September 3, 2006

Notes From the Weekend

Some notes I typed up while remembering why people used to refer to entries here as "Gleeman-length" ...

  • Losing a series is never a good thing, but beyond the obvious there are two very different ways to look at what happened to the Twins over the weekend. One version is that the Twins lost two out of three to the Yankees, looking somewhat sloppy in the process, and failed to make up ground in the Wild Card race despite the White Sox unexpectedly losing two out of three to the last-place Royals.

    The other version is that the Twins found a way to win once in Yankee Stadium despite not having Johan Santana, Francisco Liriano or Brad Radke on the mound, and managed to keep pace in the Wild Card race while the White Sox played the Royals. Which version you chose to accept as the truth probably says a lot about how you view the team in general.

    I suspect many would peg me for the "failing to make up ground" version, but I had low expectations for the trip to New York and was prepared to begin this week looking even further up at Chicago in the standings. Staying a half-game behind the White Sox while trading three games against the Yankees for three games against the Royals on the remaining schedules is a win for the Twins, even if it took losing twice to do it.

  • While I wouldn't quite spin losing to the Yankees as good news, the Twins did get some positive news over the weekend. Liriano threw what is being called a "full bullpen session" Saturday and reportedly felt no pain in his elbow or shoulder. According to Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Liriano is now on a timetable that would have him returning from the disabled list to start September 14 against the Indians.

    Before that can happen, Christensen reports that Liriano will throw a bullpen session today, pitch a simulated game Wednesday, and then head to Rochester to start a Triple-A game Saturday. Those are a lot of hurdles that still need to be cleared, but at least there's a light at the end of the tunnel now. All of which is good, because it's looking less and less likely that Radke will ever pitch again.

  • It sounds like Adam Harben is the player to be named later who'll be sent to the Cubs to complete last week's trade for Phil Nevin. I didn't expect the PTBNL to be someone as close to the majors as Harben and he was once viewed as one of the Twins' better pitching prospects, but losing him won't be difficult for the organization to swallow.

    A 15th-round pick back in 2002, Harben put up very good numbers in the low minors and came into this season with a 3.23 ERA and 394 strikeouts in 390.2 career innings. However, his development took a major step backward as he moved up to Double-A for the first time this season, with Harben posting a 3.89 ERA and horrendous 74-to-67 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 122.2 innings at New Britain.

    I still like Harben's chances of becoming a quality major-league pitcher, because he throws pretty hard, gets tons of ground balls, and keeps the ball in the ballpark. Even during his struggles, he's still held opponents to a .254 batting average this year. With that said, he's already 23 years old and the Twins aren't lacking in young pitchers who project as middle-of-the-rotation starters.

  • The Twins' defense was a mess over the weekend, with Nick Punto looking sloppy (or perhaps rusty) at second base and Torii Hunter continuing to show that he's merely a shell of his former self in center field. With each passing fly ball that sneaks over his head and each blooper than drops in front of him, the lack of attention being paid to Hunter's decline defensively becomes more astounding.

    It's debatable how far he's fallen, but it should be clear to anyone with a working set of eyes that he's no longer making what were once relatively routine plays for him. Meanwhile, if you trusted the Twins' television broadcast, you'd never know that Hunter has changed at all. Even fans who are able to form opinions beyond what Bert Blyleven tells them seem willing to look past Hunter's decline defensively because he's been hitting well lately.

    That's ironic, because Hunter's less-than-outstanding offense has always been excused due to his excellent defense. That line of thinking is valid, because if someone is catching everything in center field, it's easy to overlook their not coming up huge numbers at the plate. Similarly, when someone comes up with homers in bunches like Hunter has lately, it's easy to overlook their mediocre defense.

    However, when the player in question is supposedly the "face of the franchise" and eats up 15 percent of the payroll, the whole either/or approach doesn't quite work. Hunter's recent homer binge has been wonderful to see given how little he helped the Twins offensively for much of the season, but once that lets up the Twins will be left with the same good-but-not-great hitter, except without the defense.

  • Speaking of Blyleven and the TV broadcast, he apparently dropped a pair of f-bombs (the word, not the AG.com-approved nickname for Liriano) on the air yesterday. I didn't hear the actual incident, but received a wave of e-mails and comments immediately after it took place. The whole thing even got written up in the Star Tribune:
    Viewers tuning in for the opening of the Twins-Yankees telecast Sunday afternoon on WFTC got an unexpected surprise.

    Analyst Bert Blyleven, apparently thinking the segment was being taped, used two profanities after a slip-up during what is known as the standup. Blyleven seemed to think the segment could be shot again and was blaming himself for making a mistake.

    "We're reviewing the situation," said FSN North spokesman Brian Peterson, whose network produces the package of Sunday afternoon telecasts that air on WFTC. Both FSN North and WFTC are owned by Fox.

    WFTC could find itself in hot water with the Federal Communications Commission, which has the ability to fine a station for airing profanity. The words Blyleven used are high on the FCC's list of no-nos, and on the FCC website it clearly states such profanity cannot be broadcast between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.

    It's sad that a newspaper has to treat readers like infants just because there were some "bad words" involved in the story being reported on. Instead of describing what happened like reporters do with every other story in the newspaper, that piece actually makes what took place involving Blyleven more confusing.

    Thankfully, plenty of you sent in adult-friendly versions of the incident. Here's a report from reader Nick Scribner:

    While he was talking about Joe Mauer in a pre-recorded video clip, he all of a sudden said, "We gotta do this f***ing thing over again, I just f***ed it up." He then said, "Oh, we're live?" He continued to apologize for his "use of language" during the pre-game and at the beginning of the first inning.

    See what I mean? You learn more about what actually took place in 50 words from some random person who watched the game on TV than you do in 150 words from a reporter in the state's largest newspaper.

    I'm sure Blyleven will get in trouble, because a segment of the population is offended by such things. What offends me more than someone mistakenly saying a word is that his employers have to "review the situation" and "could find itself in hot water" with the government. Actually, as the season wears on, what offends me most regarding Blyleven is his continued massacring of the English language and disinterest in adding any sort of actual analysis to games.

    Once upon a time Blyleven was the goofy color commentator who added a little humor to his analysis, but those days are gone. He can't seem to find time to offer up any kind of insight in between circling fans in the stands and botching players' names, and has recently stumbled upon the annoying habit of attaching "type" to the end of every description. As in, "Justin Morneau is a power-type hitter, "this is an important-type situation for Joe Nathan" or "Santana is a strikeout-type pitcher."

    I happen to like Blyleven. I think he deserves a place in the Hall of Fame and is someone who would probably be incredibly fun to hang out with. However, I've gradually grown tired of his on-air persona as it's taken on caricature-like qualities. The broadcasts are often almost painful to listen to and I find myself watching Twins games with the sound off more and more.

  • While Blyleven goes through a Hunter-like decline, Anthony LaPanta has done an excellent job subbing for Dick Bremer as the play-by-play half of the broadcast team. LaPanta always struck me as nothing more than a fake-voiced talking head when he worked as the sideline reporter, but he's really grown on me over the past few games.

    LaPanta is a massive step up from Bremer when it comes to telling the story of what's happening during the game and I have a sneaking suspicion that he has a few Bill James books on the shelf at home. My favorite LaPanta-Blyleven exchange took place yesterday, when Hunter failed to track down a long fly ball that ended up being an RBI double that started the trouble for Matt Garza.

    It was clear that Blyleven wasn't going to say anything about Hunter's involvement in the play, even after a half-dozen replays. LaPanta finally said something like, "I expected Hunter to make that play when it was hit." That was predictably met with about 10 seconds of silence, at which point LaPanta just went on with the play-by-play.

    Between LaPanta's surprisingly stellar job subbing for Bremer over the weekend and Roy Smalley's solid effort stepping in for Blyleven last week, I'm starting to view the Twins' regular broadcast team in a different and less-flattering light. As much as Bremer and Blyleven are ingrained in Twins fans, a LaPanta-Smalley broadcast would be a lot more professional, insightful, and easier on the ears.

  • Speaking of stuff that makes my head hurt, check out Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan's take on why Morneau is a better MVP candidate than Derek Jeter. "Shecky" often gets caught up in corny one-liners when trying to be clever, but there's no joking around this time. Instead, he puts on his incredibly dusty and ill-fitting analyst hat, which predictably leads to a 700-word column that's jam-packed with illogical statements and misleading numbers designed solely to support his point of view.

    On the other hand, Souhan deserves some praise for his most recent column. And yes, you read that right. Souhan is the epitome of a hack sports columnist and has done more to advance the myth of Hunter as the "face of the franchise" than anyone, but he's also now one of the few members of the local media to address Hunter's declining defense in a meaningful way. Nice work, Jim. Now see if you can avoid making another Wizzinator reference for a few weeks.

  • If you're looking for something on Morneau that's better than Souhan's weak effort, check out Alex Belth's look at "The New M&M Boys" on SI.com. I enjoyed Belth's article on Morneau and Joe Mauer immensely, although I'm probably a little biased considering he's a friend of AG.com and quoted me a few times in the piece. Either way, it's definitely worth reading, if only because I managed to sneak one of my patented ridiculous analogies into an article on Sports Illustrated's website.
  • Saturday's New York Times had an interesting article about Jason Tyner, who extended his streak of homerless at-bats to 1,000 yesterday. A former first-round pick now with his fifth organization, much has been made of Tyner shedding his "bust" label with the Twins. What doesn't fit the story is Tyner's numbers coming back to earth since a fast start and his overall performance simply being sub par.

    Tyner's batting average is still above .300, which is surely what most fans see when looking at his contributions, but he's drawn a total of six walks in 173 plate appearances and all but four of his 51 hits have been singles. The end result is a poor .307/.335/.337 hitting line that Tyner masks by hitting for an impressive-looking average.

    Imagine how different things would be in the eyes of many fans if Tyner's .335 on-base percentage and .337 slugging percentage came along with a .275 batting average. All of which isn't to suggest that Tyner hasn't been valuable to the Twins, because he has. When Hunter went on the disabled list, he stepped into center field and did a fantastic job, and Tyner also provided a short-term spark in left field once Hunter returned.

    However, perception might be running away from reality as Tyner continues to play nearly every day in left field. Yesterday's St. Petersburg Times talked of Tyner turning his career around with the Twins and becoming "one of their fiercest weapons," which is the sort of thing that sounds good until you look past his incredibly empty batting average.

  • Last but not least, here are the standings with 27 games left to go:
    WILD CARD       W      L     WIN%      GB
    Chicago 79 57 .581 ---
    Minnesota 78 57 .578 0.5

    The Twins begin a three-game series in Tampa Bay this afternoon, while the White Sox head to Boston.


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