Tag: Nick Blackburn

Minnesota Twins: Tough Start for Nick Blackburn Curbed by Rick Anderson

 Twitter told not only a tale of carnage and misery for Nick Blackburn of the Minnesota Twins in the first inning of Game 2 against the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday, but also of how Dr. Andy saved the day.

Phil Mackey (ESPN 1500) commented on the first hit:



Following that first hit, a Desmond Jennings single up the middle, B.J. Upton hit back-to-back home runs.

“I knew Jennings was going to swing on the first pitch, no doubt in my mind,” said Blackburn.

“To start off a game I was going to go with my strength obviously,” he continued, referring to his sinker. “Just didn’t get it there. Same thing with Upton and Joyce.”


John Shipley of the Pioneer Press commented:



Of all people, it was Evan Longoria who struck out that inning, but Ben Zobrist would single down the right field line and Blackburn would walk Carlos Pena.


FOX Sports’ Tyler Mason had this to say about Anderson going to visit the mound, 24 pitches in:




The bleeding was awful; it was Mortal Kombat, Kill Bill and Monty Python rolled into one.

But then something happened.

With men on first and second, Jeff Keppinger hit a ball to Jamey Carroll, who turned a double play!

Mason again:



Dr. Andy clotted the bleeding and all was well.

Well, kind of…

Bollinger on Upton’s second solo shot:



Just a flesh wound, just a flesh wound.

Blackburn would leave the game in the seventh after giving up back-to-back singles to Roberts and Molina.

The score was 4-2.

The StarTribune’s Michael Rand offered a fake Ron Gardenhire quote as Blackburn left the field:



“A night kinda like last night,” said manager Ron Gardenhire, “they jumped on us the first inning and after that Blackie settled in nice.

“That’s the story of the game: first inning, three runs and there you have it.” 


All quotes were obtained first-hand.

Tom Schreier writes a weekly column for TheFanManifesto.com.

Follow him on Twitter @tschreier3.

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Scott Baker, Not Nick Blackburn, Should Start for Minnesota Twins in Playoffs

Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey will battle for the final spot in long relief in the Twins‘ bullpen once the American League playoffs begin next week, according to manager Ron Gardenhire. The team will start Francisco Liriano in Game 1, Carl Pavano in Game 2, and Brian Duensing in Game 3 of their ALDS matchup with either New York or Tampa Bay.

Gardenhire also noted that right-hander Nick Blackburn would get the Game 4 nod if necessary.

Gardenhire‘s decision-making has gotten to be nearly beyond reproach: He has led the Twins to six division titles in nine seasons and perennially gets the most out of his personnel in order to overcome high rates of attrition among his most talented players. If he doesn’t win the Manager of the Year award this season, there ought to be an investigation.

That said, Gardenhire is wrong on this point. Blackburn has had a great month since being recalled from Triple-A, but his numbers since August 23 (1.97 ERA with a WHIP a shade under 1.00) cannot erase the misery of his first half. Blackburn had a 6.66 ERA and a WHIP pushing 1.70 when he was sent down in July.


Blackburn vs. Baker

Furthermore, since his return from the abyss, Blackburn has faced the following teams in his seven appearances: Seattle, Texas, Detroit, Texas again, Cleveland, Oakland, and Cleveland again. The Rangers will make the postseason, but the Twins would not see them until a potential ALCS meeting. The others are non-contenders with poor offenses.

On the other hand, Scott Baker continues to deliver underrated but solid performances. After missing three starts in September with a sore elbow, Baker returned apparently at full strength last week. He held the opposing Indians to just two runs (one earned) on four hits and one walk in five innings, punching out seven. For the season, Baker now has 139 strikeouts and 39 walks in 165.1 innings pitched.

That strikeout rate is the best of Baker’s six-year career, and the walk rate is his best since 2007. His .326 BABIP against suggests he’s gotten very unlucky on his way to a 4.52 ERA, though Baker has always battled to keep the ball on the ground and his 1.20 home runs per nine innings is a potential problem against AL East maulers like Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and Evan Longoria.


Three Starters or Four?

Crucially, though, Baker could operate without fear of giving up too many long balls if he pitched in the Twins’ spacious new home, Target Field. A Game 4 matchup in the first round would be on the road, but because of the shortened five-game series format, the Twins would do well not to use a fourth starter in that series anyway. Liriano, Pavano, and Duensing would give them the best chance to win such a series.

Having reached the best-of-seven ALCS, then, the Twins could expand their rotation to make room for Baker. A Game 3 or 4 start in the second round of the playoffs would be at home, and Baker would be the man for the job.

In the meantime, the Twins’ bullpen (which lacks a ground-ball oriented right-hander) could benefit from the injection of Blackburn, a decent option for middle-inning relief in a hitter’s park like Yankee Stadium.

Blackburn is a fine pitcher, and fits the Twins’ organizational philosophy of pitching to contact and keeping the ball down. That makes him the easy choice for Gardenhire and his staff.

Given Baker’s better all-around skill set, however, and the need for power stuff to face the vaunted lineups of either New York or Tampa Bay, the Twins would be better-suited to hand the ball to their more veteran hurler if they advance beyond the first round of the AL playoffs.

Matt Trueblood is a student at Loyola University Chicago and a B/R College Writing Intern. Follow him on Twitter.

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MLB Trade Rumors: Twins Trade For Matt Capps, Improve Bullpen


During a year in which pitchers are being sold for remarkably low prices, the Minnesota Twins announced last night that they had traded Wilson Ramos to the Washington Nationals for closer Matt Capps. On the face of things, it seems a very high price to pay for a closer.

Ramos, 22, was one of the most-blocked prospects in baseball. Being a catcher in Minnesota’s organization doesn’t exactly qualify you for much playing time, and Ramos was a virtual lock to be traded eventually.

That he was only able to bring Matt Capps as a return, though, is disappointing. Many thought Ramos was worth much more than an expensive relief pitcher, but a lot of that can probably be attributed to a fan base overvaluing a prospect’s worth.

The fact is, Ramos hasn’t helped the Twins out much this year. By hitting a paltry .241/.280/.345 in Triple-A Rochester this season, Ramos’ value has either dropped significantly, or Minnesota’s front office panicked and sold Ramos for less than he was worth.

Capps is owed around $1.3 million for the rest of this season, and is set for another raise for the 2011 campaign. With Joe Nathan expected to attempt a comeback next year, though, Capps may not even be tendered a contract. If Nathan can make a full recovery, Capps would be a very expensive set-up man, to say the least.

While it would be nice to have a Capps-Nathan combo in the 2011 bullpen, the duo would combine to make entirely too much money for the impact they could make on the team as a whole. But while it wouldn’t be cost-effective to keep both a functional Nathan and Capps next year, the 26-year old reliever from Washington will be available should Nathan not recover from Tommy John surgery.

Expensive though he is, Capps makes the Twins a better team than they were yesterday. Being inserted directly into the ninth inning role, Capps will force the entire bullpen chain down a notch, which should help other Minnesota relievers improve, or, in some cases, take high-leverage innings away from relievers who have no business pitching in them.

Capps has induced quite a few ground balls this year, and has seen a healthy drop in his fly ball rate. The transition from Nationals Park to Target Field will be negligible, so the Twins are hoping Capps can keep batted balls on the ground. Minnesota’s infield is much more prepared to handle an increased work-load than the outfield.*

* Minnesota’s currently outfield deserves a post of its own. The primary culprit for Baker, Slowey, and Blackburn’s poor seasons this year, the outfield could use an infusion of range. As Beth Sickella opined last night on Twitter, the Twins should consider giving Cuddyer a few games at third (once Morneau is healthy again, of course) during starts from Slowey and Baker. This will hurt the infield defense, but allow both Repko and Span to play in the outfield. An interesting idea, to say the least.

By bringing in Capps, the Twins will increase their final win total of the regular season by a fraction of a win, at best. Still, in the very tight American League Central, a division that has required a couple Game 163’s, even a fraction of a win could make a huge difference.

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MLB Trade Rumors: Bullpen Help Should Be Twins’ Top Trade Priority

The burning question among Twins fans is whether or not their ball club needs to make a deadline move to bolster an inconsistent pitching staff.

A starting rotation led by the unlikeliest of aces, Carl Pavano, had their best week in over a month. The Twins are one game behind the Chicago White Sox and have jumped the suddenly reeling Detroit Tigers.

General Manager Bill Smith will have to weigh whether the recent success is smoke in mirrors against poor opponents or whether it is actual signs of improvement. His decision will ultimately determine if the Twins will be challenging for a World Series title in October or will be struggling to win their division in late September.

The starting staff of Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, Brian Duensing, and Kevin Slowey combined for a 4-0 record, 34 innings pitched, 21 hits allowed, a 1.06 ERA, and 23 strikeouts in their most recent run through the rotation. The superb numbers can be contributed to a number of factors. Most importantly, playing the worst team in baseball, the Baltimore Orioles (31-68).

Or, is it possible the Twins have solved all of their pitching problems up front when they dipped into the bullpen for Brian Duensing last Friday? Nick Blackburn had won only one start since June 1st. Opponents were batting .378 with 11 home runs and an on-base percentage of .427. Blackburn, a sinker-ball pitcher, had been working with pitching coach, Rick Anderson extensively on keeping his fastball down in the zone.

After the Twins came back to win in Blackburn’s last start on July 18, Blackburn said, “I don’t know how much longer they’re going to keep putting up with this stuff.” He was shipped out to the pen prior to his next scheduled outting. In his only relief appearance, he gave up three runs, on five hits, in two innings.

Duensing picked up the start this past Friday against Baltimore. He pitched five innings and gave up one earned-run over five solid innings of work. He was limited due to a strict pitch count enforced by pitching coach, Rick Anderson.

“We wanted to keep his pitch count around 65, we will add about 15 pitches each start, and work forward from there,” stated Anderson. Duensing didn’t factor in the decision, but gave the Twins a chance exiting the game with the Twins up 2-1. The lead he earned was lost when Luke Scott hit a two-run home run off rookie Anthony Slama the very next inning.

Duensing will start Wednesday against the Kansas City Royals on the road. He has a career ERA of 4.84 against the Royals. He has had a bit of trouble controlling the right-handed hitters from Kansas City. It will be a good start to measure his progress as a pitcher thus far through his career.

The tools he has learned as a reliever should translate over into his mechanics as a starting pitcher. His ability to get right-handed batters out will be the deciding factor in his effectiveness as a starting pitcher in the MLB.

You can bet on both Gardenhire and Smith keeping a close eye on what goes on through the end of the month. If Duensing has trouble on Wednesday, I would bet on the Twins making a move to add a piece to the front-end of their rotation. If things go smoothly, odds are they will wait for the waiver and non-waiver deadlines.

The bullpen is definitely in need of some live arms. The front office doesn’t have a choice in waiting for bullpen help. The make-shift pen of waiver claims from last year have not met the hopes of management. Jon Rauch, Ron Mahay, Jose Mijares, and Alex Burnett are all expendable.

With the only effective left-hander now in the starting rotation, the Twins are in dire need of some help to close out games.

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Minnesota Twins’ Brothers ‘No’ Stop Freefall, Shore Up Rotation

Heading into the All-Star Break, Twins fans split into two camps.

The “oh God, it’s all over” camp reacted to the hometown nine’s recent run of form—a poor one, dropping them into third place in the decent AL Central.

The other camp was the “Second Halfers.”  They’ve seen this team really catch fire in the second half of the season and remember pretty well how the performance of several starting pitchers (like Scott Baker) started to pick up rapidly after the annual midsummer classic.

It took the “Brothers ‘No,” Francicso Liriano and Carl Pavano (along with his sidekick, Super Mario’s moustache), to breathe life back into the Twins starting rotation and help point the club toward the usual second half rally.  Although not in a hole nearly as deep as last season’s at this time, the Twins desperately needed solid starting pitching to reappear in the four game series with the White Sox.

The first game was Kevin Slowey’s, and he didn’t last too long, letting a lead escape him early in the game.  It was more of the same from Slowey, who seems to have lost most of the movement on his fastball, and the repercussions from this latest inadequate start have yet to be fully felt.  More on that later.

Next up was Liriano, Frankie Fastball, The Franchise, call him what you will.  The hurler who turned in incredible April (enough to earn him AL Pitcher of the Month honors) and then hit an up and down patch through May and June returned to his best on Friday against the White Sox, going seven and two thirds and letting the bullpen relax for most of the night. 

Only giving up two runs on a Chicago lineup that was on the verge of going on yet another double-digit winning streak was a much needed shot in the arm for the Twins pitching staff.

Next up was Carl Pavano.  He established himself as more or less the staff ace early in the season and has consistently performed in the clutch for the Twins.  His complete game against Chicago on Saturday night, accomplished in under two hours, was his fourth of the season.  Only having a one-run lead for most of the game, Pavano worked the lineup and managed to hold the Sox to just two runs for the second night in a row.

These two performances went a long way toward calming down the entire pitching staff.  When Nick Blackburn took the mound on Sunday afternoon, he got off to his first strong start in several outings. 

Although he gave up four runs in just five innings of work, this is a considerable upgrade from giving up many runs in the first three innings, as Blackburn had done in most of his starts leading into the break.  Hopefully Blackburn can use the first few innings of this most recent start as a building point for his next one.

In any event, with Pavano and Liriano showing that they’re ready for the second half, the rest of the rotation has a much better chance of following suit.  What’s more is that both of them are now able to do something the best pitchers do: adjust on the fly.

Pavano has been doing this for the Twins since mid-April, but for Liriano, demonstrating the ability to adjust his approach to hitters in the middle of the game is something new and promising. 

Liriano’s MO has been similar all season: getting off to a good start in the first couple innings gave him confidence and let him cruise through the rest of the game.  If he were tagged for a couple runs early, the rest of the game was pretty rocky for him, as well.

Against the White Sox, Liriano faced a potentially disastrous jam in the fifth inning, somewhat of an oddity given how his games have normally gone.  Instead of folding, Liriano got his game face back on, mixed his pitches, and managed to get the Sox to leave several men on base.  This is a definite good sign.

The confidence that Liriano and Pavano will have now to work off of will hopefully rub off on the rest of the starting staff to some degree.  Next up in the rotation is “Big Spot Scott” Baker.  He did more than his share to carry the rotation in the second half last season, and he will be looked upon again to do the same. 

Hoping to keep his pitches down a little lower than he did in the first half, Baker will be able to relax just a little more on the mound knowing that each start isn’t quite as critical as they were at this time last season.  The Twins now sit only a game and a half back of the White Sox and have the easiest schedule (on paper) of any of their competitors in the division.

It is worth mentioning that, despite the success that Liriano and Pavano helped breed in the team, the starting rotation certainly isn’t settled.  Kevin Slowey’s performance on Thursday night moved him one step closer to a ticket to Rochester, NY and the Twins’ AAA affiliate.  If he cannot regain movement on his fastball, Slowely’s spot in the rotation will likely be taken by current bullpen hand Brian Duensing. 

Duensing, who started a playoff game for the Twins in New York last season, caught fire for the club in the second half last season.  Duensing’s place in the ‘pen will be taken by someone from the Twins’ minor league system.  Rumors abound as far as who this person will be, but the two most prominent names are Anthony Slama and Kyle Waldrop.

Slama has been on Twins fans’ radar for a few seasons as a pitcher who doesn’t overpower, but disguises his pitches well.  The Twins pitching coaches have been worried that all Slama had to really rely on was his mastery of hiding his pitches, but so far in AAA, he has been quite impressive.  The number of walks he has issued is a potential worry, however.

Waldrop enjoyed a very good first half of the AAA season with Rochester as well.  In total this season, he has pitched in 41 games and only issued 14 earned runs, putting his ERA at 2.09.  With 41 strike outs compared with 15 walks, Waldrop has been impressive this season.

Regardless, with The Brothers ‘No finding their fire early in this second half and Baker looking to reacquire the stuff he had this time last season, the Twins rotation seems to already be in much better shape than it appeared just a week ago.

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AL Central: White Sox, Tigers, and Twins—Breaking down Starting Pitching

The second half of the season is set to begin.

For Minnesota Twins’ fans, the hope is for a three-team race for the division title.

The Twins and White Sox open a crucial four game series at Target Field. For the White Sox, a sweep gives them a huge cushion over the third place Twins and could go a long way to making this a two-team race.

For the Twins, this is a chance to quickly get back in the race, letting the White Sox and Tigers know they are not going away. 

The race for the American League Central Division is going to come down to starting pitching, and as the trade deadline approaches, all three teams are rumored to be in the hunt for starting pitching.

The loss of Jake Peavy leaves a big hole in a White Sox rotation that has only used six pitchers to start a game so far this season. Freddy Garcia leads the team with a 9-3 record. John Danks and Mark Buerhle, both 8-7, have proven to be effective pitchers in the past and look to improve upon their records.

The Tigers may have the greatest need in starting pitching. They have used already eight different starters this season. Only Justin Verlander has won more than six games for Detroit, with an 11-5 record. The only other starter with a winning record is Armando Galarraga (3-2), who currently is pitching at Toledo, the Tigers’ AAA affiliate.

Even though Minnesota starters have only missed one start this season, they are a team without a true ace. Carl Pavano has emerged as the leader with a 10-6 record. But inconsistent starts by the rest of the staff have them searching for a solid starter to add to their rotation. The collapse of Nick Blackburn, who started the season 6-1, only to falter in June and July, going 1-6, to even his record at 7-7, correlates with the team’s fall from first to third in the division. Francisco Liriano, the AL Pitcher of the month in April, who started 4-0, currently sits at 6-7, a record that does not reflect his effectiveness.

The following table ranks the pitchers who have started a game for the White Sox, Tigers, and Twins by their individual WAR rating.  


AL Central – Starting Pitching
Rank Pitcher Team W L ERA WHIP WAR
1 Danks, John CWS 8 7 3.29 1.13 2.9
2 Pavano, Carl Min 10 6 3.58 1.05 2.6
3 Liriano, Francisco Min 6 7 3.86 1.28 2.3
4 Verlander, Justin Det 11 5 3.82 1.19 1.6
5 Floyd, Gavin CWS 5 7 4.20 1.29 1.5
6 Buerhle, Mark CWS 8 7 4.24 1.43 1.5
7 Garcia, Freddy CWS 9 3 4.36 1.33 1.3
8 Peavy, Jake CWS 7 6 4.63 1.23 1.2
9 Baker, Scott Min 7 8 5.87 1.31 1.1
10 Slowey, Kevin Min 8 5 4.64 1.39 0.9
11 Galarraga Det 3 2 4.45 1.32 0.4
12 Willis, Dontrelle Det 1 2 4.98 1.76 0.3
13 Thomas, Brad Det 0 0 9.00 2.67 0.3
14 Scherzer, Max Det 6 6 4.61 1.37 0.2
15 Manship, Jeff Min 0 0 3.00 1.00 0.2
16 Bonderman, Jeremy Det 5 6 4.79 1.32 0
17 Hudson, Daniel CWS 0 0 11.25 2.25 -0.2
18 Oliver, Andrew Det 0 3 6.38 1.64 -0.6
19 Porcello, Rick Det 4 7 6.14 1.69 -1.1
20 Blackburn, Nick Min 7 7 6.40 1.66 -1.1


Based on this ranking, the Chicago White Sox have the edge. The loss of Peavy will put a dent in their rotation, but based on WAR, he was their fifth best starter.

Chicago also has the best innings pitched per start at 6.22, followed closely by Minnesota at 6.13. For Detroit starters, they average less than six innings at 5.80, and as a staff are below the definition of a quality start (at least six innings and less than three earned runs).

The big question will be if Detroit can continue to win without starting pitching. The loss of Joel Zumaya will put more pressure on a bullpen that is already relied upon to pitch approximately 36 percent of the innings.

If championships are won with pitching and defense, the Tigers take another one on the chin. The Tigers have the worst defense of any teams in the Central Division, currently ranked 13th.

The Twins and White Sox have done a much better job of catching the ball with the second and fourth best defenses in the American League.

By many accounts, the battle should come down to the Twins and White Sox.

After two consecutive seasons with the AL Central ending in a tie, could there be yet another Game 163 on the horizon?

The deciding factor will come down to who wins the battle to add starting pitching.

As of now, I give the edge to the Chicago White Sox.



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Minnesota Twins Falter Before Break: How Will They Turn the Season Around?

Let’s face it: The AL Central is the Minnesota Twins’ division to lose, and they did just about everything they could to lose it in the last month or so before the All-Star break. The starting pitching was atrocious and the offense faltered. 

So what should the Twins do? With Mauer and every starting pitcher besides Pavano underperforming, it’s looking pretty rough. I’ve got a few ideas to entertain:

Trade for Dan Haren or Ted Lilly

Cliff Lee already slipped by. I’m sick of seeing the Twins wait and wait for a great deal to land under their nose, only to get stuck with a lackluster upgrade right before the trade deadline.

Supposedly the Twins would have had Lee for Wilson Ramos and Aaron Hicks, but backed out. I understand that Minnesota values their prospects, but they’ve been developing some great young players for the last 19 years with no championships.

Why not trade the young guys? Looking ahead to the future is a good thing, but not if there is never a “present.”

Dan Haren would come to Minnesota with an option for 2013 if they could land him, and would be a better deal than Cliff Lee because he is young, proven, and isn’t just a rental. Roy Oswalt has been great this year, but hasn’t been given any run support and comes at a high price. Either pitcher would be a great upgrade, and the Twins absolutely need to make a push for one of the two. Shoddy pitching is not how teams win divisions. 

Some other starters that should be on the move are Ted Lilly and Fausto Carmona. Lilly could benefit from a change of scenery, as he has posted a 3-8 record in a Cubs uniform. The Twins would love another lefty starter as much as I’d like to see Lilly pitch in the American League. Carmona looks to be back to 2007 form, going 8-7 with a nice 3.64 ERA before the break. 

Shop for a Starter at Third Base

I’ve heard rumors about the Twins eyeing Miguel Tejada. He would bring great defense, and is currently hitting .276/7/35. Not too bad for an old guy. The problem is he likes playing in Baltimore. If the Twins could hoist him over to Minnesota, he would be a nice upgrade both offensively and defensively.

What about Joe Crede? He is apparently healthy and would sign for next to nothing. He promises stellar defense at third, but his offense is questionable. At this point, I don’t see why the Twins don’t sign him for $1 mil or so and spend some real big bucks on another offensive upgrade.

Mix Up the Starting Rotation

Trade Nick Blackburn. Cut your losses. Blacky has shown nothing but his inability to compete at the major league level, and hasn’t been effective since the end of May. 

Something else I’d like to see is Brian Duensing in the starting lineup. He’s been lights-out as a reliever and even showed great starting stuff last year, ending with a start against the Yankees in game one of the ALDS. Putting Duensing in the starting five would give the Twins another proven (although briefly) lefty starter. 

I wouldn’t even be opposed to sending Alex Burnett to the mound for some starts. He’s thrown 40 innings so far this season and boasts a 3.60 ERA from the bullpen. Sure beats Blackburn’s 6.40 or Baker’s 4.87.

Grab Some Relievers and a Real Closer

Neshek is injured, Condrey is injured, and Guerrier has imploded as of late. It’s about time to shore up the bullpen. A lot of guys could be moving, and I would expect one if not more to land in a Twins uniform by the end of July. 

A diamond in the rough down the stretch has been Jesse Crain. He’s been electric lately, although his numbers don’t really show it. I expect Crain and his rejuvenated slider to see a lot more time in the second half.

Matt Capps is somebody I would love to see end up in Minnesota. While I haven’t heard anything involving the Twins and Capps, he makes perfect sense. Matt has had some issues with the long ball this year, and Target field seems to be a pitcher’s ballpark through and through. The Twins need a good closer, and Capps could fit the role nicely.

Another (more likely) option for the Twins is David David Aardsma of the Mariners. Aardsma is a proven closer, but holds a rough 0-6 record and a sub-John Rauch 16-for-20 saves. At this point, I’d stick with Rauch unless the Twins can land a Matt Capps or Heath Bell kind of closer. 

Just Make Some Moves!

The Twins are going to need to be busy before the trade deadline. The White Sox have already been linked to some big players like Prince Fielder, and the Tigers don’t appear to be going anywhere. A new third baseman, a veteran ace, reliever and closer are what the Twins need. Here are my suggestions and hopefuls for said deficient positions:

Third Base Suggestion: Miguel Tejada
.277, 7 HR, 35 RBI

Third Base Hopeful: Kevin Kouzmanoff .266, 8 HR, 40 RBI

Starter Suggestion: Ted Lilly 3-8, 4.08 ERA

Starter Hopeful: Dan Haren 7-7, 4.36 ERA

Reliever Suggestion: Todd Coffey 2-2, 4.41 ERA

Reliever Hopeful: Mike Wuertz 2-1 5.60 ERA

Closer Suggestion: Kerry Wood 8 SV, 6.30 ERA

Closer Hopeful: Matt Capps 23 SV, 3.18 ERA

There’s the blueprint. A handful of moves could put the Twins back on track in 2010, and will hopefully help Ron Gardenhire win his sixth division title and first World Series as manager of the Minnesota Twins. 

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Minnesota Twins: Gardenhire’s Sixth Division Title Needs an Ace

The Twins closed out the unofficial first half of the season salvaging the third game against Detroit with a 46-42 record.

Good enough for third place in the AL Central.

One definition for ‘frustration’ is when expectations exceed reality.  For Twins’ fans the first half of 2010 has been a lesson in dealing with frustration.

Even before the first pitch was thrown in 2010 the expectations were high.

The opening of Target Field came on the heels of an unprecedented surge to win the 2009 AL Central Division by forcing, and winning, game 163 to break a tie with the Detroit Tigers.

Expectations were made greater with the signing of hometown hero, three-time batting champion, and reigning AL MVP, Joe Mauer to a contract extension that will keep him in Minnesota for a long time.  

Once the season began the expectations were cranked even higher.

The Twins started by winning the first six series they played, and eight of the first nine, giving them a 19-9 record, good enough for a three and half game lead in the division. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau were among the top hitters in the league, and Jon Rauch had eight saves in place of Joe Nathan who was lost before the season began. Francisco Liariano was named AL Pitcher of the Month in April with a 3-0 record and a 0.93 ERA.

Then reality set in.

Mauer’s average is currently at .293—equal to the lowest in his career.

Due to complications from a concussion, Morneau has missed the last two games and will miss the All-Star Game in Anaheim this week.     

Since April, Liariano is 3-7 with a 4.94 ERA.

This is Ron Gardenhire’s ninth season as the Twins’ Manager and he has found himself in this situation before. Gardenhire has never finished lower than third in the American League Central Division, winning five of the last eight division titles.

Twice the Twins have gone into the break with the third best record in the division.

In 2003, the Twins finished the first half of the season losing 11 of 12 games.

They saw a half game lead on June 30 fall to a third place finish at the break, down seven and a half games behind the Kansas City Royals and Chicago White Sox, by July 13.  

The starting pitching ignited the team in the second half to win the division by four games.

Brad Radke (9-1), Johan Santana (8-1) and Kyle Lohse (9-2) lead the way as the team cruised to a 46-23 second half record.

Contrast that with 2007.

The Twins went into the Mid-Season Classic with a 45-43 record, again good for third place in the division, eight games behind the Detroit Tigers and the Cleveland Indians.

This time, however, there was no one to lead them to a division title. They went 34-40 to finish with Gardenhire’s only losing season at 79-83.

Carlos Silva led the starters with a 7-4 record. Santana and Scott Baker were the next best with 6-6 records.

If the Twins are going to repeat the accomplishments of 2003, they need a starting pitcher to step up and carry the team past the Tigers and White Sox.

Right now that pitcher appears to be Carl Pavano. His win against the Tigers ended a five game slide for the club and has him leading the team with a 10-6 record and a 3.58 ERA.

A peek at the stats for the Twins’ starters for the second half of 2009 does not bode well for a 2010 comeback.

Baker ended strong in 2009 going 8-2 to in the second half after starting the season at 7-7. 

Pavano was acquired in the second half from Cleveland and went 5-4.

Nick Blackburn went 3-7. He’s currently 7-7, but his 6.40 ERA is the worst on the team. He has not shown any indications he will be able to turn things around in the second half.

Liriano only went 1-4 last year. His 2010 record does not accurately reflect how good he is pitching. Exclude is last appearance (1.2 innings and seven earned runs) and his record would be a serviceable 6-6 with 4.22 ERA, more than two runs better than Blackburn’s.

That leaves Kevin Slowey, who did not pitch after the All-Star break in 2009 and has not regained the dominance he showed opening the 2009 season 10-3 with a 4.86 ERA.

If Gardenhire is to duplicate the type of success the Twins had in 2003, they will need to find at least one more starting pitcher to join Pavano, Liariano and Baker. There does not appear to be anyone ready to make the jump from AA or AAA to the majors.

In Rochester, the Twins’ AAA affiliate, Anthony Swarzak (1-5, 6.84 ERA) and Jeff Manship (3-5, 5.11 ERA) have both made spot starts for the Twins, but neither appear ready for major league hitters.

With Cliff Lee going to the Texas Rangers, that leaves few options for trades.

Unless the Twins’ find an ace-in-waiting or can trade for one, 2010 looks like it will be going the way of 2007—a third place finish in the AL Central.

Look at the bright side—there at least won’t be another playoff loss to the Yankees.




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Minnesota Twins: Pick Your Pitch(ers) and Other Midseason Issues

With the All-Star break not getting here fast enough, the Twins have fallen from decent to mediocrity. Their once potent lineup has now proven to have many more holes then it let on and has given the Twins a lot to gather in their three days off.

An optimist would say the Twins play better in the second half. However, one shouldn’t bank on such thoughts because the pure fact that Minnesota’s starting rotation has fallen to an atrocious level.

A Rotation in Decline

Right-handed starter Scott Baker has been nothing short of pedestrian this season going 7-8 in the first half with a 4.78 ERA with a 5:1 strikeout to walks ratio (95/19). His lone high note has been his ability to go deep into games, but not necessarily keep his team in it.

In June, Baker only managed one victory in five starts. Despite going at least seven innings in two of those starts, his 2-1 victory over Colorado remains his only high point on the past month and a half.

Nick Blackburn has been an interesting afterthought to his astounding May winning five games in as many starts. His ERA was also a respectable 4.28 after May. The Twins were 8-1 with him on the mound and his record to that point was 6-1. However, as the calender turned, so did Nick’s numbers.

Since June 1st, Nick has only won once and has been nothing short of atrocious. His 6.40 ERA is the worst of all the starters. He’s also only struck out 34 to 27 walks for the year. For also being an inning-eater, his lack of ability to get deep into games the past month or so has been a bit disturbing. He now sits at a disappointing 7-7 with little to show for his month of June and July.

As we look down the rotation, Kevin Slowey has been a quiet and inconsistent, but still has shown at times that he can fight for a spot in the rotation. Despite his short comings, he did start the season at 7-3 while his current 8-5 record hides his flaws. His ERA has ballooned since his June 8th start with 3.45 to a now a mediocre 4.74.

His ability to keep the Twins in games for at least six innings and up until his most recent start (July 7) he’s never allowed more then 9 hits. By this, he still has a spot on the rotation until he’s either traded for a bigger arm or he begins to show a reason to keep tabs on him.

Francisco Liriano is probably the biggest case of unfortunates. His 3.9/1 strikeout to walk ratio is decent (especially when its 117/30). At the current rate, Liriano would be on track for a 200 strikeout season, something he could tab to his career of a comeback since his Tommy John surgery back in 2006.

Records don’t mean squat when measuring most pitchers. Just as Slowey’s 8-5 doesn’t measure him well, Liriano’s 6-7 record doesn’t represent him to good as well. His 3.86 ERA (largely due to his past performance against the Detroit Tigers, before of which his ERA was 3.32) shows that his efficiency is ace worthy if he can remain consistent and receive run support.

Although he’s 0-4 in his last 5 starts, he’s shown a resurgence this season that can possibly turn around a rough first half. Beyond Carl Pavano, Liriano is probably the most trusted pitcher to send to the hill.

Rick Anderson said it best,“He struggles when he’s not under control. You can see it early in the game; he’s rushing and falling all over the place. His biggest thing is giving up those runs early in the game, and then he’ll settle down for three, four, five innings. He can do it because of (his) stuff. Again, if you get away from the first couple of innings, when he’s given up most of his runs, he’s pitched pretty good. If he puts up zeros early, and he’s in control from the start, he’s got a chance for a good one. But if he’s falling all over and not throwing, he’s got to make a quick adjustment or he’ll be three or four runs behind.”

Pavano is the lone exception to the decline in the rotation. After a disappointing May, his June was uncharacteristic of the Twins rotation winning four of five starts including two complete game victories over two National League East aces in Roy Halladay and former Twin Johan Santana (back-to-back starts). With a 9-6 record and no loss since June 3rd, he’s been the lone anchor to the rotation and certainly isn’t part of the problem at the moment.

Possible Answers

An ace is a primary need as the Twins are now fielding the options of a possible trades before the tradeline, now that Cliff Lee has been landed by the Texas Rangers. Several options exist in second-tier pitchers available on the trading market. Houston’s Roy Oswalt, Arizona’s Dan Haren, Chicago Cubs Ted Lilly, Oakland’s Ben Sheets, as well as Cleveland’s Jake Westbrook and Fausto Carmona.

Lilly seems destined for the New York Mets and Oswalt’s price might be too high for what he’d be worth. Sheets lacks the dominance the Twins would like and might even be a step down from the rotation they already wield. Westbrook, Carmona and Haren seem like decent options with the likely move being made towards Dan Haren. His numbers suggest the best upgrade this side of Cliff Lee and would offer a good one-two punch with Pavano and Liriano. However, it remains to be seen what Haren’s cost would be.

Another possible option is bring up from within. Kyle Gibson has been ripping through AA New Britain with a 5-3 record in 10 starts, winning his last three and only allowing two runs in that three game stretch. With a 3.56 ERA and 3:1 strikeout/walk ratio (51/17), his numbers suggest a boost to AAA some time in the near future.

He also tore through A league with the Fort Myers Miracle with a 4-1 record and winning the Florida State League Pitcher of the Week the first week of May. With that tallied, Gibson leads the Twins minor-league system with 9 wins so far this season. If the Washington Nationals can pull up the likes Stephen Strasburg, why not Kyle Gibson?


The bullpen has proven to be stable point for the most part for the Twins so far this season. However, certain aspects have proven quite ineffective. The likes of Jose Mijares, Ron Mahay, and Jon Rauch (in his current role) are the more mentionable pieces.

Mijares has yet to prove to have the command he was known for last season and his off the field attitude screams “trade.” His control of pitches has resulted in late game collapses of games that are well in check. A trip to the minors might be a big reality check to his lagging game of late.

Matt Guerrier, although attributable to late inning collapses in proving to look more like a slump then anything else. In past years this has happened and Matt has pulled through as the great set-up pitcher he’s been known for.

Ron Mahay has been used to scarcely and has proven to be a waste of roster space. His poor performances when he has been called in have been embarrassing. Mahay should be cut or at least sent down. There’s a reason the Twins signed him to a minor league deal and no one else did.

Twins closer, Jon Rauch, has done a little better then most thought, but has proven to be not effective enough to shut the door for a team that is known for close contests. Jon is 19 of 23 in save opportunities which is by no means bad, however, his best role is suited as a set-up guy, especially when the middle-relief is hurting.

Possible options are currently sitting in AAA in closer Anthony Slama and reliever Kyle Waldrop (disregarding his recent outing) have been nothing short of amazing. Slama is 16 for 16 in save opportunities and will be a part of the AAA All-Star game. Waldrop has been shut down for the most part and flashed a 1.11 ERA as Slama has shown a strong 1.28 ERA. Both seem ready as Gardy has even endorsed Slama has having been quite formidable this year.

Starting Lineup

With Mauer now underachieving, Morneau with a concussion and half the lineup searching for their swing, it’s no surprise how the Twins have struggled to remain in games.

The Twins NEED a third basemen. Nick Punto does not count. Danny Valencia needs growth still and the Twins would be wise to invest in the likes of a Joe Crede who currently resides in free agency waiting to be picked up. True, he has had injury issues, although, he also could prove to be not that big a risk at half a season price.

His bat could put a legitimate threat in the lineup and for the most part, keep everyone comfortable. Cuddyer doesn’t belong at third. There’s a reason it didn’t work the first time. With a partial deafness in his left ear (the one facing the rest of the infield) he faces a big disadvantage playing the ‘hot corner.’

Danny either needs to start full-time or the Twins need to find a way to get Mr. Crede to sign on the dotted line.

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Minnesota Twins/Tampa Bay Rays Series Preview: 7/1-7/4

Originally published at TwinsMVB.com .

After a satisfying series victory over the divisional rival Detroit Tigers, the Twins will end their homestand with a four-game set against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Tampa Bay started the season off on an excellent note, perching themselves atop the American League East while the Yankees and Red Sox tried to re-group. Now, though, the Rays have struggled to maintain their pitching prowess, and have slipped in the standings.

Still one of the best teams in baseball, though, the Rays will be trying to accomplish the same thing as the Twins during this series: closing the door on a rotten June in an attempt to get back on track in July.

Game One – Jeff Niemann (6-2, 2.72) vs. Carl Pavano (9-6, 3.33)

Niemann, 27, was a major factor into Tampa Bay’s incredible start to the season, posting a 2.38 ERA through the month of May. Like his team, though, Niemann took a step back in June. This step back has been minimal, but could be the start of a major regression.

Despite coming off two successful starts against National League squads, Niemann is a classic example of a pitcher with artificially impressive stats. With an extremely low BABIP, a low line drive percentage, and a very high strand rate, it’s not a question of whether or not Niemann will regress; it’s a question of when.

While he’s certainly not as good of a pitcher as his stats suggest, Niemann may not return to earth for quite a while. The longer he keeps up this façade, though, the harder his fall will be.

Pavano’s success, meanwhile, appears to be more a result of ability. Although he has the benefit of a low BABIP and high strand rate, Pavano hasn’t given up any fewer line drives than is usual for the 34-year-old. His overall talent level is probably worse than his current 3.33 ERA, but to expect a 4.00 ERA on the season would be fair.

Though not the case for most Twins, the month of June has been extremely friendly to Pavano. Coming off two consecutive complete games, Pavano has an ERA of 2.25 through 40 June innings. Pavano (and teammate Francisco Liriano) have been paramount to Minnesota’s ability to avoid a free-fall this month.

Both BJ Upton and Carl Crawford have dealt with minor bumps and bruises these past few days, and they may miss a game or two during this series.

Game Two – David Price (11-3, 2.44) vs. Scott Baker (4-7, 4.97)

A few weeks ago, David Price was in the same boat as Niemann: a lucky pitcher who would likely plummet back to a more realistic realm. Instead of regressing, though, Price seems to be finally tapping into his incredible potential.

Price, 24, had marginal success last year with basically two pitches: a four-seam fastball and a slider. This season Price has introduced two new pitches: a curveball and a two-seam fastball. With the ability to better deceive opposing batters, Price has had great success in 2010. His ERA won’t stay below 2.50 for too long, and he won’t be able to strand nearly as many runners as he is now, but Price, the first overall pick in the 2007 draft, has started to realize his potential, which should frighten batters across the American League.

Baker has been one of the most disappointing players for Minnesota this season. A career 4.36 ERA pitcher, Baker’s near-5.00 ERA this season has angered many fans. Looking at the stats, though, shows that Baker has BABIP slightly higher than is usual for the right-hander, and that more fly balls than usual are ending up as home runs. Both of these will likely regress eventually, though, Minnesota fans could be treated to a start along the lines of Baker’s most recent .

Game Three – Wade Davis (5-9, 4.68) vs. Francisco Liriano (6-6, 3.47)

When looking at opposing pitchers in these series previews, I usually make sure to mention whether or not that pitcher has had “luck” on their side. In Davis’ case, though, his poor stats are simply because he hasn’t pitched very well.

Whether his issues are mental or mechanical isn’t necessarily known, but he has garnered far fewer swinging strikes than in the past. This lack of deception has greatly hurt his stats, and Price could be replaced by top prospect Jeremy Hellickson very soon.

Liriano has been one of the best pitchers in the American League this season, and “luck” hasn’t played too big a factor in his success. He will give up more home runs per fly ball than he is now, but all signs point back to the biggest reason for Liriano’s success: his improved slider.

Game Four – James Shields (6-8, 4.76) vs. Nick Blackburn (7-5, 6.02)

On the face of things, it appears that Shields has been unimpressive this season. When trying to root out the reason for this mediocrity, though, I can’t find any glaring abnormalities. Most of his batted-ball and plate discipline stats have remained the same from years past, as Shields is still inducing plenty of ground balls and getting ahead in the count at a very impressive clip.

So why is the ground-ball pitcher struggling? For one, his BABIP is slightly higher, but something intangible is also a likely culprit. In any case, Shields hasn’t been very effective this season, and there is no reason to believe that his mediocrity will end against the Twins.

Blackburn has also struggled to get batters out this year, but we can pinpoint exactly what is ailing the 28-year old righty: He just isn’t very good. He is dead-last in the league in strikeouts per nine innings, and when he throws a pitch in the strike zone, opposing batters make contact an astounding 96.6 percent of the time, which is also tops in the league.

Marginally successful for the past few years, Blackburn relied upon his extremely accurate arm to paint the corners of the plate and walk very few opposing batters. This year, however, it appears the league knows that most of Blackburn’s pitches are hittable.

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