Tuesday, October 6, 2015

CC Sabathia in rehab

CC Sabathia at age 35 isn't the stud hoss top-of-the-rotation pitcher he once was, but he still led the Yankees in starts and innings pitched this year. He was going to be part of their postseason rotation.

Note the past tense. On Monday Sabathia announced he was out for the postseason and checked into inpatient rehab for alcoholism.

It is to the Yankees credit that both Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi are vocally supporting Sabathia in this. The cynic in me whispers that they might not be so accepting if Sabathia's ERA were 2.73 rather than 4.73, but I am telling my inner cynic to shut up. This is the way workplaces ought to deal with illness, and alcoholism is an illness.

The timing is interesting, however. I will seldom -- I am tempted to say never -- question the competitive desire of a professional athlete, and particularly one who has the track record of Sabathia. Yet, for whatever reason, he has chosen the start of the postseason to enter treatment. This suggests to me that he's hit some sort of crisis point.

I don't know what that would be. There has been no revelation of some sort of trauma -- a DUI, a domestic call, a barroom brawl -- that might trigger a sudden acceptance of a problem.

Whatever happened to prompt Monday's announcement, I wish Sabathia well in dealing with his problem. This is different from wishing him, or the Yankees, well on the field. There I hope, always, that they lose.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The end, or at least an end

Torii Hunter poses at home plate with
the youngster who won his jersey
after Sunday's finale.
The final out of the regular season necessarily comes every year and is always predictably depressing. The playoffs and World Series are well and good, but I embrace baseball's daily grind, the highs and the lows and the background knowledge that it all adds up and none of it is all that crucial by itself. This is why novelists have long used the baseball season as a metaphor for life.

So another Twins season is dead, and another will be born next February in Fort Myers, Florida, and transplanted in April. The 2015 version will be remembered in the long run not so much for the failure of the team to reach the playoffs as for launching the big league careers of Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton and Eddie Rosario and maybe Tyler Duffey.

And maybe as the end for Torii Hunter. Or maybe not. Hunter was coy Saturday and Sunday about his immediate plans, He'll decide after seeing his sons play out their college football seasons in November. Or he'll decide in January after ramping up his workouts. I take him at his word when he says he doesn't know if he'll play next year, and when he says that if he does, it will be nowhere but Minnesota.

He's 40, and he knows it. In April he tried a straight steal of home; by September he was being pinch-run for on a regular basis. He sees Buxton and Rosario and Aaron Hicks and Max Kepler, all young enough to be his sons, all dripping with talent and all crowding for outfield playing time. Hunter hit 22 homers this year, but in all other aspects, it was his worst season at the plate since 2000.

I have said this many times about many other players: I don't begrudge a player for wanting to squeeze one more year out of his career. The Jason Bartlett fiasco of 2014 wasn't Bartlett's fault, it was the fault of a manager and front office that couldn't, or refused to, see in spring training what everybody else did -- Bartlett couldn't play major league ball any more.

Should Hunter return? There seems to be a consensus among the writers that he will do so only if he's promised that he will still be a lineup fixture. That would be a foolish promise for the Twins to make, but they might make it anyway. It wouldn't be the first time they let sentiment get in their way.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Pic of the Week

Javier Baez gets sawed off by Cincinnati's John Lamb
in the fifth inning Thursday.
There are certain kinds of images that strike me each summer. A pitcher with his arm twisted into an improbable, if not impossible, position. A vivid sunset beyond the outfield fence. A section of fans reacting to a foul ball. The long shadows of late August and September.

And a bat being shattered. Like this one.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Running out of games

Friday's game, in and of itself, was just 1/162nd of the long season. Added to the previous 159/162nds of the long season, Friday -- a Twins loss combined with wins by the Angels and Astros -- pretty much concluded the Twins unlikely playoff dreams.

One tenth of one percent. In terms of batting average, .010. Dean Chance was a legendarily poor hitting pitcher for the Twins and Angels back in the 1960s, and he hit better than that.

But .010 is better than .000, and the Twins will give their remarkable resilience another go today.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Kyle Gibson, Tyler Duffey and the piecemeal rotation

Paul Molitor has gone through September essentially naming starting pitchers one series at a time. I have previously compared Molitor's juggling of the starters to the way Tom Kelly moved pitchers around in his rookie September, 1987

Two crucial differences: Kelly was managing with the lead, while Molitor is playing catch-up; and Kelly had two horses, Frank Viola and Bert Blyleven, who each threw more than 250 innings with markedly better-than-league ERAs. Molitor has no such rotation foundation.

The best he has is Kyle Gibson, who might start Sunday's scheduled finale on three days rest. If he does, he has a chance to top 200 innings (he's at 194.2 now). Gibson's ERA right now is slightly better than Blyleven's in 1987, but his ERA+ (ERA adjusted to league and park environment) is a good bit worse (eight percent better than league average compared to Blyleven's 15).

And, of course, there's Tyler Duffey, the rookie sensation who started Thursday night and took a shutout into the seventh inning before giving up a two-run homer. Duffey has thrown now 58 innings in 10 major league starts (ERA 3.10), and he's also worked 138 innings in the minors for a total of 196.

The Twins -- one game out of the second wild-card spot and tied with the Angels with three games left on the schedule -- will start Ervin Santana tonight against the Royals. Tommy Milone figures to start Saturday, and I expect Gibson will get the ball if Sunday's game means anything.

And if a Game 163 is needed Monday? By the rotation, it would figure to be Mike Pelfrey, who is second on the team in starts and innings. But I can't imagine anybody has much faith in Big Pelf at this point. Molitor may well give the ball to Phil Hughes under that scenario, with Duffey pitching Tuesday on regular rest if the Twins are still alive. I can't imagine Molitor having Duffey go on three days rest.

Once past a Game 163 (or 164 in a more extreme tie-breaking scenario), Santana would be out of the picture. His PED suspension kicks back in for the postseason. Presumably the playoff starters would be some combination of Gibson, Duffey, Milone and either Hughes or Pelfrey. We can wait to wrestle with that problem until it actually arrives.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Let it go, Nolasco

All in all, Thursday wasn't a horrid day for the Twins. They actually gained a half-game on that second wild-card spot despite never really being in the second game of the rain-caused doubleheader.

There were plenty of things to gripe about in Game Two. Mike Pelfrey was awful, the first base ump missed a call and the replay umps let it stand in a lengthy display of incompetence, Phil Hughes was (I'll be charitable) too ill to cover first base, the hitters didn't get anything going until the game was out of hand ...

But Ricky Nolasco pitched. This impresses me. It would have been easy for him to shut down his season after his foot surgery. Instead, he pushed his rehab and got back on the hill. Nolasco has said a few things the past couple of years that gave some the impression that he doesn't care. Getting back this year says otherwise.

He threw two innings of mopup work, allowed two hits, granted an intentional walk and struck out five. Not bad, all things considered, even with the three-run homer.

But ... his, and the Twins', reaction to that homer was tired (to borrow the description from Bryce Harper).

The Twins were down 7-1, and Paul Molitor had Nolasco walk Jason Kipnis intentionally. The next hitter, Jose Ramirez, homered, and flipped his bat rather epically.

My tweeted reaction to the Twins' evident displeasure with the bat flip:

Seriously. The Twins spent eight innings embarrassing themselves with sloppy play and they're worked up over a guy celebrating a homer after they walked the man in front of him? Grow up. No team with Torii Hunter on the roster has any right to gripe about bat flipping.

And if they spend any pitches Thursday throwing at Ramirez in retaliation, they don't deserve a playoff berth.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Talking prospects

Tuesday's major league rainout coincided with the arrival of the dead tree edition of Baseball America and its top prospects lists for each minor league.

The list contains some familiar names from the Twins system, and a couple of  intriguing newcomers to prospect lists.

International League: RHP Jose Berrios, No 9. No surprise there. Berrios has clearly emerged as the best pitching prospect in the organization, and one of the offseason storylines figures to be if and how the Twins clear a path to get him into the major league rotation.

Southern League: 3B Miguel Sano (1), CF Byron Buxton (2), OF/1B Max Kepler (6), Berrios (9), MI Jorge Polanco (14). Chattanooga was loaded, especially early in the first half, before Sano, Buxton and Berrios were moved up. These are five guys who've dotted the organization's top ten lists for a while, and the four position players have all gotten at least a cup of coffee in the majors.

Florida State League: Nobody from the Miracle made the FSL top ten, but RHP Kohl Stewart (15), LHP Stephen Gonsalves (16) and SS Engelb Vielma cracked the second ten. Stewart, who was the No. 4 overall pick 2013, hasn't been as dominant in A ball as one might expect. Vielma is the one of those intriguing newcomers cited above; observers rave about his glove, and as was the case last year, he hit better as the year progressed. Hitting is going to be the key for him.

Midwest League: SS Nick Gordon (4), Gonsalves (18). No surprises there, although I would have thought RHP Felix Jorge might have gotten into the top 20.

Appy League: SS Jermaine Palacios (3), 3B Travis Blankenhorn (15), OF LaMonte Wade (17). If you;re going to remember a name from this list, it should be Palacios. Palacios got a bit of attention this summer from BA for his bat, and this write-up quotes an unnamed scout as saying Palacios is "right there with Nick Gordon," the No. 5 overall pick in 2014. A surplus of young quality shortstops is a definite positive, and a real rarity for the Twins.

Gulf Coast League: Palacios (17).

BA also gave writeups to a selection of players who didn't qualify for the league lists and included to a pair of left-handed pitchers in the Twins system, Tyler Jay (the Twins first-round pick in June) and Mat Batts. Jay didn't qualify for a lack of innings (only 16 after he was used hard in college). Batts didn't make the lists because of his lack of velocity, but his other skills are (BS's word) intriguing. He had dominating numbers in the FSL, but the league is very pitcher friendly. We'll see if his skill set passes muster in the higher levels next year.