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.