Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Dumatrait closer to the "Circle of Trust"

Dumatrait showed life out of the 'pen (Photo: US Presswire)
The Twins lost another heartbreaker on Monday afternoon. There have been many stories out there about the play that allowed the winning run to score for the Tigers. From all of the replays that have been shown, it seems the umpires blew the call on a hit that bounced into the stand. It stinks for the Twins to lose a game on a call like that but the team was in the position to win.

One positive that came out of the game on Monday could have been the signs of life that the bullpen showed in the late innings. Nick Blackburn started the game for the Twins and was removed in the seventh inning after giving up a walk and a single to start the inning. This meant that the Twins turned to the bullpen with runners on the corners and nobody out in a tie game.

The Twins first turned to Jim Hoey to try and get out of the mess in the seventh. Twins fans have been harsh on Hoey in his first year with the club. This can be understandable with some of the performances he has shown on the field. Even his hometown newspaper is following his up and down season thus far. After an eight pitch at-bat Hoey walked Ryan Raburn to load the bases. After that Hoey was able to strikeout Austin Jackson on six pitches with all three strikes being called strikes.

The biggest pitches came off of the arm of the next pitcher that entered the game. Phil Dumatrait entered the game in a situation where the bullpen is accustomed to giving up multiple runs this season. The bases were loaded with only one out. The Tigers sent a pinch hitter to the plate in the form of Casper Wells. Dumatrait took care of Wells quickly on only four pitches with the strikeout. The next batter was Brennan Boesch and Dumatrait was able to coax a ground out on the third pitch to end the inning.

With the bullpen in charge, the crisis was averted for what seems like the first time this season. To say the bullpen of the Twins has been a disaster this year, would be an understatement. In previous years, this would have been just another outing for the arms in the Twins bullpen. The Crains or Guerriers of the world would have stepped in and saved the day. That story-line has not played out the same way in 2011.

The Twins need to see some life in the arms out of the bullpen. This appearance from Dumatrait could be the spark that leads him to having a more important role on the team. With Glen Perkins on the DL, there are very few arms that Twins fans can trust in the late innings. Dumatrait could work his way into the "Circle of Trust" for Twins fans.
Dumatrait is closer, but not there yet
This could have been a fluke outing for the bullpen. But I think all Twins fans are hoping that this is the first sign of life from a team that needs a lot of life to get back in contention for the 2011 season.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Debate over collisions at home

Posey's season ending injury
There has been much talk in the last week over collisions at home plate between catchers and baserunners. Buster Posey, a budding superstar and catcher for the World Series Champions, was run over at home plate by Florida's Scott Cousins. Posey suffered a leg fracture and torn ligaments that will cost him the rest of his season. The play was a hard hit but it was by no means a dirty play. Posey was the NL Rookie of the Year and a spark plug for a team that fought their way to a World Championship. The Giants are fighting for the top spot in the NL West but they will be forced to do it without the services of Mr. Posey.

In the days since this rough collision, the debate has come up about whether these hard take-outs at home should be allowed. The catching position can be one of the most important on the field. The Twins have spent millions of dollars on Joe Mauer to be their catcher over the next decade. Teams like San Francisco and Minnesota rely on the offense, defense, and control of the pitching staff that each of their stars provide. Each team will suffer in all of these areas with their stars not on the field.

The catcher position is the only one on the field that allows a player to wear various forms of protection on his chest, legs, and head. This protection does not stop catcher from getting blind-sided by a runner before he receives the ball. If a catcher is going to line-up in front of the plate and attempt a block, there is a good chance that a collision will occur. It is part of the game but should it still be part of the game?

These hard hits at the plate have been allowed in the game of baseball for decades. One of the most famous collisions occurred in the 1970 All-Star Game when Pete Rose bowled over Ray Fosse.  Fosse's left shoulder was injured on the play and he, at age 23, was never the same player again.  He was an All-Star at a very young age and had hit 16 HR in the first half of 1970. In the years after the collision, he would never hit more than 12 HR in a season. 
Fosse would never be the same after this run-in with Rose
What if Posey's career is never the same because of this collision? Will his name be mentioned in the same sentence as Fosse?

During this season, the Twins are seeing what life can be like without Joe Mauer in the middle of their line-up. What if a collision happens with Mauer after he regains his health and returns to the line-up? There would be an outcry from fans for a rule change to be made. Especially with the amount of money that the Twins have invested in their hometown star. 

I feel that the collisions at home-plate will continue to be part of the game. As a Twins fan, I remember how valuable a collision can be to the spirit of the team. At the end of July in 2004, Torii Hunter leveled White Sox catcher Jamie Burke on a play at the plate. The rivalry between these two clubs only increased from this point. The play also spirited the Twins for the rest of the season and pushed them to their third consecutive AL Central Division Championship.
Hunter's collision against the White Sox
Baseball is very tradition oriented when it comes to rules changes and it will take a lot more than one fluke play for these types of hard hits to be taken out of the game. If more catching stars continue to be injured, there will be an outcry from the fans for this rule to change. Policing a change to this rule could be a hard shift for some players. I doubt a major change will be happening in the near future. 

Friday, May 27, 2011

My View of Killebrew's Memorial

Killebrew's statue on Target Plaza
It was a long, emotional night at Target Field in honor of the great Harmon Killebrew.

I arrived shortly before four o'clock to stake out my place at the front of the line. I wanted to get there early see Harmon's Hall of Fame plaque near his statue. I also wanted to get as close as I could to the field for the event. I was lucky enough to secure a seat in the Champion's Club and this gave me a wonderful view of the service from an excellent seat.

There were some great memories shared by family and friends of the man that has meant so much to the Twins organization. The two speeches that were the most emotional to get through were given by Nita Killebrew, Harmon's wife, and by Rod Carew, the Hall-of-Fame player. After both of these speeches, there could not be a dry eye in the house.

Another moment that sticks out in my mind is the image of Jim Thome sitting in the furthest possible seat away from home plate at Target Field. It is the only seat in the ballpark that is over 500 feet away, a distance that Harmon matched with a HR at Met Stadium. Thome would start the night in the upper deck waving Killebrew's jersey for all to see and by the end of the night he was reduced to tears.

There were so many memories that I will cherish for this night. A stunning rendition of "What a Wonderful World" by Jim "Mudcat" Grant, the helicopter views of the #3 train making it's way to Target Field, and the video tributes to the Twins hero are now etched into the recesses of my mind.

It has been a long night for all Twins fans and below you will find some of the pictures I took this evening. But before you look at those, take time to visit the other two links that I have provided. The Minnesota Twins are encouraging donations to be made to the Harmon Killebrew Foundation. Harmon had a lot of things that he wanted to accomplish and donations to his foundation can pave the way to his Legacy Program. The other link is to the organization that Nita Killebrew mentioned in her wonderful speech, Stand-Up to Cancer. Please visit these sites and consider making a donation to their cause.

Click image to donate

Click image to donate
Here are a few of the other pictures I took last night:
Killebrew on the Twins Tower

Fans lined up at Gate 14

Twins fans cheering for Harmon
Killebrew's Hall of Fame Plaque
The view from out seats

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The ABCs of Losing

The Twins continue to find new ways to lose games over the first portion of the season. The Twins have made losing as easy as ABC.

A~ Anemic: lacking power, vigor, vitality, or colorfulness; listless; weak: "an anemic effort"

The Twins have been anemic on many levels this season. The offense has struggled, the defense has been shaky, and the bullpen has been a train-wreck. An anemic effort has been on display in the majority of the games and that is how you create a last place team.

B~ Bautistaed: allowing one player on the opposition to hit multiple homeruns in a pitcher friendly ball mark "The Twins got bautistaed when Toronto visited Target Field"

No opponent has made Target Field look smaller than Tony Bautista. Morneau complained about the distances of the fences at Target Field in the offseason. Imagine what Bautista could do with even smaller confines at Target Field.

C~Cappsized: the inability of a relief pitcher to be successful in long relief outings. "In his second inning of work the pitcher Cappsized."

As I wrote about earlier this week, it has been a struggle for Capps to help the Twins when he is asked to pitcher more than an inning. He is the only current Twins relief pitcher that is healthy and can be relied upon. But the reliance on Capps, can't be for more than one inning.

D~Delmon-botchery: taking an awkward path to retrieving a ball hit to the outfield; the ability to give up on a play completely, "That play was a Delmon-botchery"

Young has never been know for outstanding defensive plays. His defense seems to be getting worse before it gets better.  The play that most comes to mind is the one the Span had to retrieve the ball in LF that Young had given up on. Also see: Error proned

E~Error proned: capable of making an error, "All Twins middle infielders are error-proned."

There seems to be trepidation every time a middle infielder touches the ball. Fans have to hold their breath and hope that the ball doesn't end up in the first row of seats. This could be the result of all of the many different combination of players that have manned the middle infield for the Twins of Minnesota. Also see: Delmon-botchery

F~Farmers Market: using a team's farm system extensively in the first portion of the season. "The Twins have had a farmers market in 2011."

The path between Rochester and Minnesota has been well worn this year. The frequent flyer miles have been racked up for players that have made multiple trips along this path. Pitchers, catchers, outfielders, and infielders; every position has been impacted by a move to Rochester. Also see: Rene-overload

G~General manager: the man in charge of assembling the team on the field through contract negotiations, free agent signings, drafting, etc. "The general manager was blamed for the poor start to the year"

People will always search for someone to blame when the going gets tough. In baseball one of the easiest people to blame is the general manager. There have been many excuses so far this year. The team didn't bring back the right parts for the bullpen. The contract for Pavano was too much. There is too much money tied up in Capps and Nathan.

H~Hat Trick: striking out three times in one game. "Valencia's third strikeout completed the hat trick."

There have been multiple batters that have accomplished this feat in the 2011 season. Young hitters and veteran hitters have fallen victim to the swing and miss K. Some players have even gotten the hat trick plus one. Four K's and the walk of shame back to the dugout.

I~In the hole: one of the usual places where a ground ball must go for a hit, "The infielder dove into the hole;" an unfavorable count for the pitcher or the batter, "The pitcher was in the hole 2-0 to the batter"

The Twins have been in almost every hole they could be in this season. The hitters on the Twins can not find the hole with their hits. Some of the pitchers seem to be always pitching from in the hole. The Twins are also in a hole in the division that is going to be tough to recover from; A deep hole to say the least.

J~Justin time: the amount of time it takes a former MVP to regain form after a devastating concussion, "Morneau was keeping Justin time in his return"

It has been a struggle watching Morneau at the plate this year. Something is still not right with his timing. There is frustration on the face of the slugger with every pitch that he just misses. He has been in the line-up every day trying to get his timing back. But the amount of time this transition has taken is tough for fans to endure.

K~Kubelrific: one player trying to carry the offensive load for an entire team "The way Jason has been playing is Kubelrific"

Kubel has been one of the bright spots for the Twins this year. The issue is he can not be the only player that is an offensive force for a club. The Twins have shown that they are not able to win many games when Kubel is the only one producing for them.

L~Leg Weakness: a disease that impacts a player who is entering the first year of a mega-contract. "The player missed lots of time because of leg weakness."

Many Twins fans had never heard of this ailment before Joe Mauer was diagnosed with it earlier this year. To some the condition is still hard to understand. Bilateral leg weakness is now a staple in the language of Twins Territory.

M~Mendoza line: a batting average of .200. Named after former major leaguer Mario Mendoza. "Butera struggled to stay near the Mendoza line." Also see: O-fer

The Twins have six position players that are on or below the Mendoza line. Some of these players have missed time and others have been sent back to Rochester. Repko, Rivera, Tosoni, Tolbert, Butera, and Holm are the culprits that are struggling to reach this lower level target for hitters. Also see: O-fer, Zeroitis

N~Nishied: to get taken out on a hard slide at second base, "That player just got Nishied."

Fans only got a short taste of their newest Japanese import. He has yet to have the opportunity to play in a game in front of the hometown crowd. Adjusting to the sport of baseball in America is going to take even longer with his extended time on the DL

O~O-fer: when a batter is unable to record a hit in a game, "Hughes had an o-fer last night"

It seems as if every in-game box score from FSNorth has players up and down the line-up that are suffering from an o-fer. This leads to quick innings from the opposing pitcher and less time spent against the other team's bullpen. It is hard to score runs if no one is getting on base. Also see: Mendoza line, Zeroitis

P~Pitch-to-contact: a pitcher who doesn't try to strike batters out but instead tries to get them to hit the ball weakly, especially on the ground; "The Twins tried to make Liriano pitch-to-contact." 

This phrase has been part of the Twins lexicon since the Tom Kelly era. When pitchers do not have outstanding "stuff," this seems like a decent strategy to employ. The problem is that Liriano can have dominating "stuff" and it does not make sense to pitch to contact.

Q~Quality start: when a pitcher completes at least six innings and allows three or fewer earned runs. "The starting rotation struggled to get quality starts"

The Twins starters have been having a tough time reaching the sixth inning while allowing less than three runs. In less than 50% of their games, the Twins starting pitchers have gotten a quality start. This adds even more pressure to the bullpen that is already having difficulties. Also see: Cappsized, Sloweyitis

R~Rene-overload: the results of having too many Rene's on one major league roster. "There was a Rene-overload in the batting order last night" 

At the beginning of the season, most fans were unfamiliar with the Twins having any Renes on their hometown team. Injuries led to there being more than one Rene in the field of play for the Twins. That is just too many Renes. Also see: Farmer's Market

S~ Sloweyitis: a disease caused by a former starting pitcher pushing the team to get rid of the player, "Kevin caught Sloweyitis and it moved him to the DL" 

The Twins are very close to dumping Mr. Slowey on some other team. He has struggled to adjust to his role as a relief pitcher. This has caused a lot of tension between the player and the Twins. Adios, Kevin.

T~Twin killing: a double play or when a team is out of the race by the end of May. "Morneau hit into a twin killing" 

The batters for the Twins have racked up their fair share of double plays this year. Before Mauer went to the DL, he seemed to be a machine at producing the rally ending twin killing. The Twins also find themselves well out of any playoff race and it's not even the end of May.

U~Utility player: A bench player that is capable of playing several different defensive positions. "The utility player keyed a late inning rally"

There have been quite the range of utility players on the Twins this year. Tolbert, Casilla, Hughes, and Cuddyer have all found themselves shifted to multiple defensive positions. With the exception of Cuddyer, none of these players has shown the ability to stay in the line-up as an everyday player. Too many utility players is not a good thing.

V~Valen-See-A- Slump : a second year player syndrome that impacts the batting average of a sophomore player. "Danny was in a Valen-See-A-Slump"

If you focus on Valencia's RBI and homerun totals, you might think he was having a decent year. The negative side is that his batting average is creeping closer to the Mendoza line. In fact, during his last ten games he is batting below the Mendoza line. Not the start the Twins had in mind for their up-and-coming third baseman. 

W~Watching a car wreck: a phase to describe the inability of a person to turn away from an accident as it is happening, even though it is hard to watch. "The end of the game was like watching a car wreck"

Most of the season has felt like this for Twins fans. One thing after another continues to haunt this team. Fans will continue to watch because of the connection to the squad, but it will be interesting to see how full Target Field is during the fall. 

X~Xtreme Rehabbing: when a team has more regular players on rehab assignment than in the starting line-up on a given day. "The Xtreme Rehabbing in Florida was tough on the line-up"

The injury list for the Twins has been non-stop this season. As soon as the Twins get one player back, a couple more players end up needing time to recover from an ailment. The DL list currently sits at five players and waiting for their return is another task in itself.

Y~Young and restless: a team relying on young talent to try and succeed in tough baseball league. "The young and restless Twins were having a difficult time on the field."

Relying on young players was something the Twins had to do in order to field a line-up at different times this season. A lot of these young outfielders and infielders weren't ready for the major league level yet. Their restlessness could be the cause of the many of the words on this list.

ZZerophobia: The tendency of an offense to be scared of crossing the plate to score any runs; this leads to zero runs being scored and the opposition recording a shut-out. "The Twins currently suffer from zerophobia."

The Twins were shut out for the fifth time this season against the Mariners on Wednesday afternoon. The pot holes up and down the line-up are hard to watch. There are very few offensive threats at this point and this causes even more zerophobia.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Art of the Squeeze Play

Casilla scoring on the suicide squeeze from Tolbert (Photo: AP)
The art of small ball is something truly to behold. In the past the Twins have been known for their success in the small ball department. One of the most exciting plays to watch in small ball department is a beautifully executed squeeze play. The Twins had one on Tuesday night and it was a beautiful thing to witness.

For those that do not know, a squeeze play can be defined as ( from Wikipedia):

In baseball, the squeeze play is a maneuver consisting of a sacrifice bunt with a runner on third base. The batter bunts the ball, expecting to be thrown out at first base, but providing the runner on third base an opportunity to score.

Last Night's Squeeze Play
The Twins had jumped out to a one-run lead early in the contest. In the third inning, Casilla lead off with a double that went off of the glove of the fielder near the wall in left centerfield. Span advanced Casilla to third with a ground out to the shortstop. The ball was hit behind the runner, Casilla, and he took off for third. The aggressive baserunning from Casilla helped to set-up the situation that would follow.

Over the course of this season, scoring runs has been difficult for the Twins at times. Tolbert stepped to the plate with only one out recorded in the inning. With the speedy Casilla occupying third, the squeeze play seemed like a very likely scenario. Casilla broke for home and Tolbert laid down a perfectly placed bunt. All Casilla had to do was trot past the catcher and add another run to the scoreboard.

A Squeeze Play from Last Season
The last squeeze play that I saw in person took place at Target Field last season. The Atlanta Braves were in town the night of June 12 for an interleague series with the Twins. Interesting enough Blackburn also started that game for the Twins. This time he was on the wrong end of the squeeze play.

This squeeze play occurred at a much more crucial time in the game. The Twins and Braves were all square in the 9th inning of this rematch of the 1991 World Series. Cabrera started off the 9th with a fly out to Span in centerfield. The next batter Blanco was walked and this walk would be the run that haunted the Twins. Prado stepped to the plate and knocked a single to left. Blanco advanced to third on the hit. This lead to Mijares getting pulled from the game in favor of Guerrier.

Guerrier came in with runners on first and third with only one out, a tough situation for any pitcher. Brooks Conrad entered the batters box hoping to knock in the runner from third. The squeeze play was put on and not only did Conrad execute the bunt to perfection, he reached base safely. Atlanta would not do any more damage in the inning, but the life had been sucked out of Target Field.

As a fan of the Twins I was disappointed as I saw the play unfold in-front of my eyes. But as a fan of baseball, I appreciated the audacity it took Bobby Cox to call this play.

Overall, the squeeze play can be very exciting for players, coaches, and fans. The situation has to be right, but when the call is made, it is great to see the play develop. I felt Tolbert should have taken a curtain call for his excellent bunt. But maybe he can save that for another outstanding play later in the year.

It takes the right artist to execute the squeeze play. But when it works, it is a thing of beauty.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Capps' attempts at saves of 1+ innings

Capps has struggled through some tough outings (Photo: AP)
The Twins have seen a lot of tribulation in the Twins bullpen this season. There have been 12 relief pitchers that have made appearances in a game this season. Even a starter, Brian Duensing, was asked to fill-in as a relief pitcher during a week full of rain-delayed games. There have been two different closers, a handful of players in the set-up role, and well-worn path between Minnesota and Rochester.

Last night's game was a fitting example of some of the failures in the Twins bullpen. Carl Pavano started the game and pitched seven innings. He did not pitch outstanding but he exited the game with a three-run lead. The Twins turned to Joe Nathan for the eighth inning and he struggled to get outs. For the second time in his last two appearances, Matt Capps would be asked to enter the game with inherited runners on base. Capps would eventually surrender the lead in the top of the ninth and the team would go on to lose the game in extra innings.

Last night's outing marked the fourth time that Capps has entered a game in the eighth inning, since being placed back in the closers role. It can be difficult for closer to adapt themselves to these types of situations. A closer is use to entering a game with a lead, no one on base, and a clean slate in front of them. This is especially nice for Capps who has shown the tendency over his career to give up close to a hit an inning. Capps is not a shut down closer and by having him enter the game with runners on base, there is a good chance of the opposition scoring.

Matt Capps' Attempts at Saves of 1+ innings (2011)

May 4 @ Chicago (1.2 IP, 0 ER, 1 H) 
Game Result: Twins win 3-2 (Capps Save)

May 11 vs. Detroit (1.2 IP, 3 ER, 3 H)
Game Result: Twins lose 7-9 (Capps Blown Save)

May 21 @ Arizona (1.0 IP, 4 ER, 4 H)
Game Result: Twins lose 6-9 (Capps Blown Save)

May 23 vs. Seattle (1.2 IP, 1 ER, 2 H)
Game Result: Twins lose 7-8 (Capps Blown Save)

There have been many things that have forced the Twins to turn to Capps in early situations in the game. The lack of consistency from other members of the bullpen has made managing the late-innings a circus for the coaching staff. The Twins need to find a way to get to the ninth inning with the lead. As the outings show above, Capps can not be relied on to get five to six outs a game on a constant basis.

The struggle for the Twins to win games seems like it is going to span most of the 2011 season. It seems ridiculous to have Capps be relied upon as the sole savior at the back end of the bullpen. With the recent injury to Glen Perkins and the inconstancy of the other pitchers, the most reliable option in the bullpen is Capps.

The Twins have other options to turn to at the minor league level to help smooth out the dicy bullpen situation. Some fans have been clamoring to see the likes of Chuck James and Carlos Gutierrez added to the 25-man roster. As this season progresses, both of these pitchers could see time with the club. But for right now, the Twins are going to have to struggle through the late-innings with the arms that they have.

Capps can not be relied on to pitch in these multiple inning outings to lead the team to a victory. His career WHIP and H/9 show that he is going to allow base-runners. These base-runners have come around to cross the plate and they continue to cause headaches for Twins fans across the Upper Midwest.

A player needs to step up and fill the late-inning role while Perkins is gone for the next 3-4 weeks. The problem is that player might not be on the current Twins roster.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Impressions of Ben Revere

A hard slide from Ben Revere (Photo: AP)
After a disappointing sweep at the hands of the Arizona Diamondbacks over the weekend, the Twins announced some roster moves that were not unexpected. Jim Thome and Jason Repko are ready to return from their stints on the DL. That means that Ben Revere and Luke Hughes will be sent down to make room for the return of these regular players.

After the game, Ron Gardenhire seemed like he was really torn to see Revere heading back to AAA. Gardy was impressed with the skills that Revere brought to the table. He adds above average defense and outstanding speed to a team that could use a spark plug on the bench.

Revere has only spent part of a season at the AAA level so there is some learning that needs to continue to happen with him. His numbers this year at the big league level reflect that lack of minor league seasoning.

Revere's Stat Line (2011 Season)
AB: 33
H: 8
BA: .242
R: 2
SB: 2
OBP: .265

The Twins will let him go down and play on a consistent basis at the AAA level to gain the experience he needs. His on-base percentage and batting average need to increase at the major league level so he can utilize his greatest asset, his speed. His response in the next couple weeks will be interesting to watch. How will he react to being back down at the minor league level? Can he continue to produce and show the big league club that he wants to be part of their squad?

From there, it is going to depend on the performance of Jason Repko. If Repko struggles in his return from injury, the Twins could turn back to the speedy Revere. The problem could be that Repko is not going to be given many opportunities to show that he deserves to stay with the team. Thome is returning from injury and that means Gardy has to find room for Cuddyer, Kubel, and Thome to get there at-bats. Repko will be used  in much of the same role that he was in last season, a defensive replacement or a pinch runner. It also does not help Repko that the man that is in charge of making the line-up wants Revere to be taking his place.

Twins fans know what to expect from Revere after his stints with the club the last two seasons. He has made some outstanding defensive plays. But to go along with those plays, there have been some rookie mistakes that have cost the Twins runs. His arm is lacking in strength but that should not be news to those that have followed his minor league career. To be an everyday player with the Twins, his offensive statistics are going to need to show improvement. But he could easily fill the role of Jason Repko on the current squad.

The question is, do the Twins want to use Revere sparingly in the majors? Or should he be allowed to continue to develop in the minor leagues?

Gardenhire wants Revere in the majors. The front office wants him to continue to spend time in the minor leagues. Only time will tell, who will win out in this battle over Ben Revere...

Friday, May 20, 2011

Who's the All-Time Greatest Twins Player?

Who's the greater player, Killebrew or Puckett? (Photo: AP)
Yesterday, I wrote about a question that I was asked by Seth Stohs of SethSpeaks.net. Who are the all-time top five greatest Twins players? I dissected the franchise records for batting and pitching to get a grasp on the men that should be featured in the top five. I started the countdown yesterday with players three, four, and five. This means there are two players left to debate for the top spot as the All-Time Greatest Twins Player.

Both Harmon Killebrew and Kirby Puckett have their place in hearts of Twins fans.  With Harmon Killebrew's passing this week, both of these players are no longer with us. Making the separation between these two players is no easy feat.

Let's take a look at some of the major statistical categories and how these players rank on the Twins All-Time Players List:

Batting Average: Puckett (#3)
Killebrew (Not in the top 10) 

Games: Killebrew (#1) 
Puckett (#2)

At-Bats: Puckett (#1)
Killebrew (#2)

Runs: Puckett (#1)
Killebrew (#2)

Hits: Puckett (#1)
Killebrew (#5) 

Total Bases: Puckett (#1)
Killebrew (#2)

Doubles: Puckett (#1)
Killebrew (#7)

Triples: Puckett (#3)
Killebrew (Not in the top 10)

Home Runs: Killebrew (#1) 
Puckett (#5)

RBI: Killebrew (#1) 
Puckett (#3)

Walks: Killebrew (#1) 
Puckett (#7)

Stolen Bases: Puckett (#4)
Killebrew (Not in the top 10) 

There are other similarities and difference between these two stars. Each player was elected to the Baseball Hall-of-Fame. Killebrew was elected his fourth time on the ballot and Puckett was elected in his first appearance. Both players had double digit All-Star Game appearances. Killebrew was selected to the Mid-Summer Classic 11 times and Puckett made the trip 10 times.

Out of the two players, only Killebrew was selected as the MVP of the American League. The closest Puckett ever came to an MVP was the 1992 season when he finished second to Dennis Eckersley. Puckett excelled on the defensive side of the ball and was awarded with six Gold Gloves. Killebrew was never fortunate enough to be honored specifically for his defense.

Killebrew and Puckett were both great leaders who fought for their teams to win at the highest level. Killebrew qualified for the playoffs three times and the closest he came to winning a series was the 1965 World Series. Puckett's teams only made the playoffs twice but found a way to win the title in both of those years. The heroics of Puckett in those series has been well documented.

Killebrew's Playoff Statistics
Games: 13
BA: .250
HR: 3
RBI: 6
BB: 14
OPS: .944

Puckett's Playoff Statistics
Games: 24
BA: .309
HR: 5
RBI: 15
BB: 8
OPS: .897

Killebrew and Puckett meant so many things to generations of Twins fans. It has been equally hard to see each of them pass on before their time. In this debate either player can be seen as a winner. They each provided the franchise of the Twins with attributes that will never be forgotten. As I wrote about earlier this week, Killebrew was the grandfather of this franchise. He paved the way for Puckett and all of the other Twins players that followed. 

As all of the statistics show, Puckett was the better player on the field. Even with a shortened career, Puck combined power, average, and defense to be a first ballot Hall-of-Famer. Killebrew was the face of the franchise for generations. Killer was a great player but he was an even better man. 

It's great to have two players that can be cross-generational. I know I will tell my future children tales of both of these men. That's what is so great about this game of baseball, the eternal story that is passed from one generation to the next. There will always be a new greatest player, but there can only be one first greatest player.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Creating My List of All-Time Top 5 Twins Players

Twins Legends at the Inaugural Game for Target Field (Photo: Star Tribune)
On Tuesday night, Seth Stohs of SethSpeaks.net asked me an interesting question on his podcast that I helped to co-host. He asked myself and a caller, "Who are the top-five Twins players of all time?" Seth posted his list and a look at some responses from his Facebook account.  He also posted the story at the Twins Centric site for the Star Tribune. Make sure to read through the comments to see who others think should be in the top five. 

This was a tough question to answer without putting some thought into it. There are many players that jump to the forefront of Twins fans minds. The retired numbers of the Twins are a good place to start. Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, Tony Oliva, Kent Hrbek, Kirby Puckett, and Bert Blyleven would all be worthy candidates to be part of this list. There have been other faces that have formed this franchise over the years and each of them could be considered for inclusion on this list. 

To start creating my list I dug deep into my 2011 Twins Record and Information Book. I was looking for trends through the batting records and the pitching records. 

Who should be at the considered the best player in the history of the franchise? Here's a look at the top three in a variety batting and pitching statistics across the 51 year history of the Twins.

Twins Batting Records
Batting Avg: Carew, Puckett, Mauer
Runs: Puckett, Killebrew, Carew
Hits: Puckett, Carew, Oliva
Total Bases: Puckett, Killebrew, Oliva
Doubles: Puckett, Oliva, Hrbek
Triples: Carew, Guzman, Puckett
Home Runs: Killebrew, Hrbek, Oliva
RBI: Killebrew, Hrbek, Puckett

Twins Pitching Records
Wins: Kaat, Blyleven, Radke
ERA: Chance, Merritt, Perry
Games Started: Kaat, Radke, Blyleven
Complete Games: Blyleven, Kaat, Goltz
Shutouts: Blyleven, Kaat, Pascual
Saves: Aguilera, Nathan, Guardado
Innings Pitched: Kaat, Blyleven, Radke 
Strikeouts: Blyleven, Kaat, Radke

Besides hitting and pitching, it is also important to consider defensive abilities. Here are the top three players that have won Gold Gloves with the Twins:
Kaat (11), Hunter (7), Puckett (6)

Overall, that is quite the collection of star Twins players that have compiled record after record for the franchise. Let's take a look at how many times each player appeared on the lists above (only multiple appearances):
Puckett: 8
Kaat: 7
Blyleven: 6
Killebrew: 4
Carew: 4
Oliva: 4
Radke: 4
Hrbek: 2

After looking at all of this information, it was still a challenge to compose my list. Here is the countdown of my top players.

5. Jim Kaat- One of the best pitchers to play for the Twins in their history. He spent most of his career with the Twins and that places him ahead of Blyleven. The amount of Gold Gloves he was able to accumulate is still outstanding to see. He is right near the top in most of the major pitching categories, so it seems fitting that he is on this list.

4. Tony Oliva- It is amazing to think what Oliva would have been able to accomplish were it not for the injuries that plagued the end of his career. He is still high on the lists of many of the major power hitting categories for the Twins (HR, DBL, Hits, Total Bases). He also was awarded a Gold Glove in 1966. 

3. Rod Carew- Carew's placement on this list is hard to argue. He is the franchise leader in batting average and triples. He is also second all-time in hits and third all-time in runs scored. His base-running ability was also an asset that set him apart from some of the other players on this list. With the passing of Killebrew, he becomes the greatest living Twins player. 
Check back tomorrow as I debate who should be number one? 

Puckett vs. Killebrew

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Killebrew: The Grandfather of the Twins Family

The Grandfather of the Twins (Photo: Minnesota Twins)
Yesterday, the Twins lost the patriarch of their family. The man that forged the way for the rest of the players that would follow in his large footsteps. Harmon Killebrew would create so many memories for the Twins family over the years. Radio stations across Twins Territory would tune to see what their hero was doing on a game-to-game basis. He was one of the greatest, if not THE greatest, Twins player to every put on a uniform.

There have been stories told across Twins Territory in the past week that pay homage to the mighty man that slugged his way to the hearts of generations of Twins faithful. The overarching theme to all of these tales has been a connection that Killebrew had to every person that he encountered. Killebrew is the face of the Twins organization.

All fans have a connection to "their" team. The members of that team spend 162 games a year as part of your life. The players become part of your family and you know more about some of the players than your own family. In that sense, Killebrew was the grandfather to all of the Twins players that came after him.

Killebrew arrived with the Twins franchise when it was moved to Minnesota from Washington. He was a first-generation Twins player and he was the trailblazer to the team in so many ways. He was the first member of the Twins to make the Hall-of-Fame and he led the team to their first World Series birth.

Twins legends gathered at Target Field on Tuesday to discuss the man known as "Killer." Many of these legends grew up in the Twin Cities area idolizing the player that donned number three. Paul Moliter, Kent Hrbek, and Jack Morris all shared thoughts on the player that was a father figure to them during their time in the Twins family.

Jack Morris was in tears as he said, "I lost a hero today. To me, he was a real man. He was all man because he loved so much. He was the family we call the Minnesota Twins."

It was a tough day for everyone that considers themselves a member of the Minnesota Twins family. The grandfather of this organization has left us with some great memories and a life full of grace and happiness.

Killebrew said it best when he said, "Life is precious and time is a key element. Let's make every moment count and help those who have a greater need than our own."

That's what he wanted everyone in the Twins family to do; go out there and make every moment count. There are people in the world that have needs beyond our own personal needs. Killebrew would want you to follow his example and be out there doing good in the world

Thank you, Harmon, for the life you lived. It's great to be a Twins fan and to celebrate your life today.

A collection of posts that I have put together about Harmon Killebrew:

~Killebrew and Me

~One Story about Killebrew from Cuddy

~Video: Harmon Killebrew's HOF Induction Speech

~Rest in Peace, Harmon Killebrew (1936-2011)

~Ultimate Twins Team Bracket: 1991 vs. 1965

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Killebrew HOF Induction Speech

Rest In Peace, Harmon Killebrew (1936-2011)

Thanks Harmon for all that you have meant for the Twins and for fans of baseball everywhere.

You were one of the true gentlemen of the game.

Twins Territory is mourning the lose of your life, but we are thankful for time you spent impacting our lives.

Heaven got another angel and this one just happened to be a "Killer"

The night is always darkest before the dawn

Valencia seems to be feeling the same as the fans (Photo: AP)
The Twins are in last place in the AL Central. Beyond that the Twins are in last place in all of baseball.

As a Twins fan this is a feeling that hasn't been felt in quite a long time. For the last decade the Twins have been found a way to fight through adversity to be a contender in the American League. Players found new roles that meshed with the plan that the team had committed to for the season.

When I was younger the Twins were a team that was tough to watch. There was very little to cheer about in the mid-90's as the crickets echoed throughout the Metrodome. Being young and naive, I still cheered on Puckett, Moliter, and Cordova. I became accustom to the team losing but the game of baseball was still fascinating.

Fans have gotten spoiled watching the Twins continue to win season after season. That has become the new custom in Twins Territory during the last decade. The pieces of the puzzle have changed but that winning tradition has been in place.

The fight seems to be gone from this team. A spark is missing that has been there in years past. Whether it be a scrappy infielder making an outstanding defensive play or a back-up catcher that can smell the runs on the field, there is some magic lacking in the 2011 Twins. The Twins have leaders in the clubhouse but it seems that the fun of the game is not there for the team.

The Twins have continued their losing ways but there has to be a light at the end of the tunnel. There are signs of life in a team that has seemed lifeless at times. Baker, Blackburn, and Duensing have tried to breath life into the starting staff. Glen Perkins has shown some electric stuff in a relief role. Span and Kubel have led the charge offensively. But these sparks have not been enough to start a fire under the rest of the Twins squad.

The website AccuScore.com compiles data on all of the teams in each league to assess a teams chances of making the playoffs and winning their division. The website takes into account a lot of performance  statistics and game match-ups to devise their percentages. At the beginning of last week the Twins had a 1.2% chance of making the playoffs. That percentage has now dropped to the point of no return and is now sitting at 0%. That's right... according to AccuScore, the Twins currently have no shot to make the playoffs.

The night is always darkest before the dawn...

And it can not get much darker for the Twins...

Monday, May 16, 2011

Morneau showing leadership through the struggles

Morneau's swing starting to come back to form (Photo: AP)
At this point last season, Justin Morneau was setting a pace to earn his second American League Most Valuable Player Award. He was powering the Twins through a tough beginning of the season that would see them fight with the Tigers and White Sox at the top of the AL Central. His awful concussion in July of last year ended that run for the MVP.

This season has been a slow beginning for the slugging Canadian star. Justin Morneau has not been hitting the cover off the ball, an illness took double-digit pounds off of his frame, and his spot in the middle of the order has been questioned by some. Even with all of these struggles one thing has made him stand out above some other members of the Twins team.

Since returning from his illness, Morneau has been in the starting line-up everyday over the past 18 games. That is a great streak for the Twins and for Morneau. There was some question at the beginning of the season if Morneau was going to be able to play on an everyday basis. Morneau has gotten rid of those questions in recent weeks by being in the middle of the line-up at the beginning of every game.

The Twins have being fielding line-ups full of minor league talent as other players have fought their way back from injuries. Morneau has struggled to gain the weight back that he lost during his illness in mid-April, but that has not stopped him from playing everyday. He could take a day to rest his body but that is not what he wants to do. He wants to regain his MVP form and that is going to take hard work on and off the field.

You can see it in every pitch that Morneau just misses at the plate. The ball flies straight back to the back stop and he has that look in his eye, "I never missed that pitch before." Some of those balls are starting to straighten out. This weekend Morneau found a way to find some holes in the outfield and through the infield shift. The doubles are starting to pile up and there are glimpses of that former MVP.

Morneau Stat Line (Last 6 Games)
AB: 24
H: 8
BA: .333
2B: 4
RBI: 1
BB: 3

It has been obvious that there have been struggles this season for Morneau. But even through the struggles, he can find ways to show leadership to this team. A few hits here, a few doubles there, and Morneau will continue to be back on track in the number four spot. 

Right now he is the only MVP this team has and he is out there everyday showing his value to the Twins.

Friday, May 13, 2011

One Story about Killebrew from Cuddy

Killebrew and Cuddyer (Photo: Michael Cuddyer)
With all of the sad news being released about Harmon Killebrew and hit fight with cancer, I asked Twins' veteran Michael Cuddyer to share a story about his relationship with the greatest slugger in Twins history.

The first things that came to Cuddyer's mind was how Killebrew impacted his signature on memorabilia for fans. Cuddy answered back to me by saying, "He is the sole reason you can read my autograph." He went on to explain the story by saying he did a signing with Harmon and Killebrew made him clean up his signature or he was going to stop signing.

Compare the two signatures below to see how much Cuddyer's signature has changed from earlier in his career.
Rookie Year Signature for Cuddyer
Cuddyer's Signature after being influenced by Killebrew.
Killebrew had one of the smoothest signatures for a big name baseball star. There have been quotes that Killebrew told players that there was no point in signing things if no one was going to be able to read the signature in the future.

The first time I received an autograph from Mr. Killebrew he told me a story about the pen he brought for the event. He held a special pen that he claimed was perfect for signing autographs. He took his time signing that ball and it will always be special to me.

Here's a look at the smooth signature of Harmon Killebrew.
There are some tough days ahead for Mr. Killebrew and his family. But it is great to hear the stories of how he has impacted the lives of other's during his wonderful life.

Peace be with you and your family, Mr. Killebrew. It has been a blessing to be a fan of yours during my lifetime.

Walks Suck

****Editor's Note: The Blogger website run by the Google Corporation has been experiencing some glitches over the last 24 hours. So that is why there have been some difficulties with my posting over the last day. Hopefully everything is back in order.***

There have been frustrations found throughout the Twins this season as the team sits at the bottom on the pile in the American League. The hitting hasn’t been there, runs have been hard to come by, and the injuries have been piling up.

During Ron Gardenhire’s run as manager of the Twins there has been one thing that the team has counted on to be successful. That key to success has been a philosophy that I touched on in a post awhile back. 

Twins pitching philosophy in t-shirt form
The Twins organization pushed players to learn to attack the strike zone. This means throwing strikes, not walking batters, and letting the batter get themselves out.  Part of this philosophy means, the pitchers have to rely on the locations of their pitches and their ability to change speeds.

The Twins pitching staff has been struggling mightily in the walks department this season. Out of the 14 teams in the American League, the Twins rank 12th in walks allowed in 2011. Since Gardenhire has been manager of the Twins, the lowest ranking the hometown nine has finished with in walks allowed was third in the American Leauge during the 2002 campaign. In fact during most of Gardenhire’s tenure, the Twins have been at the top of the American League for lowest walks allowed.

Twins AL Rank in Walks Allowed
2002- 3rd
2003- 2nd
2004- 1st
2005- 1st
2006- 1st
2007- 2nd
2008- 1st
2009- 1st
2010- 1st

There have not been the same significant injuries to the pitching staff as there have been to the other parts of the Twins roster this season. That could be a scary fact to address for Twins fans. This might be the starting pitching and bullpen that the Twins will have for the significant portion of the season.

Scott Baker threw five walks in the same game for the first time in his career in his last start. Nick Blackburn is on pace to have 74 walks, which is well over his career high of 41. The bullpen is also struggling when it comes to the walking game. Jose Mijares (9 walks), Joe Nathan (8 walks), and Alex Burnett (8 walks) have been struggling to say the least.

Walks have haunted the Twins this season. These walks have lead to late-inning rallies by the opposition to give them the lead. Other times these walks have pushed the starting pitcher out of the game too soon and put even more pressure on a taxed bullpen. Over the next month the Twins are going to start to field the line-up that was suppose to be on the field this season.

But how is the pitching going to improve?

Because watching all of the walks sucks.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Estimated Time of Arrival: Twins' Injury Update

Young could be the first major bat to return to the Twins line-up (Photo: Getty Images)
The Twins have struggled to field a healthy line-up for most of the season in 2011. There have been new faces up and down the roster as the Twins pushed their team to get healthy. The idea of a healthy team is starting to become more of a reality.

Here is a break-down of where the players are on their path to recovery. They are listed in order of their estimated time of arrival (ETA) with the Twins. Some of the ETA are based on where they are in their recovery. Other ETA's are estimates based on other sources and the way the schedule is laid-out.

Delmon Young- Young has been down in Florida to make appearances in extended spring training for the Twins. In Tuesday's game he was 4-5 with four singles including two infield singles. His rib injury has flummoxed some observers as he was in the line-up for one game. After not being able to get warmed-up in the cold weather, Young was placed on the DL. Most thought Young would be back by now but that has not been the case. He was scheduled to play in the field for six innings last night and if all goes well, he will be back with the Twins for this weekend. Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA): Friday, May 13th vs. Toronto

Jim Thome- Thome is eligible to come of the DL at the beginning of next week. Thome has taken batting practice a couple times this week in Florida and did not report any issues. He is scheduled to DH in a game on Thursday night. Thome's bat could be a welcome addition to a struggling middle of the order. ETA: Monday, May 16th at Seattle

Jason Repko- Repko will essentially be taking the place of Delmon Young in extended spring training. He left the Twin Cities on Wednesday and will start work-outs in Florida. He has been taking batting practice and fielding pop-flies. Repko will give his injury a few in-game trials before he returns to the Twins Cities. He is eligible to come off the DL on May 17 so look for him to rejoin the Twins around that time. ETA: Wednesday, May 18th at Oakland

Tsuyoshi Nishioka- There were reports released earlier this week that Nishioka experienced some soreness during his workouts in Florida. He has yet to do anything to strenuous and the training staff is classifying his workouts as light. They have currently been rolling the ball to him for fielding drills. Hopefully this soreness won't be a set-back for Nishioka because the Twins desperately need some consistency in the middle infield. ETA: Thursday, June 2nd at Kansas City

Joe Mauer- The mysterious leg weakness that is plaguing the hometown star could be getting closer to being a thing of the past. Mauer has begun participating in baseball activities but that does not include anything related to catching. He took batting practice at Target Field during this week's Tigers series. Both Mauer and the team are shying away from putting a timetable on his return. Mauer has stated that he won't come back until he can be a full time catcher. He does not want to push himself back just to be a DH. ETA: Unknown (Guesstimate~~Thursday, June 9th vs. Texas)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Continuing Quandary of the Middle Infield

Nishioka's return from injury could add to the quandary of the middle infield (Photo: Reuters)
The Twins entered the 2011 season with a clear plan in mind, add speed to the line-up. The easiest places for the Twins to add speed was the middle-infield and this would come in a few different forms. The Twins won the bid to negotiate a contract with Tsuyoshi Nishioka. After signing his contract, he was almost guaranteed a spot in one of the middle infield slots. The other front runner for the middle infield was Alexi Casilla. He had the most experience at the big league level and the Twins felt he had the most talent to offer the club.

The Twins have now completed over 20% of their season and the middle infield picture is murky to say the least. Nishioka broke his leg on a hard slide from Nick Swisher in the second series of the year. He never got the chance to start a game at Target Field and to some fans it seems like an eternity since he was on the field. Casilla has continued to show inconsistency at the plate and in the field. He is batting average is below .200 and there have been some shaky defensive plays that have hurt the team.

The Twins have tried to calm the storm that is brewing in the middle infield by turning to some prospects in the organization. To fit into the middle infield, the team has called up Luke Hughes and Trevor Plouffe. Hughes put up some impressive numbers in this spring, but since being called up he has only managed a .220 BA with one HR and four RBI. Plouffe was called up this weekend and made a splash by knocking a homerun over the Green Monster in his first plate appearance. The most concerning aspect could be some of the defensive plays that Plouffe has missed. He has yet to be charged with an official error but there have been some balls that he should have been able to make a play on.

The Twins are slowly running out of options to calm the middle infield storm. Nishioka will be healthy in a couple weeks and at that point the Twins will have some decisions to make.  Here is a look at all of the players that will be impacted by the future of the middle infield:

Tsuyoshi Nishioka
Possible positions: 2B, SS
The Twins have said that Nishioka is more comfortable at 2B, but the struggles have been to fill the role of SS. As part of his rehab the Twins have asked Nishioka to start taking grounders at SS. The Twins have to hope that one of the below listed players shines in the next couple weeks to make the decision easier. Nishioka's role in the infield continues to be secure.

Alexi Casilla
Possible positions: 2B, Utility, SS
The Twins have given Casilla more than enough opportunities to prove himself at the major league level. The one problem for the Twins could be the fact that Casilla is out of options. He is going to have to show the team his value in the next couple weeks or risk the chance of not being part of the Twins in the future.

Matt Tolbert
Possible Positions: Utility
Tolbert has given the Twins a lot of flexibility during his time in the majors. He has played every infield position and he has even made some appearances in the outfield. These could be skills that the Twins find invaluable when it comes to making their final decision. It could come down to Tolbert or Casilla and right now the more of the eggs are in Tolbert's basket.

Luke Hughes
Possible Positions: 2B, 3B, 1B
Hughes was the first call-up that the Twins made this season because of the performance he showed the Twins this spring. In his 18 games this season, the production has not been outstanding. His ability to play 3B and 1B are intriguing but the Twins are going to look to strengthen the middle infield when it comes to decision time.

Trevor Plouffe
Possible Positions: SS, 2B
The next couple weeks were suppose to be a try-out for Plouffe at the SS position. His recent leg injury could hamper those plans. Ideally, the Twins would like for him to show that he can handle the role as the everyday SS. The problem is that nothing has worked out ideally for the Twins this season.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Twins Pitcher's Next Appearance After a No-Hitter

How did Milton fare in his start following the no-hitter? (Photo: AP)
There was a lot of talk following Francisco Liriano's no-hitter about the Twins' pitchers that have accomplished the same feat. The 2011 Twins Record and Information Book lists five players that have thrown a no-hitter, but one of those outings was five inning no-hitter by Dean Chance.

Liriano will be taking the mound tonight at Target Field for the first time since his historic game. Let's take a look back at how the other Twins pitcher faired in their return to the mound following a no-hitter.

Jack Kralick: No-hitter on 8-26-62 vs. KC 1-0
Next appearance: 9-1-62
Opponent: Boston Red Sox (Fenway Park)
IP: 6.2
H: 4
ER: 3
BB: 2
K: 6
Final: Twins lost 5-4 (Kralick-No Decision)

Dean Chance: No-hitter on 8-25-67 at Cleveland 2-1
Next appearance: 8-30-67
Opponent: Baltimore Orioles (Metropolitan Stadium)
IP: 10
H: 9
ER: 3
BB: 1
K: 7
Final: Twins lost 4-2 (Chance-Loss)

Scott Erickson: No-hitter on 4-27-94 vs. Milwaukee 6-0
Next Appearance: 5-3-94
Opponent: Milwaukee Brewers (County Stadium)
IP: 5
H: 9
ER: 7
BB: 1
K: 2
Final: Twins lost 7-6 (Erickson-Loss)

Eric Milton: No-hitter on 9-11-99 vs. Anaheim 7-0
Next Appearance: 9-17-99
Opponent: Seattle Mariners (Safeco Field)
IP: 6
H: 4
ER: 2
K: 3
Final: Twins lost 4-3 (Milton- No Decision)

There are some interesting trends to be noted from the above data:

-The Twins are 0-4 in games started by a pitcher following a no-hitter

-Dean Chance was the only Twins pitcher to go more than 7 innings in his next start following a no-hitter (He pitched 10 innings and took the loss)

-Scott Erickson no-hit the Brewers and in his next start he got shelled by the Brewers. What a difference a week can make?

-Dean Chance is the only Twins player to have his next appearance be at home following the no-hitter  (Liriano will be the second)