Thursday, August 28, 2008

Leaving Minnesota and making impacts elsewhere

It’s August 28th. The Minnesota Twins are one game behind the Chicago White Sox in the American League central, the Chicago Cubs have the best record in all of baseball, and the Washington Nationals have faded quickly into the MLB cellar.

I think it’s fair to say Minnesota has surpassed its expectations thus far, but how about those some of those ex-Twins and what they are doing for other teams?

Well, first off, let’s start with those Miracle Rays down in the lower east coast. Tampa Bay is 80-51 and owns a three and one half lead over the defending World Champs in the American League east.

In helping the team formerly known as Devil Rays, three Twins have played key roles. Pitcher Matt Garza has been a huge inning-eater and won 11 games thus far. The right-hander has made 25 starts, posted 110 strikeouts and compiled a 3.53 ERA. He ranks third on the team in innings pitched and totes an impressive 1.23 WHIP (Walks and Hits per Innings Pitched).

Aiding Garza toward the end of the games is ex-Twins middle reliever Grant Balfour. The native of Sydney, Australia has made 38 appearances for Tampa and has a team-high 13.08 K/9 ratio (strikeouts per nine innings pitched). Balfour has baffled opposing hitters in posting 63 Ks through 43.1 innings pitched. The 30-year-old has been a valuable set-up man to Rays closers this year.

Lastly, ex-Piranha (as previously deemed in Minnesota) Jason Bartlett has contributed nicely to the Rays success. Bartlett has not shown any power (zero home runs this year), but he has played a steady shortstop for Tampa and provided some speed. Through 99 games played thus far, the Rays SS has made 13 errors and stolen 18 bases. True, the 28-year-old infielder is homer-less, but Bartlett has provided the Rays with a respectable .271 batting average, 17 doubles and three triples thus far.

Moving on to the west coast. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have teetered with Tampa for the best record in the AL in recent weeks and months.

Leading the Angels offense has been Vladimir Guerrero, but ex-Twins centerfielder Torii Hunter has contributed as well. Vlad the Impaler (Guerrero) has compiled .289 batting average, 23 home runs and 78 RBI – leading Los Angeles hitters in all three of those departments – while Hunter has brought his savvy defense out west and contributed offensively as well. The seven-time Gold Glove winner has yet to commit an error this season. Hunter also has hit 19 HRs, compiled 67 RBI and is hitting .274 through his first five months with the Halos.

Switching gears to the National League, how about former Twins ace Johan Santana?

Well, he’s having another nice season, but lacks a little in the wins department. The left-handed two-time Cy Young award winner has posted a 12-7 record for the New York Mets. Santana doesn’t lead the team in wins, but does lead Mets starters in innings pitched, ERA and strikeouts. The brilliant Venezuelan lefty ranks second in the NL with his 2.59 ERA and 159 strikeouts (trailing San Francisco’s Tim Lincecum in both categories). As for Santana’s durability, thus far he has tossed a league-high 190 innings – excluding C.C. Sabathia (201.1 IP) who has pitched in both leagues this year.

The Mets also have ex-Twins second baseman Luis Castillo on their 2008 roster. Castillo, however, has been hampered by injuries this season. The Mets infielder has only played in 70 games and contributed a paltry .257 batting average thus far. Castillo has recently come off the DL, though, and may be a factor as New York continues battling the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL east.

Currently, the Mets hold a miniscule half-game lead over the Phils.

Other notes on ex-Twins:

Doug Mientkiewicz and Luis Rivas are with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Mientkiewicz is having a bit more success than Rivas. The ex-Twins first baseman known for his swift defense and bubble gum blowing is batting .282 and has 28 RBI. Rivas is batting a mere .229 so far this season.

Remember the Hawk? Latroy Hawkins. He is now with the Houston Astros. He began the season as a member of the New York Yankees bullpen, but has migrated south. Hawkins has not allowed a run and has struck out 14 batters since switching leagues and joining his new club. Thus far, the right-handed journeyman has pitched in 11 games for Houston – the seventh MLB team Hawkins has played for since his nine-year tenure with the Twins.

Casey Blake has had a decent career since leaving Minnesota. After five and a half seasons with the Cleveland Indians, the talented utility man now has a chance to make a playoff push with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Blake, who just celebrated his 35th birthday Aug. 23, has five homers and 15 RBI while donning the Dodger Blue. Blake’s Dodgers hope to topple the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL west – currently L.A. trails the D-Backs by three games.

Ex-Twins catcher A.J. Pierzynki is still thriving in Chicago. Since becoming a member of one of Minnesota’s major rivals, the 32-year-old veteran is batting .277 with 60 HRs and 223 RBI. Anthony John Piersynksi also has accumulated 36 passed balls and 14 errors over that span of time.

Christian Guzman made the All-Star team this year as a member of the Washington Nationals. In fact, the former Twins infielder has been one of very few bright spots for his NL east cellar-dwelling team. The Nationals have an MLB-worst 48-85 record, but Guzman leads his team with a .298 batting average. The Dominican-born infielder has sparkled defensively as well – committing 13 errors through 110 starts at shortstop this season.

Livan Hernandez was picked up by the Colorado Rockies after the Twins released this season. Since landing his new roster spot, the 13-year MLB vet has not been so hot. Hernandez, once World Series MVP with the Marlins, has allowed 23 runs in 18.2 innings since joining the Rockies.

Ex-Twins outfielder Jacque Jones began his season as a member of the Detroit Tigers. From there, things have not gone so well. The serviceable OF who was always known for his hustle and irremovable smile is now in the Florida Marlins organization. Jones hit .165 through 79 at-bats with the Tigers and was released from them on May 6. Then, after hitting .108 with Florida’s Big League club, Jones was relegated to signing a minor league contract May 20.

Rondell White and Craig Monroe are ex-Twins, though the thought of them resurfacing somewhere is about as feint as Tony Batista or Phil Nevin making an MLB roster again.

Lastly, how about Eddie G.? Eddie Guardado. Yes, “Everday Eddie” (as he was known by Twins fans years ago) has returned to Minnesota. Six years after posting career-high 45 saves for Minnesota, Guardado’s former club has decided to give its ex-closer another go. Minnesota dealt the Texas Rangers a minor league pitcher to acquire him less than a week ago. The six-foot stouthearted lefty has come full circle after filling in for Texas and a couple other MLB bullpens over the years. Guardado pitched with Cincinatti and Seattle on two separate occasions with each before beginning his 2008 season with the Rangers. Since beginning his second term the Twins Aug. 25, Guardado has allowed one run in two appearances. Joe Nathan will remain Minnesota’s closer, but the hopes are that Guardado can provide some quality late-inning relief this September.

Matt Lawton, Matthew LeCroy and other past Twins players are out of baseball now, but chances are their current MLB employment status is still palpable.

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