Sunday, May 3, 2009

Buzz Kill

Twins 7, Royals 5
Royals 10, Twins 7 (11 innings)
Royals 7, Twins 5

Welcome back, Joe Mauer! What an emphatic return to the lineup, launching a HR on his first swing and a 2B on his second. He finished the weekend 7 for 10 with a walk, HR and 2 2B, including a 2-out RBI pinch single off Joakim Soria. Just like that, the Twins put up 19 R in 3 games against what had been one of the league's better pitching staffs coming in.

But I don't feel good tonight. Nope.

All three Twins starters managed to give up 5 ER. Kevin Slowey and Glen Perkins each gave up big 2-out hits. Scott Baker rattled off another string of outs (18 of 19, carrying a no-hitter into the 7th), but ultimately found himself in the same place as his last start, exactly where Francisco Liriano was a couple of weeks ago - pitching pretty well, except for allowing so many hits to be clustered together. (By the way, this is why I think ERA is a better measure of pitching performance than WHIP. Baker's ERA on Sunday was 7.50, which is bad, but his WHIP was 1.00, which is good. It should be clear that "bad" is more descriptive of the way the game ended.) All three were OK for stretches of the game, but didn't execute their pitches at critical junctures and ended up walking away with lousy lines that put a ton of extra pressure on what was, for the most part, a very productive offense.

What really upset me about this series was the litany of no-nos the Twins committed:

- You do not make the 3rd out at 3rd base. You especially don't do that when the next batter is a scorching-hot 2-time batting champ.

- You do not walk the leadoff hitter. You especially don't do that in extra innings.

- You do not walk someone who is trying to bunt.

- You do not walk in a run. You especially don't do that in extra innings.

- You do not give up HR on 0-2 pitches.

I'm probably forgetting some. The last 2 games were easily winnable had the Twins played even average baseball. Apart from the isolated defensive and baserunning miscues, what really stood out was the ineffectiveness of the back half of the Twins' bullpen. Having used Matt Guerrier, Jose Mijares and Joe Nathan rather extensively on Friday and Saturday, Gardy was forced by the extra innings into going to Craig Breslow to start the 11th. Breslow has been reasonably effective when he's throwing strikes. But he's walked at least 1 batter in 5 of his last 6 appearances, including 3 in this game. That forced Gardy to go to the last guy in the 'pen - R.A. Dickey - with the bases loaded. Not surprisingly, some runs scored.

With everyone else exhausted, Gardy had to go to the combustible Luis Ayala and Dickey again on Sunday, and they allowed 4 runs to score while they were on the hill. I could give Ayala a few more weeks to put things together, but Dickey should be back in Rochester. Had the starters fared better this weekend, that likely would have been the decision when Jesse Crain was activated from the 15-day DL. Instead, Gardy decided to go right back to his 12-man bullpen. As long as Dickey is the 12th man.

The Royals will be greatly inspired by this series win, using it to build confidence that they may be able to draw on later in the season. They aren't so much worse than the rest of the division that they can be taken lightly. The Twins had an opportunity to win a series from a division rival at home, and they bumbled it away. I can't help feeling that it might come back to haunt them later on.

Minor League Notes
Anthony Slama finally gave up his first professional HR last night, though he was still able to earn a save for New Britain. Rob Delaney has already thrown 17.2 IP in the first 22 games of the season. I think it might be a good time to give those guys a little bit of a break - I don't want them to be burned out by the time the Twins call them up later this year.

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