Series Preview in Blog: Kansas City Royals

The Twins host the KC Royals for three games this weekend. The Royals are currently in first place in the Central, one game ahead of the fourth-place Twins (in other words, nobody really distinguished themselves in the first month in this division). The Royals are starting off this road trip in Minnesota after taking 3 of 4 from Toronto (whatever, it’s not like it’s hard to beat Toronto or anything, the Twins totally beat them… once). Thus far Kansas City is 4-2 on the road, while the Twins are 8-6 at home.

One of the big stories for this series is the return of Joe Mauer for the Twins.  In other injury news, apparently Joakim Soriah has an injured shoulder.  First of all, this could explain some of manger Trey Hillman’s questionable bullpen decisions (which are well-documented).  Secondly, it appears the Royals were at least carefully controlling how and when information about the injury came out.  This reminded me, albeit to a lesser extent, of the way the NHL injury reports are handled.  In the NHL, the teams only say that a player has “an upper body injury” which could be anything from a minor contusion to a concussion that keeps a player out for 2 weeks or more.  It’s terribly frustrating as a fan to have absolutely no idea what is going on with a team’s players.  I hope this isn’t the beginning of a trend of gamesmanship with injuries in Major League Baseball, which doesn’t have the same excuse of hockey and football (opposing players could target the injury if they knew exactly what it was).

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Series Preview In Blog: Boston Red Sox

The Twins travel to Boston for a quick two game series having just swept the Angels to get their record back to even at 7-7.  The Red Sox welcome the Twins for a quick two game series having just swept the Orioles to get their record back to even at 7-6.  The Twins are 1-2 on the road (having only traveled to Chicago thus far), while the Red Sox are 5-2 at Fenway.  The four game sweep of the Orioles worked wonders for fans that weren’t panicking, but were, perhaps, a tad concerned before the Orioles came to town.  Among their concerns was the fact that David Ortiz wasn’t hitting for power (or at all).  Before you get too worried that he’s due for an enormous series to right himself, he broke out a bit with a big day Monday with a couple extra base hits (why am I not relieved?).

The Sox have had some injury issues of late, they currently have Daisuke Matsuzaka, John Smoltz, Jed Lowrie, Julio Lugo, and Mark Kotsay all on the disabled list.  Of course, a team like the Red Sox is built to withstand situations like this.  Except that most of the people mentioned as potential replacement parts in that post are now injured themselves (Clay Buckholz, probably next in line for the rotation recently went on the minor league DL with a hamstring injury), so with their top two shortstops on the shelf they may be wearing thin in a couple places.

As if that wasn’t bad enough now people are threatening the Sox MVP second baseman.  This, of course, has his roommates on edge a bit.

—PROBABLE PITCHERS—

Baker v. T. Wakefield

Wakefield has had one good start and one bad start this season.  Last time out he took a no-hitter into the eighth inning, saving an overworked bullpen and inspiring a whole bunch of tributes from fans that have been seeing him in a Sox uniform for a long time.

Liriano v. B. Penny

Penny has had one good start and one bad start this season.  He got rocked by the Orioles last time out (the only bad pitching performance of the last weekend), but the Boston offense bailed him out so he has the somewhat nonsensical line of 1-0, 11.00 ERA so far this season.

Series Preview in Blog: Los Angeles Angels

Is it over? Can I come out now? That Blue Jays series scared me a little bit, I have to be honest. The Twins dropped 3 of 4 to Toronto to fall to 4-7 on the season (and 3-5 at home). They continue the homestand with the LA Angels, who come in at 3-5 (pending last night’s result) having lost their most recent series to Seattle. I should point out that Seattle was 5-0 since leaving Minnesota going into last night, and overall teams the Twins have played are 12-5 (.705) in games against other opponents. So the Twins are doing a little bit better than everyone else, right? I know it’s a reach, but it’s hard to find positives when they haven’t won a series yet this season.

Of course, we can’t talk about the Angels 2009 season without the tragedy that is Nick Adenhart’s death. There are a ton of tributes on all the Angel’s blogs, here’s a couple: Halos Heaven, and John Weisman of Dodger Thoughts.  I don’t know that there’s much I can write about this, so I’ll just say it’s a terrible loss for all the families affected, and my thoughts and prayers remain with them.

The bad start is never easy on fans, but Angels just have to remember WWFPD (What Would Ford Prefect Do?).  Unfortunately for them (and fortunately for us) they will have to go through at least this weekend without Vlad Guerrero, as he is out due to a strained pectoral muscle.  That other outfielder will be there though (Of course I mean Torii Hunter, you haven’t forgot about Torii Hunter have you?)
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Series Preview in Blog: Toronto Blue Jays

The Twins return to the Dome (the last time they do that for the first time in the season … wait, what?) after dropping the final two games of their series in Chicago.  I was at the game on Sunday and I’ve got pictures.  If you behave yourselves, maybe I’ll share them soon.  The Twins fell to 3-4, a game behind Detroit in the AL Central.  Toronto has won their first two series against the Tigers and the Indians and sit atop the AL East with a 5-2 record.

Alex Rios is so excited about this hot start he may be losing his grip on reality.  The money quote – “If we keep doing this, we’ll win, like, 300 games.”  I’m pretty sure 300-(-137) would be some kind of new record.  Also, I feel the need to point out the sidebar of ‘Hum and Chuck’ and the picture captioned ‘Your 2009 Toronto Blue Jays’.  I’m not sure what it signifies, but it amuses me.  It’s easy to laugh at Rios for getting over-excited, but keep in mind this fast start is only the first step in crossing off item one on Toronto’s 2009 to-do list. A more unattainable goal for them is getting Canadians to care less about hockey and more about the Blue Jays.

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Series Preview in Blog: Chicago White Sox

The White Sox hosted the Royals in some pretty cold conditions this week.  The opener was pushed back a day due to snow (headline writers had a field day).  Other than a three-run homer by Jim Thome, the White Sox bats were just as cold.  They lost 2 of 3 in the series and are currently one game behind the first-place Kansas City Royals.  Jermaine Dye had a good series with 5 singles, but if you discount Dye and Thome the Sox went 10 for 68 in the series (that’s like Twins-without-RISP bad).  Not the best results out of the box for a lineup that might contain too many hitters of a certain variety.  The Jim Thome homerun off of Kyle Farnsworth, in addition to salvaging Opening Day for the Sox, was tailor-made for a hilarious episode of The Dugout.  THIS STORY ONLY ENDS ONE WAY.

The White Sox have a few young players (Ramirez, Floyd, Danks) trying to follow up on good years last year.  No one would confuse this year’s edition of the White Sox for a team in the midst of a youth movement, and player development hasn’t really been one of the organization’s strengths, so it’s interesting to read about some prospects that have caught Sox fans interest.

I live in Chicago (and I’m going to Sunday’s game – it’s my way of celebrating Easter.  Here’s hoping the only eggs I find are put up on the scoreboard by Balckburn, am I right?) and I’ve really grown awfully tired of Sox and Cubs fans both.  And if they ever start discussing one another, forget it.  It’s good to know that I’m not alone.  At least occasionally Sox fans direct their dislikes in amusing directions (I link to that only for the title – it made me chuckle).

PROBABLE STARTERS–

Dickey v. J. Contreras

Liriano v. B. Colon

Blackburn v. M. Buehrle

I just don’t like facing Buehrle.  Of course he’s pitching the game I’m going to, but what can I do?  If the weather is cold, at least we won’t be out in the elements for very long with his quick pace.  Buehrle had some stiffness in his arm during the spring, which may be a sign of him not being as young anymore.  The White Sox seem to think so as they made a point of suggesting Mark try some of this new-fangled “working out” thing in the offseason.

Contreras and Colon spent the spring in a “battle” for the fourth starter position.  The long and short of it is that neither of them inspire confidence.  It would seem they’re both nearing the end of their careers.  Perhaps the front office felt obligated to fill the AL Central quota for veteran starters?  With the Twins throwing everything out of alignment and not doing their usual part, they were probably just confused.

From the White Sox Opening Day, this is the correct way to “throw” out an opening pitch.  Hockey players rule! (I wonder if Beloit will let me do that when I get to throw out my own first pitch?)

Series Preview in Blog: Seattle Mariners

It’s a new season, so I’m going to start writing these series previews again.  Last year I only made it about a month before other stuff got in my way.  I’ve got a thesis to write and a cross-country move to pull off this summer, so it may be a little thin on coverage here and there, but that’s a ways off right now.  Right now it’s a brand new season.

The opening series for 2009 pits the Twins against the Seattle Mariners.  So far the Twins and Mariners are tied in the standings on the season, both with the best record in the AL.  This will be the last opening day for the Twins in the Metrodome, they are currently 7-7 in opening days at the Metrodome, but have won 6 of the last 7 times they have started the season at home.

The Mariners and Twins have both had some issues with injuries this spring.  The Twins are, as we all know, without Joe Mauer for the beginning of the season.  The Mariners are also without their perennial MVP candidate, Ichiro is out for a week or two recovering from a bleeding ulcer.  Combine that with the loss Scott Baker for the Twins and you can see how easily preseason predictions can be thrown off the mark.  In the Mariners case, inaccurate preseason predictions would be a good thing, because pretty much everyone has them struggling this year.  One can always find reasons for optimism, but the DL stint for Ichiro certainly doesn’t start things off on the right foot.

The biggest (by biggest, I mean most discussed) acquisition for the Mariners this offseason was the homecoming of Ken Griffey, Jr.   He’s not terribly young at this point, and it seems he would be ideal for the DH role, but it seems inevitable that Mariners fans will see him out in the outfield this season.  Without Ichiro, the Mariners only have 3 other outfielders on the roster, so I’m sure we’ll see him in the outfield in this series.  Mariners fans are a little wary of what to expect from Griffey, but they are certainly not looking forward to seeing him face Liriano (I assumed Ibanez didn’t do well against Fuentes – and after looking it up, Ibanez struck out in his only at-bat against him in 2006 – it must have been epic)

— PITCHING PROBABLES —

Liriano v. F. Hernandez

Blackburn v. E. Bedard

Slowey v. C. Silva

Perkins v. J. Washburn

Reading the Mariners blogs, across the board people write and discuss the prospects for Felix Hernandez and Eric Bedard this season, meanwhile Silva and Washburn are pretty much dismissed as bloated contracts left over from the previous front office.   It’s interesting to note that in their last outings Hernandez and Bedard combined to give up 15 runs in 10 innings.  Of course, it was spring training and it was on April 1, so we can’t draw any real conclusions (nor can we rule out some elaborate April Fools Day prank).

The only Seattle pitcher in the rotation that the Twins won’t face is Ryan Rowland-Smith, who ended up there because Brandon Morrow essentially refused the job in order to become the team’s closer.  The reason that’s remarkable is that it leaves the Mariners bullpen without any left-handed pitchers.  New manager Don Wakamatsu has said that he isn’t overly concerned with matchups, with this move, it appears he may be serious.

Here’s some info on Chris Jakubauskas, a rookie who will be one of the right-handed relievers expected to shut down Morneau and Kubel in the late innings.

And with that the 2009 season begins.  Go Twins!

Series Preview In Blog: Cleveland Indians

The Twins try to wash the taste of that Yankees series out of their mouth with a three game set in Cleveland this weekend. The Twins enter on a four game losing streak, 2.5 games back of the White Sox in the AL Central.


Sometimes I think the Twins feel a bit overmatched in Yankee stadium.
(from Daniel Dociu)

The Indians return to Cleveland after a 3-3 road trip to the west coast, they took 2 of 3 from Seattle and 1 of 3 from the Angels. It has been a long and frustrating year for the Tribe, but even with a 44-56 record and position at the bottom of the AL Central, some fans still can’t quite bring themselves to give up on the season. To give the impression that all Indians fans are holding out some wild hope of a second-half surge would be misleading, plenty of fans have turned their attention to more important things (keeping a close eye on the ketchup in the condiment race), or to dissecting what caused the 2007 division champs to fail so spectacularly (One theory: missing Hafner and Martinez didn’t help). However I found more than one post by people who hadn’t thrown in the towel just yet. The reason I point that out is this gem in the comments:

The Seven Stages of Indian Fandom

  1. Irrational Expectiations
  2. Discouragement
  3. Rationalization
  4. The Search for Meaning
  5. Adoration of the Unworthy
  6. Acceptance of Abject Failure
  7. Planning for the Future

Check it out for some shots directed at the Cleveland equivalent of the STrib commenter.

Livan v. Cliff Lee

Cliff Lee has been great this year, and is certainly in the running to be the second consecutive Cleveland pitcher to win the Cy Young award. The Twins are the only AL team to saddle Lee with a loss this season (the other blemish on his 13-2 record came against Cincinnati). He, along with Grady Sizemore, have been the bright spots for Indians fans this year. In addition to pitching very well, Lee has been a workhorse. He has only had one outing this season in which he threw less than 95 pitches.

Baker v. Fausto Carmona

Carmona comes off the DL in this one, making his first start since May 23. His return to form is certainly something Indians fans are hoping for and monitoring closely.

Blackburn v. Jeremy Sowers

Sowers has struggled this year. He picked up his first win of the season in his last time out, against the Mariners. In his 10 starts this year, he has averaged 5 innings pitched and has taken a lot of pitches to get through those innings (average of 91 pitches per start).

All of these pitchers will most likely be pitching to Kelly Shoppach who (in my personal opinion) is 0 for 2 on choosing a halfway decent song for his introductory music.

Series Preview in Blog: Texas Rangers

Coming out of the break the Twins get the Rangers for three games at home. The Rangers are currently 50-46 in third place in the West (7.5 back of LA). That’s pretty good considering they started the year 7-16. Their season turned around from that horrific start after winning two of three against the Twins. Texas has been an even 25-25 on the road, while the Twins are 32-18 at home.

As the Rangers are close to contending and close to falling out of the race, there’s a lot of speculation on who they should drop, pick up, or keep. The Rangers have long been known as a team that relies on offense without any pitching. That hasn’t changed at all this year. A look at the top performers includes a lot of offense and no pitching whatsoever.

One of those top performers has no doubt been Milton Bradley, described in the previous link as a “sabermetric deity”. “Jake Taylor” Bradley was the starting DH for the AL All-Star team and wrote a short entry for the NY Times baseball blog about the pride he felt being chosen (even if it did interrupt his dominoes game with Eddie Guardado). It obviously meant a lot to him, he was quoted as saying, “If they had said, to make the team you have to shine the shoes, I would have shined the shoes.”

Probable Pitchers

Kevin Millwood v. Glen Perkins

Millwood has been described as “boring” and he certainly doesn’t have an overpowering pitch, but that entry has a link to this, which describes all his pitches in excruciating detail.

Eric Hurley v. Livan Hernandez

Now that’s a pitching matchup! Apparently this guy isn’t all that excited. Hurley got called up in June and made four starts before going on the DL with a strained hamstring after collecting his first win (and the congratulations that came with it). In his four starts this season, Hurley has amassed a 5.0 VORP which is the highest of any Texas starting pitcher.

Vicente Padilla v. Scott Baker

Padilla is also coming off the DL, he hasn’t pitched in two weeks. He had a 4.97 ERA with a 1.69 WHIP coming into his last start against the Twins. Of course he pitched a complete game shutout and has gone 8-3 since then (although his ERA is 4.60 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP indicate that might be a function of the 7.1 R/G the Texas offense has scored for him).

Series Preview in Blog: Chicago White Sox (4/29-4/30)

Short post for a short series, the Twins play two against the White Sox to begin the week. The White Sox come into this game on a … well … it’s hard to explain, but they’re not on a winning streak, or a losing streak. We won’t be able to figure that one out until June 12, when the Sox and the Orioles resume the game that was postponed in the 12th inning yesterday due to weather. The Sox had won two out of three from the O’s thus far in the series, and they remain on top of the AL Central early in the season with a 14-10 record. An early AL Central lead is enough for some to try to sell this team as a contender this season (I can’t have a Sox series preview without a Palehose 8 link. It wouldn’t be right).

The Sox have been scoring a lot of runs, they lead the AL with 5.29 R/G, but they haven’t been doing it with the benefit of a great batting average. The Twins have the advantage in that category (.261 to .243 – lowest in the AL), but the rest of the line tips pretty heavily in the Sox favor (MIN – .261/.303/.361, CHI – .243/.336/.418). Chicago has got a lot of their offense from the long ball (AL-best 32 HR), but they’ve also found an unconventional way to score runs, the bases-loaded hit-by-pitch, perfectly executed several times by Carlos Quentin. The HBP is probably gritty enough to count as Ozzie’s much ballyhooed “small ball”, but almost all other vestiges of that strategy seem to have disappeared. Quentin has been off to a fantastic start this season, solidifying his place on the roster.

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Series Preview in Blog: Cleveland Indians (4/18-4/20)


I love the dingy lucky hat. (from Left of Center Photo)

The Indians come to town for a weekend series after trading blowouts with the Tigers over the last two days (an 11-1 win yesterday, and a 13-2 loss on Wednesday). The Tribe currently sit at 6-10, with a 2-4 record on the road. One might be tempted to blame Cleveland’s slow start on the fact that they were resting on their success of last year, when they nearly made the World Series, and maybe just didn’t want these early games as much as their opponent. Thankfully, Mistake by the Lake has run the numbers on “wanting it more” and found that baseball is the sport that actually shows the least correlation betwixt the team that wants it more, and the team that wins.

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Series Preview in Blog: Detroit Tigers (4/14-4/15)

A short series with the Tigers starts off the week, two games in Detroit. After facing division leaders in their first four series of the season, the Twins now get the team with the worst record in baseball at 2-10. The Tigers are coming home after a road trip in which they dropped series to both colors of Sox. The 6-6 Twins wrap up a 7-game road trip, on which they are currently 3-2.

Knowing that the Twins and the Tigers would be meeting each other for a couple games this week, I decided to take advantage of the Tigers road trip to Chicago this weekend by attending Sunday’s game betwixt two of our central division foes. ((I didn’t bring the camera this time, so no photos, sorry.)) In that one game I think I have discovered the blueprint for defeating Detroit. ((Someone will probably point out that these conclusions, being drawn from only one game, probably should be taken with a grain of salt. I think it’s a pretty foolproof plan.))

Step 1: Hit the ball to Miguel Cabrera if at all possible. He failed to field a pop fly that landed about 5 feet from the third base bag (in fair territory) because he ran into the umpire (in foul territory). It looked like Cabrera broke in the absolute wrong direction and the umpire just didn’t expect him to be there.
Step 2: Throw strikes, but not all the time. Javier Vasquez made the Tigers’ offense look terrible, they swung and missed at strikes and non-strikes alike all day.
Step 3: Hit as many grand slams as possible. The Tigers seemed to be especially hurt by the two grand slams the Sox hit. (Note: this strategy may be similarly successful with other types of homeruns)

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Series Preview in Blog: Kansas City Royals (4/11-4/13)

Since the Twins and Royals met last weekend, the Royals won their first home series of the season against the Yankees and remain in first place in the AL Central, a half game up on the White Sox. This is pretty unfamiliar territory for followers of the Royals, and they are starting to wonder, “Now what?”

The Royals have had an awful lot go right for them so far, but one of few complaints fans have is that patience seems to be lacking in the KC lineup. Sound familar? Through Wednesday night, the highest number of plate appearances per base on balls in the American league looks like this.

Most PA/BB in AL
—————–

  1. LA – 16.91
  2. KC – 15.89
  3. NY – 14.95
  4. MN – 13.91

Now combine that with the pitching staffs of the two teams:

Fewest BB/IP in AL
——————

  1. MN – 0.14
  2. KC – 0.29
  3. TB – 0.33
  4. NY – 0.34

Now, a lot of that is because the low walk teams have played each other, but they’re at it again in this one, so expect some free swinging in the next three days.

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Series Preview in Blog: Chicago White Sox (4/07-4/10)

They’ll be playing this series in my backyard, but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to make it to any of the games. Definitely not on Monday, but Wednesday or Thursday is a possibility. If I do go, of course I’ll file a full report.

The White Sox come into this series hot off a sweep of the Detroit Tigers, much like the Royals did before them. I have to say it’s awfully nice of Detroit to do their part to make these teams satisfied and complacent coming into their games against the Twins. This is the first series away from home for the Twins, who sit at 3-4 compared to the White Sox 4-2 mark which puts them atop the AL Central. That’s three series against division leading teams out of three so far this season, for anyone who’s keeping track.

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Series Preview in Blog: Kansas City Royals (4/04-4/06)

I asked the question in the gamelog on Tuesday about the Twins particularly struggling against groundball pitchers, which was very ably answered by ubelmann, saying that it seemed there were enough batters in the lineup who had better numbers against groundball pitchers that there shouldn’t be too much of an effect. That was the data I was looking for at the time, but after the first series it seems undeniable that the Twins offense has shown an amazing ability to create outs on the ground. In games 2 and 3 the Twins generated 35 outs on the ground compared to 12 in the air, while scoring 1 run. In the other games the Twins scored 7 runs with an even 20:20 ratio of groundouts to aerial outs. It’s only four games, and I didn’t look hard enough to include hits in these counts, so it may not mean anything, but it’s something I’ll definitely keep an eye on.

While the Twins were winning one of four against LA, the Royals were sweeping the Detroit Tigers, projected powerhouse of the AL Central, in three games. So now the Twins must regroup and prepare themselves for a showdown with the AL Central leading Royals (I’m not going to lie, it feels weird to even write it). Understandably, feelings are generally positive right now for Royals fans.

[EDIT] Trivia Question: Can you name the last team to start 3-0 and win the World Series? (Note: the last team to win the World Series after starting 1-3 was the 2003 Florida Marlins)

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Series Preview in Blog: Los Angeles Angels (3/31-4/03)

Light at the end of the tunnel
We’re almost there. (Image from Michael Cook)

It’s finally here. Opening Day! We’ve survived another winter without baseball. All winter long, we look forward to pitchers and catchers reporting, not because we really want to see starting pitchers throw two innings and call it a day, but rather because it means that opening day is another step closer. Spring training has always seemed like a concession to me. The fans would rather have more “real” baseball, but the players can’t be expected to just jump back in without a little bit of warm-up first. Actually, I bet some players wouldn’t mind a little less spring training either, but instead we all settle for an appetizer of spring training before we get to the good stuff. So, as has happened for years upon years, we eagerly await the team coming north to start the season.

That’s the thing about baseball. It is history, one of the joys of being a baseball fan is relating stories of the awesome feats that we witnessed. Whether it was Johan’s 17K game, or the 2006 miracle run of the Twins, we’re saving those memories for people who come after us who didn’t get to witness them in person. The coolest thing is that baseball history is getting longer and longer. Every year we add another season, and sometimes we find that baseball goes back a little bit further than we originally thought. Here’s a story of one of the oldest known baseball games, which occurred in 1843 and was hosted by the New York Magnolia Ball Club, not Abner Doubleday or Alexander Cartwright. It includes this image of a baseball game from around the same time, and this quote from Michael Walsh, one of the founders of the New York Magnolia Ball Club:

[P]arties of whole-souled fellows are going to express their gratitude to Heaven for its manifold blessings, to-morrow, by playing ball and eating chowder. They could not have selected a more appropriate and sensible method of doing it, as a man is never on so good terms with his God and fellow men, as when he is enjoying himself in healthy and rational manner.

So, grab a bowl of chowder and let’s start this thing off with a look at the Twins first opponent of the ’08 season, the LA Angels.

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