Tuesday, September 30, 2014

2014 MLB Playoff Predictions (Sure to Go Wrong...)

There are plenty of playoff predictions being made across the interwebs over the last couple of days. I like to make things exciting and approach the predictions segment a little bit different. I spend time over-thinking my picks to the point where I don't remember why I went with the team. Then I ask my wife to pick out who she thinks will win. After that, I flip a coin for all of the match-ups to see who ends up king of the Fall Classic.

The coin flip tends to make some upset picks but anything can happen in the crazy postseason. Overall, it is a fun exercise and I will post results at the end of the World Series. Enjoy our picks and check out my Twitter account for updates on the predictions race.
My AL Wild Card: Oakland over Kansas City
Mrs. NoDak Twins Fan: Oakland over Kansas City
Wild Card Coin Flip: Oakland over Kansas City

My NL Wild Card: San Francisco over Pittsburgh
Mrs. NoDak Twins Fan: Pittsburgh over San Francisco
Wild Card Coin Flip: San Francisco over Pittsburgh

My ALDS Picks: Detroit over Baltimore, Los Angeles over Oakland
Mrs. NoDak Twins Fan: Baltimore over Detroit, Los Angeles over Oakland
ALDS Coin Flip: Detroit over Baltimore, Oakland over Los Angeles

My NLDS Picks: Los Angeles over St. Louis, Washington over San Francisco
Mrs. NoDak Twins Fan: St. Louis over Los Angeles, Washington over Pittsburgh
NLDS Coin Flip: St. Louis over Los Angeles, San Francisco over Washington

My ALCS Pick: Los Angeles over Detroit
Mrs. NoDak Twins Fan: Baltimore over Los Angeles
ALCS Coin Flip: Oakland over Detroit

My NLCS Pick: Washington over Los Angeles
Mrs. NoDak Twins Fan: St. Louis over Washington
NLCS Coin Flip: San Francisco over St. Louis

My World Series Pick:Washington over Los Angeles
Mrs. NoDak Twins Fan: St. Louis over Baltimore
World Series Coin Flip: San Francisco over Oakland

The coin flip got a little daring having two Wild Card participants square off in a Bay Area World Series. Mrs. NoDak Twins Fan picked the Cardinals to win it all for the second year in a row. I picked the two best team's in each league to survive all the way to the end with the Nats winning their first World Series since moving from Montreal.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Top 5 Wins for Ron Gardenhire

The Twins announced on Monday that Ron Gardenhire will not return as the team's manager for 2015. Only two managers in the history of the game had survived four straight 90-loss seasons. One of those men was Gardenhire's predecessor, Tom Kelly. Minnesota is a very loyal organization but it seemed like the time was right to make a change.

When a manager wins over 1,000 games with an organization there are going to be some ups and downs. The Twins won six division titles in the Gardenhire era but the club found minimal postseason success under his reign. "You lose this many games, you've got to do something," Gardenhire said, "He called me in this morning, I said 'Terry, you don't have a choice here; do what you have to do.' "

There were some important wins in the history of the Twins during the Gardenhire era. Here's a look at the five wins Gardenhire will remember most as he leaves the Twin Cities.

ALDS Game 5 (2002)
The Twins used a strong pitching performance from Brad Radke and an AJ Pierzynski home run to squeak past the very strong Oakland A's. Brad Radke pitched into the seventh inning while limiting the powerful Oakland offense to one run. Eddie Guardado made things interesting by allowing three runs to score in the bottom of the ninth but he got the last out. Gardenhire had led his team to the ALCS in his first year at the helm but it would be the club's only postseason series win with him as manager.

Game 163 (2009)
The final victory in the Metrodome era was a game for the ages. The back and forth effort between the Twins and the Tigers is the closest thing to a World Series memory for a younger generation of Twins fans. It took seven pitching changes and multiple pinch hitting appearances but the Twins got the win. It also helped to have the speedy Carlos Gomez on the bench as a pinch runner for extra-innings. Things wouldn't go so well against the Yankees but the Twins had won the AL Central for the fifth time under Gardenhire.

Game 162 (2006)
The Twins were already guaranteed to go to the playoffs but this game took on a very different feel. During the course of the game, Joe Mauer was announced as the AL Batting Champion. This wouldn't be the only celebration on the day. After the Twins game finished, fans stuck around in the Metrodome to watch the Detroit Tigers lose to the lowly Kansas City Royals, a club that finished with 100 losses. The loss meant the Twins were division champions and a huge celebration erupted on the field in front of those that stuck around.

Win Number 1,000 (2014)
There have only been 10 managers in the history of the game to win 1,000 games with one club. Gardenhire is part of this elite group. The wins were few and far between over the last four years but Gardy survived long enough to pick up win number 1,000. He's respected enough across the baseball world that he could add to this win total with another organization but his final win in a Twins uniform came on September 27, 2014. It was his 1,068th win and the first time the Twins reached 70 wins since the 2010 season.

Ending Oakland's Winning Streak (2002)
This victory took on an entirely different meaning with the movie adaptation of the novel Moneyball. The Twins would also spoil Billy Beane's postseason plans by defeating the A's in October. Oakland went on to win their next three games so without this Twins victory their streak could have stretched to 24. It took a masterful performance from Brad Radke to stop the streak. He threw a complete game shutout with five strikeouts and one walk. Gardenhire had to leave Radke out there for 113 pitches and over 27,000 fans got to see the A's first loss in a month and a half.

Handing Out Twins End of Season Awards

Looking back at the Twins fourth straight 90-loss season doesn't have to be full of glum recollections of another horrible year. There were plenty of bright spots throughout the Twins roster. Brian Dozier did something only a handful of Twins players have ever done. Phil Hughes set an all-time MLB record. Plus young players like Danny Santana were sure fun to watch.

Every year at the end of the season, I look back at the Twins year and try and handout some end of the season awards. Many of these men were on their way to winning these awards when I reflected back on the first half. However one of the first half winners couldn't hang on to his title until the end of the year.

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

Harmon Killebrew MVP: Brian Dozier, 2B
First-Half MVP: Brian Dozier, 2B
Previous Winners: Joe Mauer (2013), Josh Willingham (2012), Michael Cuddyer (2011), Joe Mauer (2010)
It's hard to argue with the season compiled by Dozier. He became just the sixth player in Twins history and the first since Torii Hunter in 2004 to notch a 20-20 season. He's also finished second in the American League in runs scored as he only finished by the presumed MVP Mike Trout. According to SABR's Defensive Index, Dozier has been the fifth best defensive second baseman in the American League. He's been a leader on the field and in the clubhouse so the award is well deserved.

Johan Santana Pitcher of the Year: Phil Hughes, RHP
Pitcher of the First Half: Phil Hughes, RHP
Previous Winners: Kevin Correia (2013), Scott Diamond (2012), Carl Pavano (2011), Carl Pavano (2010)
This award is probably the easiest to hand out. Hughes was the ace of the Twins staff this season. He set the all-time strikeout to walk ratio by a starting pitcher. He pitched over 200 innings for the first time in his career and he had an ERA under 4.00 for only the second time in his career. Hughes led the Twins in basically every major category for a starting pitcher. The Twins had to be happy with him being a very good deal as a free agent signing. He will be part of the Twins rotation for the next couple seasons and he will provide a veteran presence for some of the younger players on the mound.

Rick Aguilera Relief Pitcher of the Year: Glen Perkins, LHP
Relief Pitcher of the First Half: Casey Fien, RHP
Previous Winners: Glen Perkins (2013), Jared Burton (2012), Glen Perkins (2011), Jesse Crain (2010)
At the mid-point of the season, this was the hardest award to pick. My vote went to Fien because of his ability to strand runners on base, his strong first half ERA and WHIP, and the amount of innings he had pitched. Fien's numbers came back to the back in the second half so my vote goes to Perkins even with the rough second half compiled by Perkins. According to FanGraphs version of WAR, Perkins was slightly better than Fien. Perkins also struck out more batters and pitched fewer innings. Fien had a very good season but Perkins was still the best bullpen arm. 

Rod Carew Rookie of the Year: Danny Santana, SS/OF
Rookie of the First Half: Danny Santana, SS/OF
Previous Winners: Oswaldo Arcia (2013), Scott Diamond (2012), Ben Revere (2011), Danny Valencia (2010)
Josmil Pinto did some good things at the beginning of the season and Kennys Vargas had his moments in the second half. This award belongs to Danny Santana for the way he was able to impact the Twins line-up this season. He filled in admirably at a position of need for the club and he finished the year with the third highest WAR among Twins position players. There are some that doubt that he will be able to keep up this high level of play into next season but he seems to solidified himself as an everyday major leaguer.

Now it's your turn. Who would you pick for each of the above awards? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Episode 101: A Fan's View with Howard Sinker

This week Eric and Jay are joined by long time podcast friend Chuck Ruether and new podcast friend Howard Sinker, from the Star Tribune.

You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here, and if you want to add the show to your non-iTunes podcast player, this is the RSS Feed.
Lots of chatter about the end of the season, what to look forward to in 2015, and how the Twins might go about finding a new manager, if they ever get around to getting rid of their current one.

Then plenty of the regular beer, baseball, and the news.

Thanks for listening, folks! Enjoy the show.

If you enjoy our podcast, please tell your friends about us and take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes. Ratings and reviews will help Trevor Plouffe recover from his broken arm.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The 16 Walks of Phil Hughes

On Wednesday, Phil Hughes made his final start of the season for the Twins. It capped a memorable first year in Minnesota for the former Yankees pitcher. He signed with the club as the lesser of two big off-season upgrades to the rotation but he turned out to be the staff ace.

One of the most amazing parts of this season for Hughes has been his ability to completely eliminate walks while still being a very effective pitcher. For the entire season, Hughes had 16 walks charged to him over the course of close to 210 innings. If he doesn't pitch again this season, he will have set the record for best strike out to walk rate in the history of the game. 

There were only two games this season where Hughes allowed multiple walks, one in April and one in June. In the month of April, he had six walks over five starts. Other than that, he went through large stretches of the season with almost no walks on his record.

The Worst Walk Game of the Year
April 9th| 1st Inning: Sam Fuld (4 pitches), Jed Lowrie (6 pitches)
2nd Inning: Eric Sogard (5 pitches)
Hughes must have been a little excited for his first start at Target Field. He started off the first inning with back-to-back walks including a four pitch walk to lead-off hitter Sam Fuld. Both runners would come around to score and Hughes found himself in a 4-0 hole. The second inning didn't start off much better as Hughes walked Eric Sogard on five pitches. However, he would be stranded at second base.

The Walk King
June 1st| 2nd Inning| Brian McCann (7 pitches)
4th Inning: Brian McCann (4 pitches)
McCann would be the lone batter to draw more than one walk from Hughes this year and he did it in Hughes' return to the Bronx. McCann's first walk lead-off the second inning but he was erased on a double play to end the frame. It ended a streak of 178 batters without issuing a walk. The fourth inning was a little more costly as McCann walked with two runners already on base. A sacrifice fly two batters later would cost Hughes his second earned run of the day but that was all he allowed and the Twins won the game.

Walks Will Haunt
June 22nd| 3rd Inning| Tyler Flowers (7 pitches)
This might have been the most costly walk for Hughes this season. His walk to Flowers loaded the bases after he allowed two singles to start the frame. The floodgates opened from that point and he would go on to surrender five runs on six hits. The Twins had been up 3-0 at the beginning of the inning but the club would come back to score three in the fourth. Hughes picked up his eighth win even with the bad inning.

April Showers
April 3rd| 1st Inning | Adam Eaton (7 pitches)
April 15th| 4th Inning| Adam Lind (5 pitches)
April 20th| 2nd Inning| Alcides Escobar (7 pitches)
The first batter Hughes faced in a Twins uniform, Adam Eaton, was able to earn the first walk of the year from the right-handed pitcher. In a game that would see a lot of scoring, he would be left on base. Later in the month, Adam Lind drew a walk with first base open after a Jose Bautista double started the inning. Neither man would score. Alcides Escobar's walk came with two outs in the inning and runners on second and third. Hughes got a flyball from the next batter and escaped the frame.

One Intentional Pass
June 28th| 8th Inning| Adrian Beltre (4 pitches)
In the middle of a tight pitcher's duel with Yu Darvish, Hughes had to try and escape the eighth inning. With Texas already up 2-0, the walk loaded the bases. Three runs would score off the bats of the next two batters as Hughes suffered his fourth loss of the season.

July Losses
July 3rd| 7th Inning| Ichiro Suzuki (6 pitches)
July 19th| 7th Inning| Logan Forsythe (5 pitches)
July 30th| 3rd Inning| Omar Infante (6 pitches)
July would see Hughes lose more games than any other month. Ichiro's seventh inning walk against Hughes set-up his rough inning for the starter. The Yankees held a slim one-run lead but two consecutive hits following the walk pushed Hughes from the game. Another late inning walk to Logan Forsythe would mean result in a loss for Hughes. Forsythe lead-off the inning with a walk and the Rays would add a couple runs to their 3-0 lead. Omar Infante's walk didn't cost Hughes any runs but he still ended up losing the game to end his worst month of the year.

Season Winding Down
August 5th| 3rd Inning| Everth Cabrera (6 pitches)
August 10th| 4th Inning| Josh Reddick (6 pitches)
September 13th| 2nd Inning| John Danks (6 pitches)
Over the season's last couple months, the walks would be few and far between. Everth Cabrera worked a one-out walk in the early innings but he never left first base. One start later Josh Reddick would coax a two-out walk but he too would be left at first. It would be over a month before the next walk from Hughes. John Danks earned the free pass but Hughes would still strike out the side in the frame.

Hughes outperformed many of the expectations for him this year. Leave a COMMENT and discuss what you will remember most about his season. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Twins Top 10 Pitching Seasons

Clayton Kershaw is in the midst of one of the best pitching seasons in baseball history. He looks to be a lock for the National League Cy Young and there's a chance he could win the NL MVP. Even after missing a chunk of games at the beginning of the season, he has rebounded to post one of the best seasons on record.

Starting pitching seems to be one of the areas the Twins are struggling to find success. There hasn't been a player of Kershaw's caliber in the Twins rotation since the Johan Santana days in the Metrodome. However, there have been some very good seasons from past Twins pitchers.

Last week ESPN tried to rank the top 20 pitcher seasons of the last 50 years. There were no Twins on the list but some Minnesota members were on the honorable mentions list. For the purposes of this post, WAR is the average between the Baseball Reference and FanGraphs version of the statistic. ERA+ is ERA that is adjusted for home park and league context. Postseason performance was also considered.

1. Bert Blyleven, 1973
W-L: 20-17 |  2.52 ERA | 325.0 IP | 258 SO | ERA+: 156 | WAR: 10.5
"[Blyleven's] best season came in 1973, when he went 20-17, with a 2.52 ERA in 40 starts. He pitched 325 innings and tossed nine shutouts. But in 10 starts in which he allowed one or two runs, he went just 5-4 -- even though he pitched at least 8 1/3 innings in all of those games."--- David Schoenfield, ESPN's SweetSpot Blog
The sheer number of innings thrown by Blyleven at such a high level makes this season the most impressive in Twins history. His record could have been even more impressive if the Twins would have given him more run support. The Twins finished with a .500 record so there was never a shot for Blyleven to strut his stuff in the postseason that year. Surprisingly Blyleven received one lone vote in the AL Cy Young balloting that year. Jim Palmer won the award because he had more wins and a lower ERA. Blyleven bested him in innings, complete games, and shutouts. He also struck out over 100 more batters.

2. Johan Santana, 2004
W-L: 20-6 |  2.61 ERA | 228.0 IP | 265 SO | ERA+: 182 | WAR: 8.1
"He's the only guy I know who at times has a 20-mile-per-hour differential between his fastball and his change-up. Usually guys have a 10-mile-per hour difference." --- Brett Boone, Seattle Mariners second baseman
The toughest choice on this list was between Santana and Blyleven for the top spot. Santana was so dominant in 2004 that it was painstakingly hard not to put him in the top spot. His season didn't even get off to the best start. Through his first 12 starts, he had a 5.50 ERA and he had allowed 12 home runs in just under 69 innings. Things turned quickly as he had a 1.64 ERA and 75 strikeouts over his last 55 innings before the All-Star break. He got even better after the Mid-Summer Classic. He started 15 games with a 1.21 ERA and struck out 129 in 104.1 innings. He walked 23 and batters were only able to muster a .443 OPS and they only coaxed 23 walks.

3. Bert Blyleven, 1974
W-L: 17-17 |  2.66 ERA | 281.0 IP | 249 SO | ERA+: 142 | WAR: 8.3
"It (his curveball) was nasty. I'll tell you that. Enough to make your knees buckle. Bert (Blyleven) was a terrific pitcher -- a dominating pitcher." --- Brooks Robinson, Hall of Fame Third Baseman
In the follow-up season to his best professional season, Blyleven continued his dominating form. Many of his numbers dropped off but he was still very good. He was especially good in front of the Metropolitan Stadium crowd. In home games, he had a 1.91 ERA and he threw 12 completed games. He struck out 150 over 160 innings and he limited his walks to 45. The second half of the season was also particularly strong for Blyleven. He had a 2.00 ERA and he struck out 107 in just under 113 innings. Over his last 12 starts, he threw 98 innings with a 1.65 ERA.

4. Johan Santana, 2006
W-L: 19-6 |  2.77 ERA | 233.2 IP | 245 SO | ERA+: 162 | WAR: 7.3
"Santana fiddled with a change-up before 2002, but that was when the pitch blossomed. After Minnesota sent Santana to Class AAA Edmonton to covert him from a reliever to a starter, Bobby, Cuellar, the pitching coach there preached about the significance of trusting his change-up in any situation." --- Jack Curry, The New York Times
The 2006 season was the last season in a very dominant three year stretch for Santana. He led all of baseball in ERA and strikeouts and he had the most innings pitched and games started in the American League. Among pitchers who compiled a minimum of 600 innings between 2004 and 2006, Santana led in ERA, ERA+, strikeouts, and K/BB ratio. He was the undisputed best pitcher in the baseball world even if it was only for three seasons.

5. Frank Viola, 1987
W-L: 17-10 |  2.90 ERA | 251.2 IP | 197 SO | ERA+: 159 | WAR: 6.9
"It's a tremendous feeling. MVP is a great, great honor but I couldn't do it without the other 23 guys and they all should share in this."--- Frank Viola, 1987 World Series MVP
Some people might look at Viola's 1988 campaign as being more dominant since won the Cy Young that year. His 1987 campaign gets moved into the top 5 on this list because of his playoff performance. Viola was credited with three of the team's eight postseason victories that season. His Game 1 and Game 7 starts at the Metrodome were particularly strong as he pitched eight innings in both games and he limited the Cardinals to three runs. During the regular season, he allowed under 100 runs for the first time in his career and he posted the best ERA+ mark for his entire 15-year career.

6. Johan Santana, 2005
W-L: 16-7 |  2.87 ERA | 231.2 IP | 238 SO | ERA+: 155 | WAR: 7.4
In his first All-Star season, Santana lost some Cy Young support because of his low win total. He struck out more batters than everyone else in the baseball world. There were seven starts during the season were Santana didn't allow more than two earned runs and he was either charged with a loss or given a no decision.

7. Frank Viola, 1988
W-L: 24-7 |  2.64 ERA | 255.1 IP | 193 SO | ERA+: 154 | WAR: 6.9
Vioal road a World Series high into the 1988 season and rattled a league high 24 victories. He posted double-digit victories at home and on the road. Over the first half of the season, he had a 14-2 record with a 2.24 ERA including five complete games. In the month of May, he was a perfect 6-0 with a 1.53 ERA including two complete game shutouts.

8. Bert Blyleven, 1971
W-L: 16-15 |  2.81 ERA | 278.1 IP | 224 SO | ERA+: 126 | WAR: 6.9
There wasn't much of a sophomore slump for Mr. Blyleven. The 1971 season marked the beginning of a six year stretch where he would post an ERA of 3.00 or lower. It would also be the start of an eight year stretch where he threw a minimum of 11 complete games. Blyleven was starting his march toward the Hall of Fame.

9. Dean Chance, 1968
W-L: 16-16 |  2.53 ERA | 292.0 IP | 234 SO | ERA+: 124 | WAR: 6.6
Chance was coming off a 20-win season during his first season in Minnesota. His ERA was .20 points lower in 1968 and he tossed more innings. He had 15 complete games and six of those starts were shutouts. His 234 strikeouts were a career high that he would never break and his 0.98 WHIP was the only time he finished a season below 1.00 in this category.

10. Bert Blyleven, 1975
W-L: 15-10 |  3.00 ERA | 275.2 IP | 233 SO | ERA+: 129 | WAR: 6.4
The 1975 campaign would be Blyleven's last full season in Minnesota before he came back a decade later. His 20 complete games were his second highest total as a Twin behind his 1973 season. He struck out over 220 for the fifth straight year. In seven of his losses or no decisions, he pitched at least seven and gave up three runs or less.

Honorable Mentions: Dean Chance (1967), Camilo Pascual (1962), Dave Goltz (1977), Jim Perry, (1970), Jim Katt (1966), Jim Katt (1967), Jerry Koosman (1979), Francisco Liriano (2006)

Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. Who would be in your top 10 list?

Friday, September 19, 2014

Episode 100: Remembering the First 100 Shows

Welp, we made it to 100 episodes. Thank you to everyone that has listened to us ramble over the past two years. We've come a long way from Episode 1 and we're happy to have you along for the ride. Along the way we picked up a couple of hitch hikers in Cody Christie and Jay Corn, and we have fun every week talking Twins baseball. 

You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here, and if you want to add the show to your non-iTunes podcast player, this is the RSS Feed.
This week we talk about Trevor May, Phil Hughes and Ricky Nolasco, who all turned in strong performances, and we talk about the trio of Danny Santana, Oswaldo Arcia, and Kennys Vargas forming a young core of talent for future Twins teams. 

We spend some time Down on the Pond talking about the most productive Minor League seasons in the Twins system. 

Before we sign off we gave Jay time to wax poetic about Derek Jeter as he comes upon the end of his career (sparked by this new ad) and we wrap up Episode 100 talking about beer.

Thank you again for listening to us ramble, and be sure to check out Egon's Unicat, who have been providing us music for the podcast the entire time we've been around! 

You are all awesome!

Enjoy the show.
If you enjoy our podcast, please tell your friends about us and take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes. Ratings and reviews help the Twins to lose games and gain draft positions.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

How Can the Twins Prevent Runs?

"To win the game, you've gotta score more runs than the other team"--- Ricky Henderson, baseball's all-time running scoring leader

Baseball can be a very simple game but it always comes back to scoring more runs than the other team. This has always been the case and teams are challenged by how they should go about accomplishing this task. Should a team try and out slug the opposition to win in a high scoring fashion? Should a team use small ball to try and poke their way back into a game?

The 2014 Twins have actually done a very good job when it comes to scoring runs. Their 4.39 runs per game are seventh highest total in all of baseball. Where the Twins fall short is in the run prevention department. They allow 4.84 runs per game and that is the third worst total in baseball. 

To get back to the franchise's winning ways, the Twins are going to need to find a way to allow fewer runs to score. Again that might seem like a simple answer but the ways to improve this area might not be easy.

Improvements from the Starting Staff
The Twins starting pitchers have a combined 4.53 ERA, the fourth worst mark in baseball. Phil Hughes is the only starter with an ERA under 4.00. If you took Hughes out of the equation, the staff numbers wouldn't look too great. Every pitcher seems to have a clunker every now and then but it's important to limit damage. Some pitchers are obviously better at this than others.

While Hughes in the middle of his best professional season, there can be some expectations that there will be some regression next year. If the Twins can get small improvements from Ricky Nolasco, Kyle Gibson, and Trevor May, the team will be heading in the right direction. Alex Meyer's eventual debut could also help to improve the starting staff.

The pitching staff also needs to find a way to strikeout batters at a higher rate. Meyer should help in this area but he won't be the staff savior. Minnesota's staff gives up a lot of contact and the best way to lower runs is by not allowing the ball to be put in play.

Better Defense
The Twins have been rough at a few different defensive positions this season. For the purposes of this article, SABR's Defensive Index will be used. This is one of the pieces that is used to select the Gold Glove Winners.

Catcher: Out of qualifying catchers, Kurt Suzuki has been fifth worst in the American League. He has a negative rating through games of September 7, 2014. The Twins signed Suzuki to an extension around the trade deadline this year. That means the organization won't likely be improving defensively in this area.

First Base: Joe Mauer's transition to a new position has been fairly smooth. He already had a little experience at first base and he is an athletic person. Only Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera rank higher than him among AL first baseman. It wouldn't be surprising to see him at the top of the list as early as next year.

Second Base: Many fans might think Brian Dozier deserves a Gold Glove for his defense. He makes some spectacular plays but he also has plenty of misplays and errors. Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler are way ahead in the AL second base rankings because they don't make mistakes. If Dozier could improve defensively, his value would increase even with some of his recent struggles at the plate.

Third Base: Trevor Plouffe's defense might be the most surprising of all this year. In previous seasons he's looked like a stiff wall at third base. He is becoming more comfortable at the position and he ranks fourth in the AL at the hot corner. It will be interesting to see where Plouffe's future lies. Is it at third base or will he have to move for Miguel Sano?

Shortstop: The plan wasn't for Eduardo Escobar to be at short when the Twins left spring training but that's how baseball works. He hasn't been spectacular at shortstop but it's still good enough to rank third in the AL. Former Twin JJ Hardy is well ahead of the rest of the shortstop world and he's a free agent this off-season. Could Danny Santana do as well as Escobar at shortstop? The Twins haven't wanted to find out.

Outfield: The Twins filtered through a variety of outfielders this season so none of their players figure into the SABR Defensive Index. Minnesota will keep Oswaldo Arcia in one of the corner spots even though he is below average in the field. Center field could be a question mark. Santana has been adequate and he could get better with more repetitions at his new position. Left field could be up for grabs. Byron Buxton and his strong defensive ability could debut next year but that would come later in the season.

Shortstop and left field seem to be the areas where the Twins could improve the most defensively. If Aaron Hicks could make a huge leap offensively, his defense would be a welcome addition in the outfield. It would be nice to have a defensive upgrade at shortstop but the Twins have struggled for years to fill that position.

Even the Twins can make some small improvements to allow fewer runs, that'd be great. Otherwise, they are going to have to hope they can out slug their opponents to get back on the right track.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Five Twins Rebound Candidates for 2015

It has been a year of good and bad performances in Minnesota. Unfortunately, there has probably been more bad than good.

On the positive side of things, Phil Hughes has put together the best season of his professional career, Danny Santana has done some good things as a rookie, and the duo of Kennys Vargas and Oswaldo Arcia seem to be able to mash the ball out of any park.

There have been some players that haven't lived up to expectations for various parts of the year. Those players are trying to right the ship over the next couple weeks before 2014 comes to a close. Ending this year on a good note could help each of the following players to rebound in 2015.

Ricky Nolasco: When the Twins signed Nolasco this off-season to the biggest free agent deal in franchise history, there was a smattering of the fan base that said, "Who?" He had been a workhorse pitcher in the National League for multiple seasons but the transition to the American League has been anything but easy. There can be a variety of excuses thrown out in relation to his play this season. He could have been pitching through some injuries and he might have had a tough time adjusting to the new league. He'll be in the rotation next year and one has to hope that his performance will improve.

Joe Mauer: He's not playing catcher any more so there is supposed to be less wear and tear on his body. Even with the switch to a new position, it has been one of the worst offensive seasons on record for Mr. Mauer. His second half performance has been better than his first half performance (.695 OPS improving to .812 OPS), but it has come in half as many games. Fans will always focus on Mauer's performance because of his large contract and that's something he'll live with for the rest of his career. For 2015, the focus should be on getting back to the Mauer of old.

Aaron Hicks: There's a chance Hicks could end up winning the starting center field job for the third straight season coming out of spring training next year. The Twins would obviously need to see something from him in the coming weeks. Since becoming a September call-up, he hasn't exactly blown the cover off the ball. There haven't been a ton of signs pointing towards a rebound for Hicks but there have been flashes of good things in the minors and his first round pedigree always helps. Next year could be his last chance to make a mark with the Twins.

Trevor May: May's only seven starts into his MLB career so it's not too much of a stretch of the imagination to think he can improve. His outings in September have been better and that might be enough of a confidence boost to put him on a improve path moving forward. Kyle Gibson struggled last year in his first taste of the big leagues and he's turned into a much more serviceable pitcher this year. May's mission should be to follow in Gibson's footsteps for 2015. If he can fit into the middle of the rotation for the next handful of years, Twins fans would have to be happy with the result.

Brian Dozier: For fans that haven't been paying attention in recent weeks, Dozier's name might be a surprise on this list. After a tremendous first half of the season where there was a chance he would make the AL All-Star squad, Dozier has fizzled in the second half. His slugging percentage has dropped almost 100 points and this can be attributed to his lack of second half home runs. He hit 18 long balls in the first half and he's only hit one since July 23rd. There are younger players coming through the Twins system in the coming years that will want a middle infield job so Dozier needs to get back to the player he was in the first half.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Episode 99: Twins are Bad at Base Balling

There hasn’t been a lot of good things to talk about with this ball club. That doesn’t mean we don’t have things to talk about, and we even got into a couple of spirited conversations this week, most notably about the coaching staff and their uncertain future in Minnesota.
You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here, and if you want to add the show to your non-iTunes podcast player, this is the RSS Feed.

Mike Trout and the league leading Angels came to town and swept our hometown heroes, but at least Target Field faithful were reminded what winning baseball looks like.  We also discussed what it is like to watch bad baseball, and talked about the great article, “The Truth of Rooting for a Terrible Team” from The Hardball Times’ John Paschal.
The Twins released their minor league hitting coordinator, Bill Springman. What does that mean, if anything, going forward? The front office cited “organizational differences” which could mean just about anything and everything. We speculate exactly what it means.
We also talk about Jay Corn’s adventure with beer steins, and the upcoming MN Oktoberfest. And don’t forget about the #TwinsHelmetChallenge happening on Monday the 15th at Target Field.


If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes. Ratings and reviews are the currency we use to pay for helmets full of food at Target Field.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Bud Selig's Legacy in Minnesota: Contraction Threat

Bud Selig is set to retire this off-season after 22 years at the helm of Major League Baseball. Rob Manfred has already been voted in as his successor, a position he has been groomed for over since starting to work for MLB in 1998. The 55-year old Manfred will have a variety of issues on his plate as he takes over from the 80-year old Selig.

During Selig's tenure as commissioner, baseball has been marked by a variety of ups and downs. A large growth in attendance has increased revenue across the game. This has resulted in some slough of large contracts for baseball's more established players. Besides the positives, there was also a World Series that was cancelled because of a strike and the performance enhancing drug scandal impacted many parts of the baseball world.

For the Minnesota Twins, there have been some positive things that have happened under the Selig regime even if they can't all be credited to him. The Twins were able to finance a new stadium and Target Field has turned out to be a gem. Increases in revenue allowed the Twins to pay Joe Mauer one of the largest contracts in baseball. The organization also got to host the last All-Star Game with Selig as commissioner.

However, the biggest story surrounding the Twins and Selig will always be the threat of contraction made following the 2001 season. Minnesota and Montreal were left on the MLB's chopping block after Selig revealed owners had voted 28-2 to eliminate two teams.

Twins owner Carl Pohlad was frustrated with Minnesota's state government for not being able to come up with a deal to replace the outdated Metrodome. Pohlad would be paid $250 million to close out the franchise he purchased in 1984. There were a lot of things going wrong in the baseball world in the aftermath of September 11th.

In an interview with the Pioneer Press this summer, Selig said, "Contraction had nothing to do with Minnesota. Baseball was really struggling at the time, losing a fortune as a sport. There were owners who believed that contraction might help."

Luckily for Twins fan, contraction never happened. A Hennepin County judge ruled that the Twins had to honor their Metrodome lease for the 2002 season. The Twins took full advantage of their new life as they qualified for the playoffs for the first time since their 1991 World Series Championship. The team won the AL Central Division three straight seasons and six of the next nine years.

Minnesota found itself back on the baseball map but not after dealing with a situation that left more than one scar on the franchise. Selig did some good things for the Twins but his lasting memory will be the fact that he almost stole baseball away from a generation of fans in the Upper Midwest.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Wake Me Up When September Ends: Draft Position

This is the third post in a series looking at different story lines in relation to the Twins as the season comes to a close (Part 1: Starting Rotation, Part 2: Prospect Promotions) September has been a rough month over the last three seasons and this year is continuing to follow that trend. The moto of the month might be "Wake Me Up When September Ends" but there seems to be a small glimmer of hope on the horizon. This could give you a reason to still pay attention over the final weeks. 

At the midway point of the season, the Twins posted a 44-50 record to sit at a .469 winning percentage. Flash-forward to the second half of the year and Minnesota is 15 games under .500 with a .347 winning percentage (entering play on Tuesday). The younger players are working out some of their kinks but the losses continue to pile up.

During the 2013 season, the Twins finished the second half with a .386 winning percentage as the club was 16 games under .500 for that stretch. This included posting an 8-20 record for the final month of the year. 2012 and 2011 were also rough second halves with .390 and .301 winning percentages. That's a lot of losses piling up but bad rosters, injuries, and a rough group in the rotation will do that to a team.

If a person wants to look on the bright side of things, the mounting Minnesota losses do mean some positives. The 90-loss seasons of the last three year have resulted in the Twins earning three straight top five draft picks. This has brought a trio of top-notch prospects into the organization. Byron Buxton, Kohl Stewart, and Nick Gordon might be the key to get the organization back on track and those picks wouldn't have happened without some terrible Septembers.

The Twins recent losing ways to start the month of September have the club positioned to slide into a top five pick for the fourth year in a row.
Projected 2015 MLB Draft Order
1. Texas Rangers  54-89  
2. Houston Astros
3. Colorado Rockies  59-85 4.5 GB
4. Arizona D-Backs  59-84 5.0 GB
5. Minnesota Twins  61-82 7.0 GB
6. Houston Astros  63-81  8.5 GB
7. Boston Red Sox  63-81 8.5 GB
The Texas Rangers seem to have a stronghold on the top pick in the draft and Houston is guaranteed to pick second after failing to sign this year's top pick, Brady Aiken, This leaves the Twins hunting down the Diamondbacks and the Rockies for the third worst record in baseball.

When looking at the strength of schedule for these teams, this could be shaping up to be a tight race to the end. The Twins opponents the rest of the way have roughly a .500 winning percentage which is tied with the Rockies. The Diamondbacks have a little bit easier road with opponents winning percentage around .480. The Red Sox and the Astros are behind Minnesota and they have tougher opponents the rest of the way.

How well a team is playing can also impact their draft position. Some teams play a lot better than their overall record down the stretch. Over the last 20 games, the Twins have the 26th worst record in baseball. The only team on the above list with record as bad as Minnesota is Arizona and they have the same record. Texas and Boston are one game better. While some teams have been struggling, the Rockies have been two games over .500 in the last 20.

So what's the prize at the end of the road? It's tough to know how the draft will shape up over the next few months. When dealing with a combination of high school and college players, a lot can impact their draft stock. Last week, Baseball America said "one of the strengths of this draft class is high school bats and prep power." That being said, it sounds like the top of the draft will be pitcher-heavy.

Does losing stink at the end of the year? Well yes but another top notch prospect could only add to their organization's depth.

If you are going to be bad, it pays to be really bad...

especially in September. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Episode 98: September Call-Ups and Chief Schmuck

The calendar has turned over, September is here, kids are going back to school and some of the Twins minor leaguers have arrived in Minnesota. Paul, Jay and Cody discuss the eight September call ups, the departure of Sam Deduno and the Trevor May's first career MLB victory.

You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here, and if you want to add the show to your non-iTunes podcast player, this is the RSS Feed.
E Rolf has abandonded the podcast crew this week, instead opting to drink beer at Target Field. We can't blame him. In fact, we invite you to join him and Jay at Target Field on September 15th when the Twins take on the Tigers to participate in the Target Field Helmet Challenge. Tickets are currently available on the interwebz for $3!
Cody created a fun before and after game, a la Wheel of Fortune, which is then followed by all the usual fun stuff, beers, and Japanese High School baseball games that go on for 50 innings.

Enjoy the show.

If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes. Ratings and reviews are the new Ice Bucket Challenge, tell your friends and GET A BUCKET! 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Twins Minor League Report (9/2): Kanzler Crushes

Three of the Twins affiliates are in the midst of a run for their respective league titles. This is a growing trend over the last couple of seasons in the Twins system as the organization stockpiles younger players. Hopefully these winning ways will start to translate to the major league level over the next couple of seasons but for now the focus is on the task at hand.

The Miracle kicked off their Florida State League playoff series on Tuesday night. Fort Myers has been strong the last two years but they were swept out of the first round last season. This year their eyes are on a higher prize.

The E-Twins suffered a one-run loss on Monday that would have put them into the Appalachian League Championship. This meant they will hand the ball to Felix Jorge, one of the Twins best pitching prospects, in a decisive third game. They are looking to win the Apply League crown for the second time in three years.

MIRACLE MATTERS/ FLORIDA STATE LEAGUE PLAYOFFS
Fort Myers 8, Bradenton 7
Box Score
Pre-Game Notes: On Tuesday it was announced that a pair of Miracle players had been given awards. The Florida State League awarded Stuart Turner was named the Hitter of the Week and Ethan Mildren was named the Pitcher of the Week. Turner went 8-for-18 in during the week with two homers and eight RBI. Mildren pitched a complete game shutout pitching seven innings and only allowing three hits.

Game Recap: After two innings in Tuesday night's game, the Miracle found themselves in a hole. Anderlin Mejia had a fielding error when there were already two outs in the frame. Bradenton took advantage of this extra out by scoring seven unearned runs to be scored against Miracle starter Brett Lee. By the end of the inning, Fort Myers was down 7-3.

In the top of the fourth inning, the first three batters of the inning reached base via walk. This brought Jason Kanzler to the plate to face a new pitcher out of the bullpen. He crushed a grand slam to right field to tie the game. It was his second extra-base hit of the night and he drove in six runs. Max Kepler had the only other extra-base hit with a double that drove in a run.

The second biggest hit of the night came in the sixth inning after a rain delay. Following a Niko Goodrum strikeout, Travis Harrison got things started with a double to left. Dalton Hicks wasted little time and drove a single to right field that scored Harrison from second as the Miracle took the lead.

The Miracle bullpen was outstanding as they shutout the Marauders over the last 7.1 frames. During that stretch, there were only four base runners that reached base. Todd Van Steensel earned the win after he threw one inning and struck out one. Nick Burdi needed a helpful double play to get out of the eighth but he earned a hold. Zack Jones saved the game with a perfect ninth including two strikeouts.


E-TWINS E-NOTES/ APPY LEAGUE PLAYOFFS
Elizabethton 4, Johnson City 5
Pre-game Notes: There was some unfortunate news that came out in relation to the E-Twins. Nick Gordon, the Twins first round pick this year, is out for the season after breaking a bone in his left index finger. He is done for the season and will miss all of the Instructional League with the injury. 

Game Recap: The E-Twins took an early lead in this one after a two-run home run by Tyler Kuresa. Tanner English had started the bottom of the first with a single. The next two batters were retired but Kuresa made sure Elizabethton wouldn't leave the frame empty-handed. Johnson City responded quickly with three runs of their own in the top of the second to take the lead for the first time.

In the bottom of the third, the Twins used a trio of singles and a throwing error to push across two runs and retake the lead. Blake Schmit, Trey Vavra, and Tyler Kuresa all collected hits with one out in the inning. The Johnson City shortstop tried to turn a quick double play to end the inning but the ball got by the first baseman and Vavra was able to score all the way from second. 

Johnson City scored a run in the sixth off of starter Felix Jorge to tie the game. Jorge finished with 5.2 innings pitched as he gave up four earned runs on eight hits. He struck out six and walked none. C.K. Irby gave up the go-ahead run on a wild pitch in the top of the seventh. 

There was a lengthy rain delay before the bottom of the ninth inning but the E-Twins didn't have enough in the tank to continue their season. They lose by one run for the second straight night to be eliminated.


TWINS DAILY PLAYERS OF THE DAY
Pitcher of the Day: Zack Jones, Fort Myers Miracle
Hitter of the Day: Jason Kanzler, Fort Myers Miracle

WEDNESDAY'S PROBABLE STARTERS
Bradenton @ Fort Myers (6:05 CST)- TBA (Listen) Miracle lead 1-0
Burlington @ Cedar Rapids (6:35 CST)- TBA (Listen) Game 1