4-16-10: DFTU

Hello again everybody...

It's Friday once again. One more day to get through and then it's 48 lovely, employment-free hours! For yours truly, it's approximately three of those hours that I'm most focused on. From noon to about 3pm on Saturday, the Twins will be hosting the Kansas City Royals at the palatial Target Field, and I'll be fortunate enough to be in attendance.

Not so fortunately, the game's going to cause me to miss an annual event, as one of my dearest friends will be hosting a belated birthday gathering at the MONDO Juggling and Unicycle Arts Festival. I know, I know, it's eyebrow-raising when you first consider the concept, but trust me, it's a good time and I'm sorry to miss it. On the plus-side, I'll get to see everybody afterward back at my friend's house, so it's not a total loss.

Then again, it's my season ticket package that's forcing me to miss the Festival, so to use the word “loss” at all is somewhat incorrect... at least in my opinion.

But before I can get to that game, I've got to do some Updating! The Twins are rolling, the Diamondbacks are exceeding some expectations. Yup, it's a shiny, happy DFTU this week!

Let's do this!

”Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.”
- Will Durant (1885 - 1991), American writer, historian and philosopher

I love this one. The more I learn, the dumber I feel. Or more specifically, the dumber I realize I was 5/10/15 years ago. On a related note, did you know there was such a thing as an American Philosopher? I hear “philosopher” and I think Greece, or France, or even Germany, but I didn't think the good ol' US of A had been around long enough to produce any philosophers.

The more I learn, the dumber I feel...

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It's Friday. You've waited patiently all week, and now it's time for your reward! It's time... once again... for everybody's favorite segment...

Dan's Favorite Team's Update

Minnesota Twins: The Twins are 7-3, in first place in the American League Central Division and one-half game ahead of the Detroit Tigers.

Another week, another series victory for the Twins. This time it was the home-opening series against the Boston Red Sox (whom I hate). As you may have guessed, this might be my favorite series victory in all of 2010. That may seem slightly hyperbolic this early in the season, but since those two clubs only play two more games the rest of the year, and I don't harbor near the loathing for any other team in the big leagues, this one might just take the cake.

Monday was the home opener and a more festive atmosphere in Minnesota sports, you will not see. Sure the Vikings garner more attention and interest, but even if they get a new stadium, the fact that they start their season in the fall, as opposed to the spring when everybody's already happy by the disappearance of Old Man Winter, means that the level of jubilation won't be quite as high.

Admittedly, I'm a baseball guy, so that last paragraph might be a bunch of BS, but it sounded pretty good, right?

The weather wasn't perfect - the sun didn't really make an appearance over Target Field until Thursday - but it was good enough, and the game could not have gone better. Carl Pavano went six strong innings surrendering only one earned run along the way while fanning four. Jason Kubel hit the first ever regular-season home run in Target field (an accomplishment which I predicted - ask Michele Tafoya, she'll confirm it), and Joe Mauer went 3-for-5 with two RBI. It all added up to a 5-2 victory and a perfect record at Target Field.

Tuesday was a scheduled day off as a back-up in case there was inclement weather on Monday. Wednesday saw the end of that perfect record at Target Field. It was also the first incidence of mid-game precipitation. The game was never stopped, but it was rather surreal to see batters and pitchers struggling against the rain. That's not something we're used to here in Minnesota, and in an odd sense, it was a welcome sight for some of the fans as it reminded us all that the wonder of outdoor baseball is back. John Lackey wasn't the slightest bit bothered by the rain and picked up a win for Boston (whom I hate) going six and two-thirds whilst surrendering only 2 runs to the Twins offense. The Red Sox (whom I hate) won by a final of 6-3.

Thursday, the Twins capped off the series victory with an 8-0 drubbing of the Red Sox (whom I hate) behind seven very strong innings from Francisco Liriano. Frankie scattered four hits while striking out 8. His ERA is now a measly 2.08 in his two starts. His 11/7 strikeout-to-walk ratio isn't quite where you'd like it, but if he can tame some of that wildness, he's giving the indication that he might be back to being the dominant pitcher we saw in 2006.

Twins 2, Red Sox (whom I hate) 1. I could type that a thousand times and never get sick of it.

That marks the third straight series the Twins have won to open the 2010 season. The last time the Twins one three straight series to open a season? 1987. I'm not sayin, I'm just sayin...

Offensively, the Twins are still strong, even if the top of their line-up isn't. Denard Span is still struggling to get untracked with the lumber after a red-hot Spring. He's only hitting .189 after 10 games. But his on-base is a much healthier .340 thanks to the nine walks he's taken, four of them in Wednesday's game alone. His OPS is still a weak .610, but his bat has to come around sooner or later. In the mean time it's nice to see him not altering his approach - working deep into counts and taking walks. As for Orlando Hudson? He's hitting .227 with a .244 on-base percentage. Not even remotely the kinds of numbers we expected upon his signing. O-Dawg left Thursday's game in the ninth after colliding with a fielder's knee. Maybe that'll be enough of an excuse to give him a game off tonight. Alexi Casilla could probably use the work. Too bad it would be against the '09 Cy Young winner. There's also a chance it could lead to something of a line-up shuffle. J.J. Hardy is only hitting .250, but he's slugging .400 and maybe it would take some of the pressure off of Hudson to let him hit a little lower in the line-up.

In terms of pitching, it's hard to complain. The Twins starters have the 4th best ERA in the American League, and the relievers have the best ERA of any bullpen in the league. That's despite some struggles from Jose Mijares (3 IP, 6.00 ERA) and Jesse Crain (4 IP, 6.75 ERA). There's enough history to think that both guys can get things turned around. And fortunately for the Twins, if they don't, there's some depth there. The Twins just recalled Ron Mahay from Triple-A Rochester to take some of the late-inning lefty pressure off of Mijares. And if Crain struggles, rookie Alex Burnett looked good in his limited appearances for the Twins this season. So at least there are options.

The Twins finally get a break from their brutal opening schedule as they host the Kansas City Royals for three over the weekend. The Royals come into town with a 4-5 record. So far they've been outscored by their opponents by a total of 5 runs. Not horrible, but they're running smack-dab into the Twins +19 run differential. Advantage? Twins. 2009 Cy Young Winner Zack Greinke takes the hill for the Royals Friday night versus Scott Baker. Greinke's worth the price of admission alone, but I like the Twins' chances. Not so much against him, but against the truly, truly awful Royals bullpen which will be called upon at some point. Gil Meche faces Nick Blackburn on Saturday and Sunday it's Luke Hochevar facing Carl Pavano. After that weekend series, the Twins round out their first home-stand at Target Field with three games against the 3-6 Cleveland Indians. Let's hope the boys make a little hay and the sun keeps on shining!

Arizona Diamondbacks: The D'backs are 5-4, tied with Colorado for second place in the National League West Division and 2 games behind the San Francisco Giants.

If you'd told me that Arizona would be above .500 nine games into the season, I might have appeared a bit dubious. I suppose with the Padres and Pirates kicking things off, I might have believed it, but there's no doubt that so far, the D'backs are slightly better than I thought they were going to be.

I expected the offense to be there, and so far it has been. They're in the top 5 in the National League in OPS, Home Runs and Batting Average. And perhaps more importantly, they're not in the top 5 in strikeouts, a big-time bugaboo last season.

Also encouraging is the fact that it hasn't just been one guy. 2B Kelly Johnson is the only Diamondback in the top 10 in OPS. But wait, wouldn't you want more of your players that high in stats? Sure you would. But the fact that the team numbers are so good, while individual numbers aren't jumping off the page means that it's a different guy every night getting the job done. When you don't have dominant talent, that's how you have to win ballgames - with a team effort.

One of the best surprises so far this year offensively has been the play of CF Chris Young. Young had a disastrous 2009, even being sent to the minors at one point. But he's rebounded nicely and going into last night was hitting .344 with 3 home runs, 14 RBI and an OPS of 1.059. Light years ahead of what he was doing last year. It's still a small sample size, but definitely encouraging.

The pitching hasn't been great, but it's been enough to keep games within reach for the offense. So far Arizona's near the bottom of the league in Quality Starts, which is troublesome since their starting pitching was supposed to be stronger than their relief pitching. As it's turned out, in most of the major categories - ERA, WHIP, etc. - the relievers have out-done the starters. That may sound like a pleasant surprise until you realize that the relievers have been average at best.

Chad Qualls is 1-for-3 in Save Opportunities. The most disturbing part of that stat isn't the 33% conversion rate, it's that Arizona has only provided him with three opportunities in their 9 games. Compare that to Minnesota where Jon Rauch, a former Diamondback, has converted all 5 of his save opportunities in their 10 games. Granted, the Twins have been playing better competition, so the games have been more likely to be closer, but still, not a good sign for the Diamondback bullpen.

Even with San Francisco's hot start, Arizona's in the hunt. Not something I figured I'd be writing nearly two weeks into the season, but a pleasant surprise none the less.

The Diamondbacks open up a 3-game road series in San Diego tonight. Edwin Jackson is on the mound facing former D'back Jon Garland. Sunday afternoon will be an important outing as Ian Kennedy tries to recover from his “less-than-thrilling” previous start. Then Monday, it's back to the friendly confines of Chase Field to face the Cardinals for three.

So there you have it. The DFTU is in full-on baseball mode now. Remember, if you want your fill of updates on the Stanley Cup Playoffs, go over to the right and scroll down to the "Friends of Writing for the Cycle" box and click on Quest for the Cup. The Hammer's doing fine work, and I encourage hockey fans everywhere to check it out!

I'll be back on Monday, hopefully with an RGC from Saturday's Twins game for you (I have to hedge my bets... if I get too certain, something's bound to go screwy).

Until then, thanks for reading!

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