Tagged: justin morneau

#163

Who’d have thunk it eh? For the second season in a row, the Twins face a final single-game play-off to decide who will reach the postseason this year. In 2008, the Twins narrowly missed out on that privilege to the White Sox who beat them 1-0 in game #163. This year, Minnesota gets to play at home against the Tigers, so they’ll be hoping this time that things go their way.

I’m not sure what the odds are, after 162 games, of two teams being tied. Just goes to show how tight this game can be. I’ve been quick to dismiss the Twins this year, but rightly I believe. For the great majority of the year they’ve barely kept themselves around the .500 mark and they’ve failed to take competitive advantage of what has been one of the poorest divisions in years. Remember, this was the team that was sitting 5.5 games back on September 14, when it was announced that Justin Morneau would be out for the rest of the year, as fans groaned that Michael Cuddyer would be his replacement at first base. Even the usually astute Aaron Gleeman was prepared to write an entry entitled “The End” just last week (which, he has rather nicely, followed up with one called “The Beginning?” today).

No doubt, everyone has been taken by surprise, yet all that counts for nothing when it comes down to just this single game. Remarkably, the Twins were three games back with just four games to play. No team has ever overcome such a deficit in MLB history, so it’ll be even sweeter if they can beat Detroit and get into the play-offs to face the Yankees.

We’ll all be looking forward to Tuesday’s game. It’s going to be a tense affair for sure, but how ever things pan out, it’s been a fascinating end to what was once a fairly frustrating season for the Minnesota Twins and their fans. I, for one, feel less aggrieved than last year where the Twins had the chance to wrap things up earlier but failed to do so. This year, instead, they’ve been fighting their tails off from behind, and with expectations not being as high as they once were, even if they don’t make it, it’s all been a lot of fun.

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Yikes

Did you see what I did there?

“The simple fact is, that if the Twins don’t win more than three of the
four games upcoming at Comerica Park between Monday and Thursday, they
can pretty much kiss their play-off hopes goodbye.”

Of course, I was utterly wrong as usual. Instead, with just a single game to go tomorrow the Twins and the Tigers are tied in the AL Central. If one team wins and the other loses, it’s game over for the team that goes down. If both win or both lose, we’ll be, ahem, “enjoying” yet another game #163 at the Metrodome on Tuesday.

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photo: AP/Yahoo!

I’m stunned the season has ended like this. I admit I was guilty of writing off the Twins a couple of weeks ago, and you’d be hard pressed to find any fans out there who were still optimistic. Sure, we all knew mathematically that Minnesota could still reach the play-offs, but also, a few days ago, after splitting that four game series with Detroit, the Twins’ chances of reaching the post-season had dwindled to about 7% or something absurdly low.

Instead, somehow, the Twins staved off a valiant Kansas City fightback on Friday night (squandering a ten run lead as usual). Then, on Saturday, Minnesota managed the impossible by scoring four runs off Zack Greinke, and seemed to be coasting, but the bullpen once again screwed up Nick Blackburn’s incredible pitching effort as the Royals tied it up at 4-4 before “Mr September” Michael Cuddyer (.342 with seven homers and 22 RBIs in 19 games at first base since taking over there from injured Justin Morneau) hit his 31st home run of the year and Joe Nathan closed out the Royals again.

Meanwhile, the Tigers have been floundering against the White Sox who are “playing loose” with no pressure on them, and have already taken two out of three at Comerica Park. An epic choke for sure, but tomorrow could be a different matter for Detroit with Justin Verlander on the mound for them.

The Twins will bring back Carl Pavano on three-days rest to pitch against Luke Hochevar. It’s going to be a crazy final game at the Metrodome, how ever things pan out for the Twins, and it’s been a thoroughly exciting way to end the season.

Of course it’ll be saddening if the Twins don’t make it, but unlike last year, where they squandered their lead and could have clinched things sooner, this time they’ve been battling all the way from behind, and it’s been a fantastic effort regardless of the outcome tomorrow.

Wait. Only a Month to Go? Yikes…

Yep, I know, I should be updating this more often, but forgive my lack of entries lately while I still continue to get my life sorted out and find full-time work again so I can get back into some kind of settled routine. In the meantime, here’s a few thoughts from the past few weeks.

  • Glen Perkins may, apparently, file a grievance against the Twins for the way they handled his recent injury. I hope it gets settled. I always liked Glen, but it’s clear he couldn’t cut it as a starter and has been really inconsistent, despite showing occasional signs of brilliance.
  • Justin Morneau is in a slump again. I like this guy, I think he’s a huge talent, and there’s no denying his value to the Twins is immense. But despite this, he seems to end up going into a slump every single damn season, and always at the most inappropriate time. As many fans noticed, both Justin and Joe Nathan were also whining in the press a couple of months back about how the Twins organization don’t bring in enough new talent via trades, and yet both of these players have been instrumental in recent Twins losses because of  their lackluster performances. Of course, both are still hugely valuable players and are usually dominant factors in any Twins’ success, but perhaps they might need to think before they speak or just go about their business quietly and efficiently like Jason Kubel.
  • Matt Tolbert and Brain Buscher were both brought back up from Triple-A at the expense of some exciting younger prospects. This kind of bugs me. Both Tolbert and Buscher have proven to be decidedly below average in the majors over the past couple of years, but still the Twins won’t take a chance on some of the newer prospects who they deem “not ready”, despite tearing it up in the minors this year. I find this kind of sad as it seems to be something the Twins have done well in the past. True, not every youngster is going to cut it in the big leagues, but one Denard Span is certainly proof of what can happen if you give an unknown young’un a shot. What’s worse, is reading purported stories like this one, which imply that Matt Tolbert’s ‘enthusiasm’ and ‘hard work’ are enough to make him a success, despite his proven lack of talent and ability. What is he, a bloody cheerleader? The crap that spews forth from Ron Gardenhire sometimes is enough to make you crazy.
  • Jon Rauch, now a Twins’ relief pitcher after being traded from the D’Backs, has scary googily eyes, but whenever he’s on the mound, I can’t help staring at his neck tattoo which looks to be about the size of Alaska.
rauchtattoo.jpgphoto: David Wallace/The Arizona Republic

Yet More EPIC FAIL

As both the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays showed earlier this season, sometimes being 10 runs in front is not enough to win a game. On Monday night, the Oakland Athletics rallied from being 12-2 down at one point in the game to beat the Twins 14-13 in the end.

Anyone who saw the game though, even when Minnesota was 10 runs up, knew that a victory for the Twins was not a foregone conclusion by any means. After Jason Kubel made it 3-0 in the first with his 16th home run of the year, the A’s immediately bounced back to make it 3-2. Things then looked to be going the Twins’ way after Justin Morneau cranked a grand-slam, and followed that up with a three-run shot the next inning, but still the Athletics kept stringing together hit after hit to make sure they were never really out of it.

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photo: AP/Yahoo!

Pitcher Nick Blackburn never looked in command of his pitches, and the Twins’ defense was fairly lackluster all night, but the fatal blow was struck in a seven-run seventh inning by the A’s. With the Twins’ comedy bullpen trio of Brian Duensing, Bobby Keppel (whose start had been suspiciously good prior to this game and was due to implode any moment), and Jose Mijares on display, Matt Holliday’s grand slam tied things up and was topped-off by Jack Cust’s solo home run shot to make the game 14-13 in Oakland’s favor.

Sure, the Twins had let a big lead slip, and to be honest, didn’t really deserve to win after giving it all up so stupidly, but in end, it was a controversial umpiring decision that settled the affair. In the top of the ninth, Michael Cuddyer was called out sliding into home plate on a passed ball, and it was very, very clear from the replay that he was safe by a mile. That poor decision pretty much cost the Twins the game, and it was a cheesy way for the A’s to finally get the victory. Of course, it’s easy to blame an umpire, but when you’ve given up 14 runs in a game, you pretty much deserve everything you get.

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photo: AP/Yahoo!

Still, Oakland needs what little joy it can muster in what’s been a poor season for them so far, and in the end it was a shame there were only around 10,000 folks at the Coliseum to watch their epic comeback as this once historic franchise continues to struggle. In the meantime, it was yet another terrible meltdown for the Twins, and a bullpen performance which was almost hilarious and tragic in its ineptitude.

I’ll be there tonight (Tuesday), and frankly, I’ll settle for a 9-0 blowout A’s win rather than what transpired on Monday night.

Mid-season Thoughts

I had this whole giant post mapped out in my mind, complete with details on every individual player and my thoughts on each aspect of the Twins’ season so far, but it just seems like things are more easily summed up in a single word: UNCONVINCING.

Yep, that’s my word to describe Minnesota’s season thus far. It’s not like they’ve sucked horribly, but neither have the lit up the league. Instead, they’ve just failed to live up to their potential so far. Can they turn it around? Of course they can. Will they? Who knows.

There’s already been much discussion on other blogs better than this one about what needs to be done. We know who’s been productive and what needs to change. But the one thing that remains true, above everything else, is that if the Twins’ starting pitching doesn’t improve, this team isn’t going to win the AL Central.

It doesn’t matter that the Twins are always usually around the .500 mark at the All-Star break. It doesn’t matter if the bottom of the order doesn’t produce like the top half. It doesn’t matter if the bullpen is showing signs of improvement. The simple fact is, the reason why Minnesota remains a .500 team right now is down to their starting pitching not being as good as it could be.

In other news…

  • Alexi Casilla has been brought back to the squad. It’s probably the last chance for the young second baseman to prove himself, and I seriously hope he does because he’s a real asset when he’s playing well. Matt Tolbert has finally been sent back down to Triple-A Rochester. He never looked like a big leaguer the whole time he was up with the Twins anyway. What bugs me about the Casilla move though is that he’s likely to bat second, which could mean Ron Gardenhire will play Nick Punto more than the much more talented and productive Brendan Harris, because of the skipper’s continuing love affair with one of the most offensively inept players on the team (Punto). I personally liked the Denard Span, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau 1-2-3 line-up that was tried earlier this season, and it seemed to be a winning combination, but Gardy seems to insist on putting someone else in the number two spot before Joe and Justin.
  • Kevin Slowey’s rehabilitation hit a snag when he tried some practice pitches this weekend, so Anthony Swarzak will probably get a few more starts. This one’s a real bummer as Slowey is one of the aforementioned starting pitchers who could help turn this season around for the Twins when healthy.
  • I wanted to give a ‘shout out’ to my second favorite team, the San Francisco Giants. As a Bay Area resident, I’ve followed the progress of the Giants longer than the Twins, if not quite so avidly. After a couple of terrible seasons that have seen them fall from grace, I’m really delighted to see how well they’ve been playing so far. I think the Giants are going about things the right way, building their franchise on solid starting pitching, and I hope they make the play-offs this year. GO BIG PANDA!

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NYY and CWS Preview

It’s tough for Twins fans to view games against the New York Yankees without some sort of trepidation, after all, Minnesota’s record against the Bronx Bombers has hardly been favorable in the Ron Gardenhire era, with the Twins being stomped by the Yankees more often than not.

However, now is as good a time as any to break that run of disappointing results, and I’m sure the Twins will be looking for payback after New York swept Minnesota four games to nothing earlier this year at the new Yankee Stadium, even if three of those victories were closely contested walk-off wins.

The Twins are playing better recently, or at least, getting better results and series victories, however the Yankees have been on a hot streak and their line-up is very competent and dangerous as ever. To be honest, if it wasn’t for the 0-8 deficit the Yankees have had against the Red Sox so far this year, they’d probably be topping the AL East, and their powerful batting prowess is equally matched by their pitching abilities. With CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett going for the Yankees in two of the games this series, the Twins better be on top of their game, or they’ll be facing another sweep.

Still, positive news for the Twins organization yesterday was that Kevin Slowey is not seriously hurt and will return soon enough. Justin Morneau won the AL Player of the Week due to his excellent performances against the Royals and the Tigers last week, so Twins fans will be hoping he can keep that up. Joe Nathan was just named Delivery Man of the Month, an award I can’t say I’ve actually ever heard of previously, but nevertheless, his recent performances closing out games have been nothing less than stellar.

The weekend series against the White Sox should be interesting too. There’s another team that has also been performing much better of late, and despite some struggles at the Metrodome last season, I doubt the Sox will roll over so easily this year. If the Tigers eventually lose their claws, it’ll probably be the Twins and White Sox contending for the AL Central top spot again until the bitter end.

Looking forward to the six games ahead between now and Sunday, if Minnesota can come through with even a 3-3 record, I think they’ll have done very well. Of course, anything better than that would be a nice fillip with which to enter the All Star Break.

Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad

The Twins managed to win two out of three against the Tigers at the Metrodome, which was a pretty damn good result against the division leaders. Minnesota is now two games back, and the White Sox, who split a series with the Royals this weekend, are just 2.5 games behind Detroit.

Extra-inning games can be particularly cruel, especially to the team that doesn’t win them. The Twins remarkable comeback on Friday night pretty much meant nothing in the end, and simply managed to tire out all concerned, as the Tigers topped the Twins 11-9 in the 16th inning.

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photo: AP/Yahoo!

Kevin Slowey had another terrible outing unfortunately, and Detroit
were quickly 6-0 up by the second inning. Somehow, Minnesota managed to
rally from a 7-1 deficit and tied the game at 7-7 in the sixth inning.
By then, Slowey was long gone, and it was revealed later that he’s been
put on the DL after suffering sharp pains in his wrist. Anthony Swarzak
has been recalled from Triple-A Rochester, and will likely make a start
sometime this week.

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photo: AP/Yahoo!

Anyway, back to Friday night, and the game
went to extra innings, prolonging the agony for Twins and Tigers fans
everywhere. In the 14th, the Tigers looked like they may have finally
secured victory when they made it 8-7, but Minnesota rallied to tie it
up again. Finally, some time around 7:00 AM two weeks later, the Tigers
hit three runs in the top of the 16th off an undoubtedly tiring RA
Dickey, and the game was essentially over. Frankly, the Twins should
have just conceded defeat in the second inning, the result would have
been the same, and the home plate umpire’s strike zone was positively
cavernous all evening, it was even more remarkable the game lasted so
long. Amazingly, Delmon Young ended up being one triple shy of the
cycle, and Denard Span had a crazy night going 5-for-8 with two RBIs.

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photo: AP/Yahoo!

Saturday’s game was a little more conventional. Francisco Liriano
pitched very well for most of his outing. Having retired a string of 13
straight batters, he took a 2-0 lead into the top of the seventh. But,
the inevitable implosion occurred as the Tigers managed three hits in
as many balls, one of which was a three-run homer to Magglio “I’m not
even in form” Ordonez, as the Twins relinquished their lead and found
themselves 3-2 down. Incredibly enough, Minnesota managed to tie it up
with a single run in the bottom of the seventh. Even more incredibly,
in the eighth, Nick Punto hit a cheesy blooper off his magic bat which
saw the usually ineffective Matt Tolbert (pinch-running for Jason
Kubel) score the go-ahead run with a head-first Punto-style dive, a
pinch-running decision by Gardy that probably won the game, something
I’ve rarely witnessed before with the Twins. Joe Nathan easily mopped
up the Tigers in the ninth, and Minnesota tied the series one game
apiece with a 4-3 win.

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photo: AP/Yahoo!

On Sunday, Nick Blackburn was just a couple of outs away from a
complete game shut out. He’d pitched beautifully again, but gave up a
two-run homer to Brandon Inge in the ninth inning. A few weeks ago against the Pirates, Blackburn had done something similar, taking a shutout into the ninth but blowing it. Nevertheless, Blackburn
prevailed for a complete game anyway as the Twins ran out 6-2 winners.
Minnesota did all the damage in the fourth inning. With Joe Mauer on
base, Justin Morneau cranked home run number 21 for the season, and then the
floodgates opened, with the Twins scoring four more runs, including
three on a throwing error by Adam Everett.

So a satisfactory weekend of baseball, despite Friday’s nastiness, and it was good to see the Twins bouncing back from that disappointing night so well. Next up, visits from the Yankees and the White Sox before the All-Star Game, which won’t see Justin Morneau starting at first base despite having one of the best seasons of his career, though he was selected as a reserve at least.