Sunday, April 11, 2010

Nip and Tuck

Twins 4, White Sox 3 (11 innings)

What a weird start to this game. Denard Span, Orlando Hudson and JJ Hardy singled to load the bases. Then Justin Morneau struck out, Michael Cuddyer popped up to RF and Hudson had a brain fart, and the inning was over with no damage done. The Twins wouldn't seriously threaten John Danks again until the 6th. Never mind Hudson - why was Span held up at 3rd on Hardy's hit? He's about the fastest guy on the team, and Juan Pierre has a weak arm in LF. The ball was grounded through the IF, Span got a decent jump, yet he was held up even though he was reaching 3B just as Pierre fielded the ball. Bases loaded, no outs, middle of the order coming up is certainly a likely run-scoring opportunity, but so is fast guy on 2nd, ground ball single to the weakest arm in the OF. If they'd played as aggressively in the 1st inning of the series as they did in the last, they might not have needed 11 innings to win on Friday.

Francisco Liriano really disappointed me, even though he threw a QS and came one pitch short of finishing 6 IP with only 1 R allowed on 91 pitches. He allowed only 4 H, and one of them was a squib job up the 1B line in which the batter reached because Liriano slipped while attempting to field the ball. The fatal 2-RBI 2B from Alex Rios came on a good changeup down and away - you don't want to get beaten on your 3rd-best pitch in that situation, but I can't fault the execution of it. Rios just went down and got it. Liriano's fastball velocity was frequently touching 94-95 mph. But 5 BB and only 3 K. Ick. Bright side: he threw 20 balls to the 5 guys he walked, but he threw just 16 to the other 20 hitters he faced in the game. A 56-36 strike-to-ball ratio will rarely lead to that many walks. I'm not comfortable with him yet, but I'm still optimistic.

How did you like having Drew Butera behind the plate and Joe Mauer on the bench? Hardy did fine from the #3 spot, but Butera was utterly worthless hitting 9th, going 0-3 with 3 K. Gardy wisely had Mauer pinch-hit in the 11th, and he promptly drew a BB and eventually scored the deciding run. I know the Sox will try to run on Jose Morales once he comes off the DL, but the way he hits (especially against them), it will be worth it.

Twins 2, White Sox 1

This reminded me of the game from back in 2005 when Freddie Garcia took a perfect game into the 8th inning only to allow a solo HR to Jacque Jones. Johan Santana and Joe Nathan combined for a shutout on the other side, and the Twins won 1-0 despite having just 1 H in the game. It wasn't quite that dramatic on Saturday, but Jason Kubel's 2-run HR in the 7th was just the 3rd H Garcia allowed, and it accounted for the only runs of the game for the Twins.

It was enough because the real Scott Baker showed up: 7 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 K. He pitched deep into the game, allowed minimal baserunners, and always seemed to be in control. That's the guy who earned the opening day start. Jon Rauch picked up his 4th save in 5 days. I bet nobody guessed he'd be tested so extensively so early.

Twins 4, White Sox 5

Despite some early troubles, Mark Buehrle and Nick Blackburn each managed to hang around into the 8th inning. Between them, they walked 3 and struck out 1. A pitcher probably takes his lumps on balls in play in a game like that, but it's a really efficient way to pitch a game. I'd like to see the Twins win a game in which they score 4 early runs off Buehrle, but Blackburn had the 5th start of his career in which he allowed 3 or more HR. 5 out of 68 - they are rare indeed - but the 3 HR accounted for all 4 Sox runs heading into the bottom of the 8th.

A couple of curious non-moves happened (didn't happen?) in the endgame. Blackburn quickly retired the first 2 batters of the 8th, then gave up a groundball single to Carlos Quentin. With the RH hitting Paul Konerko heading to the batters box and Blackburn's pitch count still in the 90s, Gardy was right to leave him out there. Konerko also bounced a single, bringing lefty Mark Kotsay to the plate. Gardy brought Jose Mijares in to face him. So far, so good. Ozzie Guillen countered with Andruw Jones, a RH hitter. Gardy elected to let Mijares face him, and Jones singled on a 2-2 pitch to bring home the deciding run. Gardy then brought in Matt Guerrier to face Rios. Now I'm confused. If Guerrier was going to come in to face the next batter anyway, why did Gardy have Mijares face Jones with the game on the line? It didn't put his pitcher, or the team, in the best position to succeed.

In the 9th, now trailing by a run, the Twins had Michael Cuddyer, Young, Hardy and DH Brendan Harris scheduled to hit. Kubel pinch-hit for Young - obvious, perfect. He and Cuddyer were retired, but Hardy reached on a single. Jim Thome came in to pinch-hit for Harris - exactly right, a no-brainer. And Alexi Casilla came in to run for Hardy. Wait, no he didn't. The Twins were down to their last out, the tying run was on 1st, a hitter with extra-base power was at the plate - shouldn't the fastest available bench player come on to replace Hardy, who has merely average speed? Especially when Casilla could easily take over at SS in the happy event that the Twins could tie the game? Thome drove the ball to the wall in left center, and Hardy was thrown out at the plate by such a large margin that I can't reasonably say that Casilla would have made it, either. But it would have been a lot closer.

Other notes:

  • Young drew his first walk of the season off Buehrle. He has a 2/1 K/BB ratio through his first 21 PA, 2 HR and a SB. Tiny, insignificant sample size. But still the trend you want to see.
  • Kubel hit just .178 this week, but still has a .364 OBP thanks to 5 BB.
  • Young's throw attempting to cut down the go-ahead run on Sunday hit Quentin in the leg for the Twins' first E of the season. You have to score that as an error, but it isn't really a mistake. The defense has had a wonderfully steady week.
  • The non-Mijares members of the bullpen are off to a great start. Rauch has the weakest numbers of the bunch: 2.25 ERA, 1.25 WHIP. The bullpen is a strength.
  • In his first 4 games with the Red Wings, Danny Valencia has drawn 2 BB and hasn't struck out. Some early support for the theory that he will add significantly to his IsoD this spring, as he has in each of the previous 2 springs.

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