Your place for Minnesota Twins and New Britain Rock Cats coverage, analysis and opinion.

Friday, April 29, 2011

For Shame

Things really can't get much worse for the Twins. Really. The flu bug has infected a good portion of the team, Joe Mauer may or may not resume baseball activities in the foreseeable future, and our "ace" Francisco Liriano has been one of the least effective starting pitchers in baseball. The list goes on (Casilla not being a good baseball player, Thome injured, Delmon Young talking himself onto the DL and possibly out of Minnesota), and on (Nick Blackburn walking a lot of batters and not being a good pitcher when we need it). Thankfully, Kubel and Span have been bright spots.

I wish we knew more about the injuries. When the President of the United States has his annual physical, the results are released to the public. We know all the details, even the gross ones. I don't expect the same level of transparency from the Twins, as we don't have a right to know and they don't want to reduce any perceived competitive advantage, but I do expect more than the media and fans have been given. It wasn't until yesterday's brief press conference that we knew that Joe Mauer was still alive, and in Minnesota, and still has that gorgeous head of hair. Thanks again for that, Head & Shoulders. He's the face of the franchise: he has to step up, take his lumps, and answer questions related to his mysterious injuries. Kirby and Torii were always available to the media. Think about the questions Derek Jeter has faced this year about his contract details, icy relationship with Brian Cashman and declining production. He sits there and answers every single one, day in and day out. Mauer, the MLB veteran, should no longer be handled with kid gloves. Frankly, it was nice to see Jim Souhan at the Star Tribune use his column to essentially make this point.

Further, Ron Gardenhire has no place snapping at reporters that are asking questions about these injuries. The media is doing its job, and is finally asking some pretty pointed questions - - questions that fans want answered. I'm not going to blame Gardy for much of this injury stuff, and I recognize that some of it is unknown/untold to him, but as the manager he's ultimately responsible for the team and should, when asked, share as much information as possible.

Things really cannot get much worse. The calendar is about to turn to May, the weather will get warmer (maybe that means Delmon will be able to get loose?), and inevitably some of the guys in the lineup will begin producing. The question is whether, when those things happen, we will be 7 or 17 games out of first place?

A few links:

North Dakota Twins Fan has a good rundown of Mauer's mysterious leg injury.

K-Bro's Baseball Blog reports on Delmon's injury, as well as the other (approximate) 45 ailments hampering the Twins.

Andrew at Off the Mark analyzes Liriano's pretty awful 2011 and his struggles to pitch to contact.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Baltimore Game 4 . . . 2 Days Late

I made it to Camden Yards for the final game of the Twins-Orioles series. Because the Orioles have been so bad in recent years, tickets are easy to come by. We ended up sitting 2 rows above the Twins dugout, and were surrounded (mostly) by Twins fans, many from Minnesota. It was a very friendly group, and it was awesome to hear this section yelling the Twins players' nicknames (Koobs, Cuddy, etc.). It was also neat to see media "personalities" and Twins' heroes Bert Blyleven and Tim Laudner in the Twins' dugout chatting up players and doing their homework before the game.

For those that have never been, Camden Yards is an excellent stadium, one of the best places to watch a ballgame. We arrived early for batting practice, and a few guys, including Cuddyer, Thome and Valencia, did not disappoint. Similarly, the Twins did not disappoint. Scott Baker was dealing all night long. His fastball was lively, and there were only a few well struck balls against him. In fact, he was so dominant that I never felt that the game was in jeopardy with him on the mound, despite the Twins' small lead.

Hero of the game: Jim Thome. I haven't seen him play, in person, since he played for the Cleveland Indians. I suppose we have both aged. It was pretty cool to see home run # 591 from about 50 feet away. Although it wasn't hit quite as far as his home run earlier this year at Target Field, this was a well struck baseball, reaching the bleachers in center field; most importantly, it got the Twins on the board early in the game, something which has been lacking in 2011. Later in the game, Thome delivered a single with runners in scoring position - - again, another statistic in which the Twins have been lagging. Michael Cuddyer hit a no-doubter to straight-away left field, Matt Capps pitched well in the ninth, and I think Alexi Casilla even singled and scored somewhere in there (on Thome's single), so it was a pretty good game, and, most importantly, a Twins' victory.

It's great to write about the Twins, and to listen to the games on the radio, or watch the games on tv, but the best thing of all is live, outdoor baseball. Further, on a personal level, I connected with a childhood friend and fellow Minnesota native who now lives "in the beltway," so it was a great opportunity to share baseball with another Twins fan.

Finally, Baltimore being the home of my childhood hero, Cal Ripken, Jr., I had to get a picture with his plaque on Eutaw Street.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What's the Best Pitch in Baseball?

What's the best pitch in baseball? According to my American Legion coach, the answer is Strike 1. That's right, the best pitch in baseball is not Jim Hoey's 97 MPH fastball painting the black on the lower outside corner; it's not Bert Blyleven's curveball that buckled and humiliated right-handed batters for decades, and it's not Frankie V's change-up that helped propel the 1987 Twins to the World Series. Getting ahead in the count consistently is a better advantage than any one type of pitch in a hurler's arsenal.

Now, let's be clear: I am not suggesting that Twins pitchers should throw a first-pitch strike to every hitter, every game. We saw last night that Liriano got in trouble at the end of his outing, giving up 2 first-pitch home runs. He was tiring, he could not locate his pitches as well, and the Orioles made him pay. Major league batters and coaches are adept at catching onto trends and patterns, and it wouldn't take all game for them to realize that our pitcher has just thrown a belt-high, first pitch fastball to 25 batters in a row. I am, however, suggesting that the Twins do preach the right mentality in teaching and demanding control--specifically first-pitch strikes, from their throwers. And haven't we seen it from the other side, as well: How many Twins fans and bloggers have commented at the fat first pitches that Joe Mauer almost always takes for strikes, thus beginning many at-bats in the hole?

In 2010, Fransisco Liriano threw a first pitch strike to 61.7 % of batters faced. That is the highest such percentage of his career. The second highest figure for Liriano was in 2006, when he threw 60.5 % first pitch strikes. Unquestionably, those were Liriano's two best years in the big leagues, and certainly, he had many other things going for him, such as good velocity and that killer slider. But getting that first pitch strike on a consistent basis allowed Liriano to work ahead in the count, and allowed him leeway to work off the plate. This last statement is underscored by the fact that, in 2010, Liriano got opposing hitters to swing at 34.4 % of pitches outside of the strike zone. That figure, far and away, has been Liriano's career high. Regardless of whether the batter makes contact with those pitches swung at outside of the strike zone, common sense dictates that the batting average on those particular balls put in play is going to be relatively low.

So far, in 2011, Liriano has thrown first pitch strikes to just 49.5 % of opposing hitters, and hitters are swinging at 26 % of his pitches out of the strike zone. To be fair, these are small sample sizes, but for anyone that has watched Liriano pitch, he has been wild, has walked many batters (5 last night against one of the worst lineups in the American League), and has been working behind in the count so often that it often becomes uncomfortable watching him. Increasing his control on the first pitch (but not throwing meatballs) is the surest way for Liriano to regain his 2010 form. Starting 0-1 on two of every three batters achieves several things: it gives batters one less strike to wait for, thus decreasing their selectivity; it constitutes one less strike Liriano has to throw to get a K, which, as a power pitcher, he will hopefully do fairly often; it will lead to fewer walks; and it allows Liriano to expand the strike zone, thus inducing swings-and-misses on balls off the plate, and those weak choppers and pop-ups that we all love seeing.

Just for comparison, here are the 2010 first strike percentages of Roy Halladay (67.3%), and Felix Hernandez (61.1 %), the 2010 Cy Young award winners. When he is "on," as he was for a long stretch last year, I put Liriano's "stuff" right up there with these guys'. One step towards achieving ace status, then, is to start taking command of that strike zone on the first pitch. Get in the driver's seat, Frankie!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Mauer to DL - - Underscores Larger Issues

Let's just assume for now that Joe Mauer, after 2 weeks of rest and strength training for his legs, will return to form in May, from his case of bilateral leg weakness that has landed him on the disabled list. If that's the case, I have little doubt that he'll be back to batting .300, with some power, catching a good game, and being a cornerstone of this team. There are larger issues, however, that necessitate discussion.

This may be viewed as a knee-jerk reaction, and it perhaps is, but this latest injury, in my opinion, simply underscores the fact that Mauer's years as the Twins' catcher are numbered. There is no doubt that, when healthy, Mauer provides great value for the Twins: you can count on one hand the number of above-average defensive catchers who win batting titles. In fact, you might only need one finger for that calculation. When healthy, Mauer has the ability to change games in single at-bats, even without hitting home runs. When healthy, he is an electrifying player. The problem, as all Twins fans now know, is that, by playing catcher, Mauer rarely is 100% healthy.

I am interested in this from a Minnesota Twins business standpoint. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I advocated moving in the fences at Target Field to accommodate players, specifically Mauer and Morneau -- not because these players had complained about the fences -- but because the Twins have long-term commitments to the M & M boys that will approach a quarter of a billion dollars. Viewed in that context, in terms of maximizing your investment, moving the fences is at least worth a serious discussion at the front office. Similarly, the Twins are married to Joe Mauer for this year and at least 7 more. And I have little doubt that, when his contract expires, he will sign some sort of legacy contract to remain a Twin for his career. This is especially the case if this current crop of Twins is able to win a World Series some time during the 8 years. In the end, I wouldn't be surprised if the Twins paid Mauer another $50-$75 million after this contract expires. To that end, from a business standpoint, the organization must to what is necessary to protect, and to maximize, its investment in Mauer.

It's time to face the fact that, as a catcher, Mauer is going to have chronic problems that will only get worse as he ages, and that it is time to discuss where else on the field he can be moved. Not in 3 or 4 years, but much sooner. For $23 million a year, I either want Mauer playing 85% of the games at catcher and batting like he bats when healthy, or playing a corner outfield position, or third base, playing in nearly all games. Sure, he won't be worth the same to the Twins playing outfield as he would catching, but at this point, the organization needs to think about salvaging Mauer's future.

Mauer still is the best player on this team, when healthy; he still regularly changes the course of games, when healthy; he still is electrifying to watch, when healthy. He can do all of those things at a number of other positions. Bill Smith and the front office need to start having serious discussions on this topic.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Twins MVP Through 1/16 of Season: Matt Capps

Though it's very early into 2011, the Twins sure haven't looked great, especially on offense. This is underscored by the fact that, in one game, Michael Cuddyer was able to double his batting average by compiling 4 hits. The offense just hasn't been there with any consistency. There have, however, been a few bright spots.

If asked to pick a Twins MVP through this first rough stretch, I would select Matt Capps, hands down. Having been a successful closer for the Washington Nationals, and having stepped into that role last summer for the Twins, it had to have been a blow to Capps' pride to be shifted into the set-up man role upon Joe Nathan's return. True to his nature as a generally good guy, though, Capps said not a single word in opposition of this move. Instead, he has let his efficient pitching do the talking.

Aside from an ugly inning in Toronto during an ugly Twins loss on April 2, where Capps allowed 3 hits and 1 run in an inning of work, he has been excellent. More specifically, in his 4 subsequent appearances out of the bullpen, totaling 5 2/3 innings, Capps has not allowed a hit, a walk or a run. What is most impressive to me, however, is his pitching efficiency. For example, in the Twins' lone win against the Yankees, Capps pitched 2 full innings and threw only 16 pitches. And, in nearly 2 innings last night against the Royals, he threw only 19 pitches, 15 for strikes, stranding a runner on 3rd base with a clutch strikeout. He is performing his new role extremely well, namely, serving as a bridge between the starter/relief pitcher and Joe Nathan.

Further, because Capps has not been throwing very many pitches per outing, the Twins should be able to make use of his services as often as needed--hopefully very often. Finally, although I don't have a statistic for this, it appears to me that the balls hit against Capps have generally not been that well struck. There have been many routine grounders and fly balls that have saved Twins' fielders from having to make superb plays to keep the team, and Capps, in the game.

Simply stated, the Twins made a very good decision when they decided to retain Capps, although many fans wondered, at the time, why the Twins were essentially paying two closers. Now we know: Joe Nathan, although effective, isn't 100% yet, and Capps, in the set-up role, can easily close if needed. On paper, the Twins have an incredibly dominant 8th and 9th inning pitching combo. Now, they just need starters to pitch 7 innings, and the offense to get a lead.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Brief Observations

Well, the first full week of Twins baseball has come and gone. I expected more than a dismal 3-6 start, notwithstanding that most of those games were against the Blue Jays and the Yankees. Luckily, the Twins have 153 games to turn the season around, and they head down to Tampa Bay to play a team that also is struggling. I have confidence that, in the next week, the Twins will turn things around. Here are a few quick thoughts on these first 9 games:

1. Jim Thome can still hit the ball really, really far. Those that were likening re-signing Thome to the Vikings' re-signing of Favre were, and continue to be, out to lunch. Gardy will use Thome appropriately, rest him sufficiently, and Thome will stick to his vigorous stretching and training program to ensure that his body can withstand another year of baseball. Between yesterday's home run (that was hit much farther than the purported 440 foot measurement), and his drive off the top of the center field fence at Yankee Stadium, I feel confident in stating that he'll hit #600 by the middle of July.

2. Aside from the unusually high number of walks issued, Twins pitchers haven't been all that bad. I'm not saying they have been good. But, they have kept the team in the game. All it would have taken Saturday or Sunday against Oakland is one small rally, and our pitchers would not have been in the loss column. The bullpen also has been decent. Twins pitchers will start exhibiting command over the strike zone (for pete's sake, it's taught from day 1 in Twins instructional league), and things will begin to fall into place.

3. How long does Alexi Casilla have before he loses his starting job? If this were New York, Gardy would be asked each day about Casilla's potential timeline and a list of replacements. Thankfully for Casilla, he probably has longer to wear out his welcome than he would if he were playing elsewhere. Between his failure to drive in the runner from third with no outs on Saturday, the error that scored the only run of the game, and generally pathetic plate appearances, Casilla needs to turn it around. I'm not expecting big things out of the 9-hole, but I am expecting major league level play, which we have yet to see from him with any consistency.

4. Morneau has been reaching base. Justin is making contact, and ripped a nice double down the first base line yesterday. Compared to last weekend at Toronto, he looks much more comfortable at the plate. I think by the end of the month, we're going to be seeing the Justin of old. A welcome sign; a remarkable recovery.

5. Joe Mauer needs to step up. Sure, it's early in the season; sure, he has hit several balls hard that happened to be grounders; sure, there's often no one on base in front of him; sure, he had relatively few at-bats in spring training. I don't care. We saw a great (see also: rare) display of Pauer (which is the word I use to describe when Joe hits the ball with authority in the air) yesterday when Mauer slugged a liner off the wall in right-center. It would have been a home run in some parks. We need more of that. I know, his swing naturally produces grounders and line drives. That's great and everything, but it is nice to know that Mauer can still pull the ball with authority. And, given the fact that many teams have been busting him inside, he's going to need to do that this season to be successful.

The boys have a day off today, then down to Tampa. Time to wake up and start hitting the ball hard.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Mauer to Unveil New Shoes at Mall of America; Value Questioned

In support of what has become an increasingly long list of product endorsements, Joe Mauer will be on hand at the Mall of America on Saturday morning to help introduce his new shoe, the Huarache Zoom TR Low. Reportedly, this shoe will be styled with the Twins' colors of navy, red and white, with one of the footbeds featuring an image of Mauer's swing. It is sure to become a popular item.

As of this writing, the cost of the shoes is uncertain, but a pair is rumored to be approximately $184. Although this is certainly a steep price to pay for shoes, it is important to note that it is simply "market value" for a premium shoe manufactured by a quality company with a solid reputation. This shoe design is essentially one-of-a-kind. It should be noted, however, that early reviews of the shoes have noted a couple "chronic" problems in the test samples, including unusually quick weardown on the soles; these problems can often be treated, but the shoes will need to be taken in for repair and, consequently, will often be unavailable for short periods of time. As a result, the reviewers recommended giving the shoes at least one day off per week from their "shoe rotation" in order to maximize their longevity, thus ensuring that the consumer realizes the most value from their purchase.

Economists also noted the possibility that there could exist buyers' remorse after they get the shoes home and wear them for a while. Reported one reviewer, "what once felt to the consumer like a 'must-have,' maybe even a 'no-brainer,' may, in retrospect, seem like it was not such a good deal. People might get these shoes home, wear them for a while, and then realize that, maybe they could have purchased several cheaper pairs of shoes for the same price, or even have augmented other parts of their wardrobe instead of getting these shoes. But now they're stuck with these shoes forever."

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Carl Pavano's Personal Catcher

Tonight, Pavano is starting for the Twins in the Bronx. As always, it will be tough to eke out a win against the Yankees. It will be even more difficult, however, if Pavano's "personal catcher," Drew Butera, starts tonight.

I generally have no problem with an ace pitcher requesting a certain catcher. If it makes them more comfortable, and helps them to pitch better, then so be it. But Pavano really isn't an ace pitcher. To be sure, he is an above-average, veteran MLB pitcher who has played very well for Minnesota, and who chose to come back to the Twins when he could have had other offers. But it is a stretch to describe Pavano, holder of a career 4.37 ERA, as an ace.

Drew Butera is a very good defensive catcher, and a horrible hitter. Now, we all know that Joe Mauer will need days off to keep his legs and knees in playing condition, so it makes sense to have a reliable back-up backstop on the team. And Butera nicely fills that role on the defensive side, which is his primary function. But to suggest that, regardless of the day, the schedule, and the pitching match-up, Mauer will not catch when Pavano pitches, is ridiculous. Tonight, old foe Freddy Garcia will be taking the hill for the Yankees. In a pretty decent sample size, it is evident that Mauer has had excellent success against Garcia, batting .419 (13 for 31), with 2 HRs. It appears that Butera has never faced Garcia, but I would take my chances with Mauer any day against Garcia.

Finally, although it's only the first week in April, this is an important game for the Twins. If Pavano can keep us in the game, the fact that this team has had proven success against Garcia, and is coming off a "surprise" win in NY, bodes well for their chances tonight. To give the Twins the best chance, Mauer should be catching and batting third. Let him, if necessary, take tomorrow off: Thursday is a day game after a night game, anyway, so that makes more sense to me.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

3 Keys Against C.C.

Last night's game was disappointing. Baker gave up 4 runs before I had finished dinner, Mauer clearly isn't in a groove, and the Twins missed a couple opportunities to tie the game, leading to yet another loss against those bastard Yankees.

Tonight the assignment is even tougher, having to face C.C. Sabathia. Let's not forget, though, that the Twins were not awful against C.C. in the 2010 playoffs: in 6 innings at Target Field, the portly lefty gave up 4 runs (3 earned), 1 HR, and walked 3. It was an effective, but by no means dominating, performance. The Twins tonight have the opportunity to make use of their revamped lineup against Sabathia, and I hope they do so. Here are a few keys to making the formidable fat foe uncomfortable.

1. I want to see Casilla/Span/Nishioka bunt. They all have the ability to do it effectively, and it should be done. It is well known that C.C. hates to leave the mound, unless he is chasing after a box of cereal that needs eating. I'm not saying these guys need to be bunting every time they bat, but should the situation present itself early in the game, it may distract Sabathia. Anything that gets this guy out of a groove is worth trying.

2. Michael Cuddyer. It's time for him to have a big game. He homered off of C.C. in ALDS game 1 last year, he sat last night, and he purchased those shirts for his teammates reading: "WIN" one one side, and "Don't be denied" on the other. Time to start driving in some runs and hitting the ball with authority.

3. Pitch inside. There's no denying that Baker's start was disappointing. Here's where I'm going to give him a slight pass, though: I was hoping that 1 Yankee player would hit the dust last night. I'm not saying I wanted Baker to hit a guy (or if he did hit someone, I of course wouldn't want him to go headhunting or anything like that), but it's time that Twins pitchers started owning the inner half of the plate against these patient Yankees hitters. Sure enough, Baker came inside on Teixeira, but it was a slider that hit his foot. I would not advise plunking the hitter that bats in front of a man with over 600 career HRs. Next batter, Baker had the right idea again, buzzing A-Rod with a fastball up and in. It showed ownership of the plate and demonstrated that Rodriguez, and the rest of the lineup, couldn't expect to stand in the batter's box all night waiting for belt high fastballs down the middle. It was the pitch that followed that was the problem, namely, the one that Rodriguez promptly deposited into the left field bleachers. My suggestion tonight is that Brian Duensing do the same thing, sort of. Establish the inner part of the plate by backing hitters off early in the game. I do not, however, suggest hitting anyone batting in front of A-Rod.

Statistically, there's no denying that tonight's matchup doesn't present the best chance for the Twins. If this is going to be a competitive team, however, this is a game that they need to steal from the Yankees. Let's be doormats no longer.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Joe Mauer Has to Bat in the 8th Today

I think Ron Gardenhire is one of the best managers in baseball. I firmly believe that he deserved the Manager of the Year Award last year, and in several other years, as well. I generally agree with many of his decisions. Today, however, I found myself in disbelief when Gardy failed to have Joe Mauer pinch hit for Drew Butera in the 8th inning.

To be sure, Drew Butera had a pretty good game. He had a fantastic bunt hit to load the bases in the 5th inning, and generally called a good game. He is also a very good defensive catcher. But a great hitter he is not. Mauer had the day off today, which I guess is fine, but in the 8th inning, against Blue Jays' righty Shawn Camp, with runners on second and third and two outs, and the Twins holding a narrow 1-run lead, there's exactly one man I want batting: Joe Mauer. And guess what, he just happens to play catcher, the spot that was due to bat! Instead, Butera had a putrid at-bat, striking out on a breaking ball about a foot off the plate. Unless he is injured, Joe Mauer needed to bat in that situation for two reasons.

First, he is clearly a significantly better hitter than Butera. Just for the record, Mauer is 1 for 3 against Shawn Camp, with 2 walks. Sure, a statistically insignificant sample size, but it does reinforce the general proposition that whenever he comes to bat, Joe Mauer has a good chance to get a hit and an even better chance to reach base safely, either of which would have been great in the late innings of a tight game.

Second, and maybe more important, with the Twins holding a lead, Joe Nathan was scheduled to pitch the 9th inning. Sure enough, the Twins held off the Blue Jays in the bottom of the 8th inning, and Nathan did throw the 9th. This was, by my calculation, Nathan's first real save opportunity since some time in October, 2009. He was clearly nervous and excited. In the end, Nathan was successful in the sense that he got the save and the Twins won. I think Nathan would have preferred to have Joe Mauer catch his first save in nearly 18 months. To be sure, Nathan and Mauer have been working as a team since 2005; the pair undoubtedly have a comfort level, and pairing Nathan with Mauer, on some level, I believe, would have alleviated at least a tiny degree of nerves Nathan must have been feeling.

In the end, the Twins won, and will not take a 3 game losing streak into the Bronx. Had Span not homered in the 9th to give the Twins a 2-run lead, and had the Blue Jays come back to win this game, Gardy would have had to come up with a pretty good reason that Mauer stayed on the bench in the 8th inning. Next time, I want our franchise player up in that situation unless he is not healthy enough to swing a bat.

Bright Spots

The first two games of 2011 have, by any objective measurement, been very disappointing. Unusual defensive miscues, poor starting and relief pitching, and a general lack of hitting have plagued this team early on. It's easy to write on these issues, partially because there were so many problems in the first two games. Instead, though, I'm going to briefly focus on a few bright spots in these first couple games.

First, Nishioka is fast on the basepaths. He stole second yesterday, and looked very good doing so. I thought it was odd that he slid feet-first into second. As long as he can get on base, I think he will be very fun to watch, and he will make Mauer/Morneau/Young/Kubel/Thome's jobs easier. We lacked a consistent speed presence in the 2-hole last year, and this is a significant upgrade.

Joe Mauer played excellent defense yesterday. I only watched the first half of the game, but he saved at least a run, and kept several balls in front of him (mostly sliders it looked like) that otherwise would have been wild pitches. Of course, this is his job as catcher, but we should not take for granted that he still is a very good defensive catcher. I know, he wins Gold Gloves every year, but those have become a joke in many circumstances (see: Jeter, Derek). A healthy Mauer is still one of the better defensive catchers in the game.

Span has been getting on base. Yes, an extremely small sample size, yet encouraging nonetheless. I think it is important that he start out hot, whether it's through hits, walks, or just having quality at-bats. He was 1 for 3 yesterday with a walk. Just what this team will need out of the top spot in the lineup.

As for everything else, well, things can't get much worse. Hopefully those little things like pitching, hitting and defense will iron themselves out. I think the Twins will come out of the gates swinging today.

Friday, April 1, 2011


Minnesota Twins Opening Day has arrived. We have made it. October, 2010, saw a quick and dreadful exit from the playoffs, and the offseason was somewhat disappointing to many fans, but you have to admit that the starting 9 look pretty good on paper. Given the (lack of) production we saw last year from the middle infield combo of Hudson and Hardy, I think, in the aggregate, that Nishioka and Casilla will be at least equal, if not an upgrade. Nishioka in particular I expect to be an offensive catalyst. This lineup, if healthy, should be able to compete with any major league team. The pitching has me a little worried, but the Twins have been adept at filling holes midseason through trades and other pick-ups. You never know who's going to be on the block in June and July.

As others have written, it is somewhat ironic that Justin Morneau, playing his first game since last July, will be taking the field at the same ballpark where he suffered his serious and debilitating concussion. Unlike Jim Souhan, who suggested that perhaps Morneau should sit out the first series in Toronto, I think it's best if he gets back on track as soon as possible. Tonight is probably one of the bigger games in his career, and I think he's anxious to just get it out of the way. I honestly don't expect much from him offensively these first few weeks. From the little I have watched, he does not yet look comfortable at the plate. And that's fine - it might take him 50 or 100 at-bats to feel comfortable again. I'm willing to wait. Although every game counts the same, I want him healthy and productive in September and October more than on April 1.

I think this is going to be a great year for Twins baseball. Bert Blyleven will finally be inducted into the Hall of Fame and join the ranks of Twins legends such as Kent Hrbek and Harmon Killebrew by having his number retired, a Tony Oliva statue will be unveiled, and the organization will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the 1991 World Series, which is generally regarded as one of the best World Series in modern day baseball. As long as the 2011 Twins can keep pace in the division, I like their chances down the stretch, and I have confidence that the front office will make a move or two, when necessary, to help the team reach the postseason again.