Friday, May 21, 2010

Walking Shoes

Twins 2, Red Sox 3
Twins 2, Red Sox 6

I'm going to talk about these games together since they were so similar. The only glaring difference between them was the starting pitching performances from the Twins. Scott Baker made a crucial mistake to David Ortiz - after seeing him swing through 3 high fastballs on the inner half between his first 2 PA, I don't understand why he got a pitch down and away to drive - and had some trouble getting the last out of the 6th, but it was still a QS with only 1 BB and 1 XBH allowed.

Francisco Liriano had his first bad game of the season. He failed to complete at least 6 IP for the first time, and walked 3. It's not so bad to allow 5 H in 4.2 IP, but when 3 of them are 2B and 2 are HR, that's not so good, either. Those were the first HR Liriano has given up this season. Even so, he struck out 6, and his peripherals for the season as a whole are all right where I'd like them to be. Like Carl Pavano, he's had 6 QS in 8 tries, and that's really all you can ask of a major league SP. And Liriano's bad game wasn't nearly as bad as Pavano's.

What was painfully similar about the two games of this series was the effort put forward by the Twins' offense. Credit is certainly due to Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester, a pair of top-notch young SP who have each pitched no-hitters already in their brief big league careers. But the Twins couldn't have made things easier for them.

When I mentioned this series in my last post, I noted that the Sox' staff had been beaten up in the Yankees series, and that it would therefore be a good tactic for the Twins to try to get into their beleaguered bullpen as early as possible. The Twins should bring their walking shoes, I said. Well, if they brought them, they didn't put them on. The Twins, entering the series tied for the most walks in the AL, facing a pair of starters who came into the game with over 4 BB/9, proceeded to draw exactly 1 BB in 17 innings against them.

Now, it isn't easy to make a good pitcher who's having a good night throw a lot of pitches. But the Yankees manage to do it just about every time out against the Red Sox. What I saw against Buchholz from the Twins was a lot of take the first pitch but hack at the second pitch. If that 2nd pitch isn't in the zone, you just helped Buchholz out. That doesn't happen if the game plan is for everybody to take 2 strikes. With the pattern I saw from Buchholz, rarely throwing consecutive pitches over the plate, the Twins may still have struggled against him, but nearly every PA would have resulted in a deep count, and he would have reached the 100 pitch mark well before the last pitch of the 8th inning.

In fact, as poorly as things went for the Twins, Buchholz was still at about 70 pitches through 4.2 IP. That's not a taxing pitch count, but it's not too bad, especially considering that Buchholz was abetted by a line-out DP, a bad pickoff call at 1B, and a terrible called K of Justin Morneau in which strikes 2 and 3 were both substantially off the plate. However, from the time Brendan Harris grounded out on the first pitch to end the 5th to Denard Span's leadoff IF single in the 9th that "chased" him, Buchholz only had to throw 30 pitches to get 10 outs. In 6 of those 11 PA the Twins put the ball in play on either the 1st or 2nd pitch. That's no way to run up a pitch count and get to the bullpen.

With Lester on Thursday it was even worse. He didn't walk a soul, and started the 9th inning with his pitch count at 84. Joe Mauer and Orlando Hudson each grounded out on the 1st pitch twice. Yes, Lester had great stuff. But the Twins didn't give him an opportunity to make a mistake. They were far too eager to swing early and hit his pitch.

Again, what galls me about this offensive (lack of) performance is that it was exactly the opposite of what the Twins should have been attempting to achieve given the context of what had just happened to the Sox in the Bronx. The Twins don't have the discipline to sacrifice AB early and throughout the game for the larger purpose of grinding down a pitcher. That's something they'll have to learn to do if they ever hope to abuse the Red Sox the way the Yankees do.

  • Jeff Manship came on in relief of Liriano in the 5th inning. A SP with the Red Wings, he was called up to face all of 5 batters before being sent back to Rochester after the game. Wouldn't that have been an ideal situation in which to give Rob Delaney his first MLB cameo? A short stint out of the 'pen - just what he's used to in AAA - in a low-leverage situation. Again, I wonder, what has that guy got to do to get a little respect around here?
  • Manship's spot will be taken by Trevor Plouffe, who will get to play SS this weekend while JJ Hardy continues to recover from his wrist injury. This is what the Twins should have done last week rather than bring up Matt Tolbert. Congratulations to Plouffe, who has been hitting very well at Rochester since last July. It's nice to see somebody with some upside get a look.

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