Series Preview in Blog: Kansas City Royals (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.

I’m not sure I should even be doing this preview. I’ve seen
what happens to people who try to cover the Royals. If Emil Brown asks about me, I was never here.

Minnesota Twins (53-51) vs. Kansas City Royals (47-57)

The Twins have been alternating series wins and losses since the break. Hopefully they avoid regressing against the Royals since they finished their road trip by winning two of three from Cleveland. The Royals enter the Dome on a four game winning streak, having swept three games from the Rangers in Kauffman Stadium. The Royals are 23-26 on the road, while the Twins are 28-24 at home this season. As I mentioned in this weekend’s preview, the Twins should get used to the Royals, because they will be seeing a lot of them in the next 42 games (13 against KC). Hopefully they can put some distance betwixt themselves and KC, because the Twins are actually currently closer to the last place Royals than they are to the second-place Indians.

The Royals are keeping pace with the White Sox, trying to finish the season above the AL Central cellar for the first time since ’03. When your team has been struggling for as long as KC, it’s enough for some cautious optimism. A big reason for the optimism is the young talent in the Royals batting order. Billy Butler (.315/.357/.483) and Alex Gordon (.302/.347/.464 in June/July) have been hitting the ball well. Even though they may not be part of the AL Central elite just yet, this piece on Mark Teahan’s struggles shows they know what it takes to compete in this division. A quote:

These are not the kind of numbers that even an average corner outfielder/infielder can expect to keep a job with.

Now if you’ll excuse me, that one is just sitting on a tee, waiting for someone to take a mighty swing…

Mark Teahan – .280/.353/.398, 5 HR, 29 XBH in 430 PA
Twins at 3B – .231/.303/.322, 4 HR, 22 XBH in 420 PA

Twins in LF – .235/.286/.377, 11 HR, 30 XBH in 406 PA

Kansas City recently called up Ryan Braun to help out in the bullpen. I think they just waited until interleague play was over to avoid the confusion if he were brought in to face Milwaukee’s rookie third baseman Ryan Braun. Of course that confusion is nothing compared to what must have happened to John Buck(?) right before this.

Starting pitchers for this series will be Scott Baker agai —OW!!—



Emil Brown is my favorite baseball player. That is all.

Series Preview in Blog: Cleveland Indians (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 (51-50) @ Cleveland Indians (59-43)

The Twins look to notch their first win this season against Cleveland in a three game weekend series on the road. If they don’t get that elusive win this season, it doesn’t matter too much. First of all, the Twins have essentially played themselves
out of the playoff picture, going 2-7 over their last three series including sweeps at the hands of Detroit and Toronto. Secondly, they will get plenty more chances against this Indians team. In fact, their next 14 games, and 26 of their next 45, (58%) are evenly split against Cleveland and Kansas City. So get used to these guys, because we’re going to see a lot of them. The Indians have been playing .500 since the break, losing 3 of 4 in their most recent series against Boston to start their current homestand. They remain in second place in the AL Central, 1.5 games back of Detroit. They have been very good at home, only the Angels and Brewers have fewer home losses than the Indians 35-18 record. The Twins, meanwhile, need a weekend sweep to get back to .500 on the road from their current 23-26 mark.

If you happen to be reading this in Cleveland, and are planning on going to the games, you need to read these first. Mistake by the Lake has all the info you could want on the parking and concessions at Jacobs Field. I love the scatterplot breakdown of parking price versus walking distance. If you’re looking for something to do after the game, if you can somehow make your way into the clubhouse, you could participate in a baseball video game tournament. Alternatively, you could befriend Grady Sizemore and tag along on his trips to Las Vegas. If you’re more laid back than that, you could just ask Sizemore where to find the local whiffle ball games. The commercials here aren’t quite awkward enough to be uproariously funny, but I did enjoy the argument about ghost runners.

The Indians have been very proactive this season in signing their big-name free agents before they hit the open market. Manager Eric Wedge and designated hitter Travis Hafner are the most recent to sign extensions. After signing his extension, Wedge went right out and gave an exciting preview of what to expect in years to come. With Hafner in place, here’s a look at what the Indians of the future will look like. Actually, they look an awful lot like the Indians of right now. Knowing that Democrats are much more likely to favor the designated hitter rule, wouldn’t it have made more sense for Hafner to sign in a blue state (preferably one that doesn’t have an AL Central team)? On the flip side of the coin, could there be the possibility that Twins fans, soured on the DH concept by the likes of Jason Tyner and Garrett Jones, will exhibit a swing to the conservative side of the political spectrum?

While we’re on a political note, I found it interesting that the Indians developmental academy in the Dominican Republic has began to require that its prospects attend a secondary education program and pursue high school degrees. Even more interesting is that Cleveland is one of the first organizations to do so.

From the future of the Indians to the past, here are a couple of stories. One concerns the career of Larry Doby, the first African American player in the American League. The other is a real interesting story about former Indians oufielder Dave Gallagher’s debut playing behind his idol Steve Carlton.

Lastly, with the Twins falling out of the race, if they don’t turn things around this weekend, I may find myself joining the fan-club with the most ingenious nickname I’ve heard in a while. That’s right, I may become one of R-Gark’s Aardvarks.

Inconsistent Offense?

The Twins just completed a series in which they scored five runs in three games while being swept by the Blue Jays. In my searches for the Series Preview in Blog, I came across this article about the inconsistency of the Jays offense in comparison to some other teams. The Twins were one of the more inconsistent offenses mentioned in the study. The author doesn’t delve into cause and effect with his numbers (except for a rough characterization of teams as ‘power’ or ‘speed’ reliant offenses), but the short answer has little to do with a reliance on speed in the Twins offense. Rather the Twins offense goes mostly as the 3-6 hitters go. Unfortunately those hitters are the least consistently productive of the Twins regular lineup.

Player OPS St. Dev. High Low
Mike Redmond .680 .224 1.173 .343
Jason Tyner .649 .221 1.026 .266
Jeff Cirillo .741 .202 1.019 .449
Michael Cuddyer .923 .184 1.156 .508
Joe Mauer .849 .182 1.249 .547
Torii Hunter .901 .174 1.180 .623
Justin Morneau .949 .160 1.260 .689
Luis Castillo .702 .156 .901 .372
Jason Bartlett .666 .155 .867 .247
Nick Punto .594 .137 .816 .370
Jason Kubel .709 .120 .919 .512

I looked at the eleven Twins players that have the most plate appearances so far this season. For each player, I divided the 100 games of the 2007 season into 19 ten-game sections (i.e. 1-10, 6-15, 11-20, etc.), calculated the OPS for each section, and then calculated the standard deviation of that data set. I threw out any of those sections where the player had less than 15 plate appearances, which gave the results in the table at the left.

The most inconsistent performers (Tyner, Redmond, Cirillo) are those that don’t play as often. The next rung on the inconsistency ladder belongs to Minnesota’s “big 4”; Cuddyer, Mauer, Hunter, Morneau. The most consistent are the “little 4”; the regular players with OPS under .800 (Kubel, Bartlett, Punto, Castillo). The biggest surprise to me was Joe Mauer’s numbers. It’s hard to believe that Mauer is less consistent than Torii Hunter. And, in fact, if you eliminate just the 10 game stretch immediately after he came off the disabled list the standard deviation drops significantly. So I dropped the highest and lowest sections from each players data and recalculated the data.

Player OPS St. Dev. Adjusted High Low
Jeff Cirillo .741 .202 .175 1.019 .449
Jason Tyner .649 .221 .164 1.026 .266
Mike Redmond .680 .224 .163 1.173 .343
Torii Hunter .901 .174 .156 1.180 .623
Michael Cuddyer .923 .184 .154 1.156 .508
Justin Morneau .949 .160 .136 1.260 .689
Luis Castillo .702 .156 .128 .901 .372
Nick Punto .594 .137 .122 .816 .370
Jason Bartlett .666 .155 .117 .867 .247
Joe Mauer .849 .182 .113 1.249 .547
Jason Kubel .709 .120 .104 .919 .512

For the most part the trends remain the same. The bench players are the most inconsistent, probably due to the uneven amount of playing time they get during the season. Cuddyer, Hunter, and Morneau remain in the same position. They produce more overall, but their production is less consistent than others in the offense. The biggest movers in this adjustment are Joe Mauer and Jason Bartlett, who both suffered from one below average cross-section (Mauer coming off the DL, Bartlett’s first 10 games of ’07). Mauer is pretty remarkable. Not only is he able to produce at a high level, he’s one of the most consistent hitters in the Twins lineup this season. The other players at the bottom of the table are all of the lighter hitting variety, consistently providing a lower level of offense.

Therein lies the problem with the Twins offense. The top and bottom of the order are consistently producing subpar offensive numbers (OPS of .594 to .709) so they rarely are able to pick up the slack when the middle of the order isn’t at its top production. Unfortunately, it seems that the middle of the order this season has been the most unpredictable part of the offense, whether it’s availability (Mauer spending significant time on the DL) or just production. If one or two (or sometimes three) of the “big 4” aren’t producing, the offense almost completely evaporates. It’s also interesting to note that the right-handed component of the “big 4” is the less consistent half. That might be a factor in the Twins struggles against left-handed pitching.

The inconsistency is not the fault of the middle of the order being more or less consistent than the rest of the lineup. In fact, I would predict that most of the high OPS hitters would see more variance than lighter-hitting players. Rather, it is an offense that is constructed to rely on a few people in the lineup to produce the majority of the runs, and when the remainder of the lineup doesn’t heat up to cover the downswings of the big bats, the offense is doomed to sputter.

The Wild Roster: Arbitration Cases

— Now updated with Nick Schultz’s contract (see below) —

We have already discussed the additions to the Wild from the free agent market, so now it’s time to look at who the Wild are bringing back. With arbitration hearings coming this week, the focus shifts to Wild players who were eligible for arbitration this off-season, and how the Wild dealt with each of them.

Derek Boogard – $2.63 million, three year contract after Wild opted for arbitration

The Wild adopted an interesting strategy with Boogard when the organization opted for arbitration. Only four players have been taken down this path, the reason being that it can generate some bad feelings betwixt the player and the organization (see Luongo, Roberto and the Florida Panthers). In Boogard’s case though, it seems as though this was merely a move to make sure no other teams signed him away from the Wild. He had the option of choosing a one or two year contract at the hearing, my feeling was that he would go with two years. His value isn’t going to change much, and he seems pretty happy with the organization, so stability is one reason a three year deal was so appealing to him.

Pierre-Marc Bouchard – $2.6 million, one year contract

This happened quite a while ago, almost at the same time that players were filing for arbitration. Mostly this contract shows how the Wild perceive Bouchard in relation to their other young forwards (Koivu got a four-year deal). Perhaps the front office is unconvinced that Bouchard is capable of consistently putting up 20 goal seasons like ’06-’07. If Bouchard puts up the same or better numbers in the upcoming season, I think the Wild will be much more amenable to a multi-year deal.

Kurtis Foster – $1.025 million, one year contract

It was a little surprising that Foster opted for arbitration this year. He didn’t have a breakout season in ’06-’07 and it didn’t seem that he would be looking at too much of a reward after going through the process. Thus, I wasn’t terribly surprised that he was signed before his arbitration hearing, nor was I surprised at the length or value of the contract. This season will be an important one for Foster to determine his future with the Wild franchise. After scoring only 3 goals in 57 games last season, Foster should be a larger part of the offense this year with his big shot.

Josh Harding – $1.45 million, two year contract

The notable thing about this contract is that it is a one-way contract, so Harding will be with the Wild all season. He’ll back up Backstrom, although given Lemaire’s penchant for playing the hot goaltender, he may see more action than a traditional backup.

Nick Schultz – arbitration (hearing Thurs. 7/26)

This is the only unresolved arbitration case remaining for this offseason. Schultz had a very strong season, playing in all 82 games and playing the most minutes on the penalty kill of any Wild skater. Schultz can only sign a one-year deal if his case goes to an arbitration hearing, due to his previous service time. Obviously, the Wild would prefer to avoid arbitration, but I would be surprised if this one didn’t go all the way until Thursday before a deal is agreed upon, either before the hearing, or as a result of it.

[UPDATE]: Well, I was wrong about the day, but the Wild avoided arbitration by signing Schultz to a one-year deal for $1.85 million. A raise from last year, but not a long term deal that Schultz probably wanted. He can become an unrestricted free agent after this upcoming season.

Series Preview in Blog: Toronto Blue Jays (Round 3)

<span style=”font-family:times new roman;”>I apologize for not getting something together for the Angels series, our cats dumped a vase of flowers on our keyboard and the bottom row stopped working for a couple of days.  Being that ‘Los A_geles’, ‘A_ahei_’, and ‘A_gels’ all required use of the ‘n’ or ‘m’ key, I decided to pass on that for the moment.  However I could have possibly posted something about ‘typewriters’ or ‘stewaredesses’, or maybe ‘polkas’, but it just didn’t seem right.  Anyway, we’re back, new keyboard in hand, with the Toro_to _lue Jays.</span><br /><br /><div style=”text-align:center;”><span style=”font-size:130%;”><span style=”font-weight:bold;font-family:times new roman;”>Minnesota Twins (51-47) @ Toronto Blue Jays (48-50)</span></span> </div> <span style=”font-family:times new roman;”><br />The Twins finished up a 6-4 homestand by winning two of three from the Angels.  They now head out on the road for six games against the Jays and the Indians.  The Blue Jays won two of three from Seattle this past weekend in Toronto and finish up their homestand with these three games against the Twins.  Toronto is in third place in the AL East, 11 games behind the Red Sox, far enough out of the races that it may be time to </span><a href=””>give up on this season</a><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”> for the Jays front office.  The Blue Jays have been a very different team in Canada, where they are 28-20 (as opposed to the US where they are 20-30).  The Twins haven’t played a game north of the border, but they are an even 23-23 on the road.  The Twins won 4 of the 7 games played by these two teams in Minnesota.</span> <br /><br /><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”><strong>Toronto Blue Jays Inspired Trivia:</strong>  The Blue Jays are one of four franchises in the Major Leagues which have not officially retired a jersey number (excepting Jackie Robinson’s 42).  Can you name the other three?  (Hint: at least one of the answers is a franchise over 15 years old).  You can cross off the Yankees and the Nationals from your potential answers, as they have not only retired numbers, they’ve retired the same number twice (NY – #8, WAS – #10).<br /><br />Here’s the midseason </span><a href=”″>report card on the Blue Jays offense</a><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”>.  Alex Rios gets high marks, but no mention is made of his penchant for </span><a href=””>very loud shirts</a><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”>.  There were quite a few comments on how inconsistent the Jays offense has been this season.  But, when you </span><a href=””>crunch the numbers</a><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”>, Toronto fans have got nothing on Twins fans in that department.  Of course, there are  other ways to annoy your fan base.  </span><a href=””>Losing on a balk</a><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”> is certainly right up there.</span>  <span style=”font-family:times new roman;”><br /><br />Report cards on the </span><a href=”″>starters</a><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”> and the </span><a href=”″>relievers</a><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”> were also filled out, with the bullpen getting high marks.  The Twins will face a trio of young Toronto starters in this series, while missing Roy Halladay (</span><a href=””>Nick Punto breathes a sigh of relief</a><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”>).  The Blue Jays have been blessed with some strong performances from their young pitchers, which is naturally </span><a href=””>a bad thing</a><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”>.  While I can’t really agree that good equals bad for the Jays, it will be interesting to see how the rotation changes in the remainder of this season and in to the next.</span><br /><br /><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”>On Monday Johan Santana pitches against Shaun Marcum (13 starts, 3.24 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, .219 BAA, 2.9 BB/9).  Marcum has hit a rough patch recently, posting a 8.22 ERA over his last 3 starts.  He has received the </span><a href=””>lowest amount of run support</a><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”> from the offense as well.  In his previous outing against the Twins he held them to one run in 8 innings in a no-decision.</span>  <span style=”font-family:times new roman;”><br /><br />Tuesday brings Scott Baker and Dustin McGowan (14 starts, 4.84 ERA, .248 BAA, 3.5 BB/9).  McGowan has alternated good and bad outings over the last 7 starts (2,6,0,5,0,6,2 runs allowed) and he’s due for a bad outing.  Personally, I’m looking forward to the battle of the sideburns, </span><a href=””>McGowan</a><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”> versus </span><a href=””>Mauer</a><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”>.  While his facial hair choices have </span><a href=””>drawn some criticism</a><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”>, Marcum </span><a href=”″>says</a><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”> “My wife is the only one who likes them, and she’s the only one that counts.”  For more on facial hair, there are a couple of links in </span><a href=””>this entry</a><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”> to the best beards and mustaches in baseball.  Sal Fasano is understandably featured in those lists, Fasano is currently in the Toronto farm system, and he has endeared himself to Toronto fans to the point where they have taken up the cause that the </span><a href=””>American League could have used him</a><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”> in the All-Star game.  That’s a hard pill to swallow, but what’s undeniable is that Fasano has been the best Jays catcher with respect to </span><a href=”″>throwing out baserunners</a><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”>, something the Jays have struggled with all year.</span>  <span style=”font-family:times new roman;”><br /><br />In the finale, it’s Carlos Silva against Jesse Litsch (7 starts, 4.54 ERA, .317 BAA, 3.8 BB/9).  All these Toronto pitchers seem to have control issues.  In his start against the Twins, the rookie Litsch required a lot of pitches (89) to go only 4.3 innings, and gave up 8 hits and 3 runs.</span>  <span style=”font-family:times new roman;”><br /><br />Finally, this is the last series against the Blue Jays, so it’s my last chance to mention </span><a href=””>The Batter’s Box</a><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”> Hall of Names.  A roster is assembled following a theme, and they’ve had a lot of great entries in the series.  My favorites are </span><a href=”″>Latin themed names</a><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”>, the </span><a href=”″>last player standing</a><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”> from each birth year, a series on </span><a href=”″>players with the same first and last initials</a><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”>, and, of course, the </span><a href=”″>Harry Potter</a><span style=”font-family:times new roman;”> themed roster.</span>

Series Preview in Blog: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (Round 2)

The Twins will face starters John Lackey, Jered Weaver, and Joe Saunders in this series, all of whom have ‘J’ as their first initial. 34 of 95 games so far in 2007 have been against starters whose 1st name starts with ‘J’ (most of any initial).

Starters with first initial ‘J’ – 5.3 R/9
Starters with a different first initial – 4.8 R/9

On the subject of starting pitcher’s first initials, the Twins have faced five initials five times or more. They have had the most success against the letter ‘D’ (5.6 R/9).

‘M’ is the letter that has given the Twins the most trouble (allowing 3.1 runs per nine innings). (Doesn’t get much more trivial than that, does it?)

First Initial Gms IP R/9
A 5 28.0 5.1
B 1 6.0 10.5
C 12 70.1 4.7
D 5 29.0 5.6
E 3 9.0 14.0
F 3 17.0 2.6
G 1 5.2 9.5
J 34 214.0 5.3
K 4 23.2 5.3
L 2 8.1 3.3
M 6 34.1 3.2
N 2 14.0 1.9
O 3 16.1 6.1
P 1 7.0 6.4
R 3 18.0 5.5
S 3 22.0 2.0
T 3 21.1 1.3
V 2 8.1 8.6
Z 2 12.0 3.0

Series Preview in Blog: Detroit Tigers (Round 4)

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 (49-43) vs. Detroit Tigers (54-36)

The Twins came out of the All-Star break on fire, sweeping Oakland in four games. They enter this series a season-high 6 games over .500, with six games remaining on the current homestand. The Tigers went into the break on a hot streak, 6-1 in July, but they come to the Metrodome after splitting four games in Seattle. The fact that Detroit didn’t win the road series is a bit of a rarity, they have won the last four road series and have a better record on the road, with a 29-17 mark away from the Motor City. That is the best road record in the majors (closest is Arizona at 27-20). The Twins’ home record improved dramatically over the last weekend to 26-20, which is nowhere near the best home record in the majors (Cleveland 33-13 holds that distinction).

I’m not looking for a war with Major League Baseball, but I have a problem that the minute anything happens, suddenly a suspension comes into play. I don’t think that’s right. There are going to be arguments. When you’re playing for big stakes, there are going to be arguments. If they want to take that away, let’s just go to Sunday school.

Jim Leyland, on Pudge’s impending suspension for contact with an umpire

Here’s one of the dangers of blogging. If you post something about the questions facing the team in the second half, there is always the chance that someone else will answer them on their own blog. Then, suddenly, someone else gives their opinions and calls you out. Then, of course, you have no recourse but to answer your own questions. All in all, every one of the three respondents were very wary of the Twins, despite the fact that they aren’t as close as Cleveland.

A little over a week ago, ubelmann looked at the Twins distribution of runs scored and runs allowed. In a similar vein, Billfer at the Detroit Tigers Weblog looks at the same distributions, and surprisingly, the Tigers score more and allow more than the Twins. My favorite quote from the entry was, “with runs allowed, one would expect the Tigers to have a 42.6-43.4 record given normal run support. So essentially without the strength of their offense they’d be a .500 team.” Detroit’s offense has been a strength all season long, and it has been starting with the leadoff hitter Curtis Granderson. He has been among the league leaders in extra base hits the entire season, and has already accumulated 16 triples. So many triples so quickly has drawn some attention, but looking at others who have hit a lot of triples in the first half, there may be a drop-off in the remainder of the season. Granderson doesn’t hit like a typical leadoff hitter. His OBP is lower than ideal, but all those extra-base hits could be a way to make up for that. Baseball Musings looked at the difference and decided that an on-base percentage point is worth more than a slugging percentage point.

Something that probably won’t affect the offense at all (in a negative fashion, anyway) is Neifi Perez’ suspension for testing positive for stimulants.

So now we’ve gone from Neifi!! being an occasional defensive help and a constant offensive wasteland to Neifi!! being little more than a dustbunny for the team. You know what I mean. Useless, a little gross, nobody quite knows how it got there, and you really just want to sweep it back under the bed from whence it came.
– Roar of the Tigers

Probably one of the main reasons for the difficulty the Tigers have had in preventing runs has been the fact that it has been a revolving door of pitchers on the club due to injury, promotions, demotions, and trades. Overall, the Tigers have lost about $5M in salary to the disabled list from their pitching staff alone. A majority of that comes from Kenny Rogers missing almost half the season, so that number may be a bit inflated for effect.

Starting Pitchers for the next three days:

Matt Garza vs. Nate Robertson

Garza makes his second start of the ’07 season after his successful debut against the White Sox. Nate Robertson makes his fourth start after coming off the DL. In his last three starts he has gone 1-0, with just over 5 innings per start and an ERA of 4.32. Robertson has his own blog, and he is certainly maintaining a positive attitude about his return to the team and just about everything else.

I couldn’t decide on a favorite Santana image, so you decide: Deranged St. Nick is from Stop Mike Lupica, while the much more cuddly monster is from Roar of the Tigers

Johan Santana vs. Andrew Miller

Andrew Miller represents the second lefty in a row Detroit will throw at the Twins. Minnesota has had a little more trouble with left-handed starters (4.52 R/9) than right-handed starters (5.32 R/9), scoring almost a full run less per nine innings. Counter to that trend, the Twins scored 6 runs off of Miller in 5 innings the last time they met, which has been by far Miller’s worst start of his season. He has earned the decision in all seven of his starts.

Scott Baker vs. Jeremy Bonderman

Once again the series finale will pit Baker against Bonderman. The last time these two met, Baker was excellent, but Bonderman was just one run better as the Tigers avoided a sweep, winning 1-0. Hopefully the Twins find themselves in a similar position coming into the game and get a similarly outstanding performance from Baker, and I’ll take my chances that the offense puts enough runs on the board.

Finally, Gary Sheffield has made some comments recently about steroids, Barry Bonds, and Joe Torre’s treatment of specific players on the Yankees. If you’re interested, here’s some background on the Torre situation, using stories from Sheff’s book to dissect the situation. For the lighter side of the interview, look to Sheffield’s definition of steroids.

Series Preview in Blog: Oakland Athletics (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 (45-43) vs. Oakland Athletics (44-44)

Both of these teams are right around .500, and in that spirit the Twins have been alternating winning and losing nicely, going 12-12 in their last 24, and 5-6 in their last 11. In the week before the All-Star break, Oakland stumbled a bit, falling back to .500 with a 2-5 record in series losses to Toronto and Seattle at home. Going back a bit further, the A’s went 5-12 going into the break. The A’s are currently in third place in the AL West, 9 games back of the Angels. They bring a 21-21 road record into this series. The Twins were 22-20 at home in the first half with some tough opponents coming up on this 10-game homestand. The A’s will be followed by the Tigers and the Angels at the Metrodome.

Despite the A’s well-documented tendency to start slow and come on strong in the second half, there are still reasons to think that this team isn’t equipped to make a similar surge this year. For gnasing of teeth in list form, here’s ten things that are bothering Oakland fans.

On the other side of the spectrum, one of everyone’s fondest memories of baseball probably involve going to games as a youngster. If you’re really lucky you can have your first ever game (and first bench-clearing brawl) immortalized in photo essay form just in case you don’t remember it very well.

The A’s haven’t announced their starting pitchers for this series anywhere that I looked, so all I can tell you is that Chad Gaudin will start against Scott Baker tonight. Gaudin has posted a very respectable 2.88 ERA thus far this season, but has been walking a lot of batters (5.0 BB/9 over his last 8 starts). That was the theme in his previous start against the Twins as well, when he walked 5 batters in 5 innings, but only allowed 2 runs to pick up the win. The walks are certainly a worrying trend, but perhaps we should be more worried about the power of Ryan at Catfish Stew to influence the performance of A’s pitchers through his posts. If that trend continues, expect Gaudin to have pinpoint control and a career high in strikeouts tonight.

The probable starters for this series are still in flux due to the number of injuries affecting the A’s pitching staff. Rich Harden made his first start since April in the week before the break, going 2.2 IP while allowing 4 runs. His ability to give the A’s consistent innings will go a long way toward clearing up the starting rotation for the second half. Closer Huston Street has also been on the DL since May, but he is expected to replace the glass of Syrah with a baseball sometime in the second half. (More on Street’s interest in wine here)

Finally, your first ballgame is great, but can it compare to a dancing mascot?

June Strength of Schedule

Check out the earlier post on strength of schedule for explanations of these numbers.

First up is the AL Central:

AL Central May Record May SOS Expected June SOS Actual June SOS Difference June Record Expected July SOS
Chicago White Sox 12-14 .473 .439 .472 -33 10-18 .524
Cleveland Indians 19-11 .526 .468 .474 -6 15-13 .488
Detroit Tigers 16-12 .547 .496 .514 -18 16-10 .536
Kansas City Royals 11-17 .543 .504 .511 -7 15-12 .524
Minnesota Twins 13-14 .502 .530 .504 26 15-12 .526

The Tigers continued to win in June, actually improving on their .571 winning percentage of May with a .615 winning percentage in June. They did that despite having the most difficult opponents of the teams in the division. The Tigers won series against the Indians, Mets, Brewers, and Braves. All of those teams were over .500 when the Tigers met them. The Indians played just a touch over .500 against a much easier schedule. The Indians missed opportunities by losing two of three to both Cincinnati and Washington. The surprise of the month was the Kansas City Royals who finished the month of June three games above .500, the highlight being a three game sweep of the Angels.

The Twins, for the most part, kept pace with their divisional opponents, they lost a couple games in the standings to the Tigers, but stayed right with the Indians. The difference in expected SOS and actual SOS comes from the Braves, Mets, and Brewers coming back to earth a bit after hot starts, and the Nationals playing the Twins tougher than one might expect. The Twins can’t afford to just keep pace with the Tigers and Indians anymore. They have remained on the perimeter of striking distance for most of the season, but now is the time to make their move.

Coming up, the Tigers have a tough month, with the Angels, A’s, Mariners, Indians, and Twins all on their schedule. They have already won 2 of 3 from Cleveland, so it could be more of the same from Detroit. Cleveland has a relatively easy schedule, with series against KC, Chicago, and Texas. However, they also have the aforementioned series with Detroit, along with games against Boston and Minnesota. If Cleveland can beat the teams it is supposed to beat, it should be a pretty straightforward July for the Tribe.

As I have already mentioned, the Twins have a big month. They have division rivals Cleveland and Detroit, in addition to series against Oakland, Los Angeles (of Anaheim), and the Yankees. By the end of the month we should know where the Twins stand in relation to the best teams of the AL Central. They’ve been keeping the deficit manageable, but now is the time for some big wins against tough opponents.

For completeness, here’s the remainder of the American League:

AL East May Record May SOS Expected June SOS Actual June SOS Difference June Record Expected July SOS
Baltimore Orioles 15-13 .515 .528 .504 24 8-17 .477
Boston Red Sox 20-8 .519 .504 .522 -18 13-14 .468
New York Yankees 13-15 .514 .532 .440 92 14-11 .480
Tampa Bay Devil Rays 11-15 .469 .505 .478 27 11-17 .535
Toronto Blue Jays 12-16 .515 .506 .444 62 14-13 .530
AL West May Record May SOS Expected June SOS Actual June SOS Difference June Record Expected July SOS
Los Angeles Angels 18-11 .511 .456 .470 -14 17-9 .492
Oakland Athletics 14-13 .461 .528 .469 59 15-13 .536
Seattle Mariners 16-14 .532 .479 .495 -16 18-9 .505
Texas Rangers 9-20 .479 .502 .555 -53 14-12 .564

The Wild Roster: Free Agents

Eric Belanger – 3 years, $5.25 million

Belanger started his career with the Los Angeles Kings in 2000-2001. Over the next five seasons, he scored 63 goals and 87 assists in 323 games (0.46 Pts/Gm). Last season he started with the Carolina Hurricanes but was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers, which was a positive for him. In Carolina, his playing time was decreased and he scored at a bit of a lower rate, 8 goals and 12 assists in 56 games (0.36 Pts/Gm). The Thrashers put him on a line with Marian Hossa and Slava Kozlov and gave him 19:29 average ice time which turned into 9 goals, 6 assists in 24 games (0.63 Pts/Gm). Thus when the Wild called and promised him the chance to play with Demitra and Gaborik, he jumped at the chance.

In addition to being a center who has shown some scoring ability, Belanger has also been a pretty good faceoff man over his career. Faceoffs are something that the Wild have struggled with in the last few years. Lemaire, in a February Star Tribune article, said, “We’re not good enough on faceoffs. [It’s] that simple.” This was one of the positives of the trade for Dominic Moore last season, and the Wild continue to address this issue this offseason.

Centers (500 F/O min.) F/O ‘06-’07 F/O Pct. Career F/O Pct.
Eric Belanger 1206 53.1 53.3
Dominic Moore 744 52.6 48.9
Mikko Koivu 1165 50.9 49.6
Todd White 1051 49.2 50.4
Pavol Demitra 513 47.8 47.2
Wes Walz 786 47.2 47.3
Wyatt Smith 508 43.5 46.2

Sean Hill – one year, $475,000

In the Wild’s playoff series against Anaheim, the Ducks overran the Wild with physical defensemen and forwards. This had an apparent effect on the Wild front office, as they only took physical players in the draft, then they signed Sean Hill, a big, physical defenseman. The most quoted stat is that he was third in the league in hits last season and among the leaders in blocked shots. The physicality has the Wild probably slotting him in a third or fourth defensive pairing once he joins the team.

Ah yes, the steroid suspension. In the playoffs last year, Hill tested positive for a banned substance and incurred the accompanying 20-game suspension. He served one game of the suspension in the playoffs last year, so he will be unavailable through the first 19 games of the 2007-2008 regular season. Hill has denied that he used PEDs but he will be allowed to practice with the team during the suspension, but not allowed to play in preseason games either.

Steve Kelly – one year, undisclosed amount

Kelly hasn’t played in the NHL for quite a while, four seasons to be exact, and he won’t spend much time with the Wild this year, barring some kind of miracle turnaround. This signing is probably not even worth the time I spent writing all this. If the season goes according to plan, Kelly will provide depth at the AHL level.

Nolan Schaefer – two years, $1.15 million

The 1 million plus price tag is misleading, it only applies if he makes the NHL squad, which at this point seems unlikely. Schaefer was signed as a third goaltender to replace Josh Harding at Houston, and possibly compete with Harding for a spot on the roster. His only NHL experience came with the San Jose Sharks two years ago, posting a 1.88 GAA and a 5-1 record in seven games.

Wes Walz: A Wild Original

Wes Walz came to the Wild as a free agent signing in the summer before their inaugural 2000-2001 season. Until that point, Walz had been a journeyman, playing with the Bruins (’90-’92), Flyers (’92), Flames (’93-’95), and Red Wings (’95) before spending four seasons playing in Switzerland. Upon signing with the Wild, Walz shed his journeyman label and has been a constant presence in Minnesota. He currently holds the franchise record for games played (427), has played in all 23 of the playoff games in Wild history, and is one of two players remaining from the Wild’s first season (Marian Gaborik being the other). It appeared the 37-year old center’s time in Minnesota may have ended when he opted to file for free agency this offseason, but the Wild have brought him back for a seventh season in a Minnesota jersey, signing him on Tuesday to a one-year contract worth $900,000.

WalzIn the last six seasons, Walz has played many roles. He lead the team in goals in their first season with 18 goals. However, his main role for some time has been a checking line and penalty kill expert. The one-time Selke award finalist for best defensive forward has always been a solid defender. He ranked third last season among Wild forwards in short-handed ice time. Walz has also shown a proclivity for the shorthanded goal, scoring a quarter of the Wild’s shorthanded goals throughout their history (16 of 63, 25%).

Walz has seen his role diminish recently as he has slowed a bit. Last season, the Wild’s goals against per 60 minutes with him on the ice was 2.22 which was a bit higher than the 2.09 goals against when he wasn’t on the ice. Combine that with the more expected drop in offense (2.14 on-ice goals for, 2.37 off-ice goals for). The lack of offense isn’t surprising. That’s not the role expected of Walz, and even the defense could be more the result of him playing against the opponents top line. So don’t expect his role to change too much from what it was last year.

In this deal the Wild locked up one of their longest tenured players for a reasonable price. In Walz, they continue to get a reasonably good defensive center, who is a recognized leader in the locker room. Walz should continue to be a solid third/fourth line center and penalty killer through this season.

Wes Walz career Wild statistics:

Season Gm Goals Assists Points PM
2000-2001 Wild 82 18 12 30 37
2001-2002 Wild 64 10 20 30 43
2002-2003 Wild 80 13 19 32 63
2003-2004 Wild 57 12 13 25 32
2005-2006 Wild 82 19 18 37 61
2006-2007 Wild 62 9 15 24 30

Series Preview in Blog: Chicago White Sox (Round 3)

Minnesota Twins (43-41) @ Chicago White Sox (37-45)

The Twins head into the All-Star break with four games in three games in Chicago. This series wraps up the current road trip, on which the Twins dropped to 3-4 when they lost 3 of 4 to the Yankees in New York. After an over .500 June (15-12), the Twins have stumbled out of the gate in July, starting off 1-4. The White Sox finish their seven game homestand with this weekend’s series. The previous series the Sox split 4 games with Baltimore after a successful 6-1 road trip through Tampa and Kansas City. The Sox remain in fourth place in the AL Central, 12.5 games back of the first place Indians, and 5 games behind the third place Twins. The Sox have struggled more at home than on the road, posting a 17-23 record in The Cell where they haven’t won a series since May 23 (they have split two series in that span). Meanwhile the Twins remain right around .500 on the road, with a record of 21-21.

While the Sox have certainly fallen short of their expectations this season, if they just had a little more grit they would probably be just fine, right? Grit or no grit, at least their manager still knows how to keep loose as they flail away. Still, when your team struggles like the White Sox have, it seems like every game is the same old story.

I thought it was interesting that Kenny Williams, the White Sox GM, will often consult with players before making roster moves. Not quite as surprising is that sometimes he wishes Ozzie would just shut up.

On Friday, the series kicks off with a double header which is a makeup game for the cancelled game in April. Since the other two games of the series were split betwixt the two teams, the Twins have a chance to win two series in one weekend (in a manner of speaking). Toward that goal, Scott Baker, fresh off two quality starts, will face Jon Garland (6-5, 3.15 ERA, 1.16 WHIP), who has posted a 1.91 ERA since June 1 in 6 starts. In the nightcap, Twins fans get their first look at a Matt Garza as a starting pitcher when he will start against Gavin Floyd, who was recently recalled from the minors and will also be making his first major league start this season. He made 15 minor league starts this season with a 7-3 record, a 3.10 ERA, 0.67 HR/9, 3.0 BB/9, and 7.7 K/9. For more, here’s a review of one of those 15 starts.

Saturday afternoon will pit Boof Bonser against Mark Buehrle (5-4, 3.26 ERA, 1.11 WHIP) who’s future has been the subject of intense speculation for quite a while now. This could be the last time the Twins have to face Buehrle in a White Sox uniform (picture from South Side Sox). As always, Mark has been an innings eater for the Sox. He has thrown more than seven innings in each of his last five starts (1.91 ERA in that span).

The Buehrle saga began with the Sox trying to negotiate a contract extension, but as the Sox struggled, and the deal didn’t get done, people began to speculate as to the possibility of a trade. The deal has been on and off a few times. The hang-up on the extension was apparently a no-trade clause, which Buehrle wanted, but the Sox were unwilling to give.

It’s always been a tough franchise to embrace, and even in the afterglow of immense success, the stone face always seems to make itself evident. … It often seems like the Sox organization is businesslike on good days, cold on bad days, and vengeful in the ugliest of times. And that’s why fans get so worked up when a guy like Buehrle is on the cusp of leaving, because he’s none of those things. Aaron Rowand’s presence is demanded on every message board, mailbag and call-in show for the exact same reasons.

-Sox Machine

Going into the All-Star break the Twins will send Carlos Silva to the mound to face Javier Vazquez (5-5, 3.70 ERA, 1.08 WHIP), who has been, in a word, inconsistent this season. But when he has been on, he has been very good. He has 6 starts this year where he has allowed 1 run or less (including two starts against the Twins).

The attentive reader has probably noticed that starting pitching is not the reason the Sox are currently under .500. The bullpen has been pretty shaky, which has given Sox fans a whole new way to interpret Win Expectancy.

Finally, if you have read either of the first two White Sox previews, you know I’m a fan of Palehose 7. Recently, it has been trying times over there as Ozzie Captain Hand has had to deal with the legend of Aaron Rowand.