Saturday, May 14, 2011

Game Picks - Saturday: May 14, 2011

There's no place like home. It's nice to be back and writing in the FanDome after Blogger's lost day yesterday. Thanks again to a good friend like C70 At The Bat for hosting this feature yesterday. Their graciousness kept the streak intact as not a day has been missed since 2009 (the last time Blogger blew up). It's a shame that the pick for the Cardinals didn't go as expected. A blown save cost the Cards the game. But overall, it wasn't a bad day of picking. So far this season, anything over .500 has been a good day. If only Joba had thrown Youkilis the slider he was all set up for instead of that high fastball. If only the Yankees could try to hit the ball to the opposite field. If only the Fan had picked the Brewers or the Mets. 9-6 on the day isn't bad though. And it's good to be home.

Speaking of home, many of the Fan's writing buddies are urging that this site be moved to Word Press instead of using Blogger. We'll see. It's hard to beat Blogger for ease of use and for the backing of Google as Blogger's search engine.

So how does Saturday look?

  • The Marlins over the Nationals: Somehow, the return of Logan Morrison escaped this writer's attention. But there he was last night and he hit a homer. His return just adds to that line up. Anibal Sanchez versus Livan Hernandez.
  • The Indians over the Mariners: How can you pick against the Indians at home? What a story this is turning out to be! Erik Bedard has his worst start of the year against the Indians but has pitched fairly well his last three times out. Alex White is a wild card for the Indians, but again, how can you pick against them?
  • The Braves over the Phillies: Joe Blanton's elbow is a problem. Jair Jurrjens has been very good. The Braves should win this one.
  • The Rockies over the Padres: Aaron Harang relies on movement. Colorado is where such pitchers go to die. Jhoulys Chacin with the win.
  • The White Sox over the Athletics: The White Sox match up well in this series and Gavin Floyd (if his foot is healthy enough) should neutralize the A's bats enough to give Tyson Ross the hard luck loss.
  • The Mets over the Astros: R. A. Dickey hasn't been great, but David Wright is starting to hit and the Astros can't hit much at all. J. A. Happ goes for the Astros. Happ has one win in his last seven starts.
  • The Rangers over the Angels: Dan Haren is really good. But the Rangers already beat Jared Weaver. Derek Holland must hold the Angels to four runs or less to let the Rangers' bats win the game.
  • The Bay Rays over the Orioles: Brad Bergesen hasn't been good so far this year and he didn't pitch well against the Bay Rays in his last start against them. This Fan is still concerned about Wade Davis and his velocity, but he's pitching well at home.
  • The Tigers over the Royals: Can Brad Penny continue to pitch well? Who knows. If he does, the Tigers win. If he doesn't, well, we'll see what the Tigers can do against Jeff Francis, who hasn't won a game yet.
  • The Brewers over the Pirates: A suspect pitching match up of Chris Narveson versus Jeff Karstens seems to cancel each other out. When the pitchers are evenly matched, always go with the better offense.
  • The Cardinals over the Reds: Kyle McClellan is 5-0, but his K/BB ratio is a little bit of a concern. Johnny Cueto was really good his last time out, but let's see how he rebounds in his next start. 
  • The Blue Jays over the Twins: It's difficult adjusting to the Twins as the new Royals of the Central division. Jose Bautista is still mashing and that should be enough over Nick Blackburn. Jo-Jo Reyes hasn't won a game this season. Perhaps this will be the one.
  • The Dodgers over the Diamondbacks: Josh Collmenter has been a great story, but this is his first start in the big leagues against the Dodgers who are home. Clay Billingsley gets the win.
  • The Yankees over the Red Sox: C. C. Sabathia hasn't had a dominant start yet this season. He needs one to win this game at home. Josh Beckett blew the Yankees out of the water his last time out. The Yankees will be looking for revenge.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Giants over the Cubs: Ryan Vogelsong has been singing a fine tune for the Giants. Meanwhile, Doug Davis is making his first start since last year. Not good.

Yesterday: 9-6
Week: 39-35
Month: 88-82
Season: 300-266
Games of the Day: 22-22  (back to .500 finally)

Friday, May 13, 2011

Why Isn't It Working!

Technology has changed our lives and unless you are Amish (wonderful people by the way), computers and the Internet are part of that change. Many of us make our livings that are totally dependent on this technology. Is the Fan the only one totally schizoid about our banking being totally run by computers? Social Media is the latest chapter in this technological evolution. Millions of us are communicating with voices all our own. But what happens when it doesn't work? What if the power goes out? What if the blogging tool of our choice goes down for a long period of time? What if Twitter kept popping up a "Twitter is over capacity" message for days instead of minutes? We get on and we want things to work. We don't want problems. And when it doesn't work, boy are we angry. Being a Fan isn't too much different. We want our ballplayers to "work." In other words, work is defined here as, "playing as expected." Playing above expectation is a bonus. But under expectation? That is a problem.

And thus we fans are like those of us who use Blogger for our blog host. Every blip is a personal affront. Every out or outage is met with increasing scorn and frustration. Fans are frustrated that Derek Jeter, Ryan Dempster, Ryan Franklin, Jorge Posada, John Lackey, Carl Crawford, Vernon Wells, Buster Posey, Carl Pavano, Dan Uggla, Hanley Ramirez and so many others fail to live up to expectations. With the instantaneousness of Twitter, we become a bandwagon of antipathy for those players as early slumps continue to plague them. Often that frustration turns into booing.

Imagine for a moment that you were that ballplayer. Imagine the pressure building up inside because the performance on the field is no where as easy as what it should be. Imagine thousands of Twitter accounts blasting your every ground ball, foul pop up and strikeout. Josh Thole, the young catcher for the Mets recently deactivated his Twitter account because he was getting blasted for his performance. Imagine thousands of home town fans booing you when it's not working? Imagine that team market getting into a frenzy because we writers need interesting things to write about and there are none more interesting than failure?

Yes, you say, all that is true, but they are living the good life. The players get pampered and paid well and should expect whatever treatment we give them. We, after all, pay their salaries. But behind the money and the gratuitous lifestyles and the entitlements, are real people...human beings. Nearly every major league player was the star of their high school team. They grew up with no-hitters and batting .500 for the season. Suddenly, they get to the top of their profession and they are 50 percent more likely to fail than before. And when you make it to the top, there's always someone younger and cheaper just itching to take your place.

The Fan has decided to give Blogger and Twitter the same kind of grace today. Yeah, the old ulcers flared inside today when no posts were available to this site's readers. It's taken a long time to build up the kind of traffic this site now receives. That was hard work and commitment to doing this as well as possible. It doesn't take long for people to take their eyes and mouse clicks somewhere else.

But let's face it, nobody has had a more stressful couple of days than the team over at Blogger. This Fan created the customer service team for a software company. It was hard enough when the technology broke down and 40,000 people--customers--were unhappy. Imagine multiplying that by a factor of ten, or a hundred! Can you only imagine the panic that was going on in that war room? Twitter has 30 million users. Imagine keeping those servers running smoothly! It's staggering to think about. In many ways, these products are the victims of their own success. It happens.

So the Fan has to admit yelling a few times, "Why isn't it WORKING!?" A few colorful words were hurled in Blogger's direction. And once Blogger finally came back up, Twitter hiccuped. ARRRRrrrggghh! Perhaps it takes the wisdom a more than a couple of decades on this planet to take a step back once in a while and understand that crap happens, even to the best of products...and of players. It takes a smile of hindsight to understand that those ballplayers and the people of Blogger and Twitter have been shouting the exact same phrase.

Game Picks - Friday: May 13, 2011

Since Blogger had its, by now, famous fiasco, today's picks are over here. Thanks for hanging in there. And thanks  to C70 At The Bat for allowing the post to go over there.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Eleven Time Zero Equals Zero

There is no end to the fun one can have by playing in's Play Index. To say that this premium feature of the site is worth every penny that's paid for it, is an understatement. One such search this morning led to what seems to be a very fun fact. These findings are not only interesting, but they may be interesting to those who play fantasy baseball. Though, as you are about to see, the groans they utter at these findings won't be big news if they have these players on their fantasy teams. This little post is about players who contributed zero to their team's offense for a significant chunk of the season.

First of all, you won't find Jorge Posada on this list of woe. His ability to at least walk regularly takes him out of the mix. This find was all about finding players who had the most amount of games so far where they didn't provide a hit, a walk or even a hit by pitch. They drove in no runs. The search was also going to include no sacrifice bunts. But since the Fan ran out of room on his search there was no way to preclude that statistic in these findings. But, that's just as well because this Fan hates sacrifice bunts and never thinks giving up an out is worth the trouble. The Yankees again proved this fact out when they encountered Soria down by a run in the bottom of the tenth inning last night. Soria couldn't find the strike zone if he had a halogen lantern. He walked Russell Martin on four pitches and none were close. The Yankees insisted in having Brett Gardner sacrifice instead of waiting out Soria. They even did so when Soria fell behind in the count. Gardner got his sacrifice, but the Yankees only tied the score instead of winning the game which another out might have given them.

But wait, the Fan got seriously off track there. That's what talking about bunts will do. Anyway, the following list are those players who lead the majors in games where they got at least four plate appearances and did nothing...nothing at all.

The leaders at eleven games each: Vernon Wells and Dan Uggla. Both players were acquired by their present teams (The Angels and Braves respectively) to boost the offense. And yet both have managed to play at least thirty-two percent of their games while offering absolutely no offense. Oh, perhaps they might have moved a runner along with the old saw about hitting it to the right side with a runner on second. Somebody needs to study if that is really valuable or not. But other than those instances, these two guys, who were acquired for offense have each had eleven games where they were notably absent from that offense. Wells has an OPS+ of 48 so far this season. Ugly. Dan Uggla has an OPS+ of 84. Hardly what those teams were hoping for. But there is a lot of season left.

Those just behind with ten games of nothingness: Juan Pierre, Austin Jackson, Ryan Ludwick, Dan Johnson, Carl Crawford, Chone Figgins, Mark Ellis and Ian Desmond. It must surely suck for those who root for the White Sox and Tigers that their lead off guys are on this list. Their sole job is to get on base, right? Yet, in thirty percent of their games, they have been invisible. Both Jackson and Pierre have some amazing statistics. Jackson has already struck out fifty times. He's well on pace for 200 or more. Pierre, once he does get on base, has managed to get thrown out stealing eight times in fourteen attempts. So when he finally gets on base, he doesn't stay there. Of all the people on either list, only Dan Johnson has lost playing time.

Just for reference, the leaders last year in games where the player offered no hits, no walks, no hit by pitches and no RBIs were Carlos Lee (38), Miguel Tejada (37), Garrett Jones (36) and Aaron Hill (30).

Game Picks - Thursday: May 12, 2011

This week has slipped off the tracks. What started out as a joy ride is now turning into a train wreck. And it could have been even worse if the Athletics hadn't the worst luck on the planet. There they were jumping all over Texas to build a 7-0 lead when the rains came and washed all their hard work away. This game picker can feel their pain. There was no end to the crapfest as the day started out 0-7! The Yankees went to extra innings and then said, screw it, and put in their worst pitchers to get the game over with. Thanks for trying, guys. Tim Hudson had nothing. Jake Westbrook had nothing. The Pirates had nothing. The Brewers pitching was so bad that the Padres had 23 hits. The Padres!? 23 hits!? The Orioles were better than Felix Hernandez. The Reds can't seem to win consistently. And the Twins just might never win another game. This time, the West Coast saved the day. Well, it still sucked, but it could have sucked much worse. At least Jesse Litsch gave the Fan a moment to feel good about.

Thursday has the shortest schedule we've seen so far this season with only eight games on the schedule. Let's see if the Fan can get the training wheels back on at least:

  • The Bay Rays over the Indians: So sad to hear that Sizemore is going to have an MRI for his knee. Some times the world just isn't fair. Meanwhile, Shields has been fantastic and faces the equally fantastic Justin Masterson. One of them has to win.
  • The Cardinals over the Cubs: This is hard to admit, but the Cardinals are not the same without Tony LaRussa in the dugout. But Jaime Garcia should be better than Casey Coleman.
  • The Rockies over the Mets: The same pitchers that were scheduled in the postponed game are pitching today. Ubaldo Jiminez still beats Jonathan Niese.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Giants: Daniel Hudson has been ice lately. He should show less cracks than Matt Cain, a worthy opponent. 
  • The Yankees over the Royals: Ivan Nova certainly doesn't inspire the greatest of confidence and the Yankees capitulation in the game last night was like throwing a challenge on Survivor. But Nova should beat Sean O'Sullivan.
  • The Pirates over the Dodgers: At least in Jon Garland, the Pirates have a chance to score some runs. The Fan doesn't quite believe in Charlie Morton's 4-1 record and his ERA. But there you have it.
  • The Nationals over the Braves: Just last week, the Braves looked like they were ready to take on the world. This week, they don't look ready to take on even the Nationals. Zimmermann keeps the Nats in the game long enough to beat Derek Lowe and his foot blisters.

And the Game of the Day

  • The Orioles over the Mariners: Okay, the Fan will say it: The Orioles are a different team with J. J. Hardy on the field. Okay, commence smiling. But this Fan believes that. Plus, Zach Britton should beat Jason Vargas.

Yesterday: 5-8
Week: 27-25
Month: 76-72
Season; 288-256
Games of the Day: 20-22

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Mariano Rivera Defies Logic

At the age of 41, Mariano Rivera is currently on pace for 61 saves this season. Yes, we all know that "Saves" are an overblown statistic. Yes, we know logically that pitching one inning in the ninth inning isn't that much more important than pitching well in any other inning. But geez, you know, this writer keeps coming back to teams that have trouble finishing games out. The Mariners lost yesterday because of their closer. And that was after the Orioles blew their own save. The Cardinals would have the best record in baseball if not for blown saves. The Astros lost a handful of games because their closer couldn't get the job done. But year after year, Mariano Rivera gets the job done.

And then you listen to former Yankees who provide color commentary for the YES Network say repeatedly that there would have been no Yankee dynasty without Rivera. And you watch game after game where seemingly every pitch hits the catcher's target with pinpoint precision. You see guys like Eric Hosmer get his first look at Rivera last night. Rivera made a mistake during Hosmer's at bat and left a pitch right in Hosmer's wheelhouse. Hosmer swung and missed it. You watch this guy game after game throw those same two types of fastballs and nothing else and 99 percent of the time, it's a lock. It's simply amazing.

And what of Rivera's influence on the game? Before Mariano Rivera, you never heard much about a cut fastball. Now it's a deadly pitch in Roy Halladay's arsenal. It's a big pitch for Jon Lester. Cut fastballs are everywhere now. The pitch has become this era's hot pitch much like the split-fingered pitch became the big thing after Bruce Sutter. What about the psyche of apposing teams who feel like they have to get ahead of the Yankees before the late innings because they have no confidence that the Yankees will blow a lead late?

This writer is definitely split on the subject of closers. The Fan is on record in saying that a closer should never win a Cy Young Award. There is simply no way that the value of an inning a game and 70 innings a season is higher than the value of a good starting pitcher with 220 innings. This Fan knows that the "save" is a flawed statistic and one worthy of the scorn of analysts. At the same time, dominant closers change the dynamic of the games they participate in. Teams don't want to relinquish a lead late to Rivera and whatever other closer is hot in any given season.

And the other thing about the great Mariano Rivera is his consistency. People talk all the time about relievers having good and bad years. People mention how creating a good bullpen is one part luck and one part timing. Guys like Brad Lidge, Jonathan Papelbon, Jonathan Broxton, Bobby Jenks and others come and go and are effective and then they're not. And always, there's Mariano Rivera doing the same thing season after season.

Mariano Rivera's highest homer per nine inning ratio since 1995 was in 2009 when it was 0.95. In every other season, it's never been higher than 0.63 and the figure sits at 0.48 for his career. He hasn't given up a single homer this year. At the age of 41, Rivera has a seven to one strikeout to walk ratio. When Rivera walks someone, it's always a surprise. His walks per nine innings this year is 1.08. Rivera has a career BABIP against of .261. That's a lot of bad contact. In the last five seasons (including the present one), Rivera has averaged twelve pitches an inning. Twelve! Amazing.

It is probable that Rivera won't get 61 saves. For one thing, the Yankees' offense hasn't really gotten rolling yet and when they do, there are a lot more laughers and less need for a save. But he does have an outside chance of catching Trevor Hoffman by year's end in career saves. But even having the conversation at his age with just two types of fastballs as his only weapons, is a phenomenon in and of itself.

So yes, the save is not a well-respected statistic. Yes, it is overrated. Yes, a team is going to win 91% of all games they head into the ninth with a lead. But after saying all of that, Mariano Rivera is the most fascinating and amazing athlete this Fan has ever watched. In fact, the legend of Rivera is so big in this writer's mind that each time he pitches, there is a cringe that this might finally be the day that Rivera bows to age and becomes human. The legend is so large that the Fan wants Rivera to walk off into the sunset intact. The man's dignity and grace are just as high on the scale as his amazing longevity and success. There has been no one like him. And that's how the Fan wants him to remain.

Game Picks - Wednesday: May 11, 2011

Yesterday's post featured a strange dream that made the day start earlier than planned. Perhaps picking games after such a dream caused temporary insanity as the picks had a bad night. It's a shame because the week was off to a flying start. Those plucky Cleveland Indians caused one of those bad picks with another thrilling win. In hindsight, picking the Astros and the Pirates was a bit of...well...insanity. The Nationals had a surprising uprising against Tim Hudson and the Braves. But bad defense was the culprit there. The big duel of Josh Johnson and Roy Halladay went exactly as predicted here with Halladay indeed lasting longer. But Halladay lost when the Marlins' Coghlan hit the game winning single. It was a thrilling night of baseball. Which, at the end of the day is a lot more important than these silly picks.

Wednesday's picks:

  • The Twins over the Tigers: Yes. The Twins win behind that fabulous Baker boy simply because Phil Coke simply shouldn't be in the starting rotation.
  • The Brewers over the Padres: Tim Stauffer has made seven starts and has pitched great, but he only has one decision, a loss. That kind of luck won't help as he gives up a few runs to the Brewers who have a mini-roll going. Randy Wolf goes for the Brewers.
  • The Reds over the Astros: The Astros can't hit. Period. So it won't matter how good Wandy Rodriguez pitches. It won't matter at all. Edinson Voquez goes for the Reds.
  • The Athletics over the Rangers: Gio Gonzalez pitches a gem and Matt Harrison is heading in the wrong direction after a hot start.
  • The Rockies over the Mets: Ike Davis is important to the Mets and he is out of the line up. Ubaldo Jiminez gets his first win over Jonathan Niese.
  • The Yankees over the Royals: Vin Mazzaro makes his first start in the majors and A. J. Burnett is always a knuckle biter. In the end, the Yankees' offense wins the day.
  • The Pirates over the Dodgers: Yeah, this is probably a stupid pick. But Paul Maholm has been keeping his team in the game and Kuroda is on a home run allowing jag.
  • The Mariners over the Orioles: It's nice to see J. J. Hardy back for the Orioles. He tightens their defense immeasurably. But this Fan just can't see Chris Tillman beating Felix Hernandez.
  • The Bay Rays over the Indians: On paper, David Price versus Carlos Carrasco is a mismatch. Thinking here is that paper will transfer to the field.
  • The Blue Jays over the Red Sox: Jose Bautista and company will jump all over John Lackey while Jesse Litsch gives the Blue Jays a chance to win.
  • The Marlins over the Phillies: After last night's giddy win, the Marlins throw out Ricky Nolasco, who can strike out ten Phillies if he's on. Cliff Lee can be had early. Nolasco has to be good for this pick to win.
  • The Cubs over the Cardinals: This was is simply based on the feeling that Matt Garza will come up big and that Jake Westbrook will bend enough to give the Cubs a win.
  • The White Sox over the Angels: This pick is simply a wish that Jake Peavy comes back strong. You have to root for him even when it isn't logical. Tyler Chatwood is a pretty good pitcher though.
  • The Giants over the Diamondbacks: Jonathan Sanchez pitches much better at home and the Giants should score a few off of Galarraga.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Braves over the Nationals: The Braves get back on track with big Tommy Hanson mowing down Nat's hitters while the Braves score four or five off of John Lannon.

Yesterday: 6-9
Week: 22-17
Month; 71-64
Season: 283-247
Games of the Day: 20-21

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Minnesota Twins Are Really Bad

The baseball world has been tossed on its head so far this season. The Pirates are over .500 and sit only two games back of the first place Cardinals. The Pirates have a better record than the Texas Rangers, who are currently under .500. The AL East and the NL East are playing out pretty much as expected. But over in the American League Central division, there seems to be a new world order. The Indians are in first place. The Royals are in second. The Tigers are making a move lately and are in third. And there at the bottom are the Minnesota Twins and the White Sox. Those two last teams are a combined 26-43. A win by the White Sox on Monday night pushed them ahead of the Twins and left the Twins in last place and gasping for air.

How bad are the Twins? They are in last place in the majors in OPS+. They are in next to last place in the majors in ERA+. Can they at least field? Well, they are in the bottom half of those metrics as well in both fielding percentage and defensive efficiency. If it wasn't for Denard Span, who by all fielding systems, is having a great defensive seasons, it would be much worse. You are not going to win a lot of games if you have the worst hitting in the majors and the next to worst pitching and your defense is suspect.

Last night, they got a great pitching performance from Nick Blackburn and the bullpen but could only score one run in eleven innings and eventually lost to the Boston Red Sox. The loss gave the Twins the worst record in baseball if you go by winning percentage. Ouch.

And we're talking about a team that has been in the playoffs for six of the last ten years including the last two. Are they this bad? Have they fallen this hard? Is this finally an indictment of their system which has been built to get to the playoffs but can never win them? Maybe.

Did this writer have concerns that were pointed out before the season started about the make up of this team? Yes. Indeed. Like the White Sox in 2010, the Twins made some decisions over the off season that were baffling. They are a team that famously preaches pitching to contact. But then the moves they made over the off season weakened their defense. If you pitch to contact, you have to catch the ball and throw it accurately. They also re-signed a couple of players that gave them good seasons last year but were questionable going forward because of age. Jim Thome and Carl Pavano have not been effective.

The infield has been a mess. Starting the season with Alexi Casilla at short was a huge mistake. Their big off season acquisition of Tsuyoshi Nishioka really didn't get off the ground since he broke his leg in his sixth game in the majors. But the signs were pointing to a problem as he had poor fundamentals in the field and was having trouble adjusting to major league pitching. Danny Valencia at third was such a nice find last year that much was expected of him this year. To this point, he hasn't had a good season. He is showing signs of offensive life lately though. And Justin Morneau still hasn't gotten back to where he was before his concussion.

How bad offensively has the Twins' infield been so far? Their slash line at shortstop so far is: .200/.267/.305. Their slash line at second base is: .161/.188/.226. Yowza, that's bad. Third base has been manned by Valencia fairly consistently. The Twins' slash line there is: .230/.304/.363. And first basemen (mostly Morneau) have a slash line of .252./.308/.398. That's not the kind of production you want from the first base position. And the infield isn't the only problem.

The DH has been disappointing after offering to be a strength when the season started. The slash line there is: .220/.298/.339. Left field has been a problem. The slash line there has been: .216/.276/.259. Yeesh. Certainly, the loss of Delmon Young to injury hasn't helped, but it's not like he was producing anyway. His OPS in sixteen games was .566.

Joe Mauer's inability to get on the field hasn't helped at all. Certainly, if he has been in the line up, they'd have a few more wins. The catchers that have struggled to replace him have a combined slash line of: .149/.203/.184. Whoof. That's bad.

So if you put all those numbers together, it adds up to a pile of losses and no offensive production. All of the five teams in front of them in offensive numbers are National League teams where the pitchers hit and there is no DH. Would anyone have thought that this year's Twins would take the Mariners' place as the worst offense in baseball?

A strong case can be made that injuries have played a part of those numbers. Mauer hasn't played (rendering the catch phrase of, "Well played, Mauer. Well played," a bit ironic). You could say that Justin Morneau's lack of production comes from recurring fallout from his concussion. As mentioned, Delmon Young has missed a chunk of time. Nishioka has been out since the sixth game of the season. Jim Thome has missed a chunk of time. The Twins offense should improve if all those players come back. But will it be too late by then?

Another culprit might be their ballpark. When a ballpark is that big and knocks out a team's power, you need a different kind of team. You need one that has speed and can run and do those little things to score runs in other ways. Only two teams in the AL have less stolen bases. Batters leading off the game have a .172 batting average and a .250 on base percentage. Batters leading off innings have a .214 batting average and a .298 on base percentage. Big ballparks require on base percentage to offset the lack of power production.

And the pitching isn't what the Twins expected. Again, the pitching to contact and walking few batters has been the mantra. The last two years, the Twins have been tenth of fourteen teams in strikeouts. But they have also been first in walks allowed. This year, they are last in the AL in strikeouts and only eighth best in preventing walks. This has backfired to the point that "pitching to contact" has become the butt of jokes on Twitter.

That "contact" has led to a lot of homers allowed. Four of their five starters have given up over a homer per nine innings. Only Brian Duensing has kept the ball in the yard effectively. The team is tenth of fourteen teams in homers allowed thus far.

The biggest concern the Twins must have is the walks. Of the starters, only Liriano has been really bad in that department. But in the bullpen, walks are rampant. If you add the starters and the relievers together, the staff is giving up 1.453 walks plus hits per innings pitched. That's not a good number at all. To put that into perspective, the entire team is allowing as many base runners per inning as Carl Pavano. And we all know what kind of season Pavano is having.

Is there any hope for the Twins? Sure. When get their injured players back and if Pavano gets on track and Liriano gets on track, they can play a lot better than they are playing now. But the bottom line is that the playoff chances seem remote. It's possible. If the Twins play .600 ball from now until the end of the season, they'd finish with 89 wins. But, there are just too many teams playing well ahead of them and the White Sox are sure to improve as the season goes along. It will be strange if the Twins don't make the playoffs. The Yankees will be sad if they make the playoffs and the Twins don't. But there is a strong possibility that this Twins team will be sitting home a lot earlier than they are used to in October.

Game Picks - Tuesday: May 10, 2011

Imagine if you had this dream that woke you up at 4:30 in the morning: The White Sox were playing the Mariners and scored twenty runs off of Pineda in the first inning. A beanball war ensued and the White Sox lost so many players that they had to forfeit. Isn't that a weird way to start a day? What does that dream say about the 2011 season or this writer's obsession with baseball this season? Crazy.

Last night started with two straight incorrect picks. The Pittsburgh Pirates rode some poor umpiring en route to their first foray above .500 in a mighty long time. And the Tigers jumped on Brandon Morrow and then jumped harder on the Blue Jays' bullpen to the tune of ten total runs. The recent pattern was to get the early games correct and then watch the day crumble with the late games. But the trend reversed last night and the picks went 5-1 the rest of the way with the White Sox win over the Angels the only other blemish. Not bad.

Tuesday brings us back to a full slate of games. What a wonderful thing (unless it gives you nightmares). Here are Tuesday's picks:

  • The Yankees over the Royals: While this pick is no ringing endorsement of Freddie Garcia, it is heavily a slap at Kyle Davies.
  • The Pirates over the Dodgers: The Pirates two games over .500? It could happen with Correia pitching against familiar West Coast. This is a rematch with Ted Lilly that the Pirates won last time.
  • The Mariners over the Orioles: Uh oh. Michael Pineda is pitching. That dream! Does it foretell of a Pineda meltdown? Nah. The Mariners ride Pineda's arm for a win over Jake Arrieta.
  • The Indians over the Bay Rays: Josh Tomlin is 4-1 with a 2.36 ERA. But he is a home run machine that this writer still doesn't trust. But, he faces Andy Sonnanstine making his first start of the year replacing the injured Niemann. Sonnanstine's career ERA against the Indians? 9.51.
  • The Red Sox over the Blue Jays: It's been painful to watch the Blue Jays melt down into nothingness. Several of this writers favorite blogs are written by Toronto writers and their pain is evident. Their boy, Kyle Drabek runs into Jon Lester tonight. More pain ahead.
  • The Phillies over the Marlins: Here is the match up that everyone has been waiting for: Roy Halladay versus Josh Johnson. Here's why Halladay always wins: He can finish his own game. Johnson can't because he throws too many pitches. Edge: Halladay.
  • The Braves over the Nationals: Jason Marquis has an 8.00 career ERA against the Braves. They match up well against him with all their good right-handed bats. Tim Hudson with the win.
  • The Astros over the Reds: The upset pick of the day. Brett Myers comes up big and the Astros get to Homer Bailey.
  • The Athletics over the Rangers: The Rangers are sinking. They are under .500 as their schedule has been brutal. It gets no easier tonight with Colby Lewis facing the tough Brett Anderson.
  • The Cardinals over the Cubs: Carlos Zambrano has been good. But Chris Carpenter is way due for a big performance and a win.
  • The Tigers over the Twins: It's weird to say that there is more trust at this point for Rick Porcello than for a guy that just threw a no-hitter. But that's the gist of it. Liriano gets the loss.
  • The Rockies over the Mets: Jason Hammel has been seriously good of late. Mike Pelfrey has two quality starts in his last three attempts. But the Rockies win this one.
  • The White Sox over the Angels: That dream! [[shiver]] John Danks is 0-5 despite an ERA under five. It's high time he wins. Joel Pineiro has been good since his return from the DL.
  • The Giants over the Diamondbacks: On any given day, Tim Lincecum can beat anyone...even Ian Kennedy.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Brewers over the Padres: That win by Greinke had to boost the Brewers' confidence. Shaun Marcum continues the good vibe with a win at home over Clayton Richard.

Yesterday: 6-3
Week: 16-8
Month: 65-55
Season: 277-238
Games of the Day: 19-21  Rallying!

Monday, May 09, 2011

The Atlanta Braves Are In Good Shape

The Atlanta Braves currently sit in third place in the National League East and they are looking up at the Phillies, the home of the fearsome foursome, and the Marlins, who have two pitchers who can shut you down every time out. That would normally lead to some pessimism. But in this case, the Braves are in good shape because they started badly as a team and are still within striking distance of the wild card and of even the Phillies.

The Braves currently have the best pitching in the National League. The Phillies were vaunted for their pitching, but one of their Fab Four, Roy Oswalt, has not really joined the party. Worley could be a better fifth starter than Joe Blanton, but Blanton is making good money, so if he is healthy, he'll get the starts. The Braves, on the other hand have been rock solid one through five and can match the Phillies rotation game for game. The Phillies don't have near the bullpen the Braves have. If you are a Philly fan, do you hope that Brad Lidge comes back or do you hope against it? Tough call.

The Marlins have good pitching too. Josh Johnson, Anibal Sanchez and Ricky Nolasco can pile up the wins, but their rotation gets dicey after that. The Marlins have a good bullpen that rivals Atlanta's. But if you look at each team's bullpen, the Braves seem the better bet over the long haul.

The reason for Braves' optimism right now lies in the fact that they can pitch like no one this side of the Oakland Athletics AND their offense has underperformed to this point. Only Chipper Jones and Brian McCann have performed as expected. Well, to be honest, McCann's performance is always expected but Chipper Jones has been a nice surprise being able to play as much as he has. If he can play, he'll perform.

Dan Uggla is not going to finish the season with an 81 OPS+ like he has now. Even in his worst years, he's managed to compile a 111 OPS+. Jayson Heyward has seven homers, but you wouldn't expect him to hit .238 over the course of the season. So he hasn't really gotten going yet. Freddie Freeman is a rookie and you can say that you never know how that will turn out. But Freeman looks like he belongs and his 91 OPS+ is sure to improve along with his .228 batting average. And Martin Prado has compiled an OPS+ over 117 for three straight years. You wouldn't figure him to stay at 95 over the course of the season.

So the offense will pick up. They will have to keep their fingers crossed on Chipper's health. The bench besides Ross and Hinske has been suspect or nonexistent. That will have to get better. Or it means that the team lacks depth if injuries occur. But all in all, you have to expect the offense to pick up significantly. They do not appear to be an offensive team that right now sits in the bottom third of the league in effectiveness.

The Marlins and the Braves are one and two respectively in defensive efficiency so far this season (National League according to The Phillies are fifth. But the Braves have a better fielding percentage than the Marlins. Chipper is the only real liability in that defense. The edge again goes to the Braves.

The Marlins have been a surprise. And that's despite a really slow start for Hanley Ramirez. And unless Ramirez turns into the next B. J. Upton, you'd expect for him to start hitting here soon. But Atlanta has the better overall rotation and should have the better bullpen over time. The Marlins have depended too heavily on guys like Emilio Bonifacio, who is performing well now and will come back to bite them. This Fan also thinks that Fredi Gonzalez is a better manager than Edwin Rodriguez and the Braves have a better front office.

The Phillies have the best overall talent in the division, but that margin isn't as wide as some would think. They should improve if Utley can come back and produce, but overall, they don't appear that much better than the Braves on paper. The Braves put a lot of people to sleep with their 12-15 April. But they are 6-1 in May and just won the series up in Philadelphia. Yes, the Braves are in very good shape and this should be an interesting summer in the NL East!

Game Picks - Monday: May 9, 2011

Sunday was a good day. It started as a great day. The picks were 9-0 at the start. But then Johnny Cueto was brilliant in his return and out-dueled a resurgent Ryan Dempster. And then the West Coast was its usual mess. The rest of the picks ended up going 1-5. But still, 10-5 is something to build on and even the Game of the Day came in with a win. Bonus.

There are nine games on Monday's schedule. Many look like puzzlers. Here's how they look:

  • The Dodgers over the Pirates: The Pirates are at .500! Isn't that cool? This Fan thinks it is. Except, they won't be after today. Chad Billingsley should beat Jeff Karstens.
  • The Blue Jays over the Tigers: What a pitching match up! Brandon Morrow versus Max Scherzer! Morrow will be making his first start since returning from the DL. He won his last time out and looks to be getting stronger. He needs to throw more strikes than last time so he can remain in the game longer. Scherzer has been dominant but is bound to lose some time.
  • The Phillies over the Marlins: This one is a stinker. Joe Blanton is coming off the DL and wasn't effective before he went there. Javier Vazquez doesn't have much left besides guile. The Phillies should wrap his guile around the foul pole a few times.
  • The Reds over the Astros: Aneury Rodriguez pitched five shutout innings in his first start. The trouble is that the Astros' bullpen is trouble if Rodriguez can't go deep in the game. Travis Wood was better his last time out against this same Astros.
  • The Athletics over the Rangers: The Fan probably worked harder on this game than any in recent memory. Two aces battle it out in Trevor Cahill and C. J. Wilson. Cahill has been brilliant in his career against Texas with a 7-2 lifetime mark with a 2.27 ERA. Wilson pitched against the A's twice last year. Was great once and only so-so the other time. Going with Cahill since the Rangers are scuffling.
  • The Brewers over the Padres: Two winless pitchers: Matt Latos versus Zack Greinke. One of them has to win. Thinking it will be Greinke.
  • The Rockies over the Mets: Jhoulys Chacin is more Coors proof than Chris Capuano. Capuano's velocity is slightly down from last year and relies on good movement to fool hitters. His ball shouldn't move as much at Coors.
  • The Angels over the White Sox: Two enigma pitchers in Edwin Jackson and Ervin Santana. And it's probably because they both have nerdy first names. That's just a theory. The Angels are currently the better team, so going with that.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Red Sox over the Twins: Josh Beckett should get Twins hitters out and the Red Sox line up should feast on Neal Blackburn.

Yesterday: 10-5
Week:  10-5
Month: 59-52
Season: 271-235
Games of the Day: 18-21

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Why Is That Shortstop at the Top of the Order?

So why is this shortstop hitting at the top of the batting order? He's only batting .256. His on base percentage is only .310 and he's shown no power. His ISO is sitting at .077. What's he doing at the top of the order? Isn't that stupid? Why does his manager cater to him like that? Shouldn't the manager care more about his team winning than keeping his player happy? He hit into another double-play on Saturday, you say. Don't blame you a bit for your reaction. It is rather silly.

Oh! Did you think that first paragraph was about Derek Jeter? Apologies. No. That paragraph was about Elvis Andrus. Or it could be about Hanley Ramirez, whose ISO is sitting at .078 with an on base percentage of .304.

Again, sorry to disappoint you. It's plain to see that you came here hoping to feast on more of Jeter's hide. The Fan understands. It's the popular thing to do. Let's just sit tight and see how the season plays out, shall we?

Game Picks - Sunday: May 8, 2011

This post is breaking Jethro Gibbs' Rule Number 36: Never post when you're angry. It's late in the basement and bedtime was quite a while ago. But just one game of Hearts before bed was all that was going to be played. But those crummy jerks ganged up three to one and defeated the best Hearts player in the world. As you can tell, this is taken very personal. Those three players are very real to this writer and they work together with the sole purpose of defeating the world's best Hearts player. It doesn't matter which one of them wins. All that matters is that the greatest player doesn't. But skill and smarts eventually won out and ten games later, the master kept his 53 percent win rate despite the dirty cheaters.

By the time the marathon match was over, all the baseball games were over and this game picker was already angry. Going through the scores and comparing them to the picks didn't help the anger pattern already seething inside. It was a day barely over .500. The Game of the Day feature lost AGAIN! How can Jared Weaver lose? How can the Indians keep winning? How can Joe Girardi bring Boone Logan in to start an inning? Why would Yovani Gallardo pick today to finally find his killer form? How could the Fan have picked the Astros and the Mariners? Why, why, why!? [[GACK...CHOKE...SPUTTER]]

Okay.  The temper is under control. Deep breaths have been taken. And here are Sunday's picks because there's no way this picker will be up in time in the morning to write them:

  • The Tigers over the Blue Jays: Brad Penny has laughed in this picker's face twice in the last two weeks as the portly partier has had two great outings out of three. He faces Jo-Jo Reyes who couldn't buy a win if he had enough money to buy one more "Jo" in his name. Of course, this whole thing will probably get screwed up by Bautista suddenly showing up to play and hitting three homers off of Penny. Arrgghhh. There goes the temper again.
  • The Dodgers over the Mets: Speaking of Reyes, Jose Reyes is playing out of his mind right now. The Fan is counting on Clayton Kershaw to come up big and for Ethier to start another hit streak off of R. A. Dickey. But Dickey will probably throw floaters all day and Kemp and company will look like fly swatters. This isn't helping.
  • The Marlins over the Nationals: Livan, Livan, Livan. Just that name strikes terror into the heart of this picker. What the heck will he do this time out? What the heck will Anibal Sanchez do? He throws one-hitters and then walks the farm. Who the heck knows. The Fan should have gone to bed. The heck with your early picks!
  • The Pirates over the Astros: "James McDonald has an arm, EEE Eye EEe Eye Oh." McDonald was terrible to start the season. Now he's great. So which one is it? Golly. "And against the arm is J. A. Happ, EEE Eye EEE Eye Oh...crap."
  • The Red Sox over the Twins: And what to do with this game? Pavano has been lit up like Hong Kong's downtown. Matsuzaka was terrible, then he was the best pitcher in baseball and then he was terrible. And that's just this season. Can't get a break here.
  • The Bay Rays over the Orioles: Wade Davis has a 2.70 ERA. But if you dig deeper, you find that his fastball has lost velocity and is flatter than a pancake. Then again, he is facing Brazen Brad Bergesen who hasn't won a game and Longoria is back. Cripes!
  • The Athletics over the Royals: Another lovely game. Jeff Francis has not been fine to say the least. But he faces a weak offense. Tyler Ross has been terrific but never gets run support. Can we have at least one easy pick in here somewhere?
  • The Cardinals over the Brewers: Kyle McClellan hasn't lost and looks great every time out. Chris Narveson has given up a billion runs in his last billion innings. But of course, you watch. Narveson will be lights out and this pick will look mighty stupid.
  • The Cubs over the Reds: Man! This is awful. Ryan Dempster was in the deepest dumpster to start the season. Then suddenly he had a very good game. But he hardly struck out anyone. Johnny Cueto is making his first start of the year after being on the disabled list and hardly looked pretty in his rehab starts. How do you pick this stuff?
  • The Indians over the Angels: The Angels already lost to the Indians with Weaver. Why should we believe that Dan Haren will fare any better? Fausto Carmona with the win.
  • The Padres over the Diamondbacks: Even the Padres should hit Joe Saunders. Aaron Harang has been bad of late. Let's hope he rebounds in this game. Well, D-back fans won't be hoping that. Understood.
  • The Rockies over the Giants: Jorge de la Rosa has been terrific and Ryan Vogelsong will be out of tune.
  • The Mariners over the White Sox: Jimminy Crickets, no breaks at all here. Mark Buehrle can be good or he can be crappy. Erik Bedard pitched his heart out last time and still got a no decision. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrr!
  • The Phillies over the Braves: Cole Hamels has been better than Cliff Lee and Jair Jurrjens has been more tricky than powerful in his fine start. The Phillies always seem to find a way.

And the stinking Game of the stinking Day!

  • The Yankees over the Rangers: C. C. Sabathia should be his usual fine self. If Ogando starts, it will be a miracle because he has a blister under his nail. Ouch. His replacement will be Dave Bush. Double ouch. But the way this year is going, Bush will throw the game of his life or something.

Yesterday: 8-7
Last Week: 49-47 [eyeroll]
Month: 49-47
Season: 261-230
Games of the Freakin' Day: 17-20