September 10, 2006

Notes From the Weekend

  • Boof Bonser has improbably gone from being demoted to Triple-A in July to being the Twins' lone reliable starter behind Johan Santana in September. Not only does Bonser have a 3.79 ERA and 38-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in seven starts since being recalled from Rochester, he's 3-1 with a 2.93 ERA in his last five outings and has given up just one run in back-to-back games.

    Bonser doesn't have the stuff to be an ace and he'll always be susceptible to ugly stretches thanks to being homer prone, but he's shown plenty of promise as a rookie. At the very least, Bonser can be penciled into the back of the rotation for the next few seasons at a reasonable price. And yes, getting three pitchers from the Giants for A.J. Pierzynski looks better just about every day.

  • Speaking of the Pierzynski trade, Francisco Liriano took a major step toward rejoining the Twins' rotation by tossing three no-hit innings at Triple-A Saturday night. Working on a pitch count, Liriano struck out four, walked one, and then went to the bullpen for a little more work. Afterward, he told reporters: "I feel great. I don't feel sore. I don't feel any pain. Everything is good so far."

    It's somewhat difficult to trust Liriano fully after he essentially kept his prior arm problems a secret, but this is certainly great news. Barring a setback, he's reportedly scheduled to start Wednesday against Oakland, which means Liriano could start four more times this season. Almost as important is that he'll have plenty of time to build up his arm strength for the playoffs.

  • On a similar note, Brad Radke's chances of pitching again seem to be rising. The Official Twins Beat Writer of, LaVelle E. Neal III, reports that Radke will play catch this week and hopes to "return by the last week of the regular season." That doesn't leave much margin for error or setbacks, although Radke did say, "If I feel good it could be sooner."

    It's quite possible that Radke's career is over, but there are a few options that Twins fans can hope for. One is that Radke is able to make it back for one or two regular-season starts and can ready himself for one last postseason run. Short of that, it'd be nice if Radke can simply get himself prepared to be an option for the playoffs, even if means his regular season is over.

    And if all else fails, it'd be nice to see Radke take the mound at the Metrodome one last time. If he can't contribute to the Twins' World Series hopes again, perhaps Radke could come in for the ninth inning against the White Sox in the 162nd game of the year, getting the last out of what will hopefully be a blowout win with a postseason spot already clinched.

  • Glen Perkins, who is fresh up from Double-A, combined with Liriano on a one-hitter Saturday. He came on in relief, tossing six innings of one-hit ball in the International League playoffs while no one noticed because of the guy who started the game. In 24 starts between Double-A and Triple-A this year, Perkins posted a 3.85 ERA and 134-to-50 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 121.2 innings.

    Friend of and Rochester Democrat & Chronicle writer Jim Mandelaro had a guest article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune covering the Liriano-Perkins masterpiece.

  • I've been suggesting for a while now that the Twins would be smart to see if Matt Guerrier can give them a few decent starts given how deep the bullpen is at the moment. As is usually the case, it took the Twins a while but they eventually agreed with me, bumping Scott Baker from the rotation over the weekend in favor of Guerrier.

    Many Twins fans seem to have given up on Baker, but I remain confident that he'll develop into a solid fourth starter. Even with his struggles this year, Baker has a 5.30 ERA and 90-to-28 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 127.1 big-league innings, which is far from disastrous from a 24-year-old. With that said, what the Twins need most right now is simply five passable innings from their starters, and Guerrier likely gives them a better chance at that than Baker.

  • I've avoided commenting on the ongoing Bert Blyleven situation because I tend to get needlessly worked up when the subject of the FCC comes up, but I'd like to make it very clear that I think Blyleven has gotten a raw deal. Regardless of whatever faults he may have as an announcer, Blyleven made an honest mistake that was ultimately harmless and immediately apologized for it.

    I think his initial suspension was unwarranted, but at least understand it. That he was suspended for an additional three games seems absurd. The punishment doesn't fit the crime, I don't think Blyleven is any less likely to make the same mistake in the future because of the extra time off, and Twins fans had to suffer through Ron Coomer in Blyleven's absence (although Jack Morris did a great job as a one-game sub).

    Of course, I'm a well-known vulgarian, so what do I know?

  • If you're the last person on earth who has yet to see the Blyleven incident in question, here's a clip.
  • Santana's Cy Young case looked incredibly strong last week, but it looks even better after he won for the 18th time just hours after Roy Halladay left his start yesterday in the first inning. Santana is well on his way to the pitching triple crown and the Twins are now 26-5 in his 31 starts. As Patrick Reusse points out in today's Star Tribune, a very good argument can be made for Santana being the AL MVP (unless you're as stubborn as my main man LEN3):

    As long as we can keep that man of principle, La Velle E. Neal III, away from the ballot box, Johan Santana has a shot to be the first starting pitcher to win a big-league Most Valuable Player Award since Oakland's Vida Blue in 1971.

    Mr. Neal, our veteran baseball writer, was one of two voters (along with George King of the New York Post) not to place Pedro Martinez on the 10-player ballot in 1999. This greatly benefited Texas catcher Ivan Rodriguez in claiming the honor.

    "The award is for guys who play every day, not pitchers," said Neal, in rejecting Pedro's rather solid season (23-4, 2.07 ERA, 313 strikeouts) as being worthy of MVP consideration.

    On Sunday, as Santana was leaving to a roaring standing ovation after 6 1/3 scoreless innings in the Metrodome, a colleague asked Neal if seven years later he maintained that stance on pitchers and MVP awards seven years later.

    "Yes, but I don't have the vote this year," he said. "I'm voting for Rookie of the Year."

    I'm LEN3's biggest fan, which is really saying something given how tough I can occasionally be on the local media, but even I have to admit defeat when critics bring up his illogical stance on pitchers and the MVP.

    UPDATE: Reusse's proclamation that "Santana has a shot to be the first starting pitcher to win a big-league Most Valuable Player Award since Oakland's Vida Blue in 1971" is false, as Roger Clemens was the AL MVP in 1986. His overall point remains, of course, but as usual us bloggers shouldn't trust what we read in the mainstream media (or something like that).

  • Apparently back-to-back poor outings isn't proof positive that the league has "figured out" Pat Neshek. Shocking, I know.
  • Ron Gardenhire might be the only manager in baseball who would stick Jason Tyner and his .360 slugging percentage at designated hitter when he has both Rondell White and Phil Nevin available. And no, I didn't mean that as a compliment.
  • Speaking of White, he's now batting .287/.327/.535 with six homers in 29 games since returning from Rochester.
  • Since beginning the season at a lifeless 25-33, the Twins are 58-26. They've trimmed the Tigers' division lead from double digits to two games (and one in the loss column) in just over a month, all while Liriano has been out, and are amazingly just 2.5 games away from having the league's best record.

    It doesn't get any easier with the first-place A's coming to town, but the Twins can realistically be considered co-favorites in the division at this stage given how the Tigers have played of late and are relatively large favorites to get into the postseason as either the division winner of Wild Card. Not only would that have been impossible to believe in June, it would have been hard to believe in August.

    And now? It's time to believe.

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