I like Joe Nathan. I really do.
In fact, next to Michael Cuddyer, he's probably my favorite member of the Minnesota Twins.
However, he's part of the problem when it comes to having any sort of success in big games, particularly in the playoffs.
Now I know, 10th inning aside in the one-game playoff, which saw Nathan get out of a no-outs first and third situation, he's essentially a member of the "I'm Scared of the Big Bad Yankees" club, a small clique that infests the Minnesota Twins whenever they play New York.
The Twins, by no secret, went 0-10 against the Evil Empire this past season, including a predictable but still embarrassing three-game sweep that concluded on Sunday night. While it's true that seven of these games were decided by two runs or less, no one remembers that.
Over the past 29 games in New York, whether it be the old or the New Yankee Stadium, the Twins are an unheard of 3-26.
I'll repeat that again: 3-26.
No, that's not Freddie Mitchell's fourth-down yardage in a 2004 playoff game against Brett Favre and the Packers (that was 4th-and-26; this is the total number of wins to losses for the Minnesota Twins in their last 29 games played in the Bronx.
Members of the "I'm Scared of the Big Bad Yankees" club:
Glen Perkins, starting pitcher, Minnesota Twins
The 25-year-old St. Paul, Minnesota native routinely gave up big hits after getting blown up in games, particularly in the Bronx the past two seasons. This rotation would subsequently be followed by mysterious MRI tests the next Monday which, of course, would come back negative.
Doing this once would of course appear legit and understandable, but the next time it happened, it became downright pathetic. Anything for a scapegoat, I guess.
This year, the game in question occured on May 18 as part of the beginning of the turnaround for the team from the Empire State. In just two-thirds of an inning, Perkins choked away a 2-0 lead in the New Yankee Stadium that his team had given him, and by the time his day was done, the team trailed 6-2 after one frame.
2008 Perkins went 0-1 with a 7.50 ERA at the old Yankee Stadium. That year the Yankees hit .324 against him. It would be a good idea to trade him now, except that in the middle of a grievance with the Twins over the procedure of an MRI and the fans' continued angst, most believe he's pitched his last game for his hometown team anyway.
Justin Morneau, first base, Minnesota Twins
Despite having a stellar 2009 regular season against the Yankees, Morneau has more often than not choked against them. In 2008, in 38 at-bats against them (roughly seven games), he hit .184 with one HR and three RBI.
In 2007 in 25 at-bats (five to six games), he hit .240 with zero HR and three RBI against New York while scoring two runs.
In 2005 in eight at-bats, he hit .250 with one HR and two RBI with two runs scored, and it's not like they are just walking him, as he got one walk this season against them.
In 2004 in 24 at-bats, he hit .208 with two HR, four RBI, four runs, and three walks against New York. Worse yet, in the ALDS Morneau hit .235 with zero HR and two RBI in a four-game loss to New York.
Sure, in 2009 and 2006 he may have torn them up in the regular season, but when it counts, as in the playoffs, this regular season superstar just isn't there (kind of like this past week). If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it...
Jesse Crain, relief pitcher
Crain posted an 0-1 record and 9.00 ERA this past season in three appearances against the Yankees. Last year he was 0-0 with an 8.44 ERA against New York where they hit .350 (6 R, 7 H) against him in just 5.1 innings of "work."
2005: 0-0, Yankees BA .200, but in 2.2 innings pitched his ERA was 6.75 again ironically.
Crain too has shown time and time again to be a choker when it comes to playing the big bad Yankees.
Joe Nathan, closer, Minnesota Twins
If you've been reading Minnesota Twins message boards or their media, there is quite a unified desire to get playoff choker Joe Nathan out of town. Sure, Nathan can give you 40 regular season saves, but like Morneau, when the pressure is on the line, particularly in the playoffs (career 7.88 ERA), he just isn't there.
In 2003, two games, 0-1, 81.00 ERA. The opponent? New York.
2004: Three games, 0-1, 3.60 ERA. Opponent? New York.
2009: Two games, 0-0, 9.00 ERA with one memorable but predictable homer to Alex Roidriguez. It's the Yankee way—when they need a hit, they get it, and Nathan is happy to oblige. If not him, it would have been Jorge Posada or Hideki Matsui, but the bottom line is he's a scared pansy when playing the Big Bad Pinstripers.
To Nathan's credit, Roidriguez always hits the tiny Twins extremely well, especially at the Metrodome. Sure, he hit .455 with two HR and six RBI against this awestruck and intimidated team, but once he does it against a real team, like the playoff-tested Angels, then we can talk.
Until then, he's still along for the ride on the Mark "Traitor Tex" Teixeira Train, with overrated 1996 prima donna Craptain Derek Jeter riding shotgun.
My guess is Nathan will be dealt out of town, pawned off as a "salary move" in order to better afford the massive upcoming contract to All-Star catcher Joe Mauer (although I remain pessimistic on this move). I also think this time he finally did it and pushed fans' confidence in him, along with management, over the edge.
Sure, the Twins got burned in the pre-2008 season deal that sent whiny immature Matt Garza south, along with steady-and-still-emerging shortstop Jason Bartlett in what was considered an afterthought throw-in, for budding OF Delmon Young and Yankee killer Brendan Harris.
While many fans rightfully blasted the move following Bartlett and Garza's integral roles in the 2008 World Series run for Tampa, I still state that it's too early to give up on Young, who's still only 24 and who is a second half player, evidenced again this year.
If he can learn to hit anything more than the .230, one HR, and 28 RBI he seems to get before June 15, we may still be able to salvage that deal and swing it back in the Twins' favor.
So why would they be suckered into trading with Tampa again? Likely they won't and likely they've black-listed the fellow small-market team for their tomfoolery. However, as a team that needs bullpen help as Tampa does, I think it's a good match.
Minnesota receives affordable ($430K) 26-year-old Andy Sonnanstine, who is one year removed from a 13-9, 4.38 ERA sophomore campaign during the Rays' magic run.
At 6-9, 6.77 ERA including a demotion to the minors, the Rays would probably be more than happy to throw him in any deal, especially when you consider their rotation with James Shields, Wade Davis, David Price, Jeff Niemann, and Garza is set, as they have no room for him anymore.
Sonnanstine adds another much-needed arm to the Twins rotation of Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey, and likely Brian Duensing.
Additionally, Minnesota receives embattled OF/SS B.J. Upton, who is also affordable (for the time being) at $435K. Surely Upton's due a raise, but it won't come anywhere near the $22M owed the final two years to Nathan. Moreover, this would be one more player that Tampa wouldn't have take to arbitration (read: pay more).
Minnesota could then use him as a replacement for Orlando Cabrera at shortstop should the latter fail to return to the team next year, which I hope is not the case. While anything but a slick fielder at short, it is Upton's natural position, and after hitting .241 Tampa may listen to offers for him.
Why would the Twins want a hitter whose numbers have declined and who faded down the stretch? They may fall in love with the potential he showed last year and like Young may feel all he needs is a change of scenery. His 42 steals would also add a new dimension to the team that hasn't been seen in years; this ability to create havoc once on base plays right into the Twins' "small ball" methods of generating runs.
Finally, trading Upton* opens up a spot for Fernando Perez, a speedy defensive upgrade whose time may be now or as a lynchpin until AAA OF Desmond Jennings, the Rays' highest outfielder rated and fourth top prospect overall, is ready.
*We'll also be happy to take Willie Aybar and convert him to third base, as he's both affordable and young, two annual Twins prerequisites. Feel free to include him and his misguided potential in any deal.
When J.P. Howell is being misused as your closer, you know you're in trouble. If you're thinking how Tampa is supposed to afford the $11.25M-a-year closer, consider Troy Percival's $4.45M salary is coming off the books, and they are also no longer paying nine-million-dollar-man Scott Kazmir.
Nathan, Mauer, and Morneau were very vocal about their displeasure with the Twins' normally penny-pinching moves and lack of deadline dealings. How ironic would it be that the next deal they ultimately made involved one of the culprits heading out of town for daring to question authority?
(Nathan, this means you. Morneau, listen up: At $13M next year, and already whining about not staying if Mauer goes, you may be next).
*Honorable mention goes to Craig Breslow, but he was designated for assignment and picked up by the Oakland AAA's (Triple A's—get it?) May 20, just four days after taking the latest loss against the Yankees in a winnable 6-4 game. His two runs in just one-third of an inning proved to be the difference as his 7.11 ERA was sent packing.
In all, 2009 proved to be same old, same old for the Intimidated Twins. Let's hope next year with a new park and fresh beginning brings different results, starting with breaking up the core of the "Scared of the Big Bad Yankees" club.