Sunday, August 24, 2008

No Defense for No Defense

Angels 7, Twins 5

The Twins suffered their first setback of the road trip Saturday night, just their 7th loss in the month of August. As with at least 3 of those other losses, they only have themselves to blame for this one. The offense succeeded in scoring 5 runs and knocked the Angel's starter in the 5th inning. The pitching staff allowed only 4 ER, thanks in part to a solid 1 R in 3.1 IP from the bullpen. But the defense didn't show up, at least in the 3rd inning, and that's where the game was lost.

It began when #9 hitter and catcher Mike Napoli chopped a grounder right to the 3rd base bag. Brian Buscher sailed his throw over Justin Morneau, allowing the leadoff man to reach. Chone Figgins had a terrific night at the plate, simply serving Nick Blackburn's pitches into CF or LF in each AB - his 2nd single of the game put runners at 1st and 2nd with no outs. Erick Aybar sacrificed, setting up 2nd and 3rd with one out. Gardy elected to walk hot-hitting Mark Teixiera (probably a good idea) in order to set up a DP with Vladimir Guerrero. Instead, Guerrero lined the first pitch to deep CF. Gomez misjudged the ball, took a bad route, and let it hit off the top of his glove for a 2-run "double." The next batter, Torii Hunter, smashed a grounder that slipped behind Buscher for another error and run. Garrett Anderson followed with a SF for one more run.

So, basically, the Twins gave the Angels 3 extra outs in that inning, and what do you know? The Angels came away with a 4-0 lead. I feel bad that Blackburn was saddled with even 1 ER in the inning. That came from a double-standard in official scoring that I've had a beef with for a while. Why is it that when a bullet is hit straight at an IF (as with the Hunter ball to Buscher) and he botches it, it's almost always scored an error, but when a bullet is hit at an OF (as with the Guerrero ball to Gomez) and he botches it, it's almost always scored a hit? It should have been obvious to the scorer that, had Gomez taken a clean route to the ball, he easily would have made the catch. Most scorers are too easy on the outfielders.

Anyway, Blackburn's outing wasn't nearly as disappointing as the box score would make it seem. One of his walks was intentional, set up by the first Buscher error. One of the 10 hits he allowed was the "double" to Guerrero; another was a bunt single by Hunter. Give him credit for the 3 extra outs he earned in the 3rd, and he would have had 5.2 IP with no more than 3 ER allowed - just one out away from a quality start. He allowed a bunch of hits, but they were all singles, and the last 3 he gave up were just grounders that found their way through the infield. His only glaring mistakes were walking the #9 hitter with 1 out in the 4th, and the pitch that Aybar lined for an RBI single 2 batters later. Yes, a lot of baserunners, but it wasn't like he was getting slammed all over the field.

Seeing that, and with his pitch count still in good shape (79), I have to question Gardy pulling him in the 5th. He did this in Blackburn's start in NY last month as well - when it was mainly poor defense that had caused Nick to suffer a big inning. The guy has been solid all season long. I'd love to see him get the same confidence from his manager that Livan Hernandez got.

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