Friday, September 19, 2008

Hangin' In

I'm not just a fair-weather blogger. We were traveling earlier this week, and I had to take care of the baby when we got back as my wife prepares to return to work. Babies are a lot of work on their own. I haven't had a chance to watch or listen to a game in awhile, but here's what I'm thinking:

Orioles 7, Twins 3

Just as I suspected, the Twins followed up their 24-run double-header by failing to score at all in 8 IP vs. a rookie who began the game with an ERA over 7.00! Nick Blackburn, meanwhile, gave up a million HR. Well, 4. And Philip Humber served one up for good measure. All 7 Orioles runs scored on HR. 5 of their 11 H were for extra bases - the Twins had 1 XBH out of 8 total H.

Indians 3, Twins 1

Here the Twins were shut out for 6 IP by a rookie making his 2nd MLB start. Kevin Slowey allowed 2 HR, accounting for all three Indians runs. Matt Guerrier loaded the bases without retiring a batter, but Dennys Reyes bailed him out. The 9-5 batters went a combined 1 for 21 with 2 BB.

Indians 12, Twins 9

This game encapsulates everything that has been troublesome about the Twins since July. It begins with Francisco Liriano having his first bad start since being recalled from AAA. But he was aided in his suckiness by a critical throwing error from Nick Punto, resulting in 4 unearned runs. The Twins rallied from an 8-1 deficit to retake the lead, thanks to the 9-3 hitters going 7-19 with 5 BB, only to see the bullpen immediately give up the lead. The offense went silent in extra innings, and Joe Nathan took the loss when he allowed a 3-run HR to Victor Martinez, who had only 1 other HR in his injury-plagued season.

How many different ways could the Twins have one that game? And yet, they found a way to lose it. By the way, 6 of the Indians' 14 H were for extra bases, including 4 HR. 2 of the Twins' 13 H were for extra bases.

Indians 6, Twins 4

Hoping to salvage the finale, the Twins needed to beat Cy Young front-runner Cliff Lee. Though he lasted into the 7th inning, the Twins managed to score 4 runs off him, battering him for 10 H (only 2 for extra bases) and 3 BB. Scott Baker was not good on 3 days' rest, failing to complete 5 IP while allowing 4 R of his own. So, having just tied the game against Lee, the Twins' bullpen promptly gave the 2 runs right back. Jose Mijares took the loss, but Guerrier was the culprit once again. Entering with a man aboard and 2 out, he allowed 2 doubles and a walk before getting the last out. The Indians had 9 H in the game - 5 for extra bases, including 2 HR.

Twins 11, Rays 8

And now we come to the happy ending. Jason Kubel finally hit his 18th HR to put the Twins up 3-0 in the top of the first. But Glen Perkins was once again blown to bits by the Rays (aided in his suckitude by a throwing error that led to 3 unearned runs). Trailing 8-6 at the start of the 9th inning, the Twins did something they almost never do - they rallied to take the lead. The offensive outburst came in part thanks to multi-hit games from the 9-3 hitters, and 5 XBH out of 15, including 2 HR. Nathan came on to earn his first save since August 27th, over 3 weeks ago. The Rays, for their part, scored 7 of their 8 runs on their 5 HR, and 7 of their 9 hits were for extra bases.

Now, here's where things are:

The starting pitchers may well be fading as they reach innings totals they haven't yet experienced in their young careers. I think Liriano and Baker will be fine, and though Slowey's outing was bad for him lately, it was still a quality start. Blackburn will hopefully be able to bounce back from an unusually bad start as he has all season. But Perkins has had it. He's allowed 9 HR in his last 5 starts, and 3 or more R in each, while his innings have been declining. It would be suicide to send him out there against the White Sox next week. In what will most likely be a must-win game for the Twins, they can't afford to send their most homer-happy starter out against the most powerful lineup in the league. They should use Monday's off-day to skip Perkins, setting up a rotation for the Chicago series of Baker, Blackburn and Slowey. Perkins can pitch in the KC series - they probably won't be able to take him deep too many times. I know that puts the two lefties on consecutive starts, but at this point in the season I don't think it's a big deal.

Matt Guerrier has absolutely had it. If he's not physically burned out, he is mentally. Sit him on the bench and forget about him, unless the team is up or down by 5+ runs.

When Gomez, Span, Casilla and Mauer are getting on base, the Twins score a lot of runs. When they don't, the Twins aren't going to do much. This is because the Twins have been brutally out-slugged this season, especially over the past week, when they've allowed 18 HR in a span of just 5 games. The Twins mostly get singles, so they've got to have their speed guys on a lot, or a rally just isn't going to come together for them.

Nathan picked up his 35th save on a Thursday night 4 weeks ago in Anaheim. Why did he only collect 2 saves in 4 weeks? Because the Twins have to win close games for him to get a save, and that just hasn't happened. I'll define a close game as one in which the winner earns a save or scores the winning run in their last at-bat. In the last 4 weeks, the Twins are 2-14 in close games. That's almost unbelievably awful. Imagine if they'd gone 4-12 - still awful, but they'd be in first place right now.

But that's the amazing thing - for as bad as things have been - this week, this month - the Twins are still just 1.5 games out of first place in the AL Central. If they can just match Chicago over this last road weekend, they'll be right where they need to be to begin the final home stand against their rivals.

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