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.

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