August 17, 2005

There is no weather in a dome

I've been hard on the Twins lately, essentially writing off their season (or at least their postseason chances) a few weeks ago. I wrote yesterday about how sad it was that the current series against the White Sox and subsequent, otherwise exciting series down the stretch carry little actual importance. Predictably, this has led to a lot of e-mailers and commenters calling me a "fair-weather fan."

That is, of course, completely ridiculous. There is a huge difference between only rooting for a team when they're playing well (which is what I consider a "fair-weather fan") and recognizing that a team has been disappointing while objectively looking at their chances. I root for the Twins to win every game, and as was the case with last night's 16-inning marathon win over the White Sox, I almost always watch every pitch.

There are a lot of sports fans who never give up hope with their favorite teams, applaud every move they make, and generally just praise the hell out of anything having to do with them. I am proud to say that I'm not one of those fans. When a team I thought was capable of making the playoffs goes into a major funk, stops hitting, and falls into the middle of the AL Wild Card pack, I don't think about how amazing it will be when they win every game for the rest of the season and streak into the playoffs.

I think about how the team has fallen apart, through injuries, bad decisions, and disappointing individual performances. If that makes me a "bandwagon jumper" or a "fair-weather fan," so be it. I'll take that over being called a "homer" any day of the week and twice on Sid Hartman's birthday. I root just as hard for the Twins now as I did last year, when they won their third straight division title, or in 2000, when they lost 90+ games in a season for the fourth straight year.

My fandom does not change with the Twins' record. I am a Twins fan, whether Justin Morneau goes zero for his next 200 at-bats, Luis Rivas gets called back up from Triple-A to bat cleanup, Terry Mulholland becomes the new closer, or Jason Bartlett spends the next dozen years in Rochester, New York. None of that precludes the team from disappointing me and none of that stops me from saying so.

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Tonight's pitching matchup of Johan Santana versus Mark Buehrle is a special one, featuring arguably the two best left-handed pitchers in all of baseball. Santana and Buehrle already faced off once this year, way back on April 10. The Twins won 5-2, getting to Buehrle for four runs early as Santana held the White Sox to two runs in seven innnings while racking up 11 strikeouts.

Of course, back then Juan Castro was batting second, Matthew LeCroy was playing first base and hitting cleanup, Torii Hunter was in center field, Corky Miller was behind the plate, and Luis Rivas was at second base.

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How about a little praise for Michael Cuddyer, who hit the game-tying homer off Dustin Hermanson last night and later made a great defensive play that potentially saved the game. I've said this before, but it's worth repeating: Since an awful April, Cuddyer has been the best hitter on the entire team, hitting .279/.361/.460 with eight homers and 15 doubles in 226 at-bats over a four-month stretch.

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Shannon Stewart went 3-for-8 last night to snap an 0-for-17 skid over the previous four games. He has fallen well below average offensively for a left fielder, batting just .275/.326/.391 on the year. He's not walking, stealing bases, hitting for power, seeing a lot of pitches, getting on base, or playing good defense. In fact, among the 26 major-league left fielders who have at least 300 plate appearances this season, Stewart's .717 OPS ranks 24th.

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On the other hand, Joe Mauer went 3-for-7 with three doubles and a walk last night, raising his season totals to .297/.372/.433. Among the 25 big-league catchers with at least 300 plate appearances, Mauer ranks fourth in batting average, second in on-base percentage, and fifth in OPS. Only Ivan Rodriguez (53.7%) has thrown out a higher percentage of base stealers than Mauer's 41.3%, and he ranks as the best catcher in all of baseball according to Win Shares.

Today at The Hardball Times:
- Youngsters and Oldsters (by Dave Studeman)

Today's Picks (87-76, +$990):
Kansas City (Carrasco) +190 over Seattle (Moyer)

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