Thursday, June 24, 2010

Doing the Little Things Wrong

Twins 5, Brewers 7

The Twins had the chance to begin this series just like the home series against the Brewers: with an insurmountable crooked number in the 1st inning. The first 6 batters reached, scoring 3 and leaving the bases loaded for Danny Valencia. I fear he may have punched his ticket back to Rochester when he popped up on the 1st pitch. Chris Narveson had already walked 2, hit a batter, and gone to a few full counts, nearly 30 pitches into his outing without recording an out. He was utterly on the ropes, and there was no reason not to let the AB develop a little bit before swinging. Even Delmon Young took a pitch before lining his single to LF. Narveson was able to strike out Nick Punto and retire Scott Baker, and the Twins had to settle for 3. Valencia's rash AB sparked a string of 10 straight outs for Narveson, who was able to complete 5 IP.

Coming off one of the best starts of his career, Baker struggled to keep his pitches down. It finally caught up to him in the 4th, when the first 4 batters reached on 3 XBH. He couldn't quite escape without yielding a 2-out, RBI H to the pitcher just fair down the LF line. He allowed 1 more 2-out H in the 6th, leaving him with 5 ER on 9 H in 6 IP with 7 K. He's got to be more consistent if he's going to realize his potential as a top-of-the-rotation starter. Alex Burnett was touched for a HR for the 2nd time in 3 appearances, pushing his ERA over 3.00.

The Twins made it interesting in the 8th when Young delivered yet another big 2-run 2B. But the rally fizzled from there. The tying run came to the plate in the 9th, but Justin Morneau struck out to end the game.

Twins 3, Brewers 5

This was one of the worst all-around games of the season, though Francisco Liriano is largely blameless. He struck out 7 and allowed only 2 H that reached the OF in the air. His lone transgression was a 1-out BB to Rickie Weeks after he was ahead 0-2 - Liriano delivered 4 straight pitches up and away. Weeks immediately came around to score on a 2B past Michael Cuddyer, for the first time showing off his lack of range at 3B.

The problem in this game was the Twins' failure to convert ground balls into outs. The crucial 2-run rally in the 4th that put the Brewers ahead to stay started with a 2-strike bunt single from Carlos Gomez. Then an IF "H" to Punto that could have been called an out at 2B and could have been scored a FC. A soft single to RF, then a 2-out, ground ball single just past a diving Orlando Hudson to bring home 2 R.

In the 6th, Gardy made a decision I did not like: he pulled Liriano with 2 men on so that Jim Thome could PH. At that time, it was a 1-R game, Liriano had just struck out Ryan Braun and Casey McGehee, and he was at 77 pitches - likely on his way to 7 IP and another QS. The bullpen had thrown just 2 IP in the last 3 days, but the next 2 starters were the struggling Nick Blackburn and Kevin Slowey, who hasn't been reliable about pitching deep into games. To needlessly ask them to pick up 2 extra innings in this game didn't seem smart, especially since none of them are as good at pitching as Liriano. No, he wasn't going to continue that rally, but the Twins still had 3 more innings and at least one more trip through the order in front of them. Why go for broke so early?

The Twins gave away a R in the 7th when Brian Duensing walked 2 (1 intentional) and hit a batter around a failed GIDP chance thanks to an error from Punto. Braun hit with the bases loaded and beat out another potential DP to allow the 4th R to score. A 5th came home in the next inning, when Jeff Manship, the weakest pitcher on the staff, saw a walk come around to score on another 2-out H just past Cuddyer.

In the top of that inning, Young was on 1st with 2 out and the pitcher's spot due up. Gardy was forced to send up Matt Tolbert as the tying R, since Thome was already burned. Young took off for 2nd and was caught stealing to end the inning. About that:
  • It wasn't like Tolbert was going to hit into a DP with 2 out;
  • If Young scores on a single, the Twins are still behind;
  • If Tolbert makes the last out, Joe Mauer is guaranteed to hit in the 9th, and Morneau can hit as the tying run if anyone gets on;
  • By leaving the pitcher's spot standing at the plate, Young forced Gardy to replace another player (in this case, Punto), weakening his defense.
In short, I don't get it. Anyway, Tolbert walked leading off the 9th, getting Mauer to the plate with 2 out. He doubled, and Morneau once again came up as the tying run, and once again struck out to end the game.

Twins 0, Brewers 5

Now the Twins were in the position of having to beat the Brewers' best pitcher with Blackburn. No one would have beaten Yovanni Gallardo on this day, as he didn't allow a baserunner until the 6th and finished with a CG shutout with 12 K and 0 BB.

Blackburn didn't keep the Twins in the game for long. In the 3rd, he allowed the 1st 5 batters to reach on 2 2B, 2 HR and a BB. He is helpless when he doesn't get a low strike called early in the count. The Brewers appeared to be looking for the pitch down and away as well, jumping all over it for several sharp H. Blackburn was knocked out after 3.2 IP, allowing 5 ER on 6 H, 3 BB and 2 K. Much better than his last start, but still woefully bad.

Each Twins OF made an E in the series. They looked sloppy in the field and defensive on the mound. For me, this was the worst series of the season. It stings especially because it comes off the elation of the Phillies series, which might have propelled the Twins into a positive stretch that could have put some daylight between them and the Tigers and White Sox. Instead, they fell horribly flat. They've been milling around .500 for over 40 games now. I think it's time to shake things up.

  • The first order of business should be to take Blackburn out of the rotation. He hasn't been able to complete even 4 IP in 4 of his last 5 starts. His peripherals for those games have been disconcerting: 18.2 IP, 38 H, 6 HR, 9 BB, 9 K. It's nice to see the K/9 coming back into the mid 4.0's, but the HR and BB are a disturbing sign. More and more of the hits he's allowing have been screaming line drives. The guy needs to work on some things, and the rotation of a contending team isn't the place to do it.
  • Due to the excellent work he did in the rotation in the 2nd half last year and his strong performance out of the bullpen this year, Brian Duensing should be given the opportunity to take Blackburn's spot. His mop-up job this afternoon (3.1 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 3 K) got him up to 47 pitches. Give him the start against the Tigers next Tuesday with a 60-65 pitch count. With Liriano pitching the night before, the bullpen should be reasonably well-rested and able to pick up whatever innings Duensing leaves them. He could be stretched out to 100 pitches by the start of the 2nd half.
  • Pat Neshek gave up a bunch of runs last night, but a couple of the hits were swinging bunts, and a couple more were grounders. Ugly numbers, but nothing to get too upset about.
  • You can get upset about Glen Perkins, though. He got torched again for 6 ER on 8 H and 4 BB in just 3.2 IP. In 14 GS for Rochester, he's at 66.2 IP, 98 H, 12 HR, 22 BB and 53 K, for an 8.10 ERA and 1.80 WHIP. He's absolutely done, and should be taken off the 40-man roster immediately. Make a little room for Anthony Slama - somebody the Twins might be able to use this year.

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