Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Way the Ball Bounces

Twins 0, Orioles 2

Carl Pavano turned in his 5th QS in 6 GS. This one was perhaps even better than his CG loss to the Tigers last week. He cruised through another 8 IP, allowing 2 ER on 6 H, 3 BB (and it looked like he got squeezed on the 3-2 pitch to Wieters) and 8 K. He made just one mistake all night - a hanging slider to Ty Wigginton, one of the guys tied for 2nd in the AL in HR. Oops! Make that all alone in 2nd in the AL in HR.

The Twins failed to score 2 or more R in the 1st inning for the 1st time since they were shut out by Dontrelle Willis in Pavano's last start. That's a shame, because if they'd scored 2 R there (or anywhere), they wouldn't have lost the game. O's starter Brad Bergesen came into the game with a ghastly ERA. He's a Nick Blackburn, pitch-to-contact type, and so far had allowed a BABIP of around .400. Those things tend to even out. Bergesen didn't strike out a soul, allowing 27 of the 29 batters he faced to put the ball in play. Instead of getting 11 or 12 H, the Twins got just 6.

Denard Span's liner to CF to open the game was an omen of things to come. Not only did the Twins hit just about everything where it could be fielded, they hit more than their share straight to a defender. I mean, a coach with a fungo couldn't have hit easier grounders. Wigginton rates as a poor defender at 3B, which can't bode well for his range at 2B. It was barely tested. The only times the defenders had to move, it was with super-slow runners at the plate like Jim Thome or Wilson Ramos. An offense will run into games like this over the course of the season. You hate to see it on a night when Pavano pitched so well (now 2 straight starts with 0 run support!), but that's the way it goes sometimes.

Twins 3, Orioles 7

Friday night's game was called fairly early in the day, setting up a double-header on Saturday. I have to commend the Twins for making this decision in plenty of time to give everyone who works at the stadium or purchased a ticket an opportunity to change their Friday night and Saturday afternoon plans.

The bad BABIP karma continued for the Twins in the matinee, only now it was affecting the defense. Francisco Liriano didn't have his best stuff - lower velocity on the fastball, less break on the slider. That led to fewer swings and misses, and more balls in play. It could be that he was still weary from throwing 120+ pitches in his last outing, or it could be that he didn't have a good feel for his pitches in the cold. Whatever the problem, he still threw first-pitch strikes to 18 of 29 batters and allowed hardly any hard-hit balls. There were simply a couple of innings in which a ton of those flares and bleeders found holes. I get annoyed when lazy analysts look at the box score and say that Liriano got roughed up. Just because a team scores a bunch of runs doesn't mean they swung the bats well.

The Twins' offense was listless all day, with the exception of HR from Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer which accounted for all the runs. The hitters struck out 5 times against O's starter Jeremy Guthrie, and they drew just 1 BB. The lineup was reminiscent of early last year, when the bottom of the order couldn't hold a candle to the top. Ramos, Brendan Harris and Nick Punto combined to go 1 for 11 with a HBP. Orlando Hudson collected 3 H, including a 3B. The other guys didn't put up much of a fight.

Twins 6, Orioles 1

Eek, a losing streak! Enter 2nd-tier Ace Scott Baker. He allowed just 1 ER (a solo HR) on 3 H with 0 BB and 8 K in 8 IP. After a rather poor first month, he's off to a terrific start in May: 2 QS, 15 IP, 10 H, 4 ER, 1 HR, 2 BB, 14 K.

Delmon Young was the big hero on offense, going 3 for 4 with 2 2B, 2 R and 2 RBI. He picked the team up in the 6th after they failed once again with the bases loaded - Cuddyer's GIDP got the eventual winning run across, but that's not what you're hoping for when you start an inning with 3 baserunners. Young's 2-out knock made it a crooked number in the 6th, and his booming ground rule 2B to CF in the 8th made it a 3-run game.

After that, things took a turn for the surreal: Nick Punto was intentionally walked to load the bases for Alexi Casilla. Joe Mauer came out to PH, his first appearance in over a week. He struck out for the 2nd out. Drew Butera, playing in his first game since Ramos was brought up last Sunday, then delivered a 2-run single to put the game away. It was his 2nd hit this season, raising his BA to .118. I take that as a sign that the Twins' terrible fortune with the sacks full is about to change.

Twins 6, Orioles 0

What goes around, comes around, and the Twins got their payback for Thursday night in the finale. Nick Blackburn turned in just about exactly the same performance the O's got from Bergesen: 0 ER on just 4 H and 2 BB with 0 K. The Orioles hit .167 on balls in play, and all 4 H were singles. The O's aren't much of a hitting team so far this year, but it seems evident that the adjustment Blackburn made to his delivery during his recent time off has him back to being as good as a pitcher of his skills will allow.

The piranhas made a big comeback this afternoon. Hitters 8-2 in the lineup, Harris, Casilla, Span and Punto, began the day with a combined SLG% well under .350. On Sunday they went 10 for 15 with 2 2B, a 3B, all 6 R and all 6 RBI. The rest of the lineup combined to 2 for 19. Way to bunch those hits!

For the series, the Twins outscored the O's 15-10 and didn't commit an error. The offense didn't really show up until about halfway through the 3rd game, although some of that is understandable. They were without Joe Mauer and JJ Hardy, and those 2 add a lot. Obviously, you'd like to see the Twins win a home series against the worst team in the league. But they're still 5-2 on the home stand and on pace to win 106 games this season, so I'm not gonna get bent out of shape about it.

  • At the end of Saturday's game, Young's OPS was .800. I believe that's the first time he's gone to bed with that mark after any significant number of PA as a Twin.
  • The league appears to be catching up to Alex Burnett. Over his first 5 appearances spanning 7.1 IP, he allowed just 2 ER on 3 BB and 10 K. But he's allowed a R in each of his last 4 appearances: 6.1 IP, 5 ER, 7 BB and 5 K. It shouldn't surprise anyone. Burnett hasn't pitched at AAA yet, and is still only 22. He was called up in sort of an emergency situation, pitched well enough to stay for awhile, but now ought to head back to the minors to get the seasoning he needs to sustain MLB success. When he's recalled in September, he'll be the better for it.
  • To replace him, why not give a shot to Rob Delaney? He was impressive enough last year to earn a spot on the 40-man roster, but not enough to get much of a look in spring training. In 47.2 IP at Rochester last season, he kept his BAA about where it had been at AA, but saw a huge surge in his BB/9 and HR/9 and a dip in K/9. He's made the adjustment so far this year: in 19 IP, he's allowed just 17 baserunners, 1 HR, and has a 21/5 K/BB ratio. At 25, he's paid his minor league dues and is much more ready to be a steady big league contributor than Burnett.
  • The Rock Cats are having a miserable season so far, and this weekend really rubbed some salt in their wounds. They lost 2 straight games they were leading going into the 9th, one of which was the result of an error, then lost 2-1 on Sunday and dropped to 6-23. Keep your heads up, boys...
  • It was indeed Osterbrock who was promoted to A+. I hope there will be a series of SP promotions throughout the system, so the Red Wings can get rid of the filler they've got as 3/5 of their rotation. Yoslin Herrera, Glen Perkins and Charlie Zink have been horrendous, each with WHIPs north of 1.80. Surely there's somebody in New Britain who can do better than that.

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