In case you weren't watching Tuesday night, Major League Baseball put together this highlight reel of Francisco Liriano's seven dominant innings in the National League Wild Card game.
We're choosing not to be bitter about Liriano's success after all of the struggling years that led the Twins to trade him to the White Sox for a utility infielder (Eduardo Escobar) and a pitcher without much of a major league future (Pedro Hernandez).
That being said, we perfectly understand Twins fans who are asking aloud: "Where can we get one or two of those on the cheap?"
And here's one from earlier this season:
Let's give the Twins credit for one thing: When they talk about the lack of correlation between payroll and performance, they can use the 2013 season to prove their point. Only three of the teams with the 10 biggest payrolls made the postseason.
Meanwhile, there are four teams -- Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Oakland and Tampa Bay -- in the bottom 10. The Pirates won 15 more games than they did in 2012; Cleveland won 24 more.
But you can also use the 2013 season to make the argument that teams have the potential to improve dramatically from one season to the next -- from doormat to postseason participant. So the issue becomes how teams spend their money, which speaks to the fact that other front offices have spent the last few years making much more astute decisions than the Twins.
A story by Tyler Kepler in the New York Times speaks to this issue.
Pittsburgh Pirates owner Bob Nutting told Kepner: “I think what we have demonstrated, and other people have demonstrated, is that with good decisions, you absolutely can compete in this league. That’s what gives us hope, that’s what drives us forward, that’s what’s going to keep our fans excited. We’re demonstrating it once again in the postseason.”
For the Pirates, it has meant aggressively making over their roster in the last two seasons. Younger players have stepped up and a number of veterans were added to the mix, including catcher Russell Martin and pitcher Francisco Liriano (who would have known?) before this season. The Pirates goosed their roster late in the season, adding outfielder Marlon Byrd and catcher John Buck from the Mets and first baseman Justin Morneau from the Twins in trades.
Keep in mind that there has been a lot of trial and error for the Pirates over the years, with enough errors made that this season's postseason run marks the first time since 1992 that Pittsburgh even finished above .500. Nutting told Kepner: “We’ve had some trades and signings that have been imperfect, and you always will. We just need to minimize the mistakes and maximize the opportunities over and over and over again. It’s a whole series of small decisions.”
Tampa Bay has fielded winning teams with small payrolls for seven straight years, and made the playoffs in four of them. “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts,” Rays outfielder Sam Fuld said in the Times article. “If you look at our lineup on any given night, you might go, ‘How is that a playoff team?’ But we make it work. You see Oakland doing the same thing.”
Even one of the big payroll teams in the postseason spent efficiently in remaking its roster and making the postseason. That would be Boston, which added seven free agents during the off-season for a total of $53.1 million. That was less than the salaries of the three players -- Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez -- that Boston sent to Los Angeles in a payroll-dump trade in August 2012. (Boston won 69 games in 2012 -- and 97 this season.)
In other words, despite some of the chatter elsewhere, teams can improve themselves dramatically through trades or by taking a deep dip into the free-agent market. To the Twins credit -- and some memories are understandably fading here -- the Twins have made solid late-season roster acquisitions when their teams were competitive. Most notably, those deals yielded Carl Pavano and Orlando Cabrera a few years back and, going deeper into team history, Shannon Stewart. (We're turning a blind eye to the Matt Capps trade here.)
The challenge for the Twins front office, however, is to reverse the many errors of their recent ways -- and get in position at the start of the season so there's something worthwhile to talk about later on. Dramatic improvement in a single year is possible. You can look it up.
And you can read the entire Times story here.
The Pirates clinched their first playoff berth in 21 years Monday night, in part because of a whip-smart play by Justin Morneau for the game's final out.
Here's what it looked like:
As Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Press-Review wrote it: "Justin Morneau said his instincts took him there.Morneau said his instincts compelled him to move to a place right beside the pitcher's mound at Wrigley Field where he played the pivotal role in the play the ended a 20-year postseason drought on Monday in a 2-1 Pirates win over the Cubs."
Yeah, Joique Bell was the guy who jumped up onto the Ford Field ledge and got crowd members to wave their arms in unison with him after he scored one of his two touchdowns Sunday. Most notable, however, was that both scores came after touchdowns were taken away from Reggie Bush when they were reviewed.
Don't feel badly for Bell, who still scored three times in Detroit's 34-24 victory over the Vikings.
“I’d like to throw out a big shoutout to the big homie Reggie Bush for donating to the Joique Bell touchdown foundation," according to the Detroit News.
Bell was an undefeated free agent from Wayne State who gained 899 yards during his rookie season in 2012. He knows better than th get too secure about his status:
"I have to execute on every opportunity that I get, regardless of if it’s a lot or a little,” Bell told the News. “If it’s five plays, execute. If it’s one play, execute. It’s not about how many opportunities that you get. It’s about what you do with the opportunities that you do get. That’s one thing that I’ve lived by to this point, and it got me this far.”
And about working the crowd, he said: “I was hoping that the crowd caught onto it, and they did. It was fun. I’m a silly guy. I had to think of something that could get the crowd into it, and that’s the first thing that I thought of.”
It's all fun and games until someone gets hurt.
New Mexico State, the Gophers' next football opponent, went into its opener at Texas as 42-point underdogs and -- after a scoreless first quarter -- took a 7-0 lead at Austin and trailed at halftime by only 14-7. Texas fans booed their team during the first half for not making easy work of the Aggies.
Teddy Feinberg, who covers New Mexico State football for the Las Cruces Sun-News wrote: "The team's offense proved to be light years ahead of where it was in 2012: a no-huddle attack has been implemented, one that saw the Aggies observe Texas' defense, make the appropriate play call at the line of scrimmage and then attack from there."
Texas found its form in the second half and went to to the expected 56-7 victory.
Here's a box score from the game. Among other things, you'll see that Texas ended up gaining 715 yards against New Mexico State, almost 10 yards per play. Similar to Minnesota's opening-game victory over Nevada-Las Vegas, Texas used big plays to score, including touchdowns of 54, 55, 66 and 74 yards.
Doug Martin, the school's new head coach, said: "14-7 at halftime. That's about as good as we would have hoped for coming into that. We just let it get away from us."
Last year, New Mexico State won its opener by 30 points against Sacramento State and went on to lose its next 11 games. In 2011, the Aggies were 4-9, including a 28-21 upset of the Gophers during which Jerry Kill collapsed on the sidelines late in the fourth quarter.
You can read the full Texas game report from Feinberg here.
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