Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Late to the Party

Tigers 11, Twins 9

For two weeks, the mighty Detroit Tigers lineup was last in the league in runs scored. You knew that couldn't last. My hope was that they would extend their slump for the two games the Twins were in town - at least one of the days. And for 5.2 innings last night, it looked like I was going to get my wish. Nick Blackburn shut the Tigers down for that span, allowing no runs on 4 hits. Then, with shocking speed, the Tigers woke up.

Fittingly, it began with a cheap swinging bunt by Gary Sheffield. Then Magglio got a hit. Better start warming up Guerrier. Cabrera, Guillen - by the time the bullpen gates swung open, the Tigers had four straight hits and 3 runs in. Renteria greeted Guerrier with an RBI single, but was kind enough to get himself thrown out between first and second, and the inning ended with the Twins still leading 5-4.

The Twins promptly got those 4 runs back from Bonderman and Bobby Seay, and though Guerrier allowed a leadoff homer from Ivan Rodriguez off the glove of Denard Span in right, the Twins carried a 4-run lead into the 8th. With Neshek and Nathan, the Twins should win just about every time they lead after 7 innings. But they should win every time the lead by 4 after 7 innings.

There are lots of ways to explain what happened in the bottom of the 8th. As soon as Magglio drilled that ball off the wall in center to make the score 9-6, Neshek should have come in. It was a save situation, and Guerrier hasn't been all that great in the early-goings this season. To be fair, he got the next guy - Adam Everett's lazy throwing error allowed Cabrera to reach and forced the Twins to get 4 outs in the inning. When Neshek did get in there with a 2-run lead, he served up 3 hits, including 2 triples, and Jacque Jones' SF was pretty sharply hit as well.

As I said last Monday, if Neshek is going to get knocked around, the Twins are probably going to lose. But when the game got away, there were so many little plays that came back to mind, plays that didn't seem to matter at the time, when the Twins were way ahead. Morneau getting himself trapped off 2nd base on Young's RBI single. Span just missing that catch on Rodriguez. Mauer failing to get that run in in the top of the 8th. Gardy staying with Guerrier and Blackburn a couple batters too long.

I think what it comes down to is a team-wide underestimation of the power of the Tigers to score runs. Let this be a lesson for the 17 games against them to come. Against the Tigers, you can never have enough runs. Against the Tigers, a 4-run lead is a save situation. Against the Tigers, you can't afford to let up, no matter what the score.

On the bright side, with Mauer, Kubel, Sheffield, Guillen and Magglio on my fantasy teams, I had a pretty good night.

Span vs. Gomez

If Span could have come down with that Rodriguez home run, last night would have been his best all-around game so far. As it was, he still went 2-4 with a walk, run scored and an OF assist. The sample size is still very small, but he is continuing the steady play we saw in spring training.

Gomez went 0-5, and is now 0 for his last 15. His line has declined to .246/.271/.351 with 14 K in 57 AB. He took advantage of the fact that other players were on first ahead of him, turning groundouts into FCs and using his time on first to steal a base and score a run.

One thing I'm noticing about him - he's an especially bad hitter with men on base: .306/.342/.417 with the bases empty (not bad!), but .143/.143/.238 with runners on (blecch!). Yes, it's important for the leadoff man to be good at getting on and starting a rally, but since he also hits an average of 1.6 times a game with men on, I'd like to see him do something productive there, too.

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