July 29, 2004

Notes for the Weekend

There's no bigger letdown than an off-day following a three-game sweep of your division rivals. Just such a buzzkill. At least the White Sox lost though.

Without a Twins game to talk about and with the weekend coming, I figured now would be a good time for me to just ramble a little bit ...

- It sounds like Kris Benson is headed to the Mets for some package involving Ty Wigginton and a couple pretty good prospects. If this is the sort of package the Pirates were looking to get from the Twins -- and I've heard from several people that they asked for Jason Kubel -- I'm happy Benson is headed to New York. He's good, but not that good. For more on this, check out my thoughts on him from yesterday.

- Over at ESPN.com, Eric Neel's always-entertaining "Eric Neel on Baseball" column includes a poll for people to vote on a nickname for Johan Santana. There are 10 choices to pick from, but sadly "The Official Pitcher of Aaron's Baseball Blog" is not one of them.

Trying to find Santana a good nickname has been something I've thought about for a while now, but I've come to the conclusion that his name doesn't lend itself to anything that sounds good. Plus, does someone named "Johan Santana" really need a nickname? I think I'm fine with just calling him Johan.

Of course, that's not to say I don't applaud Neel's efforts, because I'm very pleased with any and all attention Santana receives from the national media. I'm also willing to forgive the exclusion of "The Official Pitcher of Aaron's Baseball Blog" as a nickname choice, mostly because Neel's column also included a big, fat plug for my "Re-Examining 300" article over at The Hardball Times.

- You know what I realized yesterday? I don't give nearly enough link-love to Will Young's Minnesota Twins page. Will, in addition to being a huge Twins fan and a good guy, is doing great stuff over there on a semi-daily basis. Go check it out.

- As long as I'm handing out links to blogs, here's one to an article about Johan Santana's Cy Young candidacy over at The Baseball Savant. The writer of the article, David Bergner, has a fairly strong hatred of Yours Truly, but that doesn't keep the article from being a worthwhile read. David likes to call me a "charlatan" and I like articles praising Johan Santana, so it's an interesting match.

- Speaking of people who don't like me ... Remember all those White Sox fans who were upset about Torii Hunter's collision at home plate with Jamie Burke, calling both the play and Hunter dirty? Here's a pre-Game 3 quote from Chicago's manager, Ozzie Guillen, that might make a few White Sox fans rethink what great and clean sportsmen the have on their team:

I expect the first ground ball to shortstop or second base, we go after somebody, hopefully we hurt somebody. That's the way to go. Last night we had two opportunities to do it and we didn't do it.

All of a sudden we can take somebody out there and they don't have any more infielders. We didn't take the shot. I want my players to take the shot -- take a clean shot and go out there and try and break the bone.

I look forward to all the "that quote was out of context" e-mails I will receive today, but let me just tell you in advance: I'm not buying it.

- If you haven't yet, you really need to do yourself a favor and check out Bat-Girl's reenactment of the Twins/White Sox brawl that actually didn't happen after Corey Koskie was beaned for the third time in one game. I sometimes wish I could write more like Bat-Girl and less like a math textbook, but I guess we all have to play to our strengths, right?

- For you prospect hounds in the audience, my latest couple articles over at The Hardball Times -- Top 50 Prospects: July Checkup Part One and Part Two -- look at how my pre-season top 50 prospects are fairing this year. Unless you're a fan of the Astros, Cubs, Expos, Giants, Rangers or Rockies, there's something for you to read about a prospect on your team.

- Anyone besides me know what this Sunday is the anniversary of? Seriously, anyone?

- And finally ... I need a favor.

My uncle -- the man most responsible for making me the insane baseball fan I am today -- is taking a trip to Chicago with his family and would like to secure tickets for either August 10th or 11th. He says he would prefer the Cubs, but he's not picky enough to turn down tickets for the White Sox either.

He needs at least four tickets. If someone out there -- either in the ticket-broker world or someone who just lives in Chicago and has tickets for that game(s) -- could help my uncle out, I would be forever grateful.

Oh, and he's willing to pay for them too! Just drop me an e-mail with your information and I'll get you in contact with him.

See ya Monday ...

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

July 28, 2004

They Gone! (sorry, I couldn't help myself)

Well, that was fun. My pre-series pessimism proved totally unwarranted, as the Minnesota Twins went into Chicago and took all three games from the White Sox.

After riding great pitching performances from Brad Radke and Johan Santana in the first two wins, yesterday's victory came in one of those coin-flip games where one team catches a break or two or makes a big play or two, and comes away with the win.

For instance, late in the game, the Twins were saved by their defense. Corey Koskie and Michael Cuddyer completed a miraculous double play with runners on first and third and one out in the bottom of the ninth inning, when a mistake would have let the runner on third base score to end the game.

Koskie made a nice grab on a hard grounder, but his throw to second base was a little off-target. No matter, Cuddyer grabbed it and, in the face of a hard-charging Jamie Burke (who no doubt wouldn't have minded laying a Minnesota player out after being crushed by Torii Hunter two days earlier), made a strong, accurate throw to Justin Morneau at first base for the second out.

And then, in the bottom of the 10th, Timo Perez led off with a gapper into right-center, but Torii Hunter chased it down and made a great diving catch for the first out.

On the flip side, the Twins were given extra life with two outs in the top of the 10th inning when Jose Valentin dropped a Jacque Jones pop up. Jones drove in the go-ahead run (that proved to be the game-winning run) with a single two pitches later.

There were some other interesting moments in the game, chief among them Justin Morneau having not one, but two home runs that were initially ruled home runs called back by the umpires. One ended up being a double and one ended up being a foul ball. Incidentally, can you imagine how much of a boost Justin Morneau's stock with Twins fans would have experienced had he gone deep twice against the White Sox?

As for the subject of a lot of e-mails I got immediately after the game ... I didn't have a problem with Ron Gardenhire bringing Terry Mulholland into the game in the 10th inning (I'm a big fan of going with a "second starter" once the game goes into extra innings), but I think Mulholland's appearance unfortunately says that Grant Balfour is potentially going to be included in one of the many trades the Twins are rumored to be discussing.

Balfour has been pitching a lot of late and has become a favorite of Gardenhire's, but he didn't pitch at all in the Chicago series. Either he's about to be shipped somewhere or he's hurt, because that spot in the 10th yesterday was practically begging for him to come in. I hope I'm wrong, and that's certainly not as obvious as Mientkiewicz not playing in the Chicago series, but it's still strange, at the very least.

I hate to be the party pooper (although I'm quite good at it), but I'm a little worried that the Twins will have a let-down coming off this big series win over Chicago. They can't let up at all, because their schedule is about to get incredibly difficult.

Twenty-nine of the Twins' next 32 games are against teams that are above .500. Meanwhile, the White Sox head to Detroit for four games and they play two three-games series against the lowly Royals, with a series against the Indians in-between. In other words, the White Sox are 3.5 games back and the Twins just forced a major momentum shift, but they're not out of the woods yet. They're not even close.

Oh, and to cover another frequent e-mail topic ... Kris Benson is starting to get incredibly overrated. That's not to say he's a bad pitcher, because he's not, but because he's seemingly the only decent non-Randy Johnson starting pitcher on the market this year, the Benson hype is getting out of control.

He's pitched well over the last couple months, but the fact is that he has a 4.22 ERA this year, he's averaging just 5.6 strikeouts per nine innings pitched, and he's got a 1.9-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Benson had a 4.97 ERA last year, he had a 4.70 ERA in 2002, he had a 3.85 ERA in 2000, he had a 4.07 ERA in 1999, and he has a career ERA of 4.26. In other words, he's Kyle Lohse, when Kyle Lohse is pitching well.

Don't believe me?

                             ERA      AVG      OBP      SLG      GPA

Kris Benson in 2004 4.22 .272 .332 .398 .249
Kyle Lohse in 2003 4.61 .268 .307 .431 .246
Kyle Lohse in 2002 4.23 .259 .332 .437 .258

Again, is that a nice pitcher? Sure. Is that a great pitcher, one who should be the subject of about a hundred trade rumors and half the e-mails being exchanged among Twins fans? Uh ... no.

I'd trade Doug Mientkiewicz and Michael Restovich for Benson just because Mientkiewicz doesn't have much value to the Twins given their current logjam at 1B/DH/LF/RF, and Michael Restovich has even less value to them given the same circumstances.

But if we're talking about giving up Michael Cuddyer or Grant Balfour or Jesse Crain or Francisco Liriano or some other young player who could help the team at some point in the next five years, I think it's a major mistake.

By the way, here's the scheduled pitching matchup for this Sunday afternoon against the Red Sox ...

Pedro Martinez vs. Johan Santana

Am I the only one who is way too excited about this already?

New article at The Hardball Times: Top 50 Prospects: July Checkup (Part One)

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

July 27, 2004

Game Two to Minnesota

Some random thoughts I had while watching the Twins beat the White Sox last night ...

... Shannon Stewart led off the game with a single and then Cristian Guzman sacrificed him to second base. I absolutely hate this play. If the game were tied and it was the late innings, that's one thing, but to give up an out to advance one base in the top of the first inning is just stupid, even factoring in how well Johan Santana has been pitching of late.

Incidentally, the Twins did not score a run in the first inning.

... While I'm on that subject, I hate batting Guzman #2. Once Joe Mauer comes back, I'm really hoping Ron Gardenhire shifts Guzman to #8 or #9 and moves Lew Ford up to #2. That would put the Twins' four best hitters in the first four spots in the lineup, which is exactly how it should be.

Not only does Ford have speed and bunting ability, just like Guzman, he has the added ability to actually take pitches, work counts and draw walks, all things Guzman has never been able to do.

A top five of ...

1) Shannon Stewart - R

2) Lew Ford - R

3) Joe Mauer - L

4) Justin Morneau -L

5) Torii Hunter - R

... will score some runs. I've always felt Hunter's best spot in the lineup was the five-hole and, although there are some theories about a team's best hitter batting second that make sense to me, I generally think the best guy (Mauer) should bat third and the second-best guy and/or best power-hitter should bat fourth.

Morneau would have a ton of RBI chances batting behind Stewart, Ford and Mauer, all of whom should get on base between 35% and 40% of the time.

By the way, those five guys are the ones I have a feeling the Twins will be going to war with over the next 2-3 years (and beyond, for Mauer and Morneau). I can't imagine that the other four spots in the lineup, including guys like Guzman, Luis Rivas, Jacque Jones and Corey Koskie, are nearly as secure when you're talking about who will be with the team in the future.

... Bert Blyleven and Dick Bremer are being so coy and secretive about all the Mientkiewicz trade stuff. Blyleven actually said the following during the first inning last night: "When I got to the ballpark, I saw Doug's name in the lineup, but then an hour later, Justin Morneau was at first base. So Doug is getting the night off."

Puh-leeze. The night off? He hasn't played since Saturday. Only a blind man could see what's going on with Mientkiewicz and conclude anything except the fact that he is about to be traded. He hasn't played in three games. He hasn't started, he hasn't pinch-hit, he hasn't come in as a defensive replacement. What exactly would he need a day off from?

Blyleven and Bremer are clearly listening to someone who has told them not to comment on any of the trade rumors. I can certainly understand that, but it's still a little disappointing. I'm never a fan of ignoring the elephant in the room.

... I'm not the world's biggest fan of Rick Anderson, the Twins' pitching coach, but he basically gets a free pass from me because he's the man who taught Johan Santana his devastating change-up. Without that pitch, Santana is just another guy with a great arm. With the pitch, he's one of the most dominant lefties in baseball and, at times (like his last 10 starts) completely unhittable.

Here's exactly what Santana has done over his last 10 starts ...

  IP      ERA     W     L      SO     BB     OAVG

76.0 1.42 7 2 100 17 .123

Yes, you read that right: Johan Santana has held hitters to a .123 batting average over his last 76 innings. Hitters are 31-for-252 against Santana during that stretch, which is so extraordinary that, for once, I am at a loss for words. One-twenty-three.

Just to put his 10-start run of complete dominance into some sort of context -- which is admittedly very difficult -- consider the following two stat lines ...

  IP      ERA      SO     BB     OAVG

76.0 1.42 100 17 .123
82.1 1.20 137 20 .133

Now, you know the first line belongs to Johan over his last 10 starts. The second line? None other than Eric Gagne, owner of one of the most dominant pitching seasons of all-time and the 2003 National League Cy Young award.

By the way, the Johan bandwagon is completely filled up. I'm serious. You should have hopped onboard when I told you to a couple years ago.

... I like Jason Bartlett as a prospect and I am hoping he takes over for either Guzman or Rivas as a starter next year, so I was shocked and pleased to hear all the praise Tom Kelly had for Bartlett after watching him at Triple-A. It seems to me that Kelly saying nice things about a young player -- especially one who has yet to play an inning in the big leagues -- is a pretty rare occurrence.

For the record, I'm hoping next year's double-play combo is Bartlett and Michael Cuddyer, but I'd also be just fine with Bartlett and Punto (assuming he's healthy). That combo would cost about 5% as much as a Guzman/Rivas combo would and ... well, it would be tough for them to not produce at least similar numbers.

... Remember yesterday when I wrote that I loved the way Lew Ford sprints out of the batter's box on every ground ball and how impressed I was with the amount of infield hits he has this year? He got another one last night, hitting a high-chopper to third base that Joe Crede couldn't field cleanly (not that it would have mattered ... Lew would have been standing on first base).

... Corey Koskie got hit with three pitches last night, which apparently tied a major-league record. He was plunked in his second, third and fourth plate appearances of the evening. Now, in what has been a heated rivalry and testy series, you might expect that fact to create some controversy or trouble.

In this case though, I'm pretty sure none of the beanings were intentional. And, if they were, I'm not sure why Koskie would be the one getting hit three times. That said, I'll be very surprised if there aren't at least 2-3 hit batters in today's game.

Koskie ended up with a really cool line for the game: 0-1 with a walk, a strikeout, three hit by pitches, two stolen bases, and a run scored. The strikeout came in his last trip to the plate. On the 11th pitch of the plate appearance -- on a 3-2 count -- Koskie took what looked to me like a very obvious ball down and away, and was rung up by the ump.

It's hard to complain about a called third strike in a 7-1 game, but I'm guessing Questec is going to say that call was awful. Plus, I wanted to see Koskie go 0-for-0 with five times on base.

... J.C. Romero has been fantastic since being demoted to Triple-A last month. Since returning to the big leagues, Romero has thrown 13.1 scoreless innings. He has a 13-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio and has given up just seven hits. I'm skeptical, but it's nice to have Good J.C. back for however long it lasts.

... There is nothing that makes me smile quite like the fireworks in Chicago when Carlos Lee hits a solo homer to pull the White Sox within five runs in the bottom of the ninth.

Well, okay, maybe the fireworks when Carl Everett homers to bring Chicago to within four runs with one out in the bottom of the ninth made me smile just a tiny bit more.

... Finally, I got a ton of e-mails yesterday about Torii Hunter's collision with Jamie Burke at the plate on Monday night.

I actually found most of the e-mails sort of amusing. The majority of them were from White Sox fans and basically started arguing with me about something I hadn't even commented on. I got one during the early innings of the game last night that said, "It was a cheap shot and you know it Aaron. He could have easily slid in safely without being thrown out. Burke wasn't even blocking the plate."

Now, I don't mean to pick on the person who sent that specific e-mail, because he's actually a good guy, but I say plenty on this blog and on The Hardball Times for people to argue with or get angry about, without getting upset about things I never even commented on. In fact, I didn't say one word about the collision yesterday and just posted the picture because it was a pretty incredible picture.

That said, I do think it was a cheap shot. It's not at the level of some other cheap shots, in that Hunter did nothing technically illegal or against the rules. But it was still a cheap shot. I believe he could have scored fairly easily without crashing into Burke, and I believe Hunter crashed into him because it was the White Sox.

Still, it was a far closer play than a lot of the e-mails from Chicago fans are saying, and Chicago's own manager, Ozzie Guillen, said he had no problem with the play: "I know if that had happened for my side, I'd be high-fiving my players. If they don't like it, that's a message. That's the way I learned how to play the game. That's the way I want them to play the game."

It's not the first time a player crashed into the catcher on a play where he probably could have scored without doing so, and it won't be the last time. If the Twins needed Hunter to do that to get pumped up about playing the White Sox, then fine. If the White Sox need to use their anger against Hunter to get pumped up about playing the Twins, fine.

Take-out slides at second base, pitchers intentionally hitting batters with 90 MPH fastballs, bench-clearing scuffles, collisions at home plate -- this stuff all falls under the "cheap shot" umbrella if Hunter's actions do. As long as you're willing to admit that, I'm willing to admit that Hunter's actions were wrong.

AL CENTRAL

W L WIN% GB
Minnesota 56 44 .560 ---
Chicago 52 45 .536 2.5

Game 1: Minnesota 6, Chicago 2

Game 2: Minnesota 7, Chicago 3

Game 3: Carlos Silva (9-7, 4.48) vs. Esteban Loaiza (9-5, 4.85)

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

July 26, 2004

Game One to Minnesota

Some random thoughts I had while watching the Twins beat the White Sox last night ...

... How many times have you seen someone hit a slow grounder to the left side of the infield, run less than maximum effort down the line, and get thrown out by a step at first base? And how many times have you wondered how close the play would have been if they'd have sprinted the entire distance?

Well, Lew Ford puts that to the test on every ground ball he hits and he's had a TON of infield singles this season because of it. Last night, he hit a slow chopper to third base and Joe Crede fielded it cleanly and made a nice throw over to first, but because Ford was sprinting, head down, from the moment his bat made contact with the ball, he basically got to the bag at the same time as the throw and got himself a hit.

I want to say that Ford has had a dozen of those hits this year, but I think that might be exaggerating. At the very least, he's had four or five, which is about four or five more than most players. The Twins definitely have a keeper in Lew Ford.

... Nick Punto broke his right clavicle last night, on the very first play in the bottom of the first inning. This really stinks, for any number of reasons.

First and foremost is that a broken clavicle sounds like an awful injury, and the way he suffered it -- crashing hard to the ground while trying to make one of those throw-while-falling plays on a slow grounder to second base -- much have been incredibly painful.

Beyond that, I feel bad for Punto because he has already been on the disabled list for a long stretch this year and was just starting to convince Ron Gardenhire that he deserved regular playing time. He had 50 at-bats this month, mostly starting in place of Cristian Guzman at shortstop, and was playing second base instead of Luis Rivas last night.

For the year, Punto is hitting just .256/.343/.322, and I don't think he's a great option as an everyday player, but he was looking like a very solid utility guy. Plus, on a team with Guzman and Rivas as the double-play combo, having someone capable of at least getting on base and playing some defense is crucial.

It was amazing to me just how great Punto looked defensively this month, whether at shortstop or second base. And I don't even think he's that great as a defender. I think he's merely good, but looked so phenomenal because I've been watching two of the worst defensive middle infielders in baseball for so damn long.

So the Twins lose a nifty utility man, they lose someone to push Guzman and Rivas, they lose someone Gardenhire was taking a liking to over Guzman and Rivas, and they lose someone at an area of extreme weakness in the organization. I mean, if they lost a corner outfielder, they'd be okay for a while, but who exactly do they call up to replace Punto? If they had someone good and major-league ready, he'd be up already.

Certainly whoever ends up taking Punto's spot -- whether it is Jason Bartlett or Terry Tiffee or Alex Prieto -- will not be seen as an option to play over Rivas and Guzman like Gardenhire was beginning to see Punto as. Just bad news all around, although at least this might create some more opportunities for Michael Cuddyer to play second base.

... Remember when Cristian Guzman used to hit lots of triples? Me too, those were the days. Guzman's triple last night was just his third this season, in 363 at-bats. At various points in his career, Guzman has been the best triples-hitter in baseball, but he's also had a couple stretches like this season, where he's had a serious three-bagger drought.

Take a look ...

YEAR     3B      AB     3B/600 AB

1999 2 420 2.9
2000 20 631 19.0
2001 14 493 17.0
2002 6 623 5.8
2003 14 534 15.7
2004 3 363 5.0

Now, triples are a quirky enough thing and something that is rare enough that fluctuations like that aren't totally unexplainable. Still, I believe that Guzman, for the most part, gets triples when he wants to and settles for doubles when he doesn't. Some of that has to do with some leg and foot injuries he's had, but some of it is simply just a matter of him wanting to run an extra 90 feet.

For instance, the one he hit last night looked to me like a typical double, which is to say it was a typical triple for Guzman, back when he was flying around the bases on a regular basis. For whatever reason, at that very moment, Guzman felt compelled to take the extra base, so he did. There have been no less than four or five similar instances this season when he chose to settle for the stand-up double instead.

It was nice to see Guzman back to taking that extra base last night, because there isn't much in baseball that is more exciting than a triple, and there's nothing better for a Twins fan than Guzman cutting that corner on his way to third.

... And finally:


AL CENTRAL

W L WIN% GB
Minnesota 55 44 .556 ---
Chicago 52 44 .542 1.5

Game 1: Minnesota 6, Chicago 2

Game 2: Johan Santana (8-6, 3.44) vs. Freddy Garcia (8-8, 3.18)

Game 3: Carlos Silva (9-7, 4.48) vs. Esteban Loaiza (9-5, 4.85)

New article at The Hardball Times: News, Notes and Quotes (July 27, 2004)

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

July 25, 2004

Lucky Breaks and a Big Series

It's interesting to me what beating the same team a couple years in a row can do.

Take the Minnesota Twins, for example. In 2002, they beat the White Sox by 13.5 games to win the American League Central. Then, in 2003, when things were close heading into the final month of the season, a lot of Twins fans basically thought, "We beat them last year, we'll beat them this year." They were, of course, correct. The Twins beat the White Sox by four games to win the American League Central for the second year in a row.

Beating a team one season can carry over to the next season for a fan, like I've just shown. I think I'd call this the "We did it once, we'll do it again" theory of fandom. Now that the Twins have beaten Chicago in each of the past two seasons, the general reaction of Twins fans (and some White Sox fans too, I suppose) is even stronger in that direction. It is almost bordering on what I would call a Yankees-fan mentality. That is, "We beat 'em in 2002, we beat 'em in 2003, we'll beat 'em every year."

This season, while the Twins and White Sox go back and forth fighting over first-place (there have been 14 lead changes already), I've heard Twins fans say things like, "The White Sox always fold and lose to the Twins." Always, as if this has happened more than two times in a dozen years.

If you root for the Yankees and you want to say something like that about the Red Sox, there's at least historical precedent to back you up. If you're a Twins fan and you want to say something like that about the White Sox, then you're just plain cocky.

In fact, being a Twins fan and an admitted pessimist, I've often found myself actually defending the White Sox in this situation. I was one of those guys telling other Twins fans that, even though the Twins have a whopping two consecutive division title wins over the White Sox, the third consecutive one won't just happen because it has to happen.

In fact, I've said on several occasions that this White Sox team will not fold like the 2002 and 2003 versions did, and I've said that the Twins are in for a much tougher fight if they want that third straight title. Well, guess what? The White Sox certainly haven't folded up anything yet, winning four of their last five games heading into this crucial three-game series against the Twins that starts today.

However, Chicago's chances of doing to the Twins what they haven't been able to do in either of the past two years has taken two major hits. Frank Thomas and Magglio Ordonez, Chicago's two best players and two of the best hitters in the league, are both sidelined with fairly serious injuries and could potentially miss the remainder of the season.

Now, obviously the Twins fan in me wants the Twins to win as many division titles as possible, and I would have nothing against beating the White Sox to do so every single season. At the same time, I can't even imagine the talk next year if the Twins were able to, say, beat Chicago by 2-3 games down the stretch to capture the division again this year.

If that happened and then the White Sox jumped out to an early 10-game lead next year, Twins fans would just sit back and say, "Who cares? Chicago blows it every year."

So what am I saying, exactly? I'm not quite sure. I think I find myself almost siding with the White Sox on this issue, which is to say I don't buy into this stuff about the White Sox always "folding" down the stretch or the Twins "owning" the White Sox in some way. To me, they are just a couple of good-but-flawed teams who happen to be in the same division and happen to have the good fortune of it being the worst division in baseball.

Does the fact that the Twins were able to finish with a better record in 2002 and 2003 mean they somehow hold some special advantage over the White Sox when it comes to future seasons? I doubt it. And does the fact that the White Sox finished second in both 2002 and 2003 mean Chicago lacks the ability to beat the Twins down the stretch? I doubt it.

Of course, with all that said, I think it's going to be very difficult for the White Sox to prove most Twins fans wrong without their two best players for the final two months of the season. Thomas (.271/.434/.563 this season, .267/.390/.562 last season) and Ordonez (.292/.351/.485 this season, .317/.380/.546 last season) are two of the elite hitters in baseball and their absence turns what was a dominant lineup into one that is simply good.

By the way, for all the talk of the Twins owning the White Sox, from 2002 to the present, the Twins and White Sox have split their 48 meetings, 24 wins apiece. The bad news for Twins fans? In both 2002 (11-8) and 2003 (10-9) the Twins had a winning record against Chicago. This year, the White Sox have won seven of their first 10 games against Minnesota.

Now that all of that is out of the way ... Let's get it on!

AL CENTRAL

W L WIN% GB
Minnesota 54 44 .551 ---
Chicago 52 43 .547 0.5

Game 1: Brad Radke (6-6, 3.82) vs. Mark Buehrle (10-3, 3.86)

Game 2: Johan Santana (8-6, 3.44) vs. Freddy Garcia (8-8, 3.18)

Game 3: Carlos Silva (9-7, 4.48) vs. Esteban Loaiza (9-5, 4.85)

Has anyone else noticed that, if these two teams met in a playoff series, those are probably what the pitching matchups would look like?

For those of you who need a prediction, I'll just say that I think the White Sox will leave the series with the division lead. (Hey, I just said I was a pessimistic Twins fan, didn't I?)

Oh, and one final thing ... There is a story in today's Minneapolis Star-Tribune that says Doug Mientkiewicz has been told he will be traded. I believe the story to be completely accurate, as reported, and I have personally heard from two reliable sources who both say Mientkiewicz is all but gone (and might actually be gone by the time you read this). I'll save my thoughts on this for when the deal actually goes down, which I imagine will be soon enough.

New article at The Hardball Times: Re-Examining 300

Today's picks:

You know what? I quit. First of all, everyone knows that gambling isn't good for you. Secondly, I apparently stink at it, so much so that it is starting to actually bug me.

So I'm going to quit before I make a complete and total fool of myself. What's that? You think I've already accomplished that? Well, you may be right, but it's worth remembering that I also made picks throughout all of last season and actually ended up with a winning record and +3,095 in my hypothetical bank account. So, if you add this year's ridiculously bad performance in with last year's good performance, you come up with a 368-413 record (picking mostly underdogs) and a total loss of "only" $290. So I stink, but only a little.

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

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