Bottom of the Ninth

This writer's season might be over. But what a season it was!

I should be grateful, I suppose, for Yard's dark little closet in the ether, and rest assured all eleven of my faithful readers have my undying gratitude. But as each and every one of you has likely surmised by now, this hamstrung and humblest of enterprises is not particularly well situated on the City Pages/Village Voice Media food chain: I share a basement office, an editor, and a soda machine with our NASCAR and quilting columnists. It gets kind of stuffy down here in the basement, and the soda machine dispenses Cub Foods brand carbonated beverages at a buck a can, which does seems like something of a scam. (Rumor has it that the proceeds from our machine subsidize the monthly pizza parties for the folks in the offices upstairs; but what are you gonna do? They keep it hotter than a June bride down here and we pound down a lot of soda, which keeps us running over to the bathroom in the coffee house across the street). We communicate with a revolving cast of abusive editors--interns, we presume--through an ancient intercom system, sort of like Charlie's Angels.

You'll have noticed by now, if in fact you exist and have been paying any attention at all, that the muckety-mucks upstairs don't waste much time (or money) sprinkling a lot of fairy dust on our labors. I'm led to believe that City Pages has an art director and a stable of photographers at its disposal, but other than the time they ran an old, reversed-negative file photo of Hosken Powell with my column I have had no personal experience that would confirm the existence of such personages.

The upshot of all this: I fear that the contraction of Yard may be imminent. The intercom has been dead for several days now, and I haven't seen hide nor hair of my office mates in nearly a week. The janitor who has an office down the hall has a passing interest in baseball and stops by to shoot the breeze every once in awhile, and he has tried to be encouraging; it's Minnesota State Fair time, he pointed out. Surely the quilting columnist has business over in St. Paul at the fairgrounds. And the NASCAR man, he hears, has been moved upstairs, a nod to his sport's wild popularity and choice demographics. Baseball? Well, it's problematic.

It's problematic. Those were the janitor's very words--so I know I'm in trouble. If in fact the players walk out later this week I've no doubt I'll be quietly cleaning out my office and loading up the Vista Cruiser wagon for the trip back down to the bush leagues. Even if the players don't strike I may be toast.

But before I go I'd like to toot my own horn, if I could. Looking back over some of my past obscure labors I have to confess I'm impressed by my own prescience. I'll save you the work of mucking around in the archives; here I am, eyeballing the Twins roster coming out of spring training:

You're gonna hear a lot of blather from the pundits about the Twins starting rotation of Brad Radke, Rick Reed, Eric Milton, and Joe Mays, all of whom pitched more than 200 innings last year. But keep your eye on Kyle Lohse. Granted, Lohse was 3-18 just two years ago in Double A, and didn't show much in 19 big league games last season, but I like the looks of this kid; he's a gamer, and don't be surprised if he leads the club in innings this year. He should have no problem posting double-digit victories, and his development will be key to the Twins' chances in 2002. Another guy to watch out for is Johan Santana; the guy's not on the radar yet, but mark my words, he will be soon. He can start or relieve, and if he gets a shot he could put up some eye-popping strikeout numbers. Chances are good that the Twins are going to need him to step into the starting rotation at some point; a guy like Rick Reed is likely to injure himself picking up a suitcase at any time, and the other starters are injuries waiting to happen.

And how about these apples, from the same dispatch?:

Everybody seems concerned about the Twins bullpen, but from what I can see it should be the team's strength. Eddie Guardado is rock solid, a guy who's proved he can take the ball every day and who comes uniquely qualified to handle the ups and downs of the closer's role; I fully expect, however, that there will be more ups than downs, and I wouldn't be shocked if Guardado leads the league in saves in his first year in the role. New pitching coach Rick Anderson will work wonders with the rest of these guys, and everybody's going to find out that LaTroy Hawkins is a lot better than he showed last year. And look out for J.C. Romero. I know the kid has a 6.39 career ERA over his first 31 major league appearances, but Romero has bulked up considerably, and under Anderson's tutelage I fully expect that he's going to develop into one of the league's premier set-up men.

I also love the looks of Tony Fiore, the waiver wire slop-ball artist the Twins picked up from Tampa Bay last year. He hasn't gotten much of a chance to prove himself at the big-league level, but the guy can pitch, and his assortment of darting, off-speed junk is the perfect complement to the harder throwers in the Twins pen.

I challenge you to find another pundit with a better batting average. As they say, it ain't bragging if you can back it up. Believe me, though; I'm as surprised as you are by my foresight.

I didn't do too badly when it came to the Twins offense, either. Let's take a look at what I saw when I looked into the crystal ball back in April:

I know a lot of people think the Twins need breakout years from Corey Koskie and Doug Mientkiewicz if they're going to have any chance to improve on last year's surprising success. It might be heretical to say so, but I think the team will get by just fine even if Koskie and Mientkiewicz struggle at the plate, just as long as they continue to anchor the infield defense. It wouldn't surprise me in the least if Koskie and Mientkiewicz combined don't equal Koskie's power numbers from last season, and the Twins still runaway with the division. From what I can see, there are plenty of unsung guys on this roster who can pick up the offensive slack. Torii Hunter and Jacque Jones should put up decent power numbers, and I'd be comfortable with any one of the Twins promising youngsters in right field. I don't expect, however, that Buck Buchanan is the answer, and by June we should get a chance to see what Bobby Kielty, Dustan Mohr, and Michael Cuddyer can do--and I fully expect them to do plenty. If A.J. Pierzynski continues to develop as I expect him to, he's got a chance to be an All-Star. This year. Go ahead and call me crazy.

All right, so I was wrong about Cuddyer, but all in all not a bad bit of prognostication, if you don't mind my saying. It's been a nice run, come what may. I have no idea where I'll be next week at this time, but I don't suppose it's a good sign that a locksmith is lurking out in the hallway as I type these final words. Don't worry about me, though. It's a big country; I'll find a ballgame.

 

NOTES:

 

The Twins bullpen leads the American League with 441-and-a-third innings pitched; the only other teams with over 400 relief innings, Toronto and Kansas City, have losing records. Only Cincinnati in the National League has more innings out of their bullpen.

Thank God for the unbalanced schedule. The Twins are now 14-5 against Kansas City and 38-19 versus Central Division opponents. They're 0-6 against the Yankees, and 1-5 versus Baltimore. New York has also feasted on the Central, going 22-4; Oakland is 23-8 against Central Division teams.

Other random, ridiculous numbers: the Twins are 49-27 on artificial turf, and 29-27 on grass; they're 58-34 at night, and 20-20 in day games. Go figure. They've beat-up on right-handed pitching (62-32), while continuing to struggle against lefties (16-22).

Koskie has been woeful in August, batting just .167, with no homeruns and a .194 slugging percentage. Hunter has been almost as bad, hitting .218 with no homers and six RBI. Koskie had hit just one homerun since the All-Star break; Hunter has four, and after his blistering first-half may have trouble reaching last year's numbers (27 home runs, 92 RBIs). The Twins pitching has actually gotten better as the season has progressed; their post All-Star ERA is now 3.67 (Lohse has a 2.87 ERA since the break; Rick Reed is 6-1 with a 3.12 ERA). The argument at this point is who is the team's MVP? Offensively, I'd have to begrudgingly say it's Jacque Jones, and it you're going to pick a pitcher it'd have to be one of the bullpen guys at this point, either Romero or Guardado.

 

Brad Zellar goes Yard every Tuesday morning--and perhaps more often--for as long as he (and the Twins) are up to it.

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