Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Under Control

Twins 4, Yankees 0
Yankees 9, Twins 6 (12 innings)
Twins 4, Yankees 2

Just like in KC, the Twins came just 1 run short of a series sweep. Winning series should be enough to keep them in the running with the White Sox, but a sweep here and there could help them pull away. Plus, it would have been nice to pay the Yanks back for the sweep they dealt the Twins a couple weeks ago. Still, with as tough a time as the Twins have had with the Yankees over the last several years, it's nice to see them at least hold their own at home: 4-3, and all three losses were by 1 run or in extra innings. That's progress...

Clearly, the Twins were facing the Yankees at the right time. All those bottom-of-the-order guys who were racking up hits in NY were back to their typical selves - Robinson Cano, Ivan Rodriguez, Richie Sexson, Wilson Betemit, Jose Molina and Melky Cabrera combined to go 6 for 36 with 5 BB out of the 6-9 slots. But give credit to Glen Perkins - he held the 1-5 hitters (Derek Jeter, A-Rod and Xavier Nady among them) to 3-17 by giving them an unpredictable mix of fastballs and changeups. Kevin Slowey held the top 5 of the order (including Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi) to 2 hits and 1 BB, using his typical pinpoint control to paint the corners and keep the ball away from the middle of their bats.

Nick Blackburn usually has very good control, but not so on Tuesday. It looked to me like one of those games in which the pitcher's stuff is breaking so much that he can't really locate it. The result was an unusually high number of strikeouts early on (5 in 4.2 IP), but also an unusually high number of walks (3). And the Yankees made him pay for it: 2 of the 3 men Blackburn walked came around to score. The 2-out double he allowed to Nady was a pretty good pitch - knee-high on the outside black - yet Nady pulled it with authority into the left-center field gap. Gotta give credit to the hitter on that one. I guess Carlos Gomez overthrew cutoff man Adam Everett, but Brian Buscher was right behind him to relay the ball to the plate. A good throw would have easily nailed Giambi, but Buscher's throw short-hopped Mike Redmond, allowing a crucial extra run to score.

The bullpen, needing to throw (as it turned out) 7.1 innings, did reasonably well until the 12th. Boof Bonser, as usual, allowed a run - he let the first 2 batters reach in the 6th and 7th innings (I'm amazed he got away with it in the 6th). Craig Breslow threw 1 pitch (I wonder if Gardy wished he'd kept him available once extra innings came along). When it came to the 12th inning, it was down to another inning of Matt Guerrier vs. the heart of the Yankees' lineup, or Brian Bass, so I can't blame Gardy for sticking with Guerrier. Still, that makes 12 runs allowed in Guerrier's last 8 appearances. I hope the rest of the pitching staff can step up and give him a break.

Great job in this series by Joe Nathan and Dennys Reyes. Nathan pitched in all 3 games, accumulating 3.1 IP, 2 saves, and allowing just a BB while striking out 6. Reyes struck out 4 of the 5 men he faced, and his wild pitch that allowed a run to score on Wednesday could have easily been blocked by Joe Mauer. I'm starting to feel good about Reyes pitching (to lefties) in tight spots late in games.

As Justin Morneau's average has dwindled from a peak of .325 down to .303, it's become apparent that he's having yet another slow August. His July was so preposterously awesome that this month had to come down somewhat, but right now his OPS is less than half of what it was last month. You can see it when he fouls off a pitch up on the inner half - the pitches he was drilling only a couple of weeks ago. And he's not the only one - Nick Punto, Joe Mauer and Brian Buscher are all way down from their July productivity.

I would have put Delmon Young in that category before this series, but he's broken out over the last 2 games, going 5 for 9 with a double, 2 HR and 6 RBI. That effort helped to lift his August line to .263/.333/.526 with 3 HR, 9 RBI and a 2/4 K/BB ratio. His dramatic, game-tying HR off Mariano Rivera helped turn a game that looked lost into one that the Twins had every opportunity to win. Can he carry the team until Morneau snaps out of it?

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