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June 20, 2011

Twins Focus has moved to http://twinsfocus.areavoices.com

A Start To Forget

May 1, 2011

The Twins and Royals just finished a three game series in Kansas City which resulted in a sweep of the Twins.  It is the first time the Royals have swept the Twins since 1999.  Most fans know that baseball is a game of ups and downs, the key is to not let the down periods carry on too long.  The Twins are now treading in very dangerous water.  They finished April with their worst start to the season since 2000.  A year in which they finished 69-93, the worst record in the American League.

The Twins have been plagued by injuries and players getting off to slow starts this year.  2011 has definitely been a start that the Twins and their fans would like to forget.  It is extremely early in the season and there is still plenty of time for a turn-around, but it needs to happen soon.  The Twins have lost 6 straight games being swept by the Rays and Royals.  They are showing no signs of breaking out any time soon.  Lets take a quick look at some of the positives and negatives so far in 2011.

  • The Twins started the season with Joe Nathan as their closer.  Nathan took himself out of the closers role on April 17th after he had blown his second straight save against the Tampa Bay Rays.  To date, Nathan has been a wreck.  He has a 0-1 record with only 3 saves and a 10.00 ERA.  Nathan has walked 7 while only striking 7 out.
  • The Twins placed catcher Joe Mauer on the DL with bilateral leg weakness on April 16th.  The three-time AL batting champion is hitting .235 with four RBIs in nine games this year.  He is expected to be out for another 1-2 weeks while he builds up his leg strength.
  • Drew Butera has taken over the catching duties for Mauer, after today’s game against the Royals he is hitting .106.  Butera’s batting average is lower than the combined batting average of all National League pitchers (.130 before today’s game).
  • The Twins placed left fielder Delmon Young on the DL on April 28th with a strained oblique. Before going on the DL, Young was hitting .228 with no home runs and only 6 runs batted in.
  • Michael Cuddyer has also struggled to start the season.  Cuddyer who has seen time at 1B, RF and 2B this season, is hitting only .226 with 3 home runs and  4 runs batted in.  Cuddyer went most of April without recording an extra base hit or a RBI.
  • Justin Morneau’s slow start has also hurt.  Morneau who is now playing again after missing about half of last season due to a concussion, hit his first home run today.  Before today’s game, Morneau was hitting .224 with 8 runs batted in.
  • The Twins have had only one game this year where they scored more than 5 runs.  That was a 10-3 win over the first place Cleveland Indians on April 23rd.
  • The Twins lost Tsuyoshi Nishioka on April 7th to a broken bone in his leg.  Nishioka suffered the injury as the New York Yankee’s Nick Swisher performed a (clean) break-up slide into second base.  Nishioka at the time had gotten off to a slow start as well.  He was hitting .208 with only 2 RBI and only 1 SB.
  • The Alexi Casilla experiment is almost at an end.  Today Casilla committed his 3rd error of the season.  He did hit two triples today but before today’s game, he was hitting .167 with 2 SB and 2 RBI.  The Twins traded JJ Hardy away this off-season and handed the starting short stop job to Casilla.  I expect sometime this week that the Twins will look to make a move, possibly calling up AAA short stop Trevor Plouffe.
  • Possibly the biggest disappointment this season has been starting pitcher Fransisco Liriano.  Liriano was shelled in his last start against Tampa Bay on April 27th.  After a stellar season in 2010, Liriano has posted a 9.13 ERA in 23.2 IP.  He has allowed 4 home runs so far while only allowing 9 all of last season.  Liriano has allowed 18 walks while striking out 18 so far this season.

There are still more negatives to put on here, but it is time to move to a few of the positives.

  • Jason Kubel is on pace to have one of the best seasons of his career.  Going into today’s game, Kubel was hitting .351 with 2 home runs and 10 runs batted in.  Kubel had a .903 OBP in April, far ahead of what anyone else in the Twins line up have posted so far this year.  Kubel has seen increased time in the outfield, one has to wonder if he needs to be out there more often rather than DH’ing like he did much of last season and the beginning of 2011.
  • Denard Span has also been off to a tear this season.  After hitting .264 last year, Span had a .298 batting average going into today’s game.  He has been putting much better swings on pitches this year and has had much better lead off at bats.  He is providing the at bats out of the lead off spot this year that the Twins were lacking from him in 2010.
  • Brian Duensing was told during Spring Training that he would be in the starting rotation.  He has taking the opportunity and run with it, continuing the great season he had in 2010.  Duensing has posted a 2.93 ERA in 34 innings pitched.  He has struck out 23 while walking only 9.  Duensings good start to the season has been lost in the shuffle with the rest of the Twins pitching staff getting off to bad starts this year.
  • Matt Capps took over the closers roll and has been pretty good.  Obtained from the Nationals mid-season last year in a trade for Wilson Ramos.  Capps has posted a 3.55 ERA in 12.2 IP striking out 6 while walking none.  Capps has saved 4 games since taking over for Nathan in April.

As you can see the list of negatives is far greater than the positives.  The Twins need a spark and they need it quick.  I am not going to panic yet but if this continues for another week or two, it may be time to start.  We haven’t seen this team at full strength for much of the season.  I will reserve judgement until we can put a line up out there which doesn’t resemble a blend of our AAA line up and our major league team with many of the players hitting out of their spot in the line up.  The pitching needs to be better, the defense needs to stop making dumb mistakes and the hitters need to start getting on base.  Basically, everything needs to turn around.  I am not saying they need to go 10-2 in the next two weeks but they need to start winning a few series’ after winning only one in April.

Just remember, the last time the Twins had this bad of an April they ended up winning 96 games and the AL Central in 2006.  Granted that took one of the most spectacular September performances we will ever see in our life time.  But it proves that this team can do it.  Don’t jump off the band wagon yet Twins fans, the whole season will not be like this.

New Twins Thome commercial

April 18, 2011

The Twins recently debuted another commercial that should be airing quite a bit this week.  Going back to the early 2000s with the “Get to know em” campaign, the Twins have always put out some great commercials.  This is another one.  Enjoy!

Thoughts: Mauer to the DL

April 15, 2011

After the Twins 4-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, Ron Gardenhire announced that Twins catcher Joe Mauer would be heading to the DL with bilateral leg weakness.  The Twins are off to a 4-8 start and not hitting the ball well, they now have lost their 2 and 3 hitters in the lineup.  Second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka is still expected to be out for another month.  The Twins are able to plug either Hughes, Tolbert or Cuddyer to fill in for Nishioka but there is no replacement for Mauer. 

Steve Holm was called up from AAA late last night to serve as Drew Butera’s backup.  You have to wonder what Gardenhire will do with his line up now.  Will he continue to use Michael Cuddyer in the 2 spot?  With Delmon’s early struggles can you put him in the cleanup spot?  There will be a lot of questions and we will have to see how it all plays out.  Fact of the matter is this is a huge blow to the Twins.  I know it’s still early and they generally are a second half team that surges to the finish line but the Central is much better this year and they can’t afford to fall back too far early.

When Mauer was hitting weak grounders that didn’t make it out of the infield to start the season, I started to wonder if his knee was truly healed.  When I saw last night he was not in the line up for a second straight day, I really began to wonder that.  It turns out his knee is fine, but he has not built up the needed leg strength after off-season knee surgery.  Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said the weakness in Mauer’s legs “is causing all kind of soreness in his hips, and he’s compensating because of the surgery he had this winter and he’s starting to get sore in other places. So we are just going to shut him down.”

I can’t fault the Twins for doing this.  This is the first year in Mauer’s 8 year-$184 million contract.  The Twins need to be carefull with their investment and that is exactly what they are doing.  I guess it is better to lose him for 2-3 weeks now than have him injure himself in a month and be gone for a large chunk of the season.  Sending Mauer to the DL now is not what frustrates me, it’s the lack of options to fill in for him that does.  The Twins traded top prospect Wilson Ramos to the Nationals for closer Matt Capps at the trade deadline last year.  Even thought Capps did solidify an area of need for the Twins last year, they could really use Ramos right now.  Currently for the Nationals, Ramos is hitting .455 with a .545 SLG% and a 1.084 OPS.

The Twins could go out and sign a catcher to fill until Mauer is back but they will most likely put Butera there for the next couple of weeks.  I think it will be somewhat interesting to see how the rest of the pitching staff performs with him behind the plate.  Butera is a smart catcher and very gifted defensively, but is a below average hitter and not a starter.  I know it’s only 15 days that Mauer will be gone, but this is going to be a rough two weeks.  The next two weeks will test the character of this Twins team very early in the season.  Lets all hope they are up to the challenge.

Twins/Yankees preview

April 4, 2011

After salvaging the last game of a three game series in Toronto yesterday, the Twins will start a four game series in New York tonight.  It is no secret that Yankee Stadium (both old and new), has been a house of horrors for the Twins for almost a decade.  It will be the first time the two have met since New York swept the Twins out of the playoffs.  Since 2003, the Twins are 0-9 against the Yankees in the playoffs.  They did snap a 10 game regular season losing streak against them last year when Jason Kubel homered off Mariano Rivera in Yankee Stadium, but have  lost 11 of their last 13 against the Yankees in regular season play.

Scott Baker will take to the mound tonight against Ivan Nova.  It will be both starters first outing of the season.  Baker was strong down the stretch last year (12-9, 4.49 ERA) and helped the Twins win the AL Central. He went 5-0 with a 3.18 ERA in his last 10 starts but did lose at Yankee Stadium on May 14, giving up 10 hits and five runs in an 8-4 defeat.  Most Twins fans may not know Nova but they will soon.  he was one of New York’s best pitchers this spring.  He had a 1.80 ERA in 20 innings, with nine strikeouts and four walks.  If the Twins go in and hit the way they did in the first two games at Toronto, he may end up looking a like a Cy Young pitcher by the end of the night.  Baker also had a strong spring coming off elbow surgery.  He had  a 2.66 ERA in 23 2/3 innings this spring, with 20 strikeouts and five walks.

Mark Teixiera, who is normally a slow starter has gotten off to a very fast start.  He has homered in each of the Yankees first three games and will be looking to break Dave Winfield’s 1983 streak to start a season tonight.  Justin Morneau finally got his first hit of the season yesterday.  He was 0-9 going into the at bat but singled on a broken bat hit. 

It’s no secret that the Twins have a tough task ahead of them the next four days.  Obviously it’s extremely early in the season and no time to panic, but Ron Gardenhire and his team do not want to head home with a 1-6 record.  I think looking for a split in the series is realistic and should provide the Twins a good boost of confidence heading into their Target Field opening series against the Oakland A’s.  Heading home with a 3-4 record would not be a bad thing after this opening road trip.  Below are the pitching matchups for all four games along with the Twins line-up for tonight’s game.

Apr 4, 2011 MIN (Baker) @ NYY (Nova)  6:05 PM CT 
Apr 5, 2011 MIN (Duensing) @ NYY (Sabathia) 6:05 PM CT 
Apr 6, 2011 MIN (Pavano) @ NYY (Garcia) 6:05 PM CT 
Apr 7, 2011 MIN (Liriano) @ NYY (Burnett) 12:05 PM CT

Line-up for April 4th, 2011:

1. Denard Span, CF
2. Tsuyoshi Nishioka, 2B
3. Joe Mauer, C
4. Justin Morneau, 1B
5. Delmon Young, LF
6. Jason Kubel, DH
7. Michael Cuddyer, RF
8. Danny Valencia, 3B
9. Alexi Casilla, SS

Starting pitcher: RH Scott Baker

Yankee Stadium. First pitch: 6:05 p.m. TV: FSN. Twins Radio Network

 

Twins/Blue Jays Opening Day Lineups

April 1, 2011

TWINS

1. Denard Span, CF
2. Tsuyoshi Nishioka, 2B
3. Joe Mauer, C
4. Justin Morneau, 1B
5. Delmon Young, LF
6. Jason Kubel, DH
7. Michael Cuddyer, RF
8. Danny Valencia, 3B
9. Alexi Casilla, SS

Starting pitcher: RH Carl Pavano (17-11, 3.75 ERA in 2010)

BLUE JAYS

1. Rajai Davis, CF
2. Yunel Escobar, SS
3. Jose Bautista, RF
4. Adam Lind, 1B
5. Aaron Hill, 2B
6. Edwin Encarnacion, 3B
7. Travis Snider, LF
8. Juan Rivera, DH
9. J.P. Arencibia C

Starting pitcher: LH Ricky Romero (14-9, 3.73 ERA in 2010).

Rogers Centre. First pitch: 6:07 p.m. (Central). TV: FSN. Twins Radio Network

2011 MLB Predictions

April 1, 2011

I know Opening Day was yesterday and I should have posted these a day earlier but here they are anyway.  Feel free to comment below and tell me why I am wrong if you disagree with any of my picks.

AL East:

Boston Red Sox
New York Yankees
Tampa Bay Rays
Baltimore Orioels
Toronto Blue Jays

AL Central:

Minnesota Twins
Chicago White Sox – Wild Card winner
Detroit Tigers
Cleveland Indians
Kansas City Royals

AL West:

Texas Rangers
Los Angeles Angels of Anehiem
Oakland A’s
Seatle Mariners

AL MVP: Adrian Gonzalez – Boston Red Sox

AL Cy Young: David Price – Tampa Bay Rays

AL Rookie of the Year:  Dustin Ackley – Seatle Mariners

NL East:

Philidelphia Phillies
Atlanta Braves – Wild Card winner
Florida Marlins
Washington Nationals
New York Mets

NL Central:

Milwaukee Brewers
Cincinnati Reds
St Louis Cardinals
Chicago Cubs
Pittsburg Pirates
Houston Astros

NL West:

Colorado Rockies
San Francisco Giants
Los Angeles Dodgers
San Diego Padres
Arizona Diamondbacks

NL MVP:  Troy Tulowitzki – Colorado Rockies

NL Cy Young:  Cliff Lee – Philidelphia Phillies

NL Rookie of the Year:  Brandon Belt – San Francisco Giants

Playoffs:

ALDS:  Twins over Rangers,  Red Sox over White Sox (Wild Card)
NLDS:  Braves (Wild Card) over Brewers, Phillies over Rockies

ALCS:  Red Sox over Twins
NLCS:  Braves over Phillies

World Series:  Red Sox over Braves

World Series MVP:  Jon Lester

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