Saturday, March 15, 2008

Good News

I got to see the Twins/Phillies game (as broadcast by FSN) on MLB.TV today. I'll start with the bad news:

The hits still aren't falling in for Justin Morneau. Garrett Jones took a called third strike with men on base in the 9th. I don't think he's going to make the team.

OK, now on to the good news:

4 solid innings from Kevin Slowey, allowing 1 run on 2 hits while striking out 5 and walking 1. The run came on a solo Homer by Ryan Howard, and the walk was to Howard as well - no shame there. The second "hit" came when Delmon Young lost a fly ball in the sun. Slowey actually pitched well enough to get 14 outs while having only 2 base runners. Two more good starts, and he'll make the team.

Glen Perkins got into a little trouble in the 6th when Chase Utley lined the first pitch high off the centerfield wall, Howard walked, and Pat Burrell delivered an RBI single. The first 3 pitches to Howard were all close (many had been called strikes earlier in the game), and the Burrell single was a 3-hopper just past a diving Everett in the hole. But Perkins came back to get the next three guys and stay out of a big inning.

Dennys Reyes, Pat Neshek, and Casey Daigle cleaned up with a quick, perfect inning each.

Every Twins starter (except poor Morneau, who was robbed of a hit by Utley in the 5th) had at least one hit:

Delmon Young was 2-4 with a double and an RBI.
Jason Kuble was 2-3 with a homer, RBI, and BB - he seems to be coming to life a bit.
Mike Lamb was 1-3 with a double, and he's hilarious!
Tommy Watkins delivered a 2-run single in the 9th.
Nick Punto was 2-4 with a 2-run triple, BB, and SB - hopefully he can relax a little bit now that he's put a good game together.
Jason Pridie got a hit in his only AB and is now hitting .333 for the spring.
Denard Span had another good day, going 2-5 with an RBI double, R, and a fine running catch at the track in right-center. But that performance was masked by:

Carlos Gomez

What a terrific game he had. The box score line looks fantastic: 3-4 with a 2-run HR, 3 runs scored, a walk(!) and 2 SBs. But that doesn't fully explain it. I missed his first AB, but in the 4 I saw, he went deep into the count in each, with the exception of the bunt single in the 7th. I was very impressed to see him follow a homer with a very well-placed bunt in his next AB. Then he stole second even though they never threw home! The lefty pitcher threw to first, and the 1B threw promptly to 2nd base, but Gomez beat it. He then scored from 2nd on a flare single from Young that just got over Utley's head. Utley actually fielded the ball himself in short right, whirled and threw a strike to the plate, but Gomez got in with a spectacular slide, well to the foul side of the plate, catching with his fingertips the 2 inches of the dish not blocked by the catcher (who didn't even bother to attempt a tag).

The implications of Gomez' performance today are clear: if he can work the count enough to get on base on a regular basis, he's a game-changer. That run in the 7th came without the benefit of a well-hit ball. It was all speed. Such superlative speed that, if he plays a complete season, I have no doubt that Gomez could challenge for the SB title of the AL, if not all of MLB. That's something the marketing department can work with, and it certainly would make the fans feel a little better about losing Santana.

Gomez has now put together two good games in a row (hitting for the cycle between them). But it's the change in approach that impresses me more than the outcome. Officially, his BA has nearly caught Span (.250 to .259, respectively. Though I still consider Span to have 2 more hits, which would put him at .300). Span clearly has the edge in OBP (.275 to .417, the way I'm keeping score), and has played slightly more consistent defense. But Gomez has a significant edge in SLG% (.500 to .433 - even giving Span the extra 3 bases from the rain-out), throwing, and base-stealing ability.

I don't think the Twins can afford to have their leadoff hitter get on base less than 30% of the time, so Gomez still has a ways to go to make the team. However, if he can get his OBP anywhere close to .333, the chances of him being in scoring position are so high, it might almost make up for the 2 times out of 3 he doesn't get on. I'm not on the bandwagon yet, but, for the first time, I'm really excited about his potential.

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