Series Preview in Blog: Detroit Tigers (Round 3)

This post is also published at Stick and Ball Guy’s site. Stop by and check out what SBG Nation has to say.

Minnesota Twins (40-37) @ Detroit Tigers (46-31)

The Twins finished their short homestand with a win on Thursday to give them a series split with Toronto. They begin a 10-day, 11-game road trip with a weekend series against the Tigers. The Twins currently have an 18-17 record on the road. After this series, Minnesota heads into the All-Star break with four-games against the Yankees and four more against the White Sox. The Tigers found their four-game series against Texas shortened to three with a rainout on Wednesday. Before the rainout, the Tigers had lost the first two games, but they rebounded on Thursday to avoid a sweep behind a good outing from Kenny Rogers. Before this series the Tigers blew through the National League with an 8-1 road trip in interleague play. The Tigers are in the midst of a long homestand, as they have 12 games against the Rangers, Twins, Indians, and Red Sox. That will even things out a bit, as before the current homestand the Tigers had played 10 more games on the road than at home (19-16 record at Comerica). The Tigers currently stand in first place in the AL Central, one half game ahead of Cleveland, and six games ahead of the Twins. All things considered, it’s a good time to be a Tigers fan.

According to this guy, the Tigers have a couple of sure Hall of Famers in their lineup, and there are a few others who may get a look currently in the AL Central.

Detroit has been scoring runs at a very impressive pace so far this season. Coming into the season, the Tigers offense was believed to be pretty potent, but thus far they have surpassed all expectations. In fact, in addition to some impressive streaks, several players are on record-setting paces. It’s good to know that even with all the success, there are still some hitters that can be had.

Fortunately the Twins won’t have to worry about Gary Sheffield for two of the three games in this series.

The Tigers are throwing some successful pitchers at the Twins. The three Tigers starters have a record of 20-4 with a 3.25 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP in 33 starts. They have averaged 6 1/3 innings pitched per start.

The series opens with the marquee matchup, Johan Santana vs. Justin Verlander (9-2, 2.78). Verlander has only allowed four runs over his last four starts, which include two shutouts and one no-hitter, with all the requisite superstitions being observed. The Twins handed him one of his two losses in his shortest start this season back in April (3.0 IP, 5 R, 8 H, 0 SO).

Saturday afternoon Kevin Slowey will take on Andrew Miller (3-1, 2.70), who has four starts this season, all against the National League. Miller replaced Chad Durbin in the rotation, and even though he’s had some success so far (two starts with 0 runs allowed), people are pleading caution with his development.

Scott Baker will pitch the finale on Sunday night opposite Jeremy Bonderman (8-1, 3.90). Bonderman went 4-1 in June despite allowing 4 runs per start with an ERA of 4.99. Bonderman will be attempting to get back to a .500 record for his career, after a very rough start.

While the starting pitching has been solid, the bullpen has been the source of some gnashing of teeth. The Tigers have taken some steps to adress their issues, the aforementioned moving of Chad Durbin from the rotation to the bullpen, as well as the callup of Eulogio De La Cruz. In addition, Wilfredo Ledezma was traded to the Braves for Macay McBride. There is some debate as to whether this actually helped the Tigers very much.

Verlander taking the new guy under his wing (from Roar of the Tigers)

Todd Jones has been a target of a lot of the bullpen criticism, although he still has the manager’s confidence. And, really, his problems are all very simple, once they are properly explained.

That’s a lot of words about one bullpen. It might be simpler to understand the Tigers relief corps through some mind-altering drugs.

Finally, the Tigers recently traded Mike Maroth, who is, without a doubt, one of the classiest major leaguers out there. He suffered through the losing years and, because of injury, didn’t get to fully share in the successes of last year. Now this year he found himself the odd man out of a good rotation, but still took the time to thank Detroit fans on his blog (June 23rd entry). It hasn’t been decided who Maroth has been traded for, but here’s a novel approach to name the ever popular ‘player to be named later’.

The Sinister Side of the Twins

The word “left” comes from ‘lyft’ which means worthless in Old English. The left side of the Buddhist yin and yang symbol represents darkness. The German word linkisch means left, but can also be translated as awkward, clumsy, or socially inferior. Likewise, mancino means both left and dishonest in the Italian language. In a similar vein, the Latin word ‘sinister’ initially meant left, but eventually changed to mean evil or unlucky. The Twins, being one of the most etymologically aware teams in Major League Baseball, have done their best to adhere to these principles, and indeed, the left side (3B, SS, LF) has been by far the weakest link in the Twins offense in the 2007 season.

Here are the Twins who have appeared in at least 10 games at one of the positions named above, and their stats in those games. (All stats accurate through Monday 6/25)

Third Base:

Cirillo 10 39 13 2 1 1 2 1 .371 .405 .571
Punto 54 224 48 7 2 1 25 32 .244 .329 .315
263 61 9 3 2 27 33 .263 .340 .353
AL 3B 263 62 13 1 8 23 46 .264 .335 .436

Cirillo has been doing very well when he has been in as Punto’s replacement at third base. His numbers bring the Twins 3B up to league average in BA and OBP, but Punto’s numbers lag behind in two of the three rate categories (on base % being the exception), and as a whole the largest discrepancy is in slugging percentage, but that isn’t much of a surprise. Even in Punto’s breakout 2006 season, his SLG was at .373, still well below third basemen league wide.

The bad news is that, after a bit of rebound in May (.364 OBP with a .639 OPS overall), Punto has struggled mightily in June (.175/.268/.254, .522 OPS) doing very little to improve the standing of the left side in the Twins lineup.


Bartlett 63 236 52 8 0 1 23 27 .250 .335 .303
Punto 10 37 3 1 0 0 5 6 .094 .216 .125
273 55 9 0 1 28 32 .229 .319 .279
AL AVG 273 67 13 1 5 19 39 .271 .326 .392

Again, there is a noticeable lack of power from this position as Bartlett and Punto have managed to slug .113 points less than American League shortstops as a whole. The on base percentage is very close to average, and Bartlett’s is a little above.

I’m a Bartlett fan, so I feel duty-bound to point out that his average has come up each month to the point where he has hit .270/.338/.333 thus far in June. Although the power numbers still aren’t there for Jason, he’s getting on base at an above average clip compared to other AL shortstops.

Left Field:

Ford 18 69 15 3 0 1 4 9 .238 .304 .333
Kubel 43 164 38 8 0 5 8 27 .248 .288 .399
Tyner 10 33 8 2 0 0 2 2 .258 .303 .323
266 61 13 0 6 14 38 .247 .294 .372
AL AVG 266 63 13 2 6 22 43 .264 .328 .407

Finally, we see some league average power! Well, almost. This position looks the bleakest of three at first glance as the Twins threesome of Ford, Kubel, and Tyner combined to hit .017 points below AL left-fielders in BA, get on base at a rate that’s .034 points below and slug .035 points worse. Kubel has taken over the lion’s share of the playing time and, unsurprisingly, he has shown the most power of these three, although saying anyone has more power than Ford and Tyner isn’t too much of a statement.

Kubel also got off to a slow start, but has seen his numbers improve (SLG – .348 in April, .366 in May, and .500 in June). Kubel’s .814 OPS in June is actually higher than average (.735) for an AL left-fielder, and he probably represents the Twins best chance to put up above average offense from one of these three positions going forward.

To sum everything up, the AL average for these three positions are .266/.337/.411 while the Twins are getting .245/.316/.334 from these six players for an OPS that is almost a full .100 points below league average. Kubel is the only player mentioned here who has shown some signs of power, and he has started to come on as the season has progressed. I didn’t include Cirillo in that sentence, because I don’t think anybody is convinced that Cirillo could continue to slug .571 with meaningful playing time. As far as on-base percentage goes, Bartlett and Punto are the highest in this group, but neither has an OBP above .340, and neither has any power to speak of. And that’s the main story here, the left side of the Twins so far this season has been populated with players who are serviceable at times as far as getting on base, but the power outage from these positions is what has frustrated most Twins fans.

Series Preview in Blog: Toronto Blue Jays (Round 2)

<div style=”text-align:center;font-family:times new roman;”><span style=”font-size:130%;”><span style=”font-weight:bold;”>Minnesota Twins (38-35) v. Toronto Blue Jays (37-37)</span></span><br /></div><br /><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”>The Twins return home for 4 against the Jays after completing their interleague schedule with a 4-2 road trip to the east coast. The last time they faced the Blue Jays they were in the midst of turning around a bad start to May and battling their way toward .500. They won two of three from the Blue Jays, giving them their third straight series win (a streak they would extend to five). Currently, the Twins have begun to heat up a bit after another slow start to June, winning their last two series as they battle to stay above .500. Hopefully, the Twins can engineer a similar result and take this series as well. Toronto got back to .500 with a 3-game sweep of Colorado to finish off a 6-3 homestand. Minnesota is the first stop on a 10-game road trip for Toronto, who will head west to take on Seattle and Oakland after they are finished in the Twin Cities. The Blue Jays are currently in second place in the AL East, 11 games behind the first place Red Sox. They have a pretty large home/road split, with a 13-19 record away from Toronto. The Twins are a much more balanced 20-18 at the Metrodome.</span><br /><br /><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”>In the last series, The Jays scored 14 runs (8 of them coming via HR) on 29 hits (6 HR) in three games. Doing the most damage were Alex Rios (7-15, HR), Lyle Overbay (5-15, HR, 4 RBI), and pinch hitter Adam Lind (2-3, HR). Frank Thomas had an interesting series as he only got two hits, but because they both went for extra bases (a double and a home run), and he drew 4 walks, his OPS for the series was and intimidating 1.129. On another note, Thomas is currently sitting at </span><a href=”″>499 career home runs</a><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”>. Given that he has hit more home runs (49) against the Twins than any other team, it only seems fitting that he would come to town now.</span><br /><br /><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”>On to the Bluebirds:</span><br /><br /><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”>The Jays have made it back to .500 for the first time since May 1. But, while it may seem like they are still in the hunt for a playoff spot, it’s </span><a href=”″>an uphill battle from here</a><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”>. And while it’s encouraging for Jays fans to see their team playing better, the </span><a href=”″>increasing payroll</a><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”> serves as a reminder that </span><a href=”″>this team is still underachieving</a><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”>. As is usually the case, the </span><a href=””>manager is taking some heat</a><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”> for that. Jays fans have also been giving Frank Thomas a hard time, and the Big Hurt </span><a href=””>fired back last week</a><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”> (as to be expected from a blog called Drunk Blue Jays Fans, the language is a bit off color, just thought you’d like to know). Perhaps he should have talked to Vernon Wells about how to properly respond to a heckler.</span><br /><br /><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”>The Jays rotation has seen some changes since they were last here. Then the Twins faced Jesse Litsch (currently in AAA), Tomo Ohka (released), and A.J. Burnett (15-day DL, although he may start on Thursday). This time they will face 80% of the Jays rotation, only missing Dustin McGowan, which is notable for two reasons: First off, he’s got </span><a href=””>fantastic sideburns</a><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”>. Secondly, he nearly threw a no-hitter on Sunday against Colorado.</span><br /><br /><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”>The Twins missed Roy Halladay due to his appendectomy in May, but he’ll start the series opener against Kevin Slowey. Halladay (8-2, 4.08 ERA, 1.21 WHIP) has been outstanding again this year, except for a couple of starts surrounding his DL stint. In his last three starts, he’s 3-0 with a 2.42 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP averaging 7+1/3 innings per start. He’s one of the most </span><a href=””>well liked people in Toronto sports</a><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”>, and he just reached a </span><a href=””>milestone 1,000 career strikeouts</a><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”> in his last start. That’s a lot of positives for Doc, surely he’s due for rude awakening, right?</span><br /><br /><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”>Tuesday’s game will match up Scott Baker (5.1 IP, 3 ER, 4 BB in his </span><a href=”;content_id=1985907&amp;vkey=wrapup2005&amp;fext=.jsp&amp;c_id=mlb”>May start</a><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”> vs. Toronto) against </span><strike>Sean</strike> <strike>Shawn</strike><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”> Shaun Marcum (3-0, 2.45 as starter, 8 starts) who has </span><a href=””>stepped in and done a very good job</a><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”> for the Jays since becoming a part of the rotation. In his eight starts thus far he’s had three where he didn’t allow a run.</span><br /><br /><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”>Wednesday will feature Boof Bonser and Josh Towers (1-5, 5.68 as starter, 7 starts) who started the year in the rotation, was bumped to the bullpen, then </span><a href=””>reinstated as a starter</a><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”> earlier this month. Towers </span><a href=””>hasn’t been lights out</a><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”> by any stretch of the imagination, but he certainly hasn’t benefited from superior defense either. 6 of the 30 runs he has allowed in his starts have been unearned. His teammates have tried to help him out in other ways though. Frank Thomas (always looking for someone to yell at) </span><a href=””>chewed him out</a><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”> in the middle of one of his starts, and it seemed to help a little bit. Perhaps he was too busy concocting his next </span><a href=””>revolutionary action</a><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”> to worry how he was pitching that day.</span><br /><br /><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”>In the series finale the Jays are scheduled to throw A. J. Burnett, but he will be coming off the 15-day disabled list (shoulder), so it’s possible he won’t be ready. He pitched well against the Twins in May, only allowing 3 hits and 3 walks in an 8-inning complete game. Add in a hit batsman and a throwing error (by A. J. himself) and the Twins were able to score 4 runs while stranding only 3 baserunners in their 4-2 victory. Carlos Silva got the win in that game (7.1 IP, 2 ER, 6 H), and Thursday is scheduled to be the rematch (this time it’s personal!) betwixt these two starters. Given Burnett’s injury history, it wouldn’t be that surprising if the Jays took it easy with him with regard to pitch counts. Up until now </span><a href=””>they certainly haven’t</a><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”>. At least when he’s on the DL, A. J. is </span><a href=””>capable of amusing himself</a><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”>.</span><br /><br /><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”>Finally, first there was the <a href=”″>Frank Thomas commercial</a> that was taken off the air in Canada. Now, after seeing this </span><a href=””>A. J. Burnett commercial</a><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”>, I’m noticing a trend, and I have to ask, why must the Blue Jays hit everyone in the head? Everyone knows, for true comedy, you have to </span><a href=””>go for the groin</a><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”>. (this commercial was banned from TV, so it could be inappropriate for some)</span>

Minnesota Wild 2007 Draft Class

The Wild were eliminated from the playoffs this year by a physical Ducks team that steamrolled not only Minnesota, but everyone in the NHL on their way to the Stanley Cup. Clearly that experience weighed on the minds of the Wild front office as all their selections were players known for their physical presence. In fact, in the first round, they passed over some smaller skilled players to get the grinding forward they were looking at. The Wild also drafted heavily from the Canadian ranks taking 4 of their 5 picks from the Western Hockey League of our neighbors to the north.

These guys won’t be suiting up for the Wild next season (none of the 2006 draft class have even been signed yet), they’ll probably remain in their respective leagues for at least another year as the Wild have two years to ink them to a deal. Hopefully, someday in the not too distant future we’ll see these guys suiting up for the Wild.

Here’s a look at who the Wild drafted this weekend:

1st Round (16th overall pick) – Colton Gillies, 18 years old, 6’3, 189 lbs., Center, Saskatoon Blades (WHL)

The Minnesota Wild traded their first (#19) and second (#42) round picks to the Anaheim Ducks in order to move up three spots in the first round and draft 18 year old Colton Gillies of the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades.

“I didn’t see it coming.” said Gillies, who was thrilled with his future destination. “I had 26 meetings with teams but today’s meeting went well and here I am. I’ve been told that it is an unbelievable hockey city. I’m really excited to be a Wild.”

With a couple of other big names still sitting in the audience in Columbus (Cherepanov and Esposito for example), I have to wonder if the Wild could have stayed put and allowed Gillies to fall to them in the 19 slot. But at least one mock draft (ESPN) had him going to Calgary at #18, and indeed it seemed that the Flames had some interest. So the Wild just wanted to make sure they got their man.

“He’s definitely one of the best skaters in the Draft. He plays with a physical edge and he plays hard. The way the game is going, you have to have some size up front that can play. We feel that is a need in the organization and we feel he fits that need better than anyone in the Draft. You can’t just have big guys that can’t get there. They have to be able to skate and they have to play with an edge to them.”

-Tom Thompson, Minnesota Wild Assistant GM

In his last season with Saskatoon, Gillies netted 30 points (13 goals, 17 assists) while being assessed 148 penalty minutes in 65 games. Saskatoon was a very young team who struggled at times during the season and missed the WHL playoffs, so the supporting cast probably didn’t help Gillies out too much. He also played through a couple of nagging shoulder and ankle injuries which may have decreased those point totals as well.

Colton is the nephew of former Islanders winger Clark Gillies (who was the bruiser on a line with Trottier and Bossy) although he’s never met the guy. He grew up in British Columbia cheering for the Canucks (we’ll have to work on that). He was highly regarded coming into the WHL (drafted 2nd overall in WHL entry draft) but that enthusiasm has tempered somewhat due to back to back low offensive output seasons. Still he was rated the 12th overall prospect by the International Scouting Service.

There may be more difference of opinion on Gillies than on any other player expected to go in the first or second round.

-Jon Press, at AOL Fanhouse

The general consensus is that Gillies is a very good skater, who will lay some hits, work hard, play well in the defensive zone and get physical. People are much more divided on his hockey sense and scoring touch. His skating speed came up again and again as being very special for a player of his size. The difference betwixt the opinion of him in the defensive zone (where he’s very good), and the offensive zone (where reviews are mixed at best) is very sharply divided. Some have begun to propose a switch to defense for the young center to maximize the impact of his skills and given the Wild’s success with a similar move for Brent Burns, I can’t say I would be shocked to see the switch.

Central Scouting Service had this to say about Gillies:

A power forward with great size… out muscles his opponents and has the ability to land punishing hits… has great speed and is very consistent… uses his reach to his advantage and is good on the penalty kill… needs to get better around the net and at times to improve his positioning.

Finally, one last scouting report from NHL Draft Buzz:

Saskatoon’s young Colt is an impressive, towering centerman with elite skating ability… the ease with which he skates is a pure joy to watch … smooth accelerator with powerful crossovers … can blow by guys with straight line speed and can rotate from forwards to backwards at the drop of a hat … plays in all situations: 5 on 5, PK, and PP … already wears an A … is able to make plays on the penalty kill with agility, reach, and hustle … is a burgeoning threat on the rush … looks like a human freight train when dumping/banking the puck and chasing … owns a quick release that is not the most accurate or well placed … has good offensive sense and anticipation when the puck is on his stick … has fairly soft hands, receives passes well, and can stickhandle … adept at processing defender’s gap control and knows when to get rid of the puck … as a result makes some pretty passes from time to time … loves contact and finishes every check hard … is great along the boards with good puck protection and has the acceleration to roll out quickly for an offensive breakout/chance…could stand to think the game a hair quicker as he tends to chase the play a little too often … did not look comfortable or meshed with his linemates, which may have skewed his stats some … needs to be more consistent in driving to the net …can play defense as well, which shows attractive versatility … Gillies is a tantalizing blend of many talents who needs to show a little more confidence and ability to control the game.

2nd Round (no picks)

3rd Round (no picks)

4th Round (110th overall pick) – Justin Falk, 18 years old, 6’5, 211 lbs., Defense, Spokane Chiefs (WHL)

A big defenseman out of Snowflake, Manitoba, Justin led Spokane in plus/minus last year while scoring 3 goals and 12 assists and amassing 88 penalty minutes in 62 games. Offense is not his strong point obviously, but he has earned praise for his physical defensive play.

Profile and interview

5th Round (140th overall pick) – Cody Almond, 17 years old (18 in July), 6’2, 194 lbs., Center, Kelowna Rockets (WHL)

Either everybody in this draft was 6’2 or that was the Wild’s main criteria as this is the first of three picks who are listed at that height. Another big guy, the center out of Calgary showed some offensive ability leading his team in scoring with 15 goals and 28 assists in 68 games last season for a team that struggled offensively (2.17 goals/game).


6th Round (170th overall pick) – Harri Ilvonen, 18 years old, Defense, 6’2, 187 lbs., Tappara (Finland)

Ilvonen was the only Wild draft pick from the second day present in Columbus, as he expected to be taken in the third or fourth round. Instead he had a long day of waiting before the Wild snagged him in the sixth round. Harri was ranked as the #7 European defenseman (21st European skater overall) in the draft by Central Scouting Services.

Ilvonen is known as a smart player who is a good passer and skater. Another big guy who isn’t afraid to throw his weight around. Apparently he doesn’t have the quickest feet but he scored 9 goals and added 21 assists in 39 games last season while picking up 38 penalty minutes.

Scouting Video (5:30)

7th Round (200th overall pick) – Carson McMillan, 18 years old, 6’2, 200 lbs., Forward, Calgary Hitmen (WHL)

One last big guy, Carson, out of Manitoba, has played two seasons in the WHL with the Hitmen, last season he accumulated 7 goals, 15 assists and 78 penalty minutes in 72 games. Carson isn’t afraid to mix it up a bit, as he’s already the proud owner of a fight card at That’s hard to believe because he looks like such a nice guy.

Short Bio

There you have it, the 2007 Entry Draft for the Minnesota Wild. The slogan this year must have been “Go big, or go home” because they certainly loaded up on physical players. I’ll be keeping an eye on these guys as they develop and in a couple of years I hope to welcome them to the NHL.

Series Preview in Blog: Florida Marlins

This post is also published at Stick and Ball Guy’s site. Stop by and check out what SBG Nation has to say.

I have to tell you, I was less than impressed with the Marlins fan’s online presence, there just wasn’t much to be had. The same thing happened when we played Tampa right after the Yankees, maybe the enormous New York fan base skews my perception or something.
Wait, you say you don’t care how difficult I have it? You just want the links? Well, I think I can do that:

Minnesota Twins (36-34) @ Florida Marlins (35-38)

The Marlins are returning home after a 3-3 road trip through KC and Chicago, where they took 2 of 3 from the Sox. The Marlins have actually played much better on the road, where they are just above .500, than at home where they are 14-19. Florida has held their own in interleague play, going 8-7, although the only team they have faced with a winning record is Cleveland, who took 2 of 3 from the Marlins on their last homestand. This series they get another look at an AL team that is over .500 (although it was a bit of a struggle for the Twins to get there). The Twins started off their National League road trip by winning the final two games of their series against the New York Mets. That brought their road record to an even 16-16 on the season, and with that series victory the Twins clinched at least a .500 record in interleague play as they improved to 9-6 against the NL. That marks the 6th time in the last 7 years the Twins have been .500+ in interleague play (2005 being the only exception). The Twins are in third place in the AL Central 5.5 back of co-leaders Cleveland and Detroit. The Marlins are in fourth place in the NL East, 4.5 back of the leaders, and 2.5 back of third place Philly. They’re still close enough that
it would be premature to give up on their first ever division title.

On to the Fish:

I mentioned that the Marlins actually have a better record on the road than at home. That may be because they play in a nearly empty football stadium. People who have attended games there were not impressed. That guy thinks the Marlins don’t do a very good job of marketing their team or the experience of a Major League game. I’m sure he’s ecstatic to know that he’s got Ozzie Guillen in his corner on that point. Fortunately, you don’t have to take Ozzie’s word for it, or even the word of a blogger you’ve never met. You can see the stadium for yourself via this webcam. (Disclaimer: Having just stumbled on to this Thursday night, I haven’t seen what the view is, so if it’s a waste of your time, I apologize.) The Marlins are attempting to get legislative support for the construction of a new stadium, but so far it’s been tough sledding. The Marlins Ballpark News is dedicated to a full overview of the situation for the Marlins as well as other area teams.

Guillen actually gives his opinion on a wide range of topics (imagine that) in that interview although one of his main points is a conversation he had with Miguel Cabrera, who has drawn some media coverage due to his weight increase. In addition to that, Cabrera apparently keeps all kinds of weird stuff in his locker. I don’t know that I’d be comfortable sitting next to a locker that appears to have shrunked heads hanging in it, but I guess it’s Miami, you have to expect something bizzare to happen.

In the category of bizarre, we find the backstory to the Rally Fish. An interesting origin to be sure, I can’t wait to hear the (similarly fantastical?) story behind SBG’s rally cap.

The Marlins have struggled with injuries to their impressive stable of young pitchers. Recently, Anibal Sanchez went down for the season with shoulder issues, and two of the three pitchers Minnesota is scheduled to face are recovering from their own injuries.

We’ll get the healthy one out of the way first. On Friday Boof Bonser pitches against Scott Olsen. Olsen has a 4.89 ERA, but he has been a little bit unlucky in that regard. In his last 5 starts, he has given up 0.32 HR/9 while striking out 7.7 per nine. Where he’s been hurt is the free passes (4.2 BB/9), but still his FIP over those 5 starts is 3.35, compared to his ERA of 5.19. Olsen has been healthy, but he has had several incidents with teammates and fans which have given him the label of being a hothead.

Josh Johnson makes the start for Florida on Saturday against Carlos Silva. This will be only his second start of the year after he missed the first few months of the season due to ulnar nerve irritation in his right biceps. While on a rehab assignment, Johnson observed the tradition of buying his teammates dinner. The Marlins have had so many pitchers injured that the Jupiter Hammerheads (Class A) are living the good life. In his one previous start, Johnson allowed 8 runs to the potent White Sox lineup, but only 4 were earned as he worked 3.2 innings.

Dontrelle Willis hasn’t gone on the disabled list … yet. What started as tightness in his arm became a significant problem in his last start against the White Sox, which was as ineffective as it was short (4 ER, 1 IP). As a result of this injury, it’s not certain that Willis will get the ball against Johan Santana on Sunday. Rather, it could be Byung-Hyun Kim who gets the spot start. So we will just have to wait and see. If I had to guess, I would say that he starts because he’s built up some good karma by aiding those in need.

Marlins Trivia: The Marlins came into existence in 1993, and have not lost a post-season series since then, capturing 2 World Series titles and going 6-0 in post-season series. Including the Marlins, there are 5 teams whose last post-season appearance resulted in a World Series championship. Can you name them?

Finally, sometimes baseball can seem like such a simple game.

Jersey of Fortune Update

Behold the mystical powers of the Jersey of Fortune!

Actually, we’ve fallen on hard times with the Jersey recently, as the Twins have lost the last 3 outings. Looking over the games in question, I seem to only wear the Jersey when the Twins are on the road. We may have to mix it up a bit going forward.

Torii Hunter is absolutely crushing the ball in games where I wear the Jersey. Although if I am in attendance at the actual park he must get nervous or something. Otherwise how do you explain the 0 for 6 with 3 SO and 2 BB in games I have attended this season? When I wear the Jersey in the comfort of my living room he’s an otherworldly .545/.583/1.455. That’s an OPS of 2.038!

Twins record with jersey of fortune: 2-3

Torii Hunter with the Jersey of Fortune: 6 for 17, .353/.450/.941,
1 2B, 3 HR, 5 RBI, 3 BB, 5 SO, 1 SB

Home Runs w/ JoF
Hunter 3
Morneau 2
Cuddyer 1

Bonser 6.0 IP, 1 ER, 2 SO
Santana 13.0 IP, 4 ER, 15 SO
Baker 5.2 IP, 5 ER, 4 SO
Ortiz 4.1 IP, 5 ER, 2 SO

I have worn the Jersey for five games (the conditions have to be just right… or else I just forget). They are :

Series Preview in Blog: New York Mets

Well, this is a day late (and probably a dollar short) but since this is my only chance to write something about New York’s National League team, I’ll put something up to appease the masses. Actually, I only recieved one complaint (from Buttercup) about not having it posted yesterday, so I guess I should say I’ll put something up to appease my immediate family.

As we (Buttercup and I) drove back to Chicago, we were able to find the Milwaukee broadcast of the game, and we were delighted to hear the Twins get out to a 5-0 lead. After being essentially cut off from Twins baseball for two days it was good to hear that they had picked up where they left off with their sweep of Atlanta. Only Bob Uecker tells us that the Brewers have won the first two games of the series. Clearly, the Twins need me. I made it home, and in the time it took to unpack the car (with the radio now off) the lead shrank to 5-2. I began watching again and the Twins stormed back to take a 9-2 lead. With the game well in hand, I was a bit drowsy, so I lay down for a quick nap. I awoke in the 9th inning just in time to see Lew Ford’s throw miss the mark on a game-tying (what!?) sacrifice fly. I watched the last two batters of the game, a Joe Nathan strikeout victim and Justin Morneau’s home run, which brought the score of the game when I was watching to MN – 10, MIL – 1. I guess I didn’t realize I had so much power over the Twins.

Minnesota Twins (34-33) @ New York Mets (37-30)

The Twins begin their interleague road trip with a series against the New York Mets. So far the Twins are 7-5 against the National League, 2-1 on the road. The Mets are 4-5 in interleague play mostly from two series against their crosstown rivals, the Yankees (3-3), in their other series they lost two of three to the Tigers. The Mets are returning from a road trip where they faced the Tigers, were swept by the Dodgers, and lost two of three to the Yankees. So far this season the Twins are 14-15 on the road (it seems like the Twins are about a .500 team regardless of situation doesn’t it?) while the Mets are 17-16 at home.

Game 1 featured Carlos Silva against John Maine. Maine had a fantastic start (5-0, 9 ER in 7 starts) but has since cooled off a little bit (18 ER, 7 HR, 6 starts).

Game 2 has Johan Santana going against Jorge Sosa who had a rough start his last time out (5.2IP, 6 R, 8 H), but has been relatively solid this season (6-2, 3.42 ERA, averaging over 6 IP/start).

Game 3 will send Scott Baker to the mound against Oliver Perez. Hopefully Baker continues his big apple magic, as he allowed 2 hits and 1 run over 5 innings to the Yankees in his only other New York start. Perez had his own success against the Yankees the last time out, pitching 7.1 scoreless innings. In 2007, Perez has had only 2 starts where he has allowed more than 3 earned runs.

If those descriptions of the Mets starting pitchers don’t quite do it for you, maybe something a little more alcohol-based will do the trick.

Before this series the Mets were struggling a bit (as evidenced by their last road trip), and it’s been a result of a lack of both offense and pitching. Add to that a lack of clutch hitting, and you’ve got the whole team searching for answers. Here’s an analysis of David Wright’s swing this year when he’s hitting .281/.369/.490, and a comparison to his swing last season when he hit .311/.381/.531.

Speaking of David Wright, he shaved his head. I didn’t realize this was a big deal, but it’s obviously a point of some contention.

Not technically a blog entry, but this NY Times article about Scott Schoeneweis and his choice of jersey number was deemed interesting enough by the expert panel of judges to be allowed into this entry.

Finally, Lastings Milledge is currently in the minor leagues, but since he’s always the subject of trade rumors he could be headed to anybody’s favorite team. To brush up on your Milledge knowledge, here are some Lastings Milledge facts.

NHL Post-Season Awards

My take on the post-season awards from a Wild-eye view:

Hart (MVP)
(143 ballots)

Winner – Crosby (PIT)
Wild – Marian Gaborik (2 fifth-place votes, T-20th)
I was actually pleasantly surprised that Gabby got some votes. He certainly proved he was valuable to the team this year. The Wild were 33-9-6 (1.5 pts/G) with number 10 in the lineup, while going 15-17-2 (0.94 pts/G) without him. Gaborik finished second in the league to Vincent Lecavalier with 0.62 goals per game in ’06-’07.

Calder (Rookie)
(143 ballots)

Winner – Evgeni Malkin (PIT)
Wild – Josh Harding (1 fifth-place vote, T-13th)
That’s about right I think. Good start for the young netminder. Hopefully he’ll get some more looks this year once the goalie situation settles.

Jack Adams (Coach)
(72 ballots)

Winner – Vigneault (VAN)
Wild – Jacques Lemaire (2 first-place votes, named on 10 ballots, 7th)
I don’t know that I would have put Lemaire in my top 3 coaches this year. Maybe if the Wild had won their division, but otherwise it was a solid but unspectacular year for Jacques.

Norris (Defenseman)
(143 ballots)

Winner – Lidstrom (DET)
Wild – Keith Carney (1 third-place vote, 19th)
Wait, did I read that right? Keith Carney!? I don’t know what to say, I guess he had the best +/- of Wild defensemen, but my vote would have gone to Kim Johnsson as the Wild’s best.

Selke (Defensive Forward)
(143 ballots)

Winner – Brind’Amour (CAR)
Wild – Brian Rolston (1 first-place vote, named on 17 ballots, 16th)
I think this award is really hard to pick correctly so I’ll just say that the Wild have always relied on defensive play from their forwards and the fact that the team that allowed the fewest goals in the league doesn’t have a forward or defenseman in the top 15 of their respective defensive categories strikes me as odd.

Vezina (Goalie)
(30 ballots)

Winner – Brodeur (NJ)
Wild – Niklas Backstrom (1 second-place vote, 1 third-place vote, 6th)
Backstrom was the only goalie given a second place vote besides Brodeur and Luongo. Someone put him ahead of Luongo, and I think that’s a difficult position to defend. Luongo should have won and Backstrom probably should have got a few more 3rd-place votes.

Lady Byng

This had got to be one of the most ridiculous awards in sports. No further comment necessary. (If you must know, Pierre-Marc Bouchard finished 5th in the voting)

Series Preview in Blog: Milwaukee Brewers (Round 2)

This post is also published at Stick and Ball Guy’s site. Stop by and check out what SBG Nation has to say.

Minnesota Twins (33-31) v. Milwaukee Brewers (36-30)

After their previous series against the Brewers, the Twins left Milwaukee three games below .500, while the Brewers were a comfortable 10 games above .500. In the three-plus weeks since, the Twins have gone 13-8 while the Brewers have not fared as well, going 9-13. More recently, the Brewers have lost two of three in Texas and won two of three in Detroit (I always liked the Brewers) on their current road trip. Despite their struggles, the Brewers remain the only team with a record over .500 in the NL Central, and they maintain a 5.5 game lead over the second place Chicago Cubs.

In that last series the Twins won two of three from the Brewers. I was there (and I’ve got the lousy pictures to prove it), as were many others including Nick N. (of Nick & Nick), Cheesehead Craig (of Oracle of Cheese), Freealonzo (of Lost Forest After Dark), and Shane (of Greet Machine).

On to the Brew Crew:

The Brewers have outperformed their Pythagorean win total all year (36 actual compared to 33 Pythagorean). Is that sustainable? Some people seem to think the Brewers have the roster to continue that success.

One new face since the previous series is Ryan Braun at third base. Since being called up he has certainly impressed with an OPS of .937 and a line of .314/.351/.586. He has also been the subject of some mugshot hijinx.

Prince Fielder is still on the team, and he’s still hitting a ridiculous amount of home runs. All those home runs are good enough for Fielder to be ranked the 14th best player in MLB by ESPN’s new metric. There were a few Brewers who made the top 100.

Despite all that talent, the recent slide has begun to cause rumblings about the managerial stylings of Ned Yost. To make things short and sweet, they’re not in favor of it.

Friday night, Scott Baker pitches against Claudio Vargas. Both pitchers pitched in the previous series, Baker had his auspicious debut, while Vargas struggled a bit (4 IP, 5 ER, 6 H, 6 BB). The Brewers were able to come back and save Vargas from a loss, and since then Vargas has pitched a little bit better. In his 3 starts since he’s pitched into the 6th and allowed 3 or 4 runs. Nonetheless his turn was skipped in the rotation the last time through so he hasn’t started in 10 days.

Saturday, Boof Bonser takes on Dave Bush, who also pitched in the two teams first meeting, in fact, he was Baker’s opponent (7.1 IP, 5 ER, 8 H, 1 BB). Bush has a 6.07 ERA in his last 5 starts, and it always seems like the Twins offense struggles to score against scuffling pitchers like that, doesn’t it?

In the finale on Sunday the Twins youth movement continues when Kevin Slowey pitches against Jeff Suppan. Suppan has been absolutely average in his last 5 starts, going 6 IP and allowing 4 ER almost every time.

Suppan’s last outing was against Justin Verlander when Verlander tossed his no-hitter. This guy claims to be the first to post about it although it doesn’t seem like he has much to say.

The Brewers rotation seems to be in a state of flux right now. The Twins are just missing the Major League debut of hot prospect Yovanni Gallardo who will go on Monday. Needless to say, Brewers fans are excited to see what he can do.

Finally, plenty of baseball player have blogs, and I’ve pointed out some of them in other editions of this series. This is a first though, a baseball player who blogs about football. Specifically, Kevin Mench blogs about the Philadelphia Eagles (you have to log in to see his blog, so I just linked to the article about the blog).

How Good is Johan Santana?

June 12, 2002

Bobby Cox: Good win boys. Everybody be ready to go to the airport by midnight tonight! … What is it?

Designated Flunkie: What do you want me to do with the file on tonight’s pitcher?

Cox: Well, we probably won’t play the Twins again for about 5 years, what are the odds this guy is still pitching then? Keep the file but don’t waste too much time updating it.

Flunkie: Yes, sir.

J. Santana
through 6/12/02
48 11 4-4 145 92 169 77 114 5.71 1.70 .297 0

June 14, 2007

Bobby Cox: Alright, who are we up against tonight?

New Designated Flunkie: Johan Santana, boss. Here’s his file.

Cox: I see we’ve faced him before. And we beat him, this guy must be a pushover… Wait, why aren’t there any updates after 2002?

Flunkie: Well, we didn’t bother keeping tabs on the Twins pitchers since it’s been so long since we played them. Looking back, that may have been a bad idea.

Cox: Hmmm, we’ll just have to go with what we have then, it doesn’t seem like this guy should give us too much trouble.

Flunkie: You’re right, boss. How much could he have changed?

J. Santana
after 6/12/02
183 143 80-33 1030.2 326 788 258 1098 2.85 1.01 .209 2

The Levale Speigner Report

Here are the lines over their last four starts of two starting pitchers who recently faced the Twins.

Starter 1: 14.1 IP, 23 R, 30 H, 8 SO, 7 BB,
14.44 ERA, .423 BAA, 1.045 OPS

Starter 2: 26.1 IP, 5 R, 17 H, 15 SO, 9 BB,
1.71 ERA, .177 BAA, .533 OPS

Now, here are the lines for those same two starters in their starts against the Twins.

Starter 1: 6 IP, 1 R, 2 H, BB, 3 SO
Starter 2: 7 IP, 6 R, 7 H, BB, 2 SO

Starter 1 is Levale Speigner, a rule 5 draft pick who had four extremely rocky starts before shutting down the Twins on Saturday. Starter 2 is John Lackey, who has been one of the better starting pitchers in the American League over the last two seasons (ERA+ 2005 – 122, 2006 – 123). Lackey has pitched very well thus far, but the Twins were able to get to him and avoid a sweep in Los Angeles last Wednesday. Anecdotally, this has seemed to be a pattern for the Twins this season. Whenever they face a struggling pitcher (probably young, especially left-handed) they seem to have enormous struggles putting up any kind of offense. I know it’s easy to remember getting only 2 hits off of a pitcher like Speigner, but if Minnesota had knocked out 7 or 8 hits in five innings and put some runs on the board, the game would have been quickly forgotten. Do the Twins actually struggle more against below average pitchers? Or is this a case of selective memory making a problem seem worse than it actually is?

To investigate that question, I looked at the opposing starting pitchers in the 63 games the Twins have played so far this year (through Wed.). For each pitcher I sampled the five starts before their outing against the Twins to get as good of an idea as possible of how they were doing around the time of their outing. Early in the season obviously there wouldn’t be five starts beforehand, so I used any starts before the Twins outing, then complemented with starts directly after the outing versus the Twins to get to five total starts. I calculated FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) as well as the more conventional ERA statistic for the 5 starts. Then I calculated runs per nine innings and WHIP for the start against the Twins. (Note: Virgil Vazquez (Det.) only has one start on the season, and it came against the Twins. I have placed him in the highest FIP/ERA category when it came time to place him) The American League average for these four stats are FIP and ERA – 4.40, R/G – 4.71, WHIP – 1.39.

First, I split things up by pitchers who were above or below league average in their 5 surrounding starts. That gives:

Surrounding FIP Avg. FIP R/9 v. Twins WHIP v. Twins
below 4.40 3.78 4.36 1.26
above 4.40 5.27 4.99 1.44
Surrounding ERA Avg. ERA R/9 v. Twins WHIP v. Twins
below 4.40 3.11 4.44 1.33
above 4.40 6.36 4.96 1.40

That table seems to indicate that the Twins are pretty much following the expected trend, they’re hitting the “worse” pitchers harder by both measures than the pitchers who had enjoyed more recent success. However, it is true that with both FIP and ERA, the runs produced by the Twins were above the levels previously observed in the more successful pitchers and below the levels of the less successful hurlers. Not quite the pronounced effect as my frustration would lead me to believe, but it’s a start.

Breaking it down further:

Surrounding FIP Starts Avg. FIP R/9 v. Twins WHIP v. Twins
below 3.80 12 3.18 4.29 1.38
3.80 – 4.40 16 4.18 4.40 1.19
4.40 – 5.10 15 4.72 5.66 1.49
5.10 – 6.00 13 5.36 4.44 1.35
above 6.00 7 6.90 4.69 1.54

Again we see that the Twins outperform against the tougher pitchers while not hitting the struggling pitchers as hard as one might predict. Overall, FIP seems to be a better indicator of future success against the Twins than ERA (shown in the table below):

Surrounding ERA Starts Avg. ERA R/9 v. Twins WHIP v. Twins
below 3.00 14 2.39 5.38 1.48
3.00 – 4.40 16 3.76 3.71 1.21
4.40 – 5.25 10 4.84 3.44 1.24
5.25 – 6.50 10 5.74 6.54 1.61
above 6.50 13 8.77 5.20 1.39

The first thing that jumps out is that the Twins are killing pitchers with an ERA under 3.00, so that backs up one part of the hypothesis. Although, taking these numbers with those of the previous table, it may be that the pitchers with the low ERA who have benefited from fielding help (and thus have a higher FIP) may be regressing to the mean a bit and inflating the numbers in the first row of this table. Also, the pitchers with the highest ERA outperformed their previous track record against the Twins, so there may be something to the perception after all. Note that the WHIP for the 6.50+ ERA category is lower than that of the below 3.00 ERA. However, the average pitchers (ERA from 3.00-5.25) seem to give the Twins the most trouble.

Overall, it seems that the data backs up the idea that the Twins struggle more than they should against pitchers who haven’t been having success. On the converse side, they don’t seem to be struggling with the most successful pitchers. It’s certainly an odd quirk, and I don’t know if it would hold up over a larger sample size, but it’s certainly interesting to see some numbers to back up my perception.

I’ll try to keep the database up to date and check in periodically with updates throughout the year. So you’ve got that to look forward to.

Series Preview in Blog: Atlanta Braves

This post is also published at Stick and Ball Guy’s site. Stop by and check out what SBG Nation has to say.

Minnesota Twins (30-31) v. Atlanta Braves (35-29)

The Twins host the Braves after an uninspiring start to the current homestand. Minnesota has now lost 3 series in a row as they look to turn things around against Atlanta. The Braves come into the series possibly turning the corner on their own struggles. They just finished a 3-5 homestand against Florida and Chicago that included a 5-game losing streak in which they scored 15 runs in 7 games before this weekend. They almost equaled that total in their last two games, scoring 13 runs in back to back wins against the Cubs. The Braves are currently in second place in the NL East, 2.5 games back of the Mets. The Braves actually have a better record on the road than at home, with a 17-13 mark away from Atlanta. The Twins are an even .500 at home at 16-16. Even though the Twins haven’t been on fire lately, they are still helping instill fear in the opposition. Hopefully the Twins will beat Atlanta so badly that they will be out for revenge when they play both Cleveland and Detroit in the next week and a half.

On to the Braves:

The Braves have been a thrifty club for a while, and it’s mostly due to the reluctancy of the ownership to shell out money for player contracts. If they can’t spend the cash to bring in big name players to put the fans in the seats, they’ll have to rely on some inspired promotions to get the fans to the ballpark.

The Braves have two up and coming catchers in Brian McCann (referred to as “Heap” for reasons I’m not aware of) and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. McCann has had some defensive struggles this year, and some facial hair struggles as well. McCann has a sore ankle and finger, and has been playing sporadically over the last week or so.

In the infield, first baseman Scott Thorman in his second year has been struggling at the plate (.228/.259/.389). Second base is manned by Kelly Johnson, while Edgar Renteria plays short (he was hit in the hand on Sunday, I don’t know how serious it was, but he left the game). Chipper Jones, the usual third baseman is eligible to come off the DL, but it will probably be another 2-4 weeks before he has recovered from “some bleeding where one of the bones in his hands meets a ligament.” In his stead rookie Yunel Escobar has impressed, and has been the subject of some trade talk.

The outfield is an interesting group. Andruw Jones is the most well known of the regular outfielders. He is also probably the smoothest, based on the difficulty Jeff Francoeur has with celebrations. Of course Francoeur probably picked it up from former Brave (now National) Ryan Langerhans. When Francoeur isn’t awkwardly deciding whether or not to hug someone, he’s doing his best Britney Spears impression, or stealing Brian McCann’s lucky shirt. Matt Diaz is also in the outfield, but he’s apparently boring, so that’s enough about him.

The pitching matchup tonight (Tuesday) is Kevin Slowey against Kyle Davies (5.31 ERA, 1.50 WHIP) who has alternated good with bad outings in recent history (runs allowed in chronological order: 4-1-6-1-8-1-5). Is that evidence of thinking too hard on the mound? Whether that is the case or not, unfortunately for the Twins, Davies is coming off a bad start (5.0 IP, 5 R, 6 H, 2 BB) so it could be rough sailing.

On Wednesday Carlos Silva will go up against Chuck James (3.66 ERA, 1.50 WHIP) who hasn’t allowed more than 3 runs in a start since April (8 starts). James and Davies are second and third year pitchers respectively in an organization that has been well known for producing pitching talent. In recent years however, it hasn’t quite been the same.

In the finale, Johan Santana will face off against somebody, probably Tim Hudson, although he took a line drive off his leg in his last start and had to leave the game. John Smoltz was another possibility to pitch in this series as he skipped his last start due to a sore shoulder for which he received a cortisone shot. One guy who won’t be pitching for the Braves is Mark Redman, who started the year in the rotation, but was released in May after 5 starts.

If I could just go back to John Smoltz for a second; he is the subject of this article which postulates that pitchers recovering from injuries would do well to follow Smoltz’ example and spend some significant time in the bullpen. The argument is that the bullpen stint extended Smoltz’ career and effectiveness. Perusing that article I was surprised to see that Smoltz had posted an ERA+ of 371(!) in the 2003 season. I was so impressed that I looked into it a little bit more.

Here are the top ERA+ for closers that I could find (by no means a complete list). Also, a much more complete list of the t
op ERA+ in baseball history
(for those who qualified with 1 IP/G).

Closer Season ERA+ Cy Young? Starter Season ERA+ Cy Young?
Eckersley 1990 606 N 1. Keefe 1880 294 N/A
Smoltz 2003 371 N 2. P. Martinez 2000 285 Y
Gagne 2003 335 Y 3. Leonard 1914 279 N/A
Fingers 1981 332 Y 4. Maddux 1994 273 Y
Rivera 2005 323 N 5. Maddux 1995 259 Y
Nathan 2004 292 N 84. Santana 2004 182 Y

Wow, the Eck had a hell of a season! The only thing I could find that came close was Dennys Reyes in 2006 (ERA+ of 504).

Which leads into our trivia question for this series: The Twins have had the American League leader in ERA+ 6 times. Johan Santana has won that distinction 3 times in a row. Who are the other three Twins hurlers to lead the league in this category?

Finally, the minor league manager who blew a gasket has been all over the news and the internet. There are a few players on the current Braves roster who played for him, here are their thoughts.

Series Preview in Blog: Washington Nationals

This post is also published at Stick and Ball Guy’s site. Stop by and check out what SBG Nation has to say.

Minnesota Twins (29-29) v. Washington Nationals (24-36)

Ramon Ortiz’s trip down memory lane continues with this weekend series at the Dome against the Nationals. The Twins are returning home after a disappointing road trip. After finishing May winning 11 of 15, the Twins struggled on the west coast, dropping 2 series in Oakland and Anaheim. The Nationals finished up a simlarly disheartening nine-game homestand in which they lost 2 of 3 to the Dodgers, the Padres, and the Pirates. This marks the beginning of a nine-game American League road trip for Washington that will take them to Baltimore (who are not well liked by some Nats fans) and Toronto after they finish here. The Nationals currently reside in last place in the NL East, 12 games behind the Mets and 5.5 games behind fourth place Florida. The Twins are 15-14 at home, winning 6 of their last 7 at the Dome. The Nationals are 10-17 on the road, and have won 5 of their last 6 away from home. Interestingly, they haven’t lost a game in which they used the designated hitter yet this year (0-0).

First off, Federal Baseball does a similar preview of the Nationals’ upcoming series that is usually posted on the morning of the first game. I’ll update this with the link if I get a chance, but it should be the top entry on the page linked above once it’s up.

If the series were taking place in D.C. the Twins would get to take in the great Presidents Race, which Teddy Roosevelt has famously never won. What would happen if he did win one?

On to the Nats:

The Nationals have been not very good since moving to Washington. Now, there are a couple of ways a fan can approach that. An optimistic point of view aligns itself nicely with the Nationals good guy manager, Manny Acta. Manny is so nice that some bloggers have begun pleading for him to blow a gasket, just once. And he tried, he really did, to no avail. The secret to remaining optimistic is to find something to occupy yourself while you’re at the game. Alternatively, a fan could go the other way and refuse the optimism of the front office and the manager.

I suppose it is possible to trace the evolution of the relief pitcher in a manner superficially similar to the evolution of man. Somewhere out of the primordial goop (variously, cricket or rounders) baseball was born, and then the first traces of the reliever began to appear, although in his original form he was hard to compare to today’s reliever and probably lacked self-awareness that he was in fact a relief pitcher.
-Basil at Federal Baseball

That was taken from this article which compares the rise of the closer as a defined position in the bullpen, to the current rise of the set-up man. Throughout that article, the author refers (and links) to this Hardball Times article that describes the rise of the closer. Be warned, it’s a long post, but I thought it was interesting, so I pass it on to you.

Try as I might, I didn’t find a post vilifying Tony Batista. Rather, it seems that the fans have just accepted that he will stink and there’s just not much point ranting about it (Although one guy does refer to him as Ass O’Plenty). However, here’s a post that asks that question Twins fans used to wrestle with time and time again, is it possible that Cristian Guzman is an all-star? He’s had a great start since returning in May (.319/.365/.457 with 5 triples) with what would be career highs in BA and OBP, so it’s not out of the question, but he’ll have to beat out Dmitri Young (.329/.403/.509) to be the Nats representative. The only other regulars with OPS over .700 are two Ryans, Church and Zimmerman (who may be suffering the dreaded sophomore slump). One thing is for sure, the lack of offense isn’t a result of too much junk food in the clubhouse.

The Nationals will be moving into a new stadium soon, and the ticket package information was recently sent out. Reactions were mixed at best, ranging from angry to irate.

Pitching matchups for the series are Carlos Silva vs. Jason Simontacchi tonight (Friday). Simontacchi’s year got started late this year as he had groin troubles, thus he only has 6 starts, in which he has a 2-4 record with 5.61 ERA and a 1.51 WHIP. His last two starts have been losses in which he allowed at least 6 runs. A torn labrum (and the recovery from it) kept Jason out of the majors for the last two years so all his previous experience comes from 2004 or earlier. In fact the Twins won’t face a starting pitcher in this series who pitched in the majors in ’05 or ’06.

On Saturday it’s a matchup of Rule Five draft picks, as Johan Santana goes against Levale
Speigner. This rookie starter was actually drafted by the Twins (14th round, 2003) and pitched as high as AAA Rochester in ’05 and ’06 before the Nationals picked him up this year. Speigner started the year in the bullpen (12 appearances 3.77 ERA), but has 4 starts under his belt in 2007. Things haven’t gone smoothly for Levale thus far, and
it’s all this guy’s fault. He has yet to get an out in the fifth inning of any start and his line is not for the faint of heart (0-2, 14.44 ERA, 2.58 WHIP). Some mistakenly thought he was done after his last start. Others are trying to figure a way for him to help not only his team, but his country.

On Sunday, Boof Bonser goes against Mike Bacsik owner of a 1-2 record, a 4.13 ERA, and a 1.33 WHIP in four starts since being called up from AAA Columbus in the middle of May. He had three good starts right away before cooling off in his last start (4.1 IP, 6 ER, 5 BB) against Pittsburgh. Bacsik also hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2004 with the Rangers. Since then he has pitched at the AAA level in the Philadelphia and Arizona organizations, and did an internship at a sports talk radio station in Dallas, so he’s got a career in mind if this pitching thing doesn’t pan out.

Well, that was a lot of words on the starting pitchers. I really shouldn’t have bothered since these guys will probably be gone soon anyway. The Nats have had 9 different pitchers start ballgames for them, and only one, rookie Matt Chico, has made more than 10 starts.

Finally, the Nationals pitchers may be numerous, but it seems most of them are a little bit loony too. Starting pitchers are visited by demigods while on the mound, and the relievers are looking at livestock on the internet. I just don’t know about these National League types.

Wild Resign Backstrom

The Wild signed Niklas Backstrom to a 2-year $6.2 million dollar contract yesterday, which means that they now have both Backstrom and Manny Fernandez under contract through the ’08-09 season. Niklas Backstrom lead the league in save percentage and goals against average, while he and Fernandez backstopped the Wild to a league low 191 goals against in the ’06-’07 regular season. And, lest you forget, they also have Josh Harding waiting in the wings as yet another goalie of the future.

Manny Fernandez – 33 yrs old in August ($4.3M in ’07-’08)
Niklas Backstrom – 29 yrs old (around $3M in ’07-’08)
Josh Harding – 23 yrs old in a week ($450K in ’06-’07)

Given Manny’s stated preferences, I think I know who I would go forward with, but Riesborough seems to think he can keep everybody.

Something to keep an eye on in the near future, that’s for sure.

The Mind of Dwayne Hoover: What is the What

This is the first entry in “The Mind of Dwayne Hoover”. If you’re wondering what that means, check out the introductory post I put up a couple days ago. Enjoy!

What is the What, by Dave Eggers

What is the What is the autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. Displaced from his home by the civil war in Sudan he spent several years in refugee camps before being relocated to the United States. The book is a fictional biography, so it is designated a novel, but most of the events happened in the life of Valentino Achak Deng. The story is told in two threads, the first is his account of a burglary which happens in Atlanta where he has been relocated. Throughout the burglary, the assault that accompanies it, and his subsequent trip to the hospital, Valentino mentally tells his story to the people he encounters. The purpose of his telling changes from person to person but the common thread is the explanation that though he may seem like he does not belong or fit inhere in this country he has endured hardships which easily trump what he is dealing with now.

The story he tells is of his wandering as one of the Lost Boys of Sudan after his village is overrun and destroyed as a result of Sudan’s civil war. On his journey he witnesses atrocities, starvation, and the harshness of the African wilderness. I’m not of a huge fan of documentaries or non-fiction, so this is probably a reflection of my personal preference, rather than a literary criticism, but these recountings were the parts of the book I could take or leave. It wasn’t that they were too graphic. Rather, it just seemed like so many pages were devoted to showing how horrible the conditions were when a select few of the anecdotes could have served just as well. However, there was certainly more to the story than the recounting of Deng’s hardships in Africa and the U. S.

Deng grew up in a village in southern Sudan populated by people of the Dinka tribe (whose most famous member is former NBA player Manute Bol). Achak’s father tells the story of the What. When God created the first Dinka he was offered the choice betwixt a cow and the What. The first Dinka saw that the cow would provide him with a renewable source of meat and milk and almost everything he would need for survival in southern Sudan. So he chose the cow and from then on the Dinka people were herdsmen who relied on the cow for their livelihood. Of course, his father relays this story as evidence of the superior intellect of the Dinka. Rather than succumbing to the temptation of the unknown What, he chose the sensible choice which he knew would provide for him and his people. This choice however, doesn’t satisfy everyone’s natural curiosity. Every time the story is told it is followed by the question that is the title of the book, “What is the What?”

Over the course of his displacement from his village and his long, arduous walk to Ethiopia, Achak is thrust into the unknown. His village and family are gone, possibly forever. Old friends from his previous life appear and disappear only to reinforce the fact hat everything he previously knew is now uprooted and set adrift in this new, frightening, violent world.

We are told about this hardship as we are also learning of Valentino’s struggles in America, where he is robbed and beaten by strangers who have forced their way into his apartment. Even after his escape from Sudan and the refugee camps of his childhood, he is still living in an unfamiliar world, with new dangers he has never faced and could not anticipate.

This is the answer to the question. This is the What. The unknown, the unsafe, the unfamiliar are all what the man in his father’s parable turned away from in favor of the safe, docile life of a herdsman. This is no longer an option for Valentino Achak Deng. He has been thrust into the What and he must learn to succeed while he is playing by rules he is picking up as he goes along.

It’s not all bad. Throughout the book, Deng meets many people, from his sponsors in the United States to aid workers in refugee camps, who help him toward success and allow him to bring some certainty into his otherwise uncertain journey. Therein lies the allure of the What. It represents not only uncertainty, but also opportunity. Over and over the Lost Boys are told that they are the future of Sudan. They have been afforded opportunities that have never been available to other Sudanese children. This story is an account of one of those boys coming to terms with this realization while surrounded by the upheaval of a civil war which has plagued his home for most of his lifetime.

This was the first book I have read by Dave Eggers, and I enjoyed the reading. Although the subject matter wasn’t exactly my favorite, the story was a very good one. It was a little bit longer than I thought it needed to be, but there was no point at which I was laboring through the book. Overall, I would recommend the book if you haven’t already read it. If you have read it, what did you think? Let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading!