Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Streak is Dead

Brewers 5, Twins 1

Oh well, the streak had to end some time, and I have to admit that it's sort of a relief that it's over. I've heard so many people saying, "Don't tinker with the lineup, it's all working right now." And it was - mostly. But as I pointed out earlier, the flaws in the current Twins roster will prevent them from being serious contenders, no matter how many wins they could string together against struggling NL teams. Now that the streak is over, I hope the front office will feel free to tinker away.

Look no further than the man on the mound tonight. This was your average Livan Hernandez game: 7 IP, 5 R, 4 ER, 7 H, 4 BB, 5 K. Usually he'll allow a couple more hits and a couple fewer walks, but the resulting 5.14 ERA and 1.57 WHIP are pretty much right on the money. The Brewers had a terrific game plan against him tonight, exhibited from the first 3 batters: lay off the stuff on the fringes of the zone, and wait for something to tail back over the plate, going up the middle or the other way when you swing. Ricky Weeks drew a lead-off walk after falling behind 0-2 because he wouldn't chase out of the zone. JJ Hardy got a pitch to drive into left-center, Ryan Braun got one to drive into right. Just like that, the Twins were down 1-0.

In the 2nd, Mike Cameron drove a ball to the wall in right-center (despite his bat exploding in the process), and the Twins helped the Brewers out by trying to pick him off: he took 3rd when Livan's throw hit him and rolled into short CF. He was able to score though the next two hitters failed to get the ball out of the infield.

I've got to give Livan credit for adjusting his game plan after being smacked around in the 3rd. In that inning, he again allowed a lead-off walk, then a 1-out walk to Prince Fielder. Corey Hart drove a double to RF, scoring one. They intentionally walked Russell Branyan, then Bill Hall drove the first pitch he saw to the gap in right-center for a 2-RBI 2B. At that point, Livan had thrown 2.1 IP, allowing all his runs on 4 BB and 5 H (3 2B). From then on, he allowed only 2 H in 4.2 IP with 4 K. He started throwing his fastball inside more to the heavily right-handed lineup. I wish he'd been pitching like that out of the gate.

I think the game turned in the bottom of the 2nd, when the Twins had a golden opportunity to show themselves, the fans, and the Brewers that this was going to be another night of comebacks for them. After Jason Kubel drew a 1-out walk, Delmon Young promptly lined a single to right. Brian Buscher then worked the count to 3-1, got caught half-swinging at a pitch that was probably ball four, then struck out swinging at a pitch that was definitely ball four. Brendan Harris also battled to 3-2 before swinging and missing at ball four in the dirt.

What a different game it would have been had those two elected not to swing at those pitches! Manny Parra was already at 40 pitches after 2 IP - what if he were at 40 pitches with only one out in the 2nd, the bases loaded, having just walked in a run? I'm not saying that Gomez or Punto would have continued the inning based on the swings they had tonight, but I doubt Parra or his manager would have had the confidence to keep going through 7 IP. Psychologically, the lead wouldn't have seemed quite as big all night, especially knowing that Parra was vulnerable. Considering that Parra allowed 6 BB in his last start, it should have been part of the Twins' game plan to make him throw as many pitches as possible. It could have been 6 BB again tonight had Buscher and Harris been a bit more patient.

It was tough to expect a win tonight with Casilla and Cuddyer both suddenly out of the lineup with finger injuries. It sounds like Cuddyer's might be fairly serious, meaning a Span call-up might be in the offing. If that happens, I think he should be given the opportunity to supplant Gomez as Buscher has supplanted Mike Lamb. Just put him in the lineup, watch him play well, put him in again. On the bright side, Kubel's performance tonight vs. LHP (1-2, HR, 2 BB) should ensure that, even if he's not playing in the field, his bat should be in the lineup no matter from what hand the pitcher throws.

Anyway, now we can soberly look at the team not as a magical winning machine, but as a club that, while seriously contending, has some serious deficiencies to correct. Not hitting lefties very well, for example. The pieces are available to sell, the needs should be clear. Let's make some moves, Mr. Smith!

No comments: