April 2, 2003

Too early for a magic number?

I got home from class yesterday and flipped on the White Sox/Royals game. As you can probably guess, I was rooting hard for Kansas City and I felt pretty good when Joe Randa deposited a Rick White breaking ball over the fence in straightaway centerfield to give the Royals a 5-3 lead in the bottom of the 7th.

The Royals held on to win the ballgame, which means:

1) The White Sox have lost 2 in a row to Kansas City to begin the season.

2) Kansas City CF Carlos Beltran is on the disabled list.

3) The White Sox started their "pair of aces," Mark Buehrle and Bartolo Colon.

For a Twins fan, it doesn't get much better than that. If the White Sox are going to win the AL Central division this year, they are going to need to go about 50-20 in the 70 games Buehrle and Colon combine to start. After that, their rotation gets real shaky and the fact that the Sox are now 0-2 when Buehrle and Colon start and the 2 losses have come against one of the worst teams in the league, playing without one of the best players in the league, well, it is almost as good for the Twins as their own 2-0 start.

Jeremy Affeldt was very impressive for Kansas City. He's a member of one of my two Diamond-Mind keeper league teams, so I was happy to see him start the year with a solid outing. He tossed 5 2/3 innings, striking out 4 and allowing 3 runs off of 5 hits and 2 walks. His stuff was (in my opinion) more impressive than the actually results. He's a big lefty and was consistently throwing his fastball in the mid-90s and mixing in a nice curve ball. After seeing Affeldt pitch well in his first start, against a very good lineup, I was happy I made this prediction prior to the season:

"Jeremy Affeldt will lead the Royals in wins and innings pitched."

That may sound like damning with faint praise and it could be, but I think he'll be a very good pitcher this year and he's off to a good start.

Adding to the pleasure of seeing Affeldt pitch well against the White Sox was the fact that White Sox announcer Ken Harrelson referred to Affeldt as "Jeremy Aflac" at least 3 times during the game. Actually, now that I think about it, I'm not sure if he was confusing him with the duck or the guy married to Jennifer Lopez. I also enjoyed hearing the very low-key and sad "you can put it on the board" after Randa went deep with the game-winner.

KC rookie closer Mike MacDougal came on to shut the door in the 9th and the Royals held on to win 5-4. MacDougal has really impressive stuff - he gets the fastball up in the high-90s and has a nice slider too. He looks really awkward on the mound though. He's like 6-4 and weighs about 85 pounds, plus he has extremely long limbs and a pitching motion that could best be described as "loose." I imagine he will be very dominant at times this year and extremely bad at others, and I think it will all depend on his control that particular day.

His control against the ChiSox was awful. He walked the leadoff man in the 9th and started 2-0 to the 2nd guy he faced, Tony Graffanino. It was looking pretty ugly. Then the White Sox and Graffanino decided to help MacDougal out. Graffanino proceeded to attempt and fail to get a bunt down 3 times, the final time on a 3-2 pitch, resulting in a strikeout. The next batter was Frank Thomas, who took the first pitch for a ball and then grounded into the game-ending double-play.

With appologies to everyone in Cleveland, Kansas City and Detroit, this is what the AL Central standings look like:

Team        W    L     GB

Minnesota 2 0 ---
Chicago 0 2 2.0

Not too shabby after only 2 games!

The Twins played the Tigers and went up against Jeremy Bonderman, a 19 year old rookie making his MLB debut. At times Bonderman looked pretty good. He has a good fastball and some really nice breaking stuff, but his overall performance was poor and the Twins got him for 6 runs in 4 innings.

Bonderman gave up 1 run in the top of the first, but it could have been a lot worse. Then Jacque Jones hit a massive 2-run homer in the 2nd, to give the Twins a 3-0 lead. Eric Munson took Joe Mays deep in the bottom of the 3rd to cut the lead to 3-1.

A.J. Pierzynski hit a double in the top of the 4th and then advanced to 3rd on a balk by Bonderman. Luis Rivas struck out and Jacque Jones stepped to the plate again. I am sure Bonderman still had the tape-measure homer from Jones' last AB on his mind, but Jones surprised everyone and laid down a picture-perfect drag bunt and easily beat the throw to first, allowing Pierzynski to come in from third to make it 4-1. The next batter was Cristian Guzman and he singled and then scored (along with Jones) on Torii Hunter's 2-run triple to deeeeeep center field. As soon as Torii hit it, he thought it was gone and so did I. It went right over the head over Detroit centerfielder Gene Kingsale, who actually turned completely around and did an all out sprint, but still couldn't catch up to the ball. Hunter made it 6-1 Twins and it was smooth sailing from there.

The one negative from the game was that Corey Koskie, who was held out of the opener because of a groin injury, left in the fourth inning and was replaced by Denny Hocking at third. Koskie already had 2 hits and it didn't look like he injured himself, so hopefully it was just a preventative measure taken with an injured player on a cold night. The amazing thing about Minnesota's depth is that they could lose Koskie for a while and plug Michael Cuddyer in at third and replace him with Bobby Kielty or Dustan Mohr in RF and not miss a beat, at least on offense.

Speaking of the right fielders, the Twins ran a "Virtual Manager" poll during the game that asked fans to log onto their website and vote on "Who should be the Twins' everyday right fielder in 2003?" The results? Dustan Mohr won in a landslide, with 53%. Cuddyer came in 2nd with 23% and Kielty managed only 20%. (They were the only 3 candidates, so don't ask me why it didn't add up to 100%). I am not sure what this says about Twins fans, other than their opinion of Mohr and Kielty is a lot different than mine.

Joe Mays looked great for the Twins. He was on a strict pitch-count because he is still coming back from an elbow injury and had experienced some elbow soreness in spring training.

Mays only needed 69 pitches to get through his 5 innings and he was going along so smoothly that I think he could have easily pitched 7 or 8 innings. He basically made 1 bad pitch the entire night, the homer he served up to Munson. The thing I was happy to see was that his velocity was back up in the 88-90 range, which is good for him. Mays didn't walk anyone and actually struck out 4 batters in the 5 innings, which is a great number for him. He gave up a total of 2 hits.

Mays was replaced by The Official Pitcher of Aaron's Baseball Blog, Johan Santana. Santana was, of course, absolutely filthy. He had 2 strikes on the first batter he faced, Gene Kingsale, and then made him look silly on a changeup that Kingsale popped up to third base. Johan then got Omar Infante to strike out swinging and finished the inning striking out Dmitri Young the same way.

Similar to the first game of the year, this was a very nice, clean, crisp win for the Twins. Their offense had a very good night, although they faced 4 pitchers (Bonderman and 3 Rule V guys) who were making their MLB debuts. And the pitching was very solid.

The only thing that frustrated me was Jacque Jones' at bat in the 8th inning. He had runners on 1st and 3rd with 1 out and had worked the count to 3-0 against a very wild pitcher making his MLB debut. He swung at the 3-0 pitch, who would have been ball four, and popped it into left field, where Dmitri Young caught it. Now, it scored the run from 3rd base, so it wasn't all bad. However, Jones has been doing a lot of talking lately about how he wants to be more patient at the plate and how he is really working at it. Yet he swings at a 3-0 pitch that is outside the strike zone, against a pitcher that can't find the plate and is making his MLB debut? Talk is cheap Jacque, I'll believe it when I see it.

I don't want to end on a negative note, so let me say that I thought Michael Cuddyer looked much improved out in right field. He looked downright awful out there during the playoffs last year, but he looked very comfortable last night and made a couple of nice plays, including a catch near the warning track for the final out of the game. He's a good athlete and I have always said I think he will eventually become a good corner outfielder, and it looks like it may already be happening. Jacque Jones is still the best defensive left fielder in baseball and if Cuddyer can show the same type of range and instincts he showed tonight, the Twins will have a superb outfield defense (not that they didn't already).

After the Twins game ended, I flipped over the ESPN2 to catch the end of the Mets' win over the Cubs.

If you read my entry about the opening day games, you may remember this comment about Roger Cedeno's defense in centerfield:

"Roger Cedeno proved once again that he should never be allowed anywhere near center field. On one of Patterson's homers, Cedeno looked like had no clue where the ball was going and just seemed to be heading in the general direction of where he thought the ball could possibly end up. And then Mark Bellhorn hit a flyball out to center field that Cedeno proceeded to play into a 3-run triple."

Well, in the top of the 9th last night Moises Alou hit a flyball into center field and Cedeno decided that he would circle around it and then try to make a diving catch. He missed and the ball ended up bouncing off the ground and hitting him in the face. Alou ended up with a double on a ball that should have been a routine out.

The Mets fans concurred with my assessment of the play and seem to be in agreement with me on Cedeno's defense, because they immediately started a chant of "TIMO...TIMO...TIMO..." "Timo" being Timo Perez, a good defensive center fielder that was on the bench last night.

Some guy in the upperdeck at Shea Stadium even had a sign that said: "FREE TIMO," which is okay with me. I can add him to the list that includes FREE BOBBY KIELTY and FREE RAMON CASTRO. The list has a spot available for Timo because FREE ERUBIEL DURAZO is now freed and playing everyday in Oakland.

Congrats to The Official 2002 American League MVP of Aaron's Baseball Blog, Alex Rodriguez, who hit his 300th career homer yesterday. ARod became the youngest player in the history of baseball to hit 300 homers, beating Jimmie Foxx by about 3 months.

After ARod smacked his homer, I got curious about who the "age leaders" for home runs were. Who had the most homers through the age of 21? 25? 30? Well, luckily I can look up such info by using Lee Sinins' Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia!

Here are the leaders for each age (using their "seasonal" ages, not exact dates):

18 = Phil Cavarretta - 9

19 = Tony Conigliaro - 24

20 = Mel Ott - 61

21 = Mel Ott - 86

22 = Mel Ott - 115 (ARod 106)

23 = (tie) Mel Ott/Eddie Mathews - 153 (ARod 148)

24 = Eddie Mathews - 190 (ARod 189)

25 = Alex Rodriguez - 241

26 = Alex Rodriguez - 298

27 = Jimmie Foxx - 302

28 = Ken Griffey Jr. - 350

29 = Ken Griffey Jr. - 398

30 = Ken Griffey Jr. - 438

31 = Jimmie Foxx - 464

32 = Jimmie Foxx - 500

33 = Jimmie Foxx - 519

34 = Jimmie Foxx - 527

35 = Babe Ruth - 565

36 = Babe Ruth - 611

37 = Babe Ruth - 652

38 = Babe Ruth - 686

39 = Hank Aaron - 713

40 = Hank Aaron - 733

Hammerin' Hank is also the leader for ages 41 to infinity.

If ARod has a similar 2003 as his 2002, he will easily pass Foxx for the most through age 27 and will probably already pass Griffey's age 28 mark this year too. Projecting a guy with less than 500 homers to break Aaron's record is dangerous (just look at the age 28-30 leader), but I really think ARod has a great chance of not only breaking Hank's record, but shattering it. Of course, that assumes it will still be Hank Aaron's record by the time ARod is ready to seriously approach it, which it may not be (Bonds is at 614, Sosa is at 499).

Today's picks:

Chicago (Prior) -115 over New York (Trachsel)

Philadelphia (Padilla) -130 over Florida (Redman)

Chicago (Garland) -150 over Kansas City (Asencio)

San Diego (Peavy) +135 over Los Angeles (Ishii)

Montreal (Vazquez) +130 over Atlanta (Ortiz)

Oakland (Mulder) -150 over Seattle (Pineiro)

Total to date: - $65

W/L record: 6-6 (After losing all 3 games on Monday, I won 3/4 yesterday).

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

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