Friday, April 8, 2011

Par for the Course

Twins 3, Yankees 4
Twins at Yankees (postponed)

These games followed a similar blueprint. The Twins' starter struggled with command, putting baserunners on in front of a big XBH which put the Twins in an early hole. The offense struggled to make that up against the Yanks' strong pitching staff.

For Scott Baker on Monday, it was a HBP on an 0-2 pitch in front of A-Rod's drive down the LF line in the 1st. Then he walked Nick Swisher in front of Jorge Posada's deep fly to RF in the 2nd. I'm with Bert Blyleven: solo HR won't kill you (unless you give up 4 or 5). If Baker had made the Yankees hit their way on, he might have allowed 1-2 fewer runs. Props to him for settling down and making himself the 1st Twins starter to complete 6 IP, though.

On Tuesday, Brian Duensing walked the 1st batter of the game in front of a single and a 3-run HR. He really settled down after that, allowing just 1 more ER (another HR) and 4 H, 1 BB while getting 21 outs. Props to him on being the 1st Twins starter to complete 7 IP. I wish they didn't need the 1st inning to get warmed up, though.

Francisco Liriano's start on Wednesday also boiled down to a bad inning. That was the 4th, when he - guess what? - walked the leadoff man. That, plus a groundball single through the hole on the right side, put 2 guys on for the big mistake he made in the game - an RBI 2B on a 1-2 pitch. Overall, Liriano's line was pretty similar to that of his 1st start: 5 IP, 4 H, 4 ER, 3 BB, 5 K. At least he kept the ball in the yard!

The Twins' bullpen was very impressive in the series, throwing 9 scoreless innings, including 3 shutdown combined IP from Matt Capps and Joe Nathan from the 8th-10th on Tuesday. Holding the Yankees to 4 R/G is actually no small feat. But it should have been better. Of the 12 R the Twins allowed, 4 came from the guys who homered, 3 came from guys who hit their way on, and 5 came from guys the Twins put on via BB or HBP. The margin of error when they face the Yanks is so small, they can never afford to give away bases or outs. Would any of these 1-run games have turned out differently if the Twins had shown more Twins-like control?

The offense continued their anemic hitting. All three Yankees starters threw QS. The Twins hitters were able to muster just 5 R and 17 baserunners in 19 combined IP from Ivan Nova, CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett. Sabathia left the game having retired 17 straight Twins. Fortunately, the Yankees' relievers lost the strike zone and the Twins were able to get a couple of soft hits to fall in, stealing game 2 of the series.

It ended on a particularly sour note when Tsuyoshi Nishioka, playing in just his 6th MLB game, broke his leg while trying to turn a DP at 2B. Ironically, he paid a dear price for his own defensive imprecision: Nick Swisher, whose take-out slide caused the injury, would have been out easily had Nishioka not bounced his relay throw to Morneau in the dirt on the previous play. It doesn't sound like it's too serious (as broken legs go), so hopefully he'll be back in the lineup soon. I'm glad that Luke Hughes will get another chance to show what he can do so soon, but I don't think he's good enough to be more than a platoon player, either. He can only platoon with Matt Tolbert, and the more PAs he gets, the worse off the Twins will be. It didn't take long for the Twins' disconcerting lack of depth at the MI position to be exposed, did it?

The rainout on Wednesday immediately exposed the Twins' top-heavy, East Coast schedule. The only off days the Twins had before September that weren't in the middle of a home stand or a West Coast trip were May 5th and August 11th, and the Yankees are spoken for on both of those dates. So the Twins will have to return to the Bronx in the last 3 weeks of the season. I can't say I'm too disappointed. With them hitting so poorly right now, I've got to believe they'll be in a better flow later in the season. Plus, by then Bill Smith will have made whatever moves he's going to make, and the team that takes the field for the makeup game will be the playoff version of the Twins, not their spring training 1st draft.

A Gardy managed team has never won a series at Yankee stadium. Given recent history, par for this series was 1-3. Whatever happens in September, they've at least done that. Coming home for the opener at 2-4 isn't nearly as inspiring as the 5-2 opening road trip they enjoyed last season. But I'm neither surprised nor disappointed by that outcome. Plenty of good Twins teams have competed in the AL Central despite lousy trips to Toronto and New York. I expect this team to do the same.

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