Friday, April 9, 2010

SoCal Series

Twins 3, Angels 6

Were you frustrated at the end of this game? I was. It felt too similar to the futile portions of 2009 (you know, April-early September). Scott Baker was still unable to pitch deep into the game, the bullpen served up a couple of HR, the offense couldn't quite string enough hits together to get a lead.

But I took a step back, since it's only one game. It really was very close to being a good one for the Twins. Baker's BBs to 2 of the first 3 hitters could be forgiven as opening day jitters. They both scored on 2-out singles, but he was pretty good after that. The HR he allowed in the 2nd was on a decent pitch, and it only cleared the wall by a foot or so. The bullpen was good outside of 2 flat breaking balls from Jose Mijares.

The Twins didn't quite get the bounces. Orlando Hudson's 2B came about a foot short of being a HR - that could have been another run. The 1st pitch to Delmon Young with the bases loaded in the 6th bounced well in front of the plate, but C Jeff Mathis threw his shin guard at it and stopped it cold - that easily could have been a WP and another run. Justin Morneau lined out to 1B to leave the bases loaded in the 7th - a bullet like that hit a few feet to either side could have brought in 1-3 runs. Some nights things just don't go your way - the Twins will play games like that at least every other week all season long.

Twins 5, Angels 3

Like Baker, Nick Blackburn had opening night jitters, walking the first 2 batters he faced. After that, he was typical Blackurn: 6.2 IP, 8 H, 3 ER, HR, 2 BB, 4 K the rest of the way. Lots of baserunners, but only 2 XBH, 11 ground ball outs, and he was stingy with RISP. I was amused to discover that his ERA after this game is 4.05 - essentially identical to where he finished up in each of the last 2 seasons.

The Twins still have a powerful lineup. Great to see Morneau hit a HR so early in the season after he scuffled the last couple weeks of spring training. It was important for JJ Hardy to get off to a fast start after his struggles last year - he's well on his way to resuming his power pace from 2007 and 2008.

The bullpen combo of Brian Duensing, Matt Guerrier and Jon Rauch threw 2.1 perfect IP. Rauch had 2 K in his first save opportunity. Joe Nathan couldn't have done any better.

Twins 4, Angels 2

Another strong all-around game from the pitching staff. Carl Pavano led the way with 1 ER in 7 IP. He allowed just 7 baserunners, 1 2B, and struck out 6.

Morneau and Hardy each homered for the 2nd straight game. Nick Punto got it going offensively with a 3B and a SB. Mike Napoli, though a better hitter than Mathis, clearly gives a lot away defensively behind the plate, as Cuddyer was also able to steal a base. Hardy made a sick play deep in the hole in the 9th inning to highlight another night of steady defense.

Rauch was touched for a run with 2 out in the 9th. He has apparently studied at the Fernando Rodney school for closers: give up your runs in the games where you have a 3-run lead.

Twins 10, Angels 1

I was disappointed that Kevin Slowey wasn't able to go deeper into the game, but once again the bullpen showed up, allowing just 1 H over 3.1 IP. For his first game back since last summer, it was a good enough showing, and his run support picked up right where it left off.

So much power! Brendan Harris and Jim Thome hit their first HR of the year, and defensive replacement (yes, you're reading that right) Delmon Young hit his 2nd. Young is still swinging early in the count, but he's at least looking for something offspeed: it was a changeup the he walloped in the 9th last night. After 10 scoreless IP to begin the season, I had a feeling the Twins would get to the Angels' bullpen in the finale. I think 7 ER in 3 IP qualifies.

What a start to the season, winning 3 of 4 from a playoff team on the road. The White Sox offense was pretty anemic against Cleveland's less than stellar pitching staff, so I'm hopeful that the Twins can pull off a series win in Chicago this weekend and come into the Target Field opener with at least a 5-2 record.

Notes from the first week:

  • The Twins didn't get an RBI hit with RISP until Jason Kubel's 5th inning single on Thursday. All their runs in the first 3 games scored on HR or SF.
  • Impressive that the Twins were able to win this series while getting such poor production out of their table-setters. Denard Span and Hudson combined to go 4-33 with 1 BB and HBP (.167 OBP). Just goes to show that this lineup can score runs in lots of different ways.
  • Hudson took quite a beating during the series. He was beaned in the kneecap, fouled a ball into his wrist, took a hard slide at 2B, and finally came out of the game late Thursday after wrenching his neck on a head-first slide of his own. I'm guessing he'll get tonight off.
  • That neck-wrenching slide came on a 2B off the glove of Howie Kendrick into short CF. Hudson legged that out, but laid back on his 1st inning hit that Torii Hunter cut off in the right-CF gap. Jim Thome later legged out a 2B on a ball hit to basically the identical spot. I know you don't want to give away outs in front of Mauer, but Hudson needs to be going for 2 on balls like that. If he had, the Twins might have scored a run that inning.
  • Glad to see that the Twins finally pulled away enough on Thursday to give Alex Burnett a major-league debut in front of his family. I think he'll get one or two more appearances like that before heading to AAA to make room for Ron Mahay.
  • Erick Aybar looks like the player Alexi Casilla is supposed to be.
  • I have no words for this play.
  • Established closer Jose Valverde has already blown as many saves for the Tigers as Fernando Rodney did all of last year. This increases my satisfaction with Rauch - sure, he'll blow a few, but almost everyone does - and also solidifies my expectation that the Tigers will be lucky indeed to match last year's win total.
  • There has been a lot of talk since last season about shortening games. Fewer mound visits? Grant fewer timeouts? The Red Sox and Yankees are the worst culprits, and umpire Joe West called them out. But an umpire can do more than anyone else to increase the speed of the game simply by calling more strikes. I can't tell you how many times in each game of the Twins-Angels series, for each team, I saw a pitch called a ball and went, "Huh? Where did that miss?" If borderline pitches were inclined to be strikes, you'd get more pitcher's counts, more defensive swings, more Ks, fewer BBs, shorter PA, fewer hitters per game. I'll bet the umps could cut 30 minutes out of a game just by calling letter-high strikes. If the catcher doesn't have to lift his mitt above his head on a ball over the plate (unless it's Mauer catching and Dustin Pedroia batting), it should be a strike.
  • Shooter Hunt's line from opening night in Fort Myers: 0 IP, 1 H, 5 ER, HR, 3 BB, HBP, 0 K. That's HBP, BB, BB, WP to score a run, BB to reload the bases, GS. Still some work to do there, I'd say.

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