Pure Baseball

Pounded.

There was something of a build-up to yesterday’s Twins – Rays game. A little bit of small-market buzz. Two of the hottest clubs in baseball, facing off. Yankees – Red Sox? Forget ’em! The Twins are playing the Rays! Hang onto your hats, sportsfans, this is going to be good!

Instead, the Twins were mercilessly pounded by the Rays, 14-3. Which brings to mind a couple of famous sayings, one by Catfish Hunter, “The sun don’t shine on the same dog’s ass every day,” and one by Joe Schultz, famous manager of the Seattle Pilots, which readers of Ball Four will likely recall.

Martin Perez started, and he gave up 6 (runs) in two and two thirds. 6-0. Zack Littell came in, and gave up 8 (runs) in four and a third. Just one of those games, I guess. Even the best team in baseball is going to lose a lot of games during the course of the long season. This was one of those. Goodbye. Game over. Round two tonight.

On a brighter note, I also finished reading my latest baseball book last night. But before I can talk about that, I need to talk about this one, that I read last year, and never got on the blog. Odd, that, because it was really a really good book. But I remember it got buried on the book stack on the desk, and then later it was moved back into the baseball library, and was just plain forgotten. Until now.

I was never much of a Keith Hernandez fan. Probably mostly because he was over there in the senior circuit, and I just didn’t see much of him. Plus, -10 points for being a Cardinal at one point in his career.

But I always new that he was a good ball player. Excellent fielder, excellent hitter. Maybe not a big threat to steal. But big deal. I’d have him on my club.

I noted a reference to Hernandez baseball smarts somewhere. Perhaps it was in the book I read with all the World Series stories. Anyway, it made me curious, and so I picked up a copy of Pure Baseball. And I learned a lot from Mr. Hernandez about the game. Turns out, I wasn’t such an advanced fan after all. There was (is) a lot I don’t know about the game. I suspected that was the case. As my friend Ghost once told me, “It’s a goddamn chess match out there!”

Reading this book is a lot like sitting in your man-cave, in your man-chair, having a few man-beers and watching baseball on your man-TV with Hernandez sitting next to you and with him explaining everything that’s happening. Except that would be pretty annoying, sitting with Mr. Know-it-all, listening to him pontificate on every play. So reading this book is actually better than having him there in person. And, in the book, he is actually sitting in his palatial NY penthouse apartment, watching baseball on his huge projection TV, and analyzing what’s going on. He watches two games, one in each league, and he covers them inning by inning, sometimes pitch by pitch, when it matters. And he’s got a lot of good stories and insights that he shares with you, and he’s annoying hardly at all.

For example, I learned about the intricacies of deciding who covers second base when you think a runner might go. If you’ve got a left-handed batter up and a guy on first, but the batter often takes the ball to left field, would it be smart to have the second baseman move to cover second? It’s a bit risky, Hernandez says – with the first baseman holding the runner and the second baseman moving to cover, it leaves a big hole on the right side of the field.

Hernandez, it turns out, was a student of the game, always watching and learning. Some players struggle with the game, the pitching part or the hitting part, and they need to focus on the inner game, the strategy and smarts, in order to keep up and stay in the show. I guess Hernandez was one of those other guys, though. He didn’t need to worry quite so much about the hitting and fielding, and was just naturally curious and attentive. He was so game-smart that his managers would sometimes let him set the defense when he was out there on the field.

Readers who are not serious baseball fans may possibly be bored (and annoyed) by this book. Maybe you’d rather not see baseball as a kind of chess match. Maybe you hate chess. Maybe you are writing a book that explains baseball as sort of like a game of checkers.

The serious baseball fan, though, the curious and attentive student of the game, is probably going to learn a few things from this book. And will probably end up thinking better of Keith Hernandez for having written it. Even if he did have to play for the Cardinals for awhile. He was really mostly a Met.

Good game, Keith.

20 Over

36 wins, 16 losses.

20 games over .500.

When was the last time the Twins were 20 games over .500?

Well, I can’t say for sure, but looking back at the Twins records over the years, I notice that in 2010 the Twins finished the season at 94-68, 26 games over. And they were 92-60 on September 22nd. 32 games over. So. Not so very long ago, really, in baseball time. Just nine years ago. That was the season when Morneau was hitting .345, with 18 HR and 56 RBIs and then he got the concussion on July 7th that changed his life. Damn. That was the season when Delmon Young hit .298 with 21 hr and 112 rbi. Orlando Hundson played second base, seriously, hit .268 with 133 hits. Who remembers Orlando Hudson? Anybody? Buhler?

Anyway, Joe Mauer hit .327 (pre-concussion days as well,) JJ Hardy played shortstop, Jason Kubel was in the outfield, Danny Valencia was at third, and Cuddyer was at first (post-Morneau). Pavano won 17 games, Liriano 14, Kevin Slowey, 13. Brian Duensing won 10 in relief. Scott Baker won a dozen. Jon Rauch was our closer, got 21 saves. Wow, this seems like ancient history, and it’s just nine seasons ago. Matt Capps also had 16 saves that year. Matt Capps! I think Rauch must have got hurt, there.

Then, in 2011 the Twins turned it around and went 63-99. Morneau hit .227, and probably shouldn’t have been out there playing. Nishioka hit .226 at shortstop, till he got hurt. Yes, Nishioka, that was his season in the sun. Drew Butera played 93 games at catcher and hit .167. Yes, that’s right. Not a typo. .167. Butera was really known more for his defense than his bat. I guess Mauer must have got hurt. Concussion? Mauer played 82 games and hit .287. Delmon Young, .266, 4 hr. Jim Thome came on board and hit a dozen. Cuddyer hit .284 with 20 hr and 71 rbi. Chris Parmalee came up for a cup of coffee and hit .355 in 76 at bats. Pavano, 9-13, Duensing 9-14, Liriano, 9-10. Capps went 4-7, with 15 saves. Well, need I go on? 2011 was not a good season. And following on the heels of 2010, it was particularly brutal. And the sudden demise of Morneau and Mauer, that was just brutal. Ouch.

It’s remarkable, really, how quickly things can go south.

2010: scored 781, allowed 671
2011: scored 619, allowed 804

But.

2019, so far: scored 315, allowed 204.

That’s correct, folks. It’s still May, and the Twins have scored 315 runs.

It’s been a pretty good month.

Good enough, in fact, for the Twins to capture the number 4 spot on the MLB power rankings. Yes. That’s right. Number 4. That’s how good we are right now, according to the MLB power rankings. Right behind the Astros, the Dodgers, and the Yankees.

Number 4 is ours. All ours. We are 4th!

Say hey!

A little bit of Today in Baseball History:

 

1894: Joe Judge is born. Pretty good first baseman for the Senators. Played 20 years, hit .298. Happy birthday Joe! (Well, I guess he’s probably passed away by now.)

 

 

 

1935: Babe Ruth hits his last three home runs, playing against Pittsburgh in Forbes Field for the Boston Braves. Number 714 clears the right field grandstand, and is measured at 600 ft.

 

 

 

1951: Willie Mays makes his NY Giants debut, after hitting .477 with the Minneapolis Millers to start the season.
He goes 0 for 5. But still has a pretty nice career.

 

 

and

2019: The Minnesota Twins continue to play pretty good ball, at 34-16. Which is a better record than a lot of the other major league teams, maybe most of them, and probably even all of them. You could look it up. If you’re curious.

 

No Longer the Best in Baseball

Whew.

Houston: 27-15   .643
Cubbies: 24-14   .632
Dodgers: 27-16   .628
Twins:     25-15   .625

Still, not so bad. Not bad at all.

The air was a little thin up there. Maybe I need to take some of the blame, as the Twins have lost 3 of 4 since I noted that they had the best record in baseball. I was asking for trouble, there.

Still. Not bad at all. We’ll take it.

Happy Birthday, Pythagoras!

Yes. It’s true.

First baseman and first baseball sabermetrician Pythagoras was born on this very day, 13 May, 570 BC. It was a Tuesday. Pythagoras’s father was out at a ball game at the time, a double-header, and his mother swore that things would be different with young Pythagoras. No baseball for him. It would be art and poetry and philosophy.

But such was not the case. Baseball apparently ran in the family bloodstream, on the father’s side of the family, at any rate.

Pythagoras grew up loving baseball, and he played first base for the Samos Philosophers, in the Cycladian Association, back in the 550’s. He could hit the ball a long way, and was known at the time for calculating just exactly how far the ball had gone.

After his playing days were over, Pyth practically invented sabermetrics, and his famous “Pythagorean Standings” are still used to this very day in hot-stove leagues and bars all across America.

Pyth passed away in 495 BC, from a severe case of indigestion, at the age of -75.

After Pythagoras passed away Samos built a baseball park in his honor. There was a Pythagoras Park in Samos from roughly 480 – 440 BC.

The site is now just an empty lot, but the pitcher’s mound has been preserved, with a round marble stone on top of it, etched with “Pythagoras Park: Pitcher’s Mound.”

Some say that Pythagoras is buried beneath that stone. But I happen to think that that’s pretty far-fetched.

Good game, Pythagoras!

 

another day on top

Another day dawns. The MLB website confirms.

25. Yup. 13. Yes.

Still the best record in baseball. Technically. This  is not something we’re used to, or very comfortable with. We hope that maybe nobody finds out. Probably best not to make a big deal about it. Maybe it will slip under the radar.

The Twins survived yesterday’s doubleheader, losing the first but then salvaging a split with a win in the nightcap. CJ Cron hit a couple home runs yesterday. Kohl Stewart came up from the minors for a cup of coffee and got the win, giving up 3 in 6.

Jake Odorizzi pitched Friday against the Tigers, got the win and extended his string of scoreless innings pitched to 20. He last gave up a run on April 22nd.

There’s a story going ’round about how, during the off-season, Odorizzi was working out down there at the Baseball Ranch in Plant City, Florida, and how one night he took himself to some lonely and forgotten backwoods crossroads, and how there at that crossroads he sold his soul to the devil. That’s what I’ve heard. I don’t know if it’s true or not. Maybe, like he says, he just smoothed out his mechanics down there at the Baseball Ranch. Yeah, that’s probably it. Probably mechanics.

In any case, he’s having a very nice year so far, which has been a big plus. He’s been Lights Out. It’s a bit unexpected after last season. When he was 7-10. With a 4.49 ERA.

Mechanics can be pretty important, I guess. Maybe.

Perhaps Mitch Garver also worked on his mechanics down there at that same crossroads: 70 at bats, 25 hits, .357, 4 doubles, a triple, 8 hr, 1.223 OPS.

Anyway.

The Twins are doing well. Let’s just hope that nobody notices.

Trade

Down to the crossroads
Just one more mile per hour, just
A little more fire