So far this season, the ups have far outnumbered the downs. After sweeping the Orioles in Baltimore early last week and then splitting the first two games of a homestand on Friday and Saturday, the Twins have a 26-19 record and the top spot in the American League Central. Through Friday, their rotation’s earned run average, 4.18, ranked 11th in the majors, with help from a renewed emphasis on defense. Last season their starters’ E.R.A. was last in the majors, at 5.39, and their defense was among the worst.
Ervin Santana is the Twins’ ace, with two shutouts and a 1.80 E.R.A., and Jose Berrios has been a sensation, winning all three of his starts while allowing only eight hits and four earned runs in 21 ⅔ innings. Berrios, 23, had an 8.02 E.R.A. as a rookie last season.
“We always talk about guys who are good now, and we forget about their first 15 to 20 starts,” Falvey said. “Look back at Corey Kluber’s first 15 starts. They did not look like Corey Kluber now, I can tell you that. It’s not that rare for a young pitcher.”
Kluber had a 5.35 E.R.A. in his first 15 major league games, before establishing himself as the ace of the Cleveland Indians, Falvey’s old team. Kluber is on the disabled list with a back strain, and the other starters from the Indians’ World Series rotation, Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin, have been hit hard.
Cleveland’s uneven start — with the lackluster play of Detroit, Kansas City and the White Sox — has given the Twins hope. As the July 31 nonwaiver trading deadline gets closer, Falvey must decide if that hope is realistic.
“You’re constantly trying to create the right environment and culture around your players to give them the runway to build momentum in a season,” Falvey said.
“It’s our job, when we get to late June and July, to get a sense of where we are, as objectively as possible,” he continued, “and to make sound baseball decisions — in some cases short-term and in some cases long-term — but we need to know that we’re building a sustainable, long-term, championship-quality team. We can’t shut any doors to any moves, one way or the other.”
Veterans like Santana, starter Hector Santiago and second baseman Brian Dozier could have trade value that would accelerate Falvey’s long-term plan. Whatever happens, though, the Twins believe they have cornerstones in third baseman Miguel Sano and right fielder Max Kepler, who have carried the offense, and in center fielder Byron Buxton, an elite defender. Sano and Kepler are 24, and Buxton is 23.
Buxton — who has struggled profoundly at the plate — was the second overall pick in the 2012 draft. This June 12, the Twins will pick first over all, and Falvey said they were considering at least five or six candidates and trying to keep an open mind.
“You can sometimes have a tendency to narrow it down to a very small selection of players, and you maybe miss someone who comes on a little later,” he said. “We haven’t made up our minds, and we will not make up our minds until we do our work in the draft room.”
Meanwhile, the major league team will try to make Falvey’s job difficult as he ponders his strategy for the trading deadline.
“We still have a long way to go to find out who we are,” Falvey said. “But I’m really proud of the effort our guys are putting in.”
Just the Ticket for the Average Fan
The Arizona Diamondbacks have a downtown ballpark with a retractable roof and a swimming pool. They also have a streak of five seasons without a winning record — and, usually, a lot of empty seats at Chase Field. Last year’s average attendance, 25,138, was the lowest in franchise history and just barely over half of capacity.
So with a big supply of seats and games — and minimal demand — the Diamondbacks devised a strategy that represents a rare victory for the average fan: a “Ballpark Summer Pass” that covers all 25 home games in June and July for just $50. The passes sold out in less than three full days last week, to 4,000 fans.
“We hope they enjoy it and get in the habit of following this team live,” said Derrick Hall, the Diamondbacks’ president.
Hall said the team had been considering some kind of membership offer for a while. With the Diamondbacks playing well, club officials decided to test the idea for this slice of their schedule. Other teams have similar deals, but the Diamondbacks’ is the best value: At just $2 per game (if the customer goes every night), the pass creates almost an extended open house.
“It is all about offering different options to fans,” Hall said. “This is for an area that basically has no season-ticket holders, and has encouraged new fans to give the ballpark experience a shot. Of those who bought, we show nearly half are first-time ticket buyers. That is tremendous.”
Fans who bought the pass must download the MLB.com Ballpark app, which manages the seat locations and assigns them two hours before each game. Hall said the seats would be in the outfield reserve section of the upper deck, and that fans would have the option to upgrade to another section for an additional fee.
The pass will cover series against San Diego, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Colorado, Cincinnati, Washington and Atlanta, and Hall said the Diamondbacks hope to continue or expand the program next summer.
Pujols Set to Join Ruth in Exclusive Club
The Los Angeles Angels’ Albert Pujols hit his 597th career home run on Wednesday and should soon become the ninth player in major league history with 600. He also has two World Series rings, which would make him an anomaly in the club he is about to join.
Of the eight players with 600 homers, only one has won multiple World Series — Babe Ruth. Three sluggers won one championship (Hank Aaron, Alex Rodriguez and Willie Mays), and four others won none: Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., Jim Thome and Sammy Sosa.
Ruth won seven championships (three with the Boston Red Sox and four with the Yankees), and Pujols earned his two with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2006 and 2011.
‘Homer at the Bat,’ 25 Years On
For the first 15 years he worked on “The Simpsons,” Al Jean said, he never would have warned guest stars that their lives were about to change. Now the staying power of the show demands it.
“When people play themselves,” said Jean, the show’s executive producer and showrunner, “we try to make sure they realize they’re going to be living with this for the rest of their lives.”
Jean is at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., this weekend to celebrate the 25th anniversary of one of the show’s most enduring episodes — “Homer at the Bat,” which first aired on Feb. 20, 1992. It featured the voices of nine major league stars playing themselves as ringers for the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant softball team.
The players — Don Mattingly, Steve Sax, Ozzie Smith, Wade Boggs, Jose Canseco, Ken Griffey Jr., Darryl Strawberry, Mike Scioscia and Roger Clemens — are regularly reminded of the episode by fans all over the world. Jean said only two players, Carlton Fisk and Ryne Sandberg, had rejected a formal invitation to participate.
Mattingly has never seen the episode, he said, but he has heard plenty about the show and the fuss over his character’s grooming habits.
“You know what was amazing to me?” said Mattingly, then the Yankees’ first baseman and now the manager of the Miami Marlins. “When we started the season in Australia, all the time over there, they’re yelling at me, ‘Shave those sideburns!’ Swear to God. Australia knows me definitely more for that.”
Jean suggested the sideburns gag, in which C. Montgomery Burns, the tyrannical power-plant owner, kicks Mattingly off the team because of his hairstyle — even after Mattingly shaves. The similarities between Burns and the Yankees owner George M. Steinbrenner were unmistakable.
“But it wasn’t because of the Yankees,” Jean said. “It was because my grandfather owned a hardware store and he would tell kids to get a haircut, even if they had close-cropped hair.”
Remarkably, that situation more or less played out in real life in August 1991, when Mattingly refused to get a haircut and the Yankees benched him. That happened after Mattingly had recorded his “Simpsons” part but before the episode had aired.
Boggs, Smith and Sax joined Jean and others from “The Simpsons” for a round-table discussion outside the Hall of Fame library on Saturday. The Hall also staged a mock induction ceremony for Homer Simpson, which Jean said was long overdue, because Homer is “fatter than Babe Ruth and balder than Ty Cobb.”
Jean mentioned several other beloved episodes, including one about Valentine’s Day, another about a shady monorail salesman, and a Beatles tribute that included a Yoko Ono character who ordered an unusual drink at Moe’s Tavern.
“There actually was a Yoko Ono art exhibit where someone had a single plum, floating in perfume, served in a man’s hat,” Jean said, accurately, of an exhibition in Iceland last fall.
The staying power of the baseball episode, Jean said, stemmed partly from the song that ran over the closing credits. Jeff Martin, the executive story editor, wanted a softball version of Terry Cashman’s “Talkin’ Baseball,” and Cashman obliged.
“That gave it an emotional impact we’d never had up until that point,” Jean said. “It was instant nostalgia for something you just saw.”
Jean will indulge in his own nostalgia for baseball this weekend. He grew up rooting for the Detroit Tigers and was fond of Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell, the celebrated double-play combination. Jean thinks they should be enshrined in Cooperstown, too.
“I want to ask Ozzie Smith what he thinks about Trammell and Whitaker,” Jean said. “Whitaker is one of the biggest snubs in history.”
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