Thursday, April 29, 2010

Defense Was the Difference

Twins 2, Tigers 0

Francisco Liriano's resurgence continued with 8 more scoreless IP, with just 4 H, 1 BB and 10 K. He's now thrown 23 straight scoreless innings and has retaken his place as not only the Twins' best starter, but one of the best in baseball. Jon Rauch pitched around a leadoff walk in the 9th thanks to a fine play by JJ Hardy at deep SS to get a force at 2B.

Nearly as effective as Liriano, though not remotely as efficient, was Tigers' ace Justin Verlander. He also allowed just 4 H and 0 ER, but was driven from the game in the 6th after throwing 121 pitches - 9 more than Liriano threw in his 8 IP. The Twins offense turned the walk machine on against the Tigers' bullpen, drawing 4 more BB to go with just 1 H.

The only runs in the game scored on errors by the Tigers. A would-be inning ending flyball was dropped in the gap LF Ryan Raburn allowing the first run to score. The 2nd came in on an errant throw to 1st from 2B Scott Sizemore after he'd flagged down a Jim Thome grounder in short RF.

Twins 6, Tigers 11

I have to admit, I thought this one was in the bag after the Twins chased Detroit starter Max Scherzer from the game in the 4th inning. They were up 6-1 thanks to HRs from Thome and Luke Hughes (connecting in his first MLB PA) and some 2-out H from Denard Span and Orlando Hudson. With Scott Baker on the hill, things looked to be under control.

There's plenty of blame to go around for what followed, but I think the fundamental responsibility lies with Baker. He'd allowed 1 ER on 3 H to start the game, but got a big GIDP from Miguel Cabrera and got out of the 1st with no further damage. There were minor jams in the 2nd and 3rd, but nothing he couldn't handle. Then, with the game seemingly blown open, he began the 4th by falling behind Brandon Inge, then serving up a HR. He walked 2 other hitters in the inning, each of whom scored. Orlando Hudson wasn't able to start a DP on Johnny Damon's slow chopper, setting up an AB for Magglio Ordonez with 2 RISP and 1B open. I know it's tough to put somebody on in front of Cabrera, but Ordonez owns Baker to such a shocking degree that it probably would have been the right move. Ordonez delivered a 2-run single, of course, and the game was suddenly in doubt at 6-5.

The disastrous 6th inning hinged on a blown call by the umpires: Span made a running catch in left-center, but dropped the ball while trying to take it out of his glove. The umps ruled no catch, and there were again 2 RISP with 1 out, instead of a man on 1st with 2 out. A mistake by the umps, but Span could have made that easy on everybody by not dropping the ball. Anyway, the bullpen allowed the next 5 men to reach - a BB and HBP from Pat Neshek and then 3 straight 2B to greet Jesse Crain. Definitely the sort of breakdown the Twins had avoided up to that point.

Twins 0, Tigers 3

Dontrelle Willis was as good as he can be. He located well and took advantage of another generous (or appropriate, depending on how you look it at) strike zone. The Twins' lineup was depleted, with JJ Hardy and Justin Morneau resting little injuries and Joe Mauer finally getting another day off, just his 3rd in 22 games. Of course, he didn't really get a day off, because he pinch hit for Drew Butera in the 8th and caught the bottom half. I know Mauer is awesome and everything, but I doubt he has to PH there if it's Jose Morales or Wilson Ramos catching.

Carl Pavano was just about as good as Willis. The difference was what happened behind him. The Tigers promptly took the lead when leadoff man Austin Jackson singled and stole 2nd. Butera, heralded for his ability to throw out runners, threw the ball away, putting Jackson on 3rd, where he was able to score on a SF from Damon. The Tigers' 2nd R came when Jason Kubel couldn't come up with a diving catch on a liner. I like the effort, but it turned a single into a double, and from 2nd Sizemore was able to score on a soft single from Jackson. The 3rd R came when Delmon Young couldn't handle a short-hop as he charged a sinking liner with 2 out in the 8th. That's his best chance to keep the score at 2-0 with Ordonez off at the crack of the bat. Not an easy play, but one that, had it been made, would have given Young an excellent chance to nail Ordonez at the plate.

It took until April 29th for the Twins to suffer their first real setback of the season. They couldn't do what they had done in every previous series: match their weak hitting games to their weak pitching games. Baker's run support from Wednesday would have been plenty for Pavano today, and if you're going to give up 11 R, you might as well not score any. But there's no shame in losing a series on the road, particularly to a relatively strong team like the Tigers. They've just got to take care of business in Cleveland to come home with a winning trip.

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