Results tagged ‘ Twins Win ’

Giving the Bullpen a Couple of Days Off

  • Nick Blackburn pitches his third complete game of the season in Twins’ 6-2 win

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Blackie (yes, that’s really his nickname) absolutely dominated the Tigers in Sunday’s rubber match, keeping them off the scoreboard through eight innings.  He struck out six and only walked one, and although teh Kittehs recorded seven hits, they weren’t really able mount much of a threat until the eighth.  Unfortunately, Blackie lost his bid for a shut out when Brandon Inge clobbered a two-run homer in the ninth, but he quickly recovered to finish the inning and (most importantly) give the bullpen some much-needed rest.  After pitching 13 innings in Friday night’s marathon exercise in futility, the relief corps will get two full days of rest (some relievers even have three, as Francisco Liriano pitched seven innings on Saturday) before the Yankees come to town on Tuesday night.  When his sinker is working, as it was yesterday, Blackie is a bullpen savior (indeed, he needed only 109 pitches to get through nine innings).  His 116.1 innings pitched are fifth most in the league, and only Zack Greinke has thrown more complete games. 

However, even though Blackburn is putting up some of the best numbers of his career, it’s still way too early to declare him the team ace (or talk about extending his contract).  He wasn’t much better than average last season, and his poor peripherals suggest that a good deal of his success this season is probably due to luck.  Coming in to yesterday’s game, Blackie had a very good 3.10 ERA, but his 1.67 K/BB ratio and 2.3 BB/9 rate are at career lows.  I wrote elsewhere that if those numbers don’t improve, he will likely finish the season with an ERA much closer to his 4.98 xFIP.  The good news, though, is that some of his peripherals have indeed been improving.  While his 1.80 K/BB ratio is still rather low, and he still gives up a lot of hits, his BB/9 rate has been steadily declining the past few months (from 3.08 in May to its current 1.00).  A lot of it has to do with the fact that his fastball is nasty.  The velocity tops out at around 91 mph but the movement on it has been absolutely filthy, and as long as he can sustain that kind of break on his fastball, his strikeout rate should start to improve.  Blackburn will likely keep rolling through the second half of the season (and hopefully the playoffs).

  • Twins once again send three representatives to the All-Star Game

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Joe
Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Joe Nathan are all set to represent the
Twins in the ASG.  Kevin Slowey probably had a good chance of joining
his teammates in St. Louis, if he hadn’t gone down with a wrist injury
(he is supposed to have an MRI on it today.  UPDATE:  it is just a strain.  He was treated with a cortisone shot and should resume throwing in a few days).  You could probably make
the case for Nick Blackburn too (Joe Nathan did), since he is sporting
a 2.94 ERA and 1.27 WHIP, but I have no problem with the likes of
Justin Verlander and Mark Buerhle getting the nod instead.  I’m not
going to get into a huge debate over who got snubbed and who didn’t
deserve a starting spot, there’s already plenty of that on the
internets.  I don’t think there are many glaring oversights on either
team, other than maybe Ian Kinsler and Torii Hunter (who should be
starting), and the ASG isn’t something I get all worked up about
anyway.

Justin Morneau has indicated
that he will probably decline an invitation to the Home Run Derby, if
asked.  It’s probably just as well.  His tendency to fade down the
stretch probably doesn’t have anything to do with participating in the
HR Derby, but why take that chance?  Anyway, this way people won’t get
mad at him for beating a much-flashier superstarAgain

Joe
Mauer is making his second consecutive start in the ASG, and his third
career appearance.  Even after missing the first month of the
season, he’s still far and away the best catcher in the AL.  Although,
5 of the 31 “greatest minds in baseball” think that Victor Martinez
should have been the starting catcher.  That’s right, a guy batting
.303/.382/.506/.888 while making half of his starts at first base
deserves to be the starting catcher, while the guy batting .389/.465/.648/1.113
should be on the bench.  Yes, let’s give all of the voting power to
these people, clearly the fans are too stupid to get it right.

Joe
Nathan is also quietly having one of the best years of his career.  His
last blown save came against the Yankees on May 15th, and he hasn’t
surrendered a run since.  Not an unearned run, not an inherited runner scoring,
nothing.  His 2.40 xFIP, 6.14 K/BB ratio, 11.6 K/9 rate, and 1.9 BB/9
rate as well as 1.35 ERA and 0.750 WHIP are all at or near
career-bests.  He’s been getting hitters to chase pitches outside the
strike zone a little more, which has made him extremely effective even
when he doesn’t have his best stuff.  

I Guess Miracles Do Happen

  • Nick Punto (!) drives in winning run against Tigers

twins_win.jpgOk, first a bit of a rant.  Today’s game was nationally regionally broadcast on Fox.  Probably only 0.001% of the country actually saw it, since most of the rest of America got the Dodgers/Whoever game.  Fine.  Whatever.  I don’t care if the entire nation gets to see the Twins game, or what channel it’s on, as long as I get to see it on my tv (and I did).  What really drove me nuts, however, is when Fox cut from the Twins game to the Dodgers game just as Miguel Cabrera was stepping into the batter’s box because they felt it was so goddam important to show us Manny Ramirez’s first home run since coming back from his suspension.  News flash Fox:  I am a Twins fan, I don’t give a sh!t about Manny Ramirez.  I haven’t given a sh!t about Manny since he left the Indians, and now that he’s no longer in the American League, I care even less.  I want to watch Francisco Liriano pitch!  I haven’t been able to say that very often this year!  And I’m sure the Tigers fans watching the game really wanted to see Miguel Cabrera hit, not Manny.  Worse yet, Cabrera was on base when the mouth-breathers at Fox finally switched back to the Twins-Tiggers game, and we were left wondering how in the hell that happened.  Yes, the broadcasters later replayed Cabrera’s single to right, and yes, nothing really important happened in the game while they cut away, but that isn’t the point.  I am tired of the mainstream media acting like the only things that matter in baseball happen to the three largest markets in baseball.  I realize that a Twins-Tigers game probably isn’t that exciting to 99% of the country, but it is pretty f*cking important to Twins and Tigers fans.  It’s more important to us than whatever the hell Man-Ram or A-Rod or whatever other superstar-we’re-supposed-to-care-about-because-he-plays-in-a-large-market is doing.  Besides, ESPN will show the same Manny highlights every five minutes, so it’s not like we would never get to see it or anything.  Let us watch the battle for the AL Central in peace!

Whew, I feel much better now.  Frankie was great in this game, although a late-inning near-meltdown prevented him from getting the win.  He shut out teh Kittehs through six innings, striking out seven and only walking one.  Unfortunately, F-bomb ran into trouble in the seventh when he surrendered a three-run homer to Twin-killer Magglio Ordonez, allowing the Tiggers to briefly take the lead.  He did settle down after that though, and managed to finsh the inning without any further damage.  This is obviously a huge step forward for a guy who would completely melt down whenever he got himself in trouble, and while Frankie might not be the same pitcher he was before TJ surgery, he should be better than his 5.49 ERA.

Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer both homered in this game, giving the Twins an early 2-0 lead.  The 2006 MVP had a very good afternoon at the plate, going 4-for-4 and driving in the tying run, besides hitting his 20th homer of the year.  But even the Mountie was overshadowed by Nick Punto (of all people), who provided the game-winning hit: a bloop single that drove in Matt Tolbert and put the Twins ahead 4-3 in the eighth.  You know, Punto’s been hitting .286/.545/.286 so far this month, so I’m going to stop making fun of him for now.  He still isn’t exactly earning his $4 million this season, but at least he isn’t as much of a liability in the bottom of the order.

  • Twins drop first game of series in sixteen innings

slowey-fail.jpgToday’s win was particularly sweet because Friday night’s game was no fun for Twins fans.  Kevin Slowey was awful, and as it turns out, is injured.  Slowey has looked like he might be hurt in his past few starts so this
news isn’t surprising, though the cause of the injury is somewhat
suspect (a line drive from a year ago, really?).  The Slow Man has been uncharacteristically wild, walking five batters in his past three starts and, most tellingly, hitting two (he had four hit batsmen all season last year).  Anthony Swarzak has been recalled from Rochester in the meantime.  Swarzak is hardly an ace, but he’s pitched well enough to be a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter and should at least serve as a competent fill-in while Slowey is on the DL.

By the way, this is what it looks like whenever Slowey issues a walk.

The Twins managed to tie the game in the sixth (and later in the fourteenth), but it was all in vain.  Teh Kittehs scored three runs off of R. A. Dickey in the sixteenth inning, and it would be enough to hold off the Twins.  For the Twinkies, this game was lost in the eleventh, when the game was still tied at 7 apiece and Michael Cuddyer came to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs.  The Tigers intentionally walked Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau to pitch to Cuddy, a move that would prove to be brilliant on Jim Leyland’s part.  Cuddy struck out on three pitches, chasing a pitch well outside the zone for strike three.  I actually gave up on the Twinks after that, something I pretty much never do.  I hate to do it, it makes me feel like a bad fan.  This is baseball, after all, and there’s always a chance for a miracle.  But when Cuddy essentially screwed up their best chance to win the game, it was pretty obvious that the Twins just didn’t want to win it.  They simply managed to torment their fans delay the inevitable for five more innings.

As of tonight, Baseball Prospectus has the Twins finishing the season
with 83.9 wins and the Tigers with 84.3.  In other words, the division
is there for the taking so FOR CHRISSAKES JUST GO AHEAD AND TAKE IT
ALREADY!!! 

Is There Such a Thing as a Bad Win?

  • Francisco Liriano has his worst outing of the year and still gets the win

Thumbnail image for p1franciscolirianosi.jpgEven though he only surrendered three runs, this really was Frankie’s worst performance of the season.  It took him a career-high 117 pitches to make it through five innings, and he faced no less than five batters in almost every single inning.  He gave up seven hits and walked more batters than he struck out (six Ks vs. five BBs).  That he only gave up three runs speaks volumes about the Brewers’ offense, and not so much about his ability to pitch out of a jam.  Unlike his previous start against the Pirates, in which he was only a couple of meatballs away from pitching a gem, Frankie was only a couple of bad pitches away from a complete meltdown.  It’s been so frustrating to watch him this season because he shows so much talent, and just when it starts to look like he’s starting to turn the corner, he has a performance as awful as this.  The Twins have been patient with Frankie thus far, but obviously they can’t continue to do so and hope to catch the Tigers and win the division title.  Moving him to the bullpen probably isn’t going to help either Frankie or the Twins much, since he struggles to pitch from the stretch and would likely fail in high-leverage situations.  If he fails to show any progress in his next couple of starts, perhaps the Twins should consider sending him to Rochester.  Working with pitching coach Bobby Cuellar seemed to do wonders for him last year, and he could be sent down with the promise that he would be called back up no matter what happens.  Whether he would be called up as a starter or reliever would depend upon how well he does with the Red Wings.

This game was so difficult to watch I had to keep reminding myself that the Twins were actually winning.  As awful as Frankie was, Milwaukee starter Jeff Suppan was even worse, giving up seven runs (four earned) on nine hits while walking three.  The Twins jumped out to an early lead in the first, when Michael Cuddyer struck out but reached first on a wild pitch, loading up the bases for Joe Crede.  Crede then lashed a double over the head of Mike Cameron, plating three runs.  Carlos Gomez (who had a pretty good night, going 3-for-5 with a pair of runs and RBI) later singled and then hustled to second when Cameron took his sweet time getting the ball back to the infield.  He then scored on a single by Brendan Harris, putting the Twins up 4-2.  A fielding error by J.J. Hardy opened up a three-run third inning, giving the Twins a 7-3 lead they would never relinquish.  Good thing the Brew Crew decided to play more like a beer-league softball team, allowing the Twins to reach the .500 mark for the umpteenth time this season and keep pace with the Tigers.

  • Jinx!

Mauer_on_SI.jpgJoe Mauer is SI‘s cover model this week, for only the second time in his career.  The issue dealt with his pursuit of .400, so naturally he’s gone 0-for-8 in his past two games and dropped his average to a mere .395.  The SI curse probably has little to do with it though, since hitting .400 is really hard to do in the first place and Mauer was starting to show signs of slowing down even before the issue hit the stands.  Still, you’d better start sleeping with one eye open, Tom Verducci.

Oddest Game Ever

  • Twins ground into five double plays, still beat Pirates 8-2

beardo_perk.jpgWell, not really.  But this was a statistically strange game for the Twins.  I mean, how in the hell do you ground into five double plays and still manage to score eight runs?  Obviously a good number of those came with a runner on third and nobody out.  I guess if you’re going to ground into a lot of double-plays, it should always be with less than one out.  And a runner on third.  While it’s certainly an unusual occurrence, it isn’t unheard of and isn’t any kind of record or anything.  The Tigers also grounded into 5 double plays on the way to a 13-8 victory over the Blue Jays on April 16, 1996.

Joe Mauer went 4-for-4 with an RBI double, but no home runs.  Slacker.  Although, he was robbed of his last chance to hit one when Brendan Harris grounded into an inning-ending double play in the eighth.  Right now, Mauer is batting .429/.497/.756 with 13 home runs.  While it’s unlikely that Mauer will finish the season batting over .400 (he is a catcher, after all), he will most certainly be in contention for his third batting title as long as he remains healthy.  Which is important because the Twins are probably going to try to sign him to a long-term deal, and obviously his numbers are going to have a significant effect on his value.  The front office is obviously aware of the PR nightmare that would ensue if they failed to re-sign their native son, not to mention that they can’t seriously expect to contend for a World Series title if they keep letting their top talent go. 

Glen Perkins was pretty effective, if not exactly dominant, in his first start since coming off the DL with elbow inflammation.  He surrendered seven hits, but only two runs, and struck out four through six innings.  His one mistake was to Nyjer Morgan, who blasted a two-run homer that cut the Twins’ lead in half.  Paul Maholm wasn’t exactly sharp, but he also got a lot of tough breaks.  Delwyn Young lost a Joe Crede fly ball in the lights for a Dome double that scored a run.  And then there was that bizarre stikezone.

One of the things I hate the most about the Twins’ broadcast team (both radio and tv) is their obsession with pitch counts.  Well, that and their inability to pronounce Muhollam Mahalo Maholm’s name correctly.  Obviously they had to bring it up last night, since Perk was on a relatively short leash.  This has been the subject of heated debate for years, and Rob Neyer wrote an interesting piece that sort of defends the concept behind the pitch count.  I actually agree that pitch counts are unnecessary, but not for the same reasons as Bert Blyleven.  Yes, they’re arbitrary and probably don’t really help prevent injury (it’s a lot more important to avoid a dramatic increase in workload, but that’s for another post), but they’re also, well, arbitrary.  That is, unless they’re dealing with a rookie, most managers don’t really adhere to them too strictly and tend to let the starter pitch as long as he feels comfortable.  If it’s the eighth inning and a starter is near 100 pitches, he’ll probably be allowed to go over that limit as long as he doesn’t feel fatigued.  If it’s the fifth inning and a starter is near 100 pitches, then he’s probably laboring and should be taken out anyway.  So the furor over pitch counts is a little overblown.

  • Speaking of injures

Thumbnail image for pridie.jpgDenard Span was placed on the 15-day DL.  He has vestibular neuritis, which if I understand correctly, is essentially inflammation of a nerve in the middle ear caused by some sort of infection.  Apparently it isn’t serious and he is expected to make a full recovery, but he’ll need to be out at least the next few games.  In the meantime, Jason Pridie has been recalled from AAA and there’s a pretty good scouting report on him here.  Most Twins fans probably remember Pridie as the guy who blew the save for Joe Nathan against Toronto last year, when he misplayed a single into a triple.  Pridie came over as part of the Delmon Young trade, and doesn’t project to be anything more than a fourth outfielder at best.  It isn’t likely that he’ll see much playing time, and will probably just be used as a defensive substitute in later innings.

As I mentioned in my previous post, Jesse Crain has been optioned to AAA Rochester.  He hasn’t pitched in the minor leagues in nearly five years, and was obviously stunned by the news.  Crain hasn’t even been marginally effective since May and the Twins really couldn’t afford to wait and hope he would work through his issues any longer.  It was either that or release him, and obviously the organization isn’t ready to give up on him just yet.  The Twins will go with only eleven pitchers for now, since they need to carry extra bench players at least as long as Denard Span is on the DL.  The starters have been averaging about six innings per start this season, so it might not be necessary to carry more than six relievers.  The only real issue is that Matt Guerrier, who’s already overworked, might have to carry an even heavier workload with fewer relievers in the ‘pen.  However, it isn’t as though Crain was taking a lot of work away from Matty G. in the first place and the Twins may decide to call up another pitcher once Span is activated. 

Thanks for Giving Us Seven Shutout Innings Anthony, Now Go Back to AAA

  • Anthony Swarzak shuts down Cubs, then gets optioned to AAA Rochester

130059_Brewers_Twins_Baseball_large.jpgSwarzak pitched the best game of his young career against the Baby Bears, scattering four hits and striking out six while walking only one.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to keep his spot in the rotation, and Swarzak was notified of his demotion right after the game.  Glen Perkins will most likely be activated from the DL on Tuesday, and with Denard Span and Michael Cuddyer out an indefinite length of time, the Twins can’t really afford to carry an extra pitcher at the sake of a shorter bench.  They have called up backup catcher Jose Morales in the meantime, and how long he’ll stay with the team depends on Michael Cuddyer and Denard Span (more on that in a minute). 

While the timing of the news might have been unfortunate, it isn’t entirely unexpected.  Swarzak hasn’t pitched that much better than the starters who have been struggling this season, namely Francisco Liriano and Scott Baker, and both of them have started to pick things up as of late.  And while three of his five starts have been quality ones, his peripherals suggest that he isn’t quite ready to pitch in the major leagues.  In his five starts, Swarzak has an ERA of 3.90 but with an xFIP of 5.63, a 1.34 WHIP and poor 18/10 K/BB ratio, that ERA should probably be closer to 6.00 (oops, I mean 5.00.  proofreading is important).  He had some very good outings against the Brewers and the Cubs, but he got smacked around by the Indians and wasn’t terribly impressive against either Boston or Oakland.  Still, he does show some promise as a starter, after all, a three-pitch pitcher can make it in the bigs as long as those three pitches are pretty good.  Swarzak will most certainly get another shot, whether it’s as a September call-up or because someone else is injured/continues to suck.  At any rate, it’s nice to know that the organization does indeed have some pitching depth, and not just a surplus of arms.

  • I guess you can’t have too many outfielders

Coming in to the season, the Twins’ outfield was awfully crowded and Ron Gardenhire was charged with the difficult task of finding playing time for all four outfielders (five, if you count Jason Kubel).  Right field was the only position settled, with Denard Span, Carlos Gomez, and Delmon Young battling for the three remaining spots.  This job has been made more difficult by the fact that two of them, namely Gomez and Young, have been very disappointing at the plate thus far.  But now that Michael Cuddyer is out with a finger injury (go figure), and Denard Span is suffering from an inner-ear problem, suddenly the outfield doesn’t look quite so deep.  It’s hard to say how long either one will be out of the lineup, both are still listed as day-to-day, but Cuddyer is scheduled to meet with a finger specialist on Monday so it’s a good bet he’ll end up on the DL.  Span is recovering from what’s being called an “inner ear disorder”, but there’s no official word on when he’s expected to return to the lineup.  Obviously, losing Span has hurt the most, since he’s batting .291/.380/.386 in the leadoff spot while showing a lot of versatility as an outfielder.  Cuddyer might have more power, but he also strikes out a lot and can’t really play any other position than right field.  In the meantime, Jason Kubel has been starting in right, and while his bat has been hot lately, he isn’t the greatest defensive outfielder and there’s always concern that playing in the outfield will aggravate his balky knees.  Obviously, the Twins don’t seem to think either Cuddyer or Span will miss much time, or they probably would’ve called up another outfielder instead of a backup catcher. 

Milton Bradley = Greatest Outfielder Ever

122142_Cubs_Astros_Baseball.jpgMilton Bradley had a very tough day at work today.  He lost Jason Kubel’s routine fly ball in the sun, which put two on with nobody out and set up a two-run inning for the Twins.  Later in the same inning, he couldn’t field Michael Cuddyer’s line drive to right, playing a single into a run-scoring double.  But, most hilariously, he also had a major brain fart on a Joe Mauer pop fly.  Bradley forgot how many outs there were in the inning and threw the ball into the stands (hint:  there was only one, Milton).  Nick Punto scored easily and Brendan Harris was awarded third base.  Personally, I think the play should’ve been ruled a home run.  That ball went right into the stands!  So what if Bradley was the one who threw it there?  Bradley kind of redeemed himself by hitting a big two-run double in the sixth, cutting the Twins’ lead in half at that point.  Unfortunately, he couldn’t redeem himself completely, allowing Delmon Young to rob him of the potentially game-winning hit in the eighth.

For Twins fans and Cubs haters alike, this was a great game.  Joe Mauer hit his 13th home run of the season, a two-run blast that gave the Twins an early lead (and tied his career high set in 2006).  Jason Kubel hit a solo shot in the ninth that extended the lead to 7-4, his tenth of the season.  And Brendan Harris went 3-for-5 with an RBI and a run scored, which should help his case to be the starting shortstop (at least until Gardy realizes he isn’t a utility role player anymore).  Nick Punto even hit the ball out of the infield a couple of times.  I can’t remember the last time I wrote that.

Kevin Slowey was cruising along through the first five innings, allowing one hit and striking out nine Baby Bears.  I guess he decided not to rely on the worst defensive outfield ever behind him.  Slowey did start to fall apart in the sixth, when he surrendered three runs and cut the lead to only one run.  None of that can be blamed on the defense though, all of those runs came on some very hard hit line drives (the outfield didn’t walk Mike Fontenot, either).  The bullpen wasn’t great, but they managed to (barely) hang onto the lead for a change.  Joe Nathan retired the Cubs in order to pick up his fourteenth save of the season in a very non-heart-attack inducing manner.

Ron Gardenhire gets a lot of criticism from fans for his management of the bullpen, especially his reluctance to use Joe Nathan in anything other than a save situation.  And since the front office has consistently failed to put together a decent bullpen, the few reliable relievers on the staff get overworked (sometimes to the point of injury, see Pat Neshek and Jesse Crain).  Case in point:  Matt Guerrier.  Matty G. had logged 28.1 innings coming in to today’s game (where he was asked to record the final out in the eighth) and had made three straight relief appearances, while Joe Nathan had only logged 23.1 and hadn’t worked since Wednesday.  I realize that this is a national league ballpark, and the thought that Joe Nathan might come up to bat isn’t particularly appealing, but it was a save situation anyway and it makes sense to use Nathan since he’s had more rest.  Guerrier was awful in the second half of last season, posting a. 8.88 ERA and 2.092 WHIP after the All-Star break, and a lot of it has to do with the fact that he was overworked.  And with all of the innings he’s logged the past six seasons, it’s probably only a matter of time before he too ends up on the surgery list.

By the way, the best part of the game is that Wrigley was half full of Twins fans.  Seriously, if Wrigley Field weren’t so distinctive, one would think the Cubs were the visiting team.  Chants of “M-V-P!” and “Where’s Mark Prior?” whenever Joe Mauer came up to bat warmed even my icy cold heart.  There was plenty of cheering whenever the Twins would score, or when Kevin Slowey struck out yet another Cub.  There was also a lusty booing of Cub players, although I don’t think all of that was coming from Twins fans.

On a completely unrelated note, but because I find the idea so delightfully disgusting, here is former Toronto pitching coach Bob Miller discussing the fine art of spitting tobacco juice on umpires:

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.
        

Twinkie Defense

Thumbnail image for casilla_groundball.JPGIn my previous post, I mentioned that the Twins’ had the tenth-ranked defense in the league (or a .700 Defensive Efficiency rating, the definition and formula for which can be found here) according to Baseball Prospectus and I guess I should elaborate on that.  The Twins have committed the fewest errors in the AL, and have an AL-best .990 fielding percentage, but neither one of those stats really measures defensive efficiency.  That is, they don’t measure how effectively a team converts balls in play into outs, at least not accurately. As I discussed in the Mauer post, in general I like to use Ultimate Zone Rating to evaluate player defense.  However, because it essentially measures how many runs a particular player saves per game, the values sometimes fluctuate wildly from season to season, so it’s not the best metric for evaluating defense over the short-term.  At least not on its own.  To evaluate team defense during the season, I also like to use Defensive Efficiency and Park-Adjusted Defensive Efficiency
(which, like the name implies, adjusts for ballpark factors that might
effect the Defensive Efficiency Rating) to get a full picture of how well the Twins are converting balls in play into outs.  And, at least this season, they haven’t been very good at it.  The team UZR is a 19th-ranked -6.5, on top of the .700 Deff Eff and 12th-ranked 0.4 PADE, so it’s clear that Twins’ defense has been mediocre at best. Which wouldn’t matter so much if they had more strikeout pitchers on the staff, but with a rotation full of contact pitchers, the defense needs to be better than just average. 

I guess there isn’t a better player than Delmon Young to illustrate my point.  Young has only made two errors this season, and his fielding percentage is .967, so one would think that Young is a pretty good left-fielder.  However, Young has a poor -6.7 UZR this season, and his career -23.1 UZR is about as bad as it gets.  So while he might not make a lot of errors, he doesn’t have much range and isn’t very good at converting balls in play into outs.  But you really don’t need any fancy metrics to come to that conclusion.  Anyone who’s actually watched Delmon lumbering around in the outfield can tell that he isn’t very good. The numbers simply support that assessment. 

  • Frankie finally has another quality start

Thumbnail image for p1franciscolirianosi.jpg 
Well, technically last night’s game against the Mariners was a quality start:  one earned run on three hits over six innings but Frankie didn’t exactly pitch as well as that looks.  He struck out six batters, but walked four and had to pitch himself out of a self-imposed jam nearly every every inning.  He’s still struggling with his command, but at least he managed to not melt down when he got himself in trouble.  He still needs to throw his changeup a little more, and needs to work on command of his fastball, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.  Of course, he had a similar performance at Yankee Stadium and then failed to make it past the fourth inning in his next three starts, so he’s going to need to string a few quality starts together to keep his spot in the rotation.

  • Etc….

Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron has an interesting solution to the Delmon Young problem.  Young wasn’t off to a great start before his mom died, but he’s been awful since returning to the team and just seems lost at the plate.  The Twins can’t just send him down, since he’s out of options and almost certainly wouldn’t clear waivers even as bad as he’s been.  It might be best for both sides to go the D-Train route:  Young would have a chance to get himself together without the pressure of fighting for a playoff spot and the Twins would get to compete for the division title with their best outfielders.

What’s wrong with the South Side?  Paul Konerko does his best to explain why nobody seems to want to come play for the Fightin’ Ozzies.

Justin Morneau finally made good on his bet with Strib beat writer LaVelle E. Neal, III.  I guess he didn’t do too badly on his first-ever blog post, even if it is a little short (not everyone needs to write 25,000 word essays like I do).  But don’t quit your day job, Justin.

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….

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.

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