September 22, 2010

Twins Notes: AL Central champs (they gone!)

• About two hours after the Twins completed their eighth-inning comeback against the Indians last night the White Sox lost their eighth consecutive game versus the A's, which means the AL Central race is officially over. Kind of anti-climactic with two weeks left, but I'll certainly take it. And it was funny to see Paul Konerko close out Chicago's playoff hopes by grounding out with the bases loaded against Craig Breslow, who was waived by the Twins in mid-2008.

• Obviously securing homefield advantage throughout the playoffs is always a very good thing, but Cliff Corcoran of SI.com crunched the numbers and found that it's likely not as important as conventional wisdom would have you believe. Since the current playoff schedule format was adopted in 1998, teams with homefield advantage have a 45-39 record in series, which isn't all that impressive when you consider that they're usually the superior team anyway.

Of course, not represented in those numbers are both the economic and "holy shit this is fun" impacts of having extra games at Target Field. No matter who the Twins play in the first round, they'll have homefield advantage when the ALDS begins October 6 at Target Field.

• The good news on Joe Mauer's sore left knee is that an MRI exam taken yesterday revealed no structural damage. The bad news is that Mauer does have inflammation and is expected to miss at least 4-5 days after receiving a cortisone injection. Thanks to the White Sox's collapse, he has plenty of time to rest up.

• Last week Mauer became just the fifth catcher in baseball history to reach 1,000 career hits at age 27. Here are the all-time leaders in hits by a catcher through age 27:

Ivan Rodriguez      1333
Ted Simmons         1279
Johnny Bench        1246
Joe Torre           1087
JOE MAUER           1009

Mauer's hit total is hurt by missing most of his rookie year following surgery on the same knee that has him out of action right now, but also by his being so patient at the plate and passing up hits for walks. Here are the all-time leaders in walks by a catcher through age 27:

Johnny Bench         516
Darrell Porter       510
Butch Wynegar        450
JOE MAUER            433
Ted Simmons          427

Butch Wynegar ranked 31st on my list of the best players in Twins history.

Ozzie Guillen had a particularly amusing quote when talking about Danny Valencia coming out of nowhere to hit .340, noting that Valencia played in the same high school conference as his son Ozzie Guillen Jr.:

They go and get this kid Valencia. When you play against Ozzie Guillen Jr. in the same division in high school, you're very horseshit because Ozzie Guillen Jr. is not going to choose any good conference to play baseball. And [Valencia] is a superstar [for the Twins].

As usual, Guillen had all kinds of praise for the Twins after they dispatched with the White Sox.

• Something to consider when debating who should get the Game 1 and Game 5 starts in the ALDS: Francisco Liriano has allowed zero or one run in 11 starts this season, compared to six from Carl Pavano. And they've both allowed three runs or fewer in 22 starts.

UPDATE: Liriano has officially been named the Game 1/5 starter for the ALDS. Good call.

• Last week I mentioned discovering a podcast called "Jesse, Jordan, Go!" hosted by Jordan Morris and Jesse Thorn, the latter of which is a big baseball fan. Over the weekend I listened to various episodes from their archives and stumbled across a show from 2007 in which they had a lengthy discussion centered around the question: "Shia LaBeouf or Boof Bonser?" As if that weren't enough, they interviewed Kelsie Smith of the St. Paul Pioneer Press about Bonser.

For literally five minutes she answered very serious-sounding questions about Bonser's name, Bonser's personality, Bonser's weight, and other pressing matters. It was pretty hilarious, and it was long enough ago that Smith a) described herself as "the backup Twins beat writer," and b) had never even heard of LaBeouf. If you want to hear the Boof-related hilarity for yourself, the segment occurs about three-fourths of the way through this episode.

Jim Thome and Target Field are on the cover of this week's Sports Illustrated, with a feature article written by the great Joe Posnanski and this spectacular looking photo:

That scaled-down version doesn't even begin to do it justice, so click on the photo and then hit zoom to see the full-sized masterpiece.

• Speaking of the Twins getting some national attention, Tyler Kepner of the New York Times wrote a good article about pitching coach Rick Anderson and his strike-throwing machines.

• I stepped in for an on-vacation John Gordon as the Monday afternoon guest on 1500-ESPN, talking Twins with Patrick Reusse and Phil Mackey. Surprisingly, during the 15-minute chat I was the only one to bring up a pitcher's win total. And the pitcher was Tony Fiore. You can get the segment here. I'm on about halfway through the clip. I'll also be co-hosting "Twins Wrap" on 1500-ESPN again with Darren Wolfson Friday night, starting 30 minutes after the final out.

• And finally: Woo!

  • Aaron P.

    Stylin n’ profilin!!

  • festivus

    nice work boys. this has been an amazing season. let’s hope it continues for a while…

  • neil

    “They gone!” …

    Heh!

  • Kurt

    There is/was a debate about who should be handed the ball for game 1 and possibly 5….? There probably shouldn’t be. Clearly you give the ball to our best pitcher, who I believe is now viewed as an ace league wide. Pavano and his 4.8 K/9 is not that pitcher.

  • Nick

    The home record of teams in the playoffs also doesn’t take in affect how good the Twins have played at home this year, as well as how different Target Field plays than does say Yankee Stadium.

    White Sox fans also want create for their team making a sporting magazine cover, Golf Digest – http://soxmachine.com/2010/09/21/magazines-and-batting-issues/

  • marietta mouthpiece

    Well, I guess (somehow) I was left out of the Bonser loop, because until about 10:45 last night, I had no idea that the Boof(!) was alive and well in the Bay area. Was there a memo that I missed? Johnny, we hardly knew ye …

  • JB (the original)

    Great clincher! I suppose I’ll be seeing Gardy’s post clinching day-game all-stars in the lineup today.
    C: Butera
    1B: Iron Man
    2B: Casilla
    SS: Plouffe
    3B: Tolbert
    LF: DelMonstro
    CF: Revere
    RF: Repko
    DH: Vazzle

    I’d get Punto in there, but he’s Day-to-Day again.

  • JB (the original)

    Not being critical, I was hoping for the clincher today while at the only game I was able to get front row “overhang” seats (back at the open house)for; hoping for a Thome/Morneau/Mauer pullshot into my hands….

  • Arnold4321

    Kurt, there should be a debate on the Game 1 starter. If the schedule plays out according to the MLB website, there would only be 3 days rest between games 1 and 4. The Twins won’t throw Liriano on 3 days rest. Maybe they would with Pavano? There would be 4 days rest between games 2 and 5. So theoretically you could go with a 3 man rotation if Pavano throws game 1, whereas you’d have to introduce one of our wildcards into game 4 if Frankie goes game 1. In either scenario Frankie would pitch Game 5. I don’t know, I’d rather take my chances with Pavano on 3 days rest than go with Blacky or Slowey.

  • Bill

    Good stuff as always.

    Have you heard the new song “Don’t Call Them Twinkies” featuring Craig Finn? It’s pretty sweet!

    http://minnesota.publicradio.org/radio/services/the_current/playlist/song_detail.php?song_id=207968

  • Neil

    In that glaringly white A’s uni, Boof Bonser looked like the Pillsbury Doughboy’s evil twin, Star Trek style.

    I was plenty worried about this team in June and July, but in the end they’ll win the 95-97 games I thought they could. This is Gardy’s best team, and thus, the best Twins team since ’91. We’ll see how they fare in October.

    And while the manager and coaches have some interesting decisions to make about the ALDS roster, I’ll be stunned if Frankie doesn’t start Game 1…

  • Twinstalker

    I’ll say this again because not many saw my comment on the last blog item: I don’t think it’s going to matter who starts what game against the Yankees or the Rays if Gardentool is bunting early (or ever, for that matter) or taking Crain out for Mijares because a lefty is up. In big games he over-manages.

    I’ve referred to it for nine years as choking, and I believe the team has also reflected that insecurity. Not believing they’re in the same league as the Yankees, celebrating multiple times prior to the post-season, and failing to close out sweeps (earlier this season) are examples of this.

    You may disagree, and that’s fine, it’s just my opinion. I really think this Twins team (with Morneau) is the best team in the AL, along with the Yanks and Rays (all so good and so close), and perhaps this is the year they can break through Gardy’s intricate game management and win anyway.

    Mind you, I think a Gardenhire’s clubhouse management is a big reason this team is so successful in winning the “lesser” AL Central. The team may think it’s inferior to the Yankees and Boston, but it has the right attitude and chemistry and cohesiveness to compete every year, thanks to him.

    Go Twins!

  • Twinstalker

    Oh, and this talk of this or that player being team MVP is silly. It will always be Mauer. His numbers are monstrous for his position, not only in percentage (index) but in raw difference. That raw difference, Mauer OPS minus average catcher OPS, for instance, is the biggest difference-maker for the Twins.

  • http://www.jmichaelward.com Jeremy

    Aaron:

    If Mauer’s out for 4-5 games, do you think he’ll still have a chance at breaking the doubles record for catchers? I noticed the other day that he was at 42, where so many other catchers have ended.

  • Doug

    Duensing projects to fall about 30 innings short of qualifying for the ERA crown. You need 162 innings. He is at 120 with maybe two token “keep sharp” starts.

  • brian

    Neil-

    “In that glaringly white A’s uni, Boof Bonser looked like the Pillsbury Doughboy’s evil twin, Star Trek style.”

    That’s what my brain was trying to piece together when I saw him but couldn’t find the parts. Thank you.

  • Kurt

    Arnold4321 that is a very good point, and you’ve actually convinced me to pitch Pavano game 1. Gardy has given Liriano extra rest lately, so I imagine he is all for that in the postseason. Plus, if it went 5 games, we’d have our best pitcher in the deciding game. I definitely want a 3 man rotation of the obvious Liriano, Pavano, Duensing.

  • grubah

    Did the day game lineup with Morales at first give us a little hint that he will be on the post-season roster instead of Butera? Mauer will catch every game, so Butera’s defense is a non-issue, and Morales needs to be there in case Cuddy has to come out of a game.

  • chris

    never forget, in last 10 years only yankees, bo sox and maybe angels went more often to the playoffs then the twins!!!

  • http://www.jmichaelward.com Jeremy

    Chris, I just checked, and actually, the Twins have been to the playoffs exactly as many times as the Red Sox and Angels in the last 10 years, but the Twins have won more division titles (6).

    Yankees, well, they’re the Yankees. They’ve been there 14 of the last 15 seasons.

  • Arnold4321

    And in those 6 appearances, the Twins have won a grand total of 6 games. In the last 10 years, Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, Boston, New York, Tampa Bay, LA, and Oakland have all won more playoff games.

  • jokin

    H/T to local photographer phenom, Tom Dahlin, who took that wonderful shot of Thome and Target Field.