4-30-10: DFTU

Hello again everybody...

Welcome to the weekend!

What's that you say? It's not your weekend yet? Woops. My bad.

(insert evil laugh here)

Okay, okay, so I shouldn't rub it in. Lord knows there'll be a massive karmic backlash if I keep this up. Trust me, been there, been B-slapped like that!

As you may be able to tell, I'm feeling a bit silly today. Three-day weekends with fun on the way will do that to a guy. I mentioned it on Wednesday, I know, but I feel like repeating it. I'm going to see the Late Late Show's Craig Ferguson at the State Theater tonight.

(For some reason, they spell it Theatre on the tickets, but I'm pretty sure that's some nasty Canadian influence, so I'll choose to ignore it.)

I've been looking forward to this for a while, so I'm rather giddy with anticipation now that I'm a few, scant hours away.

But before I can hang with the rest of the Robot Skeleton Army (trust me, watch the show, it'll all make sense), I've got some Updating to do for you, my dear readers, who wait so patiently throughout the week for it.

Never think I'll let you down!

Of we go!

”The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget.”
- Thomas Szasz (1920 - ), psychiatrist and academic

Ummm... yeah. I've got to work on that.

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Okay, you've been waiting all week for it... it's time... once again... for everybody's favorite segment...

Dan's Favorite Teams Update

Minnesota Twins: The Twins are 14-8, in first place in the AL Central and 1.5 games ahead of the Detroit Tigers.

Well you knew they weren't going to win every series this season, but it still felt like the boys gave one away this week.

Let's back up.

The Twins won their 6th straight series to open the season, as they beat Kansas City two out of three times last weekend. Sure, they once again failed to finish off a sweep after winning the first two games of the series, but as I keep saying, I'll take two of three all season long and take my chances.

After that, they headed to Motown to take on the Tigers, and things seemed to keep on rolling. The Twins won 2-0 on Tuesday, scoring both runs thanks to Detroit errors (can nobody other than Minnesota play defense in the Central?!). Then on Wednesday, Minnesota jumped out to a 6-1 lead, seemed primed to win their seventh straight series... and then the wheels came off.

In a scant three innings, the Twins managed to go through five pitchers (two of whom never recorded an out), give up 10 unanswered runs, and had their manager ejected for the first time this season.

Sounds like a hum-dinger, eh?

Then came Wednesday's day-game where the Twins sent out a line-up with no Joe Mauer (sore, needed a break, day-game after a night-game), no Justin Morneau (sitting out his second straight game with a balky back), and no J.J. Hardy (toe injury). Day games are often used to get bench players some at-bats, but clearly this was pushing it.

On the mound was Carl Pavano who got roughed up a bit in his last outing, and oh boy did he ever respond. Pavano went eight innings (the distance given the Tigers shutout win), scattered seven hits and gave up three runs. More importantly, he gave the bullpen a break it sorely needed after Tuesday's debacle.

Unfortunately, the B-squad couldn't come up with any runs to support him. Tigers pitcher Dontrelle Willis, who came into the game with an ERA north of 11, found himself pitching six innings of shutout ball. The Twins had no better luck with the Detroit 'pen, as Joel Zumaya and Jose Valverde completed the shutout.

So two-straight losses later, here we are.

Am I panicked? Certainly not. Am I concerned? Only about Justin Morneau's back. Morneau and the Twins are all pooh-poohing the injury, saying it's nothing serious, but we've heard that before. I'm not saying they're blowing smoke at us. But I'll be cautious in my optimism until I see him back on the field.

Actually, I think there are a lot of positives to be gleaned from the Detroit series.

First, rookie Luke Hughes homered in his first MLB at-bat. The last Twin to do that? Andre David in 1984. Yeah, I don't recall him either. Let's hope Hughes' career is more like Gary Gaetti's (who accomplished the feat in 1981), than David's.

Second, the Twins have now played every other team in the Central, and so far? I'm not impressed with any of them. Yes, Detroit took two out of three from the Twins, but they needed a full-on bullpen melt-down and an injury-induced B-squad game to do it. Seriously, the way they pitched and played defense for most of the series? The Twins should finish ahead of the Tigers, no doubt. I'll wait til Minnesota plays New York and Tampa before I decide whether the Twins are truly an “elite” team this season, but there's no doubt in my mind that they're the class of the Central.

Third, Pavano reminded me how wonderful it is to have a real veteran on the staff. The bullpen got lit Wednesday night? Okay, Carl will go out on Thursday and go the distance to give the boys a break. That's veteran leadership. That's how you pick up your teammates. That's how you keep people feeling good about the club after a rough couple of days. That's how you set a tone for the season. He may not be the best starter on the club (see the next paragraph), but he definitely stepped up and claimed a leadership role on the starting staff yesterday.

Fourth - and perhaps most important, the Francisco Liriano we grew to love in 2006, might just be back. I don't want to declare it absolutely, I'm too fearful of angering the baseball gods to do that, but oh my has he been outstanding so far this season. His 0.93 ERA leads the American League, and his 0.94 WHIP is fourth. He's struck out 27 and walked 10. His slider's back to being nasty, and more impressively, he's learning to spot his fastball. If he can locate his heater regularly, hitters have no chance against this guy. They'll have to cheat to get to it, and just when they do, boom, the bottom falls out of the slider and they end up on Baseball Tonight, looking silly.

I know it's not all sunshine and roses, and there are certainly issues that will have to be addressed going forward. But there's no reason to be hovering around the panic button either. Twins fans have been a little spoiled with the hot start. Hopefully this is just one of those bumps in the road that a trip to Cleveland will help the club get over.

Speaking of which, that's where Minnesota finds themselves this evening, opening a three-game set at Progressive Field in Cleveland. Kevin Slowey takes the hill tonight, Saturday's starter is TBD (Nick Blackburn has left the club to deal with a family issue), and Liriano (or FranKKKKie as some have taken to calling him) deals on Sunday. After that, it's back to the friendly confines of Target Field for a chance at redemption with three more against the Tigers, followed by a four-gamer with the woeful Orioles. Certainly a chance for the boys to get healthy again!

Arizona Diamondbacks: The D'backs are 11-11 and tied with Colorado for third in the NL West, three games behind the San Diego Padres.

I'm not sure I'll get used to the concept of the Pads being atop the NL West. Then again, I doubt I'll have a chance to. (Sorry San Diego fans, it's a cheap shot, but you really don't think this'll last do you?)

On Monday, I told you how confused I was by the Diamondbacks so far this season. Well that hasn't changed. They started out the season playing surprisingly well, then bullpen-slumped their way into losing six out of seven, then turned around and took two of three from the Phillies (two-time defending NL champs), two out of three from Colorado (who I picked to win the NL West) and bombed the Cubs 13-5 to open up their four-gamer yesterday.

So what in the world is going on with Arizona?

Well the pitching's still something of a mess. But the offense has taken it upon themselves to mash their way to victories. The Snakes are now third in the NL with 116 Runs Scored, and with a .805 OPS. That's some potent offense.

2B Kelly Johnson has been a nice surprise for Arizona fans at the plate. His batting average has fallen to a more reasonable .284, but he's hit nine home runs (leads the NL), is slugging .787 (also leads the NL), and has an OPS of 1.202 (trails only the Cardinals Colby Rasmus' 1.241 in the NL). Those are some crazy-good numbers from a spot on the field you don't usually generate numbers from.

Now with great offense, there's often a trade-off, and with Johnson, it's his defense. has a nifty little stat called “Ultimate Zone Rating” or “UZR”. I won't pretend to understand all the math behind arriving at this statistic, but essentially it's designed to tell you how many runs above or below average a player is worth defensively. Obviously above-average is good, double-digit above-average is great, and below-average is less than desirable. Johnson's current UZR? -0.3. His lifetime UZR? -1.2.

Will I live with that so long as he keeps producing offensively? Absolutely.

3B Mark Reynolds isn't far behind Johnson with 7 home runs. His .892 OPS isn't as high as Kelly's, but it's still well above the league average. And yes, the Sheriff is right on pace to strike out 200+ times again this season. And yes, so long as he hits 30+ home runs, drives in 100+ RBI and keeps his OPS around .900, I won't care.

Perhaps the most pleasant offensive surprise of the season has been CF Chris Young, who's 21 RBI have him near the top of the NL. Over the last week, Young's been on fire, hitting .440 with a smoking-hot 1.142 OPS.

Not as encouraging? RF Justin Upton's .214 average and .677 OPS. In fairness, Upton's been dinged up a little with a shin problem, but still, he'll need to get on track offensively for the D'backs to be in the hunt. I should also point out that Upton's 3.6 UZR is currently third in the Majors, so even if he's scuffling at the dish, he's apparently not carrying his troubles out into the field.

As I mentioned, Arizona's pitching is still an issue, and the bullpen is likely to be so for most of the year. But if they can keep up this offense, who knows how far they can ride it?

The Snakes have three more in Wrigley this weekend. Rodrigo Lopez goes this afternoon (or may have already gone depending on when you read this), Dan Haren takes the hill tomorrow, and Edwin Jackson rounds things out on Sunday. And there's no rest for the weary either, as Arizona then heads immediately to Houston for another four-gamer starting on Monday.

So do you feel sufficiently Updated? I thought you might.

That's going to wrap things up for this week. I hope you all have a fantastic weekend. Hopefully I'll have lots to tell you about on Monday!

Until then, thanks for reading!

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