Sunday Notes: To the Twins’ Chagrin, the Baseball Gods Can Be Cruel

It’s well-chronicled that the Twins have now lost 18 consecutive postseason games. What it isn’t is well-explained, and that’s for good reason. A streak this torturous is inexplicable. Getting swept in a short series is by no means uncommon, but having it happen repeatedly, at the worst possible time, is soul-crushingly rare.

Derek Falvey was asked about the failings when he met with the media following Wednesday’s elimination. Moreover, he was asked what can be done to reverse those fortunes in Octobers to come. Minnesota’s Chief Baseball Officer answered as best he could, but again, what’s beset his club is inexplicable.

I introduced that angle in a follow-up question near the end of Falvey’s session: Given the randomness of short series, is there truly anything that can be done to flip the postseason script? Are the Twins akin to the pre-2004 Red Sox in that they’ll only win once the Baseball Gods deem it time for them to win?

“I hear your perspective on trying to make sure we don’t overreact to some history,” responded Falvey. “We want to make sure that we assess this as objectively as we can… but I do think there is some reality that in a baseball season, over the course of two or three, or four or five games, things can go a little haywire on you — even if you feel you have a good foundation. Maybe if you played those games all over again, you might have a different result. I get that. That speaks to your question a little bit about randomness.

“But I do think it’s our job, collectively, to do a deep dive and understand whether or not there are things truly reflective of some of our misses in these postseason games. What else can we do? Even if it’s not just the players on the field… maybe there’s an approach or a mindset that can help address that. So we’ll assess it. But I do respect the foundation of your question, which is trying to make sure that we reflect on the true realities of some of our performance, rather than overreacting to a shorter sample.”

Per MLB.com’s Matt Kelly, the odds that a team would lose 18 straight postseason games are roughly 1 in 262,144. When Falvey and Co. do their reflecting, one thing should be crystal clear: the Baseball Gods are capable of being cruel, and they’ve been inexplicably cruel to the Minnesota Twins.

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Perusing our Pitch Mix table, you’ll see that Zach Davies threw the highest percentage of changeups of any qualified pitcher this season. The San Diego Padres right-hander relied on the offering a hefty 41.3% of the time. Set the minimum innings a bit lower and you get rookie sensation Devin Williams and his 52.7% changeup rate.

And then there’s Cesar Valdez. The Baltimore Orioles reliever logged a 1.26 ERA in a small-sample-size 14-and-a-third innings, and he did so throwing his signature offering a staggering 83.2%.

“It’s a changeup off a changeup off a changeup,” Baltimore broadcaster Ben McDonald said of Valdez’s modus operandi. “He’s just a different cat. He’s able to manipulate it to where it will run down and away from a left-hander, he can make it go straight down, and he can run it down and away from a right-hander at times. He can go three different directions with it, all of them down. Valdez is fun to watch. Any time a hitter knows which pitch is coming, and you still have success with it… that tells you how good the pitch is.”

As McDonald was sharing those words, my mind drifted back to a 1980s-1990s reliever who also relied heavily on changeups. It turned out that we were on the same wavelength.

“Do you remember Doug Jones,” asked McDonald, who pitched from 1989-1997. “He was with the Indians for awhile, then he came over to the Orioles when I was there. Doug Jones got a lot of saves in his career [303], and he didn’t throw very hard at all. He threw a low- to mid-80s fastball at the time, but his changeup was really good. He’d throw it in any count and it had a lot of movement. That’s the guy [Valdez] reminds me of more than anybody… if there is a comparable to Cesar Valdez.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Topsy Hartsel went 26 for 65 against Frank Kitson.

Will Middlebrooks went 8 for 18 against Mark Buehrle.

Jim Bottomley went 52 for 106 against Pete Donohue.

Frank House went 0 for 6 against Murray Wall.

Paul Householder went 1 for 7 against Floyd Bannister.

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Cincinnati Reds southpaw Amir Garrett shared some interesting thoughts prior to his team’s inglorious ouster by the Atlanta Braves. Addressing the previous day’s 13-inning 1-0 loss, Garrett said that he was “tuned in the whole game,” adding that “both sides were going at it.”

The extent to which Garrett is “tuned in” largely depends on whether he’s holding a baseball in his left hand. Given his success over the past two seasons, no one can question his focus on the mound. When he’s not toeing the rubber is a different story.

“I don’t really watch baseball in my spare time,” Garrett told reporters. “I barely even watch it when I’m in the game.”

The former St. John’s University basketball player was even more quotable when addressing his team’s mindset going into an elimination game:

“Yesterday is in the past,” said Garrett. “We have to go out there and ball-out today. This is all the marbles for us… Before we made that stretch to even get here, pretty much all of those games were do-or-die to get into the playoffs. We’ve been here before, so it ain’t no thing but a chicken wing.”

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Atlanta’s clincher over the Reds included Marcell Ozuna miming a selfie after he’d blasted a long home run. Brian Snitker was asked about it following the game.

“It’s kind of the age we’re in,” said the Braves’ manager. “I watch the highlights and I see guys strutting around; I see guys doing this and that. It doesn’t even faze me anymore. It’s where we’re at in the game. I better deal with it, because it ain’t going away.”

Snitker, who deserves kudos for not living in the past, doesn’t expect Ian Anderson to go away either. The 64-year-old baseball lifer sees a bright future for the 22-year-old righty.

“I’m coming to expect it,” Snitker said of Anderson’s six shutout innings in Game 2. “He kind of got off the rails a little bit in the one inning, but he regrouped and made some big pitches. That’s the thing with this kid: he never stops pitching. It goes back to his clock. He stays pitch to pitch, and he’s going to go out and win the inning… It’s something else how he handles the whole thing. He doesn’t look his age. It’s like he’s out there on the sandlot, playing ball.”

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A quiz:

Frank Thomas has more home runs (448) and more RBIs (1,465) than any player in White Sox history. Who holds the franchise record for most runs scored?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES

Jay Johnstone, an outfielder whose career spanned the 1966-1985 seasons, died last week at age 74. His best season came in 1976, when he slashed .318/.373/.457 with the Phillies. Johnstone then played for the Yankees when they beat the Dodgers in the 1978 World Series, and for the Dodgers when they beat the Yankees in the 1981 World Series.

Lou Johnson, who patrolled the outfield for five teams from 1960-1969, has died at age 86. Johnson’s signature moment came in Game 7 of the 1965 World Series when he homered to help lift the Dodgers to a 2-0 win over the Minnesota Twins.

Ron Perranoski passed away on Friday at age 84. A longtime pitching coach and coordinator following his playing days, Perranoski made 737 appearances from 1961-1973, three times leading the National League in that category. The southpaw went 16-3, 1.67 with 21 saves for the Dodgers in 1963, and had 30-plus saves for the Minnesota Twins in both 1969 and 1970. Originally signed out of Michigan State University by the Chicago Cubs, Perranoski was traded to the Dodgers in exchange for Don Zimmer, and to the Twins in exchange for Mudcat Grant and Zoilo Versalles.

The BBWAA has voted to remove the name of Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis from its MVP awards. Landis became MLB’s first commissioner in 1920, and no Blacks played in the majors during his tenure, which ended with his death in 1944. The vote was 89% in favor of removal, 11% against.

Pittsburgh Pirates prospect Robbie Glendinning will once again be playing for the Australian Baseball League’s Perth Heat. A native of Perth, the 24-year-old infielder was drafted by Pittsburgh out of the University of Missouri in 2017. The ABL season begins in December.

NPB’s Hanshin Tigers had five players and two staff members test positive for COVID-19 at the end of last month. Per The Japan Times, Hanshin took 10 players off the top-team roster — those infected and others deemed to have been in close contact — and in a corresponding move called up nine.

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The answer to the quiz is Frank Thomas. “The Big Hurt” scored 1,327 runs, passing Luke Appling (1,319) in the final month of his White Sox career.

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Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson died on Friday following a battle with pancreatic cancer. A St. Louis Cardinals icon, Gibson is best known for his 1968 Cy Young season when he logged a 1.12 ERA, and for having pitched in three World Series Game 7s. An eight-time All-Star, he finished his 17-year carer with 251 wins and a 2.91 ERA.

He was also one of the game’s better-hitting pitchers. Here are a few of his offensive accomplishments:

* Gibson slashed .303/.347/.404 in his 1970 Cy Young season.

* He hit two World Series home runs. The first of them, in 1967, came in a Game 7 win.

* He hit 24 regular-season home runs, including five each in 1965 and 1972.

* In September 1965, he had a three-hit game that included a grand slam off Gaylord Perry. That same month he had a four-hit game. Gibson hit his second of his two career grannies in 1973.

* Gibson hit three doubles in a September 1964 game against the Reds.

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How does Alex Rodriguez rate as an analyst? I asked that question in a Twitter poll earlier this week, and the results were pretty definitive: Above average 10.9%, Average 25%, Below Average: 64.1%.

I later ran a poll asking which of Rodriguez and Jessica Mendoza is the better analyst. This one was definitive as well. A-Rod received just 31.8%, Mendoza 68.2%.

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2020 STAT NOTABLES

Cubs and White Sox pitchers each logged 523 strikeouts. Cubs batters struck out 568 times, White Sox batters 571 times.

White Sox rookie Nick Madrigal had a 6.4 K% and a .365 BABiP.
Tigers rookie Willi Castro had a 27.1 K% and a .448 BABiP.

Miguel Cabrera’s final hit of the season was the 2,866th of his career, tying him with Harold Baines for 46th on the all-time list. Babe Ruth is 45th all-time with 2,873 hits.

Ke’Bryan Hayes’s 195 wRC+ was the highest among rookies with at least 90 plate appearances. The Pittsburgh third baseman was followed by Boston’s Bobby Dalbec, who had a 152 wRC+.

Arizona’s Tim Locastro was a perfect 4 for 4 in steal attempts, making him 26 for 26 in his career. Only Tim Raines, who was successful in his first 27 attempts, got off to a better start.

Adalberto Mondesi led all players with 24 stolen bases. The Kansas City infielder’s .294 on-base prcentage ranked 129th out of 142 qualified players.

Toronto’s Cavan Biggio led MLB with 265 PA without a sacrifice fly. Freddie Freeman was next with 262 PA. (per @BillyBall)

Cleveland’s Josh Naylor became first player in history to collect hits in each of his first five postseason at-bats.

Dan Straily 스트레일리 is 11-4 with a 2.60 ERA in 26 starts with the KBO’s Lotte Giants. Drew Rucinski 루친스키 is 17-3 with a 3.00 ERA in 25 starts with the NC Dinos.

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Yadier Molina has received a bit of “Is he a future Hall of Famer?” buzz recently, which got me thinking about Jason Kendall. A three-time All-Star who played for five teams — primarily the Pirates — from 1996-2010, Kendall is one of the most-underrated catchers in our lifetimes. Here is how he compares to Molina in four categories:

Molina: 2,025 games, 2,001 hits, 2,876 total bases, 40.3 bWAR.
Kendall: 2,085 games, 2,195 hits, 2,884 total bases, 41.7 bWAR.

Do those numbers mean that Kendall was the better of the two catchers? No, a lot more than that snapshot goes into the equation, some of it quantifiable, some of it not. Molina has nine Gold Gloves, nine All-Star nods, and a distinct advantage in
fWAR (54.5 to 37.1). He also has a rock-solid reputation as a leader, which isn’t insignificant given that the Cardinals have played in four World Series with him behind the plate.

All that said, Kendall ranks fifth all-time in defensive games as a catcher, while his 2,160 hits at the position ranks second. Meanwhile, his 183 stolen bases as a catcher (he had 189 overall) is unmatched by any of his historical peers.

Kendall received 0.5% of support in his lone year on the Hall of Fame ballot. Molina will fare far better once he’s eligible, and it will be interesting to see if he can reach 75%. My guess is that he will.

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Baltimore Orioles GM Mike Elias was recently asked if MLB could withstand a repeat of what it went through this season because of COVID-19. His answer exuded careful confidence, and a healthy dose of hopefulness.

“It’s Major League Baseball; we’re going to figure out a way to do anything,” said Elias. “This is as important an institution as there is in the United States. There are a lot of really smart, really dedicated people working on keeping it going. That said, it’s not easy. There are costs that are going to be longterm, [and] ripple effects. You’re going to see every effort, and every creativity possible in doing whatever we have to do, but it’s not going to be smooth until this passes. Somehow.”

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

At The Japan Times, Jason Coskrey wrote about how Masahiro Tanaka and Shogo Akiyama geared up for an expanded postseason.

At MiLB.com. Tyler Maun wrote about how the San Juan Marlins burned brightly, briefly, in the minors.

The Boston Globe’s Julian McWilliams shared how Jackie Bradley Jr. feels about reaching free agency and his time with the Red Sox.

Owners across major sports make a lot of political contributions, the vast majority to support Republicans. Nancy Armour and Tom Schad have the names and numbers at USA TODAY.

The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh weighed in on in-game interviews with players during playoff games.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

A total of 1,111 players have appeared in at least one game for the New York Mets since they joined the National League in 1962. A total of 1,100 players have appeared in at least one game for the Los Angeles Angels since they joined the American League in 1961.

Harmon Killebrew had 11 doubles and 49 home runs in 1964. For his career, Killebrew had 290 doubles and 573 home runs.

Trevor Bauer had a 2.61 ERA and 261 strikeouts for the Indians in 2018. Bob Feller had a 2.21 ERA and 221 strikeouts for the Indians in 1940.

In 1931, Pittsburgh Pirates left-hander Larry French made 33 starts, had 20 complete games, allowed 301 hits and 127 runs, and had 73 strikeouts. In 1932, French made 33 starts, had 20 complete games, allowed 301 hits and 127 runs, and had 72 strikeouts.

On this date in 1987, Frank Tanana threw a complete-game six-hitter as the Detroit Tigers clinched the AL East title by beating the Toronto Blue Jays 1-0 on the final day of the season. The Tigers entered the day with a one-game lead over their rivals, who they’d bested in each of the previous two games.

On this date in 1925, Hall of Fame outfielders Ty Cobb and George Sisler made pitching appearances in the second game of a double-header as the Tigers topped the Browns by a count of 11-6. Cobb threw a scoreless inning for Detroit — he was credited with a save — and Sisler threw two scoreless for St. Louis.

Four people with the surname Cobb have pitched in the big leagues. The only one of them to be credited with a save is Ty Cobb.

On October 6, 1960, 19 different players — 11 Yankees and eight Pirates — recorded at least one hit as New York beat Pittsburgh 16-3 in Game Two of the World Series. Eleven players had at least two hits.

Lynn “Line Drive” Nelson pitched for the Chicago Cubs, Philadelphia Athletics, and Detroit Tigers from 1930-1940. A native of Sheldon, North Dakota, Nelson also boxed. His ring moniker the “Masked Marvel.”

Players born on this date include Shorty Dee, who played in one game for the St. Louis Browns in 1915. A shortstop, Dee hailed from Halifax, Nova Scotia.





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Perhaps the Twins bad luck is the baseball gods evening things out. In 1987 the Twins won the world series with a slightly above average team. The two best teams in the American league, Detroit and Toronto, slugged it out until the final day of the season; leaving a mentally drained Detroit to face the Twins. The team they beat in the world series, St. Louis, lost its best hitter in Jack Clark. While it took the baseball gods a while to set up their revenge as the Twins won the 1991 world series with a very good team, they’ve been paying for their 1987 luck since the beginning of the 21st century.