April 29, 2009

Twins Finish April at .500

Last night's victory and today's off day means that the Twins will finish April with an even 11-11 record. Here's how that compares to their record through the first month in other years under Ron Gardenhire:

YEAR      W      L      WIN%
2002 16 11 .593
2003 12 14 .462
2004 15 7 .682
2005 15 8 .652
2006 9 15 .375
2007 14 11 .560
2008 13 14 .481
2009 11 11 .500
TOTAL 105 91 .536

Gardenhire's squads have compiled a .536 winning percentage through April compared to a .547 mark overall, which is basically the same (the difference between .536 and .547 is 1.5 wins per 162 games). And sure enough my hope that the Twins would just "tread water" until Joe Mauer returns looks good.

Once you're done here, check out my "Circling The Bases" blog over at NBCSports.com.

April 28, 2009

Twins 4, Rays 3

Some notes on an odd, up-and-down game that fittingly ended with a walk-off fielder's choice ...

  • I'm not sure whether rust had anything to do with Joe Nathan blowing a save by serving up a homer to Ben Zobrist on his very first pitch or finding the strike zone on just 11 of his 23 pitches in what was a very shaky outing, but I do know that he'd gone three days without working and had thrown a grand total of one inning during the past eight days. Nathan has appeared in just seven of the first 21 games while throwing a total of 120 pitches and is on pace for 54 innings.
  • Nathan's blown save kept Francisco Liriano from his first win and he's still stuck with a 0-4 record, but he looked pretty good for the most part. Liriano walked just two of the 27 batters he faced, induced nine ground-ball outs, and kept the ball in the ballpark, but also managed only three strikeouts. He has 20 strikeouts in 28.1 innings overall, which works out to 6.4 per nine innings. Even ignoring his insane 2006 strikeout rate, Liriano had 8.2 strikeouts per nine innings after returning from Triple-A last year.
  • Jose Morales started over Mike Redmond for the sixth time in eight games, going 2-for-4 with a nice play at the plate defensively and the game-winning run. He's now 18-for-43 (.419) as a major leaguer, yet may be headed back to Rochester in about 48 hours.
  • Jose Mijares appears to have taken over primary setup duties already. He walked Carl Crawford on five pitches leading off the eighth inning, but then bounced back to strike out Evan Longoria (swinging), Carlos Pena (swinging), and Willy Aybar (looking) to preserve a 3-2 lead. The walk was Mijares' first in 13.1 major-league innings, which is pretty remarkable for a guy who averaged over five walks per nine innings in the minors.
  • Alexi Casilla went 1-for-4 with two strikeouts last night before being yanked for pinch-hitter Brendan Harris with two runners on base in the ninth inning and has now hit just .215/.282/.265 in 54 games since returning from a thumb injury last August. I'm fine with giving Casilla some more time to get on track rather than turning second base over to Harris, but at this point there's just no way that he should be batting in the No. 2 spot when he does play.
  • Justin Morneau's first-inning bomb and two non-hits with the bases loaded accounted for the Twins' scoring as they went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position to continue the month-long trend that no doubt has a lot of people confused after their near-historic mark in those spots last season.
  • Monday in this space I suggested that starting Jason Kubel in left field to open up designated hitter for Joe Mauer would make sense against tough right-handers even if Ron Gardenhire has said that he's against the idea, so it was interesting to see Kubel playing the outfield to clear a spot in the lineup for Brian Buscher last night. Carlos Gomez being away from the team made it a unique situation, but if benching Delmon Young for Buscher makes sense it'll certainly work to get Mauer extra at-bats too.
  • Amusingly, Young came off the bench to pinch-run for Kubel and ended the eighth inning by getting thrown out trying to steal third base with the Twins up 3-2.
  • Mauer wrapped up his minor-league rehab assignment at high Single-A last night, going 1-for-2 with a double and gunning down the only steal attempted against him. Mauer went 6-for-15 (.400) with two doubles and two walks in five games at Fort Myers and is expected to come off the disabled list Friday.

  • Once you're done here, check out my "Circling The Bases" blog over at NBCSports.com.

    April 26, 2009

    Twins Notes: Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad

  • Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel, and Denard Span each came up empty in crucial spots yesterday, as Morneau and Kubel had back-to-back strikeouts with the bases loaded in the seventh inning and Span grounded into a double play with two runners on base in the ninth inning. Those three at-bats stand out in a 4-2 loss, but along with Jose Morales' hot hitting in a part-time role the trio of Morneau, Kubel, and Span has basically carried the offense through three weeks.

    Span has batted .309/.385/.397 with three stolen bases atop the lineup while Morneau and Kubel have hit .316/.354/.539 and .328/.358/.641 in the middle of the order, yet the Twins' offense ranks just 12th in the league with 4.2 runs per game. Only the A's have hit fewer homers, only the Rangers and Mariners have drawn fewer walks, and the magic pixie dust with runners in scoring position predictably appears to have worn off. Fortunately it sounds like Joe Mauer may come off the disabled list as soon as Friday.

  • Mauer is three games into his minor-league rehab assignment at high Single-A, catching twice and going 4-for-11 with a double at the plate. Given how well the Span-Morneau-Kubel trio is producing and how poorly Alexi Casilla has fared since coming back from a thumb injury last August, I'm hoping Ron Gardenhire gives Mauer another shot hitting second. Wishful thinking, but Span-Mauer-Morneau-Kubel would look awfully nice and it's not like Casilla would do much to "break up the lefties" anyway.
  • Kevin Slowey has bounced back nicely with two strong starts since allowing 13 hits to the Blue Jays on April 13 and is now 3-0 with a 4.44 ERA and 19-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 26.1 innings. He took a shutout into the ninth inning Saturday versus the Indians before settling for eight innings of one-run ball with seven strikeouts and zero walks. Slowey continues to struggle against left-handed hitters, but he's still missing plenty of bats and has now handed out zero walks in 21 of his 42 career starts.
  • Glen Perkins' streak of consecutive eight-inning starts was snapped at three yesterday afternoon as he took the loss against Cleveland while allowing four runs over five innings. With a 2.48 ERA through four starts Perkins has been the most effective member of the Twins' rotation so far, but all the quotes and articles about the many improvements he's made are a tad premature given that a huge portion of his early success stems from allowing zero homers in 29 innings.

    You wouldn't know it based on all the excitement surrounding his homer-less first month, but Perkins' strikeout, walk, and ground-ball rates remain nearly identical to last season and as one of the league's most extreme fly-ball pitchers the homers are inevitable. Over time fly balls tend to turn into homers at a fairly standard rate, and once you normalize for that Perkins' performance is right along the same lines as what he did while posting a 4.41 ERA in 26 starts last season.

  • Span and Kubel are thriving, but the rest of the vaunted "outfield depth" has really struggled. Michael Cuddyer has followed up an injury-filled, career-worst year by hitting .214/.263/.314. Carlos Gomez has made the spring-training articles touting his new-found patience look silly by hitting .195 while striking out more often than last season and drawing three walks in 44 trips to the plate. Delmon Young has hit .255/.300/.340 with the same combination of bad defense, zero plate discipline, and tons of grounders.

    Gardenhire scoffed at the notion of playing Mauer some at designated hitter, explaining that he's having enough trouble as is finding at-bats for the outfielders, but against tough right-handed pitchers it would make plenty of sense to start Mauer at DH and Kubel in left field while benching two of Gomez, Young, and Cuddyer. In that scenario Gomez needs to be playing behind the extreme fly-ball starters (Perkins, Slowey, Scott Baker), although judging from Gardenhire's comments it's seemingly a moot point.

  • Morales was behind the plate for two out of three games in Cleveland, including getting the start over Mike Redmond against left-hander Aaron Laffey yesterday. Based on their track records Redmond should be playing against basically all southpaws, but that didn't stop Morales from going 4-for-4 while the rest of the starters managed just two hits. Counting his injury-shortened 2007 cameo appearance, Morales is now 15-for-35 (.429) with four doubles as a major leaguer.
  • Henry Sanchez's path to bustdom is just about complete after the 22-year-old former first-round pick received a 50-game suspension over the weekend following a second positive drug test. As the 39th overall pick in the 2005 draft Sanchez was billed as an elite power hitter coming out of high school and may have been the largest first rounder of all time at about 260 pounds, but he's struggled with weight problems and injuries while hitting just .216/.297/.358 in 91 games between rookie-ball and Single-A.

  • Once you're done here, check out my "Circling The Bases" blog over at NBCSports.com.

    April 24, 2009


  • Motherhood has sadly robbed Jessica Alba of her consistency, but the former Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com still cleans up pretty well.
  • King Kaufman has started blogging after stopping his long-running Salon.com column and blogged recently about something that I've been yammering about for years: Reporting is not a paper product.
  • Jose Morales hasn't exactly been impressive splitting time behind the plate with Mike Redmond, batting .250/.308/.333 in 26 plate appearances while struggling defensively, but after going 0-for-4 last night Drew Butera is hitting .207/.250/.276 at Triple-A. Also, lots of e-mails lately wondering if Morales' game-calling is screwing up the Twins' pitchers, but they actually have a slightly lower ERA throwing to him than Redmond so far.
  • Meanwhile, Joe Mauer is scheduled to begin a six-game minor-league rehab assignment tonight.
  • One of my all-time favorite basketball players, Dikembe Mutombo, suffered a knee injury earlier this week and is calling it a career after 18 seasons in the NBA.

    The three things that I always imitated while playing basketball as a kid were a) Bobby Jackson's high socks, b) Isaiah Rider's free-throw routine, and c) Mutombo's finger wag.
  • Kenny Powers has been doing a sh**-ton of Twitter updates.
  • Earlier this week the Brewers traded Jason Tyner to the Tigers for ... well, nothing. Still seems like kind of a lot for a guy who hit .248/.333/.296 at Triple-A last year and is off to a 2-for-21 start this year.
  • Gregg Rosenthal's wife may have surpassed Bill Simmons' wife as the most consistently amusing spouse portrayed in her husband's columns.
  • Playing the media like a fiddle as always, Torii Hunter got the local reporters excited about possibly, maybe, perhaps ending his career in Minnesota and then slammed on the breaks once he got back to California. I'm now convinced that he'll say literally anything as long as it causes someone clutching a notebook to nod and write it down.
  • Still awesome: In Treatment.
  • Even if my Sirius stock is worth slightly less than my collection of Bobby Kielty rookie cards, it's nice to know that Howard Stern is still king.
  • As expected, Philip Humber will join the Triple-A rotation at Rochester after clearing waivers.
  • Here are some of the highlights from my NBCSports.com blogging this week:

    - Scott Baker the homer maker
    - David Ortiz: Triples machine
    - The Next Big Thing: Gordon Beckham
    - Pettitte, Rivera tie starter-closer wins record
    - Demetri Martin joins cast for Moneyball movie
    - Angels call up Brandon Wood from Triple-A
    - Betancourt wearing out his welcome in Seattle
    - Time to give Owings more opportunities to hit

    If nothing else, the entry on Baker should be of interest to anyone reading this blog.

  • Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is The Mighty Mighty Bosstones with a live version of "The Impression That I Get":

  • Once you're done here, check out my "Circling The Bases" blog over at NBCSports.com.

    April 22, 2009

    Forgettable Day & NBCSports.com Live Chat at Noon

    Computer problems ruined my plans to hang out in the comments section throughout the day and the Twins dropped a pair of ugly games in Boston, so yesterday wasn't so much fun. I'm hoping that today goes a little bit better, because the Twins can't lose and I'm live blogging the various afternoon games over at NBCSports.com. I'll also be fielding questions just like an AG.com live chat, although "are you in bed right now?" and "how horrible are the Twins' announcers?" are slightly less likely to be answered.

    UPDATE: Live blogging is now underway.

    Once you're done here, check out my "Circling The Bases" blog over at NBCSports.com.

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