Category Archives: twins

A Few Words On Joel Zumaya

I’ve been putting this post off for a few days, largely because I’ve been busy, but I want to discuss yet another season-ending injury suffered by Joel Zumaya. The particular reason I want to do this is a rather long story.

See, before 2006, the Tigers were pretty terrible. The young players their system produced came up and did nothing, the veterans faded away and left, and there was precious little excitement surrounding the team. I loved baseball at this point, but I willingly admit that there wasn’t really anyone on the Tigers worth getting one’s hopes up over, and I wasn’t particularly a huge fan of any particular player. The exception became Pudge Rodriguez in 2004, but that was largely based on his pedigree more than anything else.

And then 2006 happened, and with it came a new wave of young Tigers that actually looked like they wouldn’t be career fringe players. I was taken by Curtis Granderson and his combination of power and speed. I loved Justin Verlander, of course. But none of them were quite like Joel Zumaya in my eyes.

I didn’t know much about Zumaya before the season started aside from the fact that he threw hard, but I didn’t quite realize exactly how hard. But up he came, starting Opening Day, and he simply blew it past everyone. All I could think was something to the tune of “this is awesome!”

And for Zumaya and the Tigers, 2006 got progressively more awesome. I have a few vivid memories of this season – the July 20th game against the defending champion White Sox which was televised nationally on ESPN, a duel between Kenny Rogers and Jose Contreras that was won by Detroit on a Chris Shelton RBI double in the 7th directly following a vicious slide by Marcus Thames that broke up what would have been an inning-ending double play. Zumaya was on to hold that lead, walked a batter I don’t remember offhand, but then proceeded to blow away Jermaine Dye and eternal team nemesis Joe Crede, who stared down Zumaya as he walked off the mound pumping his fist. At that point, for the first time, it really felt like the Tigers meant business.

I remember August 7th, one of the few games I got the chance to attend that year. Francisco Liriano was pitching for the Twins, at that point a phenomenon. It was the first time I’d ever been to a game that really meant something, with a raucous crowd hanging on every pitch and a ballpark full of electricity. Zumaya was brought in to preserve a 4-3 lead in the 7th, and I went nuts – it was the first time I got to see him live, and he promptly got a line drive double play to strand the tying run at third and end the inning. Everyone went nuts. It just felt right. The Tigers proceeded to score four runs the next inning, Zumaya was sent back out in the 8th, and I distinctly remember him striking out Joe Mauer and Michael Cuddyer, at one point hitting 103 MPH on the ballpark radar gun. I was hopelessly captivated.

And of course I remember the second game of the AL Division Series at Yankee Stadium. With the season hanging in the balance and the Tigers clinging to a one run lead in hostile territory, Zumaya came in and blew through the heart of the Yankees order, punctuating it with a complete obliteration of Alex Rodriguez followed by another emphatic fist pump as the boos rained down. I will never forget it as long as I live.

Of course, it was never quite the same, and I admit that when he finally blew his elbow out – possibly for good – on the mound at Target Field in 2010, after it looked like he was finally healthy and pitching like he did in 2006, I was completely devastated – I didn’t sleep well that night. He was one of the first player t-shirts I owned, he remains the only Tigers jersey I own, and he is the only player I ever went out of my way to acquire an autographed baseball from. I forgave him for throwing those bunts away in the World Series despite the fact that I still hold a grudge against Fernando Rodney for largely the same reasons (I’m a terrible person, I know). Heck, I even forgave him for signing with the mortal enemy Minnesota Twins.

I wish I could say I’m surprised by the latest injury, but I’m not. But whether he tries to come back one more time or not, he will always have my support. I never thought that one year in sports could mean so much to me, but 2006 taught me otherwise, and Joel was an irreplaceable part of that experience which I will never, ever forget. I don’t know if this is going to be it for him or not, but either way, all I can do is thank him for an all-too-brief career that I will never forget.

The State of the AL Central

Ron Gardenhire's face sums up the Twins' first month and a half ( screencap)

Sparky Anderson liked to evaluate his teams based on 40 games. The Tigers, as of Saturday night’s victory over Kansas City, have reached that threshold, and every other major league team is nearly there.

Am I a disciple of the so-called 40 Game Benchmark? Yes and no. But the Sparky quote gives us an excuse to take a look at the state of the AL Central, team-by-team.

Let’s look at the Cleveland Indians to start. They must be taken very seriously now, what with Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore hitting like it’s 2005 again. I have a post in the works about why they’ve been successful and why it might not last, but suffice to say, I doubt Cleveland is a .650 ballclub. I think they’re definitely better than we all gave them credit for. At the same time, it’s hard for me to envision them being much better than a .500 team the rest of the way. More details on why in a future post. That said, even if they ARE a .500 team the rest of the way, that puts them at about 87-75, which might be enough to get this done. It will depend largely on how they perform head-to-head against Detroit.

Also worth noting: Cleveland may have swept the Tigers at the end of April, but they did it in their last at-bat every time. Allow me, if I may, to draw comparison to the Red Wings/San Jose semis that we just witnessed. It went seven games and San Jose won by the skin of their teeth. Every game but one was decided by one goal with the exception of game six – and the only reason that one wasn’t was because Detroit scored an empty netter with about a minute left. But the Sharks led that series 3-0. Two of the wins came in overtime. We saw how evenly matched the two teams ended up being. I think there are parallels here between Detroit and Cleveland. It’ll be a dogfight.

Also also worth nothing: even last year, the Indians took 7 of 8 at Jacobs Field (I refuse to call it by its improper corporate name) against Detroit, and the Tigers did the same to Cleveland at Comerica Park. I’m looking forward to Cleveland’s first trip to Detroit this year. This race is far from over.

Kansas City has been a nice story, but even if they do keep hitting, they do not have the pitching as it is to stay in this race much longer. But as Eric Hosmer is currently demonstrating, they’re going to be a force to be reckoned with for the better part of the next decade.

The White Sox are tough to figure out. I don’t think they’re this bad, and they seem to have stabilized the closer situation with Sergio Santos. That said, the offense is a complete mess. Adam Dunn has been a non-factor, and until he starts hitting for power again, he will remain a non-factor – his OBP skills are still there, but unless hit’s knocking them out of the park, he is, to borrow a Dusty Baker term, clogging up the bases. Juan Pierre can do nothing right. Paul Konerko is the only regular hitting above .270 – he is actually managing to replicate his huge 2010 so far, something I didn’t think he could. They can’t seem to start a consistent win streak. They actually won three consecutive series on the west coast, but they’re still seven games below .500. They are genuinely confusing. There’s talent, but they’ve dug themselves a hole. That said, of the current AL Central bottom-dwellers, I think Chicago has the best chance to dig themselves out of it and make a season out of things. It’s not a great chance, but the chance is there. Remember, this team won 88 games last year and was right in the AL Central race up until about mid-August when the Twins pretty much gut-punched them into submission.

Speaking of the Twins, this is a ballclub that is currently a complete wreck in nearly every aspect. I thought the Twins would have a down year, but I could not have envisioned this in my wildest dreams. They’ve been devastated by injuries. Jason Kubel is the only guy in their lineup who’s hitting with any consistency as big guns like Justin Morneau have yet to find their swing. The rotation is struggling to put together good starts. Francisco Liriano has been all over the place. And the bullpen, already left shorthanded by the numerous departures that took place during the offseason, has been a disaster – Joe Nathan has yet to find success post-surgery, Jose Mijares is on the DL, and the Twins are basically looking for anyone else to step up and get outs. The Twins had a .580 win percentage last year. If they pull that off for the remainder of this year – unlikely, but for the sake of argument – they would finish 84-78. That might not be enough to win the division. I have learned never to count out the Minnesota Twins, but a third consecutive division title for them right now looks unlikely. If they were to even get back into the race, it would easily surpass 2006 and 2009 as their most stunning comeback job.

In the end, I think this division has two favorites in Detroit and Cleveland and the potential of Chicago getting hot and contending as well. There are some schedule advantages here – Detroit is done with the Yankees, while the Indians have yet to face them. It goes both ways, of course – Cleveland has already faced (and swept) Boston at home while the Tigers will see them six times in the next two weeks. But in the end, this will probably come down to head-to-head, and as previously mentioned, I am looking forward to the Indians’ first visit to Detroit.

Looking at the AL Central’s Starting Pitchers

Administrative Note: What you are about to read is totally unscientific, fundamentally flawed, and questionable methodology. If you’re looking for hardcore statistical analysis, this is not the right place.

Major league teams are very close to setting their final rosters, and in many cases, the starting five in the rotation have become clear. In the AL Central’s case, all five teams have made their five starters clear. So without getting into rotation numbering (it’s overrated anyway, if you ask me) let’s throw the 25 guys who will be in their teams’ Opening Day rotations together and rank them and see what happens.

First, let’s tell you who’s where – alphabetically, of course!

Chicago – Mark Buehrle, John Danks, Gavin Floyd, Phil Humber, Edwin Jackson
Cleveland – Fausto Carmona, Carlos Carrasco, Justin Masterson, Mitch Talbot, Josh Tomlin
Detroit – Phil Coke, Brad Penny, Rick Porcello, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander
Kansas City – Bruce Chen, Kyle Davies, Jeff Francis, Luke Hochevar, Vin Mazzaro
Minnesota – Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Brian Duensing, Francisco Liriano, Carl Pavano Continue reading

Friday Night AL Central Link Dump

A few tidbits here and there….

  • The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that Ron Gardenhire wants to give Denard Span a few more days off in 2011. I think I speak for everyone when I say that I hope they come against the Tigers. (No chance.)
  • Jake Peavy is on schedule for the White Sox, and he’s even inviting coaches from his San Diego days to make sure he doesn’t fall into another mechanical funk.
  • Alex Rios says the White Sox are the “team to beat” in the AL Central. I will withhold comment.
  • The Indians bullpen might actually not suck next season. Who even noticed how good they were at the end of last year?
  • Joakim Soria doesn’t want to be called “The Mexicutioner” anymore, which leads KC Star columnist Sam Mellinger to solicit thoughts on what Soria’s new nickname should be. I myself am partial to the Mexi-puns, but would like to take this moment to point out that the El Guapo nickname forever and always belongs to the legendary Rich Garces.
  • Bob Dutton of the KC Star takes a look at Jeff Francis, who is looking to reestablish himself with the Royals after two years of battling injuries. Remember, Francis is a former number one pick and started game one of the 2007 World Series for the Colorado Rockies.
  • Lastly, Opening Day starter roundup: Carl Pavano gets the nod for Minnesota, and Mark Buehrle will go again for the White Sox. The Indians and Royals have no official announcement, but my guess would be Fausto Carmona and Luke Hochevar. Justin Verlander, of course, will start for the Tigers.

Saturday Night AL Central Link Dump

Because the enemy has reported for spring camp too…

  • This fanpost over at Bless You Boys offers ten reasons the Tigers will win the division, just in case you’ve been panicky the last couple days.
  • Francisco Liriano missed his scheduled bullpen session Friday due to shoulder soreness. It’s not major, and it’s not the elbow, but it has to be in the back of the mind considering he’s far and away Minnesota’s best starter.
  • Ozzie Guillen wants Matt Thornton to be his closer. Matt Thornton wants to be closer. Chris Sale is still in the mix. It’s worth noting that Thornton has a career 5.52 ERA against the Tigers, giving up 5 home runs in 31 innings. Not… that that has any bearing on anything.
  • On the topic of Sale, the Chicago Tribune examines whether expectations are too high for him to replicate his brief stint in the majors in 2010, in which he posted a sparkling 1.93 ERA.
  • Jake Peavy is throwing and took an MRI that turned out normal. Ken Williams, of course, is cautioning that setbacks are possible.
  • In Goodyear, Arizona, we learn from the Cleveland Plain Dealer that Grady Sizemore really is still alive and rehabbing. His health will probably be the difference between whether the Indians totally suck or only kinda suck.
  • The Kansas City Star’s Royals blog takes a look at how Royals “ace” Luke Hochevar, or as I like to call him “Hochocinco,” stacks up with other probable number one starters (and number twos… and number threes) in the American League based on Marcel projections. Hint: it’s not good. Worth a look solely for the list of projected AL starter ERAs, though.
  • Lastly, on a non-AL Central-related note, I wrote a lengthy AL East preview for my other blog, Juust A Bit Outside. Check it out.

AL Central Questions for the Competition

This is not my be-all end-all division preview – that comes at the end of March – this post is more out of annoyance and necessity. I read this lovely division preview on Fox Sports, and many articles like it, acting like the Tigers are well behind the Twins and White Sox in the division race. I still say they’re about even. So let me vent about things I’ve seen and perceptions I’ve read about the Big Two competition:

1. Adam Dunn is going to put the White Sox over the top? No. Adam Dunn is not Albert Pujols, world. Adam Dunn will hit lots of home runs. Adam Dunn is better than Mark Kotsay. But Adam Dunn is not going ZOMG BURST THE WHITE SOX INTO THE STRATOSPHERE. I mean, Paul Konerko’s not gonna repeat 2010, so you’re losing a bit there, and we’re automatically assuming Alex Rios doesn’t go back to sucking-in-Toronto Alex Rios, and we’re assuming that Carlos Quentin will remain alive through an entire season, and we’re assuming that either Mark Teahen or Brent Morel will do something at third, and we’re assuming Gordon Beckham will progress. Yeah, it’s not like the Tigers are the only team with questions. Oh, and Adam Dunn is “finally playing in a hitter’s ballpark?” He played in Cincinnati for years. I wasn’t aware that was such a cavernous hitter’s wasteland.

2. Speaking of questions, everyone loves the White Sox rotation. Sure, I do too, provided lots of things. Mark Buehrle wasn’t as great last year. Jake Peavy is half broken. Edwin Jackson is… himself. Yes, we all love John Danks, and Gavin Floyd is one of the captains of Team Tigerkiller, but both Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer had superior ERAs last year. Rotation depth is the reason that experts love the Sox so much, but they need things to fall into place. So does every team. If everything falls into place for the Tigers, they could theoretically have the best rotation in the division.

3. What about the White Sox bullpen? Matt Thornton is very, very good, but he doesn’t inspire fear in me in the way that some elite bullpen arms do. Why are we automatically assuming that baby Chris Sale will be as superawesomeamazing as he was last year? If he ends up closing, can he handle that? Jesse Crain does not frighten me at all. Sergio Santos does not frighten me at all. Tony Pena and Will Ohman do not frighten me at all. They’re not airtight.

All that for the early consensus best team in the division?

4. Oh, Minnesota. The 2010 Twins were among the best Twins teams they fielded all decade. They still got swept. This iteration isn’t as good. First off, let me discuss that rotation. Everyone talks about how great it is that they don’t walk guys and all that fun stuff. Scott Baker had a really bad year last year and should be better, but he’s still not that great. Brian Duensing’s peripherals have to catch up with him at some point. Kevin Slowey? And then there’s Carl Pavano, who is aging, had a great BABIP season in 2010, and will almost certainly be worse in 2011.

5. Their bullpen is gone. Look, Joe Nathan is less than twelve months removed from Tommy John Surgery and there’s no guarantee he’ll be at full strength to start things out – plus he’s 36. That great bullpen of 2010 is gone – Crain (who was overpaid), Rauch, Guerrier… Matt Capps is still here, and then it gets iffy. Jose Mijares hasn’t always been healthy. Pat Neshek is still on injury comeback. Anthony Slama should be okay, but he’s still a rookie. Alex Burnett? Jeff Manship? Dusty Hughes? Not impressed. This pitching staff has issues.

6. The lineup is still really good, but we’ll see what Justin Morneau brings to the table. I can’t see Jim Thome repeating his ridiculous 2010 – great power, but if they have to rely on him again, look out. Can Alexi Casilla hit? Can Delmon Young be that good again? Can Tsuyoshi Nishioka make a smooth transition from Japan to the Majors? Can Jason Kubel hit even .270 again? Aside from Thome, there’s no firepower off the bench and the organization depth is decent, but there’s no big hitting prospect here.

Now, I could write a bunch of questions just like this about the Tigers – this is a deeply flawed division. I guess what I’m going for is this:

7. Experts and their preseason prognosticating suck.