Monday, April 21, 2008

Pitching and Defense

Twins 3, Indians 0

Twins 2, Indians 1 (10 innings)

The Indians were the single biggest reason the Twins didn't make it to the happy side of .500 in 2007. They beat the Twins in 14 of 18 meetings, including every time Santana faced them. While their pitching staff stymied the hitters, they always managed to get the big hit just when they needed it, or the Twins would give them an extra out or base with a defensive miscue.

Not so much this weekend.

Although the Tribe's only run on Sunday was a direct result of an unturned double play (high relay throw from Brendan Harris), the Twins otherwise made every play they were supposed to make, and several they weren't. Infielders and outfielders were diving around all over the field, most notably when Carlos Gomez saved the game with his sprawling catch in the 9th. The defense did turn 5 DPs, four in support of Nick Blackburn on Saturday. Delmon Young picked up his 3rd OF assist to preserve the shutout. Neither team committed an error in the series.

Blackburn's performance was a clinic in minimizing damage. Though he allowed a baserunner in just about every inning, he didn't hurt himself with walks, and his sinker kept setting up DPs. The very definition of "scattering" 8 hits in 7.2 innings. Had the Twins been able to pad the lead a bit, I thought he might get the chance to match Carlos Silva's 11-hit, 6 DP shutout vs. the Angels a few years ago.

Scott Baker was arguably even more effective, allowing just 5 hits and one walk in 7 innings. The missed DP chance extended the second inning by 3 batters and 13 pitches, so had it been turned, Baker might well have completed 8 shutout innings. His 8 Ks were 1 short of his career high.

The bullpen was nearly flawless as well, allowing only 3 baserunners in 4.1 innings. It was particularly heartening to see Neshek come in with a runner on in the 9th and slam the door (thanks, again, to the athletic prowess of Gomez), something he was unable to do in Chicago and Detroit.

Last weekend, the Twins took 2 of 3 from KC despite scoring just 8 runs in the series. Hard to top, but they did it this weekend, taking 2 of 3 from the Tribe despite scoring just 5 runs in the 3 games.

Three weeks into the season, the Twins are near the bottom of the AL in runs (13th), OBP (14th) and SLG (12th), yet are tied for second place in the division, just 2.5 games behind the White Sox. This is thanks to a pitching staff that ranks very highly in ERA (3rd), fewest walks allowed (1st), and WHIP (1st), and a defense which is among the leaders in throwing out baserunners (1st in caught stealing %, tied for 1st in OF assists). Thank goodness for pitching and defense, otherwise the Twins would be in big trouble.

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