Tuesday, April 5, 2005
Sexson 5, Twins 1
One Down, 161 To Go
Well, for the first time in four years, the Twins were not successful in their season opener. Of course, playing the Tigers the past few years certainly helped their cause. I did leave work at 2 yesterday, got a few things done and was ready for the Twins pre-game show which started at 3:30. When the first pitch was thrown shortly after 4:00 central time by Jamie Moyer, I was excited and ready for the season to start. Because I am tired and still recovering from the week off and Day 1 back at work and noting the overwhelming amount of work I need to get caught up on, I think that sleep is a primary focus for me right now!
As I watched the game, I jotted some notes down throughout the game and thought I'd pick out a few to write about. I wonder if you had some of the same thoughts, or if you had other thoughts on the game.
Obviously the first thing that we all noted was the opening day lineup. I have to say that I am absolutely thrilled with it! Shannon Stewart, Jason Bartlett, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones, Lew Ford, Michael Cuddyer, Luis Rivas.
I love that you've start the game with four straight quality on-base guys. Guys willing to take pitches, to work a count, and guys who can all hit. You put your best overall hitter in the 3 spot, and I don't think that there is much doubt that that hitter is Joe Mauer. You put your power threat in the cleanup spot, and Morneau is definitely that guy. There will be guys on base for Mauer and Morneau. But those guys get on often as well, leaving plenty of RBI opportunities for Torii Hunter and Jacque Jones (more on them later). And then you come back with two more patient, quality hitters in Lew Ford and Michael Cuddyer. Of course, I would like to see Nick Punto in place of Luis Rivas, and think that will happen my mid-May, but I certainly like hitters 1-8! (Yes, even if they were only able to score one run yesterday!)
Patience at the Plate
It is my philosophy that a quality at bat can be had if the hitter sees one pitch, or if they see ten pitches. I like a guy who goes up to the plate with a plan. Some need to take a pitch or two to start an at bat. Some may pick a certain pitch, or a certain location for that pitch, to hit. When Joe Mauer goes to the plate, he just looks like he has a plan. When Shannon Stewart goes to the plate, he has a plan.
And then, there are Torii Hunter and Jacque Jones. Look at what happened in the first two innings of the game. The first batter, Shannon Stewart had a 2-0 count. Then Jason Bartlett had a 2-0 count before Joe Mauer had a 3-0 count. Justin Morneau started the second inning with a 2-0 count. And then Torii Hunter came to the plate, and predictably swung at the first pitch (which would have been a ball). And then Jacque Jones came ot the plate, and swung at the first pitch.
Again, I'm not saying that is bad, but it does again show that there are different types of hitters, and they get into ruts or stay consistent based on such patterns. Pitchers know it. Sometimes, Hunter and Jones get good pitches. They are obviously both solid hitters, capable of hitting for some average and decent power. But other times, they can be incredibly frustrating.
Platoon? Yeah Right!
We all know that Jacque Jones can't hit left-handed pitching. There is no secret about that. We also know that Ron Gardenhire has been adamant and very loyal to Jones, continuing to play him against lefties. When Jones came to the plate for his first at bat yesterday, I noticed that it was yet another lefty-lefty situation. I had a couple of thoughts. The first was that in such situations, Lew Ford should be out in right field, with Matthew LeCroy getting the DH at bats. But then I realized that the Opening Day lineup is a pride thing. By that, I simply mean that Gardy would not sit Jones out. Then I started sticking up for Jones and Gardy, pointing out the Moyer is a soft-thrower, someone whose "stuff" is not what gets batters out, but one who relies on location. I mean, his fastball topped out at 83 mph. That is a lefty that Jones could have minimal success against. But then you remember that a nickname for Matthew LeCroy is "Softball Sammy." Gardy likes to play LeCroy against knuckleball pitchers. Moyer is another slow-pitch type of pitcher, meaning that it would have been a good situation for LeCroy to be successful.
And then, you can look at all the stat-heads who want to throw number after number at you and tell them that even with all of that, Jones went 1-2 against Jamie Moyer, with a double and was hit by a pitch. Of course, then in the 9th inning, another lefty, former teammate Eddie Guardado, made him look horrible. But again, Guardado actually has a decent fastball and throws breaking pitches that come in faster than a Moyer fastball.
Rollin' Rollin' Rollin'
Did you hear when Ron Gardenhire was reading off his starting lineup for the game today? When he got to the 9th spot, he announced Luis Rivas. He said that Rivas is "gonna get rollin' and prove me right." I had to laugh at that. First, for a couple of years, I was one of those guys who supported Rivas, continuing to point out how young he is, and how much potential he has. It was only early last year when I really got off the Rivas Bandwagon. And, I have to think that Ron Gardenhire might be the only one on it right now. Now, I am also harsh on his defense. I don't think he has a lot of range or foot speed. However, he did make a couple of very nice plays at 2B yesterday.
Is it possible to write an article on the Twins and not at least mention Joe Mauer? Of course, frequently that discussion turns to his knee. He didn't show any problems with it yesterday. He caught a pop up on the warning track. He got on base with a bloop single. He proceeded to steal second base. Normally the head-first slide is looked down upon. But, would we rather him do that, or slide on his twice repaired knee? And defensively, he was spectacular. On one play, he picked a ball in the dirt and threw out Ichiro on a steal attempt with a rocket throw to the second base bag. Granted, Ichiro was safe, but that isn't what the ump that mattered thought. Now it will be interesting to see how Gardy chooses to use Mauer and how he responds from game to game. I hope they're smart, and cautious!
Brad Radke went seven innings and struck out five hitters. His changeup really seemed to be working well. He also had good control of his fastball, frequently getting in on the hitter's hands. However, he made two big mistakes in the game. Twice, he allowed Richie Sexson to extend his arms and slug home runs which accounted for all five of the Mariners runs. Of course, those were not the only mistakes Radke made. He did allow a couple of other hits (ok, just three). Yes, he gave up five runs, but it would be hard to call it a really bad outing, and it is certainly something to build one, especially his last two innings when he got all six hitters out. One other mistake he made was on a ground ball back to him by Adrian Beltre. Ichiro was on first base and was off with the pitch. Radke fielded the one-hopper and looked to second, almost assuming he didn't have a chance to get the force out. But then he realized that he could get Ichiro, and that hesitation made for a bad throw. So, instead of having just a runner on 2B, there were two runners on base. It ended up not mattering in the game's final score, but those are little things that could make a difference in individual games.
The Little Things
How many times this year will Bert Blyleven or Dick Bremer talk about how the Twins do 'the little things' well? I put the over/under at about 200. And, I can't help but agree with them in many times. The obvious situation is exactly what happened in yesterday's game. Mauer got on with a single and stole second. So, now there is a runner on 2B with nobody out. Blyleven will then tell you that it is Justin Morneau's job to move Mauer to 3B. I don't disagree completely with that. However, I would contend that a hitter of Morneau's caliber should attempt to drive Mauer in. However, I will also say that once the hitter gets two strikes on him, his focus should shift more to trying to advance the runner to 3B.
There are a couple different schools of thought here. First, the hitter can move the runner over. If successful, you have a runner on 3B with one out. Now it is completely up to the next hitter (in this case, Torii Hunter) to hit a sacrifice fly to score the run. Now, you can also say that Hunter could drive in Mauer with a single, double, homer, etc. But, those scenarios would also score the run if Mauer was on 2B.
The other school of thought will ask you... do you want one or two shots at getting a hit to score the run? Or, do you want three shots at getting a hit to score the run? I guess in that situation, I would take the chance that Morneau, Hunter or Jones will come through with that key RBI.
Just One Game?
And I am sure some of your who believe in omens will say that the team's loss yesterday really means a lot. Why? Because in the past three years, the Twins have won the AL Central AND they won their season opener. So, do you think that this one loss on April 4th means that the Twins won't win the division? I don't! I say it is one loss. Who knows, maybe the Twins will got 161-1!
OTHER BASEBALL THOUGHTS
There were 10 games yesterday, and some of them created a few thoughts in my head, and maybe some more predictions:
I may be going out on a limb here, but Detroit's Dmitri Young will not hit 486 homers this year.
Likewise, Adam Dunn and Xavier Nady will not hit 324 home runs.
That said, I think Dunn will hit 40, and Nady may really get a shot and don't be surprised if he hits 20.
Jon Lieber will win 20 games.
The Royals... might not!
But Ruben Gotay and David DeJesus are good.
Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey Jr are both hitting second in their respective lineups!
If the Diamondbacks make as many dumb decisions as they did this offseason, they deserve to get embarrassed at home on opening day!
Moneyball stars Nick Swisher and Mark Teahan will both struggle! Not so sure why on Teahan, but I know Swisher won't be good. Why? Because I just added him to one of my fantasy teams!
Are the Brewers for real? Uh... no!
But next year when Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks are mainstays, they just might be.
As long as Ben Sheets is still on the team!
I have been talking up the virtues of Rockies SS Clint Barmes for almost two years already. Then last week, I predicted that Garrett Atkins would win the NL Rookie of the Year this year, with Barmes finishing second. Maybe I should have switched them. I mean, now Atkins is on the DL, and Barmes went 4-6 including a game-winning walk-off home run yesterday.
Aramis Ramirez signed a four year, $44 million extension with the Cubs yesterday before their season opening game. It seems like a lot of money. But then when you consider that Adrian Beltre signed a 5 year, $64 million deal for his one good season and Ramirez has been great three of the last four years, I think that the Cubs are getting a bargain (and yes, Ramirez isn't doing so poorly himself!)
Carlos Zambrano got himself tossed out of the game with two outs in the 5th inning for arguing balls and strikes. The Cubs had a huge lead already over the D-Backs. Last week, I predicted that Zambrano would win the NL Cy Young Award this year. I still believe that he will be the Cubs best pitcher, but he is quite the headcase and has been since he's been with the Cubs.
That's it for today. Have a great day and don't work too hard! If you have and questions or comments or ideas, please feel free to e-mail me!
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