Saturday, July 26, 2008

Livan vs. Liriano

Indians 5, Twins 4

We flew into Minneapolis/Saint Paul airport yesterday evening en route to our cabin in the Dells on Saturday. My dad picked us up and turned the game on just in time to hear it was 4-0 Indians in the first inning and the 8th man was coming to the plate. I nodded philosophically. After 9 batters and 1+ IP, Livan Hernandez had given up 5 ER on 6 H with 0 K. After that, he went 7 IP, allowing 0 ER on 6 H and 3 BB with 6 K.

This is what I was talking about in my last post. Why does Livan get to give up 5 ER in 1+ IP and complete the game, but Nick Blackburn gives up 3 ER in 1.2 IP and gets pulled? Maybe he could have made an adjustment, too. Maybe that would be a good thing for a young pitcher in a pennant race to learn how to do.

Anyway, the odds never looked good for the Twins in this game. Cliff Lee is one of the league's best pitchers, and Livan is one of the worst. Plus, it was on the road. But the Twins made it close, thanks to some timely hitting from Jason Kubel, Denard Span and Joe Mauer. The lefties in the lineup went a combined 5-13 against Lee - righties went 1-16. Then the Twins rallied against the Indians' incendiary bullpen, getting 3 straight hits to start the 9th. Mike Redmond pinch hit and lined out to first on a diving stop by Ryan Garko. Nick Punto's 2-out grounder through the pitcher's legs hit the rubber and slowed up enough for Asdrubal Cabrera to make the play. Another tough loss, but I like the matchup a lot better tomorrow.

I wish I'd been able to watch the first inning, because one of the things I noticed when I got home and put the TV on was what a huge strike zone Tim Tschida was giving both pitchers. Cliff Lee is tough enough without having a 23-inch wide strike zone. Livan is usually a nibbler - why wasn't he stretching the plate in the first inning? Those balls were bombed all over the field. Carlos Gomez finally knocked himself out making a nice catch in the first, and Span nearly did the same thing later in the inning. If he had managed to hold onto the ball as he hit the wall, the Twins might have won the game.

However, Livan's performance hinged on a couple of DPs. The first was yet another rocket that just happened to find its way into Brendan Harris' glove on the short hop. A couple of inches further away from him, and it's at least 6-1 with 2 on and 1 out in the 3rd inning, and it's Boof Bonser time. Yes, Livan eventually found his stuff, but his line for the night of 8 IP, 12 H, 5 ER, 3 BB and 6 K still works out to a 5.63 ERA and 1.86 WHIP.

Now, raise your hand if you think Francisco Liriano could have done better.

With the Span/Gomez question finally settled, this is going to be my new cross to bear. I think Liriano had definitely shown enough by the All-Star break to take Livan's spot in the rotation. He wouldn't have made much difference last Saturday, but tonight would have likely been a win with better starting pitching. That's at least 1 more win the Twins could have if they'd been sensible enough to ditch Livan. But who's counting?

Oh, I guess I will.

It was funny to listen to Ron Coomer downplay Liriano's recent run of success, actually denigrating his control (42 K/5 BB over his last 35 IP) by saying that AAA hitters are swinging at lots of pitches out of the zone. I think that speaks as well to the deceptiveness of Liriano's stuff as it does the immaturity of AAA hitters. I'm not saying he's going to come up and allow 1 ER in 35 IP. Maybe he allows 3 ER a game, like Glen Perkins. If our starter had allowed 3 ER last night instead of 5, the Twins would have won.

How much longer must he (and the rest of us) wait?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Glad That's Over With

Yankees 12, Twins 4
Yankees 8, Twins 2
Yankees 5, Twins 1

Another year, another debacle at Yankee Stadium. The Twins have had a lot of success over the last 7 years while falling on their faces in NY, so I'm content to write this off as more of the same. This year it could have been the timing as much as the locale: several Yankee players who had been marginal all season are suddenly red hot, collecting multi-hit games from the bottom of the lineup and providing quiet innings of middle relief.

In any event, not a situation into which you want to come and play crappy baseball, but that's what the Twins did. 4 errors led to 4 unearned runs, while an overthrow and a brain fart led to three more runs that shouldn't have been charged to the pitchers. Add to that a 4 for 33 effort from the 3-5 hitters, and you've got a miserable series on your hands.

Alexi Casilla was one of the few Twins to show up at the plate, going 6-12 with a double. But it wasn't enough to make up for his mishaps in the field. His low throw to the plate with the bases loaded early in the first game was the difference between Nick Blackburn finishing the 2nd down 3-2, and not finishing the second down 6-2. I think Gardy was a little quick with the hook there, considering all the unearned runs. A-Rod's single that chased Blackburn was just a grounder off Brian Buscher's glove at 3rd - not like he pounded one into the gap or anything. I wonder if Mr. Hernandez would have been pulled in the same situation. Hopefully Blackburn was just suffering the effects of a sinker-ball pitcher getting too much rest, and he'll be right back on track vs. Cleveland.

I thought the hook was a little quick for Kevin Slowey, too. He'd allowed just 2 H and 2 BB through 5 IP, yet was pulled just 4 batters into the 6th, 2 outs shy of a quality start. Dennys Reyes had a rare poor outing vs. lefty batters, allowing an inherited run to be charged to Slowey. Jesse Crain was then victimized somewhat by a couple of errors behind him in the 4-run 7th.

Glen Perkins should have been out of the 5th with no runs allowed, but Casilla forgot how many outs there were and failed to complete a potential inning-ending DP. The next batter doubled home two runs (on a grounder over the bag at 3rd, mind you, not a blast to the gap). The blast to the gap came from A-Rod in the next inning, and a poor throw to the plate enabled him to go to 3rd (though he didn't exactly haul ass out of the batter's box for his drive off the wall). The next batter drove him in with a SF. With better defense behind him, Perkins might have allowed just 2 ER in 6 IP, and at 80-odd pitches would have likely come out for the 7th.

So things aren't as bad as they seem for the rotation. However, Francisco Liriano put up his 5th gem in a row in Rochester: 7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 10 K. That makes it 35 IP, 19 H, 1 R, 5 BB, 42 K over his last 5 starts. I don't really care who gets displaced at this point - that guy needs to be with the Twins right now.

One good thing that came from the series was the switch of Denard Span to leadoff and Carlos Gomez to 9th in the order. Span responded by going 2-7 with a BB. Gomez, his confidence shattered, went 2-6 with a double. Perhaps reason is finally having its day in the Twins' clubhouse.

I probably won't be able to say much about the next 2 series. I'm going on vacation to Wisconsin Dells, and the resort we're using has been, in my opinion, absurdly negligent about setting up Wi-fi/high-speed internet for its guests. If they've finally gotten around to it, I'm in business. But if they've been distracted by other things, we'll just have to wait until August.

Monday, July 21, 2008


Twins 6, Rangers 0
Twins 14, Rangers 2
Rangers 1, Twins 0

Oh, so tired.

Baby crying. All night crying. Why is she crying?

Is she hungry? Does she need change? Is she gassy?

Or maybe she's upset that the Twins outscored the #1 offensive team in the Majors 20-3 over three games (allowing just 11 hits!), yet failed to earn a sweep. That certainly upset her daddy. You know I have a hard time losing well-pitched games, but when it's a first-rate pitcher like CC Sabathia or Dice-K, I can swallow it. For me, Vicente Padilla does not qualify, yet he's shut out the Twins twice this season. Argh!

Poor Scott Baker. Yesterday was the 3rd time in his last 8 starts that he went 7 or more IP allowing 1 or fewer runs and the Twins didn't win. With even a pittance of run support, his record could be 9-1 right now. What a drag to lose your perfect game/no-hitter/shutout all at once to a kid who's only been called up for the weekend. Still, what a marvelous season Baker's having: ERA of 3.26, WHIP of 1.09, 5 K for every BB. I guessed before the season began that he would prove to be the Twins' ace, and he's certainly filling that role (until an antsy LHP is recalled from AAA, anyway).

Little things matter so much in 1-0 games. The play that really bugged me (other than letting the count get to 3-2 on Taylor Teagarden) came in the bottom of the 6th. Denard Span led off with a walk, and Carlos Gomez was, sensibly, asked to bunt him over to 2nd. He popped the bunt up to the catcher, and Alexi Casilla followed with a sharp grounder right on the first base line that was fielded at the bag to start an inning-ending DP. Had Gomez successfully sacrificed, I suspect the first baseman would have been playing in (protecting against a possible bunt from Casilla), but a few steps off the line. With that defensive positioning, the exact same ground ball from Casilla likely would have found its way into the RF corner, easily scoring Span to tie the game and putting Casilla in scoring position for Mauer and Morneau.

My agent was about to file a grievance with the blogger's union to investigate the irrational continued use of Livan Hernandez in the rotation, Brian Bass in the bullpen and Gomez at the top of the lineup. Then Saturday night came along and turned my world upside down. Livan had allowed 12 ER on 19 H and 3 BB in just 8 IP over his first 2 starts vs. the Rangers, but he shut them down this weekend, allowing just 2 ER on 5 H and 1 BB in 7 IP. I couldn't have asked any more from Francisco Liriano (except quite a few more strikeouts, perhaps). Bass relieved him and had a 1-2-3 8th inning with a strikeout. And Gomez went 2-4 with a walk, using his amazing wheels to turn a slow chopper off the third baseman's glove into a double.

All of that is just one game. Unfortunately, the folks who set the roster and the lineup will use it as evidence that everything is hunky-dory as is. It seems like one good game can overrule 5 bad ones. But the team is winning, for now. Hopefully, Blackburn and Slowey will pick up the baton from Baker and shut down the Yankees. And I hope the Rangers, on their way to Chicago, will remember that they are awesome at scoring runs and blow the White Sox to bits.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

6th Split: 11-5

Overall Record: 55-42
2nd in AL by 0.5 games

Previous splits:

7-9, 10-6, 7-9, 7-9, 13-4 = 44-37

This split began with the final game of interleague play. 12 of the 16 games were against teams in the top 5 in the AL in scoring (Detroit, Boston and Texas) - a good test for a pitching staff that had dominated NL opponents. The starters responded, going 10-2 with 12 quality starts in the 16 games. They were led by Glen Perkins, who won 3 games and had a 4th blown by the bullpen. In his last 4 starts, he totaled 26 IP, 23 H, 7 ER, 7 BB, 13 K for a 2.42 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. Please, let's banish all thoughts of sending him to the bullpen to make room for Francisco Liriano - Franchise could hardly do better.

The bullpen struggled a bit in this split. While 11-5 is very good, it could have been a sensational 13-3 had they held a couple of 8th inning leads vs. Detroit and Boston. Matt Guerrier, Dennys Reyes, Craig Breslow and Boof Bonser all got nicked for ERAs over 5.00. Brian Bass was the biggest problem, allowing runs in 4 of his 8 appearances and allowing the only run of the Twins' 1-0 loss to the Red Sox. His overall line over those 8 appearances: 7 IP, 13 H, 8 ER, 2 BB, 2 K. At this point, I don't think the Twins would have too much trouble slipping him through waivers. And if they lose him - shrug.

Denard Span was called up to play RF for the injured Michael Cuddyer, and gave a good account of himself. He hit 4 doubles and 2 triples, drove in 5 RBI from the #9 hole, and had an excellent 10/9 BB/K ratio, producing a line of .354/.466/.521. Wouldn't it be great if the leadoff man hit like that?

Delmon Young continued his progression, batting .375/.385/.563 with 3 doubles, 3 HR and 13 RBI. Justin Morneau mashed to the tune of .431/.529/.741 (not a typo!) with 9 doubles, 3 HR and 15 RBI, drawing 12 BB against just 5 K. That makes Joe Mauer's .333/.475/.604 with 4 doubles, 3 HR, 12 RBI and 13/6 BB/K rate look rather pedestrian. In fact, everyone in the lineup has been playing fantastic over the last 16 games, except for Carlos Gomez. He hit just .200/.246/.262 with 4 doubles, 3 BB and 17 K. Maybe he could be batting 9th?

Finally, the defense has returned to Minnesota Twins standards. Not only did the team commit just 6 errors over the last 16 games (a pace which would have them #1 in the league had they played that way all season), they made numerous plays in which their range took away runs and bases from their opponents. I hope Nick Punto will be able to return soon to SS. I'll be a bit torn when Cuddyer comes back - Span has gotten to a lot of balls out there that Cuddy would have had drop in or get by him.

Bold Prediction: Carlos Gomez will no longer be batting leadoff by the end of the next split.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Break

My wife switched to a dairy-free diet on Saturday, and the baby has been quiet at night ever since. I've been staying up late anyway, supervising the baby while watching DVDs on the computer, usually, and then sleeping in so late that it's afternoon before I get up from the breakfast table. Not a recipe for productivity - luckily, I'm not working for anybody right now. I followed the Twins and their representatives over the past few days, and these are my thoughts:

Tigers 4, Twins 2

You know it's probably not your day when the ump blows a call at first base, awarding the Tigers a baserunner and charging Brian Buscher with an error that neither deserved, and then the next guy up hits his first big-league HR. Still, the Twins were, once again, in the game all day, thanks to another marvelous outing from Nick Blackburn. 7 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 108 pitches. He's given the Twins 6+ IP and 2 or fewer ER in 5 of his last 6 starts. What a wonderfully reliable contribution to be getting from the #4 starter.

The big positive that came out of this game was that Brian Bass, in conjunction with his other outings last week, revealed himself to be the one who should be sent down to AAA. Glad we don't have to wonder about that anymore.

The Twins didn't quite finish off the Tigers, but it was a great series for them, and a solid road trip at 3-4. They are well positioned heading into the last 2.5 months.

Justin Morneau 5 (22), Josh Hamilton 3 (35)

I was glad to see Morneau willing to jump back on the horse and try the HR derby again. I know he was concerned that it had fouled up his stroke last summer, but this year, with his power numbers down, it may just be the shot in the arm he needs to start knocking them out at his 1st-half '07 rate. And it was good to see that he acquitted himself well, out-hitting every other competitor (with one notable exception) and earning a trip to the final.

Obviously, the preposterous power display put on by Josh Hamilton was unforgettable. I hope the Twins' pitchers will find a way to keep him in the yard this weekend (Livan is only a little younger than Hamilton's BP pitcher). But I have to give Morneau a ton of credit for putting that out of his mind when it was his turn to hit first, putting up 5 dingers in what would prove to be his low round (still better than his lone round last year). Not surprisingly, Hamilton had shot his wad in the first round, and couldn't match Morneau.

I was a bit chagrined to read some of the commentary afterwards, dismissing Morneau entirely, as though his 22 HR performance was an embarrassment. I wonder if a star from Boston or NY would have been written off so quickly. Anyway, Morneau accepted his victory with grace, and was a credit to the Twins on Monday night.

AL 4, NL 3 (15 innings)

Joe Mauer, Joe Nathan, and Morneau were a credit to the Twins on Tuesday night as well. Morneau, though not a starter, wound up with 5 PAs to Mauer's 2, and went 2-4, 2B, BB, 2 R, including the game-winner in the 15th. He was likely the runner-up to JD Drew for MVP of the game.

Mauer went 1-1 with a BB before being lifted for Jason Varitek. Was that move cermonial? Varitek clearly didn't belong on the team, and was replaced by Dioner Navarro of the Rays without even taking an AB. Navarro went 1-4 with a BB and 2 K, and made a costly throwing error on a steal attempt in the 8th that enabled the NL to score their 3rd run with a SF. Here's where it's too bad Mauer was the starter - had he been brought in off the bench, he would have had some opportunities to win the game late. Of course, with his accurate arm behind the plate, the game probably would have been over in regulation anyway.

For all the talk of whether Johnathan Papelbon or Mariano Rivera should get the 9th inning, the only AL pitcher who had an unblemished line on the night was Nathan. He retired the 3 men he faced on 8 pitches, including a strikeout. Francisco Rodriguez got one out with his 8 pitches, including a walk. What a great deal the Twins have with Nathan on the team for years to come!


The Adrian Beltre rumors persist. He is a fine defensive 3B, with awesome splits vs. LHP, and, coming from Seattle, should be available for pennies on the dollar. He would be an upgrade from Brendan Harris without a doubt.

One of the names I saw as being potentially on the block that intrigued me was Jon Rauch of the Nationals. He began the season as a set-up man, but had to take over the closer role when Chad Cordero got hurt. He's put up some very strong numbers: 2.85 ERA, 43 K/7 BB, 4 HR in 47 IP. He could be an answer for the Twins in the 8th inning. He's under contract through 2010, so he wouldn't be just a rent-a-player, though the Twins would certainly have to give up something decent to get him. I haven't heard that the Twins are specifically interested in him, but he's the sort of player they're going to need down the stretch.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

My Strange Life

Twins 6, Tigers 5

It's about 4:45 AM as I write this. I tend to sleep in 2 hour chunks now. Tonight it seems to have more to do with the throbbing of my surgically repaired knee than with our newborn baby, who's been blessedly quiet for the first night of her life.

Adding to my discomfort is the remnant of a paranoid dream I was having, in which I was the property of the Chicago Cubs, and the last piece they needed to fill out their championship roster. There were Cubs fans everywhere outside my room and window, wishing for my knee to recover faster. Not in a kind-hearted," we care about his health" kind of way, but in a petulant, "he'd better not screw this up for us" way. Wham's "Everything She Wants," which was playing in the waiting room of the physical therapist's office the other day, is the relentless soundtrack of this fantasy. "Somebody tell me why I work so hard for them!"

Anyway, it seemed like a good time to get out the laptop and talk about yesterday's game, which was blacked out on MLB.TV even though it was not the featured game on our local Fox affiliate. From what I heard, it went quite well for Scott Baker. He's beginning to build up some nice career numbers vs. the Tigers, about 1 ER lower than his career ERA. Good to be good against a division rival. It messed up my fantasy numbers to have him start the 8th, but with his pitch count at just 96 and the way the bullpen has been used over the last few days, Gardy had to try to get as many outs from him as possible. The 'pen bent a little, but once again held the lead.

After he struck out the side in the 9th, I thought it was a good time to check on Joe Nathan's K/9 rate for the season. It's 10.44, up from 9.67 last year. No signs of decline from him yet, to say the least.

I was sorry to see Nick Punto scratched from the game - he's been playing so well at SS - but Brendan Harris capably filled in. He also contributed the way you love to see a platoon guy do, beating up LHP Nate Robertson for 3 H, HR, 3 RBI. His 2 singles came with RISP and 2 outs, the first real damage the Twins have done in that situation since early in the game on Thursday. His overall splits vs. LHP still aren't very impressive, but hopefully, he can continue to be effective in this role. Not that a trade for someone like Adrian Beltre (5th in the league in BA vs. LHP, good zone rating) wouldn't be a welcome addition.

Speaking of additions, it's disheartening to keep seeing things like this. Yes, Francisco Liriano had a little hiccup a few starts ago, meaning he's only been awesome in like 9 of his last 11 starts. Livan Hernandez had a little hiccup a few starts ago as well, but in the other direction. Meaning he's been bad in 7 of his last 10 starts. But we don't have a spot for Liriano right now. Really?

And this. Why does everybody think Carlos Gomez is going to wake up tomorrow and stop being a bad hitter? It took Denard Span 2 extra years in the minors to get the point where he is. Why does Gomez get so much license?

In spite of their shortcomings, I'm really pleased with the way the Twins have responded to a disappointing series in Boston. Heading off to a 7-game road trip vs. the Red Sox and Tigers, I would have been pleased to see the Twins win 3, and they've done that. 2 of their 3 losses have been by just 1 run. They continue to hang with the best in the league. If they can win this afternoon and sweep the series, they have a chance to undo what they did against the Tigers back in April. Then, shaky bullpen play let the Tigers off the mat from their abysmal start, and began their long march back to the happy side of .500. With a sweep of this 4-game series, the Twins have an opportunity to deliver the knockout blow to their division rivals: down 8 games to the White Sox and Twins with just 68 left to play, I think the Tigers would have to start to accept that they won't be able to make the playoffs this year. Here's hoping we can make it a 2-team race!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

I Rest My Case

Twins 3, Tigers 2

On Thursday night, Francisco Liriano had his 3rd great start in a row: 7 IP, 0 R, 3 H, BB, 8 K. Over those three starts, he's gone 20 scoreless innings, allowing 10 H and 3 BB with 24 K. That got a lot of people talking about bringing him up after the break, and re-shuffling the rotation to accommodate him.

Some proposed moving Glen Perkins to the bullpen. I suppose he's been the least reliable of the young starters in a lot of respects: coming into Friday's game he had the highest ERA (4.31) and WHIP (1.48). He hasn't been able to put together as many zero or one-run outings as the rest of the group. But on the other hand, he just about always gives the team 6 IP and 3 or fewer ER. Not spectacular, but certainly quality.

To suggest that Perkins should lose his spot in the rotation while Livan Hernandez (5.44 ERA, 1.62 WHIP) retains his is absurd on its face. Livan also averages about 6 IP/start, but has allowed more than 3 ER oh so many more times than Perkins has. Livan was supposed to eat innings and help the young pitchers. Now that the young pitchers are all out-performing him, I think it's time to say "thanks" and move on.

Anyway, Perkins' outing tonight should dispel any thoughts of taking his rotation spot away. For the second time in 2 weeks, he shut down one of the most productive lineups in the AL, and one that has been particularly hard on LHP. 6.2 IP, 6 H, 2 BB, 2 K, and just 84 pitches, so he could have continued into the 8th inning had the situation been a bit different. But with the go-ahead run on base and Carlos Guillen (5 for 10 lifetime vs. Perkins) at the plate, going to the 'pen there was the right thing to do. Guillen gave Jesse Crain's 1-2 pitch a ride, but Comerica Park is deep, and Carlos Gomez can go get it.

Perkins appears to be a slow starter, allowing a disproportionate number of base-runners in the early innings. But he seems to have already learned how to work with the stuff he has, and he's having consistent success. I think he's the 4th or 5th starter, but I'm totally satisfied with what he's bringing to the team right now. I mean, when he's pitching, I feel like the Twins are going to be in the game in the late innings, whether the offense is cooking or not.

The offense was not cooking last night, at least not in the way we're used to. For the second straight game, the Twins managed to find a way to win despite doing jack squat with RISP. Tonight, the runs came on a double from Nick Punto (special assist to RF Matt Joyce for his Jeter-esque jump throw back to the IF from the gap - might want to just set your feet next time, dude) and SF from Punto and Delmon Young. I'm glad Young has had a productive out in each game so far, because, otherwise, he looks like he's regressed to his April form (0-10, 2 K). Joe Mauer struck out twice in this game - once on a 3-2 pitch that he should have known was going to be called a strike - and overall looked tired despite sitting out most of the game yesterday.

Though the Twins mustered just 8 H, they managed to draw another 7 BB, giving themselves plenty of base-runners to move around and drive in with outs. By the way, through the first 10 games of this month, the Twins are leading the AL in OBP with a mark of around .400 - who would have guessed that would be possible back in April? Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel, despite combining to go 1-10 with 4 K, also drew 5 BB.

And then there are the guys at the bottom of the lineup, who have been reaching base at a preposterous clip over the last few games. Nick Punto wound up 1-2 with a BB, SF, 2 RBI, and personally saw 27 of the 177 pitches (15%) thrown by the Tigers' pitchers. And Denard Span was finally retired when he lined to CF in his 2nd AB, but still finished 1-3 with a BB.

I want to call special attention to that BB, because I think it summarizes the Span vs. Gomez debate I've been having all season quite elegantly. With a runner on 2nd and 2 out in the 6th, Span was intentionally walked in order to get to Gomez. Jim Leyland is a smart guy - he knows that Span has figured out how to hit and Gomez hasn't. How fortunate he was that Gomez came up 5 times to Span's 4, that Gomez hits behind Span and Punto and can bail his pitcher out of the jams that those two create.

Gomez finished 0-5 with 3 K, and is 0 for his last 19 with 7 K. But I don't even care about that - small sample size and all. I'm concerned about the large sample size, the one that encompasses 87 games and 370 ABs, the one that shows Gomez to be a .257/.291/.357 hitter, 2nd in the league in strikeouts. That .648 OPS matches Punto's career mark. Leading off? Why? Why throw away that extra AB every day? This isn't a slump, this isn't a fluke - this is how good (or not good) a hitter he is right now. Has he learned anything? Has he gotten better as the season has gone along?

The Twins need to do what they've done with so many of their promising young pitchers over the years: send him back to Rochester to fine-tune his game. If he'd just learn not to swing at balls, as Span has done, he'd be a fantastic player. But it took Span quite a long time to get to that point, and it will probably take Gomez a long time, too. This shouldn't concern anybody - Gomez brings a lot defensively to CF, but Span brings about as much. The Twins will simply be a better team with Gomez out of the lineup once Cuddyer comes back. And it will be the best thing for Gomez' development to go back to the minors and work this stuff out.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Back from the Brink

Twins 7, Tigers 6 (11 innings)

Baby's still not sleeping through the night (therefore, Daddy's not sleeping through the night), but that's not going to stop me from giving this game its due.

Remember this one. This afternoon's tilt was an epic, 11-inning siege. In the course of its nearly 4 hour duration, the Twins displayed most of their weaknesses and strengths, used most of the players on their bench and bullpen, and overcame a huge, late-inning deficit despite having one of their worst games hitting with RISP. Justin Morneau, Denard Span, Nick Punto and a beleaguered 'pen combined to turn a potentially dispiriting, 0-4 start to the last trip before the break into an inspiring, full-team win that should relax everybody for the remaining 3 games this weekend. We won't know for many weeks whether this game turns out to be a turning point, but it will at least give the Twins something to show for the efforts they've made on the road this week.

For most of the afternoon, it wasn't working. Kevin Slowey made no effort to pitch inside to the Tigers, so they leaned out over the plate and drove his pitches into the gaps. His line was hurt by a marginal walk to Ramon Santiago in the 3rd (a 3-2 pitch that looked better than many of the called strikes Kenny Rogers was getting) - Santiago came home on an opposite-field double by Curtis Granderson. The would-be second out of the 4th, a diving stop by Punto on a sharp grounder in the hole off the bat of Marcus Thames, was thrown away when Punto rushed his throw just a bit. The official scorer gave Thames credit for a hit, even though an on-target throw would have clearly gotten him by a step. Still, Slowey was not effective, and will hopefully return to working both sides of the plate after the break.

For the second day in a row, the Twins' starter was knocked out before the end of the 5th inning. Craig Breslow was first out of the 'pen, and worked 1.1 scoreless innings despite allowing 2 H and 2 BB, thanks to a CS. Jesse Crain and Dennys Reyes were next, combining for 3 IP, H, 3 K - just like they're supposed to do. Irritated bloggers finally got their wish when Joe Nathan was brought into a tie game in the 9th. He nearly blew it by walking the first 2 batters and throwing a WP, but he was able to strike out the last 2 batters he faced with the bases loaded to avoid the loss. Matt Guerrier followed with 2 IP, H, K - a nice recovery from his meltdown in Fenway on Tuesday night. Altogether, the Twins bullpen threw 7.1 IP, 0 R, 4 H, 5 BB, 7 K - too many walks, but a redeeming effort for a group that had been demolished in Boston.

Offensively, Justin Morneau, Nick Punto and Denard Span did everything they could to set the table. Unfortunately, they were just far enough apart in the batting order to not be able to work together. In between them were Carlos Gomez (0-4, K), Alexi Casilla (1-5), Mike Redmond (0-4), Craig Monroe (0-3, BB) and Mike Lamb (0-2), Delmon Young (0-6) and Brendan Harris (1-5, 2B). The unsustainable nature of the Twins remarkable success with RISP was on display, as the Twins began inning after inning with men at second or third, but failed to collect the big hit that could bring them back into the game. They ran themselves out of an inning, Punto getting thrown out at the plate and Span at 3rd trying to steal. Overall, the Twins went 1-15 with RISP.

And yet, they scored 7 runs. I've been saying that raising the team's OBP while continuing to fill the lineup with contact hitters would enable the Twins to manufacture some runs even when the base hits dry up. The Twins were pretty slow to get that going today (except for Gomez' RBI ground out in the 3rd), wasting Morneau's leadoff double in the 4th, for example. By the end of the game, though, the productive outs started to plate some runs. Casilla hit a SF with runners at the corners in the 7th. Morneau led off the 8th with another double (ohhhhh so close to being a HR), and this time Monroe and Young did their jobs, hitting ground balls behind him to bring in the 4th run.

Then came the 9th, when Punto and Span, improbably, began yet another inning by both reaching. RF Matt Joyce gave the Twins the break they needed when he overran Span's single, allowing Punto to score and Span to reach third. Then Gardy, whose lineup choices I felt were going to be responsible for the Twins losing the game, made a series of terrific moves. He pinch-hit Joe Mauer for Gomez, and Mauer delivered the game-tying SF. He had Kubel hit for Redmond, and he delivered a single. After Morneau walked, Gardy sent Lamb in to pinch-hit for Monroe, and only a sterling defensive play from 2B Placido Polanco prevented the Twins from taking the lead right there. (Say what you want about the production of Mike Lamb - perhaps his days with the Twins are numbered - he seems to hit into a lot of highlight defensive plays.)

Punto and Span reached again with 2 out in the 10th, but Span stole second when they stopped holding him on, opening up first base and taking the bat out of Joe Mauer's hands. Casilla grounded out to end the threat. That left it for Justin Morneau to cap his career day, lining an 0-1 pitch over the wall in RF for his 14th HR and the win.

There was so much to process about this game, but I think the important thing is this: the 2008 Twins can find a way to win, even on the road, even when they aren't at their best. There is a mental/psychological component to baseball that can enhance or diminish a player's performance on the field - in most cases, the Twins are being enhanced. They may not be the best team in the league, they may not be true contenders, but they're ahead of where we thought they'd be this year, and they're definitely a team a fan can be proud of.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Enough Already

Red Sox 18, Twins 5

We're working our way into a nice routine over here. Baby sleeps on Daddy's chest, Daddy watches the game on the laptop, Mommy takes a nap. Everybody wins!

Oh, except the Twins. They most certainly did not win.

Only the Red Sox win at Fenway Park, so I don't want to get too upset about Wednesday's outcome. The Twins had an opportunity to win the first 2 games of the series, and were in the last game until the 7th. They're playing very well, and they're quite close to being able to outplay the best in the league, but they're not quite there yet. Today's fiasco was the result of the very things I've been harping on for weeks, so there's no need to expound too much:

Livan Hernandez is the weak link in the rotation.

Boof Bonser or Brian Bass (or neither), but not both.

Denard Span belongs in the leadoff spot.

You can't give a good team extra outs.

It's amazing how frequently Boof is the victim of bizarre defensive miscues. On Wednesday, 2 of the 4 H he allowed were fly balls that Jason Kubel should have caught in RF. His (typically) ugly line might have looked quite different had those plays been made. However, part of being a good pitcher is picking up your defense, and Boof has shown no ability to do that all year.

In a way, I'm glad this sweep happened. It should wake the organization out of its winning-streak induced fog and remind them that they have yet to assemble the best possible team. When you're on a streak, you tend to skip shaving, wear the same undershirt, maintain every behavior that's been working. Above all, you don't change anything. That attitude will be fatal to 2nd half success. Now that the streak is over, I hope the Twins will finally take this opportunity to make the last few changes they need to be 3-4 games better than the White Sox after the All-Star break.

Pining for Neshek

Red Sox 1, Twins 0
Red Sox 6, Twins 5

I haven't been sleeping so much the last few days, but we're hoping for better tonight, so I'll be brief.

My folks were in town from Stillwater for the birth of the baby, so I put the game on for them Monday night on MLB.TV. A very good game, just as tough to lose as the Sabathia game last month. However, I really felt like the guys swung the bats well enough to beat Matsuzaka. With 2 outs in the 6th inning, Justin Morneau began a 10-batter stretch that went like this: double off the wall in CF, liner to RF, HBP (I felt bad that Delmon didn't get credit for a walk - it was a 3-1 pitch that hit him, and I was so impressed that he came up there taking!), liner to first, triple off the wall in RF, liner to third, diving catch in LF, bunt single, single, walk. Had the Red Sox defenders been positioned just a tiny bit differently, that could have been another big crooked number.

I was surprised to see Brian Bass out there to start the 8th. I know he's been very effective recently, but he's still no better than the 6th-best guy in the 'pen. Tie game late at Fenway, I'd want them to beat our best guy.

Tuesday night looked to be well in hand, but ended very similarly to the loss to the Tigers last week. At 85 pitches, they certainly could have stuck with Nick Blackburn a bit longer, but I understand Gardy wanting to trust his bullpen the way they've pitched over the last several weeks. Unfortunately, Matt Guerrier got knocked around pretty good (although the hit by Dustin Pedroia was ri-freakin'-diculous - that ball was about ankle high, 6 inches off the plate. When you're hot...), and the Twins were done in by an 8th inning rally for the second straight night.

I haven't had a lot of reason to miss Pat Neshek lately, but I certainly have the last 2 nights. I wish Jesse Crain would step up and take over that role - I've never quite been convinced that Guerrier was suited for it. If neither one of them can consistently hold leads in the 8th, the Twins might think about trading for a dominant setup man as the trade deadline approaches.

Denard Span continues to impress, having fantastic ABs vs. LHP as well as RHP, and now he's even starting to make highlight-reel catches every night. Did you see how quickly he got to Pedroia's single to right-center in the 8th, turning his hips toward the plate and falling down with the effort he put behind the throw? Zzzzzip! Right to the cutoff man, and the speedy Jacoby Ellsbury was held at 3rd. There's no way Span's going back to Rochester.

Monday, July 7, 2008

An Amazing Weekend

Twins 12, Indians 3
Twins 9, Indians 6
Twins 4, Indians 3

It's hard to believe anyone could have a better weekend than the Twins just did, but I can say I did. My daughter, Cady, was born just after midnight on Saturday, and it's been amazing to get to know her over the last 48 hours. It's been exhausting as well, and I certainly didn't get a chance to watch all the games this weekend. It was a pleasure, though, to stagger home from the hospital and check the box scores.

I thought Friday night's game would be telling. The Indians were coming in on such on offensive slide. If they couldn't beat Livan Hernandez, who were they going to beat? If Livan couldn't shut down the Indians, what good was he? Well, he shut them down just fine, putting up a fine line of 6 IP, 3 ER, 5 H, 3 BB, 4 K. He gave up all 3 R on 2 HR. Anybody want him? Meanwhile, the Twins absolutely demolished Paul Byrd for the second time in a row, disrupting his ludicrously good career numbers at the Metrodome. Delmon Young continues to pull the ball with authority, and Nick Punto is showing himself to be at least as valuable as Brendan Harris at the plate (while being far superior in the field).

I was disappointed to see Slowey have a bad inning (especially since he's one of the anchors of my fantasy team), but it was great that Gardy now has the confidence in him to let him work through it - he eventually earned the win despite allowing 5 ER. After giving up all 5 R over the first 10 batters, Slowey allowed only 1 baserunner the remaining 4.2 IP he was out there. In this one, the Twins used 8 BB to fuel their offense - the type of patience we saw all the time in late May. Gardy revealed his revised lineup vs. LHP, using Harris in a platoon at 3B and Craig Monroe at DH. Interesting that Denard Span was left in there against the lefty, but he did just fine.

On Sunday, facing one of the AL's best in Cliff Lee, I was just hoping Glen Perkins could keep the Twins in the game long enough to give the offense a chance, and that's exactly what he did. He made a mistake to Jhonny Peralta for a 2-run HR, but otherwise had another effective and efficient outing, lasting 7 IP with a 1.14 WHIP. Span keyed the Twins' comeback with 2 excellent ABs against a tough LHP: a leadoff 3B in the 6th, putting himself in position to score the 1st run on a ground out by Alexi Casilla, and a bases loaded BB in the 7th that forced in the tying run.

The Twins are playing incredibly well right now - you just get the feeling that they're never out of a game no matter how many runs they give up, or how much the lineup is being fooled by the opponent's starter. They've won with pitching, power, speed, defense and patience at the plate. With the Boston loss last night, the Twins are just 0.5 games back in the Wild Card standings, as well as just 1 game out in the Central Division.

Span vs. Gomez

Span showed everyone what he's been up to in Rochester over the past 2 months. In 6 starts this week, we went 7 for 17 with 3 2B, 3B, 5 BB and 4 K, raising his season line to .313/.411/.417. Carlos Gomez had a pretty good week too, thanks mostly to his series vs. the Tigers. He went 9 for 26 with 2 2B, 2 BB and 7 K. Both showed tremendous range in the outfield, turning hits into outs and doubles into singles.

Even with both of them having very good offensive weeks, Span's superior ability to draw walks resulted in a .545 OBP for the week vs. .393 for Gomez. Span's approach is going to get him on base more than Gomez. They should swap spots in the batting order, so that Span is getting the extra AB each game. This week alone, that switch might have resulted in 1-2 extra base-runners in front of Mauer and Morneau. I hope to see that change this week, before Michael Cuddyer's return from the DL muddies the waters.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The SfC All-Stars

Since I've been trapped in this bed for the past 2 weeks recovering from knee surgery, I took advantage of my eligibility to vote 25 times per email address for the All-Star game. My family let me vote for them, too. Altogether, I think I cast 175 votes. I wait until June is at least half over, in order to give people plenty of time to emerge as deserving a spot. I don't like that, in the current system, voting begins just over a month into the season. Anybody who casts votes at that point is either basing them on last year, reputation, or a really small sample size. I'd like it better if the voting were limited to the 3-4 weeks right before the penultimate weekend.

I'd also prefer to see more of a "Dancing with the Stars" model of voting, where the starters are determined by 50% the fan vote, and 50% a vote by the writers or players. With this popularity contest model, the starting lineup risks being disproportionately populated by members of the large-market teams, whether they are the best at their position or not. Pat Burrell, Matt Holiday and Ryan Ludwick are all having measurably better seasons than the current NL leaders in OF votes (Alfonso Soriano isn't even qualified, for crying out loud). The various teams would be better represented, and the talent level in the starting lineups would be higher if some combination of experts could over-rule the fans.

When deciding who to vote for, I usually sort each position by OPS to get a rough ranking, then check HR, RBI, SB and K/BB. If that doesn't decide it, I look at the defensive stats. If I still need a tie-breaker, I give it to the guy from a so-far forsaken team. Here are my choices for this year:


1B - Justin Morneau, Twins - Kevin Youkilis is actually a fine choice, but I give the edge to Morneau because he's played more games, has a better K/BB ratio, and he's from my home team. (Feel free to over-rule me, experts!) Jason Giambi is also a good choice.

2B - Ian Kinsler, Rangers - This is going to be the great injustice of this year's voting, unless Kinsler can make up a couple hundred thousand votes over the final 3 days. In about the same number of ABs, Kinsler has out-produced Dustin Pedroia in H, 2B, 3B, HR, RBI, R, SB (20/21!), BB, BA, OBP, SLG. It's not even close. And Brian Roberts should be second.

SS - Michael Young, Rangers - Young and Derek Jeter are essentially tied for OPS, but Young has the edge in HR, RBI, SB% and E. Plus, I'm kinda burned out on Jeter.

3B - Alex Rodriguez, Yankees - A-Rod has a healthy lead on every other regular 3B in most offensive categories. Mike Lowell or Joe Crede should be the reserves.

C - Joe Mauer, Twins - Where Morneau was a bit of a home-town bias, Mauer is, objectively, the best catcher in the AL this season. Jason Varitek isn't even qualified. AJ Pierzynski should be the backup.

OF - Josh Hamilton, Rangers - He's been leading the league in HR and RBI all season.
Milton Bradley, Rangers - He's been leading the league in OPS and BA for much of the season.
Grady Sizemore, Indians - The most tools of any OF in AL right now: 19 HR and 19 SB.
Carlos Quentin was not on the ballot! He must be a backup, along with Jermaine Dye and JD Drew (I couldn't vote for Drew - I've just never liked him). I'm as bored with Manny Ramirez as I am with Jeter, but he's not undeserving. Ichiro has stolen a ton of bases and plays good D, but I don't think he's having an All-Star caliber year right now.

DH - I cast about half my votes for Hideki Matsui before he went on the DL. With Ortiz also on the DL, Aubrey Huff of Baltimore appears to be the next in line. But he wasn't so much better that I couldn't spend the last half of my votes on Jason Kubel. Since he's mainly been a DH for Texas this season, this is where they should put Bradley in the starting lineup.


1B - Lance Berkman, Astros - This was a pretty easy one for me. Albert Pujols has been catching up to him, but you gotta give props to a veteran who's contending for the triple crown.

2B - Chase Utley, Phillies - Dan Uggla actually got a few of my votes, but Utley's edge in RBI, SB and ZR put him over the top for me. These two guys are so close in production, it's unbelievable that Uggla is not only being blown away, he's not even in second place! Mark DeRosa is having a fine year with the Cubs, but he shouldn't make the team ahead of Uggla.

SS - Hanley Ramirez, Marlins - As with Grady Sizemore, there's no other SS in the NL that can match Ramirez' tools: 18 HR, 20 SB. Jose Reyes could be the reserve, although it will probably go to Christian Guzman, just to get a Nats player on the team.

3B - Chipper Jones, Braves - Again, you've got to give it to the veteran who's flirting with .400. I guess I'd have to give the bench spot to David Wright, who has more HR, RBI and SB than Aramis Ramirez.

C - Brian McCann, Braves - Geovanni Soto is going to win this spot, but McCann edges him in BA, SLG, and has a wildly better K/BB rate. Russell Martin of the Dodgers should get some consideration as a backup.

OF - Ryan Ludwick, Cardinals - He's had an absolute breakout year.
Pat Burrell, Phillies - All the production of Adam Dunn, but with 20 fewer K.
Nate McClouth, Pirates - Everybody in the Pirates' OF is having an awesome year, but McClouth stands out to me because he's played the most games and has the most steals. I empathize with the good people of Pittsburgh, who must think no one else in the country has noticed these guys. I have! For reserves, I'd like to see Matt Holliday, Ryan Braun and Dunn.

Each team must send at least one representative to the All-Star game. Here are some suggestions for worthy additions from teams I haven't mentioned yet.

A's: Justin Duchscherer
Angels: Frankie Rodriguez
Royals: Joakim Soria
Tigers: Placido Polanco or Carlos Guillen
Blue Jays: Shaun Marcum
Rays: James Shields or BJ Upton
Giants: Tim Lincecum
D-Backs: Brandon Webb
Padres: Jake Peavy

I hope the wise voting public provides a team that makes me want to watch the game!

Range Factor

Twins 7, Tigers 0

Nick Blackburn bounced back strongly from his worst start of the season, throwing 7 shutout innings in the rubber game of the Twins' series with Detroit. He allowed just 3 H and 1 BB while striking out 4. He never looked intimidated at all by the hot-hitting lineup he was facing. If he can double up on his first half numbers over the rest of the season, he's got a good chance of finishing the year with an ERA under 4.00, a winning record, and close to 200 IP. That would garner him quite a bit of ROY consideration, something few of us would have anticipated going into the season.

I want to point out the results of this last trip through the Twins' rotation:

Livan Hernandez: 7 IP, 4 ER, 7 H, 4 BB, 5 K
Kevin Slowey: 9 IP, 0 ER, 3 H, 0 BB, 8 K
Glen Perkins: 6.1 IP, 2 ER, 7 H, 1 BB, 7 K
Scott Baker: 6 IP, 3 ER, 7 H, 0 BB, 5 K
Blackburn: 7 IP, 0 ER, 3 H, 1 BB, 4 K

Livan is clearly the weak link. On Friday, he faces a Cleveland Indians lineup that has produced just 25 runs in the last 7 games (about 3.6 runs/game). If Livan can't hold them down, he can't be expected to contain any AL team. The other thing you should notice about the last trip through the rotation is that everybody pitched at least 6 innings. Definitely no longer a need for 7 men in the bullpen.

Blackburn was aided by a lineup which featured vastly greater range than that of the one that took the field behind him last Friday. Denard Span covers a lot more ground in RF than Michael Cuddyer, and during the game he was able to cut off 2 balls headed for the gap, saving at least one run for Blackburn and one for Jesse Crain, who allowed one honest hit and one cheap one (Placido Polanco's high chopper off the plate) in his 1 IP. Span had another pretty good game, doubling for the 3rd straight day and scoring 2 R while hitting 2 balls very sharply off LHP Casey Fossum. But he earns one demerit for failing to get his attempted sacrifice bunt far enough away from the catcher in the 3rd, and a second demerit for going from 2nd to 3rd on a grounder to his right with no one out in the 6th. He got away with it in each case (this time), but the base-running play is something I hope we never see from him again.

Carlos Gomez is having one of his high-functioning periods. He's like a slot machine that pays out just enough to keep you dropping quarters in. He reached base 3 more times in the game, finishing the series 7 for 13 with 2 2B, 2 BB and 2 K and scoring a run in each game. Both of his doubles were grounders right over the bag at 3rd, and he had a couple of bunt hits and IF hits as well, so I don't know that he's made much of an adjustment in his game - things just worked out very well for him in the series. It would be great to see him keep it up. Leading off the game, he also demonstrated the only time it is acceptable to dive into first base: when someone is trying to tag you rather than beat you to the bag. Otherwise, it is always better to run through the bag, something Nick Punto reminded us that he will never learn on his IF hit Tuesday night.

Punto saved Blackburn a run when he made a spectacular diving stop and glove-hand shovel to a sprawling Alexi Casilla for a force out at second base to end the 3rd inning. One has to wonder if such a sensational play had some influence on the 5-run inning that followed in the bottom half. It's certainly not a ball that Brendan Harris would have been able to reach. As long as Punto produces even marginally at the plate, I think he should be starting every game at SS - his range superiority over Harris is that important.

Delmon Young also had an encouraging series, going 4-11 with a BB and 2 2B. All three of his hits on Wednesday were balls he got out in front of the plate and pulled with authority. If he can stay balanced enough to still recognize and reach off-speed pitches, this approach will serve him and the Twins very well in the 2nd half.

I have an All-Star post coming later today. After that - we'll see. My wife is in labor, so things are about to change drastically around here later today (I'm only writing this because I'm too excited to sleep!). I hope I don't go the way of Batgirl. I don't think I will - she's so much more creative than me, I think my entries must take a fraction of the time to compose. I'll try to at least comment on each series as we go forward.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Something Went Right

Twins 6, Tigers 4

This was an important game for the Twins to win, stopping the Tigers' winning streak at 6 games and keeping pace with the White Sox. For as dreadful as Nate Robertson was, and as effective as Scott Baker was for most of the night, I had an uneasy feeling most of the night, thanks to the Tigers' late comeback on Monday. This time, the bullpen held.

The key to this game was the severe damage done by Craig Monroe, who finally lit up a LHP. He got his old buddy Robertson for a sharp single leading off the second, then drilled a 3-run HR to CF in the 4th. Monroe also drew a walk later in the game. His success vs. LHP is going to be crucial for the Twins in the 2nd half of the season.

Mike Redmond was catching tonight, in the 3rd spot in the lineup. Once again, he made that decision look good by going 2-4 with 2 RBI. I think we're to the point now where Redmond batting 3rd no longer requires any special attention.

This game would have been much easier on my blood pressure had the Twins done 2 little things better.

First - After Carlos Gomez and Alexi Casilla reached to start the game and quickly moved to 3rd and 2nd on a wild pitch, the Twins were set up for a big first inning. Redmond did his job with the infield back, hitting a grounder to 1st. While Casilla correctly scooted straight over to 3rd, Gomez held up for a few seconds, long enough to get himself thrown out at the plate. That gaffe cost the Twins 2 runs - Justin Morneau's grounder to 2nd would have easily scored Casilla had there been just one out. Think how much easier it would have been to watch the late innings had the score been 8-3 instead of 6-3!

I'm sure a lot of folks will say that this was a good night for Gomez, pointing to his 2-3 line w/2 BB(!), but I would ask them to calculate whether the positive contributions he made were sufficient to make up for the 2 runs he pissed away in the first.

By the way, Gomez and Delmon Young combined for 7 walks in the entire month of June. Tonight, they had 3 walks between them. That may be a sign that the Tigers' pitchers didn't have good command tonight...

Second - Baker pitched a terrific game - except to Marcus Thames. The Twins made him look pretty silly last night, striking him out 4 straight times after his 1st-pitch HR in the 2nd. Baker had two strikes on him in the 4th and the 6th, but each time delivered way too good a pitch, out where Thames could get his arms extended. The first hit moved Carlos Guillen over to the 3rd, where he could score on Baker's wild pitch. The second hit bounced off the top of the wall and into the seats for a 2-run HR. Brian Bass showed us how it's done in the 8th, striking him out with a sinker down-and-in. I hope the Twins will be thinking inside to Thames tomorrow.

A very impressive 2nd game back for Denard Span. He went 1-2 with his second 2B and a BB, SB and a sacrifice. Just adding 2 games to his April stats raises his line to .297/.366/.351. He should have gotten more ABs back then.

Big game tomorrow afternoon - the Twins already could have had this series sewn up, but they need a win to make sure they stop the Tigers' momentum. It's up to Nick Blackburn to show that he can bounce back from a tough outing last Friday.

June Review

Twins Record: 17-11
Overall Record: 45-38, 2nd in AL Central by 2.5 games

The month began about as bleakly as you could imagine. After finishing a split with the Yankees, the Twins dropped a series at home to Baltimore, beginning a 6-game losing streak. In the middle of that streak the Twins suffered a brutal 4-game sweep at the hands of division rivals the Chicago White Sox. More of a slaughter, actually - the Twins were outscored 40-15 during the four games. Gardy urged the team to refocus on fundamentals, coinciding with the arrival of Interleague play. Thank goodness for Interleauge, what has come to be the most successful piece of the season in recent years. The Twins once again delivered, going 13-2 vs. the NL this month - including a 10-game winning streak - to cap a very successful June.

The offense continued to rank among the top in the AL in runs, H, 2B, 3B and BA, despite ranking 10th in HR, OBP and OPS and 12th in BB. The 23 HR this month were more than April or May, but still not close to the rest of the league. Interestingly, the team was just 7/16 in SB attempts, ranking last in the league - that's something they'll need to improve upon in July. The Twins do it with timely hitting and productive outs, batting well over .300 with RISP, and leading the league in sacrifice bunts and SF.

The pitching staff appears to be among the league's worst in June, but 40 of the 116 ER the Twins allowed for the month occurred in that skewed 4-game series in Chicago. In the 24 games outside of that, the staff put up a 2.96 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in 216 IP. A lot of pitchers' stats have been dragged down by that weekend, but the general trend is of vastly improved pitching, including ample innings from the young guys in the rotation. This has reduced the pressure on the bullpen, enabling them to be more effective as well. The Twins have a chance to be among the top 5 pitching staffs in the AL in the 2nd half, particularly if they remove certain members who are dragging them down.

The Twins were able to tighten things up defensively in June. After committing 18 errors in April and 25 in May, they made just 13 errors in 28 games this month. That pace would have them among the league leaders had they come out of the gate like that. Better defense translates into fewer runs allowed: the Twins gave up 10 unearned runs in April and 23 in May, but they allowed just 6 in June. Part of that is a credit to stingier pitching, but it also reflects the fact that there were fewer extra outs given by the defense.

On to the evaluations. About 2/3 of the team wound up in the happy column - I guess that's to be expected when things are going well.

Getting It Done

Jason Kubel - he stopped swinging at pitches out of the zone, and it's made all the difference. Not just the 14/12 BB/K ratio, but he's saving his swings for pitches he can handle, resulting in a sick .317/.418/.636 line with 6 HR for the month. And he's even starting to hit LHP...

Joe Mauer - the average and OBP have been there all year, but now the power is starting to come. Mauer's 11 2B and 3 HR this month helped him to lift his OPS to nearly 1.000.

Justing Morneau - the power and the walks dipped a bit this month, but I can't argue with a guy who so consistently comes through with RISP. His 21 RBI this month led the team.

Delmon Young - Young's OPS has been improving by .100 or more points each month so far. Now that he's shown he can put a couple over the fence, the next step is to merge his good plate discipline from May with the power of June.

Alexi Casilla - second on the team with 17 RBI for the month. He's been matching up well with other leading AL 2B from the offensive standpoint, and he's definitely improved the team's range at the position.

Brian Buscher - just 50 AB from Buscher this month, but he's already shown why he was the organization's top minor-leaguer last year. 14 RBI in 14 games since joining the starting lineup, with an .825 OPS.

Mike Redmond - 7 games and 25 ABs for Redmond this month, the result of the grinding schedule the Twins finished in the first half of June. His .360/.407/.440 line in those 7 games isn't a huge drop-off from Mauer.

Micheal Cuddyer - no more K troubles like in May (9/10 BB/K rate for June), resulting in a .291/.385/.866 line with 13 RBI. Unfortunately, he'll likely miss at least half of July with his finger injury.

Scott Baker - finally at full strength after an injury-filled spring, Baker gave the Twins 5 starts, averaging 6 IP, 3.00 ERA and 1.33 WHIP, with a respectable 6.90 K/9. I look to him to lead the staff in the 2nd half.

Kevin Slowey - 3.55 ERA and 1.03 WHIP this month, and that's including the uncharacteristic pounding he took in Chicago. He may have a chance to approach 200 IP by year's end, despite missing a month early in the season.

Joe Nathan - blew a save in Milwaukee, but the Twins came back to win anyway. Otherwise untouchable, with an 0.82 ERA, 0.64 WHIP, and 11.45 K/9 with 8 saves for the month.

Jesse Crain - 13.1 IP, 8 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 14 K. I'd say he's pretty well recovered from shoulder surgery, and can be counted upon in the late innings once again.

Craig Breslow - I can't figure out why Cleveland let him go. He was unblemished in June, allowing just 5 base runners in 9 IP with 8 K.

Dennys Reyes - allowed a frightening HR to Grady Sizemore in Cleveland, the only HR he's allowed this season. Otherwise, he did his job (1.59 ERA, 0.83 WHIP in 6 IP), usually in well under 10 pitches.

Matt Guerrier - still walking too many guys for my taste (6 in 12.2 IP), but he rarely lets an inning get out of control.

Brian Bass - he was dented in a couple of the blow-out losses early on, but he's been very reliable of late. He walked just 3 in 18.1 IP, helping himself to a terrific 1.04 WHIP in June.

So Far, So Good

Nick Blackburn - he had a couple of rough outings this month, one in the Chicago series, and one last weekend when he couldn't get his sinker down. Generally, though, he's been as reliable a member of the rotation as anyone this season.

Glen Perkins - only 4 outs short of averaging a QS over his 6 appearances this month (34.2 IP, 18 ER). 17/5 K/BB rate over his last 4 starts.

Need To Pick It Up

Carlos Gomez - while the rest of the offense clicked, Gomez' numbers began a slow decline. His final June line of .236/.266/.309 with 28/4 K/BB ratio is not only terrible for a leadoff hitter - it's terrible for anybody.

Brendan Harris - 3/24 BB/K rate this month to go along with his .242/.270/.379 line. If that's all the better he's going to hit, I'd rather have Everett or Punto (or someone else) at SS.

Mike Lamb - only a handful of ABs for Lamb this month, and only a couple of hits. I don't know what his role might be going forward.

Craig Monroe - only 4 H for Monroe in 32 AB in June. 2 of the H were HR, and he cut his K rate down to 1/5.33 AB, but still not doing much vs. LHP, which is the only way he's going to get playing time in the 2nd half.

Livan Hernandez - averaged 5.2 IP, 6.62 ERA, 1.79 WHIP. And that's including 2 very good starts during the streak. I'm pretty sure Francisco Liriano can do better than that.

Boof Bonser - the K/9 is fantastic (11.57), but he allowed an unbelievable number of base-runners (2.14 WHIP). He did seem to get better as the month went along, but he's certainly a candidate to disappear when the bullpen drops to 6 members.