September 24, 2004

Aaron's Guide for Who to Root For

With the Twins getting their rotation in order for the playoffs, resting veterans, playing rookies, seemingly drawing lineups out of a hat, and basically just coasting through the final two weeks of the season while hoping to get and stay healthy, it's officially time to begin looking forward to the postseason.

As promised earlier this week, my article at The Hardball Times today attempts to come up with a reasonable answer to the question of whether the Twins would be better off playing the Yankees or the Red Sox in the first round of the playoffs.

The Hardball Times: Picking Your Poison

See ya Monday, at which point we'll likely have a pretty good idea about what the playoffs matchups will be.

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

September 22, 2004

Revenge of the White Sox

For the second straight night, Chicago defeated a Minnesota team that didn't have many regulars in the lineup. That's no excuse, of course, but if you'd have told me a few months ago that the White Sox would take two out of three from the Twins in the middle of September and I wouldn't care one bit, suffice it to say I wouldn't have believed you.

Whatever chance there was that Carlos Silva will not be starting Game 3 of the American League Division Series for the Twins probably went away this series, as Kyle Lohse and Terry Mulholland both struggled against Chicago after Silva pitched well against them.

I'm no more comfortable with Silva starting a big game than I am Mulholland or Lohse, but I do think Silva is the right choice. He's been the best pitcher of the three all season and he's been especially good of late. I'm just hoping he'll be on a very short leash.

While Mulholland's start wasn't very encouraging and it's never fun to lose to the White Sox, it was good to see another good game by Minnesota's hitters (six runs on nine hits), particularly some of the young guys who have been getting playing time lately.

I'm really enjoying the beginning of the Jason Kubel Era, as Kubel homered for the second straight night and is now hitting .375/.444/.667 in 13 games in the major leagues. I was excited about Kubel's future with the Twins while he was putting up huge numbers in the minors this year, and after watching him for a few weeks, I'm even more pumped about what's ahead for him.

I'm not sure when this became official (perhaps last night?), but the Twins have now said that Kubel will definitely be on the postseason roster. That's good news, as I could see him making a big impact, assuming he's given a chance.

I wonder who the last 23-and-under trio of left-handed hitters who compare to Justin Morneau (23), Joe Mauer (21) and Kubel (22) were. I'm sure someone out there with a better knowledge of baseball history can chime in with some names, but I'm pretty happy with the group the Twins have got on their hands.

While the Twins lost last night, they didn't lose any ground to the A's for homefield advantage in the first round, as Oakland lost to Texas. The Twins are still a half-game up and Oakland probably has more important things to worry about, like the Angels being just two games behind them.

For those of you interested in such things, here's the Twins' remaining schedule:

4 at Cleveland


3 at New York

3 vs Cleveland

And here's what the A's have remaining:

1 at Texas

3 at Anaheim

4 vs Seattle

3 at Anaheim

I'm thinking the A's really need to destroy the Mariners in their four remaining meetings, because the rest of their schedule is not only brutal, but perfect for the Angels. A two-game lead suddenly doesn't seem like much at all when you're playing a team six times in two weeks.

Of course, perhaps the Twins don't even want that homefield advantage and everything that comes with it, namely Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling. I'll take a closer look at that tomorrow (I promise this time).

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

September 21, 2004

The Usual Stuff (Baseball, Poker and TV)

I'm working on the entry I promised yesterday about which potential first-round opponent the Twins would be better off playing. I'm hoping I'll have it done by tomorrow, so everyone can begin rooting accordingly. Until then, here are some random thoughts on the usual stuff ...

White Sox Defeat Triple-A Rochester

Well, not quite, but it was close enough for me to use that snappy headline.

A day after Minnesota ended Chicago's playoff chances and secured their third straight American League Central championship, the White Sox got a come-from-behind 8-6 win over a group of Twins that didn't include many regulars.

Of the 15 players who appeared in last night's game for the Twins, seven of them played for Triple-A Rochester at some point this year, including Jason Kubel, Augie Ojeda, Michael Restovich, Jason Bartlett and Jesse Crain, who all played the majority of the season there. Last night's starting catcher, Pat Borders, didn't play at Rochester, but he did play much of the year for Seattle's Triple-A club in Tacoma.

While it's never fun to see your favorite team lose, especially to the White Sox, I do think it's smart to let the regulars get plenty of days off down the stretch, and it was good to see a couple of those Rochester players, Kubel and Restovich, have good games.

In the minors, Restovich has basically been an all-or-nothing slugger, hitting plenty of homers without much in the way of batting average or plate discipline. Strangely though, in his first couple stints in the majors he looked like a patient slap hitter, batting .288/.397/.439 with just one homer in 78 plate appearances. Now Restovich is finally hitting for some power, smacking his first homer of the season against the Orioles on Sunday and then hitting his second bomb last night.

Meanwhile Kubel, who started at designated hitter and batted fifth, went 3-for-4 with a homer of his own, his first in the majors. I'd really love to see Restovich and Kubel form a right-field platoon for the Twins next season, both because they'll be a lot cheaper than Jacque Jones and because they'd likely be at least as effective.

Plus, they are a perfect platoon, as Kubel is a young left-handed hitter who will probably struggle against southpaws for a while and Restovich is a young right-handed hitter who has beat up on lefties throughout his minor league career. We shall see, I suppose. You have to think that, even considering this is the Twins, Restovich has put in enough time in the minors with three straight years at Triple-A to finally get his shot.

Seth on Santana

As much as he's been written about lately -- and some have made sure to tell me it's too much -- you'd think there was nothing left to say about Johan Santana, but Seth Stohs had a really interesting piece about him the other day.

Seth carefully tracked Santana's 14-strikeout start against the Orioles over the weekend and showed, among other things, how often Santana threw his fastball, slider and changeup, when he threw them, and how fast he threw them. It's really a nice look at how a pitcher dominated, as opposed to how much a pitcher dominated.

Speaking of Santana, his Cy Young case got a nice little boost last night, as Keith Foulke blew a win for Curt Schilling by giving up a two-run homer in the top of the ninth inning. During the highlights of Foulke blowing the save, Harold Reynolds made a comment on Baseball Tonight that summed up exactly why it's silly to think that a pitcher's wins are the #1 thing to base a Cy Young vote on, saying, "Well, there goes my argument for Schilling winning the Cy Young."

Peter Gammons, always the voice of reason on that show, chimed in with, "But Harold, it shouldn't. If he pitched well, he pitched well." The point being, of course, that whether or not Foulke can hold a ninth-inning lead has absolutely nothing to do with how good Schilling is. If Foulke pitches a perfect ninth inning, does that somehow make Schilling's eight innings more valuable or impressive? Of course not.

HBO Does It Again

HBO's ability to come up with great shows is pretty damn incredible. While the networks pump out boring, cliched, cookie-cutter sitcoms and create Law & Orders and CSIs by the dozen, HBO creates quality television in all forms time and time again.

The Sopranos is the best show on TV, even if we have to wait years for each new season, Curb Your Enthusiasm is like Seinfeld without commercials and with swearing, and Oz was great for a couple seasons and then still pretty watchable after that.

The Wire is easily the most underrated show around, Six Feet Under had an extremely high peak and is still worth watching, and Sex and the City, though not my cup of tea, is liked by just about every female between the ages of 18 and 80.

Da Ali G Show is 30 minutes of non-stop laughter each week, Entourage, while nothing extraordinary, is strangely addictive, and even "clunkers" like Deadwood and Carnivale are better than 95% of the other stuff on TV.

And then there's the sports stuff, like great boxing, Inside the NFL, Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, and all the great documentaries. Even Arliss ... well, okay, Arliss stunk, but they should be allowed one mulligan every once in a while, right?

Anyway, the point is that HBO makes great television, which is partly because they are smart, partly because they choose great concepts and people to work on them, and partly because they don't have to pretend that life doesn't involve nudity, bad words or violence.

If the first episode of their newest show is any indication, HBO has another great show on their hands. Family Bonds, is, as Tony Pierce wrote yesterday, "part Cops, part Sopranos," which is I'm sure how the show's creators pitched the idea to HBO.

It's the story of a family in the bail bonds business, which, while not quite the Mafia, is close enough to give you the same feel. Like The Sopranos, Family Bonds focuses as much on the daily business of tough-guy activities as it does on the family life of the people involved.

The first episode featured a father trying to teach his son how to ride a bike by hurling insults at him and telling him that he'd let everyone know that he quit so they could make fun of him. It also included a group of guys gearing up to go track down some bad guys, which is the part that gives it the Cops feel.

Tournament of Champions

For all the ESPN-bashing I do, I was glued to the channel for nearly three hours last night watching the World Series of Poker Tournament of Champions, a winner-take-all $2-million game between 10 of the best players in the world. More than the actual poker, I loved the back-and-forth banter that went on between all the great players at the table. It was like an old married couple, except it was a table full of people.

And, of course, the poker was awesome too. In one of the first hands of the night, Chip Reese and Daniel Negreanu were heads up in a pot and Reese got a jack on the river to make an inside straight. Negreanu bet out, Reese raised him, and as Negreanu folded his cards he said, "Damn, I was hoping you didn't have ace-queen." Sure enough, that's exactly what Reese had. Maybe it's because I'm just not that good at poker, but stuff like that always impresses me.

During the 170-minute broadcast, it was explained that Reese makes so much money playing cash/side games that for years he didn't even bother with tournaments. Lately though, because his kids want to see him on TV, he's been playing in a few. How would you like to be so good at poker that you could say, "Okay, fine, I guess I'll play in tournaments on TV." Incidentally, I don't want to say how Reese did because I'd hate to ruin it for anyone planning to watch it on replay, but hopefully his kids tuned in early.

I like Phil Hellmuth a whole lot more than most people, primarily because, as a sometimes-jerk myself, I happen to be amused by jerks. That said, even I have to admit that he is a total a-hole. I always get the feeling, however, that a lot of his act is pure shtick, although I've heard other people, who obviously know him infinitely better than I ever will, say that he is 100% for real and just happens to be like that.

The basic mood at the table toward Hellmuth is that everyone treats him like an idiot. When he makes a comment, people race to fire back a one-liner, and then everyone who can't get their words out fast enough just settle for laughing at him. Or sometimes they just say, "Okay Phil," as eyes roll all over the table. I almost felt bad watching it, but certainly if anyone has brought this sort of thing onto themselves, it is Phil Hellmuth.

One of the most interesting parts of the tournament was that siblings Howard Lederer and Annie Duke were at the table with my favorite player, Negreanu. I've been catching up on all the poker gossip around the internet and have found plenty of stuff about Negreanu trashing Duke or Duke saying things about Negreanu, or Lederer commenting on both of them. If I didn't know the backstory, I definitely wouldn't have sensed any sort of animosity, which while disappointing, is a credit to all three of them.

And finally, regarding the sudden surge of poker popularity that has certainly overtaken Yours Truly, I think Doyle Brunson summed it up best last night: "People are finding out what I've known for about 50 years ... that poker is the best game in the world."

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

September 20, 2004

Game Over

Much like Chicago's entire season, last night's game was over a lot sooner than the White Sox had hoped, as Mark Buehrle, who Minnesota TV announcers Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven made sure to tell us had guaranteed the Twins wouldn't celebrate on his watch, gave up two two-run homers in the first inning. The game started at seven and the champagne was chilling in the visitor's clubhouse by 7:15.

Adding insult to injury, one of the homers came off the bat of Torii Hunter, whom Buehrle and the White Sox were not particularly happy with after last week's Minnesota sweep. Overall, Buehrle gave up seven runs off of 10 hits in eight innings, including four homers.

Given the early 4-0 lead to work with, Carlos Silva was surprisingly effective, further cementing his spot as the Twins' #3 starter come playoff time. Silva improved to 13-8 on the season and, despite a miniscule strikeout rate and a batting average against that has been above .300 all year, his ERA dropped to a very solid 4.26. Silva has been particularly effective in the second half, going 5-1 with a 3.91 ERA since the All-Star break and 3-0 with a 1.78 ERA in September.

The nice thing about being able to clinch the division title this early -- Minnesota is the second team to clinch a playoff spot, after only St. Louis -- is that the Twins now enter a very rough patch of their schedule, perhaps the most difficult road trip of the season that lasts 10 games and includes trips to Chicago, Cleveland and New York, and there's absolutely zero pressure on them.

Obviously they'd like to finish the season strong, in part because it's just something you want to do and in part because it could impact playoff matchups and homefield advantage. However, I'm not even sure which playoff matchup I'd rather be faced with at the moment.

Would you rather have to beat the Yankees three times in five games, with three of them coming in Yankee Stadium, or would you rather have to beat the Red Sox three times in five games, with three of them coming in the Metrodome?

There are, I'm sure, those among you who have very strong feelings on that question, and I'd love to hear from you about it. As for me, I'm really not sure what I think, although I hope to examine the issue a little more closely at some point later this week.

In the meantime, since I didn't have much to say here yesterday and the Twins clinching another division title has me surprisingly calm and quiet, here are a few more thoughts I had since last we spoke ...

People Actually Read This Stuff

One of the cool things about having a blog with a reasonable audience is that you never know who might actually read what you've written.

In the realm of baseball, I've had a number of fairly well-known people, both from within baseball organizations and from the media, contact me after I've written something about them or something they felt strongly about. Hell, I once wrote something negative about a U.S. military guy who sang the National Anthem before a World Series game, and he e-mailed me just to let me know that he was aware I was bashing him in a public forum. (Yes, I'm a complete scumbag.)

Anyway, last Friday I wrote a short note about a poker player named Paul Phillips, who has a blog of his own that I really enjoy. Paul apparently read what I wrote about him and was particularly amused by the line, "I have to admit that the first time I ever saw him, playing a World Poker Tour event, I thought he came across as a massive jerk."

We exchanged a few e-mails, which made my weekend (yes, I just said exchanging e-mails made my weekend). He ranks pretty high up on the "celebrities I've e-mailed with" list and he's certainly made himself a fan for life, although I get the feeling he was just fine with me thinking he was a jerk.

Sadly, I did not receive e-mails from Mark Cuban, Donald Trump, Daniel Negreanu, Jon Stewart, Gwyneth Paltrow, Michael Cuddyer, Luis Rivas, Curt Schilling, Johan Santana or any of the other subjects of last Friday's entry.

I did, however, get this e-mail from someone who, shockingly, failed to identify himself:

You're a loser. If you ever come to Comiskey, I'll snap you like a twig. Why don't you stop writing about Mark Cuban and football and other crap that you think you know a lot about, and write about baseball? That's what this bozo blog is supposed to be about, right? Also, if you think that fat loser BatGirl is going to sleep with you just because you quoted her sorry blog, forget it. You're probably the only pimplier, more disgusting, Mountain Dew guzzling blogger than her. Furthermore, nobody cares about the classes you take in that second-rate journalism program.

A lot of readers of this blog get hung up about what it's "supposed" to be, as if there's some guideline other than the dumb title I hurriedly came up with when I created it on some random day a couple years ago. If I changed the title at the top to read, simply, "," would I cease getting complaints that I stray from baseball? Oh, and here's a news flash: I write a lengthy article solely about baseball nearly every day at The Hardball Times.

Seeing as though this particular e-mailer is clearly a White Sox fan, you'd think he'd be fine with me taking time away from mocking the White Sox to talk about other subjects that "I think I know a lot about." Perhaps if the White Sox had given the Twins a little more of a fight atop the American League Central I'd have some more interesting Twins-related stuff to write about and I would stick only to baseball. See, you can blame the White Sox for anything.

Incidentally, I've actually been to Comiskey Park U.S. Cellular Field and felt at no time like I was in danger of being snapped like a twig. As far as I can tell, you guys are a lot more interested in attacking the blindside of first base coaches.

Also, as far as I know, Bat-Girl is happily married and certainly not at all impressed by me quoting her blog entries. I do, however, have it on pretty good authority that Phil Rogers gets very excited when I quote him in this space and Joe Morgan prints out the blog entries that he's mentioned in and makes a scrap book of them.

As for me, I'm not very pimply, at least not since about the ninth grade, and I haven't had a Mountain Dew in a minimum of five years. Plus, I'm not sure what kind of insult saying someone is a "Mountain Dew guzzling blogger" is meant to convey.

Other than that, it's a perfectly fine e-mail. Thanks for writing.

The NFL on TV

I don't understand what FOX and CBS are doing with the NFL games. Each Sunday, I'm treated to every NFC North (I almost typed "Central") game, simply because I live in Minnesota and the Vikings play in that division.

Now, sometimes that's okay, like when the game is Green Bay (or like it was Sunday, Green Bay against Chicago). However, most of the time it is something like the game I had on CBS Sunday afternoon: Detroit versus Houston. Seriously, why would anyone not in Detroit or Houston want to watch the Lions and Texans? And it was the same thing last week, when FOX showed me the spellbinding Lions-Bears contest.

In baseball, there are decisions made to show different games because of location, but it isn't taken to nearly the same extreme as the NFL broadcasts. In other words, ESPN and FOX don't take a Red Sox-Yankees matchup off the air in Minnesota to show us the Royals playing the Devil Rays just because Kansas City plays in the Twins' division.

I just don't get it. While I was watching the Lions and Texans, two teams that will struggle to win a dozen games between them this season, I was missing Denver at Jacksonville and Indianapolis at Tennessee. CBS only shows games where the visiting team is from the AFC, so I won't bring up the fact that I also couldn't see Carolina at Kansas City or Atlanta at St. Louis.

In fact, if I were to rank all of Sunday's games in order of how much I wanted to watch them, I'm fairly certain Detroit-Houston would have been at the very bottom of the list. But hey, Detroit is sort of close to Minnesota and the Lions play the Vikings twice a year, so Minnesotans must care about watching Joey Harrington week after week!

Of course, all of this NFL stuff only mattered until about 1 p.m. on Sunday, at which point I turned on Johan Santana and the Twins and all was right in the world once again.

Fantasy Football Update

This might be the last update on my fantasy football team that you get this year, because I lost for the second straight week and am now officially embarrassed by the team (and my abilities as GM). I entered last night's Vikings-Eagles game trailing my opponent by 12 points, with Eagles running back Brian Westbrook left to play. Westbrook had his second straight good game, with 138 total yards, but unfortunately my opponent also had Philadelphia kicker David Akers still accumulating points, so I lost.

So now I'm 0-2 and, for the second straight week, I left Curtis Martin on the bench while he put up big numbers. Of course, for the second straight week I think starting Edgerrin James and Westbrook over him was a sound decision (particularly since they both had good games), but Martin now has 347 yards and four touchdowns in two games and he hasn't done me one bit of good.

Of course, my luck is that James is now listed as "questionable" for Sunday's game against Green Bay, which would normally give me a chance to finally put Martin in the starting lineup. However, Martin and the Jets have a bye this week.

Also, this just in: Jeremy Shockey stinks.

Football Picking Update

Fortunately, I do far better picking teams than picking players (and choosing when to play them). After starting my defense of the "NFL Experts Picks" championship over at Seth Speaks by going 13-3 picking winners in Week 1, I went 11-5 in Week 2. I know that's not all that exciting to read about, but I have to do something to keep you from thinking I'm a total loser when it comes to football.

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

September 19, 2004

The Hardball Times: Cy Santana

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

« Newer PostsOlder Posts »