Thursday, August 7, 2008

Road Trip (and Fall)

Mariners 11, Twins 6
Mariners 8, Twins 7
Twins 7, Mariners 3

Well, that could have gone a lot better, huh? It was funny to look at some of my other favorite blogs and see that most of them, like myself, were in no mood to comment on the disastrous results from Monday and Tuesday night. The Twins put up 6 or more runs in each game of this series, and so with even average pitching should have been able to come away with a sweep.

Before I go into my disappointment with their performance, however, a word about the Mariners. I have said many times that winning baseball games isn't just about who you play, but when you play them. Overall, the Twins are a much better team than the Mariners. But, in this series, the Twins' pitching and defense was not up to its normal level of precision, and the Mariners' entire lineup was absolutely locked in. In other words, we caught Seattle at the wrong time. Hopefully, the results will be different when the Twins face them 6 other times later in the month.

On to the disappointments:

Glen Perkins was giving up his share of hits (9) through 6 IP on Monday, but had kept the damage to just 1 R. Entering the 7th with a 5-run lead and very low pitch count (71), it made sense to send him out for that inning. After quickly retiring the first batter, Perkins allowed an 0-2 single to the #9 hitter, issued his first walk on 5 pitches, fell behind Willie Bloomquist before allowing a single to load the bases, then missed his spot by about 2 feet on the grand slam to Raul Ibanez. Perkins has often gotten stronger as the game goes along, so this sequence was extremely disappointing, especially compared to the solid numbers he put up in July.

And then, the bullpen came in. Starting with the bases empty and 1 out, Brain Bass, Craig Breslow and Matt Guerrier proceeded to allow 6 R on 5 H and 3 BB, combining for 38 pitches (17 strikes). They were abetted in their awfulness by 2 throwing errors and a passed ball from the defense. Even the Mariners can kick your ass if you fall behind everybody and give away tons of extra bases.

I'm not sure the Twins could have scored enough runs to overcome their abysmal 7th inning, but it should not be forgotten that Justin Morneau's 2-run double to put them ahead 6-0 in the 4th occurred with nobody out. That means that they had runners at second and third with nobody out and failed to get them in, thanks to a Mike Lamb strikeout and Brian Buscher GIDP. Granted, those guys were in the lineup to face RHP Miguel Batista, not LHP Jake Woods, but they need to be able to hit the ball out of the infield in that situation.

Scott Baker allowed himself to be lit up on Tuesday night, throwing too many fastballs to an aggressive swinging team. The 6 R and 11 baserunners he allowed in 5.1 IP made it easily his worst game of the season. He ran into a little bad luck in the 6th, when the rally began on a strikeout-wild pitch - even the Mariners can burn you when you give them an extra out - and the scorching hot Ibanez was able to pick up another 2-run single off LHP Breslow.

The offense bailed Baker out, thanks to a couple of HR from Jason Kubel and a big 2-out, 2-run, pinch-hit double from Mike Lamb. In the bottom of the 8th, with 3 straight lefties due up for the Mariners, Gardy brought in Guerrier, who had thrown 31 pitches over the previous 2 games, allowing 4 ER on 5 H and 2 BB in 1.1 IP. LHP Dennys Reyes did not pitch on Monday, and had thrown just 10 pitches in a perfect 9th inning on Sunday. Lefties are hitting .200/.246/.283 vs. Reyes, .253/.344/.361 vs. Guerrier. Ichiro hits about 60 points lower vs. LHP, Jeremy Reed over 100. I realize that Gardy wants Guerrier to be the 8th inning guy, but he's clearly tiring, and there was a better matchup available for this particular situation.

After Guerrier allowed 2 of those 3 lefties to reach, Gardy did something a lot of folks have been clamoring for for months: he brought in Joe Nathan in the 8th inning.He got cleanup hitter Adrian Beltre on a liner to short, then quickly got ahead of Jose Lopez 1-2. Nathan could not induce Lopez to swing at any sliders out of the zone, so on 3-2 he gave him a slider in the zone. Lopez lined it into the gap in left center, and with the runners moving on the full count pitch Ibanez was able to score from first with the winning run.

Nick Blackburn was also knocked around a bit, surrendering 9 H and a BB in just 6 IP, but he was able to limit the damage thanks to a couple of DPs. This time Reyes was allowed to face Ichiro/Reed/Ibanez in the 7th, allowing only a 2-out infield hit to the hotter than the flames of hell Ibanez. Jesse Crain then came on and served up a home run ball to Beltre.

(Now for the good news)

Denard Span to the rescue! Beltre's HR did not land in the seats, but was stolen by Span with a leaping catch over the wall in RF. Span also went 3-5 with a triple, SB, and career-high 4 RBI. Gardy confirmed after the game that Span will remain in the leadoff spot when Cuddyer returns next week. Hallelujah!

Lamb, despite striking out with 2 in scoring position on Monday, made a huge contribution in the series, going 3-6 with 2 doubles and 3 RBI. He's showing that the Twins may have been wise not to give up on him yet.

And how about that line from Adam Everett on Wednesday? 1-1 with a BB, RBI, R and 2 sac bunts. If his defense is back to 100% and he can give the Twins productive ABs like that, I think I'd rather see him at SS than Harris. Seems like there will be room for him in the #9 spot pretty soon.

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