Saturday, August 2, 2008

Back from Vacation

Greetings from the shores of "Lake" Delton, where there is neither water nor Wi-Fi. We were reduced to following the Twins via the crawl on ESPN 2. Good thing it was a pretty uneventful week.

(That was a joke.)

But seriously, folks...

Twins 11, Indians 4
Twins 4, Indians 2

Even Livan Hernandez would have won with the kind of run support Scott Baker got last Saturday. It was just as satisfying to blow up Fausto Carmona (who shut down the Twins in two of Santana's starts last year) as it was to cream Paul Byrd earlier this season. Too bad Baker couldn't get through 6 IP, but the bullpen did a decent job backing him up.

The same could not be said on Sunday, when Nick Blackburn was robbed of yet another W by an ineffective 8th inning. His problems were exacerbated by the Twins' offense, which decided not to start hitting until the 6th inning. Ultimately, the Twins made the most of their few opportunities and won the series.

So, at that point, we had series win, annual sweep at Yankee Stadium, series win since the All Star break.

Twins 7, White Sox 0
Twins 6, White Sox 5
White Sox 8, Twins 3
Twins 10, White Sox 6

Kevin Slowey, Major League pitcher. Way to set the tone for a critical series. And congratulations to Denard Span on his first big league HR.

How great was Justin Morneau in this series? He went 5 for 14 with 2 doubles, 2 HR, 10 RBI and 3 BB. Just when we needed him most.

Livan once again failed to give the Twins a chance to win a game against a contending team.

And then there was the 7th inning of the finale, in which Gardy justifiably protested a very unusual call by the 3rd base umpire, over-ruling a HBP on a potential bunt attempt. Perhaps it was less justifiable for Gardy to pitch such a fit. And there was absolutely no justification for the fans to sully themselves by throwing a bunch of crap on the field. Save the 3rd grade behavior for the morons in the Dodger Stadium bleachers, people.

I give Span a ton of credit for returning to his AB after that monumental distraction and working a walk from 1-2 that started a 4-run, lead-changing rally. The bullpen was smacked once again in the 8th, but the Twins tacked on 3 more in their half to put the game away.

Coming in 2.5 games out, it was crucial that the Twins win 3 of the 4 games in this series, and they delivered. I was struck by the fact that the Twins and White Sox were also separated by 2.5 games when they began their previous 4 game series in Chicago. In the 50 games since, the Twins have outplayed the Sox by 2 games. If they can duplicate that feat over the final 52 games, they have an excellent chance of winning the division.

Alexi Casilla

Wtf? One night he's 1-4 with a BB and 2 R, and the next he's out with a torn ligament in his thumb? How'd he pull that off? Clearly, I have more reading to do.

This is a big problem for the Twins for 2 reasons. First, they lose what Casilla does on the field, with his range and glove on defense, with his speed on the bases, and with his pretty consistently productive bat (.313/.351/.414, 39 RBI in 62 games). Second, he must be replaced at second by Nick Punto, forcing the Twins to fill SS with either Brendan Harris (hitting better but very limited range defensively) or Adam Everett (supposedly very good defense but pathetic bat). Neither one of those players has played at Casilla's level this season.

Liriano vs. Livan

Well, that didn't take long.

Livan's outing on Wednesday was pretty typical: 5 ER on 9 H and 2 BB. He was pulled after 4 IP, which hasn't happened that often, but the result was the same. Wednesday was the 9th time in his last 13 starts in which Livan allowed 4 or more runs. That's a serious trend, folks. The Twins didn't do anything vs. Gavin Floyd, so I can't say it's a game they would have won with someone else on the mound, but it certainly could have been closer.

Francisco Liriano finally got nicked for a 3-run HR on the next-to-last batter he faced in his final start at Rochester, allowing more than 1 run in a game for the first time in a month. Even with that mistake, he allowed just 5 ER in his last 41 IP in AAA, walking 6 and striking out 51. Definitely ready for a shot.

With Livan in the rotation, there was always 1 game every 5 days that I expected the Twins to lose. With Liriano in his place, I expect them to have a chance to win every day.

Twins 4, Indians 1

Why do the Twins keep giving Jeremy Sowers 5 free innings? Once again, Blackburn was rock solid, and held the Indians to 1 run in 7 IP until the Twins could break it open. Congratulations to Randy Ruiz on his first MLB hit! May he be much better vs. LHP than Craig Monroe.

I very much appreciated the fact the Matt Guerrier had a 1-2-3, 9-pitch 8th inning. Just like a real setup man.

Indians 5, Twins 1

Finally, a game I actually watched. Not our night.

The 3 runs the Indians scored in the 4th were not at all Slowey's fault. The leadoff blooper between Delmon Young, Carlos Gomez and Brendan Harris should have been caught, probably by Young. That would have made Jhonny Peralta's well-placed liner inside the bag at first (good piece of hitting on a pitcher's pitch) a harmless 2-out double. Kelly Shoppach shouldn't have come up at all. Nor should he have been able to hit a 3-1 pitch that was knee-high on the outside corner over the baggy by about 4 inches. Good pitch - you just have to tip your hat to the hitter on that one.

David Delucci's 2-run HR the next inning was not a good pitch, but also barely cleared the fence.

The Twins' problems can be summarized by the bottom of the 5th. Carlos Gomez ripped the 2nd pitch just foul down the LF line. He then laid down a bunt to the second baseman and was thrown out by about 4 inches on a sterling play by Asdrubal Cabrera. On another night, he might have reached on either one of those plays. Anyway, Span followed with a double that I thought would be a triple, but Grady Sizemore was able to cut it off just before the warning track to hold Span at 2nd. Had he made it to third, he would have easily scored on Nick Punto's subsequent fly ball. A couple inches here or there, and that might have been a big inning.

Morneau hit a drive into the upper deck just foul. Young flied to the wall in right. Joe Mauer flied to the wall in center. Morneau hit a drive straight into the first baseman's glove. Slowey allowed just 6 baserunners in 6 IP with 7 K - really not a bad night.

I'm sure things will go better tomorrow. At this point, playing without the majority of the team that took them deep into the playoffs last year, the Indians' lineup shouldn't be too much more threatening than what Liriano's been facing at AAA. I expect him to give the Twins a chance to win, which would give them their 4th series out of 5 since the break. If they can keep that up, they should be able to get it done.

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