June 30, 2004

Game 1 To Chicago

Not much to say about this one. Carlos Silva didn't pitch all that poorly, giving up three runs through six innings, before nearly going the distance and finishing with 8.2 innings pitched and six runs allowed.

However, it didn't much matter what type of pitching they got, because the Twins' offense continued to stink. Mark Buehrle and Shingo Takatsu combined for eight strikeouts and no walks, and the Twins managed just three extra-base hits. Meanwhile, the Chicago offense did what it usually does, hitting two homers and four doubles, while striking out just twice.

I just don't know what to say. I know this is going to anger a lot of Twins fans, but I'm getting very close to the point of just believing that the White Sox have the better team. There are a lot of people who thought this in the past two years, but I haven't been among them ... until now.

Incidentally, Mark Buehrle came into the game with a 7.71 ERA in his last four starts, having given up 24 runs in 28 innings against Philadelphia, Atlanta, Montreal and Cleveland. He carved up the Twins yesterday without so much as breaking a sweat.

This is a key point in the season for the Twins. I have a feeling they are about to fall behind the White Sox and, unlike in the past, I'm just not sure they have the guns to catch up this time. Well, let me rephrase that: I think they might have the guns, but I don't think they are willing to use them. We'll see, I guess.

They need to escape this series without getting swept and, considering Johan Santana gave up seven runs in three innings against the White Sox earlier in the year, avoiding a sweep might be on the shoulders of Brad Radke. Of course, the story of Radke's season is that the team hasn't scored him any runs, so it could be more of the same today.

You can talk about "pitching and defense" as much as you want, and you can certainly win with pitching and defense. To be honest though, I don't think the Twins' pitching or defense are all that great. They're going to have to do something to improve this offense, because right now it just sucks.

Speaking of guys who can't hit, I have a brand new, Gleeman-length article over at The Hardball Times ...

The Hardball Times: The Bizarro World All-Stars

Today's picks:

Montreal (Day) +135 over Philadelphia (Abbott)

New York (Glavine) -120 over Cincinnati (Lidle)

Chicago (Garcia) -110 over Minnesota (Radke)

Texas (Rogers) -125 over Seattle (Nageotte)

Total to date: -$2,210

W/L record: 117-150 (2-1 yesterday for +210.)

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

June 28, 2004

Patience

One of the things that has always bugged me about the Twins, or at least this current, 2001-present version, is that a large number of the hitters seem to have no discernible plan when they step into the batter's box.

Minnesota has some patient hitters, of course, but they also have some first-class hackers, guys who swing at anything that moves way too often. As someone who is a big believer in working counts, taking pitches, drawing walks and getting on base, this infuriates me.

Today, I thought I'd take a look at the actual numbers this year, to see if they matched up with my personal observations. So here are the pitches seen per plate appearance by Twins hitters (with at least 50 at-bats) this season ...

                       P/PA

Jose Offerman 4.13
Joe Mauer 4.11
Shannon Stewart 3.95
Doug Mientkiewicz 3.84
Michael Cuddyer 3.82
Michael Ryan 3.79
Matthew LeCroy 3.76
Lew Ford 3.75
Torii Hunter 3.74
Henry Blanco 3.71
Corey Koskie 3.68
Jacque Jones 3.65
Luis Rivas 3.48
Cristian Guzman 3.42
---------------------------
TEAM 3.74

There are, I think, some interesting stuff to be found in those numbers.

For one thing, my frustration with the at-bats of Cristian Guzman and Luis Rivas is probably warranted. They are the only two guys on the whole team seeing significantly fewer pitches than the team average. Jacque Jones is third-worst as far as seeing pitches, and he's probably the #1 offender when it comes to what my eyes see, but his actual numbers are significantly better than Guzman's or Rivas'.

Corey Koskie is fourth-worst, with just 3.68 pitches seen per plate appearance, and that really surprises me. I went and looked at his previous seasons and here's what I found ...

YEAR     P/PA

2002 4.04
2003 4.08
2004 3.68

His 2002 and 2003 P/PA numbers would have ranked him right at the top of the team leaders, and that's where I would have expected him to be this year. Instead, his 3.68 P/PA is the lowest total in his entire career, as he came into this season having seen 3.90 pitches per plate appearance.

Going up to the top of the list, I see something I love ... Joe Mauer is second the team (and first among everyday players) with 4.11 P/PA. Mauer has done about a million things to impress me already this year, so this just adds to the list. Still, a 21-year-old rookie being second on the team in P/PA looks pretty good to me.

Mauer's P/PA numbers definitely match my personal observations of him -- he strikes me as incredibly patient. Mauer almost always takes several pitches in an at-bat and it seems to me that he has zero fear of falling behind in the count or hitting with two strikes.

Once he's been in the league for a while and the umpires start to respect him a little more (and they will, once he starts making All-Star teams and such), I could see Mauer getting tons of calls in his favor and really becoming a walking machine. As it stands now, he doesn't seem to be getting the borderline calls in his favor, which is perhaps why he only has eight walks in 73 plate appearances, despite being so selective.

Here's an interesting fact that agrees with the P/PA data ... Mauer has swung at and put in play the first pitch of an at-bat exactly one time all year, and he hit a single on the pitch. He's hitting .321/.441/.643 once he gets ahead of the count 1-0 in an at-bat.

Some other stuff from the team P/PA numbers ...

Jose Offerman is actually leading the team with 4.13 P/PA, which is probably to be expected. At this point in his career, Offerman is basically looking to draw walks. He can't hit any more (hasn't hit above .270 since 1999) and doesn't have any power (has never slugged above .450), so getting to first base via four balls is his goal.

To his credit, he has accomplished his goal so far this year, with 22 walks in 128 plate appearances. That's .173 walks per plate appearance, which is nearly 60% higher than Mauer's walk rate. Offerman's please-walk-me approach is basically the only thing keeping him from being a huge disaster, because while he can't hit, play defense or run, at least his .346 on-base percentage means he does a decent job avoiding outs.

The other team leaders in P/PA are Doug Mientkiewicz and Shannon Stewart, neither of whom are surprising. Mientkiewicz is, to me, the most patient hitter on the team, particularly when he's actually hitting well and pitchers aren't just throwing him strikes and daring him to hit them.

His yearly P/PA numbers have been incredibly consistent ...

YEAR     P/PA

1999 3.82
2001 3.88
2002 3.84
2003 3.80
2004 3.84

*2000 is left out, because he only played three games that year.

Mientkiewicz at his best is the guy who showed up in the second-half last year, hitting .305/.438/.433 with 48 walks and just 20 strikeouts. The guy this year is taking about the same amount of pitches and walking nearly as often, but he just can't get any hits to drop.

Shannon Stewart is the guy Twins fans talk about being "patient" the most. That was apparently a big selling point when they got him last year -- that he would be so patient atop the lineup that it would rub off on other people. I really don't think it has, but that's not Stewart's fault.

He's been very patient at the plate, seeing 3.95 P/PA this year and 3.76 P/PA with the Twins last season. Of course, the guy they traded for him, Bobby Kielty, saw 3.93 P/PA during his time with the Twins. And yeah, I know, Kielty has hit like Jose Offerman for the past year. I'm just saying ...

How all of these Minnesota hitters compare to each other in P/PA doesn't tell us a whole lot, I suppose. I mean, if the whole team is a bunch of hackers, someone has to be the most patient hacker of the hackers, right? So let's take a look at how they match up with some other hitters in the American League ...

                       P/PA

Jason Varitek 4.31
Frank Thomas 4.24
Casey Blake 4.23
Mark Bellhorn 4.22
Johnny Damon 4.19
Jermaine Dye 4.16
---
Jose Offerman 4.13
Joe Mauer 4.11

Now, Mauer doesn't have a ton of plate appearances this year, so he's not among the leaders. Still, he's taking pitches right along with the league leaders, which is fantastic to see out of a 21-year-old rookie. Incidentally, the AL leaderboard in P/PA is a pretty nice mix of power hitters, leadoff men and guys who just take a ton of pitches, which is why I think P/PA is a fun, interesting and meaningful stat to look at.

Mientkiewicz's 3.84 P/PA ranks 37th in the AL, surrounded by a few Yankees; Jorge Posada (3.91) and Bernie Williams (3.89) in right in front, and Hideki Matsui (3.82) right in back. Cristian Guzman and his measly 3.42 P/PA rank fourth-to-last in the AL, while Luis Rivas would rank eighth-to-last if he had enough plate appearances to qualify.

Interestingly, the majority of the other hitters among the league "trailers" in P/PA are actually very good hitters -- Aubrey Huff, Mike Sweeney, Ivan Rodriguez, Vernon Wells, Javy Lopez, Vladimir Guerrero. Guzman fits in more with guys like Alex Sanchez (seeing the fewer P/PA in the league at 3.04) and the hitter Twins fans probably wish Guzman would become, Carl Crawford (3.54).

So what have we learned? Well, Offerman, Mauer, Stewart and Mientkiewicz are patient, Koskie is taking a lot fewer pitches than in the past, and my eyes aren't playing tricks on me with Jones, Rivas and Guzman.

By the way, in the words of Mills Lane, Let's Get It On!

Today: Mark Buehrle (7-2, 4.49) vs. Carlos Silva (8-4, 4.04)

Tomorrow: Freddy Garcia (4-7, 3.20) vs. Brad Radke (4-3, 3.32)

Thursday: Jon Garland (5-5, 4.84) vs. Johan Santana (6-4, 4.38)

Today's picks:

San Diego (Sweeney) +220 over Arizona (Johnson)

Cleveland (Westbrook) -110 over Detroit (Knotts)

Chicago (Buehrle) -120 over Minnesota (Silva)

Total to date: -$2,420

W/L record: 115-149 (1-1 yesterday for -15.)

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

June 27, 2004

The Quotable Moviegoer

I went to a movie last night and, afterwards, heard the following uttered by my fellow moviegoers as I made my way out of the theater ...

- "They really should impeach that son of a bitch. You hear me? They've got to impeach him!"

- "You know, republicans typically are for less government in everyone's lives."

Upon hearing that second quote, one of the people I was with turned to me and said, "He couldn't possibly have been serious, right?"

Okay, now anyone wanna take a wild guess as to which movie I saw? And no, I won't be reviewing or discussing the movie here. I've learned my lesson about that sort of stuff already.

While I was out at the movies, the Chicago White Sox made a fairly big trade, getting Freddy Garcia from the Mariners. I have a full write-up of the deal posted over at The Hardball Times, so go check it out ...

The Hardball Times: Garcia to the White Sox

Today's picks:

San Diego (Wells) -130 over Arizona (Reynolds)

Toronto (Halladay) -115 over Tampa Bay (Zambrano)

Total to date: -$2,405

W/L record: 114-148 (4-1 over the weekend for +300, with one non-bet because of a changed pitcher.)

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

June 25, 2004

40-31

At this point last year, the Minnesota Twins were 39-32, and 2.0 games ahead of the Kansas City Royals for first-place in the AL Central. As of today, the Twins are 40-31 this season, and 2.0 games ahead of the Chicago White Sox for first-place in the AL Central.

Given all the injuries (Mauer, Stewart, LeCroy, Koskie, Hunter) and Johan Santana's bad first two months, I think 40-31 is a great place to be. However, Chicago's offense scares the hell out of me and the Cleveland Indians are a much better team than I thought they would be this season.

Last year, most people thought it was going to be a two-team race between the Twins and White Sox, but the Royals wedged their way into things until the final month. This year might be much of the same, with the Indians taking the Royals' spot.

Taking the series from Boston, in Boston, was a big deal. I really thought the series had the potential for disaster, and I wouldn't have been surprised if the Twins dropped all three games. To win two out of three is just great.

Some thoughts on yesterday's game ...

I am not usually a fan of sacrifice bunting, but Jose Offerman's bunt in the top of the 10th inning was perfect in every way. First and foremost, it was a situation (extra innings, tie game, runner on second with no outs) that made a bunt the smart play. Beyond that, Offerman executed it perfectly.

He squared around from the very beginning, instead of waiting for the pitcher to start his motion like most bunters do. He didn't getting a running start before the bat actually made contact with the ball, which is another mistake many bunters make. And, most importantly, he truly sacrificed himself for the team by not attempting to get a hit out of the play. He simply wanted to trade Boston one out for one base advanced. Picture perfect all around, and he was rewarded when Lew Ford drove the go-ahead run in from third with a sacrifice fly.

Then Joe Nathan came in to close it out. Now, I hate the way closers are used today about as much as I hate bunting in most situations, but what Joe Nathan did yesterday was truly a save. He came into the game with a one-run lead, not one of those three-run advantages that anyone could close out 90% of the time.

And not only was it a one-run lead, Nathan had to face, in order, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez and Nomar Garciaparra. After giving up a far-too-long-for-my-taste fly ball to right field to Ortiz, he struck Ramirez out on a nasty breaking ball diving down and away, and then got Nomar to foul out to Henry Blanco.

The shame of it all is that Brad Radke once again couldn't pick up a win. Radke now has a 3.22 ERA in 103.1 innings this year, including three runs in 6.2 innings yesterday. And he has four wins.

The guy who did get the win, Grant Balfour, pitched well, so it's not as if he wasn't deserving. Still, Radke's going to end up going 10-8 or something, and he deserves better. Balfour is a guy I've touted for a while now, and I've even said I wish the Twins would give him a chance as a starting pitcher, so it was nice to see him pitch well and stay out there for a while (2.1 innings of scoreless ball).

**********

There was a huge deal made late last night and I have a big write-up of the trade over at The Hardball Times, so please go check that out ...

The Hardball Times: The Beltran Three-Way

Friday's picks:

Chicago (Prior) -140 over Chicago (Garland)

Montreal (Day) +110 over Toronto (Towers)

San Francisco (Schmidt) -130 over Oakland (Zito)

Saturday's picks:

Atlanta (Ortiz) -100 over Baltimore (Lopez)

St. Louis (Williams) -140 over Kansas City (Reyes)

San Diego (Valdes) -100 over Seattle (Nageotte)

Total to date: -$2,705

W/L record: 110-147 (3-1 yesterday for +205.)

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

June 23, 2004

Waiting Around

It's been an interesting few weeks for me. As I have mentioned (or at least hinted at) here several times, my grandfather went into the hospital three weeks ago. He originally had surgery on his gallbladder and went home just fine, at which point he developed an extremely severe infection. It wasn't looking very good for a long time (he was even "code blue" at one point, which is about as bad as it gets) and he spent nearly two weeks in the Intensive Care Unit.

The ICU is just a dreadful place. So much death, so much depression, so many families hurting. I spent long hours there with various members of my family, but also spent time with complete strangers. You see people in the waiting room day after day and you almost can't help but talk to them. You tell them why you're there and they do the same. There is something strangely comforting about knowing everyone is, more or less, in the same boat.

The hardest part is that, once in the ICU, someone either improves enough to move to another floor of the hospital or they die. What ends up happening is that everyone celebrates when someone gets the news that their patient is moving to a "regular" floor. But just as often, I saw someone pass away, and the pain that brought their family.

Anyway, my grandpa left the ICU last week and, although he is still in the hospital, he is doing far better. Not as many tubes connected to him, not as many drugs dripping into him, and not as many nurses and doctors buzzing around his room.

Yesterday I visited with him and my grandma for a few hours, during which time we talked Twins, took two walks, and shared some ice cream. I am not a big fan of hospitals, but a "normal" floor is infinitely better than the ICU. I hope I never have to go back there, although I am sure I will.

My mom's side of the family is an interesting bunch. We do a nice job rallying together in times of tragedy, and we were actually too present and too talkative at times in the ICU. Because of the sheer number of nurses you come across in the ICU, you get all sorts of different personalities and different "rules."

Some nurses are friendly and talkative, some nurses get to know the family and chat with us even when they aren't taking care of our room, and some nurses see us around the hospital and speak to us like friends. At one point, my grandma looked at a male nurse very closely, pointed at him and said, "You know who you look like? Rodney Dangerfield." And he liked us so much by then that he didn't kill her or anything.

And then there was one nurse who kept forcing all of my grandpa's visitors to leave the room while she did whatever minor thing she was doing, and told us that, "You know, you're only supposed to have two visitors at a time, and even then you're not supposed to stay this long." This was despite the fact that my grandpa told everyone and anyone who would listen that he did not want to be left alone, even for a short time.

This nurse -- I guess I can say that her name is Doreen, since I doubt she's a huge baseball fan or blog reader -- had the gall to actually ask my grandma and myself to step into the hallway so that she could lecture us on the rules for visiting sick relatives. At that point we had been spending days and nights in the ICU for nearly a week.

And it wasn't even a good lecture. Just as she did with my grandpa, she spoke to us like 4-year-olds. Actually, she spoke to us like 4-year-olds who were both deaf and stupid. She talked loudly, repeated everything, used small words, and kept saying stuff like, "I just want you to understand." My favorite moment of the past month came when my grandpa, after receiving yet another stern talking to, said, calmly, "I understand what you're saying, because you said it already. I am just not going to listen to you."

Nurses are, I've come to realize, one of many professions that are underappreciated until you really need them. A nice nurse -- or even a mediocre one -- can make the day pleasant, or at least as pleasant as a day in the ICU can get. But a bad nurse can really ruin things. A bad nurse can dampen the whole mood and actually take over a family's thoughts from what really matters, which is the person lying in the hospital bed that they're all there to see.

So I have a new appreciation for nurses now, and I also have a new appreciation for a couple other professions too.

You see, in addition to spending huge chunks of my time at the hospital, I've also spent long hours waiting around for service people to show up at my house to fix stuff. In the past month, we've had a problem with our phone, with our internet connection, with our DirecTV and then, Tuesday night, my mom went into the kitchen and saw a mouse.

She screamed (I believe her exact words were "Oh s---, a mouse!") and then called "The Orkin Man." The guy showed up right on time yesterday, stayed for a little while, and supposedly cured us of all mouse-related problems. He even did stuff to get rid of "spiders, ants and whatever else" while he was at it. I have a bit of phobia of bugs, so I told the guy I wouldn't mind it if he came back once a month for the rest of my life. He laughed, but I was serious.

I figure there isn't a whole lot of other stuff in my life that can break at this point. As many of you know, my laptop crapped out on me last month. Then the phone, the internet, the DirecTV and my ability to think that my house is uninhabited by rodents all went away. And, of course, the big one is that a member of my family was "broken." All that stuff is fixed (or in the process of being fixed), and I hoping nothing else will break in the meantime.

Oh, by the way, I was watching last night's Twins game (nice win ... another good performance from the starting pitcher) and Bert Blyleven (the Twins' color commentator) got an e-mail question asking him if he enjoyed pitching in Fenway Park. He said (paraphrasing), "I liked it when I got good run support." Bert also went on to say that his shortest career start took place in Fenway and he lasted just one-third of an inning.

I was wondering for myself how Blyleven actually did (since his answer wasn't much of one at all), so I looked it up. Bert Blyleven made 13 career appearances at Fenway Park, 12 of them starts. He went 3-9 with a 7.25 ERA in 63.1 innings, giving up 89 hits, including 12 homers. Not pretty. Outside of Fenway, Bert Blyleven went 284-241 with a 3.26 ERA in 4,906.2 innings.

Also, here's the boxscore from Blyleven's aforementioned worst career start. The pitching line ...

 IP     R     ER     H     SO     BB     HR

0.1 3 3 3 1 1 2

You know, that's not even really that bad. I mean, it's bad, but I'd be willing to bet that most managers today would leave a pitcher who did that in for a lot longer than one out. Of course, Blyleven was a rookie at the time and had a grand total of 15 games of major league experience, so he was probably on a short leash.

Interestingly, Blyleven came back the very next day to pitch 5.2 innings in relief of Luis Tiant, who lasted just 1.1 innings against the Red Sox. Blyleven actually picked up the win, his seventh of the season, giving up three runs. The Twins won 9-6.

I guess this means Blyleven has a good memory and is a little shy about admitting the Red Sox used to crush him at Fenway. Incidentally, Blyleven faired much better against Boston away from Fenway, going 9-7 with a 2.92 ERA in 20 starts.

Retrosheet really is a wonderful thing. And so are (most) nurses and guys who are willing to come to your house and get rid of mice.

Today's picks:

Pittsburgh (Burnett) +230 over Houston (Clemens)

Chicago (Rauch) -105 over Cleveland (Westbrook)

Detroit (Robertson) +105 over Kansas City (George)

New York (Vazquez) -170 over Baltimore (Ponson)

Total to date: -$2,910

W/L record: 107-146 (0-2 yesterday for -240.)

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

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