Category Archives: fantasy baseball

[game 88] Brad Radke

Sports fans are entitled to various idiosyncrasies, and mine include disproportionate affection for Brad Radke, Twins pitcher from 1995 through 2006. “Disproportionate” is the term others would apply; I feel entirely justified in proclaiming Radke among my all-time favorite players. Here’s my three-point case for Radke.

First, he played his entire career for the Twins. Around the middle of his career, the current free agent bonanza started up in earnest. A player with any kind of success whatsoever was supposed to change teams and quadruple his salary as soon as his first day of free agency came round.

Radke was not the CC Sabathia of his day, but he was a notch or two above some typical recent cash-ins, like Gil Meche, Carl Pavano, and Erik Bedard. The starkest parallel is to Johan Santana, who came into the Twins rotation alongside Radke. No, Radke couldn’t have gotten Santana dollars, but he certainly could have left Minnesota as Santana did. Santana left for the sake of leaving, as the Mets topped the Twins’ offer by a negligible amount but offered a preferred zip code. Radke didn’t leave for money, and he didn’t leave for fame. In fact, it appears he may have stayed not only because he liked the Twins organization plenty well, but because bigger city was not to his liking.

Point two: he was a finesse pitcher, who played with wits and cunning. He had a fine fastball, but it wasn’t atomic, nor possessed of as much movement as the Roger Clemens signature heater. He had an above average curveball, which he could throw ahead or behind in the count, but, again, it wasn’t the curveball of the ages. Then he had a changeup. His arm action sold it as a fastball, and it was an out pitch that left the strikeout victim muttering on the way back to the dugout.

Radke changed speeds well, and he also pitched to the corners. He liked to start a hitter with a strike that might glide just low enough to fool him. Then another strike, this one biting the inside. Third pitch was often well outside, and plenty of batters chased it. Radke moved the ball left and right, up and down, fast and slow. It sounds simple, but it isn’t. Many pitchers try to overwhelm with power, but Radke was very Greg Maddux-like in his craft.

Radke had two crucial flaws, and they got larger toward the end of his career. He let hitters get under the ball, and this could lead to easy outfield plays. It could also lead to home runs. It often led to home runs. It led to some home runs in playoff games that Radke, and all Twins fans, would prefer not to recall. (Oakland, Anaheim. . . )

His other flaw was pretty puzzling. It always seemed like more a statistical anomaly than a real trait, but year after year it only grew more prominent. Radke could not get through the first inning without giving up runs. I don’t have the stats at my command, but I have a well-formed memory of seeing him stake the opposing team to a lead game after game. It didn’t always sink the Twins, but playing with your back to the wall is never desirable. He tried everything to shake this bugbear, shuffling his game-starting routine in myriad ways, but there was something about starting a game that just made him crazy. If he didn’t allow a score in the first, all the Twins fans sighed with relief and assumed he’d march on to the win; certainly the odds swung all the way round into his favor.

Radke was otherwise a solid pitcher, capable of going deep in games and deep into the season. He pitched over 200 innings nine of his twelve years, and the injuries that prevented him the other times were severe. The high inning consumption rate was one reason I located him when trolling for players on my first fantasy team. I latched onto Radke for fantasy baseball and lived and died with his every start. It was watching Radke that got me watching the Twins. When he retired three years ago, I wasn’t truly sure I’d stay a fan, but here I am. Here I am, watching Kevin Slowey pitch with quite a bit of Radke about him.

Point three: Radke pitched well when it counted, and boosted the Twins into the playoffs four times. He won 20 games in 1997, though he never came close in subsequent years. It was his stellar season, and he came in third in the Cy Young voting behind the roadblock of Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson.

He pitched when he hurt, working through a torn labrum and stress fracture in his shoulder in his final season. He pitched hurt and he pitched hard and I’d like to interpret his work as pitching with heart. From all I could see, he was committed to the Twins and his teammates.

So perhaps I have made a sufficiently airtight case for you to understand why I named my cat Radley as a concatenation of Bradley and Radke. I doubt I’ve persuaded you that Radke belongs in the hall of fame. I couldn’t put him there myself—a career 4.22 ERA and merely average W-L and WHIP means that Radke stands out for durability more than dazzle.

Still, among Twins, he’s a standout, ranking third in wins and fourth in strikeouts among Twins pitchers. Saturday night, he was inducted into the Twins own Hall of Fame. That means a vinyl banner hangs in the Metrodome for the last 40 or so games to be played there. I hope a less plastic-based shrine awaits him in the new park.

As Radke would say later to the TV commentators Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven, as soon as he heard in January that he would be called to the Twins Hall, the need to make a speech was on his mind. It must have weighed heavily. While he was still playing, I heard an anecdote that once Radke and two other Twins player were asked into the TV booth for a little interview and commentary. They were there for ten minutes or so. And when it was all over, the Twins players realized that Radke hadn’t said a word.

But Saturday night, Radke did just fine. He spoke haltingly, and with some emotion, thanking teammates, friends, and fans. Nothing special, just your standard sports hero clichés, but Radke is so sincere that you pause to listen. To listen and to remember him playing, playing with dignity and that stoicism that was the closest he could get to joy.

Just a few bits of flashback video brought it all back to me—the high leg kick, sure, and the downward follow through. But I also remembered what they edited out, his inessential motions on the mound. There was the pointed toe scuffing the dirt in a sharp line, and the look down into the glove. His earnest, impassive face. Radke at peace with his pitching skills, a picture I want to keep forever.

The game following the short induction ceremony was a Twins loss. The White Sox, powered by four runs batted in by Jim Thome, won 8-7. The game had some zigs and zags, but the Twins were always chasing a White Sox lead.

They closed in a couple times, most notably using the bottom of the ninth to pull within one run. Even with two out, a tie seemed possible, but Chicago closer Bobby Jenks finally shut them down.

The Twins are back at their all-too-familiar .500 mark, and have won only three of eight against the Sox so far this season. It was a loss, but I enjoyed tipping my cap to Brad Radke once again.

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At the Midpoint

It’s midseason and the Twins still have hopes for winning the division, so what kind of trades should they consider? If I were GM Bill Smith, what would I do?

There are some weaknesses among the position players, but few are glaring. The team not only has the most glorious of catchers, they have a neat backup package in young, slick-hitting Jose Morales and seasoned, gritty-hitting Mike Redmond.

First base is also solved, though I beg the Twins to go easy on letting Cuddyer sub for Morneau when he’s given a day off; Cuddyer tracks fly balls well but is prone to errors at first. But that’s not a large problem, because Morneau has proved to be particularly injury-resistant.

Nick Punto and Matt Tolbert trade off at second. Both are good, committed fielders. Both have put their hearts and souls into trying to hit the Twins way. And neither can build a batting average much above .220. They are not the table-setters, the piranhas, of last season. Alexi Casilla, who is still toiling in the minors after an exceptionally disappointing start to the season, could be the answer, so trading for another second baseman may not be crucial. And as a true Punto fan, I want to see him get every chance. But cold, hard calculation says we should look at what’s available.

Brendan Harris is not going to appear on a lot of fantasy teams, but his .274 average includes a few clutch hits, timely sacrifices, and that sweet triple only last night. He’s no juggernaut, but his baseball intelligence sometimes gives him an edge in dueling with pitchers. He’s got good range in the field and plays all out. Yes, he’s no Ian Kinsler, but he’s not going to be the sole reason we miss the postseason.

At third, Joe Crede solves a long-standing problem, provided his balky back doesn’t keep him out of the lineup. Buscher is his backup, and he is several notches down as both a fielder and a hitter. The best solution here would be a prospect ready to come up from the farm, because Crede doesn’t need replacing so much as he needs a chiropractic breakthrough.

In the outfield, we have both surfeit and shortage. Carlos Gomez and Denard Span are both fantastic centerfielders. Gomez has something Sports Center-worthy almost every night, but then again, he may be a bit too self-conscious about pulling off the Web Gem tumble/wall smash/Spiderman leap. He’s prone to showing off his arm by missing the cutoff man or hurling way off line just to launch a rocket. In short, no discipline, limited experience, fantastic potential. At the plate, Gomez veers toward liability. An ultralight hitter, he can also misjudge the game situation. Lately, he’s been making better contact, but Gomez is a better defensive sub than starting player.

Span is turning into a formidable leadoff man. He can get on base, and look at a lot of pitchers to do so. He can steal bases and motor out triples, and consistently shows baseball wisdom as a situational hitter. He’s an above-average fielder, though he can’t match Gomez’s exciting plays.

The Twins have lately been dealing with the Gomez/Span overflow in centerfield by planting Span in left. This dislodges Delmon Young for DH duty or bench time. It’s already July, and the main thing I can say about Young is that perhaps he’s about to put together a little run to boost his power stats or average. It still hasn’t happened. Might soon, but hasn’t yet.

Michael Cuddyer holds down right field. His .280 average is solid, and his .513 SLG is behind only Mauer, Morneau, and Kubel. Cuddy’s significance extends past his stats, for he’s the prime right-handed power threat in the lineup. He and Crede are needed to keep pitchers honest and managers guessing about the relief sequence.

There are two basic outfield lineups, one that drops Young and one that shuffles out Gomez. Young can DH, but Gomez is at best a pinch bunter. All the outfielders have something to contribute, but a bold commitment toward the postseason might take the form of letting go of Young and bringing in a big and consistent bat. Span moves to center and Gomez appears as a defensive replacement. Cuddy stays in right.

That’s one way to look at it, player by player. But the real problem isn’t that Punto, Harris, Tolbert, Buscher, Gomez, and Young are especially woeful. It’s that, collectively, we have a lineup with a lot of soft spots. Harris would be a fine shortstop if his batting average were surrounded with some power; Punto wouldn’t be a problem at second if his were offset, et cetera. The trouble is, we have six players who need excuses, and that’s too many.

I can justify each one individually, and I can note that building a team out of offensive stats alone ignores both defense and team chemistry. The Twins are at or near the league top in avoiding errors, and all the players in question (except Young) are a major part of the reason why. One only guesses at clubhouse intangibles, but all these players hustle and commit hard enough to earn respect.

So, what should the GM do? I haven’t seen a World Series won yet with a team that’s merely a dream roster. The Tigers, by the way, tried that last year, and the Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles, Angels, Cubs, and Dodgers play a version each season. (For a little though experiment, imagine Brendan Harris on the Yankees. Even as Derek Jeter’s backup, it’s just not fathomable.)

That’s not to say any of those free-spending teams aren’t well-poised to win the Word Series, but to observe that none of them are a lock merely because of their offensive stats. We have so many tools for evaluating individual players, but little helps us understand a team. Even the stats that project runs created or potential wins still analyze individual players. What makes the team win?

So I stopped myself from making excuses on an individual basis to try to see the team. We really do have one or two too many slap hitters. But I’m far from feeling sure I know which one to jettison. And after watching just about as many losses as wins, the problems cannot be heaped at second, short, or left. The team can win with the roster already in place. The tangible problem has been rickety relief pitching, but that’s one of the hardest things to trade for successfully.

As a fantasy GM, I have nothing more than a firm command of the obvious. But as a fan, I have a lot of hope that we won’t make any desperate trades that mortgage the future, and that the changes will bring back last year’s scrappiness, not try to forego it with a simple dose of power.

[game 82] Day Game after Long Night

After last night’s marathon, a day game against your prime divisional foe probably requires a lot of Red Bull. The Twins and the Tigers seem to have maintained the determination they showed last night, but my window into the game is the radio broadcast. I get a fair flavor of things from John Gordon and Danny Gladden, but I don’t feel like an eyewitness.

It’s Francisco Liriano versus Edwin Jackson. Liriano has lately been fulfilling the promise of three seasons ago, and today he’s good for seven innings and eight strikeouts. He was sailing along with a scoreless game until the seventh, when he doled out two singles and then met up with Magglio Ordonez.

Ordonez, a hitter of some magnificence for the White Sox and lately the Tigers, has had a sharp drop in production this season. Heads have been scratched, and even with the microscopic reach of this blog I pause before I raise the obvious question: could there, perhaps, be a drug he’s no longer taking? I merely ask; I know nothing about it. I only know I’m a fan who has seen everything associated with power hitting tainted by steroid stories.

In any case, last night Ordonez was seen saying “What?” when the bunt sign was put on for him. A hitter of his prowess may not know the bunt sign, but last night it appeared to be under consideration. Today, I was prepared for Ordonez to pose no threat to Liriano’s sharp game plan.

Wrong assumption: Ordonez hits a three-run homer to put the Tigers ahead 3-2. A lead built on solo homers from Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau is now lost, and the Twins run the risk of repeating last night’s epic loss.

Jackson is pitching a solid game for the Tigers, but the seventh is his downfall as well. The Twins tie the game on an RBI single from Morneau.

The actual game-winning RBI is from little Nicky Punto, the scrappiest player on a scrappy team. Punto had a little bench time after some sore ribs and other aches got to him, and he’s come back from it hitting pretty neatly in the last week. His single in the eighth sends Matt Tolbert across the plate, and the 4-3 lead stands up as Joe Nathan sets the Tigers down 1,2,3 in the ninth.

Let me also note that Tolbert was running for Brian Buscher, who led off with a single. The game-winning combination, then, came from the generally quiet bats of Buscher and Punto. Buscher gets only occasional playing time, and Punto is buried at the bottom of the lineup. Today, they’re the heroes.

[game 46] Missing Mauer

The Twins started a four-game series with Boston at the Metrodome this afternoon. In many ways, the only thing we want out of this is a chance to wash off the stink of the tragic day-night doubleheader we ended up playing in Boston when rain dogged the schedule. Two ugly losses on a wet, whirlwind trip to Fenway.

We don’t need to crush the Red Sox or sweep the series or do anything superhuman. Just play respectably to reassert basic baseball dignity.

Now why I should find it important to do this team by team I don’t know, but the idea that the Red Sox can consider the Twins chumps just rankles. And Yankees, your time is coming: three games at the beginning of July to try to make up for the four ghastly losses two weeks ago.

Here is a fact-let to ponder. The Twins were 11-11 in April, without the services of uber-catcher Joe Mauer for the opening month. As of today, we’re 11-13 for the month of May, and cumulatively 22-24.

Yes, we lost to the Red Sox today, but I’m not going to dwell on one stinking game. I’m looking for the broader arc.

My tiny fact-let is not suggest that Mauer has made no difference. In fact, he’s galvanized the batting order, hit a whopping 11 home runs, and collected a batting average of .444. He’s done everything one player can to rally the team, including getting off to an unimaginably strong start considering the time he missed.

The idea of looking at Mauer’s individual contribution occurred to me because he was given a full day off today: no catching, no DHing, just spitting seeds in the dugout.

With that great pair of sideburns on the bench, Ron Gardenhire returned to his more typical batting order: two light hitters who might get on base (today, Carlos Gomez and Matt Tolbert), two lefty power threats (Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel), a righty with power (Michael Cuddyer), and then the motley array of so-so swingers (Brian Buscher, Mike Redmond, Delmon Young, and Nick Punto).

With small variations, this was the batting order until a week ago. Gardy shuffled it to say something about the six-game losing streak, and the team took off.

Not so fast, I first concluded—the batting order was not the causal element. But the return to a more conventional sequence didn’t help today. However, I suspect the problems today did not lie in who hit when but who hit at all.

Like Gardy, I love Nick Punto, and relish his earnest efforts and fielding prowess. A good team should have room for a light-hitting shortstop; let’s forgive the .181 average.

I also have a king-size soft spot for Carlos Gomez, whose transition to the major leagues is still going all too slowly. But today he made a leap to snare a likely homer from Jason Varitek, and it looked like he had jet pods on his ankles to rocket him up to do it. Later he dove and skidded across half the outfield to scoop a line drive off the carpet. I still want a Designated Fielder position for anyone with his heroics. Yeah, OK, a good team should have room for a circus act like Gomez, even if he can’t hit or draw a walk.

For that matter, let’s add Matt Tolbert, a second baseman who positions himself perfectly for nearly every batter and is a sure-handed fielder and, doubtless, overall charming man. Hey, a good team can have a no-hit second baseman.

Make me stop. Make me not point out that Delmon Young’s lost “upside” will probably never be found, that our offense hinges far too much on the exploits of Mauer and Morneau, with happy occasional bright spots from Kubel and Cuddyer. Make me stop.

Today’s lineup was missing Mauer, Joe Crede (injury) and Denard Span (I’ll have to apologize—his flu-like symptoms include dizziness and are not the residue of a bender). With all three out, the team had a distinct minor league quality.

Then too we had a less than lustrous outing from Francisco Liriano. And faced a strong Brad Penny for the Sox. Penny gets extra credit—a post game report revealed that he was ill and vomiting between innings.

The Twins lost, but should we conclude that missing Mauer was the matter? We are tantalized into asking the question by this scoring sequence. The Red Sox are leading 5-1 in the sixth. The Twins haven’t been able to do a thing except watch Cuddyer’s fine solo home run in the second.

A little scoring explosion, and we notch two runs to bring the game back within reach. In the top of the eighth, the Red Sox get themselves what’s called an insurance run to lead 6-3.

Our best chance to win the game is in the bottom of the eighth. There are things you don’t put off, particularly with a batting order with so many holes. We’ll have to face demon closer Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth, but here’s a chance against Hideki Okajima to send up Gomez, Tolbert, and Morneau. Get a few on base and we’ll be seeing Kubel and Cuddyer.

Okajima says no thank you to that scenario and retires the side.

In the ninth, Kubel leads off with a single. Bear in mind that Papelbon just blew a save last Saturday and is much in the mood to make amends. But forming little cracks in his psyche may be possible.

Cuddyer’s up, eager to hit. Too eager—Papelbon strikes him out on three pitches. Kubel stays stranded on first.

Brian Buscher comes to the plate, and there’s extra mathematical pressure on the man. Joe Mauer is now in the on-deck circle, ready to pinch hit. Of course, pinch hitting will only be of greatest value if Buscher can get on base. Mauer would then represent the tying run.

Oh, Brian Buscher. Oh, baseball. Papelbon toys with him and induces a fly out to short center.

Mauer is not pulled back, however. He steps to the plate. His right hand was smashed yesterday, but he’s not wearing any bandages or showing any signs of pain. During the at-bat, Kubel squirts to second on defensive indifference. It won’t matter. Mauer homers to right field, a booming shot into the blue football seats.

Oh, Brian Buscher, because the score is now 6-5 Red Sox. But Joe Mauer has once again demonstrated his super powers. He is not just seeing the ball well, he’s handling any pitcher any time. It’s intoxicating.

But it’s not enough. The game ends with Delmon Young flying out, so Mauer’s thrilling effort to save the day ends up doing nothing more than boosting his average and reducing yet further the number of at-bats per homer. (It’s getting around an ungodly 8.)

Would we have won with Mauer in the lineup all day? Does he mean that much?

Fantasy baseball is the art of pretending only players, not teams, play baseball. It’s a great way to look at individual stats and learn a great deal about players and even the more subtle elements that affect performance. Playing fantasy baseball makes you watch the game intelligently.

But it also makes your susceptible to believing that adding and subtracting players as components causes games to be won or lost. That’s how you win the fantasy championship, after all.

But not baseball games. I wish Mauer had played the whole game today because it’s great to watch him, but he can’t win single-handedly. The team records shows this. We had a weak pitcher and far too many weak hitters, facing a hot team.

Winning, or losing, almost always rests on dozens of actions, including those that put the team in a position to benefit from the single dazzling play that you recall, the play that seemed to win the game. Mauer is magnificent, but we have to win with him as part of the team, not making up for it.

[game 45] Reversed Call

Two weeks ago, the Twins were 15-17, hanging on in the AL Central thanks to a division-wide inability to climb much above .500.

After tonight, the team is 22-23, and the 13 games formed a neat pattern: a three-win sweep of the Tigers, six straight losses, and now four wins in a row. Emphatic pendulum swings, and not much change in final outcome. We’re 3-1/2 behind Detroit, a half game back of KC.

The Twins swept the mighty Brewers, who now slip a notch to make room for the Cardinals in  tie for first in the NL Central. They didn’t see the Twins coming. For weeks, the Brewers had been playing so well they had a 21-5 winning patch. In this series, their power seemed to desert them. It’s also fair to give the Twins pitchers a tip of the hat.

Tonight Scott Baker had his best game of the season. He had had a collection of very fine innings so far, amounting to five losses, one squeaker of win plus one blowout victory.

Baker pitched into the ninth, but after getting one out and giving up a two-run homer he made way for Joe Nathan. Nathan, I’m happy to report, looked like rock solid Joe again—two strikeouts, no funny stuff.

Since missing the first two weeks of the season, Baker has never seemed in full possession of his game. Except for the easy-breezy 11-0 win against Seattle, Baker has given up at least four runs in each of his seven prior starts. And these runs were usually in big fat clusters, many times looking like meltdowns.

But Baker-watchers, take note. There is a trend here, and it’s not Scott Baker falling apart. Here’s his ERA after each start, in order: 13.50, 12.46, 9.82, 9.15, 6.83, 6.95, 6.98, 6.32. Here’s the innings pitched: 4, 4.2, 6, 6, 7, 6, 5, 8.1.

Now, this doesn’t chart like a rocket going off, but we need to stop making every game fit the memorable pattern of one hideous inning ruining the other decent ones. Baker gave up a solo homer to Mike Cameron in the fourth, but that single run was all the Brewers managed until the ninth.

His final line was three earned runs, seven hits, six strikeouts, no walks. Those other two runs came after Casey McGehee scored on Prince Fielder’s one-out homer in the ninth. Baker has bottled up Prince Fielder, big power threat, all night, but somehow the big guy found a way to get his last homer in the Metrodome.

Baker may not have cured all his crochets, but I’d advise the fantasy players who are repulsed by his ghastly ERA to scoop him up off waivers and start him.

The Twins have still not come down from their scoring high in Chicago on Thursday. In this fun four-game win streak, they’ve scored 43 runs, including six tonight.

It didn’t look like another scoring barrage was in store until late in the game. Joe Mauer homered in the first for our typical early, skinny lead. In the fourth, the Brewers tied it on Cameron’s blast.

Joe Crede answered back right away in the bottom on the fourth with, yes, another solo homer. That tense 2-1 lead kept Milwaukee’s Dave Bush dueling Scott Baker.

In the seventh inning, the turning point for so many games, Bush got two quick outs. Nick Punto, who got to start today in hopes of nudging his average above the Mendoza line, did the only thing he really could do to get on base: he walked.

Carlos Gomez was batting leadoff to give Denard Span time to recover from “flu-like symptoms” (amazing that sports reporters don’t get to the bottom of this one—it’s a hangover, right?). Gomez is still a lovable, enthusiastic young player, but he’s no longer bunting for dollars, which means he’s limited to the very occasional single. But, happy day, he gets one: an infield dribbler that he can just beat out.

Joe Mauer is up. So far, he’s homered, singled, and flied out. Ken Macha sent in Mitch Stetter, something of a specialist in retiring pesky lefities, to relieve Bush. Mauer looks at a strike and lets two balls go by. The next pitch whips in high and tight, smashing Mauer’s hand wrapped around the bat.

The umpire calls it a foul tip while Mauer presents his wounded paw to trainers who watch the bruise bloom. Mauer starts walking to first but home plate umpire Adrian Johnson calls him back: you’re not done here, son.

Mauer, our franchise player and hero of heroes, may have had his hand crushed and you want to call it a foul tip? Ron Gardenhire is instantly out of the dugout. Big shouting match with the home plate umpire, but this one has visual aids. Mauer presents his swollen right hand. Johnson and Gardenhire keep yelling, and now Gardy’s cap is off and there’s the classic picture of fury.

But this time, the heavens part: Mauer is sent on to first, and Johnson overturns his call. You couldn’t tell it from the demeanor of the umpire or the manager, but they actually reached agreement out there. Maybe this is how all conversations with umpires go: (indignantly) Thanks for lending me your belt sander! (angrily) You’re welcome!

This little hit by pitch call will end up mattering. Justin Morneau is up next and he would need to see but one pitch from Mr Stetter to find the one he likes: grand slam hit to that high right field spot Morneau likes to tag.

Twins win, 6-3, and all nine runs were scored on home runs. The Twins’ power surge is getting positively scary now. I’m not entirely ready to exult in it, because home run power tends to ebb and flow. The ability to beat out a steady tattoo of singles and doubles, to construct scoring opportunities, and to rely on all the moving parts of the team to get the job done are the attributes that made me love the Twins in the first place. If they’re going to pound their way to victory it simply won’t be as interesting.

But for now, I’ll make an exception and savor the win.

The Real Thing

In a bittersweet ritual, I just bought two fantasy baseball magazines while in New York this week. Without a broadband connection, I can no longer have a fantasy team, but now it seems I am fantasizing about fantasy. How tissue-thin can this get?

Still, I enjoy imagining picking my players and creating the perfect team. As I’ve learned through losing (and sometimes winning!) fantasy contests, my version of perfection isn’t precisely mainstream. I have trouble whipping up sufficient enthusiasm for monochromatic sluggers. I’m just not too interested in Adam Dunn and Matt Holliday launching another long ball. Even Josh Hamilton’s story isn’t remarkable enough to counterbalance the tedium of at-bats that consist of a homer or not. So my fantasy teams have always been, shall we say, a tad unbalanced.

I miss constructing a team and tussling through the draft to make it come true, but it’s possible that life without broadband is shielding me from the dark consequences of fantasy baseball. When I first ventured in, I had trouble initially disconnecting myself from rooting for a team and investing myself exclusively in individuals. Soon enough, though, I was swept up in wanting Brad Radke to pitch one more ill-advised inning in pursuit of the additional points, or hoping Edgardo Alfonzo would get batted in from second. I craved stats and only stats, and often couldn’t tell you which team won or lost, only that Fernando Tatis hit a double.

Without a fantasy team, I have to go back to the real thing—actual teams that invariably have glaring weak spots. The Twins have a goodly number of them this year. The third base sinkhole is distressing, and hope as I might that Brian Buscher and Brendan Harris will somehow congeal into a single useable player, I know our batting order is going to be eerily quiet for long stretches. The Twins have quite a few players that wouldn’t even be reserves on fantasy teams, and the urgent wish for pleasant surprises may be especially futile this season.

Last year, we had several novelty factors. Would Delmon Young reclaim his titanic potential? (Um, nope.) Will Carlos Gomez make up for the Santana trade, as the only item of visible value obtained from the Mets? (Actually, kind of—he was a ton of fun to watch as he slowly acquired various life lessons about how to conduct a big-league at-bat and the all-too-real limits of bunting skills.) And can this new guy, Denard Span, replace the injured Michael Cuddyer? (Well, if you don’t mind little more than decent second baseman contact stats from your right fielder, this is your guy, but he does show nice clutch potential.)

Last season featured a fairly large overhaul of the lineup, but now we’re looking at sophomores and vets at nearly every spot. Curiosity remains, because many players are poised to advance their careers or watch them fizzle. Alexi Casilla, for example, might evolve into an excellent second baseman. Or he might sputter and stall. And the entire starting pitching crew consists of players twitching with some upside but little proof they can harness it. Some will, but to what degree?

So this will be reality baseball: if Mauer is injured, the reserve is the doughty but statistically meaningless Mike Redmond. If Morneau has one of those long RBI-less stretches, I won’t be slotting in Mark Teixeira to replace him. And I’ll be sticking with all the pitchers as they fall and rise and tire and strengthen. There will be inexplicable gusts of bad luck and good, but the team will all wear one uniform and sit in one dugout. I might wish I could have run them and made some trades, but instead I will be their fan and nothing more. I still like saying it: Twins win.