Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I Wish They All Could Be Interleague Games

With Sunday's win over St. Louis, the Twins completed their interleague schedule with a record of 12-6. It's the 7th time in Gardy's 8 seasons as manager that the Twins have had a winning record vs. the NL.

Part of that success can be attributed to the Twins playing a National League style of baseball, not relying on slugging to provide their offense as so many AL teams do. That's been part of the story in previous years, but not so much in 2009, as the Twins currently sit 10th in MLB in SLG% and 12th in HR.

Another part was that the Twins' weakness at DH meant that their offense wasn't drastically hurt when they went to NL parks. Typically, the Twins have employed a bench player at DH, unlike the many AL teams that use professional hitters who are seriously liabilities if they have to play in the field. So subtracting the DH from the lineup didn't hurt the Twins very much. But that is also not the case this year, as Jason Kubel is currently 2nd among regular DHs in OPS. Thankfully, he's at least as competent a LF as Delmon Young, so keeping his bat in the lineup didn't have a corresponding debit on the defensive side of the ledger.

Were they successful because they were playing weak competition? On the whole, the NL is weaker than the AL, but because the Twins had to play half of their schedule against the top 2 teams in the NL Central, the aggregate winning percentage of their interleague opponents came to .507. Could we expect a team that is 6 games under .500 vs. AL opponents to go sweeping through above average NL competition? In particular, could we expect a team that is 12 games under .500 vs. AL opponents on the road to go 6-3 in NL ballparks?

For me, the difference was that in the NL parks, the Twins were able to hide their weaknesses better. In the NL, each team fields a lineup of 8 (hopefully) competent hitters + the starting pitcher. In the AL, you get to use 9 good hitters. The Twins have 7: Denard Span, Brendan Harris, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Kubel, Michael Cuddyer and Joe Crede. And that's just when everybody's healthy, when Mauer is able to play consecutive days, etc. Against AL opponents, the Twins often have to face a lineup with 2 better players than they can field; in the NL, it's just one.

Denard Span was out for 5 of the Twins' 9 interleague road games, but he wasn't missed. That's because Carlos Gomez stepped up in his stead, going 7 for 16 with 5 R in the 4 games he started. Mauer only had to sit out one of those games; the Twins lost. Crede had to sit out one of those games; the Twins lost. Cuddyer had to sit out 2; the Twins lost one and won the other despite scoring only 2 R.

The best thing about the Twins playing in NL parks is that they don't have to put Delmon Young in the lineup. Of Twins hitters who have accumulated at least 50 PA this season, Young ranks dead last in WARP at -0.9. He doesn't just not help, he hurts. The 7 players I mentioned earlier are 1-7 in WARP, of course, and Gomez is 8th, at 0.7, thanks to his superhuman range in CF. It should be clear, then, that the best lineup the Twins can put on the field does not include Young, both in terms of offensive and defensive contributions.

NL rules enabled the Twins to do without their worst player this past week. Thanks to that, improved play from Gomez and Nick Punto, and the easier task the Twins' pitchers had facing other pitchers instead of DHs, turned the Twins from a bad road team into a good one. If only it were easier for Gardy to avoid his worst player in the AL

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

More Changes Please

Twins 5, Astros 2
Astros 6, Twins 5
Astros 4, Twins 1

I think most Twins fans expected a 6-game home stand against 2 mediocre NL teams to turn out better than 3-3. I certainly did. What went wrong? Partly, it was a bit of a bad draw in terms of facing both Roy Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez, two of the better starters in the NL. It was likely that one of them would totally shut the Twins down, which Rodriguez did on Sunday. That made the Saturday game very important, but the Twins couldn't get it done despite hitting 4 HR and putting up 5 R in support of Scott Baker. That was mostly because the bullpen, specifically Sean Henn and Luis Ayala, once again failed to put up zeros.

Gardy might have been better off leaving Baker in there, even at 102 pitches. Baker had already retired Darin Erstad twice, and Erstad is a shadow of his former self. That was probably a better matchup than Henn against any rightie on the Houston bench. I know Baker has had some good games go bad awfully quickly in the late innings this year, but he's the ace, and Henn is just journeyman AAA filler. For as long as Gardy has left Blackburn out there recently, you'd think he could do the same with Baker.

On Sunday, the game was lost in the first inning as the Astros put up 3 R on a bunt single, SB, a groundball single, a 2B Kubel lost in the ceiling, an RBI groundout (that would have been an inning-ending DP had Kubel caught the previous batted ball) and a shoe-top grounder over third for an RBI 2B. Nice pitching by Perkins in avoiding hard-hit balls, but sketchy defense turned it into a big inning.

These two losses highlight the Twins' main problem since the rotation has righted itself: lack of depth. The Twins have a championship core this season with Denard Span (.380 OBP), Joe Mauer (1.202 OPS), Justin Morneau (.968 OPS), Jason Kubel (.925 OPS), Michael Cuddyer (.874 OPS), Joe Crede and Brendan Harris (.753 OPS, 3 E between them) leading the lineup and the gelling young rotation handing the ball to one of the game's best closers and a solid setup combination of Matt Guerrier (2.84 ERA) and Jose Mijares (2.57 ERA), plus the surprisingly solid RA Dickey (2.56 ERA) in long-relief. But those guys can't play every day - Span hit the DL, Mauer needs his rest, Gardy can't overwork Guerrier like he did last year, Crede is brittle, and even Morneau finally needed a day off. And when Span's ABs have to go to Carlos Gomez or Delmon Young, when Mauer is replaced by Mike Redmond, when Matt Tolbert and Brian Buscher get starts in the IF, the Twins don't score as many runs. When Morneau or Crede don't have their superior gloves on the field, outs turn into hits. And when the lesser bullpen arms have to take the mound, leads slip away and close games turn into blowouts.

In order to address this, the Twins designated Ayala for assignment and promoted Bobby Keppel from AAA Rochester. Though Ayala hasn't been as good as some of the other bullpen members, he's recovered from a poor start to the season, and was pitching at a level I think we could expect of him based on his recent track record. His ERA stands at 4.18. Did they expect something much different? I didn't. It's Sean Henn who's overmatched, taking 3 losses in just 13 appearances while amassing a 7.36 ERA and allowing lefties to hit .350/.435/.800 against him in 11 IP. I hate to belabor the point, but since this move was made, Craig Breslow has pitched 12.1 IP, with a 2.92 ERA and has held lefties to .217/.345/.283 for the season. If dumping Ayala turns out like that, we're in for it.

Though Rob Delaney, Steve Tolleson and Danny Valencia have recently been brought up to Rochester, there is still precious little there that we can look forward to as an upgrade over players presently on the roster. Therefore, the Twins best hope for succeeding in a very weak division this season is to improve the team by making trades. There are 2 areas of surplus for the Twins: young OF and young SP. Kevin Mulvey and Anthony Swarzak won't both be able to find rotation spots next year - trade one. What is David Winfree going to do in the corner OF that isn't already being done by Young? Is Ben Revere going to be able to bring anything to the table that Denard Span isn't already doing? Isn't Tolleson essentially the same player as Harris?

Yes, Bill Smith, try to shake things up, but in a way that actually makes the team better, OK? Look over the system, find redundancies, be realistic about who fits into the future of this team, and then bring the team the missing pieces it needs to take charge of this division.

PS: I don't want to forget to mention Delmon Young's 1st HR since April! How about that trot? 2+ months between dingers, and yet he sauntered around the bases like it was no big deal. Amazing.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Little Changes

Cubs 3, Twins 2
Twins 8, Pirates 2
Pirates 8, Twins 2
Twins 5, Pirates 1

I'm pretty satisfied with how things have gone since Saturday. The Twins have only allowed 14 R over the past 4 games, more than half of them in last night's loss. As for the other loss, the lineup was without Denard Span, Michael Cuddyer and Joe Crede, so it's understandable that they were stymied by a quality pitcher like Ted Lilly. My only real regret is that I dropped Cuddyer from my fantasy team on Sunday night pending a waiver pickup of Russell Martin, who can't possibly continue to slump as badly as he has the rest of the season. At the time I made the claim, it looked likely that Cuddyer would go on the DL, so no big loss. By the time it went through, however, Cuddyer had his cortisone shot and it was Span who hit the DL. Naturally, since losing him from my roster on Wednesday, Cuddyer has gone 4 for 6 with 2 walks, a HR and a 3B. Oh well.

Had I been able to muster the energy to write something on Monday, it would have been about how the Twins needed to get Jesse Crain off of the 25-man roster. Luckily, someone in the front office is a step ahead of me, for once, and Crain was sent to Rochester to make room for Glen Perkins to come off the DL. AAA is definitely the best place to find out whether Crain can put himself back together. He was killing the Twins, having allowed 5 ER on 10 H and 5 BB over his last 6 appearances (4.1 IP).

I share Gardy's assessment that Wednesday night was actually a pretty good start for Liriano. I'm especially pleased by the 6/1 K/BB ratio. He's still got to be better with men on base, but he's headed in the right direction.

Nick Blackburn found himself just about exactly where he was last Thursday afternoon, cruising into the 8th inning with a 3-0 lead. While he'd been fortunate for most of the first 7 IP last week to have some hard-hit balls find Twins' gloves, the 4 H he allowed through the first 7 IP today were all bloopers and bleeders - hardly anything was hit hard. He walked one in the 8th, then came out to a 5-0 9th inning lead thanks to Brian Buscher's 2nd HR (great to see him swing assertively at a hittable fastball!). Blackburn was not as effective in the last inning, but his luck held as the first 2 batters lined out to Crede and Nick Punto was able to end the game on a diving stop in the hole. In between, the Pirates were able to get a 2-out run on a 2B and RBI single. A fine performance for Blackburn's first CG win.

By the way, the two 2B Blackburn allowed both probably would have been caught by Span - Cuddyer's limited range was really on display today, though he certainly made up for it at the plate. This reminds me of the other little change I was happy to see today: Cuddyer hitting ahead of Crede. Cuddy's got .056 points of OBP on Crede - that alone makes the move a good decision. Never mind that he's also topping Crede in BA and SLG%, and they're now tied in HR.

Things are beginning to come together for the Twins - I can't wait to see what the offense can do once Span returns next week.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

4th Split: 8-8

Overall Record: 32-32
2nd in AL Central by 3 games

Other Splits: 7-9, 8-8, 9-7

The way things have gone for the Twins on the road this year, I shouldn't be too disappointed to see them finish a split with 12 road games at .500. It's just too bad that things fell apart on Thursday afternoon, or the Twins might already have a winning trip under their belt. Still, these last two weeks have been a return to the kind of baseball I'm used to seeing from the Twins: a lot of 4-3 and 2-1 games with Joe Nathan collecting 7 of his 15 saves.

After putting up 105 runs over the previous 16 games, the Twins managed just 61 R in this split. Brendan Harris added his name to the short list of productive Twins hitters, going .356/.415/.508 over this stretch. But nagging injuries to Denard Span, Michael Cuddyer and Joe Crede left the lineup awfully limp for a few games. Add in the occasional 0-fers from Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, and it shouldn't come as a surprise that the Twins failed to score even 4 R in 11 of the last 16 games.

Luckily, the pitching has officially come together, so 3 or fewer runs was good enough to win 3 games over this span. Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano both delivered QS in their last 2 outings. Nick Blackburn continued to pace the staff with 21 IP over his 3 starts with just 6 ER allowed. Anthony Swarzak had a couple of short outings, but really only had 2 bad innings out of 20.2 IP. Matt Guerrier and Jose Mijares have solidified themselves as the late-inning guys, combining with Nathan to allow only one ER in 16.2 IP. They have been used frequently, but for short stints, so hopefully they'll hold up as the summer moves along.

The defense continues to help the cause, committing just 4 errors, though there were some plays that weren't made that didn't cost a player an E. It seems like half of those came from the recently demoted Alexi Casilla, who is still young enough for there to be hope that he'll learn to keep his head in the game from start to finish. It was a little nerve-racking to see an outfield alignment of Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer and Delmon Young out there for a few innings when Span went down, but they seemed to get away with it.

The next split includes another 11 road games, so the Twins will have to keep working to improve their performance away from the Dome. However, 13 of the next 17 are interleague games, the part of the schedule in which the Twins have put the pedal down and left their season-opening mediocrity behind them in recent years. Since 2006, the Twins are 46-13 against NL teams, including their 5-0 record so far this year. Keep that up, and things should be a bit tighter when the Twins face the Tigers in early July.

Bold Prediction: The Twins will be healthily over .500 by the mid-point of the season.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Catching Up

A lot has gone on since my last post, so I'll try to hit the highlights quickly:

Despite allowing just 7 R in 28 IP vs. the Mariners, the Twins dropped 2 out of 3 games, thanks to scoring only 5 R themselves. That can happen when Denard Span, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau combine for just a handful of hits in the series and the rest of the lineup is weak.

Another tough outing for Anthony Swarzak as he lost all control on Monday night in Oakland. Meanwhile, Glen Perkins pitched 7 shutout innings in his last rehab start with Fort Myers, so it's a foregone conclusion that he'll be recalled next week. However, since Perkins' scheduled game was rained out on Monday, it looks like Swarzak will get one more chance on Saturday against the Cubs. I'm sure he'll fare better than he has in his last 2 outings. Either way, I don't think it's been any worse a first stint in the Majors than what Kevin Slowey was able to do in June of 2007, and he's turned out OK.

Alexi Casilla has surely banished himself to the minors again with his shaky fielding in Tuesday night's horrible 9th inning. It makes more sense for him to get regular playing time in Rochester and have Matt Tolbert be the bench guy when Nick Punto returns on Friday anyway. It looks as though Punto will slide over to 2B in order to keep Brendan Harris' bat in the lineup. It should be an upgrade over Casilla or Tolbert, so I guess we can live the limited range.

I hope Span isn't out too long with his dizziness. There is no obvious replacement for him at the top of the lineup.

Carlos Gutierrez was promoted to New Britain last week, the third high-profile promotion within the system after Rob Delaney and Steve Tolleson moved up to Rochester. There are still others that need to move, however: Anthony Slama and Danny Valencia ought to get the call to AAA, and Spencer Steedley and Joe Testa should advance a level as well. A lot of these names are relievers who are old for their levels - they ought to be placed in a league that challenges them, moving through the system more aggressively than some of the younger guys.

There is a dearth of middle-infield depth in the Twins' system, especially at SS, but the Twins used their 4 early-round draft picks on college pitchers. Most analysts were keen on the picks, particularly first-rounder Kyle Gibson, a top-10 (if not top-5) talent who slid to #22 because of a stress fracture in his forearm that cost him significant velocity in his final college starts. The Twins' doctors believe that he will make a full recovery in just a few weeks. (Of course, they also didn't initially think that Francisco Liriano or Pat Neshek would need surgery, and look what happened there.) Still, if all goes well, the Twins could wind up with the steal of the first round. The other guys have the potential to move quickly through the system. And the Twins drafted plenty of MI on day 2, including Gopher 2B Derek McCallum.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Notes on the Cleveland Series

Twins 4, Indians 3
Indians 10, Twins 1
Twins 11, Indians 3

Joe Mauer went 7-11 in this series with 2 BB, HR, 3 RBI and 5 R. It's amazing how routinely he makes solid contact. I can't help feeling like we're watching something very special with him this season.

Joe Nathan got his first 4-out save of the year on Tuesday - the first of 13 straight game days for the Twins. It worked here, and Gardy shouldn't be afraid to do this more going forward.

Anthony Swarzak's rough 3rd inning on Wednesday doesn't trouble me in the least. It was reminiscent of Liriano's outing last Saturday, and any number of Scott Baker's earlier outings. He just failed to scatter the hits he allowed. Had they all been screaming line drives to the gaps, that might have been cause for concern. But most of them were chip shots just over the infield. Out of 21 batters faced, Swarzak gave up about 3 hard hit balls.

Glen Perkins, meanwhile, allowed 3 ER on 2 HR in 4 IP during his first rehab start at Fort Myers. Doesn't sound like the problem has been corrected quite yet.

I think it would be fair to say that Cliff Lee is a far better pitcher than Carlos Gomez is a hitter. Doesn't it show poor character when someone taunts their inferiors? Why should it bother Lee if Gomez wants to get himself out hitting a 2-strike bunt foul? Shrug your shoulders, shut up and pitch.

Just when it looked like the Twins might finally get to Lee after the 7th started with back-to-back singles from Jason Kubel and Brendan Harris, there was Delmon Young to promptly deflate the rally by grounding weakly into a DP on the first pitch. Over his last 10 games, he's 4 for 37 with 0 XBH, 1 BB and 20 K. As he hit into the DP, I yelled, "You're worthless!" at the screen. But that's actually giving him too much credit. Worthless implies he's not helping the team. Not only is he not helping, he's hurting. I hope they find a way not to play him.

Thursday afternoon's game encapsulated the season in a couple of interesting ways. First, the top 5 hitters of the order, Denard Span, Mauer, Justin Morneau, Kubel and Joe Crede, collected 11 of the Twins' 13 H, scored all 11 R, and drove in all 11 RBI. The bottom of the lineup went 2 for 17.

Second, check out Scott Baker's opponents' numbers over the course of the game: .000/.111/.000 the first time through the order, .222/.222/.444 the second time through, then .444/.444/.777 the third time through. He got away with only 2 ER in 7 IP and a season-high 10 K, so it was really a good start. But he's still got some work to do in the later innings.

The Twins play in Seattle tonight, the site of some of last season's greatest horrors in August. Currently, Adrian Beltre is hitting .244/.275/.355 with 4 HR, and Ken Griffey Jr. is hitting .223/.333/.403. Let's try not to let these mediocre hitters beat us again, OK?

Monday, June 1, 2009

May Review

Twins' Record: 14-16
Overall Record: 25-27, 3rd in AL Central 4.5 games back

In more than 20 years of following the Twins, I've never seen a month like this. They suddenly turned into the Rangers, maybe even the Yankees, at the plate. Looking at the AL team batting stats for the month, the Twins are in the top 3 in R, H, BA, OBP, SLG%, and HR! Yes, after accumulating just 111 HR in all of 2008, the Twins sent 41 balls over the fence in their 30 May games, putting them on pace to finish the season with 178 long balls. With the pitching improving to the middle of the pack, and the defense still leading the league in fewest errors and unearned runs, the Twins were able to outscore their opponents 168-138.

And yet, that didn't translate into a winning month. Despite all of the hitting, there were too many men left on base. For all the HR, too many came with no one on base. The pitching improved, but still let the team down in key situations. And, as we saw on Saturday in Tampa, there's more to good defense than just avoiding errors. As they seemed to do routinely late last season, the Twins would follow narrow, agonizing losses with emphatic wins, inflating their run differential without doing much for their record. The textbook definition of this phenomenon is their lone win on the 7-game road trip to NY and Chicago, a 20-1 affair that enabled them to come home having scored more runs than they'd allowed despite a 1-6 record.

The road seems to be the trouble - so far the Twins are just 6-16 away from the Dome. That ugly winning percentage will have to change in a hurry, as the Twins play 18 of their 27 games in June on the road. However, 9 of those games are inter-league, where the Twins have thrived in recent years, and 7 others are against the bottom-feeders of the AL West, Seattle and Oakland. That will be a welcome change after an exceedingly tough May schedule - the aggregate winning percentage of the teams the Twins faced this month was .528. In June, it will be .475.

This month is the time to make a move. The Twins have been able to put together fantastic Junes in recent years. If they keep swinging the way they did in May, while continuing to improve their pitching performance, we should see them easily over .500 when the month ends.

The grades will illustrate another remarkable feature of the Twins' performance this month: just how large the gap was between the guys who were playing well and the guys who weren't. We'll hope to see the guys who have been struggling start to rise up toward their expected levels as the stars inevitably slow down. Minimum 30 PA for hitters and 8 IP for pitchers.

Getting It Done

Joe Mauer - Ya think? .414/.500/.838 with a 16/19 K/BB ratio and 2 more HR than he hit in all of 2008. Now that he's been sensibly moved into the #2 spot in the order, it is much more difficult for opponents to avoid pitching to Justin Morneau with men on base.

Justin Morneau - He's no Joe Mauer, but .361/.459/.713 with 9 HR and 29 RBI isn't too shabby. After showing little patience in April, he evened his K/BB rate at 20/20 after Mauer's return. It's been amazing to watch those two hit consecutively.

Michael Cuddyer - This is why I didn't think the Twins needed to panic about finding a middle-of-the-order RH bat during the offseason. Not that I expect Cuddyer to hit .312/.395/.651 with 8 HR and 26 RBI every month. But added to his slow start in April, he's now on pace for a season of .276/.363/.514 with 27 HR and about 100 RBI - just about what he delivered in 2006, his last fully healthy season.

Joe Crede - This month was about the best we could hope for from Crede. A decent .265 BA, leading to a rather poor .311 OBP, but 6 HR and 3 2B cranked the SLG% up to .574. And the defense is still terrific. If only it weren't so hard to keep him on the field.

Jason Kubel - Mostly singles this month from Kubel, but enough of them to finish the month with a .329 BA. He's been striking out a little too often, however. I'd like to see him be more selective going forward - that will probably help him find pitches to drive.

Denard Span - With 5 guys behind him walloping the ball over the field, Span's job is simple: get on base. And that he did, with an OBP of .388 and 19/17 K/BB ratio. He's still a little too susceptible to the called strikeout over the inside corner, but otherwise he's showing no signs of dropping off from his excellent rookie campaign.

Mike Redmond - At his advanced age, I can't imagine Redmond doing any better than he did in May: .310/.333/.379 with 2 doubles.

Nick Blackburn - Leave it to the #4 starter to lead the rotation in IP and ERA for the month. After a lousy first start in Detroit (abetted by just as shaky defense) Blackburn finished at least 6 innings in his remaining 5 starts, leaving the game with the Twins leading or tied each time.

Kevin Slowey - After 2 dicey outings to begin the month, including a rain-shortened start in Baltimore, Slowey completed at least 6 IP with 2 of fewer ER allowed in his final 4 starts of the month. Overall, he had a typically outstanding 25/3 K/BB ratio.

Anthony Swarzak - Filling in for the injured (and struggling) Glen Perkins, Rochester's best pitcher (and one of the organization's top prospects) shut out the Brewers in his MLB debut, then matched Josh Beckett for 6 innings before taking a hard luck loss on Thursday. No need to rush back, Glen.

R.A. Dickey - Other than that disastrous outing vs. KC when he entered with the bases loaded and wasn't allowed to use his knuckler, Dickey has been money. He's done exactly what a long-reliever should, not only eating innings (4 or more IP in each of his last 3 appearances), but limiting any further damage (only 2 ER in his last 16.2 IP).

Joe Nathan - If only he could have that first night in NYC back, when he was touched for 3 ER on 3 H and 2 BB (one intentional) in 0.2 IP. However, in his other 12 appearances, he allowed 0 ER on only 6 H and 1 BB with 13 K in 11.2 IP. Nothing wrong with that.

Matt Guerrier - This month he was back to his old self. Though he allowed 3 solo HR in the first half of the month, he only gave up one other run in the remainder of his appearances, finishing May with a 2.40 ERA and 0.73 WHIP in 15 IP.

Jose Mijares - There weren't too many 1-2-3 innings for Mijares this month, but he's been very good at pitching his way out of jams once he lets men on base. Too bad we can't take back the HR he served up to Ken Griffey Jr. that cost the Twins a win.

So Far, So Good

Luis Ayala - He's been even more prone to allow baserunners than Mijares, but in recent outings has done nearly as good a job leaving them on base. I'd still be nervous going to him with the game on the line, but I don't despair when he takes the mound like I did last month.

Need To Pick It Up

Brendan Harris - He's going to get his share of playing time with Nick Punto on the DL, so he's going to need to improve on his .238/.297/.369 line from May. I still notice an immediate drop off in defensive range when he's at SS.

Carlos Gomez - He hasn't been playing every day, and you can't say he deserves to based on his .237/.303/.322 line. He isn't bunting, he isn't stealing bases. However, the CF defense is phenomenal, and he managed to lower his K/BB ratio to 12/5. All of that makes him a much better candidate for more playing time than...

Delmon Young - In fairness to Young, he was at least hitting for a pretty good average before he missed about 1/3 of the month to be with his family for his mother's death and burial. Since returning, he hasn't had a clue at the plate, and overall, he still had 0 XBH in 55 AB with a 22/3 K/BB ratio. Add to that the fact that he often turns fly-outs into doubles in the field, and we're probably looking at the least valuable player on the team.

Matt Tolbert - When he was called up, I said he probably couldn't do worse than Alexi Casilla, who had about a .475 OPS at the time. I guess he's technically been an upgrade, hitting .189/.265/.257 for a .522 OPS. His greatest contribution to the team may be that he finally forced Gardy to move Mauer up to the #2 slot in the batting order.

Brian Buscher - There is an incremental acceleration in the game between AAA and the Majors, and so far I'm not sure that Buscher, who was a dominant hitter at Rochester, has that extra gear. He's just a little late on fastballs in the zone, he's just tentative enough in the field to turn outs into base hits. I wish there were somebody at Rochester who could do the job better, but I don't see it right now.

Nick Punto - Even 2007 was better than this. While he's been a pretty reliable glove at SS, and he's done a good job of working counts (11/9 K/BB ratio), he just can't seem to square the ball up when he puts it in play. .152/.244/.182 is impossible to live with, even from your #9 hitter.

Scott Baker - He's getting closer to form, as evidenced by his 1.11 WHIP and 27/6 K/BB ratio in 38 IP. But he hasn't been able to scatter his hits, as we saw when his 5-6 inning gems vs. KC and Detroit turned into 5 ER outings with shocking quickness. And he's still giving up way too many HR, 2 each in his last 3 starts.

Francisco Liriano - Also can't avoid the big inning. He brought a lot of it on himself by walking 17 batters in 30.1 IP. Though he's lasted just 4 IP in 3 straight starts, I was encouraged by his last outing in Tampa. Yes, he allowed 4 ER in a grueling 47 pitch inning, but he got grounders with men on base, and there were hardly any hard-hit balls against him.

Glen Perkins - As good as he was in April, he was bad in May, serving up 6 HR in 18 IP with a 10.00 ERA and 1.83 WHIP. I hope the shoulder trouble that sent him to the DL was the problem and that he'll be an 8 IP pitcher again when he returns. But I'm not shipping Swarzak out to make room for him either, and the bullpen doesn't seem like an awful alternative.

Jesse Crain - In a brutal 5-game sequence this month, Crain allowed an ER in each outing, totaling 6 ER in just 3 IP and taking 2 losses, bailed out of a 3rd by Joe Crede's walk-off Grand Slam. He looks like a shell of the confident pitcher we saw in spring training and the first half of April.

Craig Breslow - His April funk spilled over into May, as he continued to serve up BB and HR at an unprecedented pace. Reeling from their taxing series vs. the Yankees, the Twins called up Sean Henn when Perkins went on the DL, necessitating another move when Swarzak was called up to fill the rotation hole. They opted to put Breslow on waivers, where he was promptly claimed by Oakland. Since then he's allowed 2 ER on 3 H and 1 BB with 7 K in 6.2 IP. Whoops!