The New York Yankees are finally, in the words of Jeremiah Wright, observing their chickens come home to roost. After decades of doling out huge and lengthy contracts to big name stars, the likes of which other teams couldn’t touch for the most part, the Yankees are now discovering the flip side of that coin. They have elderly (in baseball terms of course!) dudes dealing with injury issues. The New Yorker summarizes it beautifully.
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In 2006, we witnessed one of the most dazzling displays of pitching brilliance since that first dude picked up a ball and started hurling it somewhere. Minnesota’s Francisco Liriano came out of nowhere and destroyed American League opponents to the tune of 12 wins and 3 losses with a miniscule 2.16 ERA (stats link here) — which was actually inflated by pitching injured in his last starts before going on the Disabled List. But ahhhh the injury… that’s the rub…
Since going under the knife late in ’06 and spending the full ’07 season on the shelf recovering from dreaded Tommy John surgery, Fransisco has become one of the great enigmas in baseball. Churchill could have been talking about him when he spoke of that mystery wrapped inside of an enigma which was wrapped inside of a riddle. He was talking about Russia… but hey… it works.
When Liriano first appeared back with the Twins again in ’08 he was shallywacked. Then, after some time in the minors to get in touch with himself, he came back up and was quite fabulous, raising hopes that he was – in fact – back. Well, 2009 showed that not to be the case as Frankie endured an ugly 5 and 13 campaign with a bloated 5.80 ERA. He did have nearly as many strikeouts as innings, but when he didn’t earn a K, it seemed he was giving up loads of runs. People wondered if he’d ever rekindle the glory…
So then came last year, and Francisco – one more year removed from surgery – gave us his best full season of work. He busted out a 14 and 10 with a 3.60 while striking out over 200 batters. He was back! Right??? Well, the plot thickened this year.
He came out out the gate very poorly, and his starting job was very much up in the air. That was, until he pitched a no hitter against Chicago on May 3rd! Wow. So that happened.
Fast forward to today. As we speak together via this text, Frankie has had a couple more rough starts and another near no hitter since his actual no hit gym. He stands today, along with Russia, as great a mystery as he’s ever been. How will we figure this man out?! What can we expect from him each day he toes the rubber? Grandeur or ‘good gracious this is bad’?
These challenging questions made me ponder… what’s really more stupefying than this pitcher? What out there today rises to and surpasses the perplexing level of a Francisco Liriano? I came up with these five items for you…
#5 – What Was up with Joe Mauer? Really?!
Reports are that Mauer will return to play for the Twins on Friday. This is undoubtedly good news. Always nice to get an MVP and the best player on your team back. Seriously though, where has this guy been?! He went on the disabled list after nine games this year – we heard that his legs were weak, that because of this other items of his self were weak also, and that he had also developed an epic case of viral influenza. This horrifying concoction proceeded to apparently keep the slugger off the field until late this week. Basically, we were told that Mauer was essentially on the disabled list because he was getting in shape. It’s interesting!
See, I think this really has something to do with women. Wasn’t Joe dating Miss America a few years ago? I believe her name was Chelsea something… I suspect that he had some type of epiphany – that just maybe ending that wasn’t a good idea. I see the possibility that this emotional realization weakened his knees, legs at large, shoulder… and also initiated viral influenza. It’s very mysterious.
#4 – How Did John McCain Win the GOP Nomination in ’08?
I would like for the sake of rhetorical purity and shock and awe to say… ‘I never actually met someone who really wanted John McCain to be President in 2008′. I can’t actually do this because I met three and heard tell of one other. Everyone else was pulling for the Huck or my boy Mittens. I believe that last part may have had something to do with why Senator Mac won, but I’m still not really sure how it happened. He was thoroughly unlikeable, had a slate of downright liberal positions, and was barely able to conceal his disdain for religious righties such as my Fowl self. The man almost ran as John Kerry’s VP in ’04!
How??? How?!!! Very mysterious.
#3 – How Did Barack Obama Go from Being a Senator for A Couple Years to Being President?
It’s weird to think about the fact that, in ’06 & ’07, everyone agreed that Hillary Clinton was going to be the Democrat nominee for President in ’08. The fact that a lot of people thought this was a grand idea deserves a mystery paragraph of it’s own. But then, along came this dude from Illinois that had given a great speech once at the Democratic National Convention and had been a senator for a year and a half or so. Suddenly he had displaced Hillary and he was President. What?!
All I really remember about the whole thing was John Edwards was there, getting a haircut… Hillary cried in New Hampshire… there was a crazy Pastor talking about chickens roosting in there homes… and then Obama was being proclaimed as our next President by Keith Olbermann. It was a moment of utter stupefication that I imagine was similar to what the British were thinking at Yorktown when their band started playing ‘The World Turned upside Down’. Wow! This is… unexpected…
#2 – Jim Carey’s Successful Career
I may lose you here, but I’m going to say it anyway. Is Jim Carey funny?! What am I missing here?
Every character he’s ever played has just been a slightly altered version of actual Jim Carey — and that includes the Truman Show by the way. He’s always making crazy faces and being excessive. This is apparently funny to most Americans. It’s mysterious.
#1 – Who’s Advising Obama on Economics?
I’m fairly convinced at this point that it’s one of the Muppets. And Elmo is my guess. That little guy is very energetic, and I know that Democrats really value the zest in a person’s delivery. All the same, you’d think the President would have someone a little bit more… knowledgeable.
Personally I would select either the Count or Sam the Eagle. The Count gives you a certain sense that he understands capitalism, and Sam is just so stinking pragmatic about things that I think he could explain human nature to the Prez. This could be helpful to him.
But as it stands… very mysterious…
Let me get this out of the way right now, I like Ron Gardenhire.
But… (You knew that was coming next, right?)
It’s time for the Twins to turn the reins over to someone else. Or at least begin the process of giving the team a new look. I don’t think I am jumping the gun in saying that the 2011 season is a lost cause. In fact, I know I am not because I have read several columns/blogs in the last few days saying exactly the same thing. Most of those same columns/blogs have also said the worst thing the Twins could do is blow the whole team up and start over. I agree with that, to a degree.
The Twins of 2011 are a mess, okay, a big mess, okay, they are a disaster. This is a perfect storm of suckitude that we are witnessing right now. Dropped foul balls, two-strike bunt attempts, and countless errors of both the mental and physical variety are wearing out the fan base. A friend of mine who grew up in Philly was at Friday’s most recent defeat from the jaws of victory installment and said the “boo birds” were so boisterous he thought he was back home. Not exactly living up to that “Minnesota Nice” moniker nowadays, huh? This current run of foul play (pun intended) reminds of a quote from former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach John McKay; when asked what he thought of his team’s execution, he responded, “I’m in favor of it”! Trading off multiple pieces and starting all over seems like an easy solution to the casual fan, but to blow this team up would be shortsighted and just plain wrong. Injuries have cost the Twins an amazing number of games this season. In fact, they have played exactly four games with the starting lineup they used on opening day, FOUR out of 54 games with the lineup they had hoped to play at least 75-80 percent of the time. So to trade off numerous pieces of a lineup that has hardly played together is not only shortsighted, it would be just plain dumb. However, it is also just plain dumb not to recognize that something needs to change if this team is to recover and contend again in 2012. A trade or two may make sense before the end of July if the team can get some good value (read: major league ready talent)in return. But first the change needs to happen at the top.
Quick trivia question, name the only managers in baseball with a longer tenure with their current team than the 10 years Gardy has with the Twins. Did you come up with Tony LaRussa (16 years in St Louis) and Mike Scioscia (12 years in Anaheim)? It’s true. Only two men have stayed with their current team longer than Gardy. Ten years in one place is very rare these days, actually it’s always been pretty rare. For every Tommy Lasorda (21 years) or Tom Kelly (16 years), there are about 10 Don Wakamatsu’s (less than 2 years). The Twins have been very fortunate to have had just two managers since 1986, and as was the case with Tom Kelly in the late 90s and early 00s, it appears the end may be near for Gardy.
Right or wrong, managers are often the scapegoats for a team’s poor play; and it is probably unfair to hold Gardy in contempt for the level of stink the Twins are putting forth every night. You don’t have to watch the Twins squander leads night after night to realize something has to change. From May 20 to May 31 the Twins lost 9 of 11 games, in 7 of those losses the Twins had the lead, in one other game they were tied in the 8th inning and the ninth loss was a 3-0 shutout. Nearly half of the Twins games this season have been one-run games, they are 10-15 (.400) in those games. Since Gardy took over in 2002, the Twins have played an average of 45 one-run games each year and have won 55 percent of those games. That sharp drop off can be attributed somewhat to the AAA lineup the Twins have been forced to play for most of the season. But a stat that might be even more telling is the Twins record in blowouts. Baseball-reference.com considers a blowout any game with a margin of 5 runs or more. The Twins have played 15 games that fit that description this season and they have won a mere 3 of those. In nine seasons under Gardy they have averaged 47 “blowouts” per year and have a winning percentage of .554. This season if the Twins continue at their current pace and play 47 blowouts, their record in those games would be 9-38. That stat indicates something larger at play than just inexperience; its leadership and accountability that is seriously lacking with this team. The Twins have not had a vocal leader since Torii Hunter left three seasons ago. Some guys have tried, but no one fits that personality, and frankly if you aren’t wired like a Hunter or Kirby Puckett, you can’t fake it. Since Hunter’s departure after the 2007 season, the two guys who most tried to fill that role were backup players Mike Redmond and Gardy-favorite and fan-whipping boy Nick Punto.
When players don’t want to lead it falls squarely on the manager to take on that additional role. For the veterans on the Twins who are used to his style that has worked quite well, as six division crowns in nine years will attest. But for young players, his often grumpy, no-nonsense demeanor may not be working. At least three times in the last month Gardy has chosen to single out third baseman Danny Valencia in post-game comments. Valencia is not perfect, nor is he always the most focused Twin, but there is this, in a year where the Twins have been decimated by injuries, the second year man has played all 54 games at third, making just 5 errors, he is tied for the team lead with five home runs and is second to Jason Kubel in RBI (25). You have to wonder what this group of AAA call-ups must think when they see Valencia go out and do his job on a nightly basis only to be called out by the manager when other more glaring errors are being made by more experienced players, (cough cough) Delmon (cough) Young. Gardy has nearly crushed the spirit of Trevor Plouffe to the point that the 25 year old shortstop is channeling the New York Yankee version of Chuck Knoblauch on just about every ground ball hit his way. Is Gardy singling out these guys because he sees potential there and thinks they can handle it, or is he doing it because they are young and they have to handle it or else? My hunch is it is more the latter than the former and there is the heart of the problem with this team. If no one can call out the veterans when it is needed then it seems the manager has lost the team. When one-third of your league high 37 losses are by 5 or more runs, the manager has lost the team. When the hallmark of your success, “doing the little things right” is a distant memory, the manager has lost the team. And when the manager has lost the team, the only solution, unfair as it may seem for the AL’s reigning Manager of the Year, is for the team to lose the manager.
I made my first pilgrimages of the year to Target Field this past weekend.
Disembarking from the train and beholding the facade of Target Field, it’s just a glorious sight. You enter the stadium and greeting you there’s the impossibly crisp green field nestled in the compelling confines of the stadium with all it’s bright lights and shiny metal accoutrement. Alas, then the game starts…
The realities of the flailing offense of strikeout machine Delmon Young, the RBI resistant Mike Cuddyer and assorted Rochester Redwings begin to assert themselves. The seemingly lost pitching staff of starter Brian Duensing and just about the entire bullpen starts acquiescing to Jose Bautista’s will… you basically start to realize why ESPN just ranked them the worst team in the majors.
At first, my natural inclination remained the same as it’s been all season. Starting the game out I had hope, and during the contest I got frustrated when the writing on the wall started rearing its ugly mug once again. There’s thoughts like, ‘Man! We’re going to turn this around eventually… right?! Lots of frustration and disbelief present themselves that a team that opened the season with so much similarity to the clubs who’ve been doing great for the past decade suddenly became this icky.
But suddenly, on that windswept section of bleachers towering above Target Field I emerged from that misty, foggy realm with a swift and simple conclusion — it’s time to embrace the horror.
Instead of investing (and at this point, let’s be honest, wasting) sincere hopes in at bats and starts that are bound to be failures in the traditional sense, we need to start completely enjoying that which would normally cause us pain and consternation. We need to begin charting with alacrity the number of times Mikael Cuddyer comes up with a chance to drive a run in and doesn’t. We need to begin pulling for our starters to stockpile shorter and shorter starts. If Kevin Slowey finds that he can’t pitch on consecutive days out of the pen, we need to commend him for his wisdom. When Gardy inserts Matt Tolbert in the 2nd spot in the order and commends his defense after an 0 for 4, it’s time we acknowledge the manifold glories that are Matt Tolbert. We need to start being disappointed when Francisco Liriano DOES have control of all his pitches and begins throwing excessive strikes. Say it with me – losses are not the enemy… WINS are the enemy!
You may be asking… is this defeatism? Well — I don’t believe so. See, I don’t intend to continue with this philosophy beyond this summer. We’ve been thrust into a world where, much like after Yorktown in the 18th century, everything we once thought we knew has simply been turned upside down in 2011. In embracing the horror, I believe we’re laying the groud work to survive the summer as sane and well adjusted Twins fans.
And hey, at least the Yankees are in shambles!
The Minnesota Twins have added to their considerable trove of humorous ads with these chuckle-worthy moving pictures of slugger Jim Thome spoofing the legendary Paul Bunyan – replete with blue ox in tow.
I’ve heard it said many times that Andy Pettitte is a swell guy. A good family man they say. And a man of faith to boot! What’s not to like?! That answer in a moment…
Andy retired this week after nearly two decades of hurling. A baseball. The Bronx Bombers appear to be really concerned, as this news comes on the heels of their failure to lure coveted Clifford Lee to New York and their hated rivals stocking up on off-season prizes. It’s really a delight to behold the Yankees’ concern!
While Pettitte’s longevity is impressive, what he did while on the mound caused me and many of my baseball brethren a great deal of pain. His pitching prowess in crucial, close games of October of ’96 and ’99 assured that decade of internet booms would be remembered more for the Evil Empire than my beloved, pitching-rich Braves. And it was his irritatingly clutch performances throughout the 2000s against my other favorite club – the Minnesota Twins – that sealed the deal on three first round defeats at the hand of the evil Yankees.
Andy Pettitte wasn’t nearly the pitcher that Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, or Johan Santana were (Santana is the only name there I anticipate being arguable). But somehow he become a far greater version of himself when he faced their (and my) teams in the playoffs. Although! I made an interesting discovery just now that bolsters a suspicion I’ve always had — Pettitte benefited in the extreme from the stacked Evil Empire offenses with which he was paired. Case in point – Pettittes’ career postseason ERA: 3.83. His career postseason wins? A major league record 19. Compare that with Greg Maddux’s career postseason ERA of 3.27 and 11 wins. Intriguing! It was an emotionally taxing tendency.
Andy’s bosom-buddy-ship with Roger Clemens (I like to calm him Codger Lemmons), one of the great hosers of baseball history, doesn’t help on the likability front. Granted, Pettitte is now the star witness in the government’s case against Clemens’ for “alleged” (hohoho) artificial enhancement. So there’s that. But how could you enjoy fellow-shipping with the dude who pulled stunts like this for years upon years?! Andy!
I’m grateful Andy will no longer be looming in October, and feel a great swell of hope that with his exit the curse of Twins’ playoff failure against the dreaded Yankees will finally be cloven in twain. Farewell, Andy! You were a cow to us, and I wish you’d left sooner… but, I’m sure that your mother loves you very much. And that’s important.
There was once a King called Ethelred the Unready. He neglected to prepare himself sufficiently for the Vikings numerous interlopings and ended being remembered for it for the next thousand years. Incidentally, it appears he was actually called “Ethelred of the Bad Counsel” instead of “Ethelred the Unready”, but the whole thing was mistranslated. Either way, it’s a good reminder to always be prepared for the worst.
It’s been a week since the worst happened once more. 1 week since the Evil Empire once again exited their banks and laid the smack down upon the Twins once more – sweeping us out of the first round of the playoffs. Last Sunday, I was hanging my head and wanting to weep. How could we make such an appalling effort after all the success and resilience of our 162 games in 2010? How could a hitter like Jason Kubel – who slammed so may clutch hits over the past two regular seasons – be so abominable in October. His career numbers in the playoffs: 2 hits in 29 at bats! Bam. And how can a pitcher like Jesse Crain – he of the rediscovered slider and startling regular season efficacy – serve up the heart rending bomb to moneybags Mark Teixeira that set the town for the entire loathsome series?!
It’s continually amazing how the Yankees consistently defeat the Twins. Baseball is notorious for it’s unpredictability. Just yesterday something named Cody Ross defeated the great Roy Halliday. Momentum rules, and whatever you least expect to happen often does. Yet with the Twins and Yanks, as with the old English king Ethelred and the Norsemen, the same dreadful thing continues to come to pass each year. Well, not precisely each year, but it’s taken place in 2003, 2004, 2009, and 2010. That’s pretty bad. What’s more, the method of their victories is just mean. Again this year, they first allowed us a little hope. We leapt out to a 3 – 0 lead in game 1, and Francisco Liriano was pitching dominant fashion. Then the late innings arrived. Suddenly, the empire jumped our best starting pitcher and hit a three run home run off our best middle reliever. They scored off our closer. They made our best hitters look pacific. Emotional times. Obviously the rest of the series was brief and progressively more horrifying.
In the aftermath, we’re left asking why with our visages cradled in our palms. ‘Other teams beat the Yankees! We’ve seen it on tv! What is going on?!’ Indeed. The pain is great. There is no other city, no other spoiled fanbase, no other organization swimming in more dough that deserves to win less than do the Yankees. Yet our hardscrabble warriors are smacked down once more by their tentacles of woe. Here we are once more.
It does help to commiserate with some fellow Twins fans – not all. My dad is one of the helpful ones. The kind of bloke with whom you can share the pain and lessen your own grief through the sharing. However, the Upper Midwest also features folks who glean their insight and angst from the likes of KFAN radio. These guys will only burden you further with unreasonable swipes at Joe Mauer’s contract, the need to fire everyone from Gardy to the ballboys, and baseball’s inherent need for cheerleaders.
Perhaps in the end, the best comfort is found back across all those years in merry old England. For while the huddling English must have thought Ethelred’s foolhardiness would lead to their Viking smack downs going on forever – it wasn’t to be. New kings would come, a navy would be built, and the British Empire would grow to far surpass the Vikings (with the possible exception of those sweet hats). For even in the midst of the greatest trial, hope remains.