Series Preview in Blog: Cleveland Indians (Round 4)

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Minnesota Twins (67-63) @ Cleveland Indians (72-57)

The Twins come off their four-game sweep of Baltimore heading into Cleveland to face the first-place Indians. The Indians just finished a 6-3 road trip, winning two of three from Tampa, Detroit, and Kansas City. Recently the Indians have struggled a bit at home, going 7-14 since the All-Star Break at Jacobs Field, losing six of their last eight. Still the Indians remain comfortably over .500 at home with a 38-26 mark. The Twins, with their six-game road winning streak, have approached the neighborhood of .500 again, with a 32-33 mark away from home. The real difference betwixt these two teams is in their success against their own division. The Indians boast a 31-20 mark, while the Twins are struggling with a 21-26 record against the AL Central. Those records pretty much represent the difference in the standings coming into this series.

The struggles of the Twins offense have been well documented and discussed. But, in reading some of the Indians blogs, I began to feel like they were stealing all of our complaints. Read this entry and you have to admit, if the word Cleveland Indians were replaced by Minnesota Twins and some names switched around, then it certainly wouldn’t have looked out of place on any Twins blog as recently as a couple of weeks ago. The Indians offense has also been struggling of late, and it has lead to a few members of the team taking some heat from the fans (Casey Blake has an OPS of .622 in August, his only sub-.700 month of this season). The offensive struggles have lead to some new blood in the lineup, and some of the youngsters have stepped up and contributed immediately. I understand the temptation to switch up the roster when it seems like your team is struggling to score runs, but Cleveland had better be careful or they might do something that they will regret (I know the entry is from almost a month ago, but I couldn’t resist). Manager Eric Wedge has let his frustration be known, threatening to shake up the lineup and bench those players that don’t produce. Some people think it’s a little late in the game for Wedge to start playing the fiery motivator role, and so are a little skeptical of these reports.

In the first game of the series Carlos Silva will pitch against Paul Byrd. The Twins will be facing Paul Byrd for the fourth time. Hopefully the fourth time is the charm, because Byrd is 3-0 against the Twins this year with a 3.52 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP. Of course, the Indians have scored 29 runs in those three games, so it would help if the Twins limited the tribe’s offense a little more effectively. Silva is the exact opposite of Byrd, as he has gone 0-3 against Cleveland with an ERA of 5.00.

Boof Bonser will pitch against Jake Westbrook who has been hot of late. In his last five starts he has allowed only 6 earned runs in 36 innings for an ERA of 1.50. That is the lowest ERA of any starter in their 5 previous starts that the Twins have faced this season. This doesn’t bode well for the Twins offensively; five other times the opposing starting pitcher has had an ERA below 2.00 in their last five starts and the Twins have been shut out twice and only managed 4 runs in 35 innings while going 1-4.

Interesting (to me) Trivia note: Of the 17 opposing starters not to allow a run against the Twins, which one had the highest ERA over their previous five starts?

In the finale, Johan Santana will pitch against Carsten Charles Sabathia. Like Byrd, the Twins will be facing Sabathia for the fourth time. However, they have managed to take one of the previous three games against C. C. who has posted a 1.66 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP to go with his 2-1 record against the Twins. This will be the fifth time Santana has pitched against the Tribe, he has posted a 3.67 ERA in his four starts but doesn’t have any wins to show for it. Meanwhile Cleveland has handed Johan 3 of his 9 losses this season.

I don’t know what it is about the AL Central, but with Palehose 7’s documenting the White Sox search for pie, and the Indians apparent exuberance for pie, you have to wonder at what point the Twins will start having clubhouse bake-offs (my money is on Punto, the man apparently makes a mean slushee, and it’s only a small step from there).

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Series Preview in Blog: Seattle Mariners (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 (58-59) @ Seattle Mariners (65-50)

The Twins continue their death march road trip with a three game series in Seattle. Thus far they are 1-5 on this trip, and have dipped below the .500 mark for the first time in quite a while. The Mariners on the other hand return home after a road trip through Baltimore and Chicago which saw them go 5-1 while pounding out 47 runs. That road trip got Seattle back to .500 away from home, but their home record is an impressive 37-22 (trailing only LA, Bos, NY for best in AL). The Twins have struggled lately on the road, winning only 3 of their last 14 away from the Dome while seeing their road record fall to 26-32. The Mariners are currently in second place in the AL West, 3.5 games behind the Angels. In the Wild Card standings, they are the current leaders, with a one loss lead on the Yankees, but it would probably be prudent to focus on the division for now.

Mike Hargrove made the surprising decision to step down in the middle of an 8-game winning streak earlier in the season. The fact that he retired despite the fact that his Mariners team was starting to show signs of competing for a playoff spot didn’t satisfy some fans, who may have preferred a more ignominious exit. His replacement, bench coach John McLaren, hasn’t exactly been earning rave reviews. Although he hasn’t been the subject of too many long-winded rants, most of the criticisms are short, quick, and to the point. On the other hand, he has shown an increasing willingness to mix things up as he gets more comfortable in his role, and every now and then you have to give credit where credit is due when a series of moves works out just as planned.

A lot of the frustration with McLaren (and before him, Hargrove) stems from the unwillingness to sit underperforming veterans like Raul Ibanez and Richie Sexson. If someone ran a business like the Mariners run their roster, well you can see it probably wouldn’t work that well. Sexson has struggled this year, posting a .203/.298/.390 line, and it doesn’t look like it will improve real soon. The recent road trip saw him hit .353/.353/.412 and could be a sign of him turning it around, but don’t be fooled. Mariners fans still would rather have anyone else up there in the middle of a rally.

Raul Ibanez is a similar case to Sexson. He has been less than impressive this year, both with the bat (.253/.310/.387 before recent road trip) and in the field. He too heated up on the recent road trip, hitting 5 homeruns in 5 games and posting an OPS of 1.919 in 26 PA in Baltimore and Chicago (two hitters parks in the heat of August, it will be interesting to see if these two hitter’s resurgence carries over to the pitcher-friendly Safeco Field). The struggles of Ibanez prompted the callup of Adam Jones, the Mariners top hitting prospect. The reaction of some of the veteran players to that move was, to put it nicely, a little less than enthusiastic. Jones has gotten 13 PA so far and has hit well (.417/.462/.500) but given the veteran’s recent hot bats, he may not get as much playing time as some would like.

In other prospect news, Ryan Rowland-Smith made his major league debut earlier this season, and he has appeared in 11 games this year. He made at least one good first impression with an appearance against the Red Sox.

Things get started off with Johan Santana versus Felix Hernandez. The Mariners have actually had more success against left-handed starting pitchers this year. You’ve no doubt heard about turning around a switch-hitter to get a more favorable matchup, but the Mariners have been employing the same tactic against LHP, which may account for their success. King Felix hasn’t quite returned to the utterly dominating form he was in early in the season, and some fans are getting tired of his non-regal behavior. Sometimes you just need to step back and realize that, even if he’s not everything you want right now, he’s still something special.

Tuesday pits Matt Garza against Horacio Ramirez in a pitching matchup that might actually favor the Twins. Ramirez has really struggled this year, but he’s been better at home, so he’s got that going for him (in addition to facing the Twins offense).

The road trip ends with Scott Baker taking on Jarrod Washburn, which means they will face two different Jareds on this trip and neither one can spell their name correctly. The Twins will want to work some counts and get Washburn’s pitch count up because he has run out of gas pretty consistently in his recent starts.

Kansas City has Emil Brown. Seattle has the Mariner Moose. It’s gettin’ dangerous out there on the diamond.

Finally, Ichiro just signed a pretty big contract, but, seeing as how he’s an odd dude, he attributes the decision to stay in Seattle to his dog. Maybe he’s hallucinating due to hunger, seeing as how he apparently never eats anything.

Series Preview in Blog: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (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.

All right, here we go, a series preview from the end of dinner (burgers, corn on the cob, and pineapple straight off the grill) before the end of the game tonight. That way it’s still kosher as a preview, right? Thank goodness they’re on the west coast so I get the cushion of the late start time.

Minnesota Twins (58-56) @ Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (66-47)

The Angels started off their homestand by winning two of three from Boston. Now they finish their week at home with three against the Twins. The Twins are in the middle of a nine-game road trip, which did not start off all that well when the Royals took two of three from Minnesota. Los Angeles has the best home record in the American League at 37-17, while the Twins are 26-29 on the road. The Angels are in first place in the AL West with a 2.5 game lead over Seattle.

This is the third series betwixt these two teams, each team has won one series and the season series stands at 3-3. Recaps from game 1, game 2, and game 3 of the last series can be found at those links.

Their normal catcher Mike Napoli is on the DL and the Angels have been relying on a couple of young catchers, Jeff Mathis and Ryan Budde. Mathis has done a very good job, and Budde is getting his first look at the major leagues.

**Just to make this whole “race against time” thing interesting, I take an hour and a half trip into downtown Chicago to give myself a bit of a handicap, it is now the bottom of the fourth inning**

The Angels offense is similar to the Twins in that neither hit very many homeruns. Of course, the difference is that the Angels offense actually works pretty well. Nonetheless, the lack of homerun power lead plenty of people to speculate that the Angels need a big bat to remain contenders. Other people point out that, depending on what numbers are most important to you, a case can be made that no such need exists. Still, it’s a little bit disheartening when the trade deadline passes and nothing at all is done. The trade deadline did see Luis Castillo depart from Minnesota, but before he showed up in New York, apparently he added one last assist to the Twins when found time to help out the Angels in their sweep of Detroit.

Those of us who rely on MLB.tv for our Twins viewing will be treated to the hometown tandem of Steve Physioc and Rex Hudler. I don’t think that I would be out of place to call these two announcers “much-maligned”, but an odd thing has happened this year. The number of games these two were scheduled to call was scaled back in favor of a second broadcast team of Jose Mota and Mark Gubicza. Only it turns out almost everybody hates those two even more than the original duo. Additionally, the radio guy has been called into the booth to announce a few games as well, so the powers that be are certainly casting about for a solution.

**Wait a second, the Twins just scored a run. I’ve got to take a moment to savor this.**

Another story that has popped up here and there is the number of vermin violations Angel Stadium has accumulated in the last two years. A bit of careful reading shows a few inconsistencies in the article and its response. The big problem seems to be allowing the dirty stadium to sit overnight before cleaning. Of course, management has offered some reasoning for that, but you have to think this bad publicity will force them to implement cleanup operations in a more timely manner.

I didn’t really have a place for this, but Mike Scioscia has never struck me as a particularly astute tactician. Articles like this only reinforce that notion.

Finally, this has nothing to do with the Angels other than that it happened in a game they were playing in, but umpire gaffes are the kinds of stories that are always good for a chuckle.

**And I’m done with plenty of time to spare. I would have rather Light Rail Baker mowed down the Angels in order and I didn’t quite finish in time, but, alas, it wasn’t to be**

I Got Nothin'

What can I say about this Twins team? The pitching is good, the hitting is atrocious. That’s all there is to it. There are only so many ways you can write that analysis.

Minnesota in the last 10 games:
.221/.278/.319, 25 runs
those are their worst 10 game totals this season in runs, BA, and OPS
the Twins have been hit by a pitch more times (4) than they have hit HR (3) in that span

If it truly is darkest before the dawn, I can’t imagine it getting much darker for the Twins bats, dawn must be coming soon.

This went up a bit ago, but check out my profile at SBG Nation. It was a lot of fun to chat up the commenters there for an afternoon.

Thanks to Rhubarb_Runner for pointing out that Daneeka’s Ghost is available in multiple languages (put that page back through Google translation for some interesting phrasing).

Series Preview in Blog: Kansas City Royals (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 (57-54) @ Kansas City Royals (48-62)

The Twins finished their 7 game homestand at 4-3 with a series split against the Indians, they begin a road trip that starts in KC, and goes through LA and Seattle, totaling nine games. Since their demolition of the White Sox in a doubleheader in Chicago, the Twins are 2-6 on the road. The Royals return home after a 1-5 road trip to begin a brief homestand against the Twins and the Blue Jays. Kansas City has identical 24-31 records at home and on the road, although they have won their last four contests at Kauffman Stadium. Kauffman Stadium has been very much a hitter’s park this year, so maybe that will help the Twins offense get going. The Twins are 25-27 on the road so far this year.

With the White Sox challenging the Royals for the cellar in the AL Central, sportswriters may have to come up with a new adjective to describe the Kansas City Nine. Although it may not seem all that exciting to be looking at a season of 75 wins, for some fans this puts the Royals only a season away.

The Soul of Baseball Section:
I still haven’t read a single post at this blog that I haven’t liked. So, I can understand feeling a little bit of awe if I were to meet the man behind it. One of my favorite recent posts was about neutral wins (with a bonus Twins connection). Looking at the Royals rotation, they would benefit greatly from having a league-average offense behind them (I kind of know how they feel).

Tuesday brings Boof Bonser battling Brian Bannister, and blustering blogger Big-mak believes Billy Butler and Brian Buscher’s big bats become bashers before bullpen brigades breakup the blitz. Bannister started the lone KC win in the previous series, going seven innings and allowing three runs (an offensive explosion!). For those who have the requisite subscription, Baseball Prospectus did an interview of Bannister recently.

Johan Santana faces Odalis Perez in Wednesday’s game, in an almost-rematch of the scheduled starters of the game that was cancelled due to the 35W bridge tragedy. Perez is probably looking forward to facing the Twins, since his last 5 starts have come against some of the top offenses in baseball (Cleveland, Boston, Texas and twice against the Yankees).

In the finale, Matt Garza takes on new Royal acquisition Kyle Davies. Davies was picked up in a trade in which the Royals sent Octavio Dotel (who always seems to be on the block at the deadline… or maybe it’s just me) to Atlanta. His debut didn’t go so well, he gave up A-Rod’s 500th HR. Fortunately, the chances of him giving up another milestone HR are pretty slim (unless he gives up 14 HR to Torii Hunter to get him to 200).

Random pitching notes that I’m too tired to work into paragraphs:
Joakim Soria has been really f***in’ good this year.

Gil Meche is infinitely more professional than the hefty lefty from Cleveland. (Mugshot humor!)

Scott Elarton has no business making a start at the major league level.

Finally, I have been sorely tempted to purchase a subscription to baseball-reference.com ever since I discovered the site. I just know that the minute I give into the temptation, I will be lost forever in little projects like “just how good was Kevin Appier?”

Justin Morneau and the Twins Offense

Over the last two seasons Justin Morneau has been one of the best run producers in the American League with 62 HR and 219 RBI. What makes this fact more impressive is that on the surface he has been producing all those runs on a team who does not possess one of the elite AL offenses. It would seem intuitive to conclude that Morneau has to be more efficient in the opportunities that he gets, since the more potent offenses are going to yield more opportunities for hitters in their lineups. While there may be some truth to that way of thinking, it’s actually Morneau’s ability to go deep that is keeping him on the RBI leaderboard this season, not his performance with runners on base.

A simple way to approximate the chances a hitter gets to drive in baserunners is baserunners per PA, which is shown in the table below for the top 5 AL hitters in Runners Driven In (RDI = RBI-HR).

Player RDI BR BR/PA
M. Ordonez 72 346 0.77
A. Rodriguez 68 356 0.76
V. Guerrero 67 324 0.74
J. Morneau 61 333 0.77
V. Martinez 61 296 0.70

Morneau is in the middle of the pack here, so at first glance it doesn’t seem he’s suffering from a lack of opportunities. But one of the hallmarks of the Twins offense is its lack of power, so is it reasonable to expect a larger percentage of those runners to be on first base? It turns out that is not the case either. In fact, Morneau has had the most chances with a runner on third (the easiest RDI opportunity) and isn’t getting less chances with RISP than any of the top 5. If you’ve noticed that the number of chances (the numbers in parentheses) don’t add up to the number of baserunners in the previous table, I discounted plate appearances in which the hitter was intentionally walked because that doesn’t represent an opportunity to drive in any runners. Back to the numbers with RISP, a caveat to that observation is that a larger percentage of those RISP chances come with two outs for Morneau. This is most likely the result of “productive” outs moving runners into scoring position (or “non-productive” outs keeping them there until Morneau comes to bat). What struck me is the fact that Morneau doesn’t stand out in driving runners in from third base (more two out situations mean less RBI groundouts or sac flies) and he is merely average bringing runners in from second and first. In general the Twins offense has had difficulties scoring runners from first, as detailed previously here, and it appears that Morneau is not an exception to that rule.

Player from 1st from 2nd from 3rd RISP % of PARISP
w/ 2 out
M. Ordonez 0.09 (171) 0.22 (119) 0.60 (50) 0.33 0.43
A. Rodriguez 0.13 (181) 0.15 (115) 0.50 (54) 0.26 0.41
V. Guerrero 0.12 (150) 0.22 (88) 0.51 (58) 0.34 0.33
J. Morneau 0.08 (151) 0.20 (98) 0.41 (70) 0.29 0.47
V. Martinez 0.07 (159) 0.22 (86) 0.65 (48) 0.37 0.38

While Morneau has performed well in his role, driving in plenty of runs, his place on the RBI leaderboard has come abgout differently than the other hitters. Morneau has been able to remain on this short list mostly due ot his ability to hit HR. Only A-Rod has more home runs in the AL and the highest percentage of RBI from HR. Looking at the runs per HR for these hitters, it could be used as an argument that not enough Twins are getting on base in front of Morneau. If you’ve been paying attention, you know that Morneau is second in the AL in solo HR (Morneau-16, Carlos Pena-17) not because of a lack of opportunities. He’s been able to hit a lot of solo HR to make up for a performance with runners on which isn’t quite in line with the other top AL hitters this season.

Player HR RBI% from HR R/HR
M. Ordonez 16 0.28 1.56
A. Rodriguez 35 0.66 1.94
V. Guerrero 14 0.36 2.07
J. Morneau 28 0.49 1.57
V. Martinez 17 0.37 1.71

With all of this considered, Morneau is having another monster year in which he is currently on pace for 43 HR and 137 RBI. Those numbers are impressive enough that the footnote that he’s doing it all within a subpar offense needn’t be applied. Especially since the surrounding offense is actually giving him a reasonable amount of opportunities to add to those numbers.