Monday, February 22, 2010

On to the AL

As promised in my post about the Colorado Rockies, I will not take a look at the 2010 season for the Minnesota Twins.

2010 Minnesota Twins

I have been following the Twins my entire life. I was fortunate enough to watch two Twins World Series victories in 1987 and 1991. Of course, I was only 5 and 9 during these years. Not exactly the best ages to explicitly remember exactly how everything went down. After the 1991 season, the Twins decided to be the laughingstock of baseball (kind of like the Pirates and Nationals are now) and almost got contracted by Bud Selig. After several years of wallowing in the bottom of the AL, they changed their management approach, just as the Rockies would do years later. They reduced their payroll, made better drafting decisions, and created one of the best farm systems in baseball. The result has been years of a competitive Twins team that has won the AL Central five of the last eight years. They have also fizzled out in the playoffs every year (6-18 in their last 5 trips to the postseason), but whatever. Think the Royals or Blue Jays would trade places with the Twins? I sure do. A trip to the playoffs every year is still better than being on the outside looking in. At least you have a chance (until you ultimately get raged by the Yankees, like the Twins do EVERY FREAKING YEAR!!).

This offseason, the Twins have slightly varied from their small market mentality. They added a couple of higher profile free agents (albeit at a reduced price) in Jim Thome and Orlando Hudson and traded for another in J.J. Hardy. Their payroll may actually even jump up into the top 10 payrolls across the league, depending on if they can extend the contract of the franchise, Joe Mauer. Despite the uncharacteristic payroll splurge, the team is still filled with locally grown products, especially through their starting rotation. They have arguably the best manager in the game, the best catcher in baseball, a top 5 first baseman, and a top 5 closer. While this might not be the best team that the Twins have fielded during my lifetime, there is no doubt that they are the favorites to win the AL Central for the 6th time in 9 years. Consistency, people.

Starting Lineup:
C - Joe Mauer
1B - Justin Morneau
2B - Orlando Hudson
3B - Nick Punto
SS - J.J. Hardy
LF - Delmon Young
CF - Denard Span
RF - Michael Cuddyer
DH - Jason Kubel

Jim Thome
Wilson Ramos or Drew Butera
Alexi Casilla
Matt Tolbert
Brendan Harris

This lineup is approximately 1 million times more lethal than last year's lineup. No joke. The Twins effectively replaced Nick Punto, Brendan Harris, and Orlando Cabrera with Nick Punto, J.J. Hardy, and Orlando Hudson. Why would you not expect a gargantuan improvement to the offense from these positions? Punto is scrappy player 1C behind David Eckstein and Jamey Carroll who has huge swings in production from year to year. Last year was a down year. That means 2010 will be a good year for Little Nicky Punto. Hardy struggled through his last season in Milwaukee. An incredible defender, he just could not get his previously hot bat going throughout 2009. I think a change of scenery and the fact that he will be pushed deeper into the lineup will let him relax and find his hitting groove again. As for Orlando Hudson, all this guy has done in the past several years is produce. Combining Hudson with Span at the top of the lineup will create ample RBI opportunities for the big bats behind them. With Mauer, Morneau, Kubel, and Thome, this lineup could be a murder's row for opposing RHPs. Good luck getting through this high average, high power, left handed leaning lineup.

I do worry about the depth in the outfield. Before the Hardy trade, Carlos Gomez was a great 4th outfielder with an incredible upside. Now the Twins may end up relying more on Kubel or a utility infielder (Tolbert, maybe) to fill any backup outfield spots. The corner outfield positions might be the weak link on a otherwise solid defensive team with Young and Cuddyer not exactly being Gold Glove material.

Starting Pitchers:
Scott Baker
Carl Pavano
Nick Blackburn
Kevin Slowey
Francisco Liriano

Joe Nathan (Closer)
Matt Guerrier
Jessie Crain
Pat Neskek
Jose Mijares
Brian Duensing / Jeff Manship
Jon Rauch

The pitching rotation is pretty much set with the top 4 guys as close to locked in as you can be at this stage in the spring. The question mark comes in the 5th spot. Brian Duensing has a chance at this spot. Hell, he started Game 1 of the ALDS last year. You have to look at him for a rotation spot. The reason I am inclined to include Liriano instead of Duensing is all the reports I have heard coming from the Dominican League this winter. Twins personnel, rival scouts, and fans are all saying that Liriano is finally back to where he was before undergoing surgery a couple years ago. The one-time heir-apparent to Johan Santana looks to finally be back to his ace of the rotation act. This could not make me any happier. It seems like the more question marks the Twins have in the pitching staff, the better it ends up being. I think they have the depth and now a bit of experience to assist that ridiculous lineup. The bullpen is hopefully getting back Pat Neskek, who was out last season. All that guy did in 2008 was become one of the best setup guys in the game. Hopefully he can return to that form and the other young pitchers continue to progress.

Regular Season Prediction: 91-71, 1st in the AL Central.

Til the next post,

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Making Progress

I would guess that you have experienced this situation before: You are with a group of people when you reveal something about yourself to the group. There is always that one individual that says, "Hey, my Uncle Bob is really into that, too. I should introduce you to him/show you his website/give you his email address. You would get along swell!" Most of the time, meeting Uncle Bob does not go so swell. It might be the subtle smell of cat urine seeping from his pores or the fact that he is more interested in you than what your interest is. Regardless, the original idea of introducing a couple strangers who supposedly share some common ground tends to have great intentions with catastrophic results (at least in my experience).

An "Uncle Bob" moment happened to me after my blog proclamation that (a) I was going to blog much more frequently in 2010 and (b) that blogging was one of my many creative outlets in my life. In this particular case, being introduced to "Uncle Bob" actually turned out to be far from a disaster.A friend of mine who I work with was unaware of this non-engineering side of me. He gets to pleasure of seeing me during my most impressive nerd phases. After reading the blog and learning that I was interested in photography, he told me I should check out his friends' website because I would really enjoy it. Now this guy hails from South Dakota so automatically my bullshit sensor was going off like crazy. I had zero interest in looking at pictures of Midwestern country life. Cows are great. . .for eating. They aren't exactly the best photography subjects. Despite my anti-Dakota leanings, I relented and gave his buddies a chance. Thank god I did.

Proud Ruin is a collaboration of two artists creating incredible visual scenes. Tayn Reis dreams up a scene and ensures everything is in place. Aaron Stryzewski sets the lighting and frames that perfect shot. Beware, some of their creations are not for the faint of heart. Their images are dark, violent, foreboding, and often gruesome. But they are also absolutely incredible. (My favorites are definitely "Paramove" and "Forget the Hatchet") The lighting throughout their work makes the photos blend the realism of a photograph with the fantastical nature of a painting. I have stared at several of their scenes trying to figure out how they created the colors and texture of the photograph. The scenes are dark, but incredibly vibrant. At first glance, they do not appear to have much color at all. After settling your eyes on the photo, you start to see the brightness of the colors against the darkness.

As a disclaimer, I have not met Aaron and Tayn personally. Everything I know about them is what I have gathered through either their website or my buddy at work. However, the beauty of any medium of art is that through their creations, we can get a glimpse into the creative minds of others. Even if those minds are completely twisted and insane.

Excellent work, Proud Ruin. I hope you continue to churn out vivid and dark expressions of the endless human struggle.

On a side note, make sure you check out the section called "Aaron's Extras". Again, very impressive work, this time using a more standard portrait style. This one and this one are particularly great.

As the title of the blog says, I am making progress by opening my world to these new and exciting (and completely obscure) photographers/artists and being able to discuss them on this blog. You all know that I take pictures. They are not great pictures. A lot of them are not even good pictures. But with every website I find, every photographer I talk to, and every picture I take, I hope that I am slowly progressing to a point where I can truly and honestly call myself a photographer.

Til the next post,

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Rocktober? Let's hope it starts before the All Star Break this year.

Just because this blog is a creative outlet for my engineering mind does not mean that other less-creative subjects are off limits, especially when baseball is on the mind.

In just a few weeks, pitchers and catchers will report for the start of spring training. Spring training embodies what is great about sports. There is a unbridled sense of optimism, regardless of which team you stand behind. Even teams as pathetic as the Nationals and Orioles look upon the upcoming year with excitement and positivity. Hell, even Cubs fans think they can win it all. It is understandable why people are so excited and I, like everyone else, get caught up in the hoopla. Today I will preview the 2010 season for the Colorado Rockies. Before the season starts, I will give you my predictions for my original favorite team, the Minnesota Twins, and MLB in its entirety.

2010 Colorado Rockies:

During the 2007 season, the Rockies gave us a taste of what we expect them to do on a yearly basis: get to the playoffs and be competitive. After showing Denver what the World Series felt like, expectations and excitement around Lower Downtown rose to unheard of (and probably unrealistic) levels. Naturally, the team soured the Rocktober atmosphere of their miracle season by following it up with a dismal, face-in-the-mud 2008 season. The crazed, exuberant fan of 2007 disappeared back to the Bronco bandwagon. The team remembered how to win in 2009 after a much needed coaching swap and put together a run for the ages. The Rockies were the best team in baseball after the All Star Break. After flaming out against the Phillies, Rocktober ended yet again. After the 2009 season (unlike after the 2007 season), Rockies fans tended to face the Rockies future with a much more realistic outlook.

I have paid close attention to all the moves, signings, and rumors involving the Rockies this offseason. For the most part, what they have done has made sense both financially and in setting up the roster. Through all hte changes, my analysis of this upcoming season has stayed conservative and extremely realistic. Yet despite my conservative approach, I fail to see how this team will not be the most competitive Rockies team of all time.

Starting Lineup:
C - Chris Iannetta
1B - Todd Helton
2B - Clint Barmes
3B - Ian Stewart
SS - Troy Tulowitzki
LF - Carlos Gonzales
CF - Dexter Fowler
RF - Brad Hawpe

Miguel Oliva
Jason Giambi
Seth Smith
Ryan Spilborghs
Melvin Mora
Eric Young Jr. (AAA)

With the exception of Todd Helton, we are looking at an entire starting roster of players under 31 years old. The average age of Iannetta, Stewart, Tulo, Gonzales, and Fowler is 24.4. All have shown that they can play at the major league level and all have shown flashes of dominance. The bench is deep, talented, and experienced. It is so deep that Eric Young Jr, who has shown that he can play well at the highest level, will probably be sent down to AAA to hone his craft at multiple positions. He will be the first player to get the call when someone gets hurt.
The addition of Oliva shows us two things, first that the Rockies have faith that Chris Iannetta will become an effective two-way catcher. We know his defense is there. His offense has not broken out like we have expected it to. Last year, this was due to the fact that he was playing in the World Baseball Classic before the season started. Granted, being able to play for the USA against the best the world has to offer was a great experience for him, but not being with his teammates and his hitting coaches through all of spring training took a toll on his swing. He is able to hit to all fields with power and is one of the most patient players at the plate. He will improve in 2010. Count on it.

Mora, Giambi, and Spilborghs provide a veteran presence. Mora can play multiple positions and is a legitimate right handed threat off the bench. Giambi handles a bat better than anyone in the clubhouse not named Todd and has a gigantic leadership presence in the locker room. His leadership was reason #1a why the Rockies brought him back for 2010. (For those keeping track, the golden thong was reason #1)

Starting Pitchers:
Ubaldo Jimenez
Aaron Cook
Jorge De La Rosa
Jeff Francis
Jason Hammel

Huston Street (Closer)
Rafael Betancourt (Setup)
Manuel Corpas
Randy Flores
Matt Daley
Franklin Morales
Taylor Buchholz

Just like the position players, the story of the pitching is depth, experience, and potential. Cook, Street, Betancourt, and Francis provide the requisite veteran leadership. De La Rosa, Hammel, Corpas, Daley, Morales, and Buchholz are all loaded with potential. Ubaldo's ceiling is so high, I don't think anyone has cast their eyes upon it yet. Pretty exciting looking staff, right?

Luckily for the Rockies and for all Rockies fans, that is not even the best part of the pitching staff. It is hard to imagine anything more exciting than Ubaldo's 98 MPH fastball up and in on Manny Ramirez's face. The fact that the Rockies pitching staff is as deep and flexible as it has ever been. At some point during the season, someone is going to get hurt. Francis might not be fully recovered from his surgery. A relief pitcher could take a line drive off of his shin and break his leg (hey, it happened to Embree last year). When this happens, there are options. Tim Redding could be a stopgap, providing long starts and resting the bullpen. Greg Smith is a wildcard for the major league rotation. He has the stuff to make an impact, hopefully he stays healthy. The Rockies are also stacked at the AAA level. Christian Friedrich, Jhoulys Chacin, Greg Reynolds, Matt Belisle, and Esmil Rogers are all ready to slide into either the starting 5 or the bullpen if needed.
The Rockies have reached a critical point in their GeneRation R movement. We, as fans, no longer are happy to be dragged along during a mediocre season. We expect the Rockies to win and to win a lot. Let us all hope they can live up to our expectations.

Back to my earlier statement about the Rockies fielding their most competitive team ever - I truly believe that the Rockies of 2010 are a better overall team than they have been in the past. The Blake Street Bombers hit the cover off the ball, but they could not stop their opponents from doing the same. The 2007 World Series team rode both a fortunate wave of momentum and some timely surges in individual performances to ultimately crash in the WS. (The ridiculously long break between their last NLCS game and first WS game did not help either.) Last year's team needed to establish their identity post-Hurdle before they realized their full potential. This year is different. Their bats will be better, their pitching is deeper, their experience is greater, and their movement is upward. Rockies fans, prepare yourself for Colorado Rockies history. In 2010, the Rockies will clinch their first ever NL West crown. 

Regular Season Prediction: 92-70, 1st in the NL West.

Til the next post,