Thursday, June 26, 2008

Familiar Territory

Twins 3, Padres 1
Twins 9, Padres 3
Twins 4, Padres 3

After 70 games in 2006, the Twins were 35-35. They proceeded to finish out the first half with 11 straight wins (10 vs. NL opponents) and erase their slow start in April/May, putting themselves on pace to win 92 games (they would eventually win 96). Their overall run of 21 wins in 23 games that June began at the end of a humbling 3-7 road trip.

After 70 games in 2008, the Twins were 34-36. They have now won 9 straight games (all vs. NL opponents), and will finish the first half on pace to win no worse than 86. This overall run of 11 wins in 12 games began at the end of a humbling 3-7 road trip.

I don't mean to imply that the 2008 Twins are on their way to the playoffs at this point - the '06 Twins began their streak, in part, because they jettisoned the players (Tony Batista, Juan Castro, Rondell White to the DL) who had been holding them back up to that point. While the current Twins are in as good of shape as they are because they have dropped Juan Rincon, benched Mike Lamb, and have Adam Everett on the DL, they still have moves to make.

Brendan Harris and Brian Buscher are liquid hot at the plate right now, giving the Twins contributions from the bottom of the order for just about the first time all year. However, their combined lack of range in the infield was also on display in San Diego, as several of the Padres' grounders managed to just sneak by them for base hits. If the Twins are to win consistently in the second half, I really think they need at least one player on the left side of the infield with superior range.

The fact that the pitchers were in the lineup shortened the nights of both Slowey and Perkins. Had the series taken place under AL rules, I have little doubt that Perkins would have come out for the 6th inning and had an opportunity to keep the Quality Start streak alive. Even so, the Twins' starters have delivered Quality Starts in 13 of the last 15 games, during which time the team is 12-3. There are 4 good young pitchers in the Twins' rotation, and I feel like I can expect quality out of them on a regular basis. I can't say the same for Livan Hernandez. I'm sure he made a bit of an adjustment before his starts at the Dome, but he was also facing young, undisciplined teams who have been struggling offensively of late. He will probably not fare so well against the teams coming to MN for this home stand (Brewers, Tigers, Indians). As long as Livan remains in the rotation, the Twins have a pitching disaster staring them in the face every 5th day.

The nice thing about baseball streaks is that they end up requiring good play from just about everybody in order to keep them going. That has basically been the case with this streak, especially where the pitching is concerned. On the offensive side, Gardy has understandably kept pretty much the same lineup out there every night. Here are the stats of the regulars during the streak:

Gomez: .237/.256/.263 2B, 3 R, 4 RBI, 0 BB, 9 K
Casilla: .235/.297/.265 2B, 5 R, 5 RBI, 3 BB, 1 K
Mauer: .310/.412/.375 3 2B, 5 R, 4 RBI, 5 BB, 4 K
Morneau: .343/.395/.543 2B, 2 HR, 6 R, 11 RBI 3 BB, 4 K
Cuddyer: .286/.394/.464 3 2B, 3B, 4 R, 3 RBI, 5 BB, 3 K
Kubel: .280/.379/.440 2 2B, 3B, 8 R, 2 RBI, 4 BB, 3 K
Young: .238/.333/.333 2 2B, 4 R, 3 RBI, 3 BB, 4 K
Buscher: .429/.467/.571 2B, HR, 8 R, 10 RBI, 2 BB, 1 K
Harris: .367/.406/.767 4 2B, 3B, 2 HR, 8 R, 8 RBI, 2 BB, 7 K

Buscher, Harris and Morneau are on fire. Mauer, Cuddyer and Kubel are doing about what we expected them to do. Gomez, Casilla and Young are actually struggling a bit at the plate, but Casilla and Young have managed to contribute by putting the ball in play and working some counts. Gomez is the only one on the team who has not drawn a walk during the streak, and has continued to average a strikeout per game. Amazing that the Twins have managed to pull off such a successful offensive streak (6.2 R/G) while their leadoff hitter has a .256 OBP! Keep thinking happy Span thoughts...

With regard to the pitching in this series, compliments go especially to the bullpen. Twins relievers allowed just 1 ER in 10 IP in the series. All looked efficient and confident. It was especially good to see that from Brian Bass, who allowed just a ground-ball single in 2 IP, needing only 20 pitches. And Boof Bonser finally had a scoreless appearance. It would have been spotless had Morneau's glove not ripped apart on the would-be final put-out. I worried about Boof then - he hasn't handled it well when wacky things happen around him, but he allowed just one more man to reach and eventually struck out the side.

Kevin Slowey was very good on Tuesday, but still needed a few too many pitches to complete 6 IP. Again, I'm sure he would have come out for the 7th had they not pinch-hit for him in the top of the inning. But he still has too many ABs that last 5, 6, 7 pitches because the hitter is able to spoil Slowey's 2-strike pitches. When he get can those guys to either miss or weakly put the ball in play in just 3 or 4 pitches, then he'll be on to something.

Glen Perkins looked as good as I've seen him so far this year. He was doing a terrific job locating the ball and mixing his pitches. Only 2 of the 6 H against him were hard-hit, and one of his 2 BB was a 10-pitch marathon to probable All-Star Adrian Gonzalez. If he continues to pitch like that, he's going to be in great shape going forward.

Scott Baker had a rare game in which he struggled with his command (4-pitch walk to the pitcher leading off an inning - really?). Thankfully, he is mature enough by now that he can win in spite of his stuff, and pitched well enough to escape a couple of very dicey jams. In fact, had Casilla/Harris done a better job turning a potential DP in the 3rd, he would have allowed just 2 ER in the game today.

The Brewers, Tigers and Indians will pose a much tougher test than the clubs the Twins have been playing the past 9 days. Luckily, the games are at home, where we have already seen a fair amount of magic this season. Here's hoping our flawed collection of ball-players can continue to remind us of the 2006 squad.


Andrew Kneeland said...

Excellently put. A 86 win season is outstanding for a season that many classified as "rebuilding".

Ben said...

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