The Blue Jays got Nathaned!

I am a major fan of Joe Nathan. Always have been. I am as thrilled as anyone in Twins Territory to see him back on the mound in all his twitchy glory. But I have to say I am also a major fan of 1-2-3 innings, easy saves, and not having to spend three innings in a fetal position with my hands over my eyes. It is way too early in the season for this kind of stress.

But lo! A win! An agonizing win! The Twins were not swept to open the year, unlike *snerk* Boston! I’ll take it, thank you very much. Now come four days that I am in the process of erasing from my memory in advance, and then the home opener! Can’t wait!

Huh. Well, that happened.

I hope Gardy kept the receipt for the Carl Pavano that got shipped north, because I think it isn’t the same model that we saw in Florida. Where’s the guy that could A) find the strike zone, and B) find the part of the strike zone that didn’t lead to the bleachers? I mean, I know it’s the Jays, and at least Edwin Encarnacion stayed in the yard, miraculously, but good grief. I don’t remember the last time I couldn’t watch an entire Opening Day game but this one was just too painful. What happened to our vaunted offense? What happened to our DEFENSE, for Pete’s sake? I certainly don’t blame Yoshi for not being a whiz at the plate (in fact I’m a little surprised he got a hit at all), and even his error was a pretty tough play, but that blunder with the pickoff was kind of inexcusable. Poor guy. I’m sure he was super-nervous and probably just tightened up, but he’d better get over his nerves ASAP. We already have to deal with Alexi’s sad little noodle arm at short. We can’t carry a timid 2B on top of that.

This is, of course, not the time to panic. There’s still a LITTLE time left to rebound from this catastrophic hole in which we find ourselves. It is lovely to see the boys on the field again, especially the Canadian Crusher himself and his giant bobblehead helmet, bless his heart. As long as he’s healthy, he’ll find his swing again, I’m not worried about that. I AM a tad bit worried about Mister Mauer, since he seems to be in Sulk Mode awfully early, judging by the small bat-slam and slightly curled lip which is the Joe Mauer equivalent of Carlos Zambrano murdering a Gatorade machine. But I am actually not unhappy to see a little fire from the 23-million-dollar man. Use that feeling to rally the team, Joe!

Speaking of rallying the team, I have to say my ultimate favorite moment of last night was before the game (obv) when Justin was going through the dugout bumping fists and high-fiving every single person in there, just like old times. I got a little teary, I confess. I may be one of only a few people in Twins Territory who thinks so, but I feel that Justin is as important to this team or even more so than Joe Mauer, as far as his leadership. And come on: How adorable was his little bowing handshake with Nishioka? Cutest thing ever. Followed closely by Justin and Joe’s more-complicated and supremely white-boy handshake right after that. There may not be much Torii-Hunter-style Soul on this team, but there’s plenty of Heart, and that’s why I love them.

Just get off the East Coast alive, guys.

Gentleman Jim Comes Through

Every penny we’ve paid Jim Thome, every single time he’s struck out with guys on base, every time he’s been thrown out by 50 yards because he’s slower than dirt, every single bit of it is utterly, completely worth it.

thome walkoff.jpgWe are not going to discuss Matt Capps’ second blown save in 6 chances (when we can absolutely LEAST afford it). We are not going to discuss AJ’s two doubles, nor Delmon’s sad attempt to mow him down at the plate. (Delmon: You need to at least PRETEND to try to touch home. Good try, though. Just punch him next time if you want some cheers.) Nor are we going to discuss Scott Baker’s inability to recognize the lower half of the strike zone. It doesn’t matter. What matters is we won, in the most glorious way possible.

Well played, Thome!

Hugs all around!

Did you all see that?? Brian Duensing, Fill-In Starter, threw a 104-pitch, 3-hit, 9-inning shutout of the Oakland A’s. On a night when pretty much the only guys available in the bullpen were Ron Mahay, Glen Perkins and, I don’t know, probably Wayne Hattaway. (I’d say, go with the Big Fella!) Not to mention that BD was pitching with a very precarious one-run lead for basically the entire game. And also not to mention that his opponent was Trevor Cahill, one of the better pitchers in baseball lately.

It wasn’t exactly a terrific game for the Twins offense, but they got what they needed. I like seeing Joe Mauer finally hitting well for an extended period of time. Although I hope that fly ball that died right at the wall in left doesn’t send him back into an I-hate-this-stupid-ballpark-I-can’t-hit-homers-here funk.

I also admit I really enjoyed not having to sit through FSN’s rotation of, like, five different commercials again, even if the resulting broadcast ended feeling a little telethony. Is this commercial-free thing something they’ve done before? I liked seeing the footage of the players out doing their charity things. How cute is Justin when he’s playing around with the kids in the hospitals?

Anyway, way to go, Brian! After a couple of wobbly starts, we needed a starter to step up and kill it, and he did. I’ll tell you what else is fun: Seeing how huggy the Twins starters are! Ever since my brother mentioned this once, I can’t help but notice it. Everybody else on the team is high-fiving, low-fiving, doing all their manly hand-slapping, and then when two starters meet, it’s a big two-armed hug. Awwwww. They’re just big softies.

UPDATE: And Chicago lost to Detroit!!! Whee! First place by two games! Keep opening up the daylight there, boys! Cling jealously to first place like a sloth to a tree branch! Like an ape to a banana! Like a crocodile to a helpless wildebeest! Cling and never let go!

Ahh, first place.

I’ve missed you, old friend. Please don’t ever go away again.

Unfortunately, Glen Perkins is on the mound tonight, so I will try not to get too attached. Captain Whineypants has given up five runs so far, and the Twins apparently used up all their hits last night. Not to mention some alarmingly bad throws by Twins defenders, yet another example of brainless baserunning by Denard Span, as well as our backup catcher Joe Mauer taking a baseball off a very personal area and getting snickered at by his entire infield, plus Jerry White being attacked by a squirrel. And then there’s Juan Pierre and his tiny, tiny head. It all adds up to a strange game and one that may not end well, which is why I am posting this now while there is still (technically) hope.

Also, if you haven’t yet, go read this very sad article about Torii Hunter’s semi-forced move from center field to right. Torii was my favorite player when he was here, and unless he does something really terrible someday, he will always be one of my all-time faves. I know he must be heartbroken, as much as he’s apparently been completely classy about it, helping out the new kid and everything. And could this heartbreak be the reason for that uncharacteristic meltdown the other day? Poor Torii. It just seems too soon for him to be pushed out of his element. He’s not what he used to be, but it’s still too soon.

Uhh, Mr. Pavano? Nick Punto wants his pants back.

So yes, apparently it is possible to defeat that juggernaut of unhittable pitching and timely power that is the Cleveland Indians’ AAA club.

Yesterday was Throwback Uniform Day in honor of the Negro Leagues. The Cleveland unis didn’t honestly look all that different from their regular ones, just baggier. But the Twins? Oh, the Twins.

throwback carl.JPGAt first I thought Carl would look good in this style because he’s got the old-timey mustache, but I was wrong. I think what killed it for me was the bizarre length of his pants. My suspicion is that those pants are meant to be worn with high socks, and Carl didn’t want to wear high socks, and that was as long as the pants could go, but really. Couldn’t you just have worn the high socks, dude? Those pants look like pajama pants that he outgrew 20 years ago and is still wearing to pitch in for some reason. Or possibly they are pants that he swiped from a much, much smaller player.

Other guys didn’t look so bad – Kubel actually looked okay, I thought, because he’s got a more old-timey Babe-Ruthian build (sorry, Kubes, love ya, it’s true). I thought Orlando Hudson looked really cool with his striped socks, even though he didn’t get to play. But our backup catcher Joe Mauer looked ridiculous. Drew Butera was drowning in fabric.

I like the throwbacks because it’s kind of fun to squint and try to imagine that this is what baseball looked like 100 years ago. I wonder what those players would think if they could see what baseball looks like now. But I’m glad those uniforms are only for the day. Nobody would ever take the guys seriously if they looked like that all the time.

(I bet Frankie would have looked pretty good, though. Was he wearing one? I didn’t see him.)

Anyway, Brian Duensing is up today. I’m happy with how he’s handled himself. I’m less happy with the news that Glen Perkins might be called up to take Slowey’s start on Wednesday. All together now: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!! Not against the White Sox! We can’t lose those games! Manship! Swarzak! Trade for somebody! Anybody but Mister Whineypants!

I REALLY don’t like all these injuries all of a sudden. There’s not that much left of the season here, guys. Alexi was doing great, for once, and now he’s out again. O-Dog is finally back, but is he really healed, or just insisting he is so he can play? Is Joe really OK to catch? I think it’s looking like Justin could be back in a couple weeks if he goes on a rehab assignment and everything goes fine, but will he really be ready? And don’t even get me started on poor cursed Ben Revere. Has anyone had more weird, hideous injuries in the course of a couple of years? He got the exact same injury that ended Kirby’s career, so here’s hoping Revere is a little luckier. I don’t know what his long-term future is with the Twins, with Denard settled in center now (replacing Cuddy in right, eventually? who knows?), but by all accounts he’s a good kid and a good ballplayer. You hate to see that happen to anybody.

Can a person sweat on only his arms?

Wow, nothing like throwing the new guy right into the fire, eh? Good job for Matt Capps and his shiny, shiny arm. Like I said before, I really hate this trade, but my loathing has nothing to do with Capps as a person. He seems very nice and understandably happy to be on a playoff-hopeful team for once. He looked nervous, didn’t he? I wonder if he’s ever pitched in front of that big and that rowdy of a crowd. I just hope he does have another pitch in that arm somewhere. He made a couple outs on those straight fastballs, but I saw several pitches in there that a good team would have deposited in the roof deck. Still, well done, new guy. Couldn’t you have maybe not picked Red Dog’s number, though? Some of us still fondly remember Mister Naked Walk.

Also, well done to our big slugger Alexi Casilla. We still have Good Lexi for the moment, so I’m OK with him, especially with Nicky out for a while. No doubt there will be plenty of booted balls and boneheaded baserunning when Bad Lexi shows up again.

A sixth win in a row does go a long way to soothe ruffled fan-feathers, I admit. I’ve been just sick about that trade all day. It didn’t help to have the Yankee and Mariner fans I work with come up to me and demand to know what the Twins were thinking. What do you say? “We needed a guy who pitches exactly like Jon Rauch but is way less intimidating!” Meanwhile the White Sox are acquiring a starting pitcher and the Yankees and Rangers are acquiring everybody. So much for not being a small-time team any more.

Oh well. Let it go. Good win, guys. How ’bout seven?

What a waste.

So the ever-brilliant Bill Smith has traded the Twins’ biggest chip, Wilson Ramos. For whom, you ask? For a solid starting pitcher? For a 3B with a little power? No. For a reliever.

Welcome to the Twins, Matt Capps, I guess. Nothing on you, man, I’m sure you’re a fine human being.

But really, Bill Smith? OK, here’s the story, apparently: Capps is now our closer. Jon Rauch? Thanks for rescuing us and stepping up like a champ, now have fun with the 7th inning again. What a way to thank a guy. “But wait, Matt Capps is an All-Star closer!”

Matt Capps, first of all, was an All-Star for the Nationals. He was not chosen because he’s a great closer. He was chosen because he plays for a team with very, very few players that could pass for All-Stars even in a dim light. Let’s take a closer look at the numbers for Capps and Rauch:

Capps: 47 IP, 2.74 ERA, 26 SV/30 SVO, 51 H, 14 ER, 5 HR, 9 BB, 38 K, 1.30 WHIP

Rauch: 38.1 IP, 3.05 ERA, 21 SV/25 SVO, 43 H, 13 ER, 3 HR, 9 BB, 27 K, 1.36 WHIP

Does this look like an upgrade to you? And if so, can you show me your numbers, because it does not look like an upgrade to me. Capps has four more saves, but he took 8.2 more innings to get them. He’s struck out 11 more, but again, 8.2 more innings. His WHIP is barely better. He gives up a LOT of hits – just like Rauch. Interestingly, Capps has given up 20 runs total, but only 14 of them were earned, which speaks to the putridity of Nationals defense. One assumes he will be better knowing he has better fielders behind him.

But again: Is this really an upgrade? And moreover, was it an upgrade large enough to warrant giving up our main trading chip? Yes, Ramos hasn’t been having a great year. But I have to think baseball people are smart enough to look at the whole picture and not just the last few months. He’s a good catching prospect, and he will make someone a perfectly fine everyday catcher. That is not to be sneezed at. And that is not to be given away for a closer that is NO BETTER THAN THE CLOSER WE HAVE. And not to mention what this does to Jon Rauch and everyone who has rooted for him all season long. In my opinion, he’s been one of the great stories of the Twins this year. It’s a slap in the face, is what it is. For Rauch, who worked so hard. For Joe Nathan, who worked so hard with him. For Ramos, who no doubt was hoping to go somewhere a little better than Washington. (Not to mention that it’s not like he’ll be given much opportunity to start in the majors, even for the Nats. Not until he pries that mask out of Pudge’s cold, dead fingers.)

The more I think about this, the more idiotic it is. I went to look up what Capps’ contract status is, but what difference does it make? Are we not planning to have our REAL closer back next year? Did they trade Ramos for an insurance policy in case Nathan has a setback? (Capps is contracted through this year but still arbitration-eligible for 2011, fyi.) This is not a guy we have any intention of keeping around long-term. We wasted Ramos on a two-month rental, which might have been worth it for Cliff Lee. Not for Matt Capps.

I see nothing whatsoever that is good about this trade. And it sends a bad, bad message. Yes, it’s good for a GM to make trades and show that he’s willing to improve the club, but it’s also good to show confidence in your guys and not make a move if it isn’t the right move. This was an imbecile move, and completely unnecessary. I only hope it doesn’t backfire.

The State of Baltimore

Scene: The Baltimore Orioles Clubhouse

THE PLAYERS are sitting at their lockers. Most have their heads down. CRAIG TATUM is whimpering softly and clutching his left hand. Otherwise there is no sound except for the quiet strains of their usual post-game Andrea Bocelli.

ADAM JONES: [Attempting to break the silence] So, that was an interesting game today.

CESAR IZTURIS: [Bitterly] I thought the Twins LOST the Cliff Lee sweepstakes.

JONES: That wasn’t actually Cliff Lee, that was Scott Baker.

IZTURIS: Really? Are you sure?

JONES: Pretty sure.

FELIX PIE: [Knowledgeably] Cliff Lee doesn’t have a goatee.

LUKE SCOTT: You must admit, the goatee does look surprisingly good on him. Makes him look older. I wouldn’t have guessed he COULD grow a goatee since his last start. [After an awkward silence, SCOTT hastily adds:] Not that I had ever given the matter a moment’s thought, of course.

ALL: Of course, sure, hadn’t occurred to us, he’s totally dreamy, etc.

NICK MARKAKIS: I wish they still had Carlos Silva. Did I ever tell you guys, once I hit–

JONES: Three home runs in one game off him, WE KNOW. You’ve only mentioned it once a week since then.

MARKAKIS: [A little sulkily] Well, I’m just making conversation.

SCOTT: I’ll tell you what I’m wondering: What does a guy have to do to keep Delmon Young off the bases?

[At the sound of DELMON YOUNG'S name, BRIAN MATUSZ leaps up and runs screaming from the room.]

BRIAN ROBERTS: Now you’ve done it, Scott. He’ll be barricading himself in the equipment room with a case of Ben & Jerry’s now.

SCOTT: Well, excuuuuse me. At least I’ve been playing for the last month.

ROBERTS: I was on the DL!

SCOTT: A likely story! You were just staying home admiring your hair, and you know it! You hate what helmets do to it!

ROBERTS: IT CRIMPS VERY EASILY, OKAY?

JONES: Come on, guys, calm down. The only guy allowed to go bananas over nothing is Ty, remember?

TY WIGGINTON: WHAT’S THAT SUPPOSED TO MEAN??? THE GUY WAS OUT! OUT! OOOOUUUUUT! [Bumps JONES's chest aggressively, flings hat, storms out of clubhouse]

IZTURIS: Hoo boy.

MARKAKIS: Yesterday was a pretty good day, wasn’t it?

ALL: Sure, it was great, fun to win, yesterday is but an illusion, etc.

MARKAKIS: I was really hoping today would be a good day like that. Or like that one time I hit–

JONES: SERIOUSLY, MAN.

MARKAKIS: Fine. Hmph.

SCOTT: Yesterday was good. It was…let’s see, our 31st win.

IZTURIS: Out of….?

SCOTT: ….96.

[There is another long silence.]

ROBERTS: We’re not bad guys, are we? We’re good guys?

ALL: Sure, of course, great guys, love you guys, not that jerk Wigginton, etc.

ROBERTS: So what have we done to deserve this? Every one of us beat out hundreds of other ballplayers in Little League, in high school, in college, in the minors, to get where we are. We are good at our game. How is it possible for us to be so bad this year?

JONES: I know what you mean. For the first month, I thought it was a slow start. Then I thought maybe it was not going to be a good season, but at least we’d hit a decent stretch sooner or later. We’d go on a little run, win a few in a row. I’m still waiting.

MARKAKIS: We won four in a row right before the All-Star break!

JONES: We’ve won two since then.

MARKAKIS: Well….yeah.

SCOTT: Do you think they’ll trade any of us?

ALL: Maybe, strong possibility, if there is a God and He does love us, etc.

IZTURIS: We can’t start thinking like that, though. We have to play our game with the guys we have as long as we have them. Win or, more likely, lose. I’m working hard. You’re all working hard. We just can’t let this break our hearts. There’s always next year.

ROBERTS: Will the Yankees, Rays and Red Sox still be in our division next year?

JONES: Yes.

ROBERTS: Oh.

[There is a very long silence.]

MARKAKIS: I’ve got it! Let’s all grow mustaches!

A mustache extravaganza! Also, The Bunt

I’m really starting to have a hard time thinking of post titles that use the word “mustache.” If this is the price for having Carl Pavano be Carl Pavano this year, then I will gladly pay it! What can I say? Five complete games? Are you kidding me? Twelve wins? What a guy. THAT is exactly what you hope you will get when you sign a veteran player. One who’s going to step up and show the young guys how it’s done. Well done, sir. I salute the power of the mustache.

I also wanted to chime in a couple days late on the Mauer-bunt fiasco. I find the whole thing extremely interesting. I, like everyone else on Planet Earth, almost choked on my M&Ms when I saw him bunting for a hit (presumably) in that situation. I thought sadly to myself, how many other teams would have their best hitter bunt in this spot?

Then it turned out Mauer wasn’t asked to do it, he chose to. Somewhere in that baseball mind, he stepped up to the plate with two runners on in a tie game and thought, “Maybe I should lay down a bunt here.” Jim Souhan eviscerates this play in his blog, possibly a little too harshly, but one part in particular was spot-on:

[Joe]‘s got to recognize where he is in his career, who he is, what is role
is, what his team needs from him. He can’t sign the richest contract in
franchise history and then shrug off the responsibility of getting the
big hit in the biggest situation in the game.

I truly think that’s what’s at the heart of all the embarrassment and outrage over The Bunt: By signing that contract, Joe accepted the responsibility of carrying this team. At least, that is how all of Twins Territory views it. What I don’t quite get is that Joe is a Minnesotan. He knows how Minnesotans feel about their money. He’s the favorite son, the golden boy. But when he pushed his own stardom into the stratosphere, he also pushed it out of the realm of the Boy Next Door. We can’t relate to him as much any more. He’s not one of us. He’s just another wealthy superstar. And when he plays like he can, that’s fine – heaven knows the team needs him, and if anyone is worth $23 million, it’s Joe when he’s at his best.

But he’s now spent the entire season so far underachieving. No major injuries, no obvious problems, just lackadaisical, uninspired baseball. And I’m sorry, folks, but he will not be better in the last two months. No catcher ever is. And I think people are feeling a little swindled right now. I know I am.

And you know what? Anybody can have a down year. Especially after the glory of last year. What I really don’t care for is how joyless and defensive he’s become. In the next post, Souhan mentions how Joe, when called up about The Bunt, snapped that we’d be picking on him even more if he’d grounded into a double play. (And he’s right, we would. But only because it would NEVER have occurred to us that there was an even worse option. I would honestly have rather had a GIDP there. At least he’d be trying.)

Joe will come around. Not this year, probably, but maybe next year. Eight years is a long time to wither under the weight of expectations. Sooner or later, he’ll get used to it and man up. It’s just very disappointing. We want our Joe back. The confident, sweet-swinging, never-rattled, always gentlemanly Joe. Not a sulking, slumping superstar.

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