Mariano Rivera Blows Out Knee During Practice…

Wow…  Not sure where to begin.  The news, of course, is that during batting practice, while shagging fly balls, Mariano Rivera – perhaps the greatest reliever ever – got a cleat stuck in the turf at Kaufmann (Royals) Stadium, twisting his knee and tearing both his ACL and meniscus.  An ACL tear is pretty severe and not something one easily recovers from.  Rivera’s season is over, and many fear that we may have seen the last of Rivera’s days as a pitcher.

I can’t say any more than what any of the national baseball writers and sports reporting icons are already saying.  For about two decades, Rivera has been the most visible and dependable relief pitcher we’ve ever seen.  He’s in practically every post season and usually closing out Yankee victories.  Unlike his teammate, Derek Jeter, Rivera is quiet and serene and you never read about him dating famous models or selling posh apartments.  I guess, like many others, to see him carted off the field after a freak injury just seems unfair to someone who should be allowed to go out closing out another win and getting the endless cheers of 50,000 or more fans who have watched him.

Here’s hoping for a speedy recovery so that in 2013, we get at least one more glimpse of his greatness.  Until then, the #42 will not be seen in baseball stadiums except on outfield walls and Jackie Robinson day…

In his stead, either Rafael Soriano or David Robertson will be called upon to close games.  Soriano has experience as a closer, while Robertson has shown improving and devastating stuff.  Both may get chances, I think either one could be successful – but that’s a pretty big microscope…  [MLB]

Hurry Back, Panda!

Giants Pablo Sandoval has a broken left hand and will be out at least four to six weeks.  Kung Fu Panda has been hitting everything the first month of the season – we’ll see how he does when he comes back.  There was no specific incident – Panda’s not sure when he may have broken it.  Last year, he had a broken right hand and missed six weeks…  Aubrey Huff to third?  Not sure I like that option, but the Giants have to figure something out.  Huff is already on the DL with anxiety issues, so Conor Gillaspie was called up from Fresno for the short term.  [ESPN]

Welcome Back!

Returning from the DL?  Kerry Wood and Ryan Dempster of the Cubs.  The Cubs need all the help they can get.

Hurry Back!

Headed to the DL?  Jim Thome (PHI) and Kevin Youkilis (BOS) have lower back strains.  Evan Longoria (TB) is out a while with a torn hamstring – ouch – and Miguel Olivo (SEA) heads to the DL with a strained groin – hopefully his own.

I’ve Never Heard of Them Either…

The Padres traded pitcher Ernesto Frieri (no relation to Guy Fieri) to the Angels for Donn Roach and Alexi Amarista.  On the other hand, I’m thinking Guy Fieri has had to deal with a roach or two during his Diners, Dives, and Drive-Ins shows…

UPDATED at 2:38 PM!!!  Here’s an article explaining that Frieri is a reliever, and apparently a pretty good one, added to give the Angels some depth in the bullpen.  The other two are lower level prospects who have some work to do before they get a shot at the majors.  [ESPN]

Happy Birthday!

Man – the database lists a ton of names I have never heard of…  Time to start doing some research again.  (Except I am REALLY enjoying my guitar lessons!)

1945 – Rene Lachemann
1956 – Ken Oberkfell
1957 – Rick Leach
1971 – Joe Borowski
1974 – Miguel Cairo
1976 – Ben Grieve
1984 – Kevin Slowey

Am I the only guy who thinks of Rick Leach as a quarterback for the Michigan Wolverines?

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Manny Ramirez Ends Career Rather Than Face Suspension

Short morning – so we’ll try to do this quickly…

Manny Ramirez is Done…

Rather than face a 100 game suspension for what the NY Times reported as having been found using performance enhancing drugs (again), Manny Ramirez told MLB that he would retire.  In fact, the press release from MLB was how Manny’s team, the Tampa Rays, found out about it.

Good riddance to a self-centered cheat.

For other opinions on the subject, click here:

Joe Posnanski

Sports Illustrated News

Joe Lemire

Jayson Stark

Jon Paul Morosi

Michael Rosenburg

Other News…

The Marlins expect that Hanley Ramirez will be back in the starting lineup on Tuesday after getting bruised while being on the receiving end of a hard slide by Astros infielder Bill Hall.  If everyone agreed that Hall was just doing his job and nobody had any hard feelings, then why did Edward Mujica plunk Billy late in Sunday’s game – leading to two ejections?

I told this to my friend and former boss, Jose Gomez.  Mujica isn’t long for the majors.  He’s eminently hittable and only looked good last year because he played in San Diego.  Now that he’s somewhere where baseballs don’t always get caught, his flat fastball will be meat and his career will fade quickly.

Matt Holiday made it back to the lineup on Sunday, just nine days after an emergency appendectomy.  Modern medicine is amazing, really.

Nobody Can Retire Permanently…

Pedro Martinez is telling everyone he talks to that he’s not done and would welcome a return to the majors.  Boston tops his list of potential return cities.

Weekend Transactions…

Octavio Dotel returned to the Blue Jays, sending Casey Janssen back to Las Vegas.

Jeff Stevens returns to the Cubs from Iowa, replacing Andrew Cashner, who is on the 15-day disabled list – but not likely to return for a while…

Boston activated lefty rookie Felix Doubrant from the DL, and sent former Orioles reliever Matt Albers to the 15-day DL with a sore right lat.  Doubrant throws reasonably hard, has a nice change up, and throws a mean slider.  I think he’s going to stay a while…

The Yankees signed Carlos Silva to a minor league contract, while the Cubs – who dispatched Silva – signed Ramon Ortiz to a minor league contract.

The Twins placed Kevin Slowey on the DL with a sore right biceps muscle.  Alex Burnett was recalled from the Red Wings to take his place.  Burnett is 23, got in 41 games with the Twins last year, and hasn’t yet shown that he’s ready to go after reaching AA.

The Orioles sent Brad Bergesen back to the minors, calling up Chris Jakubaskas.

The Pirates sent Ross Ohlendorf to the DL with a shoulder strain.

The Angels sent Erick Aybar to the DL with a strained oblique, and activated pitcher Scott Downs from the DL.

The Mets recalled Jason Isringhausen (!) after a bullpen implosion this weekend.  Wow…

Happy Birthday!

Those celebrating with cake, cards, and remembrances include:

Sam Chapman (1916)
Sid Monge (1951)
Wally Whitehurst (1964)
Bret Saberhagen (1964)
Jason Varitek (1972)
Trot Nixon (1974)
Mark Teixeira (1980)
Alexander De Aza (1984)

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.

Add Brian Matusz to Your Fantasy Roster; And Do They Teach Geography to USC Football Players?

Did I hear that correctly?  Chris Mortensen is interviewing Clay Matthews, Jr., the USC “grad” who was drafted by Green Bay.  When asked about the difference between SoCAL and Green Bay, Matthews said he had to go to the internet and look up Green Bay – he didn’t know that Green Bay was in Wisconsin.  Really?

The Angels are on a great run – without Torii Hunter and Vlad Guerrero – and now those guys are coming back…  Guerrero was activated from the DL (calf, hamstring injuries to the left leg) and is getting at bats in the DH slot.  [SI]

Twins starter Kevin Slowey had successful surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow and expects to be ready for spring training.   What should make everyone nervous is that Francisco Liriano missed a start with forearm stiffness and is going to make a go of it on Tuesday.  Not that Liriano has been that good in 2009, but if he goes down, so do the chances of the Twins sneaking into the playoffs.  [SI]

Newly acquired Red Scott Rolen had a CT scan on his head and checked out as normal – though he still hasn’t played since getting hit by a Jason Marquis pitch in the head on Sunday.  [SI]

Speaking of third basemen who used to be really, really good…  Troy Glaus hoped to return to the Cardinals in August, but a bulging disc in his back shut down his rehab.  He now hopes to play in September.  [SI]

The Mets can’t keep anyone healthy – and now comes word that Luis Castillo had to leave last night’s game against the Cardinals when he fell down the dugout steps and injured his ankle.  Castillo is day-to-day…  [ESPN]

Lance Berkman’s calf isn’t ready, so don’t look for him to return to the Astros when his DL stint ends this week.  [MLB]

San Diego released Mark Prior, whose rehab hasn’t been as successful as anyone had hoped.  Very sad…

Welcome Back!  Seattle returns Adrian Beltre from the DL, while Wilkin Ramirez got a quick shot to be on the Tigers roster – and was promptly sent back down to Toledo…

Hurry Back!  The Cubs placed Andres Blanco on the DL with a calf strain.  Bobby Wilson and Chris Woodward were dispatched to AAA with the return of other players…

Welcome to the Bigs!  Alex Avila gets a cup of coffee with Detroit.  Avila is a catching prospect with some power and patience at the plate.  He was recalled from AA Erie, and he’s not totally ready for the bigs, but he looks like he can play some…  The Alabama grad was a fifth round draft pick in 2008, and could make Baseball America’s Top Ten in the Tigers Chain list soon.  Brian Matusz was undefeated at AA Bowie, so Baltimore decided to give the kid a shot last night – and now Matusz is undefeated with the Orioles…   That makes Matusz the fifth rookie bird to win his first game in 2009.  Matusz was a first round pick out of the University of San Diego and has awesome stuff – strikes people out, has a breaking ball that moves, and hardly walks anyone (last night’s effort not withstanding).  If Earl Weaver had his way, Matusz would hang in long relief for a year or two before moving into the rotation in 2011 and turning into Scott McGregor if not Jim Palmer.   If you can, get this kid on your fantasy roster soon.

Afterthoughts…  Jayhawk alum Tom Gorzelanny started and got the win for Chicago last night, allowing just one earned in 7-plus innings…  I admit it – I bleed Crimson and Blue…

Willingham’s Night is Doubly Grand; Hudson Close to Braves Return

For the most part, Mighty Casey Baseball has tended to look at roster issues – injuries, rookies, and transactions – to help someone who is managing his or her fantasy baseball team make good roster decisions or learn a thing or two about players who are on the free agent market.   It analyzes trades, and occasionally gets to tell a longer story or two.   But every now and then something fun happens in a baseball game and you just want to make a note of it…

Yesterday, Josh Willingham became the third National Leaguer (Tony Cloninger, Fernando Tatis) to hit two grand slams in a game.  (Ten have done it in the AL, by the way).  Willingham is a professional hitter, someone all good teams need because he can help the offense and fill in at a few positions on the field, and always gives his best effort.  As a Marlin, he was a crowd favorite and a clutch hitter.  So to see the old Fish hit a pair of slams is pretty cool.  What makes it a geek fest – at least for Tim Kurkjian, anyway – is that on the same night, Tatis himself hit a pinch hit grand slam.  [FoxSports/MLB]

Another of my favorite Marlins, Burke Badenhop, earned a three game suspension for defending Hanley Ramirez.  A few weeks back, Ramirez was beaned a couple of times and felt like his pitchers weren’t backing him up.  This time, when Jeff Weaver plunked Hanley, Badenhop nailed Orlando Hudson in the butt.  In addition to the fine and suspension, Badenhop also received a bunch of high-fives from his teammates.  [FoxSports]

Ten game winner, Kevin Slowey, will require surgery to fix issues with bone chips in his wrist.  Your third place Minnesota Twins are already struggling with a thin rotation, and this isn’t going to help any…  Francisco Liriano (4 – 10, 5.56) – it’s time to step up and be the ace again.  [SI]

Atlanta Braves starter Tim Hudson threw four innings of shutout baseball at Gwinnett last night, signs that his rehab from elbow ligament replacement surgery is going well.  [SI]

My friend, Andy Finch, and I have had discussions about Derek Jeter’s defense.  According to my statistical model, which compares fielders based on the number of plays made per 800 balls in play, over the last three years Jeter’s range has been problematic – which agrees with many other systems of ranking fielding.  An article on MLB.com says that Jeter has spent the last two years improving his lateral movement, and it’s showing up in his range factors, so it will be interesting to see if my systems show the same thing when the year is done.  Personally, this is why you root for a Derek Jeter – he’s constantly working to be the best player he can be.

Another late July trade…  The San Francicso Giants acquired Ryan Garko from Cleveland for minor leaguer Scott Barnes.  The Giants need offense and Garko is a mild upgrade over Travis Ishikawa – mid 20 HR power, a decent batting average and some patience.  Worst case, he platoons with Ishikawa and gives the Giants more depth – especially since Rich Aurilia hasn’t been providing any bench punch and now is injured.  The Indians got a great prospect…  Barnes blew through lower levels, striking out more than a batter an inning with solid control (just 28 walks in 98 innings).  He’s two years away from making the Indians rotation and possibly making a splash.  The Indians have a backload of players who can play first base, and this is a good way to rearrange the talent base.  I like it.  [ESPN]

With Hall of Fame weekend over, MLB looked ahead at who might be part of the class of 2010.  When the ballot is distributed, we’ll look at our options then, but this is a good look-see.  [MLB]

Welcome Back!  Hong-Chih-Kuo returns to the Dodgers bullpen from the 60-day disabled list, costing Blake DeWitt his MLB role.  Tampa welcomed back pitcher Brian Shouse from the DL.  R.J. Swindle is back with Milwaukee – he’s too good for AAA, and hasn’t yet stuck with the parent club.  I’ll keep rooting, though.

Hurry Back!  The Reds sent Micah Owings (tight throwing shoulder) and Chris Dickerson (bruised rotator cuff diving for a ball) to the DL.

Baseball and the Fourth – a Perfect Match!

Today is the 70th Anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s “Luckiest Man” speech.  As such, MLB is honoring Gehrig by trying raise public awareness of the disease that bear’s Gehrig’s name through it’s 4 ALS program today.

The Minnesota Twins lost starter Kevin Slowey to a strained wrist.  After winning ten games he’d been hit pretty hard in his last two starts.  Anthony Swarzak returns from AAA Rochester to take his place in the rotation.

Aroldis Chapman, a Cuban left with a 100 MPH fastball disappeared in the Netherlands.  US teams were interested in Chapman, including the Yankees…  Rumors suspect he defected while his team was participating in a tournament in Amsterdam.  [FoxSports/ESPN]

When the Indians added reliever Winston Abreu in a trade with Tampa Bay, someone had to go – and that someone is veteran Matt Herges.  Herges, who wasn’t awful (2 – 1, 3.55), was designated for assignment. [MLB]

Hurry Back!  Daisuke Matsuzaka heads to “summer” training in Florida in hopes of regaining strength and getting back to the Red Sox.  [ESPN]

Carlos Quentin begins a rehab assignment in Charlotte.  Reds infielder Danny Richar goes to the DL with a torn labrum.  The Braves need a second sacker as Kelly Johnson heads to the DL with a wrist injury.  Ryan Doumit and Reed Johnson start rehab stints, as does Rafael Betancourt and Aramis Ramirez.  Meanwhile, Russ Adams was designated for assignment by the Blue Jays (could he land in Atlanta?  They need an infielder).

Welcome Back!  Yusmeiro Petit returns to Arizona after a DL stint; Howie Kendrick returns to the Angels – hopefully with his bat.  Edwin Encarnacion returned to the Reds, Claudio Vargas is back with the Dodgers after DL stints.  David Dellucci gets the call to help Toronto find any offense possible.

Afterthoughts…  Roger Clemens apparently isn’t one of the 100+ players who failed the 2003 MLB players PED survey.  McNamee says he served up the juice between 1998 and 2001, in case you were keeping score.  [FoxSports]

And, Rafael Palmeiro also denies knowingly taking steroids, reiterating that he must have taken something that was tainted.  Palmeiro’s comments came when he spoke at the College Baseball Hall of Fame inductions.  [ESPN]