Monday, April 13, 2009

Blue Streak

Blue Jays 8, Twins 6
So much for my theory that the Twins would win every game in which they scored 6 or more runs. Toronto came into the series averaging over 6.5 R/G, so that should have been my first clue. The Twins haven't beaten the Jays since June of 2007, which suggests that they haven't been catching them at good times. The home series vs. the Jays last May was a time when the Twins weren't playing very well. For the away series in September, the Jays were as hot as they would be all season, and the Twins' bullpen was struggling. It looks like we're catching the Jays while they're hot this year as well.

Considering that he saw every other batter reach against him, Kevin Slowey did a pretty commendable job in lasting into the 6th inning. The first 2 RBI singles he allowed weren't particularly his fault: a check-swing chip shot into no-man's land down the RF line by Rod Barajas in the 2nd, and a groundball from Lyle Overbay on which Alexi Casilla was positioned so far over toward 1B that Michael Cuddyer ended up fielding the ball even though it was hit a few steps to Casilla's right. This game saw infield dribblers for hits, jam-shot flares to the OF for hits, soft liners off the end of the bat for hits. When you're hot, those things find a way to fall in.

Then there were the balls they hit hard. The 2 ringing doubles from AL RBI leader Adam Lind, one to the opposite alley on a backdoor slider, one down the RF line on an inside pitch, both leading off innings in which the Jays scored. The 1st HR from ROY candidate Travis Snider and the 2-run shot from Lyle Overbay, both on knee-high sliders, both absolutely walloped. Snider even seemed to be a little fooled, hitting it off his front foot, and still rocketed it nearly to the upper deck. Thank goodness his manager hasn't figured out yet that he should be hitting a little higher in the order than 9th. His 2nd HR, on a get-me-over 2-seamer from Luis Ayala, easily reached the upper deck in RF, putting the Jays ahead to stay.

I'm probably going to gripe a lot this season about the way the Twins use Craig Breslow. He was able to strike out the one LH batter he was asked to face, a la Dennys Reyes, then handed the ball to Ayala, who allowed the game-tying hit on his first pitch. 2 of the next 4 hitters were lefties, and one of the righties coming up was Barajas. Breslow can get righties out, and was the Twins' 2nd-best reliever last season. Why not leave the game in his hands?

The stolen base Vernon Wells picked up right before Breslow struck out Lind was huge. The Jays picked some good pitches to run on (low breaking balls every time, I believe), but Jose Morales wasn't able to get a throw particularly close to 2nd base. He's going to get run on a lot while he's back there.

Offensively, there was a lot to like about this game. The Twins rapped out 13 H, 6 for XB, along with 2 BB and put 6 R on the board. In most cases when Slowey starts, that's going to get it done. However, they came up short in this game, and there were certainly opportunities to do more. They twice had a man on 3rd with nobody out and failed to get him in. In fact, Morales' liner to the drawn-in SS was the only ball the Twins put in play out of those 6 AB. That's right, 5 of their 8 K in the game came with a man on 3rd. Got to get better at the situational hitting. It perhaps isn't surprising that Delmon Young was the first out in each of those innings. He hit the ball hard in his other 2 AB, but so far this season seems to have no idea what to do when he comes up with men on.

Cuddyer was twice called out to complete close DP; I think he was probably safe in both cases. The CS in the 2nd was certainly a bad call by the ump - with the throw from Barajas so far toward the LF side of the bag, it should have been clear that Cuddyer got in there even though the throw beat him. (The play was almost identical to Lind's 2nd double, where Cuddyer's high throw enabled Lind to just get in safely). 3 straight H followed that DP, resulting in 2 R, but it should have been 3.

An extra run from any of those situations would have been huge. Had the Twins been trailing by just one run entering the 9th, is there any doubt that Casilla, hitless from the right side, would have been asked to sacrifice Denard Span into scoring position? As it was, he had to try to reach and hit into a DP, clearing the bases in front of Justin Morneau's single.

Perhaps the worst break of the game for the Twins came when Jays starter Jesse Litsch had to leave the game with elbow stiffness in the 4th inning. Up to that point, the Twins had touched Litsch for 4 ER on 7 H, including back-to-back drives off the baggie by Cuddyer and Brian Buscher. No one was up in Toronto's 'pen, so the Twins would have gotten several more chances against Litsch had things taken their natural course. However, the loss of Litsch forced the Jays' 'pen to throw 6 IP after they were out there for 4.1 IP on Sunday. Tuesday's starter is a rookie, so the Twins' objective should be to make him throw a lot of pitches and get back into the bullpen as early as possible. If the Jays' relievers are fatigued, that could be an advantage for the Twins later in the series.

Minor League Notes
1.1 more perfect IP for Jose Mijares at Rochester as he picked up his first save. Luke Hughes made his 2nd error already at 3B. Rob Delaney surrendered a HR to the first batter he faced in New Britain's game, then saw the next batter reach on a fielding error. He retired the next 2, then was chased with an RBI double. Should have just been the one ER.

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