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Posts Tagged ‘Justin Morneau’

As good as the AL East is, the opposite may be true of the AL Central. I don’t project any of the five teams to win 90 games – and two could lose more than 100. This is a division that is loaded with teams filled with mediocre talent. In fact, the most interesting team to watch may be the Royals, if only because they may actually have days where they start 9 rookies.

The best of the worst is, once again, the Minnesota Twins. Projected to win the Central by three games, they’ll win based on sound fundamental play, two star players (Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer) and because they’ll be able to bottom feed on 36 games with two of the worst teams since the St. Louis Browns. The starting rotation is suspect, featuring the injury prone tandem of Francisco Liriano and Carl “Strained Buttocks” Pavano. The strongest element of last year’s division winning team, the bullpen, was wracked by free-agent defections – meaning this year’s pen relies on the much-traveled Matt Capps and a not-quite-healthy Joe Nathan. In fact, injury carry-overs from last year could get the Twins out of the gate slowly, as nobody is quite sure if Morneau is sufficiently recovered from last season’s concussion to play first full time yet. If they do start slowly, the crown my well fall to Chicago.

The White Sox made quite a splash this off-season, re-signing Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski and landing Adam Dunn as their new DH. Unfortunately, they would have been better off looking for a starting 3rd baseman and a couple of outfielders, because the current line-up may be one of baseball’s worst group of defenders we’ve seen in a while. Which is a shame, because the Pale Hose have the makings of an outstanding pitching staff – perhaps the best in baseball. If Jake Peavy returns to form after his pectoral tear, they’ll have 6 quality starters and a bullpen that features a bevy of quality (if not nationally known) arms. But the offense will once again be a classic three-outcome type, as typified by Dunn: walk, strike-out or homer. Don’t expect much in the way of sustained rallies or guys flying around the bases at US Cellular Field.

The Tigers look destined for a distant third place finish. The best thing going for this team is that they’re managed by future Hall-of-Famer Jim Leyland. But the star player, Miguel Cabrera, is turning into baseball’s version of Charlie Sheen. Actually, Detroit’s middle of the order could feature some good players, with the addition of Victor Martinez joining Magglio Ordonez. The rest of the supporting cast, though, is supect, featuring such luminaries as Brandon Inge. The back of the bullpen could be solid, if Joaquin Benoit can prove last year wasn’t a fluke, Joel Zumaya can stay healthy and Jose Valverde can stop his decline. But both the starting rotation and middle relief corps are a mess. Aside from Justin Verlander, the Tigers are relying on converted relievers, reclamation projects and prayers.

The youth movement is in full swing in Kansas City. After their farm system was ranked #1 by Baseball America, they might as well give the kids a shot – nothing else has worked for the past 20 years. Yes, they traded away Zack Greinke and made a couple of curious signings in old friend Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francouer. But KC’s real aim this year is to see if youngsters Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Kila Ka’aihue and Eric Hosmer are ready for prime time.

Bringing up the rear is the Cleveland Indians. Once again, the Tribe is looking more like “The Mistake by the Lake” instead of a major-league team. They do have a bona-fide star in Shin-Soo Choo and a star in the making in catcher Carlos Santana. But otherwise, Cleveland is hoping Grady Sizemore shows enough that he can become a viable trade chip. I’m pretty sure Cleveland fans have to be wondering what they’ve done to deserve the Cavaliers, Browns, and this abomination of a baseball team.

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On Wednesday, the real season begins: the postseason, that is. The Bombers will travel to Minneapolis to take on the Twins; first pitch is scheduled for 8:07 ET.

I realize many of you are still wondering what happened over the weekend, when the Yanks managed to lose the division (in what may be the craziest final weekend in memory) and haven’t had a chance yet to really focus on the task at hand. Most of you are probably still trying to figure out what a “Twins” might be.

The Twins finished the regular season 94-68 and won the AL Central by a very comfortable 6 games over the White Sox. Once again, Ron Gardenhire‘s crew of unknowns and cast-off’s won the division, even though most prognosticators had them pegged for no better than third place at the start of the year. During the season, the Yankees won the season series, 4-2, but these aren’t the same Twins that faced the Yankees in May. Here’s a quick breakdown on the team that will face off the with the Bombers.

Rotation:

Just like their better known opponents, the Twins face a conundrum regarding their starting rotation. Without a doubt, Francisco Liriano (14-10, 1.62 ERA, 1.26 WHIP) will get the ball in game 1, but after that it’s a crapshoot. Will game 2 go to Carl Pavano (17-11, 3.75 ERA, 1.20 WHIP), Brian Duensing (10-3, 2.62 ERA, 1.20 WHIP) or Scott Baker (12-9, 4.49 ERA, 1.34 WHIP)? The smart money is on Pavano for several reasons: one, he pitched much better at home than on the road this year and two, the last thing Gardenhire seems likely to want is to pitch Pavano in the first game at Yankee Stadium. That makes Baker the probable starter in game 3 – if Duensing can’t get two starts, his best value to the Twins is as the ace left out of the pen. The big question for the Twins, like the Yanks, is do they go with a 3- or 4-man rotation? If they opt for a four man staff, expect game 4 to go to Kevin Slowey (13-6, 4.45 ERA, 1.29 WHIP). In short, this is a righty-heavy staff facing a Yankee line-up that mauls right-handers (.796 team OPS and 118 OPS+). The Twins bullpen looks to get plenty of work in games not started by Liriano. Edge: Yankees

Bullpen:

The Twins are pretty formidable if they have a lead going into the 8th inning, with the duo of set up man Jon Rauch (3-1, 21 SV, 1.30 WHIP) and closer Matt Capps (2-0, 16 SV, 1.18 WHIP). Capps was acquired in a deadline deal with the Senators, where he posted 26 SV and a 1.30 WHIP; the 42 combined saves are the principle reason the Twins made the move. Duensing was effective out of the pen before finding himself in the rotation, posting a 1.80 ERA and holding lefty-hitters to a .162 average. The Twins also figure to lean heavily on Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier, with Jose Merias being the other left-handed option in the ‘pen. Overall, the pen is the strength of this Twins team. Then again, it was the strength of last year’s team, too. Edge: Twins

Offense:

The Twins lost Justin Morneau mid-way through the season and with him gone, the Twins lost both their starting first baseman and premier power threat. As a team, they only have four players who reached double figures in home runs and nobody hit more than 25. Despite that, they still scored 781 runs – good for fifth in the American League. This is a team that gets by on creating rallies from doubles and smart baserunning. Yankee catchers look to catch a breather, as the Twins were last in steals and attempted steals this season, averaging one attempt every two games. The attack is anchored by reigning MVP C Joe Mauer (.327, 9 HR, 75 RBI), back-from-the-dead DH Jim Thome (.283, 25, 59) and always steady RF Jason Kubel (.249, 21, 92). Perhaps their most intriguing player is LF Delmon Young. After years of waiting for Young to turn his talent into a solid season, this seems to have been his breakout year (.298, 21, 112) – even if nobody outside of the Twin Cities noticed. The question surrounding Young is, will he continue to produce in the postseason or revert to his more pedestrian career numbers (career OPS .704)? Edge: Yankees

Defense:

Defensively, the Twins are once again a solid – if unspectacular – team. They ranked 2nd in the AL in fielding percentage, but overall, they’re range is not exceptional. In other words, they make the plays on the balls they get to – they just don’t get to as many balls as you would expect from a top-flight defense. This is a team that needs to play sound fundamentals – because they lack the ability to overcome errors with the great play (and the pitching staff, other than Liriano, lacks the ability to pick up their teammates with a strikeout). Edge: Yankees

Manager:

Gardenhire is consistently recognized as one of the game’s best managers, and with good reason. Every season, he brings a small market, mid-budget team that project to somewhere around 85 wins, figures out a way to win an extra 5-10 games a year and delvers Minnesota to the post-season. Once they get there, the Twins tend to get sent back home. But it’s not the manager’s fault. Edge: Twins

Other notes:

The Twins are opening their first post-season at Target Field, which figures to be not really cold for Wednesday’s opener (forecast: 63 degrees at first pitch). The Twins learned their new park pretty quickly. Mauer may complain about the stadium robbing home runs with its dimensions, but the Twins were still 53-28 at home. The +12 differential between home and away wins is the largest spread for any of the eight playoff teams.

Projection:

Once again, the Twins make the playoffs – and once again, they exit early with their hearts broken. On paper, they seem to match up well with the Yankees, and if this were a nine game series, the added depth in their rotation would probably be their greatest asset. But this is a five game series and the off days mean the Yanks don’t need to entrust a start to either AJ Burnett or Javier Vazquez. The Yankees superior front three and line-up depth should make this one Yankees in 4.

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As expected, Joe Mauer nearly unanimously won the American League Most Valuable Player with Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter second and third. Mauer tallied 387 votes, Mark Teixeira came in second with 225 and Derek Jeter pulled in a respectable 193 votes. Other Yankees receiving votes were Alex Rodriguez, Mariano Rivera, CC Sabathia, and Robinson Cano.

This is the third time Derek Jeter has come within the top 3 of MVP voting in his career. Previously he came in second in 2006 to Justin Morneau and in 1998 he came in 3rd behind Juan Gonzalez and Nomar Garciaparra. Overall, Jeter has received votes for MVP 11 times in his career and making the top 10 five times.

For Mark Teixeira, this is the fourth time he has received votes for MVP honors. The closest he has come before was 2005 when he finished seventh in voting to the eventual winner in Alex Rodriguez.

Even though I had a feeling Mauer was going to run away with the MVP, I still held out a little hope for the ‘underdogs’ on the Yankees. There’s always next year, right?

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