June 29, 1999
AL Central Notebook
Game Report: Twins at White Sox, June 24, 1999
Game Report: Minnesota Twins at Chicago White Sox, June 24, 1999:
Brad Radke versus Jaime Navarro
I like to go to the ballpark with a few things on my mind. Sometimes they're questions, and I see if the game gives me any clues about their answers. Sometimes I go just to see a player I've never seen, or to see a guy I love to watch play, such as Ken Caminiti afield. But with the Twins rolling into Chicago to play a series, I couldn't help but enjoy the game for what it represented: the future.
Now, you're going to expect me to say that, after the visions of grandeur we outlined for the Twins in Baseball Prospectus 1999, in one of our more dramatically optimistic polemics. However, as mainstream commentators become converted to the herd theory that "X number of teams have no shot at the World Series, and that's proof that something is very wrong," what was refreshing about watching the Sox and the Twins is that both teams are potential illustrations of what's right in baseball: teams rebuilding to get to the point where they have a shot at the World Series. Neither team is goofing off with Otis Nixon or Davey Martinez or Orlando Merced or Wil Cordero, veteran mediocrities who cost plenty but who do nothing to get weak major league squads any closer to that World Series shot.
On the other hand, a "classic" confrontation of Jaime Navarro versus Brad Radke probably isn't the best illustration of where these teams are going. While the chances are pretty good that Radke could be in the rotation for the next good Twins team, the smokeless guns of Navarro will be belching souvenirs someplace else by the time the Sox are geared up for their October run.
The Young Twins Struggle
Radke scuffled badly. After the game, Terry Steinbach said this was the worst he'd ever seen Radke throw, and nothing he threw worked. Despite what seemed like a generous outside corner from home plate umpire Jim Joyce, he gave up 13 hits in 5 1/3 innings. I'd hazard a guess that the line shot he took off his knee in Boston on June 14 is still bothering him, since he didn't seem to be able to push off of the rubber at all.
As you'd expect from a young team without a lot of experience playing together, the defense didn't help Radke much. There were singles hit past Cristian Guzman and Todd Walker because they were cheating too far towards second base. Chad Allen missed a play at the wall, and Frank Thomas got a free trip to third base when none of Allen, Guzman and Brent Gates knew where they were supposed to be when right fielder Corey Koskie--normally a third baseman--made a wild throw into second base on The Big Hurt's double. Steinbach showed slow reflexes behind the plate, moving glacially to field bunts that died ten feet up the third base line, and bobbling away his lone shot at gunning a runner. At least Jacque Jones showed good range in center, which bodes well for his chances of sticking around once Matt Lawton heals. Guzman did flash a good arm from time to time.
Young Twins hitters looked like a pretty free-swinging bunch. Koskie has shown good patience, but Thursday he was happy to jump on the first pitch his first couple of times up. Both of the Twins' left-handed power threats, Koskie and Walker, showed a willingness to drive the ball hard to left field, which is something I really grew to love about a young Harold Baines. Jones is a fun hitter to watch, but I'm not sold on how things are going to work out long-term. His minor-league career has gotten people worried about his strike-zone judgment, but he was fun to watch in my first good look at him. A hacker who swings from his heels, he plastered some of the noisiest singles I've heard in a long time. Batting with men on base, he became noticeably more selective.
What was irksome about the Twins' turns at-bat was Tom Kelly's decision to try to make his presence felt by managing. Post-game, there was talk about failed hit-and-runs, but Ron Coomer's caught stealing in the second with nobody on was a run-and-hit, and who runs with someone as slow as Coomer? Chad Allen's ugly defensive swing on an inside pitch to try to protect Coomer only helped some folks jump to the conclusion that the rookie must have done something wrong. At least TK continued to follow up on his decision to scrap having Guzman bat second, but how good is it when you have to un-do a bad decision in the first place?
Defense Is the Difference
As for Jaime Navarro...like Radke, he had nothing; unlike Radke, he got great defensive support. There's been banter about Navarro's experimentation with throwing sidearm, but today he was throwing almost three-quarters most of the time. Despite allowing multiple hits in every inning he pitched, and a total of 12--all singles, he was bailed out by a pair of double plays. One was started by Ray Durham in the first, and the other came in the third on a Brent Gates hopper to Mike Caruso on which Durham had to take the feed and fire over a charging takeout slide by Jacque Jones. Magglio Ordonez made a great over-the-shoulder running catch on a Coomer drive to open the fourth.
The only fielders that didn't help Navarro were Jaime himself (doing a couple of nifty flops on wormkillers) and Frank Thomas, who allowed a run when he didn't settle for a nice stop that would have kept the lead runner at third, instead weakly rolling the ball behind a late-covering Navarro at first base. Keith Foulke made the Twins look terrible late in the game with his mix of good heat and a wicked palmball. Bobby Howry closed for the save; the game ended, appropriately enough, on another double play where Durham had to take a hit to make the feed to first. The persistent criticisms of Durham for his problems on the deuce (most notably, when he was working with Ozzie Guillen) seem more than a bit stale.
Offensively, the Sox did a few good things. There's been talk of getting "Slappy" Caruso to settle down and take a few pitches. He made an honest effort at it in the first inning, working Radke to a 2-2 count before popping out to right. He didn't have another three-pitch at-bat until the ninth, when he again worked all the way up to four pitches before...popping up to right. Frank Thomas notched his 1500th hit, a double to right on an 0-2 count. Jeff Liefer had three run-scoring hits, all of them hard-hit singles: the first one past Guzman, the second one down the right-field line past Coomer, and the third up the middle. That's a different sort of sombrero, I guess.
There was an interesting illustration of the difference between two different kinds of impatient hitters: Carlos Lee would jump on pitches early in the count, as he's inclined to do, while Chris Singleton would work the count and then hack.
Overall, there was a lot to like from both teams. Both of them, and the Royals, are in the running for who gets to succeed the Indians once the Tribe gets old and/or someone finally makes John Hart keep and play some of the veterans he signs. The Twins are obviously behind, with the most significant difference being the pitchers Terry Ryan's Twins have drafted versus the ones that Ron Schueler's Sox have traded for or drafted. The Sox' strong record in this regard is going to make a bigger difference, both in their fun run at the wild card this year, and in those years in the not-so-distant future when they're going to have a great shot at unseating the Indians. Because of the Twins' problems developing pitching, their road back is going to longer and tougher than it had to be.
Let me get this straight. Free agent Dean Palmer, journeyman middle reliever Doug Brocail and Randy Smith fave Brad Ausmus have been named Detroit team captains? I don't remember people who actually had great careers for the Tigers being so honored. Hell, Tommy Brookens did more for this organization than any of these carpetbaggers. As Rany's pointed out, this is pathetic, even for a Smith operation. I can only guess Gregg Jefferies feels left out. What's next? A free Little Caesar's franchise for every free agent who signs with the Tigers?