Friday, May 23, 2008

3rd Split: 7-9

So far it's been 1 step back, 2 steps forward, and 1 step back, arriving at 24-24 through 48 games. While that's not awful for a team that is 7th in the AL in hitting, and 8th in pitching, the record would look a bit better were the team in the middle of the pack in fielding. Instead of 13th (wha?).

Poor defense was the story in this split. The Twins committed 21 errors in their first 32 games - not good, but downright tidy compared to the 17 they made in the last 16 games. Those errors led to 14 unearned runs. And those numbers do not account for every dropped 3rd strike or overthrow. They certainly don't include any of the base-running mistakes that killed some rallies. If I had to zero in on 2 games where the defense cost a win, I'd single out the 6-5 loss to the Blue Jays and the 8-7 extra-inning loss to the Rangers. In each case, had a reliever (Crain and Guerrier, respectively) made a routine throw to 3rd base (and we're talking less than 50 feet, here), the Jays game would have gone to extras and the Rangers game would have been won. It was very much within the Twins' control to have won 1 or 2 more games in this split.

Starting pitching continued to be a strong point. The Twins got 9 Quality Starts in the 16 games, and came 1 out short of 2 more. As predicted, Kevin Slowey (3.63 ERA, 1.16 WHIP) out-pitched Livan Hernandez (5.30, 1.66 - anybody want him? He's 6-2!) over this stretch. Nick Blackburn (3.32, 1.42) continues to pitch deep into games with better results than Livan, and Glen Perkins has been a revelation (3.44, 1.20, 12/2 K/BB). Alas, Boof Bonser is headed the other way (7.72, 1.47), and is in jeopardy of losing his spot in the rotation when Baker or Liriano are ready to return.

Pat Neshek was lost for the season in the first game of this little cross-section, and the bullpen has been a mess ever since. While many members have managed to put up acceptable ERAs, only Joe Nathan and Bobby Korecky have consistently thrown strikes. Well, Dennys Reyes has thrown strikes, but they've all been hit. While the rotation remained stingy with walks, Rincon, Guerrier, Crain and Bass issued 32 BB in 38.2 IP. Not sustainable.

On the other side, the offense has picked up their patience - in fact, it was common to see them draw 5+ walks in a game. They averaged over 4 BB/game over this stretch, and the 67 BB in this split equalled the number the Twins drew in their first 32 games, raising the team OBP to .319 for the season. Carlos Gomez and Jason Kubel have doubled their walk rates and, not surprisingly, both now have OBPs far north of .300 for the month of May. Gardy has wisely diminished the playing time of the struggling Brendan Harris and Craig Monroe, and Alexi Casilla is off to a good start in his first week as a starter (.273/.370/.455, HR, 7 RBI - 2 E though).

The other welcome development has come in the slugging department. Though they continue to hit HR at an anemic pace, the Twins unleashed an onslaught of triples during this split, led by Delmon Young's 3. After hitting just 6 triples in the first 32 games, the Twins have hit 8 in the last 16, most of those coming in just over a week's time. Throw in the walks, and the Twins have managed to pull their OPS out of the bottom 4 in the AL.

The next 16 games feature a 7-game home stand against the Yankees and Orioles, and 9 road games against division rivals Detroit, KC and Chicago. The current winning percentages of those opponents are not impressive - can the Twins continue their improvement and take advantage?

Bold prediction: at least 2 veteran players will be dismissed before the 10th of June.

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