May 2009

Twinkie Offense

gallery07.jpgFirst of all, what a strange ending to the series against Boston yesterday.  Four ejections in the same inning, with the catchers and managers on both sides getting the boot (Which forced the Twins to play without a DH for the rest of the afternoon.  Fun).  Seriously, the consensus on both sides is that the umpiring in that game was pretty bad.  Which is a shame, since all of the controversy overshadowed what was actually a really good ballgame.  Josh Beckett and Anthony Swarzak were locked in a tight pitcher’s duel through the first seven innings, with Beckett eventually outdueling his rookie opponent.  Obviously, it’s a bit disappointing that the Twins only managed to split the series against the Sox at the Dome, but it just doesn’t seem like quite as much of a letdown as the previous 1-6 roadtrip.  Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the Twins had won four games in a row coming into the series, but it doesn’t seem as hard to watch your team lose when they play some good baseball in the process. And the Twins played well for the most part, it just wasn’t enough to win the series against the Sox.  It isn’t like the series at Fenway, where the Twins never really bothered to show up in the first place.  Or against the Yankees, where they let three games slip away in the later innings (and were then pummeled in the finale).  Losses of that sort are enough to prompt a fan suicide watch.

Thumbnail image for joe_mauer.jpgThe Twins’ offense has gotten really hot during the month of May, and with 55 home runs coming into tonight’s game against the Rays, has been unusually potent as well (they hit 111 the entire 2008 season).  Well, at least the first half of the order has been on fire anyway:  Denard Span is batting .303/.412/.404 in the leadoff spot, Joe Mauer is apparently made of magic (seriously, .407/.496/.824 with 11 HR and an OPS of 1.320 in 113 plate appearances), Justin Morneau is leading the AL in OPS and slugging percentage and is in the top five in nearly every other offensive category, and Jason Kubel is having a career year (though he’s still struggling to hit lefties, with an OPS of .429).  Joe Crede will probably be good for about 20 homers this year, besides reminding us what it’s like to have an actual third baseman playing third.  And even Michael Cuddyer is finally showing the type of power the Twins expected when they signed him to a multiyear deal before the start of last season, batting .330/.417/.670 with 7 homers and an OPS of 1.087 through the end of this month.  Whether or not he’ll continue to be so productive remains to be seen (his career numbers suggest otherwise), but if nothing else it could make him a valuable trade piece in the offseason should the Twins fail to make the playoffs for a third straight year.

Unfortunately, not everyone is hitting so well.  The bottom of the order, particularly the middlepunto_bunt.jpg infield, stinks.  Earlier this week, Aaron Gleeman compared the offensive production of Nick Punto, Alexi Casilla, Brendan Harris, and Matt Tolbert combined to that of national league pitchers, and the infielders just barely came out on top.  Of course, it didn’t have to be this way.  Before he was injured, Jason Bartlett was batting .373/.418/.596 and providing some good defense for the Rays, which just makes that trade seem so much worse.  And Orlando Hudson, who the Twins could’ve signed for half the price of Nick Punto, is hitting .340/.413/.485 with an OPS of .898 for the Dodgers.  The failure to upgrade the middle infield, like the failure to address the issues with the bullpen, is coming back to haunt the Twins.

And now Punto is on the 15-day DL because he sucks with an ouchie groin.  Alexi Casilla has been called up from Rochester and Brendan Harris will be the starting SS for the time being.  Hopefully the middle infield will now be a little more productive at the plate than NL pitchers.

The Boston media has apparently been fawning over Joe Mauer already, even though he won’t be a free agent until after the 2010 season.  It doesn’t bother me if an organization wants to pursue high-profile free agents to address one of its most glaring needs, even if some of those free agents happen to be Twins.  Obviously it makes a lot of sense to go after the best talent on the market, especially if you have the resources available to do so. The problem is that Mauer isn’t available yet, and it’s a bit presumptuous to simply assume he will be.  While the Twins are notoriously frugal as an organization, they have expressed a desire to keep their native son in a Twins uniform through the prime of his career.  SO KEEP YOUR FILTHY HANDS OFF OUR CATCHER YOU F***ING VULTURES.  But please help yourselves to one of our useless gritty, scrappy middle infielders who do the little things right and battle their tails off.  No really, I insist.

Hmm, maybe I should add “This Week in F–k You” as a regular feature during the offseason.  Of course, most of those posts would probably be directed at Bill Smith, anyway.

Frankie’s Odd Outing

  • Francisco Liriano was awful despite striking out seven hitters in four innings

060807_liriano_vmed_8p.widec.jpgAs Fangraphs notes, Francisco Liriano had statistically one of the strangest outings of the year against the Red Sox Monday afternoon.  He struck out seven batters in four innings, didn’t walk anyone, and still surrendered five runs on eleven hits.  While some of these balls were hit hard, and Frankie was struggling a bit with command of his fastball, he did get extremely unlucky in that pretty much everything that could have fallen for a hit actually did (Boston’s BABIP was .733, which is very unusual in combination with such a high strikeout rate).  He was also unlucky that Brian Buscher, who has the range of a telephone pole, started at third in place of Joe Crede (who is day-to-day after being hit on the hand with a pitch on Sunday).  Almost everything hit to third ended up in the outfield, and unfortunately it led to a short start for Liriano. 

Of course, Frankie certainly deserves his share of the blame for Monday’s meltdown, too.  His struggles with his command and his tendency to overthrow when he gets himself in trouble have been well-documented.  His numbers certainly suggest that he’s having trouble finding the strike zone, with a mediocre 1.88 K/BB ratio and an ugly 4.1 BB/9 rate.  The Twins have been patient with Frankie (and really all of the struggling starters) so far, but they can’t afford to do so much longer and expect to contend for a division title.  Anthony Swarzak pitched effectively enough against Milwaukee on Saturday, only striking out three and walking two but shutting out the Brewers for seven innings.  Obviously Swarzak will need more than one start to prove he can pitch effectively in the major leagues (his next start against Boston will be most telling), and Glen Perkins probably has the most vulnerable spot in the rotation.  Still, it isn’t unreasonable to think that a demotion to the bullpen is in Frankie’s future if he fails to show any significant improvement.

  • Nick Blackburn, on the other hand, has been remarkably consistent

Nick Blackburn and Kevin Slowey have proven to be the most consistently effective startersThumbnail image for medium_blackburn.jpg thus far.  Blackburn had one of his best starts of the season against the Red Sox last night, surrendering only one earned run on eight hits and recording a career-high seven strikeouts.  His 3.55 ERA leads the team, and although he’s given up a lot of hits this year, most of them have been relatively harmless singles.  Blackburn has also been stingy about issuing free passes (only 19 in 63.1 IP) and home runs (only 4), which is obviously very important for a contact pitcher.  His 4.12 FIP is very good for a sinkerballer (the league average is 4.50), especially since his .298 BABIP is only a little better than league-average.

And after I posted this, I discovered that Twinkie Town has a much better assessment of our default ace.

Kevin Slowey got off to a bit of a rough start, surrendering twenty-two hits and posting a 7.94 ERA in his first two starts, but he’s settled down as well and has become one of the best starters in the rotation.  Both his command and control have been impeccable, posting a league-best 9.75 K/BB ratio and 0.65 BB/9 rate.  While he tends to be an extreme fly ball pitcher, Slowey has been pretty good at keeping the ball in the park, giving up the gopher ball at a rate of about 1.3 per nine innings.  Better yet, most of these home runs have come with the bases empty and thus keeping the damage to a minimum. 

  • Etc.

Is the Joe Crede signing the best thing Bill Smith has done so far as GM?  Well, considering that his other moves include the Santana trade, the Delmon Young trade (which is looking worse by the day), signing the likes of R.A. Dickey and Luis Ayala to upgrade the bullpen, and passing on Orlando Hudson in favor of Nick Punto, then it probably is.

Speaking of decisions that may come back to haunt them, the Twins have likely blown their chance to re-sign Mauer at a more reasonable rate.  Which means they probably won’t re-sign him at all.  I guess that’s good news for Red Sox fans.

O Happy Day

  • Twins thump White Sox 20-1

p20b.jpgThe Twins were simply trying to avoid being swept by the Pale Hose, and going winless on this road trip, and somehow managed to score twenty runs in the process.  Before the seventh-inning stretch, no less. While it seems like pretty much every Twin had a hit (Except for Nick Punto, who went 0-for-5 with 3 Ks.  Justin Morneau went hitless, too, though he did draw 3 walks, one of which was intentional), Joe Mauer certainly had a good day at the plate.  He hit the second grand slam of his career, as well as a pair of doubles, and drove in six runs.  Ron Gardenhire shook up the lineup a bit, batting Mauer second and moving Matt Tolbert down to the eighth spot, a move that is long overdue.  Mauer has always been more of a prototypical #2 hitter, since he hasn’t typically shown enough power to be a #3 hitter (although that appears to be changing), and it generally makes sense to have one of your best hitters batting second.  Gardy has always been reluctant to do this though, since he doesn’t like the idea of having four lefties batting in a row.  Perhaps this outpouring of offense will convince Gardy that it’s OK to bat a bunch of lefties in a row when those lefties include Denard Span, Joe Mauer, and Justin Morneau.

The Twins did get a lot of help from former Yankee fan-favorite Wilson Betemit, who spent the afternoon making a mockery out of the third base position.  Bartolo Colon really only gave up one earned run before being yanked in the second inning, the other seven came after Betemit failed to field a Nick Punto bunt.  Betemit didn’t help his cause at the plate, either, going 0-for-4 and stranding a runner on base. 

Nick Blackburn scattered four hits and shut out the White Sox through seven innings, and helped the Twins end a streak of a different kind:  the tendency of the pitching staff to give back the lead, often in the bottom of the inning.  This has been a consistent problem throughout the season, but it’s been particularly troublesome on this road trip.  Before leaving for the seven-game trip to New York and Chicago, the Twins had swept the Tigers and were tied for first place.  But the pitching staff blew at least four leads going into the later innings, costing the Twins at least as many wins and putting them 5.5 games behind the first-place Tigers (who haven’t lost since).  Had the Twins managed to hold those leads, they would probably have finished the road trip 4-3. if not 5-2, instead of 1-6 and would probably be trailing Detroit by just a game or two.     

  • But wait, there’s more

jakepeavy.jpgThis lopsided loss couldn’t have come at a worse time for the White Sox.  Jake Peavy was deciding whether to accept a trade to the Southside, and not surprisingly, he declined.  The outcome of this game probably had little to do with his decision, however, since Peavy has long expressed a preference to remain in the National League.  It’s also not terribly surprising that Peavy would prefer to remain in an extreme pitcher’s ballpark, such as Petco, rather than move to a hitter’s paradise such as the Cell.

However, as much as it pains me to say this, the White Sox should probably consider themselves lucky that the deal fell through.  Whether or not Jake Peavy should be considered one of the best pitchers in the league is the subject of intense debate, since he does pitch in a very pitcher-friendly ballpark.  While his road numbers in general aren’t exactly terrible, his WHIP increases from 1.085 to 1.293 and his K/BB ratio decreases from 3.73 to 2.54 outside the pitcher-friendly confines of Petco Park.  Which indicates that Peavy might have a rough transition to the American League, and especially to the hitter-friendly U.S. Cellular Field.  And then there’s the matter of Peavy’s contract, which the ChiSox would have been on the hook for had he actually agreed to the trade.  $52 million over the next three years is an awful lot of money to spend on a guy who may or may not pitch as effectively in the AL, not to mention the prospects Chicago would have to give up in exchange.   

  • But wait, there’s more

On a completely unrelated note, the Wild have hired Chuck Fletcher as their new GM (sorry Pierre).  I’m not going to go into much detail about the hiring, since this is a baseball blog, except to say that this does like a very good hire (on paper, anyway).  This team is going to look very different going forward, which will be very interesting.  Still, it’s probably best to see what moves he makes first, including hiring a new coach, before getting too excited. 

Oh, yeah, and the Wolves have a new GM now too, but zzzzzzz….


Thumbnail image for baker.jpgNormally I would be upset when the Twins lose five games in a row, especially when they blow about a million chances to win.  But not this time.  No, I think getting swept in Yankee Stadium, and now getting blown out by the White Sox, is actually a good thing.  Yes I do.  Because now the front office has been forced to confront the fact that this team just isn’t going to contend the way it is currently constructed.  And um, I was going to post a rant about the failure of the front office to upgrade both the bullpen and the middle infield during the off-season, and how they like to wait until it’s too late to try to make any improvements, but they’ve just made a big move that changes everything ok, that’s a bit hyperbolic, but it is a change that makes me rewrite what I was going to write in the first place.

While the Twins might not actually have the worst bullpen in the league, this group of relievers is still pretty bad.  In particular, the relief corpse has been terrible at allowing inherited runners to score.  And apparently the FO has gotten sick of it too, because lefty Craig Breslow has been claimed off waivers by Oakland to clear space on the roster for Anthony Swarzak (more on Swarzak in a minute).  While it’s no secret that Breslow has been struggling this year, the move is still a bit surprising.  I thought the Twins would give him more time to turn things around, especially considering how well he pitched last year, but Breslow evidently became expendable once Sean Henn was called up right after Perkins was placed on the 15-day DL.  Henn was once a promising prospect for the Yankees who’s never managed to stick in the major leagues, and he probably won’t serve as anything more than a LOOGY at this point.  Still, the Twins haven’t even had an effective LOOGY since losing Dennys Reyes to free agency.  At any rate, pitchers like Breslow are always available on the waiver wire, so it isn’t a huge loss even if Henn doesn’t exactly work out either (and after giving up a couple of runs to the Pale Hosers last night, this is entirely possible).

Swapping Henn for Breslow doesn’t exactly solve the problem, though, as the Twins are essentially trading one soft-tossing lefty with control issues for another.  But more help might be on the way, perhaps in the form of Anthony Swarzak.  Swarzak has been called up from Rochester to replace Glen Perkins in the rotation, and he’s been one of the most intriguing pitching prospects in the organization (there’s are a couple of good articles about Swarzak here and here).  Through his first seven starts for the Red Wings this season, he’s posted a 2.25 ERA with a 32/11 K/BB ratio and 1.159 WHIP. If he impresses during his stint with the major league club, it’s possible he might be kept in the bullpen once Perkins returns from the DL.

By the way, Perkins’ elbow has apparently been bothering him for sometime and is likely the cause of his struggles after his first three starts.  He had been hiding the injury in hopes that he could simply pitch through the pain.  Obviously this is never a good idea (just ask Francisco Liriano).  At the very least his stubbornness and pride has cost the team wins, and he’s lucky to have avoided the worst-case scenario so far.  Gosh, with three of his teammates (Liriano, Bonser, Neshek) having faced surgery and serious questions about ever pitching again, you would think Perk would be smarter than that.

More EPIC FAIL at Yankee Stadium

Well, I certainly can’t blame any of these losses on the starting pitchers.  Unless, of course, you want to blame them for not pitching complete-game shutouts, which is essentially what they’ve needed to do to beat the Yankees.  All three pitched well enough to earn the win in every single game of this series, but the bullpen and the offense haven’t exactly held up their part of the bargain.  Francisco Liriano gave up one earned run in six innings, and although he wasn’t particularly sharp, consistently managed to pitch himself out of trouble.  Which pretty good for a guy whose emotions often get the better of him when things don’t go his way and would subsequently let the game get out of hand (like in this game against the White Sox).  Nick Blackburn was also pretty effective, giving up a three-run homer to Mark Teixeira, but settled down nicely after that and surrendered only four runs through 7.2 innings.  Kevin Slowey pitched an absolute gem through 7.2 innings, striking out eight batters and outlasting A.J. Burnett.  Unfortunately, the two earned runs he surrendered in the bottom of the seventh kept him from actually out-dueling his Yankee counterpart and earning a much-deserved win.

While it’s tempting to blame the bullpen for everything, the truth is that the Twins left a lot of runners on base.  Yes, Joe Nathan deserves the blame for blowing the save on Friday night.  Yes, Craig Breslow surrendered a two-run homer to A-Rod in the bottom of the thirteenth in game two.  And yes, today Jesse Crain gave up the game-winning homer to Johnny Damon in the tenth.  But it doesn’t really help that Twinkies have stranded 34 runners on base in the first three games of the series.  Twice they loaded up the bases in today’s game, and twice they failed to drive in any runs.  It’s somewhat understandable that they couldn’t do much against A.J. Burnett, but the failure to do anything against a journeyman like Brett Tomko is simply inexcusable.  All of the games in this series have been decided by two runs or less, and the Twins have led going into the later innings in every single one.  But the failure to capitalize on scoring chances, and the failure of the pitching staff, particularly the bullpen, to hold the lead has been frustrating.  It is costing the team wins, plural.  And even if they manage to win the division anyway, which they could, so what?  They are likely to meet one of the AL East teams, such as the Red Sox or Yankees, in the first round.  And will likely get swept in the first round if they don’t do something to shore up some of the glaring weaknesses in the bottom of the lineup and in the bullpen.

By the way, how amazing is Joe Mauer?  This has to be the play of the decade.  I don’t care what it costs, Joe has to stay in a Twins uniform until he dies.

Drinking Games

ozzie-guillen-choke.jpgOh, I could talk about last night’s EPIC FAIL at Yankee Stadium, but there’s already a pretty good postmortem here.  And I really don’t feel like it.  I will say this though:  there is no team in the league as adept at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory quite like the Twins.  The Yankees did everything in their power to ensure the Twinkies would win, including surrendering three homers to our M&M boys and stranding ten runners on base, and yet our boys still found a way to lose.  I predict a four-game sweep by the Yanks. The Twins will lead in all of the next three games, and then something really weird will happen in the later innings.  Like that bizarre inside-the-parker on a ball Denard Span would normally catch.  This is the kind of thing that always happens whenever the Twins visit the Bronx, new stadium or not.  Oh well, at least Justin Morneau likes the short porch in right.

No, I would rather talk about drinking games instead.  I haven’t really found a good one for Twins games.  During Wild games, we usually just do shots whenever they score.  Which is usually only two or three times per game (Well, except during the last two games of the season, in which they scored a combined fourteen goals.  I have never been so sick in my life). That doesn’t work so well during Twins games, though.  I mean, that 11-0 victory over Seattle probably would’ve killed me.  And it’s tough to do shots on things like two-run singles or a grand slam.  I suppose you could simply take a shot whenever someone hits a home run, but then you’d go through long stretches of consecutive games without drinking at all.  And Twins games are tough to watch without getting drunk.  Some people like to make a drinking game out of the dumb things Dick and Bert say, but then you end up getting hammered before the damn game even starts.  Maybe it would be easier to give up on the whole game thing and just focus on the drinking. 

Joe Crede: Tiger Killer

crede_feature.jpgLast night, he hit a game-winning grand slam in the thirteenth inning.  In the series finale earlier this afternoon (which I actually didn’t see because I was still sleeping from last night’s extra-inning marathon), he drove in a pair of runs on a single to give the Twins a lead they would never relinquish.  Crede has always hit Tigers’ pitching well, posting a career .276/.339/.558 with an OPS of .897 and 24 home runs going into today’s game.  And his numbers aren’t skewed just from hitting in U.S. Cellular field for so many years, either.  At Comerica Park, he’s a career .287/.341/.599 with 15 homers and an OPS of .939.  The Crede deal looks as though it’s starting to pay dividends.  Even though he’s provided Gold-Glove caliber defense all season, his bat has been relatively slow to wake up.  And that makes sense, as he’s never hit well at the Dome and he’s had to adjust to playing with a new team with an entirely different approach to hitting.  But he’s been batting .290/.313/.548 in the month of May, with two homers and eight RBI in his last four games, so perhaps he’s starting to see the ball better inside the Teflon confines.  And yes, it does beat having Tony Batista at third.

Scott Baker suffered from yet another big inning that got away from him when the Tigers scored five runs on six hits in the sixth.  It wouldn’t be such a big deal, except this is at least the third time he’s had such an inning this year.  Dr. Baker was very effective through the first five innings, and though he may not have matched Justin Verlander’s impressive performance, he pitched well enough to keep the Kitties off the scoreboard.  Unfortunately, Mr. Scott came out to pitch in the sixth, and things promptly fell apart.  Of course, it didn’t help that he had Jason Kubel in the outfield, who rarely plays in the field and missed a fly ball that probably should’ve been caught (and would’ve ended the inning).  Kubel is usually the DH because his defense is less than stellar, but he was in the outfield today because Delmon Young is out with a family emergency and is expected to miss at least the next three days.  Jose Morales has been called up from Rochester in the meantime.  Still, if this doesn’t make the case that Denard Span and Carlos Gomez should both be starting in the outfield, then I don’t know what will.  Yes, Kubel is swinging a hotter bat than Go-Go, but his lack of range in the field nearly cost the Twins the game.

Most importantly, though, the bullpen was handed a one run lead and actually held onto it for a change.  Craig Breslow pitched a scoreless seventh and retired the first two batters in the eighth before being lifted in favor of Matt Guerrier.  Breslow struck out a batter and didn’t walk anyone, which is good news for a guy who has an ugly 0.90 K/BB ratio.  He didn’t surrender any home runs, either, something he had become prone to doing lately.  Matt Guerrier bounced back from a terrible appearance the night before, when he gave up a three run homer to Miguel Cabrera and a solo shot to Jeff Larish to put the Tigers ahead by a couple of runs.  Still, one has to wonder why Guerrier was asked to get the final out in the eighth.  While it is perfectly understandable that acting-manager Scotty Ullger (Ron Gardenhire was ejected after arguing with the home plate umpire) didn’t want to leave Breslow in to face Ryan Raburn with a runner on base, since all of the homers he’s surrendered have been to right-handed hitters, Matty G. has pitched 18.1 innings so far this season and has made five straight relief appearances.  Why not bring in Joe Nathan?  He’s going to pitch the next inning anyway, and unlike Matty G, has only pitched thirteen innings so far this year.  Save Matt Guerrier’s arm!

Oh, yeah, and that Joe Mauer guy sucks.

Oh, Jesse

Thumbnail image for crain.jpgRemember when the Twins used to have the best bullpen in the league?  Yeah, that was a long time ago.  But Jesse Crain was an important part of that ‘pen.  And even though he’d shown a lot of promise as a reliever the past couple of years, that 2006 season was really the best of his career.  He posted an ERA+ of 127, a WHIP of 1.265 and a sparkling 3.33 K/BB ratio.  Opponents were batting .262/.303/.377 with a .683 OPS against him, and he surrendered only 6 homers in 76.2 IP.  Crain had become one of the most reliable relievers in the ‘pen and was certainly a viable candidate to replace the declining Juan Rincon in the set-up role. 

But all of those innings caught up to Jesse in 2007, when he had surgery on a torn rotator cup. and he hasn’t been the same pitcher since.  His numbers after returning from surgery in 2008 weren’t terribly impressive: an ERA+ of 113, a 1.372 WHIP, and a mediocre 2.08 K/BB ratio.  And while he showed some dominance during ST and before going on the DL with shoulder stiffness earlier this season, he’s been struggling ever since.  Before going on the DL, Crain limited opposing hitters to a mere .150/.308/.150 and an OPS of .458.  Since returning on May 3 though, Crain has been awful.  He’s had two consecutive appearances where he’s failed to record any outs and his ERA is a bloated 13.50.  Worse yet, he’s allowed 50% of inherited runners to score, and has consistently struggled to strand runners on base (his LOB% is an abysmal 36.4).  He faced only one batter last night, shortstop Ramon Santiago (who isn’t exactly known for his power), and was yanked after surrendering a home run.  Still, there is reason to hope that the hard-throwing right-hander will turn things around.  That homer is the only one he’s surrendered so far this season, and opponents are batting only .233/.351/.367 against him.  His 3.32 FIP is also very encouraging.  Crain has struggled with his command a bit though, as his K/BB ratio is an uninspiring 1.17, but he’s still striking out batters at a decent clip of 7.9 per 9 IP.  In the meantime, however, it is probably best to split the set-up duties between Matt Guerrier and Jose Mijares.   

Ron Gardenhire has taken a lot of criticism for his management of the bullpen over the years, and some of it is certainly valid.  He does have a tendency to overuse his best relievers, while severely restricting Joe Nathan to ninth-inning duty.  Jesse Crain, Pat Neshek, and Matt Guerrier have logged a lot of innings in the past three years, and all three have either needed surgery or, as in Guerrier’s case, have suffered from being overworked.  But the FO also deserves part of the blame, since they’ve consistently failed to put together a ‘pen full of reliable relievers and have essentially forced Gardy to rely on a select group.  I don’t think that many fans would want Luis Ayala or R. A. Dickey pitching in close games, for example, and these were Bill Smith’s key off-season acquisitions.  And while it isn’t a bad idea to use Joe Nathan in other situations besides closing games, he too has pitched a lot of innings (362 since joining the Twins) and I would hate to see him end up on the surgery list with Crain and Neshek.

UPDATE:  Speaking of Rincon, the Tigers have DFA’d our old buddy to make room on the roster for the D-Train.  So, you know, he’s available now.  Just sayin’.  Oh, and I almost forgot:  there’s been an Eric Milton sighting.

At least they won’t lose tonight

slowey-fail.jpgSince the Twins have an off day before the Kitties Tigers come to town for a three-game series, now would be as good a time as any to assess the state of the team and perhaps compare it to where it was last year at this time.  Luckily, Twinkie Town has already done most of the work for me.  It’s interesting to note that, while the offense has been producing runs at about the same rate this year, the pitching staff has been giving up almost one more run per game compared to last season.  It might still be too soon to panic, since scoring in general has been up throughout the entire league this season, and at least the first three starters in the rotation should be better than their overall numbers would indicate.  Obviously, the bullpen has been an issue so far this season, posting a 5.46 ERA, which is either the 25th-best or 5th-worst in the league, depending on whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist.  However, the good news is that the Twins haven’t had to rely on the relief corpse as much as people think, since they’ve logged a mere 89 innings so far this year (and the starters have pitched a fifth-best 190.1 innings).  Only six other bullpens in the entire league have pitched fewer innings, with the Pirates’ relievers working a league-best (least?) 80 innings up to this point.  Not surprisingly, Oakland has had to rely on their bullpen the most, pitching a league-leading 115 innings.

Joe Mauer has enjoyed an unexpected surge in his power numbers this year.  In his first nine games this season, he’s hit three homers, has a slugging % of .848, and an ungodly 1.401 OPS.  Obviously these numbers aren’t sustainable for the entire season (he’s on pace to hit 46 homers this year, when he’s never hit more than 13 in a single season, and all of his homers have come at the Dome), but as long as he remains healthy there’s no reason to think that Mauer won’t have another great year at the plate.  Probably the big question is whether or not he’ll have enough plate appearances to qualify for another batting title.

Justin Morneau likes to show Mauer hitting home runs isn’t all that hard.

Aaron Gleeman makes a pretty good case that Carlos Gomez should be the starting CF.  Nick Nelson speculates that the Twins are giving Delmon Young so much playing time in an effort to increase his trade value.

The Hardball Times recently examined whether or not it’s ever a good idea to waste a pitch.  In general, no it isn’t, but the pitcher always has the advantage in an 0-2 count so it doesn’t hurt to try to keep the batter guessing.

Speaking of wasting a pitch, Bobby Jenks is either refreshingly honest or incredibly stupid, depending on how you look at it.

Happy Dance!!!:  My least favorite hockey team in the entire league will not be winning the Cup this year.  Commence rioting in the streets of Vancouver.

Oh Patrick Kane, you’re my hero


Griffey Hearts the Dome

843-831222.standalone.prod_affiliate.5.jpgThe last time the Mariners were in town, Ken Griffey Jr. hit the eighth Opening Day home run of his career, tying him with Frank Robinson for the league record.  This time, he hit a two-run bomb that tied the game and sparked a Seattle rally against the Twins’ relief corpse that stopped the Mariners’ six-game losing streak.  Griffey has always hit Twins’ pitching well, and loves to hit in the Metrodome, where he’s a lifetime .287/.358/.581  with a career .968 OPS.  His 26 home runs in the Dome are far and away the most he’s hit in any visiting ballpark, and his career total of 42 homers against the Twins are the most he’s hit against any opponent.  While the pitching staff has done a pretty good job of keeping Junior off the base paths so far this year (he’s batting an anemic .154/315/.385), the two homers they’ve surrendered have turned out to be kind of important.

Poor Nick Blackburn.  He baffled the Mariners for seven innings, matching a career-high sixmedium_blackburn.jpg strikeouts.  He exited the game in the seventh, after having thrown 99 pitches, with a 2-0 lead and was on his way to earning his third victory of the season.  Unfortunately, the bullpen had other ideas.  Lefty Jose Mijares walked Jose Lopez (who almost never walks) on four pitches before throwing a fastball low and inside, right where Griffey likes it.  He was then lifted in favor of Jesse Crain, who failed to retire any of the hitters he faced.  When it was all over, what had been a 2-0 shutout became a 4-2 deficit.  Craig Breslow surrendered another homer in the ninth, a solo shot to that pesky Jose Lopez, just to ensure the game would be out of reach.  The offense tried to rally in the bottom of the ninth, when Joe Mauer poked a single up the middle to put the Twins within two runs and Brandon Morrow proceeded to walk the bases full, but Brendan Harris grounded out to third and killed any hopes of pulling off a sweep.  I suppose it was too much to ask for the Twins to win three games in a row and to finally return to the .500 mark.  But before the bullpen blew up they were well on their way to doing exactly that.  The decision to pull Blackburn after seven innings is a bit puzzling, he was still a bit shy of the 100 pitch mark and didn’t appear to be tiring.  I’m sure that Gardy probably didn’t want a repeat of last Sunday’s performance against the Royals, when he left Scott Baker in a little too long and squandered a four-run lead.  Still, unless Blackburn himself felt he was done for the night, he probably should have been allowed to at least try to pitch one more inning.  It’s the only way to ensure that at least the bullpen won’t screw things up.

Further proof, as if any were needed, that the win is an overrated stat:  Frenchy Liriano was awful on Saturday, surrendering five runs on six hits in five innings, but the offense provided a large enough margin of error that he picked up the win.  Blackburn pitched one of the best games of his career, but got a measly two runs in support, and therefore got the shaft.