the sort of boy I married many years ago. Your mom is wrong, for once. My granddaughter (no, she's too young for you) likes your column too.

Keep up the good work. I am very glad to hear that you are not gambling with real money. I know your mom is, too.

Sincerely,

Gracie

What a great email!

A few things...

First of all, this is going to make my mom's day, because she gets all excited every time I mention her on this site. And now Gracie has mentioned her twice in one email (although she did say she was wrong).

Secondly, I like how Gracie brings up her granddaughter and then immediately tells me "no," like she just knows I was going to ask about her! I'm not saying I wasn't going to, but it's still funny.

And yes, it is true. I am very adorable and a very sweet young man. Seriously, my mom even says so.

I'm sure my mom is glad that I am not gambling with real money and am instead making pretend "picks" on games each day and tracking my winnings/losses. However, I am not real thrilled about it right now, seeing as though I am currently up $1,225 dollars since the start of the season! Of course, I fully realize that as soon as I start betting with real money I will start losing money left and right, so it's a bit of a catch-22.

As long as I am covering emails from female readers, let's do another one. I actually got this one yesterday morning, in response to yesterday's entry where I said the following about the Twins' 15-1 loss to the Yankees:

"With the game well out of hand, Bobby Kielty led off with a double and LeCroy singled 2 batters later to put runners on the corners with 1 out. Cuddyer and Dustan Mohr each flew out to end the game."

Lisa, who was actually at Monday's game, took exception and said the following:

I know you're not a Dustan Mohr fan but I really wish you could at least give the guy a little bit of credit where credit is due...

After all, he is the only Twin who did manage to hit a homerun against the Yankees. He broke up David Wells shutout and what mention does he get in your column?? His flyout to end the game.

I was at the game yesterday...he was definitely the one bright spot in the game for the Twins. He had a great game defensively (as usual...we don't see him making glaring errors in the field like Cuddyer so often does), a throw from left field to home plate that was within a half a step of being an out, and compared to his consistent strikeouts lately (due to the fact that the guy should be a starter, not a bench player, which was proven yesterday) I'll take 3 long flyouts and one homerun to piss off David Wells. That and the Mondesi plunking were the highlights of the game.

Just my 2 cents...

Lisa

(yes, I am female...and I'm old enough to be your mom...I've been a Twins fan since the Killebrew/Blyleven/Oliva/Carew/Kaat days...)

Thanks for the email Lisa. Why is it that every female that emails me has to put in some line about their age or the age of one of their female family members?! The entire female race must live in constant fear that I am going to hit on them or something...

Anyway, getting back to the topic of the email, one Mr. Dustan Mohr.

No, I am not a Mohr fan, you're right. I don't dislike him, as much as I like Kielty (and Cuddyer, LeCroy, Jones, Hunter, etc) a lot more.

I guess he had a good game Monday, but a homer in a 15-1 loss isn't such a big deal either way, so I didn't mention it. The fact that he was like like 0 for his last 1,000 at bats, including a strikeout to end the one game we had a chance to win against New York....well, you get the idea.

As for him "being a starter" and not a bench player...I disagree. He is the epitome of a 4th outfielder. He can't hit well enough to start in LF or RF everyday and he isn't good enough defensively to play CF everyday. He plays good D in the corners, can play CF occasionally and hits a little bit, which is what a good 4th OF does.

He definitely didn't "prove" that he was a starter Monday, just as David Wells didn't prove he was Sandy Koufax and the Twins didn't prove they were the worst team in baseball history. You know what I'm saying? You can't prove you are anything in a single game, especially a single game that your team loses 15-1 and that you go 1-4 with a homer in, to raise your season batting average to .125.

In 153 career MLB games Mohr has hit .255/.310/.408 with 14 homers, 36 walks and 115 strikeouts. Those are simply not the numbers of a starting outfielder.

In case you are wondering, here is what the "average" player hit at each position last year for MLB, overall:

Left Field - .271/.355/.452

Center Field - .268/.336/.428

Right Field - .271/.353/.458

As you can see, Mohr is even quite a ways from being an average-hitting centerfielder and he'd have to really step it up to be an average corner outfielder. I like him, despite what I say about his play. He is a "scrappy" player and I like good defense and hustle as much as the next guy, but he's just not a good enough hitter for my taste.

Hopefully I haven't upset you (too much) with my Mohr-bashing! :) I love the fact that I have about 15-20 female readers that have contacted me and I really hope you'll keep checking out the website. And tell all your friends too!

On a slightly different topic...

I have always spoken very highly of Michael Cuddyer (I rated him as my #4 prospect in baseball) and I think he is going to be an excellent player for the Twins for many years to come. That said, he has been absolutely awful this season and he wasn't particularly impressive in the short stint he had with the Twins last year. But you know what? As completely horrible as Cuddyer has been in his career so far, he has been just slightly worse than Dustan Mohr:

Mohr has 506 career plate appearances, while Cuddyer has only 202. If we adjust Cuddyer's playing time to equal Mohr's, here is what their stats look like:

Player       PA     AVG     OBP     SLG    HR    2B    3B    BB     SO    SB   CS

Mohr 506 .255 .310 .408 14 25 2 36 115 7 4
Cuddyer 506 .239 .299 .391 13 23 5 38 123 10 0

Actually, they have been remarkably similar. Cuddyer has 1 fewer homer, 2 fewer doubles and 3 more triples. He has 2 more walks and 8 more Ks, and he's been a bit better stealing bases. His batting average is about 15 points lower and so are his OBP and SLG. Basically, if Cuddyer had a couple more bloop singles drop in, their stats would be damn near identical.

What's my point? Well, a lot of people seem to be "defending" Dustan Mohr and some, like Lisa, even think he should be a starter for the Twins. On the other hand, Michael Cuddyer is getting ripped left and right for his poor play (and rightfully so). But really, it all just comes down to perception. They have both played at almost exactly the same level offensively in their careers, but somehow Mohr has tons of supporters and Cuddyer doesn't (aside from me).

Sure, Dustan is a better defensive outfielder, but Cuddyer is 3 years younger, has a better pedigree and is a much more accomplished minor league hitter. Check back in another 300 plate appearances or so and I think, by that time, Cuddyer will have made Dustan Mohr look like...well, Dustan Mohr.

Turning to the other gender (notice I didn't say "better gender" - well, actually I just did say better...oh, nevermind), I got the following question/comment from "Pat," a long-time reader and very frequent emailer:

Why would you play Michael Cuddyer, a mediocre fielder at best, in right field and have Bobby Kielty, a superb fielder, as your DH? It almost cost them the game in the last game of the Detroit series. Gardy does go brain dead sometimes, doesn't he?

Why did I chose to answer this question on the blog? Well, for one, Pat emails me all the time and I am pretty sure my "batting average" on responding to him is dipping below the Mendoza-line. In addition to that, I have a very simple answer for it. Michael Cuddyer plays right field and Bobby Kielty DHs because the Twins want Michael Cuddyer to be their everyday right fielder for the next 10 years or so, whereas they are just now coming around to the idea that Bobby Kielty deserves to play more than twice a week.

Having Cuddyer DH isn't going to help him improve his defense, which is important if he's going to be playing right field for them for a long time. In addition, as much as I love Bobby Kielty (and really, is there anyone not in the Kielty family that is as big a Kielty-supporter as I am?), I really don't think he is a "superb fielder." Sure, he's an above-average corner outfielder and an average center fielder, but he's not a gold glove-caliber fielder by any means. I also think Michael Cuddyer is a lot better in right field than people give him credit for, and I think in time he will be a good right fielder.

Here's an email from "Matt," who also appears to be in the "Gardy goes brain dead sometimes" camp:

I think Gardenhire might be the worst manager in baseball, or at least among the worst. I don't doubt you follow the Twins more closely than I do, but a manager's most important job is to play his best players, and I'm pretty sure that Kielty is the Twins best position player and Santana is their best pitcher, and neither are used in correct "roles". To me thats the mark of a really bad manager.

I obviously agree about Kielty and Johan and I would agree that not using your best players is a bad thing for a manager to do. Also, I have said in the past couple weeks that I have been disappointed with the way Gardenhire has used his lineup/bench, both this season and last.

In fact, here is exactly what I said about it most recently:

"The Twins have an awful lot of depth throughout their organization. However, that depth isn't going to do them a bit of good if they don't identify which players can help them win the most games and right now I am not exactly pleased with the way Ron Gardenhire is identifying."

Since then, Kielty has started 7 games in a row and appears to have finally gotten his point across to Gardenhire, who, to his credit, was eventually willing to put him in the lineup everyday (even if it did take way too long).

I would never say that Ron Gardenhire is the best manager in baseball, or even among the top 5. I would also never say he is the worst, or among the worst. I think it is pretty rare for the worst manager in baseball to win 90+ games and make the playoffs, no matter how good the team may be.

You should also remember that yesterday was Gardenhire's 180th game as a major league manager, so it is probably too early to make complete judgments on him. I don't like that it took him so long to realize Kielty's potential, I wish Johan was in the rotation and I wish he'd use his bench to his advantage in platooning and pinch-hitting situations more. At the same time, Jacque Jones is a better player now than he ever was with Tom Kelly. Same with Torii Hunter. And it appears as though Gardy is a lot more willing to give young players a chance to play, even if it takes him a while. Plus, the players really seem to like him and, for all you'll hear me and other "statheads" say about that not being all that important, it still matters.

He's not the best, he's not the worst. Where exactly does he fit in? I think it's too early to tell. Give him a little more time.

Just remember, Tom Kelly went the last 10 years of his tenure with the Twins without making the playoffs and finished above .500 two times in that span. I'm not saying Kelly was bad, but when a manager leads that same team to 94 wins and the playoffs in his first year like Gardenhire did, I tend to cut him a little bit of slack, even if I disagree with the way he does some things.

Thanks for stopping by today and feel free to send me an email. It might take a little while, but I'll get back to you eventually!

Today's picks:

St. Louis (Morris) +110 over Atlanta (Maddux)

Arizona (Dessens) +120 over Montreal (Hernandez)

Chicago (Colon) -155 over Baltimore (Johnson)

Minnesota (Radke) -110 over Kansas City (George)

Total to date: + $1,225

W/L record: 43-40 (1-4 yesterday, but amazingly still up over $1,200!)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

April 21, 2003

If you thought that was bad...

Okay, so that's the last time I ever complain about the Twins getting their butts kicked in a series before it is over. New York crushed the Twins 15-1 yesterday afternoon. Sadly, the game was on ESPN, which means I watched it and so did quite a few other people.

I hate to bring up the same things over and over, but the Twins once again stunk in those same 3 areas they have been stinking in all season long:

1) Working counts/taking pitches/getting good pitches to hit.

2) Getting hits with runners on base.

3) Avoiding giving up home runs in bunches.

Let's start from the bottom and work our way up.

Rick Reed gave up a 3-run homer to Nick Johnson in the 3rd inning and a grand slam to Alfonso Soriano in the 4th. Then Tony Fiore came in and gave up a solo-homer to Johnson in the 7th and J.C. Romero finished things off by serving up a 2-run shot to Bernie Williams in the 9th.

The Twins didn't get many base runners, but the ones they did get were stranded, as usual. Matthew LeCroy singled with 1 out in the 2nd, but was left on 1st base. Michael Cuddyer started the 5th with a single, but never moved off of 1st base. Torii Hunter started the 7th with a walk, then LeCroy struck out and Cuddyer lined into a double-play. Even in the 9th, with the game well out of hand, Bobby Kielty led off with a double and LeCroy singled 2 batters later to put runners on the corners with 1 out. Cuddyer and Dustan Mohr each flew out to end the game.

This is easy to say in a game where a team scores only a single run, but the Twins, once again, appeared to have absolutely no plan at the plate and had no discipline up there, swinging wildly at stuff out of the strike zone the whole game. David Wells (who is also a very control-oriented pitcher) issued only 1 walk and needed only 103 pitches for his complete-game.

Here's the difference between the Yankees' approach and the Twins' approach, in a nutshell ("Hello, this is me in a nutshell")...

The Yankees went down 1-2-3 in the 1st inning, but saw 15 pitches.

The Twins went down 1-2-3- in the 1st inning and saw 6 pitches.

The Yankees had four batters come to the plate in the 2nd inning and saw 17 pitches.

The Twins had four batters come to the plate in the 2nd inning and saw 12 pitches.

So, at that point, both teams had 1 hit and, after 2 innings, one had seen 32 pitches and the other 18.

But okay, I think you get the point and it's no fun discussing the same old problems over and over, especially after you get spanked 15-1.

Oh, one last thing: Bobby Kielty got his 6th straight start and Ron Gardenhire is making me seriously think about taking down the "Bobby Kielty Liberation Watch" that's on the left side of this page. I think I'll wait another week or so, just to make sure Kielty stays in the lineup. By the way, Kielty has now played in 12 games this season and has a hit in every single one of them.

In other sad baseball news...

Randy Johnson was put on the disabled-list yesterday with a "sprained right knee." According to ESPN.com, this is Johnson's first stint of the disabled-list since 1996, which is pretty amazing. The good news here is obviously that the injury is not one having to do with his left arm. The bad news is that he is turning 40 in a few months and something as "minor" as a knee sprain can have a big effect on an aging player, particularly a 40 year old pitcher that is 6'10" and probably puts a ton of pressure on that knee with every pitch.

I did a big entry on Randy Johnson back in February (which you can see by clicking here) and that led to a whole bunch of really good responses, including one from Lee Sinins of Sabermetric Encyclopedia fame, which led to two more days worth of entries about Randy (which you can see by clicking here).

The entries were basically a Randy Johnson love-fest, where we discussed exactly how great he has been and how he has done it (he made some major changes in his pitching style during the 2002 season).

Suffice it to say that I am hoping Randy Johnson comes back in a few days and is healthy for the rest of the season. It would be really sad if he had an injury to his knee that slowed him/ended his career, while that magical left arm was still completely healthy.

I'll definitely be keeping an eye on RJ for the rest of the year.

Arizona's "other" ace, Curt Schilling, recently had an "emergency appendectomy" and was also placed on the 15-day DL. Obviously these two events are a massive blow to the Diamondbacks, because they depend on those two players perhaps more than any team has depended on two players in the entire history of baseball. Actually, that would be an interesting question to look at...in another entry!

Here's what I said about the D-Backs in my NL West season-preview:

I toyed with putting the Dodgers in second-place, I really did. In fact, I actually had them there up until about 30 seconds before I started typing this very sentence.

But I just couldn't go against the power of Randy and Curt. I tried, but I chickened out. If [the Dodgers] do end up finishing in 2nd or even winning the division (which they definitely could do) I am going to be really angry at myself for not going with my gut and sticking them ahead of Arizona.

But look at these numbers again:

90 Wins

24 Losses

2.75 ERA

1,026 Innings

1,315 Strikeouts

Those are Johnson and Schilling's combined totals from 2001 and 2002. Unbelievable.

At some point Randy and Curt are simply going to stop performing like this. Johnson is 39 and Schilling is 36. Is it going to be this year? Who knows?

If one of them gets injured or stops pitching like a human strikeout-machine, this team is going to be in trouble, despite what I think is a much improved 3-4-5 part of the rotation. I guess I am just banking on them being able to do it for at least one more year.

I'm still hoping it isn't "going to be this year," but it's not looking real good right now. Stay tuned.

In happier news...

Last Thursday I wrote an entry entitled: "The Freedom Squad" in which I ranked my top 8 hitters "that most deserve to be given consistent, everyday playing time."

Here's the list:

Bobby Kielty (#1, of course)

Jason Grabowski
Ramon Castro
Shawn Wooten
Benji Gil
Mike Kinkade
Javier Valentin
Craig Wilson

After I gave my list, I said this:

I'm thinking this team should probably be in the American League and thus need a 9th hitter to add to the lineup. That's where you guys come in. Do you have a good candidate to join this group? A guy in need of a break and a full-time gig?

Please email me with all your nominees and I will pick the 9th member of the "Freedom Squad" next week.

Well, it's "next week" and I got a ton of really good responses to the call for a final member to the "Freedom Squad."

Here is a sampling:

Hey Aaron -

For my own pick as a DH, I'd have to split my vote. Dave Hansen had a shot at 23 (in 1992) to be the Dodgers' 3B, but he wasn't ready. Somehow, he got a bad rep, and has never had more than 181 at bats ever since, despite a career OBP of .365. He has shown power in the past (he's a Diamond Mind All Star in 2000), it seems to be a

matter of him getting a ton of doubles to turn into a ton of HR. The league's best pinch hitter should be your DH.

If you're looking for a younger guy who didn't get much of a shot, my other pick would be good ol' Buck Buchanan. His numbers with the Padres last year (.293, .363, .543) are very much in line with his 2001 numbers in Minnesota (.274, .342, .487). While we don't have room for him now, I think he'd make a fine addition to your all-trapped team and would give them 25-30 HR and a .340-.360 OBP. He could even play LF and bump Javy Valentin to DH.

My real reason for writing, however, is to talk about Ramon Castro. I agree that he needs to be freed, but something you said about him interested me and I'm wondering what you think about it. It's no secret that catchers deteriorate faster than non-catchers. Piazza, IRod, Berra, Dickey, Scalk, Carter, Bill Freehan, and even Pudge Fisk

to an extent dropped off at around 10,000 to 11,500 innings caught. Bench somehow got to around 14000, before falling off, but was 32 at the time. However, I think the fact that they dropped off had a great deal to do with their usage patterns over time than with actual time itself. These guys all caught a lot in their younger years.

Castro, conversely, isn't catching much at all right now. In fact, if he starts to get playing time, I'd put him in with guys like Don Slaught, Mike Stanley, Mickey Tettleton, and Gene Tenace as guys who were catchers, but who enjoyed solid late career success (respectively, they had their last above average seasons at 37, 36,

35, and 35). The connecting factor is that each of these guys never caught an excessive ammount of games in a season at the start of their big league careers.

Slaught only topped 100 G twice because he was being platooned or sharing his job most of his career. Tenace began having success in 1973 as a full time first baseman, then split time between 1B and C, only catching more than 100 G in a season twice; however, he caught more games than he played at any other position. Tettleton started

as a full time C, but began DHing a great deal in 1989. He topped 100 games catching for two seasons in a row in 1991 and 1992, but that was the only time in his career that he did so.

Perhaps the most interesting comparison for Castro, however, is Mike Stanley. When Stanley came up, it looks like the Rangers liked to carry three catchers. Slaught and Stanley each got 200 ABs in '87 (Stanley's rookie year), as did Gino Petralli. In '88, it was Petralli, Stanley, and Jim Sundberg. In '89, Stanley took a back seat to Chad Kreuter, Sundberg, and Petralli, and probably spent most of the year catching at AAA. He was back in '90 and '91, but was then went to the Yankees when IRod began asserting himself in Texas. He did not catch 100 games in a major league season (despite being on rosters most of the time) until 1993, at the age of 30, and then caught 100 in 2 of the next three seasons. Then he made a switch to 1B, and continued to produce until 1999.

My thinking is, if Castro can get into a usage pattern similar to the ones used with these guys, he could enjoy a productive career as a C-1B-DH well into his middle and late 30s since he hasn't caught many innings during these past two seasons. You're right, however, he needs to get his shot at that soon, before he turns into a AAAA player.

Cheers,

Mike

Wow. Now, that is a great email! It's definitely an interesting idea and I think that any time a person can avoid squating behind a plate for hours at a time, it is probably a good thing for the length of their career. Another guy I have heard this theory about is Jorge Posada, who converted from infielder to catcher late in his minor league career with the Yankees and then served as Joe Girardi's backup for a year in New York. Jorge is 31 now and isn't showing signs of slowing down, which would certainly go along with Mike's thoughts.

All that said, the last two seasons (2002 and this year) are the only ones in which Ramon Casto has not caught a ton of games. I don't have his "games played by position" for his minor league career, but he appeared in 115 games between Calgary and Florida in 2001 and appeared in 117, 121, 79, 115 and 96 games in each season since 1996.

That's a lot of squating and throwing and getting hit with foul tips, even though he only played 54 games last year and probably will be lucky to see that many again this year. I do hope he gets his shot and it would be really nice if he was able to have an extra-long career because of the Marlins not recognizing that he deserves to play.

Here's another nominee from a different "Mike":

I would vote for Jason Lane of the Astros. This guy can flat out hit the ball...yet he isn't given a shot in Houston. He was sent to the minors AGAIN this spring because Houston wanted to keep Orlando Merced and Brian Hunter (!!!). Last year Lane was finally given a few at bats and he responded by hitting .290 In his 3 full years in the minors he hit .299, .316, and .272 with 23, 38, and 15 homers. He draws plenty of walks too. So far in New Orleans this year he's hitting .366 with 9 walks in 41 AB. He's screaming for an everyday job, and im sure he could hit better than Richard Hidalgo...its just a matter of getting a shot. If you can't tell I have him in my keeper league, so this one is a personal matter. :-)

I think Jason Lane is a really great choice for the team and I absolutely agree that he deseves a shot and could be a very good major league hitter. Plus, I know how you feel about the "I have him in a keeper league" thing, since I have Grabowski in one of mine.

I also got a few other Lane nominations, including one from Al of "Al's Ramblings," who said:

I am nominating Jason Lane of HOU. He not only is better than both Orlando Merced and Brian Hunter, the Astros reserve OFs, he's better than Biggio starting in CF nightly.

Lane won the league RBI title in each of his first three pro seasons and was on his way to contending for another RBI crown last season, before the Astros called him up in August and ended his Triple-A season after only 111 games (and 83 runs batted in). He hit .290/.375/.536 with 4 homers, 3 doubles and a triple in only 69 at bats with the Astros. And, as Mike said, he is tearing up AAA again this year.

Here's one from "Seth":

I’d like to nominate Chris Coste. First, he’s from Fargo. I don’t have his complete stats in front of me, but I know after playing for the FM Redhawks for 3 or 4 years and always hitting over .300 there, he signed with the Indians organization. He split a season between AA Akron and AAA Buffalo, hitting well at both spots. He’s hit over .300 the last 2 years at Buffalo and was a AAA All-Star last year. Well into the season, he was hitting around .400.

He primarily is considered a catcher, but has played 1B, 3B and some RF as well as DH for the (Buffalo) Bisons. After not getting a call-up last year, he knew that he was appreciated by the Indians organization as a minor leaguer only and wanted a shot at the majors. So, as a free agent, he signed a minor league contract with the Boston Red Sox with a major league spring training invite (which he had with the Indians the previous two years).

He was one of the last players the Red Sox sent down. I don’t really think that’s a good place for him. He was told that if anything happened to Varitek or Mirabelli, he would be the first one called up (although, he’s on the DL now in AAA and they signed Bill Haselman to play there now too). The fact that he can play 1B, 3B, DH or RF is kind of lost in Boston’s scheme of Ortiz, Giambi, Millar, Hillenbrand and Mueller.

He’s 30, so he’s not a “prospect”, but at every level he’s played at, he’s hit. Because of his age, I’m sure he’d love to be a #2 catcher somewhere. Maybe even a #3 catcher who can play these other positions. I think that he’d be a great guy for your roster. And, no major league experience. So, he’s my favorite minor leaguer. I may be biased because I played college ball with him, actually behind him at 3B. Actually, he was a 3 time all-American, so I pretty much never played, but that’s cool. He’s a great guy. Plus, he’s written two great baseball books. I’ve read the first ("Hey, I’m Just the Catcher"), and the 2nd is supposed to be coming out in May.

You gotta love a catcher/author that can hit a little bit, don't you? Another excellent nominee.

Thanks to everyone else that sent in nominations (there were about 20 players mentioned, all together). Unfortunately, I don't want to make this a 50-page entry and I have decided that Jason Lane (who got the most votes, by far) is the man to add to the team.

So here's the new starting lineup:

 C    Ramon Castro

1B Shawn Wooten
2B Jason Grabowski
SS Benji Gil
3B Mike Kinkade
LF Jason Lane
CF Bobby Kielty
RF Craig Wilson
DH Javier Valentin

You give me a decent pitching staff and I'll take that group into battle with me anyday of the week. They might not be pleasant to watch on defense, but they'll score some runs and I bet they'd hustle their butts off.

Finally...

A while back I mentioned that Rickey Henderson was considering signing with the St. Paul Saints of the Northern League, in an attempt to get back to the major leagues. I was sad that Rickey needed to do that to get a job, since I thought he was still a major league-caliber player, but I was excited at the prospect of seeing one of the greatest players of all-time right in my backyard. Well, yesterday Rickey announced that he will not be playing in the Northern League and will instead be playing with a team in the Atlantic League.

I really hope a major league team out there gives him one last shot at a bench-job, because he can still help a team win games. Plus, I'm not quite as excited about a future Hall of Famer playing in an independent league when it isn't in Minnesota!

Today's picks:

San Francisco (Foppert) -115 over Pittsburgh (Suppan)

Houston (Redding) -105 over New York (Cone)

Toronto (Walker) -130 over Tampa Bay (Kennedy)

Texas (Park) +220 over Boston (Martinez)

Minnesota (Rogers) +115 over Kansas City (Hernandez)

Total to date: + $1,570

W/L record: 42-36 (2-0 yesterday, including that 15-1 disaster)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

April 20, 2003

Lost weekend

Yesterday was not a real good day to be a Minnesota sports fan. In fact, unless you like hockey (which I don't particularly), the whole weekend pretty much sucked.

The Twins dropped their third straight game to the Yankees and the Timberwolves lost the opening game of their best-of-seven series with the Lakers.

The Timberwolves had their best season in franchise history, winning 51 games and claiming home-court advantage in the playoffs for the first time. Much was made of how important that home-court advantage was and they had the scratch and claw their way up through the Western Conference standings all season long to end up with the #4 seed. But guess what? It took them exactly 48 minutes to give up the thing they had worked all season long to get, and, really, it was over after about 10 minutes. The Lakers came out hot, outscoring the Timberwolves 39-23 in the first quarter and, although Minnesota was able to cut it to five points in the third quarter, the game was never really in doubt. The Lakers won 117-98 and Shaq and Kobe combined for 71 points.

The Wolves played well on offense. They scored 98 points, which I would have taken prior to the game if you would have offered it to me. Kevin Garnett had 23 points, 14 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 blocks and 2 steals. The team shot 50% overall, made more free throws than LA and only turned the ball over 11 times. Sounds pretty good, right?

Well, they also couldn't do anything to stop the Lakers from scoring.

Los Angeles shot 55.0% from the floor, including 10-19 (52.6%) on three-pointers. They also made 19-24 free throws (79.2%), including 10-13 from Shaq, who shot 62% on the year and 54% for his career. And the Lakers only turned the ball over 10 times.

Basically, scoring 98 points against the Lakers is a good thing and you have to think going into the game that, if you do so, you have a good chance to win. However, you are never, ever going to beat the Lakers anywhere - Minnesota, LA, Mars, wherever - if you let them score 39 points in the first quarter and 117 for the game.

So what can the Wolves do in game two and beyond? Probably not a whole lot. One thing in their favor is that it is extremely unlikely that the Lakers will shoot 52.6% from three-point land again and Shaq probably isn't a real good bet to go 10-13 from the line again anytime soon.

Offensively, the Wolves were pretty good. The one thing they need to be able to do better is get Wally Szczerbiak more shots. He went 5-9 from the field yesterday, which is very good, but there is no way he should only be taking nine shots in a playoff game. It's not anyone's fault though (other than Wally), because he simply has trouble getting himself open at times and he is definitely not the kind of player that can create his own shots effectively, especially with someone like Kobe guarding him.

I figured the Lakers would dominate the Wolves and even said so in this space on Friday, but it is still disappointing when it actually happens.

I saw the post-game press conference and Kevin Garnett showed once again why he is one of the most likeable, honest, entertaining players in the NBA (and my favorite player). He got asked some stupid question about "what happened" during the game and here is how he responded:

"They shot the s--- out of the ball. That's it really. They just shot the living s--- out of the ball."

No s--- KG, no s---.

And then there are the Twins. Oh boy...

There are three major things that they cannot seem to do at all this season:

1) Work counts/take pitches/get good pitches to hit.

2) Get hits with runners on base.

3) Avoid giving up home runs in bunches.

Yesterday was yet another perfect example of all three things working against the Twins.

1) Work counts/take pitches/get good pitches to hit.

They worked a total of three walks and struck out nine times. Mike Mussina breezed through seven innings of work needing only 104 pitches and then Jason Anderson and Randy Choate needed only 11 and 7 pitches to get through the 8th and 9th innings.

2) Get hits with runners on base.

Doug Mientkiewicz singled with 1 out in the 2nd inning, but was stranded on first base. In the 6th, Chris Gomez started the inning with a single and Corey Koskie walked to put 2 men on base with 0 outs. The next 3 batters went foul out, ground out, ground out and they didn't score a run.

A.J. Pierzynski started the 7th with a double and he did end up scoring, but not as a result of any hitting. Mike Mussina had 2 wild pitches - one that let A.J. go to third and one that let him score. Even in the 9th inning, Bobby Kielty reached on an infield single with 1 out and Matthew LeCroy ended the game with a double-play.

The only time in the entire game that they got a hit with a runner in scoring position was in the 4th inning. Let's take a look at what happened then...

Gomez leads off with a single and Koskie walked, putting 2 men on with 0 outs (exactly what happened in the 6th inning too). Then Torii Hunter struck out (looking!) and Mientkiewicz flew out to left. So they went from 2 on and 0 outs to 2 on and 2 outs and didn't even move the runners over. Kielty then walked to load the bases. The next hitter, Pierzynski, finally got a hit with a runner on base for the Twins, smacking a single through the hole between 1st and 2nd base, and scoring Gomez from third.

Now we're cooking, right? RIGHT?! Well, no. A.J. somehow managed to round first base too much, which drew a throw from Jorge Posada, at which point A.J. took off for second base and got in a run-down. Koskie had to do something or Pierzynski would have been easily tagged out to end the inning, so he made a run for the plate to try to score...and was thrown out by 10 feet.

So, they had 2 on and 0 outs and then had bases loaded and 2 outs and they scored a total of 1 run and had 1 incredibly stupid baserunning mistake end the inning.

3) Avoid giving up home runs in bunches.

Kyle Lohse served up a 3-run homer to Jason Giambi in the 1st inning and a solo-shot to Bernie Williams in the 4th.

I'm not saying they should have beaten the Yankees yesterday. After all, they are the Yankees and Mike Mussina is a very good pitcher. However, those 3 things not only hurt them yesterday, they have been absolutely killing the Twins all season long...

1) Work counts/take pitches/get good pitches to hit.

The Twins have never been a patient team and Ron Gardenhire talked about wanting his guys to be even more aggressive this season. Well, guess what? They are currently 29th out of 30 teams in major league baseball in walks, with 44 in 18 games (2.44/game). They are ahead of only one team, Tampa Bay, and the 1-16 Detroit Tigers are one spot ahead of them, with 46 walks.

That isn't very good company to be in and the lack of walks don't even tell the whole story, because they don't completely show how many dozens of times the Twins have swung at the first or second pitch in an at bat or have swung at a crappy 3-1 pitch that would have been ball four. I don't care that they aren't walking (although that would be nice), but I do care that they seem to have absolutely zero plan at the plate and are content to swing at whatever crap the pitcher throws up there during the first few pitches of a given at bat.

2) Get hits with runners on base.

This is perhaps the most frustrating apsect of their season so far. After all, you would think that a team based so heavily on high batting averages and doubles-hitters would be able to get base hits with runners on base. Instead, in the rare times when they have gotten people on base, they have stranded them.

They are hitting .243/.293/.363 with runners on base (25th in MLB) and .210/.267/.325 with runners in scoring position (29th in MLB). When you are only getting on base 31% of the time, like the Twins are, you simply are not going to win many games hitting like that when you do get some ducks on the pond.

3) Avoid giving up home runs in bunches.

This is the back-breaker. You keep some games close and maybe you somehow manage to actually get a hit with a runner on base and then *BAM*, you give up a 3-run homer.

Twins pitchers have given up 22 home runs in 18 games this year, which ranks 8th in the AL. 8th in the AL doesn't seem so bad, but let's examine the homers allowed a little more closely...

Twins starters have given up 19 homers in 98 innings.

Twins relievers have given up 3 homers in 53 innings.

So, they aren't giving up homers in the late innings, which is certainly nice. But the starters are serving up long-balls like they have "LIMA" sewn onto the backs of their jerseys. They have given up a homer every 5.2 innings, which is getting them behind by some big margins early in games - which is exactly what happened yesterday. I mean, they were down 3-0 after 3 batters!

I promised last week that I wouldn't overreact to a few losses in a row anymore and I am really trying my hardest not to. I don't think losing games to the Yankees is a big deal at all. That said, the 3 areas that the Twins are doing poorly in are basically the 3 most frustrating areas, at least from a fan's point of view.

They look undisciplined at the plate and aren't getting anyone on base. When they do get someone on base, they can't get any hits. And their starting pitchers give up big leads early in the games, as the other teams tee off on them.

As you can probably tell, I am really sick of playing the Yankees!

Elsewhere around baseballl...

I caught a little of the Cubs/Pirates game yesterday afternoon and saw Salomon Torres hit Sammy Sosa right in the head with a fastball, which resulted in Sosa's batting helmet practically exploding and a huge chunk coming off of it.



Sosa went down right away, but immediately looked out at the mound, which made me think he was in the right frame of mind. I mean, if you get hit in the head with a 90 MPH fastball, your helmet explodes and you fall to the ground, don't you think it is a good sign that you want to glare at the pitcher and not, say, drool all over yourself and scream "Mommy"?

Sammy left the game and I haven't heard the info yet on whether or not he'll miss a game or two this week.

This incident gives me a chance to discuss one of my biggest pet peeves in all of sports.

You see, Sosa got beaned on the very first pitch of his second at bat of the afternoon. What happened in his first at bat? You guessed it, he hit a homer.

Now, I don't know for sure if Torres meant to hit Sosa (he claims he didn't) and I certainly hope that, if he did mean it, he didn't try to hit him in the head. However, regardless of that, I know for a fact that there are times when a player hits a homer and a pitcher intentionally hits him with a pitch in the next at bat. And that always pisses me off.

Tell me how much sense this makes...

A hitter's job is to help his team score runs. One of the best ways to do that is to hit a pitched baseball over the fence in the outfield.

A pitcher's job is to prevent the other team from scoring runs. One of the best ways to do that is to not allow the pitches you throw to be hit over the fence in the outfield.

So, a batter comes to the plate and does his job by hitting a homer. In turn, that means the pitcher did not do his job, by allowing the homer. And what happens the next time that batter comes up? He is punished by the pitcher by being struck with a baseball traveling 90 miles an hour, because he did what he was supposed to do and the pitcher screwed up.

Turn that around. Let's say Sosa comes to the plate and Salomon Torres strikes him out. Would it be okay if, the next he came up, Sosa threw his bat at Torres? Of course not, but what's the big difference? In both cases, one person did their job well and the other didn't. And in both cases the one that messed up responds by throwing something at the other person.

My feelings on this have absolutely nothing to do with Torres and Sosa. However, if Salomon Torres did intentionally throw at Sosa, he should be ashamed of himself. Why? Because he is Salomon freaking Torres and Sammy Sosa is Sammy Sosa!

How about instead of throwing baseballs at Hall of Famers that hit home runs off your team (it wasn't Torres that served up Sosa's homer, but his teammate Josh Fogg), you actually try to get them out? What an interesting concept...

It's not as if this type of thing goes on in other sports. When is the last time you saw Tracy McGrady get his shot blocked by Shaquille O'Neal and respond by throwing the ball at O'Neal on the next possession?

When Randy Moss beats a defensive back for a deep touchdown, does the defensive back get to knock him down the next time he comes out onto the field?

When a hockey player scores a goal on a goalie, does the goalie wait until he skates by again and hit him in the back with his stick?

Of course not, because all of those things would be ridiculous. Yet, no one seems to care when a batter does his job and hits a home run off a pitcher that isn't doing his and gets rewarded with a fastball in the back (or the head) the next time he comes to the plate.

The only happiness I got out the Torres/Sosa situation was that, it being a National League game, Torres had to actually bat later in the contest and Cubs' pitcher Juan Cruz immediately plunked him in the leg.

Pittsburgh skipper Lloyd McClendon came running out of the dugout to argue with the ump because he thought Cruz did it on purpose and should have been thrown out of the game. Gee, I wonder what Lloyd would have done if Salomon Torres was actually a good player and Juan Cruz decided he would bean him in the head?

On a completely unrelated note: The weekend wasn't a total loss, because this blog went over the 60,000 visitor mark yesterday. I want to thank everyone who stops by to check out what I have to say and I also want to thank all the other bloggers out there for telling their readers about the site. My next goal is a 20,000 visitor month and I think we are getting really close...

By the way, here's a new, great blog to check out:

Universal Baseball Blog, Inc.

It is quickly becoming one of my favorites because Ben, the author, writes really well and he writes damn near as much stuff as I do - which is really saying something! :)

Today's picks:

New York (Wells) -160 over Minnesota (Reed)

Toronto (Lidle) +160 over Boston (Burkett)

Total to date: + $1,310

W/L record: 40-36 (Horrible on Friday and incredible on Saturday, for a total of 8-4 and +450 for the two days)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

April 17, 2003

FREE BOBBY KIELTY (Seriously)

At what point does a player take all the decision making away from a manager and simply force himself into the everyday lineup? I'm not exactly sure what that point is, but I'm pretty sure Bobby Kielty is getting damn close to it.

Kielty hit 2 mammoth home runs last night, both to deeeeeeep right-centerfield. His season totals now look like this:

AB     AVG     OBP     SLG      OPS    HR    2B    RBI    RUN

31 .387 .441 .741 1.183 3 2 7 5

I know it's early. I know it's a small sample-size. I know the Twins have a lot of good hitters that deserve playing time. But for love of God, will someone please FREE BOBBY KIELTY?!

Kielty has played in 8 games this season. He has a hit in every single one of them. He is OPSing at 1.183 right now and he hit .291/.405/.484 last season and has consistently posted .380-.400 OBPs and good power numbers throughout his minor league career. Yet, he is currently 10th on the team in at bats and has been a "healthy scratch" (to use a hockey term) in 7 of the 15 games this season.

I like Matthew LeCroy and I like Michael Cuddyer, but right now neither of those guys should take a single at bat away from Bobby Kielty. I just don't know what more he can do to convince Ron Gardenhire of the obvious, which is that he deserves to play every single day. Here's hoping Gardy's eyes were opened a little bit by the two bombs Bobby hit last night. But if they haven't been opened by Kielty's 348 plate appearances last year and his 30 this season prior to last night, well, like I said, I'm not sure what else he can do at this point.

Coincidentally (or maybe not) the other guy I have been wanting to free, Johan Santana, is also playing about as well as humanly possible. Here is what Johan has done so far:

G      IP     ERA    H    SO    BB    HR    OAVG    OOBP    OSLG

6 12.1 0.00 7 16 3 0 .159 .213 .182

Having a good reliever and a nice spot-starter/pinch-hitter is certainly a nice thing, but having a starting pitcher and a starting outfielder is even better.

It does make me feel good to know that the two players that I have taken up a cause for and have discussed and promoted endlessly over the last year or so are both performing exceptionally well. I mean, I would look pretty dumb if I talked about them every week since August and Kielty was hitting .180 and Johan had a 6.50 ERA, right? As it stands now, I am looking pretty damn good and I like that. Of course, I'd like it more if Bobby had 50 at bats right now instead of 31 and Johan was getting set to make his 4th start of the season this weekend.

I saw Kielty interviewed on TV last night and he was asked how he feels about not being an everyday player. His answer was basically that he'd obviously like to play as much as possible, but that he works just as hard no matter what role he is in - whether that is taking extra batting practice following days he doesn't play or getting himself ready to pinch hit in the late innings when he doesn't start. It's about as good an attitude as a player can have and I really admire that. I also admire the fact that every single time he has been given a chance to play this season (and last season) he has produced, without exception. He isn't going to keep getting a hit in every game he plays, but there isn't a doubt in my mind that he would be one of the best hitters (if not the best) on the Twins if he was just given a chance.

I really like Ron Gardenhire and I think he is a good manager and has done an excellent job with the Twins thus far. But it bothers me quite a bit that he doesn't see the potential in Bobby Kielty and I'm just hoping he comes around sooner rather than later. Keep hitting Bobby, you'll get your chance eventually (I hope).

While Kielty was putting on his power display, the Twins had their best all-around game of the young season.

Kenny Rogers was brilliant, striking out 9 hitters in 8 innings, without walking a single hitter or allowing a single run. The Twins pounded out 13 hits, walked 3 times (I'd still like to see a little more patience) and scored 6 runs.

Torii Hunter continued to snap out of his early season slump. After the final game of the Toronto series on the 14th, Torii was hitting .116/.167/.186 and looked completely lost at the plate. Then he hit a homer and a single in the first game of the Detroit series and followed it up with 2 doubles last night. He's still got an awful long way to go before his numbers stop looking horrendous, but that doesn't matter as much as him producing good at bats, which he did in the Detroit series.

Michael Cuddyer came into last night's game hitting .167 and bumped that all the way up to .205 with a triple and a single, plus he also walked once. Corey Koskie hit his first homer of the season and Chris Gomez got himself 3 hits and is now batting .467!

It's funny how a series against the Tigers can really make a team look sharp and confident and snap people out of funks. Hopefully the Twins are feeling good right now, because the Yankees are coming to town this weekend and they'll need all the help they can get.

If they can somehow manage to split the New York series, they then head to Kansas City for 3 and then Chicago for 3. There is a decent chance that they could be in first place by a game or two about 10 days from now, which would please me tremendously.

Switching to a different topic...

I know this website is actually called Aaron's BASEBALL Blog, but occasionally (2-3 times in the last 9 months, according to my count) I like to talk about my second favorite sport, basketball.

As many of you probably know, the NBA regular season ended a couple days ago and the playoffs are about ready to start. My team, the Minnesota Timberwolves, finished with a franchise-best 51-31 record and got themselves home-court advantage in the first round for the first time in the team's history. That's the good news.

The bad news is that they are the #4 seed in the West, which means they play the #5 seed in the West. I was just about 100% sure that was going to be the Portland Trailblazers, until they absolutely fell apart in their final game of the season and lost to the Clippers (yes, the Clippers) by 14 points, dropping them to the #6 slot and propelling the 3-time defending World Champion Los Angeles Lakers into the #5 spot.

So, the Wolves finally work themselves into a position where they get home-court advantage and what do they get for it? Well, they have to play probably the best #5 seed in the history of basketball, a team that has won 3 NBA titles in a row and, last time I checked, still features 2 of the best 3-4 players in all of basketball.

I'd love to see the T-Wolves get over that first-round hump finally, but it just isn't gonna happen. The home-court gives them a fighting chance, but Shaq and Kobe will be way too much.

As long as I'm giving out NBA predictions, I might as well go the whole 9 yards and tell you my thoughts on all the first-round matchups...

I like Dallas over Portland, in what should be a pretty easy series for the Mavs, probably wining it 4-0 or 4-1. The Blazers are a complete mess right now, fighting with each other and losing games left and right. Once in a while they step up and play as a team, but it's rare and the Mavs are a better team anyway.

The Kings will destroy the Jazz, in what may be Karl Malone's last post-season in Utah. I remember just a few years ago when the Kings were the upstart team that just barely crept into the playoffs and they kept getting matched up with the Jazz in round one. Those were tremendous games, with Jason Williams going against John Stockton and Karl Malone matching up with Chris Webber. Now, just a few years later, the Kings are head and shoulders above the Jazz (who barely crept into the playoffs) and should dispose of them pretty easily.

In the final West matchup, I like the Spurs over the Suns, probably in 5 games. Tim Duncan is a wonderful player and he has a very underrated supporting cast. Guys like Tony Parker, Malik Rose, Emanuel Ginobili and an on-his-last-legs David Robinson play good defense and give the Spurs just enough scoring to compliment Duncan.

Over in the East, I think the easiest call is the Sixers over the Hornets, in what should be a 4 or 5 game series.

The toughest one to pick is probably Boston and Indiana, because both teams have been up and down all season long and who knows which teams will show up on which nights?

Indiana is a much deeper team, but that doesn't matter as much in the playoffs. And the Celtics have the best player in the series in Paul Pierce. One of my theories on the NBA post-season is that, when in doubt, go with the team that has the best player. For some series, that is easy. Duncan and the Spurs, Webber and the Kings, Iverson and the Sixers. For others, it isn't as simple, but in the Indiana/Boston series, Paul Pierce edges out Jermaine O'Neal. What about Antoine Walker? I happen to think he is one of the most overrated players in the league and I am not particularly fond of players that shoot 38%, especially ones that are 6'9". If this series doesn't go at least 6 games I'll be shocked, and I will go with the best player theory and pick the Celtics.

The top 2 seeds in the East each face difficult first-round opponents. The Bucks (the 7th seed) and the Magic (the 8th) aren't really that good, but they do things that will make them tough opponents in round one.

The Bucks play an up-tempo game with tons of shooters on the court at all times and have been known to just click every once in a while and win a game by 25 points. And the Magic have the best offensive player in basketball in Tracy McGrady, so they are very dangerous.

I like the Nets over the Bucks, because New Jersey has the best player (Jason Kidd) and they play very good defense, which is key when going against all the good offensive players on Milwaukee.

The Detroit/Orlando series all depends solely on one thing: The health of Ben Wallace.

You take a look at the Detroit roster and tell me how they could possibly win the most games in the conference. Here are their top 9 guys in minutes played this year:

Ben Wallace

Cliff Robinson

Richard Hamilton

Chauncey Billups

Corliss Williamson

Chucky Atkins

Michael Curry

Mehmet Okur

Jon Barry

That is basically a group of over-achievers and castoffs from other teams. Quite a few of those guys weren't even drafted and most of them are with their 2nd or 3rd team in the last few years.

The glue that holds it all together, the person that allows a collection of role players to win 50 games and get the #1 seed in the East, is Ben Wallace. This might sound like hyperbole, but I don't think there has ever been a player that has been as valuable as Ben Wallace while scoring as few points as he does. Now, the fact that he can't score shouldn't be seen as a positive, but it simply shows how tremendous he is in the other parts of the game.

Ben Wallace is quite simply a monster defensively and on the glass. He averaged 15.4 rebounds per game this season, #1 in the entire league (which amazingly saw only

6 players averaged 10+ boards per game this season). He is basically a taller, not crazy Dennis Rodman, and I mean that as the highest compliment possible.

Wallace also averaged 3.15 blocks per game, which ranked 2nd in the NBA, and tossed in 1.42 steals/game for good measure.

Offensively, he is very poor. He is pretty much limited to dunks, layups and, if he's feeling good, shots in the paint. He knows his limitations though and doesn't go shooting 15-foot jump shots. He shot 48% from the floor this year, which ranked 22nd in the league.

At only 6'9" (the same size as Antoine Walker, who is content standing behind the 3-point line lauching threes) Ben Wallace is a major force capable of dominating a game without scoring and he is one of the most valuable players in the NBA. If he is not healthy enough to play or plays and is limited, the Pistons suddenly become a team completely lacking any sort of rebounding ability and their defense suddenly has a massive hole in the middle of it.

If Wallace is healthy, they will win the series. If he isn't, Orlando will win it easily. He is that good.

So, assuming Big Ben is healthy, I like LA, San Antonio, Dallas and Sacramento to advance in the West and Detroit, Boston, Philly and New Jersey in the East.

And after round one? Well, I like the Lakers to beat anyone and everyone they go up against. I don't see how anyone could pick against them at this point. Sure, they got off to a horrible start and "only" won 50 games, but this is the same team that has won the last 3 titles and they still have Shaq and Kobe, which is all that matters. Plus, they have gone 30-9 since a loss to New Jersey on January 24th.

Think about that. The 3-time champs still have Kobe and Shaq and they are 30-9 in their last 39 games? That's good enough for me. The only team in the world right now that can beat them is Sacramento, but I just don't think the Kings will be able to do it. Sacramento's one big advantage over LA is their depth, but that is much less of a factor in the post-season. Plus, when the games get close, the Kings know they can't go to Chris Webber and his neverending supply of crappy little jump-hooks in the lane, so they go to Mike Bibby, who is an excellent shooter and a very good player, but not someone a team should be counting on to carry them in a playoff series. Meanwhile, the Lakers have Kobe Bryant, who is the first guy I would want taking the final shot for my team in a game that mattered.

Who do I like to make the Finals out of the East? I am not sure, but I know it won't matter one bit. The real NBA finals will take place in the Western Conference Finals (just like they have the past several seasons) and the Timberwolves will give LA a better test than anyone out of the East ever will.

That said, GO WOLVES!

Finally...

Here are two conversations overheard by Yours Truly in the cafeteria yesterday:

Conversation #1 (Two guys from another dorm - one with a not-so-nice cafeteria - sitting at a table, ready to leave):

Guy 1: Hey, before we go, should I grab anything?

Guy 2: Like what?

Guy 1: I dunno, they have everything here. Do we need anything to take back to the room, like ketchup or something?

Guy 2: Hey, grab a bunch of hot sauce packets.

Guy 1: Why?!

Guy 2: We can throw them at people's doors tonight.

Guy 1: Good idea (Grabs about 50 packets)

Conversation #2 (Two girls sitting at a table, discussing what they did last night):

Girl 1: Craig came over last night and he was so high.

Girl 2: Oh yeah?

Girl 1: Yep, but he's so funny when he's like that; everything he said was funny, I couldn't stop laughing.

Girl 2: Really? Even though he was high?

Girl 1: It's like he's so much more illiterate when he's high, you know?

I actually chuckled out loud when I heard that last line and the two girls heard me and looked at me. There are two interesting things going on in that sentence:

1) She thinks the guy is more clever when he's high, but she says he's more IL-literate instead of literate.

2) Literate, illiterate - it doesn't matter, because neither of those words have anything to do with what she was trying to say.

LITERATE - lit-er-ate

1) Able to read and write.

2) Familiar with literature; literary.

3) Well-written.

ILLITERATE - il-lit-er-ate

1) Unable to read and write.

Unless this kid came over to her room and started reading and writing...

Today's picks:

Philadelphia (Wolf) +135 over Atlanta (Maddux)

New York (Clemens) -140 over Minnesota (Radke)

Detroit (Cornejo) +160 over Kansas City (May)

Cleveland (Rodriguez) +200 over Chicago (Colon)

Texas (Thomson) +210 over Oakland (Zito)

Saturday's picks:

Arizona (Kim) +120 over St. Louis (Simontachi)

Florida (Burnett) +115 over New York (Trachsel)

Chicago (Prior) -160 over Pittsburgh (Wells)

Philadelphia (Padilla) +115 over Atlanta (Hampton)

San Francisco (Moss) -115 over Los Angeles (Ashby)

Chicago (Stewart) -155 over Cleveland (Anderson)

New York (Pettitte) -150 over Minnesota (Mays)

Total to date: + $860

W/L record: 32-32 (Not a good day for me yesterday. I went 0-4 and lost a total of $405.)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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