Game 2: Neck Tat makes his Closer Debut

(This is the first in what I hope will become a daily or near-daily series that gives a brief roundup of the heroes and zeros of the prior night’s game, with reference to the WPA graphs at Fangraphs.com. Comments on this feature? Email me at eric.donald.olson@gmail.com or message/follow me on twitter at @calltothepen)

Wow, what a game. (Game Graph Here)

Yes, I know that it wasn’t actually that amazing or anything, but I am still overly excited to have a win going forward. Maybe we return the  Los Angeles, California Angels of Anaheim’s favor from 2008, when they came into the Metrodome and took three of four in the season-opening series. But now I’m getting ahead of myself.

Last night, the Angels set a Guinness World record for the largest gathering of people wearing blankets with sleeves. In order to accomplish this, they gave everyone that came an angels-themed Snuggie (note: they weren’t allowed to call them snuggies on the air, because Snuggies are made only by SnuggieCorp (or whatever it’s called),  so these were more like Slankets or something, since they were off-brand. But I digress). Dick Bremer had his first curmudgeon-y moment of the year when he complained for about five minutes about Bert wearing the Angels-supplied and -themed snuggie, whilst refusing to do so on his own. It was a very surreal moment. It will go down, in my mind, as one of the most surreal moments in baseball I have witnessed, as well as one of the single dumbest PR stunts ever.

Last night saw a strong effort from many players. The Heroes:

  • Nick Blackburn had the highest WPA (win probability added) at .149, with a strong, but very Blackburn-esque performance: 6.2 innings, 8 hits, 4 BB, 3 ER, 4 K. The down note for Jolly Roger was that he set a new career high (or low) for walks, including the first two batters in the game. However, he bounced back and had a strong performance.
  • Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau were the clear heroes on offense. Mauer, with a WPA of .109, hit a 2-run home run in the first inning, while Justin Morneau hit a solo home run in the third, singled, and walked, resulting in a WPA of .85.
  • Denard Span got the gorilla/rally monkey off his back by getting his first hit and first walk.
  • HERO OF THE DAY: Jon Rauch made the punditry’s job much easier when he easily obtained his first Twins save, striking out two in a perfect inning. Could any decent reliever have done the same? Sure. But he’s the hero because now we don’t have to spend today arguing about whether he is the right choice (he’s not, but that’s a story for another day), as we would if he had blown his first attempt.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t all fun and games for the Twins. The night’s Zeros:

  • Delmon Young managed to drive in a run on a Sacrifice fly and single, but he still managed to raise my ire by absolutely air-mailing a throw over third baseman Nick Punto by a good five feet (it would have been the correct height had Nick Punto been standing on Chris Cates‘ shoulders). Thanks, Delmon, for reminding me why you lost the “D” in your name last year, and why I generally refer to you as ‘elmon.
  • JJ Hardy had his first Home Run as a Twin, a solo shot, but he also ended up grounding into two double plays en route to earning a WPA of -.085, which basically negates Morneau’s contribution.
  • Orlando Hudson compiled a -.101 WPA for the game, after going 0-fer, while scoring a run after reaching on an error and leaving 4 on-base. Step it up, O-Dawg.
  • ZERO OF THE DAY: Second Base Umpire Adrian Johnson, who blew such an obvious call on a pickoff attempt on Michael Cuddyer by Angels catcher Jeff Mathis that it caused a Twitsplosion before the replay was even shown. So, Cuddyer was way off second base on a ball in the dirt, Mathis recovered and gunned it to Second Baseman Howie Kendrick. The throw clearly beat Cuddyer to the bag, but the tag was not applied for a good half a second, which allowed Cuddyer to get both feet and his right knee on the bag before the tag was applied. It was an ugly call, and neither Cuddyer nor Ron Gardenhire argued it nearly enough, in my humble opinion.

Tonight’s Game: Twins, 1-1 (PP: Carl Pavano, 0-0, 0.00) at Angels, 1-1 (Ervin Santana, 0-0, 0.00). First Pitch: 9:05 CST.

Tonight’s selected Twins hat? Navy Blue, with “M” logo. Last night’s debut for the AL Central Division Champs 2009 hat was a success, so we’ll see if the selected opening day hat can make a comeback after missing it’s first start.

New on my List – Keiz-who?

First, my apologies for lateness. I have a finished post on the bullpen – but I’m going to wait a day or so to post it until we know a little bit more about what happened to Joe Nathan during today’s game. Scary to say the least – if Joe goes down, I think some slightly insane combination of Crain/Rauch/Mijares becomes closer.

Gulp.

Now that I’ve had my depressing thought of the day, I move on.

…To a new addition to my list. I founded “The List” with the very first post on Call to the ‘Pen, which excoriated Manny Ramirez. Since then, there have only been two additions to my “list” – Bud Selig, for his astounding insensitivity with regard to race relations, and MLB and Fox for conspiring to deprive me of Saturday afternoon Twins games eight to ten times a year (and it appears it will stay the same this year).

However, Bud Selig has at least attempted to work his way out of my wrath, so I have decided to give him a pass. This is mostly based on the fact that I just can’t keep up wrath for something as relatively minor as Jackie Robinson Day, and also because it just isn’t of the same magnitude of the others on the List.

The List is reserved for people that do something that I just can’t forgive. Something so egregious no sane person can understand why they did what they did. The List is for the worst of the worst, the stupidest of the stupid, the most tone-deaf of the tone-deaf, the most mediocre in all mediocrity.

That is why, today, I induct Keizo Konishi, of Kyodo News, into infamy On My List.

If you are wondering, well, who the hell is Keizo Konishi, you’re not alone. Last year in November, Konishi became famous for the very first time. By doing something incredibly stupid.

Now, some people just aren’t ready for prime time. You see it in politics all the time. Right now, for example, U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) has risen to prominence due to his quixotic and (some say) self-defeating quest to kill either abortion rights or healthcare. Stupak was a long-term back-bencher, and now that he has started spending time on tv, it has become clear that he is renting a room for something like 1/3 fair market value (in the video), which is a big no-no, and could result in his reprimand in the House. His ties with a secretive religious group that some have described as a cult are also coming to light, and he is now looking at elective trouble. Now, don’t get wrapped up in his politics, but know that this probably never would have come up if he could have stayed on the back bench during the health care debate.

(Sorry to bring politics into this blog, which I have studiously avoided, but I lack for a better example)

Konishi is someone that I had never heard of, and it therefore surprised me to learn that he is a reporter that has been covering the Seattle Mariners for many years. As Dave Cameron of U.S.S. Mariner and the Indispensible Fangraphs wrote on his twitter last November, “I probably read more about Seattle-based baseball writing than anyone alive. I’ve never heard of Keizo Konishi.”* Apparently, he covers the Mariners for the Japanese periodical Kyodo News, which means he covers Ichiro Suzuki, who is a sort of demigod in Japan. I was going to give an excoriating review of his brilliant writing style (which is actually terrible), but at some point between last November and now, Kyodo News has switched to a subscriber-only model, and now I can only see 1-sentence summary of Keiz-who(?)’s articles. \

(By the way, follow Dave Cameron at @d_a_cameron. He’s smarter than me.)

Anyway, searching for his work yields one article. One. Uno. MLB allowed a writer who had one credit that is accessible to the U.S. audience to vote on (arguably) the most important honor when it comes to the later (mostly meaningless) Hall of Fame decision. Go ahead and read it. It’s terrible journalism. Every other link that comes off of a search for his name leads back to his vote in the MVP race. It takes real talent to be that much of a backbencher in the world of journalism.

Anyway, everyone knows that last fall, Joe Mauer was elected MVP of the American League by a near unanimous vote. I remember hearing “near-unanimous” and wondering who pooped the bed. I assumed that it would be a Yankees beat reporter, as everyone in media had spent the last couple months overhyping Derek Jeter’s candidacy. Or at least someone with an axe to grind or a bit of home-town favoritism. But no. It was Keizo-freaking-Konishi. Who didn’t even vote for his man-crush, Ichiro Suzuki. He voted for Miguel Cabrera, who was best known last year for going out and getting drunk with opposing teams during a division title hunt and then for (allegedly) assaulting his wife. Everyone – and I mean everyone – wanted to know what exactly Konishi had been huffing to make him think that Cabrera was more valuable than Joe Mauer. But he wasn’t saying.

Until last Wednesday. Then Tyler Kepner, who is (at least in my mind) best known for rendering Joe Posnanski and Rob Neyer both apoplectic with his suggestion that Mark Texeira was the “No Question” MVP in August 2009 (which really would have been pooping the bed, as it turns out), managed to track Konishi down and got him to talk about his vote. Go to that link and read all of it. I’ll wait.

Waiting.

Okay. That might be the worst argument for anything that I have ever heard in my entire life, and as a law student who reads a lot of crappy arguments and also as a guy with a wife who is excellent at pointing out the flaws in his arguments (love you, hon), I have heard a whole lot of crappy arguments in my days. I have read cases where the entire argument posed by one lawyer was that “the court should overturn modern contract law because it really hurts his client” (not an exact quote). I have read countless scribes argue that Derek Jeter should be MVP even as they acknowledge that he is not the most valuable player. I myself have made absurd arguments that the first day of spring training should be a national holiday so I don’t have to go to work or class.* But I simply cannot think of an argument that is worse than the one that Konishi made in support of his vote.

*I still had to go to work and class.

Before I get too far into Konishi, let’s remember one thing: Joe Mauer had a HISTORIC season. It was the best offensive season by a catcher, possibly ever. Exclude Piazza, who was a terrible defender, and it was the best offensive season by a catcher. Which is made all the more impressive by the fact that he is a catcher. Catchers are typically the player that has the least offensive impact in the lineup (other than maybe the shortstop, or the pitcher in the NL), because their value is in their defense. Or they have a lot of offensive impact, but no defensive impact. Cabrera is a first baseman. They’re supposed to be good offensively. And he was. Whee. But he didn’t add very much offensively. His UZR was 2.8 last year, which is above average, but not incredible. His positional value was terrible: -11.9. For more statistics, see Fangraphs. Mauer is here. Mauer had a 8.1 WAR. Cabrera had 5.5. I mean, there really aren’t many (if any) advanced statistics that give Cabrera a lead over Mauer.

That in mind, let’s break Konishi down (apologies to Kepner, I’m going to be quoting at length):

“I thought that the Western division and the Eastern division were almost decided by mid-August,” he said. “The only tight race was the Central division. Two teams went really deep, the Tigers and the Twins, so I thought the M.V.P. should be selected from those two teams.”

This is exactly the problem with the MVP award, and why no one takes it seriously anymore, including me (well, only serious enough to write about 2000 words or so, but not more). The standards for voting are so lax and undefined that it allows every voter to come up with their own standards. In this case, Konishi eliminated the East and West divisions because… well, he thought they should be eliminated. Never mind if there was a team in one division or the other that had a player that was “most valuable” (hypothetically speaking, of course). He just… decided that the East and West are too strong, and therefore, in these “strong” divisions there was no one “strong” enough to be worthy of the title of Most Valuable.

No, I get it. He subscribes to the theory of “the most valuable player is the one that drags his team kicking and screaming over the finish line.” With that mindset, of course the East and the West are ineligible for Most Valuable Players. They would be almost every year. The hallmark of the last few years has been the AL East wrapping up the Wild Card and its Division winner early, and the AL West either beating them to it or finishing just behind. Of course, there couldn’t be a player that is Most Valuable on a team that dominates their division, like the Angels did last year. That’s just silly to think that a good team could have a Most Valuable Player. Silly.

So, let’s look at the way that Konishi eventually got to the place where he pooped the bed:

“What I thought is, ‘Who has the most importance to those two teams?’ I imagined what would happen if you picked someone out of the lineup. For example, if I took Cabrera out of the Tigers’ lineup, I thought it would be a very different team. If I did the same thing for the Twins, if I picked Mauer out of their lineup, they would still have a better lineup compared to the Tigers.”

Wait, what? Are we talking about the same teams here? We’re talking about a Twins team that had no Justin Morneau and was giving regular playing time to THREE players that were hitting below .230 at the end of the season. We’re talking about a Twins team that had no Joe Crede and the worst defensive outfield in the Majors on average. We’re talking about a team that was relying on Jeff Manship and Brian Duensing to go six-plus innings two out of every five days. We’re talking about a team with no ace pitcher that survived on passable starters that were backed up by decent offense. We’re talking about a team that got a batting average of .209 from the 2-hole on the season (and that’s even with Joe Mauer batting there for a period of time when he was hottest). What was there really to like about the Twins lineup, other than Span, Kubel, Cuddyer, and Mauer at the end of the season?

Who did the Tigers have? Oh yeah, they had Curtis Granderson. Placido Polanco. Brandon Inge. Miguel Cabrera. Carlos Guillen. Magglio.  Jason Verlander. Rick Porcello. Edwin Jackson. Not perfect, but I like that list a whole lot better than I like the Twins as of Game 163.

So let’s pick Joe Mauer and Miguel Cabrera out of their respective lineups and see what happens. Here’s what happens: The Twins continue the fold they were accomplishing so well as of the end of July/beginning of August, and the Tigers ride their starting pitching into the postseason. Without Joe Mauer to say, “hey, guys, jump on my sideburns and let me carry you,” the Twins were done. True, as Konishi said, the Twins had players who exceeded expectations, but that was mostly because expectations were so, so low for many. Remember when Dave Cameron, normally a wise guy, excoriated the Twins for locking up Kubel when Hinkse was available? That still makes me chuckle. He also only lists three players that exceeded his expectations, while oh-so-many underacheived: Punto, Young, Casilla, Harris, Crede, and Tolbert, to name a few. This shallow analysis, unfortunately seems to be more typical than not. Without Joe Mauer, the Twins lineup was polar – there were a few really great players, but these were more than outweighed by the terrible and the under achieving. Without Mauer, the Twins wouldn’t have made it even to consideration for a game 163.

Without Cabrera,* the Tigers wouldn’t have had a player out drinking with the White Sox and getting into a domestic violence “altercation” with his wife (allegedly) in the heat of the playoff race/collapse.

* Oooh, oooh, something interesting. Cabrera is apparently a babalao, or high priest, of the Santeria  religion. The more you know!

Wait, you say Konishi had something to say about the Cabrera drinking incident? Do tell:

I asked Konishi if he considered Cabrera’s behavior on the final weekend of the season. With the Tigers clinging to their division lead, Cabrera’s general manager, Dave Dombrowski, had to pick him up at the police station early Saturday morning after a night of drinking and a domestic altercation. Cabrera played that night and went 0 for 4, stranding six runners.

Konishi said he was aware of the incident, but he said he was unaware of the details until after ballots had to be submitted. “If I had known what was going on there, my vote would probably be different,” he said. “Or maybe, I don’t know. I would have to think about it again.”

Give me a minute. I think I feel an aneurysm forming.

When deciding. Who was the Most Valuable Player. Based on who was most important to the team. Konishi didn’t do his research on Cabrera’s off-the-field unacceptable behavior? There are two ways to view this. First, he heard that something had happened, but didn’t follow up on it, which is irresponsible (and I think next-to-impossible, with the play the story got in the media and the baseball world). Second, he had already made up his mind and ignored the last week or so of the regular season. This would be reprehensible, and I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt, but I don’t know of any other way to have avoided the news stories about Miguel Cabrera and his off-the-field antics.

Finally, the best part of the article, to me. Kepner brought it up as if it was no big deal at all, framing it as a “cultural distinction.” First of all, it’s not. Second of all, I’ll let Konishi’s words speak for themselves:

“Maybe not many Americans think this way, but outside of America, the World Baseball Classic is a huge deal for the Japanese people — enormous,” Konishi said. “And that year, Cabrera played to the semifinals. Mauer didn’t. And how many games both players played was different, too.”

Really? He used the World Baseball Classic, which was not part of the regular season, which did not involve the Tigers at all, and its importance to the Japanese people (!!!!!!!!) to justify his vote. The World Baseball Classic, which was an utter joke last year, thanks to the fact that fewer than 1/4 of Major Leaguers (assumedly, the best players in the world, excepting Japan and Cuba) took part. Mauer, for the record, was not taking part due to a back injury. The World Baseball Classic, in its current incarnation, is a joke. It’s no more important than the Arizona Fall League or the Dominican Winter League. It’s a diversion. It’s a way for MLB to make money. That’s it. It’s a vehicle to transfer dollars (and yen, and pesos, and yuan, and etc.) from the pockets of fans into the pockets of MLB and its owners and facilities. It should not, and does not (in a just world), have any influence whatsoever in the major league season, much less in the MVP voting.

That said, the one, single part of Konishi’s argument that I could see as logical or that I could agree with is his note about the number of games each played. Mauer played 138. Cabrera played 160. Important distinction, but what Mauer did in his 138 was so superior to what Cabrera did in his 160 that I don’t think it should be any real issue here.

And this is where I differ from Joe Christiansen, who normally I respect greatly. He said, with regard to the decision, “if they think he put it together without much thought they are wrong.” JoeC is wrong. Konishi’s decision did not take any thought. This was the opposite of thought. This was rationalization of a decision NOT to care about making a decision that, right or wrong, could have made a major impact on a player’s career. LaVelle gets it closer, but still whiffs on the important parts: “While I would have voted for Mauer (didn’t have the MVP vote last year) this shows how someone can look at things differently.” To be fair, he did make the same points I did above about the relative lineup strengths. Kepner brings up a good point, as well, in his article: “In six games against Seattle last season, Mauer hit .333. In nine games, Cabrera hit .471. Perhaps that colored Konishi’s thinking, on some level.” But then he whiffs it too: “But he sounded to me as if he really had given serious thought to his vote. He just came to a different conclusion than everyone else.” No. Sometimes there is room for interpretation and coming to different conclusions than everyone else. Not this time. Not by a long shot. There’s a difference between Konishi being willing to come out and say why he pooped the bed, and excusing him for doing so. That’s what LaVelle, Kepner, and JoeC did. They excused him. The only mainstream writer that I have seen that got it right is, as usual, Aaron Gleeman, at Hardball Talk:

I appreciate Konishi’s willingness to explain his ballot in a public forum, but I certainly don’t appreciate the lack of insight and logic that went into his decision making. His vote made little sense, the reasoning behind his vote makes even less sense, and his having a ballot in the first place perhaps makes the least sense of all. Oh well.

Konishi should be kicked out of the BBWAA, or at least banned from any further voting of any kind. However, because I know that there’s no way this happens, I do the next most terrible thing, at least to my self-important sense of justice.

I put him On My List.

Beating a dead horse, er, Joe Crede, and the winter of my Cabrera discontent.

I posted yesterday on the utterly inane strategy that the Twins have taken with regard to Joe Crede’s health, namely that they have refused to put him on the DL to rest and rehab despite the fact that he has missed between 3 and 6 days every two-week period all season, excluding the last two weeks in which he has missed 8 so far (I checked). By and large, this horrible strategy hasn’t hurt the Twins, as they have never really done much pinch-hitting to begin with, so eliminating a pinch-hitting option wasn’t that big of a deal. However, last night that came tumbling down.

In the eighth inning, Orlando Cabrera strongly disagreed with a check-swing call that had him out on a strikeout. He shouted at the umpires then slammed his bat into the ground on his way back to the dugout. Home umpire Todd Tichenor immediately threw him out. Like, instantly. Being in DC, I was watching the Orioles broadcast, and even those announcers thought he was thrown out far too quickly, and I agree. Had he pounded his bat into the plate, or toward the umpire, or in any way that was threatening, then off with is head (or something). But he didn’t. He slammed his bat into the ground at the edge of the dirt circle around home plate (don’t know the technical name) on his way back to the dugout.

To be fair, Cabrera had been having a very difficult time with the strike zone last night. It seemed like every at-bat took him to a point where he was ready to toss the bat away and go to first on a walk, only to have the pitch called a strike (which they all were). Ugh. He looked terrible at the plate last night, but what else is new? He isn’t a #2 hitter, and hasn’t been for quite some time. A lot of people were willing to overlook his failings when he first came over from the Athletics because he was unbelievably hot at that point. However, since then he has been utterly futile. From Aug 1-Aug 6 (his hot period), Cabrera was 10/20, with 4 R and 3 RBI. For the rest of his hitting streak, he was only 6/28, getting one hit per game to extend the streak. That adds up to .214 from August 7 -Aug. 13. Since August 14, he has been just as bad as he was in the waning days of his hitting streak, hitting .226, with 2BB, 6 runs scored, and 6 RBI (it’s easy to score runs and get RBIs when you’re in the 2-spot, preceded by Span and followed by Mauer and Morneau). Over the same period, Alexi Casilla has hit .400 and Nick Punto has hit .278 (though Punto was epically bad for the rest of the month). I’m leaving Harris out of this because he has been horrible, but has had limited playing time.

Quick quiz – attach the August BA to the Twins Middle infielder: .275, .333, .213, .256. Okay I didn’t even try to mix them up. It was Cabrera, Casilla, Punto, and Harris. Cabrera’s numbers are still inflated by that six-game hot streak. Since August 6, however, Cabrera has hit like a slumping Joe Crede with no power and no real glove benefit to outweight plate futility. For those of you  that decried the trade that sent Tyler Ladendorf to Oakland for Cabrera, congratulations; you have been proven right so far. Cabrera has been a waste of the 2-spot in the order. Why not try sticking Cuddyer in there for the time being? Just a thought. He’s hitting better, and still provides a righty bat to break up Span from Mauer and Morneau.

So, anyway, Cabrera got thrown out, Gardenhire made a perfunctory argument (he was probably too busy thinking about what the heck he was going to do with is infield to protest strongly), and Cuddyer got to play second base after Casilla moved over (Harris had already pinch-hit for Punto). The bench at that point consisted of Redmond and Gomez, so Gomez got to go to center field. (note: this is why we need a decent set of relievers, so we don’t have to have 12 pitchers).

Anyway, back to Crede. He got an epidural yesterday. Yes, an epidural. The same thing women get when they are giving birth. So, either Crede is going to be a father (which would explain the back and ankle pain), or his back is causing him a lot more pain than any of us have been told (surprise!). Seriously, though. An epidural is supposed to compensate for “post-operative changes?” But guess who STILL isn’t on the DL? JOE-flipping-CREDE.

I have no words.

Well… that was painful. A look at the ‘Pen.

The bullpen needs help. There, I said it. We have seen, over the past few weeks, the decline of a few of the former studs of our bullpen, ending in the release of Juan Rincon, who was considered by some to be the best setup guy in baseball a few years ago. Now we are seeing Jesse Crain, Craig Breslow, and Matt Guerrier start to have some real struggles. This comes from overuse more than anything else.

Why has this season been so hard on the good pitchers in our bullpen? Because the long relief and mop-up roles have been handled so poorly. A lot of this comes down to poor bullpen management by Gardy. Last night, in the seventh, he brought in Bass after Perkins had scuttled a five-run lead; the Twins led by only one. When he failed, like everyone knew he would, Gardy had to use two other relievers to end the inning, neither of which did well. “Where is CRAIN?!” I was shouting (he pitched Sunday, but I thought that he had the fastball that would be able to shut the M’s down). I would have said to put Slowey in for an inning if necessary (it was his day for a bullpen session, I’m pretty sure). By the way, I think my neighbors hate me for screaming at the game at about 1am (EST). It’s okay, screw them, I’m moving later this month anyway. At least I didn’t wake up the wife. That would have been less than good.

Now, I like Brian Bass. He seems like a nice enough guy, and he had that whole “Good at Baseball” thing going his way at the beginning of the season. But then again, at the beginning of the season, the Twins were a rebuilding team with no hope of getting to the postseason. A long reliever with mediocre (at best) stuff is right at home on a rebuilding team. However, once the Twins started contending, it was like flipping a switch… Bass became “Kerosene Boy,” sidekick to “Gas Can Rincon.” Bass would be brought into an inappropriately high-leverage situation and would promptly give up two or three runs. Wait. Didn’t he do that last night, too?

By David Joles, Star Tribune

By David Joles, Star Tribune (what this picture doesn't show is the ball flying over the fence immediately afterward)

It’s time to cut bait on Bass as a major league reliever, at least for this season. If the Twins put him on waivers, he will clear easily; he has done a fine job of lowering his value so far that no other team will likely take him. Then, he can go back to Rochester for a couple months, then mayble play in the Arizona Fall League or something like that to try to get some of his stuff back.

But who takes over for Bass? There are a few options in AAA: Humber, Mulvey, and Korecky (at least at this point). Korecky was up earlier this season and performed admirably, including being the first pitcher to get a hit at the Dome since the DH came to be. His stuff likely isn’t major league quality, unfortunately. He likely will not have a long or storied career in the majors. However, he would be an improvement over Bass, whose sinker doesn’t sink anymore and whose change-up has essentially become batting practice, if only in that most teams haven’t seen him. I would like to see Mulvey or Humber up here, but they need to stay stretched out in case of an injury to one of our young starters. We’ll see them in September when the rosters expand (for sure Humber, maybe on Mulvey, since he isn’t on the 40-man right now).

So that’s Bass. What about the rest of the Bullpen? “Twitch” Nathan’s ninth-inning role is, for some reason, sacrosanct and can’t pitch more than the one inning. Irritating.

Dennys Reyes has put up some good numbers this year, while allowing over 50% of inherited runners to score, which isn’t really what a lefty specialist should do. For some reason, he has generally been unable to pitch a whole inning without giving up a run or two, so he needs to stay the loogy specialist. Big Sweat was sick last night, and was not available to pitch. He is day-to-day for tonight’s game. He likely won’t be re-signed at the end of this season, when he becomes a free agent. It is possible that the Twins will pick up a supplementary draft pick for him, but no one will know until Elias ranks the pitchers. Don’t hold your breath.

Craig Breslow has been stellar for the greatest part of the summer, but he has been battling back stiffness, and wouldn’t have pitched at all yesterday had Reyes not been sent back to the hotel with food poisoning. But he has a relatively deceptive, yet minimalistic, and JD Drew said, back in spring training, that “I don’t want to face Breslow. He doesn’t look like he has much, but you don’t even see his pitches coming.” For a look at his mechanics (a few years ago at the futures game, Fenway Park):

Jesse Crain has simply been overused his first year after coming back from injury. Once I mentioned Crain’s injuries (torn labrum and rotator cuff) to my physical therapist without mentioning his name, and he looked at me with a knowing stare and asked how long he had been retired. When I told him that Crain was back for spring training only 9 months after surgery, he didn’t believe me until I showed him some websites. A torn labrum is the hardest injury to come back from. A torn ulnar ligament is succesfully replaced 80% of the time with Tommy John surgery (ulnar collateral ligament replacement surgery), but a torn labrum still ends careers almost 40% of the time. The fact that he goes up there and throws 96-97 is incredible, but Gardy has been overusing him, and he needs to work less in order to preserve his shoulder. Next year he will probably be able to take on a full workload, but this year he needs a break. Once (and if) Crain gets his control back, he will be the most prototypical 7th-inning/setup guy the Twins will have.

Matt Guerrier has also just been overworked. His stuff is not overpowering; he has a good curveball, but the way he is able to be effective is to locate and mix his pitches, which he usually does very well. However, he isn’t a setup guy. If I had my way (and an injury-less Pat Neshek), Guerrier would take over Bass’ job; it is much more what he is suited for.

Boof Bonser is only a member of the bullpen at this point because he would be claimed if placed on waivers, and the Twins want to get something for him; they could not get a deal done before the trade deadline last week. It seems that the Twins might have asked too much. However, if the Twins make the postseason, I am willing to bet he won’t be on the roster. Boof pulled a Rincon before the trade deadline: he did his damnedest to try to lower his trade value so much that no one would take him. The Twins should put him in games when the Twins trail by seven runs or more and tell him to give up five or so runs. If he could do that a few times, they could get him down to Rochester through waivers.

Now that I’ve looked at the current bullpen, who is missing? Oh, yeah. “Sideshow” Pat Neshek. Neshek has been the team’s high-leverage situational guy for the last year and a half, excepting when he was shut down at the end of last season with shoulder weakness. Neshek had a rough start this year, but had righted the ship when he went down with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament. The hope is that it will heal if he doesn’t use it for a few months, and he should be getting another MRI this month to check on its progress. There is a slight chance we could see him this year (or so the Twins brass says), but it is next to nothing. Had Neshek been in the ‘Pen last night, he would have been brought in after Perkins screwed up and asked to slam the door on the Mariners, something he likely would have been able to do.

*Tear.* I miss Sideshow Pat.

In all fairness, it wasn’t the Twins’ fault that they sucked the big one tonight. It is ESPN’s fault. Has anyone else noticed that whenever Baseball Tonight does a five-to-ten minute segment on a particular team that is even mildly complimentary, the team goes out there and gets absolutely clobbered? Well, last night, BBTN had a nice seven-minute section on the Twins, in which they raved about the Twins doing everything right and then they all confidently predicted that the Twins would win the division. Well, it wouldn’t do to try to prove them right, since the Twins are actually pretty bashful. Hence, Ka-BOOM!! The explosion in the seventh followed. By the way, the second time they showed BBTN was just before the sixth inning, when the Mariners scored their first run.

Boo on them.

New on my List:

  • The Mariners announcers. Not for anything they did, but because the play-by-play guy’s voice is like nails on a chalkboard to my sensitive psyche. It was a painful night even before the seventh inning.
  • Mike Lamb’s beard. Whenever I see it, a little evil voice inside my head goes “SHAVE IT OFF SHAVE IT OFF SHAVE IT OFF.” However, it might be jealousy, because he sort of makes it look good, whereas my beard… not so much.

Sorry, guys. Morneau wasn’t the MVP.

‘Nuff said.

But not really.

Justin Morneau had a pretty good all-star game. He was two-for-four, with a double and two runs scored. He also played nearly flawless first base (the one hiccup was when Joakim Soria should have fielded a bunt and Morneau hesitated for a full second-and-a-half before going in to back it up, which was enough for the hitter to outrun the throw). He was the table-setter. Morneau is a great guy, and he made some major contributions to the All-Star game, but, unfortunately, he didn’t really do anything that could have won the game on its own. A Most Valuable Player both helps his teammates look like stars and helped take care of it mano a mano. Side Note: Justin, replace your glove. Earlier this season, you were charged with an error when a thrown ball went right through the webbing. Well, the same thing almost happened in the top of the 15th yesterday. Thank the Baseball Gods that the game ended.

But he wasn’t the MVP. So, who was the MVP?

Scott Kazmir got the win, and I think a pretty decent case could be made for him, given that he was coming off the second-longest start of his year on Sunday and has been dealing with a still-sore shoulder/elbow. However, he didn’t do that much. He had a K, a BB, and then a fly out and a ground out. He was, however, quite wild. Last Year’s almost-Cy Young almost made an appearance, but he wasn’t quite the MVP.

JD Drew wasn’t the MVP. Here we see the perils of fan voting rearing their ugly heads. The polls opened after the sixth inning. Know what inning Drew had his big home run in? The 7th. It was big for him to tie it, but it wasn’t the determining factor of the game. But, because most people aren’t me, they didn’t wait to vote until the top of the fifteenth inning (I’ll admit, I was close to giving up myself). Also, he had the Red Sox Nation. Don’t get me started.

Michael Young certainly wasn’t the MVP. Sure, he drove in the winning run, but it was on a sacrifice fly, and sacrifice flies are bogus ways to drive in a run.* In addition, it was against the fatigued Brad Lidge, who had thrown an estimated 120 pitches in the bullpen prior to coming into the game. That’s more than any Twins pitcher has thrown this year (maybe Livan did it once), and he’s a closer.

Jeez. Who else was there?

One guy, who really came through and gave the AL the chance to win the game. You’ve likely never/rarely heard of him, because he doesn’t play for either a Central Division foe or a big-market team.

George Sherrill of the Orioles.

He came in with two outs and the bases loaded in the top of the twelfth. He struck out Adrian Gonzales on three pitches. Then he put down the side in the top of the 13th. And again in the 14th. He threw 25 pitches, which is more than he has thrown in any of his last 10 outings. He’s a closer, just like Joe Nathan, who threw 8. But he struck out two in 2.1 innings, giving up one hit and no walks. It was his longest outing of the year in terms of outs delivered. Sherrill saved Scott Kazmir. Sherrill kept the NL quiet after they had batting practice against Joakim Soria. Side Note: I would have had Aaron Cook for MVP had the NL won. He pitched three not-particularly good innings, but he got out of all three jams without giving up a run, while saving both Brad Lidge and Brandon Webb.

The Fan Vote for MVP blew a call more spectacularly than on the shoulda-been stole base in the 11th. Sherrill should have gotten the new truck. I hope some enterprising dealer in the Baltimore area gives him one as part of a promotion.

*Note: I don’t like the sacrifice fly as a category that players get credit for. To me, it is an RBI groundout hit in the air. Sure, I’ll give you the RBI. The runner did score on your out. But it should count as an at-bat. The sacrifice fly makes people like Mike Lamb look better than they actually played by eliminating at-bats where they made an out. Think about this dialogue:

“What did you do to help the team win?”

“Oh, I got up there and hit a fly ball.”

“A home run?! Good Job!”

“No, not a home run.”

“Oh. A double to the gap? Off the wall?”

“No.”

“… So what did you do?”

“I got out. But the run scored.”

“Oh, really. So you screwed up deep enough that the fielder couldn’t throw the runner out in time. Good work. If only we had a category for that. Oh, yeah, we do. It’s called an out. With an RBI.”

All-Star Game! Or, the over-honoring of Yankee Stadium.

Before I start this post, my apologies for missing a couple days. I wasn’t able to watch Sunday’s game (which was good for my blood pressure, it sounds like), so I didn’t want to comment on a close game.

Also, HUGE congratulations to both Justin Morneau and Josh Hamilton. Last night’s home run derby was by far the best I have ever witnessed. Josh Hamilton may have had the compelling story of the night, but the homer in me still shouted “YES!!!” after he didn’t match Morneau in the final round loudly enough for the neighbors to bang on their ceiling/my floor.

Before the game, I need to make my feelings known about the idiocy of the celebration that is happening today. I don’t know a lot of history about the All-Star game, so I don’t know if it is the first time this has ever happened or not (my guess is that no, it hasn’t). I am tired of the hero worship of Yankee Stadium.

Yes, I went there. I watch all the Twins games of the season on MLB.TV (with a few rare exceptions that I don’t watch or that are on ESPN or FOX). So I am intimately familiar with the idiotic Statue of Liberty advertising campaign that is going on in New York City. I am also guessing that nothing similar has ever happened for another All-Star Game. The obsession that Major League Baseball has with Yankee Stadium borders on an obsessive form of idolatry.

I have never attended a game at Yankee Stadium. However, I have talked to several people that have. They compared it (unfavorably) to attending games at Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium, Three Rivers Stadium in Cincinnati, or even the King Dome in Seattle.

Sure, a lot of historic stuff happened in Yankee Stadium. But if you go anywhere that is suitably old, stuff will have happened there.

Oh, and FOX announcers? Yankee Stadium isn’t a “jewel.” It isn’t “the” stadium, ESPN announcers of yesterday. It is an old stadium, surely a historic stadium, but it is just another old stadium, which happens to be the home of the (arguably) most popular, most expensive to see play, most irritatingly commercial, most ridiculously overhyped, and most hated team in the major leagues. THAT is what makes it different.

I’m sure today means a lot to a lot of people BECAUSE the game is being held in Yankee Stadium. But I am not one of them.

So, down to business: Today’s All-Star Game.

They finally did something right. The presence of all the living all-stars on the field was one of the most moving things I have ever seen happening on a baseball field in my life.

Side note: Now that Anheuser-Busch has been bought by a Belgian firm, can it still call itself the “Great American Lager?”

You’d think Ben Sheets could have managed to find time to shave before the game. It is, like, on tv and all.

I like that the players are able to wear the away/visiting uniforms of their own teams. I didn’t like it last year when the teams had to wear orange/black. Mostly, because it didn’t look good with the navy Twins hat Hunter, Santana, and Morneau all wore.

Mauer’s first at-bat was very Mauer-ish of him, drawing a six-pitch walk. I hope he gets another (and he should, given that he was the elected starter). But being the elected starter doesn’t mean anything when the team manager works with the other guy every day… if Papelbon pitches, expect Varitek to come in if he hadn’t already.

Yes, it is cool and all to talk to hall of famers, but we don’t need to see them when a game is going on. We just missed two pitches to Kosuke Fukodome (sp?). I’m talking to you, TV broadcasters.

Oh, also. I don’t see the sentimental value of bringing Sensenbrenner in on a golf cart to hand out the first pitch balls. I’m sorry, but the guy has hurt the game’s reputation as much as any single person has, not to mention the amount of hurt he put on the game by spending more money in a year than any average city will earn in the same time period.

It’s a good thing David Ortiz wasn’t so hurt (while missing essentially a month) that he couldn’t record a Vitamin Water commercial. Otherwise, there would be one less baseball-related irritating commercial out there.

It is weird to want Alex Rodriguez to hit a home run. I haven’t done that since he played for Seattle. Too bad for him that he ended up striking out.

Whoa… Zambrano just threw at Manny. I love the passion of it, though I would never endorse throwing at a player, even at Manny, who makes me want to vomit.

Good hit by Mauer. Very Twins of him, and I have to say I understand the decision to pinch-run for him, although it turned out not to matter.

Dan Haren. Weird. He is still refusing to use his version of the stretch with runners on 1st and 2nd. Especially after handing second base to Kinsler by using the high leg kick.

Oops, there’s the stretch.

Hurdle wasn’t joking about using the pitching he thought was best. We have seen three pitchers through six innings. We might see six pitchers tonight… we have seen more than that in some regular season games.

HOLY CRAP! Joe Nathan is in! Wow!! I was NOT expecting him to play, especially after Sherrill was warming up in the sixth. And he is at his fidgety best. Good Job, Joe!

Morneau certainly had an easy first inning in play. Strikeout, flyout, flyout.

I have to say, I miss “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Call me a crazy pinko commie, but I would much rather hear it during the all-star game than “God Bless America.” Not that Josh Groban didn’t do a pretty awesome job, but I do have to say that the photographer that was pacing near the edge of the frame the whole time was rather distracting (kind of like the low angle shots they insisted upon using to film the song.

Best question of all-time on ESPN’s gamecast chat: “Jim, who would win in a fight to the death- the eagle on the NL logo or the eagle on the AL logo? You’d be tempted to go with the AL due to size, but check out the NL eagle’s hardware.” Response: “That’s the most intelligent question I’ve heard yet.”

GREAT DOUBLE, Justin! That’s his first All-Star hit (0-fer-2 last year).

Again, it is really strange to be cheering for a JD Drew Home Run. But impressive off Edinson Volquez.

I like the AL’s chances at this point, given that Papelbon and Rivera are likely the next two pitchers (if the AL take a lead).

Not that I was expecting a ton of class, but the chanting of “Overrated” by the Yankees fans was a whole new level of classless.

Quentin really could have had Tejada at home had he backed up the ball and made a good throw. The throw was in plenty of time, but off the mark.

I am going to go out on a limb and say that if the Yankees end up in the World Series and don’t have home field advantage, their fans have no one to blame but themselves.

How about Evan Longoria. I’ve always liked the kid, but wow. 2 outs, bottom of the eighth, runner on second, and he comes through with a Ground Rule Double.

Morneau didn’t do so great, but he already got his double.

I REALLY hope that the AL (or the NL) scores in the ninth so there is a winner to this game. It has been too good of a game for an ambiguous ending.

Notwithstanding what I wrote earlier, it is kind of cool to see Mariano Rivera finishing the top of the ninth inning here.

Anyone else notice how classy Fancona was tonight? He pulled both Jeter and A-Rod in the middle of an inning so they could have a curtain call, then gave Rivera the last outs of the ninth.

HUGE strike-em-out throw-em-out double play by Rivera and Navarro (almost makes up for Navarro handing the NL the lead in the eighth with that bad throw.

Did the bottom of the 10th remind anyone of the kind of thing we see with the Twins a lot? Bases Loaded, no outs, no runs scored.

Justin Morneau just barely fails to beat out an infield single.

Bottom of the 11, Ian Kinsler hit a bloop single, then tried to steal second on a pitchout. He was clearly safe; the tag never touched his leg. Then, one pitch later, Navarro walked, and then JD Drew got a single up the middle. With a correct call, Kinsler would have scored easily.

Why, Why, Why, Why, Why did Navarro try to take home on Young’s single? Had he stayed at third, a sac fly (or almost anything else) would have scored him.

Again, it is really weird for me to want Carlos Quentin to hit a big one here.

Uggla is having a really poor game. 2 straight errors in the 10th, two strikeouts, and hit into a double play. Talk about a rough line.

Wow. This game is REALLY like a Twins game: no one is scoring after they get on base.

Quick Prediction: this game will be won with a bomb. No one is really playing well enough to small-ball it.

Now that I said that, Carlos Guillen doubles off the wall on the first pitch from Aaron Cook (who already miraculously got out of a jam).

Again, there is a runner on third base and Justin is up with two outs, but he gets an intentional walk.

Ian Kinsler comes up and grounds out to 3rd.

They keep showing Bud Selig looking like he is about to cry. I would too if I had to make the decision to end a game like this.

Sherrill is lights-out. I wonder if he is available to pitch set-up for the Twins.

Uggla got a terrible hop off the bat of JD Drew, but the scorer called it an error, his third of the night. Bad, bad call by the official scorer. Hopefully they will change it. When Michael Young struck out, Drew took second base.

I am again in the surreal position of wanting Carlos Quentin to do good, but he strikes out.

Top of the 14th: George Sherrill is no longer lights out, but he has now pitched 2 1/3 innings, with no runs given up, which ties his season high. This inning he gave up a couple super-deep fly balls and a grounder, but nothing bad.

Bottom 14: Brandon Webb is in after throwing 108 pitches on Sunday. He and Kazmir (104 pitches on Sunday) were on a don’t use unless there is a knife to your throat list. but that time is now. He gets a line-out and two strike-outs.

Top 15: Kazmir is in, and he’s the last player for the American League (the NL is saving Brad Lidge for a possible save, but we might see him in an inning or so), so you have to figure there are two innings left max to this game. It will tie for the longest game ever (15 innings). He strikes out Uggla. Terrible night for him. Three errors, three strikeouts, and one double-play. Kazmir looks pretty rough right now. A fly-out, a walk, and a ground-out to Morneau that almost went through the webbing of his glove. I think it is time he trades in for a new one.

I just had a thought: if the game keeps going, the only way to keep it on is to have a position player pitch. the thought of that makes me very happy.

Bottom 15: Brad Lidge is in, so probably one more inning after this, max. Morneau got a solid single to center. The announcers think Kinsler will bunt, but given the fact that Morneau isn’t exactly Gogomez. Kinsler hit a line drive to right that Ryan Ludwick made an amazing diving catch to save it. THAT was an All-star play. Dionner Navarro gets a single to center as well, and there is a real rally chance here, with Drew up. The fans booed Morneau when he stayed at second on the play. Problem: Navarro is the easiest possible person to double off in this game. Brian McCann of the Braves is in at catcher for the first time of the night. If my Minnesota math is correct, he is the NL’s last bench option. Drew walks, so there is one out with Michael Young at the plate and the bases loaded. He hits a sac fly to right and Morneau beats the throw by a millisecond.

Game over.

Time: 4:50

Number of pitchers used: 23

Number of players used: All of them.

Winner: Kazmir, Loser: Lidge

Total number of pitches thrown: 443

This is Jonas, signing out.

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