October 2009

Off-Season Outlook: Lineup


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Normally a small-ball team, the 2009 season was an odd one for the Minnesota Twins. For the first time since 1987, the team had four players with at least 25 homeruns, and for the first time ever, four players climbed over the 90 RBI mark in a single season. 
With Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel all back next season, the lineup seems to be in pretty good shape as the Twins begin the off-season. 
The outfield is seemingly set with Denard Span, Cuddyer and a suddenly powerful Delmon Young. There will without a doubt be rumors involving Young yet again this year, but a move seems unlikely. Carlos Gomez meanwhile provides a fourth option off the bench and a solid defender for late-game situations. 
The big question for what seems like the fourth consecutive off-season is the infield. Since the days of Corey Koskie, Christian Guzman and Luis Rivas, the infield has been a game of musical chairs. 
Third base has seen Tony Batista, Nick Punto, Brian Buscher, Brendan Harris and Joe Crede; shortstop has seen Juan Castro, Jason Bartlett, Punto, Harris, Alexi Casilla and Orlando Cabrera; and second base has seen Luis Castillo, Casilla, Punto, Harris and Matt Tolbert. 
Uncertainty has been the name of the game when looking at the infield outside of first base and Justin Morneau. For yet another year the off-season will include deciding who will make up the three remaining positions. 
Third Base 
Joe Crede hit 14 homeruns and drove in 40 runners, but another back injury ended his season early yet again. Another incentive-laden deal seems plausible, but other options might be more viable for Minnesota. 
The free agent market isn’t the deepest, but names such as Adrian Beltre, Chone Figgins, Melvin Mora, Troy Glaus, and Mark DeRosa make it interesting.

Beltre is a player the Twins have eyed for two seasons, but a steep demand for young talent has made him hard to get, Figgins is a speedy veteran who can play multiple positions, and the rest have, in recent years, had decent production. 

The easy answer at shortstop would be to re-sign Orlando Cabrera. The veteran shortstop mentioned several times in his short tenure with the team that he’d be open to returning, and the Twins were undoubtedly happy with his late-season production. The big question seems to be what Cabrera will demand and what Minnesota feels he’s worth. 
Outside of Cabrera and two Type-A free agents, Marco Scutaro and Miguel Tejada, the free agent market for shortstops is less-than-stellar. Milwaukee shortstop J.J. Hardy’s name has been popular, and the 27-year old might be a nice fit. 
Hardy was demoted last season in favor of prospect Alcides Escobar. Since being demoted, Hardy’s name has been popular is trade talk and many fans seem to like the idea. The Brewers would almost certainly demand pitching, but it’s uncertain how much. 
Second Base 
Alexi Casilla was supposed to be the future of the position when Luis Castillo headed off to New York, but since that time it’s been a combination of Casilla, Harris, Tolbert and Punto at the middle infield spot.

If the Twins make moves with the left side of the infield, Punto might suffice as the starter on the right side along with Morneau. If not, there are a few options on the market. 

Type-A free agent Orlando Hudson would cost a draft pick, but might be a player capable of filling the spot for more than one season. Felipe Lopez had a pretty good season, and a popular name early on is Placido Polanco. After playing for the Tigers he may be looking for a new home, and the Twins know first hand what he can do. 
The top half of the lineup, filled with the mainstays of Span, Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer and Kubel, seems set. Three primary openings remain however, and who the former MVP will play alongside is still very much uncertain.

Off-Season Outlook: Bullpen



Last off-season one of the biggest questions regarding the roster was the bullpen. The Twins would have no Pat Neshek or Boof Bonser, and Matt Guerrier was coming off a poor season by his standards. 
A year later the only question that remains is who will win the three current openings. The Twins have often went with twelve pitchers on their pitching staff, and the assumption is that they’ll do the same in their first season at Target Field. 
Closer Joe Nathan will be one of four locks for the bullpen as the Twins begin spring training action four months from now. He’ll be joined by Matt Guerrier, Jon Rauch and Jose Mijares. 

With four spots determined, the Twins have three to fill and an abundance of options from within the organization. It’s likely that as many as six players will complete for three sports with the losers potentially out of options in Minnesota. 
Jesse Crain is one option, and the Twins will have a decision to make on him in the coming months. A poor start to the season saw him demoted to Triple-A, but Crain rebounded and played a key role down the stretch. The powerful right-hander is arbitration eligible and the Twins will need to determine what he’s worth. 
Outside of Crain the Twins will have several other options. Ron Mahay is a free agent left-handed specialist whom the Twins acquired down the stretch, and Bobby Keppel saw a lot of time in 2009 out of the bullpen. The Twins also have at least one minor league option in Anthony Slama. The youngster pitched well in the organization this past year and may be given a close look. 
Injuries kept both Neshek and Bonser off the field last season, and while it’s hard to know what they might be able to provide in 2010, they’ll both be given the shot to show the organization this spring. 
Free agency doesn’t seem to be needed this off-season in regards to the bullpen as the Twins have several options to compete for three openings. Decisions will need to be made, but it’ll come down to performance and health in March.

Off-Season Outlook: Rotation

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An area that wasn’t supposed to be in question this past season became a big one with injuries. With Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey and a healthy Francisco Liriano, the rotation looked to be a strength for the Twins as they took the field in April. 
Baker got off to a slow start after an injury-filled spring, Slowey collected ten victories but missed the second half, Perkins missed several starts with arm problems, and Liriano was inconsistent before being shut down and eventually moved to the bullpen. 
Players stepped up however as rookie Anthony Swarzak made a few good starts and rookie left-hander Brian Duensing stepped into the rotation and played a key role in the team’s September run. Meanwhile, grizzled veteran Carl Pavano provided leadership and quality starts time and time again after being acquired in a midseason trade. 
As the team looks ahead to Target Field and the 2010 season, questions do remain with only three of five rotation spots currently seemingly guaranteed. Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn and a healthy Kevin Slowey seem to be locks for the rotation, but two slots remain unsettled. 
The Twins have three likely options within the organization including Francisco Liriano, Glen Perkins, and Brian Duensing. They could fill both slots with two of the three pitchers, but a better option seems to be to fill one spot and go outside of the organization to fill the other.
If the Twins go with one of the three lefties to fill one of the bottom spots in the rotation, they’ll have one opening to fill via trade or free agency. Carl Pavano stepped up for the Twins and overall pitched nearly 200 innings with the Indians and Twins combined. Pavano may be a good option who can provide innings when healthy in addition to leadership.

Trades are always possible, but outside of Pavano the best options lie within the free agent market. 

Jarrod Washburn is another lefty who the team has reportedly eyed for the past two seasons. The lefty put up good numbers, and has stated before that he’d love to play closer to his home state of Wisconsin. 
The Twins have three spots currently decided, and if they so choose, the rotation could all be filled within the organization. A pitcher like Pavano, Washburn or another free agent might however be a wise investment to fill at least one slot.

Off-Season Outlook: Preview

Preview.pngNearly seven months removed from Opening Day, baseball’s final two teams have just about been decided. That means there will soon be 28 teams moving on to 2010 with the off-season packed full of free agency, trades, arbitration and more. 
After a great, memorable year in Minnesota in which the Twins ended the season on a 17-4 run to win the American League Central and close out their 28 year tenure in the Metrodome, the organization will now begin a new era with Target Field on the horizon.
The off-season is a great time; it’s filled with rumors, hopes and eventually moves. Some teams will upgrade while others will stand pat. For the Twins, holes have opened up in the infield, and the next three-plus months will be telling times with nine arbitration cases, several free agents, and gaps to be filled.
In the days ahead there will be several off-season outlooks for several areas including the rotation, bullpen, lineup and bench. 

Attendance Analysis: A Final Look

There were many interesting moments over the course of the final season in the Metrodome, and many fans turned out to see them. In the first 81 regular season games, the total attendance ranked third all-time for the Minnesota Twins; second only to 1988 and 1992, the two years following the team’s World Series titles.

(1) 3,030,672 – 1988 

(2) 2,482,428 – 1992 
(3) 2,362,149 – 2009 
(4) 2,302,431 – 2008
(5) 2,296,347 – 2007 
(6) 2,293,842 – 1991 
(7) 2,285,018 – 2006 
(8) 2,277,438 – 1989 
(9) 2,081,976 – 1987 
(10) 2,048,673 – 1993
It would take 82 home games before the team’s fate could be decided however, and in the final Metrodome game, a regular season record, 54,088 fans showed up to take the 2009 regular season attendance total to 2,416,237 for the season.

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In 2008, the team averaged a total of 28,405 fans per game. This season, in the final season indoors, the Twins averaged 29,466 fans per game, an increase of 1,405 fans per game. Overall, the team brought in 113,806 more fans in 2009 than last season to give them the third highest attendance in team history.

The average attendance around Major League Baseball in 2009 was right around 2,400,000; with an extra game the team was able to surpass that.
With an expected capacity of 39,800 at Target Field next season, the most fans the team could draw in 2010 is 3,223,000. After making the playoffs, and with 2010 being the Inaugural Season at Target Field and the 50th Season in Minnesota for the organization, next season could see historic attendance totals.

It’s Over

After an improbable comeback and an appearance in the
playoffs, the season for the Minnesota Twins has come to an end. There will be
no long playoff run, no more Metrodome magic, and no World Series title. The
off-season begins immediately, and what had been a great run has come to a
sudden halt.

It’s not time to think back about what could’ve been, and
it’s not time to recount the missed opportunities in the American League
Divisional Series. There is no changing what has happened, and time can be
better spent.

It’s instead time to remember the final memories made under
the Teflon roof this past season. From historic moments to deadline deals to
great moments and great games, the 2009 campaign was a memorable one – with or
without playoff success.

There were the franchise firsts and the baseball firsts;
there were the deadline deals; there were great games; there was an improbable
comeback; there was a final Metrodome playoff game; there was time to remember
the 28 seasons under the roof; and for the fifth time, there was a celebration
for the American League Central.

They say history is always changing, but who could have
thought the Twins would be rewriting so much of it in one season. From Joe
Nathan’s new team record of 47 saves, to multiple team firsts, the past season
was a historic one in Minnesota. For the first time since 1987, the Twins had four
players with 25 or more homeruns in a single season; and for the first time in
franchise history, four players collected at least 90 RBI.

Team history was changing, but the Twins didn’t stop there,
they also rewrote baseball’s history book. Before the team did it last week, no
team in the history of the game had ever overcome a three-game deficit with
four games remaining. And before Joe Mauer hit .365 as a catcher this season, the
highest single-season batting average for a catcher was .3617.

Some have criticized Bill Smith in his short tenure as the
team’s general manager, but his mid-season moves played a huge role in the
final months. Where would the team be without Carl Pavano, Orlando Cabrera, Ron
Mahay and Jon Rauch? Maybe the playoffs would have still become a reality, but
there is no denying that those four players were major factors.

The acquired players helped the team overcome many
difficulties, and without Joe Crede, Glen Perkins, Kevin Slowey and Justin
Morneau, the Twins finished the season with a 17-4 run to overcome a seven-game
deficit in four weeks.

The comeback in itself was historic, but the team made one
more mark in the Metrodome’s history with it’s first ever tiebreaker game. The
extra-inning victory was home to the largest ever regular-season Metrodome
crowd, and it assured one more playoff game indoors with one final divisional

From the incredible comeback to the many incredible moments
in game 163, the final season at the Dome was a memorable one. The ending was
not enjoyable, but the moments that got the Twins to that point were. While
an era in team history comes to a close, the memories and historic moments will
forever remain.

Supporting Joe Nathan

With a two-run lead the Minnesota Twins were three outs away from leaving New York tied up at one game apiece. A single off closer Joe Nathan and a two-run homerun later, and the game was all tied. The Twins would go on to lose, and instead of having a great chance heading home, they’ll instead be looking to avoid a sweep when they take the field at the Metrodome for their first home game.

Now is not the time to turn on Joe Nathan. It’s not the time to say he doesn’t deserve what he makes. It’s not the time to say he shouldn’t be put right back in the game if the situation faces the team again. And it’s not the time to trash his ability.
Joe Nathan is one of the best closers in all of baseball, many would argue that he and Mariano Rivera are right up there at the top. This season, Joe Nathan helped the team cap off 47 games, and without his incredible performance in game 163, he might not have been on the mound in that situation in the first place.
Next season, barring an injury or major setback, Joe Nathan will become the team’s all-time saves leader. He already set the single-season saves record this season, and next year he’ll more than likely become the best in franchise history.
No he was not the best this season against the New York Yankees, and no he couldn’t send the Twins home with a game two victory. But Joe Nathan is one of the best closers in all of baseball, he is the closer for the team you support, and one poor game shouldn’t make fans turn their back.
There isn’t a much worse thing a fan can do than turn on a player, and Nathan doesn’t deserve it. Sure it’s the playoffs, and sure it was a huge game, but Nathan has been instrumental in the success of the team since his arrival in 2004. He has been a leader, a winner, and an All-Star, and one game shouldn’t change that.

And We’ll See You, Tomorrow Night!

One season after missing the playoffs by one run and one game, the Minnesota Twins came out on the other end with a 6-5, 12th inning victory in a one-game playoff with the Detroit Tigers. After more than four and a half hours, the Twins became the American League Central Division champions for the first time since the 2006 season.

The emotional roller coaster began in the third inning when the Tigers took a three-run lead, and continued the rest of the way with miraculous escapes from jams and big hits. Fans screamed louder than they have in some time, waved their “Championship Drive” Homer Hankys, and hoped that someway, somehow, the Twins could avoid a second straight tiebreaker loss and win another division behind manager Ron Gardenhire.
They did.
With no Justin Morneau, no Kevin Slowey, no Glen Perkins, and little Francisco Liriano, the Minnesota Twins completed a historic comeback. Down seven games almost four weeks ago to the date, without one of the best hitters in baseball, and different starting pitchers, the Twins rallied back. For the first time in baseball history, a team came back from a three-game deficit in four games to win the division. 
As unlikely as it seemed last Thursday night, is how real it has become. Overcoming odds is nothing new for the Minnesota Twins, but even this latest effort is hard to fathom. 
There was the huge double-play behind Joe Nathan, the huge strikeouts from Jon Rauch, Ron Mahay, and Bobby Keppel, and the strong effort from the once demoted Jesse Crain. There was the homerun by Jason Kubel, the unbelievable homerun by Orlando Cabrera, and the game-winning single by Alexi Casilla and run by Carlos Gomez. And finally, there was the celebration for the team’s fifth Central Division title.
Where would the Twins be without Carl Pavano, Rauch, Mahay and Cabrera? Where would they be if they hadn’t been in front of a regular season Metrodome record, 54,088 fans? That question thankfully needs no answer, with one of the greatest baseball games in recent memory, The Minnesota Twins are going to the playoffs.

One Day. One Game. One Season.

For the second time in as many seasons, the Twins’ playoff hopes will come down to one game. One game will decide if the Minnesota Twins end their season as one of twenty-two non-playoff teams or continue it as the American League Central champions. The record can be thrown out, it is now insignificant. The one game that the Twins currently stare in the face will determine the season’s path, and the implications are clear: win and go to New York, lose and go home.

One year ago, almost to the very date, the Twins threw the records out and took the field in Chicago to decide their fate. One run in one game ended the season, and a moment of opportunity became a moment of heartbreak. If there is one team that knows what it is like to have a tiebreaker determine the purpose of the previous six months, it’s the Twins. When they take the field against Detroit, they’ll do so in historic fashion – as the first team to ever play in a one-game playoff in back-to-back seasons.
What seemed impossible on Thursday night, became reality on Sunday. Trailing by two games with three remaining entering the weekend, the Twins faced an uphill battle to win or tie for the division. The likelihood of such things happening were small, but as the team took the field Sunday, they did so tied atop the American League Central.
A Twins win coupled with a Detroit loss would have guaranteed the playoffs for Minnesota and been the perfect ending to a perfect weekend. After the Tigers avoided a late comeback attempt by Chicago however, the Twins’ victory meant only a guaranteed tiebreaker game to be played at the Metrodome, and a first in baseball history – until this past weekend, no team had ever blown a three-game lead in four days. 
Four weeks ago when the Twins trailed Detroit by seven games, things looked bleak, and the chances looked even more bleak when Morneau’s season ended three weeks ago. Behind heart-filled performances from the likes of Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer, Delmon Young and others, the Twins now have a chance of a lifetime. 
One game, on one day, will decide the fate of the entire season. The Twins have been in the situation before and know the disappointment. They now have a chance, in front of more than 50,000 fans, to change last season’s outcome, make one more memory and win one more division under the roof.

Glimmer of Hope

Never before in the history of Major League Baseball has it happened. No team has ever made the playoffs down two games in the playoff race with just three games remaining. The Twins face that exact scenario as they begin their final regular season series at the Metrodome this weekend, but don’t tell the team it isn’t possible.

Before team leader Joe Mauer won his first batting title a few years ago, no American League catcher had ever accomplished such a thing. It wasn’t possible by history’s standards, but it happened, and now Mauer is three games away from a third silver bat.
It’s highly unlikely maybe that the Twins can make the improbable comeback and face New York next Wednesday in the first game of the ALDS, but for at least another day the Minnesota Twins’ season continues as more than just a countdown to the end.
When the Twins take the field against the Kansas City Royals for the last first-game of a home series under the roof, they’ll do so as contenders in the one remaining undecided division in baseball. Sure many things may need to fall into place for the improbable comeback to occur, but the chance is there.
The first thing the Twins must do to maintain their chance is win; they must win at least two games to have any hope, and there’s a good chance they’ll need to complete one final sweep at the Metrodome. The other thing? Cheer for Chicago.
There are three situations in which the Twins could have a chance, but it’ll take a strong effort against the Royals and a lot of help from the White Sox:
  • To win the division with no one-game playoff, the Twins would need to sweep Kansas City and the White Sox would need to sweep Detroit at Comerica.
  • To tie for the division and force a one-game playoff, the Twins would need to sweep Kansas City and the White Sox would need to win two out of three against Detroit.
  • To tie for the division and force a one-game playoff, the Twins would need to win two out of three against Kansas City and the White Sox would need to sweep Detroit. 
Any of the three possibilities are farfetched, but some magic in front of expected crowds of well over 40,000 fans Friday and well over 50,000 fans on Saturday and Sunday could provide a boost. 
The Twins have played all season for a chance, and with three days they now have one. The team controls only part of their fate, but maybe, just maybe, there will be one more Metrodome memory worth holding on to.