Monday, April 14, 2008

Winter Ball

Twins 2, Royals 0
Royals 5, Twins 1

Frigid weather tends to favor pitchers, and with game-time wind chills at or below freezing all weekend, the pitchers had their way with the hitters - as long as they threw strikes.

Boof Bonser was excellent on Saturday night, mixing his pitches and staying ahead of the hitters. Though he did finally walk 2 batters, he was in total control on the balls that were put in play. Billy Butler's single in the 6th was the only hard-hit ball against Bonser in 6 innings. Unlike Monday, the bullpen set up the way Twins wanted, and Guerrier, Neshek and Nathan finished the shutout with a combined 3 IP, 2 H, 3 K and 39 pitches.

Not so good for Francisco Liriano on Sunday. Based on his spring training and the 2 minor league starts this month, it didn't seem like his command was there yet, and that was case Sunday as well. He was constantly behind the hitters, and when he did throw a fastball over it was hit hard. He couldn't finish 5 innings, walking 5 and allowing 6 hits while striking out 4. Hopefully some of it can be attributed to nerves at making his first Major League appearance in over a year, and some to discomfort at the cold weather. At this point, any outing he makes is another step in his recovery, so he's moving along.

Kubel played every game this weekend, rewarding the Twins with some big hits. Punto got just his second start of the season and performed very well, going 2-3. If he keeps it up, I'll be calling for him to replace Everett in the every-day lineup. It was a brutal weekend for Lamb, Young and Mauer - they'll need to break out this week if the Twins are to have a chance.

Span vs. Gomez

Neither one of them did a thing against Bannister on Sunday, but neither did anybody else in the lineup, so I'm not going to worry about that game. Saturday night was Span's first 2-hit game, and he drove in his second run. The 7th inning was where the difference between the two players really became clear. After Gardy astutely called for the hit-and-run on the first pitch to Brendan Harris following Kubel's leadoff single, Span came up with runners at the corners and none out. He hacked at a good fastball, took an off-speed pitch in the dirt, then hit the ball sharply on the ground up the middle with a nice, compact swing, driving in the run. After Punto's bunt single loaded the bases with none out, Gomez came up and hacked wildly at 3 straight sliders out of the zone. Easy strikeout, no further runs scored.

I won't be too hard on either of these guys yet with the sample sizes still so small (54 PA for Gomez, 18 for Span) - Gomez and the rest of the Twins' regulars will get a closer look this coming weekend. However, it's interesting to note that by the end of the second week of the season, after just 12 games, Gomez' hot start has evaporated, and his OBP stands today at .296. Not good for a leadoff hitter. And, because he's at the top of the lineup, Gomez has 6 more PA than any other Twins player. 1 extra PA every 2 games for a guy who gets on less than 30% of the time. Over the course of the season, that's a lot of bad ABs.

Looking at the series as a whole, I'm very pleased to see the Twins win 2 of 3 on the road against a divisional opponent despite scoring a total of 8 runs. Through the first 2 weeks, the Twins are 2nd in the AL in team pitching, making up for an anemic 11th-ranked offense. Funny how everybody was so nervous about the pitching heading into the season. I don't expect Livan to keep it up, of course, so the offense is definitely going to need to get going in order to keep things close.

Hopefully the Tigers will continue to suck for 2 more games.

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