Results tagged ‘ Scott Baker ’

Mired in Mediocrity

20081001_blackburn_33

At 43-43 44-43, this team is exactly average.  I’m certainly not the first person to notice this, nor am I the first to point out
that it’s mostly because all of the great talent on this team is
balanced by players who have no business on a major-league roster.  The
awesomeness of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau is balanced by the
suckitude of well, the entire second half of the lineup.  Nick
Blackburn is putting up the best numbers of his career, while Scott
Baker and Francisco Liriano are putting up the worst.  The comparison
between the best and worst players on the team is stark:

Hitters:

Joe Mauer:          .389/.461/.651/1.112 OPS  4.3 WAR
Justin Morneau:   .313/.390/.582/.971 OPS  2.8 WAR
Jason Kubel:    .306/.364/.540/.904 OPS  1.3 WAR
Denard Span:  .288/.375/.377/.752 OPS  1.7 WAR

Matt Tolbert:  .178/.272/.225/.497 OPS  -0.9 WAR
Nick Punto:   .211/.322/.234/.556 OPS  -0.2 WAR
Carlos Gomez:  .218/.277/.318/.595 OPS  -0.3 WAR
Delmon Young:  .270/.296/.349/.646 OPS  -1.2 WAR

The pitching is a slightly different story:

Pitchers:

Nick Blackburn:  2.94 ERA   4.94 xFIP  1.272 WHIP  1.82 K/BB  2.0 WAR
Kevin Slowey:  4.86 ERA   4.38 xFIP  1.412 WHIP  5.00 K/BB  1.4 WAR
Joe Nathan:  1.35 ERA   2.42 xFIP   0.750 WHIP  6.14 K/BB  1.4 WAR

Scott Baker:  5.31 ERA  4.24 xFIP  1.221 WHIP  3.90 K/BB  1.3 WAR
Francisco Liriano:  5.47 ERA  4.53 xFIP  1.490 WHIP  2.02 K/BB  1.3 WAR

Obviously
guys like Luis Ayala (0.1 WAR), Sean Henn (-0.2 WAR), and Jesse Crain
(-0.2 WAR) haven’t been helping much, either.  The good news is that
none of these guys are in the bullpen right now.  The bad news is that
they were here long enough to cost the team wins.

There
are a couple of things worth noting here.  First of which is that, as
much as both Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano have struggled this
season, both are still above replacement-level (that is, both are more
valuable than some scrub picked up off the waiver wire), and both
obviously have tremendous upside.  So, unless the Twins are absolutely
blown away with an offer for either one, it would be wise to hang onto
them for now (and no, Jon Garland and his 5.28 xFIP is not that guy). 
Secondly, despite his .270 batting average, Delmon Young is still one
of the worst hitters in the lineup.  His .349 slugging percentage is
anemic, his 58/6 K/BB ratio is the worst on the team, besides providing
crappy defense in left (-9.1 UZR).  No wonder the Rays were so eager to
get rid of him.

Of course, this is
pretty much the way the Twins have operated for the past decade, so
none of this comes as a surprise.  The likes of Ramon Ortiz, Sidney Ponson, and Rick Reed have rounded out a rotation fronted by Johan Santana and Brad RadkeDustan Mohr, Michael Restovich, and Michael Ryan have all patrolled the outfield alongside Torii Hunter.  After Corey Koskie left, guys like Tony Batista and Mike Lamb were manning third base until Joe Crede came along.  Jason Tyner, he of the one major league home run, was the DH for 31 games in three seasons with the Twins (when Rondell White and Ruben Sierra weren’t available, of course).  Tyner, by the way, was featured on the “Best Persons in the World” awhile back when his current (former?) team traded him away for nothing.  And then there was the Luis Rodriguez-Juan Castro-Luis Rivas infield, with Terry Tiffee on the bench.  And these weren’t even the worst Twins teams.

Obviously
there was a lot of talk about the Yankees’ payroll during the series at
the Dome, and it’s true that having a larger payroll gives a team more
flexibility. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a “Woe is us, how can we
ever keep up
with the Yankees and Red Sox?” post.  Simply spending a lot of money
doesn’t necessarily guarantee that a team will even make the playoffs
let alone win a championship, and there is much more parity baseball
(especially the AL) than pretty much any other major professional sport
in this country.  It’s just that a smaller payroll
gives a franchise a much smaller margin-for-error when making trades,
signing free agents, and even in the draft, since a bad move can
hamstring such an organization for decades. 

The Nick Swisher trade is a very good
example.  Now, the Yankees
acquired him from the White Sox for next to nothing, but even if he
doesn’t work out, the team isn’t completely sunk.  The Yankees
technically have six outfielders since acquiring Eric Hinske from the
Pirates, so they don’t really need Swisher and could easily trade him if
he starts to decline. 
Compare that to the Delmon Young trade (I know, I know, they’re not
really the same since the Young deal had a much higher risk, but bear
with me).  The Twins gave up a lot to
acquire Young and he has yet to live up to his potential.  To be fair,
Young isn’t the only terrible hitter on this team (and he hasn’t even
entered the prime of his career yet), but he needs to put up better
power numbers to make the trade worthwhile (and to justify giving him
so much playing time).  At this point, though, it’s hard to argue that
the Twins wouldn’t be a better team
with Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett.  Worse yet, his poor performance
and perceived attitude problems mean the Twins would have a tough time
getting anything of value for him should they consider themselves
buyers the trade deadline.  Like it or not, they’re pretty much stuck
and simply have to hope that Young will eventually start to develop
some power.

By the way, I tend to consider the
Young trade karmic retribution for the A.J. Pierzynski trade. 
Although, when you think about it, the Young trade is even worse. 
Pierzynski was at least competent both at the plate and in the field,
and Giants fans only had to put up with him for one season.  Delmon, on
the other hand, is the gift that keeps on giving.
 

Maybe This is the Team We Have

  • Twinkies get their a**es handed to them by the Yankees in 10-2 loss

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The Wild had just dropped
a must-win game against Colorado and had put forth one of their most
lackluster performances to date.  The team had just lost seven of its
past ten games, and were just barely clinging to the slimmest of
playoff hopes, and had only managed to score one lousy goal against the
worst team in the Western Conference in a snoozefest of a game.  When
asked why his team put forth such a piss-poor effort with so much on
the line, then-coach Jacques Lemaire replied:

“Maybe this is the team we have.”

And
this, ladies and gentlemen, is your 2009 Minnesota Twins. OK, maybe
they’re not as bad as last year’s Wild team, but they are pretty much
in the same boat.  They haven’t won more than two games in a row since
May 24th, and their longest winning-streak of the season is only four
games.  They are currently looking up at the Tigers and the White Sox,
even if it is only by 2.5 games.  They will likely get swept at home by
the Yankees, and then have to deal with a red-hot White Sox team before
the All-Star break.  The team could certainly use help in the bullpen,
and they could really use a middle infielder who can hit, but aren’t
likely to get anything done at the trade deadline.  The Twins have
always preferred to sit on their hands and hope for the best, while
waiting to make their biggest moves during the offseason (if then). 
And to be honest, I don’t have a great deal of faith in Bill Smith’s
ability to make trades.  His track record so far has been pretty disappointing.

Twinkie Town did a good job breaking down Scott Baker’s horrible performance last night,
and it appears as though he’s still having problems with his
mechanics.  His breaking pitches were flat, his fastballs weren’t as
fast, in short, it’s a miracle that he only gave up five runs against one of the most potent lineups in the American League.  It had been suggested by some of the commenters
on the Star Tribune site that Baker was awestruck by the Yankee lineup,
that he felt intimidated by them, but I don’t think that was the case
at all.  Scotty had actually been quite successful against the Yanks in
his career, going 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA (small sample size, I know). 
Besides, Baker had the same issues in his last start in Kansas City, in
which he needed 117 pitches to get through five innings, and I doubt he
was awestruck by the Royals’ All-Star lineup.  That the Royals only
scored one run against him says a lot about their offense (namely that
they can’t even buy runs at this point).

  • In meaningless award news…

Justin Morneau has indeed declined an invitation
to defend his title in this year’s Home Run Derby, citing a need to
rest up for the second half of the season as his reason for choosing
not to participate.  Joe Mauer hasn’t been asked, but Gardy thinks he would win it if he were.

Joe Nathan has been named the DHL Delivery Man of the Month.  I mentioned in my previous entry
that Nathan is having one of the best seasons of his career, but I also
want to mention that he’s only walked one batter in his past 11.2
innings, while striking out 18.  He’s given up only four hits
in that period.  That’s about as good as it gets.  No wonder
he’s the only reliever in the bullpen (and one of the few on the staff,
actually) who doesn’t give me heartburn.

I’m a little sad to see Steph go since he’s been with the team for so long, even though he was basically just a fourth-liner.  He loved playing in Minnesota and being part of the Wild organization, even after they put him on waivers simply to prove that he wasn’t as valuable as he thought.  Still, when rookie sensation Cal Clutterbuck pretty much took over his duties on the checking line, it was pretty clear that this would be Steph’s final season with the team.  At least we will always have this:

Losing in Style

  • Twins hit four homers and lose anyway

Thumbnail image for kubel_homer.jpgZOMG, this is the most unclutchiest lineup ever!!!11!!  I mean, for the most part, clutch hitting has a lot more to do with luck than skill.  In general, even the greatest hitters will fail more often than not with runners in scoring position, that’s just how the game works.  It sucks, it’s frustrating, but that’s just the way it is.  Which is why I find this article in the Star Tribune so irritating. To suggest that the problem is that the Twins are relying too much on the long ball and not speed or sacrifice hits (i.e., Twins baseball) is ridiculous.  The power hitters in the lineup have been remarkably productive, with Joe Mauer batting .421/.490/.738, Justin Morneau .324/.398/.524 (which is pretty good, considering that he’s been in a slump recently), Jason Kubel .315/.377/.546, and even Michael Cuddyer is starting to pick things up, hitting .281/.360/.518 with 10 homers.  Joe Crede has been kind of an exception since he has a paltry .228 BA and .303 OPB, but he also has a .451 slugging percentage and is on pace to hit 20+ homers this year, so he isn’t really part of the problem, either.  The real problem has been the lack of production from the bottom of the order, and it has been all season.  The Twins certainly aren’t lacking speed in the lineup, with Carlos Gomez, Matt Tolbert, and even Nick Punto all threats to steal, but the three have struggled to get on base consistently.  Delmon Young hasn’t been living up to his potential, either, batting .258/.286/.302 while looking horribly uncomfortable at the plate.  The good news is that Gomez, Punto, and Young have all taken huge steps forward this month (Yes, even Gomez.  He’s drawing more walks and isn’t swinging at so many pitches outside the strike zone, he just hasn’t had much to show for it in the way of results).  The bad news however, is that all three are still barely replacement-level position players.

After tonight’s loss to Houston, the Twins have fallen back to the .500 mark and are threehenn.jpg games behind the Tigers.  This time, the offense wasn’t the problem, since they hit four homers and scored five runs.  No, this time it was the pitching staff, specifically the bullpen that fell down.  The Twins had a 3-2 lead in the seventh, until Sean Henn came in to relieve Scott Baker.  Henn surrendered three runs in the seventh (one was charged to Baker), including a two-run homer to pinch-hitter Jason Michaels, and was yanked in favor of Luis Ayala after recording only one out.  I had written before that the pitching isn’t as bad as fans tend to think, and that’s true.  But it hasn’t been that great, either.  The starting rotation has started to settle down and pitch effectively, but the bullpen is still an issue.  While Matt Guerrier and Joe Nathan have been as reliable as ever, and R.A. Dickey is settling into the long relief role, the rest of the ‘pen is simply a disaster waiting to happen.  Ayala has been much more effective recently, but he pitches to contact and can’t really be used in close games with runners on base.  Jose Mijares hasn’t been too bad, posting a 2.57 ERA in twenty-four appearances, but he’s also been suffering from control issues (his 1.70 K/BB ratio isn’t good) and is bound to get hit hard eventually.  The Twins clearly need bullpen help, but so does pretty much everybody else in the league, which will obviously complicate matters at the trade deadline.  Still, I guess we should be glad that our bullpen isn’t as bad as the Indians’.  Yikes.

  • Speaking of homers

Thumbnail image for joe_mauer.jpgMauer hit his 14th of the season, setting a new career record, and it isn’t even officially summer yet.  It was an opposite-field blast (of course) that had given the Twins a 3-1 lead at the time.  Someday, opposing pitchers will figure out that it isn’t a good idea to throw him fastballs on the outside corner.  Hopefully he’ll hit 20 homers before they do.  Obviously, Mauer isn’t going to put up such Pujolsian numbers all season long, since the physical demands of being a catcher will catch up to him eventually.  As of right now, though, Mauer is the most valuable player in the league, and it isn’t even close.

Why is there this tingling in my left arm?

  • Twins survive ninth-inning nightmare to beat Oakland 10-5

HomerHA.jpgThis game was much, much closer than the final score would indicate.  The Twins had a 10-0 lead going into the ninth.  Scott Baker had pitched brilliantly, holding the A’s two just two hits in eight innings, and since he’d thrown only 96 pitches, was going for a complete game.  And that’s when things got a lot more interesting than they really needed to be.  Baker was obviously gassed, and loaded up the bases without recording an out (although he didn’t get any help from Alexi Casilla, more on that in a minute).  Jesse Crain was brought in to relieve Scotty, but ran into trouble of his own.  After Alexi Casilla again failed to field a routine ground ball that allowed a pair of runs to score, Crain had trouble finding the strike zone.  He walked Jack Cust with the bases loaded, and was yanked in favor of Jose Mijares.  Mijares struck out Jason Giambi, but then suffered some control issues of his own.  He walked the next two batters and forced in a pair of runs.  With the score now 10-5, and the bases loaded with only one out, Joe Nathan was brought in to complete what had suddenly become a save situation.  He struck out Jack Hannahan and Rajai Davis to end the threat and pick up his 12th save of the year. 

I’ll admit that I was nervous before Nathan came in.  If there’s any team that can screw up a 10-0 lead in the ninth inning, it is the Twins.  They’ve had such awful luck on the road this season and it really wouldn’t have surprised me if they ended up losing 11-10.  Besides, it’s not like this kind of thing has never happened before.

The horrorshow that unfolded in the ninth overshadowed what had been a rare quality road win.  Not only did Baker pitch a gem, but the bats sprang to life and gave him some much-needed run support.  Delmon Young, who’s really been having a rough season both on and off the field, went 2-for-4 with a double (his first extra-base hit since April 22) and three RBI.  Justin Morneau made me look silly for suggesting he might be in a slump, going 4-for-5 with a solo home run.  Jason Kubel hit a three-run homer.  Brendan Harris, who saw his career-high 12 game hitting streak come to an end on Monday night, went 3-for-4 with a walk and a run scored.  Even Carlos Gomez, who was put in the leadoff spot when Denard Span was forced to leave the game, came up with a big two-run double (though he also struck out twice).  It’s a good thing too, because the Twins needed every single one of those runs to hold off the A’s and get the win.

  • Bert Blyleven is an a**

OK, here comes a mini-rant.  I’m not really a fan of the Twins’ broadcast team, but I don’t usually complain about them here because it’s a waste of time.  The Twins aren’t going to fire Bert and Dick simply because I don’t like them, and rehashing ad nauseum all the dumb things they say is enough to give me a headache.  And since most of my readers don’t have to listen to Dick and Bert, they’d probably have no idea what I’m talking about, anyway.  But when Blyleven called out Scott Baker during the broadcast for failing to pitch a complete game, I felt I needed to make an exception.  It wouldn’t have been so bad, but he made it sound like the ninth-inning collapse was all Scotty’s fault, and it wasn’t (Alexi Casilla had a lot to do with it, but I’ll get to that).  Baker was on his game all night: he struck out eight batters, didn’t walk anyone, and allowed only one extra-base hit.  He retired fourteen straight batters coming into the ninth inning, and considering how much Baker has struggled this season, his performance had already exceeded expectations.  The complete game would simply have been icing on the cake.  But Bert ripped into Scotty when he loaded the bases without recording an out (again, not really his fault), accusing him of lacking the mettle to pitch a complete game.  Ridiculous.  If Baker truly wasn’t interested in trying to finish the game, then what the hell was he doing out there in the first place?  It was obvious that he was exhausted, and one would think that if Baker didn’t care about finishing the game himself, he would’ve simply told Gardy that he was done for the night.  Scotty didn’t deserve the public tongue-lashing Bert doled out from the safety of the broadcast booth, not after pitching eight innings of two-hit ball.  And it will never happen, but Bert owes Scotty an on-air apology.  Maybe I should change the title of this blog to “Fire Bert Blyleven”.

Worse yet, there was little rage directed at the true goat of the game:  Alexi Casilla.  The second baseman booted a couple of routine ground balls, one of which might have been a double-play. If Alexi even made one of those plays, Baker likely would’ve escaped the ninth having pitched a three-hit, maybe one-run complete game.  But because of Casilla’s incompetence, Baker had to settle for eight innings and three unearned earned runs.  And the Twins had to use their closer to save what should have been a complete blowout (of course, Jesse Crain and Jose Mijares could’ve pitched better, too).  Ugh, I never thought I’d be so happy to hear that Nick Punto is coming back soon.  I will take a sub-.200 middle-infielder who can make routine plays over a sub-.200 middle-infielder who can’t any day.
        

Back to the Farm With You, Young Man

  • Oakland chases out Anthony Swarzak after only 3.2 innings

Things got off to a really good start for the Twins in Oakland.  They jumped out to a three-run lead early in the ballgame, with some timely hitting from the bottom of the order (and a bases-loaded, two-out walk by none other than Carlos Gomez).  It looked as though the Twins were finally starting to put their previous road struggles behind them.  But, as is apparently the custom in visiting ballparks this season, the pitching staff gave the lead right back.  Rookie Anthony Swarzak suddenly couldn’t find the strike zone, walking Matt Holliday and Jason Giambi on eight pitches.  He then hit Aaron Cunningham right in the head (who stayed in the game, though he suffered a concussion) and surrendered a three-run double. His night was over when he walked Orlando Cabrera, and failed to make it out of the fourth inning for a second consecutive start.  In his defense, he seems genuinely frustrated by his struggles, but it’s clear that he isn’t quite ready to pitch at the major-league level.  Once Glen Perkins comes off the DL, Swarzak will likely be sent back to AAA.  It’s unlikely he’d even earn a spot in the bullpen with the control issues he’s had.

  • Is Justin Morneau in a slump?

Thumbnail image for morneau-j-cp-090309-306.jpgFour games is a small sample size, but it certainly seems to be the case.  He struggled in Seattle, going 1-for-11 and chasing pitches well outside the strike zone.  He also went 0-for-4 in Oakland last night, striking out three times, twice looking.  And while it’s true that the Twins have faced three left-handed starters in a row, this shouldn’t be much of a problem for Morny.  He’s always hit lefties pretty well, but this season he’s been murdering them, batting .380/..406/.663 with an OPS of 1.069 compared to .292/.409/.585 and a .993 OPS against righties.  Morny appears to be pressing at the plate, and considering that he’s played in every single game this year, it’s possible that he just needs a day off.  Michael Cuddyer and Brian Buscher might not be the greatest fill-ins at first base, but a slumping Morneau isn’t doing the team much good right now, either.

Tonight:  I’ll just be happy if Scott Baker has a second consecutive quality start.  The Twins have been waiting for their #1 and #2 starters to consistently pitch well all season, especially on the road.  Of course, a win would be even better, but I fear that’s asking too much. 

Good News: The Pitching Doesn’t Completely Suck

Thumbnail image for kev_slowey.jpgOh sure, just as I was going to post something reassuring about the performances of our young staff, they done blowed up real good against an anemic Cleveland lineup. At home, no less. Well, I’m going to put it up anyway, because it’s the truth and I wasted an entire evening on this goddam thing.  Both the starters and the bullpen haven’t been as bad as their overall records would indicate.  The starting pitching in particular is about as good as it was last year, even though it kind of seems worse because of the disappointing performances by Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano to date.  But even Scotty and Frankie haven’t been quite as bad as their respective 6.32 and 6.60 ERAs make them look.  The Twins’ defense is ranked tenth in the league, and both Baker (4.74 xFIP) and Liriano (4.94 xFIP) appear to be getting burned the most by shoddy defense behind them.  It’s been particularly bad for Baker, who also tends to give up a lot of home runs (he’s surrendered a career-high 14 going into today’s game against Cleveland).  His last start against Tampa Bay was a good example of the problem he’s faced all year:  the defense behind him failed to make a routine play, which put two runners on for the dangerous Evan Longoria.  Baker naturally gave up a home run and was charged with three earned runs since the misplay behind him was ruled an infield hit rather than an error (never mind, it was ruled an error, but what was a tie game was quickly a three-run deficit due to poor defense).  Same thing for Frankie, whose last two starts (especially the one against Boston) probably would’ve been quality starts were it not for the defensive miscues behind him.

Defense doesn’t account for all of Frankie’s misfortunes, however.  His 1.619 WHIP and poorFrankie_fail.jpg 1.79 K/BB ratio show that he’s not exactly pitching like the ace he was expected to be going into the season.  The Twins have been reluctant to pull Liriano from the rotation, and for good reason. His 4.3 BB/9 rate is horrendous, but his 50 strikeouts lead the team and he often pitches well through the first four innings or so.  His stuff still looks pretty nasty when he’s on, which makes his struggles just that much more frustrating.  And he was really good after being called up from Rochester last year, posting a 2.74 ERA, 1.188 WHIP and a very good 3.16 K/BB ratio.  Part of the problem is that he’s throwing his changeup a lot less, 14.2% compared to about 20% in 2008.  Whenever he gets into trouble, he relies heavily on his slider as an out pitch.  And this worked well when he was still throwing around 95-mph before his surgery, but now that his velocity is somewhere in the low-90s he really needs his changeup to compliment his fastball and slider (although even then he was still throwing his changeup about 16-18% of the time). On top of all that, Frankie appears to be suffering from a lack of confidence in himself and his stuff, which is often much more difficult to fix than mechanical issues (although he seems to have those, too).  The mediocre defense behind him is just making matters worse.

The other reason the Twins have been reluctant to move Frankie to the bullpen is that they don’t really have a suitable replacement.  With a 2.08 ERA, Anthony Swarzak had looked pretty good coming into last night’s game against the Indians and was threatening to take Frankie’s spot in the rotation.  But his 1.50 K/BB ratio and unsustainable 98.5 LOB% indicated that he’d probably just been more lucky than good, so it wasn’t really all that surprising when he got beat up by the Indians.  He’ll probably move to the bullpen once Glen Perkins comes off the DL (which isn’t a bad thing, the ‘pen still needs help).

As for the much-maligned bullpen, they got off to a rough start but have been pitching better as of late.  Joe Nathan hasn’t surrendered a run since blowing a save against the Yankees on May 15th (Although he probably will now that I just jinxed him. Sorry, Joe).  Matt Guerrier and Jose Mijares have been reliable, but not quite as good as their 3.55 and 2.60 ERAs would indicate (Guerrier has an xFIP of 4.12 and Mijares 4.56).  Unfortunately, the rest of the ‘pen can’t be counted on for anything other than long relief, with R.A. Dickey posting a 1.42 WHIP and 4.88 xFIP despite his relatively low 3.06 ERA and Luis Ayala posting a 4.07 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, and 5.02 xFIP.  Dickey has some value as a spot-starter, but Ayala’s been useless for anything other than mop-up duty.  Jesse Crain looked a lot like his pre-surgery self early in the year, but he hasn’t been anything but terrible no matter how you look at it since coming off the DL (eep: 7.88 ERA, 5.44 xFIP, 1.63 WHIP, 1.22 K/BB). 

  • Carlos Gomez, sabermatician

Thumbnail image for mlb_g_gomez_300.jpgGomez may not be the best hitter in the league, but he clearly understands the value of defense and on-base %.  He told the Star Tribune after Tuesday’s game:  “Denard, me and Casilla — all we need to do is try to get on base and
try to play good defense,” Gomez said. “I know I do nothing with the
bat today, but I make a good catch. If I don’t do well with the bat, I
can do better with the glove and this helps my team. When you’ve got
Mauer and Morneau in the lineup, it makes a big difference. I know
they’re going to make some runs if I don’t get on base.”

Of course, with a mere .276 OBP Go-Go still needs to work on, you know, actually getting on base, but at least he grasps the concept.  Which is more than can be said for Jeff Francoeur.

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.

Meh

PH2007083102132.jpgThe Twins did OK against Seattle starter (and former shoe salesman) Al Bundy Chris Jakubauskas, hitting only four home runs, three of which came in the fifth inning.  Which is the first time they’ve hit three homers in an inning since these guys did it against the White Sox in 2002. Brendan Harris got the mashing started with a three-run shot that just barely cleared the baggy in left-center field, putting the Twins up 5-0 in the second.  Then Joe Mauer decided the fifth inning would be a good time to hit his second homer of the season, almost a week to the day that he hit his first.  Of course, Justin Morneau wasn’t going be upstaged by a catcher and followed with a solo shot of his own, his seventh dinger of the year.  Brian Buscher, who was filling in for Joe Crede and would probably like to see more playing time, then followed with a two-run shot that gave the Twins an eleven-run lead.  Which was nice and everything, but the Twins still left plenty of runners stranded on base.  Especially in seventh, when they had runners at second and third with only one out, but failed to bring them in.  It’s as though they just got lazy, thinking an eleven-run lead was good enough.  And, in this case, it was, but clearly the Twins need more practice when it comes to not leaving runners stranded on the base paths.

Scott Baker finally figured out that it’s a lot easier to keep opponents off the scoreboard if you scatter hits instead of bunching them together.  And if you keep the ball in the ballpark, that helps a lot, too.  Twinkie Town had a great piece on Baker’s struggles after he imploded against Kansas City in his previous start.  Baker always had trouble with losing focus once he allowed a runner to reach base, but seemed to put that behind him last season when he went 11-4 with a 3.45 ERA.  This season, however, he’s looked a lot more like the old Scott Baker (or Mr. Scott, if you will), the one who would lose focus when he put runners on and would subsequently get hit hard.  Pretty much all of the homers he’s given up this year have come with runners on, and most came right after he surrendered a hit.  But Dr. Baker was pretty effective through seven innings last night, making adjustments when he needed to, and just generally not getting freaked out if a Mariner happened to reach base.  Since he’s been making steady improvement since his return from the DL, it seems likely that we will see more of Dr. Baker than Mr. Scott this year.  

Normally I would complain about using the best pitchers in the ‘pen to close blowout games, but neither Jesse Crain nor Joe Nathan had worked much lately, so I’m not going to rake Gardy over the coals.  Much.  The M’s aren’t dumb, they sure made Twitchy Boy work in the ninth (by the way, he has something, um, interesting written on his glove), hoping to wear him out in case he has an actual save opportunity sometime this weekend.  However, the Twins will be facing King Felix tonight, and a resurgent Erik Bedard on Sunday, so I don’t think that will be much of a problem. 

Nick Punto was finally benched for last night’s game, since he has as many hits (15) as strikeouts in 79 ABs, and a team that is struggling to score runs as much as the Twins can’t afford to have such a huge black hole in the lineup.  While Brendan Harris isn’t as good defensively at short, he’s hitting .321/.350/.464 with two home runs and deserves to have more regular playing time, at least for the time being.  Harris tends to be a streaky hitter, so I wouldn’t expect him to put up such good numbers the rest of the year, but while he’s hot and Punto is ice cold, it would make sense to keep penciling him in at short.

Well, that was ugly

  • If I pretend the seventh inning didn’t happen, the Twins win this one, right?

Thumbnail image for baker.jpgScott Baker was cruising along, pitching a no-hitter through six innings.  The offense, with the help of some Kansas City errors, managed to scratch out four runs against tough right-hander Gil Meche.  It looked as though the Twins were about to win their third straight series, and put the ugliness of last night’s game behind them (more on that in a minute).  But then all hell broke loose in the seventh.  Scott Baker gave up a single to lead off batter Willie Bloomquist.  Then another single, then a three-run homer to Jose Guillen.  Baker failed to record a single out in the inning, and when it was all over, Kansas City had a 5-4 lead that it wouldn’t relinquish.  R.A. Dickey would allow two more runs, and the Royals’ bullpen would hang on to beat the Twinkies 7-5.

Yes, five runs on five hits in one inning is pretty bad, but Baker has shown steady improvement in his past couple of starts and his very good 16/5 K/BB suggests that he’s on the right track.  Before he completely fell apart in the seventh, Baker dominated the Royals throughout the entire game, giving up only one walk.  I’m not sure if he just lost focus after surrendering the single to Bloomquist, or if he was starting to get tired (Baker has never been terribly efficient and had already thrown about ninety pitches going into the seventh), but this is still a vast improvement for a guy who was surrendering home runs at the rate of once per inning, all of which came with runners on.  His ERA has now dropped to 9.15, which is pretty good considering that it was as high as 12.46 after his implosion against the Red Sox in Boston. 

I have mentioned before that the Royals will be a good team this year, but this whole series had less to do with the Royals’ talent and everything to do with the Twins’ ineptitude.  If it were not for some poor pitching performances in this game, and some crucial defensive mistakes in Saturday night’s game, the Twins would have swept Kansas City and moved into first place.  If nothing else, they would have taken two out of three and remained only a half game back.  But now they’re 12-13, and are two games behind the first place Royals.  Which is precisely where they were before this homestand began.

  • Defensive miscues and a horrendous bullpen cost Twins in Saturday’s 10-7 loss

casilla_groundball.JPGSaturday night’s game against the Royals was about the ugliest I have ever seen.  Officially there were four errors between the two teams, but unofficially, well, I lost count of all of the misplays in the field.  Brian Bannister, who did struggle a bit, didn’t really get much help from the defense behind him.  Only three of the six runs he surrendered were actually earned.  Glen Perkins, on the other hand, was terrible on his own, giving up five earned runs on ten hits.  For the third start in a row, Perk reverted into his old bad habits and started throwing a steady stream of fastballs whenever he got into trouble.  And the Royals made him pay, chasing him out after six mediocre innings.  The Perkins that got off to such a good start earlier in the season, the one that went at least eight innings in three starts and gave up only four runs, changed speeds effectively and generally did a good job keeping hitters off balance.  I wonder whatever happened to that Perk and if we’ll ever see him again this season.

After last night, Ron Gardenhire has finally decided he’s seen enough of Alexi Casilla’s poor play and has benched the second baseman, at least for one game.  Casilla made two crucial errors in the second game of the series, both of which likely cost the Twins the game.  In the seventh, with the Twins clinging to a one-run lead, he failed to cover second on a steal attempt by Willie Bloomquist, who later scored on a single by Billy Butler to tie the game.  The Royals untied the game in the very next inning, when Casilla misplayed a routine ground ball that would have ended the inning but instead allowed Alberto Callaspo to score from third.  Alexi tends to be an emotional guy, and sometimes he lets his struggles at the plate affect his concentration in the field.  Casilla was one of the big question marks coming into the season, as he’s struggled at both AAA and the major league levels before putting together a successful 2008 campaign with the big club.  Still, Gardy doesn’t think that Casilla’s hot start with the Twins last year was a fluke, and is holding out hope that a day off is all the young second baseman will need to get back on track.     

I don’t really know what to say about Craig Breslow.  He’s now walked nine batters in 6.2 innings, and walked the bases full in the eleventh before he was pulled in favor of R.A. Dickey.  Breslow was very effective last season, but seems to have lost his release point and Ron Gardenhire has now officially put the lefty on notice.  The organization has been losing patience with Breslow, whose days are likely numbered since Jose Mijares has been lights out since his call-up and Anthony Slama has been pretty impressive with AA New Britain.  It’s kind of a shame, too, because I started to really like the guy.  Still, I guess this is probably why he’s bounced around between four different organizations in his five major-league seasons.  But hey, at least he still has that medical school thing to fall back on.

  • Bruce Boudreau is probably glad that he decided to bench Jose Theodore

Not bad for a rookie:

That’s Better (Sort of), Scotty

  • Scott Baker manages to not give any home runs, Twins lose anyway

PH2007083102132.jpgScott Baker, who has had a lot of trouble keeping the ball in the park in his first two starts, had what was his most successful start of the season against the Rays last night (though he still surrendered four runs on six hits).  Things got off to a rough start when he gave up two runs in the first (after he had retired the first two batters he faced).  But then he settled down and retired ten straight batters before running into trouble again in the fifth.  All in all, it wasn’t a terrible outing, as Baker struck out seven and walked only one, and his pitches had a lot more movement than in his previous starts, but in the end it just wasn’t good enough.  Baker’s recent struggles, coupled with the fact that his mechanics were so awful, led to some speculation that he might be hiding an injury (he didn’t want to go on the DL in the first place).  However, it seems as though his mechanics have been causing problems before his issues with shoulder stiffness (he gave up a league-leading nine homers during ST), and that perhaps these mechanical issues were what led to his shoulder issues in the first place. 

Although the young pitching staff has had its share of struggles early on, it isn’t the starting pitching that concerns me.  While all five of them might not exactly be Cy Young winners, they are a lot better than their overall records would indicate.  However, the offense, or lack of it, is something to be concerned about. The Twins struggled to do much of anything against Jeff Niemann, who for his part, wasn’t all that impressive.  They had runners on base with less than two outs in each of the first three innings, and yet each time failed to drive in a single run.  Which wouldn’t be so bad, but this has really been a problem for the lineup (well, at least for the hitters not named Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel, anyway). 

Even though Morneau and Kubel both struck out swinging against Niemann with RISP, it’scuddyer.jpg difficult to get too frustrated with them since both have been essentially carrying the offense.  Actually, all of the left-handed hitters in the lineup (and switch-hitter Jose Morales) have been hitting pretty well.  The righy bats, however, are a much different story.  Outfielders Michael Cuddyer and Carlos Gomez are struggling, with Cuddy batting a miserable .208/.275/.306 and Go-Go an anemic .195/.250/.293.  Delmon Young has been a bit more successful, batting .255/.296/.333, but his focus on trying to pull the ball more has led to a lot more double-plays.  The crowded outfield situation might be part of the problem, since only Cuddyer has seen much regular playing time (though he hasn’t exactly benefited from it).  All of this depth in the outfield was supposed to be one of the team’s major strengths this season, but except for Denard Span, none of them have been very productive at the plate, and two of them are mediocre defensively at best.

While Joe Crede has only twelve hits in 66 plate appearances, half of those have been for extra bases and three have been home runs.  Crede was always more of a power hitter with the White Sox and never really hit for average, so it will be interesting to see if his career numbers hold up outside of U.S. Cellular field.  Right now, the Twins are 9-11 and in fourth place in the AL Central.  While it is still very early in the season, the Twins should be concerned about the lack of production from all of the right-handed hitters in the lineup.  They may be blessed with four very good left-handed hitters (Mauer, Morneau, Kubel, and Span), but these four can’t carry the offense by themselves.  For now, with such huge holes in the lineup and no major moves in the works, a fourth-place finish looks to be about right.

  • You can’t spell V-E-Z-I-N-A without B-A-C-K-S-, dang it

Thumbnail image for backs_sho_oil.jpgOn a non-baseball related note Niklas Backstrom, Boston’s Tim Thomas, and Columbus’ Steve Mason are all finalists for the Vezina trophy.  While none are certainly terrible choices, they are a bit controversial since they do play for teams that implement a defense-oriented system (allegedly, more on that in a minute).  Oh, I know there are some people who would disagree with me on this, but when you look into the numbers and examine the season in general, Backs is really the most deserving of the three.

While it’s true that Mason and Thomas have both had very good years, and that both have led their teams to the Stanley Cup playoffs, Backs is the only goaltender who has ranked consistently in the top five in GAA, save percentage, wins, and shutouts all season.  And while he plays for a team that supposedly plays stifling defense, that certainly wasn’t the case this season.  Niklas Backstrom faced 2,059 shots this year, second only to Calgary’s Miikka Kiprussoff (who saw 2,155), and yet he still put up a stellar 2.33 GAA and .923 save percentage.  Considering all of the horrible defensive plays made in front of him on a regular basis, and the overall lack of offensive support (the Wild finished near the bottom of the league in goals scored), Backs had to perform a miracle almost every single night.  And considering that his mediocre team wasn’t officially eliminated from playoff contention until after the second-to-last game of the season, it’s clear that Backs has been more valuable to his team than any other goaltender in the league.

And he did all that while playing with an injured left hip. But I guess if that isn’t convincing enough, maybe this is:

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