Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Extra Tough

Mariner 4, Twins 2 (11 innings)

As I was on my way to logging into MLB.TV last night, I saw the headline that the Twins had acquired our old friend, Eddie Guardado, from Texas in exchange for minor league pitcher Mark Hamburger. Eddie has been solid for the Rangers this season, posting a respectable ERA and BAA in one of the better hitting environments in the league. I hoped he would be able to make it to Seattle in time!

He did, and trotted out to protect a 1-run lead in the 8th inning - the situation the Twins have had so much trouble with since Pat Neshek was lost to injury. Eddie did his job, needing only 11 pitches (9 strikes) to set the top of the Mariners' lineup down in order on 3 pop-ups. At last, the bullpen had held the lead for Joe Nathan in the 9th!

So, of course, Nathan blew the save. After getting Adrian Beltre right where he wanted him at 1-2, he left an outside slider too far up, and Beltre blasted it to the gap in right center for a leadoff double. The Twins needed a strikeout of Jose Lopez, and Nathan gave it everything he had, but Lopez spoiled quality pitches away, up and in before finally hitting a slow roller to short. Beltre boldly headed for 3rd, and I don't think Nick Punto could have thrown him out there even if he'd fielded the ball cleanly. Lopez beat out an IF hit earlier in the game, so I don't know that Punto would have been able to get him at first either. Anyway, Punto bobbled the ball, and Beltre trotted home with the tying run as the next batter hit into a DP.

I don't know why the Mariners should be kryptonite for the Twins' bullpen, but they've done some damage in just about every game this season. Beltre had been 2 for 22 vs. Nathan and 1 for 7 vs. Jesse Crain, but last night he was able to tag them for a double and HR, respectively. Ugh.

Francisco Liriano pitched another solid game, allowing just 1 R on 5 H and 1 BB in 6 IP. He only had 3 K - he didn't seem to have much of a slider working, and the Mariners were able to foul off a ton of pitches. But once again, he kept the Twins in the game. The only run he allowed never should have happened: the Twins had catcher Jamie Burke caught off first in a botched hit and run. A good throw to first from Alexi Casilla would have beaten him easily. Instead, he short-hopped the throw, and it skipped off Morneau's glove and into the stands for a 2-base error. With the corner infielders pulled in, Miguel Cairo's grounder over third scooted past Brian Buscher for an RBI double.

There was not nearly enough from the Twins' offense in this game. Miguel Batista came into the game with an ERA around 6.50, yet was able to hold the Twins to just 1 R in 6 IP. He was abetted by home plate umpire James Hoye's absurdly wide strike zone: none of the 6 pitches in Joe Mauer's 6th inning K was within 3 inches of the outside corner, yet the first 2 were called strikes. Ichiro Suzuki also made a perfect throw to the plate on Brian Buscher's 2-out single in the 5th to cut down Delmon Young trying to score. The three hitters who have been the hottest for the Twins over the past couple of weeks, Denard Span, Punto and Mauer, combined to go 0-13 with 2 BB and 3 K.

It only took the front office 130 games, but the acquisition of Guardado finally addressed the last of the Twins' needs. They have 5 quality starters, a solid back end of the bullpen, and a productive lineup. The team is now, on paper, the best it's been all season. It should be enough to keep them in the running - they've just got to quit making so many mistakes.

This Seattle series is the softest piece of this road trip. It's very difficult to win 3 of 4 away from home, and they can't expect to win 2 of 3 at Toronto the way the Jays have been playing lately. That makes the next 2 games must wins for the Twins.

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