Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Shooting Blanks

Angels 1, Twins 0

Well, crap. As much as I don't mind blowout losses like Tuesday night, I can't stand to lose well-pitched games.

I want to start by accentuating the positive:

Nick Blackburn had a stupendous debut, everything the Twins could have asked from him. He showed more calm in the early-going than Bonser did last night. He settled in and retired 11 in a row through the middle innings. If not for an unfortunate carom from a curveball in the dirt, he might have matched Saunders' performance. If Blackburn can back this performance up with another good one against the White Sox next Monday, he'll give the Twins the luxury of easing Liriano back up to the Show at whatever pace the situation dictates. Extra pressure on Slowey now to deliver, but I think he's up to it.

The defense was very good tonight. Everett had to skip the game to deal with a family emergency, but Tolbert was solid in his place, and Punto did what he does best: play solid defense. And each of them picked up one of the 4 Twins hits. It was great to see Tolbert have the discipline to take a strike leading off the ninth - I might have been tempted to bat Mauer right there, but the kid got himself on base with a 4-pitch walk.

The bullpen, despite a dicey 8th inning, held the Angels scoreless. Tonight, brought in once again to face a lefty with runners in scoring position, Reyes got the ground-ball double play. Neshek was perfect in his inning.

The bad news, of course, is the offense (or lack thereof). If Batgirl were here, I'm sure she'd be saying something about Ass-bats. 4 runs in 26 innings of batting against the Angels 3rd, 4th and 5th best starters is disconcerting to say the least. Tonight, the Twins managed to get only one batter past first base, promptly grounding into DPs in the few occasions they put someone on. Morneau and Monroe remain hitless in the series. Carlos Gomez failed to advance Tolbert in the 9th when he bunted foul three straight times.

Most upsetting to me, Saunders needed only 80 pitches to complete 8 innings. When a pitcher is on his game, the best defense is to make him throw a lot of pitches. Work counts, foul balls off. With Scott Shields and Chris Bootcheck on the DL, the Angels' middle relief is particularly weak in this series. Getting to them should be an integral part of the game plan. Grounding out on the first, second or third pitch offered isn't going to make that happen.

Ervin Santana had lousy road splits for the Angels last year, and the Twins' offense has to get it going eventually. Mauer, Lamb and Kubel will likely be back in the starting lineup, so I still like the team's chances tomorrow. But it wouldn't have taken very much more tonight to make Thursday's game into a series win instead of a split.

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