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

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Picture is Worth . . .

There will be much more to delve into in coming weeks and months as the Twins try to reconstruct their lineup, shore up the bullpen, and ensure that their star players have a healthy and productive offseason. I hope to continue to write regularly about things such as trade rumors, free agents, and my thoughts on who should start the 2012 season in Minnesota (Chris Parmelee??), and who needs a few at-bats in Rochester (spoiler alert: I'm looking at you, Tsuyoshi Nishioka).

But for now, I think this picture sums up nicely the Twins' season. While Evan Longoria was getting mobbed in Tampa Bay for hitting a walk-off home run to get the Rays into the playoffs, we had a similar walk-off in Minnesota. The difference being, of course, that Trevor Plouffe's walk-off single ensured that the Twins would lose 99, and not 100, games this season.

I hope this picture is framed and put in the front offices at Target Field as a constant reminder of how quickly things can change. It can be replaced with a different picture when there is again something worthy of celebrating.

OK, enough gloom. Only 4 months and change until pitchers and catchers report to Ft. Myers. I'll be ready!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Home Run Watch Update: Mauer vs. Montero

If you're an east coast baseball fan, this was probably an exciting weekend of baseball for you. The Red Sox, plummeting by any definition of the word, were trying to hang onto their postseason hopes, and had the misfortune of playing the Yankees, in the Bronx. Meanwhile, the charging Rays played Toronto. As it stands right now, the Sox have a 1 game lead in the wild card.

But I have some more relevant news to report. If you have been reading this blog, you will know that, for no really good reason, I have been tracking the home runs of new Yankee catcher Jesus Montero, versus the home runs of Joe Mauer. Truthfully, I don't care if Mauer hits many home runs, as long as his average is high, and he hits doubles. Still, however, this is a fun exercise in what has just been a disgusting season for the Twins. This weekend marked a turning point in the Mauer-Montero battle.

On Saturday, Jesus Montero hit another home run (he actually was just a triple short of the cycle), giving him 4 on the season in 58 plate appearances (52 official at-bats). His slash line thus far is .346/.414/.635, and manager Joe Girardi has indicated that Montero will be on the postseason roster. In addition to the 4 home runs, Montero has 3 doubles; 7 of his 18 big league hits have been for extra bases. Yes, this is a tiny sample size, and yes, the league will adjust to Montero, but it is impressive that he is making such a debut playing at Yankee Stadium in the midst of a pennant race.

Our own Joe Mauer, on the other hand, was shut down for the remainder of the season with pneumonia. Mauer ended the season with 3 home runs in 333 plate appearances (296 at-bats). He hit 15 doubles, as well, and his slash line was .287/.360/.368, well below his career averages of .323/.403/.471. 18 extra base hits in 296 at-bats was not what Twins fans, Mauer, his coaches, or teammates had hoped for. I'm glad Mauer has already begun the off-season. Except for a few weeks when he was hitting the ball hard and recording multiple hits in games, it was obvious that Mauer was never healthy. Let's hope that Mauer, Justin Morneau, Denard Span and others can get healthy for 2012. Unfortunately for Mauer, as a result of his inability to keep pace with Jesus Montero, I will not be making a donation to the National Institute for Bilateral Leg Weakness Research. Better luck next year, Joe.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Final Thoughts on Ben Revere

Watching the top of the 9th inning of the Twins-Yankees game yesterday afternoon, I saw the crowd of over 40,000 rise to their feet and cheer. Say what you will about Yankees' fans, but they do know their baseball history and they have a respect for the game. I assumed that some sort of graphic had flashed on the scoreboard noting that Ben Revere had passed Luis Rivas for the most stolen bases by a Twins rookie, and that the crowd just had responded accordingly. I was wrong. It turned out that some Rivera fellow had something else going on yesterday, and the fans were applauding that.

Seriously, however, it was impressive that Revere passed the formerly-speedy Luis Rivas for this title. As NoDak Twins Fan noted today, Rivas played in 153 games and stole 31 bases, while Revere equalled -- then immediately surpassed -- that number in only 107 games. So where exactly do we go with Revere for next year? Should he get half a season in AAA to work on hitting, drawing walks and his throwing arm (assuming Span and others are healthy)? Should he be a 4th outfielder? Just a pinch runner and defensive replacement?

If you read this blog with any degree of regularity, then it's of no surprise to you that I think Ben Revere eventually will be better than just a 4th outfielder. Sure, his .257/.306/.292 line is not where it needs to be for him to hit leadoff, or even for him to be a productive offensive player on a team that should be competing for the playoffs every year. But it is a start, and there is room for improvement. I have not been overly impressed with Revere's bunting ability. He could easily add 10 or 15 points to his batting average, and to his on-base percentage, by becoming a more proficient bunter. Even when unsuccessful in their attempt for a clean base hit, good bunters also force errors by forcing infielders to make uncomfortable plays and quick throws. Could Revere, only 23, be taught to hit the ball a little harder to the gaps and down the line? I'm sure. Could he pick up something by playing alongside a healthy Denard Span, who has learned to become a good leadoff hitter by taking long at-bats and walking at a decent rate? I'm sure.

We know Revere's other weakness is his throwing arm. I have no idea whether that can be improved upon, or whether it will always be that bad. If his offensive skills can increase, however, the arm becomes comparatively less of a liability, especially if Revere plays left field, assuming, again, that Span is healthy in 2012. In any event, Revere right now is a better option for the Twins than Jason Repko. Repko's 2011 line is .226/.270/.286. Even though Repko has 2 home runs, his slugging percentage is still lower than Revere's. And Repko, though not slow, does not possess Revere's great speed. If the choice next year is between Repko and Revere for the 4th outfielder position, hands down it must go to Revere. He is still a prospect with the tools, and time, to become a better player. What we've seen from Repko is what we will get for the rest of his career: there are no other tools to teach Jason Repko. Why spend more money for Repko when you get a better player (minus the arm) in Revere?

I'd like to see the Twins spend some money in the free agent market this winter. Middle infield (surprise!), the starting rotation, and the bullpen all need to be addressed. A 2012 outfield with Revere playing left field and Span in center will not be the most offensively productive outfield in MLB, but it will track down baseballs at an alarming rate. Having Revere for just over $400,000 will free up other money that could keep one of either Cuddyer or Kubel, or that could be used to replace one of those players. Revere is an option as a starting outfielder in 2012, and at the very least, is a must as a 4th outfielder next year. It will be interesting to see the direction in which the front office goes this winter.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Twins' Opening Day 2012 Starting Lineup: What the Heck will it Look Like?

I was just driving back from the post office, and was thinking about Twins' 2012 position players. It dawned on me that, by April 6, 2012, when I am in Baltimore to watch the Twins' season opener, there is a distinct possibility that there could be turnover at the majority of positions, when compared either to the Opening Day 2011 lineup, or even the current players that have been starting these past couple months.

Catcher: Starting behind the dish, Joe Mauer is essentially a lock to start the season at catcher, of course, but you wonder how long he will remain healthy. If there's one player, however, you can build the April 6, 2012 starting 9 around, it's definitely Mauer. From there, however, things get scary, and fast.

First Base: I keep waiting for Justin Morneau to bounce back to even 2/3 the player he was before his July, 2010 concussion. I really want to give him the benefit of the doubt, even as common sense is beginning to tell me that he may never again be an effective player. I met him earlier this year, and he was an extremely nice guy -- I want him to succeed. And if there's one player on this team that is both a competitor and a behind-the-scenes leader, it's Morneau. But what are the odds now, after 3 incomplete seasons, surgeries, and multiple concussions, that he will regain form? Will he play first base next year, DH, or will his brain and body tell him it's time to retire? I'm hoping to hear optimistic reports this winter from the Twins' beat writers, but right now, I have a difficult time penciling Morneau in at 1B next April 6. Chris Paremelee has look good in his Twins' audition. Might he make the Opening Day 2012 roster?

Second Base: Where the hell has Alexi Casilla been the past 2 months? I know, he's injured with hamstring stuff. It seems like it's been longer than 2 months, though. His last appearance was on August 12, and before that it was July 27. There was a period in May and June where Casilla really put it together: he was playing solid defense, and was reaching base consistently with a mix of singles, doubles and walks. Most importantly, he was coming up with hits in big situations. It was everything that Twins fans had waited for with Casilla. Then, he regressed. If the season ended today, Casilla's line would be .260/.322/.368 (slightly above his career averages) with 21 doubles and 15 stolen bases, in 365 plate appearances. Not bad, but not good either, for a team that is supposed to be competing not only for the division title, but for a World Series. What happens next year? Does Casilla inherit the job again, because he is somewhat cheap and showed flashes of brilliance, or do the Twins look at the free agent or trade market? In any event, if this is supposed to be a competitive team in 2012, I'm not content with just handing a starting position to Casilla again. I'd like to see the front office at least explore other options.

Shortstop: As I have written before, as have many others, Tsuyoshi Nishioka was a big Japanese mistake. The signing has been a disaster and a waste of $15 million. If I were making the decisions, Nishioka would probably open 2012 in AA New Britain to learn some fundamentals from the Rock Cats' coaching staff, who actually put together a pretty nice season this year. The last report was that the Twins' sounded like they were bringing Nishioka back to the team for 2012, but that he was going to need to prove that he belonged. Gardy wanted to see better play from Nishioka the last month of the season, but that's hardly happened, as, in a small sample size, Nishioka is 4-for-13, all singles, and is day-to-day with oblique issues. When he has played, I do not recall him exactly dominating on defense, either. Nishioka is no lock for shortstop next April, and the same can be said for second base, where he was equally disappointing. Casilla, though far from perfect, is both a defensive and offensive upgrade at either position, it seems.

Third Base: You would think Danny Valencia is a lock to start at third base in 2012. Sure, his 2011 was the definition of a "sophomore slump," but he is young, affordable, and has the tools to be a productive hitter, as we saw in 2011. But then again, he might be, next to Kevin Slowey, the least popular player in the clubhouse, at least if you ask Ron Gardenhire. Gardy has taken seemingly every opportunity to slam Valencia, for his defense, his offense, and his inability to concentrate at times. These are fair criticisms, but many of the same criticisms could have -- and maybe should have -- been leveled at other rookies, and even veterans, who seemingly get a pass from Gardy. Unless the organization decides to trade Valencia away, I'm sure he will be starting at third base next year. But who knows how much Gardy might lobby the front office to ship Valencia somewhere else? Maybe to St. Louis in exchange for Nick Punto???

Outfield: The outfield is a big mess for next year. The most likely player to start, Denard Span, is currently unable to play baseball, and is concerned for his future. How's that for an ominous beginning? Span was almost traded for Nationals' closer Drew Storen at the deadline, so clearly the Twins are willing to deal him, if the price is right. IF Span is healthy, and IF he is not traded, he will most certainly be starting. But where? When Span went down with his concussion, Ben Revere came along, and has filled in admirably -- at least on defense. Make no mistake, I like Ben Revere, but I admit that he's not ready to start for the Twins, right now. I also believe, however, that he has a higher upside than a potential 4th outfielder. If the Twins can somehow work on his throwing, and when Revere learns to draw walks, he will be a solid player. He is about to set the Twins' rookie record for steals, and he only played 2/3 of a season in the big leagues. Given the likelihood that one or both of Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel will be gone next year, as well as Delmon Young's recent departure to Detroit, there is certain to be changes in the outfield. I would not be at all surprised to see Span and Revere starting (but I'm not sure who plays center and who plays left), with either Cuddyer or Kubel (if either is retained) in right. Clearly, the April 6, 2012 outfield could, and probably will, be dramatically different than the Opening Day 2011 outfield. I like Joe Benson as a prospect, but I think, based on the short sample size, that he needs "seasoning" in Rochester to open up 2012.

These are just thoughts off the top of my head. I hope, and expect, that the front office will be making trades and free agent acquisitions. This is a team that doesn't just need to fill 1 or 2 "holes" to be competitive in 2012. Rather, if fans are going to be at all optimistic about next season, significant changes must be forthcoming.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Book Signing: Minnesotan (Sort of) Steve Rushin's "The Pint Man"

I realized a few months ago that former Sports Illustrated writer and author Steve Rushin lives just a few miles from me. He's very tall, and is married to former WNBA star Rebecca Lobo, who is also very tall, so I figured I would recognize them if I saw the pair at the grocery store, or a local coffee shop, or something. I happened to be in a Starbucks last week, and saw an advertisement on the bulletin board stating that Rushin would be doing a book signing at Hooker Brewery (yes, I spelled that correctly), also nearby. An opportunity for beer, to interact with a tall, somewhat well-known somewhat-Minnesotan (born in Illinois, raised in Bloomington MN), and to listen to sports stories sounded great, so the wife and I checked it out last night.

Hooker beer is actually very good. Most reading this blog have probably never had it, unless you have spent time in Connecticut, or maybe parts of Massachusetts. They were giving out "samples" last night, which meant the glasses were small, but you could refill them often. Their Octoberfest is always very good, and because it was about 90 degrees in there, the Blonde Ale was a nice alternative. Importantly, there was pizza, also free. The crowd was, somewhat surprisingly, a little on the older side. As in definitely retired and perhaps living in a senior housing community. I did, however, see some younger guys that undoubtedly were Rushin fans from his days at SI.

Steve Rushin did not disappoint. His wife was in attendance, and much of his self-deprecating words focused on being continually outshined by Mrs. Lobo-Rushin. In fact, he was pretty hilarious. He discussed his career at SI, being the father of 4 and a stay-at-home dad, and his current work in fiction and non-fiction books. For me, the best part of his talk was when he discussed working at Metropolitan Stadium as a boy in the commissary. He prepared hot dogs and sodas for vendors, but, when necessary, his group would double as grounds crew, pulling the field tarp before and after a rain delay. He described this double-duty as: 1) unhygienic with respect to the preparation of food that occurred immediately thereafter; and 2) the result of Calvin Griffith being a cheap bastard. I was entertained.

As Rushin signed my copy of "The Pint Man" after his talk, I told him that I was also a native Minnesotan, and that I appreciated, among other things, the piece he wrote on Harmon Killebrew earlier this year. Upon finding out that White Bear Lake was my hometown, Rushin inscribed the book, To Andrew, of White Bear Lake. Go Bears!" He then promptly apologized for the Fargo reference. All in all, it was a great night. I started reading "The Pint Man" last night, and know that I will enjoy it. It's about beer, bars, sports, wordplay, and, perhaps, middle-aged men growing up just a little. I will review it for the blog after I have read it, but if you wish to purchase it, you could order it here.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Home Run Watch: Joe Mauer v. Jesus Montero

I noted last week that Yankees' call-up Jesus Montero had homered 2 times in his first 13 professional at-bats. The kid, so far, seems "as advertised." It's like he's the second coming of, well, Jesus. As if the Yankees needed more to brag about, Montero homered again Friday night against the Angels, giving him 3 home runs in 26 at-bats. He has 6 RBIs in that span, as well.

Our own Joe Mauer showed a little power in the Twins' nationally televised game on Saturday against the Tigers. A solo home run gave him 3 for the year. Joe has 290 at bats so far, and 30 RBIs. Mauer had a good game Saturday, going 2-for-3 with a walk. If non-Twins fans or casual baseball fans happened to be flipping channels Saturday, they might have watched Mauer and assumed he was having the kind of season Twins fans have become accustomed to. It was refreshing to see him hit the ball with authority.

I think it's a relatively safe bet that Montero, either DHing or catching, will pass Mauer in home runs before the season is over. I pledge to keep my readers informed.

Now a few links. I have had trouble the past week or so coming up with worthy Twins content, but luckily others have not.

Seth Stohs has a great post today on the Twins' coaches, and suggested off-season managerial moves.

NoDak Twins Fan profiles the strikeout struggles thus far for one of my favorite prospects, Joe Benson.

Aaron Gleeman validly questions whether this might be the worst Twins season ever. I think yes.

Parker Hageman has a great profile of some possible 2012 MLB draft selections, as it appears that the Twins are on their way to a top 3 pick this year.

Friday, September 9, 2011

What's Left to Hope For?

With the Twins officially out of contention for the playoffs, and with their inability to play decent professional baseball, I've mentally turned ahead to 2012. But because there is still baseball left on the 2011 calendar, here's my wish list for the last few weeks of Minnesota baseball:

1. Good debuts for Joe Benson and Chris Parmelee. Parmelee has looked better at the plate so far, but I'm hopeful that Benson will get it going in Detroit this weekend. I just saw him last week at New Britain, and he was mashing the ball there.

2. Health for Mauer and Morneau. If either are unable to compete, I'd just assume call it a season for them, and let them start their off-season rest/conditioning a little early. If they are healthy, well I'd love to see them hit the ball hard and far. I don't care if they fall in for hits, leave the ballpark, or are just loud outs, but it at least would be a sign that our sluggers can still drive the ball.

3. Ben Revere getting that batting average and on-base percentage up. There's no question about his ability to track down baseballs in center field, but it is fair to expect more than a .250 batting average. For these last few weeks, it would be great to see Ben hit like he did at all levels of the minors, and reach base at a higher clip.

4. Joe Mauer doesn't fall behind new Yankees' slugger Jesus Montero for home runs. It does not bode well for Mauer that Montero hit 2 home runs in his first 13 big league at-bats, and that Joe currently has 2 home runs . . . in 281 at-bats. I don't hold out much hope for that one.

5. Good defense. From everyone. Especially Danny Valencia. Nothing fancy. Just know how many outs there are, field balls, and throw with some degree of accuracy to the correct base.

This is a modest list. The way this season has gone, it's difficult to even be optimistic about 2012. But I guess that's what we do. And the best way to head into 2012 would be to finish out 2011 playing well, both individually and as a team.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What Makes an MVP? Verlander is a Compelling Case

Some years there are no-doubt favorites for baseball's MVP awards. In 2009, for instance, Joe Mauer was expected to, and almost did, sweep the first place voting. He led the league in batting average, hit for power, got on base at an amazing clip, and did it all while catching, which is undoubtedly the most physically demanding position in baseball. Furthermore, Joe led the Twins' resurgence down the stretch in the AL Central, helping them tie, then pass, the Detroit Tigers and win the division. Where would the Twins have been without Joe Mauer in 2009? If there's an image in the baseball dictionary next to the entry for "AL MVP," I expect it to be of Joe Mauer, circa 2009 (contrast this with the image of "Joe Mauer, 2011," which I believe would depict Joe Mauer, a kitten, Tylenol Cold & Flu, and angry teammates).

2011 is shaping up to be an interesting year, at least in terms of AL MVP voting. Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays, Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson and CC Sabathia of the Yankees, and Adrian Gonzalez and Jacoby Ellsbury of the Boston Red Sox, are all likely to receive votes this year. The player I want to discuss today, however, is Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers.

Verlander simply has had a dominant year, having secured his 20th victory before the calendar turned to September. Verlander has only 5 losses on the year, and his ERA currently sits a 2.34. As the Twins have seen, he has become a power pitcher. He routinely throws in the mid-90s, but when necessary, is capable of elevating his fastball to another level, topping out just shy of 100 miles per hour. Best of all, he can control those power pitches. When the situation dictates, Verlander has another gear entirely. Few pitchers have that ability. Verlander has averaged 7.5 innings pitched per start this year. That's where I believe a large part of his value comes into play. Otherwise stated, in an average Verlander start, he leaves the bullpen responsible for getting approximately 4 or 5 outs. And we know based on his other stats that, on an average Verlander night, he is pitching very well in those 7.5 innings.

Where would the Tigers be without Justin Verlander in 2011? The answer is likely not in first place. Aside from Verlander, the Tigers are a good -- but not great -- team. Don't be fooled by the Twins' failures against the Tigers this year. Sure, they mean something, but to me it's much more a reflection on the Twins' pathetic season than it is the Tigers' dominance. I'm suggesting that, in terms of importance and value, what Mauer was to the Twins in 2009, Verlander is to the Tigers in 2011.

I completely understand, and to an extent agree with, the arguments against voting for a pitcher as baseball MVP: they only play in 20 percent of the games; in the AL they do not contribute at all offensively; and there is the Cy Young award precisely for that reason. Accordingly, many argue, how "valuable" can a pitcher be, compared, for example, with Mauer, who when healthy is involved in almost every single pitch of every game, or a shortstop like Dustin Pedroia, who captains an infield for almost every inning of a 162 game season?

I get that argument, but in terms of value, Verlander has been so valuable in his 30 starts this season that, in my mind, it almost vitiates the fact that he is not an every-day player. He has won 70 percent of his starts, and has thrown 4 complete games. Verlander has an effect on the bullpen, as well as his other starting pitchers: Jim Leyland has the luxury of being able to overwork the bullpen (if necessary, of course) the night before a Verlander start, because the numbers dictate that there's a very good chance Verlander is going to leave little work for others. Furthermore, following a Verlander start, in theory, many members of the bullpen should be pitching on good rest. This trickles down to the starter for the next day, as well, who often pitches knowing that when they leave the game, it will be in the hands of a healthy and rested bullpen. How many times this season have Twins fans seen the domino effects of short starts and overworked bullpens? It feels like dozens.

I'm not suggesting that Verlander is necessarily going to get my BBA MVP vote this year. I am of the opinion that he is equally, if not more, valuable this season than Bautista, Ellsbury, Gonzalez, Sabathia, Cano or Granderson. Though he is not an every day player, it is naive to suggest that the effects of his pitching dominance -- and long-lasting starts -- extend no further than the 20 percent of games in which he appears. The Yankees, without Cano, could still be competing in a tough AL East, as could the Red Sox without Ellsbury. It would indeed be more difficult, but it would be possible. Verlander, with his 7.8 WAR rating (by comparison, Granderson: 5.1; Cano: 4.3; Bautista: 8.1; Gonzalez: 6.0; Ellsbury: 6.1; Sabathia: 5.8) represents such an important piece of a Tigers team that is good, but not great, that his value this year cannot be overstated.

It will be interesting to see how the last month of the regular season plays out. If Bautista keeps slugging, if Ellsbury continues his great season, and if Granderson continues to hit the ball all over Yankee Stadium, anyone could win this award. If Verlander, however, continues to dominate in his starts, and if the Tigers win the AL Central, Verlander deserves serious trophy consideration, and not just for the Cy Young award.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Go Brewers!

Growing up in the 80s and early 90s in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, I never thought I would utter those words. Even during the "lean years" of Twins baseball, I remember trucking over to the Metrodome for Twins/Brewers border battles. Now matter how bad the respective teams were, it seemed like 30,000 + people would attend each game of the weekend series. I remember guys like Robin Yount and Paul Molitor, of course, and other names such as Julio Machado, Greg Vaughn and a young Gary Sheffield, for the Brewers. Playing for the Twins, some lesser-knowns like Allan Anderson, Tim Drummond, Chip Hale and Paul Sorrento come to mind. If nothing else, this was an intense, fun rivalry. Just as with the Vikings/Packers NFC North rivalry, you like one team, but hate the other. I was firmly in the Twins' camp.

Now, 20 years later, after suffering through an absolutely horrible and embarrassing season for the Twins, I could care less about allegiances and purported rivalries. As I have written before, I believe that rivalries are much more for the fans, anyway. We now know that the Twins aren't going anywhere in October, 2011, except where there is golf and beautiful women, I suppose. So, where to go from here? Well, I personally will be pulling for the Brewers. I watched them during the Twins' interleague series this year, and they looked to me like an exciting, talent-filled team that played with energy, and that seemed to enjoy what they were doing. A few weeks ago, I watched on the FOX game of the week as they dismantled New York Mets' pitching (not an amazing feat in and of itself, admittedly), and engineered a 9th inning rally to win an exciting, late season game. Their big sluggers, Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, played important roles in that game, just as they have all season. Last week, I wrote about just how productive Braun and Fielder have been, especially when compared to the Twins' 3-4 combo of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. All of this, honestly, has made me somewhat excited about rooting for the Brewers in the 2011 playoffs.

Even as a Minnesotan and Twins fan, there are several reasons to pull for Milwaukee this year: First, their 3 and 4 hitters provide an example, albeit a painful example, of what we wish our 3 and 4 hitters could do. They are simply fun to watch. Second, their front office made a move for ace-caliber starting pitching when they landed Zack Greinke, an aggressive move the likes of which many have championed for in Minnesota since Johan Santana's departure. Third, the Brewers have their own grizzled veteran. No, he's not a slugger like Jim Thome, but he is Craig Counsell, and he just turned 41 last week. This is, of course, the same Craig Counsell that scored the 2001 World Series-winning run for the Arizona Diamondbacks to defeat those bastard Yankees. So he's 41 and a Yankee-killer. I'll root for that any day. Fourth, if you like the potential for team drama, here you go: Before the trade deadline, the Brewers secured Francisco Rodriguez from the Mets. This is the same guy that last year assaulted his father-in-law right at CitiField. When you add Rodriguez' temper to the fact that the Brewers already had a capable closer, John Axford, there is the potential for a little bit of team drama that could be very entertaining. Finally, this team is streaky. At one point in late August, the club had won 20 of its past 23 games. Incredible. Most recently, however, they were swept at home by the St. Louis Cardinals. If a streaky team is on a roll when the playoffs hit, they be tough to stop, even if, on paper, they are not favorites to win a playoff series.

I'm still a Twins fan, of course. But there's not going to be any Twins baseball in October. Rather than being forced to watch the Yankees, Red Sox or Phillies for the 40th consecutive year, or even the Rangers or Angels, for that matter, I'll be watching a team that, at least to a small degree, reminds me of what the Twins could be, or, more accurately, could have been, in 2011.