Thursday, March 26, 2009

Batter up: Minnesota Twins

It's that mystical, wonderful time of year where you commit to a team which you know fully well won't win. This season, in honour of an popular Internet meme, we'll present 25 things about each team. Any wagering or fantasy baseball advice is for recreational use only. At bat: The Minnesota Twins,and spare some thoughts for their fans in Fargo-Moorhead.
  1. The Twins' pattern is to alternate periods of modest success with sub-mediocrity. They aren't close to bottoming out like they did in the early '80s or late '90s, but expect the boundless speculation to start with all-everything catcher Joe Mauer close to free agency.
  2. People probably assume Mauer will go free agent and sign with a team on either coast after 2010. Thing is, one wonders how sustainable it is, being a full-time catcher who's on an on-base guy (.413 last season) without much extra-base power.

    Players with that skill set are few and far between for a reason. Mauer, still only 25, is due to miss Opening Day due to chronic back pain.
  3. Target Field has virtually the same right-field dimensions as the Metrodome, 328 feet down the line (a foot deeper) and 367 in the alley, minus the 16-foot-high "Baggie." It's a few feet shorter to straightaway centrefield (404 instead of 408) and in left field. The Twins hit the fewest homers in the AL (111) and allowed the second-most (183), so moving to an open-air ballpark might do some interesting things with their power numbers.

    Justin Morneau had a career high in extra-base hits last season (74), but no one noticed since that included twice as many doubles as home runs.
  4. One wonders if the bloom has come off Justin Morneau, just a bit. He hit just .243/.298/.398 in the final month of the season, when the Twins went 11-15 to lose the division by one game. Don't expect to hear that mentioned any time the Twins are playing the Jays.
  5. Lefty phenom Francisco Liriano will actually be allowed to pitch in the major leagues all season (although he have lost something off the fastball he had in 2006 before getting injured, and might not keep the ball down as well). It's a bold strategy, let's hope it works out for the Twins.

  6. One reason the Twins do better than expected: Their pitchers don't walk anybody (just 406 last season, fewest in the AL). Matt Guerrier was the staff's wild man last season (37 bases on balls in 76 1/3 innings).
  7. The Twins' batting splits reveal why manager Ron Gardenhire has such a good reputation. The Twins on-based .380 and slugged .446 with runners in scoring position, compared to .317/.379 the rest of the time, and they do it with a so-so bunch of hitters.

  8. You're justified in wondering if moving to a new stadium might hasten the Twins becoming an American League version of the Pittsburgh Pirates: Nondescript team with nice, new stadium. FanGraphs notes nature of the economy and the pennypinching of late owner Carl Pohlad doesn't inspire optimism that they're going to pour all the revenue from the new park into the team. The rub is that they have a lot more talent than the Pirates.
  9. They have a lot of nice players: Michael Cuddyer and Denard Span in the outfield, Jason Kubel at DH. Nice players, not great players.
  10. You know how you can redeem your ticket stub for a slice of cardboard pizza when the Senators score six goals in a game, or when the Raptors score 100 points? The Twins should have something like that when 3B-SS Nick Punto hits a home run. He's hit only 10 in five seasons with the Twins.
  11. Farmhands Justin Huber and Luke Hughes each played for Australia at the World Baseball Classic (the Aussies got as far in the WBC as Canada). That should help with the advance ticket sales at Triple-A Rochester.

  12. Fun stat: The Twins were third in the AL in runs, without a single player scoring 100 (Mauer scored 98 and Morneau scored 97).
  13. Blink and you might miss centrefielder Carlos Gomez's at-bats. He saw just 3.4 pitches per plate appearances, putting him in the bottom 10 among qualified American League hitters.
  14. Joe Nathan might be the game's best closer, for what it's worth, which isn't much when the team isn't laying out the cashish to be a contender.
  15. Toronto-born reliever Jesse Crain is getting good notices down in Florida. The Twins' bullpen had a 3.92 ERA, almost a full run worse than the Jays' league-leading 2.94.
  16. Right-hander Kevin Slowey is having a excellent spring training, with a 15-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
  17. The smart money is on righty Nick Blackburn to end up being dropped from the starting rotation. He was the Twins' workhorse last season (193 innings) and started the fateful one-game playoff against the White Sox.
  18. Fantasy league addicts are probably well-aware outfielder Delmon Young is hitting the bejesus out of the ball down in Florida. You do know Baseball Prospectus called him "the most useless .290 hitter in the game." He's still only 23 years old.
  19. Another minor-league pitcher with a headline-friendly name: Anthony Slama. He got Slamaed for a walk-off homer in a Triple-A spring training game yesterday.
  20. Minor-league catcher Wilson Ramos will be good for some major-league team, but probably not in Minnesota.
  21. Please spare a thought for reliever Pat Neshek. The sidearmer is working his way back after Tommy John surgery.
  22. It's always risky to get excited over a minor-league outfielder with a gaudy batting average but not much power. The Twins' first-round pick from 2007, 20-year-old centrefielder Ben Revere, hit .379 with 44 stolen bases and 10 triples in Single-A last season. According to the Beep, he's comparable to Johnny Damon at the same age.
  23. Retired former Twins second baseman Todd Walker was just elected to the college baseball hall of fame, which you'd never heard of until they said they were putting Rafael Palmeiro ("I have never used steroids") in there.
  24. July 11 is the 20th anniversary of the 1989 All-Star Game, when then-Twins third baseman Gary Gaetti wore a batting glove inscribed "Jesus Is Lord" during the pregame introductions. The Twins finished dead last the following season, let God-squadder Gaetti walk as a free agent (he signed with the Angels, no word of a lie) and won the World Series in 1991. Just sayin'.
  25. The Twins don't visit Toronto until Sept. 7, Labour Day. No doubt Morneau's teammates will be teasing him about why it's spelled with a U.

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