4-24-09: DFTU

Hello again everybody...

We've made it to the end of yet another week. My job's one of those where some weeks it feels like I'm stealing money, and other weeks it feels like I've earned every penny. This week felt more like the latter. I couldn't even tell you why specifically, all I know is I'm thoroughly ready for the weekend.

Which mostly means that I'm praying that today doesn't drag along too slowly!

To help me (and hopefully by extension, you) pass the time a little more quickly, I've got a satisfactory helping of some DFTU on the way for you. Not a brilliant start for my two favorite clubs, but as the Hammer would say, "It's way too early to panic."

Let's throw some strikes and put the ball in play!

"All the world's a stage and most of us are desperately unrehearsed."
- Sean O'Casey (1880 - 1964), Irish dramatist and memoirist

I'm not entirely sure what a "memoirist" does. Obviously he could write his own memoirs. But then isn't everyone a memoirist? Did he edit other memoirs? Did people pay him for stories to fill their own memoirs like J. Peterman did with Kramer? And if so, did he start his own "J. Peterman Reality Tour"-like business? These are the things I think about on a Friday.

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Well, that and the single greatest segment in the history of the modern American blogosphere! That's right, you've waited all week for it, and now it's time once again for everybody's favorite segment:

Dan's Favorite Teams Update

Minnesota Twins: The Twins are 7-9 and in 4th place in the AL Central. They're 1.5 games behind the 3-way tie for first.

Okay, 7-9 isn't the start I would've liked from my World Champion pick. But there are several reasons that this start doesn't have me terribly panicked.

Let's start with the starting pitching. Francisco Liriano is 0-4 with a 7.09 ERA. Scott Baker is 0-2 with a 12.46 ERA. Those are god-awful numbers for your top two starters. Worse, neither guy is averaging more than 5 innings pitched per game, which means the bullpen has been seeing more work than you'd like. And we've already seen the results of that with Jesse Crain's trip to the DL.

So why am I not more worried? I'll start with the fact that Glen Perkins is 1-1 with a 1.50 ERA, and Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn are both averaging 6.5 innings pitched per game. So as much as the front end of the rotation is stressing the bullpen, the back end has made up for it a little bit.

Then I'll point to the fact that it's only April. Baker's still coming back from shoulder stiffness and is having trouble keeping the ball down in the strike zone. As long as he's not still hurt - and I'm not convinced that he's not - he'll figure that out. Liriano? He's shown flashes of his dominant form, and then turned around and gotten shelled an inning later. All I can do is hope that he finds some consistency as he gets stretched out.

Then there's the hitting. I don't want to be one of those fans who says, "Joe Mauer's out. When he comes back, everything will be okay." I don't think it's nearly that simple. That being said, when you lose a 2-time batting champion from your line-up, it's bound to have an effect. The trick is to not expect a switch to flip upon his return. It'll take time for him to settle into the line-up, and you know they'll be careful with his playing time to make sure his back is okay.

I'm actually pretty optimistic about the offense. Jason Kubel's starting to emerge. Denard Span has shaken off the tough Spring he had. And Justin Morneau is hitting .333 with 3 home runs and 11 RBI. Throw the Baby Jesus (everybody loves the Baby Jesus, and everybody loves Joe Mauer) in the middle of that grouping, and you've got a pretty scary top-half of a lineup.

Lastly there's the bullpen. I'm not worried about the late innings. Joe Nathan is as good as it gets in the 9th. And now that Jose Mijares seems to have realized that mixing in a salad is a solid move (do as I say, not as I do), I think the 8th inning spot will sort itself out. It's the 6th and 7th innings that scare the devil out of me. R.A. Dickey will be fine as the "our starter's getting shelled and we need someone to eat up some innings" guy. But when the Twins are in a game and need someone to come in the 6th or 7th and hold the other guys down, I don't know who they can turn to.

Matt Guerrier is the guy you'd like to take that role, but he's got a 6.23 ERA and a very average 1.154 WHIP. Craig Breslow is another option now that Mijares looks to be taking over the 8th inning role, but you'd rather have him available in a "situational" role where he could come in when you need to get one or two specific lefty's out. That leaves Luis Ayala who's had a roller coaster of an April and Juan Morillo who I wouldn't trust even if the Twins were down 10 runs.

(Aside: Every time this Morillo kid throws, I flash back to "Bull Durham" when Crash Davis says to a hitter, "I wouldn't dig in if I were you. I have no idea where it's going. I swear to God." Morillo throws hard. But nobody has a clue where it's going once he lets go of the ball. Maybe Rick Anderson can get him settled down, but until he does, I don't want this kid in any kind of important situation.)

So perhaps one or two guys will emerge and take hold of that middle-inning role, but I fear the club's going to have to go outside the organization to find that guy. Fortunately, they have a lot of depth in other areas which they can use to make a move. They just have to make the decision to pull the trigger.

As I said earlier, it's just April. There's a lot of baseball to be played. So far it's been frustrating as a Twins fan, but I like their chances to settle in and get on a run soon.

Minnesota starts a 3-game set in Cleveland tonight, then they come back home for three more with last year's AL pennant winner, Tampa Bay.

Arizona Diamondbacks: The Snakes are 6-9 and in 4th place in the NL West, 4.5 games behind the L.A. Dodgers.

Also not a good start by Arizona. Unfortunately for my "other favorite team", they reside in a division where someone else has run out to a hot start. As I feared, the Dodgers are hitting everything in sight and getting "better than expected" pitching from their starters.

Again, there's a long way to go. But in the case of the D'backs, they sort of are what they are: an inconsistent offensive team with a shaky bullpen.

But let me try and find some positives. First, Dan Haren is off to an incredible start. If Arizona could produce any offense for him, he'd be off to the kind of start that Brandon Webb had last year. Instead, the team's scoring an average of 0.75 runs over his 4 starts. To put it in perspective, his average run support last year was 5.25 runs per game. It's only 4 starts, so I have to figure the offense will balance out for him at some point, but you hate to waste the 1.38 ERA that he's put up so far.

Second, Brandon Webb is on the DL. Wait, that's a positive?! It is in this sense: Arizona's still around .500 and Webb hasn't made a fully-healthy start yet. If the shoulder problems he's been having aren't serious and the rest he's had works them out, then you're going to add a Cy Young winner to your rotation in a couple of weeks. That's none too shabby.

Third, Stephen Drew started out red-hot before he tweaked his hamstring. That's a similar positive to Webb's in that he'll be back and healthy sooner or later, and hopefully it'll help stabilize the offense when he does.

Finally, while the bullpen has some shaky spots, like the Twins, the back-half is pretty good. Chad Qualls has surprised me by being a fairly reliable closer. He's 4-for-5 in save opportunities and has a 3.00 ERA. Tony Pena has nailed down the 8th inning role. And coming soon to a D'backs game near you: Flash! That's right, Tom Gordon is making yet another come back and it sounds like manager Bob Melvin is ready to immediately insert him into the 7th inning role as soon as Gordon completes his minor league assignment.

So if the D'backs can get their bullpen stabilized and get a few of these guys back healthy, there's room for improvement. I'm still not sure they have enough to catch the Dodgers (damn you Manny... damn you!), but with the starting pitching Arizona has, anything's possible.

The Snakes start a 6-game home stand tonight as they host the San Francisco Giants (Tim Lincecum alert tonight!), followed by a visit from the Chicago Cubs (how are you liking that Milton Bradley acquisition now Cubs fans?).

That's all for today ladies and gents. Have yourselves a fun and safe weekend. Make sure to tune back in on Monday as I discuss whatever news happens over the weekend (think Sawx/Yanks might be involved?).

Until then, thanks for reading!

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