Will the AL Wild Card come from the Central?

(This post is partially in response to a challenge from my good friend Jake that I would not be able to write about anything substantive in less than 1,000 words. Let’s see if I succeed. The word count starts after this parenthetical. Follow me on Twitter or friend me on Facebook if you like – I’m always open to comments and critique!)

Will the AL Wild Card come from the Central?

No.

Oh, fine, I’ll get into it a little bit more, but I’ll still beat that 1,000 word challenge. I was listening to ESPN Radio about a half an hour ago here in the DC ‘burbs, and they asked a commentator (whose name I cannot recall, despite trying) what their pick for the wild card will be. To be clear, the question was almost certainly a roundabout way to get the guest to give an opinion on who would win the AL East (as it has been long-opined that the Yankees and Rays will, in some form, share the AL East title and the Wild Card). However, to my mild (okay, more than mild) surprise, the guest responded: “The Chicago White Sox.”*

*The sound you just heard? My head exploding.

So, here I am for a little bit of reality therapy. The Twins are not going to be the AL Wild Card. The White Sox are not going to be the AL Wild Card. The AL Wild Card is going to be either the Yankees or the Rays (sorry, Red Sox, but I’m sticking a fork in you now). Because my stock in trade is not in making bold statements without backing them up, at least a little bit, my reasoning follows.

First, let’s look at what the brilliant minds over at Baseball Prospectus have to say about this (note, the report I worked from was generated on Sun., Aug. 8, at 7:15pm. This means the result of the Yankees-Red Sox game was at least four hours too late to be included. Wait, who am I kidding? It would have been five hours. The Yankees and Red Sox play that slowly.). I put together the following spreadsheet, which simply states the percent chance that a team would reach the post-season as the Wild Card, based on 1 million simulations of the rest of the season. The first model is based solely on the results of the season so far, the second is adjusted by PECOTA, the model developed by stats genius Nate Silver, and finally, the third is adjusted based on an ELO ratings system (if you don’t know what an ELO ratings system is, Silver explains in this old post). So, what do the Baseball Prospectus people, all of whom are smarter than me, posit? The results are striking:

All Numbers © 2010 Prospectus Entertainment Ventures

Wow. Even I can tell you the Wild Card winner is going to come from the AL East. In all three models, there is a greater than 90% chance it will (91.72612% under the first model, 97.36387% under PECOTA, and 92.64992% under ELO), with an average of a 93.91330% chance. Wow. That seems pretty conclusive to me, right? Well, let’s play that game for a second. Based on that, I calculated* the odds of a non-AL East team getting the Wild card:

*My 10th-grade Accelerated Algebra teacher taught me to always show my work. So there it is.

So, odds are just over 16.5 to 1  that a non-AL East team will take the Wild Card. By doing some brutally simple (and inaccurate) math, I can posit that the Twins have something like 35 to 1 odds, and the White Sox approximately 60 to 1 odds.

Now, 35 to 1 doesn’t sound so bad, when you look at the above numbers, but it is a similar number to what Australian Steven Bradbury (40 to 1) was facing in his attempt to become the first gold medalist from the Southern Hemisphere to win a gold medal in the 2002 Olympic short track speed skating, and the first Aussie to win a Winter Olympic Gold. He won, so that should give the Central’s second-place finisher hope, right? Not really; it took the following events to occur:

  • The disqualification of the second-place skater in his qualifying heat, which allowed him to move into the semi-finals.
  • In his semifinal, he was in last place on the last lap when three of the four other skaters crashed, allowing him to finish a distant second place.
  • In the final, he was far behind the field when this happened:

I can’t really think of a more unlikely event. It took an act of the judges, an act of God, and the deliberate trip of Apolo Ohno by the Chinese skater for Bradbury to take the Gold.

Based on the numbers, the odds of the Twins (or White Sox, or any other team) taking advantage of the Wild Card playoff berth are extremely low.

Second, other than the Yankees and possibly the Rangers, no other team in the majors looks quite as good as the Rays right now. The Twins had a terrible June, and since the break they have dominated the cellar-dwellers, while only barely managing a split with the Rays. The Rays, on the other hand, have looked pretty darn good all year. I say that with some trepidation, because right now the Rays have two of their starters going to see the doctor for shoulder ailments, but they are also almost uniquely able to fill the holes, with stellar minor leaguers, including Jeremy Hellickson, who was most recently seen shutting down the Twins last Monday. Their outfield and infield defense are better, their starters are better, and their bench and system are deeper. The Twins have the edge in lineup strength and the bullpen (with the possible exception of Matty “Two-Face” Guerrier and the minor-leaguer-of-the-week), but their starting pitching can be very suspect, especially with a potential Kevin Slowey elbow problem.

The Twins’ best shot to make the playoffs is to

overtake the White Sox. In theory, that shouldn’t be too hard to do. The White Sox lineup still makes me cringe, but not with fear. Gordon Beckham just hit the DL. The Twins should easily win the AL Central.

And that, including this postscript, is 999 words. I win.

2010 Twins Projections

The 2010 season starts for the Minnesota Twins starts in just three or four days, depending on when I actually get this stupid thing finished and published (internet connection being funky tonight). Josh Johnson, last week, challenged Twins Bloggers to make a series of predictions about the season. He also provided a suggested list of predictions. However, because I am contrary, I will do his, and also some of my own. So… (drumroll, please), your 2010 Minnesota Twins Season Predictions!


Twins MVP:

My first, gut instinct was to say that the Twins MVP will be the obvious answer: The 23-million-dollar man. However, on further thought (and further beverages), I’m tempted to say the MVP will be Drew Butera, just to be horribly contrary. This is a tougher decision than I originally thought. I think that it will be a close battle, but I think that in the end ORLANDO HUDSON‘s ability to make us forget about the sinkhole that had been second base and the 2-hole in the lineup will make him the most valuable player of the year, especially given that we pretty much expect great seasons from Mauer, Morneau, Span, Cuddyer, etc. If I had to pic a runner-up, it would be Denard Span.
Twins’ Top Pitcher:

Again, I was sorely tempted to pick the contrarian pick: Clay Condrey. However, that isn’t my ‘onest answer, and my bangers and mash wouldn’t sit quite right having left a whopper like that standing. I think it will be close indeed, but SCOTT BAKER will emerge from the pack as the most valuable Twins pitcher.
Twins’ Best Rookie:

Interestingly enough, the only true rookie breaking camp with the Twins this season is Drew Butera, and he won’t be with the Twins for more than a month or two. Therefore, it’ll be a midseason call-up. I think the Twins rookie of the year will be ANTHONY SLAMA, who will break into the majors after one of the current bullpen members forgets how to throw strikes. That said, he won’t have much competition, as Danny Valencia won’t arrive until August or September, and we won’t see any other rookies without a rash of injuries.
Twins’ Most improved Player:

As much as I dump on him from day to day, DELMON YOUNG is the clear choice for most improved. I think this is the year that Delmon finds his swing and his power, and though he won’t get any more selective, more of those first-pitch fouls will end up in play, and more will land in the left-field stands than in any of his past seasons. Runner up: Francisco Liriano.
Bold Twins Predictions:

  1. Pat Neshek either ends the season with the most saves or gets injured by June and never really comes back.
  2. Delmon Young receives more than 50 walks and hits more than 20 home runs.
  3. Clay Condrey finds a steady role in the middle innings and excels, while Guerrier struggles after being initially forced into a closer role he isn’t suited for, until he returns to being a very good set-up man.
  4. We learn that Chris Cates, pocket-sized second baseman, was abducted and eaten by Jose Mijares; his leprechaun nature caused Mijares’ blurry vision.
  5. At least three Twins players adopt the Great Gazoo helmet:

AP Photo/David Zalubowski

Twins Keys to Success:

1. Liriano and Slowey need to have strong, bounce-back years from their injury/ineffectiveness-shortened years last year. If these two can’t make it happen, there’s trouble ahead.

2. The starters need to go deep into the games. This is a pretty good ‘Pen on paper (like what I did there?), but remember that Jose Mijares has battled ineffectiveness, Pat Neshek and Jesse Crain are just one or fewer seasons removed from surgery, and Jon Rauch has more intimidation factor than raw stuff. The ‘Pen will be solid, but it WILL break down if it averages more than 16 or so innings a week.

3. Mauer and Morneau need to chill the …. out. Mauer has shown that he is injury prone, and Morneau is just one more end-of-season injury/collapse from me wanting considerably less ‘neau.

Predicted Standings and Playoff Berths:

A.L. East

  1. Boston Red Sox (division winner)
  2. New York Yankees (WC)
  3. Tampa Bay Rays
  4. Baltimore Orioles
  5. Toronto Blue Jays

A.L. Central

  1. Minnesota Twins (division winner)
  2. Chicago White Sox
  3. Detroit Tigers
  4. Kansas City Royals
  5. Cleveland Indians

A.L. West

  1. California Angels (division winner) (I refuse to call them Anaheim or Los Angeles)
  2. Texas Rangers
  3. Seattle Mariners
  4. Oakland Athletics

Division Series:

  • Twins def. Yankees, 3-2
  • Red Sox def. Angels, 3-0

LCS:

  • Red Sox Def. Twins 4-3

N.L. East (I won’t give numbers for the National League)

  1. Atlanta Braves (division winner)
  2. Philadelphia Phillies
  3. Florida/Miami Marlins
  4. Washington Nationals
  5. New York Mets

N.L. Central

  1. St. Louis Cardinals (Division Winner)
  2. Milwaukee Brewers (Wild Card)
  3. Cincinnati Reds
  4. Pittsburgh Pirates
  5. Chicago Cubs
  6. Houston Astros

N.L. West

  1. Colorado Rockies (division winner)
  2. San Francisco Giants
  3. Arizona Diamondbacks
  4. Los Angeles Dodgers
  5. San Diego Padres

Division Series:

  • Colorado def. St. Louis (3-1)
  • Atlanta def. Milwaukee (3-2)

LCS:

  • Atlanta def. Colorado (4-2)

World Series:

  • Atlanta def. Red Sox (4-2)

Other MLB Predictions:

  • AL MVP: Joe Mauer – the voters just can’t quit him.
  • NL MVP: Hanley Ramirez – If not for Pujols’ unfortunate injury…
  • AL Cy Young: Felix Hernandez – The King has returned.
  • NL Cy Young: Doc Halladay – The NL worked out better for him than the AL did for Peavy.
  • A.L. Rookie of the Year: Brian Matusz – this will be popular, but people still won’t say his name right.
  • NL Rookie of the Year: Jason Heyward – Almost too easy.
  • AL Comeback Player of the Year: Pat Neshek
  • NL Comeback Player of the Year: David Wright

Around the Division: The Tigers Realize their Mistake

This is the first in a series of four, each focusing on the Twins’ division opponents this year. Though the Twins looks like it might be the Twins’ to lose, there is a lot more that any dedicated Twins fan should know, and it’s my job to try to help you out with that. As always, follow me at @calltothepen on Twitter and subscribe to updates of this page via the link on the sidebar!

The Detroit Tigers have been a mystery for the last few years. Few teams have been so hyped, then so derided, then so doubted, then so resurgent. Last year the Tigers nearly made the playoffs, and would have if not for the Twins’ desperate late-season charge and a slight fade of their own. This year, though the blogocracy seems to be united in the belief that the Tigers are rebuilding, and that they won’t do much to challenge the Twins, though they could theoretically end in second place in the division.

So, let’s take a look at the Tigers, below the fold.

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2009 List of Ten Most Likely to be Mispronounced by Dick ‘n’ Bert

As everyone who watches the Twins on television on a regular basis realizes, the Twins announcers regularly do a godawful job pronouncing the names of opposing (and occasionally minor-league or recently-called-up) players. This led me to think about the potential major-leaguers of tomorrow that would wreak havoc with Dick n Bert’s commenting. I had planned to do a list based on all players in the minor leagues, but it simply was too big an undertaking, so I limited it directly to Twins minor-leaguers (I also stayed out of the DSL, as very few of those players will be seen in the majors). Here are my criteria:

  1. Likelihood to see the majors
  2. Confusion on the interwebs or TV about pronunciation and/or spelling
  3. How many syllables the name possesses
  4. How common the name is
  5. Whether the name is foreign-sounding

Honorable Mention – Miguel Angel Sano / Miguel Jean

I don’t include the uberprospect in the below list because no one really disputes how to pronounce his name. The problem is that no one seems to be sure what to call him. Everyone has known him as Miguel Angel Sano for the last many months, as his name was constantly in the news, but after he signed, several news outlets reported that he wanted to be known as “Miguel Jean.” No word on what to do with the “Angel.” Simply put: I expect this to all be figured out by the time he reaches the majors, but until it is…

Follow me below the fold for the list

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Keppel Headed for Minny, who is leaving? UPDATED: It’s Ayala.

According to Matt Weinstein of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Bobby Keppel is headed for the Twins, which means someone will have to go. There are three questions that I think this move raises:

1. Why Bobby Keppel? Why not Rob Delaney or some other hotshot?

The answer to this one is pretty simple. Bobby Keppel was signed last winter as a minor league free agent, after he was released from the Albequerque Isotopes. As such, his contract includes an opt-out clause similar to the one Mike Gosling exercised a few weeks ago. Keppel has been very good this season, posting a 2.43 ERA in 55.2 innings, 21 as a starter. Interestingly, Keppel was slated to start tonight in Rochester, so when he was called up after yesterday night’s Red Wings game, it left Rochester in a bit of a bind. The fact of the matter is that if Keppel didn’t get called up soon, he likely would have exercised his opt-out and went to a team that has immediate need at the major-league level (God knows there’s a bunch of them). It is a bit surprising, since he is not on the 40-man roster. I imagine giving Keppel his shot at the bigs will keep him with the club for the time being, and if, in a month or less, he has not produced, it won’t hurt too badly to release him. Delaney or Armando Gabino (as suggested by LEN3)were less likely because they don’t have the contractual options that Keppel does.

2. Do we lose a reliever or a position player?

Right now the Twins have six arms in the bullpen: Joe Nathan, Sean Henn, Luis Ayala, R.A. Dickey, Jose Mijares, and Matt Guerrier. Since we are in the middle of interleague, I am not surprised to see a smaller bullpen in order to have the depth on the bench for double switches and the like. By the numbers, it wouldn’t be a bad guess that we might see a position player headed for Rochester. Brian Buscher or Matt Tolbert come to mind. Both have options left, and neither has been effective at the major-league level this season (although Buscher did have one of the two hits the other night). However, two members of the bullpen have been really, really bad. Both Sean Henn and Luis Ayala have definitely shown that they don’t deserve their spot in the ‘Pen. However, neither has options, as Ayala was a major league free agent and Henn was a minor-league free agent, so either would have to be dfa’d (although I’m not sure on this point, maybe Henn just has to be offered to all other clubs on irrevocable offers, and then can be reassigned to Rochester, hopefully someone out there can tell me). Both Henn and Ayala have shown flashes of brilliance, but neither of them have shown enough to be considered worthy to stay over the added flexibility of the extra bench player for this interleague road trip.

3. Who goes, since we’ve established that it will likely be a bullpen guy?

Keppel is not currently on the 40-man roster, which is currently full, so someone will have to be removed to make space for him. So, the qualifications for the character that will be dfa’d are likely the following: Bullpen guy, ineffective, no options. That description fits both Henn and Ayala. However, Ayala signed a $1.25 mil deal in the off-season, which gives him the cost advantage (although he has performance-based enhancements that will kick in soon). Henn, on the other hand, is cheap, making a prorated share of $.5 million for his time in the majors. For that reason, I expect Henn to go; the Twins have shown a great deal of reluctance to let go of players they owe coin to.

So, in the end, I see a 65% chance of Henn going away, a 20% chance of Ayala going, a 10% chance of Buscher, Tolbert, or (doubtfully) Pridie being demoted, and a 5% chance of being totally surprised.

(EDIT: Forget that last paragraph, as I forgot that Neshek was on the 60-day DL, freeing up a spot on the 40-man roster. It’s a crapshoot as to what happens next, though I still see the most likely thing as Henn going buh-bye)

UPDATE: AYALA was indeed dfa’d. We’ll see if he accepts his assignment, but I am extremely skeptical that he will.

Missed Week Edition

Man, what a busy two weeks, no?! Spring training games started (well, a little more than a week ago), we saw Joe Crede in the field (I use “we” in a figurative sense, since none of the games he as played in have been on TV), we lost Boooof indefinitely, we didn’t sign Juan Cruz, someone else did, and much, much more. Let’s go through some of the action.

  • Juan Cruz ended up falling through the cracks, as the Twins apparently offered him something (typically) ridiculous. What do I mean by ridiculous? I mean they offered him a 1-year, 2 million dollar deal (sorry, can’t find the link for that, but I clearly remember reading it). In all honesty, that’s just rubbing his nose in the fact that he, a Type A free agent, had yet to be signed. That said, I guess the Twins might have been hedging their bets, since it likely would have cost them a bit to trade for him in the “trade” portion of the “sign-and-trade” portion of the deal.
  • The NEXT day, the Royals signed Juan Cruz. This wasn’t a sign and trade, just a sign. However, the Royals had their first round pick protected because it was #12, and the top 15 are protected. They lose their second round pick to the D-Backs. Ummm… sorry, but I don’t know where the Royals get off thinking they are planning to compete this year. They are just the cellar-dwe– Oh, they might be better this year? Oh. My bad. In all honesty, the rather intense back end of the bullpen that the Royals have (Farnsworth, Cruz, and Soria) is the best in the division, possibly the best in baseball. Now all they have to do is get a lead occasionally to get to those guys.
  • This brings the D-Backs to SEVEN (!!) picks in the first two rounds and the sandwich supplemental round this year. Had they offered arbitration to Adam Dunn, it would have been NINE. Note to D-Backs: he didn’t want to sign. He thought he was going to get rich. Poor planning on your part.
  • Manny signed… really don’t care.
  • A-Rod is out for the first month (at least) of the season. Longer, if he has the torn labrum repaired. Didn’t Mike Lowell have a torn hib labrum last year? Maybe someone reading this will know. (Or was it J.D. Drew? I thought he had a back issue, but…). Due to his general ickiness, I don’t really feel sorry for him, despite the fact that I don’t care about any potential steroid usage. This likely doesn’t affect the Twins in the slightest, as they don’t play the Yanks until May 15, and A-Rod should be over the shoulder by then.
  • Speaking of A-Rod, I lived in Oregon, which is Mariners country, when he debuted with the M’s. The announcers gushed about how awesome he was and how great his future career would be. Nice that people are right occasionally. A-Rod will be in the Hall someday, and I can think back to that debut.
  • So… how ’bout Perk? I have to say, the best story coming out of ST for me so far is the dominance of Perkins, who everyone seemed to think was the weak link in the rotation (minus a couple people that thought Blackburn would be the weakest). So far, Perk has thrown nine innings, and has not allowed a run, for a 2-0 record, with 5 Ks and a 0.88 WHIP. Since he has generally pitched the beginning of games, he has been facing the starters of the other teams, and has been nothing short of impressive. Today, he threw his first three innings in 31 pitches. It was beautiful. Or, it sounded beautiful on the radio.
  • Baker and Liriano both started out badly, but rebounded in their last start. Slowey has not yet given up a hit or a walk in five innings with 3 Ks. Blackburn also looked good in his first start, but then was skipped due to soreness in his surgically-repaired knee.
  • I think the only thing I can say about Nathan pulling out of the WBC is that is sore shoulder seems to have been a convenient excuse. While every blogger and fan threw up a little in their mouth upon hearing he had shoulder soreness, but it turned out he was laughing up his sleeve the whole time; as a bullpen session the next day yielded a non-sore shoulder.
  • Ditto Johan.
  • Corey Koskie got picked up by the Cubs on a minor league contract. They hope he can back up Third, First, and the outfield if necessary. I read that there were Cubs scouts at Hammond Stadium, and got excited for a trade, but then this happened, and I was pleased for Koskie, but sad for us. But then again, is there anything the Cubs have that we would be willing to go get?
  • Humber has been wretched. Jason Jones has been hit-or-miss. These are the two guys that needed to prove themselves the most, and they haven’t stepped up. If Humber doesn’t make the team out of spring break, he will be claimed off waivers. I don’t think there is room for him on the Twins, especially if he keeps Mijares or Dickey of the Major League club, but I hope he can stick with another team. I imagine Jones will be a starter at Rochester, after the Twins offer him back to the Yankees and the Yankees take some kind of marginal prospect in exchange for allowing us to keep Jones.
  • Where does this leave the opening day ‘pen, at least to me? I see something like this: Nathan (closer), Crain (set-up), Ayala, Guerrier (middle/mop-up), Breslow (LOOGY), Mijares (LOOGY/set-up). That is for an 11-man staff, something I view as a dim possibility, though I would like to see it. When the Twins abandon that good idea, they will add either Humber or Dickey to be the long-reliever; I am pushing for Dickey, myself. I love the idea of going from a power pitcher (well, sort of) like Liriano for six innings, then to Dickey for two innings, and then to Nathan for the ninth. Call it a pipe dream. I also just really like Knuckleballers.

I am planning on starting a new project over the weekend: a review of the most important games of 2008. Here’s the plan: I’ll watch a game every few days, and then I’ll recap it and give it’s importance in the Twins’ overall season. I am starting with what I view as the tenth most important game (as I see it): Sunday June 8. That was the second to last game of that devastating 4-game series against the White Sox. Final Score – 12-2.

I also hope to have thoughts on the WBC up soon. I’ll do my best on that one.

Also, I wanted to thank everybody for their good wishes during my paper weeks the last 2-3 weeks. I finished the paper; 32 pages on the theories of social obligation that underlie the law. It almost killed me, but now I’m pretty darn proud of it. Thanks again.

edo

Joe Crede: Better than a poke in the eye.(tm)

Maybe it’s just an elbow in the ribs. Or maybe it’s a kiss on the cheek. I dunno.

I don’t know what to think about Joe Crede, so I thought I would take a post to examine my feelings. In fact, I’m gonna do it bullet-point style, yust to calm me.

Things I know:

  • Crede was good on defense (I say was, because we won’t know until tomorrow how he really is). Very good on defense.
  • Crede can hit for power.
  • Crede doesn’t hit for average. This is not to say he can’t… just that he doesn’t.
  • Crede has a bad back.
  • Bad backs and FieldTurf go together like, well, a log and a chipper-shredder.
  • Crede killed the Twins last two years.
  • Crede DIDN”T kill the Twins every year.
  • Adding Crede adds power to (most likely) the seven spot in the batting order.
  • Crede has a bad reputation for his clubhouse behavior and failure to play nicely with others.
  • Crede hit well for power in the Cell, a very hitter-friendly ballpark.
  • The Dome is not a hitter-friendly ballpark (especially for righties).
  • Crede’s career numbers are not that much better than the platoon of Buscher and Harris.
  • Buscher and Harris have fewer than four years at the big-league level put together.
  • Buscher and Harris are really impressing in Spring Training so far.
  • We got a really good deal on Crede, but it could be expensive if it comes to opportunity costs on Danny Valencia, Brian Buscher, or Brendan Harris.
  • We have a better deal on Brendan Harris and Brian Buscher.
  • Many (maybe most) bloggers will be criticizing for being exactly the player we know he is by midseason.

Thins I don’t know:

  • Whether Crede’s back can stand up to the FieldTurf.
  • Whether Crede will hit for the same power he did in the Cell now that he is in the Dome.
  • How often Gardy will sit Crede at home to protect his back.
  • If Crede will be as good on the field as he was prior to surgery.
  • If Crede is fully recovered from his surgery.
  • If Buscher is going to be as strong at the plate as he seems to be now.
  • When I will know the answers to the things I don’t know.

Whew; that’s better. There are, of course, many more specific things I don’t know, but I decided to keep it general.

We get our first look at Joe Crede today. I’m excited to see what he does (or doesn’t do). What does Joe Crede have to do today to make me happy? Get a hit. He’s not playing defense, so he can’t really do much to please me there.

…I’m waiting.

Bold Predictions

As tonight is the first of many spring training games and is effectively the beginning of baseball season, I think it is time for some bold predictions, to rip off Andrew over at Twins Fix. His predictions are extremely positive, which I like. I’m not so positive, but I’ll see where this goes.

BTW, I have a post on Crede pending, that will likely go up tonight or tomorrow… sorry for the long delay; I’ve been really busy with a 32-page (!) paper and then catching up from neglected studies from during paper season.

So…

2009 (Sorta) BOLD Predictions

  1. Justin Morneau’s average and OBP will regress, but his power numbers will increase enough such that his OPS actually increases. I am thinking 30-33 home runs this year.
  2. Buscher and Harris will get at least 200 ABs at third base, whether because of injury or just lots of days off (or, lets be honest, the Twins being cheap and wanting to avoid incentive pay).
  3. Casilla regresses at the plate such that Harris ends up spending significant time at second base.
  4. There will be NO thumb injuries attributable to sliding into first base (Dear Lord, I hope so).
  5. The standard outfield, despite my best hopes, will not include Young over Cuddyer.
  6. Kubel will continue to get screwed out of ABs versus left-handed pitchers (okay, fine, this one isn’t exactly bold).
  7. Between Gomez, Span, Casilla, and Punto there will be 220+ steals this year.
  8. Gardenhire will come up with at least 3 more effeminate and/or politically incorrect nicknames (See: Cassie (Casilla), Blackie)
  9. Mauer not only improves on last year’s average, he hits 15+ home runs (this’ll be the year, dammit).
  10. Breslow, rather than regressing, demonstrates a continuing mastery of both quantum mechanics and American League hitters.

The Rest of October

Here are my quick picks for the remaining series (granted, I did very poorly during March Madness, so take it as you will):

ALDS:

Tampa Bay beats Chicago in five games

California’s Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim beat the Red Sox in four games

ALCS:

Angels beat Rays in six games

NLDS:

Milwaukee Brewers beat Philadelphia Phillies in five games

Los Angeles Dodgers beat Chicago Cubs in four games

NLCS: Los Angeles Dodgers beat Milwaukee Brewers in five games

World Series:

Angels beat Dodgers in six games

For more predictions, try these great sources:

Josh’s Thoughts

Taylor’s Twins Talks

Sethspeaks.net

More thoughts on the Twins later… when I am less bitter.

Playing with the Outfield; Problems Caused by Cuddyer (NOMY)

(Note: This post is mostly an expansion on posts I left here and here today. I wanted to take the space to thresh out the ideas more fully, so here you go.)

(NOTE: I will be going on my first real vacation in several years on Saturday, and thus might not have another post up for a week or so. I might have occasional internet access in Hawaii(!), and if I do, I will try to post a couple short updates. If not, have a great next week!)

The Twins have a dilemma. Right now there is a good chance that Michael Cuddyer will come back from his finger injury next week. So far, after three games, he is hitting .300 (3 for 10) with two doubles on his rehab assignment in Rochester and says that his finger is responding well to actually being used (last week he said that his lingering finger pain seemed to be stemming from unuse of the finger. While it is great that his finger is doing better, it could cause a lot of problems for the club if he comes back soon.

Cuddyer is a great guy and about the closest thing the Twins have to a leader in the clubhouse (after Red Dog, but taking batting practice naked is not necessarily leaderly). He also had a great year in 2006 and a passable last year, but last year he first started showing his propensity for injury. This season, he has only played in 62 of 114 games. if he comes back next week Friday for the West Coast road trip, he will have missed only two fewer games than he has played in this year, and there is still a chance that Cuddyer won’t reach 325 at-bats this year (he is currently at 234) and is currently hitting at a rather sad .252 (in contrast, the much-maligned Gomez is hitting .257, and his average is on the upswing after that brutal slump in July). It is impossible to know how he will play at the bigs after having such an injury-filled season. He shouldn’t go back to being the everyday LF, if only to protect his finger from further injuries. I would rather have him play about half-time for the rest of the season and then undertake a full rehab program in the offseason.

So, lets say that Cuddyer comes back and plays. Where does he take playing time from? He has four choices: Denard Span, Carlos Gomez, Jason Kubel, and Delmon Young.

Let’s start with Denard Span, who fighting with Alexi Casilla for the best Twins story of the year. I would have to say that Alexi is a slightly better story, since his success is a total surprise (he was hitting a whole .216 in Rochester before his call-up), but Span is a VERY close second. Since his second call-up, Span has been a major part of nearly every Twins game, and almost always on the positive side. He has been a fixture on the late-night highlight reels (hell, he’s made some of the midday shows too). He (nearly) single-handedly won the last game at Safeco Field on Wednesday, with a three-run triple that provided the first three Twins runs and one of the most amazing plays of the year, when he stole a home-run from some-people-hoped-almost-Twin Adrian Beltre. I wasn’t one of them, but that’s a story for another day. Span continues to impress at the plate everyday, getting very possibly the best at-bats of any Twins player whose last name doesn’t start with M. Any way you slice it, Span does NOT deserve to be sent down. The only downsides I can see with Span is that he is not very good at playing the Baggy and he doesn’t have a very strong arm to the plate. That’s the clearest call of any that will follow right now.

The Twins haven’t had a center-fielder with range like Gomez since, well, it’s been a while. Gomez sometimes has some difficulty with routine plays, but he leads the majors in out-of-position plays right now. I suspect a lot of this comes from having Delmon Young in left and Cuddyer (sometimes) in right. There have been at least a dozen plays this year where I thought, “Crap, that’s extra bases” only to have Gomez swoop in and steal the hit from mid-air. The kid is fast. ’nuff said. He also has a very strong arm, though not a particularly accurate one. Most of his errors on the season (four of seven) have been throws that were up the first base line far enough that they went into the dugout or to the backstop. However, he has seven assists and his errors has declined as he has hit the cut-off man more reliably. The hard question about Gomez is this: is his near-stellar defense enough to keep him an everyday player in the major leagues despite his hitting? To me, the answer is yes. Gomez is currently hitting .257 because of his devastating slump in July (which, coincidentally, started at almost the same time that Span appeared and started presenting a challenge for his job) after hitting .266 on June 27 and .282 on June 1. Everyone knows he has had trouble hitting breaking balls on the outside corner, but since being sent down to the 9-spot, with less pressure, he has hit .371 (13-for-35 with an OBP of .451, small sample size and all), even after a not-so-great series against the Indians (2-for-9, or .222). Gomez, right now, is doing what we all thought he would do at the beginning of the season. His problem is that with one stellar month, he made us all think that he would develop at a rate approaching hyperspeed (Star Wars fans out there?). I don’t think Gomez has anything to worry about.

What about Jason Kubel? He is rocking it right now, against everyone but, well, lefties. He is second on the team in HRs, with 16 (only two behind Morneau). He is finally giving Morneau a little protection, when Gardy will actually bat him in the 5th spot. Right now, he is losing a few at-bats to the right-handed DH du jour, but that is fine with me. He has been hitting very well recently, and almost handed the Twins a game the other day with two home runs, one against a lefty. However, he is sllllooooowwwwww in the outfield. He is defnitely a DH, and he has really come into his own this year. If we had anyone to replace him, I would say he would be good trade bait for next year, but for now, I will say that the FREE JASON KUBEL movement has a been a rather stunning success.

This brings us to Delmon. This is only his second year in the majors, so I have tried to cut him some slack. I did rip on one play the other day, but that was because it was Soooooo bad. His bat is doing fairly well right now, but his power is still totally absent. He has four home runs on the year, three of them at the Metrodome. Not exactly what we expected when we traded our top pitching prospect for him. For a while, he flirted with .300, but has since fallen back off to .290 or so. Above average, but not exactly the numbers we expected. His defense, on the other hand, has been exactly what I expected, back when I hadn’t heard of Delmon Young and thought we had traded for Dmitri (I was writing a thesis at the time, OK? So sue me.). Young hasn’t gotten a good jump on a ball all year and his routes to the balls that he does get to are horrendous. His range is tiny; his ass would be grass if Gomez/Span weren’t in CF to save balls in the gap. He manages to underhustle balls on a regular basis; he has been a half-step too short on balls over his head because of lackadaisical play at least six time in the last two weeks. His feet-first dives for the ball drive me insane right now. He has a good arm; I’ll give him that. His eight assists on the year lead the team, though I can’t remember when his last one came. It has been a while. He is absolutely killing the Twins in the field. I hate to say it, but I miss RonDL and Ford in LF, and that’s saying something. At the same time, I understand the dynamics of the game, and that the fans would be rather unhappy if the prize of the Garza trade was sent to the minors; it just won’t happen. However, I think a good benching would do him well.

So, with Cuddy re-appearing, what should the Twins do? The first is obvious: DFA either Ruiz or Lamb. Ruiz is a great guy and I was happy to see him get a couple hits, but I don’t think he has a spot when Cuddy gets back. He is a AAAA player in every sense of the expression. Mike Lamb is another good guy, and I have been waiting to throw out this article that shows his softer side for weeks now. I think he could help a team down the stretch that needs a lefty bat off the bench if the Twins do let him go. But for now, Ruiz is the most likely to go, and I could see a team poaching him off waivers and the Twins getting some unlikely prospect back (Ruiz has great numbers in the minors, and I could see a team grabbing him for a right-handed PH).

So, here is what I think the outfield and DH spots should look like when Cuddy gets back:

  • At home against a RH pitcher: RF: Cuddyer; CF: Gomez; LF: Span; DH: Kubel (Span has enough trouble with the baggy that Cuddy should play in right).
  • At home against a LH pitcher: RF: Cuddyer/Span; CF: Gomez; LF: Young; DH: Kubel/Cuddyer
  • On the road against a RH pitcher: RF: Span/Cuddyer; CF: Gomez; LF: Span/Young; DH: Kubel
  • On the road against a LH pitcher: RF: Span; CF: Gomez; LF: Young; DH: Cuddyer

I don’t really think it will shake out that easily, but I can dream, right?

New on my List (NOMY):

The BBTN announcers that are calling Manny “THe Great One” merely because he shares the same uniform number with Wayne Gretzky, who, if you were paying attention, played HOCKEY, which shares as many similarities with baseball as it does with Equestrian. Seriously. Just. Stop. It.

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