Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Great Outdoors

Twins 5, Red Sox 2

What a beautiful way to begin the Target Field era: mild spring weather, solid pitching, and a bunch of 2-out RBI hits. Carl Pavano has been stellar in his first 2 starts of the season, completing at least 6 IP in each with a 10/1 K/BB ratio and keeping the ball in the yard. Matt Guerrier continues to get quick outs. Jon Rauch is 5/5 in converting saves.

Not much has fallen in for Denard Span in the first 8 games of the season, but he can still draw walks and run around once he gets on base. Joe Mauer had 3 hits on the day, and Jason Kubel hit the first official Target Field HR.

Delmon Young probably should have caught David Ortiz' drive to the wall in the 4th inning. It's tough on an OF when you turn one way and then the wind pushes the ball back over your other shoulder. That and lack of familiarity with the rather wide warning track cost the Twins an out there. I'm not sure the 2009 version of Young even gets to that ball, though.

Twins 3, Red Sox 6

Kevin Slowey disappointed me again, though he managed to keep the Twins in the game. He couldn't get on the same page with Mauer, and ended up throwing 98 pitches through just 5 IP while walking 4. That's an unbelievably high number for him. Despite his fine spring, he doesn't quite look comfortable out there yet.

Still, the game was within reach until Jeremy Hermida cleared the bases with a 2-out liner to the gap in left-center in the 8th. Jesse Crain missed his spot - the pitch was down, but it was supposed to be on the outer part of the plate. Span's dive was futile, but exactly the all-out effort necessitated by the situation - that was the game. It's unfortunate that the double to Adrian Beltre was so perfectly placed down the 3B line. It was a crisp 2-hopper - just the speed to start a DP - but not where Punto could knock it down and just fair.

I was most impressed by how unfazed the Twins' offense was by the sudden 4-run deficit. Michael Cuddyer homered leading off the 8th. Jason Kubel lined out to the warning track on the next pitch. Then Young doubled off the wall in RF. With a slightly different defensive alignment from the Sox' OF, the Twins could have easily begun that inning with 3 ringing XBH, bringing the tying run to the plate with shocking quickness. It's an explosive, relentless lineup.

Twins 8, Red Sox 0

I am heavily invested in Francisco Liriano's success this season. As Nick Punto said, "That's our wild card. I feel like we'll be as strong as he is." Precisely. So his poor 3/5 K/BB ratio in his first start made me uncomfortable. Today was a little more friggin' like it. Liriano settled down after getting into jams in the 1st and 2nd, finishing with 7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 2 BB and 8 K. It'll take another outing like that to wash away the K/BB stain of his first game, but it's an awfully good feeling to see him put together a performance like that against one of the top teams in the league.

It took awhile, but the offense eventually figured out Tim Wakefield, smacking doubles all over the field and eventually touching him for 5 ER in 5.1 IP. Punto wound up 3 for 4 with 2 2B, raising his line to .269/.286/.423. Span doubled twice and has a .340 OBP despite only batting .189 so far.

I'm perplexed again by 3B coach Scott Ulger. Punto is really fast. Span lined a ball into the RF corner that went all the way to the wall. The Sox have to make 2 perfect throws totaling over 300 feet in order to throw out Punto at the plate. But Ulger had him throw on the breaks late, nearly catching Span between 2nd and 3rd. Span got back and Punto came home anyway, but I wonder why they don't stay aggressive there, particularly with the score already 5-0 in the 6th inning.

Other notes:

  • Alex Burnett finished the game on Wednesday, then was sent to Rochester to make room for Ron Mahay (Joe Nathan was placed on the 60-day DL to clear a spot on the 40-man roster), who finished Thursday's game. As a true LOOGY, Mahay should take a little pressure off Jose Mijares (who should be developing into a complete inning setup man) and Brian Duensing (who should mainly be used in long relief).
  • Span drew 5 BB in the series, including 4 on Wednesday.
  • Young also drew a walk in the series before smacking a couple of doubles the other way. He's started out .346/.379/.654 with 2 BB and just 3 K in his first 29 PA.
  • Kubel played LF on Thursday and made a nice diving catch behind Liriano.
  • Through 10 games, the worst OPS of the Twins' 3-7 hitters is Cuddyer's .878.
  • The Twins have committed just 1 error so far.
  • In 2009, the Twins didn't reach 4 games over .500 for the first time until September 19th. This year, they first hit that mark on April 10th.

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