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One of the saddest stats we can recall in recent Twins history is the one offered up by Phil Miller the other night: Justin Verlander struck out 8 Twins hitters in the first three innings of Monday's game. No Twins pitcher has struck out 8 hitters in a GAME this season.
Once the sting wore off, we wondered when the last time a Twins pitcher actually fanned a relatively modest 8 batters was. Turns out it was Sam Deduno on Aug. 29. 2012. Here is the box score. Drink it in:
In the context of life for 99.9 percent of us $21 million is a huge sum of money. It is a game-changer. It is the kind of windfall that would completely change the scope of day-to-day living for the rest of our lives.
In the context of baseball free agent contacts? Sorry Terry Ryan, but $21 million is not, in fact, huge.
The Twins GM is quoted in La Velle E. Neal's series on the Twins and how they might revamp their roster going forward. Here is the set-up and the quote:
Ryan contends that the signing of Josh Willingham to a three-year, $21 million contract before the 2012 season — a record deal for a Twins free agent — is evidence that he will take a plunge into the rich end of the free-agent pool.
“I think you are mistaken when you don’t think $21 million is huge,” Ryan said.
And we think Ryan is mistaken.
In the season Willingham was signed, his $21 million contract was only the 12th-biggest of the offseason. Two players (Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols) signed for more than 10 times as much.
In terms of annual salary, Willingham doesn't even approach the top. In fact, this list of the top 50 salaries in MLB in 2012, Willingham's first year after signing the deal, stops at $13.75 million for the 50th-highest paid player -- about half of Willingham's $7 million average salary.
Getting Willingham was bold by Twins standards -- as you saw, it was the most they have ever given to an outside free agent. And yes, the Twins have spent to retain their own guys (Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer being the prime examples).
But $21 million is not a huge free agent contract any way you slice it, particularly over three years. It was a nice, modest deal.
If the Twins have that mindset going into this offseason -- and it might be a bad one to have since, as Ryan correctly notes, spending in free agency is not a cure-all and can often cripple a franchise -- it would be wise not to expect any truly huge moves.
We sadly had to work and missed it; those who attended were treated to a special bonus: during a rain delay at Target Field, closer Glen Perkins -- also a baseball and beer enthusiast -- bought the hardcore crawlers a round of beers.
I went on/co-organized an all-day light rail pub crawl Saturday in which 100 of us ended up at the Twins-Rays game at Target Field, except it rained for basically the entire night. I assessed the situation and chose not to go into the ballpark right away, staying a couple blocks away to continue bar-hopping, but about half of the pub crawl crew was already in Target Field and killed time at Kent Hrbek’s bar.
At some point during the delay Twins reliever Glen Perkins, who in addition to being one of the league’s best closers is also a native Minnesotan and very active on Twitter, sent his credit card over to Hrbek’s and bought a round of beers for everyone in the group. I finally made my way into Target Field a couple hours later and a bunch of us were going to thank him by yelling stuff at Perkins while he warmed up in the bullpen, but then everyone got creeped out by the whole “distracting someone while they’re technically working” vibe.
So, yeah: Thanks for beers, Glen.
Initial systems are rarely perfect. We find out over time that best intentions were impractical or that unforseen scenarios are gumming up the works.
We expect to see a lot of this in 2014, when MLB implements a broad instant replay system, trumping a system that currently is limited to home run calls.
We didn't, however, expect to see the problems arising already in 2013. But if you slogged through that ugly, marathon Twins game last night, you saw exactly that.
Minnesota already trailed 8-1 when Gardenhire was ejected for an unusual play that began as a foul ball. The A’s complained that the bases-loaded line drive off Jed Lowrie’s bat, which forced Miller to leap into the air to avoid being hit, had actually clipped the foul line as it landed behind him. The umpires conferred, and awarded Lowrie a double, sending two runners across the plate.
Gardenhire grew more irritated as he argued, and finally earned the 67th ejection of his career and fifth this season.
The best part was that as soon as the call was reversed, we knew Gardy would get ejected. There wasn't even a question.
The worst part is that this is exactly the type of call that will be reviewable next year, and it will send us into a world of the imagined.
A ball initially called fair that is overturned as foul is easy to fix. Everyone goes back to their bases and it's a strike. But a ball called foul that is overturned to be fair is a conundrum. Everything stops after the ump's arms go up. Everything beyond that is an assumption, just as the one that was made last night in awarding Lowrie a double.
Is it better, in the grand scheme, to get the basics right -- that the ball was fair (as it was, though barely, last night, which appeared to be determined by examining the chalk line) -- and reward the team that would otherwise be penalized by an incorrect call? We suppose, yes. But we also have a major problem with a system that is going to get most of a call right and leave the rest up to educated guesswork.
Lowrie probably would have had a double. Two runners probably would have scored, with the other stopping at third. But this says nothing of slow runners, fast runners, poor fielders, weird hops, oddly shaped ballparks or good/bad throws to bases. All of these things come into play after the ball lands fair or foul.
In a game of inches, we might never get comfortable with a game of "probably" that begins in earnest next year.
News flash: The Twins are not going to make the playoffs.
Nope, we double-checked our sources and it is true.
Still, these September games have meaning, and it goes beyond just finding out which prospects offer a glimmer of hope in a three-week audition and which might not be ready for prime time.
It has to do with avoiding the swoon, which we still believe is an important component in evaluating 2014 and Ron Gardenhire's future.
The 2011 and 2012 Twins were marked by terrible baseball at many times, but it got particularly bad in August and September (and October last year in a season that stretched to the third day of that month).
The 2011 Twins were a combined 13-41 in August and September.
The 2012 Twins were 22-37 from Aug. 1 until the end of the season.
Both of those stretches were worse than the Twins' overall season winning percentage, as bad as those 63- and 66-win seasons were.
We were waiting for it to happen again this season. But the 2013 Twins are, so far, 18-21 since Aug. 1 -- not great, but at .462 that's a winning percentage better than the Twins' overall .441 mark for the season.
How you finish a season can say plenty of things. It can be a blip on the radar. It can be an indication of talent level. But it can also very much be a mark of a team -- manager and players -- who have cashed it in and see the beaches and golf courses of the offseason beckoning.
The Twins and Gardenhire cannot afford that this year. They need to stay hungry. At 63-80, this is a lost season. But it doesn't have to be a lost September (5-4 so far). A competitive month against a lot of teams with plenty to play for would tell us a good amount about the state of the franchise.
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