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Happy Friday!! It is currently good to be a Twins fan. Remember when the team was really struggling around the All Star break? Remember when many thought that Joe Mauer should sit out the All-Star game to rest up? Remember when we were scared of the Yankees and the Rays, and wondered if home field in the first round of the playoffs was feasible? Remember the concern about handing over the 3B job to Mr. Valencia? Remember all the injuries? Remember the excuses? Remember the fan outrage?
Ah, memories. It’s good to be a fan of baseball’s best team. Joe Mauer is again an MVP candidate. Ron Gardenhire should be the unquestioned manager of the year. Danny Valencia has snuck into Rookie of the Year discussion. There are some injuries yet, some tired players, to be sure, but this team is playing at its finest, and it would be great to see it continue. They are ½ game behind the Rays for the best record in the American League, and tied with the Yankees.
QUESTION OF THE WEEK
Who would you rather play in the first round of the playoffs? The Yankees or the Rays? We know that the Twins will not be playing the Rangers because two teams from the East will be in the playoffs. So, who would you rather see the Twins play in the 1st round, Yankees or Rays?
Yankees – The Twins have really struggled, inexplicably, the last two years against the Yankees, but Jason Kubel did go yard-work on Mariano Rivera in Yankees Stadium earlier this year. The Yankees lineup does contain Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and MVP candidate Robinson Cano… don’t ya know? The Yankees have CC Sabathia? But then who? AJ Burnett has been really bad. Phil Hughes has not been the same in the second half. How healthy and productive can Andy Pettitte be when he comes back from his injuries? Mariano Rivera is still Mariano Rivera, but how do the Yankees get the ball to him? Joba Chamberlain hasn’t been what people hoped. Sergio Mitre pitches for them.
Rays – An immensely talented and athletic team, the Rays are led by Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria. But for all the speed that the team has, this offense has really not produced at times this year. BJ Upton remains an enigma. Jason Bartlett fell back to reality. Carlos Pena is more home run or nothing than ever. Ben Zobrist fell back to the pack. But the talent, athleticism and speed make this a scary matchup. They could bunt on the Twins pitchers. They will try to run against the Twins pitchers and catchers. But this team is built on pitching. David Price is a strong Cy Young candidate. The tough lefty lost twice to the Twins this year, but pitched quite well both games. Matt Garza is up and down. James Shields has pitched in big games before, but he’s had a rough. Wade Davis has been better of late, but Jeff Niemann has really struggled. Jeremy Hellickson has not taken to the bullpen as they likely hope. That said, the Rays bullpen is very good and deep. And Rafael Soriano is one of the top closers in baseball.
There is no denying two things. First, regardless of whether the Twins play the Rays or the Yankees, they will be playing a tremendous baseball team and will have to be playing at their peak to win. However, second, these two great teams are not perfect. They have weaknesses. They can be beaten.
So which team would you prefer to play in the first round… with the understanding that there is a good chance that if the Twins win their ALDS series, they will play the other team in the ALCS.
The Twins did wonders for their AL Central hopes by sweeping their three game series in Chicago. The Magic Number is now down to eight. It isn’t a matter of if the Twins will win the division, but a matter of when they will clinch, and if they can take home field advantage. The Twins don’t play anyone else with a .500 record this season, but it doesn’t mean things will be easy.
For instance, this weekend the Twins will face three left-handed starting pitchers. Brett Anderson’s peripherals are terrific despite his 5-6 record. Dallas Braden’s numbers are solid, and he’s got a losing record. But we know that he also has the ability and talent to throw a perfect game. The reason that the A’s really good starting pitchers are not getting “Wins” is because the Oakland offense is really, really bad. I mean, the Mariners’ offense is bad, but the A’s may be even worse. The Twins bats will have to show up still to put a few runs on the board, but hopefully that will be enough to continue the winning.
The A’s Sunday starter, Bobby Cramer, is quite a story. He signed with the Tampa Bay Rays as a non-drafted free agent out of Long Beach State. He never made it above A-ball with the Rays when he was released in 2005. He went two years without playing baseball. Instead, he was working as a pipeline inspector and teaching algebra to at-risk high school students. But he was given another chance by the A’s in 2008 and pitched for the organization the past two years. But this sprint, the A’s released him and loaned him to the Quintana Roos of the Mexican League. The A’s brought him back, sent him to AAA, and on Monday, the 30 year old made his Major League debut. He got a win by going 5.1 innings and giving up just one run.
Here are the pitching matchups:
• Friday night – Nick Blackburn (9-9, 5.51, 1.50, .311) vs Brett Anderson (5-6, 2.94, 1.21, .261)
• Saturday afternoon – Kevin Slowey (12-6, 4.24, 1.28, .278) vs. Dallas Braden (9-12, 3.56, 1.15, .249)
• Sunday afternoon – Francisco Liriano (14-7, 3.28, 1.24, .248) vs Bobby Cramer (1-0, 1.69, 0.94, .222)
Here is a look around the Twins blogosphere. A good site to find 66 Twins blogs is Newsbobber’s Minnesota Baseball Blog site., but you can also look on the left side of this page for many. I’ve only included blogs that have been updated in the last few days (let me know if I’m missing any sites that I should add):
• Aaron Gleeman, who was on Twins Wrap with Doogie Wolfson the last two nights on 1500espn.com, posted his newest Link-O-Rama.
• What was the conversation between Ron Gardenhire and Carl Pavano’s representative when telling him that Joe Mauer would catch Pavano in last night’s game? Twinkie Town’s RandBall Stu has an idea.
• Over at The WGOM, AMR posted a Little Graph for Fun, a graphical look at the 2010 AL Central division.
• Nick Nelson gives a nod to the Twins Bullpen Ace.
• The Baseball Outsider, Ed Thoma, writes about Resting Joe Mauer.
• Coffeyville Whirlwind investigates Paul Molitor’s 3000th hit.
• Andrew from Off the Mark is a little concerned about agreeing with Patrick Reusse.
• FunBobby from Hitting the Foul Pole (blog formerly called Fire Gardy) asks “Will Gardy finally win the AL Manager of the Year?”
• Jim Crikket of Knuckleballs asks What’s Next? The Twins have (pretty much) accomplished their first of three spring training goals, so what do they need to do to reach the two other goals?
• On the Road with Shawn wrote a couple of days ago that the Twins are on Fire, and they have just kept it going. Also, congrats to Shawn on a new job!
• No Smoking in the Metrodome takes a look at the best 2nd half Managers in baseball. Guess who is #2 on that list? And guess which two managers are at the very bottom.
• Granny Baseball’s TT asks, Are the White Sox are finished? Last week, he updated his personal top ten Twins prospects list.
• Hitting the Eephus welcomes All Aboard the Crain Train.
• The Twins Geek puts us Back to Reality about Home Field Advantage.
Here are the links to the StarTribune.com TwinsCentric blog postings for this week:
• Monday – Parker Hageman – Why did Flores favor his fastball?
• Tuesday – Seth Stohs – Hometown Hopeful
• Wednesday – Nick Nelson – Straightening out the AL Cy Young Race
• Thursday – John Bonnes – Getting Past Defense
• Friday – Parker Hageman – ???
• John Bonnes is on The Power Trip Morning Show on KFAN Tuesdays and Friday’s during the 7:00 hour. (Podcasts available here.) I am on KFAN with Paul Allen each Thursday morning at about 9:20. If you would like to listen, the podcast is available here.
PODCASTS AND MORE
• On Monday Night’s SethSpeaks.net Weekly Minnesota Twins podcast, I was joined by Examiner.com’s White Sox writer, JJ Stankevitz, City Pages’ Judd Spicer, and Twins non-drafted free agent signees Matt Schuld and Gunner Glad.
Any thoughts on the Twins or the Twins blogosphere? Feel free to leave your questions and comments here.