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.

No comments: