Kirby Puckett

Kirby Puckett

Monday, January 15, 2018

Same Movie, Different Ending

     I could see the montage that would play the next time the Vikings were in the playoffs. They'd be in a wildcard round game against the Rams or somebody when Fox would show all the heartbreaks the team endured over the course of some-twenty years. We'd see Gary Anderson's kick sail wide left, Favre force a ball over the middle and get intercepted by Tracey Porter, Blair Walsh miss a comically short field goal and then something from this game. I didn't know what it would be, maybe the blocked punt, maybe the coming field goal. All I knew for sure as the Drew Brees pass settled into Willy Snead's hands to convert a backbreaking fourth-and-ten with 37 seconds left was that there would be something.
     Twelve game seconds later Wil Lutz kick what looked like a game-winning field goal and the game was over. When they started the drive off with a terrible false start penalty on over half the line I didn't even care. The game was over. I had seen too many Vikings playoff heartbreaks to imagine the Vikings pulling this off. Then Keenum hit Diggs for 19, bringing the ball to the 39. The next two plays saw the offensive line not hold up and we were still at the 39 with 14 seconds left. I was thinking there was a maybe five percent shot at a throw to the sidelines to get out of bounds, setting up an agonizing Kai Forbath field goal attempt. My point is, the possibility of a touchdown never crossed my mind.
     Keenum took the snap, dropped back and seemed the ball seemed to float toward the bottom right part of the TV screen. As Diggs came down with the ball, my friend Andy yelled, "get out of bounds!" I was thinking the same thing. Again, it was the only possibility in my mind. But then he didn't get out of bounds. He started running. And no one else was on the screen. It was at this point I began having an out-of-body experience. I wasn't watching Diggs sprint down the sidelines. I was watching myself watch Diggs. I think I may have been standing up and jumping, but I'm not sure. I didn't regain consciousness until Diggs was triumphantly throwing his helmet off to the side.
     The four friends I was with and I spent a few minutes celebrating like someone had just hit a walk-off homer. We hugged, jumped up and down, someone got tackled into the couch. Eventually things calmed down and we just ended up sitting on that couch, happily stunned. Every few seconds someone would say something like, "I can't believe that happened" or just let out a laugh.
     As a Vikings fan, even as I was reflecting six hours later, I just couldn't believe how it all worked out. Keenum put the throw exactly where he needed. Diggs made the catch, didn't get hit or step out of bounds. There were no dumb penalties on the play. For once we weren't team walking off in shocked disappointment. For once, we came out on top in a weird, back and forth playoff game. For once, the Vikings had shocked the world.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Twins Offseason Update

The offseason is in full swing, and the Twins are looking unusually aggressive. Here's a look at some moves they've made, and a few others they might.
Signing Michael Pineda
Sure, why not? Pineda is probably out all next year after having Tommy John surgery in July, but he was a solid starter when healthy, and he's a pretty low-risk high-reward guy for 2019. He had a 4.39 ERA last year in 96 innings while pitching in the bandbox that is Yankee Stadium. He gives up a relatively high percentage of fly balls (30.6% last year) so he's much suited to both Target Field and the Twins outfield trio of Rosario-Buxton-Kepler than Yankee Stadium.
Signing Fernando Rodney

The Twins bullpen was so shaky last year that I would have been happy with anyone joining, whether it was Brandon Kintzler again, Steve Cishek or this 40-year-old with a 4.23 ERA last season. That figure isn't as bad as it seems when you look at his breakdown by months from last year. In April he pitched 10 innings and allowed 14 earned runs. After that he settled down for the remainder of the year, posting a 2.42 ERA. Still, I'm not that comfortable relying on a someone who will turn 41 in March to be a consistent closer all year. But if he works out he's another cheap depth reliever any team can use. Again, we have a low-risk high-reward guy. That's becoming a staple of the Falvey-Levine administration. Last year they picked up Castro and Giminez, who were both respectable in their positions and what was expected of them last season. We're getting two more of them this year. All this is allowing them to bide time until they make a big move like...
Sign Yu Darvish?
It's easy to get really excited about this, but allow me to be the naysayer for a few minutes: Darvish has a history of injuries, having missed the entire 2015 season and part of 2016 after having Tommy John surgery. While signing pitchers to long-term deals there's always a huge risk even when they don't have a history (see: Johan Santana, C.C. Sabathia). Even more importantly than that, Darvish isn't in that top tier of pitchers and Cy Young contenders anymore. He had a respectable but not spectacular 3.86 ERA in 2017. Now, that still would have been the second best mark among Twins starters, and even more valuable in the second half when Ervin wasn't as dominant. I'll make this ultimatum as my hypothetical rule as Twins GM: If Darvish is willing to sign for under four years, I'd go for it. If not I'd let him go elsewhere and go after Alex Cobb or Lance Lynn.
One Suggestion for Mr. Falvey
Chris Giminez was a fine stopgap as a backup catcher, but Mitch Garver proved he's ready to have a full time big league roster spot down the stretch last year. It's time to let Giminez go and had the backup keys to Garver, who was more reliable both offensively and defensively last September. It's a small move, but one that could pay off over the course of a season. How many days until pitchers and catchers?

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Who Will Land Otani?

     After spending way too much time discussing whether the Nippon Baseball League will allow him to leave, how the posting rules should work, and who can offer the most money, we've finally gotten through the red tape and Japanese jack of all trades Shohei Otani is officially eligible to sign with a team.
     The Rangers and Yankees can offer the most, although not by much because of the complex international signing rules. All of his offers will be under about 3.5 million dollars. I'm not sure how important any of that is anyway because if getting a ton of money was that important to Otani he would have waited another few years until he was 25 so he could get above the rookie pool.
     With the amount of money being more or less a nonfactor, this is as wide open of a race for an international free agent has ever been. If I had to guess, I'd say teams in the AL have a better shot at signing him because they could use him as a DH to rest his arm between starts. Other than that, it's up in the air. Otani's made it clear he wants to be a two-way player, so how teams respond to the written proposal Otani's agent is making them write could very well likely be the most important thing.
      Another reason being in a big market won't be important in this race: The Sixty Minutes story on Otani. If there's one thing I learned about him there it's that the dude cares about almost nothing but baseball. Look at these excerpts.
"No. I mean he doesn’t really do anything. He just, mellow kid, just goes back to the dorms."
 "Ohtani confirmed to us that he seldom leaves the facility. Not that it keeps fans from waiting for him outside."
     Does that sound like a guy who wants to go to New York? Shohei Otani wants to pitch, and he wants to hit. He's going to choose a team who will allow him to do both. That's the biggest difference between him and Hunter Greene and Brendan McKay. The Reds and Rays can decide what Greene and McKay will do. Otani can dictate his own terms.
     With this in mind, there is only one completely logical place for Otani to land, and that's in Minnesota. I may sound like a huge homer, but hear me out. In the aforementioned written pitch, Falvey and Levine could say something like this: We're a young, contending team that could be in the playoffs for the next several seasons to come. Come to Minnesota and you can DH on the days you don't pitch. If that satisfies his requirements I think that at least gets the Twins into consideration.
     From a logistical standpoint, throwing Otani into the mix doesn't complicate Molitor's job too much. I'm thinking Otani slides into the rotation and pitches every five days, plays DH three days and gets the day off the game before he pitches. The two days he's not in the lineup, Sano will DH and Escobar will play third.
     The Twins luck in the Asian market hasn't been good. Tsuyoshi Nishioka was a complete disaster. Byung-ho Park is still technically ongoing and has been somewhat less of a disaster. But that run has to end eventually, and the possibility of a Santana-Berrios-Otani rotation is too good to not make an attempt at. Coming off of the first playoff appearance since 2010 and having a young core, this is the perfect time to take a big swing. Let's make this happen Falvine.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Wildcard Preview

It's the game we've been waiting for, and of course it's against the Yankees. Of course the Twins and Yankees get good again at the same time. Of course they have to play the team that's knocked them out of three of their last four postseasons. "There is no better way to exorcise demons than by going through them", is something I'm sure someone once said. So let's do this thing.
In this corner
Are the New York Yankees, universally hated, owned by the Steinbrenner family, led by their 6'7" behemoth of an outfielder with a roster filled out by egomaniacs who want Mickey Mantle's numberdomestic abusers, and guys who punch people while they're on the ground in fights. They're fun for the whole family.
And in this corner
Are the scrappy Minnesota Twins! A year after losing 103 games, nobody gave them any chance. Even after a decent start, the front office gave up on them, selling at the trade deadline. Down the stretch, likeable young players like Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario, and Eduardo Escobar, as well as the continued presence of veteran leaders Joe Mauer and Brian Dozier.
Alright, now that the propaganda is done, let's break this down.
Starting Pitching matchup
Ervin Santana vs. Luis Severino
I actually like this matchup for the Twins. Severino's been really good, even dominant at times this year, but he's still only 23-years-old and has no big game experience. Meanwhile Santana's been the Twins' rock all season, posting a 3.36 ERA and generally just being a steady force every five days. I can say this much: with Santana on the mound I'm confident the Twins won't get blown out, at least until the bullpen comes in. My biggest concern here is Severino's repertoire. He throws a fastball that hovers around 97 miles per hour and a slider in the high 80s. The Twins have struggled against flamethrowers like that all season.
     If he doesn't do well, Joe Girardi will no doubt have a very shot leash with him. Even if he pitches well he'll be hard-pressed to go six with Girardi eager to use the bullpen. The Twins can't afford to do that with Santana. He might have to grit out some innings tomorrow because there will be four trustworthy relievers in that pen at the most.
     Berrios out of the bullpen will be interesting to see. I'm definitely in favor of it. I'd rather see Berrios in any tight spot than anyone in the bullpen. Berrios averages about 94 MPH on his fastball while starting, it'll be faster out of the pen when he doesn't have to conserve as much. With that in mind, I think ideally the plan is this: Santana for six innings, followed by either Hildenberger or Berrios in the seventh depending on where they are in the Yankees' order. Berrios will get the middle if it's there. Whoever doesn't get the seventh pitches the eighth with Belisle closing it out. As a side note, we're less than 24 hours away from the Twins playing a playoff game with Belisle as their closer and Jorge Polanco as their three hitter. I don't think anything represents the weirdness of this season better than that.
Key Player
Miguel Sano
Earlier, I was holding out hope that Sano could start. It's looking like that's not going to happen. I'm not sure what to think after this last weekend because while he looked pretty bad in a few at bats, Sano looks bad all the time, and I don't know whether this was because of his shin or if they were just regular awful looking two-strike Sano swings. With that said, if he can't start I see him pinch-hitting for Kepler against Chapman, in a power-on-power at bat that just might end in an explosion.
Key Factor
Keep Gardner and Ellsbury off the bases
It was a little concerning how easily those two ran off of Santana and Castro the last time the Twins were in the Bronx, they were on a combined six times and stole two bases apiece. Keeping them off the basepaths will be crucial with Sanchez and Judge batting behind them. Last time Ervin pitched the Twins were fortunate, neither of them had hits with runners in scoring position. They can't count on that happening again.
Final Thoughts
I want the Twins to win this game if for nothing else but so that I don't have to read one more article about how much the Yankees own the Twins in the playoffs. That's all irrelevant now. Mauer was the only Twin on the team last time this happened in 2010. Nobody from either team was there in 2004. If there was a Twins team in the last ten years to beat the Yankees when all numbers say they shouldn't, this is it. It's one game. Anything can happen. I'll take the Twins 3, Yankees 2.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Some Notes Going into Game Two in New York

We're heading into the home stretch of the season, things are getting stressful, and the Twins are a game into maybe the most important series in the last five years. Here are some notes and observations before tonight's Berrios-Sabathia duel.

  • Three separate Jaime Garcia moments made me want to put my fist through a wall last night: The first being when I realized the Twins lineup is so inconsistent they're somehow making him look like Corey Kluber. The second was when I realized the Twins wouldn't have had to face him if they had held on to him. I then remembered he's been terrible in New York which briefly gave me some solace before I realized that means it makes even less sense that he would be pitching so well tonight, ultimately leading to moment number three.
  • In all seriousness, the biggest reason for Garcia's success last night was getting strike one. Of the 20 batters he faced last night, he got a first pitch strike twelve times. It's really difficult to consistently hit from behind, and that's what the Twins were doing last night. Getting ahead allowed Garcia to then expand the strike zone with two strikes, something he used to exploit the youth and lack of experience of Rosario and Buxton multiple times last night. In the second inning, Polanco jumped on a first pitch fastball and ripped it to right for a double. The Twins need to do more of that tonight if Sabathia comes out as aggressive as Garcia.
  • Long standing belief I've had: Under no circumstances should Joe Mauer strike out looking. If Mauer doesn't swing at a pitch with two strikes, it probably wasn't a strike. Umpires should call games with this in mind.
  • One thing I wasn't expecting to happen was the Yankees to run like crazy. I know Santana is notorious for having a slow delivery but Gardner and Ellsbury even stole off of Duffy and Hildenberger. More on this in a second.
  • Gardner and Ellsbury were on a combined six times last night. Of course they're the two guys who can do the biggest damage on the basepaths for the Yankees. It's especially frustrating considering the Twins' staff did a pretty good job with the scariest part of the lineup. Judge had the homer in the first inning but he went hitless for the rest of the game. Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius both went 0-for-4.
  • The best part about this weeks' slate of games is that the Angels are playing the Indians. It's plausible that the Twins could lose two of three without messing up their playoff chances too badly.
  • These Twins are so weird and unpredictable I wouldn't be surprised if they put up 20 runs tonight. I also wouldn't be surprised if they got no-hit.
  • Prediction: I think the good Berrios shows up tonight and the bats rebound at least a little bit. Dozier picks up his 31st homer in a 5-1 victory.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Buxton Resurgence

    When Byron Buxton made his Major League debut in 2015 I was maybe more nervous than I've ever been before a June game in all of my fandom. In a way, it was more fun with Buxton as a mythical figure in the minor leagues. Before he played a game for the Twins, he had no faults, he was the perfect ballplayer. Now that he was on the big league club, stats would be counted and we would see if he was really worth the hype. Things hit a snag at the beginning when he struck out in his first at-bat. They continued to snag when he hit .209 his rookie year. And then .225 in 2016. Or when he started his junior campaign by going 4-for-49. Gradually, things turned around. The turning around became less gradual in July and August. Here's a look at why.
     Early in the season, Buxton's name was synonymous with strikeouts. In April he struck out in over a third of his at-bats, at a 37% clip. Compare that to now, he struck out 22.9% of the time in July and is on a similar pace at 23.3%. A lot of this credit goes to hitting coach James Rowson. Rowson's helped Buxton simplify his approach at the plate and he looks much more comfortable as a result. Check out his swing in his first career AB in 2015 and compare it to how it looked in June of 2016 and his RBI single yesterday. His swing's gotten shorter and quicker in the last two seasons. The changes have paid off. Buxton's barreling up the ball with much more regularity, increasing his line drive percentage from 16 in April to almost 30 this month. 
     No matter how much his hitting improves, Buxton's biggest asset always has and always will be his speed, which is why it was frustrating to see him wasting much of it in 2015 and 2016. In those two years. He hit fly balls roughly 43 percent of the time. On top of that, he struck out at a rate between 30 and 35 percent. So that's over 70 percent of the time he wasn't able to utilize the most dangerous aspect of his game. There's quite a difference this season. He's fly balls 35 percent of the time total, and in August that number drops to 30.
     By putting the ball on the ground more often, Buxton's helping the team in ways he doesn't get credit with in the box score. For example: with Buxton running, any bobble on a grounder means he gets on base. Sometimes a fielder will try to move too quickly and make an error just because of Buxton's speed.
     It's been tough to watch Buxton play the last two years, but it looks like he's finally putting it all together. He might not be Mike Trout, he's not winning any MVPs at age 23, but he's getting there. At the very least, he's Jason Heyward, a great fielder who can't quite hit well enough. But if these last two months are any indication, he's turned a corner and the sky's the limit.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Breaking Down the Trade Deadline

The trade deadline wasn't quite as hectic as it's been in previous years, but that's no reason not to take a look at the deals. We'll begin with the two Twins trades.
Twins get: Dietrich Enns, Zack Littell
Yankees get: Jaime Garcia
Garcia's illustrious Twins career came to a close Sunday with this move to the east coast. It's a solid trade for the Yankees; Garcia's by no means a star or even the pitcher he used to be, but he's a reliable back of the rotation starter for the stretch run. On the Twins' end this is looking pretty good. Enns in a long shot, 26 years old and has yet to make it to the majors. Littell on the other hand, is an interesting situation. In 115 innings between Single and Double-A, the 21-year-old has a 1.87 ERA. While his fastball only tops out in the low 90s, his command and curveball project him to be at least a big league reliever. How he progresses from there depends on the development of his changeup.
Twins get: Tyler Watson
Nationals get: Brandon Kintzler
I like this deal for the Twins. If you're out of the race it's always a good idea to flip your relievers for anything you can get. There's always a market there; contenders are always looking to boost their bullpens for the stretch run, especially since the 2015 Royals showed how valuable an impenetrable, deep bullpen can be. The other reason is that any reliever having a good year can be a closer. Exhibit A? Brandon Kintzler himself. Anyway, the Nats were in desperate need to relief to compete with the Astros and Dodgers for best teams in baseball and Kintzler can provide some of that, even though he doesn't strike guys out like a typical reliever.  For the Twins, Watson is an intriguing young lefty. He only turned 20 last May and has a ton of upside at 6' 5". Like Littell, he throws in the low 90s with an above-average curve.
Rangers get: Willie Calhoun, A.J. Alexy, Brendon Davis
Dodgers get: Yu Darvish
This is a tough one to analyze. Darvish is in the midst of his worst career, sporting a 4.01 ERA this season, and an abominable 7.20 in the month of July. Things will only get tougher for him moving into Dodger Stadium, a hitters' park. Until he actually suits up for LA, it's impossible to know whether he just went through a rough month or if this is who he is now. No matter what the answer is to that, he's definitely no longer an ace, but the Dodgers don't need that, they just need a solid back end starter. Yeah, they made the Rangers a deal like he's still an ace, but if they win the World Series, a scenario that's looking more likely every day, it won't matter. Coming to Texas are a pair of high-upside infielders in Calhoun and Davis. Alexy is a young starting pitcher who's been solid in low-A ball this season, but he's a ways away from the majors.
A's get: James Kaprielian, Jorge Mateo, Dustin Fowler
Yankees get: Sonny Gray
The Yankees ended up with the most coveted arm available at the deadline because of course they did. Gray's 27, has a 3.34 ERA, and won't be a free agent until 2020 at the earliest. The Yankees even managed to do it without giving up any of their top prospects. It's hard to believe this is the best deal the A's could get for Gray. Kaprielian had to have Tommy John surgery in the spring, so he's done for this season and possibly more. Meanwhile Fowler brings solid defense in the outfield and speed to the table but isn't expected to be a star by any means. Mateo is the most interesting of this trio. He's a notoriously streaky hitter but has shown some power this year, and his athleticism gives him the opportunity to be the rare shortstop who makes a difference with his glove and hits homers.
Before we go, let's do a quick run-through of some earlier deals.
Jose Quintana to the Cubs
I though this deal was overrated when it first happened. Quintana hadn't been particularly effective this year, sporting a 4.49 ERA on the south side of Chicago. The White Sox atrocious fielding had something to do with that, but he still had a FIP above 4. Naturally he's only given up five runs in 19 innings with the Cubs, who are back in first place.
Eduardo Nunez to the Red Sox
Nunez has gotten off to a hot start in Boston, hitting two homers in his debut and going 8-for-17 out of the gate. At the very least he's an improvement over the Sox third basemen this year, Pablo Sandoval and Devin Marrero both hitting .212 during their time at the hot corner. Even if he wasn't, it's always fun to have Eduardo Nunez around anyway,