Any time a Closer blows a save, it tends to overshadow everything that came before it in the game. Whatever the circumstances leading up to it, all that guy had to do was hold the lead for one inning and his team would have had a win in the books. The significance of the Closer is doubly emphasized when the offense promptly retakes the lead in the top of the 10th, but the other Closer comes in and also blows a save in the bottom half. And it is tripled when the same 2 guys go out there 2 days later and give up late-inning runs, again costing the team a win. And it gets even a little more emphasis from the fact that the SP in those 2 games had completely shut down the opposition, allowing just 1 R on 8 H and 3 BB with 13 K in 15 IP.
It's easy to blame this series loss on Joe Nathan and Matt Capps. After all, if they had done their jobs, the Twins would have walked away from Tropicana Field with 3 wins instead of 3 losses. But I'd like to make sure the offense gets its fair share of the blame. In those losing efforts, the hitters went 3 for 23 (.130) with RISP. Even productive outs in many cases might have resulted in the 1 or 2 extra runs the team needed to put the game away, but they couldn't muster those, either.
It would be nice to pin that futility on the lack of depth at the up-the-middle positions - Luke Hughes and Steve Holm had chances to sustain a couple of rallies on Saturday and didn't. But just about everybody in the lineup has been guilty of that at one time or another. When Casilla and Span set the table, Morneau doesn't hit, and the rallies fizzle. When he and Thome do hit, Delmon and Cuddyer don't, and the rallies fizzle. When they hit, Casilla doesn't, and the rallies fizzle. Nobody's getting the timely hits right now.
With neither the defense nor the bullpen looking terribly sharp in the early-going either, at least the starting pitching has been strong. In this series, all 4 starters were still on the mound in the 7th inning. Nick Blackburn's QS through 6 IP was quickly forgotten when he served up a no-out, 2-run HR in the 7th, but he'd pitched 5 stellar shutout innings prior to seeing the wheels start to come off in the 6th. The starters have definitely stepped up and done their part to help carry the offense through this slump. With them pitching so well, the hitters don't have to do too much more to get this thing turned around.
Next stop: Baltimore, where the Orioles have lost 7 in a row. It's still the road, it's the AL East. But it's also a good opportunity to come home with a couple more wins.
- Joe Mauer's vague but persistent soreness sent him to the DL after Thursday night's game with what was initially diagnosed as bilateral leg weakness. By the end of the weekend it appeared that the cause was a viral infection which caused him to lose about 12 pounds in a matter of days. He seems to be on the mend already, and should be more or less back to full strength by the time his DL stint is up at the end of the month.
- Nathan has been demoted to low-leverage situations until he can get himself back to form. I don't know how many strong outings he'll need to have to reclaim the Closer job from Capps, but I do expect him to improve as the season goes along.
- Denard Span and Jason Kubel were 2 of the guys from whom I expected bounce-back seasons in 2011, and they're each off to great starts. Span is hitting .339/.371/.458, while Kubel's 2nd straight game with a HR lifted his line to .321/.368/.509. They are the only guys currently in the lineup who are enjoying BABIPs above the league average. Those will come down eventually, so they'd each better start working counts and drawing walks the way they've shown us they can in recent seasons if they want to keep up their OBPs.
- Joe Benson kept hitting this weekend, adding a 3B and raising his line to .385/.442/.615, with a K% that is presently just under 18%. So far, so good there.
- There are 2 other prospects who I'd especially like to see work their way into the Twins' 2012 plans. Chris Parmelee could make himself into a viable lefty platoon option in the OF, perhaps replacing Jason Kubel. But, like Benson, he needs to hit well enough early in order to earn a quick promotion to Rochester. He hit his 1st HR of the season today and is off to a .357/.372/.548 start. Needs to walk more, though.
- The other is Rene Tosoni, who is trying to bounce back from an injury-shortened 2010. He would make a nice upgrade to Jason Repko, since he can do all the things Repko does, plus hit. He's already got a 9-game hitting streak which has him at .324/.381/.676 with 4 2B and 3 HR.