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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.

Notes

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?