Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Picture of Hope on Opening Day

One of the best things about Opening Day is the fact that everyone is even today.

The Twins website showed some of that hope earlier today (see picture below). The Twins, White Sox, Indians, Tigers, and Royals have the same record today. There are 162 games to decided the division champion.

It's one of the best days of the year...

Hope on Opening Day

Ultimate Twins Team Bracket: 1991 vs. 1969

(Click to Enlarge)
It's Final Four weekend here at NoDak Twins Fan and in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. To correspond with the tournament, there have been a series of post to match-up the top eight teams in the history of the Twins. It was tough for the selection committee to narrow down the field to eight and these Final Four match-up will be even tougher to decide.

If you missed any of the First Round match-ups, feel free to click on the links below.
#1 Seed 1991 Twins vs. #4 Seed 2006 Twins
#2 Seed 2002 Twins vs. #3 Seed 1969 Twins
#1 Seed 1987 Twins vs. #4 Seed 2010 Twins
#2 Seed 1965 Twins vs. #3 Seed 1970 Twins

The first series in the Final Four will have the 1991 Twins playing the 1969 Twins. It will be a battle of two different era's in Twins baseball, the power-house teams of the late 1960's vs. the last World Series Champion from Minnesota. Who will be able to survive and advance to the championship series?

1991 Team Batting/Positions (By Games Played)
C Brian Harper (.311 BA, 10 HR, 69 RBI, .783 OPS)
1B Kent Hrbek (.284 BA, 20 HR, 89 RBI, .834 OPS)
2B Chuck Knoblauch (.281 BA, 1 HR, 50 RBI, .701 OPS)
SS Greg Gagne (.265 BA, 8 HR, 42 RBI, .705 OPS)
3B Mike Pagliarulo (.279 BA, 6 HR, 36 RBI, .706 OPS)
LF Dan Gladden (.247 BA, 6 HR, 52 RBI, .662 OPS)
CF Kirby Puckett (.319 BA, 15 HR, 89 RBI, .812 OPS)
RF Shane Mack (.310 BA, 18 HR, 74 RBI, .893 OPS)
DH Chili Davis (.277 BA, 29 HR, 93 RBI, .892 OPS)

1969 Twins Batting/Positions (By Games Played)
C John Roseboro (.263 BA, 3 HR, 32 RBI, .654 OPS)
1B Rich Reese (.322 BA, 16 HR, 69 RBI, .875 OPS)
2B Rod Carew (.332 BA, 8 HR, 56 RBI, .853 OPS)
SS Leo Cardenas (.280 BA, 10 HR, 70 RBI, .741 OPS)
3B Harmon Killebrew (.276 BA, 49 HR, 140 RBI, 1.011 OPS)
LF Bob Allison (.228 BA, 8 HR, 27 RBI, .751 OPS)
CF Ted Uhlaender (.273 BA, 8 HR, 62 RBI, .684 OPS)
RF Tony Oliva (.309 BA, 24 HR, 101 RBI, .851 OPS)
DH* Cesar Tovar (.288 BA, 11 HR, 52 RBI, .757 OPS)
(*No DH in 1969)

Best of 7 Series
Game 1 Match-Up: Jack Morris vs. Jim Perry
The Metrodome provided the perfect backdrop for this series opening game. The Homer Hankies were flying to cheer on their team from 1991. The crowd had little to get excited about until later in the game. Both of these veteran pitchers were comfortable on the mound from the start of the game. An error in the 7th inning by Leo Cardenas led to the '91 team pushing six runs across the plate. That would be all that Morris needed as he guided the Twins to their first win of the series.
1991 Twins 6
1969 Twins 0 ('91 Twins Lead Series 1-0)

Game 2 Match-Up: Scott Erickson vs. Dave Boswell
The starting pitchers in this game offered a stark contrast to the aged veterans of Game 1. Both Erickson and Boswell were both in their 20's while the Game 1 starter's average age was in the mid-30s. These young guns took awhile to get comfortable on the mound but managed to get the game to a 3-3 tie after six innings. A bullpen battle ensued as both teams tried to find the appropriate match-ups at the plate. In the 8th inning, Hrbek was due up with two men already in scoring position. The '69 team turned to their left-hander, Joe Grzenda, to try and get out of the jam. After a 12-pitch at-bat, Hrbek hit a 2-run double down the left-field line. Those two runs would be the difference in the score.
1991 Twins 5
1969 Twins 3 ('91 Twins Lead Series 2-0)

Game 3 Match-Up: Kevin Tapani vs. Jim Kaat
The '69 Twins knew that they couldn't go into a three game hole in a best of seven series. The switch in venue from the Metrodome to Metropolitan Stadium seemed to revitalize the club. The March weather in Bloomington was frigid but that didn't seem to effect the performance of the '69 Twins.  Kaat was sharp in eight innings of work by allowing only one unearned run to score. After being held to three total runs in the first two games, the '69 club finally found their swings and scored more than enough for Mr. Kaat.
1969 Twins 12
1991 Twins 1 ('91 Twins Lead Series 2-1)

Game 4 Match-Up: Jack Morris vs. Jim Perry (Part II)
This pivotal game would prove to be a difference maker in the outcome of the series. Both pitchers from Game 1 returned to the mound at the Met to do battle in Game 4. From the start of the game each pitcher looked fatigued from their previous start. Each manager stuck by their horse on the mound and let them ride out the storm from the opposition. Neither pitcher would figure into the decision of the game but the '91 bullpen would be the heroes by putting up zeros on the board after Morris exited.
1991 Twins 7
1969 Twins 6 ('91 Twins Lead Series 3-1)

Game 5 Match-Up: Scott Erickson vs. Dave Boswell (Part II)
Game 5 was an ugly one for the '69 Twins. Their long battle in the first round, combined with the wear and tear of this series, put the '69 club on the ropes to start this final game. The '91 Twins chased Boswell from the game early and they wouldn't look back. The '91 Twins would not be denied the chance to play for a title in the Ultimate Twins Team Bracket.
1991 Twins 8
1969 Twins 2 ('91 Twins Win Series 4-1)

Half of the Championship Series is set for the Ultimate Twins Team Bracket.

Check back tomorrow to find out who will square of against the '91 Twins for the right to be the best team in Twins history.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

2011 Twins Award Predictions

The first pitch of the regular season is a little over a day away. Earlier this week at NoDak Twins Fan, we took a look at each of the divisions in baseball and made some predictions about the way that the season would progress. The American League saw the Twins escaping with the AL Pennant and the NL Pennant was awarded to the Phillies.

It is always exciting at the end of the season to pick the players that have performed the best on the field. Joe Mauer was the team's MVP in 2010, but half way through the season that award would have gone to Justin Morneau. Both Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano had outstanding years from the pitcher's mound. Danny Valencia burst onto the scene and showed that he could be a force at third base.

Who will be the leaders on the team this year?

Each of the awards predicted below has been named after someone that optimizes that award for the Twins organization. There are some stars from the past and even one current MLB player, but all have had a significant place in Twins lore.

Harmon Killebrew MVP: Joe Mauer, Catcher
The M&M Boys are back in the middle of the line-up for the Twins. Delmon Young showed the team that he could have high offensive production for an entire season. For the Twins to succeed, they will need all of this players producing at the highest level. It is hard to vote against a player that many consider to be one of the best in baseball. There is a chance that Morneau will take some time to regain his form and that could hurt his overall numbers for the season. Mauer had plenty of time to rest and recover during the offseason and Spring Training. That extra time will lead to extra production in the coming season.

Johan Santana Pitcher of the Year: Francisco Liriano, LHP
There is a surplus of starting pitching in Minnesota and that is a good thing. The Twins have six capable starting pitchers and a prospect waiting in the wings. As Liriano recovered from Tommy John surgery, the Twins had been waiting for him to return to the form that he showed in his rookie campaign of 2006. There were flashes of that ace last season as he won the most games of his career (14) and struck out over 200 batters. Liriano was not perfect in 2010 and to be an ace he is going to have to produce for an entire season. The Twins need him to take that next step and be an even bigger ace in 2011.

Rick Aguilera Relief Pitcher of the Year: Matt Capps, Set-Up Man/Closer
The Twins have a lot of question marks in the bullpen to start the season. The loss of a lot of good arms from the 'pen means that the Twins will have a new look when it comes to the middle and late innings of games. There is one player that the Twins are relying on to fill multiple roles in the bullpen this year. Matt Capps will be asked to be a set-up man for Joe Nathan and to close games when Nathan needs a day of rest. Capps had a very good spring (with the exception of last night's game) and Nathan looked shaky in some of his outings. This only increases the importance of Capps.

Rod Carew Rookie of the Year: Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Second Base
The Twins have one player in their Opening Day line-up that will qualify for the Rookie of the Year Award. That gives Nishioka the edge to be the winner of this award. This spring he has shown the ability and maturity to succeed as a player at the major league level. That output needs to continue as the regular season begins. Nishioka has shown the capacity this spring to do the little things to help the Twins to score runs. He can hit-and-run, bunt, and steal bases to be the threat that the Twins need in front of the middle of their line-up. Look for Nishioka to make a push to be the first Twins player to win the American League Rookie of the Year Award since Marty Cordova in 1995.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

2011 National League Predictions

By the end of the week baseball season will be in full bloom. The first games of the regular season will be played on Thursday and the Twins begin play in Toronto on Friday night.

To correspond with the kick-off of the regular season I have compiled my list of division winners and a look at the playoff picture in the National Leauge. The best part about this season is that every team has hope. Starting on Thursday the Phillies and the Pirates have the same record. There are 162 games to separate the winners from the losers. The smell of baseball is in the air...



NL East: Philadelphia Phillies
With the team that the Phillies assembled for the 2011 season, they seem to be the odds on favorite to win the National League. The best rotation in baseball features the big 4 of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hammels. The injury bug has already hit Chase Utley this spring. That bug will need to stay away from the rest of these veteran players if the Phillies are going to succeed in 2011. 

NL Central: Milwaukee Brewers
The NL Central might be one of the toughest divisions to predict in baseball. The Brewers have gone "All-In" for this season and that can push them to the top of this battle in the Central. The pitching rotation the Brewers have assembled with Greinke, Gallardo, and Marcum could be the best in the divison. After a very disappointing 2010, look for the Brewers to bounce back in 2011.

NL West: Colorado Rockies
The Rockies have a core of players, Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, that the franchise has committed to for the foreseeable future. Their pitching staff showed flashes of greatness last season but there is still something for them to prove. They have shown the ability to go on a run late in the season to win bunches of games. Look for another close battle in the NL West with the Rockies climbing to the top of the mountain. 

NL Wild Card: San Francisco Giants
The Giants need to avoid the slump that can follow a team after they win a title. The Giants have an amazing pitching staff that proved itself time and again in the postseason. The problem for the team from SF could be generating runs. A full season of Buster Posey will be fun to watch for all fans of baseball. The addition of veteran Miguel Tejada will shake-up the infield but does he have enough left in the tank to be an everyday SS. 

NLDS
Phillies over Giants
~and~
Brewers over Rockies

NLCS 
Phillies over Brewers

World Series Prediction
Twins over Phillies
(You Gotta Believe!)
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
There you have opinion on how the 2011 MLB Season will play out. 

Of course it is only late March and there are many games to play. 

So let's play ball...

2011 American League Predictions

By the end of the week baseball season will be in full bloom. The first games of the regular season will be played on Thursday and the Twins begin play in Toronto on Friday night.

To correspond with the kick-off of the regular season I have compiled my list of division winners and a look at the playoff picture in the American Leauge. The best part about this season is that every team has hope. Starting on Thursday the Yankees and the Royals have the same record. There are 162 games to separate the winners from the losers. The smell of baseball is in the air...


AL East: Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox beefed up this winter and look like they are ready to charge through the East this season. Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford make the Sox batting order look tough to beat. The Yankees starting rotation is a mess. The Rays have sold off many of their parts. The pitching of the Red Sox needs to stay healthy but they are definitely the team to beat.

AL Central: Minnesota Twins
A healthy Morneau and Mauer should solidify the middle of the Twins line-up as the team looks to three-peat as Central Division Champions. Nishioka's addition will add some speed to the top of the order. Plenty of starting pitching allows the Twins some flexibility in their rotation. The Tiger and White Sox will contend but the Twins will pull away.

AL West: Oakland A's
The young pitching of Oakland seems to be reminiscent of the "Moneyball" area in Oakland. They added players like Hideki Matsui, David DeJesus, and Josh Willingham to help their chances of putting runs on the board. Strong pitching plus role players is the formula that worked for the Giants last season. The A's hope that same equation works in 2011.

AL Wild Card: Chicago White Sox
The White Sox had the opportunity to dismantle the core of their roster for the coming season. Instead the club decided to hold on to players like Paul Konerko and AJ Pierzynski. The addition of Adam Dunn will only solidify the White Sox line-up. The health of Jake Peavy could go a long way in helping this team to make the postseason for the first time since 2008.

ALDS
Twins over A's
~and~
Red Sox over White Sox

ALCS
Twins over Red Sox 
(You Gotta Believe!)

Check back later as I reveal my division winners for the National League and my World Series prediction.

Monday, March 28, 2011

One highly priced Diamond

Bye, Bye Billy Bullock
As I mentioned in my post earlier today (Last Men Standing: Twins 25-Man Roster), the Twins had one player that was in limbo as the beginning of the season approached. Earlier in the offseason the Twins had selected Scott Diamond in the Rule 5 Draft from the Braves organization. Diamond wasn't going to make the Twins 25-man roster to start the year and that meant the Twins had to either:

1.) Offer Diamond back to the Braves 
~or~ 
2.) Work a trade for Diamond.

The Twins decided to trade prospect Billy Bullock to the Braves to let Diamond join the Twins AAA affiliate, the Rochester Red Wings. In my "Top 20 Twins Prospects List," I had Bullock as the 14th best prospect in the Twins organization. Bullock pitched last season at high A and AA for the Twins and was a second round pick only two years ago. 

The vibe that has been coming out of Spring Training is that the front office seems to really like Scott Diamond. This trade show that the Twins were very willing to part with a top prospect to keep Diamond in the fold. The other vibe coming from Florida is that Gardenhire is still waiting to see more out of Diamond before he will be given any shot at the big league level. 

Since around the trade deadline about eight months ago, this is the third major trade that the Twins have completed for various reasons. Many of those trades have been harshly judged by Twins fans because of what the team was able to get in return.

1. Matt Capps for Wilson Ramos- Many Twins fans were upset to see one of the organization's top three prospects exit for a closer that was very similar to the closer they already had, Jon Rauch. Capps does have another full season with the Twins to show his worth as Nathan's insurance policy. Ramos is sure to get more playing time at the major league level this year. Fans will be able to watch if the Twins got the short end of the stick on this deal.

2. Jim Hoey & Brett Jacobsen for JJ Hardy & Brendan Harris- The Twins dumped a lot of salary with this trade and it allowed for Gardenhire to have some more speed in the line-up. Inserting Casilla in the spot that was vacated by Hardy allows the Twins to have more speed. The problem could be the Twins are sacraficing 

Posnanski Named Inaugural Writer of the Year by BBA

The Baseball Bloggers Alliance today named writer Joe Posnanski the winner of the inaugural Writer of the Year Award, honoring the top internet writer.  Posnanski, who writes for the print version of Sports Illustrated as well as maintaining his own blog and Twitter account, was the overwhelming selection from the BBA membership.

The Writer of the Year Award was created by the BBA to honor those writers who, beyond being exceptionally great at their craft, have taken to the internet in a full and vigorous fashion.  Voters were instructed to take into account not only the writing abilities of the nominees but also their online presense, whether via blog or other media, as well as how they interact with their followers and fans.

“After a week where the ugly side of writing was put on display on two different occasions, it is an honor for the Baseball Bloggers Alliance to honor one of the great writers of the day.  Joe Posnanski is a treasure to anyone that spends time online.  Whether from reading his great blog entries or following his Twitter account, rarely a day goes by without a follower finding a gem,” stated Daniel Shoptaw, founder and president of the Alliance.

Voters were allowed to vote for three of the fifteen nominees, casting a first, second and third place ballot.  Those ballots were tabulated based on a 5-3-1 point scale.

Posnanski received 218 points, including 35 first place votes from the 110 ballots cast.  Rob Neyer, formerly of ESPN and now at SB Nation, was second with twelve first place selections and 136 points overall. Rounding out the top three was former Boston Globe writer Peter Gammons, now working at MLB Network and MLB.com, with 134 total points and 20 first place votes.  ESPN writer Buster Olney and Hardball Talk blogger Craig Calcaterra were the only other nominees to tabulate ten percent of the total vote.

The BBA is planning to honor the inaugural winner by changing the name of the award next year to the Joe Posnanski Award to fit their existing award naming scheme.  The Alliance votes on postseason awards including the Willie Mays Award for top rookie in each league, the Connie Mack Award for top manager, the Goose Gossage Award for top reliever, the Walter Johnson Award for top pitcher, and the Stan Musial Award for top player.

The Baseball Bloggers Alliance was formed in the fall of 2009 to encourage cooperation and collaboration between baseball bloggers of all major league teams as well as those that follow baseball more generally. As of this writing, the organization consists of 275 blogs spanning all 30 major league squads as well as general baseball writing.

The official website for the Baseball Bloggers Alliance is baseballbloggersalliance.wordpress.com.  They may also be followed on Twitter with their account @baseballblogs and hashmark #BBBA.  The BBA also has an app at both the Apple App Store and the Android Marketplace.

Last Men Standing: Twins 25-Man Roster

Twins Opening Day Roster
The Twins made some of their final roster moves of the spring this weekend and it is looking more and more like the final 25-man roster is set to start the year. The final three to leave the big league camp were Luke Hughes (IF), Jim Hoey (RHP), and Anthony Slama (RHP).

Last Man Standing (Bullpen): Jeff Manship
The Twins had three different right-handed pitcher fighting for the last spot in the bullpen. With Hoey and Slama being sent to AAA, this left Manship as the winner of this contest. Manship pitched in ten games this spring while allowing eight runs over 13.1 innings. He also allowed 15 runs but only three walks. The team is satisfied enough with what he brings to the table to give him the final spot in the 'pen.

Last Man Standing (Utility): Matt Tolbert
Tolbert had to feel the heat this spring and it wasn't from the Florida sun. Luke Hughes was hot on his tale for the role of utility infielder on the Twins bench. The Twins gave Hughes the most at-bat so far this spring, he got to try out multiple positions, and he is leading the club in HR/RBI for the spring. His bat went cold down the stretch and that might have save Tolbert's job with the big club. The other negative going against Hughes was that the team wanted someone that could back-up SS. Tolbert fit that role for the team. If there are any injuries in the Twins infield this season, look for Hughes to get the call.

Man in Limbo: Scott Diamond
The Twins have one player that is currently floating in limbo for the team. Scott Diamond was selected by the Twins in the Rule 5 Draft from the Atlanta Braves. One of the stipulations with that Draft is the player that is selected must remain on the draftees 25-man roster for the entire season or be offered back to the original organization for half of the drafting fee. The Twins seem to really like Diamond but didn't see enough from him this spring to give him one of the 25-man spots. The Twins are trying to work out a trade with the Braves to keep Diamond in the Twins minor league system. Either way there will be something happening with Diamond this week.

Starting Pitchers
RHP Carl Pavano
LHP Francisco Liriano
RHP Nick Blackburn
RHP Scott Baker
LHP Brian Duensing

The battle for the starting rotation was one of the most interesting to watch this spring. As pitchers and catchers reported to spring training there was a buzz about the six viable candidates for starting pitching roles with the team. Throughout the spring the Twins have slowly added to their Opening Day starting rotation. The challengers for the final spot were Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey. In the end, Slowey will be making his appearances out of the bullpen to start the year. The Twins also got a good look at Kyle Gibson this spring and that adds to the depth that the organization has at the starting pitcher position. There was also a lot of trade talk this spring surrounding the Twins and their starting pitchers. This is a strength that the club should cherish right now. Having extra starting pitching is never a bad thing.

Bullpen
RHP Joe Nathan
RHP Matt Capps
LHP Jose Mijares
RHP Kevin Slowey
RHP Jeff Manship
LHP Dusty Hughes
LHP Glen Perkins

The bullpen battle was also one of the most interesting story lines to follows this spring. At the outset of the spring the bullpen was going to contain the two closers (Nathan/Capps), the lefty (Mijares), and one of the extra starters (Slowey). This left three spots to fill for the Twins as the season drew near. Perkins could have been one of the players that the Twins tried to sneak through waivers to the minor leagues (since he is out of options). But the Twins will go with this core group to start the year and see what they can bring to the table.

Infielders
Justin Morneau
Tsuyoshi Nishioka
Alexi Casilla
Danny Valencia
Matt Tolbert

The entire infield offered quite a few different headlines this spring. Morneau's return from a concussion and Nishioka's arrival were two of the biggest things for fans to watch in Florida. As position players reported to camp the Twins told reporters that Casilla wasn't a guarantee for an Opening Day starting spot. That plan didn't last long. Valenica had a very solid spring and is looking to improve in his sophomore season. Overall the infield looks young and hungry to prove they belong.

Outfielders
Delmon Young
Denard Span
Michael Cuddyer
Jason Kubel
Jason Repko

There were really no question marks as to who would be making the roster out of this group. There were a couple injuries for Cuddyer and Young to fight through, but both look ready to start the season. The biggest question surrounding this group might be how Gardenhire is going to find at-bats for both Kubel and Thome. A lot of good players to fit into a 9-man batting order.... that sounds like a good problem to have.

Designated hitter
Jim Thome

Thome has been hitting homeruns all over the minor league fields this spring. This means that he has seen limited action in the team's major league games. The Twins aren't worried though. Thome will be ready and fans are excited to watch his chase for his 600th homerun.

Catchers
Joe Mauer
Drew Butera

Another area of the 25-man roster that offered very little controversy this spring was the catching spot. Mauer has taken his time to recover from some procedures in the offseason. All along he has said that being ready for Opening Day was his goal and that is the plan the Twins have been following this spring.

Friday, March 25, 2011

A wish come true for a NoDak Twins Fan

Photo by Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Prior to today's Twins Spring Training game there will be a 9-year-old boy on the field wearing a Justin Morneau jersey and searching for his favorite star. This young Twins fan is making the trip with his family to watch Spring Training as part of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of North Dakota.

The fan's name is Ryan Hoiland and for the last seven years he has been battling an immune deficiency. This means that he has faced various struggles in his life. He is more at risk to get infections and other medical conditions. It is also a health problem that is more prevalent in boys than in girls. One result of his immune deficiency includes regular infusions to replenish antibodies in his blood.

Before he left North Dakota he received a variety of Twins themed memorabilia to kick off his Make-A-Wish trip. He was given a Twins jersey, a Morneau t-shirt, and an autographed Morneau baseball card. A Morneau themed gift pack for one of Morneau's biggest fans.

There will be much to do for Ryan and his family as they attend their first Spring Training. Enjoy the trip, Ryan, from one NoDak Twins Fan to another.

Video: Mauer's 1st Head and Shoulders Ad

Here is a video of the 1st ad for Mauer with the Head and Shoulders brand. Check it out...

Ultimate Twins Team Bracket: 1965 vs. 1970

(Click to Enlarge)
The last slot in the Final Four is up for grabs today as the AL Pennant winning 1965 Twins battle with the AL West winners in 1970.  On the other side of the bracket, we saw an upset in the #2 vs. #3 match-up. Could the 1970 Twins be the second upset winners of the tournament?

Here is a look at the other series in the first round to get you caught up on the tournament thus far:
1. 1991 Twins vs. 2006 Twins
2. 2002 Twins vs. 1969 Twins
3. 1987 Twins vs. 2010 Twins

1965 Twins Batting/Positions (By Games Played)
C Earl Battey (.297 BA, 6 HR, 60 RBI, .783 OPS)
1B Don Mincher (.251 BA, 22 HR, 65 RBI, .853 OPS)
2B Jerry Kindall (.196 BA, 6 HR, 36 RBI, .563 OPS)
SS Zoilo Versalles (.273 BA, 19 HR, 77 RBI, .781 OPS)
3B Rich Rollins (.249 BA, 5 HR, 32 RBI, .641 OPS)
LF Bob Allison (.233 BA, 23 HR, 78 RBI, .787 OPS)
CF Jimmie Hall (.285 BA, 20 HR, 86 RBI, .810 OPS)
RF Tony Oliva (.321 BA, 16 HR, 98 RBI, .870 OPS)
DH* Harmon Killebrew (.269 BA, 25 HR, 75 RBI, .885 OPS)
*No DH in 1965

1970 Twins Batting/Positions (By Games Played)
C George Mitterwald (.222 BA, 15 HR, 46 RBI, .679 OPS)
1B Rich Reese (.261 BA, 10 HR, 56 RBI, .703 OPS)
2B Danny Thompson (.219 BA, 0 HR, 22 RBI, .482 OPS)
SS Leo Cardenas (.247 BA, 11 HR, 65 RBI, .674 OPS)
3B Harmon Killebrew (.271 BA, 41 HR, 113 RBI, .957 OPS)
LF Brant Alyea (.291 BA, 16 HR, 61 RBI, .897 OPS)
CF Cesar Tovar (.300 BA, 10 HR, 54 RBI, .798 OPS)
RF Tony Oliva (.325 BA, 23 HR, 107 RBI, .878 OPS)
DH* Rod Carew (.366 BA, 4 HR, 28 RBI, .930 OPS)
*No DH in 1970

Best of 5 Series
Game 1 Match-Up: Mudcat Grant vs. Jim Perry ('70)
Both team trotted out their 20 game winners to get this series started. These pitchers had been innings-eaters during the regular season and that continued in this game. Each team looked off-balanced at the plate and they struggled to string hits together. In the top of the 9th inning, the '70 Twins were able to push two runs across the plate. The '65 Twins got runners on in the bottom half of the inning but Perry was able to escape with the complete game shutout.
1970 Twins 2
1965 Twins 0 ('70 Twins Lead Series 1-0)

Game 2 Match-Up: Jim Katt ('65) vs. Jim Katt ('70)
An interesting pitching match-up that pits a young Jim Katt against himself from five years in the future. The younger Katt got the better of the two on this day by only giving up three runs on five hits over seven innings. The elder Katt gave up six runs before exiting the game in the sixth inning. The '65 team had awaken and historians have looked at this game as being one of the turning points in the series.
1965 Twins 8
1970 Twins 4 (Series Tied 1-1)

Game 3 Match-Up: Jim Perry ('65) vs. Bert Blyleven
A teenage Bery Blyleven squares off against a younger version of Jim Perry than made an appearance earlier in the series. Blyleven would give up a three run homerun in the third inning to Killebrew. In the very next inning, Perry gave up a two run homerun to Killebrew from the '70 team. From that point on there would be little excitement in the game. The '65 team would add an insurance run late in the game to seal the win.
1965 Twins 4
1970 Twins 2 ('65 Twins Lead Series 2-1)

Game 4 Match-Up: Camilo Pascual vs. Tom Hall
The pivotal Game 4 in the series would be one of the most memorable and for all the wrong reasons. The game was tight with both teams having the lead during different portions of the contest. Allison had hit a homerun earlier in the game and Hall wasn't pleased with that results. He came high and tight on Allison on back-to-back pitches before hitting Allison. The two exchanged words as Allison trudged toward first base. The lead-off hitter in the next inning was Killebrew and the first pitch plunked him in the back. The benches would clear but no punches would be thrown. The '70 team used the energy to claw their way to a series tying victory.
1970 Twins 12
1965 Twins 9 (Series Tied 2-2)

Game 5 Match-Up: Mudcat Grant vs. Jim Perry ('70)
The fifth and decisive game in the series would have the same pitching duel as the Game 1 barn-burner. The loss in Game 1 had stuck with Grant over the course of the series. He and the '65 team would not be denied in this game. A two-run first inning and a three-run third inning would be enough to put them over the top. All of the energy in the bats of the '70 team had been used up in the previous game. The '65 team had clinched the last spot in the Final Four.
1965 Twins 5
1970 Twins 1 ('65 Team Wins Series 3-2)


It has been a great first round of the Ultimate Twins Team Bracket and the Final Four is sure to bring more fun and excitement. The Final Four is composed of two different eras in the history of Twins baseball, the World Series Champions and the power teams of the late 1960's.

Check back next week for the Final Four in the Ultimate Twins Team Bracket.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Ultimate Twins Team Bracket: 1987 vs. 2010

(Click to Enlarge)
March Madness continues here at NoDak Twins Fan as we try to figure out who would win a battle of the best teams in Twins history. Last week the #1 seed 1991 team beat the #4 seed 2006 team in four games. In the second match-up of the weekend the #3 seed 1969 team upset the #2 seed 2002 team to make it to the Final Four.

The first match-up on the opposite side of the bracket will pit the 1987 World Series Champions vs. the 2010 Inaugural Target Field team. Can the 2010 Twins be the first club to upset a #1 seed?

1987 Twins Batting/Positions (By Games Played)
C Tim Laudner (.191 BA, 16 HR, 43 RBI, .640 OPS)
1B Kent Hrbek (.285 BA, 34 HR, 90 RBI, .934 OPS)
2B Steve Lombardozzi (.238 BA, 8 HR, 38 RBI, .650 OPS)
SS Greg Gagne (.265 BA, 10 HR, 40 RBI, .740 OPS)
3B Gary Gaetti (.257 BA, 31 HR, 109 RBI, .788 OPS)
LF Dan Gladden (.249 BA, 8 HR, 38 RBI, .673 OPS)
CF Kirby Puckett (.332 BA, 28 HR, 99 RBI, .900 OPS)
RF Tom Brunansky (.259 BA, 32 HR, 85 RBI, .841 OPS)
DH Roy Smalley (.275 BA, 8 HR, 34 RBI, .763 OPS)

2010 Twins Batting/Positions (By Games Played)
C Joe Mauer (.327 BA, 9 HR, 75 RBI, .871 OPS)
1B Michael Cuddyer (.271 BA, 14 HR, 81 RBI, .753 OPS)
2B Orlando Hudson (.268 BA, 6 HR, 37 RBI, .710 OPS)
SS JJ Hardy (.268 BA, 6 HR, 38 RBI, .714 OPS)
3B Danny Valencia (.311 BA, 7 HR, 40 RBI, .799 OPS)
LF Delmon Young (.298 BA, 21 HR, 112 RBI, .826 OPS)
CF Denard Span (.264 BA, 3 HR, 58 RBI, .679 OPS)
RF Jason Kubel (.249 BA, 21 HR, 92 RBI, .750 OPS)
DH Jim Thome (.283 BA, 25 HR, 59 RBI, 1.039 OPS)

Best of 5 Series
Game 1 Match-Up: Frank Viola vs. Francisco Liriano
Two lefties square-off in this game one match-up from the Metrodome. Viola has the proven track-record in the postseason and this definitely shows in this game. Liriano put together four very good innings before the wheels started to come off. Back to back doubles followed by a walk end the day for Liriano. The bullpen of the Twins does him no favors and the 5th inning turns into a long one for the '10 team.
1987 Twins 6
2010 Twins 2 ('87 Twins Lead Series 1-0)

Game 2 Match-Up: Bert Blyleven vs. Carl Pavano
Two old gunslingers face off in this game two pitcher's duel. Both teams have a lot of base-runners in the opening innings but well timed pitching allowed the scoreboard to remain at zeros. The Homer Hanky crowd would be silenced in the 7th by homeruns from Mauer and Thome. The five-run 7th inning was enough to put the '10 team on top. Capps came in to give up one run in the ninth but still got the save.
2010 Twins 5
1987 Twins 4 (Series Tied 1-1)

Game 3 Match-Up: Les Straker vs. Brian Duensing
The first game of the series at Target Field featured a very different feel than at the Metrodome. The cold March weather isn't ideal for outdoor baseball. Both teams were forced to go to their bullpen's early and this would impact the rest of the series for the '10 team. Al Newman would get a late-inning pinch hit that would led the '87 Twins to the win.
1987 Twins 9 
2010 Twins 5 ('87 Twins Lead Series 2-1)

Game 4 Match-Up: Frank Viola vs. Scott Baker
Tom Kelly saw a chance to take control of the series and went back to his ace for Game 4. Gardenhire didn't have enough confidence in Liriano to give him the ball on short rest, so Baker got the start. Viola was once again in control and pitched eight innings while allowing three runs. Gaetti would hit a bases clearing triple in the 4th inning off of Baker to be the star of the game.  Reardon would shut the door in the 9th to clinch the series of the '87 squad.
1987 Twins 6
2010 Twins 4 ('87 Twins Win Series 3-1)

Tomorrow's match-up will be for the last slot in the Final Four of the Ultimate Twins Team Bracket. The battle is between the 1965 Twins and the 1970 Twins.Who will be making the trip along with the '91, '87, and '69 Twins? Tune in to find out who will move on in the madness.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Brian Duensing: Quietly amazing this spring

At the beginning of Spring Training the Twins had a cluster of pitchers fighting to get into the rotation. With the announcement that Scott Baker will get the 5th spot in the rotation, there is some finality for fans. This means that Kevin Slowey will start the season in the bullpen if he is not traded in the next week and a half.

One pitcher is quietly having a very solid spring for the Twins. Brian Duensing has amassed some great numbers as he enters his first season as a full time starter. In 17 innings pitched, Duensing has given up three earned runs on 17 hits along with 12 Ks. His ERA is an excellent 1.59 and he has an outstanding 1.18 WHIP.

Many people have discussed the fact that Spring Training statistics are irrelevant. For the most part, a pitcher is usually trying to work on all of his pitches. Each player tries to find the location of their fastball and then adjust their other pitches so they are ready to go for Opening Day of the regular season.

On Monday, Duensing showed the Twins that he is close to being ready for the start of the season. He pitch five innings allowing one unearned run on five hits. This was the second solid outing in a row. The previous start he allowed two earned runs over four innings.

Because of his performances this spring, the team felt confident enough in Duensing to name him as the third member of the starting rotation. Duensing will actually get the fourth start of the regular season to break up the two left-handed pitchers in the rotation. This means that Duensing will get to start the season on the same field that he ended on last year, Yankee Stadium.

Duensing has a great chance to shine in the Twins rotation during the up-coming season. Over the last two seasons Duensing has shown that he can be an effective starter in the second half of the season. This will be Duensing's chance to prove he can put together two solid halves and be a middle of the rotation starter on a playoff team.

The Twins have had a lot of story lines following the club this spring: Mauer's knee, Morneau's concussion, Nishioka's arrival, and Nathan's return. These other headlines have let Duensing quietly go about his business. If he keeps pitching like he has been, he won't be quiet for long...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The latest in the lineage of Puckett

The Twins have created an assembly line for producing major league outfielders. The older, veteran player passes on his knowledge to the up-and-coming star. This passing of the gavel is something that has been seen in the last two decades as the Twins transitioned from Kirby Puckett to Torii Hunter to Denard Span. The newest player to enter this lineage that stretches back to the great Kirby Puckett is Ben Revere.

Twins fans were given a glimpse of Revere at the end of the 2010 season, but there is still more to come from the budding outfield prospect. In his short time with the Twins last season he batted .179 in only 28 plate appearances. This was after never playing at AAA and making the jump straight from AA. He is only 22 years old and he has much of his career still ahead of him.

The connections between Revere and Puckett don't just stop at their OF position. Take a look at this two stat lines provided below:

Rookie League
Player A: .382 BA, .438 OBP, .491 SLG, 43 SB
Player B: .325 BA, .388 OBP, .461 SLG, 21 SB

Single A
Player A: .314 BA, .366 OBP, .442 SLG, 48 SB
Player B: .379 BA, .433 OBP, .497 SLG, 44 SB

Can you figure out which stat line corresponds to Revere and which one corresponds with Puckett? (The answer is later in the post).

Puckett entered the Twins minor league system in 1982 as a 22-year-old in the rookie league. Revere entered the Twins organization as a 19-year-old that came right out of high school. All of last season Revere played at AA and the major leagues as the same age as Puckett was in the rookie league season. Because of his age and his ability level, Puckett flew through the minor league levels. He skipped AA and only made a brief stop in AAA. The Twins are able to take their time when developing Revere and this extra time could help Revere in the long run.

Did you solve the question that I posed a little earlier?

Player A: Kirby Puckett
Player B: Ben Revere

At the onset of their careers there are some connections between these two players. They both showed a tremendous ability to steal bases. Each of these players had the ability to get on base and disrupt the rhythm of the game. Their ability to hit for average at every level of the minor leagues is well documented. Most of all they each possess an infectious smile (see visual evidence below)
An Infectious Smile
Revere and Puckett are two different players but they offer the same type of skills because of the body types they have.  Each of these players is under 6 feet tall and around the same playing weight (even though Puckett's fluctuated toward the end of his career). Puckett was a Hall-of-Fame hitter and Gold Glove winning outfielder. Revere has shown the ability to hit at every level in the minor leagues and his defense continues to develop. Puckett did show the ability to hit for power and that is a skill that Revere has yet to posses. Revere could develop more power as he continues to work on his swing and his physical stature.

Will Ben Revere be the next Kirby Puckett?

Anytime a prospect is compared to a Hall-of-Famer, there is a lot of pressure applied to a young star. Revere has the tools to be a very good major league player and Twins fans will continue to follow his path back to the majors. It is a tall order to fill, but a smile and a passion for winning can go a long way to continue the lineage of Puckett.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Push by Morneau for helmet safety

Morneau wearing new s100 batting helmet
Justin Morneau has learned a lot about head injuries in the past year. These lessons have pushed him to make a switch in the helmet that he wears when he steps up to the plate for the Twins this season. Morneau will now be dawning the Rawlings s100 batting helmet to help protect himself. The s100 helmet is a helmet that is capable of taking a 100 mph pitch to the noggin. The helmets that most players currently wear is only capable of taking a 70 mph off the mound.

Morneau is now urging other major league players to consider making the switch to the s100 helmet. After everything that has happened to Morneau in the last year, he seems like the perfect candidate to be the spokesman for Rawlings. He was well on his way to an MVP season when all of those dreams came crashing to ground with one slide into second base. That should catch the attention of some major league players.

Other players, like David Wright, have tried to wear the s100 in the past but have made the switch back for various reasons. One of the reasons was the bulky nature of the original helmet (see Wright photo below). Another reason to turn away from the s100 was ridicule from teammates. Morneau has been getting some grief from his teammates but he still believes that the s100 is the right path to take for himself and for other players.
Older, bulkier version of the s100 helmet
The helmet has been redesigned since 2009 when Wright wore it for the Mets. The new streamlined version of the helmet has been worn by Morneau all spring and he is comfortable be the model for other major league players to make the switch. The minor leagues have already made the transition to the new helmet and this could lead to more s100's popping up at the major league level.

Change is coming to baseball as technology continues to improve. Morneau's life was changed last year because of the injury he incurred on the baseball field. Another concussion could bring an end to Morneau's career. If the Twins can have Morneau on the field at the end of the season, by investing in a new helmet. That seems like a good investment for Twins fans and the organization.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Neshek's Departure
There is lots of good coverage out there about Pat Neshek leaving the Twins so feel free to check out some of the links I have provided. I am sad to see Neshek leave but it seems like it was in his best interest and the team's best interest to part ways at this time. Good luck to Pat and thanks for the memories! I will still wear my Neshek jersey with pride for years to come.

-Twins Geek: "Prepaid Price"

-Seth Speaks: "Neshek claimed by Padres"

-Knuckleballs: "Spring: A Time of Change"

-Off the Mark: "So long, Pat Neshek"

-Over the Baggy: "End of the Neshek Era in Minnesota"

Friday, March 18, 2011

Ultimate Twins Team Bracket: 2002 vs. 1969

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The 1991 Twins survived their first round match-up yesterday with the 2006 Twins. Today's first round match-up pits the #2 2002 Twins vs. the #3 1969 Twins. There were a variety of upsets yesterday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Could today be the first upset in the Ultimate Twins Team Bracket?

2002 Twins Batting/Positions (By Games Played)
C AJ Pierzynski (.300 BA, 6 HR, 49 RBI, .773 OPS)
1B Doug Mientkiewicz (.261 BA, 10 HR, 64 RBI, .756 OPS)
2B Luis Rivas (.256 BA, 4 HR, 35 RBI, .697 OPS)
SS Cristian Guzman (.273 BA, 9 HR, 59 RBI, .677 OPS)
3B Corey Koskie (.267 BA, 15 RBI, 69 RBI, .815 OPS)
LF Jacque Jones (.300 BA, 27 HR, 85 RBI, .852 OPS)
CF Torii Hunter (.334 BA, 29 HR, 94 RBI, .859 OPS)
RF Dustan Mohr (.269 BA, 12 HR, 45 RBI, .759 OPS)
DH David Ortiz (.272 BA, 20 HR, 75 RBI, .839 OPS)

1969 Twins Batting/Positions (By Games Played)
C John Roseboro (.263 BA, 3 HR, 32 RBI, .654 OPS)
1B Rich Reese (.322 BA, 16 HR, 69 RBI, .875 OPS)
2B Rod Carew (.332 BA, 8 HR, 56 RBI, .853 OPS)
SS Leo Cardenas (.280 BA, 10 HR, 70 RBI, .741 OPS)
3B Harmon Killebrew (.276 BA, 49 HR, 140 RBI, 1.011 OPS)
LF Bob Allison (.228 BA, 8 HR, 27 RBI, .751 OPS)
CF Ted Uhlaender (.273 BA, 8 HR, 62 RBI, .684 OPS)
RF Tony Oliva (.309 BA, 24 HR, 101 RBI, .851 OPS)
DH* Cesar Tovar (.288 BA, 11 HR, 52 RBI, .757 OPS)
(*No DH in 1969)

Best of 5 Series
Game 1 Match-Up: Brad Radke vs. Jim Perry
The 2002 Twins surprised the world of baseball by upsetting the powerhouse Oakland Athletics. The 1969 Twins had a great regular season but met up with the powerhouse Baltimore Orioles. Radke vs. Perry provides a unique opening game face-off. Both pitchers started off hot but Radke ran into trouble in the middle innings. The middle of the '69 batting order had too much pop. Killebrew and Oiva provided all of the offense for the '69 Twins as they get their first postseason win.
1969 Twins 5
2002 Twins 1 ('69 Twins Lead Series 1-0)

Game 2 Match-Up: Joe Mays vs. Dave Boswell
This back and forth game saw the offense of the 2002 Twins make their biggest appearance in the series. They exploded out of the gate and chased Boswell from the game. Hunter, Jones, and Ortiz all hit homeruns in the early innings of the game. The '69 team tried to fight their way back in the 9th but "Everyday" Eddie Guardado came away with the save.
2002 Twins 9
1969 Twins 7 (Series Tied 1-1)

Game 3 Match-Up: Rick Reed vs. Jim Kaat
This pivotal game has one inning that sticks out to lead the 2002 Twins to the win. Luis Rivas led off the 6th inning and was able to coax a walk from Kaat. Jacque Jones was next at the plate and struck-out swinging for the first out of the inning. Cristian Guzman executed a perfect hit and run to advance Rivas from 1st to 3rd. A double from Koskie and an sac-fly from Ortiz added the two runs that would be the difference in this game.
2002 Twins 4
1969 Twins 2 ('02 Twins Lead Series 2-1)

Game 4 Match-Up: Eric Milton vs. Jim Perry
On the brink of elimination the '69 team turns back to their Game 1 starter, Jim Perry. Their only win in the series had come with Perry on the mound and Billy Martin was hoping for more of Perry's magic on the mound. Martin's intuition was correct and Perry pitched a gem. The '69 Twins sent the series to a decisive 5th game.
1969 Twins 6
2002 Twins 3 (Series Tied 2-2)

Game 5 Match-Up: Brad Radke vs. Dave Boswell
The 2002 Twins have been here before and rode the back of Radke to a Game 5 win against the Athletics. The 1969 Twins are trying to get the playoff monkey off of their back to win a series. The '69 Twins get a 3-run shot from Killebrew in the 3rd to put them on top. The 2002 Twins claw their way back to tie the game in the late innings. The '69 Twins are able to score 2 runs in the top of the 12 inning. Ron Perranoski gave one of the runs back in the bottom of the inning but was able to get out of a bases loaded jam to clinch the series.
1969 Twins 5
2002 Twins 4 ('69 Twins Win Series 3-2) 
12 Innings


There are still two more exciting first round match-ups left in the Eastern Bracket. Who will join the 1991 Twins and the 1969 Twins in the Final Four?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Ultimate Twins Team Bracket: 1991 vs. 2006

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On Monday I released the Ultimate Twins Team Bracket to correspond with the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. Today's match-up will feature the top seed from the West Bracket vs. the number four seed. The 2006 Twins had quite the comeback to win the division title. Can they step-up their game and beat the 1991 World Series Champions?

1991 Team Batting/Positions (By Games Played)
C Brian Harper (.311 BA, 10 HR, 69 RBI, .783 OPS)
1B Kent Hrbek (.284 BA, 20 HR, 89 RBI, .834 OPS)
2B Chuck Knoblauch (.281 BA, 1 HR, 50 RBI, .701 OPS)
SS Greg Gagne (.265 BA, 8 HR, 42 RBI, .705 OPS)
3B Mike Pagliarulo (.279 BA, 6 HR, 36 RBI, .706 OPS)
LF Dan Gladden (.247 BA, 6 HR, 52 RBI, .662 OPS)
CF Kirby Puckett (.319 BA, 15 HR, 89 RBI, .812 OPS)
RF Shane Mack (.310 BA, 18 HR, 74 RBI, .893 OPS)
DH Chili Davis (.277 BA, 29 HR, 93 RBI, .892 OPS)

2006 Team Batting/Positions (By Games Played)
C Joe Mauer (.347 BA, 13 HR, 84 RBI, .936 OPS)
1B Justin Morneau (.321 BA, 34 HR, 130 RBI, .934 OPS)
2B Luis Castillo (.296 BA, 3 HR, 49 RBI, .738 OPS)
SS Jason Bartlett (.309 BA, 2 HR, 32 RBI, .760 OPS)
3B Nick Punto (.290 BA, 1 HR, 45 RBI, .725 OPS)
LF Lew Ford (.226 BA, 4 HR, 18 RBI, .599 OPS)
CF Torii Hunter (.278 BA, 31 HR, 98 RBI, .826 OPS)
RF Michael Cuddyer (.284, 24 HR, 109 RBI, .867 OPS)
DH Rondell White (.246 BA, 7 HR, 38 RBI, .641 OPS)

Best of 5 Series
Game 1 Match-Up: Johan Santana vs. Jack Morris
Santana and Morris match each other pitch for pitch in this Game 1 pitcher's duel. Besides a bloop hit from Shane Mack and a bunt single from Nick Punto, there is little action at the plate for either team. Santana runs into trouble in the bottom of the 8th and gives way to Juan Rincon. A double play ball ends the threat by the '91 squad. The '06 Twins use this momentum to push across a run in the top of the 9th. Joe Nathan slams the door shut for the save.
2006 Twins 1 
1991 Twins 0 ('06 Twins Lead Series 1-0)

Game 2 Match-Up: Brad Radke vs. Scott Erickson
The Game 1 loss seems to have awaken the sleeping giant that is the 1991 Twins. The '91 team jumps all over Radke and he only last 3 innings while giving up 6 runs. The bullpen is able to stop some of the bleeding and only allows one more run for the rest of the game. Scott Erickson pitches adequately over the course of 7 innings and allows 3 runs. This was enough to allow the '91 team to tie the series.
1991 Twins 7 
2006 Twins 3 (Series Tied 1-1)

Game 3 Match-Up: Carlos Silva vs. Kevin Tapani
This game turns out to be the most dominated by the bullpens. Both Silva and Tapani only last into the 5th inning. Neither starting pitcher would figure into the final decision of the game. The '91 team would use a power surge in the 7th inning to score the go ahead runs. Both Hrbek and Puckett hit homeruns to power the '91 team to this series tilting win.
1991 Twins 6
2006 Twins 5 ('91 Twins Lead Series 2-1)


Game 4 Match-Up: Santana vs. Morris (Round II)
Both teams looked back to their Game 1 starters for this pivotal Game 4. This time "Black Jack" Morris would not be denied. Santana seemed tired and labored from the start. Even with the slow start Santana was able to pitch 6 innings in a losing effort. Morris pitched into the 8th inning and Aguilera got the save as the 1991 Twins clinch their Opening Round Series.
1991 Twins 5
2006 Twins 2 ('91 Twins win series 3-1)


Tune in tomorrow for the #2 vs. #3 match-up in the Western Bracket. The 2002 Twins will face-off against the 1969 Twins for the right to play the 1991 Twins in the Final Four.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Emerging Opening Day Roster

There are only 16 days until Opening Day. I will let that fact sink in for a little bit......

As the season is fast approaching, there are many position battles that are coming into focus for the Opening Day roster. The starting nine are in their places, most of the rotation has been sorted out, and the bullpen has seen some players step up to the challenge.

The Opening Day starting line-up should look similar to this:

1. Denard Span, CF
2. Tsuyoshi Nishioka, 2B
3. Joe Mauer, C
4. Justin Morneau, 1B
5. Delmon Young, LF
6. Jason Kubel, DH
7. Michael Cuddyer, RF
8. Danny Valencia, 3B
9. Alexi Casilla, SS

The bench for the Twins is shaping up to look like this:
DH: Jim Thome
OF: Jason Repko
C: Drew Butera
IF: The last position on the bench for the Twins could be offering one of the most interesting battles left for the Opening Day roster. Two players are competing for the back-up infielder role on the bench. Matt Tolbert was the favorite for this role entering Spring Training. Luke Hughes has made put Tolbert's role in jeopardy on the big league squad. The Australian native, Hughes, has been ripping the cover off the ball this spring. From the sounds of it, Hughes is showing the higher-ups in the organization that he doesn't want to be left in Florida when the team heads north. One of the negatives for Hughes might be that he can't play SS. He does have the ability to play 3B, 2B, and in the outfield. Nishioka could move over the SS if the Twins need to plug Hughes in the line-up at 2B. Hughes would get my vote of confidence if Opening Day were starting today.

Starting Rotation:
1. Carl Pavano, RH
2. Francisco Liriano, LH
3. Brian Duensing, LH
4. Nick Blackburn, RH
5. Scott Baker, RH
The final spot in the rotation is still up for grabs but it sounds more likely that the Twins will try and deal Kevin Slowey before the season starts. The Twins have a lot of other options to pick from for the positions in the bullpen and there is not much sense in letting Slowey or Baker fill one of those spots. Neither of these players have much experience pitching out of the bullpen and the Twins have Kyle Gibson being groomed for a place in the rotation. I am a big fan of having as much starting pitching depth as possible but the Twins might be overstocked at this point.

Bullpen:
CL: Joe Nathan
Set-up: Matt Capps
Late inning LH: Jose Mijares
LH: Dusty Hughes
RH: Jeff Manship

Other LH: Scott Diamond vs. Glen Perkins
This might be the toughest decision the Twins have left to make this spring. The odds of both of these players making the Opening Day roster are slim to none. Perkins is out of options and Diamond was selected in the Rule 5 Draft so he has to make the team. My vote right now would be for Diamond to fill the last spot. I think the Twins will try and sneak Perkins through the waiver wire and hope that no one claims him before he lands back in the Twins minor league system.

Other RH: Alex Burnett, Jim Hoey, Pat Neshek, Anthony Slama, and Kyle Waldrop
That is a lot of players to fill one spot in the bullpen. There is also the chance that the Twins will get a right handed relief pitcher from a Slowey-trade. In that case all of the above players could find themselves not making the Opening Day roster. Earlier in the spring I was pushing for Alex Burnett and Pat Neshek to make the Opening Day roster. I wanted one of these players to fill the void left by Crain. At this point it might be a player the Twins can get for Slowey that fills the last spot.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Twins Injury Report: Almost Back to Normal

The Twins have slowly, but surely, been working their health back to 100%. Some of the biggest stories for the Twins this Spring Training have revolved around injuries to many of the team's star players. Here is a look at the star players that have been bitten by the injury bug and where they are on their path to recovery.

Michael Cuddyer
Injury: Wart Removal 
Path to Recovery: The original prognosis was for Cuddyer to miss 7-14 days after his wart was removed. Cuddyer is reaching the end of that 14 day window so Twins fans can expect to see more of him in the next week. He took batting practice before the team's game on Monday and has done this before the last couple games. With the Twins having an off day on Tuesday, Cuddyer should be able to let his foot get some more rest and relaxation.

Joe Mauer
Injury: Knee Surgery
Path to Recovery: Over the last week, Mauer has been inching himself closer to appearing in a game. Reports from Monday say that Mauer could be in the line-up as a DH as early as Wednesday. In the last couple of days Mauer has been able to catch his first bullpen sessions of the spring. Mauer has felt great after each of these sessions and is getting closer to being ready for some in-game action.

Justin Morneau
Injury: Concussion 
Path to Recovery: Morneau has taken some giant leaps toward recovery as he attempts to come-back from the concussion that cost him half of last season. He has played in multiple games over the last week and there haven't been any set-backs. Gardenhire said that Morneau "is not having any signs at all" and that he wants to keep pushing himself. Great to hear and it will be even better when fans don't even have to think about Morneau and his concussion.

Joe Nathan
Injury: Tommy John Surgery
Path to Recovery: Nathan seemed to be having a spotless Spring Training until this past Sunday's game. Nathan gave up six earned runs on five hits and a walk in just 1/3rd of an inning. There were some bad defensive plays behind Nathan that led to extra outs for the opponent. Up to that point,  Nathan had pitched four scoreless innings since returning from Tommy John surgery. Nathan's velocity has continued to improve with his fastball being anywhere from 88-92 mph.

Delmon Young
Injury: Turf Toe
Path to Recovery: Young missed the first two weeks of Spring Training but has been part of the Twins line-up the last couple of days. Fans got to see Delmon make a sprawling catch in left field during the Twins first televised game on Monday. Since his return, Young has appeared in four games with a .364 BA in a limited number of at-bats.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Selection Monday: Ultimate Twins Team Bracket

I am a big fan of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament and I have been eagerly watching the conference tournaments over the course of the last week. I wanted to find some way to combine my love of March Madness with my passion for the Minnesota Twins. The solution was a bracket that seeds the top teams in the history of the Twins, the Ultimate Twins Team Bracket.

The first step is to see how the committee divided up the seeds: 

#1 Seeds: The World Series Champions
There wasn't much debate over who should be at the top of this bracket. There was room for two number one seeds and there have been two teams that have survived the gauntlet of the MLB Postseason. The 1991 and 1987 Twins teams have provided some of the most cherished memories in Twins history but will they be able to survive the Ultimate Twins Team Bracket?

#2 Seeds: One Old and One New
Both of the number two seeds played very important roles at different parts of team history. The first Twins team to qualify for the World Series was the 1965 squad. The 2002 team played the important role of bringing the Twins back from the brink of contraction. Do either of these teams have a chance to upset one of the #1 seeds on the way to the title?

#3 Seeds: Blasts from the Past
The Twins of the late 1960's produced some of the highest win totals in the history of the organization. The 1969 team compiled 97 wins and the very next year the team managed one more win for a total of 98. Both of those seasons, the one thing standing in their way was the power-house Baltimore Orioles. Can either of these teams exercise their playoff demons and make it through the bracket?

#4 Seeds: Teams of Recent Memory
The last two teams to sneak into the tournament are from the last five seasons. The 2006 team put together a magical run to win the division on the final day of the regular season. Last year's Twins team made the first season at Target Field a memorable one. Will either one of these teams be able to have a Cinderella run to win the tournament?

(Click to enlarge)
With any tournament, there are going to be teams that get left off of the final bracket. Here is a look at some of the snubs from the Ultimate Twins Team Bracket:
1. 2004 Twins
2. 1967 Twins 
3. 2009 Twins
4. 1988 Twins
5. 2003 Twins

The tournament will be run similar to the MLB Postseason. The first round games will be a best of five series. The second round and championship round will both be best of seven series. I will look at the pitching match-ups, offensive line-ups, and coaching decisions for each match-up in every round.

Stay tuned later in the week for the first round match-ups and series analysis from the Opening Round.

Video: Happy B-Day Kirby Puckett!

It's Kirby Puckett's birthday, so enjoy this highlight video below from the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Twins Spring Training: Week 2 Update

Week 2 of Twins Spring Training games has come and gone. Now it's time to look back on some of the headlines from the week that was in Twins Spring Training...

Morneau's Return
For Twins fans, this was easily the biggest news of the week. It was unbelievable to see Justin Morneau on the field. He hit the ball, ran the bases, fielded at 1B, and did everything that he needed to do on the field. He came back the next day and said he felt fine after going through the riggers of his first game in months. As Morneau and the Twins have reiterated, this is just another step on his path to recovery. It was a welcome step for fans to witness and it brings a lot of hope for the upcoming season.

Young's First Appearance
Delmon Young made his first appearance of the spring in the same game that Morneau made his return. I am sure that the Pirates "B" team was less than pleased to see Morneau and Young batting in the middle of the line-up for the Twins "B" team. Young has been battling. Original reports had Young's injury being called turf toe but recent MRI results have it pegged as a swollen joint capsule (click here for more information). Young walked in both of his appearances but was able to run the bases with ease. He scored from 1st on the double that was hit by Morneau. This is another sign that the team is getting healthy as Opening Day approaches.

Pavano's Untouchable
To say Pavano has been impressive this spring would be an understatement. He has looked like a man on a mission and he seems to already be in mid-season form. Other pitchers in the Twins rotation haven't looked as impressive this spring so having Pavano ready could be a key to the start of the season for the Twins. Pavano has racked up some impressive stats during the hot start that he is having this spring. In his three appearances he has yet to allow a run while giving up only 4 hits and 1 free pass. He is the veteran rock that the other pitchers are going to have to lean on for the team to succeed this year.

Blackburn's slotted into the rotation
At the end of last week the Twins knew that three players were part of the rotation: Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano, and Brian Duensing. Since that time the fourth member of the starting staff was added to the fold. Nick Blackburn was named as another member of the Twins rotation and this leaves one spot in the rotation to fill. Blackburn responded to the news that he was in the rotation with a rough outing on Thursday. He tossed 3 innings and gave up 5 runs, 3 of them earned, including 2 homeruns. Not exactly the end to a perfect week...

2nd Week Pitching Star:
Joe Nathan (2 IP, 0 H, 0R, 1 BB, 1 K) As mentioned above, Pavano continues to dazzle in his starting role. But one of the biggest surprises for Twins fans this spring might be how well Joe Nathan has done. He has pitched in 4 innings and has yet to give up a hit. Nathan also has 2 strikeouts along with 2 walks. The velocity of Nathan's pitches continues to improve and with that improvement there should be an increase in his strikeouts.

2nd Week Hitting Star:
Luke Hughes (.357 BA, 5 RBI, 1 HR) The Australian native, Hughes, is making it hard for the Twins to leave him in the minor leagues. He is getting plenty of playing time this spring and he walks away with his second straight week of being the Hitting Star for the Twins. He seems to be able to knock a run in almost every game. There has also been a lot of strikeouts from this young player. That is a statistic he will need to be in better control of if he wants to make it in the show. 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

3 for 1 Special: Kyle Gibson

Today marks the final day in a three part series from this week called "3 for 1 Special." The theme for this series of posts has been to look at the three candidates that remain to fill the final spot in the Twins Opening Day rotation. On Tuesday the focus was Kevin Slowey and his statistical outputs over the course of his career. Day two of the series looked at Scott Baker and his place in the Twins organization. The final piece of the "3 for 1 Special" is centered around Kyle Gibson.

Gibson is in his first Spring Training with the major league squad and from the sounds of it, he has wasted no time in impressing the Twins brass. He has pitched in two outings with the A team this spring and has given up a run in each of those appearances. Many of the radio personalities that have made the trip down to Ft. Myers have commented that they are continued to be impressed by the maturity that has been shown by Gibson.

The first year of professional baseball for Gibson saw him make numerous stops in three levels of the Twins organization. He appeared in 7 games for the Class A Ft. Myers Miracle and had a (4-1) record, 1.87 ERA, and a 1.038 WHIP. In Ft. Myers he was also able to pitch a complete game shutout. His next stop on his path was at the AA level with the New Britain Rock Cats. This is the level that Gibson saw the majority of his playing time in 2010. He pitched 93 innings for the Rock Cats with a (7-5) record, a 3.68 ERA, and a 1.215 WHIP. The final stop for the year was at AAA Rochester, where Gibson made three starts. Gibson was feeling the fatigue of a long season and only averaged around 5 IP per start. He had an ERA of 1.72 and a WHIP of 1.085.

There was an interesting story about Gibson at the end of the Twins radio broadcast on Tuesday. Kris Atteberry was announcing the game for the Twins Radio Network and he told the tale of his experience with Gibson during this year's Winter Caravan. Atteberry was part of the caravan crew that include Gibson and former Twins pitcher, Jack Morris. During supper one evening Gibson couldn't wait to talk pitching with Morris, the World Series hero. Dan Gladden, who was also part of the radio broadcast on Tuesday, said that he wondered why more pitchers didn't take the opportunities that they had to pick the brains of the veteran pitchers that were around them. His example for the Twins was the fact that Bert Blyleven is on every flight with the Twins and he never sees the younger pitchers come to discuss the game with the Hall-of-Fame pitcher. Gibson is eager to learn from those around him and that trait will serve him well in his major league career.

Between the three pitchers that have been featured in the "3 for 1 Special," Gibson is most likely the long shot to make the rotation when the team heads north from Spring Training. For various reasons the Twins will let Gibson spend a little bit more time seasoning at the minor league level. This allows the Twins to keep Gibson under team control for a greater amount of time. The Twins will turn to Slowey or Baker to fill the final spot in the rotation with the edge going to Baker at this point. If anyone in the Twins rotation has a set back, Gibson will be primed and ready to arrive on the scene for his major league debut.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

3 for 1 Special: Scott Baker

Yesterday I started the first part of a three part series about the pitchers that are on the bubble for the final spot in the Twins rotation. Ron Gardenhire has sloted Pavano, Liriano, Duensing, and Blackburn into the first four spots in the Opening Day rotation. This leaves Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, and Kyle Gibson as the final three battling for the fifth spot in the rotation.

In the first part of the series, I looked at Kevin Slowey and his journey in recent seasons. Today is day two of the "3 for 1 Special" and the player to be examined is Scott Baker. 

Scott Baker is the longest tenured Twin to be part of the starting rotation. He has been part of the rotation for the last four seasons and he pitched in parts of the two seasons prior to that streak. There have been high and low points along the way. The 2008 season may have been his best season from a statistical stand point. He had his only sub-4.00 ERA (3.45) and he managed a 1.178 WHIP.

Baker has much more experience in the rotation by appearing in 54 more games than Slowey. Baker has shown the ability to eat innings for the Twins by having 170+ IP in each of the last three seasons and he hit 200 IP in 2009. Both of these players have very little experience pitching out of the bullpen at the major league level. So the Twins need to decide who is able to pitch out of the 'pen or is it time to part ways with one of these pitchers. 

Some followers of the Twins team have given Baker the various nicknames that have to deal with his tendency to give up HR, like "Big Shot Scott" or "Long Shot Scott." Over the course of his career Baker has given up 1.2 HR per 9 innings. This is slightly less than the 1.4 HR per 9 innings Slowey has shown over his career. Baker also gives up a decent amount of hits, 9.4 per 9 innings pitched. In 2008 and 2009 he was able to keep that number under 9, but last season it escalated to 9.8 hits per 9 innings pitched.

Baker was last year's Opening Day starter and now the club is at the point where he might be relegated to the tail end of the rotation. An arm ailment has also caused some set backs with Baker and that could be holding him back at this point in Spring Training. Baker has given the standard line about being ready to fill whatever role the club needs him to fill, but it is hard to imagine him being comfortable in a bullpen position. Even though Baker was used in a long relief role against the Yankees in last year's playoffs. 

The Twins had hopes for Baker over the last half of a decade. The organization had hopes that he could develop into a Brad Radke type starter that would be a fixture at the front-end of the rotation for the better part of a decade. Baker might be running out of opportunities, especially if he loses a spot in the rotation. He would be another expensive addition to the bullpen for the Twins and that is a role that I can not see Baker filling for the club.