Leave it to Joe to break up no-no

The way Joe Mauer is hitting right now, it’s hard to believe if he gets four chances to break up a no-hitter, he’s not going to do it.

The Minnesota Twins dropped a 4-0 decision to open a four-game set against the Texas Rangers on Monday in Arlington, with their start catcher breaking up a no-hit bid from the Rangers pitching staff with one out in the ninth inning.

Facing Rangers dynamite closer Neftali Feliz, Mauer laced a single to center field after an Orlando Hudson walk. Feliz struck out Jason Kubel and induced a harmless ground out from Michael Cuddyer to end the game.

Mauer continues to be red-hot since the All-Star break. He has only two hits in his last four games, but that’s mostly due to the fact that he’s walked seven times in 15 of those plate appearances.

And despite the fact that the current cleanup hitter Jason Kubel continues to mash, who can blame teams for pitching around Mauer?

In 33 games since the Break, Mauer is hitting an astounding .416 with a .497 on-base percentage and .632 slugging percentage. Further proof that he’s seeing the ball well is his 2-to-1 K/BB ratio since the Midsummer Classic. Pretty amazing how quickly he went in the batting average race of being outside the top 10 to reaching No. 3 with a .330 average, behind only Texas’ Josh Hamilton (.357) and Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera (.341).

Feliz was the third Rangers reliever trying to finish what Rich Harden had started. Harden is known as much for his injury-laden past as he is for his bona fide ace yet often wild stuff.

The right-hander, who is battling through the worst season of his eight-year career, tossed 6 2/3 hitless innings. But a high pitch count that resulted in five walks forced Rangers manager Ron Washington to pull him from the start.

This is a familiar setting for Twins fans, who just one week ago saw starting pitching Kevin Slowey yanked from a start after seven no-hit innings because of a high pitch count. Slowey, of course, landed on the disabled list following his next start.

Twins rumblings

A various assortment of links on the Minnesota Twins, plus a thought on the team’s biggest need:

And that brings me to what I think is the Twins’ biggest need. The one thing that had to be taken from the Twins’ playoff series against the New York Yankees – besides the fact that the offense disappeared once again – is the need for an ace.

John Lackey, who pitched for the Los Angeles Angels this past season, is on the free-agent market, but are the Twins willing to spend that kind of money? I’m guessing not.

No, the Twins will probably go cheap. I have to think the chances of Pavano ending up in a Twins’ uniform again are pretty good, but the Twins should use caution. Yeah, Pavano was durable this season, but don’t forget his time in New York.

So how do you get an ace? The Twins likely won’t sign Lackey, and they’re probably not trading for Roy Halladay of Toronto. The one way to do it is take a chance. And that chance might come in the form of Rich Harden.

Harden, a free agent who pitched for the Chicago Cubs, has had well-documented injury problems throughout his career. But the Twins might need to roll the dice on a heavily incentive-laden deal to try and corral his power arm.

Harden pitched effectively for the Cubbies last season, striking out 171 in 141 innings. However, that number of innings represents the third-most innings he’s ever pitched in a single season. The Twins reportedly showed interest in the right-hander.

Harden has the stuff to match up against the best pitchers a team is going to run into during the postseason.

It’s possible Harden could go the route of Joe Crede, playing reasonably well while healthy, but ultimately not being healthy when a team really needs him. But if the Twins are going to find their ace – and they plan to go cheap again – this might be the answer. 

To elaborate …

I got the opportunity to spend a little time on the Christopher Gabriel Program this morning. It was my radio debut, so I was little nervous. Said the word "wonderful" on the air, which is not part of my regular vocabulary (I prefer "spectacular"), but it was a great time.

After discussing some various sports topics with him, I felt like spending a little time here elaborating on them further.

  • Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings: Tonight’s game should give Vikings fans a chance to see much more of Favre. After throwing just four passes in his preseason debut, Favre will play the entire first half tonight against Houston. While preseason games don’t matter much, I think in Favre’s case, the reps are needed. I think a lot of people – thanks to his jeans endorsements – have this image of Favre being a good ol’ boy playing pick-up football in the backwoods of Mississippi running around in his Wranglers. But the NFL isn’t that easy, and it’s important for him to familiarize himself with the wrinkles of this offense and these receivers.
  • The Minnesota Twins: Well, the deadline passed and the Twins aren’t getting Rich Harden. So, as Coach Norman Dale said in Hoosiers, "This is your team." The Twins are 4.5 games back in the AL Central race behind Detroit, with seven games left against the Tigers. One thing to keep in mind is that 4.5 games may not sound like much, but when you’re talking about teams that are playing .500 ball, that’s tough to make up. Let’s say (and this is purely a fictional example) the Colorado Rockies are 4.5 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Dodgers are playing a little better than .600 ball. With teams having that kind of success, the Rockies could make it up if the Dodgers hit a rough patch. But for the Twins to make up 4.5 games, they’re going to have to be a different team than the one that’s played .500 ball all season. That means consistent starting pitching and production from the WHOLE lineup, not just the heart of it (Mauer, Morneau, Kubel and Cuddyer). The Twins and Tigers are like two tortoises that haven’t moved much in the standings, and it’s hard to imagine that’s going to change.
  • NDSU football: One other point that I thought of after getting off the radio was that when the Bison beat the University of Minnesota, that was a midseason game. NDSU had built up momentum by playing great football, while the Gophers were in freefall after a very rough start (Was that the year the Gophers lost to Florida Atlantic? Yikes!). With all of the new faces on the Bison, I’d give them a better chance of beating Iowa State if it was a midseason game than I would in the opener. Because by the middle of the year, the Cyclones could be licking their wounds from a rough start to the Big 12 season, and the Bison might have patched any holes they found to start the year.

Finally, there’s a story floating around the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Yahoo Sports about Kirby Puckett via his former hitting coach Terry Crowley.

Crowley, who was the hitting coach for the Twins during the 1991 World Series, says Puckett called his shot prior to his 11th-inning walkoff homer to win Game 6 and send the Twins to Game 7 and eventually a World Series title.

Crowley told the Pioneer Press that Puckett said if the Atlanta Braves left Charlie Liebrandt in the game, he was going to hit a game-winning homer.

"On some replays of the tape, if the crowd noise is diminished," Crowley told the Pioneer Press, "you can hear Puckett tell me, ‘I told you so, Crow.’ "

We’ve all heard the "Get up on my back" stories about Puckett in the World Series, but this account by Crowley is of a much more specific nature. Here’s a link to the video.

I’ve always felt – from a national perspective – Puckett’s blast is underrated. Carlton Fisk’s walkoff homer in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series gets a lot of attention (partially because it was Boston and partially because of the way he tried to "wave" the ball fair), but the Red Sox lost that series. And Joe Carter’s blast in Game 6 of the 1993 World Series was thrilling, but if the Blue Jays had lost that game, they still would have been alive for Game 7.

In my opinion, when ranking the biggest homers in postseason history, it’s Bill Mazeroski’s walkoff homer for Pittsburgh in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series first, and then it’s Puckett’s blast. Maybe Crowley’s story will give Puckett’s a little more attention.

MAZEROSKI’s WALKOFF IN GAME 7 OF 1960 WORLD SERIES

PUCKETT’S WALKOFF HOMER IN GAME 6 OF 1991 WORLD SERIES
(Fast forward to 6:45 mark of video)

I got to add this too. I found it while looking for Puckett’s Game 6 homer.

1991 TWINS MUSIC VIDEO (Chili, Morris, Erickson, Knoblauch, Newman)

Different takes on Harden

Reports vary on what kind of chance the Minnesota Twins have of trading for Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Rich Harden.

As was reported earlier in the week, the Cubs placed Harden on waivers and the Twins claimed him. What this all boils down to is the Twins have until Monday afternoon to orchestrate a trade for Harden, since a player of his caliber isn’t going to just be given away.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune has a story saying the two sides have not even discussed any sort of parameters of a deal.

However, FoxSports.com has a story saying the two sides have discussed players already. While the story says a trade isn’t imminent, there had at least been talks.

Some good points have made regarding a possible deal. It’s worth noting the Twins could have claimed him simply to keep Detroit or the Chicago White Sox from getting him. That’s very possible.

But also, if you’re the Chicago Cubs, you could trade Harden to the Twins, get a couple of minor leaguers and sign him in the offseason when he becomes a free agent. Or if you’re the Cubs and you don’t plan to offer him arbitration, you might as well trade him since he must be offered arbitration to collect both first-round draft picks you would get for Harden, who is expected to be a Type A free agent.

The next 36 hours could be interesting. Not much has been said regarding details of a trade. I was asked by a colleague earlier tonight what kind of chance I’d give of the Twins trading for Harden. I’m putting it at 20 percent. Pretty unlikely, but crazier things have happened.

ONE OTHER LINK TO SEE

If you want to read a piece looking back at the Twins’ decision to draft Joe Mauer with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2001 draft instead of Mark Prior, click here.

TARGET FIELD LOOKS LIKE A FIELD

The Target Field sod is down, and for the first time I’ll say the place looks like a ballpark.

Photo courtesy of the Associated Press:

Twins acquire much-needed bullpen help

When a team that’s still in the playoff hunt is depending on Bobby Keppel and Jesse Crain in tight spots out of the bullpen, you got problems.

The Minnesota Twins addressed those problems – probably a month too late, but still needed – by trading for Arizona Diamondbacks right-hander Jon Rauch and agreeing to terms with left-handed reliever Ron Mahay, who was designated for assignment by the Kansas City Royals earlier in the week.

We’ll start with Rauch, who will make the biggest impact. I really like the addition of Rauch, who is owed $2.9 million next season, meaning the Twins gave up a "player to be named later" for more than just one month of Rauch.

Rauch’s 4.14 ERA doesn’t blow you away, but he’s got a sub-3.00 ERA since the start of June after a rough first couple of months to the season. He’s been a very effective reliever since being converted from a starting pitcher with the Montreal Expos in 2004. For his career, opposing hitters bat just .243 off Rauch.

Mahay is a big league veteran who broke in as a position player with the Boston Red Sox in 1995, then as a pitcher in 1997. He’s bounced around much of his career before finding success with the Texas Rangers as a lefty specialist.

Mahay struggled with the Royals this year, giving up a .313 opponents batting average before being cut. But the Royals have demonstrated with the likes of John Bale and Jimmy Gobble in the past that they have no idea what a lefty specialist is. Mahay faced righties more often than lefties this year, and righties hit .340 off of him, so that’s part of the problem.

My take is that Rauch will be a big part of this bullpen for this season and next, and Mahay – for all of his struggles this year – is still an improvement over the likes of some of the inexperienced pitchers the Twins have tried to depend on this season.

Now, let’s see if the Twins go get Rich Harden. ESPNChicago.com did confirm through sources that the Twins were the team that claimed Harden off waivers. They have until Monday to work something out.

Minnesota Wild third jersey leaked … and other stuff

The Minnesota Wild are set to unveil their alternate jersey, but apparently the new look has been leaked.

For more on the design, see the story here.

A jersey’s a jersey. I’m more concerned about the personnel wearing the jersey than I am what they look like. Having said that, I like the new look. Has kind of a retro feel to it, despite the fact that the franchise is young and the name "Wild" itself is as far from retro as it gets.

Report: Twins may have claimed Rich Harden off waivers

According to a story from ESPNChicago.com, an American League source said the Minnesota Twins may have claimed starting pitcher Rich Harden off waivers from the Chicago Cubs.

If this is true, this would be an intriguing possibility for the Twins. Harden is a free agent after this season, but he projects as a Type A free agent, meaning the team that loses Harden in free agency would get two first-round draft picks.

Harden would give the Twins with someone with true ace stuff. He is very injury-proned, and reportedly he could get a huge contract in the offseason despite him being hurt all the time.

I’m sure the Cubs would be asking a lot to give up a Type A free agent. But I think Harden is one guy who could give the Twins a chance to get back into the AL Central race.

Fantasy insurance now available

For your dose of "The world is heading to a bad place," two Long Island insurance brokers are reportedly offering fantasy insurance, which is real insurance for fantasy sports.

The insurance policies cover your fantasy teams. If one of your star players goes down for the season, it’s covered.

This is so completely ridiculous. I am avid fantasy baseball and fantasy football player. I absolutely love fantasy sports. But really. Fantasy insurance? I would never think of doing something like that.

How long can the Phillies ride it out with Lidge?

The Philadelphia Phillies are in great shape. The defending World Series champs were 7.5 games up on the Florida Marlins in the National League East heading into Thursday’s game against Pittsburgh.

But despite all of their success, it’s been a struggle for the closer, Brad Lidge.

Lidge fell to 0-6 this season on Tuesday, blowing his ninth save of the year. His ERA is 7.33. Opponents are hitting .299 off of him, over 100 points better than they fared against him last year.

Yeah, the Phillies have the luxury of riding it out with Lidge and hoping he regains his form. But at what point do you make the move to someone else as the closer.

It’s a lot easier to bench Lidge now than it is to ride it out through the regular season and try to bench him in the playoffs.

At least one member of the Philadelphia Inquirer staff thinks it’s time to sit Lidge. I’m starting to wonder too.