Springtime Storylines: How will Target Field play for the Minnesota Twins?

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Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  First up in the AL Central: the Twinkies

The
big question: How will Target Field play?

Maybe it’s not the biggest question. Who will be the closer now that Joe Nathan is gone probably fits that bill, but so many people smarter than me have already attempted to answer it that I really don’t have anything else to add. Personally, I’m more interested in the new ballpark.

Part of this interest is borne of years of fear and resentment of the old dome. As I’ve mentioned before, I was a Tigers kid from birth until 1987ish, and the Twins ruined
what looked like was going to be a storybook 1987 Tigers season. At about the same time I was adopting the Braves and, lo and behold, the Twins ruined the Braves 1991 season as well. Though there were home games for my guys in each of those series, my memory of them is dominated by that ugly, good-for-nothing dome. That dome with the HVAC system that I remain convinced was used to give the Twins an advantage. That dome that ruined baseball in those years for me personally and ruined baseball aesthetically for everyone else. I hated that place, brother, and I’m glad it’s dead as far as baseball is concerned.

But the problem is I like the Twins. Or at least I have since Kent Hrbek ceased bodyslamming his way across the baseball universe. I like their players. I like how they always seem to be a fundamentally sound bunch. I like how the team and its fans stuck it to Selig and his contraction schemes. I like how they rode out the parsimonious Carl Pohlad years and are now reaping the benefits of the more generous Jim Pohlad era. I really like their spring training setup.  Lots of good juju with this Twins team, and now they have a new home.

It certainly looks nice. But how will it play? It’s hard to get a true sense of such things until, you know, games are actually played, but there’s no harm in guessing a bit, is there?

The fences are set as such to be more or less neutral. The fact that it’s open air could suppress home runs during the chilly months, but it may actually promote them once it heats up, as Minneapolis is the fourth windiest major city in the U.S., behind only Milwaukee, Dallas and San Francisco. Direction matters, of course. Home plate at Target Field points to the northwest. For most of the baseball season, winds come from the south, which would generally mean winds blowing out to right field where, conveniently, there is an overhang. Gotta figure that lefties Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau will like it. You have to figure the somewhat homer prone righty Scott Baker won’t. (note: some disagree on everything I just said about the winds. My dad was a weather man, though, so I know that just about anyone who talks about the weather is full of it. Especially weather men).

UPDATE: Forget all of that. The commenters have corrected me (and my sources): the first base line of Target Field points southeast and the third base line points northeast. Thus, a southerly wind will suppress home runs to right field and help homers to left.  The more you know (rainbow, star and “bling!”).

Granted, there’s only so much you can predict about a ballpark so this is all just fun.  But this game’s supposed to be fun, right? So let’s have some damn fun out there, OK?

So what else is going on?

  • Joe Mauer’s deal is done, so the greatest source of anxiety is out of the way. Because this is the Midwest and not New York, I predict that almost no one will get hung up on the whole “will Joe Mauer crack under the pressure of his new contract?!” hand-wringing. Joe Mauer will be just fine. And if he’s not, Twins fans will probably say stuff like “You know, Joe Mauer, he’s gonna be just fine.”
  • I said I wouldn’t mention it, but the closer situation is obviously the big concern right now.  Some people say things like “trade for Heath Bell,” but that doesn’t seem like the kind of thing the Twins would do, as they rarely do anything rash or panicky like that.  I agree with Gleeman: leverage the bullpen depth that was already there, go with a closer-by-committee thing unless and until it fails, and if it does, reassess.
  • Watching the Delmon Young/Jason Kubel/Jim Thome thing will be interesting. Kubel is a beast and is obviously too good to platoon at DH (not that you could platoon, seeing as both he and Thome are lefties), but you have to figure that the Twins will give the optionless Young one last chance to show that his bat can carry left field, leaving Thome in the cold. There was some life in Young’s stroke in the second half last year, as he went .300/.322/.502, but if he continues to muck about in sub-.750 OPS land, figure he gets benched, Kubel goes to left and Thome becomes the full time DH.
  • The Twins staff will be solid, if unspectacular. Nick Blackburn and Scott Baker aren’t anyone’s idea of aces, but you know what you’re gonna get from them. A full season of a healthy Kevin Slowey will probably provide much of the same. Carl Pavano fits alongside them as decent yet nothin’ special. The wild card will be Francisco Liriano. He was reportedly spectacular in winter ball this year, and has struck out 16 in ten spring training innings so far. If he can recapture even a portion of his former greatness — and it’s looking like he might — the Twins rotation will be damn nigh transformed.  

So how
are they gonna do?

The AL Central, while not exactly tough, is highly competitive. If any of the three contenders have a chance of running away with the division it’s the Twins, and they’ll do so if they (a) get anything from Delmon Young or, alternatively, bench him and go with Kubel/Thome, one of which will necessarily happen; (b) see a return to form from Francisco Liriano; and (c) figure out how to close out ballgames without a brand name closer.  None of those things seem like a major stretch and, for that reason, the Twins are my choice in the Central.

Prediction: First place, AL Central. And I don’t want to hear a damn word from anyone about how cold it will be in Target Field. The place has the same basic climate as Chicago, Detroit, Boston and New York.  They’ll be just fine.

Ryan Braun heads to the disabled list after injuring his calf again

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Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun had been off the disabled list for four whole days. Now he’s going back on it after re-aggravating his calf injury yesterday against the Diamondbacks. It’s the same injury that put him on the DL earlier this month.

Braun has been productive when he’s been able to play, hitting .262 with seven homers, 19 RBI and stealing four bases in 30 games, but calf injuries tend to be nagging things, especially for dudes over 30. He’ll have an MRI to determine how much time he’ll miss.

In the meantime, left field duties will be shared between Hernan Perez, Nick Franklin and Eric Thames.

And That Happened: Thursday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Mariners 4, Nationals 2: Nelson Cruz‘s three-run homer in the sixth gave the M’s their first game with more than one run scored in a week and snapped their five-game losing streak. Five M’s relievers held the Nats scoreless over the final four frames. I know the game changes over time and stuff, but I really would like to go back in time and see the reaction of some pitcher from the 1920s if you told him that it wasn’t all that unusual for a 4-2 game to feature 12 pitchers.

Pirates 9, Braves 4: Bartolo Colon got shelled again — the Buccos lit him up for seven runs — and Adam Frazier hit a three-run homer. Ivan Nova cruised for eight, going into the ninth with a 9-2 lead, but he ran out of gas, gave up three hits and had to be lifted. He was mad after the game for not getting the CG. That pitcher from the 1920s would understand that much better, I assume. At least if he could get past the part about two men from the Dominican Republic pitching in a major league game.

Phillies 2, Rockies 1: Tommy Joseph homered in the seventh to tie things up at one and then singled in the winning run in the bottom of the 11th to give Philly a walkoff win. Odubel Herrera, meanwhile, wore a platinum sombrero, which is always worth noting.

Rays 4, Angels 0Matt Andriese scattered six hits over eight shutout innings. Colby Rasmus knocked in all four of the Rays runs with a two run single, driving in Evan Longoria and Steven Souza and a ground rule double, driving in Evan Longoria and Steven Souza.

Cubs 5, Giants 1: The Cubs got dingers from Kris Bryant, Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist and took their third game in a row. That was three of four from the Giants overall as they finish a 7-2 home stand. The champs, who moved into first place with this win and the Cardinals and Brewers’ losses, may finally be shaking off those early season cobwebs.

Red Sox 6, Rangers 2: The Bosox likewise seem to be turning things around. They take their fourth straight. Here, five Boston pitchers combined to rack up 20 strikeouts with starter Drew Pomeranz getting 11 in six innings. Closer Craig Kimbrel got four in the ninth thanks to a batter reaching on a wild pitch strike three. Did you ever stop to think how random that rule is by the way? I’m not sure what the logic is of a batter being able to run to first due to a dropped strike three. There has to be some — most baseball rules are based in some utility as opposed to mere gamesmanship — but I’m not sure I’ve ever read or been told why that is. If I have, I forgot. Time to go Googling.

Padres 4, Mets 3: Dinelson Lamet made his big league debut and held the Mets to one run over five and five relievers had his back after that. Michael Conforto was 1-for-5 with four strikeouts. He also did this:

 

The conditions were terrible — fog and mist and stuff, so it’s not really his fault – but I can’t recall ever seeing a guy do the hands-over-head move to protect himself for a lost ball that fell THAT far away from him.

Diamondbacks 4, Brewers 0: Are you Johnny Ray?
Are you Slim Ray?
Are you Paid Ray?
Are you Sting Ray?
Are you Nick Ray?
Are you Jimmy Ray?
Who wants to know? Who wants to know?

 

Astros 7, Tigers 6Carlos Correa, Marwin Gonzalez and Juan Centeno all homered off Justin Verlander in Houston’s five-run fourth inning, but the Tigers clawed back to tie it, thanks in large part to Justin Upton who hit an RBI single and homered. Jake Marisnick hit a go-ahead homer in the eighth, however, and that held up. Based on Marisnick’s reaction it seems like he thought it was the ninth and that he just hit a walkoff:

After the game his teammates were ribbing him about it. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Marisnick said with a grin when asked about it. “No comment.” Heh.

Dodgers 7, Cardinals 3: Down 3-2 in the fourth, Dodgers starter Kenta Maeda singled in two to help his own cause. Hyun-Jin Ryu, meanwhile, made his first major league relief appearance and tossed four scoreless innings to earn the save. After the game Ryu said that he wasn’t really comfortable with the role and feels, in his heart, he’s a starter. Manager Dave Roberts, meanwhile, talked up how “lethal” Ryu was in long relief with Maeda and it was revealed that he and the front office had been talking about this for a while. Stay tuned for some drama over this.

Royals vs. Yankees; Reds vs. Indians — POSTPONED:

All at sea again
And now my hurricanes
Have brought down
This ocean rain
To bathe me again
My ship’s a sail
Can you hear its tender frame
Screaming from beneath the waves
Screaming from beneath the waves
All hands on deck at dawn
Sailing to sadder shores
Your port in my heavy storms
Harbours the blackest thoughts
I’m at sea again
And now your hurricanes
Have brought down
This ocean rain
To bathe me again