September 2009

A Roller Coaster Day

It was an early morning for the Twins and Tigers as the two teams met up at Comerica Park for a morning matchup. After some good pitching by both starters and some late scoring, the Minnesota Twins moved within a game of Detroit with a 3-2 victory in ten innings.

Game one of the day-night doubleheader went in the Twins’ favor, but a two-game sweep was not meant to be. Behind one of the league’s best starters, Justin Verlander, the Tigers knocked off the Twins in the night game to extend their divisional lead to two games with two remaining in the four-game series.
Leaving Detroit tied atop the American League Central will not be an easy task for the Twins, but it is possible. Should the Twins split the next two games with the Tigers, many things will need to fall into place over the weekend for them to see a playoff berth become a reality. If they can win the next two games behind Carl Pavano and Scott Baker however, they’ll enter the final regular season series with a strong chance.
Winning two games in a row in Detroit with so much on the line will take a strong effort from the starters and the offense, but the Twins will have a chance and there are reasons to be optimistic.
  • The Twins were able to split the doubleheader while facing the two best pitchers they will face this series. Rick Porcello and Justin Verlander are the best the Twins will face this series, and the Twins managed to score four runs against Verlander, a top-five pitcher in the league.
  • The next two games will feature the team’s best two pitchers: Scott Baker and Carl Pavano. Baker has been a solid pitcher since June, and Pavano is 4-0 against Detroit this season. 
  • Eddie Bonnie and Nate Robertson aren’t pushovers, but they aren’t nearly what Verlander and Procello are. Bonine is coming off a solid outing against the White Sox and Robertson handled the Twins last weekend, but it’s better than Verlander, Porcello or Jackson in such huge games.
The ideal situation after winning the first game of the series would have been to win the second one too. Doing so would have assured the Twins of playing meaningful baseball this weekend, and more so, it would have taken a lot of pressure off the team for the final two games. 
That didn’t happen however, and now the Twins are forced to win the next two games to have a great chance heading into the final series with Kansas City. Splitting in Detroit will be more of a victory for the Tigers than the Twins and the Twins would need many things to fall into place to gain two games in three days.
Anything is possible, and the Twins are still alive. It’s been a long time since two games meant so much, but now more than ever before the Twins must put together a two-game winning streak behind their top pitchers. 

There’s a Chance

For nearly six months now and a total of 155 games, the Minnesota Twins have managed to keep themselves in the thick of the American League Central. A recent hot streak in the past week or two has propelled the club to an 81-74 record with one week remaining in the regular season.

From the time the season starts in late February with spring training to the time the real season kicks off in the first days of April and then finally until all 162 games are completed, each team plays almost every day for a chance. 
Teams play for a chance, a chance to be in the type of situation that the Twins find themselves in on their trip to Detroit. Some teams lock up a playoff berth well before the final week, many others lock up a look ahead to the next season well before that. Some others aren’t lucky enough to have their playoff ticket stamped, but they are lucky to be playing for more of a reason than just counting down the days until off-season golf.
The Twins are one of those few teams.
While the Los Angeles Angels, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees rest and align themselves for their first playoff series, the Minnesota Twins find themselves entering Detroit trailing by two games with a chance to leave on Thursday night leading the division, tied for the division lead, or in a worst case scenario, eliminated from the division.
There is no doubt that the Twins would much rather be setting up their rotation for the first games of the American League Divisional Series, but they are lucky nonetheless. They’re lucky to be playing for something and to have a chance; no matter how difficult the outlook may seem.
Come Friday when the Twins kick off their final regular season series at the Metrodome, they could be playing for their season or playing to finish up a long, 162 game year before heading to the warm weather down south. Whatever may happen, the Twins have made it to the final week still alive. For the next four days, the team will have what many others would love to have at this point: a chance.

Chasing 254

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When the Minnesota Twins acquired Joe Nathan prior to the 2004 season, he was simply one of the three guys that the team received in exchange for A.J. Pierzynski. Six seasons later, Nathan is now the guy that is well on track to break the team’s all-time saves record. 
Thus far in 2009, Nathan has taken the mound and closed out 42 games for the Twins. The total places him second in all of baseball behind only Brian Fuentes (43) and in front of future Hall of Fame closer, Mariano Rivera. 
Since Nathan joined the club in 2004, he has collected at least 36 saves each year, and saved a career high 44 games in his first season with the club. With 13 games remaining, Nathan had collected 42 saves over the course of the 2009 season, his third best season of his career.
With six solid seasons under his belt, Nathan has quickly moved up the franchise’s all-time saves board and currently stands in second place behind only Rick Aguilera with 241 saves as a Minnesota Twin.
With a 4-year, $47 million deal signed last March, Nathan is under the team’s control through the 2012 season, three more years. The team’s all-time saves leader, Aguilera, ended his Twins career with 254 saves in 11 seasons. While he played for the team for 11 seasons, Aguilera was the full time closer for only 8 of those years. 
Nathan is now only 13 saves away from tying the record, and he should tie and then pass the mark early next season. If the All-Star closer averages 36 saves over his next three seasons with Minnesota, his lowest total to date in Minneapolis, he’ll be right near 350 saves when his extension runs out.
Not many knew what the Twins were receiving when they traded their starting catcher six season ago, but now they have one of the best closers in baseball, one who has made three All-Star Game appearances, and one who should soon be the best closer in team history.

No More Morneau

After putting up impressive numbers in the first portion of the season, former MVP award winner Justin Morneau set himself up for a career year. Poor performances in the months of August and September saw his average drop and his projections go with. Now however, there might be an explanation.

A test has revealed that Morneau has a stress fracture in his back, and while no surgery is required for such an injury, his season is over. While the team stands at 72-72 on the season and 5.5 games back of Detroit with seven games remaining against them and 18 remaining overall, any run at the playoffs will need to be completed without one of the league’s best players.
Morneau’s loss however could lead to another player’s gain. The Twins in no way will be better off without Morneau, but his absence will ensure consistent playing time for both Carlos Gomez and Delmon Young over the final stretch of the season. 
Through much of the season, the outfield has consisted of both Denard Span and Michael Cuddyer day in and day out with Gomez and Young rotating in the final spot. Cuddyer will move up in the order and up down the right field line to first base while both Gomez and Young will receive opportunities to prove their worth not only for the remainder of this season, but possibly for the next one too.
Through 81 games, Morneau was on pace for a .311 average to go along with 38 homeruns and 131 RBI. Now his season is over after just 135 games. Morneau’s average dropped 28 points in the past month, leading to questions about his health. How long Morneau played through the pain is uncertain, but the team and fans finally have a good answer for his drop in production. 
The season has been cut short for Morneau, but the left-handed slugger still reached key milestones with 30 homeruns and 100 RBI during the 2009 season. With rest and rehab he should be fully healthy by the end of the year and ready for the inaugural season at Target Field next spring.

09 – 09 – 09

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Today marks a unique day in history as the date, September 9, 2009 transforms to 09/09/09. It’ll happen again next October, again two years from now in November, and then again three years from now in December. After that moment, it’ll be many years before the day, month and year match up again.
To commemorate the unique day in history, we take a look at the list of all players to ever where number nine for the Minnesota Twins.

Billy Gardner (1961) 

Rich Rollins (1961-68) 
Charlie Manuel (1969-72) 
Larry Hisle (1973-77)
Bombo Rivera (1978-80) 
Mickey Hatcher (1981-86) 
Gene Larkin (1987-93) 
Matt Walbeck (1995-96) 
Orlando Merced (1998) 
A.J. Pierzynski (1998-99) 
Jason Maxwell (2000-01) 
Steve Liddle (2002-09)
Two people, A.J. Pierzynski and Steve Liddle, stand out to the general fan, and Liddle has held the uniform for the longest time, followed closely by Gene Larkin who wore it for six seasons.
Charlie Manuel too is a familiar name; he has since become the manager for the Philadelphia Phillies and led them to a World Series title last season. 

That’s Baseball

For more than a week, the Minnesota Twins worked at cutting down Detroit’s division lead. With series victories and key losses by Detroit, the Twins managed to work themselves into second place and within 3.5 games of the Tigers with one month remaining.

A blown save on Wednesday followed by a Tigers victory on Thursday and another Twins loss on Friday, and what looked like a team on the rise turned into a team moving in reverse. A few difficult losses coupled with a Tiger’s winning streak, and over the span of three days the Twins went from a reasonable window to a six game deficit with under 30 games remaining.
That’s baseball.
The Twins found out firsthand last season that one game does make a difference. A streak of poor baseball in the final weeks of August kept the team from making a move, and a one-game playoff loss to the Chicago White Sox left players and fans wondering what went wrong.
This season the Twins have learned about inconsistency. While Joe Mauer has put forth a historic season and Jason Kubel has made a breakthrough, inconsistency has kept the Twins around the .500 mark through five months.
The Twins find themselves scratching to stay alive with just under four weeks and 30 games remaining on the 2009 schedule. Until the playoff vision is gone however, you can bet the team won’t give up. But any sort of surge will need to begin immediately. The Twins have seven remaining meetings with the Tigers, and those meetings are what provide life.
Back in ’06 the Twins found out what a late surge can do, last season they learned what one game can do, and this season they’ve learned all about inconsistency. Baseball is a crazy game, and the Twins have seen it all first hand. As Kirby Puckett once said, anything is possible.

Becoming the Ace

Through the first two months of the season, Scott Baker’s performances only led to questions about his newly signed 4-year, $15.25 million contract inked in the off-season. Three months later, the pitcher that earned the deal with a tremendous 2008 season is beginning to reappear.

With his most recent one run, six inning performance in Cleveland, Baker moved to 13-7 on the season with an ERA of 4.34 – a decent mark considering the rough start to the season back in April.
After three starts and the first month of the season, Baker was 0-3 with a 9.82 ERA. The right-handed Baker lasted only 14.2 innings over the course of those three starts and hitters hit a combined .328 against him.
May was better for Baker, but in six starts in the season’s second month, he posted an ERA of 4.97, and his cumulative ERA stood at 6.38. After nine starts, Baker was still searching for an answer, and nearing the end of the line and staring the bullpen in the face, Baker finally changed for the better.
In the three months since Baker neared a move to the bullpen, he has posted a solid 3.42 ERA. The numbers date back to June 1, and span a total of 18 starts. Take out one poor outing against the New York Yankees on July 7 (3 innings, 5 runs), and Baker has posted a 3.11 ERA over the past three months.
Since the All-Star Break, Baker has been even more impressive. He has went 6-0 over the course of ten starts while posting a 2.64 ERA and an opponents batting average of .218 in the second half. Baker has not lost in his last 11 starts, and is 7-0 with a 3.04 ERA in that span.
A poor start to the season raised eyebrows and questions about Baker’s future. The three months since have made Baker’s off-season extension look like a brilliant move. Baker could be with the organization through 2013, and if his recent ways are a preview of the future, the Twins might indeed have an ace in the rotation.

Attendance Analysis: 12 Games Remain

Through 54 home games, the Minnesota Twins were averaging 29,212 fans per game, about 3,500 more fans per game than last season at the same point. Over the past month, and a total of 15 games, the team’s pace to break last season’s attendance mark has dipped.

After 69 home games, the Twins have drawn a total of 1,985,948 fans to give them an average of 28,782 fans per game. The average is still above where the team was last season at the same point, but the margin has gone from 3,371 more fans per game after 54 homematchesto only a 1,049 fans per game difference 15 home games later.
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Last season the team drew just over 2,300,000 fans through the 81 games at the Metrodome. To meet that mark, the team must draw 26,171 fans per game over the final four weeks and 12 scheduled games.
To meet the league average for attendance, which is set to be on pace for about 2,400,000, the Twins must draw 34,504 fans per game in the final month. Beating last season’s mark still looks doable, but meeting the league attendance average won’t be an easy task.
With the final regular season game at the Metrodome already ruled a sellout, the Twins are assured of about 55,000 fans in one of the remaining games, and by sticking in the race, a series with Detroit and other possibly critical games could draw large crowds.

Off-Day Footage: Remembering Kirby

In a year in which the Minnesota Twins will play their final games in the Metrodome, it’s hard not to often think back about the games you attended, the moments you watched, and the feats that were accomplished under the roof and on the turf.

No matter how great it would have been to sit outdoors on the days with great weather, the Metrodome, and the player’s who took the field over the 28 years of baseball indoors have left a mark that will not soon be forgotten when Target Field is finally open.
As the Twins look to make the playoffs, and wait to take the field in Cleveland looking to wipe a gut-wrenching loss from their minds, here is a video of one of the best players to step foot on the Metrodome ground.

http://mediaservices.myspace.com/services/media/embed.aspx/m=1032311,t=1,mt=video

Dome Dominance

The Minnesota Twins will never again play the Chicago White Sox in the Metrodome. After dominating the team from the South Side of Chicago in recent years under the roof, the two sides will never again faceeach otherindoors after they finished up their final scheduled series in Minneapolis for the 2009 season.

The Twins ended the season with a 7-2 home record against the White Sox, and the two losses came by a combined three runs. From the beginning of last season, the Twins went 15-3 (.833) at home against the White Sox. Dating back to the ’07 season, the Twins went 20-7 (.741), and all the way back to the magical ’06 season, they went 25-11 (.694).
Thedominanceat the Metrodome against one of the team’s biggest rivals has been well documented, but it will be no more. If there is any homedominancefor the Twins against one of their biggest foes, it’ll need to come outside at Target Field.
The ending to what has been a great tenure for the Twins against Chicago wasn’t a fitting one. With a 2-0 lead, two outs and an 0-2 count, Joe Nathan blew the save and eventually the game.
The Twins time and time again in recent seasons have been the team to collect the walk off victories. They’ve seen Alexi Casilla jump down the first base line, and Jose Morales get mobbed. They’ve seen Joe Nathan dominate the ninth, and the Sox rarely had much to celebrate. With one more opportunity however, the White Sox got the last laugh in Minneapolis.
Getting within one pitch of a second sweep of the White Sox and further advancement above the .500 mark is devastating, and feels like a punch to the gut; it’d be difficult to find a more difficult loss to swallow.
The Twins could drop back in the division tonight, but the season is not over. With 30 games remaining, including 7 against the Detroit Tigers, the Twins must bounce back as they head to Cleveland this weekend. An extended downfall could doom the hopes of adding to the list of Metrodome Memories.

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