Friday, October 29, 2010

Kubel will be back/ Punto Maybe?

FINALLY!!! Some breaking Twins news to share in the off-season!!!

The Twins made a pair of moves today that were not surprising to say the least.  They picked up Jason Kubel's $5.25 million dollar option and declined their $5 million option for Nick Punto

Kubel's option was a very easy decision for the Twins.  At $5.25 million he is a relatively cheap option for either DH or outfield.  He is a career .271 hitter that can bat for power.  Over the past two seasons he has been slightly above and slightly below the 100 RBI mark.  The one thing that Kubel needs to cut back on our his strike out totals.  If he can decrease the strikeouts and increase his batting average this will be an above average deal for the Twins. 

Declining Punto's option might have been an easier decision than picking up Kubel's option. When Nick Punto signed his current contract the Twins paid him with the thought that he would be an everyday player for the Twins.  This hasn't been the case for Punto with the emergence of Danny Valencia and other players.  Injuries plagued his 2010 campaign and he is no longer a spring chicken.  He is a career .247 hitter that only played in 88 games last season. The Twins had to pay Punto $500,000 to buy out his contract and make him a free-agent.   

From multiple reports on the internet, it sounds like the Twins might try and bring Punto back to fill a utility infielder role.  If this were to happen his contract would most likely be in the $1-$1.5 million range.  This type of contract could also include some incentives to pay him a higher salary if he becomes an everyday player over the course of the season.  This could be done by giving him more money based on the number of plate apperances that he receives.   

Ron Gardenhire loves having Punto's glove in the field.  There are also question marks at secondbase and possibly shortstop for the Twins, so Punto could win one of those starting spots out of Spring Training. Don't be surprised to see Punto back with the Twins in 2011.  

World Series Weather at Target Field

As the Twins were building Target Field one of the most talked about topics was the Twins move back to outdoor baseball and how weather could impact that shift.  This season was great for weather in the Twin Cities.  Even when it did rain the field dried fast enough to play games.  The Twins even dodged some rain storms during the season by getting games completed right in the nick of time.

If the Twins had qualified for the World Series this weekend would have marked the first outdoor World Series games in Minnesota since October, 1965.

Here is a break-down of the weather for this weekend as it would have corresponded to the games if they would have taken place at Target Field

Saturday Game 3 of the World Series 
First Pitch (6:00 PM)
Temperature: 48 degrees F
Feels like: 44 degrees F
Chance of Precipitation: 0%
Wind: 8 mph NNE

End of Game (9-10:00 PM)
Temperature: 43-42 degrees F
Feels like: 37-35 degrees F 
Wind: 9 mph ENE

Sunday Game 4 of the World Series
First Pitch (7:20 PM)
Temperature: 45 degrees F
Feels like: 40 degrees F 
Chance of Precipitation: 0%
Wind: 8 mph E

End of Game (10:30-11:30 PM)
Temperature: 41-40 degrees F
Feels like: 34-33 degrees F 
Wind: 9 mph SE

Monday Game 5 of the World Series
First Pitch (7:00 PM)
Temperature: 44 degrees F
Feels like: 39 degrees F 
Chance of Precipitation: 0%
Wind: 4 mph SSE

End of Game (10-11:00 PM)
Temperature: 39-37 degrees F
Feels like: 35-34 degrees F 
Wind: 4 mph SSE

Overall, it would have been a very brisk three games at Target Field.  The good news would have been that the wind seems to be minimum after the strong winds that have swept through the Mid-West in recent days.  There also looks like there would be almost no chance of precipitation.  

Fans from throughout Twins Territory could have warmed up Target Field with their cheers and your choice of beverage, but that dream will have to wait for another year and another World Series.

Have a safe and happy Halloween weekend!  

Thursday, October 28, 2010

My Solutions for Expanding the Playoffs

Over the past week there have been multiple reports that Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Union are considering expanding the baseball postseason as early as the 2012 season.  This could be done by adding other wild card teams and expanding the division series round to a best of seven format. 

The AP article sites the reasons for doing this as the MLB playoffs have less team than any other major sport.  The NBA and the NHL have the greatest amount of teams that qualify for the postseason with 16 making it in each sport.  The NFL is only slightly below that mark at 12 teams.

Rob Neyer of looked at one impact of a longer season being that the regular season might have to be shortened.  With a longer postseason the first question from owners and players is what happens to the regular season schedule.  If the regular season gets cut then every team that doesn't make the playoffs loses revenue from those games.  The playoffs already seem to go much too far into November.  His solution is a great one.  He writes that to solve the revenue and regular season problem the solution would be to have teams play more double-headers.  This would allow for teams to get more games in during the season and still finish with enough time to play an expanded playoff.

Bill Plaschke of the LA Times wrote a list of ways to improve the postseason that might help MLB and the players union with their decision.  His list looks like this: 1. Stretch the first round, 2. Shorten the regular season, 3. Take the weekends off, 4. Play more day games, and 5. Enough of the champagne.

Here is my list of the five things that what I would like to see happen with the regular season and the postseason:

Regular Season:
1. Leave the regular season at 162 games
2. Play some double-headers

3.  Make the Division Series round a best of seven series
4.  Decrease the amount of time between postseason games
5.  Leave eight teams in the postseason

Leave the regular season at 162 games
Over the past decade the Twins have won six division titles in nine seasons.  Think back to how many of those seasons that the division hasn't been decided until the last week or even the last day.  In 2009 and 2008 the Twins had to go all the way to a game 163 to determine to outcome of the Central Division.  In 2006 the Twins didn't clinch the division crown until after their final game was over.  If the season is shortened, moments like this won't occur because there wouldn't be as many games for teams to come back from the dead.  I am also a big fan of the 162 game schedule.  By having that many games a true division champion can be determined.  Teams can make runs over stretches of the season but the strongest team usually prevails with the current regular season format.

Play some double-headers
As I wrote earlier Rob Neyer offered this as his solution to having to decrease the regular season.  As a fan I think this would be great to see.  I would love to be able to spend an entire day at Target Field watching the Twins play two games.  I know that scheduling these double-headers could be a nightmare.  But by playing these double-headers the regular season wouldn't have to be shortened.  Teams carry enough pitchers to cover the innings that would need to be pitched.  It could also make it fun to see what kind of line-ups managers can create to try and sweep a double-header.  Not an easy task by any means.

Make the Division Series round a best of seven series
As Bill Plaschke wrote in his piece that I referenced earlier, "The Minnesota Twins were one of the pulses of the long baseball summer, yet they were knocked out in a heartbeat."  Does this mean that if the Twins had a seven games series that they would have been able to come-back against the Yankees?  No, probably not.  I feel that in a seven game series the best team usually comes out on top.  There are always exceptions to the rule, but in a five game series a lot of things can happen.  Losing one game in a five game series can destroy a team.  In a seven game series one loss is something that can be overcome.

Decrease the amount of time between postseason games
MLB doesn't need to release the dates of every game in advance.  They should allow for series to start earlier if the previous round is completed faster than expected.  Find a way so that teams aren't waiting around for a week to find out who their opponent will be.  MLB seems to be trying to create the perfect schedule for the television networks.  The catch 22 is the perfect schedule for the TV networks isn't the perfect schedule for Major League Baseball.  By the time the World Series rolled around this year some fans might have started to lose interest.  It is a long drawn out affair that needs to be compressed.

Leave eight teams in the postseason
One of the great parts of the baseball postseason is the fact that it is a challenge to get into the tournament.  In the other major sports it's not as big of a deal to make the playoffs.  In the NBA and NHL over half of the teams in the league make the playoffs.  At the end of a long baseball season there is nothing more gratifying than your favorite team qualifying for the playoffs.  In recent years Twins fans have become accustom to their team making the playoffs.  The same story isn't true in other baseball markets.  Making the playoffs should be an accomplishment not something that is given out to half the teams.

What are your thoughts?  Should baseball expand the playoffs?  Should the regular season be shorter?  Leave a comment and start the discussion.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Video: "Mayne Street" with a cameo by the New Britain Rock Cats

In the latest episode of "Mayne Street," Kenny Mayne visits the Twins minor league affiliate the New Britain Rock Cats.  He throws a laser for a first pitch and he interviews a fake owner of the team.  If you are a fan of Kenny Mayne and his sarcastic humor, you will love this.  See if you can pick out any of the Rock Cat players in the background.

Twins win the 1991 World Series

The 2010 World Series is upon us and for Twins fans that can bring back a lot of memories.

Earlier last week I took some time to look at Jack Morris and his performance in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series (Debate: Jack Morris's Game 7 vs. other postseason performances).

Today is the 19th anniversary of that game and the conclusion of the '91 Series.

To many it was the crowning moment in one of the greatest, if not the greatest, World Series ever played.  There were multiple extra-inning games, heroics for both teams, and in the end two games at the Metrodome that decided the outcome.  

Here are a few links to other stories that look at the 1991 World Series and its place in history. 

-Jim Caple of ESPN writes that the 1991 World Series "had it all."

-Sports Illustrated has a flashback and savors every minute of it.

-Major League Baseball summarizes the series and offers video clips

-Baseball Almanac gives a look at the box score from Game 7 gives a summary of the series, some video clips, and, of course, a time line

-A "Where are they Now?" Article about Gene Larkin, the man that drove in the winning run in Game 7

 Tim Kurkjian's top Metrodome Memories that includes a few moments from the 1991 World Series.

A funny look at a controversial event in the 1991 World Series involving Kent Hrbek and LEGO people.

As a Twins fan, it is fun to look back on this day in Twins history.

What are your memories of that night or of the 1991 World Series?  Leave your comments below.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Twins pitching philosophy in t-shirt form

The other evening I threw in the movie "Little Big League," because I was in the mood for a happy-go-lucky baseball movie.  I picked this one because it looks at the Minnesota Twins franchise from the perspective of a child.  I also think that it helped that I was about the same age as the protagonist when the movie came out.

If you are unfamiliar with the story here is a short synopsis of the plot.  A young boy lives with his mother in the Twin Cities area.  His grandfather (who looks a lot like the late Carl Pohlad) is a very rich man and the owner of the Minnesota Twins.  The grandfather and the boy are very close, some might even call them best friends.  The grandfather passes away suddenly and in his will he grants ownership of the team to the young boy.  The boy goes on to get rid of the current manager that has anger management issues.  He names himself as the new manager and leads the team on a wild ride full of antics and great baseball.  There are many cameos by major league players of the time including Ken Griffey Jr, Ivan Rodriguez, and Randy Johnson

There was one scene in the movie that caught my eye.  First of all the scene is suppose to be in the Twins clubhouse at the Metrodome.  For anyone that visited that clubhouse it is very clear that this is Hollywood elaborating on what a true clubhouse should look like.

The second thing that caught my eye was one of the team's pitchers is wearing a t-shirt with a slogan that is very fitting for a pitcher in the Twins organization.

In the shirt has the slogan, "Babe Ruth is Dead. Throw Strikes."  I thought that this was very fitting because this is the philosophy that the Twins have used in their organization for some time.  Young pitchers in the organization are taught to throw the ball over the plate.  In this philosophy the pitcher doesn't need to have overpowering stuff.  He just needs to hit his locations and let the batter get himself out.  As a pitcher you don't need to over think.  Throw the pitches that you have the most control of.  That is the core principal of good pitching.

There have been many that have been critical of the Twins philosophy when it comes to pitching.  The Twins have often drafted pitchers that don't have overpowering pitches.  They pick pitchers that can hit their spots.  If that means that they give up a lot of hits then so be it.  If that means that a lot of homeruns are hit off of the pitching staff then they will take it.  One of the hardest things to do in sports is to hit a round ball with a round bat.

One person that has been the most critical is former Twins ace Jack Morris.  Even in the playoffs Morris is critical of the pitching staff and specific pitchers.  He was frequently on the Twins radio broadcast getting after manager Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson.  He feels that the Twins are doing a few things wrong when it comes to their pitching philosophy.  One of the first complaints that he has is that Twins players are afraid to throw a ball when they are ahead in the count.  This is typically called a waste pitch.  His premise is that Twins pitchers have it ingrained in their mind that they must throw strikes at all time.

The second criticism that has come from both Jack Morris and Bert Blyleven is that the Twins let the pitch count of a player dictate when they are removed from the game.  They feel that pitch count is dictating too much of what managers do when it comes to pitchers. Following the Twins pitching philosophy usually allows for players to stay in the game longer.  By keeping pitches around the strike zone the pitch count should, hypothetically, stay lower.  There can be another side to that too.  If a pitcher is not hitting his spots and he is around the strike zone, he could get shelled.

Are these criticisms right? Do the Twins need a pitching philosophy change? Leave a comment below and let me know.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Tonya's Revenge: Kirby Puckett's Statue

In the Sunday issue of the Star Tribune there was something that caught my eye in regards to the Twins and Kirby Puckett.  C.J. wrote the following in the Sunday Life section:

Target Field's Kirby Puckett statue is being called "Tonya's Revenge" because she signed off on a sculpture that doesn't resemble her estranged husband, so future generations will have no idea what he looked like.

When the Puckett's were getting divorced in 2002 there were many bad stories that came out against Kirby.  Tonya accused her former husband of threatening her in multiple ways.  This being said.  Would making a statue that she feels doesn't look like him really get back at her former husband?

Compare the images below.  How close are they to each other?

To say that this statue doesn't look like Kirby Puckett is an insult to Twin Cities sculpture Bill Mack.  If you click on the link above you can view lots of different works from Mack?  All of the artwork that he has created about famous figures is very accurate.  Mack designed many of the prominent statues on Target Plaza including Hall-of-Famers Puckett, Harmon Killebrew, and Rod Carew.  Each one of these statues is superb and fits the characteristics of each individual player.  Killebrew's Paul Bunyan-like swing, Carew's unique batting stance, and Puckett's signature game all adorn the plaza area leading to Target Field.  

Puckett's statue will draw conversations for years to come.  Future generations of Twins fans will wonder about the legend of Kirby Puckett.  Past generations will be able to tell these future generations of the career and the game that came to define his career.  

In the age of the internet and ever increasing communication avenues there will always be a way for fans to remember what Puckett looked like.  Fans can directly access the internet from cell phones and iPods at the game.  This unlimited access will allow fans to find real-life images of Puckett at the touch of a button.

There are also images of Puckett that are found throughout Target Field.  The Majestic Pro-Shop has pictures of Puckett to purchase.  The Kirby Puckett atrium is full of images of Puckett from his playing days.  So there are multiple ways for Twins fans to find a picture of Puckett.

If the statue is truly "Tonya's Revenge," then she failed miserably.  Kirby Puckett and his image will be etched into the minds of fans as long as the organization exists. For Twins fans there will always be the thought of Kirby rounding the bases in the '91 World Series, his catch in the same game, and that infectious smile.  

That is the image that will resinate in the minds of Twins fans in the years to come.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Satchel Paige: A part of North Dakota baseball history

(This is part one of a series that I will be writing about the history of baseball in North Dakota.)

During a tremulous time in United States history the states of North Dakota and Minnesota shared a common attribute.  They were two of the first states in the US to allow integrated baseball teams to play together.  This integration was started as far back as the early 1900's. Jackie Robinson wouldn't break the color barrier in the major leagues for another half of a decade.

In the 1930's a famous player from the Negro Leagues was invited to play for a semi-pro team in Bismarck, North Dakota.  Satchel Paige was the player and he would help that team win a National Championship in 1935.  (The National Championship run is something that I will save for another post in this series.)

Satchel Paige is the middle player in the back row.
There have been many legends that were spread about what Paige did during his time in North Dakota.  Many of them spread by Paige himself.  Some even claim that he started 29 games in one month for the team.  To understand his place in North Dakota baseball history, it is important to start at the beginning.

A rich owner, Neil O. Churchill, had taken over the Bismarck baseball team.  He was interested in two things, winning games and putting fans in the seats.  Sounds like a familiar philosophy to the New York Yankees.  He felt that the best way to be successful was to bring in the best players that were available.  At this time the best players that could be found for semi-pro ball were playing in the Negro Leagues.

In 1933 Churchill would bring Satchel Paige to North Dakota to be part of a series of games with Bismarck's biggest rival, Jamestown.  The first game of the series would be played on August 13, 1933 in Bismarck.  That game would draw the biggest crowd in North Dakota history for a baseball game.  The record would be broken again in the coming weeks.  All because of the appearances of Paige.  

For Paige the day also brought a first.  The game would be the first time that he played on an integrated team.  Integration had been part of baseball in North Dakota for some time so it was nothing new to the hometown crowd.  But for Paige it was a momentous occasion.
Game 1: Jamestown @ Bismarck
Paige would pitch a tremendous game.  His line for the game 9 IP, 2 ER, 5 H, and a remarkable 18 K.  Bismarck was equally matched in the pitching category by Barney Brown.  His line for the game was 8+ IP, 3 ER, 5 H, and 13 K.  A walk-off hit in the bottom of the 9th would be the difference in this tremendous game. Final score: Bismarck 3 - Jamestown 2
Game 2: Bismarck @ Jamestown
Game 2 in the series would be even more of a pitchers duel than the first.  Bismarck would get out to an early lead but Jamestown came back to tie the score.  After that there was nothing but zeros put on the board by Paige and Brown.  The game would be called due to darkness after 12 innings.  Paige's line was 12 IP, 1 ER, 18 K.  Final score:  Bismarck 1 - Jamestown 1 (12 Innings)

At this point the owners and teams decided to have a state championship series in Bismarck.  This three game series would decided who was number one between these two North Dakota powerhouses.
State Championship Series Game 1
A high scoring affair that would end in another tie.  Paige was not able to pitch because the team was saving him for a better match-up in the pivotal game 2.  Series tied 0-0-1
State Championship Series Game 2
Jamestown had brought in their own ace from the Negro Leagues, Willie Foster.  Paige would once again outpitch his counterpart.  Paige would compile 15 strikeouts in nine innings of work, but more importantly he would have a walk-off hit in the 9th inning.  Bismarck leads series 1-0-1
State Championship Series Game 3
Jamestown had used up all of the pitching in the first two games so the third game didn't have the heroics of the previous games.  Bismarck would win easily.  Paige had helped Bismarck to win the State Championship Series.  Bismarck wins series 2-0-1

Satchel Paige's legend was beginning to grow in North Dakota.  There is more to the tale but that part of the legend is for another day.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Zach Greinke to the Twins trade rumors

The Twins have been watching this postseason and noticing that the teams fighting a trip to the World Series all have an ace (or multiple aces) to lead their pitching staff.  So the Twins and their fans are searching hard for their own ace to help push them over the top for next season.

The name that has popped up the most over the last week or so is Zach Greinke of the Kansas City Royals.  He is under contract for the next two seasons so trading for Greinke could demand quite a price.  He is still fairly young and he already has one Cy Young Award on his resume.

The problem with Greinke's contract is that he has a no-trade clause.  This clause only lasts until the end of next season.  Jon Paul Morosi of MLB Buzz wrote the following about the details of Greinke's contract:

-During the 2009 and 2010 seasons, Greinke was able to block trades to 20 teams.

-In 2011, that protection drops to 15 teams..

-This year, the clause would have permitted the Royals to trade him to mostly small-market teams, including the Tampa Bay Rays.  Greinke could have blocked deals to the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, among other big-market teams.

If all of this information is true the Twins could have a chance at landing the star pitcher.  Most likely not all of the teams on Greinke's list will be announced so there could be a lot more speculation.  The Twins have fit into the mold of small market team so Greinke might be willing to make the shift to another AL Central team.

According to the Royals Authority blog written by Clark Fosler there has been a shift in the attitude of the Royals in regards to a Greinke trade.  He states that the Royals have shifted from trying to get a "blow our socks off offer" to a "we will discuss reasonable trades offer."  Does that mean that the market might be shrinking for their young star pitcher?  He did have a rough 2010 season so that might be playing a factor in this shift.

The focus for the Twins is coming up with the right package of players to throw at the Royals.  One part of their trade package could be one of the four major league outfielders that the Twins have.  The organization is also very deep at the outfield position at the lower levels so any top prospects might have to come from this pool as well.  Losing an outfielder in a deal wouldn't set the team back too much since the team is so deep.

The package that I can see the Twins offering for Greinke would include:  One of the current outfielders (Kubel, Span, or Young), a high caliber outfield prospect (Revere, Hicks, Arcia), and a pitching prospect (Hendriks, Bullock, Salcedo).

The Twins are not going to part with Kyle Gibson or Alex Wimmers even if the Royals ask for one of them.

Let me know your thoughts on a possible trade for Greinke.  Who would you have in your package of players sent to the Royals?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Debate: Jack Morris's Game 7 vs. other postseason performances

With all of the pitching excellence in this years postseason there have been many that have spent time to look back on some of the dominating pitching performances from past playoffs.

Rob Neyer of broke down the Top 10 Postseason Pitching Performances.  He did this by looking at the scores of the games and what the pitcher did.  This doesn't take into account the team that the pitcher was opposing, the importance of the game, or what round the game was played in.  Many were surprised not because of the games that he had listed, but because of some of the games that were missing from the list.  There was no Sandy Koufax, no Randy Johnson, or, most importantly for Twins fans, no Jack Morris.

USA Today also counted down some of the best postseason pitching performances in their Sports Weekly Top 5 countdown.  This list includes Josh Beckett, Tom Glavine, Mickey Lolich, and the Twins Jack Morris.  Another listed compiled by a blog called Baseball Past & Present (Graham Womack) counts down the top ten pitching performances and has a few different names on the list.  Christy Matthewson, Orel Hershisher, and Curt Schilling all make appearances for their performances.  Jack Morris comes in at number seven.

Rob Neyer has gotten a lot of questions about his list and that might have been what he was going for when he wrote the article.  His response about Jack Morris was quite interesting.  According to Neyer's formula Morris's Game 7 performance only ties him for 69th on the all-time list.

As a fan that shocked me.  69th!?!?  He pitched 10 scoreless innings in the deciding game of a World Series.  How many other people have done that?  Here is a quick clue... it rhymes with zero.  That's right, no one has every done that.  In the age of more importance being placed on relief pitching, this may never happen again.

After my rant I calmed down and decided to revisit that night in October.  How did Black Jack fare against the Braves? 

The one stat that everyone focuses on for Morris in this game is the zero runs allowed over ten innings.  The problem with this stat is that it doesn't show the true nature of this game.  Morris was by no means dominant in the game.  He was able to get out of some rough situations to keep the game scoreless.  He gave up seven hits and walked two batters.  His pitch count made it to 126 with 79 strikes.  All of those strikes added up to eight strikeouts.  In any great pitching performance there needs to be a little luck.  One bounce of the ball or one bad call by an umpire and the game could have a completely different outcome.

In Twins lore there will never be another performance like Jack Morris in Game 7 of the World Series.

It was the crowning moment in arguably the best World Series in history.

If other people don't have it as number one on their list, it is still number one on mine.

NCIS Baseball Dialogue

A reference to baseball was made last night on one of America's most popular shows, NCIS.  I thought it was pretty good so the dialogue is listed below from the conversation.  A quick note on the characters involved in the scene.  The first character to speak is Special Agent Timothy McGee.  He is discussing instant replay in baseball with Special Agent Anthony (Tony) DiNozzo.  Probationary NCIS Agent Ziva David enters the scene shortly.  She is originally from Israel so the two men feel she know little about America's past-time.  The last character to enter is Senior Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs.

(Elevator door opens and DiNozzo and McGee exit)

McGee:  Tony it's the world we live in.  The time has come to embrace change with open arms or we risk further controversy in scoring.

DiNozzo: For once I think you might be right.  You have change my McMind and I thank you Tim.

Ziva: Tony, have you been drinking?

DiNozzo: No (blows into his hand to smell his breathe) Why?

Ziva:  I could have swore that I just heard you thank McGee?

DiNozzo:  I appreciate his insight.

Ziva:  On what?

DiNozzo:  Baseball.

McGee: Specifically the implementation of instant replay in baseball.  We have the technology, why not use it?

DiNozzo:  Bad calls hurt everyone.

Ziva:  I do not know which is more disturbing the fact that you both agree on something or that McGee is a fan of a sport.

McGee:  It's not just that I am a fan Ziva it is also that... I'm...

DiNozzo (cutting McGee off):  AMERICAN.  Alive.  It's October, Ziva.  Reggie Jackson is Mr. October.  Baseball has seeped into the native consciousness of this country.

Ziva:  I do not feel any seeping.

McGee:  Well, maybe you just gotta be born here.

Ziva:  Come on you two.  It's just a game.

DiNozzo: It's our game.  If you build it they will come.  Field of Dreams.  Maybe that is speaking to the immigrant experience.

Ziva:  I did not become an American citizen because of baseball.

DiNozzo:  It's every kids dream.  Even McGee.

McGee:  It's true.  Centerfielder.  Right on the list, right before Imagineer.  It's a hard day when you realize those dreams might not come true.

Gibbs (enters from the background): Gotta keep the dream alive Tim.  Got three people that aren't going to get that chance.

DiNozzo:  Three strikes.

Gibbs: And your out... (End of scene)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Look Back: 2002 ALDS Twins vs. Athletics

With the Championship Series underway in both leagues, let's take a look back at the last time that the Twins made it to the championship round of the playoffs.  The journey there started with an upset in the first round of the playoffs.

Just how big of an upset was the 2002 ALDS between the Minnesota Twins and the Oakland Athletics?

The A's were winners of 103 games.  Their team was stacked with young talent.  They would go on to sweep the two most prestigious awards of the regular season, the AL MVP and ML Cy Young.  Oakland did so well during the early 2000's that a book was written by Michael Lewis.  That book is being made into a movie staring Brad Pitt as the General Manager of the A's, Billy Beane.

The Twins had only won 94 games.  They were recovering from the brink of being contracted less than a year before.  ESPN the Magazine proclaimed them "The Team that Saved Baseball."  They had come back from their deathbed to be a thriving franchise in Major League Baseball.  To this day it is one of my favorite magazine covers that features the Twins.
Game 1:  Featured a late-inning power surge from the Twins.  Both Corey Koskie and Doug Mientkiewicz hit homeruns and the Twins squeaked out a win 7-5.  Brad Radke only lasted five innings and gave up all five Oakland runs.  But Johan Santana, JC Romero, and Eddie Guardado put all zeros on the board and allowed the Twins to get back in the game.

Game 2:  The Twins got smoked 9-1.  Joe Mays only lasted three innings.  But the Twins had done what they needed to in Oakland they had managed to get homefield advantage from the A's.

Game 3:  As fast as the Twins had gained homefield from the A's they had lost it.  The Twins bullpen only added to the lead that Oakland had accumulated.  The A's turned the Metrodome into their own HomerDome.  It looked like the bash brothers of the 1980's with the four homeruns that the A's hit.  They won the game 6-3 on the strength of those homeruns.

Game 4:  The Twins looked strong in this do-or-die game.  They pushed eleven runs across the plate and chased Oakland starter Tim Hudson from the game early.  The A's had gotten the split they needed in the Dome.  The Twins left the Dome with something to prove in Oakland.

Game 5:  One game would decided who would qualify for the ALCS.  Both starters allowed minimual runs for the first seven or so innings.  The inning that became interesting was the 9th.  The Twins had a 3-2 lead entering the top of the ninth inning.  They would go on to add three insurance runs.  The problem was they would need every one of them.  The A's would add three runs of their own off of Guardado before he was able to get the final out.

Series Highlights:

Pitcher of the Series:  Brad Radke was the winning pitcher in two of the three wins.  His ERA was a miniscual 1.54.  He didn't pitch long into each of his starts but he kept his team in the game and allowed them to win.  Something he did for most of his career with the Twins.

Batter of the Series:  There are a few players that had big series for the Twins.  Koskie only had three hits in the series but he had a team leading five RBI.  Mientkiewicz had two homeruns and four RBI but only batted .250 for the series.  The strongest batter for the series, as much as I now hate to say it, was AJ Pierzynski.  His stats for the series included a .438 batting average, four RBI, a homerun, a triple, and an OPS of 1.250.

For a full breakdown of the statistics check out the Twins vs. A's ALDS page on Baseball

Monday, October 18, 2010

Collection of Mauer Commercials

Joe Mauer has proven over the last couple years that he can not only be an MVP but he can also market himself very well.  Here is a collection of some of the commercials that he has done during that time.  Turns out his mom might be just as famous as he is.  Enjoy.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

New Twins Songs Available on iTunes

Just a quick note to let everyone know that both of the new Twins songs from this season are now available on iTunes.  If you like what you hear below, make sure to pick up your copies today.

Here is what "Don't Call Them Twinkies" sounds like.  It's written and performed by the Baseball Project featuring Craig Finn of the Hold Steady.  You can download it from iTunes by clicking here.

Here is the video for "Thome at the Plate."  It is written and performed by the Whipkey Three.  If you want it from iTunes, click here.

Thome At The Plate - Whipkey Three from Nick Neary on Vimeo.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Kirby Puckett: The Infielder?

I was recently perusing through my Kirby Puckett trading cards from my youth and I stumbled across a very interesting card.  It shows Kirby Puckett in a position that seemed extremely odd to me.  He is standing near 2nd base and trying to tag out a runner stealing that base.  

The card is a 1996 Upper Deck #130.  Another oddity about the card is that it came out the year after he was done playing.  Possibly explaining the interesting choice for the picture.  As you can see in the card, listed right below his name is the position he plays, OF.  That could be very confusing for a young collector.  What is an outfielder doing in the infield trying to picking off runners?

The back of the card also show Kirby standing in his defensive ready position in the infield.  He looks very focused and ready to play a position he was not accustom to.  The one problem might be that it certainly looks like he is using his larger outfield glove at his infield position.  A spot usually reserved for smaller gloves.

This got me curious about Kirby and his infield experience at the majors.  In his entire career, Puckett played parts of 11 games at three infield positions.  All of these games were in the 1990, 1992, and 1995 seasons.

The position in the infield that Puckett had the most experience at was third base.  He played in a total of four games at this position during his career.  His totals at 3B include 3.1 innings.  These innings included 14 plate appearances but he never had a ball hit his way while he played the hot corner.  

His second base experience includes four games and a total of 2.1 innings.  There were eight batters that stepped to the plate and saw Puckett at 2B.  Out of all of the infield positions he played this is the only one that included an assist from Puckett.  His career fielding percentage from 2B is a perfect 1.000 in one chance.  His best fielding percentage of any position that he played.

The final position that Puckett played in the infield was shortstop.  He played SS in three different games but the weird thing is he only managed to rack up 0.1 innings at the position.  He saw a total of three batters while he played SS and the Twins only managed to get one of them out.  

Puckett doesn't have a long resume in the major leagues as a infielder, but it did happen.  And his career fielding percentage as an infielder will always be perfect.  

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Cliff Lee: Was he the missing piece?

The one surprise team to make it out of the first round might have been the Texas Rangers.  The reason for this surprise birth in the ALCS was one player, Cliff Lee.

The Rangers traded away prospects to get Cliff Lee as a rental player for the last few months of the season.  Lee is a free agent at the end of the year and will receive a huge contract from one of the teams in New York.  He has led the Rangers to their first playoff series win ever.  Yes, the Texas Rangers were the only Major League Baseball team to have never won a playoff series.  Now they have won and Cliff Lee was a major part of that Division Series win.

For Twins fans the question remains, was Cliff Lee the missing piece for this season?  Could Lee have led the Twins past the Yankees?

Cliff Lee has a tremendous postseason resume.  For his career he is 6-0 with a 1.44 ERA.  The more important thing for Twins fans is two of those wins came in the World Series last year against the Yankees.  He has beat the Yankees in a home game.  He has gone into Yankee Stadium and beat the Yankees.  The Yankees themselves admit that they are scared of Cliff Lee.

The Twins could have used someone to strike a little fear into the Bronx Bombers.  The problem was Mariners were asking for too much from the Twins.  Bill Smith won't admit what the Mariners were asking for but there are a few names that have been thrown out that the Twins wouldn't part with.

Kyle Gibson and Aaron Hicks were not going to be switching teams at the trade deadline.  The Twins pride themselves on keeping young talent and molding it to fit their system.  Both of these players are part of the Twins long-term plan and they weren't going to trade them for a player that is a rental.

Wilson Ramos was the one major prospect that the Twins were willing to deal this season.  Having signed Joe Mauer to a long-term deal in the off season, the Twins didn't need another catcher.  Ramos did the one thing the Twins couldn't have him do this season.  He wasn't having that great of a year.  His numbers were down a little and he seemed to have a few different injuries.  The Twins and their fans had a very high value for Ramos.  The problem was the Mariners didn't value him as much as the other deals that were on the table.

The Twins stick to the same philosophy when it come to drafting and developing players.  They feel like they do a good job with raising their players so they value their prospects very high.  This plan has worked for the Twins over the last decade.  Gibson and Hicks will play a major role in the Twins organization for the greater portion of the next decade.  Cliff Lee would have played a role in one postseason.  The problem is the postseason is what everyone will remember.

Would Cliff Lee have been the kryptonite that the Twins needed to defeat the Superman that is the New York Yankees?

No one will ever know.

But as the ALCS gets played I won't stop thinking of what might have been for the Twins and their could have been ace.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Star Tribune Ad: Thank You from the Twins

The Star Tribune ran a thank you advertisement in today's sports section.  It featured some great pictures and heartfelt message:

To Sunny Days.  To Division Titles.  To Speed Squirrels.  And to Over Three Million Faithful.  

2010.  It was quite the incredible year.  From opening a new ballpark, to putting up 94 wins and capturing the Central Division title, it was a year that will be indelibly etched into our memory.

True, the ending was not the one everyone hoped for.  But as we reflect on the year, you can be certain this disappointment will only breed a deeper commitment.  

It started with the opening of a new ballpark.  Target Field.  A glimmering 40,000-seat testament to the beauty of outdoor baseball.  A seemingly magical ballpark that opened to the waiting eyes of the faithful from every corner of Twins Territory.  With wonderful views and wide-open skies that were perfect for fireworks and flyovers.  There were shimmering walls.  Natural grass.  Memorable statues.  Sun-drenched outfield.  Star-filled nights. And a 100% electric atmosphere.

And there was baseball.  Baseball as only the Twins can play.  Denard's day of three baggers.  Justin's amazing start.  Frankie's pitching, Carl's 'stache and Gardy's 800th win.  Numbers 573 and 574 off the bat of the ageless Jim Thome.  There was Danny Valencia's beginning.  There was Delmon Young and his extensive RBI collection.

There was Cuddy doing whatever it took to win, while the local hero, Joe Mauer, ripped the cover off the ball during a second-half hitting tear.  And there was a new clubhouse, baptized with its first playoff champagne.

Then there were those moments that can't be scripted.  A rainbow landing in right field.  A falcon perched on a foul pole.  A squirrel that wanted to play third base.  And of course, there was a sunny, 65-degree day in April that cosmically welcomed baseball's return to the great Minnesota outdoors. 

But mostly, most importantly, there was you.  Over three million of you, clad with Twins red and blue, cheering with all the gusto you have, making Target Field the greatest place in the world to be.  We re grateful.  

So here's to you.  
Thank you.

Ron Gardenhire: Is he the right manager for the Twins?

According Twins CEO Jim Pohlad, Ron Gardenhire will get a contract extension to stay with the Twins (Pohlad: Gardenhire will get extension).  Gardenhire is signed to manage the hometown team for next season so there are good odds that he will be at the helm of the Twins squad at least through the 2013 season.

There have been many during this season that have questioned Gardenhire's ability as a manager.  Some have gone as far as to say that Gardenhire should be fired.

Gardenhire's regular season resume is very impressive.  In his first nine seasons as manager he has guided the Twins to six division crowns.  There could have been a seventh title if the Twins could have found a way to win Game 163 in 2008.  He has had his team in position to win the division in 78% of the seasons he has been manager.  The only season he has had a losing record was 2007.  He has been runner up for manager of the year multiple times and he has a good shot to win the award this season.  That is quite a run in the regular season.

One of the major problems for Gardenhire has been his lack of postseason success.  In his first season with the team he took the Twins to the ALCS.  Other than that the Twins have trounced in the ALDS.  Since that 2002 season the Twins have only won two playoff games.  Both in a stadium that no longer exists, the original Yankee Stadium.

So the question remains, is Ron Gardenhire the right manager for the Minnesota Twins?

The Top Reasons to keep Ron Gardenhire:

1.  He leads the team to the playoffs almost every season.
There is only one way to win the World Series and that is to be in the playoffs.  Gardenhire's results speak for themselves.  He can get the Twins into the postseason tournament almost every season.  It doesn't matter who he has for pitchers, infields, or outfielders.  The Twins are going to be in the playoffs or have themselves in position to make it.

2.  He is a very player friendly coach.
Twins players, for the most part, tend to get along with and respect Ron Gardenhire.  Gardenhire has dealt with all of the players that have been difficult to deal with, even some hot headed players in the past.  His ability to manage personalities and lead them to success on the field has been one of the best in the American League over the past decade.

3.  He fits with the style of play that the Twins have developed successfully over the years.
The Twins have tended to follow the same philosophy as the team has been winning division titles.  Defense has been more important than offense.  Gardenhire has shown that he will play higher caliber defensive players over players with stronger offensive stats that are weaker defensively.  Also having pitchers throw strikes is another philosophy that has succeeded. Gardenhire and his coaches have made lower level pitchers succeed because they throw the ball over the plate and make the batter make the mistake.

The Top Reasons to fire Ron Gardenhire:

1.  He can't win in the playoffs.
This is very simple.  The Twins haven't been able to win a World Series while he has been manager.  They have had teams that were capable of being champions but they have all fallen short of that goal.  The Twins have made the playoffs time and time again.  It is time to make a statement that says we are not satisfied with what we have done.  We want more.

2.  His in game management is questionable.
Throughout the season there are always questionable decisions that a manager makes.  In the postseason those mistakes are magnified even more.  One example from Game 1 of the ALDS is written about here at CBS SportsLine (For change's sake, Gardenhire should have changed pitcher).  Many argued that his line-up needed a change for Game 3 of the ALDS.  His only change was to move Jason Kubel up in the batting order.  That plan failed miserably with Kubel going 0-4.

3.  He doesn't seem to be able to fire up his players. 
The team has looked defeated when the get behind.  He often gets thrown out of games to fire up the team but even that doesn't work sometimes because he does it so often.  The team looks scared in the playoffs.  Scared to make a mistake, scared to make a play, and scared to find a way to win.  That falls back on the manager and his ability to motivate his players.

My Take on Ron Gardenhire:
     The Twins have already said that Ron Gardenhire will be manager of their team for years to come.  I think that this is the right decision.  Gardenhire continues to lead the team to the playoffs almost every season.  The only way to win the World Series is to make the playoffs.  Once you reach the playoffs anything can happen.  Look at the Rays and Rangers series that ended last night.  The Rays were the number one seed entering the AL Playoffs and they got knocked out in the first round.  A perfect example of how anything can happen in the playoffs. 
      Gardenhire's coaching style has been very conducive to the players that have come through the Twins organization.  There have been many players that have succeeded while with the Twins and then gone on to be less successful in other settings.  This is a direct reflection of the style of play that the manager has used.  Defense and pitching have been the strong point for the Twins during Gardenhire's years at the helm.  They will continue to be important as the Twins go forward with Gardenhire

Co-Host on the Weekly Twins Podcast

Listen in as I co-host the Weekly Minnesota Twins Podcast.  We talked about a lot of different topics including the regular season, the quick end to the postseason, if Ron Gardenhire should be fired, and some of the offseason moves that the Twins will face.  There was a lot to talk about, so listen in. 

Listen to internet radio with SethSpeaks on Blog Talk Radio

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Reflection on the Twins 2010 Season

My hope is that everyone is coping with their grief at the loss of the Twins 2010 season. In my post yesterday I wrote about the steps each one of us has to go through at the end of the season (The Stages of Grief at the End of the Season). But the time has come to move past the grief and to reflect on the team and season that was in 2010.

Here are my top 8 headlines from the 2010 Season that are listed, for the most part, in the order in which they occurred (below each headline there are links to posts I wrote throughout the 2010 season about each topic):

1. Joe Nathan's arm injury- This injury impacted much of the 2010 season. The Twins spent the end of Spring Training searching for a closer. Jon Rauch did a very good job in this role for the first half of the season. He did much better than I thought he would do. The Twins spent the second half of the season bolstering their bullpen. By the end of the season the Twins would have three closers on their team with over 20 saves. Matt Capps and Brian Fuentes both were brought in to help fill the void left by Nathan.

2010 Posts about the Twins Closer Role:

2. Joe Mauer's contract and his follow-up to his MVP season- There was a lot of media attention given to the Twins during Spring Training as the team was trying to come to terms with the face of their franchise. Joe Mauer was coming off of his best season of his major league career. Mauer would get his contract for 8-years and $184 million. Mauer would go on to have a very good season. He doesn't have a chance to win the MVP again but it was still well played, Mauer. His power numbers decreased because of the way that balls carry at Target Field. Mauer was on pace for a record amount of doubles for a catcher but being beat-up at the end of the season stopped that pace. At the end of the season he is the best player on the team and he was my pick for the Twins MVP for the 2010 season.

2010 Posts about Joe Mauer:

3. The Opening of Target Field- There has been anticipation of a new stadium from Twins fans for the better portion of a decade. The Opening of Target Field surpassed all of those expectations. It is everything that the Metrodome wasn't. A beautiful outdoor ballpark that had connections to all of Twins Territory. From the statues on Target Plaza to the limestone that graces it's outer shell, there is something for every Twins fan to enjoy. As a fan I couldn't wait to get in the doors. The Season Ticket Holder Open house was my first trip there and I remember being in awe of the entire experience. My buddies and I even had a local TV station follow us around on Opening Day. Target Field will be the focal point of the warehouse district and downtown Minneapolis for decades to come.

2010 Posts about Target Field:

4. Justin Morneau goes from fighting for an MVP to fighting off headaches- For the second straight season Justin Morneau was not in the middle of the Twins line-up for the postseason. Morneau had an amazing start to the season and was in contention to be the MVP of the American League. He was voted starter for the All-Star Game but an accident happened shortly before the game that would keep him out the rest of the season. Morneau's head collided with the knee of the Blue Jays John McDonald. Morneau wouldn't play in a game for the rest of the season. The symptoms never left him. It will be interesting to see if this injury carries over into next season. As a Twins fan I am still worried about him.

2010 Posts about Justin Morneau:

5. Jim Thome hits the ball far...really far- With Morneau's injury there was a hole to fill in the line-up. That hole was filled with the bat of a future hall-of-famer, Jim Thome. For years Thome had been an enemy for the Minnesota Twins, so it was finally nice to see him hitting homeruns for the good guys. Thome seem to be able to hit shots out of Target Field that no one else could. Ron Gardenhire even compared him to a living Babe Ruth this season. There were many memorable moments with Thome this season. He passed Harmon Killebrew on the all-time homerun list. He hit the walk-off extra-inning homerun against the White Sox at Target Field. He hit the top of the flag pole with a shot that seemed like it would never land. He even had a new song written about him. Quite the year for Jim Jam.

2010 Posts about Jim Thome:

6. The emergence of Danny Valencia- The plan for 3rd base in Spring Training was to use both Nick Punto and Brendan Harris. There were injuries and sub-par play from both of these players and this lead to a change. Twins fans have heard a lot about Danny Valencia in recent years. He was always suppose to be the Twins 3rd baseman of the future. In 2010 the future finally came. Danny Valencia burst onto the scene and locked up the 3rd base job for the foreseeable future. He had walk-off hits, big home runs, and played outstanding defense at the hot corner. Overall a very memorable rookie campaign. It will be great to see what he can do next year in a full season of play at the big league level.

2010 Posts about Danny Valencia:

7. Francisco Liriano reemerges as "The Franchise"- The hype surrounding Francisco Liriano last offseason was the fact that he had regained his form in the Dominican Winter League. These rumors turned out to be true. In Spring Training there was a chance that Liriano was going to take on the closer role. Thank goodness that never happened. Liriano quietly became the ace of the staff in 2010. He led the starting staff in ERA and strikeouts. When Liriano was a rookie he was given the nickname "The Franchise." He may be the hope of the franchise as they are searching for an ace at the front of their rotation in the coming years.

2010 Posts about Francisco Liriano:

8. The Race with the White Sox- The White Sox became the rival that the Twins fought with to regain the AL Central Championship. For a major portion of the season either team could have come out on top. In the middle portion of the season the Tigers were also ahead of the Twins. A second half surge pushed the Twins to the top of the pile. The Twins were the superior team and won their sixth division title in the past nine seasons. The Twins had a very good season and ended the year with 94 wins.

2010 Posts about the AL Central Race:

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Stages of Grief at the End of the Season

Many Twins fans are feeling the same kind of pain as the conclusion of the season approached much faster than anyone had anticipated.

Fans are going through the grieving process that comes at the season's end.

Here is a look at the stages of grief and how they fit in with your recovery from Minnesota Twins grief.

The 7 Stages of Grief (as a Minnesota Twins Fan)...

1. Shock and Denial- This portion of the grief process can last for multiple weeks.
"There is no way the season is over."
"The Yankees ended the season horribly and they don't have any starting pitching. They can't beat us."
"We had home field advantage. We couldn't lose two games in front of out hometown crowd."

2. Pain and Guilt- You may feel guilty about the things you didn't accomplish with your team this season.
"They could have been champions."
"This was our year. The team and stadium were built for October."
"I could have cheered louder at the playoff games"

3. Anger and Bargaining- You might start blaming others for the end of the season.
"Why did Joe Nathan have to get hurt?"
"It was Justin Morneau's fault. He should have been able to come back."
"Ron Gardenhire made all the wrong moves."

4. Depression, Reflection, Loneliness- You finally realize the true loss of the season.
"This might have been one of the best Twins teams ever."
"The magic had been there all season. It should have carried over."
"The Twins line-up was filled veterans and stars. It was perfect from top to bottom."

5. The Upward Turn- Your depression begins to lift.
"There won't be any more planning my schedule around baseball games."
"The Twins can spend the off-season getting healthy and prepared for next season."

6. Reconstruction and Working Through- You try to find realistic solutions to the problems that ended the season.
"The Twins need to re-sign Jim Thome. He deserves another season."
"The Twins need to keep their bullpen depth at the highest level."
"The Twins need a top of the line starter."

7. Acceptance and Hope- You find a way forward and start planning for the future.
"There is always next season."


Leave a comment. What stage in the grieving process are you in?