October 4, 2008

Immediately after the heart breaking loss to Chicago in the tie breaker game to determine the AL Central championship, it was hard to remember the fabulous season the Twins had in 2008.  But a fabulous season it was.  Coming out of spring training this team was not picked to finish in the top three, and yet there they were in first place after 162 games.

This was not a great team, but this was a good team, playing well enough to challenge for first place in the weak AL Central.  Much of the 2008 team were just a bunch of kids who played better than anyone hoped they would.  Yes, they made a lot of rookie mistakes, but they were quick learners and made great strides throughout the season.  I thought Carlos Gomez especially matured a great deal during the season.  He became more disciplined at the plate (and made fewer mistakes on the bases) at the end of the season than at the start.  I'm not sure this was so much due to Gardy switching him from lead off to hitting 9th as it was just his learning quickly how to play at the major league level.  And of course his fielding was second to none!  Delmon Young became a more disciplined hitter also.  He learned to lay off the low and away pitches, striking out less at the end of the season than the beginning.  Casilla was a great asset to the team, as were the young pitchers.  Span was a lifesaver in right field, replacing the injured Cuddyer.  And of course the M and M boys did themselves proud this year.  Nathan was generally reliable again.  Some of these players had not played a full season in the majors, with its much longer season than the minors, and so the question was whether they would wilt in the dog days of August and September.  And yes, I think we saw that happen on the last two very long road trips, but generally they held up much better than I had hoped.  This team had some chemistry and seemed unselfish.  They worked well together.  They scored tons of runs, had good situational hitting and never gave up.  This was typified by their sweep of  the Sox at the Dome the last week of the season, assuring their lead in the Central after game 162.  Down by 6-1 in the 4th inning of the third game, they rallied to win 7-6 in 10 innings.  This season I kept track of runs scored by the Twins and their opponent.  Here are the results:

Twins Opponent




Avg. runs per game (RPG)







 The 2008 Twins of course had their problems.  The starting pitching at times couldn't make it into the middle innings, and even when they did, they often didn't make it into the 7th inning.  The bullpen gave away several games that should have been sure wins.  Rookie base running and fielding mistakes cost the team at times.  I think the team went into the tie breaker in Chicago thinking this game was just a formality on their way to the playoffs in Tampa Bay.  I did not see the effort in that game that I was used to seeing.  Hopefully this was a learning experience.  I hope the lesson learned is that in the majors, if you don't put forth the effort you won't get the results, period.  No one is going to hand you anything on a silver platter.  Still, I would be hard pressed to say what the team needs to add or subtract for for the 2009 season.  Perhaps they could shore up their bullpen, but I don't see any glaring weaknesses.  I think this team can only get better in the coming years.  A quote from Ron Gardenhire pretty much sums up my feelings: "I'm very proud of this baseball team for the way they fought.  We had so many tough games and tough series, and they never stopped playing or quit believing. Just seeing how these guys have responded through all of this, I'm excited for this ballclub and for its future."  I look for them to contend for the AL Central championship again next season, and hopefully they will put it away without having to play a tie breaker again.  I can't take any more of those! --Dick--

October 1, 2007

The 2007 baseball season mercifully ended yesterday, and the Twins had their first losing season since 2000.  They also had their first season since 2001 winning less than 90 games.  Yes, it was a very disappointing season for Twins fans.  So what went wrong this season?  Of course there were obvious things such as playing stupid baseball at times, dumb base running mistakes, poor managing, anemic hitting, and a general lack of playing the good fundamental baseball that the Twins are known for.  Sometimes it seemed like their minds were a million miles away from the game on the field.  Still, up until the final week or two of the season, this team was still in the hunt.  The team was often a hit away from winning a game, but just couldn't seem to get those clutch hits like they did last year.  The Twins were 22-22 in one-run games.  Most fans would probably be surprised at that stat.  Most would probably think the Twins lost a LOT more one-run games than they won.  But 22-22 in one-run games is not good.  In the first place 44 one-run games is a lot of games.  And winning only half of those is not good.  Had the Twins won even half of the ones they lost that would have given them 90 wins for the season instead of 79.  That would not have been enough to win the Central, but sure would have helped their chances.  The Twins were 20-26-6 in series.  They were 12 games under .500 in series wins, if you want to look at it that way.  The key to winning a division is to win series, especially in your own division.  The Twins played very poorly against their Central Division foes this year.  Still they were tantalizingly close to breaking through many times during the season.  So why didn't they?  Why didn't Morneau, Mauer, Cuddyer and others hit better?  Why were there so many outs on the bases.  Why did the basically good pitching staff give up huge innings so often?  I don't know, but I do know that a huge part of a winning baseball team is chemistry and momentum.  Talent is secondary in my opinion.  This team never had a stable lineup.  This team had lots of injuries.  This team was angry when Castillo was let go.  It seemed like this team was more interested in complaining and making excuses than playing together as a team and having fun.  Chemistry on a team requires a leader on the team, good management, a team that hates losing and loves playing together, momentum and yes a bit of luck.  This year the Twins had none of these things, with the exception of the great job done by Rick Anderson.  Let's hope things gel a little better next year. --Dick--

September 4, 2007

The Twins entered the game yesterday against Cleveland 9-1/2 games out.  While even a sweep of the three game series probably would not have helped their chances much, they proceeded to make absolute fools of themselves in that game.  Santana pitched poorly again against Sabathia.  Bartlett didn't show to play and Hunter as usual is blaming everyone else for their problems.  Here are some quotes from the write up of the game on the Twins web site that show how far astray this team has gotten from playing good baseball:

"Bartlett made his Major League-leading 24th error in the first inning. With runners on first and second, Travis Hafner hit a sharp comebacker to starter Johan Santana, who turned and fired it to Bartlett to begin what would have been a double play. Bartlett couldn't get a handle on the ball, leaving the bases loaded with no outs. The Indians scored the first run off Victor Martinez's sacrifice fly two pitches later."  Gardenhire summed it up this way "Routine, fundamental, baseball 101 Bartlett's standing right there, he just missed the ball."  One of the rules of good management is that you praise someone in public and criticize in private.  I guess Gardy never went to that seminar.  Bartlett didn't lose this game, the Twins lost the game.

"In the next inning, Torii Hunter made an impressive play to cut off a double by Ben Francisco that could have gone all the way to the wall. Hunter grabbed the ball and threw it to Bartlett, the cutoff man, who bobbled it and couldn't make the relay to home, allowing Casey Blake to score."

"Bartlett intercepted a throw from Michael Cuddyer in the third that would possibly have made for a close play at third with Martinez. Martinez then was driven in by the following batter."  OK, Bartlett had a bad day in the field.  And that's why we lost 5-0?  I hardly think so.  You don't win games by scoring zero runs!  The whole damn team had a bad day, just one of many this season.

"We haven't been playing as crisp baseball as we would like," Cuddyer said. "We haven't been doing the little things right, making the little plays, being aggressive here and there and just doing things the right way. At certain points in the season I think we've gotten away from that a little bit."   Duh!  If this team is good at anything, it is making excuses and clearly stating the obvious.  Cuddyer, along with Morneau, has been one of the major problems with this team's lack of run production.

"We're not giving everything we have," Santana said. "We are supposed to be one of the best teams on fundamentals and we're not making those things. If we don't do that, we're not going to win."  Not giving everything?  Are they giving anything?

Hunter, admittedly upset at the loss, asserted that the knowledge of the fundamentals has to come from below the Major League level.

"That's something the organization has to do," Hunter said. "I work here. I don't know what's going on in the Minor Leagues, but the organization has to work on that, not me. I've got nothing to do with that."  Oh really?  If anyone on the team should be the leader, it is Hunter.  And the way the team plays has nothing to do with him?  He should be a mentor, to the young guys, not a critic of the organization.

The first three runs scored also came off walks by Santana, who gave up four total runs on the outing. The loss marks his fifth of the season to the Indians, making him the first Twins pitcher to lose five games in one season to one team since Joe Decker dropped five to Oakland in 1974.  And this is our Cy Young winner?

"I've always said it's not just about one guy, one pitcher or one player," Santana said. "It takes a whole team to win a game and it wasn't the case today. That's the reason why we lost the game. I don't put that pressure on myself knowing that I have to come into a game perfect, that's not the way it is. I'm always trying to do the best I can, trying to do my part, trying to help my team and hoping that my teammates will do the job."   Santana criticizing the rest of the team while having one of his worst performances of the year.  Interesting.

"I'm upset. I don't know about anybody else, but I'm upset," Hunter said. "We're [10 1/2] games out. We have to go out there and try to get lucky and win every game. Hopefully those guys will go in a slump, but I doubt it. They have a good team over there. Really good pitching to keep them in the game and we couldn't get any runs for [Santana] today. That's been our thing the whole season with [Santana]. We can't get him any runs. I hate it."   Well Torii we hate it too.  But we can't do anything about it.  You can, but seem to choose not to.

Do you see a recurring theme here?  Everyone is blaming everyone else for the Twins demise.  No one is doing a good job this year from Gardenhire on down, with the possible exception of pitching coach Rick Anderson..  Until this team decides it wants to win more than it wants to make excuses, we will see many more games like the one yesterday.  Thankfully there are only 24 games left in this disastrous season.--Dick--

July 24, 2007

So what's wrong with our Twins?  They are one of the best defensive teams in baseball.  Their pitching has been adequate, brilliant at times.  They scored 20 runs in a game against Chicago recently.  And yet they were shut out for the 9th time last night and find themselves 8.5 games out of first place late in July.  With the trading deadline looming, there is talk, of course, of obtaining a power hitter to shore up the hitting.  But in my opinion, that would be a waste of money.  One person is not going to make this team a play off contender.  This team simply is playing stupid baseball at times.  This team is playing inconsistent baseball, always.  This team is befuddled by the best and worst pitchers alike.  If not for the abysmal play of the White Sox this year, the Twins would be a fourth place team at best.  And yet, there is a lot of talent on the team.  So what is the problem.  Ask a dozen people and you might get a dozen answers, but in my opinion, it comes down to wanting to win, giving 100% every night, and playing smart (having a game plan).

I watch or listen to every game the Twins play, all 162 (or more) every year.  And this year I have noticed a couple of things that seem obvious to me, so should be obvious to the coaches on the Twins team, and yet nothing gets done about it.  First of all the Twins have gone from swinging at everything early last year to not swinging at anything this year.  Have you noticed how many first pitch strikes opposing pitchers are throwing right down the middle of the plate?  And yet almost no one is swinging at the first pitch.  Pitchers notice things like that and adapt to it.  If no one swings on the first pitch, why wouldn't you throw it right down the middle of the plate and get ahead 0-1 every time?  Batters need to adapt to pitching just as pitchers adapt to batters.  It is not happening with the Twins hitters.  The Twins are paying good money for a hitting coach.  How come he isn't doing something about this?  The hitters seem to have no planned approach in their at bats, letting good pitches go by and swinging at slop that bounces up to the place.  This is not smart baseball.  They need to get smart about hitting and all other aspects of the game.  Torii Hunter often makes stupid baserunning mistakes, strikes out on pitches in the dirt, dives for balls he has no chance of getting etc.  Of course he is not the only one!  Sometimes being smart means not thinking too much.  Kirby Puckett went to the plate and hacked at any ball he thought he could hit.  He didn't go up there guessing at what would be thrown at him.  It seems like the hitters on this team are thinking too much, guessing pitches and guessing wrong.  But since this has gone on all season, I don't hold out much hope that they will get smart any time soon.  This team is destined to finish the season in third place double digits out of first place.  Maybe next year...   --Dick--