Monday, April 14, 2008

The San Francisco Treat

Frank: The Litany of the Saints played out at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City this weekend for the Minnesota Twins: Saint Livan, play for us, Saint Boof, play for us. The two right handers at the top of the Twins rotation, Livan Hernandez and Boof Bonser, along with the bullpen, shut out the Royals on consecutive frigid nights Friday and Saturday. But most important of all, San Francisco, played for us (I don’t know that much Spanish). Francisco Liriano made a regular season appearance yesterday for the Twins for the first time in 19 months. A huge step in his comeback from career threatening surgery, the start was promising, if a bit disappointing. Although his results were not nearly as good as those of the previous two starters (4 runs allowed on 6 hits and 5 walks in 4 2/3 innings in a 5-1 defeat), simply seeing the San Francisco Treat on the mound was enough to warm any Twins fan’s heart, even as he froze his entire body on another chilly Kansas City day. The reappearance of the lefty is the biggest reason to look forward to the coming week, but not the only one, so I asked Bert about it:

There are three series this week, against the Detroit Tigers, the Tampa Bay Rays, and the Cleveland Indians. Detroit and Cleveland are not only Central Division rivals, but they are very good teams. In fact, the Tigers represented the American League in the World Series in 2006; and the Indians were one win away from doing so last year, ahead of the Boston Red Sox 3-1 in the American League Championship Series. And the Rays are vastly improved this year; sparkling with optimism that at the very least, 2008 will be the first winning season in the 11-year history of the franchise. But the Twins offense finally busted out last Wednesday in Chicago, doubling the previous season high for runs scored in a 12-5 victory over the White Sox. Can Twins hitters like Mike Lamb, Jason Kubel, and Brendan Harris keep up their improved hitting this week? Have you noticed anything specific about what they are doing differently?

Bert: As the Twins head into Detroit they don't really know what to expect. Everyone had the Tigers running away with the Central Division in April and never looking back. But that hasn't happened, has it? The Tigers line-up is scary to look at on paper because they have so many All-Stars and are led by a great manager in Jim Leyland. But as we all know, it always comes down to pitching, pitching and more pitching. Their pitching staff hasn't really done anything yet. Their starters have struggled and they are finding out that their bullpen needs help. But, they can break out of this early season slump with a few well-pitched games and some timely hitting, and there they go!

The Indians are a solid club that won the division last year and, like you said, almost made it to the "Big Dance." Once C.C. Sabathia finds his stuff they might have the best starting rotation in the Central Division. Cleveland is a team led by a very good manager in Eric Wedge, the AL Manager of the Year last season, and he has his team playing solid fundamental baseball. Grady Sizemore, their leadoff hitter, is one player to watch. He has a lot of talent offensively and defensively. If he gets on base, good things happen for the Tribe. Travis Hafner has always enjoyed hitting against the Twins and Casey Blake always seems to be the one guy in their line-up that always gets the big hit with the game on the line. But the Indians, like the Tigers, are off to a slow start.

The Tampa Bay Rays, not Devil anymore, are young and exciting to watch. It will be good to see Jason Bartlett and Matt Garza, even though Matt is on the 15-day disabled list, again at the Dome since they are former Twins. Their manager, Joe Madden, whom I know from my California Angels days, is a good teacher of the game. The patience the Rays have shown over the years is finally starting to show some progress. Carlos Pena is their power hitting first baseman and it's important to face him with no runners on base throughout the two game series. Carl Crawford is fun to watch because he is so fast and aggressive. It's just too bad the Rays are in the Eastern Division, but they would like to finish at .500 for the season.

The cold weather has affected every team in baseball. For the Twins, players like Brendan Harris and Mike Lamb are just getting their feet wet for their new team. Both are good hitters and will do well throughout the summer. Jason Kubel is one player I feel will be very important to the Twins offense. I believe he is going to have a solid season after missing all of the 2005 season because of knee surgery. Coming from someone that missed time because of surgeries, it takes time to bounce back and I believe Jason's bounce back year is now.

Frank: Speaking of rehabilitating from surgery, Francisco Liriano was kept down at the minor league level coming out of Spring Training to get some more innings under his belt and show that he is ready for a major league regular season again, after a 19-month layoff. He has struggled a bit, though Twins manager Ron Gardenhire made it sound less problematic than it might seem. He guaranteed that Liriano would pitch better for the Twins than he does in the minors; and he was true to his word, too. He called up the young left-handed pitcher to start yesterday against the Royals, even as Nick Blackburn was ready to fill in. YOU saw him in Spring Training, right? How much do you think he could help the Twins this year?

Bert: As I write this for the blog (last Friday night), Francisco Liriano was called up to pitch on Sunday, here in Kansas City. He has done everything the Twins have asked him to do; two rehab starts in the minors, and has gotten his pitch count to almost 80 to 90 pitches per start. This young man isn't called "The Franchise" for fun. He needs to show that he can throw all three of his pitches for strikes and stay strong throughout the ball game. He will be another big asset to the starting rotation if he can stay consistent. Time will tell.

Frank: The Treat, as I prefer to call him, may not have been as great as he was in 2006, but he certainly gave Twins fans reason to hope. When the Twins take the field Tuesday, we will be playing on the 61st anniversary of the first major league game played by an African-American. Jackie Robinson, a former Negro Leaguer, became a Major Leaguer on April 15, 1947. He is a hero of mine, because of all the stories I have heard (My father was born in Brooklyn in 1946, and grew up an avid Dodger fan -- mainly a Jackie Robinson fan) and read. For the second straight year, MLB commissioner Bud Selig has decided to allow major league players to honor Robinson by wearing his otherwise retired jersey number 42 for one day only. Six Twins will don the number; my question for you is this: I know you retired a few years before the big 50th anniversary in 1997. But you were in the major leagues for the 25th, 30th, and 40th anniversaries. Any memories? More importantly, you were around before he died; did you ever meet the man?

Bert: I never had the opportunity to meet the great Jackie Robinson. I wish I had. Growing up in Southern California, my dad with a huge Dodgers fan and it was my dad that helped me fall in love with the game of baseball (That’s not uncommon, as many of us had the same experience.). Jackie Robinson's last season with the Brooklyn Dodgers was in 1956 and I was still in Canada (before CA) at the age of 5 year old. I cannot imagine what he went through when he first joined the Dodgers in 1947. The man, through all the crap he went through, was named the Major League Rookie of the Year that first season and then two years later became the Most Valuable Player in 1949 (Back then, there was only one award given, not like today, with one for each league). To me it really doesn't matter what color you are or where you were born, because we are all born equal. It takes some people longer to realize this, but hopefully we can just all get along. I actually hope all the Twins players wear #42 on Jackie Robinson Day. I am proud that Major League Baseball will always continue to honor Jackie Robinson.

Be sure to check out the Twins on FSN North this week:

Monday: 5:30 PM vs. Detroit

Tuesday: 5:30 PM vs. Detroit

Wednsday: 6:30 PM vs. Tampa Bay

Thursday: 6:30 PM vs. Tampa Bay

Friday: 6:30 PM vs. Cleaveland

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