Saturday

8-31-13 Twins Blog: So Long, Justin

[Ed.'s Note: this blog originally ran on the WCCO.com Twins Blog, and can also be read here.]

News broke this afternoon that Justin Morneau has been traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates for OF Alex Presley.


Morneau has spent 11 seasons in the big leagues, all with the Minnesota Twins.


He made his major league debut in June of 2003, hitting .226/.287/.377 with four home runs in 106 at-bats. His “popeye-like” forearms and prodigious power mesmerized Twins fans who hadn't seen a true power-threat at first base since Kent Hrbek retired.


But it wasn't until 2006 that he truly established himself amongst the Major League elite, hitting 34 home runs with a .321/.375/.559 slash line on his way to winning the AL MVP.


2006 was the start of a 4-year stretch for Morneau with 30+ home runs, and at least 100 RBI in each of those seasons. He was selected for four All-Star games, won the Silver Slugger award twice and in addition to his '06 MVP award, he finished second in the balloting in 2008.


But then came July 7, 2010, and a what looked to be a routine break-up of a double-play at second base in Toronto. Routine, that is, until John McDonald's knee collided with Morneau's head. A play that proved to be a pivot-point in Justin's career.


Morneau wouldn't play another regular-season game until April of 2011. And it took him until May 1, 2011, to hit another home run.


Justin would only play 69 games in 2011 as a recurrence of concussion symptoms and a nagging wrist injury would keep him out from June 9th to August 12th and eventually ended his season on August 28th.


He came back to play 134 games in 2012 and has played in 127 of the Twins 133 games here in 2013, but outside of brief hot-spells, has never truly regained the “power threat” status that he displayed in that 4-year stretch from '06 to '10.


So the Twins had a decision to make. Morneau's contract is up at the end of 2013, and while he and his representatives made multiple overtures to the Twins to try and negotiate an extension, Minnesota management showed no eagerness to go that route.


That led many to speculate that he'd be moved in a deal before the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline, and while GM Terry Ryan took calls regarding Morneau, he didn't find a deal to his liking.


Then came news on August 13th that Morneau had been placed on revocable waivers, allowing the Twins to again take the temperature of other teams' interest in making a trade. A day later it was reported that Justin had cleared waivers – a bad sign for making any kind of significant deal.


Finally, on the last day that teams were allowed to trade players who'd been through the waiver process, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports broke the news that Morneau had been traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates for OF Alex Presley, cash and a player-to-be-named later.


Presley owns a career slash-line of .261/.299/.389 and a career wOBA of .311 (Fangraphs calls .320 an “average” hitter). So the Twins aren't getting a big stick in return. Defensively, Presley has a 1.6 career UZR, indicating that he's an exceedingly average defender as well.


In other words, the best the Twins were able to get for a player who once seemed destined to be the second coming of Harmon Killebrew, was a replacement-level outfielder.


Certainly a disappointing outcome for a tenure that once looked headed for greatness.


But that may not be the end of the story for Morneau and the Twins. As was stated earlier, Morneau expressed several times his desire to remain in Minnesota. His wife is a native Minnesotan and Morneau has sunk deep roots into the community with lots of charity work including his annual “Casino Night”.


Nothing prevents the two sides from getting together in the off-season and agreeing to a new deal that would bring Morneau back to the Twins – albeit at a significantly reduced rate.


If Morneau has played his final game as a Twin, his story is one of unfulfilled potential. If the concussion symptoms and wrist ailments hadn't derailed the run he was on, would we be talking about a multiple-time MVP and a player worthy of Hall of Fame consideration?


Possibly.



We'll never know. Instead, Justin gets another crack at the post-season with the Pirates, and Twins fans are left to wonder what might have been.

Sunday

8-4-13: Twins Blog: Bull-Dozier & Bullpen Lead Twins To Sweep Of Astros

[Originally posted at WCCO.com on the "Twins Blog"]

While the recently completed home-stand couldn't have started much worse for the Twins – with a sweep at the hands of the Royals, which last happened in 1998 – it was salvaged by a sweep of the Houston Astros.


And a big part of that sweep was the play of second baseman Brian Dozier along with the performance of the Twins' bullpen.


Certainly no victory parades will be thrown over defeating the team with the worst record in baseball. But when a team is seemingly headed towards it's third consecutive sub-.500 season, you take small victories when and where you can.


Start with Friday night's 13-inning affair. There's no question that the Twins have struggled to score runs as of late (averaging just 3.5 runs per game over their last seven), mostly due to a failure to hit with runners in scoring position. But starting Friday night, Brian Dozier bulldozed his way through Houston pitching, most especially with runners in scoring position.


He went 3-for-7 Friday night and 2-for-3 with RISP. He scored a game-tying run in the 8th inning, and then after Houston regained the lead in the top of the 9th, he hit a game-tying RBI single in the bottom-half. Not satisfied with merely tying games, Dozier came through in the clutch again in the 13th plating Clete Thomas with a game-winning RBI single.


But Dozier's heroics wouldn't have been possible without the bullpen making them hold up.


True, Glen Perkins blew a save opportunity in the 9th. But Jared Burton, Caleb Theilbar, Casey Fien and Josh Roenicke all pitched scoreless innings in relief to give the Twins a chance to win. And Ryan Pressly pitched two nearly flawless innings in the 12th & 13th to pick up his third Win of the season.


Fast-forward to Saturday evening. Again, a Twins starter failed to go deep into the game. This time rookie Kyle Gibson was unable to make it past the 3rd inning and the bullpen had to spring into action again.


Enter Anthony Swarzak – one of only two Twins hurlers to not make an appearance the night before. He befuddled the Astros for three straight innings, striking out five Houston hitters before turning the ball over to Brian Duensing – the other pitcher who didn't appear Friday night. “Deuce”, as he's referred to by manager Ron Gardenhire, struck out two more 'Stros in his inning of work.


He was followed by Casey Fein who struck out a pair in a clean eighth inning, and Glen Perkins who could manage only one measly K (insert sarcasm here) in his 1-2-3 ninth inning.


In total, the bullpen threw six innings of one-hit, scoreless baseball, striking out 10 Houston batters along the way. Nobody's going to mistake the Houston line-up for Murderer's Row, but striking out 10 of the 20 batters you face is fairly dominant any way you parse it.


Dozier continued his hot-hitting ways as well, going 2-for-4, including 1-for-2 with RISP. His first hit was a triple to right-center field that looked like a double off the bat to pretty much everybody except Brian. The ball was bobbled slightly by Houston right fielder L.J. Hoes, but Dozier never saw it. He was rounding the second base bag and headed for third with a purpose, sliding in safely.


His second hit was a game-tying double in the 7th inning, which was soon followed by scoring the go-ahead (and eventual game-winning) run off a Ryan Doumit single.


Dozier was asked to explain his hot-hitting and said, “I think the biggest thing is getting good pitches to hit, all in hitters' counts pretty much, and that's what you strive for as a hitter.”


On Sunday, Dozier was held hitless, snapping his career-high 10-game hitting streak. But baseball isn't all about offense. Instead he did damage with his glove, making a sparkling play in the third inning to rob Astros first baseman Brett Wallace of an infield single. That play was immediately followed by Dozier catching a tough pop up which required him to range into short right center to make the catch falling away from the infield.


Once again, the bullpen was called on to prop up a starter who couldn't work deep into the game. Mike Pelfrey managed only 5 innings of 2-run baseball before he had to exit the game due to an inflated pitch count, but the 'pen made it hold up.


Manager Ron Gardenhire said, “Our bullpen, you know, they were saviors throughout this whole thing [series].”


Roenicke, Theilbar (who ended up getting the win), Burton and Perkins combined for four more scoreless innings, setting the stage for Oswaldo Arcia's game-winning home run in the 7th. That marked the 31st time this season the Twins bullpen has pitched 3.0-plus scoreless innings in a single game.


Asked after the game if the relievers are feeding off each others' performances, right-hander Jared Burton said, “Yeah I think it's an overall confidence thing for us down there. I mean, everybody's just been pitching well. We've been pitching more than we'd like, but they [the coaching staff] take care of us and haven't over-used anybody.”


Fresh off that success, the Twins head out on the road to face their next opponent, the same Kansas City Royals team that swept them to begin the home-stand.


They'll do so with a hot-hitting leadoff batter and a very confident bullpen.