Series Preview in Blog: St. Louis Cardinals

St. Louis is currently in first place in the NL Central, one game up on the Brewers.  They are returning from a 4-3 road trip, where they swept the Royals before losing 3 of 4 to the Mets.  The Cards have a pretty good home record (21-16) while the Twins road record is still looking to climb back to respectability

Cards manager Tony LaRussa has long been famous for his myriad pitching changes, constantly bringing in new relievers to exploit matchups.  Apparently this year, he has found a new toy, the late game defensive replacement.  The switches have become so regular and prevalent that a new statistic, the fielding save, has been invented to keep track of it.  Fortunately for those of us who tend to leave games early if they take too long, LaRussa hasn’t had to worry about the ninth inning at all this year.  His closer, Ryan Franklin has been a most pleasant surprise for the Cardinals (although it’s the kind of surprise that shouldn’t be discussed lest it fall victim to Heisenberg’s Principle of Uncertainty and be altered merely by a fan’s observance of it).

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Series Preview in Blog: Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers did the Twins no favors, getting swept by the Tigers this weekend.  How are the Twins supposed to catch the Tigers if they keep staying above .500?

You say they could win enough games that they too will be above .500?  You mean more than one game above .500?  That sounds too scary, I’m cool with the Twins strategy this season – we’ll be at .500 and wait for the rest of the division to come to us.

–PROBABLE PITCHERS–

The Brewers starters have been really poor recently, almost across the board.  Luckily for the Twins, they will be missing Yovanni Gallardo (I think), the one hurler who’s actually been pitching well for the Crew.  Couple that with the fact that the Brewers are right near the top of the NL Central as trade speculation season begins and that the guys being called on to step into the lineup, like Casey McGehee and Mat Gamel, are doing remarkably well, and you’ve got a ton of posts about the potential starting pitchers Milwaukee could be interested in.  Not only that, apparently Erik Bedard and Doug Davis have stated their case as to why the Milwaukee front office should target them, the card that Bedard made is awfully persuasive.

Liriano v. J. Suppan

Suppan has been about what you would expect from him at this point – nothing spectacularly good or bad, but serviceable.

Blackburn v. B. Looper

Looper had a very good start to the year, but he has quickly regressed and become part of the rotation-wide struggles for the Brewers.

??? v. ???

It should be Slowey here for Minnesota but MLB.com has Baker.  For the Brewers, it’s Dave Bush’s turn in the rotation, but he’s been so bad lately that the word is he’s suffering from arm fatigue.  So, manager Ken Macha (who may be the best personality on the Brewers.  Really? The manager?) deciding whether or not to skip him this time around, a decision made harder by the struggles of the other starters to pitch effectively.

Series Preview in Blog: Houston Astros

The Astros come to town finishing a nine-game road trip.  Houston lost 2 of 3 to Texas this week, which marked their first series loss in June (10-6 in the month).  That mild hot streak has not moved them up in the standings, as they remain in last place in the NL Central, six games back.

The Astros have one of the lowest run-scoring offenses in the NL (only ahead of Chicago, SF, and SD in runs scored) and a big part of that is that they’re just not hitting home runs.  That has resulted in a run-differential of -37 which makes it hard to believe this team is making a run for the top half of the division.  Normally, you would think that no power = scrappy hustling hitters (at least according to the classic baseball announcer logic).  At least in some cases that’s not true as Carlos Lee is catching some flak for not running out grounders.  Still, I’m not going to rag on the guy because he just extended my season long hit streak in Beat the Streak to 14 games last night (I might actually have to start thinking about my picks at this point).

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Series Preview in Blog: Pittsburgh Pirates

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have our first mediocre Pirates team since 1997.”

– Burgher Jon @ The Pittsburgh Men’s Blogging Society

The Pirates come to Minnesota winners of four of their last five, and unbridled optimism is the mood of Pirates fans.  They are a mere four games out of first place (although also tied for last in the NL Central), are nearly at .500 (30-33), and BP has their playoff odds at 10%.  Maybe ‘cautious’ is the better modifier for optimism.  If ever there was a year for optimism in Pittsburgh sports, this is it, with the Penguins’ Stanley Cup run fresh in mind, maybe the Pirates are destined for greatness.  Sidney Crosby and the Pens were at the game Sunday (which was also turn back the clock day – love the old-time unis and scoreboard) showing off their new hardware.

The Pirates biggest move this year was the trade of Nate McLouth to the Atlanta Braves in early June.  Immediate reaction from what I can tell on the blogs, was a bit of “here we go again” and some “I see what they’re doing, I’m just not quite convinced“.  I’m sure the GM was excited when one of the returns of that trade, Charlie Morton, pitched all of one inning in his Pirates debut before injuring himself (it’s minor – he won’t miss his next start).  With all the trades of talent (Bay, Nady, McLouth) for prospects, the Pirates are collecting quite a few prospects. Along those lines, in the recent draft the Pirates had the fourth overall pick, but in a move widely viewed as budget-motivated, they reached and selected catcher Tony Sanchez.  Even though I don’t really follow the draft, I feel comfortable saying that this was a reach due to posts “defending” the pick.

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Series Preview in Blog: Chicago Cubs

The Twins travel to Wrigley to finish off their road trip (3-4 so far).  Meanwhile the Cubs come back home to where they haven’t lost a series since April.  Both teams are hovering right around .500 (Cubs are currently on the good side, 29-28) so I’m fully expecting the teams to somehow find a way to split this three game series.  I’ll be at the first game, so expect pictures sometime soon.

–PROBABLE PITCHERS–

The Cubs thus far this season are pretty simple.  The starting pitching has been very good.  The offense and bullpen have struggled to keep up.

Slowey v. R. Wells

The first six starts of Randy Wells career couldn’t have gone much better while he was in the game.  He has allowed eight runs in his six starts, which the Cubs offense and bullpen has turned into an 0-2 record thus far in 2009.  There’s not much one can say about that other than “Welcome to the Cubs, rookie“.

Swarzak v. R. Harden

This is the first start of Harden’s since coming off the DL, and he’ll be on a pitch count for Saturday’s start.  Harden has looked pretty good in his rehab starts, but the Twins lineup is a bit different from a AAA lineup (for example, we have Tolbert, Gomez, Casilla, Buscher, Punto, … you know what, never mind).

Baker v. T. Lily

TLAmerica

Ted Lily has been very good this year so far.  He’s only given up two runs in his last three starts and he’s starting to draw comparisons to great men, like Chuck Norris.  If you’re looking to jump on the Ted Lily bandwagon, here’s your instruction manual, and here’s an introduction to the necessary vocabulary.

Series Preview in Blog: Seattle Mariners

It seems like the Twins and Mariners have played each other a ton already this season. But we’ll give it another go this weekend, this time in Seattle. Let’s see what USS Mariner and Lookout Landing have to say one more time.

Yesterday was an off day for Seattle, and as it came almost exactly one third of the way through the season, it seemed like an ideal time to take stock of the team and the season. The Mariners are 26-28, in third place in the AL West (5.5 GB).  Like any team, there are overachievers and underachievers.  Minnesota will face two of the starting pitchers on the “likely to get worse” side of things, so hopefully regression is swift and severe for them.  The next step after taking stock of the team is to survey the options for improving it.  One of the biggest weaknesses has been the middle infield positions, and unfortunately for the Mariners, that deficiency runs pretty deep in their organization.

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Series Preview in Blog: Cleveland Indians

My word is this team bad on the road. Just think if the Twins had an experience like the Yankees in Cleveland and got kicked out of their hotel.  Half the team probably wouldn’t even make it to the ballpark.  Gardy would have to send Justin, Jason, and the three Joes to rescue all the lost utility infielders.  At least we don’t have to worry about that for this series as the Indians come to Minnesota for three games. The Indians are at 22-31, 8 games behind Detroit, in last place in the AL Central. They are 10-17 on the road, only winning one road series all season (v. the Royals two weeks ago). The Twins are a different team at home, going 10-3 in their last four home series.

First off, blog entries concerning the Indians were few and far between recently. Apparently the city’s focus was on some basketball tournament. I’m not sure if the Cavaliers exit from the NBA playoffs is responsible for the general malaise evident on some sites, or I guess it could just be the default setting for Cleveland sports fans, watching teams go down in flames, just to see them burn, but it doesn’t seem like anyone is too excited by the team on the field (but Rick Vaughn bobblehead night will always bring a crowd).  That’s partly due to the fact that the guys who are supposed to be carrying this team aren’t on the field (the Indians disabled list is starting to read like Robot Santa’s naughty list).

–PROBABLE PITCHERS–

Slowey v. D. Huff

Swarzak v. C. Lee

Baker v. F. Carmona

The starting rotation has been the cause of a lot of the problems for Cleveland.  Of the three starters the Twins will face, only Cliff Lee has pitched consistently well.  Injuries have been an issue for the starting staff as well, which is part of the reason that Huff and Carmona are still in the rotation despite a series of rough outings.  Cleveland has usually had a pretty good staff in recent years, but it seems like the plan to have young arms come in and pick up for the veterans that inevitably leave, hasn’t quite panned out the way it was supposed to.

Series Preview in Blog: Tampa Bay Rays

The Twins start a road trip with a weekend series against Tampa Bay.  Minnesota’s road woes are well documented (5-14) so hopefully this series against a team struggling with higher expectations this year will get them on track.  Tampa Bay currently sits at 23-27, fourth in the AL East, only percentage points above Baltimore in the cellar.  They are coming home (11-10 record at Tropicana Field) from a entirely disheartening sweep by the Cleveland Indians that involved a seven-run ninth inning and rain delays in every game.  The rain delay is an apt metaphor for the Rays season so far, everyone is just waiting for the 2008 Rays to show up and start winning.  On the other hand, I’m having trouble generating any sympathy for a fan base that includes a Jose Canseco jersey-wearing contingent (after jinxing the Cleveland series I hope that guy shows up this weekend).

As is to be expected, there is some restlessness to be found, and some dissatisfaction with the Rays start to the 2009 season.  Some are looking at the offseason as a bit of a disaster (but in a clever and amusing way, so points to them for that), while others are just calling a spade a spade.  If this team looks like the Devil Rays and plays like the Devil Rays, then they are going to be called the Devil Rays.  Probably the most upsetting indicator that people are unhappy with the Rays first 50 games is the attendance numbers.  The Rays has some promising numbers at the end of last season, and early on people were coming out in numbers that easily surpassed the crowds of the year before, but now it seems that trend is starting to taper off.

Another reason for the Rays slow start is injuries.  The middle of the infield has been particularly ravaged.  Jason Bartlett is on the DL with a sprained ankle, Pat Burrell is close to coming back from a stiff neck, and Akinori Iwamura is done for the year with a torn ACL.  The Rays are actually somewhat deep at second and short (see the Iwamura post for the options available to them), and these injuries have paved the way for some of the exciting prospects in their system to get a look (Matt Joyce may be called up for this weekend, color Rays fans excited about that news).  Fernando Perez is another casualty, he broke his wrist in spring training.  You may think this isn’t that important of an injury as Perez probably wasn’t going to be much more than a pinch-runner or 5th outfielder, but it’s important because he’s using his down time to write fantastic blog entries for the NY Times baseball blog.  He has three up right now.  The one concerning walk-up music is awesomely bizzare, but read the other two (here and here), watch this video of Perez’s unorthodox sliding tactics, and tell me you’re not at least a little bit glad that we got to hear about this guy.

–PROBABLE PITCHERS–

Baker v. J. Shields

Liriano v. D. Price

Blackburn v. M. Garza

Series Preview in Blog: Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox come to town to start off a ten-game road trip with a 4-game series with the Twins.  Boston lost 2 of 3 against the Mets this weekend, and lost 3 of their 4 series on the road this month.  Overall, the Sox are 9-12 on the road, but remain in first place in the AL East, one half game ahead of the Blue Jays.  The Twins are 17-9 at home, having won 8 of their last 9 in the Dome.

Judging by the blogs, everyone in Red Sox nation is talking about David Ortiz.  He’s been keeping pace with Matt Tolbert in the HR race, but apparently that’s not acceptable for Big Papi.  He’s gone back to struggling mightily, and the rumor is that he’s going to be moved down in the lineup for this series.  Still, it could all just be an elaborate trap (A-Rod and Teixeira were supposedly struggling too).

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Series Preview in Blog: Chicago White Sox

First off, we have to pay our respects to Palehose 9.  I first discovered Carl Skanberg’s comics doing this feature two years ago.  It was hilarious from the get-go, and I immediately bookmarked it and checked it obsessively.  Partly, it was that I live in Chicago, and so I was already familiar with all the story lines, but mostly it was that Carl was a brilliant cartoonist, and I’m legitimately bummed that I won’t be able to follow his strip the same way this year.  If you haven’t read any of the Palehose series, consider this my strongest recommendation – even if you don’t read any other links in any of these posts that I put up semi-consistently – go back and read Palehose 6, Palehose 7, and Palehose 8.  The Twins and White Sox seasons are so intertwined that I think Twins fans might enjoy these as much as South Siders.

My favorite from Palehose Seven.  And my favorite series from Palehose Eight – Part OnePart TwoPart Three.

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Series Preview in Blog: New York Yankees

I lost this post once, so all I’ve got is a list of links.

It turns out the Yankees spend way more money than anyone else. Does that mean Yankees fans should feel guilty about it?  I know one thing, all that money can’t buy Brett Gardner a sense of humor.  C’mon buddy, lighten up!  Increased payroll also increases expectations, evidenced by this image from nomaas.org:

Due to the Yankees’ fairly average record so far, the new Yankee Stadium may be making more headlines than the team itself.  And they are not the good kinds of headlines.  They’ve made some poor decisions with the stadium but they seem to be trying to respond to some of the harsher criticisms.

This is pretty cool – photo gallery of the old stadium being torn down.

Other things that interest me (I’ve got to get to work, so these are quick) –

Left-handed catchers

Teams gaming the disabled list rules?

Terrible defense – Scouts say A-Rod is a statue, but that’s OK because, “A bad defense is good for business, because fewer outs made = more plate appearances for the other team = more concessions sold = PROFIT!

–PROBABLE PITCHERS–

Liriano v. P. Hughes

Blackburn v. J. Chamberlain

Slowey v. A. Burnett

Perkins v. A. Pettitte

I think that every time I’ve written Pettitte’s last name I’ve used at least one too few letter t’s.

Series Preview in Blog: Detroit Tigers

The Twins came this close to sweeping the Mariners this weekend and getting back to even. .500 will have to wait at least two more games, and next up are the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers swept the Indians this weekend, with some fantastic pitching (see below) and some fantastic defense. I’m sure you’ve seen Curtis Granderson’s game-saving catch, but Granderson writes for Big League Stew and offered his thoughts on how improbable that catch really was.  Detroit is traveling to the Metrodome for the first time this year, and they are not terribly excited to be back in Minnesota.  Even though the Tigers have had some struggles in the Dome, here’s some thoughts on what they need to do to succeed in “Hubert Humphrey’s House of Horrors“.  Minnesota is 11-9 at home this season, Detroit comes in with a 9-8 road record.  The Tigers are in first place in the Central, tied with the Royals, and 3 games in front of the Twins.

This actually happened during the last Twins-Tigers series, but Carlos Guillen has struggled mightily this season and he was put on the 15-day DL, so he won’t be on the field this week.  This post points out that while Guillen was in the lineup he provided below average defense in addition to the lowest batting average of any AL Central left fielder (guess which AL Central LF has the highest BA?). Still, some can’t help but think that last year, Guillen would continued to be in the lineup, no matter how dinged up and ineffective he might have been.

A couple of historic links as well; pitch-tipping has been in the news recently (thanks, A-Rod!), which brought up this story from back in the day.  Secondly, I always enjoy reading people’s recollection of their childhood favorite players, especially when they were little known guys who just seemed to have fun with the game.

–PROBABLE PITCHERS–

The Tigers had absolutely phenomenal starting pitching this past weekend, Verlander, Porcello, and Jackson all had fantastic outings, so the Twins will have their work cut out to put some runs up on this staff.

Slowey v. A. Galarraga

Perkins v. D. Willis

Dontrelle Willis makes his return to the major leagues in this game.  He’s been progressing through the minor leagues so far this season, and it’s been a mixed bag of results (but do those results mean anything? You’ve got me).  It’s easy to think that Willis’ return to the big leagues was inevitable, Jim Leyland sounds like he is expecting him to hold his own, or else he may find himself back down in the minors.

Baker v. J. Verlander

Verlander has only allowed one earned run over his last three starts, which could be the result of the addition of a slider to his arsenal.  Verlander has only allowed four hits in his last two outings, so he’s going about as good as a pitcher can right now.  The Twins should see if they can score enough off of Willis that they can carry over some runs into this game.

Series Preview in Blog: Seattle Mariners

The Twins (13-16) take on the Mariners (15-14) at home this weekend.  Seattle has lost their last four games and fallen out of first place in the AL West.  They currently sit one half game behind Texas.  The Mariners are 8-7 on the road thus far this season, while the Twins are 9-8 at home.

The latest losing streak aside, this is a team that not many expected to be this close to first place at any point past the first week of the season.  The fans have been pleased with the moderate success so far.  Some express that pleasure via a short ecstatic blog post, and some feel compelled to shout their love of Mariners’ players from the proverbial mountain top.

I think most Mariners fans still love Ken Griffey, Jr. as well, maybe not for what he’s bringing to the table so far this year, but over his career as a whole.  Despite his struggles (and some injuries – inflamed colon? ouch.) he seems to be really enjoying himself in Seattle this time around.  Across the outfield, Franklin Gutierrez is probably enjoying himself too, as he is on pace for a career year at the plate while playing stellar outfield defense.

–PROBABLE PITCHERS–

Baker v. C. Jakubauskas

Can Baker change his name to Jeremy for a day?

Liriano v. F. Hernandez

Is it a requirement that every time the Twins and Mariners play, that these two face each other?

Blackburn v. E. Bedard

Was it a bad idea to set up a question theme with the first two matchups when I couldn’t think of one for the third?

Series Preview in Blog: Detroit Tigers

A quick two-game series in Detroit kicks off a short 4-game road trip for the Twins. Minnesota is 3-5 on the road (but 2-1 against teams that don’t have Sox as their team name [a-Soxual?]). After this series the Twins will have played one series against each team in the AL Central (they’re 4-5 thus far this year in the division). The Tigers come into the series finishing up an eight-game homestand which has seen a series loss to the Yankees and a series win over the Indians. Like the Twins the Tigers will complete their first circuit of the AL Central with this series (they sport a 5-3 divisional record thus far).  Actually, Detroit is in the middle of a 13-game stretch against only AL Central opponents.

–PROBABLE PITCHERS–

Liriano v. Edwin Jackson

In Jackson’s last start he went 6 innings without allowing a run against the Yankees.  He left with the game tied at 0-0, only to see his bullpen do things that no bullpen should ever do.  One inning later it was 10-0 Yankees, and the game was effectively over.  The big inning has plagued the Tigers this year, which is an incredibly frustrating plague to endure (not like locusts, locusts are a piece of cake compared to the plague of the defensive-miscue-resulting-in-big-innings-for-the-opposition).

Blackburn v. Rick Porcello

Porcello has started four games for the Tigers this year despite never pitching above high-A ball prior to the season.  He is the youngest player to appear in a game in the AL this season.  Predictably it hasn’t been a cakewalk for Porcello, or phellow phenom Ryan Perry (sometimes they just need a hug).  There are arguments on both sides (aren’t there always?) concerning the development of these young pitchers, and the post linked above and the companion poll seem to indicate that Tigers fans feel like he will probably spend some time in the minors this season, once everyone is healthy.  Hopefully the Twins can help him on his way back down to the farm.

Not pitching in this series (or for the Tigers at all this season so far) is Dontrelle Willis.  He’s still working his way back through the minor leagues, and his starts are getting mixed reviews (to put it nicely, calling someone AAA back of the rotation starter doesn’t really speak to much confidence in their ability to succeed in the bigs).