Monday, October 7, 2019

1994 Topps All-Star Rookie Catcher Javy Lopez

The 1994 Topps All-Star squad picked a great catcher for their squad, even though he played about half a season his rookie year. In 80 games for the Braves, Lopez platooned with veteran receiver Charlie O'Brien. Lopez did get the lion's share of opportunities and did not waste them.

Javy was still learning on the job behind the plate - leading the NL with 10 passed balls and allowing 66 stolen bases, catching just 23% of the runners that tried to take an extra base. But his offense was already major league ready, crushing 13 homers in those 80 games. 

Javy celebrated his 17th birthday in Ponce, Puerto Rico, then signed a contract with the Braves the next day in November 1987. He would spend 2 years in short season rookie ball, then start his steady ascent to the big leagues in 1990 with a full season at single A Burlington. By 1992, he was hitting in the mid .300s with power in AA. He would make his MLB debut in September of 1992, and after another season in the minors, his bat forced the Braves to call up the promising youngster. 

His Braves tenure included 3 All-Star appearances, and prodigious power. He would become the Braves' all-time leader for homers by a catcher with 214 round trippers. He was an MVP candidate in 2003, when he hit .328/.378/.687 with 43 homers and 109 RBI. In the Braves' World Series winning 1995 season, Lopez came up big in the NLCS, hitting .357 with a homer against Cincinnati. His 1996 NLCS was even better, hitting .542/.600/1.000 (!) 13 hits, a pair of homers, and earning MVP honors.

Following his Braves career, Lopez moved to the AL East, and took on catching duties for the Baltimore Orioles in a chaotic time for the franchise. Lopez would cite the heavy involvement of Orioles team owner Peter Angelos as contributing to the disjointed atmosphere. In his 2.5 seasons in Baltimore, Lopez had 46 homers and a .293 batting average, actually slightly higher than his Braves career average. The team did not have the same success, however, and he was dealt to the Boston Red Sox in an August deal for a player to be named later. Lopez had a brief 18 game tenure in Boston and did not play in the post season. in 2007 Lopez tried to continue his career with the Rockies, but was released in March and retired.

Let's hear your favorite (or I guess least favorite if you didn't root for Atlanta or Baltimore) memories about Javy Lopez! Thanks for reading and I'd love to read your comments below.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

It Ain't Over til It's Over

I'm not going to sugarcoat it - things look bad right now for the Minnesota Twins, facing an 0-2 deficit to the New York Yankees in the ALDS. The first two games could hardly have been much worse, thankfully none of the Twins were injured, save for their pride. HOWEVER! The Yankees haven't won that 3rd game yet, and the series turns to Minnesota tomorrow. It might be unlikely, but why don't we take a look at what unlikely looks like? Why not take a look at some ways that a series can turn around? It might make me feel better, OK? Rays fans, I see you too - hope this helps a bit.

1981 NLDS - Dodgers come back against the Houston Astros

1981 included a Divisional Series because of the strike that split the season into two parts. The Dodgers actually had the home-field advantage, though they lost games 1 and 2 on the road. Not much of an advantage when Houston only had to win one in LA.

But the Dodgers were up to the task, thanks to stalwart starting pitching, including a complete game from Fernando Valenzuela in Game 4, leading to a duel between Jerry Reuss and Nolan Ryan, who was working on regular rest and was Nolan freakin' Ryan. Reuss tossed a shutout, and the Dodgers bats had just enough to win 4-0. Garvey would hit .368 in the series including a game 3 homer that sparked the comeback. The Dodgers did it without Ron Cey, though he would be back in time for the World Series, where he was the MVP.

1982 ALCS - Brewers defeat the California Angels

Don Sutton tossed 7 scoreless innings in Game 3, Ben Oglivie blasted a homer and Cecil Cooper hit a 2-run single in Game 5 to power "Harvey's Wallbangers" to a series victory. The series was so close that the ALCS MVP ended up being Angels OF Fred Lynn in a losing cause. Robin Yount struggled for the Brew Crew in the series, with a .250 average and no extra base hits.

1984 ALCS - Padres defeat the Cubs

Game 4 - Postseason vet with ice in veins, Steve Garvey, blasts a 2 run walkoff homer, setting up a winner-takes-all finale.

Game 5- Carmelo Martinez draws a 4 pitch walk, a bunt moves him to 2nd, then Tim Flannery gets a key hit right through the wickets of Leon Durham. Goose Gossage locks down the win by pitching the last two innings.

1995 ALDS - Seattle Mariners defeat the New York Yankees

Now in the Divisional Series era, the ALCS and NLCS is stretched to 7 games, but the new Division series remains best of five. The Yankees jumped out to an early 2-0 lead against a Seattle team that had already tested their mettle in a tie-breaker game over the Angels.

Back in the Kingdome, the Mariners leaned on Randy Johnson for a gutsy seven innings. He struck out 10, and the Mariners won 6-4. Game 4 was a seesaw game until Edgar Martinez crushed a grand slam in the 8th off John Wetteland.

The Game 5 finale was one of the best games in playoff history. The lead would change hands 6 times, David Cone threw 140 pitches for the Yankees, Randy Johnson came in to relieve in extra innings, but the final rally came in the bottom of the 11th. Joey Cora singles, backed by a Griffey single, and Edgar Martinez was back again to be the hero, lacing a liner down the left field line, scoring both runners in an epic finish.

1999 ALDS - Red Sox defeat Cleveland

The format of the 5 game series was now the current 2-2-1 version by the time this series was played.

Both teams won their home games in decisive fashion, including a ridiculous 23-7 rout in game 4 by the Red Sox, in which John Valentin drove in 7 runs. Nomar hit over .400 for the series.

Game 5 included quite a lot of early offense, including 2 homers by Jim Thome. Troy O'Leary matched Valentin's 7 RBI in the game, but the real story was the relief appearance of Pedro Martinez. Martinez was coming off 4 scoreless innings in Game 1 before leaving due to injury. In Game 5, Martinez came in to an 8-8 tie game, and no-hit Cleveland for 6 relief innings, pitching on fumes but still striking out 8 batters.

2001 ALDS - Yankees beat A's

oh. The Yankees are on this list, too? Do I have to? Fine.

People remember "The Flip" by Derek Jeter, but Mike Mussina out-dueled Barry Zito (When Zito was Zito!) in that game, and the only run came on Jorge Posada's Solo homer.

Mariano Rivera was at his best, closing out a pair of the final three games in his usual dominant fashion.

2003 ALDS - Red Sox over the A's

The Red Sox are free to share some mojo with the Twins this year, I'm sure they won't mind if it means beating the Yankees.

In 2003, it was Jason Varitek with a key block of the plate that started a chain reaction of base running blunders that swung momentum back to the Red Sox in Game 3. David Ortiz had a clutch 2 run double in Game 4, and Pedro dominated in Game 5, with Manny Ramirez providing the offensive production to give the Sox the series win.

2012 NLDS - Giants defeat Reds

Ryan Vogelsong gave the Giants a boost with a gutty performance in Game 3, with the win ultimately going to Sergio Romo in relief. Game 4 had a Pedro-like relief appearance by started Tim Lincecum, and Buster Posey crushed a grand slam in Game 5 that proved to be deciding runs, with Romo coming back to get the save.

The Giants would go on to win the whole thing, taking the World Series crown, just like the Dodgers did in 1981. Twins, take notes, and ask Romo for tips.

2015 ALDS - Toronto defeats the Rangers

At this point the pattern becomes familiar - Marco Estrada comes up big in game 3, with Troy Tulowitski providing a key hit. Game 4 included big offense from the Jays winning 8-4 behind an R.A. Dickey start (and in spite of a disastrous David Price Relief appearance.). Game 5 is remember for Bautista and the bat flip heard round the world, but Marcus Stroman provided 6 strong innings for the Jays to keep the game close.

So! That's encouraging. Never mind that the team going up 2-0 will win the series about 90% of the time. Just need to get something started for Game 3 - a strong start, some timely hitting, and then worry about game 4 after that.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

A Tale of Two Champions - Part Three

The 2019 Minnesota Twins are A.L. Central Division Champions! Their last Division Title came all the way back in 2010, the inaugural season at Target Field in Minneapolis. Let's compare and contrast the reserves, shall we?

Where would they be without these guys?

Michael Cuddyer played in 157 games in 2010, so it is hard to call him a reserve, but it was not the team's plan to have Justin Morneau take the second half of the season off. Cuddyer played 84 games at first base, 66 in RF, 14 at third base, 2 in CF, and 1 game at 2B. He hit .271 with 14 homers, 37 doubles, and 81 RBI. Without a guy like Cuddyer filling in where needed, the 2010 Twins would have had their depth seriously tested.

Jake Cave was patient. The Twins outfield is stacked with plus defenders and plus hitters at all three spots with Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton, and Max Kepler. Marwin Gonzalez was brought in to handle the corner spots on off days, leaving Jake Cave to prove his mettle at AAA again. Injuries were inevitable, as they strike every team, and it was Cave filling in for all four of those players. An early slump at the major league level obscured the blistering pace he set in Rochester, but by the end of the regular season, Cave had his average up to .258 in 72 games. He added 8 homers, and was known as always for running hard out of the box on every ball in play.

Nick Punto was always ready to suit up and get dirty. In 88 games, Punto played all over the infield and providing much-needed energy off the bench. He swiped 6 bases and crushed his usual annual home run in June in Philly against his old team. He wasn't on the Twins' ALDS roster, but he would get post season glory the following season playing for the World Champion Cardinals.

Luis Arraez has been a revelation for the 2019 Twins. Drawing comparisons to Tony Gwynn and Rod Carew, Arraez has shown both positional flexibility and superhuman bat to ball skills. In 366 plate appearances this year, Arraez hit .334 with 20 doubles. He came up to fill in for an injured Johnathan Schoop, but ended up as the regular 2B and occasional LF for the balance of the season. The ankle injury Arraez suffered in the final game of the season may prove to have a major impact on the post season.

"Backup" Catchers and "The Ones Who Got Away"

Drew Butera has had some very good gigs in his career. Backing up Joe Mauer in 2010, Salvador Perez in KC, and is still kicking in 2019 as reserve for the Colorado Rockies. In 2010, Butera played in 44 games, giving Mauer a breather every once in a while. His defense was his main appeal in those days as well, as his .197 average can attest. Butera would be pressed into service much more often in 2011 following the concussion to Mauer that ended the perennial All-Star's career behind the plate.

Jason Castro could hardly be called a back up, but for the opposite reason of Butera. Castro played 79 games for the Twins, as the team employed a de facto platoon between him and Mitch Garver. There was only one instance all season in which the same catcher started 3 consecutive games, and even then there was an off-day in the middle. Keeping both Garver and Castro fresh goes a long way - so long the pair set a record for most homers by catchers in a season. Castro contributed 13 homers, and was the perfect lefty compliment to Garver's right handed attack.

Tyler Austin was a big time power prospect and the Twins were lucky to have him ready to take the place of the retired Joe Mauer at first base. But the Twins signed both Nelson Cruz and C.J. Cron in the off-season, leaving Austin as the odd man out. He was traded to San Francisco after just 2 games played. After 70 games with the Giants, Austin was on the move again and landed with the Milwaukee Brewers for their pennant push. It's too early to tell if the Twins will regret letting Austin go when they did. This spot could have been filled by minor leaguers Jaylin Davis or Lewin Diaz, both players were parts of deadline deals to bring back bullpen arms Sam Dyson and Sergio Romo.

Wilson Ramos can tell you that hindsight is 20/20, and had the Twins known in 2010 that Joe Mauer would only play one more season as a catcher, they may have thought twice about including Ramos in any trade offers. Ramos has had to deal with his own litany of injuries in his career, but he would have been an upgrade in offensive production on the 2011 team that suddenly found themselves badly needing it.

It takes a village to fill a roster . . . 

Alexi Casilla, Matt Tolbert, and Brendan Harris all chipped in on the 2010 squad with similar tools but as a group they solidified any missing pieces in the Twins' infield. Casilla primarily handled 2nd and short, Tolbert at third and short, and Harris at both corners with the odd fill-in up the middle. Casilla was the best hitter of the bunch, with a .276 / .331 / .395 slash line, also contributing 6 stolen bases. Tolbert was the only one to appear in the ALDS, playing one game as a defensive replacement.

Willians Astudillo, Ehire Adrianza, and Marwin Gonzalez were varying degrees of thrilling, maddening, and comforting during the 2019 season. Astudillo was a one-man highlight film, playing in the outfield, the infield, and behind the plate. He came prepared to swing the bat- in 204 plate appearances, he would draw just 5 walks, and strike out just 8 times. Ehire Adrianza played all over the infield, and my only criticism is that he gets used by manager Rocco Baldelli as if he is a faster runner than he actually is. Adrianza's lone appearance on the mound caused me to walk out of a game for the only time this season, as I could no longer bear to watch the Twins get embarrassed by the Mets.  But Adrianza was a very good player in every other way, contributing on defense and at the plate. His homer off Justin Verlander was the only tally in a 1-0 victory over the future Hall-of-Famer. Marwin probably deserves to be in the first group of reserves, as he played in over 100 games this year. He was Rocco's security blanket, filling in all over the infield and in the outfield corners. He was a regular contributor to the Twins' power supply, hitting 15 homers. An oblique injury has ended the regular season prematurely for Gonzalez, but the hope is that his season is not over completely.

Very much excited and anxious for the 2019 ALDS to begin tomorrow night! Tell me how much you also want the Twins to win! Yankees fans, I wish you the best of luck (in 2020).

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

A New Kennys Vargas Card!

Kennys Vargas spent 2019 in Japan, playing for the Chiba Lotte Marines... and their minor league affiliate. Despite a disappointing season, Vargas has been featured on at least three cards in the 2019 BBM set.

Here's the back of the card, featuring the MLB stats of Vargas, along with his AAA numbers from 2018. I haven't been able to snag his series 2 card from the BBM set yet, the only listing on eBay is a lot of 8 copies of the card. I just need one!

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

A Tale of Two Champions- Part Two

The 2019 Minnesota Twins are A.L. Central Division Champions! Their last Division Title came all the way back in 2010, the inaugural season at Target Field in Minneapolis.  Let's compare and contrast those teams, shall we?

Starting Pitchers:

Jose Berrios is the 2019 team's ace- despite some struggles in the second half, he surpassed 200 innings pitched for the first time in his career, and nearly matched that number in strikeouts with 195. Berrios was named to his 2nd straight All-Star team, and will be looking to add some post season heroics to his resume.

Jake Odorizzi has been the most consistent starter for the Twins, with highs not quite as high as Berrios, but lows not nearly as low either. Odo made his first career All-Star squad, thanks to the refinement of his high fastball that stymied the new uppercut style of swing developed for optimal launch angles. He struck out 178 batters in 159 innings, and led the Twins in ERA and victories.

Michael Pineda was suspended for testing positive for a banned substance that can be used to mask performance enhancing drugs. His story was that he was taking a diuretic to lose weight, and stopped taking it once he learned it contained a banned ingredient. Don't know if I buy that story. Either way, it was a disappointing end to pretty good comeback story. Pineda missed all of last year recovering from injury, and was slowly eased into the rotation. By his final start, he was consistently churning out quality starts, and seemed to be getting stronger and more effective with his slider as the year progressed. He finished with a 5/1 strikeout to walk ratio. What a bummer!

Martin Perez was not expected to have any success at all, coming off a disappointing season in Texas. Thad Levine was familiar with Perez from his time with the Rangers, and convinced Perez to work with Twins' pitching coach Wes Johnson to re-tool his delivery. Perez saw his fastball velocity spike to 94-95 with movement. He had several streaks of great starts, but as the year wore on, the league started to catch up to his new repertoire of 2-seamer / change-up. He led the Twins starters in some of the uglier stats like homers and runs allowed, but he also provided valuable innings throughout the season. He may be used as an additional lefty out of the pen in the post season.

Carl Pavano had been maligned by the New York media following a rough tenure in pinstripes, but turned in one of the best seasons of his career for the 2010 Twins. He had a 17-7 record, and led the AL in Complete Games (7) and Shutouts (2). He led the Twins staff in innings by a healthy margin, yet he only walked 35 batters in 221 frames. He was a prototypical pitch to contact pitcher- lots of hits, but lots of stranded runners as well to go with his excellent control. In a career defined by injury, his durability in 2010 was a key reason the team won the division.

Francisco Liriano was a few years removed from his transcendent 2006 campaign, in which served as a perfect clone of Cy Young winner Johan Santana. His 2010 season was easily his best in a Twins uniform since that debut. He topped 200 strikeouts for the first time in his career, and led the AL with a very stingy home run rate of .4 homers per 9 innings. He was the Game 1 starter against the Yankees in the ALDS, and despite 7 strikeouts in 5.2 innings, a win was not in the cards for the lefty.

Scott Baker earned the nickname "Big Spot Scott" for his ability to come up with his best starts in the clutch. In 2010, he had a 12-9 record and had a 4.49 ERA. As a third starter, that wasn't too bad. He would appear in relief in Game 3 of the ALDS (Ron Gardenhire tried starting two lefties in the series), giving up a solo homer to Nick Swisher in the 7th inning when the Twins were already down 5-0. He did pitch a pair of scoreless innings before that hit, the only hit he allowed in the series.

Kevin Slowey  had a reputation for being a brainy, cerebral pitcher. More importantly, he was good! Slowey went 13-6 with a respectable 4.45 ERA. He struck out 116 batters while walking just 29 (actually a career high).

Bullpen Aces:

Jon Rauch was a big, bad presence on the mound. He pitched in 59 games in 2010, notching 21 saves and striking out 46 batters in 58 innings. He was used first as a closer, then as a set up man in the pen.

Taylor Rodgers has followed in the same mold as lefty relievers like Andrew Miller, and Josh Hader. Whatever the role, Rodgers relished the big stage in 2019. He moved into the closer role part way through the season and locked up 30 saves for the Twins, striking out 90 batters in 69 innings.

Brian Duensing  was the Twins' Swiss Army knife. He not only excelled as a lefty option out of the pen, but he also was a spot starter, tossing the only shutout for the Twins not thrown by Carl Pavano. He was also the Game 3 starter for the ALDS, a game that was played more or less as a bullpen game, though Gardy was probably hoping for a little more from the Duenslinger, who would later transition to the bullpen full-time as a situational lefty.

Tyler Duffey also made the move from the rotation to the bullpen, and the results have been very impressive in 2019. Similar to Martin Perez, a small change to mechanics and his 2-Seam grip have unlocked higher velocity and movement. Duffey reeled off 26 consecutive scoreless appearances heading into the final game of 2019. He finished the year with a 2.52 ERA and struck out 82 batters in 57.2 innings.

Deadline deals:

Sergio Romo and Sam Dyson were added to the Twins' pen ahead of the July trade deadline, and the two were poised to solidify a group still trying to gel. Romo did his part, flipping his signature slider over for 27 Ks in 22 innings with a 3.18 ERA. Sam Dyson was bit hard by the injury bug and despite appearing in 12 games for the Twins, he never looked quite right. He had shoulder surgery and is expected to be out for 11-12 months.

Matt Capps was added at the July deadline as *proven closer to help propel the Twins to the post season. He would slide immediately to the back end of the bullpen and locked down 16 saves in 18 opportunities. He sported an even 2.00 ERA over his 27 appearances, striking out 21 batters. In game 1 of the ALDS, he allowed a run and two hits, making the score 6-4 in the 9th.

Brian Fuentes came to the Twins in August, and had a sparkling Twins career, allowing 0 runs and just 3 hits in his 9 appearances in the regular season. He made 2 more appearances in the ALDS, again allowing 0 runs over 2.2 innings pitched.

All hands on Deck:
Trevor May made his move to the bullpen a while back, and this year he has grown into the role, striking out 79 batters in his 64.1 innings pitched. He picked up a pair of saves as well, and has brought a powerful arm to blow past the competition.
Kyle Gibson was the team's #3 Starter for the majority of the season, however a battle with ulcerative colitis placed him on the IL towards the end of the year, and he's tried to make an impact coming out of the bullpen. It is still a work in progress. He does bring veteran leadership to the staff.
Lewis Thorpe may very well be a starter in the future, for now the Aussie has been serving as a lefty option out of the pen for first year manager Rocco Baldelli.

Matt Guerrier led the Twins in 2010 with 74 games, as Ron Gardenhire's first choice out of the pen. He had good control and rarely allowed homers, giving up just 7 homers over 71 innings. He had 2.1 scoreless innings of relief in the ALDS.
Jesse Crain was even better in 71 games, only surrendering 5 homers. Crain and Guerrier were solid pen options for the Twins, though Crain had a tough outing in the post season, giving up 3 hits and a pair of runs in Game 1, earning the Loss.
Jose Mijares was the go to lefty for the Twins in 2010, appearing in 47 games while pitching just 32.2 innings all season. Like the rest of the pen, he had good control and rarely allowed home runs.

Monday, September 30, 2019

1994 Topps All-Star Rookie Left Handed Pitcher Brian Anderson

The 6'1" lefty from Ohio made a big impression in 1994 for the Angels early on. Anderson hurled 8 shutout innings against the Yankees, earning the victory, one of three straight victories to start the season. He was just a year removed from pitching in college for Wright State. If not for a fractured thumb suffered in May, he may have had a much more  impressive rookie campaign. The player's strike ended his season while he was still regaining his early season form.

His swift rise to the majors, his first round pedigree, and his early season success was enough to land him a spot on the 1994 Topps All-Star Rookie team.

Anderson had a stellar college career-- in his junior and senior season he recorded more strikeouts than innings pitched. His final season in 1993 included 98 Ks and just 6 walks. He was a 3rd Team All-American in 1992, and was the Angels' first round selection (#3 Overall) in June of 1993. He set records at Wright State for single season Ks, victories, innings pitched, and complete games.

Anderson spent little time in the minor leagues, as a college pitcher with a track record of success, there was little left for him to prove, and the Angels were anxiously awaiting his arrival. He would only pitch in 4 minor league games in 1993 before his promotion the big leagues.

The quick promotion may have prevented Anderson from developing his craft. Rod Carew is probably reassuring Anderson that at least his doesn't have to pitch to him. In 1996, Anderson was traded to Cleveland for Jason Grimsley after a pair of frustrating but solid seasons at the back of the Angels rotation.

In 1997, Anderson would get his first taste of the post season, and it suited him well. Cleveland used Anderson out of the bullpen, and he made 6 appearances including a win in the ALCS and a save in the World Series. Following this, Anderson was still a pitcher looking for a home, and he was one of the more intriguing arms available in the expansion draft for the Rays and Diamondbacks.

Anderson was the first player selected by the Diamondbacks, and became the first pitcher to toss a shutout for the team. He topped 200 innings pitched in the team's inaugural season, and led the national league with a criminally stingy 1.0/9 inning walk rate. The flip side of that stat was the league leading 39 homers allowed. Undeterred, Anderson would again shine in the post season, going 7 strong innings against the Mets in losing effort in 1999, then again performed well in 2001, limiting damage in 4 appearances, winning a game in relief in the NLCS against Atlanta, and providing a day of rest inbetween the starts from Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson in the World Series.

He would return to Cleveland in 2003, and his defense let him down, allowing 27 UNearned runs in his 23 starts. The Royals acquired Anderson for the second half, seeing the better peripheral numbers and the rotten luck. He would go 5-1 down the stretch for the Royals, finished with career bests in victories, ERA, and complete games.

He would finish his career after a UCL injury in spring training for the Rays in 2008. He had been trying to recover from a pair of Tommy John surgeries. The relationship with the Rays would prove fruitful, along with a connection to longtime Reds' announcer Marty Brennaman and has led to his 2nd career, as the announcer for Rays TV.

Anderson finished with 10 Wins Above Replacement, and an 82-83 record in 13 MLB seasons. His 1.96 career walk rate per 9 innings is in the top 100 All-time.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

A Tale of Two Champions- Part One

The 2019 Minnesota Twins are A.L. Central Division Champions! Their last Division Title came all the way back in 2010, the inaugural season at Target Field in Minneapolis.  Let's compare and contrast those teams, shall we?

Joe Mauer was coming off an MVP season in 2009, and while he didn't hit for power like he did the year before, he had another tremendous season for the Twins as their franchise player. Mauer reeled in his 3rd Gold Glove, 4th Silver Slugger award, and 4th All-Star appearance. He slashed .327/.402/.469 , head and shoulders above the other A.L. catchers racking up an OPS+ of 140.

Mitch Garver set a team record for homers by a catcher, and had 31 total dingers for the season, which translated to an OPS+ of 165! Along with Jason Castro and Willians Astudillo, the Twins' Catchers set an MLB record for homers with 44 from that position.

First Baseman:
Justin Morneau was on his way to his 2nd MVP award when his season was cut short by an unfortunate concussion sliding into 2nd base. In 81 games, he was hitting .345/.437/.618 with 18 homers and 56 RBI. The concussion derailed a sneaky stellar career. It would be 4 years before he'd hit above .300 again (actually winning a batting title in Colorado in '14), and like Mauer one year later and Corey Koskie earlier, the concussion altered what could have been an historic season. I still wonder what the post season could have been like with Morneau in the lineup.

C.J. Cron has battled a nagging thumb injury for the 2nd half of the season, and it is a story of two seasons for the righty slugger. Before his injury, Cron was hitting .285/.349/.547 with 17 Homers in 68 games. Since the thumb injury, he's hit 8 homers (one today!) playing in 57 games and his average dropped nearly 100 points and slugging nearly 200(!). The homer today is encouraging, the time off this week leading up to game 1 will be key to determining if Cron will be healthy enough to be a factor.

Second Base:
Orlando Hudson was a big offseason acquisition for the Twins, as the team was moving on from the other Orlando, Orlando Cabrera, who the Twins acquired in a 2009 trade deadline deal. Hudson brought a spark to the top of the lineup and provided timely hitting and some speed.

Jonathan Schoop was coming off a disappointing season in 2018, having split the year between Baltimore and Milwaukee. Schoop came to the Twins looking to have a bounce-back season and re-establish his value. His rifle arm from second base certainly helped the Twins turn more double plays, and his 23 homers look impressive enough on paper. He's managed to be one of the worst hitters in close/late situations, however, and his position as the everyday 2nd Baseman was ceded to rookie sensation Luis Arraez.

Short Stop:
J.J. Hardy came to the Twins in an off-season deal that cost charismatic centerfielder Carlos Gomez. His first season with the team included just 101 games played and 6 homers from a player that was expected to provide much more of both. Whether it was a nagging injury or a clash of hitting philosophy with Twins' coaches, the relationship never quite gelled. Hardy would be dealt to Baltimore for a pair of lottery ticket hard throwing relievers, neither of which panned out.

Jorge Polanco signed a big contract extension during spring training, and responded with his first All-Star selection, and helped anchor the Twins' infield and batting order with exciting play on both sides of the ball. His 186 hits and 40 doubles led the Twins offensive attack, and he finished with a .296 batting average. He set a team record in 2019 for the Highest single season OPS+ by a shortstop, 129. 

Third Base:
Danny Valencia crushes Lefties. The 25 year old slashed .311/.351/.448 in 85 games at the hot corner. against southpaws? He hit .374/.441/.525 as a rookie, and that reputation would be earned throughout his career, and he would move on to a lengthy career with Baltimore and Oakland, among others, playing his final MLB game in August of 2018.

Miguel Sano damages baseballs. He survived a 3-39 slump early in the season, and after re-tooling his swing he has begun to make more solid contact while reducing the number of swings and misses. He missed nearly all of April with a freak injury he suffered in the championship parade of the Dominican winter league, he still cracked 34 homers and drove in 79 RBI in 104 games. Despite having a metal rod inserted in his leg from an injury last year, Sano only grounded into 5 double plays.

Designated Hitter:
Jim Thome spent his age 39 season by leading his team in homers and being the veteran presence among several young and developing hitters. His highlights included passing Harmon Killebrew on the all-time HR list, then Frank Robinson towards the end of the season, but the biggest hit came in August. Facing the rival White Sox, Thome launched a 445 blast that was the game winning homer in the bottom of the 10th. It was the first walk off win in Target Field history, but an MLB record 12th walk off HR for Big Jim.

Nelson Cruz spent his age 38 season by leading his team in homers and being the veteran presence among several young and developing hitters. His highlights included passing Al Kaline on the all-time HR list, recording his first 3-HR game in his career, then his 2nd 3-HR game 10 days later. It was the 4th time he surpassed 40 HR in a season, and his 6th straight season of at least 37 round trippers.

Left Field:

Delmon Young was the #1 Overall Draft Pick by the Rays, and by the time the Twins traded for him, he had been suspended in the minor leagues for hitting an umpire with his bat, and was derided by his critics as unmotivated. The trade to the Twins worked for a while - he led the team in RBI in 2010, and hit 21 homers to go along with 46 doubles and 5 stolen bases. He was a key part of that division championship team, and was better than people give him credit for.

Eddie Rosario was the Twins' 4th round pick in 2010, providing a lone direct link to the 2010 team on the 2019 squad. Rosie led the 2019 Twins in RBI just like Delmon. Another stat that should surprise no-one: Eddie and Delmon are free-swingers. Rosie led the league swinging out of the zone in 2019 with a 45% rate. Not far behind was Delmon's 42% in 2010. Oh, but when they connect! Rosie hit 32 homers in 2019.

Center Field:

Denard Span re-established himself as the everyday center fielder after giving the role to Carlos Gomez the year before. Span had shifted to Right Field in 2009, but was still an above average defender. The move back to Center would be short lived as Ben Revere was on his way. Both Span and Revere would be moving on shortly, as they would both be traded in exchange for pitching when the Twins were desperate to add arms. Span was the team's leadoff man in 2010, and easily led the team with 10 Triples and 26 Stolen Bases.

Byron Buxton came into 2019 following a lost 2018. His season didn't end the way he wanted it to (i.e. healthy), but in stark contrast to his struggles from a year ago, Buxton showed all the tools that make him a game changing talent. In 87 games, he hit 10 homers, stole 14 bases,  and had 30 doubles and 4 Triples. While healthy he was among the best defenders in the league. Buxton's injury history may concern some, however each incident was isolated and can attributed more to bad luck than a chronic condition. Buxton will be primed and ready for a reversal of fortune in 2020.

Right Field:

Jason Kubel was slotted to be a career DH, but the signing of Jim Thome gave Kubel the chance to show his versatility and athleticism. Kubel slashed .249/.323/.427 which may not look impressive, but it was still above league average production. He smashed 21 homers and drove in 92 runs, needed production in the absence of Justin Morneau. He was in the lineup for 143 games, a key stat for the 2010 Twins' outfielders, who all played in over 140 contests.

Max Kepler signed a deal very similar to teammate Jorge Polanco in Spring Training, and like Jorge, Kepler proved it was a smart move for the Twins to lock up their young outfielder. Kepler was responsible for several walk off wins in the last two seasons, including an extra-innings RBI single against a very tough Oakland squad that had pestered the powerful Twins all weekend long at Target Field. Kepler excelled against both righties and lefties, correcting a flaw in his previous seasons by hitting left handed pitching better than he ever had before. Kepler hit 36 homers, and was well on his way to a 100+ RBI season until he had a deep shoulder bruise that has kept him in a reserve role for the last 2 weeks. Kepler is expecting to be back in the lineup for the ALDS against the Yankees.

Part 2 Coming Soon- The Pitchers!

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

1994 Topps All-Star Rookie Third Baseman Jose Oliva

The story of Raul Mondesi may have been a Greek Tragedy, Jose Oliva was a tragedy borne from modern times. Oliva was named to the 1994 Topps All-Star Rookie squad with just 19 major league games played. The league did not have many rookies that year playing third base, and while a case could be made for Brewers infielder Jose Valentin, Oliva was given the nod based on his sky high potential.

Oliva came to the Braves via trade, with Atlanta sending veteran pitcher Charlie Liebrandt to Texas. Oliva was a free agent in 1987 out of the Dominican Republic, specifically from baseball hotbed San Pedro de Macoris, home to Pedro Guerrero, Manny Lee, Juan Samuel, Joaquin Andujar, and Jorge Bell to name a few. More recently, stars like Miguel Andujar, Sammy Sosa, Jorge Polanco and Miguel Sano came to the big leagues from this city which has a population under 200,000.

Oliva tore up the minor leagues, from the Gulf Coast League, to Butte, Montana, on down to Tulsa Oklahoma. He hit for impressive power and while he struck out quite a bit, the power numbers were legit. Oliva had no shortage of confidence and once boasted that he "could hit the Devil himself." double digit homers for Oliva in 1990, 1991, and 1992 made him an intriguing prospect for Atlanta to add to their lineup. The team had drafted the future hall of fame 3b Chipper Jones as a short stop initially, and adding power prospect Oliva to complement Ryan Klesko was intended to give the team a formidable middle of the lineup.

Oliva's minor league numbers in Richmond for the Braves surpassed everything he'd done to date, pushing his power above the 20 homer plateau in both 1993 and 1994. An injury to Terry Pendleton gave Oliva the chance to play everyday for a few weeks, and he responded with 6 homers while posting career highs for batting average and on base average with the big league club.

With Chipper Jones' arrival in Atlanta, Oliva was dealt in late August 1995 to Saint Louis, with a change of scenery perhaps giving Oliva a better shot an everyday gig. He would appear in 70 games overall in 1995, but hit an abysmal .142 at the major league level.

Oliva would spend the entire 1996 campaign in AAA Louisville, and he hit a career best 31 homers, but once again was stuck behind other established stars on the depth chart. That winter he would have a fantastic short season playing for his hometown team in San Pedro de Macoris, the Estrellas. He would spend the 1997 regular season playing in China for the Taipei, Taiwan team. He hit another 25 homers, and would return again to the Dominican Republic for another attempt to break in with a major league club. Oliva had a minor league offer from Seattle that off season, but sadly Oliva passed following a single car accident in the Dominican Republic. Oliva was survived by three young daughters.

We'll never know if Oliva could have made that come back, or what kind of MLB career he would have had. He passed away 2 months shy of his 27th birthday. 

Thursday, September 19, 2019

A Vintage Bo-nanza

Bo of Baseball Cards Come to Life! and I completed a trade recently, and Bo came through with a life affirming cavalcade of cardboard excellence. I am thinking about how I'd like to build my copycat Hall of Fame binder (stolen from P-Town Tom via Red Cardboard), and this Lou Brock is probably the #1 contender from his playing days to make the cut.

Luis Tiant is one of those guys on the outside looking in to the Hall - he had a brief but brilliant peak to his career, which came after some lean years.

The trade that brought Tiant to Minnesota sent Nettles to Cleveland. He'd get recognition for his superb defense once he made his way further East to New York.

As you can see, Bo shredded my vintage 70s wantlists, working from year to year.

Maybe I've been too tough on the 1973 set? There are some great cards to be found in it.

An upgraded Alou!

Tiant and Vida Blue were in the middle of some serious dominance of opposing hitters. Dick Allen had a fantastic season on the South Side, and Ken Griffey was about to be a World Champion 2X running for the Reds.

Speaking of the Big Red Machine, a fantastic Johnny Bench card coming through the dusty trail. I really love the shot of the Kauffman Stadium scoreboard for the Royals. Pretty good action shots in the 1976 set.

Seriously, this is just scratching the surface of the haul from Bo - a ton of vintage.

Without overloading the servers, there was also a big stack of 90s cards as well.

and Hockey! Believe it or not, this was actually the spark that prompted the trade. Bo emailed me and said he had some Stanley Cup cards, and tossed in a huge lot of Minnesota North Stars / Wild to beef up my NHL collection.

And there you have (again just a sample) the reason for the trade in the first place, The Stanley Cup is getting some serious love from the various card companies.

Thanks again for the trade, Bo! The cards you sent were fantastic and much appreciated!