2011 Season Forecast: Minnesota Twins

Last Five Seasons:

2010:  94 – 68 (Winners of the AL Central, losers to the Yankees in the playoffs…  Again.)
2009:  87 – 76
2008:  88 – 75
2007:  79 – 83
2006:  96 – 66

This has been a great run for a well-managed franchise.

Runs Scored: 781 (5th in the AL)
Runs Allowed: 671 (3rd in the AL)

With this combination, the Twins would be expected to win 93.2 games – right about where they finished.

Season Recap:

At the outset, the Twins were considered among the favorites to win the division, and having tossed aside the White Sox whenever they needed to, held off Chicago to walk away with the division for the third time and fourth in five seasons.

The Twins came out strong in April, winning 15 of 23.  They held serve in May, but when the Sox got hot in the summer, the Twins had their worst month in June.  This ended in July, however, as the Twins got stronger every month and looked like a potential World Series team until they faced the Yankees in the playoffs.

Among the hardships – Justin Morneau took a knee to the head while sliding into second base against the Blue Jays and missed the last three months of the season at a time when the first baseman was hitting like Ted Williams.  And, closer Joe Nathan went down after one spring training appearance, missing the season following Tommy John surgery.

The Twins made a few moves to shore up the bullpen after Nathan’s injury, acquiring Matt Capps from Washington in July, and later picking up Brian Fuentes from the Angels in September – in both cases for essentially spare parts.

Starters:

Francisco Liriano put his career back on track in 2010, winning a rotation slot in the spring and then winning 14 games and striking out 201 batters during the season.  This, as much as anything, gave the Twins a needed shot in the arm as the season started.  Carl Pavano had an even better 2010 than 2009, pitching 221 innings, hardly walking anyone at all (just 37) and winning 17 games.  Kevin Slowey went 13 – 6 despite pitching at essentially league average levels, but also doesn’t walk anybody (29 in 155.2 innings).  Same goes for Scott Baker (12 – 9, 43 walks in 170.1 innings) and the less effective Nick Blackburn (40 walks in 161 innings).  Swingman Brian Duensing was a team MVP candidate, making 13 starts amongst his 53 appearances, winning 10 of 13 decisions, and finishing with a 2.62 ERA.  Duensing also has great control.

All this is good – but a long-time reader of Bill James might notice something particularly troubling.  One of his predictors of future success (or decline) is looking at the ratio of strikeouts to wins.  Pavano won 17 with only 117 strikeouts – so he’d be expected to decline to something like 8 – 11.  Blackburn, already well below average with his 5.42 ERA, won 10 and fanned just 68.  He might expect to go 5 – 7.  Kevin Slowey won 13 and fanned just 116.  He’s a candidate to fall to 10 – 10 or something like that. Liriano and Baker are probably good candidates to hold steady, with good strikeout rates.

Perhaps the really high control guys can get away with this more than other pitchers because fewer guys are getting on base.  Still – I’d be a bit nervous about this.  Likely Duensing will get more starts than Blackburn in 2011.

Relievers:

When Joe Nathan went down, Jon Rauch became the first closer.  He was okay – not great, though – so the Twins picked up Matt Capps for the rest of the way – and he was fantastic.  There are other quality relievers around, too.  Jose Mijares is a decent late inning option, as is the returning Pat Neshak, with Alex Burnett picking up long relief.  Jeff Manship and Glen Perkins will battle for the other slots in the pen.  I think, however, that the Twins will miss Rauch, Jesse Crain (3.04 ERA in 71 appearances) and Matt Guerier (3.17 ERA, 74 appearances), and even Ron Mahay (3.44 ERA in 41 appearances).  Manager Ron Gardenhire will have to work a little magic here.

Catching:

Joe Mauer remains the best catcher in baseball, despite having a season that was well below his career breakout season of 2009.  Mauer is fighting bum knees and a sore back and will eventually turn into a first baseman or DH before too long.  For now, Mauer is solid defensively against the run, works well with this staff, and doesn’t make many errors.  Drew Butera is his less than tolerable backup.

Infield:

Morneau’s injury has already been covered – as a hitter, he’s remarkable and as a fielder he has little range.  After sitting out for three months (and much of the early spring), here’s hoping he can get back and play 150 games this year.  If not, the Twins will move Michael Cuddyer back to first base.  Cuddyer is better in terms of range, but can’t hit like Morneau.  Last year, the Twins had the second best second baseman in the AL in Orlando Hudson.  This year, the Twins imported switch hitting Tsuyoshi Nishioka to play second.  Nishioka won the batting title in Japan last year, has gap power and blazing speed.  The new shortstop will likely be Alexi Casilla, who played well in a utilty role last year.  I like Casilla a little, but I’m not certain his defensive skills will make up for his not being as good an offensive player as J.J. Hardy.  At third will be rookie Danny Valencia, who came up and did a nice job replacing the injured and ineffective Brendan Harris.  Trevor Plouffe and Matt Tolbert will replace former utility player Nick Punto, who joins the Cardinals.

Outfield:

Delmon Young had a breakout season offensively, but can’t seem to run down anything in the field when playing in left.  Denard Span has solid defensive skills and occasionally hits like a leadoff hitter.  Last year, not so much, but the Twins survived anyway.  In right, Jason Kubel or Michael Cuddyer will get the bulk of the action.  Both are slightly above average hitters and barely tolerable fielders.  Jason Repko is a pretty good fourth outfield option, and Ben Revere might gallop onto the roster and take the #5 slot.

DH:

The 40-year-old Jim Thome had a remarkably productive season in 2010 and will return for another go in 2011.  When getting a day off, look for Cuddyer or Kubel to take at bats.

Down on the Farm:

My son, Casey, is playing on his first little league team and it’s fashioned after the Rochester Red Wings.  We use their hat; their tee-shirt is our uniform.  I’ll be ordering a hat later today.  But if you are looking at THIS Red Wings team and not ours, you’d be a little concerned.  Most of the guys who can play some and played in Rochester have already arrived.  Danny Valencia is now your regular third baseman, Trevor Plouffe (a low average hitter with some power) got a cup of coffee and may be the utility infielder.  One of the regulars on this team, I was surprised to see, was corner outfielder Jacque Jones.  Yeah – THAT Jacque Jones…  The Red Wings hitters were a little light, and the pitchers – mostly the starters – weren’t very good.  The one arm that impressed me was Anthony (Phi) Slama, who saved 17 games, fanned 74 in 65.1 innings, and allowed just 41 hits.  Oh – since I mentioned that Jacque Jones was still playing, I should note that Mike Maroth logged 11 innings in AAA as well here.

Ben Revere is a centerfielder who got a cup of coffee after hitting .305 in AA New Britain; he’s a burner with no power – and that lack of power also means a lack of triples, even for a guy who stole 36 bases in 94 games.  He’s the new Matty Alou, I guess.  Joe Benson hit 23 homers, can run a little, and is just 23.  The power was a surprise, he had 23 homers in his previous four seasons and 21 games of A+ ball in 2010.  If this is a legitimate change in his skill set, he’ll get to the majors in a couple of years.

The pitcher in this group I really want to see is reliever Billy Bullock – the third round pick from 2008 out of Florida.  In 36.2 innings, he struck out 60 batters.  60!  He walked 24 guys, must be wild as all get out, but WOW that’s an impressive number.  The Twins moved Deolis Guerra up from AA to AAA at the end of 2010 – after a year he went 2 – 10 with a 6.24 ERA.  I don’t get that.  He’s young and must have amazing stuff.

A couple of pitchers catch your eye at A+ Fort Myers.  Bruce Pugh was just 7 – 10, but he struck out 106 in 102.2 innings and allowed just 81 hits.  Reliever Liam Hendriks fits the Minnesota control mode – in 74.2 innings, his K/W ratio was 66/8.  Another reliever there, Bobby Lanigan, was 41/7 in 54.1 innings.  As such, a guy named Shooter Hunt probably won’t make it – walking 84 in 67.1 innings with 19 wild pitches.  He also struck out 79 in 67.1 innings – so he must have an amazing arm.  In 2008, he was a first round draft pick, but he’s still figuring things out.
2011 Forecast:

I see too many reasons for the Twins to take a step back in 2011, and won’t pick them to repeat.  I know the new Target Field gets in the way of people having great offensive seasons and helps the pitchers.  However, I think three of the six starting pitchers will fall back and fall back a lot.  The bullpen doesn’t seem as deep as in 2010.  Nishioka could be a revelation, but Orlando Hudson was really good last year.  If Nishioka is that good, it’s just a wash.  Valencia played well, but is already 26 – so he’s a bit long in the tooth to have a long and successful career.  Mauer is starting to accumulate wear and tear and his knees are already problematic.  Jim Thome turns 41 in August.

The offense is going to fall back some – the question is how much, and depends in large part how much Delmon Young falls back, Mauer or Thome fall back, and how Morneau returns.  I think the Twins will be lucky to score 725 runs, and the pitching staff will probably fall back to about 725 runs.  As such, we’re talking about a .500 season, which will likely be well behind the Sox.

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2010 Top AL Shortstops

Alexei Ramirez – CHI (76.7 Runs Created, 32.1 Runs Saved = 108.8 Total Runs Production)

After an odd year where his bat fell and he couldn’t hit any doubles, Ramirez had a stunning 2010 season.  He slugged .431 thanks to 18 homers and 29 doubles, his batting average was a more than acceptable .282, and he scored 83 runs.  His glove work was spectacular, really – a ball magnet who also helped on the double play.  He earned the new contract…

Cliff Pennington – OAK (66.6 Runs Created, 26.9 Runs Saved = 93.5 Total Runs Production)

Would you have believed he was the second best shortstop in the AL?  His bat is marginally better than average, he played a lot of games, and his defensive range is stunning. His replacing Marco Scutaro was one of many reasons the As moved up in the standings last year.

Elvis Andrus – TEX (63.8 Runs Created, 26.0 Runs Saved = 89.8 Total Runs Production)

Has NO power, but slaps a few singles, draws some walks, and can scoot a little around the bases.  Oh – and he’s probably the best glove in the AL.  Robbed of the gold glove again, but will start winning it probably this year.  The voters are weird about these things…

Alex Gonzalez – TOR/ATL (77.3 Runs Created, -0.4 Runs Saved = 76.9 Total Runs Production)

The wind was blowing out, huh?  Had a great first half, which allowed Toronto to trade him while his stock was up to Atlanta for Escobar.  I always liked him when he was a Marlin – did a lot of good things.  Still can play enough, but isn’t a long term solution for anyone anymore and he can’t seem to stay somewhere longer than a year…

Yunel Escobar – ATL/TOR (53.5 Runs Created, 18.3 Runs Saved = 71.8 Total Runs Production)

Struggled mightily last year with Atlanta, came to Toronto and started to show signs of life.  I think he’ll rebound in 2011 and is going to be worth a late round draft pick in your fantasy leagues.

Jhonny Peralta – CLE/DET (69.7 Runs Created, 2.1 Runs Saved = 71.8 Total Runs Production)

Moved to third base in Cleveland, then brought to Detroit in hopes that he could solve the shortstop problem and keep Detroit in contention down the stretch.  He’s really not a very good defensive shortstop (he was a pretty good third baseman, though), but there are plenty of guys who are worse than him still getting chances to play.  And Peralta can put a few runs on the board, too.

Yuniesky Betancourt – KC (65.3 Runs Created, 5.3 Runs Created = 70.6 Total Runs Production)

He actually had a pretty good season on the surface…  Some power, he cut down the strikeouts, and fielded his position pretty well.  I can’t tell if anyone thinks he’s a championship type player, but he isn’t hurting you either.

Reid Brignac – TB (40.3 Runs Created, 14.3 Runs Saved = 54.6 Total Runs Production)

Hits like Ben Zobrist and played well enough in the field to allow Jason Bartlett to hit the road in 2011.  The Rays will be just fine.

Derek Jeter – NYY (80.0 Runs Created, -27.4 Runs Saved = 52.6 Total Runs Production)

Was the top shortstop last year because his offense made up for his total lack of defensive range.  He got a lot of at bats at the top of the Yankee order but was a league average hitter – which knocked him well down the ladder in 2010.  He can bounce back a little offensively, but he may not have a position with this team – except as captain.  The Yankees were in a tough position in dealing with Jeter, who really is a superstar as a personality, but no longer as a player.  Realistically, he only has a couple of years left unless he bounces back a lot in 2011.

Erick Aybar – LAA (62.0 Runs Created, -9.7 Runs Created = 52.3 Total Runs Production)

Not his best season –  has little power, doesn’t get on base or slap a bunch of singles, and didn’t play his best shortstop last year.  Can do better, and will have to if the Angels want to win the division again.

Ramon Santiago – DET (36.0 Runs Created, 11.6 Runs Saved = 47.6 Total Runs Production)

Four players got time here, including Adam Everett (some glove, no bat at all) and Danny Worth (not yet ready for the majors).  Santiago was nearly effective in the role last year, but it was a fluke and he really isn’t the answer.

Jason Bartlett – TB (61.6 Runs Created, -16.4 Runs Saved = 45.2 Total Runs Production)

No longer the rangy shortstop of two or three years ago, still contributes with the bat even when his average slips to .250.  Hits a few doubles, gets on base, and can still run smartly around the paths.

Marco Scutaro – BOS (79.9 Runs Created, -35.1 Runs Saved = 44.8 Total Runs Production)

That didn’t work out, did it…  Scutaro wasn’t blessed with great range when he was younger, and after signing the big deal in Boston, he really fell off the map defensively.  Offensively, he’s still pretty good, with a decent eye and a bit of power.  But if you are looking for reasons that the Boston pitching struggled in 2010 it starts right here.

J.J. Hardy – MIN (44.3 Runs Created, 0.2 Runs Saved = 44.5 Total Runs Production)

Only played 101 games, but was reasonably productive when he played.  Not appreciably different from Betancourt – just less playing time.  Alexi Casilla is currently listed as the new starter – a slap hitter with some range, but to be honest – might be a step down from Hardy.

Josh Wilson – SEA (33.5 Runs Created, 8.9 Runs Created = 42.4 Total Runs Production)

Does a good Jack Wilson impersonation – a bit less offense and a bit less defense (a little less range, a bit more error prone), but also a bit younger.  Not the answer without a serious upgrade in his output, which isn’t likely, and will have to be replaced if Seattle is going to compete.

Asdrubal Cabrera – CLE (45.6 Runs Created, -9.5 Runs Saved = 36.1 Total Runs Production)

Not a championship level player at this level – unlike his solid 2009.  In fact, Jason Donald made more plays per nine (though he committed a few more errors), and is a bit stronger offensively.  (I discuss Donald with the second basemen…)  Cabrera had a tolerable batting average, but – again – if you aren’t going to contribute more than 60 runs with the bat, your glove has to be solid – and Cabrera’s has not consistently been above average.

Jack Wilson – SEA (19.4 Runs Created, 12.9 Runs Saved = 32.3 Total Runs Production)

His best days are behind him; he can’t hit as well, can’t stay healthy, but he still does play a mean shortstop.

Cesar Izturis – BAL (35.0 Runs Created, -9.1 Runs Saved = 25.9 Total Runs Production)

If you’re going to hit like Mark Belanger, you had better field like him, too.  Izturis disappointed, putting up just 2.5 runs per 27 outs thanks to a .230 batting average and just 15 extra base hits in 150 games.  Now a utility player, with J.J. Hardy moving in to play short.

Hudson, Kennedy Sign Deals and Other Hot Stove News…

I had posted it earlier this week in reviewing the performance of AL second basemen.  First – Adam Kennedy had a pretty good year for Oakland and would have been a tolerable option for a team that didn’t have second base locked down.  Then, noting that the Twins had nobody in house who could contribute at second base, if Orlando Hudson was still available, it would make sense to make him an offer.

If only every day I felt that smart.

Anyway – Minnesota signed Hudson to a one-year deal and immediately gave themselves a 40 run upgrade over Nick Punto, Alexi Casilla, or Brian Dinkelman.  Hudson can still hit .280+ with a little power and a few walks thrown in – he’s an excellent #2 hitter.  And, he’s still a solid defender.  Great signing.  [SI]

Now, Minnesota outbid Washington for Hudson’s services but the Nationals didn’t wait.  Once the deal was done, the Nationals landed Adam Kennedy for their second base hole.  Hey – if you can name the guy who got the most innings in at second base for the DC squad last year, you’re probably the only one who can.  (Anderson Hernandez)  Again, this could be a 30 run improvement for the Nationals – and they have room for improvement.

Kevin Gregg may get another shot at closing games, signing a one year deal with two different follow up options to join Toronto.  I’ve watched Gregg a lot because I live in a Florida and because I watch Cubs games…  He’s NOT a bad reliever.  However, he does get in ruts and he has a history of trying to pitch through pain which affects his ability to keep the ball down.  (On the side, he looks like Clark Kent and his vision is really poor…)  [SI]

Congrats to Justin Verlander, who signed a five-year, $80 million deal to stay with the Tigers.  He certainly earned it.  [ESPN]

Quick notes – Orlando Cabrera is the new Reds shortstop.  He might just be a temporary fix, but you never know.  Cubs signed Kevin Millar to a minor league deal – he’s teammates with Derrek Lee again.

Top AL Second Basemen in 2009

Robinson Cano (NYY):  A graceful hitter and smooth second baseman who has power and a keen batting eye…  Edged Hill in the closest race for top billing at his position.  Something tells me that, offensively, Cano can still be better.  Just a shade below Teixeira in total production, but a touch more valuable overall.  (120.2 Runs Created, 16.4 Runs Saved = 136.61 Total Run Production)

Aaron Hill (TOR):  Came back with a vengence – had his career year as a comeback season.  I would never have guessed 36 homers and I don’t know that it will happen again.  To be fair, his 2007 season left room for a potential breakout like this – if you remember it: 47 doubles and 17 homers in 74 fewer at bats than he had in 2009.  Still – a remarkable season and I’ll root for him to repeat.  (117.7 Runs Created, 18.8 Runs Saved = 136.46 Total Run Production)

Ben Zobrist (TB):  Speaking of breakout seasons – took over when Akinori Iwamura went down and played a solid second base while hitting like an outfielder.  Would you have guessed this when he hit 5 homers in 388 at bats in A Ball?  Or in 2006 when he hit 5 homers in 567 at bats at three different levels?  He started showing flashes of power in 2007 at Durham, cranked it up as a reserve in 2008, and launched his career with power, patience at the plate, and an amazing season.  Like Hill, however, I don’t think he’s going to repeat it…  Turns 29 in May.  (114.8 Runs Created, 9.8 Runs Saved = 124.63 Total Run Production)

Ian Kinsler (TEX):  30 – 30 member (31 of each, actually) and someone ANY team would be proud to have.  He and Andrus seal up the middle defensively like nobody’s business.  First season of 140+ games, in his three previous seasons he had missed a month somewhere…  He’s the new Joe Gordon – if anyone is old enough to remember the original.  (92.7 Runs Created, 14.8 Runs Saved = 107.46 Total Run Production

Placido Polanco (DET):  Doesn’t have the power of the top four guys, but gets his share of hits and still makes all the plays defensively.  To hear it at the end of the year, though, people were saying Polanco had lost a step.  By my calculations, he was the best defensive second baseman in the AL – and it was the best season of the last four that I have tracked.  I don’t think he’ll have the same impact in Philadelphia – he’s not quite the same hitter and he’s moving to a less familiar position.  Detroit will be hard pressed to get similar production in 2010 at this position.  (82.4 Runs Created, 23.4 Runs Saved = 106.15 Total Run Production

By the way, the guy who might have the top shot at second base is Scott Sizemore.  Sizemore hit .308 last year in AA and AAA with 17 homers, 21 stolen bases, and has a .383 OBP in his minor league career.  He’s been a top ten prospect each of the last three seasons after being drafted in the fifth round out of Virginia Commonwealth in 2006.  We’ll see if he’s got the goods defensively, but the Tigers took a reasonable gamble in letting Polanco go to give Sizemore a shot.

Dustin Pedroia (BOS):  Still a solid performer offensively, but took a step back with the glove.  I don’t think anyone was serious about moving him to short – Pedroia doesn’t look like he has that kind of throwing arm.  He’s such a high energy guy, I worry about him running out of gas earlier than other guys because he’s going to run himself into the ground; but you never know.  (105.2 Runs Created, -14.50 Runs Saved = 90.68 Total Run Production)

Jose Lopez (SEA):  Good power, but little patience at the plate.  And, he’s not as good a fielder as the top guys.  I have him below average in three of the last four years and I don’t think he’s going to get better.  I don’t see Lopez getting replaced anytime soon – but his window of productivity might be smaller than other guys and the Mariners talk about moving him to first base.  (89.9 Runs Created, -10.7 Runs Saved = 79.17 Total Run Production)

Brian Roberts (BAL):  Fantastic leadoff hitter – a bit of power, gets on base, steals bases at a decent rate.  Offensively, he’s one of the five best second basemen.  And then you have his glove, which took a step back last season and affected his rating.  Like Paul Molitor, maybe he should become a first baseman/DH in a couple of years…  (106.6 Runs Created, -31.2 Runs Saved = 75.49 Total Run Production)

Adam Kennedy (OAK):  Played shorstop and second but not as the regular; slightly below average at both positions defensively but wasn’t a total loss offensively.  Mark Ellis had the job most of last year (see below), but if you were looking for options Kennedy might be worth a look.  Uh – Minnesota, can you hear me?  (80.7 Runs Created, -10.37 Runs Saved = 70.36 Total Run Production)

Alberto Callaspo (KC):  Got a full season and hit enough but was a disaster in the field.  In his defense, it was his first full season, but he had 365 innings there in 2008 and they weren’t necessarily pretty.  Still – mid range power and a .300 batting average is a good starting point.  Turns 27 this year, so he COULD break out and push 15 to 20 homers and have a Dustin Pedroia type season.  (89.8 Runs Created, -22.97 Runs Saved = 66.82 Total Run Production)

Luis Valbuena (CLE):  I think he’ll be okay if he gets a full shot at the job.  Some power, could use patience and more contact, but plays second base well enough.  Acquired in the deal that sent Franklin Gutierrez to Seattle, he’s just 24 and on his way.  If you are in a keeper league, scoop him up.  (50.2 Runs Created, 14.9 Runs Saved = 65.11 Total Run Production)

Howie Kendrick (LAA):  Better contact hitter than Valbuena, but not the fielder Luis is…  I did a study some time ago where long time second sackers were out of gas if they couldn’t generate at least 60 runs of offense – no matter how good a fielder.  In Kendrick’s case – he needs to step up for a full season and put his career in gear.  Howie has the tools to do it.  (56.9 Runs Created, -6.0 Runs Saved = 50.93 Total Run Production)

Mark Ellis (OAK):  On the downside of his career, but able to help out because he still has some power, patience and range.  His body may not cooperate much longer, but as long as Ellis can get to the playing field, he’ll contribute.  (49.2 Runs Created, 1 Run Saved = 50.17 Total Run Production)

Chris Getz (CWS):  Now in Kansas City because they can’t get enough utility middle infielders…  Getz doesn’t hit for a high average, and he while he has some patience, doesn’t have a really high on base percentage either.  He can field a little bit.  That makes him Tim Foli.  The White Sox have decided to move Gordon Beckham to second – which may not help the defense but will help put a few more runs on the board.  (45.5 Runs Created, 3.8 Runs Saved = 49.25 Total Run Production)

Nick Punto (MIN): Shared the position with Alexi Casilla and Matt Tolbert, and neither of them was really good enough.  None of the three can hit – Tolbert and Casilla can play the field, and Punto is the new Mick Kelleher or Steve Dillard.  We’ll see him coaching in a few years.  As of 2/4, the Twins still haven’t resolved this hole but if Orlando Cabrera or Orlando Hudson are still available, get him.  The closest thing to a middle infield prospect might be Brian Dinkelman, a AA infielder who looks like Jeff Treadway with a bit better glove but is still a year away and already 26 years old…

Notes: Like the first basemen, the median second baseman is producing about 75 runs, which means that Cano and Hill were worth about six extra wins each to his respective team.

Breathtaking! Twins Outlast Tigers… Let’s Play Three!

A game with too many twists and turns for even Quentin Tarantino, the Minnesota Twins survived and eventually prevailed, 6 – 5, over the Detroit Tigers to win the AL Central and a trip to the playoffs where they hope not to be cannon fodder for the New York Yankees.

You had Miguel Cabrera, he of the scars and bruises, hitting a mammoth two-run homer to put the Tigers in front 3 – 0.  The Twins rallied back, however, to take a 4 – 3 lead on an Orlando Cabrera blast.  Has Orlando Cabrera had the greatest three week run of his life???  Then, another disappointing Tiger, Magglio Ordonez ties the game with a homer of his own – something that had been missing from his 2009 season.  You had Joe Nathan getting out of a ninth inning jam by allowing a crushing liner that shortstop Nick Punto nabbed and turned into a inning ending doubleplay.  The Tigers got the lead in the tenth, but the Twins got a stadium boosted triple from Michael Cuddyer and a seeing-eye single to tie the score.  Alexi Casilla looked to be in place to score the winning run in the tenth, but he was gunned down by Ryan Rayburn on an inning-ending double play, erasing a potential sacrifice fly that would have won the game.  Then, the Tigers got runners to second and third in the top of the 12th inning, eventually loading the bases with just one out – and STILL couldn’t score.  Of course, the Twins got a break, too – a Bobby Keppel pitch grazed Brandon Inge and hit his jersey, but the ump didn’t award Inge a HBP – which would have scored a run and possibly created an explosion of runs.  However, Inge grounded into a force play.  At one point in the top of the twelfth, Chip Caray noted, “If the Twins get out of this inning, they truly are the team of destiny…” – and the Twins got out of that inning.  Finally, Casilla knocked in Chris Gomez with a bounder to right scoring the winning run in the bottom of the twelfth to win it.

Breathtaking!

Today, you have Philadelphia hosting Colorado, Minnesota visits New York, and the Dodgers hosting the Cardinals to open the playoffs.  The Angels host Boston tomorrow night.

Playoff Notes…

Yankee catcher Jorge Posada won’t catch A.J. Burnett – it’ll be Jose Molina.  Burnett has pitched better with Molina behind the plate, but Posada still feels snubbed.  [ESPN]

Rockies pitcher Jorge De La Rosa won’t pitch against Philadelphia, nursing a sore groin.  [ESPN]

Phillies reliever J.C. Romero will have surgery on a flexor tendon in his throwing forearm and is out four to six months.  [ESPN]

Other News…

Fredi Gonzalez will keep his job managing the Marlins, despite interviews of Bobby Valentine.  Pitching coach Mark Wiley, however, will get another role in the organization.

Major League owners approved the sale of the Chicago Cubs to Tom Ricketts and family for a cool $845 million.  The Tribune Company paid $20.5 million to buy it from the Wrigley family back in 1981.

In addition to picking up Freddy Garcia’s option, the White Sox picked up the option on reliever Scott Thornton, who had been solid as a setup man in 2009.

Agree or Disagree? Kevin Blackistone believes that Curt Flood belongs in the Hall of Fame for his contributions beyond those on the field – such as challenging the reserve clause when traded from the Cardinals to the Phillies.  I’m not sure he deserves a plaque, or that the Hall of Fame is a place for this, but Flood’s role in emancipating players was certainly immense.

Happy  Birthday! Evan Longoria turns 24 today.  The future is bright, indeed!  Others with birthdays today include:  Moses Fleetwood Walker, a black catcher in the majors before Cap Anson and others wouldn’t play against him establishing the color line (1856), Hall of Famer Chuck Klein (1904), Frankie Baumholtz (1918), Charlie Fox (1921), Grady Hatton (1922), Jose Cardenal (1943), Rudy Law (1956), Milt Cuyler (1968).

My grandmother used to be a huge Jose Cardenal fan (as was I).  She liked that when he ran his hat always fell off – I mean, he had a big head of hair!!!  Me – I loved that he was a bit of a hot dog, but for a couple of years in Chicago, he hit and ran and kept Jack Brickhouse smiling.

Trade Analysis: Twins Add Oakland’s Cabrera for Prospect

Nick Punto is batting .213; Alexi Casilla’s average is under .170 (!) and has been back and forth to the minors trying to find his swing.  And, with the rest of the division making moves (no doubt the Tigers adding Washburn forced Chicago to make the Jake Peavy deal happen), the Twins chose to shore up a hole in the middle infield by adding the still productive Orlando Cabrera.

Minnesota Gets:  A dependable infielder, though no longer the gold glove calibre player he was a few years back.  Cabrera should certainly outhit what Punot and Casilla has provided – which would be a nice advantage.

Oakland Gets:  A former second round pick (2008) who is still very raw, but has a lot of tools.  Tyler Ladendorf was drafted early out of Howard College after graduating from Maine West HS in Des Plaines, IL.   He’s had moments of spectacular play, but he’s just now getting into A ball.  At 21, he’s easily three years away.

Winner:  I like Orlando Cabrera, but I can’t believe that he’s going to be the difference between winning and losing.  They really need the pitching to step up.  To me it’s a wash.

Buehrle Retires 45 Straight; Wang and Johnson Done?

The Cub fan in me was supposed to watch their game with Houston last night; instead I watched Mark Buehrle figuring I should watch to see how long he could keep getting batters out.  Buehrle didn’t disappoint – cruising through five innings as if he’d never allow a batter to reach base again.  His streak reached 45 batters when he got the first two out in the sixth inning and suddenly people were wondering if he’d throw a second straight perfect game,  Then, Buehrle he got up 0 – 2 to Alexi Casilla and I was thinking, “grounder to short.”  Instead, Casilla coaxed a walk, followed by Denard Span’s liner into center for a single.  When Scott Podsednik misplayed Joe Mauer’s fly ball into a ground rule double, the magic was over.  (They only give errors when you get a glove or body part on the ball, but never when you slow up or short arm the reach.  It clearly should have been caught.)

Still – 45 straight!  The record of 41 was first set in 1972 by Jim Barr of the Giants, and later tied by Bobby Jenks (Buehrle’s teammate) a couple of years ago.  I was listening to SportsCenter this morning, and the comment about Barr and Jenks was “these guys were relievers…” as if it was easier for a reliever to get that many outs in a row.  As I see it, they got it wrong on both counts.  At that time in his career, Barr was a starter.  He got the last 21 in a row in a complete game shutout of Pittsburgh on August 23, 1972, and then got the first twenty out before allowing a double to Bernie Carbo of the Cardinals in his second complete game shutout six days later…  Barr threw a perfect game in the middle there – but it didn’t count.  Later in his career, with a burned out arm, Barr was a reliever.  As for what Jenks did – working one inning at a time, he didn’t allow a hit for over a month in the 9th inning protecting a lead.  How is that any easier?

Buehrle got roughed up in the seventh and took the loss to Minnesota – which is what happens when you are coming off of perfect games.  Too much magic needed to win two consecutive games when so much is spent on the first game…

On to Other News…

Chien-Ming Wang’s season is over – shoulder surgery is next.  [ESPN]

Randy Johnson’s season, and possibly his career, may be over as he learned he has a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder.  Johnson laughed that his days of doing an instructional hitting video are over.  The Big Unit hopes to return in September.  [ESPN]

Houston pitchers are running into back problems…  Roy Oswalt left last night’s start against the Cubs in the second inning and will have his strained back looked at.  For Latroy Hawkins, he heads to the DL with shingles in his back.  Yuck.

Oswalt’s injury (and, for that matter, Hawkins’) opens the door for prospect Bud Norris to join the Astros.  Norris has great stats – big strikeout numbers, even in the PCL, and occasionally fights his control.  Baseball America says he’s the #2 prospect in the Astros organization.  If there is a “but…”, it’s his minor league W-L record, which stands at 12 – 25.  You’d like for your top prospects to have winning records – even on bad minor league teams.

Ian Kinsler strained his left hammy running out a grounder and is day-to-day for now.  This is a tough loss for the contending Texas Rangers.

The latest blockbuster trade?  Boston sent Mark Kotsay to the White Sox for outfielder Brian Anderson.  Kotsay used to be a good fielding outfielder, but his back has taken away that mobility.  Anderson’s reputation is that of being a good outfielder, but at 27 he’s never had the stats to back that up and his bat reminds you of someone who might never get out of AA – heck, he had just been sent back to AAA.  Kotsay is a good pinch hitter and can play first a little – so the White Sox would seem to have gotten some value out of the deal.  [SI]

ESPN has a good rundown of current trade rumors, as we await the trade deadline on Friday, as does FanNation.  Or you could read about trade rumors on MLB.com…  [ESPN/SI/MLB]

Welcome Back!  A bunch of guys came off the DL in the last 24 hours…  Houston reliever Doug Brocail, Blue Jays pitcher Scott Richmond, Cubs starter Ryan Dempster (looked rusty last night), Arizona catcher Chris Snyder, Padres catcher Henry Blanco and infielder David Eckstein…

Make it Work!  Andy Marte was called up by Cleveland…  Three years ago, he was a top prospect, but it hasn’t worked in more than 500 MLB at bats – hitting all of .211 with nine hommers.  It’s time for Marte to make his mark in the majors or he’ll be an afterthought before long.