September 24, 2008

Twins Take Round 1

Prior to last night's series opener, the national media joined local scribes from Chicago and Minnesota in focusing on the power disparity between the White Sox and Twins, and as usual Ozzie Guillen talked about needing to "get those piranhas in a big net" and "put some poison in the water to make their teeth fall out." And rightfully so, because Guillen's team arrived at the Metrodome with an MLB-leading 223 homers, yet had been out-scored by a Twins lineup that boasted the league's fewest long balls.

Billed as a matchup pitting speed versus power, Game 1 instead saw the Twins do a good White Sox impression with three homers and six extra-base hits. As the Metrodome crowd of 35,000 used chants to cast their MVP vote for Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel went 3-for-4 with a pair of homers, a triple, and three RBIs to provide more than enough support for Scott Baker's seven innings of one-run ball. For Kubel it was a signature moment in what has been an outstanding, underappreciated season.

MVP-caliber years from Morneau and Joe Mauer have carried what is now the highest-scoring Twins offense since 1996 and Denard Span's emergence over the past three months has also been hugely important, but Kubel has quietly been the team's third-best hitter all year. He's hit .276/.340/.480 with 20 homers and 78 RBIs in 499 plate appearances to give the power-starved lineup a second home-run threat alongside (and recently behind) Morneau.

Morneau and Kubel have combined for 39 percent of the Twins' homers, going deep 43 times in 1,185 plate appearances while the rest of the team has managed just 68 homers in 4,921 trips to the plate. Leading the league with a .280 batting average overall and hitting .310 with runners in scoring position for the league's highest RISP mark in over three decades go a long way toward explaining the Twins' surprising run production this season, but oddly enough smacking the ball over the fence works too.

Baker's effort may get lost in Kubel's big night, but he was fantastic against a team he'd struggled with previously. Baker came into the game sporting a 7.99 ERA in seven career starts versus the White Sox, which perhaps isn't shocking given his extreme fly-ball tendencies and their power. Yet he kept the ball in the ballpark, limiting the White Sox to just five singles and one walk in 26 plate appearances before handing a 9-1 lead over to the bullpen. He's now 10-4 with a 3.59 ERA in 27 starts overall.

As the Twins have shown all year momentum in baseball tends not to mean as much as most people would like to believe, but they couldn't have scripted a better way to begin the series and now have just a smidgen of breathing room in case Nick Blackburn's recent struggles continue tonight. If instead he follows Baker's lead with a strong outing and the Twins' bats do some damage against Mark Buehrle, then suddenly the division landscape shifts dramatically heading into Thursday night's series finale.

                 W      L     WIN%      GB
White Sox 86 70 .551 ---
Twins 85 72 .541 1.5

One down. Two to go.


Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

September 22, 2008

Setting The Stage

I've seen Minnesota clinch in our ballpark once. I hope we can clinch in theirs. I like the way they play, but we've got to make sure we're mean and show them we're going to kick their ass as soon as we walk in. Make sure you grab a big net and get those piranhas and put some poison in the water to make their teeth fall out.

- Ozzie Guillen

By splitting the four-game set in Tampa Bay the Twins are 2.5 games back in the division heading into the three-game series with the White Sox that begins Tuesday. Once that series is over the Twins have three games left against the Royals, while the White Sox have three games left against the Indians and one makeup game remaining against the Tigers. In other words, to have a realistic shot at the playoffs the Twins need to either win two out of three games from the White Sox or sweep the series.

A sweep gives the Twins a half-game lead in the division and makes them clear favorites to win the AL Central, because finishing up with the Royals is easier than facing the Indians and Tigers. Of course, even after winning yesterday the Twins are just 10-18 over the past month, so talking about a potential sweep probably goes beyond wishful thinking. Fortunately, taking two of three games versus Chicago would still leave the Twins with a decent shot at the playoffs.

By winning two out of three games against the White Sox the Twins would be 1.5 games back heading into the season's final weekend. If they then sweep the Royals and the Indians sweep the White Sox, the Twins win the division. If they instead sweep the Royals and the Indians take two out of three from the White Sox, then the Tigers-White Sox makeup game is huge. If the Tigers win, the Twins take the division. If the White Sox win, there's a one-game playoff.

If the Twins take two out of three from both the White Sox and Royals, they win the division outright if the White Sox lose their final four games and there's a one-game playoff if the White Sox lose three of their final four games. All of that is overly complicated and there are still a ton of different scenarios despite a limited number of remaining games, but for any of it to matter the Twins first need to win at least two out of three games versus the White Sox, at the Metrodome.

TUESDAY MATCHUP        W      L      ERA     xFIP
Javier Vazquez 12 14 4.32 3.93
Scott Baker 9 4 3.69 4.30

WEDNESDAY MATCHUP W L ERA xFIP
Mark Buehrle 14 11 3.87 4.11
Nick Blackburn 10 10 4.15 4.52

THURSDAY MATCHUP W L ERA xFIP
Gavin Floyd 16 8 3.84 4.68
Kevin Slowey 12 11 3.85 4.07

Both teams have struggled recently, although over the last 30 games the White Sox are 15-15 while the Twins are just 12-18. However, the Twins are 49-26 (.653) at home this year while the White Sox are just 35-43 (.448) on the road. Thanks to the absence of a dominant or horrible starter in the bunch, the three pitching matchups are all pretty even. As Justin Morneau put it: "This is the chance we wanted. Anything can happen. Now it's up to us. It's going to be a lot of fun, especially if we win all three."


Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

September 19, 2008

Link-O-Rama

  • See, now that was fun:

    With their playoff hopes vanishing down 8-6 in the ninth inning, the Twins got a game-tying homer from Alexi Casilla followed by a go-ahead butcher-boy double from Adam Everett. Imagine how exciting the past month would've been if the Twins had been on the right end of just a few more moments like that. If they can build on that crazy comeback and get a little help from the Royals the final week will be pretty thrilling. And if not, at least the image of Everett pulling the bat back will stick in my mind for a while.
  • Chris Cooley recently provided an important lesson for all bloggers: Don't show your junk.
  • When someone has a great speaking voice, it's often said that people would even enjoy listening to them read the phone book. My slightly different twist on the same theme is that when someone looks like Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com fourth runner-up Mila Kunis, people would even enjoy seeing them make a phone call.
  • I've yet to place an actual NFL bet this year, so naturally I've gone 18-13 picking against the spread.
  • Friend of AG.com (and diehard Rays fan) Thayer Rasmussen narrowly missed making his second World Poker Tour final table, settling for 11th place at this week's Borgata Poker Open. Rasmussen is probably disappointed with his finish given that he was among the big stacks late in the tournament, but it was great to hear him as a guest on my favorite poker podcast with Joe Sebok, Gavin Smith, and Ali Nejad. I'm jealous on approximately a dozen different levels.
  • On a related note, 75-year-old poker legend Doyle Brunson blogged about meeting Tila Tequila:

    I played in a charity tournament while I was in Macau. There were a lot of Asian celebrities. I sat next to Tila Tequila, a Vietnamese-American model from Houston, Texas. She is famous for having 3.5 million friends on MySpace along with her modeling and singing career. The biggest bluff I ran while I was there was when I told her if I was 40 years younger I would kidnap her. She replied, "Oh, I love older men." I had to fold and throw my hand away.

    Good laydown.

  • I'd make the same offer if it didn't mean losing my "desk" too.
  • To me, the answer to this question is a no-brainer. "Ohhhh, what a rush!"


    Second place goes to Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart's spectacular beard, which I've occasionally attempted in vain to duplicate for about five years now.
  • New York Post columnist George Willis recently explained that Derek Jeter "is going to the Hall of Fame primarily because of his hustle." Seriously.
  • I've never actually heard of Malibu Magazine before, but it's already on my short list of all-time great publications thanks to this month's Marisa Miller photo shoot involving lots of knee-high socks.
  • Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register checks in with a pretty strong showing of douchebaggery that unintentionally explains why fewer and fewer people get their sports analysis from newspapers:

    It sure makes it easier to throw out opinions when you don't have to justify them to the people you're writing about or face the music by walking into a clubhouse the next day. Makes it easier. Not more valid, though.

    Of course, there's a flip side to that and it goes something like this:

    It sure makes it tougher to throw out opinions when you have to justify them to the people you're writing about or face the music by walking into a clubhouse the next day. Makes it tougher. Not more valid, though.

    Call me crazy, but I'll take a smart outsider with an unfiltered opinion over an insider afraid of angering the people he has to rely upon for quotes and information every day.

  • Imagine how miserable I'd be if not for standing 6-foot-2.
  • Congratulations to George Takai, even if it means fewer afternoon field-trip dates with Artie Lange.
  • Speaking of gay couples, Sal Governale and Richard Christie appeared together on CNN recently, although you'll have to focus on the background to spot them:


    And Bababooey to y'all.
  • Over at MLB.com, friend of AG.com Thor Nystrom recently wrote a nice "where are they now? article about Kevin Tapani, who ranked No. 29 in my long-delayed Top 40 Minnesota Twins series.
  • Compared to Brad Childress, Patrick Reusse almost manages to come across as blog-friendly in his recent Minneapolis Star Tribune column:

    The media session soon ended. As Childress walked past an old sportswriter, he offered this sentence of advice: "Don't look at those blogs."

    Clearly if not for all those horrible blogs Childress' time as Vikings coach would be free of criticism.

  • Despite a ridiculous-looking dress and the presence of her husband, Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com third runner-up Kate Beckinsale still manages to be plenty fetching in these pictures.
  • Hosting Saturday Night Live is apparently yet another thing that Official Olympian of AG.com Usain Bolt would be probably better at than Michael Phelps. No water, no greatness. But we knew that.
  • I'm admittedly a sucker for overly complicated science fiction plots, but for a poorly reviewed movie that I'd never heard of prior to last week Deja Vu was excellent.
  • David Pinto dropped a nice Otis Redding reference this week that made me smile.
  • Ambrose Burnside was Joe Mauer before there was a Joe Mauer.
  • Friend of AG.com Conor Glassey has joined the writing team at my favorite non-Twins baseball blog, U.S.S. Mariner.
  • Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is Susan Tedeschi covering Bob Dylan with a live version of "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right":


  • Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

    September 18, 2008

    You Don't Have To Go Home, But You Can't Stay Here

    I'm not sure what's left to say at this point. Being swept by the Indians leaves the Twins at 8-16 since moving into first place on August 22. Despite the White Sox trying their best to gift wrap the division by going 11-13 during that same stretch, the Twins are now 2.5 games back in the AL Central with just 10 games remaining. And beginning tonight the first four of those games come against the playoff-bound Rays, in Tampa Bay.

    For the past month or so people have been focused on the second-to-last series of the season, which has the Twins hosting the White Sox for three games at the Metrodome. As long as the deficit is within two games when Chicago comes to town the Twins will have a reasonable chance of at least forcing a one-game playoff, but right now even keeping things that close seems unlikely. There's still time left for an improbable comeback, but rarely has a pennant race been such little fun to watch.

    What's amazing about the Twins' collapse is that they've out-scored their opponents 131-to-114 while going 8-16, which is tough to do. The lineup has produced 5.46 runs per game, which is remarkable given that the Rangers have the league's highest-scoring offense this year at 5.49 runs per game. The pitchers have a 4.27 ERA, which would rank sixth in the league overall. Yet thanks to 14 unearned runs, a whole bunch of blown leads, and some sloppy situational hitting everything has fallen apart.

    All but one of the eight wins have been by at least five runs and they've scored double-digits runs in five of them, but the 8-16 stretch includes five one-run losses and eight two-run losses. In other words, 14 of the past 24 games have been decided by one or two runs, and the Twins lost 13 of them. Winning half of those games would've put them 3.5 games up in the division, and the Twins had a late lead in most of them. Even going 4-10 rather than 1-13 would've given them a half-game lead right now.

    If this were a party the Twins would be the guy sitting by himself on the couch at the end of the night, nursing a beer and flipping through magazines while everyone else said their goodbyes. Chicago and the rest of the division have been kind enough to let them stick around for as long as they want, but the Twins refuse to get off the couch or go home. It's time to chug the beer and do something, because this is getting pathetic and no one is having any fun.

                    W      L      GB     REMAINING SCHEDULE
    White Sox 84 67 --- 1@NYY, 3@KAN, 3@MIN, 3vCLE, 1@DET
    Twins 82 70 2.5 4@TAM, 3vCHW, 3vKAN

    Hopefully the Twins can at least force the White Sox to play game No. 162.

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    My promise to "keep going until the questions stop rolling in" at the beginning of yesterday afternoon's live chat led to the session lasting over three hours. There's a transcript available by clicking here if you weren't able to waste half your day watching me answer 300-plus questions on topics ranging from my grandpa's reading habits and dancing in public to Bert Blyleven's live-chat advice and Chuck Norris versus Telly Hughes. Plus, there was actually a lot more Twins-related talk than you'd think. Seriously.


    Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

    September 16, 2008

    AG.com Live Chat Today at Noon

    In an effort to somehow get my mind off last night's amazing comeback turned gut-wrenching loss, let's do a couple hours (or more) of questions and answers today beginning at noon. My plan is to open the doors 15-20 minutes early so questions can be pre-submitted before we get actually rolling.

    Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

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