The End.

Since I started this blog over two and a half years ago, I’ve really enjoyed some of the things it brought me. First and foremost of those was the opportunity to interact with other Twins fans and bloggers. And, unfortunately, that’s what I’ll miss most about this blog: the platform it gave me to engage the conversation in more than 140 characters and in more depth than I could in the comments section of other blogs. This is, in all likelihood, the last post on Call to the ‘Pen (and yes, I’m insisting on using the apostrophe all the way to the bitter end).

When I published the first post on Call to the ‘Pen, a diatribe about why I dislike Manny Ramirez, I had just finished my first year of law school. I was working as a research assistant for a professor who mostly wanted me to update her website. I had been married for just over 11 months and had lived in the DC area for the same amount of time. I couldn’t believe Al Franken was seriously running for Senate. But most importantly, I though I had something somewhat important to say about the Twins.

Some things don’t change, though. I’m still married, but now I know that my wife has the patience of a saint to put up with a law student and then an unemployed lawyer. I’m out here in DC for at least a while longer. I’m still a huge Twins fan. I still can’t believe Al Franken is a Senator. But in a good way.

Most of that has changed now. I graduated from Georgetown Law in May 2010, and passed the Virginia bar exam just about two months later. I’ve struggled through the job market; I’m on my third job since then, and even it will end in September.  I’m currently employed as a law clerk, and I work an average of 12 hours a day. I don’t update any websites anymore. I have a dog, which prompted a couple posts. I don’t have any more free time; I haven’t watched a full Twins game yet this season. I didn’t make it up to Baltimore when the Twins were there. But, most importantly for the purposes of this site, I don’t feel like I have anything important to add to the Twins discussion.

There are a few things that led to the decision to shut down the blog. I’ll lay them out below in pleasing bullet-point format:

  • I haven’t posted since last August 9, and at no point during that time did I feel like I wanted to post.
  • I feel like somehow the Twins blogosphere has gotten more petty, more jerky. I don’t know if I’ve had anything to do with that, but I’ve definitely had it affect me.
  • I have a wife and a dog that I like a whole lot, and I see little enough of them without feeling like I need to watch a baseball game so I can either write or tweet about it later.
  • No time – I haven’t set a lineup on either of my fantasy teams in two weeks; I haven’t done much of anything for fun in nearly as long.
  • The Twins, as a team, have done a whole lot of things to piss me off in the last six months, not the least of which was the recent release of Pat Neshek. While I haven’t stopped liking the Twins and the recent month of poor play isn’t a driving factor in my decision (Hell, I’ve been working so many hours I don’t have the slightest idea what their record is or who’s pitching on a given day), I don’t feel much desire to invest in a team that seems to be motivated to get rid of every player I enjoy watching (starting with Craig Breslow a year ago). Petty, but true.

So, that’s that. I will miss the times this blog has brought me, as well as the great people it put me in contact with. I’ll miss messing with the interwebs, like I did regarding the great Joe Mauer’s Beard escapade a season ago, and I’ll almost miss the constant hate mail I got from people whenever I (constructively) criticized Joe Nathan or Joesus himself. But all good things must come to an end.

I’ll still be around, and, who knows, maybe I’ll kidnap someone and take over their blog for a day guest post somewhere else if I feel I have something to say, but this is the end for this blog.

I’ll still be on Twitter and Facebook, but don’t be shocked if my Twitter handle changes at some point in the future because I won’t have the connection with this blog anymore. If anyone I’ve interacted with over the years of this blog’s existence is ever in the DC area, consider this a standing invitation to get together for dinner or a drink.

So, thanks, everyone. Thanks for accepting me into your community, and pretending my half-baked ideas had some merit, even though I flat-out refused to engage in real statistical analysis. Thanks for the comments, the criticism, and 30,000 visitors, most from people I have never met. Thanks, basically, for being awesome.

Peace out… and Win Twins.

The Coming Outfield Logjam

Note – A slightly different version of this post appeared on Fan Friday at TwinsMVB.com a couple months ago.

One of the strangest things about the roster this season is the absolute paucity of outfielders on both the 25-man (active) roster and the 40-man roster. The current outfielders on these rosters consist of the following: ‘elmon Young, Denard Span, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Repko, and a reanimated corpse. Er, Jason Kubel (you can’t fault me, he plays the outfield a bit like a zombie). That’s both the beginning and the end of the list. In theory, Nick Punto, Alexi Casilla, and/or Matt Tolbert (if and when he is in the bigs) are the secondary back-up outfielders. This notion is offensive to me, and I sure hope it is to people reading as well.

Of those “outfielders” on the roster, Jason Kubel is not an outfielder. He’s a DH that keeps getting pressed into OF duties because Gardy is incapable of not starting Jim Thome three games out of five and Gardy doesn’t trust ‘elmon. Michael Cuddyer’s ideal role is probably that of part-time outfielder and part-time right-handed platoon designated hitter. It’s hard to express how bad he’s been in the outfield the last few years according to UZR, which we now know was not an artifact of the baggie, as he turned in far superior numbers in the ‘Dome than on the road. ‘elmon Young is also beginning to look like his range in LF is simply not going to improve, regardless of his weight loss and slightly increased speed. He needs to be moved to RF ASAP (especially given the powerful arm we’ve witnessed), or else there’s a decent chance he’ll also trend toward being a part-time DH part-time OF. Denard Span is a great lead-off hitter, but his defense in center-field is suspect at best, as the last few series have pointed out. His arm is simply not strong enough to be a great centerfielder either. The big problem pointed out in this paragraph? There are simply not enough DH slots to go around, especially given the presence of Thome, who Gardy is driven to play three or four times a week, regardless of the painful obviousness of his reduced bat speed.

So, we really have about a sum total of 2½ outfielders on the roster right now, when you factor in the fact that Span is legit, and the others are partial outfielders. So what options are there right now? Well, in AAA, the Twins have currently stashed veterans Jacque Jones and Jason Repko, both of whom are playing pretty well, but are not good enough to take away the day jobs of the current outfielders. One of them would be a great backup outfielder on the 25-man roster, but given that neither are on the 40-man roster and the Twins have as of yet refused to make a move on the 40-man to accommodate the outstanding Anthony Slama, don’t hold your breath. (Note: Since this post was originally written, Slama was called up and Repko was added to the roster. Who knows what will happen w/r/t Repko when Matt Tolbert and/or Orlando Hudson come off the DL?)

So, that’s the current outfield situation. It’s certainly not ideal, and the Twins’ flyball pitchers have certainly been punished with the lack of outfield defense. But this is a forward-looking piece. The Twins have a wealth of great outfield prospects, several of which are nearing their major-league debuts in the next couple years. In fact, there’s a good chance we’ll have a major outfield logjam in the coming years! So, let’s look at the future!

  • Michael Cuddyer is under contract through 2011, as the Twins exercised his option for the 2011 series last off-season. I think the Twins will likely make a perfunctory move at re-signing him, so as not to anger the casual fans, who generally love Cuddyer, but will let him walk in the end.
  • ‘elmon Young has either one or two arbitration years remaining.
  • Jason Kubel is in the final year of a two-year deal, but there is a team option for $5.25 million for 2011.
  • Denard Span just signed a five-year contract. He’ll be here for a while.

Here are the up-and-comers. I’m only looking at the players that have a legitimate chance of being long-term starters for the Twins, so players like Jacque Jones, Jason Repko, and Jason Pridie. Those guys are at best backups at this point, with the possible  exception of Repko:

  • Aaron Hicks – The near-consensus number one prospect in the Twins system is currently playing in the Low-A Midwest League for the Beloit Snappers. He might be the best defensive centerfielder in the system, and has an incredible arm that was honed from years of throwing 95-mph fastballs. Can you say, “Position player pitching?” That said, he is only 21, and still has a long way to go. The earliest we’ll probably see him on the big club, barring a raft of injuries or an explosion in his numbers, is September 2012 or sometime in 2013. He is seen as a Torii Hunter/Kirby Puckett type player, and is likely the Twins next long-term center-fielder.
  • Ben Revere – Revere is a top-five Twins prospect, depending on how much stock you put in the dismal reports of his defense. Revere is really, really fast, but his arm is suspect, and he uses his speed to compensate for the fact that he takes some incredibly strange routes to get to the ball (remind you of anyone? GoGo (minus the arm strength)?) That said, Revere might be the best hitter in the Twins system. He has little power, but he hits for an insane average; he flirted with hitting .400 in 2008, and even though his triple-slash stats declined in 2009, that is to be expect in the (extremely) pitcher-friendly atmosphere of the 2009 Florida State League. Right now Revere is in AA New Britain, and might be the most likely call-up in the event of a serious injury to Denard Span. The problem with Revere is his lack of power and arm strength. He may not have the arm strength to play in CF long-term, but doesn’t have the power to take a corner outfield role (but then again, the Twins have put little stock in the traditional hitting requirements for corner positions; for cripes’ sake, Punto is STILL playing 2B).
  • Angel Morales – When Morales was drafted in 2007, he was seen by many to be a light-hitting outfielder with incredible speed and great defense. To the surprise of many, including yours truly, he turned into possibly the best power prospect the Twins have had since Jason Kubel. Morales will be in Class A Fort Myers this season, and should stay there all year. We could see him in a Minnesota Twins uniform as soon as 2012 if he continues at his current pace, and manages to curb his (excessive) strikeout rate. A constant comparison I have heard is Carlos Beltran, and if he continues, he could be the next great Puerto Rican MLB player.
  • Rene Tosoni – The MVP of last year’s Futures Game follows Justin Morneau in the Twins’ Canadian ranks. Tosoni is arguably the most complete and ready player of the ones I’ll mention here, but he also probably doesn’t have a long-term role with the Twins, due to the high level of competition on this list. I’d be surprised if we don’t see Tosoni this season at some point, most likely in September. He’s a definite candidate to be added to the 40-man roster at some near point in the future. Tosoni has trouble with left-handed pitching, and could be a very good number 2, 5, or 6 hitter in the future against righties. I fully expect Tosoni to be traded in the next two years, and he could yield a decent position player or a good pitching prospect in return. That said, you never know.
  • Joe Benson – The last prospect I’ll look at today is Benson. I don’t know as much about Benson, but many people rank him as the third-best outfield prospect in the Twins system after Aaron Hicks and Angel Morales, due to Revere’s problems. Revere has very good on-base numbers, and isn’t a slouch in the power department. We could see him in 2012, if he isn’t traded or doesn’t get injured (like he did after breaking his hand/wrist after punching a concrete wall in 2009).

So where does the outfield go in the future? Here are my guesses, and I’d sure be interested to see what you all think in the comments (in the order of LF, CF, and RF):

2010: ‘elmon Young, Denard Span, Michael Cuddyer

2011: Denard Span, Ben Revere, Michael Cuddyer (I think Young gets traded this off-season for something long-term at 2B or 3B).

2012: Denard Span, Ben Revere, Angel Morales

2013: Denard Span, Aaron Hicks, Angel Morales (Revere traded).

Any further out is impossible to predict. What do you think?

Nicknames

I’ve been prompted on Twitter recently (follow me at @calltothepen) to explain some of the nicknames that I have for the varying Twins players. Some are standard and used by the majority of fans, others, well, not so much. These are my nicknames, except where attributed to someone else. Direct all hate to me. For a more exhaustive version of this list, check out K-bro’s nicknames page.

Hitters:

Joe Mauer – Joesus (not sure if I came up with this one or I picked it up off Twitter – came from a time when I was barely conscious even when not in bed). Derivative of the long-term nickname “Baby Jesus,” which I thought was not nearly humorous enough for me. He used to be nicknamed 4-6-3, in honor of the style of GIDP he was (and occasionally still is) so prone to.

Justin Morneau – Mountie – not original, but don’t know where it came from either. My special twist? It usually appears on Twitter somewhere near the hashtag: #AllYourMapleSyrupAreBelongToUs

Jason Kubel – The Dude (from the guys over at The WGOM). Taken from the cult hit movie, The Big Lebowski. Because, well, he abides:

The resemblance is uncanny, no? Right down to the crooked v-neck.

Delmon Young – ‘elmon. My derivative of a WGOM classic, _elm_n, from 2008 and 2009, when he had neither offense nor defense. However, now that he’s lost the weight, he seems to be slowly growing a D. We’ll see how long it lasts.

Michael Cuddyer – I use several, but my favorite is Cuddly, which is a derivative of the normal “Cuddy.” I got this one from one of my undergrad classmates, who brought a sign to a game that said “I want to get Cuddly-er with Cuddyer.”

J.J. Hardy – At this point, I’ve started calling him Crede. Because he’s hurt. all. the. time.

Nick Punto - I don’t give him a nickname. He doesn’t deserve it most of the time.

Denard Span – Spantastic. Spantom of the Opera. I like them both, but don’t use them enough.

Orlando Hudson – “The” Orlando Hudson. Hudson’s normal nickname is “The O-Dog,” which I refuse to call him, because it’s a stupid and overused nickname (let’s be honest, every team has a player that is “something-Dog.”). However, he’s pretty darn good, so I let him keep his “the.”

Pitchers

Kevin Slowey – This is my own nickname, and it dates back to his first call-up in 2007, when he was 5-0 and then got sent down, because every number was terrible but wins. At the time, I had a long, involved joke involving shooting oneself in the foot, but I can’t remember it now. Then, in 2008, in response to an ESPN announcer using it again, I wrote this piece, which was basically a play off the fact that Slowey, even though he lacks any kind of great stuff, was utterly fearless as he hurled, unlike Scott Baker, who looked to the bullpen every time he got in trouble. Since then, he’s regressed back to the shoot-self-in-foot kind of gunslinger.

Scott Baker – Timmy (multiple sources). For two reasons. First, it’s because I thought he looked like a “Timmy.” Then, I found out his legal name is Timothy Scott Baker. Turns out I’m prescient.

Francisco Liriano – F-Bomb (multiple sources), because it works so damn well, whether he’s winning or losing.

Carl Pavano – Darn. I got nothing here. He’s just… boring. Nothing really jumps out at me.

Nick Blackburn – For a long time, I called him “Blackbeard,” like everyone else. However, I decided earlier this season that it was too obvious (and getting overused), so I changed to “Pirate Nick.”

Jose Mijares – Senor Meatball (multiple sources, personally I was introduced to it by thrylos98). Because it seems to be his job to serve them up.

Pat Neshek – Sideshow Pat (I think this was a Bat-Girl nickname originally).

Joe Nathan – Twitch. Because he’s unable to stand still for a second. Ever. Whether he’s on the mound or not.

Jon Rauch – Neck Tat. Self Evident.

Let me know if I missed anyone!

Happy ‘elmon Young Day!

Happy ‘elmon Young day! Today is brought to you by the letters D and O, the numbers -17.9 (his career UZR) and .23 (his career BB/K), and the creator of both Nick Punto Day and ‘elmon Young Day, Andrew Kneeland. A little background:

On February 12, Twins bloggers across the country (well, mostly in the midwest, but a few ex-pats, such as myself, made it a national event) held “Nick Punto Day,” in which we celebrated (and denigrated) the player that most of us love to hate. Or hate to love. Or, if you’re Karlee of OMGMnTwins, love to love and love even more to destroy anyone who hates. Now, three months later, Andrew has decided (and many agree) that given the mixed feelings most of us hold about ‘elmon (apostrophe to be explained in a minute), a similar day to feel out the strengths (not fielding) and weaknesses (fielding) of our dear left fielder. This is an entry in that series. So, dear reader, bear with me, this’ll be a long one. I’ve got a lot to say about ‘elmon. But even I doubt that the feelings of the fans can be adequately expressed in mere words.

‘elmon was acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays on November 28, 2007 for one-time starting pitching phenom Matt Garza, starting shortstop Jason Bartlett, and minor league reliever Eduardo Morlan. The Twins also received Brendan Harris and Jason Pridie in the trade. On first blush, it seems like an even trade. Two uber-prospects – Garza and Young (who had been runner-up to Dustin Pedroia in 2007, his 21-year-old season) – two decent non-star shortstops (Bartlett and Harris), and two (would prove to be minor league-only) other players (Pridie and Morlan) all changed hands. This blog didn’t exist back then, so unlike other blogs, I cannot link to an old post raving about how great the trade was for the Twins. Thank God for that. That would be embarrassing.

I’ll be honest, though, even though it pains me. At the time I was thrilled. I was a fan who had never bought into Matt Garza, despite his impressive stats in the minors and during his solid-but-not-spectacular short 2006 stint in the Show. The main thing I can remember from back then was Garza refusing to throw his breaking pitches in the minor leagues, while the coaches insisted he not throw his (very good) fastball every pitch. That refusal led to Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey getting a 2007 call-up before him. This made Garza bitter, and he struggled through the 2007 season, even though he ended with a good 3.47 ERA (which outperformed his 4.18 FIP – likely due to good infield defense). There were games where he would literally stalk out to the mound, and he ended the year with a 5-7 record.

Count me among those that wondered, once Bill Smith was promoted to replace Terry Ryan as the Twins manager, whether Garza, who had been one of Ryan’s “babies,” was on his way out. And so he was, just a few months later. Let me talk for just a second about those other involved players. Jason Bartlett went on to have a couple very good years in Tampa Bay (including being undeservedly voted team MVP in their World Series appearance in 2008). Bartlett is a good defensive shortstop who hits for a decent-to-good average with little power. In a pre-Hardy world, doesn’t that look good? He was exchanged (in effect) for Brendan Harris, a bad defensive shortstop who had hit 12 homers for Tampa Bay in 2007. He became a part-time player with little upside the very next season, when he was supplanted at shortstop by first Adam Everett and then later Nick Punto, and was placed at second base, where he was eventually replaced by Alexi Casilla. Sigh. Today, he’s a role player, who gets more playing time than he deserves. The Twins also received Jason Pridie, who has only played a couple of games in the majors, giving up Eduardo Morlan, who was substituted at the last minute for Juan Rincon. Morlan was my major reason for disliking the trade when it happened, because he was one of our top relievers in the minors. However, he hurt his shoulder (I think) and has not risen above AA, which is the level he was at when the trade came down.

So, what was my first reaction to the trade? “Ugh, shouldn’t Bill Smith be working on trading Santana, rather than trading for an outfielder?” Yep, that was it. Sure, I was sad to see Morlan go, and rather pleased to see an outfielder who could hit for power coming over. Especially one that was heralded as an “excellent defensive outfielder with an extremely strong arm.” I’ll refrain from linking to who said that one, because I don’t believe in cruel and unusual punishment.

Prior to the Twins trading for him, the only time I had really heard of Young, other than having a casual awareness of his rookie-of-the year runner-up season, was due to his longstanding behavioral problems. In AA he once was suspended for three games for bumping an umpire.  The icing on the suspension cake (mmmmm, cake) occurred when he was playing in AAA Durham. ‘elmon was struck out on a called third strike, and hung around to argue it. So the umpire ejected him. On his way to the dugout, Young turned around and threw his bat at the umpire; it hit him on the chest. The next day, ‘elmon said, through his agent, that he didn’t actually mean to hit the umpire with the bat. Somehow, that didn’t satisfy the International League authorities, and he was suspended indefinitely, which was later reduced to 50 games. The whole affair was caught on video, which, if I did the embed thing right, is located below.

The incident was enough to prompt the famous (and retired) BatGirl to create a Lego story about his arrival in Minnesota (by the way, running a google search for “bat girl” returns several extremely frightening results). Young continued his behavioral problems with the Rays in 2006 and 2007, and managed to wear out his welcome in just over one season in the bigs: he made nearly all his teammates in Tampa Bay hate him both on and off the field. However, he hit a bunch of homers, and projected to hit more in the future, which was enough to make the Twins want/need him. However, the behavioral problems did not go away once he arrived in the Twins organization. Multiple sources reported that he was refusing to take any guidance from the Twins’ coaching staff and would only listen to his father’s hitting advice. He apparently was aggravating the other outfielders due to his reluctance to chase down balls hit into the gaps and balls that were foul but in play. Of course, that turns out to be caused mostly by the fact that he was unable to run at any decent clip.

So, how good on defense was this “excellent defensive outfielder with an extremely strong arm?” Well, terrible. His UZR for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (they hadn’t yet changed their name) was -7.5, which is bad, but not epically bad. His next seasons were epically bad, though, as he turned in a -19.5 UZR in 2008 (in 152 games) and a -14.4 UZR in 108 games in 2008, which works out to a UZR/150 of -22.9. True, his arm was strong, but he never got to the ball, so what did we, the fans, care if he actually threw it? He made a total of 15 outfield assists in those two years. He couldn’t range forward or backward, and God help us all if he had to dive for it. He somehow managed to give Prince Fielder his first inside-the-park home run after diving for and missing the ball, badly (sorry for no video, MLB took down all the copies I could find). This lack of “D” (defense) is why, when I write out his name, I write it ‘elmon. See? No D. (This is borrowed from the fine fellows over at The WGOM).

His bat has somehow been very bad, while being good. He hit .290 and .284 his first two seasons with the Twins, and looks to be doing something similar this season. He has not been fast, as he stole 14 bases in 2008, and only two last season. His on-base percentage has been lacking, as he has struck out five times for every walk. So, let’s look at some graphs, shall we? This is all from the fine folks at Fangraphs. The first graph is of Delmon’s batting average over time.

It’s clearly trending downwards, though it is still above average (barely). Hopefully it rebounds. Graph 2: on-base percentage (just for kicks, compared to Mauer, Mr. OBP, and Cuddyer).

Below average, which is a trick, given that his batting average has been above average. It comes from all those strikeouts and so few walks. Graph 3: BB%.

Not so great, except for this season, which we can (probably) expect to revert to the mean.

So, what’s the takeaway from this overly long look at ‘elmon? Well, it’s tough to say, at least for someone as statistically inept as I am. However it’s worth noting that Delmon is still very young. He has had a lot of attitude and behavioral problems, but those seem to be working themselves out as he’s grown up. Last year, he was forced to deal with an event no one should have to deal with: the death of his mother from cancer. Then, at the end of the season, he turned it on and started performing much better. He lost 30 lbs over the off-season, which I think has sent a message to a lot of people, myself included: he does care. It’s an acknowledgment of the problems he’s had, and there has been a real change this season. He’s running out ground balls (and beating some out, now that he’s lighter and faster). He’s getting to more balls in the outfield (and still looking ugly while he’s doing it).

But I think I have more hope for ‘elmon than I did last year. When he lost the weight, it seems he also lost the attitude, which seemed to have been weighing him down more than the weight itself was. He has, I think for the first time, a real shot to NOT go the same direction that his brother, Dimitri, famously took, or that Milton Bradley seems dead set on taking now. I think he just might make it. And if he does, he still might just make that trade look pretty damn skippy.

(Follow me on Twitter at @calltothepen, and while you’re there, check out the tag for Delmon Young day: #DelmonYoungDay to see what else has been written).

Into the Off Day…

So, it’s been a while. I’m under a fair amount of stress right now, so let’s use some soothing bullet points to put me at ease…

  • Let me tell you, finishing off a law school career is pretty hard work. I only have about 40 more pages to write before next Monday (May 3rd) so that I can graduate, so I can almost guarantee that this will be the final post of a decent length until then. I’m working on three papers: one is a really simple and easy reflection memo on my internship in DC Superior Court; the second involves suggestions on how to implement the Omnibus DC Voting Bill for the 2010 elections; and the third is the beast, a 20-page paper on standing requirements, which are what must be met before one can sue. Overall, not too bad (considering I ended up writing a somewhat controversial 68-pager on the teaching of evolution over creationism in schools last year), but the time frame will make it very difficult. Wish me luck! If I succeed, I’ll graduate. If not, well, I’ll hope for an extension!
  • Friday’s game was an interesting one for me. I had missed the two prior days’ games due to work and going to the Nationals games. Both, by the way were terrible to watch. Livan Hernandez was pretty impressive Thursday, but still pulled off the loss against Cy Jimenez. He was exactly the guy he was in 2008, which still makes me cringe, but I’m happy he’s still finding success. However, Friday’s game got nasty on Twitter. When David DeJesus (I think) hit a home run that just barely went over the fence (as was apparent on replay but not on first viewing), Michael Cuddyer did not seem to hustle at all to return the ball to the infield. The problem? The ump called the ball in play, which led to DeJesus getting an inside-the-park home run as Cuddyer meandered back to the ball, which was resting at the base of the fence. Now, I know Cuddyer likely saw the ball go over his head, and the ump’s call would have been overturned on instant replay, but the slow walk Cuddyer took incensed many of those on Twitter that day. Our reward for being critical of Cuddyer for (apparently) not hustling (as is the Minnesota Twins way, of course)? This Tweet, by a respected and widely-followed Twins blogger (name removed because I have not spoken with him directly):

    This Tweet was quickly followed up by:

    Really?

    Now, as everyone who reads my writing or tweets knows, I am all about the snark and the sarcasm, but there is a line that stops short of accusing someone of “not being a fan” or “not being a true fan.” The first tweet crossed that line, and the second Tweet was just a reminder. As of now, I find myself an “alleged” Twins fan in the eyes of at least one (for those not familiar with the legal term of art “alleged,” it means roughly “something that has been declared true, but that certainly hasn’t been proven.”) influential blogger. Frankly, it pissed me off, and I sure hope it pissed off others. I really have one sports rule, and that rule is to NEVER accuse someone of not being a fan. Here’s where I shout out to my fellow blogger Fanatic Jack, who tends to have a negative outlook on the team, and frequently gets accused of all sorts of nasty things because of it. Jack, we rarely agree, but I know you are a true fan, and I urge everyone else to read his work at Fanatic Jack Talks Twins, as he does have a lot of good analysis to go along with is (often merited) pessimism.

  • So, that dour note behind us, it appears that Joe Mauer hasn’t shaved in a while, which is leading to a resurgent case of Joe Mauer’s Beard! I unfortunately don’t have a very good capture of it, but here is what I got. It is still a long way from the luscious specimen that we had at the beginning of ST, but it’s a start. Now if only Denard Span would follow Joe’s lead and grow back HIS Man-Beard. I promise he’ll stop it with the suckage as soon as he does.
  • The Twins have now won six straight series without managing to sweep a single one. Color me unconcerned. So long as the Twins are winning 2/3+ of their games, I won’t start to fret. Eventually, the Twins will discover their missing clutchiness and they’ll start scoring about three more runs per game than they are now.
  • I want to marry the Twins offense, but A) my wife would not approve, and B) it’s not legal to marry groups of sports players in Virginia (or Minnesota). So, I guess I’ll just have to deal with pining from a distance.
  • Topper Anton was nice enough to offer me a place in his “Twins Bloggers: Get to Know ‘Em” series, and commences to say nice things about me that I really don’t deserve, as I recently discovered that I have a horrible pottymouth while watching baseball: at the Thursday Nats game, there was a whole family, including little kids sitting right in front of me. The Nats are a horrible team, and I really don’t love them that much, but I found myself biting my lip far too much. Sorry, Mom! :S Anyway, go check out my Get-to-Know-‘Em if you want to know more about me (or if you are looking for good blackmail fodder).
  • Because of the back-up of games, I’ll give a Stud/Dud for today’s game only.
  • The Stud: Justin Morneau. Justin absolutely destroyed a pitch in the second inning for a two-run homer, and he has really been flashing the leather recently at second base. Mark Texeira he is not, but he’s still impressive.
  • The Dud: clearly, today’s dud was Kevin Slowey. This is not to say that he pitched poorly (which he did: he couldn’t locate around the corners of the plate, and when that goes, so goes Slowey’s whole game), but the main reason is that he couldn’t make it far into the Sixth Inning on the day after every pitcher but Alex Burnett was used. It turned out not to matter, as Ron Mahay and Burny (starting to like that kid a lot) easily cleaned up the final 2 2/3 innings, but it was something the Twins really needed that Slowey failed to provide.
  • Courtesy Wikipedia (click to visit page). The Hip Flexors.

    Nick Punto‘s groin is apparently just fine (which is more info than I needed to know today), but because he is still experiencing pain in that oh-so-sensitive area, the docs are looking into a possible hip flexor injury. If you didn’t know, and I didn’t, the hip flexors are any of about ten moving parts that make your hip joint work properly. I put the Wikipedia diagram on the right (credit goes to Wiki user Beth Ohara). Click on the image to go to the Wikipedia page for more info. If, as LaVelle seemed to fear in his tweet, hip flexor surgery is required, Punto could be done for the year, as Royals utility player Josh “Booger” Fields (nickname bestowed by WhiteSoxBlog) decided to do today. Ironically, as I tweeted earlier, if Punto has surgery and misses the rest of the season, the odds of him being with the Twins next year go up significantly: the hip injury will reduce his defensive value, which means all his value. The Twins were going to decline his $5 million option for next year (or so I certainly hope), and this makes it much more likely he’d accept a cheap “make-g00d” deal back with the Twins as a utility infielder. Luke Hughes got his roster spot, and I would really like to see him get a couple starts.

  • In other injury news, Clay Condrey had a setback, and there is no timetable for when he resumes throwing.
  • Tomorrow is an off day. Hallelujah.
  • Tuesday, the Twins will pitch the rearmed F-Bomb against Justin Verlander. In terms of my hopes for the Twins, I certainly hope Francisco Liriano is as good as he’s been. In the interest of my fantasy team, however, I want Verlander to strike out 10 Twins through five innings and leave a game tied 0-0, so the Twins can come back and destroy the Tiger bullpen. Life is much more complicated when my fantasy players face the Twins.

I feel better after all those bullets. Cheers!

The New Beginning

Okay, fine, so it isn’t really the beginning of the season, but it is the beginning of what I consider to be the most important era to be introduced this season: the era of outdoor baseball. Today’s game was glorious to behold, even though I did miss chunks of it (3 CT is a really stupid time to start a game. What were they thinking?!) to pick up my wife from work and also missed the entire pre-show, the game was glorious, and was a really fitting introduction to what is almost universally regarded as one of the best five ball-parks in the American League, if not MLB. I’m just saying – it is going to be a bit chillier at night, but the players are big boys and they can handle going out and playing a cold game for several thousand dollars (for the cheapest ones, of course). Think about your broader fanbase, people! It’s estimated that March Madness costs employers 1.8 billion dollars – this game probably cost MN employers at least a million. Priorities.

Of course, out here on the East Coast I had to watch the game on ESPN. Don’t get me wrong, I occasionally prefer to watch the game on the tee-vee rather than on the computer via my somewhat balky internet connection (and it isn’t the awesome kind of balky, like Carl Pavano in the first inning, where he got away with a likely balk because his move was so good), but man, ESPN is just a fresh, new kind of hell. As I posted in a comment on Topper’s blog earlier, if I had to take a choice between Skip Caray (he of the fisted balls and the “line drive, base hit, caught for the out!” call during game 163) and the ESPN people, man, I’d probably grab a pencil and puncture my eardrums so I wouldn’t have to deal with the misery. So, that was the first problem.

And, in reality, it was a problem I was willing to accept today, mostly because neither Jon Miller nor Joe Morgan was on the broadcast (thank God) and because they spent a LOT of time pointing out the really cool things about Target Field. I can’t wait until the next chance I have to make a trip to MN to get to the new park – unfortunately, won’t be until August at the earliest. Dumb Bar exam.

Anyway, the Twins started out with a pretty impressive victory over the Red Sox, who right now are only barely behind the Yankees on the official Call to the ‘Pen scale of evilness.™ However, the fact that they really seemed to go out of their way to make sure that the Twins won mends a lot of bridges to me, and has resulted in a slight reduction in the Attributed Evilness score factor, though their other ratings are still high. Marco Scutaro, in the first inning, managed to get caught stealing before Pavano delivered home. Big Papi continued to hit like a wee little papoose. John Lester went to a three-ball count with more people than you can shake a stick at (seriously, you try shaking a stick at 13 people. Can’t be done – your arm gets tired).

So, your heros and zeroes:

  • Hero of the Day: Carl Pavano – I have never had a great deal of faith in Pavano, but in order to demonstrate my faith before the opener, I picked him up for a spot start for my fantasy team. Of course, he was brilliant. I think I must have, to a certain extent, internalized the Yankees’ complaints about Pavano. Either way, he was brilliant today: 1 ER on 4 hits and 1BB, with 4K. I’ll take that any day! WPA: .231
  • Runners up: Jon Rauch – continuing to remind us that the closer role is constructed to be more important than it actually is: Rauch makes me far more nervous than Nathan ever did, and I’m just waiting for him to have an implosion. But for now, I won’t complain about 5-for-5 in save opportunities. Jason Kubel and Denard Span – The Dude abided in a major way, getting the first home run in a regular season Target Field game, while Span did the same for bases on balls, stolen bases, and runs scored.
  • ZERO of the Day: I just can’t do it. If I had to pick somone , it would be Mountie, but I’m not going to. It was just to amazing a day and I can imagine it was a truly wonderful experience for all those that were there!

Tomorrow is the first off day of the young season, and I hope to put up something that looks like a post tomorrow evening. For now the hat standings:

Twins Record: 6-2

  • Blue TC logo: 0-2 (both of these were cases where I couldn’t find the one I had meant to wear. Sigh)
  • “M” logo: 3-0
  • Red TC logo: 2-0
  • Champs hat: 1-0

Game 3 – A Petition for Span to Re-grow his Man-Beard

Isn’t baseball season fun?

I’ll admit that I have never been very high on Carl Pavano. This might be because of the simple fact of his injury-devastated tenure with the Yankees or the fact that I always seemed to get most involved in the games that he lost. Either way, I know his peripherals from last year indicated he had big things in store, but I still mentally steel myself for a rough night when he’s going to pitch. So: I am proud to say that feeling was entirely wrong last night, though it sure felt right for the first two innings or so.

That said, i have figured out why Denard Span is having such a rough time. Please compare the following pictures; one from last season, one from two days ago:

Okay, so I couldn’t find a good picture of Span from this season so far. The point is that last year Span sported a shaggy man-beard, which I think may have been the source of his power. Now, he’s rocking the basic Torii Hunter Goatee, which is apparently not suiting him. Two things:

  1. I know Span has a connection with Torii Hunter, but time has demonstrated that Torii is just not someone that we want him to mimic, with the possible exception of the occasional outfield catch. Everything else? Not so much.
  2. If Span is indeed some weird post-modern version of Samson, there is only one way to solve his problems – a combination of Cuddyer magicking his razors away and a continued commitment to being Good at Baseball.

I first noticed this problem during the broadcast of last night’s game, and needless to say I just about fell off my chair. Denard, bring back the Man-Beard!

Despite the sadness that is the lack of Man-Beard, there were some important, clutch performers yesterday night:

  • Neck Tat picked up his second save, which ties him atop the MLB leaderboard at this point in the season. This save was a bit tougher, as he gave up a couple hits and an ER on his way. However, as Aaron Gleeman often says, pretty much any idiot can successfully not cough up the lead when you’re up 3. WPA: .051.
  • Matt Guerrier was quality, cutting through the heart of the California Angels of Anaheim that are also from Los Angeles’ lineup in his 8th inning. WPA: .062.
  • JJ Hardy continues to be decent at the plate (another home run and two hits) and shockingly good on defense (his arm is an amazing cannon). WPA: .049
  • Twins Territory once again collectively crapped its pants when Nick Punto hit a triple. WPA: .051
  • Justin Morneau hit another home run, leading to the creation of the Twitter hash tag #allyourmaplesyruparebelongtotheminnesotatwins and a WPA of .212.
  • HERO OF THE DAY: Carl Pavano went 7 innings (the first Twins starter to do so), giving up only 6 hits and 1 ER, with no walks issued and 6 Ks. Beautiful outing. I need to think of a nickname for him. Squinty? I’m working on it.

Unfortunately, some of the Twins crapped the bed yesterday as well:

  • Michael Cuddyer was very nearly picked off first base again. Other than that, he was unremarkable. WPA: -.019
  • Orlando Hudson had another terrible night. He’ll fix it eventually, but man… WPA: -.074
  • Jim Thome was in the lineup for Kubel for some unknown reason, and he did not acquit himself well, striking out three times in four at-bats. WPA: -.067

Last night was the debut of the “M” logo hat. I haven’t had time to decide what hat tonight will demand, but I’m leaning toward the red “TC.” Thoughts?

Tonight’s Game: Twins, 2-1 (Kevin Slowey, 0-0, 0.00) at Angels, 1-2 (Joel Pineiro, 0-0, 0.00). 9:05 CST.

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.

Opening Day – And an Apology to Topper

Today’s round-up looks briefly at opening day, how the loss was my fault, why we shouldn’t take the Opening Day loss too seriously, and what the future holds from Call to the ‘Pen, all arranged in a pleasing bullet-pointed format.

–> Well, baseball is back! I can’t even begin to explain how much that pleases me. Ever since the 2009 season ended (and as far as I’m concerned, it ended after Game 3 against the Yankees: all that crap that came afterward didn’t mean a lot to me). So, it’s been basically seven months since I’ve had real, meaningful baseball to watch, write about, and obsess over. This means real discussions about things that really matter (and trust me, I’m very excited for having real things to argue about, no more of this Butera vs. Ramos stuff to argue about. Onward, to arguments that matter, like whether Hardy and Delmon should be switched in the lineup, who should get the roster spot if and when Joe Nathan hits the 60-day DL (and that will happen eventually), and how many small children Jose Mijares ate during the off-season.

Well, one of those things isn’t really important. I’ll trust you to figure out which.

–> I do, however, come to you with a heavy heart. The Twins lost to the Los Angeles California Angels of Anaheim, and I am afraid it was my fault.

You see, I am just as superstitious as many baseball players themselves. I think very seriously about what I eating and drinking whilst watching a game, lest I eat partake of something unacceptable to the baseball gods, I take care to wear my Morneau warm-up jersey every Monday, and, most importantly, I spend seconds, nay, minutes, agonizing over which of the seven Twins hats I own I will wear each night while watching the game. Last season, I got it down to a science, and the success of the Twins corresponded. However, my system has been thrown off, as I have added a 2009 Central Division Champs cap, and now my series of caps is not as functional as it once was.

With this troubling fact in mind, I went on Twitter (follow me at @calltothepen) and conducted a poll of my fellow Twins-related Tweeps (which sounds unfortunately close to “twerps”) about the four hats that I had, after long consideration, determined would be acceptable to wear on opening night. This photo depicts those caps that made the final cut:

Four little Twins caps lined up in a row...

So, I ran a twitter poll. I asked whether I should wear the AL Central Division Champs hat, the “M” logo hat, the blue “athletic TC” hat, or the red “TC” hat. The following were the results:

  • Champs hat: 5 votes
  • “M” logo hat: 9 votes
  • Blue “TC”: 7 votes
  • Red “TC”: 5 votes

So, it’s pretty clear that the “M” logo hat was the clear victor. So I plunked it on my head at about 8:30 pm ET, and went about my evening. I spent the next hour and a half getting more and more excited, and finally at 9:55 I sat down at the old computer to watch the game! Only then did I realize that I was no longer wearing the “M” logo hat! Thinking that I must have taken it off somewhere in the apartment, I began frantically looking around.

Now, losing something is nothing new to me. I lose things on a very regular basis, from my car keys, to random items like the toenail clippers, to the TV remote. I live in a decent-sized 2-bedroom apartment, one bedroom acting as an office, where I write to you now. No backyard. 1150 square feet. It’s just not that big! So I figured something as large as a baseball cap would be easy to find. It wasn’t. I searched frantically, cursing occasionally, until 10:04, at which time I realized I had to sit down and watch the game. I was frustrated, because I normally can find things pretty easily (though once I lost the TV remote for almost two weeks; I found it in the ice bucket in the freezer (don’t ask me how it got there). So, I donned the Blue “TC” hat, and hoped for the best.

Well, the best didn’t happen. Scott Baker, who is on every one of my fantasy teams, got beaten (grr… Timmy), and the Twins ended up losing. The “TC” logo hat was simply not adequate to make up for the lack of the “M” logo hat.

So, Topper, this is why I must apologize for ruining your predicted 162-win season. It was entirely my fault, and I hope to do better in the future.

–> Although the Twins did lose last night, there are some great reasons to be optimistic about this season (and of course, there’s that always-present “small sample size” refrain).

  • Jesse Crain threw 1.2 perfect innings of relief, bailing Timmy out of the fifth inning with two outs and runners and first and third. His motion was easy and he was in clear control of the game.
  • Pat Neshek‘s velocity was down about 3mph from where it was two years ago, but at this point in the season, that shouldn’t be concerning. The biggest thing to take away is that he would have had a perfect inning (at least, after Mijares’ ineffectiveness allowed two solo home runs) if Cuddyer was an outfielder with the ability to run. Not that Jeff Mathis is a great hitter, but Neshek made him look stupid as he struck out swinging to end the eighth.
  • Jose Mijares, though he looks like he ate Chris Cates after the second Target Field exhibition game, had some wicked stuff during the seventh inning. Unfortunately, it didn’t carry over to the eighth, but if he can get some more consistency, and I’ve seen no reason he can’t, he’ll be one of the Twins’ top two or three relievers at the end of the year.
  • Delmon Young. It took Delmon two months to hit his first homer of 2008, and two weeks in 2009. It took him one swing this year. He also beat out an infield hit and stole second base. Young only stole two bases last year, but then he was carrying around the equivalent of an eight-year-old child in his belly, so maybe we’ll see a bit more speed this season from him.
  • Scott Baker was Scott Baker. Timmy has always had trouble at the beginning of the season and has always had trouble putting away hitters once he gets them to a 2-strike count. Same as yesterday. However, he has always managed to fix himself as the season has gone on, and for a six-out stretch yesterday, he was lights-out. I don’t worry too much about him.

There were also some not-so-great signs last night, but I have a few responses to that:

  • Denard Span going 0-5 with 3 Ks means two things: he had an off night and he was facing a pitcher who gets a bunch of strikeouts.
  • Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau will not often go 2-7.
  • I will not always forget to wear the proper cap for the evening.

–> Tonight the Twins will be starting Nick Punto over Brendan Harris against the lefty Joe Saunders because he has a career 4-12 mark against Saunders, whilst Harris is 0-3. Stat nerds just had a collective nervous breakdown. SAMPLE SIZE!

–> Today the Twins signed Joe Repko to a minor-league contract to play CF for the AAA Rochester Red Wings. Takeaway? The powers-that-be have decided that Ben Revere just isn’t ready for AAA yet. I concur – he’s never played above Ft. Myers, and he should at least start at New Britain, even though he raked all spring. If he continues to dominate, he should move up to AAA at midseason. Sometimes the Twins seem to take it way too slow with their prospects, but this time it’s a good call.

–>Regarding what is coming from this blog: more, really long posts. This was supposed to be a quick round-up, and I’ll be at 1400 words by the time I finish. I have two more of the Important Games series and two more teams in my Around the Central series to complete as well. I also have two articles to write that are not strictly-Twins-related: challenges I received on Twitter. I’ll try to have some kind of a game reaction up most days, but the fact is that these other projects take a long time to do, so I will get them done as I can. Thanks everyone for your patience!

–> P.S. If you were wondering, tonight is the regular-season debut of the Champs cap.

Important Game #3: Looking up from the Valley

Here’s a little refresher on the series, before I begin:

Basically, the premise of the series is that certain games have an effect that is far greater than their mere impact on the win-loss column. These games are mentally and physically definitive of a season, and before the new season begins, by looking back and remembering and feeling the emotions of last season one more time, we can understand what happened, what went wrong, and most importantly, what went right. So, climb aboard the side-burn express, and keep your hands, arms, feet, heads, and all other extremities inside the vehicles at all times as we embark on one final excursion through the highs and lows of last season.

September 6: After a Crippling Loss to the Indians, the Twins find themselves 7 games down with 28 games to play.

Courtesy of MLB.com.

Two of the last four years, the Twins did not make the playoffs. In 2007, well, the team just wasn’t ever that good. Joe Mauer spent half the season dealing with varying injuries, and from day one the pitching situation, well, sucked. When your team starts the season with Ramon Ortiz and Sidney Ponson, you don’t really have a right to expect much. In 2008, I came to the conclusion that Jim Thome is evil when he homered for the only run in game 163 (for which I have not forgiven him). However, that was also the Twins’ fault for very nearly getting swept by the ROYALS the last weekend of the season to have to play game 163. In the other two of the last four years, the Twins have had to come back from spectacular deficits, only to win the division on the last possible day (Thanks, Royals, for 2006). The rub of both of those two seasons, is that at some point both teams found themselves in the valley, looking up, Twins fans cursing the Tigers and wondering if the Wild, Timberwolves, or Vikings would be any good (maybe, no, and it’s a crapshoot, respectively). However, both times, the Twins managed to come back. However, unlike 2006, we had little reason to expect it this time around.

Partial Division standings as of Sept. 6, 2009. Ugly, right? The Twins: down 7 with 28 to play. Captured from MLB.com.

The Twins had just finished losing two of three to the lowly Indians, who had just finished trading everyone with value, and had just wrapped up a 14-14 August. In a sense, that’s all I personally expected from the Twins at that point: a mediocre, maybe 50-50 record the rest of the way. In fact, that’s exactly what the Twins were: a mediocre, 50-50 team (see inset image). Given the White Sox’s recent hot streak, I more expected them to catch the Twins than for the Twins to catch Detroit. Of course, the White Sox ended up spluttering to a 79-83 record after contesting for first place for most of the summer.

I chose this game for a very specific reason, despite the fact that it came just a couple days after another similar loss: it embodied one of two problems that the Twins had all season long. The first problem, the one not present in this game was that when the offense was firing on all cylinders, the pitching wasn’t running at all (see, for example, the entire home Los Angeles Angels series in late July/early August). The ERA of the starting staff last season (yes, I know ERA is flawed, and no, I don’t care) was, I believe, 26th in the majors. The bullpen was very good most of the season, although there was a Crainwreck for most of the first half of the season and the Twins insisted on keeping a mediocre-at-best long reliever on staff all season.

Brendan Harris doing an apt impression of the whole offense's decision avoid the ball with their bats. Courtesy MLB.com.

The other kind of game, and the one that was so confounding, given the excessive number of runs the Twins scored last year, are the games where the pitchers did their jobs, but the offense took a day off. These games, generally weren’t against good pitchers (those I could understand), but against such luminaries as David Huff, he of the 5.61 ERA last season. Nothing against Huff, of course, I’m sure he was doing his best to keep the Twins under wraps. Of course, it helps when the lineup that produced 5.01 runs per game last year on average managed to score 1 run on THREE hits. There were also four walks, but that’s hardly the point. The Twins offense coughed this one up.

Courtesy MLB.com

And it was a shame they did so. Nick Blackburn pitched a Nick Blackburn kind of game. He gave up a handful of hits (7) and a handful of runs (3), while generally keeping the Indians’ bats in check for his 6 2/3 innings of work. However, a pitcher like Nick will not win many games without a strong offensive presence to back him up, and Blackbeard’s buccaneers simply couldn’t get anything going at all. The one run came on a single by Denard Span, who drove in Nick Punto, who had doubled in the previous plate appearance. However, the game itself was a disappointment, as the season itself felt, at least after Important Game #3. However, there were still many better days to come, including the upcoming Important Game #2.

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