Posted on: April 22, 2010 9:31 am
Edited on: April 22, 2010 9:32 am

Different is Better

It's April 22, and I realize the season started like 2-1/2 weeks ago. But this blog doesn't run on MLB time, so I'm starting now. And if this is your first time reading Twins Hotspot, you should know we do lots of things differently around here. You won't get point-by-point game reports or minor league updates every day. But I do care about that stuff… it's just that I package it differently. And I only write here because I love the Twins. From Game 1 to the Playoffs, I hang on just about every pitch. Which means I'm a damned mess during games.

For the record, I haven't been to the new Target Field yet. Maybe you've heard about the place. And there are a variety of reasons why (in no particular order):
  1. Laziness - The Dome was a lot easier to get to from St. Paul. Just hop on 94 West and you're there in 10 minutes. That means the ticket office was more convenient, parking was faster and the tickets themselves weren't nearly as "hot". So now I have to put more effort into it. Not cool.
  2. Cost - I'm not poor. But I'm not exactly a "man of means" either. So Twins games are on the priority list, but not the IMMEDIATE priority list, budget-wise. I've got a family to feed! And these games are significantly more spendy than Dome games.
  3. Nostalgia - I was at Game 162 last year… that beautiful Sunday when all was right in the world. The Twins won, the Tigers won, and we set up what turned out to be an unbelievable showdown between the two a couple days later. I want to always remember the Dome like that. Homer Hankies flying, people screaming their guts out, and Papa John's deep-dish pizza. Do they still have that? I love that stuff. Anyway, this part of it has been the most difficult for me. Walking into Target Field is going to alter the way I think about the Twins… for years we've had the crappiest facility, the boiler room of the league. Now, with the state-of-the-art building, there's going to be a new mentality. My new son will never see the inside of Metrodome (assuming the Vikes leave soon). I'll get over it soon - we have tickets to the May 9 game - but I may never recover from having a beloved sports landmark erased from existence.

Speaking of things that are different , last night was the first time I'd seen Liriano pitch this year. The first thing I noticed - and I was positively GIDDY when I saw it - was that all of his motion was positive. No jerking around during the delivery. No falling off the mound. Just fluid, straight-toward-the-plate movement. I loved it. I actually bounced on the couch a little bit when I was watching. My wife can vouch for that. Plus, I kept him in a fantasy baseball league, so that's going well. All together, it's 15 shutout innings in a row with 14 Ks over that span. Plus two wins (which don't matter, but do look good).

Also, the team looks to be on quite a roll, with 11 wins in 15 games, and a chance at a sweep at noon today vs. Cleveland. Scott Baker vs. Mitch Talbot. Feels like a mismatch. Looks like a mismatch. Must be a mismatch.

More writings and thoughts and stats to come!
Category: MLB
Posted on: August 13, 2009 9:16 am
Edited on: August 13, 2009 9:17 am

Liriano comes through; Pavano up at noon

I got pretty lucky. On Monday, my friend Craig offered me box seats to last night's Twins game, and of course, I accepted without reservation. But on Monday, I could never have known what I'd be treated to in that climate-controlled cavern… yeah, the free drinks were nice, but Francisco Liriano's pitching performance was infinitely better. I was giddy the entire time, texting friends about how "vintage" he looked. There was a certain confidence and mission-mindedness about him that I hadn't seen since '06. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Seven innings, eight strikeouts, one run given up. HE'S NOT DEAD YET!

Yes, I know it was against the putrid Royals.

Yes, I know it was in the near-always-friendly Dome.

And yes, I know that pretty much anything resembling not sucking would have blown me away last night after Tuesday's abomination.

But I, and we, as Twins fans can't be satisfied with one sparkling start. That wouldn't be fair after what this a-hole Minnesota team has put us through recently. We need MORE. And we need Carl Pavano to provide us with the punctuation mark on a series win today. I chronicled his terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad stats against sub-.500 teams in one of the three August 12 entries. In short, we shouldn't be surprised by a Nick Blackburn-like (post-All Star Break) outing today. And just how bad has Blackburn been in the second half of the season? Check this out:

Five starts… 0-3 record…8.87 ERA (23 ER in 23-1/3 IP)… 2.100 WHIP… players are .407/.426/.638 COMBINED batting against him…

I could go on for a long, long time. Oooohh… just found another stat:

He gave up 1 HR per 51.8 batters faced in the first half… Is giving up 1 HR per 28 batters faced in second half.

What the hell is wrong with this guy? Is the sinker not sinking? Is his arm tired? Are contract negotiations throwing off his concentration (rimshot!…a la The Common Man)? We might have to go to a four-man rotation with the bullpen pitching every fifth day. Or maybe get John Smoltz?

***Special thanks to Joe Crede for restoring my faith in his power bat. Now, can someone please toss him into a padded room between games from now on?

Twins day game today at 12:10 CST! Enjoy! Thanks for reading.

Category: MLB
Posted on: July 1, 2009 10:13 pm

Dropping and F-Bomb on Y'allz

If there's one thing I can't stand, it's inconsistency. The Twins, while sitting at 41-39 after today's win at Kansas City, would seemingly be the model of consistency if you look only at their record. After all, winning half your games means you are demonstrating an inability to sustain success. A lot of factors play into the team's ragamuffin end results, not the least of which is Francisco Liriano's glacial metamorphosis into something resembling a starting pitcher.

Of course, at age 25 and coming off Tommy John surgery, Frankie has had to relearn his arm slot, which anyone can tell you takes more than a couple tosses in the bullpen. And yet, after a horrid rollercoaster 6.60 ERA through the first two months, the F-Bomb has started to return.

In June, Liriano busted out a 3.77 ERA with 30 strikeouts in his 31 innings pitches. What's more, his BAA (batting average against) fell considerably in the month of June (.231) as compared to April/May (.296). All of this, of course, was highlighted by Francisco's tidy (97 pitches) seven-inning, six-strikeout performance this past Sunday in St. Louis. He even managed to strike out Albert Pujols once, and that's only happened 31 other times in 264 at bats this season. Good stuff.

If this is the Liriano we're going to get from here on out - the efficient, confident guy we can trust - then our Twins, as a whole, will take a turn upward.

Oh, and speaking of inconsistency, I apoligize for the ridiculous two-month hiatus on this little ol' site. If the inspiration isn't there, it's always best to put a lid on your output.
Category: MLB
Tags: Liriano
Posted on: September 16, 2008 10:22 am
Edited on: September 16, 2008 10:23 am

Treading Water

Seems like we were in the same place last week... oh, wait -- we are. Still 1.5 games behind Chicago, the Twins are doing their best to stay afloat. We said 90 games would win the division - looks like a certainty now with only 12 games left. In fact, the division winner might not even reach that mark. Since I last wrote, the Twins have gone 2-2 and the White Sox have gone 2-2. The problem is that we can't just keep pace... we need a surge - however small - forward. Winning these next two games in Cleveland would be an excellent start, especially with the seemingly unbeatable Francisco Liriano (Since Aug. 1: 5-0, 1.57 ERA) and better-late-than-never Scott Baker (Last Five: 2-1, 2.38 ERA) going Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively. The Tampa Bay series later this week is looming large, and will have a HUGE effect on playoff match ups and playoff berths. I said it before, and I'll say it again - a 5-5 road trip is necessary to even have a chance at the playoffs. They've already got two wins, and I wouldn't bank on more than two at Tampa Bay. The time to get some wins is NOW.
I thought it'd be fun to but out a little "who's hot?/who's not?" for today...
HOT List
Delmon Young - Young has batted 8-for-23 over his past six appearances, scoring five runs. Unfortunately, he hasn't been especially "clutch", as he's only driven in one run in the past week despite +.300 batting averages for both Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel.
Justin Morneau - The MVP candidate continues to do his thing, totaling 15 bases over his past seven games, including a home run and seven RBI.
Denard Span - Span blasted two homers on Saturday, his 5th and 6th of the year. Unfortunately, our leadoff man has gone 0-for-9 since then. 
Liriano (see above)
Brian Buscher - Despite only playing in five of the past seven games, Buscher has been killing the ball, going 6-for-14 (.429) over that span.
Dennys Reyes - Looks like Reyes is in one of his "hot streaks" again... he hasn't allowed a run in his past four appearances, though he did give up a game-winning hit vs. Kansas City last week.
Craig Breslow - He's been the best reliever outside Joe Nathan (who hasn't pitched since 9/11), as he's on a current eight-appearance scoreless streak (8 IP).
Cold List
Nick Blackburn - Seems like Blackburn was fine until Sunday in Baltimore, when he got ripped for six runs and nine hits in just four innings of work. He'll try to right the ship this weekend in Tampa Bay.
Glen Perkins - It's possible that Perkins is breaking down, and you can rest assured that he'd be the guy going to the bullpen if the Twins make the playoffs. Perk is a deceiving 1-1 over his past four outings, but has a 7.40 ERA and 1.645 WHIP over those starts. 
Joe Mauer - He'll probably bounce back in short order, but Mauer is experiencing a mini-slump... batting just .217 over his past six games.
Alexi Casilla - Last, Casilla has been just as lifeless as Mauer these days, with just one hit in his past 15 at bats.
Thanks for reading, and have a great day! Game Time is 6:10 tonight!
Category: MLB
Posted on: September 8, 2008 11:09 am

A Lost Weekend

Even the Tigers know Minnesota sucks right now. We thought our team needed a little home cookin', and Friday, Francisco Liriano devastated Detroit, allowing Twins' Fandom thoughts of a sweep. I'll even admit that after the seventh inning on Saturday, I was entertaining the idea that our team could rip through the homestand without sustaining so much as a loss. Then the "Grim Reaper Crew" (GRC) happened. And by that, I'm talking about our stable of relievers that we just KNOW are going to blow the game when they come in. And Saturday, Dennys Reyes came in with one out and served up a game-tying, two-run shot. Then, after he waddled off the mound, our boy Matt Guerrier proceeded to allow ANOTHER two-run dinger to give Detroit the lead at 6-4, and eventually the game.

Led by Guerrier, Boof Bonser, Jesse Crain and Reyes, the GRC have sabotaged game after game with their late-inning antics. Bonser is going the wrong way right now... Reyes/Crain combined to lose the game Saturday in stomach-punch fashion... Eddie Guardado is embarrassing. For god's sake - the bullpen is something like 1-7 in since the 14-game road trip. In fact, only Crain and Craig Breslow have been bearable lately, as the rest of the non-Nathan relievers own a 13.00 ERA over the past seven days. If you thought Pat Neshek's injury was devastating at the time, look at us now... look at us now.

And Sunday, Glen Perkins gave the team a chance to win for five innings before succumbing to the longball, giving up a homer and three total runs in the sixth. The Tigers tacked on a couple more runs vs. Bonser in the seventh, effectively ending the game. I'd like to fight Bonser right about now.

On top of all this, the White Sox gained a game on us this weekend to push the lead to 2.5 with 19 games left... hopefully they won't be able to solve the Blue Jays and A.J. Burnett tonight (7:11 p.m. CST). Toronto has been on fire in September, winning eight straight after sweeps of Minnesota and Tampa Bay. They're in "spoiler mode", and I'm hoping they keep that mojo workin'.

Despite all this negativity, the Twins get Kansas City for three games starting Tuesday, where they'll send Nick Blackburn (9-8, 3.71 ERA), Kevin Slowey (11-9, 3.75 ERA) and Francisco Liriano (5-3, 3.33 ERA) to the mound against Brian Bannister (7-14, 5.56 ERA), Kyle Davies (6-6, 4.59 ERA) and Brandon Duckworth (2-1, 6.60 ERA). That's right, we're not even going to see Gil Meche or Zack Greinke. It's like they're throwing the series. Seriously.

Thanks for reading today, and GO VIKINGS!!!

Category: MLB
Tags: GRC, Liriano
Posted on: September 6, 2008 10:52 am

Let's get PUMPED UP!!!!

You'll have to go to my blog "home" for today's post...
Category: MLB
Tags: Liriano
Posted on: August 21, 2008 11:30 am

Casilla Back... Angels Await

Francisco Liriano is scaring me. You look at his 4-0 record, 1.14 ERA, .182 opponent batting average and very good 20 strikeouts in 23 2/3 innings, and it feels good. It feels like Liriano is back. But he's not, and we all know it. The same dominance just isn't there - he's not throwing as hard as he was before, and might not ever get all the way back (yes, we all knew this was a possibility). Even more disturbing though, are the 10 walks in those near-24 innings. Folks, our "golden boy" is having trouble finding the strike zone, and though he'll miss the Angels and continue "tuning up" vs. the whipping boys of the American League for a bit, there's going to come a time when a patient team eats him alive. A few more Liriano stats:
  • He's thrown 401 pitches in 23 2/3 innings, which is about 17 pitches an inning - pretty inefficient. His fellow starters' numbers over the past four starts... Perkins (14.88 per inning), Slowey (16.01), Baker (16.8), Blackburn (15.4). Basically, he's giving himself the worst chance of ALL of our starters to go 6+ innings. Even Scott Baker, who's obviously struggling, has been a bit better.
  • While Liriano has thrown about 61% of his pitches for strikes since "The Call-up", fellow Twins starters have faired much better - Baker (69.6%), Slowey (68.6%), Blackburn (64.3%), Perkins (69.1%).
Anyway, despite all this, I went to bed last night with a good feeling - the Twins had won their fourth consecutive series, and six out of their past seven games. The starting pitching is looking decent and the bats lively... even the bullpen looked good yesterday. What's more, Alexi "it's a miracle" Casilla (4-for-7, RBI in two rehab starts) is back from his hand injury and will look to help spark the top of the order where Nick Punto faltered. His at bats are much better than anything we have in the middle infield, and we have to hope he can hit the ground running this evening.

Conversely, I woke up this morning and that feeling was all washed away... I mean, we're going to Anaheim...we're facing John Lackey tonight... we're a game back in the Central Division. Our starters have to deal with Vlad/Tex/Hunter for four games... our hitters - if there's to be a comeback win - will have to hit vs. the only guy better than our closer in Francisco Rodriguez. It's a brutal way to start a road trip, but I suppose it's best to get the worst over with first.

Game 1, tonight at 9:05 p.m. CST, will feature Scott Baker (7-3, 3.91 ERA) vs. John Lackey (10-2, 3.22 ERA), and tomorrow evening Glen Perkins (10-3, 4.17) will take on 14-game winner Joe Saunders (14-5, 3.14). Saturday's pitching probables are Nick Blackburn (9-7, 3.71) and Jon Garland (11-8, 4.33), and the series finale will feature Kevin Slowey (10-8, 3.78) and Ervin Santana (13-5, 3.39). Needless to say, we'll have our hands full with these guys, but it'll likely be the toughest test we face - outside of the White Sox series and the @Tampa Bay in September - the rest of the year.

Thought you should know that Matt Tolbert is now 1-for-6 in two rehab starts for New Britain... Last, I wanted to mention that Boof Bonser is looking much better lately. John Gordon talked about some increased velocity yesterday afternoon (hitting 95 mph), and that can only mean good things for our bullpen. He's boasting a 2.79 ERA, .250 BAA, 1.344 WHIP and 8.38 k/9 in eight August appearances.

That's enough for now...

Minor League Notes:
  • 2B/3B Luke Hughes belted two hits, scored twice and stole his second base as a Rochester Red Wing last night. His batting totals (.284/.373/.540) have dropped a bit, but he's still looking good.
  • Looking dominant, SP Anthony Swarzak moved to 4-0 with a 2.10 ERA/1.300 WHIP in five starts at the Triple-A level. Swarzak pitched one-run ball for six innings and struck out six batters while giving up just five hits. In addition, reliever Bobby Korecky now has nine straight scoreless innings, and racked up six saves and 9 Ks over that time period.
  • Matthew Fox, a starter for Single-A Fort Myers, has been quite good over his past four starts (2-0, 1.14 ERA, 1.183 WHIP in 23 2/3 IP), including his most recent outing where he pitched seven shutout innings, striking out five.
  • After getting blown up for eight earned runs in four innings on August 3, Beloit's Steven Hirschfield has been nearly untouchable. He's given up just three runs in the 21 subsequent innings, going 3-0 over that span.
  • Elizabethton 1B Jonathan Waltenbury hadn't hit for much power lately, but rocketed two homers last night to bring his total to 10 on the season. He's currently on 10-game hitting streak that has his batting average back up to .329 on the year.
Thanks for reading, and have an awesome day!
Posted on: August 11, 2008 12:38 pm

Sick to My Stomach

Aren't you just ill today? I know I am. Last Monday too. These Matt Guerrier-fueled losses are doing real damage to my psyche and ability to function as a normal human being. Last night, I couldn't even eat dinner, and that's a problem. Over his past seven outings, Matty-G has a 17.38 ERA. Folks, that's absolutely untenable. There's no way he should be in that eighth inning slot the way he's going, and really, we have the same problem we had before Liriano came up - a gap in the bridge to Nathan.

Now, I'm not going to say Crain or Reyes or others might do much better - I have VERY little faith in Jesse Crain - but how could they do worse? Guerrier was pitching decent, then he lost it. Against Seattle and Kansas City, no less! Possible solutions could be to bring up Bobby Korecky from the Rochester, but they'll probably do that in September anyway. They could also juggle the bullpen or pitch Nathan more in the eighth inning (last night would have been a perfect opportunity to do so). Chances are that they were saving Nathan for the Yankee series unless it was a one-inning save situation, but you've gotta make hay against poor teams. The Twins couldn't do that this week, and find themselves inexplicably behind the White Sox in the standings.

Saturday and Sunday went pretty well for our starters - Francisco Liriano and Scott Baker combined to throw 12 2/3 innings, and gave up a total of five runs (3.55 ERA) and 13 hits (16 baserunners - 1.263 WHIP) in their outings. Baker struck out seven batters and Liriano got five men out on strikes... two solid performances from guys we'll need high-quality production from the rest of the year.

The bats got the job done for the most part as well, putting up 11 runs in the final two games of the series in support of their starters. Delmon Young blasted his fifth homer of the year, and is batting .309 with five home runs, 31 RBI and three steals since June. He had zero homers and 15 RBI in April/May. We expected more power, but his bat has given Jason Kubel and Justin Morneau a bit of relief.

Today, the Twins get New York in a pivotal three-game series where they'll face Sidney Ponson (2.55 career ERA vs. Minnesota) tonight, 16-game winner Mike Mussina Tuesday and young gun Dan Giese in Wednesday's noon game. Minnesota will counter with Glen Perkins tonight, Nick Blackburn Tuesday and Kevin Slowey Wednesday. Should be an enjoyable series, and I'll be there on Wednesday... maybe I'll ya'll there.

Minor League Notes:

-- The major offensive threats for Rochester have kept at it, as Luke Hughes (2-for-4) bombed his second home run in four games last night for the Red Wings. Alejandro Machado singled in four at bats and now has a 19-game hit steak, while Jason Pridie continues to streak in August - he's batting .462 this month.

-- In two games over the weekend, New Britain 2B Brian Dinkelman scorched five hits in eight at bats to raise his average to .288 in 32 games as a Rock Cat. He batted .293 in 63 games at Fort Myers earlier this season, so it's an encouraging sign that he's handling the next level just as well.

-- Elizabethton CF Evan Bigley went 4-for-5 yesterday with two RBI, and raised his average to .316 on the year. Teammate SP Curtis Leavitt struck out 10 batters over six innings, but did not factor into the decision.

Thanks for reading, and have a great day! Enjoy the Yankees vs. Twins tonight!

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com