7-30-10: DFTU

Hello again everybody...

Once again, we've reached the end of the week, and unless I've missed something, we've gotten there mostly intact.

Trust me, these things can't be assumed!

As usual, Friday means it's Update time, and for at least one of my Favorite Teams there's plenty to discuss.

And I'll do just that...

Right after the quote!

”I have learned to use the word 'impossible' with the greatest caution.”
- Werner von Braun (1912 - 1977), German-American rocket scientist, astronautics engineer and space architect

Even with the greatest of caution, we can say that the Diamondbacks are out of it this year. The Twins? How about we be “cautiously optimistic” in their case?

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All of that and more, because it's time... once again... for everybody's favorite segment...

Dan's Favorite Teams Update

Minnesota Twins: The Twins are 56-46, in second place in the AL Central and 1.5 games behind the Chicago White Sox.

Wilson Ramos, we hardly knew you.

The Twins prized catching prospect spent a brief period of time earlier this season with the big club. Many people thought his tenure was as much to display his wares in the big leagues as much as it was to fill a roster spot.

After a brilliant start, opposing pitchers worked him over a little bit, and Ramos ended up with a .296 batting average and a .729 OPS in 28 plate appearances.

With Joe Mauer newly signed to a long-term contract, it was also assumed that Ramos would be trade bait for the Twins to try and fill some holes on the big-league roster. That turned out to be the case, but not in the way most folks assumed.

With Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn all struggling mightily in June and early July, it was assumed that the Twins would target a starting pitcher. A prized prospect like Ramos would certainly be the centerpiece in a deal to try and land a Cliff Lee or Dan Haren.

But, as it turned out, other clubs put together better packages, and those starters went off the market. Combined with some reasonably-successful starts by Baker, Slowey and Brian Duensing - who took over for Blackburn in the rotation - the Twins decided to address some other needs. Namely, the bullpen.

What's that you say? Minnesota's bullpen has the best ERA in the AL? What need could they address there?

It's true. Minnesota's 3.19 bullpen ERA does lead the AL. In fact, it trails only San Diego in all of baseball.

But let's look at things a little closer. Jon Rauch isn't a closer. Yes, he's converted 21 of 25 opportunities, which was more than most of us expected going into the season. But the truth of the matter is his stuff doesn't lend itself to closing games. He's far better suited to a 7th-inning or set-up role.

So with that in mind, the Twins traded Ramos and LHP Joe Testa (who'd been pitching at AA-New Britain) to the Washington Nationals for their All-Star closer Matt Capps and cash considerations.

To borrow a phrase I used earlier, I'm cautiously optimistic about this move. Ramos is a big piece to give up. Prospects like him don't come around terribly often, so if you're going to move him, you want to get the best value possible.

Capps comes to the Twins with the fourth-most saves in MLB this season, 26. He's 3-3 this year with a 2.74 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP. Over his 6-year career, those numbers are 3.50 (ERA) and 1.20 (WHIP). He also comes with another year of arbitration eligibility, which means that Minnesota not only controls him for the bulk of this season, but they'll have him as "Joe Nathan insurance" for the 2011 season as well.

With all that said then, why am I not over the moon on this deal?

Capps hasn't ever had to close with the pressure of being on a contending ballclub. His first five years were spent in Pittsburgh. He joined the Nationals as a free agent this past off-season.

Plus there's the “NL-to-AL” factor to consider. It's not a hard and fast rule, but statistics show that pitchers who succeed in the National League, aren't always able to translate that success into the American League. Say what you will about which is the “better” league, the fact of the matter is that pitchers don't hit in the AL, and that means that AL pitchers don't get the same “breather” that NL Pitchers do.

Now, that tends not to matter quite as much with relievers - especially closers - since they are generally facing pinch-hitters instead of opposing pitchers. But it's still worthy of consideration.

On the plus-side, if Capps is able to have success in Minnesota, then he bolsters an already formidable bullpen.

Ron Gardenhire has already talked to Rauch and informed him that Capps will be taking over the closer role. The official word is that Rauch wants to do whatever helps the Twins win, but certainly that “demotion” has to sting a bit.

But if Capps takes over the 9th, that frees Rauch up to pitch the 8th, which means Matt Guerrier can now take the 7th inning, and Jose Mijares and Jesse Crain become situational/6th-inning relievers.

All of that accomplishes one very important thing: it takes a ton of pressure off the starters. Especially Baker and Slowey, who've had trouble going deep into games.

Now, instead of worrying about getting into the 7th and 8th innings, if they can give the Twins just six good innings, Minnesota can run out Guerrier, Rauch and Capps and put the baby to sleep.

In essence, this move allows the Twins to seriously shorten games. Opposing teams now have the added pressure of trying to get to Minnesota's starters early in games, because if the Twins have a lead going into the 7th, it'll be extremely difficult for the opposition to pull off a comeback.

So yes, I'm optimistic about this move, but cautiously so. There's no guarantee that Capps will be successful here. And even if he is, if Ramos turns out to be a superstar in Washington, then that'll have been a steep price to pay.

As with any trade, we won't truly be able to judge it for several years. It's going to take a while to see what kind of player Ramos is truly going to be, and we've got to at least wait to see how this season plays out for Capps before we can fairly evaluate this deal.

One thing's for sure though. This is a move designed not just to win a division, but to position the Twins for a post-season run. And for that reason, if no other, I'm going to give this trade my blessing... for now.

The Twins kick off a short home-stand tonight against the Seattle Mariners. The M's did the Twins no favors this week, as they got swept in a four-game set by the White Sox. So even though the Twins had a ridiculously-good road-trip (6-1 in games against Baltimore and Kansas City), they still trail Chicago by more than one game.

Hopefully Seattle makes up for it by laying down for Minnesota the same way they did for the Whities.

Scott Baker (8-9) starts for Minnesota tonight and he'll be opposed by Doug Fister (3-6) for Seattle. Tomorrow's 6:10pm start has Kevin Slowey (9-5) on the hill for the Twins, squaring off against the Mariners Felix Hernandez (7-7). Fernandez hasn't had as good a season as he did in 2009, when he was in the mix for the Cy Young Award, but he's still a formidable pitcher. The 1:10pm series finale on Sunday (where I'll be in attendance) finds Minnesota's Francisco Liriano (9-7) facing Seattle's Luke French (0-1).

Finally, I'll be able to say, “I hate the French” without annoying my mother! Perfect!

After the series in Seattle the Twins head right back out on the road for a tough 10-game trip that starts with a four-game series in Tampa on Monday.

Arizona Diamondbacks: The D'backs are 37-65, in last place in the AL West and 24 games behind the San Diego Padres.

Seriously? 24 games?!

I mean, I know the Snakes have been cooked for a while and that the Haren deal was a “throw in the towel” move and all, but that's just brutal.

After an all-too-brief 3-game winning streak, Arizona's lost seven in a row, including back-to-back sweeps at the hands of the Giants and Phillies.

The good news? They get to face the Mets next, who've also gone 3-7 in their last 10 games. The bad news? It's on the road where Arizona's a pitiful 13-36 so far in 2010.

Since we're on the topic of bad news, I'll mention that OF Justin Upton's was sidelined for a few games by with the training staff is calling “right hip tightness”.

While that may sound like a new cool-kid phrase, it's actually a worrisome injury for a player who's value depends a great deal on his athleticism. Upton doesn't believe that it's anything terribly serious:

“It’s muscle tightness. These guys (trainers) are pretty good at working on it and getting us back to 100 percent as quick as possible. It’s nothing to really worry about.”

(Courtesy of Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic)

It seems like he might be right after returning to the line-up yesterday and going 1-for-4 with a walk and a run-scored. Let's hope he is anyway.

Mark Reynolds isn't hurt, but looking at his numbers, you almost wish he was, if for no other reason than to explain the way they've dropped.

In 2009, he hit .260 with an .892 OPS. So far in 2010, those numbers have dropped to .216 and .819. With a guy like Reynolds, the drop in batting average can be lived with if he's hitting for power. But while .819 is still above-average for OPS, it's still a 70+ point drop from his 2009 pace.

Ugh. If I keep going with these numbers, I'm going to get depressed.

Tomorrow's the trade deadline. The Diamondbacks are still clearly sellers. RHP Chad Qualls' name has been bandied around in trade talks, so perhaps he'll be moved. 2B Kelly Johnson's trade value is never going to be higher. He might make an attractive trading chip.

(Ed.'s Note: Just before publication, it was announced that the Diamondbacks have traded RHP Edwin Jackson to the Chicago White Sox for a pair of pitchers. I won't get too far into this at the moment, because I'm not sure this is the end of the wheeling and dealing.)

Other than that? Hey, the University of Arizona Wildcats look to have a pretty good quarterback this year. And the college football season's only a month or so away!

Sorry, Arizona. That's the best I can do for you.

As mentioned, the Diamondbacks are in New York tonight to start a 3-gamer with the Mets. Tonight, Ian Kennedy (5-8) is on the mound for Arizona, facing Mike Pelfry (10-5) for the Mets. Tomorrow, Barry Enright (2-2) hits the bump, squaring off against New York's Hisanori Takahashi (7-5). (That reminds me, I still have to put together this seasons “All-Name Team”.) In Sunday's finale, Rodrigo Lopez (5-9) goes for the Snakes, opposite of Johnathan Niese (7-4) for the Mets.

On Monday, Arizona returns to the friendly (and far too empty) confines of Chase Field for a 7-game home-stand starting with four games against the Washington Nationals. Go catch a ballgame, Arizona fans. Sure, Stephen Strasburg's on the DL, so you won't get to see him. But you might get to see Wilson Ramos!

That's going to wrap things up for today. Have a fun, relaxing and safe weekend. I'll be back on Monday with... something. I hope.

Until then, thanks for reading!

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