Huzzah!

July 23, 2007

In between Twins wins this weekend, I got a chance to take my family to a vintage baseball tournament in Stillwater. It is an annual event that takes place as part of Lumberjack Days. Aside from the novelty of watching 1860′s era baseball, it was also nice to see the game played outdoors.

My rooting interest was with the Quicksteps, a team that is made up of members of the local SABR chapter (though the Souvenir Programme made it clear that “cranks” are expected to yell “huzzah!” for good plays be either club). The other teams were the St. Croix Base Ball Club and the Afton Red Socks.

The early game between Afton and St. Croix wasn’t particularly close, but there were a few notes of interest. The umpire, who basically paces behind home plate during the game waiting for a disputed call, was getting a little cranky and started distributing $.25 fines to pass the time (in fairness, I would be cranky too if I had to wear an 1860′s suit in late July). One player was fined for spitting, while another was fined for “endangering the cranks” – he hit a foul ball into a group of people gathered on the third base line.

While the game looks similar, there are a few major differences. The biggest change to my eye was the “one bound” rule. A batter was ruled out if the fielder caught the ball in the air or on one hop. Pitches have to be delivered underhand and “to the batsman’s liking”, but the game is still very defensive due to the 90′ distance between bases and the softer ball that is used.

The Quicksteps and Red Socks played a more competitive second game that ended in a Red Socks win. My son made it clear that he didn’t want to stay for the third game.

I intended to post pictures, but the digital camera had not yet been invented, so I didn’t want to scare the players (or maybe I forgot to pack it…). Instead, I offer a video that I posted a year or so ago of Conan O’Brien enjoying some vintage baseball:

All in all it was a fun afternoon.

Friday night I was at the Metrodome for the first game of the Twins-Angels series. I think that, after the first four innings of that game, we can finally lay to rest the notion that the Twins are a team that “does the little things” well. This has been a season of base running errors, misplayed balls, and just some stupid plays. Forget that my position is that the sacrifice bunt is poor strategy 98% of the time, the Twins can’t even seem to execute a bunt properly so I can complain about the strategy.

The game itself was entertaining, almost in a little league sort of way. Still, a win is a win, and it was nice to see the Twins pull out a game by doing the “big things” like hitting home runs and triples. A little bit of power covers up an awful lot of those little mistakes.

Coffeyville Whirlwind will be on auto-pilot most of this week. I’ll be heading down to St. Louis for SABR 37. As of now, I am most looking forward to meeting Mike Marshall, who will be giving a presentation on the mechanics of pitching. In addition, there are some interesting player panels with some old Cardinals and Browns that should be interesting, and Joe Garagiola is the keynote speaker. If I have time, I will check in with some reports, and will still be checking comments and email since I still have posts scheduled through Wednesday.

Born on July 23:
Ray Scarborough b. 1917
Scarborough, a right-handed pitcher, played for Washington from 1942-1950, though he missed two seasons for military service. It was after the break that he became a reliable starter for the Nats, and had his best season in 1948. Scarborough was traded to the White Sox in the middle of the 1950 season, and bounced around with various teams until 1953. He was selected to the 1950 All Star team and pitched one inning in the 1952 World Series when he was with the Yankees.


A Couple of Monday Notes

July 16, 2007

1. Remember 2003?

AL Central Standings, All Star Break 2003

ALC     W   L    GB      WP      RS      RA
KCR    51  41     -     .554    484     478
CHW    45  49   7.0     .479    393     407
MIN    44  49   7.5     .473    431     466
CLE    41  53  11.0     .436    403     455
DET    25  67  26.0     .272    297     461

The first series after the break was a four-gamer with Oakland at the Dome. The Twins swept the A’s in that series, and went on to post a 46-23 record the rest of the way to overtake the White Sox and Royals for the division championship.

AL Central Standings, 2003 Final

ALC     W   L    GB      WP      RS      RA
MIN    90  72     -     .556    801     758
CHW    86  76   4.0     .531    791     715
KCR    83  79   7.0     .512    836     867
CLE    68  94  22.0     .420    699     778
DET    43 119  47.0     .265    591     928

This year, the Twins had a better record at the break, but still found themselves in third with quite a margin to make up.

AL Central Standings, All Star Break 2007

ALC     W   L    GB      WP      RS      RA
DET    52  34     -     .605    512     407
CLE    52  36   1.0     .591    471     414
MIN    45  43   8.0     .511    436     399
CHW    39  47  13.0     .453    354     420
KCR    38  50  15.0     .432    402     437

The first series after the break was a four-gamer with Oakland at the Dome. The Twins swept the A’s in that series…

2. The Curse is Over

My son saw his first Twins’ winner on Sunday at the Metrodome. Since it was an afternoon game, he actually was awake for the end (he napped during the middle innings), and slept happily in the car on his way home, no doubt dreaming about Joe Mauer walk-off hits and Twins wins.


Swinging Bunts: Recent history at Yankee Stadium

July 6, 2007

Haven’t written much about this year’s team in a while, so here goes:

There will be no tears shed by the Twins when Yankee Stadium sees its last game at the end of next season. That means the Twins will only play one, maybe two more series in the old stadium.

Since Ron Gardenhire took over as manager after the 2001 season, the Twins are 3-16 at Yankee Stadium, including yesterday’s loss. In fact, one of the trivia questions on the Twins broadcast this week was who are the only two Twins pitchers to have wins at Yankee Stadium since 2002 (the answers, of course Johan Santana, who has now won two, and Scott Baker).

In the Gardy era, the Twins are only 10-28 overall against the Yankees. Ron Gardenhire didn’t even see a win against the Yankees until his third season as manager, before which his teams were 0-13 against the Bronx Bombers.

A lot has been written around the Twins blogosphere regarding a lack of offensive production outside of the big four (Mauer, Cuddyer, Morneau, and Hunter). It has been a long time since the Twins have had four bats of that caliber in the same lineup (maybe Puckett, Hrbek, Davis, and Mack in 1991?), and it is frustrating that the team still struggles to score runs.

What is particularly frustrating, from a fan’s perspective, is that it would seem to be pretty easy to improve at positions like 3B or DH. It can’t really be much worse, and there are some options that would be relatively cost-effective alternatives to Punto and Tyner.

On the other hand, it may well be my son’s fault that the Twins are struggling. Some data:

Micah has been to the Metrodome for parts of nine games in his almost six-month-old life. The Twins are 0-9 in those games. Overall, the Twins are 22-20 at the Dome this year, meaning that they are 22-11 in games that my son has not attended.

In fairness, the Twins are 0-10 in games that my wife has been to, and 2-10 in games that I have been to.

Still, he will continue to go to games. Can you blame us?

061607smiley-5.jpg

I used to love the home run derby. Before it became a four-hour event I made sure to catch it every year. I still remember watching Juan Gonzalez putting on a show in Baltimore back in 1993. The past several years, however, have been hard to watch, mainly because of the time involved. Bud, you don’t need four rounds to decide who hits the most home runs. Just give each hitter 10 outs and let them hit.

I’ll probably flip to it this year, if for nothing else to see Justin Morneau hit, and to answer the cliff hanger question of the week: who will he ask to throw the pitches to him?


I’m Confused

June 14, 2007

Let me get this straight. One pitcher can pitch nine innings in the same game? I thought there was a rule against that kind of thing.

You can understand my confusion. The last time a Twins pitcher finished nine innings was almost two years ago, on August 12, 2005.

Carlos Silva, in his last outing on June 8 against Washington, allowed seven runs on nine hits and was out of the game with only three innings pitched. Since that time, his son was born. The day after my son was born I would have had trouble walking a straight line; Silva went ahead and pitched a nine-inning shutout.

And so it goes. Carlos Silva is officially the most infuriating member of the Twins. The last six days have been pretty representative of his Twins career. When he’s bad, he is about as bad as it gets. When he’s good, however, he can shutout a major league team and get you home in time for the 10 o’clock news.

Here’s to hoping that it won’t be two years before we see another.


Swinging Bunts: Pitching Debuts

June 4, 2007

It was good to see Kevin Slowey pitch well in his major league debut Friday night in Oakland. If you slept through it, he allowed just a run on five hits in six innings pitched. He got into some trouble, but, with the help of his veteran catcher, was able to wiggle out with little damage done. The only Oakland run came on an Eric Chavez home run in the bottom of the sixth. The Twins won the game in 10 innings, which is ultimately the most encouraging stat from Slowey’s debut.

Slowey’s effort prompted me find out how other franchise pitchers have fared in their debut games.

August 2, 1907: Walter Johnson pitched eight innings against the Detroit Tigers in his first major league game. He allowed two runs on six hits and earned a no-decision. He walked one and struck out three. By all accounts, Johnson’s first game impressed Ty Cobb, who would have nothing but praise for the Big Train throughout his career.

April 15, 1954: Camilo Pascual made his debut in relief. He pitched three scoreless innings in a 6-1 Washington loss to Boston at Fenway. Pascual spent most of his first two seasons pitching in relief.

August 2, 1959: Not all debuts have been great, or even good. Jim Kaat lasted just 2 2/3 innings, allowing three runs on two hits by the eventual AL Champion White Sox. He retired the White Sox in order in the first, but ran into trouble in the third. Two of the runs he allowed were unearned due to a Zolio Versalles error, but Kaat didn’t do himself any favors by walking three men.

June 5, 1970: Bert Blyleven allowed just one run on five hits in seven innings pitched against the Washington Senators. He struck out seven, but allowed the first of his 430 major league home runs when Lee Maye took him deep in the first.

June 6, 1982: Frank Viola allowed three runs in 4 1/3 innings pitched against Baltimore. He struck out three Orioles and walked three in his debut game, a game that the Twins eventually lost in 11 innings.

June 25, 1990: Scott Erickson won his major league debut by holding the Texas Rangers to one run on four hits over six innings pitched. The Twins won the game 9-1.

April 29, 1995: In his 12-year career, Brad Radke made one appearance out of the bullpen. That relief outing occurred in his very first game. He came on in the fourth with the Twins trailing 7-3 to the Orioles. Radke allowed four runs on five hits over three innings pitched in an eventual 13-7 loss for the Twins.

April 3, 2000: Johan Santana pitched an inning of scoreless relief against Tampa Bay. The inning closed out an embarrassing opening day shutout at the hands of the lowly Devil Rays. Santana’s first start came four days later in Kansas City, where he allowed just one run in five innings pitched.

While on the subject of history (imagine that-history on this blog), Saturday night’s game in Oakland was a bit of a throwback. The 1-0 Oakland victory took just 1 hour 49 minutes to complete. The two teams combined to use just two pitchers, whose lines are below (from baseball-reference.com).

Minnesota Twins            IP     H   R  ER   BB  SO  HR    ERA   BF  Pit-Str   GB-FB  GmSc  IR-IS
C Silva, L (3-6)            8     5   1   1    1   2   0   3.86   27  101-64    14-5     69    -
Totals                      8     5   1   1    1   2   0          27  101-64    14-5          0-0 
Oakland Athletics          IP     H   R  ER   BB  SO  HR    ERA   BF  Pit-Str   GB-FB  GmSc  IR-IS
J Blanton, W (5-3)          9     3   0   0    0   6   0   3.81   30  108-76    13-8     87    -
Totals                      9     3   0   0    0   6   0          30  108-76    13-8          0-0 

It’s unfortunate that the Twins lost the game, but encouraging that Carlos Silva’s problem this year seems to be a lack of run support, not a generous helping of opposing home runs.

I noticed early that umpire Marvin Hudson’s strike zone had pinhole qualities, and it was remarkable that there was just one walk in the first few innings. The zone seemed to open up as the game went along, probably due to the fact that both pitchers were hitting it consistently.

I saw some highlights of a Pirates game this weekend. Pittsburgh is a team that has a history of some strange uniforms, but this one takes the award. Its a shame to have such a nice stadium and destroy the aesthetic by wearing red vests to play baseball. No wonder they haven’t had a winning season in 15 years.

Finally, some baby pictures!
051807hat.jpg

052107newchair.jpg

052407closeup3.jpg

(he’s four months old, still hasn’t seen a Twins’ win live…)


Swinging Bunts: Four out of Six

May 25, 2007

I have been spending a lot of time recently looking at newspaper reports from the 1920′s, and have to say that they really don’t make baseball writing like they used to. Here’s my Twins recap in the style of a 1920′s sportswriter:

TWINS FINAL GAME 5-3; TAKE 2 OF 3 FROM A GAME TEXAS TEAM; WILL COME HOME TOMORROW

Morneau’s Homerun in Third Helps Team

Twirler Bonser earns Third Victory with Win

Nathan Fans Mighty Sosa with Winning Run at the Plate in Final Inning

ARLINGTON, May 23 – Gardenhire’s men are at a time in the schedule when they need to win, and they fought valiantly in the ball game today to earn a 5-3 victory. At the end of the day, it came down to the bat of the mighty Sosa, who came to the plate against Nathan with two men on and two out in the bottom of the penultimate inning. The cheers in Texas were quited by Nathan, who fooled the slugger with a dancing slider, causing Sosa to take a gargantuan swing that hit only air, as the ball had sailed safely into the glove of the catcher.

The day started well for the local boys, who tallied five runs in the first four frames against Texas twirlers Tejada and Wilson. It was in the third when MVP Morneau’s prized bat smote Texas for the slugger’s 14th round tripper of the year, a pill that has yet to find land.

I don’t think I would cut it in 1920.

In all seriousness, it is good to see the Twins winning series again. Hopefully this will continue, particularly with the return of Joe Mauer looming.

One concern I have with this team moving forward, however, is the bullpen. It’s all fine and good to put your starters on a strict 100-pitch count when you have an all-world bullpen; but when your relief corps is only four deep due to injuries, it would be a nice to be able stretch the starters a bit. This is particularly true given that two of the five starters are prone to have very short outings on occasion.

The reason that I have been spending so much time in the NYT and Sporting News archives is for this very blog. Next week is “1924″ week here at CW. You won’t get any more of my attempts at capturing the verbose goodness of old sports writers. What you will find, starting tomorrow, is a recap of every game of the ’24 series, plus several other posts themed around the franchise’s first World Championship team. It has been a lot of fun to research and write about a team that featured future Hall of Famers Walter Johnson, Goose Goslin, Sam Rice, and Bucky Harris; hopefully it will be as interesting to readers.

MLB released the 2007 post season schedule, and there are some major changes this year. Due to more off-days in between series, and one odd day added between games 4 and 5 of the LCS’s, the seventh game of the World Series is scheduled for November 1. I like the 162-game schedule, but if television is going to keep pushing the World Series later and later, I think it may be time for MLB to take a look at cutting back a bit, maybe back to the pre-1961 154-game schedule. I would prefer to wipe out the entire first round of the playoffs, but I am in the minority on that issue.

A great way to cut the games from the schedule would be to get rid of inter-league play. The idea seems to have run its course. I have tolerated it for several years based on baseball’s claim that it bumped attendance. A recent article in the Baseball Research Journal by Gary Gillette and Pete Palmer, however, indicates that the percieved attendance spike created by inter-league play is actually a mirage, and, at this point, brings very few to the ballpark who would not have come otherwise.

Lest I sound too much like a traditionalist, I feel it fair to point out that I actually like the designated-hitter rule.

If you haven’t had a chance, make sure to check out the relatively new blog at TwinsCards.com. Aside from posts by an author familiar to CW readers, there is some fun material related to card collecting (particularly mistakes made on cards), and trivia!

Have a great Memorial Day Weekend (and check back for the first few games of the 1924 World Series)!


Swinging Bunts: 16 On the Board

May 15, 2007

I had the chance to catch the Sunday night game, one of the few games this season that I have been able to watch (including those that I attend – the baby tends to take most of my attention even at the ballpark). Sunday’s game just happened to be the one where the Twins’ bats chose to wake up from a several week-long slumber. Here are some notes from the 16-4 win.

-Torii Hunter knocked in seven runs in the victory. It was the 15th time in franchise history that an individual player knocked in 7+ RBI in a game. Two players have knocked in eight runs: Glenn Adams on 6/26/1977 and Randy Bush on 5/20/1989. 11 different players have hit seven in a game (Kirby Puckett and Brent Alyea each did it twice). The most recent (prior to Hunter’s game on Sunday) was A.J. Pierzynski’s effort against the Rockies on 6/12/2003.

-The last time that the Twins scored 16 runs as a team was last season against Milwaukee on 5/20/2006 (it is possible to trace the Twins’ 2006 turn around to that series – in fact, the Twins went 77-42 after this game). Sunday was the 31st time in the history of the franchise that the team scored 16 or more in a single game. The biggest run production in a single game came in a 24-11 victory over the Tigers on 4/24/1996.

-The offense had 22 hits on Sunday. The last time the team had that many was last August 6th against the Royals. The franchise record for hits in a game came on 6/4/2002, when the team had 25 hits against Cleveland in a 23-2 victory.

-I compiled this list after last season’s 15-5 victory over Texas on May 9. This is prior to the 5/20/06 Brewers game mentioned above; and the Twins had another 15-2 victory over Texas on July 31.

-It was a fun game for the offense, but all is pretty meaningless if they can’t follow up with a sustained winning streak of some kind. A 16-4 win over the division leader can take some of the sting off of a 3-6 homestand, but it does not erase the fact that the Twins are still a sub-.500 team.


The “Get to Know ‘Ems” in 2007

May 11, 2007

After almost a decade of losing, the Twins’ fortunes finally turned in 2001. In Tom Kelly’s final season as manager, a group of players that had, for the most part, done their time together in the minors broke out at the same time and made a run at the division title. The Twins have been contenders ever since, but the 2007 team hardly resembles that first group that played under the marketing slogan “Get to know ‘em”.

Slowly, that group of players from 2001 went their separate ways. All the while, fans and media lamented the small-market nature of the Twins Cities, and at times blasted management for letting the stars get away.

Seth Stohs at sethspeaks.net does a great job keeping track of former Twins in the majors, and in his most recent update, I noticed something. Here is a typical lineup from 2001-2002, with a 2007 update.

1. Jacque Jones LF – .280/.347/.283 (Cubs)
2. Cristian Guzman SS – .143/.200/.143 (Nationals)
3. Corey Koskie 3B – no stats – DL (Brewers)
4. David Ortiz DH – .311/.425/.623 (Red Sox)
5. Torii Hunter CF – .339/.373/.619 (Twins)
6. Doug Mientkiewicz 1B – .230/.293/.392 (Yankees)
7. A.J. Pierzynski C – .228/.284/.426 (White Sox)
8. Bobby Kielty RF – .174/.259/.217 (A’s)
9. Luis Rivas 2B – .286/.330/.438 (Buffalo AAA)

SP. Brad Radke – retired
SP. Eric Milton – 0-4 5.17 ERA (Reds)
SP. Mark Redman – 0-4 10.62 (Braves)
SP. Joe Mays – 1-2 4.58 (Las Vegas AAA)
SP. Kyle Lohse – 1-3 3.21 (Reds)

RP. LaTroy Hawkins – 0-3 8.59 (Rockies)
RP. J.C. Romero – 0-0 3.86 (Red Sox)
RP. Eddie Guardado – no stats – DL (Reds)

There are a few exceptions (Ortiz being the major one), but who would trade the current lineup for this?

Most glaring to me is the starting pitching. Mays, Milton, Redman, and Lohse were supposed to be a great starting staff for years to come.


Offensive Woes

May 7, 2007

The Twins went 2-4 over the last week against Tampa Bay and Boston. The biggest reason for the slump the team is currently fighting is the fact that the offense has all but disappeared.

It is pretty easy to pinpoint where the lack of offense is coming from. Below is a chart of 2007 Twins offensive production by position (sOPS+ is from Baseball Reference and it is basically the OPS+ relative to position).

Pos AVG/OBP/SLG sOPS+
C .331/.397/.415 134
1B .267/.348/.483 116
2B .250/.301/.282 55
SS .268/.343/.320 85
3B .217/.393/.317 66
LF .225/.275/.270 45
CF .339/.373/.619 160
RF .277/.321/.412 101
DH .290/.369/.402 113

The name of the game for the lineup is scoring runs, and only two Twins have contributed meaningfully to that end: Mauer and Hunter. The start of the season has been disappointing for last year’s MVP, and there hasn’t been much offense outside of those three. The piranhas don’t seem to be biting in 2007.

To compound the problem, one of the two productive hitters from the first month plus of the season is likely to be out for a while. While the quality of the starting pitching has been a pleasant surprise, it looks like it could be a tough May for the Twins.


A Note on the Twins-Rays Series

May 4, 2007

The Twins have wrapped up the season series with the lowly Rays, and there are few ways to imagine it going worse for the team. I am reminded, however, of a time when it did.

On August 9, 2001 the Twins were tied with Cleveland for the AL Central lead. A four game series in Tampa Bay loomed, with three more games between the two at the Metrodome a week later. It seemed as though this would be a great spot for the Twins to possibly open up some space between themselves and the Indians. The Devil Rays came into the series with a 38-77 record, worst in the AL.

The Rays swept the four games in Tampa Bay. Most of the games were competitive, but the run differential was no consolation for the Twins, who fell 1.5 games behind Cleveland by the end of the series.

After losing three straight to Cleveland to fall 4.5 games back, the Twins extended their losing streak to eight on the front end of the three game series with the Rays at the Dome. A Saturday night win was all the Twins could muster against the suddenly world-beating Rays.

In a ten day’s time, the Twins had dropped nine games, six to the Devil Rays, and were essentially out of the Central division race because of it.

In 2007, the Twins lost the season series to the Rays four games to three. All of the losses came before May 4. All this to say that it could be worse.


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