Friday, May 28, 2010

Reflections on Deflections

Twins 0, Yankees 1
Twins 2, Yankees 3
Twins 8, Yankees 2

Coming into the series, the Twins and Yankees were pretty evenly matched in terms of league stats. They were nearly side-by-side in the rankings for scoring, pitching and defense. Taken as a whole, compare what the two teams were able to do this week:
  • The Twins scored 10 runs, the Yankees 6.
  • Each team hit 2 HR.
  • The Twins had 3 SB, the Yankees 0.
  • Twins starters allowed 4 ER on 20 H and 3 BB in 19 IP. Yankees starters allowed 7 ER on 19 H and 5 BB in 18.2 IP.
  • Twins relievers allowed 2 ER on 5 H and 1 BB in 8 IP. Yankees relievers allowed 3 ER on 7 H and 5 BB in 7.1 IP.
  • The Twins turned 4 DP, the Yankees 6.
  • Each team committed 1 error.
It looks as though the Twins measured up just fine against the defending champs. (Perhaps the Yankees would have done more damage on offense if Jorge Posada and Curtis Granderson had been in the lineup. Or perhaps the Twins' pitching would have contained those guys as well.) So why didn't the Twins win the series?

It was perhaps more unfortunate for the Twins that Tuesday night's game was suspended due to rain, because the Twins were a lot closer to wearing down AJ Burnett than the Yanks were to wearing down Scott Baker. Then again, facing the Yankee bullpen in the 6th is an opportunity the Twins wouldn't have had without the rainout. And the Twins would have cashed in, except for this: Joe Mauer's leadoff liner struck the pitcher in the lower back and caromed high in the air, straight to A-Rod for an out.

Everything else in the series turned on that event. If that ball doesn't hit the pitcher, if it hits him and bounces before it reaches an infielder, if it hits him and deflects into foul territory (like a certain play from the first game in NY), Mauer reaches, and things are different. Let the rest of that inning play out exactly the way it did: Justin Morneau walks (Mauer to 2nd), Michael Cuddyer pops out (1 out), Jason Kubel doubles (Mauer scores), Delmon Young grounds out to deep short, Morneau scores (2 out). The bounce that liner took off the pitcher cost the Twins the 2 runs they needed to win the game.

Win that game and the Twins lose a squeaker late in game 2, then win emphatically in game 3, taking the series 2-1 and splitting the season series. What would everyone be saying about them then? This team is for real? It can keep up with the big boys? It's exorcised the demons that have plagued previous Ron Gardenhire teams?

The fundamentals of this team remain excellent. They are experiencing uncommonly bad luck while hitting with RISP, especially with the bases loaded. They are getting an unusually small number of HR out of their fly balls at Target Field. These things should even out if everyone remains patient. Meanwhile, are you going to let something as capricious as a deflection off a pitcher's backside color your opinion of what the 2010 Twins can be expected to accomplish? I'm not.

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