March 31, 2004

April Fools!

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays are tied for first place, and will be until Sunday night. No, seriously!

In other news, the Twins have decided all but one spot on their 25-man roster to begin the season. I've talked about all of the decisions plenty already, but to recap:

- Lew Ford deserves to be on a major league roster.

- Jose Offerman, most likely, does not.

- Michael Ryan is on the team almost entirely because he is left-handed and had an amazing 61 at bat stint last season.

- Grant Balfour should be the fifth starter, not Brad Thomas, but they both made the team and the Twins are going to skip the fifth guy plenty anyway, so it's not a huge deal.

- Mike Nakamura, whom the Twins sent to the minors a long time ago, is a far better pitcher than any of the guys they are thinking about keeping for the final spot on the team.

I think that about covers it.

Oh, by the way, did everyone see John "Twins Geek" Bonnes' announcement that he's moving his blog over to StarTribune.com? Congrats John!

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

March 30, 2004

D-Rays in First Place!

I bet you were all laughing at me when my first "Today's Picks" bet of the year was Tampa Bay +210. Admit it, you thought I'd lost my mind.

Well, it's possible I have lost my mind (for more on this, see my running diary of the NY/TB game over at THT), but the Devil Rays came through big for me.

On a completely different topic, one of my employers, Rotoworld.com, has a new fantasy game they're trying to promote and they've set up a thing where readers of this blog can get a 50% discount. I'm not one to push ads on you guys, but this seems like something many of you would be interested in, and 50% off is a good deal.

Here's a little promo/ad that includes all the relevant details:

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Today's Picks:

Devil Rays (Gonzalez) +210 over New York (Brown)

Total to Date: $210

W/L Record: 1-0

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Opening Day! (Sort of)

It's very likely that by the time you read this, the first game of the 2004 Major League Baseball season will have been played.

The Yankees and Devil Rays start the season in Japan, with a game that begins at five a.m. Eastern time. I'll be watching the game, although I'm not a big fan of starting the season with a game on another continent.

I like it much better when everyone starts on the day, because this current setup, while somewhat interesting, makes Opening Day a whole lot less dramatic and special.

Anyway, what the Yankees and D-Rays playing in Japan today does allow me to do is start up my "Today's Picks" for 2004.

Those of you who were around last season will remember that I make daily picks on various MLB games, using the Las Vegas "betting lines" provided to me by a certain sports gambling website that shall remain nameless. I keep track of my hypothetical wins and losses all season long.

For those unfamiliar with how baseball betting works, here's a quick little explanation...

Say you have two teams, New York and Chicago. The "betting line" for the game will look something like this:

New York -150 vs. Chicago +140

What that means is that New York is the favorite, and to win $100 on them you need to bet $150. On the other hand, Chicago is the underdog, and if you bet $100 on them, you win $140.

Pretty simple, right?

During the season, I will usually pick between 1-5 games to place pretend "bets" on each day. And I'll post them here, so you can keep track of me whether I'm winning or losing. Each hypothetical bet will have a baseline of $100. Meaning, with the above New York/Chicago example, I would be betting $150 to win $100 on New York, and betting $100 to win $140 on Chicago.

My basic strategy is to avoid picking big favorites, because their odds are so bad. For instance, I would typically avoid taking Pedro Martinez and the Red Sox against Nate Cornejo and the Tigers, simply because the risk (probably somewhere around -350 or maybe even -400) is not worth the reward.

At the same time, I typically take a ton of heavy underdogs. In fact, if the Red Sox and Pedro were -375 or something against the Tigers, I would likely take Detroit.

I'm not sure if this is a particularly brilliant strategy, but it worked out pretty well for me last season. Despite picking a ton of underdogs all year long, I ended up going 242-238, which was good for $3,095 in purely hypothetical winnings.

Late in the year, I was doing so well that people actually started e-mailing me for gambling tips, which, if you read about my trip to Las Vegas, is pretty funny.

Anyway, to christen the 2004 season, here is the first edition of "Today's Picks":

Today's Picks:

Devil Rays (Zambrano) +210 over New York (Mussina)

Total to Date: $0

W/L Record: 0-0

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

March 28, 2004

AL Central Day at THT

All you Twins fans should head over to The Hardball Times, where my "Five Questions: Minnesota Twins" article is up and ready for mass consumption.

You also get the added bonus of a "Five Questions: Chicago White Sox" article too, so you can keep up-to-date on the enemy.

Five Questions: Minnesota Twins

Five Questions: Chicago White Sox

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

March 24, 2004

Enjoying it while it lasts

I'm one of those guys who never pays attention to what happens in spring training. It doesn't matter to me if someone is hitting .400 or .100, because the sample-sizes are so incredibly small and the competition is so incredibly meaningless, that it's foolish to get caught up in the numbers.

I've even been known to mock people who say things like "I didn't know Nick Punto was such a good hitter!" based on the fact that he's been able to collect 14 hits in 37 spring at bats. Nick Punto is, of course, Nick Punto.

If he had gone 4 for 37, he'd still be the same player, just as he'd still be the same player if his 14-37 hot-streak had come in the middle of the season, where it wouldn't have been nearly as noticeable (but, ironically, much more meaningful).

With all of that said, there's nothing quite like watching your team play for the first time in five months to make you feel nice and optimistic about the upcoming season.

The Twins were on local TV for the first time last night, playing the Pittsburgh Pirates from Florida. It gave me a chance to get a look at some of the new Twins, including Joe Mauer, Joe Nathan, Carlos Silva and, yes, everyone's favorite hot-hitting utility man, Nick Punto.

Incidentally, it is looking as if last night will have been one of the rare times I was able to watch the Twins on TV this year. The team started up their own TV channel ("Victory Sports") during the off-season and they are currently in disputes with cable and satellite companies. As it stands right now, I won't be able to watch any of the 100+ Twins games that are broadcast on their channel, leaving me a measily 27 games on other, available channels.

I've avoided talking about this issue in the past, mostly because I've sort of been hoping that, if I ignore it, it'll just go away. Opening Day is right around the corner though, so I'm starting to get a little worried. I'm not quite sure what I'll do if I can't watch the Twins on a regular basis, but it won't be pretty.

I've rarely missed a Twins game over the last few years (whether on TV or in person) and the thought of being stuck with 27 random games interspersed throughout the season is one that makes me ill. The really sick thing about it is that I have purchased the MLB Extra Innings package on DirecTV for this season, just as I have for the past couple years. And yet, despite being able to watch a dozen different games nearly every day of the week, I just might be stuck with a total of 27 games from my beloved Twins.

Anyway, back to last night's game...

Carlos Silva looked very good. I had seen him pitch several times with the Phillies over the past two years, but was never particularly impressed. Last night though, he pitched very well. He has good velocity on his fastball and just about everything he throws has a ton of movement and a lot of sinking action.

I don't think Silva's going to strike out a ton of people, but a groundball pitcher who doesn't whiff a lot of guys is someone I think might be more successful in the starting rotation, as opposed to the bullpen, where he's been for the past two seasons.

If Silva can throw strikes and keep the ball in the ballpark, I could definitely see him giving the Twins bulk innings with a solid ERA. Of course, it would be even better if the team didn't play 81 games on artificial turf and/or they had an middle infield combo that could actually play some defense, but I suppose you can't have everything. Maybe Silva can learn to induce all of his ground balls to the corners of the infield...

After Silva, J.C. Romero and Joe Nathan both pitched and both looked very good. Romero seems to me like one of the biggest keys for the Twins in 2004. If he pitches like he did last season, their bullpen might be a real mess. If he pitches like he did in 2002, it could actually turn into an asset.

Nathan has not pitched particularly well overall this spring, but he sure looked good last night, striking out two batters in one inning of work. Even moreso than Romero, I think the fate of the bullpen rests on his shoulders. Nathan enters the season as the Twins' closer, a spot they've gotten remarkable production from during their back-to-back run atop the AL Central.

It's likely the most exciting part of last night's game for most Twins fans was getting their first good look at uber-prospect Joe Mauer. The boxscore line wasn't particularly good (0-1 with a sac fly), but I definitely liked what I saw.

Just like he's done when I've seen him play in the past, Mauer displayed a tremendous approach to hitting last night. He was very patient, he took borderline pitches instead of hacking at them, and he even flashed a little power with a long sacrifice fly to deep left field, driving in Torii Hunter from third base in the second inning.

With his 0-1 last night, Mauer is now hitting .333 this spring, with 10 hits in 30 at bats, including a homer and six total extra-base hits. Of course, as I just got done mocking, Nick Punto is hitting .378, so .333 doesn't mean a whole lot.

Mauer showed off his cannon throwing arm last night too, gunning down renowned base-stealer Orlando Merced by at least three feet when he tried to steal second base. The throw was so beautiful that I'm willing to ignore the fact that Merced is a 37-year-old reserve outfielder with 57 stolen bases in 13 years.

Twins GM Terry Ryan spent an inning in the announcer's both with Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven and, as he always does, was full of praise for Mauer. He talked about how impressive Mauer's defense behind the plate has been, how every throw he makes is "right on the bag" and how even the umpires like the way he works.

Later in the game, Mauer even did an interview of his own with Dick and Bert. He looked like...well, he looked like a 20-year-old kid from Minnesota who was on TV. Which is to say he was kinda shy, very respectful, and lacking a whole lot of personality. As long as he keeps hitting and throwing lasers to second base, he can be a mute for all I care.

I know I've said this before and I know people are going to accuse me of being a "homer" and all that stuff, but I'm about as convinced of Joe Mauer becoming a superstar as I could possibly be right now. Either that, or Nick Punto is in for a big year...

By the way, the Twins lost, 5-2.

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