Thursday, July 3, 2008

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.

1 comment:

Ben said...

Congratulations!