Friday, September 12, 2008

Finish It!

Twins 7, Royals 2
Twins 7, Royals 1
Royals 3, Twins 2 (10 innings)

Though the Twins managed to win their first series since before their road marathon began 3 weeks ago, they continued the pattern that has caused them to miss countless opportunities to overtake the White Sox in the standings. Just like in the Oakland and Seattle series, the Twins got a strong performance from their starter in every game, but the offense only showed up part of the time. This makes 11 losses in the last 17 games; in 7 of those games, they have scored 3 or fewer runs, and they've lost all 7. In 5 series vs. the Royals, the Twins have won the 1st 2 games each time, but are 1-4 in the finales. Let's hope they have another chance to sweep the series at the end of the season.

The Royals are a terrible offensive team, so you'd expect the Twins' pitching to do well against them. Nick Blackburn set the tone by going 7 IP and allowing just 2 ER on 5 H and 1 BB. Kevin Slowey topped that, going 7 IP, 1 ER, 4 H and 1 BB. Then Francisco Liriano finished the set with 8 IP, 2 ER on 6 H and 0 BB with 6 K. The three starters combined for 22 IP, 5 ER, 15 H and 2 BB for a 2.06 ERA and 0.77 WHIP. While the bullpen allowed just 1 R in 6 IP for a 1.50 ERA, they gave up 6 H and 1 BB for a 1.17 WHIP - still good, but noticeably worse than the starters. And that 1 R they allowed resulted in a loss.

It's no startling revelation to say that the bullpen is much weaker than the starters - that's been apparent for about 2 months now. So it was particularly frustrating for me to see my fantasy come to life - 8 IP from the starter hands the ball straight to Joe Nathan - and yet have the Twins find a way to lose anyway. I now quake in fear every time Matt Guerrier takes the mound - since June 30th, he's allowed 24 ER in 28 IP on 37 H and 10 BB (7.71 ERA, 1.68 WHIP), including 6 HR. Those numbers are reminiscent of Livan Hernandez. Guerrier has accumulated 6 losses for the Twins in that time. Over the same period, Jesse Crain has allowed 15 ER in 25 IP on 27 H and 8 BB (5.40 ERA, 1.40 WHIP), including 2 HR. He's lost 2 games. Though Crain's numbers aren't great, it seems that it would be prudent to give him the ball before Guerrier.

Do Carlos Gomez' excellent defense and occasional productive ABs really make up for all the mistakes he makes and all the ABs he throws away? Would the Twins be better off with Denard Span in CF, Jason Kubel in RF and a better hitter than Gomez (say, Randy Ruiz) at DH? I doubt we'll find out.

Coming into this home stand, the Twins had a .667 winning percentage at home, and were facing two divisional opponents with losing records that the Twins had beaten up all year, so going 3-3 is definitely not good enough. However, thanks to some inspired play by the Blue Jays, the White Sox remain just a step ahead of the Twins. Which Central Division contender will get it together first?

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