Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Missed Trip

Last Monday morning, I took my wife to the hospital for an induction - our OB was going on vacation on Wednesday, and you don't want to go the distance with one guy just to have his sub handle the most important part at the end. There was Wi-Fi in the Labor and Delivery ward, but somehow I never really got around to it.

Our son, Daniel, was born just after lunch on Tuesday. He was 10 pounds even. My wife pushed him out in 5 minutes with no drugs. She is Wonder Woman. Daniel has huge hands and a long frame. Scouts are already buzzing about how projectable he is. Fingers crossed that he turns out to be left handed.

There were Twins games. I only read the box scores and the write-ups. In short:

Twins 0, Rangers 4
Great job by Nick Blackburn: 7 IP, 8 H, 0 BB 5 K. 3 of the H didn't make it out of the IF, and he allowed only one XBH. That's the guy we all know and love.

And least it wasn't a no-hitter.

Not enough hitting, though still a game the Twins should have won - another ball dropped between OF, extending an inning in which the Rangers scored 2 with 2 out. A microcosm of Denard Span's difficult season: that OF miscue, plus an 0-4 that included a liner to the pitcher and a diving grab of a liner in CF. Not enough balls fall in when he's hitting, too many fall in when he's fielding.

Needed a big hit from Michael Cuddyer, Delmon Young or Jason Repko. Brian Duensing had a rare game in which he couldn't keep the ball in the yard.

Ah, there were the big hits from Cuddyer and Young. Superb start from Francisco Liriano: 7 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 6 K. Matt Guerrier still looks a little shaky.

Everybody hits! (Except Drew Butera.) Another QS from Scott Baker.

Nobody hits! But neither do the Mariners, as Nick Blackburn comes within 1 out of a 2 H CG shutout. That was 8.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 6 K. I could get used to that. Newly acquired LHP Brian Fuentes gets the save instead of Matt Capps.

Nobody hits! This time the Mariners bunch 3 of their 5 H together around some shaky defense by the Twins. Another very good start from Pavano wasted.

The Twins scored just 20 R in the 7 games of this trip. Like their week in the AL West in early June, they left their bats at home, yet still came back with 3 wins. Not too bad, considering.

The White Sox finished the week 3-3, meaning that the Twins gave back half a game in the standings, but reduced their magic number by 6 to 28 with 31 games to play.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

8th Split: 10-6

Overall Record: 74-55
1st in AL Central by 3.5 games

Other splits: 11-5, 10-6, 7-9, 9-7, 7-10, 7-9, 13-3

The Twins backed up their best split of the year with a very good one. More importantly, they took charge of the AL Central race, beating the White Sox 3 out of 5 times head to head, then outplaying them by another 1.5 games over the remainder of the split. They managed to do this despite being outscored by 10 R. This was made possible by a fortuitous distribution of their runs.

This was some of the Twins' weakest offensive production of the season. They averaged just 3.4 R/G. Even so, they were able to bunch some offense together in certain games. They scored 6 or more R six times, and won all of those games, including a couple of crucial 7-6 wins against the Sox. But they were held to 3 or fewer runs 7 times, 5 in the last 9 games. The magic pixie dust that covered the offense a couple of weeks ago has blown away.

It seems to have landed on the pitching staff, however. They allowed just 4.1 R/G. Throw out a couple of lopsided losses to the Sox and Angels, and it drops to 3.2 R/G. The Twins got a couple of outstanding starts from just about everybody in the rotation, including a shutout from Brian Duensing, a combined shutout started by Scott Baker, 7 hitless IP from Kevin Slowey, and another CG (loss) from Carl Pavano. Slowey was lost to the DL, but Nick Blackburn returned to control the Rangers for 7 IP in their home park. Only Glen Perkins stands out as consistently struggling.

The defense struggled mightily at times. That is reflected both in a rather high number of E (12) and unearned R (5), bringing the season totals to 54 and 23. But there are also still fly balls dropping between OF, DPs going unturned, low throws that Michael Cuddyer can't quite dig out of the dirt. After 80% of the season, I'm convinced that the OF defense anchored by Denard Span in CF and Delmon Young in LF is indeed a liability. Justin Morneau's glove is missed at 1B just as much as his bat in the cleanup spot.

With the Sox now in the rearview mirror, the Twins can control their own fate from here on out. Only 10 of their final 33 games are against winning teams. 19 of those games will be played at Target Field, where the Twins have a .645 winning percentage. If things continue the way they have up to this point, the Twins should finish up with 93 wins. Just to match that and force a 163rd game tie-breaker (in MN), the Sox would have to go 23-11 the rest of the way. Possible, but a tall order for any team.

Bold prediction: The Twins will average 5 R/G over this next split, and extend their lead over the Sox to at least 5 games.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Baby Watch

Twins 7, Angels 2

The due date for my 2nd child was Thursday. That took even my mind off baseball for most of the weekend. On Friday, my wife decided to go to the mall for one last pre-natal outing. We saw "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," which I thoroughly enjoyed. By the time we got back to the house at quarter after 7:00, this game was already just about over.

Brian Duensing seems to know what he's doing. Did he figure something out last year? Were his so-so numbers at AAA a fluke? We'll have to wait and see, but he's been a revelation in the rotation for 2 straight summers. He followed his 3-H shutout from last weekend with this line: 8 IP, 7 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 6 K. That brought his season ERA down to 1.92.

The offense came from a 2-out, 3-run HR from Jason Kubel, some hits strung together in the 4th, and a couple of SF. The pitchers worked quickly, the hitters put the ball in play - a tidy little well-played game.

Unlike this game. Angels starter Trevor Bell had no command. On top of that, umpire Jerry Layne had a rather small strike zone. Bell walked 3 in the bottom of the 1st, the first 2 scoring on Michael Cuddyer's 2-out single, and the 3rd moving Cuddyer into scoring position for Delmon Young. In keeping with a couple of the games from the White Sox series, that big 1st-inning lead was immediately given back by the Twins' starter. Kevin Slowey allowed all the hits he should have given up last Sunday in the 2nd inning. The Angels batted around and scored 4 times. Slowey would have to leave with a sore triceps after pitching out of another jam in the 3rd.

The Twins had an opportunity to immediately equalize in their half of the 2nd. JJ Hardy led off with a BB. At that point, Bell had thrown 38 pitches, only half of which were strikes, while walking 4 of the first 9 batters he faced. For me, that puts the lineup into "take 2 strikes" mode - anything less risks letting a wild pitcher off the hook. Denard Span and Orlando Hudson didn't do that. Span was hit in the foot on the 2nd pitch while showing bunt, but the pitch was ruled a strike because he failed to draw the bat back. There's no sacrificing when a pitcher is this wild! You'll get the lead runner to 2nd base when the pitcher puts you on. Hardy was able to move up on a WP, and Span's fly out moved him to 3rd with 1 out. Still a productive PA, I guess. Ahead 3-1, Hudson reached for an outside pitch and grounded out to SS, holding Hardy at 3B. Had those two come to the plate with the idea of taking 2 strikes firmly in their minds, the Twins could have the bases loaded with no outs for Joe Mauer. That's what Bell gave them, but they didn't take it.

The game got worse from there. Jeff Manship and Glen Perkins combined to pitch 4.2 of the last 6 innings, allowing 3 ER on 8 H and 1 BB. The other 2 runs came as a result of Span dropping the 3rd out of 6th inning on the warning track for an E. That forced Ron Mahay to face one more batter. While attempting to field the squibber behind the mound that resulted from that AB, Mahay slipped and hurt his shoulder - he'll go on the DL. 3 1/2 hours to play 9 innings, 2 E, 2 unearned R, 2 guys on the DL. That's a forgettable game.

No doubt fearing another appearance from evil Scott Baker, the Twins wisely chose to squander their early scoring opportunities. By the time they broke out with a 4-run 5th, good Scott Baker was safely entrenched in a groove of effectiveness - he allowed only a BB in the 2 innings following the outburst.

That included Danny Valencia's 2nd career HR and a 2-out, bases clearing 2B from Michael Cuddyer. Another clean, crisply played game in under 3 hours. I hope our impending labor goes more like this game than Saturday's. (If you don't hear from me after the Texas series, you can guess why...)

  • The Twins finish the season series with the Angels at 5-2, and have gone 11-1 at home so far vs. the AL West.
  • This concludes a 7-2 home stand, and lifts the Twins to 14-6 in August. They have gone a full month since their last series loss. You're savoring that, right? It won't always be like this...
  • Meanwhile, the Sox went to extra innings in all 3 games in Kansas City, and came out on the short end twice. That brings the Twins' division lead to 5 games, and lowers their magic number to 34 with 38 games left to play.

Friday, August 20, 2010


Twins 7, White Sox 6 (10 innings)

As they have so often in recent weeks, the Twins set a terrific tone for this game in the 1st inning. Scott Baker retired the side in order on 3 grounders in the top half. Then the offense jumped all over John Danks in the bottom half. 5 of the first 7 batters got H, including a solo HR from Orlando Hudson and a 2-run 3B from Jason Kubel. Jim Thome knocked in Kubel with a 2-out single. For a White Sox team that came into the series struggling, a quick, 4-0 deficit had to be pretty dispiriting.

But as surely as the full moon summons the wolfman, an early crooked number brings out evil Scott Baker. It's always a good idea to get ahead of the hitters, but especially when you're pitching with a big lead, and double especially after your offense just put up a crooked number for you last inning. Evil Baker had no command at all. He started 8 of the next 10 PA with ball 1, and the Sox could wait for their pitch and tee off. The first 3 batters of the 2nd went HR, 2B, HR, and just like that, the Sox were back in the game. They would tie it in the 4th, then chase Baker in the 5th after a 4-pitch BB to Carlos Quentin, at which time I was actually happy to see Gardy hand the ball to Glen Perkins.

He, Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain quickly restored order, allowing just 1 H over the next 3.1 IP. Delmon Young connected for a solo HR in the 5th, and the Twins had a 5-4 lead heading to the 9th. Matt Capps quickly proved that he really isn't any better than Jon Rauch, blowing his 2nd save of the month on a leadoff HR. That was followed by a couple of H and a sac bunt, forcing Gardy to IBB Alex Rios to set up a potential inning-ending DP from the Sox' best hitter, Paul Konerko. They got it, thanks to a wonderful short-hop scoop by Michael Cuddyer at 1B.

Rauch still isn't quite himself, either. He allowed 3 straight H with 1 out in the 10th, putting the Sox in front. They're unsettled at closer for the moment, with both Bobby Jenks and JJ Putz struggling of late. So they left in LHP Matt Thornton - at least to see if he could get the 2nd batter of the inning, Thome. Young led off with a single up the middle. Then Thome pounced on Thornton's 2nd pitch - a belt high fastball - and launched it 445 feet over the bleachers and onto Target Plaza. Ballgame.

3 straight games in which the Sox held a lead in the 8th inning or later. 3 straight losses. This one after they'd fought so hard to stay in the game, tie it, take the lead. And at the hands of the guy they chose not bring back, even for the tiny contract and modest bench role that the Twins promised him. That's got to be absolutely soul-crushing. Dontcha love it?

On the heels of that wrenching loss, the Twins once again put the Sox in a quick hole with a 2-run 1st. But, just as Baker did the night before, Francisco Liriano's poor control gave 3 R back to the Sox before an out had been recorded. He walked the 1st 2 batters on 12 pitches, fell behind Andruw Jones 2-0, then grooved a fastball that was deposited in the Twins' bullpen for a 3-R HR, the 1st Liriano has allowed since May, a span of about 96 IP. I suppose if one could remove that 3-batter lapse from the game, the balance of Liriano's night wouldn't have been too bad: 91 pitches to complete 5 IP with 5 H, 2 ER, 2 BB and 5 K would have certainly gotten him out there to start the 6th. And, as is usually the case when he pitches, there was the IF hit on a play that only Juan Pierre could have beaten out, the consecutive grounders in the 5th that resulted in a run because they were too weakly hit to be turned into DPs. But the 4 BB continue a disturbing trend over his last few games: 12 BB in 15.1 IP over his 3 previous GS. It's tough to last longer than 5 IP when you're throwing that many balls. Hopefully, it's just a hiccup - this team can't afford to have Liriano revert to the erratic control he had last season.

The offense kept it up on Gavin Floyd, led by Joe Mauer's 4-H game. Since the All-Star break, he looks every bit as good as he was in 2009. He was in the middle of the rallies in the 1st and 3rd, and hit his 1st Target Field HR in the 5th to bring the Twins within 1 at 5-4. They knocked Floyd out in the 6th with a sequence of ground-rule 2B, BB, 2B, IF hit, SF, BB. The IF hit showed the desperation of the Sox, as SS Alexei Ramirez fielded the ball behind the pitcher's mound, then contorted wildly in an attempt to nail the go-ahead run at the plate. His throw was nowhere close.

The Sox kept fighting, touching Capps for a run in the 9th, but this time he had a 2-run cushion, and the Twins were able to hold on. Whatever the outcome on Thursday, the Twins were assured of another series win over the Sox, and an extended lead in the AL Central standings.

I love it when they win the 1st two games of a series, because it lets me divest myself emotionally of the 3rd game. Yeah, a sweep would be awesome, but just winning series is all you really have to do. So let's not dwell on this one too much. I don't think Pavano was awful so much as it was one of those nights that every baseball team endures a couple of times a season: the night when everything they put in play falls in.

Let me distill it to this: in the 7th, Drew Butera had a marvelous AB, fouling off several 2-strike pitches. One of those was a liner down the LF that landed just foul, an inch or two away from being a 2-run 2B. He ultimately popped out to end the inning. In the next half inning, Konerko, charmed with a 5-H game, ripped a ball down the LF line just fair for a 2-run 2B. Why was his fair but Butera's foul? Just one of those nights. Shrug.

In some ways, the Sox' emphatic win in the series finale could add to their frustration. Remember last spring, when the Twins dropped the first 6 games of their road trip in agonizing fashion, then concluded the trip with a 20-1 drubbing of the Sox? That was certainly cathartic. It was nice to be able to say they had actually outscored their opponents on the trip. But it was small consolation for going 1-6, and especially for proving once again that they weren't quite good enough to beat the Yankees. The Twins' recent dominance over the Sox isn't on that level, but it should be significant in the eyes of that team and its fans. The Twins lost a lot of close games to the Yankees and Rays this season, evidence that they can play with those teams, but, in the end, aren't quite good enough to win more than they lose. That is the same as the Sox-Twins relationship. The Twins have a 10-5 edge in the season series. 7 of those Twins wins have come by 1 run. Should that make the Sox faithful hopeful or glum? For me, it confirms what I've suspected since the teams' rosters were constructed in the offseason: the Sox are the 2nd-best team in the division.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Just What We Needed

Twins 4, A's 3

Carl Pavano had a pretty shaky game, allowing 10 H and a BB in 6.1 IP. He was just about constantly in a jam, and the A's were able to take advantage of his slow delivery to steal 3 bases. But he made good pitches when he had to. Also, the A's are terrible at hitting. Some combination of those elements enabled the Twins to hold them to 2 ER.

The A's have a rotation full of talented young pitchers, most of whom came into the series on a roll. The Twins could muster only 5 H off Gio Gonzalez and a pair of relievers. But they took advantage of some giveaways by the A's. A leadoff E and 3 BB led to two 1st inning runs - it should have been at least 3, but Jason Kubel was thrown out at 3rd before Michael Cuddyer could score on Danny Valencia's 2-out single. Another leadoff E in the 4th enabled Delmon Young to advance to 2nd - from there he could score Valencia's ground-rule 2B. Gardy then called for back-to-back sacrifices from the bottom of his order - Alexi Casilla got Valencia to 3rd, and Drew Butera brought him home with a squeeze.

That was it - 4 R on 5 H and 5 BB - but it was just enough. The Twins even had enough margin to survive a 9th inning E from Casilla that extended the inning and produced an unearned run. Credit Gardy for recognizing in the 4th inning how dear runs were going to be in this game. The 2 straight bunts were also a good, honest assessment of how to get a run in from 2nd base with 3 relatively weak hitters due up. Good managing.

Twins 2, A's 0

Runs were at a premium again on Saturday with the Twins facing Trevor Cahill, one of the top ERA pitchers in the league. This time, Gardy zeroed in on the importance of a single R in the 3rd inning. After Casilla led off with a 2B, Gardy had Denard Span bunt him over to 3rd, putting him in position to score on Orlando Hudson's SF. It's normally a sequence you'd expect to see much later in the game, especially since Span singled in his first AB. But the Twins basically never had another threat off of Cahill, so it was crucial to make that one count.

Brian Duensing made it stand up. He pitched his best game at the major league level: 9 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 4 K, 104 pitches. Also, the A's are terrible at hitting. The only runner who got as far as 2nd base was promptly picked off. That was the closest Duensing ever came to being in trouble. He also got 2 DPs, meaning he was able to complete the game having faced just 2 batters over the minimum.

The Twins got an insurance run they didn't deserve off Craig Breslow in the bottom of the 8th. Span led off with a ball that should have been caught, the ump should have called Span out advancing to 3rd on Hudson's grounder, and Mauer's fly to LF should have been caught. For the season, Breslow has a 3.23 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in 53 IP. He's held lefties to .214/.276/.386 and righties to .195/.277/.341. It still amazes me that the Twins allowed him to slip out of the organization last spring.

Twins 4, A's 2

Once again, runs were at a premium, though in this game the Twins had plenty of chances. They finished the day with 10 H and 5 BB, leaving a total of 12 men on base. Jason Kubel got one big hit - a ground-rule 2B to finish a string of 3 straight H with 2 out in the 3rd. Jim Thome got the other - a 3-run HR in the bottom of the 7th. Giving the veteran Thome the green light on 3-0 against a LHP with 2-out, rather than letting him try to work a BB to load the bases for the rookie Valencia, was another astute decision by Gardy. (Though Valencia ripped a 2B in the subsequent AB.)

That was it, but it was enough. Kevin Slowey had one of his best days as a big leaguer. I won't say it was his best - he walked 3, and he's pitched CG shutouts before. But 7 no-hit innings is a pretty good effort, to be sure. Also, the A's are terrible at hitting. The most memorable part of Slowey's performance was when he picked up Casilla, who air-mailed a routine play leading off the 5th for a 2-base E, by striking out the next 3 hitters.

There was some inevitable controversy when Gardy lifted Slowey after 7 innings and 106 pitches. But, like just about everything else Gardy did this weekend, it was the right move. Had this been an ordinary trip through the rotation, I'm sure they would have sent Slowey out for the 8th, just to see how it would go. But when a guy just got held back 4 extra days to rest his elbow, you don't leave him out there to throw more pitches than he's ever thrown in a game in his career. Slowey has been pitching well over his last 5 GS, averaging nearly 7 IP with a 2.10 ERA and 0.70 WHIP. If he gets hurt, we're into Nick Blackburn/Glen Perkins territory. Gotta think of the big picture: win the game, keep Slowey healthy. Done and done.

The Twins managed to sweep the A's despite scoring all of 10 R over 3 games. They were able to do so because of a combination of poor play by the A's, terrific work by the Twins' pitchers, and timely execution by the offense. If things keep going the way they are, Gardy will get some consideration for manager of the year, as he does almost every year. When that talk surfaces, remember this series. From the small ball strings he pulled to the way he used his players, Gardy did his part to make the Twins successful.

Meanwhile, the White Sox' bullpen blew late leads against the Tigers on Saturday and Sunday, extending the Twins' division lead up to 3 games. The Sox had won something like 21 of 24 home games, but they lost 4 of 6 this week. Could it be a sign that some cracks are beginning to show? The pressure is squarely on them as they come to play the Twins this week. A series loss for the visitors will push them 4 games back with 41 to play, and will clinch the season series for the Twins. Those will be difficult obstacles for the Sox to surmount over the final 1/4 of the season.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Back on Top

The Twins and White Sox opened this 3-game series with identical 63-49 records. Furthermore, they had identical home/road splits of 33-20/30-29. That might lead some to believe that the two teams are pretty evenly matched. However...

Twins 12, White Sox 6

The Twins got out of the blocks quickly in the opener. They scored in each of the first 4 innings, chasing Freddy Garcia after he allowed 6 ER on 8 H, including 3 HR, in just 2.1 IP. They would tack on another couple of 2-run HR in the 6th and 8th. Every starter had a hit, and 5 different players homered. Garcia came into the series on a roll, but the Twins made him look like one of KC's hapless starters from 2 weeks ago.

Scott Baker, as usual, pitched a really good game - except for that one inning. The Twins had just put him up 5-0 with their 3 HR 2nd inning when Baker let the Sox - and the crowd - right back in the game in the bottom half. With 2 on and 1 out, he got ahead of Carlos Quentin 0-2, then served up a fastball for an opposite field HR to make it 5-3. Will he never learn to avoid 0-2 HRs? Luckily for him, the Twins kept piling on, and he completed the next 4 innings largely without incident.

Twins 1, White Sox 6

The Twins set the tone early in this one, too, but not in a good way. Denard Span led off with a 2B, but got himself thrown out rather easily trying to stretch it to a 3B. From there, it didn't take long for John Danks to take advantage of a ludicrously wide strike zone, and, apart from the obligatory 2-H games from Michael Cuddyer (because he owns Danks) and Joe Mauer (because he's awesome), the offense didn't do much. In fact, the bottom 4 slots in the order didn't do squat. I was a little surprised that, given Delmon Young's recent slump and Cuddyer's well-publicized ownership of Danks, Young still hit in the cleanup spot with Cuddyer behind him. I wonder if that will be reversed when the Twins face Danks next week.

If you're not going to do any hitting, that might as well be the game when the pitching and defense stinks, too. Check. Kevin Slowey had a bit of a sore elbow, so Glen Perkins was called up from Rochester to make the start. Perkins has had a lousy year down there, and I think he could have been safely dropped from the 40-man roster in May or June. He had a pretty good July, though, and since he was on his normal rest, the Twins elected to call him up. (Nick Blackburn would have been on 3 days' rest, but he's also looked pretty good in 2 GS in AAA, and he only threw 86 pitches last Saturday, and his sinker is supposedly better when his arm is a little tired, and the Sox have a rather right-handed lineup. But whatever.)

Anyway, there's a reason Perkins has been at AAA all year, and that he hasn't had a particularly easy time getting IL hitters out. He lasted just 4.2 IP, allowing 5 H, 6 R, 4 ER, HR, 2 BB, 2 HBP, 2 K. As you can see from the 2 unearned R, the defense didn't do him any favors. Orlando Hudson made an errant relay throw on a would-be inning-ending DP; that guy came around to score. JJ Hardy threw away the potential last out of the 5th, allowing a run to score. Sloppy all around - the worst game the Twins have played since the Cleveland series last month. Blecch.

Twins 6, White Sox 1

The series came down to Gavin Floyd, another Sox starter on a huge roll, vs. Francisco Liriano. Again, the Twins got it going in the 1st inning with a HR from Orlando Hudson. They took advantage of some sloppiness from the Sox in the 2nd, when Cuddyer stole 2nd and took 3rd on a throwing error from AJ Pierzynski, putting him in position to score on a SF by Jim Thome. And in the 3rd, when Floyd balked in the 3rd run. Things calmed down after that, and this game was tense through the middle innings.

Liriano got himself into 3 big jams in his 5.2 IP, some of his own making, some not. He got 2 quick outs in the 1st, then went single, BB, HBP and, yet again, crappy little swinging bunt single (from the catcher) for an RBI. He retired 10 of the next 11 hitters. Then, in the 5th, leadoff BB to the #9 hitter, dropped sinking liner from Young (you must practice that play with Jerry White, Delmon. Every day. Over and over and over...) and, yet again, bunt single (that Danny Valencia took just a little too long getting rid of). Bases loaded, nobody out, heart of the order coming up.

That situation might be the moment where people start to understand how good Liriano is. He got Alex Rios on a little comebacker, then struck out Paul Konerko and Carlos Quentin. Bases loaded, nobody out, and the Sox came away with nada. Then more trouble in the 6th, as 2 more H and another HBP loaded the bases with 1 out. Liriano got Juan Pierre on a liner to shallow CF, then Matt Guerrier came in and got a popup to leave the bases loaded again.

The Twins put the game out of reach in the next inning. Alexi Casilla led off with a 2B. After Denard Span and Hudson struck out, the Sox elected to intentionally walk Mauer to get to Jason Kubel, who was 0-3 with 2 K up to that point. Floyd quickly got ahead 0-2, then hung a curveball on the outer half. Credit to Kubel for waiting back long enough to drive it out the other way.

The overall records are ultimately going to decide which of these teams makes the playoffs. But the Twins are pretty clearly the better team by a couple of important measures. The Twins have a run differential nearly double that of the Sox, +103 to +55. The Sox are getting an extra win for every +4 R, but the Twins are getting one for every +7 R. Is that sustainable over the last 30% of the season? Possibly, but the likelihood is that both teams will regress toward the expected wins from their differentials, which would give the Twins more wins in the end. That was true in this series, in which the Twins outscored the Sox by 6 runs. And that leads to the other important measure by which the Twins are superior: they've beaten the Sox 2/3 of the time in head-to-head meetings. If the Sox were truly the Twins' equal, you'd expect that record to be a lot closer. The Twins need only 2 wins over the final 6 games to carry the season series.

  • The road trip got off to a rough start for Guerrier. He gave up game-losing HR in each of the first 2 stops. But he bounced back nicely over his last 3 appearances: 12 up, 12 down, and he needed fewer than 50 pitches to do it.
  • Blackburn wound up throwing 5 shutout innings for Rochester on Thursday. He allowed 4 singles, 3 BB and 3 K, and got 9 groundouts to just 2 balls in the air. Over 3 GS, he's thrown 16.1 IP, allowing only 2 ER on 11 H, 5 BB and 8 K, with a 10/3 G/F rate. He appears to have the sinker working again.
  • Rob Delaney had a horrible 1st half at Rochester, due in large part to allowing 10 HR in 53.2 IP. In 13 appearances since the break, though, he's allowed just 3 ER in 16 IP on 13 H, 0 HR, and a 23/1 K/BB ratio. Looks he's made an adjustment. I'm a little surprised that the Twins elected to recall Jeff Manship, who has a 5.77 ERA over his last 53 IP with 9 HR, to replace the DL-bound Jose Mijares instead of Delaney.
  • Pat Neshek has also come on strong since the break, allowing just 1 ER over 10 IP with 3 BB and 6 K. I expect to see him when the rosters expand in September, along with Delaney, Anthony Slama, and probably Alex Burnett.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

7th Split: 13-3

Overall Record: 64-49
1st in AL Central by 1 game

Other splits: 11-5, 10-6, 7-9, 9-7, 7-10, 7-9

My hopes from last time were realized, as the Twins took huge advantage of the soft part of their schedule. This split began with an 8-game winning streak vs. the Orioles, Royals and Mariners. 5 of those wins came on the road, elevating the Twins' record away from Target Field back to .500. There were only 3 home games, and they won all of those. Sprinkled in among the cupcakes were 5 games against contenders, and the Twins won 3 of those.

The offense went absolutely insane in this split. They put up 112 R, good for an even 7/game. That surpasses the first 2 splits, when they were scoring at a robust clip, by about 30 runs. All this with Justin Morneau still on the shelf, and most of it without Orlando Hudson. Alexi Casilla filled in at 2B, hitting as well as Hudson has at any point this year. Delmon Young moved up to the middle of the lineup, and was a potent combo with Joe Mauer for at least the 1st half of this split. Mauer has been searing hot, delivering power as well as BA. Jason Repko, Danny Valencia and even Drew Butera have all been hot at the bottom of the lineup.

I predicted that the Twins would have double-digit QS over this stretch, and they delivered with 11 (if you include Kevin Slowey's 7 shutout innings vs. the Rays - which I do). The pitching allowed only 52 R, even a little better than what they did over the first 1/5 of the season. Scott Baker is still inconsistent, but Slowey is finally pitching deep into games, and Brian Duensing has been quality in each of his starts lasting 6 or more innings so far. Matt Capps added depth to the bullpen, which was steady apart from a couple of loud mishaps from Matt Guerrier and Ron Mahay.

The defense made its share of mistakes. They commtted 8 E, though they led to just 2 unearned R, bringing those totals to 42 and 18 for the season. Denard Span and Young got to a lot of balls in the OF that they couldn't quite catch. Michael Cuddyer has filled in admirably for Morneau at 1B, but I wonder how many balls that get by him would have been speared by Morneau. That goes for short throws from the IF as well.

Since I've been tracking splits over the last decade, the Twins have generally put together winning seasons. And all of those winners included at least one run like this. The White Sox had a decent split of their own, but the Twins still picked up 4 games on them. Now those teams play 5 times in the next 8 games. If the Twins can win at least three, it should leave them in 1st place with 1/4 of the season to go, and the pressure will be squarely on the Sox to make up the ground against a tougher schedule.

Bold prediction: The AL Central will still be nip and tuck at the end of the next split - the Twins' schedule isn't easy, but the Sox' kinda is. So, as well as the Twins might play, I'll bet the Sox can match it.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Happy Birthday, Drew Butera

Twins 6, Indians 5

I was hoping that this crap was behind us by now. Francisco Liriano allowed 7 H in this game, 6 of which came to the first 11 hitters he faced. 2 of those were choppers over the mound, and 2 were grounders that would have been DPs had they been slightly differently placed. Liriano came out throwing strikes (6/8 first-pitch strikes in the 1st, 16/25 pitches overall), and the Indians were generally hacking early in the count. They enjoyed a one-night resurgence of Liriano's horrible luck on balls in play: the Indians went 7 for 14, and only 2 of the 7 cleared the IF in the air.

That was irritating enough. But what really burned me was the way the Twins reacted to it. They seemed to decide that Liriano needed to start pitching backwards because the Indians were teeing off on his fastball. But what really happened in the first 2 innings? 3 grounders to start the game (2, unfortunately, for H), then a one-armed fly just fair down the RF line, a BB to Matt LaPorta with a base open (not unwise, as we'd soon discover), and a good piece of hitting by Jason Nix on a fastball down and away. The 3rd run of the inning scored on a grounder too poorly hit to be a DP. The 2nd inning started with a nibbling BB to the #9 hitter, then 2 more grounders. After that, Liriano struck out the side.

To sum up: through the 1st 2 IP (14 batters), Liriano got 4 K, 2 BB, 1 fly, 1 liner, and 6 grounders. Other than the 2nd BB, I don't really see a problem there. But he spent the rest of the night starting nearly every hitter with a changeup or a slider, and ever more frequently found himself behind in the count as a result. Those secondary pitches work best when the hitter needs to have an early trigger because they're worried about the mid-90s fastball. The Indians laid off, and Liriano got more and more out of sync as the game went along, eventually tying a career worst with 6 BB and leaving with 2 out in the 5th.

The offense fought back valiantly, scoring a flurry of late runs led by some clutch hitting by Alexi Casilla. He knocked in 4, including the tying runs after they were disallowed by a rather suspect replay review. The Twins didn't get to savor the comeback for very long, though. LaPorta took Matt Guerrier deep on the 2nd pitch of the bottom of the 9th, and that was that.

Twins 7, Cleveland 2

Whatever else is going on, Carl Pavano can be relied upon to keep the Twins in it deep into the game. He had just one hiccup in the 4th when he allowed 2 R on 4 H. But he was able to make big pitches when he had to in the 6th and 7th, each time escaping 2 RISP with 1 out situations without conceding a run.

The Twins lost Casilla in the 3rd inning when he turned his ankle scoring the 2nd run of the game. Luckily, Orlando Hudson could come off the DL on Sunday, and Casilla's injury didn't appear serious enough to put him back on it. Casilla's play the last two weeks has been inspired, and everyone should be hopeful that he'll be able to compete for the 2nd base job next year.

For the 2nd straight night, the Twins clustered 5 R in the last 3 innings, sparked by the 1st big league HR from Trevor Plouffe and a 4 H night from Joe Mauer. This game was the 7th straight in which Mauer didn't catch - all of them were started by Butera instead. Odd, since Jose Morales is also on the bench, and he's a much better hitter. Butera managed to get on base a bit in the Tampa series, but he went 1 for 6 in Cleveland, dropping his line back to .202/.240/.330.

Twins 5, Indians 4

Brian Duensing's start went much the same as his previous start against the Rays: a shaky 1st inning with 3 ER allowed, then a gutsy recovery for a QS. This was an example of when to adjust away from the fastball. Duensing got walloped early, allowing 5 of his 9 H to the 1st 8 batters, 4 of which were scalding liners. But Duensing doesn't get a lot of strikeouts - his stuff isn't good enough to get swings and misses. So he throws his offspeed stuff in the zone, just to keep the hitters off balance. He's used to throwing it in the zone, he's good at it. And it worked.

Offensively, the script was pretty close to the finale of the Seattle series. There, too, the Twins were stymied by a nondescript LHP for the first half of the game, only to explode for a big crooked number in the middle innings. They batted around in the 5th, starting with a big HR from Jim Thome, and later a 2-run 2B from Hudson. The final run, the eventual game-winner, scored when 3B Andy Marte dropped a would-be GIDP from Young and had only enough time for 1 out.

Duensing's pitch count was right around 100 after 7 IP, but lefty Shin-Soo Choo was leading off the 8th, so Gardy opted to play the matchups and leave Duensing in. I love that move - way to challenge your starter! Duensing got him, then Guerrier redeemed himself with 2 very quick outs, including LaPorta. Matt Capps had his first perfect inning for the Twins with 2 K to preserve the win.

About Butera

7 straight games with Butera in the lineup got me a little worked up. Yes, he throws out base stealers, we've all seen him do that. Better than Morales could, no one doubts it. Supposedly, he calls a great game. But I didn't see that with Liriano on Friday. The Twins gave up 6 or more R in the 3 of the 7 games. He can call whatever, but it's the pitchers who make the pitches, and they should be able to do that whoever is behind the plate. So I have a hard time giving him any extra credit there.

He is a horrendous offensive player. And that's even including the little hot streak he's enjoyed over the last couple of weeks. Since July 21st, he's 11 for 40 with 3 doubles, a triple, and a homer. That's .275/.326/.425. That's the hot streak. It raised his OPS from .397 to .570. Think about that. The peak of his season still couldn't clear .600. And he's a bad baserunner, too. How many times have we seen him break back to the bag on a ball to the gap or a grounder with the IF back? He's tentative. He has poor instincts. He seems to know he's a liability out there, so he plays to try not to make things worse. But he certainly doesn't make things better.

There's nothing in his minor league track record to suggest that he can improve. He turns 27 today. He's not a prospect anymore. There's no more upside. This is as good as it gets.

When he's in the lineup, it means that either Mauer or Thome isn't. Mauer's been on a little hot streak lately, too. Since the All-Star Break, he's hitting .435/.495/.694, raising his OPS to .868. The Twins give away .300 points of OPS if Mauer sits. Thome's OPS is .948. Even against LHP, Thome's .737 OPS dwarfs Butera's .387.

People like to say that Butera is Pavano's personal catcher, because Pavano feels more comfortable throwing to that target than to big, tall Joe Mauer. Well, get over it, Carl. Because here's the thing: Pavano is going to be set up to start 2 games in any playoff series the Twins might make. As I noted last time, that Divisional round series is going to be against either the Rays or the Yankees, teams the Twins played tough this season, but still wound up 2 games under .500 against. Now, against those teams, where every play, every PA, every pitch is critical, is anyone seriously suggesting that the Twins are going to willingly weaken their lineup so significantly as to take Mauer or Thome out?

Obviously, the answer is no. With no more than 3 consecutive games in any playoff series, there is no reason to sit your best catcher. That is especially true when your best catcher is one of the best players in the game. And that goes double for when his backup can't hit. Butera isn't going to get anywhere near home plate in the playoffs.

So when is Pavano going to start getting comfortable with Mauer? There's no problem with giving Mauer a rest at least every 5 games, especially with the shoulder trouble he's been having. Maybe it can wait until the 2nd half of September, until Pavano's last 3 or 4 starts. Meanwhile, start mixing in Morales here and there, maybe against some of the less prolific base stealing teams. He's enough of a hitter to be an asset even with his shortcomings behind the plate. We could even think of it as phasing him in - while gradually phasing Butera out.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Plays They Should Make

Twins 2, Rays 4

I always get a little nervous when somebody gets called up to make their major league debut against the Twins. A team full of veteran hitters ought to be able to make the kid sweat a bit, but it doesn't seem to go like that for the Twins. That was especially true on Monday night. Not just because Jeremy Hellickson is one of the top prospects in all of baseball. And not just because the Twins' lineup was devoid of recent All-Stars Orlando Hudson, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Hellickson's stuff was very good, his command superb. But his demeanor, right from the first inning, showed that he wasn't going to be a pushover. There was something like disdain in his body language when he fielded Delmon Young's comebacker in the 1st, as though he was disgusted that Young had deigned to put the ball in play. He held a very hot offensive team to 2 ER and 5 baserunners over 7 IP, then went straight back to AAA. The Twins have Jeff Manship for spot starts. The Rays have Hellickson. Sick.

The game came down to the 5th inning, when the Twins went 0-2 with RISP while the Rays went 2-3. The deciding runs came at the end of an epic, 12-pitch AB from Matt Joyce, who finally doubled in 2. However, the 1-out double from Jon Jaso that went off the glove of Michael Cuddyer at 1B should have been an out, right? I mean, Justin Morneau usually makes that play. Had Cuddyer fielded it, that's a scoreless inning. Furthermore, the subsequent double by Carl Crawford over the head of Young LF was catchable. Young took a bad route, obviously misjudging it. I mean, Crawford would have made that catch had a Twin hit that liner. The Rays gave Carl Pavano a harder time this season than most teams have, but even so, he might have lasted into the 7th with the game at least tied had he gotten a bit better defense behind him.

In other news, it took 4 Twins relievers 52 pitches to get through the last 2 innings of the game.

Twins 4, Rays 6

Brian Duensing put the Twins in an early hole with a 3-run HR in the 1st inning. He was solid after that, though, allowing only 2 more H and 3 BB over the next 5 innings to earn a QS and give the offense a chance to claw their way back into the game. They did that, thanks mostly to some very timely hitting from Joe Mauer and some uncommonly good getting on baseness from Drew Butera. Well, one of Butera's hits was his 2nd career HR, and his dad was around to see this one, too! They should fly Sal out to all of Drew's games.

No sooner had Butera tied it in the 7th, then the Rays answered in the bottom half with another 3-run blast, this time from BJ Upton. It came off Matt Guerrier, who doesn't look like he should ever pitch against A-Rod or the Rays. Most infuriating, the 2 guys who scored ahead of Upton were PH who worked consecutive BB.

Down 3 in the 9th, the Twins made it interesting, and should have been able to tie the game. PH Jose Morales drew a 1-out BB, but was forced at second when he broke back to first on Denard Span's short-hop liner to RF. Not good baserunning, but that's not even the problem. The Rays weren't holding Morales on - why didn't he run to 2nd? There was some excuse that the coaches weren't sure he'd have the speed to make it. I know he's a catcher, but he's a lot sprier than Kelly Shoppach, and the Rays probably wouldn't have even covered 2nd. It's called Fielder's Indifference. Span took advantage of it on the 2nd pitch. Morales had 4 free pitches before Span swung the bat. Take 2nd, and Span's FC becomes a single, with Morales moving to 3rd with 1 out. Then the error in the Jim Thome AB scores a run, Mauer knocks in another, and Young's game-ending grounder - a close play at 1st - becomes a game-tying play.

As tightly as the games with the Rays have been played, the Twins need to take advantage of every opportunity that comes their way. If the Rays are going to give them a base, for heaven's sake, take it!

Twins 2, Rays 1 (13 innings)

David Price entered the game as one of the AL's best pitchers in terms of ERA and Wins, and he showed why against the Twins. His fastball was overpowering, and he had much better control than usual. Luckily, Danny Valencia owns him, going 2-2 with a BB for the 2nd time. Jason Repko followed Valencia's 1st single with a double to the wall in left center, and the Twins took an early 1-0 lead in the 2nd.

Scott Baker made that hold up the whole time he was out there. He was absolutely magnificent, allowing 0 R on 3 H and 1 BB with 7 K in 8 IP. Oh, and about those 3 H. The first was a sinking liner to CF to lead off the game. Span raced over, slid for the ball, and had it pop out of his glove for a double. Not an easy play, but certainly a makable play. Jaso hit a ground rule 2B - that was legit. In the 6th, Span and Young each pulled off a fly ball between them, letting it fall for another double. There's no excuse not to make that play. Had Span made either one of those plays, Baker's pitch count would have been just under 100 through 8 shutout innings of 1 or 2 H ball. Even so, he was in total control of this game - why not let him finish it? At least see if he can get it done in less than 120 pitches - he has an extra day of rest before his next start.

Matt Capps came in, because he's the closer. And he got Evan Longoria to hit a little fly ball to left that Young raced in for and dropped, kicking it away in the process for yet another double. Not an easy play, but a makable play (Young himself would make a very similar play the following afternoon). The tying run in scoring position with no one out. Naturally, he scored, and the Twins' rather overworked 'pen had to throw another 5 innings. Young redeemed himself with an RBI single in the 13th. After the game-tying single, the Rays went hitless the rest of the way against the Twins' relievers.

Twins 8, Rays 6

Finally, a game the Twins led comfortably from the start. They ambushed Wade Davis in the 1st, batting around and scoring 4 R. They tacked on single runs in the 5th, on a Repko HR, and 6th, on a double from Butera, who will probably never be this hot again. The Twins smashed Davis for 10 H, including 5 doubles and a HR, in 6 IP.

Kevin Slowey, meanwhile, was dealing even better than Baker. He also took a shutout into the 8th, having allowed just 2 H, 0 BB and 8 K. He started the 8th with a pitch count approaching 100, and seemed to tire. He allowed a leadoff HR to Upton, then - the fatal mistake - hit #9 hitter Shoppach with a 1-2 pitch. Then a single, followed by an out on a spectacular play by Alexi Casilla in short RF. Slowey had a chance to finish the inning, but he walked Evan Longoria to load the bases. Great effort, though.

In came Jesse Crain, who's been flawless for about 2 months. He walked Willy Aybar to force in a run. However, I thought he pitched well enough to strike Aybar out on 3 pitches. To my eyes (and to FoxTrax), the 1st, 2nd and 4th balls called by plate umpire Chris Guccione were in the strike zone. Anyway, Gardy brought in Ron Mahay to pitch to Matt Joyce, who was PH for not by Gabe Kapler, but by Jason Bartlett. Interesting choice, I thought. Ding! Grand slam, and the game is tied. Just Bartlett's 3rd HR of the year. You've got to be effing kidding me!

The baseball gods took pity on the Twins, and gave the game back in the next half inning, when Jason Kubel's 2-out popup hit the highest catwalk in that crazy domed stadium and caromed back toward the pitcher's mound, where it landed safely for the game-winning hit. This time, Capps was able to seal the deal.

The Twins went 3-5 in their 8 games with the Rays, who appear to be the 2nd best team in the league. The worst of the losses was by 3 runs, the others by 2 or fewer. 4 times the Twins blew leads in the 8th or 9th inning. The 2 teams seem very closely matched. The Rays can strike quickly, and they play hard to the final out. The Twins may face them in the playoffs, and they will need to play perfectly in order to prevail. They must not hit batters. They must not drop fly balls. They must not be tentative on the bases.

They must not play the way played these series.

Monday, August 2, 2010


Twins 5, Mariners 3

The Twins capitalized on a couple of extra outs the Mariners gave them early, getting a 2-out dinger from Jim Thome in the 2nd after Michael Cuddyer reached on an error, then another run when JJ Hardy scored on what should have been the 3rd out of the 3rd. Alexi Casilla continued to play like Orlando Hudson, smacking a 2-run HR in the 5th.

The addition of Matt Capps to the bullpen paid immediate dividends. Scott Baker didn't exactly cruise through the first 5 innings, but he hadn't allowed a run, and his pitch count was in great shape. But when the 6th inning started double-single-walk-strikeout-double, Gardy gave Baker a quick hook at 86 pitches. He didn't have to bring in a rookie or a middling long reliever. He brought in Jesse Crain, usually a 7th or 8th inning guy, to put out the fire in the 6th. He, Jose Mijares, Matt Guerrier and Capps combined to complete the game with just 2 H allowed in 3.2 IP with 3 K.

As for Capps' debut: 2 quick outs, a baserunner, then finish the job. Kind of like what Jon Rauch often did.

Twins 4, Mariners 0

Just as they did against Zach Greinke on Monday, the Twins ambushed Seattle ace Felix Hernandez in the 1st inning. Just 12 pitches and 8 swings into the game, the Twins were ahead 3-0 thanks to a sequence of triple-single-triple-double from Casilla, Joe Mauer, Delmon Young and Thome with 1 out. Unlike Monday, Hernandez recovered, and the Twins were pretty much stymied the rest of the way.

That early outburst was plenty, though, because the Mariners are terrible at hitting, and Kevin Slowey was really on his game. He cruised through 8 scoreless innings, giving up just 3 H and 0 BB while striking out 5, including Ichiro 3 times. With his pitch count at 103 and a 4-run lead, I was disappointed to see him lifted for Mijares in the 9th. It's not that I don't believe in pitch counts, but I don't think there's a lot of evidence that 100 should be the cutoff. And I certainly think managers should be ready to extend them when someone is pitching as well as Slowey was. Especially when the score isn't terribly close.

Twins 5, Mariners 0

Francisco Liriano has found his groove, and it's a beautiful thing to see. For the 3rd straight game, he went 7 IP with 0 R allowed, this time with just 2 H, 2 BB and 11 K. And when the Mariners did put the ball in play, they beat it into the ground for 9 of 10 outs. Rauch and Guerrier joined in the fun, each pitching a perfect inning with 2 K to complete the 2-hitter with a team total of 15 K.

I was worried for a while that it would be for naught, as the Twins were kept off the board for 5 innings by nondescript LHP Luke French. He had allowed just 3 H heading into the 6th, but the Twins finally caught him the 3rd time through the order. Once again, Casilla keyed the rally, as 5 straight reached: single-double-IBB-double-single. The 2nd double came from Jason Kubel, a drive off the wall in deep right center. Interesting decision for a manager putting Cuddyer on to face him. He has a lot of trouble against lefties (.662 OPS), but kicks ass with the bases loaded (1.146 OPS). Much bigger sample against lefties, of course.

This concludes a string of 13 straight games against the four worst teams in the league. The Twins came through it awfully well, going 10-3 while outscoring their opponents 80-32 with 4 shutouts. Good teams have to clean up against bad teams, just as the Tigers and White Sox did in June. Next, the Twins get to see how they fare against the very best in Tampa. They head there on an 8-game winning streak and 13 games over .500, both season highs.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

July Review

Twins' Record: 15-11
Overall Record: 58-46, 2nd in AL Central by 0.5 games

It's remarkable how neatly this month can be cut in half. From the 1st through the 15th, the Twins went 3-8, allowing 6.0 R/G while scoring 4.1. From the 16th - 31st, they were 12-3 - including a 7-0 run to end the month, with the pitching and defense improving to just 3.0 R/G while the offense put up 6.6. Most of that stretch coincided with the Twins facing the 4 worst teams in the AL (Cleveland, Baltimore, KC and Seattle) for 12 games. Good teams have to be able to take care of business against the bad teams, and the Twins handled them just fine.

For the month, the Twins led the league in all three triple slash categories. The upturn in offense was largely fueled by facing bad pitching, though Gavin Floyd, Felix Hernandez and Zach Greinke were among the pitchers the Twins were able to rough up. What was really amazing was that they were able to achieve such impressive offensive numbers without Justin Morneau, out since the 7th with a concussion, and Orlando Hudson, who missed the last week with a strained oblique. More than picking up the slack were Alexi Casilla, Danny Valencia and Delmon Young, who finally fulfilled his promise as a middle-of-the-order run producer. Joe Mauer has also surged since the All-Star Break.

The pitching turnaround more or less coincided with the belated decision to remove Nick Blackburn from the rotation. In 11 IP over his first 2 GS, Brian Duensing allowed just 3 ER on 12 H and 1 BB with 5 K. Francisco Liriano had the one clunker in Detroit right before the break, but went at least 7 IP in each of his other 4 GS, allowing a total of 3 ER in those games. The bullpen was bolstered by the addition of Matt Capps and the demotions of Alex Burnett and Blackburn.

The defense got back to sure-handedness after a terribly sloppy June. The Twins committed just 5 E in July, resulting in only 4 unearned runs. They remain comfortably in first place in the AL in each of those categories with 34 and 16, respectively. There were plenty of plays, especially early on, in which the defense failed to convert balls in play into outs but were not charged with errors. Obviously, the improvement in run prevention since the break suggests that those sorts of plays have been cleaned up along with the pitching.

The Twins play just 11 games at home in August, so they'll need to maintain at least the .500 ball they've played on the road to this point in order to stay even with the White Sox. Most importantly, they've got 6 games head-to-head with the Sox. If they can keep winning 2 of 3, as they have in the first 3 series this year, they have a great chance of putting themselves back in the lead as they head into September.

This month I'll be looking at hitters with at least 25 PA and pitchers with either 9 appearances or 3 GS:

Getting It Done

Delmon Young - The bad news is, he only drew 2 BB in 112 PA. The good news? When you hit .434/.455/.736 with 6 HR and 30 RBI in 26 games, it's probably better that you swing away.

Joe Mauer - I knew there was an MVP in there somewhere, trying to get loose. Mauer cranked his OPS up to .962 and doubled his HR total.

Danny Valencia - .453/.508/.623 with 6 2B and, finally, a HR. For those who questioned his plate discipline, he had a 4/6 K/BB ratio. I think he's seen the last of Rochester.

Alexi Casilla - Filling in for the injured Hudson, Casilla turned the clock back to May of 2008, going 9 for 28 with 2 3B and 1 HR with a .355 OBP from the #2 spot.

Jason Repko - His performance took me back to the summer of 2006, when the Twins called up player after player from AAA, and they all raked for a while. Repko surpassed Casilla, going 9 for 27 with 2 2B and 2 HR.

Jim Thome - In his first month with regular playing time, Thome didn't disappoint, hitting .277/.397/.554 with 3 2B and 5 milestone setting HR.

Justin Morneau - Only 1 BB in his week of work, but 2 2B and 2 HR pushed the OPS to .945. I hope he can come back soon.

Michael Cuddyer - As he did when Morneau hit the DL last year, Cuddyer has picked it up at the plate (.883 OPS) while playing nearly flawlessly in the field.

JJ Hardy - Finally healthy, Hardy showed that he's got a good bat to go along with his excellent glove. He hit .351/.377/.486 with 5 2B, 3B, and his first HR since April.

Francisco Liriano - His BABIP, obscenely high in the first half, is finally starting to normalize. Even with that crappy start in Detroit, he had a 2.97 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 33/9 K/BB in 30.1 IP.

Carl Pavano - Start after start, he pitches deep into the game. It was a shock when he came out after 5 IP in KC. For the month, he averaged 7.1 IP/GS with a 2.91 ERA and 1.04 WHIP.

Jesse Crain - Just about a perfect month for a reliever: 11.2 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 12 K. A couple months ago he looked like a possible DFA. Now he looks dominant.

Brian Duensing - The WHIP got a little high, but he kept the ball in the yard and his ERA under 2.00. That won't last now that he's in the rotation, but he only has to be better than Blackburn, so the bar hasn't been set too high.

Ron Mahay - Another good month, with just 2 ER allowed on 1 HR in 9 IP. Hopefully he's got 2 more good months left in him.

Jose Mijares - His ERA looks pedestrian next to those of some of his fellow relievers, but the K/BB (9/2) and WHIP (1.17) were excellent.

So Far, So Good

Orlando Hudson - He was swinging the bat about as well as he has all season, providing a .353 OBP from the #2 spot, when he went on the DL.

Kevin Slowey - Still not quite averaging 6.0 IP/GS, but the ERA (4.06), WHIP (1.16), HR/9 (0.9) and BB/9 (0.9) are pretty much where they need to be.

Need To Pick It Up

Jason Kubel - Only 5 XBH in 95 AB to go along with a .232 BA. 9 BB isn't bad, but 27 K kinda is.

Denard Span - The K/BB rate (8/10) is great, but his .245 BA kept the OBP down at .315, and that's not good enough for a leadoff hitter. Also 2 CS and a couple of pickoffs.

Drew Butera - I guess he's a really great catcher, because he can't hit a lick (.214/.207/.357).

Nick Punto - Regressed to the 2007 model: .226/.281/.264, and only 1/3 in SB attempts.

Scott Baker - Continuing his habit of pitching really well, except for that one bad inning. Only a few more H and BB than Slowey, but enough to make the results noticeably worse.

Jon Rauch - I'm guessing it was the 2.28 WHIP more than anything else that made the Twins look for a new closer.

Matt Guerrier - 9 IP, 12 H, 8 ER, HR, 4 BB, 2 K, and 3 losses. That's a pretty putrid month.

Nick Blackburn - Not as bad as this, though: 17.1 IP, 30 H, 19 ER, 5 HR, 3 BB, 5 K for a 9.87 ERA and 1.90 WHIP. 4-year contract or no, those numbers are going to get you sent to the minors.