Punto, Cuddyer team up to put Cuddy at second base

Michael Cuddyer found himself at a familiar position Monday night – second base.

Cuddyer started at second base for the first time since 2005. According to Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Cuddyer and infielder Nick Punto came up with the idea to have Cuddyer play second on Monday, with fellow infielders Orlando Hudson and Alexi Casilla both nursing injuries.

One of them approached manager Ron Gardenhire about it, and Gardy said he was thinking the same thing.

So, if you’re Brendan Harris, how do you feel about your teammates and manager hatching a scheme to keep you out of the starting lineup?

Marlins promotion = All-Star bribery?

First off, kudos to colleague Rob Beer for the new header. I feel like I might need to change the color scheme on this blog to better suit it. Stay tuned.

The Florida Marlins have a promotion right now encouraging fans to vote for Marlins players on their ballots so they can start in the All-Star Game.

Sounds like a good idea, right? 

Well, the deal is, if a fan fills out at least 200 ballots with all Marlins players on it, that person will get free tickets to an upcoming game of their choice.

"It’s a little bit of bribery," Marlins backup infielder Wes Helms said.

Yeah, I’ll say.

I don’t like this idea at all. I realize Marlins players get the short end of the stick due to bad attendance. I get that. But just think of the types of promotions that the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox could do. Obviously, they can’t match this – and don’t have to – since they sell out every game.

This further illustrates why fan voting should be eliminated. Right now, the AL leaders in the infield is all Yankees players except for, surprisingly, Tampa Bay’s Evan Longoria. Tip of the cap for that one.

But Mark Teixeira over Minnesota’s Justin Morneau or Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera at first base? Really?

I will say it’s nice to see how many Rays players rank in the top five at their positions. Although the fact that Pat Burrell - who no longer has a job – is fourth in voting for DHs is further proof of how little attention some fans are paying when they fill out their ballots. Yes, Tampa Bay is good. They deserve strong representation. Just leave the Triple-A sluggers off your ballot, please.

Morales pulls a Gramatica

The best you can put it is that Los Angeles Angels slugger Kendry Morales went out with a bang.

Morales hit a walk-off grand slam Saturday, then broke his leg celebrating in one of those mosh-pit type settings at home plate. He might miss the rest of the season as the team determines whether or not he needs to have surgery.

This is a big blow to the Angels, who watched Torii Hunter leave the game due to injury earlier in that game after getting beaned.

It was only a matter of time before someone got seriously injured in one of those walk-off celebrations. Twins fans might remember Denny Hocking injuring his hand and missing the American League Championship Series in 2002 after the Twins won the ALDS against the Oakland Athletics in a celebration.

But losing Hocking is one thing. Losing your heart-of-the-order slugging first baseman for many, many months is quite another.

I doubt things will change. Kickers are probably a little more subdued in their celebrations after Arizona Cardinals kicker Bill Gramatica derailed his career celebrating a field goal a few years ago.

It’s obviously not a good idea for large men to be jumping all over each other like that. When Prince Fielder celebrated that homer with his teammates falling over like a bomb had gone off at home plate, that was far less dangerous.

Maybe choreographed celebrations are better for sports. They’re certainly better for the health of athletes.

Halladay completes long-awaited perfect game

Growing up just an hour from the Canadian border, I was no stranger to watching Toronto Blue Jays baseball on CBC.

And one of the games I’ll never forget watching was on Sept. 27, 1998. It was the final day of the regular season, and it was a meaningless game between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Detroit Tigers.

As the story goes, the Jays had a young right-hander on the mound named Roy Halladay. He was making his second major league start. And while the game didn’t mean much in the standings, Halladay no doubt wanted to leave a big impression on his veteran teammates.

And that day, Halladay took a no-hitter into the ninth inning, getting the first two outs before Bobby Higginson came in and hit a pinch-hit homer to break it up. It would have been a perfect game attempt if not for an error earlier in the game.

On Saturday against the Florida Marlins in Miami, Halladay finally got that elusive no-hitter, and it was a perfect game.

I watched the final inning on ESPN and couldn’t help but root for him, remembering that game in 1998 pretty well. I was tracking the game on MLB.com much of the night, as it was a good pitching matchup with Halladay facing Florida’s Josh Johnson.

This marks the first time in big league history that two perfect games have been thrown in the same year, and they were in the same month. Oakland’s Dallas Braden tossed one against the Tampa Bay Rays a few weeks ago.

Two months in to MLB season, what have we learned?

The Major League Baseball season recently passed the one-quarter mark of the season and is now nearly two months complete. I figured I’d take a look at some of the developing storylines through the first couple months of the six-month season:

  • If you’re going to start anywhere, you might as well start with the best team in baseball … the Tampa Bay Rays. How ’bout those Rays, sporting a 33-16 mark? It’s always tough to put them in front of the Yankees and Sawx in the AL East, but so far they seem unfazed. Great starting pitching. Good lineup. Good bullpen. That’s a good recipe for success. I wondered how the Rays would hold up under the pressure of coming into the season knowing this team would probably be broken up at year’s end, and so far, so good.
  • More surprisingly, the two best teams in the National League are … anyone? Anyone? The Cincinnati Reds (29-20) and the San Diego Padres (28-20). I’m not stunned about the Reds. Besides the St. Louis Cardinals, the NL Central looks weak, though that can change. I really liked their lineup coming into the season, and so far, they lead the NL in runs scored. The Padres … well, I can’t say I’ve seen this coming, and I still expect them to falter. But they’re getting great pitching, as should be expected in that ballpark. I thought they might be the worst team in baseball this year. That doesn’t appear to be the case.
  • A lot of my preseason predictions are off to bad starts. But one pick I really like – and still do - is the Texas Rangers winning the AL West. That offense is dangerous. They have a great bullpen. And the pitching staff has performed admirably.
  • I have to admit that I just don’t get the Chicago White Sox. Coming into the season, I thought they could challenge the Twins in the AL Central with that pitching staff. But so far, their pitching hasn’t been very good. I knew the lineup would be bad. But if you had told me two months into the season that Paul Konerko would have 14 homers and Alex Rios would be playing the best baseball of his life, I would have assumed the offense might actually be pretty good. But that hasn’t been the case either. What happens when Rios (current OPS of .946 is 80 points higher than career high) and Konerko inevitably cool off? Yikes!
  • Speaking of rebound stories, the MLB’s leader in home runs is Toronto’s Jose Bautista. I guess you can’t call it a rebound when you’re talking about someone with such meager credentials. He’s got 15 homers, which is one short of his career high in his seventh season in the big leagues. He’s slugging .586, which is 166 points higher than his career-high. Can Bautista and the Blue Jays keep pounding the ball? What’s interesting is that the Blue Jays are taking a swing and swing hard approach, forgoing batting average. But Bautista is hitting .247, which is just 7 points shy of another career-high.
  • And I know some people are tired of hearing about it, but how about that 20-year-old rookie who is leading the National League in OPS? That’s Atlanta’s Jason Heyward, of course.
  • As far as the Twins go, Justin Morneau is absolutely mashing. While Target Field has been unfriendly to left-handed hitters, Morneau is thriving in his first season with a new home park. Overall, Morneau is hitting .372/.493/.677 with 11 homers and 35 RBIs. At home, he’s hitting .386.

Slowey, Twins open series on a good note

Kevin Slowey had one of his best outings – if not, his best outing – of the season, and the Minnesota Twins beat another team in playoff position for the second straight night.

The Twins followed up Thursday’s win against the New York Yankees by holding on for a 2-1 victory Friday against the AL West-leading Texas Rangers.

It was nice to see Slowey pitch the way he did. The way Target Field has played, I would think a guy like him could have some success there, since lefties have such a tough time hitting homers there.

I really like the Rangers this year, which is why I picked them to win the West (many of my preseason picks aren’t looking so hot, but that one is). Holding that lineup down is no easy task.

Kubel looks to turn season around Part Deux

Jason Kubel‘s go-ahead grand slam off of New York Yankees all-world closer Mariano Rivera a couple weeks ago was supposed to turn his season around.

But in the eight games since, it didn’t happen. He produced just four hits, and only one – a double – for extra bases.

So after hitting two homers in another win over the Yankees on Thursday, will that be the game that gets him back on track?

Only time will tell, of course. But I’m perplexed how someone who absolutely mashed against right-handed pitching last season (.617 slugging percentage!) has struggled so mightily this season.

It’s early, so there’s still plenty of time to get things turned around. And maybe last season will end up being his career year.

He’s striking out at a little bit of a higher rate this year, but he’s walking at a higher rate, too. So maybe teams aren’t throwing him as many pitches in the strike zone, and he has failed to capitalize on the ones that have been there.

It’s worth noting, too, that Kubel was a much better hitter at home last season (.956 OPS at the Metrodome, .862 OPS on the road).

While his road numbers are down this season, his home numbers are WAY down (.593 OPS at home, .723 OPS on road entering Thursday).

So the Target Field factor, as much as anything, is a big reason for the drop-off. Kubel will have to adjust to the new confines if he wants to salvage the season.

Should Twins try to trade for Oswalt?

It appears likely that Roy Oswalt won’t be pitching for the Houston Astros after the July 31 trade deadline.

First, it was reported that Oswalt demanded a trade from the struggling Astros. Then, he backed off, saying he didn’t demand one but thought it might be best if he was dealt.

Many experts have wondered whether the Minnesota Twins could be a possible suitor for the veteran right-hander. MinnPost’s Aaron Gleeman gives his take here.

I think there are a number of obstacles or concerns in trading for Oswalt. First, there’s always the question of whether or not Oswalt – a career National Leaguer – could handle the American League. It’s a different animal. No doubt about that.

Then, of course, there’s Oswalt’s massive contract. He’s owed $16 million this season and next season, plus he has an option for 2012. And considering he has a no-trade clause, I’m guessing he would want a guarantee on that option being picked up if he is to be traded. I don’t know for sure, and can’t pretend to know the specifics of his contract and what kicks that option in. But that’s a lot of dough nonetheless.

And then there’s the prospects that would have to be dealt. That’s something the Twins don’t traditionally do. We’ve heard rumors in the past about the Twins trading for the likes of Alfonso Soriano, etc., but Minnesota guards its prospects.

And while a guy like Wilson Ramos might be blocked by Joe Mauer right now, I would argue because of Mauer’s contract, guys like Ramos are more valuable now than ever before. The Twins are going to need to supplement that big league roster with cheap young – and hopefully successful – players if they are to thrive.

Oswalt would most certainly be the ace of the Twins if he were traded. But for a team that traditionally has trouble scoring runs in the playoffs and not preventing them, would his presence really make that much of a difference in a first-round matchup against the Yankees or Rays? If the Twins continue to score just 2 or 3 runs in a playoff game, they won’t win too many, Oswalt or not.

On the radio today

I make my weekly appearance on "Sports Talk" today from 1-2 p.m. on 970-AM WDAY radio.

Today, Kerry Collins and I will be talking to NHL free agent Matt Cullen, who finished last season with the Ottawa Senators. The Moorhead High School grad will discuss the upcoming Stanley Cup Finals and his offseason.

We’re also going to talk about tonight’s opener at Red River Valley Speedway, and we’ll discuss New York City/New Jersey getting the Super Bowl in 2014. Is a cold weather Super Bowl a good idea?

To take part in the show, call 293-9000 or (800) 279-9329 or e-mail talk@wday.com

It’s early, but Heyward off to impressive start

I read an article on FanGraphs and couldn’t resist linking to it.

It’s written by Dave Cameron, who I know has a pretty loyal following. Once again, he’s dug up an interesting nugget, this time in regards to Atlanta Braves rookie Jason Heyward.

For those of you living in a cave, you don’t know what you’re missing. Heyward, who is just 20 years old, is off to an impressive start to his career. He entered Tuesday night’s action with a .290 average, 9 homers, 33 RBIs and 3 steals, posting a .290/.409/.580 line. That’s a .989 OPS from a guy who isn’t old enough to order a beer.

According to Cameron’s story, only six players in major league history have posted a .900 OPS or better at the age of 20, and it’s an incredible list. Here goes: Mel Ott, Alex Rodriguez, Ted Williams, Al Kaline, Frank Robinson and Mickey Mantle.

That’s five Hall of Famers, and a guy in A-Rod who might be heading there if voters look past his abuse of performance-enhancing drugs.

And I know there are some of you out there who don’t believe in situational stats, or clutch hitting, to put it another way.

But it’s worth noting, despite his youth, he’s a .412 hitter with runners in scoring position, and a .450 hitters with RISP and two outs.

I know, I know. It’s early. I’m aware. But we’re a quarter of the way into the season. At what point should everyone start taking notice?