Minnesota 3, Chicago 1

April 30, 2008

After a nice hiatus from the Metrodome that left me with not one, but TWO nights off last week, I was back in the saddle covering the Twins last night. Here is the link from the National Post.

 

In other stuff, Michael Cuddyer said that the tornadoes that ripped through Virginia missed his house by 25 or 30 miles. He did say that his father’s wife (not his mother I’m guessing) is a nurse at a hospital that was hit – not sure the name, I didn’t read about it or ask him – but she was in the opposite wing of the side that was damaged. Otherwise, no other family or friends were in the line of fire.

 

Going back to last week, I happened to be in the Twins clubhouse when their latest TV commercial was unveiled – a 30-second spot that has all of Minnesota’s pitchers singing their own lyrics to the tune of Ode to Joy, directed by pitching coach Rick Anderson. Manager Ron Gardenhire was later asked about the singing skills of his squad, and somewhere along the line ended up dropping a Milli Vanilli reference on the assembled media. I happened to be walking up the stairs towards the clubhouse at the same time as him a few minutes later and commended his Milli Vanilli drop. He went on to discuss how it was too bad they were lip synching because it was a catchy tune. So there you have it – Gardy enjoys himself a little Milli Vanilli on occasion. Can’t say I blame him. I blame the rain.

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Minnesota 2, Cleveland 1

April 21, 2008

This copy/paste thing is already getting old for me, so here’s the link to my PA-Sportsticker story in The National Post. Yes, that’s a Canadian paper. Yes, Canada loves Sportsticker. We’re taking down North America one country at a time, starting from the North.

The Twinkies have a week-long roadie starting Tuesday, meaning I’m in line for a whopping three nights off this week! Although one of those nights is booked for a wedding with another booked for a meeting/softball practice. But still, this will be the only time until June that I’ll have even one night with nothing scheduled. Maybe I’ll even get to watch some NBA playoffs and blog about it! Or sleep.

Minnesota 3, Cleveland 0

April 20, 2008

Sorry it took me a while to post this. I forgot about my new tradition 🙂

Twins gamer from PA-Sportsticker … http://nationalpost.pa-sportsticker.com/default.aspx?s=mlb-game-centre&mid=5051

Blackburn’s outing leads Twins over Indians

MINNESOTA 3, CLEVELAND 0
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By Anthony Maggio PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

MINNEAPOLIS (Ticker) — A solid sinkerball and strong defense behind him was Nick Blackburn’s recipe for success.

The rookie righthander pitched 7 2/3 strong innings and helped induce four double plays as the Minnesota Twins blanked the Cleveland Indians, 3-0, on Saturday.

Justin Morneau hit a two-run homer in the first inning and it was all the offense the Twins would need to even up the three-game series at one apiece and snap an eight-game losing streak against the Indians.

Blackburn (1-1) allowed eight hits with no walks and a strikeout thanks to an effective sinker which stifled Cleveland’s offense.

“Last year, I built a lot of trust in that pitch,” Blackburn said. “So far this season, I’ve been struggling to get it in the strike zone but, whenever I can get it in there, it’s been a real successful pitch for me.”

Cleveland starter Jake Westbrook (1-2) got into a groove late in the game – retiring 11 of the last 12 batters he faced through seven innings – but was touched for three runs in the first two innings. The righthander allowed eight hits and one walk with four strikeouts.

Morneau gave Blackburn all the run support he needed in the bottom of the first, driving a 2-2 hanging breaking ball into the folded-up seats in right field to end Minnesota’s 13-inning scoring drought. The blast was Morneau’s fifth of the season.

“I don’t know if he wanted it away or in, but the two-seamer pretty much stayed down the middle, and I ended up getting it just over the baggie high enough,” Morneau said.

“That’s kind of the formula – you’ve got to get to Westbrook early,” Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Once he gets rolling along, you can see him getting better and better.”

The Twins added their third run when Mike Lamb ended an 0-for-14 slump with a two-out single in the second inning and scored two batters later on Carlos Gomez’s base hit. From there, Westbrook held his own.

“He didn’t quite have the command he usually does early on,” Indians manager Eric Wedge said. “But he worked through it and got better and pitched a heck of a ballgame.”

Blackburn and Minnesota’s defense did the rest.

David Dellucci’s double-play grounder ended the second inning, and left fielder Delmon Young threw out Asdrubal Cabrera trying to score from second base on Casey Blake’s single in the third inning to keep the Indians off the board. The throw was on a line to catcher Joe Mauer, who blocked the plate to keep Cabrera from touching home on his feet-first slide.

“We just couldn’t put an inning together today,” Wedge said. “I give credit to their kid, he pitched a good ballgame. But on the flip side of that, I thought we could’ve done a better job at times. Also, give credit to them defensively. We hit quite a few balls hard they made good plays on.”

Blackburn got Cabrera to hit into a double play to end the fifth and stranded Grady Sizemore at second following his one-out double in the sixth. Dellucci hit into his second double play of the day to end the seventh inning.

“He’s a young pitcher but he knows what he’s doing out there,” Gardenhire said. “He’s been giving us some good performances to this point and today he finally got rewarded.”

Westbrook lost his third straight start at the Metrodome as his career record in Minnesota fell to 1-7.

Reliever Dennys Reyes relieved Blackburn in the eighth and got Sizemore to fly out with a runner on second to preserve the shutout.

Joe Nathan pitched a perfect ninth for his sixth save in as many chances to give Minnesota its second victory in its last seven games overall.

Cleveland, which had won five straight in Minnesota, was shut out for the first time since September 2, 2007 against Chicago.

The Indians got two doubles from Cabrera and a pair of singles from Ryan Garko.

Cleveland 4, Twins 0

April 19, 2008

I’ve been feeling bad lately about my extreme lack of blog postings, but there are only so many hours in a day — and I work pretty much all of them.

So I’ve decided that to prove I’m actually working and not completely ignoring this, I’ll start posting my stories and links to them in here so that I don’t feel so bad. Twins fans should enjoy it, since most of the time they will be Twins gamers (editors note: I reserve the right to correct any errors that my editors either didn’t catch or actually added to my story, which I can’t stand!).

I’ll also give credit to those who employ me — this is a PA-Sportsticker story.

http://nationalpost.pa-sportsticker.com/default.aspx?s=mlb-game-centre&mid=5047

Indians’ Lee shackles Twins

CLEVELAND 4, MINNESOTA 0
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By Anthony Maggio PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

MINNEAPOLIS (Ticker) — Cliff Lee has been effective in the past, even winning 18 games in 2005. But now he’s becoming dominant.

Lee struck out eight hitters for the second straight game and pitched eight shutout innings to lead the Cleveland Indians past the Minnesota Twins, 4-0, on Friday.

Lee (3-0) lowered his ERA to 0.40 in three starts this season, allowing just two hits and facing one more than the minimum in his eight stellar innings.

“I’m just locating my fastball pretty good right now, I think that’s the key to all of it,” Lee said. “When you’re locating your fastball and working it in and out and up and down, everything else comes off that.”

Lee got all the run support he would need on Casey Blake’s two-RBI single in the second inning, walking only one batter and erasing two of the three baserunners he allowed with double-play grounders.

“He’s been about as consistent as you can ask a starting pitcher to be his first three starts this year,” Cleveland manager Eric Wedge said. “He’s just doing a very good job with his fastball and working everything off that. Whereas maybe before he had control of it, now he’s commanding it around the plate and that’s been a separator for him.”

The fastball has been an Achilles heel for his counterpart, Francisco Liriano, who was making his second start this season coming off “Tommy John” surgery in 2006. He appeared to have his devastating slider at times, but couldn’t throw his fastball for strikes consistently.

“My breaking ball is doing fine, I just can’t locate my fastball where I want it,” Liriano said. “I think I’m rushing too much on my fastball, trying to make a perfect pitch. It’s not working that way, so I’ve just got to calm down and get better.”

Liriano (0-2) allowed three runs on four hits with five walks and three strikeouts in five innings. He has walked 10 and struck out seven in 9 2/3 innings pitches this season.

“He has a little better command of the breaking ball and he gets a little breaking-ball happy,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We all know that the first thing in the big leagues you’ve got to learn to get back to is the fastball in the zone. He’s just flying off and rushing a little bit and trying to throw it too hard.

“He’ll get there, it’s just a matter of being on the mound.”

After both pitchers struck out two and retired the side in order in the first inning, it appeared a pitchers’ duel was on tap. But while Lee stayed consistent, Liriano lost control in the second.

Ryan Garko walked to lead off the frame and Jhonny Peralta followed with a single. Jason Michaels walked on four pitches two batters later to load the bases, setting up Blake’s two-RBI single.

Liriano worked around a pair of walks the next two innings, but Kelly Shoppach singled with one out in the fifth and Jamey Carroll coaxed a two-out walk to set up Victor Martinez’s RBI single.

Meanwhile, Lee was nearly unhittable, allowing only a Delmon Young walk through the first three innings.

After Matt Tolbert managed a single to lead off the fourth inning, Lee erased him on Joe Mauer’s double-play grounder. Lee didn’t allow a baserunner again until Mauer singled with one out in the seventh, but he again erased him immediately on a Justin Morneau double-play grounder.

Lee, who has allowed just one earned run in 22 2/3 innings pitched over his first three starts, struck out eight Twins following his eight-strikeout performance against Oakland on Sunday.

Blake’s seventh-inning homer – his first round-tripper of the season – put his former team in a 4-0 hole.

It also gave Blake his first multi-hit game of the season, upping his average 28 points to .180.

“It’s been tough early going here, but this game is about making some adjustments, it’s about confidence,” Blake said. “I’m starting to get some confidence right now.”

The closest the Twins got to a run off Lee was Craig Monroe’s warning-track fly ball to left-center field to end the eighth inning.

Rafael Perez worked around a Nick Punto infield single in the ninth inning.

Punto, Tolbert and Mauer had the only hits for Minnesota, which has lost five of his last six games and three of its last four at home. Cleveland has won eight consecutive games against the Twins and eight of its last 10 games in Minnesota.

Meanwhile, Lee improved to 3-0 with a 3.21 ERA and 24 strikeouts in his last six starts against the Twins dating to September 11, 2005.

Resting my case

April 10, 2008

A long time ago (it seems) I made a case for Chris Paul as my choice for the NBA MVP. I got to see the Hornet (unless the Oklahoma City franchise becomes the “Hummingbirds” I don’t think any team mascot could more aptly encapsulate this guy) up close and personal on Wednesday night. There isn’t much to learn from a single player dismantling the Timberwolves, but seeing the skill, poise and aggressiveness he displays only reaffirm my beliefs. He plays much bigger than the 5-foot-8 he appears to be and 6-foot-whatever he’s listed as. There is no wasted movement and never a moment when he isn’t trying to break down his opponent on either end of the court. It’s absolutely a pleasure to watch him play. And thanks to Stensaas and his ticket generosity, I actually got to yell about it rather than sit idly by courtside with the rest of the ink-stained wretches.

Sorry I haven’t posted much recently — these 80+ hour work weeks don’t leave much spare time.

It’s OK, though, because the lady and I are taking the weekend to escape the winter weather in Minnesota to go watch the Twins at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. What’s that you say? Rain and snow and low-40s in Kansas City this weekend??? Well…f#$%.

(Almost) Just in time

April 1, 2008

I’ve chronicled my fantasy basketball failings on this blog in the past, but with a couple news items this week I believe it is worth revisiting. First, Jermaine O’Neal returned to the Pacers’ lineup on Monday after missing 33 games thanks to his chronically injured knees. He came off the bench to add nine points, two rebounds, two assists and a block to Indy’s bottom line. Now the Los Angeles Times is reporting that Elton Brand will return to the Clippers lineup this week.

 

Too little, too late.

 

When Brand injured his Achilles tendon back in August, he would reportedly be out until at least the All-Star break. As fantasy draft season drew nigh, Brand was early in his rehab, but indications were he was on pace to have no setbacks. That left this 20-point, 10-rebound per night fantasy stud with an upside of a February return. I took the bait in a pair of leagues and paid for it dearly.

 

In the meantime, with Brand out, Ron Artest hurt and Gerald Wallace at the top of his game in January, I took the drastic move of trading Artest, Wallace and Al Harrington for Paul Pierce and Jermaine O’Neal in order to stay afloat in the playoff race while waiting on Brand. But Artest came back a week early, O’Neal went down for the count a week later, and my season was flushed down the toilet a week or two after that. Selling high on Wallace turned out to be fortuitous, but not enough to make much of a difference.

 

I give myself somewhat of a pass on the O’Neal thing simply because I was making a desperation move to stay competitive – its not a significant keeper league, so it’s not like I’m stuck with him next year. But I should be scolded about Brand for not considering all the elements prior to drafting him.

 

If the Clippers were in the Eastern Conference it might have been a different story. But as it turns out, they are on the West Coast and in the hyper-competitive Western Conference. Although it was tough to predict things being this crazy, it doesn’t take a Hubie Brown hoops IQ to figure out that L.A.’s red-headed stepchild of an NBA franchise would not be in the hunt for a playoff position. And with the current setup of the NBA draft lottery, the Clippers would likely be a month away from employing the “tank” strategy even if Brand returned by the All-Star break. Then you must take into account that if Brand is rushed back, he won’t be playing full minutes right off the bat as he reacquaints himself with teammates and gets his legs back. So in all likelihood, a best-case scenario for Brand coming into this season was maybe 2-3 weeks of prime, Brand-like production – and this would not have come during the fantasy playoffs, which is what I was hoping for in order to make a championship run.

 

There are exceptions to the rule, as Pau Gasol showed last year by returning for Memphis and having a great season. But he was back before the calendar turned – a big difference from waiting until at least the All-Star break.

 

When it comes to drafting injured players as value picks, as I had hoped to do with Brand in the middle to late rounds of my drafts, looking at the whole picture is crucial. If we’re talking about a top player on a contending team, the risk may be worth the reward. But in an instance like Brand’s this season, I should have been smart enough to realize the cons far outweighed the pros in this instance.

 

I paid for my mistake, as I was forced to jettison both injured players as the fantasy playoffs began – or in my case, the consolation bracket with a chance at earning the first overall pick next season. I was blown out in the first round, and now get to watch the final week and a half as playoff teams grabbed both O’Neal and Brand off the waiver wire in hopes of using them to get over the hump. Not a bad move for them – at my expense.