Minnesota Love

kc1

It’s a tough time to be a Minnesota Twins fan. After an unexpected second place finish in the American League Central in 2015(and competing for a playoff spot into the last week of the season), the belief was that the Twins would take another step forward in 2016. Minnesota was expected to grow from last year’s success, especially with the addition of some top-level prospects being around all year(Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton) and the addition of Korean slugger Byung Ho Park, so it appeared that second year manager Paul Molitor had a contender on his hands. I definitely had bought in, as I expected the Twins to garnish a playoff spot this year, with my belief being that they had a great mix of veterans, youngsters and a great leader in Molitor. Instead this year has felt like a horror show, as they are 14.5 games out of first in the Central, 13 games below .500. But this isn’t a brow beating on this year’s Twins team as much as it’s a look back at my fondness for a team that was a big part of my childhood.

kc2

Now, I am a devoted Kansas City Royals fan and have been since I was 7 years old; that will never change. But in 1987 I couldn’t help but root for a fun Minnesota Twins team that would go on and win the World Series that year. What really started my ‘Minnesota Love’ was Kirby Puckett. Puckett was everything great about baseball; a cherubic center fielder who could hit, run and play defense and had elevated himself to be one of the great players in the game. I loved watching Puckett run around the outfield, then step to the plate and rack up hit after hit. He fit in perfectly in the 1980’s, an era of contact hitters like Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs and Don Mattingly. Puckett also seemed to have a child-like grin on his face at all times, leaving the impression that he was having as much fun playing the game as we did watching him. Puckett was a perennial All-Star, a guy who averaged 192 hits a season throughout his 12 year career, multiple time Gold Glove and Silver Slugger winner and was voted in the top ten of the American League MVP ballots 7 of his 12 major league seasons. I know some have questioned whether or not he should have been a Hall of Famer, but in my eyes there was never a question. Puckett was one of the best throughout his career and one can only imagine what his final numbers would have been had glaucoma not taken his sight. There were some less than flattering moments for Puckett post-career but Puckett the ballplayer was a joy to watch play.

New York Yankees v Minnesota Twins
(Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

Once you looked at the rest of the roster, there was a nice group of players who were easy to root for. Kent Hrbek was the lovable, goofy first baseman with power. Dan Gladden, current Twins radio broadcaster, played like his hair was on fire and was the spark plug at the top of the lineup. Frank Viola was the left-handed ace who had elevated himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball. Bert Blyleven was nearing the end of his career but still fun to watch. I also can’t forget Juan Berenguer, a guy who did not fit the normal physique of a major league ballplayer but was a pivotal part of the Minnesota bullpen. Even the 1991 World Series team was easy to root for, with Puckett, Hrbek, Gladden and pitchers like Scott Erickson and Kevin Tapani holding down the rotation and Rick Aguilera closing out of the pen. The Twins had players who were fun to watch and it always appeared as if Tom Kelly led teams played more as a team and weren’t as focused on individual numbers. As the Royals have shown these last few years, if you play as a team there is a good chance that winning is part of the formula.

kc4

Speaking of Kansas City, there is a deep connection between those late 1980’s/early 1990’s Twins team and the Royals. Many of the Twins who helped Minnesota win those two World Series’ would eventually spend time in Kansas City. Gary Gaetti, the Twins third baseman for both championship teams, would eventually move onto the Royals and would even hit 35 home runs for Kansas City in 1995. Greg Gagne was a pivotal part of those Minnesota teams and he would go on to play three seasons in Kansas City at shortstop; his offense wasn’t anything to write home about, but his defense got him 4.8 dWAR during that period. Chuck Knoblauch would play his last major league season for the Royals, producing a -0.7 bWAR in just 80 games. Chili Davis would end up in Kansas City in 1997, hitting 30 home runs and posting 2.4 bWAR. As if that wasn’t enough, Berenguer pitched for the Royals earlier in his career, while backup catcher Sal Butera’s son, Drew, would later play for the Twins and is the current backup receiver in Kansas City. So in a roundabout way, I got to see a few of the bigger pieces of those championship Twins team’s contribute in a Royals uniform.

kc5

But it wasn’t just the players or the style of baseball they played that made me intrigued by the Twins. As a kid, I was enamored with the Metrodome, warts and all. Here was this domed stadium that had character and didn’t have the feel of cookie cutter stadiums like Three Rivers or Veterans Stadium. Minnesota had the “baggie” out in right field(which is now a handbag), and a roof that looked spectacular but was easy for fielders to lose a pop fly in. The crowd always seemed raucous and during the playoffs the fans would wave their “Homer Hanky” to get the team going. There seemed to be a whole atmosphere to that stadium that I wanted to be a part of  and that lured me into wanting this team to succeed. Sure, I had heard stories about the stadium being broken down, cold, drab and being nothing but a big slab of concrete, but that didn’t seem to matter to me much. It just seemed like a fun place to watch a baseball game from. I still get goosebumps when I think back to Game 163 of the 2009 season, when the Twins and Tigers battled it out in the dome for the Central Division title. Here was a stadium that being replaced the next season but it was going to get one more thrilling, iconic moment before it was gone. The Metrodome might not have had the beauty of Kauffman Stadium(yes, biased), the legend of a Wrigley Field or the visual classicism of a Camden Yards, but it had its own nuances that would grow on you. I never got to attend a game at the Metrodome, which saddens me, but I was able to be at Target Field a few years back. While I liked Target Field and think it is a solid replacement for the Metrodome, I have a feeling it won’t match up when it comes to the character of that old dome.

kc6

You would think that with the Twins being in the same division as my Royals I would loathe them and wish for them to just go away, but I don’t. I have very fond memories of the Twins and most years wish them the best. Well, I always hope they don’t do as good as Kansas City, but otherwise I want them to have success. It blows my mind sometimes when I think back and remember there was a period where baseball considered contracting the Twins. This is an organization with rich history and the idea of a baseball team not being up in Minnesota is unfathomable. When I go back and think about baseball highlights in my life that I will play over and over in my head, there are a number of Twins highlights that will live on forever. Puckett’s catch, Larkin’s single, Morris’s pitching and Casilla’s single; all are memories etched in my head forever. For that, I thank Minnesota. Thank you for making my childhood brighter and my adulthood memorable. I still kinda love ya.

 

Problem Child

kc1

On Tuesday evening, the insecure part of Yordano Ventura got the best of him. After Manny Machado had some words for Ventura in the 2nd inning for pitching inside, Ventura’s pride got the best of him during Machado’s next at bat, as Yordano drilled him in the back with a 99 MPH fastball, his fastest pitch of the evening. To say it illicited a response is a bit of an understatement:

Most everyone felt like Yordano was past this, after the numerous encounters he had last year that got him in trouble. Instead, once again he allowed his emotions to run the show. This leaves the Royals in a bit of a pickle, since management, coaches and even players are tired of his behavior. So the question has to be asked: What do the Royals do with Yordano Ventura moving forward?

kc2

Since the circus that Ventura created spun out of control last night, there have been rumors that the Royals had talked to other front office executives about Ventura in possible trade talks. In my opinion, Ventura will not get traded any time soon. For one, his value has never been lower. It would make no sense for Kansas City to trade an arm like Ventura at his lowest value. Second, the Royals are having issues currently with their starting rotation so it would make no sense to trade away the starter with the highest potential out of their current crop of starters, especially with no relief to be seen down in the minors. So if Venura was to get traded, it probably wouldn’t be until the offseason or even next season.

Kansas City Royals v Cleveland Indians
(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

So if Ventura is staying, the Royals need him to perform much better than he has this year. Through 12 starts this season, Yordano has issued the most walks in the American League, while posting the lowest strikeout rate of his career(6 strikeouts per 9). His ground ball percentage is down(44%) while his fly ball rate has rocketed(39.4%, up from 27.2% last year), which has also seen his home runs per 9 to go up as well. Basically, Ventura is getting hit harder than ever before and is way above the league average when it comes to the exit velocity off of his pitches:

chart

2016 is his third season in the big leagues and the advances that the Royals have expected from him just are not happening. There are still glimpses of the “ace” the Royals think he can be, but those become fewer and farther between each start. After Tuesday’s start, Ventura’s ERA rose to 5.32 while his FIP elevated to 5.29. Normally this would force him to the bullpen or even down to AAA, but the Royals just don’t have the starting pitching to let that happen. Instead, they need him to get his head on straight and at least produce like a league average pitcher.

kc4

So do the Royals at least have some options with Ventura? If you mean ‘can he be sent to the minors’ the answer is yes. He still has options left, so a trip to Omaha isn’t completely out of the question. In fact, I would think that Ventura is on a short leash with the coaching staff and if they feel he needs to work on something in the minors, then he will be sent down. One comment made after the game on Tuesday I did find interesting, especially when it comes to what Ventura has been told by the coaching staff. Here is Orioles manager Buck Showalter who said this:

 

“No, I don’t like when any of my guys are put in harm’s way, especially a guy throwing that hard and having some problems with his command tonight. But [its] not the first time. Obviously, it must be something that’s OK because he continues to do it. It must be condoned. I don’t know.”

Now, I take umbrage with this. No way does the Kansas City organization approve of what Ventura did. That implication by Showalter just isn’t true:

The Royals had squashed that “bad boy image” from last year and the team had moved on from those problems. Ventura has been the only one who still seems to think that reacting in this manner is appropriate. So much bad could have come from this, whether it meant another player getting hurt(and lets be honest, the Royals already have enough players injured), or starting a feud that would distract from focusing on the main goal, which is winning games and eventually, returning to the playoffs. There is no way to know for sure, but I would guess Ventura spent Tuesday night and Wednesday in meetings with teammates, the coaching staff and possibly even upper management. Ventura is at a point in his career where he needs to fix his mentality. I made a comment on Tuesday night about how Ventura’s problem was not his arm, but what is in between his ears. Adam Jones of Baltimore might have said it better than I did:

Yordano has to fix his mental approach during the game. It could be learning yoga, or talking with a therapist or even Jason Kendall’s ‘Tough Love’ approach, but a change has to happen. If it doesn’t, he will have more to worry about than just being dropped from the Royals rotation.

kc5

There are many reasons for the Royals to not give up on Yordano; he just turned 25, he has a team friendly contract that runs through 2019 and he has an electric arm that can be dominate when he wants to. But that is the thing-when he wants to, not all the time or even most of the time. Many young pitchers, especially those with dynamite stuff, struggle early in their career because they believe it is all about the velocity and not as much about the location or changing speeds. Ventura mentally seems younger than his age when it comes to maturity and hasn’t figured out how to deal with adversity. For Ventura to be a part of the Royals future, he has to learn how to let adversity roll off his back and learn from it. Otherwise, he will just be another in a long line of starters the Royals have failed to develop. This is the fork in the road; it’s time for Yordano to figure out which path he wants to take.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑