—> 9 <—

Could it get any bigger than this?

The Twins go to Cleveland with a tenuous 3.5 game lead. It’s a three game series, and the first game is rained out. So: double-header time. There’s still a good number of games left, so everything doesn’t actually ride on this series. But it kind of feels like it does. The Twins have taken some blows lately, losing Pineda and Buxton. They’ve lost a few games, and the Spiders are breathing down their necks now, and here we are, playing in the Clevelander’s home park, the Spider Web. Play-off baseball. A doubleheader with the top two teams.

There is great potential for disaster.

But the boys come out and take the first one, 2-0, with shut-down pitching from the law firm of  Smeltzer, Littell, Duffy, Romo, and Rogers. Polanco gets a two-run homer to win the game. And then the Twins actually sweep the doubleheader, coming back from a 5-2 deficit in game two. They tie it up in the 8th, 5-5, and with the bases loaded and one out Sano crushes the first pitch into the left field stands.

Twins win, 9-5.

They are up by 5.5 games. And the radio broadcast crew say the words: “magic number.”

And the Magic Number is

9.

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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!

First Place?

The Twins are playing pretty good ball right now, having taken 3 out of 4 from the Astros at home this week. Some very nicely played games. Cold weather games. Like we might have in, say, September. Or October. After a nicely played series like that, it’s tempting to go all hubris and start clamoring for playoff tickets.

But. Hold. On.

Taking a look at some team stats on the MLB website, I see that the Twins are first in the Junior Circuit in OPS (.822; Houston is at .804) and 4th in Runs Scored (155 in 29 games; Texas has 171 in 29 games, while NY has 158 in 30 games, and Seattle 189 in 33 games.) Yes, the boys are getting it done at the plate. Second in Homers, with 52 to Seattle’s 60.

On the pitching side, though, there are cautionary notes. The boys are 7th in the league in ERA, at 4.20. Tampa Bay leads with 3.07. They are also 7th in WHIP (1.31) and 8th in opposition batting average (.250). And so their pitching, so far, is not, not, not what you might call, say… stellar. No. It’s average. It may be good enough. If they keep pounding the ball. And they’ve had some good pitching this year and frankly I’m a little bit surprised to find their ERA at 4.20. When did that happen? Perhaps there’s a math error in there somewhere.

So they are looking good now, after a good series against the Astros. But tonight we’re in New York. Yea, we walk into the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Let’s hope we can knock the ball around a bit against the much-hated Yanquis.

All credit goes to the NY Times for this lovely representation of the Yanquis.

At this point in time, 6:53 CST: Yanquis 1, Twins 0. Kyle Gibson trying to turn the tide.

On the other hand…

Boy, haven’t the Twins been playing good ball? Maybe this is their year! Berrios has been great, Odorizzi just a little less great. Polanco and Garver and Rosario and Cruz and and and everybody, just everybody, playing real fine ball right now. Let’s take it to New York and show them a thing or two. Let’s rock the Bronx with some Minnesota muscle.

For a change. Can we?

1-0

The Twins beat the Astros the old-fashioned way yesterday, 1-0, in a game harkening back to the classic “no-hitting” era of the late ’60s. As we all know, good pitching will beat good hitting at least half the time, and yesterday it was Justin Verlander being out-dueled by the Twins Jake Odorizzi. Verlander gave up only 2 hits in his six innings, but one of them was to Ehire Adrianza, who launched it deep into the right field concourse.

 

All in all: very satisfying.

 

Sweep!

I have not found a good source of data on a team’s record in doubleheaders. I’m sure there must be a source out there that will tell you everything you want to know about twin bills, and will tell you when the last time the Twins swept a double header. But I did not find it. I should look a little harder, probably.

I figured the Twins had not swept a double header since, oh, 1991, maybe. Or maybe in the late 60’s. But no. I was wrong. A very reliable source — this very blog — tells me that the Twins swept a double header in 2013. And in 2014.

Being a Twins fan, I think it’s Highly Unlikely that they’ve swept a doubleheader since then. Twins fans usually go into doubleheaders with nervous trepidation, hoping for — best of all possible worlds — a split, with a win in the first game so we can relax a bit in the second. It would be interesting to know the Twins overall record in Doubleheaders. I would guess something like 5 sweeps, 17 splits, and 46 swepts. That’s what it feels like, anyway. Statistics be damned.

Back in 2013 and 2014 I don’t even mention the hapless team that we victimized. I was probably stunned. Perhaps I didn’t want to embarrass the other team in print. I’m all old-school, and I’m sure I would have said something like, good games, the breaks just happened to go our way today.

Not only did they sweep, yesterday, the Orioles, by the way, they also knocked the ball around quite a bit. Three players hit two home runs, Rosario, Cruz, Garver, and the boys hit 11 homers total, 8 in game two, as they took the first game 6-5 behind Berrios, and game two, 16-7, behind Perez. How often do three players hit 2 home runs in an away game doubleheader? Well, you can look it up, maybe. Or maybe this is a first. Either way, it’s fun.

And thusly we tie the Naps of Cleveland for first in the junior circuit mid-america division.

It was interesting looking back at those old blog posts. Hicks and Florimon and Doumit and Butera and Parmalee and the Great Colabello. Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio? Time moves on. The players come and go. Young rookies turn into seasoned vets turn into, god forbid, managers. We fans, happily, stay the same age forever.

And I find it interesting to note that I had a blog category for “losing,” but not for “winning.” Very telling, I suppose.

And now, the return of…

 

Doubleheader

Two wins in one day!
Ha! Show me a better team!
That was yesterday.