Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Silva's '07 Option Picked Up

In the spirit of Halloween, the Twins are doing their best to horrify fans, as they announced this afternoon that they have picked up Carlos Silva's $4.35 option for 2007. Silva was downright painful to watch this season, posting numbers that ranked among baseball's worst in almost every major category. And now, for that performance, he will be receiving a raise of more than $1 million to come back next season.

It's difficult to be overly critical of Terry Ryan and the Twins for making this move, because their hand was forced to a great degree. If Francisco Liriano was healthy and locked in as a starter for next season, and if Brad Radke wasn't almost certain to retire, it's entirely possible the Twins would have parted ways with the 27-year-old Silva rather than grossly overpaying him for what will likely be another sub par season. The fact is that Johan Santana and Boof Bonser are the only sure things heading into the off-season; Scott Baker had a highly disappointing season in '06 and Matt Garza failed to prove himself as a bona fide member of the rotation. Even with Silva coming back, it's likely that the Twins will still be in the market for another veteran starter during the offseason so that they won't be forced to rely on two inexperienced and inconsistent youngsters at the bottom of the rotation.

Declaring Silva worthless might be a bit premature. We cannot forget that Silva was very good in 2005, posting a winning record and a very good 3.44 ERA. With that said, his 2006 season was an absolutely disaster and it's really difficult to see him returning to form after the way he struggled all year long. He's a pitcher that treads a dangerous line: a sinker-baller with almost no ability to strike out opposing batters, who must induce groundballs to have any success. As we saw this season, the ability to force opposing hitters to put the ball on the ground is a skill that comes and goes and if he doesn't have it, he's basically throwing BP.

The Twins' decision to pick up Silva's option is no treat, and sadly it's probably not a trick either. The team is simply low on arms in the rotation, and they have to go with the guy who has some experience. The fact that he'll be eating up almost $5 million in salary is disappointing, but that's just the way things work.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Trade Review

If there's one thing Terry Ryan has shown a great knack for in his time as general manager of the Minnesota Twins, it's getting great value out of trades. While his track record in free agency may be far from spotless, he has been responsible for some of the most noteworthy trades of the last decade, which can often be described as nothing short of a "steal." While the A.J. Pierzynski trade that brought in Francisco Liriano, Joe Nathan and Boof Bonser may be his crowning achievement, you can't overlook the trades that produced players like Nick Punto, Jason Bartlett, and Shannon Stewart.

Now, I'll take a look at the major trades that Ryan made over the course of this season as well as the previous offseason, and an analysis of how they're looking so far. As you might have guessed, a couple are looking like definite steals.

Travis Bowyer and Scott Tyler to Florida for Luis Castillo

Ryan has generally made it a rule of thumb to avoid parting with good pitching prospects. He made an exception to this philosophy last offseason went he sent Bowyer, along with low-level prospect Tyler, to the Marlins in return for a veteran second baseman in Castillo.

Bowyer, a 20th-round draft pick by the Twins in 1999, was coming off an excellent 2005 campaign in which he posted a 2.78 ERA in 74 1/3 innings at the Triple-A level as a 24-year-old reliever. He struck out 96 and walked 40. The Marlins acquired him and it seemed that he could be the team's full-time closer as soon as this year. Unfortunately for Florida, Bowyer missed the entirety of the 2006 season with shoulder problems. He had surgery last month and is expected to miss the beginning of the 2007 season.

Tyler, on the other hand, had an interesting season in the Marlins' system. He also struggled with injuries at times, but did manage to throw 61 1/3 innings, all at the Double-A level. During that span, Tyler posted a solid 3.67 ERA but struggled mightily with his control, walking 44 batters while striking out 52. Because of this, Tyler posted an ugly 1.63 WHIP despite allowing just 56 hits in those 61.1 IP.

Castillo was not sensational in 2006, but he was a tremendous upgrade both offensively and defensively from anything the Twins have had at second base for the past several years. His batting line of .296/.358/.370 was right around his career averages (.293/.369/.358). While his patience was a little disappointing early in the season, he came around near the end and finished with a nearly even strikeout-to-walk ratio (58:56). Castillo also stole 25 bases and led the major leagues in infield hits, taking advantage of the Metrodome surface.

Even if you're not a huge fan of Castillo (which I wouldn't say I am), you have to like the way this trade has turned out for the Twins so far. It's too early to stick a fork in Bowyer, but his career prospects have definitely taken a major hit. As for Tyler, it's tough to visualize a guy who posted a 6.46 BB/9 IP in Double-A as having a particularly bright future.

J.C. Romero to Los Angeles Angels for Alexi Casilla

This was a more traditional Ryan trade, both in its make-up and in its results. Ryan traded a guy whose value was probably higher than it should have been for a prospect who was likely undervalued in his respective organization, and the result is what appears to have been a major steal.

Although he posted good numbers in 2005, it was fairly clear to anyone who watched the Twins that Romero had some serious issues. On the exterior, his 3.47 ERA and .235 BAA from that season looked pretty nice, but when you looked deeper there were some troubling peripherals. Romero's numbers were far worse in the second half of the season (4.94 ERA) than the first (2.43). He struggled greatly with his control against right-handed hitters (20 K, 29 BB). Also, it is well-documented that he was horrible at holding inherited runners on base.

This year, those problems ballooned for Romero in Los Angeles, and the results were disastrous: a 6.70 ERA, .298/.382/.450 opponents' line, and a 31:28 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 48.1 IP. Righties hit .382/.455/.578 against Romero.

Over in the Twins' organization, Casilla turned in an extremely impressive 2006 campaign. After hitting .331/.390/.406 over 78 games at Ft. Myers, he was bumped up to New Britain, where he hit .294/.375/.382 in 45 games. Between both levels, Casilla stole 50 bases while being caught just 10 times, and posted a solid 56:48 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His performance impressed the Twins so much that he earned a September call-up, during which he picked up one hit and two walks in six plate appearances.

Casilla has turned himself into the Twins' top infield prospect, while Romero has turned himself into a sub par LOOGY with no ability to get right-handed hitters out. On top of all that, the guy who the Twins signed to replace Romero as their lefty specialist, Dennys Reyes, was arguably the best southpaw reliever in baseball. Another great trade for the Twins.

Kyle Lohse to Cincinnati for Zac Ward

Ryan resisted the urge to trade Lohse at the deadline in 2005, and then did so again during the last offseason. These turned out to be grave mistakes. Lohse was absolutely horrible early in the season for the Twins, posting a 7.07 ERA before they traded him in late July. He pitched pretty well upon arriving in Cininnati, posting a 2.78 ERA in August, but then fell back into his old habits and finished up the season with a terrible 6.46 ERA in September. For the season as a whole, Lohse posted a career-worst 5.83 ERA and opponents hit .298/.358/.444 against him. Those numbers are not good, but they're not really off-line with his career norms (.285/.342/.453). Lohse just generally seems to get hit hard, which leads me to believe his prognosis in Cincinnati is not great. He is a pain in the clubhouse and he earns more money than he deserves, and now he's Wayne Krivsky's problem to deal with.

For his part, Ward struggled for the Twins, going 1-4 with a 5.93 ERA in six starts for Beloit. That's pretty disappointing, particularly since he had pitched so well (7-0, 2.29 ERA. 0.97 WHIP) for Cincinnati's Low-A affiliate in the first chunk of the season. Ward will turn 23 in January, which is starting to get a little old for a Low-A ball prospect. It's hard to predict what will become of him, but at the very least this trade was nice because it got Lohse's salary off the books.

Still, it's saddening to think about how much more Ryan could have gotten in return for him had he traded him earlier.

Juan Castro to Cincinnati for Brandon Roberts

I would not rank Castro as one of the better backup shortstops in the league, so the fact that he started for the Twins for almost three months is an embarrassing blemish on the judgment records of Ryan and Ron Gardenhire. Nonetheless, they eventually woke up and yanked him in the middle of June, around the same time they cut bait on the Tony Batista experiment. Those two players were replaced by Jason Bartlett and Nick Punto, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Since Castro was hitting .231/.258/.308 and nearing his 34th birthday when they traded him, anything the Twins got in return was going to be a bonus. That bonus turned out to be Roberts, a 21-year-old speedy outfielder playing for Sarasota, the Reds' High-A affiliate. When he came to the Twins organization, Roberts was hitting an unimpressive .267/.325/.308 in 60 games on the season. Once he started playing in Ft. Myers, however, Roberts broke out, hitting .316/.370/.396 in his 71 games there. Like Casilla, Roberts can terrorize on the basepaths; he stole 50 bases between Sarasota and Ft. Myers while being caught just 14 times. He doesn't have much discipline or power, but the high batting average and the stolen bases are encouraging for a young kid who is a versatile defender.

Castro did finish the year pretty well for the Reds, hitting .284/.320/.421 in 95 at-bats in Cincinnati, but I think it's safe to say the Twins didn't (and won't) miss him that much. This was another very good trade.


I decided not to review the Adam Harben-for-Phil Nevin trade in this article, because it's simply too early to make any judgments. If the Twins release Nevin during the offseason and Harben goes on to have a decent career, it will probably end up as a bad trade. On the flip side, the Twins might bring back Nevin for next year, and if Harben continues to pitch like he did this year for the rest of his career, the trade will look pretty nice.

The analysis of these trades is still early and subject to change, but at this point it's looking like another successful season for Terry Ryan in the trade department. I'll certainly be interested to see what he can pull off in the coming months.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

No Surprises

It appears that after all the rhetoric the Twins office could spit out to explain or approach the situation otherwise, Francisco Liriano will probably have surgery of some sort on his elbow in the next week. This comes as no surprise to me, as he once again rested and tried to restrengthen his elbow, returned to the mound, and quickly found the pain reappearing.

Now, as I've written on here before, the program the Twins have Liriano on as a non-surgical option doesn't appear to even consider changing his mechanics or stopping him from throwing his slider, which puts the most violent stress on his elbow. If that's true, the Twins were very foolish in their approach.

Of course, it's pretty hard to know whether or not that happened. What we do know is despite the Twins repeating over and over again that the young pitcher and potential ace didn't need any surgery, he probably needs it now anyways. In the article I have linked, La Velle E. Neal writes that Liriano could have either an "exploratory operation" or Tommy-John surgery.

I have to believe the "exploratory operation" idea is unlikely and only comes up as a more positive alternative. If Liriano has Tommy-John surgery, he is all but out for next year. Much like micro-fracture surgery, Tommy-John has a long recovery time and there is no reason to expect him back for 2007.

I have to agree with Aaron Gleeman here. He thinks that this is not such a bad, not because losing him won't be a serious detriment to our chances in 2007, but because there is no point in taking more chances with a young pitcher with so much potential and an exciting future. Often, when pitchers have Tommy-John, they come back much stronger and sometimes even have a little extra on their fastball.

If you want proof, look no furter than last night's Game Three starter and winner, Chris Carpenter. Carpenter returned from the surgery, was throwing 96 MPH with his outstanding curve, and after returning with a good 2004 season, he won a Cy Young Award in 2005. In 645 1/3 innings since returning from surgery, he has allowed only 567 hits while strike out 543 and walking only 132. In that time, he is 51-18 with a 3.10 ERA.

Obviously, those are fairly impressive numbers. Carpenter is a good example of Tommy-John gone right. Joe Mays, for instance, is a guy who had the surgery and turned into a pumpkin immediately after. Of course, he was Joe Mays and after the surgery, he was still Joe Mays. Unfortunately, surgery wasn't going to change the fact that he was really never that good. Carpenter, on the other hand, was a 1st round pick who never quite found his stride with the Blue Jays, had surgery, and has now been the Cardinals ace for the last three seasons. Lirano is in the same boat. It's not hard to see that he has loads of talent and a live arm, but now it's a matter of protecting that arm.

Could Liriano follow the same path as Carpenter? I don't see why not, but I think its clear that the Twins need to stop messing around and get serious. The faster he has surgery, the better. He should have had it months ago, when he was first injured, but that's hindsight and the Twins weren't ready to lose his season. Now is the time to do the right thing for Liriano and the future of the team. Let's not forget, after all, that Johan Santana isn't too shabby either.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Gardenhire's Extension

I'm a little late in writing about this, but the Twins announced last week that they have rewarded manager Ron Gardenhire for another successful season by handing him a two-year contract extension that will keep him as the manager in Minnesota through the 2009 season. They also extended his coaching staff through 2008.

The decision is not in any way surprising. Carl Pohlad has stated in the past that Gardenhire will be the team's manager as long as he is the owner. And, if you look at his track record, it's hard to argue that Gardy has not done at least a satisfactory job during his time as manager. He has now managed the team for five seasons; the Twins have posted a winning record in each of those seasons and have made the playoffs in four of them.

Now, one could argue that Gardenhire was gifted with a talent-laden roster when he stepped in, or that three of the division titles he won came in very weak divisions. Nevertheless, it's clear that he's been doing a lot of things right and the team has responded to him by playing very well.

The Twins' lack of postseason success during Gardenhire's tenure is another matter. In their last three playoff series, they have won a total of two games. Still, I would argue that only one of the Twins' postseason failures in the past five years can truly by attributed to Gardenhire in any significant way (his terrible decisions in Game 2 of the 2004 series completely turned the tide of the series for the worst). In 2002, the Twins unexpectedly advanced past the Athletics in the first round before running into a red-hot Angels team in the ALCS that would eventually win the World Series. In 2003, the Twins were simply overmatched by a loaded Yankees team. This year, the Twins came out and gave an absolute dud of a performance and never stood a chance against the A's. It's hard to pin a peformance like that on the manager when the players just can't seem to do anything.

I am fine with Gardenhire being the manager of this team for the foreseeable future. He still does some things that frustrate me and I know that a lot of people out there still aren't big fans of him, but in my opinion 2006 was his most impressive season as a manager. He handled the bullpen extremely well, he kept the players positive after a horrendous start to the season, and he eventually made the changes that needed to be made even if he was a little late to do so.

I look forward to watching his team battle their tails off next season.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Looking Forward: Ryan's Problematic Approach?

As mentioned previously on this page, Terry Ryan did a recent interview on KFAN. More recently, Ryan spoke with LaVelle Neal of the Star Trib. In that article, Ryan once again suggested some things that should make fans a little uncomfortable. For one, he never really addressed any of the major offesason issues.

He showed not rush to get multi-year contracts done for certain key players, ignored the situations with Rondell White and Carlos Silva and seemed content with the team the way it is. The problem is we've seen this minimalist approach before: last year.

As we all know so well, keeping Kyle Lohse around and signing fringe free-agents didn't work out particularly well for the Twins. What did work out with the youth and the problem I see is that all this ambiguity leads me to think that Ryan is heading down the same slippery slope.

Trusting the youth is the biggest thing the Twins can do this offseason. That includes, obviously, offering important long-term contracts to the likes of Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer and maybe extending Johan's. It also means that the Twins should better trust their other youth. I don't think its as if Nick Punto or Jason Bartlett are losing their positions, but other things are troubling.

Ryan seems to like the idea of keeping Silva around more than signing a decent free agent veteran pitcher, a la Jeff Suppan (who is doing great in the playoffs THIS year), or entrusting young pitchers like Matt Garza and maybe Glen Perkins or even the much beloved J.D. Durbin. The clear point is that even if Suppan or Garza posts an ERA near 5.00, it will be better than anything Silva can give is.

For whatever reason, Ryan is reluctant to take these kind of risks and that makes it very frustrating as a fan. Taking the lumps is how teams like the Twins are successful. Johan wasn't a great pitcher right away. He didn't even strike out very many in his first two years. Justin Morneau struggled mightidly in 2005. Michael Cuddyer didn't do much at all from 2002-2005, but he was great this year.

What's the point? The Twins stuck with these guys (Cuddyer's case is different, since he was on the team, but not given a very stable job until now) but, whether it is Ryan's doing or Gardy's or both, they want to choose awful veterans or others over the best candidates. If such a philosophy continues, the Twins may run into similar problems next year.

All this leads to the bottom line: Keeping Carlos Silva is ridiculous, but repeating mistakes you made the year before that almost kept your team out of the playoffs is far worse.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Big "Mo"

There's not a whole lot to write about in Twins-land, so I thought I'd just take a brief moment to write out some thoughts on the playoff picture. Last year, when the White Sox picked up steam in the ALDS and rolled through the postseason to a World Series victory, it seemed like momentum was the most important thing imaginable when it came to the playoffs.

One year later, that couldn't appear to be further from the truth. The Athletics whooped the Twins in a three-game sweep in which the A's played nearly flawless baseball, and then went on to the ALCS where they made countless mistakes and were pummeled in four-game sweep by the Tigers. Those Tigers? They couldn't win a single game at home against the Royals to clinch the division at the end of the season, which led one to believe this team would make a quick exit from the playoffs. Instead, they cruised past the Yankees and A's and are now enjoying a full week of rest before they open Game One of the World Series at home. The Cardinals had a similar path to the playoffs. They ended the season by nearly blowing a large lead in the NL Central to the Astros, and they staggered into the playoffs. Now, they're one game away from beating out the heavily-favored Mets for a trip to the World Series.

Now, the Tigers have won seven straight games and neither the Cards nor Mets have looked great, so momentum would seem to indicate that it will be a pretty easy World Series victory for Detroit. Then again, momentum doesn't seem to mean a whole lot this year, so I'm not going to make a bet one way or the other.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Our Regular Season Awards

We'll start this post off on a sad note. Just yesterday on this blog, we mentioned Cory Lidle as a potential offseason target for the Twins. Tragically, he died yesterday when his plane crashed into a high-rise apartment building in New York. This is a shocking event, seeing as how we were watching Lidle pitch a playoff game less than a week ago. We send our deepest sympathies to his family and friends.

Now, on to the post...

Being the end of the season for us Twins fans, there are a few things left to cover before we go "dormant" for the winter. For one, we'd like to present and briefly explain each of our choices for regular season awards. Let's get it started.


Nick Mosvick's Choice: Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins

Mauer not only had a season for the history books, being the first catcher ever to lead the AL or the majors in batting average. Remember, he was an incredible .360/.497/.544 hitter with RISP. Justin Morneau was great, but Mauer gets my vote. Just a great season. As for Derek Jeter, his "leader" role is vastly overrated, and he simply wasn't significantly better than Mauer offensively this year, while Mauer plays a more important position and is a superior defensive player to Jeter.

Nick Nelson's Choice: Johan Santana, Minnesota Twins

To me, none of the offensive candidates for MVP had overwhelming seasons. I don't think any single player was more influential to his team's success than Santana. Just take a look at the Twins' record in his starts compared to everybody else's. He literally pushed them from decent a decent team to a playoff team single-handedly. He was also the best pitcher in baseball, beyond a shadow of a doubt.


Nick Mosvick's Choice: Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals

If you want to understand how sad the Cardinals are outside of Pujols and Chris Carpenter, just watch the playoffs sometime. Or, heck, just look back at this years highlights. No one can convince me that a .331/.431/.671 49 HRs 137 RBI doesn't merit the MVP, even with Ryan Howard's season. Howard was great, but his Phillies, for one, didn't get to the playoffs, and two, had a couple very nice offensive players in Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins to support him. Pujols was just as good power-wise at the beginning of the season as Howard was in the second half. Sorry, but its not like the first half doesn't count. And Pujols was amazing down the stretch, hitting .368 with 9 homers and 27 RBI in September as the Cardinals barely inched their way into the playoffs. He also hit .397/.535/.802 with RISP. For the record, Howard hit .256 in such situations. Plus, Pujols has the upper hand in defense. Have to give it to the great Prince Albert.

Nick Nelson's Choice: Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals

What more can I say? Howard had a great season, but you have to look past the power numbers. I don't really buy into the "his team didn't make the playoffs so he can't be the most valuable player" argument (no single player will ever carry his team to the playoffs by himself, this is a team game), but Pujols came about as close as you can to carrying this offense to the postseason. He's the best hitter in the game, bar-none.


Nick Mosvick's Choice: Johan Santana, Minnesota Twins

There is nothing "homerish" about this pick. What can I say? Major League pitching Triple Crown winner. Number one in the bigs in wins, strikeouts, ERA, WHIP, and opponent OPS. Number one in the AL in batting average against and innings pitched. Second in the AL in winning percentage. Simply the best, most dominant pitcher in bigs. No question about this one.

Nick Nelson's Choice: Johan Santana, Minnesota Twins

Santana is my MVP, so obviously he's my Cy Young winner. As I said above, Santana was much indisputably the best pitcher in all of baseball. He was dominant, he won games, he played great defense, and he was a good teammate. No other pitcher can even build a legitimate argument against Santana in the AL.


Nick Mosvick's Choice: Brandon Webb, Arizona Diamondbacks

This race is the exact opposite of the AL Cy Young "race." No one in the NL won 17 games, which doesn't happen too often. Needless to say, there are many legitimate candidates, with Webb, Chris Carpenter, Roy Oswalt, and some say even Trevor Hoffman. To me, Webb has to be the Cy Young, as he is the best overall starting pitcher this year of the candidates. He was tied for first in wins and shutouts (three, tied with Carpenter), was second in innings pitched, WHIP, and complete games, third in ERA, ninth in BAA, and 10th in strikeouts. It's a crapshoot here, though, so I could change my mind tommorow.

Nick Nelson's Choice: Chris Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals

While Pujols carried the Cards' offense, it was was Carpenter who carried the rotation. Carpenter ranked second in the National League in ERA with a great 3.09, posted an NL-best 1.07 WHIP (next-best was Webb at 1.13) and struck out 184 in 221.2 IP.


Nick Mosvick's Choice: Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

Verlander looked pretty good after four months, before he went 4-5 in August and September, posting 6.83 and 4.82 ERAs in those months. Overall, he only was in the top 10 for three AL pitching categories: seventh in ERA (3.63), 10th in winning percentage, and tied for fourth with 17 wins. He didn't strike out too many and his 1.33 WHIP is nothing phenomenal. I would give the award to our own Francisco Liriano, but the disparity in innings (186 to 121) is important, as Verlander was key to great lead the Tigers built up early in the year. I have to give the edge to Verlander.

Nick Nelson's Choice: Francisco Liriano, Minnesota Twins

At this point, you've probably got me labeled as a bona fide homer. I had a Twin as my selection for both AL MVP and Cy Young, and now I take another Twin for Rookie of the Year. Well, sue me. As far as I'm concerned, Liriano was the best rookie in the American League this year, regardless of the fact that his season was cut short due to injury. Liriano was not just the best rookie pitcher in baseball when he pitched this season, he was the best PITCHER, period. 121 innings is not exactly a small sample size either. Liriano may have thrown 60 fewer innings than Verlander, but the degree to which he was better than Verlander over that period is enough for me to say he had a better year.


Nick Mosvick's Choice: Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals

A 22-year old third baseman playing phenomenal defense, hitting 20 home runs, driving in 110 RBI, bagging 47 doubles, all in an extreme pitcher's park, is pretty phenomenal. Zimmerman was incredibly clutch this year, hitting .302/.409/.531 in "close and late" situations and hitt ing .323/.397/.515 with RISP. There were a lot of great candidates for Rookie of the Year in the NL this season, however, Zimmerman is the standout to me, having both an impressive offensive debut and playing great defense at a key position.

Nick Nelson's Choice: Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins

It's hard to argue with Zimmerman, but I've got to go with Ramirez, who had an excellent season for the Marlins and certainly made the Red Sox look silly for trading him. Ramirez was an outstanding top-of-the-order hitter, batting .292 with a .353 on-base percentage while and swiping 51 bases and scoring 119 times. He also flashed some impressive power by banging 17 homers, 46 doubles and 11 triples.


Nick Mosvick: Jim Leyland, Detroit Tigers

Ron Gardenhire did a pretty good job this year, but I still have some issues with his management style and it's necessary to remember the first two awful months and his desire to play guys like Juan Castro. Leyland, on the other hand, came to a Tigers team that has dwelled in the cellar for over a decade and had lost 119 games in 2003. Leyland quickly changed that clubhouse culture and the Tigers experienced the biggest turnaround between last year and this year of any big league team. (The Mets had a pretty big one, too.) Needless to say, he's done an impressive job and deserves this award.

Nick Nelson's Choice: Jim Leyland, Detroit Tigers

I toyed with the notion of picking Gardy for this award, especially because of the Tigers' collapse down the stretch, but I still think Leyland did a stellar job and is deserving of recognition. As Mr. Mosvick noted, the Tigers have pretty much been a laughing stock over the last several years, and Leyland's ability to maximize the talent on the roster and push the Tigers to a playoff berth is truly impressive.


Nick Mosvick's Choice: Willie Randolph, New York Mets

If I give Leyland the award, I have to give Randolph the award for what can be seen as a similar job. Randolph certainly would seem to have an easy job, with many superstars (Carlos Delgado, Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine, Billy Wagner, Carlos Beltran) and budding superstars (David Wright, Jose Reyes) on the team. But a 14-game improvement on last year's 83-79 is still impressive. The Mets were by far the best team in the NL this year.

Nick Nelson's Choice: Joe Girardi, Florida Marlins

I respect what Randolph did this season, but I simply can't give him too much credit for being able to carry such a loaded roster to the playoffs. The National League was such a joke this year that it would have been an embarrassment if the Mets didn't finish with the best record in the league. Girardi, meanwhile, coached a team that no one expected to win more than 60 games into playoff contention for a large portion of the season. It's a shame he ran into issues with the ownership. Whatever team lands Girardi as their skipper in the offseason will be very fortunate to do so. I think he's a hell of a manager.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Hump Day Rundown

With the Twins season coming to an end, the everyday posting on this blog will probably seize fairly soon, since during the offseason there's generally just not all that much to talk about and, hey, we have lives! With that said, this site will continue to be updated frequently throughout the winter months, analyzing roster moves and other baseball-related tomfoolery. We hope you'll check in regularly over the next four months even though the Twins will be resting up and preparing for the 2007 campaign.

With that little programming note out of the way, on to some news and notes.

* The hottest news item right now is obviously the Twins' decision to pick up Torii Hunter's $12 million option for 2007.

This move is by no means a surprise. It's certainly something that I've been advocating. Hunter had a productive season and towards the end of the year (despite his blunder in Game 2) he started to show increased mobility in center field. A Star Tribune article on the matter noted that the Twins still might try and negotiate a multi-year contract for Hunter beyond next season, but I truly hope that is not the case. Hunter is a player who has always depended greatly on his speed and athleticism, and considering that he'll be turning 32 next season and has a foot injury that looks like it will be a recurring issue, I think keeping him past the 2007 season would be a grave mistake. While $12 million is a lot of money (too much for a #6 hitter) and will be damaging towards what the Twins are able to accomplish this offseason, they will be totally off the hook after next season.

As it stands, locking Hunter up for next year gives the Twins the opportunity to trade him around mid-season (which Terry Ryan almost certainly won't do unless they are out of contention), and also prevents them from having to worry about their center field issue for the time being. Keeping Hunter will give the Twins another year to try and figure out what they have in Denard Span, a 22-year-old light-hitting speedster who is considered by some (though not me) to be the center fielder of the future.

* Apparently Terry Ryan did an interview on KFAN radio yesterday morning. I didn't have a chance to hear it, so I'm just going off hearsay, but my buddy listened and these are the impressions that he passed on to me:

1) Ryan feels that pitching is the top priority in the offseason because he doesn't know what will happen with Francisco Liriano and he doesn't know what to expect from the young guys (Garza, Bonser, Perkins) next season.

2) Ryan was satisfied with the offense this season because they scored over 800 runs, which was the benchmark the organization had set as a target for success.

3) Ryan is leaning towards picking up Carlos Silva's 2007 option.

I was not pleased to hear these things. Making the pitching staff a high priority makes some sense--if indeed Liriano is not ready to go for next year, they will be a hole or two to fill behind Santana, Bonser, Garza, and possibly Perkins. Spending a few million on a Jeff Suppan/Cory Lidle type for the middle of the rotation would not be a bad idea.

However, his assertion that the offense does not need work because they scored 800 runs is irritating. Granted, the Twins did fall right in the middle of the pack in terms of runs scored (they ranked 13th out of 30 MLB teams), and they have good enough pitching that's really all they need to succeed. However, the number of runs scored does not tell the whole story with this team. As it is currently constructed, the Twins lineup is extremely inconsistent and slump-prone, as illustrated by the fact that they were shutout 15 times this season, as well as by their abysmal performance in the playoffs.

Also, while it's reasonable to expect similar or perhaps even slightly improved production from young breakout players like Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Jason Bartlett and Michael Cuddyer, there are numerous question marks at key positions. One can't simply expect Nick Punto and Jason Tyner to both hit around .300 again. Jason Kubel is a huge question mark after an awful 2006 campaign marred by knee issues. It's unclear whether or not Rondell White will be back next season, but if he is, there's no way of knowing what to expect from him. Luis Castillo is now 31 and if his knees get even worse next season, he'll lose a lot of his value. Simply put, the offense should be a more immediate priority than Ryan seemingly made it sound.

Finally, regarding the statement that Ryan is considering picking up Silva's '07 option, which would cost the Twins $4.325 million. This strikes me as a tremendously bad idea. If Silva wasn't the worst starting pitcher in all of baseball this season, he was at least among the bottom three. To pay him that kind of money would be nothing short of a rip-off, and while the Twins continue to claim that they can work on Silva's mechanics and get him back into 2005-form, I am not inclined to believe it anymore.

* As a final note, I wanted to comment on something I read in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated. Tom Verducci is the top baseball writer for SI, and I respect him quite a bit and think he's a tremendously talented writer. With that said, I tend to think he latches onto the public opinion too frequently and as a result his articles occasionally seem kind of mindless and amateur.

A few weeks ago, he wrote a cover article that was very critical of Alex Rodriguez, essentially labeling his 2006 season in New York a failure and claiming he has to prove himself in pinstripes. This article only added to a media ravaging of Rodriguez, who took a ton of flack in New York this year for a few offensive slumps and some defensive struggles. Rodriguez has nothing to prove. He is playing a position that is not his natural position, one which he did not ask to play. And while it might have been a down year offensively by his standards, .290/.392/.523 with 35 home runs and 121 RBI is absolutely excellent production. Verducci's article attacking Rodriguez was a hack-job in my mind.

Anyway, that's not the main point of this rant. In the most recent issue of Sports Illustrated, Verducci names his All-Time All Star Team. The roster features the names you'd expect: Warren Spahn, Lou Gehrig, Lefty Grove, Dennis Eckersley, Yogi Berra, Jackie Robinson, Cy Young, Roger Clemens, Joe DiMaggio, Mariano Rivera, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Honus Wagner, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Sandy Koufax, Rogers Hornsby, Johnny Bench, A-Rod and Mike Schmidt.

One name is glaringly absent, of course, and that's Barry Bonds. Verducci addresses the issue in his article by stating that, "because of how his late-career production has been linked to the use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, he has numbers that are not to be believed."

Now, I'm no Bonds enthusiast, and in my heart I do believe that he's used PEDs. However, this has never been proven. Bonds tested positive for steroids the same number of times as Rodriguez or Rivera, or anyone else on the list for that matter, so the fact that Verducci uses it as a mark against him is absurd. I've heard rumors about old-time baseball players using horse steroids to bulk up, but of course since there was obviously no type of testing back then we'll never have any way of knowing. The point is that until Bonds is actually proven of cheating, he is no more guilty than anyone else on the list and as such he certainly belongs.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Update: Hunter Option Picked Up

The Associated Press and the Star Tribune have reported that Torii Hunter's $12 million option for the 2007 season has been picked up. In all honesty, I felt like I would have been happy either way. That is, I would have understood if they let him go, since Hunter is not really a $12 million player the way Johan Santana is and we may see a potentially huge decline in the next year or so.

At the same time, no logical repclaments exist for the Twins, in their system or in free agency, and all reports suggest Hunter to be a great clubhouse guy and integral to their chemistry. In the wake of Derek Jeter's classless act of non-leadership with the A-Rod affair, I have recently questioned the idea of "clubhouse" leader, but Hunter is certainly an important guy, but having Santana, Mike Redmond, and others in that clubhouse is probably just as important.

All things being equal, I'm fairly happy with the decision. Hunter is a true Twin who does play the game hard, even if that results in catostrophic events like that of Game Two, and his heart is always in the game and with his teammates. With Radke gone next year, we need guys like that just because the Twins can't be as competitive if they don't show the same fire they did from June on this year.

Final Pitching Grades

As you saw yesterday, Nick Nelson handed out a report on the offense, giving them an admittedly low C+ overall. I'll be taking a look at the pitching staff today, which would seem to be a high point for the Twins. The rules are the same as yesterday. Kyle Lohse will not be covered since he was not with the team at the end of the year.


Johan Santana #57
233.2 IP, 19-6, 2.77 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 245 K/47 BB, .216 BAA

There are no qualms about it. Johan is the obvious American League Cy Young Award winner for what should be the third year in a row. He won the pitching Triple Crown for the majors, a feat not accomplished since Dwight Gooden did it in 1985. Needless to say, it's quite impressive. Santana led the bigs in wins, ERA, strikeouts, WHIP, and opponent OPS, while leading the AL in innings pitched and BAA.

There isn't much that needs to be said about Johan. He's a phenomenal pitcher and he didn't slow down at all this year. I don't know that he was MVP (though the argument can be made and well) but it's clear how important he was in getting the Twins to the playoffs. Every year, he is great in the second half and that didn't change.

Boof Bonser #26
100 IP, 7-6, 4.22 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 84 K/24 BB, .267 BAA
Bonser made 18 starts for the Twins this year, starting off quite disastrously. In his seven pre-All Star break starts, Bonser was 2-2 with a 5.30 while in his 11 post-All Star break starts, he went 5-4 with a 3.62 ERA, looking his best in a 4-1 September in which he posted a 2.63 ERA.

Boof wasn't outstanding over the year, but he showed a lot of potential, didn't walk too many hitters (2.25/9 innings is pretty good for a young guy), struck out plenty, and showed fierce determination. He was an important player in the Twins making it to the postseason, as he stepped into the rotation absent of Brad Radke and gave them many good starts.

He's a key to the future and did well in his postseason start.

Brad Radke #22
162.2 IP, 12-9, 4.32 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 83 K/32 BB, .307 BAA
Grade: B+
The .307 BAA is obviously ugly and he gave up way too many hits, but to get a 4.32 ERA despite that, you need some luck and a lot of guile. Considering the guy made 28 starts with a broken shoulder, an ERA below 6 is a miracle.

What can be said about his performance, outside of the miracle all Twins fans experienced this year? His year started out terribly; he had a 2-3 record and an 8.89 ERA in April followed by a still-ugly May with a 2-3 record and a 5.60 ERA. After that, Brad settled down. He went 3-1 with a 2.09 ERA in June, when the Twins great streak began, and did just as well up until he broke down in August, going 3-1 with a 2.48 ERA.

Whatever is said about Radke, his year was inspiring and a blast to watch. I can't give him a bad grade, because anyone who has the guts, guile, and honor to do what he did is sports hero.

Francisco Liriano #47
121 IP, 12-3, 2.16 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 144 K/32 BB, .205 BAA
Despite the shortened season he had, Liriano was phenomenal for the Twins this year and did more than enough to help them to the playoffs. There are various ways to explain how good he was. He was, for one, a strikeout pitcher who induced a 2.10 GB/FB ratio and led the team with 17 GIDP. He also held opponents to a .564 OPS, thanks largely to the pathetic .306 slugging percentage managed against him, as he gave up only nine home runs.

During July, Liriano was at his best, going 4-1 with a 1.51 ERA, a .154 BAA, and 55 strikeouts in 41 2/3 innings during a month in which Santana struggled but the Twins continued streaking. Of course, Liriano injured his elbow and now is out indefinitely. He apparently doesn't need surgery, but he probably needs to at least tinker with, if not revamp, the violent pitching motion he uses, especially with his slider. Nevertheless, a rookie campaign for the ages.

Carlos Silva #52
180.1 IP, 11-15, 5.94 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 70 K/32 BB, .324 BAA
There are many reasons to believe Silva was the anti-Santana. That is, the worst starter in the league. For instance, while Santana led the league in wins, Silva was second in losses. Also, while Santana was first in strikeouts, Silva was dead last. ERA? Johan led, while Silva was behind Joel Pineiro, who was moved to the bullpen, for last in the AL. Home runs allowed? Well, Johan allowed 24 himself, but Silva gave up 38 in 50 less innings. Opponent OPS? Santana led, while Silva was dead last at .892. In fact, the .538 slugging percentage he gave up to opponents was almost 30 points above the next worst, Mark Buehrle.

Quality starts? Johan was first with 24, while Silva was tied for second-to-last with 10, only behind Rodrigo Lopez. So, when you're quite possibly the worst starter in the league, you probably didn't do too well for your team. Silva fits that category. For some reason, he continued to get starts, while potentially better options sat on the sidelines in Matt Guerrier, Scott Baker, or even Glen Perkins.

So I admit that it may be far-fetched, but Silva was clearly a better fit in the bullpen, having Guerrier's role as a long-reliever, as he is more effective in 2-3 innings spurts than in an actually start. The team would have been better suited with Guerrier giving 4-5 innings, Silva being in reserve for clean-up and the bullpen behind them. Needless to say, Silva's option shouldn't be picked up.

Matt Garza #21
50 IP, 3-6, 5.76 ERA, 1.70 WHIP, 38 K/23 BB, .301 BAA
Garza is a bright spot. His 5.76 ERA isn't anything great, and certainly he had a few awful starts, walked too many, gave up too many hits, and didn't strike enough hitters out. However, he had a few starts that were quite good and he flashed good stuff. He reminds me somewhat of Liriano from 2005 and I think he'll be fine next year.

Scott Baker #30
83.1 IP, 5-8, 6.37 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 62 K/16 BB, .324 BAA
After a promising 2005 campaign in which he looked polished and big league-ready, Baker was a disaster in 2006. Aside from a couple good starts against the Yankees, he was absolutely awful all season. His strikeout numbers were okay and he didn't walk too many, but he gave up too many hits and too many home runs (17), struggling to keep the ball down in the zone. Suddenly, Baker's future seems very much in question. Hopefully he can rebound in 2007.


Joe Nathan #36
68.1 IP, 7-0, 1.58 ERA, 36 saves, 0.79 WHIP, 95 K/16 BB, .158 BAA
In more ways than one, Nathan had the best Twins relief season ever. For one, the 5.94 K/BB is fantastic, but looks even better when you consider that Nathan had a 12.51 K/9 ratio. Also, he allowed only a .452 OPS to opposing hitters. Most impressive is that he blew only two saves all year, and did not record one loss.

The only problem with Joe is one not of his own doing. His manager has one major issue with his bullpen and that is Nathan's criminal underusage. 68 1/3 innings is not enough from your best reliever and operating under the "save or no Joe" rule is ridiculous. Otherwise, the man is incredible.

Juan Rincon #39
74.1 IP,
3-1, 2.91 ERA, 1 SV, 1.35 WHIP, 65 K/24 BB, .270 BAA
Considering how good Rincon has been in the past, this was a down year. In the previous two seasons, he had posted BAAs of .181 and .224. However, all of this is part of a general downward trend. Along with his BAA going up, his K/BB ratio has gone down (3.31 to 2.71) and his K/9 ratio has decreased significantly (11.63 in 2004, 7.87 this year), though at least his GB/FB has gone up, from 1.15 in 2004 to 1.79 this year.

Most distressing are Rincon's August (5.23 ERA, 16 hits in 10 1/3 innings) and September (4.76 ERA, 15 hits in 11 1/3 innings) numbers, along with his complete ineffectiveness against righties. Right-handers hit .303/.366/.406 off Rincon this year, compared to .228/.297/.278 last year. All of that leads me to believe that Rincon is going downhill fast. He is no longer a set-up man or closer of the future and if he is kept around, he needs to be used either against lefties or in a sixth or seventh inning role.

Jesse Crain #28
76.2 IP, 4-5, 3.52 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 60 K/18 BB, .262 BAA
Crain's numbers don't look like anything special, but the splits tell a different story. Before the break, Crain had a 5.03 ERA and had allowed 51 hits in 39 1/3 innings for a .305 BAA. After, he had a 1.93 ERA and a .207 BAA, with a great September where he posted only a 0.75 ERA.

Although Crain's strikeout rate went way up this year, from 2.82 to 7.04 K/9, his GB/FB went up even more, from 1.18 to 2.09, though he got far less GIDP (14 in 2005, 3 this year). His major issue was the "J.C. Romero" problem, as 13 of 34 inherited runners, or 38.2%, were allowed to score. If nothing else, it is a product of Gardenhire's desire to bring Crain into tight situations that Crain doesn't seem to handle well. He didn't have a bad year, but it wasn't great either.

Pat Neshek #17
37 IP, 4-2, 2.19 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 53 K/6 BB, .176 BAA
Neshek was called up in early July, just before the All-Star break, and in some ways, it felt like the Twins waited too long. He burst onto the scene, as he was practically unhittable in August, with a 0.59 ERA and only seven hits allowed in 15 1/3 innings with 24 K. He did let up a little in September, with a 4.76 ERA, and has issues with lefites who hit .244/.300/.511 off of him.

However, he looks like a great weapon against righties, who struck out nearly half the time (37 K, 86 at-bats) and had a pathetic .140/.159/.221 line against Neshek. It was a great, if not short, year for him.

Dennys Reyes #37
50.2 IP, 5-0, 0.89 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 49 K/15 BB, .197 BAA
Wow, what a year for Reyes. The man started the year in Triple-A, never had a good season before this, but somehow found his groove with the Twins as a lefty specialist. He stopped walking so many hitters, struck out plenty, and was hard to hit, as well as consistent. Unlike Crain, he was excellent in the inherited runners department, with only 6 of 45 scoring on him.

Also, Reyes lived up to his lefty specialist title, as lefties hit .148/.219/205 off of Reyes. He was great before the break, with a 1.66 ERA, but incredible after it, surrendering only one earned run in 29 innings for a near-spotless 0.31 ERA. Hopefully, he can pitch like this next year.

Matt Guerrier #54
69.2 IP, 1-0, 3.36 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 37 K/21 BB, .287 BAA
For a second consecutive year, Guerrier quietly got the job done. He never really stood out as great, and his peripherals weren't impressive, but he posted a nice ERA and ate up 70 innings for the Twins. Guerrier is a valuable pitcher to have around, even if he's not spectacular by any means.

Willie Eyre #27
59.2 IP, 1-0, 5.31 ERA, 1.63 WHIP, 26 K/22 B, .309 BAA
Eyre did not pitch very well in his rookie year, but he was used almost exclusively in low-pressure, mop-up type situations so his performance never really hurt the team. His sole victory came in an extra-inning thriller in Chicago in August, which was certainly one of the most memorable games of the season.


As expected, the pitching staff grades out a little better than the position players. A couple of F grades from Silva and Baker really dragged this unit down, but the top-notch grades from young players like Liriano, Bonser and Neshek give plenty of hope for this team's future.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Final Position Player Grades

Back in July, we assigned grades to each player on the Twins roster for their performances in the first half of the season. Now that the Twins' season has officially come to and end, I'll reflect on the season that each player had and give a final letter grade to each player, and at the end I will calculate a team grade-point average to get a numerical (albeit completely subjective) idea of how good the team was this year.

Today I'll be grading out the position players, and tomorrow we'll cover the pitching staff.

The grades will work the same as the first time around. Based on what should be expected of a particular player based on their role with the team and the amount of time they've spent in the league, I will assign letter grades to each player's performance thus far. I will grade each player that spent a relatively significant amount of time on the Twins' roster this year (100+ at-bats). Not included are players that were not with the team at the end of the year (namely, Batista and Castro).


C - Joe Mauer #7
521 AB, .347/.429/.507, 13 HR, 84 RBI, 54 K / 79 BB, 8/11 SB
What more could you ask for from Mauer? By posting a .347 average, he became the first catcher ever to lead the major leagues in batting. After he posted a .294 average with little power last season, I would have been happy with a slight increase in average along and a little added power. Instead, Mauer busted out with a phenomenal batting average, and he was able to increase his walk rate while decreasing his strikeout rate in the process. That strikeout-to-walk rate is simply terrific. Mauer was also very solid defensively, committing just four errors all season (.996 fielding percentage) and throwing out 38% of opposing base-stealers. He should definitely be in the Gold Glove conversation. At age 23, Mauer is the best catcher in this league, and I see plenty more top grades in his future.

1B - Justin Morneau #33
592 AB, .321/.375/.559, 34 HR, 130 RBI, 93 K / 53 BB, 3/6 SB
After a disappointing 2005 campaign, Morneau put it all together this season and put up MVP-type numbers. He's become an elite power-hitting first baseman with a great batting average to boot. Morneau's ability to adjust to the way pitchers were throwing to him this year was extremely encouraging considering how much he was seemingly figured out last year. While his power numbers decreased a bit at the end of the year (just two home runs in September) but he continued to hit for an excellent average (.348 average in September) and he consistently drove in runs all year long.

2B - Luis Castillo #1
584 AB, .296/.358/.370, 3 HR, 49 RBI, 58 K / 56 BB, 25/36 SB
I'll preface this by saying that Castillo was a very valuable player for the Twins this year. He is the best pure leadoff hitter they have had since Chuck Knoblauch, and also the best second baseman they've had since Knoblauch. He does a lot of the things you'd like to see in a leadoff hitter. He makes contact, he's a good bunter, and he sees a lot of pitches in almost every at-bat. He also played solid, rangy defense. Still, his knees were pretty clearly bothering him throughout the year and that prevented him from running hard all the time. Castillo hit right around his career averages and was about what we expected, which was solid.

3B - Nick Punto #8
459 AB, .290/.352/.373, 1 HR, 45 RBI, 68 K / 47 BB, 17/22 SB
Punto moved to third base as a temporary replacement for Tony Batista in June, and he made it his own by hitting .374 in July. Still, when you look outside of that great offensive burst, Punto was not great offensively, and by the end of the season it looked like he was reverting to some of his old nasty habits. His ability to walk more and cut down on strikeouts had been integral in his mid-season success, but in September he struck out 18 times and walked only three times. As a result, he hit just .252/.266/.294 in that month and he also did next-to-nothing in the playoffs. With that said, Punto was an absolutely phenomenal defensive third baseman and his offensive contributions in the middle months were crucial to the Twins' comeback. Certainly more than we could have possibly expected from the career utility-man coming into the season.

SS - Jason Bartlett #18
333 AB, .309/.367/.393, 2 HR, 32 RBI, 46 K / 22 BB, 10/15 SB
Like Punto, Bartlett saw some decline in his numbers at the end of the year (hit .228 in September), but by no means should that take away from what he was able to accomplish over the course of the season. Bartlett started literally every game at shortstop from his call-up to the end of the season, and during that span he hit .309 from the 9-spot in the batting order, which is great production. He was also very impressive in the field during the season, despite his struggles in the playoffs.

LF - Rondell White #24
337 AB, .246/.276/.365, 7 HR, 38 RBI, 54 K / 11 BB, 1/2 SB
White was signed on in the offseason to become the Twins' full-time designated hitter. He had a history of being a consistently productive batter, so the thought was that he would at least give the Twins some steady offense at a position where they have sorely lacked it over the past several years. Unfortunately, White came out of the gates extremely slowly, and it carried through the first several months of the season. It wasn't all bad though. After the All-Star break, White hit .321/.354/.538 with seven homers and 23 RBI. His performance over those last few months, and in the playoffs, is almost enough to make one forgive his wretched play before the All-Star break. Unfortunately, we can't do that. He was absolutely awful for four of the six months in the season. For some reason, he hit .195 as a DH and .328 as a left fielder. I don't know what to make of that really, but it probably means White won't be playing DH next year and it's why I've listed him as left fielder here.

CF - Torii Hunter #48
557 AB, .278/.336/.490, 31 HR, 98 RBI, 108 K / 45 BB, 6/10 SB
When Hunter went down with an injury in mid-July, it was looking like 2006 was going to shake out as a pretty mediocre season for him. He was hitting .269 without much power, and it appeared that the foot injury he sustained could keep him out of the lineup for a month or more. Instead, Hunter returned to the lineup on July 31 and went 3-for-5 with a home run and four RBI, the beginning of a two-month power surge that saw Torii knock 17 homers and drive in 49 runners. Hunter's patience evaporated after the All-Star break (7 BB in 250 plate appearances) but his power shot through the roof (.551 slugging percentage) and he really did carry the team in September when he hit .314 and picked up 27 RBI. Still, Hunter's defense saw a significant decline this season, and that was a major part of his value. He also showed a decline in speed on the basepaths. Whether or not Hunter will return next season (and in the seasons following) is going to be a hot topic this offseason and one we will analyze fully on this site.

RF - Michael Cuddyer #5
557 AB, .284/.362/.504, 24 HR, 109 RBI, 130 K / 62 BB, 6/6 SB
The Twins needed a right fielder. They needed a right-handed hitter to slot between Mauer and Morneau. They needed a cleanup hitter who could consistently drive in runners. Coming into the season, nobody in the Twins organization thought it was going to be Cuddyer. I certainly didn't. Much to my surprise, Cuddy had a breakout year, hitting 24 homers and 41 doubles and driving in 109 runs. Those numbers certainly do not tell the whole story. After choking in seemingly every big situation in 2005, Cuddyer became a clutch monster in 2006, delivering big late-game hits on countless occasions. He hit .313/.412/.580 with runners in scoring position and .346/.433/.561 in "Close and Late" situations. Perhaps most importantly, he started hitting right-handed pitching much better towards the end of the year, finishing with a solid .276/.355/.497 line against them (complemented by an outstanding .297/.376/.518 line against southpaws). Cuddyer's range in right field left something to be desired and turned in occasional boneheaded plays, but his strong arm produced 11 outfield assists.


OF - Jason Tyner #12
218 AB, .312/.345/.353, 0 HR, 18 RBI, 18 K / 11 BB, 4/6 SB
I'll say this much: Tyner performed better this season than anyone could have possibly imagined. For that reason, I'm inclined to give him a pretty good grade. That doesn't mean he was particularly productive. Tyner hit for a good batting average at .312, but it is one of the emptiest .300+ batting averages you will ever see. in 229 plate appearances, Tyner collected just seven extra-base hits and 11 walks. Basically, he was good for about three singles every 10 at-bats and nothing else. That's not too great, especially for a designated hitter (a role that Tyner unfortunately fell into towards the end of the season). He was playing in left field, Tyner provided very good defense with a surprisingly strong throwing arm; unfortunately, he was not able to utilize his defensive skill set for much of the year because Ron Gardenhire opted to trot the inferior White out there because he hit better when playing the field. In turn, this detracted quite a bit from Tyner's value. Still, he had a nice season for a 29-year-old journeyman.

LF - Shannon Stewart #23
174 AB, .293/.347/.368, 2 HR, 21 RBI, 19 K / 14 BB, 3/4 SB
Stewart was having a decent season before suffering a foot injury in July that ended his season. His power outage carried over from last year... he hit home runs in both of the Twins' first two games and did not hit another one for the rest of the season. Still, he hit for a solid average while he was playing. Unfortunately, his injury prevented him from being too valuable to the Twins this season, and when you can't run well or hit for a power, a .293 batting average only goes so far.

OF - Lew Ford #20
234 AB, .226/.287/.312, 4 HR, 18 RBI, 43 K / 16 BB, 9/10 SB
It is a sad fact that Ford received 230 at-bats while posting a miserable .226 batting average. Ford's only value to the team came as a replacement defender and as a pinch-runner, two roles he excelled in. Unfortunately, they don't make up for the black hole he was offensively.

OF - Jason Kubel #16
220 AB, .241/.279/.386, 8 HR, 26 RBI, 45 K / 12 BB, 2/2 SB
Things were looking bright for Kubel after he was recalled from the minor leagues in late May. He became a regular in left field and went on a sudden power binge, at one point hitting four home runs over a five-game period. That included a dramatic walk-off grand slam against the Red Sox on June 13. Unfortunately, things went downhill after June for Kubel. He hit .231 in July and .152 in August, and finished up by collecting just one hit in nine September at-bats. It was apparent that Kubel's surgically repaired knee was still giving him trouble; he couldn't run at all and was unable to play the field. Hopefully a full off-season of rest will allow Kubel to come back strong and hit like we all know he can in 2007. 2006, despite one great month, was overall a failure.

IF - Luis Rodriguez #38
115 AB, .236/.303/.388, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 16 K / 14 BB, 0/0 SB
Rodriguez was the Twins' backup infielder for 2006. Little was expected of him at the plate, and he provided little. He at least showed decent patience.

C - Mike Redmond #55
179 AB, .341/.365/.413, 0 HR, 23 RBI, 18 K / 4 BB, 0/0 SB
What more could you ask for from your backup catcher? Sure, Redmond hit for virtually no power and drew just four walks in 47 games, but he hit for a phenomenal average and played very solid defense. Plus, by all accounts, he was a tremendous clubhouse presence.

TEAM GPA: 2.42 (C+)

The starting nine, with the exception of White, were terrific. The bench, outside of Redmond and Tyner, left much to be desired. C+ is a low grade for this unit, and a more accurate GPA could be calculated if I were to weight the starters' grades more heavily than the bench players. Then again, I'm lazy. Pitching grades tomorrow.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Reviewing the ALDS Debacle

Right now, I think it's pretty clear that Twins fans don't want to think too much more about what just happened. It was awfully hard to sit and watch Brad Radke emotionally torn at the end of his career without a win to show for it. A lot of things went wrong over the course of the series and I'd like to go over those. But first, let's look at what went right:

1) Starting Pitching

There is simply no way you can blame Johan Santana, Boof Bonser, or even Radke for what happened against the A's. In Santana and Bonser's cases, they pitched very well, both only giving up two runs, only to lose to the A's thank to non-existent offensive support. In the case of Radke, he wasn't paricularly great, but his defense gave him no help, he had to watch the Twins fumble away two great scoring chances early in the game. Oh yes, there is another reason: the man had a broken shoulder!

In total, the starting pitchers gave the Twins eighteen innings, giving up eight runs (seven earned), allowing seventeen hits, walking three, and striking out 13 (thanks mostly to Johan). That adds up to a 3.50 ERA, which is not too shabby at all. I realize the Oakland A's offense wasn't good at all during the regular season, but they certainly appeared to have picked that up in the playoffs and you have to give them credit for that.

In general, the staff had a 3.81 ERA for the postseason, but we will get to the bullpen later.

2) Justin Morneau and Rondell White's bats

In fairness, Torii Hunter and Michael Cuddyer did decent, each having a home run and a couple of hits, but the only real offensive production came from Morneau and White. White went 5-for-12, with a home run, two RBI, and a double. He had the Twins only two-out RBI hit in the entire series, with the offense failing the other 18 times.

Morneau didn't have a two-out RBI hit himself, but he hit the ball hard all series, didn't strike out a single time, and hit two home runs. Morneau looked great at the plate, but because of not having runners on the basepaths and the great Oakland defense, he didn't have anymore RBI than his two solo shots.

Of course, both their defensive "contributions" are a little more questionable, but we'll get to that in just a moment.

3) Nick Punto's glove

Nick Punto was absolutely putrid offensively, going 2-for-12 with no walks and numerous frustratingly unproductive at-bats in the series. If anything, he proved why it would be useful to move him to second and replace him at third with a more productive hitter.

However, his defense was spectacular. In fact, he was probably the only Twin who played good defense for the whole series. His Game 1 highlight play was incredible, but he made plays like that all series. Unfortunately, his teammates didn't seem to notice and everyone else had a score of defensive issues. (Ok, to be fair, Luis Castillo and Joe Mauer didn't do anything wrong, but neither was great either.)

And now, what went wrong...

1) The Defense

I just discussed Punto's defense, which was spectacular, and mentioned White and Morneau's lack of it in passing. So, let's get to the core of the Twins playoff failure. Jason Bartlett, Morneau, White, Hunter and Cuddyer all made huge mistakes in the field.

To be fair to Morneau, he did make a good play early in the series, but his mistake in Game 3 was just as detrimental to any chance of a Twins win as Torii Hunter's misplay in Game 2 was. Both allowed several runs (in Justin's case, four, in Torii's, two) to score that should not have and gave Oakland the cushion they needed to cruise towards victory.

Bartlett was consistently bad over at shortstop, missing numerous plays, muffing a probable double-play in Game 1, and showing none of the great defensive ability he displayed during the regular season. Who knows if this will adversely affect his place in the Twins future, but it certainly hurt the Twins in the Oakland series.

As for the outfield, no one played well. White made a misplay on the Marco Scutaro (by the way, what is a .258 career hitter with no power doing the Twins in the playoffs? Is this the Revenge of the Castro?) double in Game One, helping lead to a key run that would mean a Twins loss. Cuddyer had an error of his own and also showed a lack of range in right field. Hunter, of course, made a costly error in Game 2 and I doubt Twins fans will forget that for a long time. Good thing it wasn't in the World Series, or poor Torii would have Bill Buckner Syndrome for the next 20 or 30 years.

2) The Offense

I already talked about this briefly, but that only scratches the surface of the problem. Amazingly, as a team, the Twins hit better than Oakland did over the series (.257 to .245) but that's nothing new. The Twins hit .287 during the regular season, but that didn't exactly make them a potent offense.

What was the problem? Of course, going 1-for-19 in RBI situations is huge, but that is one of many problems. For one, Jason Tyner should never EVER be a DH in a major league playoff game. Naturally, that isn't Tyner's fault, but a fault of the organization in never finding a decent bat to put in that slot and Phil Nevin never doing anything since he came to the club other than drinking some beer in the postgame celebrations and hitting a home run in a rout of Baltimore.

But a noticable issue was that all the Twins potential rallies started with two-out hits. The Twins had a total of six walks all series, three of them by Luis Castillo, two amazingly by Tyner, and one by Mauer. What that equates to is a .257 average and a very ugly .299 OBP. You can't win games if the only time you get on base is with two-out hits. That puts too much pressure on what is largely a young ballclub.

Also, the piranhas did nothing all series. Castillo did have those walks and a couple hits, but he didn't do the "little things" and was caught stealing in his only attempt. But he was the best of the piranha boys. Collectively, between Castillo, Bartlett, Punto, and Tyner, they went 8-for-40 (.200) and stole only one base. They also scored exactly zero runs.

If four of the hitters in your lineup are that unproductive, there is a clear reason why the Twins managed to score just seven runs all series. It wasn't so much that the Oakland starters were good (they were all decent, all showing some nerves and lack of control but great stuff at times) but that the Twins offense ended up being based solely on five solo home runs, an RBI groundout, and one RBI hit. There couldn't be a better recipe for failure.

3) The Bullpen

This is a subject I don't want to harp on as much as the others. This unit was not terrible, as its clear that the defense did them no favors as half the eight runs they gave up in eight innings were unearned.

Part of it was management. The Twins best reliever, Joe Nathan, threw only 2/3 of an inning, and that's pretty unacceptable. I'ts true that the Twins never had a lead all series, but it's the playoffs and that means changing strategies. If it's clear that your team has issues getting a lead, you need to try to preserve the score the best you can, especially when your starters leave with close scores (2-1 in Game 1, 2-2 in Game 2).

Jesse Crain should have never came into Game 1. It wasn't a bad pitch he threw that Frank Thomas took out, but that is a situation that calls for Nathan. Nathan should have pitched at least an inning, if not more, in both the first and second games. Game 3 got away from the Twins in a hurry and there was no reason for it, but Nathan's presence might have given the Twins at chance in Game 1 or 2.

4) The Oakland A's

Last and not least, the competition was good. The A's weren't given a chance by the national media or many people. I think here and on many blog sites, at least, it seemed that the A's should give the Twins a competitive series, but the Twins would win out because, after all, they had Santana and Nathan (clearly, that didn't matter, since Santana pitched well and loss and Nathan was hardly used).

In all of this we shouldn't overlook the fact that Oakland played well. All the things the Twins did poorly, the A's did well. They played incredible defense, especially in the outfield, taking numerous line drives that should have been hits away from Twins hitters. Their bullpen was fantastic, with Huston Street having no problems closing the door on the Twins.

Their hitters weren't great overall, but Thomas hit two huge home runs, they got situational hitting when they needed to, and they played with a swagger that didn't exist in the Twins' play.
Overall, there were many reasons for the Twins demise in the playoffs, but its our jobs as Twins fans not to forget the wonderful regular season. There were many great stories and numerous reasons to feel great about what happened.

Coming up next on this site, we'll review the regular season, give out the big rewards, look to the offseason and possible moves, and of course, keep updates coming on the playoffs as they move on. Tigers vs. A's, who ya got?

Saturday, October 07, 2006

End Game

And so ends the 2006 season of the Minnesota Twins.

It was an incredible season, unfortunately ending with a truly horrible playoff series. Yesterday, the Athletics completed a totally dominant three-game sweep in their home park, putting the Twins away 8-3 and moving on to the ALCS.

The problems for the Twins yesterday were the same ones that haunted them in the first two games of the series. No one could deliver hits with runners in scoring position, the defense committed costly errors, and the bullpen was not its usual flawless self.

Several Oakland runs could have been prevented with simple competence on defense. Milton Bradley's two-run homer in the third inning would have been a solo shot if Jason Bartlett had not allowed a groundball to roll right under his glove on the previous play. All four runs scored by the A's in the eighth could have been prevented if Justin Morneau had simply picked up a two-out grounder hit directly at him and stepped on first.

You can point fingers at particular bad breaks for this embarrassing sweep all you want. Torii Hunter diving and missing at a ball in center field. Hunter being called out at the plate on a play where he appeared to be safe. Bad hops, near misses, and close calls. The fact is that, while they might have contributed, none of these factors caused the Twins to lose this series.

They were completely outplayed by a team that was considered inferior by most analysts coming into the series. The Twins never once held a lead in the series, and scored just seven runs over three games--unacceptable production no matter how good your pitching is. Twins hitters went 1-for-19 with runners in scoring position, and had just one run-scoring hit in the series that was not a solo home run.

As it stands, Brad Radke's career likely came to an end yesterday, and it wasn't in the way we would have liked. Radke didn't pitch great, but he wasn't the reason they lost the game. Seeing him sit somberly in the dugout as the A's celebrated and the Twins players moped into the clubhouse was one of the sadder sights I have seen as a baseball fan.

The Twins put up one of the all-time duds in playoff history in their ALDS series against the A's, and it's tough not to be bitterly disappointed. Still, hopefully we won't let it take away too much from what was a truly great season.

We'll be back tomorrow with some more analysis of the series and in the following days with some season wrap-ups and analysis of the other playoff series.

If you haven't gotten quite enough of me yet, you can head over to the Minnesota Twins Fan Network Podcast site where I did a phone interview with Jeff Straub, which should be up today.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Prayers for a Frayer Shoulder

In thinking over the past day or so about what to write in looking towards today's game, I really couldn't come up with much. The games on Tuesday and Wednesday were tough to watch. Much like the down times in the regular season, it was hard to bear what was going on much less imagine the Twins had any chance to advance.

Similarly things look pretty down going into this afternoon's game. But here's something to remember: This series is already going down the trail of the regular season; starting off with everything going wrong before an incredible and unbelievable comeback.

Now, I make no predictions here, but who can't say that a great Brad Radke start and a Twins win wouldn't flow perfectly with what has already happened this year. I know that its tough to have faith in a guy who's shoulder is ready to fall off, but Radke has not given us any reasons to doubt him.

Of course, pitching really hasn't been a problem. I've seen complaints about the bullpen's performance so far, but without Torii's misplay Wednesday, things wouldn't look so bad. Such a small sample doesn't suggest for any reason that they are no longer trustworthy and both starters had good starts.

This year, the whole theme behind the season has been playing for Kirby. This has been reiterated by the daily video montages at the Metrodome and the comments we've hard all year from the likes of Torii Hunter, Ron Gardenhire, and others. Someone else needs to be added to that list and that is Radke.

I am not trying to make a comparison here or insult a great legacy, but Brad Radke is one of the best in Twins history. His ERA isn't anything great, but he pitched consistently well in a hitter's era and he has been a model teammate, citizen, pitcher, and athlete. Puckett deserves honor, but considering what Radke has done (It really can't be emphasized enough what a crazy and gutsy thing he has done this year), this Twins team needs to do him right as well.

Its time for the offense to break out and score some runs for the rare kind of athlete we won't see again for a while. If anything, this season needs to end the right way, with this Twins team giving the same relentless, run-every-play-out, ballsy effort that got them to the playoffs in the first place.

And remember Twins fans, that even if the season ends this afternoon, its been a wonderful, moving, unbelievable, unparalled, unpredictable season that should be remember for years to come.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Magic Missing

The Twins' Game 1 loss against the A's was a heartbreaker. Losing at home with your ace on the mound is always tough. Thus, the Twins came into yesterday's game needing a victory to head into Oakland with the series tied. It wasn't an elimination game, but it was the definition of a "must-win."

Unfortunately, it wasn't to be. Boof Bonser gave the Twins a solid effort on the hill, allowing just two runs over six innings, but once again the Twins failed to help him out by making countless mistakes at the plate and in the field.

No mistake was more grave than the one Torii Hunter made in the seventh inning. Dennys Reyes came on to pitch to Mark Kotsay with two outs and a runner on first. Kotsay hit a line drive to center that looked like it would drop in for a single, but Hunter for some reason decided to charge at it and make a diving attempt, coming up several feet short and allowing the ball to bounce past him and to the wall. Not only was Jason Kendall able to score from first, but Kotsay chugged all the way around to score on a rare inside-the-park home run. The two-run blunder by Hunter allowed the A's to promptly erase the two runs the Twins had scored in the previous inning to tie the game on home runs from Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau.
I don't want to be too hard on Torii, because I'm sure he is just sick with himself and there's no doubt that he'll be receiving plenty of criticism from other sources. Still, this is going to go down as perhaps the worst defensive play of his career. He exercised horrendous judgment; even if it was makable play (which it wasn't), it wasn't worth the risk with two outs and a lone runner at first base in a tie game. Hunter's play sucked every ounce of momentum out of the Twins after a big inning, and it would be easy to put the entire loss on his shoulders. I'm not going to.

The real culprit in this loss was once again the Twins offense, which was simply pitiful. Aside from the sixth inning, in which Cuddyer and Morneau led off with back-to-back homers, the Twins never had a baserunner with less than two outs, making a rally of any sort a daunting task. When they did manage to get a couple runners on with two outs, no one could step up and deliver a big hit, with Justin Morneau, Rondell White, Joe Mauer, Jason Bartlett and Nick Punto all leaving runners aboard with two outs.

Against Esteban Loaiza, who is likely the most hittable starter they will face in this series, the Twins could get nothing going. They tapped harmless grounder after harmless grounder, giving Oakland shortstop Marco Scutaro plenty of work by grounding out to him eight times in the game.

In the first two games of the series, the Twins hitters have been completely incapable of rallying for runs. Of the four runs they managed to score, three came on solo home runs. Not one player delivered a run-scoring hit outside of those homers, as the only other run in the series came on an RBI groundout. For a team that prides itself on a "piranha" type of play, with runners getting aboard and moving around the bases, that just can't happen. Perhaps the saddest thing in all of this is that they have been this offensively impotent in front of their home crowd. The thought of this offense trying to string together hits in an unfriendly opposing ballpark is frightening.

Back on Sunday, I wrote that the Twins appeared to be flattening out offensively, and the hitters seemed worn down after a long and difficult season. The offense looked horrible in the team's final homestand against the Royals and White Sox, and I feared that that slump might carry over into the playoffs. As it turns out, it has in a big way.

It was a magical season for the Twins, but now that magic seems to have gone missing. Very little has gone right in these first two games, and the Twins now find themselves on the brink of elimination just days after celebrating one of the most improbable division championships in the history of the league. Wherever that magic has gone, the Twins are going to need to recapture it and use it all in order to get themselves back in this series, as they now have to travel into Oakland and win against a couple very tough pitchers in Dan Haren and Rich Harden.

Sadly, it's pretty tough to see that happening.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Nerves + Sloppy Play + No Offense = Game 1 Loss

If anyone decides to pin yesterday's Game 1 loss on Johan Santana, they are either terribly mistaken, blind, or plain dumb. Santana pitched a very good game against the A's yesterday, going eight innings and striking out eight while allowing five hits, two runs, and a walk.

His defense certainly didn't help him. Nick Punto made some outstanding plays over the course of the game, including getting tangled with the chainlinks near the dugout on a great foul ball catch. Other than that, the list of mistakes is long: Rondell White's subpar play, helping the second run in with his slow feet on Marco Scutaro's double, and showing his non-existent arm, Michael Cuddyer's botched play on a carom off the wall that stretched a Nick Swisher single into a double, and Jason Bartlett dropping the ball on an easy double play to help load the bases in the seventh and forcing Santana to throw far more pitches than he should have in the inning.

Also, you can't really blame Santana or Jesse Crain for how good a hitter Frank Thomas still is. Forget the .270 regular season average. For one, he had a terrible April because he was still recovering from the painful surgery he had in his foot, not to mention getting used to metal permanently lodged in it. He hit 20 second half homers, drove in 68 runs in that time, and hit nearly .300. He hit a good Santana changeup out down the left field line and later took a 96 MPH sinking inside fastball from Crain out for a solo shot. Neither was a particularly bad pitch, but Thomas is so powerful that he managed to take them out anyway.

If anything, the mistake was not being more careful with the A's best hitter. In the playoffs, there is plenty of reason to pitch around a weak lineup's best hitter. The Padres made a similar mistake in pitching to Albert Pujols yesterday, and Pujols made them pay with a home run and two RBI. The comparison isn't that much of a strech, since Thomas was the best hitter on the 90s. (Best hitter, not player, mind you. Bonds was the best player.) There was no reason to give him anything near the strike zone if they could avoid it.

However, the general issue was nerves. Not for Santana, but for the rest of the Twins. Barry Zito was wild with his pitches from the start, but the Twins hitters helped him out as much as they could. No one other than Luis Castillo and Joe Mauer drew a walk and most didn't work the count very much at all. Despite being wild and unable to control his fastball, Zito threw only 33 pitches in the first three innings.

Because of that, it took the Twins 4 2/3 innings to get a hit and they didn't get on the board until Rondell White homered in the seventh. Despite all the mistakes, the Twins had chances but failed to capitalize. Jason (or "Josh," according to Jon Miller) Bartlett doubled to lead off the eighth, but the Twins were unable to bring him home. Michael Cuddyer tripled on a fly ball that Milton Bradley lost in the lights to start the ninth, but the next three batters were retired to end a rally attempt. Cuddyer scored on an RBI groundout, but the Twins still came up short.

Not following a good game plan, being nervous and overly aggressive, and expecting a magical eighth or ninth inning comeback in every game is terribly unrealistic. This is the playoffs. Oakland has a good bullpen and despite his 11 blown saves, Huston Street is a formidable closer. There aren't any Scott Dohmanns or Bruce Chens here to mercilessly beat around.

Now, don't get me wrong. By no means are the Twins done or anything. But they need to get serious fast and lose the nerves. Playing at the Dome is a huge advantage they need to exploit. Also, the recent managerial moves are downright ridiculous.

Are you going to tell me one bad start should mean no Matt Garza on the postseason roster? Carlos Silva is starting Game 4? The completely immobile Jason Kubel makes the team over fleet-footed Alexi Casilla? I like Glen Perkins, but Kubel should have stayed home. He doesn't help the bench at all. Sorry to burst everyone's bubble, but Silva really didn't have a great game Sunday. To the contrary, he looked very shaky and he is possibly the worst pitcher to send out against the A's. Guys like Thomas and Swisher will eat him up for line drive after line drive.

Not keeping Garza was an awful move. Despite his last start being not-so-great, he is a superior option to Silva. The only place Silva is useful is long relief. At this point, I'd take Perkins over him. The best news I can give fans right now is that Esteban Loiza starts today and with his mediocre stuff, hopefully the Twins bats can come alive. This is going to be a big, big start for Boof Bonser.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

ALDS Preview: Twins vs. Athletics

For the past few weeks, we've been gearing up for a first-round postseason showdown with the New York Yankees. It would have been the third time in the past four years that the two teams had met in the ALDS, and a good opportunity for the Twins to exact some revenge. Instead, a dramatic turn of events on Sunday has dictated that the Twins will face the Oakland Athletics in the first round of the playoffs, with Game 1 taking place at the Metrodome this afternoon.

The Twins and A's last met in the playoffs in 2002. In that series, the inexperienced Twins were considered a long-shot, and after falling behind 2 games to 1 it seemed inevitable that their upstart season would be coming to a quick close. However, the Twins came back with a blowout victory in Game 4 and squeezed by 5-4 in the decisive Game 5 to advance to the ALCS, where they lost to the eventual World Series champion Angels.

In that '02 series, major contributors for the Twins included Eric Milton and A.J. Pierzynski. Four years later, several players who the Twins received in trades for those players will be counted on for significant contributions: Boof Bonser, Joe Nathan, Nick Punto and perhaps even Carlos Silva.

Nowadays, the Athletics are built in a fairly similar mold to the Twins. They don't hit too much, but they can pitch and play defense. With that said, it should be noted that their offensive problems are far beyond anything the Twins experienced this season. Oakland ranked 13th out of 14 American League teams in batting average, and also ranked 13th in team slugging percentage, finishing just one point better than the impotent Royals. No Athletic batted over .300, although they do have some patient hitters who can get on base. Eric Chavez hit just .241, but managed a .351 OBP. Frank Thomas posted an unimpressive .270 batting average, but complemented that with an excellent .381 OBP. In fact, even though they ranked second-to-last in AVG and SLG, the A's ranked 7th in the AL in on-base percentage and drew more walks than any AL team other than the Red Sox.

Still, walks aren't particularly frightening, especially for a Twins staff that features great control. The most imposing bat in the Oakland lineup is of course Thomas, who put himself in the MVP conversation by hitting .270/.381/.545 with 39 HR and 114 RBI this year. He also posted an even K/BB ratio. Left fielder Nick Swisher is a dangerous hitter who ripped 35 home runs this year, but he also hit just .255 and struck out 150 times. Outside of those two, Oakland's lineup is less than intimidating. Chavez ranks third on the team in homers at 22, but he had a poor year offensively, hitting just .241/.351/.436. Only two players on the team (Jay Payton and Jason Kendall) hit for a better average than .275.

While both the Athletics and Twins feature pitching as a strong point, Minnesota's unit has got to be seen as a considerably stronger one. The Twins have a team ERA of 3.92, compared to Oakland's 4.17. The Athletics bullpen does not match up particularly well against the Twins, because their only left-handed reliever is Joe Kennedy, who, despite posting an excellent 2.31 ERA in 35 innings this season, lacks great stuff and has been a mediocre pitcher over the course of his career.

Here's a breakdown of the projected pitching match-ups for the first three games of the series:

Game 1, Today: Barry Zito (16-10, 3.83) vs. Johan Santana (19-6, 2.77)
You won't find much debate over the fact that Santana is the best pitcher in the major leagues. He was steady all season, giving his team a chance to win in every start he made, dominating opposing hitters with a league-leading 245 strikeouts and keeping runners off the basepaths with a 0.99 WHIP. Santana was somewhat susceptible to the long-ball this season, giving up 24 home runs, but that shouldn't be a major issue against this Oakland lineup. Trends indicate that Santana should have success in Game 1. He went 12-0 with a 2.19 ERA at the Metrodome this season, and he comes in hot with a 1.78 ERA in five September starts. He's also pitching on a full week's rest.

Zito had a solid season, but it was nothing to write home about. He issued a ton of walks (99, second in the league), so it is imperative that the Twins hitters show patience at the plate. Although he's a southpaw, Zito is generally tougher on right-handed hitters than lefties, as he tends to have trouble throwing his big curveball for strikes against left-handers. Mauer and Morneau will need to lay off that pitch, or else take it to left field for a base hit.

Game 2, Wednesday: Esteban Loaiza (11-9, 4.89) vs. Boof Bonser (7-6, 4.22)
One year ago, Bonser was probably sitting at home, having just finished a solid yet unspectacular season at the Triple-A level in which he posted a 3.99 ERA with a 1.31 WHIP. Now he's starting Game 2 of a playoff series, and he'll be hearing his unique first name echo through the cavernous Metrodome from 45,000 fans. The rookie Bonser showed a great ability to adjust in his first season in the big leagues, and in the season's final month he went 4-1 with a 2.63 ERA and was a major factor in the Twins climb to the top of the AL Central. If he can keep his emotions in check and continue to mix up his pitches and change speeds as effectively as he did throughout the later part of the season, he should be able to shut down the A's offense.

Oakland's decision to make Loaiza their Game 2 starter is rather puzzling to me. Loaiza did not have a very good year by any measure, and he got knocked around badly in his only start against the Twins in early April. Loaiza did pitch considerably better in the second half of the season (4.01 post-break ERA) than he did in the first half (6.43 pre-break), but he didn't have a great September and he also posted a 6.08 ERA on the road this season.

Game 3, Friday: Brad Radke (12-9, 4.32) vs. Rich Harden (4-0, 4.24)
Harden is an excellent young pitcher, but he missed much of the year with an elbow injury that limited him to 46 2/3 innings on the season. Harden made three starts in late September after returning from the disabled list. He looked good in the first couple, but he struggled mightily in his final start against the Angels on Sunday, issuing six walks in 3 2/3 innings. Nevertheless, if Harden is on his game, he is extremely tough to hit; he held opposing batters to a measly .191 average in the innings he did pitch this season. Because of his injury, Harden made only one start between April 26 and September 21. That was against the Twins on June 4, and he held them to one run on four hits over four innings, striking out six.

Radke is, of course, a huge question mark for the Twins. He has major shoulder issues that could seemingly end his season (and career) at any given time. After a horrendous start to his season, Radke was terrific in the second half for the Twins, going 5-2 with a 2.84 ERA after the All-Star break. He looked good in a five-inning start last Thursday, but it's impossible to know what will happen with Radke's shoulder. If he has to come out of the game early, it will likely be Carlos Silva or Scott Baker taking his place, which could be troublesome.



When I made my preseason predictions back in March, I picked the Athletics to represent the American League in the World Series. In fact, I had them getting there by defeating the Twins in a playoff series (although my setup them facing off in the ALCS). Well, with everything that has happened over the course of the year, I'm changing my tune. I just don't see the A's as having an advantage over the Twins in any facet of the game. The Twins have a better offense, a better bullpen, better starting pitching (with Santana able to go twice, if needed), better defense, and at least an equally good bench. All that, and they are able to play the first two games of the series in their own stadium, where they have been tougher to beat than any other team in the league.

All you have to do is a read a Bay-area newspaper to realize how much the A's are looking forward to playing in the Metrodome:
The A's will need all of that newfound energy, and more, in a place where infield choppers turn into doubles and drives to the outfield get lost in the Teflon. Oh, it is horrible. Wow, is it loud. A single victory there would be a titanic accomplishment.
Finally the Twins have escaped the underdog role that they've played all season long. They are pretty much unanimous favorites in this series with Oakland. How they will respond to this new situation remains to be seen, but I see no reason that this magical season should end with this series. Twins in four.