Michael Rand started RandBall with hopes that he could convince the world to love jumpsuits as much as he does. So far, he's only succeeded in using the word "redacted" a lot. He welcomes suggestions, news tips, links of pure genius, and pictures of pets in Halloween costumes here, though he already knows he will regret that last part.
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Here's our 10 cent analysis of Joe Mauer this season:
*He started out the year with a slightly different approach after his move to first base, feeling as though he needed to hit for more pop. His swing got a little longer, he struck out more, and it threw him all out of whack.
*After about three weeks, he started to find a groove. From April 24-May 3, a span of 32 at bats, he hit .406 with a 1.005 OPS. That included a double and a home run to right field. After that May 3 game, he was hitting .298 and had an OBP of .396. He still wasn't hitting for a ton of power overall, but he was squaring up the ball.
*On May 4, he left a game with back problems. He didn't play again until May 10. Whether he came back too early or had his timing thrown off, he hasn't been the same since -- not even decent, which he at least had been before the back injury. From May 10 through Wednesday, he hit just .220 with just a .291 slugging percentage and a .570 OPS. Those are weak-hitting middle infielder numbers. The more you fail, the more failure gets in your head. He looked tense at the plate, and every game that went by without an RBI seemed to fester. Combine that with increasingly shifting defenses taking hits away and a notion that at age 31 with a concussion history Mauer might be losing even a fraction of his hand-eye coordination, and you have cause for alarm.
*But last night we saw something different: two trademark Mauer hits. The first was a looping single to left, a classic Tony Gwynn-like stroke off a left-handed pitcher that drove in a run and tied the Twins 2-2. The second was a well-struck double down the left field line -- a clutch hit to break that 2-2 tie in the eighth and propel the Twins to a 4-2 victory. His swing looked short and compact, but still authoritative. He wasn't trying to do anything other than hit like he always has.
In FSN's postgame interview, we saw an honest smile on Joe's face a few times. A smile will not help you go 2-for-4, but going 2-for-4 and contributing to a win will help you smile. When you feel good, you gain confidence.
It was the kind of game that could propel him into the kind of hot streak he had started shortly before being injured, and we're guessing it will.
The Twins find themselves in a familiar spot right now, albeit with some key differences from other similar situations this season.
On multiple occasions, as we are doing right now, it has been fair to wonder whether a team playing primarily .500 ball was heading on a nosedive south from which they would never recover.
Early this year, when they fell to 3-6 after a three-game sweep in their first three home games ... they rallied to win their next three against Kansas City to even their record.
They dropped four in a row after starting 12-11, but then they won three in a row to get back to 15-15.
Four more consecutive losses in late May pushed them to 23-25, but they leveled themselves by going 9-8 over the next 17.
That, though, brought them to this recent stretch: five consecutive losses, four by one run, many in heartbreaking fashion and none more so than Wednesday's game in Boston. The mental difference between winning a 1-0 game in extra innings and losing it 2-1 -- not to mention snapping a losing streak and salvaging a once-promising road trip with a 4-5 mark instead of 3-6 -- is hard to calculate, but it is significant.
The Twins are now 32-38, six games under .500 for the first time all year. So once again we find ourselves asking: is this the point where the Twins break? Do five losses in a row become 11 of 13, 14 of 17? Our guess this season is no based on the starting pitching being better than in past seasons; then again, we just watched three starting pitchers throw about as well as possible at Fenway, only to have the bats go silent in a sweep.
Still, though, our guess is no. This is a cycle with this year's Twins, not a trend like it was from 2011-13. But we could be wrong, and it's precarious regardless heading into this four-game series vs. the White Sox.
More than four years ago, during the glory days when commenter Clarence Swamptown wrote a weekly post called Clearance Clarence, he mused openly about an affiliation between the Twins and Saints that would produce a minor league ballteam in a then-theoretical new Saints stadium. He wrote:
I would not support public funding for a new Saints ballpark (or renovating Midway Stadium) unless they somehow partner with the Minnesota Twins to become a Twins farm team. I realize that this is a very odd and selfish condition, but there is no reason why the Beloit Snappers (the Twins’ Low-A affiliate) cannot be moved to St. Paul. The Saints’ sell three times (!) more tickets each year than Beloit (Beloit sold 83,480 tickets in 2009. St. Paul sold 267,398.). Beloit currently plays in a league with teams from Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa,– so moving the team to St. Paul would not require a league change. Aaron Hicks, the Minnesota Twins top prospect, is likely to start this season in Beloit. I would drive to St. Paul to watch Aaron Hicks play.
Fast-forward to 2014. A new Saints ballpark is slated to open in Lowertown next year. The Twins' low-A affiliate has moved to a better situation in Cedar Rapids, but that contract is up in 2016. And now we hear talk from the two sides that indicates such a thing might be possible in the future. Per the Business Journal, which hosted Twins President Dave St. Peter and Saints GM Derek Sharrer at a breakfast Tuesday:
"Long-term, there are aspects that make a lot of sense," St. Peter said. "Short-term, it's more challenging. We have a tremendous partnership with Cedar Rapids and the Kernels. It's been a home run for the Twins. It's been strategic for the Twins relative to marketing in the state of Iowa."
St. Peter said he thinks the Twins will discuss the idea with the Saints when the Kernels contract is up.
"I think it's something that will require some additional discussions and I'm guessing that dialogue will take place," St. Peter said.
To repeat: St. Peter is endorsing a Clarence Swamptown idea from four years ago as something that makes sense. This is a miracle in and of itself and something that bears watching going forward.
Few things in a baseball game are more disheartening then giving back a lead right after getting one. Even on a decent offensive team, runs are precious and leads are a thing to cherish. You want pitchers to put up zeroes in every inning, but there does seem to be a certain emotional lift to a shutdown inning right after a big inning of your own -- or a letdown if the opposite occurs.
Twins pitcher Ricky Nolasco has been on the wrong end of those innings a lot, it feels like -- so much so, that we've decided to go back, start-by-start, to see if it really is the case or if it just feels that way because of a few poorly timed meltdowns. As it turns out, it's happened quite often:
March 31, Nolasco's debut: White Sox score 2 in the bottom of the second for a 2-0 lead. The Twins rally with 2 in the top of the third, and Nolasco gives them right back with 2 in the bottom of the third. Twins lose 5-3.
April 6, his next start: Twins score 2 in the top of the second; Cleveland gets 2 in the bottom of the second. Twins score 3 in the top of the third and another 1 in the top of the fourth; Nolasco gives up 2 in the bottom of the fourth. Nolasco gets a no-decision, but the Twins manage to win 10-7.
April 24: Twins score 3 in the top of the first and 1 in the top of the second. Nolasco gives up 3 to Tampa Bay in the bottom of the second. Twins get 4 more in the fifth and one more in the sixth; Nolasco gives up one in the sixth and two in the seventh. The Twins escape again with a 9-7 win.
May 7: Twins get 1 in the top of the third to take a 1-0 lead; Nolasco gives up two in the bottom of the third. Though he has a decent outing (6 IP, 3 ER), the Twins lose 4-3 to Cleveland.
May 18: Twins score 2 in the bottom of the third to take a 2-0 lead on Seattle. Nolasco gives up 1 in the fourth and 2 in the fifth. He leaves trailing 3-2 and the Twins lose 6-2.
May 25: Twins score 1 in the top of the third to pull within 2-1 of the Giants. Nolasco gives up a run in the bottom of the third. Twins end up losing 8-1.
June 4: Twins score 3 in the bottom of the fourth and 1 in the fifth for a 4-1 lead on Milwaukee. Nolasco gets through the sixth but gives up three in the seventh for a 4-4 tie. The Twins still win 6-4.
June 9: Twins score 2 in the top of the first at Toronto; Nolasco gives up three in the bottom of the first. Twins lose 5-4.
Yesterday: Twins score three in the top of the sixth to take a 3-2 lead. Nolasco allows a run in the bottom of the sixth and leaves with the bases loaded and one out. The Twins escape that jam with no more damage but lose 4-3.
Those are nine cases, some more egregious than others, in which Nolasco failed to deliver a shut-down inning when the Twins really could have used it. Sometimes it's circumstance; runs are going to happen. But the Twins simply need their highest-paid pitcher to perform better, particularly in those situations.
The Hunt Down
Name: John Moses
Claim to Fame, Minnesota: outfielder for your Minnesota Twins from 1988-1990. The Twins, as careful readers may recall, won the World Series in 1987 and 1991. John Moses picked a bad time to be a Minnesota Twin.
Claim to Fame, Everywhere Else: also played for Seattle and Detroit as a pro. More interesting is that he played for your 1980 College World Series Champion Arizona Wildcats with former major leaguers Craig Lefferts, Casey Candaele and Terry Francona, that year’s College World Series Most Outstanding Player. In more important ONE OF US news, that team was managed by former Twin and St. Paul native Jerry Kindall.
Where He Is Now: he’s a hitting instructor for the Lynchburg Hillcats, an Atlanta Braves single-A affiliate that should probably be called the Hellcats if they want to be cool.
Is He on Twitter: there are a lot of John Moseses, but he doesn’t appear to be one of them.
Has He Ever Been in a Twitter Feud with Patrick Reusse: no.
Glorious Randomness: I checked in on Moses because Mike brought him up earlier this week and because Junior Ortiz has vanished. If you have any good leads, let me know!
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