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2014 season

When I first saw Evan Longoria play it was a defensive move at third base that reminded me a little of Carney Lansford, the old A’s and Red Sox 3rd baseman, and a little of Scott Rolen. He’s not quite that good defensively in my opinion, but he’s far above average, and, at 28, he’s still relatively young — just in the middle of his prime. His bat is much more like Eddie Matthews or Mike Schmidt at the hot corner however. Longoria has prodigious power required of any man that wears number 3 on his back.

Evan became a YouTube sensation after this video went viral a few years ago. For non-baseball fans that’s cool, but it was a commercial for Gillette as proved by Snopes. What makes him a favorite of mine goes deeper than just the numbers, or the glam video. For years Evan has been the most valuable player, when measured by salary, in all of baseball, thanks to his long-term, team friendly contract. His was the long-term contract that changed the way that all teams handle young players now. His dollar signs were far smaller than they are now, but his production per dollar set the new standard. Continue reading

Tim Lincecum isn’t my typical choice when it comes to a favorite player.

I don’t know if he does anything amazing for the community in SF as Justin Morneau has done here in Minnesota. I don’t know his

Photo credit Bruce Edwards via Wikipedia

Photo credit Bruce Edwards via Wikipedia

college or minor league back stories. Heck, I remember looking at him the first time and wasn’t impressed. He’s slight of frame and with that Keanu Reeves look and that god awful haircut, I couldn’t take him seriously in the spring before his rookie season.

Then he threw a 12-6 deuce that just reminded me of Dwight Gooden and the hitter’s knees buckled. Then he threw a 96 mph fastball by the kid that made him look terrible. Not a big deal. It was spring training, and a lot of players look foolish from time to time — but then Lincecum did two things that made me take note. He threw two more fastballs over 95 with precision and he dropped the curve on a veteran hitter and made that guy’s knees buckle too. Again, that happens. But then he smiled. And it wasn’t just a typical “I’m playing in the big leagues, mom” kind of smile, either. His smile said: “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

The Freak made me a fan. Continue reading

This past weekend, between my routine of grinding out yet another underwhelming series loss by the Dodgers, I enjoyed the sight of the Oakland Athletics notching both white-knuckle walk-offs and blowout wins at home against the Washington Nationals. As I usually devote space here and on Facebook and whatnot to the Twins and Dodgers first, I should note that the A’s are basically my “number three” team. That said, they have a significance to me not even Minnesota and Los Angeles can claim. Around the time my family moved to Sacramento in 2000, I became a diehard baseball fan, and thus began forming my allegiances. I selected the Twins as my number one (long story), and naturally had the Dodgers handed down by my father.

Continue reading

I get asked if I ever get tired of savaging the things and players I don’t like in baseball the other day. The answer is no. It’s the perfect game, and I think we should all strive for perfection while never being satisfied with status quo. After my wife shook her head at me for my answer she asked me a question that made me smile. “Do you have any players you love like you did when you were a kid?”

The answer is actually yes. Three players that are currently playing are my “favorites.” I am going to dedicate a blog to each of them. If I’m too sappy please understand it’s the yin to my yang for the passion I feel for the game of baseball.

The three blogs will be on two-time former NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum of the Giants, Evan Longoria of the Tampa Bay Rays, and former AL MVP Justin Morneau of the Colorado Rockies which is where I am starting because he is by far and away my favorite player since Don Mattingly and Dwight Gooden.

I’m a baseball card collector (though I’ve taken a 10-year break while raising my children and having little disposable income to invest) and that is where I first found out about Justin Morneau. His Bowman rookie card boasted my second favorite prospect analysis I’ve ever read (behind a card on Alex Rodriguez). It stated something to the effect of: “think Larry Walker with less speed, but with a lot more power…” As a Twins fan who has now endured three sessions of absolutely pathetic baseball (two then), 1978-86, 1993-01, and the current stretch that started in 2011 and likely will last until Terry Ryan resigns. Continue reading

As I write this, the first game of the Dodgers/Nationals series is currently being rain delayed, so I figure this is the right time to look back on the first full month of Dodger baseball and assess the True Blue state of affairs. So, how do the Dodgers look thus far? Well…good enough. They may sit in third place right now with an 18-14 record, but it’s not in a way that reflects an irreversibly disappointing start. Nonetheless, it’s enough to gauge the incredible strengths and frustrating shortcomings that have pervaded each game thus far.

First, the highlights. A salute to Dee Gordon, who I expected to be a creampuff excuse for a second baseman. This season, he’s answered my prediction by leading the majors in stolen bases, all while batting above .300 and making a difference in seemingly every at-bat. On the contrary, I had exceedingly high expectations for the starting rotation and they have exceeded them. Even without Clayton Kershaw, we’ve been treated to Zack Greinke’s historic streak of starts with two or fewer earned runs, Hyun-Jin Ryu’s scoreless inning streak on the road, Josh Beckett’s gritty renaissance, and Dan Haren’s ace-like line that blows the mind when you consider he’s the fourth … FOURTH … starter.

Adrian Gonzalez is reaching new levels as a power hitter and producer on offense, and Yasiel Puig has mercifully cut out off-field drama in favor of simply being the titanic player he is. (And seriously, how about that crazy escape story? As I write this, even some things that were looking to be Achilles heels at first (Brandon League’s performance, the team’s resolve in extra-inning games) are looking up right now. Continue reading

I haven’t been this excited for a Twins rookie since … OK so I’d be lying if I said that I expected anything like this out of Chris Colabello this season. At 30 years old and after showing zero flash as a major leaguer last year in his debut I didn’t expect him or want him to make the team’s 25 man Opening Day Roster. Through April 19th I am a fool for thinking so.

Cowbell entered the day leading the American League in doubles and RBI. He is far from a finished project as a RF, but Twins management has handed first base to “Joltless” Joe Mauer, which forces the lesser athlete to play in the outfield to protect Joe from a hangnail or possibly breaking a sweat running for a fly ball.

To say that Colabello been clutch is almost an understatement for a team that is near the bottom of the league in batting average this year and that has been terrible over the previous three seasons at driving in runs with timely hitting.

I am not saying that this is something that is going to last. Watching his swing gives me pause because he has flailed at some pretty awful pitches. With the advanced scouting and metrics used these days it’s quite likely that by June he’s been nullified and reduced to roster filler. However, when he makes contact he puts the ball in right center, left center, and can pull the ball when needed so if his amazing April is not just a flash in the pan hot start his story could be that of a Disney movie.

In 2010 he was playing Independent League ball. The Twins signed him as a “Crash Davis” kind of mentor for the young up-and-comers, to solidify a weak spot in the lineup and give the AA team a first baseman.

Last year he won the AAA International League MVP, an honor that could have earned him $1 million in Korea. He had the offer and he talked to his agent about asking for his release from the Twins. At 30-years-old it would have made perfect financial sense to go overseas and cash a bigger paycheck than he’s ever seen. He didn’t. He believed that he could be a Major Leaguer, and he made the team out of spring training. Chris hasn’t let up at all for the Major League club so far. He is at 26 RBI, which ties the April record in Minnesota – held by Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett.

And he hit a homerun on his mother’s birthday – while mom was being interviewed on the local television broadcast. I’m definitely cheering for MORE COWBELL!

For what it’s worth Colabello will make a little over $500,000 this season. Joltless Joe makes $143,000 per game.

The Pirates absolutely needed the bat and the game of Ike Davis. By trading one of their best minor league relief prospects the Pirates gave up a potential asset for a definite asset. This should make the Pirates a huge winner in this, but the trade balances out quite nicely.

Anyone that has been paying attention to at all has seen that the Mets are perceiving themselves as winners in this situation as well.  First it clears the path for Duda to play every day at first base. Beyond that it will bring Bobby Abreu up from AAA to resume his MLB career. Finally it loads their minor league system with a top notch reliever while clearing everything else up.

My view right now is that the Pirates come out of this deal ahead 70/30.  Davis’ bat and this trade should be a huge shot in the arm to the players in Pittsburgh knowing that the owner and GM have the players’ backs.

The Mets don’t really lose anything by making this trade and stand to gain greatly if Abreu is more than a shell of his former self. And if and when Zach Thornton makes his MLB debut he becomes a top notch reliever… I think that the Mets will look at that as an amazing bonus.

These days I’m usually busy on this site with my Artful Dodgers column, and rest assured I’ll have another coming soon. But before I continue my routine of overreacting to every game and debating who I’d want to play Don Mattingly in “2014 Dodgers: The Movie” (I’m leaning toward Bill Murray at the moment), I want to get back to general commentary for this piece. More specifically, I want to take this space to congratulate Albert Pujols on his 500th career home run and the prestige it adds to perhaps the finest career I’ve been able to witness in my time as a baseball fan (from the 2001 season to present, which fittingly marks his exact career span).

In a series that was hyped as the first meeting between the brash young superstars Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, it made for an even more fitting occasion for Pujols to join the 500 club (granted, of the 26 members, he’s now the third-youngest). And he became the first player in history to notch both 499 and 500 on the same day, with the big one being one of his trademark mammoth blasts to left center. Continue reading

This offseason Ubaldo Jimenez was one of the most sought after free agent pitchers. He had a superb year after a couple of bumpy seasons upon leaving the Rockies for Cleveland. In three starts so far this season he has been something beyond awful in Baltimore.

Ricky Nolasco defined upper middle class pitching for the last six seasons, but his first two starts this season were terrible. His third start was much better, but his current ERA is in the neighborhood of awful.

Francisco Liriano was the NL Comeback Player of the Year last season, and so far he’s 0-3 — though he pitched well in his third start as well.

On the other side of that, oft-injured Kyle Gibson of the Minnesota Twins looked like a failed prospect who was never going to reach his potential, but through three starts Gibson has been almost unhittable. His ERA is just under a run, and he’s 3-0.

Speaking of the Twins last season as a team they scored 10 runs in a game six times. In the first 12 games of the season in 2014 they have already accomplished this feat three times. They are also drawing a lot of walks as a team which they’ve not done since the Chuck Knoblauch era.

I’m not saying sell all or buy any of this as anything more than the small sample it is, but it shows just how impressive those players are who can maintain consistency from one year to the next.

Have you ever had those moments where you’ve stopped and realized just how long a week felt? Particularly when it was an up-and-down, eventful seven days? Without a doubt, the past week marked an opening stretch for Dodger fans that was as exhausting emotionally as it was exhaustive in demonstrating everything that will either define a triumphant year or a high-priced flop in 2014.

First things first, the opening series in San Diego. After Brian Wilson and his Khal Drogo beard wasted Hyun Jin Ryu’s brilliant start in game one, Zack Greinke and Dan Haren won the next two games with sufficient, if not exceptional, help from the offense and bullpen. But the victories were offset by far greater losses, as both Clayton Kershaw and Wilson were sent to the 15-day DL (thus explaining the latter’s seemingly inexplicable meltdown in game one). Before panic mode could set in, however, both injuries were revealed to be far from season-ending material, with Wilson’s coming from nerve damage (a relief considering he’s had two Tommy John surgeries) and Kershaw’s more in the realm of back pain without any serious tears. Being without both players’ talents and exceptional personalities on the field is an undeniable setback, but when you’ve officially exceeded the Yankees in payroll, there’s no excuse to not hold first place in time for their return. Continue reading