September 2009

Rain postpones Game 1 between Twins and Tigers

Monday, September 28th, 2009

DETROIT — Tonight’s Twins game has been postponed because of rain and will be made up Tuesday as part of a day-night doubleheader.

The pitching matchups are the same. It’ll be Nick Blackburn vs. Rick Porcello in Game 1 at 11 a.m. (Central), and Brian Duensing vs. Justin Verlander in Game 2 at 6 p.m.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire declined to discuss how this will affect the team’s pitching plans, saying he remains focused on Game 1. He did say this could affect the catching plans, since Joe Mauer likely wouldn’t catch both games. Jose Morales could catch Game 2, allowing Mauer to DH.

We’ll have much more on how this will effect this series and the season’s final week in first editions.

Update: says it could rain all day Tuesday in Detroit, listing a 30 percent chance at noon and 40 percent at 7. Nick Blackburn will start Game 1 for the #Twins, no matter when it’s played, with Brian Duensing following in Game 2.

Special note: Happy birthday, La Velle!

Programming note: Fox Sports North has decided it will indeed televise Thursday’s game. FSN is televising all four games of the series now. The national networks have swooped in as well, though their coverage is blacked out in the Twin Cities. Still, it’s worth nothing that MLB Network will televise tonight, Tuesday and Thursday, and ESPN has picked up Wednesday.

Update: Asked who the Twins plan to have start Friday against Kansas City, Manager Ron Gardenhire said he didn’t want to discuss it, that the focus was on tonight’s game. Gardenhire actually nipped several pregame questions in the bud, saying he really only wanted to discuss tonight.

He doesn’t want his team focused on how they have to win this series. Just win tonight.

“You don’t convince them,” he said. “They all have their own minds, and they’re going to think what they’re going to think, but before they play tonight, I’ll make sure they understand: Tonight’s the night. This is the biggest game of the season. Let’s play it and have some fun. … This is the pennant race. Let’s have some fun with it. Take it all in, I think that’s really important. Sometimes they pass you by and you can’t remember what happened. Don’t let it pass you by.”

These are lessons Gardenhire learned the hard way.

People ask him if he remembers specifics about the 2006 pennant race.

“No, it kind of irritates me that I don’t remember,” he said. “I want to remember them all. Joe Torre taught me that one of those first years in new york. He was my first manager. He said, “Remember this, take it all in, enjoy it, don’t let it overcome you, just enjoy it, enjoy the moment. I thought that was really good. I didn’t listen enough, so now I’m trying to listen.”

Gardenhire did say he thinks this team gets it.

“Absolutely,” he said. “On the bench you can see it. They’re having fun with it. They’re laughing. Guy makes a mistake, they’re making fun of him in the dugout. That means they’re pretty loose and relaxed. They’re cheering for each other whether they’re up or down. It’s going along like it’s supposed to.”

Update: Gardenhire did say Bobby Keppel is a candidate to start a game before the season ends. He could be lumped in with Francisco Liriano and Jeff Manship as possibilities for Friday. But during this series, it’s going to be all hands on deck.

TWINS (81-74)

1. Denard Span, CF
2. Orlando Cabrera, SS
3. Joe Mauer, C
4. Jason Kubel, RF
5. Michael Cuddyer, 1B
6. Delmon Young, LF
7. Jose Morales, DH
8. Matt Tolbert, 3B
9. Nick Punto, 2B

Starting pitcher: RH Nick Blackburn (11-11, 4.18 ERA)

TIGERS (83-72)

1. Curtis Granderson, CF
2. Placido Polanco, 2B
3. Magglio Ordonez, RF
4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
5. Aubrey Huff, DH
6. Carlos Guillen, LF
7. Gerald Laird, C
8. Brandon Inge, 3B
9. Ramon Santiago, SS

Starting pitcher: RH Rick Porcello (14-9, 4.14 ERA)

Comerica Park. First pitch: 6:05 p.m. TV: FSN

Two things to know about the Tigers

Monday, September 28th, 2009

KANSAS CITY, MO. — My flight for Detroit leaves shortly, and it looks like it’s about to get windy, cold and rainy for the Twins and Tigers at Comerica Park. Might as well get one of these teams battle tested for October baseball.

1) The Tigers plan to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their 1984 World Series win over San Diego tonight. Sparky Anderson, Kirk Gibson, Alan Trammell, Jack Morris and others will be honored in a pregame ceremony that is sure to get the crowd riled.

2) Tigers shortstop Adam Everett remains a Twins admirer. On Sunday, he told John Lowe of the Detroit Free Press that he’s especially impressed with how the Twins have rallied without Justin Morneau.

“Cuddyer has had a tremendous September. Mauer is Mauer,” Everett said. “They have such a supporting cast. They grind out every at-bat. They grind you down. That’s what makes them such a special team. It starts from the top with Denard.

“The way that Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer and Kubel — all the guys that have come up through their system — you can’t help but buy into the way they play.

“To see the way Denard Span has come along the last two years — without him, they’re not where they’re at. Period. He’s a tremendous leadoff man, he’s a tremendous outfielder, you can play him at all three spots. He’s close to a .380-.390 on-base percentage. And he can run.”

Note: For more on this series, click here, here and here. Souhan will be joining me in Detroit. Check back later for tonight’s starting lineups.

Royals 4, Twins 1: Quick thoughts heading into Motown Showdown

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

KANSAS CITY, MO. — The Twins will enter their four-game series with the Tigers on Monday, trailing by two games in the American League Central.

The Tigers lost 8-4 to the White Sox in Chicago today, but the Twins fell 4-1 to Zack Greinke and the Royals at Kauffman Stadium.

Greinke (16-8) held the Twins to one run over seven innings, notching eight strikeouts and lowering his ERA to 2.06. Joakim Soria pitched two innings for his 29th save.

Twins starter Francisco Liriano (5-13) lasted just 1 2/3 innings. He gave up a three-run homer to Yuniesky Betancourt in the second inning, and that was enough for Greinke and Soria.

The Twins had chances all afternoon but wound up stranding 11 runners on base. Joe Mauer, who went 2-for-5 to keep his major league leading average at .371, grounded to shortstop to end the game after the Twins had put runners at the corners against Soria.

The Tigers’ magic number to clinch the Central is six. Here are the scenarios entering this week’s series in Detroit:

Tigers sweep: Twins eliminated
Twins sweep: Twins magic number would be 2, entering final weekend.
Tigers go 3-1: Twins eliminated
Twins go 3-1: All tied, entering final weekend
Split: Tigers magic number would be 2, entering final weekend

From Kauffman Stadium: Greinke/Liriano

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

KANSAS CITY, MO. — Manager Ron Gardenhire’s pregame media session starts soon, so I’ll post the lineups, and some career numbers for the Twins against Zack Greinke and check back later.

Twins hitters vs. Greinke
Crede .393 (11-for-28)
Morneau .167 (4-for-24)
Mauer .182 (4-for-22)
Cabrera .263 (5-for-19)
Cuddyer .286 (4-for-14)
Punto .214 (3-for-14)
Kubel .364 (4-for-11)
Casilla .200 (2-for-10)
Gomez .500 (1-for-5)
Redmond .600 (3-for-5)
Young .200 (1-for-5)
Buscher .667 (2-for-3)
Span .333 (1-for-3)
Harris .500 (1-for-2)

He has not faced Morales or Tolbert.

Update: With the Twins averaging 8.6 runs scored over the past five games, Gardenhire didn’t try to reinvent the wheel with today’s lineup.

“Listen, we beat [Roy] Halladay in Toronto [on Sept. 9],” Gardenhire said. “He’s as good as they get. You’ve gotta beat the good ones. If you get to the playoffs, you’re going to face really good ones, so it’s a nice little run for you against a very good pitcher, but we’re not going to try to get too innovative here and start screwing with a lineup that’s been working.”

(*) As mentioned last night, the Twins were furious when Kyle Farnsworth drilled Michael Cuddyer in the eighth inning.

“I was mad,” Gardenhire said. “The pitcher calls the catcher out with nobody on, and then three balls and a drill in the ribs. And [Farnsworth] hasn’t hit anybody all year long, and he almost throws a ball behind him. To me it was bull, total bull. I was pretty upset about it. A lot of guys in the dugout were, too. But we didn’t do anything about it. Our guy [Ron Mahay] was buzzing people and spinning breaking balls inside, but we didn’t hit anybody, and we got warned. That stuff, I just don’t understand.”

(*) Gardenhire said he doesn’t expect to bring back on a pitcher on short rest for next weekend’s series against the Royals. So here are the anticipated pitching matchups the rest of the way:

Monday at Detroit: Nick Blackburn vs. Rick Porcello
Tuesday: Brian Duensing vs. Justin Verlander
Wednesday: Carl Pavano vs. Eddie Bonine
Thursday: Scott Baker vs. Nate Robertson
Friday vs. KC at the Dome: Francisco Liriano vs. Lenny DiNardo
Saturday: Nick Blackburn vs. Greinke
Sunday: Brian Duensing vs. Luke Hochevar

TWINS (81-73)

1. Denard Span, CF
2. Orlando Cabrera, SS
3. Joe Mauer, DH
4. Jason Kubel, RF
5. Michael Cuddyer, 1B
6. Delmon Young, LF
7. Jose Morales, C
8. Matt Tolbert, 3B
9. Nick Punto, 2B

Starting pitcher: LH Francisco Liriano (5-12, 5.75 ERA)

ROYALS (63-92)

1. Willie Bloomquist, LF
2. Mitch Maier, CF
3. Billy Butler, 1B
4. Brayan Pena, DH
5. Alberto Callaspo, 3B
6. Miguel Olivo, C
7. Mark Teahen, RF
8. Yuniesky Betancourt, SS
9. Luis Hernandez, 2B

Starting pitcher: RH Zack Greinke (15-8, 2.08 ERA)

Kauffman Stadium. First pitch: 1:10 p.m. TV: Ch. 29

One thing stands between Twins and a sweep: Mr. Zack Greinke

Saturday, September 26th, 2009

KANSAS CITY, MO. — Saturday’s 11-6 victory over the Royals improved the Twins to 7-1 at Kauffman Stadium this year, but Sunday, they’ll have to face Cy Young candidate Zack Greinke.

“We’re going to have our work cut out for us,” Twins second baseman Nick Punto said. “He’s got electric stuff. He throws a 95-mph fastball, with a good slider, good change-up good curve ball, and he’s got good command of all four pitches. When he’s on, he’s on. We’re going to have to try to get pitches up in the zone to hit and do some damage.”

It helps that the Twins are brimming with confidence. They have outscored their opponents 80-40 in their past 12 games, going 11-1, and averaged 8.6 runs in their past five.

In my game story, I focused on what a big boost it was, seeing Denard Span go 4-for-5 with a career-high six RBI only five nights after he got beaned in the back of the head.

For more on the Greinke/Francisco Liriano matchup, click here. I just think it’s interesting how Greinke and Liriano have traveled somewhat similar paths, in reverse. Not saying Liriano was ever as good as Greinke is now, but they’ve both tasted a sampling of what the other is experiencing this season.

The Royals are handing out “Greinke for Cy” T-shirts to the first 10,000 fans. If you’re not convinced that Greinke, currently 15-8, deserves serious Cy Young consideration, I’d suggest checking out some of the interesting posts Joe Posnanski has written on one of my favorite blogs. (Posnanski also is a big advocate for Joe Mauer’s MVP candidacy.)

Note: First pitch Sunday is at 1:10 p.m. Check back here in the morning for the starting lineups.