Friday, July 9, 2010

Blue Jay Way

Twins 7, Blue Jays 6

My goodness, those Blue Jays like to swing for the fences. No matter the count, no matter the situation on the bases. No wonder they're leading the league in HR. And the ball was carrying extremely well in this series. Carl Pavano was able to get 11 ground ball outs, and was barely at 70 pitches starting the 7th inning, so aggressive were the Jays. Yet he was only ahead 6-5, because Toronto had ripped him for 5 ER on 5 XBH, including a pair of HR. Whoops, make that 3 HR, and Pavano came out of the game. Credit the bullpen for retiring 8 of the 9 batters they faced.

On this night, the Twins were able to match the Jays blow for blow. Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel and Joe Mauer all went yard, and Delmon Young was 3-3 with a 2B, BB and RBI. Perhaps the difference in the game was that the Twins pitchers didn't surrender a BB, but the Jays gave the Twins 6 free passes, including one to Denard Span with the bases loaded that tied the game in the top of the 6th. That rally was crucial, immediately answering the Jays' big inning against Pavano.

Twins 5, Jays 6

A fly ball pitcher, like Kevin Slowey, in that park, against that team, was perhaps not in a great position to succeed. I thought the lesson from the 1st game was pretty much to stay away from the middle of the plate and throw lots of offspeed stuff early in the count. Slowey did an OK job of that, also reaching the 7th inning. But he was tagged for 4 XBH, and every one led to a run: a solo HR in the 1st, a 1-out 2B in the 4th that scored on a 2-out, bloop single down the RF line, a 2-out, 2-run inside-the-park HR, and a 1-out 3B that chased Slowey and was promptly brought home on a SF.

The inside-the-parker was a tough play, precisely in the middle of Span and Young in left center. Had Span peeled off, I think Young might have been able to catch it - he looked like he might have been distracted at the last second by Span's feet flying at his face. Even if he'd missed it, with Span backing up it would have been just a 2B and, at most, only 1 R allowed. It was a game where it felt like all you had to do was put the ball in the air and something good was bound to happen for the offense. But, in this tough stretch the Twins are going through, it seems as though all sorts of balls are falling in for the opposition, and not quite as many for our guys.

They had their share, though, and it should have been enough to win: a 3B from Orlando Hudson, and HR from Hudson and Young. The Twins pecked away for runs in 4 straight innings, but the Jays always seemed to have an answer in the bottom half. This time it was the Twins who walked too many - only 2, but the 2nd came in front of Vernon Wells' 2-out drive off the wall in CF. That was surrendered by Matt Guerrier, who I'd say the Twins should make every effort not to use between now and the All-Star Break - he looks pretty fried right now.

Twins 1, Jays 8

Same problem for the Twins in this game as the last - fly ball pitcher. How to keep these hackers in the yard? Offspeed stuff, edges of the plate. But Scott Baker was touched for a HR on the game's 3rd pitch, with an 0-2 count. That fastball either needed to be higher or tighter. As it was, it was in the perfect spot for Fred Lewis to loft into the welcoming jet stream of Rogers Centre. He allowed another leadoff HR in the 2nd, but that was on a breaking ball heading through the bottom of the strike zone - I don't blame Baker for that as much as tip my cap to Adam Lind.

Baker eventually settled down and retired 12 of the last 13 men he faced. Unfortunately for him and the Twins, he started that string one batter too late. With the bases loaded, he served up a bases clearing 2B to the wall in right center. It was another 0-2 pitch, and on this one Baker missed his spot by almost 2 feet, delivering up and away instead of up and in. He made his worst pitch of the game at the worst possible time.

Still, he was totally in control after that, and had only thrown 91 pitches through 6 IP. Why lift him from the game there, with the bottom of the order coming up? Why make the bullpen do any more than necessary with an important series against the Tigers on the horizon? Alex Burnett came in and gave up HR to 2 of the first 3 guys he faced, and the game was out of reach. Ron Mahay was also touched for a HR in his inning of work.

The offense, resting Span, Jim Thome and a mildly concussed Morneau, put up no fight whatsoever. Michael Cuddyer finally hit a HR after more than a month since his last shot off Cliff Lee in Seattle. That was it.

I look forward to seeing the Blue Jays for the final series of the regular season at Target Field. We'll see how many opposite field HR Lyle Overbay can hit into Death Valley on a cool October night.

  • Span is hitting .276/.348/.376, compared to his career line of .297/.379/.407. Off year? Underperforming? His walk rate is slightly lower (10% vs. 11 % in 2008-2009). But, mostly, I think he's just been unlucky. How many liners has he hit this year that have gone straight into a pitcher's glove, or been snagged off the turf by a diving OF? I can think of at least 5 off the top of my head. If it's more like 7 or 8 (about 1 every other week), and even just one of them would have been a 2B (the Gabe Kapler robbery from last weekend comes to mind), he'd be at .296/.368/.403 - pretty darn close to where he's supposed to be.
  • Pavano vs. the Blue Jays: 5 IP/GS 10.45 ERA 1.74 WHIP 5 HR (4.4 HR/9)
  • Pavano vs. anyone else: 7 IP/GS 2.93 ERA 0.97 WHIP 9 HR (0.8 HR/9)
  • The Twins didn't get Cliff Lee. The Yankees reportedly offered Jesus Montero, Zach McAllister and David Adams, but were rebuffed. Montero is a stud bat, but has almost zero defensive value, something the Ms clearly prize. McAllister is a back end starter at AAA and Adams is a 23-year old 2B hitting decently at AA. The Rangers won the sweepstakes, getting Lee and injured P Mark Lowe (and a little cash) for 1B Justin Smoak, P Blake Beaven, P Josh Lueke and 2B Matthew Lawson. Smoak is a 5-star stud, Beaven is a back-end finesse guy at AA, Lueke is a 25-year old, high K/9 bullpen arm, and Lawson is a 24-year old at AA. The Twins didn't have an upper-level prospect of the caliber of Montero or Smoak. But the remainder of the package was well within their means - comparable players appear to be David Bromberg, Anthony Slama, Steve Singleton. If the Twins had been willing to pair Wilson Ramos and Ben Revere/Slowey/Brian Duensing with one of those guys, wouldn't that have been a better package?
  • Lee is off the market, but the Twins should still be urgently seeking to upgrade the rotation. The next best option would appear to be Houston ace Roy Oswalt. But he's a little on the old side (he turns 33 in August), has never pitched in the AL, will be owed over $5M for the remainder of 2010, $16M for 2011 and has a $16M option for 2012 with a $2M buyout. That's at least $23M plus some prospects to shell out for a guy who may not be as good in the DH league, and whose best years are probably behind him. Plus, he has a no trade clause, and has already indicated that he would a block a deal with the White Sox or Tigers.
  • If the Twins want to go after somebody who's under contract beyond 2010, they should Target Arizona's Dan Haren. He's 3 years younger than Oswalt, and has a track record of AL success from his Oakland days. He'll cost about $3M for the balance of 2010, then $12.75M for 2011 and 2012, with a $15.5M option for 2013 or $3.5M buyout. He'd be very expensive in terms of prospects, though. The Twins would certainly need to put 2 blue chippers in the package. But Arizona already has 2 good C under team control through 2012, so I don't know that they'd need Ramos. The Twins could easily part with Slowey if they could pencil Haren into the rotation for the next 3 seasons, but I don't think Slowey's fly ball tendencies would play very well in Arizona's home park. More likely, the Twins would have to get into Aaron Hicks/Joe Benson territory in order to acquire Haren, and I'd hate to have to go there.
  • Perhaps the best solution would be to talk to Seattle about Erik Bedard. He's been injured for most of the last 2 seasons, and was scratched from his scheduled 2010 debut on Tuesday. If he's healthy, he's got ace-caliber stuff, though he can't be counted upon to pitch too deeply into games. But he's on a little $1.5M make-good contract with an $8M option for 2011. With just a few weeks to prove himself before the trade deadline, it wouldn't take too much to pry him away from Seattle at this point - one decent prospect, I should think. Bedard has every incentive to try to prove himself and earn his option. He would be the cheapest option, and the upside could be as high as anyone else the Twins might acquire.

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