July 24, 2006

Twins 7, White Sox 4

Last night was a perfect example of why, as the saying goes, the games aren't played on paper.

With the Twins clinging to a 3-2 lead in the seventh inning, Joe Mauer came to the plate against left-handed reliever Neal Cotts with runners on the corners and two outs. While Mauer worked the count to 2-1, Nick Punto got himself into scoring position by stealing second base. Rather than engage in the now-common practice of walking Mauer to face Michael Cuddyer, the White Sox chose to pitch to him.

The decision not to hand Mauer an intentional walk made sense because of the favorable lefty-on-lefty matchup, but also because Mauer came into the game with 287 career at-bats against southpaws, all without hitting a single homer. Meanwhile, Cotts came into the game having held left-handed hitters to a .215 batting average over his career, including a measly .141 this season.

Surely you can guess what happened next, because it's basically the opposite of what the numbers and perhaps even logic would suggest.

Mauer worked the count to 3-1 and then unleashed a mammoth blast to dead center field. Brian Anderson gave chase, but came up just short as the ball cleared the fence to give the Twins a 6-2 lead. That's right, Mauer went 287 at-bats without homering against a lefty and then hit a three-run bomb to straight-away center field off one of the league's toughest southpaws.

Apparently he saves them up for special occasions.

Some other notes I typed up while watching the Twins pull to within two games of a playoff spot ...

  • Brad Radke served up two solo homers that put the Twins in an early hole, but was fantastic for the other 23 batters he faced. Radke did what he does best, which is throw strikes and keep hitters off balance. If not for the fact that the Twins had five lights-out relievers waiting in the bullpen, he surely could have gone past the 89 pitches needed to record 18 outs.

    With the win, Radke improved to 5-1 with a 2.58 ERA in 11 starts since getting knocked around by the Indians on May 24. And after uncharacteristically beginning the season with 24 walks in 80.1 innings, Radke has handed out just two free passes in his last 45 frames. I don't know if it's the cortisone shot or something else, but if this is going to be his last season, it's good to have the old Radke back.

  • Jason Tyner continues to make all the plays in center field and provide significantly more offense than expected, making several nice catches and going 3-for-4 at the plate. There's no way Tyner can keep this up offensively, simply because an empty .372 batting average (one extra-base hit and one walk in 11 games) has fluke written all over it.

    Of course, the nice thing is that a) fluke or not, these hits count, and b) by the time he comes down to earth, Torii Hunter might be back from the disabled list anyway. It's been interesting to watch Tyner rack up all these singles, because he's not the type of hitter you'd expect judging from his size and track record.

    Just looking at his slight frame and powerless numbers, you'd expect a slap-hitting, Luis Castillo clone or, as Will Young said to me last night, "a left-handed Mike Redmond." Instead, Tyner actually pulls the ball a lot and takes relatively big swings at everything. As long as Ron Gardenhire doesn't think Tyner is an everyday left fielder once Hunter returns, he's been a gift from the baseball gods.

  • For all the praise I've heaped upon Joe Nathan, Juan Rincon, Pat Neshek, and Dennys Reyes for making the Twins' bullpen unhittable, it's worth noting that Jesse Crain has very quietly lowered his ERA to 4.31 after 1.2 scoreless innings last night. Crain coughed up runs in bunches earlier this season, but his underlying numbers suggested that he was a victim of bad luck and worse defense.

    Sure enough, the Twins patched up the left side of the infield and Crain's grounders have turned into outs more often. Since serving up a walk-off homer to Carl Everett on June 7--at which point his ERA stood at 6.33--Crain has a 1.83 ERA and 14-to-6 strikeout-to-walk in 19.2 innings. As I've said before, Crain's ERA isn't as pretty as it was last season, but he's now on a much better long-term path.

  • It was great to see Cuddyer come up with a two-run homer off Javier Vazquez in the sixth inning, not only because it tied the game, but because he's struggled so much against right-handed pitching lately. Cuddyer came into the game hitting .243/.339/.423 against righties and I've recently advocated moving him out of the cleanup spot, but he continues to come up with hits in key spots.

    For the first time in his career, it looks like Cuddyer will remain at one position for an entire season and receive 500 at-bats, which is something I've been pleading with the Twins to make happen for years. In fact, one of the many things I've frequently repeated in this space is that Cuddyer is "capable of putting together .275/.350/.450 seasons." After going 2-for-5 last night, he's hitting .273/.356/.494 and on pace for 20 homers, 40 doubles, and 105 RBIs.

  • With three hits last night, Jason Bartlett now has 36 hits on the year. That matches Juan Castro's total prior to being traded to the Reds, which is noteworthy because Castro needed 42 more at-bats than Bartlett to get there. Bartlett also has the same number of total bases that Castro had and has added five extra walks.

    Bartlett is batting .316/.403/.421, just like his .326/.395/.462 career hitting line in 185 games at Triple-A suggested he would. Oh, and along with the huge offensive upgrade, it's nice to have a shortstop with actual range instead of just an expired reputation.

  • Last but not least, Mauer was the headline story on ESPN.com yesterday afternoon, which looked like this:

    Accompanying the picture of Mauer was an article from Rob Neyer on the all-time best-hitting catchers under the age of 24 and an article from Keith Law on Mauer's strengths and weaknesses. Law was in Minnesota earlier this month to get a closer look at Mauer and (warning: name-drop coming) we met up for lunch one day. From talking to him it was clear that he thought extraordinarily highly of Mauer and that opinion is hammered home within the first two sentences of the article:

    The problem with Joe Mauer is that there are no problems with Joe Mauer. I'm not sure he's the perfect player, but he's pretty close.

    Amen. The other 50 sentences in Law's article are well worth reading, as is Neyer's look at how Mauer stacks up alongside the likes of Johnny Bench and Ivan Rodriguez.

  • July 23, 2006

    Notes From Cleveland

    Some notes I typed up while watching the Twins take two out of three from the Indians ...

  • I've been clamoring for the Twins to give Pat Neshek a chance for most of the past year, and now you can see why. Within his first two weeks in the big leagues, Neshek has already surpassed Jesse Crain as Ron Gardenhire's preferred option in the seventh inning, tossing seven scoreless innings over five appearances since coming up from Rochester.

    Neshek's willingness to attack major-league hitters and pound the strike zone is impressive, and missing a ton of bats while doing so is what makes him a potential stud. Neshek threw 69 of his first 101 big-league pitches for strikes and walked just two of the 24 batters he faced. Best of all, he racked up nine strikeouts, all swinging.

    Neshek doesn't have mid-90s velocity on his fastball, but he's far from a soft-tosser. The combination of a fastball at 89-92 miles per hour and a ridiculous delivery allows him to blow hitters away just like throwing 95 MPH would. Neshek doesn't paint the corners or rely on favorable strike-three calls, he simply challenges hitters to actually hit strikes and watches as they fail.

    Gardenhire campaigned for Terry Ryan to call Neshek up and immediately trusted him in tight spots. Instead of sending Francisco Liriano out for the sixth inning with 95 pitches yesterday, Gardenhire turned to Neshek for a multi-inning appearance, showing confidence in him (and Dennys Reyes) to bridge the gap between Liriano and the near-automatic win that begins when Juan Rincon enters the game in the eighth inning.

  • I've written in the past about how postseason pitching staffs are significantly different than regular-season pitching staffs. Because of added days off in between games and series, teams can often get by with using only seven or eight pitchers regularly. The Twins still have a long way to go before they get into the playoffs, but if they do there's no doubt that they'd have the best staff in baseball:
                              ERA     OAVG
    SP Johan Santana 3.00 .222
    SP Fran Liriano 1.93 .196
    SP Brad Radke 4.83 .318

    CL Joe Nathan 1.54 .181
    SU Juan Rincon 2.03 .229
    LH Dennys Reyes 1.38 .211
    RH Pat Neshek 0.00 .059

    That's scary, especially considering Brad Radke has a 2.54 ERA over his last 10 starts. Crain has also pitched well over the past two months, but he'd barely be needed for more than mop-up duties if Neshek avoids a blowup. That's a staff built for the playoffs, with two aces, a third starter who's much better than any other options, a dominant setup-closer combination, and middle men to match up against lefties and righties.

  • Joe Mauer received his 12th intentional walk of the season yesterday, matching last season's total in 184 fewer plate appearances. Cleveland chose to load the bases for Michael Cuddyer with a right-handed pitcher on the mound rather than pitch to Mauer with two runners in scoring position, which is a strategy that will always make sense as long as Cuddyer bats behind Mauer.

    As discussed in this space last week, Justin Morneau should be hitting cleanup. Batting Mauer and Morneau back-to-back would leave the Twins susceptible to a left-handed reliever coming in, but both Mauer and Morneau are doing well against southpaws this year. As things stand now, they're just as susceptible to Mauer being pitched around to have a righty face Cuddyer, and Cuddyer has been far less successful against righties.

    Cuddyer has generally come through in key spots, including a Jhonny Peralta-aided infield single after Mauer's intentional walk yesterday. However, he'd have those same opportunities batting fifth, and moving Morneau up one spot would actually leave the bat in Mauer's hands a little more often. At the end of the season, when various fans and members of the media lightly criticize Mauer for driving in fewer than 100 runs, just remember yesterday's game.

  • On a related note, Cuddyer appears to have changed his stance a bit against righties. He typically stands relatively straight up, with his hands raised fairly high and close to his body. In yesterday's at-bats against Jake Westbrook and Brian Sikorski, Cuddyer was much more crouched down and had his hands dropped noticeably lower.

    It remains to be seen if the adjustments are permanent (or if they actually work), but at the very least it shows that someone (likely either Cuddyer or hitting coach Joe Vavra) is paying attention. Cuddyer was hitting everyone well early this season and has continued to bash lefties, but recently he's struggled against righties. That it was recognized, through stats or observation, is encouraging.

  • Morneau went homerless during the three-game series, but did go 4-for-11 with a double and two walks. He also avoided striking out, which means he's whiffed four times in 75 plate appearances this month. Coming into this season Morneau had struck out in 18.4 percent of his career trips to the plate, and through the end of June that number was at 18.2 percent this year. He's at 5.3 percent this month.
  • Rondell White's healthy shoulder-fueled deal with the devil continued in Cleveland, as he went 5-for-11 with a double and a walk during the series, including 4-for-5 with four RBIs Friday. Here's how White's post-Rochester numbers compare with what he did prior to the demotion:
                 AB     AVG     OBP     SLG    2B    HR    RBI    BB    SO
    Before 181 .182 .209 .215 6 0 15 5 30
    After 29 .448 .500 .862 3 3 10 2 2

    I'm not one to place much value in what happens over the course of 29 at-bats, but those are some of the most amazing stats I've seen all year. Even ignoring the actual numbers, White has clearly taken more healthy, bad-intentioned swings at pitches over the plate during the past two weeks than he did in his first 190 plate appearances combined.

    I have no idea how long "Good Rondell" will stick around or if "Bad Rondell" still lurks somewhere, but for now at least it's obvious that this isn't a case of a few grounders finding holes or some bloopers avoiding gloves. White is hitting balls hard, and they're finding gaps and flying over fences. If Torii Hunter comes back and Jason Kubel's knee lets up, there won't be an easy out in the entire lineup.

  • Mauer went 0-for-3 against lefty Jeremy Sowers Saturday, but went 5-for-7 with three walks and three extra-base hits in the surrounding games to put his season totals at .381/.457/.534. Here's how Mauer currently ranks among the all-time catching leaders:
                        YEAR      AVG                          YEAR      OBP
    JOE MAUER 2006 .381 Mickey Cochrane 1933 .459
    Mike Piazza 1997 .362 JOE MAUER 2006 .457
    Mickey Cochrane 1930 .357 Mickey Cochrane 1935 .452
    Spud Davis 1933 .349 Mike Piazza 1997 .431
    Mickey Cochrane 1931 .349 Wally Schang 1921 .428
    Ernie Lombardi 1938 .342 Mickey Cochrane 1934 .428
    Gabby Hartnett 1930 .339 Dick Dietz 1970 .426
    Mickey Cochrane 1927 .338 Mickey Cochrane 1930 .424
    Mike Piazza 1996 .336 Mickey Cochrane 1931 .423
    Deacon McGuire 1895 .336 Mike Piazza 1996 .422

    I first looked at how Mauer's season was stacking up against the all-time great years from catchers back in early June, at which point he was in the middle of a historic run that included getting on base 52 times in 20 games. It's six weeks later and his batting average has fallen just seven points, while his on-base percentage has actually gone up (thanks in part to those intentional walks).

    Mauer remains safely ahead of Mike Piazza's 1997 season for the highest batting average ever by a catcher, and he's one good game away from overtaking Mickey Cochrane's 1933 season for the top on-base percentage. Assuming Mauer gets a similar amount of playing time for the remainder of the year, he'll have to hit right around .330 to stay ahead of Piazza. As of right now, he's a career .326 hitter.

                        YEAR      OPS                          YEAR      RC
    Mike Piazza 1997 1.070 Mike Piazza 1997 149
    Gabby Hartnett 1930 1.034 Bill Dickey 1937 132
    Mike Piazza 2000 1.012 Gabby Hartnett 1930 128
    Roy Campanella 1953 1.006 Roy Campanella 1953 127
    Chris Hoiles 1993 1.001 JOE MAUER 2006 124
    Rudy York 1938 .995 Mike Piazza 1996 123
    JOE MAUER 2006 .991 Yogi Berra 1950 123
    Bill Dickey 1937 .987 Mike Piazza 1998 122
    Mike Piazza 1996 .985 Johnny Bench 1970 120
    Roy Campanella 1951 .983 Mickey Cochrane 1932 118

    Mauer is on track for a modest 12 homers, yet ranks seventh all-time among catchers with a .991 OPS and is on pace for 42 doubles that would tie him for second all time behind only Ivan Rodriguez's 47 two-baggers in 1996. In terms of overall offensive production (as shown above in the form of Runs Created), only Piazza's 1997 season is significantly ahead of Mauer's pace.

  • The Twins begin a three-game series in Chicago tonight against the Wild Card-leading White Sox and then host the division-leading Tigers for three games beginning Friday. Each series from here on out essentially becomes "the most important series of the year," which is why it's cliche to use that label.

    With that said, we'll have a much better grasp of the Twins' playoff chances by the time the Rangers come to town Monday. Here's what the Wild Card standings look like before Radke takes the mound against Javier Vazquez tonight:

                    W      L     WIN%      GB
    Chicago 59 38 .608 ---
    New York 56 40 .583 2.5
    Minnesota 56 41 .577 3.0
    Toronto 55 43 .561 4.5

    Between last season and the Tony Batista era, I almost forgot how much fun this is.

  • July 20, 2006


  • For the second straight year I find myself incredibly jealous of friend of AG.com Pauly McGuire, who is at the World Series of Poker blogging and writing articles for FoxSports.com. Not only is he covering the events live and even playing in one tournament himself, Pauly's getting double-kissed by the lovely Isabelle Mercier and "taking leaks" next to less-lovely-but-still-noteworthy pros like Daniel Negreanu and Phil Ivey.

    I'm thinking I jumped on the wrong blogging bandwagon by choosing baseball. Not only are poker players infinitely more accessible and interesting to talk to, you won't find many baseball players who look like Liz Lieu. Plus, Pauly after midnight at the WSOP looks an awful lot like me at the SABR convention in Seattle, except the late-night poker tournaments are just slightly more difficult to win.

    One of these years I'd love to head to Las Vegas for a month to blog from the WSOP, but sadly I haven't tricked anyone into paying me to write about poker on a regular basis yet. Until then, I'll be living vicariously through Pauly, Brad "Otis" Willis, Wil Wheaton, and Phil Gordon.

  • Try as she might, Jessica Alba can't turn me off.
  • It's always good to see that my favorite basketball player from my pre-teen years is doing well. Actually, perhaps the only shocking thing in the article is that he's 35 years old. Thirty-five. I've never felt so elderly.
  • Friend of AG.com Paul Katcher had a good article on ESPN.com's Page 2 last week about what the baseball jersey you wear says about you. Here's a Twins-related excerpt:

    Stake in the Heart jerseys: Wanna see how quickly you can make a Twins fan cry? Sport one of these Twins No. 27 ORTIZ throwbacks that has got to grant Minnesotans impunity of all but the most violent crimes. Somewhat along those lines, I heard some New Yorkers wore Red Sox No. 6 BUCKNER shirts at Fenway for the recent Mets series in Boston. Not sure if they're out of the hospital yet. Anyway, it's easy to figure out what these duds say about you, but most of it can't be printed here.

    As surprising as it may be, I've never actually owned a Twins jersey. I do have retro jerseys of Joe Morgan (for obvious comedic reasons), Bo Jackson (as pictured in Sports Illustrated), and Tony Gwynn (simply because it's the ugliest jersey I've ever seen). Due to my weight loss those jerseys no longer come anywhere close to fitting, which means losing 65 pounds can be a bad thing. If you know any (really) fat guys looking to upgrade their baseball wardrobe, let me know.

  • While being less fat leads to some of my favorite clothing no longer fitting, the good news is that I can now buy (and actually fit into) shirts like this.
  • I'm either the last person to find out about this or it's not getting nearly enough attention, but Kevin Garnett is now blogging at NBA.com.
  • Here's one of my must-follow rules of blogging: When someone says this many nice things about me on their site, they get a link.
  • I had a feeling that WCCO's choice in guests was pretty iffy back when they asked me to appear on the Twins pregame show (I chickened out, as I always do with phone-in appearances), but never did I expect this.
  • I'd like to go on record saying that letting Marcus Banks leave via free agency was a huge mistake by the Wolves. Banks' potential is underrated and he'll be a perfect fit with the up-tempo Suns. Plus, losing him for nothing means that the Wolves essentially gave up Wally Szczerbiak, a future first-round pick, and a bunch of salary cap room for Ricky Davis, Justin Reed, and the albatross that is Mark Blount's contract. The deal was bad then and it's even worse now.
  • At some point I'm sure people will stop creating new Twins blogs every week, but until then here's the latest one. I've pretty much given up remembering all the different names of Twins blogs and their bloggers, but more people writing about the Twins is always a good thing.
  • I was quoted in both the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Dayton Daily News this week, but I wasn't the only Gleeman mentioned in a newspaper. Here's a note about my cousin that I stumbled across in the Grand Forks Herald:

    Julia Gleeman joins JLG Architects as a summer intern while working on her master's degree in architecture at the University of Minnesota.

    Gleeman earned her bachelor's degree at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn.

    She is a teaching associate at the University of Minnesota.

    Before joining JLG, she was the communications intern at Mind on the Media.

    My immediate family is filled with lawyers, professors, accountants, teachers, and soon-to-be architects. I have one cousin working on her master's degree at the University of Minnesota and another cousin doing his undergrad work at the University of Chicago. And me? Well, I write about sports from my bedroom. Funny how that works.

  • Speaking of my writing (sort of), The Hardball Times Annual 2007 is now available for pre-order from ACTA Sports. Last year's version turned out very well, and because of better-than-expected sales and overwhelmingly positive reviews, we have a wider distribution this time around.

    The book comes out in November, and over the past couple months Dave Studeman and I have worked hard to put together what is a great lineup of writers. In addition to the regular assortment of THT staffers, we have ESPN.com's Rob Neyer and Eric Neel, Deadspin's Will Leitch, and SI.com's Jon Weisman.

  • On a somewhat related note, I wrote an article for Maple Street Press' upcoming Here Comes the Irish, which is a high-end Notre Dame football annual that comes out next month. I'm certainly far from an expert on or even a fan of Notre Dame, but I enjoyed the challenge and research involved in writing my piece, which the good people at MSP have described as follows:

    An examination of the relationship between Notre Dame and the NFL draft, and how Charlie Weis has re-opened the ND pipeline to the professional ranks.

    Earlier this year I wrote the American League preview for MSP's 2006 Red Sox Annual, which also included articles by Hidden Game of Baseball co-author Pete Palmer, Paths to Glory co-author Mark Armour, Boston Sports Media Watch's Bruce Allen, and Chad Finn of the Boston Globe. Palmer and Finn are back for Here Come the Irish, along with an impressive assortment of other contributors, and if you're any kind of football fan it promises to be an excellent read.

  • July 19, 2006

    Twins Notes

    Some notes I typed up while watching the Twins move to within five games of a playoff spot ...

  • While doing my news-gathering gig over at RotoWorld each morning, I've noticed that it's now customary for the newspaper covering the other team to run a story about Joe Mauer each time the Twins begin a new series. The latest version comes from Devil Rays beat writer Damian Cristodero of the St. Petersburg Times, and includes stuff like this:

    He is a good-looking 6-foot-4, 220-pounder with an unforced smile, and he politely answers every question. The media also has had some fun with Mauer's relationship with Chelsea Cooley, Miss USA 2005.

    Earlier this month I commented that nearly every article about Mauer written by someone outside of Minnesota contained a reference to either Paul Bunyan or Prince, but to Cristodero's credit he avoids that. He still can't help himself when it comes to Chelsea Cooley. I'm happy for Mauer and admit that it was interesting news when I first heard it, but only when it comes to Minnesota could a star athlete dating a woman who won a contest for being pretty possibly be included in every single story.

  • Let go by the Twins this winter, Matthew LeCroy signed with the Nationals. His lack of defensive ability seemed to make LeCroy an odd match for an NL team, and sure enough he made headlines by struggling when given a chance to catch and didn't hit particularly well in a limited number of at-bats. Relegated to pinch-hitting every couple games, Washington decided to designate LeCroy for assignment earlier this week.

    The Twins recently signed Erubiel Durazo to a minor-league contract, and up until a couple weeks ago I would have been in favor of a LeCroy-Durazo platoon at designated hitter. That would seem to make even more sense now given the Twins' injury situation, but the opposite is true. With Jason Kubel unable to play the outfield regularly and Rondell White showing some serious signs of life for the first time, the Twins simply don't have the DH spot open enough to warrant bringing LeCroy back.

    What makes the situation more confusing is that when White and Shannon Stewart are cleared off the roster this offseason and Kubel is (hopefully) healthy enough to play defense every day, a LeCroy-Durazo DH platoon would again make plenty of sense. Until then, I suspect LeCroy will latch on with another AL team and Durazo will provide little more than some much-needed offense in the depleted Rochester lineup.

  • It's been an odd season for the Twins in many respects, but nothing quite compares to watching White this week. He looked absolutely clueless at the plate for the first three months of the season, hacking at pitches that weren't close to the plate, taking strikes right down the middle, and hitting .182 with zero homers in 181 at-bats.

    Demoted to Rochester, White continued to struggle against Triple-A pitching, hitting .235/.245/.294 in 13 games while Ron Gardenhire said things like, "He hasn't been able to get to a fastball." The Twins called him back up when the outfield was wrecked by injuries and since then White has gone 8-for-14 (.571) with three homers, two doubles, six RBIs, and six runs scored in four games. Seriously.

    Last night White showed off bat speed and power that were non-existent during his first stint with the team, absolutely destroying two pitches by turning on them and yanking homers into the seats in left field. I'd say something cliche like "White's timing couldn't have been better," but the truth is that the Twins could have used him not being horrendous all year. Still, it's nice that he's providing a spark when given a second chance.

    Without Stewart and Torii Hunter around, the lineup can certainly use another productive right-handed bat for the stretch run. I'm not sure if he's finally over lingering shoulder problems or if this is some sort of deal with the devil, but if the baseball gods wanted to be really cruel they'd have White hurt himself now that he's playing defense regularly. I'm not sure if that'd be ironic or just sad, but it'd be something.

  • Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune had a good article Monday on how Travis Lee used a loophole to become a free agent after the Twins selected him with the second overall pick in the 1996 draft. It was a big blow to the perpetually rebuilding Twins at the time and looked even worse when Lee hit 22 homers with the Diamondbacks in 1998, but in the years since he's proven to be a mediocre player.

    A slick-fielding, lefty-hitting first baseman, Lee has hit just .256/.336/.406 during his nine-year career, which basically makes him a poor man's Doug Mientkiewicz. Interestingly, the player who started at first base for the Twins during Lee's rookie season in 1998 was David Ortiz, whose eventual loss was just slightly more painful.

  • Perhaps I'm just a little gun-shy because of the whole mess with Tony Batista and Juan Castro, but when I saw that the Padres released Vinny Castilla yesterday, I immediately pictured Terry Ryan on the phone with Castilla's agent. Here's hoping the new-and-improved Nick Punto is new and improved enough for Ryan to ignore the latest crappy veteran to hit the open market.
  • ESPN.com college football columnist and friend of AG.com Bruce Feldman had an interesting Twins-related note earlier this week:

    Jared Mitchell, LSU's touted WR recruit, is still deciding whether to play college football and baseball or sign with the Minnesota Twins, who drafted the New Iberia, La., native in the 10th round in June, according to William Kalec.

    The chance for PT is there for Mitchell if he is ready. LSU only has three receivers--Dwayne Bowe, Early Doucet and Craig Davis--with experience. "The question is how much money are the Twins going to throw at him," Les Miles said. "The issue is how much he wants to be a college student and play championship football and baseball."

    I watched some of the MLB All-Star Game last night, and it finally sank in how great of a baseball player Joe Mauer is. I wonder how different FSU football's recent history would be if he hadn't taken the baseball money.

    While Jared Mitchell has yet to make up his mind, the Twins quickly signed second-round pick Joe Benson, who likely also could have chosen to play college football. Benson has been fantastic thus far, hitting .337/.389/.558 with three homers and 17 RBIs in 23 games in the Gulf Coast League.

  • Former Twins outfielder Brian Buchanan is now playing for the St. Paul Saints after being let go by Cincinnati's Triple-A team. It's sometimes sad to see a former big leaguer clinging to his career like Buchanan is, but at the end of the day he's still making a living playing baseball. Buchanan had plenty of value as a prototypical lefty masher, but at 33 years old and with a .209 batting average in 22 games with the Saints thus far, this is probably the end of the line.

    Despite playing only 143 games in Minnesota, Buchanan's place in team history is secure thanks to being part of two important trades. Buchanan came to Twins along with Eric Milton, Cristian Guzman, and Danny Mota in the deal that sent Chuck Knoblauch to the Yankees in 1998. He hit .258/.319/.428 in three seasons with the Twins before being traded to the Padres for a minor leaguer named Jason Bartlett.

    One of the Twins' strengths is getting additional value out of trades, and Buchanan is an example. They traded Knoblauch for Milton, Guzman, Buchanan, and Mota, traded Buchanan for Bartlett, and dealt Milton for Punto, Carlos Silva, and Bobby Korecky. They also took Brian Duensing with the third-round pick they received as compensation for losing Guzman as a free agent, and he's got a 3.48 ERA and 89-to-24 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 116.1 innings between Single-A and Double-A.

    In other words, by dealing Knoblauch to the Yankees the Twins ended up with an assortment of seasons from Milton, Silva, Bartlett, Guzman, Punto, Buchanan, Korecky, Duensing, and Mota. Plus, it's likely that at some point down the road they'll end up trading one of the five players from that list still in the organization, at which point the Knoblauch trade tree will grow even more branches.

  • July 18, 2006

    Twins 8, Devil Rays 1

    If not for Ron Gardenhire's (entirely logical) decision to pinch-hit Terry Tiffee for Justin Morneau in the eighth inning of last night's blowout win over the Devil Rays, Francisco Liriano would have tossed the first complete-game shutout of his career. Instead, Liriano had to settle for this line:

     IP     H     R     ER     BB     SO     HR     PIT
    8.2 3 1 0 0 7 0 111

    Tiffee's inability to catch a low Jason Bartlett throw in the ninth inning led to an unearned run scoring and Liriano being yanked in favor of Kyle Lohse with one out left, but that doesn't take away from the overall performance. Liriano is now 11-2 with a 1.94 ERA as a 22-year-old rookie, including 10-2 with a ridiculous 1.58 ERA in a dozen starts since joining the rotation in mid-May.

    Liriano was his typical dominant self last night, throwing strikes and missing bats, but he gave up more fly balls than normal. In fact, 13 of Liriano's 19 non-strikeout outs came through the air, which is unusual for a guy whose 2.28-to-1 ground ball-to-fly ball ratio ranked third among AL starters heading into the game. Of course, most of the fly balls were more like pop ups, so it didn't much matter.

    It was particularly nice to see Liriano come up with an impressive outing after having his worst start of the year last time out against the Indians. He shook off having his six-game winning streak snapped while serving up three homers to Cleveland, and looked as overpowering as ever. Last night was the sixth time in 12 starts that Liriano has failed to surrender a single earned run.

    It's tough to focus on anything except Liriano after a performance like that, but here are some other notes from the game ...

  • Perhaps Liriano purposely stopped inducing ground balls in order to get Jason Tyner some work in center field. Tyner was kept busy out there all night and made all the necessary plays, but looked a little tentative while doing so. He clearly has the speed to chase down most everything and will surely improve with more experience at the Metrodome, but so far at least could learn a lot from Torii Hunter in terms of attacking balls hit in front of him.
  • Not only did Nick Punto return to the lineup one day after suffering what initially appeared to be a relatively significant knee injury, he went 2-for-3 with three RBIs and made a great play at third base. Plus, Punto nearly upstaged Liriano by letting FSN mic him for the whole game, which led to a bunch of amusing soundbites (including a subtle crack about Gardenhire being out of shape).

    Punto avoiding the disabled list is a nice change of pace given how much injuries have depleted the roster already this month and he's a big part of the new-look lineup. Losing Hunter takes away one of the team's few legitimate power threats, but with Luis Castillo and Punto at the top of the lineup and Tyner and Bartlett at the bottom of the order, the Twins have the ability to go first-to-third on singles all night.

    I'm generally of the opinion that speed is overrated in terms of actual impact on wins and losses, but when the speed comes in the form of guys who actually get on base it's plenty valuable. I'd prefer a lineup full of guys like Morneau, but short of that it's nice to see hitters putting together good at-bats, scrapping to get on base any way they can, and then putting pressure on the defense once they reach.

  • Rondell White joined the first-to-third party on Josh Rabe's first big-league hit in the seventh inning, but only after he was doubled off first base twice earlier in the game. As Will Young pointed out after I complained to him about White's mistakes, he still has a long way to go before approaching Henry Blanco's jaw-dropping ability to run into outs.

    Still, White runs the bases like a drunk little leaguer far too often given that he's not actually on base all that much. What makes it especially odd is that he's still plenty athletic and has above-average speed at 34 years old. It seems to be either a complete lack of instincts or some kind of mental block, or maybe a combination of both.

    With that said, White went 2-for-3 with a walk last night and is 5-for-10 with a homer since returning from Triple-A, so it's a little easier to stomach some baserunning blunders now than when he was making four outs per game at the plate. Plus, he tracked down a fly ball in the left-center field gap last night that Shannon Stewart would have needed a bus and multiple transfers to get to.

  • Morneau's homer was his 25th, which means for all the talk about the Twins' lack of a 30-homer hitter since 1987, Morneau is within striking distance of that mark in mid-July. As sad as it sounds, Morneau is one of only 17 Twins with at least 25 homers in a season and one of only 14 with multiple 20-homer campaigns (and he just missed a third by homering 19 times in 74 games as a rookie).

    No. 25 came off Scott Kazmir, which gives Morneau nine homers in 114 at-bats against left-handed pitchers. Not only is that impressive for any left-handed hitter, it's amazing considering Morneau came into this year with just seven homers in 255 career at-bats against southpaws. As I said yesterday, it's time to move him into the cleanup spot and let him stay there for the rest of the decade.

  • Remember when the Twins couldn't get anyone out? They now rank second in the league in runs allowed. After giving up 6.2 runs per game in April, the staff has held teams to an average of 3.9 runs per game since. This is what happens when your bullpen stops giving up runs altogether and the two best pitchers in the league start half your games. To put that in some context, the Twins allowed an average 4.4 runs per game while leading the league in ERA in 2004.

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